Monday, November 22, 2010

Wicked Pissa! I miss the lingo!

I never realized how much I missed the lingo from my long ago Massachusetts youth than when I picked up the new novel' Rogue Island' by Bruce DeSilva. Here are the fire fighters at an arson based scorcher in Providence, Rhode Island:

"Y doan dey spray moah wahduh awn duh ruf?"
(Why don't they spray more water on the roof?)

"Dey orda". (They ought to.)

"Ats wut I bin sayin'." (That's what I've been saying.)
"Shut up, daboatayuz". (Shut up, the both of you.)

"Jeet yet?" (Did you eat yet??)

"Gnaw". (No.)

"We kin take my cah tuh Caserduz if I kin fine my kahkis."
(We can take my car to Caserta's if I can find my car keys.)

"Wicked pissa!" (A good idea.)

p. 31 "Rogue Island" by Bruce DeSilva

And a wonderful reason to either stay home or go home, from the same novel:

"I grew up here. I know the cops and robbers, the barbers and the bartenders, the judges and the hit men, the whores and the priests. I know the state legislature and the Mafia inside out, and they're pretty much the same thing. When I write about a politic an buying votes or a cop on the pad, the jaded citizenry just chuckles and shrugs its shoulders. That used to bother me. It doesn't anymore. Rogue Island is a theme park for investigative reporters. It never closes, and I can ride the roller coaster free all day."

p. 211 "Rogue Island" by Bruce DeSilva

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Leonard Bernstein and Marilyn Horne: Carmen

One of our wonderful, tatty second hand bookshops in the neighborhood yielded a $2 copy of 'The Carmen chronicle' by Harvey E. Philips. The book was published nearly forty years ago (!) and the chronicle is a play by play of rehearsals for a new staging of Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera in 1973. The production was to have been by Goran Gentele, the newly named General Manager of the Met, but he and two of his daughters were killed in a car wreck in the summer of 73. Carmen and the Met had to go on without him., Bodo Igez staged the show. Cast and conductor didn't change (except for Teresa Stratas, who withdrew as Micaela and was replaced by Adriana Maliponte): James McCracken, Tom Krause and the sensational Marilyn Horne as Carmen. Leonard Bernstein conducted. The production was recorded by DGG and became a huge seller (for an opera). Critics loved or hated it. The production was a sellout at the Met and the recoding flew, really flew off the shelves. That was in the days they had record stores. Look it up if you're under twenty.

The Bernstein-Horne Met Carmen recording became favorite guilty pleasure of critics and nudniks. It was too slow. too ponderous. too German. Horne was tough. Great voice yes, but no charm. Well, I'm hear to tell you: I've been listening again after thirty years and I love this recording. It's all drama and color and flair and character. Horne's Carmen is an animal: adorable and tough. McCracken's voice is an acquired taste I acquired years ago. He's a huge, strong man reduced to mush by Carmen and hates himself forever. And any recording that has Donald Gramm, the wonderful artist as Zuniga in luxury casting is okay with me. Bernstein's tempi may be slow(er) but he makes you, compels you, to hear every note of the music, and there's no separation between 'pure' music and the drama. The entr'actes, where some separation is expected, glower with meaning. The spoken dialogue is rather arch and can be off putting (skip it if you must) The singing -and it really is SINGING with all the drama is not. I'm not throwing away my Beecham or Reiner or any other Carmens, but I'm so glad to have this one again. It's like walking into the arms of a beloved friend after many years.

A Crush on Lady Antonia Fraser

I had a crush on Lady Antonia Fraser when I was twelve years old. (Who was YOUR crush at that age?) A friend recently likened Lady Antonia, now pushing 80, to Becky Sharp. Back in 1969 I didn't know from Becky and wasn't very sharp myself. But there she was, the blond, sexy, titled author of 'Mary, Queen of Scots' and made that doomed lady a major bestseller for the first time since 1587! We come to find out that Lady Antonia-daughter of an Earl, thankyouvery much, whose mother was Queen Victoria's biographer, was married to a member of parliament and had six kids! She did the Dick Cavett-David frost route of 'chat' shows stateside and a fair amount of magazine spreads. She was hi-glam. I wrote her a fan letter. I did that too much. She wrote me back, very sweet, from a tony London address. If you grew up on Route 2A then Campden Hill Square sounded pretty posh.

Many books later, from murder mysteries to nuns to royal biographies to Marie Antoinette sold to Sofia Coppola for the movies (Kirsten Dunst, yet) Lady Antonia has written a memoir of her marriage to the late Harold Pinter. It was for Pinter, playwright, master of pause and all around theater genius that Lady Antonia left MP husband and Campden Hill Square...briefly enough in the case of the latter. She lived with Pinter for over thirty years and they were married for 28, up until his death two years ago. 'Must You Go' is a poignant love story. It seems the path TO the relationship was complicated, but the marriage itself sounds blissful. Pinter liked the kids. Antonia supported his work and remained his biggest fan. Was he hers? It would appear so. Lady Antonia writes about love without whining. There are journeys throughout Europe and the States, the decline of elderly parents, and the world descending into Thacherism. I know very little about Harold Pinter save for a performance of 'Betrayal' on Broadway and an obsession with Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman. But I mourned his loss through his wife's lovely book. The changing scenery, from Scotland to Venice helped. So did Lady A's witty prose and elegant, clipped observations. The first Mrs. Pinter, actress Vivien Merchant, is given her due for acting talent, with plenty lefty unsaid. The kids are messy teenagers when that's appropriate. Lady A is fond of Pinter's only child, Daniel. She chats up Jackie O and parties and once rented her London home to the young Caroline Kennedy (I'm Caroline's age. If she's no longer young, what does that make me?) Bomb scares, actual explosions and lousy reviews from the Times of two continents are mentioned and dispatched. Get on with it. Get on with this book, Must You Go? There's more than one way to have a successful marriage, and Lady A shares hers beautifully.

Friday, November 12, 2010


For me, the ultimate feel good TV: Masterpiece Theater's CRANFORD returned this week to PBS for an encore. What's the attraction many of us have to English country village life in the Victorian era? Me, I'm re- reading 'Nicholas Nickelby' in time for Christmas. It used to be that all the old MGM Dickens based movies aired around Christmas, even though few of them except the obvious had anything to with Christmas. And neither Dickens's nor Elizabeth Gaskell, author of the Cranford novels depict phony jollity of unrealistic dippy lives. But there's also a gentleness in the story telling, as if its understood we are all to be forgiven for our foibles by book's or TV program's end. Mistakes are made, tragedies occur but the sense that people are for one another the best they can (some better than others) is always front and center.

Case in point. Here's one of the lovliest scenes: In Cranford, Miss Matty, a beloved lady in the village, loses all her money when her bank fails. The other ladies, at times finicky, petulant, silly, wise and strong get together and decide, no nonsense now, to establish a fund for Miss Matty. She must never know of this so she "is not compromised in any way." All happily agree to give what they can. And for many it can't be much at all, but no one refuses (joyful givers all). One of the older ladies runs after Miss Matty's young protege to tearfully apologize that her own contribution must be so little "but I haven't more than one hundred pounds to live on". She would be mortified if her small contribution was seen to indicate a lack of regard for Miss Matty. Like I said, lovely. Beautful TV and beautiflly acted. CRANFORD. Go find the DVD in the library. Both volumes. Elzianeth Gaskell's novles from the 1860s are a joy to read, as well. Cuddle up.

The Slap

It's still too early to assemble a "Best of" for 2010. You never know what there is to read, see and hear over the next six weeks. I suspect however, that no book I read in 2010 will impress me more than THE SLAP by Christos Tsiolkas

A three year old boy is slapped by an adult male-not his father, not a relative-during a backyard barbecue in suburban Melbourne. Hugo, the little boy is clearly a terror. He's been given few boundaries and neither parent rushes to intervene when he begins to swing a baseball bad around in a bid for attention, coming within inches of creaming anyone in his path. So he is slapped and stopped. And then begins the consternation.

Sides have to be chosen. Fractured marriages are examined, healed and perhaps fractured again. Teen age angst is seen to be dangerous and pervasive. Older generations of the Greek-Australian community profiled in this novel are seen as both concerned and intolerant. Hugo's parents need to live in rage to make sense their crumbling lives. Dad is underachieving, angry, and alcoholic. Mom hasn't a clue. Both contribute to the sense of entitlement wrecking kids today. Trust me, back in the day if I or any of my little friends misbehaved more than one adult neighbor would be there to wack us into line. Nobody said a word abut it. It was a way of looking out for one another's children. And Hugo is by no means beaten or abused. He is slapped, once. And he stops with the baseball bat.

Hector, at whose home the slap is delivered by his cousin, Harry, is a successful businessman married to a ravishing veterinarian-and they too live a life pasted together. In the novel's second sentence Hector rolls over in bed and emits "a victorious fart" thus alerting the reader to pages of raw language. Bodily functions, sex, sexuality, drug use, you name it, the authors views and depictions are unsparing. This book is not for the squeamish. But as you blow through you are never (or I wasn't) temped to yell TMI! (too much information!) It's a "can't put it down" book and I was very sorry to see it end. Many novels lose the thread and limp toward the finish. My God, not here. Young Richie has an encounter with Hector a few pages before the end that is moving and gripping and never descends to vulgarity or falsehood. In fact, there's not a false note anywhere in this book. You may dislike these people and you may be repelled by lifestyles and conversations (a dose of racism) but unless you are locked away in a convent this book will ring true. In Ohio, in Boston, in Australia and on top of Mt Everest.

Don't miss The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.