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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.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
By the time those two or three of you together read this post, it will be time for ol’ Robbo to shut things down.
Wednesday – Tenebrae, complete with alter boys vigorously kicking the stuffing out of the pews….
Thursday – Mass of the Last Supper. Yes, there will be washing of feet. Problem?
Friday – Good Friday. The Passion. In Latin. ’Nuff said.
Saturday – Easter Vigil (at which ol’ Robbo marks his fifth year as a member of Holy Mother Church and thanks every single blessed minute since he swam the Tiber).
Sunday – Various activities only marginally connected with Robbo’s celebration of His Resurrection but nonetheless meaningful and obligatory. To wit, hearing the Middle Gel sing at the Cathedral and then tooling out to the Shenandoah Valley to Cousin C’s for Easter din-dins.)
Monday – The aftermath of Holy Week……. and opening day at Nationals Park. (No, we don’t have tickets. But the truth is that I’d rather watch it on teevee than slog down to the Park after all the fuss and bother of the previous few days. Anyhoo, it’s only the Marlins….)
Here’s a nifty little item that caught the Robbo eye this morning: Alec Guinness Archive at British Library.
Alec Guinness will be the subject of a major project at the British Library after it acquired the actor’s personal archive.
The star of stage, film and television, who won a Best Actor Oscar in 1957 for his role as Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (below), died in 2000 at the age of 86. The archive charts Guinness’s career from the late 1930s, and includes more than 900 of his letters to family and friends and over 100 volumes of diaries.
The British Library already holds the papers of actors Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Cataloguing is due to take place over the next year and the archive (publicly available for the first time) is expected to be open for research in 2014.
The papers offer an intimate account of the actor’s life, detailing his wartime responsibilities and his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1956, as well as his successful career on stage and screen. Highlights include a letter to his wife written during the opening night of the 1938 Old Vic season which made his reputation, a diary entry following the death of Olivier in which Guinness reflects on Olivier’s acting technique, and Guinness’s account of his premonition of death the day before his boat went down in a freak storm during World War II.
How nifty! Guinness has always been one of my very favorite actors. One of the shelves of the Port Swiller Mansion library is devoted to theatrickal personnel and matters. I’ve got autobiographies of Olivier, Gielgud, Hepburn and the like, and also have two or three of Guinness’ own collections of reflections. It would be nice to see somebody put together a new biography of him based on this additional information.
As for the snippets mentioned above, I believe Guinness was a naval reservist in WWII and saw combat. I also seem to recall reading that he swam the Tiber as the result of his experience filming the Father Brown Mysteries (which I’ve never been able to get hold of, but I’ll bet he was terrific in the part). I also dimly recall an anecdote about Ralph Richardson getting so angry over Guinness’ (or it may have been Gielgud’s) effortless impishness in some stage production or other that he punched him out backstage in frustration.
It was also largely on Guinness’ behalf that I was so delighted when Tom Hanks’ effort to re-film The Ladykillers spun in so ignominiously. Masterpieces ought to be let alone.
The one thing about him with which I could possibly find fault is his extremely nasty attitude toward teh Star Wars franchise and its legions of fans constantly pestering him in later life over the whole Ben Kenobi biznay. While I can perfectly well understand his feelings, it has always struck me that as a professional he ought to have kept them to himself. Apparently, he was rayther rabid to autograph hounds, including small kids. (I often wonder if Alan Rickman had Guinness in mind when doing his classickal-actor-trapped-in-cheesy-scifi shtick in Galaxy Quest.)
Huh. It seems there are still some retro holdouts against the relentless onslaught of “new and improved” technology across the pond.
More than 13,000 households across the UK are still using black-and-white television sets, according to the TV Licensing authority.
London had the highest number of monochrome licences, at 2,715, followed by Birmingham and Manchester, it said.
The number of licences issued each year has dwindled from 212,000 in 2000. A total of 13,202 monochrome licences were in force at the start of 2013.
A black-and-white TV licence costs £49 a year, a colour licence costs £145.50.
TV Licensing spokesman Stephen Farmer said: “It’s remarkable that with the digital switchover complete, 41% of UK households owning HDTVs and Britons leading the world in accessing TV content over the internet, more than 13,000 households still watch their favourite programmes on a black-and-white telly.”
(For those of you unfamiliar with the practice, Britain funds the Beeb through fees collected on television ownership via an annual licensing requirement. And yes, television detector vans really do patrol the streets seeking out unlicensed and therefor illegal television viewing.)
I wonder what that figure would be here in the States?
I no doubt date myself by noting that we had a black & white teevee when I was a kid. One day when I was about seven or so, I got the brilliant idea that I was going to change it into a color set. So I found a can of orange spray-paint and got to work on the screen. If memory serves, the Old Gentleman was so gob-smacked by the thinking behind my actions when he discovered my handiwork that I got off with a very light reprimand. (That, and I seem to remember that the paint came off the glass relatively easily.)
UPDATE: Thinking back on the teevee of my yoot reminds me that I recently stumbled across a cable channel called FamilyNet, which has started running an evening lineup of WKRP, Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart (both shows) reruns. I used to be a huge fan of all of these.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show wrapped up when I was twelve and I hadn’t seen a rerun in 36 years. All I can say is that I knew I liked her back then for a darn good reason. Yow!
Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy third day of Christmas!
I thought I would pass along the above just because it made me smile. Share and enjoy! (A glass of wine with Father M, who posted it on Facebook.)
As it happens, I had to run up to the store in the midst of yesterday’s storm – what was it the Weather Channel Behemoth “named” it? Eustace? Enid? something like that – and had the radio tuned to the local classickal station. As I knew would be the case, the entire holiday play list had vanished.
On the one hand, I was irked by this perennial short-changing of the Christmas Feast. On the other, I was relieved that the saturation – which had started the weekend after Thanksgiving – had finally come to an end.