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Greetings, my fellow port swillers! A rainy Saturday morning at Port Swiller Manor allows me to duck mowing the lawn and instead bore those two or three who still gather over the decanter with my first impressions of the great state of Wyoming, or at least of its south-easternmost parts.  (Ol’ Robbo was taken camping in Yellowstone as a toddler, but that hardly counts.)

This area is pure High Prairie, the westernmost part of teh Great Plains lapping up against the Rockies, and resembles, in large part, nothing so much as the Ocean.  George Armstrong Custer puts it rayther well in the early part of his “My Life on the Plains”:

Starting from almost any point near the central portion of the Plains, and moving in any direction, one seems to encounter a series of undulations at a more or less remote distance from each other, but constantly in view.  Comparing the surface of the country to that of the ocean, a comparison often indulged in by those who have seen both, it does not require a very great stretch of the imagination, when viewing this boundless ocean of beautiful living verdure, to picture these successive undulations as gigantic waves, not wildly chasing each other to or from the shore, but standing silent and immovable, and by their silent immobility adding to the impressive grandeur of the scene.  These undulations, varying in height from fifty to five hundred feet, are sometimes formed of a light, sandy soil, but often of different varieties of rock, producing at a distance the most picturesque effect.

The constant recurrence of these waves, if they may be so termed, is quite puzzling to the inexperienced plainsman.  He imagines, and very naturally, too, judging from appearances, that when he ascends to the crest he can overlook the surrounding country.  After a weary walk or ride of perhaps several miles, which appeared at starting not more than one or two, he finds himself at the desired point, but discovers that directly beyond in the direction he desires to go rises a second wave, but slightly higher than the first, and from the crest of which he must certainly be able to scan the country as far as the eye can reach.  Thither he pursues his course, and after a ride of from five to ten miles, although the distance did not seem half so great before starting, he finds himself on the crest, or, as it is invariably termed, the “divide”, but again only to discover that another and apparently higher divide rises in his front, and at about the same distance.  Hundreds, yes, thousands of miles may be journeyed over, and this same effect witnessed every few hours.

In fact, thanks to modern speed (80 mph speed limit, baybee!), these “gigantic waves” do seem to chase each other wildly.  I’ve been on the Plains before, mostly in Illinois and Iowa.  I’ve driven between Omaha and Lincoln.  Because I flew in and out of Denver on this trip, I got a chunk of Northern Colorado, too.  But it was only once I got into Wyoming, especially north of Cheyenne, that I really got the full effect, most of these other areas being either urbanized or else thoroughly tamed farmland.  It was absolutely humbling – wave after wave after wave of land, all under an enormous sky.  However, it was not all plain sailing, because these hills are also broken up by a succession of creeks and rivers.

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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  A few odds and ends on this stormy, Nats rained out, evening, for your consideration:

♦  Ol’ Robbo continues to believe that Social Media is the new young god on the political scene these days:  swaying Low Information Voters, stampeding Big Biznay and scaring the absolute shite out of the politicos.  Unfortunately, it’s also a petulant, spoiled, adolescent god with a massive Narcissist complex, an absentee father, a mother driven to bribe it for faux-affection,  and an agenda that amounts to showing them all how wrong they were.

 God (the real one) help us all.

♦  On these lines, I recently looked into purchasing a complete DVD set of The Dukes of Hazzard in protest of the sudden urge to airbrush the Confederate Battle Flag off the top of the General Lee.  250 to 300 bucks? Not bloody likely!

♦  An completely gratuitous note: John Schneider, who played Bo Duke in TDoH:TOS, bought a house in San Antonio originally built by ol’ Robbo’s parents.  Yeah, buddy, I and my brother were the guys who first cleared that 2.5 acres of brush and scrub and established the lawn and gardens.  You’re welcome.

♦  Also, perhaps more importantly, on these general pre-totalitarian lines, I absolutely love this bumper sticker.

♦  Speaking of new things, are other friends of teh decanter slightly creepified by the new Kentucky Fried Chicken ad campaign featuring a zombie Colonel Sanders?  I’m old enough to remember ol’ Harland himself doing said spots.  He was gracious and dignified.  This new fellah? Snarky, flippant, and, for lack of a better term, icky.  Not a good thing.  Is there no one in the Sanders family who could step up and do a legacy thing the way Dave Thomas’s daughter did for Wendy’s?  (Okay, I confess that I thought the “Wendy” Thomas ad campaign was rayther lame and much prefer the current hot ginger, neo-Dana Delany thing, but that’s a different matter.)

♦   Dana Delany.  Be right back.

♦  Modern Times.  I was 13 before I took my first commercial jet flight – a fly-fishing trip to Alaska, accompanied by much ballyhoo and bedlam- and also accompanied and heavily monitored by the Old Gentleman.  This evening I finally caved in to teh youngest gel’s request to hop a flight some time soon with her best friend to Chicago to visit said friend’s father.

♦   Okay, to finish up, I still love this.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Because his beloved Nationals were early on obviously on the way to defeat this evening, ol’ Robbo popped in his latest Netflix serving, the movie version of The A-Team.

I used to enjoy the original series very much in my misspent yoot.  And as much as I hate reboots as a general rule, I also like the more recent movie enough to have seen it multiple times.

smith leesonAs I was watching said movie, teh Eldest wandered into the room.  In answer to her questions, I said more or less what I have just written.  However, I also pointed out that I’ve never quite got used to the idea of Liam Neeson as Hannibal Smith.

“Wait, what? Why?” she said.

“Well, I don’t know,” I answered, “He just doesn’t seem…tough enough to me.”

“Liam Neeson?” she said, “Are you crazy?  Why not?”

“Oh, I dunno, ” I said, “He just seems too…Sensative-Irish to me and only fake-tough, if you know what I mean.”

“No,” she replied, “I don’t.  I think Liam is teh awesome.”

smith peppard“Fine,” I said, “But let me tell you two things.  First, Liam Neeson is no Aslan.  Second, George Peppard could have beaten the living bayjaysus out of Neeson without even putting out his cigar.  So there.”

She walked off, shaking her head and muttering.

I don’t care.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening ol’ Robbo went down the Cathedral to take part in the annual end-of-year choir pot-luck and concert, an event he has come to thoroughly enjoy.  After the meal, more or less, the boys and girls put on performances of various pieces they’ve worked up (sometimes at the last minute), some serious and some silly.

For one of her entries, teh Middle Gel, along with two of her mates, served up this lovely setting of the Ave Maria by Jaques Arcadelt (1507-1568).  No, I’d never heard of him, either, since my knowledge of Renaissance musick really only centers around the great English composers of the period.  It’s only when you get to Monteverdi that I start picking up on Continentals.  Anyhoo, here’s what Wiki has to say about him:

Jacques Arcadelt (also Jacob Arcadelt; c. 1507 – 14 October 1568) was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance, active in both Italy and France, and principally known as a composer of secular vocal music. Although he also wrote sacred vocal music, he was one of the most famous of the early composers of madrigals; his first book of madrigals, published within a decade of the appearance of the earliest examples of the form, was the most widely printed collection of madrigals of the entire era. In addition to his work as a madrigalist, and distinguishing him from the other prominent early composers of madrigals – Philippe Verdelot and Costanzo Festa – he was equally prolific and adept at composing chansons, particularly late in his career when he lived in Paris.

Arcadelt was the most influential member of the early phase of madrigal composition, the “classic” phase; it was through Arcadelt’s publications, more than those of any other composer, that the madrigal became known outside of Italy. Later composers considered Arcadelt’s style to represent an ideal; later reprints of his first madrigal book were often used for teaching, with reprints appearing more than a century after its original publication.

So there you are.  The Gel, by the way, took the top soprano part and sang divinely as per usual.  (She has a cold, poor thing, and was not much satisfied with her performance, but I thought it very good.)

UPDATE:  I see where the video has been blocked. Well, you’ll just have to be on your honor to go over to YooToob and look it up for yourselves.  Remember, this material will be on the final.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

augustus-pp-statueThose friends of the decanter who have some passing familiarity with antiquity and the arts will quickly recognize this sculpture as the Augustus of Prima Porta, a likely posthumous and somewhat artificially-hulkified tribute to the first, and arguably greatest, of the Roman Emperors.  The piece is one of the two or three most recognizable bits of sculpture to come down to us from classickal civilization.   (In fact, I had a framed poster of it on my walls all through high school and college.)

Recently, it came to ol’ Robbo’s attention that a “street artist” calling himself “Gaia” has incorporated an image of this statue into a big mural that adorns one end of some new Mediterranean restaurant in Dee Cee called Pinea.  (You can go here to check the thing out.  I won’t try to repaste it here because of copyright, and besides, I’m sure the restaurant people wouldn’t mind the clicks.  For those of you who don’t make the jump, suffice to say ol’ Octavian is depicted in vibrant colors with a string of citrus slices around his neck and various items of Italian cuisine in the background.  Childish, but ultimately harmless, and at least it ties in with the place.)

Ol’ Robbo only happens to have learned about this work because of a monthly glossy called “Modern Luxury DC” that shows up, quite un-asked for, in the Port Swiller mailbox.  This mag purports to be the arbiter hipsterium of Your Nation’s Capital, carrying a variety of articles about coo-el new art exhibits, designer clothing, fashionable watering holes, “edgy” architecture, and up-and-coming Bright Young Things and Politicos.  (To give but one example of the latter, the latest issue featured an article on Mother’s Day with a photo of the current First Lady and her children.  The headline reads “Queen Mother”.   Note to Modern Luxury DC: Yeah, about that? No.)

Anyhoo, each issue of said mag goes straight to the basket in the downstairs loo, where Robbo flips through it just to keep up with exactly how awful things are out there in HipsterLand, until he is thoroughly disgusted and tosses it.  Perusing the latest, I came across an “On the Scene” item about the unveiling of “Gaia’s” new mural at a private cocktail party (which see the link above).  And what did “Modern Luxury DC” have to say about this piece of art?  “The new mural features a 14.5 foot tall Roman soldier.”

A “Roman soldier”, eh?  As I say above, the Prima Porta is a famous icon depicting one of the greatest figures of classickal history.  And all this hipster-doofus rag can come up with to describe it is “a Roman soldier“?

Cor lumme, stone the crows.

This got me wondering how they would treat some other giants of the cultural and politickal history on which their Neo-Tinsel Age is built:

An Early SparksNotes Contributor

An Early SparksNotes Contributor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Musician.  His Stare Is Kind Of Micro-Aggressive.

Some Musician. His Stare Is Kind Of Micro-Aggressive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Short, French Dude From History Class

The Short, French Dude From History Class

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps I over-react, but is there nobody, nobody in the chain from artist to writer to editor who could do any better than “a Roman soldier”?

It’s bad enough that these people don’t know what they’re talking about, but I fear that they also just don’t care, which is much, much worse.

it-happened-one-nightGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

No, per my post below, I have not been absent through the agency of the good folks of CPS.  Rayther, ol’ Robbo’s beloved Nats are on a West Coast road trip this week and, as most of the games start well beyond my bedtime, I have been catching up on my Netflix queue.

Interestingly, I seem to have come across a 30’s/40’s nostalgia patch this week.  (One of my little indulgences is to load lots of DVD’s into the queue in one go and then to enjoy the surprise when they show up weeks or months later.  And don’t start in about streaming – the DVD library is much bigger, and unlike some people, I’m not a slave to instant gratification.)  So far, I’ve been through It Happened One Night, His Girl Friday and Holiday.  I believe the next couple to appear in the Port Swiller mailbox will be Talk of the Town and You Can’t Take It With You.  Without checking, I’m pretty sure Only Angels Have Wings is not far behind in the queue.

In those six films, you’ve got Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Kate Hepburn, Rita Heyworth, several doses of Cary Grant, a triple shot of Jean Arthur and some Ji-Ji-Jimmy Stewart, to say nothing of supporting casts too numerous and excellent to single out.

Outstanding films, full of witty dialogue, complicated emotions, action, drama and the like, and all done without any scenes involving nekkedness, CGI effects or gratuitous violence.   Hollywood drives culture but it also reflects it:  You simply couldn’t make movies like these nowadays.  (My children, by the bye, are simply astonished that I have no interest in superhero-based movies whatsoever.)

Interestingly (at least to me), several of these films started out as stage plays and keep that feel.  Indeed, I don’t actually recall whether I’ve seen the film version of “You Can’t Take It With You” before, but I do recall seeing a stage version of it years ago that I thought very silly but very funny.

“Holiday” was written specifically for Kate Hepburn, first on stage and then on screen.  Only she, I think, could pull off the character of Linda Seton in a way that makes her look sympathetic:  I saw a stage version of the play a few years ago in which the actress playing the roll made her look like a psychotic bully.

Well, I don’t really have a wrap-up paragraph for this post, but if you’ve been wondering what ol’ Robbo has been up to, this is it.

UPDATE: Oh, speaking of what passes for modern cinema, I see a kerfluffle is brewing over the “Mad Max” reboot.  It would seem that Max is only a secondary character in this one and the main story concerns some post-apocalypse über-feminist rising up from slavery and sticking it to the Man.   Frankly, I hope it bombs, largely because hijacking a brand seems to me cheating.  (You wouldn’t go see a movie like “My Dinner With Captain James T. Kirk” now, would you?) Plus, as a rule, I despise reboots.  Write your own damn story!

UPDATE DEUX:  Sat down to watch “You Can’t Take It With You” this evening only to discover that the disk was cracked.  Heigh, ho.  I took this as a sign and instead sat out on the porch watching the night draw in.  I win, I think.

Nonetheless, the comment to this post of the lovely and talented Diane reminded me of a funny Hitchcock story.  I’m no real aficionado of teh Hitch, although I greatly appreciate his work in a casual way, if that makes any sense.  Probably my favorite of his movies is North By Northwest because of a) Cary Grant, b) Eva Marie Saint and c) a terrific musickal theme.

Rear Window - James Stewart and Grace KellyAnyhoo, the memory dredged up by Diane’s comment was that of my first viewing of Rear Window, which was during my first year of college.  The People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown had a dedicated cinema, but it also ran Friday night movies in the big science center amphitheater in which I spent two years languishing fruitlessly in pre-med before chucking it.  The advantage of the latter venue was that you could bring in food and drink, so my friends and I would scoop up a couple bottles of rot-gut and a stack of plastic cups and make an evening of it.

***SPOILER ALERT*** – If what I have to say about the movie is going to harsh your heretofore-preserved innocence, read no further!

I got the impression as I settled in that I was not the only one there who hadn’t seen “Rear Window” before.  During the early part of the story’s set up, there was a good deal of quiet chatter and laughter amongst the audience.  Gradually, however, as the plot built, such chatter started to ebb, eventually drying up completely.  By the time we were into the meat of the thing, the audience was riveted, eventually reaching a collective agony of uncertainty you could cut with a knife.

And then, I will never forget it:  At the climactic point when Raymond Burr, after seeing Grace flapping her finger behind her back, looks up directly into the camera, spots Ji-Ji-Jimmy spying on him, and swells perceptibly, the entire audience let out a completely spontaneous and utterly genuine gasp.  And when the camera cuts to Ji-Ji-Jimmy hastily trying to back himself into the shadows, we all felt exactly the same way.

Woosh!  There’s a good deal of teh hokey in this particular film, but as far as the actual suspense goes, that, my friends, is how you do it.

 

 

Ol’ Robbo’s eye was caught today by this article concerning the latest museum being run up on the National Mall.

I commute past this site every day and, frankly, my opinion has been that it started out as a bad idea and has only gotten worse.  Started out bad because it’s right on the edge of that part of the Mall right around the Washington Monument and at least partially blocks the view, gotten worse because the design of the new building itself is (is IMHO) butt-ugly.

I leave it to you friends of the decanter to decide whether all this is just a product of modern artistic sensibilities (or lack thereof) or else a deliberate poke in the eye.

 

appomattox-surrenderGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

For all of Ol’ Robbo’s interest in historickal matters, I readily admit that I have been woefully remiss about tracking the last year and a half or so of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.  My apologies.  However, I certainly am not going to allow the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox Court House to go by without some mention here.

Chiefly, I like to think that the surrender showed the best of both men.  Grant’s relentless pursuit finally won him the complete victory he deserved, and yet with his enemy completely at his mercy he was more than generous and humane in his conquest.  Lee, recognizing check-mate, conceded like a true gentleman.  One wonders what would have happened had Lee been able to make it to Danville or Lynchburg, resupply and slip away down the rail line to join up with Joe Johnson somewhere in North Carolina.  Of course, Grant and Sherman eventually would have caught and crushed their combined force, but it would have meant more time and more blood and one wonders how much patience the North would have had with such an additional price.

Oh, speaking of which, I saw a number of posters on Facebook and elsewhere calling this day the “end of the war”.  Not true.   Lee only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.  Joe Johnson didn’t surrender to Sherman in North Carolina until a couple weeks later.  The last official battle of the war, at Palmito Ranch near Brownsville, Texas, wasn’t fought until May 12.  Various units of the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi didn’t surrender until late June, at which time the northern naval blockade of southern ports was finally lifted.  President Johnson didn’t declare the complete official end of the “insurrection” until August, 1866.

So I reckon I’ve actually got another year and a half or so of being able to use the word “sesquicentennial” about the Civil War.

Anyhoo, what I really wanted to talk about was this:  Ol’ Robbo began taking daily lunchtime walks last fall because his doc kept yelling at him about his lack of exercise.  Generally, I have been doing a loop on the National Mall from about the height of the Air & Space Museum west to 14th Street (just short of the Washington Monument).  Coupled with the distance from my office to the Mall, it’s two miles and change – a nice little circuit if walked briskly enough.

Well, that section of the Mall is now being dug up as part of a general refurbishing of pipes and drainage and things and is really not that pleasant a jaunt anymore. So last week, I turned the other way and started a loop from 7th Street east down to the Grant Memorial.

300px-Monument_to_GrantAlmost twenty-five years of lurking around Your Nation’s Capital and I’d never even seen said memorial before.  Perhaps this was just as well, because having spent the last ten or fifteen years reading and rereading Grant’s Memoirs and Bruce Catton’s definitive studies of the man’s campaigns, I was all the more delighted with Henry Shrady’s statue of the man.  (All images from here on down stolen from Wiki.)

You can get it somewhat from this pic, that sense of Grant’s solid, stolid, unflappable calm, coupled with his near self-depricating modesty and reserve.  The slouched hat, the lowered chin and the raised collar and cape make him look almost like a turtle snugging down in its shell.  Even from a long way up the Mall, if you know anything about the man, you look at that statue and say, “Yup, that’s Sam Grant all right.”

This is a wintery depiction, what with the bundling up and the wind at his back, so it makes me think of both the Battle of Fort Donelson and the relief of Chattanooga.   The former was Grant’s first really serious taste of big time battle.  The latter was a brilliant (but largely unsung) piece of tactical and logistical generalship which, I would argue, rivaled anything done by Bobby Lee.  In these fights, as in all his others, Grant’s key to success was the same as that popular expression flying about the innertoobs these days:  He kept calm and he carried on.

By the way, some people like to dismiss Grant by arguing that he had the North’s huge advantage in manpower and material at his back, so of course he was going to win.  Yeah, ask George McClellan how that worked out for him.

As you can tell, I am an enormous admirer of Grant, not just for his prowess in battle, but also for his character as a whole.  In addition to the books I mention above, another good one is H.W. Brands’ The Man Who Saved The Union:  Ulysses Grant In War And Peace.   If you read Grant himself and Catton, you probably can skip the first part of this book because it’s just a condensed version of them.  The second part, though, is an informative study of Grant’s presidency and his efforts to impose Reconstruction on the South.  Grant is maligned for the corruption that characterized his administration but this is really unfair.  He did his best to fight it, but he simply wasn’t a politician.  As for Reconstruction,  considering the bad blood and teh forces (cough, Southern Democrats, cough) fighting against it, he really did about as good a job as one could hope for.

Grant_Memorial - cavalrygrant memorial - artilleryOh, back to the Memorial.  As I say, I love the statue of Grant.  I also love the contrasting, highly dramatic statues of the cavalry charge and the artillery team that flank it.   However, I think I don’t especially care for the overall effect.  The flanking groups are done on a smaller scale.  Also, I think they’re spaced too far apart from Grant’s statue.  The overall effect is to make the thing too wide and, in my opinion, disjointed, the whole idea of Grant’s calm above the chaos being lost a bit through distillation.

Of course, what the heck do I know about sculpture.  Also, most days when I walk by, I’m busy trying to navigate shoals of high school tourons, so perhaps this causes me to become a tad jaundiced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James-BestGreetings, my fellow port swillers!  A toast, if you please, to the memory of actor James Best, whose death at the age of 88 was announced today.  Requiescat in pace.

Best is, ah, best known for his portrayal of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane in the teevee series The Dukes of Hazzard, but anyone who spends any time at all watching old westerns will also remember that back in the day he seemed to have had an awful lot of minor parts in them, always playing one of the bad guy’s henchmen or a member of the posse or a ranch hand.  From what I know, Best never had much by way of dialogue, but he was a predictable part of the ensemble.   Frankly, I admire workaday actors of that sort much more than I do the sooperstar snowflake types.

As a matter of fact, I never much bought Best as one of the baddies.  He always came across as so…..nice.  Which is why I think he worked so well as Sheriff Roscoe, who was bumbling and corrupted,  but ultimately good-hearted.

And yes, I watched them Duke boys loyally  in my misspent yoot.  And no, I didn’t just watch so to see Daisy sporting cut-offs.  (That was a mere bonus.) Got a problem with that?  Remember:  For all ol’ Robbo’s crankiness about matters of High Art, he also has an earthier side free of condescension and snobbery.  After all, for all I am on about Bach and Handel, Mozart and Haydn, I also derive great pleasure singing along to Joe Diffie’s “Pickup Man”.

Eh.  As Popeye says, I ams what I ams, and that’s what I ams.

Speaking of Sheriff Roscoe, a bit of Duke Boy trivia for you:  John “Bo Duke” Schneider bought the house my parents built in the (then) exurbs of San Antonio.  Not from them, but (I think) from the people who bought it from the ‘rents when the Old Gentleman retired and they moved away.

 

* Those who know will know.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening while I was chatting with the Eldest Gel, she said apropos her new driving privileges, “Now that I’m seventeen, I can see any movie I want!”

“No you can’t,” I replied, “Legally you can see R-rated movies now, but just because something’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right and I don’t want you filling yourself up on a lot the trash that’s out there these days.  It rots the soul.  You know my standards:  If I find out you’ve snuck off to something inappropriate, I’ll take your keys.”

She looked at me like Cortez’s men with a wild surmise for a few moments, and then went into her latest rant to the effect that she believes I’m really a vampire born in the 18th Century who refuses to conform to the modern world.

Well, it’s certainly a theory……

 

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