Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mist-shrouded lower Manhattan

Last night mist surrounded the lower tip of Manhattan. This photo was taken from the roof of our building in Brooklyn Heights.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Jim Brosnan, 1929-2014

Despite my love of the game, I've done little reading about it compared to some of my more fanatic friends. Apart from routine newspaper stories, I've read several short pieces by Roger Angell and John Updike, and four great books: Jimmy Breslin's Can't Anybody Here Play This Game, about my now-beloved Mets' shambolic first season; Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer, about my first baseball love, the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, and his Good Enough to Dream, about a year spent as owner of an unaffiliated Class A minor league team, the Utica Blue Sox; and Nine Innings by Daniel Okrent, which describes, inning by inning, batter by batter, a typical regular season game, this one between the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers, in 1982 (my only complaint is that Okrent chose an American League game, in which the DH rule makes things less interesting). I've also read Neil Lanctot's Campy: The Two Lives of Roy Campanella, a biography of my first baseball hero, which I reviewed here. It's an excellent book but, as I noted in the review, it's more a personal and social history than a baseball story.

I've never read Jim Brosnan's The Long Season or his Pennant Race. Based on what I read today in his New York Times obituary--Brosnan died last week at the age of 84--I want to read them. Brosnan didn't have the benefit of any college level creative writing courses; according to the obit he was drafted by the Cubs at the age of 17, and continued to play professionally, apart from two years service in the Army, until 1963, when he was 33. The obit says that as a child he was a reader, as well as a musician and baseball player. Evidently the reading paid off. The obit quotes Al Silverman, in a Saturday Evening Post article from the time Brosnan's career was still underway, as writing "Brosnan is quite possibly the most intellectual creature ever to put on a major league uniform.” This reminded me of a Yogi Berra anecdote I read about some time ago. A writer asked Yogi if any of his Yankee teammates were intellectuals. Yogi thought for a minute, then named one player. "Why do you think he's an intellectual?" the writer asked. Yogi said, "I saw him reading a book without any pictures."

Friday, July 04, 2014

Chet Atkins, "Stars and Stripes Forever."

I was never a fan of Chet Atkins' "Countrypolitan" style of music,  but the man sure could pick. Thanks to my wife for the link to the video below of him playing an appropriate tune for the Fourth. The link was through the University of North Carolina's superb Southern Folklife Collection.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, "The Green Fields of France"

Today, June 28, 2014 is the centenary of the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. This started a series of events that led, within two months, to the outbreak of a war unprecedented in its ferocity and breadth; one that would cause about ten million military and seven million civilian deaths. It may have created the conditions that led to the 1918 influenza pandemic that is estimated to have killed between fifty and 100 million people; perhaps as much as five per cent of the world's then population. The war's economic and political aftermath certainly contributed to the outbreak of an even greater war two decades later. It caused the breakup of two empires: the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire in central and eastern Europe, and the Ottoman Empire that encompassed much of the Middle East. The carving up of the latter by victorious Britain and France, as described in David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace, resulted in the creation of the existing national boundaries in the Middle East; many of which boundaries are contested today.

World War I also helped to precipitate two revolutions: the Russian and the Irish. British recruitment of Irishmen to fight in the war (see poster image above) was a factor leading to the Easter Rising of 1916. As the rebel song "The Foggy Dew" declared:
Right proudly high in Dublin town
Hung they out a flag of war.
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky
Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar.
"Suvla" and "Sud el Bar" were  disastrous amphibious landings on the Turkish coast in which British troops, including many Irish, took terrible casualties. Another verse, not included in the lyrics on the linked post, has the words
'Twas England bade our wild geese rove
That small nations might be free.
The second line is ironic. One of Britain's appeals to prospective recruits was to fight for "small nations," in particular Belgium (again see poster above) that had been or might be invaded and occupied by German troops.  The irony is that Ireland was a "small nation" that wanted to be free, but Britain would not allow it to be. The term "wild geese" in the first line was originally applied to the Irish Jacobite army that was allowed to go to France following its defeat by the army of King William in 1691. It was later used for Irish soldiers who served in the Royal Army in European wars.

"The Green Fields of France," sung in the clip above by Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, is one of the saddest songs I know.  The line "Did the pipes play 'The Flowers of the Forest'?" at first suggested to me that Private McBride served in a Scottish regiment, as "Flowers" is a traditional Scots lament, but the notes to this YouTube clip say it has become "[t]he traditional lament for the fallen in forces of the British Commonwealth." So, the song was co-opted, after excising the lines
Sad day for the Order,
What's happened to the border?
The English, by guile,
For once won the day.
We all live in the world the Great War (I still call it that; the Second World War was vastly more destructive, but the effects of the First include the Second and much more) created. I pray we do not have to see its like again.

Addendum: When I posted this, I speculated that Private McBride was likely Protestant, because William would not have been a popular name among Irish Catholics given the unfortunate role of King William in their history. Dermot McEvoy corrected me on this, noting that William was a common name in his (Catholic) family, and that Liam Clancy was christened William, later changing his name to its Gaelic version. William is a popular name among Ulster Scots Protestants, probably because they revere King William for his victory over the Catholics. Many Ulster Scots emigrated to America, where they became known as "Scotch Irish." Many of these settled in Appalachia, and the term "hillbilly" reflects the prevalence of the name William among them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

At last, a perfect baseball day.

Yesterday was a perfect baseball day for me. My Mets took their second straight from the Marlins, and scored 11 runs. Add to this the four they plated in their Saturday shutout of the Fish, and they scored more runs in their last two games than in their previous seven. They're off today before a two game homestand against red-hot Oakland, then immediately back on the road for four games in Pittsburgh and three in Atlanta. My rational mind tells me this schedule doesn't bode well for a continuation of their recent brief period of success, and they're still mired in fourth place in the NL East. Still....

The perfection of the day was completed by my favorite Designated Hitter League team, favorite by virtue of their representing my old home city although they didn't exist when I lived there, the Rays, beating the Astros 5-2. Also, my wife's team, the Red Sox, topped Oakland 7-6. Out of spousal loyalty, but also because I like the team, I root for the Sox whenever they're not playing the Mets or the Rays, and especially whenever they're playing the Yankees. Unlike my law school classmate and friend Richard B., I am a Yankee hater, though I share with him a liking for the Orioles, my third favorite AL East team. The first Major League regular season game I attended, in the summer of 1970 shortly after I first took residence in New York, was a Yanks-O's game won by the Birds on a two-run homer by Boog Powell.

So what, those of you from outside the New York area (and maybe even some of you in it) may be asking, is that odd-looking logo at the head of this post? Well, the "B" is a near, though not exact, copy of the "B" on the cap last worn by the Brooklyn Dodgers. The "C" looks almost as if it could have been lifted from a Chicago Bears cap or helmet, but theirs is more elongated. What it stands for is "Cyclones." This is the cap emblem of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets' Class A minor league affiliate that plays its home games in lovely MCU Park by the beach in Coney Island. I hope I don't jinx them by noting this, but they're off to a very good start, with an 8-2 record that is best in the New York-Penn League (this is a "short season" league). The Cyclones also won on Sunday, defeating the Aberdeen Iron Birds (an Orioles affiliate whose emblem is a jet fighter) 2-1.

On the subject of minor league action, the above video of sparkling defensive play by the Toledo Mud Hens (my second favorite minor league team name, following the Cyclones' league rivals the Batavia Muckdogs) has been making the rounds, and got to me courtesy of high school classmate Pete Cook. Terrific play by the second baseman and shortstop, but I'm not sure about the call at first. Any opinions?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Jamies, "Summertime, Summertime."

Today is the summer solstice, and time for what Andrew Hamilton, in his AllMusic group bio, calls "one of those songs you only have to hear once for it to live rent-free in your mind forever." (Others that, for me, fit this category are "Believe Me" by the Royal Teens and Uska Dara by Eartha Kitt.)

Thanks to Dermot McEvoy for sharing the song, and for pointing out that the group took their name from lead singer and songwriter Thomas Earl Jameson, who shared his surname with a popular Irish whiskey. Dermot concluded: "If this song doesn't make you smile you are beyond help."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A new homonym peeve: "throes" vs. "throws."

In her piece on The Real Deal about the controversy over Long Island College Hospital, Julie Strickland wrote:
Fortis Property Group and NYU Langone Medical Center, the bidders currently [in] the throws of negotiations with LICH owner the State University of New York, now have a few days to wheel and deal on a community-needs assessment. (Emphasis added.)
I suppose one could be said to be "in the throws" if one is on the mound, like Mike Pelfrey in the photo above, or addressing the Porcelain God after the ingestion of too much tequila.  What the bidders for LICH were in were the throes, meaning "a hard or painful struggle". One could be both in the throws and the throes: certainly in the tequila example; also in the baseball example when, say, the game is close, there are no outs and runners in scoring position, and the count is against you. In the matter of the LICH negotiations, though, it's got to be the throes, at least unless you accept the argument that SUNY threw victory to Fortis.

I'm hoping this isn't Ms Strickland's unforced error; she has a good record. Rather, I suspect it's the fault of a spell check program (as Twif suggested in response to my earlier diatribe against rein/reign confusion) that wasn't fed enough vocabulary to recognize "throes." That, or a really dumb copy editor.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Beaverkill bestiary.

Early on the first morning of our Memorial Day weekend visit to the Beaverkill Valley I spotted this white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) doe and fawn on the meadow behind the house.
As we were having breakfast, this eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus) peeked over the back of a bench on the patio.
That evening I looked out a window and saw what may have been the same doe and fawn I had seen in the morning, in a meadow between the house and the road. I went out to the porch and took this photo. I tried to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible (I was using my 20X zoom at almost full power) but, as you can see, the doe spotted me. A few seconds after I took the photo, she bolted for nearby forest cover.
I walked softly out to near where the deer had been, and saw the fawn cowering in the cover of the tall grass. The following morning the fawn was gone; evidently the doe came to retrieve it under cover of darkness.
Walking around the pond behind the house, I noticed frequent small splashes at the water's edge as I approached. Looking into the pond, I saw what I've tentatively identified as a northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus).
A little farther along, I saw this tadpole (probably Rana sp.)
Finally, I spotted a full-grown frog, probably either a bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) or green frog (Rana clamitans).

For birds, see my earlier post, "Birds of the Beaverkill".

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bloomsday bonus: John Huston's The Dead.

The Dead, based on James Joyce's concluding story in his anthology of early writings, Dubliners, was John Huston's last film. Huston's son, Tony, adapted it for the screen with advice from his father. The clip below shows the film's conclusion. Gabriel Conroy (Donal McCann) and his wife Gretta (Anjelica Huston) have returned from a party at which Gabriel learned that Gretta had a lover, Michael Furey, who died before Gabriel met her. The scene takes place in their bedroom. Gretta has collapsed on the bed, and sobs. When she falls asleep, Gabriel looks out the window as snow begins falling and muses on mortality; both Furey's and his.

I was reminded of the film The Dead, which I saw many years ago, by Patricia Harty, who responded to Dermot McEvoy's earlier e-mail that inspired my previous post. She provided a link to a piece from Irish America that includes an interview with Huston during the making of the film in 1987. Ms Harty also provided a link to a sound recording of Fionnula Flanagan reading "Counterparts," another story from Dubliners. Hear it here.

It's Bloomsday, so here's "River Liffey" from Jonathan Brielle's Himself and Nora

June 16 is called Bloomsday because it is the date on which James Joyce's Ulysses was set. The novel follows the actions and encounters of its protagonist, Leopold Bloom, on June 16, 1904. Today it is celebrated in Dublin, where the action in Ulysses takes place, as well as in New York and other cities.
Thanks to Dermot McEvoy, in whose historical novel The Thirteenth Apostle I am now engrossed, who has provided me (and the rest of the alumni of Lion's Head University) with the above video of "River Liffey," the concluding number from Jonathan Brielle's musical Himself and Nora, "Himself" being Joyce and "Nora" being Nora Barnacle, his wife, with whom he had his first date on June 16, 1904.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Some odd observations about Cantor's loss.

There were a couple of things on the New York Times editorial pages for Thursday, June 12 that I found interesting concerning the outcome of the Virginia Republican Congressional primary that spelled the end of Eric Cantor's incumbency as House Majority Leader. One was a letter from Jonathan Ansell, of Henrico, Virginia, which I quote in full:
In Virginia, anyone can vote in primaries, regardless of party affiliation. I am a Democrat who lives in the Seventh District, and I voted for David Brat as an anti-Eric Cantor vote. I know there were many Democrats who did the same thing. I don't know if people like us swung the vote or not, but we're happy he's out.
Mr. Ansell seems content with the fact that Cantor has been punished; though he doesn't say so, he may believe that replacing Cantor with Brat, even though the latter is probably more intransigently reactionary, is a net gain. As another Times letter writer, Joan White, notes, "he will not have Mr. Cantor's power."

The conventional wisdom is that the Seventh District is so deeply Republican that Brat is all but assured of victory in the general election. Josh Israel in Think Progress believes the race is "potentially competitive", based on polling that suggests a majority of residents of the district hold views on subjects like immigration that are different than Mr. Brat's. Still, another bit of conventional wisdom is that, in midterm elections, voter turnout is usually low and dominated by the voters who are angriest with the incumbent administration. So, while an upset by Brat's Democratic opponent, Jack Trammell,* isn't inconceivable, it's a very long shot and would almost certainly require an Herculean get-out-the-vote effort by the Democrats.

But then, there's another intriguing bit of information I got from yesterday's Times op-ed column by Gail Collins, who often makes my day brighter.** It seems that Cantor's attack ads against Brat called him a "liberal college professor." As an adjective, "liberal" seems to stick to "college professor" the way that "devout" does to "Catholic," or "hero" does to "cop" if you're a headline writer for a New York tabloid. Still, Milton Friedman was a college professor (OK, maybe he was the exception that proves the rule, whatever that means.) And Brat a liberal? Well, before I give Cantor four Pinocchios, I have to remember that he can plead the truth of his characterization, if only by referring to a definition of "liberal" that was current in the nineteenth century. That definition drew upon the etymological root of "liberal" which is shared with "liberty." The project of the nineteenth century liberals was to achieve what has come to be called "negative liberty": the freedom to conduct one's trade and one's life unfettered by the arbitrary power of the monarchy or hereditary aristocracy. This classic liberalism comes close to what is today called libertarianism. In today's usage, "liberal" as a political descriptor has taken on a second meaning of "liberal" as used in non-political discourse: "generous" or "munificent." (Here some of my Republican friends will want to add, "...with the taxpayers' money!" That leads to an argument we can have later. I'm working on a post that discusses how the meaning of "conservative" has changed as much, if not more, than has that of "liberal.") Today's liberalism embraces what has come to be called "positive liberty," as well as recognizing what it believes to be necessary limits on negative liberty. For more of my views on this subject, see "Genghis Kahn: the first liberal?" Anyway, Collins's column had me wondering how many people voted for Brat thinking he really is a liberal, in the contemporary sense. Well, maybe some of those Democrats who crossed over to vote in the GOP primary did.

Brian Beuteler, in that reliable scourge of conventional wisdom The New Republic,*** writes that Cantor's loss is really no big deal.

I was amused to see Cantor, in the photo above, wearing a Spitzer tie. Someday the word will get out that it's the cravat of political calamity.
*  Both Brat and Trammell are professors at Randolph-Macon College. Whatever happens in November, we know that Randy Mac will be represented in Congress.

**Consider this, from Collins's Cantor column:
[W]e really do not need the Republicans in the House to become even more paranoid about a primary from the right. They’ve been nervous for a long time, but this is a whole new scenario. It’s the difference between worrying about burglars and hearing that a gopher in your neighbor’s backyard suddenly grew to be 6 feet long, broke down the door and ate all the furniture.
***Reliable, that is, until you get comfortable with the notion that conventional wisdom is usually wrong. Then TNR publishes a piece by Franklin Foer with the title "In Defense of Conventional Wisdom."

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Birds of the Beaverkill.

Walking around the grounds of the house where we spent Memorial Day weekend, I saw many kinds of birds. More often than not, my attempts to photograph them were frustrated by their flying off as I was lining up the shot and focusing. I was lucky to spot a female red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) perched on a branch.
Some distance away, I saw the more colorful male, from which the species takes its name.
From this angle I'm not able to identify this bird: possibly an American robin (Turdus migratorius), or a yellow-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus), or something else. Perhaps someone more experienced in bird lore can help. Update:  John Hunt says it's a robin.
 This is certainly a robin.
I wasn't sure, but John Hunt tells me this is probably another female red wing.
These Canada geese (Branta canadensis) were in my earlier post, but they bear repeating here.
Shortly before our departure this blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) alighted on the arm of a patio chair.
A few minutes later I got this photo of the jay in a more natural setting.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Dai Bosatsu Zendo

During our Memorial day weekend visit to the Beaverkill Valley our hostess suggested a tour of the International Dai Bosatsu Zendo Kongo-ji, located a few miles from the house where we were staying. She phoned, and was told we would be welcome. On a rainy afternoon we rode along a two lane road that followed the course of the Beaverkill for several miles, then turned off onto a narrower, rougher road. We were on this for some time and our hostess, who was driving, thought we had missed the entrance. A short way further we came to a large Japanese style arched entrance way spanning a two rut dirt road. If the approach to the entrance gate seemed long, the driveway seemed interminable. At last we saw a pond ahead of us, the road curved to the left, and on a hillside ahead was the monastery (photo above).

We went in, removed our shoes and, as instructed, rang the bong twice. Within moments we were greeted by a woman resident, who made us feel welcome and at ease. 
This magnificent Buddha figure sits in the hon-do, or main hall, on a dais flanked by paintings of guardians. Below are photographs of people who have been associated with the monastery. Immediately to the right of the small guardian figurine near the bottom right of the photo above is a photograph of the late Peter Matthiessen, writer, naturalist, frequent visitor to Dai Bosatsu Zendo, and uncle as well as namesake of Peter M. Wheelwright, author of As It Is On Earth.
This is the zen-do, the room in which residents and visitors practice zazen, or Zen meditation. Some use one cushion; others prefer two. 
Just beyond the zen-do there was a view from a window of a Japanese rock or dry garden, sometimes called a Zen garden.

What is Zen? It's easiest to say what it is not. It's not a religion. It is a practice involving disciplined meditation that is intended to lead to self realization. It is non-theistic, but neither atheistic nor anti-theistic. I have known Christians and Jews who practice Zen, including one who is both Roman Catholic and a Republican. 

On our way out, we stopped in the monastery's gift shop, and I bought a copy of Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings, compiled by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. The sixteenth of the "101 Zen Stories" that begin the book is about a student who visited the Zen master Gasan and asked if he had read the Christian Bible. Gasan said no, and asked the student to read to him.
The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in his glory was not arrayed as one of these....Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."
Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man."
While Zen is associated with Buddhism, its practitioners do not necessarily consider themselves Buddhists. According to the foreword to the 101 Zen Stories, early Zen masters "instead of being followers of the Buddha, aspire[d] to be his friends and to place themselves in the same responsive relationship with the universe as did Buddha and Jesus." As Reps points out in the preface to the book, the origins of Zen may pre-date the Buddha's life. The book includes "Centering, a transcription of ancient Sanskrit manuscripts" that "presents an ancient teaching, still alive in Kashmir and parts of India after four thousand years, that may well be the roots of Zen." I can add that "centering prayer" is a discipline taught and practiced at my own Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A weekend in the Beaverkill Valley.

Thanks to the kindness of a neighbor, we were invited to spend Memorial Day weekend in this splendid house located in the Beaverkill Valley, in New York's Catskill region. We had visited the same house in November of 2012, as memorialized in this post.
The Beaverkill (or Beaver Klll: "kill"is the Dutch word for stream; the Dutch were the first Europeans to settle in the region and found many beaver dams along the watercourse) is renowned as a trout stream. The photo above was taken just across the road from the grounds of the house in which we were staying.
We visited the Catskill Fly Fishing Museum in nearby Livingston Manor, New York.
This is a view from behind the house in which we were staying, looking toward a pond and the hillside beyond.
An artificial waterfall conveys a small stream through a breach in a stone fence, from where it flows to the pond, and beyond that to the Beaverkill. On our previous visit I made a short video while walking along this stream from above the waterfall to near the edge of the pond.
Two Canada geese were paddling on the pond. I saw several different species of birds over the weekend, and will publish more photos in a subsequent post, "Birds of the Beaverkill."
On Saturday morning I saw this doe and fawn on the meadow near the pond. That evening I had a closer encounter with what may have been the same pair which, along with photos of other animals, I'll show in a later post, "A Beaverkill Bestiary."
Apple blossoms in the small orchard on the opposite side of the house.
Our Sunday dinner was a delicious chicken barbecue prepared by the Beaverkill Valley Fire Department.
Parked in front of the Co-Op Store across from the firehouse was this antique pickup truck belonging to a Connecticut construction company.
Parked beside the store was this beautifully maintained early model Mustang.
Another view of the house grounds, with storm clouds and mist gathering.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Monuments on Battle Hill, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn

Last week my wife and I, along with a friend, took a tour of some of the more impressive mausoleums in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery. Following the guided tour, about which I'll be blogging more in the near future, the three of us went to Battle Hill, the highest point in the cemetery grounds (indeed, the highest natural point in Brooklyn. It was the site of an important engagement in the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island, as the area in which the fighting took place was not yet part of Brooklyn). The battle was the first engagement of George Washington's Continental Army against the Royal Army, and was a defeat for the Americans. It could have spelled the end for the young Revolution, but for some heroic rear guard actions, including that at Battle Hill, and a stroke of luck, in the form of bad weather, that allowed what remained of Washington's forces to retreat from what is now my neighborhood to Manhattan, then to New Jersey, then to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where they endured a harsh winter before re-crossing the Delaware and enjoying their first victories at Trenton and Princeton.

The monument in the photo above is topped by a statue of Minerva,"the Roman goddess of battle and protector of civilization." She faces toward, and waves to, the Statue of Liberty, which can be seen from Battle Hill. On the face of the base below the statue are the words, "Altar to Liberty." The mausoleum behind belongs to the family of Charles Higgins, the ink manufacturer who funded the monument.

There is also a Civil War monument (photo above) on Battle Hill.

The plaque on this face of the monument has the words:
Ever remember how much of National Prosperity is due to the brave exertions of the Soldiers who died in the service of their Country.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Planxty: "Raggle Taggle Gypsy/Tabhair dom do lámh"

This is great stuff. I've loved Planxty (about whom I've posted before) since I got a copy of The Planxty Collection at a little shop, no doubt long gone, somewhere on Bleecker Street between Sixth Avenue and Christopher Street, in the late 1970s. I especially like this medley of two songs.

"Raggle Taggle Gypsy" is one of a myriad of variations on the same song found throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, and the former British colonies. I also have a version, with the title "Black Jack Davy", by Scotland's Incredible String Band. Another, "Black Jack David", was recorded by Warren Smith, a rockabilly pioneer who was briefly more popular than Elvis. In his book Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'n' Roll, my erstwhile Bells of Hell and Lion's Head companion and friend Nick Tosches tells of an interview with Smith in which Nick asked him where he got "Black Jack David." Smith's reply was, "I wrote it." Nick's next paragraph:

Cut to Athens, fourth century B.C. In his Symposium, Plato refers to an attempt made by Orpheus, mythical poet and son of Oegrus the harper and Muse Calliope, to rescue his wife from the land of the dead. This is the earliest known mention of Orpheus's wife, Eurydice, and of his adventure in the lower world. It's also the beginning of "Black Jack David."
Nick then traces the Greek Orpheus legend* through various developments by the Roman writers Vergil, Ovid, and Boethius. Nick writes, "It was King Alfred's ninth-century translation of Boethius that ushered the Orpheus myth into medieval Britain." After this, Nick follows its development into poems and ballads in various parts of the British Isles. He notes a syncretic development in Ireland, where the story melds with pre-existing Celtic legends. Such are the roots of the many songs about the abduction and failed attempt to recover a nobleman's wife, or sometimes daughter, that include "Back Jack David" and "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy."

From "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy" Planxty segues into Tabhair dom do lámh, an instrumental featuring Liam O'Flynn (photo at left) on uilleann pipes. This enchanting tune is credited by Bunting in Ancient Music of Ireland to Ruairí Dall Ó Catháin, a chieftain from County Tyrone whose reputation for skill as a harper and composer may be second only to that of the great Turlough O'Carolan. The story behind Tabhair dom do lámh, as told in Ask About Ireland, is that Catháin was traveling in Scotland when a noblewoman, Lady Eglinton**, thinking him to be a simple itinerant musician, demanded that he play a tune. Angered by her effrontery, Catháin refused. When Lady Eglinton learned of his high status, she apologized, and he composed Tabhair dom do lámh for her.

My friend Larry Kirwan's band Black 47 gives the translation of Tabhair dom do lámh as either "Give me your hand" or "Let's be friends." Another source, Donal O'Sullivan, in his Carolan: The Life, Times, and Music of an Irish Harper, quoted by "Sarah" in the comment thread under a post about the tune in The Session, in turn quotes Arthur O'Neill as claiming Catháin's original title for it was the Latinized Da mihi manum, which also translates as "Give me your hand." The tune was later used for an Irish rebel song, "White, Orange and Green" (the colors of the Irish flag) which you can hear by Spailpin here. Later, the Wolfe Tones performed it as "Give Me Your Hand," with lyrics that seem both a simple love song and a plea for reconciliation between the sectarian factions in Northern Ireland; hear it here.

In the first comment in the thread below The Session post, "Zina Lee" includes this:
I've read the following regarding this tune: Note that the tune is pentatonic until the final phrase. The mixolydian seventh appears four measures from the end, while the fourth does not appear until the final measure.
Maybe this explains why, when I asked the uilleann piper who played at our wedding if he could play Tabhair dom do lámh, he politely declined, saying it was too difficult.

The musicians in the video above, other than Liam O'Flynn on the pipes, are: Christy Moore on guitar and vocal; Andy Irvine on tenor mandola (I was introduced to Andy by my date following his solo performance at the old Eagle Tavern on West 14th Street in 1989, and later learned that my future wife and her date were there the same evening); and Dónal Lunny on Irish bouzouki (as the linked Wiki tells, Lunny owned the first bouzouki specifically made for use in Irish music; he later became a member of The Bothy Band).

*The Orpheus legend bears an interesting resemblance to the Biblical story of Lot and his wife. In the Orpheus tale, the hero is told that he may lead his wife back to the land of the living so long as, on the way, he does not turn to look at her. He does, and she disappears. In the Bible story, Lot and his wife are allowed to escape the destruction of Sodom on the condition that they not look back toward the doomed city. She does, and is turned to a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).

**The linked source spells her name "Eglington"; others spell it "Eglinton," which I think is correct. There is an Eglinton Castle in North Ayrshire.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Farewell to the old Tampa home.

Last weekend we made a brief visit to Tampa, staying with friends across the street from the house that had been my parents' and my home for many years (photo above). Note the English sunrise on the door. That isn't the original door. When my parents bought the house in 1957, it had jalousie windows, as did the door. They replaced the windows and door when they had central air conditioning and heat installed in the 1970s.
White ibises were feeding in the back yard next door.
This boldly marked crab spider had spun a cobweb near the carport.
We visited some other friends who live in a high rise building on Harbour Island. This is the view looking toward downtown Tampa from their terrace.
While we were there, several horn blasts alerted us to the departure of Carnival Paradise from the nearby cruise ship terminal. In this photo, the ship appears to be headed toward our friends' apartment as it turns to head out the channel to Tampa Bay. At the left of the photo you can see the funnel and masts of the World War II vintage cargo ship American Victory, on which my late friend Paul Schiffman served as an officer on its maiden voyage. The ship is preserved as a museum and docked near the Florida Aquarium, a favorite place for both my daughter and me.
Crossing our hosts' lawn, I saw something scurrying. I looked down, and saw this anole lizard clinging to the side of a plank.
Our return flight was delayed because of runway maintenance at New York's JFK Airport. While we waited, I took this photo of our plane sitting at the gate, with the towers of downtown Tampa beyond.
We took off heading southward; the setting sun appeared as a crescent through the clouds. Below is Old Tampa Bay and the Courtney Campbell Causeway.
After we turned northward, the moon could be seen in a brilliant sky.