For Your Dining and Dancing Pleasure…

OK, maybe not so much dancing, although who am I to stop you?

You may recall that late last year, I was one of four authors who were interviewed by PatZi Gil for her “Joy on Paper” radio program. You can hear me, along with Lawrence Block, Jonathan Santlofer, and Justin Scott, on PatZi’s featured programs page. You’ll need to scroll about halfway down, but I hope you’ll find it worth your time!

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Spring Break and Other Pleasantries

Today marks the first full day of my Spring Break (although I’ll still do a bit of grading, so the term is slightly inaccurate.) However, today also was the day for the College’s 60th annual Jazz Festival. We host various high school and middle school ensembles, along with the All-State High School Jazz Band, and the college’s own jazz group does a set as well, typically backing up a visiting performer/clinician. This year’s special guest is Delfeayo Marsalis, the trombone-toting member of the family that has become synonymous with the genre in popular culture. Admission is free, so the Spawn and I walked over to the college chapel to check things out.

We got there just in time to catch the conclusion of the kids from the All-State band, and the Mondoville kids were queueing up in the narthex. Quite a few of the kids are former students of mine, and a couple even have me this term. They know that I’m into music, and so I get a lot of invitations to their shows. I like coming out to support the kids, whether they’re on the athletic fields or, as in this case, on stage, so I’m glad when I can make the gig, and a couple of smiles and greetings let me know it works both ways.

Not that my attendance was necessary. The chapel was about 90 percent filled (and as one of the larger venues in Mondoville, that’s pretty good), and the Spawn and I found a spot at the back as the kids got set up. After a few minutes, they were ready to go. They opened with Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing (with a Swing)”, and stuck pretty close to the Fletcher Henderson/Goodman arrangement. That happens to be a piece dear to my own heart, and one that I played during my one year of high school jazz band; when I got my first drum kit, my dad said he know I could play if I got to where I could do “Sing, Sing, Sing.” When I came off the stage after a concert (which I still have on a cassette), Dad approved — and that was one of the best moments of my musical career. Mondoville’s drummer, a young woman I’ve taught in Freshman Comp, did an admirable job, and another former student of mine worked in a trumpet solo that quoted from Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse.”

They followed that up with Lerner and Lowe’s “Almost Like Being in Love” from Brigadoon, a number that featured the group’s vocalist. The Spawn was impressed — “She’s really good.” Then it was time for the special guest, and Mr. Marsalis came onstage.

Nattily attired, laid back, and cheerful, he led the band through a couple of original charts and a nice version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark.” But the topper was a version of “Put Your Right Foot Forward”, from Mr. Marsalis’s Make America Great Again CD. Once the second-line groove was established, he led the mobile members of the band in a slightly belated Mardi Gras parade through the chapel. It pulled an ovation from the crowd, and reminded the people in attendance that for all the cultural stodginess the genre has accumulated in the past few decades, jazz can actually be the soundtrack for a really good time.

After the set concluded, the Spawn and I walked back to the house, and observed another rite of Mondovillian spring, as the local shaved ice/snowball stand opened for the first day of the new season. Because snowballs are one of the Spawn’s favorite treats (she’s been anticipating this day, really since it closed for the season last fall), we stopped by and fueled up.

There’s a church across the street from the snowball stand, and a number of cars were in the parking lot. Closer scrutiny revealed that a funeral service would be taking place in a short while. “When I die,” I told the Spawn, “I think it would be neat to serve snowballs at the funeral.” It would, you know.

People were still arriving at the church as we drove home, where I found that my membership card for the MWA had arrived in the mail. Not a bad day — let’s see if the rest of the break can keep up.

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Ecce Magister

My lack of strength in foreign languages is one of my shames. I demonstrated “reading knowledge” of French and German during the M.A. years, but the German is now a lost cause. I have enough French that I’ve been able to correspond with folks over there (startling them when they write me in English and I reply en Français), and in my magazine days, I could converse a little with Quebecois folks at tradeshows and such.

At my father’s insistence, I did two years of Latin in high school, throwing it over in my senior year so that I could play drums in jazz band.  I was an indifferent student, getting by largely on my knowledge of cognates and on the fact that my Latin teacher was also my English teacher in tenth and twelfth grades. I should note that my failure to thrive was in no way my teacher’s fault — I was a spectacularly lazy student. In retrospect, my lack of accomplishment in the language is particularly ironic, given the direction of my subsequent career. At this point, it’s good enough that I can find what I’m looking for in a text, and can translate passages into English if I have a dictionary and if you aren’t terribly particular about stuff like maintaining the original tense. (That’s about where I am in Anglo-Saxon as well, honestly, although I can read Middle English about as quickly as most folks can read the present-day form.)

But I always get a thrill when I’m at Kalamazoo for the Medieval Congress and hear the serious Latinists doing their thing. And I was particularly stoked today when I ran across an article by John Byron Kuhner at The New Criterion. It’s a profile of Fr. Reginald Foster, who served forty years as the Vatican’s Latin translator. In itself, that’s fascinating, I think, but that’s not all there is to the article.

As it turns out, Foster is also proof of Roger Scruton’s statement that great teachers are great not because they love their students, but because they love their subjects so much that they want to keep them alive for another generation. From the article:

“The most influential Latin teacher in the last half-century is Reggie Foster,” says Dr. Nancy Llewellyn, professor of Latin at Wyoming Catholic College. “That’s not just my opinion—that’s a fact. For decades, he had the power to change lives like no other teacher in our field. I saw him for an hour in Rome in 1985 and that one hour completely changed my life. His approach was completely different from every other Latin teacher out there, and it was totally transformative.”

[…] During [a 30-year teaching career] he may well have undertaken the most strenuous teaching schedule ever attempted by a university professor. Rising every day at 3:58 A.M., he said mass in Latin, graded papers, and then headed to his full-time job as papal Latin secretary. By 2:oo P.M. he would complete his day’s work at the Vatican and be ready to teach. Every year he taught ten semester-long courses at the Gregorian, from Latin rudiments to the most difficult authors. Beginning in 1985 he began a summer school, at the request of some students, to fill up his time in between semesters. Here, unconstrained by university policies and scheduling, he could teach as he desired: he hired space at his own expense, and taught six to eight hours every day, seven days a week for eight consecutive weeks. Sundays were not off days but day-long excursions into the countryside with twenty-page packets of Latin texts: to Cicero’s birthplace, Tiberius’s cave at Sperlonga, Horace’s villa in the Sabine mountains, and many other locations. The course was free and no one received any official credit for taking it—Foster wanted only people who loved Latin for its own sake.

Foster (known to other Latinists as “Reginaldus”) is now pushing 80, and lives in a nursing home in his original hometown of Milwaukee. Although he is no longer ambulatory, he still holds class in the facility’s basement. Furthermore, the Catholic U of America Press has published Ossa Latinitatis Sola Ad Mentem Reginaldi Rationemque (The Mere Bones of Latin According to the Thought and System of Reginald), by Reginaldus Thomas Foster and Daniel Patricius McCarthy). The 736-page tome is essentially Foster’s classes from 2010-11. But again, from the article:

The vast majority of students who study Latin study five or fewer authors (Caesar, Cicero, Vergil, Ovid, and Catullus), and take four or more years to see even those five. A select percentage of students may read as many as half a dozen more. But students who studied with Foster in 2011 read what can be found in Ossa: all of those five authors, plus Roger Bacon’s Compendium of Philosophy, Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, the correspondence of Marcus Aurelius with his teacher Fronto, Seneca’s Consolation to Helvia, Raphael’s epitaph, the personal letters of Anselm of Canterbury, the dedicatory plaque of the cathedral of Milwaukee, Boccaccio’s On Famous Women, Tacitus on the Germans, Clement XIV on the suppression of the Jesuits, Kepler’s Commentary on Galileo’s Starry Messenger, Walter of Chatillon’s twelfth-century Satire Against the Curia, Antonius Galateus’s Hermit, Giovanni Pietro Maffei’s sixteenth-century description of China, documents from the Councils of Constance, Trent, Vatican I and II, and dozens more texts by dozens more authors: Livy, Raymond Lull, Ambrose, Bede, John Paul II, Thomas More, Tibullus, Plautus. Foster’s method put back together what language courses generally separate: the experience of learning a language and the cultural value of knowing it.

For years, I’ve cited Chaucer’s Oxford Clerk as my role model: “Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.” I may have to add another name to my list. Read the article — it’s fascinating.

Salve tibi, Reginaldus.

Posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Literature, Medievalia, Why I Do What I Do | 4 Comments

As Part of My Continuing Effort…

… to duck grading (a dozen papers left for the day), I was interested when I read this article from Smithsonian Magazine on the Book of Faces today.

Thieves robbed a  warehouse in London late last month, and escaped with an estimated $2.5 million in rare books, including a Renaissance copy of Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium worth a quarter-million or so. But here’s the cool part — something worthy of a pulp novel:

The rarity of the books would make them incredibly hard to unload on the open market, Cook notes, and investigators theorize that a wealthy collector known as “The Astronomer” may have hired the thieves to steal the books for him.

Man, I hope that person spends a lot of time sitting in a swivel chair, stroking a white Persian cat.

Of course, I’d be remiss at this point not to mention that one of the more celebrated book thefts in recent history took place at one of my undergrad institutions a few years back. But I have an alibi.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Edward G. Pettit.

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In Which the Prof Rawks the Mike, and Other Adventures: Weekend Potpourri

Although we’re a small school, Mondoville fields a ton of athletic squads. For example, during Spring semester, we have teams playing baseball, softball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s golf, women’s lacrosse (and soon we’re adding a men’s team), wrestling, and soon enough, track and field, along with competitive cheer and dance squads. All of this is at a school with fewer than 1200 students, so it isn’t really surprising that sometimes staffing gets worn a little thin.

For example, every once in a while, we have more athletic events on campus than we have people to work the events. This weekend, the athletic department was short a PA announcer for the basketball games this afternoon, so they asked me if I’d fill in. It was kind of them to think of me — I suspect it’s because I tend to show up at a lot of the games, or perhaps because, having done a stint as “faculty guest coach” last year, the move to Press Row seemed natural. (Also, I work cheap — Mrs. M asked if I was going to be paid in nachos from the concession stand.) And it was yet another way to put off grading papers, so I agreed to take the gig, despite the fact that my speech has occasionally been compared to that of the HAL 9000 from 2001.

Yes, we have a coach named Dave. What's your point?

“Open the gym door,                       Mondo!”                            “I’m sorry, Coach. I can’t do that.”

 

So I got to our friendly confines about an hour before the doubleheader was to begin with the women’s game. I looked over the script for the pregame announcements and jotted down the information I needed about the starters (“A six-foot, three-inch center from Glamorgan Vale,  Queensland, Australia…”). I found out that the National Anthem would be sung by one of the team’s redshirt freshpeeps, who happens to be in one of my classes. She was a little nervous, but when I mentioned that I had done it once before, she relaxed a little, and she did a fine job.

When I was a kid, I seem to remember the stadium announcers maintaining at least a facade of neutrality; I’m old enough to remember the “No cheering in the press box” ethos, and it seems that would extend to announcers as well. But O tempora! O mores! — that really isn’t the style anymore, although it might be my natural inclination. The style these days is more cheerleaderish than journalistic, and when in Rome, shoot Roman Candles, say I. So while I introduced the opponents and called their baskets in something approaching my normal conversational voice, Mondoville’s achievements led me to swoopier inflections and a tone that borrowed from Michael Buffer and Kentucky basketball announcer Patrick Whitmer, but which I hope wasn’t clownish.

There was also the matter of trying to spot players and make correct calls. If #10 fouls, how many is that for him? For the team? And if you haven’t got the names and numbers memorized, and you’re checking the rosters, but you don’t want to blather while someone is shooting free throws, and…

Well, it took a little while to get a rhythm down, and I don’t think Buffer or Whitmer have anything to fear from me. Still, I was feeling a bit more relaxed as the afternoon wore on.

One really cool aspect of the day was that this was the final home game of the season, so it was the day in which we recognized our seniors for the last home games of their careers. Because we’re a small school, and because I go to a lot of games, I’ve developed interests in many of these kids, and I felt really honored to verbally escort them onto the court for their farewell performances. In particular, one of today’s seniors — a fan favorite — has been in a couple of my classes over his time here; in fact, I’m teaching him this semester. I’ll admit I got a little choked up for these kids, but maybe a little more when I was announcing this one.

Fortunately, our kids went out on a high note, winning both games by comfortable margins, so the winning streak I started last year continues. And the free hot dogs were nice, so it was worth being a touch hoarse as I walked back home.

***

I’m pleased to report that there will be some action on the authorial front before too terribly long — more details as things develop. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to speaking at a meeting of the local chapter of Sisters in Crime in May. I also got to do a fun interview with Mondoville’s marketing department a few days ago, for an article that will likely appear in the College’s alumni magazine this summer. I’ll let you know if there’s an online edition.

***

On the music scene, the Berries’ gig-a-month streak for 2017 seems to continue, as we’ve added a show at Art Bar for April. Our next show is in a few weeks at the Soundbox Tavern Upstate. We’re also edging toward pre-production for some recording, which should be fun.

***

And since this is a potpourri post, I’ll do my usual thing and close with a bit of music. I’ve mentioned before that I spent the summer after my junior year of high school at Western Kentucky University as part of a special program for high school students that ran in the 1970s and 80s. I greatly value the eight weeks I spent in Bowling Green (and at no time was I massacred.) In any case, the Mad Dog recently recommended this song to me, figuring correctly that it was in my wheelhouse. I had heard of the band before, but hadn’t known that they originally hailed from Bowling Green, KY (although they didn’t succeed until they relocated to London — England, not Kentucky.) This is Cage the Elephant, with “Cold Cold Cold.”

See you soon!

 

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Gig Report: A Dispatch from the Fringe

The Berries were back at Art Bar’s friendly confines last night, for a show billed as “[Real City]’s Fringe Showcase”, and there’s a bit of a story behind that. A couple of months ago, the local alternapaper’s music listings mentioned the band Dr. Roundhouse in a less-than complimentary manner — not because of any particular performative failings, but because the previewer (who plays in another area band) just doesn’t care for their style of music. A bit of a teapot tempest arose, dealing with such issues as conflict-of-interest, the role of local music press in covering local bands, and the ethics of slagging a band in a preview, rather than a review — everyone agreed that if a band gives a bad show, the press should say so, but to blow them off in advance for what boils down to their accessibility seems out of bounds. One of the leading advocates for the Roundhousers was Pig Head Dog’s Bubbles Rubella, who put together a bill of bands that don’t quite fit into Real City’s critical mainstream. As a band that does our odd, 60s-driven kind of thing (and as a band that exists more or less in the no-man’s-land between the Midlands and Upstate, and as a band with members who range in age from mid-20s to 70), the Berries were a natural fit.

We were second on the bill, with the opening slot being occupied by our friends in Turbo Gatto. As ever, they were more fun than a barrel of mandrills, and the newlyweds Kevin (guitar, vox) and Gina (drums) overcame a couple of technical problems to lay their ailurophilic blend of the Stooges, Ramones, and White Stripes on a crowd that lapped it up like fresh cream (see what I did there?) It’s impossible to watch Turbo Gatto without sprouting a big, goofy grin.

After they cleared the stage, we brought our stuff on, and that’s when I discovered that I had left one of my cymbal stands (and the accompanying crash) back home in Mondoville. Fortunately, it’s not one I use very often at all — it’s at the far right of my kit, around the 4:00 position — and since I do most of my playing in the arc from 10 to 1 (with my vocal mike at the 9:00), it wasn’t a big loss.

We did our usual fifteen songs in 45 minutes, debuting a couple of new songs (Joseph’s “Who You Are” and my “Someone Else’s Girlfriend”), and the crowd really seemed to have a good time. In fact, by the time we got back from our post-set offload, we had sold out of our CD stock (which means we have to have some more made — but you can always download the album at our Bandcamp site) and had given away the last of our stickers (which means Justin has to design and print some more.) We even got a few calls for an encore, but since we weren’t the headliners, we didn’t want to step on another band’s time. Besides, best to leave folks wanting more, right? So we got our stuff out to our cars, and as Pig Head Dog was setting up, someone brought us a snare stand we had left behind, and Lex, our guitarist, carried it out to my van. That will be important a paragraph or two from now.

Pig Head Dog was debuting a new bassist, Brian “Juice” Barr (who doubles as a horror writer), and the set was filled with the usual moshing and mayhem, with a tilt toward the punky end of their “scumbag punk metal.” They broke out old favorites like “Emaciated Kim” and a couple of new tunes as well, and it’s cool to see them continuing to grow, while “the new guy” anchors the bottom end. By the set’s end, the band and audience were in a lather, the moshers and fans of hardcore were happy, and the rubber pig mask Bubbles had worn at the beginning of the set was hung up in the ceiling-mounted lighting rig. What else do you need?

At last, it was time for the headliners. But a couple of minutes before they were to start, Festus (the drummer for Pig Head Dog) came up to me and asked if I had somehow wound up with Dr. Roundhouse’s snare stand. (I told you that would matter.) A quick check of my van revealed that in fact, I not only had my Yamaha hardware, but had come into possession of their Tama stand. Oops — things can get confusing at these events. We got the stand back to its rightful owner, and it was time for Dr. Roundhouse to do their thing.

In the meantime, I was going outside to cool down a bit when I heard a couple of voices yell, “Dr. Moore!” I turned around just in time to get big hugs from a couple of former students, who had just happened into the venue without knowing that I had played there that evening. We caught up a little bit — they both seem to be leading interesting, happy lives, and one of them is engaged to a lovely young woman, while my big news from Mondoville is that we at last have a Taco Bell — while Dr. Roundhouse played a tight, groove-heavy set of danceable, bluesy rock. Good thing they had a snare stand — that’s much less dispensable than a spare cymbal. Sorry, guys!

As the set continued, I felt myself beginning to turn into a pumpkin, so I said my goodbyes and made my way back to Mondoville, getting to bed about a quarter past two this morning. So that’s another evening of my rock and roll moonlighting. We’ve got a show up in Simpsonville in a few weeks, and we’ll be back at Art Bar in April. And you know what? If this is the fringe, that’s not a bad place to be.

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QotD: Polarization Edition

I receive Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt newsletter in my e-mail each weekday, and I usually find it an interesting read, even when I’m not entirely on board with his positions. But in today’s edition, I found something that made a great deal of sense to me, to the extent that it’s the QotD.

When I’ve previously argued for Mondo’s Law, the idea that if your politics are bigger than your life, then you’re doing one of them wrong, I’ve been accused of being privileged (a term that I find to be a gimcrack version of Original Sin — an inherent depravity, a condition from which one cannot redeem himself except by accepting the tenets of a particular faith). In today’s Jolt, Geraghty talks a bit about that:

We’ve entered an era where one significant chunk of the American people – the passionate Left – have concluded that the driving force behind those who disagree is pure evil. Some might argue that this has always been the case, and that there are plenty on the right who perceive liberal Americans as pure evil.

[…] Folks on the Left are now arguing whether it’s okay to sucker-punch a Nazi in the face. Come on, now. Laws against assault and battery are there to protect all of us, even those with grotesque or abominable views. Outside of war or self-defense, the only Americans who should be punching Nazis are archeology professors on sabbatical. Once one murderous ideology justifies a sucker-punch without legal consequence, how do we rule out the other ones?

A little while back, Tim Kreider wrote in The Week, “A vote cast for Trump is kind of like a murder; there may be context to consider — a disadvantaged background, extenuating circumstances, understandable motives — but the choice itself is binary and final, irrevocable.” For most of human history, murder was perceived to be the ultimate crime, one of the few that even our compassionate society believed warranted the death penalty. Now we’re comparing the ultimate crime to a vote.

Over the weekend I saw some further social media discussion of the notion that “being apolitical is a privilege.” It’s not merely those who disagree who are being cast in the role of enemies, but even those who fail to care as much.

The easiest way to ensure that there is a violent conflict between Americans of differing political ideologies is to adopt attitudes like these. Blur the line between the genuinely hateful, dangerous groups and run-of-the-mill political disagreements. See anyone who disagrees or who could potentially disagree as a potential personal threat. Conclude that there is nothing redeeming or appealing about someone who disagrees with your politics. Ensure that the portrait of them in your mind is dehumanizing, with nothing worthy of respect. Contend that unprovoked violence against them, like punching them in the face without warning, is a justified response to how they offend you. Finally, adopt an attitude that anyone who is not explicitly with you is against you, just another part of the problem, and in need of reeducation.

We don’t have to go down this path. But to avert this, enough of us have to want to steer onto another one. [Bolding mine — Prof. M.]

To subscribe to Mr. Geraghty’s newsletter, go here.

Posted in Culture, Faith, Politics | 1 Comment