Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Community, Compassion and Cancer: Patry Francis and The Liar's Diary

The world has over 6 billion people on it, and yet sometimes it feels like there are no strangers because a name you hear is known by a friend of yours. That makes them a friend of a friend.

Today approximately 300 bloggers have agreed to help out someone in need of support. That woman is Patry Francis. I do not know her, but she is a friend of my friend Jordan Rosenfeld.

Patry spent many years waiting tables, scratching out her thoughts on paper, toiling to improve her craft of writing. Finally she had succeeded in having a debut novel published in hardback. She achieved the success that I and many of my friends are still working toward. Her book The Liar's Diary was well reviewed and earned blurbs from such esteemed authors as Tess Gerritsen. Her book is now available in seven languages.

Patry should be celebrating her success and spending her time thinking up new characters for a follow up novel.

Instead, shortly after the publication of her book she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.


A word that strikes fear into the hearts and minds of anyone who has seen the ravages that disease can inflict on the human body.

I have had far too many of my friends and relatives touched by its various forms. Some have survived, some haven't.

My husband's mother is still locked in a valiant struggle with lung cancer. She was diagnosed at stage 4. Initially it was thought that she might last six months, but here she is two years later still showing how stubborn she can be. God bless her.

I know how tough it is for her to continually take poison into her veins with the hope it will kill the diseased cells and not the host. Changing treatment modalities every few months when the medications stop having the desired effect. Trying to plan her life when she does not know what the new side effects of medicines will be. She is often tethered to her bed and her bathroom for days at a time post-treatment, making it impossible to leave her house.

The pain. The morphine to relieve the pain. The endless sleeping that results when you take the narcotics.

And of course the depression.

Cancer is a cruel disease. To fight it you must be stubborn. You cannot be passive. You must have the will to live and desire to survive while forcing a life threatening disease into submission.

Or remission.

Even then, you will live with the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head always fearful that the cancer will return in a new form, in a new site, and force you to take up arms again renewing your warrior status.

Patry Francis is engaged right now in a life and death struggle with cancer.

Today is release of her book The Liar's Diary in paperback. It is far more important that she invest her energy in caring for her wounded body than spending it publicizing a book.

That is why there are over 300 bloggers banding together to help spread the word on Patry's behalf.

Here is a synopsis of The Liar's Diary from Patry's website.


What would you do if your best friend was murdered—and your teenaged son was accused of the crime? How far would you go to protect him? How many lies would you tell? Would you dare to admit the darkest truths—even to yourself?

Jeanne Cross is an ordinary suburban wife and mother with a seemingly "perfect" life when Ali Mather arrives on the scene, breaking all the rules and breaking hearts. Almost against her will, Jeanne is drawn to this powerfully seductive woman, a fascination that soon begins to infect Jeanne's husband as well as their teenaged son, Jamie.

Though their friendship seems unlikely and even dangerous to their mutual acquaintances, Ali and Jeanne are connected by deep emotional needs, vulnerabilities and long-held secrets that Ali has been privately recording in her diary.

The diary also holds the key to something darker. Though she can't prove it, Ali is convinced someone has been entering her house when she is not at home-and not with the usual intentions. What this burglar wants is nothing less than a piece of Ali's soul.

When Ali is found murdered, there are many suspects; but the evidence against Jamie Cross is overwhelming. Jeanne's personal probing leads her to the question none of us would ever want to face. What comes first: our loyalty to family—or the truth?"

The blog that organized this blogopolooza event on behalf of Patry Francis is Susan Henderson's Lit Park. Please go there, check out audio and video clips of the book and the list of bloggers who have joined the effort in helping Patry. There are also a variety of links to purchase the book depending on which vendor you prefer.

I have yet to read her book, but I shall remedy that soon. Today also marks my mother's 76th birthday and I am fortunate enough to still have both my parents. I had wondered what gift to get my mother, but once I heard about this blogging event and realized the significance of the date, my decision was clear.

My mother will be receiving copy of The Liar's Diary.

Be well Patry. Many people are in your corner, whether they know you personally or not.

Be well and Live Strong.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Love Conquers All or Subjugated by Love

Yesterday Jennifer Lynn Jordan wrote a blog post regarding the director Terry Gilliam and his incredibly bad luck. There was one passage that was especially thought provoking for me. It was:

Take Brazil. Production for this film (one of my very, very favorites) sent the project into never-before-seen levels of debt, and the studio battle for the final cut was epic, spawning several documentaries and a book. Gilliam lost the Battle of Brazil. The first theatrical release had a saccharine-sweet, happy ending Gilliam never intended, as did the TV edit (now known derisively as the "Love Conquers All" version). In the end, though, he got his way with one of the best-selling releases from the Criterion Collection, which included three different cuts of the film, amongst which is the Gilliam-approved version. Unfortunately, the Criterion Collection consistently costs above $50, and the cheaper, more accessible DVD releases rarely include the Director's Cut. The result is that Brazil remains one of the most highly-esteemed, least seen films of our time.

The phrase that intrigued me was "Love Conquers All" and how it has come to be used in a pejorative manner.

I posted a reply to her there, but have since then had more thoughts on the subject and decided it would be best to expand upon them here rather than clog her comment trail with a long winded reply.

The phrase in question is first attributed to the ancient Roman poet Virgil in his Eclogues (Eclogue X to be exact.) The online Massachusetts Institute for Technology site has the entire works of Virgil's Eclogues and the following translation:

Love conquers all things; yield we too to love!
I would have liked to give a longer passage to help give an idea as to its proper context, but I did not see any real easy place to cut it. Therefore if you are interested, please follow the link if you desire to see how that phrase is the culmination of a speech.

Back to how the phrase is being used today. Commonly the phrase "love conquers all" (LCA) when used in discussing popular culture connotes that Love will somehow solve all problems and create the desired Happily Ever After (HEA) ending. Cue the violins and pass a tray of baklava.

It is not that I dislike happy endings, but I prefer endings that are satisfying dramatically. Sometimes that means that you leave the theater on a happy note, and other times it is more appropriate for a cathartic cry. I dislike endings that are like cotton candy that are light, frothy, and rot your teeth. I would rather have some vinegar to go with my honey to provide some contrast and depth in the emotions being evoked.

There is a different reading of the phrase "love conquers all" by a different poet yielding a much different meaning from the syrupy sweet ending with which it has been associated.

The Italian Renaissance poet Matteo Maria Boiardo in his epic poem Orlando Innamorato meant that the power of love surpassed all else and no one, not even the powerful knight Orlando was immune to its effects.

Here's the second stanza in the first canto in Book 1 (translation by Charles Stanley Ross):

"Don't think it strange, my lords, to hear
Orlando Innamorato sung.
It always is the proudest man
whom Love defeats and subjugates.
No strong arm, no audacity,
no blade well-honed, no shield or mail,
no other power can avail,
for in the end Love conquers all."

In other words, everyone can be struck down by the power of love or "Subjugated by Love. " That phrase has a different ring to it than "Love conquers all" and it implies that people will do anything when they are conquered by the power of Love.

Instead of scheduling a dental appointment to check for tooth rot, it conjures up an image of Aphrodite as a dominatrix or Eros decked out in leather chaps.

I do not mean the cute winged cherub that Cupid calls to mind. I mean a young virile man with six pack abs who just happens to have wings and a quiver of arrows tipped with magic. Check out your local store for some trashy romance novel covers if you need any help with that imagery, it should not take long to find a hawt male. Or you can look at the cover and review of Virgin Slave, Barbarian King to get an idea.

Imagine if the upcoming holiday of Valentine's Day which provides billions of dollars for Hallmark cards and florists were to feature powerful images of Love instead of lacy red hearts and tacky stuffed animals.

Of course that will never happen. Instead we are stuck with doilies, cherubs, and heart shaped confetti. How utterly romantic.

I shall dedicate more to my visit to Chantilly in another post, but here is a preview. There was an entire room decorated with stained glass retelling the legend of Cupido (Cupid or Eros) and Psiche (Psyche).

Here are the lovers. Cupido looks more like an adolescent child than a God of Lurve.

I shall leave you with another version of this phrase. This time I wish for you to consider the immortal words from the famous philosopher Huey Lewis:

"It's strong and it's sudden and it's cruel sometimes
But it might just save your life
That's the power of love."


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Thursday night in Paris: dinner and a cruise on the Seine

Previously I blogged about looking for a nice restaurant to have dinner in Paris. My husband had gotten confused as to the location of a restaurant he wanted to try. So on this Thursday night after having visited the Louvre and the Musée de l’Armée we set out for the peaceful looking park nestled just east of the Pont Neuf.

We found the restaurant he had sought previously. Once we looked at the menu we realized it was not an Italian restaurant as my husband had thought. It was also not open. There were no signs stating the hours. We wandered inside and saw no one.

Outside sat about ten people finishing their dinner, but I soon realized that they were the workers having their dinner before starting their shift. Finally someone approached us and we asked when they would be open for customers. It was to be another half an hour or so. That translated to a good hour before we had any food, so we left.

We ventured over the bridge to the right bank and looked for other restaurants we had noticed during our walks. After scanning various menus of the ones that were open we chose Á la Tête d’Or.

We did not realize it at the time, but the restaurant is classified as being Aveyronnaise. Later when we were in the Midi-Pyrenees region we saw the beautiful Aveyronne river and enjoyed the bounty of that rich agricultural region. Our dinner was simply an introduction to its fine cuisine.

Our appetizer was a plate of heirloom tomatoes served with mozzarella cheese and balsamic vinegar. We both had steak, pommes frites, and red wine. I forget whether or not we had any dessert.

During our dinner two women sat down at the table next to us. We could not help but hear their conversation and we soon started chatting with them. They were on holiday from New Zealand and would soon leave Paris to tour the castles along the Loire river valley.

They told us that when their friends back home heard they were going to France in September, it was assumed they would attend the Rugby World Cup. That led to a discussion about rugby as a sport that is respected around the world, but given short shrift in the United States.

I knew the rugby team at my university because the bar I worked at gave them special discounts for pitchers of beer. Therefore, they were regulars. I also mentioned that one of my favorite doctors in my community is a rugby player, and he was going to visit France at the end of September to attend several matches. However, I understand full well that rugby is not a sport that many Americans were familiar with, nor would have any interest in following the standings.

We also talked a little about global politics and the image of the United States in New Zealand. These women voiced the opinion that the stature of the U.S. has been better over the years and that they have hope that the 2008 election will bring a new administration more to their liking.

We finished our after-dinner espresso and left hoping to board the 9 pm cruise ship at Pont Neuf. We boarded with a few minutes to spare, but by that point in time all the outdoor seats were occupied. Therefore we sat in the largely empty bottom galley.

Here are a few pictures taken from that cruise as well as some other pictures we took of Paris at night.

It seemed like there was a community of barges on the river at night. Some were dinner cruises where the passengers dressed in fancy outfits while others seemed more party boats where drinking was emphasized. Convivial waves were exchanged as we passed by each other.

Here is the classical styled architecture that I adore so much.

The Eiffel Tower was glittering with lights at the time this picture was taken.

Here is the Hotel de Ville at night.

Here is a small video with our digital camera that my husband took as he walked up to the top deck to get an unobstructed view. I have not tried uploading video before, so I hope it works.

Oh and the white oval shaped figure at the bottom of the Eiffel tower was a rugby ball in honor of the Rugby World Cup that had its opening game the next day with France vs. Argentina.

I am nearing the end of my travelogue in Paris, but I still have to give a report about our visit to the chateau and horse museum of Chantilly. Then comes the second part of our journey into the heart of the Midi-Pyrenees in the Tarn et Garonne department.

Bon soir!


Friday, January 18, 2008

A plea for another writer friend of mine

The day after I posted about Yanina Gotsulsky's story The Speed of Life being a semi-finalist in the Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Competition, I discovered another writer that I know has made the cut.

This time I am asking your help on behalf of Robert G. Evans who is a member of my local writers club. Here is the summary of his historical novel:

The Yokuts are under threat of invasion. A new disease cannot be stopped by
the antu doctors. The village elders determine that a spy must be sent to
discover the secrets of the Spanish, and Kiyu is chosen. "You must save the
People," the elders tell him. "Learn their magic, and turn it back against
them." First he must endure a sojourn to the glass mountain; then he is sent to
Mission San Juan Bautista.

The first chapter of his story The Sojourner can be found here.

The main contest page can be accessed here and from that point you can read and review other stories to your heart's content.

If you have ever wanted to get a sense of what agents and/or editors go through when it comes to reading a large slush pile full of submissions, here is your chance for some insight.

Simply go to the main page and click on a category you are interested in, browse the descriptions and pretend that you are an industry professional reading queries. The ones that sound intriguing are the ones you ask for partials. Read and review.

To enter a review you have to first be registered with Amazon.com and for that all you need is an email address and create your own password. Then scroll down the page of the contestant's page that has the description and click on the button saying "create your own review."

It is as simple as that.

You can spend an hour or two reading summaries and then reading partials. You might just learn something in the process that will help you in your own writing.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A request on behalf of a friend and...ethics in writing

Last night I received an email from a writing friend of mine. Yanina Gotsulsky wrote:

My novel, The Speed of Life has made it to the semi-finals at the Amazon Breakthrough novel contest. Now I NEED VOTES. Please read the opening chapter which they have posted (and I've attached for your convenience) and give me a vote. Also I'd appreciate your passing this along to anyone you know who wouldn't mind spending a couple of minutes writing shameless flatteries.


Karen Zumoff, a Russian immigrant, once a successful playwright, is obsessed with Tolstoy. Particularly with his reasons for killing Anna Karenina. She turns to his journals for answers, and there discovers a voice that is helping her to deal with the suicide of her lover and the utter failure of her first novel. Gradually Tolstoy's voice not only becomes real to Karen, it becomes her chosen reality. She believes that she has gone to the 19th century to help the great master rewrite Anna Karenina and to keep its original ending, where Anna lives.

Amazon.com notified Yanina of her being a semi-finalists and suggested that she encourage friends and family to spread the word and write reviews for her entry and other entries as well.

You can read the first chapter of Yanina's story here (it is a quick download to your computer) the main contest page where all the entries are located can be found here.

Winning contests can help launch a writing career. Just ask David Skibbins whose first novel was published when he won a contest by St. Martin's Press.

I scanned the homepage for the Amazon.com contest and discovered that Yanina's story is classified as General Literature. Her story is listed on the fifteenth page of entries. If my math is correct, there are 420 semi-finalists in that category.

Feel free to browse through the various titles and read those which sound interesting if you have the time. It might help give you some sympathy to agents who wade through hundreds of submissions looking for something that grabs their interest.

The one title that intrigued me the most during my scanning was The Chocolate Armadillo. I have no idea what it is about, but I have this strange fondness for rodents with armor and I adore chocolate. The story might be lousy, but I am intrigued by the title.

So, please if you have time and are so inclined, stop by Amazon.com and download Yanina's story and post a review. The stories that have "the most thorough, thoughtful feedback" are the ones most likely be narrowed down to the top ten finalists.

This stage of the contest runs through March 2nd, and Amazon not only is awarding writers, but reviewers as well. "The three customers who provide the most high quality reviews will be qualified to win one of three customer prizes, including an Amazon kindle reader, $2000 in Amazon gift card value, and an HP photo printer."

Quantity and quality matter for that competition. If you've ever wanted to be a professional reviewer, you can use this as practice. You might also realize after reading a dozen or so why it is difficult for agents to provide personalized rejections.


Okay, now onto ethics. I read a lot of agent and author blogs. It seems I discover a new blog or two each day to add to my Google Reader. The other day I came across a mention of a brouhaha regarding accusations of plagiarism by romance author named Cassie Edwards.

I mostly read non-fiction whilst doing my never ending research, and so my knowledge of romance industry is limited. I had never heard of Cassie Edwards before, nor had I read any of her over 100 books published.

However, the story begins with this post from the site SmartBitchesTrashyBooks

So my friend Kate (not to be confused with HaikuKatie of Nebula Haiku fame) was in desperate need of new reading material recently, and since she’d never read any romance novels before, I decided to throw some at her to see what she thought, since she’s a Classicist and an SF/F geek. I gave her examples of what I thought were the best (Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase), the most popular (Dark Lover by J.R. Ward) and the worst (Shadow Bear by Cassie Edwards) of the genre.

Shadow Bear introduced poor Kate to all-new levels of pain--she’d never encountered a book in which ellipses and exclamation marks were abused with quite that much abandon, or in which the characters spoke in Glossary with such distressing consistency. What especially caught her eye, however, were the didactic passages in the book. They were written in a distinctly different voice, and out of idle curiosity, she decided to Google certain phrases and sentences.

It was at that point that they discovered all kinds of eyebrow raising stuff.

The full story is chronicled in one massive PDF file that is now 51 pages in length.

One of the writers whose work was apparently lifted by Cassie Edwards was tipped off by the bloggers at SmartBitches and his response is now on Newsweek.com.

He never expected that an article he wrote about black-footed ferrets would be turned into stilted dialog in a romance novel.

I could spend hours pontificating on this issue, but I came across an entry on Dear Author that echoes most of my thoughts. So instead, I shall suggest those interested read those remarks in full.

I especially liked this passage:

Integrity connotes both wholeness and honor, two concepts that are fundamental to the whole notion of intellectual honesty and the violation that is plagiarism. The plagiarist conspires against his fellow writers to claim what they have created as his own, dishonoring his own work and the professional respect among those whose reputations as writers vest in their written work – be they writers of academic scholarship, fiction, poetry, drama, essays, etc. The plagiarist’s transgression exists on a material level (conversion of another’s work) and a philosophical level – a blow against the spirit of the general community of writers and readers.
I agree.

Incorporating historical facts in fiction is difficult, but the details should be woven into the narrative and not just words slightly rearranged from your research material.

If a work is in the public domain such as the works of Shakespeare, you can adapt them any way you choose. You can also publish them verbatim without permission of anyone. However, you cannot publish Hamlet and say that you wrote it.

It comes down to a question of personal integrity. The side by side comparisons of Cassie Edwards' writing to many different source materials is illuminating. A pattern quickly emerges that before the advent of modern computer and internet technology she would have propped books open in front of her and slightly rearrange wording to fit her needs. Now, all she has to do is cut and paste from browsers then shift words around.

I hope this case serves as an example for how not to write.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thursday afternoon in Paris: armor, weapons, and a tomb

Once my husband and I had been dropped off by a shuttle van to our hotel in the heart of Paris we walked everywhere. Our legs and feet were sore from all of our walking. Part of that was intentional on my part so that I could get a sense of exactly the size of medieval Paris.

That meant that we had walked solidly for three days in Paris. On Thursday I wanted to expand our horizons and visit a museum that was well outside the circumscribed areas once delineated by the fortifications of Philippe Auguste. I wanted to visit the Musée de l’Armée and see their collection of weapons and armor. Looking at the map, it did not appear to be all that far, but I knew how exhausted I would be if we tried walking there and back in one day.

Instead we used the Métro for the first time. We had read all about the reputation of the
Métro as being a haven for pickpockets and were therefore a little wary. We wanted to blend in as much as possible and not seem like we had the word "Tourists" emblazoned across our foreheads. That included talking as little as possible, and when we did speak we used as much French as we could.

We snuck peaks at our map lest we get lost, but we stashed it away quickly.

The museum is in a large complex of the Hôtel des Invalides which includes an active hospital and Napoleon's tomb. It is near the Eiffel Tower and this is as close as we came to seeing that landmark.

The buildings are surrounded by a large dry moat which means you are forced to use the marked entrances and cannot just cut across the lawn as a shortcut. You have to walk the loooong way around without exception.

Here is the courtyard and you can see the dome over Napoleon's tomb.

The museum holding the armor was on one of the wings and while I knew it probably would not hold much ancient armor, I wanted to see what they had. They have hundreds of suits of armor and once you get accustomed to viewing them, you start gravitating to the unusual ones. Such as this armor decked out with imagery of lions. Notice the helmet and the shoulders.

They also had armor for children. Or as I like to call it: "cub armor."

It is hard to imagine the expense of this kind of armor to begin with and then to contemplate how quickly children outgrow their clothes. It seems downright foolhardy to purchase such things. You cannot simply let down a hemline or such when they grow an inch or two. Here is another example of cub armor.

I would assume that they were created for important ceremonies, because otherwise it would seem totally impractical and cost prohibitive. I also doubt they were ever used in combat or tournaments. Please correct me if you know I am wrong.

Then we come to helmets. They evolved over the ages, but the ones I found most amusing were the ones which were obviously custom made.

This one's profile reminds me a little of Jamie Farr from M*A*S*H.

Being reminiscent of an actor is one thing, but this helmet reminds me of Mr. Potato Head. I do not know why anyone would want to sport that particular look.

Beyond aesthetics, it does not appear that there is much ventilation provided in that helmet nor would you have much ability to see. I guess the purpose would be to stand there, look stupid, and take a beating while wearing an iron helmet. How wonderful.

There was one shield that I really liked, because it reminds me of Athena who placed the gorgon's severed head upon her shield.

Here's a close up on Medusa's face. Whether or not it would help defend yourself in battle, you will look good in the process.

The museum also had display cases filled with swords and knives. A weapon that gave me pause was one that I could imagine being carried by a clergyman whilst on a pilgrimage. If you look carefully you will notice that the top of the crucifix is actually a concealed dagger.

It is kind of like the old decorative hat pins which could serve for more than one purpose.

Then there was a small room dedicated to ancient weapons. Here are some old rusted Francisca axes that some historians credit as being the source of the name Franks and therefore France. They were lethal axes which were thrown in battle and almost impossible to defend against.

There was also an ancient bronze cuirass. It looks uncomfortable, but if it could protect chest cavities from being penetrated by a Francisca axe...any thoughts of personal comfort would become secondary.

Some of the larger weapons in the museum included canons. The one that impressed me the most was one that had the bizarre adornment of two pairs of lovers.

Here are two close ups of the lovers.

Love and war juxtaposed on a weapon. Amazing.

We also came across a case that included figurines depicting warriors through the ages. The attention to detail is wonderful. According to the description, these were made by Baron Fernand Vidal de Lery starting in 1888 and later ceded to Bernard Franck.

The first figure has the caption "Guerrier franc - Charlemagne 768"

The second is labeled as "Guerrier Carolingian 768."

They were definitely not mass produced toys such as ones made today by Playmobil.

After finishing with that museum, we visited Napoleon's tomb.

Here is the inside of the dome.

Here is his sarcophagus.

There are also incredibly large pillars of black marble encrusted with gold.

This ostentatious display of wealth was created after the French revolution. It was a bit too much for my liking.

After that, we found our way back to our hotel and rested before going out for dinner.

The events of that night will be the subject of another post as I think I have reached the maximum number of pictures for one Blogger post.


(edited on 3/20/13 to remove obsolete references and make this post a little more timeless)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Thursday morning at the Louvre, Part III

As I continue my travelogue about my recent trip to France, I would like to invite those joining this story in progress to read my previous posts here.

After seeing the Objets d'Arts and Art of Islam exhibits we had a little time to enjoy looking at beautiful art. What a concept!

I would have loved to have visited the Musée d'Orsay while in Paris because I love Impressionist paintings, but we had no time for that and none of that art was from the time of Charlemagne. Therefore, it remains on a list of things I still would like to visit "some day." So we had to make due with the Louvre. (I know, such a hardship.)

For those who have not been to the Louvre, it is massive. It would be impossible to see everything in a single day even if you simply walked past every item without stopping. If you did somehow traverse the entire monument in such a fashion, it certainly would not be pleasurable nor would you get any grasp of the importance of the exhibits you passed.

After looking over the map and seeing our choices, I chose to visit the Greek antiquities
and my husband chose Etruscan art. It is not a secret that I adore Greek mythology. For me those are the tales of my childhood. I preferred reading the heroic stories of Theseus, Perseus, and Bellerophon over Grimm's Fairy Tales or stories about princesses in tall towers.

My favorite of all the characters from Greek mythology was and is Athena. What is not to like about a deity tasked with the powers of wisdom and victory? I mean, why would anyone prefer Hestia the goddess of the hearth over Athena?

With that in mind, here are some photos of that excellent goddess.

Here I am standing in front of a statue of Athena which lost her arms over the years.
At least she still has her head.

Here is another statue of Athena which I prefer since it appears intact.

A close up on her serene looking face.

Here is a painting of her which looks Rubenesque to me. I do not think that I yet to come across a painting of Athena which I truly like. That medium for some reason makes her look too soft, even if she still holds weapons.

As we made our way through the Greek antiquities section we turned a corner and came upon a crowd of people busily snapping their cameras. It was as if we came across Paris Hilton and the paparazzi. I saw a statue from the side and said sarcastically, "What is it? The Venus de Milo?"

Turns out, it was. We did not take a picture of it, but in retrospect I wish we had. If only to demonstrate the insanity of trying to take a picture of an object with at least one hundred people in your way.

One thing that surprised me about the Venus de Milo was that when I looked at the statue from the side (or the angle of her left shoulder), it appeared there was a large hole. It reminded me of hollow chocolate bunnies. I wish I had taken a picture of that, but the swarms of people made me want to move forward quickly.

Edited to add: I found an image on the web someone took of the statue showing the left arm at an angle and you can see what kind of looks like a hole.

I have never been a fan of the Venus de Milo, so I had no real emotional pull to want to stand in front of it properly and drink in its beauty. Nope. That statue does nothing for me.

Then again, I never have been a fan of Aphrodite. Even seeing the world famous statue in person did not change my mind.

Neither did seeing the Winged Nike of Samothrace, a statue that my Humanities professor at Michigan State emphasized.

The Nike of Samothrace was placed in a prominent area near stairways and it was hard to miss. I have never cared for that statue. Perhaps if it was not decapitated, and I was able to see the look of triumph or determination or righteous indignation then I would feel differently.

Seeing Nike of Samothrace in person did not change my mind. I found it technically brilliant, but was unmoved.

Personally I prefer this statue of Artemis to either Nike of Samothrace or the Venus de Milo. The statue is complete and shows the same beautiful flow of garments to denote movement, et cetera. Perhaps it is simply showing a strong woman in action that pleases me.

Now onward to some Etruscan art. I believe this was a sarcophagus.

Then comes pottery with mythological imagery. Check out the griffins pulling the chariot.

Here is another view closer up. You can see that some of the winged creatures have the heads of eagles, while others have the heads and manes of lions.

Here is another view which does not have the same heroic appeal. This one appears to have a drunken satyr. If he is not a satyr, then the man is exceedingly hirsute and still requires the assistance of two grown men.

On another vase we find the iconography of Athena, the helmet, the spear, and the gorgon's head. This time she is accompanied by her owl.

After viewing the Etruscan art we felt obligated to see the Mona Lisa before leaving. We did not have the time to visit the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, nor the Champs-Elysées while in Paris, so we felt we had to at least see the Mona Lisa since we were at the Louvre.

As we walked through a gallery of Italian paintings, I became excited when I recognized a painting. Not because I particularly liked it, but I was able to dredge up dormant trivia from my mind placed there by my Humanities professor years before.

I pointed at the painting and announced its artist with confidence. Then lo and behold, I was right. Huzzah!

See if you can recognize who painted this before scrolling downward.

Yes, it is "Madonna and Child Enthroned" by none other than.....


That is right, Cimabue. (Pronounced CHEEM ah boo-ee).

Not the most famous of artists, in fact I doubt that he would make many top ten lists for favorite artists of anyone. I was happy to be able to not only resuscitate his name from my memory banks, but I dusted off the terms contrapposto and chiaruscuro that day as well.

I was happy when another tourist took a picture of that painting after we did. It was as if our actions inspired someone else to take another look to an important but most likely under-appreciated piece of art.

As we walked through the gallery, Scott found a painting that reminded him of the artwork of contemporary artist Alex Grey.

Unfortunately, we do not have the artist's name, but here is a close up of the image in the far right of the painting.


We did see the Mona Lisa, but there were at least three hundred other people and cameras in front of it. I thought of a television commercial that ran when we lived in Southern California.

A squirrel eating a nut was shown in the foreground and then the camera pulled back to reveal fifty people taking a picture of the squirrel.

Chicka, chicka, chicka went the sound of the cameras.

The commercial decried the lack of solitude in the sea of humanity that is Southern California and invited people to take off to the mountains to avoid the crowds, or some such thing.

We walked by the Mona Lisa, got an idea of its true size and dimension and laughed as we said, "chicka, chicka, chicka."

It would have been impossible to get a good picture of the most famous painting in the world given the sheer number of people surrounding it. Anyone wanting a good image of Leonardo's masterpiece would be served by buying a post card in the gift shop than to use their own camera in order to get a picture of it obscured with heads, elbows and cameras.

Ah, but here is a large painting by Montauban's native son Ingres. More about him when I detail our trip to Montauban.

And, even though we were a wing with paintings, there were still statues to be found. Here is another statue of Athena. Her hands look like they had been grasping a spear and a shield, but have been lost over the years.

At that point, we were ready for lunch and take the Metro for the first time.


Friday, January 4, 2008

National Trivia Day: Fahrenheit and Body Temperature

Dr. Virago mentioned on her blog that today was National Trivia Day. To me, that sounded like a challenge.

I had many different amusing anecdotes that I considered expounding upon, and then while at work it came to me when a colleague asked to borrow a thermometer. I then had to interject into the conversation a bit of trivia gleaned from my high school Physics teacher about the Fahrenheit system and realized: "that's the trivia that I shall blog about."

Gabriel Fahrenheit had established the system of temperature measurement that is still used predominantly in non-scientific aspects of the United States. (Scientists and laboratories generally use the internationally favored Celsius scale.) The Fahrenheit scale seems strange today when there are such non-intuitive numbers such as 212 degrees as the boiling point of water and 32 degrees as water's freezing point. Why would anyone choose such a convoluted system?

Ah, because the freezing and boiling point of water were not the points used to calibrate his temperature scale.

Nope. Body temperature and the freezing point of saturated salt water were used.

Fahrenheit wanted body temperature to be the 100 degrees standard. It turns out, he was just a little off. That's why normal (read: average) body temperature is the relatively odd number of 98.6 degrees.

BTW, a minor pet peeve of mine is when people who are sick say they "have a temperature." Well, yes, of course they do. Even corpses have temperatures. In fact that is one of the methods coroners use to determine the time of death is to measure the temperature of a corpse. If you are sick what you probably have is a fever. /end tangential rant.

Fahrenheit also chose the freezing point of saturated salt water as his zero scale. The only reason that is of any importance to me is that I grew up in the state of Michigan and salt is used on the roads in winter to melt snow. However, if the weather is brutally cold then salt will not melt snow and does nothing other than provide traction for tires and rust the cars.

Detroit is built over a salt mine and so throwing salt on roads not only supports the local salt mine economy, it helps support the auto industry by making cars rust and forcing consumers to purchase replacements on a regular basis.

Okay, enough trivia, now time for an amusing anecdote:

My high school Physics teacher had a very dry sense of humor, and by the time I was a senior I had learned to appreciate it. One day when our Physics class was about to start an experiment I mentioned to him that I hated finding out a thermometer I was using had split mercury.

I wanted to carefully select a thermometer before the experiment started and any readings were taken.

It was then that Mr. Frank told me that there was one thermometer in the stock room that lacked a scale.

It was like we both had a light bulb go off over our head simultaneously. Mr. Frank and I colluded together on pulling off a practical joke on some of my classmates. We looked at each thermometer (about twenty or so in all) and found the one that lacked a scale. Basically it was a glass thermometer that merely had mercury in it with a white background. You could not tell what temperature it measured because like I said- it lacked a scale.

I took several thermometers and handed them out to the various groups. No one thought anything of my benevolent act, and I deliberately choose the group to give the booby-trapped thermometer. It went to the guys I liked to tease best.

I distinctly remember the words from my classmate Steve when he first recognized the problem, "Hey wait a minute here, Buck! There isn't a scale on this thermometer."

Mr. Frank walked over to the bench, nonchalantly peered down at it and said with a total deadpan look on his face, "Oh, well, you need to calibrate it."

As if Steve were nothing more than a latter day Gabriel Fahrenheit who had copious time left in the hour to not perform the experiment, but calibrate a thermometer as well. I know that ached with laughter as did those in my group whom I told about the joke after I returned to our bench.

Steve did not take the bait and instead went into the stock room to procure another thermometer. Oh, but I fondly remember my only experience of conspiring with a teacher to prank some of my fellow students and my teacher's masterful delivery of a punchline.

More on France soon!

Happy Trivia Day!


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Thursday morning at the Louvre, Part II - Islamic Art

As an attempt to usher in 2008 on a positive note, I resolve to find more time to finish my travelogue. I still have more about Paris to mention before I can get to the Midi-Pyrenees!

After leaving the Medieval Objects d'Art area, we visited the Arts of Islam exhibit. As I mentioned before, approximately half of the characters in my book are from North Africa or Asia, so I felt it imperative to get a sense of their art.

To start off with, here's a map that was provided on the wall to give a quick sense geography.

Here is a mile marker from the year 705 with the name of Caliph 'Abd al-Malik.

Sometimes the most remarkable thing about looking at ancient artifacts is recognizing how much they resemble things we use today. As if the lives of people centuries ago were ones that we can identify with by everyday objects.

For example, look at this plate. It is identified as being from Iran and is dated to being from the 8th or 9th century.

It reminds me a lot of Folk Ark, a pattern produced by Pfaltzgraff.

It has the same colors, even if the floral design is not identical.

Here is another design for plates that I would buy if Pfaltzgraff (or another manufacturer of dinnerware offered it).

I present the griffin:

It is identified as being from Iraq in the tenth century. Having a mythological beast on a dinner plate beats floral designs any day for me.

To continue with the dinner theme, here are some forks from Iran dated to the 8th-9th century. They are a little rustic and broken, but they are clearly distinguishable as forks.

Then here is a whole collection of household items.

Here is one of my favorites, because I adore colored glass. I am not sure of where it was from or the time period, but I love the iridescence.

Then come some fragments of colored glass that is from Samarra, Iraq reportedly after the year 836. I am amazed that there was the technology for that kind of intricate design with glass all those years ago.

Next comes a tripod for incense that comes from Egypt in the 8th-9th century.

Here again is another intricately carved piece of ivory. It comes from Spain in the 10th century.

Here is a close-up picture so that you can see lions and what I think are musicians. Oh, to have such talent and patience to carve such a thing of beauty.

Then we have more mundane artifacts associated with gambling.

As well as the sport of kings otherwise known as chess.

In case you are having difficulty recognizing what it is. The object is the horse or knight piece. that comes from 9th century Iraq.

Next up are tombstones in a variety of sizes.

The last image I shall share with you comes from the Medieval underground portion of the Louvre where you can see where the moat was. It is difficult to make out, but on the individual bricks there are carved hearts which were the mark of the stone mason. I did not understand at first why I saw hearts in the bricks until I later saw a documentary about Guedelon and there was a mention of stone masons putting their marks on stones. The only way to see the marks is to zoom in. Bonne chance in seeing them!

The next time I shall share artwork that we visited just because we were in the Louvre and did a little sightseeing for fun and not only for research.