Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's a number I rehearsed for this year's Thanksgiving show (11/28/9). It's from the '30s.

Dedicated to good friends. They always seem to pop up just when you need them the most, offering a word of encouragement, and keeping you from taking yourself too seriously.

(hope this works - new vid ed software)

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pt.17 - Der Sitzbank und Spectacles

Link to Pt.1 of this series

Pt.17 - Der Sitzbank und Spectacles

I sat down on the bed, and started to read a brochure put out by the cruise line, about the cruise ship. I found that we were not fully utilizing all of the amenities in our stateroom. For example, there was a steel plate on the wall with a black four-position knob on it. By turning the knob, we were serenaded with either British short-wave broadcasts, or Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. With the strains of the string quartet shivering into “Winter”, it seemed a lot cooler in the room. And, I discovered that by huddling in the corner, right next to the air conditioner, it was just a little cooler than the rest of the room, which, in addition to the window radiation, was also radiating heat from the deck above.

We sat and read the book about our stateroom, which was written only in German. What we thought were merely narrow bunk beds were actually the latest high-tech device in comfortable accommodation. These amazing beds were referred to as “Sitzbanks” in the manual. They were not only narrow hard beds at night — by day they were very uncomfortable sofas. While sitting on the sitzbank contemplating the view of the river (our room was on the river side of the boat), our feet dangled off the sides of the sitzbank, not reaching the floor.

While we were reading, the Four Seasons reached its inevitable end, and, just like the real Four Seasons, the music started out again — from the beginning. Was this an all-Vivaldi channel? Still, it was the only music, and I hadn’t heard the Four Seasons in a while. I got up to further explore the room, perhaps to discover some amenity I had missed. I discovered that our bathroom had not been supplied with washcloths. So, I went to the desk again, and told Andre that there were no washcloths in our bathroom. He told me “There are none on board”, and, I could tell just from his tone of voice, that the matter was closed.

I returned to the room to further contemplate our fate. From out of our window, through the shimmering heat, I could see the Rhone river. It was just a wide river, not quite as wide as the Mississippi here at Avignon. To the front of the boat, there was a bridge crossing the river. I was once again thankful that we hadn’t had to take a side trip across the bridge to discover that our boat was on This side of the river. We just wouldn’t have made it.

Across the river, there was a black boat with white lettering on its side “Spectacles”. We would note later that, although there was activity on board the “Spectacles”, the ship never left the port. Examining it more closely, it looked kind of seedy and run-down. Maybe someone was just living there, and the ship never left its port. Joyce speculated that maybe they have a telephoto lens, and sell “surveillance” footage to porn distributors based on what they could see through the stateroom windows of visiting ships.

It was now nearing six o’clock, and nearing time for our “welcome cocktail with the captain”. This warm welcome would take place at 7:00 p.m., with dinner to follow in the dining room. We sat back on our Sitzbank, and looked forward to the experience of actually meeting a real ship captain, and then actually having him buy us a drink. Maybe we could ask to use his washcloth. . . Vivaldi kept flailing away, our third time through the Four Seasons. Still, we were where we were going to be for the next week, and that alone felt good. No more schlepping the baggage around for awhile. At the very worst, we could sleep all week, and it would feel good.

We had a drink of our own, to bolster our curage for our upcoming meeting with the Captain. I went down to the ice machine and got six more tiny cubes for Joyce’s martini, and I had some good lukewarm American Whiskey — Old Crow. By 7:00, we were dressed again, and ready to go. Andre told us that, no, the Captain’s reception wasn’t until 7:30. We went back to our room and stared back at Spectacles some more, all the while tapping our toes to the lilt of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

At 7:30, we headed for the Salon. Andre, once again struck with amnesia, asked us, if he could help us. We told him that we were there for the Captain’s reception. “That is at 8:00", Andre told us. Back to the cabin. We poured ourself another small drink, and had some more Vivaldi. I wondered if the Four Seasons would be playing when we got back later. It would be.

At 8:00, they finally decided to greet the new passengers. We entered the salon, a pleasantly furnished room with groups of living-room chairs arranged around small coffee tables. A bar was at one end, a dance floor in the center, with a piano against one wall near the dance floor. At last, we’ll be able to hear some real French Jazz, from the country that gave us the Hot Club. Entertainment was piped over the house PA system, light classical music. Joyce broke into a sweat from Vivaldi-deprivation. I hummed some in her ear to snap her out of it.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bach No More - God's I-Pod Part 2

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Grade School - I was the little fat kid who played the hymns on the piano for the class to sing. Most of the elementary teachers couldn't play piano worth a dam, one finger with lots of mistakes was typical - they were all too glad to have me in their class. I could sight-read those suckers. For morning devotions, and right after lunch, I'd have to pick out a hymn - there were 660 of them in the Lutheran Hymnal to choose from. I'd write it on the chalk board, and walk over to the piano to lead the hymn.

In a past post, I've told you about the "Bringing In the Sheaves" incident - how Pastor Kay took me in his office and told me that God didn't like that sort of thing - He preferred the hymns in the Lutheran book, and things written by Bach and Buxtehude. I kind of liked the strong march tempo for a recessional - getting everyone out of the church as fast and efficiently as possible. But Pastor Kay assured me that any organist who liked his position would play something that God liked.

But then as we got into High School in those '60s, God had a change of heart. For awhile, I continued to lead the hymns for the teenage Youth League gatherings, until one fateful day. Somehow, in a way I to this day do not understand, God descends to the level of a stoned hippie. The Synod required the pastors to attend retreats focusing on How To Reach Our Youth - as if The Youth were some foreign species. Prayers have to be crude, halting, self-indulgent. The Service, re-done for Youth, is stripped of all elements of tradition, the chants, responses, hymns -- all scrapped. Rows of chairs? Too straight for God. Let's arrange them in a circle - now we've got God surrounded! Or, let's just dispense with chairs altogether- what the hell, let's sit on the floor. And of course, of the 660 hymns we had all practiced all our lives - none of them is appropriate for Youth Worship.

And, the music! Oy, how God has changed his mind about His musical tastes. Now music must only have two chords, and one of them has to be E minor. Acceptable instrumentation is a badly-played guitar -- that open-string E minor is still whanging in the back of my head whenever I think of Youth Music. No more joy. No more praising God in a major key with an ever-changing palette of chords and intricate harmonies. It's all Kum Ba Ya from here on out. Now we're singing Negro Spirituals, calling on the Lord as we did back when we worked in the cotton fields. (ironically, at the same time, blacks had moved on to Gospel music based on the more traditional hymn forms.)

Well, in the end, I was Kum Ba Ya'd out of a piano playing job. After many discussions with the minister, and failed attempts to indoctrinate me, I was left as an incurable curmudgeon at the age of 17, which I remain to this day.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Pt.16 Arrival at the M.S. Arlene

Pt.16 Arrival at the MS Arlene

Link to Pt.1 of this series

A Familiar Theme - Death March of the Luggage
We were both kind of numb from dragging our suitcases across a gravel expanse in the hot sun, and then dodging four lanes of near-freeway traffic. to cross the road, and then balancing the luggage between the highway and a ditch on a narrow strip of grass..

There. The boat was in sight - Our boat was named the "Cezanne", right? No, it was the "MS Arlene" Oops. There’s another boat further down the road. Let’s go there. Down through gravel and grass, along the side of the road. A deep ditch separates the river from the highway. The next boat down the river was the MS Arlene, but we were still on the other side of the ditch. A rickety ramp crossed the ditch. We hopped the baggage across this, and up the ten-foot hill.

A Mirage - or just a Bad Dream?
The MS Arlene was there, just like the picture — looks like a floating barracks, white sides, two rows of windows, and a rail on the top deck. Nothing impressive on the outside. A man in a suit introduced himself — Andre? He came out to help us in with our baggage. We had boarded the MS Arlene. Nothing to do now, but get waited on hand and foot in the air-conditioned splendor of our luxurious stateroom.

We were in the lobby of the MS Arlene, It was cool, air conditioned, clean. It was like a motel lobby, with a reception desk, a tan marble floor. We presented our boarding papers, and Andre showed us to our stateroom. It was a hot, very small room. The orange curtains were open, letting the sun in. A picture window about four feet long and three feet wide let in the afternoon sun, which we could feel radiating without regard for the air conditioner, which, even turned to its maximum setting emitted a barely detectable disturbance to the air directly in front of the vent. The vent was cool, but none of that coolness was allowed to work its way into the room. As expected, there were two small single beds. One was permanently mounted into the wall on one side of the room. On the other side of the room, other was presently locked upright. A set of cabinets. During the day, the first bed surved as a sofa, with movable bolster cushions against the wall, and an orange furniture cover placed over the entire bed.

Ha Ha Monseur, Ou e la Frommage?
When we opened both of our suitcases, there was no room to walk. The room was equipped with a small desk, an even smaller closet, with fixed hangers. There was a set of cabinets above the movable bed. A bathroom held a small shower stall with sliding doors, a small sink, and a toilet.
A notice posted in the bathroom informed us in French, English,and German about how expensive towel service was, and if we really didn’t need to change our towels every day, we could leave them on the towel bars to dry out, but if we wanted new towels, we were to leave them on the bathroom floor.

Unlimited Ice!
While we unpacked, I asked Andre at the desk if there were any ice available, as the tap water was quite tepid. He showed me an ice machine at the end of the hall. I took our two glasses to the machine, opened it up, expecting to fill them both and take them back to the room. The entire inventory of the ice machine was four cubes floating in about ½” of water. I took all four of them, and returned to the room. I gave Joyce the four cubes, and drank my water warm. I figured there were enough things going wrong, what with the hanger situation being what it was and all. There would be no room for whining about ice.

We continued to unpack. I went back to the desk, and asked Andre about getting a few more hangers. He said that some would be brought to the room. I managed with two hangers, folding the rest of my clothes to fit in the cabinet. Joyce got the remainder of the hangers, the floor of the closet, the desk drawers, and the other cabinet for her clothes. Joyce began to pine for the comfort of the Nikko.

What more could possibly go wrong?
So, we were in a foreign country in a small hot room, no hope of getting out until the end of the week. We speculated — maybe the meals, the fantastic French cooking, would compensate for all the momentary discomfort, and the lounge would feature a spectacular floor show every night, perhaps even better than the Gil Seville show on the Dolphin cruise ship the year before. (Please see the writeup of the New York Cruise of 1997 which I didn’t write last year) The hangers arrived. Joyce was finishing her unpacking.

What could possibly go wrong? heh heh hehThanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanksgiving Thoughts - Corn Shocks and Thanksgiving Hymns

I grew up in Watertown, Wisconsin. It was a healthy and growing community. When I was a kid, the north end of town, where I lived, was still emerging from farming to residential. I remember up on Spaulding Street, there was an entire city block owned by Walter Griep, and there he grew corn. He had a farm further out, but that was by God his corn field and he was going to by God grow his corn there. Each fall, he would stack up his corn stalks into shocks, arranged in rows. Over the years, this became an increasingly precious link to our heritage and our community's past. I have my mother to thank for pointing out the wonder in things around us - she always pointed out those corn shocks as we drove past. Sometime in the early '70s, Walter died, and the corn shocks were no more. I always think of those corn shocks this time of year.

Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. We got off of school, we celebrated the day with family and friends - eating to oblivion and then going out visiting one another. And the Thanksgiving hymns - I loved singing those - "Come Ye Thankful People" "We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing", "Now Thank We All Our God", and so many others.

The teachers always encouraged us to sing loudly, even when we sat with our parents in church.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Extra-Curricular Pep Talk

When I was in high school, I didn't join many extra-curricular school activities - that was for people who didn't have anything better to do with their time. I was busy. I had my after-school job at Woolworth's, and worked with a church group, and the church library. Every night I did homework, piano practice. I was building (mostly taking apart) radios in the basement, and then there were the tape recorders....

My mother loved to recall her high school days (back in the good old days before us kids, when life was great). In high school was very "outgoing". She had "gone out" for nearly everything she could possibly join - cheerleading, chorus, drama, and still had a part-time job at Bremser's grocery store. At her funeral, I met so many people who had known her, based on organizations she had joined in high school.

Well, one day my mother took me aside to have a talk with me about my "sedate" lifestyle.

"You know, you're old enough, now. If you wanted to - once in awhile - just 'go out', you don't always have to tell us exactly where you're going." (Was that a little twinkle in her eye?) "Just be home in time to get some sleep. You should have some fun, how can you know exactly where you're going to go when you're out with your friends? You're old enough to take care of yourself." Bless her, I wasn't being 'devilish' enough for her!

I somewhat made up for that excess tranquility in college and afterwards, but I'll always remember that talk with her.

Happy birthday, Mom!

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Pt.15 Avignon - Ou e La River Boat?

Pt.15 - Newly Arrived in Avignon - Heading for the River Boat

Link to Pt.1 of this series

You think asking for directions will help? HAHAHAHA!
We reached Avignon station. The train disembarked on the left side, and we got our bags off, and then the next challenge would be getting out of there. The station “sortie” was above us. We shared a very narrow elevator with an Englishman and our baggage. Emerging into the exit area, I waited with the bags, because Joyce wanted to get directions to the center of town, to the tourist bureau, and to the river port where our ship would be waiting. She returned, pointed toward town, and we headed that way. An ancient building had a sign having the word “tourisme” in it, and it was closed because today was Saturday, and they were only open until noon. We went on, looking for alternatives, and Joyce didn’t think that the old building matched the directions she had gotten at the train station. She was right. We hadn’t gone far enough to reach the real tourism office. We rolled our suitcases into a large area looking like a town square, but half the area was taken up by a parking lot. On the opposite side of the square was a large building with numerous storefronts. The tourist office was supposed to be on the right-hand side. Not wanting to take all of the suitcases down and back again, Joyce stayed with the luggage, and I went down the side of the building. It was like a strip mall, most of the stores were closed. At the end of the strip was a sex shop, which looked open. I didn’t check.

We find the Tourisme in spite of the directions
Returning, we let Joyce try her hand at “hide the tourisme”, and she came upon the office, in a large building that looked like a bank. She went in, while I stayed outside with the bags. We were in Avignon. It was a busy village. Across the street was a large open outdoor cafe. European disco music was coming from the cafe, and the occupants were having a boisterous good time. Down the street, I could see other stores, a building that said “Monoprix” on a sign hanging from the second floor. We never got to explore that one.

Highlighter! Now we know where we're going!
Joyce emerged with a map, with our proposed route to the ship outlined with a highlighter. Joyce is against maps, because, who can read them. But with pink highlighter on it, a map is ok, as long as the directions are spelled out in terms of going right and left, instead of north and south. Following her directions, we decided to walk the six blocks, rather than take a taxi or bus. She really would have liked to take the bus, but I just wasn’t up for the adventure. Well, well, we soon learn, that adventures are not optional things — you would have them when the time came. There was no choice.

SSDD - Jolly Times in Avignon!
The sidewalks began to narrow, and the pavement to get rougher. All sidewalks started to go uphill. There are relatively few streets in Avignon, compared to Paris, but it still seemed like we were lost when we got to the Rue Victor Hugo. It seemed like we had gone too far — we turned back a few times, and re-traced our steps. Then we asked someone at a sidewalk cafe for directions, and found that we were within sight of the river port. We were still a long way off. The city is walled, and to get to the river, one had to go through a gate.

Jay Walking on the Freeway

Once through the gate, there is an almost-freeway between you and the river, with only one crossing. We didn’t find the crossing. We dragged the suitcases through a gravel parking lot, causing the wheels to seize up. We pulled like oxen, got to the road. Since there was no marked crossing in sight, we took our chances at some dangerous jay-walking. First one lane, then along the median until crossing and we’ll be at that boat that looked like the one in the picture.

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