Coloring Christmas

After work I stopped at the grocery store, the Giant off Queen Street, because, obviously, I needed some groceries. Bread, peanut butter, milk, that sort of thing. Life’s essentials.

While I was there, I browsed the magazine rack. There, on the bottom shelf, was a row of adult coloring books. Or, more accurately, magazines. I’m not sure why I stopped to look at them, as I’ve never gotten into the adult coloring book craze. I guess seeing one titled “Coloring Christmas Cats” caught my eye. Next to it was one titled “Coloring Christian Christmas”; its cover featured a snowy New England town, with a banner that read “Peace on Earth” hanging from a church.

I picked up “Coloring Christian Christmas,” mildly curious at its contents, and began to leaf through it. It featured page after page of snowmen, Santa Claus, presents, stockings, snowflakes. Occasionally there would be a lyric from a hymn — “Hark the Herald Angels,” “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Sometimes there would be a single word like “Rejoice.”

One page -may- have been the Three Wise Men. Another page had an angel, though you could argue it was a Christmas tree topper.

Otherwise, it was roughly 80 pages of secular Christmas traditions.

Surely, I thought, there should be a Nativity scene here. Surely, shepherds watching their flock by night. Surely, a Madonna and Child. Surely, something that justified the title “Coloring Christian Christmas.” No, just a few lines from a few hymns, an angel, and the Three Wise Men.

I’m a fucking heathen, and even I was offended by this. I think the “war on Christmas” is silly in the extreme — there’s a Christian religious festival, and there’s a secular seasonal festival, and they’re called the same damn thing — but I would be completely sympathetic to someone who picked up “Coloring Christian Christmas” and was pissed off that the magazine had a lot to do with Christmas but absolutely nothing to do with religion.

I didn’t even look in “Coloring Christmas Cats.” I wonder if it had any cats in it. For all I know, it’s full of dogs.

Life in Yoe

Yoe is a town wedged between two hills. One hill faces vaguely northwest, the other hill faces vaguely southeast. A creek runs between the two hills, and in the flat plain between them George Street runs from Red Lion to York. A century ago, the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad line ran through there as well; the ruins of the station platform are still visible on Pennsylvania Street.

To call Yoe a town is overselling it. There are two used car dealerships, an auto body shop, an auto parts store. It doesn’t have its own ZIP code, sharing one with Dallastown, which is confusing to people as Dallastown and Yoe have the same street names, but those streets are in completely different places.

A photograph of Yoe turned up a few times in my Facebook and Twitter feeds today. The Boston Globe had an article about racial tensions in York County, a year after the presidential election, and the photograph that headed the article and was the article’s thumbnail on social media was of a Confederate battle flag flying in Yoe.

“I know where that is,” I thought. “It’s the house across from the volunteer fire department, a little down George Street from the Methodist church, down towards Red Lion.” The volunteer fire department is my polling station. There’s a judicial election tomorrow. I’ll see it then. It’s no more than half a mile from my apartment.

It’s impossible to miss. Every time I walk to the grocery store, which I like to do on the weekends, I see it. Stand at the corner of George and Main, look toward Red Lion, and there it flies, next to an American flag. I’ve thought about taking a photograph of it. “This is where I live,” such a photograph would say. I’ve sometimes thought about going to the house, knocking on the door, and asking why. “Why do you fly the flag of traitors? What message are you trying to send? That you’re opposed to the federal government? That you’re a racist?” I’d want the conversation to be non-confrontational and non-judgmental, but I know it would turn confrontational and judgmental quickly indeed.

That flag on George Street is only a few months old. It’s only been flying since June or July. I can still remember the feeling of shock, standing on the corner, waiting for the light to change so I could cross, and seeing it there for the first time.

Confederate flags aren’t at all uncommon here. People have them as bumper stickers, like my neighbor in the building across the parking lot from mine. I see them as decorative license plates, like the one I see in Dallastown of the Stars and Bars. They’re flown openly from flagpoles; a house at the corner of my complex has been known to fly one with the Gadsden snake superimposed on the cross of the battle flag.

I’m north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but in many ways, this feels like the most culturally southern place I’ve ever lived, and I went to school in Richmond and lived in Raleigh. I hadn’t known, until I moved here, that York County was a hotbed of Confederate sympathies during the Civil War, that the city of York surrendered to Confederate forces on the eve of the battle of Gettysburg when the Confederate cavalry attempted to seize the bridge across the Susquehanna at Wrightsville.

This is where I live.

Dracula In Space

As was my Halloween tradition, last night I watched a Dracula movie, specifically Hammer’s Dracula Has Risen from the Dead.

The fourth film in Hammer’s Dracula series, and the third that starred Christopher Lee as Dracula, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave sees Christopher Lee’s Dracula seek his revenge on a monsignor who had traveled to Castle Dracula and sealed it with an exorcism and a golden crucifix by seducing the monsignor’s beloved niece and transforming her into his latest bride.

Overall, I thought Dracula Has Risen from the Grave was good. The story was fairly straightforward, the cast wasn’t too large to handle, we spent enough time with several of the characters to make them feel like characters, and the film’s leading ladies, Veronica Carlson and Barbara Ewing, were quite stunning. The conclusion seemed contrived, and I’m still unclear on the geography of the film (something that goes back to Horror of Dracula, the first of the Hammer Draculas), but those are minor quibbles. Who doesn’t want to see Christopher Lee gurning as he’s impaled on a giant crucifix?

Last night, in my dreams, I watched another Hammer Dracula, this one the mid-70s film, The Long Night of Dracula, better known by its American title, Dracula in Space, which I had never seen before.

To be clear, there is no such film. I simply had Christopher Lee’s Dracula on the brain.

In the far-flung future year of 2014, William Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), a veteran of the Saturnian Expedition is the commander of Moonbase UK-1. Shortly after the sun sets on the moonbase, plunging the base into a 14 day long night, an accident with Dracula’s signet ring (for inexplicable reasons an heirloom of one of the members of the crew) resurrects Dracula. And the vampire begins to prey upon the crew of about 100, and he has two weeks to feed until the sun rises again…

One of the setpieces came about fifty minutes in, when two of the crew, one man, one woman, have to leave the base and walk across the lunar surface to replace a fuse on the radio transmitter. The female crewmember, whose name I can’t remember, sees bare human footprints in the lunar dust, and as they pass a rocky outcropping Dracula, not in a spacesuit (he’s undead, so the lunar conditions can’t kill him) attacks them, killing the man (he rips the helmet off and feasts on his blood) and then hypnotising the woman.

Dracula was dispatched by trapping him in the base’s gardens, then the lights (which generated “pure solar radiation”) were turned up to maximum, incinerating Dracula “with the light of a dozen suns.” The signet ring was put on a message rocket and, instead of being fired at Earth, it was shot into the sun, with William Van Helsing saying, “Dracula has died his final death, and the world will forever be rid of his evil,” but the final shot has Dracula’s disembodied voice laughing menacingly.

The film vacillated between cheesy and lurid, something like a cross between a classic Doctor Who “base under siege” story and Barbarella, with Dracula grafted on. I was entertained by the film, but it was also pretty stupid at times.

I’m not sure why I had this dream, maybe because I’d just watched Dracula Has Risen and listened to, a few days earlier, BBC Radio 4’s The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula (which is very good and quite lurid). The dream was quite vivid, and when I woke up I was disappointed that The Long Night of Dracula doesn’t actually exist. It should have. Maybe, somewhere in the multiverse, it does.

Swampoodle, in Color!

Two weeks of work, off and on, and I’ve finished my colorization of Washington’s 19th-century baseball field, Swampoodle Grounds.

The “heavy lifting” — the field itself, the McDowell & Sons building over the wall in right-center, a couple of buildings toward center, the sky itself — was accomplished two weeks ago in a blitz of work.  What remained were various touch-ups — telephone (or telegraph) poles, whatever was beyond the right field wall (it was murky to my eyes), some spot colorization of other, more distant buildings to add a touch of color, getting the Capitol dome right.  I’d fire up GIMP, work with it for an hour, and I’d get a little closer to completion.

The most difficult thing, frankly, was determining what, exactly, was beyond the right field wall.  I could see that there was something there, but it was murky, and inverting the original photograph of Swampoodle to make a negative and bring out details didn’t answer any questions.  I could discern trees.  Beyond that?  Uhh…

To my surprise, I discovered that a painting based on the photograph existed, and there I could see clearly what was beyond the wall.  There were buildings, almost certainly the classic Washington rowhouses.  In some ways, what I have there is a “best guess”; edges are fairly indistinct there, and there’s some uncertainty about where buildings end.

The painting also showed that the outfield wall was painted a dark green, but I like the look of leaving it plain black.  The advertisements were also different colors, but I decided to leave those alone.

I wanted cloud cover, partly to cover up how grungy the sky in the original photograph is, so I spent the last two weeks taking pictures of clouds whenever I had a chance and a generally clear shot at them (ie., buildings and power lines out of the way, not to mention no obvious contrails).  I tried various photographs I’d taken, some going back years, but when I would plug them in as a layer none really worked for me.  Maybe they were too oppressive, maybe they looked too weird, maybe, even with Gaussian blur to “age” them, they looked too sharp and too modern.

Thursday I went outside on my lunch break, and I saw clouds that I thought might work.  I snapped a few photos, and when I looked at them at home Thursday night I discovered that they looked very muddy.  The reason?  I had spilled my coffee on the table where my phone was resting that morning, and the coffee had dirtied the lens, resulting in some photos that were blurry and had a yellow-ish tinge.  I took one of the photos, scaled it to the dimensions that matched my work (which added a slight vertical distort), used a Gaussian blur to smudge it some more, and plugged it into my photo.

And it looked right.

I desaturated the original sepia-toned photograph (which makes the colors pop), flattened the image, and it was done.  One hundred and thirty years later, Swampoodle Grounds lived and breathed in color once more.

I keep admiring my handiwork.  I’m really happy with the result.

A Modest Request: A Moratorium on Multi-Doctor Stories

Next week Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension comes to an end. The Lost Dimension is an eight chapter multi-Doctor story that features all thirteen Doctors (including John Hurt’s War Doctor), River Song, and the Doctor’s daughter Jenny in one epic storyline with the fate of the universe at stake.

It is also Titan’s third multi-Doctor event in three years.

We Doctor Who fans have been spoiled for multi-Doctor stories the past five years. On television we had “The Day of the Doctor” in 2013 and, at Christmas we’ll see “Twice Upon a Time.” In audio we’ve had The Light at the End, the fiftieth anniversary story with the pre-modern Doctors, and the audio adaptation of Lance Parkin’s Cold Fusion. In comics we’ve had Prisoners of Time, Four Doctors (which actually had six), and this year’s The Lost Dimension, not to mention guest appearances by the twelfth Doctor in the tenth Doctor series and the eighth Doctor mini-series.

I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

I should note, Supremacy of the Cybermen is not a multi-Doctor story; yes, there are multiple Doctors in the story, but they never met or interacted. Similarly, the War Doctor, though he appeared in the eleventh Doctor comics, never met the eleventh Doctor, though his companion Alice did. These aren’t true multi-Doctor stories. Rather, they’re stories with multiple Doctors.

The point is, a multi-Doctor story, which used to be a rare thing that happened every few years feels like a regular occurrence. Tie-ins, like the comic books and the audio dramas, make staging a multi-Doctor story far easier than they were on television, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it over and over, hammering it into the ground. Seeing different incarnations of the Doctor interacting, the same person but different bodies, is fun, don’t get me wrong. But multi-Doctor were also special because of the rarity.

They’re so common now that they’re no longer special.

I wouldn’t mind if something new and interesting were done with bringing multiple Doctors together. Maybe the fate of the universe doesn’t have to be at stake. Maybe the Doctors don’t need to have their memories magically disappear.

Right now, I’m feeling multi-Doctor burnout. And considering there’s another multi-Doctor story coming out this year, the aforementioned “Twice Upon a Time” at Christmas, being burned out on multiple Doctors doing the Doctor Who thing isn’t a great place to be.

Dinner Time Disappointments

Ever see a recipe online that you think looks good, but when you make it for dinner it’s really quite disappointing?

Yeah, that was me, last night.

I won’t go into the gruesome details of what it was, but here are the essential facts…

Facebook shows people pages their friends have liked on the chance that you might like it, too. Friday afternoon it showed me a recipe from a site that several friends had liked (the site, not the recipe), and the picture looked quite appealing. It was a regional pasta dish I’d never heard of, but there are lots of things I’ve never heard of. “I’ll give this a shot!” I said, printing off the recipe.

The grocery list was fairly simple, and during A Prairie Home Companion I went to work. It was straightforward. Saute this, brown that, dump in a jar of tomato sauce, put in a baking dish.

It didn’t occur to me that the recipe called for no seasoning whatsoever. If I had realized, I would almost certainly have used some, because when I took the dish out of the oven it was bland and lacking in flavor. The judges on Chopped would chop this without remorse.

Putting some parmesan on top helped.

Of course, now I have seven cintainers of this in my refrigerator, so I’m set on dinners for the rest of the week.

Yay?

Adventures in Off-Brand LEGO: Star Trek’s The Guardian of Forever

Last year, to coincide with Star Trek‘s fiftieth anniversary, Mattel released a line of Star Trek Mega Bloks sets. A few years previous, Hasbro had a line of LEGO-compatible Star Trek KRE-O sets, based on the Chris Pine/Zach Quinto films, and I thought those were well done, even if I did rebuild the miniature Enterprise to make it more Enterprise-like. I saw the Star Trek Mega Bloks in stores last year and was curious about them but hadn’t bought any of them, so when I saw them at Ollie’s on Saturday I went ahead and picked up two, the Guardian of Forever set and the Klingon D-7 set.

I must admit to a certain wry feeling when buying the Guardian of Forever set, knowing that somewhere in suburban Los Angeles, Harlan Ellison was screaming into the night, “I gotcher Scotty right here!” with every set that was bought and built. :)

Of the various off-brand LEGO construction sets on the market, Mega Bloks has been the brand I least like working with. My niece had a number of Thomas the Tank Engine sets that I liked building with her, while my sister and brother-in-law were much less fond of, but those were in a larger-scale format. In the standard LEGO size and style, they have interesting licenses, but the bricks feel strange and don’t always fit together well. Continue reading “Adventures in Off-Brand LEGO: Star Trek’s The Guardian of Forever”

Sherlock Holmes: A Betrayal in Blood

This weekend I read Mark Latham’s recent Sherlock Holmes novel from Titan Books, A Betrayal in Blood. Set shortly after “The Empty House,” Holmes is tasked by Mycroft to investigate the events described in “The Dracula Papers” (ie., what we know as Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula) and determine what, exactly, it was that happened when a Transylvanian nobleman arrived on England’s shores.

This isn’t the first entangling of Sherlock Holmes with the characters and events of Dracula — I know of at least six, and I’ve read four — but it’s certainly the most unconventional. A Betrayal in Blood is a sequel to Dracula, with Holmes launching an investigation into a group of characters hailed in the press as heroes and whether the late Count Dracula was truly a monster or merely a man. Holmes and Watson cross paths with all of the major surviving characters of Dracula, and their investigation takes them to many of the locations of the book, such as Whitby, Carfax Abbey, and the sanitarium run by Dr. Seward. Dracula‘s characters are positioned as accessories to a murderous conspiracy, even criminal masterminds as Holmes seeks to unravel a very human, very rational conspiracy. Alternate theories about the reason for Dracula’s interest in Lucy Westenra and the identity of the Bloofer Lady, among other events from Stoker’s book, are put on offer.

Latham’s writing doesn’t feel particularly Watsonesque — the writing is too modern at times, and Watson was never so wordy — though his plot, which is rather byzantine, keeps the pages turning. About that plot, A Betrayal in Blood is more of a howdunit or a whydunit than a whodunit; it’s obvious from the first chapter who Holmes believes to be the guilty party in the Dracula affair and, like a Columbo story, A Betrayal in Blood sees Holmes build his case methodically, finding the evidence and testing his theories against his findings. Holmes is characterized well — he’s a man on a mission, in the throes of his pursuit of justice — though Watson is a little bit of dullard.

I feel like I’d have gotten more out of the book if I’d read Dracula more recently than about twenty-five years ago, though nothing in the book struck me as “wrong.” It holds together well, resulting in a revisionist, yet plausible, reading of the events of Dracula. I wouldn’t call A Betrayal in Blood an essential read or a must-read, but it does offer an unconventional and entertaining take on placing Sherlock Holmes into the Dracula story. Though this won’t dethrone Loren D. Estleman’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula as my favorite Holmes/Dracula pairing, this is a worthy addition to my Holmesian library.

An Off-Season Project: Colorizing Swampoodle Grounds

Sometime between 1886 and 1889, in either late March or early April, in the late afternoon, a photographer set up a camera and took a picture of the Washington Nationals practicing at Swampoodle Grounds, with the Capitol dome looming over the right field wall (and the McDowell & Sons Steam Elevator building). At work, the photograph has been my desktop wallpaper for about a year and a half, combining as it does history (ie., Washington of the 19th-century), politics (the Capitol dome), and baseball.

For an off-season baseball project, I decided I would learn a new skill and colorize it in GIMP, a free PhotoShop replacement that I use to edit and resize photos. I’ve never colorized a black and white photo before, so I found a tutorial online, printed out the instructions, and worked through them, experimenting as I went. Except for some finickiness with the Paintbrush tool, it’s not that difficult at all. It only requires patience.

Swampoodle was a pretty small park for the era — 325 in right, 375 in center, and 275 in left (because of the DC street grid). Other parks of the era (Brooklyn, Chicago, Pittsburgh) had center fields that approached six hundred feet deep; Swampoodle was tiny by comparison, more like its contemporary the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia than Brooklyn’s Washington Park. There was one major difference between Swampoodle and its National League contemporaries, though. Swampoodle had no grandstand. It was an infield, an outfield wall, and a clubhouse. There’s another photo of Swampoodle Grounds, this one of the infield and left field as well as the B&O rail yard beyond. Some students of baseball history believe that it’s Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as Connie Mack, behind the plate for the Nationals in that photo, but there’s no Capitol dome here.

There are several things in the photograph I noticed in working with the photo that I hadn’t realized before, despite looking at the photo almost every single day.

First, it’s not a photograph of a game. For a long time I’d assumed that it was a photograph of throwing the runner out at first. But it’s not. It’s a practice. There are a couple of baseballs on the outfield grass near the first baseman. The right fielder has just thrown the ball (and, from his stance, toward the infield). One of the players near second base is actually carrying the bag. What’s happening, then, is players warming up, getting the field ready, and running some infield drills.

Second, the photograph was taken early in the year, possibly March or April. There are trees beyond the outfield wall, barren of leaves. This suggests to me either a pre-season warm-up or an early season game.

Third, the photograph was taken in late afternoon. The angle of the shadows is long and comes from the west. The angle of this photograph is toward the southwest. Swampoodle was near what’s now Union Station, and Union Station is northeast of the Capitol Building. The west-facing sides of the McDowell & Sons building are illuminated.

Conclusion? A late afternoon practice in March or April in the nation’s capital.

Other little details — there are two people looking over the center field fence, and there’s someone in the window at the top of the McDowell & Sons building watching as well.

It’s been an interesting learning process. To get green-ish (and, dare I say it, sickly) looking grass, I’ve had to use a pale yellow mask; even a light green made grass that looked too dark and healthy. (They couldn’t exactly go down to Lowe’s in 1886 and buy Scott’s Turf Builder.) The Capitol dome is tricky to work with (since it fades into the sky), so I’ve had to clone the dome and flip it so I have a complete dome to work with. I’ve taken liberty with the sky; the sky in the original photograph was formless, possibly because it was overcast, so I used a photograph I’d taken of wispy clouds that I’d taken last year as the layer mask for the sky. (I attempted to “age” the cloud layer in the GIMP, but nothing seemed to work.) The Capitol dome itself took some work; it faded into the sky in the original photograph, so I cloned the dome and reversed it to make a complete dome I could build a mask around.

I’m nowhere near done with the colorization, and I’m not planning on working on it intensely. Steadily will suffice, it will take my mind off of the NLDS, and by Opening Day I’ll have a new desktop wallpaper, same as the old, but this time in color. :)

Some Things Go On

It’s hard to say that “Walls (Circus)” is a Tom Petty deep cut — it’s the lead song on an album, it’s in a movie — but it feels like a deep cut. No one seems to know it. You never hear it on the radio. I won’t say it’s my favorite Tom Petty song, I wouldn’t even place it among the top twenty, but it’s certainly a beloved and cherished favorite.

I used to own the CD single to this, and I played it somewhat obsessively in college. No idea whatever happened to that single, hence the “used to own.” Until ten minutes ago, I didn’t know there was a video for it. Looking at it now, I wonder how much of the imagery evoked Petty’s struggle with heroin and his personal demons in the mid-90s

The album it comes from, Songs and Music from “She’s the One,” features Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ music from 1996’s She’s the One, an Ed Burns film, starring Jennifer Aniston, that I’ve never seen. It’s an unjustly overlooked album; I think it’s generally looked at as an album of throwaways, but there are some really fine songs here, and there are guest appearances by Lindsay Buckingham, Ringo Starr, and an uncredited George Harrison and his trademark slide guitar. If there’s a Petty album that deserves a reappraisal, it’s this one.

I put the album in the Beetle this morning for my morning drive. The final verse was apropos:

Some things are over
Some things go on
Part of me you carry
Part of me is gone.

Petty himself is gone now, but we’ll always carry the part of him that is his music and the memories that go with it.