Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Another Good One

Here's another favourite from Le Vent du Nord, this time from their latest: Tromper Le Temps. I seem to have an instinctive fondness for This Sort of Song; I had listened to it a good half-dozen times and held it as my favourite of the album before I had a fair idea of what the words meant. If you click on the title, it will bring up the lyrics and the translation.(Yes, it's another of the sad ones--but with more feet, this time.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Walk In the Park

Sunday afternoon I went out to the Sacramento State University Arboretum for the first time. While it  isn't a big garden, it's extremely well kept, and labeled as well as any field guide. It was mostly too shady at the time, to admit of good photography (the more shade the better, said I; it was a hot weekend), and I didn't manage to use the flash to its full advantage for the shooting of snails in incense cedars:
  But I did manage to not get this harvestman in my hair when I was wrapped up in taking the shot above, so I would consider it a successful afternoon.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Behind the Times

A few months ago, I made a very brief mention of Jerry Holland's "Reel for Carl." I liked that tune rather a lot. I think I only like it better now. My prevailing problem has been finding at least a reel worthy of pairing with it. The ones I  thought most suited in structure tended to be the least suited in key. Or, at least, that had been my problem until I was stopped at a red light, half-listening to a Silly Wizard album that had been living in the car CD player for a rather indefinite length of time and The Tune fairly fell into my lap. It came from a spectacular set to begin with, but when the accordion came driving in, with such a combination of vigour and precision, all I could think was that I must have That Tune, and nothing would do but that I must have it in a set with "Reel for Carl". The reel in question turned out to be one of Phil Cunningham (himself)'s, something called "Wing Commander Donald MacKenzie."*

I set myself to learning it and found that it was everything I would have hoped under the circumstances (i.e. it was wide awake and it didn't sound amiss coming out of C#m). Quite a find, I congratulated myself--and who would have thought to combine two such magnificent reels? Assuredly I was the first! (Never mind that both pieces have been around for at least 20 years.) I'll admit I thought quite gleefully about posting that discovery on this very blog, and in that interest, I went looking for a decent online presentation of "Wing Commander Donald MacKenzie." The first thing I discovered was that a band from Australia called Squeebz had beat me to combining the two reels. The second thing I discovered was that they had added insult to injury by prefacing the set with my favourite Cape Breton strathspey "Alex Dan MacIsaac," a stroke of genius which had not even hinted at striking me. And thirdly, they had done it in an altogether splendid fashion. Have a listen:

*If you'd like to hear the Silly Wizard set that "Wing Commander Donald MacKenzie" was recorded in (and everyone should), it polishes off track 8 on Kiss the Tears Away (the Amazon clip doesn't go far enough to hit the tune in question, but that gives you an idea of where to find it). Gordon Duncan had to modify the second part a bit to get it on the pipes, but it's still the same ol' tune, first track on Just for Gordon. (Just when you thought it couldn't get any quicker, and just when you thought it didn't need any variations. . .)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Definition of Understatement

Lately I've been reading a biography of the 19th century botanist David Douglas. The chapter I just finished had him landed in various dire circumstances while searching for specimens of the Sugar Pine. From Douglas' own journal comes this catalogue of unpleasantnesses which one (especially one traveling by horseback) might encounter in an Oregon November:

All hungry and no means of cooking a little of our stock; traveled thirty three miles, drenched and bleached with rain or sleet, chilled with a piercing north wind; and then to finish the day experienced the cooling, comfortless consolation for lying down wet without supper or fire. On such occasions I am very liable to become fretful.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Enveloped In Melancholy

    I do hate to be discounted as a conspiracy theorist, but there are certain things I have noticed of late that must be mentioned. I have noticed, for instance, a definite decline in the world of literature. The Golden Age of the poets and singers is gone, and we are left a spectre of the art that, for all its claims to glory of a particularly dazzling caliber, leaves us to stumble in the dark, hemmed in by a roar of unintelligible and unconnected words. I think, then, that it is incumbent on any one of us--even on me--to shed what light I may on the subject. The current state of literature exhibits a strong correlation with the current state of--
   But please let me digress a moment. If you ever had a high school English reader, you met, no doubt, with Tennyson's sombre, melodic lines: "Sunset and evening star,/And one clear call for me. . ." The poem was composed in 1889, on the back of an envelope.
   Nearer to our own times, you will recall John Gillespie Magee Jr.'s "High Flight," and its clear-cut exuberance over of the "long delirious burning blue." That, too, was written on the back of an envelope.
   That it is often claimed that the Gettysburg Address was not written on the back of an envelope can, I darkly suspect, be attributed to those forces towards whom I hinted in my first paragraph, that is, to return to my main theme, to those who seek, for some undisclosed motive of their own, to destroy letters (I mean literature) by destroying the envelope.
    But, you say, you have a stack of envelopes which arrived just this afternoon and, repulsive and repetitive as their general contents may be, you have there proof that the envelope is an institution far from destroyed. Look again at today's mail, where it reposes in the Accounts Payable file. Envelopes, you say? Perhaps in appearance, perhaps in some horrible parody of envelopehood, they present themselves as the genuine article. But if you will look closer, you will see that they have no souls.
   Pick up that one from the electric company. You recognise your name on the front (I hope) and observe the veritable billboard of a return address plastered over the remaining front. Now, if you dare, turn the envelope over. Do you see that? Can you fathom it? The heart stops at such an act of savage vandalism. The Modern Age has come to mean, evidently, that the backs of envelopes are, henceforward, to come pre-printed. Very thoroughly pre-printed. Just like that.
   If Tennyson had lived in our degenerate age, his poem might have started well. He might have slipped a few words into a semblance of a blank spot ("Tirra lirra!" would about cover it). But I suspect, if he had tried to write an entire poem on an electric company envelope, we would either be sadly lacking in high school English books, or they would be sadly burdened with poems such as,"Sunset and evening star,/And GO PAPER FREE!" Go paper free? You might as well, for all the help the electric company gives you in composing anything worthwhile in the way of literature--or even anything legible in the way of a shopping list.
    The true culprit behind this cultural outrage is impossible to unmask, for the electric company is far from alone in its depredations. My insurance company sent me something only slightly less printed-upon which defaces the back of the envelope with a suggestion for paying bills in a timely manner. That mightn't have taken up overmuch room by itself, but there was, appended along its edge, a rather charming and cryptic picture of two hands cradling a pot of cosmos. (Though I burn with indignation, as ever, for the denial of the poets' right, I cannot help but be slightly intrigued by the implication that my insurance company accepts pots of cosmos as payment, as long as they are sent in a timely manner.) As unidentifiable as the true foe may be, I believe the phone company is in it deeper than the others: they not only ruin the back of the envelope, they ruin it with a threat: "We're here for you."
     Since that is the case, I think I had better hurry off to some other where.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Look, Ma, No Pipes!

G.S. McLennan's "The Little Cascade," was purportedly inspired by a faucet with an incessant drip--a case, I should think, of art being a good deal preferable to nature. It's a magificent tune on the pipes-- and rather staggering on the harp, as you can see.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Here's a rather obscure "On This Day" for you: June 1, 1919 marked the beginning of the last voyage of the Casco, a schooner, as the article below mentions, rather well-known as one in which Stevenson had spent some time in the South Seas. If the popular phrase might be applied to a vessel, "She died as she had lived". (Popular Mechanics, January 1920)