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In the spirit of the day:

“Would you like some more……syrup!”  was one of a number of catch-phrases culled from Monty Python, SCTV, Firesign Theatre and the like that my college roommate and I used constantly.   We had  virtually nothing in common except our senses of humor:  He was a skinny little Jewish liberal from Jersey who did drugs moderately often and listened to the Doors all the time, and I, well, you already have some idea of what I was like.

We got along beautifully.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers! Having arrived home safe and sound from my latest excursion, I have a few observations to brighten your Friday:

*** First of all, in case any of my readers were unaware of it before, let me make this abundantly clear: I HATE FLYING!!!! HATE IT! HATE IT! HATE IT! I know my harping on this subject again is going to promote snickers among certain ex-Harrier pilots and Aunt Dahlia-like huntresses, but they can go to the devil. We took off from Dulles Tuesday morning on the back side of that nor-easter that rolled up the coast this week, and jeezum-crow did we pitch and toss about! Up, down, sideways. Jerk, bounce, drop, shudder. And once we leveled out, we kept heaving about on the jet stream that was hitting us on the flank. Scared the absolute bejaysus out of me, I can assure you, and probably took about six or eight months off my life-span. On the other hand, my muscles were positively ripped by the time we landed, what with being tensed to the max for almost two hours.

So how did I handle it? Well, Father M would be pleased to know that I said four decades of the Rosary during the climb out, which was the worst of it. (I don’t actually have a rosary, but as Father S of my parish pointed out once, we all do have ten fingers, so there’s no excuse for not keeping track.) And I must say that this certainly helped me keep hold of myself. Not that I let go of the arm-rest the entire trip, but at least I stopped trembling.

*** What is the story with the toll system around Chicago’s highways? It seems that there is another booth every couple hundred yards, each one nicking you for 80 cents. The only reason I could think of why they should nickel and dime you in this way instead of charging higher fees with fewer tollbooths is that it is a make-work for the union. Or is that being too cynical?

*** I seem to have a singular talent for choosing hotels within a block or two of active railroads, thereby subjecting myself to hearing train horns every hour on the hour all night long. Mrs. R says I need to start researching this more carefully if I ever expect to get any sleep, and I begin to think she is about right.

*** I love driving across the Midwestern prairie. So wide open. Such lovely vistas. When I was a boy sitting out in the pre-dawn in the Texas Hill Country on hunting expeditions, I used to see a light or two twinkling way off in the distance and muse about what it must be like standing under that light, and what where I was sitting must look like from way over there. It set up a very satisfactory imaginative link between me and that far place. I mention this because I found myself doing the same thing with the various copses, windmills, barns and silos that dotted the landscape as I drove along. Again, very satisfying.

*** I also love driving in the Midwest because there is relatively little traffic and other drivers tend to be quite polite and considerate. The only aggressive driver I saw the whole time had Virginia plates. When I spotted them as he came bombing by, I burst out laughing. Sic Semper Floor-It-Us!

*** This may fall into the “You are such a geek!”¹ category, but I took my Francis Parkman along with me on this trip and, as it happened, spent a lot of my off time reading all about LaSalle, Fr. Hennepin and the trials and tribulations they and their followers suffered at Starving Rock and other points up and down the Illinois River Valley. So imagine my delight yesterday morning when I found myself driving through that very area. I didn’t have time to stop because I had to get back to O’Hare, but what fun it was to see all the place names and recognize their historical significance. (Well, I thought it was fun.)

*** I took a Telemann CD (among others) along with me for the long drive. Do you associate certain pieces of musick with certain places, people or events? I do. And now I think I am going to forever associate Telemann’s Alster Echo Suite with this drive.

Was ist das, you ask? Well, it’s a deliberately silly and raucous piece of musick. Here’s a nifty YouTube version (which, however, I believe leaves a dance or two out, but you get the flavor):

The very excellent recording I have also contains Telemann’s delightful concerto “The Frogs”, which I will also associate with open prairie and river bluffs in the morning mist.

Yes, perhaps I am a geek.

¹ Spot the quote.

Packet ‘United States’ by Robert Salmon, 1817

Well, as noted below, I’m away. See you later this week.

Because it’s John Cleese’s birthday in the next day or so and because it happens to be one of my very favorite Python sketches, I give you “The Fish License”:

I do believe that if I actually were to sit down and do the math, this sketch would probably be the first among the entire Python canon in terms of density of quotes that have made it into the Robbo Family Lexicon.

How could someone possibly resist such a headline with this story?

[A] 26-year-old passenger’s arm became trapped up to the shoulder by the powerful suction flushing system on board the packed high-speed TGV train from Paris to La Rochelle.

Firefighters took more than an hour to free the man, before lifting him from the train on a stretcher with the entire toilet still stuck to his arm.

A fire spokesman said: “He was cut free from the toilet on the platform and apart from suffering bruising and smelling a bit, he suffered no other injuries.”

A spokesman for French rail operator SNCF added: “The train was two hours late at its destination on Sunday afternoon due to an unlikely accident, and we apologise to passengers for the unavoidable delay.”

Le heh.

And note how I am restraining mightily from making anything of the “smelling a bit” line.  Mightily, I tell you!

British film makers are hoping to recreate the magic of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in a low budget movie inspired by JRR Tolkien’s books.

Born of Hope is a prequel to the fantasy novels and tells the story of the Dúnedain, the Rangers of the North, before the return of the King.

The 60-minute film, which will be released on the internet next year, focuses on Arathorn and Gilraen, the parents of Aragorn, from their first meeting through a turbulent time in their people’s history.

Filming has already begun in Epping Forest in Essex, with the latest footage showing actors trudging through the woods dressed as sword-wielding Orcs.

Kate Robinson, who is directing the film, said: “Born of Hope is a prequel to the New Line Trilogy and my aim is to make a film that can sit alongside those films without looking too out of place.

“We want to show people more of a back-story for Aragorn. Based on Tolkien’s writings in the Appendices of the books we look at Aragorn’s people and show the relationship between his parents.”

Weeeeeeell……Good luck with that, mates, but I shudder with apprehension about what “the relationship between his parents” probably entails:  Arathorn II is a boozy, defeated cynic.  Gilraen, his wife, the “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” of Eriador, is the real inspiration of the remnant of Numenor.  It is with her wisdom and spirit that the boy is endowed, giving him the inner strength – and sensitivity! – to woo the beautiful Elvin maiden, overcome the prejudices of his enemies and eventually assume the Crown.

Oh, and for those not interested in that story line, there are a lot of people dressed up like orcs and running about the place, drooling, torching and slaying.

I jest, but on the other hand I would lay money that Born of Hope (I assume this to be a nod to Aragorn’s childhood cover name of “Estel” -which means “Hope”), probably won’t be very far away from this.

On the other hand, no Peter Jackson!

I will be heading out on my travels again tomorrow and away from the ol’ blog for the rest of the week.

Of course, I can’t publicly disclose exactly where I’m going, but I can tell you that this time around it is a place that might be described as very, very Midwestern.

As I’ve been organizing my schedule with the local folks, I have been continually amazed at the barrier thrown up simply by the local pronunciations of place-names.  I used to think that the citizens of Buena Vista, Virginia held the blue ribbon on that count by their insistence in pronouncing it “Bee-yunah Vista”, but these good folks have, I think, got them beat.

Some of you no doubt recognize it even before I give the link, but this is a photo of the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario, dedicated to the memory of the eight Jesuits – Jean de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier, Noël Chabanel, Isaac Jogues, René Goupil and Jean de Lalande – who first came to the shores of Canada in the mid-17th Century with the intent of converting the Huron Nation to Christianity.  All of them endured incredible hardships.  Most of them also endured unbelievably horrific tortures at the hands of their flock’s enemies.  All of them also met gruesome deaths in and around lonely outposts scattered about the eastern Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, as their mission was reduced – literally – to blood-soaked ashes.  And all of them faced these trials with almost inconceivable bravery, dignity and grace.

I mention this because, after reading about 350 pages of Francis Parkman over the weekend, I dreamed all last night of missionaries, Hurons and endless pursuit by marauding  Iroquois.  Whoa.

By the way, I would point out that Parkman, while making abundantly clear his own “heretical” status and his opinions of the faults of the Church, nonetheless has nothing but genuine praise and admiration for these extraordinary men.

For some reason, I am having a good bit of trouble with WordPress today.  Posting may be very sporatic until things sort themselves out.

Thank you for your patience.

Happy birthday, Malcolm Bilson! Born this day in 1935.

 Who he, you ask?

 Well, he’s a longtime member of the Cornell Musick Department, a trailblazer period performance guy and more or less the dean of the fortepiano. I consider Bilson’s recording of the complete cycle of Mozart’s piano concerti with John Eliot Full of Himself Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists to be the best available, and would heartily recommend them to anybody.


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October 2008