“Iceberg, Right Ahead!”

This morning Melissa and I ventured downtown Kitchener to take in the Titanic exhibit at The Museum. Sherry had seen the permanent exhibit in Halifax, so it would have been hard to impress her. 🙂

I was told this local exhibit is a bit more extensive than the standard travelling version, but not as big as the permanent one (unsurprisingly). I’d heard good things from those who’ve been to see it already. Admission for us non-member adult types was $20.

Upon entering we received a “boarding pass”, with information about a particular passenger — name, class, travelling companions, reason for travelling, etc. Its main use wouldn’t become apparent until the end of the jaunt through the exhibit.

They did a good job of placing the Titanic within its time and culture, in terms of the technology, what was going on in the world, and even the social class stratifications it illustrated. There was a good mix of personal item artifacts and ship artifacts, though I admit those placed without context weren’t all that compelling. After all, it is the stories that draw us in. There’s even an iceberg, which was a big tactile hit with the kids present.

(Note: The display cases are outfitted with alarms, and any time they’re brushed or bumped the alarms buzz for about 20 seconds. This is not uncommon, but is somewhat annoying.)

In the earlier parts of the exhibit there were plaques about various passengers and families — who they were, what they did, where they were from and going to, what class they were in, etc. They would pop up here and there in the exhibit, giving a bit of a narrative as to the ship’s “population”, and it worked well at the end when you were informed of their fate. (Spoiler: almost none of them made it.)

Interestingly as well, many of the people noted weren’t supposed to be on the Titanic at all. They’d had passage booked on other ships, but were transferred or had to re-book due to a coal strike. And of course there were any number of people who were supposed to be on the ship but weren’t due to this or that circumstance — illness, change of plans, etc.

The most compelling artifacts were those either placed in a facsimile display of how they were found, or displayed simply, next to a large scale photo of them in situ at the wreck site. The wrought iron end piece of a bench, a stack of gratin dishes perfectly arranged in rows, a chandelier from the first class men’s smoking lounge… You could marvel over the fine condition of the piece, or the destruction caused by the wreck and decades underwater. I was somewhat amazed at the good condition of many paper items. But then, there’s not much light or oxygen 12,500 feet beneath the waves.

There have been a great many items recovered, apparently, from one gent (Henry or Howard something…?) They found his trunk full of belongings — only thing was, he wasn’t on the ship. He and a friend were supposed to sail, and his things were taken aboard, but he was apparently “shanghai’d” the previous night and taken aboard a ship headed for Asia as part of a press gang. He escaped in Egypt and eventually made it back to the US. Presumably he never got his things back. His travelling companion died.

There were also re-creations of a first class and third class cabin. Certainly there was a great difference between the two, though the third class bunks looked quite comfortable and surprisingly spacious. The beds were mahogany, and unlike most steerage of the day, had real mattresses. Third class only had two bathtubs for 710 passengers, however, as the exhibit noted, back then most folks bathed at most once a week, so it wasn’t quite the hygiene horror we’d consider it today.

At the end of the exhibit, there were four boards showing first, second and third class passengers, as well as crew. Also displayed were the numbers of people saved and lost in each group. Unsurprisingly, the percentages of survivors were far lower in third class (24.5%) and among the crew (23.8%) than among first class passengers (60.5%). My boarding pass passenger, Mrs. Baxter, survived, as did her daughter and son’s secret mistress. Her son, Quigg, did not.

Did you know that, of the infamous band that kept playing lively tunes to keep passengers calm, as contractors, none of them was required to remain on the ship and they could have attempted to escape in the lifeboats? Every one of them went down with the ship.

Total number of survivors: 706. Total number perished: 1517. As the North Atlantic water was below freezing that night (salt water freezes below the freezing point of fresh water), most people died of hypothermia, not drowning.

All in all, a fine way for a history buff to spend an hour or so. And even if you’re well familiar with the ship, the movie, the documentaries, and everything else, there’s always interesting things to learn, particularly the stories of the people. For more interesting tales and stats, of course, there’s always Wikipedia.

Pretty.

I would have trouble thinking of a single woman I know (myself included), who wouldn’t be hollering, “Hell yes!” with one side of her mind and heart, while being ashamed at the same time, no matter how brilliant, creative, compassionate, generous, successful and gorgeous she is, for, at least once in her life, having wished it would all be so much easier if she could, just once, be one of the pretty girls.

If my nieces, and any other girls over whom I have influence, can grow up and watch this and be horrified and utterly baffled by it because they are not, and never will be merely pretty, then I will have Accomplished Something.

(My thanks to Joe Thornley for posting this on Facebook.)

Unphotographable

This is a picture I did not take of two tiny, stuffed-cheeked red squirrels, at separate places on the trail, chasing and giving holy hell to black squirrels three times their size.

Guess the little guys haven’t heard they can’t compete environmentally with greys and blacks and are chittering toward extinction. 🙂

My first race

This year I’ve been doing pretty well at trying new things, and have even checked off a few “life list” items. This morning I completed another one.

When or why I got it into my head that I wanted to run a 5K I have no idea. I’ve never been a runner, and goodness knows in the past when I’ve tried running at the gym I got bored to tears very quickly. As I’ve told a few people, too, me running is a lot like bumblebees flying: highly improbable. And yet…

But with the advent of my thyroid medication giving me something resembling a metabolism and some energy, and my gall bladder surgery further improving things by vastly improving my digestive process (including how much I actually feel like I need to eat, and what I crave), I felt like it was time.

I forget from whom I originally heard about this program, but it seemed like something I could do. And it had a really good iPhone app, which helped. (I do loves me some concrete timing, instructions, and milestones.) The general idea is that by the time you’ve completed the 9 weeks of training, you’re able to run for 30 straight minutes, which should be about 5km. Not exactly, at my speed, but we won’t focus on that…

Of course, I should have known things wouldn’t go quite so smoothly. I actually started C25K back in January, at the gym… and then got derailed. Repeatedly. I got sick (twice, I think), I moved, I went away on vacation… By June I was at square one. Again. However, I also had two awesome things going for me: a) I didn’t have to run at the gym because it was summer, and b) I lived next to Waterloo Park, which is a great place to run (smooth trails and good people-watching). Even given the heat we frequently had this summer, I took advantage of the fact that sunset came after 9pm and ran in the evenings when it usually wasn’t too bad.

And when I passed week 3 (as far as I’d ever gotten), I was pretty jazzed. When I got to week 5 and realized I actually could run for eight minutes at a time, I was totally on board. I had to check myself from time to time — I have a tendency to run far faster than my body can maintain — but by the time I finished the program I was good at managing that, too. I’d also long since graduated to new scenery and regularly ran the Iron Horse Trail (from my place to Victoria street down Caroline and the Iron Horse is 6.6km).

I was mid-way through the C25K training when I finally put my money where my mouth was and signed up for a race: the Annual Oktoberfest 5K. I am not a competitive person, and I’m bad at setting goals and achieving them (yeah, typical curse of gifted children…), and even just completing the registration freaked me out a little bit. (Good.) But I also made sure to tell people I’d signed up. It’s a good way to keep you from chickening out of stuff. And it gave me a date on the calendar to work toward.

So yeah, I had absolutely no excuses not to do it.

What made it better is that my friend Colin was signed up to run the 10K. (His first, though he has 5Ks under his belt already.) My friend Cari was going to run that race, too, but ended up being in the Dominican for a wedding (tough life…) My other brother Jamie wanted to run with me, but I think had to work. (But hey, he cheered via Facebook, and he was saving lives, so it’s a good enough excuse…)

I finished the C25K program a week or so ago, but honestly by the end of it wasn’t paying that much attention. I knew where my warm-up walk would take me to, and from there it was just about running to Victoria St. and back with as few breaks as possible.

I was a tad concerned late this past week, as my last couple runs had been harder (just from pushing myself), and my calves tended to get a bit sore. They were hurting on my final pre-race run on Friday evening, so I cut it short and walked home. Unfortunately, the running was the only thing keeping me comfortable, and I damned near froze.

Got to the Rec Centre this morning just after 8am (conveniently I just had to traverse the boardwalk in the park and I was pretty much there), and headed up to the mall. Got my bib, shirt, chip, etc. and got properly outfitted. Eventually ran into Colin, as well as my ex-housemate, Peggy, from many moons ago. She was there running with her husband and two sons. Apparently her husband and younger son are avid runners. She goes for support, and apparently the elder son just wanted to get it over with and get to the eating of hot dogs. 🙂

Headed outside to hand over my bag to the folks who were taking stuff back to the Rec Centre, then went to find a patch of sunlight to stand in, since it was still chilly in the shade. Enjoyed the people-watching immensely. Though I gotta say, just because you’re ridiculously fit does not mean you’re going to be flattered by spandex… And good Lord are runners obsessive people. There was nowhere to hide from conversations about… running.

It was really cool seeing the fast folks out front heading onto King Street before I even got to the starting line. Basically, they would have been done by the time I finished my first kilometre (though I imagine most of them ran the 10K). Etiquette dictates slower runners stay near the back, and I was happy to do so. Plus it was fun having half of King St. to run on!

First kilometre was ridiculously fun. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, the mood was jovial, and I felt really good. And, hell, we were heading gently downhill! After that it got a bit harder, including a couple uphill areas — you never realize there’s any uphill between the mall and Bridgeport unless, as Andrew noted, you’re on foot or on a bike.

My time after the first mile was around 13 minutes (they called out times at one mile, for some reason, and had sign markers for each kilometre). I am no Roger Bannister. 🙂

I initially didn’t understand why the cups at the water station were barely half full… until I tried drinking while moving. I was even nice and tossed my first one in the garbage can, though I was past there after drinking the second, so threw it to the side of the road like everyone else.

I passed Colin some time between the 2nd and 3rd kilometre, I think. It would have been nice if I hadn’t had to walk at all, but I need a handful of short breaks. Something to improve on. From time to time I would go a bit faster just for a change of scenery. I don’t tend to like people around me while I exercise in general, and I got tired of seeing the same backs of heads or listening to the same breathing patterns.

It was impressive to see some of the folks running the 10K turning from Albert onto Bridgeport and joining the shared end part of the course. I saw two guys who were from Laurier’s cross country team, I think. They were machines. They were running faster at kilometre 9 than I did at any point in my race. Good on ’em.

And then there was my nemesis… An older gent, power-walker type, who kept ending up near me through much of the race. I got fed up in the home stretch and started sprinting. I was tired of his wiggly ass, and no way was he finishing before me. Plus, running fast felt good.

I felt great at the end of the race, though my legs will definitely need a day or two to recover. It was cool having Andrew and Melissa there, too. I think they were more proud of me than I was of myself. 🙂 (Sherry is, sadly, away on business.)

As I crossed the finish line, last time I saw on the clock was 38:59. I kinda hoped I’d made it in under 39 minutes. I went into the Rec Centre and got a drink and a bite to eat, then checked the results. Triumph! My actual time (from the timing chip) was 37:31. My gun time (from the start of the race til I crossed the finish line) was 39:01. I admit, had that second time been the “official” one, I’d have been a tad disappointed. As it was, I was totally jazzed at my results.

Will I do it again? Totally. The only way to go is up, right? That said, I think I will pass on the November and February races… We’ll see what’s what in the spring.

the finish line!

iPhone action shot courtesy of Andrew, and in front of me you can see my nemesis just before I passed him.

Fierce farm animals and rodents seeking romance

Last Saturday the street gang headed into the wilds of Toronto, wisely parking at Yorkdale since Nuit Blanche was on that night (thank you, Andrew, for driving). We TTC’d it to the ROM, and after some poor signage-induced elevator adventures, took in the Terracotta Army.

The exhibition was set up with a similar progression to other exhibitions we’ve seen there (like the Dead Sea Scrolls), where you enter and learn about the time and place and culture in what is now China’s northern Shaanxi province, and the rise and reign of the First Emperor. It was a period of dynastic upheaval, so there was plenty going on, which led to some major changes in Chinese life, from military careers to taxing the peasantry.

There was also this awesomely cheesy narrator display with a guy in a fantastically fake fu manchu moustache doing his thing.

There was more video in this exhibition than I remember from before, but that might just be because it was more recent. There were battle reenactments, how the site was discovered, an overview of the weaponry, etc. They had the farmer who found the whole thing, too. A guy about a million years old with his long pipe and no teeth, explaining how he was trying to drill a well, and had he been 30 centimetres to this side or that, he would have missed it all.

What surprised me a little bit, though, is that I didn’t feel they did the best job of communicating just how enormous the site is. Like, seriously. Maybe I just missed the pictures/video that communicated that, but I recall seeing better scale pictures in National Geographic.

They did explain reasonably well that there have been four main pits found (plus small, more decorative ones with the bronze water fowl and such), what was in each, and how many warriors there are overall, along with horses chariots, livestock, etc… And there were excellent examples of much of what’s been found. (More info.)

The horses look a bit small for “actual size”, but apparently they believe them to be accurate for the time. I liked the horses, as they were solid and plump-looking, much like myself. 🙂 The warriors ranged in size a bit, and the proportions weren’t quite exact in many cases, but the detail and individuality is impressive. They even had patterning on the bottoms of their shoes.

The attire, accessories, weapons, and original paint jobs were all customized to each soldier’s rank and duties. Weaponry was real. Molds were used for body parts and faces (unsurprisingly), but after assembly, individual details were added by hand, so no two soldiers are identical. And there are nearly eight thousand of them. In addition to infantry, there were cavalry, officers, administrators, and entertainers. Everything an emperor would need to keep himself protected, comfortable, and entertained in the afterlife.

And, of course, I can’t forget our favourite part of the exhibition — the livestock! There were fabulous small versions of cattle, goats, dogs, chickens — some still painted and many with fantastic expressions. The chickens were 2200 years old and looked like something you could buy in St. Jacobs tomorrow. There was a crotchety-looking goat that Melissa fell in love with, too. 🙂

Keep in mind that all of these figures — human and animal — were stand-ins for the real thing. In older times, real people, horses, and livestock would have been sacrificed to be buried with the emperor (not just in China). Sometimes just buried alive. Lovely. Given the scale of the First Emperor’s tomb, methinks more than a few people were grateful that the custom had changed and it was ok to use ceramic representations…

And then, at the end, in the gift shop, Melissa found my favourite part of the exhibition: Beat-down Frog. Hand-carved by master artisans, as they made sure to tell you, and not much over an inch high, he is truly awesome. (Yes, given the holes in the stick it’s possible he’s intended to be Flautist Frog, but it’s far more fun to think of him brandishing a 2×4.)

beat-down frog

After that we wandered a bit, had coffee and killed some time in Yorkville, people-watching, then separated for an hour or so to do our thing before we headed to dinner at Thai Basil.

And then, downtown! To Massey Hall and braving the Nuit Blanche hordes (Yonge St. was closed off) to see David Sedaris. Interesting mix of people in the crowd, though folks seemed to know what they were in for with him. 🙂

He read from his latest book, which is a collection of “fables”, to use the term very loosely. The book is a bit of a departure for him on the surface, but totally him once you get into it.

He read a bunch of other stuff, too, including other published stories, diary entries, etc. And showing how much the writer he is at all times, he would actually scribble notes and whatnot while reading. It was fascinating. Many laughs, some thought-provocation, and the only real downside was the incredible dryness of the hall (not helpful when both Sherry and I were getting over colds and trying not to cough).

And from there, back on the TCC to Yorkdale, and headed home. (We were all pretty tired, so no Nuit Blanche for us.)