Friday, October 30, 2015

Aleins (for Aliens)

I braved the cold and driving rain without an umbrella the other night to catch the final entry in the silent film series at Albany Public Library, called When an Alien Robot Crash-Lands in Troy, NY. (It might bear mention here that Troy is home to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which is "the oldest continuously operating technological university in both the English-speaking world and the Americas.") This time it was the debut of a 50-minute film by a local artist named Bobby Kendall, with live accompaniment by the band Lastdayshining. Maybe it was the wet slog to get there, or maybe I've just seen too many locally produced, low-budget "indies" in my day, but I had somewhat dampened hopes that weren't entirely assuaged in its first few minutes. However, I soon grew quite enamored of this strange little sci-fi saga. Our eponymous robot was a small, crudely made thing, such as a child would construct (two white boxes for the body and head, cardboard arms, big red eyes, and a black line for the mouth) and it navigated on four wheels, like an all-terrain-type vehicle operated by remote control. It starts out roaming this rusty old industrial park on the outskirts of town, dotted with discarded computer equipment and other sad relics of our day. It approaches various objects, touches them gingerly, and then moves on. It rambles through the nearby woods, where it seems to take a shine to a wilted sunflower head, and then down to the banks of the Hudson River, where it's surprised by water. The plotline, such as it is, is rather slim and whimsical, which isn't a bad thing, and it provides fitting food for thought. For example, I loved the way that, unlike the robot and its startled response to all it sees, the people it passes on the sidewalks of Troy's historic downtown district, and milling about at the farmers market, hardly give it a first glance, much less a second one. They must have thought it was just a dumb toy or an advertising gizmo; or perhaps they really didn't notice it at all, the way folks will often "look right through" those who aren't part of their own circumscribed worldview. But the best thing about this movie, in my opinion, wasn't the alien robot, or even the local color; it was the truly deft and touching way that it was filmed. It was like a cinematic love letter to the city, artfully and affectionately rendered by Kendall, and beautifully scored by Lastdayshining in a blend of "post-rock" and chamber music styles. Kendall and his band are currently in the process of recording an original score to another silent film about an awesomely cinematic city, Fritz Lang's Metropolis. A relative of mine, who also loves Troy, NY, once built himself a radio-controlled "robot" as well. He dubbed it YLLIB in a backwards homage to its creator. It occurs to me that this one could have been likewise named YORT, pronounced as one syllable or else EE-ORT (sort of like the dysphoric donkey in A.A. Milne's "100 Aker Wood"). But whatever you call your robot, or however you say its name, remember it's "I before E " in the case of aliens from outer space, along with any you might find in your own database. There were three found in OhioLINK today, plus 14 in WorldCat.

(Poster for showing of When an Alien Robot Crash-Lands in Troy, NY, at the Albany Public Library, October 28, 2015.)

Carol Reid

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Carey + Cary (for Cary or Carey)

Diana Serra Cary, who for a few brief years in the 1920s was known to the world as Baby Peggy, turns 97 years old tomorrow. (And she still looks as impish and beaming as a babe in arms.) Born Peggy-Jean Montgomery on October 29, 1918, in San Diego, California, she was introduced to acting at the tender age of 19 months. Her father had been a Hollywood stuntman, and while visiting with her mother one day on set, Peggy-Jean managed to impress a director with her overall behavior and demeanor. First paired with "Brownie the Wonder Dog" in 1921's Playmates, she made close to 150 comedy shorts over the next three years, along with dozens of feature films, most notably Captain January in 1924. Most of her films, however, were either lost in a studio fire in 1926, or simply to the ravages of time and human error. She had a tough upbringing, rapidly going from riches to rags, as a result of her father's dissolute mishandling of her earnings, and suffered a lifelong identity crisis stemming from her early role as the family breadwinner. The readjustment required once the parts stopped streaming in at the age of six (after her father had had a falling out with the producer) was intense: the family went from living large on a ranch to camping out in tents. She did a bit of vaudeville, and later made a few "talkies," but was always very wary about the Role that had somehow seemed to replace her life. Highly intelligent, though lacking any real formal education, she went on to have a career as a writer and silent film historian and has published several books. (Montgomery had long ago decided that names like "Peggy or Mitzi" were "showgirl" names and rechristened herself Diana Serra.) Check out TCM's 2012 documentary Baby Peggy: the Elephant in the Room, in which she endearingly acquaints her young granddaughter with her onetime stardom, proving that neither "Baby" nor Diana will be put in a corner—while also suggesting that whimsy, honesty, forgiveness, and a willingness to suffer for, and against, one's art may be the true key to a long and triumphant life. There were 125 occurrences of Cary + Carey (for Carey or Cary) in OhioLINK today, and 1295 in WorldCat.

(Photo of Baby Peggy (Diana Serra Cary), 1 July 2012, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, October 26, 2015

Jonn* + Johnn* (for Johnn* or Jonn*)

You may have gone apple picking this autumn, or had a bite of homemade apple pie or a sip of seasonal cider, or dunked for apples if you're a kid, or perhaps (or even mayhaps if you're a hipster) tasted your first, or last, appletini. If so, you might like knowing that today is the birthday of Jonathan Chapman, affectionately known as Johnny Appleseed. Unfortunately, though, it's not. His birthday was actually September 26, which I wrongly searched in Wikipedia, proving, I guess, how reluctant I am to see the sad waning of summer and the rapid approach of winter. In any case, apples are good all year round, and Chapman himself, who was born in Leominster, Mass., in 1774, seemed to have precious little regard for the weather, except for how it affected his beloved apple trees. Often pictured in tatters and without shoes, he had once heard an itinerant preacher exhorting his flock to eschew extravagances such as calico and imported tea. The preacher cried: "Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?" Chapman grew tired of the pious excoriation and finally walked up to him, stuck his foot up on the stump that was serving as a podium, and told him: "Here's your primitive Christian!" Nonplussed, the man hastily ended the sermon and dismissed the congregation. Our peripatetic wag could have probably afforded the "extravagance" of proper footwear, but surely just wanted to get as close to his roots, so to speak, as possible. He did have some unusual religious views of his own, however. He was a missionary for The New Church (Swedenborgian), and one theory as to why he never married was that he was holding out for two wives in heaven as reward for a lifetime of abstinence! Nevertheless, "Johnny Appleseed" soon became known and loved worldwide, and references to him in popular culture are far too numerous to mention. Michael Pollan, in Botany of Desire, points out that Chapman was opposed to grafting, and that his apple varieties were basically inedible and could only be used for cider. "Really," he tells us, "what Johnny Appleseed was doing and the reason he was welcome in every cabin in Ohio and Indiana was he was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier. He was our American Dionysus." So cheers and a happy belated birthday, Johnny! There were 66 cases of this combination typo in OhioLINK, and 923 in WorldCat.

(Drawing of Jonathan Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, from A History of the Pioneer and Modern Times of Ashland County, by H. S. Knapp, 1862, and Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Istabul (for Istanbul)

You may recall that several years ago, our blog featured another misspelling of this great city’s name. Carol Reid’s 2008 post discussed the pop song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” first recorded by The Four Lads in 1953 and later covered by They Might Be Giants.

But did you know that the city has actually undergone many other name changes over the centuries? It’s been called Lygos, Byzantion/Byzantium, Augusta Antonina, New Rome, Constantinople, Stamboul, and finally, Istanbul. The latter was officially adopted in 1923, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, even though the name had been in use for a long time. But according to the folks at National Geographic, “this did not stop foreign travelers, businesses, and even governments from calling the city ‘Constantinople.’ That changed in 1930, once mail addressed to Constantinople—including paychecks, shipping forms, and other legal documents—stopped being delivered to any home or business in Istanbul.”

Today’s typo has also been around for a while. There are 6 instances of Istabul in OhioLINK and 258 in WorldCat. Oh, and if you've never seen what may be the most infamous version of the song, check out this clip of Craig Ferguson and crew lip-syncing, in costume, on the Late Late Show in 2009.

(Oldest surviving map of Istanbul (1422), by Cristoforo Buondelmonti, from Wikimedia Commons) 

Deb Kulczak

Friday, October 16, 2015

Challang* (for Challeng*)

It might be a challenge to correct all of the instances of today's typo in our library catalogs: there were 70 in OhioLINK, and "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat. Harder to find, however, was a warm and comforting image and theme to go with it. I wearied of pictures of space shuttles, warriors, bombardiers, athletes, contestants, and so on, and finally turned to the typo itself for inspiration... Aha! Challah! More of a challenge to make than it is to eat, perhaps, challah is the simple, yet rather fancy, braided bread served on the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays. Sometimes it's topped with sesame seeds, and other times poppy seeds. On Rosh Hashanah, it often includes raisins and is glazed with honey. There are both "water challahs" and "egg challahs," although challah is traditionally pareve (no meat or dairy). Its consumption is considered to be a covenant with God. A double loaf (which is meant to last the Sabbath and well into Saturday) represents the manna that fell from heaven on the wandering Israelites, and is sometimes called "Twelve Tribes" challah. I've heard that it makes the best French toast.

(Six Braided Jewish Challah with sesame, 5 June 2009, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Cinemotog* (for Cinematog*)

Today marks the date, in 1888, that the "Father of Cinematography" was born. Not the day that he left his mother's womb, mind you, but the day he recorded the world's earliest surviving motion picture on film, called "Roundhay Garden Scene." The man of whom we speak is not Thomas Edison, nor even one of the Lumière brothers, but rather the French inventor Louis Le Prince. Although there had been prior attempts at "motion pictures" (such as the various running, jumping, and flying figures produced by Eadweard Muybridge in the 1870s), Le Prince's startling images were the first to be created with a single-lens camera, on Eastman Kodack paper-based film. Shot in Roundhay, Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire, the movie depicts his son Adolphe along with some other family members, including Le Prince's mother-in-law, Sarah Whitley. Mrs. Whitley died just ten days after these images were taken, in a somewhat eerie evocation of the idea that a picture "steals" its subject's soul. But it was probably just a coincidence. (Le Prince's own sudden disappearance and demise remains an enduring mystery.) Louis Le Prince also made another short film called "Traffic Crossing Leeds Bridge." We found four instances of Cinemotog* clogging up traffic today in OhioLINK, and 107 in WorldCat.

(French cinema pioneer Louis Le Prince, 1842-1890, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Monday, October 12, 2015

Popluat* (for Populat*)

A few weeks ago we had a moose on the loose over in nearby Rensselaer County. This sort of thing can be exciting, and even rather amusing at times, but it's also worrisome because of the dangers posed to the animal, as well as what it indicates about possible food shortages and the problem of population control. The story reminded me a little of the charming children's book Melvin the Moose Child, written by Louis Slobodkin in 1957, in which Melvin is moping over living in the "south woods" where there aren't any other moose children for him to play with. His mother tells him that settling down there had been his father's idea: "He caught too many colds up north and we moved south for his health." Melvin finally persuades his mom to let him wander around awhile, after listening to her admonishments to be careful crossing the streams, and not to go too far north. "Remember," she says, "you are only wearing your summer coat of fur." Suffice it to say that Melvin has some unexpected adventures, but unlike our own recent walk-about (who sadly, after being captured and tranquilized, had to be put down due to leg injuries that likely occurred when he tried to swim the Hudson River), he eventually found his way back home again. We found nine cases of Popluat* (for populat*) in OhioLINK today, and 205 in WorldCat.

(Cover of Melvin the Moose Child, by Louis Slobodkin.)

Carol Reid

Friday, October 9, 2015

Portugeu* (for Portugue*)

Sometimes, when I need inspiration, I go to the Wikipedia page for whatever day it happens to be (October 9, say) to find out who was born on that day and any other important events that might have occurred. Today is the first date for which I've seen a non-human's birthday listed—i.e., that of Bo, the Obama family's "White House Dog." Strictly speaking, Bo is a Portuguese Water Dog, a breed that is not only too cute for words, but thankfully and thoughtfully (if only theoretically?), "hypoallergenic." This pooch was first identified circa 1297 in a monk's account of a drowning sailor who had been rescued from the sea by one. The heroic canine was said to have had a "black coat, the hair long and rough, cut to the first rib and with a tail tuft." Portugeu* (for Portugue*) turned up 15 times in OhioLINK, and 190 times in WorldCat. Bo Obama, who now has a little sister named Sunny, turns seven years old today. Happy B-Day, Bo-Dog!

(The official portrait of the Obama family dog, "Bo", a Portuguese water dog, on the South Lawn of the White House, 20 May 2009, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Socail* (for Social*)

The jitterbug is considered to be a social dance, but it takes quite a bit of skill to pull off properly. It's both sexy and athletic, while still managing to invoke and involve the use of alcohol. It's intoxicating! The word jitter itself is supposedly derived from a spoonerism for "gin and bitters" (i.e., "bin and jitters"). As one avid fan of the form ("a young, white middle-class man from suburban Pittsburgh") put it in 1939: "The hardest thing to learn is the pelvic motion. I suppose I always felt these motions [were] somehow obscene. You have to sway, forwards and backwards, with a controlled hip movement, while your shoulders stay level and your feet glide along the floor...." The jitterbug was created and perfected in the black community, but quickly spread to a wider audience. Cab Calloway's 1934 recording "Call of the Jitter Bug" was, according to the OED, the first time that the term had been seen in print. A song entitled "The Jitterbug" had been written for the movie The Wizard of Oz, but was omitted from the final cut. The number, however, as sung by Judy Garland, can be found on the B-side of the disc release of "Over the Rainbow." Socail* (for social*) turns up twenty times in OhioLINK, and 453 times in WorldCat.

(Dancing the jitterbug, Los Angeles Daily News, circa 1939, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Carol Reid

Monday, October 5, 2015

Priase* (for Praise*)

One of the very first poems I ever learned was the Doxology, something we recited every Sunday at church. My mother tells me I had it memorized well before I went to school, and I can sort of see why now. For one thing, it's relatively short and it's put to music. And then there is all that deceptively simple lushness of language: "Him," "from," and "Whom"; "above" and "heavenly"; "Holy" and "host"; "God" and "Ghost." It was among my earliest examples of how this sort of poetry works, with its marvelous rhyming and scanning, alliteration and assonance. Henry Van Rensselaer speaks of his own experience with this verse in Life and Letters of Henry Van Rensselaer: Priest of the Society of Jesus, by Edward P. Spillane (1908): "Communion service ... was rather for convenience than for high teaching. However, I was on the rise and began the practice of bowing the head at the Gloria Patri, and then of kneeling in the Nicene Creed at the Incarnatus. I remember distinctly that those who did so were publicly rebuked on Christmas morning by Dr. Muhlenberg for bowing at the doxology, and we were bidden not to bend like bulrushes, but to hold our heads erect..." If those instructions were effective, it may have been due, at least in part, to the mellifluous turn of phrase "bend like bulrushes." That kind of thing can really stick with you. Let me put it this way: Praise God for whom these words are sung, praise Him for smoothing out our tongue. Praise Him, and let us raise a toast. Praise pious tunes we love the most! There doesn't really seem to be a whole lot known about Henry Van Rensselaer, but it seems he was the great-great-grandfather of rock legend David Crosby, a man who definitely knew how to write a good song. There were 18 cases of Priase* (for praise*) found in OhioLINK today, and 152 in WorldCat.

(Portrait from Life and Letters of Henry Van Rensselaer, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Friday, October 2, 2015

Complainc* (for Compliance)

Are you generally in compliance, or do you prefer to complain about stuff? I suppose that it depends, for most of us, on the importance of what is at issue, as well as the probable results of going either with the flow or against the grain. It's a little hard to tell at first from looking at this painting just what Cupid's complaint to Venus might have been, although one imagines it must've had something to do with love. However, according to Art Daily, and unless it's a love of honey, the message of this piece is a bit more universal: "Cupid complains to Venus that he has been stung by bees. He holds in his hand the honeycomb that has been stolen from them. The Latin verses in the upper right point up the moral message in this picture that life’s brief pleasure is mixed with pain." The realization stings, but it is what it is. So let us neither unduly complain of, nor dully comply with, the uncertain rules of this earthly game, and try to enjoy what's been handed to us, bees and all. (On a somewhat related note, this work of art is reputed to have once belonged to Adolf Hitler, someone who should have inspired many more complaints, and far less compliance.) This typo appears seven times in OhioLINK, and 692 times in WorldCat.

(Cupid Complaining to Venus, circa 1525, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid