Monday, February 18, 2019

Frogma in Florida The Rest From Day 4 (not 3, 4) at The Ringling

Well, phooey, I'd had hopes that I would have a President's Day paddle trip report, but a very nasty cold put the kibbosh on that. Fortunately there's more Florida!

The Howard Brothers Circus was, I would say, the main attraction at the Tibbals Learning Center, but the bandwagon above (ever wonder what that bandwagon people are always metaphorically jumping onto looks like? Well, there you go!) marked the entryway to another section, where they had some great interactive and video exhibits about circus life and traditions.

Here's another glorious bandwagon - little dog barking is that Tibbals touch of not just building a thing but telling a story at the same time:

Same bandwagon from out in front, with its 24 horse hitch of magnificent matched grays

And another wagon from the Grand Parade vehicles and marchers up on the 2nd level of the exhibit, where you also get the overview of the full circus model. I was starting to rush a little bit because my sister and I had planned to meet at 4:30 so that we could squeeze in a stop at Trader Joe's on the way "home" to our VRBO, so I didn't get the whole story of how this fits in with the big model on the ground floor, but it was an amazing array of beautifully detailed wagons and floats with musicians and glamorous performers aboard, clowns with pony carts, and assorted attendant marchers. This one just went on and on! Glorious. 
There was lots more to see in the Tibbals Learning Center after this and I put the camera away because the interactive nature of the exhibits made me want to spend my remaining time actually interacting! I fell off the tightrope, I couldn't get my foam stand-in for a human cannonball into the net (note to actual human cannonballs: if I ever apply for a job as your trajectory plotter or whatever it's called, don't hire me), and I didn't even try to squeeze into the replica of the famous clown's tiny clown car (this isn't the gag where a dozen clowns come out of the car, just one extremely tall clown folding himself into a vehicle roughly the size of a Li'l Tykes toy car), so I'm clearly not cut out for the circus - but I did really enjoy all of it. I think my favorite may have been a video of another famous clown (sorry I didn't get names, bad blogger, boo) applying makeup, explaining how each traditional paint marking served a very specific role in helping him telegraph his clowning expressions to the farthest bleacher seats. That was kind of fascinating to me because we all know what a clown looks like, right? But I never thought of why and it was really interesting to hear a professional clown explain it, with so much respect for the tradition he followed.

At 4:30, I went out to meet my sister, and only then realized that OH NO, I had never set foot in the ORIGINAL Circus Museum! The way the Tibbals Learning Center was laid out, I'd thought that it met up with the original, but the minute I stepped outside I saw that the 2 buildings were completely separate. OOPS. Karen had also not realized that (and in fact she'd missed a lot in the Tibbals building without realizing it either, there's just so much to see at the Ringling) so we decided to ditch Trader Joe's and take a quick swing through here. Fortunately the original museum is a little more amenable to a quick run through, with more original circus vehicles, including the prize of the whole collection, the Wisconsin, the Ringling's private rail car. Fun to see, sure looked like a nice way to travel. 

 There's also a great woodcarving shop attached to the museum, where carvers are recreating the same styles of beautiful and whimsical decorations that made the circus's visit so glamorous - beautiful!
Tiger, tiger!

And then over in a space carved out behind the Wisconsin, there are desks for people who help build and maintain the Howard Bros. Circus. What a neat thing to do!

And now this is going out of order a little bit. John and Mable Ringling became great art collectors as the circus' success grew, and that tradition is solidly showcased at the Ringling. In fact, if I make it back there someday, there's an entire art museum for me to see - we did not get on the road very early and by the time we got there, picking and choosing had to be done, and I opted to focus on the circus aspect. However, I did visit one art display, the most newly opened feature at the complex, a gallery of art glass. This was actually just outside of the entryway so we stopped here first. Gorgeous! The first one, the dress, was intended as a meditation on the interplay between clothing and the human form it covers, and I just loved the way the body showed beneath the soft folds of the garment.  

Horse caught my eye because I love horses...

Tons more beautiful and often thought-provoking art there. 

And then of course - also slightly out of order - but LIFE BIRD! It's so funny, I don't think of myself as a serious birder, but I was aware of this "life bird" concept through my real birder friends, and all of the sudden I was very aware of that in Florida. "Life bird" = seeing a kind of bird for the first time. I did just go sneak a google peek to see what the restrictions are and I now know that the smews, whistling swans, and mandarin ducks that I saw at the Prospect Park Zoo last weekend aren't technically, 'cause they were zoo residents, but this pretty little heron is a Tricolor Heron and I had definitely never seen one of those before! This guy, the mergansers (we have those in Jamaica Bay) and the Great Egret were all hanging out in the pond behind the entrance. Because Florida is cool that way. Just wait for Day 5!

For more information about visiting The Ringling, visit 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Florida Day 4 Part 2 - The World's Biggest Miniature Circus!

Still on the grounds of Ca D'zan. We'd gone straight to the mansion for the basic ground floor walk that was included in the price of admission because the timing worked out really well. After that, my sister and I agreed on a meeting time and place and my next stop was the Howard Brothers Miniature Circus, which my friends who'd taken me paddling the day before had raved about over lunch. Valerie had explained how the way it's set up to walked you through the events of a day when the circus comes to town, from the trains pulling in right up through the crowds cheering the amazing feats of daring and antics of the clowns under the Big Top. I had a hard time picturing how this was going to work in a model - a model is static, how is it going to show events unfolding over the course of a day? - but that's exactly what happened!

There's a walkway that runs around the perimeter of the 3,800 square foot exhibit so you're looking more closely at one section at any time. You start out in the train yard where the cars of the circus trains have pulled up and are being unloaded; a sound track hissing steam, the whinnies and clip-clopping hooves of workhorses, and general clangor of a busy rail yard helps set a scene of focused hustle and bustle for your imagination. As you move on around, you see the cook tent, the dining tent (everyone had their assigned seats, with place settings of china and glass), and various other "backstage" tents - this really was a self-contained mobile town, with everything residents would need for their day to day lives.

The townspeople gather on the midway, where they buy cotton candy and balloons, are tempted by the sideshow touts and games of skill, and awed by the strange creatures of the menagerie. The performers dress for the show in the dressing tent and queue up with the show horses and other performing animals for the Grand Parade, while the work horses that will go back to work hauling everything back to the trains at the end of the day rest and munch their feed in their own special tent.

 Every few minutes the "sun" dims and bright electric lights glow in the dusk, making the scene even more magical. Finally it's time for the big show under the Big Top, and one of the many signs describing the scene has you imagining the advance squad of the circus already on their way to the next town on the tour, where they'll plaster the brilliant posters showing the coming delights on every flat surface they can find.

Howard C. Tibbals started building this in 1956 and as far as I can tell he's still working on it - in fact in my next Florida post I'll show some desks where some of that work is being done.

I found an article where Mr. Tibbals shares some thoughts on life and one statement of his directly addressed one thing that really struck me about this amazing model:

"When I first started working on the model, I learned I couldn’t just build a bunch of objects. I had to tell a story. My goal was to show what it was like when a traveling circus came to town." Click here to read more.

He succeeded in that so well - and it isn't even just the overarching story, every scene you see has little vignettes of its own that reward you for spending a little more time there. What an imagination this guy has to dream up all these stories to tell in 3/4 inch to a foot scale! I would definitely go see this again, I went through in a little bit of a hurry because there was more I wanted to see and even at a quick pace there were so many fun little details -- I expect a slower visit would be so rewarding.

All photos from here, click for a slideshow view. I was really missing my Lumix and zoom lens here, I try not to check bags if I can help it and I did manage that for this trip, even with a pretty wide range in the forecast, but when I came down to the last bit of space in the bag, I ended up facing a choice between adding in a better camera (Optio is tiny so that was already in there)  or a shorty wetsuit for paddling. Went with the wetsuit and I was glad but if we do this again (and it was such a great family trip I think there's a good chance of that) I would definitely try to add the better camera. I'm happy enough with the photos I took with the optio but there were a lot of tiny details a little too far away to get with that. Another time, I hope.

For more information about visiting The Ringling, visit

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Frogma Goes to Florida Day 4 - Ca D'Zan, the Ringling mansion in Sarasota

Tuesday and Wednesday were our coldest days in Florida - all the way down in the low 60's (brrr break out the sweaters!), so a great day for some historical house/museum-seeing. Unfortunately our mom had ended up having a bout with food poisoning overnight (pretty sure it was the portobello burger she had for dinner because we'd been doing a lot of sharing of food during the day, that was the only thing she'd eaten that nobody else had tried, and the rest of us were fine), she'd been up all night and although she was through the worst by the time my sister and I were getting up, she was too wiped out for sightseeing, and our dad of course wanted to stick around to keep her company while she recovered. They'd both visited our day's destination, The Ringling, on other trips to visit the old friends whose invitation had brought us to Florida, so of all the things we did while we were there, this was actually probably the best day for them to take a quiet day at the lovely little VRBO on the canal while my sister and I visited John and Mable Ringling's glorious winter home and some related exhibits.

I didn't know ANYTHING about the relationship between Sarasota and the Ringling Brothers, but I do remember that there were 2 things that caught my eye just as we were leaving the airport - a wood stork standing by a drainage pond (5 minutes outside of the airport and already a cool bird!) and then just few minutes later a GIANT CIRCUS BIG TOP! A quick Google tonight after recalling that finds that that's the home of the Circus Arts Conservatory, and this is part of a major tradition in Sarasota, which calls itself The Circus Capital of the World. Hmm, interesting, I googled that too to make sure I was getting the phrase right (I was thinking it might be "of the USA" but then if it's the circus it's gotta be superlative so of course it's OF THE WORLD, duh!) and apparently Peru, Indiana also lays claim to that...well, I'm not going to chase that down tonight but there may be 2 circus-related books I need to read sometime - one about Peru and then a biography of John Ringling. Haven't picked one out yet but I don't think I've ever come away from visiting one of these open-to-the-public historic mansions with near as much interest in learning more about the lives of the people who had it built.

It was just so much fun, over the top, and loudly gorgeous. I bet there were plenty of rich people at the time it was built who looked down their patrician noses at the Ringlings and their Gulfside Italianate palace (I can just imagine some dusty old corners of Old New York sniffing "Hmph! Circus people! Gaudy!") but at the same time all but the snootiest must have had some little corner in their heart that maybe envied the Ringlings for the sheer verve they had in the way they spent their money. Kind of like Malcolm Forbes Sr. used to do with his motorcycles and his hot-air balloons - I do think income inequality is a problem in this country today, but for all that, I have a certain admiration for somebody who has that much just flat-out fun with their money. Not so much "If you've got it, flaunt it" as "If you've got it, ENJOY it". Know what I mean?

The glory days of "The House of John" were long gone when John Ringling passed away, but I'm so glad that the mansion was restored and remains open to the public today. We of course also went to the Circus Museum and the astounding Howard Brothers Circus Model (the world's largest miniature circus) but I'll save those for another day. Here are a few shots of the exterior of Ca D'zan. The roses and the  banyan tree other day were all from the grounds here. Like to read more about the place and how the Ringling Brothers became such a household name? Here's a good piece about that that I found while looking up some stuff for this post. I think you'll see why I'd really like to read a biography of John Ringling - it's quite a story.

Only photos after this, click for a slideshow view. Sadly, no photos allowed inside (worth googling if you're interested though, a search for "Ca D'Zan interiors" will find you plenty). Enjoy these, though! 

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Happy Lunar New Year!

It's not one of "my" holidays, but I have a Lunar New Year label category for this blog anyway, because I always love the preparations for the holiday, all the festive reds and golds are so warming and cheerful at this time of year when the nights are still way too long and usually cold (although tonight was positively springlike, bizarre flip from this time last week). It's not unusual for me enjoy a post-work wander through Chinatown this time of year seeing if I can catch that sense in photos, and when I get good ones I love sharing them. This year, though, with 4 days of Florida yet to post, and a bit too much going on at work to take that stroll (even though we've just gone from polar vortex to 60 in one week flat (so weird but hey, lovely walking weather) I really had no plans for a Year of the Pig post.

But one of our wonderful authors at Scholastic shared a great New Year's gift with some of us at the office and it's just too cute - and simultaneously so beautifully packaged - not to show! What a sweet way to start the Year of the Pig. :0)

PS if you'd enjoy seeing some of my past Lunar New Year posts, just click on the label at the bottom of this post. I have gotten some fun pictures over the years!

PPS totally unsponsored/unsolicited link because their chocolates are absolutely charming and (as I can now attest) also delicious: L.A. Burdick. Sorry L.A. friends, Chicago is as far west as they've gone, but ah, there's a shop near where I work. I have to go try their cocoa, I used occasionally treat myself to Jacques Torres (an excellent Brooklyn-based chocolatier) hot chocolate, which is so far above ordinary hot cocoa it's hard to describe, but they shut down their NoHo store (waaaaah). I miss that special elixir. Maybe L.A. Burdick's will compare.  

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Frogma in Florida Day 4 Sneak Preview: Roses, a Banyan, and An Observation On Seagulls

A rose is a rose
is a rose
is a rose
And roses in January are great, and check out this beautiful banyan tree,
And seagulls don't care how fancy your dock is.

Lots more to come from Day 3. Any Florida friends know where we were?

     :D />

(frogma kayak smily, patent pending)

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Marine Park Bridge OOPS I mean Gerritsen Creek Paddle Feb. 3 2019 (with ice and a seal)

OK, gotta interrupt the Florida flow again because after an entire week with the vexing vortex (the polar one, that is), we had an absolute gift of a warm winter day right here in NYC and a friend and I actually made it out for what ended up being a spectacular paddle. I'd actually tried to make this a club paddle but for some reason it wasn't popular - it's almost like there was some big culturally significant event going on today that had people too preoccupied to come out and carpe this glorious diem with me*....hmmm. Go figure.

Fortunately the one person who could make it is somebody I have enjoyed paddling with for years, we go back to my Pier 63 days and she's a very good paddler, and we enjoyed a pleasant 13 miles on this warm and quiet day. This was great, because the trip I'd suggested was more like 8.5 miles, I'd said we would go out to the Marine Park Bridge and back. I had thrown in a hint about keeping going if folks were feeling energetic but with a larger group chances of that being an option were a bit less, a trip leader can't tell people that the trip is going to be a certain distance and then drag them along if they aren't really up for going farther, there's got to be a genuine consensus.

With the weather having been SO cold last week, it had dawned on me as I was getting ready in the morning that there was some chance that the dock would be frozen in. People had been at the club on Saturday for a potluck/informal planning session and I was hoping that if the dock had been icebound, somebody would've warned me, but I still had my fingers crossed as we went to the club, and I ran down to the dock to check before I did anything else. It was fine, there was ice on the land side of the dock, but open water on the side facing into the channel and all the way out into the bay, and then just enough ice out in the bay to be fun. 

Ilene and I launched at 11:00, as planned. With the ebb running until 1:20 and both of us moving at a good cruising pace, we got to the bridge a little before noon and there wasn't a lot of discussion about keeping going - we are both believers in the idea that in winter paddling, the paddle should take longer than getting ready for the paddle (oh the gear, the geaaaarrrrrr) so we needed to keep going for that to work. In the end we paddled up Gerritson Creek towards the nature center, turning around when we came to a section of the creek that was iced over. That made for a very good paddle.

We watched a seal and the seal watched us for quite some time at Dead Horse Bay. The beachcombers were out in force (Dead Horse Bay is the location of a landfill where people's abandoned belongings were trucked when neighborhoods were being razed for the Belt Parkway - really a sad story that I just learned recently - so there's just a seemingly endless supply of old bottles and broken china and other household bric-a-brac to pick through), but we only one saw one other recreational vessel outside of the Paerdegat, a small sailboat that came motoring out of Gerritson Creek. That's always one of the wonders of winter paddling in Jamaica Bay for me - having so much space all to oneself in NYC (not in the middle of NYC, to be sure, Jamaica Bay is out on the edge, but still in the city) is just such a remarkable thing.

We did run into one of our club racers out for a spin on his stand-up paddleboard when we got back to the basin, and two other racers had also turned up to do some training.

Tough putting on the drysuit after Florida, but it was worth it, it was great out there. Would've been fun to have a few more people, but having the flexibility to up the mileage the way we did was definitely a plus. I'll be watching the forecast for the next chance to get out there. 60 on Tuesday? Awww heck, it's month end close, can't play hooky.

All pix after this - click for a slideshow view, as usual, and see if you can spot the Manhattan skyline in the 2nd to last photo.

*Note for readers who aren't reading this right when it was written: It was Super Bowl Sunday so I'm guessing people may not have wanted to work in a paddle before their evening plans.