Inspired by Life

Friday, September 28, 2012

At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie

"Inside, if this was the first time you had visited Bertram's, you felt, almost with alarm, that you had re-entered a vanished world. Time had gone back. You were in Edwardian England once more."

(This is the parlor at the Talbott Hotel in Chicago, IL)

I remember reading my first Agatha Christie book when I was ten years old. I may not have had much growing up in India but I never lacked the companionship of my very best friends - books. My father, whose limited schooling never deterred his love for reading, passed on this passion to both his daughters. While this was an instant passion of mine right out of the womb, my sister warmed up to this in her late teens and is as voracious a reader as my father and me. 

My mother taught elementary school when she was pregnant with me. They had announced that they were shutting down her little school, and the single best thing she could have done in that time of her life was to bring home half of its library! As a toddler, I was always surrounded by books and my interest in them was insatiable. I would read everything and there was no subject that was boring to me. We had books on literature, poetry, philosophy, western novels, detective novels, fiction, biographies, comics, art, and many more. And, I read them all - anything I could get my hands on. 

It was not uncommon for me to come to the dinner table with a book in hand, eat my entire meal without uttering a word, and return to my corner of the house without having lifted my nose out of my book :)  I have been known to smuggle a book to parties and weddings. 

Agatha Christie was one of those authors I read as a little girl and fell in love with. The little Belgian detective with the egg-shaped head and tiny, perfect mustache - Hercule Poirot. The lovable character Miss Jane Marple - a grandmother-type figure, sweet, unassuming old lady, who seemed to have a keen intelligence for mystery and often deduced things faster than the police could piece things together. 

Last week, during one of my jaunts through the aisles of Goodwill, I came across a pile of very old Agatha Christie novels that looked very much like the novels I read as a little girl. At $1 a piece, they were a steal! So, I picked up a few and proceeded to read one right after I got home.  

At Bertram's Hotel is set in London, where it appears as if time stood still and one had entered the parlor of a home in Edwardian England where glowing coal fires, tall wingback armchairs, buttery muffins, Indian tea, duchesses, clergymen, dangerous race car drivers, impressionable and rich foreigners, and criminal masterminds are all weaved together in this fascinating setting. 

Miss Marple was on vacation, and somehow happens to be a guest at this very hotel, when the disappearance of an absent-minded clergyman, who forgot the day of his conference in Lucerne, uncovers the center of a web of crime.  Agatha Christie describes the hotel in such detail that it takes on a life of its own, becoming an important character in the plot. Although it does not keep you at the edge of your seat, the stories are well-woven, and intriguing enough that you want to finish it to see if your deductions were, indeed, right :)

An enjoyable read.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Library of Congress

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” 

― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

If she had lived in this building, I can safely assume that she would have been the happiest woman in the world! As was I when I first walked through the doors of the Library of Congress. 

Last Friday, I had to go to the Library of Congress for a volunteer training for the National Book Festival. I know this might come as a shock to many, but I had never been inside the Library until last week.  I can see why it was a good thing I had not entered this place before—I would never have left! 

The Library of Congress was first established in 1800, and was destroyed in 1814 when the British set fire to the Capitol Building, where the library was housed. Its collection of 3000 book was completely destroyed. Within a month of its destruction, Thomas Jefferson offered to give his personal library—a collection of over 6000 books. He had spent 50 years collecting books and accumulated an impressive collection on a wide variety of topics. 

In January 1815, Congress accepted Jefferson's offer and bought his entire collection from him for $23,950 for 6,487 books.  

In December 1851, the largest fire in the library destroyed over 55,000 books which included two-thirds of Jefferson's original collection. Congress immediately set to work to replace the lost books. 

I was in awe of the architecture and the artwork that filled every wall of this building, but more impressive was the fact that I was walking the hallowed halls of the largest library in the world! 

For this, and many other reasons, I love living in DC! 

While I was here, I managed to take in a couple of exhibitions: Books that shaped America (whose list I downloaded and started planning on reading as many of them as I could), and Thomas Jefferson's library. 
Someday, I would love to have a library like his! 

The other spectacular view in this library was the Main Reading Room. Magnificent in architecture and an air of reverence for the books that resided in this space, one is breathless with wonder when one sees this room from behind a glass wall, for the first time.  I could spend hours taking in the details of this room, not to mention, all the days of my life reading its contents. No photography allowed, so google it :)

It was a wonderful trip to the world's largest library! Checked it off my bucket list :)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Luray Caverns, VA

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
― Mark Twain

Yesterday, Aaron and I set off to explore our surroundings. A spontaneous plan to explore the Luray Caverns emerged and was enthusiastically welcomed. So, off we went. The drive to Luray, VA, was a very pleasant one - beautiful weather, gorgeous greenery, and fields dotted with cows, sheep, and horses. With the wind blowing in our faces, we drove for two hours to our destination. 

We arrived to a slightly long line, waiting to get in. The wait was not too long, and the weather was not too hot. The exterior is very unassuming - a visitors center, a small museum, and large parking lot. Although we had seen pictures of it online, nothing prepared us for what we were about to see/feel. As we walked down the stairs to the entrance of the underground caverns, the magnitude of the natural wonder hits you square in the face. It is incredible! 

(A lot of the history portion was taken from Wikipedia. Photos are mine :) )
The Fish Market
Luray Caverns was discovered on August 13, 1878 by five local men, including Andrew J. Campbell (a local tinsmith), his 13-year-old nephew Quint, and local photographer Benton Stebbins. Their attention had been attracted by a protruding limestone outcrop and by a nearby sinkhole noted to have cool air issuing from it. Seeking an underground cavern, the men started to dig and, about 4 hours later, a hole was created for the smallest men (Andrew and Quint) to squeeze through, slide down a rope and explore by candlelight. The first column they saw was named the Washington Column, in honor of the first United States President. (Taken from Wikipedia.)
 More pictures of the caverns. 

For more than 130 years, Luray Caverns has been renowned as one of the world's most spectacular natural wonders. A subterranean wonderland of magic and majesty, still as marvelously beautiful as described in the newspaper headlines over a century ago.
Today, Luray Caverns attracts one-half million visitors annually from around the globe. In 2008, this venerable attraction hosted guests from throughout North America including all 50 U.S. states and 52 foreign nations.

 There is a spring of water called Dream Lake that has an almost mirror like appearance. Stalactites are reflected in the water making them appear to be stalagmites. This illusion is often so convincing that people are unable to see the real bottom. It looks quite deep, as the stalactites are higher above the water, but at its deepest point the water is only around 20 inches deep. The lake is connected to a spring that continues deeper into the caverns.

Luray Caverns does not date beyond the Tertiary period, though carved from the Silurian limestone. At some period, niches and already formed chambers were completely filled with water, highly charged with acid, which then slowly began to eat away at much of the softer material composing much of the walls, ceilings and floors. One particular area that shows this high level of water is Elfin Ramble where water marks of oscillation are highly visible on the ceiling.
The temperature inside the caverns is uniformly 54 °F (12 °C), comparable to that of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky.

The cavern is yellow, brown or red because of water, chemicals and minerals. The new stalactites growing from the old, and made of hard carbonates that had already once been used, are usually white as snow though often pink or amber-colored. The Empress Column is a stalagmite 35 feet (11 m) high, rose-colored, and elaborately draped. The Double Column, named from Professors Henry and Baird, is made of two fluted pillars side by side, the one 25 ft (7.6 m) the other 60 feet (18 m) high, a mass of snowy alabaster. Several stalactites in Giant's Hall exceed 5 feet (1.5 m) in length. The Pluto's Ghost, a pillar, is a ghostly white.
The cascades are formations like foaming cataracts caught in mid-air and transformed into milk-white or amber alabaster. Brands Cascade, a particularly fine one, is 40 feet (12 m) high and 30 feet (9.1 m) wide, and is a wax-like white.

Our tour group.

Totem Path

As with other limestone or "solution" caves, formations at Luray Caverns result from a solution of calcium carbonate giving up some of its carbon dioxide, thus allowing a precipitation of lime to form. This precipitation begins as a thin deposit ring of crystallized calcite, but continues to collect, creating stalactites and other types of dripstone and flowstone. Formations at Luray Caverns are white in color if the calcium carbonate is in its pure form. Other colors reflect impurities in the calcite resulting from elements absorbed from the soil or rock layers: reds and yellows due to iron and iron-stained clays; black from manganese dioxide; blues and greens from solutions of copper compounds. Luray Caverns remains an active cave where new formation deposits accumulate at the rate of about one cubic inch every 120 years.

Saracen's Tent
Draperies are abundant throughout the cavern and one of the best examples is Saracen's Tent. The drapery formation can be found in all major rooms and ring like bells when struck heavily by the hand. Their origin and also that of certain so-called scarfs and blankets is from carbonates deposited by water trickling down a sloping and corrugated surface. Sixteen of these alabaster scarfs hang side by side in Hoveys Balcony, three white and fine as crape shawls, thirteen striated like agate with every possible shade of brown.

 Doesn't this look like cloth draperies? 

The Great Stalacpipe Organ is an electrically actuated lithophone located in Luray Caverns, Virginia, USA. It is operated by a custom console that produces the tapping of ancient stalactites of varying sizes with solenoid-actuated rubber mallets in order to produce tones. The instrument's name was derived from the resemblance of the selected thirty-seven naturally formed stalactites to the pipework of a traditional pipe organ along with its custom organ-style keyboard console. It was designed and implemented in 1956 over three years by Leland W. Sprinkle inside the Luray Caverns near Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, USA.

Sprinkle created the Great Stalacpipe Organ over three years by finding and shaving appropriate stalactites to produce specific notes. He then wired a mallet for each stalacite that is activated by pressing the correct key on the instrument's keyboard. The stalactites are distributed through approximately 3.5 acres (14,000 m2) of the caverns but can be heard anywhere within its 64-acre (260,000 m2) confines.
The Wishing Well is a green pond with coins three feet deep at the bottom. Like Dream Lake, the well also gives an illusion, however it is reversed. The pond looks 3–4 feet deep but at its deepest point it is actually 6–7 feet deep.

The Wishing Well

 Hope you enjoyed your trip through the Luray Caverns! 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fashion. Food. Friends.

“You know what the secret is? It's so simple. We love one another. We're nice to one another. Do you know how rare that is? - Carmen”
― Ann Brashares, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Last night, a fabulous group of ladies gathered together to welcome the fall season by sharing tips on fashion, food, and catching up with friends. The quote I chose for this post aptly describes the women in the picture above. (And the ones you can't see in this picture, but who were there.)

The bonds of friendships created amongst these ladies will last a lifetime. Each one exemplifies her role as a daughter of God, a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend. They share freely, they laugh joyously and they silently offer a shoulder to lean on when you need one. They are role models to each other, they are motivating and inspiring, and they do these things with no ego and without guile. 

It was wonderful to spend time with friends, munch on some great food, learn some new skills and make fun of each other.  We learned how to accessorize, make fun cupcakes, and how to make decorative bows. The abundance of talent in that room was astounding, and their willingness to share their talents—lovely.

Here are some pictures I took of the fun event. Enjoy!