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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

This post is sort of a follow-on to the one below because it’s about another thing I often ponder while going walkies in Your Nation’s Capital.

Despite the fact that I studied him in school back in the day, I can only quote one small snippet of Alexander Pope off the top of my head:

Vice is a monster of such frightful mien, that to be hated needs but to be seen.  But seen too oft, familiar with her face, first we endure, then pity, then embrace.

As it happens, this is apropos to any number of topics these days, but I find myself remembering it mostly when my walk takes me by the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I’ve said here somewhere before that I thought the thing was hideous and I still do.  Further, I think its placement right next door to and in plain sight of the Washington Monument is an exercise in aesthetic bird-flipping akin to the decision of that rat-bastard Francois Mitterrand (another raging narcissist, btw) to let I.M. Pei drop his beastly pyramid right on the doorstep of the Louvre.

However, more and more lately I’ve found myself thinking that if one scores the thing not in absolute terms but on the scale of Smithsonian architecture, it’s not quite as bad as all that.  Still bad, as I say, but not as bad.

I mean, consider some of the other offerings.  Air & Space and American History are both blocks and slabs of 60’s Soviet Modernski.  American Indian looks like Jabba the Hutt’s lair on Tatooine.  The Hirshhorn is a giant hat box.  And the Castle itself is that kind of twee red-brick Neo-Gothic that gets mocked by writers like Waugh and Wodehouse and for some reason makes me think of Queen Victoria pretending to be a Highland shepherdess.

Indeed, the only two museums on the Mall I actually like are the West Building of the National Gallery and Natural History, both of which feature clean, elegant, Neo-Classical designs.  If I wielded the great Pen and Phone of Executive Overreach, I’d raze all the others and rebuild them along these lines.

Of course, that’s not going to happen.  (Well, the razing part might, given the current world situation, but that’s not exactly the same thing.)

As for the new AA Museum, they’ve planted a bunch of young trees around it.  All I can hope is that as the shrubbery grows and fills in, it’ll mellow the thing’s starkness somewhat.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was frowsting over a cup of coffee in his favorite chair in the Port Swiller library early Saturday morning when he noticed that the goldfinches at the thistle feeder directly outside the window were beginning to show the first faint signs of their yellow summah plumage.  With gardener’s logic, I realized that my plans to spend the day doing nothing suddenly were kaput, and that I had to get out and chop back the butterfly bush which so dominates the Port Swiller garden.  (Very long time friends of the decanter will recall that I refer to these bushes as Kong and the Konglings.  For those of you who don’t recall, the original Kong was a very, very small and frail seedling that I cultivated in the Port Swiller basement something like thirteen years ago.  Somehow or other, it survived not only its incubation, but its transplanting into the garden.  Since then, when all my other original cultivational experiments have withered away, it not only has thrived, but has multiplied copiously.)

A couple hours of hacking and hauling later, I stood looking at the results.  I can’t put it any better than did the Eldest Gel who, shouting over from the rope swing, said, “Hey, Dad! It looks like a forest fire swept over your garden! Haw, haw!”

Everybody’s a comedian these days.

Give it another couple months, the jungle will close right back in and will be filled with birds and butterflies, as has been my intent the past few years.  I am mulling over some plans to make the whole thing somewhat more formal, but not yet.  Not yet.

Speaking of which, remember the Great Panic over the imminent dooooom of the Monarch Butterflies because Globull Warmeninzs? Well, maybe not so much.  Funny, it’s almost as if Nature has the capacity to sort things out for herself or something.

On a different note, last evening Ol’ Robbo watched Radio Days for, I’m fairly certain, the first time.  A pleasant little tribute by Woody Allen to his WWII-era yoot in Rockaway, Lon Gyland.  In fact, Robbo’s father-in-law grew up somewhere in Brooklyn a few years later himself, so there was a lot about this movie that I definitely got.  The biggest thing, though, was the epiphany that this was Julie Kavner.  Marge Simpson before she was Marge Simpson, although the voice and the humor were plainly there already.  Very zaftig, if you know what I mean.  (‘Course, the movie came out in ’87, the year I graduated from college, which is a damned sobering idea.)

On another note, I also read Cary Elwes’s book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride.  If you’re a Princess Bride fan (and if you’re not, what the hell’s wrong with you?), it’s a moderately interesting read:  A goodish bit of behind-the-scenes backstory and trivia, but in my opinion somewhat too much, er, glad-handing.  Were I Emperor, the Superlative  Abuses Squad would have been down on Elwes with billy clubs and handcuffs before he got half way through his first paragraph.

But….You don’t pen a 30th anniversary book in order to trash the thing that’s keeping you in royalties, so who am I to second guess?

One legit sour note to the book: Elwes, in speaking of fan enthusiasm, relates the story of some young thing who had recently had “As You Wish” tattooed on the back of her neck and asked Elwes to autograph below the tattoo with a sharpie.  I ask you, friends, just how pathetic an image is that?  And what do you do if you’re in the position of being asked to sign, and therefore approve, such a thing?

Well.  All I can say is that I am very thankful I have not pledged my personal worth in this world on the altar of celebrity.

On a more positive note, in keeping with the whole Princess Bride theme, ol’ Robbo just got a new coffee cup with bears the legend: “Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You drank my coffee.  Prepare to die.”

Now that, my friends, is teh funny.  Except I’m not kidding…….

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

As is still his wont sometimes these days, ol’ Robbo tagged along with the family this past Sunday morning to his former Episcopal Church pour encourager les autres, where he was chagrined to observe that the youngest gel had discovered one can put one’s head in one’s arms across the back of the pew in front and look deep in prayer while, in reality, grabbing a quick snooze.

Anyhoo, after the service, I found myself sitting in on the adult ed hour downstairs in the parish hall.  The topic this week was the Sabbath – what it means and how to observe it, the presentation being made by some visiting cleric.

Well, as it turns out, the woman giving teh presentation – despite claiming to be a priest – quickly asserted that she had no intention whatever of discussing the theological aspects of the Sabbath, i.e., its place in the relationship between God and Man.  Instead, she spent the better part of the hour serving up a combination of common sense time management and New Age spiritual gibberish about aligning the circles of one’s inner being in order to release the Seventh Chackra, or something like that.  In other words, the lecture was really about self-worship.  (On reflection, I’m rayther glad she didn’t tackle real theology.  I probably would have got quite upset.  This was a lot easier simply to ignore.)

Eventually, in order to emphasize her theme about self-alignment, she served up a story about a South American tribe that, when it traveled, would walk for four days and then, no matter where it was, simply stop for a day before continuing.  When asked why they did this, they replied, “We stop in order to give our spirits the chance to catch up.”

The audience, or at least certain parts of it, ate it up.  I heard any number of those little mmm‘s and ahh‘s of wonder and affirmation from around the room, a virtue-signalling technique that I hate almost as much as the knowing, ironic chuckle the same sort of people let out whenever some oddity of their own church’s tradition is discussed.  (Such vocalizations, in my observation, are two parts preening and three parts sheer, gut-wrenching ignorance.)

But ah, the South American Tribe!  Jolly Jean Jacque Rousseau’s Noble Savage is alive and well in the Amazon Basin, imparting wisdom to anyone willing to take the time to listen.  I started musing about what other stories of South American Tribes could be served up and swallowed without question:

  • There was the South American Tribe who were so attuned to Nature that they could hold conversations with not only the animals but also with the trees.  The trees being Really Old could pass on all sorts of accumulated observation and wisdom.
  • There was the other South American Tribe who worked out Pi to its final decimal place using nothing but a complex series of finger movements.  Even their children could do it, although it would take a Westerner three whole lifetimes to become sophisticated enough to understand their technique.
  • There was the other, other South American Tribe who became such experts at peyote-fueled meditation that they could actually alter the atomic structures of their bodies and pass straight through rocks.
  • Finally, there was the South American Tribe who, through eons of studying the stars, were able to accurately predict the winning number in every single Power Ball drawing.

Well, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.

The whole thing reminded me once again of the line attributed by some to Chesterton (although I’ve never actually been able to locate it) to the effect that when people stop believing in God, the trouble is not that they believe nothing but that they’ll believe anything.

(Speaking of GKC, I am currently rereading his Everlasting Man.  Unfortunately, I bought my edition from one of those fly-by-night publishers and the font can’t be much larger than about 8 or 9 points.  Very headache-inducing.)

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.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Sat with Eldest Gel as she registered on line to vote this evening.  She wanted to get in early enough to participate in the Ol’ Virginny primaries next month.

Yeeks.

“Dad”, she said, “I’m confused.  I’ve read a lot recently by some sensible people calling themselves “classical liberals”, but they don’t sound very much like the other “liberals” I read about. What gives?”

“Oh,” I replied, “You’re absolutely right.  The two are completely different.  In fact, I consider myself to be a “classical liberal”.  I’m not much of a teacher, but read Adam Smith.  Read Edmund Burke.  Read Friedrich Hayek.  They will tell you what it means.”

“Yeah,” she said, “maybe.”

I hope she does, although I doubt it (at least in the immediate future).  Sad, this may be.  On the other hand, given her proclivities, had she been an avid reader at this age, she would by now have stumbled across and embraced Ayn Rand.  I’m really rayther happy that this hasn’t happened.

Port Swiller Manor after the  Initial Driveway Cleanup

Port Swiller Manor after the Initial Driveway Cleanup

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, the Family Robbo survived Snowzilla intact.  Indeed, we didn’t even lose power this time around, owing to the lightness and dryness of the snow. Deo gratias.

Dulles recorded 29″ while they got 22″ downtown.  I think we probably split the baby here.

In any case, I’ve spent the last three days heaving snow off the Port Swiller driveway and my arms and shoulders ache something fierce as a result. (I also think I pulled something in my abs today.)  But the real story of the cleanup was the Eldest Gel.  I had mentioned casually to her a couple days before the storm that I expected her to help shovel out, given that her own car was involved in the matter.  Nonetheless, I had envisioned that when push came to shove she would balk, finding some excuse for weaseling out and leaving the whole job to ol’ Robbo (who, quite frankly, is getting a bit old to deal with this sort of thing all by his lonesome.)

Well, was I pleasantly surprised.  Both yesterday and today, the gel was actually on station and shoveling away even before I even got out of bed.  Plus, not a single word of complaint the entire time, indeed, the closest she came was to say, “I hate this, but I know it needs to be done.”  Instead, we chatted and listened to her iThingy playlist of classic rock.

Musick to ol’ Robbo’s ears.  That the gel is thinking like a responsible adult is something I’ve been praying for, for a very long time indeed.  Also, although I suppose we could have hired somebody to come and dig us out, ol’ Robbo was brought up with the idea that hard work (including manual labor) is important to character development.  The gel felt damned proud of herself for pitching in, and so she should have.  (And get this: She also asked if she could borrow my copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, as she has felt the need recently to shore up the underpinnings of her faith in the face of all the hostility she gets about it from some of the kids at her school.)

Oh, speaking of musick, at one point I was at the top of the drive while she was working closer to the garage.  “Bohemian Rhapsody” turned up on her phone, and even though I was some distance from her, at the appropriate point I went into “Wayne’s World” head-banger mode.  The gel laughed and laughed.

Good times.  Good times.

 

 

Image filched from the Capital Weather Gang (which see link)

Image filched from the Capital Weather Gang (which see link)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, from the midst of Snowzilla!

Yes, it set in around 1:45 pm yesterday and has been snowing like dammit ever since.  Tough to eyeball accurately, but I’d say we’re already well north of a foot at Port Swiller Manor, with a forecast of continued white stuff well into tonight.

Ol’ Robbo was actually surprised to wake up this morning and find that the power had not gone out overnight.  That means at least one more hot pot of coffee for me, so for the moment all is well.  The wind hasn’t really been an issue yet and I think, I think, we might just dodge that particular bullet.

Of course, I could be mis-

No, no.  Just kidding.

If the power holds up today, I plan to watch a 1981 production of Othello that I stumbled across in the Netflix library.  Bob Hoskins plays Iago, so it has some potential.  I’ll let you know what I think.

If not, I’ve started in again on Anthony Powell’s A Dance To The Music Of Time.  I’m not sure if this is my second or third reading but I’m already getting much more out of it than last time.  How I could have missed a line like “He’s so wet you could shoot snipe off of him” previously is beyond me.

The Big Dig starts tomorrow.  Despite the fact that the Bishop has already granted dispensation to stay home, I would like to have gone to Mass.  Unfortunately, I just don’t think I’ll be able to get the driveway cleared in time to make it.  Oh, well.  At least I’m guaranteed some good exercise.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Over the past couple weeks, ol’ Robbo has found himself reading several books new to him.  Some brief impressions [Spoiler Alert!] re each:

UnbrokenThe first is Unbroken:  A Word War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, a copy of which was loaned to me at New Year’s by the Former Llama Military Correspondent, which means he probably never will see it again.  (I’m as bad as Hugo Bracegirdle about returning books.)  It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, Troubled Yoot Extraodinaire, who discovers a talent and drive for competitive running which leads him to shatter all kinds of scholastic records and lands him a spot in the ’36 Olympics in Berlin.   Before he can make a return appearance, war breaks out.  Zamperini is drafted into the Army Air Corp and finds himself bombardier on a B-24 in the Pacific Theatre.  After some early success, he is one of only three survivors when his plane crashes into the ocean.  These three (one of whom dies) then spend the next 40+ days adrift in a small life raft with no food or water but what the occasional fish, bird and rainstorm can provide, surrounded by hungry sharks, subject to extremes of sun and wind, and once even strafed by a passing Japanese bomber.  Eventually, the two survivors get picked up by the Japanese and sent to POW camps.  Then the real hardship begins:  Beatings, starvation, torture, slave labor, exposure.  Zamperini falls victim to a particularly sadistic Japanese corporal known as The Bird, who beats him senseless daily.  Somehow or other, they manage to endure several years of this until the War ends and they are liberated.  Liberation is pure joy.  Once back in the States, however, Zamperini discovers that the War is not, in fact, over – at least in his own head.  He quickly goes into a power-dive of self-destructive behavior and it is only when his wife drags him to a Billy Graham sermon that he finds redemption and gets himself back together.  The rest of his life is remarkably peaceful, rewarding, and spiritual.

The book is meticulously detailed and clearly, if rayther dryly, written, but I have a few things.  First, the title.  Zamperini wasn’t “unbroken”.  Even according to the text itself, he was most thoroughly broken by his torture within the Japanese camps by The Bird and took that brokenness with him back home.  (He nearly strangles his wife in his sleep, thinking in a dream that she is The Bird.)  As for his redemption, it should be noted that Zamperini, while floating in the life raft, promised God that if He delivered him, Zamperini would devote the rest of his life to Him.  He also reported, during that same period, several times hearing choirs of angels around him.  Well, we hear nothing more of this until the remembrance of that promise seems to come back to him at the Graham sermon, where it’s presented awfully cut and dry:

1.) Graham – “You need to get with God.”

2.)  Zamperini – ” Oh. ‘Kay.”

3.)  ???

4.)  Spiritual Profit!

I’m over-simplifying a bit, of course, but I wish that aspect of things had been unpacked more thoroughly, because it seems to me the key point of the entire narrative.  (I’m reminded of what Mattie Ross says in Charles Portis’s True Grit about how nothing in life is free except the Grace of God and that none of us deserve it.)  Oh, well.  At least it’s better than the recent movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, which, according to my sources, pretty much ignores the whole God thing altogether.

PrincessBrideSecond is The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, “abridged” by William Goldman.  For some years I’d been meaning to read this, fond as I was of the movie version, so recently I bought both the book and the DVD to add to my collection.  (An aside: Robin Wright appears in some of the extra features commentary and is quite RCBfA-worthy, IYKWIMAITYD.)  This particular edition of the book is a special “30th Anniversary” one, containing both a 30th Anniversary and the 25th Anniversary author’s prefaces.  The “abridgment” consists of Goldman (who wrote the movie’s screenplay as well as a bunch of other famous ones such as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “All The President’s Men”, “The Stepford Wives”, and “A Bridge Too Far” (aka, “A Movie Too Long”)) putting together all the “good parts”, i.e., the action sequences, and summarizing and commenting upon long, useless, cranky, Melville-like asides by Morgenstern in between.  From the preface, I learned that the whole Fred Savage/Peter Falk reading biznay in the movie was based on Goldman’s recollection of his own father’s reading the book to him when he was a kid sick in bed.  I also learned some of the historick background of both the story and of Morgenstern, and of the apparent ongoing legal squabbles between Goldman, his publishers, and Morgenstern’s estate over the publication of all these materials.

Then I did a little background check and discovered that the whole “Morgenstern” thing – together with what Goldman let fall about his childhood, his marriage, his reading to his own son and his research travels – was a hoax.  Goldman wrote the whole damned thing himself.

Bastard.  Ol’ Robbo hates getting pawned.

I’m sure you remember in the movie when Vizinni says the “Greatest Mistake” is getting involved in a land war in Asia?  I’d always thought of that as a bit of stoopid Baby Boomer snark about Vietnam, perhaps gratuitously introduced by the director, Rob “Meathead” Reiner.

When I first came across the line in the book, however, still thinking Morgenstern was For Realz, I thought, “Hmm…Could the original author have been making a cranky reference to Alexander teh Great’s foolish attempt to conquer India?  The various wars between Rome and Persia that went so badly for some Emperors?  Even the ill-fated Song Dynasty resistance to the Mongol invasion of China?”

When I realized what was afoot, however, I went back to my first conclusion:  Stoopid Baby Boomer snark about Vietnam.

It’s a helluva fun read, nonetheless.

GreatestKnightFinally, I’ve just started a book picked up for me by Mrs. Robbo as a small token of my upcoming mumbledy-mumble birthday:  The Greatest Knight:  The Remarkable Life of William Marshall, The Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge.  Marshall, who first rose in the service of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, became a sort of early 13th Century equivalent of the Very Model of a Modern Major General and was deeply involved in the rise of the Knightly Class as well as the history of the English Throne during the reigns of Richard the Lionheart, Wicked King John and those immediately around them, particularly Henry II’s first son, Henry.  The text is based in part on a valedictory biography of Marshall penned shortly after his death, but also supported and damped by other available contemporary references.

I can’t say that much about the book yet except that Asbridge goes to great pains to make sure his readers understand the difference between judging Marshall according to his own time and judging him according to modern sensibilities.  This is increasingly important in our own godawful age, in which it is becoming all the more common to attempt to simply “disappear” people and events which don’t fit in with the current narrative.  Nonetheless, Asbridge slips a bit now and again.  At one point, he remarks that toys given to medieval boys and girls were often “gender-normed”.  In other words, little boys were given toy soldiers and little girls were given dolls.  [P.C. Police:  Get….OUT!!!  Me:  So, what?]  Also, he has the annoying habit of using C.E. (“Common Era”) for dates instead of A.D. (“Anno Domini”).  This may be the academic standard now but it grates on ol’ Robbo’s soul mightily.  Back in the day, the ol’ Jacobins tried to chuck the calendar completely and start with a brand new one.   It seems their modern equivalents have got wise enough to appropriate and assimilate their target rayther than obliterating it.

Anyhoo, so far quite an interesting exploration of an era of which I don’t know much beyond a few facts about the main players.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The Eldest Gel reminds ol’ Robbo that today is the centennial of the birth of Frank Sinatra.  While she continues to believe Queen and Freddy Mercury to be the greatest musick evah, she also likes her some Ol’ Blue Eyes.

I’ve got no problem with that.

Speaking of the Eldest, she went out the other day all on her own and bought Ben Shapiro’s book Bullies.  Turns out that for some time now she’s been reading Shapiro and that Milos Whatshisname fellah over at Breitbart.  She also has become an ardent fan of “South Park”.

I guess that apple didn’t fall all that far away from the tree after all.

(OTOH, this is the same whippersnapper who, when confronted with the fact that once again she had left her dishes piled in the sink, said, “I deliberately leave them for you to do, Dad.  I read where that kind of task is good for slowing the onset of dementia in old people and am just trying to help.”)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, between the rash of campus cry-bully fascist incidents and the latest Islamist terror attacks in Paris, it hasn’t been a very good week for Western Civilization, has it?

tolkienCoincidentally, I read a book yesterday recommended to me by somebody in a Catholic FB group to which I belong,  The Philosophy of Tolkien:  The Worldview Behind The Lord Of The Rings by Peter J. Kreeft.  The book is exactly what the title suggests.  Kreeft organizes fifty different philosophical questions under thirteen different headings (metaphysics, philosophical theology, angelology, cosmology, and so forth).  He then explores the questions themselves a bit deeper – giving some insight into Platonic and Aristotelean thought, for example – and shows how Tolkien wove his own answers to them into characters, themes, settings and plots within LOTR, sometimes also adding direct answers to the questions by Tolkien’s closest friend, C.S. Lewis.

It’s an awful lot of ground to cover in just over 200 pages and this is really nothing more than a quick survey, but it is thought-provoking, nonetheless.  It’s been a year or two since I last went through the cycle.  Having read this book, I can now go back with a fresh perspective.  (Of course, Tolkien was classically educated and a devout Catholic and I already knew some of what Kreeft covers here.  Nonetheless, he brought my attention to some other things I had not consciously noticed before.)

One thing Tolkien and Lewis were both absolutely opposed to was “Progressivism” in all its manifestations, the evil afflicting the Modern West which I hold directly responsible for both of the headlines mentioned above.  Reading this book, you’ll either be heartened that there are still a few adults around (the author himself is firmly in Tolkien and Lewis’s camp) or else you’ll be mortified at just how far under the Wormtongue-like spell of Progressivism we’ve actually slid.

Incidentally, the cover blurb says that Kreeft is a philosophy professor at Boston College.  How he’s so far escaped the tar and feathers of the Perennially Indignant writing this kind of thing is beyond me.

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