Throwback Thursday

flowers-grandville
The Return of the Flowers – J. J. Grandville

The weather today suggests that Spring does actually happen here on PEI. Trees are starting to sprout leaves, the grass has gone from dead yellow to vibrant green to dandelion yellow, and the many tulip beds around town are breaking into bloom. Tulips are a very important industry here on PEI and many of the bulbs that are gracing flower beds in Canadian towns during this our sesquicentennial originate here at Vesey’s and Vancos. And of course this week is the wrap up week of the Tulip Festival in our old hometown of Ottawa.

JJGrandville2So to celebrate our tulips bursting forth, the industry here in PEI, and the Ottawa Festival I decided to stroll through a virtual garden that I started back in 2012 and always meant to revisit. And that stroll has led me to take another look at J. J. Grandville and Taxile Delord’s Les Fleurs Animées (Flowers Personified). I thought maybe that once again I’d delve into their allegorical recounting of what happen when flowers assumed human form and revive the Friday’s Flowers posts. And on the odd occasion highlight one or two of the flowers growing in my Virtual Garden.

Willy Or Won't He

Despite the snow fall earlier this week and this mornings minus temperatures Spring is really on its way here in Ottawa. No honestly it is!  A patch of early warm weather has nudged daffodils, hyacinths and other early spring flowers out of the earth.  Now mind you the near sub-zero temperatures have them hiding their heads but I’m always surprised how hardy so many of those seemly delicate flowers really are.

A few weeks ago to mark International Woman’s Day I sent out mimosas to the special women in my life in the form of a wonderful lithograph by J. J. Grandville from Les Fleurs Animées (Flowers Personified) a two volume set of 54 hand-coloured lithographs which propose that “Flowers are the expression of society.”

The introduction to Les Fleurs Animées was written by Alphonse Karr and the allegorical texts by Taxile Delord.  Grandville’s designs accompany their stories of the…

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Mercoledi Musicale

Laurent has often said that everything is a Broadway song cue for me – a statement I take exception to vehemently.  Not everything is a Broadway song cue – just most things.

Take for example a recent posting my blog buddy JP over at My Husband and I where the eponymous “I”  lays in bed with his husband Guido and muses on life.  Or I am assuming he was in bed as that seems to be JP’s favourite place for amusing and musing.  But I digress – back to the song cue:  his musings on life, french toast, their new business venture, and their relationship cued a song in the vast catalogue of Broadway songs stored in the Dewey decimal system that I call my mind:  Life Is!  It’s the introduction  to Zorbaan 1968 Kander and Ebb musical version of the Nikos Kazantzakis novel and Michael Cacoyannis film.

There was a time when hit (and not so hit) Broadway shows toured often with, if not the original stars, stars of equal renowned.  When they showed up at the Royal Alexandra or the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto my friend Charlie and I would head down to see them – in the case of Juliet Prowse in Sweet Charity at least twice as I recall.  And I have a feeling we may have seen Zorba more than once.  When we liked a show we liked a show.

Though when it premiered  the show had been referred to more than once as “the poor man’s Fiddler on the Roof” it was reworked and recast for the road – John Raitt was the Zorba and the great Chita Rivera sang and danced the Chorus Leader.  Some of the darkness of the original had been erased but the wry acceptance of events good and bad remained in many of the songs.  Particularly in Life Is!

The show opens in a taverna where a group of people are drinking, playing music, dancing, and talking.  Someone suggests they tell a story – another suggests the story of Zorba.  When ask what it’s about the Chorus Leader (Lorraine Serabian of the original cast) says that it’s about that passage from birth to death – LIFE!

So here’s to JP, Guido, the old cafe, the new cafe, french toast in bed, and LIFE.

On this day in 1875:  Aristides wins the first Kentucky Derby.

 

 

Lunedi Lunacy

While searching for a video clip I stumbled upon one that featured the late Mel Blanc – “the man of  a thousand voices”.  As these things do that led to randomly clicking on videos from a few of the many programmes that featured one of the greatest of “second bananas”.

Blanc was a regular with Jack Benny both on radio and television as a cast member and part of Benny’s creative team.   He play everything from Sy the Mexican to Professor LeBlank, Jack’s long-suffering violin teacher to Benny’s decrepit old Maxwell automobile.  Apparently the audio of the old clunker (the car not Jack) sputtering didn’t work during a live radio broadcast day so Blanc quickly imitated it with such success that it was added to his long list of characters.

Benny and he had a chemistry on stage that was one of the best in the business as this little sketch goes to show:

In the 1960s CBS tried to duplicate the success of their I Love Lucy by casting the gamine Belgian actress Annie Fargé in Angel.  Though Fargé was a huge success the show rated low and only ran for one season.  However it gave Blanc one of his funniest cameos in a long string of sit-com appearances:

And by the way Blanc’s name was Melvin Jerome Blank (thanks to Laurent for catching that one.)

Many people wouldn’t recognize Blanc but they’d recognize the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Speedy Gonzales, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, the Tasmanian Devil, Pepé Le Pew and many of the other characters from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies during that golden age of American animation.

I once had a French teacher tell me that if I wanted to get the proper cadence of French then listen to Pepé Le Pew – and that was part of Blanc’s success, he understood the rhythm, flow and stress of language.  And he knew how to make us laugh:

At his request his gravestone is inscribed:  THAT’S ALL FOLKS”.

On this day in 1905: Las Vegas is founded when 110 acres (0.45 km2), in what later would become downtown, are auctioned off.

Throwback Thursday

One of the oh so many joys of living in Rome was taking a walking tour with Nancy.  She is an American art historian who has lived most of her adult live in Italy and has a wealth of knowledge – both technical and anecdotal – on Italy ancient and modern. And she also seems to have access to things that you just don’t see on the average tour. On one occasion she managed to set up a private evening tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. After visiting it in a group of only 20 I was never able to go back during the crush of regular opening hours.

On another occasion she arranged a peek into the rare book collection of the Biblioteca Angelica – one of the first public libraries in the Western world. I thought I’d reblog three posts I wrote back in 2010 after that visit. At the end of this first repost there are links to the other two. I had several others in the works that were left unfinished and languishing in that very large “drafts” folder.

Willy Or Won't He

A week ago Tuesday I spent the morning at the public library here in Roma – well okay not just any old public library but one of the earliest public libraries in Europe. Biblioteca Angelica was founded in 1604 by Bishop Angelo (hence Angelica) Rocca, a writer and collector of rare books. He was also in charge of the Vatican Printing House during the pontificate of Pope Sextus V. He entrusted the care of some 20,000 volumes to the Monks at the convent of St Augustine, provided a building, an annuity, and regulations for its operation: the principle rule being that it was open to all people regardless of income or social status. It has functioned as a public library since 1609 and except for a few periods of renovation and civil upheaval has been a major source of learning and research material to anyone over the age of 16…

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Mercoledi Musicale

Though it is often a fading shadow of what it once was there is still some good and interesting programming on the CBC.  I am thinking particularly of the weekend line up which has the once standard mix of intelligent discussion, documentaries, a variety of music, and comedy.  Would that the midweek programming were as varied or as interesting but that may just be nostalgia speaking.

This past Sunday on Vinyl Tap, his weekly music programme, Randy Bachman featured voices that reeked (figuratively) of whisky, cigarettes, and late nights.  Voices that are immediately recognizable: amongst others Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Howlin’ Wolf, and Peggy Lee.  Yes Peggy Lee – if ever there was a voice that invoked smoke and sensuality it would have to be Norma Deloris Egstrom.  And in particular the Peggy Lee of Fever.

It wasn’t until Bachman mentioned it in his introduction that I realized the bare bones instrumentation on this iconic performance:  a double base, snapping fingers,  and a pared down drum set.  That’s it!  And of course that voice!  Bachman also recalled the first time he heard it on a Sunday night Ed Sullivan Show.  My search for a Sullivan appearance (she first appeared on the show in 1948 during the series’ first season and performed 17 more times until the show ended in 1970-71) turned up empty handed but I did find this 1958 appearance on the George Gobel Show.  It was long thought lost but now rests with the Library of Congress.

Again Bachman filled us in on a bit of the history of what most of us think of as Miss Lee’s signature song.  It was composed in 1956 by John Davenport – the pseudonym of Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell – and recorded by Little Willie John.  Two years later Miss Lee recorded it with revised lyrics and a new orchestration.  The “Romeo and Juliet” and “Pocahontas and John Smith” verses were written (uncredited and uncopywrited) by Lee herself and it is generally believed that she also did the orchestrations.  It differs considerably from the John version and has since become the accepted cover.

Little Willie John was a leading figure in the early days of R and B whose career came to an end as the result of his drinking and violent temper.  He was charged and jailed for manslaught in the mid-1960s and died in Washington State Penitentiary in 1968.  Because of legal concerns and his fading popularity his last album wasn’t released until 2008.

On this day in 1801: First Barbary War: The Barbary pirates of Tripoli declare war on the United States of America.