September 27th, 2008

storyteller doll

National Book Festival

I was up plenty early, but didn't manage to get out of the house as early as I'd planned to. So I didn't make it to hear either Alexander McCall Smith or Paul Theroux. I did make it for Neil Gaiman, who read a chapter of his latest book (coming out in 3 days) and answered a few questions. He was reasonably entertaining and clearly pleased with the large crowd he drew.

I meandered through the Library of Congress exhibit and was disappointed that they didn't have a schedule of upcoming events on hand. They did have a nice little display on book preservation, including miniature pamphlets they were binding right there and giving away.

Other giveaways included tote bags from C-Span and from Read Across America. I'm not sure why I bother to take these since I have a huge number of tote bags already, but the C-Span one is particularly large and has a flat bottom, so would actually be good for grocery shopping. The Pavilion of States mostly served to add to my collection of bookmarks, though there were a few other gimmes, e.g. a little box of crayons, a small magnifying glass, and candy.

I never made it over to the sales tent as I wanted to grab lunch before going to a film at the Freer Gallery. I'll write about that separately, however.
storyteller doll

Chang and Eng ... and Opie?

The film I went to see at the Freer Gallery (which is part of the Smithsonian and, together with the Sackler, holds their Asian art collection) was part of an annual Asian Pacific American film festival. It was titled "The Siamese Connection" and was a documentary about Chang and Eng Bunker. Before the main feature, there was a short titled "Dream of Me," which had to do with a young adopted woman searching for her deceased sister. This was way too experimental for me, with dizzying images of scrolling through microfiche and several people talking at the same time.

"The Siamese Connection" was a more conventional documentary for the most part. Much of it involved a reunion of the descendants of the famous Siamese twins. I had lunch at a diner in Mt. Airy, North Carolina once and the more famous connection to the town for most people nowadays is Andy Griffith. (In fact, I remember the diner having menu items named after characters from his shows, though I don't recall what character my tuna sandwich and lemonade were named after.) But I had known that Chang and Eng had settled on a farm in North Carolina, so that part of their story wasn't news to me.

For those who are less familiar with the details, they married sisters and fathered 10 and 11 children, respectively. It had never occurred to me that the interracial aspect of the marriage was the part that was viewed as controversial at the time. Several of the descendants mentioned that their families had not wanted to talk about their connection for that reason. I had also never drawn the connection between a pre-civil war tobacco farm and slave ownership. Apparently, Chang sold his slaves to Eng when he saw where things were going, but Eng paid him in Confederate money, so neither really benefited. The financial woes of the post-war era were a big factor in their exhibiting themselves at Barnum's American Museum. (They had actually managed their own exhibitions through much of their earlier careers.)

The movie was reasonably interesting, but a bit too slow paced. I also had difficulty understanding the accents of some of the speakers. (Bear in mind,however, that I need subtitles south of about Richmond.) My biggest disappointment was the failure to explain why they adopted the surname "Bunker." Overall, it's worth seeing if you have an interest (as I do) in 19th century popular culture, but it doesn't break any new ground.
storyteller doll

Story Swap

To round off the day (and keep me from finishing the mystery I'm in the middle of), I went to a story swap at Ralph and Margaret's tonight. It was a pretty small group - them, me, Bill, Jane, Tim, and Adam. Bill had a rather cute joke which I will steal tell to people I tell jokes to. (Who are not, in general, the same people I tell stories to.) Ralph and Margaret had tales related to their trip to Alaska. Tim told his watermelon story and got a lesson about freighters from Ralph in the process. (It had to do with a detail about rudders. Note to self: don't tell stories involving ships to guys who were in the Navy.) Adam had a pretty interesting piece about Benjamin Franklin. I hadn't known that Franklin taught himself to swim from a book and then invented flippers to swim faster.

I told "Meeting Gandalf" for the second time. It's coming along, though not quite where I want it to be yet. But it always takes several tellings before anything is. At least I'm actually working on new material.

We also had general chitchat about storytelling, particularly about whether or not one should memorize. I'm not a fan of word for word memorization, in general, but there are certainly times it is appropriate. It's essential for a couple of stories I tell (one in rhyme, another which is a 400+ word tongue twister). The danger is, of course, that it's harder to recover from a distraction. My general rule is that if somebody says you should never do something, they're wrong.