Swing Dancing at Disneyland; Anaheim, CA

Wow! Every Saturday night Disney hosts a dance at Disneyland! WHO KNEW? The dance happens in Disneyland’s Royal Hall, a spot normally reserved for character meet and greets. (How they convert it from that to a dance space I don’t know.)

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I was wandering around Disneyland on a Saturday night, heard jazz music, assumed it was yet another of the obligatory Disney entertainments and found THIS… HOW COOL!

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From what I read, not only does this dance happen almost weekly (and has for a few years) but it has a dedicated group of regular dancers.

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From what I could it’s a very friendly crowd of very good dancers (for the most part) and more than few of them seemed to know each other. Back before my inner ear broke making spinning an impossibility for me anymore, I’d totally have been here every week.

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Pennsic: Slippery Rock Ohio … year 2 (2018)

The Pennsic war  a two-week-long yearly event held in camp site/park in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. It is organized by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a medieval reenactment group. It is currently on its 47th year, and it regularly draws between 10 and 15K geeks (who have a passion for all things medieval) from all over the world to fight, meet, and frolic… and of course SHOP… the latter being why I wanted to go.

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People at a chocolate tasting party being entertained by other attendees who volunteer to sing, known as barding

This year was my 2nd time attending the event…. only this time I am sorry to say it wasn’t doing it for me anywhere near as much as it did last year, to the extent that after only one week of the two-week event I was DONE. In fact, as I’m writing this… I’m already road-tripping across America instead, the even is still going on. I am sorry to say that between the weather (it was what they like to call a “wet” Pennsic, so it was not only very hot… it was also very humid), and the fact that I’m 20 lb heavier this year, I was just NOT having a good time — although the rain clouds did make for GORGEOUS sunsets.

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The almost daily storms did make for amazing evening skies

The hot humid weather (on day it was about 89 F BEFORE the humidity) ultimately sucked every ounce of fun out of me … and apparently everyone else as well because the sidewalks seemed to roll up very early this year, with everyone going to sleep exhausted not long after I showed up (so very little for me to do in the evenings once the temperatures had dropped).

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All in all, the event got off to an unpropitious start…. so much so that the medevac helicopter had to be called in TWICE in just the first few days…. last year it wasn’t called in even once that I knew of, and my friends assured me it is only ever called for the most serious medical cases.

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The helicopter landed in the fighting field the first time while I was doing my first day of shopping… the guy who was taken to hospital was released, CAME BACK to Pennsic (who does that?) and had to be taken back to hospital by medevac a second time… I shudder when thinking about how much that cost him (and I’m talking in cash).

Speaking of shopping, here is this year’s haul IMG_2863.JPG

The white under-dress is the one I found used on eBay before last year’s Pennsic,

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but pay attention to the hem (i.e. the bottom) —  when I had bought it the previous owner had shortened it by just simply thwapping off the bottom with a pair of scissors, and by the end of last year’s event its linen material was starting to unravel. That’s why the dress is now shorter… and therefore more of a modern length than a medieval one (the woman in Dalton, GA, who fixed it for me is a generous; she saved as much as possible while evening out the sides — it is shorter in the front and longer at the sides — which ended up giving it a more flowy shape, allowing me more usage for it) … for SCA purposes, it’s supposed to be an undergarment anyway, so no big deal.

The jacket/vest I bought to wear over it (which has a sort of African inspired print, the photo doesn’t do it justice) was my new purchase, about $45 (with another $5 for the belt). I also bought the red cap (the blue dress I found on eBay over the course of the last year), which I’m VERY happy with, and intent do get a lot of NON-SCA wear out of. The same can be said for the new earrings, which are handmade and are ancient Roman in design.

That said, I got the nicest compliment…. while wearing it…  I had purchased “Aussie dims”, which I thought were dim sum, and they were… only they turned out to be of the deep-fried variety, rather than steamed or pan-fried (my Australia friend assures me deep fried is how Aussies usually eat them) … and served to me still swimming in oil (which I’m not allowed) … so I grabbed a bunch of napkins and patted them down before I ate one; but I’m not supposed to eat deep fried anything, so I gave the rest to a male friend who is always hungry. The next day I bought a Lamington from the same place, only when I asked “how much?” she said, “for you…. free… Yesterday our fryer was having issues and I saw you patting your dim’s down, so this is free.” When I told the people at the table I had taken it to eat it (total strangers), one of the women sitting there said to me, “what’s amazing is she remembered you! But, on second thought, to be honest I have spotted you a few times… you’re gorgeous and you’ve this look about you like you’re a professor at Hogwarts … you always look like you just stepped right out of Diagon Alley.”

That said, a friend took the pics of me in the blue dress and brand new red cap … which were decidedly less flatteringly, showing off just how heavy I’ve become in the last year (not sure that was his intent, but it was the result).

IMG_2864The whole not being able to walk with ease since I fell down and went boom thing (turns out my foot was dragging as a result of mixed up brain communication, I sort of had to teach myself to walk again) — combined with eating a lot of comfort food, had resulted in a massive weight gain, which I need to do something about… It is SO bad that when I walk I can feel my back-fat bouncing.

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While I did not spend much time there this year, nor did I take anywhere as many photos, I did spot some very cute shop signs ….

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And while the place might be a step back in time, it is NOT without internet….

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Also, I came across a guy who goes by an SCA name of Iron Lace (as I said in last year’s post, SCA members take on different names while ‘playing’), who is a diabetic talking about the med kit he’s put together for himself to carry with him during events…. apparently it also includes emergency instruction in case he’s passed out.

The Shrine of Christ’s Passion: St. John, Indiana

From the little I was able to see, this Passion of Jesus and the Stations of the Cross  attraction (the whole thing is free) — things that I, as a nice Jewish girl, really only know about because I spent a few weeks teaching social studies at a Private Catholic grade School in Chicago (teaching 5th, 8th, and highschool history and economics) … during Lent is a massive garden devoted to the story of Jesus — with a few other things thrown in,.  That said, I was expecting The Shrine of Christ’s Passion to be more over the top than it turned out to be… it’s actually rather tasteful… from the little I saw

That said, I didn’t managed to see more than a bit of it, nor was I able to appreciate the what I did see in full due to a horrible traffic leaving Chicago that DOUBLED the amount of time it took to get here … I was supposed to arrive at 3:30, but instead arrived about 10 minutes before it closed at 5pm …. So I had NO time to explore the MASSIVE gift store (seriously massive) before heading to the main event of the place…

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Moses on the mount, with the burning bush off to the side

When I first arrived, it the weather was cloudy and dry, but you could still see blue sky, so I went to first see Moses on the mount (above)… cause you know… Moses…otherwise, I know, this is not someplace you’d expect a nice Jewish girl to go, this is SO NOT something Jews tend to do — idolotry anyone? But I love this sort of stuff — I mean come on… they advertised as having a 33 foot tall steel lady!!! (never saw it)IMG_2235

and then I entered the Jesus section and it started to rain, but lightly at first …. The first Jesus thing was the last supper… Every tableau came with a recorded “acting out” of the scene — the sound system at this park ROCKED… they have spent serious money on it.

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For the “Garden of Gethsemane” tableau you pushed the button at the entrance to a cul-de-sac type layout, and the loudspeakers were spread in such a way that you could walk through it at your own pace without missing any of it.

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When I got to Jesus being condemned the rain was starting to come down harder, but I was determined to not turn back…

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I made it through a few different stations of the cross, at which point I was starting to get soaked through and my iPhone’s touch screen stop working making it impossible to take photographs, even though it was in a “water-resistant” Otterbox case — at which point I gave up and headed back to the car….

As SOON as I was at my car, the rain stopped and the sky blued up…. almost like the powers that be didn’t want me seeing the Jesus stuff

(googlemaps not working for some reason, try this link)

Adelaide Australia

I was only in Adelaide for about two and a half days (arrived Feb 15th, around dinner time, left Feb 18th, 2018, around noon), and most of that time was spent convalescing (from the massive concussion I was suffering), so I really didn’t get to see more than glimpse of the place. That said, I would happily go back again. It’s the sort of city that’s big enough to have a bit of everything you’d want in a city, but not so crowded that you can’t find a parking space. (Sort of like Evanston, IL, or Chattanooga, TN) — also not many photos were taken

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The first night we were there my travel buddy (who is an Aussie himself) walked me over to the “Rundle Mall” partly just to see it, but also because we needed to run by the local Target (yes Australia has this chain too) in order to pick up REALLY BASIC things the Airbnb host had not thought to provide for us, and I’m talking pillows and towels sufficient for two people. (This Airbnb sucked so bad that the sheets on the bed didn’t pass the sniff test — not by a long shot — for having been washed after the last guest had left.)

Oh, and he told me that in Australia the term ‘a mall’ tends to refer to a human-traffic only shopping street (cars are excluded), which may or may not be covered, as if not more often than it means a massive indoor shopping town, as it almost always does in the USA. An arcade by comparison isn’t a place full of games, but rather it’s something like the picture below (which is closer to an American idea of a mall, only it seems to be one walkway with shops on each side)fullsizeoutput_41c4.jpegThis sculpture located in mall and according to my  is fairly iconic to Adelaide, and is titled, A day out. I only took the one picture, but it actually consists of a four different pigs scattered about….

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If you look carefully at the bench where the guy is sitting and talking on his phone, below it is a 2nd pig….

Alongside the pigs statue (I’m blanking on the correct word, I’m finding my ability to recall words is still not back to 100% even though it’s almost six months since my accident)… OH, remembered it… the ‘art-term’ I was searching for was an installation, since it’s actually a collection of statues rather than one.

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Adjacent to the pig statues stood this group of protestors, the screens were all showing a movie that demonstrated the conditions of pigs on farms, including how they were killed, and the squeals. The protesters stood there silently. Add the two things together and you really do essentially have a performance art piece… even if it wasn’t what was intended by the artist of the pigs.fullsizeoutput_41c3

This art piece is another Adelaide landmark called either Mall’s Balls (I have a feeling this is Aussie humor), or ‘the spheres’ that serves as a meeting spot for people.

(the google map refuses to embed, so please check this link for the location)

Personally, it reminded me as an inferior version of Chicago’s (my home town) Cloud Gate, affectionately referred to, and better known as “the bean” — in fact I doubt most Chicagoans could tell you the proper name.

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During my time there I ate at one fairly decent restaurant, a Japanese place called Gyoza-Gyoza, which is apparently a local chain Japanese Izakayas (sort of the Japanese version of a pub, where folks come after work to drink and eat).

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Australia’s House of Representatives: Canberra

One of the joys of travel is an opportunity to reconnect with old but distant friends. My travel buddy and I were doing a road trip from Adelaide to Sydney that allowed us to pass through Canberra, where both my he and I had friends. While there, my friend suggested that we attend go to the Parliament House and attend a session of the House of Representatives, which I was thrilled to do.IMG_8797.jpgThe building above is actually the NEW house of Representatives building, (opened in 1988 and cost 1.1 Billion Australian dollars to build — wiki) according to my friend. The Old Parliament House (below, built in 1927) sits directly across a green divide from the new one, with the two buildings facing each other.

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A picture of the old building from the opposite side, but you get the idea

My travel partner, Mik, had said to me that he couldn’t understand why they’d built the new building, when the old one still seemed perfectly good. I, however, have a theory. The old building has a stripped classicism style (the “rational architecture” style preferred in the 1920’s, and particularly embraced in Nazi Germany, that tends to reflect power the way a football linebacker reflects power); the new one reflects the old (both geographically and thematically, note the white pillars) while having a lot of “touches” that ‘honor’ aboriginal culture. [As I discussed in the blog post about the protest march I took part in the day of my accident, there seems to be a focus on appearances in how Australia addresses the political problem — on the world stage — of their relationship to their aboriginal population that eclipses the import of actions … and I think the new building intentionally includes these surface touches to show their ‘deep abiding respect’ for their native populations, without having to actually address the very real and substantive insults still happening today (see later in this piece).]

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Note the Aboriginal art in front of the main entrance for the building

Below is the front entrance of the new building… note how on thematic level it reflects the shape of the old building; note the up down and the negative/dark versus light working of the shapes; but is less about brutish power (like the old building)… and more delicate, and hence also reflective of the “pillars of democracy” appearance — that you tend to see in the greek revival preferred in American Government buildings.

IMG_2159also pay attention to how while the old building looks from this angle as though it is embedded in a mountain (photo above, entrance is just to the left of the photo); so that the new building is actually built into the side of a man-made hill, with the elevated flag sitting on the top of its peak. So ULTRA modern while still reflecting the old building and the “Natural” elements. (Why yes, I do have an undergraduate degree … a BFA… in Art from the Art Institute of Chicago, and yes I did also attend the Royal College of Art in London … why do you ask?)

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Got to love Aussie humor, I bought a box of the “Parlimints”

The interior of building is full of pillars decorated so as to bring to mind a grove of Eucalyptus trees … the one of the most common native of the Australian continent/country (so again, shifting the focus to the natural and native)

IMG_2161So for example consider the pictures of the tree on this website, and then compare it to the columns, and you’ll see what I mean. Once inside, we picked up our pre-reserved tickets to view the debates, and since we had time, so we explored the gift store at length, and then we went to have a snack at their cafeteria (which is REALLY nice and worth checking out.fullsizeoutput_4183.jpeg

THIS was my very first Lamington. One of the purposes of travel is eating new foods, and back when I was in Ballarat, my friend there had said that I needed to try a Lamington while in Australia. That said… when I saw they had one I ordered it for my tea, and had my travel buddy for this trip, Mik — an Aussie native, try it, and he deemed it to be a good Lamington …Not outstanding but good … I wasn’t impressed. 

When it was time, we joined the group booked to attended the House of representatives question time, and passed through a security check… unfortunately we were not allowed to take out our phones for any reason while in the observation deck, and there were staff member posted at the front of every aisle to make sure we didn’t… they even would come talk to us if we were sitting “properly” (no putting your feet up, etc)…. I did find a YouTube video of the actual debate we watched (released by the government), but it said these videos are only up for 6 months at a time, so I didn’t bother.IMG_2166.JPGAfter we were released from the  we did a guided tour of the building, as well as some free range wandering around … above the chamber there was the symbol of Australia but it was too small to see in the photo, so my travel buddy noted it was also on their $0.50 coin.IMG_2162At the back of one of the big rooms, there is a mural that the tour guide told us was actually very important, but because of a dinner event planned for that evening it was being blocked by a black curtain, the gold triangles, and the two projection screens hanging from the ceiling… I was however able to get a glimpse of it from behind the curtain… again, it looks like a natural Australian forest, and in it I spotted a Cockatoo (the white ones with the yellow plumage on top of their heads).IMG_2165

One of the amusing things the tour guide pointed out were these stickers across doorways,

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According to the tour guid they’d been put there by the U.S. President’s secret service when he came for a visit… they go through, made sure the place was safe, and then placed these stickers across all the various doorways and closets along his path to make sure that they weren’t accessed between the inspection and his arrival.

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after this we took an elevator to the roof of the building … in part because the building has that very interesting lawn roof, which is what makes the building look like it’s embedded into a mountain.

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According to my friend, when the building first opened up you used to have full access to the lawn and kids used to use it for fun (rolling down the hill of soft manured lawn). After this, as we were heading home, my friend took a route that brought us by the back of the Old Parliament building (picture above), and pointed out to me the Aboriginal Embassy encampment located in the park just across from it. I asked him if we could park and visit it… which I got the impression is something he’d never done before based on his response (he seemed a bit intimidated by the thought) but he agreed.

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So we walked into the encampment, while there we were called over to come sit with some of them who talked with my friend, while I listened from the edge, before hitting him up for money. To be honest they reminded me of my months on the Navajo reservation, where I was doing research on economic development there; it was just like any of the times I was around the alcoholic, out of work, vagrant Navajo who the were a source of anger and embarrassment to the other tribal members, the ones I was interviewing; these latter were the ones who were actually getting on with their lives and making something of themselves and trying to make life better for their people, rather than doing nothing while blaming others for their condition, well, nothing other than coming hands out and hitting up their more driven relatives for cash.

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… although I am guessing the movers and shakers do need to enlist someone to just sit there and do nothing (and who better?). After this, my friend seemed pretty deep in his thoughts as we headed home… we couldn’t really do much more at that point because I was utterly exhausted

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View of the Parliament building from across the river
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The view from our Airbnb

 

…..

The next day is when we went to have dinner with a very old friend of mine, Tat, whom I have not seen since my undergraduate days at the Royal College of Art, 30 odd years ago … which is where he and I met first while sharing a vat of photo chemicals in the dark rooms of the college. Yes, we’re that old…

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That said, somewhere in his files he has naked photos of me, because like the mutual friend of ours in the image behind us (we sent this photo to her), I also was one of his models — only no one ever wanted to put the pics of my body on a wine bottle like they did with hers (which is ultimately what made his career). Lumpy fertility goddesses don’t make for good advertising campaigns. That said we had a really nice meal together … with many of its ingredients coming from his own garden… and then we walked around his neighborhood (A Canberra suburb).

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My friend Mik petting one of Tat’s pet fish

This was a video I took of some cockatoos we passed on our walk

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The Convent: Daylesford, Victoria Australia

You wouldn’t think it, but Daylesford is actually a major tourist destination in Australia. By all appearances it’s just another small Australian town, indistinguishable from many of the other small towns in the area… but it has the advantage of sitting on the edge of what is now an extinct volcano, and as such it is one of the few natural spa towns in the country… known for it’s 65 naturally effervescent (bubbling) springs. Among its many attractions, is a historic (and haunted) nun’s convent that has been converted into an art gallery and wedding venue.

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(Based simply on how the people in the town preferred to dress — unstructured simple flowy garments made from natural materials, I told my hostess that I felt like I was back in Mill Valley, CA — a highly affluent town just north of San Francisco known for its concentration of New Agers, movie stars and retired Hippies … to which my friend responded that I had perceived correctly, as this town has very similar demographics, and has an Ashram a Yogi, etc)

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I was brought here by the friend I stayed with for two weeks in Ballarat. She is a woman of many talents: a former nurse, a real estate agent, an entrepreneur, and about once a month she guides collections of tourists through this convent, as she is also a psychic and medium, a talent she has had since her early childhood.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit so I’m a bit vague on the details of what ghosts were where. I came here on February 9, 2018… only about two weeks after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … but a good 6 months later, and as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

As we were driving around my friend told me that this is the second gay capital of Australia (Sydney being the first), and based on the number of rainbow flags I was seeing I don’t doubt it. She said that there are more gay people than straight people in Daylesford. fullsizeoutput_4145.jpegWe came to this former convent, which during the day triple duties as an art gallery, a wedding venue, and a hotel ….. because in the evenings is when its fourth duty comes into play, as a haunted structure… and my friend has been hired (because of her particular talent), to lead a ghost tour here on a similar regular basis. That said, the woman who normally comes and helps her lead the groups through the structure couldn’t be there that night, so since I had asked if I could come see the place (anyway) she’d tasked me with walking at the end of the group and making sure there were no stragglers (or folks who were breaking the rules and taping the tour without prior permission — photos are allowed). IMG_2078

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As we walked through the hallways of the building, my friend would describe various ghosts that are known to regularly haunt different parts of the building.

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This top floor of building was used as a hospital ward at one point, and she had interesting details to share of how the nuns managed this (getting the bodies up and down, etc.).

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These small rooms off of the larger main rooms were nuns bedrooms. One of them in particular, the one everyone is lining up to get into… is haunted by the ghost of a woman who (I think) had committed suicide there, or some such… (I’m really very blurry on the details at this point — it’s 6 month later — of the specifics of her story, but my friend explained it at great length…I remember it was very interesting and sad)

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IMG_2083I think I remember she said that this church part of the convent was haunted by a former Priest, or maybe it was the head nun… again, I’m very foggy on the details so I suggest if you’re in town you take her tour. IMG_2084At this point my friend was giving a very long story, and I was getting tired and wasn’t paying close attention anymore, and was focusing mostly on taking pictures… but as you can see more of the tour group were riveted on what she was saying

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This painted door, according to my friend, has a particular energy embedded into it, which both my friend and another psychic both had felt independently (I forget what it was, again, you should sign up for the tour to find out), and she was explaining about that during the picture above. She was also leading us into the basement which had been used for some horrible purposes over the years, lots of ghosts… and while we were down there a lot of people who were on the tour came out of there having experienced something…

Ballarat, Australia: the Food Is Free Laneway (or at least it should be…)

My friend who lives in town took me to the Food is Free laneway, a food security group in her hometown of Ballarat that believes that food should be free for people in need, and that the community should work together to make that happen. It’s a small grass roots not for profit oraganization built entirely from volunteer efforts of locals in the community.

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I found this YouTube video on the topic

 

IMG_7096.jpgAccording to my friend the locals in town are in something of a struggle with the council because the locals want there to be free food available all around the city, and the council doesn’t. This is true to the extent that the council has actually been cutting down fruit bearing trees around town where people would just stop and grab some fruit when it was ripe, including (I think it was) a fig tree near a roundabout.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Food is Free Laneway about 5 months ago, on Feb. 2nd, 2018, and since my accident only about a week before then had resulted in a sever concussion …  I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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At the same time, she told me that the organization was expanding their growing space into a piece of land that the city has given them, which this article confirms.

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The Food is free group is pretty active with the social media options, they have their own Facebook page group, to help them keep organized locally, as well as an instagram group.

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Susan G. Komen: Race for the Cure; Springfield, IL

About a week ago, as I wandered around downtown Springfield on saturday evening after the museums had closed I came across this event, the Susan G. Komen ‘Race for the cure’ getting ready to start right in front of the Illinois Capitol building. And for those who don’t know, it was the Koman Foundation that first associated pink ribbons with the fight against breast cancer…

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For those not familiar with the foundation: Koman was once one of the most trusted charities in the country, raising funds in the fight against breast cancer.

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This stand was handing out free wig stands for women undergoing radiation therapy, and free food to runners, which included pulled pork sandwiches and lots of cookies (I admit it, I accepted a chocolate chip cookie, which they offered to me even after I said I wasn’t running)
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Free pink cotton candy and water from McD’s was also being provided to the runners

But then,  it made a decision to stop donating some of its money to fund Planned Parenthood (a reproductive health foundation founded by Margaret Sanger — who was part of the inspiration for Wonder Woman —  that serves the poor, but that is HIGHLY controversial with conservatives because it also provides abortions), and pretty much lost a lot of its goodwill.

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They were giving out Pink scarves, like in this girl’s hair, as well. A woman commenting on my entire lack of pink in my outfit insisted that I take one and wear it.

This included (some unfair) claims that only about 20% of the money goes to cancer research, while paying Komen’s founder and CEO, Nancy Brinker an exorbitant salary. So at this point, while the foundation is starting to redeem its reputation, it’s still a bit controversial with liberals.

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An after the fact note: this run was towards a yearly goal of raising $500K, we are now approaching the start of June (the half way point) and Koman has only managed to raise $65,967 towards its goal (according to this website, at the date of posting).

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Gay Pridefest; Springfield, IL

Completely by accident I happened on Gay PrideFest while visiting Springfield, IL. I was looking for parking in order to visit Abraham Lincoln’s home, when I saw a massive street fair type thing happening down the street that led directly to the front steps of the capitol building. After I parked, I passed a girl who seemed to be coming from there and asked her “what’s going on over there?”, “Pridefest” she answered…

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The event basically consisted of a series of booths lining two city blocks of the street, including about a half block to either side of the cross street in the center. There was also a bandstand featuring live performances at the far end, closest to the capitol building, with most of the food and beverage sales happening towards that end (near the music)

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The PrideFest Central booth (information about the event, distribution of wristbands which allowed you to buy alcoholic beverages from venders, etc.) was located right at the crossroads point in the center of the event…

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About half the booths were political in nature, some of them were selling items to raise money, some collecting names on petitions, others just informational IMG_1562.JPG

While most of the booths were selling rainbow (Gay pride) themed type goods that would be attractive to members of the LGBT community

IMG_1563.JPGOf course the sales booth that caught my eye was selling bumper stickers….IMG_1376I’d like to say that I can never have too many bumper stickers but I’m running out of room on the back of my car… am beginning to dreaming longingly of purchasing a plumber’s type van in part because more room for both stuff and bumper stickers

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I ended up buying this one, times three (spares)

I will say this is not my first Pride event by a long shot, and compared to most of the ones I’ve been to this one was a pretty small and laid back event. In fact I only found one guy who REALLY embraced his gay during the event.

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He’s dressed as a leather fairy, note the wings on his back

But, to be fair, most of the pride events I have been to were in Cities with MASSIVE out of the closet LGBT populations, and hence a significantly higher level of perceived safety to be OUT.

For instance, I lived in the San Francisco Bay area for years and in addition to the LGBT pride parade have attended some really out-there pride events. For instance, while the Folsom Street Fair is more about BDSM and Fetish than it is about LGBT — although there’s a LOT of overlap, as both are Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures,  this particular pride fair is most definitely NOT for the squeamish (and in fact is one of the few things that pushes even my boundaries). That said it’s a HUGE event; Folsom takes up 13 city blocks and draws between 250,000 and 400,000 people every year depending on weather, etc (and the crush is such, that it is can trigger Agoraphobia, even for people who are normally just fine with crowds). That, and just a two months ago, when I was in Australia, I attended the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras with some friends of mine.

Halloween at Three Disney Parks, worldwide: Paris, Tokyo, & Orlando

Every year, all of the Disney parks celebrate a selection of the major ‘western’ holidays, and this includes Halloween. As no two parks are exactly alike, neither do any of them do the Halloween festivities alike. As such, I’ve decided to dedicate a blog post to those differences — As I experienced them. So far I’ve been lucky enough to be in three of the six Disneyland parks during Halloween: Paris in 2008, Tokyo in 2013, and Orlando in 2015 (the only one called the Magic Kingdom instead of Disneyland).

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So for instance, while Disney bounding (wearing modern street clothes that echo Disney characters) is something you’ll see year round at the US parks (if you know what you’re looking for)

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The girl on the left is Disney Bounding Snow White, the other girl is doing Minnie mouse

full-out costumes/Cosplay for anyone above the age of 14 are not allowed at any of the parks, in order to protect the brand and more importantly for fear of people confusing staff with visitors; except, that is, during the Halloween festivities (although even that is regulated, and the rules –often as reflection of security concerns — vary by park). That said, the extent to which the regular customers embrace that varies wildly both individually and culturally. That said, each of the parks has a very different ‘flavor’ as to how Halloween is done.

 

Paris Disney: where Spooky and eerie Halloweens rule

On October 29, 2008 I was in Disneyland Paris; this was back when it was still called Euro Disney Resort, and controlled not by the US Disney corporation but rather by local interests, and as such, much may have changed in the last 10 years in how Halloween is celebrated. To be honest … my experience of the park at that time was that, as a whole sucked rocks so bad that I was not at all surprised when a few years later I heard that Disney US had suspended any expansion plans, and initiated a take-back of control of the park; it was a process that began with the aforementioned name change, and that was completed just last year — so that they have only recently announced plans to begin the expansion that had been intended from when the park first opened in 1992. When I visited, it had been open about 16 years, was managed still by a subsidiary, (created I think in order to make the French feel like they were in control of the thing…) and well, like I said it sucked… BAD. The staff was impressively lazy and rude (oh have I got stories!!), the bathrooms was offensively dirty and smelly, and well… a far cry from “The happiest place on earth.”

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All of the Disney parks are intentionally designed to provide similar yet unique experiences, as a draw for folks like me to visit all of them, and Paris has some really good rides. For example, while I think EVER park has a variation of the “Haunted Mansion,” most of these rides tend to be more fun and quirky then they are spooky or scary, with the exception of the Paris version. Called “Phantom Manor,” this ride dark to the point of being down right creepy; unlike the other versions it includes a cohesive story line that is intentionally eerie. (Read this story synopsis to see just how much).
(Also watch this ‘ride-through’ YouTube video shot in 2015, and even if you don’t speak French you’ll note that music is also a heck of a lot spookier than at the other rides.)

Here’s also an interesting hour-long documentary on YouTube about what the Imagineers where going for when they developed the Disneyland Paris’ Phantom Manor, if you’re so inclined.

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The Phantom Manor decorated for Halloween, complete with the cast member in the green gown, with a pumpkin head, standing on its balcony behaving ghoulishly towards the crowds

ANYWAY, back to the topic at hand…. the same way that Disneyland Paris does a creepier haunted mansion, it also has a much creepier Halloween than the other parks do. Rather than the normal array of Disney characters posing for photos with the guests, you’re more likely to see staffers dressed as happy Jack-o-lantern and smiling ghouls were everywhere. As are Pumpkins, ghoulish decorations and the almost constant presence of orange paint, so that from the moment you walk into Main street, you are CLEAR that Halloween is being celebrated at Disney.

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Note the orange paint on the ground in he upper right corner

For the kids there were bright red candy apples (ala the poison apple from Snow White), and face-painting

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Halloween themed gifts and collectables

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And pumpkin themed decorations, both to look at and to have one’s picture taken with

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All of these is relatively normal, although the more you looked at the decorations, the more they became dark, grotesque and marginally perverted.

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Children posing with burial vaults?
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There’s something vaguely “Little Shop of Horrors“-esq about this decoration
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I’m not sure what is going on with this skull, but I surely didn’t expect to see something like this at a Disney park
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Is it me, or is this dark-o-lantern eating the brains of character below her?

So yes,Halloween at Disneyland Paris’ like it’s haunted mansion ride, is a good deal darker and more ghoulish than what one would expect from a Disney attraction.

 

Tokyo Disney: subtlety and nuances of Japanese culture

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On October 24th, 2013, while working in Seoul, South Korea as a professor, during one of the school holidays I had a chance to visit Tokyo, mostly with the intention of going to Tokyo Disneyland (YES, when I go to Tokyo I want to go to Disney, what’s your point?). This was actually my 2nd, or possibly third visit. The first time(s?) I went was back in the mid 1990’s while I was doing a summer internship with Eisai Pharmaceuticals in Tokyo. This (third?) visit in 2013 was my first chance to see the adjacent DisneySea park, which opened it’s doors in 2001. While there are things about the Tokyo Disney parks that frustrate me the Tokyo parks are among my favorites, in large part because they offer some of the best people watching opportunities. (Among the annoyances: the ATM’s in the park do NOT accept foreign bank cards — the mind boggles, especially since the food carts are cash only. For the restaurants you need a preexisting reservation, or you have to stand in line, literally — and sometimes for over an hour. There is no ‘come back at around 2:00’ with a txt messaging system if something opens up earlier, like in the states. And unlike the US parks there’s no service that allows you to spend your money at will and have all your purchases sent to the front gate for later pick up.)

The major reason the people watching is so good is that the Japanese love all things ‘Kawaii, aka, cute‘ to the point of a national obsession, and when the Japanese go to Disneyland they embrace that element of all things Disney with childlike abandon. As a result, wearable for sale items, like Disney ears, hats etc., exist in a much larger variety than in the USA, and they are pretty much ALL gender neutral. Unlike the USA where almost everything is Minnie Mouse (with the requisite bow), since men and boys are as likely to want to wear these things as women, Disney provides. So, not surprisingly, when they celebrate Halloween, they want to embrace the cute (and not the scary, like in Paris), and Disney delivers on that end as well.

That and, as the Japanese also appreciate subtlety in aesthetic (Shibui),  the holiday is a lot less, “in your face’ than it was in Paris.

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The above image for instance is Disney Main street during the Halloween period, compares it to the pictures of the same local in Paris that I posted and you’ll noticed a distinct difference. In fact but for the orange flowers on the lamp-post there really isn’t much in the way of Halloween happening. A little further into the park, just past main street, and you begin to see decorations,

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but again the decorations are no where as near in your face as in Paris ones, in fact its as though you’re being eased into Halloween. As there are bigger ones to come, behind the castle. Think of the parks this way, you enter the park through World Bazar (otherwise known as Main street USA) at 6:00 (where there was almost nothing in the way of holiday decorations), while it is possible to exit from there directly to AdventureLand, MOST people keep going straight, towards the castle, which is at the center of the clock.

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Once they’ve reached central park, most people will then go left to Adventureland which in Tokyo has New Orleans theme/Pirates of the Caribbean, 7:00 on the map, but it really isn’t till you hit

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Westernland (9:00) that you start to see decorations, and these are for the most part, up on top of building, rather than down at ground level (i.e., in your face)

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Note how the decorations mimic actual carved pumpkins, and are fun, rather than something out of child’s nightmare, like in they were in Paris… also older Japanese women will often use an outing to Disney as an excuse to wear their Kimono.

Even those decorations are not the garish bright orange that we saw in Paris, but a more subdued naturalistic looking pumpkin type decorations that could almost pass for real.

When you leave Westernland (10:00), heading towards where Crittercountry and Fantasyland meet — where the haunted mansion is located, the decorations get much more vibrant, but still cute, and with a lot of pumpkins that almost look real.

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Note all the people politely lined up in order to have a staff member take their pictures with the decorations. (In Japan this is done with the customer’s cameras, I was just there a few weeks ago, and they still don’t have the photo services with professional photographers at the ready, that you see at the Magic Kingdom.

And then of course, there are more of them around the Haunted Mansion (please forgive the poor quality of the photos), if anything, the tree of jack-o-lanterns that sat before it is probably the scarriest decoration in the whole park

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Forgive the poor quality of these photos, my old iphone 4s wasn’t up to the job

When you get into Fantasyland at 9:00, that is where you the colors and decorations become intense, but by this point you’ve been eased into it, so it not in any way shocking to the sensibilities, like in Paris. (If you DO go to Tokyo Disneyland I strongly suggest going on the Winnie the Pooh ride, there’s nothing like it in any of the other parks — it does NOT ride on tracks — see this video.)

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And then, if you enter Toontown section of the Disney park, which is designed for young children, that is when the decorations become their most extreme, but EVERYTHING in that section of the park is oversized and cartoonish, so it’s in keeping…

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A common thing at the park is to see girls in pairs who have gone to extreme lengths to dress alike, like these girls have… also note the little girl in the duck costume

After Toontown, Tomorrowland didn’t have much going on in the way of Halloween decorations, so that the total effect is of the most extreme decorations all being towards the back of the park (10:00 to 2:00, if viewing the map as a clock)

In addition to decorations, Tokyo Disney had some Halloween/orange themed eats (had all of them, they weren’t bad… although I remember wondering why the cream in the doughnut was orange flavored instead of pumpkin).

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One of the “big things” at Tokyo Disney is there are popcorn carts everywhere, but (unlike in the states where they’re pretty much either buttered or caramel, with the most distinctive thing about the carts being each has a different character spinning the wheel)

in Japan (sort of like their obsession for flavored Kit Kat bars) there’s a WIDE variety of flavors come of which change seasonally, and some of those can get a bit wacky… the curry smells better than it tastes (in my opinion), and I strongly suggest avoiding the shrimp flavored popcorn.  (And here’s a few different videos I found on YouTube of people taste testing various flavors)

That said, just like at the popcorn places in the US parks, Tokyo Disneyland sells collectible popcorn cases that vary with the themes of the rides, or major holidays like Halloween. The major difference I’ve found between the two is that the US ones seem to be intended for single use and hence fall-apart quickly — I purchased a vampire Mickey at DisneyWorld’s Halloween party and it fell apart as soon as I got it home — the Japanese popcorn cases are impressively durable; in Japan if you bring it back on subsequent visits you will get a small discount on the cost of a refill, so they are built with that in mind; after I purchased the one pictured below, I gave it to the 7-year-old daughter of the friends I was staying with, she and it was reported to me that she continued to use it for about a year afterwards as a purse, in addition to bringing it with her to Disney for popcorn refills. That is how strong these suckers are.

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Flavored popcorns at Tokyo DisneyLand and DisneySea, and the special Halloween case being offered

And of course there is a special Halloween influence to the parades

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But as I said, some of my favorite aspects of Tokyo Disney is the people watching, because just as the whole Cosplay movement began in Japan, the Japanese are far more likely ‘enthusiastically’ embrace the opportunity to show up to the parks in FULL costume (this article was posted 2015 two years after my visit —  at which point it had gotten so extreme, seriously check out the article, that in 2016 I heard that Disney had finally reeled them back in a bit) than other folks do. Back when I went in 2013, the trend was still a bit more laid back, but still impressive. Then, as I noted below the picture above, one of common trends was seeing girls coordinating their outfits, and the other is men who are unabashed in wearing cute stuff alongside the women (something you’d almost never see in the states).

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Two middle-aged Japanese housewives embracing the orange: standing up they were also coordinated, but in a much more subtle way than younger girls

That said, what really blew my mind was I saw a few different couples (men with their girlfriends and or wives) where the wife was dressed normally, but man was dressed in what the Japanese refer to as “Lolita Fashion” a trend that’s been going on in Japan for about as long as I can remember (so at least 30 years — I remember buying some of this back when I was in my 20’s and Japanese sizes still fit me). Think of it as a MUCH cuter version of Goth fashion.

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Don’t be confused, the person in the purplish dress is most definitively a male, the one in the Alice in Wonderland influenced baby-doll outfit I’m also pretty sure is a guy (look at the hands), but in this case not entirely

Like I said, the Lolita style is a very big deal in Japan, people will invest thousands of dollars in these outfits (they are definitely NOT cheap), and there are malls in trendy places like Harajuku and also Shinjuku that have whole floors of department stores devoted to the devotees of these styles. I even once spotted a Japanese girl at Epcot in Florida who showed up wearing Lolita fashion (the moment I saw the dress, she was ahead of me in line at one of the Epcot food festivals, I started chatting with her in my limited Japanese).

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This Japanese girl was at Epcot in 2017 with her boyfriend, she is also dressed in a Lolita Fashion; She’s wearing a Beauty and the Beast inspired outfit — note her dress’ fringe pattern
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Minishops in a Mall in Shinjuku that has a full floor devoted to the style

 

 

So while these styles are a thing in Japan, and some of them are highly influenced by Disney characters, such as Lewis Carol’s Alice… it’s a questionable line of are they Cosplay or fashion. As such, individuals who show up wearing it other than during Halloween may face some problems with the costume police at Tokyo Disneyland’s front gates. That said, what amazed me was not people were wearing it, but that Japanese MEN were wearing it… and wearing what was decidedly and clearly women’s fashions.

One of the things about Japanese culture is that there’s a time and a place for everything. Japan has had a long history of cross dressing, and, apparently, Disney’s Halloween has become one of the times and places where it is now acceptable for the growing trend of Japanese men with cross dressing tendencies, which the Japanese refer to as Otokonoko, to embrace their inner princess. So if you’re there during Halloween, make sure to keep an eye out.

As I mentioned before, there are currently two parks at Tokyo Disney, the Land (which is essentially Disneyland like in Los Angelus, or the The Magic Kingdom) which is a family oriented park, and DisneySea, which has a distinct nautical theme (although with touches of Epcot, as it offers a chance to “travel” to places like Venice, the Arabian Coast, Cape Cod & historic New York, Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, a lost river delta in South America (which has the AWESOME Raiders of the Lost Ark Ride), and an area for smaller children (that you really HAVE to see, it’s awesome) aimed directly at the Little Mermaid — you get to essentially go “under the sea.” DisneySea is considered the more “adult” park, and was intentionally designed to be suitable for taking your girlfriend on a romantic date.

Here while there are Halloween decorations they are kept subtle throughout the park, when you first enter the park, there’s a venetian styled banner above the doorway that if you look very closely, says Halloween 2013… and has a bit more orange in it that usual, but that’s about it…

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And then when you pass the gate and enter the central lake — effectively the design replacement of garden at the center of the Magic kingdom — again more orange has been added to color pallet, but that’s about it.

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This statue had a carved pumpkin hanging by a cord around his neck (??, no I don’t get it either)

When you enter American section again there are orange banners that say happy Halloween

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Note the couple (boyfriend/girlfriend) off to the side dressed alike, this tends to be more of a Korean trend than a Japanese one, based on what I’ve seen. (So there’s a good chance those two are in fact Korean,

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and the decorations that were at ground level were so naturalistic that I remember thinking they might have even been using real pumpkins, trying to replicate what it would look like in the states, but I wasn’t sure. IMG_0942

And of course there were girls dressed alike, and men embracing the cute, just like across the park at Tokyo Disneyland.

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Besides the decorations I showed, I found very little else (in the non-European sections of DisneySea that were celebrating the holiday. For instance, while you might think this is a Halloween decoration,

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in fact it’s a “Día de Muertos” decoration that’s a permanent fixture in the South American section of the park.

Disney in the DisneyWorld:

In the US while there are a nice selection of Halloween decorations scattered throughout the park, MOST of them can be found near the entrance and in the main street area

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Other than that, really not so much… Instead Disney has used it as yet another opportunity to separate you from your money. I.e., if you want to really experience Halloween at the US parks, you’ll need to buy a special ticket (pass holders only get a tiny discount, and only on low attendance nights) to”Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party,” (which was a counter bid to Universal Studio‘s far more popular “Horror Nights/Fright Nights” events. (I think I’ve noticed a pattern, in that the discounted nights at Disney seem to be the ones that are scheduled directly against a Horror night, so that tells you something. Personally I HATED Horror Nights, but I’m 50, it’s not designed for me, even the Wikipedia page admits as much.)

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The special even essentially consists of three additional aspects, which even though I had a top of the line season pass with no block out dates, etc., I had to pay an extra $69 for… 1) access to trick or treating from various spots around the park (the candy was pretty run of the mill);

2) The ability to watch a special show called the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular:

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then 3) a special parade, called Mickey’s “Boo-to-You” Halloween Parade

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The coolest parts I got photos of, the headless horseman, especially when he pops up in a very dark spot, like where I was sitting is very cool…

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And then if you’re sitting in a dark place the ghosts from the haunted mansion dance by, and they’re slightly glow in the dark

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And then finally, 4) what I feel is the REAL draw for hard-core Disney fans, is the ability to stand in some VERY long lines… I’m talking like well over an hour in some cases, to have you picture taken with character that are never otherwise available to have your picture taken with, which includes ALL of the dwarves at one time, some of the Disney villains:

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Found a YouTube video where a woman goes through all the things to do at the party, and since unlike me she wasn’t on a diet, she ate all special party only deserts they were selling (yah, you paid $69+ to get in, and you have to pay to buy these special deserts)

So that said, one of my favorite things to do is people watch, and since Halloween is one of the few times the parks allow adults to come in costume, it can get interesting.

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The bottom left group was really creative, they’re the emotions from the Pixar movie “Inside out”
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This family, the adults came dressed as the Orcs from Frozen while the children came dressed as Anna, Elsa and Kristoff (how brilliant is that?)