Review: Heather Arndt Anderson: Breakfast: A History

Everything has a history, including breakfast. And someone — namely, Heather Arndt Anderson — has written a history of it. This makes sense, as breakfast is really important. As Reynard notes in his review of the aptly titled Breakfast: A History:

As her introductions starts off, ‘Whether a bowlful of cloying, artificially fruit-flavored O’s with milk, or a stinking pile of fermented soybeans on steamed rice, breakfast fuels hungry brains. As the old adage says, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is the meal that makes the champion. Breakfast literally “breaks the fast” of nighttime slumber, filling one’s raging belly and providing the stamina to face the day.’

Hmm. Given her descriptions, I’m not sure which version of breakfast I’d opt for. At any rate, read Reynard’s review to see what this history entails.


Story: Musical Ganeshas (A Letter to Svetlana)


Dear Svetlana,

Glad to hear that your trip to Ukrainian speaking Canada went well. It’s amazing how much of their culture, including language, they’ve retained, as it’s well over a century since their ancestors settled there!

So you want know about the four Ganeshas residing in a spot behind the bar here in the Pub? You won’t be surprised to know there’s an interesting story behind them. It starts off a couple of decades ago when Ingrid and I were in Mumbai on a fabric buying trip for a Glasgow client of hers. As is our usual habit in a city like this, we spend as much time as we can in markets looking for interesting things to buy, from spices and interesting grains to offbeat art when we see it.

Ingrid spotted these in a stall selling the usual tourist tat — hookahs, badly dyed fabrics, and fluorescent coloured Buddhas. Does anyone buy an orange Buddha bright enough to see at midnight even if they were not stoned? She spotted them on a shelf in the back of the stall — not dyed for festival use but just plain brass and about eighteen inches high. She dickered for them and got a reasonable deal on them.

Getting them through Indian customs required using a broker, some baksheesh, and considerable patience. Our broker swore to the export staff that they were going in a library of some importance befitting that deity. They ended up in the Pub because they are playing instruments.

A few years later, I ran across an odd little place in Roundtree, Ireland, that had only sculptures from India. And that’s where the photo I’ve attached to this letter is from. They’re the biggest set of these I’ve ever seen!

Warmest thoughts your Fox

Story: Béla

I noticed that Béla was enjoying a meal of goulash and dark beer, something that the Kitchen staff, being fond of him, cooks for him frequently. (I’ve had that goulash — it’s as good as any I’ve had in Hungarian eateries!) Like many here at this Estate, I’ve pondered just who he is, as no one is clear quite how he fetched up here.

He’s been here at least forty years and was a man of middle age when he got here, according to what I remember being told by the previous Steward. I’d guess that he’s in his eighties now but healthy still.

He speaks German, Hungarian and French but not a bit of English, even after all this time. It doesn’t seem to be a problem, as there’s usually someone here who shares at least one language with him.

I thought he was Hungarian but Iain, our Librarian, says what Béla claims is quite a bit stranger. Iain says that he claims to have been born in the Ottoman Empire long before it became Turkey. Now, that would make him well over a hundred! Not impossible, given we’re situated on The Border, but still odd, as that usually only affects those who spend time in what Yeats called “The Celtic Twilight.”

His room is sparse with just his clothes, his books in the languages he knows, and his violin. That violin is a Strad. Yes, one of those rare instruments. I’ve been told by Max, the resident luthier here at the Estate, that it’s definitely the real thing. Béla won’t say where he acquired it, nor does he think it’s extraordinary that he has it.

I’ve never heard him play anything except various folk tunes, be they of European origin, or of the Celtic traditions. He’s very fond of learning new tunes and actually had Sara ap Morgan, a cwrth player who stayed with us for a summer that turned into several years, teach him Welsh fiddle tunes, as she spoke French as well as English and Welsh. He even learned quite a bit of Welsh from her.

He always lends a hand, be it with Kitchen work or helping me with work outside. He’s as handy with a cross-cut saw at his age as workers fifty years his junior. Th local GP who does his annual physical says he’s in his late fifties or early sixties.

So the mystery remains…

Review: Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt and Alberto Ponticelli: Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.: Volume 1: War of The Monsters / Volume 2: Secrets of The Dead

imageWhat ever happened to Frankenstein? Well, he’s back — or was, for a while, as an agent of S.H.A.D.E. (Why do DC and Marvel insist on putting in the periods in their acronyms? Nobody does that.) Cat Eldridge has some of the — um, backstory on this resurrection:

When DC created the first wave of what they called the “The New 52!,” they mined the more obscure corners of their character archives to find properties interesting enough to be worthy of their own title. . . .

One of those characters was Frankenstein, one of the Creature Commandos. They were originally created in Weird War Tales in 1980 and have been rebooted several times, of which this short lived series was the latest version.

Was that Weird War II? (Sorry — couldn’t resist.)

So, now that this series is finished, what ever happened to Frankenstein? Well, you can find out about that, and more, if you read Cat’s review.

Story: Estate Foxes

imageThough fox hunting by the gentry was common in Scotland for centuries, this Estate never allowed them to be hunted here, so the Estate foxes have thrived. Even when we had a Gameskeeper here, before we abolished that position and created the Estate Head Gardener position that I now hold, they were safe from being hunted.

There are, roughly speaking, two types of foxes here — those who like humans and those who really could do without us. Given the size of the Estate, both types can easily find their preference here. There’s a long history of the human inhabitants here noting in the Estate journals who were the foxes they were especially interested in.

There was Tess, who according to the Estate Ghillie, had a burrow down by one of the salmon breeding pools; he fed rabbits to her and her kits during a particularly bad winter; there was the fox that bedded down with the Irish wolfhounds who guarded the sheep; there was one fox that, based on his markings, was estimated to be over thirty years old, an impossible age for a fox, even in captivity; and one Estate Gardener swore he had not been drunk when he had a conversation with a ghost fox out in the Wood.

The foxes that are truly wild are harder to get a handle on as they avoid us at all costs. Some have only been glimpsed, being known as individuals solely because of their unique characteristics, such as the male known as Diamond as he had a perfect white diamond bit of fur on his forehead, or the one called Broad Arrow as he had such a marking on his back.

So if you visit our Estate, do take the time to look for our foxes. It’ll be worth your while to do so.

Review: Cemetery Dance Magazine

Yes, we’re reviewing a magazine. (Don’t ask me if this is a trend — I have no idea.) The periodical under discussion is Cemetery Dance magazine, and if you can’t guess from the title what it’s about, reviewer Cat Eldridge gives us some background:

Cemetery Dance was first published in 1988. It was created by Richard Chizmar, who went on to found Cemetery Dance Publications four years later. He was in college when he founded the magazine. In its first four years, it would win the World Fantasy Award twice! In general terms, it contains a mix of dark fantasy and horror fiction, plus a number of articles covering the same.

And the issue he’s taking as the type specimen, so to speak, is the “End of the World” issue. Bang? Whimper? Read Cat’s review to find out.

Review: Statler and Waldorf: Macy’s Exclusive Figures

imageEveryone has their favorite Muppet. It may or may not come as a surprise to learn that Cat Eldridge’s favorites were Statler and Waldorf, the curmudgeonly old men who sat in the balcony during the show and critiqued the action.

Rather than trying to explain the appeal of these figures, I’m going to let Cat do it, in the form of his review of two dolls modeled on them (which, if you’re lucky, you might find on eBay these days). So click here and dive in.

Story: Lost Librarians

The Estate Main Building is an old, old building with sections going back a thousand years, mostly the cellars, and the building has certainly been added unto on and off even to this day. The Steward says the architectural plans, some many centuries old, that are in his keep are worse than useless as they ignore what’s been lost by newer construction and even ignore whole floors at times. It is, Jean-Pierre says, as if there are entire floors being ignored as if it wasn’t proper to mention their reality.

magical_door_by_pawgalThe Estate Librarian in the late eighteen hundreds, known only as Frost, apparently wrote in his journal that he found a entire area of the Library that had, to his knowledge, never been documented in the Estate Journals. It was full of rare works such as a copy of Love’s Labour Won annotated by Shakespeare, a treatise on London Below, and scrolls showing what really happened to Camelot. He said he found it when a scrap of parchment appeared on his desk showing a door which should not exist inscribed with sigils in ancient Celtic, Latin, and other languages lost to us now. He went where it said the door was and it opened for him. The area was rooms without end. He told this all to the Stewart of the time who, as recorded on his Journal, was too busy to go see this, errr, strangeness.

Hours later, he, again as noted in his Journal, went to see this find. He asked someone where Frost was. The person looked puzzled and asked who that was. No one it turned out but he remember Frost had existed. One of them noted that the Estate hadn’t a Librarian for a number of years. All this was documented by The Steward at that time as even the entries he read in the Librarian’s Journal the evening of this weirdness soon had no mention of Frost the next day. It was if he had never existed. The Steward decided that not mentioning it ever again was the best idea.

Review: John Noise Manis (Producer): Returning Minimalism

returning minimalismWe’ve been looking at a lot of American music lately (granted, some of it’s been from Canada, but hey! It’s an open border, pretty much), so we thought we’d do something a little bit different. Not that we’re forging into totally new territory — it’s still American music (well, sort of), and we’ve done a lot on the music of Indonesia, as well as Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and their fellows, so we thought we’d take a look at what happens when a major movement in the American avant-garde “comes home,” as it were.

For those of you wondering what the connection is between the avant-garde and Indonesia, let me spell it out:

Terry Riley’s
In C is generally considered a landmark work in the history of twentieth-century American music: it’s really the prototype of what became known as “serial minimalism,” picked up and developed by composers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich. . . . The two works presented in Returning Minimalism are rather unique among the descendants of Riley’s seminal work in that they are directly modeled on his composition – “brought home,” as it were, to what many commentators (yours truly included) consider the birthplace of Riley’s explorations in non-linear composition: the gamelan of Bali.

There — that should help. And there’s even more where that came from.

Reading Notes: Emma Bull: Finder

Emma Bull hasn’t written many novels in her career but all of them are superb in their own way. Be it Bone Dance, Finder or War for the Oaks, my favorite of her novels, all are superbly written. So when I recently was looking for a novel to read on one of the many cold, snowy nights we’ve had this winter, I turned to Finder, a novel I enjoy re-reading every few years.

My personally autographed copy of the hardcover edition is subtitled A Novel of The Borderlands, which tells you that it’s set in The Borderland universe created by Terri Windling. It’s not the only Borderland novel, as her husband, Will Shetterly, wrote two splendid novels set here, Elsewhere and Nevernever. I think, however, that it’s the best of the three novels.

You can read my review of the novel here. This is about why I re-read it every so often. Any novel that I re-read has three aspects: interesting characters, a compelling story, and a good sense of where the story is set. Finder has all three in spades.

First, it has a first person narrator in Orient, a young male, who has the psychic ability to find anything if the right question is asked. So when his elf friend, Tick Tock, asks him to find her missing wrench in exchange for supper, little does he know that his life will soon come to be at the whim of others. There are plenty of characters, all well-fleshed out, and all moving the story along.

Second, it has a compelling story weaving two apparently disperate plots into a single thread that makes perfect sense. And Emma pulls no punches as bad things will happen to folks no matter how central they are to the story.

Third, Emma does the best job in this long-running series of making the central setting, Bordertown, feel as if it was an actual place, a neat trick, as too many such places do not feel real. Everything here really does seem as if you could walk down Mock Avenue, have a drink in the Dancing Ferret, and hear the Horn Dance perform as they come down the street.

Emma has done this three times, using Minneapolis as the setting in both Bone Dance and War for the Oaks, and Bordertown here. If you’re motivated to read this novel after reading these notes, do go on to read these other novels. You won’t be disappointed!