A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, December 3, 2010

A Logophile's Escape

I’m sick, I’m tired, and I’m fed up.  The traffic!  The crowds!  The incessant, repetitive, holiday songs!  The schlock!  I need a vacation!

Where’s a logophile to go?  Someplace unusual…someplace memorable…someplace I can one-up my friends with when they brag about their holiday celebrations.

Well, the choices are the following:

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwillllantysiliogogogoch.  This Welsh village on the isle of Anglesey is known as having the longest place name in Europe.  It means, “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of St. Tysilio by the red cave.”  Unfortunately it is a contrived name formulated for publicity purposes in the 1860s.  It achieved its original intention of being the longest name of any railway station in the United Kingdom.

Although we can count 58 letters in English, the Welsh count 51, since “ch”, “ng”, and “ll” count as single letters.  It is commonly referred to as Llanfair PG or Llanfairpwll in Wales.  Two other places in Great Britain have tried to outdo it, again for publicity purposes, but have received little recognition.  They are Llanhyfryddawelllehynafolybarcudprindanfygythiad- trienusyrhafnauole, which in 2004 made the attempt to convert to this name from Llanfynydd.  (The name is a reference to the protests of building a wind farm nearby, and means “a quiet beautiful village; a historic place with rare kite under threat from wretched blades.”)  The other is a station on the Fairbourne Railway, called Gorsafawddacha'idraigodanheddogleddollôn- penrhynareurdraethceredigion.  This means “the Mawddach station and its dragon teeth at the Northern Penrhyn Road on the golden beach of Cardigan Bay”.  I guess we could do the “long place names” tour of the British Isles.

A more exotic location would be Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­
pukakapiki­maunga- horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.  It is listed in the Guinness World Records in all of its 85-letter glory.  It means, “the summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who traveled about, played his nose flute to his loved one.”  How romantic!  I wonder if my husband would learn the nose flute while we were there, so he could serenade me…

At 85 letters it is certainly long, but I prefer its even longer forms: "Taumata­whakatangihanga­ koauau­o­tamatea­ure­haea­turi­pukaka­piki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­ki­tana­tahu" has 92 letters.  The most complete version has 105 letters: Taumata-whakatangihanga-koauau-o-Tamatea-haumai-tawhiti-ure-haea-turi-pukaka-piki-maunga-horo-nuku-pokai-whenua-ki-tana-tahu.  This longest version means, “The hill of the flute playing by Tamatea, who was blown hither from afar, had a slit penis, grazed his knees climbing mountains, fell on the earth, and encircled the land – to his beloved.”   Wow!  What a guy, slit penis and all!

Speaking of which…the place with the longest name in Australia is Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya Hill, which means “where the devil urinates” in the Aboriginal language, Pitjantjatjara.  I’ll pass on this one.

Mamungkukumpurangkuntjunya Hill

I thought my hometown had the longest name for a city – El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula – better known as Los Angeles, L.A., or El Lay.  (Meaning, “The town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Little Portion”, porciuncula from the Italian word for a small portion of land.)  But I was wrong.  The city with the longest name is also known by its diminutive, Bangkok.  Like L.A. it considers itself a city of angels.  But its name is composed of 163 letters: Krung­thep­maha­nakorn­amorn­ratana­kosin­mahintar­ayutthay­ amaha­dilok­phop­noppa­ratrajathani­burirom­udom­rajaniwes­mahasat­harn­amorn­phimarn­avatarn­sathit­sakkattiya­visanukamprasit.  Roughly translated it means, “The great city of angels, the supreme unconquerable land of the great immortal divinity, Indra, the royal capital of nine noble gems, the pleasant city, with plenty of grand royal palaces, and divine paradises for the reincarnated deity (Vishnu) given by Indra and created by the god of crafting (Visnukarma)."  

"El Lay"

Now that’s a mouthful!  I was in Bangkok for about 36 hours once during a stopover.  What impressed me the most was how smoggy and choked with traffic it was.  Kind of like L.A.  So much for cities of angels.


Given my love of watermelon, it might be appropriate to go to South Africa, perhaps to Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein, 44 letters meaning “the spring where two buffaloes were cleanly killed with a single shot.”  This is a farm roughly 124 miles west of Pretoria.  But more importantly, I may be able to find a copy there of the wildewaatlemoenkonfytkompetisiebeoordelaarshandleiding, which is the “wild watermelon jam competition judge’s manual”.  What a unique edition to add to my cookbook library!

Decisions, decisions.  Of course, since L.A. is right up there among long place names, I could just stay home and spend my money on a new Scrabble  or Upwords board and some tasty comestibles…


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Giving giving gifts...

Tired of the holiday shopping crowds?  The traffic?  The endless miles of crap?  How about giving gifts that give – something that won’t end up in a closet or regifted?  There are many options available…

The Seva Foundation has a simple philosophy:  “To be fully human, we must translate our compassion and concern into useful service.”  Their programs, which cover a number of countries and cultures, focus on marginalized peoples, building communities, increasing sustainability, and working through partnerships.  Begun in 1978 by a group of concerned individuals, the foundation has helped people with a variety of health issues.

With their Gifts of Sight program, for instance, you can:  help a woman get eye care services for $25; restore sight to a blind person for $50; restore sight to a child for $100; or train a rural health care worker in techniques to prevent blindness.  Such incredible deals for making a positive impact on someone’s life!

There are many other opportunities within the organization, from supporting Native American wellness to purchasing items like gift cards and calendars.  Imagine the pleasure of receiving a card or email stating that someone’s sight has been restored in your honor!  Priceless…

My husband and I have given gifts from Heifer International in the past.  You can gift a flock of chicks, ducks, or geese for $20, or a camel for $850.  Or you can donate 10% of the cost of a gift and they will add it with other donations to total the final cost.  Great way to spread your wealth around! 

I know our donees were very pleased with knowing that someone was given bees, a hive, and beekeeping training in their names.  We felt really good about it ourselves.  Although a “Knitter’s Gift Basket” – a llama, an alpaca, a sheep, and an angora rabbit – costs $480, a share costs $48, something I’m considering…

There are lots of environmental and animal protection groups that have gift programs.  One great one is the National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Green Gift collection.  You can save wildlife, promote clean energy, educate kids, revive oceans, or even sue a polluter, among other things.  For $50 you can make someone an otter keeper; for $35 you honor someone by defending whales from deadly sonar.  So many options…

This season is the time for love and generosity.  What better way to celebrate than sharing with people, critters, and nature?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rodents and Dinosaurs...

Winsor McCay
Long before there were rodents, there were dinosaurs.  Likewise, long before there was an animated rodent, there was an animated dinosaur.

Winsor McCay (1867-1934), the brilliant author of Little Nemo in Wonderland, among other comic strips, was also an early animator.  In 1906, McCay began performing in vaudeville in addition to writing and drawing his comic strips. Vaudeville was in its heyday, and McCay became a hit.  By 1911, he began presenting animated films on stage.  The first was an animation of Little Nemo in Slumberland composed of 4,000 drawings he drew himself.  He went on to make How a Mosquito Operates, this contained 6,000 drawings.  McCay’s fame spread through the nascent animation community.

But his biggest animated success was premiered at the Palace Theater in Chicago on February 8, 1914 – Gertie the Dinosaur.  Gertie was based on a brontosaurus skeleton from the American Museum of Natural History.  McCay's 10,000 drawings were photographed by Vitagraph Studios.  McCay himself then interacted with the animation.  Dressed in a tux and sporting a whip, McCay conducted something akin to a circus act by instructing Gertie to perform. 

Gertie swallowed a rock, played with a mastodon, drank a lake dry, and gobbled a real apple thrown to her by McCay (who actually palmed it).  When McCay scolded her, she began to cry.  Animation (and for that matter motion pictures) were quite new and audiences were mystified.  They thought there were tricks involved, and would even cry out protests of fakery.  In the long run, however, audiences became enthralled and McCay received much critical acclaim.

Long before cel animation was introduced, McCay drew thousands of frame on individual 6.5 x 8.5 inch sheets of rice paper.  Another artist drew the backgrounds onto each sheet.  McCay then developed techniques that became standard in the industry.  He also cycled drawings, reusing some instead of duplicating them.  He devised a type of key frame animation where rather than draw each frame sequentially, he drew the key positions, then filled in the frames in between.  This was called the “McCay Split System”.

Advertising poster for "Gertie".

But into every artist’s life, a little rain must fall.  McCay, who magnanimously shared his techniques, once showed a visitor posing as journalist the details of his process.  But that visitor was John Randolph Bray, who later produced the first animation in color.  Bray patented McCay’s procedures, then tried to sue McCay for using his own techniques.  But McCay triumphed and received royalties from Bray for some years.  Around 1915, a plagiarized version of Gertie was distributed and played for years.  It was identified as made by Bray Productions.

Stacks of "Gertie" drawings.

McCay's work in animation was groundbreaking.  He pushed the boundaries of this new art form with the use of naturalistic motion and characters with personality, trailblazing the way for animators who followed, including Walt Disney.  Compare McCay's work with Disney's "Steamboat Willie", the precursor to Mickey Mouse, produced fourteen years later.

Famous Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones once said, “The two most important people in animation are Winsor McCay and Walt Disney.  I’m not sure who should go first.”

McCay at his desk.
Remember, Folks, McCay never received instruction in animation.  Instead, he wrote the book...
A DVD of all of McCay’s films is available:  Animated Legend: Winsor McCay.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

(Arguably) The Best Comic Strip Ever...

July 31, 1910

“To sleep, perchance to dream,” the Bard said.  One thinks of sleeping and dreaming to be pleasant, restorative, and delightful.  But not all dreams are to one’s liking.  Horrifying nightmares aside, some dreams are surreal and unreal.  Like Little Nemo in Slumberland.

September 30, 1906

A masterpiece of comic strip art, Little Nemo was painstakingly illustrated by cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay.  Featuring a lad named Nemo (Latin for “no one”), there was not really a plot to the strip, other than his nightly phantasmagorical dreams.  Even though it was a comic strip, it was not about a child’s simple dreams.  It was often dark and sometimes violent.  Each strip ended in Nemo waking up, often after falling out of bed.

September 6, 1906

The premise of the strip is Nemo has been summoned by King Morpheus to go to Slumberland and be a playmate for his daughter, the Princess.  Nemo’s friend, Flip, is a clown and distracts Nemo in the beginning, but ends up being Nemo’s buddy and assists him.  The Imp appears to help Nemo as well.

July 26, 1908 

Certain episodes are famous.  The “Night of the Living Houses” is reported to be the first comic strip to be collected by the Louvre.  The “Walking Bed” shows Nemo and his sidekick Flip traveling over the rooftops while riding Nemo’s bed.  Then there is the “Befuddle Hall” sequence, where Nemo and his pals try finding their way out of a funhouse.  McCay’s draughtsman skills are superb in this strip, and he uses his mastery of perspective to create a graphically excellent strip of a Beaux Arts interior.  The dialogue is delivered deadpan which adds to its eccentricity.

January 19 1908.  First of "Befuddled Hall" series.

The strip was not particularly a success in its time, but has received more and more attention as the decades go by.  His intricate and details backgrounds and vivid colors are incredible.  Little Nemo ended up making a big impact on the comic strip, influencing comic artists that followed him.

September 8, 1907

The strip ran from October 15, 1905 to April 23, 1911 in the New York Herald.  The Herald at that time had an extremely creative and talented color printing staff, which clearly shows in the strip.  When the Herald refused to let Windsor take time off, he waited out his contract and went to work for Hearst’s New York American.  Since the Herald owned the name, McCay changed the title to In the Land of Wonderful Dreams.  But the coloring wasn’t up to par, and he began devoting time to animation.  His inattentiveness to the strip shows, but his editorial cartoons flourished.

July 10, 1910

On December 13, 1913, he was ordered to quit the comic strip and focus on editorial work.  His interactive animation career (see tomorrow’s post), consisting of vaudeville bookings, began to thrive until Hearst put the word out that he preferred that McCay was not to be booked.  In 1924, he left Hearst and returned to the Herald Tribune to revive Little Nemo, but it didn’t catch on.  Proof of how much this strip was undervalued was when the Herald Tribune allowed McCay to purchase all rights for $1.

January 18, 1906

His influence on other authors is undeniable.  Maurice Sendak claimed Little Nemo was the inspiration for his book In the Night Kitchen.  Bill Watterston’s Calvin and Hobbes also was fostered by McCay.  A parody of Little Nemo, “Little Neuro”, features a lad who never leaves his bed, appears in the strip Cul de Sac.

March 11, 1906

Despite the barriers that he struggled with he managed to pursue his art and make a lasting impression.  Little Nemo was not syndicated, yet achieved a modicum of success for a comic strip.  The original strip only ran for six years, but it’s become much-loved classic and set the bar for future strips.

October 27, 1907

Fantagraphics Books published a six volume set of Little Nemo in Wonderland in 1998.

Check out this site for excellent reproductions of the strip - used in this post.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Wonky Latin: Erudition Gone Awry

Pig Latin Translator dashboard widget
available from here.
There are two languages in which I am fluent, and the main one is English.  The second one, in which admittedly I was more fluent as a kid, is Pig Latin.  In fact, my little friends and I were so fluent in it, we could speak very quickly, thereby rendering our communications private because no one (especially our parents) could keep up with us.

Pig Latin is not Latin at all.  It’s a word game whereby you take the first letter of a word and add it to “ay”.  Then you say what’s left of the original word, followed by the new second syllable.  So the word “Latin” would then become “atin-lay”.  It’s a form of wordplay used to disguise words and to sound like a foreign language.  Kids love it.  So do comedians.  You can find it in The Three Stooges or in South Park.  Thomas Jefferson is said to have written letters to his friends using it.

Like every language there are rules.  Words that begin with a consonant (or cluster of consonants, like “th” or “st”) use that beginning sound with “ay” at the end.  If the word begins with a vowel or silent consonant the new second syllable will be just “ay”, as in “as” = “as-ay”.  “The” can be problematic, but once you rattle off the words that follow, no one will notice.  Compound words, such as “bookstore” are split into their components, then Pig Latinized:  “ook-bay ore-stay”.

Other languages have similar wordplays.  French has “verlan” or “l’envers” (backwards), where a word is written syllabically backwards, thus “Merci” becomes “cimer” and “bizarre” changes to “zarbi”.

The origins of Pig Latin are unknown, but medieval monks played around with real Latin and that’s where the name supposedly came from.  There are mentions of it in American magazines from the late 1800s.  Sometimes, though, Pig Latin gets confused with Dog Latin.

Dog Latin, sometimes referred to as mock Latin, is an imitation of Latin.  This is a jargon meant for poking fun at scholarly endeavors, or used to sound erudite.  Dog Latin translates English words into Latin-sounding ones, without regard to grammar concerns (conjugation, declension, etc.)  It often mixes correct Latin with Latinized English words. 

Mostly used for comic effect, Dog Latin names have been used in movies, plays and comics.  Think Naugthtius Maximus or Incontinetia Buttox from Monty Python’s Life of Brian.  Most recently and famously, there are the spells used in the Harry Potter series (Expelliarmus – the disarming charm, or Specialis Revelio – causing an object to show its magical properties). 

Dog Latin is also used for phrases, one of the most popular being Illegitimi non carborundum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down).   More frequently it is used in a serious context to convert a proper noun into a mass one, such as Shakespeareana or Freudiana, to denote works associated with Shakespeare or Freud, respectively. 

Yet another form of faux Latin is Lorem Ipsum.  Actually a form of Dog Latin, it is derived from a real Latin passage from Cicero.  Used in graphic design and publishing as a placeholder text, or filler text, it stands in for the text element in a layout.  It is meant to be nonsensical and unreadable.  This way the focus is on the layout and not on the meaning of the text, which might distract the viewer if it were something understandable. 

Lorem Ipsum in a layout.

The text is a section of a Latin text by Cicero, sections 1.10.32 and 1.10.33 of De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (The Extremes of Good and Evil), but the words are altered, added, or removed altogether.  Some versions have letters that didn’t exist in Latin – k, w, and z – and use them in nonsense words so that the text looks more like English.  A Latin translation of the term may be something along the lines of “pain itself”.  (Dolorem is pain, suffering, misery, or grief; ipsum means “itself”).

The text has been used since the 1500s.  Cicero’s original work was a treatise on the theory of ethics, as the title implies, which was popular during the Renaissance.  Lorem Ipsum became popular again in the 1960s, and now can even be found in publishing software.

O-say e-thay ext-nay ime-tay ou-yay ant-way o-tay ool-fay our-yay riends-fay, ry-tay ig-pay atin-lay!