Monday, December 20, 2010

On the Road and Haunted

My tour was all set.  The only outstanding arrangement was where I would stay overnight.

"Do you want to stay in our old historic house?" they asked.

"Sure," I said.  "I love historic houses.  They're so filled with character."
Why did it not occur to me that there can be an 's' at the end of that word: so filled with ... characters?

Blithely I drove to the mountains near Martinsville, Virginia.  It was a beautiful drive, and the weather was crisp and energizing.  I arrived at dusk, just in time to be shown around the house before the only other human around waved goodbye and drove off into the dark of night.

Have you ever noticed that when you're in the country and there's no one, I mean NO ONE around, that everything creaks and clicks? Constantly?

It didn't take long to become acutely aware I was alone in a big old house, the only house I'd seen up on top of this mountain.  

Nothing to worry about.  I had plenty to occupy myself for the evening, and I had a whole lovely apartment on the second floor all to myself.   The first floor was furnished for tours with antiques, some of which belonged to the family who had lived there in previous centuries.  As I crossed the downstairs hallway and climbed up and down the stairs carrying my bags up to my apartment, it did not escape my notice that past the open doors mannequins lurked in each of the downstairs rooms.  Each one was perfectly dressed in voluminous 19th century gowns.  Each one was headless.  All right, all right, I understood this was an intentional fashion statement, but still, they were headless.  And they leaped out at me every time I turned a corner.

That evening I kept myself resolutely busy.  I made as much noise as I could.
Nothing to worry about.
I was relieved when it was finally late enough I could climb up into the very high bed, and grateful that I was so tired I fell right to sleep.

The next day, everyone I met found a moment during the day to say, "Oh, you stayed in the house last night?  Ah, yes.  I stayed there.  Once."

"Some people say the house is haunted, you know.  But I'm sure the presences are benign."

Of course they are.  Nothing to worry about.

When everyone but me left the premises for the second night, I thought, I will feel much more comfortable tonight; it's no longer unfamiliar. 

Wrong.   Though I had braced myself for the lurking, headless mannequins, no sooner had I passed them, than I became aware of another presence at the top of the stairs.  She was short; she was in no way vintage or even period appropriate.   She was only in the house as a holiday decoration.  She had curly blond hair and beady eyes, half obscured by the rails of the staircase.   She leered at me every step of the way.  

I decided all showering could wait for mornings. 
I had taken the music CDs out of my car, and I kept them playing constantly in my laptop.

The third night, as soon as dark fell, I was again queezy and uneasy.  I had a little outloud chat with whomever or whatever was pressing the air out of the second floor.  "I don't mind if you're there; could you just lighten up a bit?  Because you're kind of creeping me out."
I climbed up into the tall bed very early and busied myself reading and writing until I could fall asleep.

Next morning, I found three ladybugs, one in each room.

When I showed up for that day's performances, the woman who was most interested in "presences" asked, "How was your night?"  I told her about the ladybugs, thinking she'd approve. 

Wrong.  "Oh, there are lots of those around all the time," she said.
"Oh sure," I said.  "Of course I knew that."

What I actually knew was that I hadn't seen a single ladybug in my rooms the night before or at any other time afterwards.  Only that one morning.

"I had a little talk with them last night," I continued.
"That's good," she said.  "That's that way to  deal with them.  Did I tell you yet about the group that was supposed to stay in the house one week and in the middle of the first night, they called me saying they couldn't and wouldn't stay another minute unless I stayed there, too?  As soon as I arrived, I told the spirits to stop bothering those folks, and they didn't come back the whole week."

I only had one more night.  I wasn't caving.  I would not call for reinforcements.   Instead, I took a photo of the malevolent  doll standing guard at the top of the stairs.  By this time, I could not see her without thinking of Twilight Zone's Talky Tina.  As I passed, I was sure I heard her saying,  "My name is Talky Tina, and you better be nice to me." 

"Don't you even think of trying anything on my last night," I said.  "I haven't messed with you.  And I have your photo."

I'm home now.  I survived each and every night, and I'm proud of it.  I'd even go back if I'm asked.

But just for the record, 'someone' broke my alarm clock while I was there.  Not the part that keeps time, just the alarm.   So this is fair notice to whomever it might concern,  I was on time for all my shows, anyway.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

 Good Golly, I could never have imagined this scene!

 There's simply no possible way to describe 
 being on a  field with 900 hot air balloons.  A 
 photographer friend agrees that no photo can
 express it.  Art does better, she claims.

 I'd have to say that even being there in person 
 feels very nearly impossible, absolutely 

These guys may be struggling with their twisty balloon, but they're sure fun to watch.
One of the utterly wild things about the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
is that people are allowed anywhere on the field.  You feel as though you could hop in the wicker gondolas if you wanted.  But this crowd is so gentle and well-behaved, there are no worries.

 This is the inside of the "envelope" that holds the hot air that 
 makes the balloon ascend into the sky.  It's made of
 rip stop nylon with fire resistant nomex at the mouth
 to protect it from the propane fire that heats the air.

 In the foreground is the gondola or basket lying on it's side 
 while the envelope is filling with air.

 Here's my favorite purple balloon, filled with air, still
 lying on the ground beside other filled balloons as their
 pilots wait to hear the call,
 "Go Vertical."  Is that not adorable?
               So now that she's vertical, she still has to wait for the "Thumbs Up" signal that
assures her pilot that the air space above is clear for "Lift Off!"

And, yep, there's, well, ...serious kitsch....

And now I'm ending at the beginning: the first shot of the morning.  The flame is the flicker burn before the Dawn Patrol's ascension.  The sky is pitch black; dawn hasn't claimed it yet.  The golden fire on black sky is heart-stoppingly gorgeous.  Every person in the crowd quivers with anticipation of the balloon's release into the sky.  In a moment everyone will leap and cheer, and old timers will poke newcomers and crow, "you haven't seen anything yet!"

And The Balloonist's Prayer seems fitting for each person 
setting into this glorious day:

      May the winds welcome you with softness.
      May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
      May you fly so high and so well that God
      Joins you in laughter and sets you gently
      Back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Good Luck; It's a Beginning

I love the hint of fall in the air on the first night when it’s finally cool enough that I want to snuggle under a blanket. It’s not just that I’m finally freed from being so hot I sidle into the kitchen at every opportunity to stick my head in the freezer. Really it’s not.
The lure of that hint of fall is that when I feel the season shift, it’s a tangible promise of a whole new year beginning. Summer’s over; there’s energy to plan changes, to figure out what’s going to get my focus. Will this year be . . . lucky?

Lucky? Am I thinking beginnings are tied to luck? Maybe. Maybe not.

In theater we never say “Good luck” before a show. It might call out some bad luck. So we say “Break a leg” instead. That’s just too gruesome for dancers, though, so they tell each other “Merde.” All right! So it’s scatological!  But it’s in French, so that makes it acceptable in elegant company.

Recently someone said that storytellers say “Bite your tongue.” I thought that was pretty funny, even though I wondered how it was possible that I’d never heard the line before, in spite of being a storyteller.  Quick! I googled 'luck'.

Here’s what I found when I did:

I found no references whatsoever to saying “Bite your tongue” in connection with storytelling performances.

But I did find some really great quotes from some seriously smart people concerning luck.

Some favored the idea of luck, notably Jean Cocteau, who said, “I believe in luck. How else can you explain the good fortune of those you dislike?”

And Joseph Conrad, who said, “It is the mark of the inexperienced man not to believe in luck.”

And here’s Ovid, for goodness sake, “Luck affects everything. Let your hook always be cast. In the stream where you least expect it, there will be fish.”

Okay, okay, so Ovid presumed I’m going to be willing to accept some accountability for my own luck. I wonder how literal I need to be. Is it going to be a problem that I’m not a fisherman, so I don’t own a fishing pole with its own little hook?

At least Ovid wasn’t as ominous as Douglas Jerrold saying, “Some people are so fond of ill-luck that they run half-way to meet it.”

Or as admonitory as Thomas Jefferson’s, “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

Or then there was vivid R. E. Shay, “Depend on the rabbit’s foot if you will, but remember it didn’t work for the rabbit.”

All right, all right. I get it. I promise I won’t rely on luck alone. I promise that I will meet the promise in this new season at least half-way. I’ll bait my hooks (even though I’m going to have to do it metaphorically).

But I have to admit I’m really tantalized by the idea that old shoes used be considered good luck.

So I hope it’s okay that I’m going to join Ben Johnson in his request,

“Hurl after me a shoe. I’ll be merry whatever I’ll do.”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Why I'm Choosing Triple Digits Over Colonial Era Whale Bone Stays

The triple digits did it.

I've curtailed my covert trips to the kitchen to stick my head in the freezer, and gone to the dark side.  It happened yesterday when my morning thermometer check revealed 108 degrees outside and 98 degrees in my bedroom.

Yes, I've caved.  I've closed the windows and turned on the A/C unit.

But I'm disappointed.  I was just getting into the Tennessee Williams mindset, just truly channelling why everyone in "Streetcar Named Desire" always sat around on the fire escape, fanning themselves, fussing, nattering, bellowing at each other.

And this made my mind wander back even further to America's own Colonial days when womenfolk wore stays, for goodness sakes.  Whale bone stays wrapped and sewn into layers of fabric.  Wore them under layers and layers of other pieces of clothing, even to work in the garden midsummer.   I am so relieved that I'm not performing my American Revolution show, "Steadfast and Spirited" because that would mean having to wear a costume for a whole hour at a time.  I don't even want to contemplate wearing such a massive amount of fabric on a daily basis!

I'm happy in the sundresses I'm wearing to perform this summer's library shows!

Even the personalities of the cat and the dog changed yesterday.  They stopped fleeing from my hot hugs and started snuggling again.  They better not get too used to this coolness.  The A/C goes off again . . . tomorrow.  Or the next day.

Meanwhile, oh frabjous day!  The Klondike bars in my freezer are once again frozen enough to eat!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Courthouse Telling

Think Perry Mason, only without the miscreants.

Today's library gig (my summer show this year is called "Shimmer-Swimmers") was in an ancient, unrenovated courthouse in North Carolina. There was no sign outside to indicate this enormous dusty building in the little bitty town could possibly house a library, so it took asking someone using the post office across the street to find out where I should go, and how I might get inside.

I was, however, met by someone who put me in an elevator with buttons marked "jail" and "courtroom."

Yes, the show was in a courtroom just like the ones in black and white movies. Which meant that the audience was going to sit on wooden benches behind a dense wooden fence meant to separate the populace from the officials. My show this summer involves a shadow theater. How to enable folks to see?

I decided on a little table for my theater-suitcase which would then go atop one of those huge wooden barrister tables. A sturdy wooden chair would be my step up. Oh yes! My puppets would be seen! But, of course, I would have to stand on the table as well.

Bless the heart of the librarian, who took one look at my plan and suggested I add another table behind the first one, so that if I should inadvertently step backwards, I wouldn't--in front of all the innocent, unsuspecting children--catapult, screaming, to the ground mid-show.

As it was, I had to get up and down several times during the show since not all my stories use the puppet theater, and when I'm telling stories, I like to be as close to the audience as possible. But hey, as I said, my puppets were seen!

My only regret--it didn't occur to me to take photos with my cell phone till I'd already driven all the way home to Virginia. I can but swear on my honor to the truth of this story.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lily Yeh and Philadelphia

We had a perfect holiday; a four day jaunt that felt like a glorious, stimulating week away.
Playing with friends always tops my list of delights. This time we shared Philadelphia with Megan Hicks and Jack Abgott. What a different Philadelphia this was than what I saw when my daughter and I went with her choir and we played tourist and saw the Liberty Bell!

Talk about contrasts! This trip we poured over esoteric, antique, etched and engraved copper plates that were created to illustrate Charles Dickens' stories at the Rosenbach Museum. And on the same day we walked among exhuberantly colored mosaics and paintings decorating walls and cement structures on Germantown Avenue near downtown Philadelphia. Designed by Lily Yeh and painted and constructed by members of the neighborhood, this is art that clearly builds community spirit and a sense of ownership for participants and residents, and is moving and exciting for anyone who comes to visit.

I heard Lily Yeh speak at a Virginia Commission for the Arts conference, probably ten years ago, and it took till now to go see her Village of Arts and Humanities . . . well worth the wait!