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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.)

Ah, well.

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!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Filched from Wiki

Filched from Wiki

As I’m sure some of the more history-nerdy friends of the decanter are aware, today is the 445th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, the pivotal Renaissance sea battle in which a combined fleet of Spanish, Venitian, and Papal warships beat the living daylights out of a far larger Ottoman fleet, thereby saving the Med from a Muslim takeover.

In honor of the day, I recently started reading Niccolo Capponi’s Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto.  These days, most people (who have actually even heard of the battle, that is)  seem to believe that the “miracle” associated with Lepanto was the actual victory itself.  Me?  Reading this book about the hot mess that was 16th Century European politicks, I think the real miracle was that the Spanish, the Venitians, the Genoans, and the Holy See managed to cobble together a fleet in teh first place, and that said fleet was able to operate efficiently and cooperatively. (Capponi is very cynical about the horse-trading surrounding this combination.  To his credit, though, he is unflinching in his respect for St. Pius V, the Pope who put it all together.)

And largely based on this victory, today is also the Feast of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  On his lunchtime walk, ol’ Robbo stumbled across a group of somewhere between 150 and 175 people praying the Rosary.  It was gratifying to toss in a couple decades myself as I circled round them.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

It’s been rayther a long time since ol’ Robbo has reported one of his signature bizzarro dreams here.  Well, guess what? That drought is over.

It seems I found myself in a long, long procession or pilgrimage of people, a surprising number of whom I actually know in real life or via the innertoobs.   They seemed to be searching for The Way or The Light or some sort of Answer.  It became clear to me after a time, however, that there was nothing holy about what I was seeing, and that it was, in fact, some kind of cult of personality presided over by an evil spirit.  (The people themselves, however, were not evil, just deluded.  Don’t ask me how I knew these things.  I just did.)

It seemed that every now and then a dissenter would be singled out in a kind of cat-and-mouse game played by the forces of evil.  The dissenter would be put to an impromptu show trial and then carted off to the executioner for torture and/or beheading.

It also seemed that there was some kind of underground movement that sought to save such dissenters.  Apparently, it was very good at getting them away from the captors but didn’t really have a clue as to what to do with them afterwards, and the freed dissenters typically were re-caught.

At some point in my dream, the scene shifted from a broad, rolling upland to the interior of an impossibly large railroad car.  As I stood in the crowd, I suddenly realized that people were quietly slipping away from my sides and that all at once I was quite alone.  I found myself facing a woman lounging on a sofa.  I don’t think she was the actual guiding force of the cult, but believed she was one of the senior lieutenants.  I don’t remember what she or I said specifically, but the upshot was that I was accused of Crimes Against The Body and sentenced to death.

I then found myself in a field, apparently awaiting execution.  There was a group of people near me who seemed to be praying.  I asked them if I could borrow a Bible.  One of the group immediately handed me what turned out to be a missal instead of a Bible.  But he also (accidentally, I think) handed me a wallet, which I immediately turned over the wrong way, spilling out all the contents.  I hastily tried to gather up a large number of credit cards, paper receipts and cash, and was much distressed that I couldn’t seem to get them all back into the wallet.  I don’t recall how the affair ended.

Next, I found it was Time.  A group of people gathered around me and started hustling me off to the place of execution.  Some of them were taunting me, but others slipped in close and muttered things like, “We’ll get you out,” “We haven’t got a plan yet, but we’re working on it,” “Just keep your eyes open and watch for opportunities,”  and the like.  Curiously, I found I had no faith that they could spring me, but also was not greatly distressed about it.  My overall feeling was of calm resignation.

I arrived at the execution spot, where I understood I was to have my head chopped off.  It was just an open place in the field with a square marked off in yellow paint.  Apparently, somebody had forgotten to build a proper platform, so there was going to be another delay while they sorted things out.  Meanwhile, a major league umpire was standing nearby, kicking his heals as he waited to officiate.  For some reason, St. Thomas More suddenly wandered into my braims, so I sidled up to the ump and said, “I understand this axe-man is a seasoned pro.  Well, I’m just rookie meat.  So will you please be generous with the strike zone?”

And then, as they say, I woke up.

(The only part of this dream I can explain in absolutely concrete terms is the presence of the fuming ump.  The Family Robbo went to see our beloved Nationals play last evening and there was an almost two hour rain delay before the game began.  The rest seems to be a bad mash-up of Msrg. Robert Hugh Benson’s The Lord of the World and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil“.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and, although I’m a day or two late about it, Happy Autumn!

As ol’ Robbo has said probably every year since he first started blogging (well, and before that, too), this is truly my very favorite season.  (Spring is a close but distinct second. While I like the start of winter, the novelty seems to wear off earlier every year.  I have always despised summah, a loathing picked up during my misspent yoot in South Texas.)

Ma Nature, getting into the swing of things, has seen fit to dish up a series of highs in the low 70’s in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor for the next week or so, allowing ol’ Robbo to spend about four hours this morning giving the grounds a good Monty without suffering from heat stroke.  (What is a “Monty” you ask? In this context it means mowing and trimming the entire yard, plus the ditch between the sidewalk and street and the little meadow between the back gate and the creek.  I also sprayed weeds, watered whiskey barrels, and cleaned the accumulated ashes out of the grill.)

While this is pleasant enough, ol’ Robbo’s ideal fall weather conditions – which won’t arrive for at least another four weeks or so – involve a temperature of about 45 degrees with a steady rain and fog.  There’s something about tramping around in it, smelling the mixture of dank, rotting leaves and chimney smoke, hearing the crows cawing off in the distance, that gives ol’ Robbo a delicious feeling of memento mori.  I’m not being morbid in this, because it also seems to focus and increase my sense of (or at least desire for) piety.  I sometimes wonder if the Church Fathers had this psychological phenomenon in mind when they set the liturgical calendar to restart in late fall.  (Of course, there’s also something delicious about coming in out of it, pouring a large glass of Lafroaig, and flopping down in front of the fire which is also highly satisfying, if perhaps for not such high-falootin’ reasons.)

Anyhoo, working around the house today brought two other things to mind.  First, this year ol’ Robbo put a couple of large urns on the patio out back, in which he planted dwarf boxwoods and surrounded them with trailing annuals.  (They really look quite nice.)  I have begun to wonder what I ought to do about them over the winter.  Boxwood is really too pricey to be treated as an annual and, for practical purposes, I really can’t move them.  It occurs to me that maybe I can somehow insulate them – you know, wrapping some kind of material around them to keep the shrubs’ roots from freezing.  Anyone have any ideas or experiences along these lines?

Second, I am resolved this year to finally start using the fire pit that also sits on the patio.  I bought it about three years ago, and for some reason have never done much more with it than use it to burn empty charcoal bags.  Why this is, I just don’t know.

(Speaking of fall, a colleague of mine at work was telling me all about the trip she and her new fiancee plan to take up to Maine in about three weeks.  She’s never been before and one of the things she said she was looking forward to was seeing all the foliage.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the leaves will be more or less down already by the time she gets up there.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Has ol’ Robbo mentioned here before his firmly-held belief that Tuesday is the worst day of the week?  Well it is, simply due to the fact that it has absolutely nothing going for it.  Monday, for all its awfulness, is at least a bridgehead.  Wednesday is, of course, Hump…DAAAAAAY.  Thursday is down hill and Friday speaks for itself.  Tuesday is nothing more than a freakin’ hole in the week.

Anyhoo, to fill that hole, a few stray thoughts:

♦  Before I forget it, and in connection with the Wednesday link above, I have to say that ol’ Robbo is continually impressed with the consistent brilliance of Geico’s teevee advertising (which I see through watching my beloved Nats play on MASN).  Campaign after campaign after campaign – from cavemen to geckos to bad ideas – whoever comes up with this stuff is truly gifted.  It’s one thing to get an occasional home run, but these people hit for the freakin’ cycle.   And speaking of which, for some reason ol’ Robbo finds their latest amusing enough to repost here:

(Full disclosure, by the bye, ol’ Robbo is not a Geico customer or paid shill.  We’re USAA through the Old Gentleman’s military stint and quite content with it.)

♦  And speaking of ol’ Robbo’s beloved Nats, they just dropped their fourth straight to an out-of-it NL East team playing for nothing but pride tonight.  I know the odds of us not clinching the pennant at this point are in the SMOD 2016 range, but come on, guys!

♦   Speaking of sports, last Sunday ol’ Robbo was asked by one of his Mass buddies who doesn’t pay much attention to the current so-called “culture” to explain the whole NFL national anthem kerfluffle.  Whelp, I was able to give her a brief description just based on what I see on the Innertoobs, but the fact of the matter is that ol’ Robbo really hasn’t watched pro football at all since Dan Marino retired in 1999.  This was partly because the ‘Fins were the only team I ever followed and they have gone to hell since then, and partly because NFL Sunday afternoon advertising is raunchy enough that I didn’t want the gels seeing it.  Overall, I don’t think I’ve really missed very much.

♦   It would be extremely foolish of ol’ Robbo to comment on the state of the Presidential race at this point, at least so far as endorsements go.  But one thing strikes me as peculiar:  Normally, my corner of NoVA and my commuter route into the Imperial City are, by this point, wall-to-wall with yard signs and bumper stickers.  This year?  Almost nada.  Just about the only signs I see in the immediate neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor are for the local incumbent House member.  Make of that what you will.

♦   Good thoughts would be appreciated:  The next two days ol’ Robbo is being forced to go on “retreat” with his office colleagues.   Usually, I’m pretty good at being able to dodge work-related functions, but I gather there’s no getting out of this one barring accidental amputation of a limb or kidnapping by Boko Haram.  Sigh.  In my experience, “retreats” are both boring and dangerous, and the only thing to do is to keep one’s head down, one’s mouth shut, and one’s most political smile firmly nailed to one’s face.

♦  Speaking of face, ol’ Robbo is trying out a new prescription set of gas-permiable hard contact lenses this week.  (My venture into disposable soft lenses proved an abject failure.)  They seem to work reasonably well for my near-sightedness.  The trouble is that they also bring my far-sightedness into, er, very sharp focus: wearing them, I can’t make out much within a four or five foot radius without a pair of store-bought 2X reading glasses.  I’m having trouble here understanding why I go to the bother of contacts in the first place.

♦  Relatedly, while getting fitted for the new contacts, I also got a prescription for a new pair of glasses.  My current pair is about four years old and I’ve had nothing but grief about them (in terms of aesthetics) from Mrs. R.  This time, I got the Missus to come down to the Hour-Eyes with me.  “Here,” I said, “You pick out the frames!”  And she did.  Despicable pre-emptive surrender? Or ingenious seizure of the high ground?  Your answer may very well depend on your marital status. (Hint: “Yes, dear” can be a double-edged weapon.)

Whelp, I suppose that’s enough hole-in-the-week plugging for now.  Pass the port to the left as you take it in, if you please.

UPDATE:  Day One of Robbo’s retreat featured the predictable “team-building challenges” and a lot of middle-management level blether from an HR consultant (what a racket that is!) about effective communications with different personality types.   Forehead? Meet table!  As a colleague of mine put it sotto voce, “Here’s an idea: You’re all grownups…Act like it.”

UPDATE DEUX: Nats’ Magic Number now down to, er, deux.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, one thing you can say about spring weather in the great Commonwealth of Virginny is that it is reliably schizophrenic.  Last weekend saw snow flurries at Port Swiller Manor.  This weekend, La Wrangler goes topless and we eat dinner on the porch.

Speaking of cars, this week the Middle Gel (yes, the Middle Gel) is doing her behind-the-wheel training.  By next Tuesday, she most likely will have her driver’s license.


I say this not so much because I worry about her driving, but because this is another one of those milestones that shows just how fast time is moving and how soon the lot of them will be up and out of the house.   Their formative years seemed to drag on forever sometimes.  Once they hit high school, however, life just seems to go to flank speed.

And speaking of driving and ups and outs, back on Holy Saturday the three of them spent the morning helping out at the Easter egg roll at Robbo’s Former Episcopal Church.  Mid-afternoon, as I was fooling about with something or other in the kitchen, they all suddenly congregated in the front hall.

“Bye, Dad,” they said with elaborate casualness.

“Bye? Um…where are you going?” I asked.

“King’s Dominion.”

(King’s Dominion is about 75 miles from here, all of it interstate.)

“Whuh?  Ruh? Is it even open this early?” I stammered.

“Oh, yes, it opened yesterday.”

“Well, when are you coming back?”

“We’re going to leave at 8:00 pm.”

“You do know tomorrow is Easter and that we need to get up especially early, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes.  We promise we will.”

Well.  Ol’ Robbo was torn.  On the one hand, I reminded myself that when I was the Eldest Gel’s age back in San Antonio, my parents let me drive myself down to the beach (about 150 miles) and up to Austin (about 80 miles).  I also didn’t want to discourage them doing something as sisters, since they usually don’t hang out together.  On the other, I-95 is a nasty piece of highway.  Also, I envisioned all kinds of trouble getting them out of bed in the morning if they were going to get home that late.

Muttering something about putting all one’s eggs in the same basket, I decided in the end not to make a fuss.

Happily, it all worked out.  When I got home late that night from the Vigil Mass, I found the car in the driveway and all of them up in bed.  And in the morning, much to my surprise, all three of them got up, got dressed, and were ready to head out before I had to say a single word.  And on top of all that, they behaved themselves both at church and at brunch afterward.  Easter Miracle, indeed.

UPDATE: Driving test successfully passed, license issued.  She’s already done her first “because I can” solo run, too.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was sitting quietly last evening and reading Anthony Powell’s autobiography To Keep The Ball Rolling (amazing how small and interconnected the Brit art world was back in the day) when the Eldest Gel came into the library, mischief written all over her face.

“Hey, Dad!” she said, “What do you think of what Pope Francis said about The Donald and immigration today?”

“I wish he hadn’t,” I replied.  “He tends to shoot his mouth off without considering the likely results.  Nothing good can come of this kind of high-profile spat, especially once the media get their claws into it.”

“And about what he said about condoms and disease prevention?”

“Again, he’d have been better off not speaking off the cuff like that.”

“Not a good day for the Pope, eh?”

“No, probably not.”

“And on top of all those abuse scandals, too, no?”

“Look, was their something in particular you wanted?” I said sharply, “Or are you just here to mess about with me?”

“Oh, my, aren’t WE grumpy tonight!  I guess you miss your glass of wine during Lent, don’t you.  Too bad you have to wait so long to get back to drinking again.”

And with that, having given the dog an extra pat in order to show her unconcern, she strolled off.


There’s a line from the breviary hymn of St. Ambrose “Jam lucis ordo sidere” (which I recite as part of my morning prayers) that the 1962 Missal translates as, “And by spare use of meat and drink/our rebel passions to control.”  I can’t help wondering if this might not be an error.  In my normal state, I would have laughed down from lazy eyelids at the gel’s obvious attempt to bait me.  However, on my tenth day of giving up the grape?  It was all I could do to prevent myself from laying hands on her neck.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

As mentioned in the post below, ol’ Robbo decided to give up the grape for Lent this year.  We’re now in the middle of the fourth day, and although so far I’ve been able to avoid the temptation (said by H.L. Mencken to be felt by all normal men) to spit on my hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats, it hasn’t been easy.

I know, I know:  Offer it up.

In order to avoid overloading myself with abstinences to teh point of bringing down the whole programme, I decided that it would be a bad idea to try also, as I usually do, to cut out (secular) books, musick and teevee/film (and, I guess, the innertoobs), at least at first.  We’ll see how things go.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m not pursuing my Lenten reading.  (As usual, I’m starting out with St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales.)  Instead, it means that I’ll probably fiddle around with the mixture, gradually thinning out the pleasure part as the season progresses.  My goal is to be able to devote Holy Week to pure contemplation of Faith.

Anyhoo, I thought I’d offer up a few random observations on what I’m reading, listening to, and watching at the moment.

Books:  I think I mentioned somewhere below that I had started in on Anthony Powell’s magnum opus, A Dance to the Music of Time.  Arranged in a quartet of books of three smaller novels each, it tells (from his point of view) the story of Nicholas Jenkins, a young man of respectable family, from his school days in the 1920’s up through the 60’s.  It begins with the interactions at school among Nick and his friends Charles Stringham and Peter Templar, as well as those with the awful Kenneth Widmerpool, and gradually expands outward, taking in family, friends, professional and chance acquaintances, spinning a complex web of repeated personal encounters and relationships as the characters leave school and pursue their various lives, loves, and careers.  All of this is set against the backdrop of the (arguably terminal) change in British society across the 20th Century: Post-WWI; Roaring 20’s; 30’s crash; WWII; post-War hardship; rise of the Left; goddam 60’s hippies.  And of course, not only do the characters interact with each other, they are all enmeshed in these larger social movements as well.

On Ash Wednesday, ol’ Robbo found himself in the middle of Temporary Kings, the next to last of the twelve books, and decided that, since I am so close, I would push on through to the end.  Ol’ Robbo has never been what one might call a “quick” study.  I usually have to read a book repeatedly to really start getting into the meat of the thing.  This is, I believe, my third time through ADTTMOT, and I must say that I am enjoying it exponentially more than my last go.  As I say, Powell weaves an immensely complicated web of personal interactions in a quite satisfying manner, but what I appreciate more and more is his rayther droll wit.  While Nick (whom I suppose to be the author’s alter ego) is caught up in the immense personal and social upheavals going on all around him, he never really gives away much about what he thinks of it all.  From Powell’s deliciously dry observation, however, I’m guessing the answer is not that much.  (UPDATE:  I noticed that the last book in the series, Hearing Secret Harmonies, published in 1975, was dedicated to Robert Conquest, the great anti-Stalinist and social conservative.  So there you go.)

Musick:  Recently, long time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, in the process of cleaning out his collection, sent ol’ Robbo a big box of CD’s of Renaissance Musick, figuring they would find a good home at Port Swiller Manor.  Of course, he was right:  Ol’ Robbo loves teh vitality of this era, from the dolorous introspection to the toe-tapping exuberance, all of it pleasantly free of the self-centered navel-gazing of the Romantics.  On the whole, ol’ Robbo likes his musick a bit more formalized (the Baroque period being my favorite), but this gives him plenty of delight as well.

Anyhoo, I’ve started working my way through the stack.  A few observations:

Dansereye 1551, Tielman Susato (c. 1500-1561):  When thanking ODT for his gift, I mentioned that very few of the composers (apart from some of the English ones) were at all familiar to me.  I put this CD on thinking I was in for something new, as Susato’s name did not immediately ring any bells, but soon started laughing:  The first few tracks happen to be included (in different arrangements) on a compilation of Renaissance dance musick I own and love entitled Terpsichore.  Small world after all.  By the bye, the performance here is by the New London Consort under Philip Pickett, a very good group.  The CD is copyrighted 1993 – I hadn’t realized they had been around that long.

Los Ministriles – Spanish Renaissance Wind Music: Composers such as Joan Ambrosio Dalza, Manuel de Tavares and Manuel Cardoso.  Good stuff, but I couldn’t tell you what makes it particularly Spanish in character.  (I suspect some of this musick is also, in fact,  Portuguese.)  This is not due to the album, but to my own ignorance.  Of course, the “Renaissance” took different forms in different parts of Europe.  I also believe that, given Spain’s particular history, it took different forms in the different kingdoms united under Ferdinand and Isabella.  Naturally, then, so would the arts within those kingdoms.

On that front, let me also recommend a CD in my own collection:  1492: Music From The Age of Discovery – The Waverly Consort.  Mrs. Robbo and I saw them perform this album in concert eons ago and bought the CD on the spot.  It blends Spanish, Italian, Jewish and Moorish musick from the time in a most satisfactory combination that really gives you the flavor.  (There are some similar Old/New World crossover CD’s in ODT’s stack that I haven’t reached yet, but will mention when I get to them.)

Fortune My Foe: Music of Shakespeare’s Time – Les Witches:  So far as Renaissance artists go, this is closer to ol’ Robbo’s own home turf, featuring composers such as John Dowland, Thomas Morley and Michael Praetorius.  (It also includes the weird -and aptly-named – Nicholas Le Strange.  However despite what the Amazon description at the link may say, William Byrd is not included.)  Ironically, despite the album’s subtitle, most of these composers were, in fact, chased out of England by Queen Bess in the early 1570’s on (among other things) anti-Catholic grounds, and set up shop in Sweden and Northern Germany.   The local publick radio station used to run a track from Les Witches some years ago that must have been from this album – they’ve only put out a few, and most of them very recently – but I can’t recall which one it was.

Screen:  The other day, because she had been watching it in her English class and wanted my opinion, Eldest Gel and ol’ Robbo sat down to watch Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet.  I lasted about 45 minutes of the scheduled four hours of screen time.  In a word? Bombastically unwatchable.  Nobody tops ol’ Robbo in his admiration of Branagh’s obviously outstanding talent as a Shakespearean actor, but I’ve been saying the same damn thing ever since his Henry V first came out:  What Branagh needed more than anything else in his efforts to bring the Bard to the big screen was an iron-fisted director with the ability to say, “Ken? NO!!”  Alas, he didn’t have one and went to seed as a result.

Similarly, I’ve been picking my way, act by act, through the old BBC production of Othello starring Anthony Hopkins and Bob Hoskins.  Hoskins is great as the scheming Iago, but as fine an actor as he otherwise is, I just don’t get Hopkins’ treatment of Shakespeare.  He hesitates, blanks out, inflects oddly, sometimes doesn’t quite seem to grasp the psychology of his character.  It was the same thing when I saw him on stage in 1987 doing Lear.  Strange.

I am also working my way through Christopher Guest’s cycle of “mockumentaries”, just having polished off Best in Show and A Mighty Wind.  Made in the early 2000’s, part of me wonders whether these films could even be offered these days, given the number of triggers in them that would send the Social Justice Movement cry-bullies into catatonic fits.  Indeed, the inclusion of the fact that I’ve watched them on my Permanent Electronic Record is probably more than enough on its own to get me sent to the Happy Fun Reeducation Camps when the revolution comes, if not simply shot out of hand.   On the other hand, they’re all wicked funny, so it would be worth it.  (Anyhoo, there’s plenty other anti-revolutionary material on my PER already, so the question is largely moot.)

Finally, I just finished the 1st season of Star Trek: The Original Series, with “The City on the Edge of Forever” (with a young Joan Collins) and “Operation – Annihilate!” (the one with the flying killer washcloths, one of which hits Spock in the back: I once saw an outtakes clip where it hit him in the fanny).  I don’t have much to say about Star Trek:TOS except that the show has held up surprisingly well all these years and is just as entertaining to me now in my 50’s as it was in my misspent yoot (obviously for a different combination of reasons, although skimpily-clad alien space babes still enter into the calculus).  Of note:  Netflix offers up the revised versions of the old shows, with modern computer graphics cleaning up and enhancing the more painfully primitive special effects of 50 years ago.  While I abhor the kind of retro-tinkering George Lucas indulged himself with in the Star Wars franchise, I have no problem with what has been done here:  The alterations are seamless, in line with the original spirit, and not designed to draw attention to themselves.  It’s amazing what can be done when Ego is taken out of the equation.

At any rate, there you have it.

UPDATE:  R.I.P. Justice Antonin Scalia.  As I may have mentioned here before, his family are fellow parishioners of mine and I’ve seen him many times at Mass although I never got up the nerve to try and start a conversation.  I’m sure he would have been gracious about it, but I’m equally sure he would have been annoyed at having to deal with a groupie on Sunday.

I must say that I was flatly repulsed by the amount of pure bile and venom that erupted across the innertoobs when news of Scalia’s death broke yesterday.  Disgusting.



Port Swiller Manor after the  Initial Driveway Cleanup

Port Swiller Manor after the Initial Driveway Cleanup

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good times.  Good times.



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