Sunday, September 3, 2017

Renaissance Faire - Big Bear Style

Since J and L first started this blog years ago, we always suggested looking in one's own backyard for something fun to do. Excitement is just around the corner if the adventurous go in search of interesting things to explore.

How about a Renaissance Faire? Renaissance in those costumes, please!
That's what we did on a very warm weekend in Southern California. With temperatures in the triple digits, the traveling duo, along with their friend and cameraman Paul Bakas, headed for Big Bear to the Renaissance Faire and cooler temperatures. The Faire was held in the mountain community of Fawnskin, where, at 7000 ft elevation, it was twenty degrees cooler, making the short hour drive well worth it. The venue was situated in a forest of beautiful pine trees which made us feel as though we were transported back in time.  Colorfully dressed knights, ladies, minstrels, entertainers, and guests strolled among the dozens of vendors selling anything from potions to weapons. There was something for everyone.

The afore-mentioned photographer, Paul Bakas, taking a selfie the hard way.
The Big Bear Renaissance Society has been around since 2002 and is a non-profit educational corporation. The purpose of the Faire is to bring history alive for both children and adults alike. The event which runs every weekend in the month of August, allowing people to walk through the pines and view events which mimic what times must have been like during the time of the Renaissance. There are jousting matches, jugglers, sword swallowers, story tellers, and a host of others dressed in period garb.

And he juggles too - ten feet off the ground
This particular weekend was themed as 'steampunk' at the Renaissance!

Is this Steamed Punked enough?
It was like science fiction meets the Old West, which then in turns meets a bunch of people from the fifteenth century.  An eclectic turnout of individuals to be sure.

All sorts of revelers were on hand - from various centuries
But where the heck did this idea for reveling in the past come from?

A tired but still fighting Black Knight wanted to know the same thing...
The history of these Renaissance Faires is actually quite unique to the United States. That doesn't mean to imply that in other parts of the world there aren't themed weekend events, but this is certainly a more American experience. Research points to the beginning of these faires in the United States back in the 1950's. John Langstaff, a traditionalist folk musician wanted people to relive the medieval times and created a music revival in 1957 in New York City. It was referred to as 'A Christmas Masque of Traditional Revels' and was a huge success. In 1966 there was a Hallmark Hall of Fame production with Dustin Hoffman in a starring role and finally in 1971 Langstaff created the permanent 'Christmas Revels' in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

We truly believe though the actual beginning of what today is known as the Renaissance Faire began in Southern California. In 1963 a schoolteacher by the name of Phyllis Patterson, along her husband Ron, put on a small faire in her backyard in Laurel Canyon as a class activity. It caught on and they conducted a one weekend fundraiser for radio station KPFK in Los Angeles - and thus the living history of the Renaissance was born. As the years went by the Patterson's expanded the themed weekend due to all the attention they were receiving both locally and nationally. Soon, Renaissance groups were multiplying and through the decades there are dozens upon dozens of groups who build imaginary English villages from the deserts of California to the green forests of Vermont.

Looks like a small English village, even with a traveling juggler
And here we were in Big Bear pretending to have dropped backwards five centuries to drink mead, chomp on turkey legs, and yell 'huzzah' about a million times per hour. Laughter, yelling at knights on horseback, listening to a foursome of crazy Dutch trying to get the crowd to sing, and other activities kept the guests very busy and happy.

Crazy Dutchman (his words, not ours) trying to get us to sing in harmony
The jousting and dismounted fighting contests were a thrill and the crowds roared for their favorite Champion.

Ready for battle

This actually followed the original jousting matches held in England during the time of the Renaissance. Knights would meet at the King's request to hold festivals and conduct death defying acts of bravery. Charging at an opponent on the back of a horse with a staff made of pointed wood does seem rather brave or rather stupid. In the eyes of the beholder one would assume. We think the latter is more accurate. Anyway, the contests would go on for a day or more and prizes would be awarded by the monarch to the eventual winner - usually the last man standing. And here we were in twenty-first century about to watch a re-enactment of the festivities held over six hundred years ago or longer.

Of course, the Lady of the Day had to come out and thrill the crowds upon her beautiful mount. The contests could only start after her grand entrance and exit. Grace was the only word that could describe the moment she entered the arena.

What a beautiful moment between horse and rider

After the Lady and her steed left the arena the games began - and what games they were.

The Red and White Knight - Our Champion!

The Blue and White Knight 

The Black Knight getting ready to finish the Blue and White Knight
Unfortunately, the Black Knight dispatched our hero in the first round and then after a brutal battle with lances, swords, and mace he easily killed (only pretend) the Blue and White Knight. We do believe the fix was in - it always seems as though the evil knight wins. Or is that just in fairy tales?

After the crowds dispersed from the jousting arena it was time to wander through the village taking photos and looking for the next entertainment. Of course, that called for a call at the pub for a Dragon's Blood and a stout mead.

Laureen, admiring the action.
If there's a stage, then J is at home delivering his thoughts.

...and of course, there's always time for shopping...

And finally the pub - it was rather warm and humid- a needed health break

A moment of Cheesecake for the ladies in the audience
After cooling down a bit - and we mean just a bit it was time to venture out and find some more entertainment for the afternoon.

One unbelievable performer was the acrobat who joked with the crowd while literally standing on his head ten feet above the ground on thin posts stuck into a metal table. He relayed how he and he had started in gymnastics at the age of five and now traveled the world performing for crowds. One of the strangest tricks, to say the least, was when he tugged a tennis racket over his entire body. A guy of normal height and weight going through 'Spalding' - it couldn't be done! It was one of those moments that the fans were wondering - 'how the heck is he doing this?"

At least it was for John, Laureen and Paul.

Snaking his body through a tennis racket - minus the strings

Oh Come On! Must be a trick - nope, it wasn't

Another performer was just as talented but in a different billing. A sword swallower - people really do that? Yes they do and it is not for the faint of heart to watch a fully grown man swallow a three foot sword. Well, he only swallows it up to the hilt - but still?  He stated that he has conquered the gag reflex - good starting point - and then moves certain intestines so the point of the sword does not pierce anything important. And here we thought everything in our gut was important.

That is disgusting and dangerous - talk about heart burn!

Well, one never knows what one will find at a Renaissance Faire but what the traveling explorers discovered only an hour away was a day full of fun and awe inspiring talent. Again, to find and enjoy the world around, one only has to look in their backyard. We did on this weekend and are very glad we did.

Who needs music when you have the right partner?
A special thanks to our good friend - Paul Bakas for taking the photographs so we could dance.

And thus ends this latest adventure.

For further information concerning the Renaissance Faire in Big Bear, California:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Doc Holli-Days

On a muggy August 14th, 1851 in Griffin, Georgia a bundle of joy was delivered to Henry and Alice Holliday. The thrill of having a son must have been awesome for the couple, but tuberculosis would take Alice in September of 1866 leaving her then fourteen year old son mother-less. He was a smart child and eventually went on to earning a degree in dentistry from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery at the age of twenty-one.

The real life John Henry 'Doc' Holliday

It was time to build a practice to make his mother proud but that would not be the case for John Henry Holliday - aka, Doc Holliday. No, he too came down with tuberculosis to which his mother and his adopted brother Francisco had succumbed. Under guidance the young man moved west to drier climates in the hopes that would ease the congestion and perhaps neutralize the disease.

John Henry moved to Dallas, got into a partnership in dentistry with Dr. John A. Seegar and their practice won award after award for the job they did for their patients. People were happy with their teeth in Dallas. In March of 1874 the partnership dissolved and Doc moved onto his own practice but that didn't seem to work out.

The move west had not cleared his tuberculosis and coughing out phlegm and other bodily fluids was not a good thing for a dentist to do. His practice dwindled and when he took to the life of a gambler, he began to garner a reputation for being pretty handy with a knife and a pistol.

Thus the sullied reputation of a dentist from Georgia was born. And it would have probably died if Doc had not run into a fellow by the name of Wyatt Earp.

Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday

A star was born.

One hundred and sixty-six years after Doc Holliday was born, his name continues to be immortalized in the small town of Tombstone, Arizona. It was here that a dentist turned gambler and killer would make his mark, standing side by side with Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil Earp against the Clanton gang at the OK Corral. A thirty second gunfight would go down in the annuls of history as the most retold gunfight in western lore.

In 1993, a film was released featuring Kurt Russell named 'Tombstone'. The movie detailed all the events leading up to that famous gunfight on October 26, 1881. It was a blockbuster hit and still is with millions of hard-core western genre.

One of the main characters, of course, was Doc Holliday played by the very talented actor Val Kilmer. When the film was released the star of the show was Kilmer - Russell being the humble person he is (by all accounts) allowed Val to take the best lines and with this also allowed the film to become one of the most watched westerns of all times.

Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday

So, the town of Tombstone, yes it still exists happily looking over the valley toward the Dragoon Mountains to the east, decided to start an annual Doc Holli-Days celebration. A three-day event honoring the birthdate of the real Doc Holliday and who best to knock the inaugural weekend off but the one and only Val Kilmer.

 J and L loaded the trusty Dodge Ram and drove nearly nine hours to participate in this new yearly event in the town deemed - 'Too Tough to Die'. Of course, friends were waiting graciously in Tombstone and together they all dressed to kill - fictionally and not literally for the gala.

Some of the 'bad boys'

John, Robert and Barry on the streets of Tombstone

Michelle and Laureen

There was a meet and greet with Val on Saturday, a parade through the tiny town, a key to the city presented to Val, and many more events.

It was a grand affair and twenty thousand people from around the world - yes, there was a gentleman from South Africa present for the soiree, swarmed the wooden sidewalks and dirt streets to take part in this birthday celebration.

When meeting with Val at the Schieffelin Hall the actor sat in a straight back chair - smiled, shook hands and was happy to have a photograph taken with the fans. J and L were fans and had a photo taken with this truly adaptive and talented man. J then presented Val with a copy of his novel, Hunted, and Val seemed very interested and promised to read it shortly.

Val Kilmer accepting one of John's novels as a gift

Within an hour the parade was on with Val as Grand Marshall.

The Grand Marshall - Val Kilmer

Well, this blog has taken on a bit of length but we at J and L are not done with the trip to Tombstone. There will be more to follow - and to paraphrase Ike Clanton from the film Tombstone:

                                                         "We'll see you soon - real soon."

Tombstone - too tough to die! Whaaaattttt?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Some Mysteries Must Remain Mysteries

J has a framed photograph, poster size, of the famed aviator Amelia Earhart hanging on his classroom wall. It's there for the purpose of showing a person who can inspire children to be whatever they are capable of being.

This female flyer took risks and challenges during a time when it - in many circles - wasn't considered 'lady like' to venture into the heavens in small planes to outmatch, which she did numerous times, her male aviation counterparts.

Okay, not Amelia but pretty brave and risky!
In the nineteen-thirties, a woman's place may have been thought to be at home with the children, but with Amelia, her calling wasn't for such a life. Her place was to stand alongside those other adventurers and world changers who smirked at danger and were willing to risk everything to prove they were correct.

Eleanor Roosevelt as first lady paved the way for a president's wife to hold her own news conferences, write syndicated columns for newspapers, and never hold her tongue on national or international news.

A first for a First Lady
Jesse Owens - the African-American track and field star of the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin, shattered Adolf Hitler's ridiculous conception of Aryan supremacy. Four gold medals later, he proved he was one of the best in the world. To this day, according to ESPN, he is considered one of the top six greatest American athletes of the twentieth century.

Thanks, Jesse 

Gertrude Stein was American novelist, poet, playwright and avid art collector. This woman almost single-handily broke the 'paper' ceiling. She hosted and inspired such notables as Pablo Picasso, 'Papa' Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, The Fitzgerald's, and others at her Paris salon.

Gertrude - couldn't say it any better
This was a time when the 'outsiders' made the 'insiders' nervous.

Amelia Earhart was such a person. Her passion had always been flying even from a young age. She was the first woman to fly a plane to 14,000 feet, setting a world record for female pilots. In 1923, she was the 16th woman to receive her pilot's license in the United States. She even went so far as to purchase a small biplane, she named 'Canary' to continue with her flying adventures.

She wanted to make it in the rare world of flyers, but she realized that her young appearance could be a hindrance at being taken seriously. She cut her hair short, as was the fashion for those few other female pilots at the time, and even slept in her signature leather flying jacket for three months to give it the appearance of a well worn old friend.

Now, that's a true flyer by the looks of her.
But sometimes reality stands in the way of immediate fame.

Sadly when her inheritance ran out, she had to sell almost everything, including the 'Canary' and she took a job as a social worker in 1925 near Boston at a settlement house. Not to be deterred, she stayed as close to the runways as she could when time allowed, to ensure she was not forgotten and was finally approached for a transatlantic flight by Captain Hilton H. Railey. He was wondering if she'd like to copy Charles Lindbergh's 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic.

So, in April 1928 and the young woman eagerly accepted the offer. Unfortunately, Amelia did not have adequate personal experience, so the flight from Newfoundland to South Wales was really instrument flown by Wilmer Stultz - a fellow pilot. She always felt as though she was nothing but baggage and not the woman who flew the Atlantic solo for the first time.

Fame came anyway and so did her marriage to George P. Putman - who was the one who had truly coordinated the Atlantic flight in the first place. Amelia fell in love with the book publisher and publicist whom she married in 1931. Of course, she wasn't really the marrying type and it did take Putman asking her six times before she agreed.

Mr. and Mrs. George P. Putman - but  just call her, Amelia
As a publicist, George knew a good thing when it was standing or flying in front of his eyes. With the newly married couple, there was a strategy to make Amelia a household name. They did and Amelia's influence was in the fashion industry, luggage, household products, and even Lucky Strike cigarettes.

Amelia - we're in - where next?

She was one of the most recognizable people in the world.

It even got better - she had dreamed of actually flying solo across the Atlantic and achieved that feat in May of 1932. From Newfoundland to Derry, Northern Ireland. The nearly fifteen hour flight catapulted Amelia in the record books once and for all.

After this incredible feat, she continued on breaking record after record, but the main thing for which she is remembered, is for her attempt to fly around the world. She wanted to be the first woman to fly a plane around this floating rock in space called earth. Of course, a navigator would be aboard but only to provide critical information to the pilot when needed.

Ah, Fred - maybe a left here?
Amelia would be at the controls the entire time.

The first attempt ended with the plane damaged in March of 1937. The second attempt - the one that made her more famous than she ever had envisioned, began in Oakland, California May of 1937 (that's where her plane, the Electra had been repaired from the first attempt). She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, announced in Miami, Florida that they would circumnavigate the globe, shocking the world but probably not the flying community. Anyone who knew this brave woman realized this day was bound to to come. It came on June 1st, 1937 when they took off from Miami planning to circle the planet. Twenty-eight days later the duo found themselves with only 7,000 miles left in this epic journey. The problem was it would be mostly above the wide and dangerous Pacific Ocean.

Where the Electra went down, perhaps?
What happened to both Earhart and Noonan has gone down in history as one of the greatest mysteries of aeronautics.

There were sporadic radio signals from Amelia but in the end none of those hearing the comments could be sure the Electra was on the right track. They were heading for was Howland Island.

The USCGC Itasca was stationed near Howland Island just in case the flyers needed assistance in finding this small outcrop in the Pacific. The last communication they had was near the Nukumanu Islands.

At 7:42 a.m. was one of the last, if not the last, call from Amelia to the Itasca: "We must be on you, but cannot see you - but gas is running low. Have been unable to to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet."

There may have been one or two more radio calls but the fact was Amelia and Noonan were in serious - make that deadly trouble. It has to be understood that the bottom radio antenna on the Electra may have been sheared off at take-off from Lae, New Guinea due to the amount of fuel the plane had to carry for the voyage. This could make accurate radio tracking signals almost impossible.

The Electra was never seen again.

One of the largest air and sea search and rescues began, but to no avail.

In the past eighty years there have been rumors, intrigue, eye-witnesses, researchers, and a host of others who have tried to solve the mystery of Amelia Earhart's last moments. Countless articles have been written spawning countless documentaries. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been published in an attempt to explain how a person so talented and accomplished as Amelia Earhart could just 'disappear' from existence and not leave one single piece of evidence.

Perplexing to say the least.

Recently, on July 5th, 2017, a photograph surfaced perhaps proving Amelia and Noonan had survived the crash and were taken prisoners by the Japanese. That rumor has been around since World War II. The photo shows a group of people on a dock in a large bay. One boat has what looks like a plane similar to the one Amelia had been flying and the woman sitting on the dock appears to be Amelia -same build and characteristic hair style. A tall man on the left of the photograph has an uncanny appearance to Fred Nooaon, her navigator. All of the others appear to be either islanders or of Asian descent.

Hmm - looks like Earhart and Noonan

Was the mystery solved?

Whoops - not so fast.

On July 11th, a military history blogger by the name of Kota Yamano declared that the photograph was taken two years earlier in Palau. He stated that the woman nor the man were either Earhart or Noonan. The blogger didn't say who the two obvious 'foreigners' were though. Those crazy bloggers!

By the way, Palau was under Japanese control during that time. And by the way again, the ship in the photo towing the plane which looks a lot like the Electra was a Japanese navy survey ship - the IJN Koshu. And by the way again, this ship supposedly helped in looking for the real Electra in 1937, but with no luck.

The Electra on the rear of the IJN Koshu - hmm, again
Coincidence? Who knows but the mystery is not solved - yet.

'Breaking news as of July 21st, the long time searcher for the truth behind Amelia Earhart's disappearance has reiterated  that the photograph from the Jaluit Atoll is indeed Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. It was taken in July of 1937. Former FBI official Shawn Henry - who starred in a History Channel documentary says he is one hundred percent certain the photograph is real and taken in 1937 showing Amelia and Fred were taken prisoners by the Japanese.'

The plot thickens. One searcher says it's her and a blogger says it was taken two years earlier. Though, this team of bloggers sees quite a resemblance there in that photo of the two missing aviators. Just saying.

So the photograph of Amelia Earhart hangs on one wall in J's classroom as a reminder to his students that they can be whoever they can - as long as they have the skills - and to never give up on their dreams.

They may succeed with those dreams.

But, sometimes dreams are mysterious things - such as in the case of Amelia Earhart.

Then again - sometimes mysteries are to remain a mystery. They seem to assist in the human condition called - imagination.

An adventurer? Yes, and an icon for such.