Tuesday, October 29, 2013

London: The Great City

I just finished a course on the History of London, one of the DVD lecture series from The Great Courses. This lecture was 24 half-hour installments, and I am sad to see it come to an end. I learned so much, so many great stories that just help confirm my love of that fair city. The series contained a wealth of information that spanned from practically pre-historic times to the new millennium. The professor, Robert O. Bucholz, an American, attended Oxford University. He currently teaches History at Loyola University Chicago, specializing on Great Britian, Western Civilization and London, of course. He has written many books, of which now I want to look into.

But, in his last lecture, in closing, he ended the series with a poem about London, written in 1738 by John Banks, called A Description of London ... It caught my imagination. London is filled with contradictions, fascinating changes over its years. It is truly resilient, and has made it self over many times. It is formal and proper, and yet there is an undercurrent of the seedy or strange. After all, it was the home of Jack The Ripper! Reduced to ashes upon more than one occasion, it rises again like the perennial Phoenix. Banks' words paint a picture of a spirited place of movement, gaiety and pleasure, foreboding and danger.

Houses, churches, mixed together,
Streets unpleasant in all weather;
Prisons, places contiguous,
Gates, a bridge, the Thames irriguous.

Gaudy things enough to tempt ye,
Showy outsides, insides empty;
Bubbles, trades, mechanic arts,
Coaches, wheelbarrows and carts.

Warrant, bailiffs, bills unpaid,
Lords of laundresses afraid;
Rogues that nightly rob and shoot men,
Hangmen, aldermen and footmen.

Lawyers, poets, priests, physicians,
Noble, simple, all conditions:
Worth beneath a threadbare cover,
Villainy bedaubed all over.

Women black, red, fair and grey,
Prudes and such as never pray,
Handsome, ugly, noisy, still,
Some that will not, some that will.

Many a beau without a shilling,
Many a widow not unwilling;
Many a bargain, if you strike it:
This is London! How d'ye like it?

Well, I like it very much! Even though it is a huge, sprawling city, it is still walkable, and history is everywhere. Fun to explore on foot, or by tube!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Be Prepared!

As the day of ghosts and ghouls fast approaches, I look into one of the most enduring horror themes: The Vampire. The 18th Century has a particular event to recall, resulting in mass hysteria. It is called the 18th Century Vampire Controversy”, which began with a panic of alleged vampire attacks in East Prussia in 1721 (it’s always Eastern Europe, if you think about it!).

There were two famous cases, officially recorded, involving the corpses of Peter Plogojowitz and Arnold Paole, both from Serbia. Plogojowitz supposedly died (age 61), and returned asking his son for food. When the son refused, he was found dead, from loss of blood. Paole was an ex-soldier turned farmer, who died, later returning to prey on his neighbors.  There was another case centered around Sava Savanovic, living in a watermill, killing and drinking the blood of millers. The character Savanovic was later used in a story written by Serbian Milovan Glisi, and turned into the 1937 horror film Leptirica.

Though this was an age of reason, the idea of vampirical (Is that a word?! Ha Ha ) attacks created quite a stir, and the forward-thinking purchased vampire hunting kits, just to be on the safe side! Some were quite extensive, including stakes, hammer, holy water, crucifix, vials of garlic powder and other concoctions to ward of the undead, bible, pistol with silver bullets, axe for decapitation. Everything you may need to prepare for the worst!

The enduring romance and mystery of the Vampire continue to this day. It's compelling to contemplate, as long as you're prepared!

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Gothic Novel

It's October, and thoughts turn to goblins and ghouls and gothic horror! I look forward every year to busting out all my favorite creep-show movies, including Dracula, Frankenstein, House of Wax, Sleepy Hollow, to name a few. It's part of the fun to be scared to death!
Also, I sent away for a "horrible" book to read this month: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! It's really a kick! It revolves around Jane Austen's original novel, but with Zombies thrown in to terrorize Derbyshire, Netherfield Park, Merryton, basically all the locations in which the story takes place!

In the spirit of the season, I decided to look into Gothic fiction, which is the genre of literature that includes elements of horror and romance. Its origin comes with the first of its kind, "The Castle of Otranto", by English author Horace Walpole, written in 1764. This was groundbreaking stuff at the time, to be followed by authors like Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein, works by Edgar Allen Poe, etc, up to the beginning of the 19th Century, and the rest is history, as they say.

The name "gothic" refers to the medieval buildings in which the stories generally take place, the ruins of a dark earlier age, representing the collapse and decay of humanity.
Walpole set the parameters for the gothic tale. There are always the following characters interjected: the virginal maiden, the old foolish woman, the hero, the tyrant, the stupid servant, clowns, ruffians, clergy. These characters reinforce the story: the innocent deflowered, the knight in shining armor, the comic relief, the moral judge, etc. It's all there, with suspense, bone-chilling terror and forbidden love among the ruins thrown in for good measure.

By the way, The Castle of Otranto tells the story of a lord and his family, beginning on his son's wedding day, with a tragic event happening just after all the celebration. The tragedy is the fulfillment of an prophecy. It goes on from there with murders, trysts, sorrow, suspense, pain and suffering. Doesn't it make you want to crack the cover!?






Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Highland High

There are whiskies, and then there are whiskies, and Scotch whisky is a most wonderful treat, an acquired taste, but one well-worth the exploration. Scotch must be made in Scotland, for there are many places around the globe where whisky is produced, but none quite like those lovingly produced in the Lowlands and the highlands of Scotland, and they must be made in a manner specified by law.

All Scotch was originally made from malt barley, though commercial distilleries began introducing whisky made from wheat and rye in the late eighteenth century.   Scotch is divided into five distinct categories: single malt, single grain, blended malt, blended grain and blended.   And, all Scotch must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years.

By the way, the first written mention of Scotch whisky is in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, 1495, by a friar named John Cor, who was the distiller at Lindores Abbey (shown at right).

Independent Scotch Whisky bottlers started bottling Scotch in the 18th century, most of these bottlers where traditionally wine brokers and shop owners. Demand for the “water of life” was quite high, and in the natural progression of commerce, store owners began to blend single malts to make their own particular product. Smoother, more palatable blends were produced that are still around today, including Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s.

But for the cognoscenti, there is nothing like the true single malt. My particular favorites come from Speyside, or the north east region of the Highlands, The Balvenie, Aberlour and The MacCallan.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A New Find

I get up very early each morning so that I have some time to think about the day, reflect, plan, work on a project before the day gets cranked up. I like to put on my local classical streaming TV music station while I have that first glorious cup of java. I don't want the music too loud, just enough to hear something lovely to start my morning.

Today, I heard something that made my ears prick up. I went over to the set to see whose work was highlighted. Gallupi - Flute Concerto in D. I like to play a little game, and see if I can tell whose music is on, what era it's from. I thought I heard some Vivaldi in there; perhaps some Handel or Bach. Something a bit earlier than Mozart or his contemporaries. Something a little "Italianate" perhaps.

When I saw the name Gallupi, I had to look him up. Ahh! Italian - early 1700's. Born in the island of Burano, near Venice, Baldassare Galuppi lived from 1706 - 1785, He became an international success, spending time in London and St. Petersburg as well as the Venetian Republic. He became famous in Europe for his operas, eventually earning the title of "father of the comic opera". He held official posts, most notably the head of music at the Doge's chapel, St. Mark's Basilica, in the famous square of the same name. He composed a great deal of church music, and he was a virtuoso keyboard performer.

Gallupi was a nice find this morning! Someone new to listen to.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Halloween Tunes

It's October, and Halloween is generally in my thoughts. I love the on-set of the Fall.     I have taken down my Summer door wreath, in favor of one with all the autumnal colors. Later in the month, I will exchange that for a more ghoulish one.

As is fitting this time of year, I get out the appropriate music to drive along with. Years and years ago, my daughter and I bought a compilation CD of Halloween-inspired tunes, "The Fright Night Classics", including Night on Bald Mountain, Swan Lake theme (remember Dracula?), Danse Macabre, March of the Gallows, the Witches Sabbath. I love to hear all the music, not only to get in the spirit of the season, but it's nostalgic of making Halloween costumes, carving pumpkins, collecting candy with my daughter.

I also like to hear some of Nightwish's rather Gothic selections, as well as another compilation "After Dark", more Cult and Bauhaus-type selections. "Bela Lagosi's Dead" and "Lucretia My Reflection" are particular favorites.

But this year, I decided to include Mozart's Requiem. Written in 1791, this Mass in D Minor is famous for some "mystery" that surrounds it. Actually, it's just that he wrote it on his death bed, and it was left unfinished, for his fellow composer, Xaver Sussmayr, to complete it. Of course, he followed the sketches Mozart had fleshed out, delivering a glorious work to Count Franz von Walsegg, who had anonymously commissioned it to commemorate the death of his wife. As Mozart was only paid a deposit on the work, his wife Constanze was quick to get it published! Thank you, Stanzie, for that!

Typically, the requiem is a mass to celebrate the souls of the dead, in a Latin format, the Roman Missal, organized as follows: The Introit, Kyrie Eleison, Gradual, Tract, Dies Irae, Offertory, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Communion, Pie Jesu, Libera Me, and finally the In Paradisum.

Mozart's work is scored for horns, bassoons, trumpets, trombones, timpani, violins, viola, cello and organ. The vocal parts include soprano, contralto, tenor, bass as well as a full choir. It's basically the full-nine-yards!

By the time you take the journey through all the sections, you have traveled from the petition of prayers for mercy, a look at Judgment and Hell, to the to the soul's arrival in Paradise (assuming the Powers-That-Be deem the particular soul in question worthy!).

Give it a listen this season. I'm sure you will be uplifted by its beauty, and you can think that it is one of the prettier things about the Halloween season.




Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Mary King Close

Travel, as they say, is broadening. You never know what new thing you will encounter or learn about.

When I was recently in Edinburgh, we made a visit to Mary King Close, on the Royal Mile (high street). It is an very interesting, and curious place. To begin with, Edinburgh is built on a rock with the high (or main) street built along its highest point. Off the high street are a series of tiny streets, called "closes" that run perpendicular to the main thoroughfare.
They are more like alleyways than anything else, where mostly the poor made their residence in incredibly small cubicles. The closes were often named for prominent citizens, business people who acted as landlords. Mary King was such, offering tenement type living arrangements for townspeople, in 1630.

The Mary King Close residences were well beneath the city's street level, many stories down, as a matter of fact. The close was dark and dank, and a breeding ground for mystery and myths, and tales of ghosts. Many a person died down deep in the close, and there was disease and murder and bad dealings in abundance. At right and below is a model of the dwellings, above and below grade.

Though it was built in the 17th Century, it remained active until 1753, when it was eventually built over during a "modernization" period, and the lower floors became the foundation of the Royal Exchange (the City Chambers).

You can take the tour, venturing ever deeper into the dwellings. Life in 18th Century Edinburgh was difficult for many. The city was terribly overcrowded, and conditions in the close did not offer anything better. Until there were actual sewers, waste and trash were just thrown out the windows of the dwellings, down to the bottom floors. Only rain, when it rained, helped wash the stench and germs away. The Black Plague and bubonic plague ran rampant. It was obviously better to live on the upper floors, if a "residence" became available. As they say, it was fun to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there!

And, today, no one lives there, thank goodness, but for the ghosts!


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In Praise of the Past

Well, I met my lovely daughter this afternoon for coffee, and she told me all about her attendance at the annual Road to Regency Ball in Old Town Alexandria, VA. Along with her husband, they attended, in full regalia.... Regency costume, wigs, fans, tri-corn hats, and all. For more information, you must see her blog: http://dressedintime.blogspot.com/

My daughter is quite a seamstress for these kinds of historic clothes, and what a wonderful opportunity to express one's creativity, and historical accuracy, but at an event like this!

Held at the famed Gatsby's Tavern, in their upstairs ballroom, you can imagine yourself back-in-the-day, sipping cordials, expressing social cues with your fan, skipping to the beat of country dances.

I've had many a lovely, and tasty, dinner at Gatsby's over the years. Gatsby's has been serving fine food since the late 1700's, to hungry Colonials, including George Washington. I particularly like their peanut soup, and the "George Washington Favorite" grilled breast of duck with corn pudding, or the "Gentleman's Pye" featuring lamb and beef in a savory wine stew. I just love this place!

But, having dinner there, and going back in time, so to speak, is another thing. Makes me want to time travel next time they do this kind of thing!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Back to Business!

Well, I am finally back at my desk, since my wonderful Scottish fling, and then my annual "labor of love", working our local church Greek Food Festival, held every late-September here in Las Vegas. The weather was glorious, almost Autumn, and I was responsible for decorating the grounds. Of course, when the Festival opens, that work is done, so then I helped prepare salads for hours each day, then welcomed people at Admissions in the evening until closing.

So, I have to admit, I have not been diligent herein, and I feel quite guilty. But, I have truly been too busy to be inspired, and so I promise to get down to business again right now.

And, what more beautiful place to start than with than the place I stayed in the Scottish Highlands, the beautiful Culloden House. The history of the house, and the ensuing Battle of Culloden, mark a turbulent time in Scottish history, namely the Jacobite Rising, about 1745. At that time, Bonnie Prince Charlie used the house as his lodgings and headquarters prior to the battle.

In the 18th Century, Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, attracted the wealthy to the region where they settled, enjoyed the diversions of the day, balls, assemblies, etc. A group of manor houses sprung up in the countryside, Culloden being one of the nicest, on 40 acres of parkland.

Actually the history of the house goes further back, to 1625, with Duncan Forbes, a wealthy gentleman, purchasing Culloden from the Macintosh chieftain, holding it in the Forbes family for the next 300 years.

Later, another Duncan, became Lord Chief of Justice in 1745, suffered at the hands of the Jacobites, having the house occupied and plundered. Duncan was appalled by the battle of Culloden and urged George II not to inflict hard punishment on the Highlanders, but George II did not listen. Consequently, the Highlanders even lost their right to wear the Tartan plaids, and play their bagpipes. They were stripped of their cultural heritage. Duncan, it is said, died of a broken heart a few years after the battle. Later Forbes family members restored the house to what it looks like today, and the beauty of that is that you can stay there, which is a peaceful and lovely place set away from the city.

At left, see the beautiful front grounds and the dining room. Below, is the typical British lounge, for reading, chatting, taking tea, playing a game of chess. Of course, the chessmen are Highlanders here!

And of course, what would a manor house be without its formal garden. The "Forbes" garden, as it is called, graces part of the acreage, fit for a lovely stroll in the morning, or afternoon.

It makes me awfully happy to know that this lovely place, from a grand old time, remains looked after today. It was a joy to stay here! And,....I liked the vast selection of scotch in their bar room, but that's a story for another day!