Fri, 27 July 2007
"Orpheus" is a Greek myth about a musician who was so good (or so "awesome" in contemporary musicians' lingo) that he truly inspired awe in all living creatures. Unfortunately, his talent didn't help build his patience any, and it proved to be his undoing when he had an opportunity to rescue his wife Eurydice from tragic death.
We chose this tale mainly because of Cerberus, the three-headed dog. What does this have to do with anything? Well, the three headed dog appears in one of the Harry Potter books -- only he's given the name Fluffy. And this isn't the only bit of folklore and mythology that J.K. Rowling borrows. There's the phoenix, the fabulous bird that is reborn out of its own ashes; the hippogriff, which is similar to the griffin, which she also uses. And in the story of Orpheus, as in Harry Potter and many other stories, the serpent is used as a symbol of evil.
So what does this have to do with anything? As if you didn't know, this past week marked the release of the seventh and final book in the series. And we, of course, were in line at midnight to buy our copy like millions of other folks.
Were you surprised when you found out in an earlier book that Remus Lupin was a werewolf? Well, you wouldn't have been if you'd been as familiar with Latin as Rowling is. The name provides two very strong clues: "Lupin" is from the Latin word lupus meaning wolf (if something is wolf-like, it is said to be lupine) and Remus was the brother of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. According to legend, the two boys were raised by ... wolves! (This also inspired the story of Tarzan.) In this episode, we discuss these Latin clues, as well as some of the other mythology in Harry Potter.
Our special guest this week is Zephyr's friend Cassia from Massachusetts; she spent a couple of days living with us and got a first-hand look at the glamorous life of a touring actor.
Dennis (Orpheus), Kimberly (narrator and Cerberus head), Zephyr (Charon, Hades and Cerberus head) and Cassia (Eurydice and Cerberus head)
Thu, 19 July 2007
"The Elves and the Shoes" from Holland is one of the simple but charming little accounts of the interaction between humans and elves, who were always playing pranks (the elves, that is -- although the humans may have done so as well). In this case, the prank involves the wooden shoes for which the Dutch are famous.
The Dutch are also famous for chocolate, so what better time to do a Dutch story than when we're in the chocolate capital of the world -- Hershey, PA. Especially since it's in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. True, the Pennsylvania Dutch are not really Dutch for the most part; they are descendants of settlers who came to the area primarily from Germany. (The German word for German is Deutsch, pronounced "doitch", which sounds like Dutch.)
Hershey is named for Milton Hershey, the king of chocolate, who was born in the area in 1859, and after many years of hard work, developed his chocolate-making process, established his factory, and built up an entire community around it. The factory is still here, of course, pumping out the enticing aroma of coacoa all around. So is Hershey Park, which he also developed, although it has grown into an amusement park with some of the most thrilling rides around. (We're especially fond of the coaster called Great Bear.) And there's a visitors' center called Chocolate World, which offers a Disneyesque ride through a simulation of the factory, except with singing dairy cows.
Mr. and Mrs. Hershey used their vast fortune to improve the lives of the less fortunate, and they were especially dedicated to assisting disadvantage children. To that end, they established Hershey School, which occupies 10,000 acres and currently has a student body of 1100. We performed at the school 15 years ago in the luxurious and cavernous Founders Hall, and we were astounded by the facilities and the type of care the students were provided.
Dennis (elf), Kimberly (elf) and Zephyr (Styff)
Thu, 12 July 2007
What happens when animals and objects start talking? Unless you're watching a Disney musical, it might be rather confusing. In "The Talking Mule", a whimsical little story from South Carolina, we see how such an incident could put things into perspective; and even more perspective is provided by one animal who thinks it's ridiculous to believe reports about all the others being so eloquent. This doubtlessly is derived from an older African fable in which it is a talking stool that scoffs at the notion of a yakkity yam.
We present the story with -- well, we don't really present the story at all. Zephyr does it all by himself, which is only fair, since we've had to do several stories without him. And he places the action long ago in a galaxy far, far away, giving him a chance to do some of his best character voices.
We come to you from Maryland, after the three of us have been reunited in Washington, DC. Zephyr tells us about his latest weeklong getaway to North Carolina to work with his band. And Kimberly and Dennis finish the account of their leg-thrashing bicycle tour from Pittsburgh to DC, including a stopover in Harpers Ferry, WV, where John Brown staged his famous raid in 1859, an event that may have sparked the Civil War. It was Kimberly who concluded the trek in Washington DC, at the end of the canal where there's a gate that was formerly used to let the water through. Nowadays, it's near a luxury apartment/office complex called... well, you know.
Dennis, Kimberly and Zephyr (the entire cast of Star Wars)
Thu, 5 July 2007
John Henry is one of several larger-than-life American
heroes associated with specific occupations, like Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Old
Stormalong and Febold Feboldson. But the incident depicted in the many versions
of the John Henry ballad actually may have occurred in some fashion. There's
just no way to know when, where, how and wherefore. But it's nice to believe
there's some to truth to this parable about people being stronger than the
machines they create. One reason it's so difficult to trace the mists of myth
is that John Henry is a common name, and it appears to have been especially
common among African-Americans working on the railroads. According to one
version of the tale our hero was a former slave, and in another version, he was
a prisoner rented out as a laborer. The town of
There's also one
Today, the canal, is a national park, and it's paralleled by a bicycle path 184 miles long that we've been wanting to trek on out Treks for a long time. With a week off during our busy summer schedule (because of, appropriately, the Fourth of July) and with Zephyr off in North Carolina again, Dennis and Kimberly decided this was the time to do it, even though it means we have to alternate days, and thus each only do half the route, son one person can drive the RV along too.
But wait! We didn't have to settle for just one trail. We
discovered another one in