Thursday, January 23, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 01/22/20: Slow Reading, On the Road, Trivia at the Riverbank

1.  I'm almost a hundred pages into Master and Commander. I am enjoying this early part of the book. It brought to mind a pair of Robertson Davies' lectures I used to own, published as a slim volume, entitled, simply, Reading and Writing.  (If you'd like to read these lectures, you no longer need to buy them as a book.  They can be found on the World Wide Web right here.)

At this moment, I don't have a detailed memory of these lectures. Having found them online, I will read them again. I first read them over twenty-five years ago and two points stand out: a) the virtue of reading slowly (and, I might add, the pleasure of reading books that can't be read fast) and b) the pleasure of possessing a vast vocabulary (which I don't) and of reading books that extend one's vocabulary, send one diving into a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words and terms.

Master and Commander is turning out, for me, to be a story I cannot read quickly. Often, on Amazon or on Facebook or at Goodreads, I've read positive reviews of books reflecting the reader's delight that s/he read the whole book in on sitting or that was a good read --  the reviewer got through the book really fast. I get it. I've read books that moved lickity split and enjoyed the thrill of turning pages quickly, feeling my adrenaline coursing through my veins.

In its first couple of chapters, Master and Commander is not such a book -- although I'm wondering if its pace might pick up once Jack Aubrey's ship and its crew enter into into battle at sea.

No, the first couple of chapters slowly and carefully begin to develop three characters: Jack Aubrey, Stephen Maturin, and, to my way of seeing it, the ship itself, the Sophie. Patrick O'Brian meticulously details the different structural features of the Sophie and the human characters' relationships with these parts of the ship. He employs copious specialized nautical language and has sent me to online dictionaries and to websites with captioned illustrations of old ships and accompanying glossaries so that I can begin to understand these terms. I'm also turning frequently to the dictionary to look up non-nautical words O'Brian employs and to find the meaning of Latin phrases and allusions to historical thinkers and composers his learned characters, Maturin and Aubrey, drop with ease and without pretension into conversation with one another.

These terms and these unfamiliar words and phrases are by no means part of my active vocabulary -- I don't know if they ever will be. But, it seems to me that to understand Jack Aubrey's character, a reader needs to understand his grasp of the physical details of the ship and the non-nautical words he uses in his thoughts and observations to describe the world he inhabits.  I'm wondering if his encyclopedic knowledge of the ship's different parts and their functions, as the story of his first turn as the captain of a ship develops, will be matched by a similarly deep knowledge and understanding of the men under his command. I'm sure I will soon begin to find out what Captain Jack Aubrey understands about human conduct and needs and what sorts of things he needs to learn -- and whether he does.

2. Around 4:00 or so, I vaulted into the Sube and bolted through the wind and the rain to the Conoco station on Highway 3, about a mile south of I-90, to meet up with Linda Lavigne, pile into her pickup, and head over to the Riverbank Taphouse at the Northern Quest Casino outside Spokane to join forces with Mary and Kathy and play some trivia.

Linda and I got each other caught up on all kinds of things on our drive to Spokane. You'd think now that we are entering our mid to late sixties, things might slow down a bit in our lives, but that's hardly the case. Whether we talked about our health, dogs, impact of the weather, our kids and grandkids, or our living situations, there's just a lot going on. Linda and I always have great conversations about Kellogg and the Silver Valley, sharing news about what people we've known over the years are up to these days and recalling the days of our youth in our neighborhoods, at church, at the high school, and in the activities we took part in at school.

It's a lot of fun to have so much to talk about and the roads to Spokane were good, making it even easier to yak and enjoy one another's company.

3. Soon after Linda and I arrived at the casino, Mary and Kathy strolled in. Earlier in the day, online, we had discussed what our team name might be. The Bent Trivia Company, who puts on the Wednesday trivia game at the Riverband Taphouse, required that our team name include the letters "nac".

We toyed with a handful of team names: Frequently Unaccompanied, Unaccompanied Miners, Unaccompanied Minors, but settled on Mary's first suggestion: Menacing Geriatrics.

Our name won us the evening's prize for best team name.

Tonight's taplist at the taphouse was especially fun. Recently, Sierra Nevada had held a 40th anniversary party at the Riverbank and the venerable brewery put 40 beers on tap. I'd read publicity about this party and knew that Sierra Nevada had promised to feature rare beers that one might never have a chance to try again. Quite a number of the beers from that party were still available and I decided to try a half pint of Barrel-aged Torpedo IPA. I enjoyed it, but I was done with beer. I'd come tonight wanting to try a Manhattan mixed with Basil Hayden Rye Whiskey and so I ordered one. The rye was mixed with Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth (I will be looking into learning about this -- I'm 100% ignorant) and orange bitters. It was a heavenly cocktail. My order of Bahn Mi Chicken Tacos arrived before I'd finished my drink, but I didn't want to mix the taste of pickled vegetables with the Manhattan, so I took my time, finished my cocktail, and then plunged into the spicy and fermented folds of my taco dinner.


The Menacing Geriatrics finished in second place tonight.

The first place team was a group of young guys who had defeated us a while back -- if I remember correctly, their team is composed of a medical student, some teachers, and possibly another learned guy. I think I remember that Mary had gone over to talk with them back in November or December -- I think they got every question right that night -- and reported back that they were very pleasant fellows.

But, pleasant or not, I think Mary, Kathy, Linda and I would consider it the snow-capped summit of our Trivia playing career if one night we could saunter into the Riverbank Taphouse and outwit these guys.

Look out.

I think the Menacing Geriatrics might be on a mission.

Maybe from God.

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