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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
The other day, Ol’ Robbo mentioned that he was working his way through the Beeb’s recent production of “The Hollow Crown“, Shakespeare’s quartet of historickal plays including Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 & 2, and Henry V. At the time, having watched Richard II and Henry IV part 1, I said I thought I liked the series. My opinion remained more or less the same after watching Henry IV part 2. However, last evening I finally ran off Henry V and I’m afraid I must report that I’ve downgraded my overall impression. Or rayther, that I think the last installment of the quartet just didn’t come up to scratch.
Probably this is in part because I happen to know this play an awful lot better than the other three, but also, I think, it’s because the scope of this one is so much grander than the others and the production (and cast) simply didn’t have the means to match this change of scale.
First, I was amazed at some of the cuts made. Off the top of my head:
- Canterbury’s somewhat twisted discourse on Salic Law and why “as clear as is the summer’s sun” it did not disbar Henry’s claim to the French throne.
- The entire scene at Southhampton wherein the plot by Lord Scroop and friends against Henry is uncovered. This is a critical piece of continuity because rebellion against the lawful king is a theme that pervades the whole damn quartet.
- Of the Four Captains (Gower, McMorris, Jamy, and Fluellen), only the Welshman Fluellen makes the film, and most of his lines are slashed away.
- A lot of Ancient Pistol’s lines are cut, including much of his run-in with Harry and his determination to turn to a life of crime after learning of Mistress Quickly’s death.
- The vast majority of the “Would it were day!” scene in which the French nobles sit about fidgeting on the eve of battle and wishing the Dauphin would shut the hell up is missing.
- The entire biznay about the French killing “the poys and the luggage” also is gone. This really surprised me because the film contained a lot of shots of the kid who hung around with Falstaff and his friends and eventually followed Bardolph and company to France. If ever there was a Star Trek Redshirt in this film, I thought he’d be it.
Second, I’m sorry, but Tom Hiddleston was a disappointment. I thought he’d done very well as Prince Hal in the previous movies, but his King Harry left me cold. Yes, the tennis balls scene was not bad, but his big “Once more unto the breach” and “St. Crispin’s Day” speeches? Meh. There was nothing really commanding or regal or inspirational in either speech. And it didn’t help that all the soldiers around him at Harfleur in the former seemed….apathetic, while somebody got the idea that the latter should be made in conversational tone only to his inner circle of nobles.
I also thought Anton Lesser’s Exeter was pretty weak. This was King Harry’s heavy?
Third, and I suppose this was a matter of Beeb budget, but the fight at Agincourt was distinctly lame: the play speaks of 10,000 French casualties, but it never looks like there are more than about 100 extras on the set at any one time. The English longbowmen look as if they hadn’t got a few dozen arrows among them all. The Duke of York buys it by being stabbed in the back while he’s creeping around in the forest all by himself. [Note: I know that the play itself calls for a few discreet tableaux to illustrate the fighting. Fair enough. But if you’re going to do a “realistic” production, then you need to either go big or go home.]
Finally, I’m really not sure about John Hurt’s “Chorus”. Olivier and Branagh got around this innovation (the only one that I’m aware of in all of Shakespeare) by staging a “play within a play”, gradually pulling back from, respectively, an Elizabethan stage and a modern moovie production and gradually becoming immersed in the story. Here, it’s a simple voice-over to what is supposed to be “real” action. Frankly, I don’t think this works. Would it be heretical to suggest that maybe the Chorus should have been taken out altogether in this format?
On the good side, I thought the scenes with Pistol, Bardolph and Nym were very good, especially the one where they said goodbye to Mistress Quickly. I also liked all the scenes with Princess Katherine, including her “English lesson” with her maid and her broken-tongue courtship by Harry. I also liked Lambert Wilson’s King Charles, especially when he realized that his idiot son had been needlessly taunting Harry with his stupid tennis ball gift.
Now I’m going to have to go back and watch Kenneth Branagh’s movie version of the play. Yes, it omits things, too. Yes, much goes waaaaay over the top. Yes, Branagh was an enfant terrible. Indeed, I wish there had been a strong director on the project with the ability to say, “Ken? NO!” But I have to confess: the man knows how to play a King.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy MLK Day. (Or, as a smart-assed friend of mine used to insist on calling it: SlainCivilRightsLeaderTheReverendDr.MartinLutherKingJunior Day.)
Thankee for your kind wishes viz Ol’ Robbo’s bout with the flu. While I’m still feeling rayther weak and am coughing a bit, I am confident that I’m on the mend. On the other hand, it seems just about everyone else in the family has now picked it up to one degree or another. The knowledge that at least some of them got flu shots gives ol’ Robbo a certain amount of subversive pleasure.
So a few post-plague odds and ends for you:
♦ Ol’ Robbo finally took down the Christmas decorations today, including the tree. As always and despite my vigorous plying of broom and vacuum, I expect to keep finding fir needles about the front room and hall well into July. Eh.
I always chuck the tree onto the brush pile out in the woods past the back gate. In case you’re interested, I have observed that it takes two to three years for these trees to finally crumble into their primordial components: Next year, this one will be a skeleton. The year after, it will be a crumpled skeleton. The year after that, dust. (Thinking of the brush pile and the seventeen years I’ve been contributing to it, I just now remembered a book I read as a child. It had something to do with a tornado hitting a Kansas farm and scooping out and dumping some incredibly fertile soil in such a way that all kinds of strange things began growing on the heap of dirt that the twister left behind.)
♦ Speaking of years, this past week saw the seventeenth and fifteenth birthdays of the two younger Gels. Tempus bloody fugit, indeed. They celebrated said B-days with back-to-back sleepover parties Friday and Saturday nights. You may judge for yourselves what ol’ Robbo thought of having Port Swiller Manor loaded to the gunn’ls with teenaged girls for 48 hours straight. (No, it isn’t anywhere near the thrill you might think.)
♦ Speaking of the Gels, Eldest heads back to school tomorrow. Aside from French, she finished with a solid A-/B+ GPA her first semester, of which I am quite proud. (Don’t tell her I said so, but she did a hell of a lot better her first semester in college than did ol’ Robbo. Also, from what she let fall in conversation, I think she learned some valuable lessons in what college-level studying actually entails.) As of now, the plan is that she’s going to major in history and minor in theatre, and also pick up an Arts Management certificate. And speaking of theatrics, the Gel has been cast as the Wicked Witch in the school’s spring production of Shrek The Musical. She says herself that this is one of the most idiotic and useless musickals ever produced, but that she is nonetheless looking forward to having a good time participating. I know exactly what she means.
♦ Also speaking of theatrics, Ol’ Robbo is now half way through watching the 2012-ish Beeb production of The Hollow Crown (comprising Shakespeare’s Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V.) I think, I think that I like the series. The acting is uniformly great and, at least for the most part, the production plays Will’s history straight down the middle. I guess my main criticisms are that it seems some dialogue has been cut in favor of prolonged visuals (yes, I get that these are movies instead of plays on film), and also that the who thing is saturated with that sort of vaguely Celtish World Musick which I really dislike.
One thing that actually made me laugh: In Richard II, Bolingbroke is well played by Rory Kinnear. I’ve never seen him before, but his old dad, Roy Kinnear, is well-known to ol’ Robbo as a minor comedic actor with bit parts in films such as The Three Musketeers and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Ol’ Robbo loves these Thespian family links. Anyhoo, imagine my surprise when I popped in H-IVp1 to discover that the role of Bolingbroke had been taken over by none other than Jeremy Irons! The man, although talented, whistled his lines over a set of obviously false teeth. Ol’ Robbo enjoyed that yugely.
♦ Finally, speaking of the Bard, Ol’ Robbo has decided that it is high time he reorganized the Port Swiller library. (I’ve never done an actual count, but I reckon we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 volumes, all told.) It’s been a mess for some years but I have been content with that because I at least knew where everything was, more or less. Recently, however, I discovered that Mrs. R was taking things in her own hands. I do not wish to disparage Mrs. R’s learning in any way, but her approach to organization is based on neatness rayther than content. She can’t abide books stacked up on tables or in corners or on top of other books: Those she can’t jam in somewhere on the shelves anyhoo, she simply squirrels away elsewhere in the house. Indeed, I didn’t even realize the gravity of the situation until I discovered a book I had been looking for – along with multiple other missing volumes – packed into an old bookcase in the Eldest Gel’s bedroom closet.
I mean, I say!
UPDATE: To satisfy my own curiosity and to prove to you lot that I’m not completely insane, I did a bit of digging to try and find that children’s book I referred to above: It’s McBroom’s Zoo by Sid Fleischman. (I didn’t realize until I did this research that this was one of a whole series of McBroom books, all of which seem to center on Tall Tales.)
Interestingly, another of my very favorite books as a kid was Fleischman’s By The Great Horn Spoon!, the story of a small boy who runs away from well-to-do Boston to the California Gold Rush, and who’s aunt’s butler goes along to keep an eye on him. I probably read that book a hundred times in grade school.
I knew that Disney had made a moovie version of the book called “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin“, which I longed to see for what seemed like ages. Eventually, they ran it one Sunday evening on tee vee. I recall being very, very excited. However, despite the very not bad presence of Suzanne Pleshette in it, the movie made such a pig’s breakfast of the novel that I was seriously traumatized. And that is the origin of my life-long hatred of moovie treatments of favorite books.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
On my way home last week, I stopped into a shop in the Denver airport to pick up a bottle of water. I didn’t have any cash left and I couldn’t bring myself to put just two bucks on my credit card, so I also snapped up a paperback copy of Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger. I had dimly recalled reading some good reviews of a book they did a few years back about George Washington’s spy ring, so I thought well, why not?
Well, I suppose that the sub-heading on the cover (“The Forgotten War That Changed American History”) should have given me some clue. “Forgotten” war? The Aroostook County War is a “forgotten” war. The Battle of Picacho Pass is a “forgotten” skirmish. Any reasonably-educated American ought to at least have heard of the Barbary Wars, if not remembering their details.
(Of course, my definition of “reasonably-educated” may vary somewhat from other folks’ these days.)
At any rate, it turns out to be a very superficial account. Not a bad way to waste a rainy afternoon if you actually don’t know anything about the period, but I can’t say that I got anything out of it at all. (I was encouraged by the book’s suggestion that Capt. William Bainbridge probably could and should have stayed with the U.S.S. Philadelphia after she grounded in Tripoli Harbor instead of immediately abandoning her to the enemy.) I also thought that its conclusion that the experience picked up by the young American Navy in its few brushes with the Pirate Fleets stood them in good stead for taking on the Royal Navy in the War of 1812 was probably an overstatement. And I was disappointed that the book only hinted at, rayther than exploring deeper, the obvious historic parallels between that period and the dealings we have with modern potentates in exactly the same region (motivated by exactly the same worldview).
Eh. Maybe I’ll give it to one of the kids.
On the other hand, flipping through the bibliography, I came across two books I also own: Ian Toll’s Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy and Richard Zacks’ The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805. Go read those, instead.
Speaking of books, every now and again regular Friend of the Decanter Old Dominion Tory sends ol’ Robbo a parcel of books on various topics of military history. At the moment, I am about a quarter way through one of ODT’s most recent offerings, Redcoat: The British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket by Richard Holmes.
I hadn’t heard of Holmes before. However, when I mentioned him on a FaceBuke page dedicated to the writings of George MacDonald Fraser, I received an overwhelming burst of enthusiastic praise from other GMF sharks.
I can see why. Holmes is all over his subject (i.e., the British Army of the Georgian and Victorian Eras): Organization, weapons and uniform, tactics, support staff, individual personalities – in short, everything that shaped Tommy Atkins – you name it and it’s there. He covers these matters through a combination of numerous citations to source letters (and records) and a kind of rambling series of linked anecdotes. I’d love to go to dinner with this guy and then spend the evening over a bottle of good single malt.
Eldest Gel arrived home this morning from college for winter break toting a draft of a 20 page paper* she needs to hand in by the end of the week for her history class.
The subject? Richard III in fact and legend.
Her conclusion? I’m sorry to have to say this in front of our Maximum Leader, but the Gel came to the conclusion that Richard probably was about as rotten as history made him out to be, and it wasn’t all just pro-Tudor propaganda pushed by Shakespeare and St. Thomas More. She seems especially keyed up about the deaths of the Young Princes.
“Ask yourself,” she said. “Who else had the motive to kill them? Who else had the means? What other logical possibility is there?”
I asked her if she’d checked out the Richard III Society and their efforts to rehabilitate the man.
“Are you kidding me?” she responded, “Go over there are read their arguments! They’re all conjecture! When you have facts and sources, come back and talk to me! In the meantime, shut up!”
I haven’t actually read the paper yet (she’s asked me to proof the next-to-last draft), and frankly, I don’t really even know enough myself to offer an opinion on her conclusions, but I will say that I’ve never known her to put this much effort into research and organization.
(And regardless of your opinion of this controversy, you will note, I hope, that the Gel is expending her energies on it rayther than on femynist underwater basket-weaving. I call that a win.)
* The assignment only called for 10 to 12 pages. The Gel’s opus blossomed because she found herself so engrossed in the subject.
UPDATE: Heh. Read the draft. Her rhetorical style needs some work (she tends to get the bit between her teeth and become rayther….overheated) and I found some silly grammar mistakes, but her organization is pretty solid, and I actually learned a thing or two about the Yorks and Lancasters that I hadn’t known before. Oh, and Maxy, you actually get a passing mention (as “a friend of my father’s”) as an example of someone keenly interested on the pro-Richard side.
Speaking of Shakespeare and posting Larry’s picture above also reminds me that I watched the 1980 Beeb production of “Hamlet” the other day, with Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart (with hair!), Claire Bloom, and Lalla “Romana” Ward as Ophelia. That was the Golden Age of Beeb TeeVee: Simple sets, cheesy effects, throw-away musick, but rock-solid RSC acting. I highly recommend it.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Sorry for the lack of heads up before hand, but Ol’ Robbo has been away from Port Swiller Manor on biznay since last Sunday afternoon. I’m writing out a draft of this post in longhand as I wing my way home Thursday morning, and (God willing) will have got back safe and sound and able to read my own scrawlings by the time it appears in pixel form here. (UPDATE: I did, as you probably have figured out already.)
A beastly-rotten flight to Denver last Sunday – very late, over-booked, and horrid headwinds and cross-currents the entire way as that Arctic storm came sweeping into the west. My two colleagues – seasoned fliers and not white-knuckled cowards like Ol’ Robbo – both said it was the worst flight they’d ever been on. I came through surprisingly well, however, in part because I had reached a point of nervous exhaustion where I simply didn’t give a damn anymore, in part because I was highly amused by the early-middle-aged gal in the seat in front of me who got quite flown in drink and spent most of the flight hitting on the hunky young guy next to her. (I noticed other people around us also rolling their eyes at each other and smiling.)
In contrast, this flight is shaping up to be fast, smooth, and uneventful. So far, the only entertainment has been the big, snoring fellah next to me getting knee-capped by the hipster-doofus steward with the drinks cart. The H-D didn’t even apologize. (UPDATE: Later on, the older woman sitting next to me invited me to look out the window at something or other on the ground as we came across the Appalachians. I shamefully had to decline because of my fear of hights. She seemed quite surprised.) Read the rest of this entry »
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
My name is Robbo and I’m an eeedjit.
It is a custom at Port Swiller Manor that ol’ Robbo cooks the family dinners on weekends, in part because I enjoy doing it, in part because of the unspoken understanding that I am a better cook than Mrs. R. This is not boasting or belittling, merely a product of circumstances: Both of my parents cooked (the Mothe is a superb chef and the Old Gentleman could hold his own) while neither of Mrs. R’s does (heating up pre-made meals from Stew Leonard’s does not count). As a result, I picked up a basic understanding of kitcheny things in my misspent yoot and she simply didn’t. (And let me say here that I am somewhat Sam Gamgee-like in my knowledge: Within my own 20 mile geographical equivalent limited range, I am very competent, but I cheerfully acknowledge that I am ignorant of almost everything beyond it.)
Anyhoo, in honor of Eldest’s return from college, this evening I was cooking up a shrimp and prosciutto pasta dish to which she is much addicted, but which we rarely have, given that it comes out to about eleventy-billion calories per forkful and leaves one wreaking of garlic and shallots for about 48 hours.
Because Mrs. R has professed to vegetarianism since the last time we had this dish, I decided to sauté the prosciutto separately from the other ingredients in order that everyone could enjoy it one way or another. To this end, I set out a separate pan of olive oil on one of the back burners to heat up.
What with my family’s infuriating habit of vanishing in the hour before din-dins, leaving me to deal with things by myself, ol’ Robbo once again gave his usual impression of Basil Fawlty, simultaneously trying to cook the main dish, prep the salad, set the table, set out appropriate condiments, and get drinks. As I scrambled about, I lost track of the need to do up the proshute.
Suddenly remembering that the oil was more than hot and that the pasta and main sauce were about ready to go, I grabbed the bowl of cut up proshute and flung it into the pan.
That, as they say, tore it.
The proshute hit the pan, the pan splash hot oil onto the gas burner, and up she went with a most impressive shwoooosh!
The pan was on one of the back burners, by the bye, which means it was directly in front of the splashboard and directly under the cabinet overhang. They were rayther quickly engulfed in flame.
It’s an interesting thing: Ol’ Robbo has never really stopped to think about whether he is brave or not. The number of times I’ve had to face a real instantaneous crisis decision in my life, I’m happy to say, has been really rayther small. Well, for what it’s worth, in this instance (without thinking but not without some pretty lurid language) I immediately reached into the fireball and bare-handedly snatched the pan away from the burner.
The fire quickly went down and out, the remaining oil in the pan sloshed about a bit over the range and adjoining counter. I didn’t even get singed.
Crisis averted. Laus Deo.
Of course, I had a mess on my hands: olive oil everywhere and a blackened backsplash and cabinet door. Windex (that Wonder Product) seems to have done the job for the vast majority of the discoloration. To the extent that Mrs. R chooses to quibble about the remaining scorching, it is my intent to argue that such things give a kitchen real character (as opposed to those pristine ones featured in the snootier real-estate magazines in which you know to the very depth of your being that nobody, nobody, has ever really cooked anything).
Oh, for what it’s worth, everyone seemed to like the meal.
UPDATE: “Reeking of garlic and shallots” of course, not “wreaking”. You know, like the famous scene in “Casablanca” where Peter Lorre is nailed by Captain Renault’s men and screams at Bogart, “Reek! Help me! Reeeeeeeeeeek!!!”
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Eldest Gel called ol’ Robbo this afternoon to crow a bit about the draft staging of “Romeo and Juliet” she’s been working on for her Lit class.
The assignment was to come up with a creative way to re-stage the play in a form that modern audiences (and here, read “ignorant cretans”) could better appreciate.
The Gel really rather despises “R&J”, considering it to be an over-hyped story about a couple of idiot teenagers whose hormones cause them to get tangled in a ridiculous Rube Goldberg-esque elopement plan concocted by a crackpot friar which only succeeds in getting a lot of people killed. (She may or may not have formed this opinion from listening to ol’ Robbo, but I deny any and all responsibility.) Apparently, she’s been sparring with the prof over this for the past week or two because he thinks the play is dreamy. (He also, apparently, thinks “Shakespeare In Love” is a wonderful film, if that gives you any indication.)
Anyhoo, to express her opinion, the Gel decided to rework the dialogue and add stage directions to put the whole thing in an Evil Clown context.
For example, the encounter between the rival gangs of bully-boys in Act 1, Scene I, in her version, now reads:
‘Tis well thou art not fish; if thou hadst, thou
hadst been poor John. Draw thy tool! here comes
two of the house of the Montagues.
My naked weapon is out: quarrel, I will back thee.
How! turn thy back and run?
Fear me not.
No, marry; I fear thee!
Let us take the law of our sides; let them begin.
I will frown as I pass by, and let them take it as
Nay, as they dare. I will honk my nose at them;
which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.
Enter ABRAHAM and BALTHASAR
Do you honk your nose at us, sir?
I do honk my nose, sir.
Do you honk your nose at us, sir?
[Aside to GREGORY] Is the law of our side, if I say
No, sir, I do not honk my nose at you, sir, but I
honk my nose, sir. [Honks]
Do you quarrel, sir?
Quarrel sir! no, sir. [Honks]
If you do, sir, I am for you: I serve as good a man as you.
Say ‘better:’ here comes one of my master’s kinsmen.
Yes, better, sir. [Honks]
You lie! [Blows party favor]
Draw, if you be men. Gregory, remember thy swashing blow.
They fight with balloon swords, beating each other about the head, and with seltzer bottles.
And in the scene in Act 3 where Romeo pinks Tybalt, the Gel envisions, Tybalt wearing one of those flower-squirt contraptions. As he falls, blood comes streaming out of it. She also speaks of cream pies, clown-car entrances and Romeo expiring to the sound of a slide-whistle.
I have to confess that when she told me, I laughed out loud.
Part of the assignment was to submit a paragraph or so explaining why the treatment is relevant. My young smart-ass got round that by citing the recent outbreak of evil clown sightings which seems to be sweeping the country.
Anyhoo, she got her rough draft back from the prof today. He actually thought it very clever and funny and was good enough, after all the grief she’s given him, to say so in his written comments/suggestions.
Heh. Apples and trees, I suppose. Back in high school, ol’ Robbo wrote a short parody of “Macbeth” called “The Drunk of Dunsinane”. It was a reworking of the porter’s monologue from Act 2. While the porter is gassing on, Macbeth, himself several fathoms under, is trying to sneak back into the castle after an evening out with the boys. He finally tears himself away from the porter, only to find Lady M standing on the stairs with a frying pan and a cold glare. My English teacher thought it pretty damn funny. (Wish I’d saved a copy.)
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Well, with last week’s unseasonable heat round here, ol’ Robbo found himself out this morning mowing the Port Swiller Manor lawn, hopefully for the last time this year. (In what may be a little bit of wishful thinking, I let the mower run down to empty the gas tank at any rate.) The grass, in addition to being fairly high, also had a layer of early leaves covering part of it. Why is there so much pleasure in running a mower over leaves? Is it the smell (especially when the fragments start to singe on the inside of the blade chamber)? Is it the visual pleasure of cutting a nice, sharp, green path through the sea of yellows and oranges? Maybe it’s both. In any event, I most definitely enjoy it.
Yes, the leaves are starting to fall, and I had to haul one load down from the end of the driveway today, but we really haven’t got started yet. As regular friends of the decanter may recall, my main autumnal task is dealing with a row of three silver maples and an oak (all about 40 ft tall) that overshadow the sidewalk fronting P.S.M. The row runs from northwest to southeast and the maples never drop all their leaves at the same time, but rather in order from NW to SE. I think it has something to do with exposure – as one tree denudes, the next in line is subject to more wind. The oak spreads out the cleanup job even longer, because it won’t drop all at once, but instead takes its sweet, sweet, time, often several weeks longer than the maples. Generally, it takes me about four Saturdays through November and early December to finally get things squared away.
Anyhoo, this year we did a goodish bit of landscaping out front which is going to
have an impact on make more laborious the way I go about moving all those leaves (a process that involves rake, blower, wheelbarrow and tarp). I find the technical questions of the most efficient way to compensate to be interesting and challenging, but nobody else around here seems to have much sympathy: Yard work (and things like trash removal) is strictly Ol’ Dad’s problem because Ol’ Dad is a man, and only men should have to do it. (Yes, Mrs. R taught the gels that. It was the same thing in my own misspent yoot: My brother and I were out slaving away for the Old Gentleman every weekend, while Sistah spent all her time in her room listening to Adam Ant records. It was (and is) infuriating.)
Speaking of technical questions, I went ahead and ordered rolls of burlap and bubble wrap from the devil’s website pursuant to the plan to winterize the boxwood urns I mentioned a couple weeks ago. Between the random items and the eccentric assortment of books and musick I get from those people, I’m hoping one day to cause their marketing algorithms to suffer a complete nervous breakdown. (I don’t doubt, though, that when I go check my Facebook feed, ads for wrapping materials will already be there. This, I don’t like.)
I mentioned the heat up above. It was 85 degrees here on Thursday. Today we’ll top out in the mid-50’s with a strong NW wind. I love this sort of thing. Curiously, it’s autumn days like these that always make me want to reread Tolkien, especially the Fellowship of the Ring, since Frodo and his party set out on their adventure about this time of year and Tolkien pays such close attention to the shifting weather as they travel from the Shire to Rivendell. Years ago I read a paper somewhere on the innertoobs that presented a meteorological analysis of Tolkien’s weather pattern descriptions for this trip and found that they were absolutely sound for the time of year and the part of England with which Tolkien was most familiar.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Well, ol’ Robbo just got back from visiting the Eldest Gel for Parents’ Weekend at SBC. All in all, quite the interesting experience.
The other day, the Gel requested and required, in her straightforward way, that Mrs. R and I try not to make conspicuous fools of ourselves while visiting. Overall? I’d say we were roughly 60% compliant with that
request order. (At least we didn’t bring baby photos to show the Gel’s friends.) Our first fault – which I should have spotted and more forcefully deterred – was that Mrs. R kept forgetting that she was a visiting parent and not a visiting alumna, so she spent large amounts of time glad-handing faculty, administration, and other students, trying to set up networks, offer suggestions, and generally rallying to the flag. All worthy endeavors, of course, but there’s a time and a place for everything. When Mrs. R was going at Maximum Shmooze, I could see faint puffs of smoke coming out of the Gel’s ears. (Not just because Mom Wouldn’t Stop Yakking, but also, I believe, because there’s a kind of territorial thing developing here: The Gel has so quickly taken to the place that she now assumes it’s her turf and that Mrs. R is an intruder.)
Also, Mrs. R indulged in her favorite pastime of trying to jam Too Many Events into Too Little Time (something which has driven me absolutely batty the last quarter century). This culminated in an ill-advised late movie date with the Gel after her theatre production was finished last evening, leaving the Gel an extremely irritable zombie this morning. I’m not so sure it wouldn’t have been better for all involved if we hadn’t simply slipped off for home after the show instead of staying for brunch today. (The production of “The Trojan Women” was, by the bye, quite well done for all my critique in the linked post. Great leads, well-staged, and pretty gruesome all around.)
A few other things:
The Gel may have been an irritable zombie this morning, but so was Ol’ Robbo. This was because last night was the second night in a row in which I got virtually no rest. Now, long-time friends of the decanter may recall that Ol’ Robbo does not do well sleeping in beds other than his own in the first place (e.g., on travel), but this was somewhat worse. For one thing, there was something going on with the pipes at the inn where we stayed. Do you remember that sound the sabotaged reactor plant made in “The Hunt For Red October” that forced the crew of the October to shut it down? That metallic ka-clang! ka-clang! ka-clang!? We got that, off and on, all night. For another, this weekend happens to have been Homecoming at the Younger Gels’ high school. We had allowed them to stay and go to the game and dance provided that they stayed with approved friends and that we worked out security understandings and arrangements with said friends’ parents ahead of time. So last evening, we couldn’t even think about going to bed until we had received confirmation from home that the Younger Gels were safe, sound, and not in requirement of bail money.
(The above paragraph is, by the bye, an apologetic explanation to long-time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory for why I didn’t appear at his church for Mass this morning. I had thought to tool over the mountains, in part because ODT’s church was one of the nearer available options, in part because we’ve been blog-friends for years on end but had never met in person. But I was so wiped out that I simply couldn’t get myself up in time. Mea culpa!)
The Gel’s operating procedure during most of our visit was to deal with us until she’d had about enough and then dismiss us until she was ready to reengage. This left some time on our hands, so yesterday Mrs. R and I decided to walk round the campus on the traditional loop known as “The Dairy”. It’s a farm road that, starting behind the performing arts theater, passes over some fields, climbs up the backside of Monument Hill, passes through the stables, and then dips down into the dell where the graphic arts program is housed in the buildings and barn that used to hold the working dairy back in the day – hence the name – before climbing back up toward the main campus. (The Dairy – which supplied fresh milk and ice cream to the dining hall when Mrs. R was there – was forced to close in the early 90’s because of the added costs associated with complying with strict new EPA regulations championed by AlGore. Of course, Big Dairy – cosy with the gubmint – could afford to swallow such regs while all the little operations like SBC’s were run out of the market, so from the point of view of both the Bureaucracy and the Major Players, everybody won. And that, boys and girls, is what we call Crony Capitalism or, to put it more succinctly, Fascism.) The loop is something in the neighborhood of three miles all the way around. (The Gel walks it at least twice a day.)
Anyhoo, as we tramped along outbound across the fields, I suddenly stopped.
“What is it?” said Mrs. Robbo.
“You’re going to think I’m completely mad,” I replied, “But I’d swear I heard the skirl of bagpipes coming down the wind.”
We continued walking. A few moments later, I stopped again.
“Yes?” said Mrs. R.
“I heard it again!” I answered. “Are the Campbells coming?”
A few more yards and there could be no doubt: Somewhere up ahead, a piper was doing his thing.
As we tramped along up the hill and the musick got clearer, I couldn’t help feeling a certain chill, even a romantic urge. (My father’s family is almost purebred Scots, you know. It must be something in the blood.)
Eventually, we tramped up to the top of Monument Hill and there he was, a Lone Piper (albeit in t-shirt and jeans) solemnly striding back and forth and puffing away. At first I had thought it was some kind of honorary tribute to the spirit of the school embodied in the Monument. However, as the fellah kept starting and stopping and repeating certain phrases, I realized he was just practicing, and probably doing so at such a remote location because he couldna’ do it anywheer else fer yon dozy knippits who dinnah unnerstan teh pipes!
Made my day, however.
The other get-rid-of-parents activity in which Ol’ Robbo participated was the fly-casting clinic held by a couple of profs down by the boat house. Now, the Old Gentleman taught me how to fly-fish when I was a kid, but I haven’t picked up a fly-rod in twenty years and wanted to see if I still have the touch. Well, my friends, it seems that I do. However, I also have something that I didn’t have back in the day: A maximum pitch-count.
So there you have it. Mrs. Robbo and I are home again after a reasonably entertaining weekend, the Younger Gels are safe and sound, and the Eldest can breath a sigh of relief and unclench.
UPDATE: For your delectation:
Although I’m mighty-near purebred Scots on my father’s side, my family were not true Highlanders, having held lands primarily slightly south of the line between Glasgow and Edinburgh, so I dinna know where we stood re pacification and relations with the Brits. But I know ye ne kin trust the bludy Campbells!
Ol’ Robbo may or may not have mentioned it here already, but Eldest Gel is participating in her school’s fall theatre production (which we will be going to see in the near future). They’re doing “The Trojan Women” by Euripides. The Gel is one of the Chorus, so she spends the entire production on stage.
It so happens that Ol’ Robbo read this particular play many years ago, and that it stuck somewhat to his braims because it was Euripides’s commentary on Athens’ savage treatment of the little colony of Melos in the run up to the Peloponnesian War. (The Melian Dialogue, as set out by ol’ Thick-Sides, was a study of mine several times during the course of my undergrad and graduate education. The last time was in a rhetoric class I took my third year of law school. For the final, I argued that the episode illustrated the limitations of persuasive argument insofar as it didn’t matter buppkiss how well the Melians stated their case for being excused service in the War since the Athenians were holding a metaphorical gun to their heads. Realpolitik, so to speak. My prof was not amused.)
Anyhoo, in the course of a chat this afternoon, I asked the Gel something or other about the dialogue between Poseidon and Athena that opens the play.
“The what?” she said.
“Poseidon and Athena. You know, where they discuss the appropriate punishment of the Greek army because, during the sack of Troy, Cassandra is dragged away from a statue of Athena and raped by one of the Greek commanders.”
“Huh? That’s not in the play. It’s all about Queen Hecuba of Troy and her family and what happens to them when they’re prisoners. What are you talking about?”
“Yes, that’s the main body, but Poseidon and Athena come first. She’s outraged over the violation of her sanctuary by the Greeks and is seeking appropriate vengeance.”
“Well, it’s not in the version we’re doing…..”
“Crimminy, it must have been cut from your script. But that’s the whole point! The Ancient Greeks, actually (I believe) stumbling across the Seven Deadly Sins without realizing it, were keenly aware that violation of taboos (like sanctuary) tended to bring about Divine Retribution. Euripides was using the Greeks’ beastliness to the Trojans as a warning to his contemporaries not to let the war against Sparta get out of hand. And later on, Thucydides and others ascribed the eventual crushing of Athens by Sparta as the Divine result of Athens’ exceeding the proper bounds of civilized warfare, specifically including its treatment of Melos.”
“Well, how was the play a warning?”
“Because a number of the Greek leaders at Troy eventually came to very nasty ends because of their behavior there, specifically including their treatment of Queen Hecuba and her surviving family. For example, Agamemnon was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra when he returned to Mycene because he brought along Cassandra as a slave-concubine.”
“Well, there’s nothing about that in the play.”
“No, but any member of Euripides’ audience would be perfectly acquainted with Homeric tradition and would know that already. Didn’t anyone explain any of this?”
“No. All we know is that we’re a group of “refugees” being maltreated by the Patriarchy or someone because they’re mean. Your explanation is a lot more interesting.”
Yeah, it is. Sigh. But why get into all this yucky objective Eternal Verities and God-talk in a 2500+ year old historickal context when you can reduce the point to one about non-sectarian feelz over Hatey McHate-Hates who Hate? And wymmyn?
Incidentally, they’re doing the show in modern dress. The Gel also told me that her costume makes her look so much like Little Orphan Annie that she went around rehearsal this afternoon singing “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” until she was summarily told to shut it.
** Spot the quote