Graeme Base didn't enjoy working in advertising, and the world is a better place because of it.
Base--who's racked up an alarmingly long list of awards, 52 by one count--is the author of the best handful of children's books to hit the shelves in a very long time. His first, Animalia, rocketed to international acclaim in 1986; Sign of the Seahorse, The Eleventh Hour, The Waterhole, The Discovery of Dragons, My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch, Truckdogs and The Worst Band in the Universe followed.
Born in England but raised in Australia after age 8, Base grew up reading the works of A.A. Milne, Kenneth Grahame and J.R.R. Tolkien. Music was always a big part of his life (the band he was playing in fell apart at the same time Animalia took off); he's said he'd love to work as a musician, and included a CD of his music with The Worst Band in the Universe, a move about which he said, "I'm sort of hoping, actually, that people will like it, but sort of aware that everyone's musical taste are so polarized. All of a sudden, I've gone all nervous."
But from his books to his music, what Base sends out into the world was initially created for Base himself, "in order to fulfill a creative desire." The advice he gives writers and illustrators follows that line: " ... do it for yourself first--don't try to write for any particular market."
Base maintains there ought to be a "40-year-old kids' section" in stores, and his favorite dish is "stuffed roulade of wildebeest with a light garnish of squid ink." If you need to know more, visit with Base at The Kids' Center Monday; call for details.
This is the second time I've dedicated a City Week column to bugs since taking this job a few months ago. Forgive me if I'm impressed ... I come from a place plagued by aggressive house spiders and little else. They get big, and I hate them very much, but they certainly don't inspire the kind of awe that the insects of Carl Olson's 50 Common Insects of the Southwest do.
Olson is associate curator of the UA Department of Entomology, and--having just had a student in that department over for dinner (her name is Cara, and she brought tabouli)--I have it on good authority that he is "just great."
There are lots of people in the world who don't like bugs--too bad for them, because insects comprise about 95 percent of all animal species on Earth. The number of insect species that have been identified hovers somewhere around 1 million, but that's just scratching the surface. People who like bugs--people like Cara, who, upon spotting a lacy-wing they need for tomorrow's lab, stare fixedly at a point just above and to the left of your head while you are talking, despite the fact that you're saying something fascinating--will probably enjoy Olson's Saturday book-signing event, during which he'll also present a one-hour slide show called "Know Your Real Friends."
In an effort to increase awareness of the positive aspects of insects, Olson--if he can holler loudly enough to be heard above the hysterical West Nile virus cry--will focus particularly on the ways in which insects interact with humans. The event is free.
In the land I recently came from, the people worship a one-eyed god named Chihuly... Dale Chihuly. Cities all over the world vie to be the recipients of his two-story-tall hanging clusters, made out of hundreds of individually hand-blown glass pieces; wealthy people furiously out-bid each other at the sight of one of his sea-form bowls up for auction; the civic leaders of his hometown heap large buildings upon him at rock-bottom prices; and the glassblowers of Tacoma, Wash., show up at his doorstep in baskets with notes pinned to their chest that say, "Please hire me."
It doesn't matter that those hanging clusters sometimes looks like bunches of grapes or condoms, or that most small children seem to be afraid of them; it doesn't even matter that Chihuly no longer blows his own glass. The point here is that when it comes to glass, Chihuly has achieved what few people in any field have ever achieved: world domination. (Even Venice sports a giant Chihuly, if you're looking for proof.) Witness the roots of his conquest from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday at Philabaum Glass Studio, in the bright orange glow of a 2,000-degrees-Fahrenheit furnace.
Glassblowing is the process of forming glass into various shapes while the it is in a molten, semi-liquid state. As an art form, it's serious business--hundreds of years ago, glassblowers who left the Italian island of Murano were hunted down and killed to protect trade secrets. Today's artists, while free to leave the studio, make use of the same quick, fluid movements as did their predecessors; stop by Philabaum's any Saturday and be amazed.
Though only 90 minutes north of Tucson and a part of the UA's College of Agriculture and Life sciences, the Boyce Thompson Arboretum--a magnificent, 320-acre botanical park--still doesn't blip on the radar of many Tucsonans. The ones who go, however, go back, as much for the beauty of the place as for the diversity of its flora and fauna.
If you haven't made your first trip yet, consider showing up for the Saturday "Bye-Bye Buzzards" event, a celebration of the beginning of the end of the seasonal residency of the arboretum's turkey vulture flock--up to 100 vultures strong. The arboretum will open early, at 7 a.m., so that visitors can watch the vultures for an hour or two before the Cathartes auras flash their 6-foot wingspans as they fly off in search of food.
Once the vultures depart for the day, visitors can join a bird-watching tour that travels the park's trails, then check back in for prickly pear iced tea and "carrion cake." (I really don't want to be the kind of girl who goes around smiling sardonically in the face of other people's extreme levels of enthusiasm, but I will say that phrases such as "carrion cakes," "bye-bye buzzard" and "Ed the Educational Turkey Vulture" make me wonder why public relations so often involves the sacrifice of one's dignity.)
You can also check in on the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation Center's Peregrine falcon, Swainson's hawk and about a dozen other raptors and birds (all injured or orphaned); a successfully recovered American kestrel will be released as part of the day's festivities.
For directions and additional information, call the number above or visit arboretum.ag.arizona.edu.