Erstwhile Muse

May 29, 2007

Gives the name Trader Vic a whole new meaning…

A few of you out there may be wondering precisely how I ran across the Thought Screen Helmet discussed earlier. Therein lies the beginning of a convoluted tale dear readers for those of you interested in a little mental safari through the underbrush of your humble author's mind.

Our journey begins somewhere deep in the hidden fringes of Arcanum, which I have been playing quite a bit recently. After a marathon session of the game on Friday, followed by a trip to the movies where I got my first glimpse of the trailer for The Golden Compass (talking armoured mother-fucking bear cavalry!), I was seriously geeking out on all things steampunk, even more so than usual. This morning my obsession was channeling itself in the direction of Victorian Era (whenceforth much of Steampunk aesthetics is derived) fashion, particularly headwear, specifically the Bowler hat. After a bit of browsing online (and given my past experiences with local retailers) finding very little in the way of bowlers that were not either stage props for magicians, crappy St. Patricks day gimmicks, or pimp styled in color and trim, I decided to examine the prospects of going the DIY route. Thus began the search for hat making instructions that lead to the discovery of the aforementioned preventative measures for alien abduction.

As entertaining as the directions for the Thought Screen Helmet are, they did not really answer any of my questions about felt hat construction techniques, nor did any of the other handful of sites I found during my Law and Society class (which has a tendency to get wildly off track in its discussions). One thing we discussed that managed to pertain directly to the class material was the consitutionality of laws directing internet filtering in libraries during which I couldn't help but mention my past experiences with the folly of most filtering software. The subject of the library's recently installed WiFi access points came up, and I had to admit I was unaware at the time whether that access was filtered or not, as I had not yet had the chance to try it out. I find it rather odd that one of the top rated libraries in the country has taken this long to install wireless internet for patron use, but made it a point to give it a try today so I could report back to the class. Next stop in our little safari…the Columbus Metropolitan Library Main Branch!

Before we enter the wilds of the library stacks, let me digress for a moment to offer a brief warning concerning the path we are about to wend. Those of you who are frequent readers of this site will be familiar with my capacity to become…distracted on occasion by the multiferious informational pathways availiable online. Now imagine a second source of data input being added, a mountain of collected knowledge and information contained in a non-volatile storage medium. I had never considered this situtation to be a possible danger before today. It is perhaps best that the only availiable power outlet I was able to find for my lappy was in one of the glassed off study alcoves available on the second floor, for I believe I began cackling at one point in all of this research. On that note, I shall end the digression here and return to our main excursion.

Upon entering the library, I headed for my usual port of first call, the new materials racks on the first floor. I had a mission to accomplish, but I always like to take a look and see what has recently come in, as you never know what of interest might be lurking there (more on this later). It's also a handy starting place for almost any research no matter how frivolous due to the proximity of several catalog computers. A few moments of typing and scribbling at one of these kiosks and I was armed with a plan of attack for scaling the cliffs of enhanced millineric knowledge and Victoriana fashion; it was time to make my way to the stacks and exhume some learning!

Yes, I realize my metaphor has wandered more towards an archaelogical expedition than a safari; trust me, it won't be the only thing today that deviates from its original path only to loop back via a circumlocutious route.

I gathered the books and sprawled them before me on one of the library's larger tables. Diving into the tomes containing more general information on Victorian clothing and accoutrements gave me some interesting tidbits to ponder—the hook ended staff parasol (the image linked is totally unconnected yet gloriously interconnected all the same) in particular seems an interesting artifact for revision in a Steampunk setting—but had very little useful to share on the subject of bowlers themselves, other than to confirm the existence of such within the sartorial milieu of the era in question. The materials covering millinery were of more mixed usefulness. Millinery is the accurate term for these works, being unsurprisingly concerned largely with women's hat designs in particular as opposed to hattery in general. Despite this bias towards women's designs, between three different books there was a useful base of information for me to build up a working conception of how difficult it would be to make a hat by hand. The answer? Not terribly difficult really, were I to put my mind and some time to it. I found myself distracted with rough plans for a custom built copper and brass steamer for blocking the felt though; while the procedure may be within my grasp, the focus to complete it may not be at this time, especially given the brainflash I had upon reaching the instructions for making a fez

I must find a way to combine the worlds of Steampunk and Tiki!

A successful blend of these two manufactured cultures derived (however loosely) from real life would be a hipster meme Shangri-La. But where to start reconciling these two rather divergent world views? The Tesla Coil described at right might be a start, being named after one of the most recognizable inventions of one of Steampunk's patron saints, while its components have a decidedly island cocktail feeling, but it is only but an icebreaker into the frozen archipelago of possibility. It became clear that to track down the elusive and heretofore unheard of Tikipunk, more research into the quarry must be undertaken. Back to the catalogue, and the hunt!

Books alone would not suffice for this research I feared, so after depositing the previously consulted works on the reshelving cart, I packed up camp as it were to stalk the stacks for every scrap of Tiki related minutiae I could find. Having thus tracked the spoor of my prey, I looked far and wide for suitable encampment—in addition to the wifi the library could stand to have a few more power outlets available—at which to set my trap. Little did I know that the trap thus laid would be more effective at entangling myself than anything else…

To the best of my knowledge these Tikis are largely nocturnal creatures, so perhaps Night of the Tiki (CML link) would be the place to start. While certainly an interesting look at some of the original depictions of the Polynesian deities in question and modern day interpretations of the same, the prevalence of many mask carvings in the illustrations tended to remind me of one of the coolest Muppet Show sketches ever starring Harry Belafonte. Further distraction was not what I needed right now. A bit of aesthetic flavor on the palette but little in the way of cultural phenomenon unearthed, I switched to Hula Dancers and Tiki Gods (CML link) in search of further tracks, but was promptly derailed.

Occasionally, depending on the way a book is laid out and/or bound, I have a penchant for browsing it in reverse order, and this was one of those books. In this particular instance it brought me first to the section on crank girls, odd little mass manufactured trinkets that I have seen before somewhere in my vast wanderings ‘cross the various and sundry intartubes. What is a crank girl you may be asking? Designed to appeal to the more prurient interests of tourists and undoubtedly soldiers traveling through Polynesian locales, crank girls are simple (sometimes crude) latex rubber representations of island girls in various levels of dress, mermaids, and in at least one instance a belly dancing harem girl with a twisted section of stout wire running through the core of the mold. A section of wire protrudes from the bottom of the figure and the plastic bubble they were often packaged in, so that it might be turned, thus inducing spasmodic gyrations in the poor (ofttimes poorly sculpted) girl's body. Apparently these were intended to be titillating, and perhaps for some they might have been, especially following the public uptightness of the Victorian Era. Today they pretty much define kitsch…

I really wish I could show you pictures of some of these things gentle readers. I especially wanted to tease a certain belly dancing friend of mine with images and information on the Fatima the Harem Dancing Girl crank girl as I know how much she loves the popular misconceptions that 30's–50's culture brought to us about belly dancing (answer:not very much at all). Alas, I can't recall where exactly it was I had seen such things before, and despite my best attempts to harness my normal google-fu for the greater amusement, my results have thus far been for naught. Even my fall back route of switching to a Google Image search in hopes of snagging a promising picture that leads to more info lead to nothing but two divergent paths, which out of sheer curiosity and serendipity I had to follow, at least briefly.

Path one lead back to port via this tiny linked image of R. Crumb's ideal woman—and, with the artistic hyperbole of his style taken into account, I have to say I tend to agree with the man more and more these days—which is linked yet not shown on Metroblog's birthday wishes to Mr. Crumb, and the presence of The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb (CML Link) on the new release rack downstairs. Not yet willing to give up the hunt as I had a small token of time left to me before I must return to school, I hastened to pursue the second path open to me. Now, while on the surface the image in question of barely clad women covered in pasta appears to be merely following my own prurient interests, I can assure you my dedication to the task at hand attributes this particular venue of investigation solely to Science. Science I tell you!

In truth, it did indeed turn out to be a useful lead, as the originating site for the image was WFMU's photography page. Now some of you may not recall, but WFMU was the same site previously linked to by my colleague Mr. McFerrin in his exploration of Surf Rock Classics, wherein enterprising young Nipponese gentlemen have transliterated some of Classical music's more famous works into a musical iteration more befitting the hunt for the thus far elusive Tikipunk.

While today's results may be far from conclusive, neither are they entirely disheartening. The hunt shall have to continue another day however, for now my time is at and end for such pursuits…

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