The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

MDM17 "post-mortemising" - Part 1

This year's Moby-Dick Marathon (MDM17, Jan. 4-6) was a close duplicate of last year's MDM. The crowd seemed slightly smaller than the record-breaker of 2012; the readers, on average, seemed a bit less eloquent. It was great to see my Marathon pals again, but  my blog-mates were no-shows and several "regulars" were mysteriously absent. (Also, the photo-ops are becoming boringly predictable.)

As always, the weekend's events ran like clockwork. Thanks go to the museum's Science Director, Robert Rocha, the rest of the museum staff, and the dedicated volunteers.

If you have a "bucket-list," the MDM should be on it.

I drove to New Bedford with Dutch MDM veterans, Tjitske and Tonnie. Following tradition, we hastily checked-in at our hotel and toddled off to what Lemuel calls "the Marathoner's Rest" to toast our happy return to The Whaling City. All agreed, it felt great to be back.

Matt Kish at the podium
MDM17 kicked-off Friday evening with a talk by graphic artist and librarian, Matt Kish. He described his artistic odyssey, creating a drawing-a-day for every page in his Signet Classic edition of M-D; 552 pages, 552 pieces of original art.

As he worked, he didn't count the pages; he didn't look ahead. (He didn't quit his day job!) He conceived and executed one drawing every day for over a year and a half. (Like the MDM itself, there's an element of performance art here.)

What started as a personal goal became a blog. Then the blog became a splendidly realized book.

He described the process as "months of obsessive misery." So he's obsessive (appropriate to his subject). He's also very articulate, open, and... modest.

Matt's emotional, non-academic interaction with M-D was refreshing. It dawned on me that M-D is a rich and multi-faceted book that accommodates any number of approaches. "In my father's house there are many mansions" comes to mind.

Saturday morning brought the third annual "Stump the Scholars." This year's teams were the Clams — Wyn Kelley (M.I.T), Matt Kish ("I'm not a scholar!"), Robert Wallace (Univ. of Kentucky) vs the Cods — Jennifer Baker (NYU), Tim Marr (Univ. of North Carolina), Mary K. Bercaw Edwards (Univ. of Connecticut). Before the questions started, Wyn Kelley announced that Peter Whittemore (Melville's great-great grandson) would not be attending this year's MDM. [All the best to you, Peter. You were missed.]

The contest was again entertainingly moderated by the museum's Maritime Curator, Michael Dyer. This year's crop of questions stimulated a lot of discussion, even among audience members; e.g. Moby Dick is male, so why is the cry always "there she blows?" No one had a conclusive answer.

In a break with tradition, "Stump" did not end in a tie! ...but I don't remember which team won.

Then it was into the museum proper to begin the reading. This year, the museum asked for a $5 donation for an MDM button. This was certainly understandable in light of the withdrawal of a grant from the Dept. of Education. There were (reasonable) charges for food and drink, too, which is fair enough, but I really missed seeing the ministering angels of the chowder line of years past.

A small but significant improvement greeted us in the Lagoda Room. As last year, Extracts were read by some of the Scholars, but this year they were read at the microphone. The MDM never stops evolving!

At noon, Museum President James Russell called for "eight bells," and we were off.

Lemuel terms these opening hours of the MDM "The Pageant," and they can be a little tedious. The text is often comic, the celebrity readers can be uninspired, and the green hands in the audience insist on applauding after every reader (breaking the flow, grumble, grumble...).

Still, it's a beautiful setting on a sunny winter afternoon; great people-watching — students and old duffers, couples and young families; perched on the model ship and ranging along the upper balcony, silently bent over some book.

Jennifer Nersesian of the NBWNHP
As Chapter 7 approached, marathoners in the know nervously crowded the side door so as to be at the head of the line for the Seamen's Bethel. Inside the Bethel (standing-room only) the first reader was Jennifer Nersesian, the Superintendent of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. She reads each year in her Park uniform, and is always outstanding.

To be continued...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Douglass Read-a-Thon, Feb. 10

Although it's not yet on the website of the New Bedford Historical Society, the 13th Annual Frederick Douglass Community Read-a-Thon will be held on Sunday, February 10 from 2-6 PM at the Friends Meeting House (83 Spring St., New Bedford). It is organized by Melville biographer, and poet, Laurie Robertson-Lorant.

This is a great event. (See this post from last year.) Make an effort to attend.

Friday, January 18, 2013

M-D Marathon in Liverpool

Still trying to find the time/fortitude to post a summary of MDM17, this just in:

Moby-Dick on the Mersey

May 4-6, 2013
Merseyside Maritime Museum
Liverpool, England
The event website says this will be the "first ever Moby Dick [sic] marathon reading," with a reader for each chapter. [Here's hoping they get a good one for The Town-Ho's Story!]

There's a bit on Melville's Liverpool connection in this post.

[Hat-tip to Wyn Kelley]

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

MDM17 from Matt Kish's POV

Matt Kish and his wife
If you heard artist Matt Kish speak at MDM17, you'll want to read his thoughts on his first Moby-Dick Marathon.

Matt's blog-turned-book of M-D art, One Drawing for Every Page of Moby-Dick, has been in our blogroll since his project's early days. It was a pleasure to hear the full story of what has become his brilliant career. Matt writes that he'll be back for the next MDM. Let's hope.

Monday, January 7, 2013

MDM17 Wraps

Unwinding and unpacking after the 2013 Moby-Dick Marathon (MDM17). It was a great event (again), executed with apparent ease (again) by the dedicated staff and volunteers of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

This was a year of change. Graphic artist Matt Kish was the Friday night speaker, rather than the customary Melville scholar. Ray Veary, who for years opened Chapter 1 in watch cap and pea coat, was replaced by retired congressman Barney Frank. Sidebar "chats" were expanded to include Matt Kish and fellow artist, painter Jason Hancock. The MDM buttons and the food/drink, provided free to marathoners in the past, now cost money(!).

Also, the Celtic Coffee House, across the street from the museum, got a beer and wine license. How conveeeenient!

Blog-mates Lemuel and Ynot did not attend this year, so I was stretched pretty thin trying to cover the weekend. Result: more Tweets, fewer photos, no sleep. Pleasures were found less in the text and trying to follow intellectual discussion, and more in simply seeing old friends once again.

A full brain-dump will come over the next few weeks. Long live the Moby-Dick Marathon.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Crack fellows all #4

...crack fellows all, and capital from boot-heels to hat-band.
                                                                                       - Chapter 101

 Tjitske and Tonnie at MDM16

Tjitske and Tonnie first ventured to New Bedford in 2011 for MDM15. Tonnie had read a recent, improved Dutch translation of M-D, then somehow heard about the Marathon. They came from their home in The Netherlands to celebrate his 50th birthday. Tjitske took the podium to read from The Whiteness of the Whale in her native tongue. (Listen to a clip.)

2011 was the year of the great snows in Massachusetts. The couple was "vacationing" in Boston while the city was paralyzed by repeated blizzards, but they took it in stride. Tonnie, a literature fan, wanted to visit Kerouac's grave in Lawrence. We drove to the cemetery, but could not find the flat marker under two feet of fresh snow!

They returned for MDM16, where Tjitske read again in Dutch; and they will be back for MDM17! Tjitske is assigned a 10:10 A.M. time slot (Sunday, Jan. 6) to read (in  Dutch, of course). That will be 4:10 P.M. in the Netherlands, so their friends can watch her on the live webcast.

Tonnie finds parallels between Ahab and General Custer. (There's a topic for a beer-fueled discussion!) Tjitske notes that "speksynder" of Chapter XXXIII is a corruption of the Dutch "spek snijder" ("fat cutter" or "blubber cutter," as explained in M-D). Somehow the original snijder (pronounced "snyder") became "synder." Whale in Dutch is walvis; blubber is walvisspek.

Respect is due: the Dutch ruled the oceans for generations. They were hunting whales around Greenland as early as 1586, according to Ashley's The Yankee Whaler, and it wasn't until the late 1700s that their whale fishery was "on the wane" (Ashley, p.26).

Look for Tjitske and Tonnie at MDM17, and say hi.