Happy Second of July
Posted 22 Hours Ago
Happy Fourth of July, everyone!
Now, before you complain, 'But I'm not from the US, and this is a meaningless, ridiculous holiday,' consider this:
* Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence for the American colonists in 1776. Then he helped France write the Declaration of the Rights of Man. These documents together inspired revolutions and freedom movements around the world for the next couple of centuries - including the Vietnamese declaration of independence written by Ho Chi Minh in 1945.
* John Adams was big on celebrating independence. He wrote:
'The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations...[i]t ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other...'
Wait...the SECOND day of July? Well, duh. That was the day they voted for independence. But those printers put 'In Congress, July 4' on the Declaration (in English AND German), so we're stuck with the 4th.
Interestingly, three US Presidents - Jefferson, Adams, and Monroe - have died on 4 July, and Calvin Coolidge was born on 4 July. Fun with numbers...
Anyway, they've been doing fireworks since the beginning, because fireworks are a great 18th-century custom. They had some over at the local stadium last night. We went out on the front lawn and watched them. They did theirs on 3 July, not sure why, but different towns around here have them different nights. Maybe they all use the same fireworks team. And everybody can drive around and see them. So who cares? One day or another, celebrate freedom. Yours, and everybody else's. People of the world, unite.
Oh, the first music used to celebrate the 4th? Besides 'Yankee Doodle', we mean, or 'The World Turned Upside Down'? It was Johann Friedrich Peter's 'The Psalm of Joy', performed in 1781 in the Moravian town of Salem, North Carolina. I would like to hear this, but I can't find it. I wanted to see how Peter stacked up to my 18th-century favourite, William Billings. But no joy. Or psalm, either.
So here's a patriotic song by William Billings (Read about him here: A87746340 ). Don't complain: at least it's not Lee 'Proud to be an Amurrican' Greenwood. And it's MUCH easier to sing than that old drinking song. Funnier, too.
Film Tip: Off to School, If We Get Past the Elephants
Posted 3 Weeks Ago
Last night, we saw a film that blew us away. We were literally transported all around the world, and got inside the heads of the realest people there are: some kids. Some real, ordinary, amazing kids.
If you can see this film, please do. It's called 'Sur le chemin de l'école', or 'On the Way to School', and it's directed by Pascal Plisson. The English-subtitled version is available on Netflix, or - if French is no problem for you - you can see the whole in its original form on Youtube:
You'll have to read subtitles, either way, unless you're fluent in Swahili, Tamil, Spanish, and Arabic. But it's worth it.
Yes, Awix, it's an action film. There is amazing horsemanship. Can you ride better than this first grader? There are stunts involving vehicles - no chase scene has ever been more thrilling than watching two little boys try to get their wheelchair-bound brother across that irrigation ditch, or cope with the unravelling tire.
Did you have a hilly walk to school? I did. But North Hills near Pittsburgh wasn't the Atlas Mountains. Did you worry about the neighbourhood's bad dogs? My sister, aged five, was afraid of the overfriendly local red setter. (He knocked her down in his exuberance.) The Kenyan brother and sister have to get past a biker gang of hostile ELEPHANTS.
You get the idea. The movie is awesome. And the scenery rocks.
AFTER you see the film, read these reviews;
1. Amazingly stupid review: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/movies/on-the-way-to-school-a-documentary-by-pascal-plisson.html?_r=0
Ye gods, remind me never to read reviews in the New York Times again. Anybody that cinema-illiterate should be reassigned to the gossip pages.
2. Intelligent review: http://africasacountry.com/film-review-on-the-way-to-school/
From Africa, naturally. Yeah, that's what it's all about. The epic nature of real life.
If you get to see the film, let us know what you think. Me, I haven't seen such great acting since the Bushmen in 'The Gods Must Be Crazy'.
Little Nell Is Dead, But Don Draper's Gone Hippie
Posted May 18, 2015
There's nothing new. We are told that when Chapter 71 of 'The Old Curiosity Shop' arrived by ship in Boston harbour, a huge crowd was waiting. They shouted, 'Is Little Nell dead?' When the captain shouted back that yes, the fictional character had gone to meet her maker (aka Charles Dickens, and she probably had a few choice words for him about his script), the crowd groaned in agony.
That was in 1841.
Last night, the last installment of AMC's 'Mad Men' aired in the US. People live-tweeted that they were in tears. Farewells, love scenes, fraught phone calls...the eight-year journey of the people from Sterling Cooper Draper Price at last reached its triumphant end with perhaps the most memorable advertising jingle of them all:
Is that what came out when the ad man finally chanted 'Om....mane padme om...'?
Charles Dickens had it easy. There was no way the newspapers would have cancelled his serialised novel, no matter what the ratings were. But Matthew Weiner has weathered the vagaries of changing tastes and network finances, the demand for 'teasers' that reveal too much, onslaughts of fan ideas, fan fiction, and Mad Men theme parties. But he's taken his vision all the way home. To California, as we suspected.
Now go out and enjoy all the outraged, tearful, and amused commentary on the internet today.
And maybe read about that Coke ad, which was dreamed up by a man from McCann-Erickson (the bad guys in 'Mad Men') while on a layover in Ireland. All that green landscape must make ad men think cheerful thoughts.
A Dracula Funny
Posted May 9, 2015
I don't usually pass around stuff from other websites like this - at least, not stuff that wasn't written at least a hundred years ago - but this one made me laugh until the tears came.
For UK readers: our postal service is terrible these days. I'm sure yours is much better. Apparently, back in 2012, somebody at the Huff Post told this writer to re-imagine the classic epistolary novel 'Dracula' - but under 2012 postal conditions.
Theoretically, all these events are possible - or would be, if foreign post offices were as bad as ours. We harbour the suspicion that the mail in Transylvania may NOT be worse than the mail in the US, however. After all, communism has been defeated.
Here it is, 'The Undead Letter Office'.
PS I wasn't really goofing off, honest. I was researching literary connections between Walt Whitman and Bram Stoker. Well, okay, I was goofing off by reading about those two...who cares? it's all good.
Pedestrian Report: Adjusting to Small-Town Life
Posted Apr 18, 2015
This town is beautiful, once the snow melts. The bunnies in the backyard are cheerful, and the daffodils are in bloom, and even the feisty little red squirrel who has a lien on the place seems a bit less crotchety than before.
Some people asked me, 'Why do you want to move to a small town? You've lived in big cities.'
Are you kidding? This place is every bit as colourful as Philadelphia, Cologne, or Athens. And living only a block away from the main drag, I feel like I own the place. After all, the out-of-towners have to pay to park, even on my one-way street. Whereas *I* have garage space. Okay, the garage is about a foot wider than my little SUV, but if I'm very careful, I can close the door. They didn't plan for SUVs in 1910.
We've been out exploring the territory on an early Saturday afternoon. I took pictures, which should be nice once they're developed...in a couple of weeks. I didn't have a digital handy, and film is going the way of the dinosaur.
This place has charm to spare. We walked...nay, strolled up Main Street as far as the courthouse. The courthouse, from the 1880s, has a big steeple with a statue of Justice with Scales 'way up top. It has that German Rathaus feel - but, alas, no moving figures around the clock. I think this was remiss of them. I wanted to see a Civil War cavalry charge, or similar, at noon.
The little park across from the courthouse is wonderful. In the centre is a huge Civil War memorial, a big pointy thing with soldiers and sailors and such. The park sports two WWI howitzers, and memorials to the veterans of WWI, WWII, and Korea. The best is the Vietnam memorial, though: It is its own piece of The Wall, and contains the prose poem that is also in Washington, 'If you are able...', which reads in part:
'If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go...' Written in 1970 by Major Michael Davis O'Donnell, who was killed in action in that war. That memorial brought a tear to the eye. All in all, the park's a place for reflection.
You can sit down anywhere you like in town - there must be a park bench every 20 feet. And the view is always interesting. The town's well kept up...let me put it this way: it looks like they took 1915 and wrapped it in plastic. Not in a bad sense - they just covered the wood in vinyl siding and kept the wind out with double glazing. Good moves, both.
Elektra stops traffic downtown. Or she did, until I explained to her that if she's standing on the red squares on the pavement, the cars will stop. She got it. You have to wait for the lights at the courthouse, though. I suspect some of our fellow citizens of speeding. The sign said 25 mph, and they were doing at least 30...half a block from where all the cop cars were parked, too...
Ah, near where the cop cars were parked was an amazing sight...let me see if I can find a picture of this breathtaking building....
Ah, here it is. Isn't it insanely interesting?
Apparently, that monster cost $120,000 to build, back in the late 19th Century. They only ever hanged one person there, a murderer named Voycheck in 1911. Allegedly, tickets to the hanging are treasured historical heirlooms...
Needless to say, this building is no longer in use. I think the real jail's a few miles down the road. Probably more secure, but does it have two-foot-thick oak floors? Octagonal projecting wings? Two-foot-thick ashlar dressed sandstone walls? I imagine not. No appreciation for masonry these days.
We saw other things on our walk: a tiny Pomeranian sunning itself in the window of the nail salon near the tattoo parlour, both in a quaint old building across from the courtyard (with Harleys parked in front). Other people strolling with happy dogs. Antiques in one window, computer parts in the next. The 'County Seat Restaurant'. Guys busy at the car wash. And the biggest crowd downtown today: exactly where we were going, the CVS Pharmacy. There must have been 20 people in there at one time...
Most of whom were listening, as were we, to the clerk explaining why he wouldn't be there himself when we picked up our film in two weeks. He was accepting a new position at Walmart...we'd never met him before, but we appreciated the news, and wished him well, as did the elderly couple behind us.
Like I said, what's not to love about a place so friendly, so picturesque, and so full of historical conundra to ponder? I feel privileged to have had the walk.
I'll share the pics when they get back from their journey.