Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Bit of Reminiscing

Breakfast in the 1940s

We get so used to the way things are that we forget how they once were.  For instance, when I go to buy meat--I get pre-packaged meat; alas, our good butcher closed--there are basically five choices:  lamb, pork, beef, chicken with ground turkey in the freezer.  Back in the '40s and '50s, my mother used to come home with mutton, heart, tongue, liver.  Bones were free.  We also ate a lot of our own rabbit and chicken during the war, rabbit being as common on our table as chicken.

The veggie department, on the other hand, had many fewer choices.  Stores didn't carry such things as bok choy or broccolini or rainbow chard or fennel.  Or even a variety of fresh herbs, though there was always parsley, free for the taking, since it acted as a display decoration. So there was nowhere near today's choice, but then, if I'm correct, we also didn't have the problem of pesticides in our food, everything then being still organic.  And no one had yet invented that GMO horror.

Rainbow chard

When I was growing up, watermelons were a half cent a pound.  Except for bananas, if you wanted something exotic like papayas or mangoes, you had to visit a place with a tropical climate.  I remember my father (who, being an Easterner, had spent summers in Maine as a boy) once told the story about the time he was at Paramount filming a movie.  (In the '20s or '30s sometime.)  The film was set in Maine and had a scene where the set designer had placed a bowl of persimmons on the dining room table.  At that, my father complained, saying that was not realistic as no one in Maine even knew what a persimmon was.  Persimmons were a California thing.  (We even had a persimmon tree in our back yard.)  But the set designer didn't care and simply left it there.

I also remember the day mayonnaise came back on the shelves after having been non-existent during the war.  My mother sent my brother and me up to the corner grocery to buy a jar.  I was in third grade.  We also found bubble gum for sale, something I'd never heard of though my brother (who was older than I) seemed to know about it.  Soon after, we saw our first bag of corn chips.  I'd say that was 1947.

My mother was what is now called a "stay-at-home-mom"--then called "a housewife".  (No one called a woman "a mom"; only one's children used that term.  A woman with children was "a mother."  Like in Happy Mother's Day.)  So, staying home, she made fudge, pineapple upside down cake, scalloped potatoes, meatloaf, creamed tuna on toast, waffles --start to finish, everything from scratch.  There were no packaged mixes, no take-out, no micro-waves, no frozen dinners.  At least not just then.

We ate home-cooked, wholesome.  Not exotic.  No garlic, no mushrooms.  A little tabasco or paprika was about as adventurous as we got.  Plus poultry seasoning in turkey stuffing.  The only pasta was spaghetti or macaroni. Chicken was usually floured and fried in fat.  Or it was boiled, boned, and made into a gelatin aspic, particularly nice on hot days.  Salads were iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise.  Or Waldorf salad with apples and walnuts.

Then things started shifting and the first fast food burgers arrived.  They cost 15¢.  That was maybe 1954.  I had my first pizza in 1955.  It was then called pizza pie.

Until they closed up, my mother adored going to drug store soda fountains, sitting on a stool, and getting a nice coke with a squirt of cherry or lemon syrup mixed in.  Or else she got a chocolate ice cream soda.  The "soda-jerk" (usually a young man) made it as you watched.  A tall glass with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, some chocolate syrup, and a splash of soda water, all mixed together with a long spoon.  Then more ice cream, syrup, and soda water with whipped cream on top.  Being so fond of them, my mother used to reminisce about the last ice cream soda she ever got.  It was at the drug store on San Ysidro in Santa Barbara.  It had cost 45¢.  She could make them herself and did sometimes.  But it was never quite the same.

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Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Gallery of Photos: The Westminster Garden Tour

This is the 17th Annual Westminster (Vermont) Garden Tour, all on a hot (but so-far bearable) weekend.  I went this morning before the temperatures rose all golliwag and concentrated my photo-taking on just one garden, that of Landscape Designer Gordon Hayward on McKinnon Road just near the village of Westminster West.  I've featured the tour in previous blogs so some of these scenes may look familiar, though the photos were all taken afresh this morning.  The setting, as you see, is glorious, off in the countryside amid dairy farms and artists studios, embraced by stone walls and woodlands.

According to the little booklet that I was given on the tour, "Since 1984, Gordon and Mary Hayward have been developing a one-and-a-half-acre garden around their 220-year-old farmhouse."  It's the subject of their book, The Intimate Garden (W. W. Norton, 2005) and features a post-and-beam gazebo, an outdoor dining area, a four-quadrant herb garden, and a pool garden among other features.

One of many stone walls with part of the winter's wood supply stacked behind.

With thanks to all the gardeners for opening their gardens to the community for this Westminster Garden Tour, a benefit for Westminster Cares.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Gallery of Photos: Houses Around and About Town

In town

In town

Country house with cottage garden

Flat-roofed house with purposefully natural landscaping

House of landscape designer Gordon Hayward

The house that Rudyard Kipling built

Another view

In town

One of the older houses around

Just up the road

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Gallery of Photos: Spring Times Ten

What late April and early May look like around here.

Crocuses in the front lawn

A tulip tree

Entry to a garden in town

The Connecticut River ... and the soft greens of the season's early foliage.

New leaves soaking up the sun.

Another view of that soft green deciduous foliage

Early May and a meadow of dandelions

A delicate pink ...

... and a vibrant pink

Apple blossoms


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Willa, Wallace, and William

Willa, Wallace, and William:  three of my absolutely favorite authors: Cather, Stegner, and Maxwell.  Cather I knew early on, in college. Then I learned about Stegner when it turned out he was a close friend of one of my professors.  Maxwell came a bit later ... when I was working in book publishing and colleagues spoke of his excellence.

Willa was a good generation older than the other two, 1873-1947.  Wallace and William were only a year apart.  Wallace was born in 1909 and died as a result of an automobile accident in Santa Fe in 1993 at the time I was living there.  William was born in '08 and died in 2000.  But they all dealt with western or mid-western themes.

Rather than repeat much of what you can find on-line, I prefer to simply recommend though, yes, I will add a few comments about each.

Wallace Stegner's childhood was spent in Montana, Utah, and Sasketchewan--written up in his autobiography, Wolf Willow (1962) (subtitled A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier).  He eventually settled in Los Altos Hills when he began Stanford's creative writing program which included such luminaries as Wendell Barry, Ken Kesey, and Larry McMurtry.  He won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Angle of Repose (1971), and a National Book Award for The Spectator Bird (1976).

Among my favorites is his semi-autobiographical novel, Crossing to Safety (1987), which describes the friendship he and his wife had with another couple.  Though the names and places are changed, the other couple lived in Claremont, California.  I know that because Stegner's friend in the book--the husband--was one of my Humanities professors there.  I well remember when a classmate and I ran into him on campus one day in the late '50s and he began telling us about this extraordinary friend named Wallace Stegner who was turning out some superb writing.  He seemed quite in awe of Stegner's abilities plus the great honesty of the man.  Novelist, short story writer, environmentalist, historian, teacher.

Somewhere I read that in writing Crossing to Safety, Stegner wanted (and I may be quoting myself here in some notes I took) "to write something about a decent human being living an ordinary life, not having to resort to a writer's attention-getters of violence, death, greed."  As a long-time reader, "Bravo" is all I can say.

Then, too, Stegner is said to have made the comment:  "The lessons of life amount not to wisdom but to scar tissue and callus."  Life was not always easy for him.  But, as with writing, he once said that the harder something was to write, the easier it was to read.

As for Willa Cather, she and I share a love of the Southwest, the colors, the wide distance, the blue skies and clean air.  One of her better known titles is Death Comes for the Archbishop about Father Latour who was, in real life, Jean-Baptiste Lamy, a French Roman Catholic prelate who served as the first archbishop of Santa Fe.  He built the cathedral in the center of town ... as well as a small chapel out in the Tesuque hills where he would go on retreats.  The chapel still stands on property now owned by The Bishop's Lodge--a resort hotel where I worked briefly during college summers. Among her other great works are My Antonia, The Professor's House (with beautiful descriptions of the Southwest's mesa country), The Song of the Lark, and O Pioneers!.

Archbishop Lamy's small chapel in the hills outside Santa Fe

The chapel's interior

Archbishop Lamy.  Willa Cather gives him the name of Archbishop Latour.

Then, there is William Maxwell, a consummate writer.  No unnecessary words, nothing contrived.  I believe more than one of his works centers around the sudden death of his mother from the 1918 Spanish flu when he was a lad ... and the impact that event had on him and his father.  As in his work, The Chateau, about a young American couple in France, he likes to take experiences from his life and turn them into fiction.  And speaking of fiction, he is said to have worked with some of "the literary lions" since he was a fiction editor at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975. Among his works are They Came Like Swallows and Time Will Darken It.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

P R I M A V E R A !!! (Whew)

Such was the message I wrote a family member on March 20th, The First Day of Spring. "Whew" was right.  Winter seemed endless.  I, literally, no sooner got back from my month in Santa Fe than we were all met with those three Nor'easter snow storms, Quincy, Riptide, and Stargaze.  Those weren't the names, of course, but you know the ones I mean.  Beastly storms!

Front lawn on the first day of spring

But my forced house-bound status put me onto a project I've been meaning to do.  One of those things on my long-term list that you can't just spend an hour or two and then tick off.  No, this project can take days, weeks.  The Big Spring Clean.  Going through everything in the house--and I do mean everything.  Holding it up to look at.  Deciding if it stays or goes.

Coincidentally, I found a just-published book that spoke of cleaning out when one gets to be, as the Swedish author described herself, "between the ages of 80 and 100."  The gist?  To get rid of things yourself so that your loved ones have less to do when the time comes. I'm not, in fact, dealing with major stuff but rather clothes that no longer fill the bill, old 33 RPM records from Vivaldi to the Kingston Trio, books/books/books, outdated files.

It's all very satisfying.

But along with those re-evaluations is the one that asks me about this blog. As of today, April 5th, I have now been at this exactly seven years--with 302 postings in all. Not bad.

So, my question:  do I continue this blog?  Answer:  yes, for now.  As long as I enjoy it and feel that I have something to say that might elicit some interest.  But ... I can't promise how long I'll continue it. Its demise might just fit into a new attitude one day.  Which reminds me of something else I was going to mention with respect to this cleaning-out thing. It also lets me make room for New Things, New Activities, Opportunities.  (I capitalize them because they're more fun that way.)  I find, for instance, that I spend nearly all my evenings reading.  So that means I read a LOT of books.  But I also get to the point where the part of my brain that I might call "Books Read" seems to get filled up.  Even filled to over-flowing.  I sometimes think of myself as a Book Junkie.  Too many.  I need to leave a little more space.

So, it can be the same with Things.  Too many.  No room for something new. So I toss out those things ready to go ... but often thank them first simply because I have fond memories of many.  So whereas it may seem that you're making room for more things, in fact you might be making room for new approaches, new attitudes, as I mentioned.

Enough said.  Happy Spring, everyone!!  Just think:  with the snow melted (which it isn't yet as I write this), we will have room for the daffodils to bloom ... then the lilacs, the iris, and on and on.

Under this sketch of this humble little flower, the snowdrop--a faithful harbinger of the season--I wrote, "Even bigger than life size, but a portal to spring ... and the sense of possibility."

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Few Words About Voice Pitch and Speech ... Plus a Gorgeous Reading of Sonnet 130

Lauren Bacall apparently started out with a high nasal speaking voice (and a Brooklyn accent), Richard Burton with a light voice, Kenneth Branagh with his native Irish brogue.  Michael Caine, however, didn't alter his Cockney speech but cashed in on it.  As Sean Connery did with his Scottish.

As for the "perfect" male English-speaking voice, I've read that that would be a combination of Jeremy Irons and the late Alan Rickman.  With Judi Dench being among those with the "perfect" female voice.  Then there are those actors (such as Rupert Penry-Jones, Samuel West, and Jeremy Irons) who also do narration. Really listen to them sometime.  Each syllable is given its due. Their speech is slow, precise, crisp, beautifully articulated.  No slurring rush about any of it.  It's a pleasure to listen to.  The tone color and resonance of a voice is also highly important.  Sorry to say, I hear a lot of too-high, little girl voices by women (Americans, often) who, to my mind, might do well to re-see Singing in the Rain--which was all about using a well-modulated voice (Debbie Reynolds's) to dub over the story-line's leading lady's laughable pitch and pronunciation.

So (getting back to the subject) what did Lauren, Richard, and Kenneth do to deepen their voices or change their regional speech?  Or, what did their directors or voice coaches have them do?  For two--Lauren and Richard--the hills became alive with the sound of Shakespeare as they shouted out verses (it is said) for "hours at a time."  Whereas Kenneth turned to something called Received Pronunciation.  Or RP for short.  He was born Northern Irish but, at age 9, moved with his family to England where he is said to have acquired RP in order to stop being bullied about his accent.

So what is Received Pronunciation?  It's something like a BBC-tinted English-language pronunciation based on educated speech reflecting an upper middle-class status.  It is clear and precise.  Short vowels, not drawn-out drawls.  Enunciation.  Taking time to speak, not rushing it.  It is not "a royal accent" as the royals are said to have their own way of speaking. It is thought of as neutral, not reflecting the speaker's geographical origins. Anthony Hopkins, for instance, is a Welshman (as was Burton) but did not play Lear with a Welsh accent. He and other Shakespearean actors and actresses--unless, say, they were playing Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing--used RP or something akin.  Dame Eileen Aitkens, who spoke with a Cockney accent as a child, switched to RP when beginning her work in the theater.  I read somewhere that she said that one's native regional accent would not do for the theater's great roles.

As for RP, I guess one could conclude by calling it something of an Oxbridge style.  It is also said to be Bond's accent, the 007 guy.

Getting back to the most pleasing English-speaking male voices, those would include Ronald Colman, Jack Hawkins, Pierce Brosnan, Burton, Hopkins, Irons, and Rickman.  Female speaking voices would include the great ladies: Julie, Maggie, Judi, and Helen.

Finally, speaking of Alan Rickman, listen to his reading of Shakespeare's Sonnet 130.  It's amazingly beautiful.  (If for some reason it does not come up here, Google it.)

click here