July 17th, 2006

Bastille Days

Besides the annual huge music festival that occupies Milwaukee for the first part of July ("Summerfest"), nearly every other summer weekend from mid-June to Labor Day and after features one of the "ethnic festivals"--Italian, German, Polish, Irish, African, Arab, Native American. "Bastille Days" is unique in that it does not take place at the Lakefront or State Fair Park, but is a free street fair that occupies several downtown East side blocks including Cathedral Square Park and extending to the front door of my office building. Of course, not only does one have to walk out a lunchtime to take in the music and the sights, but it's very easy to hang out after work for food, music, and shopping. Since there's also a bus line that runs from close to our neighborhood to the building front door, it's comparatively easy for Georgie to bus down and meet me at quitting time for a "date".

This year we thought the festival was particularly good. They did a way with the cumbersome "ticketing" process for food and drink so that you could just walk up and buy what you wanted from vendors for cash. Also, the Blatz stage was changed from over-amplified rock to acoustical music, which made the ambiance a great deal more pleasant. The food vendors we favored were all present, so we dined on excellent Jambalaya from J.T. Bones, and ice cream crepe from Cream and Crepe Cafe, and begniets from Alliance Francais. Best of all was Big Bad Voodoo Daddy playing on the main stage from at 5:00PM. (There was a strong New Orleans theme this year with Mama Digdown's Brass Band marching through the area as well--). We found a shady spot with breeze and a good view of the band and dancers and had a great time. I was suprised at how many people of all ages know the basic Jitterbug that goes well with a lot of BBVD's music, but particularly pleased and amused to see one couple that could do an authentic "Mooch" to "Minnie the Moocher." Boutique shops and vendors fill out the booths with scads of bright-colored summer clothing on offer, and about ton of silver jewelry. We spent a couple of very good hours before stolling back to my car and home.

Pirates of the Carribean:Dead Man's Chest

OK, this movie is pure fun. We were perfectly prepared, on a hot summer's day, to enjoy two and a half hours of spectacular stunts, fight scenes, and special effects, plot or no plot. However, I'm not going to say, check your brain at the door, though. You can ignore the critics who say that the movie is made up of a hodge-podge of fragmented plots. Instead, the plot is a variation on "The Maltese Falcon;" everyone ends up wanting the "Dead Man's Chest" for the power its contents will give them over the dark master of the sea, Davy Jones. They all have their own reasons and motives, but that doesn't work out to separate plotlines. Interestingly enough, there's actual character development: in Jack's case, it's mostly a continued metamorphosis into a sort of Bugs Bunny in Pirate Sam's clothes, but he shows a bit more of a piratically treacherous side as well. --As do other characters. When Jack gives his "come on over to my side" ("Come to the dark side, young Jedi,") speech to Elizabeth, we just know it's going to come back to bite him later. And it's a real change to see the officious yet honorable Norrington do a Jeykll-Hyde turn and revert to the vicious bastard we always felt was lurking within.

Although this is a rather darker piece than the previous, there are some subtle reminders that this is a Disney picture: in particular, there are several visual references to "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea," including Davy Jones' pipe organ in the hold of the "Flying Dutchman," the "Dutchman's" spiky beak, the first Kraken tentacle attack, and a later sea-level view of the Kraken bearing down on its prey which lacked only the glowing "eye" lantern to be Nemo's "Nautilus" attacking. There are some other classical tropes as well: the cannibal island has very similar geography to King King's "Skull Island" with its pheonomenal gorges and cliffs. The writers also borrow other fun bits as well: Bill Nighy's delivery of his lines as Davy Jones sometimes seems to echo the "Bridge-keeper" from Monty Python. I could just see him hissing, "What is your quest?" And Pintel and Ragetti (the comic relief pirates) escape from prison to rejoin the crew and keep up a dialog that is part Monty Python, and part Vladimir and Estragon.

The new characters are worthy additions to the old gang. Nighy is wonderful as Jones, Naomie Harris is both attractive and creepy as Tia Dalma, the obeah woman, and Tom Hollander does a good job as the "new man" Cutler Beckett, who inititates the trouble this time around.

I don't have trouble with this being a middle movie and not really ending: I only hate having to wait a year for the next installment.

LaVerne C. Wubben, 10/08/1936-07/12/2006, R.I.P.

I didn't know LaVerne Wubben well. We had met only a couple of times, but he was the father of my brother Harold's wife, Connie, and, judging by all I know and have recently learned, would have stood a good chance of being awarded the title of "salt of the earth," were there a competition open for that title. His home for all his life was in rural Hazel Green, Wisconsin. Hazel Green is a tiny community of one main street, located in the Southwest of the state only a few miles north of the Illinois border. "Verne," as he was known, was baptized, married, and buried from the same parish, and laid to rest in the adjacent church yard. Himself one of seven children, he fathered seven of his own with his wife, Darlene, and had accumulated, so far, twenty grandchildren, ranging from attractive and self-posessed young women (among whom I number three of my nieces) to babes in arms. Like many men in that region, he maintained a family farm while also working a full-time factory job for John Deere in Dubuque, Iowa, while that lasted. After jobs at Deere went away, he worked as a school bus driver and later part-time for F&H supply. He died this last Wednesday of congestive heart failure. Verne was a good father-in-law to my brother, and they found a common enjoyment in hunting. "Avid outdoorsman" would also be an apt description of Verne as he hunted deer, bear, and goose, and fished and taught his children and grandchildren to fish. During the family reminicense portion of the funeral, one of his daughters wryly recounted the dubious joys of spending a long fall evening boning a deer, or tracing a blood spoor through a cornfield by flashlight. Among the "gifts" laid on the coffin during the ceremony were an orange hunting hat and a clay "pigeon" target. He wrote letters to his grandchldren, unusual for this age, and filled them with riddles and wisdom they evidently cherish.

Family stories were the best part of the funeral. I am afraid that, since the doctrrinal change that a funeral is to be a celebration of the departed's life and entry into a new life in Heaven, Catholic funerals in particular have become--well, wimpy, for lack of a better word. The commonly used music is dreadful. I don't know what I'll do if I hear "On Eagle's Wings" one more time, although, given my number of Catholic relatives it's probably inevitable. This was followed by an even more insipid song called "Taste and See (The Goodness of the Lord)" which reminded me of nothing so much as a margarine commercial jingle. There was also one to the tune of "Danny Boy", but with very forgettable words, and "Amazing Grace." If they are going to adopt hymns written by Protestants, why not borrow some muscley ones like "Old Rugged Cross" or "How Great Thou Art"?

The priest did an adequate job, although unfortunately he was a somewhat dull speaker, insisted on explaining everything happening during the service although the great majority attending were surely churchgoers if not Catholics, and evidently did not know Verne well, since his eulogy, in fine, boiled down to "he was born/baptised, he got married, he had children and grandchildren." To his credit, he kept everything moving along, and involved the family a great deal. Besides the reminicences, one of Verne's grandsons was an "altarboy", another relative assisted serving the Mass, and three granddaughters sang. Since Verne was enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War, the American Legion color guard turned out and fired the tradition salute at the grave site and "Taps" was played.

My brother, sister-in-law and nieces and other family members were doing as well as might be (the death was not unexpecred) but it is apprent Verne will be keenly missed.