Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Music

Having been schooled from 1st through 8th grades by Catholic nuns (except for Grade 7, when I had some of the best teachers of my life in the country previously known as the Socialist Republics of Jugoslavija), my love for Christmas hymns and songs decreased geometrically with the passing of each year in Catholic grammar school. Singing and marching “Little Drummer Boy” in a Christmas Gala Performance sounded the death knell for me for holiday songs. I couldn’t even stand watching “White Christmas”. I didn’t tell anyone else; I was too terrified that my naturalization papers would get revoked and I’d be shipped via banana boat back to the Land of Jugo’s. It was strange times in our country at the time. School kids hiding under desk kindling as preparation for protection from incoming nuke missiles from Castro’s sugar and cigar plantations. Presidential candidates (i.e., Nixon, first time around) looking unshaven and shifty on tv. Items of low quality coming in from Japan. Strange times, indeed.

Luckily for me, jazz and blues entered my life in my late teen years and songs I had cringed from became listenable once again. Thanks to my ever-loving wife and kids, I started watching "White Christmas" again and, aside from "Blackadder’s Christmas Carol", it’s become a season favorite.

So, joining in on the Christmas list-o-rama of songs, I give you my short list of favorite albums for this time of the year. Let the commenting commence.

My all-time favorite for the ability to be played over and over again with no detectable loss in listenability: Charles Brown’s Cool Christmas Blues.

In no particular order:
Soundtrack from "White Christmas". You have to buy the linked version to get the S/T; it comes with a DVD of the movie. The CD is not available by itself for some reason.

Liz Story - "The Gift"
Jimmy Smith - "Christmas Cookin'"
Los Straitjackets - "Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets"
Maddy Prior & the Carnival Band - "An Evening of Carols & Capers"
A Medley of Peanuts:
George Winston - "Linus & Lucy"
Cyrus Chestnut - "Charlie Brown Christmas"
Vince Guaraldi - "A Charlie Brown Christmas "
Soundtrack from "Diner". YES! This is a Christmas movie. Kevin Bacon in the manger crib. The Battle of the Plastic Wise Men. Christmas shopping for tv sets.
Eric Reed - "Merry Magic"
Various Musicians - "Hipster's Holiday"

Happy Holidays to all and may good music come your way.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Radiating Heat

I was reading a newspaper last night when the borborygmic radiator in the living room drew my eyes away from the print. The clanky liquidity of the sound was a warm reminder that heat was on the way and that this season's first snowfall had left a soft 3.9 inches of cover on the deck and the yard. A neighbor's back porch light oozed its illumination through some low-lying branches so dark patterns brushed back and forth over the snow as the wind picked up.

I put the paper down and shambled over to the bay window to have a closer look. My thighs leaned into the radiator as I bent over into the bay, turning my head from one direction to the other. The heat of the cast iron slowly warmed and then heated up my legs. Turing off the table lamp in the room, I leaned there for a good 10 minutes listening to the matronly wind putting up a fuss about all of the snow it had to blow off the deck. "Mess, mess, mess. Clean, clean, clean!", it seemed to be scolding the "I'll drop my stuff where I want to" teenaged snow.

The radiator became a bit too hot to lean on and the room now had the toasty comfort that necessitated a lie-down. Somewhere between moving to the couch and rising for bed, I drifted off to short dreams of heating elements.

As a kid in the old country, we'd lived in 3-4 story apartments, each apartment being heated by a musically challenged ping-pang-pong radiator running off of central heating. I use the singular term for radiator as bedrooms, where one was expected only to sleep, were provided with heavy blankets, thereby negating the need for heat, while kitchens, well... had stoves so why waste a radiator in there? Dining rooms were between the heat of the kitchen and the radiator of the living room, so air flow was expected to take care of any coldness there. Besides, you only ate in the dining room and if you are sitting there so long and getting cold, well...go to the kitchen and living room. Ah, living in the warmth of the People's Socialist Republics of (the old) Yugoslavia was sometimes a bit chilly.

In my maternal grandmother's house, where socialism had not yet put a dent in matriarchal rule, heating was more plentiful. In the huge house she lived in, a display of various heating contraptions was available. There was radiator-heating in some rooms, wood-stoked stoves (yes, 2 stoves) in the kitchen, and, my favorites, monolithic sized stand-alone tile-covered heating stoves in the dining and in the living rooms. The latter were about 5 feet high, 3-4 feet wide, and 5 feet deep. Within these heating beauties there was a wood-burning stove buried within soapstone which, in turn, was beautifully tiled. On particularly cold days' walk from school, I cherished coming to see my baka, so that I could do a full body lean against the warm tiles. Her cooking was supreme, so I always made sure to stay for one of her usual winter staples, Roman Bean Soup.

My back and legs, warming up with standing at an angle on the tiled heating elements. My stomach, warming up with each spoonful of the soup. On a few colder winter days, there would be 6-7 of my cousins and myself ringing the tiled stove, all with soup dishes in our hands. Ah, if only someone had thought this funny then and snapped a photo....

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

St. Nicholas Eve

Today is the Eve of Saint Nicholas' Day. As stated in the link noted, contradiction to earlier days there should be no frightening or threatening, no putting of moral pressure on the children, especially when St. Nicholas is involved, who always interceded for the suffering and needy. Oh how the day has become wimpy!?!?

But, I won't go on here having blogged about it, with relish and a sigh of memories, here. Who needed Monster Horror Pictures with Count Floyd when you had the chain-dragging Krampus around? Let me hear and Ahhh Ohhh!(Hmm, Krampus looks a bit like Gene Simmons, doesn't he?)

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Cheney Chic

I actually empathize with Dick Cheney's coat-du-jour in this 2005 pic. I mean, he must have been freezing and decided decorum is colder than parka. I sit in my office, as I type with my frozen and cringed fingers, with a polartec and a ski jacket on. I'd forgotten my gloves so excuse me if there's a break in the typing as I blow on my fingers.

The HVAC folks that we contract with are nice enough fellows. How do I know they're nice? Well, they're here most of the summer tinkering with the A/C. And, they're here most of the winter, yes, tinkering with the heating. These are the same folks who installed the brand spanking new HVAC system as well. Needless to say, I had zero to do with the contracting of this fine HVAC organization, though I have to tip my hat in their direction. During the summer, while repairing the A/C, all of the guys wear long sleeve t-shirts and long-sleeve insualted plaid shirts. When they're camped out in the building allegedly repairing the heating in the winter months, they don short sleeve t-shirts. The wimps in the office (I raise my hand) then feel even more wimpier as we protest (though not looudly) that 62 degrees is a bit cold to be working in. The repair guys just look at us and wipe their sniffly noses as they parade around with tools and look at the ceiling.

AHHHHH- Chooo.
God Bless you, too.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Our Gang....Runs for Office

In the part of Delaware, south of the C & D Canal, known as "Slower Delaware" there are still opportunities for days of the past to come up in the present. While I am a strong admirer and a fan of nicknames, I wonder sometimes as to the self-advertisement of one's nickname in certain situations.

Say, oh, election time.

An election for a state representative slot is happening this Saturday. One of the candidates is William "Lumpy" Carson, running on the Democratic plank. He seems to be the favored candidate. I'm not sure if William Steig or the writers of Our Gang were involved with his election committee, but "Lumpy" comes straight out of those fecund and "unique" names locations. However, if he is favored, Mr. Carson's Republican opponent, a Ms. Christine Malec, should consider picking up a memorable nickname. And quick! Only 4 days until election day.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Bed Readin'

We rise in the morning and, like continents, split off to our separate work lives in separate cities in separate cars. Then, later in the evening, like South America and Africa of the very old days we come back together in bed, spooning for warmth and comfort. In the last few years, not every night but often enough, I've taken to reading a few poems while awaiting the continental shift. Recently, we've taken to reading poems to each other, not so much out of schmaltz but more out of a soothing salve to the hurries of the day. Billy Collins is the favorite, followed by Pablo Neruda and Rumi. My daughter, upon hearing what her parents are up to, wondered if we then dream in meter and rhyme. I can't remember if I do; my Ever Loving Wife dreams in Cinemascope with casts of thousands, scripts by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as directed by Michel Gondry, but I'm not sure if these dreams are spurred on by the pre-sleep readings.

It sure beats medication and I've found I feel less guilty as I put head to pillow knowing that a piece (or pieces) have been fully read, unlike the tomes stranded, half-read, in the Sargasso Sea around my side of the bed.

One of last night's poems was Days by Billy Collins

Each one is a gift, no doubt.
mysteriously placed in your waking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.

Today begins cold and bright,
the ground heavy with snow
and a thick masonry of ice,
the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.

Through the calm eyes of the window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be resting somehow

on the one before it,
all the days of the past stacked high
like an impossible tower of dishes
entertainers used to build on stage.

No wonder you find yourself
perched on top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more, Just another Wednesday,

you whisper,
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday's saucer
without the slightest clink.

May your day be clink-less.


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