November 21st, 2011

Milwaukee Public Museum: Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt

On Monday, November 14th, we went to the Milwaukee Public Museum to see the exhibit entitled: "Cleopatra: The Search for the Last Queen of Egypt." Now, it has to be confessed that there's probably only one piece in the exhibition that Cleopatra the 9th actually touched, that being a parchment document granting a tax concession (politics has not changed a lot since Cleopatra's day, evidently,) which bears her "make it so" imprimatur. However, the exhibition does contain 150 artifacts from the Ptolemaic period, most of them recently recovered from Alexandria harbor, where they have lain since that portion of the great city was destroyed by earthquake and tsunami nearly 2000 years ago. This is an era much less seen in museums than that of the Pharaohs such as Tutankhamen, and showed some interesting stylistic differences even in such things as colossal statues that we found fascinating. There was some very handsome jewelry, and a number of very fine coins. The exhibit also contained information new to me on the Queen's convoluted family tree, and on the numerous political intrigues, rebellions, and wars the Queen survived before her final fatal confrontation with Rome.

Very interesting and recommended for fans of Egyptology.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

TeslaCon 2, Day 1

Having had good report of it from friends that went last year, we attended TeslaCon 2 in Madison, Wisconsin, with great anticipation and were not disappointed.

TeslaCon is one of the fastest growing SteamPunk conventions, and is unusual among Fannish events in having an overarching theme/plot, this years being the voyage of the dirigible/submersible HMS Trident from London to Peking via Cairo and the Indian Ocean, which involves making diplomatic contact with a race of mer-people, and avoiding the machinations of the evil Dr. Proctocus, oppressor of half of Europe and would-be dictator of all of it.

The convention is more-or-less "immersive", with it being quite possible to remain in your steampunk persona through the whole convention. Since we've never done SCA events, this was a new experience for us, and I must say we enjoyed it immensely. The hotel staff were well coached and played along to the extent necessary.

We spent a good deal of time before the event preparing and packing, some of which we needed (I used all five hats I packed) and some I didn't (there just wasn't an occasion really to drag out my doctor's bag or my guns), but I was generally glad I packed it all along just in case. Georgie and I both got several compliments on outfits or gear, so we were pleased with how things worked out. I enjoyed the effects of some little touches--seeing people's faces light up when I paid for some small item with dollar coins, or being asked for the loan of a pen, and handing the gentleman my fountain pen--.

We arrived at the hotel Friday about 9:30 AM and checked in with the Convention with no problems. Our room wasn't ready that early, so we left worrying about getting our stuff in to later, and went to the welcome speech by "Lord Bobbins". At the 11:30 time slot, I was taking part in the Jules Verne panel, lead by the impressively well-prepared Dr. Nautilus, and was able to add some remarks and historical notes that were very well received.

After that, we were able to check into our room, and the bellman was very competent and patient in handling our odd collection of luggage. We got lunch from the snack counter in the lobby (technically a Starbucks' but set up though the cons' intervention to dispense very good fish and chips) and found the F&C very good, with one order enough for both of us. After unpacking critical items, we caught the very end of the "Phantom Airships" presentation.

Next, we went to the "Arte and History of the Duel," which we found too much history and too little arte. The presenter, Sarah Lash, has an encyclopedic knowledge of her subject but went on too long before demonstrating anything. We ducked out and went to the dealer's room instead.

(General note to concom for next year: even for the demonstrations such as this, or dancing lessons, it is a mistake to take ALL the chairs out of the room. There is a wide range of physical ability even in the relatively young-skewing steampunk fandom, and not everyone can either stand up through an hour-and-a-half-long lecture demonstration, or sit on the floor comfortably. The A and B ballrooms easily had enough room to have had a single row of chairs against the walls and still have room to work.)

The dealer's room was most impressive, full of good stuff, and overflowed to both a "Couture" room and a "Dieselpunk" room. We had to shop fairly frugally this year, but made lots of notes for the future. Lord Bobbins threat--er, promise that next year there will THREE TIMES as many dealers is rather croggling in retrospect.

At 4:00PM, we went to Gail Carriger's solo reading, and found that she is as delightful in person as her books would make you hope. She read a bit from her forthcoming work "Timeless," answered questions most accommodatingly, and gave overviews of her forthcoming serieses (yes, plural-).

After that, we got dinner at the hotel restaurant. The buffet was reasonably priced, tasty, and had a good variety. The one quibble might be that we, and a number of other people of our acquaintance were notably headachy afterward, which might have been due to the presence of MSG in some of the prepared food? On the other hand, the hotel air was quite dry during much of the convention so that might have been a factor as well--.

After dinner, we attended the Opening Ceremonies--briefly. I say "briefly" because the seats we found were unfortunately directly in front of a speaker, and the volume on the animated movie sequence was literally tooth-rattlingly loud. And yes, I mean literally. We could feel them vibrating, not to mention the basso rumble in the chest which is particularly distressing to Georgie as it aggravates her asthma. When the sequence started to replay, we fled the room and contented ourselves with people-watching outside the ballroom. This was actually quite fun, as this con had some of the best people-watching, given garb and gadgetry, of any we have been at.

(Second general note to concom: There were approximately two sound settings for public address: TOO LOUD, and barely audible. The latter condition afflicted several of Lord Bobbins speeches. You need to get in and set up and check sound levels in advance as part of the setup for major events. Lord Bobbins also needs to be miked in larger non-ballrooms such as the "Leviathan" room. As a final comment on AV, it would be helpful to have some dedicated people who know how to run the video projectors and interface them with both Mac and PC equipment instead of letting presenters figure it out. This would be in ADDITION to Rena Noel, who did a great job but was looking run a little ragged by the end of the con--.)

We went back into the Ballroom for the Mummy Unwrapping, which was indeed a Victorian entertainment. Live projection of the process was a fine thing, although the narration sometime suffered from under amplification and occasional failure to describe what had been discovered (still too small to make out, even on the big screen). Both these issues got better as the event went on. The mummy itself was extremely well done, and, if it had any fault, was in looking a bit too-well preserved compared with real mummies of my experience.

Next, we attended the screening of "Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’ Adéle Blanc Sec", which was a lot of fun once it got running. The film is worthy of a full review on its own, which will follow.

After the movie, Georgie went up to bed, and I followed, after a short prowl of the parties on the first floor. The parties were remarkable for: 1) Charging admission: This was OK with me, since proceeds went to charity, a very common thing at TeslaCon; 2) Being pretty dark: not so good in my opinion; 3) Music actually at tolerable levels, OK; 4) LOTS of hard liquor available. OK by me, I've missed cons where people can be adults; 5)Almost no snacks, rather surprising. On Saturday night, Lord Bobbins made an announcement cautioning people against excess imbibing. It might be a good idea to encourage, if not require, party givers to offer some form of munchies, which acts to slow down absorption of alcohol.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

TeslaCon 2, Day 2

Saturday, we started with the breakfast buffet at the hotel, again, OK, but it was just as costly as ordering off the menu, and for Georgie having only toast, tea, and fruit that morning, not a good deal. It would perhaps have been good if the only eggs on the buffet didn't have cheese on them, but I found it all quite good.

Our first event was the "Bartitsu" lecture demo, which had a good balance of lecture and demo. We both picked up some useful information on Victorian-era fisticuffs and the unique style of cane fighting developed by Barton-Wright.

At 11:30, we went to the "Lost Worlds" presentation, introduced by notable explorer Captain Kreiger, and presented by Professor William Dezoma. Again, very thoroughly researched, and presented in an informal and entertaining fashion.

We broke for lunch at the Tea Room, which had an impressive variety of teas. It was nice in a way to have volunteers seating and serving people, but we could have done just as well serving ourselves. There was a nice selection of tea cookies on hand also, although I suspect that the liquorice allsorts that came along with were pretty much wasted-.

After that, we caught the latter part of the "Multiculturalism" panel, which in large part covered the same ground as similar panels we have seen at WisCon: respect the culture you are writing about/enacting, do real research. At least they had one of the more creative and exciting ends to the panel we have seen. "Authenticity" did seem to be a big theme at this convention, but that leaves unanswered the question of "how do you keep your 'punk' in steampunk?" What if your character would authentically be a cultural snob, or boor? What about fantastic elements? Hmm--perhaps a panel to be proposed, here--.

At 2:30, we went to "Explorers and Adventurers of the Victorian Age," which was pretty informative and well presented. It was interesting that the presenters included some local figures, such as Lake Michigan's most notorious pirate, although I was a bit bemused to hear that Captain Fredrick Pabst, famous Milwaukee brewer, supposedly participated in the Klondike gold rush at age 60? I've been to the Pabst Mansion several times and that was never mentioned in his biography as given, nor can I verify that anywhere else. Oh, well, the rest of the data given in the panel matched what we knew as far as we knew it. Again, there was an emphasis on using historical information as a basis for creating steampunk characters. (I gave my background for "Dr. DuQuesne" as an example of a persona with a military background, and got complimented on it--.)

Due to potential loudness, we passed on the "Battle of the Leviathans," and took a break in our room while dressing for dinner. We had reservations for 'The Captain's Table," and were looking forward to it. This was GREAT fun. Doing an entire dinner in persona is a great idea, and it gave us a chance to interact closely with "Lord Bobbins," "Captain Krieger," the Aquitanian (sp?)ambassador, and our co-attendees. I was charmed to discover that the couple next along the table from us were "Mr. and Mrs. Schlitz, from Milwaukee," which I though was a wonderful persona idea. I had the Sea Bass dinner, which was excellent, and Georgie pronounced the Apricot Chicken entree to be good, as well.

After dinner was the Steampunk ball, which we also enjoyed. Georgie had to go back upstairs to pin up her skirts so she wouldn't step on the hem, but in the mean time I cadged dances with Miss Mary Prince, and Mrs. Judy Seidl, who were both most gracious partners. When Georgie was able, we waltzed to "Tales of the Vienna Woods," polkaed to "Thunder and Lightning," and waltzed again to "Music of the Spheres". It's been too long since we danced together, and I was very glad that we could. The ball was a lovely occasion, and we speculated on where else these days you could see so many gentlemen as well turned out, "white tie" occasions being pretty much a thing of the past everywhere else.

After the ball was over, we adjourned to the Imperial Anti-Piracy Squadron party room and enjoyed some wine while catching up with friends Tracy Benton and Bill Bodden, before retiring for the night.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

TeslaCon 2, Day 3

Sunday morning, we got breakfast again at the hotel restaurant, this time off the menu: omelet for me, Belgian waffle for Georgie, both pretty good.

We stopped in on Lord Bobbin's presentation, then went on to "Magic and Occultism in History and Steampunk," which was a nice presentation, but could have been broken down into two, one on "history", focusing on the Order of the Golden Dawn, etc., and the Spiritualist movement, to name a few, and one on incorporating (or not) magic into Steampunk. As it was, topics were touched lightly on, which went well for an audience on Sunday morning.

At 11:30 AM, we caught the action segment of "The Dragon's Tear,"--the third installment of the ongoing plot--, then went across the hall for "Scientists, Inventors, and Naturalists of the Victorian Age," which was a companion to the "Explorers" panel of the previous day and similarly formatted. This actually had what was to me more new information, perhaps because a lot of the interesting scientists are more obscure than interesting soldiers--.

At one, we went to the Closing Ceremonies, carefully choosing an escape route in case things got too loud. This time, that didn't happen, so we got to see and hear the latest developments in the struggle between Lord Bobbins and the fiendish Dr. Proctocus--to be continued next year!

We were rather tired due to not having slept very well--the Sheraton is a nice hotel, but the beds are 'executive hard', and there was a noisy open-door party down the hall from us Friday night--so we ducked out and made our way home.

All in all, TeslaCon 2 was a very good time for us, and we joined almost a third of attendees in signing up for next year, when Lord Bobbins & Co. will be going on a voyage to the Moon!

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.