Saturday, July 30, 2011

birthday randomness

Today is my 24th birthday.  It was spent quietly with close family, although my friend Hashem kindly gave my twn sister and I gifts as well.

All I asked for (from my family, not Hashem) was a digital camera to take with me on my upcoming European trip.  That is exactly what I got- a Nikon Coolpix S3100.  I spent the remainder of the evening playing with my new "toy."  

There's nothing very Victorian about my family's birthday celebration except that I just started reading Charlotte Bronte's Villette this afternoon.  To show off my amazing new camera to all of you I took a photo of the most Victorian piece of furniture in my parents' house instead:

My father even got me a mini tripod, so I don't have to take crappy pictures of my neo-Victorian outfits with my laptop computer's built-in camera anymore.


Speaking of neo-Victorian outfits, Kitty Lovett over at Bloggery of a Gothcat just announced that she is considering dressing like a Victorian all 365 of the Gregorian calendar year of 2012.  

Kudos to her if she can manage to do it!  I personally don't have the guts, as well as a lack of money and sewing skills and motivation to make my own Victorian clothes.  But I would say the guts thing would be the hardest to deal with.  I am comfortable in my mix of fashions and would be too worried that I would look too bizarre as a Victorian for it to be work-appropriate or not have practical clothes for certain weather conditions (i.e. western PA's notorious humidity.)  If she does decide to do it then I will eagerly  follow her efforts to see how she manages to pull it off for so long.

Friday, July 29, 2011

steel city showing off the steampunk

The Pittsburgh City Paper's summer City Guide has a steampunk theme!  Finally, the original steel city is paying homage to its Victorian-era industrial greatness with this little nod to steampunk.

I met all three of the models at the first Steel City Steam Society event I attended earlier this month.  I have no idea how they managed to get spreads in the City Guide, but I will try to find out soon.

Check out the City Guide in its entirety here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

victorianism and the blogosphere

Just a small update on some interesting Victorian-related articles in a few other blogs I follow.

image source: imgur
Amy at The Ultimate Goth Guide recently wrote a post on Steampunk Goth.  I especially appreciate her noticing that steampunk is not so much a lifestyle for most enthusiasts but rather more of a weekend recreational thing (which some Gothic Lolitas have told me about their fashion style as well).

Speaking of Gothic Lolitas, Juliet's Lace has a blog post discussing that subculture as well, along with some links that take the reader to additional sources of information on all things Lolita.

Within the past week Sincerely, Boots has provided a mini tutorial detailing how one would go about "corseting" their jeans.  This method could probably used to make nearly any other piece of clothing reminiscent of Victorian underwear.

Ms. Lou at The Neo-Victorian Parlour, meanwhile, has added a continuation to her post on sodas as a Victorian medication by delving into the history of the ice cream float-- from its (perhaps mythological) origins as a desperate attempt to cool soda on a hot Victorian-era Philadelphia day to its status as a drugstore staple and the regulations that went along with its sale in the 1880s and 1890s.

This is why I love blogging- not only writing about Victorian culture but also seeing others who take interest in it as well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

l'histoire de «la fée verte»

image source:
Absinthe.  The potent green nectar of the bohemian, the artist, the eccentric.  At least that's how I always have imagined it in my mind from the drink's representation in films such as Moulin Rouge! and From Hell.  It was always a liquid that was burned in the ritualistic preparation of the drink, one that was banned and that was whispered to make you go crazy.  Being neither a big alcohol drinker nor someone to seek contraband items, I could leave absinthe alone with its movie representations.  Even as an enthusiast of the 19th century I never bothered to further research absinthe.

image source: Wikipedia
That was, until two nights ago.  I was feeling rather sleepy and lethargic so I decided to settle into bed with my laptop and watch something on Hulu before turning out the light.  What I ended up watching was something that both appealed to my love of history and my current thirst for "news and information" pieces, simply entitled: Absinthe.  This hour-long informational movie focused on absinthe's history, from its creation in a small Swiss village, to its association with the French cafés and artists of the late 19th century, to the nearly global pre-WWI bans on the beverage, and its gradual reemergence as a legal and popular spirit.

First, I want to announce my ignorance of the following fact: in the 19th century, absinthe was drunk by pouring a little into a glass, then placing a sugar cube on a slotted spoon and slowly pouring cold water over it.  The sugar turns the green spirit a sot of milky-white color.  The sugar is stirred into the drink and is ready to wet the palate.  That whole "burn the sugar cube into the absinthe" thing from Moulin Rouge! and From Hell is historically inaccurate.  The process of burning the sugar is, apparently, a rather recent Czech method.

Although it is disputed whether absinthe existed at an earlier point, the modern incarnation of the drink known as absinthe was first made in the Val-de-Travers in Switzerland and peddled by one Dr. Pierre Ordinaire.  An herbal spirit, the doctor sold it as a sort of cure-all elixir to patients.  It is unclear whether the doctor had invented the drink and sold it to a peasant woman named Madame Henriod, or whether Mme Henriod had concocted the spirit and sold the recipe to Dr. Ordinaire.  What is known is that, around 1797, Mme Henriod had sold her recipe to a Major Dubied, who opened the first absinthe distillery with his son-in-law, Henri-Louis Pernod.  This distillery, which was moved to Pontarlier France in 1805, eventually became known globally by its brand name Pernod Fils, makers of popular, high-quality absinthe.

L'absinthe, by Edgar Degas (1876)
image source:
The green spirit, concocted from green anise, fennel, and other herbal ingredients, remained more or less a regional drink until the 1830s.  During that time the French army were fighting in Algeria, and tropical diseases such as malaria were taking their toll on the troops.  To stave off the disease the army gave the herbal elixir to their troops to sterilize their drinking water.  When the soldiers came home they brought their taste for the anise-flavored drink with them, ordering it on the sidewalk cafés of Paris.  Soon the artists, working classes, and bourgeoisie who came to the cafes took note of the drink and ordered it themselves.  It is speculated that part of the attraction to the drink was its anise or licorice-like flavor, an unusual taste in this period when cocktails had yet to be invented and the "flavor" choices were those of wine and beer.

By the 1860s and 1870s the drink had become so popular that the "happy hour" period from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. was often called  «l'heure verte,» or "the green hour," a name taken from the yellowish-green pallor of the liquid.

La muse verte, by Albert Maignan (1895)
image source: Wikipedia
Artists loved the drink because of the supposed "lucid drunkenness" or "drunken clarity" they claimed that the alcohol gave them.  This clarity, the "green fairy" within the drink, was the "muse" that awakened higher truths, original ideas, and unusual concepts within the artists of Paris, who went on to create surreal, imaginative, and avant-garde poetry, writing, and art pieces in the late nineteenth century.  Famous artists who regularly indulged in "the Green Fairy" included Vincent van Gogh, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimband, Oscar Wilde, and Aleister Crowley.

The problem with absinthe was this strange quality to it- its purported "hallucinogenic" effects.  Some historians and experts surmise that strange visions, dreams, madness, and even death from drinking absinthe were caused by cheap and improperly distilled versions of the liquor.  According to Wikipedia and the documentary, some attempted to do experiments with the chemical components of grande wormwood, one of the main ingredients in absinthe:

One of the first vilifications of absinthe was an 1864 experiment in which a certain Dr. Magnan exposed a guinea pig to large doses of pure wormwood vapour and another to alcohol vapours. The guinea pig exposed to wormwood experienced convulsive seizures, while the animal exposed to alcohol did not. Magnan would later blame the chemical thujone, contained in wormwood, for these effects.
Other accounts of absinthe drinking and its bizarre effects, such as the following personal account by Oscar Wilde, must have alarmed more than just the teetotalers of the day:

The first stage is like ordinary drinking, the second when you begin to see monstrous and cruel things, but if you can persevere you will enter in upon the third stage where you see things that you want to see, wonderful curious things. One night I was left sitting, drinking alone and very late in the Café Royal, and I had just got into this third stage when a waiter came in with a green apron and began to pile the chairs on the tables.
                                                                                                                                          'Time to go, Sir’ he called out to me. Then he brought in a watering can and began to water the floor.’Time’s up Sir. I’m afraid you must go now, Sir.’

‘Waiter, are you watering the flowers?’ I asked, but he didn’t answer.

‘What are your favourite flowers, waiter?’ I asked again.

‘Now sir, I must really ask you to go now, time’s up,’ he said firmly. ‘I’m sure that tulips are your favourite flowers,’ I said, and as I got up and passed out into the street I felt - the – heavy – tulip – heads – brushing against my shins.”
Absinthe's eventual downfall, much like its rise, had almost everything to do with historical circumstances, as well as a reputation for creating madness.  In the 1870s and 1880s a blight struck the vineyards of France, pretty much obliterating the wine industry.  It took years for the wine industry to recover.  As a result wine, that French staple, skyrocketed in price, while the price of absinthe dropped from mass production.  When wine began coming back onto the market, its producers realized that they had lost a great deal of their market to absinthe.  That, along with the highly publicized murders of absinthe drinker Jean Lanfray's wife and two daughters by Lanfray himself, ignited the crusade against absinthe in earnest.  What the publicity of the Lanfray murders appears to have left out of the papers, however, was the fact that Lanfray drank two ounces of absinthe along with brandy-laced coffee, several glasses of white wine, several glasses of cognac, and two crème de menthes before losing his temper and shooting his wife and children!

As a result absinthe was banned in Switzerland in 1910, followed by the U.S. in 1912 and France in 1915.

La Fin de la "Fée Verte," by Albert Ganter (1910)
image source: ecodigerati
Death of the Green Fairy, Audino (1915)
image source: Cafe Press
La Fée Verte did not quite die, however.  In countries where it had never been popular and was, therefore, never banned, the anise-flavored drink was reproduced and sold, sometimes at a poor quality and dyed green to give it its signiature color.  Clandestine distilleries operated in the Val-de-Travers, absinthe's place of origin up until the present, making a blue liquid that would attract less attention from authorities.

In the 1990s a resurgence of the drink's popularity occurred in the countries in which it had never been banned, especially England.  With pressure from local distillers to legalize absinthe, which has never been officially proven to cause madness when properly distilled, the bans on absinthe were lifted in France and Switzerland and "restrictions" placed on the ingredients used in the spirit- often on the levels of thujone.  The U.S. has only followed suit in the past four years, creating restrictions on what levels of chemicals can and cannot be in the drink as well.

I am certainly no expert on absinthe, having only just learned most of this information within the past 48 hours.  For more information I suggest you check out The Virtual Absinthe Museum- a true treasure trove of information on absinthe, from its history to its purported effects to absinthe-related merchandise (i.e. prints and posters).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

the mayhew files: swindlers

A continuation of Scott's notes on Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor.

In this section Mayhew covers all of the criminals who stole solely through deceit.

image source: American Antiquarian Society
First up are the embezzlers.  Coming from all ranges of society, these criminals did what you would imagine. When given responsibility of goods or money they pocketed some for themselves. Bank clerks would often take advantage of their position to put a little away for themselves.  Sometimes salesmen from companies would pay the company a little less than what the customer paid. Even the lowly cabman would pocket some of the take for the day instead of reporting it all.

Crimes could be carried out in any number of ways, but it seems that most criminals in the upper echelons of this type of activity cooked the books to try to get away with their crimes, and from what Mayhew says they were not terribly good at it.  Or maybe that was just the ones that got caught.

Usually, but not always, the lower classes were stealing goods rather than cash, as was the case of one woman who stole nearly £6 in silks entrusted to her.

Nor were charitable societies immune to the depredations of their members. One case Mayhew mentioned occurred in the East End to a friendly society there.

Often employers became suspect of their employees when they were living life beyond their means.  One embezzler was caught when his employer heard of his frequent trips to dance halls, which the employer knew his employee could not afford on his salary alone.  So the employer marked some money, put it in the til and later discovered it was not there.  He did it again but informed the police.  When the employee was caught the marked money was discovered on him and he was arrested.

Magsmen or sharpers usually operated in groups of three or more.  They usually had one man start talking to a stranger who seems to be a tourist or visitor.  They talked about various things, usually trying to get the stranger to believe that they were rich.

They then invited the stranger to a pub for a drink.  After a while a second man came up, pretending to be a stranger to both. He started talking to them and eventually the talk turned to some athletic contest.  The first man bet the second man that he could beat him at whatever it is, usually skittles, which is similar to bowling (yeah, loose definition of athletic.)

So the three of them went to an alley somewhere where the first man lost to the second, and paid out the wager.  Along the way they picked up the third man to act as the judge, usually selected by the second man.

With a few pints in him now, the stranger, or dupe, was conned into taking on the second man for a wager.  He usually won the first round of the game )along with some money). The second man then bet him again and maybe lost again.  But finally the swindler won and continued to win until he took all the dupe's money away from him.

The first man and the dupe then left together.  After a short while the first man would convince the stranger that the other two were being deceitful and said he would run back and try to get his money back for him.  Whereupon he disappeared as well.

There were a number of variations on this trick.

Card games were another way to trick people out of their money. These criminals usually have a three card game and, when enough people were around, one of their friends would attempt to play.  The game was to pick up the face card of the three.  The friend would, of course, manage it and would win the wager.  The face card was then removed from the three cards and no one else would be able to draw it. This was essentially just Three Card Monte.

Similar frauds were carried out with skittles, as mentioned in the first part, but without the initial deception.  Just pool sharking, only in back alleys.

Thimble and pea was a trick similar to the card game mentioned above, only a swindler hid a pea under a thimble and then the dupe tried to pick the thimble that they think the pea is under.  The swindler, however, managed to secrete the pea behind their thumb nail so the dupe could not ever find the pea under any of the thimbles.

Another fraud carried out was for one of the swindlers to come into a public house with locks for sale claiming they could not be opened, even betting on it.  A friend of the windler would then come up and say he could open it.  After a few minutes the friend managed to get it open.  Whereupon he closed the lock and handed it back to the first man.  The swindler then secretly switches it with a lock that actually cannot be opened.  He then bets anyone else that they cannot open the lock.  Those who take the bait obviously cannot open it.  The swindler then makes money from those who cannot open the locks.  (Here Scott interjects that he thought working at Wendy’s sucked.)

Mayhew says that there was no formal arrangement between the gangs of swindlers that worked the city but that they seemed to share territory without difficulties. When one gang had worked a street and found and fleeced their mark they move on, allowing the next gang to set up shop.

Then there were the straight up swindlers, or people who pretended to be more than they were to live a lifestyle they could not possibly afford.  When these people showed up claiming to the be the cousin of the third earl of whatever people extended them credit.  They usually carried this out when traveling abroad, sometimes managing to live for months at a time on this credit before moving on.  The swindle would, of course, leave the local shop keepers and inn keepers all the poorer for their efforts.

But other swindlers worked from home.  One guy advertised in a paper that he could get people a job if they sent him their information and a 5s stamp to send them a letter back.  He made about £700 from this enterprise, all at the cost of an advertisement and a quarter of a year's rent of an empty house.

Other people carried out less ambitious schemes, often only asking for 1 bob.

Monday, July 25, 2011

victorian webcomic: personal demons

Late last night I quite accidentally stumbled upon this webcomic, a darkly beautiful Gothic horror story of sorts- Hopeless, Maine.

The storyline is a masterpiece within itself.  Simply Gothic Victorian, it focuses on the life of Salamandra O'Stoat, a girl whose past is only partly withheld from the readers.  Apparently her father could conjure demons and once delighted in torturing his daughter with the thought of demons coming into her room.  By the beginning of the story both of her parents have disappeared and an elder brother is dead.  The reason why has not yet been explained.  As a result Salamandra is sent to Pallid Rock Orphanage very much friendless and alone.

The artwork reminds me a good deal of Edward Gorey with its dark color template and great focus on death.  One of my favorite scenes is the following, where two orphan girls are playing with a Victorian dollhouse.  Notice what ritual their dolls are taking part in:

This story is intriguing in the way it captures depression in the form of a demon that people fruitlessly try to take comfort in.  It is also just beautiful in its presentation and execution.  Check it out here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

unlacing victorian "unmentionables"

Thanks to all of my readers, I now have 100 followers!  I will have to make up for this past week's laziness in posting.  Okay, so not exactly laziness- I've been rather busy the past few days with some concerts and family coming into town.  Today I have a picnic to attend and then a Slayer/Rob Zombie concert, so I will try to make this a quick, yet detailed post.

The Wall Street Journal has a rather interesting and unusual article about Victorian underwear seminars held by one Deanne Gist, noted historical fiction romance novelist.  The purpose of the seminars?  To make intimate scenes between characters more historically accurate.

It took an hour for Ms. Gist to squeeze into a dozen layers that a lady would have worn in the 1860s—stockings, garters, bloomers, chemise, corset, crinoline or hoop skirt, petticoats, a shirtwaist or blouse, skirt, vest and bolero jacket. By the end, workshop attendees were skeptical that seductions ever occurred, with so many sartorial barriers.

"How did they ever have hanky panky?" asked novelist Annie Solomon.

With great effort, it turns out. Women wore blouses under their corsets—making actual bodice ripping fairly pointless. Corsets fastened in front and laced up the back and couldn't be undone in a single passionate gesture.

From the sounds of it, most lovemaking of the 19th century could not be quick and dirty- at least not in the nude.  It would be nearly impossible to get all of that clothing off. 

But the article does say something for the dedication of some writers to make sure that their writing is as good as possible.  Even though romance writers tend to get a bad rap, these women are truly dedicated to making their stories as well-written and accurate as possible.  

Read the article here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

mr. small's presents: rasputina

Tonight cello-driven band Rasputina will be hitting the 'burgh, performing at Mr. Small's Theater in Millvale, PA.  Unfortunately I cannot experience this Victorian-inspired strong phenomenon this year as it is my little sister's  birthday.  Since she is not a fan of this particular group and will be spending the day at the amusement park, I think she would rather spend a quiet evening at home.

Still, that's no reason we can't enjoy the neo-Victorianism:

Monday, July 18, 2011

another VSF trailer

Yet another Victorian Science Fiction movie will be coming out in the near future.  Scott sent me a link to the following trailer for John Carter (2012).  I have never read the John Carter series by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the creater of jungle hero Tarzan, by the way), but Scott assures me "It is practically the invention of most modern VSF"

The pros:
The cons:
  • Can anyone get even an inkling of an idea of what this movie is about based on the trailer alone?  Because I can't.  It looks like it's a bad adventure movie trying to hide the fact that it's a bad adventure movie.
I will have to wait for an extended trailer before settling on seeing it or not, I fear.

Friday, July 15, 2011

the differences one year can make...

Last night, after an enjoyable gathering of college friends for beer and pizza and hearing the details of one of our number's recent engagement to her boyfriend of one year, I took a walk through my Pittsburgh neighborhood and did some mental self-examination.

Tauruscat Dream Helmet
image source: Tom Banwell: Leather & Resin Projects
Despite not having the lovely thinking helmet featured above, I think I came to some splendid revelations.  The main one is this:

I feel like the cloud of depression has been lifted.

Last July it felt like the exact opposite.  Around this time I was actively making my final plans as I counted down the days until the end of my life.  I was going to swallow sleeping pills, allow my heart to slowly stop, and drift off into a much-yearned-for oblivion.  At the time I had such severe family problems that I was actually kicked out of my parents' house for a few days, friends who had all but drifted out of my life as they pursued the goals of their own adult lives, and confusion at work that made me feel as if I was hurting, rather than helping my beloved battlefield's struggle to stay open.  I had hit rock bottom and couldn't see a way to scale the walls.  Despite my attempts to control my life I felt that there was no hope of determining my own fate.  I wanted control back, but could only see one way to do it.

I made my plans.  I set a date.

But then one person did all he could to show me that I was loved and cared for.

In all honesty, I was a bit resentful towards him for his act.  I suddenly felt obligated to try another method of taking control back.  And maybe it was good that that Emilie Autumn concert was delayed for several months, because it gave me more time to focus on that goal.

These were the things I did to get control back:

  • I got a new job.  I was lucky enough that it wasn't high-pressure, something that I don't think I could have handled at the time.  And I had one boss instead of nine.  That made the greatest difference, as I only had to take my orders from one individual instead of several persons with varying opinions as to how I should do my job.
  • I moved out of my parents' house.  This step took a tremendous amount of effort.  I understand that my parents wanted me to live at home, that they want to enjoy my company and want me to enjoy theirs.  But I knew it wasn't working.  They made me feel obligated toward them for "allowing" me to live in their house.  Even though I paid rent, I also sacrificed a great deal of my own free time to satisfy their whims, and dealt with still being treated as a child.  By last August I was fairly convinced that I couldn't survive long in their house.  My leaving wasn't a pretty scene- both parents were upset with me, I think more so out of fear that their depressed daughter would not make it by herself in the big, scary world, although there was an element of feeling that I was personally rejecting them.  In a way I was. But moving out was the drastic first step that I needed to make toward getting better.
  • I went to counseling.  Here I focused on controlling how much involvement my family has in my life.  It has worked for my benefit- most of the negative stuff my family says or does does no longer affects me negatively, as it once did.
  • I began to plan social activities with acquaintances.  My counselor made me do at least one social activity a week, not counting anything I did with my boyfriend.  I had to at least give an old friend a call.  Now I'm very excited about my recent connections with the Steel City Steam Society, and I hope that will lead to some terrific and much-needed social interaction with like-minded people.
  • I began to exercise again.  Once upon a time I was a devout Roman Catholic.  Lent was always a serious deal to me.  Despite changes in my views about how religion should be practiced, I still believe that each religious institution should be honored by its followers and those who do not follow them (as long as that institution does not hurt anyone by its actions).  That means that as a "bad Catholic," I still felt obligated to honor the fasts of the Lenten season.  So for Lent I made myself give up "being lazy."  That meant that I had to run five times a week.  It didn't matter how long or for how many miles I ran, as long as I ran at least 20 minutes.  I figured that it would be more effective than a New Year's Resolution because I do take Lent, as a religious practice, seriously.  I only failed in my obligation one week, where I ran three days instead of five.  But by the time Easter came around I was stronger and more energetic, which has led me to continue running about three to five times a week.
  • I began to work on my fiction writing again.  This one is a very recent development that came up within the past few weeks, so let's hope I can maintain it.
It all didn't happen at once.  I was still severely depressed for months after last July's blackness.  The cloud only began to lift a little in February, and gradually dissipated over the next several months as I struggled with my own identity apart from my family and my sense of uncertainty and stability about my professional future.  But getting my own place and doing my own thing has convinced me that I can meet my own physical needs, and my continued desire for independence assures me that I don't need anyone else's approval in order to be a member of society.

Granted, things will never be perfect.  I get cases of the blues.  But I no longer mind getting up in the mornings.  My days are productive, and I am, for the first time in five years, truly happy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"a game of shadows" trailer finally released!

The trailer for the long-awaited sequel to Guy Ritchie's 2009 film Sherlock Holmes was released yesterday.  Check out the preview for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows below:

How does it look to you guys?  A promising yay or a disappointed nay?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

steel city steampunk escapades

This weekend I attended two events held by The Steel City Steam Society- a private "concert" featuring two local musicians, and the Mixing Alcohol & Heavy Machinery dinner at Local bar + kitchen that I mentioned in this post.

There were no plans for me to attend the former, at first. In fact, an hour before the event I was trying on various wardrobe items for the Mixing Alcohol & Heavy Machinery get-together. For that event I knew that I would be safe with my boyfriend Scott and my friend Juice, so I could have some people to talk to if I didn't really hit it off with anyone in the SCSS.

But then a bizarre thought occurred to me- wouldn't it be better for me to attend an event without the safety blanket of two people I already knew, two people who I could withdraw into, thus limiting my ability to truly socialize with this new group of people?

Remember, I have never been to a real steampunk event, never hung out with steampunkers, and am naturally shy. The shyness I do hide well- in recent years, I think mainly thanks to my journalism training, I do better in unexplored social situations where I put myself completely out there. Having friends with me whom I feel "obligated" to entertain would hinder me putting myself completely out there. Once I got somewhat familiar with some of the attendees of these events then I could introduce them to my friends and (hopefully) facilitate conversation between them, thus making it easier for them to be there.

The other plus was that I could make an easier escape without my cohorts if my presence at a SCSS event somehow got awkward for the attendees, or awkward for me. Yes, I am human and have a fear of rejection.

So I donned my go-to steampunk gear, threw on some makeup, and headed out to the music event, making sure my twin sister knew the exact location of the event for safely purposes.

Note: there are no photos from this night. I didn't want to scare people by taking their photos, or by taking their photos and then asking their permission to post them on a public blog.

Yes, I know that I ALWAYS go to this same corset
whenever I am doing something neo-Victorian.
I have finally bought more clothes. See below.
The "venue" was actually a house in a residential street in the Greenfield neighborhood. When I arrived I sat in the car for a nervous five minutes staring at the house, waiting to see if there would be any steampunk-clad individuals walking into the house. One girl in a pink corset and her street-clothes boyfriend walked in as if they were going to a house party rather than a music event. That was all the evidence I needed that I was at the right place. I got out of my car and soon found myself being let into the house along with two other girls.

It was an interesting scene within the residence. All of the blinds were drawn and the lights turned off, while an oil lamp and dozens of candles, most stuck in empty glass bottles, served as the only illumination. As my eyes adjusted I gradually was able to take in the various people.

In the corner sat two young women in straight-up Victorian bustle dresses while another guy read their fortunes on Tarot cards. Others sat on the couch talking, some wearing regular modern clothes, while others had top hats, goggles, or just brocade vests and dress pants. One guy had a two-foot wrench that he had painted copper and attached a blue LED light to the end of it, while another guy had a steampunk gas mask like the one Scott bought me, except made of brown leather, attached to a tube that was attached to some strange contraption at his hip that sort of looked like those stainless steel water bottles.

At first the two girls and I stood there awkwardly as the host (gas mask water bottle guy) introduced himself and pointed out where the drinks were. I followed the girls into the kitchen, where we opened two wine bottles and we began to chat, asking questions about each other's clothing pieces and where we had gotten them or how we had made various items. Just what I needed to break the ice and get adjusted to the group. The one girl, Bridget, had made her entire outfit out of items that were already in her closet, while Kristen, her friend, had ordered a lot of her clothing online like I had.

Eventually I made my rounds among many of the attendees, starting conversations with asking questions about a person's clothing or complimenting an accessory that was skillfully done, or even just straight-out asking them how they got involved in the group. There were a good twenty people in and out throughout the night. Most people seemed to get into steampunk because they were "always that way, but didn't know that there was a name for it" until recently, apparently.

Some of the boys borrowed vests and the like from one of the Victorian-dressed women, Desiree. She makes costumes for reenactments, so she's quite an accomplished seamstress at this point. I asked her a bunch of questions about costume making, although next time I will have to ask her about the nature of some of the reenactments she does.

The music, meanwhile, was sort of Mumford and Sons-styled acoustic guitar playing. The first musician, Patricia Wake, sang folksy songs with dark lyrics (and one song about Dr. Who) just wearing black pants and a black camisole. The second headliner, Eli August, played the same king of folksy songs wearing black pants, white suspenders and a white undershirt. The crowd was very attentive to their playing, mostly being quiet while they played.

Unfortunately, western Pennsylvania in July has the humidity of a sweatshop in Hell, which does not bode well for Victorian-appareled people wearing heavy layers in a poorly air-conditioned house. As a result most of us eventually made our way outside onto the front porch to continue chatting. Some made clothing changes. I had neither an extra change of clothes nor layers, so I remained in my garb.

Eventually I began talking to the founder of SCSS, Alexa Black. She pretty much decided to start the group up about one year ago because Pittsburgh didn't have a steampunk group. Go Alexa! I've known about steampunk longer than her, but I would not have taken the initiative to reach out to would-be steampunkers in Pittsburgh- this city is not known for having any subcultures.

I left feeling pretty content with the acquaintances I did make. And the following evening, dressed in a different outfit, I showed up at Local with Scott and Juice feeling more confident. I talked to the people I had met the night before, talked to a few who hadn't, was happy when Scott hit it off with a guy who likes the same movies and games he does, and then we all went for ice cream afterwards. A pretty awesome night for me:

Eating and chatting at Local
More chatting.
Juice (left) and Scott (right). Juice borrowed the goggles from me but did the rest of the outfit himself. Scott was the only person there in street clothes, but he is the only one I know who actually owns a pith helmet.
Me. I made the earring myself with spray paint and the inside of a white out tape dispenser. The dress is from a consignment store and the hat is Scott's.
Scott, trying to be Professor Elemental, and myself sans the gas mask.

Not sure what this thing on the wall was...

Gears and coils and liquor!
More gears and happy bar people
Juice having some steampunk fun!

Bridget (left) and Kristen (right)
Scott and Juice had a decent time overall, but it wasn't quite their scene. Fair enough. At least I tried. And I found a group that I am interested in seeing more of in the future.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

17th century steampunk?

UGO says that the new film adaptation of The Three Musketeers is steampunk-inspired.  Airships and flamethrowers, and mechanicms that never were in the 17th century?  I have to agree.  It subtley fits the definition  of steampunk without going overboard and bastardizing it:

Why are the Musketeers in these movies always shown sword fighting?  They're called "musketeers" because they were known for using muskets as their weapons- there were full musketeer units in European armies of the time.  Swords are necessary for close-combat, especially because muskets take so long to reload, but do these guys ever carry muskets around with them in these movies?

Any thoughts?

Friday, July 8, 2011

fantasy tries to defeat real-life health issues, steampunk style

Team Wench, a group that attends and holds many events to support breast cancer and multiple sclerosis walks, is sponsoring a fantasy ball for the fifth year in a row.  Previous balls have included Arabian Nights, Alice in Wonderland, and A Midsummer Night's Dream themes.

This year, however, the group has invited steampunk and faerie imagery into its midst.  The ball, which will take place on Saturday, October 29 at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burie, Maryland, is themed Goblins and Gears:

An eccentric professor has spent years tinkering in his laboratory with one, single-minded goal: to build a time machine. Recently, he had a break-through and his machine functioned... but not precisely how the Professor intended. Instead of traveling through time, his machine ripped a hole into the Court of the Goblins! Now, with the blessing of the powerful Goblin Queen, all the Faerie Kingdoms are coming through the tear and are thoroughly enjoying their time in the Earth-bound world...and at our Ball!

This event strikes a few personal chords with me.  Not only does its steampunk and Labyrinth influences appeal to my aesthetic tastes, but the cause itself is close to my heart.  My grandmother had multiple sclerosis for 25 years, which progressed to the point where she was paralyzed from the neck down.   I never baked cookies with her, I never played with her, and in the last 12 years of her life the disease had gotten so bad that she had to be spoon-fed, dressed, and wore diapers while out.  As a result she mostly remained shuttered in her house.  All of this she bore with dignity and grace, at least whenever I saw her.

Although depressed by the drastic change in quality of life due to this disease, she never let on throughout the years to her children or grandchildren. She remained sharp, a great conversationalist, and totally engrossed in her children's and grandchildren's lives.  I told her about all of my doings, showed her my projects, answered her questions about my after-school activities and even played my saxophone for her when I was first learning.  I felt close to her even though she was not an "active" grandparent.

The disease itself did not kill her.  Three years ago she contracted pneumonia and passed away shortly after.  But the disease took away her ability to dance, which she loved to do, and made attending family events and activities strenuous and cumbersome to her.

Part of the reason for her body's degeneration was the lack of knowledge about multiple sclerosis when she was diagnosed in the early '80s. Doctors advised her to rest, not knowing at the time that lack of physical activity speeds up the progression of the disease.  Research funded by groups such as the National Multiple Sclerosis Society since then has helped others to avoid the worst-case scenario that was my grandmother's quadriplegic condition.

So while the ticket prices for this event make me cringe, I do believe that the cause is worthy.  I hope to attend this year- Glen Burie, Maryland is only a few hours away from Pittsburgh.  The other advantage to this event is I might, just might be able to talk some of my family members into going and sporting fantasy costumes.  That would totally be worth the money spent to see my conservative mother with faerie wings and glittery makeup.  If not I think I can scrounge up at least one friend who wouldn't mind going.

Let Jareth the Goblin King and Captain Nemo help people like my grandmother have a better quality of life with this debilitating disease.  Come to the Goblins and Gears Fantasy Ball on October 29.

Buy tickets here. 

Grandma Hope, may you laugh and dance into eternity.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

wrapping up a victorian murder case

It's not everyday that a skull is discovered in someone's backyard.  But that's exactly what happened to David Attenborough, a British TV naturalist last October.

It's even rarer that such a skull belongs to a murdered and dismembered Victorian.  But as an article published in yesterday's Daily Mail reported, a coroner has identified the skull as that of widow  Julia Martha Thomas, 55, who was murdered by her Irish maid Kate Webster in 1879 at her home in Richmond, south west London:
Kate Webster. image source: Mail Online
On March 22, 1879 Mrs Thomas returned home from church when she and Webster became embroiled in a fight and in a ‘fit of rage’ Webster pushed her down the stairs.

Acting Detective Inspector David Bolton told the coroner: ‘Realising she had injured her she proceeded to strangle her to stop her from screaming and getting her in trouble. Webster decided to do away with the body and used a razor to chop off the head. Having decapitated her she used a razor, a meat saw and a carving knife to cut the body up.

‘The dismembered body was put into a copper laundry vessel and she proceeded to boil up the body parts of Mrs Thomas.’...

Having completed the task Webster put most of the body in a box which she tied together and enlisted an unwitting Robert Porter, the son of a former neighbour, to help her carry the box to the Thames.

As he walked away he heard a splash, but thought nothing of it until the ‘mass of white flesh’, at first believed to be butcher’s off-cuts, was discovered in the Thames at Barnes Bridge, leading to the murder being dubbed the ‘Barnes Mystery’.

Webster dumped a foot in an allotment and assumed the identity of her former employer, taking her money, her jewellery and even her false teeth which were in a gold plate....
ADI Bolton said: ‘A few days after the murder some boys said that Kate Webster had offered them some food and said ‘ere you lads I’ve got some good pigs lard which you can have for free’. The boys ate two bowls of lard which was unfortunately Mrs Thomas.’

I wonder what could possess someone to a) murder  their employer and b) feed parts of them to little boys.  I know it was just the fat, but still...

Webster was eventually arrested, found guilty of murder and executed.  But the location of her victim's skull had remained a mystery until last year.  The only mystery left to solve in this case is the burial place of the rest of Mrs. Thomas's body so all of her remains can be united in death.

In other news, there's a line of Disney princess inspired wedding dresses out there to complete that little girly girl dream of a fairytale wedding.  Check them out here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

pittsburgh finally building steam!

In a post I wrote last September I noted the existence of a steampunk group based in Pittsburgh called The Greater Pittsburgh Steam Society.  While their page seems to have sporadic posts and event notifications/updates at best, there is another page that appears to get more activity- The Steel City Steam Society.

Now, through exploring both their blog and their Facebook group, I have discovered a variety of local events that I definitely need to attend, such as the group's upcoming Mixing Alcohol & Heavy Machinery gathering at Local bar + kitchen in the South Side.    The event was planned as part of Worldwide Strut Your Steampunk Stuff Day (wish I knew the difference between that and International Steampunk Day...)

That is just what I think I need- other nerds to hang out with.  It would certainly make this blog more interesting to update with actual events, and especially in America's original industrial city.

Future events planned by this group include an absinthe party, a cemetery picnic, and a trip to the Allegheny Observatory (followed by a nightcap at Embury, a speakeasy bar located beneath Firehouse Lounge in the Strip District).

With so many potential steampunk events I really need to move my arse on fixing up my steampunk costume. The Mizing Alcohol & Heavy Machinery event is only four days away...

In other news...

My previously purple hair has, um... morphed into an odd variety of colors.  It's purple in the back, blonde at the sides, streaked with blue, and the hair around my forehead has taken a turquoise shade.  I like the uniqueness, especially knowing that it won't be permanent.  But it certainly gives me a reason to stare at the mirror every day and contemplate my appearance.  I wouldn't say that I looked like a freak with such odd hair.  In fact, it all looks mostly brown in dark lights, especially if pulled up.  

My twin sister and I were stopped in the street yesterday by some WHIRL magazine interns, who took our picture for their on street fashion section.  WHIRL is a Pittsburgh-based socialite magazine.  Apparently we looked to be enough of fashionistas to the interns.  I think they were more after my sister, as they had apparently tried to stop her earlier.  Thinking they were pamphleteers or activists of some sort, she pretended to not see them. When we ran into them together they threw me into the mix as more of an afterthought.  Unfortunately I have neither Goth nor neo-Victorian/steampunk clothes on at the time, so I couldn't represent the modern Victorian subculture.  Darn.  :(

Monday, July 4, 2011

yankee doodle

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans!  For everyone else, Happy Fourth of July!

image source: Vintage Holiday Crafts

Saturday, July 2, 2011

in an era far, far away...

Apparently Star Wars didn't create the concept designs behind Darth Vader and C-3PO.

Scott was been bombarding me with steampunk links this entire morning.  One of them included a pair of 19th century rescue masks.  I'm not totally certain what sort of rescue situation these masks were intended for.  I get the feeling that either the first is a gas mask and the second is an underwater breathing helmet, or they're both meant to protect firefighters:
image source: How to Be a Retronaut
According to the description of these two pieces of Victorian headgear on How to Be a Retronaut:

“This pair of early rescue masks dates from between the mid-1800s and WWI. 

“The black leather helmet on the left is labeled “Respirations Apparat” by “G.B.Konic Altona,” and was made in Hamburg, Germany. 

“The brass, three-quarter face mask to its right was made in Paris by J. Mandet. This type of breathing mask had a very simple apparatus, allowing only a short range of operation. When used, air would be forced into the helmet through no more than 13 meters of flexible tubing by means of a bellows operated remotely from the outside. 

“Both of these masks have mica lenses to help protect the eyes from heat.

One well-known 19th-century manufacturer was named Vajen-Bader”

- Steve Erenberg

What do you think is the intended use for these masks?

Friday, July 1, 2011

rat song

It's a holiday weekend, so I'm doing a lazy GMD post.

I have to wonder what possessed the brains behind this life-sized Ratigan costume.  At least we know that Ratigan is very peculiar about his cake. 

image source: Fuck Yeah! The Great Mouse Detective
Why do I get the impression that his voice actor, Vincent Price, poisoned it?  Is it just his devious expression?

 And for more Vincent Price goodness à la Great Mouse Detective, here's one of his two solo numbers from the aforementioned film.  Narcissism, murder, and delusions at their finest: