Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
We're only half way through Christmastide, the traditional celebration of the season that lasts over twelve days beginning with Christmas Day. I think it's a far better way to observe the litugical season rather than the stressful, contemporary - and highly commercial -"one and done" approach. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Christmastide is Twelfth Night, a party marking the end of the season. Being that January 5 comes on a weekday, I doubt many people will enjoy those parties this year, but just in case, I bring you a Savannah tradition to add to your enjoyment of the season's end:
It's time to prepare the punch for Twelfth Night - January 5 - that most ancient festival on the eve of Epiphany!
In 1977, I was introduced to Chatham Artillery Punch at the Lion's Den in the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah. It reminded me of rumtopf, only it was better. Much better. The container - pictured - was as elegant as the beverage. The elite military unit for which it is named, one of the oldest in the nation, has a storied history of defending Georgia and the United States for over two centuries, including service in Iraq. Today, the unit serves as the 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery. The punch always graces their celebration of Saint Barbara's Day and Christmas. I can think of no better way to end a traditional celebration of Christmas in Georgia than with one cup of this wonderful drink. And I do mean ONE cup savored over an evening .
In my opinion, the following recipe - derived from several formulations and an archival source that shall remain nameless - captures the historic flavors nicely although I'm sure they varied over the years depending on the ingredients at hand. (A Georgia National Guard newsletter noted that a pair of soldier's socks, the stockings of a soldier's wife, and sand from Iraq were added to the punch in 2006.) We're not going that far.
Chatham Artillery Punch (for 50 guests)
2 quarts of strong green tea (soak about 1/4 pound of tea for a day, then strain)
Juice of 10 lemons
1 1/4 pounds brown sugar
2 quarts Catawba wine (a red muscadine will be easier to find and work just as well)
2 quarts Santa Cruz rum (use Virgin Islands style rum, light or dark)
1 quart brandy
1 quart dry gin (I like the flavorings in Bombay Sapphire)
1 quart rye whiskey
3 pints Queen Anne cherries
3 pints pineapple chunks
3 quarts champagne
To prepare, sterilize a 5 gallon crock or similar vessel. Mix the tea and lemon juice, then dissolve the brown sugar and gently stir in all the alcohol except the champagne. Add the cherries and pineapple chunks carefully. Cover the crock tightly and sit aside in a cool, dark place for at least one week. No sampling allowed. To serve, pour the mixture carefully over a block of ice, add the champagne, and stir gently. Never refrigerate to cool ahead of serving or serve with ice cubes.
This is a deliciously smooth, flavorful and potent drink to be enjoyed responsibly in an appropriate setting. It is not for every party. Also keep in mind that the longer it ferments, the more powerful, deceptive and tasty it becomes. I once brewed a batch for eight weeks. It was legendary.
As we are about to welcome in a new year I thought it would be the perfect time to share some advice from one of the most entertaining and significant realists of the last two centuries. Many of us know him for his children's stories. Other may know him through the political and social controversies surrounding the author and his work. Regardless, he is a wise voice calling for us to either reaffirm the universal values that have made our society and civilization a reality or face a perilous future.
AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshiped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
The poem is, of course, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, written by thethe British author, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936). He was the product of both India and England and infused his writing with the essence of Victorian times and the adventure of empire. Political correctness over the last fifty years has sadly pushed him into literary obscurity in most of academia, but he remains a beacon of reason and rhetoric especially among centrist and conservative thinkers. His works for children have never lost their popularity among young readers.
Kipling and his wife spent about five years living at Bliss Cottage near Brattleboro, Vermont, just prior to the height of his career. In was in this setting that he produced some of his most memorable work including the Jungle Books, a short story collection, The Day's Work; his novel, Captain's Courageous; and a volume of poetry, The Seven Seas.
Our political and cultural slide to the left in the last few decades has brought Kipling's appreciation of realism to the fore. One of his most quoted poems that speaks to the necessity for reason and the folly of cultural relativism is The Gods of the Copybook Headings. Many readers have inquired about the poem since it appeared in this blog some years ago. I am pleased to present it once again for the uninitiated and for those in need of a Kipling booster.
Saturday, December 27, 2014
We're approaching sixty years since Oscar Levant (1906-1972) was active as a concert pianist, composer, author, actor, and comedy genius. He's likely unknown to a generation of Americans now, but that doesn't mean he's ready for history's dustbins. Quite the contrary. There must be something important about Oscar Levant if Hollywood director Ben Stiller is developing a film based on the entertainer's life.
Although Levant's presence on the entertainment spectrum is broad, his greatest impact was as a concert pianist, comedian, and author. He was trained in classical music in Pittsburgh and New York and divided his musical time between Hollywood and Broadway as a young performer and composer. He became a close friend and associate of George Gershwin and his extended family of stars and admirers. With Gershwin's early death in 1937, Levant would become known as the finest interpreter of his work for almost two decades until the end of his own career as a performer. Levant's Hollywood association not only led to his role as a composer but also as an actor. Although his filmography is short it contains a host of memorable, mostly comedic scenes involving song, dance and wit. Here are two clips of Levant at his best:
From the 1951 film, An American in Paris,
and from the 1953 film, The Band Wagon.
Finally, there is Levant, the writer. He wrote three memoirs, two of them best-sellers. His Memoirs of An Amnesiac (1965) is a recollection of his often weird and tattered life as well as a tour de force of wit and wisdom aimed at Hollywood's famous and infamous personalities beginning in the 1930s. His The Unimportance of Being Oscar appeared in 1968. Although both books are a bit dated, readers with some knowledge of popular culture and politics from the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930's to the entertainment world of the 1960's would certainly find both books entertaining reads.
The one thread moving throughout his career was mental illness, a condition that eventually became the core of his stage persona. It was an odd therapeutic for Levant and it brought laughter to millions...
There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.
Oscar Levant, 1959
Indeed there will never be another like him.
ClassicalNet biography, Oscar Levant
This is an extensive revision of a post from 2012.
Friday, December 26, 2014
Thursday, December 25, 2014
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
|Blue Sea John Marin, American, 1945|
In 1969, I was introduced to John Marin's (1870-1953) work when David Grimsted took his history class to the Phillips Gallery for an exploration of American culture through the artist's eye. Not sure how much history was absorbed that day, but I left with a deep appreciation of John Marin's work that is still going strong after 45 years.
Marin was born on this day in Rutherford, New Jersey, in the midst of the nation's struggling recovery from the Civil War. He was trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, spent a few years searching for his muse in Europe, then returned to his home country where he continued perfecting his technique in watercolors. He was almost forty before his serious breakthrough into the art world that included an exhibit at the famous Armory Show of 1913. A decade later he had attracted the attention of major collectors including Duncan Phillips whose world-renowned collection of modern art would form the core of the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, D.C.
|Lower New York From The Bridge John Marin, 1914|
The period from 1870 to 1920 was a transitional one as the United States evolved into the world's leading economy. As one of the first modernists in American art, John Marin had a strong influence on the transition of painting and illustration well into the 20th century. I enjoy his balance of realism and abstraction, the opacity of color, and the fact that he interpreted both nature and its cultural overlay.
For more information on the techniques that made Marin so significant, here is a brief video, "John Marin's Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism," produced by the Art institute of Chicago:
How to paint the landscape: First you make your bow to the landscape. Then you wait, and if the landscape bows to you, then, and only then, can you paint the landscape.John Marin
Monday, December 22, 2014
Sunday, December 21, 2014
The great arc of the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky today in the Northern Hemisphere. This day has the least amount of daylight - and the longest night - of any day of the year. With this day the beginning of winter occurs at 6:03 EST. For the next six months the sun will climb a bit higher every day in the Northern Hemisphere. It will take another month for heat from the "rebirth" of the sun to make a noticeable difference here on Earth. While we experience, perhaps enjoy, a world at rest the lengthening days can give us hope that the "dead season" will soon come to an end.
Saturday, December 20, 2014
On this day in 1803 the government of France officially transferred New Orleans, the colonial capital of Louisiana, to the United States. The event marked the end of French hopes to establish an empire in North America. In this transaction, known as the Louisiana Purchase, the nation acquired 530,000,000 acres of territory in North America for the sum of $15,000,000.
The Louisiana Purchase
As the United States spread across the Appalachians, the Mississippi River became increasingly important as a conduit for the produce of America’s West (which at that time referred to the land between the Appalachians and the Mississippi). Since 1762, Spain had owned the territory of Louisiana, which included 828,000 square miles, and which now makes up all or part of fifteen separate states between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Friction between Spain and the United States over the right to navigate the Mississippi and the right for Americans to transfer their goods to ocean-going vessels at New Orleans had been resolved by the Pinckney treaty of 1795. With the Pinckney treaty in place and the weak Spanish empire in control of Louisiana, American statesmen felt comfortable that the United States’ westward expansion would not be restricted in the long run.
This situation was threatened by Napoleon Bonaparte’s plans to revive the French empire in the New World. He planned to recapture the valuable sugar colony of St. Domingue from a slave rebellion, and then use Louisiana as the granary for his empire. France acquired Louisiana from Spain in 1800 and took possession in 1802, sending a large French army to St. Domingue and preparing to send another to New Orleans. Westerners became very apprehensive about having the more-powerful French in control of New Orleans; President Thomas Jefferson noted,
There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans.
In addition to making military preparations for a conflict in the Mississippi Valley, Jefferson sent James Monroe to join Robert Livingston in France to try to purchase New Orleans and West Florida for as much as $10 million. Failing that, they were to attempt to create a military alliance with England. Meanwhile, the French army in St. Domingue was being decimated by yellow fever, and war between France and England still threatened. Napoleon decided to give up his plans for Louisiana, and offered a surprised Monroe and Livingston the entire territory of Louisiana for $15 million. Although this far exceeded their instructions, they agreed.
|President James Monroe|
When news of the sale reached the United States, the West was elated. President Jefferson, however, was in a quandary. He had always advocated strict adherence to the letter of the Constitution, yet there was no provision empowering him to purchase territory. Given the public support for the purchase and the obvious value of Louisiana to the future growth of the United States, however, Jefferson decided to ignore the legalistic interpretation of the Constitution and forgo the passage of a Constitutional amendment to validate the purchase. This decision contributed to the principle of implied powers of the federal government.
Text: United States Department of State
Portraits: Official Portraits, The White House
Friday, December 19, 2014
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952) played an important role in bringing improvisational jazz elements into big band/dance band compositions. Both Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman credited his talent as an arranger for much of their success. It is interesting that his role in the development of American popular music was not well understood until academic studies of the history of jazz appeared late in the last century.
He was born on December 18 into a well-educated and musical family in the southwest Georgia town of Cuthbert. Henderson earned a degree in chemistry and mathematics but as a black man he had a difficult time finding work in those fields and soon turned to music to make a living. That musical career took him from accompanying Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and other blues singers, through the creation of an orchestra that included Don Redman and Louis Armstrong, to work as a composer-accompanist for Benny Goodman at a formative time for the swing era. From blues, to jazz, to swing, Henderson was a pioneer in music for almost forty years. His formula for swing music still shapes what we hear and enjoy today.
Here are some examples of Henderson's approach to music. First is Henderson and his orchestra playing his arrangement of Down South Camp Meeting. Our second music sample is Sandman, written by Ralph Reed and Bonnie Lake, as arranged by Henderson for Benny Goodman in 1937.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The 27-mph wind was harder than they would have liked, since their predicted cruising speed was only 30-35 mph. The headwind would slow their ground speed to a crawl, but they proceeded anyway. With a sheet, they signaled the volunteers from the nearby lifesaving station that they were about to try again.
Now it was Orville's turn. Remembering Wilbur's experience, he positioned himself and tested the controls. The stick that moved the horizontal elevator controlled climb and descent. The cradle that he swung with his hips warped the wings and swung the vertical tails, which in combination turned the machine. A lever controlled the gas flow and airspeed recorder. The controls were simple and few, but Orville knew it would take all his finesse to handle the new and heavier aircraft. At 10:35, he released the restraining wire. The flyer moved down the rail as Wilbur steadied the wings. Just as Orville left the ground, John Daniels from the lifesaving station snapped the shutter on a preset camera, capturing the historic image of the airborne aircraft with Wilbur running alongside.
|The Wright Flyer begins its first successful flight, December 17, 1903|
Again, the flyer was unruly, pitching up and down as Orville overcompensated with the controls. But he kept it aloft until it hit the sand about 120 feet from the rail. Into the 27-mph wind, the ground speed had been 6.8 mph, for a total airspeed of 34 mph. The brothers took turns flying three more times that day, getting a feel for the controls and increasing their distance with each flight. Wilbur's second flight - the fourth and last of the day – was an impressive 852 feet in 59 seconds.
This was the real thing, transcending the powered hops and glides others had achieved. The Wright machine had flown.
|Monuments spanning the 120 feet of the first flight|
For comprehensive information on this historic event visit the National Park Services Wright Brothers National Memorial web page.
1903 photograph, unrestored version: Library of Congress
Monuments photo; text: National Park Service, Wright Brothers National Memorial
Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) was an only child, a "PK," a preacher's kid. His family moved frequently throughout the South until he was fifteen when they settled in Wrens, Georgia. Still, his father often preached on large circuits, necessitating plenty of travel. In fact, the elder Caldwell traveled so regularly that his son could determine his destinations by the odor of coal smoke on his suit. In time, father took son on many of these journeys. The peculiarity, poverty, and injustice of the Depression era South was embedded in Erskine Caldwell's memory and he soon began writing about it. His observations had little to do with remnants of "the late unpleasantness" - the Civil War - that often gripped the region. Instead, Caldwell wrote of the raw realities of the human condition in the South. This, and his crusade for improving conditions, did not sit well with many Southerners. The dislike was enhanced because he was writing "in absentia," having left the South before 1930. Furthermore, his subject matter often placed him in conflict with censors across the country.
Caldwell had a long career as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but he is best known for Tobacco Road (1932), God's Little Acre (1933) and other works from the 1930's. An adaptation of Tobacco Road played on Broadway for eight years - a record at the time - beginning in 1933. A "sentimental burlesque" adaptation directed by John Ford in 1941 contributed to the stereotyping and ridicule of poor white Southerners. Caldwell greatly disliked the film. God's Little Acre remains one of the most popular novels in the U.S. with over ten million copies in print. A 1958 film version is considered the best presentation of Caldwell themes on film.
Here are the opening scenes from Tobacco Road and the theatrical trailer from God's Little Acre:
Caldwell, who was born on this day in 1903, is an interesting blend of 20th century authors. He is Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Isherwood, Joseph Mitchell, and a reflection of other modernists. Readers who seek more than discourse on the happy veneer of the human condition will enjoy Caldwell's interpretations.
Read more about him in this article from the New Georgia Encyclopedia. The volume is also the source of a quotation and other information in this post.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Monday, December 15, 2014
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Friday, December 12, 2014
Today marks the 99th anniversary of the birth of the American singer and actor, Frank Sinatra (1915-1998). His career spanned sixty years ending in 1995, and producing a discography spanning the eras of jazz, swing, big band, and pop music.
|Greatest Hits, Sinatra's first compilation was released in August 1968|
Sinatra finally retired from performing in his 80th year in 1995, and he died of a heart attack less than three years later. Anyone will be astonished at the sheer extent of Sinatra's success as a recording artist over 50 years, due to the changes in popular taste during that period. His popularity as a singer and his productivity has resulted in an overwhelming discography. Its major portions break down into the Columbia years (1943-1952), the Capitol years (1953-1962), and the Reprise years (1960-1981), but airchecks, film and television soundtracks, and other miscellaneous recordings swell it massively. As a movie star and as a celebrity of mixed reputation, Sinatra is so much of a 20th century icon that it is easy to overlook his real musical talents, which are the actual source of his renown. As an artist, he worked to interpret America's greatest songs and to preserve them for later generations. On his recordings, his success is apparent.
Read the rest of the biography here.
And here are two examples of the man at his best:
In case you think Sinatra's influence is waning, here are the details of Bob Dylan's new album covering ten of his classics. Shadows in the Night will be released February 2, 2015.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Monday, December 8, 2014
Sunday, December 7, 2014
|Forward magazine detonation, USS Shaw, December 7, 1941|
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Friday, December 5, 2014
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Today, December 2, marks the 100th anniversary of my mother's birth. She was the fourth of seven children born to a farm couple whose deep lineage in the western Virginia mountains has been lost to history. She and my dad met at a community dance in 1931 and married in the fall of 1933. By that time she had worked in a silk mill and as an etcher in a glass factory, and would later work through World War II as a quality control specialist in a synthetic fabric plant.
With my birth she became a full time mother and homemaker, but still found time to enjoy her church family, reading, gardening, nature, frequent visits with her large family, and vacations on Pattersons Creek in Burlington, West Virginia. She was taken from this world far too early in 1976 after a long illness. There's no question that I miss her and I'm sorry she did not live to enjoy her daughter-in-law and three grandchildren. Still, I feel her goodness has been with us helping to shape our family over these near forty years. Wouldn't have it any other way. She was a great mom, full of love, compassion, a wonderful sense of humor, and dedication to family and friends.
Happy birthday, Mom! See you later.