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Earlier today ol’ Robbo found himself hobnobbing with the youngest gel (who starts middle school in a week) about seasonal preferences. It turns out that we agree, ranking them from best to worst thusly: Fall, Spring, Winter, Summer.
We seem to have arrived at several of our preferences based on very different criteria (for instance, questions of wardrobe possibilities heavily influence teh gel’s thinking while mine not so much), but we agree about summer. It’s too darn hot.
Now long time friends of the decanter will recall that one of Robbo’s stock summah memes involves bitching about the iron fist of Heat Miser and all the misery it causes round here. However, as I reminded the gel, you certainly couldn’t level such criticism at the Summah of 2014, at least as experienced in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor. Indeed, it’s been almost ridiculously pleasant, with relatively few 90+ degree days and, so far as I can recollect, absolutely no triple-digit heat. And at the moment, we are experiencing weather more typical of the second half of September than August.
Indeed, if summah were always so pleasant round here, I would have no cause to complain whatsoever.
Of course, I know that hasn’t been and isn’t going to be the case, and that my tradition of griping posts will resume at some point in the future. Indeed, we are being told these days by Top Men that all that Global Warming hasn’t gone away, but instead is just hiding at the moment – somewhere in the Marianas Trench or under Mt. Everest or in Birnam Wood or the Bermuda Triangle or Area 51 or something, I don’t quite recall – and is only waiting the psychological moment to burst forth again, shouting, “Boo! Ha, ha,ha! Should have listened to Al Gore and Michael Mann, you selfish, ignorant wing-nuts! You are so toast now!”
Eh, we’ll see. Meanwhile, I’m just enjoying the moment.
Speaking of which, here’s a question for you Tolkien sharks out there. There are several instances in the Lord of the Rings (I refer to the books, of course) in which it is suggested that Sauron at least influences, if not specifically directs, the weather. The snow storm at the Red Horn Gate comes to mind, as does the big thunderstorm at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. But I’ve always wondered about the extremely pleasant summer in the Shire in the first part of The Fellowship of the Ring that contributes to Frodo’s stalling around before he finally sets out on his initial journey. Just coincidence? Or is some malevolent force at work? And if so, why? Keep Frodo at home long enough for the Nazgul to get there? Is the Ring doing it? Can Sauron influence the weather that far away and does he have sufficient information (from Gollum’s torture) to make such specific arrangements? And can he create conditions that seem fair without feeling foul? There’s no hint of anything evil about that summer in the Shire. Then again, perhaps nobody was looking for it.
I throw all this out just by way of musing. And speaking of which, if you are both a Tolkien Geek and a Weather Nerd like ol’ Robbo, you’ll probably want to read this article.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Rain and fog all day today allowed ol’ Robbo to duck his usual Saturday task of laboring in the demesne with a clear conscience, that and the detritus of basement reconstruction scattered over so much of it. So instead, I spent the day lounging in the hammock and rereading a couple of old favorites.
One was P.G. Wodehouse’s Uncle Fred In The Springtime, which I believe to be the first full-length novel (although he had appeared in at least one earlier short story) concerning the exploits of Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, Fifth Earl of Ickenham who, although mature in years, continues to maintain the outlook “of a slightly inebriate undergraduate”. The book was published in 1938 and I have often argued that Plum was at the very top of his form in the 30’s and early 40’s. Not only is this one from that period, but so are such standouts as Hot Water, Heavy Weather, The Code of teh Woosters (the best Bertie and Jeeves story, IMHO) and Money In The Bank.
The other was Robert Graves’ Count Belisarius, which tells the story of the famous Byzantine general who won back great chunks of the Roman Empire under Justinian the Great, only to be blinded and beggared at the end of his life. It’s very well written and the campaigns are quite exciting, but the court intrigue gets to be a bit much and Graves also seems to take a grim pleasure in sneering at Christianity as it struggles to sort out orthodoxy from the various heresies that plagued the age, suggesting that most of the True Believers involved were either hypocrites or lunatics or both. (Graves, in many of his writings, was very keen on the notion that Christianity stole many of its elements and symbols from older and somehow more “authentic” pagan worship, particularly that of an all-encompassing three-in-one White Goddess native to the Eastern Mediterranean.)
So there was that.
On a different note, because our basement is still all ahoo, we still don’t have cable in the house. This has been causing some consternation on the part of the Middle Gel because this evening is the premiere episode of the newest incarnation of the Doctor and the gel has this year become an almost rabid Whovian. However, being the resourceful type that she is, she solved this problem by diplomatically getting herself and Mrs. Robbo invited to a friend’s house for pizza and the big screening. (It was diplomatic because, prior to the gel working her Big Magic, I don’t believe the friend was even aware of being a Dr. Who fan. On the other hand, teh gel has been showing Mrs. R reruns in an effort to, ah, indoctrinate her. I don’t know how successful this effort has been.)
Me, since I’ve been being cultured and stuff all day, I think I’m just going to hold the fort here at Port Swiller Manor and probably indulge in some “Arrested Development” reruns.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Recently, ol’ Robbo found himself with a hankering for some straight-from-the-shoulder adventure books. To this end, he absolutely devoured P.C. Wren’s French Foreign Legion trilogy, Beau Geste, Beau Sabreur and Beau Ideal (together with numerous short stories relating to the Family Geste), as well as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
I admit that in my nearly fifty years on this earth I had read none of these books before this current summah. And yes, I denounce myself.
What fun! What absolute fun! On the other hand, what an almost pathetic sense of nostalgia for a former time, for an era in which Western Civilization – and specifically, Anglo-Saxon Western Civilization – was unapologetically muscular and self-confident. Ironical, ain’t it, that I’m just now coming to them in the last embers of said civilization. Rayther like a mid-5th Century Roman stumbling across the works of Virgil and Horace and Livy, I suppose.
Anyhoo, what can one do but play the hand one is dealt? I am indulging myself further with Stevenson’s Kidnapped and its sequel, Catriona, and would be delighted with any other suggestions for similar works that any friends of the decanter may care to offer. (I should note that any recommendations of the works of James Fenimore Cooper will be met with cold but polite silence.)
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Yes, Daddy is home from Peru. (Spot the riff, if you can. I’m actually back from Maine, of course.)
All in all, a fairly relaxing week staring at the bay, marred only by the fact that ol’ Robbo neglected to pack his tummy medicine before setting out, in part out of 4 ack emma sloth, in part because he figured that the absence of the usual workaday stresses would render said meds unnecessary.
Well, I was wrong about that. After the last dosage had cleared the ol’ system, the Port-Swiller tummy began to do a thoroughly unpleasant buck-and-wing, in turn rendering your host somewhat, shall we say, dyspeptic to those around him. After a few days, Mrs. R got so tired of it that she went into town herself, found some more meds, returned to teh cottage and shoved them at me with a curt, “Take them, dammit!”
Ah, middle age……
Anyhoo, a few odds and ends:
♦ Made the run from Westport, CT to Port Swiller Manor in the wilds of NoVA in 4 1/2 hours yesterday morning, including two Indy-like pit stops. Not that I’ve ever kept a log or anything, but I believe this to be a personal medal run. I’m not a reckless driver, but I’ve always been somewhat lead-footed, especially when traffic is relatively light, as it was Sunday morning. (Note, however, to that red van with Indiana plates: If you insist on doing 65 mph on the south end of the Jersey Turnpike, do it in the right-hand lane, for Heaven’s sake! You’ve no idea how many near-accidents I saw involving hot-heads trying to get around you.)
♦ We had a friend come in and house-sit for us while we were away. I was delighted to see that all the porch plants survived and thrived in our absence and that none of the cats was killed by the others. Oddly, it seemed to me that the two kittens (a little over a year old now) appear to have grown in our absence. I always thought cats reached full stature in about a year, but teh gels insist that their growth cycle is longer than that. Any of you know?
♦ Speaking of growth, I also was delighted to note that the jasmine I planted earlier this year – about which friends of the decanter may recall my blathering at length – all have new leaves on them, a sign that they like where they have been put. And while we’re on the subject of gardening, I would also note that I have a climbing rose out front, an Improved Blaze. For some years I have not touched the thing, and it gradually got so tall as to start getting tangled in the second-story gutter. This would be fine, except that every year after its glorious bloom and when the weather started hotting up, it would promptly shed all its leaves, rendering me open to snide remarks from teh Middle Gel about putting out the Halloween decorations too early. Well, this year I decided on radical action: After it was done blooming, I cut the thing way, way back (to about four feet high, in fact). For a number of weeks I had nothing but a handful of canes left and thought I might have killed it, but this morning I noticed new shoots on each and every one of them. Yay.
♦ I read four books while loafing about the Port-Swiller summah cottage:
- Hercules, My Shipmate by Robert Graves, a rendering of the tale of Jason and the Argonauts in the form of an historickal novel. I’ve read this book many times before. Once you get past Graves’ paganism (I think he really believed his carryings-on about an ancient, all-encompassing Mother Goddess usurped by the followers of more recent fraudulent religions – including Christianity), it’s a jolly fun and rayther lusty adventure story.
- Haydn’s Visits to England by Christopher Hogwood, a delightful little book (an extended essay, really) giving a day-to-day overview of Papa’s doings in Blighty. One thing I learned (this was my first time reading it) was that the Prince Regent was very, very attentive to Haydn during his visits. Good. I think very little of George IV in the main, but credit where it is due.
- Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. Just to keep my ire up against that rat-bastard Jean-Jacques Rousseau and all of his ideological spawn who have dedicated themselves to establishing Heaven on Earth, even at the need of putting millions of said Earth’s inhabitants to fire and sword for their own good. The book came out in January 2008 but seems all the more timely now. (Incidentally, I’ve decided to devote a deal of time this fall to rereading Locke, Smith and Burke and to finally introducing myself directly to Hayek.)
- The Commitments by Roddy Doyle. I’ve long been a fan of the movie (which I’ll probably pop in when I’m done with this post), but this was my first time reading the novel, which Mrs. R picked up for me somewhere for a dollar. What a lot of fun! And how refreshing to find a young author (he was about 29 when he wrote it) who isn’t a first-class, self-absorbed, whiney wanker. I’m curious about how those more Doyle-conscious than me think about the differences between book and movie: The latter, while, I think, adhering nicely to the tone of the book, did turn Joey The Lips inside out as a character, and its soundtrack had very, very little overlap with that of the former, but most of the differences strike me as de minims. Was Doyle involved in teh movie?
♦ Didn’t look at the Innertoobs a single time while on hols, so I’ve much on which to catch up. What did I miss? (I see this evening that Robin Williams killed himself. Depression, apparently. I despised much about him during his career, but you hate to see something like this happen to anybody.)
♦ To be honest, however, I did ask teh gels to keep me posted on my beloved Nats’ doings while we were away. From what I see at this point, I am (touching wood) pretty confident that we are going to win the NL East. On the other hand, I also think the Dodgers are going to win the NL pennant and that the A’s will beat them in the Series.
♦ Whelp, now that the summah hols are over and ol’ Robbo turns his attention to the impending start of school and other fall activities, I have to ask: Just where the hell did this year get to?
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
The latest “Weird” Al Yankovich bit-o’-silly is making its way around the Innertoobs. I repost it here for those of you (yes, Mothe, I’m looking at you) who haven’t seen it elsewhere already. Enjoy!
I gather this is a parody of some other song (as most of Big Weird Al’s stuff is), but I don’t know the other song so that part is lost on me. Nonetheless, I find the piece amusing because by today’s sub-sea level standards of literacy ol’ Robbo is considered something of a Grammar Nazi and it is, if you will, musick to my ears.
It’s really rayther horrifying when you think about it. The basic rules touched on by Al are the sort of thing one was expected to master in grammar school just a generation ago. (Personally, I adored sentence diagrams.) These days? Cor lumme, stone the crows! I work with other lawyers, holders of graduate degrees who depend on their literacy for their livelihoods. Nevertheless, again and again and again I find myself having to detangle badly-written documents – everything from emails to court pleadings to peer-reviewed academic studies. Indeed, I’ve actually developed an informal office consulting practice, as several of my colleagues routinely send me drafts of their work product and ask me to look them over.
Well, that’s “Progress” for you.
Oh, and speaking of past generations and grammatical education for the masses, let me just point out that many, many of the grammar ditties from the Schoolhouse Rock series aired on Saturday mornings during Robbo’s misspent yoot are still tattooed to his brain. Let’s jump in the Wayback Machine and enjoy one of Robbo’s favorites, shall we?
UPDATE: Thinking further on on the subject of SHR, I’m reminded of a different, non-grammar-themed one that I don’t actually recall ever seeing when I was a kid, but which certainly seems apropos today:
UPDATE DEUX: Oh, I forgot to mention this bit o’vanity. The fellah in the “Conjunction Junction” song pronounces “either” and “neither” as “ee-ther” and “nee-ther“. One of my affectations developed a long time ago was to adopt the Hanovarian pronunciations of “eye-ther” and “nye-ther“. Pretentious? Moi?
Sorry about the dearth of posties this week – it may be that ol’ Robbo’s brain has passed into the doldrums as it so often does this time of year. At any rate, here are a few odds and ends to make up for it.
♦ I took advantage of a day off from work today to get an early start on my weekend yard work, my main task being to slap a coat of wood sealant on the inside surfaces of the porch posts. (The outer surfaces are faced by some kind of weatherproof poly stuff but the other three are bare PTL. They’ve been up for almost a year now and are nice and seasoned.) For about 30 seconds or so I flirted with the idea of maybe staining them, but at the last regained my sanity and went with a clear sealant with a light gloss instead. It turned out to be a much easier and faster job than I had originally feared, as I found I could easily get around the railing and other edges without all that tedious taping up biznay.
♦ While I was going about my task, I noticed something I had not known before: A woodchuck will climb a chicken wire fence if it’s feeling greedy enough.
♦ The middle gel sang at a funeral down the Cathedral this morning for a woman whose son had himself been a chorister there many years ago and thought it would be a fitting thing for her, if any of the current crop were available and interested. About a week ago, therefore, a request for volunteers went out and the gel, being the kind of gel she is, stepped up along with two or three others. They sang Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desire. I thought the gesture was really very, very sweet.
♦ One of Mrs. Robbo’s nieces is flying down from Baahston on Monday to spend a week with us and see the sights. Yesterday, Mrs. R’s sistah sent her a copy of the gel’s plane ticket, on which Mrs. R noticed that her sistah had paid for two checked bags. Mrs. R immediately got on the phone and said, “Look, I don’t do checked bags. We’ve got a washing machine and, in an emergency, the gel can borrow whatever she might need from my lot. Carry-on only.” I thought that very amusing.
♦ Speaking of gels, within the past month or two, I have heard several very different women in very different geographical locations using the phrase, “get her big girl pants on” or “get her big girl britches on”. Is this a thing? It must have some common source, but I work so hard to disassociate myself from pop “culchah” that I just don’t know what this might be.
♦ And speaking of hearing things, one of the most chilling things I’ve heard in recent memory was a colleague of mine down the office this week using the expression “Brave New World” without irony. Telephone call for Gods of the Copybook Headings. Will the Gods of the Copybook Headings please pick up the white courtesy phone. Thank you.
♦ Finally, speaking of Kipling, I am deep into P.C. Wren’s Beau Geste for the very first time. I won’t review it here since I’m not done but I will say that I’m enjoying it very, very much.
Pace Cole Porter, I couldn’t resist the post title because last evening ol’ Robbo kicked off his annual Bachelor Week by watching Ralph Feinnes’ 2011 production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. (Go here for a synopsis of the story, which the Bard is supposed to have pinched from a translation of Plutarch.)
I will confess that, despite having concentrated on Shakespeare as a college English major, I have never read this play nor seen a performance of it before. Indeed, aside from being aware of its bloody reputation, my only previous encounter had been a still photo of Laurence Olivier playing the part, being held upside down by his ankles and covered in gore. (Oh, and as a complete aside, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture is, IMHO, one of his best bits of incidental musick, although it has nothing to do with the Bard’s play.) So my opinion probably isn’t worth all that much.
Nevertheless, I believe the film was, on balance, worth a dekko, and I raise a glass to whomever of you recommended it.
On the plus side, the play itself is classic tragedy. Coriolanus (if you haven’t clicked the link yet) is a noble hero of the young Roman Republic, having devoted his life to her wars against both her Etruscan oppressors and neighboring cities. By every right, he ought to be propelled to the highest offices and receive the highest accolades, but his Patrician pride and his refusal to kiss the collective backsides of teh Roman mob drive him to his eventual undoing. You will seldom see a better teeing up of the ancient Grecco-Roman literary concept of hamartia, the Tragic Flaw. Furthermore, with Feinnes himself as the glowering Coriolanus, Gerard (“SPAAAARTAAAANSSS!!!”) Butler as his arch-enemy Aufidius, and Vanessa Redgrave (yes) as his mother, Volumnia, you’ve got a solid core of actors who actually know what to do with the Bard. (Most of the extras seem to be Jugs of one sort or another with names ending in -jovic and -jevick.)
On the minus side, the play is set in modern times, something which regular friends of the decanter will know generally displeases ol’ Robbo. (Indeed, I suppose the point Feinnes was after was to make it look like an episode out of the recent unpleasantness in the Balkans, which would explain the ethnic make-up of the extras. The comparison to the history of early republican Rome is not completely illegitimate.) So instead of men running about with plumed helmets and swords, you get men running about with body armor and modern weaponry plus lots of stuff blowing up. I suppose I could live with that. What I didn’t like was the accompanying modern media portrayal of war – complete with nooz flashes, punditistas (including a Bill O’Reilly lookalike) and video cameras everywhere. There’s where your “relevant” setting drifts across the line to annoying distraction. On the other hand, I thought the scenes of parliamentary maneuvering – especially the bits featuring the Tribunes – the “crows to peck the eagles” – who were out to hocus Coriolanus for being such a shhhnob- were really quite effective.
Finally, the film is shot in that bobbly, hand-held style so fashionable these days that tends to give ol’ Robbo something of a headache, particularly when, as was the case last evening, he is weighed down to the Plimsoll mark with wiener schnitzel and potato pancakes.
All in all, though, I’ll give this film two and a half bumpers out of five.
Next up, The World’s End.
UPDATE: I was chatting with teh Mothe this afternoon about this fillum and she remarked that since Schindler’s List she simply can’t bear to watch Feinnes. I admitted I’ve never actually seen it, as I am too much of a coward. Same deal with Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I dunno how I would respond to the Real Thing, but my tolerance for, well, Screen Evil is pretty durn low.
Several times in the past week or two, ol’ Robbo has come across the name of author P.C. Wren in his readings. As regular friends of the decanter may know, it is a practice of mine to pay attention to what I like to think of as these little cosmic hints. As summah time is now O-fficially upon us, and as I’ve never actually read any of Wren’s books before, it occurred to me that I ought to follow up. Thus, a quick trip to the devil’s website and I now have Beau Geste and Beau Sabreur winging their way toward Port Swiller Manor.
I’ll let you know what I think of them. As Wren is appreciated and
admired enjoyed by the sort of people I appreciate and admire, I expect to enjoy them myself thoroughly.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo’s memory may be a bit fuzzy, of course, but I simply don’t recall this much ballyhoo in the MSM during the last World Cup. Of course I understand that it’s long been a pipe dream of the Sports-Industrial Complex and its hangers-on to get soccer really well established in this country and the Cup represents a fresh opportunity to make it a Thing. But I also can’t help wondering if there isn’t a certain amount of “SQUIRREL!” attached to this year’s pitch: Yeah, the Middle East is in flames, the Russian Bear is on the loose, the economy is flat-lining, the border is being tsunami’d and the Constitution is being used as t-paper by Certain Persons, but how ’bout them gutsy Americans making it to the knock-out round? GOOOOOOOOAAAAALLLL!!!!!!
Per my post below, call it “Starbucks and Fútbol”.
As regular friends of the decanter know, ol’ Robbo does not care to be hustled by the so-called popular cultchah. He tends to flat his ears back and dig in his heels. Whelp, I’m a-flatten’ and a-diggin’ on this one.
Anyhoo, I’ve always found the sport, except when it was being played by teh gels, to be excruciatingly dull. (True, I enjoy George MacDonald Fraser’s descriptions of fit’bah matches in the McAuslan stories, but that’s because of the way he tells them. The man could describe paint drying and make it seem hy-larious.) Yes, I’m well aware that there’s a tremendous amount of skill and strategy that go into it, but, well, it still bores me. So there.
Also, now that it’s being enthused over by hipster-doofus Euro-weenie wannabies of the kind who also love electric cars, free-range veggies, the United Nations and post-Christian social mores? I dislike it even more.
Indeed, there’s only one match that ever really made a significant impression on the so-called braim of Robbo:
So that’s that. Now if you will excuse me, ol’ Robbo is off to watch a Real American Game, hoping his beloved Nationals will thrash the Cubbies this evening up to Wrigley.
* A riff on a long-standing entry in the Port Swiller Family lexicon. Go here for the original.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
The other evening, ol’ Robbo looked into the first of the DVD’s recently recommended to him by friends of the decanter, namely Joss Whedon’s 2012 take on the Bard’s “Much Ado About Nothing”.
I gather from the notes that this was a sort of vanity project of Whedon’s, a long-standing idea that first manifested itself in some informal group readings and eventually became literally a home movie, as it was shot at his own house. I suppose I found that novelty somewhat interesting, but I find it hard to believe that anyone would view this movie as a serious performance of the piece.
First of all, I believe Whedon’s decision to set the film in contemporary Santa Monica with a cast of contemporary Hollywood types proves fatal. The first order of biznay in dealing with Shakespeare effectively is to get us out of our own world and into the one he creates. This is done most effectively in three possible ways: Setting the piece (stage, costumes, etc.) in the Bard’s own time; setting the piece in its own historickal context (this works best for the histories, obviously – Julius Caesar, Richard III, etc.); or setting the piece in some vague “Once Upon A Time” that can’t really be pinned down but is sufficiently far away from the here and now to engage our fantasy (Branagh did this pretty effectively in his version of “Much Ado”).
But southern California in 2012? One’s first instinct is to ask, “Why is everyone talking like that?” Archaic language does not do well in the present tense. (Nor do myriad anachronistic titles, addresses and the like. And as to Claudio trying to maintain his antiquated code of morality in O.C. Gomorrah? Fuggedaboudit!)
Second, I must say I really wasn’t impressed with any of the cast, all of whom seemed to play their roles like modern teevee characters instead of stage classics. (Indeed, when the dumb blond playing Conrad managed to turn “into” to “inna”, I laughed out loud.) I will say, once again going back to Branagh’s treatment, that Nathan Fillion did a better job than Michael Keaton with Dogberry, because Fillion properly played him as a bumbling idiot who’s had some hard knocks and desperately clings to any shred of respectability he can, instead of as a Beetlejuice-like lunatic. Whedon left in some of Dogberry’s lines that Branagh had cut which I think key to the character:
“Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? O that he were here to write me down as ass! But, masters, remember that I am an ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow, and which is more, an officer, and which is more, a householder, and which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to, and a rich fellow enough, go to, and a fellow that has had losses, and one that that two gowns, and every thing handsome about him!”
So all in all, although I’m glad I actually sat down and watched the film, I really didn’t much like it.
I’d give this film one bumper out of five.
Next up: “Coriolanus“.