Other Pastures...

This is the obligatory "it's been a long time since I last posted" post.  Generally speaking, I usually post things of interest over on Facebook now (though I'm not thrilled with a lot of FB's policies).

But I plan to return to longer-form personal writing. Follow my adventures for spring & summer 2019 over on https://150days.tumblr.com/.

A presto!

"Man is a giddy thing": Much Ado About Nothing & Mumford and Sons

Finished watching a splendid rendition of "Much Ado About Nothing" that played the West End back in 2011, which starred David Tennant and Catherine Tate (formerly the Tenth Doctor Who and his companion Donna Noble) as the famously witty unwilling lovers, Benedick and Beatrice!  I HIGHLY recommend it renting or buying it here:

David Tennant and Catherine Tate star in Much Ado About Nothing - Available from Digital Theatre  In the meantime, you can catch a free preview below!   

When watching the production, a keen ear will recognize lines from Mumford and Sons' song, "Sigh No More"!

I found a wonderful write-up of both at SongMeanings.net, which I thought was very much worth sharing... Enjoy!!
"It's been almost 15 years since I had the great fortune to play the role of Signior Benedick in a regional theater production of "Much Ado About Nothing". But, when I heard the first line to "Sigh No More" ("Serve God, love me, and mend") I knew it immediately.

Many (but not all) of the lines to "Sigh No More" are taken directly from "Much Ado About Nothing" (MAAN)

If only one or two lines of the song were from MAAN, it could be considered "artistic license". But more than half of the lines are pretty much direct quotes from MAAN.

So, it makes sense to first know a little about the plot of the play. While there are several sub-plots, the primary story follows Benedick and Beatrice.

Benedick and Beatrice have known each other for many years. (Beatrice: "You always end with a jade's trick: I know you of old.")

Benedick, a veteran soldier, is an avowed bachelor ... as is Beatrice.

But, they are not just common acquaintances. There are hints of an earlier relationship between them ... one that did not end so well. Perhaps with infidelity on the part of Benedick:
DON PEDRO: Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.
BEATRICE : Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave him use for it,
a double heart for his single one: marry, once before he won it of me
with false dice, therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.

They have an obvious attraction to each other that all can see. However, they are constantly jibing and parrying with each other. There is a "merry war" between them.

Benedick starts the play railing against love: "I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none." And "I will live a bachelor."

As does Beatrice: "I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me."

Their friends and family conspire to make them fall in love with each other (or at least, to admit that they already ARE in love with each other) by simply letting each one know that the other secretly loves them.

It is while Benedick's friends are in the process of tricking him that Balthasar sings his song:
Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never:
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into Hey nonny, nonny.

Benedick then "overhears" (by design) his friend's conversation that Beatrice loves him and she is too proud/frightened to tell him. His friends leave him to ponder this and he delivers a pretty great Shakespearean monologue with lines like:
"Love me! Why, it must be requited!"
"I may chance have some odd quirks and remnants of wit broken on me, because I have
railed so long against marriage: but doth not the appetite alter?"

Beatrice's friends and family do the same thing to her ... and it works just as well:
"Benedick, love on; I will requite thee!"
"If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee to bind our loves up in a holy band"

Claudio (Benedick's friend) and Hero (Beatrice's cousin) are the young lovers in the play. They are engaged to be married. On the wedding day, Claudio arrives and essentially calls off the wedding, claiming that Hero has been unfaithful ... that he saw her the night before, at her window, with another man. This is all a choreographed ruse perpetrated by Don John, the "villain" of the play. (But nobody figures this out until later on).

Beatrice is heart-broken for her cousin, and angry that Claudio would defame Hero. Benedick attempts to comfort Beatrice and eventually confesses: "I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?" Beatrice then confesses that she loves Benedick, and things get really interesting ...

BEATRICE: You have stayed me in a happy hour: I was about to protest I loved you.
BENEDICK: And do it with all thy heart.
BEATRICE: I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.
BENEDICK: Come, bid me do any thing for thee.
BEATRICE: Kill Claudio.

(As an aside here, that line above is one of the reasons why people are still performing this guy's plays 400 years after he died. "I love you", "Prove it ... kill your best friend")

Benedick tries to calm Beatrice down ... to explain that there must be some kind of mistake, that Claudio is not this evil person that he appears to be. Beatrice will hear nothing of it. She is angered that she even needs to ask someone else (a man) to take care of this for her: "O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace."

Eventually, her grief and emotion are too much for Benedick to bear and he agrees to fight his friend to the death.

Benedick challenges Claudio: "You are a villain; I jest not: I will make it good how you dare, with what you dare, and when you dare." (NOTE: Benedick is a much more seasoned warrior than Claudio and he will dispatch him quickly. Benedick and Claudio know this.)

Luckily, the world's dumbest town sheriff (Constable Dogberry) stumbles upon some of Don John's men bragging about the treachery they performed (framing Hero). Therefore, everyone discovers that Hero was not unfaithful after all.

Word of this discovery has not yet reached Benedick and Beatrice. He meets with Beatrice to confirm that he has challenged Claudio. They have a playful moment where they once again express love for each other. But there is a serious undertone as well ... Benedick knowing that he will have to deal with Claudio, and Beatrice knowing that her cousin Hero has taken ill from the stress and grief she feels. This all leads to the following exchange:
BENEDICK: ...how doth your cousin?
BEATRICE: Very ill.
BENEDICK: And how do you?
BEATRICE: Very ill too.
BENEDICK: Serve God, love me and mend.

This is an incredibly gentle, loving moment. And, it can be thought of as a sort of "emotional climax" for the play. Until now, all of the declarations of love and hate between Beatrice and Benedick were grand statements, sweeping gestures. Here it is simple, basic, perfect ... "I will protect you".

And amazingly, the very NEXT line of the play is delivered by a handmaiden who runs in to inform Beatrice and Benedick that: "...it is proved my Lady Hero hath been falsely accused, the prince and Claudio mightily abused; and Don John is the author of all!"

So in the end, Claudio marries Hero and Benedick marries Beatrice. This is where Benedick says (to Claudio) "live unbruised" and also "we are friends".

Everyone rails at Benedick (the professed bachelor is now getting married).
He defends his position as best he can:
"In brief, since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any
purpose that the world can say against it; and therefore never flout
at me for what I have said against it; for man is a giddy thing,
and this is my conclusion."

The play has been a journey for Benedick ... to understand the nature of love.
He is given several lengthy monologues on the subject and spends much time debating the nature of love and whether it really has a roll in his life. But, in the end, it is the moment when he says "Serve God, love me, and mend" where he realizes the simplicity of it. Love is impossible to describe. Impossible to understand. Impossible to control. Impossible to ignore. Love just IS. For man is a giddy thing.

If you've made it this far, congratulations ... you have no life! But hey, it could be worse, you could have been the one writing this instead of reading it!

For what it's worth, I'll finish with the lines from the song (in CAPS) along with some notes where they tie-in with the song.

"SIGH NO MORE" - Mumford & Sons

Benedick (Spoken to Beatrice), Act V, Scene 2.

Not a direct line from the play.

Benedick (Spoken to Claudio), Act V, Scene 4.

Benedick (Spoken to Claudio), Act V, Scene 4.
Does not immediately follow "Live unbruised" though.
It is part of Benedick's next line.

The word "sorry" is used several places in the play.
Most notably is Beatrice (spoken to Benedick), Act IV, Scene 4.
But it is not an apology. Her line at that point is:
"I'm sorry for my cousin"

Balthasar (singing), Act II, Scene 3.
It is a song about the unfaithful nature of men.

Balthasar (singing), Act II, Scene 3.

Not a direct line from the play.

Most likely a reference to Benedick in Act V, Scene 2.
He sings:
The god of love,
That sits above,
And knows me, and knows me.

Benedick (to all), Act V, Scene 4. One of the last lines of the play.

None of the above comes from the play.
However, it is, without question, the conclusion that Benedick comes to in the end.
And, ultimately, the entire point of the play." 

History Bloopers!

Just going through some old files and discovered a short list of student bloopers I'd taken down once upon a time.  (Bloopers were always so much better when I gave identification quizzes!)  Enjoy!!  ☺

Battle of Britain: "Battle to find out who got the land between Germany and France."

Industrial Revolution: "A revolution fought between Italy and France" or "Started by Martin Luther."

Iron Curtain: "U.S. submarine sunk at the beginning of WWII."

Grand Army: "Britain's army was called this because they had all the weapons and fancy uniforms."

Blitzkrieg: "Means 'lightning war,' an invention during this time."

Boris Yeltsin: "Former leader of Russia.  Has big brown spot on head."

And, last but not least,

Ur: "The last frog to talk in the Budweiser commercials."

The Rain Falls on the Just and the Unjust Alike...

The horrific events in Sandy Hook Elementary School have led to much soul-searching in recent days, as we have sought our own answers to the terrible question "why?"  The resulting polemic is rapidly becoming far more visceral than most any political discussions in recent memory, with fingers being pointed in three main directions: a) lax gun control; b) insufficient mental health services; and c) Americans' supposed irreligiosity.

Unfortunately, religion is no guarantee that a society will be free from misfortune, for as the Gospels say, "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matt. 5:45) Especially when you consider that violent gun crime rates are actually still much lower in several countries which nowadays identify themselves as being both far less religious and far less Christian than the United States...

For example, last year, there were just 51 firearm-related deaths in the UK, their gun homicide rate is .04/100,000 persons, and out of 56 million people, 33 million identify themselves as being Christian, while as much as a fourth of the population does not declare themselves to be religious at all.

Compare that to the US, which has a firearm homicide rate of 3.7/100,000 persons and over 70% of the population which define themselves as Christian and another 10% religious of different faiths. Or El Salvador, which has the highest gun-related death rate in the world at over 50/100,000 persons, is about 80% Christian and almost 90% religious of mixed faiths!

In the end it seems truly that "blessed are the peacemakers." Righteous or not, the societies which stand by guns cannot at the same time avoid ever being cut down by them...

"A Christmas Story": Gender, History and Generally Overthinking It

A Dulled Cutting Edge
On Christmas Day, I proudly posted on FB how glad I was to have introduced my Italian mother-in-law to "A Christmas Story," which immediately elicited a surprising comment of profound sympathy on her behalf.

It was only then I realized that this movie, which had been pretty counter-cultural when it first came out and when I had first seen it on early cable tv nearly 30 years ago, was now totally mainstream and - as a result - boring to any twenty-first century edgy crowd. But consider the wonderfully florid and intellectualized prose of the narration, together with the occasionally absurdist and ever-so-slightly subversive take on the usual overly saccharine family tableaux... It most definitely presaged the humor of the Simpsons that debuted just 4 years later! It was rather cutting edge at the time and, yes, I was precisely in their target demographic!!)

Apparently my own little anti-"Christmas Story" troll however wasn't alone, since Mike Ryan of Moviefone also subsequently posted 10 Things That Confuse Me About 'A Christmas Story'.

Overthinking "A Christmas Story": What's Gender Got To Do with It?
In the spirit of another blog that I follow, Overthinking It, for some inexplicable reason I've decided to address at least briefly these concerns head-on, cuz I think there's a reasonable explanation for most of them (while I still have a couple of others that nevertheless continue to perplex me).
  1. The seventeen-year difference in Ralphie's parents' ages: Yeah, it's striking. But the way I figure it, the story is told from the point of view of an older Ralphie remembering how he used to view the world. And his dad is, of course, "the Old Man." So, I figure he just remembers his dad as always having been older (for more, see number 10 below...)
  2. Goggle-kid in the Santa scene: A quick look at the film's IMDb page shows that there had been Flash Gordon scenes cut out. Sure, the kid's creepy, but maybe he was there cuz his hero was Flash, just like Ralphie was there cuz his hero was Red Ryder.
  3. Flick: re goggles, see above. Flick recurs, I seem to recall, in the book of tales which was the basis for the movie, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (written, not coincidently, by the film's narrator Jean Shepherd).
  4. A good movie? It's a fun and often clever movie, certainly... but, okay, it's by no means a masterpiece. 1980s nostalgia factor?? Most definitely!
  5. Glitter cowboy: That's easy... it's what a kid during the golden age of Hollywood would imagine his hero wearing. (I'd be really surprised if Roy Rogers had never been forced to wear a similar get-up for some publicity shot somewhere...)
  6. BB gun: Of course it's a bad idea for kids! Then again, our chemistry sets back in the day could legitimately blow stuff up... Not a terribly good idea either! :-)
  7. The Old Man's 'Blue Ball': See number 10 below for more regarding Ralphie's dad!
  8. Jean Shepherd's voice sounding different from Ralphie: Doesn't bother me too much... Jean Shepherd was the story's original author, while Peter Billlingsley is ideal in the role of Ralphie. If the vocal qualities of the two were even to match, that would have just been icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned.
  9. Fake teeth episode: Likely based on a vignette from Shepherd's stories... At the very least, communicates pretty quickly how patiently long-suffering Ralphie's teacher is, which comes into play again later.
  10. Ralphie's dad supposedly being a "prick": I'm honestly pleased to see that Mike Ryan has no point of reference for really understanding the character of the "Old Man," which has everything to do with the idealized gender role of mid-twentieth-century authoritarian father figures... My dad (supposedly Ralphie's generation) wasn't like that, but my granddad definitely was! They were supposed to be distant and intimidating (not to mention legendary in their ability to fix absolutely anything). The one emotion that society could easily accept from them, if they were to show any at all, was anger... Hence, most of their emotional range tended to be channelled into being nearly permanently irascible. Above all, the film's "Old Man," as he is always called, successfully models the "man's man" of the time by being this kind of father! Any inconsistencies with the character, like Mike Ryan noted in number 8 above, for example, arise from the fact that no matter how effectively he presents an idealized tough male attitude, he actually could possess a soft heart that he couldn't readily show... That's why he gets so enamored of his "major award" or else allows himself to be sweet and good-humored at least one day a year, on Christmas Day. (Of course, his indulgence of Ralphie's Christmas wish also allowed him to begin indoctrinating his own son with tough masculine values, so he could doubly allow himself to be accommodating on this day...) Ralphie fondly remembers these rare moments when his dad was not so, shall we say, "prickly."
Where's the History in "A Christmas Story"?
In the end, though, these are not the things that, as Mike Ryan put it, confuse me about "A Christmas Story." Instead, why is there no mention at all of the war? There's never a date beyond "the 1940s" given for the setting, but let's say even that it took place right in 1940 (since they show the "Wizard of Oz" characters bopping around). Wouldn't it make Ralphie's memories far more poignant if they were explicitly the last untroubled ones of his childhood before America entered World War II? (Not to mention the fact that Ralphie's big Christmas wish had been a gun! Surely, there'd have been some subsequent ambivalence about that!)

Realistically, however, I know that these stories had originally been set by Shepherd during the early 1930s, so it's natural that there'd be no reference in them to WWII. But at that time there would have been the Great Depression, which then makes a story about the all-importance of receiving stuff for Christmas a difficult one to accept without any explanation, even - I would argue - from an older child's perspective during that time.

But even these weighty issues of authentic historical context vex me less than "A Christmas Story"'s greatest puzzle of them all: what's with the mom's hair?! It's not 1930s... it's not 1940s... heck, it's not even 1960s!! Why, oh why does the verisimilitude decide to check out here??!!!

(Then again, maybe I'm just overthinking it... May your own holidays be uncomplicated!!)


Venice's Madonna della Salute

Today, as recounted by the entry on Madonna della Salute at the blog "Venice from beyond the bridge", is Venice's locally observed feast day of Our Lady of Health.

Every Italian city is allowed one local holiday. But since that of the Venetian patron saint, Saint Mark, is the 25th of April and just happens to coincide with the Italian national holiday celebrating "Liberation Day" at the end of World War II, Venice gets to choose another local holiday to observe. It selected that of the Madonna della Salute, founded to commemorate the end of a massive epidemic of plague that began in 1630 and culminated in the construction of the glorious basilica dedicated to the Madonna who was credited with eventually saving the city from the plague.

Today, Venetians don't fear the plague, but many of them still make a pilgrimage to the Basilica to light a candle to the Madonna on this day. Tradition has it that those who do will not get the flu this winter. One year, the cousin of the father of my Venetian husband (say that three times fast!) stopped us on the street on November 21st and asked us whether we were going to the church ourselves. When we said we weren't planning to, she was shocked. "One GOES to the Salute," she insisted.

Best wishes to all for a healthy winter on this feast day of the Madonna della Salute!

11/11 = Venice's San Martino!

Yesterday was not only the U.S.' Veterans Day, but it was also the Feast Day of Saint Martin of Tours, which is celebrated to this very day in Venice!

It's a bit like "trick or treating" in the States... Children go to shops and sing a traditional song about San Martino while banging pots and pans until the shopkeepers give them small change, and then they move onto the next shop.

I have to say though that my favorite part of the day is the decorated sugar cookie in the form of Saint Martin (who was a knight on horseback until his religious conversion)... Here's a particularly ginormous and ornate one!

You can see more photos at the great blog Venice from beyond the bridge!

Art imitates Academia

That's right... Even in video games like the Sims Social, they apparently make you write historiographical essays!!

Gondola Joy Ride

From this week's "Buongiorno Venezia" newsletter:
"Another 21-year-old tourist, this time from United States, distinguished himself by stealing something quite showy, precious, and much bigger than the seven eggs [stolen from a contemporary art exhibition this week]. He nicked a gondola and travelled the canals in a state of inebriation with no idea of how dangerous his actions were. Witnesses say he was rowing as if pickaxing, and when he was blocked by the police, he asked them, 'Where is the boat's rudder?' His knowledge of gondolas was as minuscule as his sobriety."
Just great... Another bad impression left here by another drunk American! *sigh* Oh well...

Saturday Photohunt: One

It's been a long while since I did the Saturday Photohunt... In the meantime, though, I started recently using Instagram on the iPhone, which is a lot of fun and a great way to share photos with the world! So, for this week's photohunt, I thought I'd go through my Instagram pics so far and post the images that fit the theme.

Those of ya'll who are on Instagram can check out my pictures at @misciel, if you'd like, and those who aren't can still use the Webstagram service, like I've linked to here! I've used a few different hashtags: #photohunt, #saturdayphotohunt, and #saturday_photohunt... Please feel free to use them yourselves if you are Instagrammers too! :-)

Anyway, my Instagram Photohunt pics are also pasted here. I like the Venetian Lagoon shot the best... The other three are from my recent trip to Greece, where as you can see I really enjoyed snapping pics of the local pups!

I hope you enjoy them and best wishes for a great week!!

Traditional Transport in Venice

I've been meaning forever to post here on *MMC* this photo from a French blog dedicated to Venice, TraMeZziniMag, so here it is! When I first arrived in Venice 18 years ago, I still saw (rarely) products being carried through the streets this way... but it's been years since the last time I've seen it. I hope it's not dead and gone the way of so many other lost Venetian traditions...

Modern Library Built over (Nearly) Millennarian Covent Ruins

Well, as you can see in the sidebar, I do more FBing of my interesting weblinks than blogging nowadays, but I thought these photos were worth firing up Blogger for! ☺

First thing to know is that these originate from Instagram, a free iPhone app that's also fast becoming a photosharing sensation, not to mention a global social-network community for enjoying others' photography! (Those who don't use the iPhone or iPad can vicariously appreciate Istagram-ography by observing a live-stream of photos as they are being uploaded from all over the world at Hashtagram or by using the Webstagram service. FYI: I'm on there as @misciel!)

Now, the photo here is from Instagram user @mariannehope, a Norwegian who usually lives in Holland and typically shoots lovely desaturated, minimalist images of still-lifes and panoramas. That's why these images caught my eye... not like her usual style at all. Turns out that's because she wanted to give a strong sense of this fascinating building!

It is the Tønsberg Library, which she just visited. According to Wikipedia, Tønsberg is generally regarded as the oldest town in Norway, and they've got the ruins to prove it! As Marianne writes,
What's special about this building is that it's built on and around ancient ruins from the year 1180, the ruins of a convent. They also found 6 graves from the Vikings on the grounds. The building was built in 1992 and is a fantastic piece of modern architecture mixed in with the historic stones.
For more images of this interesting building, you can check out #tønsberglibrary on Webstagram - Instagram Web Viewer! (Turns out that Marianne will even be posting more tomorrow...) Enjoy!!

Gorgeous Venice Photos on Panoramio!

Until today, I had never heard of Panoramio (which is odd considering that it's even a Google product!)

But while I was reviewing and cleaning out some of the less-used photography apps from my iPhone, I happened to open NearPics which shows you photos taken nearby your current location and posted to Panoramio. Expecting to see the usual trite schlock taken of Venice, I was actually surprised to see truly original, creative and gorgeous views of the island city!

Give Panoramio a try... see if you too are surprised by the unexpectedly beautiful images taken in your own backyard!! ☺

Getting Ready for Blogging Season

As my annual transhumance is increasingly imminent, thought I'd dust off the blog and update its look a bit... While these days I Facebook and Twitter the links and brief observations I used to blog years ago when I first started *MMC*, I usually do more blogging in the summer when I'm overseas. See you on the flipside! ☺