Archive for February, 2016

Sadie Hawkins Who?

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Before the days of hanging out and hooking up, there was a tradition known as “Sadie Hawkins Day.”

It began as a footrace in Al Capp’s the newspaper comic, Li’l Abner, when the desperate spinster character, Sadie Hawkins, ran after eligible young men to “catch a man.” The race became an annual event in the comic strip, and the idea caught on across the country, where it was far from permissible for girls or women to pursue their love interests.

Soon there were Sadie Hawkins dances all over the United States – on the day of the annual race in November and at all times of the year. It seems the courting-age population was hankering after an excuse for women to invite men on a date in a madcap topsy-turvy role reversal and festive travesty of The Way Things Really Are And Should Be.

Over time, Sadie Hawkins came to be associated with Old World traditions that allowed a woman to ask for a man’s hand in marriage during a Leap Year. However, when February 29th became Sadie Hawkins Day, the tradition got stingy and women were to propose to men only on that one day (known as the bissextile day.)

It was high comedy when Sadie Hawkins chased men in 1937 and we’re much too sophisticated and cosmopolitan these days to wait for some Sadie Hawkins Dance to ask a guy for a drink or to a movie.

I know, I know. Any day of the week you could text somebody you hanker after. (What else are you going to do – call them? – ask them in person? Please.) You could just say hey. Ask them what’s going on. Find out if they’re up for a thing later or whatever. And if they’re busy, NBD, right? You can’t get disappointed when you don’t ever really ask, right?


What if maybe – just maybe – there’s something to be said for a corny Sadie Hawkins Dance? At least you had to come right out and ask someone to go with you. When is the last time you enjoyed an interaction with really high stakes? Whether or not you bagged your quarry in the old days, for a brief moment, someone had your full attention and their answer really mattered.

So go ahead, ladies. Live a little. Experience the thrill of the chase!

(And always practice safe bissextile.)sadie hawkins

Shared Birthdays: Pepys, Du Bois, Jaspers, and Fleming

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

February 23rd is the birthday of famous diarist Samuel Pepys, activist and writer W.E.B. Du Bois, philosopher Karl Jaspers, and movie director Victor Fleming.


Who were these people? You don’t know?

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a member of the British Parliament, famous for keeping a very detailed diary documenting some very turbulent times. His diary is one of our main sources for life during his era, including the fire of London, which he witnessed firsthand.

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1964) Really? You don’t know him? OK, then. Du Bois was a groundbreaking sociologist and activist, one of the most significant African-American intellectuals and was a founder of the NAACP. He was also an accomplished journalist, author and editor. As a sociologist, he did groundbreaking work, publishing the first case study of an African-American community. But you should really already know that.

Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) was a psychologist turned philosopher. In a nutshell, he could be considered a German existentialist. Although he hated that term.

Victor Fleming (1889-1949) was a movie director. What did he direct? Oh, only Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz in the same year.

Think there’s nothing besides their birthdays connecting these four? Think again!

Pepys and Du Bois each had non-intuitive pronunciations of their last names. Pepys is pronounced “Peeps” and Du Bois is pronounced “Doo-boys.”

These were some highly educated people. Pepys attended Cambridge and Magdalene college, learned how to play several musical instruments, and had a huge collection of books. Du Bois was the first African American to earn a doctorate at Harvard. Jaspers studied at Heidelberg, Munich, Berlin and Göttingen. Ok, well that’s three of them. Fleming did serve in the Signal Corps though. And he was President Woodrow Wilson’s personal cameraman at the Paris Peace Conference. Who needs a fancy school for that?

Karl Jaspers didn’t get along with the German establishment. Critical of the Nazi state and married to a Jewish woman, he was forced to retire and lived as an outcast during the Nazi era. After the war, Jaspers called the Germans to task for their collective responsibility for the acts of the Nazis, and towards the end of his life he resettled in Switzerland. W.E.B. Du Bois also didn’t get along with the establishment. In Jim Crow America, he was an active voice for the advancement of African-Americans. He was also a proud and outspoken Communist, and at the end of his life, he resettled in Ghana.

Du Bois was the descendent of Huguenots. Pepys married a 14-year-old Huguenot girl.

Pepys suffered from bladder stones and was in constant pain. Jaspers suffered from fragile health throughout his life.

Du Bois was an unrepentant Stalinist. Fleming was unrepentantly right wing, and helped found the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a significant contributor to the House of Un-American Activities Committee.

Jaspers was first and foremost a scientist, trained in psychology and psychiatrist, his philosophy was grounded in logic. Du Bois, a sociologist by training and trade, developed his civil rights work through his scientific research and study.

Both Jaspers and Fleming are underappreciated these days.

Happy Birthday, Samuel, William, Karl and Victor!

Winter Wonderland: The Art of John Tenniel

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

We’re posting about Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books this winter, and today’s post is about the artist who gave the books their iconic illustrations.

It’s nearly impossible to think about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland without immediately visualizing the classic illustrations of Carroll’s preferred artist, John Tenniel. They’re essential to the experiencing of the story. How else are you going to imagine what a Cheshire Cat looks like?

But it didn’t start out that way. Carroll did the original illustrations himself, but an engraver friend wisely suggested that he scrap those images and find a professional to do the job instead. Carroll then wisely reached out to John Tenneil.

John Tenneil was an artist and illustrator and at one point, a member of Charles Dickens’ amateur theatrical troupe. As a young man he lost sight in his right eye due to a fencing accident with his father. In stoic British Victorian fashion, Tenniel never told his father how serious the wound was so not to upset him.

Tenniel studied at the Royal Academy of Arts. By the the time Carroll approached him about illustrating his book, he was an acclaimed illustrator and political cartoonist. And not just any cartoonist — Tenniel was the chief cartoonist for Punch, which was pretty much the highest rank a Victorian cartoonist could hope to achieve.

"The Black-and-White Knight", caricature of Tenneil by Linley Sambourne, Punch, June 24, 1893

“The Black-and-White Knight”, caricature of Tenneil by Linley Sambourne, Punch, June 24, 1893

Carroll was a bit of a micromanager when it came to the illustrations, going as far as to describe everything in detail and may even have given Tenniel specific people to model his drawings after. But they had a fruitful collaboration, and Tenniel was given quite a bit of freedom in the end. One little Easter egg: in an homage to his father, a dancing-master, Tenniel worked all 5 positions of classical ballet into the illustrations.

The work Carroll and Tenniel did together was unique. The layout of the text and images was innovative and unusual for the time. Images were inserted into the text or were of atypical dimensions, so the text appears to dance around them.

For a political cartoonist with a relish for the anarchic that lends itself so well to his Wonderland illustrations, it is a little surprising what an establishment figure Tenniel became. He was knighted in 1893 (something Carroll wasn’t) and was had several distinguished commissions, including one to paint a mural in the House of Lords.

Winter Wonderland: A Signature Drink

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

This Winter, we’re posting about Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland books, and this theme lends itself wonderfullymiriam to a signature drink. So the call went out across New York City to every borough and burrow and we assembled our team of mixologists once more to create another UPG signature cocktail.

Our friend and bon-vivant Miriam was again our hostess, joined by her trusty Dormouse Mark. For the occasion, Miriam donned a top hat (and she is a woman who really knows how to wear a hat).

“No Room! No Room!”

There was plenty of room.

Our drinking committee consisted of some new faces and old: UPGers Jay and Meg were joined by UPG’s Customer Service Guru Amber (who was accompanied by her boyfriend Victor), and another first-timer, expert imbibee Peter.

We arrived at Miriam’s at 6 o’clock sharp (the time of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party), and in case anyone was late, Miriam had stopped her clocks at 6.

Because it’s always 6 o’clock at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.


“I’ve Had Nothing Yet!”

Miriam got us started with a pre-cocktail glass of absinthe, pretty much to assure that we’d be in a Mad Hatter mood before beginning. It worked.


For an accompaniment to the absinthe, Miriam provided treacle pudding (from Tea & Sympathy), in homage to the Dormouse’s story about the little girl who lives in a treacle well. Because why not? (Pretty much the answer to any suggestion when you’re drinking absinthe.)


The Pool of Tears

Our first drink was a bust.

Miriam wanted something deep and green, and began with a green chartreuse base. Unfortunately, everything we added either radically changed the color or was decidedly un-tasty. Amber wanted a clean cup, so we all moved one place on.


Chartreuse FAIL

Fortunately, the second drink was much more successful. So we are happy to present to you:

The Man-Hatter


3 parts rye, preferably a bourbon-y rye such as Bulleit
2 parts hibiscus tea (brewed very strong)
a generous dash of Angostura bitters
a twist of lemon


This take on the Manhattan replaces the vermouth with hibiscus tea, which enforces the rich red color and keeps the flavor a bit less sweet than a standard Manhattan.

It’s a simple drink to prepare. Pour three parts rye over ice (preferably a rye with bourbon notes). Add two parts hibiscus tea. Make sure to brew the tea stronger than for normal use so it’s not too watery.

Add a healthy dose of bitters, shake over ice and strain into tea cups or serve from a teapot.

Stir with a flamingo stirrer, of course.


A variant of this drink is the “Mad-Hattan,” served without the stirrer.

This drink could be made hot as well, but the idea of something cold in a tea cup felt a little more Mad Hatter-ish to us.


“Who Stole the Tarts?”

Mark took care of cooking duties for the evening. We were plied with finger sandwiches of all kinds: cucumber and cream cheese, smoked turkey and arugula, and goat cheese and watercress. Plus there were lemony deviled eggs (a la Humpty Dumpty *spoiler*), sautéed mushrooms (in honor of the caterpillar), and plenty of bread and butter, just like the Mad Hatter likes. Mark had considered rabbit as an appropriate dish — White Rabbit? March Hare? — but ultimately decided not to pursue it. But he did make homemade pigs in blankets as a tribute to the Pig Baby from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The food was served on fan dishes, in honor of the White Rabbit, who drops his fan when Alice surprises him in the hallway.




Winter Wonderland: Lewis Carroll – Churchman

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

This Winter, we’re posting about Lewis Carroll and his Wonderland stories.

Charles Dodgson (pen name, Lewis Carroll) was a born into the church. His father was a vicar, and Dodgson followed in his footsteps by studying at his college, Christ Church, Oxford. When Dodgson went on to teach there, he was ordained as a deacon (one of the conditions of teaching) and was expected to be ordained to the priesthood.

However, Dodgson never took the final step to become a priest. It is unclear why. Did his stammer make him uncomfortable with the idea of preaching? Did he have religious doubts? In his diary he wrote that he was a “vile and worthless” sinner, so did he not feel fit for the job? No one knows, although as with most aspects of Carroll/Dodgson’s life, there are numerous conjectures and theories. In any case, Dean Henry Liddell (father of the “real Alice”) granted Dodgson permission to refrain from being ordained as a priest, in defiance of the college rules.

Although he declined being ordained, Dodgson maintained his faith throughout his life, and stayed associated with Christ Church for the rest of his career.

Dodgson’s legacy lives on in his childhood church, All Saint’s Church in Daresbury, Cheshire, where his father was perpetual curate. On his the centenary of Dodgson’s birth, the church honored him with “Wonderland”-themed stained windows.

The windows feature Carroll and Alice at the nativity (!), with an array of Wonderland characters such as the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, and the White Rabbit at the bottom. And these may in fact be the only church windows to feature a dodo.