On sun and parachuting

There are a few fixed rituals in Betty’s year. NaNoWriMo is one; others have come and gone, like hot air ballooning every Easter (for something like five or six years, Betty forgets), or strawberry picking in the summer, or abseiling at youth camps. The most enduring, Betty reflects, is quite possibly the annual pilgrimage to the Parachute Music Festival every Auckland Anniversary weekend.

This is a little odd, since Parachute is not really Betty’s thing; she was introduced by her hip friends back in the late 1990s, and reintroduced by her well-connected and keen sister a few years later. Betty’s sister, for reasons related to autism and other awesomeness, enjoys few things more than planning and timetabling, listens devotedly to the radio, and loves fast food. Readers will therefore appreciate the significance of an event that packs dozens of bands into dozens of short timeslots, in a massive tent city peppered with literally dozens of hot dog stands, coffee bars and gourmet pizza marquees. It is like heaven.

It will, Betty readily admits, be fun this year: Switchfoot are headlining on the Mainstage, as they did in 2008, and Betty is quite quivering to hear them; there are also other regular highlights, like the World Vision installation (you line up for hours, wear an earpiece, and undergo some kind of simulated third-world horror; last year it involved sitting in a makeshift clinic waiting to be told if you had contracted AIDS; it was harrowing and very moving), the gourmet pizza, and the midday roller disco or barndance in the Palladium.

By far the most significant part of Parachute, however, is the sun. Betty has an unholy horror of sunburn. Though she spent her childhood tanned to a deep shade of acorn or teak, she is now Baltic pine at the very most, and not at all fond of getting lupus-like flushes of red across her cheeks, or that permanent dark nose-stripe that develops after a day or so of unprotected sun exposure. One year, despite her best efforts, Betty left Parachute with a burned parting in her hair, and a strip of her scalp peeled off in one deliciously satisfying and yet totally unacceptable piece a few days later. There always seems to be a spot — the top of a foot, a corner of neck, a strip of hip, an entire ear — that ends up blackened and blistering.

However, Betty chooses to live in hope. Armed with a small array of sunscreens, a pair of dark glasses, sleeves, and a hat, Betty will once again attempt to avoid burning. The festival is just over two weeks away, so helpful suggestions and recommendations are most welcome.

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Claire Danes plays Temple Grandin and Betty asplodes from the awesomeness

Claire Danes is a good thing. Apart from dying a truly horrible and unforgivably anachronistic death in Armstrong’s 1994 Little Women, Danes’ performances have been mostly quite remarkable: I also remember reading once that she has a trapeze in her loft apartment, about which no more really needs to be said.

Temple Grandin is a good thing to the point of legend. Granted, an air of horrible and anachronistic death does tend to hang about her for professional reasons — she’s a world expert on cattle-handling and slaughter — but her enduring and captivating renown comes from her insight into the autistic mind. In her seminal autobiography Emergence: Labeled Autistic, Grandin chronicles her tumultuous childhood and early adulthood (and Grandin is not a little bit autistic — she’s full-blown, Kanner-sits-down-looking-smug-and-informs-the-parents-that-he-doesn’t-need-to-check-the-manual autistic. You know, if Smokey the Magnificent was the size of a marble Temple Grandin would be forty miles away and bigger than a house: that kind of autistic). Then Oliver Sacks added his own not inconsiderable insight in a book he titled using one of Grandin’s own felicitous descriptions, An Anthropologist on Mars.

Betty heard Temple Grandin speak once, an experience that was up there with the greatest brushes with greatness Betty has ever had (these would include The Lads doing an encore at Parachute against all known rules, and having breakfast with Don Carson while he spoke pointedly about his single and most eligible son, so readers need not fear that they are overestimating the significance of this). There was a rubbish truck outside during the keynote address, and Temple Grandin is fascinated with rubbish trucks, and stopped her talk several times to check out the window; and then she told the story of the flooded library and cried. Betty’s mother personally asked Temple an autism-related question during the break, and Temple answered it straightforwardly, and then walked off. Thrills, srsly.

Serendipitously, HBO (also a good thing: see Wit) are making a movie about all of this, mostly. It will come out in 2010.

Et voila.

Danes as Temple Grandin

Thomas has autism and Alice is a goth

Speaking of cult status, which we were — try to keep up — there are several luminous examples among the screen media — among literature in general, in fact — of titles with especial resonance for certain niche groups. Let me be precise: groups which are obviously united by their neurology or their response to societal norms are often, in ways that are sometimes only loosely intuitive to the outside observer, drawn to specific works of literature. It’s true.

alice-burton-wonderlandFor example, it’s fairly easy to understand why those who identify as Gothic would also identify with, say, Tim Burton. It’s all the black scary things. Simple. But the part that is actually intriguing is the fact that goths everywhere (a certain type of goth, anyway) have an uncannily strong affinity with Alice, adventurer in Wonderland. Crazy blonde hair, powder-blue frock, poor self-control — it is easy to imagine her appealing to some groups. Pre-teen Disney fans, yes; socially inept bookish children, yes; lonely mathematicians with questionable motives, indeed. But the fact remains: dive into the world of Alice appreciation and you’ll inevitably find yourself rubbing shoulders with a gaggle of Gothic fans. Some will be delightful whimsigoths hanging out at Gorey Details; some, enterprising artists sharing their Tenniel hairpieces on Etsy; some lining up to see (and note the felicitous congruence here) Tim Burton’s adaptation, or Erich Hoeber’s, or one by Marilyn Manson too ghastly to link.

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