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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Prompted by catching AMC’s umpteenth re-showing of Braveheart t’other evening, ol’ Robbo started to write a post on the predictability of Mel Gibson movie characters, but after re-reading the draft, I decided that my insights were so bloody obvious that they would insult the collective intelligence of my fellow port swillers. So consider yourselves spared.
In keeping with the theme of big-budget 90′s historickal beefcake films, however, I will note instead that, following up on my recent re-enjoyment of Francis Parkman’s history of French and British colonial history in North America, I’ve chucked Last of the Mohicans into the ol’ Netflix queue again.
Friends of the decanter might be puzzled by this. After all, said movie makes a complete hash of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel – the wrong couples get together, the wrong characters live and die and the movie’s Major Hayward is teleported in from the Bearded-Spock Universe – and we all know what Robbo thinks of movie bowderlizations of cherished books. (Peter Jackson, for example, is going straight to hell.)
So how can I watch this one? The key word here is “cherished”. I’ve never understood why Cooper enjoys the literary status that he does, or anyway did back in the day when more young people still knew how to read. His books, at least to me, are long-winded, pompous, condescending and heavy-handed. And, as Mark Twain famously noted, as a limousine liberal of his day, Cooper not only was a poor writer, he also didn’t know what the hell he was talking about when it came to stories of the wild. Frankly, I struggled through LOTM and I positively gave up on his Wing and Wing after a couple chapters despite the fact that it was a sea-story. So it simply doesn’t bother me much that his tale of Natty Bumppo is so thoroughly mangled by the film.
Well, there is one part that bothers me: Col. Munro, the real one, was not killed in the massacre at Fort William-Henry by Magwa or anyone else. He actually died some months later, apparently from exhaustion. And I recall that the movie downplays the fact that many of those murdered and carried away by Montcalm’s Indian allies were women and children.
Nonetheless, the movie is gorgeously filmed (although I believe at least some of the scenes were shot in the Blue Ridge near Roanoke instead of the Adirondacks ), there’s plenty of action and a lot of the period (circa 1757) detail is pretty good. And for some reason, Robbo’s beloved Nationals have adopted its score as the “theme” musick at the beginning of their home games. Kinda gets to you after a while.
Oh, may I also note here in reference to the pic above that I absolutely love N.C. Wyeth’s work? Sure, the man was but an illustrator, but he carried illustration to a sublime level. I’d take ol’ N.C. over a legion of “abstract” artistes any day.
**Spot the reference.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Now that the days are growing longer again, ol’ Robbo’s evening commute currently begins right around sunset. Heading west nor’west from the office to Port Swiller Manor, I get the full glory of dusk across my windshield.
Know one of the things I’ve always loved seeing at this time of day? The contrails of jets heading west. There’s something about the rosy glow of the vapor trail and the (occasional) twinkle of the plane itself, set against the profound blue depth of the sky, that moves me. I can’t really explain it, except that there is some combination of the aesthetic, historickal, musical and religious connotations that strikes home.
Yes, I include “musickal”. There’s a recitative from Purcell’s King Arthur that I always associate with this time of day.
Great Love, I know thee now:
Eldest of the gods art thou.
Heav’n and earth by thee were made.
Human nature is thy creature,
Ev’rywhere thou art obey’d.
And lest you draw the wrong, Niles Crane-like, conclusions, I may point out that when I articulated the idea to a young Randy-Mack gel long ago while we were driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the only thing that stopped her from jumping me then and there was the fact that she was a good Catholic girl and I was semi-hemi-demi-seeing her friend. It’s a long story.
But those records are sealed.
On the other hand, in messing about researching this post, I stumbled across the following YooToob clip of the Passacaille from the same King Arthur, about which was made a movie of which I had not heard, England, My England – The Story of Henry Purcell. Not Netflix-worthy, apparently, but available at the devil’s website.
Enjoy teh sample:
I may cough up the readies to see the whole thing.
As we batten down the hatches and prepare for the onslaught of the latest Storm of the Century of the Week, ol’ Robbo is listening to “Oh My Son”, a piece of choral musick by a young contemporary fellah named Marcos Galvany.
The piece, described as “operatic tableaux”, purports to portray the story of various incidents in the life of Jesus that the composer recalls being told by his mother during his yoot in Spain. It seems to have premiered about three or four years ago to enthusiastic reception, and has since been performed in several prime venues, including the Vatican.
On just a first hearing, it doesn’t seem to be too bad to me, although it feels a little more Broadway than Seven Last Words, if you know what I mean. Still, compared to what often passes as “musick” these days, it is quite refreshing in its adherence to traditional forms.
Anyhoo, the reason I’m listening to it – or even aware of it at all, for that matter – is that Galvany is getting ready to release a limited edition CD of the thing, and a couple of tracks are going to feature none other than teh Middle Gel and her fellow choristers. They recorded their bits this past weekend:
(Pic lifted from Señor Galvany’s FB page. I’m sure he won’t mind, since I’m plugging his CD here.)
Is ol’ Robbo proud of his daughter, the professional musician? Oh, you betcha!
UPDATE: It was only as I was typing this post that I realized the link to the piece leads to a loop. I thought the musick sounded rayther repetitive….
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo popped into his DVD player this evening a copy of the Dennis Leary film The Ref.
I recall having tried to watch this movie once before about twenty years ago and dozing off at some point. More recently, I had read several articles about its supposed Catholic underpinnings, so I decided to try it again.
My reaction? Well….yeah, but I still understand why I dozed off the last time. It isn’t all that great a flick. IMHO, Leary’s talents – which I think as a stand-up comic are considerable – are wasted in this format.
What I liked this time around, though, was the misplaced (in calendar terms) but lovely acknowledgement to St. Lucia. I’m guessing that there is a frontier between those in the audience who watch the protagonist family members placing lighted wreaths on their heads in her honor and say, “Yeesh, what a bunch of freaks!” and those who say, “Cool, how can I convince MY family to do something like that?”
Yes, I’m in the latter camp.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers and Merry Christmas!
Ol’ Robbo finds himself marking time a bit this Christmas Eve, having got everything laid out for tomorrow’s festivities at Port Swiller Manor and now just waiting until it’s time to head out to Midnight Mass. So for your delectation, a few observations:
♦ Last Sunday, Father P used as his text the Epistle of Paul in which Paul cautions his readers not to judge their fellows (saying, in fact, that he wouldn’t even judge himself – yeah, right) because God will take care of all that Himself, thank you very much. (And as an aside, am I going to hell because Paul sometimes reminds me of Polonius in his micromanaging?) In any event, one of the examples the padre used to illustrate Paul’s meaning was to caution us regular pew-dwellers against sneering at the Christmas and Easter crowd for their bad manners, ignorance of the form and general disruptiveness. It was because I remembered this homily that I stopped myself this evening from wheeling around and glaring at the gang of young ladies in the pew behind me at RFEC who spent most of the service gossiping and giggling. But I certainly felt like it.
♦ Speaking of which, the Family Robbo attended the early, “child-friendly” service at RFEC this evening. This is the one in which the rector, instead of delivering a sermon, invites all the wee tots up to the sanctuary and reads them a kiddy “Christmas Story”. Even Mrs. R, Christianity-and-water as she is, remarked on how lame this was and insisted that, starting next year, we go to one of the more adult offerings.
♦ For all that, while we were at church, a brief snowfall swept over the area. It was quite lovely, even more so for the fact that teh snow didn’t stick and therefore need not be dealt with.
♦ The Gospel this evening, of course, was Luke 2: 1-14. My friends, I tell you that every single time I hear or read that passage, I start to tear up. And I tell you something else, I get a particular frisson from lines 13 and 14:
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
I have a very distinct vision of that scene in my mind which is, at the same time, untranslatable in any earthly form of communication. I suppose that, were I any artist, I would grapple with a way to articulate it, but maybe it’s better that I’m not and I don’t try.
And while we’re at it, here’s teh classic rendition that has choked me up right proper for almost fifty years:
♦ Lastly, I mentioned tomorrow’s festivities. It’s just the immediate Family Robbo and a widowed cousin, but it’s Christmas after all and therefore worthy of the old favorites, roast beef, Yorkshire pud and asparagus. (Regular friends of the decanter will not be surprised that ol’ Robbo is rigidly orthodox in his views about holiday cooking: Christmas – Roast Beef; Easter – Lamb; Fourth of July – Burgers and Dogs; Thanksgiving – Turkey. Period.) Anyhoo, I pass on a tip from teh Mothe re an easy-peasy way to prepare the asparagus: Peel it, put it in a microwave-friendly dish full of water, zap it for three minutes, serve with appropriate sauce or dressing and Bob’s your uncle. (UPDATE: See clarification in the comments below. Inadvertent error courtesy of the NSA.)
Oh, and speaking of easy, regular friends of teh decanter may recall that last year I decided to try doing the roast outside on my Webber grill? Well, it worked out okay in the end, but it was a heck of a battle fussing about with the coals and vents to try and stabilize the temperature. I felt like a rookie pilot totally losing control of the yaw of his aircraft and wildly over-compensating. In retrospect, I don’t think it was worth the bother, so this year the beast goes straight into the oven.
Aaaanyhoo, I posted this nonsense mostly so that I could say this: A very merry Christmas to you all! When I get home in the wee hours tonight, I will pour myself a glass of port before staggering up to bed and toast (among others) those of you who drop by here to share in Robbo’s ramblings. God bless you, every one!
I will not dip into the perennial debate over what constituted the “real” first Thanksgiving celebrated in the Americas this year, instead letting the Plymouth dog lie. I can’t help noting my intense amusement, however, in learning that Squanto, savior of the Puritan colonists, was in fact a Catholic.
Anyhoo, no posties for the next few days, as the Family Robbo piles into our Honda Juggernaut® at day-break to go visit my brother and his family (together with the Mothe and my widowed cousin). There will be the usual food and drink, grumbling about the God-forsaken state of the world, perhaps some college fu’ball watching (although watching the Longhorns play Tech will never be the same thing as their rivalry with the Aggies), and maybe even a hike up in the Blue Ridge. Good times, good times.
Oh, by the way, we did indeed get snow at Port Swiller Manor today. Not many flakes and they didn’t stick at all, but it definitely was the white stuff. The last time we got snow at Thanksgiving, I believe we got hammered later on when the right season started. Just saying.
So here’s to a very happy and bounteous Thanksgiving Day to you all, with three times three!
UPDATE: D’OH! A month or two back, Mrs. Robbo (while, I believe, practicing bootlegger turns although she denies it) sideswiped a pole in a parking lot, caving in the rim of the right-rear wheel well. The damage seemed cosmetic only and Mrs. R didn’t report any trouble, so I didn’t give it much thought beyond saying kiss-my-hand to the lease deposit. Well this morning, when all five of us plus our luggage piled in (for the first time since Mrs. R’s ding), I quickly discovered that the extra weight meant every time we went over a bump, the rim would scrape against the tire. I tried redistributing the gels to put less of a load on that corner, but it only helped a little bit.
We started out nonetheless, but by the time we got to Haymarket, my nerves were beginning to frazzle at each new “SCCCRNCHH!!” I pulled off the road and had a dekko. Sure enough, the edge of the tread where the rim had been rubbing it was starting to shred. No way in the world was I going to try taking that on a six hour drive across Virginny and North Carolina, so we turned around and limped home.
I suppose we might have rented something, but the closest place I could even imagine being open would have been Dulles. Maybe. And assuming we could find a suitable substitute, by the time we got there, got it, got home and transferred all our gear, it would be way late to set out. Ol’ Robbo has a very low “Oh, to hell with it!” threshold, and that would have been too much for so short a trip.
My sister-in-law suggested I try banging the rim back out with a hammer. I had actually thought about that and even took a few tentative pokes at it. But I don’t know anything about getting a body panel off a car. And I was afraid that if I tried to lever it in situ, I would only manage to tear it, thus putting a shiv directly over the tire. No, thankee.
So no Port Swiller Family Meet-Up this year.
Fortunately, some friends who found out about it immediately invited us to join them for dins this afternoon. So at least there’s that.
UPDATE DEUX: Yeah, about that. In the midst of our frolic the eldest gel was struck down by sharp abdominal pains and had to be taken to teh ER. Kidney stones, apparently. What a day.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
On his drive home this evening through the Storm of the Century of the Week, ol’ Robbo heard Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” played over the airwaves by the local classkickal station.
In all fairness, the spinning of said CD was actually a function of the station’s annual classickal countdown, a survey of listeners’ 100 faves that runs this week and finishes up on Thanksgiving night. Nonetheless, the reminder that, so far as the current so-called cultchah is concerned, we are now entering into the “Xmas” season was enough to cause ol’ Robbo to sprout fangs and hair all over his face and start baying at the moon, wherever she might have been behind the fog, rain and cloud.
You see, I know what’s going to happen. I listen to said station both during my commute and during my regular work day down the shop. Starting on Friday, teh station is going to start slipping a few Xmas toons into its rotation. Gradually, over what is supposed to be the season of Advent, they’re going to increase the flow, until round about December 23 or so, when it’s going to be wall-to-wall Xmas musick, most of the tracks having been played some tens if not hundreds of times already. And at that point, should I choose to listen, I’m going to be Absolutely. Sick. To. Death. Of. All. Of. It.
And the punch line? at 12:01 ack emma on December 26, the second day of the actual twelve days of the Feast of Christmas when, you know, such musick is actually appropriate? ”We now resume our regular programming.”
People don’t get it. They just damn don’t get it.
Well this year, I am not going to succumb. I won’t go so far as to cut out all musick from my work day (as I do during Lent), but I am going to forgo the radio and instead rely on a rotation of my own CD’s brought in from home. I know this is a very small and perhaps futile gesture, but it’s what I’ve got.
Before it ends, I just wanted to note that today is the Feast of St. Cecilia, patron of musick and one of ol’ Robbo’s very favorite for what ought to be obvious reasons to long-time friends of the decanter.
I don’t recall whether I have mentioned it here before, but in fact I have long kept a copy of the famous Donatello bas-relief of St. Cecilia on top of the Port Swiller Manor piano. I do this primarily because when I start to swear at myself over my feeble attempts at making musick, an ancient bad habit of mine, a quick glance at her will often shame me into regaining control of my tongue. I then ask her intercession for the forgiving of my potty-mouth.
On the other hand, on those occasions (not surprisingly rare for someone whose maximum practice time consists of maybe an hour or two of sight-reading per week) when my fingers actually start working on their own and I find myself caught up in the soul of the musick, I try to make a point of thanking her for her aid when I’m done.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Well, somehow or other Halloween has snuck up on ol’ Robbo this year while his attention was turned elsewhere. The idea more or less came into focus today first when I received this article on teh Facebook feed about a Polish Archbishop fretting over the whole satanic biznay, and second when I saw a rayther attractive young woman crossing Constitution Avenue this evening rigged out in a short, black dress and orange and black-striped leggings, carrying a witch’s hat, and, no doubt, feeling one hell of a fool.
Eh. In general, I’ve got no problem with Halloween in its sanitized, kiddy version. For the record, teh youngest gel is the only one planning to go out this year. She ginned up a costume of her own design that I can only describe as the love child of a Smurf and one of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things.
As to teh evil, well. Groups of thugs going about and vandalizing? Adults dressing up as Miley Cyrus, naughty nurses and nuns and the like and indulging in bacchanals? Yeah, that’s a spiritual problem, and a serious one. But little Johnny is not setting out on the path to hell just because he puts on a Boba-Fett costume and goes round the neighborhood scooping in candy. (Especially if he – or in our case she – has ol’ Dad standing by to bloviate about the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, two of his favorite days in the liturgical calendar.)
Indeed, I still recall a bloggy comment from some years back (now lost somewhere in the Llama Archives): A bunch of my traddy-Catholic friends were discussing faith-based costume ideas, this being a popular thing in this particular crowd. Among the suggestions were various angels, saints and martyrs, but I recall in particular that one suggestion was to dress little Johnny as a Jesuit missionary.
A wag in the comments remarked, “Just add Hurons!”
Between my Convert Derangement Syndrome and my historickal geekery, I laughed and laughed. I still do.
Anyhoo, the point I really wanted to make in this post is much smaller but plainer: There is a right way to carve a jack-o-lantern and there
is are many wrong ones.
The right way involves the traditional three triangles and jagged mouth:
The wrong ways involve, well, anything that can be labeled “pumpkin sculpture”:
I know there are friends of the decanter who will disagree with me about this, but pray hear out my argument. The former decoration, primitive as it may be, speaks directly to the, er, spirit of the day. The notion of a time when the door between the realms of the living and the dead swings open just a bit goes right down to some primary synapse in our psyche, some Jungian racial memory, some religious truth. Every time I have ever seen ol’ Jack grinning at me from out of the gloom, I have always felt a certain chill run up and down my spine.
The latter? It’s simply showing away. It’s “art”. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep. It has nothing to do with the real essence and instead brays out, “Hey, y’all, check out what a clever pumpkin sculptor I am!”
Feh. Look, I grant you the technical impressiveness, but as I say there’s no soul there, no primordial creepifying, no hint of majick, black or otherwise. As is so typical of this wretched age, it’s simply another manifestation of teh Ego.
So (he said, thumping the table), that is ol’ Robbo’s opinion. I will end by saying first that this year Mrs. R and teh gels are on their own carving the Port Swiller Pumpkin since I will not have been home in time to assist¹, and second that I plan, as I always do, to grab the decanter and scurry down to the basement in order to ignore any little imps that come a-knocking at our front door. Not that they often knock – we’ve taken to putting a bowl of goodies on the step with a “Help yourselves” sign and left it at that. Teh kiddies get teh swag and I avoid having to deal with them. Everybody wins.
¹ Because of teh peculiarities of WordPress’s default clock, I’m actually writing this the evening of October 30.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo managed to polish off three books during his week of summah hols, all of which were new to me. I pass on my snap, heavily-condensed reviews for what they’re worth.
The first two books are by that long-time favorite of mine, George MacDonald Fraser. Regular friends of the decanter will recall that ol’ Robbo often has praised Fraser’s hy-larious yet informative Victorian romps in his Flashman series,¹ as well as his equally entertaining yet more profound recollections of his own WWII service in Quartered Safe Out Here and the McAuslan stories. What I might not have made clear in these past accolades was Fraser’s extensive involvement with the movie industry. Among other things, he wrote the screenplay for the hugely entertaining early 70′s films, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers. He also wrote the Bond film Octopussy and was involved in both Force Ten from Navarone and the rayther dull Ah-nold movie Red Sonja.
Anyhoo, this week I read two of Fraser’s more Hollywood-centric books, The Light’s On At Signpost and The Hollywood History of the World. TLOAS is an interesting sort of fin-de-sicle piece, combining insider-baseball stories of the film world with Fraser’s rayther jaundiced view of the state of Western Civilisation in the early 2000′s. The former are fun peeks into an alien culchah. The latter drip with bitterness. Indeed, I have to confess that some of them are even too strong for me, the prime example being Fraser’s opinion that Jesus, based on his ability to eject the money-changers from the Temple, evidently was a hulking, burly fellah and that he probably faked his death on teh Cross and merely returned instead of being resurrected. I revel in his bashing of Tony Blair and New Labour, but this sort of thing goes too far for me. Oh, and speaking of the McAuslan stories, this book finally discloses the real story of Wee Wullie and why the Colonel was so protective of him. I must say that in this case, truth was far more astounding than fiction. God bless.
THHOTW is a straight-forward appreciation of the various stages of development of Western Civilisation and Hollywood’s treatment of same. We go from Biblical Times to the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance to the British Empire to the American West to the 20th Century. I had thought that Fraser’s book would be devoted primarily to What Hollywood Got Wrong, largely in terms of dialogue, costume, props and the like. There is plenty of this, but Fraser not only also points out what teh films got Right, he goes beyond this question to examine how Hollywood captured what we think about these various periods, what we cherish and what we revile. In the last section, he shakes his head at the gratuitous violence glorified in gangster and vigilante movies, from Edward G. Robinson up through Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. (Oddly, there is no mention of The Godfather and its progeny.) The book was published in 1988, before the rise of the current crop of slasher/horror movies. What Fraser would have made of, for example, a successful franchise concerning a psychopath who forces people to saw off their own limbs in order to escape him, I shudder to think.
I suppose my only puzzled objection to the second book is the fact that, in the section on the British Empire, no mention whatsoever is made of The Man Who Would Be King. Fraser is, if nothing else, an admirer of Kipling, and I’m astounded that he didn’t at least give a nod to this particular film.
T’other book I read was Rooster: The Life And Times Of The Real Rooster Cogburn, the Man Who Inspired ‘True Grit’ by Brett Cogburn (great-grandson of said Rooster). I’d say that you probably need to be a real Clinton Portis junkie (and is this a bad thing?) to enjoy this one. The “real” Rooster turns out to have been a moonshiner in the mountains of Arkansas southeast of Fort Smith in the 1880′s who did time for the murder of a deputy U.S. Marshall bent on breaking up his distilling operations. I dunno if it’s fair to say that the real Rooster inspired Portis’s creation, but it is absolutely certain that the author’s researches led him right through the Cogburn family history, as well as those of other contemporary local events and persons. There are just too many names and occurrences in common between the actual history and the novel for such to be otherwise. But as I say, I’m not sure anyone would be particularly interested if they weren’t already fans of True Grit. (By the bye, the Mothe insists that this book is THE authentic American novel, compared to which Twain’s Huck Finn is a load of sentimentalist twaddle. I’m inclined to agree.)
So there you go. I recommend any and all of these books. But then again, you know your host. Cum grano salis, indeed.
1 Just as an aside in re Flashy, I become increasingly intrigued by what Fraser would have done with him in the American Civil War, had he lived long enough to write that particular section of the Flashman Papers. There are enough hints in teh other books that I have resolved, the next time I go through ‘em, to jot down every scrap of information I can find about what Fraser had in mind in re story arc. Would it be completely presumptuous of me to attempt to write such a novel myself? Probably.