Just more than a year after we came back from Vienna, we concidentally had an Austrian-themed weekend. Part One was Saturday evening, when we got together for the monthly Bardic Dinner. This was our annual play-reading, in which the entire group reads. The play was Thorton Wilder's "The Matchmaker," and the food theme was Viennese, due to the remark Dolly Gallager Levi makes to the effect that her first husband had been from Vienna, and that Vienna was much happier town than New York. Wilder's play is more of an adaptation than an orginal: John Oxenford's 1835 one-act farce "A Day Well Spent" had been extended into a full-length play entitled "Einen Jux will er sich machen" by Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy in 1842. Wilder adapted Nestroy's version into an Americanized comedy entitled "The Merchant of Yonkers", which revolves around Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy Yonkers, New York businessman in the market for a wife. In 1955, Wilder considerably rewrote the play, greatly expanding a previously minor character into the lead role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, and rechristened the piece "The Matchmaker", under which title it was far more successful. It later served as the basis for Jerry Herman's 1964 musical hit "Hello, Dolly!". The edition we had also noted some scenes lifted from Moliere, as well.

I was given the part of Vandergelder to read, and had fun with the blustery curmudgeon character. The grasping businessman comes from an era in America were the greatest sin was to be a "fool," and Vandergelder considers himself a man of sense. Although he admits he is comitting foolishness when he goes shopping for a new wife at his age, he is not prepared for the extent to which he is fooled by his neice, her suitor, his employees, and by Dolly.

Georgie was given Dolly, and played her with a decided, and decisive character. The other members made up the supporting cast with very enjoyable reading being given, particularly by Shelia Horne as Vandergelder's timorous niece Ermengarde; Bob Horne as her artistic suitor, and also a snooty waiter; Hillary Giffen as Irene Molloy, one of Vandergelder's potential brides; and Missy Hill as Barnaby, Vandergelder's out-of-his-depth apprentice clerk.

The food theme for the night was Viennese, and I was main dish chef and made Tafelspitz, which is basically boiled beef with root vegetables, but the subtle spicing makes it more than just that. This was the third time I had made it since our Austria trip, and I was very pleased with the way it turned out. Georgie made Sacher torte, apres the famous dessert that is the trademark of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna. The specific recipe is a closely guarded secret, but it consists of a dark, dense chocolate cake, glazed with apricot jam, and then coated with a poured chocolate icing. Having had both, I can say that Georgie's replica was nearly spot-on, and delicious in any case, a sentiment shared by the assembly. In addition, we were served noodles, red cabbage, apple salad, stuffed mushrooms, and bread with butter or liptaur, an Austrian cheese spread I find particularly yummy.

The play reading was fun, the meal was fine, so it's safe to say a good time was had.
The weekend of June 16-17 was a go places and look at stuff weekend. Saturday morning, we took the Historic Concordia Neighborhood home tour, something we've wanted to do for a couple of years. Unlike the Historic Milwaukee Tours we frequently take, the Concordia Neigborhood Association puts together its own tour every year, covering the same area but with different houses. The Concordia neighborhood lies west of "downtown" and north of Wisconsin Avenue. Wisconsin Avenue, back when it was "Grand" Avenue, was at one time THE posh area in Milwaukee, where the Beer Barons and other captains of industry had their homes. The adjacent area became home to a lot of smaller entrepeneurs, engineers, and managers, which resulted in construction of a lot of fine homes although not on palatial scales. As wealth moved to Lake Drive and the northern suburbs, many of the Grand Avenue homes were torn down and the area wnet into a decline, from which it has now been salvaged, although unfortunately quite a few of the once-gracious houses were long-ago replaced by utilitarian apartment blocks.

The tour headquarters was the Tripoli Shrine Temple on Wisconsin Avenue, someplace we've always wanted to see inside. The exterior would be a creditable imiation of a Mid-eastern mosque complete with minarets, were it not for the inappropriate statues of saddled camels out front. (The Tripoli Shrine, if I recall correctly, used to be known for its Camel Corps parade unit--.) The public rooms inside are spectacular, done entirely in colorful geometric tile patterns, and very well preserved.

We saw many very nicely preserved and restored houses, with some needing work. One of the showpieces of the tour was the Manderly Bed and Breakfast, which has been well restored and richly decorated with the owners' stained glass art which nicely compliments the antique furniture. Another was the former home of Milwaukee Daniel Hoan, a siginificant local historical figure of the early 20th Century. Also very nicely restored, we were interested to see that the house was for sale for a mere $250,000.00. (I have since learned that the sellers have an offer--.) Actually reasonable, given that we saw a larger house needing work was being offered at $350K, which shows how far the gentrification of the area has come.

Saturday evening, we went to the home of Chuck Tritt and Julie Ann Hunter, which coincidentally is a beautiful 19th Century farm house in Mequon, for the monthly Bardic dinner, the theme of which was "Route 66". We dined on foods associated with cities along the route, and skald Bob Seidl read from works about the historic highway while we enjoyed the home's rural ambiance.

An automotive theme continued when we drove to the village of Sussex for the 26th Annual British Car Field Day, which had on display more than 200 examples of British marques, including MG, Triumph, Austin Healy, Mini-Cooper, Jaguar, Lotus, Sunbeam and rarer types. It was particularly interesting to see the many variations of the British two-seater, the orginal 'sports car', in its incarnations of various models and manufacturers, from the small and fragile looking MG's to the large and powerful seeming Morgan 12's. Jaguar, my favorite, was represented by a number of XKE and later types, with a smattering of luxury Bentley and Rolls-Royces. Probably the car that inspired the most comment was a new Rolls-Royce sedan that had been put through the "pimp my ride" process as a promotion stunt for a "pot noodle" company. (Noodle cups must be big business in Britain). So, imagine if you will, a black Rolls painted with a lurid red and yellow "flame job," "rims" and a truly dangerous looking high-tech "boom car" sound system. The result was croggling.

That said, I spent much more time faunching over the pristine Aston-Martin DB-5 (black, rather than the "Goldfinger" silver) and a Ford Angila that had been given a very nice and subdued "hot rod" treatment. The Angila looks like a 1950's PT Cruiser, and was coincidentally one of the first cars my father owned, so there was a sentimental connection there.

We kind of hustled through the show since the weather looked threatening, but had a good time while we were there.
Thanksgiving turned out much better than I had feared it would, although I think some of the family issues are just delayed and I can now shift to dreading Christmas--. My brother David and his wife Val brought most of the meal, catered. Georgie and I came early, cleared the mail and medications off the dining table, and provided the traditional family dishes, like scalloped corn and rutabega, that the average caterer does not provide. My father seemed actually in a good mood, so things went smoothly and with a modicum of actual cheer.

Georgie and I pretty much stayed home on "Black Friday." It's been years since we ventured near a mall or shopping center day after Thanksgiving, and we've learned by experience it's pretty futile to try to find an uncrowded movie house, either, at least around here. So we took the day easy, snuggled in, and did household things, including cooking for Saturday's dinner. (I was making soup, and we find that making the soup a day ahead and letting it mellow overnight provides a superior experience.)

Saturday the 25th, we hosted the monthly Bardic Dinner. The reading theme was "Female Detectives" and the food theme was Classic Steak House. Chef Du Jour Tom Kline brought over his gas grill and grilled delicious New York Strip and Porterhouse steaks. I had made a vegan Soup of Many Onions, using roasted vegetable broth as a base, plus dry sherry, garlic, and seven different onion types, which gave a very mellow and complex soup. Those that wanted could have it steak house style with the floating crouton and melted Gruyere cheese, but the soup was good enough to not need it. Georgie had salad, and provided a classic mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce with cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, and radish and carrot shreds, with choice of French or Thousand Island dressings. Shrimp cocktail, dinner rolls, and mixed vegetables were among the other dishes on offer, with cheesecake for dessert.

Megan Schaffer was Skald for the evening, and read a number of entertaining pieces, starting with a segment from "The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency," by Alexander McCall Smith, and some interesting period short stories. These included a one from a Sherlock-Holmes-era series I had not been familiar with, so I found that one particularly interesting.
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.
Yes, I live. No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth--it's just been one of those times that, when I've had time to write, I haven't had energy, and when energy, not time--. Anyway, here's a quick update on what's been going on with us.

Annual Review

I tend to suffer a bit from seasonal depression, which, I realize in my case stems not just from an absence of light AND the onset of the Christmas season—which usually combines to make the first weekend of December about my worst time—but also from the “annual review.” You know, it’s that assessment you tend to make knowing that another year has come to an end. Some years, it’s been pretty rough. Around this time of year we’ve had deaths, job losses, illness or other general unpleasantness, which, amplified by darkness and a mildly Scrooge-ish temperament makes for a rather hard time.

This year, I’m doing fairly well, partly because my new position as a manager keeps me sufficiently busy that I don’t have brooding time. Of course, the job has its drawbacks like any job, but I have to feel good about having gotten the promotion. We celebrated twenty years of wonderful marriage. My last remaining unmarried sibling, my brother Mike, got married to his long-time companion, Karen. My parents seem to be doing better than last year at this time, and some of the family stresses due to their unhealth seem to have eased. My sister and other brothers all have intact marriages, very good to decent jobs, good health, and no history of drug or alcohol abuse, mental illness, or imprisonment. I myself had and extensive battery of health tests and got a clean bill. So there’s very little to be gloomy about, at least in my personal life. On the other hand, the situation in the nation and the world generally sucks, so I guess there is at least balance.

Movies:

Since last time, we’ve seen two particularly good movies, one critically acclaimed, and one panned.

The one that everyone loved, including ourselves, was The Incredibles. Surprising, since superhero movies don’t tend to win critical good opinion, even successful ones like Spider-Man. But, truly, I thought The Incredibles was a truly flawless movie. It does one of my favorite things, which is first to say “what if,” and then ruthlessly apply logic and common sense to work out the ramifications. The plot is original: do-gooder super-heroes get sued out of business. Instead of persecuting them, the government puts them into a sort of witness relocation program on the condition they refrain from using super-powers. Mr. Incredible has settled uncomfortably into life as an insurance adjuster, married “Elasti-Girl” and is in the process of raising two also uncomfortable super-powered children. He’s been sneaking out to do bits of unauthorized heroics, so when he gets an offer from a super-secret government agency he’s easily tempted--.

Besides the wealth of ideas, the movie is visually beautiful in so many ways, some of the best of them being subtleties such as motion: Elasti-Girl stretching from rooftop to rooftop looks exactly right. Frozone moves like a speed-skater on his ice, instead of the “surfer” move that is the X-Men “Iceman” cliché. You look at it and say “Of course!” The tropical island where much of the action takes place is beautifully rendered and super-cool in the best James Bond fashion. I really could find only minimal quibbles and consider it a must-see if you care for super-heroics in the least.

The art-house film one would have expected the critics to love but they didn’t is Finding Neverland. It is a fictionalized account of the circumstances surrounding J.M. Barrie’s writing of his masterpiece Peter Pan. The timeline diverges quite a bit from actual facts, but the writers have made a very affecting story on a skeletal reality. Critics tended to say a thing such as that it was “too adult for children, and too childish for adults.” Instead, I would rather say that it was too sentimental for cynics. Since we are sentimentalists, we liked it, and there was not a dry eye among us at the end. If you can restrain yourself from chanting “I do believe in fairies” when Tinkerbell’s light begins to fade, perhaps it is not for you. Otherwise, see it if you can.

Thanksgiving

We had thought we were looking at a rather grim Thanksgiving. My brother David and his wife were visiting her side of the family, my father had succeeded in estranging my brother Harold’s wife by lashing out at her during my mother’s health crisis, and my sister Teresa has tended to be absent from family gatherings, either tending to her husband’s aged parents or on call for her cardiology practice. So it looked like it would be just Georgie and me trying to carry the burden of holiday cheer to the old homestead—heavy lifting for four, formerly the work of sixteen at times. So we were delighted to find that my father had actually apologized to Connie, such that she, Harold, and their three daughters arrived at the house like Scrooge at the Cratchits, bringing along food enough to turn our adequate meal into a feast. Teresa, having done dinner for her in-laws, appeared as well bringing her son and daughter. What could have been a pretty sad affair ended up suffused with a quiet joy. It was far better than I had hoped.

And so on:

We’ve moved fairly smoothly into the holiday season, although the week after Thanksgiving we both had the feeling our flu vaccines were earning their keep and stayed home from Sue Blom’s salon on the 3rd. We made our annual Christmas shopping trip to the Madison Farmer’s Market, and had lunch with Tracey Benton and Bill Bodden. Yay! Dottie Dumpling’s Dowry lives again, although in a somewhat unnervingly upscaled incarnation. The burgers are good as ever. Our fellow Burrahobbits Don and Rich threw their holiday party and a good time was had. Our friend Yehudit hosted Ashram on the eve of Hanukah, and we had an informative time talking about visions of the afterlife—if any. On the 11th, Bardic Dinner was held at Emory Churness’ home, theme British Cooking, and reading from P.G. Wodehouse—both food and readings were excellent.

On the 18th, there was MilwAPA Collation at our house, which was pleasantly festive time. Insertions for the distribution included orgiami cranes and candy canes. That evening there was a filksing back at Emory's where we had a good time also and sang some pagan Yuletide carols along with the usual filksongs.

On the 19th, we drove up to Wisconsin Dells for a post-wedding brunch hosted by my brother Mike and his new bride, Karen. They got married in the San Francisco area in the middle of October. We couldn't go because we had already comitted all our spendable cash to our anniversary party, and our parents aren't able to travel that far, so they decided to come here and host a reception for local friends and family. It was held at the Cheese Factory, which, despite the name, is a rather nice vegetarian restaurant, and the food was very good. Georgie surprised them with a cake, and a nice time was had. Karen Kubitscek is a psychologist, and she and Mike have been an item for a decade, so we were very ready to welcome her as a new sister.
That evening was another Bardic Dinner (scheduled early this month due to many other things that will be happening in October. The food theme was Caribbean, and the reading theme was “Voodoo.” I was the scheduled reader this time, and mixed fact with fiction, reading from works by Barbara Hambly (her “Benjamin January” books) and other authors, as well as “The Magic Island,” and “The Serpent and the Rainbow.” Main dinner course were savory skewers of pork Cuban style, and squash and mushrooms purchased at the market that morning were also on the menu.
The theme of this month’s bardic dinner was “Africa.” I enjoy a cooking challenge, and so had volunteered to be main-dish chef for the month. I decided to challenge the diners as well, and prepared stewed young goat.

Goat was supplied by the nearby Hispanic market, a recipe from the library, and “goat spice mix” from the Spice House. Yes, they stock goat spice mix. Apparently, they had a request from some local mountaineers who were going on a months-long expedition to a region where the only locally available fresh meat was goat--.

Young goat (or cabrito) is quite lean and, surprisingly, tastes more like veal than like either lamb or venison. This dish was very well received and enjoyed as were the accompaniments of yams, bean and peanut soup, a tabouleh-like wheat salad, and banana fritters for dessert.

I also got pressed into reading, since the designated skald ended up with an unavoidable conflict: I started off the “pulp fiction” theme with Captain Spaulding’s Africa monolog, and followed with a couple of chapters from "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar", wherein Tarzan fights and kills a lion with his knife; Vachel Lindsay’s poem “The Congo”; “Lukundoo” by Edward Lucas White; and a VERY condensed “good parts version” of "King Solomon’s Mines". Note: I know the Lindsay poem is horridly racist and condescending to black people, but not that much more so than Burroughs or Haggard (who has the credulous savages believing that a white man with a monocle and false teeth is a spirit). On the other hand, the poem has a powerful, complex and compelling rhythm and vivid imagery that makes it a very effective piece of art. Delivered with an appropriate apologia, my audience enjoyed my reading of it, although I would no longer dare read it in any less friendly venue.
On Saturday the 14th, we hosted the monthly Bardic dinner at our home. This was our annual play reading, and we had chosen Cyrano de Bergerac. I read the part
of Cyrano, and had great fun doing it. Lily Sullivan filled in at the last minute as Roxane, and did a great job, as did Bob Seidl reading the part of Christian. (Georgie insisted on reading the part of Raguneau, the baker--). The food theme was food of Provence, and chef Tim Kozinski provided a delicious leg of lamb ala Provencal, which was accompanied by roasted potatoes, French cheeses, Anjou and Bordeaux wines, roast fennel, and, of course, “Almond Tartlets Raguneau,” by Georgie.

Catching Up

Oct. 9th, 2003 12:50 pm
It’s been rather busy the last couple of weeks: let’s see.

On the 12th of September, I was depositing my paycheck at our credit union when I noticed a poster for sale of a 1997 Mercury Sable station wagon, good mileage and good price. The credit union occasionally has vehicles that have been ‘surrendered’ on a loan default, and this was a model we had been looking at as a possible replacement for my ’91 which now had 220,000 miles on it. I checked out the car and found it was an acceptable color, a nice teal green. (Georgie has the right to veto cars that are white or silver, as being unsafe for visibility in winter, or beige, as being boring.) I test drove it that Saturday morning, and found it good. We went in to the CU office on Monday and put down a payment to hold it while we shuffled funds to buy it. The ’91 was donated to charity. I would have felt bad giving or selling it to someone since I’m pretty sure whatever goes wrong with it next will be disastrously expensive if not dangerous, but the place we gave it to is an auto-mechanic training program, and they’ll take it apart an put it together again before they turn it loose on anyone else--. The wagon is very nice, and now I can do things like haul home a hunk of plywood from Menard’s again.

September 23rd was the Burrahobbits meeting, and we kept with the September Celtic theme, as the reading here was the Tain Bo Cualinge. We compared and contrasted a number of translations, including that of Lady Gregory, and the recent on by Thomas Kinsella. We also had cakes (including apple spice cupcakes by Georgie) to celebrate the eve of Bilbo’s birthday, which is of course Sept. 24, our reckoning.

September 29th is Michaelmas (the feast of St. Michael), and we got together for dinner at the residence of Tim Kozinski and Shelia Haberland for the annual dinner of lucky goose (it is lucky for you to eat goose on Michaelmas—not so lucky for the goose.) I brought wine and Georgie brought pies for dessert, both of which were well received. Tim prepared goose en croute as an appetizer, and the main dish of roast pork, both of which were excellent. The luck of the goose has stood by us well in the past, we shall see how effaceous it is this year. At any rate, we had a lovely dinner with good company.

October 4 was this month’s Bardic dinner—early this month due to other conflicts. Once a year we do a communal play reading instead of an individual reading, and this year’s play was the classic American comedy, “Arsenic and Old Lace.” We had great fun with the reading, despite the fact that many of us had to double roles. Georgie read Abby Brewster, Megan Barrowsby was Martha Brewster, I doubled the Brewster brothers Jonathan and Teddy, Bob Seidl read Mortimer Brewster, and Lily Sullivan was our Elaine. New York 30’s was the food theme, and we had standing rib roast will all the accouterments, with New York style cheesecake for dessert.

October 5, we drove to Spring Green for the closing performance of the season, “The Tempest.” It was a lovely day for a drive, and the gradually warming temperatures meant that with preparation we were able to endure the outdoor performance in comfort. This was an excellent production of Shakespeare’s last play, with some new ideas in it. Jonathan Gillard Daly was a very vigorous and worldly Prospero, much different from the withdrawn and mystical character frequently seen. He has learned to use his magic as a survival tool, instead of the monkish study which lost him his dukedom. If Daly’s performance had a flaw, it is in his lack of vocal variety. Prospero has a number of lengthy declamations, beginning with his exposition to Miranda in the second scene, and some of these got monotonous after a while. Most of the other characters were unremarkable, but both Ariel (Colleen Madden) and Caliban (Christopher Marshall) were scene-stealers in their own ways. Madden’s Ariel was subtly unhuman, not the flitting sprite commonly seen, and clever amplification of her good voice made her singing magic very effective. Caliban was a more human and more wretched creature, and seemed rather informed by the “Lord of the Rings” Gollum, with his emphasis on cringing and bootlicking rather than feral savagery.

October 6th was our 19th wedding anniversary. (It never seems to have been that long!) In the earlier part of the day we closed refinancing of our home mortgage so save ourselves a bit of money each month. In the evening we celebrated with dinner at Sanford, still Milwaukee’s finest restaurant. I had the seasonal mushroom special, which consisted of a mushroom and barley appetizer, tempura mushroom with broth, pheasant and wild mushroom “cobbler,” and “truffle” ice cream with spice cake. Georgie had the rabbit loin appetizer, followed by grilled elk, and tart cherry clafoutis for dessert. It was all wonderful! After dinner, we went to the Ashram meeting and found the topic of the night had been postponed by the low turnout, and just settled into an evening of chat.

October 7, we made time to run out to a movie, the first one in weeks. We chose to see “Secondhand Lions,” which we can heartily recommend. Robert Duvall and Michael Caine are fun to watch (although I don’t quite buy Caine as a Texan) and Hailey Joel Osment gives a fine performance as the boy fobbed off on his two eccentric and mysterious great-uncles. It is a very entertaining plot, enlivened by the old men’s reminiscences of their fabulous past which keeps it from being a mere sentimental story. Go and see it.
This month has been our turn to host things, and we had the monthly Bardic Dinner at our place Saturday night. The food theme was Celtic Lands, and the reading from the Irish myths. A number of delicious dishes were presented: Shelia Haberland did savory Breton crepes as appetizer, Tim Kozinski provided Root Vegetable soup ala the County Clare restaurant, main dish was Beef in Guinness (by Chef Gregory) supported by baked potatoes and carrots. Bob Seidl brought an elegant syllabub for desert. Georgie was Skald for the evening, and read from the life of Cuchulain, the great Irish hero. She gave us portions from his early life, the incident that got him his name, Bricru's feast, critical parts of his defense of Ulster in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, with its beginnings and endings, and his eventual death by the treachery of his many enemies. Georgie read well (as always!) and a very good time was had.
Saturday saw the monthly Milwapa collation. As it was a summer collation, we met at Todd Voros' residence for the obligatory combination with pool party. Since it was the August collation, it was also Kelly Lowrey's birthday party. (Kelly is Milwaukee's most fannish child; not only is she the daughter of vary active fans "Orange Mike" Lowrey and C.K. Hinchliffe (aka Cicatrice duVeritas)the August Milwapa collation these eight years ago was literally her first stop on the way home from the hospital, at age three days. She went to WorldCon with her parents two weeks later--.)

Bardic Dinner convened that evening at Gate House, the residence of Sheila Haberland, Tim Kozinski, and John Fritz. The food theme was High Tea, the centerpiece of which was cold sliced pork loin with apples, provided by Lisa Mason. Georgie made dessert, which was raspberry tarts with Chambord and whipped cream. The reading theme was Egyptian mysteries, and I read "King Rhamsinitus Versus the Thief," by Herodotus, "The Locked Tomb Mystery," by Elizabeth Peters, the account of the opening of King Tut's tomb by Howard Carter, another factual piece debunking the "mummy's curse," and excerpts from "The Curse of the Pharohs," also by Peters, and "The Mamur Zapt and the Men Behind," by Michael Pearce.

Being August, attendance at both events was somewhat light, but everyone presendt seemed to have a good time.
The monthly Bardic Dinner convened at the home of Bob and Judy Seidl. The theme was Arabic food, and Chef Bob produced a very tasty eggplant casserole as main dish. Readings were to be taken from the travels of Ibn Battutah, a remarkable traveller of the 1300's who outdid Marco Polo over the more than twenty years of his journeys. Skald Tim Kosinski read from translations of Battutah's writings, augumented with a very entertaining children's picture book and the moder work of a writer seeking to retrace Battutah's path.
The monthly Bardic dinner was held that same night at the residence of Bob and Judy Seidl. The theme was Spanish, and the readings for the evening from the Poema Del Cid.
Appetizers consisted of some tasty tapas, and the main course was a spicy pork en brochette, with saffron rice. I was the “skald” for the evening, and read the first and third Cantars of the Poema in English translation. The listeners were quite interested by the character of the Cid and his strategies.

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