Archive | May, 2011

Shir Parag, Israel’s Little Mermaid

30 May

So it was Ms. Sita Lange, hostess of the first MerCon/World Mermaid Awards this August in Vegas, who told me about Shir Parag and the video she made with her brother Or. Look:

How lovely and charming is that? Have you ever seen a sweeter mermaid? Shir and her brother live in Tel Aviv, Israel, and spent six months planning and shooting this video and now have caused an internet sensation with it and have even been nominated for a World Mermaid Award. Sita says she watches the video every time she wants to feel happy. Perhaps you moodier types can use it for similar purposes?

My Q and A with Shir follows.

I understand you are Israel’s only mermaid. Is this true? =) Is there any tradition of mermaids in Israel?
Israel is a very very young country (only 63 years old!) so we don’t really have tradition that has to do with mermaids but we do have a certain connection to mermaids – we have a big city here named BAT YAM, which means “girl of the sea.” Bat Yam is also the way we say mermaid in Hebrew. 🙂

Here in Israel the kids are really into mermaids. I mean, Disney’s The Little Mermaid was really huge, H2O is shown on TV, there are a few animated TV shows about mermaids, mermaid costumes are popular during Purim (the Jewish version of Halloween) and you can buy all kinds of mermaid merchandise here.

But we do not have here people who dress up as mermaids, with tails. No one has a tail, and I don’t believe that many people here know that there are tail-makers in the world or that there are real mermaid shows where you can go and see a mermaid swimming (like Hannah Mermaid). When I researched for my video, it was the first time I found out about all that stuff.

So am I Israel’s only mermaid? I think I am, just because I’ve never heard of anyone else here that’s done it. And if I am the only one, I am very proud of it.

[I asked Shir about this story about mermaid sightings in Kiryat Yam that made world news a couple years ago, and she answered, “I thought about mentioning this story.. funny you found it! 🙂 A few people claimed to have seen a mermaid in the sea next to this city, and it was in the paper. The whole thing happened before we made my tail so it wasn’t me! 🙂 “]

[Also: please don’t be too excited but I interviewed the spokesman for Kiryat Yam a few months back and will post that interview one day soon when I am unlazy enough to transcribe it.]

How did you become a mermaid?
Well The Little Mermaid is my and my brother Or’s all-time favorite Disney movie. We used to pretend that we were a mermaid and merman and swim in the sea as if we had fins, while singing “Part of Your World.” I remember myself when I was a kid, how I wished I could be a mermaid. I used to dream about it and draw pictures of me as a mermaid all the time.

Can you tell me about your youtube video? What inspired you?

Shir and Or making her tail

Or is a very talented video editor and he told me one day that we had to make a lip-synch underwater and that I had to be Ariel with fins and all. We had made some lip-synch videos before (like this one) but nothing as complex as this one. We were so excited about the idea that it took us almost six months to think of everything. We knew we had to make the tail ourselves so we went to every seamstress in Tel Aviv but no one would help us because they thought we were crazy. So we had to design it all, cut and sew it by ourselves. When it was ready, we took it to an isolated beach and tried it on for the first time. We screamed with excitement and were so happy when I swam in it. It was like all the hard work and the dream is coming to life. For the first time in my life I was an actual mermaid.

To shoot the video, we drove four hours to a city name Eilat that has amazing fish and coral reefs (as seen on the video). With the help of two friends, Tom and Talia, we shot it over two days in the freezing water with no diving equipment at all – just diving goggles for Or (who had to see what he was filming) and the underwater camera we borrowed from a friend of our aunt.

What has the response been?
The responses we received were amazing! We were interviewed on TV, there was an article about us on the news website here, and then Ryan Seacrest (the host of American Idol) put our video on his website. Now people from all over the world have seen the video and want to be our friends on Facebook and send us messages telling us they love it. People call me “Mermaid” on the street. It’s fun. We can tell that the video really touched a lot of people.

So you have been nominated for a World Mermaid Award. What do you think about that? Are you coming to Las Vegas?
When I found out the video was nominated for a World Mermaid Award, I was so excited! The idea of having an award ceremony for mer stuff is so great to me! I am so honored to be nominated! When I told my brother he was very excited too. I wish I could come to Vegas to represent Israel in this award ceremony but I’m afraid that it is too expensive for me and my brother to come. If there was a way to come we would, but we can’t afford it (about $3,000) so we will watch it on the internet and hope for the best

And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Advice for aspiring mermaids… work hard! If you dream about being a mermaid, you have to work hard to become one. I spent hours in salty water with my eyes open, swallowing gallons of water and swimming with my legs tide together. And by the way, I’m scared of fish but I did it anyway! My brother got injured during the shoot and we lost two cell phones and a video camera in the water. It was hard work and things didn’t always turn out the way we planned, but we kept going and never gave up. If you want to be a mermaid, know that you have keep going and keep trying and never give up.

Underwater Model Iara Mandyn

26 May

So Iara Mandyn is a San Francisco-based scuba-certified underwater model and photographer specializing in all things aquatic and mermaidly. She’s been modelling in and out of the water for over seven years and has, of late, been getting more and more pulled into the mermaid side of things. Because mermaids are very alluring, as we all well know, and I suspect that in coming months Iara’s land-bound human friends will have a more and more difficult time getting her attention.

Look at these gorgeous photos:

I know. Iara has also just completed her first mermaid video, which is quite stunning:

So who better to offer advice to aspiring mermaids? Our Q and A follows.

How long have you been an underwater model/how did you get into underwater modeling?
After I graduated from college I was doing some modeling but was unsure as to where I wanted to go with it. I never knew professional underwater models existed until I discovered Vanessa Tarachin, a truly lovely and talented underwater model. Vanessa introduced me to underwater photographer/cinematographer Jack Gittings and we did our first shoot a couple of years ago. That was all it took – I was smitten! The physical and technical aspects combined with the freedom and creativity that I feel when I’m working underwater make it a really exciting experience. I’ve been drawn to water all of my life, I can’t fully explain it; water pervades my dreams and has always been a great source of strength and comfort to me.

Can you tell me about your mermaid work?
Underwater modeling and mermaid work go hand in hand so it was a natural progression. Fathom Films, the company I co-own, has been involved with mermaids for a long time. Jack actually filmed for Splash. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of underwater modeling and mermaids and tells vivid stories about everything from the origins of Weeki Wachee Springs to working with Daryl Hannah. After we ordered my first tail from The Mertailor, I started digging deeper and discovered the mermaid community that exists now. The strong, empowered mermaids today who do everything from bringing dreams to life to saving the environment are really inspiring. We actually just filmed my first video as a mermaid; I’m not sure where it will lead but I definitely want to keep exploring!

You’re also an underwater photographer. Can you tell me about that?
I have a fine arts degree and love making things: from sets for shoots, to costumes, to the photographs themselves. I like the serene, fantastical, dreamlike quality to underwater work that allows one to step outside of our day to day world. Like underwater modeling, underwater photography presents unique technical challenges. It gives me a whole set of new parameters to work with. I do video work as well, sometime I’d love to try my hand at underwater music videos.

What should aspiring mermaids know about underwater modeling?
I’d recommend learning about general underwater modeling to any aspiring mermaid who wants to do aquatic work! Underwater work can be tough enough as it is, adding a tail can make it even more challenging. Anyone seriously considering doing aquatic work should also get scuba certified and learn about staying safe. Diving is a ton of fun and opens up all sorts of opportunities; certification is required to be a Weeki Wachee mermaid, and for most films.

What’s the biggest challenge of posing underwater?
What I’ve learned as I’ve been working with models is that it’s different for everyone. Some people have no problem with getting water up their nose but get claustrophobic with clothing on. Other people can see all right underwater, while some can’t see at all. Holding your breath, getting water up your nose, keeping your eyes open, and maintaining relaxed facial expressions are the major initial challenges. You have to figure out how to overcome a lot of things that go against our nature as humans. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of breath hold training and it’s shown me how much your mental state can affect your physical one. I can hold my breath much longer underwater than on land. My current record is 5 minutes!

As a photographer, what do you look for in an underwater model/mermaid?
First and foremost, comfort in water. It goes beyond good swimming skills. There are people who are naturally more aquatically inclined, and that comfort isn’t going to be learned in a few hours during a photo shoot. Previous modeling experience is also helpful. When you’re on land and working with a new model you can direct them, but underwater communication is a huge challenge. Unless someone is already an established underwater model, I always do a test shoot first so I can get a feel for their abilities and allow them to acclimate to the environment.

How do you explain the allure of mermaids?
What I find most fascinating about mermaids is their broad appeal: crossing age, gender, and cultural lines, mermaids are symbols that tap into the human psyche. A mermaid’s hybrid human form connects us to it in a stronger way than to mythological creatures like unicorns or dragons. Other hybrid creatures such as the centaur, harpy, and Minotaur aren’t as naturally aesthetically appealing in my opinion. Mermaids are strong, free spirited, and inhabit a world that we can only begin to imagine what it would be like to live in. They are both foreign and familiar – a powerful combination.

Have you always been attracted to mermaids?
I’ve always been attracted to anything having to do with water. When I was younger I did go through a huge mermaid phase because of the Disney movie: little mermaid sleeping bag, mermaid doll (it changed colors underwater!), you name it. My dad read to us every night and made up all sorts of stories frequently involving mermaids and water. One day he said “now kids, I’m going to take you to see a REAL mermaid,” and brought us to a viewing of Splash. Although I was probably equally into unicorns and other fantastical creatures, that experience definitely stuck with me.

Do you have any additional advice for aspiring mermaids?
People are often bound by conventions and it’s hard to get out of that, but the truth is you won’t regret following your dreams in life. If it’s what you really love to do I say work hard, stay true to yourself, and go for it!

Mermaid Movie News!

25 May

So I figure I ought to share this mermaidly movie news involving MY VERY OWN BOOK and many fancy Hollywood peoples.

This is from Variety:

Sony taps Shana Feste for ‘Mermaid’
‘Country’ helmer to write, direct from ‘Classic Tale’
By Jeff Sneider

“Country Strong” filmmaker Shana Feste is back in business with Sony Pictures, which has tapped her to write and direct a feature based on Carolyn Turgeon’s novel “Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale.”

Sony has acquired film rights to “Mermaid,” a dark retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.” Studio has set Tobey Maguire’s Material Pictures and Jenno Topping to produce. Duo recently produced Feste’s “Country Strong” for Screen Gems.

“Mermaid” follows a princess who, in order to save her ravaged kingdom, sets out on a dangerous journey to marry the prince of her rival kingdom, not knowing that a beautiful mermaid has fallen for the same man and sacrificed everything to be with him.

Nick Reimond will oversee for Material, while Andrea Gianetti will oversee for Sony.

Feste previously wrote and directed Pierce Brosnan and Carey Mulligan in the indie drama “The Greatest.” She is repped by CAA, Madhouse Entertainment and attorney Sean Marks. ICM repped the book rights.


So I knew my book had been optioned by Sony a month or two ago, but the rest of these details I had only heard from a Hollywood-y friend of mine on Facebook, so it was a bit in the rumor-ish category, and then two days ago I got about 5000000 google alerts as this news came out first on Variety and then in tons of other places, many of which also commented on this other Little Mermaid film in development by Joe Wright, who directed Atonement and Hanna. Like this article from Perez Hilton:

Disney fairytales are hot these days! The Little Mermaid will join Snow White as Hollywood’s next property for studios to competively adapt to SEVERAL different live-action versions.

So what’s next?

Sleeping Beauty? Aladdin? The Big Green? Ha!

Shana Feste, the writer and director of Country Strong, is working with Sony Pictures on an adaptation of Carolyn Turgeon‘s Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale.

She’s not a alone! Joe Wright, the director of Atonement and Hanna, is ALSO developing a live-action feature based on Hans Christian Andersen‘s version of the fairytale.

The official synopsis for Shana Feste’s mermaid flick reads as follows:

“When Lenia, a young mermaid princess, rescues a man from a shipwreck and carries him to shore, her selfless act is witnessed by Princess Margrethe, who is staying in a convent nearby for protection from the war her father is fighting against another kingdom. The shipwrecked young man’s name is Christopher, and in the weeks that he’s nursed back to health at the convent, he and Margrethe fall in love—but it’s not until after he leaves that Margrethe discovers he’s the prince from the kingdom her family is at war with.

Meanwhile, in the sea Lenia is suffering; she fell in love with Christopher in the moments she carried him to shore, so she makes a deal with the sea witch: in exchange for her voice and tongue she receives a potion that changes her into human form. Margrethe comes up with a plan of her own: she’ll be offered in marriage to Christopher, thus uniting the kingdoms and putting an end to the years of conflict between the two lands. But when Margrethe arrives, ready to win and wed her prince, she finds him enraptured with a beautiful woman who looks very familiar. Margrethe is sure she’s seen her before…”

Mermaid vs. mermaid? That could be inneresting!

We can’t wait to hear more details about Joe Wright’s version so we can make an informed decision about which one we’re more excited to see!

Do U think two Little Mermaid adaptations are better than one or should Hollywood try to be a little more original?


Anyway, let me just say that there are a few weird coincidences here, as there have been with everything involving yours truly and mermaids. First, it so happens that I totally loved “Country Strong” and so did my mama, who saw it like five times in the theater and seemed to take all the negative reviews of the movie personally. We’d also commented on how much presence Gwyneth Paltrow’s manager in the movie had. And THEN in January when I went to the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas, there she was in the flesh. I hadn’t known that the manager woman was Marshall Chapman, who’s done all kinds of cool music stuff and has written a book as well. So I selflessly bought a copy and had her sign it for my mama, as I am a very awesome daughter.

Here is a picture of Marshall with her upside-down tiara and me looking rather wine-stained and unkempt. I was in Texas and dressed as a mermaid, what can I say.

So THEN, maybe in March or April, Sony options my book, and I hear from aforementioned friend that she’d heard that the movie was going to be written and directed by Ms. Feste, which I thought was very odd and cool… and then maybe a week or two ago said friend told me how she’d bumped into Ms. Feste at a movie and it turns out that her boyfriend is someone I went to high school with in central Pennsylvania way back when (and who is now an actor). Not to mention someone I served coffee to possibly over a thousand times, since I worked at our town diner, along with everyone else I knew.  Admit that is weird. I emailed said boyfriend on Facebook and said that the next time he is dating someone who is adapting a book of mine into a movie she is also going to be directing he should LET ME KNOW, and he said that he’d only just put it together. This past Sunday, as it happens, I had a reading in Lemont, Pennsylvania, at a sweet cafe owned by one of said boyfriend’s best friends.

Which all goes to show you one thing:

Fate totally wants me to be a Hollywood mogul.

The end.

Debut of “The Sea, The Sea” by Berlin’s The LaLaVox Box

24 May

So as I lovingly mentioned on Friday, I have a gorgeous little mermaid ditty to share with youse and am doing so fashionably late because I am very glamorous.

So you have seen Ms. Lorelei Vanora. And here’s the rest of The LaLaVox Box, who are very good looking, which sometimes you have to be to hang out with mermaids in fashion-forward cities like Berlin, Germany:

And here is their sweet and sumptuous song, “The Sea, The Sea,” sung by one real-life mermaid, making its debut. Just be careful you keep your head about you and don’t start crashing any ships as you listen.

Admit that is a most mermaidly and awesome song. I have generously included links so that you might buy said song at Amazon and/or iTunes.

You are welcome. And next month: song number two, plus a sweet video for this one…

Berlin’s Singing Mermaid, Lorelei Vanora

20 May

So you may or may not realize that there is a quite fabulous burlesque scene in Berlin, Germany, and that lurking amongst its glamorous denizens is one real-life singing mermaid who goes by the name Lorelei Vanora.

Lorelei is so sparkling and fabulous that she fits right into the nightlife of this glittering, decadent city, where she entertains fashionable club goers with her dulcet, otherworldly tones. Here is a clip of her doing just that at an event last fall:

And here is a still image of Lorelei singing, in case you were not able to believe your eyes (or ears) before. This often happens when humans encounter magical creatures, of course.

photo by Nina Zimmermann

It so happens that yours truly was fortunate enough to meet with Miss Lorelei last fall in her stylish shell-scattered Kreuzberg apartment, where after I had to be revived with smelling salts a few times not to mention get used to the unusual odors, the following interview took place.

I know, it is very professional. It was a historic moment for me as it was the first time I’d interviewed an actual mermaid. By now it’s totally old-hat and I occasionally fall asleep whilst pretending to be interested in merfolk chatter.

Anyway, inspired by a deep longing for her ocean home, Lorelei has been collaborating with Berlin duo The LalaVox Box, consisting of LalaVox and one Achim Treu (aka DJ UFO Hawaii), and will be coming up with an entire album’s worth of sea-inspired nautical music bit by bit…. WHICH will be exclusive to this very blog.

I’ll post the first ditty on Monday, followed by a new song once a month – ranging from breezy happy-go-lucky ditties to lovelorn, bottom-of-the-sea ballads – until one entire mermaid-sung album is up for your enjoyment and possibly even salvation. There is even a song that was penned in part by yours truly, as that is the kind of multi-artist inter-species collaboration that happens in a city like Berlin.

So watch this space. I am pretty sure you will be amazed, and that your life will never be the same.

Aquarama, World-Famous Mermaid Attraction

19 May

Photo of Aquarama founder Wally Johl, 1964. Photo courtesy of Marc Johl, via Vinatge Roadside from whom I stole it

So look at this amazing upcoming event at a tiki festival (!) in Fort Lauderdale where you can go hear all about the Weeki-Wachee-Springs-inspired “World Famous Mermaid Attraction” AQUARAMA, which opened in 1964 in Osage Beach, Missouri (Weeki opened in 1947). That is right: Aquarama. I too think it is the best name I’ve ever heard for anything ever (except maybe Weeki Wachee, and/or the title my friend David recently suggested for my in-progress noir, GUNS:1, LOVE: 0).

The event itself is a symposium called “Beautiful Girls that Live like Fish!: The Story of Aquarama, the World-Famous Mermaid Attraction,” is presented by Vintage Roadside, and will be held Saturday, June 11, at 11:30 a.m. at the Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale. After, Marina MeduSirena [read this blog’s interview with her here] will be leading a Q&A about Aquarama specifically, aquatic retrotainment generally, and mermaids universally. I myself would absolutely 1000% be at this event if I weren’t, in a cruel twist of fate, already going to be participating in Weeki’s Sirens of the Deep MERMAID CAMP.

Below is the press release for the symposium, and if you visit Vintage Roadside’s blog you can read all kinds of interviews with ex aquamaids and aqualads from Aquarama which I am totally jealous of and secretly believe should be on this blog instead. I did steal all these photos from Vintage Roadside’s blog, however.

I also spoke with Jeff from Vintage Roadside, who told me how five years ago he and his partner Kelly found an old brochure from Aquarama, and went on to produce their own Aquarama t-shirt, which I want, and began piecing together the history… and then a little over two years ago they found their first Aquamaid when she ordered one of the shirts, and just over a year ago they began their friendship with the founding family of Aquarama, the Johls. And then, just recently, they located Barbara, a former Weeki Wachee mermaid who trained the original 1964 cast, and spent some time with her learning more about her history. Now, that showoff Jeff says, they’ve spoken with 35 of the 37 employees that worked at the Aquarama from 1964 to 1968. Which means that their June 11th presentation will be extremely awesome and include original audio narration used during the performances, home movies taken during the 1964 season (possibly the only video footage in existence), and tons of official cast photos and candid snap shots. ETC.


Splash back in time with Aquarama and mermaids of yesteryear at The Hukilau

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – April 6, 2011 – Magnificent mermaids tempted sailors with their beauty long ago and continue their sea seduction today. Roadside attractions paid tribute to these oceanic goddesses throughout the 1960s, including Aquarama, the “World-Famous Mermaid Attraction.”

Inspired by Florida’s Weeki Wachee, the Aquarama’s owners Wally and Nola Johl began their mermaid adventure in Osage Beach, Mo. in 1964. The show featured Aquamaids and Aqualads performing choreographed and costumed underwater acts, including monster fights, gypsy dances and a beautiful curvaceous bull sparring with a Spanish matador—an irresistible attraction for Lake of the Ozarks vacationers.

Vintage Roadside, a company dedicated to preserving the history of mom and pop roadside businesses of the 1930s-1960s, has unearthed a time capsule of Aquarama and 1960s mermaid attraction memories through vintage photos, original 1964 home movies and other material, most of which has not been seen in more than 40 years, gathered from interviews with numerous Aquamaids and Aqualads and the son of Aquarama’s founders Marc Johl and will be revealed during their “Beautiful Girls that Live like Fish!: The Story of Aquarama, the World-Famous Mermaid Attraction” symposium at The Hukilau Tiki festival in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Aquarama was a testament of a vision that became a reality.

“Mermaids in Missouri were an unexpected combination and it’s the reason we find Aquarama fascinating,” say Vintage Roadside owners Jeff Kunkle and Kelly Burg. “To us, these roadside attractions represent the dreams of someone who took a chance. It takes a special person to say that they’re going to quit their job and spend their life savings to open a mermaid attraction!”

Marina with Jeff and Kelly. Photo courtesy of Michael Contos, via Vintage Roadside

Aquatic performer Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid will be participating in a Q & A and a mermaid show-and-tell during the symposium. She has been a retro-aquatic performer and stunt dancer for more than 20 years and keeps the mermaid spirit alive during her mermaid and pearl diver performances at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel’s Wreck Bar.

“It isn’t just about the mermaid culture—it’s about the aquatic dance and that’s what must be preserved,” explains Marina. “The golden age of tourism brought aquatic dance to the forefront with dive shows and spectacles just about everywhere. It’s heartbreaking to see this art form disappearing. If I can restore a bit of the art form and start a new generation of performers with an interest in the physical discipline, then I’ll be a very happy Aquaticat.”

Tikiphiles and mermaid and roadside aficionados will unite and find a common bond during Vintage Roadside’s Aquarama symposium.

“Mermaids give us a chance to escape to another world of frivolity and allow our imaginations to run wild,” explains The Hukilau Founder and Producer Christie J. White. “Tiki culture allows us to escape into a world where the Rum flows like lava and we’re all filled with the Aloha Spirit and transported into another time and place, even beyond Hawaii—they both relate simply because we all like to make believe.”

Vintage Roadside sells vintage T-shirts featuring original advertising graphics of long- gone roadside attractions and their fine art photography showcases neon, painted signs, vintage architecture and fiberglass giants captured on their extensive road trips across the country. Vintage Roadside’s “Beautiful Girls that Live like Fish!: The Story of Aquarama, the World-Famous Mermaid Attraction” symposium is Saturday, June 11 at
11:30 a.m. at the Bahia Mar. Admission is $20.

Experience an exotic escape during The Hukilau, June 9-12, 2011 at the Bahia Cabana, Bahia Mar and the Mai-Kai Restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Festival admission prices are $25-$110.

Press Contact:
Sandra Carr, The Hukilau PR

Lord Whimsy’s Gentlemanly Advice in Dealing with Mermaids

18 May

So given the essential differences between humans and mermaids, even aspiring ones, I thought it would be helpful to include the perspective of the most gentlemanly and dandified person I know, Lord Whimsy, who might assist us in navigating these strange social waters.  Lord Whimsy is the author of The Affected Provincial’s Companion, Volume One, otherwise known as “A Bounteous Selection of Essays, Philosophical Diagrams, Poetry, and Other Such Arcadian Follies Concerning the Art of Curious Living and the Reintroduction of Ancient Charm into This Vale of Mud and Tears Known Heretofore as the Modern Life,” and obviously a must-have for anyone trying to live a rarefied life.

So have you ever chanced upon a mermaid in any of your naturalistic wanderings?
Well, I’ve been on dive excursions all over the world: The Great Barrier Reef, South Africa, Belize, and the North Atlantic. The mermaids of Australia are fairly robust, garrulous farm gals, bursting with vitamins. The ones in South Africa are a bit plain but have an Old World charm that they seem to have picked up from the coelocanths. The Caribbean mermaids are colorful, graceful, and doe-eyed beauties, covered in shell jewelry. The North Atlantic mermaids, at least the ones that frequent wreck sites off of New Jersey, are a bit rough. Tattoos and big hair. I caught one trying to steal things out of my boat when I returned from my dive.

What is the properly gentlemanly response when happening upon a mermaid? Is there a protocol for such an encounter?
Same general rules apply at sea as on land, although while chatting with a mermaid during a fishing excursion, it’s considered polite to reel in your line. It’s akin to refraining from cell phone conversations during dinner. Basic consideration, really.

Can you please describe your general attitude toward merfolk?
I don’t have a very high opinion of them, personally.

What about mermen specifically, who get so little attention from the world at large?
Their politics are fairly off-putting, I think.

Do you believe it is possible for human men and women to enhance their general mermaidliness?
Not without neoprene. It’s cold down there. Very cold.

Do you have any additional thoughts, or advice, to impart on this pressing topic?
Don’t talk trash about mermaids in the presence of dolphins: it will get back to them. Dolphins are terrible gossips. I made this mistake once. Boy, do I miss that boat.

David Valdes Greenwood and Festival-Queen Mermaids

12 May

So David Valdes Greenwood is the fabulous author of three books: Homo Domesticus, A Little Fruitcake, and The Rhinestone Sisterhood, for which he travelled through the world of small-town festival queens. That is, pageant ladies with titles like Frog Queen and Swine Queen who represent their towns’ local industries in sparkling and glamorous fashion.

Fittingly, I met David at the Pulpwood Queens’ Girlfriend Weekend this past January, and we not only shared barbecue and Frito pie but danced at a honkeytonk, along with many other authors, whilst he was dressed as the White Rabbit (and yours truly as a mermaid, of course). This is, as everyone knows, how authors bond. Here is David bonding with me and that ne’er-do-well Jeanine Cummins.

So amongst all those queens and princesses and general pageantry, you know there had to be some mermaids somewhere, and I mean on the festival circuit, not just at Girlfriend Weekend. Below, David graciously shares with us a story of one such encounter.

by David Valdes Greenwood

You never know where you’ll find a mermaid. When I was traveling the country following the adventures of small-town festival queens for my book The Rhinestone Sisterhood, I discovered a school of mermaids in a most unlikely place: on the sun-baked city streets of northern Washington state. Their on-land identities were nearly as surprising: they were the 2008 Irrigation Queen and her Irrigation Princesses (one of whom is shown here). The Sequim Irrigation Festival – at 116 years, the oldest continuously-held event in the state – pays tribute to the importance of water in transforming the dry prairie into rich agricultural terrain. And if you’re going to celebrate the magical properties of water, who better than mermaids to represent you? Of course, it’s not easy being a mermaid: unlike mere mortal queens representing more earthbound titles, the queens on this float had to wave not only their hands but their tails.

Mermaids (and Yours Truly) at the Maryland Faerie Festival

9 May

So everyone knows that no month of May is complete without a full-on FAERIE FESTIVAL out in a field somewhere with all kinds of peoples running about in masks and wings and antlers and tails and the occasional hoof. One such festival is the MARYLAND FAERIE FESTIVAL, which is celebrating the year of the mermaid next weekend, May 14th and 15th, in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. I understand that there will be mermaids all over the place, including a rather lazy one hanging out in a hot tub and a tail, and that there will be an undulating mermaidly bellydance troupe performing with sea serpents and sailors, and that there shall even be a Guest Mermaid Author who happens to be YOURS TRULY, who shall be reading from Mermaid both days at noon in the “Elderberry Pavilion” – not to be confused with the Honeysuckle or Acorn Stages – and talking about mermaids generally.

A full list of performers is here.

Below, a spokesperson for the festival answers my penetrating questions.

So what is the Maryland Faerie Festival?
The Maryland Faerie Festival celebrates the Faeries with the pageantry, magic, and music. We provide an atmosphere and entertainment inspired by Faerie folklore and literature, and, of course, by the Faeries themselves.

How long has it been around?
May 14th and 15th, 2011 Upper Marlboro, Maryland, will be our 7th year.

This year you’re celebrating the “year of the mermaid.” What is that about? Why this year?

Our festival is constantly evolving. Every year we have a different theme. We have dedicated this year to the celebration of Mermaids.

Have mermaids traditionally played a big part in the festival, or is this something new?
We love mermaids! We have been thinking about, and planning a special celebration for mermaids for several years.

What kind of response have you been getting to the “year of the mermaid”?
There is lots of excitement about mermaids now. We love how our Mermaid Celebration this year coincides with all the interest surrounding mermaids, like bubbles up from the deep. The tide of interest in mermaids is rising, inspiring creativity in art, music and literature.

Will you be having any special mermaidly activities or guests this year, aside from yours truly?
Our vendors and artists will all be joining in, featuring mermaids in their creative arts.
There will be mermaids in parades, music and story.
Ship building craft for children and the young at heart, and a mermaid pool to sail them in.
We will have a giant sea turtle, and of course mermaids!

What else might visitors expect to find?
Visitors can look forward to a great line up of strolling minstrels and other entertainers. We have jugglers, magicians, three stages of entertainment, and more!
You can play Faerie Mushroom Checkers and Rip Van Winkle Bowling. Enjoy our Labyrinth. Look for more intrigue and excitement from the Faerie Treasure Hunt.
Whether you find yourself in peaceful contemplation composing your wish at the Wishing Tree, dancing around the Maypole, listening to great music, eating our tasty treats, or taking a pony ride, you will always find yourself immersed in a land of wonder and merriment.

How do mermaids fit into the faerie realm generally, do you think?
The simple answer is that Mermaids are the Faeries of the Ocean, though, as with all things Faerie, it’s complicated. Essentially all magical beings have an affiliation with the elements of Air, Fire, Water and Earth. In this scenario Mermaids are affiliated with the element of Water.

Do you have any advice for those trying to get into the mermaid spirit for your festival?
There are folks who feel a call to faerie in the form of mermaids. One of the first things to do in preparing for the event is to realize that for those folks who feel a calling to Mermaids will find themselves in the company of folks who are drawn to other magical beings. On the more mundane level, they want to come prepared to enjoy themselves, plan on keeping themselves well hydrated…. mermaids out of water get dehydrated easily, and bring sunscreen.

And finally, why should people come celebrate the year of the mermaid at the Maryland Faerie Festival?
Celebrating Mermaids is an opportunity to have fun while raising awareness about our oceans. As a 501c-3 nonprofit organization, we provide educational and outreach opportunities for groups promoting diligent stewardship of Nature, and sponsor faerie artists, merchants and entertainment. Through the Faerie heritage, we encourage love cooperation, peace, harmony, and respect or all beings, along with a pinch of mischief!

Julie Komenda, Glamorous Weeki Wachee Artiste

4 May

So a year ago I had never been to Weeki Wachee Springs, the live mermaid city on Florida’s gulf coast, where one Newt Perry built an underwater theater into a natural spring back in 1947, and then filled it with mermaids. This seems unfathomable now that I’m a mermaid expert, of course, and have been there twice and read all about Weeki’s history and met some of the (very very glamorous) former mermaids who perform there once a month and who run the Sirens of the Deep mermaid camp that yours truly will be attending next month. Soon I will put up amazing interviews with said former mermaids, not to mention a whole bellydancing troupe that recently attended the camp.

But right now I’m going to tell you about Weeki’s magical resident artiste, the glamorous Julie Komenda, and ALSO tell you about the illuminating event she and I will be doing together this very Saturday evening, May 7, at the Pier Aquarium in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Here’s the info:

WHAT: Mermaidliness: Mermaid Culture & Art
WHEN: 7-8pm Saturday, May 7
WHERE: The Pier Aquarium, 800 Second Ave. NE
St. Petersburg, FL

Julie and I will be talking about mermaidliness generally, and I’ll read from Mermaid and she’ll talk about her mermaid art and experiences at Weeki Wachee generally.

Here are a few of Julie’s luminous paintings:

Aren’t they lovely?

So I met Julie because, in a very magical not to mention convenient coincidence, she emailed me out of the blue a couple weeks before I was planning my first trip to Weeki, just to say that she liked my books and was excited for Mermaid and to say she was Weeki’s first Artist in Residence, etc. My mouth dropped open and I told her that as it happened I was about to visit Weeki for the first time, with mothers, uncles, grandmothers and sisters in tow. She ended up meeting us all at that gate and showing us around the park and even giving us a “backstage” tour so we could see where the mermaids entered the spring for the mermaid shows, and other mysteries. And it was Julie who put me in touch with about 50000 former Weeki mermaids, via mass email, once I decided to selflessly start this blog earlier this year.

In short, I suspect Julie might have just done dropped down straight from heaven.

Julie and yours truly at Weeki Wachee Springs

My uncle posing at Weeki Wachee that day

Recently I sent Julie some penetrating questions about art and mermaid camp (which she shall be attending in June as well) and other topics of interest to mermaids everywhere. Her gorgeous responses follow.

When did you become the artist-in-residence at Weeki Wachee?
I think it was a state of mind first. I knew from the first moment that it spoke a language I only hear in my heart! At a time when the word Mermaid has become a verb, as in “to Mermaid,” it seems that there are more opportunities than ever to celebrate sirens through art. I recently organized a Paint-In at Weeki. Lots of mermaid scenes and landscapes by our Central Florida community were created that weekend, and are now on display at City Hall in Brooksville. Actually, the whole show this month at the City Hall Gallery is devoted to Weeki Wachee. There is memorabilia there from the beginning, video courtesy of Mermaid Vicki, and a great acknowledgment of the contributions made by the Mermaids to Florida Culture. The response to the Paint-In and show has been wonderful – so next up I hope to get to plan a MERMAID BALL!! Well, we will see. But who doesn’t want to dress up in glittery, pearly, seaweed/shells/ buried treasurey things? And TAILS!

Originally I had planned to write and sell a magazine article about the former mermaids. After interviewing them I was invited to swim in the Deep Hole at the spring. It was life-changing! The new perspective of floating over that bottomless, mermaid-filled natural wonder made me want to capture that moment forever. Imagine: I was numb from the cold, floating, attached to a safety device, tired, breathless, and exhilarated at the same time! Down below me mermaids and scuba divers were zipping by the stage of the Mermaid Theater, and below them was mysterious deep. I felt like I was flying! Mermaid Vicki was cleaning off something from the cavern walls like she was in her own back yard, a walk in the park, just with an airhose, mask, and flippers. She was surrounded by people in full scuba gear, which made her look mighty natural. That is when I knew I had to transform…!

I nagged my way in through art and asked if they had any projects I could work on, beginning in 2009. Since Weeki Wachee had become a Florida State Park, it seemed like a great opportunity to get the community involved with an art project. We had artists come and paint for the Halloween and Christmas shows and continue today.

Have you always painted mermaids?
No. I only started painting mermaids after I interviewed them, in 2006. My mediums are batik on paper and acrylic – water mediums for water people. I paint athletes, fire, bees, landscapes, life-cycle stuff. I am just now finishing a commemorative piece for a women’s volleyball team. I painted a horse for Rockland Industries, who make the canvas I use…next up a king-sized piece to be quilted for the Houston Quilt Market. Mermaids in Texas?  Maayyyyyyybee!

What attracted you to mermaids, and what do you think their appeal is generally?
Okay, I’m fessin’ up – it was the aging process! I guess I had being a mermaid in the bucket and was thinking that I might not ever feel comfortable in a swimsuit again, let alone attempt swimming athletically. I wanted to do the article as a way of exposing myself to my fears… and it has become a template of behavior for me. I was afraid of bees, so I went to the beekeeper to face them. Seeing the Former Mermaids perform was absolutely profound. Not just about being a mermaid, but about acting on your passions. Mermaids Barbara and Vicki inspired me with their grace and encouragement to swim, paint, write, act. Being a mermaid is a big-picture kinda thing. It’s you and the river, babe, sink or swim. I will be 60 next year, and possibly the oldest camper.

As for art, well, of course their beauty is a wonderful thing to try and interpret, but the underwater environment combined with unrestricted movement produces some interesting possibilities for light, color, and position. I have a background in English Literature and have always loved mythology. The Siren is an archetypal image that incorporates danger, beauty, risk, choice, longing, and freedom. When the mermaids at Weeki Wachee perform they trump the legends! In that Fountain of Youth they are ageless, graceful, dignified, athletic and everything people want to see – something magical that there may be an explanation for, but one that you are happy to put on hold!

How would you describe the difference between mermaids and humans, having met so many of both?

Muse Creation Fusion Dance bellydancers/mermaid campers... interview with these ladies to come!

The line is so blurry! Watery, even! The Friends of Weeki Wachee Citizen Support Organization sponsors a “Sirens of the Deep” Mermaid Camp for adults, soon to be attended by a certain “Mermaid” authoress and moiself. I helped out at the last one, taking photos and assuring myself that with so many Former and Current Mermaids around I would be glamorous and still not drown. There were four awesome Mermettes that belly-dance together at this session. They were charming and gorgeous and came loaded for bearfish. I mean, they had made parts of their Mermaid accoutrements with decorated hair accessories, jewels, tops, and ‘tude. The pix were great because they were so prepared and comfortable in the tails. I have to believe that there was a mermaid in each of these women ready to come out at the drop of a fin. And there are many more! Why, I’ll bet there is a run on turquoise eye shadow this year! Wonder if I can get away with full makeup…I am going to practice breathing and smiling. We have new tails for campers that are a royal blue so I will be looking for shells and stuff for my gray/white hair, some kind of forgiving top, and new makeup. I was thinking scales and gills, but maybe just scales and giant eyes like the anime/manga girls do with oversized contacts. And I will practice singing, since the mer-hag just may try to steal my voice. Or I could just do the whole Mer-hag thing and grow tentacles, like Queen Latifah.

I love the idea of being a mermaid/environmentalist. Our Weeki Mermaids all know the spring’s water, down to the flow and pressure. They are all scuba certified. Spokesmermaids, even. It comes with the territory, and from Hernando County to Australia, the idea of protecting our aquatic environment is a perfect fit. My part in that plays out in painting underwater scenes that come from a mermaid’s point of view, from the surface to 60 feet below, pointing even further down. I get thirsty just thinking about it!

Mermaids are a sisterhood with their own rules (governed by environmental restrictions, as well as fairiedom, in general.)   They are somewhat egotistical as great beauties with Siren powers of persuasion, but capable of great sacrifice when called upon. (Here at Weeki Wachee, they are wonderful, kind, generous, and amazing in general.) Humans tend to be more wishful, unaware of the special powers they possess, and have difficulty seeing magical potential in the mirror. Seeing life from the other side of the glass makes me want to jump in and join them. When I am painting I am in my own magical environment. Everyone needs to find their own – and swim!

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Do not be afraid. Take care of yourself inside and out, as if you were going to run a marathon…which you are – life! Wear wonderful colors, live vividly, and bathe often. And if you dare, come to Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp at Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida!

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