Monday, April 29, 2013

Most Complete Georgian Playhouse of Britain

Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond, North Yorkshire is the most complete Georgian playhouse in Britain today.

It was built by actor-manager Samuel Butler in 1788. In its heyday, the 200-seat theater hosted figures from Georgian star Edmund Kean to Dame Sybil Thorndike, Joyce Grenfell, and Alan Bennett.

The theater is still in its original form today with its original boxes, furnishings, stage, box office, and other features. One of them includes kicking boards, which audiences would use to make their disapproval heard.

The theater was closed in 1848, reopened in 1963, and restored and extended 2003. However, only restoration work has been done on the building: no refits; thereby retaining everything the way it was when it was built. However, further restoration works still needs to be done, and so the theater is launching a fundraising campaign to save it from closure.

These days, in addition to a regular bill of plays, music concerts, and talks, the playhouse also houses a 180-member youth theater.

One of the one-person character plays currently playing is vignettes from the Georgian era's most beloved writers: Jane Austen. In Austen's Women, "thirteen of Jane Austen's most celebrated female characters are brought to life in this bold revisiting of scenes of high comedy and moments of pathos." Using only Austen's words, Austen's Women offers a distillation of 19th century feminism.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Look Who's Getting a Ride on a Motorcyle in India

Friday, April 19, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Nevitsky Castle, Ukraine

Ruins of the medieval Nevitsky Castle are located in the Zakarpattia region of Ukraine.

The castle was built in the 13th century on a hill above the river valley of Uzh on the former site of a wooden fort. It was the mighty citadel of the Drugeth family. "In 1241, the castle was destroyed by the Mongol-Tatar hordes, but in the second half of the 13th century the castle was rebuilt. It was reconstructed several times and acquired its final shape in the early 16th century. In 1644, the castle was captured and destroyed by the Transylvanian governor György Rákóczi. Since then, the castle has not been restored." Go HERE for many more pictures.

[Image courtesy of and thanks to @NevitskyCastle for the link.]

Monday, April 15, 2013

Kerfuffle: Barbara Cartland & Georgette Heyer

In a new biography on Georgette Heyer, author Jennifer Kloester reveals previously unpublished letters sent by Heyer in 1950. They furiously accuse Barbara Cartland of plagiarism. Heyer believed Cartland copied names, characters, and plot details, sometimes almost verbatim. "I think I could have borne it better had Miss Cartland not been so common-minded, so salacious and so illiterate," Heyer wrote. "For her main theme Miss Cartland has gone solely to These Old Shades, but for various minor situations and other characters, she has drawn upon four of my other novels." The eggregious book Knave of Hearts was reissued with the title The Innocent Heiress with a tagline reading "In the tradition of Georgette Heyer."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Teetering Public Transportation in Pakistan

This is how the public ride in the desert region of Kekra in the Tharparkar district of Sindh in Pakistan. Mind-boggling, isn't it? How in the world do they manage to hang on and not fall off during this jouncing ride among the sand and rocks? And how do the shock absorbers survive the rough road and huge passenger load?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Fan Letters by Great Authors to Great Authors

I blogged last November about how Lord Byron was a fan of Mary Shelley's work, particularly Frankestein, and how he treasued his autographed copy.

We all know that feeling: When we stand in line, with a frantically beating heart, of a booksigning by an author whose entire backlist of books we've read and re-read and treasured. And then we step up to the front, and it's our turn to babble nervously and with joy at the author telling him or her how very much we enjoy their books. Or we send an equally incoherent email to the author recounting all many ways we admire their works.

Well, authors were once or continue to be fans, too. At heart, they're readers who enjoy entertaining, well-crafted stories and admire the authors behind those tales. Here are some of the fan letters by The Greats put forth by Flavorwire.

From Norman Mailer to William Styron:

February 26, 1953

Dear Bill,

You certainly deserve a fan letter. As a matter of fact I’ve been meaning to write ever since I read “Long March” about a month ago. I think it’s just terrific, how good I’m almost embarrassed to say, but as a modest estimate it’s certainly as good an eighty pages as any American has written since the war, and really I think it’s much more than that. You watch. It’s going to last and last and last. And some day people will consider it as being close to the level of something as marvelous as The Heart of Darkness, which by the way, for no reason I know, it reminded me of. [...]

My best to you, Bill,

From Charles Dickens to George Eliot:


January 18, 1858, London

My Dear Sir

I have been so strongly affected by the two first tales in the book you have had the kindness to send me through Messrs. Blackwood [Eliot’s publisher], that I hope you will excuse my writing to you to express my admiration of their extraordinary merit. The exquisite truth and delicacy, both of the humour and the pathos of those stories, I have never seen the like of; and they have impressed me in a manner that I should find it very difficult to describe to you, if I had the impertinence to try. [...]

Your obliged and faithful Servant, and admirer


From Virginia Woolf to Olaf Stapledon:

Dear Mr. Stapledon,

I would have thanked you for your book before, but I have been very busy and have only just had time to read it. I don’t suppose that I have understood more than a small part — all the same I have understood enough to be greatly interested, and elated too, since sometimes it seems to me that you are grasping ideas that I have tried to express, much more fumblingly, in fiction. But you have gone much further and I can’t help envying you — as one does those who reach what one has aimed at.

Many thanks for giving me a copy,
yours sincerely,
Virginia Woolf

Friday, April 5, 2013

Picture Day Friday: Room Made Of Chocolate

This lounge made entirely out of intricately crafted Belgian chocolate is on view in a shopping centre in Minsk, Belarus.

The masterpiece took Sculptor Elena Kliment two months to prepare and two weeks of work to transform the chocolate into furniture and home decorations. She used over 600kg of Belgian chocolate to create everything from the fireplace to the tea cups to the to the vase of flowers to the chest of drawers.

Credit for the photographs and information go to the Daily Mail. Visit the site for more detailed photographs.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Brief History of Chocolate

Image copyrighted by knox_x at The origin of the word chocolate can be traced back to the Aztec word xocoatl. Theobroma cacao, Food of the gods, is how chocolate is known in Latin. I think you all would agree with that definition.

For centuries, chocolate has been known as a sublime pleasure for the senses. In our times, chocolate is a widely acknowledged sweet that we eat, but for most of its life, it was a bitter and/or spicy beverage.

Image copyrighted by vjeran2001 at The Mayans and their ancestors in Mesoamerica were the first people clearly known to have discovered the secret of cacao during 250–900 CE. The trees grew in the rainforests on their lands. The Mayans harvested, fermented, roasted, and ground the cacao seeds into a paste, then mixed it with water, chili peppers, cornmeal, and other ingredients to make a frothy, spicy chocolate drink, according to the Field Museum.

(Chocolate liqueur in your coffee with rum? Oh, yes, please. Do be generous.) According to the Smithsonian Magazine, however, chocolate liqueur is an invention at least as old as 1400 BCE. "Last November, anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania announced the discovery of cacao residue on pottery excavated in Honduras that could date back as far as 1400 BCE. It appears that the sweet pulp of the cacao fruit, which surrounds the beans, was fermented into an alcoholic beverage of the time." So the use of chocolate could be older than the Mayan era.

Aztecs valued cacao beans not only for the delicious beverage that could be made from them, but also as currency. "According to a 16th-century Aztec document, 100 beans could purchase a good turkey hen." Both the Mayans and the Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical and/or divine properties suitable for use in the sacred rituals of birth, marriage, death, and sacrifices.

Image copyrighted by knox_x at So how did chocolate transition from being a bitter Mesoamerican beverage to a sweetened European solid? The Aztec king Montezuma is said to have welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate. Cortes was much enthused by the effect cacao had on his mood and sense of well-being. So he introduced it back in Spain, but until it was mixed with honey and cane sugar, chocolate didn't catch on.

By the late 1600s, chocolate had become a popular drink among the well-heeled throughout Europe. However, it wasn't until the industrial revolution and the steam engine that mass production became possible and the middle classes were able to afford it.

Image copyrighted by elehrke at In 1828, a Dutch chemist made powdered chocolate by removing nearly half of the cacao butter from the chocolate liquor. This paved the way to the creation of solid chocolate. Jospeh Fry in 1847 is credited with making the chocolate bar. He discovered that if you add some of the cacao butter back into the Dutch cocoa, then you could make a moldable chocolate paste.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, in America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers' rations and used in lieu of wages. In current times, chocolate manufacturing is a four-billion-dollar industry. The average American eats at least half a pound per month. (Er, that little? I believe I can eat my weight in chocolate, especially Nutella! nom nom nom)