Monday, February 27, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

And continuing the puppy theme I started last week with the intention of carrying it through the week - the best planned lays of mutts and men!!!!!!:

And in honour (????) of recent events in our Nicky's life - I hope my feminist friends are happy now - I post the following:

And as an added touch of lunacy "Zemanta" suggested that one of the labels for this post should be "transgender" - how about "no f....g gender"??????

27 February - 425: The University of Constantinople is founded by Emperor Theodosius II at the urging of his wife Aelia Eudocia.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Trumpet Shall Sound

Another great that I grew up listening to left us this morning.

Maurice André spent part of his youth working in a mine until his father, an amateur trumpeter, encouraged him to study with a family friend. His almost 300 recordings helped spearhead the resurgence of interest in Baroque music that surfaced in the 1960s. Though he retired a few years ago his performances are still very popular - and with reason.  Commenting on this video of the Allegro from the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, captured in Heidelberg with the Muncher Philharmonik, someone said: ...he looks like he has just come down for breakfast, found an orchestra in his garden and picked his trumpet up to play. The right balance of effortlessness and indulgence.  His performances were always like that.

The trumpets are sounding a bit sweeter in the heavenly realms today.

26 February - 1917: The Original Dixieland Jazz Band records the first jazz record, for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Memories of Venezia

For the pious - Christians at least - today begins the 40 days of Lenten fasting after the glorious excesses of Carnevale in the preceding days. Last year we spent a weekend in Venice with my darling Cathy and Isabelle joining in that most gaudy of celebrations leading up to Mardi Gras. It was another chance to enjoy one of my favourite cities in the world: I have often recalled the first time I flew into Venice and as we passed over the city with all those familiar sites glistening in the bright sunlight thinking, "well this is either a city I will truly love or truly hate!"  I went back four more times so I will let you decide what the verdict was.

Yes it is touristy, yes the prices are inflated, yes it is crowded and yes occasionally - though not often - the people can be a bit surly but it is still one of the most magical places on earth.   Wander into Piazza San Marco from the Ala Napoleonica after midnight; sit in the shadow of the leaning bell tower of San Stefano as your spoon scoops into a gelato at Paolin; stroll the back calle around the Arsenal; walk the fondementi in Dorsodura; peak into a church in Santa Sofia and discover the most incredible marble trompe l'oeil.

But Venice is more than a stage set for Carnivale, gondolieri and music students in soiled 18th century drag hawking concerts of Vivaldi's Four Seasons.   Despite its dwindling population, it is a place where people live but live in constant threat from the sea that gives the city and their lives  their uniqueness.  This video that my friend Anna posted on Facebook is a "Backstage" look at what it takes to keep that magic image for the visitor and the niceties of day to day life for the Venetians.

In 1876 John Ruskin, whose three volume work The Stones of Venice (an exhaustive study of the city) was published in 1851, was struck by the amount of damage that had been caused in 30 years by the combination of the climatic conditions, neglect and poor restorations techniques.   He would no doubt be astonished to see that many of those "stones" he wrote about and drew in such detail were still around and hopefully he would be pleased with the new efforts at restoration and more important preservation.

22 February - 1632: Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems is published.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy Late

And if you notice a canine theme going on this week there is a reason - more about that later!
Thanks to Vicki for this one - apparently she thinks there's a reason not to let a dog lick your face????? 

21 february - 1918: The last Carolina Parakeet dies in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Lunedi Lazzi*

For my friend Harold, Sonya and the girls ...

And I believe it with my whole heart!

*a Lazzo or Lazzi was an interlude in commedia dell'arte that was guaranteed to bring a smile if not an outright laugh to the spectator's face. I think this lovely cartoon qualifies as that.

20 february -  1472: Orkney and Shetland are pawned by Norway to Scotland in lieu of a dowry for Margaret of Denmark.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lunedi Lunacy

It beats Tex and Edna Boil's Prairie Warehouse and Curio Emporium and eBay all to hell!  Why you can get used tug boats, bomb resistant safes, fire hoses, hand sanitizer stands and all sorts of goodies at the Government of Canada Surplus Store.  Items are government overstocks, out of date equipment or items seized at the border or in raids on homes.  One small catch - you have to pick it up and as much as I'd like that Jumbo Refractometer I'm not going all the way to Moose Jaw to get it.  Guess I'll just have to wait until Christmas.

I offer without comment this little item which I am assuming was lifted at the border - for bad taste if not for breaching some unknown customs regulation:

13 February - 1881: The feminist newspaper La Citoyenne is first published in Paris by the activist Hubertine Auclert.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Quote... Unquote

As I've mentioned in an earlier post I've become engrossed in the novels of Nancy Mitford (left), though after having completed her three earliest I am now taking a break - too much of a good thing can becoming cloying after a while.   And for my taste Mitford is a "good thing".   Though I greatly enjoyed the book that started this read fest, Christmas Pudding, and her third novel Wigs on the Green (I understand why she was unwelcome in the house of her sister Diana and her Fascist crowd) there is something about the first book, Highland Fling, that I found gave me the greatest pleasure.  Perhaps it is a young writer finding her way, not always sure of her characters or plot but writing with an intimate knowledge and affection for the people she has used as her models.  In all three novels her older titled folk are caricatures but not as broad, or as bitter, as those created by many of her contemporaries. In Wigs her portrait of Lady Chalford with her ridiculously rigid moral code is at first laughable, then touching but ultimately disturbing as you see it reflected in her grand-daughter's Union Jackshirt credo - this woman knew her class.    And her "bright young things" - no doubt drawing on her own experiences with that set - are etched with only a light touch of acid -  their follies and foibles suggesting that the "me" generation we talk about today is not a new thing.

I am a great fan of, the oft mentioned here, E. F. Benson and P. G. Wodehouse both of whose creatures inhabit, as do Mitford's, an England caught between the two Great Wars. A period of flux and change, of discovery and of loss for a generation and a world that never quite recovered from the  effects of those 5 years.  That period of the "lost generation" does not appear to ruffle Benson's upper middle-class citizens of Tilling - what other than the intrigues of their own little world does? -  nor disturb the antics of members of Bertie's Drones Club.  But in Highland Fling Mitford recognizes the incredible gap between a generation who had fought for a set of values which they were then told were out-dated and valueless by a generation that had no regard for them or their values.  If I weren't reading an novel written in the 1930s I would swear Mitford was talking about today.
"Bright Young Things" - Cecil Beaton, Stephen Tennant, Zita Jungman, Edith Olivier and Rex Whistler - all looking very stylish and set for a weekend of pleasure and leisure. It was a world well known to Nancy Mitford and her sisters.

As Highland Fling begins a quartet of bright young things heads up to Scotland to see to the care, feeding and recreation - or rather wholesale slaughter of game - of a hunting party at a familial castle in Scotland.  Amongst the group is Albert Gates, an avant-garde artist and I suppose the "hero" of the novel as much as there can be heroes in any of Mitford's tales.  One evening at dinner, surrounded by local gentry, old nobility and pensioned military men,  Gates holds forth at table on the futility of the 1914-1919 war and smugly suggested that these people  enjoyed its slaughter as much as they enjoyed bagging helpless game.  Mr. Buggins, a gentle quiet man who until this moment has been very much in the background dully reciting historical facts, gently and quietly as is his nature and without the bluster and indignation of the others around the table answers the younger man.
But at the same time, Gates, there is something I should like to say to you, which is, that I think you have no right to speak as you did of the men who fought in the War.  Sneering at them and hoping they enjoyed it, and so on.  I know you did not really mean to say much, but remember that sort of thing does no good and only creates more bitterness between our two generations, as though enough does not exist already.  I know that many of us seem to you narrow-minded, stupid and unproductive.  But if you would look a bit below the surface you might realize that there is a reason for this.  Some of us spent four of what should have been our four best years in the trenches.

'At the risk of boring you I will put my own case before you.

'When the war broke out I was twenty-eight.  I had adopted literature as my profession and at the time was an art critic on several newspapers.  I had also written and published two books involving a great deal of hard work and serious research - the first, a life of Don John of Austria, the second, an exhaustive treatise on the life and work of Cervantes.  Both were well received and encouraged by this, I was, in 1914, engaged upon an extensive history of Spain at the time of Philip II, dealing in some detail, with, for instance the art of Velásquez and El Greco, the events which led to the Battle of Lepanto, the religious struggle in the Netherlands and so on.  I had been working hard for three years and had collected most of my material.

'On the fifth of August, 1914, whether rightly or wrongly, but true to the tradition in which I had been brought up, I enlisted in the army.  Later in that year I received a commission.  I will not enlarge upon the ensuing years, but I can't say I found them very enjoyable.

'When in 1919, I was demobilized, I found that, as far as my work was concerned, my life was over - at the age of thirty-three.  I was well off financially.  I had leisure at my disposal.  I had my copious notes.  Perhaps - no doubt, in fact - it was a question of nerves.  Whatever the reason, I can assure you that I was totally incapable of such concentrated hard work as that book would have required.  I had lost interest in my subject and faith in myself.  The result is that I am now an oldish man, of certain culture, I hope, but unproductive, an amateur and a dilettante.  I know it. I despise myself for it, but I cannot help it.

'And that, I am convinced, is more or less the story of hundreds of my contemporaries.

'Everyone knows - you are at no pains to conceal it - that the young people of today despise and dislike the men and women of my age.  I suppose that never since the world began have two generations been so much a variance.  You think us to be superficial, narrow-minded, tasteless and sterile, and you are right.  But who knows what we might have become if things had been different?

'That is why I do earnestly beg of you not to speak sarcastically, as you did just now, of the men who fought in the War.  Leave us, at any rate, the illusion that we were right so to do.
Highland Fling
Nancy Mitford - 1931
Penguin - Fig Tree - 2011
Available at Amazon

Mitford knew her people and her time well. And for a young writer she captured the feeling of that "lost generation" without great drama - simply almost tenderly. 

12 February - 1429:  English forces under Sir John Fastolf defend a supply convoy carrying rations to the army besieging Orleans.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2012

What the Dickens???

Been a bit busy at work this week so I haven't been able to do much in the way of celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens - and besides I'm on a Mitford kick right now.  However lest you think of me as an uncultured dolt who doesn't observe important literary anniversaries I present the following sent me by my friend Cathy.

Behind every great writer there's a nit-picking editor!!!!

08 February - 1879:  Sandford Fleming first proposes adoption of Universal Standard Time at a meeting of the Royal Canadian Institute.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Long to Reign Over Us.

I was brought up in a family tradition that believed firmly in the Monarchy and its value to Canada and to treasure our place within the Commonwealth. I remember the sadness of the King's passing and the joy of hope with the ascension of the young Queen. Just the year before we had walked up to the Princess Elizabeth Highway to stand on the side of the road waving our little Union Jacks as she drove by on her way from Toronto to Niagara. I have written before about crowding around Ma Ware's television - the only one in the neighbourhood - to watch the coronation, the RCAF had flown a keno-scope over for broadcast. The following week we crowded the local cinemas for a view of the ceremony in colour.

Much has happened in all our lives since in the past 60 years - to her, to us and to me but I am still happy that she is Queen of my country - as changed as we all are - and honoured that she is my monarch. God has indeed, often against all odds, sent her victorious, long to reign over us.


06 February - 1952: Elizabeth Windsor ascends to the throne on the death of her father, George VI.

Lunedi Lunacy

From my friend Anna (just one of her incredible photos from the past few days) - a snow bunny at the Colesseo.

And being of course being a Roman Snow Bunny this one is very concerned with La Bella Figura.

February 6 - 1840: Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, establishing New Zealand as a British colony.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Christmas Pudding, Luv?

As often happens when I either read, exchange e-mails with, or actually talk to my friend David I end up buying a book. David and I met three years ago through our blogs and I had the good luck to meet him and his Diplomate face to face for a concert and dinner when I was in London two years ago.  Brief though my recent trip to London was it still gave me the opportunity to meet up with David and the Diplomate on the Friday evening.

A lithograph from the London Illustrated News showing the new quarters of the Garrick Club in 1864.  The club had become so popular that its original building proved inadequate and a new building was constructed on King St - which was soon to become Garrick St in honour of both the club and the great actor it was named after.
The afternoon began with drinks at the Garrick Club with Diplomate and several of his friends who made this wide-eyed colonial bumpkin feel very comfortable amongst the theatrical splendor of one of the most prestigious private men's clubs in England.  I would have liked to post a few pictures from the Internet of the interior with its incredible collection of theatrical art work but as a privileged guest I would be breaching etiquette by doing so; so you might want to click on the link above to see some of the splendors I saw at 15 Garrick Street.  Conversation - and several rather delicious Manhattan Cocktails topped up with champagne - flowed easily with one of England's finest young countertenors and a member of the clergy from St Paul's Cathedral.  Topics ranged from upcoming performances in Chicago to arts gossip to the Occupy London situation at the Cathedral to a charity project in India.   We then headed over to Chinatown to meet David and a lady friend for dinner at the New World - one of the top rated restaurants in the area.

 The lady friend is an editor with a small publishing house - yes they still exist - and her house had just had a title that had astonished everyone by making the best seller list over the Christmas holidays.  More astonishingly it wasn't a new novel but a reissue of a book originally published in 1932.   Christmas Pudding was the second of Nancy Mitford's nine novels. Perhaps most astonishingly in recent years Mitford has been more thought of as one of those sad, bad, mad Mitford girls than the fine novelist she was and here she was once again a best selling author.  The reissue of Christmas Pudding climbed to #4 on the British best seller list and may well have started a mini-Renaissance for, as I've discovered, an unjustly neglected writer.  The general consensus at table was that it was a good read so I immediately added it to my mental list of books to read in 2012.

Those sad, bad, mad Mitford girls:  Jessica, Nancy, Diana, Unity and Pamela Mitford in 1935.  Ben MacIntyre a journalist with The Times characterized them as:  "Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur".

And is there any better place to read a book than at 32,000 feet as you head across the Atlantic - particularly if none of the 72 video options are either interesting or current.  And surely if it was on the best seller list it would be available at the W. H. Smith bookstore at Heathrow.  I mean you can get Stilton cheese, Hermes scarves, Pink's shirts (I bought two) , Clinque, 12 year old Scotch (Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or) and Molton Mowbray Pork Pies at the shops in the concourse  - so a best seller from this past Christmas should be there right?  Wrong!  When asked if she had Mitford's Christmas Pudding, the pleasant lady at the till - in a voice that would have done Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins proud - suggested I look in cookbooks or if I wanted the real thing that it was a bit past the season but I might try Harrod's.  Sadly I had to make do with the latest bit of Stephan Fryery as reading material and graciously passed on the idea of a Christmas pud from the Disneyland of Department Stores.

But I knew it would be available here - if not from Amazon then one of the small bookstores that still manage to do business in Ottawa.  Well I discovered that from the former I could order it and it would appear in my mail box sometime in the next three months and from the later possibly - if it could be ordered - it would be in my hands a month or two later.   Even a search of the Ottawa Public Library came up empty!  Now there is nothing quite like the inability to get something to whet the appetite for said unattainable item. 

Finally there it was, good old dependable Penguin had published all nine of Mitford's novels in one of their marvelous "complete works of" series.  I was going to get to my fill of Mitford - 997 pages, excluding "new introduction by...."  - of a writer that I had neglected in the past.  So the reading project for this winter:  The Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford.  All nine! All 997 pages!  Ah well one shouldn't do anything by halves should one?  Dear god I'm starting to talk like a Mitford Bright Young Thing!!!!!

 04 February - 960:  The coronation of Zhao Kuangyin as Emperor Taizu of Song, initiating the Song Dynasty that would last more than three centuries.

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Friday, February 03, 2012

Neve, Neve, Andare Via!*

I know its been over six months since I left Roma and Italy but I realize that my friend Rebecca was right when she said "give it a year".  Every so often I get an wave of homesickness for the place and, most especially, the people and today when I received photos of Roma in the snow from those people  was one of those "oftens".  Yes I know we have snow here in Ottawa - boy do we have snow, and freezing rain and -35c days - but its not the same.  Here snow is a daily thing and a bother, there its a rarity and romantic.  Well okay its romantic except for no buses, no trains, motorini buried under snow, icy cobble stone streets and the mess when it turns to slush.

Today for the first time in many years - though I do remember a brief snow storm two years ago - it snowed in Roma and snow is forecast for the next few days.  North of Firenze it has been dire - temperatures in the minus teens and snow.. lots and lots of snow.  Not that snow is an unknown in these areas, just that this past few days have been exceptional - but understand there is no climate change!

But I digress - often according to some of the finest psychoanalysts a sign of denial.  I awoke this morning (afternoon his time) to these photos that my friend Marco sent as he attempted to get home from work - his being the motorino buried in the snow.

Piazza della Repubblica looks even more romantic in that half-light you get
with falling snow and cloudy skies - and its almost devoid of traffic.
I'm not sure as Marco didn't identify the venue
but I think this is the main station at Termini - equally devoid of traffic???
Then later in the day - evening his time - cher Lionel sent this photo of Piazza Navona in the evening snow.  If I read his posting correctly - and from what I've heard from other people about buses having problems getting up those Seven Hills of Rome - he walked the 3.5 kms from our old neighborhood to Centro.  Such an athlete!

Piazza Navona as captured by our friend Lionel this evening - sensible Romani stayed in doors but our Lionel walked from our old neighborhood to take it.  Not exactly next door but then he always was the athletic sort.

And finally young Simon - who is either in London studying hard or in Roma cheering on Lazio, or perhaps in London just "studying" and cheering on Lazio - put this wonderful photo up on Facebook.

From the Cappidocia overlooking the Foro towards the Colesseo and San Giovanni.  Snow covered for the first time in 28 years - a sight not many of us will ever see, and how I wish I were there to see it now.

Sorry how the hell could I not be homesick? 

*Snow, snow, go away!

03 February - 1815:  The first factory dedicated to making cheese opens in Switzerland. 
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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Mercoledi Musicale

Back in 1996 - I think it was - I bought an album called Steal Away. A compilation of hymns and gospel songs it was my introduction to Charlie Haden and Hank Jones. I became a devoted Haden fan after that and figured owning a few of Jones' cds wouldn't be too shabby of a move either. Steal Away has had pride of place on my favourites shelf ever since.

Jones died in May of 2010 but in February of that year he and Charlie Haden reunited one more time to record Come Sunday - another collection of hymns, gospel songs and inspirations melodies. It is quieter more reflective album than its predecessor - the work of older artists who have learned to strip music down to the essentials. Steve Futterman over at The Barnes and Noble Review has captured the feeling of what these two great artists have created in his review and anything I could add would be superfluous - not a word to use where Haden and Jones are concerned.  And to my mind this is perhaps the best of the tracks on this great CD.

The story of how Thomas A. Dorsey came to write Take My Hand Gracious Lord is a fairly well-known one.  Perhaps the best know and loved of all gospel-blues songs it was born out of his grief at the death of his young wife Nettie Harper in childbirth and infant son two days later in august of 1932.  Dorsey freely admitted that he had found inspiration for the melody in the hymn tune  "Maitland," by American composer, George N. Allen but the lyrics were his cry from the heart at a dark time in his life.
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear
Precious Lord linger near
When my life is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears
And the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

It has been sung at State and family funerals, and in gospel and jazz halls; and its been translated in at least 40 languages.  Singers as diverse as Elvis Presley, Leontyne Price, Nina Simone, Jim Nabors, the late Etta James and Aretha Franklin have performed and recorded it.  Perhaps the best known version is by one of Dr Dorsey's favourite gospel singers, the voice of gospel when I was growing up, Mahalia Jackson.  Here she is singing the first verse and to my mind like Haden and Jones, she performs its simply and as a cry from the heart.

Even if hymns and gospel music are not quite your style I strongly recommend Come Sunday for the sheer artistry of the two men involved. It is music making at its simplest, most elegant and most eloquent.

01 February -
1796: The capital of Upper Canada is moved from Newark to York. 

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