Monday, January 30, 2012

DRAGONS AT THE ART GALLERY

Here are some of the dragons Mom saw and took pictures of at the art gallery on Friday night.  This first one is called Zoomorphic Spiral, and it's from the 9th century BCE.  I know these things because this piece of art has its picture in Mom's museum catalog book.  I had to look up zoomorphic, because the book does not explain what it means.  And it turns out that it means the use of animal figures or symbols in art and literature.  So now we all know a new word.



Here is another dragon, and it's a very cute little guy who seems to be walking along in a jaunty way.  This dragon is only about 4" tall.  He is not in Mom's book, so I don't know what he is called, but I think "Ralphie" would be a nice name for him.  What I do know is that this dragon is made out of bronze, just like the zoomorphic one is.



In case you are wanting to make your very own bronze, here's how you can do it.  First you need some copper ore and also some tin ore.  Then you smelt them together, and that makes bronze.  Before people figured out how to make bronze, they used stones as tools and weapons, and that was called the Stone Age. Then they started using copper, but it was a pretty soft metal, so it was always bending and breaking.  After that, people mixed arsenic with copper, and that made the copper a lot stronger.  So the first kind of bronze was made of copper and arsenic.  But arsenic was poisonous, and probably it made a lot of people sick, so when somebody figured out that tin would work better than arsenic, everybody was happy.

The Bronze Age started in different places at different times, which is confusing for art historians, but the National Gallery of Art in Washington says that the Chinese Bronze Age was the "period between about 2000 BC and 771 BC."  This means that the people in Mesopotamia were already making bronze for quite a while before the Chinese started doing it.  Maybe the first bronze was brought from Mesopotamia to China, but maybe the Chinese just figured out how to make it all on their own.  Nobody knows for sure.

Anyway, that's enough about that.  Here's another dragon that Mom found in the museum, and it is carved into a stone that goes above the door to a tomb.  I like this dragon quite a bit because it has interesting curlicues and polka-dots.


This Ritual Disc is carved from jade.  Mom and I thought it had dragons on it, but the museum catalog says the animals are tigers instead.  I think it's a mean trick for them to make tigers that look like dragons, so that people can't even tell them apart.  And I've decided to just pretend that they really are dragons and put them in my dragon-themed blog anyway.  So there!


Now we have a couple of urn things, and they might have been made to put inside a tomb, but Mom can't remember for sure, and they aren't in the book.  This first one has a typical sort of dragon, with scales and all the regular dragon stuff.



And this second one is really different, because it looks more like it's a girl dragon with a softer shape and flowers on it.  I think this girl dragon is smiling at the boy dragon, and if they got together, they could make a bunch of baby dragons.



I don't know who all those guys are on the urn.  Maybe they are just people who like to hang out with dragons in the hopes that some of the good luck and majesty of the dragons will rub off on them.

And now that I've been inspired by the power of all these dragons, I think I will go take a power nap!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

CHINESE NEW YEAR AT THE ART GALLERY

Outside the gallery

Friday night Mom went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to help them celebrate the Chinese New Year.  A whole lot of other people also went there to help with the celebration, so Mom had to park a few blocks away because the garage was totally full.  Every year, the art gallery has a great big party for the Chinese New Year, and they do this because the gallery has one of the best collections of Asian art in the whole country, especially Chinese art.  Mom went one other time to the gallery for the Chinese New Year, but that was several years ago.


Waiting for the dancing to start

Anyway, I am going to show you some pictures that Mom took and tell you about the stuff that was going on.  I couldn't go along with Mom to the art gallery because they don't allow dogs there, except for service dogs.  But I don't think I would have liked it very much because big crowds of people make me nervous.  Also there were loud drums and cymbals and other scary things like that.  So I was glad to stay home and let Mom tell me all about it afterwards.  I just wish she had brought me a pork dumpling instead of eating them all herself.


The dragon procession

Okay, so one of the things that happens at Chinese festivals is a Dragon Procession or maybe a Dragon Dance.  They only had a procession at the gallery, and their dragon wasn't all that big.  Mom saw much bigger dragons when she was in China, but I guess you can't expect too much here in Missouri.




What happens in the Dragon Dance is that a bunch of people carry a dragon on poles, and they can make it do all sorts of interesting things, such as having the body go up and down in waves, so it looks like the dragon is swimming.  And then they can also make the dragon swirl around in spirals and do fancy things like that.  In China there are Dragon Dance contests, but I don't think there are any contests like that in Kansas City.


Lion Dance

The Dragon Dance got started back in the Han Dynasty, which was a really long time ago, and it might have begun as part of a harvest festival.  And it may have also been used to heal people or keep them from getting sick.




Another thing Mom saw was the Lion Dance, which she said was very cool.  There were two lions, and each lion was made of two people.  The person in front held up the head of the lion and made its mouth open and close.  Also the lions had big eyes with long eyelashes, and they could blink their eyes, so it looked like they were flirting with you.  The person in the back part of the lion had to be really strong because sometimes he held up the front person on his thighs and made the lion look like it was rearing up on its hind legs and was very tall.




The lions danced to the beat of a drum and the clash of cymbals being hit together.  Sometimes the lions rolled over on the floor, which meant that both ends of the lion had to roll over at the same time.  Mom thought this would be hard to learn to do.  And also it would be hard for the front person to roll over while holding that great big lion head.


A child petting the lion's head


There were some people at the gallery playing traditional Chinese musical instruments.  One of these is called a gu-zheng, or sometimes just a zheng.  It can have between 13 and 21 strings, and each string has a  bridge of its very own.  In the old days, the strings were made of silk, but nowadays, they are mostly metal. You play the strings by plucking them with fake fingernails that you put on your fingers.


Woman playing the gu-zheng

The er-hu is sort of like a violin, except it only has two strings.  Also you don't stick it under your chin when you play it.  The bottom part that is down in your lap is like a little drum made of wood.  That's where the er-hu makes its sound.  The strings are usually tuned to D and A.  Then the player makes different pitches by touching the strings with his left hand while bowing them with his right hand.  Modern er-hu strings are metal, but they used to be made of silk or nylon.


Three men playing er-hu

This instrument is called a pipa, and it is sort of like a lute with 4 strings and 30 frets.  You hold it in a vertical way to play it.  Pipas go back at least 2000 years.  Over time, they were developed so that they can now play full scales instead of pentatonic ones.  I don't know what that means, but Mom said that people who know something about music will understand.


Pipa player

Okay, well, these are just a few of the many things Mom saw at the Chinese New Year celebration.  She also looked at a bunch of artwork in the new Chinese galleries that just got opened up.  So later on I will try to show you some of the pictures she took.  There were lots and lots of dragons, but also some camels, oxen, sheep, and even some dogs!

Friday, January 27, 2012

A LOYAL DOG IN CHINA

This is a story that is a lot like the story of Greyfriars Bobby, which is a story I already told you, except that this story is in China, and it took place not very long ago.  And what happened was that this past November, a man named Lao Pan died, and he was 68 years old.  He lived all alone in the village of Panjiatun, which is in Shandong Province.  This province is on the eastern edge of China, with a coast on the Yellow Sea.  Not that it really matters, but I thought I'd tell you the location anyway, since I went to all the trouble to look it up.

Lao Pan was not married, and he did not have many relatives, but he had a yellow dog who loved him very much.  I wish we knew the name of this dog, but we don't.





After Lao Pan died, some people cleaned out the room where he used to live, and his dog disappeared.  After a while, the villagers noticed that the dog was staying by Lao Pan's grave.  He stayed there for 7 whole days without any food.

When the BBC reported the story of Lao Pan's dog, they talked to one of the men who lives in the village.  He said, "I saw the dog when I was working on the field, and I called him, and wanted to bring him back home, because I also have a dog.  I gave him a steamed bun when he came to my home.  The dog caught the bun and ran back.  I caught him, but he ran even faster to the tomb, and stayed there."






So the people of the village started taking food and water to the dog, and they were planning to build a kennel for him near the grave.  I hope they have done this by now, because it's winter in China, and a dog could get cold sitting outside by a grave all the time!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

WORDS AND PHRASES

BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE

I particularly wanted to talk about this phrase because it has to do with dogs, and I am a dog.  But I will just say that I never bark up the wrong tree because I am a basenji, and basenjis don't bark!  Hahahaha!  Hunting dogs will sometimes bark up the wrong tree, though, and they do it because they chase a squirrel or raccoon until it goes up a tree, but then this sneaky animal jumps over onto the branch of a different tree.  So the dogs are left barking up the trunk of the first tree, but that's not where their prey is anymore.

People can bark up the wrong tree, too, even though people don't usually bark.  When people bark up the wrong tree, it means they are chasing after the wrong idea, or maybe they are going about something in the wrong way.  They might also be following a false lead or blaming the wrong person for something.

The thing I don't like about this phrase is that it makes dogs look stupid, but mostly it's hound dogs that seem to bark up the wrong trees, so I guess that's okay because hounds can be kind of dumb anyway.  Well, at least that's my opinion.










TO GO TO POT

This is a common phrase that you probably know and use a lot, but do you know where it comes from?  It has kind of a sad and horrible origin because it is about animals that are old and not much use to farmers anymore, so they are killed and made into stew in a pot.  People were saying "go to pot" all the way back in the 16th century and maybe before that.

Nowadays people mostly mean that something has gotten worse or has been ruined when they say it went to pot.  This is called a metaphorical meaning, but cooking meat in a pot is a literal meaning.

One book I looked at had a different origin for this phrase, and what it said was that it had to do with blacksmiths, because blacksmiths threw broken pieces of metal into a pot.  Then later, they melted these pieces down and made something else out of them.  Nobody else said anything about blacksmiths, though, so this origin is probably not the right one, even though I like it better than thinking about animals getting cooked in a pot.









AMPHORA

If you go to a museum, you might see an amphora, especially if you are looking at ancient Greek or Roman stuff.  Amphoras were jugs with two handles that were used to store or transport all kinds of things such as wine, olive oil, grapes, fish, grain, or anything you wanted to put in them.  Usually the amphoras were ceramic and had a pointed base that was put down into soft sand or into a stand.  When the amphoras were packed into a ship, they fit together very nicely, and they were tied with ropes to keep them from rolling around and getting broken.

Some amphoras were very fancy, with scenes from history or mythology painted on them.  And there were amphoras of different sizes, from 12 inches to 5 feet tall.  The Romans used one size of amphora as a unit of measurement, which was a volume of one cubic foot. 

The earliest amphoras were found in Banpo, China, and these date back to 4800 BCE, which was the Neolithic Period.  By about 3500 BCE, the Phoenicians were using amphoras, and then everybody in the ancient world started using them.  Since they were cheap and easy to make, they were just broken up when they got to wherever they were going.

Archeologists like amphoras because they are often found in old shipwrecks, and sometimes their contents are still okay, which is pretty amazing, and the archeologists can learn interesting things about ancient people.











LIONIZE

When I looked at this word, I thought it must mean to turn somebody into a big, scary, roaring lion.  But it turns out I wasn't quite right about that.  What it means is that you idolize somebody and treat them like a celebrity.  You look at this person with respect and put them on a pedestal, so they are kind of like a king, in the same way that a lion is the King of Beasts.  I guess that TV show, American Idol, is mostly about lionizing people, but we don't watch it at our house, so I don't know for sure.








ARCANE

If something is arcane, then it is very mysterious and hard to understand.  It is the kind of thing that you need special knowledge so you can understand it.  Which means that only a few people do.  Things that are mystical and occult are arcane.  Masonic rituals are arcane, and so is Cabala, which is a sort of Jewish mysticism.  And I think cats are arcane because they are pretty hard to understand sometimes!















AURIFEROUS

People who pan or mine for gold are looking for places that are auriferous to do it.  That's because if something is auriferous, it contains gold.  Finding gold can be a good thing because you can get rich that way.  But sadly, most of the gold that is easy to find has been found already.  Which doesn't stop people from going out there and trying anyway.  If Mom ever decides to pan for gold, I will not help her because I don't want to get my feet wet.  But if she wants to mine for gold, I will be glad to dig some holes for her, because the more gold Mom finds, the more dog food she can buy!

Monday, January 23, 2012

THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON

The Dragon is the fifth animal in the Chinese zodiac, and it is the only sign that is not a real animal.  It is also the most powerful symbol because a dragon is made up of parts of other animals such as the tiger, fish, snake, and eagle.  The Chinese do not see the dragon as scary and evil, like people in Western cultures do.  Instead, they see the dragon as a wise, powerful, and superior ruler.

My mom was born in a Water Dragon year, which is what 2012 is also, so this is supposed to be a very lucky year for her.  But actually, it turns out that this year could be a lucky one for most everybody.  It's a year when a lot of things in your life could change, and it's a good time for new beginnings.  You could start a business, make some smart investments, and earn a bunch of money.  Just be sure to save some of that money and not spend it all, like a Dragon person might do.  Oh, and if you want to get married, this year would be an excellent time to do that.


In the Chinese calendar, today is the start of the year 4709.  This number is counted from when the Yellow King became the king of China in 2697 B.C.E.  The Yellow King was the very first king of China, and he is not the same as the first emperor of China, who was somebody different.

This is a little bit confusing, but here is something that is even more confusing.  The Chinese New Year, which is today, is not really the beginning of the Year of the Dragon.  That's because the Year of the Dragon begins on the Start of Spring, which will be on February 4, 2012.  The Start of Spring is the first day of the Tiger month, which is the first month of the year in the Chinese Fortune-Telling Calendar system.  So, are you confused yet?  I am.  Which is why I decided to just go ahead and talk about the Year of the Dragon anyway, even if it doesn't officially start until February 4.



Okay, now I will tell you about people who were born in a Dragon year.  Since the Dragon is such a powerful symbol, Dragon-year people can be dominant and ambitious.  They are also smart and talented.  They like challenges, and they aren't afraid to take risks.  Dragon people prefer doing things by themselves, in their own way, and they are often successful.  They can have tempers that are quick and fiery, like a dragon, and they might use their sharp dragon-tongues to say things that are sarcastic and biting.






But underneath, dragons have a soft belly, and that means Dragon people have a "soft spot" for those in need.  They like to help others out, but Dragon people don't like to ask for help for themselves.  They are loyal friends and they will do anything to protect the people they love.  The Dragon is a hard worker and is usually lucky.  He is charismatic and gets lots of attention.  A Dragon person is also proud, enthusiastic, and passionate about life.

People who were born in Water Dragon years are calmer than regular Dragon-year people because water calms fire.  They can see things from someone else's point of view, and they don't always think all their own opinions are the right ones.  It seems like this would mean that Mom would see more stuff from my point of view and let me have more things that I ask her for, but it doesn't really work that way, so this part about Water Dragons may not be very true.


The way the dragon got started being so important to the Chinese was like this:  more than 4,000 years ago, there were two big tribes in China, plus a bunch of smaller tribes.  Each tribe had an animal symbol.  The two large tribes joined together, and they chose the dragon for their symbol.  The Han Chinese, which is the biggest ethnic group in China, still call themselves the descendants of the dragon.

So anyway, I want to wish everybody a lot of good luck in the Year of the Dragon.  It could be a very good year for you, but don't do any of those bad Dragon things such as spending your money as fast as you make it or losing your temper a lot!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

SNOWY OWLS

Usually, snowy owls live way up north in the Arctic.  But sometimes they run out of owl food, and then they have to fly down south to places like Missouri to spend the winter.  Which is why there have been reports of snowy owls around here lately, and also in other parts of the U.S.  In some years, these owls have been seen as far south as Texas, Georgia, southern Russia, northern China, and even in the Caribbean.  If you look on the nice map I found, you will see the green parts, which are the owls' summer range, and the blue parts, which are how far south the owls sometimes go in winter.




What snowy owls most like to eat is lemmings, cute little rodents that live in the arctic.  Lemmings look pretty yummy in the pictures, so I don't blame the owls for liking to eat them.  Oh, and by the way, it is not true that lemmings jump off of cliffs and kill themselves.  There was a Disney film back in 1958 that showed lemmings doing that, but it turns out that the photographers set it all up and herded the lemmings off the cliff.




A lemming in the snow
But getting back to snowy owls, they will settle for eating lots of other things, if they can't have lemmings.  These other things include meadow voles, deer mice, hares, muskrats, marmots, squirrels, rabbits, prairie dogs, rats, and moles.  Also they like to eat birds such as ducks, geese, pheasants, grouse, coots, grebes, gulls, and songbirds.  Sometimes they eat fish or dead animals, too, so as you can tell, they are not too fussy about their diet.





A snowy owl in Kansas
Snowy owls go out hunting during the day, unlike many other owls who prefer to hunt at night.  Their favorite times to hunt are dawn and dusk.  Mostly an owl hunts by sitting on a fence post or someplace, where it waits until some prey wanders by.  Owls have really excellent eyesight and hearing, so when they notice some prey, they swoop down and grab it with their long, sharp talons.  An adult owl needs to eat up to 5 lemmings per day, or 7 to 12 mice.









Owls don't chew their food because of course they don't have any teeth.  They might tear up bigger pieces of meat, but when they catch some kind of small prey, they just swallow it whole.  Then the juices in their stomach digest the good parts, and the other stuff, such as fur, bones, teeth, and feathers, gets made up into a little pellet thing that the owl pukes up.  Biologists like these pellets because they can take them apart and find out what the owls are eating.





Adult males are almost totally white, but females and young owls have some bars and scallop patterns in their feathers.  The size of the owls is between 20 and 28 inches long, and their wingspan is 49 to 59 inches.  Snowy owls are one of the heaviest species, with a weight of 3.5 to 6.6 pounds.  In the wild, they live about 9.5 years, and in captivity, they can live for 35 years.





The mating of snowy owls happens in May.  Then they build a nest  on top of a mound or boulder, or sometimes they use an old eagle nest.  The nest site has to be in a place where the owls can see all around to watch for predators.  The female lays between 5 and 14 eggs, depending on how much food is available.  If food is really hard to find, the owls won't raise any chicks at all that year.




Anyway, it takes about 5 weeks for the eggs to hatch.  The female sits on the nest the whole time, and the male brings her food to eat.  Also he guards the nest.  Both parents will fight any predators that come around, even wolves.  Other types of predators they might have to fight off include foxes, ravens, dogs, and other raptors.  The baby owls learn to fly after about a month, but their mom and dad keep on watching after them for about 10 more weeks.  In the wintertime, some snowy owls migrate, but others stay on the breeding ground all year.



The Oglala Lakota Indians thought of the snowy owl as the symbol of North and the North Wind.  They admired the owls so much that a warrior who did well in combat wore a cap of owl feathers to show his bravery.

The province of Quebec, in Canada, has adopted the snowy owl as its official bird.

And if you ever read any Harry Potter books or saw any of the movies, you will know that Harry had a snowy owl named Hedwig as a pet.


I asked Mom if we could get a Hedwig of our very own, but she said we do not have enough lemmings in our yard to feed a snowy owl.  And if an owl got really hungry for lack of lemmings, it might just decide to eat a small basenji!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

MOM GOES TO THE ART GALLERY, Part 3

Well, in case you are tired of looking at pictures of art that Mom saw at the gallery, you will be glad to know that this is my last entry on that subject.  At least until Mom goes there again!


There are no dogs in the stuff I'm going to show you today, but there are a couple of ceramic bears.  One of them has a chain in his nose.  I'm not sure why, unless he was a captive bear who was used for dancing or bear-baiting.  Also, I might mention that he looks a little like a pig, but the card with information about this piece said it was a bear.


And here's another bear that doesn't look very much like a bear.  I think this bear looks more like a mouse, or maybe like a cross between a mouse and a monkey.  But I have not been to art school, so that is why I don't understand these things.


This is a big plate that is called a charger.  I don't know why anyone would call a big plate a charger, but that's the name for it.  Anyway, this one has a picture of a hare painted on it.  At first, I thought the animal was an antelope, but Mom told me the card in the museum said "hare," and the museum people should know.  This charger was made in England around 1700.  I can tell you this interesting fact because there is a picture of this charger in Mom's book about the gallery collection.


Now, here is a charger of another kind, which is a horse that charges into war.  It makes more sense to me to call a horse a charger than to call a plate a charger, but nobody asked for my opinion, as usual.  The point of this horse is really just to show off the armor he is wearing.  When Mom was a little girl, this was one of her favorite things to see in the whole art gallery because she was crazy about horses.

This armor dates back to 1565, which means it is very old.  Men used to wear stuff like this when they were jousting or when they went into battle.  The armor was very heavy, so the horses had to be really strong. I don't think it would have been much fun to wear this kind of armor, but I guess it was more fun than getting whacked with a sword.  And anyway, only rich warriors could afford fancy armor.  The poor farmers who went off to war were probably lucky if they even had a pitchfork to fight with.


Well, that's pretty much all the artwork with animals in it, unless you think of demons as animals.  This painting is called The Last Judgment, and it was made by a German man named Lucas Cranach the Elder.  Mom only took a picture of the corner of the painting that shows Hell, where you can see some sinners and some demons.  I'm not sure what the demons are doing to the sinners, except that the demons have beaks like birds, and they are sticking their long tongues out.  One demon has a bayonet sort of thing.  Anyway, I guess it is meant to be scary, but I think those little demon guys are kind of cute and could make good pets.  Either that, or they might be tasty to eat, like birds are.


Here's a little Egyptian boat sort of thing that might be an incense burner or something like that.  It wasn't really made in Egypt, though.  It was made in England, and it's supposed to look like it came from Egypt and could be floating down the Nile, if it could float, which it probably can't.


Mom took pictures of a couple of teapots because she liked them.  I think this first one looks kind of like modern art, but it was actually made in about 1760 in England.


And this other one is probably also from the 18th century, although Mom didn't take notes, like I told you in some of my earlier entries.


Then finally, here is a little jug that was made especially to put sack in, which is a dry white wine that came from Spain and the Canary Islands.  It was very popular to drink in the 16th and 17th centuries in England.  The interesting thing about this jug is that it belonged to a man named William Allen, which you can tell because his name is painted right on it.  And also the family crest is there.


Mom was wondering if maybe William Allen was a distant relative of hers, because Mom's last name is Allen, and her relatives came from England, which is where this jug is from.  Of course, there is a small possibility that there was more than one William Allen, and if one of them was related to Mom, it would be hard to know if this jug belonged to him or to some other William Allen.

Someday, Mom wants to do a bunch of genealogy research to find out who all her distant relatives were, but until she has time for that, she says she will just think of the sack jug as having been in her family a long, long time ago.