Sunday, January 24, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright = Tom Sawyer

That's right, I said it. Frank Lloyd Wright and Tom Sawyer are the same person. Don't believe me? I wouldn't have believed me either until I went on a tour of Taliesin West, his winter home in Arizona. The complex is incredible; and I say complex because not only is it his home, but it is also his office, a school, work room, cabaret theatre and music pavilion. The history behind the building of Taliesin West kept my rapt attention for a 90 minute tour. He and his apprentices/students started with nothing but desert, and worked to build this "campsite". That's how Wright thought of it, as camping. Our tour guide referred to it as camping "Wright style", which is why their campsite included a pool, pianos, Wright's 30 cars (all red) and more. The buildings were built with local materials; literally rocks picked up off the ground and added into the walls. Canvas was used for ceilings (as it doesn't rain often) and windows. There was no glass (until his wife suggested it, at which point Wright said, "I have a great idea! GLASS."). The students camped out in the desert while building Taliesin West, and still do to this day. The site still maintains an architecture program where students can get a bachelors or masters in architecture. There are currently 32 students at the school, and 7-10 get accepted every year. The budget for the buildings was roughly $10,000. So, how did they manage to build all of this with that kind of a budget? I'm getting to that.

So I know you're wondering, what does this have to do with Tom Sawyer? Well I'll tell ya, every time I go on vacation there will be something Twain that I'll run into. Without fail. And yes, working at the Mark Twain House I eat, sleep, breathe and dream Mark Twain. I even bleed Mark Twain. Vacation, however, is vacation. A time to leave it all behind. So I was pretty happy when day 4 of my 7 day vacation rolled around and I was Twain-less. I thought, Arizona didn't even exist when Twain visited the Nevada Territory, I won't run into him here. And then I took this tour. Halfway through the tour we're sitting in the living room admiring the unique chairs and seating they have when a visitor asked how he managed to build all of this for so little money. The tour guide laughs and says, "Well, it was him and the students building it so he didn't have to pay for labor and the materials mostly came from the land. They used desert sand and rocks to build the walls and mix the concrete. And then, since it was his students helping him build he didn't have to pay them. Actually, they were paying him to attend this school! My visitor services manager calls him "the Tom Sawyer of Architecture". And there it was. My Mark Twain reference halfway through vacation while on tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's home.

If you're ever in the Phoenix area I highly recommend taking this tour. The history, the buildings, the views... absolutely worth it.


"Nevada Territory is fabulously rich in gold, silver, copper, lead, coal, iron, quicksilver, marble, granite, chalk, slate, plaster of Paris, thieves, murderers, desperadoes, ladies, children, lawyers, Christians, gamblers, Indians, Chinamen, Spaniards, sharpers, cuyotes, preachers, poets and jackass-rabbits." -Mark Twain

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling

This is a really great little piece of writing by Twain that I want to share with you.

A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling
by Mark Twain

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter "c" would be dropped to be replased either by "k" or "s," and likewise "x" would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which "c" would be retained would be the "ch" formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform "w" spelling, so that "which" and "one" would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish "y" replasing it with "i" and Iear 4 might fiks the "g/j" anomali wonse and for all.

Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useless double konsonants, and Iears 6-12 or so modifaiing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or so, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez "c," "y" and "x"--bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez--tu riplais "ch," "sh," and "th" rispektivli.

Fainali, xen, aafte same 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

Have fun with all that :)


Friday, January 8, 2010

Mark Twain's Marginalia

Mark Twain had an extensive library. As an avid reader he collected books of all shapes and sizes, subjects and specialties. He would spend his time reading, and commenting. Most of his books have handwritten comments in the margins (marginalia) and we here at the Twain House have spent some time going through and documenting this marginalia. Not only is this cool because this is Mark Twain's ACTUAL handwriting we're looking at, but also because these are never before seen or published or talked about Twain quotes and thoughts. Who better to share with never before seen quotes than with all of you Twainiacs? You're welcome. :)

For instance, did you know that Mark Twain used the word "dude"? You wouldn't think that Mark Twain would have been the dude type, but he did use the term. In his marginalia in More Tramps Abroad he writes, "Oh throw this dude out" at one point. And of course he would have argued with authors and disagreed with sections of books and contributed his own opinion. For instance, in The Voyage of the HMS Beagle Round the World by Darwin, he writes in one of the margins, "Can any plausible excuse be furnished for the crime of creating the human race?". And not only would be disagree and comment on the text, but he would comment on the authors themselves! Perhaps my favorite, and what best represents how Twain could be cruel and blunt, is his marginalia on the title page for Plutarch's Lives of Illustrious Men. Originally written in Greek and then translated by one John Dreydon (and others) Twain writes (words from the text in black, Twain's comments in red): "Translated from the Greek into rotten English by John Dreydon and others... The Whole Carefully Revised and Connected by an ass." How could you get any more Twain than that?

On a nicer note, we also have the Bible that Same and Livy used for their wedding. And on the first page are their initials, "SL & OL" - Samuel Langhorne & Olivia Louise, plus the date, February 2, 1870. There are also passages outlined within the Bible that potentially may have been read at the wedding itself, but there is no marginalia to prove that for us.

We're only a fraction of the way through the Twain books that we own and we're excited to make it through the rest of them. You can be sure I'll be sharing more Twain marginalia with you as we decipher and copy over his quotes.



"I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the "lower animals" (so-called) and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of obliges me to renounce my allegiance to the Darwinian theory of the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals; since it now seems plain to me that the theory ought to be vacated in favor of a new and truer one, this new and truer one to be named the Descent of Man from the Higher Animals."