TBT: Saint Patrick’s Day

It seems like this week is packed full of holidays and pseudo-holidays:  Pi Day, The Ides of March, and now Saint Patrick’s Day.  Was there a holiday on 16 March that I missed?  “Blustery Sweet Sixteen Day” or the like?

I like holidays, even the minor ones, and as much as companies love pretending we’re all Irish for a month so they can sell socks with four-leaf clovers on them, I would slot Saint Patrick’s Day in the “minor holiday” category.

That said, the story behind the holiday is quite inspiring, especially for Christians, and explains how a barbaric, pagan land became a bastion of Christianity and, quite possible, the savior of Western Civilization.

As such, I’ll be donning some green today (if I remember—d’oh!) and enjoying a wee bit o’ the spirit of the day.

With that, here is 17 March 2021’s “Saint Patrick’s Day“:

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TBT: The Joy of Romantic Music III: Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”

It being a week of romance and lots of artistic endeavors, I decided to look back this Thursday to a post about the great French composer, Hector Berlioz.

Berlioz is the quintessential Romantic:  he wrote the subject of today’s post, the very fun Symphonie Fantastique, to deal with his lovesickness—and he ended up getting the girl because of it!

Another Berlioz heartbreak anecdote:  after his fiancée left him for another man (note, this woman is not the same as the subject of the Symphonie Fantastique), Berlioz plotted her and her new husband’s murder.  He traveled to Nice, where the couple was living, and took along weapons, disguises, and other murder paraphernalia.  When he disembarked from the train, he came to his senses, and abandoned his ill-conceived plot.  Instead, he spent a couple of weeks in Nice composing.

Talk about a whiplash!  I’m a sensitive poet-warrior at times, and I’ve experienced lovesickness, but never to the extent of Berlioz.  Still, I identify with his desire to compose music to get (or to cope with not getting) chicks.

With that, here is 29 January 2021’s “The Joy of Romantic Music III: Hector Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’“:

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Monday Morning Movie Review: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021)

In continuing with my movie reviews of requested films (see last week’s review of 1999’s Bicentennial Man, which I reviewed at the request of Audre Myers), I’m reviewing 2021’s The Electrical Life of Louis Wain at the request of my Aunt Marilyn.  She recommended the film, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the eccentric title character, enthusiastically.

I love Benedict Cumberbatch—one of my favorite current actors—and just about anything about eccentric creative types in Victorian England; needless to say, I loved this film, which details the quite tumultuous, tortured life and mind of Louis Wain, the man responsible for normalizing the keeping of cats as pets.

Viewing the film was a bit tricky at first.  As far as I can tell, it is only on the Amazon Prime Video service.  When I would pull up the movie on there, the only option I could see required an Amazon Prime membership, but my aunt assured me I’d be able to rent it (probably all I had to do was click on that subscription button and I’d be given the option to rent).

It occurred to me that I might still have access to Prime Video through my ex-girlfriend’s account on my Roku; sure enough, I was able to watch the movie—for free!—using those surreptitious means.

Logistical nonsense aside, I should probably review the film, rather than talk about how I had to access it.  All this blogging is going to my head.

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TBT: The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s “The Moldau”

In “The Worst of 2021” post, there was a much-neglected gem amid all the filler:  this January 2021 post about Czech composer Bedřich Smetana‘s The Moldau.  My good friend and former colleague H. L. Liptak—herself a noted writer and a recent subscriber, *hint, hint*—praised it in her a comment on “The Worst.”

That got me thinking about this post, and that it deserved a comeback.  Thus, here is January 2022’s “The Joy of Romantic Music II: Bedřich Smetana’s ‘The Moldau’“:

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Flashback Friday^2: Christmas and its Symbols

Okay, okay—it’s not Christmas.  But, hey, close enough, right?

There will be an actual Christmas post tomorrow morning, though it’s going to be very short.  But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to turn “Flashback Friday” into “Flashback Friday^2,” angering mathematicians and calendar enthusiasts everywhere.

The original post in this “series,” “Christmas and its Symbols,” contains some excellent Christmas wisdom.  So often we hear Christmas denounced as a secretly “pagan” holiday because we hang wreaths, put up trees, and dangle mistletoe.  But as one meme I’ve seen recently put it (to paraphrase), “Yes, I love to display the trophies of my vanquished foes.”

Christianity sure did kick—and continues to kick—some butt.  We could probably do with some more warrior-monks running around with maces and clubs.

For this weekend and beyond, though, Jesus—as He always does—will do.

With that, here is “Flashback Friday: Christmas and its Symbols“:

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TBT: Veterans’ Day 2018, Commemoration of the Great War, and Poppies

Today is Veterans’ Day, formerly known as Armistice Day, marking the end of the First World War.

Seeing as it falls on a Thursday this year, it seemed overly appropriate to feature this 2018 Veterans’ Day post.

I don’t have anymore to add that I didn’t say better in 2018, so with that, here is 13 November 2018’s “Veterans’ Day 2018, Commemoration of the Great War, and Poppies“:

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The Joy of Renaissance Music: Palestrina’s “Pope Marcellus” Mass

It’s another school year, which means another year going through the history of Western music in Pre-AP Music Appreciation.  This week we’re diving into Renaissance music, after spending last week covering the music of the Middle Ages.

Contrary to popular belief, the Middle Ages were not a period of depressing darkness, but rather a lively age.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be a peasant pushing an ox cart full of dung, but that peasant knew his place in the universe, in the sense that he knew he was part of an ordered cosmos with God at both its head and its center.

More on that another time, but I mention it to note that the Renaissance would not have been possible without that long age of faith in the Middle Ages.  Still, the Renaissance Period—variably dated, but starting roughly sometime in the fifteenth century, and extending to the seventeenth century—was a period of increased interest in the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome, especially the human realism depicted in the art of those great civilizations, both a continuation of and a departure from the Middle Ages.

It also saw the declining influence of the Catholic Church in Europe, especially in the wake of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.  As Protestantism and other social forces broke the Church’s monopoly on education and its dominance over art and music, Catholicism mounted a Counter-Reformation, aimed at both reducing the influence of Protestantism and reforming real abuses within the Roman Church.

That effort, naturally, involved revisions to music.  Catholic priests denounced the increasingly theatrical nature of church music, decrying it as distracting from the simple message of the Gospel and the sacred Latin text, instead serving as gaudy entertainment for Mass goers.  Much like the megachurch arena rock concerts of today, services had become garish and maudlin, a reflection of the corruption within the Church.

It was in this context that Giovanni Pieluigi da Palestrina composed his greatest works.  According to Roger Kamien in Music: An Appreciation (the eighth brief edition, which I use with my students), Palestrina composed some 104 masses and 450 other sacred works, and his music became, essentially, the gold standard of church music until modern times (“masses” in the musical context are works built around five sung prayers, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei, not to be confused with the Catholic service).

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Major Loot

In 2014, Hobby Lobby purchased a tablet containing an excerpt from the Epic of Gilgamesh, perhaps the oldest epic work of literature in Western Civilization.  The tablet is 3500-years old, and Hobby Lobby won the tablet in a Christie’s auction, paying $1.6 million for it.  Hobby Lobby displayed the tablet in its Museum of the Bible, which houses a number of rare and ancient artifacts.

Now, Hobby Lobby has forfeited the tablet to the US Department of Justice due to it shady provenance.  It seems that the original seller falsified a letter of provenance to show that the tablet had entered the United States before laws against importing rare artifacts were enacted.

To make matters worse, Christie’s apparently knew that the letter was questionable, but withheld that information.

Unfortunately, that means Hobby Lobby took one on the chin financially.  I’m not sure what the fate of the original smuggler is, but I imagine he’s long gone and living the sweet life.

The bigger question, though, is what should be done with such artifacts?  Current US policy seems to be to return them to their country of origin.  While that might seem to the be simplest policy, is it really best for the preservation of the artifacts—and our cultural heritage?

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Comic Review: Dracula: Vlad the Impaler (2021)

This past weekend I went to Athens, Georgia, with my girlfriend to see the sights.  We spent a good bit of time in downtown Athens, near the University of Georgia campus, which was overrun with graduates and their families in town for a weekend of graduation ceremonies.  Amid our sightseeing, we stumbled upon Bizarro-Wuxtrey, a comic book and record store that truly lives up to its name.

The first floor of the shop is Wuxtrey Records, a record shop that, due to Virus-related capacity restrictions, we were not able to browse.  The second floor is—like Bizarro Superman—the comic book section.  It was the classic comic book store, complete with an overweight, older gentleman with long hair and a beard manning the shabby little counter.  The store features several rooms of comics and old magazines, including back issues of old niche magazines dedicated to sci-fi flicks and movie monsters.

Amid the stacks of new arrivals I found the subject of this post:  the black-and-white reissue of the 1990s graphic novel Dracula: Vlad the Impaler.

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