Saturday, April 28, 2012

What You Learn from Looking at Hieroglyphics

          That the ancient Egyptians had a thing for slugs.
          Once you start looking, you see them everywhere. The British Museum is littered with big, heiroglyphics-covered stones that are littered with slugs. The Louvre is similarly encumbered with slug-engraved Egyptian stonework. I'm sure there's a practical reason that the slug was an important part of the Egyptian alphabet (obviously it was an important part of the Egyptian landscape), but I just love the whimsy of it—that the lowly slug would be engraved over and over onto stone that has outlived the centuries and now resides in museums for our continued edification and delight.
          Gives you new perspective on What's Really Important.

See it there? With the little slug eye-stalks? Absolutely too cool for school.
©Nancy E. Banks

          And speaking of Egyptians, they really knew how to mummify a cat:

They even got the worried stare right.
©Nancy E. Banks

Patterns! The one in back must be a calico.
©Nancy E. Banks

I like that its tail curls around its feet in
the afterlife, too.
©Nancy E. Banks

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Platform 9 3/4

         When you travel to London with a Harry Potter fan, you will make a pilgrimage to Platform 9 3/4 in King's Cross station at some point in the visit, possibly immediately upon your arrival.
          I hadn't gotten over being charmed that the railway station would actually label the platform and provide a photo-op-ready luggage cart disappearing into the brick wall when we arrived to take the necessary photos, and found one of the happiest tourist interactions I've ever seen.
          Of course there was a line for photographs, but everyone was cheerful—infected, it seemed, by Harry Potter euphoria. Of course there were young persons there, but what delighted me was how many persons No Longer Young wanted to have their photos taken pushing that luggage cart, too. After we took our photos, we hung around for awhile, just watching.

My sister takes her turn.
©Nancy E. Banks

This couple is very cute.We couldn't believe that a man would voluntarily
consent to be photographed pushing a luggage cart onto an imaginary
train platform, but he seems to be enjoying himself.
©Nancy E. Banks
We decided, on no evidence whatsoever, that they were a boy band.
The redhead at the end must be a fan.
©Jeannie Thomas

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fancy Meeting You Here

          Traveling with a Harry Potter fan (my niece) can be quite entertaining. "Look, Aunt Nancy!" she said, as we were walking through Père Lachaise cemetery. "It's Voldemort!"

We know it's Voldemort because he lacks a nose. And he's bald.
©Nancy E. Banks

          A few minutes later she said, "Look! A Dementor!"

We gave this one a wide berth.
©Nancy E. Banks

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Ghost Story

         To set the record straight right at the beginning, I must admit that I read a bunch of Victorian ghost stories on the flight to Europe, and so to say that I was suggestible is probably putting it mildly.
         On the other hand, we were in Père Lachaise, which is one of the least ghostly cemeteries I know. Yes, it is filled with tombs,

A city of the dead. As you might suspect, it's very peaceful.
©Nancy E. Banks

but it has a 19th-century, rational feel. I have been in cemeteries where in the stark, sunny midday, death stalks beside you, where the hairs on the back of your neck rise, and you see ghostly visions. Cemeteries, in short, more like this:

High creepiness factor. (Ireland)
©Jeannie Thomas

 Than like this:

Low creepiness factor. (Père Lachaise)
©Nancy E. Banks
         Père Lachaise is a place where you could take a picnic lunch, except it really would be a bit disrespectful to picnic on someone's tomb. You wouldn't be punished for it, though, by the actual gibbering occupant of the tomb rising from it to chase you off.
          Père Lachaise is a place where the dead stay dead and superstition does not flourish.
          And yet.
          My sister, my niece and I were walking down one of the main avenues. The day was warm for early April, with the trees just starting to leaf out, and it was gloriously sunny. You could almost imagine Gene Kelly dancing down the avenue, it was so cheerful. A ghost would certainly not feel at home in a setting like this, lacking as it did mist, moonlight, and malice.
          My niece and I were walking slightly ahead of my sister, and more than an arm's length away. There was no one else nearby.
          And my sister felt a hand rest on her back. And she thought, "I don't know that hand." Then it was gone.

A ghostly hand on the back, immortalized in marble.
©Nancy E. Banks

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Keen Euro Signage Rides Again

          I sense an underground market in official-signage-modifying decals. I caught these two charmers out the cab window in Paris:

Don't turn this way for the Eiffel Tower.
©Nancy E. Banks

Flower-picking here is formally forbidden. Especially in evening wear.
©Nancy E. Banks

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

If You Can't Have a Good Time at the Eiffel Tower, it is Your Own Fault

©Nancy E. Banks
          So says my niece.
          The first time I went to Paris, I was 22 and Far Too Tragically Hip to join the seething hordes and do all the touristy stuff. Instead, I wanted to sit in shabby, smoke-darkened cafés, drinking cheap wine and discussing the fundamental absurdity of life with others of my Tragically Hip tribe.
          Funny how difficult it is to find them in the wild, though.
          Possibly they were out seeing the sights with the rest of the tourists.
          Please to ponder, dear reader, the fundamental absurdity of me, adrift in the City of Light, blind to its endless charms in my search for something Real and Profound and ignoring EVERYTHING both real and profound—and also the lovely and frivolous, including major landmarks, beautiful promenades, lovely parks, fountains, crêpes (how could I ignore crêpes? Was I mad?), AND entire ginormous museums (that would be the Louvre.*) I do not believe I actually had fun in Paris that first time.

The Eiffel Tower + a crêpe au chocolat = A Very Good Time Indeed.
©Jeannie Thomas

          My niece, on this her first visit to Paris, Had Fun. She was so exactly the delightful opposite of Tragically Hip that not only did she visit the Eiffel Tower TWICE (because it's Too Cool To Visit Only Once—and there are crêpes!), but she also cajoled me into riding the carousel at the base of Sacré Coeur, even though I detected more than a hint of "What's that old lady doing riding on a carousel?" from the Biebbleheads** sitting on a nearby park bench, sniggering in my general direction.

According to the girl on the horse with the pink harness,
you're never too old to ride the carousel.
©Jeannie Thomas

          At no point on this trip did we sit in smoke-darkened cafes tippling bad wine and wearing berets and smoking vile Gauloises (unfiltered) and discussing the profoundness of Camus. Instead, we saw landmarks and beautiful promenades and fountains and lovely parks and ginormous museums.
          We pointed at things.
          We posed in front of them, giggling.
          We took a gazillion photos.
          We said, "Ooooh!"
          We said, "Aaaah!
          We ate crêpes.
          We had beaucoup de fun.

*How could I not visit the Louvre? you cry. It's very simple—I was an idiot. I'm better now, thank you.

**Justin Bieber lookalikes. There is a Bieber epidemic among the youth of Europe. Whatever are they thinking?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Turn the Page

          Kansas City is starting a community-wide campaign to ensure that all children are reading at grade level by grade 3. Being able to read well is an incredibly important skill, and I could bang on and on and on about how important—how fundamental—it is, but instead I'm going to let you look at this intelligent, compelling PSA video that was produced for the Turn the Page KC campaign by the Barkley Ad Agency:

          The team that produced this little gem deserves awards. And cake.
          One of the things I think is particularly brilliant about this video is that it eschews the usual—and boring—approach of talking heads spouting facts* and instead takes us straight to what this campaign is all about: words on a page. The graphics are similarly brilliant, using as they do simple, easily understandable symbols that take their cue from AIGA's universal symbols, and thus reinforce the idea that letters on the page are our most essential, most important universal symbols—the ones that unlock the doors to success.

*Which frankly is what I was expecting, and which almost caused me to give this little lovely a miss.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012