Saturday, December 16, 2017

What to Read. What to Watch

Okay, here come more December suggestions you don't need: what to read, what to watch, as Christmas approaches.

Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" remains the classic Christmas text (after the Gospel of Luke, of course). But Dickens wrote other novellas with a Christmas theme, and two of them--"The Chimes" and "The Haunted Man"--are included in the handsome Modern Library edition, along with a fine introduction by John  Irving, and Dickens's own short preface: "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea,which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it." Dated December 1843.

The other Christmas classic is a short story, "Gifts of the Magi," written overnight in the Hotel Marty, New York, around 1903 by a man named William Sydney Porter. It was one of some six hundred stories he wrote--one a week, for the New York World Sunday edition, and for which he was paid one hundred dollars apiece, a remarkable sum in 1903. All of those six hundred stories appeared with his pen name: O. Henry.

And to watch: The Alastair Sim film of "A Christmas Carol" is almost obligatory, and it's hard to imagine anyone playing Scrooge better, although one critic insists Christopher Plummer, in "The Man Who Invented Christmas," gives us the best Scrooge ever. (Plummer has long been regarded as North America's finest Shakespearean actor, based on his New York performances as Iago, opposite James Earl Jones's Othello, and as Macbeth, in the Scottish play, with Glenda Jackson.)

The flip or hip side of "A Christmas Carol" is "Scrooged," with Bill Murray, plus John Forsythe as a fine ghost of Marley, and Miles Davis as a street busker. And one shouldn't forget Vincente Minelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis," if you can blot out the psychopathic Tootie played by Margaret O'Brien. The most recent addition to this list is "Love, Actually," a series of Christmas season vignettes created by Richard Curtis, writer-director of all those Hugh Grant movies you properly should love.

There we are. Start mulling the wine. I'll be over with a bag of sugarplums.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Christmas Playlist

Yes, devotees of the wassail bowl and buche de Noel, it is almost time to begin playing music of the season--even though shopping malls have been playing "Silver Bells" and Alvin and the Chipmunks sing "Messiah" since Hallowe'en ended.

We once worked at a very civilized radio station that would not allow Christmas music until December 15, and then only selections that would not put your teeth on edge. No "Rock Around the Christmas Tree" by the Berlin Phil.

So here's our approved playlist:

-- "Sleighride," by Art Pepper and Richie "Alto Madness" Cole. A wild romp down the hill, with Roger Kellaway at the reins.

-- "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," by Dexter Gordon. Judy Garland would have liked it, too.

-- "Zat You, Santy Claus?"  by Louis Armstrong. Can't go wrong with Satch.

-- "England's Carol" by the Modern Jazz Quartet. This is really "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," given an elegant spin by the MJQ.

--  "The Christmas Song," written one sizzling summer day by Bob Wells and Mel Torme, one of the few Christmas pop pieces that is actually pretty good. Almost everyone has recorded it, but our choice is the Jane Monheit version.

And don't forget Vince Guaraldi. Have yourself a tuneful little Christmas.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Baba Noel

"Baba Noel" is what Santa Claus is called in southwest Turkey, and who should know better, for this is where the Santa Claus legend began.

Nicholas was a fourth century bishop in Myra, on the Mediterranean coast. He is said to have saved the three daughters of a poor family from a life of slavery by leaving bags of gold at their door. Beatified, he became known as Saint Nicholas, and the name, going through various national spellings and pronunciations, especially the Dutch "Sant Nikolaas," eventually became "Santa Claus."

The ancient city of Myra has long been gone, but the Church of St. Nicholas is still standing.

Not surprisingly, Nicholas is the patron saint of children, but he is also the patron of pawnbrokers and brewers. And as today is the feast day of Nicholas, have a brew for him.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Memorable Celebrity Statements

"When you're a star, you can do anything you want."

"When you're president, you can do anything you want."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Grey Cup: The Opera

It occurred to us, up here in the press box, draining the last of our Thermos bottles of "hot chocolate and Oxo"--heh heh--that the quest for a cup and a ring is the stuff of mighty legends. Were not King Arthur and his guys in search of the Holy Grail? And all those Wagnerian dudes after a ring?

So leave us lift the annual drive for the Grey Cup and the Grey Cup rings to a higher artistic level, and perhaps draw in a new group of fans. Let us turn the Grey Cup game into--an opera!

Imagine hearing Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell singing signals to their teams! Think of the possibilities--the Coach's Challenge Aria, the Referees Recitative, the Cheerleaders Chorus, the Triumphant Touchdown March!

"Hello, Operator? Get me Richie Wagner!"

Monday, November 27, 2017

No Joy in Cowtown

Once again, Calgary Stampeders fans know how the people of Mudville felt when the mighty Casey was struck out.

Someone should write a guide on "How to Play Better and Still Lose." Sportswriter Scott Stinson noted that the Stampeders, since 2010, have a win-loss-tie record of 107-35-2. The Toronto Argonauts: 67-77.

In the 2017 Grey Cup game, the Stampeders had 24 first downs, the Argonauts had 12. Other statistics: 74 yards rushing, Stampeders, Argonauts 16; 373 yards passing for the Stampeders, 297 for the Argos; ball possession, Stampeders 36:57, Argos 23:03. But at the end of sixty minutes, which team got the Grey Cup rings? The Argonauts.

Possibly the only aspect of the game more disspiriting for some was the halftime show, but that was an opportunity to go to the kitchen and stir the stew.

Grief counselling has now been put in place in Calgary.

But here's to the CFL, and to players who take the field in any weather, including snow so dense even huskies think twice about going outside.

--Slap Maxwell, for PD Sports.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Winter is Icumen In

As we endured the bone-chilling dampness and stiletto-sharp wind of November, the jukebox in our brain immediately began to play Ezra Pound's "Winter is Icumen In," which is, of course, the dark or flip side of the welcoming song, "Summer is Icumen In."

Pound's version includes the lines "Raineth drop and staineth slop/And how the wind doth ramm!" We would quote the entire text, but it includes some robust cursing, which we could not allow on a blog approved appropriate for all audiences.

However, we were moved to some robust cursing ourselves, when this line of Pound's came true: "Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us."

Winter is icumen in. Prepare.