I'm not sure how it happened, but I've become a big fan of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival.
I've never been to Harbin, which is practically in Siberia as I understand it. In fact, I've never been to China at all. The closest I've ever been was either Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, whichever is closer. Which means, I've only admired these sculptures from afar.
However, the pictures I've seen of their ice sculptures are really extraordinary. Before learning about the festival, my only experience with ice sculptures constituted seeing guys standing at hotel entrance ways chipping away to create dolphins and such. Very nice, very artistic, and very small.
Opening ceremonies, January 2015
Well, Harbin changed all that for me. There is something about the sheer audacity of people who would even think to create something as massive as their sculptures - and all along knowing that they are doomed to melt away by summertime. It's quite imaginative.
Anyway, the 31st Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival opened with a theme "Ice Snow Harbin, Charming China Dream" on January 5 in 2015. There was a grand opening ceremony, a fireworks display and a series of theatrical performances, ice snow activities in Sun Island, Ice and Snow Amusement World, Zhaolin Park and more venues around the ice city Harbin.
There seems to be some competition for the snow sculpture crown these days, with some other Chinese cities getting into the act as well. However, the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival remains the largest of its kind.
Apparently, the Festival began in 1963, when it started life as a traditional lantern and garden party before transforming into the extravagant event we see today. Now, it is composed of mountain-sized representations of figures out of Chinese mythology and even entire, life-sized buildings.
In general, the sculptures - at least the smaller ones - are carved from giant blocks of ice taken directly from the frozen surface of the Songhua River. However, for some of the larger, more elaborate sculptures, the builders cheat a bit by using steel frames and molds and spraying water on them, which of course freezes immediately in the frigid temperatures. The builders still, though, have to get up on the sculptures and smooth all the rough edges and do other fine-tuning. There also are elaborate swimming pools and other outdoor facilities that some of the more adventurous citizens and tourist can use if they can brave the cold.
The temperature and weather outlook in Harbin as I type this. That's the high for the day! That temperature is Fahrenheit, all the Celsius temperatures are way negative.
I'll almost certainly never make it to the actual festival - but it would be awfully cool to try some day. I'd like to try for the Iditarod someday, too. If only it didn't look so cold!
There are different version of this floating about, and they are both well worth watching. First, what appears to be the original promo video, which naturally focuses on the singer as well as the dancer.
Second, a version that focuses solely on the dancer and that appears to have had some processing done to it to make it more vivid and closer to how it must have looked originally.
I will say it for you: wow.
Some folks think that everything is done better today than in the past.
Not so. And this video is a prime example.
All right, now some background for those interested.
This is a promotional video for 'Hang on Sloopy,' a mid-'60s hit for The McCoys. Naturally, since the song is known to derive from 1964-65, everyone thinks that everything related to it dates from that era. At first glance, you might think so about this promotional film for the song, too. After all, the band is dressed in the foppish artist style of that era, and everything is made to appear timeless - no cars to identify the time, etc. However, this early video actually is from a decade later. I say the video is "early" because despite being long after the song's original popularity, the video was filmed years before MTV launched in 1981. It was a time when promotional films for songs were rare and produced only for top acts and for special purposes (television special appearances and so forth).
The singer is Rick Derringer, the founder, lead singer, etc., for The McCoys. Years after recording "Hang On Sloopy," he eventually went solo and had another hit, "Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo," in 1973, off of his first solo record, '"All American Boy." The follow-up to that initial, successful solo project was "Spring Fever" in 1975.
"Spring Fever" included a remake of "Hang on Sloopy," Derringer's signature tune at the time, but in a different musical style from the original. The remake wasn't as recognizable, of course, which had hit No. 1 during a period when just about every record was a classic. The music of 1975 was fine, but it was the disco era and, well, a lot of those hit tunes were not, shall we say, timeless ("Kung Fu Fighting" ring a bell? Or "The Streak"? How about Rick Dees' "Disco Duck"?). Rick was working with Steely Dan and on other projects, but he was still kind of low-profile. Not too many people knew his name from the The McCoys - heck, they probably thought that he was named McCoy. It was an era of one-hit wonders, so his recent hit hadn't really established him in the public mind, either.
So, Derringer's record company decided to promote the new record by hearkening back to the original, classic version of "Hang on Sloopy" that everybody knew (and that people still know today, in fact, long after any remakes have been forgotten).
None of the original McCoys, which had disbanded in the '60s, appear in this mid-'70s video except, of course, for Derringer himself. The guys in the background are probably just session musicians or, more likely, actors (if you look closely, they don't appear to be playing or singing).
But we don't really care about them. The identity of the dancer is a subject of much debate and confusion. It now appears to be Rick Derringer's first wife, Liz. She moved on to become a music journalist and is still very much around. Oh, and so is Rick.
According to sources, Liz was an unknown dancer who simply was hired for the video. She probably just showed up that morning at the appointed time and place and went to work, happy to have a payday. She and Rick, um, hit it off during production (not difficult to believe at all, just look at her) and they later married. And that's how it goes down in the big town.
There are some who want to romanticize this and claim that Liz just 'showed up' for the shoot, you know, at random or something, and started dancing, like in the video. Friends, that would be wonderful if it ever happened, but goddesses do not just 'show up' when you happen to need them for filming on a back lot.
All young ladies who want to know how to dance should study this video.
Night-time in New York.
One of the running themes of this blog is scenes of New York. The city is so big and diverse and wonderful that no amount of photographs can ever do it justice.
Another theme is aerial shots. I love aerial shots that help you to put locations into perspective. Whenever I travel to a new city, one of my priorities is to find the high ground so that I can get a bird's eye view of my surroundings. Not only does that orient me in terms of where I am, but it also invariably provides a capital location for photographs. Incidentally, having a landmark with which to orient yourself is usually what makes or breaks an area in terms of its scenic quality - the New York Worlds Fairs of 1939 and 1964 both had huge monuments that oriented you to your surroundings at a glance. New York City used to be that way with the old World Trade Center Towers. Once we get used to it, the new World Trade Center should serve the same purpose.
So, this page combines several of my favorite themes. New York City. At night. From 7500 feet. Magical.
Ok, that about sums it up. And, if you ever have the good grace to meet Louise Lasser in person or see an interview of her in real life, you'll probably realize just how appropriate that long run-on description was. She's a treasure.
Anyway, I am just barely old enough (no, really) to have actually watched some episodes of 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman' during its original run in the late '70s. It was on I think on the Fox affiliate in the NYC area, though it could have been WPIX - but pretty sure it was channel 5 - 'The Honymooners' was a staple in those days at 11 on WPIX, so it wasn't on there I don't think. 'Mary Hartman' was followed by several attempts to recreate the magic - 'Fernwood 2 Night,' 'Soap,' and 'All that Glitters' spring to mind - and those follow-ups or homages or whatever you want to call them gave us Billy Crystal and Richard Mulligan and Fred Willard and Martin Mull but not much else.
Anyway, it was the oddest show on television: aired five nights a week at 11 p.m. as original programming at a time when there were absolutely no original scripted shows airing at night outside of 7-11 p.m. ('Do you know where your children are?) or on any channels except for CBS, NBC or ABC (channels 2, 4 and 7). Everything on television in those days was absolutely rigid: afternoon old film after school, then news, then game shows, then prime time, then news again (film at 11!), then Carson and then bed. Nothing was allowed to break that iron-cast schedule except maybe a football game or the Olympics or, towards the end, Nightline. So, to see a brand-new drama on at 11 was a true oddity even before you saw a single frame of the 'Mary Hartman' show itself - and then it only got odder.
Here is perhaps the most famous scene from 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.' It is the bizarre chicken soup scene. If you know it already, you'll still enjoy seeing it again, and if you don't know it - you need to watch it.
That scene is just so iconic on so many levels. First of all, notice how Mary Hartman goes off on a kind of rant about chicken soup, about how it is the preferred remedy for
'an entire ethnic group. The whole Jewish people. And they oughta know, I mean they practically invented chicken soup. And an incredible amount of those people are doctors.'
Now, even leaving aside the fact that Louse Lasser herself was Jewish, but in her own words was at the time in total denial about it, and thus having her say this was almost metaphysical in its complexity, this is a classic formulation, decades ahead of the whole 'chicken soup for the soul' philosophy. This speech and the one that follows take random potshots in so many directions that they're like a circular firing squad.
The rambling philosophizing on the couch about different ethnic groups and the importance of watching Johnny Carson, and then again after they find Leroy -
'Leroy has drowned in a bowl of my chicken soup. I have actually taken a human life with my chicken soup.'
is just classic Deep Thought for the '70s. I mean, it's almost Kantian in its metaphysical implications and abstruse philosophications.
There is a legend that Louise was banned from Saturday Night Live. For some people, that is all they know about her. I stumbled across an obscure December 2013 interview with Louise Lasser tonight, and I had enough fond memories of her and the show (from over 30 years ago) that I read the whole, rambling thing. And, in the interview Louise Lasser had this to say about her hosting Saturday Night Live and interactions with show boss Lorne Michaels (the interviewer is Claire Barliant, who deserves a lot of credit for a very good interview):
You know it’s on Wikipedia that I was banned from that show, but it’s not true. I was so hurt. He had invited me to come back; he said come back in two weeks and do another show.
CB: It’s so weird how those things get out there.
LL: How they get out and there are sort of vapors around it. Because I can feel that the vapors—I completely forgot about that. But when I saw Wikipedia said that, I said how do I get rid of this, it’s not true. So they said well anyone could change it, you can just change the sentence. But it never got changed, I never changed it. Isn’t that weird that I never changed it?
CB: Well theoretically Wikipedia has all these people checking all the time. But it’s funny because it casts you in this way as being rebellious; I thought you’d gone on and deliberately subverted the show.
LL: It was sad because I believed in people and if they said they were going to do something . . . for me to threaten to walk off the show, I would never do that for spite. Banned—that’s a horrible thing to have said. But I don’t think people think about that very much now.
Wikepedia is such a trashy source, what a shame that they get basic facts like this wrong. But I changed it. Because I'm a Wikipedia editor. So there, karmic cosmic justice. Take that.
I occasionally post inspirational talks by Arnold Schwarzenegger (here's another one) not because he is a celebrity or I am some hopeless fanboy or anything like that. I post them because they are cracking good advice for anyone. He is successful in many spheres of life for a reason. We can all learn from someone like Arnold.
This is a variation of Arnold's standard talk (which I have posted before elsewhere in another format, with slightly different anecdotes) on his background and how he accomplished what he has in life. You can put this on in the background while you are doing other things, maybe tune in and out when you can or when your ear catches something of interest, and catch a different tidbit every time you listen to it.
We all need some inspiration in life. Arnold is one of the best at inspiring people, regardless of what you may have read about him or your preconceptions. In the game of life, Arnold is a major winner, with the hard stumbles now and then that we all experience. He acknowledges that he is not perfect and that he is not always a role model, but instead shows that original attitude is the way to achieve rather than following rules.
The way I approach listening to an Arnold talk is to forget the particulars - he talks a lot about bodybuilding, which I never pursued, and he name-drops mercilessly, which is distracting - and instead focus on the determination success takes and the approach to problems that he sets forth. Forget the celebrity and instead listen to the chutzpah and the way that he accomplishes things. This is about you, not about him. Don't forget that.
I hope this reaches somebody who it can help. Good luck!