Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Mont St. Michel

One of the unmistakable influences on the design of Rapunzel's kingdom in Tangled is Mont St. Michel. Located off the coast of Normandy in northern France, this tidal island has been the site of a monastery since the 8th century. The island itself held strategic importance since Roman times and was permanently occupied by Christian hermits since the 6th century. Bishop Aubert received a series of visions of the Archangel Michael in 708 CE, which compelled him to construct a shrine dedicated to him on the peak of the island. Over the subsequent centuries, the site was built up with a full Gothic abbey and a village hugging the sides of the island. The island became a major pilgrimage site, withstanding invasions by Vikings, the English, and the Hugenots. Finally it was the anti-religious fanaticism of the French Revolution that closed down the monastery, turning it into a prison. In the 19th century, Mont St. Michel was restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the architect and champion of the Middle Ages who also restored the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris.

In May of 2013, Ashley and I visited Mont St. Michel as it stands today. What we discovered was a charming, but crowded, Mediaeval attraction. At a five hour drive from Paris each way, we were at the mercy of a scheduled tour with only a few harried hours inside the abbey itself (even after we ditched our tour guide and the busload of people we came with!). We have already conspired that on our next trip to France, we are going to stay in one of the island's tiny inns for a couple nights. Our brief taste of life on Mont St. Michel has only succeeded in whetting our appetite for further exploration of its winding streets and vaulted chapels.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

'Tis the Season for Giving, Again

Once more it is that time of year for family gatherings and present giving. And once again, it is good to spread some of that wealth around, whether we have a little or a lot.

Last year I mentioned the Walt Disney Birthplace project. The current owners of the home in Chicago where Walt Disney was born in 1905 fell short of their Kickstarter goals last year, but have been dauntless in seeking donations ever since. Their current fundraiser on Start Some Good has already passed its tipping point of $15,000, which will allow them to restore the windows to their working class Victorian finery. There is a lot left to do, and more money left to gather. Their total goal is to make $40,000.

Another fundraising product that the Walt Disney Birthplace has produced is O'Zell Soda. In 1912, Elias Disney, Walt's father, purchased stocks in the O'Zell company. This company promised huge profits in the burgeoning "soft drink" market, but ended up being an embezzlement scheme by its president. The company folded, taking a good chunk of the Disney family earnings with it. As a last laugh, the Walt Disney Birthplace project is using the brand name to market their own sodas to raise money for restoring the Disney family home. To purchase a few bottles, visit their website.

Dig in a little and help them preserve the birthplace of the man who has inspired us all so much! And remember to look beyond that as well to the people in need and worth causes in your area or in those things that concern you. Many people are in a great need of your generousity.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse by Floyd Gottfredson, Volumes 1 and 2

In the 1930's, Mickey Mouse was a veritable superstar, but Walt Disney was still feeling out his potential as a character and a corporate icon. His films varied in tone, subject, and quality. The merchandising machine was just gearing up. And King Features Syndicate was beating down Walt's door to produce a daily newspaper strip starring the Mouse. Thanks to the efforts of publisher Fantagraphics and editors David Gerstein and Gary Groth, this early slice of Mickey's life has been preserved for us in a series of very handsome volumes.

The first two volumes in the series - Race to Death Valley and Trapped on Treasure Island - set the stage very well for Mickey's rise to fame and the conditions under which artist and writer Floyd Gottfredson inherited the strip's mantle. In 1930, shortly after Disney's merchandising department was created, Walt personally scripted the strip drawn by Ub Iwerks. These very early strips were almost exact adaptations of the early cartoons, particularly Plane Crazy. However, Walt's responsibilities as the head of a growing company and the sudden departure of Iwerks led to a shakeup from which a new hire in the animation department - Gottfredson - was given the "temporary" assignment. That assignment lasted until 1975.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Grimm's Little Snow-White

Originally published by the Brothers Grimm in their original 1812 collection of fairy tales, Little Snow White has become one of their most popular. This is due in no small part to Walt Disney's adapting it into his first full-length feature animated film. Several feature-length animated films were made during the silent era - the first in 1915 and the oldest extant one being The Adventures of Prince Achmed from 1926 - but Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first one in colour and the first one out of Hollywood, as well as being the one to really set off animated feature films as a viable medium.

As we will see from the following 1884 translation by Margaret Hunt, Disney took some liberties with the story. The fault isn't necessarily on him, however. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is essentially a remake of the 1916 live-action silent film, which was itself an adaptation of a 1912 stage play. What alterations he made to the story were come by honestly. It should be noted that the Grimms themselves consistently adapted and altered the story, with their final revision being published in 1854. For example, in the original it is Snow White's own mother who is jealous of her and in a rough draft, it is she who abandons her daughter in the woods.

Without further ado, Little Snow-White by the Brothers Grimm, illustrations by Franz Jüttner for a 1910 German edition...

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Castillo de San Marcos: A True-Life Fort on the Spanish Main

The Spanish Main... A name that evokes the long ago days of buccaneering pirates and Spanish Conquistadors, palm trees and buried treasure. Geographically, it was the mainland portion of Spain's empire in the New World, encircling the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. It included the coastlines of Texas, Mexico, Central America and the northern coast of South America, as well as the land known as La Florida. Gold and spice-laden ships from the Caribbean had to pass Florida on their way to Spain, making them tempting targets for privateers and enemy navies. To protect their shipping routes and land claims in North America, the Spanish built what remains today as the oldest stone fort in the oldest city in the United States: Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida. 

An historic aerial photo of Castillo de San Marcos. Photo: NPS.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Our Fairytale Wedding Centrepieces

When Ashley and were planning our wedding, we decided on a fairytale theme for our reception. Our colours and general aesthetic were peacock themed, but for each table we wanted something tied to our love of fairy tales, fantasy stories, and Disney. But not, like, Disney. We love Mickey Mouse but didn't want him all over our wedding. Plus, we were trying to cut costs where we could, and using our own stuff for the centrepieces helped out considerably!

A cupcake preparing to meet its doom. Photo: K&E Imaging.

Each party to the reception was given a slip with an excerpt from the original story that their table was themed to. For example, people at the Aladdin table had an excerpt from Sir Richard Burton's translation of Arabian Nights, and people at the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea table had an excerpt from Jules Verne. Based on their slip, they had to guess which table was theirs. A few had issues, but for the most part, people were up on their classic literature. When time came to eat, a medley of songs related to each table was played, and people sitting there had to figure it out on their own. I was worried at the people at 20,000 Leagues wouldn't know Whale of a Tale, but thankfully someone did! Other songs included Be Our Guest, Sorcerer's Apprentice, Heigh-Ho, The Unbirthday Song, and Over the Rainbow for the one non-Disney fairy tale table. Sadly a few ideas had to be cut, like Wind and the Willows and a French Canadian story about a diabolical flying canoe called La Chasse-galerie. Still, everyone seemed to enjoy the centrepieces and the tests of knowledge that went with them.   

Below are some of the planning photos we took for the valued friends who were willing to help out setting things up. By all means, feel free to pilfer the idea if you or someone you know has a wedding coming up!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Our Fairytale Wedding

Since we only plan on getting married once (not counting vow renewals), we'd like to share some of our wedding photos with you. I know calling it a "fairytale wedding" is fairly stereotypical, but considering that we lacked a pumpkin carriage and did a good part of the planning and organizing on our own, I think we did pretty well.

Our wedding took place on August 29th, 2014, in Banff, Alberta, Canada. For anyone counting, our ceremony venue was Tunnel Mountain Meadow, and photos were taken there, at Cascades of Time Gardens, and the Banff Springs Hotel. Photography was provided by K&E Imaging of Calgary.