Tuesday, September 08, 2015

So Long, Farewell, Auf wiedersehen, Goodbye

WTF????  I can hear both my Faithful Readers (FR) say not so sotto voce!  But you just said that you were going to start boring us to tears with your silly drivel again.  What exactly is going on?

ME: Well as you may, or may not, know I'm going to be going on a cruise very shortly.

FR: Well yes but what has that got to do with it?  You want us to come down to the quay and catch streamers while the band plays "Nearer My God to Thee".

ME:  Don't be smart! No but I didn't want to travel with too much baggage (that tuxedo for formal night takes up a good deal of room) so I was thinking of just taking my iPad with me and posting on the trip using the Blogger App.

FR:  Okay, it would be nice to hear about those far-away places with strange sounding names but from the sounds of that title you weren't intending to post anything anyway.

ME: No I was!   That's why I gave it a trial run to see what I could and couldn't do - I discovered its been been almost a year and a half since they made any changes to the Blogger App.  So it was pretty much as it had been the last time I used it.  I went in and started to edit a post I had started on the Mac.  I spent well over three hours finding the right words and sequence of photographs.  Very proud of myself I saved it and went off to do something else.

FR:  So when does it appear?

ME:  Someone is looking for a sound smack!  It won't be because when I opened it on the Mac none of the changes had taken.  I went back to the iPad and same damned thing.  Three hours work lost never to be read by you my Faithful Readers.  I checked what they laughingly call a "support" site and found that the biggest complaint seemed to be that no one ever got back to anyone on their questions or problems. 

FR:  Oh!

ME: So as a result I am stamping my little foot, saying "so long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, goodbye" to Blogger and switching over to WordPress.  So bear with me on this okay?  I'm old mature and it may take me a bit of time to get use to their little programming quirks and quarks. And I have to decide if I want to import 8 years worth of posts over to their system.  But keep in mind I'm doing it all for you my faithful readers - both of you.

So if you're planning to read my blog I suggest you change the bookmark to www.willyorwonthe.wordpress.com. Or you can click on the Bobby below and he'll take you there and then you can bookmark it. 

As he so rightly says:  there's nothing more to see here.

September 8 - 1930: 3M begins marketing Scotch transparent tape.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Lunedi Lunacy

It appears that "concept albums" have been around since the 1940s: according to the Wikipedia entry Woody Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads was one of the first.  But they seemed to have reached a zenith in the 1960-70s with Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Tommy, Dark Side of the Moon, and The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast.

The last named was based on William Roscoe's children's poem written in 1802 which reappeared in 1973 in picture book form.  Retold and expanded by William Plomer and illustrated in his signature graphic style by Alan Aldridge it reflect the temper of the psychedelic 70s.  In 1974  Roger Glover, late of Deep Purple, used it as the inspiration for his album and the subsequent rock opera that came from it.  Glover recruited a large cast of well-known rock musicians to perform on the album including Ronnie James Dio of, amongst other groups, Black Sabbath.  The one minor hit to come out of the album was "Love is All" with Dio on vocals.

In 1976 Halas and Batchelor, turned the song into a cartoon short using the Aldridge designs as their starting point.  The cartoon become a cult favourite in Europe particularly in France where a new TV channel used it as an quick stopgap anytime they experienced technical difficulties.  It's popularity in North American was the result of it being shown on children's programmes on several emerging networks including Nickelodeon.  As their unwary parents slept in of a Saturday morning a new generation was "tuning in and turning on". 

I rememeber the album being a particular favourite of my first roommate Ray and his friends when they would  wander into the apartment in a mellow mood from the clubs as the sun rose over St James Cemetary.  I recall having my early morning coffee before the start of a Sunday 0630 shift to the sounds of Saffron Dormouse and Lizzy Bee or Sir Maximus Mouse and running out the door to catch the 0615 subway with the sounds of Love is All echoing in my ears.

September 7 - 1911:  Guillaume Apollinaire is arrested and put in jail on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

So Where Is That Damned Muse?

I sat awaiting for my Muse
To descend from heaven.
I first sat down at two-fifteen
And now it's well past seven!
For some reason that little piece of doggerel I wrote for the school year book back in 19 some years ago has been running through my mind the past few days.  It may well be in response to messages from my friend David  at I'll Think of Something Later, a comment made by Spo when he was here in the summer or the rebirth of several blogs written by old friends from earlier blogger days.  

So why haven't I written anything on the blog in the past five months?  What's my excuse?

Lack of subject matter?  

Well life may not be as exciting as it was in those far off days of our days in Rome but no.  Since April there have been several visits to Toronto that included two remarkable productions at Soulpepper, the Canadian Museum of Inuit Art and Casa Loma; the opportunity in July to show Spo and Harper's Keeper the sights of Ottawa (many of which I have never bothered to visit before); a bucolic week in August to Prince Edward Island filled with music, glorious vistas and seafood; and coming up a cruise down the St Lawrence River into the Gulf and on to St. Pierre-Miquilon.

Lack of posts?

I just checked and I have 75 drafts of various lengths, sorts and subject matter.  Some go back so far I can't even remember why I started to write them.

Lack of visuals?  

Good lord no - I have enough photos and videos on the trusty iPhone to fill several albums.  And there is at least one music video that I have yet to publish.

Lack of time?

Well when you work five days a week and your primary job is writing it is a bit of a chore to then sit down at home and start typing.  But I'm able to write rants and short pithy comments on Facebook so wherein doth lie the problem?  And I won't even count the hours spend surfing the web for all manner of things - good and bad.  And I'm now amongst the unemployed/retired I have more than enough time to sit down and write ad nauseam

So what's the answer?

What was the question?  Oh yes, why have I not written a blog entry in the past five months? Well I'm going for the Muse thing.  And no it's not what's suggested in the slideshow by that last image by Edward Gafford.   She/He/It just hasn't motivated me strongly enough to take idea from brain to fingers to keyboard.  However as appears to be happening with Cowbell, Auld Hat and Yellowdog Granny I can feel the old urge coming back - oh grow up I don't mean that!!!.

Having said all that I starting to look at old drafts to see if any of them are still relevant and looking at new ideas particularly with the upcoming trip.  We shall see how this all turns out.

September 5 - 1840: Premiere of Giuseppe Verdi's Un giorno di regno at La Scala of Milan.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Exhibition Hopping - Part IV

The evening calendar for my February trip to Toronto was a full one: two operas (Don Giovanni, Die Walküre) and Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit.  One theatrical hit, one operatic hit and one operatic miss that was was a hit musically but a total disaster theatrically - but I'm not a critic so what can I say.

The days were a bit cold (-24c) for much in the way of tromping around town but fortunately the hotel was within a short walk of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).  It had been many, many (and I could add several more manys) moons since I had been inside the Gallery and though the big attraction was the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition my destination were two much smaller, but to my taste, more interesting installations:  Memory Unearthed: The Łódź Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross and Manasie Akpaliapik.

On December 11, 1939 the Nazi authorities commanded that all Jews wear a Star of
David on the front and back of their clothing. As Henryk Ross says of this photo: 
Even the scarecrows were made to wear the yellow star. 

The story of the Łódź Ghetto is a complex one that has given rise to books, essays and articles that tell the many sides of life in the second largest ghetto of the Nazi period but more importantly the  stories of the men, women and children who lived in this devastating page of European history.  I will simply say that the exhibition of Henryk Ross's photographs made me angry and it was one of those exhibitions that I left on the verge of tears.  And I say that as a good reaction to a disturbing but important display of both the inhumanity of man and the resilience of mankind.*

Manasie Akpaliapik - the Inuit artist.
The small exhibition of pieces by Inuit artist Manasie Akpaliapik moved me but in a different way.  Unlike the Ross exhibition they are contained in one space and brightly lit and in their own way show the history, the changes and, in many ways, decline of a society.

IK-PI-AR-JUK (Arctic Bay - the Pocket) Manasie Akpaliapik's birthplace on Baffin Island
is 3,300 kms north of Toronto and approximately 700 kms north of the Arctic Circle.
Akpaliapik was born at the northern most tip of Baffin Island - a hunting camp in IK-PI-AR-JUK (the Pocket) on Arctic Bay, 700 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.  His parents, Lazaroosee and Nakyuraq Akpaliapik, were both sculptors in the Arctic Bay community; his adopted grandparents, artists Peter and Elisapee Kanangnaq Ahlooloo, and his maternal great aunt Paniluk Qamanirq began to teach him to carve when he was about ten years old.  He learned by watching them, and as they carved the elders would recount Inuit legends and stories. These stories were to influence his work as much as the techniques they taught him.

Traditional carving tools used to fashion Inuit carvings.  From the soapstone sculptures so favoured as
ceremonial gifts from our government to the works created by artists like Akpaliapik, who work in ivory, whalebone and
other media found in the far north, many of these tools are are still used along with more modern equipment.

At the age of twelve he was sent to a Residential School.  Suppression, sometimes violent, of the language (Inuktitut), the traditional culture and values of his people led him to leave school at the age of sixteen and return to Arctic Bay in 1971.   He began to examine his heritage and  to work on carvings that reflected life in his wider community.   He married but tragically lost his wife and children in a house fire in 1980.  He moved to Montreal and began to work in earnest using new techniques, varied materials and learning to refine the details of his work.  He considered the links between the traditions, those legends and stories of his family, life in the North and the mounting problems of alcohol,  unemployment, drugs and rootlessness experienced by the people of the Arctic.  Carving became a healing process for him and a way of focusing attention on the problems of his people.

The pieces on display at the AGO are from the Collection of Samuel and Esther Sarick, one of the most comprehensive collections of Inuit art in the world.  The Sarick's gifted the AGO with the collection in the late 1990s.

As I mentioned this exhibition was small - only twelve pieces of varying sizes - from a slender carving of a hunter riding (or perhaps being dragged by) a narwhal (left) to two large sculptures made from the ossified bone from the bases of whale skulls - I've created videos from the walk-around of these two extraordinary pieces.  Amongst the other materials he uses are ivory, antler, stone, horn, baleen and stone.  Unfortunately I didn't get all the information on the works on display so several of the photos have no identification as to title or materials used.  An e-mail to the AGO asking for information has gone unanswered so I will have to leave some things untitled.

Shaman Muskox
whale bone, ivory, bone, antler - 1995-96.

This double sided ivory carving shows the two sides of life for the Inuit:  one based on the traditions of the North, the other the influences from the outside that has destroyed many of those traditions.

There is a wealth of art created by Inuit artists working in both the traditional and the modern style that deserves to be explored.  This small exhibition opened my eyes to a small portion of what is out there by one artist.  On my next visit to Toronto in May I plan to spend some time at the Museum of Inuit Art at Queen's Quay - an attraction I must admit I had no knowledge of until I read two short pieces on the use of whale bone in Inuit carving:  I've Got a Bone to Pick and Let's Talk About Whalebone.

*I use both the terms man and mankind in their inclusive meaning and should that offend anyone then they do not know me and any flames will be extinguished immediately.

April 16 - 1910: The oldest existing indoor ice hockey arena still used for the sport in the 21st century, Boston Arena, opens for the first time.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

mercoldi musicale

Okay the first day of Spring was over two weeks ago and temperatures are still coming in the minuses - we even had snow for Easter, try finding white Easter Eggs in the snow!!!!

However here are two of my favourite chantootzies singing the praises (???) of Spring!

The great cabaret and Broadway star Julie Wilson died earlier this week and here she tells us about  one of the more melancholy aspects of the Equinox.

The wonderful Blossom Dearie has a slightly more optimistic outlook on the season - perhaps one we should stick with, even if it takes to June to prove true.

Oh look the forecast calls for snow and -10 tonight! Spring Fever? I don't think so more like the winter flu!

April 8 - 1820: The Venus de Milo is discovered on the Aegean island of Milos.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Lunedi Lunacy

Napoleon the Pig - Animal Farm
Halas & Batchelor (1954)
Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films was founded in 1940 by husband and wife team John Halas and Joy Batchelor; over the next 58 years they were to be one of the premiere animation studios in Western Europe.  Their output include 70 propaganda films during the Second World War, children's shows, full length cartoons (the first was Animal Farm in 1954 - unwittingly a propaganda film clandestinely funded by the CIA), musical shorts, educational cartoons and a series based on the popular books of Gerald Hoffnung - he of the Interplanetary Music Festival.

In 1961 they introduced Hamilton the Musical Elephant in two charming little shorts with soundtracks by British jazz great Johnny Dankworth (it was only later that he became the more formal John). 

You have to wonder why the little guy only appeared it two cartoons though perhaps the creators wisely thought there were only so many plot lines you could create for a trumpet playing forgetful elephant.

April 6 -1327: The poet Petrarch first sees his idealized love, Laura, in the church of Saint Clare in Avignon.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

For He Is Risun

Happy Easter - Buona Pasqua - Joyeuses Pâques

April 4 -1710: The Statute of Anne receives the Royal Assent establishing the Copyright law of the United Kingdom.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

That Ye May Believe

I posted this video last year on Holy Saturday but each time I watch it I am struck by the beauty of both the language of the King James Version of the Christian Bible and the reading by one on England's finest actresses, Patricia Routledge.

In her home parish at Chichester Cathedral she reads Chapter 20 of the Gospel of St John.

April 4 - 1147: First historical record of Moscow.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Chag Pesach Sameach

To all my friends who begin the seven days* of Passover tonight I can think of no way to better wish you the joy of the Festival than with something by my beloved Emanuele (Lele) Luzzati

 Have a sweet Passover / zisn Pesach / חג פסח שמח

* In some branches of Judaism the Festival lasts for 8 days - I found this explanation here.

April 3 - 2010: Apple Inc. released the first generation iPad, a tablet computer.

The Music of Good Friday

Frequently on past posts I have spoken of the strong role that music played in Holy Week observances in my old parish of St Thomas.  From the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of Easter Sunday it was music rich in both the traditional and the modern.  On Good Friday when the sanctuary was stripped of all ornaments, the redos hidden by a black drape, the clergy, acolytes and choir robed in black cassocks and the organ silent the words and music of the liturgy of the day took on a more important role. 

Though much of the sung liturgy was restricted to plainsong the setting of the Improperia, central to the liturgy of Veneration, was varied and ranged from Stanford to Sanders to Vittoria.  However I don't recall the Palestrina ever being sung.  Though Palestrina had been released from his job as cantor at the Sistine Chapel when Paul IV enforced the rules of celibacy for the Papal Choir his setting of the Reproaches from the Cross were used  there continually on Good Friday from 1555 until the present day.

The photographs that I used in this video were taken on one of our several visits to Barcelona and Antoni Gaudi's miraculous Sagrada Familia. The Passion Facade was unfinished at the time of Gaudi's death but a design was found in his pocket when he was taken to the hospital after being hit by a tram on June 7, 1926. Because he had no identification and was poorly dressed it was assumed he was a drunken vagrant and he was neglected both at the scene of the accident and later at the hospital. By the time the Chaplain of Sagrada Familia recognized him it was too late and he died on June 10.

The work on his masterpiece continued intermittently after his death and continues to this day with a projected completion date by 2026 in time to commemorate the centenary of Gaudi's death.  The work on the decoration of the Passion Facade was begun in 1987 by Josep Maria Subirachs and is in stark contrast to the joyous Nativity Facade and has proven to be controversial in both the arts and religious communities. Though it may be the complete opposite of Gaudi's florid style I find it still fits into the grand design of this miraculous piece of architecture.

This design for the Passion Facade was found in Gaudi's coat pocket when he was taken to
hospital after being hit by a tram.  The accident was to prove fatal: his appearance suggested
that he was just another homeless beggar and he was neglected both at the accident scene
and in hospital. He died two days later.

Josep Maria Subirachs' design for the Passion Facade received much criticism as being
the antithesis of Gaudi's style.  He began work on the facade in 1987 and continue until
his death in 2014.  A right click will take you to a larger version which can be enlarged
for a closer look at the detail.

April 3 - 1922: Joseph Stalin becomes the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lunedi Lunacy

The good folks at Honest Trailer can always be counted on to take the mickey (and I don't mean Mouse) out of some of the most hyped movies in the Netflix catalogue - I'd post their take on Les Miserables but I'm still wondering how they could make it any more ridiculous than it already was.   So now that they've released a "live action" version of that great classic Cinderella perhaps it's time to re-access the Disney Studio 1950 animated version.  

So all together now:  Blupperty blup slupperty slurp.....

March 30 - 1939: Detective Comics #27 is released, introducing Batman.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

A Wisp of Spring

Yesterday I walked by Minou's flower shop - a small but colourful hole in the wall on a main street near us - and notice yellow sprigs of one of my favourite harbingers of Spring: Mimosa. They also reminded me that International Women's Day was approaching. Over the past few years I have written about both the day and the lovely Italian tradition of presenting the women in your life with mimosa as a token of love and respect.

The feathery pompoms of the Mimosa were chosen as a symbol for the day in 1946 by the Unione Donna Italiana.  It's colour was thought to denote vibrancy and joy but more than that, despite its delicate and almost fragile appearance, the mimosa is known for its resiliency.  Nothing could be more appropriate in my mind to honour the women I have known through the years.

As so many of the women who have enriched my life (and at times frustrated and baffled me beyond all belief - part of the enrichment!) are scattered throughout the world I'll take this opportunity to present each and every one with a virtual bouquet from Minou's shop.

And I have always preferred the Italian greeting for the day:  Buona festa della donna

March 8 - 1896: Charlotte Whitton, the controversial 46th Mayor of Ottawa, was born in Renfrew, Ontario.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Lunedi Lunacy

Now this is fast food:

And I'm just imaging the clean up afterwards.  Thanks to Marc-Aurele for sharing this.

March 2 -1791: Long-distance communication speeds up with the unveiling of a semaphore machine in Paris.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Exhibition Hopping - Part III

I began writing this post after my second visit to this exhibition in October, 2014, somehow it never got finished and posted.  It ends April 6, 2015 and I think I may just pay another visit.

Douglas Cardinal's design for the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization) was much criticized when it opened back in 1989, as were what was considered the
Disneyfied exhibits.  It has proven to be the most popular of the museums in the Capital region
with over 1 million visitors a year.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization recently changed its name to The Canadian Museum of History.  Other than the cost of all the changeover - signage et al - and the opportunity for new political appointments I'm not sure what exactly the change accomplished.  The building is still the landmark structure that Douglas Cardinal created in the late 1980s - though strangely the Wikipedia entry for the museum made no mention of the First Nations architect until a week or so ago.

The stunning sweep of the Grand Hall has been home to the largest collection of First Nations' totem poles in the world.  And it also houses a plaster cast of one of my favourite pieces:  Bill Reid's The Spirit of Haida Gwaii.
The Grand Hall is an astonishing feat of design and houses an amazing collection of West Coast totems.  At the moment Canada Hall, one of the main exhibition areas has been "closed to make way for the new Canadian History Hall, opening July 1, 2017."  God only knows what new wonders are in store but given the current government's attitude to heritage I am afraid - very afraid.  However the rest of the museum is open and they are still staging interesting exhibitions tracing our history including a fascinating exhibition on the sinking of the Empress of Ireland.

Empress of  Ireland, Canada's Titanic - Canadian Museum of History

A left click on the catalogue cover
will take you to the exhibit website.
For some reason - that well-known Canadian passive-aggressive trait? - the curators felt that it was necessary to add the tag-line "Canada's Titanic" to the name of the exhibit.  Perhaps because it is an unknown marine disaster even to most Canadians they felt it was needed to draw in the crowds.  Mind you this is not an unusual trick in the art world, I recall an exhibition in Milan that trumpeted  Caravaggio where the angle was not the very posthumously trendy artist but his influence on Northern artists. 

And so it was with The Empress of Ireland,  Canada's Titanic: a passing mention of the White Star liner of iceberg fame, but the focus was on the disaster in 1914 that took the lives of 1032 of the 1477 people on board in the 15 minutes that it took the Canadian Pacific steamship to sink.  On May 28 the Empress left the dock at Quebec City an hour and half after it's scheduled departure time of 1500; by 0220 on May 29, not twelve hours later, she lay at the bottom of the St Laurent.  A voyage that had begun with music, laughter, no doubt some tears and high expectations ended swiftly and without warning.

One of two Canadian Pacific steamships that plied the Atlantic the Empress of Ireland was launched
on January 27, 1906 and arrived in Quebec City for the first time on July 7th of that year.  Before
that foggy evening in 1914 the liner had made 95 eastbound crossings of the Atlantic.
The exhibition itself begins with music, laughter and dockyard sounds as you approach the  space via a small gangplank.  One of the most striking things about the exhibition (arranged with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax) is the sound-scape.   As you progress through the areas the sounds of shipboard life follow you.  The first sound is a Salvation Army Band playing "God Be With You Till We Meet Again" - particularly poignant as 150 members of that religious group lost their lives on that fateful voyage.  As you leave the exhibition it is also the last sound you hear - faintly in the background after having passed a shadow outline of the ship created by the names of all those on board.

A piano - much like the one that graced the Grand Salon of the Empress - is all set appropriate  music
for the first evening out:  The Empress of Ireland Waltz composed in 1906 by Myrtle Wallace.

Between there are the sounds of shipboard life - the ship's bell ringing the hour,  the genteel sounds of first class and the more earthy sounds of life in third class.  The sight and sound images of the ship that tranquil late spring evening are evoked in small items such as the bugle that called first class passengers to dinner, an ingenuous fold out sink from third class, a Sally Ann sing-song in the music room, the murmur of a late night card game, the eerie sound of the engines in the fog covered night.
As the viewer moves closed to that terrible moment when the fog cleared and both the crews of the Empress and the Swedish collier Storstad became aware of what was about to happen the atmosphere becomes heavy, almost menacing - again an effective piece of design.

Abandon ShipAwakened in the nightThe icy watersImage Map
Abandon Ship | Awakened in the night | The icy waters | Image Map
A left click on the ship's bell will enlarge each photo.

As the ship's bell rings the sounds of panic draw you into the heart of the disaster:  a darkened space with one of those bells dramatically spotlit at it's centre.  At first glance the surround projections of drownings and people in panic treading the icy water (the currents at Pointe-au-Père are particularly treacherous and the temperature in the river was around 6C) seemed a bit over-the-top and almost cartoonish; but when mixed with the lighting and sound-scape have an overpowering effect.

A page from the exhibition catalogue shows the impact the disaster had on the culture of the region.
Thought the event is at the centre of the exhibition the aftermath is well chronicled.  The impact on the surrounding communities is documented with photographs of the rescue and retrieval efforts. Newspaper headlines blare the local and international magnitude of the tragedy, letters and wires - CP corporate, news service and more touchingly personal - record the desperate attempts of families to get information about passengers.  And the industry built up around the tragedy - souvenirs, first-hand accounts in tabloids, broadsheets, song sheets and books - are displayed and prove that human disaster has always been big business.

Sailors taking the coffins of children - of the 138 children on board only 5 survived
including Grace Hanagan - off the vessel Lady Gray at the pier in Quebec City.
Photograph: Library of Congress

Within days of the disaster the Government had set up a commission of inquiry - an emergency amendment to the Canada Shipping Act was rushed through Parliament to allow this unprecedented move.  The work of the Commission and the subsequent court battle between CP and the Swedish ship again are documented and well-explained for what were complicated and often politically motivated proceedings.  By the time it had been settled by the British Privy Council in 1919 other events had relegated the disaster into the back pages of history.

Passengers posing for a group photo on board The Empress of Ireland as it departs. 
The stories of many of them can be found on the commemoration website Empress 2014.
Throughout the exhibition we catch glimpses of passengers: some wealthy and well-known, others known only to family and friends:  Sabina Barbour and her two daughters, Edward and Marian Adie, Egildo and Carolina Braga and their young son Rino and many others.  The passenger list was a diverse one including actor Lawrence Irving (brother of Sir Henry Irving), his wife Mabel Hackney and members of their theatrical troupe, the Salvation Army delegation and 300 immigrant workers who had recently been laid off at the Ford Motor Plant in Detroit.

Amongst the 465 survivors was Grace Hanagan, the seven year old daughter of Salvation Army bandmaster Edward Hanagan.  Both her mother and father died in the tragedy and Grace grew up with the memory of that horrible night.  Towards the end of the exhibition there is a CBC video *of the annual Salvation Army memorial for the members who were lost on the Empress and Grace remembers the events of May 29, 1914.  She died at the age of 87 in 1995, the last remaining survivor.

"God Be With You Till We Meet Again" can be heard faintly in the background as visitors walk by a
silhouette  of the ill-fated Empress made up of the names of her passengers and crew.  A moving
commemoration of the worst marine disaster in our history

*A few of the figures given in this 1986 video differ from what is listed in the exhibit.

February 27 - 1861: Russian troops fire on a crowd in Warsaw protesting against Russian rule over Poland, killing five protesters.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sweet and Silly

My friend Stephen called our attention at work today to this heartwarming story of an 109 year old gentleman who has a rather strange hobby.  He knits little sweaters for penguins! Yes you read that right .... he knits sweaters for penguins. The rather touching tale can be read here: 109-Year-Old Man Makes Little Sweaters For Australia's Little Penguins.

Being ever observant my friend Lara noticed something about one of the sweaters - I have to admit I missed it.  Take a look at the picture!

Does anyone else catch what our Lara noticed right off the bat?  If so drop me a comment.

Post Scriptum:  And indeed Debra (She Who Seeks) is right on - the little guy second from the left is wearing a very smart Penguin book cover sweater - a penguin in a Penguin! 

February 12 - 1947: Christian Dior unveils a "New Look", helping Paris regain its position as the capital of the fashion world.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Lunedi Lunacy

 A little bit of musical lunacy to start off a Monday morning.  You have to wonder at the imagination - and technical know-how - that goes into this sort of thing.  Did this lad just wake up one morning and say "I want to do a multi-track vocal of a bit of your old Greig"?

February 9 - 1969: First test flight of the Boeing 747.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Mercoledi Musicale

It always astounds me what can be found on the Internet - it seems that a search for even the most obscure reference brings up something of, if not intrinsic value, interest.  In researching for a recent post on Nikita Balieff's Chauve-Souris I came across a small trove of recordings that were made by the company.  They were set down by the Columbia Graphophone Company, one of the earliest record companies, in May of 1927 during the troupe's appearance at the Vaudeville Theatre in London. 

Nikita Balieff (seated centre-left) and his company "at home" in this undated picture.
At the session they recorded ten of their more popular numbers (though sadly not Katinka!!!) on 10 inch 78rpm discs.  Balieff gave brief introductions to each in his own version of English and in the absence of regular composer-conductor Alexi Archangelsky, Sergei Kogan led the Vaudeville Theatre Orchestra.   The Madames Birse and Ershov with the Messrs Dedovitch , Kondratieff , Rondionoff , Zotoff , Shevtchenko recorded duets, quartets and ensemble numbers from the vast repertoire that the revue was created from.

There is much of the sameness to many of the numbers they recorded - ersatz versions of what purported to be authentic Russian gypsy, Cossack and folk music.  No doubt the staging, settings and programming gave them the appearance of a greater variety.  But even when robbed of their colourful tableau vivant settings there is a certain charming innocence to most of these numbers.

While singing A Russian Barcarolle (Русская баркарола) the Madames Birse and Erschova, and the Messrs Dedovitch and Shevtchenko were draped in tender tableau wafting on a rather unstable looking boat through Remisoff's romantic garden.  I'm not sure who the two figures are framing the action - perhaps they are hiding their eyes from some salacious stage business that we have been spared.

In his book Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions Richard Taruskin looks at the influence of Balieff's theatrical entertainment on Igor Stravinsky - beyond introducing him to the future Mrs Stravinsky.  He takes a slightly mocking, if not condescending, tone when talking of the faux-gypsy music of the Russian cabaret and The Song of the Russian Black Hussars (Чёрные гусары) in particular:
Les Houzards noir was an arrangement by Baliyev's musical director, Alexey Arkhangelsky, of an old Hussar ballad, sung by a basso profondo accompanied by male chorus.  "Before leaving for battle," the program read, "the soldiers pierced with the consciousness that they are going to meet inevitable death, wallow a while in that voluptuous melancholy of Gypsy chanting (méloplés tziganes) which reawakens in them the old Slav fatalism," etc. etc.
Stravinksy and the Russian Traditions
A Biography of the Works through Marva
Richard Taruskin
University of California Press, 1996

On this recording we have the inimitable Nikita introducing the number himself.  Though his little joke about the Hussars in the Russian army now being red "like lobsters" may have tickled his English audiences it would have rang hallow with many of the exiles in Paris.

Though the numbers in the revolving repertoire of the revue - Saylor's little publicity puff lists some 50  - were always a strange pot-pourri of folk and classics the next recording could almost qualify as a Lunedi Lunacy.   Mme Birse and Mme Erschova blend their voices in that old favourite folk song О,пой мне эту старую шотландскую песню Дир.

O sing to me the auld Scotch sangs
I' the braid Scottish tongue.
The sangs my father loved to hear,
The sangs my mither sung,
When she sat beside my cradle,
Or croon'd me on her knee.
And I wadna sleep, she sang sae sweet,
The auld Scotch sangs to me.
I'll bless the Scottish tongue that sings
The auld Scotch sangs to me.
I find the combination of the Scots dialect words and the Slavic pronunciation particularly delightful and only wish I had been able to find a photo or design for this number.

I found these recordings, along with several others by the Chauve Souris company, on a remarkable YouTube page created by Bronisliva.  Her uploads include Tangos, to Yiddish music of Russia and the Ukraine,  Slavic folk music, opera and lied.  A collection almost as eclectic as Balieff's little revue.  Many thanks to her for the wonderful collection. 

 February 4 - 1859: The Codex Sinaiticus is discovered in Egypt.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Lunedi Lunacy

In Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake one of the highlights - and test of a company's Coryphées - is the brief pas de quatre for the cygnets in Act 2.  It's a delightful little interlude as four dancers imitate (?) the movements of baby swans as imagined by Lev Ivanov's .  It is also one of those moments in ballet that is ripe for parody.  

Yesterday my friend - and balletomane par excellence - Simonetta posted a delightful take-off on this iconic moment in dance.  But first I thought I'd post a video of how it is usually done, here by members of the Swedish Royal Ballet.

And now for one of the most original comic takes on that little dance that I've ever encountered:

I don't know who the four dancers are or what the (obviously) gala occasion was but it certainly starts my week off on a fun note.

February 2 - 1709:  Alexander Selkirk is rescued after being shipwrecked on a desert island, inspiring the book Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Lunedi Lunacy

Offered without comment:

January 19 - 1915: Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube for use in advertising.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mercoledi Musicale

Grimaldi as clown in the pantomine Harlequin &
Frair Bacon at Covent Garden in December 1820
as captured by Issac Robert Cruickshank.
Museum of the City of London
Last week I wrote about the great clown and namesake of every clown in the world: Joseph "Joey" Grimaldi. His story is a fascinating if sad one of a child performer who grew to become a major star of his era but ended, if not forgotten, certainly neglected.  It's recorded that at his final benefit on 27 June 1828 he aroused himself from his sick bed - he was in constant pain from injuries incurred during a childhood and later life of performing his famous tricks - and entertained an audience of 2000 who had waited for hours to gain entrance to Drury Lane.  He lived another nine years - the last few alone (his wife and son had both died), in penury and prone to alcoholism.

But if his life was an example of the sad clown, on stage he was a remarkable entertainer who could quell even the toughest audience - and audiences of the time were tough!  And nothing pleased his audience more than when he stood centre stage and told the tale of the little old lady who sold her codlins (baked apples) in the streets of London. 

Hot Codlins - a watercolour from 1827 by
Charles Cooper Henderson.
Museum of the City of London
Peddlers plied their wares on the streets of every major European city.   Though shops abounded the streets of London were filled with the cries of men, women and children hawking food stuffs of every kind - produce, game, meat, cooked food, sweet snacks and there were even nutmeg grinders.  Milkmaids would sell you milk right from the cow that they lead into the square by your house; should you be lactose intolerant (yes they knew what it was) there was asses' milk readily available with the beast trotted up to your door step.   Vegetables, herbs and fruit were carried through the streets in baskets balanced on the heads of the sellers. And Grimaldi's little old lady would have transported her brazier and codlings much after the fashion of the woman in the drawing at the left. Indeed many of Grimaldi's audience may well have bought one of her apples, hot, hot, hot to have as a snack during the performance or as a missal for a less than appreciated artiste.

When Grimaldi sang his little ditty the only thing the audience ever threw was the last word of each verse.  Here's the only version I could find of the original sung by, appropriately, The Grimaldi Band.

January 14 - 1933: The controversial "Bodyline" cricket tactics used by Douglas Jardine's England peak when Australian captain Bill Woodfull is hit over the heart.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Lunedi Lunacy

After a week off - work, winter and indolence - from posting I thought I'd start Monday off with a lesson in astronomy.

Thanks to Wendy - who was following the directions: second star to the right, and straight on till morning.

January 12 - 1808:  John Rennie's scheme to defend St Mary's Church, Reculver, founded in 669, from coastal erosion was abandoned in favour of demolition, despite the church being an exemplar of Anglo-Saxon architecture and sculpture.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

A Winter's Tale 2015

After a mild Christmas it has turned cold, the snows have arrived, the streets are icy and the winds bitter: all reminding me that it is winter.  And reminding me that the chill of a dark windy night and the chill of a fright will make you draw closer to a fire on a cold winter's eve. 
Now I remember those old women's words,
Who in my wealth wud tell me winter's tales,
And speake of spirits and ghosts that glide by night

Barabas - Act II
The Jew of Malta - 1589
Christopher Marlowe
The tradition of a winter's tale is older than Marlowe's Barabas: it's known that bards, elders, seanchaithe and, as the Jew of Malta tells us, old women spoke of spirits and ghosts gliding in the night since the first marking of the winter solstice.  Continuing the custom writers from Victorian times to our own have delighted in chilling and thrilling us with ghosts stories to be told in the dark hours of Christmastide.

Based on a watercolour by John Masey Wright this engraving from 1814 records an unusual Christmas
Frolic. A young lad has set the company at a Christmastide diner affright with his mannequin ghost. 
Perhaps someone was tell a tale of spirits and ghosts gliding in the night when the apparition appeared?
Charles Dickens is perhaps the most well-known or oft-read of those who wrote Christmas Ghost stories though he was far from being the only author of the era to pen winter's tales. Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Nesbitt, Elizabeth Gaskell, Rudyard Kipling and H. G. Wells all wrote ghost stories that were put in the shadows, as it were, by their more famous works.  The Turn of the Screw,  Henry James' most famous ghost story begins with the telling of tales around the fire on Christmas Eve.

I'm almost convinced that this is how James must
have looked as students and colleagues gathered
around his fireside to hear his Christmas ghost story.
In the first half of the twentieth century the acknowledged masters of the genre were E. F. Benson and M. R. James.   Benson is best known today for his marvelous Mapp and Lucia books but at the time was high regarded for his atmospheric, oblique, and at times humorous or satirical ghost stories.

James was an academic and served terms as Provost at both King's College and Eton and was a renowned medieval scholar - a knowledge that he used in his stories.  Many of his stories were told in his rooms at King's and Eton as gatherings around his fireside were popular with students and colleagues alike particularly at Christmastide.  He has been recognized as the premiere writer of ghost stories of the time and as possibly the "the best ghost-story writer England has ever produced".   Mystery writer Ruth Randall was an ardent admirer and confessed, "There are some authors one wished one had never read in order to have the joy of reading them for the first time. For me, M. R. James is one of these."

I can only voice a poor second to Randall's observation, having only discovered James last year and that by way of one of the films in the BBC's  A Ghost Story for Christmas series.   Of the twelve films in this sadly irregular series nine have been based on stories by James.  After last year's atmospheric and chilling (I looked at it again this week and actually jumped at one point) The Stalls of Barchester  which was the first (1971) in the series this year's tale for a winter night is the most recent (2013) another James story:  The Tractate Middoth.

All of James's stories may be found at Project Gutenburg - they are a great read at Christmas or any other time of the year for that matter.   Gutenburg also has links to audio recordings of most of the tales: they are after all meant to be read aloud by the fireside with a candle illuminating the reader and lengthening the shadows in the room as a cold wind whistles through the barren trees.

January 4 - 1958: Sputnik 1 falls to Earth from orbit.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A Sweep Is As Lucky, As Lucky Can Be

One afternoon in 1999 I found myself on a rooftop on Ulica Fabryczna in Warsaw nervously wondering if I should really follow my translator Robert, our photographer Andrew and the Chimney Sweep we were interviewing out onto the slanting terra cotta tiles.  Common sense prevailed and I stood on a rickety ladder with my head popping out of the trap door feeding Robert questions as he and the Sweep clambered around the chimney pots and Andrew snapped away.  The whole purpose of the exercise was an photo essay for the newspaper I worked for on the chimney sweeps who were still very actively employed in Warsaw.

My last question to the Sweep would strike most North Americans as odd but I had to ask:  May I touch your sleeve? The Sweep smiled and nodded.  I touched his sleeve, made a wish and if tradition was to be believed luck was now on my side and my wish would be fulfilled.

The idea that chimney sweeps are the agents of good fortune is an old believe in Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Croatia.  The sweeps still wear the traditional black coat with silvery buttons, black trousers, and top hat and the superstition holds that it is good luck to touch them, wiping a fingertip across their sooty sleeves, or, if only seeing them from a distance, to touch a button on your person and make a wish.  There is one suggestion that the ritual when you see a chimney sweep is to grab another person's button and wait until you see someone wearing glasses, than make a wish.  Sounds like a modernization and just a little too complicated .

For the past 15 years our little straw Sweep has been at the foot of our tree or perched on the buffet or
 mantel.  Every New Year's Eve we touch his sleeve and make a wish for good luck in the coming year.
In Germany and Austria meeting a chimney sweep on New Year's Day meant good luck for the year.  As an encounter could not be guaranteed it became a tradition to give family and friends cards figured with little sweeps and to attach miniatures to gifts of flowers or sweets at New Years as a symbol of good luck for the coming year.  These bringers of good fortune often distributed four leaf clovers and in some instances the deadly red and white Amanita muscaria mushroom.   Again this can be puzzling to a North American - sure the four-leaf clover we understand but a toxic mushroom????  In German the red and white spotted fungus is known as der glückspilz (lucky mushroom) and has long been deemed fortuitous in Central and Eastern Europe, where there are remnants of respect for its ancient use as a shamanic hallucinogen.  They have long been a symbol of Christmas and colourful blown-glass mushrooms are found adorning Christmas trees throughout Germany and Austria (hmm an idea for next year's ornament?)

Our little Austrian lead Sweep may have forgotten his four leaf clover but a little bird
has one to assist him in making the New Year one of good fortune and good luck.
And hidden down in the grass is another symbol: a tiny glückspilz (lucky mushroom).
In our household we have our straw Polish chimney sweep with his sooty black uniform and silver buttons to be touched in the first minutes of the New Year.  We also have a small painted Austrian sweep with a four-leaf clover, a tiny magic mushrooms hides in the grass and he wear a scarf of red dotted with white.  All the talismans needed for good luck in the coming year.

January 1 - 1600: Scotland begins its numbered year on January 1 instead of March 25.