Friday, September 30, 2011


Since I started this blog I often check the lists of holidays, anniversaries and observances for new topics to interest my readers.  In my search for the new and unusual, October comes up trumps. Of all the months of the year, it has the longest list of celebrations.  They range from the sublime and the expected, such as Columbus Day and Halloween, to the ridiculous and really unusual like Babbling Day and National Mole Day.  This last one isn’t about moles on your chin or under your lawn, but is an effort, they say, to increase interest in chemistry by celebrating Avogadro’s number, 6.022141527 × 1023: the mole. An unusual holiday, an unusual number, but has it increased your interest in chemistry? No, I thought not.

The holiday that first got my attention was Mad Hatter Day, which Carnegie Melon University’s website says is to be celebrated on October 6. It’s is an attempt to give the year a second day of silliness, six months later than April Fools’ Day. Why the sixth of October and not the first? Because in Alice in Wonderland, the Hatter has in his huge top hat’s band a label that says “in this Style 10/6” Ten shillings, sixpence.  Someone clever noticed the convoluted connection of dates and madness and took off with it. 

Foodie celebrations are rife this month: angel food cake, apple jack, bologna, brandied fruit, candy corn, cookies, country ham, eggs, frappes, mincemeat (you’d think that would be in December), nuts, pasta, pickled peppers,  pizza (isn’t that every month?), popcorn, pork, pretzels, pumpkin cheesecake, seafood, spinach, and, not in alphabetical order, eew! Moldy Cheese Day. Yes, of course bleu cheese and others are moldy cheeses, but mold, like mole, has unpleasant associations. Added fun for foodies can be found on World Vegetarian Day, the end of Oktoberfest, Cookbook Launch Day and National Dessert Day. 

How ‘bout Babbling Day?  On October 21, it is the day for endless conversation, not a day to be quiet.  There’s little to be found about the origin of this celebration, but it’s sure to be loved by teenagers with cell phones. 

Under the heading “Why Would They?” can be found days like Bald and Free Day, Moment of Frustration Day, International Skeptics Day (are you sure?), Wear Something Gaudy Day, Count Your Buttons Day, and Punk for a Day Day. You can bet your buttons that the guys in this picture are Punks for more than a day. Those are coiffeurs to make the “Saturday at the Salon” set envious. Those hairdos take time and work, and a definite loss of sleeping comfort.

Under the heading “That’s a Nice Idea”, we’ve got International Frugal Fun Day, Sweetest Day, Smile Day, Dictionary Day, Mother-in-Law Day, Family History Day (get the details from your Mother-in-Law), and Make a Difference Day.  In October we celebrate custodial workers, teachers, physicians’ assistants, TV talk show hosts, and the clergy.
There are many observances to make us aware of conditions like depressions, Down’s syndrome, and spina bifida. If you are of Filipino, Italian, German or Polish descent you don’t have to wait for Halloween to have a party.  Just be sure to serve some of the foods on the October list.

There are celebrations and observances for every day, every week, and for the whole month of October – many more than could be included in this piece, which has become something akin to a shopping list.  Some of these should be shared with December and July, the months with the fewest observances.  If I’ve mentioned any holidays that appeal to you I’m sure there’s an ecard you can send for the occasion. 

Monday, September 19, 2011


There are two reasons to celebrate September 28th this year. It’s the 37th anniversary of my wedding. (No gifts, checks to your favorite charity will do!) It is also the 945th anniversary of the arrival in England of William II of Normandy, known to us all, after the ensuing Battle of Hastings, as William the Conqueror. 

My wedding has had little or no effect on the great state of things in general, but the Norman Conquest had an extremely pronounced effect on all of us reading this article. Within a few hundred years of the battle, thanks to the French, the language spoken in England went from being mostly Germanic to one with a heavy mixture of the Romance or Latin languages. The Romans did invade the island in 55 BC, and more or less messed about there for about 450 years, but at that time they left little of their language behind. The subsequent invasions by all sorts of Germanic tribes saw to today’s English being classified as a Germanic language. The Latin of the Romans, along with a lot of Greek, came back to England via the Normans.

Language is fascinating to me. A representative map of just the major languages would have the colors of a small box of crayons. A map of all the languages of the world would have more colors than the paint chip racks at the local hardware store. I wish I knew more than English and a soupçon of French. In my European travels I’ve been able to get along with spoken and written language because of the similarities to the English words. I remember seeing the sign ‘Apotekit’ in Oslo - of course: apothecary – a drug store. I was pleased with myself for that one. I was also humbled when I learned that I was entirely off base with my assumption* that few Norwegians would speak English.  Four of us were standing on a street corner in Stavanger, going through the Norsk:Engelsk dictionary, looking for the translation of ‘battery’ because our Brit friend had forgotten to bring some for his hearing aid.  A Norwegian gentleman tapped one of us on the shoulder and quietly enlightened us: “Don’t worry, they speak English in the shop.” Too true. The study of foreign languages, especially English, French and German, is compulsory in Norway and many other European countries.  

When someone apologizes to me because of their poor English, I always apologize in turn.  After all, they speak my language, but I don’t speak theirs. The world seems to be using more and more English. It has become the default language for air and sea traffic. Though the Chinese are catching up - after all, they do have it over us in population - the highest percentage of internet users speak English. While the teaching of other languages in our schools may be declining, our own language is quickly absorbing new words from all over the world. It’s not the same old Germanic/Latin base it once was. Pity the poor editors of the Oxford English Dictionary - 22,000 pages or so, and increasing every day. From pajamas and khaki, safari and coffee, to gung-ho and feng shui, and origami and karaoke, our language just gets bigger and better.

* Of course you know what ‘assume’ does - it makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me‘

** September 26th - by coincidence, this came up today on Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac": Today is the official European Day of Languages, which is a yearly event begun in 2001 to celebrate human language, encourage language learning, and bring attention to the importance of being multilingual in a polyglot world. On this day, everyone, young or old, is encouraged to take up a language or take special pride in his or her existing language skills.

There are about 225 indigenous languages in Europe, which may sound like a lot but is only 3 percent of the world's total. Children's events, television and radio programs, languages classes and conferences are organized across Europe. In past years, schoolchildren in Croatia created European flags and wrote "Hello" and "I love you" in dozens of tongues while older students sang "Brother John" in German, English, and French. At a German university, a diverse group of volunteer tutors held a 90-minute crash course in half a dozen languages, like a kind of native-tongue speed-dating, groups of participants spending just 15 minutes immersed in each dialect until the room was filled with Hungarian introductions, French Christmas songs, and discussions of Italian football scores.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


‘fI Were King of the Forest…
    …well, I’d never be king of the forest, but ‘fI had some more influence than I do, I’d take the Sun City Carolina Lakes HOA Board to task for not allowing solar panels within the community, South Carolina law not yet requiring they be allowed notwithstanding. This is from the latest HOA Board of Directors meeting (unapproved) minutes:  Discussion was held on whether to allow solar panels within the community if a request should be submitted through the modification committee.  The Design Guidelines deny the panels and there is no legislation within SC that required approval of solar panels at this time.  A motion was made and seconded and voted unanimously not to change the Design Guidelines in regards to solar panels.

Of course, I was not privy to the entire discussion or the thinking behind it, but I can guess that the main reason was that the solar panels might not look too elegant on the community roofs, and prospective buyers might think them a detriment to the area. (There’s no accounting for that kind of thinking, but it does exist.) Fate forfend that SCCL should look at all environmentally friendly. The board being composed of Pulte employees, their vision and version carry the day for now.
I must acknowledge that the Design Guidelines do allow for ground mounted solar panels in the "Private Area", but this option is difficult where sunward position of the house or the small size of the yard would prohibit installation. You could put panels on your patio if is gets the sun, but you'd have little room left out there.

Never mind the meek: the smart will inherit the earth, the boy- and girl-scout types will inherit the earth.  Come the day that a major solar flare aimed right at the earth knocks out all our mod cons, those with a bit of forethought will come out smiling.  Unless the power powers-that-be can detect the flare early enough to shut down world systems, the grids will fry.  Envied will be those who’ve got backup on water and food, or who’ve got suitcase-size solar chargers for their cell phones, iPods, PC’s, batteries, and radios – that is if there’s a worldwide web or a phone system working.  The man who has a generator and the gas to run it will be the man to know.  Were solar panels allowed here at SCCL, the house with them on the roof would be the place to go.  I’m not holding my breath on that one.   

Friday, September 9, 2011


  ...not this fat lady, but read on about    A NIGHT AT THE OPERA 
No, we’re not talking Marx Brothers, we’re talking Puccini, Verdi, Bizet, Wagner – well, not too much Wagner, that’s a bit heavy.  We don’t usually go ‘round humming a tune from Tannhäuser, although the second act is a singing contest.    I remember long-ago Saturday afternoons, listening to Milton Cross present the live broadcast of that day’s production of the Metropolitan Opera.  I think I liked his voice as well as those of the singers.  This month marks the opening of the new season at the Metropolitan Opera. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be there?

Did you know that over these last decades many of our favorite popular tunes have been politely borrowed from the world of opera?   And many of opera’s popular tunes were originally borrowed from what were then popular tunes.  The music goes round and round.

For years, British Airways has used the music of the “Flower Song” from Delibes’s “Lakmé” as their theme. Nissan’s uses the “Ride of the Valkyries” from “Die Walküre”, yes, by Wagner.  The music for “Stranger in Paradise” and other songs in “Kismet” came from Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor”. For Jackie Wilson’s “Night” the music came from Saint-Saëns’s “Samson and Delilah”. Don’t be put off by some of the long titles of opera pieces: they’re usually just the first few words of the song.  That piece from “Samson and Delilah” is titled “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix,” and means “My heart opens at your voice.” You needn’t remember the title – just appreciate the music. There are many more examples, but then this article would be a list of songs, not an appreciation of opera.

My husband doesn’t want to sit through or even hear an entire opera, but his favorite listening is collections of popular opera favorites. He's worn out the LP of Pavarotti's Greatest Hits, and we were lucky to replace it with a CD.  I love the opera, and can sit through one just to hear the music and watch the production, the same as with a Broadway show. 

“Porgy and Bess” is the best of both. I must admit that I’m happier seeing a show because the dialogue is spoken. Dialog is usually sung in opera, and it’s generally in a language I don’t understand. It helps to know the story line. Though they can be distracting, today there are subtitles on TV opera airings, and surtitles running on a box over the stage for the theater-goers.  At the Met they even offer “Met Titles”, electronic devices mounted on the seat in front to show you the translations. 

Though there are several comic operas, most operas are dramas and their music can be very moving.  The opera “Norma”, for example, is no “My Fair Lady”. Norma has a secret lover by whom she has two children that, in her despair, she is about to kill. What with one thing and another, Norma dies with her lover on a flaming pyre. I’ve never seen that staged. Not too light, is it? Yet one piece from it, “Casta diva,” was one of the most popular tunes of its day

One of our neighbors doesn’t like all those screaming ladies in the opera, and I can’t blame him much. Out of context and just heard in snatches, it can be quite unappealing. Today, many opera newbies would consider “Casta diva” a screamer, and I’d think them right if I didn’t appreciate the power in a voice like that of Maria Callas.  Hearing a recording of her singing that aria, or “Suicidio” from “La Gioconda”, will either give you chills or send you, screaming yourself, right out of the building. 

Larger-than-life characters with wonderful voices, like that of Callas, sustained opera. In recent decades, singers like Luciano Pavarotti helped to popularize it.  He was about as colorful and large a character as was ever seen in the world of opera. Thanks to him and others like Plácido Domingo, or Beverly Sills, who brought acting to opera, there is a wider audience today. New listeners have come to appreciate the great range of opera music from light, lyrical pieces like “The Bell Song” from “Lakmé”, one of my favorites, to beautiful duets and stirring pieces like the “Anvil Chorus” from “Il Trovatore”. 


From other disciplines, people like movie producer and director Franco Zeffirelli have brought modern staging, design, and costuming to update many of the classic operas. Opera, once found outside of the great cities only on the radio, has blossomed in productions all over the country.  It’s regularly offered on television and it can be seen live, in HD, in hundreds of movie theaters.  Near us, a series of eleven works, live from the Metropolitan Opera, will be shown in Charlotte at the Stonecrest 22 at Piper Glen. You can check it all on line at 

Try it, you might just like it.