Sunday, September 27, 2009

Apple #412: Moss

After that last, somewhat steamy entry, I thought it was time for something nice and soothing. Like moss. Mosses are so soft and springy and spongy and green.

(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Mosses grow everywhere on the planet except on the sea floor.
  • There are so many different kinds of mosses and their parts are so tiny, the only way to identify them accurately is with a microscope.
  • Mosses are Bryophytes. The reason we care about that word is because it means they were the first green plants to evolve on land.
  • That makes mosses about 350 million years old. Older than flowering plants, older than conifers.
  • As the first green plants, mosses were very simple, and they have stayed simple. They have no stems, no roots, and no leaves in the sense that we think of them.
  • Without typical roots and stems, mosses don't have a vascular system, or a way to deliver moisture & nutrients to all parts of the plant. So mosses depend on their environment to supply the entire plant with adequate moisture and nutrients.
  • In other words, mosses prefer to live in moist places. They are very inventive at finding places where enough moisture collects.

  • In the northern hemisphere, mosses like to grow on the north sides of trees. You might see moss growing all around the base of a tree, but you'll see more of it on the north side.
  • The reason mosses like the north side is because less sunlight shines over there. That keeps the north side relatively shady and damp, a nice home for a moss.

Apparently the right half of this tree is to the north. That whole side is covered in moss while the other side is nearly free of it.
(Photo by the Apple Lady. Sorry about the blurring.)

  • Some other places that mosses especially like:
  • Up the sides of hardwood trees. They collect the rainwater as it trickles down the crevices of the bark.

Moss growing in a nearly perfect vertical stripe.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

On this white ash tree, moss is also growing in the bark crevices on the roots.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • On fallen logs and stumps. The nooks and crannies in fallen logs make them ideal spots for mosses. Water collects there as do other nutrients. The mosses that live on fallen trees don't even need to take any nutrients from the fallen tree itself (which means they're epiphytic).

Moss growing all along the top of this fallen tree trunk.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • Rooftops. Shingles made of wood or composites or even asbestos make a friendly place for the mosses to sit. Ash that flies up from the fireplace provides nutrients, and if it's nice and shady up there, the roof doesn't dry out so fast and the mosses like it even better. At my parents' cottage by a lake, it's one of our fall tasks to climb up on the roof and sweep off all the moss pillows. Now I know why we get so many moss pillows up there. That roof has all the ingredients that mosses like best.

Moss pillows growing out of the cracks between shingles.
(Photo by Holly Holston, age 14)

  • Sidewalk cracks. The cracks collect nutrients and moisture that isn't easily dried up by sunlight. Again, a naturally happy place for mosses to grow.

Moss growing in the crevices of a sidewalk in Cotacachi, Ecuador.
(Photo by Gary A. Scott)

Moss growing like mad all across the surface of a sidewalk.
(Photo by Sean Dreilinger on Flickr)

  • When it comes to reproducing, mosses are again dependent on their environment, but for this function they need wind as well as moisture.
  • Male mosses produce zoospores. The male mosses fling their zoospores out and the wind carries them off. Some of the zoospores land on a female moss. The zoospores and the egg cells on the female moss will try to get together, but they'll only be successful if there's enough moisture.
  • Once the female plant's eggs are fertilized, she shoots up a stalk, also called a seta or a sporophyte. At the top of the stalk is a little knob or a pod, called a capsule.

Female moss reproductive structure
(Diagram from Oregon State University)

  • The capsule contains single-celled spores. They're sort of like tiny seeds, but they're even biologically simpler than seeds. When the female plant decides the moisture and wind and all those conditions are right, the capsule opens and the spores fly off on the wind.
  • The spores might land anywhere, but again, they need enough moisture to become a plant.

  • Some things get called mosses but they're not really.
  • Spanish moss -- not a true moss. It produces flowers and it's a Bromeliad, like a lot of houseplants. It also happens to be epiphytic, which means it grows on another plant but doesn't take any nutrients from it.
  • Club moss -- Ground Pine might be a more accurate name. These are an evergreen herb.
  • Flowering moss -- if they produce flowers, we know they can't be a true moss. Better known as Creeping Phlox.
  • Reindeer moss -- actually a type of lichen, which is like the marriage of a fungus and algae.

  • Besides the fact that they're soft and springy and green, we like mosses because they help prevent erosion. By hanging onto the soil, they help prevent it from being blown or washed away. At the same time, they help to increase the amount of moisture that the nearby ground is able to store.
  • They are also good indicators of pollution. Or rather, their absence is. There are so many different kinds of mosses and they're so good at finding little nooks and niches where there's water and nutrients, if you don't see any around, chances are you're in a place where there's lots of pollution.

With all this moss growing like a carpet along the gravel path, we know we don't have to worry about air pollution here. And if we felt like it, we could take off our shoes and the moss would feel so nice underfoot.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Oregon State University, Basic Biology of Mosses
US Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Special Forests Products Bryophyta (division) Moss, 2001
Wise Geek, What is Moss?
Backyard Nature, Mosses
Indiana Public Media, A Moment of Science, There's Moss on the North Side, September 27, 2003

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Apple #411: Words for Slut

One of my co-workers and I sometimes laugh about those old words for a woman of easy virtue. Hussy, hoyden, trollop. Even that phrase I just used, "woman of easy virtue," she and I have laughed about that, too.

After one of these silly sessions, I started thinking about all the different words there are for women who have lots of sexual partners and are therefore considered to be immoral. There sure are a lot of such words. I got to thinking about the word "slut" and how similar it looks to other words, and I wondered where it came from.

A Victorian era slut.
(Photo from The Heliograph)

So when I got home, I looked up "slut" in the Online Etymology Dictionary. Then I looked up all those other words too, and I noticed a pattern which surprised me. I double-checked in my Oxford English Dictionary because sometimes those two sources disagree. The OED doesn't always deal with slang, but for the words which the OED offered an etymology and a definition, it agreed very closely with the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Here's what I discovered: most of those insulting words started out meaning something relatively benign. Sometimes they didn't even necessarily refer to women at all at first, let alone any particular kind of woman. Only after the passage of many years, sometimes as long as a few centuries, did they take on the pejorative meaning.

The etymologies don't say this, but it is interesting to think about how the evolution might have taken place, or the assumptions lurking behind the shift in definitions. A woman dresses sloppily and so therefore she must be a whore. A woman is a kitchen maid and so therefore she must be . . . you follow my drift.


slut - originally, a slovenly woman. Didn't suggest anything about her morals or sexual behavior, only that she was sloppily dressed. In some usages, it meant "kitchen maid or drudge." Chaucer even used the word sluttish in the 1300s to refer to an untidy man. Samuel Pepys used it innocuously to say of his daughter Susan, "[she] is a most admirable slut and pleases us mightily." But in spite of Pepys, the word had already begun taking on negative connotations relatively early in its existence (about 50-100 years after its first documented usage) and by the 1860s it was pretty much entrenched in turpitude.

On this postcard -- yes, people mailed this to each other -- both meanings of "slut" apply, sort of: she was poor and ragged in her dress and she was also being used by her uncle.
(Image from Uncle Eddie's Theory Corner)

trollop - also originally a slovenly woman. Probably came from the verb "to troll," meaning to roll about or wallow, as in mud. Another meaning referred to anything dangling untidily, including loose clothing worn by -- you guessed it -- loose women.

hussy - originally, housewife. Sometimes even a thrifty housewife. Then it was expanded to mean any woman or girl, married or not. It was also used as a "playfully rude" way of addressing a woman. But then the playfulness began to disappear. By 1650 it had also become a serious way to indicate a woman of loose morals, and by the 19th century it had shed all the innocuous meanings entirely and retained only the derogatory one.

harlot - originally, vagabond, tramp, or camp follower. Also applied to traveling entertainers like jugglers, jesters, and later, actors. Sometimes a villain, glutton, or fornicator -- but he was male. For 200 years, from the 13th through the 15th century, a harlot was a man. But by the 16th century the word was frequently used in Bible translations and nearly always in reference to a woman -- one who was not a juggler or an entertainer, but a prostitute.

tramp - originally, to walk heavily, to stamp. Then it came to indicate a wanderer or vagabond, or one who tramps. It also referred to people, often women, who stomped on things like straw or wash clothes to press out the water. Didn't take on the meaning of a promiscuous woman until 1922.

hoyden - from the late 1500s, probably from a Dutch word that means rustic, uncivilized man, a boor; or a heathen. Didn't develop a negative connotation about women until the 1670s. Then she was only noisy or rowdy at first.

I would have guessed that people stopped using "hoyden" maybe a century ago, but this book was published in 1951, so it's still kicking a little.
(Image from Good Girl Art)

hooker - originally in England, referred to thieves who stole things using hooks. Sometimes they stole watches, sometimes they used great long hooks to reach in through a window to snatch the sheets off the bed. For a while in 1863 it referred to the men who formed General Hooker's Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. General Hooker himself had a fondness for gambling and alcohol and women, and his headquarters were considered a cross between a bar and a brothel. But in general, the sense of hooker as a prostitute most likely originates from the idea that prostitutes ensnare or "hook" their customers.

bimbo - from the Italian word bambino meaning baby, it referred first to a fellow or a chap, then a stupid man, then an inconsequential and contemptible man. In the 1920s the word was used by a journalist at Variety magazine to refer to a pretty but stupid, flighty woman of easy virtue. It became popular again in the US in the 1980s. Some current definitions say that not only is the woman pretty but stupid; she may also be the mistress of an older wealthy man.

tart - originally an endearment, a shortened form of "sweetheart." Or it could be derived from "jam-tart," which was 19th century British slang for an attractive woman. Attractive, you'll note, but not necessarily whorish.

broad - originally, a woman who is broad in the hips, or it might have come from the word abroadwife which referred to a woman away from her husband, who has typically been taken into slavery. So the number of sexual partners would not be of her choosing but apparently that didn't matter. There was also the sense of broad which meant plain-spoken speech, sometimes to the point of coarseness or lewdness. By 1911, the slang usage of broad generally suggested a coarse, low-class woman.


whore - adulterer. This is the big one, and it pretty much has always meant prostitute. But it may have come from a Sanskrit word qar or Kama, which means love, or the god of love. That word became carus in Latin, which means "dear" or "friend." But there was a whole other branch of Germanic words that descended from qar and those meant adulterer or fornicator.

prostitute - literally "placed in front" or publicly exposed. Originally, prostitute referred to a woman who had been sold into slavery and was then used for sex. So she was known by her sexual behavior, but that behavior wasn't of her own volition.

courtesan - dates back to the mid-1500s. From the Italian cortigiana, which means woman of the court. She's somehow attached to the sovereign rulers of a place. But apparently her attachment is only as a prostitute because that meaning is given at the same time and in the same sentence as "woman of the court."

strumpet - its origin is not certain but it may be related to a Latin verb stuprare that means "to have illicit relations with." Or it could be from a Middle Dutch word strompe, which means "stocking," as in the stockings that prostitutes wore. Another possible connection is that it could have come from the verb "to strum," which was once upon a time defined as having carnal knowledge of a woman or else playing a harpsichord or other stringed instrument badly. So according to that possible etymology, not only was the man strumming the woman, he also seems to have been doing it badly.

floozie - has always meant a woman of disreputable character. Born around 1902, perhaps derived from flossy, meaning fancy or frilly.

vamp - short for vampire (which word, by the way, can be traced back to a Tatar word that means "witch"). Vamp was born around 1911 in conjunction with a play and movie called A Fool There Was which featured Theda Bara, who was the Marilyn Monroe of her day, playing a very sultry woman known in the play as The Vampire.

Theda Bara as The Vampire. She's less creepy and more seductive in her role as Cleopatra, but the word vamp stuck and Cleo did not.
(Photos from Vampire Junction)

There are all sorts of other meanings for vamp, including the part of a shoe or sock that covers the body of the foot; or in the verb form, to patch together, to ad lib or improvise, or to walk the streets. You can see how there might be connections between those meanings and the idea of a seductress, but apparently the slang vamp comes only from vampire and has nothing to do with those other kinds of vamps.

piece, or piece of ass - surprisingly, dates all the way back to 1785. Not indicative of any gender in particular, but refers to anyone available for a fixed amount.

So what's my point? Beyond sharing this observation with you, I'm not sure, exactly. The only comparable slang I could think of for slutty men was "stud," and that's not very derogatory. Over time, will that get turned into an insult for women too? Or is it possible that we English speakers are turning fewer words into synonyms for "whore"? Hard to tell.

Either way, we can choose where our language goes. It's not as if our words emerge out of the mist of some mysterious Delphic pit in the earth. We're the ones who make up our words and decide what they mean. If we want a lot of words that insult women on the basis of their sexuality, then I guess that's what we'll have.

My copy of the Oxford English Dictionary
Online Etymology Dictionary, bimbo
Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, bimbo
OneLook, bimbo
Online Etymology Dictionary, broad
Online Etymology Dictionary, courtesan
Online Etymology Dictionary, floozie
Online Etymology Dictionary, harlot
Online Etymology Dictionary, hooker
Jonathan Dunder, Free Information Society, Hooker, Joseph
Online Etymology Dictionary, hoyden
Online Etymology Dictionary, hussy
Online Etymology Dictionary, piece
Online Etymology Dictionary, slut
Online Etymology Dictionary, strumpet
Online Etymology Dictionary, tart
Online Etymology Dictionary, tramp
Online Etymology Dictionary, trollop
Online Etymology Dictionary, vamp, vampire
Online Etymology Dictionary, whore

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Apple #410: Removing Red Wine Stains

A few days ago, I was having one of those work dinners with some co-workers and a salesperson who wanted our business. The salesperson got a bit exuberant and knocked over his wineglass. The spill was unfortunately aimed in my direction so that my shirt got splattered with red wine and my new skirt was doused with it.

The now-embarrassed salesman asked the waitress for some club soda, and she brought a towel soaked with it. I used the club soda-saturated cloth to blot my shirt and soak up the wine that had spilled on my skirt. It took a few minutes, but I was very happy to see that the wine disappeared from my clothes and reappeared instead on the white towel.

Club soda: is it magic?
(Photo from Coach Creative Space)

This was my first experience with a red wine spill. I had heard about the club soda trick but never had to try it and I was really amazed to see how well it worked. I was so impressed, I kept using the club soda towel to clean the wine stain off the cloth of the booth where we were sitting. It worked like magic on that, too.

Of course, Apple Lady that I am, I wanted to know why the club soda worked so well.

  • First of all, no matter what you use to clean up the spill, act quickly. The sooner you mop it up, the less chance it has to soak in.
  • Second, you want to make sure you don't rub the stain because that will only encourage the liquid to seek shelter more deeply into the fabric. Blot. Always and only blot.
  • Third, you want to use something that will absorb the spilled liquid more quickly than the thing you've spilled it on. Lots of things qualify as a fast absorbent.
  • Some substances work better depending on the liquid or on the fabric, but there is a basic list of products that generally work well.

This doesn't have to be a disaster. Not with club soda or salt handy!
(Photo from A Cleaner Carpet)

  • Salt -- absorbs all kinds of liquids. It is salt's nature to do this.
  • Baking soda -- does the same, though not quite as well as salt and may get clumpy.
  • Talcum powder -- you probably don't have this sitting around your dinner table, but maybe it is at hand in the bathroom or bedroom. If the talcum powder has perfume or colors added to it, though, use something else.
  • Vinegar and ammonia -- these two together are excellent at removing all sorts of stains, especially smelly ones like pet stains. They get rid of the stain and the odor.
  • I gave you this list before the club soda because two of the three ingredients in club soda are what impart its stain-removing magic:
  1. Water
  2. Carbon dioxide
  3. Salt
  • A lot of people maintain that it's the bubbles (a.k.a. carbon dioxide) that remove wine stains, but in fact, it's probably the salt and the water. The salt helps to absorb the stained liquid and the water helps to rinse the area further.
  • By that logic, salt water would probably also work as a decent stain remover. I haven't tried it myself, but I'll bet it would work.
  • Besides those household staples, lots of people highly recommend these commercial products for removing red wine stains:
  1. Shout
  2. Spot Shot
  3. Wine Away

Wine Away is available in lots of versions, from large sizes to smaller emergency kits.
(Photo from Products With Style)

  • Wine Away was (obviously) created specifically to clean up wine stains. It's made of some proprietary combination of fruit and vegetable extracts so it's non-toxic, and it leaves a citrus scent behind.
  • No product will always remove every stain, especially if the stain has had a chance to settle in and get comfortable. So act fast, blot, and keep at it!

Judith Williams, eHow, How Does Club Soda and Salt Get a Wine Stain Out?
How does club soda remove red wine stains? Scientific American, June 12, 206
Professor's House, Red Wine Stains
Art & Betsey Stratemeyer, How to Remove Wine Stains
Mrs. Clean USA, Cleaning Tips on Removing Red Wine Stains

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Apple #409: The Palmer House

This past weekend I was in Chicago attending a wedding. I stayed in the Palmer House.

Like so many places in Chicago, the outside of it doesn't look like much, but the inside is a very different story. Here is more or less what the lobby looks like:

The Palmer House lobby. What's strange about this photo is that it's empty of people. I never saw this room when it wasn't bustling with people -- sitting in the chairs or at the bar, waiting beside luggage for someone else to join them, walking through with luggage or without. It's busy and lively and yet still civil and beautiful.
(Photo from the Pickled Tongue)

The summary: in the end, with tax and parking, it cost me $250 per night to stay here. Some guests have found the rooms to be too small and while I saw their point, that didn't bother me. I was very comfortable. It is possible that if I didn't have a sentimental attachment to the place, I might not have thought the price was worth it. As it was though, I found the whole experience to be enjoyable and if I could, I'd do it again.

The full story

Long ago in my former life as a corporate librarian, I worked a few blocks east of the Palmer House in the financial district. Coming and going off the train I would see people getting out of cars and taxis and going into the Palmer House. To me, having just come from my apartment where I slept on my futon on the floor and had eaten nothing but a few cheese & tomato sandwiches in the past three days, the Palmer House was a place to regard with awe. I said the name to myself in something of an awed whisper, Ooh, the Palmer House. So staying at that hotel this past weekend represented the fulfillment of some long-held desire.

Someone's blurry photo of one of the entrances to the Palmer House, this one on Wabash.
(Photo from IgoUgo)

Not that I'm suddenly enormously wealthy or anything like that. The groom, through the company where he works, was able to get a slightly reduced rate for those attending his wedding. I realized I might never have such a chance again, so I bit that bullet of opportunity and made my reservations.

Ooh, the Palmer House

I'm not the only one who has a sentimental attachment to this hotel. That's because of its history. Here are a few brief facts to put this place in perspective:

  • The hotel was originally built by Potter Palmer, the businessman who developed most of the shops on State Street, in 1871 as a gift for his wife, Bertha HonorĂ©.

Potter Palmer, the Chicago businessman who built the Palmer House hotel.
(Photo from Absolute Astronomy)

Bertha Honoré, for whom the Palmer House was built.
(Photo from Absolute Astronomy)

  • Bertha, by the way, was a socialite, philanthropist, and art collector. After meeting Claude Monet, she purchased 200 Impressionist paintings, which she later bequeathed to the Chicago Institute of Art.
  • Thirteen days after it opened, the hotel burned in the Great Chicago Fire.
  • Not to be dissuaded, Palmer got a loan for $1.7 million -- remember, this is 1871 -- and rebuilt the whole thing even more grandly than before. It was made primarily of iron and brick and was touted as the world's first fire-proof hotel.
  • The hotel re-opened in 1873, though the reconstruction took an two additional years. The hotel has remained open ever since.
  • The famous brass peacock front doors were designed by Tiffany.

Brass peacock front doors on the Monroe Street entrance of the Palmer House.
(Photo by Galen Frysinger)

  • The two 24-karat gold chandeliers in the lobby were also designed by Tiffany. So were the brass door handles, hinges, and hardware still in use throughout the hotel.
  • By the 1920s it was clear that the 7-story hotel simply wasn't big enough. So the Palmer Estate (Potter had died in 1902) decided to rebuild again. This time, they made it 25 stories, they completed the reconstruction in only two years, and they kept the hotel in operation the entire time.
  • It was renovated again in 2007. Redoing the 3,700 square foot penthouse alone cost $1.5 million. One of the artists who helped restore the Sistine Chapel was hired to clean and preserve the lobby ceiling, which includes 21 murals of Greek mythological figures.
  • The hotel has changed hands a few times. As of 2005, Thor Equities owns the hotel but it retains the Hilton name.
  • The Palmer House Hilton currently rings in at 1.7 million square feet, with 1,639 rooms, including 44 deluxe suites and the penthouse. These stats make the Palmer House Hilton the second largest hotel in the city of Chicago. (The two-tower Hyatt Regency on East Wacker is the largest.)
  • Famous people who have stayed in the Palmer House:
  1. Ulysses S. Grant
  2. William Jennings Bryan
  3. William McKinley
  4. Mark Twain
  5. Charles Dickens
  6. Oscar Wilde
  7. Sarah Bernhardt
  8. Buffalo Bill
  9. Prince Charles
  10. Nearly every US President
  11. Barack Obama
  • Entertainers who have played the Empire Room, which no longer hosts shows but is available for private meetings and weddings:
  1. Frank Sinatra
  2. Judy Garland
  3. Jimmy Durante
  4. Maurice Chevalier
  5. Jerry Lewis
  6. Ella Fitzgerald
  7. Harry Belafonte
  8. Louis Armstrong
  • One last historical tidbit: the brownie was invented at the Palmer House. Bertha was asked to create a dessert for the Women's Pavilion at the 1892 World's Columbian Exposition. Working with the Palmer House chef, the two of them came up with the brownie.

My stay

I had read at various websites like Trip Advisor that quite a few people were disappointed in the size of the rooms. So when I entered mine, I was prepared. The Palmer House does offer different sizes of rooms, each one larger and more luxurious and more expensive than the last. My room had a queen size bed and was on the smaller end of the options.

Bed and desk in the room where I stayed
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

I also figured, this is in the heart of downtown. Space is going to be at a premium. So the rooms might be smaller than what most of us are used to in great, sprawling hotels, but you will be assured of a comfortable stay. And I was right.

The bed was very comfortable. Firm but with a plush top. Sometimes mattresses like that give me backaches, but this one did not. The draperies darkened the room very nicely and I slept very well.

I also read that the walls are a bit thin and it is easy to hear one's neighbors. This I found to be true, too. One day I heard a neighbor banging things around in the closet. No idea what that was about, especially since it went on for some time. Another night I heard a different neighbor watching TV for quite a while. But what disturbed my peace the most was morning-waking-up noises. Showers running, toilets flushing, that sort of thing. I prefer to sleep in. So I got a cheap pair of foam earplugs and popped them in before I went to sleep and I was fine.

There was one other noise issue that was even more of a problem. The first room they gave me on the 13th floor seemed to be away from the land of the elevators. Well, first, let me show you what's up with the elevators.

Three sets of elevators on the 15th floor of the Palmer House
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The Palmer House has 23 floors. There isn't one elevator that stops at all 23 floors but rather different elevators that serve different floors. This is a fairly common elevator situation in large buildings in Chicago. Instead of each elevator stopping at each floor and taking forever,the elevator serves only a select number of floors and shoots past the others. In the Palmer House there are three banks of elevators. The set on the left serves floors 1-8 and 13-17, the set in the middle serves floors 1-8 and 18-23, and the set on the right serves floors 1-12.

With all those floors and over a hundred rooms on each floor, those elevators are going all the time. There aren't any guest rooms located right next to this realm of elevators -- at least, there don't seem to be. You walk out of this land of elevators and turn right or left and make a little turn and then you're in a hallway of rooms. So you think you're a safe distance away from the elevators.

But the workings of the elevators are on the backside of this realm. The first room I was given was next to the backside of one of the sets of elevators. As soon as I walked into the room, I could tell it was a no-go. I could hear the workings of the gears, the stopping and starting and the motor of each of the three elevators on that side of the realm. And the stopping and starting was almost continual.

So I called down to the front desk and asked if they would give me a different room that wasn't near the elevator works. Not a problem at all, Miss Apple Lady, they said (well, they said my actual name, but you get the idea). They sent someone up with a new room key and if I had wanted, he would have carried my luggage for me to the next room. I didn't have much so that wasn't necessary. But I did appreciate that I didn't have to go all the way back down to the lobby with my luggage to get a new key and then go back up again to a new room.

As I left that room on the 13th floor for my new room on the 15th floor, I passed a set of three doors. The noises of the elevator works was very loud at that spot and it seemed obvious that those were the service access doors to the backside of the elevators.

This is what the three doors looked like:

If you're put in a room next to doors like these, you will probably want to move. Behind such doors are the workings of the elevators.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

My new room on the 15th floor was a farther distance down one of the hallways away from the elevators.

My hallway on the 15th floor. The photos on the walls are black and white stills of celebrities who have performed in the hotel's Empire Room in the past.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Door to room 15-171, where I stayed. I'm sure it will be very famous in the future and everyone will want to stay there. "Please," future guests will ask, "may I stay in the Apple Lady's room?" Bound to happen.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

I had also read online that several Palmer House guests thought that the bathrooms were much too small. And, yes, my bathroom was cozy. I had to shut the door to get in and out of the tub / shower.

But it was very attractive and everything in it was clean and new and fresh. The towels were thick and white and clean. It was well-lit, which is unusual for hotel bathrooms, and it smelled nice too.

Bathroom sink in the first room they gave me. Toilet is to the right, shower / tub is behind. The make-up mirror on the wall has a magnifying side and a regular side. Beneath the sink are some shelves where they give you the free shampoo, conditioner, soap, etc. There's also a hair dryer and room to put your own stuff, too.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Bathroom sink in the second room. See how clean and shiny it is! I also want to point out the soap dish. It's an actual dish. So many hotel sinks have a little dip in the side where you're supposed to put the soap, but the soap inevitably slides out of there and slips all over the bowl of the sink. This is a dish with little grooves in the bottom of it too, no less. Put down the soap, it stays put.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

I am a fan of baths. Showers, too, but I do enjoy a good bath. I don't have a bathtub in my current residence so I am always hopeful I'll get a relaxing bath when I stay at a hotel. I was very pleased with the bath in my room at the Palmer House.

The tub was long enough that I could lie back comfortably without my kneecaps sticking up. Those of you six footers out there would probably get chilly kneecaps, but I did not. The water heated up very quickly and had no problems staying hot long enough to fill the bath and more.

It did take quite a while to drain, though. I've noticed that about lots of hotel baths. I don't know why that is, if it's because there are so many rooms, or what. Ought to get that Apple Lady to look into that for me.

For those of you who prefer showers, I am happy to report that the shower head was very acceptable. It didn't have massage options on it, but it was big as a dessert plate and the spray was neither scouring nor wimpy but comfortable.

Shower head in a Palmer House bathroom.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The one thing about the bathroom that I had trouble getting used to was a slightly raised strip of marble on the floor of the doorway into the bathroom. I tripped over this thing four or five times before I got used to it. I could see that this could be a potential hazard for people with bifocals or for people like me who don't always look where they're going.

Tripping spot leading into and out of the bathroom
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The rest of the second room was very like the first. Same size bed, same bedclothes, same color pillows, etc.

Desk and chair. Just to the left of the phone is a little black gizmo which provides an internet connection. On the base of the lamp are some outlets, and there are more outlets under the desk. So this would be a good place to set up one's laptop, if one had such a thing and wanted to use it while staying in this hotel.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Television and chest of drawers, which face the bed. On either side of the chest of drawers are little cabinets with open shelves where you could put your stuff if you wanted to. On top of the cabinet on the left was a tray with two glasses and an ice bucket. On the backsplash of the cabinets were two outlets. The photo on the wall is of a couple boating on the Chicago River and a ferris wheel and a lovely plume of some sort of pollution coming from a nearby smokestack.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The view out the window, of other rooms in the Palmer House. You might be staying at the Palmer House, but as this view reminds you, you're still in downtown Chicago, all right.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The fact that this hotel is located downtown brings up another issue: parking. If you can avoid bringing a car into downtown Chicago, do so. The train is very handy and serves all sorts of locations relatively easily. On foot or by train, you don't have to worry about negotiating all the one way streets and figuring out where you're going while the cabs are zipping past you on all sides. But above all you don't have to worry about parking. Metered spots on the street are few and far between, and garages are pricey.

I had planned on taking the Megabus to Chicago -- an express bus which very low fares, sometimes as low as $1 each way -- but I got the pick-up location wrong and I missed the bus. So I drove. Which meant I had to park my car someplace once I got to the hotel. That would cost me beaucoups bucks but it was my fault for missing the bus.

When I pulled up out front of the Palmer House, a helpful valet told me I could have him park my car for $51, which would cover parking for 24 hours, or I could park the car myself in the garage on the next block for $36. "The only difference is the price," he told me.

He could have tried to tell me how much time I would save if I had him park my car for me or some song and dance like that, but he told me the truth up front and without hesitation. Appreciating his candor, I parked my car myself.

Another entrance to the Palmer House, this one on Monroe. The self-park garage is just up the street across Wabash, on the right.
(Photo from Cows and Graveyards)

The $36 covered 24 hours and I could come and go as often as I wanted during that 24 hours. As instructed, I took the ticket to the reception desk and they validated it for me, and the cost was charged to my room. Check-out time is 11 a.m. and the parking was good until 5 p.m. the day of check-out. That was very handy because I was able to check out of the hotel, load my luggage into my car and take care of a few more odds and ends and have lunch in Millennium Park without having to rush off right away.

Because I'm pointing out some shortcomings as well as things I liked, maybe it sounds like I didn't like my stay that much. But I did. I slept very well, I very much enjoyed the bath and the shower, I liked walking along the peacock-feathered carpets and riding the elevators and, once on the street-level floor, walking along the corridors bustling with people and lined with shops. I just plain enjoyed being in the place.

The best part was the people

I want to be sure to mention the people who work for the Palmer House. There were all sorts of bellmen, doormen, people to greet you when you pulled up in your car, and men in uniforms who would hail a cab for you. They were all welcoming and helpful without being officious. The people at the concierge desk who were swamped the day I arrived were unfailingly pleasant, and the people working at the reception desk were friendly, professional, and helpful.

When I called to ask to have my room changed, the woman who answered the phone agreed to take care of that without any hesitation. She was professional and courteous. She was the one who offered to have a room key sent up, and she asked if I needed any help with my luggage.

Everyone I encountered was helpful and courteous, never cold or condescending, but warm and offering to smooth the way if I so desired.

The hotel is full of little gems like this. This is the mail drop, available on each floor. My dad's old office building had chutes like these. You put your mail in the little slot, let go, and feel a little vertigo as you watch your letters whisking down the chute to some mysterious mail collection bin somewhere many stories below. I know it works because I mailed a couple postcards in this very chute, and I have been assured that at least one of them has arrived at its destination.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Here's the link if you want to find out about room rates or make a reservation. Make sure to investigate all the options to find a hotel at the size and price that will suit you.

If you've stayed in the penthouse in the past, you might be able to stay there again for a pretty good rate. One couple who stayed in the penthouse on their honeymoon in 1947 got to stay there again for the same rate: $10.

My own experience
Absolute Astronomy, Palmer House, Potter Palmer
Palmer House Hilton Media Kit

Monday, September 14, 2009

Coming soon

Sorry I didn't have a post for you all on Monday as I usually do. I was in Chicago this weekend, attending a wedding.

Sculpture in downtown Chicago, formally called Cloud Gate, informally known as The Bean.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Never fear, though. A new post is coming soon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Apple #408: Harold and Maude

Last night I watched Harold and Maude again for the, I don't know, 15th time? I was first introduced to it in college by a woman who lived on my floor, DeeDee. DeeDee was royally cool in a Gashlycrumb Tinies-loving way, and she also loved this movie. She must have put it on the TV & VCR in our common room 5 or 6 times a year.

Now, watching it again many years later, even after having suffered the death of a family member, I still laughed out loud at parts of it. Some elements of the movie's attitude about death -- it's a parade, it's part of the great circle of life, etc. -- seem at best simplistic to me now. But I am won over again anyway because of the movie's deadpan delivery and its overall enthusiasm.

Another nice thing about the movie are the occasional landscape shots like this.
(Screen shot from Flickr, uploaded by abemaddk)

For those who haven't seen it -- and I know some of you are still out there (ahem, Jason) -- it might seem strange at first to call this movie enthusiastic. Harold Chasen is a 20 year-old living in an enormous California house with his widowed mother, and he is obsessed with suicide and death. Sounds lovely, you might say. I don't want to spoil it for you, but trust me when I tell you there is a comic, albeit dark, edge to his obsession.

The car he buys is an old 1959 hearse. For diversion, he goes to funerals. There he meets Maude, a 79 year-old woman who is a delightful nut. She, too, likes to go to funerals. She also likes to take other people's cars ("merely acting as a gentle reminder: here today, gone tomorrow, so don't get attached to things"), pose for ice sculptures, experiment with enormous erotic wood carvings, sing and dance, and drink oat straw tea.

The scene where Maude first speaks to Harold, at a funeral.
(Image from Bill's Movie Emporium)

Telling you much more would spoil some of the surprises the movie has in store. I will add that Vivian Pickles, who plays Harold's mother, has stayed fixed in my mind all these years. Often when I do something that absolutely cracks me up but which I also know is kind of ridiculous, I will say to myself in her voice, "I suppose you think that's very funny, Harold." Absolutely dripping with disdain. And it makes me laugh even more.

Harold's mother (Vivian Pickles), calling him on the carpet.
(Screen shot from Cinema Splendor)

Lots of deadpan, dark humor, and some more obvious slapstick stuff too, especially in the scenes with Uncle Victor. One film critic argues that this movie, released in 1971, was the first black comedy.

There are lots of great sites out there that already pay tribute to this movie in far greater detail than my lone entry will do. But I'll try to assemble some trivia from an assortment of those sites so at least this won't be the same combination of trivia that already exists everywhere else.

  • All the music in the movie is songs by Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam). Two of the songs he composed specifically for this movie -- "Don't be Shy" and "If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out." Neither song was available for purchase until 1984, so if you wanted to hear those songs, you had to go see the movie.
  • The other songs that appear in the movie are:
  1. On the Road to Find Out
  2. I Wish, I Wish
  3. Miles from Nowhere
  4. Tea for the Tillerman
  5. I Think I See the Light
  6. Where Do the Children Play?
  7. Trouble
  • The songs were released on a few different albums, but no soundtrack per se existed until 2007 when a limited edition LP was released. As far as I can tell, everybody is now sold out of it so it's probably a collector's item now.
  • Ruth Gordon never learned to drive a car. So in the scene where Maude is driving Harold's hearse like mad down the hill from the cemetery, the hearse ("Good on curves") is being pulled by a tow truck.
  • Later, Harold fuses his Cadillac hearse with a Jaguar that his mother buys him ("I quite like it, indeed"). The props people actually did this, but they only made one and they could only do that scene at the end in one take.

Harold and his Jaguar-hearse
(Photo from Everybody Lies)

  • Lots of cameos in the film. The director, Hal Ashby, is the crazy-looking bearded fellow with the glasses, watching the trains at the amusement park with Harold and Maude.
  • After Maude ttss's to get Harold's attention at the funeral and people turn to look at her, she hides by another funeral attendee -- who is Cat Stevens.
  • The hapless cop on the motorcycle is credited as M. Borman, but he was actually Tom Skerritt.
  • The movie was filmed in Hillsborough, California, which is south of San Francisco. The house where the Chasens live is the Rose Court Mansion. Mrs. Chasen's butler is played by the man who was the actual butler of that mansion at the time.

The butler and Mrs. Chasen in the Rose Court Mansion. "Harold, what have you done? That was your last date!"
(Photo from Harold & Maude the Unofficial Homepage)

  • The screenplay was written by Colin Higgins in 1971. An earlier form of it was his MFA thesis at UCLA.
  • Harold and Maude was later novelized and still later turned into a play. But it was a movie first.
  • The movie was not a hit when it was released. The New York Times' Vincent Canby said in 1971 that Harold and Maude are obviously made for each other, but only because Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon are "so aggressive, so creepy and off-putting." He said that the scene that begins with Maude singing at the piano and ends with her gimme an L cheer is "an embarrassed low."

Left to right, director Hal Ashby, Bud Cort, and Ruth Gordon
(Photo sourced from Cinebeats)

  • I thought I detected a New York accent in Bud Cort (Harold) and yes, Cort was born in New Rochelle and later moved to New York City.
  • His birth name was Walter Edward Cox, but he later changed it because he didn't want to be confused with Wally Cox. When he was a child, he slept in a teepee in the living room.
  • In 1975 he was offered the part of Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but he turned it down because he was afraid he was in danger of being typecast and he wanted the role of McMurphy, which went to Jack Nicholson.
  • 8 years after Harold and Maude, Cort was in a car accident that almost killed him. His skull was fractured, his arm and leg were broken, and several teeth were knocked out.
  • Ruth Gordon played one of the evil people in Rosemary's Baby, and she won an Emmy for her role as Dee Wilcox on Taxi.
  • She also has the dubious distinction of being the oldest person, at age 79, to host Saturday Night Live.

To me, they will always be glorious birds.
(Screen shot from Hughshow's top 5's)

Harold & Maude, the unofficial Homepage is probably the most complete site for those who want to dig deeper into this movie
Film in America, Harold and Maude (locations)
IMDB, Harold and Maude, Bud Cort
Whitney Matheson, "For the love of 'Harold and Maude,'" USA TODAY, July 24, 2000
Nina Metz, "'Harold and Maude' aging gracefully,"
Chicago Tribune, September 4, 2009
Vincent Canby,
The New York Times, Harold and Maude (1971), December 21, 1971

Monday, September 7, 2009

Apple #407: Grasshoppers

It's Labor Day weekend, so I'm going to talk about -- what else? -- grasshoppers.

Rather large grasshopper clinging to somebody's window screen
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Lots of the things to know about grasshoppers are things I dimly remember having learned back in elementary school. Chances are, you learned many of these things, too. So I'll try to mix in a few rogue facts to shake things up a bit.

  • There are more than 1,000 species of grasshoppers in the United States. Worldwide, there are 23,000 different species of grasshoppers.
  • The fact that there are so many different kinds of grasshoppers is one of the reasons it is difficult to control them.
  • Long-horned grasshoppers, with their antennae as long as or longer than their bodies, are generally not as destructive to crops.
  • Short-horned grasshoppers, or those with antennae shorter than their bodies, are all destructive. Some of the havoc these little creatures have wreaked includes:
  • Destroying crops in Utah in 1848 to such an extent that the Mormon settlers were saved only by a flock of seagulls that happened by and ate the bugs that ate their crops. Those bugs were named the Mormon cricket, though it was really a wingless grasshopper.
  • In the 1870s the Rocky Mountain grasshopper migrated across the Great Plains and into Texas, completely stripping the land of all vegetation and leaving only holes in the ground where plants had been. One swarm was so enormous, it darkened the sky for days. If memory serves me right, it is this swarm of locusts that appears in O.E. Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth.
  • There is also, of course, the most famous plague of locusts in the Book of Exodus. "They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt" (Ex 10:15).

A swarm of locusts in Mexico, 2004.
(Photo from National Geographic News)

  • Grasshoppers that migrate are generally called locusts. Swarms of locusts may descend and infest a new area, but grasshoppers stay where they are.
  • So a lot of research about grasshoppers focuses on ways to control their population, which makes it seems like the biologists don't like grasshoppers either.

Recently, Australia has been plagued, literally, with locusts. And it all starts right here.
(Photo of desert locusts from Wikimedia, sourced from Fire Earth's blog)

  • Scientists have figured out that grasshopper populations boom after several years of hot, dry summers and warm autumns.
  • One recent theory is that desert locusts -- the kind that are wreaking havoc in Australia and in parts of Africa and the Middle East -- for some reason experience spikes in the amount of serotonin in their systems. The serotonin, the researchers believe, makes the grasshoppers want to socialize with their fellow 'hoppers, so they all start trying to get together and soon that turns into a swarm.
  • Scientists have a few ideas about stuff you can spray on grasshoppers or things you can do to try to keep the number of eggs that hatch down, but not all of their ideas always work and grasshopper outbreaks still happen.
  • Grasshoppers lay their eggs using an ovipositor (remember that word?), which buries the eggs below the ground's surface.

(Diagram of grasshopper anatomy from The Orthoptera of Michigan, CMU)

  • Young grasshoppers are called nymphs.
  • The first nymph to bust out of the egg pod digs a tunnel through the dirt which its later-hatching nymph siblings follow to the surface.
  • The spiracles (remember that word too?) are the openings through which grasshoppers breathe. They've got tracheal tubes -- wind pipes so to speak -- that connect to the spiracles which are sort of like nostrils. Muscles surround the spiracles so the grasshopper can open and close them.
  • The brown liquid that grasshoppers spit out when you try to catch them -- lots of people call it tobacco spit -- is really partially digested food and semi-toxic digestive juices. They're trying to freak you out with it and get you to drop them.
  • Only the male grasshoppers "sing."
  • Contrary to the Western perspective, the Chinese regard the locust or grasshopper as a symbol of longevity, abundance, and forward-thinking.
  • But if you're still feeling defeated by the number of grasshoppers eating your stuff, you could always pour yourself a grasshopper, which has creme de menthe liqueur, white creme de cacao, and heavy cream.

(Photo from Felicia's Speakeasy, which also includes instructions about how to turn a Grasshopper into a Dirty Girl Scout.)

  • Or you could put all that into a grasshopper pie, which also adds whipped cream, marshmallows, and an Oreo cookie crust.
  • Once you've got your grasshopper drink and grasshopper pie, you could settle in to watch a few episodes of Kung Fu, starring the erstwhile David Carradine. His character, Caine, was called grasshopper. He earned this epithet when very young and his Master Po demonstrated that, even though he was blind, he could hear the grasshopper at Caine's feet when Caine could not. This lesson and countless others resulted in many wise statements which most people consolidate into, "You have much to learn, grasshopper."

North Dakota State University Agriculture Extension Service, Grasshopper Biology and Management, February 1997
Argonne National Laboratory, Newton Ask a Scientist, Grasshoppers and Locusts, 1975
Golden Harvest Organics, Grasshoppers, 1996
North Carolina State Agricultural Extension Service, Grasshoppers
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, eastern lubber grasshopper
National Geographic News, Plagues Triggered by Serotonin? and Locust Swarms Switched on by Brain Chemical, January 29, 2009
John W. Kimball's Biology Pages, Tracheal Breathing
Bible Gateway, Exodus 10, New International Version
Shamanism, Grasshopper, Locust Power Animal, Symbol of Leaping Forward
Kung Fu Guide, Frequently Asked Questions