Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Halloween doesn't fit my definition of a holiday. It's a working day. As the years passed when I was running a business, it became increasingly common for our employees, especially younger women, to show up for work in costume. I soon learned that this particular aspect of American culture was irresistible. I remember that when a friend's parents visited the East Coast in 1938 they were shocked by "Trick or Treating". They thought it terrible that parents allowed their children to go around demanding candy from strangers. No, you can't easily fight the culture! Every year, Halloween is a major item in newspaper articles, and especially in newspaper comics. This year, my Episcopal Church parish asked us to give "unwanted" candy to those organizing Hot Meals for the homeless. (Why anyone would have "spare" treats before Halloween I cannot imagine.) Most of those reading this will know that Halloween is also known as the Eve of All Saints' Day. In the UK, most children are looking forward to November 5, "Guy Fawkes Day". They probably know that this commemorates the day when a Roman Catholic was caught attempting to blow up Parliament. With present-day concerns about the environment, my guess is that the bonfires which were a major feature when I lived in England, are no longer permitted. However, it is the fireworks to which children look forward so eagerly. It was - and may still be - the custom for children to build a scarecrow-like effigy, their own version of Guy Fawkes. Never so insistent as trick-or-treaters, they would nevertheless trundle their creation around town, calling out "Penny for the Guy!". Those effigies were usually burned on the bonfire, with little thought given to the concept of death by a cruel torture. In fact, Guy Fawkes was tortured, and only avoided the customary fate of traitors (being hanged, drawn, and quartered) by leaping from the scaffold and breaking his neck. It gets dark quite early in November in the UK, where daylight saving time (known as "summer time" there) has already ended by November 5. One advantage of this is that young children can enjoy fireworks before bedtime, not possible (unless they have indulgent parents) on July 4.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When to clap

When we attend a symphony concert, the program shows the estimated time of performance, and the various movements are listed. I still prefer the customary silence between movements, despite those who have written that we should not suppress the enthusiasm of those who feel moved to express their pleasure. I applaud when the concerto or symphony is concluded. Because Barbara's multi-talented daughter, Laurie Lewis, is mainly (but "not strictly") a bluegrass musician, I attend a lot of concerts in which any solo section of a song or instrumental piece is applauded during the music, a custom that I believe originated in performances of jazz, I have trained myself to join in, if so moved. We also attend many Early Music performances, in which the individual works are often much briefer. Good program notes show where a break between items is appropriate for applause, and when it is not. One can tell by the layout of the page, with white space indicating the breaks, or possibly a dividing line between "sets". Different "movements" are usually delineated by Italian terms, such as Allegro, Adagio, Andante, and Largo. Sometimes there are breaks in the middle of short movements. (One needs to keep alert in order to follow the words, with English translations printed alongside 18th Century Italian, Spanish, French, or German. Having some French and a smattering of the other European languages, I enjoy attempting to translate the texts in my head before looking at the translations.) If the breaks between sets are not apparent, the best guide to the break is apparent from the body language of the performers. I continue to abhor the practice of starting to applaud before the music has ended, a particularly common practice when the National Anthem is sung before the start of a football game. .

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


We are told that there are some 11 million "undocumented" persons in the USA. I don't know how the number is calculated, but I accept that it is probably approximately correct.. Many politicians say that they support "immigration reform". The major sticking point in the House of Representatives is Republican opposition to any "path to citizenship". This is because they expect that most new citizens would vote for Democrats. Perhaps as someone who became a US citizens by the legal route, I might be expected to share the Republican view. Why should those who are here "illegally" jump the queue? Well, that's not my view. I am especially sympathetic to those brought here as minors, many of whom know nothing of any other country. There is a misapprehension that almost all "undocumented" folk are Mexicans who "sneaked" across the border. That's true of some, and of others from Central America, but there are many others who don't fit that description. I particularly think of those who have overstayed their visas. The Senate bill calls for a fine for those who decide to report to the authorities, and a long period of waiting until they are eligible for citizenship. For someone settled here, this is not an attractive option. If there is some reform that would apply to long-term residents (which doesn't seem very likely in the near future), I don't expect iot to have much traction.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Fortified Wines

Before discussing Sherry and Port, I should briefly mention Malvasia, a grape variety sometimes fortified, and Madeira, both of which I have enjoyed from time to time. Malvasia has also been known as "Malmsey", most famously because of the murder of the Duke of Clarence during England's Wars of the Roses. The unfortunate nobleman was apparently drowned "in a butt of Malmsey wine". The most prized dry sherry is "Fino". I also drink Amontillado. I prefer these as aperitif sipping wines. The after-dinner versions, such as oloroso, have never appealed to me. I prefer port, although I seldom drink it nowadays. The name "sherry" in English is derived from Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia,,Spain "Ruby" port is so called because of its color. When aged, the color gradually changes, and it becomes a "tawny" port. "Vintage" port is always aged, its pr Fortified Winesice typically rising with its age. The name comes from the city of Oporto, in Portugal's Douro Valley. Brandy is made in many parts of the world. The world-famous Cognac comes from France, of course, as does its lesser-known cousin, Armagnac, my personal choice on the rare occasions when I drink such spirits.