Tuesday, January 29, 2013

After janvier comes fevrier, non?

...and fevrier is almost upon us. But before janvier disappears completely, I take the time to remember that today, the 29th day of janvier, is (or was) my Aunt Marion’s birthday.

Aunt Marion was my mother’s older sister. Mama was the youngest of four children; she had two older brothers, and a sister who was eleven years her senior. Mama was born in 1910 and died in 1957. The brothers were born in 1907 and 1904. Aunt Marion, the eldest, was born in 1899 and died in 1987, if memory serves. All of them are gone now.

Somewhere along the way Aunt Marion stopped having birthdays. I remember that my mother passed her at some point.

Two of my most treasured childhood possessions were gifts from my Aunt Marion during two trips she made from Pennsylvania to Texas with my cousin Philip. One was a Brownie Hawkeye camera, a gift of seeing. The other was a three-speed portable turntable (33-1/3, 45, and 78 rpm) in a burgundy, simulated alligator-skin carrying case, a gift of hearing. Both of those trips, by the way, in 1948 and 1950, all the way from Philadelphia to Fort Worth, were by bus. Aunt Marion said when she arrived that she knew why they called the bus company Greyhound -- because you feel like a dog when you get off. I don’t need a calendar to know that January 29th was Aunt Marion’s birthday or that February 27th was Philip’s, or that April 10th was Mama’s and May 12th was Daddy’s.

Some things are forever emblazoned in my brain, and I couldn’t forget them if I tried. And even though the moving finger writes and having writ moves on, all my piety and wit cannot lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all my tears wash out a word of it.

Next time: Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Some things to know about January 28th

On this day in 98 A.D., Trajan succeeded his adoptive father Nerva as Roman emperor. Under his rule the Roman Empire would reach its maximum extent.

On this day in 814, Charlemagne died.

In 1225, Saint Thomas Aquinas was born.

In 1393, King Charles VI of France was nearly killed when several dancers’ costumes caught fire during a masquerade ball.

In 1547, King Henry VIII died and was succeeded by his nine-year-old son, Edward VI.

In 1754, Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity in a letter to Horace Mann.

In 1821, Alexander Island was discovered by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen. [Editor’s note. Wikipedia actually says Alexander Island was first discovered, which causes me to wonder how many times a thing can be discovered. --RWP]

In 1912, American painter Jackson Pollock was born. [Editor’s note. A shout-out here to New Zealand painter Katherine de Chevalle. Yo, Katherine! --RWP]

In 1956, Elvis Presley made his first U.S. television appearance.

In 1981, American actor Elijah Wood was born.

In 1986, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart after liftoff, killing all seven astronauts on board.

In 2002, Astrid Lindgren, the Swedish writer who created Pippi Longstocking, died.

It is Army Day in Armenia.

It is Data Privacy Day worldwide.


(Fossil Bluff Station, Alexander Island, which lies in the Bellingshausen Sea west of Palmer Land, Antarctic Peninsula, from which it is separated by Marguerite Bay and George VI Sound. 2004 photo by Apacheeng, public domain)


(Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, who was actually Faddey Faddeyevich Bellinsgauzen (in the Cyrillic alphabet, Фаддей Фаддеевич Беллинсгаузен), a Russian admiral about whom you can read more here.


(2004 photo by Christian Koehn of Pippi Longstocking’s house, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Germany license)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Why I love the internet

Today is the birthday of Paul the Octopus, who “was a common octopus from Weymouth, England. Paul lived in a tank at a commercial attraction, the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany, and became internationally famous after his feeding behaviour was used to correctly predict the winner of each of the Germany national football team’s seven matches in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, as well as the outcome of the final.” So says Wikipedia.

Here are some other interesting facts from the article:

1. For the mathemetically inclined:

“Assuming Paul’s predictions were no better than fair independent coin flips, the probability of at least 12 successful predictions from 14 attempts is p = 0.0065, or 0.65% (154 to 1). And the probability of his 8 successful World Cup predictions out of 8 attempts is 1/28 = 0.0039, or 0.39% (256 to 1).”

2. For the politically aware:

“Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the reporting of Paul several times during a speech in Tehran, which took place in the weekend of 24–25 July 2010. Ahmadinejad accused the West of using the octopus to spread "western propaganda and superstition," and lamented western decadence.”

3. For the zoologically informed:

“Some other oracles did not fare so well in the World Cup. The animals at the Chemnitz Zoo in Germany were wrong on all of Germany’s group-stage games, with Leon the porcupine picking Australia, Petty the pygmy hippopotamus spurning Serbia’s apple-topped pile of hay, Jimmy the Peruvian guinea-pig and Anton the tamarin eating a raisin representing Ghana. Mani the Parakeet of Singapore,Octopus Pauline of Holland, Octopus Xiaoge of Qingdao China, Chimpanzee Pino and Red River Hog Apelsin in Tallinn zoo Estonia picked the Netherlands to win the final. Crocodile Harry of Australia picked Spain to win.”

On a sad note, Paul died in 2010.

In other interesting news, on this day in 1564 the Grand Duchy of Lithuania defeated the Tsardom of Russia in the Battle of Ula during the Livonian War, and in 1788 the British First Fleet, led by Arthur Phillip, sailed into Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) to establish Sydney, the first permanent European settlement on the continent. This latter event is commemorated as Australia Day.

Happy Saturday, everyone.

Friday, January 25, 2013

An unexpected find

Here is a powerful performance of a powerful song from a slip of a girl.

It’s Bernadette Peters singing “Unexpected Song” by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber at Royal Festival Hall, London, in 2008 (5:19).

If you want to talk about Bernadette’s height (5 feet, 3 inches) or her age (she will be 65 on February 28, 2013) or the length of her career (five decades) or her powerful voice (she was 60 when she did this concert), be my guest.

If, after watching the video, you want to talk about anything else of Bernadette’s, please remember that this is a family-friendly blog and keep your observations to yourself.

You can read more about Bernadette Peters here.

(Peters on the Tim Conway Show, 1977)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Peaks and valleys






These are not the southern Appalachian Mountains of north Georgia, nor are they the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (although they are definitely blue). They certainly are not the Alps or the Andes or the Rockies or even the Pyrenees.

They are Blogger’s way of telling a person how many times his or her blog was viewed each day.

Here are some real peaks and valleys for your viewing pleasure:

(Photo of Mont Blanc, October 2004, by Nathan, used in accordance with terms of the Free Art License)

Mont Blanc will get bigger if you click on it. You heard it here first.

My brain has been drained of things to blog about today.

You’ll just have to make do with this.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Whatever became of the Lees?

Here is “the rest of the story”:

George Washington Custis Lee, who was known as Custis, succeeded his father as president of Washington College (now Washington & Lee University), serving from 1871 until 1897. He never married and died in 1913.

William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, who was known as Rooney, became a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1877 until 1891. He died in 1891.

Robert E. Lee Jr., who was known as Rob, became an author and recorded his memories of his family and life in Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee (1904). He died in 1914.

Eleanor Agnes Lee, who was known as Agnes, was considered her mother’s favorite daughter. She never married and died from typhoid fever in October 1873, at the age of 32.

Anne Carter Lee, who was known as Annie, also contracted typhoid fever and died in 1862 at the age of 23.

Mildred Childe Lee, who was known as Milly, never married and died in New Orleans in 1905.

Mary Custis Lee, who was known as Sister (at least to her siblings), never married and died in 1918.

According to a site about Arlington House that is maintained by the National Park Service, through Rooney and his younger brother Rob there are over twenty direct descendants of Mary and Robert E. Lee alive today.

You can find more fascinating information about each member of the Lee family there.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

General Robert E. Lee (1807 - 1870)


Today is his birthday. He would have been 206.

Did you know that he was the son of Revolutionary War officer Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee III?

Did you know that he married the great-granddaughter of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, which made him the step-great-grandson-in-law of George Washington?

Did you know that he once served as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York?

Did you know that he was offered command of both the Union and Confederate armies?

Did you know that after the war he became president of what is now called Washington and Lee University in Virginia?

Did you know that he and his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, had three sons and four daughters (George Washington Custis Lee, William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, Robert Edward Lee Jr., Mary Lee, Eleanor Agnes Lee, Anne Carter Lee, and Mildred Childe Lee)?

I didn’t think so.

(Mary Custis Lee with Robert E. Lee Jr., 1845)

Friday, January 18, 2013

A historic day!

I don’t care what Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong say (3:35).

Or Billie Holiday (3:50).

Or Jimmy Buffett, who included the seldom-sung verse (4:13).

Or even the sugary-sweet, white-bread warblings of Doris Day (3:41).

Stars didn’t fall on Alabama last night.

Snow did.

At my daughter’s house.


We’ve been having pneumonia weather in the South this month. This morning the temperature at my house was 28 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s supposed to reach 72 this afternoon.

Thanks (I think) for the memories

How old is old?

Old is being able to remember when mailing a first-class letter cost three cents and mailing a postcard cost one cent. Today in the United States, the cost of mailing a first-class letter is 45 cents and the cost of mailing a postcard is 32 cents. On January 27, 2013 -- one week from now -- postage rates will rise again, to 46 cents and 33 cents, respectively. For postcard postage, this will be the third increase in less than two years.

Old is being able to remember when gasoline cost 24 cents per gallon and that the price fell to 17 cents per gallon during a local gas war. I’m not going to tell you what gasoline costs today. It’s too depressing.

Old is being able to remember listening to Baby Snooks on the radio. Also Henry Aldrich and Life With Luigi and The Great Gildersleeve.

Old is knowing who Winnie Ruth Judd was and what she did that made her famous.

Old is knowing who lived at 79 Wistful Vista.

Old is being able to remember Adlai Stevenson II saying, “I’m too old to cry and it hurts too much to laugh” about his defeat the day before by Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Old is being able to remember when Jell-O® came in only five flavors. I remember the five flavors from hearing commercials on the radio for “strawberry, raspberry, orange, lemon, and lime.” I also remember the first time I heard a radio commercial that added a sixth flavor, cherry, as in “strawberry, raspberry, cherry, orange, lemon, and lime.” Do not ask me why they stuck cherry in the middle of the list because I do not know, unless it was to group the fruit by citrus and non-citrus, which is as good a reason as any. Today, according to the Wikipedia article on Jell-O®, there are 27 flavors of Jell-O® gelatin and 31 flavors of Jell-O® pudding. A list of 38 discontinued flavors includes root beer, Italian salad, maple syrup, and mixed vegetable.

Really old is being able to remember when Jell-O® came in only four flavors. Even I cannot do that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

This is just wrong on so many levels

I’m talking about this video clip in which Kate Smith introduces a rather strange performance of “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” by Juliet Prowse, complete with high kicks and a tap-dancing troupe, on The Hollywood Palace television program back in the day (4:36).

I mean, it’s as if Susan Boyle were on Britain’s Got Talent and then had to stand by and watch some dancers get all the glory, with the audience lapping it up.

Oh, wait, that actually happened.

It’s as if Bing Crosby, who introduced “White Christmas” -- arguably the best-known Christmas song of the twentieth century -- on a radio program on Christmas Day 1941, were hosting a Christmas special on television years later but had to stand back and watch someone else introduce another Christmas song.

Oh, wait, that actually happened, too (3:48).

But this post has a happy ending. It’s not as if Kate Smith, who introduced a rather well-known song herself back on a radio program on Armistice Day in 1938, didn’t get a final moment of glory (3:20).

If Bing Crosby had a final moment of glory, I am unaware of what or when it was.

I know it isn’t Christmas -- hey, it isn’t even Epiphany -- but you guys got me started with your comments about “What Child Is This?” on my previous post, which didn’t have anything to do with Christmas either.

So this post is kind of your own fault.

Let the comments begin. I expect you’ll be discussing Irving Berlin, or New Orleans, or ice hockey.

Monday, January 14, 2013

What child is this?


He grew up to be very famous.

Here’s a hint. He appears somewhere in the following photograph (click to enlarge) and he is neither wearing a dress nor playing a violin:


That's right! It is none other than William Jefferson Clinton, who grew up to become the 42nd president of the United States, as a little boy in 1950. It is a little-known fact that his surname in childhood was Blythe.

It is also a little-known fact that at the other end of the red carpet in the second photograph, behind the photographer, were these people:


And some people say blogging isn’t educational.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thai me kangaroo down, sport

In honor of a blogger friend of mine from Yorkshire who is currently working in Bangkok, I present the following recipe for your edification:

Pud Thai

8 oz. rice sticks/noodles
6-8 prawns
1 egg
2 tablespoons oil
2 cloves minced garlic
1 teaspoon red curry paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
water, as needed
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 lime, wedged

Put rice noodles in large bowl covered in warm water and soak for at least 20 minutes. Heat wok to medium-high temperature. Stir fry prawns. Scramble egg in wok and set aside. Heat oil in wok on high setting. Add garlic and curry paste. Stir fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Drain noodles and add to wok. Fry the noodles, constantly turning and stirring them so that they cook evenly. Add sugar and fish sauce. If the noodles remain tough after about 5 minutes of frying, add about 1/4 cup of water and stir, letting the water absorb and boil off. Repeat as necessary. To serve, put noodles in a bowl and top with prawns, egg, peanuts, green onions, and bean sprouts. Serve lime wedges on a side plate. Serves: 4

Mmmm, yummy!

Readers in Australia may wish to use kangaroo instead of prawns.

In my last post I showed you the graves of Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon. Here is a photo I found today of them together, alive, in the Oval Office, which will enlarge if you click on it (the photo, I mean, not the Oval Office):


A photograph of Richard Nixon is germane to this, my first recipe in more than five years of blogging, because it prompts me to tell you something important:

I am not a cook.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gone but not forgotten

Yesterday (January 8th) was the birthday of Elvis Presley and today (January 9th -- it is still January 9th where I am) is the birthday of Richard Milhous Nixon.

Happy birthday to them both.

Posthumously, of course.

The former (if he had lived) would have been 78 and the latter (ditto) would have been 90.

I myself am a mere 71 and 3/4.

How time flies when you’re having fun.



Monday, January 7, 2013

Mazel tov?

Just when you think you are finally beginning to understand how the world works, something else comes along.

On December 28th JTA (“The Global News Service of the Jewish People”) published a list of Gentiles of the Year 2012.

As Jack Paar would say, “I kid you not.”

Actually, they have been doing this for years, but I became aware of them only recently.

Here’s the list:

1. Benjamin Millepied
2. Claire Danes
3. Istvan Ujhelyi
4. Bob Costas
5. Newt Gingrich
6. Chaka Khan
7. President Mohamed Morsi or Egypt
8. Brian Flynn and Ryan Parry (shared)
9. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
10. President Obama

I know, I know, I never heard of some of them either. And I wondered why some of the ones I have heard of made JTA’s list.

If you also want to know why these people were chosen (the people on the list, I mean, not the Jews), read this.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

We’re not quite done yet

If you clicked on Auld Lang Syne #1 in my previous post, you heard what I consider to be a really bad musical saw rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” by Nicki Jaine. I’m sure Nicki is a lovely young lady, but I fervently hope that her technique has improved since 2006 (the date of the clip). It made my ears hurt because of just how off-key it is in places and also because of the swoops and slides from note to note, never a good thing. I’m assuming you understand that I included it in our festival precisely because it was so bad, just as I included Darlene Edwards in an earlier post for the same reason, which some of you did not seem to catch. Of course, Darlene’s performance (a parody by the great Jo Stafford) was purposely bad. Nicki’s, I think, was not.

A new commenter, Michelle, gave us a link to a pitch-perfect rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” on the musical saw by a young lady who has performed it in the subways of New York every New Year’s Eve for the past 17 years.

Here is the same person playing John Rutter’s "Pie Jesu" in a trio consisting of musical saw, recorder, and piano in a Lutheran Church.

She is none other than Natalia Paruz, the increasingly well-known “Saw Lady.” Natalia has performed on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion and with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic.

Now we’re done.

Well, with New Year’s Eve, “Auld Lang Syne,” and the musical saw, at least.

For now.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Janus the two-faced god

...was always looking backward and forward at the same time. The month of January is named after him.

I’m not very good at looking into the future, nor am I too eager to do so, what with Mr. Obama in the White House and all, but I do enjoy reminiscing about the past. I mean, what else are you going to reminisce about?

Accordingly, it being January once again, I find that I missed the Festival of Auld Lang Syne Performances that we enjoyed a couple of times in years gone by. So let’s do it again, since New Year’s Eve was not all that long ago and the year 2013 is still in its infancy.

The first performance in our Festival will be on the musical saw with accordion accompaniment, plus there is a bit of the human voice. Experiencing this particular performance is eerily reminiscent of listening to Darlene Edwards, whom you may recall from this recent post. When the voice enters (which I believe is female, but I may be wrong), you may actually be able to forget Darlene for a little while by concentrating instead on what seems to be a very poor imitation of the young Bob Dylan from back in the day when Bob’s lyrics were still actually comprehensible. Here, then, from 2006, is the androgynous Nicki Jaine on both the saw and the vocal, accompanied by Roy Ashley on accordion, performing Auld Lang Syne #1 (2:41).

Next, class, we travel through both time and space to Detroit in the year 1987 to hear the young Aretha Franklin and Billy Preston sing a Motown version of our festival theme, Auld Lang Syne #2 (2:07). Inexplicably, there is a brief appearance by comedian David Brenner at the end of the performance.

As we continue to mellow and chill and let 2012 fade into history, who better than saxophonist Kenny G to put us in the proper mood? Here is the third rung on our festival ladder, Auld Lang Syne #3 (4:52). You may skip this step only if you majored in jazz saxophone in college and feel that Kenny G sold out for commercial success.

I have searched for a fitting rendition of Auld Lang Syne with which to close the festival. I have decided against subjecting you to Barbra Streisand’s turn-of-the-millenium Las Vegas concert version and have chosen instead one of the purest voices ever to come down the pike, the young Julie Andrews, for our Auld Lang Syne #4 (2:02).

In her role as silent-film star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Gloria Swanson had one of the great movie lines of all time: “They didn’t need dialogue. They had faces then!” When I listen to Julie Andrews, I feel like saying, “They had voices then!” I shudder to think what fans of today’s popular music will consider “golden oldies” thirty or forty years from now.

Some of us may not see many more Januarys Januaries years roll around. For us it is always December now, which brings with it some special challenges. Our Festival now closes with a special encore, Ed Ames singing “Try To Remember” from The Fantasticks (4:48). Although his voice is still quite good, he babbles incoherently at the end, much as your correspondent often appears to be doing.

Our Festival has now come to an end. As you return to your humdrum, everyday lives, you are free to choose any kind of music that helps you get through your day.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ze blog, she is working again

When I said in my last post that in all likelihood I [wouldn’t] be posting much for the next few days, I knew not whereof I spoke. It turned out that truer words were never spoken. Not only did I not post much, I haven’t been able to post anything at all. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Until this morning, every time I went to my blog, the line at the top of the screen that lets me sign in was missing. Absent. Gone. Nowhere in sight. All I could do was stare at the screen and scratch my head. And although it has been only five days (I had scheduled the last post in advance), it has seemed like an eternity.

So, dear friends, even though you probably didn’t miss me because of my incredibly accurate prediction, I’m ba-a-ack!

But now I can’t think of anything to say.

Stay tuned.