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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

And now for something completely different:

Is there really anybody who actually looks forward to the “new and exciting experience” they’re promised by Gas Station Television each time they visit the pump?  Is there really anybody who actually feels said promise is fulfilled during such visits?

Ol’ Robbo would be perfectly willing to spend a couple extra cents per gallon for a pump equipped with a GSTV mute button.  Oh, yes, he would.

I know Bill Cosby has fallen from grace, but I’m still fond of his old comedy routines.  In one of them he says, “Can you believe “Let’s Make a Deal”?  And that the people on that program are Americans?”

I feel the same way every time I gas up.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

N.C. Wyeth, Illustration from “The Last of the Mohicans”

Regular friends of the decanter will recall my mentioning a few posts ago how long-time swiller Old Dominion Tory had very kindly sent along to Ol’ Robbo a set of novels by historian Allan W. Eckert about Robbo’s beloved historickal theme of the struggles between France and Britain in Colonial North America?  For some reason, I had got it into my tiny little braims that these books constituted essays in historickal fiction.

Whelp, since then I have read Wilderness Empire, and I see that I was mistaken in that notion.  These books are meant to be actual history, not fictional history, albeit they are written in what the author calls “narrative” form.  Indeed, they are peppered throughout (most effectively) with quotations from various letters, journals, and despatches, and in his preface the author insists that every one of his characterizations of, for example, an emotion or a mannerism or a physical appearance, is absolutely based on contemporary documentation.

Wilderness Empire covers the period roughly from the rival efforts by the French and British to militarize the Ohio Valley in the early 1750’s up  to the fall of Montreal in 1760, although because the author chooses to go with a character-based narrative, roots are sent out further back than this (for example, covering the births and early yoots of characters such as Sir William Johnson and Chief Pontiac).

As I say, this is a character-based story.  Eckert dances around between points of view, telling the story through the eyes of multiple characters, from Johnson and Pontiac mentioned above, all the way to that of the pregnant wife of one of the members of the Virginia Militia attached to Braddock’s Army who follows her husband on the mission to take Fort Duquesne.

It’s an interesting approach, and it seems to me that it has both advantages and disadvantages.  The main advantage, assuming (as I do) that Eckert is sincere in his authenticity, is that one gets a real on-the-ground feel for both the given situations and how the people involved react to them.  Also, it’s useful to get a fresh perspective on the big actions.  (I thought his description of the Battle of Lake George was very good.)  The main disadvantage is that this same on-the-ground approach seems, in my opinion, to distort the overall historickal balance somewhat.  As I mention, Eckert focuses heavily on Sir William Johnson.   This is well and good so far as Johnson goes, and in some sense is quite justified, but I think it gives short-shrift to other important characters and events outside his immediate ken.  For example, Wolfe’s capture of Louisburg in 1758 only gets a couple paragraphs, and his capture of Quebec the next year only rates a few pages.  Furthermore, the fact that by the mid-18th Century New France is being destroyed from within by ruinous greed on the part of its rulers never gets mention until way late in the narrative.  In this sense, especially as the author devotes a great deal of ink to detailing Johnson’s various counsel meetings with his Iroquois allies, I think a more general approach like that of Francis Parkman (whom Eckert follows in general interpretation and cites frequently) is maybe the better one.

Which is not to say that I dislike the Eckert book, as I am perfectly willing to embrace the power of “and”.  Indeed, I’ve already scampered off to The Conquerors, the next novel in the series which basically covers Pontiac’s Rebellion.

Two other things I would mention with respect to what you’ll find in Eckert’s Wilderness Empire which you won’t find in Parkman’s Montcalm and Wolfe, that section of his massive history which roughly covers the same time frame:  First, Eckert seems to be quite taken with Sir William Johnson’s, er, carnal appetites.  (Basically, he liked anything in a skirt – or preferably out of it.)  Second, Eckert provides extremely graphic and detailed descriptions of Indian tortures and cannibalism (including the fate of that pregnant soldier’s wife I mention above).  I would not recommend reading his books either during or just after a meal.  I suppose that’s the difference between a professor writing in the late 1960’s and a Boston Brahmin writing a hundred-odd years earlier.

All in all, though, a valuable addition to Ol’ Robbo’s library and I thank ODT once again for sending them along.  A glass of wine with you, Sir!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo is spending a pleasant and lazy Saturday afternoon with a cat draped across his legs and watching the first snow of the season falling around Port Swiller Manor.  It’s been coming down pretty steadily since early this morning, and although it hasn’t accumulated too much (and not at all on the driveway or sidewalk) because the temperature has been hovering right around the freezing mark, it looks like it’s beginning to pile up just a bit as the day starts to wane.

It’s not unheard of to get this kind of snow so early in December around here, but it’s not particularly common, either.  Last year we got one lousy snowfall all season – and that wasn’t until March.  I wonder if Ma Nature is thinking she needs to overachieve this year in order to make up for that. (Or was Ma going easy last year because of the Snowzilla she gave us the year before?  It’s so difficult to keep track.)

Of course, just to get into the spirit of things, the power went out for an hour or two this morning.  (Before, I might ad, Ol’ Robbo had the chance to brew his Morning Joe.)  This provoked the umpteenth return of Mrs. R and Self to what might be called the Generator Question.

We tend to lose power here fairly often, largely because we live in a wooded area and the tree limbs are forever coming down on the lines due to snow, ice, or wind.  On the other hand, said power tends to be restored fairly quickly – usually within a couple hours, although we have gone several days on end after major storms.

Mrs. Robbo says we should buy a generator almost every time this happens, but I still can’t bring myself to believe it’s worth the expense.  Surely, I argue, we can lump it for a few hours.  If the situation continues, there’s always the fireplace and the stove-top is gas.  And if worse comes to naught, we can always burn the furniture and eat the cats.  But it’ll never get that far, because past a certain point (say, 24 hours or so), Mrs. R just goes and checks into a hotel anyway, leaving Self to camp out on his own, so why bother?  Mrs. R is never satisfied by these arguments, and generally goes off grumbling under her breath.

(Ah, the felicities of unbridled domesticity.)

Anyhoo, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll toddle out and see if I can find some firewood.  Just in case I suddenly find myself needing to roast a cat, you know.  (She just ran off, by the bye.  Must have been reading this over my shoulder.)


Buy This Book Within The Next 24 Hours And You’ll Also Receive A Complimentary Thing That Goes Up!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo assumes that many, if not most, friends of the decanter also like to frequent Ace of Spades H.Q., so this post may very well be a case of getting coals to Newcastle, but I nonetheless wish to bring your attention to a book that just issued today, The Deplorable Gourmet.

Very simply put, it’s a book of recipes donated, assembled, folded, spun, and mutilated entirely by members of the Moron Horde, a.k.a., Ace’s regular band of commenters.  So far as I know, this opus is absolutely unique in the annals of the blogsphere. “Deplorable”, of course, is a reference to the “Basket of Deplorables” sneer delivered during the last election cycle by She Who Must Not Be Named (who, by the bye, will never be President of the United States).

(Ol’ Robbo wishes he had that kind of following…..sniff…….But then again, that would require time, effort, and talent.  Ace and his co-bloggers have all those things.  I merely spend ten or fifteen minutes of an evening plonking down disparate nonsense.)

Anyhoo, apart from all the Moron Horde insider baseball stuff involved (to which Ol’ Robbo confesses that he pays way, waaaaay too much attention), from a practical point of view, this book has two things going for it:  First, the recipes are of the ordinary, work-a-day variety, so they should be of real use to us non-Julia Child shlubs (except the one that calls for carrots in chili).  Second, all profits go to charity.

So do yourself a solid and buy this book right now!  The Ewok may or may not thank you, but the Corgis definitely will! (Yes, that’s insider baseball stuff, as is the caption under the book image.  Trust me – it all makes sense.)

Aaaaaand on a totally different note:

Last evening Ol’ Robbo was treating himself to the John Ford/John Wayne movie “The Horse Soldiers“.  A highly fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid** during the Civil War, it’s one of my old stand-byes which I watch probably three or four times a year.

Anyhoo, this time around, I noticed in the credits that the movie was based on a novel of the same name by one Harold Sinclair.  Well, Ol’ Robbo is here to tell you that yes, this novel is available over at the devil’s website.

I’ll let you know what I think of it.

**Ol’ Robbo would like to point out that, with all the other flotsam and jetsam swirling around in my old, tired braims,  it took me about twelve hours – without any sneaky on-line peeking – to remember the name “Grierson”.  I think I deserve some kind of participation trophy for being able to dredge up that particular piece of arcana.

“I’m Your Huckleberry…”

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, and happy Feast of St. Nicholas!

Have you slapped an Arian yet today?  No? Well there’s still plenty of time.

Actually, if the good Bishop of Myra were here today, he’d have so many different slap-worthy heretical targets, his arm probably would fall off.  Indeed, I’d pay good money to see what he would have made of the first hipster-doofus he came across who said, “Well, like, Jesus was just this really enlightened guy, you know? And I’m sure he’d be a Democratic Socialist now….”

Might be easier of course, just to release the Krampus.

Actually, Ol’ Robbo saw a very nice thing in keeping with St. Nicholas’s more charitable side today:  I was standing in line at my usual sammich shop when I noticed a decrepit old woman, who had been loitering around out front, slowly make her way in the door.  (She was hunched over, had a cast on one leg and a cane, and was mumbling to herself continually.)  In so doing, she hung up a young fellah who was coming in behind her.  Rayther than going around her and pretending she wasn’t there, he very patiently waited until she was through the door.  Then he sat her down at the nearest table, explained the menu to her (which I’m sure she could neither see nor read up on the wall), and then went and bought her some lunch.

Bless you, dude.  You did good.

UPDATE:  Same sammich shop today, different decrepit old man, and I was the one coming up to the door behind him.  Since he asked me to help him to a meal and not for money, I took him in and set him up with a sammich and chips.

Ol’ Robbo is not very good at this kind of face-to-face thing.  I do most of my charity through donations to food banks, Goodwill, and the like.  Some years ago I tried to make an effort on the more personal lines, and was amazed at how many times I got snarled at for offering food or drink but not money.  So I don’t do it any more.

So today, another customer in line offered me five bucks to, as he put it, “help defray” this guy’s meal.  I politely turned him down and he seemed surprised and even a little offended.  Was this wrong of me?

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo finds himself with a nice, tall stack of new-to-me books with which to wile away his moments of leisure.  Let’s have a look at ’em:

First, I mentioned borrowing Monty Python Speaks from my brother in a post below.  However, he also pressed upon me another book about which he has been raving for some time:  Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.  It tells of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 through the lens of the story of one Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist with the Gubmint Weather Bureau, apparently by means of lots of original documentation and testimony.

Ol’ Robbo has had pretty good success with what might be called forensic natural history books.  (See, e.g., Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa.)  So I’m looking forward to this one.

Next, a large bumper of wine with Our Maximum Leader for his recent recommendation of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat!  The book, which relates a two-week jaunt upon the Thames by three boon companions plus the dog Montmorency, is an absolute hoot (apart from a few Gawd Help Us passages in which the author waxes lyrical about Truth, Beauty, and Nature), combining Edwardian middle-brow smart-assery with Shaggy Dog stories in a most delightful and jaunty style.

Jerome was a generation or two older than Plum Wodehouse, but I believe I see a definite gunnegshun between the two in terms of background, light presentation, and tongue-in-cheek sensibilities.  (Also, Jerome was pals with W.S. Gilbert, who Plum knew and admired as a young man, so there’s that, too.)

(By the bye, I picked up the Penguin Classics edition of this book which also contains its sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, in which the same trio of friends takes a bicycling tour in Germany.)

Also, another bumper of wine with long time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, who recently sent Ol’ Robbo a package containing three historickal novels about Colonial America by Allan W. Eckert: The Conquerors, The Wilderness Wars, and Wilderness Empire.  Ol’ Robbo has no objections whatsoever to history set in novel form, so long as it is accurate and well done, of course, and greatly looks forward to trying these books out.  ODT also sent The Old Dominion At War:  Society, Politics, and Warfare in Late Colonial Virginia, by James Titus.  This is a straight academic study, but is of particular interest to Ol’ Robbo because of my own family connections to the Virginny Frontier in the 1750’s and ’60’s.

I should also here mention ODT’s previous gift of David Preston’s Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution.  Immensely informative, particularly about the shear logistical problems faced by both the British and the French in trying to put forces into southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1750’s (and to get them out again).  I will admit, however, that there is something about Preston’s prose style that is very slightly off-putting to me.  (I confirmed this when I also bought and read his The Texture of Contact: European and Indian Settler Communities on the Frontiers of Iroquoia, 1667-1783.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but as a chronicler of the great struggle between France and Britain for control of North America and the rise of the New American Republic, I don’t think he’s quite as clear as his modern contemporary Fred Anderson, nor is he anywhere near as dramatic as the great Francis Parkman.  But never mind.

Oh, and I don’t want to get in copyright trouble here, but I do encourage you all to go look up the painting Washington at the Battle of Monongahela by Emmanuel Leutze, which is used to illustrate the cover of Preston’s book.  It’s part of a series Leutze did on Washington which also includes the famous Crossing of the Delaware.  A thoroughly, thoroughly beautiful piece of art.  (I must go see the original some time, which I believe is in a local museum dedicated to the Battle.)

And finally, speaking of books and art and historickal matters, let me circle back round to something I mentioned here a few days ago, namely that I was planning to watch the 1954 Kirk Douglas movie, “Ulysses“.

Whelp, all I can say is that if any friend of the decanter was considering following my lead, I can strongly advise not to bother.  The film is pretty hum-drum, contains very cheesy special effects, and is mostly in Italian with badly-dubbed English superimposed.  (And I never liked Kirk Douglas, anyway.)  In fact, the movie even screwed up Ulysses’ famous encounter with the Sirens, in that it didn’t even show them! You only get Douglas being lashed to the mast (I’ll be he enjoyed it, too, IYKWIMAITYD), and then some ethereal voices cooing about Home and Penelope.  Yeesh!

You want Ulysses and the Sirens? This is how you Ulysses and the Sirens!

“Ulysses and the Sirens” by Herbert James Draper (1864-1920)


Anyhoo, what I really wanted to say relating back to historickal fiction was this:  Most people these days, if they’ve heard of Robert Graves at all, associate him only with either Goodbye To All That, his WWI autobiography, or his I, Claudius historickal novels.  The fact of the matter is that Graves wrote around ten such novels, some set in Classickal Times, some set in other eras.

Among the Classicks novels is one called Homer’s Daughter.

You see, there is a theory (generally accepted, I believe), that The Iliad and The Odyssey were not composed by the same author (and that there may not, in fact, have been a historickal “Homer” at all).  There is another theory (perhaps less accepted) that The Odyssey was actually composed by a woman (based largely on the fact that so much more attention is paid in it to domestic themes).  Graves took this idea and composed a novel in which a young princess named Nausicaa tells the story of how her father’s kingdom on a little island off Sicily came under peril from bumptious and ambitious noblemen who sought to loot her father’s house, marry her, and depose him, and how a mysterious royal castaway appeared and helped her, her mother, and her little brother defeat these nobles in the absence of her father, the King, and her elder brother.  At the end (and I don’t think I’m giving any spoilers here), Nausicaa allows one of the suitors, a member of the Poets’ Guild, to live in exchange for his promise to take her story, transpose it into verse, and insert it into the Homeric Cycle.

It’s nicely done, pays keen attention to the sensibilities of the period, and is a fun afternoon’s read.

So that’s that.

And for those of you who may be thinking, “But Robbo, you do know it’s Advent, don’t you?”  I say yes, yes, I am planning to put in time on that reading front, too.  I believe my author of choice this season is going to be Frank J. Sheed, who I find has a singular talent for clear, crisp theological discussion nicely calculated to penetrate the brains and souls of even such shallow, debauched, and ungrateful louts as Ol’ Robbo.

UPDATE: Middle Gel is reading “Hamlet” in school.  This evening, she approached me seeking advice on a question she has to answer about the play: What do the characters of Polonius, Laertes, and Ophelia “symbolize” to Hamlet?

“Whaddaya mean by ‘symbolize‘?” I asked.

I don’t know,” the Gel said, “That’s just the question.  My teacher said something about ‘Oedipal complexes’.”

Cor lumme, stone the crows. Freudian freakin’ analysis.  The Gel came to me because I was an English major back in the day, but unfortunately for her, I managed to get a degree that concentrated on things like the Bard’s linguistic beauty, his dramatic deftness, and his keen insights into all (emphasis, all) aspects of human nature, not just those associated with funny feelings in his characters’ pants or the dark sides of their brains.

God forgive me, but my advice to the Gel?  Make up some psycho-babble answer.  They can’t get her for that, after all….

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, here we are in December already, and with it, Advent.  The purple-bowed wreaths go up on the front door of Port Swiller Manor this afternoon.

In the meantime, some this and that:

♦  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Middle Gel’s madrigals group is doing their big Renaissance Feaste this weekend.  Earlier this week, Mrs. R said, in passing, “Oh, there’s a production managers’ meeting Thursday evening.”

“Oh,” I said.  “So?”

“So you need to go.”

I do? Why?”

“Because you’re a manager.”

“Uh, when did that happen?”

“I signed you up.  You said you wanted to volunteer this year.”

“What I said was meant only in the most general, speculative, and above-all non-binding sense.  I wasn’t anywhere near a firm commitment at that point.”

“Well, I signed you up anyway, so you’re going.”

So I went.  And last evening I managed the production, at least to the extent of standing in the wings and shooshing kids until it was their turn to go on.  (However, I did make the command decision to kybosh an artificial tree at the last second which was threatening to topple over on to the stage.)  Tonight, as Middle Gel is a senior, I get to be a guest instead, although I’m also committed to helping strike the set when they’re all done.

♦  Some interesting mail this week.  First, I got a cold-call letter from a real estate firm in Maine purporting to console me for the loss of my mother but also offering to take care of unloading any property fast.  (They had obviously spotted the estate notice printed in the local fishwrapper.)  I’ve worked in a small firm in my time and know what it’s like to try and drum up biznay, but I still find this sort of thing off-putting, and question it’s effectiveness.  Meanwhile, in the We’re The Feds And We Never Make Mistakes Dept., I keep getting letters to the Mothe from Medicare asking her to complete a customer-satisfaction survey.  I suppose it’s a sign that I’m coming out of my grief that a large number of malicious responses occur to me.  Probably get arrested for fraud if I gave in to them, tho’.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, somehow Mrs. R got a solicitation from Planned Parenthood yesterday.  It says, “Stand With Us”.  On that one, I’m tempted to scribble, “No, thanks.  We don’t want to go to Hell.”  I might give in to that temptation.

♦  As it’s December, once again the dreaded office “holiday” party looms on the horizon.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to go this year, as I can’t think of a reasonable excuse to duck it, and people noticed that I ducked last year.  I do draw the line at running the karioki machine, however, as somebody casually tried to get me to commit to this week.

And speaking of that, somebody had the idea of having an “office door decorations” contest this year.  I was discussing this with a colleague yesterday and she was actually astonished when I said I didn’t intend to participate.  “But…why not?” she said.

My first impulse was to reply, “Because I’m an adult” but I refrained, instead settling on the all-purpose, “It’s just not my speed.”

Ol’ Robbo is known as something of a diplomatist around the workplace, but really, they have no idea…..

♦  Finally, and now for something completely different, I borrowed a book from my brother over Thanksgiving called Monty Python Speaks.  It’s a series of interviews with the team in which they talk about the origins and development of the show and all its offshoots.  Interesting, with a few nice nuggets of trivia thrown in, but overall, although I will always love much of Python itself, I came away liking individual members of the team even less than before.  Especially Gilliam and Idle.

UPDATE: Oh, by the bye, we had an earthquake the other day.  4.1 and centered in Delaware, but Ol’ Robbo definitely felt a bit of a tremor at his desk.  Not nearly like the one we had a few years back that was positively sick-making, but noticeable nonetheless.


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December 2017