Saturday, January 31, 2015
Nor can I find it duplicated in a restaurant, though the occasional Greek place has a nice moussaka with a creamy, almost gelatinous texture. But enough.
I've posted before about how I have a thing for cars. Well, no. I hate them. I don't even drive, which is yet more evidence of my freakishness. I hate what cars have done to the environment and believe they are probably about 75% responsible for the planet's impending doom. Nobody thinks about this, but I do.
It was years ago, a some-enchanted-evening moment when I saw this car, not exactly the one pictured but of similar shape and vintage. It was eggplant-and-cream, two-toned, with a lot of chrome in between. It swooshed along elegantly as if driven along by some liveried chauffeur in the 1940s. And something happened to me then: I was transfixed. It was erotic, nothing more or less. I was electrified. Had that car been anywhere near me, I would have attached myself to the roof and held on for dear life while it accelerated madly and blew through red lights. I would have slid down that hunched, crouched back, the back with no wheels, tensed and animal-like. I would have wrapped myself around those balloon-like fenders, so blown-up that they're ready to explode like in that obscene Popeye cartoon where the tire blows up.
The creature swanned around, did one more turn around the strip mall (for my benefit, no doubt), then disappeared. It was likely going to be displayed in a car show somewhere. I was not yet going to car shows - I didn't "know", not the way I know now. Now I go, and I look for that car, which according to Google is a 1940 Mercury Westergard custom. I may never find it, but I keep on looking. In spite of what everybody seems to think about me, I have always been the most wretched kind of optimist.
Friday, January 30, 2015
This was one of those late-night, treasure-trove finds that kind of made my head spin. It was a site of dozens and dozens of old (I mean OLD) photos of Kent County landmarks, especially schools in Chatham. I've already posted many pictures of McKeough School, a formidable-looking old brick building built in about 1906 that looks like something out of the Addams Family. But these shots were miraculous: it's Elmer the Safety Elephant!
Us kids eagerly looked forward to Elmer's visit every year. We were admonished to learn the "seven safety rules" (and I can only remember a few: look both ways before you cross the street; keep out from between parked cars; always carry something white at night). Then there was the Elmer the Safety Elephant anthem (Safety First) which is starting to make all this sound like the Hitler Youth or something. "Here's what Elmer has to say/On the streets you do not play. . . "
These photos were milky and bleary when I first uploaded them. They had the messy black border of an old Polaroid, the kind where you zip off a plastic cover with a sort of tar-like caustic substance on it. They were labelled with a white grease pencil. I decided to see if I could clean them up. I easily cropped them (and just now I realize that these are all scans, and would lose quality automatically), then hit the restore button. Oh boy! I was there again, one of those little tow-headed kids looking on in awe, standing in an exact straight line. Serried ranks.
I realize now that Elmer has huge blue eyes with lashes, making me think he's more of an Elephantina or Elephette. I only remembered the vast trunk, and the ears (and there was an awful rumor going on in about Grade 6 that Elmer's ear fell off, a real emergency when he was on his way to a visitation with the kids. The whole thing sounds like an urban legend to me.
I believe this is my Grade 6 class from Queen Elizabeth II School, the second school I attended. I recognize several of the teachers. I was given a battery of tests, I swear I remember this, in kindergarten, and I even remember a couple of the questions. I was asked to count to a hundred, and though I dried up at 29, the helpful teacher asked, "So what comes after the 20s?" "30s." "And what comes after the 30s?" (etc.) I got them all right. Then I was given a photo of an open field. "You've lost your wallet in this field. How would you go about finding it?" I did a sort of mazelike pattern from the outside in, something I frankly stole from my brother, but it passed.
So I began to take two grades in one year. In kid parlance, I "skipped". I was being prepared for a special, elitist Grade 5, the "Major Work Class" at QEII. This was one of those infamous '60s experiments in education in which bright kids all learned at their own pace, with little or no curriculum.
I had walked to McKeough, and I will never forget that blissful 10 or 15 minutes, which now seems like paradise. Suddenly I had to commute, a very long bus ride all the way across town. I immortalized our hapless teacher, Mr. Service, in my second novel Mallory: we drove him to a nervous breakdown by mid-term, and he had to be replaced. We kids had been told we were smart one too many times, and were beginning to turn into a sort of Smart Kids' Mafia.
I didn't keep photos of QEII, though they exist, along with Chatham Collegiate (my high school) and The Pines Ursuline college, a nunnery where I took violin lessons. Talk about altogether ooky.
Didn't keep them because, except for the photo of my Grade 6 teachers, they don't especially interest me or twig any strong memories. They're just bland middle-of-the-road 1930s-built architecture, though CCI may be older than that.
Good to know they are there, however. Apparently, somebody still cares.
POST-BLOG OBSERVATIONS. Mostly the footwear. I notice many of the little girls in the front row are wearing their best shoes, Mary Janes with white knee socks. But I also notice argyle socks, and even saddle shoes, which I have always loved (but never owned, though I did have penny loafers in Junior High). I do remember being told to "dress up for Elmer", picking my Sunday School outfit which was unusual for a school day, my parents having received a notice that the distinguished elephant would be making his yearly appearance. When you think about it, putting your best clothes on for the benefit of a giant papier-mache head is a pretty bizarre concept, but no more bizarre than all the other things that happened at McKeough.
And where are all the black kids? Integration hadn't happened yet. By high school, that had changed. But I didn't find out until years after high school that Chatham was one of the termination points of the Underground Railroad, providing safe haven for runaway slaves before and during the Civil War. This should have been a point of pride, but it wasn't mentioned in school, not even once, in spite of Chatham's higher-than-average black population. My mother found out about it from a history book, not another person. I did sort of notice how many black kids there were, but I just figured it was a Windsor-Detroit thing (and by the late '60s, we DID know a lot about the Motown scene). Now I know that shameful and deliberate historical omission is as much a part of Southwestern Ontario history as those formidable old brick buildings.
Notice all the blonde heads! Nothing ethnic is going on here at all.
Though it isn't easy to make out in this photo, the kids faces are lit up with glee. Their body postures are full of eagerness and excitement. This Elmer visitation, like the McKeough School Picnic with the burning schoolhouse firecracker set off at the very end, is one of the highlights of their year, even though they come away from it with nothing except a bunch of safety rules.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
You know, it ain't that much different from high school. Maybe what happens there is what happens always. You have a great idea, nobody notices, or you're even seen as a freak. I look at my "views" and it's pathetic, because everybody else I know who keeps a blog has hundreds of views a day. I have almost none. It's not supposed to matter, and if I push it out my mind (hard, and each day), maybe it doesn't.
But am I putting anything out there at all that is of any use to anyone, besides me? If I ever dare ask anyone, they tell me I'm not hustling enough or writing the kinds of things people want to read. I'm making the dire mistake of expressing my feelings and views rather than bartering: I will praise your work, not because it's any good but so that YOU will praise MINE, and thus we can reflexively call each other good writers (whether we've even read each other's stuff or not) and thus drum up sales. That is how it is done, and I'm not doing it, so once more I am fatally out of step. After writing "real" reviews for what now seems like a dismal and futile 30 years, it's dismaying, to say the least. And I won't do it, and so, the results, which I must live with.
What got me going on all this? George Gershwin. Lately I have been obsessed with his death, which is too bad because it wasn't representative of his boyish, buoyant life. It was an awful way to end it, suffering alone from a horrible condition that everyone seemed to think was a form of attention-getting. He had cancer of the brain, which is not a condition given to malingerers.
And even Porgy and Bess - an opera that STILL creates controversy whenever it is produced anywhere, because nobody seems to be able to square three white guys writing a masterful opera about poor blacks in the South - he was trashed for it, though that didn't keep the crowds away.
I listened to this recording from 1935 today and just caved in, collapsed in tears. I don't know what it is. At first it was the sheer beauty and sheen of the voices, and the way they were being used; then it was the sense of pledging, of vows dearly made and nearly kept. There are aspects of music that can never be put into words, of course. Gershwin was speaking something never spoken before, in a language he invented as he went along. We notice the freshness, vitality, but also a profound sadness, and yes, a Hebraic quality that caused Oscar Levant to label it "the best Jewish opera ever written". You can layer the two on top of each other and see a lot of overlap, the core of it being the pain of exile.
All this takes me to an incredible, even jaw-dropping review in a new book I have on Gershwin. Vergil Thomson was a composer himself, a failed one who wrote scores for industrial films. One year he made $300 from composing, which is $300 more than I ever earn, let me tell you. Anyway, the review - I have to transcribe it out of the book here, but I'm going to take a crack at it, not just because it makes me feel better, but - because it makes me feel better.
"One can see, through Porgy, that Gershwin has not and never did have any power of sustained musical development. . . The material is straight from the melting pot. At best it is a piquant but highly unsavory stirring-up together of Israel, Africa and the Gaelic Isles. . . His lack of understanding of all the major problems of form. of continuity, and of serious or direct musical expression is not surprising in view of the impurity of his musical sources and his frank acceptance of the same. . . It is clear, by now, that Gershwin hasn't learned the business of being a serious composer, which one has always gathered to be the business of he wanted to learn. . .His efforts at recitative are as ineffective as anything I've heard. . . I do not like fake folklore, nor fidgety accompaniments, nor bittersweet harmony, nor six-part choruses, nor plum-pudding orchestration."
Other choice words from critics included "tripe", "lamp-black Negroisms", and "melodramatic trash", and there were even anti-semitic references to "gefilte fish". Oscar Levant muttered during the intermission, "It's a right step in the wrong direction."
Dying seems to be a good career move for many. Only a couple of years after this recording was made, Gershwin's head exploded and he was gone. Only then did everyone begin to sing his praises, to recognize his greatness. Bickering over Porgy goes on even today, and maybe it's a good thing - keeps the edge on it, keeps people talking. Can three white guys write an opera full of black stereotypes and get away with it? Only if they're brilliant enough to see beyond race and social standing, rip off the veils of pretension to find the human souls beneath. These aren't pretty people, but neither are the thugs and prostitutes of Mahagonny. They aren't there to prove a point, but to sing their lives, to let us hear.
There's a reason I post this link today.
Though it has gotten a certain amount of coverage by the mainstream press, mostly telling lame versions of "the clown story" ("But doctor, I AM Pagliacci!"), Let's Talk (sponsored, let's not forget, by Bell) is always well down on the list, because mental health simply isn't news. The fact we're just beginning to "talk", "break the stigma", etc. (or "reduce" the stigma, as it's usually expressed) in 2015 horrifies me. The fact that we have to set aside a day for it (but only one - let's not get carried away here) is discouraging, but it's better than nothing, I suppose. But I think we still have an Amadeus-cage/snake pit/cuckoo's nest mentality, or at least scorn, contempt and mortified silence.
I don't know what I'm going to do about all this, so I'll post this excellent link to many good videos, then re-run a piece that it cost me something to write. Will it do any good? Will anyone even see it?
Let's not "reduce" the stigma: let's throw it out!
Every day, and in every way, I am hearing a message. And it's not a bad message, in and of itself.
It's building, in fact, in intensity and clarity, and in some ways I like to hear it.
It's about mental illness, a state I've always thought is mis-named: yes, I guess it's "mental" (though not in the same class as the epithet, "You're totally mental"), but when you call it mental illness, it's forever and always associated with and even attached to a state of illness. You're either ill or you're well; they're mutually exclusive, aren't they?
So the name itself is problematic to me. It seems to nail people into their condition. Worse than that, nobody even notices. "Mentally ill" is definitely preferable to "psycho", "nut case", "fucking lunatic", and the list goes on (and on, and on, as if it doesn't really matter what we call them). But it's still inadequate.
There's something else going on that people think is totally positive, even wonderful, showing that they're truly "tolerant" even of people who seem to dwell on the bottom rung of society. Everywhere I look, there are signs saying, "Let's reduce the stigma about mental illness."
Note they say "reduce", not banish. It's as if society realizes that getting rid of it is just beyond the realm of possibility. Let's not hope for miracles, let's settle for feeling a bit better about ourselves for not calling them awful names and excluding them from everything.
I hate stigma. I hate it because it's an ugly word, and if you juxtapose it with any other word, it makes that word ugly too. "Let's reduce the hopelessness" might be more honest. "Let's reduce the ostracism, the hostility, the contempt." "Stigma" isn't used very much any more, in fact I can't think of any other group of people it is so consistently attached to. Even awful conditions (supposedly) like alcoholism and drug abuse aren't "stigmatized" any more. Being gay isn't either. Why? Compassion and understanding are beginning to dissolve the ugly term, detach it and throw it away.
"Let's reduce the stigma" doesn't help because it's miserable. It's the old "you don't look fat" thing (hey, who said I looked fat? Who brought the subject up?). Much could be gained by pulling the plug on this intractibly negative term. Reducing the stigma is spiritually stingy and only calls attention to the stigma.
So what's the opposite of "stigmatized"? Accepted, welcomed, fully employed, creative, productive, loved? Would it be such a stretch to focus our energies on these things, replacing the 'poor soul" attitude that prevails?
But so far, the stifling box of stigma remains, perhaps somewhat better than hatred or fear, but not much. Twenty years ago, a term used to appear on TV, in newspapers, everywhere, and it made me furious: "cancer victim". Anyone who had cancer was a victim, not just people who had "lost the battle" (and for some reason, we always resort to military terms to describe the course of the illness). It was standard, neutral, just a way to describe things, but then something happened, the tide turned, and energy began to flow the other way.
From something that was inevitably bound to stigma in the past, cancer came out of the closet in a big way, leading to all sorts of positive change that is still being felt. But first we had to lose terms like "victim", because they were unconsciously influencing people's attitudes. We had to begin to substitute words like "survivor" and even "warrior".
One reinforced the other. The movement gave rise to much more positive, life-affirming, even accurate terminology. That's exactly what needs to happen here. We don't just need to "reduce the stigma": we need to CAN that term, spit on it, get rid of it once and for all, and begin to see our mental health warriors for who and what they really are. They lead the way in a daring revolution of attitudes and deeply-buried, primitive ideas, a shakeup and shakedown of prejudice that is shockingly late, and desperately needed.
Why do we need to do this so badly? We're caught and hung up on a negative, limiting word that is only keeping the culture in the dark. I once read something in a memoir that had a profound effect on me: "Mental illness is an exaggeration of the human condition." This isn't a separate species. Don't treat it as such. It's you, times ten. It's me, in a magnifying mirror. Such projections of humanity at its finest and most problematic might just teach us something truly valuable. Why don't we want to look?
Animal friendship at its finest
Budweiser has done it again.
Despite false rumors that the beer company was nixing its signature Clydesdales for the big game ad, Budweiser has continued its very successful strategy of highlighting the power of animal friendship. In a sequel to its 2014 ad “Puppy Love,” “Lost Dog” tells the story of an 11-week-old golden Lab who gets separated from his best friend — a Clydesdale horse.
What comes next is a minute-long emotional roller coaster that will make you feel like you’re watching Homeward Bound for the very first time.
Eight puppies between 11 and 12.5 weeks old were used in the filming of this ad, directed by RSA’s Jake Scott. The poignant soundtrack is by Sleeping At Last, who offer up an acoustic version of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” originally by the Proclaimers.
We won’t spoil the saga — warning: there are wolves!! — but you might want to sit down.
Here is my take on all this. The operative sentence here is "Eight puppies between 11 and 12.5 weeks old were used in the filming of this ad". I've already heard people say, "My God, what if they hadn't found that puppy? Do you think they still would have shown the ad?" and "Didn't the Animal Cruelty people get after them?" Every single person I meet seems to believe that this is a REAL story, with a REAL puppy, one puppy, the actual Buddweiser puppy, and that the story is something that happened in real time (because who films things, anyway? What are you talking about? Don't they just sort of. . . happen?). Or else someone ran around after the puppy with a camera while sentimental music heaved in the background.
Speaking of heaving.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Here's why I think this is full of shit. If even that old Brahms cylinder thingie from the 1800s has great thumps, bangs, skips, clicks, sizzles and moments of dull silence, then you'd think a clay pot's surface would yield an even greater variety of racket. Instead, what we have is a sort of uniform static sound. From the very small amount of info I could get on this, it's supposed to be the sound of violins, inadvertently recorded in the 1500s while a revolving pot was being decorated with a stylus.
In principle, I guess it could happen. I wonder if anyone has tried it. But that stick would have to vibrate plenty hard to pick up violin sounds. These sound like feeble coyotes on a balmy night, recorded from 100 miles away. In some places, the sounds have a consciously mixed or engineered quality - OK, let's add a little more sound over here or over there to fill it out. Doesn't work for me.
Then again. . . there is that phonoautogram thing, which I swear I thought was a hoax when it first came out. This guy, and I'll be damned if I'll look up his blasted endless French name at this late hour, had this experimental contraption to try to make sound waves visible. It worked. but he never expected the products to be "played back". Such a concept was completely foreign back then. Basically his contraption was a revolving glass drum with a stylus etching lines on sooty paper, and if you yelled into it loud enough. . . The resulting sounds are depressing, and I still think it might be a hoax because people are getting rich off it. To call the small, thin, wobbling fragment of a line from Au Clair de la Lune "the first recorded music" is a joke.
Plenty of musical hoaxes have been perpetrated on a naive and unsupecting public. Years ago, and it's even harder to find any documentation of this, I heard a recording on CBC Radio of "Chopin Playing the Minute Waltz" in about 1875 or something. The host played it over and over again and went on and on about its documentation/authenticity, but after a while he began to waver. This "Chopin" was playing the "Minute" Waltz in one minute, a stupid Liberace stunt (remember the big clock ticking away the seconds?) that has nothing to do with the actual piece. Our announcer began to mutter about Piltdown Man and noticed the CD number was something like: 54321HAHAHA. It came to light that the CD had been included in a special edition of a European classical music magazine, dated . . . April 1. So we were all April fish, after all.
I did find another video with archaeologists who supposedly retrieved the sound of voices conversing in Latin from Roman vases. The voices, displayed on those graph thingies that look so impressive, were frankly ludicrous, far too clear to be plausible. If you watched the video a couple of times, it began to seem less hoax and more satire, a sendup of the earnest pipe-smoking scholars who endlessly drone on about these things. (And by the way, one of the guys WAS holding a pipe that wasn't lit.)
Then there's the infamous Brahms-playing-the-piano recording, which is really shit and which has been discounted EVERYWHERE except on YouTube, where people oooh, ahhh, blubber, pee their drawers, and phone home for the first time in 6 years over the majesty of it. Everything about this recording screams inauthenticity, but musicologists have based entire careers on it, giving lectures where the applause is deafening. The playing is lousy, every chord is crashing and sloppily misplayed, melody nonexistent. It sounds like a drunk in a honky-tonk. It may well be from the same era (unlike that rotten Chopin pasteup), but it's not Brahms, who announces the recording is "by Dr. Brahms" - ? He NEVER identified himself as "Dr.", nor would he say "by" because he didn't speak English! Besides, Brahms' voice was as high as Minnie Mouse's, and the guy on the recording sounds like a lumberjack. I'm not sure how he got that beard, since they didn't have injections back then. So did he have to suck the actual goat?
Petrachus Incadio Rosenberg: Violin recorded in clay on a potter's wheel in approximately 1552, recovered using laser interference technology at the University of Hilversum, 2014, by Prof. Loekasia Von Strabo.
Post-blog regrets. I wish now I'd never listened to this. I do my blogging late at night, for some reason, which I've always wondered about cuz I useda go to bed around 8:30 and get up at 6:00. Now some night-owl urge drives me on, awakened perhaps by the apocalypse I experienced back in 2005 (which I may some day write about, or not). Turned all my cells inside-out, or something. Anyway, I wish I'd never listened to this because even though I KNOW it's a hoax, it's creepy. It's creepy like those old, crappy, bizarre cartoons I posted a while ago, the ones you know almost nothing about - they're just THERE, and came out of nowhere. No one actually drew them. You don't expect them to be that way, so inexplicable. They come from another world. So somebody out there either has a major delusion, is out to make some money, or has made one of the biggest discoveries since the Pokemon trading card. Then why haven't I heard of him before? So now I have to go to sleep after hearing this? Thanks a bunch, von Strabo.
Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!
(So NOW, after spending an entire evening puzzling over it,, we find THIS, which is just some new version of Victor Borge/Hoffnung/P. D. Q. Bach. . Bahchh!)
Extraordinary new Laser Interference Technology reveals ancient sounds of the violin from 1552 on a surviving Petrachus clay pot. For more on this archaeological audiophonic sensation, read the book - rosenberg 3.0 – it's all in there! This is sound art at the core of historical artefact and intrigue. The Rosenberg Museum is in possession of data that could lead to even greater discoveries beyond the world of violin music and into the realm of religious ecstasy and meta-belief systems. The leader of our scientific team, Professor Loekasia Von Strabo, suggests that pots stored in the Vatican from the time of Christ might reveal sonic traces of the saviour's own singing voice embedded in the skin of the clay…copies of these Aramaic recordings are known to be in circulation amongst the secretive Oeyy Vei sect. A quote from the start of the relevant text "The Rosenberg Code".https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dzd4AVXBP9k&feature=youtu.be For centuries, scholars have wondered about the cryptic reference in the Chichester Codex to Aethaneus Rosenberg’s ‘howlinge claye.’ Likewise, the (excised) paragraph on ‘singing pots’ in the surviving MS pages of Roger Bacon’s New Atlantis appear to adumbrate the same enigmatic notion. Vas quae auditus fieri posse. It’s true that the late Alfred Watkins, citing Vitruvius (Book V. Sounding Vessels in the Theatre) believed Rosenberg had simply misunderstood the Roman practice of using pots in their great amphitheatres as Helmholz resonators… the same principle as the phonograph – a potter, inscribing a decorative groove with a stylus into a pot spun on a wheel is – de facto – recording whatever sound is present in its vicinity.
Surely this has to be the most gimmicky of gimmicks. It's bad enough that little girls are coerced into playing with plastic princesses and Hello Kitty, while boys are blowing things up with whatever-it-is-they-play-with-now (my 8-year-old grandboy is too busy reading at high school level). Now we have to EAT that way, too. I can't eat a "man's bread" without being seen as, probably, butch, if not outright lesbian (assuming lesbians are manlike in any way except being basically human). Anyway, gender-specific bread is selling, this I know, for the Huffpost tells me so:
Bread For Women Is The Food Product You Didn't Know Was Necessary
The Huffington Post Canada | By Rebecca Zamon
Women's bodies might have different nutritional requirements than men, but did anyone ever expect that to extend to bread products?
Stonemill Bakehouse, a Scarborough, Ont.-based bakery that creates "health and well-being breads," is being called out for selling gendered breads — specifically, a bread meant just for women (sold in pink packaging) and a bread geared towards men (in green packaging).
On the bakery's site, it breaks down the various nutritional elements of each loaf, the ingredients of which are quite similar — but when it comes to how it's advertised, the divides begin to appear. The women's bread boasts of being a source of calcium and magnesium, and "70 calories per slice." Meanwhile, the main difference in the men's bread is a smaller amount of sodium — and a reordering of benefits like protein and fibres to place them higher on the list.
In an email to the Toronto Star, Gottfried Boehringer, president of Stonemill Bakehouse, wrote that the bread's makeup was meant to be for the purposes of both "nutrient needs" and "nourishment."
But is that really necessary in a loaf of bread?
"Women do need calcium and iron more than men," says registered dietitian and HuffPost blogger Abby Langer. "But when I hear about it in bread, I always have to question bioavailability. Are people going to absorb more iron or calcium because they're eating fortified bread? The answer is usually no."
The company sells other breads with names like "Calorie Control" and "Body Balance," and as Langer points out, bread has long been a product that's had nutrients added to and taken away from it.
"These claims that they're making are really no different than any other bread," she says. "But I would not recommend relying on a bread for your vitamins and minerals."
Instead, this appears to be more of a marketing tactic, preying on the supposed importance women place on weight loss and men. It calls to mind similar to Sexcereal, another Canadian product that has male and female versions for "bio-functionality" (hers in pink, his in red).
As it turns out, that could come back to haunt the company. As the Globe and Mail reported last year, women are increasingly turned off when products meant specifically for them come in a shade of pink.