Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Visit to the Old Country, Part 2

Part 1 is here.

Sunday, Sept. 30, was spent in town. First stop was the Wellington Arch:

Wellington Arch 2012 09 30 01 45 02

A few gents were making their way through the arch:

Wellington Arch 2012 09 30 01 45 46

Inside the arch, up several floors, is exhibit space. One can also go out and get a good view:

View from Wellington Arch 2012 09 30 02 03 08

Nearby is Apsley House, Wellington's manor. I enjoyed the Napoleon paintings on the walls.

Apsley House 2012 09 30 06 51 40

Next stop was the monstrosity that is the British Library. For a building that houses so much good stuff, the exterior is mind-numbingly bad. I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of the entrance to the library, but here's a good contrast: in the foreground, the library; in the background, St. Pancras station.

St Pancras Station 2012 09 30 08 50 02

The rare manuscripts collection in the library is well worth the stop, however. (I was in the library around a decade ago, and the exterior was clearly so horrible that I completely forgot about it.)

The University of London proved that young people are just as stupid regardless of which side of the Atlantic one is on. Posters for the Marxist Society, proclaiming that "Capitalism is bad", and promoting a "Day of Rage" were in evidence. (I said, "Grrr. I'm raging. Happy now?")

Harrod's - particularly the food hall - seems to have been taken over by American and Japanese tourists. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that locals for the most part don't shop for food there, but it was an unbelievable mob scene.

Monday involved a train trip to Salisbury, primarily to see the cathedral.

2012 10 01 01 42 48

2012 10 01 02 10 41

Salisbury cathedral has one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta. (Two are, in theory, in the British Library, but both their copies were gone when we were there the previous day.) (The National Archives in Washington, DC, displays a slightly later version of the document, and is always mobbed. In contrast, hardly anyone was around the version in Salisbury.)

The town also has a sense of humor:

Salisbury sign 2012 10 01 12 59 25
It's a long way home. And yes, that's the idiot photographer's finger in the picture.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Aether Salon - Vampires!

The first Salon of the year featured a timely topic: vampires. Miss Angelia Rees spoke to the Salon on this topic, one very close to her. I present her remarks below; as always, the official transcripts are available at the Aether Salon blog.

We had a good-sized crowd, including Miss Bookworm Hienrichs, who, in the Baron's absence, introduced the speaker, Ceejay Writer, Linus Lacombe, Madame Anneli, Arnold, Cyan Rayna, Marion Questi, Darlingmonster Ember and Solace Fairlady, Nathan Adored, Wildstar Beaumont, Brother Lapis, Emerson Lighthouse, JJ Drinkwater and Serra, Carolx Hax, Random Wezzog, Vernden Jervil, Renee Caxton, Magda Haiku, Miss Sera, and Kghia Gherardi. Dame Kghia will be our speaker next month, on a topic near to my heart, Steampunk Literature.

I took a few pictures, but was thwarted by the sim's performance. After a half-dozen pictures, I noticed everyone slowing to a crawl, and dresses no longer moved. Sim statistics showed I was at lethal 3.4 frames per second, so I stood very, very still and hoped for the best.

Aether Salon  Vampire 001
 Miss Angelia Rees

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 Miss Bookworm Hienrichs

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Mr. Vernden Jervil and Miss Ceejay Writer

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Standing very still

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Arnold and Cyan Rayna (foreground)

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A motley collection of Salonistas 

Angelia Rees:
Good afternoon! Welcome to the AEther Salon's presentation of "Vampires!", a discussion of the legend, history, and modern impact of the vampire. I am Angelia Rees - in RL a practising vampire of the sanguinarian type (more on that as we progress!) and well-studied in the myths and legends surrounding vampires and vampirism. My discussion today will begin with vampires in the ancient world, the impact of vampires and their legends on the modern era, and a brief look into the vampire sub-culture of which I am a part. At the end of my presentation, I will take questions from the audience (if you have any). And with that said, I think we can begin the presentation! 
The earliest legends of the vampire date back at least 4,000 years, to the ancient Assyrians and Babylonians of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamians feared Lamashtu, a demonic goddess (the daughter of sky god Anu) who preyed on humans. It was said that Lamashtu would creep into a house at night and steal or kill babies, either in their cribs or in the womb. Mesopotamians attributed sudden infant death syndrome and miscarriage to this figure. Lamashtu, which translates to "she who erases," would also prey on adults, sucking blood from young men and bringing disease, sterility and nightmares. She is often depicted with wings and birdlike talons, and sometimes with the head of a lion. To protect themselves from Lamashtu, pregnant women would wear amulets depicting Pazuzu, another demonic god who once defeated the goddess. Lamashtu is closely associated with Lilith (from the Akkadian root, lilu, meaning "spirit"), a prominent figure in Jewish texts who bears many similar traits and visual images. Accounts of Lilith vary considerably, but in the most notable versions of the story, she was the original woman. God created Adam and Lilith from the Earth, but there was soon trouble between them. Lilith refused to take a subservient position to Adam, since she came from the same place he did. In one ancient version of the legend, Lilith left Eden and began birthing her own children. God sent three angels to bring her back, and when she refused, they promised they would kill 100 of her children every day until she returned. Lilith in turn vowed to destroy human children. While she is often depicted as a terrifying creature, Lilith also had seductive qualities. The ancient Jews believed she would come to men at night as a succubus and drain them of both blood and semen. Accounts of Lilith as a child-killer seem to be taken directly from the Lamashtu legend. She is often described as a winged demoness with sharp talons, who came in the night, primarily to steal away infants and foetuses. Most likely, the Jews assimilated the figure of Lamashtu into their tradition, but it's also possible that both myths were inspired by a class of Akkadian demons known as lili (male) and lilitu (female), which were disease-bearing wind spirits. 
The ancient Greeks feared similar creatures, notably Lamia, (Aristophanes claimed her name derived from the Greek word for gullet: laimos), a demoness with the head and torso of a woman and the lower body of a snake. In one version of the legend, Lamia was one of Zeus' mortal lovers. Filled with anger and jealousy, Zeus' wife, the goddess Hera, made Lamia insane so she would eat all her children. Once Lamia realized what she had done, she became so vengeful that she began sucking the blood from young children out of jealousy for their mothers. Myths variously describe Lamia's monstrous serpentine appearance as a result of either Hera's wrath, the pain of grief, the madness that drove her to murder, or - in some rare versions - a natural result of being Hecate's daughter (as one of the Empusai). The Empusai were the malicious daughters of Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft. They could change form, and at night, came up from Hades (the underworld) as beautiful women. They would seduce shepherds in the field, and then devour them. 
Vampire-like figures also have a long history in the mythology of Asia. Indian folklore describes a number of nightmarish characters, including rakshasa, shape-shifters who preyed on children, and vetala, demons who would take possession of recently dead bodies to wreak havoc on the living. In Chinese folklore, corpses could sometimes rise from the grave and walk again. These beings were created when a person's p'o (lower spirit) did not pass onto the afterlife at death, usually because of bad deeds during life.
The p'o, angered by its horrible fate, would reanimate the body and attack the living at night. One particularly vicious sort of creature, known as the Kuang-shi, could fly and take different forms. The Kuang-shi was covered in white fur, had glowing red eyes and bit into its prey with sharp fangs to drain them of blood. Nomadic tribes and travelling traders spread different vampire legends throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East. As these stories travelled, their various elements combined to form new vampire myths. In the past 500 years, vampire legends have been especially pervaded with Eastern European contributions. As I continue, we'll look at these creatures, the direct predecessors of the modern vampire. 
Vampires In The Modern Era 
The Dracula legend, and the modern vampire legend that came out of it, was directly inspired by the folklore of Eastern Europe. History records dozens of mythical vampire figures in this region, going back hundreds of years. These vampires all have their particular habits and characteristics, but most fall into one of two general categories: 1. Demons (or agents of the devil) that reanimated corpses so they could walk among the living, and 2. Spirits of dead people that would not leave their own body. The most notable demon vampires were the Russian upir and the Greek vrykolakas. In these traditions, sinners, unbaptised babies and other people outside the Christian faith were more likely to be reanimated after death. 
Those who practised witchcraft were particularly susceptible because they had already given their soul to the devil in life. Once the undead corpses rose from the grave, they would terrorize the community, feeding on the living. 
By many accounts, these undead corpses were required to return to their grave regularly to rest. When townspeople believed that someone had become a vampire, they would exhume the corpse and try to get rid of the evil spirit. They might try an exorcism ritual, but more often they would destroy the body. This might entail cremation, decapitation or driving a stake or spikes through various parts of the body. Bodies might also be buried face down, so the undead corpses would dig deeper into the earth, rather than up into shallower ground. Some families secured stakes above the corpse so it would impale itself if it tried to escape. 
The vampires in Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania (now Romania) were commonly called strigoi. Strigoi were almost exclusively human spirits who had returned from the dead. Unlike the upir or vrykolakas, the strigoi would pass through different stages after rising from the grave. Initially, a strigo might be an invisible poltergeist, tormenting its living family members by moving furniture and stealing food. After some time, it would become visible, looking just as the person did in life. Again, the strigo would return to its family, stealing cattle, begging for food and bringing disease. Strigoi would feed on humans, first their family members and then anyone else they happened to come across. In some accounts, the strigoi would suck their victims' blood directly from the heart. Initially, a strigo needed to return to the grave regularly, just like an upir. If townspeople suspected someone had become a strigo, they would exhume the body and burn it, decapitate it, or run spikes through it. But after seven years, if a strigo was still around, it could live wherever it pleased. It was said that strigoi would travel to distant towns to begin new lives as ordinary people, and that these secret vampires would meet with each other in weekly gatherings. 
In addition to undead strigoi, referred to as strigoi mort, people also feared living vampires, or strigoi viu. Strigoi viu were cursed living people who were doomed to become strigoi mort when they died. Babies born with abnormalities, such as a vestigial tail or born with a bit of foetal membrane tissue covering the head (called a caul), were usually considered strigoi viu. If a strigoi mort living among humans had any children, the offspring were cursed to become undead strigoi in the afterlife. When a known strigoi viu died, the family would destroy its body to ensure that it would not rise from the grave. 
In other parts of Eastern Europe, strigoi-type creatures were known as vampir, most likely a variation on the Russian upir. Western European countries eventually picked up on this name, and "vampyr" (later "vampire") entered the English language. 
In the 17th and 18th centuries, vampire hysteria spread through Eastern Europe. People reported seeing their dead relatives walking around, attacking the living. Authorities dug up scores of graves, burning and staking the corpses. Word of the vampire scare spread to Western Europe, leading to a slew of academic speculations on the creatures, as well as vampire poems and paintings. These works in turn inspired an Irishman named Bram Stoker to write his vampire novel, "Dracula." The original Dracula was a real person, Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, who ruled in the mid 1400s. His father, Vlad II, was known as Vlad Dracul (translated as either "Vlad the dragon" or "Vlad the devil"), in recognition of his induction into a society called The Order of the Dragon. Vlad III was sometimes referred to as Vlad Draculea, meaning "son of Dracul," but more often he was called "Vlad Tepes," meaning "Vlad the Impaler." This was in reference to Vlad's predilection for impaling his enemies on long wooden stakes. The real Dracula had a reputation for unfathomable brutality (a reputation his actions against his enemies did nothing to amend), but there is not much evidence showing that people believed he was a vampire. Stoker's fictional villain is not closely modelled after the real Dracula, though they are sometimes linked in films based on the book. Mainly, Stoker borrowed the name of the prince, as well as his social standing. Unlike the wandering, homeless strigoi, Stoker's vampire was a wealthy aristocratic type, hiding out on a grandiose estate. It is from this novel, and the popular vampire genre that followed it, that we get most of our ideas about what vampires are today. They have become the "anti-hero", a figure of both danger and romance. 
Let's consider the modern vampire myth and what it offers: 1. Vampires are sexually attractive and charismatic. 2. They have superhuman intelligence and powers, such as the ability to fly and immense strength. They can use mind control and telepathy to get what they want. Vampires can also use their powers to enslave other creatures, such as wild animals to do their dirty work for them. 3. They inspire fear and no one crosses them without suffering dire consequences. 4. Vampires have conquered death and achieved immortality. The vampire myth is an interesting symbol which has evolved dramatically through literature and film. A great escape into a world that is thrilling, romantic, and mysterious, where real danger and evil is not always so apparent or frightening. The modern era has pulled the vampire's fangs, in a sense: the real fear and terror vampires once inspired has passed away into superstition, and been resurrected into an impotent but compelling media genre in little more than 100 years time. 
Modern Vampire Subculture: 
It's due to this new attractiveness that surrounds the vampire that inspired a new culture within modern society: the vampire subculture. What is a subculture? A subculture is simply an alternative lifestyle that exists within mainstream culture.  The vampire subculture is very "tribally" based, with many members congregated into small clans, usually called covens or houses. Each coven/house has it's own traditions and rules of vampiric behaviour (which may or may not include laws regarding the drinking of blood). There are also solitary vampires that belong to no group officially, but are still part of the subculture. Vampires within this subculture are normal people. They don't believe they are an immortal monster of any kind, but the metaphor and realities of the vampire speaks to them, expressing an emotional or physical truth about their lives and natures. They are not "vampire roleplayers", but actual human beings engaged in a lifestyle that includes vampiric activities. This is the only qualifier that separates vampires from Average Joe. It is not a "let's play pretend" society, but a community of people who share a common lifestyle. All vampires believe that the type of vampirism they engage in is both a necessary and important part of their lives. (This should not be confused with "vampire lifestylers", who dress up and emulate the Hollywood version of vampires, and who generally do not practice any form of actual vampirism.) Real vampirism and vampires also have nothing to do with clinical vampirism. Those that suffer from clinical vampirism, in most cases, are not real vampires. Clinical vampirism is a pathological and delusional disease, fetishistic and compulsive in nature, where a person experiences a psychological need for blood (sometimes with a strong sexual component). Generally, those that suffer from the syndrome often go through a progression of stages beginning with auto-vampirism (drinking one's own blood) and progressing to vampirism (drinking the blood of others). The compulsion of the vampirism stage may lead a person to committing criminal acts to obtain human blood, such as stealing blood from hospitals and blood banks or going to the extreme of killing someone. 
So what is a "real" vampire, then? The key factor in determining if one is a vampire is if one has a genuine need for life-force energies from outside sources. There are physical "symptoms" associated with being a vampire as well. Some of the physical traits are what might be expected: pale skin, sensitivity to sunlight physically (i.e., sunburn easily) and/or visually sensitive to any light source, better night vision than day vision, heightened senses, able to heal quicker than others. And some not so expected: feeling hungry and/or thirsty despite an adequate diet, frequent headaches for no apparent reason, not requiring very much sleep, getting sick with "flu-like" symptoms with no medical explanation when forced to go without feeding for a period of time. Real vampires are identifiable partly because they have a majority of these symptoms, not just one or two. But more significantly, real vampires are distinguished by a certain quality to their energy. While anyone reading a description of the symptoms might find a few that apply to people he knows, or even to himself, real vampires have a way of standing out vividly to everyone who interacts with them. Within the vampire subculture, active vampirism includes both sanguinarian vampirism, which involves blood consumption, and psychic vampirism, whose practitioners "feed" by drawing nourishment from auric/pranic, emotional, or sexual energy. Psychic vampires are also often energy mediums. An energy medium is a human being with an inborn ability to influence, channel, manipulate, and transform all types of energy, but in particular biological and aetheric energy, for either good or ill. Sanguinarian vampires are generally not mediums, but can possess a limited ability to manipulate the energy of those around them. The distinguishing characteristic of the sang vampire is the consumption of blood. And while the medium of exchange is blood, the purpose is the same - to replenish and enhance the vampire's energy levels. While some sanguinarians can also feed using a psychic method, many cannot, and those who can will often choose blood regardless, finding it a more satisfying "meal". 
The idea of transferring energy back and forth from person to person is not a new one. Many religions and belief systems hold true that every member of society shares their energy with others as they interact. Indeed, many people feel energized by being around others and by interacting with them. We relieve our stress and enhance our contentment in life by sharing our lives with those around us. The difference with vampires is that they generate less of that energy than others do and need more of that energy from others. If you have a person in your life whom you like, whom you enjoy being around, but despite that, being with them makes you feel drained, then that person may very well be a vampire. 
It should be noted that many sanguinarians define their condition as an objective, if unrecognised, medical syndrome, entirely biological in nature. They are hostile toward "spiritual" explanations for their blood craving, and many reject the idea that it has anything to do with energy. But whatever the reason, the need to consume blood is a very real physical need for sang vampires, with real physical consequences if that need is denied. That being said, sanguinarians seldom drink as much blood as often as they should for optimal health. The reasons for this include lack of sources, self-denial, and unawareness of their true nature and needs. The amount of blood consumed, and the frequency of consumption, varies, but few consume more than tiny amounts at a time, usually obtained through slight cuts or punctures made by sterile lancets or blades on willing human donors. Most sanguinarians insist that donors undergo testing for blood-borne diseases, including HIV and hepatitis. Some sanguinarians consume animal blood, but most consider it an inferior (or unacceptable) substitute for human blood. Whether sanguinarian or psychic, vampires come from all walks of life. Virtually every age, race, religion and profession is represented in the subculture. They are normal, regular people in normal regular jobs: teachers, lawyers, accountants, even soccer moms. They have normal lives but there is this issue of needing to take energy and/or blood from time to time and in certain ways. And while many teenagers are drawn to the subculture, they are often kept humanely on the fringes, and sometimes actively discouraged. This is both for the protection of the community (who cannot afford misunderstandings involving minors) and for the best interest of the teens: many teenagers who self-identify as part of the vampire subculture eventually grow out of it. Mature vampires understand this as a normal part of being a teen and struggling to find who you are. As such, young people generally are not fully embraced into the community until they reach maturity. 
While this lecture has only barely scratched the surface of the myths, legends, and realities of the vampire (and there is so much more to learn that a short discussion can never do it justice), I hope it has inspired you to inquire further on your own. The myth of the vampire has influenced human culture, belief, and behaviour since the beginning of our civilisation. It has served as an explanation for the unexplainable, a cautionary tale, and even a desirable exemplar. The vampire haunts our darkest fears, inspires our wildest dreams, and forces us to probe our own psyches about what it means to be human. In a way, we all have a bit of the vampire inside us, showing us our reflection through a mirror darkly - both what we hope and fear to become. And whether we embrace the darkness inside us, reject it utterly, or make a truce, it is always with us. Immortal, eternal, and endless. 
Thank you for inviting me to speak today, and I hope you enjoyed my presentation. If you have any questions, I'd be pleased to address them now. ㋡\

Friday, October 26, 2012

Moving Day

Thank goodness for elderly relatives with money! I had that unworthy thought as I placed the key in the door of my house in Mayfair. The cottage was many decades old and small, but it was in my price range in the upscale area. I placed my valise on the floor and took a deep breath.

But perhaps I should begin a little earlier in the story.


I packed the last of my few possessions and turned to look back at my railroad car-cum-house. My sister Kathy looked impatient, tapping her foot and staring pointedly at the carriage waiting below.
"Everything is packed, you've turned the gas off, and we've said good-bye to everyone still left in the neighborhood," Kathy said. "The carriage driver is waiting for us, and time, in this case, is most definitely money."

"I know, I know… I just can't help feeling that we're leaving something behind that we shouldn't be."
Kathy tossed her hair back. "The house is so small that we can hardly have overlooked anything. Now, down the stairs with you, sister, before I send you out the emergency hatch."

"One day you should try it," I said, before realizing that there would be no other days here.

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Chez Jameson on Aether Isle, in the shadow of the Sky City

Only a few weeks earlier I had received an urgent note from the Guvnah. Workers at the other end of Aether Isle, where we lived, were digging on unoccupied land and had discovered buried munitions. Had they detonated, no building would be left standing on the island, and even the great Steam Sky City above us might have been badly damaged. Munitions experts arrived to remove the bombs safely. They were almost entirely successful - but the "almost" was a  costly one. One of the workers stumbled in moving one of the last crates of explosives, spilling the contents of the crate. The explosives inside detonated, killing the worker instantly and setting off the few remaining crates. Though the damage to structures on my side of the island wasn't bad, the explosion ripped open a sealed chamber that contained various toxins, likely the byproducts of unsuccessful experiments that had taken place on the island over the years. The toxins ran into the wells on the island, hopelessly poisoning the drinking water supply. The Guvnah wanted residents to move as soon as possible for our own safety.
As this was Aether Isle, the list of possible culprits was lengthy: Mr. Denver Hax, Mrs. Fogwoman Grey-Volare, Miss Glorf Bulmer,… at this point, I was trying to remember what possessed me to live nearby so many dangerous people. Ah, yes: the price was right.

Kathy and I discussed where we might be able to afford to live. Our finances were somewhat precarious at the time, and we were concerned that the best we would be able to manage would be rooms in one of the less savory streets of Victoria City. (Oh, you didn't think Victoria City had unsavory streets? Let me assure you, Dear Reader, that parts of that eminent city should be burned down; no decent person should be seen there.) Then we received a second urgent note, this time with much better news than the first. "Aunt" Petunia, an elderly friend of ours who, when her health declined, stayed in the Tamrannoch sanitarium until she passed away, had left Kathy and me a generous legacy.

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The Mayfair property at night.

The timing could not have been better. With that money, we were able to find a small piece of property in Mayfair. The property itself was wooded, but we were able to make arrangements to have a ramshackle house moved from a nearby property onto ours. I wasn't sure why the neighbors had not burned down the house as an affront to the eye and a drag on nearby property values, but I was grateful they had not. Contract in hand, we made arrangements to leave the house on Aether Isle.

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The house last Christmas.

[OOC notes: The Guvnah did, in fact, discuss restructuring Steam Sky City into a homestead sim, requiring some shifting of residents. As always, he was wonderfully helpful in matching me up with a property that suited my needs. In addition to changes in SSC, I heard that Dundee and Windemere would both be disappearing. Sad news, but I'm hopeful that a slightly smaller Caledon will be a significantly stronger Caledon financially.]

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

It's getting to that time of year again, when creatures rise from their graves, restless spirits roam the earth, and…and, well, children come to the door demanding candy. In the spirit of the season, Emilly Orr has created a disturbing little build called Sever.

You walk along a path before making your way to a mysterious warehouse.

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Don't let the blood at the door disturb you, go on in.

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Scattered around the warehouse are pages from something called the "Black Book," describing, among other things, a technique to move between time and across worlds. The warehouse itself is filled with discarded furniture, filing cabinets, industrial drums, scattered papers, and more blood stains.

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Arcane symbols are drawn on the walls and appear in the scraps from the book. What do they mean? The warehouse shows signs of recent human habitation, but no one is there now.

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As Miss Orr says, the build is less a haunt than a disquieting tableau. She says it is her take on the Slender Man legend. She has certainly succeeded in creating a disturbing space.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Visit to the Old Country, Part 1

A few weeks ago I had the fortune to travel to England for about a week and a half. Anyone who doesn't care for others' vacation slides should just skip the next few entries and I'll eventually get back to much more important things, such as happenings in the Steamlands.

Frequent-flier miles - obtained mainly through a linked credit card, not actually flying places, mind you - made the trip more pleasant in both directions. I'm not so good at sleeping in strange places, and planes are among the worst of all the strange places I've encountered. In the past, trans-Atlantic trips have resulted in massive sleep deprivation and a day-long headache. This time, with somewhat nicer accommodations, a concerted effort to stay hydrated, and slightly less of my sleep aid (Glenlivet), I was actually functioning upon landing at Heathrow. More miraculously yet, given all the late departures I've had on long flights, the plane took off about an hour early - the plane wasn't terribly full, and all passengers were present and accounted for, so the pilot ordered doors closed and we left - and we landed about a half-hour early. Still, check-in time for the apartment wasn't for another five hours or so, so we had made arrangements for a four-hour stay in the Heathrow Yotel, in Terminal 4.

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Yotel room. The picture does not do the room justice

I had heard of Yotel, which offers tiny boxes of rooms at by-the-hour rates (minds out of the gutter, Gentle Readers!) for airport travelers, but I had never stayed at one before. Let's just say it was an experience, and one I probably won't be repeating. The problem wasn't so much the size of the room, though it was so small that the bed had to be retracted before one could cross from the door to the bathroom, as it was the noise level, which prevented serious sleep.

Perhaps I was too hasty in keeping minds out of the gutter, for what should the bed controls display but an icon of two feet up and two feet down!

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Bed controls. Notice button No. 2.

Enough of that. We took the train to Paddington station and the Tube to West Kensington.

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The apartment we had taken for the duration of the trip was a short walk from the Tube stop.

Castletown House

Our street 1

The neighborhood was clearly in transition once again. The house was a large manor at one time, but it, like its neighbors, had been partitioned into apartments. The area currently seems to be a mix of immigrants - largely Asian, judging from the restaurants - and young people, though I suspect the immediate area was gentrifying rapidly. I marveled at the ability to cram a bathroom and a kitchen into the space, though the compromises were clear. The bathroom sink was a tiny triangle and the kitchen did not permit two-way traffic.

Our first full day was spent largely in Buckingham Palace, the Queen's Gallery, and the Royal Mews. The Palace was an absolute zoo of tourists. The Queen's Gallery had a fascinating exhibit of Leonardo da Vinci anatomical sketches,  which were based on years of work on animals and human cadavers. The sketches were essentially lost for centuries when they wound up - mysteriously left to the visitor's imagination, so I assume “looted” - in the possession of the monarchy at the beginning of the 20th century. By then, much of his work had been independently confirmed, but much later than da Vinci himself had done it.

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The next morning we took the train to Windsor. We had been there about a decade earlier, and it's not as though a lot changes, but last year the castle people started offering small tours up the main Norman tower.

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I know, I'm just as amazed as you are when the picture comes out well.

The other highlight of Windsor is St. George's Chapel, which is the burial place of a number of kings, including Henry VIII (supposedly so he could be buried with Jane Seymour (apparently not the actress from Live and Let Die and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), and home to the Order of the Garter.

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The State Rooms are also worth visiting, though apparently all the other tourists thought so as well. In contrast, the Chapel was fairly calm and quiet.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Story Time

Listened to Crap Mariner's 100 Word Stories gig at the Virtual Chelsea Hotel on Saturday morning.

Crap had on an arm brace to match his typist's brace.

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Mr. "Stoned on Vicodin" himself, reading, with Queen Bluestar behind.

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Miss Krix Jinx.

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Brokali, Miss Lizzie Gudkov, and me.

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Already into the Halloween spirit, Miss Orchid Jameson - a distant cousin, one suspects?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Fine Line Between Erotica and Smut

While I was away on my recent jaunt to England (more on which anon), I brought with me a pile of virtual books, including a short novel, Clockworks and Corsets, by Regina Riley.

The book revolves around Rose Madigan and her all-female crew of the airship, the Merry Widow. With a plot that takes the crew to a tropical island in search of a mad scientist's laboratory, and a scheming bordello owner hoping to acquire a weapon to take over the United States, the book seemed promising enough. But then...

Chapter 1 introduces us to Rose and her "cabin boy," Click, traveling aboard the ship, apparently for the purpose of servicing most of the crew. For page after page, the hapless reader is treated to prose such as
She groaned as he continued to knead her breasts, worrying her stiff nipples. His rigid member pressed hard against the small of her back, poking, prodding, begging Rose for admission to her vessel.
Good grief! But on we go, with more rigidity, poking, sodden lady parts, and, indeed, a great deal of admission to said vessel.

While the tale is entertaining enough, once we strip away the extraneous boudoir scenes - including an outdoor romp that is interrupted by one of the crew - one gets the impression that discipline on the Merry Widow is unknown, and that women are interested only in having a hunky man service them. Seems like an unfortunate message.

Lest anyone think that my reading list was merely a stack of (virtual) smut, I also read Winter Journal, by Paul Auster. Though, come to think of it, Auster seemed to spend a lot of time talking about his loves and lusts. Ah well, it's the human condition, right?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Dilemma

I took my car to be serviced on Friday. When I came to collect the car, the shop manager said, as they all do, that I should wait and they'll bring the car around.

The first car that came around was the right make, and roughly the color of my car, but wasn't the right model. The guy who drove it to the front of the shop was ready to hand me the keys.

I resisted the temptation to take the car and park it down the street, just to see what would happen. It's so hard to find a good place to service one's car.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

It's All About Your Perspective

Via Honour McMillan's journal, and its subsequent reblog in Miss Ember's journal, the Linden Endowment for the Arts has a new set of exhibits, and the one by Miss Cica Ghost is something out of the ordinary.

As Miss McMillan notes, the exhibit is "a fascinating exercise in form and dimension - a deliberate 2D depiction of life in a 3D world."

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The figures are almost like sketchings in an art book. Swirls represent wind, dots represent rain. And yet nearly everything and everyone is in motion: the little girl sways, the man struggles with his kite, the fish jump out of the water.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

More stories

Another journey to the Chelsea Hotel, where once again Crap Mariner read some microfiction from his collection of 100 word stories. This time we didn't have the audio interference of the week before (not for long, at any rate - the problem was identified) and Crap was in good form.

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Unfortunately for Crap, he had a bicycle accident that afternoon. (More than a week ago by the time this posts - I'm getting a tad behind.) I don't know how long that will keep him off his schedule. In any event, I'll have to miss the next few Saturday readings (should they take place) because I'll be out of the country. More on that anon, no doubt.