Gratuitous Puppy Celebrations

Well not really puppy – they both turn ten this month but to us they will always be our puppies.

It’s difficult to believe that it’s almost ten years since we made that trip to Casa delgi Orso in Capena just north of Rome and first saw our Nicky and Nora – better known as the Hounds from Hell. They were just over three weeks old and their eyes had barely opened. They were still in their whelping boxes and nestled with their respective dams and litter mates.

Below would be our feisty girl’s dam and sire: Lucie and Camillo. Lucie was such a suck and loved to be snuggled even if it meant interrupting feeding time. Camillo was a little fireball and a champion working dog, who gave us a real demonstration of his abilities as a hunter and tracker when one of the pups got loose. Both of Nora’s parents were in hunting packs and their prey was, believe it or not, boar! We know that Nora came by her rub “my belly and cuddle me” genes, her hunting howl, and tracking nose honestly.

And these are the young lad’s parents: Giverny and Monet. Giverny was most upset that I had handled her little guy – she checked him over to make sure everything was still there, licked him clean and then he headed straight for a teat. Monet was a show dog so we know where Nicky got his “I’m on the catwalk of life” vibe! And with that sort of parentage how could he not be an “artiste”.

Elenora di Capena was born on February 13 and Fantastico Nicky on February 24 making her the older one. And she’s never let him forget it. Back in July of 2011, a few days before they immigrated to Canada, Nora (without her collar) read the riot act to Nicky. She was the boss back then and eight years later she’s still the boss.

Happy birthday to our two whining, barking, growling, groaking, irritating, demanding but loved beyond all belief Hounds from Hell!

On this day in 1972: José María Velasco Ibarra, serving as President of Ecuador for the fifth time, is overthrown by the military for the fourth time.

Put Them All Together …

… you get St. Valentine!

Now I don’t want to sound the cynic but I’m still trying to figure out what the hearts, frills, chocolate, and flowers has to do with a Christian bishop who was battered and beaten, refused to die so had his head chopped off and then it would appear was unceremoniously scattered around Christendom?

Oh sure there’s some poppycock about him illegally performing secret marriages in Rome so the young men would get out of serving in the army. If the bloody marriages were secret how exactly did they get the exemption? There’s another story about him restoring the eyesight of his jailer’s daughter who had been blind from birth and just before they took him off he sent her a letter signing it “from your Valentine”. When and how exactly did this young lady learn to read? And what was a priest and bishop doing romancing the jailer’s daughter? What exactly did he mean by “your Valentine”? It all sounds a bit dodgy, not romantic, to me. And as to his martyrdom it was in either 269, 270 or 273 AD – take your pick. It would appear that at the beatification of the blessed Valentine the Devil’s Advocate may have missed some gaping holes in his claim to sanctity?

Now let’s address the matter of the bits and pieces – according to a recent reckoning the Blessed V’s body was, not unusually for martyrs, scattered to the four winds and ended up in:

Skull – Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome
Skull and other bits – San Anton, Madrid
Body (minus skull?) – Whitefrairs Street Church, Dublin
Relics??? – Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Vysehrad, Prague
Skull bits – Church of the Assumption of Mary, Chelmno, Poland
Body (minus skull?) – Birmingham Oratory, Birmingham, UK
Relics??? – Cathedral of Maria Assumta, Savona, Italy
Relics??? – St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna
Relics??? – Blessed John Dun Scotus cynicism

I guess this could be what they mean by spreading the love?

Now lest you think I’m just being a bitter old curmudgeon – I am but not about this – I did receive a lovely rose in honour of poor battered, beheaded and bestrewed Valentine. And I have exchanged greetings with several people. But let’s just add to that question I asked at the beginning. What do hearts, flowers, chocolate and frills have to do with a man who has, at the least, three skulls floating around the known world?

On this day in 1949: the Asbestos Strike begins in Canada. The strike marks the beginning of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec.

Mercoledi Musicale

In which we once again look at a lost penny!

After the final chord, I looked up. The Master’s darkly glowing gaze was fixed upon me penetratingly. Yet suddenly a benevolent smile broke up his gloomy features, Beethoven became quite close, bent over me, laid his hand on my head and repeatedly stroked my hair. “Devil of a fellow” he whispered, “such a young rascal!” I suddenly plucked up courage “May I play something of yours now?” I asked cheekily. Beethoven nodded with a smile.

– Franz Liszt on meeting Beethoven

Though traditional thought says otherwise, Beethoven did smile and it would appear that on more than one occasion he laughed. In a post that begins with the excerpt I’ve quoted above from Liszt’s diary Professor David Dennis explains where our misconception of a dour, raging Ludwig Von came from. A quick left click on LvB above will take you to his post.

If another legend is to be believed LvB was also a bit of a penny-pincher and on one occasion when a brand new penny (groschen) fell down a drain he immediately sat down at the clavichord and expressed his rage in this little piece: Die Wut über den verlorenen Groschen, ausgetobt in einer Caprice (Rage over a lost penny in the form of a caprice).

Of course this story is as unfounded as the “grumpy old curmudgeon” spiel. Beethoven called the unfinished piece a Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio (Rondo in the Gypsy style, almost a caprice). The “Rage” title does appear on the manuscript but not in Beethoven’s hand. It appears it was added by his friend and unpaid secretary Anton Schindler in one of his less than honest attempts to cash in on the unpublished manuscripts that he inherited on the composer’s death.

It is often played as a virtuoso encore piece by pianists as an excuse to show off their furious technical agility (a few names spring to mind). I’ve chosen the 1964 Kempf version because he treats it as what it is – a rondeau, energetic and full of humour and just a touch of romanticism. He shows his own genius without obscuring the genius that was Beethoven.

On this day in 1955: Israel obtains four of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls.

Penny Wise

It would seem that there is a day commemorating everything and this morning according to the CBC today is Lost Penny Day! A quick search at Days of the Year revealed that it is also Extraterrestrial Culture Day and Plum Pudding Day. Plum Pudding in February? Really? Well that is a line of questioning for another day.

But let’s give some thoughts to the penny (damn how’s that for a segue?) lost or found. Of course pennies went out of circulation here in Canada back in 2012. According to the government of the time it cost 1.6 cents to produce a 1 cent piece – though given their accounting practices … well never mind again that’s another question. The last penny was minted in Winnipeg on May 4th of that year and on February 4th 2013 the Mint began collecting and melting down the pennies in circulation.

Before 1858 coinage in Canada was a combination of the British sterling, American decimal coins, bank and commercial tokens, and the Spanish Milled Dollar. The first penny had a one inch diameter and was valued at two cents but when they were discontinued the name and size were applied to the one cent coin. The large penny was the second piece struck at the new Royal Mint when we began producing our own coinage in 1908. It was to remain a large coin until the size was reduced in 1920 to bring it in line with our neighbours to the South. And so it remained until 2012 when we indeed “lost” the penny.

But now the penny – the one cent, the copper – is lost to us. It is a thing of memory and you have to wonder what effect that will have on our language. Two generations from now will anyone know what was meant by all the phrases that reference the lowly penny. What will we be giving for a thought? What will we spend? What will be dropping? What exactly will a miser be pinching? The mind boggles!

And all this penny talk reminds me of a dreadful story (penny-dreadful!!! get it? Penny-dre… never mind!) that was a favourite of an former work colleague:

In a far eastern country there was a Sultan who decreed that sons of the Royal family must never shave on pain of death. Now the Sultan had many children but his favourite was Beni, the youngest and most handsome of his sons. As Beni reached manhood he obeyed his father’s decree and he let his beard grow. It was as black as coal and never once touched by a razor. It was full and luxuriant and Beni combed it, groomed it and perfumed it with sweet smelling oils. Beni, and indeed the entire kingdom, took great pride in his beard.

The women of the palace would often chatter and just as often blush when they spoke of the handsome Beni and his luxuriant beard. All but one: Fatima, the most beautiful woman in the kingdom. She did not like beards and thought that Beni would be more handsome without it. And of course that was the one woman that Beni loved more than any other woman in the kingdom.

But sadly as much as Beni paid court to her, she refused him. Beni pleaded but still Fatima refused; he sent her gifts but still she would not countenance his bewhiskered countenance. Finally Beni begged her to tell him what he could do to change her indifference to love. Fatima had only four words in reply: Shave off your beard!

Now love makes men do foolish things and in his passion Beni forgot the decree of his father, as indeed dear reader, in all probability so had you. Rashly he shaved off his beard and sadly he suffered the consequences. The Sultan went into a rage and, despite his love for his favourite son, had Beni beheaded. But in a moment of regret he had Beni’s body cremated and the ashes put in a beautiful mosaic urn. And because he wanted his favourite son always beside him he placed the urn at the right hand of his throne.

When Fatima heard what had happened she ran into the throne room and prostrated herself at the Sultan’s feet. Sobbing she begged for an explanation. The Sultan sighed and said that he had made a decree and that as heavy as his heart was, decrees must be followed. And he offered her the comfort that in this action there was a lesson to be learned. Fatima ask what lesson could possibly come from such a horror.

“Well my dear,” said the Sultan point to the urn at his side, “we have learned today that a Beni shaved is a Beni urned.”

Don’t blame me – I told you it was a nickel-dreadful! No that just doesn’t fall on the ear

On this day in 1818: Bernardo O’Higgins formally approves the Chilean Declaration of Independence near Concepción, Chile.

The Winter of Some Discontent

In which photos send me on a search….

Reading my friend David’s blog on Friday took me back to our last trip to London and the realization that I had never tidied up the photos from that trip. So I diligently began going through the files and labelling things properly. Now who this is for, other than mysef, I’m not really sure. We all take millions of pixels with our iPhones and digital cameras these days but other than a few posts to a social media where else do they go?

The Frost Fair of 1621 looking toward Southwark – a diorama in the exhibition hall at Shakespeare’s Globe. Thorp Modelmakers – 1912

Ah but I digress much as I did when I came across photos of a diorama from the exhibition at Shakespeare’s Globe. Crafted in 1912 by Thorp Modelmakers it is a reconstruction of the Thames looking to Southwark as it would have been in 1621 during the Great Frost of that year.

Title page to the published works of John Taylor – 1640 from the Lambeth Palace Library

This led me to a search for the story behind that particular Great Frost (one of the many during the 16th-19th centuries) that turned the River Thames to “water hard as iron”. In one source there was a quote from The colde tearme; or the frozen age; Or the metamorphoses of the River of the Thames by John Taylor, the Water Poet. Who? Never heard of him? Neither had I and that led to yet a further search. A fascinating man, Taylor was a waterman as well as the writer of some 150 poems, pamphlets, tracts, and travel diaries. At the time there was only one bridge across the Thames and the populace was dependent on the watermen to ferry them and their goods from the City across to Southwark. Ships also loaded and took on cargo from midstream as the tides made it impossible to dock close to shore.

Taylor became an officer of the newly formed Watermen’s Company and in 1620 he estimated that 20,000 people – watermen, their families and servants – made a living from this service. By 1620 that number had doubled as trade with the New World increased. Watermen had a bad reputation and Taylor often addressed their life and plight in his poems. Indeed a portion of The colde tearme talks of the Great Frost not only killing “hearbes and rootes” but the livelihood of the watermen.

Of course this lead to a search for the poem itself. Not the easiest thing to find and once there some of the language was a bit obscure – after all we are talking Elizabethan/Jacobean English. That led to further searches for meanings, etymologies etc. But it was great fun – almost as much fun as a Frost Fair?

Though his poem does speak to some of the pleasures of that Frost Fair in 1621, he also records the suffering that six weeks of bitter and freezing cold brings to those around him. The shortage of firewood, the lack of water, the dwindling of supplies coming in by boat, inadequate housing and clothing, the smog from the coal being burned – is it any wonder the Frost Fair was a welcome diversion?

In the following sections I’ve modernized some of Taylor’s language however left the case endings that still existed in the English of the day e.g. boots = bootes. I’ve also left some of the more colourful archaic words or phrases that give his writing its character, with an explanation at the bottom of each passage.

 It was the time when men wore liquor’d bootes*,
When rugged Winter, murdered hearbes & rootes;
When as the Heavens, the Earth did all attire
With plashes,* puddles, pooles, black dirt & mire.
Then at that time (to poore men’s care and costs)
A Christmas came to Towne, betwixt two Frosts
Then in the numb Cold month of January,
When as the Sunne was lodg’d in moyst* Aquarius:
When Boreas* (all with Isickles bedight*)
Worse than a Barber, ‘gan to shave* and bite,
Turning Thames streames to hard congealed flakes,
And pearled water drops to Christall* cakes.
*liquor’d boots – waxed boots
  hearbes - herbs
  plashes - grey curtains of rain
  moyst – moist, wet
  Boreas - the North Wind
  with Isickles bedight – with icicles bedecked
  shave – nip
  Christall – crystal 
The Swan playhouse (red building centre on shore) was one of four theatres that vied for audiences along the South Bank. Watermen depended on eager punters making their way from the City to the fleshpots and entertainment in Southwark and environs.

Taylor was a strange mixture of boatman, moralist, publicity hound, social activist and would-be poet. In the next passage he sees the tragic side of the six weeks of bitter cold on those around him. Charity is perhaps a person though might just as well be an allegory for that often forgotten virtue.

 Then Charity (in poore distresled* state)
Upon a Cake of Ice, lamenting late,
Halfe hunger-sterv’d*, and thinly clad she quiver’d,
As if in peeces shee would straight have shiver’d.
When as a Parson (that could never Preach,
Yet to three Benefices* well could reach)
Saw Charity to want both Foode and Cloathing,
Past by, ne’re spake to her, nor gave her nothing.
Next an Atturney her poore Case did see,
But all his Consciences wayted* on his Fee:
He walk’d along, and look’d a scaunt* on her,
And vow’d that all his Life, he never knew her.
A world of people more did thrust and throng,
Yet none Reliev’d her as they past along:
Until at last (as she was like to Dye)
The Maisters of an Hospitall past by;
They stay’d and did compassionate her Case,
And straight provided her a Lodging place.
There was a Us’rer*, with his Purse fast shut,
Did rayle* at her and call’d her Idle slut:
And said she to Virginia should be Shipt,
Or to Bridewell* be sent, and soundly whipt.
But at the last (to many a mizers* Griefe)
Shee in an Hospitall did finde Reliefe:
And whither shee be dead or like to dye,
Those that Relieve her better know than I.

* sterve - perishing/dying
   Benefices - paid church position
   wayted - waited
   scaunt - I could not find a word could he mean "askance"?
   Us'rer - Usurer or money lender
   rayle - scoff
   Bridewell - a London prison for fallen women and vagrants
   mizers - misers
Ramps were cut out of the embankments to give horses, wagons and holiday maker access to the frozen Thames.
 But once againe, I’ll turn me to my Theame
Of the conglutinated Frozen streame;
Upon whose Glassie face both too and fro,
Five hundred people all at once did go.
At Westminster there went three Horses over
Which safely did from shore to shore recover,
There might be seen spic’d Cakes and roasted Pigs,
Beere, Ale, Tobacco, Apples, Nuts, and Figs,
Fires made of Char-coles, Faggots, and Sea-coles*,
Playing and couz’ning* at the Pidg’on-holes*:
Some, for two Pots at Tables, Cards, or Dice:
Some slipping in betwixt two Cakes of Ice:
Some going on their businesse and affaires,
From Bank-side to Pauls or to Trig-staires*.
*sea-coles – mined coal
  couz’ning – trickery or deceit
  Pidg’on-holes – a form of gambling
  Bankside to Pauls or to Trig-staires – from Southwark
  to the stairs at Pauls or Trig’s wharves
The Bull Baiting ring had been moved from the large red building on shore to a temporary home on the ice.

The first few lines of the next section brought to mind the price-gouging that I recall in Montreal during the Great Ice Storm of 1998. Plus ça change!

 And in this gnashing age of Snow and Ice,
The Wood-mongers* did mount so high their price:
That many did to lye a bed desire
To save the charge of Wood, and Cole, and Fire.
Amongst the Whores, there were hot commings in,
Who ever lost, they still were sure to win,
They in one hour, so strangely did heat men,
That (for) all the Frost they scarce were coole again.
The Us’rers* Bonds, and Landlords Rent came on,
Most Trades had something to depend upon;
Onely the water-men just nothing got,
And yet (by Gods good helpe) they wanted not:
But all had coyne* or credit, foode and fire,
And what the neede of nature did require.
So farewell Frost, if Charity be living,
Poore men shall finde it, by rich mens giving.

* Wood-mongers - Sellers of fire wood
   coyne - money (coin)

Though Taylor’s poetry served him well in his time it is almost unknown today. It is often mere doggerel but with sudden turns of phrase or passages that brilliantly capture his era – its morals and its events. He was a colourful man and a left click on the picture below will take you to a brief essay on the man and his work (waterman and poet).

On this day in 1940: Tom and Jerry make their debut with Puss Gets The Boot.