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Those of you who take the occassional dekko over at the Llama Butchers recently may have recieved, in answer to your intertoobs request, the response, “509 Bandwidth Limit Exceeded: The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to the site owner reaching his/her bandwidth limit. Please try again later.”

Yesterday, the Mothe asked me what this meant.  Well, friends, I tell you truly that I have not the remotest idea.   After shrugging my shoulders in immense ignorance (albeit wastefully, given that she could not see me), I replied that my first impulse was to believe that there is some kind of general Mu.Nu meltdown. 

That’s all well and good, except for the fact that Munuvian stalwarts such as Ace and Randy seem to be plowing ahead unimpeded.

Perhaps whatever the crisis may be is localized to the point that we smaller bloggers are being thrown to the wolves so that the more Important Persons may continue their sleigh ride across the steppes unimpeded.  Perhaps not. I really don’t know.

In any event, there it is.  Whatever the problem is, it is out of my hooves, ah, hands.

Ben Franklin BifocalsAfter years of shameful neglect and increased squinting**, ol’ Robbo finally got himself off to the opthamologist (Update: eye-doctor) this morning to see about a check-up plus new contacts and glasses.

And guess what we’re getting soon?  That’s right…….bifocals!

Yes, in addition to being blind as a bat at any distance, I have noticed in the past year or so a growing difficulty with focusing on things close up, (even, or I should say particularly) when wearing my lenses.  This came to a head a week or two ago when I attempted to take a splinter out of one of the gels’ feet.  I had so much trouble that Mrs. Robbo finally had to step in and relieve me.  

Thus, it’s a new pair of bifocals, plus a pair of reading glasses for when I have my contacts in.

I’m also just going to go ahead and get my AAPR membership application in and start stocking up on geritol and Depends while I’m at it.

**This reminds me of a long-standing joke I have with Groovy Vic.  A couple of years ago, she and her family came to Dee Cee and I met them for lunch down on the National Mall.  I warned Vic ahead of time that if I looked like I was scowling at the world when she saw me, she was not to worry – I was really just squinting.  Guess I lose that cover story now.  Heh.

This may sound either bizarre or conceited or both, but over the past week or two I would swear that I am suddenly understanding musick better.

Exhibit One is the fact that while sight-reading Bach, which is practically the only, ah, hands-on musickal experience I have these days,  I feel that I am no longer just playing the notes but actually making (even anticipating) the musick. (Somebody recently told me that Glenn Gould never practiced much – he just knew where the notes should be.)   This is to the point where I catch myself thinking that what I’m hearing cannot possibly be being produced by my own fingers, a decidedly disconcerting sensation.

Exhibit Two is the fact that when listening to the radio or CD’s, I am hearing new things even in old war-horses.  Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I am hearing the old things, but understanding better why they are there.

Exhibit Three is that this morning, at that muzzy stage between sleep and wakefulness, I swear I had mapped out in my mind a perfect little two-part Invention.  I can’t remember the figure around which it was built, but it all seemed to flow so smoothly and logically.  I remember thinking how easy it would be to produce a potentially unlimited series of such pieces now that I had got the hang of it, and I also remember thinking to myself that I should write that particular figure down before I forgot it.  (Too late, of course.  All I recall now is that there was an octave leap involved.)

I should confess that I’ve had very little formal training in theory and none in composition, and that while I have always been at least competent at performance, I’ve never had much creative spark.  Indeed, my one and only work, laboriously composed at about the age of 13 or 14, was a minuet and trio heavily reliant on Haydn.  Yet I am suddenly seized with the desire to take another whack at setting down some musickal thoughts of my own.  (Now for Heaven’s sake, don’t get excited.  In the first place, anything that I put together would be in a style 250 year or more out of date.  In the second place, it wouldn’t be for any purpose other than my own amusement.)

Why this should happen now, I don’t know, but there it is.  Well, actually, I’ve got a pretty good idea, but it has a great deal to do with late blooming, and I wouldn’t want to bore you with a tedious tour of the depths of the Robbo psyche.   The only reason I bring it up is to remark on the fact that the advent of, what shall I call them, these creative urges seems to come not gradually but in sharp spurts and spasms, all of which are surprising when they occur.

Suffice to say of this particular phenomenon, St. Cecilia, ora pro nobis.

A very interesting interview in Der Spiegel in which Art historian Birgit Schwarz argues that Hitler’s megalomania was rooted in his belief in his artistic genius:

 In my opinion, people have underestimated the notion that Hitler considered himself an artist, in fact, an artistic genius, and that much can be deduced from this self-image, this overheated artist’s ego. However, this has hardly played a role in the research to date. That’s the starting point, from my perspective, because it can help us gain a better understanding of Hitler as a person, as well as his system of power. Hitler’s deluded view of himself as a genius is based on the confused system of thought emerging in the late 19th century, which centered on the idea that a genius — a strong personality who outshone everything else — could do anything and could do anything he pleased.

“Late” 19th Century? Try “early”.  Reading this interview, I immediately thought of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his rot about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of the world.  Indeed, let’s have a dekko at a somewhat more expanded sample of ol’ Bysshe’s “In Defense of Poetry“, from which that oft-quoted line comes:

But poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion. Hence all original religions are allegorical, or susceptible of allegory, and, like Janus, have a double face of false and true. Poets, according to the circumstances of the age and nation in which they appeared, were called, in the earlier epochs of the world, legislators, or prophets: a poet essentially comprises and unites both these characters. For he not only beholds intensely the present as it is, and discovers those laws according to which present things ought to be ordered, but he beholds the future in the present, and his thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of latest time. Not that I assert poets to be prophets in the gross sense of the word, or that they can foretell the form as surely as they foreknow the spirit of events: such is the pretence of superstition, which would make poetry an attribute of prophecy, rather than prophecy an attribute of poetry. A poet participates in the eternal, the infinite, and the one; as far as relates to his conceptions, time and place and number are not. The grammatical forms which express the moods of time, and the difference of persons, and the distinction of place, are convertible with respect to the highest poetry without injuring it as poetry; and the choruses of Aeschylus, and the book of Job, and Dante’s “Paradise” would afford, more than any other writings, examples of this fact, if the limits of this essay did not forbid citation. The creations of sculpture, painting, and music are illustrations still more decisive.

Yup.  In brief, the artiste simply knows better than anyone else the Way Things Ought To Be and may run rough-shod over everyone and everything in order to get there.  Ol’ Percy was just a salon blowhard.  But if Dr. Schwarz’s theory is to be believed, Hitler actually took this sentiment to its logical, albeit horrid, end.

Damned Romantics.  See what happens, children, when Man thinks he can play God?

I was intrigued and, frankly, a bit surprised at some of the responses to my last post, particularly those focusing on the social aspect of kitchen-centric entertaining.  In particular, I didn’t expect the negative reaction to my dislike of blanket informality in the modern age.  

But there it is.  The times, they are a’changin.  Kathy probably put her finger on it best when she remarked:

My mother was like you: the door was shut, things were done, and she made it all look effortless. No one dared to enter her kitchen when she was preparing dinner for a party. The only time I ever remember handing over her kitchen was when my aunt died, and it was shocking. I tried to follow in her footsteps, but my guests weren’t having it. Standards have simply changed, and while I can only speak for myself, I think people are somewhat uncomfortable with the thought of being waited upon. They want to help. In the spirit of giving my guests what they want, I let them.

Yes, I realize more and more that I have inherited a sense of propriety that is probably forty years out of date and also somewhat class- and geographically-centric.  It is interesting that I get on very easily with many of my more elder acquaitances such at the Mothe’s friends, but that most younger folk (including a number of members of my immediate and extended family) consider me to be cold, stuffy, aloof and, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely strange.

Well, leopards and spots, you know.   On the other hand, I suppose one could also say “When in Rome.”  It’s a perpetual struggle, trying to hang on to time-honored standards and traditions while attempting to accommodate current trends and fads.   Come to think of it, I guess that’s what this blog – with its theme and tag-line – is all about.

Eat Out

(It seems to me that the RCBfA have been AWOL lately, so why not dress up this rant with a nice illustration?)

Fellow port-swillers who also dip in from time to time over at the Llamas will know that Robbo has found himself immersed in a project to re-do the countertops and cabinets in his kitchen, the old 70’s stuff finally having decided to start crumbling precipitously.

Fortunately, between the time I started this post and the time I am completing it, the headaches associated with such immersion – principally centering around a surprisingly violent disagreement over the choice of countertops – have been resolved.  So instead of using this space to vent about any one person in particular, I can instead settle in for a good, old-fashioned, generalized rant.  Here goes:

One of the most irritating irruptions of modern architecture to me is the advent of the “gourmet” (pronounced “gerrrr-may”) kitchen.   No McMansion is au courant without one the size of a young basketball court.  And anyone with a house older than ten or fifteen years who hasn’t dropped 100K to graft such an outsized growth on to it is, well, what can we say? NQOKD, my dear.   And as soon as one even begins to consider even the most modest of upgrades, one suddenly realizes that the propoganda is everywhere: whole forests are felled for the purpose of selling John Public on the promise of turning his humble little hot-plate-and-percolator corner into a glittering center of haute cuisine and social prestige.

Feh.  As you may suspect, I cannot stand the gerrr-may kitchen.

First of all, almost none of this has anything to do with the traditional function of the kitchen.  It is my experience that for all the whizz-bang gadgets and high-tech gear put into them, all the multi-temp ovens, digital climate-controlled refrigerators, precision gas stove-tops and the like, to say nothing of the no-stick cooking surfaces and high-end, garish cabinetry and counter tops,  most of the people who have them don’t actually…..ah….cook, in any meaningful sense of the word.  When on their own, they usually seem to bring home something pre-prepped at Balducci’s that could be reheated using nothing more than direct sunlight and a large bowl lined with tin-foil.   And when entertaining, they usually cater anyway.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I am revolted by the modern custom of entertaining in the kitchen (which, of course, is the real justification behind shelling out so much jack for both the aforesaid gadgets and the infrastructre surrounding them).   To me, hanging around the kitchen watching the hostess cook reheat oversee the catering of dinner is really no different than hanging around her bathroom watching her get dressed.  For Heaven’s sake, whatever happened to privacy in preparation? 

When I was a boy, we had an enlarged, framed, New Yorker cartoon hanging up in the kitchen.  In it, a flustered woman is hard at work in her kitchen amidst the chaotic detritus of her preparations for a dinner party.  Her husband is standing in the doorway along with their guests and saying, “Blanche is a gourmet cook.  Aren’t you, dear?” 

I always found that very funny.  I still do.  I strongly suspect that most owners of modern gerrr-may kitchens wouldn’t get it at all.

(I should mention here that the Mothe was, and still is as far as I’m concerned, the best chef I have ever known, which is why we had the cartoon.  During our recent hols in Maine, I watched her make the most tasty blueberry pie from scratch in the very modest kitchen of her summah cottage.   No yo-yo with a gajillion dollar gerrr-may kitchen could have come close to such a yummy dessert.  But like me, she is also a firm believer that there is a reason for that swing door between the kitchen and the dining room.)

Now, some readers will say here that that such ignorance, and the trend in kitchen socialization as a whole, are functions of the modern emphasis on casualness.   And there is something to that, of course.  But in the specific case of the gerr-may kitchen, I think the root causes go beyond the mere hippyish revolt against formality.  As I say,  the main raison d’etre of the modern gerr-may kitchen is not, in the end, utlitarian.  No, it serves strictly as a status symbol: You install your top-o’-da-line*** granite countertops and your Mongolian grill with the silent ventilation system not because it matters a wet slap to your actual culinary output, but instead because you want to show all your friends and acquaintances that you have the readies to blow on such installation.   And being modern themselves, they instinctually know this, which is why they almost invariably congregate in the kitchen.

As I say, Feh.


*** Spot the quote.  Hint: It has nothing to do with kitchens.

Baby BottlesCourtesy of H.M. Government

Time is being called on the traditional beer glass as the Home Office calls in experts to develop a safer pint pot. The move follows growing concern at the number and extent of injuries caused in violent incidents involving glassware each year.

Over the next four months a team of designers will produce a range of drinking vessels that are not only a safer pint glass but, crucially, find favour with the public.

Although there is confidence that the designers can produce a safer glass, the key problem is overcoming the drinkers’ attachment to the traditional pint glass.

Sebastian Conran, who heads the Home Office’s Design and Technology Alliance Against Crime, said: “There are existing plastic glasses and if you go to a baseball game in the United States you can buy beer in a paper cup.

“People are quite used to drinking beer out of plastic and paper things but there is a feeling that in public, it is a traditional thing to drink beer out of a glass.”

The dimpled pint glass with a handle has been in long-term decline for decades, replaced since the 1960s with a lighter, straighter pint glass. The new glass, with a bulge about an inch from the top, is easier for staff to collect and solves the problem of straight glasses chipping at the rims.

Mr Conran said that reducing the estimated 87,000 injuries caused every year by glassware is the key behind the initiative. “We want to find something that will end the situation where shards of glass can inflict quite horrible injuries,” he added.

The ambition is to design a more attractive pint glass with a material that will not shard on breaking, he said.

Ye, Gods.  Doesn’t the very title “Home Office’s Design and Technology Alliance Against Crime” just give you the screaming heebie-jeebies?

Vivaldi cover All this week, the local classical station has been flogging as its CD “pick of the week” a new recording of Vivaldi violin concerti by an outfit I’d not heard of before called I Barocchisti and featuring a soloist by the name of Duilio M. Galfetti.

I would heartily endorse this recording, and not just because of the emaciated art babe on the cover.  This crew has a great sound, crisp, clear but not too shrieky or squeeky.  Mellower than what I prefer for the work of, say, Telemann or Heineken, they sound terrific doing Vivaldi.  And Mr. Galfetti has a solo touch that is wonderful – light, playful and, for lack of better words, wide awake.

I don’t know that much about current Italian period instrument groups, my experience being more among northern European outfits such as Musica Antiqua of Cologne, the Brook Street Band and Cafe Zimmerman.  But if these folks are any indication, the Eyeties are right up there in the running in terms of top quality.  When I think of all those years of having no one but I Musici to listen to, I am all the more grateful that I live in an age of such extraordinary performance talent and historickal interest.  

Of course, if the emaciated art-babe cover work does interest you, I may add that this is the latest of an ongoing series of recordings, many of which feature similar pics.  Go here to see the story of this pairing, plus some more examples.

Ars Artis Gratia, baybee!

Thanks to all of you who commented on the post below.  As usual, your thoughts were most illuminating.

I was mulling over all this as I sat in the pew at RFEC this morning and decided that your collective wisdom was right.   So, when the seven year old gel, processing down the aisle with the summer choir, took the opportunity to stick out her tongue at her eldest sister as she went by, I smiled.  I then proceeded to sing the hymns wit great viggah, and prayed harder for those around me than I probably ever have before.  Afterwards, I went downstairs to the parish hall to help make sammiches to take down the soup kitchen we help out once a month.

And it was all good.

Then, I went off to Mass and immersed myself in all the smells, bells and chant of the Latin Rite and took Communion where I am absolutely positive that I belong, and did not fret about anything else.

And that was all good, too.

God will sort it all out in His own way.

EpiscoCrapThe Bovina Bloviator links over to the Midwest Conservative Journal’s ponderings on when exactly the Episcopal Church began its current (and, IMHO, fatal) nose-dive.

The average non-combatant might very well believe that it has something to do with the election of V. Gene! Robinson as the outspokenly-gay bishop of New Hampshire, but I agree with BB and the MCJ folks that Gene! is just a natural result and not the cause of TEC’s demise, and that the root cause can be found in TEC’s failure, these many years ago,  to drown Bishop Spong or, before him, Bishop Pike in a horse trough for their insistent arguments that – broadly speaking – all that Biblical stuff was only symbolic and that religion must conform to humanism, and not the other way ’round.  

I was thinking about this as I printed out schedules for the kick-off of the fall season at Robbo’s Former Episcopal Church.  As regular port-swillers know, the rest of the family still attends services at RFEC.  This year, the eldest gel is going to start in the acolyte program, while the nine year old begins her third year in the yoot choir and the seven year old begins her first.

Now, do not get me wrong.  Despite the fact that the rector of RFEC is a good personal friend of Gene!, the church itself can hardly be said to be a hotbed of “progressivism”.  A few of the congregation are orthodox holdouts.  Perhaps a few more (conveniently placed in positions of power such as the delegation to the diocesian and national conventions) are of the avant garde ilk.  Most of the parishioners (including Mrs. Robbo) take the position of Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen to the Empire with regard to the convulsions wracking TEC at the national level: “It’s all such a long way from here.”

Nonetheless, RFEC is still a part of TEC.  The general question is how far the kooties of presiding bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori and her ilk penetrate to the average pew-dweller.  And the specific question is how far said kooties penetrate to the Family Robbo and how far Robbo himself is complicit in said penetration.

On the one hand, recognizing that at this point I simply cannot dragoon the family across the Tiber, I reason that it is nonetheless important to see to it that they make worship an important part of their lives.   To this end, I even commit myself to double-duty on Sundays, showing up at RFEC and at least singing the hymns with vigor (I do love me that Isaac Watts) before heading off on my own to Mass at my parish.  (And believe me, there are fewer things more bittersweet than attending Mass by myself.  Trust me on this.)

On the other hand, even though the rector at RFEC very rarely strays into current theological/political topics in his sermons, and even though the liturgy is what one might call very formal low church, by attending and encouraging the family to attend services there, am I not at some remove also encouraging them to accept TEC’s overall theology in all its crippled, heretical, humanist form?

I’ve brought up this concept of aiding and abetting heresy a couple times in confession.  And although one cannot catch facial expressions through the screen, I’ve always had the impression that the padres were smiling quietly to themselves.  (Serious geek point trivia question: Who else smiled quietly to herself? She’s a good sheila, Bruce, and not at all stuck up.)  Their general advice seems to be that so long as I am working on promoting orthodox spirituality in the family, and so long as I am attempting to hold myself out as an example on behalf of Holy Mother Church, then there is no sin involved. 

Perhaps.  And I may say that the Family Robbo is getting there slowly:  No longer is Catholicism a taboo subject.  And when the subject of religion in general comes up (as it does on an ever-increasing basis), I am afforded a perfectly fair hearing.  In particular, great strides have been made in dispelling the many anti-Catholic caricatures and biases in our little family discussions.  Indeed, we have even progressed so far that the plan is for the eldest gel to attend the parochial school attached to Robbo’s parish next year.   This evening when she said, “Dad! I’ll have to attend Mass all the time!” and I replied, “Well, after a while perhaps you’ll learn to like it,”  Mrs. Robbo did not even blink.

I dunno.  Baby steps and all, but it is still agonizing.


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August 2009