A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

Note: Comments are moderated. If you include a link, your comment will not be published. As you will note, I do not accept ads on my website and that includes in comments.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Unsung Heroine of the Polish Ghetto

Let me stress most emphatically that we who were rescuing 
children are not some kind of heroes.  Indeed, that term 
irritates me greatly.  The opposite is true.  I continue to
have pangs of conscience that I did so little.

Irena Sendler in 1942.

Thanks to Steven Spielberg, most people have heard of Oskar Schindler.  Few people have heard of Irene Sendler.  Yet the Polish Catholic social worker helped save some 2,500 Jewish children during WWII.

Image courtesy of this site.

She was born to a physician who died when she was seven from typhus contracted from his patients, many of them Jews that other physicians wouldn't treat.  Jewish community leaders offered to pay for her education; she had close links to the Jewish community and even spoke Yiddish by the age of seven.  In 1935, ghetto benches were introduced in Polish universities - segregated seating in a special section where Jewish students were forced to sit under threat of expulsion.  Sendler was opposed to this and sat with her Jewish friends, and thus was almost expelled. A professor intervened, allowing her to continue with her studies.

Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto.

This early testament to her ethical beliefs was a harbinger to her future endeavors. The Zegota, a codename for the Polish Council to Aid Jews, existed for the express purpose of helping Polish Jews get to safety.  Poland was the only country in occupied Europe to have a dedicated secret organization.  Prior to joining the Zegota, Sendler with a group of other like-minded people created over 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families.  This was an extremely risky undertaking, as Poland had the most severe punishment of all occupied European nations for anyone harboring Jews.  She was selected by the Zegota in 1943 to head the children's section.  Since she was employed by the Social Welfare Department she had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of typhus. Under this pretext, she and others smuggled babies and small children in ambulances, packages, and even a toolbox.  She also used an old courthouse and sewer pipes as routes to smuggle children out.

1942 poster warning of death for any Pole who aided Jews.

Sendler assured the children that they would be reunited with their relatives when the war was over.  The group hid lists keeping track of everyone they rescued in jars buried in the ground.  She worked with a Catholic orphanage in Warsaw, convents, and parishes to place the children.  She was arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo, who tortured her and sentenced her to death.  She bribed her guards who released her on her way to her execution, but was listed on a public bulletin as one of the executed.  She lived in hiding until the end of the war, but continued aiding Jewish children.  After the war she turned over her lists, but most of the families of the children had been exterminated or were missing.

Image courtesy of this site.

During the Soviet takeover of Poland she was persecuted for being in contact with the Polish government in exile.  She was not allowed to travel abroad by the Polish communist government to Israel to receive the Commander's Cross she was awarded by the Israeli Institute in 1964.  She finally received it in 1984.  She was also honored with the Righteous Among the Nations, a medal awarded by the State of Israel to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust.  In 2003, fellow Pole and rescuer Pope John Paul II send her a personal letter of praise.  That same year she was given the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest civilian honor.  She received many other awards.  She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but lost to Al Gore for his work on global warming.

Sendler in 2005.

She died in 2008, known and honored by those who were aware of the efforts to save those threatened by the Holocaust, but little known to the world in general. She first came to public awareness in the year 2000, when a group of Kansas schoolgirls wrote a play about her called Life in a Jar.  A documentary was made featuring her last interviews.  It premiered earlier this year on PBs in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day - Irena Sendler, In the Name of Their Mothers.  But to those she saved, and their progeny, she will be loved and remembered always.

Images, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Twiggy Branches Out

"I always hated what I looked like.  I thought I looked skinny and funny 
and too shy and too small.  I thought everyone had gone stark raving mad."
Twiggy aka Leslie Hornby

"She'll last a couple of weeks," a bystander in 1967.

I was in junior high when Twiggy burst onto the scene.  With her stick figure, her boyish hairstyle, and those heavily made-up eyes, she was called the "anti-woman" by Susan Cheever.  She had no breasts, she wore white lipstick, she bit her nails, and she was knock-kneed and "coltishly awkward".

Much has been written about female body types and the effect fashion has on teens.  I won't go into that, but I'll admit to trying white lipstick (it doesn't look good on anybody!), and trying to draw under eye lashes.  I looked more like Raggedy Ann than a supermodel, but I tried.  No way was I going to cut my long hair, but as it was curly I slept on orange juice cans (empty, with both ends removed) as they didn't have huge rollers on the market yet.  My dad used to tease me about wearing sewer pipes to bed, but he was more disappointed that I gave up swimming because it interfered with my attempts at a straight coiffure.

It all started for Leslie Hornby when a celebrity hairstylist was looking for women to sport his new androgynous hairstyle.  He wanted to take pictures and hang them in his salon.  Leslie reportedly spent seven hours in his salon getting her hair dyed the right color then cut.  Off she was whisked to a photographer, and the resulting pictures shot her into stardom.  The photos were seen by Deirdre McSharry of the Daily Express and she did an article on the young 16-year-old girl calling her "The Face of  '66".  

By the time she was 17, a year later, she was one of the most photographed faces in the world.  Her picture was put in a time capsule and sent into space.  That same year she released a single, "Beautiful Dreams", and marketed a line of clothing called "Twiggy Dresses" aimed at the teenage market.  She came in on the wave that brought unisex clothing and a reversal from previous fashions.  Often called the first supermodel, she, herself, considers that to be Jean Shrimpton, her predecessor and then-idol.

"The Shrimp" was the number one cover girl in 1965.

Her name came from her childhood nickname, "Twigs", but also aptly described her figure.  She was 5'6", rather short for a model, and anywhere from 90 to 110 pounds, depending who you read, at age 16.  It took her two hours to do her trademark eyes, and about five minutes to make up the rest of her face.  Her hair, obviously, required no great effort.  She soon became a household name.

Image courtesy of tumblr.

In 1967, her second year as a celebrity, she went to NY where she starred in three documentaries for the ABC network.  She was on the covers of all the American fashion magazines, then published her own magazine in the U.S. - Twiggy:  Her Mod Mod Teen World.  Mattel released a doll, similar to Barbie, based on her.  The U.K. also released a documentary on her life.

Image courtesy of tumblr.

The following year she traveled to Japan where her single was a No. 1 hit.  She filmed several commercials there.  When her dresses were released in later Germany that year, she traveled there to promote them.

In 1969, she filmed a commercial for Diet Rite Cola where she sang and danced. She officially retired from modeling in 1970, although she has ever since done the occasional shoot.  That year she was cast in the movie "The Boy Friend", and went on to have a successful career as a stage, screen, and television actress.

A guest on The Muppet Show.  Image courtesy of www.muppet.wikia.com.

At the height of her modeling success, she was the subject of much merchandising. In the U.K. there were her dresses complete with special hangers, tights, and badges stating "Forget Oxfam, Feed Twiggy".  In the U.S., Milton Bradley introduced the Twiggy Board Game in 1967.  Aladdin that same year offered a Twiggy lunchbox and thermos.  Yardley sold Twiggy false eyelashes, and there was many other paraphernalia offered by various manufacturers.

Eventually she grew up, gained weight, and is today 62 and slender with long hair. She is a supporter of animal welfare, is anti-fur, and promotes breast cancer research.  She still does some promotional shots, and has written a couple of books, done more songs, and has other merchandise lines.  She generally goes by her trademark and married names - Twiggy Lawson.

Not bad for a skinny little Cockney girl!

Images, unless otherwise stated, from her website.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quirky and Idiosyncratic Oregon's Search for Symbolism

The state of Oregon has had much confusion of the origin of its name.  It's not the only confusing name in the state.  There is even a book - Oregon Geographic Names - now in its 7th edition and published by the Oregon Historical Society Press, that delves into it.  The University of Oregon bookstore sells stickers reading "ORYGUN" to teach people how to pronounce it, first distributed by Oregon Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington when he was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2002.

What may be even more confusing is Oregon's search for the right symbol - or symbols.  There are 26 official emblems designated by the Oregon State Legislature, most listed in Title 19, chapter 186 of the Oregon Revised Statutes (2007 edition).  The first symbol was the motto - "Alis Volat Propriis" written in 1854 in Latin, meaning "She Flies With Her Own Wings".  It has been the motto except for a 30-year period from 1957-1987 when "The Union" was used.  The motto and the seal, designed two years before Oregon became a state in 1859, were the only two symbols for over fifty years.

By 1950, Oregon had six official symbols, and by 2000 it had 22.  The most recent symbol is Jory soil, declared the state soil in 2011, after failed attempts to make it the official state symbol.  Jory soil is deep, well-drained soils in the foothills surrounding the Willamette Valley.  It is formed from the loose material accumulated at the base of hills from gravity, known as colluvium.  Found on more than 300,000 acres in western Oregon, it supports forests, mostly Douglas fir and Oregon white oak, and is very productive. Many things are grown on it, from berries and filberts to wheat, and of course grapes for the burgeoning wine industry.

Jory soil.

The American beaver (Castor Canadensis), the largest of North American rodents, is the state animal.  Beavers can be found in most of the larger streams and rivers, of which there is an abundance.  They were once over-hunted since they were prized for fur, but there has been a recovery in the beaver population through hunting management and partial protection.  Oregon State University teams are called The Beavers.

Oregon has been called "The Beaver State", but that is unofficial.  Oregon does not have an official nickname.  A suggested one is "Things look different here", alluding to the idealistic culture.  The cities are not so indecisive.  Portland has a motto - "Keep Portland Weird" - which is well-known in "Portlandia".  Even the coastal town of Yachats has a motto in keeping with their attitude - "La de da".  In 2003, it was suggested that the state have an official tartan, but the bill never passed out of committee.

Image courtesy of flickr.
Image courtesy www.yachats.info.

There is an official fish - the Chinook Salmon - which was an integral part of Native American diet.  The Chinook is the largest of the Pacific salmon, and is endangered from overfishing and damming.  Three years ago the Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) was selected as the state crustacean.  The Western meadowlark has been the state bird since 1927, chosen by school kids in a poll sponsored by the Oregon Audubon Society.  (It is a very popular bird as it is also the state bird of Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.)

The Oregon Swallowtail (Papilio Oregonius) is the state insect, and has its Latin and common names suggest, it is native to the region.  The Oregon hairy triton (Fusitriton oregonensis) is the state seashell and was named by conchologist John Howard Redfield in 1846.  It is covered with bristles and it can be found ashore at high tides.  There is even a state rock - the thunderegg - which are rough spheres similar to geodes.  The largest one found, weighing 1.75 tons, is at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals in Hillsboro, Oregon.  This differs from the state gemstone, the Oregon sunstone.  These attract collectors and miners with its spangled appearance when turned certain ways.  It is a type of plagioclase feldspar, an important constituent of the earth's crust and even of the earth's moon.

Since Oregon is the home of foodies who are locavores and love fresh, organic, and healthy foods, there are state symbols in the food department as well.  The state beverage is milk, a nod to the dairy industry, especially Tillamook County. The state fruit is the pear (Pyrus), which is Oregon's number one tree fruit crop producing about 800 million pears each year.  The state nut (okay, there may be a multitude of them) is the hazelnut, aka filbert.  Oregon is said to produce 99% of the hazelnuts consumed in the U.S.  Mushrooms love Oregon so much, that the state choose one as the official state mushroom - the Pacific Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus formosus), found throughout the state's conifer forests.  The largest chanterelle harvest in the world comes from Tillamook State Forest.

The state flower is the Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium) which is native to the west coast.  It is an evergreen shrub, the berries of which are used to make jellies, and provided food for the Native American diet.  Metasequoia, the dawn redwood, flourished in the state in the Miocene age and now provides an abundance of fossils.  Although they were long extinct, live 100-foot trees were found in China and brought to Oregon fifty years ago to ensure their survival.  The Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the state tree, and a timber product.  It was named for a Scottish botanist, David Douglas, who was in Oregon in the 1820s.

There are many more symbols, but the final one here is the state dance.  The square dance was chosen to exemplify the lively spirit of the Oregon character. Why Oregon for this post?  Well, it's where I want to live...and eat...and drink wine...and dance.  Hopefully, soon.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Freak Brothers - Still Furry and Still Fabulous

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

One of the most popular underground comix is a trio of freaks - Fat Freddy, Freewheelin' Franklin, and Phineas.  The Idiots Abroad, one of their stories, was voted as one of the top 100 comics stories of the century by the Comics Journal (that's all comics, not just underground comix).

Introduced in the late 60s, this trio was created by Gilbert Shelton and were anti-heroes, defying authority and symbolizing the drug culture lifestyle.  These freaks (slang for hippies) lived in San Francisco, and quickly became popular in the underground comix scene.  They first appeared in 1968 in an Austin, Texas underground newspaper called The Rag.  That year they made their first comix book appearance in Feds 'n' Heads published by Print Mint in Berkeley.  A year later Shelton founded Rip Off Press in San Francisco.  Forty-three years later, they are still in print and still popular.

Well, how about four decades plus....

Shelton collaborated with Dave Sheridan from 1974-1982, and then with Paul Mavrides (in glasses above) since 1978.  In an interview Mavrides imagines that Shelton based them on people he knew, noting that the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges - other famous trios - may have influenced him.  It's true the comix have a slapstick quality to them.  The three main characters are slackers, without concern of employment and always searching and procuring drugs and marijuana.

Fat Freddy Freetowskis seems to be the least intelligent, and as his name implies the one who eats the most.  He usually gets burned on his transactions and when he does successfully score, often loses his procurements.  Another character, Fat Freddy's Cat - known by that moniker - most often appears in his own separate strip at the bottom of some strips, reminiscent of how Krazy Kat got his start.  He is contemptible of humans, and regards them, especially Fat Freddy, as dumb.  Think Garfield as a freak.

Freewheelin' Franklin is the smartest, or at least street-smartest.  He grew up in an orphanage which explains it all.  His hair changes color from red to light brown to blond, depending on the strip.  He is tall and skinny with a huge nose and moustache, and he sports a ponytail and cowboy hat and boots.

Phineas T. Freakears is a left-wing radical, the most politically motivated of the three.  He comes from Texas born of an open-minded mother and John Bircher father.  He has a thick mass of black hair, is also tall and skinny with a long nose like a splif.  I would guess he was inspired by Abbie Hoffman.

There are other minor characters such an Norbert the Nark, an inept DEA agent. Hirma "Country" Cowfreak is often referred to as a cousin - he grows marijuana on his isolated farm.  Dealer McDope is, obviously, a dealer.  Tricky Prickears is a blind and deaf detective, a play on Dick Tracy.  My favorite minor character is Governor Rodney Richpigge, whose son is a cocaine dealer, and who is himself a rich, corrupt public servant - a stereotype that rings true no matter what era.

Cousin Country Cowfreak

Most of the stories revolve around drugs and marijuana, their use and procurement.  It is significant that heroin is NOT one of the drugs the characters use.  It is mostly marijuana, although in Grass Roots they find a year's supply of cocaine which only lasts them two days.  Along with the drugs come the munchies, making food another topic.  The Brothers live in an impoverished, seedy grunginess along with a mass of cockroaches.  This is all part of the squalor that makes up their lifestyle.  A lot of the stories begin realistically, but on their way to insanity become rather surreal, often using the bromide of the "it was all a dream" formula.

The leader of the cockroaches, President-Commander-Pope Swellguy.

Many of their utterances have become catchphrases, the most famous being Freewheelin' Franklin's "Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope."  In a poster featuring Freewheelin' Franklin, the Los Angeles County Library paraphrased it to read:  "Books will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no books."

In 1972 the Brothers appeared in the full-length, unauthorized X-rated adult film "Up in Flames".  Names were changed, the movie characters didn't resemble their comic counterparts, and instead of drugs and marijuana, the Brothers were focused on procuring sex, in keeping with the porn theme.  A claymation movie called "Grass Roots" was supposed to be released this year, but nothing yet.

A still from "Grass Roots" courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although the original readers of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers may not still be fans, newer and younger readers have taken their places.  The Collected Adventures of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers was first printed in 1971 and has been continually in print ever since.  They are symbolic of an era that may be stereotyped, but not forgotten.  Long may their freak flags fly!

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of Rip Off Press.
This site sells the comix in the U.K.