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Monday, August 29, 2005

The Wilder Columbian Expo!

I learnt something about myself the other day. I learnt that I am "an educated person who values culture and heritage." I had no idea, only a few suspicions, such as my fondness for li hing mui, carne asada, chocolate ganache, and Beef Wellington, and also the fact that I know what a "peerage" is. Also, I occasionally wear a tie.

I received this encouraging news in an e-mail from www.ColumbianExpo.com extolling the values of their new DVD about the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The title of this magnum opus of expos? EXPO - Magic of the White City, Narrated by Gene Wilder.

At first I thought this was some wacky nineteenth-century tribute to cocaine production, until I realized that the Columbia of the exposition was in fact a reference to that other name of America, Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. Relieved to hear that it wasn't some coked-up producer's excuse to score some massive blow, I checked into this intriguing feature.

Some excerpts from the script follow:

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Narrator: ...here in the back corner of the exposition, stood some of the oldest and most precious painted clay sculptures of the ancient Indian races that roamed this land. Proud, dramatic, and colorful, they shone in the morning light as it crept through the high, arched exposition windows. Three stood out to me. They were of a warrior in three separate poses. In the first one, he was pierced through the shoulder with an arrow. In the second one, he was standing in a puddle, shielding his eyes against the rain. The last one found him dancing a war dance with a mad, passionate fever. As I gazed at them, they spoke to me. They cried, "I'm in pain, and wet, and hysterical!!"

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Narrator: ...and there it stood, an ferris wheel of staggering size and complexity. In France, where it was built, it would have stood in the shadow of the Eiffle Tower, but it was brought here to honor the ingenuity and ambition of the American people. As I moved closer, I saw words enscribed into the base of the great wheel. My guide, Dr. Quackenpiffle, who happened to speak French, saw me staring curiously at the Gallic script. "Do you want to know what it means?" he asked. I nooded, slowly but firmly. He moved beside me and whispered sagely into my ear, "There is no place I know to compare with pure imagination..."

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Narrator: The large camels lurched forward with its wary passengers, I, clutching my straw hat, and Dr. Bernhard, both of us holding on for dear life on its humped back. We moseyed down the Midway, as passerby - men in gaudy suits, women in rumpled and bustled frocks - stared at us as though we were creatures from the planet Mars. Schoolchildren marveled at our progress, taking great care to stay out of reach of the desert beast's famous spitting. We rode like Arabian kings from one end of the White City to the other. I even chanced to knock Henry Ford's own top hat from his head as we passed.

At the end of the ride, as we clambered off the back of the dromedary, I asked the handler, Moustapha, what the name of the noble creature was. "Theez one...his name is from a story. He eez called Frank-en-stein."

We were shocked as the camel suddenly turned and remarkably spoke in clear, perfect English, "That's Franken-steen!"

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Yes, this is truly a magical effort. I should know of course, because I am "an educated person who values culture and heritage." It says so, right on the blooming mail, don't it?

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