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Valentine

Hmm … a bit late as usual. As so often happens, many of us are so busy looking for love the day itself passes us by, leaving us empty-handed.

Fervent thoughts of love, especially those of love lost (or, one hopes, just delayed in transit), are often experienced for but a brief heart-rending moment, then become the stuff of memory, and frankly best forgotten.

All very easy to say, if you’re an octogenerian and for all practical purposes couldn’t care less. But for a young person to gain one’s love only to have it snatched away, arbitrarily it seems, can be a shattering experience.

But while we live in hope, we are often left asking the question that hovers sometime on every lover’s lips: Why?

Nice doggie, but … those teeth …

 

What’s Love, that I should singing, singing be?

Be singing ’neath your window, near your bed?

Again last night you set the dog on me.

Ni-i-i-ce doggie; should I sing to you instead?

Your icy smiles—both yours and hers—I dread:

Your teeth; her smile, with just her coral lips;

Both tell me I’ve a loveless night ahead;

Your teeth; her smile, that sank a thousand ships.

Will I e’er drink the cup that Passion sips?

Tonight? Perhaps tonight she’ll welcome me!

As ’neath her sheets this ardent lover slips…

Dream on. Her love for me comes C.O.D.

And so, old dog, just promise not to bite;

Your lovely doghouse will sleep two tonight.

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Beer

Any examination of beer consumption, though it may start with a scholarly look at consumption in general, must unavoidably slope off into excess — ribald songs, naked dancing girls, orgies — the whole sordid intemperate story. Sad to relate, but that seems to be the way of things. If there is a deep end, we will go off it.

Records from the sixth century indicate that monks were obliged to perform fifteen days penance if they were “in drink” to the point that they couldn’t speak. The existence of the penance proves the need, and illustrates that monks were at least occasionally speechless from ale.

Beer barrels resting between rounds *

Clerical laws in Saxon times ordered monks to avoid drinking in public places where ale was sold. Now, ostensibly, this could be seen as a curb to ecclesiastical excess. In reality, though, it mustn’t have been too hard to bear. The monastery provided its inmates with two drinking horns of ale per day (that’s two Saxon drinking horns, the big ones, which could have amounted to three or four quarts), and on festival days, of which the calendar was nearly full, twice a day also with wine. Certainly a well-lubricated day.

A pint of the real thing.

Along the same lines is the documented story of William Lewis of Wales who died on the 30th of November 1793 at the very moment he was downing a 40-ounce flagon of ale. Well, there are worse ways to go. A man of upright habits, he read the Bible every morning, and drank eight gallons of ale every night. It was said of him — almost a eulogy, you might say — that in the course of his obviously happy life, he consumed enough ale to float a 74-gun ship. Can you ask for a better epitaph?

In the end, when the discussion of beer consumption is over, the Germans — who else? — have the last word:

“It takes beer to make thirst worthwhile.”

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* Photo: www.CGPGrey.com

* Photo: www.CGPGrey.com

Winter Theatre

When we arrived at the Firehall Theatre — at 10:00 a.m. — a major snowstorm was approaching our small town. Within less than an hour the winds were howling around the three-storey building. The violent clouds of snow raced horizontally past the windows, moaning along the eaves and rolling wildly across adjoining rooftops. Below, along the sidewalks, pedestrians staggered by, stumbling, struggling against the force of the wind. Beneath us, just out of the picture to the left, through the blowing snow we could see the vague outlines of the parking lot, soon (but not soon enough) to be taken over by the Farmers’ Market. In summer the farmers’ stalls will display their fruit and vegetables, but now both farmers and stalls were frozen memories, dreams buried under the mounting drifts of snow.

The Firehall Theatre in winter

The Firehall Theatre building dates back to the mid-19th century, when it was a fire hall, with real horses, and the distance to the farthest fire was measured in yards not miles. The walls are ancient brick; there is a single pane of glass in the wooden windows; and between window and wall the passage of time has created a space open to the weather. (If there were a fire, you could slip through the space and leap to safety — three floors below.) By lunchtime there were piles of snow on the floor beneath each window (on the inside).

By early afternoon there was an icy aura in the rooms that reminded me of my time in the Arctic. I found I had no feeling in my feet, and all my fingers had turned white.

But we paid no attention. We were happy. We were a part, a vital passionate part of … The Theatre! We brought life to the playwright’s words, we breathed greasepaint, we were a vibrant team, a single living entity. Okay, we were slowly freezing to death, but, ach, it’s a small price to pay for one’s art.

Début

Remember, when we were young, how our days revolved around being older? Striving to be what we weren’t, and somehow always choosing the wrong role model. Take young girls for example:

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She walks the downtown street with half-closed eye.

Her years as ingenue have passed her by;

She’ll think of Mme Pompadour, and sigh.

She’s fifteen now, and sixteen by-and-by.

.

Her jeans are hung precariously on hips.

With phosphorescent hair, encarmined lips,

She licks at life, and hesitantly sips

Where elders swing on grass and acid trips.

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A world of opportunity lies on their very doorstep. If unseized, the future will remind them of their loss.

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Of university she hasn’t thought yet;

And thinks she’s wise in ways the schools ain’t taught yet;

Thinks only of the things she hasn’t bought yet,

And tries to swing the hips she hasn’t got yet.

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And yet, later, us older people — the ones who shook their heads in disgust, and with a lot of muttering foresaw nothing but doom and gloom for the foolish girl — we see her a few years later, and — what have we here?! — the girl has become a woman of quiet charm, has a university degree, a responsible job, often married with a young family, and certainly is a pillar of the community, and compares most favourably with the older commentators of yesterday.

But don’t worry, fellas. Look! Across the street: the latest crop of “foolish” young people. Tomorrow’s engineers, lawyers, doctors …

History

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Most of us a pretty smart (just ask us). If we’re older, we’ve already had lots of experience from which we have gained considerable knowledge and expertise; if we’re young, we haven’t had the sharp edges knocked off yet and figure we know everything anyway. So who needs experience?

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All gems of wisdom we proclaim —

Full-fashioned in our mind,

Original in kind —

Are building blocks that shape our fame,

Our wit and fame combined,

Our billiance there enshrined.

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Train wreck, Montparnasse, 1895. When some people make mistakes they don’t fool around. I mean, how could this possibly have happened?!

But experience can be a very handy thing; everyone should have some. Experience is the result of errors. Made a mistake? Learn from it; don’t do it again, and pass the word so that young people can tell you to put a sock in it. Short and to the point; no ambiguity. But that’s just one page of your biography.

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The other side of that bright page?

The errors we commit,

The words that never fit;

Supposèd sense that comes with age,

Whose lack we’ll not admit —

We’d never think of it!

.

“Two hours late? What are you talking about? I’m right on time!”

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But do any of us really learn from experience? Indeed, do we really need to? Why waste our time? Trust me, there are better ways of wasting your time.

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My friend, take heart, for all we do

Is but a copy made

Of history’s farce, replayed.

The farce, and wisdom — errors, too,

Were made before we strayed;

Were made, and then remade.


So there you have it: The same old historical farce, the shallow wisdom, the gross errors — it’s all been done before, with such soporific frequency that you come to realize that experience is of no value whatsoever. We are all going to put our foot in it anyway.

Skateboard

The other day I saw a skateboarder pushing along the sidewalk. He was wearing a protective helmet. First example I’d seen. I think the run-of-the-mill skateboarders still maintain a distance from helmets as being a knock to their image, whatever image they have of themselves. Is it that a helmet carries a wimpy image? Do they, like the hockey players of a few decades ago, feel it’s unmanly to need protection? But there it is: Protective helmets for skateboarders. What next? I mean, it’s not as if skateboarding was an obviously deadly sport. But the juggernaught of Protective Health levels us all. Every activity can be dangerous; people will be wearing helmets at night in case they fall out of bed.

Newer models simply have two wheels, one front and back, similar to roller blades, allowing the user to weave down the street like a snake.*

How about protective helmets for pedestrians? I’ve been knocked down twice by cyclists racing along sidewalks. There are little kids driving electric-powered cars along the sidewalk; cars perhaps a quarter of the size of a standard compact. Certainly big enough to make a dent in your standard pedestrian. The kids are maybe four or five years old. Hardly walking, and already they’re the Sterling Moss of the sidewalk.

How about the people who are handicapped and use these motorized walkers? Have you seen these people on the sidewalk? Those machines travel faster than ten miles an hour. Just wait till you’re hit by one of those. Here again, why is it always the pedestrian that seems to get the dirty end of the stick in all these “protective” deals?

Hockey helmet **

How about helmets for diners? And not just in restaurants. Even at home, I know I wave a knife around. I’m a dangerous man when I’m talking. Actually what I need is not a helmet, but rather a face guard. Jacques Plante, where are you when we need you? But stop and think: Aren’t these protective devices getting out of hand?

Everywhere we go we seem to be protected from ourselves or external dangers. I mean, where is it going to end? Free choice of any kind is becoming a dream. We’ll all be obliged by law to wear a helmet when we’re mowing the lawn. Police will keep an eye open for guys reading a newspaper on the patio without a helmet.

But skateboarders, cyclists, mini-Indy 500 drivers, motorized walkers — they’re all climbing onto the sidewalk, to the peril of the pedestrian. Still, let’s be frank and consider the youngsters. I think many of the kids need helmets. But you’ve seen them: Some of the helmets are about half the size of the kid himself. Makes the kid look like an extra at Cape Canaveral. In many instances their helmet prevents the child from seeing where the hell he’s going. The kid needs a supplementary protective device to protect him from the helmet he’s wearing.

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* Photo: Ncapamaggio

* * Photo: Dan4th Nicholas

Progress

Ogden Nash said that progress might have been all right once, but it had gone on too long.

Consider electronics. E-readers for example. E-readers will soon become multi-media devices (it’s probably happening as we speak), with interviews in real time with the author, and clips from his new novel and the trailer for it’s upcoming movie; pix of his dog fetching a frisbee; and his PR flack’s comments on the book. It’s no longer a book, it’s a production, a Cecil B. deMille movie with a cast of thousands! People will go back to printed books for a quiet evening.

Poets won’t write books of poetry. They’ll step into your life via the e-reader: “Hi, I’m Liz Browning, and I’ve written some terrific stuff, like ‘How do I love thee?’ Then I count the ways. Neat, eh? Bob thought it was great!”

Apple’s iPad *

I don’t need to tell you how far this sort of thing can go. Ask Steve Jobs. His iPad already does everything but shine your shoes.

Frankly, I’m with Ogden Nash: Enough, already. Almost every room in my house is lined with books. Thousands; more than half a century of books, collected, read with pleasure, and retained to surround me with a lifetime’s reading. To have all these books, books that carry meaning beyond their content, invisibly stored on an e-reader is meaningless.

Yeah, meaningless. I guess. But I have to be frank. I’m human. I’m weak. I’ve had half a dozen computers over the past 25 years, and I simply can’t see myself without one. And these days I’m lusting for an iPad. The only reason I haven’t bought one is my immutable common sense. I’ve tried everything, but I simply can’t justify its purchase. iPad: $500 (plus tax!); pocket notebook, and pencil: $1.95 (tax included).

If you can come up with a way of rationalizing the iPad purchase, let me know. Until then I’ll just keep sharpening that pencil.

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* Photo:  Glenn Fleishman