Friday, December 13, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 12/12/19: Paradox in Shakespeare, Swimming with Eels, Fairport Convention Movie and Golf Drama

1. Sometimes I grumble a bit about what is not available in the Silver Valley: no movie theater, no Episcopal church, no thriving live music venues, no college campus, and so on.

I do my best to quickly set this grumbling aside. After all, just within the warmth and security of my house, I can experience a wide variety of pleasures, excitement, and cultural stimulation.

Take Wednesday night and all day Thursday, for example.

For starters today, I woke up this morning with the last thing I did Wednesday night on my mind. I read parts of Stephen Greenblatt's introduction to Much Ado About Nothing in the Norton Shakespeare. I don't know Greenblatt's total argument in this essay just yet, but in the parts I read, he looks at the violent language that co-exists with the comedic action in the play. A quick example would when Leontes describes Benedick and Beatrice's confrontations as "a merry war" and a "skirmish of wit". I'm not able to write anything insightful about this juxtaposition of "merry" and "war" nor do I have any insight to offer about Leontes using a term drawn from military battle ("skirmish") to describe the Benedick and Beatrice's ongoing efforts to outwit each other when in one another's presence.

But, having read the play countless times, taught the play in Shakespeare courses, played the role of Antonio in LCC's 2006 production of the play, seen several performances in Ashland, and watched it performed countless times on film, I had never paid attention to the violent language and images at work even in its scenes of hilarity.  I'm going to read Greenblatt's full essay and get a better sense of what he conclude from his analysis.

2. Several good things came my way today. Kathy has an extra ticket to watch Gonzaga's women's basketball team play Saturday afternoon and when Mary and Linda couldn't accept Kathy's invitation to join her, she asked me. I get to see basketball played in The Kennel for the first time!

Christy rapped on my door and gave me a holiday loaf of lemon bread -- and, as it turned out, she needed some sesame seeds and I had a supply to give her in return.

Stu and I worked together online to arrange a lunchtime get together at Waddell's in North Spokane on December 27th so that as many people as possible can see Roger P. who will be visiting his sister in Spokane over the holidays.

I also learned that a friend's biopsy report contained good news.

3. It was a superb media day, too.

Right here in my warm little house, I was introduced to the animated, energetic, brilliant, and very amusing naturalist, Lucy Cooke. She was the guest on the first segment of Radiolab's recent show entitled, "Silky Love", a vivifying dive into the world of eels. I got a little bit distracted while I listened to this program and am going to return to it, but when I did focus on it, I thoroughly enjoyed Lucy Cooke as a guest on this episode and laughed out loud as she narrated the often hilarious history of luminaries through the ages, including Aristotle and Sigmund Freud, who have tried to figure out how eels reproduce.

I'm ready now to go to my Smarty Pants TV and to YouTube and search for documentaries on the eel. Moreover, having done a little research, I have discovered that there's a good reason I always see eel on sushi menus. I read today that eel is a very tasty fish. Next time I'm out on a sushi feeding frenzy, I'm ordering eel. What's more, I read more about eel sauce. I've seen that several shushi rolls include eel sauce, that it has a sweet quality, and I'm thinking it's about time for me to order a sushi roll a.s.a.p. that includes eel sauce and see what I think.

Not long after swimming with eels, I happened upon a 72 minute 2017 documentary on YouTube entitled Fairport Convention: Folk Heroes. Somehow, over the past few years, Fairport Convention had all but disappeared from my thoughts and my home playlists. I loved this documentary. I especially loved hearing Simon Nichols, Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson, and many other musicians who played in later configurations of the band, talk about how Fairport Convention forged the genre of folk-rock music in Great Britain and about the history of the band, their collective desire to create a small revolution in folk music, and why they made personnel changes as the band's identity and approach to music solidified.

Intellectually, this film was very satisfying and it also reawakened my deep feelings of joy from nearly thirty years ago when I first heard Richard Thompson perform live and developed (a now extinct) collection of cd's and lp's featuring many musicians who either played with Fairport Convention or were in bands with former members of the band -- I loved those recordings of Ian Matthews, Dave Swarbrick, Sandy Denny, Steeleye Span, Martin Carthy, Richard and Linda Thompson and many others and these recordings led to my enjoyment of other bands like The Oyster Band, Tempest, The Battlefield Band, and many others.  Those were also the days when I subscribed to the enthusiastic folk-rock magazine, Dirty Linen, a publication that helped me greatly and joyfully increase my music listening tastes. Needless to say, for just over an hour this afternoon, my mind raced and my heart swelled as listened, digested, and remembered.

And, there was more to come.

I transitioned smoothly from the last images and sounds from the documentary, featuring clips from the 2017 Festival at Cropredy (the annual Fairport Convention reunion, and so much more!) celebrating the 50th anniversary of Fairport Convention's formation, to the Royal Melbourne Golf Club for the second day of competition between the USA and the International side.

For much of the day, it looked like the International side would repeat their accomplishment of the previous day and flatten the USA. But, as the last three matches wound down it was if the USA side was suddenly possessed by the spirit of Great Britain's Ian Poulter, one of the most thrilling players in pressure situations in team match play I've ever seen. First, Patrick Contlay made a midrange putt on the 18th hole his team needed to win their match; next, Justin Thomas repeated Contlay's feat and the USA won a second point for the session; in the day's last match, Rickie Fowler had to make a tricky six foot putt for par to preserve a tie in his team's match. He succeeded -- and about 45 minutes earlier it had looked like he and Gary Woodland would be defeated in this match.

I'm not very partisan about these matches. I love watching great golf and and I love the drama of match play. The way the USA finished out this session was brilliant, gutsy, dramatic, and (the team can hope) inspiring. Will this great finish that rescued the USA from entering the third day nearly insurmountably behind bolster the Yanks? Will it serve as a jolt to help them keep scrapping and possibly overcome the three point lead the International side currently holds? (To win the Presidents Cup, the International side must win 9 points over the next two days; the USA must win 12).


But, I think a jolt of emotional uplift can be short-lived.

If the USA comes back, overcomes the International side, and wins the Presidents Cup, I think it will be because of these factors:

  • The USA is a more deeply talented team and over the course of the competition, its depth of talent could very well translate into more matches won.
  • On Thursday, I thought the USA players demonstrated that they are understanding better how to play the golf course. Team Captain Tiger Woods commented on this after the second session -- and he's been a model for how to play Royal Melbourne. Given the green's quickness, steep slopes, and many undulations, the wiser players will not fire shots directly at the pin, but, as they hit approaches, factor into their shots' placement the speed of the greens and way the ball will roll down these slopes and up and down these undulations. Woods emphasized that on this course, players must realize that a shot that ends up 15-20 feet from the pin can be a very good shot, possibly the best that could be hoped for. Shooting directly at these pins on these greens can often result in shots that roll off the back of the green and pose difficult pitches or chips coming back to the green. It will be interesting today to see if the USA players consistently choose targets on the green that may leave them longer putts, but that will be safely on the green, not in trouble.
  • The USA team, overall, is more experienced in international team match play. If the USA can shrink the International side's lead and this contest tightens up, it's possible that the USA will perform better under pressure because of their experience.
But, you know what? You never know! I'm just looking forward to watching as much of the action as I can before I join Jake, Carol Lee, Ed, and Nancy at the Timbers at 5 for Friday evening dinner and picking up the action again when I return home. 

I'm stoked. 

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