Grand Old Opera House

One cool feature of Stonington is the Opera House.  It’s one of Stonington’s most prominent buildings, with its large green facade facing the bay and its old-fashioned lettering, complete with a period at the end.  Kish and I went to a screening of Stephen King’s It there on Friday night.  I can attest that going to watch a creepy movie about Maine written by Maine’s most celebrated writer in an old building in Maine, and then walking home in pitch darkness trying to steer clear of sewers, definitely increases the flesh-crawling quotient of the film.

The Stonington Opera House has an interesting back story that tells you something about how the commitment of individual people can make a difference to a town.  The current structure was built in 1912 and housed opera, vaudeville, plays, and movies, but fell into disuse.  (You can read about the building’s history here.)  According to locals, it was abandoned and in danger of being torn down before a group of people formed the Opera House Arts, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, specifically to renovate and operate the building.  The project received donations and support, recently a new wing was added, and the Opera House now features year-round entertainment and cultural offerings.  Kish and I are looking forward to attending a live performance there one of these days.

Imagine what a loss it would have been if this iconic historic building had been demolished!  But because some far-sighted folks were willing to take a chance and invest their time and effort into a project, the building was saved and the lives of the people of Stonington and its surroundings are a little bit richer as a result.  It sure beats the swing of the wrecking ball.

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Trigger Warnings And The Bard

We’ve reached a milestone of sorts:  students at Cambridge University in England have been given “trigger warnings” about studying the plays of William Shakespeare.  According to reports, undergraduates in English Literature at the school — which is located just north of the Bard of Avon’s old stomping grounds in London — were cautioned that a lecture focusing on Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors would include “discussions of sexual violence” and “sexual assault.”

william-shakespeare-the-life-of-the-bardThe decision has provoked a useful debate about the “trigger warnings” that more and more schools seem to be using in their academic curricula.  Advocates of such warnings say they serve to advise students about discussion of topics that might be upsetting because, for example, they might remind students of a traumatic personal experience.  Detractors of trigger warnings say it infringes upon academic freedom, because teachers will self-edit to avoid discussing difficult topics, and that it gives students a distorted perspective by leading them to believe that they can simply avoid learning about the ugly realities addressed in history and literature.

I’m in the latter camp.  And I think that, once “trigger warnings” become accepted in any context, the debate inevitably will shift to whether even more trigger warnings are needed, and how exactly they should be worded, and what students should be permitted to do to avoid the potentially upsetting topics.  The slippery slope seems pretty slippery and pretty steep.  It’s hard to think of any play by Shakespeare, for example, that couldn’t plausibly be the subject of a “trigger warning” because of violence, incest, insanity, sexual misconduct, bawdy humor, or depictions of characters on the basis of gender, race, or religion.  And what history course wouldn’t be riddled with trigger warnings about wars, plagues, racism, sexism, and general human misery?  How could students possibly get a real, meaningful education if they were allowed to skip courses that addressed topics they might find personally upsetting?

I think the use of trigger warnings, while well intentioned, does a real disservice to our young people.  It indicates that they are viewed as so brittle and weak that they need to be protected from mere words and knowledge, and it also gives them a distorted view of what life is going to be like.  The real world doesn’t give trigger warnings to allow people to avoid confronting upsetting topics or situations, and you have to wonder what kind of hyper-delicate, head-in-the-sand adults are going to be produced by school systems and colleges that employ trigger warnings.

As Shakespeare himself wrote in Marc Antony’s great soliloquy in Julius Caesar:  “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.”

Tubing It

Today we took an inner tube float trip on a segment of the Medina River in the Hill Country of Texas.  The river drifted lazily beneath a canopy of shady trees, the cool, crystal clear water felt good against the keister, and the ice-cold beers went down easy along the way.  There may be a more relaxing way to spend a Friday afternoon, but if so I don’t know what it is.

The wise river tuber carefully ties up to the cooler tube, by the way.

Avoiding Barside Embarrassment

When you go up to a bar to order a drink, you want to project a certain nonchalant yet decisive elegance with the bartender that shows her that you’ve been here before and you know what you’re doing.

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The goal is steely-eyed, white-jacketed, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca-like cool certainty, as opposed to waffling or floundering or acting like goofy Clarence the Angel ordering a flaming rum punch at Nick’s, the hard-drinking bar in the alternative, George Bailey-free universe.

Knowing how to correctly pronounce the drink you’re ordering sure helps.

Would you know how to order a caipirinha, which the national drink of Brazil?  Made with sugarcane distilled spirits called Cachaca, lime, and sugar, it packs a lethal punch and is pronounced kai-pee-reen-ya.  Or let’s suppose you were up in Sweden during its endless, dark winter and wanted to warm yourself with a glass of traditional mulled wine, called glogg (with an umlaut over the o, too).  Appropriately, it’s pronounced glug, which should be easy to remember after you’ve swilled down two or three of them, because Swedish mulled wine tends to have a lot more alcohol than the American version.  Or let’s say you’re in a somewhat daintier mood, and feel like having a sgroppino to top off your meal.  That’s an Italian concoction of Prosecco, vodka, and lemon sorbet that’s pronounced sro-pee-no.  (You wouldn’t want to order that one at Nick’s, by the way.)

Hospitality Training Solutions has provided a guide to the correct pronunciation of these and other cocktails, to ensure that you project an image more like Bogie and less like Clarence the next time you belly up to the bar.  And remember, too — people rarely mispronounce beer.

Mysterious Object 

We’ve been doing some cleaning today, and I ran across this unknown metal object.  I put a buckeye next to it to give an idea of its size.

I have no idea of its function, but it’s nicely made and appears to be pretty old.  Anybody have an idea what this object is?  It’s destined to become a desk toy at my office.

Letting The Old Obsessions Go

Yesterday a Nevada parole board voted unanimously to grant parole to O.J. Simpson.  Simpson, who is now 70, has served nine years for robbery and kidnapping offenses stemming from a bizarre incident in Las Vegas.  He could be released from prison by October 1.

170720-oj-simpson-parole-lovelock-ew-311p_fea89e6c6b7d1f50e0397eabec2defd9-nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Simpson told the parole board that he’s changed.  Whether that is true or not, only he knows . . . but I wonder if the world in which O.J. Simpson became the focus of seemingly unending national attention has nevertheless stayed the same.  Simpson’s parole hearing — normally a proceeding that happens without being noticed by anyone except the convicts, their attorneys and families, the parole board, and perhaps the victims of the crime — drew worldwide attention, and as soon as the decision to grant parole was announced it was immediately the lead item on all of the news websites.  It was an uncomfortable reminder of the American obsession with his murder trial — not exactly a sterling moment for the news media, the police, the legal system, the weird Hollywood world in which O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson lived, or anything or anybody else that was involved in that whole sordid spectacle.

At his parole hearing, Simpson said he just wants to reconnect with his family and has no interest in being in the limelight.  Of course, our crass culture being what it is, Simpson is reportedly being besieged by TV producers who want to pitch him as the star of a reality TV show, and no doubt he’ll have plenty of other opportunities to get back on TV in some fashion if he wants to do so.  I sincerely hope he resists the temptation and sticks to his stated intention to just live out the rest of his life in as private a way as possible.

In America, we accept the verdict of juries and parole boards and other elements of the criminal justice system — whether we agree with them or not — because that’s how the law works.  Part of that process means moving beyond the old controversies and, finally, letting old obsessions go.  I don’t want to read anything more about O.J. Simpson, nor do I want to think, ever again, about a time when our whole country seemed slightly off its rocker.  But, will Simpson, the news media, and the Hollywood hype machine cooperate in achieving that goal?

Beautiful 

Last night Kish and I hit the Ohio Theatre to see the traveling production of Beautiful, a show that tells the story of the life and music of Carole King that, in the process, sounds larger themes about American music and the ’60s.  It’s a terrific production that will be playing at the Ohio through June 11 — although given the packed house on a Wednesday night, I’m not sure any tickets are available if you don’t have them already.

King’s story is a rich one.  As a teenager with obvious musical talent, she decided she wanted to be a songwriter, which was not a standard career choice for girls growing up in the ’50s.  After selling her first song, she met her future husband, became a wife and mother while still a teenager, and with her husband wrote a series of hits, had an office in a songwriting shop on Broadway, and became friends, and friendly competitors, with another songwriting couple.  But while her career is soaring, her marriage became more troubled.  After it ended, she headed to California and wrote the songs that made Tapestry a landmark album.  The show ends with King back in New York, performing at Carnegie Hall the year Tapestry is released.

The story is told largely through songs — both those written by King and her husband and those written by others — with short bits of dialogue mixed in.  It’s fast-paced, funny, and poignant, all at the same time.  The staging is amazing, with sets silently sliding in and out and pop acts from the ’50s and ’60s cleverly recreated.  And, of course, the music is great.  Julia Knitel, who plays Carole King in this production, is a tremendous talent who plays the piano and has the singing and acting chops that are perfect for musical theater.

If you’re going to the show, get there early.  Last night the show drew a decidedly older and largely female crowd, and you’ll need plenty of time to steer through the forest of walkers, canes, and slow-moving seniors.  But we’ll give them all a break, because we know they all owned a treasured copy of Tapestry that they played over and over until their turntables broke, and when they heard the music again they were transported back to when they heard it the first time, nearly 50 years ago.  The intervening 50 years may have made the listeners older, but the music itself remains as fresh and vibrant as ever.