The Conversation Continues
Welcome to Page 2 of my “forum.” The subject matter here is anything to do with literature, books, reading, and writing, with a little philosophy thrown in, as well as other tangents and revelations that spring naturally from “intelligent” conversation. To participate, send an e-mail. That’s all there is to it. When I receive your message, I will add it to the bottom of the newest page — unless, of course, it is rude or crude, in which case I retain the right to not post your message. The same goes for blatant advertising. Pertinent recommendations of reading material and related websites, though, are welcome within the natural context of our conversation. We all have plenty to gain from each other’s knowledge and experience. So, whether you are just reading or actively participating, enjoy your visit. I will post new messages as soon as possible after they are received. Be sure to check in often for the latest responses.
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: Wow. Isn’t this nice? The ridiculous thing is, I have been meaning to add this page for quite some time, but — well, forget the excuses. I’m glad you’re here. All of you. Now. Where were we? Oh, yes. John? This is Anita. Anita? This is John. Now, if you two will excuse me, I need to make a quick trip to the refrigerator.
Anita: G’day John, how’s it hanging? Oh, yeah, Cannery Row, I agree, was a very fine novel. I was fortunate in 1976, when I was in Form IV at high school to have an American English teacher — now isn’t that an oxymoron! She was an exchange teacher and she introduced us to American literature. I read To Kill A Mockingbird, The Catcher In The Rye, and The Great Gatsby. She wrote me a nice report card: Anita’s writing skills are very good. She can write an almost perfect paper now. I was fifteen. Didn’t do so well in American History and how in the heck is a fifteen-year-old supposed to understand what Manifest Destiny means. I didn’t understand what it really meant until I was forty! Oh, this will crack you two up, on my report card for American History, the teacher wrote: Anita would benefit by participation in class discussion where she could practice expression of her ideas. Whoa . . . Billy . . . was that beer that just came out of your nose?
William Michaelian: Why, so it was. Sorry about that. That wasn’t very literary of me, was it? Here, let me wipe you guys off.
John Berbrich: Willie, you sly dog — clever trick so you could put your hands on Anita. I’ll wipe her off. By the way, I did read a book over the summer by an Australian author. It was by Robert Hughes, called The Culture of Complaint. Hughes grew up Down Under, but lives now in New York. In the book he compares the integration of so-called minorities into the mainstream in both the USA and Australia. He seems to think that the whole process worked more smoothly in his native land because people were more reasonable about the whole change, whereas in America these colossal bitch screaming competitions take place. Everyone shouting, nobody listening, and nobody giving in.
Anita: Thank you so much John for wiping me off. Remind me to send you a bill. Robert Hughes, ay? Always meant to read his book The Fatal Shore. He’s had it a bit tough down here, which is why he lives in New York now. I don’t know about the integration of so-called minorities into the mainstream working more smoothly over here, but one thing we’re very good at, is cutting down our Tall Poppies. Can’t remember the details too much, but Robert was involved in a pretty nasty car accident in Western Australia, I think somebody got killed. Robert may have have been drinking and he got really smashed up himself. Then there was this ugly court case and, put it this way, the hyenas moved in for the kill. I think they may have waited until he got out of rehab — but just. Found a transcript of an interview he did with Jana Wendt, who used to be known as the perfumed steamroller . . . quite interesting . . . going to have a read myself. Hey, this might not be news to you guys, but I don’t move in the same circles as you two, so chat amongst yourself and try to not snort anymore VB over me, Bill, it’s a waste of a good drop.
William Michaelian: I’ll do my best. In fact, once the refrigerator is empty, I think I’ll give up drinking altogether. In the meantime, have either of you read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi? I’m working on that one now.
Judy: I did find you, Anita. I read Fatal Shore years ago. The very first part was very interesting, and toward the end, it got semi-interesting again. But the middle part . . . Most people would have given up.
William Michaelian: Welcome, Judy. I see by this page at Powell’s Books that the book is quite long, well over 700 pages. Of course the promotional copy provided by the publisher speaks of the book in glowing terms, as one can tell from the first paragraph, with misspellings faithfully preserved: “Here is history on an epic scale — a riveting, brilliantly written account of the birth of Australia out of the suffering and brutality of England’s infamous convict transportation system. Eighty years lay between the landing at Botany Nay in 1788 of the First Fleet (“this Noah’s Ark of small-time criminality”) — carrying 736 convicts, men and women — and the arrival of the last ship in 1868; during this perios the continent served first as an enormous jail, as England rid herself of a whole unwanted class, and then gradually, painfully transformed itself into a flourishing nation. How this happened, and with what anguish, is the story Robert Hughes tells in The Fatal Shore.” It sounds quite interesting, but they must have exaggerated the “riveting” and “brilliantly written”
part — not the first time a publisher has committed such a dastardly deed.
Anita: Judy! Am pleased to see you here. William — meet my long-time friend Judy. Judy? William. John? Judy. Judy? John. I haven’t read much of Mark Twain. So what is Life on the Mississippi about, then? *grin* What is it about Twain’s writing that appeals to you though, William? Or is it his persona as a yarn-spinner which is not unlike your own? Hmm . . . maybe I have missed my calling as a publisher. *smirk* Interesting too your latest journal entry about fear. Especially considering I facilitate a workshop called Healing Fear. When I was facing my own fear — a big bad one — I used to recite the Bene Gesserit Litany of Fear from the book Dune, by Frank Herbert:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
William Michaelian: Mark Twain is a great humorist, a great storyteller, a great observer, and delightfully sarcastic. His writing also impresses me as being very honest. In Life on the Mississippi, he says he has done his best to make his pen name “a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth.” I believe him.
Anita: The petrified truth — I have never heard that phrase before. Checking my trusty Pocket Oxford Dictionary, petrify means to turn into stone; paralyze with terror or; make or become callous or rigid by routine. Interesting phrase. Coincidentally or synchronistically — whatever your belief system — a friend of mine gave me a huge stack of old National Geographics to use for collage art. The September 1975 issue contains an article on Mark Twain Mirror of America by Noel Grove. I have read Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and The Prince and The Pauper. But it is Twain’s posthumously released books that interest me: The Mysterious Stranger (1916) and Letters from the Earth (1962). Have you read either of these, William? Laughed out loud at Twain’s observation on himself: “. . . I have been an author for twenty years and an ass for fifty-five.”
William Michaelian: Yes, that’s Mark Twain. I love that. I haven’t read the posthumous works — and that’s the petrified truth. It’s been a great many years since I’ve read about Huck and Tom. I need to again. I was only a kid at the time. Now I’m an “adult.” Who knows what I’ll miss this time around?
John Berbrich: Greetings, friends. I hope I can stay awake this time. Regarding Twain, I have read his postumous works, collected and edited by Bernard DeVoto. Letters From the Earth, Eve’s Diary, and the horrifying Great Dark. Plus the remarkable Mysterious Stranger. What I like about Twain’s work, aside of course from the humor and intelligence, is the tremendous energy he seems to put into every line. At his best, every sentence crackles with electricity. I haven’t gotten to Life on the Mississippi yet. By the way, Anita, Dune is one of my favorite books.
Anita: Hey John, nice of you to stop snoring. I was really amazed to find that I enjoyed Dune as much as I did. The movie was interesting as well and who knows, the book may be prophecy? Maybe we’ll end up fighting over water and not oil. What did you find remarkable about Twain’s Mysterious Stranger?
John Berbrich: The way Twain cuts to the heart of the matter. Why would God make sick and unhappy creatures, when he could have made them all healthy and happy and good? Speaking of Dune, there are five sequels and I believe four prequels, the latter written by Herbert’s son and some other guy. Quite a gigantic world they’ve built. I think I read three of the sequels. I’ve seen two versions of the film of Dune. Both were quite lengthy, but the one that really exaggerated the characters was the better flick. The other was dull, I thought, and also they cut out some of the best parts.
William Michaelian: Hold on, let me make a note of this. . . . The Mysterious Stranger . . . Bernard Devoto . . . water . . . electricity. Okay. Got it. Looks like I have some serious reading to do. I can hardly wait. To top it off, the other day, another friend and I were talking about reading Ulysses together, so we could compare notes as we go along, maybe even here on the website. He’s also a writer. I’ve never done anything like that. It might be interesting.
John Berbrich: Good luck, Willie. I’ve flipped through Ulysses but thus far have lacked the temerity to actually begin reading it. Maybe someday if I ever retire. I have read Joyce’s Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I thought Dubliners was outstanding. Parts of Portrait were amazing. Of course I’ve read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, by Dylan Thomas, a poignant riot. That would be interesting though, to read a book like that with a friend. Keep me posted.
William Michaelian: I will. And tackling something like that together just might give us the courage to ride it out. Dubliners is mighty fine indeed. Haven’t read Joyce’s Portrait, but now I’m intrigued by the Dylan Thomas title, so I’ll make a note of that as well.
John Berbrich: What’s happened to the girls? Did you send them out for more beer?
Anita: Hah! In your dreams, John-Boy . . . no self-respecting aussie sheila fetches beer for any man. Get off your backside and get your own! I did read the sequels and prequels to Dune, but some of them weren’t so crash hot. A colleague of mine has loaned me a very interesting book called The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspect of the Feminine, by Nancy Qualls-Corbett. Lemme see what does it say on the back cover here. “. . . this exhilarating book, solidly based on the psychology of C.G. Jung, powerfully illustrates how our vitality and capacity for joy depend on restoring the soul of the sacred prostitute to its rightful place in our conscious understanding.” Whacko . . . and before you guys start running for the hills . . . there is a picture of a nekked woman on the front cover . . . see? So who do you guys reckon this Sacred Prostitute is? Wow, Goya sure knew how to paint nekked women . . . quit breathing heavy on me John, you’re fogging up my glasses.
John Berbrich: Here, Anita, I think you have something in your eye. . . . In all honesty, I don’t know if I’ve ever met a sacred prostitute. I like the rounded haunches of the Rubens women better than Picasso’s warped damsels. Have you read Qualls-Corbett’s book yet? And about the beer — that was for you and Judy. Willie and I are gonna share this bottle of brandy. . . .
Judy: Hi, all — Anita told me she thought that you thought we had gone to bring you beer — HAH! Anita, I read the Round-Heeled Woman book that you mentioned to me. I had had it around for a while and decided to go for it after you talked about it in your letter. It was a hoot. Now I’m reading Reading Lolita in Tehran. The university library book club is gonna discuss it. I like it a lot. I read Lolita when I was too young to really get much out of it — I was about twenty-nine :-). No, actually, I was about twelve or so. I haven’t read any of the other books that the Iranian ladies discussed either, but so what. The part that interests me is the relationships the women carve out among themselves and also what was happening in the Iran revolution when things went backwards for women there. William, where in Oregon do you live? I’m looking for a blue state to move to. How far west do I have to move to find a comfort zone where the liberals outnumber the conservatives by at least a bit? Where I won’t get angry reading the letters to the editor every morning? (I’ve got to get a grip.) How far east would I have to be to avoid rusting? As you can see I’m looking for a perfect place.
William Michaelian: A perfect place, eh? Maybe you should move north. I hear it’s all blue beyond the Canadian border. In the meantime, not to change the subject, but it seems you girls have been discussing things behind our backs. You probably think you can get away with that just because you’re good friends, and because John and I are a little dense — I mean drunk. But that’s fine. We don’t mind. And to settle this beer question once and for all, I’ll go — that is, if John’ll promise to lay off the hooch ’til I get back.
Anita: Hey, Judy . . . I guess we will have to talk s-l-o-w-l-y if these guys are a little dense, as mein host has said. Not that that matters. Oh, you have a bottle of brandy — interesting demonstration of one-upmanship there. *wink* When you said Iranian women there, Judy, it reminded me of a book by Geraldine Brooks — this is another Aussie author, Billy — called Nine Parts of Desire: the Hidden World of Islamic Women. I highly recommend this book for both men and women to read because there is so much misunderstanding about the Islamic religion, which, in it’s purest form, is a most beautiful religion that does honour women. Like all the others, Islam has suffered from the same Ego-driven misinterpretations as all the other major religions. You guys keep your legs tightly crossed now; but it is invariably the men, the priests, the prophets — false? — who have poisoned the well — for ulterior motives which are very far removed from the original message. The title of Geraldine’s book comes from the founder of the Shiite sect of Islam, where he said, Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men. Now isn’t that beautiful? And look at how it’s been twisted around. Women have to cover up head to toe, so they don’t drive the men into a sexual frenzy — desire has become something to be repressed in the Shiite sect at least. I could really open this discussion way up and make the suggestion that this is why women have such a hard time within the Justice system with laying charges against rapists; there is still this ancient curse laid on women that they are evil. Garden of Eden, Eve and the apple — she didn’t hold a gun to Adam’s head — the hand reaches for what the heart desires. I’m a bit rusty with my Bible studies, but geez I don’t recall Adam wearing any of the blame here? Then there is Lilith who in the Jewish belief was the first wife of Adam and from whom the succubus and incubus demons are supposed to spring from. I’m rather fond of Lilith. I reckon she bailed on Adam because he just wasn’t that hot in the cot. . . . No, John, I haven’t started to really read the Sacred Prostitute yet, have just been flipping through but it is interesting that Mary Magdalene was called the Sacred Prostitute — the Beloved. Now there’s two words you wouldn’t usually put together in the same sentence. I’m not that fond of brandy, are you Judy? Have you got any Southern Comfort in the house, William?
William Michaelian: First of all, Anita, I want you to relax. You’re among friends here, so don’t hold back. Second, I’m fresh out of Southern Comfort. Third, as an amateur member of our bizarre little species, I would be more than happy to shoulder the blame for the world’s problems if I thought it would do any good. And as a self-confessed dense male of said species, I am willing to shoulder half. Now, please, someone, pour me a drink before I start making sense.
Anita: Poor William . . . I knew I would drive you to drink! Last thing we need is for you to start making sense. *snort* Do you need a hand shouldering that blame for the world’s problems there? C’mon, Judy . . . John . . . you slackers . . . give us a hand over here . . . great stuff. So, what about them Redsox, huh?
John Berbrich: Okay, Willie, here’s a swig. Just don’t start singing, alright? Yeah, I have a thing for Lilith. What man wouldn’t?
William Michaelian: Then you guys really do care about me? I feel so much better now. Ahhhhhh! Thanks, John. That was mighty good. Hey, Jude, don’t make it — oh, that’s right, you said no singing. Anita? Thanks to you, I will be giving up apples. I never could tell the difference between Good and Evil anyway. From now on, I’ll leave that to the president. Hey, that gives me an idea. Maybe we should ask him to join our group. He strikes me as being really well read. I’ll bet he could tell us quite a few things about the Bible that slipped right by the rest of us.
Judy: Yeah, I’m interested in Lilith too, although I’m more than rusty on Biblical studies. I grew up in a home in which my parents called themselves Protestants, but were not church-goers for a number of reasons and I had absolutely no religious upbringing. The jury’s still out on whether that’s an advantage or not. I think Alberta is red, William. One of their newspapers had an article about no whiners from the U.S. moving there. I said OK, fine. I saw a map of red and blue states, but it was world-wide. We know the U.S. states. Alberta and Saudi Arabia were red, and the rest of the world was blue. I forgot to mention I’m looking for a perfect climate too. Tired of shoveling snow, tired of dark at 5:00 in the winter. I’m not asking for a lot, am I? When I was talking about Reading Lolita in Tehran, I should have mentioned that the Iranian revolution took things backwards for men too. It wasn’t just women who suffered. I know of the Geraldine Brooks you mentioned, Anita. I read a couple of her husband’s books. He’s an American named Tony Horwitz or something like that. Some of us quilting ladies here have started an interest group to learn more about the Arabic world and the Islamic faith. It started when one of the quilt shop owners was talking with a friend of hers who taught in Tunisia for years. So we are carrying on e-mail conversations with Tunisian women or American women married to Tunisian men. We are making learning aids for teaching English in one of the schools or orphanages over there. It seems to be getting off to a slow, disorganized start, so it is a bit frustrating. It started because the quilt shop owner and her friend decided if there was going to be world peace, it was up to women — no offense meant, WM and JB. I’m sure we’ll save the world in the next few months or so ;-) But I figured I’d better mention the “up to women” part here rather than just whisper about it to Anita. Didn’t wanna get called on the carpet again.
William Michaelian: That’s more like it. It’s not quite the apology I was looking for, but what the heck.
Anita: What’s the matter, William? What apology are you looking for . . . what insult have you taken ownership of here? You haven’t lost your sense of humour now have you . . . you know I’m only taking the mickey. *sigh* I dunno Judy, this might explain why I’m still single after six years. I’m going to bed now . . .*pouting*
Judy: Oh, my gosh. William, I am so sorry, and it will never happen again. Or at least I won’t let on. And I’m sure you men can help save the world too if you just listen to your mothers. Actually, Anita, I don’t mind a sip of brandy from time to time. I have beer taste on a beer budget, so it works out okay.
William Michaelian: You know what’s funny about all this? I saved the world just the other day, and not one person noticed. Maybe I should hire a public relations firm. Of course, the first thing they’d say is, “You saved the world? Sure you did.” The second thing they’d say is, “Now show us the dough, Joe.” But I don’t want you guys to get the wrong idea. I didn’t save the world just for the money. I did it because I could, and because I needed a break from my usual routine. That’s just the kind of humble and helpful person I am. Ouch! All right, where did that bolt of lightning come from?
Judy: Your nose has grown longer too, right after that bolt of lightning. You laid a guilt trip on me for us ladies talking behind your backs, thus my “apology.” We’ll just have to be more careful after this, huh, Anita? . . . Oh? What was that you just whispered to me about John and William? ;-)
William Michaelian: Okay, I give up. The good news is, I have an old hat here, and inside the hat are several little pieces of paper. On the pieces of paper are written subjects we might talk about. Most have to do with reading, writing, authors, literature, and that sort of thing. It’s been so long since I’ve pulled anything out of the hat, I’ve forgotten exactly what’s in there. Let me see . . . here’s one . . . “Who is your favorite short story author, and why?” And in case that one doesn’t strike your fancy, here’s another: “Which books have you read more than once, and why was each worth re-reading?” Okay. Anyone?
Anita: I see you have written your letter to Santa, William. Quite lyrical — is a poem in the making, or a song? Speaking of songs, I picked up a flyer for Christmas carols being held in a park somewhere in my area. I love Christmas carols . . . have a few favourites: “Amazing Grace,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” . . . and there’s another one that is on the tip of my tongue. My mother loved watching the Christmas carols on TV every year, televised live from the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. I never used to understand why it was such a big deal for her at the time, but I do now. We have some great women singers here. Marina Prior is often a regular — she has a pure voice. I’ve noticed over the years that I’ve moved away from listening to groups and prefer the sound of one pure voice. Kavisha Mazzella is another Aussie singer — two of her albums are called Fisherman’s Daughter and Mermaids at the Well. She is based in Melbourne now. Interesting that I’ve had her CDs for quite some time and I’ve only just started listening to them in the last week or so — her voice is hauntingly beautiful. What music do you like, William? How about you, John? Judy?
John Berbrich: I love music, Anita. I like most kinds except opera. I really did give it a good try, feeling obligated to for some reason. Just don’t like it. Don’t like much country and western either. Favorite has to be Sixties rock and roll. The Doors, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, the Who. I like classical too — Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Bartok. Music is this amazing, colossal universe in which there are endless worlds to explore.
William Michaelian: And how. I, too, am big on the Sixties, especially the period between 1966 and 1969. But one of my favorite singers of all time is Mario Lanza. The man wore his heart on his sleeve, unlike many of the tenors of our time, who sing strategically rather than from their guts. Beethoven is my favorite composer by far. Chopin is wonderful, as is Tchaikovsky, and I don’t mind Mozart. But I like tons of other music. For instance, Gordon Lightfoot’s first four albums are great, and I think contain some of the best folk music ever recorded.
Anita: I am going to be brave here and say that I love country and western music, especially Patsy Cline and Jim Reeves and Garth Brooks is pretty good. I will hastily add that Dark Side of the Moon remains one of my favourites — I still have the vinyl. Etta James, Nina Simone, Lady Day and Johnny Lee Hooker can be found in my collection as well. I like some opera, certain songs — really do not like Gilbert and Sullivan and I have tried. I very much love the integration of rock with symphony orchestras. Remember Meatloaf? Operatic rock, I think they called it. Music adds lustre to my life. Ooh . . . looky . . . I’ve got a couple of CDs here in my bag. Okay, which one will I put on first for you, John? Dolly Parton or Willie Nelson . . . oh, here’s another one . . . Celine Dion.
Judy: I like most kinds of music except jazz. I never used to like country or c/w, but there are even a few from there that I like now. Love old time rock and roll. So many books, so little time that I seldom reread anything, but I did read This House of Sky twice — by Ivan Doig. He’s a Montana author who lives in Seattle now. The superficial reason I reread it was that the U Library book club covered it, but I’m glad I read it again because it has a lot of depth, I guess you could say. It’s regional writing (Doig’s memoir), but a lot of the young man coming of age and leaving home thing is universal. There were parts from the first time I read it that I remembered and watched for. And there were parts that I had blocked from my memory. Doig’s mom died when he was six, and his dad eventually remarried, but it was an unhappy three-year marriage. Since I was in an unhappy marriage at the time but trying to convince myself it was happy, I blocked that out. Also I am terrified of the water and never learned how to swim, so I blocked out Doig’s near-death in the water experience at the end of the book. Interesting what the brain does when you’re not paying attention. Or even when you are.
John Berbrich: That’s true. The brain has like a life of its own — they call it the subconscious or the unconscious, depending on whether you’re a Jungian or a Freudian. Back to music, I like Jim Reeves too. Not crazy about Willie Nelson, I don’t like his voice. If I had my choice, give me Dolly. You should check out my radio show sometime. It’s college radio from Clarkson University in Potsdam New York. I don’t think the FM signal will reach the other side of the equator, but we do broadcast on the Internet. The site is http://radio.clarkson.edu. But some fool hacked into the site last week and screwed things up, so I don’t know when the site will be back up. Check it out periodically though — we do play requests. It’s the Howie & the Wolfman Show (I’m the Wolfman), most Saturday afternoons, 2:00-4:00 EST. I have no idea what time or day that would be in Australia.
William Michaelian: Come on, J.B., you don’t even know what time it is now. But let me ask you this: Did you decide to be the Wolfman because you admire the legendary Wolfman Jack, or is it because you need a shave?
Anita: Wolfman Jack — I remember him. We got his radio show down here — would it have been in the Seventies? Requests, huh . . . okey doke . . . I’ve got three . . . write ’em down, Wolfie: “Don’t let it bring you down” by Annie Lennox; “You can’t always get what you want” by the Rolling Stones, and “Penny Arcade” by Roy Orbison. Mario Lanza — totally agree with you there, Bill. I haven’t heard a lot, but my folks had some of his stuff. One guy who sings from his heart is Iz — the Hawaiian guy, he died back in 1998 and a CD was released post-humously, Facing Future. The last track, “Hawai’i ’78,” is really profound and his voice . . . I love Polynesian voices. The harmonies can either lift your soul or rip your heart out. I really love World Music — Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese — couldn’t get into traditional Japanese Koto, but I keep the CD in case I have to make a point with noisy neighbours. “Clair de Lune” by Debussy is a favourite, and I like one of Vaughn Williams as well, the name of it, I have never known.
John Berbrich: Willie, to answer your question — Howie has had the show for several years. He has always called it the Howie & the Wolfman Show, although he did it alone; I don’t know why he named it that. Last winter he asked me if I’d like to get in on it and I said sure. So there was no real reason to change the name. I sort of slipped into the Wolfman garb that was already prepared. And yes, I do have a beard but no, I don’t need a shave. About three weeks ago I played a song from New Zealand sung by Maori tribesmen. This was supposedly a “War and Action” song, but sounded generally mellow to my ears. When the Internet problems are fixed I’ll let you all know so you can tune in if you like. I’ll look for those songs, Anita.
Anita: John, funny you should mention playing that Maori music, because I was going to include in my requests a song by a New Zealand band, but figured you might not of heard of them: Split Enz. This band was formed by brothers Neil and Tim Finn and lasted from ’72 to’84. When Enz disbanded, Neil Finn went on to establish Crowded House and enjoyed enormous success. When House disbanded, Neil embarked on a solo career and I have one of his CDs, Sinner, but he has produced a couple of CDs with his brother, Tim. Finn is the name of one. Neil is a modern-day troubadour and drinks a cuppa tea after performing instead of hitting the booze, and loves his mum. Tim and Neil are good Te Awamutu boys, which is in the Waikato region of the North Island of New Zealand, where I lived back in . . . 1980. Man, you know you are getting old when everything is over twenty years ago. . . . Anyway, back in 1996, a selection of Split Enz songs was performed by some of New Zealand’s finest contemporary artists, and featuring the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and NZ National Youth Choir. Neil Finn’s rendition of “Message To My Girl” is sublime and achingly beautiful. The CD is called ENZSO and if you don’t have it do not pass GO, do not collect 200 dollars — get it. Whoa — I just found out there is an ENZSO 2 that was produced in November 1998. P.S. Santa, there’s something else I want to add to my list. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m only getting coal but it’s worth a shot. . . . Oh, yeah, on the CD Together Alone by Crowded House are two great songs that use traditional Maori music. “Private Universe” which has this great drum thing going at the end and “Together Alone,” which features a Karakia (prayer incantation) in the middle and ends with rousing tribal drums. If you’ve ever watched a rugby match with the New Zealand All Blacks and wondered about that ritual they do at the beginning, it is the Haka, and is a war chant that precedes a battle.
Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora
Ka mate, ka mate, ka ora, ka ora
Tenei te tngata puhuruhuru
Nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra.
Hupane! kaupane! hupane! kaupane!
Whiti te ra!
I have seen this performed dozens of times — know how to do it myself — and it is awesome every time.
William Michaelian: Wow! That’s great! I had no idea the table was that strong.
John Berbrich: C’mon Willie — always with the jokes. You’re the one that boosted her up there. The Maori album I have was recorded in Gisborne, New Zealand, in 1979. It’s not accompanied by much info. The title is Te Roopu Tangai, whatever that means. There is no indication as to who the performers are. I remember Crowded House with a distant affection. They had a few good songs. Do uncivilized Maori people still live in New Zealand? By uncivilized I mean people lacking necessities like microwave ovens and lawnmowers.
Anita: John, I just checked the Maori-English on-line translator and Te Roopu Tangai seems to be The Bark Club or The Bark Party. Roopu = club and tangai = party. One can never have enough trivial information. You just don’t know when you may be a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Well, like most indigenous peoples, the Maori’s were pushed off their land, marginalized and disenfranchised. They are not real fond of Captain Cook — whose cottage, by the way, is here in Melbourne, in the Fitzroy Gardens. Little cottage — he must have been a short-arse. Bear in mind that I was last in New Zealand in 1985 and the Maoris were just starting to reclaim their birthright. They are a most proud people and I actually had more respect for Maoris than I did for our own indigenous people, the Aboriginals. The movie Once Were Warriors is shockingly true and when I lived in NZ in 1980, I very much felt that wife-beating was a national past-time. But let’s not go there, much could have changed in the last twenty-four years. A lovely Maori family took me under their wing when I lived there, I was nineteen at the time and while they were socially and economically disadvantaged, they were very rich in other ways. When I went to Te Awamutu, I met for the first time in my life, white people who were completely illiterate, and they were hillbillies — rednecks — in the way that you understand that description. I was astonished. The year I lived in New Zealand was a real awakening on so many levels. One of my best friends there, was the sister of a famous All-Black and I remember when she got her first automatic washing machine, she pulled up a chair, made herself a cup of tea and watched it go through the full cycle. She was in awe! There are Maoris to this day, that still live a traditional life on maraes where they are discerning as to what white-man technology they bring into their life. The movie Whalerider, I think, would be the best illustration of present-day traditional Maori life. One thing I did notice is that there was not the white-black tension in New Zealand and that on a social level, Maori and pakehas mixed together, intermarried and there was no shame there. Rather, the tension was between the Maoris and other Polynesian people, particularly the Samoans. I was in a good position to observe this dynamic as a barmaid and, I tell ya, John, there was one night where I was washing blood off the walls. I also remember one time getting roasted for serving a gang member who had walked into the bottleshop with patches on. He was expected to be refused service, and I couldn’t see why he should be because of what he was wearing! He was very polite and respectful and, hey, his money was just as good as everyone else’s. I guess this comes down to knowing when to break the rules, but back then, there was a huge gang war going on. Black against black. I could tell ya some stories — it was a wonderful, rich time and I was pretty naive when I was nineteen. Amazingly naive. Getting back to your question: If there are Maoris living an “uncivilized” life in New Zealand now — 2004 — it is because they have chosen to. It is because they know that wealth is not counted by the material possessions that you own, but by what you possess in your heart. They are a strong tribal people.
John Berbrich: Thanks for that. I’m always elated to hear of anyone — a group or individual — actually fighting and resisting “Progress.” Kudos to the Maori!
William Michaelian: Well, this is getting interesting, indeed. While you guys were talking, the image of my grandmother’s father’s mother appeared to me. She is dancing on the front porch of her little house in Fresno, to Armenian music blaring on her old phonograph. She is radiant, joyful, proud, defiant. This is the same woman who once poured red pepper on my father’s tongue for innocently calling her a “son of a bitch” when he was a little boy — though he did decide later on that she deserved it. Something tells me her first automatic washing machine experience would have been different than the one Anita just mentioned. My great-great grandmother would have looked impatiently at the new contraption and said, “Well, that’s fine if you’re afraid of work.” My, my.
Judy: No one else wants to talk about books they just had to read again?
William Michaelian: Of course we do. We were just taking the long way around, that’s all. I’ve
re-read quite a few books, but none, I think, more than William Saroyan’s My Name Is Aram and
The Human Comedy, the latter being a title he borrowed from Balzac. I never read anywhere that he said he borrowed it, but I know he read Balzac, and also thought highly of the great short-story writer, Guy de Maupassant. William Saroyan is a great and very natural storyteller. In fact, I’ve
re-read almost all of his books, fiction and nonfiction alike. I’ve read Doctor Zhivago twice. I love Pasternak’s keen observations and poetic language. And I keep coming back to Dostoevsky, a writer I’ve always found very inspiring. All in all, I think I have read more stuff from the nineteenth century than from the twentieth. It’s time for me to read Kerouac’s On the Road again as well. Kerouac was a big Saroyan fan, especially when he was younger — not that he ever got old.
John Berbrich: Books read twice. All of Tolkien’s masterpieces (maybe five times each). Lord Byron’s Don Juan at least three times. John Gardner’s Grendel. The Iliad at least four times, different translations. The Odyssey twice. Joyce’s Dubliners and Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Most of Nietzsche’s books. Ray Bradbury’s short story collections endlessly. Philip K. Dick’s novels — Ubik, A Maze of Death, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, and others. That’s a start. Also William Michaelian’s fine novel, A Listening Thing.
Anita: For me, at least thrice-read books would include Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (her sci-fi Darkover series was way before its time). Joseph Campbell’s Power of Myth; Diana Galbadon’s series of books, which defy description absolutely — she’s writing the sixth book now. I found it hard to read Lord of The Rings fourteen years ago, but the movies have helped a great deal there with creating a visual image. I can’t wait for the extended DVD of Return of the King to hit our stores on December 10th. Will never go back to watching the theatrical versions. Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods cracks me up every time — his paranoia about bears is hilarious and Katz — what a Sage in disguise! Love of a Life Style is another book that you probably haven’t heard of. It tells the shared life of Bob Sellick and Denise Scudds and is an Australian book. Bob Sellick was a man who turned his back on university, and intended to live in freedom in the forests of Western Australia. He rode into Denise’s life “riding his horse bare-back, jeans rolled up to his knees, knife hanging from his side, long hair flowing, wearing a cowboy hat with a feather in the side he looked like a Sioux warrior. He was looking for work in exchange for a meal, like a loner in some Western movie.” Denise devoted her life to him — Bob died on 21 October 1994. He had cancer and before the cancer got to his brain, he shot himself. They shoot horses, don’t they? Lovely story — pity they didn’t make this book into a movie — would have been a damn sight more insightful than Crocodile bloody Dundee.
John Berbrich: Out of Anita’s latest batch of authors, the only one I’ve read is Joseph Campbell; I’ve read his Power of Myth and several other of his mythological studies. He has an amazing knack for finding similarities in widely distant and disparate material. Flipping briefly back to film, I’d just like to add that I found the landscape in Lord of the Rings, filmed in New Zealand, absolutely breathtaking. I can’t imagine another place like it.
William Michaelian: An equally profound use of landscape, I think, was in the film version of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, especially in the early part of the movie. It was as bleak as the New Zealand scenes were breathtaking. In a powerful sense, both landscapes were characters in the books and in the movies.
Anita: Very true, William, I can remember watching The Grapes of Wrath and quite literally choking on the dust as they were traveling in the old truck. Was a real long time ago that I saw the movie. New Zealand has to be experienced, John. The landscape is awesome and it really is the Land of the Long White Cloud, because that is exactly what you see from the plane. It’s also a bit creepy around the thermal/volcanic areas such as Rotorua and Taupo and there must have been about five earth tremors when I was in Napier for a couple of weeks, which, by the way, was flattened earlier this century. There’s also a Maori village that is New Zealand’s version of Pompeii and the gaping scar from that cataclysmic eruption makes one feel very insignificant in the grand scheme of things. So what is everyone doing for Christmas?
Judy: I think y’all read pretty serious stuff compared to me. I read mostly non-fiction, but it’s pretty light-weight, most of it. For Christmas I am going to Missoula, Montana, to spend with family, then over to Lewiston, Idaho, to spend a few days with my big sister and her husband. I haven’t cooked a proper holiday meal since I’ve been single again. I’m almost done with Reading Lolita in Tehran. I have trouble with over-generalizing when I imagine people from very different cultures, and something like this helps me realize they are, indeed, individuals. I also learned that it snows in
Anita: Too funny, Judy! I reckon I’ve only cooked a dozen proper meals since I’ve been single again. My Bendigo buddies are coming down on the 18th for our Christmas gathering and we are heading off to Heide for a picnic and also to see the Heavenly Creatures exhibition that has just opened there. Hopefully the weather will be lovely — you just don’t know with Melbourne. My oldest friend — as in we’ve known each other since we were both seventeen — has invited me to share Christmas Day with her mad mob — a huge Maltese family — literally a cast of thousands. I’m still thinking about it. I’ve been so busy these last few months that I feel like having a quiet Christmas. John, you can read about Heide on my blog, Under the Lemon Tree, seeing as Judy and William have already read the article. By the way, my parents knew Joy Hester rather well, who was best friends with Sunday Reed. I found a photo of Joy among my mother’s papers, probably taken in the late Fifties. Joy also lived in Hurstbridge, as did my parents up until 1963-64. It’s quite possible my parents also met Sunday and John Reed and spent time at Heide themselves. Been quite a surprise to learn I was named after this woman who is now recognised as one of Australia’s most important artists — my middle name is Joy. Kinda explains why visiting Heide for the first time last month was such a profound experience. Curioser and curiouser . . .
William Michaelian: Christmas, eh? This year my wife and kids and brothers and cousins and old bearded aunts and all the in-laws and several hitchhikers are going to John’s house to eat hummus. John? You look surprised. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten.
Judy: I’ve always been intrigued by non-traditional holiday meals such as hummus for Christmas. Nice of you, John. The Christmas quiche has a nice ring, don’t you think?
John Berbrich: Willie, you’re too late — the fridge is already empty! Concerning quiche, it’s a good meal any time of year, as is hummus. Actually, I don’t know what we’re doing for the big day. Might stay home and eat ham sandwiches. Might feast at a relative’s place. Dunno yet. I’ll get back to you next time on Heide.
William Michaelian: Hey, pal, don’t worry — we love ham sandwiches. Oh, by the way, when my son and I were out looking at used books a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a nice little hardbound edition of Lord Byron’s Don Juan. Set me back one whole dollar. Started reading it last night. Got through the first sixty verses — miles to go yet, but judging from what I’ve read, it’s safe to say the poet had a sense of humor.
Anita: Sounds like a plan, guy. Christmas quiche, ham sandwiches (I am so never going to be a vegetarian) and hummus. I’ll bring a slab of VB. Staggered out of my local thrift shop yesterday with a pile of books. William, funny you should mention Don Juan, as one of the books I got is Casanova — the man who loved women. Another find was Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I’ve never read this book but I did see the movie. Also The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox, and The Bread with Seven Crusts by Susan Temby, who is a new voice in Australian fiction. Her book was published in 2002 — couldn’t believe I picked it up for three bucks. From a Past Life: a modern ghost story by Penny Faith. The cover has a wonderful picture of that Celtic horse that has been carved on a chalk hill in the UK. These two books will interest you, Judy: A Woman’s Passion for Travel edited by Marybeth Bond * Pamela Michael, and No Shitting in the Toilet: the travel guide for when you’ve really lost it by Peter Moore. Peter lives in Sydney with his collection of souvenir plastic snow domes! Hey, he has a website! Also picked up Two Weeks in Lilliput: bear-baiting and backbiting at the Constitutional Convention by Steve Vizard — yep, another Aussie. Stevie was a commercial lawyer and is one of our top humorists. A modern day Renaissance Man, that’s for sure. For four years he hosted his own national tonight show, “Tonight Live,” which was a shameless rip-off of the “David Letterman Show.” This book is about his observations of the 1998 Constitutional Convention held to debate whether Australia should become a republic. We want to — as long as we can keep the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June. They don’t call Australia the “Land of the Long Weekend” for nuttin’, ya know. Two more books I got because the titles intrigued me: Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments by Shmuley Boteach, and 60 Ways to Fool a Trout, by Lance Wedlick. I think there may be some weird esoteric connection between these two and I still have my dad’s fishing rods and there’s lots of information in here on how to make lures. Quit laughing — I need all the help I can get!
Judy: The books sound good, Anita. There’s a travel book for women that I’ve seen entitled Sand in My Bra.
John Berbrich: Say, Anita — have you ever heard of a guy named Barry Humphries? You may know him as Dame Edna.
Anita: It’s a rare Aussie who hasn’t heard of Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna and his other alter ego, Les Patterson — a beer swilling, obnoxious member of local Parliament! Bazza has been around for donkey’s years and Dame Edna has iconic status here. I haven’t had the privilege to see Barry perform live but his mug is often on TV. An interesting man and his private life has been fodder for the weekly magazines in the past. I think I heard that he just did a show in New York?
John Berbrich: Absolutely correct! That’s how I heard of him. John Lahr wrote a review of Humphries’ show at the Music Box in Manhattan. Lahr was quite laudatory, calling the show “heroic.” And he even quoted our old friend Robert Hughes as saying that Humphries is “The only Australian who ever understood the Dada principle of provocation.” Sounds like quite a character.
William Michaelian: Sure does. It says here that Humphries is also regarded as one of Australia’s best landscape artists, and that he is the author of several plays, books, and novels. Anita? Have you read anything by him?
Anita: Hello, Possums! No, William, I haven’t ready any of Humphries’ books although his latest autobiography was published a year or so ago and I will eventually read it. I’m not a big fan of Humphries and was surprised to learn that the man behind the frock is also a painter and has written so many books. His persona of Dame Edna is larger-than-life and his other character, Sir Les Patterson, a disgraced ambassador, is extremely provocative and satirical. I think with the costume he wears, there is a urine stain down the leg which reminds me of the homeless men I used to see when I worked in the city. Here’s another website about Bazza that is quite informative. He must like the taste of wedding cake — married four times. The anagram of Sir Les Patterson is “On piss, leers tart” and that pretty much sums up that character.
William Michaelian: I see. Well, then. Moving right along, I sense that Mr. Berbrich would like to expound on the aforementioned Dada principle and how it relates to his daily and artistic life. I sense something, anyway.
Judy: Anita, are Dame Edna and Les Patterson characters or pen-names?
William Michaelian: John? Your voice has changed. Oh — Judy. I’m sorry. If I may butt in for Anita, who I see is trying to install a padlock on the refrigerator, Dame Edna and Les Patterson are characters, not pen-names — though judging by the photos of him on the website I mentioned, there’s a good chance he’s not sure himself.
John Berbrich: Which is where Humphries fits in with Dada. I’m not sure what I mean by that — although I am familiar with Tristan Tzara and his cohorts. To me, they seemed like destructive children, not really artists at all. Which is okay — not everyone needs to be an artist, or even appreciate art. But they mocked and made fun of art, without replacing it with anything, without filling the void they created. You dig, Willie?
William Michaelian: Absolutely. Life is a cabaret, old friend. Which is why, I suppose, Dada has been so difficult to document, though its residue is clinging and pervasive. I’m not sure what I mean by that, either, but I am sure it doesn’t matter. Any idea what I should do with these old ticket stubs?
Judy: If you take a scrap-booking class, I’m sure you’ll learn something clever to do with old ticket stubs and other souvenirs. . . . No, I don’t do scrap-booking.
Tim Hinshaw: Well, Wild Bill, I see this conversation has taken on quite a life of its own. Good on ya, mate. Got some good stuff reverberating here. Any Annie Proulx fans among the good people in this confab?
William Michaelian: Mr. Hinshaw! What a pleasure. You already know J.B., but you haven’t met Anita and Judy. Goils? Mr. Hinshaw and I seldom admit this in public, but we’ve been friends for years. However, don’t hold that against him. Let’s see. Annie Proulx is author of The Shipping News, right? Haven’t read any of her stuff yet, but there is a story title of hers that I stumbled across some time back that I got a kick out of: “People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water.” Don’t know what it’s about, but it’s a dang good title.
Anita: G’day Tim — funny about Annie Proulx. I just hired out The Shipping News on DVD to watch again — loved the book, love the movie. Haven’t read any of her other books yet, have you? By the way, guys, guess what I picked up from the library yesterday? My Life as Me — Barry Humphries’ latest autobiography. Also picked up Desert Queen by Janet Wallach, which is about the extraordinary life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia. Wow, on the back cover it says that Gertie was generally considered the most powerful woman in the British Empire. Um . . . so why haven’t we heard of her? Has anyone heard of her? Or is it just me? You were polite, Judy. I would have made another suggestion about what to do with those ticket stubs! Nice of you to join us Tim, didjabringabeeralong?
Judy: Hello, Tim. The only Annie Proulx book I’ve read is That Old Ace in the Hole. Takes place in the Texas/Oklahoma pan handles with the characters you might expect from that part of the country. Protagonist has the unlikely name of Bob Dollar. Proulx skillfully does an interesting trick near the end of the book. You think you see something coming, and then it doesn’t happen, at least not the way she leads you to believe. Our book club discussed Reading Lolita in Tehran last night. The author talks about certain books in the context of having secret literature classes with women in post-revolution Iran. There was some discussion about how contrived or not the book is. One person thought the author had some essays she felt a need to write, so put them in the context of this book. But — since the women actually did read and discuss those books, I think that is okay.
John Berbrich: Yo, Tim. Annie Proulx — I once read part of a story of hers I discovered in the New Yorker. Forget the name, but it was a pretty good part. I’ll bet that Barry Humphries book is good. Interesting, at least. Anyone in showbiz for that many years must have had a ton of weird experiences. Wonder if he has any stories about our old friend Robert Hughes.
Anita: No, John, there are no stories about Robert Hughes in this book — maybe in his first autobiography, which I think is called More Please, he talks about Robert — or maybe not. He does talk about Dadaism though, ten pages worth and the character of Dr. Aaron Azimuth he created as a result. He writes that his life changed instantly when he first learnt of the antics of the Berlin and Zurich Dadaists. He decided then and there to become a Dadaist, starting immediately. Barry was nineteen at the time and attending Melbourne University — now ya’ll don’t dob me in to the copyright police, I’ve paraphrased this from My Life as Me:
Instinctively, it seemed, I had a gift for that peculiar combination of ferocity and absurdity that marked the authentic Dadaist. Poems, “works of art” and manifestos in this new style were soon flowing from my pyrogenous imagination. . . . At home, however, I was still Barry, a name I found embarrassingly dull. It was, after all, the masculine counterpart of Shirley; a Thirties name without a history except for a minor Thackeray novel, which is certainly not where my parents would have found it. . . . Dr. Aaron Azimuth, Dadaist, was sworn foe of all Barrys and Shirleys; enemy of my parents too, with their suburban certainties and their seemingly effortless ability to live happily without Art. . . . Azimuth in his public appearances resembled a mad doctor from the German expressionist cinema: he was like the eponymous hero of my favourite film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He wore a long black coat, and a black homburg emphasising a deathly white make-up and mascara’d eyes. He recited his poems and tirades in a loud staccato voice and extolled madness and violence as the ultimate virtues. It was an exquisitely liberating disguise.
Well, bugger me — I think I am starting to like Bazza.
William Michaelian: I don’t know. Seems like an awful lot to go through just to become liberated. Then again, I’ll bet the money’s good.
John Berbrich: There’s something childish and willfully irresponsible about Dada, yet something attractive about it too. As far as I’m concerned, the Dadaists that I know of didn’t create much art of lasting worth — literary, painting, musical, whatever — but their lives are fascinating to read about. Willie — thinking about taking up a new career?
William Michaelian: Nah, I’m childish and willfully irresponsible enough as it is. Besides, every time I take up something, I find out that the world has moved on and the money is gone.
Anita: Well, in that case Will E. Yum, dig another hole next to your lemon tree and find some oil. Maybe those Dadaists that you know of John, missed the essence of the message of Dadaism and after it had filtered through their Ego, they expressed it in a way that was not conducive to creation. Wouldn’t be the first time that has happened. Be a love, Tim, and grab us another tinny from the fridge? Ta.
John Berbrich: Hey, that’s my breakfast you’re drinking!
William Michaelian: Yeah, well, that’s Hinshaw for you. Never should have encouraged him. As a matter of fact, I remember once — well, never mind. Say, are we done with Dada yet, or should we gang up on it and give it a really good beating? After all, it’s a shame to sit here making sense. Not that we are, necessarily, but it could happen.
Anita: Say, did any of you guys see that HBO series, “Carnivale”? It has just started on the ABC over here and the first episode was on Sunday night. Now, one thing that you don’t see anymore these days are those great circuses with all the geeks and bearded ladies. Although any woman over a certain age has issues with wombat fur, as Heather of Soul Food Café fame calls it. But back to “Carnivale” — what were your impressions . . . John? Tim? Judy? William — put the fudge down and pay attention.
John Berbrich: Sadly, I missed it. Not a surprise since I don’t have a television.
William Michaelian: It’s my fudge, and I can do what I want with it. Let’s see. According to Dictionary.com, a wombat is “any of several stocky burrowing Australian marsupials of the family Vombatidae, somewhat resembling a small bear and feeding mainly on grass, leaves, and roots. Wombats are also “problems which are both profoundly uninteresting in themselves and unlikely to benefit anyone even if solved.” As such, a wombat is a definite “Waste Of Money, Brains, And Time.” So Heather’s reference packs a double wallop. I haven’t seen “Carnivale” either. We do have a TV, but it’s a hand-me-down that barely works anymore. Before that, we did without one for many years, and loved it.
Anita: Well, then seeing as we can’t talk about what’s on TV . . . what about going to the movies. You know that big building with a large white screen . . . lots of seats. Always someone who forgot to turn off their mobile phone. And let’s not go there with the rustling chip bag factor. What was a movie ya’ll saw this year that stands out? We still have drive-in theatres over here — triple screen drive-in just around the corner from me. Did ya’ll used to go in your jim-jams as kids? There may still be hope — Judy and Tim could have functional TVs and have seen “Carnivale.”
John Berbrich: I’ve been to the theater once in 2004. Went to see Spiderman 2 last summer (that’s Northern Hemisphere summer). We had a good time. Last December ’twas The Return of the King, another winner. How does it feel to celebrate Christmas in the middle of summer? How does Santa get around?
Judy: I have a working TV but haven’t seen “Carnivale” either. Haven’t heard of it, but it could be I haven’t been paying attention. The wombat thing reminds me of banshees. You know, the animals that wail? It was just recently I learned that they are mythical creatures that wail when a hearse goes by (picture a black carriage drawn by horses). They might wail when a motorized hearse goes by too, if so, I haven’t heard them. I had just assumed it was some type of wild dog or cat that lived in Africa — related to the hyena, perhaps.
William Michaelian: Here’s another interesting entry from Dictionary.com: “Banshee: A female spirit in Gaelic folklore believed to presage, by wailing, a death in a family.”
Judy: That’s right, I think. The definition my friend sent me was fuller and had a lot more detail, but the wailing did happen ahead of the death, and so would be before the body was put into a hearse. I was just struck that the banshee doesn’t necessarily have four legs and a tail.
William Michaelian: I feel the same way about politicians. Which brings us back to movies. We did see one this year — Fahrenheit 9/11. Before that, it had been years since we had been in a theater. It’s not that we don’t like movies, we just rarely have the time. About thirty years ago in Fresno, however, my wife and I did see a midnight screening of George Harrison’s The Concert for Bangladesh, and we have seen a few movies since — a Pink Panther or two, a couple of Star Treks when the TV crew was having their second girdled go-around, and other miscellaneous odds and ends.
John Berbrich: Speaking of banshees, I am reminded of a conversation I had a long time ago with a friend of mine who happens to play guitar. He told me about an electric guitar constructed entirely of metal. It was called the banshee and was capable of the wickedest screams you could possibly imagine.
Tim Hinshaw: Now, who was it that wanted a beer? Gotta be the Aussie bird. In a bar I frequented during a former life I grew fond of an Australian beer named, I believe, Toohies. It came in a large can, seemed about the same size as the containers motor oil was sold in then. And speaking of movies and the land Down Under, just watched a movie titled Japanese Story, which takes place in the Australian Outback. The flick didn’t do much for me storywise but I liked the scenery. And nary a banshee. And Willie? I know for a fact that you saw Mr. Holland’s Opus in the theater with the rest of the proles.
William Michaelian: You say that with an accusing tone. Yes, we did see Mr. Holland’s Rumpus. Took my mither, in fact. But that was years ago. Also saw Sense and Sensibility, or, at any rate, it was a movie with Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins — or was it Perkins? No, he was the guy in Psycho — or was it Sicko? All right, quit trying to confuse me. I’m confused enough as it is.
John Berbrich: Too much brew, Willie? Or perhaps not enough. I think we need a toast. Plenty of butter on mine, and a bit of orange marmalade too.
Anita: Whoa . . .I love the smell of burning computer monitor in the morning ~ NOT! Been off the air for a couple of days and Santa came early this year with a reconditioned Hewlett Packard seventeen-inch monitor. What can I say? Size DOES matter. Interesting word, mither. Earlier this year, my cousin in Cheshire (on my dad’s side) was relating to me the tragic circumstances in which my father’s oldest brother died and used the term “mithered” to describe how my late uncle pestered his mother so much to ride his new bicycle. What followed resembled a Greek tragedy and I daresay my grandmother wailed like a banshee at her eldest son’s funeral. . . . That was me that wanted a beer, Tim, and you can keep your Toohies, I stuck a slab of VB in the fridge. Should be some left if mein host hasn’t quaffed it all. I saw Japanese Story too, and the scenery was brilliant. Funny old story — and any Aussie knows not to dive into a billabong but it’s amazing how many people, usually young men, end up with spinal injuries or worse over our summer. . . . Well, John, as I’ve never experienced a white Christmas, celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer is pretty normal to me. It’s going to be in the eighties — twenty-two Celsius is the prediction. Some lucky folks get to have a barbecue by the beach and the Christmas lobster and seafood platter is more the go than a turkey. Santa probably gets around in stubbies, a singlet and thongs if he is smart. Many years ago, Arnott’s Biscuits, had a delightful Christmas advertisement that features Santa sitting down by a campfire with a stockman making him some billy tea. In the background the stockman’s horse is touching noses with one of the reindeer. Was a really nice advertisement that would appear on the back of the Australian Women’s Weekly magazine. Something rather mystical about it. I reckon those old stockmen would have a story or two to tell about yowies and other mythical creatures. In the old days Santa would dress as a stockman.
William Michaelian: Wailing like a stockman doesn’t quite have the same ring, but Santa knows best. Say, you don’t suppose we should continue this on a new page, do you?