The roasting, the feasting and the hours of horseplay helped to create a special warmth on this cold, hard day. Then the fire was stoked and fed to make a warm place where there could be dancing until darkfall. Martin was very drunk. Rebecca danced alone, wide skirts swirling, hair flowing as the accordion wheezed out its jig, and feet stamped on the stone flags at the edge of the field, where the pit had been dug. — from Robert Holdstock’s Merlin’s Wood
I’m having a breakfast of tea and baked oatmeal with dates, walnuts and fresh cream on this crisp late Fall morning while reading The Scotsman from a few days back. Which is how I see they’re gearing up for reporting on another run by the SNP on independence, possibly next year. We’ll see if we do better this time than we did last time!
I don’t think I’ve mentioned lately here that we celebrate the Winter Holidays here covering everything from Hanukah and the Winter Solstice to Little Christmas as our Steward Ingrid, Reynard’s wife, always remembers fondly her Ukrainian family doing so. That means we’re pretty much in holiday mode from the end of November to early January with parties, celebrations, feasts, readings, such as of Yolen’s The Wild Hunt, and oft times even theatrical productions such as Goldman’s The Lion in Winter.
Gary has reviewed Hilary Mantel’s two (so far) historical novels based on the life of Robert Cromwell, advisor and henchman to England’s Henry VIII. “In Cromwell, Mantel has created one of my favorite literary characters in recent memory,” Gary says in his review of the first, Wolf Hall. “He springs to life on the page with his deft intelligence, his quick wit and his compassionate pragmatism.” Of that hefty tome, he also says, “It is richly deserving of all the accolades it has received, including the 2009 Man Booker Prize.” And of Bring Up the Bodies, the second installment, which takes us through the downfall of Anne Boleyn, Gary thinks it “does not suffer in any way the usual fate of a sequel. It is an undiminished part of what will probably be seen as Mantel’s masterwork, this tale of Cromwell.”
The book edited by Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta, The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture, had a Proustian effect on Leona: ‘There is, within every Italian-American family, a story about why the family left Italy… usually, at the heart of a family’s emigration story, there is a story about food….” (from the Introduction of The Milk of Almonds). This book is a collection of those stories, each with a silver hook that dragged me through my own memories as I read.’
Gary takes a look at three volumes of graphic literature by world-renowned comics artist Art Spiegelman. They include the two-volume Maus which simultaneously tells the story of how Spiegelman’s father survived the Holocaust, and of how the artist extracted the story from his father 40 years later. Vol. I, My Father Bleeds History, ends with Vladek Spiegelman’s arrival at Auschwitz; Vol. II, And Here My Troubles Began, tells how he survives. The third work is MetaMaus, an exhaustive compilation in book and DVD form that takes you behind the scenes of Spiegelman’s creation of his masterpiece.
Although Bill Willingham’s Fables series has finished off its impressive run, there are spinoffs from it well-worth your time including the one Robert looks at this time: ‘Fairest: Of Men and Mice is a spin-off from Bill Willingham’s Fables series, and actually takes place immediately after the events in Fables: Camelot. It is, when it comes right down to it, the Fables equivalent to a mystery thriller.’
Dark Desert Night is the name of the recording and it really impressed Gary: ‘I’m a huge fan of southern Utah, home of Zion, Arches, Canyonlands and Bryce national parks. And I’m a newly minted fan of this outfit called 3hattrio, which is based in the Zion area and makes music that matches the region’s lonely grandeur.’
Next up for him is Peter Cooper’s covers of the songs of another artist on Depot Light: ‘Texan Eric Taylor is yet another criminally under-known and under-appreciated writer, on the level of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. A poet and novelist who packs his emotionally wrenching narratives into devastating songs of a few minutes’ length each.
The New Mastersounds is a jazz-funk ensemble from Leeds that recorded its 10th release Made For Pleasure in the birthplace of funk, New Orleans. Gary in his review says he listened to it with pleasure.
A book, Judith Tick’s Ruth Crawford Seeger, A Composer’s Search for American Music, is next up for Gary: ‘Ruth Crawford Seeger is a pivotal but little-known figure of American music in the 20th Century. Judith Tick’s biography is a suitable monument to Crawford’s life and work.’
let’s finish off his look at music with an artist that should be remembered by Jazz fans: ‘Bill Evans recorded something like 50 albums as a leader between the 1950s and his untimely death at age 51 in 1980. He’s best known for his late-1950s and early-1960s recordings, particularly the albums taken from his legendary live sets at The Village Vanguard in 1961, and How My Heart Sings! in 1962, all on Riverside.’ Gary has reviews of a box set for Evans and How My Heart Sings!.
As I’ve noted before, I’m fond of the not quite trad music out of the Nordic cultures that arose starting in the early Nineties. Garmarna was one such band. With the stellar Emma Härdelin as their vocalist, they were active for about a decade and then took a break until now, as they’re working on a new album. This cut is called “Vedergällningen” which is from a Chicago performance in 2002. Skoal!