Monday, December 28, 2020

Act One by Moss Hart, an autobiography


 Still celebrating Christmas with Carols.
I hope you all had a merry little Christmas.  My sister and her family came over from Dallas and spent the day with us.  More specifically, Shawna, my nephew Andreas and I spent the day trying to coax Hercule out of a tree.  My back door was propped open, which I didn't realize, and he flew out.
I'm sure passers by thought we were nutty tree worshippers with our arms raised up to trees as we begged Hercule to come down.
He didn't and I sadly went to bed figuring that was the last of him.  He'd never survive the cold night or owls.
The next morning I got up early and took Shawna's lab, Bella, out to walk.  Our condo is surrounded by field and forest, but Bella thoughtfully pooped in our neighbors driveway.  While I was trying to clean that up, I heard a "Squawk!"
Could it be?
I called "Hercule!" 
I ran to the tree where he was the night before.  He was on the very edge of a branch fluttering his wings.  After much coaxing, he finally flapped down into a bush, where I grabbed him and hugged him close to my heart.
Talk about a wonderful Christmas present!!
Here's that rotten little bird.  Does he look sorry?  Nope.


This is one of the best autobiographies I have read that I can remember.

Hart is not only a brilliant playwright, he's an entertaining and highly engaging writer.

We vicariously live his journey from belonging to a dirt poor Jewish immigrant family living in a boarding house in the Bronx, and the various jobs he took as a teenager to contribute to the family funds (he took a job stacking animal skins, guaranteeing him plenty of space on the subway).

We are the invisible audience as we watch the risks he took (quitting said job without another prospect lined up), and bluffing his way into a Broadway theater house and getting hired as an office boy. We also watch and sympathize as he gets conned into taking crummy summer camp jobs as a social director. The worst in every way was the one where he had to sleep in a tool shed, with deplorable food and no budget by which to produce the social activities, only to discover at the end, he wasn't getting paid a dime because the owner of the camp absconded with all the money.

He worked those camps for six years, finally getting better and better camps and also better jobs during the year as director of small theater plays with volunteer actors. He spent his day time hours writing plays on the Beach at Coney Island (his family had moved to Brooklyn by then).

After the six years, he submitted a play, first to Theater Director Jed Harris who gave him the runaround, and finally to George S. Kaufman who ran with it.

As interesting as those harsh year, the best part was reading about the process of writing a play as Kaufman and Hart spent hours and hours of each day writing, shredding, writing again.

I assume that Hart must have learned how to write through Kaufman, and also from just doing it. And maybe watching all the countless plays on Broadway his aunt took him to. I say that because he dropped out of school at a young age. So this magnificent writer figured it out without a college or even a high school degree.

Certainly he was a genius, but let's not forget those six years of writing for hours each day on the beach. Also, I think Kaufman must have provided invaluable tutoring.

Also fascinating was the process and transformation a play must go through in order to succeed. Act One provides a rare insight into the nail biting hazards of making a play fly with the audiences. His first play, the one with Kaufman, titled Once in a Lifetime, almost bit the dust before it even launched. The efforts to change and revise and finally succeed should be required reading for any aspiring writer, playwright or not.

Really, the whole book should be required reading for anyone who loves to write for any reason. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Travel and Trade in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman


 I hope you will enjoy these Christmas Carols sung by a German Boys Choir.



This is an excellent record of how people traded and traveled in side their countries and to other countries. I think that this book concisely and yet thoroughly covers every topic.

Newman starts off with the various sorts of people who traveled, from royalty to peasant to the rising merchant class and their reasons for traveling and their various modes of transportation. In the process we get a good history of the different classes, cultures and religious beliefs of Medieval Europe.

He records the development of charity houses, hospices, hospitals by nuns and monks and the later rise of secular inns. We learn that staying in an inn was far different than now. Privacy wasn't available, at least for anyone not rich.

Newman also records the dangers from bandits to wild animals and also disease.

We learn the different modes of transportation from horses, every kind of horse, as well as other animals and man made constructs. Newman describes the different ways roads were constructed. He often hearkens back to Roman times and how Roman roads affected the medieval form of travel.

The last part of this section deals with the problem of language barriers and how this barrier was overcome. Even then they had phrase books of essential forms of communication. It is interesting to note that the clergy and educated spoke and read Latin and were the two groups of people who could communicate with similarly educated people across Europe and often served as translators for others.

What interests me is that I know the translating of the Bible in English and in German standardized those languages for the British Isles and the German Kingdoms, enabling greater communication and consequently travel for the average person. Ironically, Latin was originally that universal language starting in Roman times and devolved into an "elite" or even "secret, mystical" language for the educated few. I guess illiterate, isolated people were easier to keep under a leader's thumb.

The second section is about traveling by sea from the different sort of ships and boats available to land marks, such as lighthouses, to the use of both astronomy and astrology.

I found this book to be highly engaging and informative. Even though I checked it out of the library, I may buy my own copy to keep as a reference source. 
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Countertenor Wore Garlic: A Litergical Mystery by Mark Schweizer

 Here is Classical Piano Music.  I find it helps to listen to a nice collection like this, because it gives a nice sampling of so many composers and it makes a nice background while I write.

Toot and Puddle take over my water bottle.  In the background, Percy, my cockatiel, is making laser gun sounds.  All to the accompaniment of soothing classical music.






 The Countertenor Wore Garlic (The Liturgical Mystery #9)

What a happy surprise to find this book on the library shelves. I was looking for mysteries to read and happened upon this. I didn't know the author from Adam, but found the cover appealing.

There is a murder that happens in the small town of St. Germaine up in the hills of North Carolina. But it seems almost peripheral to the overall arc of the story.

 Some stories are plot driven, some character driven, this story was definitely character driven. What made this book a delight to read was the funny dialogue and the relationships between the main characters.

St. Germaine is a small town. So small that the sheriff Hayden Konig is also the local Episcopal church's Organist and Choir director. The Deputy Sheriff and Mayor also seem to have side jobs. 

Schweizer intertwines life at church with life at the local cafe with Halloween, Zombie flash dances, Vampires lining up to get their book signed at the local book store and, what was the other thing?....oh yeah...someone gets murdered that night as well. At first it seems like a scarecrow in the corn maze, but nope; it's a body.

Whose body? And who murdered them? And why? All of this Sheriff Konig (who narrates) must find out and in the meantime, suffer through an interim priest who preaches only fire and brimstone, getting the choir ready for All Saints (which is the day after Halloween) and, last but not least, write his own hard boiled mystery a la Raymond Chandler, whose typewriter he procured. 

In addition to the humor and lively characters, as a classical musician, I really enjoyed all the music references. So rare and yet so much fun for someone like me.

I am happy to see that there are many more mysteries in the series and found a set of five on eBay which I have snapped up.