Monday, April 30, 2012

This May Day post of mine from 2009 includes a very timely clarifying note for anyone who happens to be stranded on a tropical island (Katherine de Chevalle, this means you)

Here is a photo taken in 1907 of May Day festivities in Maryland.

More information about May Day than you ever thought possible can be found in this article from Wikipedia, including May Day’s relationship to Walpurgis Night and Morris dancing and the May Queen and the Maypole (not to be confused with the Walpole) and even International Workers’ Day.

For example, what happens in Finland? “In Finland, Walpurgis Night is, along with New Year’s Eve and Midsommar, the biggest carnival-style festivity, taking place in the streets of Finland’s towns and cities. The celebration is typically centered on plentiful use of sparkling wine and other alcoholic beverages...From the end of the 19th century, this traditional upper class feast has been co-opted by students attending university, already having received their student cap. [Activities] include the capping of the Havis Amanda, a nude female statue in Helsinki, and the biannually alternating publications of ribald matter called Äpy and Julkku by students of the University of Technology. Both are sophomoric...”

One can only assume the article means both publications of ribald matter, not both students of Finland’s University of Technology.

In Scotland, at St. Andrews, some of the students gather on the beach late on April 30 and run into the North Sea at sunrise on May Day, occasionally naked. This is accompanied by torchlit processions and much elated celebration.

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day. I will pause while you make up your own joke.

If you read too far in that Wikipedia article, you will learn of many lewd and lascivious connotations surrounding the celebrations of May Day as well, but I’m not going to help you find them. You’ll have to ferret them out for yourself. Instead, I leave you with this example of Morris dancing.

It must have been really difficult to find six men named Morris.

Note. It is also noteworthy to note that yelling “May Day” is not an international signal of distress. Yelling “m’aidez” (“help me” in French) is an international signal of distress.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A couple of blasts from the past

It’s funny how an image can stick in one’s head. The photo above was taken on January 20, 2009, in Washington, D.C., at the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. The person in the photo is Rahm Emmanuel, who had served four terms as Congressional Representative from the 5th District of Illinois and was about to become the 23rd White House Chief of Staff, in which capacity he served until October 1, 2010, when he resigned to run for mayor of the great city of Chicago. He won that race and has been serving since May 16, 2011, as Chicago’s 55th mayor. I found all of this in Wikipedia, if anyone cares.

In the minds of many, mine included, Rahm Emmanuel is a rude, profane man. For example, he regularly uses language that would make a sailor blush. On this day he was thumbing his nose at someone in the crowd of onlookers. In Britain this gesture is called "cocking a snook."

According to a website called The Word Detective, to “cock a snook” at someone is a bit more elaborate than simply thumbing one’s nose. To “cock a snook” is a classic display of derision, properly performed by spreading the fingers of one hand, touching the tip of your nose with your thumb while sighting your opponent along the tips of your other fingers (what the British sometimes call a “Queen Anne’s Fan,” but what we more commonly call a “five-finger salute”), and waggling your fingers in the most annoying way possible. As a gesture, it doesn’t really mean anything, but it does convey utter contempt rather well. Like all fine insulting gestures, cocking a snook always goes well with a Bronx Cheer, or raspberry, as an accompaniment. Crossing your eyes while doing all this is optional but definitely enhances the overall effect. And remember, kids, practice makes perfect.

The Word Detective goes on to say that the phrase “thumb one’s nose” first appeared in English around 1903, but “cocking a snook” is much older, first appearing in print back in 1791. The verb “to cock” comes from strutting behavior of male chickens, and means, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, “to turn up in an assertive, pretentious, jaunty, saucy, or defiant way.” The “snook” is of uncertain origin, but may be related to “snout,” which would certainly make sense.

But none of that is important.

What is important is that in the language used by most deaf Americans, American Sign Language (ASL), Rahm Emmanuel seems to be saying either “my father was effeminate” or “my mother was a bit butch.” Either way, his parents seem to have had gender identity issues.

Somewhere, Elizabeth Stanford-Sharpe is laughing.

Here is another image from the same day -- January 20, 2009 -- that clearly says “my milliner is on acid”:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thoughts to think about on the day after St. George’s Day

If this (the cross of St. George) represents England (and it does):

...and this (the cross of St. Patrick) represents Northern Ireland (and it does):

...and this (the cross of St. Andrew) represents Scotland (and it does):

...and this (the flag of St. David) represents Wales (and it does):

...then why does the British flag:

contain no yellow or black?

What are the Welsh? Chopped liver?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Monday, April 23, 2012

As Mr. Spock might say, “Fascinating!”

Here is a little light reading for the day after Earth Day, a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet called By the Waters of Babylon.

Believe it or not, Benet wrote it way back in 1937.

Read it, and wonder, and weep.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

R.I.P. Dick Clark

Dick Clark died yesterday. He was 82.

On three occasions, I was in the same room with him. We breathed the same air.

I have expanded an earlier post of mine from back in January 2009 that will explain:

Shall We Dance?

Some of you will recognize these couples instantly. Some of you won’t have a clue who they are. I am in the former group. On the right are Bob and Justine, and the couple below are Kenny and Arlene.
Ring any bells yet?

So now you know Who. But what about Where? And When? And perhaps most importantly, Why???

I will tell you.

Where is a television studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

When is 1957, 1958, 1959.

Why is two words -- American Bandstand!

I was there in the summer of 1958 all the way from Texas, visiting relatives in suburban Philadelphia. I was seventeen years old and had just graduated from high school. I was young and impressionable. Few things were more important than going to American Bandstand. It was a pilgrimage more to be desired than the one that resulted in Chaucer’s writing The Canterbury Tales.

So I left my aunt and cousin and boarded an early southbound commuter train in Jenkintown and made my way past Elkins Park, Melrose Park, Cheltenham, past City Line where Old York Road becomes Broad Street, past Allegheny, Lehigh, Girard, and Spring, all the way down Broad Street to City Center where William Penn’s statue stands atop City Hall. There I switched to the east-west line and, still searching for the Holy Grail, headed out West Market Street. At 46th Street I got off the train and there it was: On one side of the street were brick tenements with people’s laundry drying on the fire escapes, but on the other side of the street was the Holy of Holies: WFIL-TV, Channel 6, home of the one and only American Bandstand, the Magna Carta of teenage dance programs.

I stood in line for at least six hours, hoping to be admitted with the other pilgrims when the doors opened. Men with pushcarts came by selling pretzels with mustard, a Philadelphia staple, and hot dogs to fend off our hunger pangs. No one was about to leave the line to do an unimportant thing like eating. And because I had made sure to arrive early, I was near enough to the front of the line that I saw the regulars arrive and when the doors finally opened to the rest of us I made it in.

All the regulars were there. Bob and Justine, and Kenny and Arlene, and Pat, and Fran, and others whose faces I recognized but whose names I didn’t know. Dick Clark was there, of course, looking all of 18 even though he was 28 years old at the time. We all were there, dancing to Bobby Day’s hit, “Rockin’ Robin (Tweet, Tweet, Tweedly-Deet)” and Bobby Darin’s hit, “Splish, Splash, I Was Takin’ A Bath” and “Heavenly shades of night are falling; it’s twilight time” by The Platters and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers, Phil and Don, and saying such profound things as “It has a good beat; you can dance to it. I give it a 92” to Dick Clark on national television!

I went for three days in a row.

Back in Texas, everybody had been watching American Bandstand five afternoons a week after school for more than a year. It had taken the teenaged portion of the country by storm. Two months later, when I dropped in at my old high school before I went away to college, I was treated like a celebrity (there wasn’t that much to do in small towns in Texas in the fifties, as you would know if you ever saw The Last Picture Show or Places In The Heart). It wasn’t that I myself was great, you understand, but clearly I had been in the presence of greatness.

Any other acclaim I might have received since then has been pure gravy. My fifteen minutes of fame happened early, when it could be properly appreciated by the only people who could pay me homage properly, the new crop of high school seniors at my old high school.

Photo by Dick Clark Productions, Inc.

Later on, American Bandstand was televised in color and moved to California and became a once-a-week show, broadcast only on Saturday afternoon. It was slicker, and over-produced, and lasted until 1989, but it was never as good as the original, more innocent, five-days-a-week, black-and-white version from Philadelphia. It may have still had Dick Clark, but it didn’t have Pat. It didn’t have Fran. It certainly didn’t have Bob and Justine, or Kenny and Arlene.

We had American idols before there were any American idols. Ours didn’t even have to sing.

And now the guy who was there at the beginning, the guy who was part of our growing up years, Dick Clark, “America’s Oldest Teenager,” is gone. He was not a father figure exactly (he was too young for that). He was more of an older brother, already out in the world, making his way, but remembering us younger kids back home, affirming our existence, validating our musical tastes. For an hour every afternoon, he was up there presiding over the proceedings, paving the way for us into the wider world, talking to us as though our music mattered, as though what we thought actually mattered.

The more cynical might say he had just found a way to make an easy buck. But when you’re a teenager and ignored or shunted aside most of the time, being treated as though you mattered was a rare thing indeed.

In recent years he had become almost a caricature of himself. Having a stroke that resulted in the permanent slurring of his speech didn’t help his image with the current crop of the hip and the cool. But those of us who were there when his star was first rising are sad today.

Here is a fitting eulogy by one of the groups from back in the day.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

From the archives: It’s bluebonnet time in Texas. (April 8, 2008)

I grew up in Texas, my family having moved there from Rhode Island the summer before I entered second grade. I left Texas at the age of 20 -- how can it possibly have been 47 years ago? (Editor’s note. It isn’t; it’s 51. --RWP) -- but even though I now live in an area of the country where every spring is absolutely gorgeous with white dogwoods, pink dogwoods, purple redbuds, purple tulip trees (Magnolia soulangiana), white Bradford pear blossoms, pale pink cherry blossoms, azalea bushes in many shades, daffodils, phlox, forsythia (I could go on and on), every year around this time I become nostalgic for flat land, mesquite trees, and a field filled with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush.

The photograph (click on it and it will get larger) could have been taken from the front yard of my childhood home (it wasn’t, though --I found it on the internet). All it needs to make the scene complete is a dirt road and what people in Texas call a “bob-war fince” (barbed wire fence). If the photographer had then turned and taken a snapshot in a different direction, you might see a pasture full of Hereford cattle, the reddish-brown kind with faces of white. And if the photographer had turned in still another direction, you might see my mother picking blackberries or peaches or roses or lilacs, or you might see my father coming home from work, carrying his lunchpail, walking up the lane all the way from the paved road where his carpool dropped him off.

As an old poem says, “Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight, / Make me a child again just for tonight!”

I don’t really want to go back; it was not an idyllic period of my life. I am just missing the bluebonnets today as only someone raised in Texas can.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

“I could while away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers...”

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, there are four ways you can spend Sunday afternoon:

1. In the park with George:

(A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, oil on canvas by Georges Seurat, 1884-1886 -- click to enlarge)

2. In rehearsal with Sutton Foster (8:45)

3. With Texas Bluebonnets and a Pit Bull named Sharky (0:41).

4. With Texas bluebonnets, a Pit Bull named Sharky, and a Guinea Pig named Penelope (1:52).

Please tell us which one you prefer and why.

If you pick number 2, state whether you would rather be on stage or in the audience.

If you pick number 4, state whether you would prefer to be Sharky, Penelope, or the bluebonnets.

If, all in all, you would rather be a bee, buzz off.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Easter joy continues

...with this performance of the opening Sinfonia from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Easter Oratorio conducted by Philippe Herreweghe (4:07).

The Easter joy practically jumps off the screen at you.

Okay, so it’s not the Leningrad Cowboys and the Red Army Chorus singing “Sweet Home Alabama,” but hey, you can’t have everything.

Except that you can. Here is the entire Bach Easter Oratorio (45:21) conducted by somebody else.

And for those of you who wish every day were Christmas, here is Bach’s Magnificat (41:19).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

To all Eastern Orthodox folk everywhere...

Greek, Russian, Serbian (you know who you are):

Happy Easter!

And to the ones who understand Albanian:

(Church with Easter banner in Berata, Albania -- click to enlarge)

Krishti u ngjall! Vërtetë u ngjall!

(He is risen! He is risen indeed!)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Anne Frank was right.

I suppose the most famous sentence from The Diary of Anne Frank is this:

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

Here’s proof (or some evidence, at least) that she was right (3:44).

And the moral of that video clip is crystal clear:

If you are kind to others, your life will have had a porpoise.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mixed emotions

Someone once described mixed emotions as that feeling you get when you see your mother-in-law drive over a cliff in your brand-new Cadillac.

This is unfair both to mothers-in-law and to Cadillacs. For the record, I loved my mother-in-law and I have never owned a Cadillac.

But I have mixed emotions today.

The scamp in me wants to show you 2 dudes, an accordion, a balalaika, and a chick (2:04).

The more mature, reasonable, and intelligent fellow I like to think I am is sad, though, because one of my blogger friends has decided to take a break from blogging. Whether the break is short or long, only time will tell.

But in this corner of the blogosphere she will be missed.

On her last post, my friend included the following. It is not original with her, but it bears repeating:

“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you have anyway.”

Part of me wants to make you laugh, part of me wants to make you cry, part of me wants to make you think, and part of me wants to make you wake up and smell the roses.

I have mixed emotions today.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Having a wonderful time; wish you were here. NOT.

Greetings from Blogland.

At least, I think it’s Blogland. It’s not at all the way Lord Pudding described it, though. No turquoise sea. No palm fronds. No tropical breezes. No volleyball games on the beach with lovely native girls wearing grass skirts. No lilac speedos.

No nothing.

Just white, blinding white everywhere. Except at night when it’s black as pitch and you can’t see your hand in front of your face.

Sometimes the sky is chartreuse, and sometimes it’s yellow. At other times it’s magenta. Once in a great while it’s puce.

In the distance, singing can be heard.

It’s difficult to describe, but I’ll try. It’s happier than this (4:15) but it’s not quite as happy as this (2:18).

We boarded the plane at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, following Pudding’s instructions to the letter. We climbed into the skies, leaving our beloved Georgia behind forever. We were heading east over the Atlantic, flying high over the Bermuda Triangle, when everything changed. Suddenly we were plunging downward toward the ocean’s surface, but I don’t remember a crash. The last thing I remember is being sucked into a vortex, not of water exactly, more like custard. Yes, that was definitely it. Custard.

And now we’re here in this place. All 287 of us who were on board the jumbo jet, plus the pilot, the co-pilot, and 17 flight attendants. We are still inside the plane, waiting.

For what, we don’t know.

We’re afraid to leave. The food won’t last forever.

Surely someone will rescue us.

We don't know where we are exactly.

But the singing is getting closer.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why I am glad John Masefield wrote “Cargoes” before the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) was produced.

A few days ago I saw John Masefields’s poem “Sea Fever” on someone’s blog, and as one thing often leads to another, it made me think of “Cargoes,” another of John Masefield’s poems with which you may be familiar. Here it is:

by John Masefield

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

[Editor’s note. From SALT-WATER POEMS AND BALLADS, edited by John Masefield, published by The Macmillan Co., New York, US, © 1944, p. 124; first published in SALT-WATER POEMS, © 1902. --RWP]

If Edward Gibbon had written that poem he might have called it “The Decline and Fall of the Shipping Industry” or “The Decline and Fall of Civilization In General” or even, in an attempt to give the final stanza’s dreariness a positive spin, “Rule, Brittania!”

“Cargoes” is lovely and conjures up all sorts of intriguing images, but I’m glad John Masefield wrote it before the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) was produced.

Here’s why:

In the King James Version (KJV) of 1611, speaking of King Solomon, I Kings 10:22 says, “For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram : once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.” In keeping with the tradition that the Bible says everything twice, II Chronicles 9:21 says “For the king’s ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Huram: every three years once came the ships of Tarshish bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.”

In the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of 1952,
I Kings 10:22 says, “For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.” and II Chronicles 9:21 says, “For the king’s ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Huram; once every three years the ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.”

Please note that after 341 years, the English is virtually unchanged. Let us pat the translators on their heads. They done good.

But in the New International Version (NIV), for which we have the last quarter of the twentieth century to thank, I Kings 10:22 and II Chronicles 9:21 say something startlingly different (I’ll show it to you just once because if you’re anything like me you’re probably getting tired of reading everything twice):
“The king had a fleet of trading ships at sea along with the ships of Hiram, and once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.”

Yes, you read that correctly.

Not peacocks. Baboons.

As they are wont to say in the British Isles, I’m gobsmacked.

Solly, we hardly knew ye.

John Masefield’s finger wrote, and having writ, moved on. We, however, are left behind to pick up the pieces and try to make sense of it all.

Here’s what an English clergyman named N. T. Wright has to say: “When the New International Version was published in 1980, I was one of those who hailed it with delight. I believed its own claim about itself, that it was determined to translate exactly what was there, and inject no extra paraphrasing or interpretative glosses.... Disillusionment set in over the next two years, as I lectured verse by verse through several of Paul’s letters, not least Galatians and Romans. Again and again, with the Greek text in front of me and the NIV beside it, I discovered that the translators had another principle, considerably higher than the stated one: to make sure that Paul should say what the broadly Protestant and evangelical tradition said he said....[I]f a church only, or mainly, relies on the NIV it will, quite simply, never understand what Paul was talking about.”

I don’t know about Paul’s letters, but in the case of I Kings and
II Chronicles, we started out with peacocks and ended up with baboons. Talk about disillusioned.

But wouldn’t it be a hoot if the original Hebrew really means baboons?

[Editor’s note. This just in -- the passage from I Kings chapter 10 in Hebrew (the Masoretic text) is:

כִּי אֳנִי תַרְשִׁישׁ לַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיָּם עִם אֳנִי חִירָם
אַחַת לְשָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים תָּבֹוא אֳנִי תַרְשִׁישׁ
נֹֽשְׂאֵת זָהָב וָכֶסֶף שֶׁנְהַבִּים וְקֹפִים וְתֻכִּיִּֽים׃

and in Greek (the Septuagint text) it is:

ὅτι ναῦς Θαρσις τῷ βασιλεῖ ἐν τῇ
θαλάσσῃ μετὰ τῶν νηῶν Χιραμ μία διὰ
τριῶν ἐτῶν ἤρχετο τῷ βασιλεῖ ναῦς ἐκ
Θαρσις χρυσίου καὶ ἀργυρίου καὶ λίθων
τορευτῶν καὶ πελεκητῶν

and even though (a) worldlingo has been heretofore my favorite online translator and (b) it purports to be able to translate from both Hebrew and Greek, the sad truth is (c) its talents do not extend to ancient Hebrew or Koine Greek. Therefore, (d) it gave me no help whatsoever in getting to the bottom of the peacock/baboon mystery. Still, I’m hoping (e) that you will be impressed no end with my researching skills.--RWP]

My research has also revealed the following:




Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Answers to movie quiz #17,643

Our little band of bloggers struggled valiantly with the movie quiz in the previous post. It was a tough fight, Ma, but they lost.

Here, for those who care, are the correct answers:

1. F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus, composer Antonio Salieri.

2. Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not, Marie “Slim” Browning (speaking to Harry “Steve” Morgan as played by Humphrey Bogart).

3. Bette Davis, The Three Faces of Eve, Margo Channing.

4. Nicholas Cage, Raising Arizona, H.I. McDunnough.

5. (a) Barbra Streisand, Hello, Dolly!, Dolly Levi and (b) Walter Matthau, Hello, Dolly!, Horace van der Gelder.

6. Kay Medford, Funny Girl, Mrs. Brice (speaking to her daughter Fanny as played by Barbra Streisand about Nicky Arnstein as played by Omar Sharif).

7. Vivian Leigh, Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara.

8. H.A.L., 2001: A Space Odyssey, H.A.L.

9. Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond.

10. Marlon Brando, A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley Kowalski.

Well, I had fun. Sorry if I wasted your time.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wait, wait, don’t tell me (movie quiz #17,643).

Can you name the movie, the actor, and the character?

No fair Googling.

1. “I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint.”

2. “If you want me, just whistle. You know how to whistle don't you? Just put your lips together and blow.”

3. “Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

4. “Her insides were a barren place where my seed could find no purchase.”

5. “Money, you should pardon the expression, is like manure: it doesn’t do any good unless you spread it around.” (two possible answers)

6. “Love him a little less. Help him a little more.”

7. “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

8. “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

9. “All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.”

10. “Stella! Stella!”

Most of these should be rather easy if you’re of a certain age. If you’re not, I’m afraid I can’t help you. You’re on your own.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thank God we still have freedom of speech.

There’s a minor -- well, maybe not so minor -- brouhaha going on in the U.S. right now involving President Barack Obama’s comments the other day about the Supreme Court’s current deliberating over the constitutionality of the 2009 healthcare law that is derisively termed “Obamacare.”

If you’re in another country you may not be aware of it, but here in what Mexicans insist on calling EE UU we are transfixed.

Rush Limbaugh (a radio talk-show host) had a lot to say about it on his program yesterday. Here is the transcript.

The breaks in the transcript are the spots at which commercial advertisements by the sponsors of the radio program were inserted.

Many people think the President overstepped the bounds when he referred to the nine justices of the Supreme Court as “an unelected group of people.”

For those who don't know, the U.S. Constitution specifies three equal branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial.

Long may they wave.

I will be laboring (<i>British,</i> labouring) under a handicap for the next couple of weeks (<i>British,</i> fortnight)

More about that below. First, though, I want to add an addendum (what else would you do with an addendum?) to my previous post about phone...