You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Literary Musings’ category.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I hope you all had good Thanksgiving Day celebrations and are now loafing about, recovering from the after-effects.

As usual, the Family Robbo packed up and went to see my brother and his down in North Carolina.  Brother managed to crock his back a few days ago, which meant that we didn’t go for our usual “Black Friday” hike and also that Ol’ Robbo found himself the Official Lifter Of The Heavy Things as far as dinner preparation went, but a good time was had by all.  Just a few observations:

♦  There really not being enough room at my brother’s house for ten adults and a small boy, we stayed at a hotel while down there. It’s a brand-new place, having still been under construction when we went last year.  It is astonishing to observe that, nearly one-fifth of the way through the 21st Century, there are still interior decorators who believe avocado green is a good idea.

♦  What with not hiking yesterday, we instead flopped in front of college football all afternoon.  I really thought Virginia Tech was going to beat the gentlemen of T.J. State, but the Hokies fell apart in the last ten minutes or so and blew it.  Too bad.  (My nephew attends Tech, so the whole family was rooting for them.  Clemson and South Carolina play today and I’ve a niece at each.  The family dynamic over that one is….somewhat more complicated.)

♦  Ol’ Robbo really dislikes those X-mas car commercials in which one spouse surprises the other with a new car with a big bow on top or, even worse, with a his n’ hers matching pair.  I could never, ever contemplate making that kind of financial commitment without consulting Mrs. R first.  (There is also a smarmy-elite feel to those things – $50 grand? Walking around money! – which I would think more likely to generate seething envy in the mind of the average teevee viewer than anything else, but what does Ol’ Robbo know.)

♦  I was cajoled into reading The Monster At The End Of This Book (starring lovable, furry, old Grover) to our youngest guest, my 4 y.o. great-nephew.  It’s been quite some time since I used to read this to the Gels, and I’m not sure the boy is totally clear on who Grover actually is.  But I was pleased to find that I can still do the shrill, hysterical voice, wave my hands around in panic, and generally behave quite silly, and whatever the boy’s Sesame Street-foo, he enjoyed the performance.

♦  Ol’ Robbo wanted to get an early jump on the longish drive back to Port Swiller Manor today, so last evening he said to all the Gels, “Be ready to go by 5:45 AM.”  This morning they were……ready to go by 5:45 AM.  Amazing what a smooth start will do for a trip.  And fortunately, the traffic was really not bad at all, so we got home in very good time.

Well, that was Thanksgiving 2019, that was.  Advent starts tomorrow and once again Ol’ Robbo finds himself having left it late to see whether he has a sufficient supply of purple ribbon and candles.  Better go check on that…..

UPDATE:  Huzzay, huzzah, my fellow port swillers! We found out last night that Youngest has been accepted early decision by Miami of Ohio!!  As regular friends of the decanter may recall, she went out to tour the place last summah and fell in love on first sight, so she put in her E.D. application this fall.  We’ve been on pins and needles ever since.  (She wrote an amazingly quirky and clever personal essay about her education to date which I’m pretty sure is what got her in.)

So far as Ol’ Robbo is concerned, Miami is a perfectly decent school full of perfectly decent people in an absolutely beautiful spot.  (Distinguished alums include Peej O’Rourke, World Champion Nationals’ right-fielder Adam “Mighty Mouse” Eaton, and a cousin of mine from my great-grandmother’s family.)  Ironically, it’s greatest rival is Ohio University, where Robbo’s parents met as undergrads.

So go…..a, lessee…..REDHAWKS!!

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Both the Elder Gels are home from college for Thanksgiving Break now, bringing the roster at Port Swiller Manor back up to full strength for the first time in months.  We’ll see how long the peace can be maintained.

Over the weekend Eldest and I were chatting of this and that when the topic came round to chess.  “Did you know,” she said, “that the Queen was originally restricted to moving only a single space at a time?  The rule changed because of the rise of powerful queens like Catherine of Aragon during the Renaissance.”

I must admit that I had never heard of this, so this evening I hied me to the innertoobs, where everything is true, and found that at least somebody has put forth an argument that this was, in fact, the case.

There actually are a couple different articles on line, but they all seem to go back to a single source, one Marilyn Yalom’s Birth of the Chess Queen: A History (2001).  I’ve no idea if the argument that this fundamental change in the game of royal warfare was indeed made in recognition of the likes of Elizabeth I and Isabella of Castile, but it’s at least plausible as well as highly interesting.  Plus, it would seem to kick the stuffing out of the notion that all wymmnz in the West were treated like doormats and chattels before 1968.

Has any friend of the decanter ever read this book?  I’m somewhat curious about the argument, but at the same time I don’t want to repeat the mistake I made in wasting several valuable hours, based on a brother-in-law’s recommendation, reading a hopeless trainwreck of a book about how the Chinese actually discovered and colonized the Americas in the 1450’s.

 

Supplemental greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo rarely does double posts on Saturdays, but my muse provoked me to offer up second helpings this evening in re various DVD’s I’ve watched over the past couple days, baseball season now being over and done.

Know what remains a perpetual delight to me? “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure“.  I’ve watched it umpteen times over the years, both in videotape and now as part of my DVD library, and its loose, good-natured, non-serious tone never grows old.  One of my favorite bits of dialogue:

Bill:  You ditched Napoleon?  Deacon! Do you realize you’ve stranded one of history’s greatest leaders in San Dimas?

Deacon:  He was a dick!

The original Bill and Ted became a cult classic, largely because it didn’t take itself seriously.  The sequel tried too hard to capitalize on this success, largely IMHO because the suits got hold of it, and to me was a dud as a result.  I understand they’re trying for the hat trick now.  Eh, it could go either way.  I’d love if they could recapture the original goofy spirit, but I’m also doubtful.

On another comedic note, I have come to the conclusion on my second viewing that “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” simply isn’t funny.  Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, I know.  But it just. doesn’t. click.  Sorry.

Speaking of Cary, though, this evening Ol’ Robbo indulged himself in “North By Northwest“, probably his very favorite Hitchcock.  The presence of a young and talented Eve Marie Saint may or may not be part of the appeal.  Certainly the fact that I love the theme musick is.

Incidentally, to show what an ignoramus Ol’ Robbo actually is, it was only within the last few weeks that I became aware that the title of this movie was a direct nod to Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

Hamlet: “I am but mad north-north-west. When the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”

– Act 2, Scene 2

Makes a lot of sense when you think about it, given that the whole damn plot of the film is built on concentric circles of confusion, play-acting and deceit.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo won’t bore you with his usual Sunday religious rants.  In his homily today, my pastor came about as close to accusing Papa Frankie of idolatry over this whole pachamama  thing as he could without actually crossing the line.  Afterward, I finished George Wiegel’s latest, The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How The Church Rediscovered Itself & Challenged The Modern World To Reform.  Depressing as hell.  His history of the past 150 years of HMC’s relationship to modernism is quite informative, but if he seriously thinks the current postmodern “culture” has any interest whatever in being evangelized, he’s fooling himself.  No, the whole thing has to collapse good and hard, and it’ll be a few isolated Christians who pick up the pieces and start over.

Instead, I’ll take advantage of the extra hour to plug a movie I re-watched the other evening but which doesn’t seem to get much notice these days:  “The Train” (1964).  With the Allies closing in on Paris in 1944, Nazi Paul Scofield attempts to smuggle a train-load of masterpiece paintings to Germany.  Burt Lancaster’s Parisian station master, together with the remnants of his Resistance band, seek to thwart the attempt.  Lots of suspense, action sequences, intrigue, subterfuge, and railway technicalities, it’s a very exciting and entertaining movie.  Lancaster seems to me a rougher and more Byron-esque version of Charlton Heston, and is particularly gripping here.  Highly recommended, and available in DVD from Netflix.  (Unless I’ve got the only copy – I haven’t mailed it back yet.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

This weekend’s big – and long anticipated – activity was a trip by Mrs. R and Self down to Sweet Briar College, there to see a staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream“.  Eldest Gel is playing Robin Starveling, the tailor, one of the rude mechanicals bent on putting on a hapless “play-within-the-play” to celebrate the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.   It isn’t a lot of lines, but there’s a good deal of physical humor involved among the bumbling dopes, and Eldest also got to do a good bit of stage biznay when she represented “moonlight” via a lantern, some thorns, and a small toy dog.   She got a number of laughs with her antics, and overall a good time was had by all.

This was the second time this professor had put on MSND in his long tenure at SBC and the first time he has ever repeated a show.  The last time he produced it was in October, 1990.  The part of Starveling the tailor in that production?  None other than Mrs. Robbo.  (And I myself played Lysander.)  We were all able to get together with the director after the show, catch up on things, and have a nice chin-wag about how things work out sometimes.  We were also joined by Eldest and by her friend who played Lysander this time.  The latter apparently had been quite nervous about performing in front of me, but I was able to assure her (truthfully) that she did a great job and brought back many pleasant memories.   As I say, a good time.

UPDATE:  No, Ol’ Robbo doesn’t really see how his beloved Nats are going to manage to take two off the ‘Stros in Houston again.  But you never know…….

UPDATE DEUX:  Ol’ Robbo didn’t actually watch the game last evening because I was too worn out from our lightning trip to SBC and back.  I gather from reading up on it that the Trump family went to the game and were booed by the crowd, most of whom of course were not regular Nats fans but instead the preening elites who can afford World Series tickets.   This may have played well amongst other preening elites, but it seems to have pretty much destroyed any goodwill the Nats had among genuine baseball fans across the country.  Nice going, Sparky.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Fans of the great James Thurber may remember the Get-Ready Man from his comic story “The Car We Had To Push”:

The Get-Ready Man was a lank unkempt elderly gentleman with wild eyes and a deep voice who used to go about shouting at people through a megaphone to prepare for the end of the world.  ‘GET READY! GET READ-Y!” he would bellow.  “THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END!”  His startling exhortations would come up like summer thunder, at the most unexpected times and in the most surprising places.  I remember once during Mantell’s production of “King Lear” at the Colonial Theatre, that the Get-Ready Man added his bawlings to the squealing of Edgar and the ranting of the King and the mouthing of the Fool, rising from somewhere in the balcony to join in.  The theatre was in absolute darkness and there were rumblings of thunder and flashes of lightning offstage.  Neither father nor I, who were there, ever completely got over the scene.

(As an aside, Ol’ Robbo has been rereading this and Thurber’s other stories for about forty years now and they still make me laugh every time.)

I bring this up because the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor seems to have produced its own version of the Get-Ready Man, although one quite at odds with Thurber’s in many details.  She’s a youngish middle-aged woman who lives round the block from us and is, I believe, married to a doctor.   Her eyes are slightly otherworldly rather than wild, and her voice melodious rather than bellow-y.  She also dresses quite smartly.  On the surface, she looks like a typical NoVA suburban tennis-playing, Benz-driving, wine mom.

Twice now, however, she has appeared, as suddenly as summer thunder, to tell us that “with all the awful things happening these days” (she doesn’t specify and I didn’t ask), she feels that Something Terrible is about to happen.  She then urges that we pray to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation.

The first time she actually got into the house before we realized what she was about.  (We initially thought she might be looking for a lost pet, or else was just new to the neighborhood and saying “hi”.)  The second time, a week or two ago, she glided up behind me while I was coiling up a garden hose in the front yard and started talking before I even realized she was there.  (Curiously, when I assured her of my Faith and my daily prayer, she seemed less than pleased.  I wondered if “Whore of Babylon” might have been lurking at the back of her mind.)

Ol’ Robbo has long thought that trying to predict the End Times is a mug’s game, so I don’t really give it much thought, and instead just do my best to shlemp along day in and day out.  It’s still a bit creepy, however, to get accosted by somebody who seems so absolutely convinced that they’re right round the corner.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Before taking the deep plunge into the NLCS (*smacks lips, repeats*), how about a few odds and ends?

♦  Going back to the Metro after about an eight year hiatus, I notice that the number of people milling about the platforms with their noses buried in their iThingies has increased exponentially.  We hates that. Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

♦  Speaking of which, I saw a young lady in my rear-view mirror last evening.  In one hand she held her iThingy.  In the other, a snack.  How the heck was she steering?

♦   Speaking of young ladies, Ol’ Robbo takes satisfaction in the fact that St. Greta of the How DARE You did not cop the Nobel Peace Prize this year.  Not that the NPP actually means anything, but still.  We take these little victories against the Madness whenever we can.

♦  Speaking of madness, I saw an amusing headline over to YahooNooz this morning (not linking because Yahoo has gone insane) that some WNBA player was angry at the lack of respect being shown to their finals.  Ol’ Robbo frequently forgets that the WNBA even exists.  As for the NBA, pretty alarming how beholden they turn out to be to the ChiComs, no?  Thank Heaven pro baseball has largely avoided politization, at least so far.  I’ve never cared about basketball anyway, but it would be a real blow to have to give up MLB.

♦  Speaking of living the Counter-Culture Life, Ol’ Robbo caught Apocalypto on the cables last evening.  (I think somebody was doing a little Columbus Day trolling.)  Eldest had recommended it to me and I found it quite fascinating, the ending quite shiver-making.  I’ve no idea how accurately it portrays the pre-Columbian Maya and this is Mel Gibson after all, but from what I do know I would guess it isn’t far off.  Noble Savages they were not.

♦  And speaking of movies, Ol’ Robbo has been on a Shakespeare kick recently.  I’ve been reworking my way through the old Age of Kings series (how can one not like Sean Connery as Hotspur facing off against Robert Hardy’s Prince Hal?), and the other day watched the late-70’s Beeb production of As You Like It featuring the young Helen Mirren.  (Not quite the shmokin’ hot Excalibur Helen Mirren of a couple years later, but this is Shakespeare, not shlock.)  Those late 70’s/early 80’s Beeb productions tend to be hit or miss, but this is one of the better ones.

Whelp, that’s enough for now.  A four day weekend for Ol’ Robbo.  I need to run some errands this morning and get in nacho supplies for tonight’s NLCS opener (*smacks lips again*).  Tomorrow will be a genuine fall yardwork day.  And I believe Middle Gel is coming home for a visit Sunday.  Good times.

 

Ol’ Robbo mentioned that he has gone back to taking the Metro to work, and therefore that he has about half an hour of time on his hands each way to read.

This past week or so I have been revisiting an old, old favorite of mine, The Irish R.M. by E.Œ. Somerville and Martin Ross.  I found that each story was just about of sufficient length to cover one day’s round trip.  (How’s that for commuter nerdism?)

I’ve been reading these stories for well over thirty years, in fact ever since they were republished in connection with the Mawsterpiece Thee-aye-ter dramatization that came out in ’83.  (I link to that republication, which now seems to be out of print, because so far as I know it’s the only complete set of the stories, which were originally published in three volumes.)  And in all that time, they’ve never, ever got old or stale.  (Friends of the decanter are probably already familiar with the general plot, but to steal the recap from the back cover, “Set in 1895, The Irish R.M. comically depicts the curious affection and mutual misunderstandings that develop between a transported Englishman and his Irish neighbors.”)

I’ve got in the habit in recent years of pulling up Google Maps in association with whatever book I happen to be reading and taking a dekko at places or areas described therein.  This is most handy with histories and the like, but is also perfectly applicable to fiction, and can even present something of a challenge when an author is using fictionalized places.  TIRM is a perfect example.  The stories are set in County Cork in the far-southwest of Ireland.  The town closest to the residence of Major Sinclair Yeats, the hero of the stories, is called Skebawn.  Based on descriptions given here and there of distances, geographies, and history, plus the name similarity, I’m reasonably certain that Skebawn is based on the real town of Skibbereen.  I also believe this to be the case because Somerville and Ross resided in the village of Castletownshend, about five miles away from Skibbereen, so they would have known it well.  (Interestingly, the house they occupied was called Drishane.  Major Yeats’ house in the stories is called Shreelane.  I doubt this is a coincidence.  Shreelane, by the bye, is implied in one story to be five miles inland from the sea.  As it is also within bicycling distance of Skebawn, the geographical range for its probable, if mythical, location can be narrowed considerably.)

I also have my suspicions that with a little more work I can probably track down and identify some of the original sources for rivers, mountains, castles, mines, and other towns mentioned in the stories, but that’s a level of forensic scholarship probably best reserved for retirement, and not for the odd half an hour here or there that I currently enjoy.  UPDATE: I should make clear that I’m not necessarily looking for one-to-one correspondences, like E.F. Benson’s fictional town of “Tilling” closely based on Rye in Sussex in his “Mapp & Lucia” stories.  My working premise is that there are plenty of embroideries, cross-placements, and the like.  But I do firmly believe that they have discoverable roots underneath them.

Anyhoo, there it is.  The stories are terrific even on the umpteenth read, and the backstory becomes increasingly interesting to me.  (As Basil Fawlty said, “Just trying to enjoy myself.”)

Oh, and just because I know it will come up, no, I didn’t much care for the teevee series, even if I did think Peter Boyle was perfectly cast as Major Yeats.  First-person narrative (which is what these stories are) never, ever translates satisfactorily to the screen, simply because their merit lies not just in what’s being told but how it’s being told.  Plus, the screenwriters took some liberties inventing non-canonical plots, which I never care for.  I did rather like the title musick, however, because it captures something of the Anglo-Irish cross-culture which is at the base of the book’s humor:

 

 

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Youngest Gel was telling me this evening about a classmate of hers in government who was having a hissy-fit today because some Congress-Critter referred to our “God-given rights”.

“They can’t say that!” the kid purportedly sputtered.  “That violates separation of Church and State! REEEEEEE!!!!

The Gel basically told her not to be a fool, but I gathered she did so more instinctually than rationally.

So I explained a little bit about the Founders’ understanding of individual rights being inherent to our nature as human beings, based on the Divine spark within us, and their further understanding that government is supposed to serve us, not the other way round.   I explained that the whole purpose of the Constitution is to set up a system of government that is functional in that purpose without undermining those rights.  I explained that once one gives up the idea that rights are both individual and inherent and concedes to a system wherein they are collective and doled out or taken away by the State, one has basically surrendered to tyranny, however dolled up in “The Public Good” rhetoric it might be.

Oh, and I also explained what the Establishment Clause actually means, that there is no “Separation” Clause, and why her friend is, in fact, a fool.

She got all this, and was also able to tie it in to her studies (she showed a real knowledge of the Amendment process, for example, and had intelligent things to say about Federalism), but I could see that I’m going to need to do some more ‘splainin’.  Being able to retail the history and mechanics of the system is all well and good.  But without understanding the underlying “why” of it, even a bright kid like the Gel is always in danger of skidding off into the pit.

On the other hand, being able to articulate a rational, historickally-informed position on these matters these days may be of little practical use to the Gel, since from what I can see the debate on this as well as on just about every other issue seems to be almost exclusively centered on “muh feels”.

Further, according to the New York Times and its “1619 And All That” Project, all of my points are completely illegitimate, the American system is morally null and void, and I am committing wrong think here.  So there is that.

 

** Spot the quote.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

(No, Ol’ Robbo is not watching this evening’s edition of the Democratic Clown Car debate:  They all seem to want me dead, or at least silenced, defenseless, and impoverished, so I fail to see why I should vote for any of them.)

Ol’ Robbo just got finished re-reading a delightful set of stories, Dr. Dogbody’s Leg by James Norman Hall.

Dr. Dogbody is a one-legged, semi-retired Royal Navy surgeon of the Napoleonic Era.  In each of the ten stories, he holds forth among a group of regulars at the Cheerful Tortoise, a Portsmouth inn,  telling each time a completely different story of how he lost his leg.  The stories put him at various battles with the French, the Americans, and the Dutch, while one involves the slave trade, another an Australia-bound convict ship, and a third an encounter with Catherine the Great.  There’s no effort to try and reconcile any of them with each other.  Instead, it seems as if each one is true as the Doctor is telling it.

The stories are warm, intelligent, and quite historically accurate.  Hall’s style is not as rich as Patrick O’Brian’s (the Aubrey/Maturin novels), but he’s not as pop culture as C.S. Forester (the Hornblower series), either.  Really somewhere in the middle.  And perhaps more importantly, Hall doesn’t try to sensationalize late 18th/early 19th-Century conditions for the shock-value, as so many historickal novelists are wont to do.  Like O’Brian, he simply takes things as they were and tells his stories within that context.

James Norman Hall, by the way, was an American WWI fighter ace.  He was also co-author of the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy, which I now also very much want to read.

Anyhoo, if you have any interest in sea-stories, I heartily recommend this book.

(Incidentally, the Heart of Oak Sea Classics is an interesting publishing compilation.  In addition to Hall’s novel, there’s a lot of Dudley Pope, whom I like, and Frederick Marryat, whom I’ve not read but believe has a good reputation.  On the other hand, it also contains James Fenimore Cooper’s The Wing-And-Wing.  I can’t abide Cooper, who’s a pompous, pretentious, limousine-liberal wind-bag, and could never understand how on earth his novels attained the popularity that they did.  Sam Clemens’ literary evisceration of Cooper is a pure delight to me.)

UPDATE:  I originally considered mentioning that I re-read this book because I’ve recently gone back to commuting by Metro because my office changed locations and I need suitable light, episodic material for my travels.  I cut that out because it didn’t seem all that important.  But this nooz about the WaPo shutting down its Commuter Express paper caught my eye and prompted me to come back to this topic.

The Express was a free WaPo-light paper handed out by bums at Metro stops.

I never read it  myself, but back in the day numerous other hip denizens of Your Nation’s Capital did.

That was then.  Now?  All of them are buried in their iThingies.  (It’s pathetic when they’re stationary on the trains.  It’s infuriating when they’re walking through the stations, oblivious of people trying to get by around them.)

Because They Care.

As far as Pravda on the Potomac itself goes, I’d say LOLGF.  But what happens to the bum at my station who suddenly no longer is paid to hand out the Express?  The world wonders.

 

Archives

Recent Comments

CaptainNed on On Loose Lips
Robbo on On Loose Lips
nightfly on On Loose Lips
CaptainNed on On Loose Lips
The Lurker on On Loose Lips

Blog Stats

  • 467,178 hits
December 2019
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031