July 2011

Posted by Ellen

Last week in Atlantic City, it was too hot to stroll the boardwalk, though we did that anyway, and really too hot to sit out on the beach. I guess we were supposed to linger in the casinos, but it would take a lot more than summer heat to make that seem like fun to me. There were other entertainment options, of course, including this watershow in an air conditioned mall built on a pier out over the sea. The show ran for a few minutes every hour, to the accompaniment of patriotic music and digital covers of old bluegrass fiddle tunes.

The occasion was a gathering of Norman and his mother and both his brothers and their sister, together for the first time in a couple of years. No kids, no pets, much discussion of "the Grandpa Abe gene," which is how Norm's brothers and sister explain their interest in rolling the dice for hours and hours while they win a little money and then lose a little and then win some back and keep on betting.

Grandpa Abe, their father's father, who operated an elevator for a living, was apparently a pretty serious gambler as a young man. Grandma Sadie refused to marry him, I'm told, till he swore off the habit–and he stuck by his pledge, more or less, limiting himself to playing the horses at off-track betting establishments.

It seems that the Grandpa Abe gene skipped over Norman but expresses itself in all his siblings at the craps table. They had a lot of fun gambling, and even the non-gamblers among us enjoyed the company and look forward to the next visit.

The water was fine. As for the rest of Atlantic City, it is what it is.

Posted by Ellen

On July 11, 1926, the Washington Post published this publicity shot for "the Gladyse Wilbur girls," a song-and-dance troupe that did its singing and dancing, as well as its teeing off, in bathing costumes. That's Dorothy Kelly on ice, backed up by Virginia Hunter, Elaine Griggs, Hazel Brown, and Mary Kaminsky.

The show was in Keith's Theater in Washington, which may have been air conditioned by 1926. The ice in the photo is obviously intended to suggest that the Gladyse Wilbur girls can be enjoyed in cool comfort, even in the middle of the summer.

Posted by Ellen

Piano recital season has come around again.

I took piano lessons as a child, as did my sister, but we had different teachers and thus had to attend each other's recitals as well as our own. My teacher organized mercifully brief programs; we took our turns at the keyboard in the school cafeteria, curtsied, raced through our pieces, and then it was time for the cookies, punch, and dixie cups of vanilla ice cream. But my sister's recitals, in her teacher's living room, were endless, and there were only enough chairs for the grownups; all the brothers and sisters had to sit on the steps while the piano-playing went on and on and on. Many of the students were extremely talented–one of them now conducts a symphony orchestra–but what I mostly remember is how long we had to sit there before the cookies and punch.

These children were among a couple of dozen who performed their recital pieces the other day on the Steinway grand at Strathmore Mansion in Rockville, Maryland. They are students of B&B Music School.

Posted by Ellen

Where in the world?

This is Barnaul, a city of 800,000 in Siberia, located deep in the heart of central Asia, near the mountain range where Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China come together.

Barnaul grew large and relatively wealthy because of its double-edged location: close to the Altai Mountains, with their riches of silver, copper, and other minerals, but far from the rest of the world. During World War II, the Soviet Union relocated many of its munitions industries to Barnaul, safely distant from the front but close to major railroads that had been built for ore transport. Russia's largest ammunition plant, one of the largest in the world, still operates today in Barnaul.

The downtown area of the city doesn't look like this; it was modeled after Saint Petersburg and is known for handsome classical architecture, a sampling of which I will try to post here soon. But around the edges of town, in amongst the old silver-smelting factories and the ore-loading facilities, what we see here is what we get in twenty-first-century Barnaul.

Posted by Ellen

The trees in Etowah, North Carolina, are naked in this shot–and they look fine–but it's really the road here that's got the moves.

Posted by Ellen

That's Pete, in his straw boater, as the eponym of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend, a sendup of 1920s-style song and dance.

Waynflete staged the show as its 2011 spring musical. Although the production was well received, its three-night run was a bit shorter than that of the original production in London's West End, where it played for five years and more than 2,000 shows.

The Broadway production was also a hit, introducing Julie Andrews to American audiences. But in 1971, a film version of The Boy Friend–starring the fashion model Twiggy–earned critical acclaim but was a commercial disaster.

Posted by Ellen

There's an uninteresting explanation for Norman's attire on Commissioning Day in Annapolis, but . . . . But nothing, really.

Posted by Ellen

Soccer is popular in Nepal, even if the fields are more dirt than grass, and this year the national team, known as the Ghorkalis, is on a roll. Last week, Nepal notched two victories, 2-0 and then 5-0, in 2014 World Cup qualifying matches against East Timor. The Ghorkalis have a new coach, Graham Roberts, an Englishman who played for Tottenham and Chelsea, mostly on defense, and won six caps for England.

Meanwhile, in league play, defending champions Nepal Police Club holds a comfortable lead in the Martyrs Memorial Red Bull Division A, though Yeti Air Himalayan Sherpas Club is not out of the running.

The field shown here is in the suburbs of Kathmandu, at the base of the hill topped by the Monkey Temple.

Posted by Ellen

About three weeks ago, the Nabro volcano in the East African nation of Eritrea began erupting for the first time in recorded human history. The initial eruption was a violent explosion, pumping vast quanitities of ash and sulfur dioxide into the air above North Africa and the Middle East. Aviation in the region was briefly suspended. Nabro's dark, dense plume of ash and gases shrouded the mountaintop for two weeks, concealing the eruption from view until June 29, when this satellite image was captured.

The image shows that the eruption has transitioned to a quieter, oozing sort of phase. Hot lava glows orange, fading to black as it cools. The lobes at the end of the long lava flow are dark, suggesting that the top of the flow may have crusted over. As the long westward flow cools, hotter, fresher lava appears to be spilling out of the vent toward the south and east.

Nabro is in very arid, dusty country; the green patches in the landscape around the volcano are actually only sparsely vegetated. The image was captured using a combination of infrared and visible light, which misrepresents the degree of vegetation in the landscape.

Although the eruption is a first for the record books, Nabro is in the East African rift valley, where volcanic activity in one form or another is nearly constant. Three tectonic plates are pulling apart from one another in this region, stretching the earth's crust so thin that hot magma from deep below finds numerous weak spots through which to erupt.

Posted by Ellen

Every few minutes at Victor Cafe in South Philly, one or another of the servers rings the little bell seen here on a tabletop and bursts into song.

They all have operatic training, so usually they sing opera, which is what the crowd came for–and they do draw a crowd. But as the evening progresses, the repertoire loosens up a little; they belt out showtunes as well as arias, and they even take requests. Here, at the end of the night, a tenor working as a waiter closes down the place with that old pop standard, Ave Maria.