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Happy Halloween, all!

I’m still not exactly sure who Kim Kardashian is supposed to be, and I know that I’m going to sound like the grumpy old coot on his front porch for saying this, but here goes anyway:

It ought to be painfully obvious by now to anyone with an IQ better than 10 that “celebrity culture” is about as real as pro wrestling.  So what does it say about the state of things that this sort of behavior still seemingly attracts so much positive interest (i.e. money)?  If it didn’t, nobody would do it.

I’m not sure who disgusts me more, the “celebrities” themselves or the consumers who keep them at it.


Now, git’ out o’ my yard!

Sometimes I just have to laugh at the way in which useless knowledge piles up in what I insist on calling my brain.

For example, as I was doing the WaPo Sunday crossword yesterday, I immediately knew that the name of the doctor who set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg was Mudd.  On the other hand, when confronted with “One of the Three B’s” – which actually denote Bach, Beethoven and Brahms,  all I could think of for a long time was Bloom County’s Steve Dallas and his preference for “Buckley, Broads and Buicks.”

It’s a funny old world.

An interesting story from the NYTimes about a clash between pianist Helene Grimaud and conductor Claudio Abbado over a performance practice about which ol’ Robbo has his own decided views:

Ms. Grimaud and Mr. Abbado got together in Bologna, Italy, on May 29 for several days of rehearsing, performing and recording with Mr. Abbado’s Orchestra Mozart. The aim was to produce a Deutsche Grammophon disc of a vocal work and two Mozart concertos, No. 19 in F and No. 23 in A. Mozart wrote cadenzas for both. But Ms. Grimaud arrived with another cadenza for No. 23. It was by Ferruccio Busoni, an Italian piano virtuoso and composer active in German-speaking lands in the late 19th century and early 20th. Vladimir Horowitz, in his recording of the piece with Carlo Maria Giulini also for Deutsche Grammophon, played the Busoni cadenza. Horowitz fell in love with it after declaring Mozart’s cadenza “foolish” and “too thin,” according to David Dubal’s book “Evenings With Horowitz: A Personal Portrait.”

Ms. Grimaud did not go that far. But she said that Mozart’s cadenza for the work was “not the most inspired.” She said she too had fallen in love with the Busoni version when she was 12 or 13, after hearing that Horowitz recording, and always knew she’d play it. “It’s brilliant,” she said. “It’s inspired. It’s very imaginative in the way it treats the material.”

The Busoni also has a lush, Romantic sound with hints of Brahms and Liszt — composers with whom she has made her mark.

Mr. Abbado said he preferred the Mozart cadenza.

My opinion is that if the composer provided a written cadenza, it ought to be used.  This is especially true of the late classickal composers, including both Mozart and Beethoven.

Having said that, if the performer insists on winging it, then whatever is played ought to match the style of the composition itself.  Slapping a Lisztian cadenza on a Mozart concerto strikes me as the equivalent of wearing day-glow orange sneakers with a blazer and grey flannels.   They just don’t match.

Advantage: Abbado.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers and a happy All Hallows’ Eve to you!  Care to dip into the candy bowl?

♦  For those of you wondering, yes the port-swiller residence did get some snow from the big storm over the weekend.  Quite a bit of it, in fact, mixed with rain, although the air just wasn’t cold enough for much of it to stick.  An optimist would say we got a dusting.  A pessimist would say that Saturday was just a thoroughly nasty day.

♦    This is maybe the second time I can recall seeing snow in October since moving to this area twenty years ago.  Must be global warming or something.

♦   Yesterday afternoon found ol’ Robbo diligently carving out pumpkins.  Or, as Calvin would say, giving Jack his lobotomy.   I used a new paring knife for the first time this year and the ease with which it did its thing was a downright pleasure.  Not that it had all that much to do, because when it comes to Jack-o-lanterns, Robbo likes to kick it old school:  He’s basically a three triangles and a toothy grin kind of fellah.  I appreciate the skill and talent that goes into the elaborate pumpkin-art fad so favored these days, but frankly the results leave me cold.   Too modern, too removed from traditional associations.  I much prefer the archaic feel of the simple Jack, which conjures up in ol’ Robbo’s mind images of Poe and Hawthorne stories, of black crows, blowing mists and the smell of damp leaves, and of that wonderfully chilling thought that just maybe there’s something to the macabre after all.

♦   But that’s me, Mr. Romantic.

♦    Having duly carved the pumpkins, and having given a long dinner-time lecture about its relationship to the double feast days of All Saints and All Souls coming up (my personal favorites in the calendar, but more on that at the appropriate time), which led to a rayther spirited -if you’ll pardon the expression – debate about the existence of Purgatory,  I consider my Halloween duties to be done.   What with the younger gels going off to trick or treat with friends this year and the eldest probably giving it a pass, I have no need to go tramping around the neighborhood myself, while Mrs. R will no doubt attend to any little gremlins who show up at our own door.  Meanwhile, I intend to hide until it’s all over.

   ♦    Oh, and speaking of the eldest gel, she went off and got her ears pierced yesterday afternoon, much to my surprise.   As regular port-swillers will know,  the house rule is that there is no such piercing until the gels are at least twelve, although I originally had argued for thirteen.  The eldest gel, however, did not exercise her option when she first could.  Since she turns fourteen in March, I suppose I wound up getting my way after all, at least with her.  The younger gels, however, keenly attentive to their elder sistah’s adventure and satisfied that she didn’t expire agonizingly in a welter of her own blood in the process, are determined not to wait around, but instead to take the plunge as soon as eligible.  I didn’t think much of this when they told me until it suddenly occurred to me that for the middle gel, this milestone is actually only about two months away, an idea that literally staggered me.  Tempus fugit, indeed.

There now!  Don’t eat it all at once, and make sure to brush your teeth thoroughly afterwards!

Fifth Columnists are at work along the banks of the Douro:

In the last century Symington Family Estates exported port to around 20 countries. Now, it’s selling in more than 80. The new destinations include cash-rich emerging markets where the producers are coaxing Brazilians, Russians, Chinese and Angolans to put port on their table.

The signs are promising. Port wine sales to Brazil rose more than 31 percent in the first half of this year, to €2.4 million, making it a Top 10 importer. It’s not enough to take up the slack, though.

Producers are also pushing port in gimmicky new cocktails, such as white port with tonic water, a twist of lemon and ice, that might appeal to a younger crowd. It’s a novelty the trade’s forebears might have found sacrilegious.

Symington, though, says it’s an inevitable development. Porto has long banked on its prestige and aristocratic conventions, such as always passing the port to the left at formal dinner parties, but now it needs to shed its stuffy image, he says.

“We have to de-formalize port,” said Symington.

Bah!  Smithers? Release the hounds……

Mention was made in the comments to my Cleese-celebrating Basil Fawlty post of yesterday of the famous Fawlty Towers episode about the deaf Mrs. Richards and Basil’s surreptitious betting.  So here you go:


I might add that many of my conversations with the youngest gel seem to follow this general pattern.  I would also add that practically every line of this dialogue  is currently in use not only in the immediate port-swiller family, but amongst ol’ Robbo’s extended relations as well.   Enjoy!

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!

Last evening, the middle gel sidled up to me wearing an expression I’ve long learned to suspect and said in a voice of which I’ve long learned to beware, “Dad? You know what we’d like to get for Christmas? Nintendo 3DS’s!”

“What the heck is that?” I asked.

She explained that it is apparently the latest video game thingamabobber, with lots of new whistles and bells.  Everybody’s getting them.

“Well,” I said, “I can tell you right now that the answer is no.”

“What!” she exclaimed.  “Why nooooot?”

“Because,” I replied firmly, “You’ve already got teevee and DVDs and Wii and your iWhatevers and you’re near enough to beholden zombies to the things as it is.  You don’t need another gadget.”


Regular port swillers who are fond of the Brendan Fraser Mummy movie may recall the scene where the High Priest Imhotep summons a zombie mob to get Fraser and his friends.  It has become something of a tradition in the port-swiller household to allude to this scene any time the subject of mindless enslavement to technology (one of ol’ Robbo’s stock rants) comes up.  Therefore, I bugged my eyes, cocked my head to the side, extended my arms and began to mutter, “Iiiimhotep….Iiiiiiiimhotep……IIIIIIIImhotep…….”

The gel, much to her credit, laughed.

“Okay, then,” she said, “Can I get some kittens?”


Greetings, my fellow port-swillers, and happy Friday!

Ol’ Robbo had quite a bizarre dream last night which can best be described as a highly stylized version of the sleeping car scene from North By Northwest.

I don’t mention this in order to suggest that my subconscious self in any way holds thoughts of, ah, courting Eva Marie Saint, which for purposes of domestic liability I deny completely.  Instead, I bring it up because I recall quite distinctly that inside the dream I dozed off in the car while it was dark out and woke up again later, still inside the dream, when the sun was up and the train was slipping along the banks of a river.

I would imagine that I have had dreams about sleeping and awaking before, but I don’t recall one quite so vivid.



Last evening, in searching the port-swiller library for a new book to read for school, the youngest gel’s hand fell on the collected works of Lewis Carroll, whereupon she immediately set off down the rabbit hole.   We shall see what results this may produce.  With that one, the mind boggles.

In the meantime, noodling on the matter made me remember this poem.  Somehow, many elements of it seem to fit:

“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”


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October 2011