Monday, February 22, 2010

Mount Everest Fact Check

Most of the conversations I have with my brother are the really annoying kind that happen between two very close people who spend a lot of time together. You know the ones:

Oh man, that guy is so that guy.
I know, right? Ugh, he's like that one guy with the hair.
Aw yeah, with the hat?
No, the really awful guy with the shirts.
Oh, that guy. Yeah, totally. God, he is awful.

Occasionally, we'll wander into more interesting territory, as in this actual (okay, slightly edited) conversation that took place yesterday afternoon:

I'm freezing. It's [expletive] cold.
"No, don't freeze the police! They'll be cold!"
Wait, what's that-
-one of the bad jokes from-
-right, right. [pause] Man, it would suck to be frozen.
Nah, you'd be dead.
You can be pretty frozen without being dead. That's why I have no desire to climb Mount Everest.
What? Really?
Yeah, what's the point? It's not like you're going to enjoy the spectacular view when you reach the summit. You'd just be like, "God, I'm miserable."
You know, I don't even think it's the tallest mountain in the world. It's just, like, the highest or something. I dunno, it'd be awesome. I'd totally do it.

What followed was a relatively long discussion about whether or not attempting to reach extreme mountain summits is a worthwhile endeavor. Our respective stances on the issue (and the general nature of our relationship) can be summed up thus:

Whatever, like you'd ever actually do it.
[Expletive] you.

Anyway, despite my apparent flippancy, I was actually inspired to do a little research:

Ten Things I Didn't Know About Mount Everest

1. Its Tibetan name is Chomolungma, which is not to be confused with 90s pop sensation Chumbawamba.
2. At 29,029 feet above sea level, Everest is the world's highest mountain, but indeed not its tallest. That distinction belongs to Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano in Hawaii. Mauna Kea is also home to one of the world's most important astronomical observatories. Definitely on my short list.

3. Apparently, in terms of technical mountaineering, Everest is not hugely challenging. It's that pesky weather that will get you. And of course, for those of us who aren't Sherpas, there is the issue of altitude. Climbers refer to anything above about 23,000 feet as the "Death Zone." That pretty much speaks for itself. Removing the fallen from this area is, as you might imagine, pretty difficult. In other words, if you plan to complete the ascent, prepare to see frozen corpses on your way. Seriously.
4. It can cost as much as $25,000 to get a permit to make the climb (see #9).
5. You can make a cell-phone call from the summit.
6. In 1980, Reinhold Messner became the first to reach the summit alone without supplementary oxygen. Technically, I knew this one already. But what kind of Ben Folds fan would I be if I didn't mention it?

7. Everest isn't free of insects. Pardon me, arachnids. There are some wee spiders as high as 22,000 feet.
8. Chew on this: because of "bulging" at the equator, the summit of Ecuador's Chimborazo is actually further away from the Earth's center than Everest's, even though it's nowhere near as far away from sea level. Weird.
9. The youngest non-Nepalese person to reach the summit was a 17 year old from Malibu (read: $) named...wait for it... Johnny Strange. Really? I'm glad he wants to end Parkinson's Disease and genocide, but he also says "alot" on his website. I may never reach the summit of Mount Everest, but I can sleep at night confident in the knowledge that "a lot" is, was, and forever shall be two words.
10. And finally...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Sick Day Potpourri

I'm in bed, sick, without much to do except wander aimlessly through The Internet. Care to join me?

The Journal of the American Medical Association has just released a new study revealing more about the life and death of King Tut. It's pretty interesting. Sounds like the dude and his relatives had some issues, including (but not limited to) clubfeet and cleft palates. I'm starting to imagine Tut looking like Paul Reubens' inbred Prince Gerhardt character in that one 30 Rock episode:

Of course, if the article is to be believed, he may have had some more, shall we say, "womanly" features as which case he'd look more like the "with my by myself" girl from the SNL Lawrence Welk sketch:

In other news, today is Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras. Fastnacht. Carnival is officially winding down. No really, put away your mask. It's over. To mark the occasion, I plan to watch 2002's 40 Days and 40 Nights, starring Josh Hartnett and that girl with the awful hair. That, or dig out my eyeballs with a dull spoon. Maybe I should give up hyperbole for Lent.

Also, I like this. Blame it on Valentine's Day. Or the fact that I watched both Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and Paris, je t'aime last night. In case you're too lazy to make that extra click, I'll just tell you that the link brings you to the website for a love-themed mural project in Philadelphia. My favorite is "I Want You Like Coffee," largely because if and when I want someone as much as I want coffee, I'll know it's the real deal.

Speaking of art in public places, did you know that Stockholm has an awesomely art-filled subway system? Look here! I found the link in, which is just generally worth checking out.

And finally, this. I want to go there. Now.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Český Krumlov

What do I know about Český Krumlov? It's a town in the Czech Republic and it sounds like a character from Harry Potter.

Ok, I know a little bit more than that. When I was in Prague it was the word(s) on everyone's lips:

"You must go to Český Krumlov."
"Český Krumlov is my favorite town in Europe."
"Český Krumlov is the real Czech Republic."

The implication being, of course, that anyone uncool enough to visit the Czech Republic without going to Český Krumlov was a losery *sniff* tourist unfit to grace even the world's crappiest shared dormitories. Naturally, I never made it there. In the words of my dear friend Sara: Phooey.

Of course, the fact that Český Krumlov is an obligatory stop for the backpacker set makes it trite in its own way. Obviously, that doesn't mean I don't want to go there. It also doesn't mean that my friend Krista, who inspired this post, is in any way lame for declaring it her favorite town in Europe. In fact, she might be the coolest, most untrite person I know. Hence, this post.

Český Krumlov is a town of about 14,000 in the southwest of the Czech Republic. You might know this area as "Bohemia." (Just as you might consider this post "rhapsodic.")

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Český Krumlov has changed hands quite a few times over the years; Austria-Hungry, Nazi Germany, Czechoslovakia, etc. and so forth. Today its population and geopolitical orientation are firmly Czech. By all accounts it has come through its share of conflicts relatively unscathed and with much of its original 13th century-ness intact. When the Czech Republic was established as a sovereign nation in the years following the Velvet Revolution, much attention was given to the restoration of Český Krumlov and it has since flourished as a popular tourist destination.

Cesky Krumlov Becomes Major Tourist Attraction

Cesky Krumlov Becomes Major Tourist Attraction

Cesky Krumlov Becomes Major Tourist Attraction

Cesky Krumlov Becomes Major Tourist Attraction

I mean, tell me you don't want to go there right now.

Český Krumlov is everything a proper European town ought to be. It has a castle, sits on a famous river, and has been a filming location for a variety of Hollywood movies. Its river, the Vltava, is more famous auf German: The Moldau. You might not know it, but you've probably heard Smetana's symphonic poem of the same name. Before you bring it up at a cocktail party, (or in the library of prestigious music school) remember that "Smetana" has two syllables, not three. Or does it...

The castle is considered quite large, and not just because it sits in the middle of quite a wee town. Now who doesn't love a castle? Each one seems to bring something unique to the table- the Tower of London with its ghosts and jewels, Mont Saint-Michel with its tides...Eureka's Castle with its creepy puppets. In this case, Český Krumlov's contribution is an original Baroque theater.

Not impressed?

A crash course in Baroque opera: That s*** was wack. In other words, opera productions, like everything else in that era, fell prey to some serious decorative excess. It was like the Cirque du Soleil of the 17th century. Of course, all of this spectacle required some crazy stage technology, costumes, sets, etc., much of which the theater in Český Krumlov's castle still uses and maintains. Twice a year the public is given the opportunity to attend a fully staged Baroque opera, complete with simulated candlelight. Awesome.

While the music and drama nerds geek out at the Baroque theater, art nerds can head over to the Egon Schiele center. Schiele and his lover left Vienna for Český Krumlov in 1911 and lived there until the Krumlovers (not what they're actually called) drove him out on account of his artsy fartsy behaviors. I make light but really, his is not a happy tale. He died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 at only 28 years old. If you're not familiar with Schiele, (I wasn't until I studied in Vienna) I recommend checking him out. His work is controversial, dark, and deeply affecting.

Well, that's music and art nerds covered. At this point you must be saying, "Julia, what about those of us who enjoy the odd Renaissance Fair?" Well, RenFair nerds, fear not. Český Krumlov also happens to put on a large festival every June devoted solely to the elaborate recreation of a medieval town. Relatively easy to do actual medieval town. It's called the Festival of the Five-Petalled Rose. If ever I were to go to a Renaissance Fair, this would be the one.

I'll leave you with a final word of caution: Don't confuse Český Krumlov (Bohemian Krumlov) with Moravian Krumlov. That would be embarrassing for you.

Český Krumlov Castle
360 Cities
Schiele Image Gallery
Leopold Museum Wien