VARIOUS: LIFE! Review of the Year 2009 Part 1 - YEARENDER - From Obama mania to Balloon Boy - a look back at...
- Title: VARIOUS: LIFE! Review of the Year 2009 Part 1 - YEARENDER - From Obama mania to Balloon Boy - a look back at the year's top Life stories
- Date: 19th December 2009
- Summary: YOKOHAMA, JAPAN (FILE) (REUTERS) ZOORASIAN BRASS (CLASSICAL MUSICIANS DRESSED IN ANIMAL HEAD GEAR) ENTERING ZOO WITH THEIR INSTRUMENTS HORN PLAYER PLAYING INSTRUMENT ON STAGE CHILD CONDUCTING WITH HORN PLAYER CHILD CONDUCTING KIDS WATCHING WITH LION TRUMPET PLAYER IN BACKGROUND
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- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz,Light / Amusing / Unusual / Quirky
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- Story Text: A look at the 2009's best Life stories - Obama mania, festivals and the weird.
2009 will be remembered as the year of hope for the United States and the world when Barack Obama made history by becoming the country's first African-American president. Not since the Kennedys were in the White House had their been so much interest in popular culture on the every movements and choices of the U.S. Commander-in-Chief and First Lady Michelle Obama. With this, the world became engulfed in Obama mania.
The inauguration was such a mile-stone is history that people wanted to recreate it, some on a rather smaller scale, like Legoland California who has created its version of Barack Obama taking the oath of office as the nation's 44th president using more than 1,000 figurines.
The scene features Obama and his family, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, and the outgoing president and vice president, and contains more than 1,000 Lego mini-figures representing celebrities, officials and other guests slated to attend the inauguration.
And looking like Obama became an instant hit, as the Indonesian photographer Ilham Anas noticed.
He might not have been to President Barack Obama's inauguration as U.S. president, but he will be starring as the man himself on Indonesian television.
Anas, who from several angles resembles the American president, shot to fame in Jakarta after Obama won November's election, and is now earning income as an Obama double.
Many Indonesians have a keen interest in Obama, who lived in Jakarta for four years after his American mother, Ann Dunham, married Muslim Indonesian Lolo Soetoro following the end of her marriage to Obama's Kenyan father.
And if you don't have the real thing or at least a lookalike, you can always make yourself a wax copy, as a wax museum in Mexico City witnessed as visitors flocked to the museum to have their photograph taken with the (wax) U.S. president.
Ironically, the wax work of Obama was presented in the museum's central gallery alongside Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia, who are both harsh critics of the U.S.
Vendors from around the world hoped to make some money from the historic inauguration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. This year, political souvenir and memorabilia shops say President Barack Obama has the Midas touch, bringing in a small fortune in sales on anything bearing his image. From traditional Russian nesting dolls to Obama rubber masks, things related to the U.S. president sell.
Jumping on the Obama bandwagon, a Japanese factory churned out Obama rubber masks ahead of his inauguration, which had record sales throughout the country.
The mask factory, Ogawa Rubber Inc. in Omiya (pronounced oh-MEE-yeah), north of Tokyo, produced and sold more than 2,500 Barack Obama face masks in a month in time for the inauguration.
And the mask proves good for business: On the streets of Tokyo, an employee at a local gaming casino parlor dons the Obama mask, holding the "change" placard in an attempt to lure people into the casino.
Seemingly, Obama-mania was everywhere so it came as no surprise that the pages reserved for superheroes claimed him as well.
As a testament to the mass appeal of the U.S. President, his face graced the cover of yet another magazine, a Spider-Man comic, on January 14, 2009.
The special edition of the weekly "Spider-Man" comic features a six-page story about the superhero Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada said the idea for the "Spidey meets the President!" edition came from a statement from Obama's campaign that revealed their boss was once a Spider-Man fan.
And if you are a proper superhero, you need your own action figure. Move over Batman and Robin, there is a new dynamic duo in town. A U.S. toymaker has created Barack and Michelle Obama action figures.
The figures sport clothing made fashionable by the U.S. President and First Lady. The President wears a stylish dark business suit. The First Lady wears the sleeveless black dress she wore while posing for her official portrait.
There is the official portrait, and there is being turned into modern art. The latter come in form of the iconic "Hope" portrait of Barack Obama which can now be seen at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.
Artist Shepard Fairey created the stenciled collage that became the central portrait image for the Obama campaign. Obama is seen in a mixture of red, white and blue, signifying the colors of the American flag. At the bottom, the word 'Hope' is written in large block letters.
Policemen shooed away the crowd when the portrait was carried off stage after the unveiling and placed on a large easel with wheels. It was then taken to its place on the gallery's new arrivals wall.
Every one remembers Michelle Obama in THAT Narcisco Rodriguez dress on election night. And much has been made since of her fashion instinct - whether it's casual, like when she stepped off the plane with her daughters Sasha and Malia in a crisp white shirt and black chino trousers, or chic but understated for the inauguration with a pale yellow gown and coat by designer Isabel Toledo.
Michelle Obama has proven that she isn't afraid of taking risks even when meeting Britain's reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II or her individual take on the meeting with supermodel-turned-French first lady Carla Bruni. But her boldest choice so far was the dazzling one-shoulder Jason Wu gown she wore for the inauguration ball.
The world's most famous carnival burst into life as expected with luxurious floats and hundreds of feathered dancers rolling along the Sambadrome's avenue.
Rio de Janeiro's Carnival held what it promised: The nationally televised annual parades featuring up to 5,000 dancers each and near-naked Carnival queens is a serious competition for the top Samba schools, judged on choreography, atmosphere, organization, and singing among other points.
Another famous festival, the Running of the Bulls in the Spanish city of Pamplona was especially gruesome this year with a man gored to death and fifteen others injured.
The man was reported to have been attacked in the neck after one of the bulls became separated from the rest of the pack and veered into a group of runners. It was the first such fatality in almost 15 years. Spanish television reported that nine other runners were injured in a particularly violent episode of the annual event. Three were gored, and six suffered bumps, bruises and other lesser injuries, it was reported.
Less dangerous but more messy was the other famous festival in Spain, the Tomatina, where tens of thousands of people armed with loads of plum tomatoes joyously splattered each other with the red fruit and leave the eastern Spanish town in a pool of tomato sauce.
Handling an orange rough normally results only in a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, but in the Italian medieval town of Ivrea oranges are once a year used as missiles as the Battle of the Oranges rages amongst the townsfolk.
Carts carried noblemen who ruthlessly pelted townsfolk with kilos upon kilos of oranges - all of which re-enacted a 12th-century battle when a miller's daughter named Violetta rebelled against a tyrannical count, causing an insurrection.
In a seaside village in Greece locals and tourists ended their carnival with a battle of baking products. The Flour War in the town of Galaxidi, 200 kilometres west of Athens, has become one of the most popular events in the country during the "silly season".
Two opposing teams of hundreds of participants throw bags of colored cooking flour at each other through the streets of the town, creating a massive and colorful mess. Participants protect themselves with plastic suits and goggles, but spectators, who usually stand on the other side of the town's quay to avoid the bombs of flour, often fall victim to the attacks.
El Salvador turned away from baking products to fire: Young men throwing fiery, gasoline-soaked rags at one another in the streets in what has become an annual religious rite.
Local residents in a town north of San Salvador gather at the end of every August to hurl fireballs at one another in honour of a huge volcanic eruption in 1922 that forced all of the residents to abandon the town. The fireballs are used because locals say the hot lava that flowed from the volcano was actually the local Christian Saint Jeronimo fighting the devil with balls of fire. The fireball hurling is meant to remember the old town which was destroyed.
Taiwan also turned to fire for its celebrations but in a much more serene way. Hundreds of lanterns lit up the evening sky as Taiwanese people sent good wishes to heaven.
The practice of flying sky lanterns began in Pingsi Township in the 19th century when the first Chinese settlers came into the remote mountain area, but where they were often attacked by bandits. People hid in the mountains to protect themselves until strong men let in the village released lanterns as a signal to notify their neighbors to return home and that the bandits had left.
And then there were the more flamboyant parades. Notably the one in Amsterdam, where everything seems to be possible. Five male couples used the opportunity of the annual city's gay pride festival parade to tie the knot. It was an ordinary group wedding in many respects -- champagne, hors d'oeuvres, music and kisses. That it was performed for on a boat by the mayor of Amsterdam with tens of thousands of gay, straight and lesbian cheering spectators, was almost incidental. But there was a less-than-subtle message as well: all five couples had at least one partner from New York, where a battle over the legalization of gay marriage rages on.
While Amsterdam has celebrated the gay pride for years, Shanghai saw hundreds turn up for first ode to the global event. There was no parade, and the crowd paled in comparison with similar events in Sydney or San Francisco, but some people detected a more international, open-minded attitude in China's financial capital as it prepares to host next year's World Expo and aspires to become a global financial center.
The pride day events also included traditional Chinese dance performances by drag artists flashing fans and feathers. But a few events earlier in the week, including a film screening and a play, were abruptly canceled due to a lack of proper licenses. Organizers said though they were disappointed with the cancellations, they still felt the festival has been a success.
Outside of Germany, Munich is mostly known for the Oktoberfest, the world's largest beer festival. Bavarians in traditional lederhosen and low-cut "dirndl" dresses were outnumbered by foreigners amongst the six million visitors who attended the two-week long party, to indulge in beer and sausages. Beer is traditionally served in one litre mugs known as "Mass" which this year cost between 8.30 euros (12.21 US dollars) and 8.60 euros (12.65 US dollars), depending on the beer tent in which they are bought. Visitors to the grounds known as "Wiesn" each year consume millions of litres of beer and hundreds of thousands of sausages.
Christmas was still a long way off, when Santas from all over the world talked shop at their annual meeting in Copenhagen.
The more than 150 Santa Clauses came mainly from Northern Europe countries, but also Japan and United States had representatives. While in Copenhagen the Santas discussed Santa matters such as chimney sizes, colour of the Christmas Tree and the date of Christmas Eve. Some also pushed for political debates like world leaders learning to handle the global climate situation by getting on a bike instead of using polluting reindeer.
Riding a bicycle with five and more corner wheels isn't comfortable or fast - but that's not the point, according to a German tinkerer who has been making outrageous bikes for decades.
Didi Senft presented his latest additions to a growing number of bicycles on display at his home in Storkow, southeast of Berlin, where onlookers were surprised to see a man wearing a devil's costume riding a huge bicycle with ten corner wheels.
In addition to the ten-sided bicycle, he likes to challenge convention with a pentagon and triangle-shaped wheels.
With their own three-sided gear, extreme ironing gives takes the normally boring household chore to new heights - or in this case, new depths.
The "sport" was devised in Leicestershire, England, by an amateur rock climber and combines certain extreme sports like rock climbing, skiing and underwater diving with the daily mundane chore.
The British team won back their crown in 2009 as their divers managed to get 86 divers ironing within a 10 minute period which also included 6 free divers (divers with no air tanks). In total 128 divers took part in the unusual World record attempt at a depth between 15 and 20 metres.
Another group of brave athletes took the plunge with the help of Michael Jackson.
Former members of South Korea's national synchronized swimming team wowed the audience of men and fish with a performance inside a fish tank.
Dressed in pastel-coloured swimming suits, they swam with the fish to the catchy rhythm of popular tunes such as the King of Pop's "Billie Jean" in a tank in Seoul's 63 Seaworld Aquarium, and even did the "moonwalk".
In neighbouring Japan, an elderly man is proving a few silver hairs don't matter when pursuing a career on the silver screen -- as a porn star.
75-year-old Shigeo Tokuda is in an age category all his own, often having sex on screen with women younger than his daughter. On the set of one of his movies, he used vibrators, whips and candle lights to show how to satisfy a 36-year-old actress. Tokuda said his acting job has become part of his life, which has given him the ability to stay in good health. Tokuda turned to the pornographic industry late. He lived a typical Japanese office worker's life as a travel agent after graduating from one of Tokyo's elite colleges.The career sideline came about because he was unsatisfied with a lack of story lines in sex movies he'd seen, which led to a discussion with a film producer about whether he could do better. It took a couple of years of thinking about it but Tokuda eventually took his pants off for the camera after his 59th birthday.
Since then, he has become a popular figure in porn movies for rent in Japan starring in more than 200.
One Frenchman who also isn't afraid to take his kit off is Romain Mesnil, a pole vaulter who won a silver medal at the 2007 Athletics World Championships in Osaka.
He used to be sponsored by U.S. sports brand Nike but his contract expired in the autumn of 2008 and was not renewed.
In his video, Mesnil - albeit naked- is running with his pole as if preparing for a vault, in Paris tourist spots like Montmartre and the pedestrian Pont des Arts bridge crossing the River Seine by the Louvre museum.
In shots where he is seen from the front, a small black square covers his private parts.
On his website Mesnil says it was probably the financial crisis that caused his plight, that the sponsorship was probably cut for budget reasons.
Horseracing officials in Melbourne were slammed for holding a dwarf racing competition called the "Midget Cup" at the Victorian state's annual carnival.
The race at the Cranbourne Cup in October 2009 involved three men charging down a 50-metre track with dwarfs dressed in jockey silks riding piggyback.
One of the dwarf actors who was paid to take part in the race encouraged people the competition was in good fun but government officials and advocacy groups were not amused.
In India, politicians proved even they were human when a number of them were filmed falling asleep during a meeting.
India's central Madhya Pradesh state's legislators were caught having a nap as the country's first woman speaker of parliament addressed them at an orientation program..
The two-day orientation program was aimed at making the legislators aware of the nuances of lawmaking.
A politician-turned-dictator Adolf Hitler was a struggling artist in Vienna before he rose to infamy.
Some of his watercolors sold at auction in Britain with the most expensive - an Alpine landscape painted in oils - fetching 13,500 pounds.
Hitler applied to art school in Vienna but was rejected, and went on to join the army and fight in World War One.
A German artist opened a controversial open air exhibition with 1,250 garden gnomes showing the Nazi salute in the southern town of Straubing.
Ottmar Hoerl's "art installation" was twice banned by local authorities who said it was too expensive to guard the art work, according to German media reports.
A private sponsor then came to Hoerl's rescue to cover the costs estimated at some 20,000 euros for the actual work and another 8,000 euros to pay for security during the five-day event.
The gnomes, painted in black with the exception of a few gold-colored example, are part of Hoerl's exhibition called "Dance with the Devil - Poisoned."
According to Hoerl, each gnome has the English word "poisoned" written underneath which visitors can't see.
On the other side of the world, an industrial robot manufacturer in central Japan opened a ramen noodle shop where robots take the place of chefs.
Japan's obsession with technology is the robots preparing the country's popular "ramen" noodles.
At the "Fua-men" (pronounced FOO-ah-men) ramen noodle shop in the central Japanese city of Nagoya, two robotic arms busily serve their hungry customers, doling out nearly 80 bowls of noodles on a busy day.
The noodle shop, which sells a regular noodle bowl with a pork broth-based soup for the equivalent of 7 dollars, is yet to make a profit, partly due to the large investment in the research and development of the robotic arms.
Also turning to technology for food preparation is Italy where vending machines produced the country's most famous dish in 2.5 minutes.
The 'Let's Pizza' machine uses infra-red rays and new technology developed at the University of Bologna to knead flour and water into dough, spreading it with tomato sauce and a choice of topping, and cook it -- and at five euros, a fraction of the normal price for pizza, valued at eight euros.
The machine is sending local pizzamakers into a whirl.
In Israel, it's not spinning but height which is making some diners dizzy.
Customers at the "Dinner in the Sky" restaurant can enjoy their meals while hovering at the height of 40 metres (130 feet).
The 'Dinner in the Sky', first introduced in Belgium in 2006, uses a large 120 tonne crane to lift a platform seating 22 people and up to five staff. Guests are strapped to leather seats at a dinner table while lifted above ground to overlook the city of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean sea.
In one of the most bizarre stories of the year, "Balloon Boy" as he was nicknamed by the press shocked the world with an elaborate stunt that turned out to be a host.
Television cameras caught what was thought to be six-year-old Falcon Heele floating away in a homemade balloon which flew for more than 50 miles.
The boy was later found to be in the attic of his home but said he didn't come out for fear of his father.
It was later discovered that the incident was a hoax when Falcone said during an interview that he was hiding because "You guys said that, we did this for the show."
It was a reference to his father's purported hope that the family would be discovered and offered a reality show to star in.
Heele pleaded guilty in November attempting to influence a public servant, a felony charge, while his wife Mayumi Heene faced a misdemeanor charge of false reporting to police.
From air to water, two men plan to cross the English Channel in a canoe made from sheep's manure.
The 5.5-metre 'Poo Canoe' is built from sheep droppings mixed with recycled paper and a flour water paste. It's sealed with beeswax and a soya bean extract.
Lez Paylor and Lawrence Toms have been making 'Sheep Poo Paper' for years, but for the past six months they turned to building one of the most unusual crafts to take to water.
They're set to paddle across the second busiest commercial shipping lane in the world -- the channel between Britain and France.
There were no droppings at a zoo in Yokohama, Japan where a group of classical musicians donned animal headgear and performed for local children.
Calling themselves, the Zoorasian Brass, they are on a mission to get children interested in classical music.
Formed nine years ago here, they still perform regularly amongst the animals and are literally putting on a new face on this entertainment form usually gear to more mature audiences.
But while they refuse to be seen without their masks off in order to protect the 'magic' of their identities to small children, most of these performers are professional, some even well-known musicians.
One bullfighter has already made waves not only with his skill but by his youth.
11-year old Mauro Copa got interested in bulls at a young age by watching his father, also a matador, and then began studying movements on the internet.
Now the father and son duo are a regular hit on the bullfighting circuit with the men hoping to raise enough money for the family to raise them out of poverty.
Under new animal cruelty regulations bullfights are set to be banned next year in Bolivia, but rural bullrings like the one in Copacabana are likely to keep holding their traditional events. As it is, Copa is not allowed to kill bulls.
But even if they are banned, Copa has already been invited to Peru where he hopes to set his sights higher.
In downtown Tokyo, if you can't make it to heaven, for some, the option is a high-rise cemetery.
The six-story Kouanji (pronounced Koh-Ahn-Jee) Buddhist temple building in downtown Tokyo has inhabitants like no other.
With the exception of the resident priest and his family - all occupants of the 6,850 lodgings are dead and resting in peace in vaults deep in storage.
Rika Iwasaki's (pronounced Ree-kah Ee-wah-sah-kee) husband is one of those packed away in a marble box that comes rumbling out of the inner chambers on a conveyor belt to an dispensing machine only a few steps from the building reception lobby at the swipe of a plastic card.
It takes only a minute for the box to settle in front of a tiny water fountain, where Iwasaki can then burn incense and offer her regular prayers to her late husband in the privacy of the glass partitions.
In Japan nearly everyone is cremated - 99.9 percent according to the Cremation Society of Great Britain's website - and only the remaining ashes are interred. It is also customary is to be buried in a common family plot or grave.
High-rise graveyards are not uncommon in the country where land is scarce for the living and the dead and cemeteries have long been overcrowded.
Kouanji is able to pack the remains of a maximum of 100,000 people or at least their ashes in one high-tech building has made these graveyard "plots" more accessible and affordable.
This type of cemetery has proven so popular that the temple is already building another one with a capacity of 4,700 "rooms" - right next door.
FASHION Models at the Yves Saint Laurent show in Paris may have been mourning the death of the brand's creator.
The YSL ready-to-wear collection designed by Milanese designer Stefano Pilati featured black utilitarian suits, jackets and coats. It also showcased designs cut from black leather including jumpsuits, corsets and hairwraps.
The auction of Laurent's monumental art collection in February broke a string of records, defied the Chinese government and raised more than 370 million euros (470 million USD).
The late fashion designer's collection, built up over five decades with his partner Pierre Berge, had been described as one of the most important in private hands and the auction attracted interest from collectors and spectators all over the world.
The final total of 373.5 million euros broke estimates of 300 million euros but Berge, who is donating the proceeds to charity and medical research, said he was not surprised by the sale's success even in the worst global recession for decades.
Laurent was the exception to the general rule at fashion as two of the biggest names in luxury saw their businesses collapse.
In July, Christian Lacroix staged what could be his last haute couture show in Paris, displaying a stripped-down, mostly black collection put together with the help of friends and artisans who worked for free.
The once formidable brand was placed under creditor protection in May.
He ended the collection with a symbolic wedding dress in the form of the Virgin Mary as the model marched to "I Did It My Way" in Spanish.
In November, Luella Bartley, the young British designer whose quirky yet feminine designs have adorned model Kate Moss and singer Lily Allen, ceased trading after her ready-to-wear producer closed last month and its main financial backer pulled the plug on any further investment, the company said in a statement.
Luella Bartley Ltd said its key producer in Italy, Carla Carini, unexpectedly closed last month, leaving the brand unable to fulfill its spring/summer 2010 orders.
It wasn't all bad news for the British capital which saw its biggest and most elaborate fashion show week ever for its 25th anniversary. From the early beginnings of what was called a fashion exhibition in October 1984 to becoming one of the four fashion capitals, London has made its mark with its cutting edge, fearless and quirky designs.
London Fashion Week also saw iconic British label Burberry, known for their khaki check lining, return to home after showing in Milan and New York.
Designer Christopher Bailey who was recently awarded an MBE for his contribution to fashion showed "classic twists" with models in pastel colors in wearing short skirts or dresses with twisted fabrics.
Chanel turned its fashion show into a country fete in autumn, with singer Lily Allen bopping along a barn-yard band and models in folk dresses frolicking in the hay.
Pop stars Prince and Rihanna and German model Claudia Schiffer sat amid scattered straw and hay in the front row, watching models in white knit and lace dresses and mock garter belts circle a giant barn.
A haystack rose up in the middle of the show at the glass-domed Grand Palais to reveal Allen with a motley crew of dancing models and hillbilly musicians.
Also in Paris, self-confessed bad boy designer who once said he wanted to destroy the fashion world from the inside, brought out shoes in the shape of armadillos, showing his art-school mentality mixed with fashion technical prowess.
Finally, indigenous models in Bolivia showed that fashion wasn't all about luxury with a catwalk that was miles away from Milan or Paris.
The bowler hats, flouncy skirts and shawls - hallmarks of the indigenous Bolivian women known popularly as cholas showed their collection from the dusty roads of the Andes to the glitz and glamour of the La Paz catwalk.
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