Saturday, December 31, 2022

the annual year-end post

I took two out of town trips in 2022, one by plane, one by car, both with B. One was to Mythcon. This is the second time, judged generously, that I've been the Guest of Honor at a convention.

Places stayed, therefore, are:

Albuquerque, NM
Ashland, OR
Woodinville, WA
Grants Pass, OR

I had 21 concert reviews published during the year, which is much more like normal. For scholarly publications, I had one Guest of Honor speech and one short article published in Mythlore. The 2022 annual issue of Tolkien Studies still hasn't come out yet (we are just putting it to bed right now), but it'll have my bibliography and contributions to the "Year's Work in Tolkien Studies" in it. What delayed this issue was work on the supplement, which has been published, and for which I contributed a fair-sized piece for the editorial introduction, and did all the line editing for the massive article, an edition of and commentary on Tolkien's internal Lord of the Rings chronology, and that was a fair accomplishment for a year.

Friday, December 30, 2022


I'd read that Berkeley Rep's production of a stage adaptation of Wuthering Heights (adapted by Emma Rice) was supposed to be good, so I bit the bullet and bought a ticket.

I've never read the book, and this isn't going to encourage me to do so. The story seemed to consist of an endless series of people wildly vacillating between loving each other and hating each other and then back again, with no rhyme nor reason explaining it.

Could have been an artifact of the condensation for the stage, but I've read too many 'fine literature' novels that are just like that.

Nevertheless, the production was extremely imaginative, and the performances vivid and energetic, so it didn't become too tedious.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022


I've been reading of the meltdown of travel on Southwest Airlines, with a thought of "I could have been in that, if I ever flew over the Christmas holidays, which I never do precisely because of things like this." But I do fly Southwest, which I've always thought of as the friendly airline, and which has given me some outstanding customer service in the past.

But on the other hand, Southwest is the airline which produced a giant hiccup in changing planes on our trip to Albuquerque last summer which got us in three hours late - not truly awful but irritating enough, and all because we took a connecting instead of direct flight because hey, it was Southwest, the friendly airline. And certainly their treatment of the passengers in regard to the delay was not unfriendly. They were also very courteous in rescheduling me when my attempt to fly to Chicago in February was socked out by a snowstorm.

Most of the articles are saying that the problem lay with the inability of Southwest's outdated computer system to handle the cancellations and reschedules attendant on the snowstorm, where other airlines could. And I should have realized they had problems of this kind. Several years ago now I headed to the San Jose airport to pick up my friend L. coming in on the one-hour flight from Burbank, having checked the Southwest website that the flight was on its way. And when I got to SJC, the system said that the flight had arrived. But just then I got a phone call. It was L. The flight had been delayed and hadn't left Burbank yet. This led to an interesting conversation with an agent who confessed that they have to call operations to find out where any Southwest plane is; the computer system is quite unreliable.

Then there's this article, the heartwarming - in the circumstances - stories of people waiting futilely in line at the airport who realize they're all going to the same city so they say the heck with it, they'll get a car and carpool there, sharing the expense and the driving: Austin to Birmingham (760 miles), Kansas City to Tampa (1250 miles), Detroit to Orlando (1150 miles).

This reminds me of my friends from western Massachusetts who found themselves in the Chicago area on 9/11. (I'd been there myself, but I flew home the day before.) Rather than wait for the flights to resume, they took their rental car and drove home (900 miles). This proved so relaxing a job that they've done it voluntarily since then. It wasn't only for that reason that we eschewed flying on our recent trip to the Seattle area (860 miles) but that certainly helped.

Other articles are warning us that this was the fault of the corporate system, not of the customer service agents. True, and I absolutely wouldn't blame the agents for the system's fault. But attitude and helpfulness are not dictated by the system. The agents who castigate you for wanting to cut in line when you're merely asking how long it will take, the ones who take it personally when you try to explain you know it's the system's fault, these are the doing of the agents, not the system, and the absence of such things from good customer service is conspicuous, no matter how fouled up the problem at hand is.

Monday, December 26, 2022

away on a tangent

I read that there were some weather problems in other places, but you wouldn't know it here. It was dry and sunny and, for the season, unusually warm as we drove to our niece's home for the family gathering. The only out-of-towners were B's eldest sister and her husband who avoided the snow on the mountains between Reno and here by flying over them.

We had a white elephant gift exchange, which this year was limited to edibles, so for once I participated. I gave a collection of Pepperidge Farm Christmas cookies packages, and got some dried fruit, only some of which I can eat, and that slowly and cautiously. B. got some chocolate and caramel popcorn, which she kept encouraging others to steal (a provision in the rules), but nobody did. I suppose I could have, but it was coming home with us anyway.

Something I wasn't expecting showed up in the household background music, a rock version of "The Little Drummer Boy." I don't know who did it, and on attempting to look for it online later I found there's a lot of them. If it wasn't this one it at least sounded a lot like it.

"Little Drummer Boy" is a much-loathed carol but I actually like it. (Despite not being a Christian, most of the ones I dislike tend to be secular, like "Here Comes Santa Claus.") I even like it in a rocked-up arrangement, though that ought to surprise me, as I spent most of my youth, the age when most of my peers listened to the stuff, utterly loathing rock music. I finally found some that I liked when I heard Steeleye Span's arrangements of English folk songs, which suggests that the real reason I hated rock music is because most of the songs sucked, and what I needed were some good ones.

Which reminds me that another song everybody hates except me is "It's a Small World." That was one of the Sherman brothers' Disney songs, which in turn reminds me that I watched a documentary on the brothers on Disney+. This weirdly overemphasized their differences and disagreements, so that you wouldn't realize that they kept on collaborating on songs even at the time that the documentary would have you believe they weren't speaking to each other.

I like a lot of the Sherman songs, especially those for Mary Poppins, but there are two I do purely hate the way that others hate "Small World." One of them is the Winnie-the-Pooh theme song, which is nauseatingly cutesy, and the other is "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," which has the demerit of a catchy tune combined with sententious lyrics. "Man has a dream, and that's a start / He follows his dream with mind and heart / And when it becomes a reality / It's a dream come true for you and me." That's disturbingly unspecific. What if that dream is some industrial process which may produce a useful product but destroys the environment? And, uh, what about Hitler? There was a guy who sure had a dream, and unquestionably followed it with mind and heart, so that recipe is not necessarily a good thing, is it?

And a boisterous Boxing Day to you, too.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Christmas Eve = Seventh Night of Hanukkah

Last night for dinner I made basically leftover lemon-butter chicken (well, fresh chicken in leftover sauce), plus veggies, from the previous night's Hanukkah dinner with guests. And tonight I did leftover latkes and matzo ball soup (leftover soup + new matzo balls).

B. played at Mass this evening, choosing that partly so that she can sleep in Sunday morning before we head off to the big family Christmas gathering. And so since she's thus already in Christmas-day mode, I suggested we open presents tonight. That, and also so that she could play one of her presents while cleaning up after dinner, the present being Christine Lavin's Christmas album, which I bought and had autographed at a concert of hers a few months ago. It turns out to be mostly rounds (quite imaginative, some of them) and spoken word stories.

B. also got a wheeled trolley to carry her music stuff around to Mass and orchestral rehearsal (by request, and she'd told me which one she wanted), and she opened the annual household present, the wall calendar. Usually I get one with cats (big or house) or penguins, but this one earned her delight with Addams Family cartoons by Charles Addams himself. In one picture, the family are all reading appropriately weird books. Morticia has Foodless Recipes, Phase IV and Wednesday has The Comfort of Sex. Thing is peeping out from a corner. People don't know that Thing is a person, not a disembodied hand.

My presents included some useful clothing items and a Barnes & Noble gift certificate, so I am quite content.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

hanukkah in the home

We had my brother and 7-year-old nephew over for Hanukkah dinner, and without implying anything against the guests - well, the 7-year-old was 7 years old, but you expect that - it illustrated why we rarely have anyone over. It's just so exhausting: all the preparations, like moving the dining table so that 4 people can sit at it, and getting the catbox, which we keep in the foyer as the only convenient spot where it'll fit, out of the way, and all the other prep work. Then I cook dinner, which includes matzo ball soup and latkes, and this year chicken in lemon butter sauce and broccoli, which required a lot of creative shuttling around among stove burners.

Nephew's favorite food turned out to be the plain matzo we had beforehand. He liked eating it, and he liked playing with it too. It made a satisfying crunch under the toes of his shoes. But what really caught his interest was that, just before he and his dad left, the cats decided to peer down from the upper floor and see what was going on. He was quite taken with them and kept holding out cat toys in hopes they'd come and get them, but we explained it doesn't work that way.

Guests left somewhat over two hours after arriving. We (mostly B.) cleaned up and we (both of us) put things back, and then we (both of us) collapsed in exhaustion. By next year we may be ready to do it again, but not till then. Other family gatherings, it's B's (adult) niece who hosts, and she's an amazing dynamo who takes care of everything.

Monday, December 19, 2022

into the mouth of hell

I was in search of a Hanukkah present for my nephew, aged 7. His dad suggested a t-shirt with stuff he likes depicted on it: maps, or stars or planets. This would have been easily enough found and ordered online, but time for delivery (and assurance that it would arrive when promised, especially at this season) is what was lacking.

So I went down into the mouth of hell, the big regional indoor shopping mall. Arriving at 10:30 AM meant there were still some parking spaces. Thence followed two hours of tromping around inside. Besides the department stores, there are plenty of children's specialty stores. But as far as "graphic t-shirts" (as I learned that ones with pictures are appropriately known as) goes, they're convinced that all boys like dinosaurs, particularly t-rex. A few football players, old cars and planes, stuff like that. I'd hoped a store called "Psycho Bunny" might be a little more creative, and it was full of nothing but t-shirts and sweatshirts, but every one of them had nothing on it but the Psycho Bunny logo.

The first store I'd looked in had a shirt whose t-rex was tramping over a picture of the Earth from orbit. Well, it's sort of like a globe, and a globe is sort of like a map, and I had given up finding anything better and was on my way back when I passed The Gap's children's store. And there I found something a little better: a shirt reading something like "The Universe is yours to explore" underneath a pixelated picture of an astronaut helmet with a galaxy reflected in the visor. That'd do, I thought, if only it wasn't a size too small. I bought it anyway, along with another shirt, in the right size, commemorating Gravity Probe B, which was a satellite testing relativity effects, launched 18 years ago. That's astrophysics more than astronomy, but close enough. What the heck it was doing on a t-shirt, and that so long afterwards, I dunno.

Anyway, I returned home with my finds, numbed by the experience but surviving. In amongst my searching I had lunch, because the mall's food selection is at least as munificent as their t-shirt selection. On the second floor is a row of Asian food counter restaurants. There was a line in front of the Japanese ramen one several hundred yards long. The rest were totally deserted. I wound up with a Vietnamese rice bowl, a bit expensive but not too bad.

I hadn't been to the mall in ... [n] ... years. It's gone way upscale in the interim, filled with high-end shops for one thing or another, including a luxury car dealer. A storefront like any other, open front, and you look inside and there's a car. How they got it inside - it wouldn't fit through the mall's doors - I couldn't say. Maybe there's some hidden cargo doors.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Saturday, December 17, 2022

concert review: Kitka

I'd heard Kitka giving short sets at the Garden of Memory events in Oakland, where they sang mostly Eastern European folk music but once some Meredith Monk, making bracing sounds that I likened more than once to geese honking.

Then I got the notification they were doing a winter seasonal concert in Menlo Park. Apparently they do this every year that there isn't a pandemic on, but I hadn't been aware of it before. This would be my first chance to hear them do a full-length concert. Furthermore, this one had a touch of timeliness to it in that it would be mostly Ukrainian music. Hmm, I thought, I could review it for the Daily Journal. And so I did.

I expect that what I wrote about their repertoire and performing style would apply equally well to any folk concert they gave, so this may be the only time. B., who is a classically trained singer but also likes western folk music, did not care for this at all, in the same way that she doesn't like spicy food. So I was sure to warn in the review that the sound takes some getting used to, though I left out the goose comparison this time. Nevertheless my editor commented that it seemed really interesting, which is not something he often says about my reviews.

Friday, December 16, 2022

things with Christina Ricci in them

Mini-series released all at once and consequently gulped down by me in several big bites. As with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd, Tim Burton turns his source material sour and rancid, eliminating all the joy and wit that I loved in the 1964 Addams Family tv show, not to mention the original cartoons. In 1964, Gomez and Morticia truly loved each other, a rare phenomenon among married couples in tv comedy, and treated only as grotesquery here. So why couldn't there be a show about a teenage girl who doesn't burningly resent her mother, for a change?

Still, Jenna Ortega is outstanding in the premise of "Sheldon Cooper goes to Hogwarts" (as some critic put it). Ortega has said in interviews that she didn't discuss the character with Christina Ricci, but she's much more Ricci's Wednesday than Lisa Loring's, let along Charles Addams's. I found her more than usually relatable: while I don't share Wednesday's taste for the macabre, the complete loner with utter disdain for teenage social activity was entirely me at that age. I was only sorry that they didn't hold to it: Wednesday goes to a school dance and actually dances, which I would never have done; and by the end she's unbent enough to learn to hug. Ycch, what a cop-out.

As the mystery plot takes over the storyline, I found it much less tedious than mystery plots usually are, though the twists, reversals, and fake-outs became excessive in the last couple episodes, as did the sfx. Battles between CGI monsters still suck technically: they shouldn't be made. What I wasn't expecting in the closing episodes were several call-outs to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including to Buffy's disposal of Gachnar.

As for Christina Ricci, at first one is evidently meant to think she was horribly miscast. By the end, not so much.

2003 movie, based on fact, for which Charlize Theron won an Oscar for playing a scatter-brained prostitute who murders her abusive johns, with Christina Ricci as her lover/sidekick/?. I'm not entirely sure what the character is doing in the movie, and neither is she. Having her complain that the plot is boring and doesn't make sense is no excuse for doing it that way. Evidently, like A Late Quartet, this movie is intended purely to be admired as a showcase for Great Acting, but my inability to distinguish great acting from merely pretty good acting trips me up here.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

ChatGPT can communicate better than a human. Sometimes.

So someone gave me the link to the public interface for the new AI. I decided to ask it a question that had always bugged me: What does E.M. Forster's phrase "only connect" actually mean? I posed this question once on my blog and got numerous replies, but not one gave a comprehensible answer to the question. It took ChatGPT to give me a usable answer.
"Only connect" is a phrase that comes from a novel called "Howards End" by E.M. Forster. The novel is about the relationships between different groups of people in England, and the idea behind the phrase is that people should try to connect with one another and understand each other, rather than remaining isolated and disconnected. In other words, it's about the importance of building relationships and forming connections with others.
OK, I went on, but why only connect? What else besides connect are you not supposed to do? I was even more astonished to get a straight answer to this one.
The phrase "only connect" is actually a bit of a paradox, because it suggests that the only thing that matters is connecting with others, but at the same time, it implies that there are other things that people should not do. In the context of the novel, the phrase is meant to convey the idea that relationships and connections with other people are the most important thing in life, and that everything else is secondary. So while the phrase doesn't specifically say what people should not do, it suggests that anything that doesn't involve building connections with others is less important.
All this must have come from somewhere, but unfortunately ChatGPT has no index to its source material, so I don't know what human was actually capable of explaining this. I got some equally useful answers to other questions of this kind, such as the meaning of the phrases "show me the money" (this was such a common catchphrase for a while that I actually watched the movie Jerry Maguire, from which it comes, for the sole purpose of finding out what the phrase meant, and came away unenlightened) and "off the wall" which I eventually figured out on my own, but which baffled me when I first heard it 45 years ago, and whose users couldn't explain it when I asked.

I decided to try Chat on some technical questions of musical terminology that I've noticed people getting wrong, and this was somewhat less successful. First I asked it if a piano quartet was a work for four pianos, a misapprehension I've encountered once or twice. It said accurately that "A piano quartet is a group of four musicians who play music together on the piano, violin, viola, and cello. It is not four pianos, but rather a combination of four different instruments," but it didn't say that the phrase "piano quartet" is actually shorthand for "quartet for piano and strings." I suggested it say this, and the Chat thanked me for the suggestion in such a way as to imply it already knew this but hadn't prioritized the information.

Then I asked it, "What instruments are in a string quintet?" because this is actually variable. It said correctly that "The most common combination of instruments in a string quintet is two violins, two violas, and a cello," but it didn't say anything about anything else. When I prompted it on that, it acknowledged there were other possibilities: "a string quintet could also include two violins, a viola, a cello, and a double bass," but all it said beyond that was that a combination with a harp or guitar isn't normally called a string quintet. It didn't offer two violins, one viola, and two cellos, which is the combination Schubert used in his String Quintet and is a little less unusual than the double-bass one.

Then I asked it the really tough one, "How many symphonies did Wolfgang Mozart write?" It answered in part, "It is difficult to say exactly how many symphonies he wrote, because some of his early works have been lost and there is some disagreement among scholars about which pieces should be considered symphonies." This is correct, though it didn't elaborate on the reasons for the disagreement (basically that Mozart tended to cobble together miscellaneous overtures and other pieces and use them as symphonies for concerts) or note a couple cases of questionable attributions, or a few past false attributions that have been crossed off the list.

Then it went on to say, "However, most sources agree that Mozart wrote between 41 and 51 symphonies," and this is entirely wrong. People often say 41 because that's the number on the "Jupiter," his last symphony, but what people who say that don't know is that the number was given not by Mozart but by an early 19th-century publisher who had an incomplete and inaccurate list. It's not only wrong, it's a shibboleth: anyone who claims to be a Mozart expert and says he wrote 41 symphonies has thereby revealed themselves to be no Mozart expert. Some omitted early works were later tacked on to the end of the list, and at one point it totaled 51, which must be where Chat got that number from, but that's also inaccurate. Neal Zaslaw's authoritative book Mozart's Symphonies lists 44 purpose-written symphonies, 21 of various cobbled-together kind, and 8 lost ones that we know about, making 73; and that's not counting 25 that have been incorrectly attributed to Mozart, 3 or 4 of which (one of them is uncertain) are among the list of 41. So watch it when it comes to Mozart.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

return to our irregular programming

This morning I found that my computer had updated itself overnight and was ready to reboot, but I had some peculiar trouble getting it started up. When I did, I found that the monitor kept blanking out for short, then increasingly long periods.

Concluding, as you would, that this meant the quite elderly monitor was failing, I had to set out and buy a new one. Using B's computer to search big box stores, I discovered that near-squarish 18 inch (diagonal) monitors like mine aren't being made any more. The smallest are 22 inch and they go up, way up, from there. That would make it a lot easier to be able to see two windows at once, which I often need to do. I settled for a 24-inch Samsung that I could pick up at a store not too distant. I drove there, walked in, found the box on the shelf, and bought it.

Not the end, since I still had to crawl around underneath my desk to disconnect the old monitor and connect the new one. The latter was particularly exasperating because it came with a cord that looked like a USB but wasn't, and wouldn't fit in my computer's USB ports, which are all of that kind that I have.

But the monitor did have one of those 15-pin ports that my old monitor had, and that would enable me to use the now-abandoned 15-pin port on my computer. All I needed was a cable. The new monitor didn't come with one. I couldn't use the old one as it was not separable from its monitor. Back to B's computer to locate a cable, order it for pickup, and drive to another, fortunately nearer, outlet to get it.

More struggles under the desk, and finally connection, succeeded by discovering that the monitor didn't know what kind of cable it was using and was reporting no signal on the non-USB cable. Nothing I could find in the online manuals said how to tell the monitor what kind of cable you were using, so I turned to Samsung online chat. After half an hour of wrangling over which of the various numbers stamped on the back of the monitor was the model number - it wasn't the one that said "Model No." next to it, and I'm just the customer, I'm not responsible for how Samsung labels its own numbers on its own products - I learned rather quickly that there's a button you can press that will toggle the input. That worked. One could wish this were more clearly stated somewhere, or that customer support could tell you this doubtlessly standard procedure without fussing over your exact model number.

Then I found that the monitor is still going blank occasionally. Clearly it's not just the monitor. I wondered what would happen if it blanked while I was watching a video - would the video stop during the blankness or keep going, and if the latter what about the sound? - only to discover that it won't go blank while a video is playing. So now, thanks to my wide monitor, I have one of those "ten hours of silence" videos running in a tiny window in the corner, and it's fine. That'll have to do until I take the computer in to the shop for a look, which I'm reluctant to do because you know this problem will never appear in the shop.

So, a day with no work getting done, but at least it egged me into getting a new and superior monitor.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

a little concert

Each academic term - or at least most of them - the Stanford Music Dept. hosts a set of 2 or 3 concerts they call the Chamber Music Showcase. Ensembles of student musicians play a movement each from various works of the chamber repertoire. There's usually at least a dozen groups of 2 to 5 performers, mostly strings and piano with the occasional wind.

These concerts are hosted by the members of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, whose job as the resident ensemble includes being among the coaches who teach the students. One or another of the quartet members will introduce each concert, and collectively they do the gruntwork of setting up the chairs and music stands, occasionally sit in as performers, and apologize when a set of players is late in showing up.

Geoff Nuttall, first violinist of the St. Lawrence, died a couple months ago. The Quartet's immediately upcoming concert was cancelled, and their next one - in January - has been transformed into a memoriam for Geoff. I'm surely going to go. But the Chamber Music Showcase is going on, and last Wednesday I showed up at the tiny Campbell Hall to find the three remaining members of the Quartet huddled and conferring, down in the corner by the stage door.

And the show went on. The second concert was Monday evening. Unusual this time was the absence of anything from the classical period. Most of the pieces were late 19th century, and a few early 20C ones were either holdovers (Faure, early Rachmaninoff) or conservatives (Martinu, Shostakovich). The most unusual offering was Mahler's fragmentary juvenile Piano Quartet, which I've heard in concert before. Best ;performance was of the first movement from the Brahms Op. 25 quartet.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Tár toddler

(spoilers for a number of movies here)

After I saw the movie Tár, I posted regarding what baffled me about it.

And now, here's an answer to at least three of my six questions: the latter part of the film is a hallucination or dream.

Sorry, I don't buy it. I've seen movies with hidden hallucinations or dreams in them before, and they usually worked it better than this. Clearest was Brazil, which - uniquely in this set - openly reveals this at the end. But I'd figured this out earlier, from noticing that the plot had lost all coherence and then deducing at what point this had happened.

Best at this was Mulholland Drive. On first viewing I found it fascinating but completely opaque. Somebody had to tell me that the first part of the movie is the fantasy dream of the character from the second part of the movie, but once they did so, everything in the movie suddenly made sense, which is not only brilliant but is why I put no credence in alternative explanations which don't work as well.

(There is also Fight Club, which I haven't seen and - going by what I've read about it - I doubt I would want to see.)

I also have to include Barton Fink, which I've never read analyzed this way but which I was forced to conclude is a complete hallucination once the story leaves New York, because otherwise I can't make any sense of it at all. I did notice a change of moviemaking style at that point, from naturalism to an eerie "Star Trek at the O.K. Corral" style, which contributed to my theory.

Mulholland Drive also changes style - mostly in its use of color and lens setting - at the critical point, and so does Brazil, mostly in story presentation. But Tár doesn't. It feels the same way all the way through. Maybe the whole movie is a hallucination? But that amounts to no more than saying that the whole movie is fiction, which we knew already. But by denying the viewer even the right to secondary belief, it makes the viewer into a patsy for even trying to watch it at all. So I hope the hallucination theory is false, but that still leaves me with six baffled questions.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

two concerts

After the Reading and Eating Meeting, which was Saturday afternoon, I headed immediately down to San Jose for a concert by their Symphony, because I was reviewing it. Having been out all day, I was a little tired, but not too much to appreciate the distinctiveness of this concert, which did a superb job of putting across Dvořák's Seventh, a work I'm not especially fond of, but was rather dull in Lalo's Cello Concerto, a rarely-heard work which, when it is heard, usually goes like gangbusters. To express this opinion in neutral reviewer language, I wrote, "this was a performance more contemplative than declarative."

Also contemplative, but in a good way because it's supposed to be like this, was a concert by Brocelïande, a seasonal celebration of medieval and Renaissance song, a Christmas concert without the usual overheard carols, instead mostly songs with words like "Wassail" and "Yule" in the titles, consequently a toasty joy to hear, the more so as it was, I think, the band's first live concert in this area since before the pandemic.

That was on Friday, a clear day between rain on both Thursday and Saturday, the first we'd had of that since the opening week of November, and thus a very good thing to have.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Reading and Eating

Our Mythopoeic book discussion group held its first in-person meeting in nearly three years, in the form of our annual Reading and Eating Meeting, which we'd tried to hold online a couple of times without complete success.

Nine people gathered in the spacious living room on top of the hill to partake of the hosts' lasagna and assorted side dishes and desserts. As I usually do, I brought something fairly substantive: a chicken and veggies creamed casserole, which I'd made at home a couple times after searching for a recipe with chicken and spinach in it, as that's what I'd had.

For reading, I brought along something old that had come up in the course of the year. I've been reading Lisa Goldstein's blog, and at one point she mentioned what a big fan she is of Harpo Marx, while reviewing the memoir of Harpo's wife. So I asked Lisa if she knew Allan Sherman's story of Harpo and the unemployment check. She replied "I sure do," so that inspired me to read the story at the REM. It got laughs in some places I wasn't expecting, including when the unemployment clerk says, "Now I know you're a liar! Harpo Marx can't talk!"

I also read the bit I described when reviewing Trevor Noah's memoir, about his friend in South Africa, a display dancer named Hitler. Noah goes on about this guy for a while, as the reader is thinking "Hitler?!", until he deigns to explain, which comes out in the end to: Why is his name Hitler? Because his mother named him Hitler.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

lady what?

A lot of recent news I don't have much to say on. I'm sorry that Christine McVie died, and shouldn't have been as surprised as I was to learn that she was 79. Fleetwood Mac was very popular when I was at university, and I got to recognize a few of their songs, though they never made a big impact on me.

Nor can I make much useful commentary on the late Queen's lady-in-waiting who kept pressing a black guest as to where in Africa she was really from, even after the guest explained that she was a born and bred Londoner. I could sort of understand if it had been asking where her ancestors were from, though even that would be rather tasteless, as it still bears the assumption you're not real: but also because, unless one has a special interest in Africa (don't laugh, some do), such deep background goes far beyond polite conversational inquiry.

But what puzzled me in the news articles is that the lady-in-waiting was sometimes called Lady Susan Hussey, or Lady Susan for short, and sometimes Lady Hussey. Which is it? You can't be both, not at the same time. But even the British news sources, which really ought to be capable of getting this straight, treated them as interchangeable.

It turns out, if Wikipedia is to be trusted (which it isn't, not entirely), that she's the daughter of an earl, so she would have started out as Lady Susan. Then her husband was given a life peerage, so that made her Lady Hussey. Oh god. But no longer "Lady Susan" after that point, is that clear? What she's been since her husband died, I'm not sure. If he'd had a hereditary peerage passed on to the next generation, she'd be the Dowager Lady Hussey, but in the absence of that I'm not sure what she is if anything. Not working at the Palace any more, that's for damn sure.