Thanksgiving CCCXCVIII

Today is the three hundred ninety-eighth Thanksgiving–or would be, assuming that it was rigorously and routinely observed, which it wasn’t.  (However, it was never forgotten and then piously reconstructed.  There were many Thanksgiving feasts before the official federal establishment of the day.  This is really the day that would be the 398th.)

It is definitely 397 years ago that the Pilgrims and their native (then) friends sat down together to feast at Plimoth in 1621.  At least two of my direct ancestors were there, not to mention several uncles, which gives this time of year some of its personal meaning for me.  However, if you can’t make such a claim, it shouldn’t diminish in the least your enthusiasm for the day–there are many reasons to celebrate and many ways to find personal meaning.

Right now, the 19 lb. 8 oz. turkey is well underway in the oven.  It was filled full of bunches of tarragon, sage, rosemary and thyme, as well as a lemon; its skin was richly seasoned with Old Bay, Sazón Completa, black pepper and paprika.  Red potatoes and sweet potatoes are ready for peeling and cooking.  Leeks, parsnips, and a jumbo bag of cranberries and brussels sprouts–and wine and brandy–also await their turn.  A welcome guest is the bag of John Cope’s Toasted Dried Sweet Corn, which will either become a Corn Supreme casserole (savory corn pudding) or Indian pudding (a.k.a. hasty pudding), depending on my mood later on.

Missing this year are creamed pearl onions à la Nana.  I like onions on the table, so I may just parboil full-sized onions and cream them.  The only not-from-scratch dish will be the stuffing, which is based on a store-bought bag of stuffing.  I will energize it with sautéed leeks and slices of apple and pear.

Anyway, happy Thanksgiving and remember what the big fat turkey really stands for:  a rewarding journey over the river and through the woods.  Are we there yet?

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Winter Storm Avery

In the words of the Rankin and Bass classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, “It hit!”

We knew snow would come yesterday, but nobody predicted how much and nobody was ready.

I was one of the very luckiest.  I held my afternoon class, and then walked as fast as I could in the heavy snow to the PATH station.  I got to Hoboken and by a miracle, despite the crowds studying the screens with dismay, found that my train was ready to go–track assigned and all.  I found it, got on, and right on time we left.  A short delay at Secaucus allowed a good crowd to pile on.

I didn’t yet know that the Port Authority was closed.  A neighbor took the express bus out at 3:30 PM and didn’t arrive home till 11 (six hours late).  The PA was closed down at 5:15, long before my usual bus home.  How fortunate that I’d chosen the train this time–an instinct told me to avoid the bus.

Getting off at the usual stop was out of the question, though–my ride had been defeated by the treacherous mountain road, a mass of spun-out cars.  So it was on to the next stop, which meant a longer but smoother drive.  It was still a white-knuckler, with more than one turn executed as a controlled skid.  Driving down a dark country road with lakes on either side was challenging, and the guard rails offered scant comfort.

But sure enough, patience and care saw us back safe.

Today the snow has been steadily melting, and the roads will all be clear.  Still, what a gratuitous nightmare.  Last winter was nearly unbearable, as far as traveling to the city was concerned.  I’m not happy that we’re right back to the misery and it’s still a week till Thanksgiving.  (For the past two falls, it’s been quite mild through New Year’s.  Not this time.)  Snowfall this decade has been notably high, at least where I have lived.

Perhaps an ice age is coming after all.  I’m sure that if it does come, the people who have insisted for years that “snow will be a thing of the past” will promptly announce “we told you so.”

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There were needles of fine frost on Burt, the apothecary’s rose, this morning.

So much for “once blooming”!  My fine specimen of Rosa gallica officinalis, the ancient and unmodified Red Rose of Lancaster (and of Martin Luther), has blossomed repeatedly all summer.

No more, I suspect!

Time passes.  The goofy jack-o-lantern is still grinning, as oblivious as ever, on the mulch pile.

The pre-dawn was cold but strikingly clear, albeit half-ruined with light pollution.  I clearly saw the Praesepe, also known as M44 or the Beehive Cluster.  Cancer itself was distinctly and easily visible.  From east to west, Leo, Cancer, Gemini, and Taurus were arrayed in all their glory.  Aries was stuck in the trees.

Thanksgiving will involve at least one traditional corn dish.  The base will be John Cope’s dried corn in any case.  I lean towards hasty pudding (or “Indian pudding” as it was also called).  I made the “corn supreme” recipe on the package, and while it came out pretty well, I’m not sure I love it enough to give it space in the Thanksgiving Day oven!

After all, there’s Nana’s creamed pearl onions to consider!



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A Hundred Years Today

This morning marks the centennial of the end of World War I–once called The Great War.

The precise timing of the Armistice is the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour.  11/11 at 11:00 AM.

I’ll be in church coffee hour at that moment.  I plan to remember. Will you?  The centennial of the end of a terrible war, the first truly modern war in this case, is a good thing to celebrate, no?

Both of my grandfathers were in that conflict:  Grandfather Hall in the submarines and trenches, and interrogating Germans, thanks to his fluency in German.  He received the Silver Star.  My other grandfather was a captain in the quartermaster’s office on Staten Island, and attended law school for the duration.

Either way, it’s been a hundred years since a war thought unexceedable ended.  If only they had been right;  but a German corporal, blinded by mustard gas and unsuccessful as an artist, led the world back into the abyss twenty years later.  One war tends to beget another.

Anyway, do try to remember.

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Switched-On Brandenburgs

My college friend Doug was eager to share his newest album:  Switched-On Brandenburgs by Wendy Carlos, already famous for years for Switched-On Bach.

I loved the cover for a start:  thick silver and black, done as a woodcut, classical instruments on a lab table, surrounded by modern machinery à la Frankenstein.

The music itself was a hoot (as I might have said then):  it was Bach all right, but done on the most ultra-modern of musical instruments, the synthesizer.  Some of the tracks dated as far back as 1968, but the whole cycle made quite an artistic impact.

Fast forward several decades.  Doug died at the age of 49, in 2009, of an unexpected heart attack.   Till a few weeks ago, I had not heard those Brandenburgs since I had been in his dorm room as a sophomore or junior.

On the heels of Switched-On Bach (the original Walter Carlos version), I ordered a used copy of Switched-On Brandenburgs.  It came, the discs are perfect, and the shiny cover, while a bit worn, is still shiny and pleases me no end.

In maturity, and speaking as a professional classical musician, I find the performances delightful–even more so than in my youth–much more than a “hoot.”

While Bach obviously never heard any of the timbres on the two-record set, his counterpoint is the star of the show and is never less than pellucidly clear.  A few articulations–the final movement of the First, for example–are hippified, that is, heavily slurred and sprinkled with shimmery digital fairy dust.  There is the “unsatisfactory” second movement of the Third (which I quite like–if you have to improvise, improvise!)

But aside from a few cosmic moments like that, and the free use of crescendo and decrescendo, the cycle shows deep awareness of performance practice, in terms of tempo, articulation, clarity of line, and all those values.

It’s possible to learn something substantive about Bach from these recordings.  They are far from a gimmick.  The recording is frankly masterful.

I don’t think this will become my definitive Brandenburgs!  However, I do intend to listen to it often.

Beleated and repeated kudos.

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Halloween Part Two

It’s been a typical Halloween…unseasonably warm…a small turnout at the vigil Mass for All Saints.  We sang “Ye watchers and Ye Holy Ones,”  verses 1 and 2 at the start and 3 and 4 at the end.  Also “For All the Saints” at offertory.

No trick-or-treaters on our remote little road.

Now, on to Thanksgiving and birthday, Christ the King and the start of Advent.


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Halloween Part One

Why waste the early morning of Halloween?

Last evening, the Milky Way was brighter than I’ve seen it in years.  (My all-time Milky Way sighting was over Tuxis Island in Madison, Connecticut back in the 1970s.  Light pollution has probably destroyed that possibility.)

Early this morning, the waning moon (in Gemini) didn’t obscure a wonderful view of Canis Major.  Lynx and Leo Minor were surprisingly clear as well.  Why not, thought I, celebrate Halloween in the spooky morning as well as the evening?

So I have a fire going, and Frankenstein on the DVD player.  The pumpkin got carved last night–a rather cavalier jack-o-lantern with sunglasses and a huge grin!–and I toasted the seeds this morning.  Not to depart from hallowed tradition, but I toasted them in a skillet rather than the oven.

Then, to scare myself, I practiced some of the hairier measures of the Franck Chorale in E Major, a forest of double accidentals and unplayable stretches in both hands.

I was short on coffee yesterday so am curing a mild caffeine headache with a strong mug of Seattle’s Best.  (It’s hard to find bad coffee nowadays.)  A nice treat!

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Halloween 18

That’s me, yesterday, before welcoming my public for another Halloween festivity at church!

I’ve done this for years.  The Halloween party I started in Montclair in 2010 is still, as far as I know, a community fixture.  It certainly was at one point.  That was my whole idea.

Behind it, of course, is Calvin Hampton, my sweet memories of whom have already turned 50.

Yesterday was voted a big success, and members of the congregation stepped up to create a really memorable party.

There’s already talk of a major expansion next year.  It’s great to be part of a thriving congregation!

I played some Halloween favorites that I’ve used in the past, and also presented some new music that I haven’t done before…it was all very well received.

I got that hideous mask at a local drugstore shortly before the event, and paired it with a black elder’s robe for maximum effect.  I was going to dig out my old blue wig and funny glasses, but I thought–no.  That is what was.  I belong to what is!  Time for a change.

But enough about the old, tired, and passé.

Halloween is folk Christianity, a scandal to the neo-pagans and absurdity to the modernists.  Trick’s on you.

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The Villager

Live and learn, and learn and learn.

I grew up less than a mile from the historic northern boundary of Greenwich Village.  In college I occasionally read bits of The Village Voice.  Till very recently, I’d never heard of The Villager, which pre-existed the Voice and has survived it.

The Villager was described in one online source as being all about the non-beatnik, non-gay part of the Village of the 1950s, with news about bake sales and the like.  Almost a Pennysaver, from the sound of it.  But the Voice wasn’t necessarily the breath of fresh air they supposedly needed south of 14th St. What drove the Voice to dominance turned out to be the advertising, especially for scarce apartments.

Not a driving hippie altruism hungry for classical print journalism in a new key;  but the eternal Manhattan problem of finding a pad, man.

That’s one viewpoint, of course.  And print ads were once a vital social network, before the fakery of Facebook replaced real social networks with ongoing psychological research on non-informed subjects.  A real social network doesn’t have to exist in a server, expressed by pixels.  It can be just as real, or realer, via greasy black ink on cheap paper.  The Voice served that need.

Still, it’s ironic that The Villager endured and continues to thrive.  It seems to be moderately left wing but open to a variety of viewpoints.  Ritual Trump-bashing manages to coexist with editorials that remind us that “hate is hate.” (That’s from “The Angry Buddhist,” a regular feature.)  And yes, there’s plenty now to do with the gay side of the Village, as well as its enduring artistic passion.

I miss some bits of the Voice in its heyday:  Stan Mack’s Real-Life Funnies, for example (“all dialogue guaranteed overheard”).  Overall, though, after finally spending time with the old Villager online, I feel I can get along just fine without the heavy-handed articles and sex ads of the Voice.  It ain’t the Fifties anymore, but it also ain’t the Sixties.

How did the Voice manage to suck all the oxygen out of the room?  How did I not notice?  I’ve missed a fine paper for years and years.  Shame on me.

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Remembering Dad, 35 Years Later

I’m just like my old man.

It was hurled at me as a despicable insult for years and years.  Despite that, I’ve learned that it’s really true, and I embrace it.  Belatedly, but sincerely.  When I finally learned how to be happy for being just like my father, a great weight vanished off my shoulders.

Dad died thirty-five years ago today, October 23, 1983.  It was a Sunday.  He and his wife Betty had been to their church, and he was home doing what he loved most of all:  watching football.

He was lying on the sofa in their den, which was more or less an enclosed porch at the edge of a golf course.  I don’t know who was playing; an online schedule shows quite a few games that day at 1 PM and thereafter.

This was also the day when 243 Americans were killed in a terror bombing in Beirut.

At some point during that game, Dad died.

I was on the way to Cambridge, Massachusetts from eastern Long Island to visit someone I’ve now lost touch with.  I’d crossed Peconic Bay via Shelter Island and driven out to Orient.  From there I’d ferried across to New London and driven the rest of the way.

I got the news that night, after a concert by Ravi Shankar and a wonderful curry dinner, plus an excellent ice cream dessert.

It got rainy.  We went to a pub in Cambridge, The Plough and Stars, and had a drink.  Drove home the next day in a downpour, arriving late.  The funeral followed.  I was gone from the East End for a week.

Anyway.  I am my father’s son–except for football, and one or two other details.  I’m my own person, actually, and recognize a bit of my mother in me as well.  But no one, ever again, will make me feel ashamed of my father.  The main reason I like looking into a mirror (besides that it makes shaving easier) is that I see his face in my own.

Rest in peace, dad.  I’m sorry for everything, I forgive everything, and I wish you peace and everlasting life.

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