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"The Nativity" - Botticelli

“The Nativity” – Botticelli

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, what with commitments too complicated to get into here, it looks as if Ol’ Robbo will not be able to find the time to get at the Port Swiller keyboard again soon.  So let me go ahead and wish you all here and now a very, very Merry Christmas!  (And yes, I’ve been saying that instead of “Happy Holidays” all over the place the past couple days.  Snooks to them!)

Through prayer and concentration over the last few years, I am happy to say that I believe I have just about battle-proofed myself against the pernicious effects of the modern, secular X-mas spirit, and can instead focus on the True Meaning relatively (albeit not completely) free of such distractions.

And in that vein, let us again savor Luke’s description (and yes, even though I’m now a Catholic, I can’t let go of the beauty of the King James Version):

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

– Luke 2: 1-20

I don’t know why it is, but every time I read or hear this passage – particular verses 13 and 14 – I get the chills.  (Well, I guess I do know why, actually.  Alas, I’d love to be able to convey the feeling – in word, paint, or note – but unfortunately haven’t anything like the skill to do so.)

Anyhoo, as I say, have a merry, joyous Christmas for all the right reasons!  (And try to behave yourselves.)  I’ll see you all on the other side and, having topped off my glass of port and heaved an enormous sigh, may perhaps give you some highlights of my own.  (As I say, it’s all going to be very complicated.)

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, here we are in Thanksgiving Week.  What with all the to-do coming over the next few days, Ol’ Robbo probably won’t get back to the blog much before Saturday.  I know this is hardly crushing nooz to the three or four of you who actually read this thing, but I thought I at least ought to let you know.

So, exit question:  Which was really the “First” Thanksgiving?

Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, Fall, 1621, which some argue was arbitrarily imposed on the Country because the Yankees won the Civil War and got to re-write the history books;

Berkeley Plantation, Virginia, December 4, 1619, which doesn’t look so good a) because of the above-referenced Yankee bias, and b) because the colony got wiped out three years later by the Powhatans;

St. Augustine, Florida, September 8, 1565, which..I mean….Spanish and Catholic?  Can’t have that as the standard; or

Spanish explorer Juan de Oñate and his expedition, Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, April 30, 1598.  (See immediately above.)

(And, of course, there may be other claimants.)

Have at it, if you like.  But I also will leave you with something on which I’m sure we all can agree:

Courtesy of the Roman Catholic Boys for Art.

Courtesy of the Roman Catholic Boys for Art.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends of the decanter, and I’ll see you on the other side!

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Sad news:  Middle Gel tipped me off this evening to the the death of Annie Schmidt.

Who, you might ask?

Well, she was the daughter of Jon Schmidt, one of the founders of the Piano Guys.  She’d been out on a solo hike in the Oregon wilderness and had gone missing about a month ago.  According to the story, her remains were found at the bottom of a cliff and her death attributed to blunt force head injuries.  Bottom line: she fell.

I had originally been inclined to say something here about the foolishness of solo hiking, but pace.  There is nothing, from what I know, worse than surviving your own child and I’ve no reason to add to that burden.

I bring this up because, again, Who, you might ask?  Well, the Piano Guys are the Gel’s favorite musickal group.  She’s got several signed CD’s from them and has seen them at least three times in concert the past few years.  (I went with her to the last one at Wolf Trap last summah.)  The PG’s really aren’t my thing, but on the other hand they’re a heck of a lot better than Miley Cyrus’s “twerking” or your average Boy Band or Gansta Rappa that most of teh kids seem to follow these days.

A sample of their mishmash of classickal and modernsky:

Also, in their stage show, they are unabashedly religious (Mormon, I’ll grant you, but still….).  In this day and age, it is quite refreshing.

Anyhoo, as teh Gel herself admits, as sad as the nooz is, at least the family now has closure, which I suppose is something.  (As I say, I hope never, ever, to have to go through such a process myself.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I mentioned in a post below the Middle Gel’s upcoming fall concert.  Well, that concert was this evening.

The Gel, who is now a HS junior, made it into Madrigals this year – what amounts to Varsity Choir at her school – which, if I may say so, has a reputation for one of the best musick programs in the Great Commonwealth of Virginny.

At any event, their portion of the evening’s offerings was as follows:

  • A Cantate Domino by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
  • Je ne L’ose Dire” by Pierre Certon (d. 1572)
  • “I Love, Alas, I Love Thee” by Thomas Morley (1557-1603)
  • “Jungfrau, dein schöne Gestalt  by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612)
  • “Fair Phyllis I Saw” by John Farmer (1570-1601)

I mean to say, what?  Ol’ Robbo does love him some closely-reasoned Renaissance polyphony, especially if it is well done, as was this evening’s selection.

After the Madrigals did their stuff, they were joined on stage for the finale by the rest of the Concert Choir, of which they are the hub.  The final three selections were:

  • The beginning and concluding sections of the Gloria from a Mass setting by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
  • “My Flight For Heaven” by some contemporary fellah named Blake Henson and based on a poem to Musick by the great Cavalier poet Robert Herrick
  • “Let Everything That Hath Breath”, a modern setting of Psalm 150:6 by some fellah named Jeffrey Ames.

You will notice in these lists a healthy amount of religious musick.  The same was generally true of the selections served up by the junior choirs as well.  I swear that I heard an older man sitting behind me exclaim to his wife, “So many Christian pieces? By Allah!”

A close friend of the Port Swiller Family (ex-Catholic, but I’m hoping to turn her back) came to see the Gel sing, and also remarked to me her surprise at the distinctly Christian flavor of the program, given that this is a public school.

Shh!” I said, “Don’t give anyone any ideas……”

Heh.

Oh, and here for your enjoyment is a YooToob of the Morley, a distinctly secular piece – apparently with all five parts sung by the same fellah:

 

 

Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? from the Symphoniae sacrae III by Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672).

(“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?
It will become hard for you
to kick against the thorns.” – Acts 9:4-5)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A cool and rainy Saturday here at Port Swiller Manor means ol’ Robbo really can’t hide in the yard as usual, but instead has been dragooned into getting the house cleaned up for a stay by the Former Llama Military Correspondent, who will be in town this weekend for the Army Ten-Miler.  (At the moment, I’m waiting on the sheets in the washing machine.)

Anyhoo, I first heard this piece thirty-mumble years ago in a college musick class and was deeply impressed by it.  Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t take in the compositional facts of the piece and somehow got it into my head that it was something out of Handel.  After that, I lost touch with it completely.

However, I am currently reading Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner and came across a discussion of Schutz’s influence on Bach that contained a detailed description of this piece.  I immediately recognized it and happily scurried off to yootoobz to indulge myself.  It’s far more moving  – and indeed, awe-inspiring – than I remember even from back in the day.  (Well, it ought to be, oughten it?  Something wrong with me otherwise.)

I haven’t made up my mind about whether or not I like Gardiner’s book yet, by the bye.  It is very informative about Bach’s life and influences, but so far the narrative has a somewhat uneven quality about it, with a tendency to go back and forth between dense analysis and flighty by-the-ways.  Also, Gardiner’s ego keeps bubbling up – we don’t refer to him ’round here as “John Eliot Full-Of-Himself” for nothing, you know.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A day late, I know, but R.I.P. Gene Wilder, dead at 83.  Wilder was a superb comic actor and, from every account I’ve ever read, a thoroughly good man.

“Young Frankenstein” is one of my very favorite movies and certainly my most favorite Mel Brooks movie.  This is primarily due to the writing, in which I believe Wilder had a significant hand.  (Well, okay, the outstanding cast, too.)  The trouble with most Brooks comedies is that they tend to start wandering, devolving into sledge-hammer slapstick or getting too cutesy.  (The latter is my main problem with “Blazing Saddles”.  Of course, it has a lot of good material in it, but it can’t stay in character, and by the end has gone completely haywire.)  Not so with Y.F. – even with all the silly little asides, it holds true to the genre it parodies right the way through.  As I say, I believe Wilder should be given credit for this.

It also occurred to me that I haven’t seen “Willie Wonka” in quite a long time, so I tossed that into the ol’ Netflix queue just now.  I’ve often wondered how that film compares to the Roald Dahl book.  (On principle, I’ve never seen the Johnny Depp remake bye the by.)  Certainly it is old-fashioned in its rayther strict morality and quite out of date.  The kidz are all Mike TeeVees and Veruca Salts now, and any suggestion that parents are responsible for such spoiled rotten brats would probably get one sent to the Camps.

(Mention of Wonka reminds me of a little throwaway bit in the movie of interest to musick-lovers.  At one point, Wonka plays a little tune on a “musical lock” in order to open a door (into the fizzy-lifting water room, I believe).  Mrs. TeeVee leans over to Grampa Joe and smugly mutters “Rachmaninoff”.   Of course, the tune is nothing of the sort but is instead the opening couple of bars from the overture to Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”.  Wonka gives Mrs. TeeVee the smallest part of a condescending glance before moving on.   I’ve often wondered what percentage of the audience the writers expected to get that bit.  Significantly higher back when the movie came out than now, I’d bet.)

 

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

My apologies to those two or three of you who still linger over the decanter and the Stilton for my lack of posting this past week.  Mostly, it’s been a matter of lack of opportunity because of real life logistics.  Also, to be perfectly frank, many of the thoughts that have wandered across my braims regarding the current State of Things in the last few days probably would not be prudent fodder for broadcast on these here innertoobs, given my current employment status.   After all, Daddy still needs his paycheck IYKWIMAITYD.

Suffice to say, SMOD, where art thou?

Anyhoo, a completely unrelated question:

I’ve watched Die Hard 3 numerous times now.  It’s my favorite of the series, largely because of the chemistry between Bruce Willis and Sam Jackson.  (I also like the depraved villainy of Jeremy Irons.)  But here’s the thing: To this day, I cannot understand the trick involving the 3 and 5 gallon jugs of water used to defuse the bomb in the park.  I like to think I’m a reasonably logical fellah, but I have viewed that scene again and again and paid close attention to the dialogue, and I still Do. Not. Get. It.

Any Friends of the Decanter care to ‘splain this thing to me?

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

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

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

Everybody’s a comedian these days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Because my post on Netflix loading seemed to be such a hit the other day, I thought I’d fire off another one this evening.  (Remind me to write an essay soon on the frustration of having so many meatier current events on which I could comment but for the fact that I might lose my job for doing so, thus my self-sensoring confinement to this kind of personal trivia.  Not that Bob and the boys from NSA aren’t building up some useful data for my appearance before the Committee for Public Safety even from posts like this one.)

Are you ready?  Well here is the next wave of additions:

My Cousin Vinny – I have actually been at more than one legal clinic in which the prosecutor’s opening statement at the trial (even though Vinny called it total BS) was shown as an example of how such a presentation is supposed to be done.  I love the resurrection of Fred Gwynne’s career that came from this flick.

Lethal Weapon 4 – The best of the bunch, IMHO, mostly because I think they finally got the balance of humor and action right.

The Gods Must Be Crazy – Because of what was said in the comments on the previous thread.  We’ll see what happens.

Breaker Morant – One of my all-time favorites, although I gather that the “real” Morant, so far as anyone knows anything about him, wasn’t quite the Renaissance Gentleman portrayed by Edward Woodward.

The Simpsons Movie – Oh, I dunno.  Why not?

The Alamo – The one made a few years ago with Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crockett.  The film was came up among the Moron Horde over at Ace’s place the other day and got a surprisingly sympathetic hearing.  Personally, I’ve never seen it before and was intrigued.

The Lion In Winter – Because classic.  I once wrote a skit in high school in which the family were ordered to attend therapy together.  My English teacher described it as “very dry and witty”.

Hamlet – the 1990 version starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close, among others.  Mostly to get the nasty taste of Ken Branagh’s try out of my mouth.  I’ve a vague memory that it really isn’t all that bad, although I have a hard time understanding why Mel didn’t simply head-butt Claudius and take him out without all that needless moping and sulking around.  I mean, it’s Mel Gibson, for Pete’s sake!

Noises Off – Backstage pandemonium as a theatre production gradually goes to pieces.  Mrs. R and I saw a fantastic stage version of this show many years ago.  IIRC, the movie sort of runs out of steam toward the end, but it still has some good laughs.

Quark – The Series – Short-lived late 70’s spoof of Star Trek starring Richard Benjamin as the captain of a galactic garbage scow.  I re-watched this within the last 10 years and found it held up really surprisingly well.  And oh, those twins……

Love At First Bite – Haven’t seen this in quite a long time.  “Children of the Night!  Shut up!”

Thank You For Smoking – I simply cannot recall whether I have seen this movie.  I’ve certainly read the book, along with most of Chris Buckley’s other satires.

30 Seconds Over Tokyo – With Spencer Tracy.  I have an informal rule of thumb that I always toss at least one WWII movie in when loading up the queue.

M*A*S*H – The movie, which I find hysterically funny for the most part.  The only dud is Robert Duvall’s Frank Burns (who is actually an amalgam of two separate characters from the memoir on which the movie was based).  Liberals trying to make fun of conservatives never get it right and always slip into Clang! Clang! Clang! caricature mode by default.   (God damned Army…..)  I also tossed in the disk featuring bonus materials this time.

So, all told, I now have about 40 films in my queue, together with another 23 in the dreaded “saved” category, which basically translates into “hell if we know when we’ll get it to you or even if we actually have it, but feel free to go on hoping).  I said below that these would keep me occupied until Opening Day, but I’m now thinking that they may well last me until the all-star break.

 

 

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