Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
As mentioned in the post below, ol’ Robbo decided to give up the grape for Lent this year. We’re now in the middle of the fourth day, and although so far I’ve been able to avoid the temptation (said by H.L. Mencken to be felt by all normal men) to spit on my hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats, it hasn’t been easy.
I know, I know: Offer it up.
In order to avoid overloading myself with abstinences to teh point of bringing down the whole programme, I decided that it would be a bad idea to try also, as I usually do, to cut out (secular) books, musick and teevee/film (and, I guess, the innertoobs), at least at first. We’ll see how things go. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m not pursuing my Lenten reading. (As usual, I’m starting out with St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales.) Instead, it means that I’ll probably fiddle around with the mixture, gradually thinning out the pleasure part as the season progresses. My goal is to be able to devote Holy Week to pure contemplation of Faith.
Anyhoo, I thought I’d offer up a few random observations on what I’m reading, listening to, and watching at the moment.
Books: I think I mentioned somewhere below that I had started in on Anthony Powell’s magnum opus, A Dance to the Music of Time. Arranged in a quartet of books of three smaller novels each, it tells (from his point of view) the story of Nicholas Jenkins, a young man of respectable family, from his school days in the 1920’s up through the 60’s. It begins with the interactions at school among Nick and his friends Charles Stringham and Peter Templar, as well as those with the awful Kenneth Widmerpool, and gradually expands outward, taking in family, friends, professional and chance acquaintances, spinning a complex web of repeated personal encounters and relationships as the characters leave school and pursue their various lives, loves, and careers. All of this is set against the backdrop of the (arguably terminal) change in British society across the 20th Century: Post-WWI; Roaring 20’s; 30’s crash; WWII; post-War hardship; rise of the Left; goddam 60’s hippies. And of course, not only do the characters interact with each other, they are all enmeshed in these larger social movements as well.
On Ash Wednesday, ol’ Robbo found himself in the middle of Temporary Kings, the next to last of the twelve books, and decided that, since I am so close, I would push on through to the end. Ol’ Robbo has never been what one might call a “quick” study. I usually have to read a book repeatedly to really start getting into the meat of the thing. This is, I believe, my third time through ADTTMOT, and I must say that I am enjoying it exponentially more than my last go. As I say, Powell weaves an immensely complicated web of personal interactions in a quite satisfying manner, but what I appreciate more and more is his rayther droll wit. While Nick (whom I suppose to be the author’s alter ego) is caught up in the immense personal and social upheavals going on all around him, he never really gives away much about what he thinks of it all. From Powell’s deliciously dry observation, however, I’m guessing the answer is not that much. (UPDATE: I noticed that the last book in the series, Hearing Secret Harmonies, published in 1975, was dedicated to Robert Conquest, the great anti-Stalinist and social conservative. So there you go.)
Musick: Recently, long time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, in the process of cleaning out his collection, sent ol’ Robbo a big box of CD’s of Renaissance Musick, figuring they would find a good home at Port Swiller Manor. Of course, he was right: Ol’ Robbo loves teh vitality of this era, from the dolorous introspection to the toe-tapping exuberance, all of it pleasantly free of the self-centered navel-gazing of the Romantics. On the whole, ol’ Robbo likes his musick a bit more formalized (the Baroque period being my favorite), but this gives him plenty of delight as well.
Anyhoo, I’ve started working my way through the stack. A few observations:
Dansereye 1551, Tielman Susato (c. 1500-1561): When thanking ODT for his gift, I mentioned that very few of the composers (apart from some of the English ones) were at all familiar to me. I put this CD on thinking I was in for something new, as Susato’s name did not immediately ring any bells, but soon started laughing: The first few tracks happen to be included (in different arrangements) on a compilation of Renaissance dance musick I own and love entitled Terpsichore. Small world after all. By the bye, the performance here is by the New London Consort under Philip Pickett, a very good group. The CD is copyrighted 1993 – I hadn’t realized they had been around that long.
Los Ministriles – Spanish Renaissance Wind Music: Composers such as Joan Ambrosio Dalza, Manuel de Tavares and Manuel Cardoso. Good stuff, but I couldn’t tell you what makes it particularly Spanish in character. (I suspect some of this musick is also, in fact, Portuguese.) This is not due to the album, but to my own ignorance. Of course, the “Renaissance” took different forms in different parts of Europe. I also believe that, given Spain’s particular history, it took different forms in the different kingdoms united under Ferdinand and Isabella. Naturally, then, so would the arts within those kingdoms.
On that front, let me also recommend a CD in my own collection: 1492: Music From The Age of Discovery – The Waverly Consort. Mrs. Robbo and I saw them perform this album in concert eons ago and bought the CD on the spot. It blends Spanish, Italian, Jewish and Moorish musick from the time in a most satisfactory combination that really gives you the flavor. (There are some similar Old/New World crossover CD’s in ODT’s stack that I haven’t reached yet, but will mention when I get to them.)
Fortune My Foe: Music of Shakespeare’s Time – Les Witches: So far as Renaissance artists go, this is closer to ol’ Robbo’s own home turf, featuring composers such as John Dowland, Thomas Morley and Michael Praetorius. (It also includes the weird -and aptly-named – Nicholas Le Strange. However despite what the Amazon description at the link may say, William Byrd is not included.) Ironically, despite the album’s subtitle, most of these composers were, in fact, chased out of England by Queen Bess in the early 1570’s on (among other things) anti-Catholic grounds, and set up shop in Sweden and Northern Germany. The local publick radio station used to run a track from Les Witches some years ago that must have been from this album – they’ve only put out a few, and most of them very recently – but I can’t recall which one it was.
Screen: The other day, because she had been watching it in her English class and wanted my opinion, Eldest Gel and ol’ Robbo sat down to watch Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet. I lasted about 45 minutes of the scheduled four hours of screen time. In a word? Bombastically unwatchable. Nobody tops ol’ Robbo in his admiration of Branagh’s obviously outstanding talent as a Shakespearean actor, but I’ve been saying the same damn thing ever since his Henry V first came out: What Branagh needed more than anything else in his efforts to bring the Bard to the big screen was an iron-fisted director with the ability to say, “Ken? NO!!” Alas, he didn’t have one and went to seed as a result.
Similarly, I’ve been picking my way, act by act, through the old BBC production of Othello starring Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins. Hoskins is great as the scheming Iago, but as fine an actor as he otherwise is, I just don’t get Hopkins’ treatment of Shakespeare. He hesitates, blanks out, inflects oddly, sometimes doesn’t quite seem to grasp the psychology of his character. It was the same thing when I saw him on stage in 1987 doing Lear. Strange.
I am also working my way through Christopher Guest’s cycle of “mockumentaries”, just having polished off Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Made in the early 2000’s, part of me wonders whether these films could even be offered these days, given the number of triggers in them that would send the Social Justice Movement cry-bullies into catatonic fits. Indeed, the inclusion of the fact that I’ve watched them on my Permanent Electronic Record is probably more than enough on its own to get me sent to the Happy Fun Reeducation Camps when the revolution comes, if not simply shot out of hand. On the other hand, they’re all wicked funny, so it would be worth it. (Anyhoo, there’s plenty other anti-revolutionary material on my PER already, so the question is largely moot.)
Finally, I just finished the 1st season of Star Trek: The Original Series, with “The City on the Edge of Forever” (with a young Joan Collins) and “Operation – Annihilate!” (the one with the flying killer washcloths, one of which hits Spock in the back: I once saw an outtakes clip where it hit him in the fanny). I don’t have much to say about Star Trek:TOS except that the show has held up surprisingly well all these years and is just as entertaining to me now in my 50’s as it was in my misspent yoot (obviously for a different combination of reasons, although skimpily-clad alien space babes still enter into the calculus). Of note: Netflix offers up the revised versions of the old shows, with modern computer graphics cleaning up and enhancing the more painfully primitive special effects of 50 years ago. While I abhor the kind of retro-tinkering George Lucas indulged himself with in the Star Wars franchise, I have no problem with what has been done here: The alterations are seamless, in line with the original spirit, and not designed to draw attention to themselves. It’s amazing what can be done when Ego is taken out of the equation.
At any rate, there you have it.
UPDATE: R.I.P. Justice Antonin Scalia. As I may have mentioned here before, his family are fellow parishioners of mine and I’ve seen him many times at Mass although I never got up the nerve to try and start a conversation. I’m sure he would have been gracious about it, but I’m equally sure he would have been annoyed at having to deal with a groupie on Sunday.
I must say that I was flatly repulsed by the amount of pure bile and venom that erupted across the innertoobs when news of Scalia’s death broke yesterday. Disgusting.