dual personalities

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There are all kinds of silences*

The post I planned was completely different from the one I have written. While I was putting together one topic, I ran across an interesting fellow named Richard John (‘Dick’) Cuninghame, a Scottish naturalist and African explorer/safari leader who was born in 1871 and died in 1925. He started off in the normal way of his class and time; that is, he attended Eton and then Cambridge. Exactly how he got into the life of a safari leader and explorer I cannot say, but he made a name for himself and became a fellow of both the Zoological Society and Meteorological Society. Here he is looking bemused in Cairo, Egypt in 1902 at the start of his first expedition.

Having made it into the African interior to collect zoological specimens with his friend Douglas McDouall, he promptly came down with a dangerous eye infection. Despite constant pain and complete blindness, he did not turn back. His diary entry for February 27, 1902, reads:

“I had had little sleep before the caravan arrived and on wakening noticed a peculiar gumminess around my right eye… the following day matters became serious and I lost vision in the right eye… After spending hundreds of pounds, and march[ing] hundreds of miles, though gameless, badly watered, and pestilential country, and to have just and only just arrived at the commencement of a really good game country, in a land but imperfectly explored, a combination of circumstances we had eagerly looked forward to for months past. Sitting, however, in the middle of a mountain range and pondering over regrets, in the dark, for by now I had lost the vision in both of my eyes, was of little practical use, so on the abating of the acute pain we decided to endeavour to reach the Nile again.” (From a Bonham’s auction catalog)

Though he was still blind when they embarked on the Nile, he managed to captain the boat anyway. Now that’s determination.  Fortunately, his eyesight gradually returned to normal and he was able to continue his explorations. Here he is a few years later, looking a little the worse for wear after a day of trekking.

Eventually, his reputation won him the honor of leading, from April 1909 to March 1910, the Smithsonian-Roosevelt expedition, the famous safari that Teddy Roosevelt took after his second term as president ended. According to Wikipedia, “Their route ran from Mombasa in British East Africa to the Belgian Congo, then to the Nile and along the river to Khartoum. More than 11,000 animals were shot or captured during the trip, Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit shot 512 large game alone. The organization on site, namely the selection of the almost 200 porters as well as the askari and the staff for weapons, horses and tents was the responsibility of Cuninghame. On at least one occasion, a hippopotamus attack, Cuninghame is believed to have saved Roosevelt’s life.” People didn’t exercise a lot of restraint in those days, but they did collect a lot of important specimens. As one would expect, TR and Cuninghame got along well. Here’s the intrepid Teddy with a waterbuck.

When WWI broke out, Cuninghame returned to England and tried to enlist only to be turned down on account of his chronic malaria. Not to be put off, he went to France and became an ambulance driver. Eventually, he returned to Africa, where he continued to serve and earned the Military Cross. After the war, he gave up the safari life and retired to his family estate, Hensol House in Scotland.

Called the “baby Balmoral”, the large estate recently sold for over 14 million pounds. I bet it’s cold and drafty inside. Cuninghame and his wife (the sister of his friend Douglas McDouall) never had any children, presumably because he was gone too much and by the time, he settled down it was too late. He died of a brain tumor at the age of 54 but at least he led a full life.

Just when I’m ready to give up on the Internet altogether, I come across some new and interesting story. I guess there is an upside to all the technology, although sometimes it’s hard to see it.

Have a great weekend!

Living in the land of Nod

Our internet was out for about 36 hours and, boy, did that throw a monkey wrench into my day! Thankfully, I had already written my post for Tuesday, so daughter #1 was able to schedule it for me. But without the internet I was limited in my activities as you can imagine.

I did buckle down and finish reading The Lincoln Highway, which I really enjoyed. (I thought the ending was fine.) For me, the narrative bogged down in the middle and some of the characters annoyed me a little, but on the whole it is a very good read and a welcome look back at life before television, the internet, iPhones, etc took over everyone’s life. The character of Billy, eight years old and an avid reader, is definitely not someone you would meet today–although I’m sure there are exceptions. In fact, it would be a good book for a lot of eight year olds to read (or to have read to them by a parent). They might learn something about “Heroes, Adventurers, and other Intrepid Travelers” who are not included in the Marvel Comic universe. You know, Achilles, Daniel Boone, Julius Caesar, Edmund Dantes, Thomas Edison…

This book will win no prizes, because its lessons are unpopular and old-fashioned, some are even canceled, but it is worth reading and probably re-reading.

I am of the opinion, Professor, that everything of value in this life must be earned. That it should be earned. Because those who are given anything of value without having to earn it are bound to squander it. I believe that one should earn respect. One should earn trust. One should earn the love of a woman, and the right to call oneself a man. And one should also earn the right to hope. At one time I had a wellspring of hope–a wellspring that I had not earned. And not knowing what it was worth, on the day I left my wife and child, I squandered it. So over the last eight and a half years, I have learned to live without hope, just as surely as Cain lived without it once he entered the land of Nod…That is, said Ulysses, until I met this boy.

There is an abundance of references–classical, literary, biblical–throughout the book. If you are like me, and you enjoy that, this book is for you. If you do not know your elbow from a hot rock, never mind.

Here’s an interview with Amor Towles. The first few paragraphs are off-putting–all the talk of bestsellers and falling in love–but you can just read the parts where AT is talking and ignore the insipid interviewer.

In other news, this is a good article about Ben Johnson. You will recall that he is the only Academy Award winner to have also been a Rodeo National Champion. Our mother was always a fan of Ben. I remember clearly her pointing him out to me the first time I saw Shane (1953). He played a cowboy named Chris who comes through in the end and does the right thing.

Reading this article inspired us to watch Junior Bonner (1972) which stars Steve McQueen along with Ben Johnson and Robert Preston.

I have always liked this movie because Steve seems very “real” in it. He has very few lines, but his character comes across in the same way Ben Johnson always does–as the genuine article.

We were able to watch this, because we could still use our DVD player even though our internet was down. Thanks be to God! I also watched several episodes of Miami Vice from season one (1984). This show is not so great as, say, NYPD Blue, but I still really enjoyed watching it. Such a nostalgic trip back to the 1980s! Those clothes and that hair! And Bruce Willis in a breakthrough role… (those pants!)

…Gina and Trudy, when not dressed as undercover prostitutes, wearing dirndl skirts and polo shirts…I looked just like Gina in 1984!

Yes, back when everyone had a waist. And, of course, there’s Don Johnson, the pride of Flat Creek, Missouri…

Give me an amen.

“This works on two levels: blood and guts.”

I watched the Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror XXIII last night. Yes, the 33rd Treehouse of Horror. I’ve written about how many lines I use regularly from the early episodes before. Don’t worry, this won’t be a clip show of a blog post. After all, Susie told me you might start to worry about if I make references to shows with nerd fan wikis after my Buffy and Longmire hyperlinks.

Anyway, the point of bringing this all up is to say that I barely got any of the references. I felt way out of touch. Not to mention earlier in the day, I was reading something and it referenced some feud between two female writers I’d never heard of. When I looked the whole thing up, I actually read an article from the New Yorker trying to figure it all out. I was left feeling like a) who are these people–from the writers at the heart of the story to the writer of the article and b) who cares. OMG who cares?!

I feel like Lindsay Lohan playing Elizabeth Taylor in a made for tv movie when I think about our cultural elites a lot.

Once in a very rare while, something comes along that doesn’t leave me feeling that way. For the past two months, I’ve had Tuesday evenings to look forward to because a new episode of Only Murders in the Building would magically appear on Hulu. My mother has written about it–but it really was so refreshing to have something to watch. Something that was deeper than your average show but also didn’t insult me. Plus, it takes place on the upper west side (upper best side) and you know I love that. My mother, sister, and I would watch from our respective homes but text our favorite lines. Something about my mother texting “Welcome back you sexy thing!” and knowing Martin Short said it to Steve Martin just warms my heart.

In wine-related news, Rose season has ended and I’m beginning to drink my way through the red wines I got all summer from the wine club I joined at the start of COVID to support the wine bar up the street (I’m a hero). I’m hoping this is just a ploy for attention and clicks.

Narrator: It is definitely a ploy for clicks.

This weekend at the Vintique Mall (you read that correctly), I spotted these stickers.

There was a time when the idea of a Rascal Flatts quote on a sticker would have made me laugh really hard in a mean way. Now, I’m like whatever, that Rascal Flatts quote has a point.

Things that go bump in the night

I love the expression on little daughter #1 in this Halloween flashback from yesteryear. It is the one I wear frequently now as I drive around my neighborhood viewing the overwrought holiday yard decorations. People literally spend thousands of dollars on these ridiculous inflatables (because there are always three or four in a yard.) Zut alors!

I drove by this yard on the way home from the grocery store. (There were many others that were far worse, but there was nowhere to pull over and get a good shot without looking like a total weirdo.)

Have you noticed this new trend this year–the coven of witches/ghosts in a circle? We have a lot of these in our neighborhood.

Then there’s also the undead tea party…

Well, you get the picture. But these are just my feelings and me voicing my puritanical thoughts. You can certainly have giant inflatables if you so desire. And, please, go ahead and cover your shrubbery with fake cobwebs. It’s a great look.

Meanwhile I continue on my quest to find suitable places inside to put all my houseplants.

Having been hot and happy all summer out in the Florida Room (and in some cases doubling in size), they will be grumpy all winter. C’est la vie. Hopefully we won’t have any suicide attempts like last year.

A bushel and a peck

How was your weekend? Mine turned out to be very busy and with way more socializing than I am used to.

The OM and I spent five hours going to the Newcomer Classes at our new church (on Friday night and Saturday morning). It was time well spent, but it was a lot for my aging brain to take in.

“This is why Paul upholds the teaching of the gospel in such a forceful way … Seeing such an example and such a picture of man’s great weakness and fickleness, Paul states that the truth of the gospel must supersede anything that we may devise … he is showing us that we ought to know the substance of the doctrine which is brought to us in the name of God, so that our faith can be fully grounded upon it. Then we will not be tossed about with every wind, nor will we wander about aimlessly, changing our opinions a hundred times a day; we will persist in this doctrine until the end. This, in brief, is what we must remember.”

–John Calvin, Sermon on Galatians

On Saturday afternoon I brought in all the plants from the Florida Room and attempted to find suitable winter homes for them throughout my house. Exhausting. Then I took a quick nap before going out to celebrate our 41st (!) anniversary with some old friends at a nice restaurant.

Kids, 1980

On Sunday, instead of going to church with the boy and the wee twins as planned, the OM and I drove to Jefferson City where daughter #1 had purchased a Power Wheels Raptor for the twins at Walmart (spoiler alert: combo birthday/Christmas present from all of us)…

…but, curses, had discovered that it would not fit in her Mazda. (There is a lot of backstory here, but I will not go into it. Suffice it to say, we have been looking high and low for the aforementioned truck, so when she found one, she jumped on it.) So we drove to JC, picked her up and hustled over to Walmart where they were holding it. Two nice young men brought it out to the OM’s SUV…

…only to discover that it was too big for his car! Luckily we were in mid-MO where the two young men took it upon themselves to make it fit. They took it out of the box and persuaded it to fit. Bravo.

We thanked them kindly and headed to Steak ‘n Shake for lunch. Then we bid adieu to daughter #1 and drove back to our flyover town and managed to unload the Raptor into the garage, where we will put it back together at some later date.

What a weekend! I must say, it was a beautiful weekend, weather-wise–crisp and cool. I watched Circus World (1964) starring John Wayne, Claudia Cardinale and Rita Hayworth on Sunday night, which rounded out the weekend nicely.

I fell off my pink cloud with a thud*

Happy Friday! It’s hard to believe that just last Monday I drove down to Syracuse to spend a few hours with my son James. I didn’t arrive until about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, but we still had plenty of time to check out a couple of antique stores, including our favorite four story emporium.  Here, James ponders a collection of priceless odds and ends.

It’s a great place to poke around, and it’s chock full of taxidermy. Though tempted, we managed not to buy this charming boar’s head.

After exhausting ourselves shopping – you know how tiring that slow, “just looking” gait is — we grabbed some dinner and then went to see Shang Chi: The Legend of the 10 Rings. The first hour had some good fights, including a wild one on a bus. But eventually the movie veered over the edge of reality into physics-defying stupid, as Marvel movies are wont to do. We enjoyed ourselves anyway. Here, the three leads look perplexed (or maybe a little embarrassed) as they watch two dragons and hordes of evil, bald flying-monkey creatures gather to attack.

The trip was exactly what I needed, and the best part was spending some quality time with James!

When I wasn’t on the move, I finished reading The Lincoln Highway. I loved it right up to the last page, but I did not like the end. Well, you can’t have everything, right?

I leave you with this absolutely perfect meme. I’m usually some combination of 3, 7 and 9, but right now I think I’m a 2. What about you?

Have a great weekend!

*Liz Taylor

The shadow of this red rock

I have been laboring this week to put our new built-in entertainment center in order–not an easy task.

We have collected a lot of stuff over the nearly 41 years of our marriage–mostly books, DVDs and CDs. (Not to mention all the VHS tapes still in the basement along with my parents’ LPs.)

I make no apologies for this. We spend a lot of time at home, especially in this room.

So we feathered our nest and made it more comfortable. I realize CDs (and DVDs too) are obsolete, but c’est la vie. I like owning movies–who knows when they will start canceling all my favorites. And, yes we will probably upgrade our television at some point so our children will stop laughing at us.

Anyway, I am making progress and my alphabetizing skills are sharpening.

Since going to Bent’s Old Fort a few weeks ago where we met the nice old couple who had owned the Best Western in Las Animas where “all the movie stars stayed” during the filming of the 1978 miniseries Centennial, I thought it would be interesting to watch it again.

I first watched it when it premiered on television, originally shown on the NBC network in twelve separate episodes, with the first and last each running three hours and the ten in between at two hours each (with commercials). I was in graduate school at William and Mary at the time. As I recall, it starts out strong and loses steam–at least I did watching it. I don’t think I watched the whole thing. The early part would have interested me then as it does now, especially since our “Cousin Richard” plays one of the leads. Yes, we used to refer to Richard Chamberlain as “Cousin Richard” and a few people in college were convinced that he was, indeed, my cousin. There is a certain family resemblance.

We have watched four episodes (about 9 hours worth) and we are enjoying it, although Richard Chamberlain’s character has died. It is still interesting to see the landscape and note the places we were a few weeks ago and to see the actors who make an appearance.

(Is that a very young Mark Harmon?!)

Anyway, it is something to watch–TV is such a wasteland.

“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

–T.S. Eliot, from The Waste Land.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Finally, I have to say how touched I was by William Shatner’s emotional response to going into space. It seemed very sincere and not what I’d expect from that old smoothie. “I hope I never recover from this,” he said. He tries to explain what nobody else seems to have experienced, including Jeff Bezos.

“Even though the questions change, the answers always stay the same.”

Well happy Wednesday. It feels like a Tuesday for me because as a state government employee, Monday was a holiday. Which holiday it was depends on who you ask. Anyway, a long weekend is always lovely–primarily because it is another day when I don’t have to see the internet. Yesterday, we had a very rainy morning, but by the time I had to hit the road for Jefferson City, the sun had come out. Or so I thought. I crossed the river just past Chesterfield and it was rain, rain, rain until I got home. And windy! I collapsed on the sofa and didn’t move for pretty much the rest of the day.

Last week, while waiting to get my hands on the new Longmire book, I perused Gunn’s Golden Rules, Tim Gunn’s 2011 book full of life lessons and some fashion dish. It is ten years old and incredibly dated. Gunn is a believer in being nice and treating everyone with respect. His Rule #2 is “The world owes you nothing.” He shares an anecdote about how the doorman in his building doesn’t look up to acknowledge when he says hello. “There is no excuse not to reply when someone speaks to you,” Gunn writes. I mean, Tim Gunn was by no means the typical person back in 2011. And part of the reason people loved him was because he was so old fashioned and delightful. But still, I can’t imagine them publishing this today.

It’s honestly pretty depressing to look back and realize just how much things have changed in recent years. I mean, I’m pretty much to the point where if I go to the grocery store and there’s food, it feels like a win. Welcome to the future.

Here’s the new TobyMac song, which I heard on my drive yesterday. It was inspired by his grandfather, a coal miner in West Virginia.

“Carefree highway, you seen better days”*

Today is the birthday of Ralph Vaughan Williams, (1872 – 1958) English composer. His works include operas, ballets, chamber music, secular and religious vocal pieces and orchestral compositions including nine symphonies, written over sixty years.

(Statue of Vaughan Williams by William Fawke, Dorking)

Vaughan Williams’s Anglican church music includes anthems; choral-orchestral works, such as Magnificat (1932), Dona Nobis Pacem (1936), and Hodie (1953); and hymn tune settings for organ. And, of course, he was music editor of the most influential British hymnal at the beginning of the twentieth century, The English Hymnal (1906), and coeditor (with Martin Shaw) of Songs of Praise (1925, 1931) and the Oxford Book of Carols (1928). He also worked intermittently on a musical treatment of John Bunyan’s allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, for forty-five years, and the 1951 “Morality” was the final result.

But you are probably more likely to be acquainted with a Fantasia on Greensleeves

…which makes me think of our May Day program of yesteryear…

…when the senior class danced around the maypole, braiding the ribbons to the harmonious music of Vaughan Williams. (I look so serious–I must have been concentrating on not stepping on anyone’s dress.)

This backward glance in turn reminds me that the wee laddie told me on Sunday that I was “really old” while we were digging in an ant hill. A couple of weeks ago he had asked me why I had white hair and I told him it was because I am old. I guess he is trying to figure out what that means. And, indeed, it is a weird concept. Sigh. Probably he was just trying to compliment me, right?

Happily, I can still be as immature as the next person. This probably explains my current obsession with watching episodes of Brooklyn 99 on Hulu.

Anyway, that is how my brain (still) works. So let’s not forget to toast Ralph Vaughan Williams tonight! And while we’re at it, blow some bubbles…

*Gordon Lightfoot

Come ye weary, heavy laden

How was your weekend? The weather here is still balmy and summery and I have no complaints. Daughter #1 came home on Friday and we had a lovely time sitting outside at Club Taco listening to the musical stylings of Dusty Rhoades. On Saturday we got the OM to drive us to Hillsboro where we hung out at our favorite winery. Lots of people had the same idea and the line for wine was very long and slow, but once we got our bottle and spread out our picnic, we relaxed and enjoyed the musical stylings of Brian Tobin, whose playlist was all our favorite 1970s tunes. Among the others enjoying the beautiful day and rolling hills of Jefferson County was a 60th birthday party, a gathering of overweight ‘witches’ in black pointy hats and suggestive outfits and a group of rainbow-attired Megan Rapinoe lookalikes. Everyone had fun.

Sunday morning we headed to church. Even the OM came along and so did the boy and the wee twins. It made me so happy to be all together, that I’m afraid I cried through all the hymns. C’est la vie.

We sang this hymn which I was unacquainted with and I really like it.

Words: Joseph Hart, 1759; chorus, Walker’s Southern Harmony, 1835
Music: Walker’s Southern Harmony, 1835

The wee twins and their parents came over Sunday night for one more October barbecue. We had more fun. They went on a hunt for my newest estate sale find yard ornament.

The wee laddie also asked me to go dig around a bit for cool stuff (i.e. bugs) and we found this guy, which he identified correctly as a praying mantis.

I was impressed. He pays attention.

Meanwhile I have been reading The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles, which my DP has previously reported is excellent. (I concur.) I also remembered that a year ago when I advised my students at my flyover institute to read A Gentleman in Moscow, one of them emailed me to tell me he had gone to school with Amor’s father, right here in St. Louis at the same school my brother attended. He was, indeed, his best friend.

The world is more than we know.