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I am in the midst of reading Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen.

This morning I finished up a section about Polo’s first crossing of the Pamir, the “Roof of the World” where most of the major Central Asian mountain ranges run into each other, located in the Pakistan/Tajikistan/Southwestern China area.

From the descriptions in the book plus some of the pictures I’ve seen, it seems an amazing place, but all day I have had the phrase “The Back of Beyond” floating around in my head.

Now the point of this post: I had always more or less assumed that this phrase was coined by Kipling.  Apparently, tho, this is incorrect.  While Kipling certainly used it, Sir Walter Scott seems to have printed it first, in 1816 in his novel The Antiquary.

Not that I read much Scott, so it’s not surprising that I didn’t know this, but I thought I would pass it along just in case the question ever comes up for you.

The Brits are claiming that a little bit of nitrous oxide combined with hypnosis might be a better dental anaesthetic than a full blast of laughing gas:

The researchers believe the gas nitrous oxide could then be used more sparingly or for more serious operations where usually a full anaesthetic is used.

The team at University College London found that people were more open to hynosis when they were using the drug, which is used by dentists to relieve pain and relax patients during minor operations.

A number of dentists have been trained in hypnosis and find that their patients respond well to being spoken to in a quiet, hypnotic manner.

The new findings suggest that these effects could be further enhanced with laughing gas.

The UCL study set out to establish whether laughing gas does indeed boost imaginative suggestibility – a trait closely related to hypnotic suggestibility.

Uh, huh.  It is perfectly evident that this is nothing more than a cover story to allow NHS bean-counters to cut NO2 outlays and save themselves some dosh.

Dentist: Repeat after me. ‘This does not hurt.’

Patient: Thnsh drsh nt haurt.

Dentist: This does not hurt.

Patient: Thnsh drsh nt..Auught! Wrt mnit…It DUSH hrtt!!!

Dentist: This Does Not Hurt!

Patient: THrrrrrsh hrrrstshss!!!!!



Ah, socialized medicine.

Last evening I attended a performance of the SH Elementary All-Star Crash & Burn String Orchestra, in which the eldest gel is amongst the most junior of the second violins.

The hundred-odd kids were presided over by a magnificent woman of obvious Irish extraction who could whistle through her teeth at them and who, despite the fact that she was wearing the velvet glove of performance night poise, made abundantly clear that underneath she carried the iron fist of the regimental sar’n-major.

The program started with a round of solos, which ranged in quality from the painful to the pretty-durn-good.   The first chair first violin, a 4th grade Vunderkind, played some Bartok and Paganini with genuine aplomb, while a 5th grader did some excellent bass work despite the fact that the instrument was about twice his size.

As for the ensemble pieces, for a pack of 5th graders the orchestra sounded quite nice.  (I have a theory that with enough instruments, any orchestra can saturate the target note it is seeking, rayther in the manner of regimental volley-fire.)  Among other pieces, they did some kind of “Goblin Dance” very effectively, and their treatment of Haydn’s “St. Anthony Chorale” (the theme on which Brahms based his “Haydn Variations”) was good enough that one could stop fretting about the performance and actually enjoy the music.  Alas, they finished up with the Pachelbel “Canon”.  The magnificent conductor lady came down in my estimation somewhat by gushing about how wonderful a piece it is before they started, and as it was late and they’d been playing for the better part of an hour, they seemed to lose their focus about halfway through.

(I may have mentioned it before, but the gel told me that her conductor instructed everyone that if they ever got lost in a piece, just to keep playing an open D-string until they could pick it up again.  For some reason, I find this intensely amusing.)

I must confess that it has been some years since I last attended a live orchestral performance.  This one reminded me again how infinitely more rewarding the real deal is than a recording, and rekindled my enthusiasm to start haunting such performances again.  What with budget restraints and astronomical prices, big venue concerts are probably out of the question, but it doesn’t take much digging in a place like Dee Cee to come up with smaller scale concerts and recitals, many of which are quite inexpensive or even free of charge.

I also plan to take our budding violinist with me.  She’s old enough now that I believe she would appreciate the exposure, and might even gain some inspiration as well.

This post by the Irish Elk on the latest generation of Kennedys, coupled with the impending inauguration of what some are already calling Obamalot, reminds me that for years and years I had a complete misconception of the whole Kennedy/Camelot label.

You see, to me “Camelot” had always meant Sir Thomas Malory and Le Morte d’Arthur – the Champions of the Round Table going out to prove their worth in battle, slay various evil creatures and save lovely maidens.   As I grew older, I also eagerly began to read everything I could find about the theories of the “historickal” Arthur, the unifier of the last remnant of Romanized Britain who temporarily staved off the onslaught of the barbarian Saxon invaders.  The two ideas are hardly incompatible: they both represent the (temporary) triumph of Civilization, the spirit of Nobility and Decency fighting back against the forces of Darkness.

And in my naivete, I always more or less assumed that when people talked about the Kennedy Administration in terms of Camelot, they had the same sources and ideas in mind.

So I was completely discombobulated when I finally learned (not all that long ago) that no, the Kennedy Camelot had nothing to do with medieval romance or late Western Empire history.  Instead, what these people were actually referring to was the Lerner & Loewe musical, which IMHO is nothing but a lot of over the top glitz and vapid sentimentality. (Yes, the earlier themes are there, too, but they’re buried deep in the goo. )

I suppose this is actually much more apropos to the Kennedy years, especially as the plot of the musical centers on adultery,  but it was still keenly disappointing nonetheless.

BTW, Mom believes that had he survived, Kennedy would have been a one-termer.


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January 2009