June 28 – Anniversary of the Premiere of Giselle

Posted on June 28, 2016

Do you love romantic tragedies?

I personally do not! I prefer romantic comedies. Everybody lives, everybody laughs! However, there have been many great romantic tragedies among all sorts of art forms – in books, movies, plays, operas, and ballets.

On this date in 1841, the ballet Giselle had its first performance in Paris.

This is the Theatre de l'Academie Royale
de Musique in Paris, where Giselle premiered.

The story is set in Germany.

Giselle is a peasant girl who discovers that the boy she loves is going to marry someone else. She has such a broken heart that she dies. Then a group of supernatural women called the Wilis call Giselle up from her grave. They are going to take revenge on the young man she'd loved by dancing him to his death – it's what they do, apparently! But Giselle's love is true, and she doesn't want revenge; her pure heart saves the young man from the Wilis.

Giselle was a huge success. It was immediately staged all across three continents (Europe, North America and Asia – as in Russia).

You can check out the entire ballet here, if you have interest and a couple of hours to indulge it; I recommend this super short trailer to get a good taste in a short time. 

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June 27 – National Sunglasses Day

Posted on June 27, 2016

Sunglasses can be fun!

They are often very cool.

They can make our eyes more comfortable in glary places like beaches and sunlit snow fields. And they can make us safer when drivers can see the road, signs, pedestrians, and other cars better on sunny days – especially when the sun is low in sky.

But...sunglasses are good for your eyes?

The Vision Council is taking advantage of National Sunglasses Day to point out that sunglasses help protect our eyes from harmful UV light. Ultraviolet rays have been linked to such things as cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye problems. Even the highest energy visible light may cause macular degeneration; this is called HEV (for High-Energy Visible) or blue light.

By the way, the very best way to protect your eyes (or to protect your identity, if you are famous and want to go unnoticed) is to wear a hat AND sunglasses. Also, wrap-around sunglasses protect more than the more typical open-sided styles.

Actress Meg Ryan avoids recognition with shades and hat...

Not all sunglasses are equal...

Of course you want a style you like and a fit that is comfortable, but you really should pay the most attention to the UV protection offered by sunglasses. Look for 100% UV protection labels (which sometimes are labeled UV 400). Those lenses will protect from both kinds of ultraviolet light.

Apparently a consumer-protection test was run on sunglasses; all of the expensive and moderate sunglasses labeled “100% UV protection” really did offer the protection. Most of the bargain-basement sunglasses with that label did, too – but at least one $5 pair did not. If you have any doubts, an optometrist can easily and quickly test your shades.

By the way, here are some sunglasses factors that have nothing to do with UV protection:
  • being polarized – this can help you see better but does not guarantee UV protection
  • being anti-glare – ditto the above
  • being a particular color or darker tint – there is no proof that particular colors of sunglasses (not even the amber “Blue Blocker” lenses), nor that darker-tinted sunglasses, do a better job of protecting your eyes than other colors or tints.
Kids' eyes need protection from UV radiation just as much as adults' eyes do!!

Modern or...?

Of course sunglasses with UV protection are pretty modern, but there were some early forms of eye protection invented over the course of history. Inuit people had to cope with a lot of sun-on-snow glare, and they often wore “glasses” made out of walrus ivory; they would view the world through narrow slits. The Roman emperor Nero watched gladiator fights through emeralds; I'm pretty sure he wasn't thinking of protecting his eyes from radiation! Another sort of early sunglasses was invented in 12th Century China; these were flat panes of smoky quartz.
Inuit snow goggles

It wasn't until the 1900s that sunglasses were used by loads of people. They were first mass produced in 1929, and polarized lenses became available in 1936. Ray Ban invented anti-glare sunglasses for aviators during World War II, and his aviator-style shades also caught on with the general public.

Also on this date:

Mathematician Augustus DeMorgan's birthday

Djibouti's Independence Day

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June 26 – Celebrating the Cyclone!

Posted on June 26, 2016

A quarter of a century ago is already “history.” And a quarter of a century ago, on this date in 1991, the Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The National Register of Historic Places isn't just places. It is a list of districts, buildings, and other sites, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation. It includes battlefields and theaters, churches and bridges and fountains. It probably does not include a lot of roller coasters!

The Cyclone was opened in New York City on this date in 1927, so it is 89 years old and heading for his centennial! With a 2,640-foot-long track, 6 fan turns, 12 drops – one of them a 85-foot drop! – the wooden roller coaster requires a lot of money for upkeep.

Coney Island used to be very popular – and the roller coaster was very a big part of that. However, the area has seen a decline in use. City planners, roller-coaster owners, and the people of New York City have disagreed about whether or not to Save the Cyclone, but a variety of amusement parks have and continue to operate the ride.

Right now, it is run by Luna Park - and it's featured in a Beyonce music video!

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June 25 – Virginia's Statehood Anniversary

Posted on June 25, 2016

Even though Virginia was the tenth state to ratify the new Constitution and become a state, on this date in 1788, one of its nicknames is “Mother of States.” Why do you suppose that is?

Two pretty good reasons:

First, Jamestown, Virginia, was the first permanent English settlement in the “New World.” It was first settled in 1607 – more than 400 years ago!

Second, several states were “born” on what was originally Virginia territory. They include West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota!

Another apt nickname is “Mother of Presidents.” Four of the first five presidents were born in Virginia, including Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Since those early years, four more Virginia-born presidents have been elected: William Henry, Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson. It probably doesn't surprise you that Virginia can brag of providing more presidents than any other state. (Although Ohio is right behind with seven.)

According to ads, “Virginia is for Lovers.” Here are some things I love about Virginia:

Colonial Williamsburg is one of the best “living history” museums I've ever seen. The streets are carefully restored and recreated so that we can see what life was like back in the late 1700s. Costumed re-enactors show guests how barrels and horseshoes and candles were made, how butter was churned and wine was prepared, how thread was spun and cloth was woven.

Recently more emphasis has been placed on Williamsburg as a Revolutionary City. These days guests can see and hear more dramatic re-enactments, including black enslaved people discussing the irony of living among white people fighting for “freedom,” Patrick Henry debating what to do now that colonists and British soldiers have clashed at Lexington, and Shawnee men debated a possible peace treaty with the British. Not only are there the usual musket-loading and artillery demonstrations, there are "roving, large-scale street-theater pieces that stretch more than two hours in length"!

Williamsburg is fairly pricey, but I loved my visit! And I have read that some parts can be seen and heard for free.

I've never seen it, but I love the idea of Foamhenge – an exact replica of Stonehenge made from Styrofoam! 

You have to arrange a special access visit to walk among the stones of the real Stonehenge – but you have no such problem with Foamhenge! Plus, it's free!

Mt. Trashmore is built on an old landfill. The park has lots to do, including this cool playground.

Last but not least, the Great Dismal Swamp looks more beautiful than dismal. And the wildlife probably don't find this refuge all that dismal, either!

Also on this date:

Architect Antoni Gaudi's birthday

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