Monthly Archives: June 2010

Bloomsday


Being Irish and a writer, I can’t help but acknowledge today as one of my favorite literary holidays (are there any others, actually?). On June 16, 1904 Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus wandered the streets of Dublin in the pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the first modern novel. I can’t claim to have ever finished the book (maybe when the kids grow up and my attention span expands again?), but love the tradition that’s grown up around it. Dubliners and Joyceans everywhere dress up in Edwardian clothes and read passages of the book, eat gorgonzola sandwiches and drink burgundy, and celebrate the written word.

We had the opportunity to be in Dublin a few years ago for Bloomsday and it was memorable. Kid-friendly? Not especially, but I think any kid can appreciate grown-ups standing in the street in costumes and making a scene. If you are in one of these areas where events are taking place, it is sure to be worth checking out.

I recently found out that Joyce did write a children’s book The Cat and The Devil. It looks hard-to-find, but maybe in a library. In the meantime, raise a glass for Joyce and the fact that books are still worth celebrating!

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Mermaids on Parade

Having lived in New Orleans and experiencing Mardi Gras for the full season has kind of ruined me for other parades?how can anything else really compare? But I?m not anywhere near ready to take my kids to Mardi Gras. While researching 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You?re 12! I discovered some epic parades that seemed equally out there, but possibly more kid-friendly, tops among them the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, which will be held this year on Saturday, June 19.

I?m not sure everyone would consider this a kid-friendly happening. The event is billed as an art parade, and reflects all the attendant outrageousness that comes with a lot of creative people trying to out-do each other. That takes the form of a lot of body paint (and sometimes little else) and other bacchanalian attire and behavior. However, lots of kids do come to the parade, many dressed up as well: it?s up to parents to decide what they?re comfortable with. This year, über-cool couple Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are the Queen Mermaid and King Neptune. Man, I would love to see that.

Meanwhile, a smaller scale yet no less creative Mermaid Parade will happen this weekend in Marshall, North Carolina. Marshall is one of those artists? enclaves that?s still ?undiscovered? enough to retain its quirky feed-stores-next-to-artist-studios edge. The 3rd Annual Mermaids in Marshall parade will include rides in an art-car type mermaid carriage, music, and a parade to Blannahasset Island (an island in the middle of the French Broad River that?s home to a high school turned art studio complex).

The only other mermaid parade I could find in the US has taken place in North Webster, Indiana for 65 years. Looks like it?s a complete 360 from the one in Coney Island, with a real small mid-western town feel.

Meanwhile, next month, we?re planning to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine: going to see the Mermaid Show at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida. I love its 1950s old Florida roots and I?m glad it hasn?t been Disney-fied yet.

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Mermaids on Parade

photo by heartonastick

Having lived in New Orleans and having experienced Mardi Gras for the full season has kind of ruined me for other parades–how can anything else really compare? But I’m not anywhere near ready to take my kids to Mardi Gras. While researching 101 Things You Gotta Do Before You’re 12! I discovered some epic parades that seemed equally ‘out there,’ but possibly more kid-friendly. Tops among them is the annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, which will be held this year on Saturday, June 19.

photo by See Ming Lee

I’m not sure everyone would consider this a kid-friendly happening. The event is billed as an art parade, and reflects all the attendant outrageousness that comes with a lot of creative people really letting loose. That takes the form of a lot of body paint (and sometimes little else) and other bacchanalian attire and behavior. However, lots of kids do come to the parade, many dressed up as well: it’s up to parents to decide what they’re comfortable with. This year, über-cool couple Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed are the Queen Mermaid and King Neptune. Man, I would love to see that.

photo by heartonastick

Meanwhile, on a smaller scale, yet no less creative, there’s a mermaid parade that takes place this Friday night, June 11 in Marshall, North Carolina. Marshall is one of those tiny artists’ enclaves that’s still “undiscovered” enough to retain its quirky feed-stores-next-to-artist-studios edge. The 3rd Annual Mermaids in Marshall parade includes rides in an art-car type mermaid carriage, bluegrass music, and a parade to Blannahasset Island (an island in the middle of the French Broad River that’s home to a high-school-turned art-studio-complex).

The only other mermaid parade I could find in the US has taken place in North Webster, Indiana for 65 years. Looks like it’s a complete 360 from the one in Coney Island, with a real small mid-western town feel.

Next month, we’re planning to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine: going to see the Mermaid Show at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Florida. I love its 1950s Old Florida roots and I’m glad it hasn’t been Disney-fied yet. Any other mermaid places to know about?

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The Desert Libraries

We just got back from seeing The Secret of Kells, a beautiful animated Irish film about medieval manuscript illuminators. It reminded me of a story I read about last year while researching a project about West Africa.

As far back as the 13th century, when those Medieval scribes in Ireland, France and England were illuminating manuscripts, there were scribes in North Africa doing the same thing. Books were one of the hottest commodities traded by the desert caravans traveling the Sahara between the Mali, Songhai, Ghana, and Arab empires. And their content was amazing: poetry written by women (800 years ago! In Africa!), medical texts, geometry books. The empires crumbled, but out in of some of the most remote place in Mauritania and Mali there are desert libraries with hundreds of thousands of these books, some nearly 1000 years old ,and many mouse-eaten and turning to dust.

I love that the government of Mauritania is now working with Italian restorers to save the books, and that there’s a new high-tech library in Timbuku to help preservation efforts. The Library of Congress has an online exhibit of some of the manuscripts for those of us who probably won’t get over there to see the real things.

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Firefly Season


The season’s first firefly just blinked through our backyard last night, announcing the start of that brief, magical time of the year when the kids race around the yard in the twilight each night in pursuit of those little blinks of light.

We’ve always been content to watch them in our own yard, or maybe at the park, but I just found out that there are actually a few firefly destinations, one quite close to home.

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a (group? swarm?) of synchronous fireflies appears in the area of the park near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Each night for about a week, their rare talent is on display: they blink in unison, creating perfectly choreographed patterns of light.

One of the only other known places where this phenomenon occurs is in the mangrove swamps of Kuala Selangor, just outside of Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. There, the fireflies flick more in a rhythm, and stay congregated in “firefly trees.” You can take firefly boat tours to see them.

The Park Service closes off the Elkmont entrance to traffic, and visitors can take a shuttle to see the fireflies each evening. This year, peak firefly viewing is June 5 to 13. That’s two days from now: how can we not go?

Another cool firefly-related activity: the Museum of Science, Boston has a firefly watch program that allows you/your kids to contribute to their research. Just go to their web site for details on how you can register your backyard as a firefly habitat.

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Opportunities for (Old) Growth

One thing can be said for all those early American loggers: they were thorough. From 950 million acres of virgin forests that stretched from the east coast to the Mississippi when the first Europeans arrived, they managed to do away with almost all of it. Almost.

While they’re not as quite as impressive as those otherworldly giant cedars and redwoods out west, there are stands of old growth from Maine, Ontario, the Adiondack wilderness, Virginia and Texas to here in North Carolina at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest: all accessible to the public.

Old growth white pine at Douglas Woods in Wisconsin

Kids love superlatives. Visiting an old growth forest has lots of them: biggest, oldest, tallest, last. It’s a small-scale adventure: a little hiking, a little science and history, built-in bragging rights: “we saw the oldest, tallest, coolest trees in (insert name of your state/region).”

We took Ms. M to Joyce Kilmer for a New Year’s hike a few years back and the trail was easy enough even for her (four at the time, I’d say).

American Forests has a registry of the “biggest in species” trees all over the US with an online database you can search by zipcode to find the biggest trees near you (note that these are single trees, not forests). So you can do a quick after-school drive to see a “champion” tree or a weekend drive/hike to a see whole forest of them.

The 'treehouse tree' in Bradford County, PA

One more superlative: these  unassuming bristlecone pines in Utah and California are the longest-growing organisms on earth (one was just discovered that was over 4,600 years old!).

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