September 17th, 2006

Masterpiece Style and Speed Showcase

On August 26th, we went to Veterans Park at the Milwaukee lakefront to see the second annual Masterpiece Style & Speed Showcase. This gathering showcased over a hundred beautifully restored or mint classic cars ranging from a 1901 horseless carriage to 1960’s muscle cars and some rare novelty items such as an Aquacar and Messerschmitt and BMW postwar mini-cars. Although the exhibitors were mainly just from Wisconsin and nearby states, I was really impressed by the quality and variety of cars on display. There were some rare marques like Lagonda and Morgan I had read about but never actually seen examples of. There were TWO Bugattis, one a lovely dual-cowl roadster originally purchased by jazz-age cartoonist John Held. There were some lovely examples of Georgie’s favorite, the 30’s era Packards, and mine, the Jaguar XKE. Periodically during the afternoon, selected cars were moved into a lecture tent so that the owners could talk about the restoration, maintenance, and quirks, which allowed us to see such things as a Stanley Steamer actually under power. This was a really excellent show, and I took a lot of pictures, some of which I have posted at:

and I hope to have more up soon.

Labor Day Weekend

On Labor Day Saturday, we drove to Madison for the Farmers’ Market. This is the high season for such markets, and it was full of produce and full of people. We bought sweet corn, cheese, and trout fillets, all of which were delicious when we got to them. Then we drove up to the Dells and visited my parents, who actually seemed in good spirits despite my father having had another fall recently and just gotten out of the hospital a week before. They are both getting more and more feeble, but are determined to remain in their home, despite the local home care agencies having pretty much given up on them.
I don’t know what will happen, but I have to respect their choice, since I think I might act similarly.

On Sunday, we met Henry Osier and drove out to Old World Wisconsin for the Civil War Weekend. We enjoyed chatting with the various docents as usual, and enjoyed seeing the Civil War reenactors, who seemed to be having a great time being able to interact with the period settings and the museum staff. The ‘script’ for the weekend was that the 3rd Wisconsin division, which was in fact part of Sherman’s march through Georgia, was foraging for supplies and the locals were enacting the part of Southern farmers and villagers who were engaged in hiding their winter supplies from the hungry soldiers. We overheard a couple of the townswomen berating the members of the artillery detachment for having made off with their chickens. The artillerymen were polite but unrepentant. We got to stand quite close by behind the guns as the firing drill was completed and the cannons fired.

There was also a detachment of mounted Confederate skirmishers, who harassed the Union soldiers as they moved along wooded trails to raid the outlying farms. Our timing was a bit off, as we got out to the Norwegian homestead well before the Union troops and got tired standing around in the sun waiting for them to show up. (The Army was, as usual for those times, late.) We caught the motorized tram back to the parking area, and even after a substantial wait for other trams to clear the roads because most of the people on the museum grounds were going the other direction, we encountered the Union foragers still well away from their goal. Still and all, we had a good time.

"Julius Caesar" and "Romeo and Juliet"

On September 9th, we made the pilgrimage to American Players Theatre for a Shakespeare double-header, “Julius Caesar” in the afternoon, and “Romeo and Juliet” in the evening. “Julius Caesar” gave the veteran members of the company room to stretch, with Brian Robert Mani in the title role and Jonathan Smoots as Brutus. With the exception of Michael Gotch as Cassius and David Daniel as Marc Anthony, most of the other company members (including the women) were kept on the run playing conspirators, soldiers of several factions, and the Roman mob. We found this production extraordinarily effective, especially in the use of sound. Martial drumming accented the action, and cast members spotted in the audience, together with recorded voices, made the audience literally part of the mass of people gathered for Brutus’ and Anthony’s funeral orations. Mani was an effective Caesar, showing both the courage that made the people adore him, and the insensitivity that made the conspirators fear him. When Caesar says:

“I could be well moved, if I were as you;
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me:
But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumber'd sparks,
They are all fire, and every one doth shine;
But there's but one in all doth hold his place:
So in the world; 'tis furnish'd well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion: and that I am he,
Let me a little show it, even in this,—
That I was constant Cimber should be banish'd,
And constant do remain to keep him so.”

--we could not help but think of certain of our current leaders and how proud they are of their fixedness of purpose in the face of the fact of their blundering.

Smoots as Brutus showed how difficult it was for him to come to the fatal decision to murder Caesar, which difficulty caused him to make the mistake of insisting on mercy for Marc Anthony. Gotch showed us Cassius’ impatience with the political situation early one, and frustration when things fall apart later. Marc Anthony as played by Daniels was a very naturalistic speaker in the critical funeral oration, which makes the display of his cynical calculation once established as part of the Triumvirate all the more shocking.

There was one thing about the production that I found unsatisfying: the assassination of Caesar, which calls for the conspirators to literally wash their hands in Caesar’s blood, used a sufficiency of stage blood that it had to be mopped up from the floor between scenes. The death of the hapless poet Cinna at the hands of the angry mob featured prosthetic body parts that were “torn” off and brandished about. By contrast, the suicides of Cassius and Brutus were painfully fake looking: inserting a sword’s point half an inch between armor plates causes near instantaneous death? I know these deaths were supposed to be more tragic and dignified than the murders that had gone before, but I think more effort could have gone into adding a bit more realism. But that’s my only quibble. This was an excellent performance, the best I have seen of this tragedy.

“Romeo and Juliet” was rather another thing. Compared with the spare verse of “Caesar”, the rhyming couplets sprinkled through R&J make it out to be a less mature work in a number of ways. The younger members of the cast were given the burden of the work, and I must honestly say I have rarely seen the characters played so well for their appropriate ages. In particular, Shawn Fagan as Romeo played an unrealistic spoiled brat so well that, in the scene where Friar Lawrence brings him the news of his banishment, had I been Friar Lawrence, I would have wanted to have kicked him while he groveled on the ground self-absorbedly sobbing and sniveling. Leah Curney as Juliet delivered her lines as Juliet with a believably teenaged word-pressure gushing out. With the youth of the characters thus pointed up, the enormity of their betrayal by their elders comes to the fore. Juliet’s parents are callous brutes to her at the critical moment; her nurse, who has abetted her secret marriage to Romeo turns out to be no help at all when she is presented with the appalling prospect of a blasphemous second wedding to Paris. And Jonathan Smoots plays Friar Lawrence a much sharper man than the bumbler we frequently see, which points out his moral cowardice: it’s never stated but implied that he would have married Juliet to Paris without daring to reveal that he had already performed the same ceremony with Romeo; and his abandonment of Romeo in Juliet’s tomb at the climax allows the final tragedy to occur.

Darragh Kennan as Mercutio did not display quite the verbal agility one frequently sees in this role, but played the character with a certain fey quality that I quite enjoyed. David Daniel played Tybalt with a menace that let you know he was a dangerous bully. Tracy Michelle Arnold’s Nurse was not the old bawd we sometimes see, but rather a too-worldly woman who nevertheless lets herself get caught up in her charge’s dreams of romance.

Again, not the most affecting performance I have seen: I was able to watch the denoument dry-eyed, but reflecting on the foolishness of it all. Nevertheless, there was much fresh and good in this production.

Henry Osier Birthday Shoot

September 10 was Henry Osier’s occasionally annual birthday gathering and shooting party out at the “Lytherian Shooting Range.” Henry had requested we costume for shooting, and we did, me as one of my “Gaslight” characters in top hat and tail coat, and Georgie in period sporting garb as well. Henry and others were garbed as “cowboys”, so we had some fun trading “city slicker” vs. “rube” barbs. We spend most of the time shooting our period and replica guns at the usual array of targets, and refreshed ourselves with a handsomely decorated and delicious cake provided by Georgie, and tasty “Polish Delight” sausages brought by Henry, and had a good time although the light mist eventually thickened in to genuine rain.

Bardic Dinner, India

September 16th was the monthly Bardic dinner, this month held at the home of Bob and Judy Seidl. The theme was India, and we had a very lovely Indian feast, of which Georgie provided samosas (pastries filled with spiced potato and peas) as appetizers, and I made gulab jamun (small fried batter balls moistened with either rose or honey flavored syrups) as dessert. Skald Tim Kozinski read from “The 22 Goblins” an Indian classic of teaching stories framed in a macabre setting.


About four blocks from our house is Jackson Park, which contains a multi-acre pond, complete with two small wooded islands. Earlier this year, we noticed that the larger island had become a roosting place for herons. There is a sizable rookery of great blue herons due north of Milwaukee in Ozaukee County that was just discovered a couple of years ago, and we think these are juveniles who are moving out on their own. At peak time, we have seen as many as six one evening, although one or two can be seen at almost any time. This morning we saw three, one of which flew over to our side of the pond, and stalked along the edge hunting within thirty feet of us. We were also charmed to note the presence of a tiny sandpiper type bird, the first of its kind we had observed here. The pond has evidently become a stopover spot, since Georgie recently saw a snowy egret and one evening we also saw what was either a bittern or a night heron.

Another Asinins Pronouncement from Our Government

Say what? This very under-reported story: In response to the Senate Armed Services Committee reporting out legislation that may give alleged terrorist detainees more rights than the Administration wants, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was quoted as saying that, since the President can hold enemy combatants "as long as he wants" it essentially did not matter whether the Congress enacted legislation requiring due process or not, since the President could essentially just decline to give anyone any hearings at all. Where’s the outrage about this claim? Where does the President claim this power from? His presumed dictatorial powers as ‘commander in chief”? If this is so, then all our Constitutional protections are set at naught, since the administration has already tried to classify American citizens and those arrested on American soil as “enemy combatants” and by this not entitled to habeas corpus or a speedy, let alone public trial, or to confront accusers. I cannot believe the Congress has not strongly condemned this arrogance.