Leap Day Birthdays And Other Calendrical Shenanigans

When we here at Olivia Waite hear that Leap Day is coming up, surely we're not alone in thinking, "Frederic finally gets a birthday!" Because if anything is always culturally relevant, it's the nonstop patter-filled story of an uptight young British man finding true love after being mistakenly apprenticed to pirates in his youth. Poor Frederic won't be free of the indenture until he turns 21—since he was born on February 29, it will take him about six decades. Pity the poor soul with a Leap Day Birthday!

A recent episode of Parks and Recreation (Knope 2012!) titled "Jerry's Sweet Sixteen" was based on the same premise: perennial joke-butt Jerry Gurgitch was born on February 29, so from a very technical standpoint he's only had sixteen birthdays.

Of course, the Leap Day Birthday does not mean Jerry has not spent sixty-four years on this planet as it revolves around the sun. The Leap Day Birthday is an aberration that reveals the way we culturally build the idea birthdays: you can live however long you want, but the anniversary of the date you were born is the important day, and if that day comes around only once in four years then those years somehow don't count toward your total age. Like dog years, but in reverse and for people.

Annual birthdays of course were invented by the ancient Romans. This is quite true: according to Denis Feeney's wonderful and mind-bending Caesar's Calendar, the fact that Ovid shares a birthday (and a calendar day) with his brother is the first documented instance of the same date occurring with precisely 365 days between. This was made possible by the recent invention of the Julian calendar (which included leap days, and eventually fell to the Gregorian calendar). Before then, the ancient Greeks would celebrate the date of their birth every month, which sounds like a pretty transparent justification to have symposia all the time with your friends. Hey, οινοχορος! Βring me more birthday wine! It's the 15th again!

Before the Romans began to standardize the calendar, each nation, region, or city-state kept its own history on its own time, with its own reckoning. This sounds terrifyingly chaotic—but it bears pointing out that after the Gregorian calendar was contrived in the 16th century, it took centuries for other nations to adopt its use. Which is to say the date varied from country to country during the periods we like to call the Renaissance, Enlightenment (don't forget the French Republican Calendar!), and Industrial Revolution. The US adopted the current calendar just in time to screw with George Washington's birthday, and Greece only changed calendars in—wait for it—1923.

Let me say that again, because it kind of blows my mind: Greece has not been using the Gregorian calendar for a full century yet.

Maybe it's that I'm always kind of obsessed with the nature of time, or maybe I've just been watching too much Doctor Who lately, but thinking too hard about calendar changes and moving dates and adding/vanishing days is starting to make me fundamentally nervous. Wednesday doesn't exist, not really! It's all just a vast conspiracy by popes and world leaders and elite historians and astronomers and, um, people who enjoy being able to make plans in advance, I guess.

Therefore, as a pleasing distraction, and since we've been talking about time and Romans and Doctor Who, here is a picture of Rory Williams as the Last Centurion. Because nothing is more comforting than a devoted geek in Roman garb.

Ah, that's better ...

Make Yourself A Victorian Doll

We here at Olivia Waite have a long history with paper dolls—not merely the basic kid kind, but the fancy and detailed presidential kind you can buy at the Smithsonian. Jane Austen paper dolls. 1920s flapper paper dolls. We had sharp scissors and infinite patience for fiddly tabs and zigzag edges. But the magic of the internet provides instant gratification, infinite customization, and increased safety for our scissor-scarred thumbs. So it is with great delight that we point you toward today's discovery: The Victorian Doll creation page on Doll Divine.

Here is my first try, which is pretty much me in Victorian gear—note that I am something of a bluestocking:

Here I am with blue stockings:

Here I am as a vampire:

And as an adventuress:

Leave your own creations in the comments, or on my Facebook wall!

Seattle's Two-Day Summer

There is no happiness so potent as being out in Seattle on a sunny day. It's a contagious, city-wide feeling, as though the sluggish, mossy blood in everyone's veins gets replaced by champagne. It's lucky this past weekend was clement, as two of my close friends were getting married in an outdoor sculpture park. It was so beautiful, in fact, that I got off the bus early and walked an extra mile just to be out and about and ended up following this woman for five blocks:

An intersection in the city. A brunette woman with slightly dark skin faces away, wearing a lime-green print sheath dress. She has a large red tote over her right shoulder, and is carrying an orange bucket full of long, thin balloons for the making of animals.

We had our hair and makeup arranged and got the bride laced into her gown and met up with the groomsmen and groom. A limo took all ten of us up to Kerry Park for photos, and then to the Olympic Sculpture Park for more photos. By this time it was nearing 5 p.m. and was about 80 degrees—we bridesmaids were totally happy in our strapless, jewel-toned gowns, but the groomsmen were a bit sweltery in three suit layers.

By this point, too, we'd been out in the sun for most of the day, but the makeup folk had given us plenty of sunblock and nobody was burnt. Instead, we swam through an invisible ocean of good cheer, a collective good mood shared with not only our fellow wedding party members but also the other people walking through the park around us. Dogs played in the chilly waters of Puget Sound, children ran around shrieking happily, passers-by stopped to gawk at the bride in all her glittering beauty.

And then it was time for the ceremony.

I think it's safe to say that the bridesmaids were more nervous than the bride, which is unusual, but everything went perfectly and soon we were standing on the patio, drinking daiquiris while the setting sun turned everything bright gold, including me:

Background is an outdoor patio. Olivia, normally pale of skin, glows golden in the setting sun. Her hair is red, her gown is bright yellow, and her earrings and necklace are glittering amber.The sun went down, the toasts were made, and the band began playing. Mr. Waite and I danced until my feet could dance no more, and didn't get home until midnight.

Nighttime in the pavilion at the Olympic Sculpture park. A white wall to the back is covered in colorful raindrops, and in front are the members of the Portage Bay Big Band. They wear white shirts and dark vests and hold various musical instruments.

It's raining again now, of course, but that's alright. We Seattleites are built for endurance. It will take more than one pleasantly rainy Monday to bring us down from our vitamin-D high.