Sunday, September 28, 2014

Berowne's 239 Quiz

(Also for ABC Wednesday: "L" is for "Laura")

I’ll call her Laura.

(Though that was definitely not her name.)

The thing to know about her is that she had everything.

Especially money.  Huge amounts of the happy cabbage.  If she wanted something, she bought it.  She couldn’t think of any good reason not to.

You might be surprised to learn that Laura rarely visited the houses of the top fashion designers; instead, those top designers came to her place. 

And the place she lived in was too much.  An incredible house; the word “mansion” is inadequate to describe it.

Naturally she had a staff of gourmet chefs routinely turning out masterpieces of l’art culinaire.  She could have, had she so desired, a complete meal of nothing but fabulous desserts.  But the trouble is, when life itself is nothing but desserts there’s a fly in the crème caramel: it gets boring.

She knew, vaguely, that there was such a thing as poor people, and she had even heard that such types strongly resented her and her profligate ways.  But she didn’t allow it to bother her too much. What was important for her was that her existence was getting monotonous.

So she had a great idea.

She was tired of her sumptuous lifestyle, tired of opulence – it was all artificial.  She wanted to live real life, the way real people lived.  She believed that farmers and peasants and such were happily enjoying a more authentic existence close to the earth.

Well, as we mentioned earlier, when she wanted something she bought it.  So she decided to buy real life. 

She had architects design a bucolic farmhouse, saturated with rusticity, on her property.  She had top designers create simple peasant costumes for her. 

She had a small private meadowland with a lake, a nearby grotto and a stream that turned a huge mill wheel.  There was no mill; the turning wheel was just for show.

Laura went whole-hog – yes, she had some of those too because she had farm animals brought in.  She enjoyed milking the cows, carrying her Sevres porcelain milk-pail with her.

You might think all this could endear her to the general population, but the opposite was the case.  Poor folks heard about her bucolic adventures and thought she was mocking their wretched existence.  Her remark about brioche was probably never made. 

A few facts.  Fact number one, her name wasn’t Laura (but you knew that).  Fact number two, who was she?

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

238 Quiz Answer

Birnam Wood, a forest near Birnam in Perthshire, Scotland. In Shakespeare's play 'Macbeth', Macbeth is told that he will only be defeated when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. Later, his enemy's army comes through Birnam Wood and each soldier cuts a large branch to hide himself, so that when the army moves on it looks as if the wood is moving.

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday:"K" is for "Karma")

I wrote the following more or less adequate scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a well-known play.  What play?

I call it the big R.

That’s for Remembering.

And that’s what I try to avoid because it belongs to the dim borderlines of the past; it implicates me in what I have done. Instead, I think of now. I think of my new life.

Living in a castle now.  Just imagine.

Such style.  Such elegance.  In a way I feel almost like a parasite, living in a castle and forgetting all about the big R, the Remembering.  It’s my wonderful new life.  It's karma.

The problem is, anyone can take a castle. So let me assure you: this is more. It’s a fortress.

And a fortress is – what is the word I want? Unassailable? Impregnable? Yes, that’s it! Impregnable! Safe. Secure.

That’s what I thought. That’s what I believed. Until...

The day came that I glanced out toward the horizon, as I do every day. I saw nothing. Nothing different. There are trees out there, masses of them, not much else.

Then the Thing happened. The thing happened that could not happen.

In the long twisted history of man, in the explosive millenia since humankind first emerged from that alluvial mud, surely such a thing has never before taken place.

All those trees, they - began to move!

They moved toward me!

I thought for a while that my mind too was in a state of collapse. Hallucination, illusion, surely that must be it! But my mind was not broken; it was clear. I had thought, I had cerebration, I had reason. I could see and understand what was happening.

Even though it could not be happening.

But there they were, all those trees moving as one body, progressing slowly but inexorably toward me.

However, I was in my impregnable fortress.  Safe.


The answer will be posted Saturday.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

237 Quiz Answer

“High Hopes”
Just what makes that little old ant
Think he'll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can't
Move a rubber tree plant
But he's got high hopes
He's got high hopes
He's got high apple pie
In the sky hopes
So any time you're gettin' low
'Stead of lettin' go, just remember that ant
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant

(Also for ABC Wednesday: "J" is for "Japery")
Chairman: Our next speaker is Berowne, the noted scholar-philosopher and Professor of Insect Analytics at U.L.A., the University of Lower Alabama.

He will speak today on his favorite topic: “Our Friends the Insects.”

Berowne: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  People often ask me, why did you get so interested in insects?

Well, the answer is simple: they’re fascinating.  For one thing, they’ve been around a long time; it is estimated a hundred thirty million years or so.

It’s natural to be interested in creatures that were spoiling picnics a hundred and thirty million years ago. 

I refer to them as formicidae, and they include wasps, ants and bees.   Let’s examine one of these small beasts carefully.  Could I have the first slide, please?

You’ll notice his remarkably thin waist.  I understand this comes from the situp exercises he performs almost every day.

Pay special attention to his antennae; they are elbowed.  Think of it.  He has elbows on his antennae.  Scientists to this day do not understand the purpose of this; possibly he isn’t too sure of it himself.  

Next come the mandibles, lower down, which allow him to chomp away at just about everything.  It’s the male of the species who has mandibles; the female has womandibles.


These creatures are capable of carrying many times their own weight, though complaining all the while.  Scientifically speaking, they are animals who are eu-social, which means they like to live with, hang out with, others of their kind.

We, you and I, are also animals who are eu-social; we like to hang out with others, though not so much with formicidae.  

Now.  To deftly change the subject, let’s say you’ve been working for the same corporation for the past thirty years – seems like seventy, doesn’t it? – and you’ve retired. 

In previous years the company would give a gold watch to a retiree, but the economy being what it is they instead decided to give you this:  

It wasn’t a gold watch but that’s okay because it looked great in your living-room.

It never occurred to you that your friends the insects might cause a problem.  You were sure that tiny formicidae would never be able to harm such a huge plant.

Well, you were wrong. J              

While reading the foregoing japery, you may possibly have been reminded of a popular song of a few decades ago.

What was the song?                                          

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Berowne's 236

(Also for ABC Wednesday: "I" is for "International")

Men cluster to me like moths around a flame
And if their wings burn, I know I'm not to blame

Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can't help it.

Love's always been my game
Play it how I may
I was made that way
Can't help it.

That was Marlene’s song, her signature song.

She had been a Berlin showgirl, struggling to make something of herself, and all she had achieved in the thirties was a position in a vaudeville group named “The Girl Kabarett,” when she hit it big in a movie.

Marlene – surely you don’t really need the last name – starred in the internationally successful film “The Blue Angel,” the story of a cabaret singer who pretty well destroys a respectable school teacher, and Hollywood called: Come on over and do some of that for us.

But she was German, and it was the thirties, and the Nazis were in power, so she did what you might expect.

Except she actually did what you might never have expected.  Marlene Dietrich was strongly anti-Nazi right from the beginning.  She came to the U S and became an American citizen.  She wrote:

In “Blue Angel,” she sang the song she became known by.  It became “Falling in Love Again,” in America, but her version went like this.

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt

I am from head to toe with love involved.

 Denn das ist meine Welt.
Und sonst gar nichts.

That’s about my world; there’s not much else.

Das ist, was soll ich machen,
Meine Natur

That is, no matter what I do, my nature.

During the war Marlene traveled everywhere, selling war bonds like crazy, visiting wounded American soldiers and so on.  She was an international star and she had traveled a long way from a tiny part in the vaudeville group “The Girl Kabarett.”

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Berowne's 235

(Also for ABC Wednesday: "H" is for "Hearst")
I’ll begin this with an apology: Sorry, Marion!

Now, to get on with my post, if you go back to when Berowne was a little kid – and that’s going way back – there came a time when my family decided to do something adventurous.

We decided to visit Santa Monica.

There were, of course, no freeways in Southern California in those days.  Santa Monica was quite a trip from where we lived in Los Angeles, and you made it with little winding roads.  It was like driving to a different state. 

I remember my mother pointing out to me a huge residence on the beach there.  “That’s Marion Davies’ place,” she said. 

I was a more or less innocent tyke at the time; I had heard of the early film star but I was completely unaware that she was the mistress of William Randolph Hearst or that the famous newspaper magnate had built this incredible “beach cottage” for her. 
Incredible it was: a massive three-story Georgian mansion with thirty-four bedrooms and three guest houses.  In it Davies and Hearst threw some of the most elaborate social functions Hollywood had ever seen.

When Hearst had met the 19-year-old Marion Davies she was a dancer; he fell madly in love with her and he wanted to turn her into a film actress and, ultimately, make her a great star.  And he had the power to tell the studios what to do.

Movie-goers would see Marion’s pictures, but they often suspected that she was in a given film because Hearst had put her there; she didn’t get there by herself.

As I’m sure you know, the motion picture “Citizen Kane,” produced in 1941 by Orson Welles, told the story of a power-mad character named Kane who greatly resembled Hearst.

In addition, the film shows Kane meeting a performer, an attractive young girl, and how he tries to take over her career.

The girl is a mediocre singer, but Kane decides he will turn her into a star – not just a talented singer of songs but an international star of grand opera.  It’s hopeless and the girl knows it, but Kane persists.

The movie audiences usually assumed this was not just the story of Hearst but also of his petite amie, the actress of dubious talent named Marion Davies.
But over the years there has been a reevaluation, a new, closer look at the actress.  It is now clear that the fictional girl in “Citizen Kane” wasn’t like Marion at all.  Commentaters and critics have studied the body of her work and have come to the conclusion that Marion Davies was indeed a fine actress and, especially, a gifted comedienne.

Hearst wanted her to perform in filmed epics, classic costume dramas, but what she wanted, what she was good at, was romantic comedy.  His patronage turned out to do more harm than good for her career.

I have to admit I used to be one of those who felt that Marion Davies was a performer of slight talent.  But I later checked out a few of her best films and I certainly changed my mind, so I’ll take this opportunity to offer her an apology.

(A bit late, I know; she died in 1961.)    

Sunday, August 24, 2014

234 Quiz Answer

In the book of Genesis, Jacob lived in the land of Canaan.  When Jacob’s son Joseph was seventeen years old, he took care of the sheep with his brothers.  Jacob loved Joseph more than he did any of his other sons, because Joseph was born after Jacob was very old. Jacob had given Joseph a fancy coat to show that he was his favorite son, and so Joseph’s brothers hated him and would not be friendly to him.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "G" is for "Genesis")

I wrote the following scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a well-known story from the Bible.  Which story?

“So it seems you didn’t really get along well with your family, especially not with your brothers.”

“Right; there was a lot of squabbling going on.”

“Evidently one of the reasons was, you had some new clothes - a special jacket, a very colorful coat - and the rest of the family was jealous.”

“Hey, man, I was a teenager, I had to have some special threads!  Naturally the other kids were jealous; they knew the old man liked me better than any of ‘em.”

“So somehow they managed to get you sent off to work.”

“In a way I was glad to get away from them – all the jealousy and backbiting and whatever.  I was hired by an export-import outfit.  I thought it’d be something to have a job and some money and be able to do my own things.”

“But I gather the job wasn’t all that great.”

“No, it was god-awful.  It was a kind of death, a lot of boring stuff dealing with accounting and bills of lading and ten-hour days – and the salary!  That was a shock.  It was so little it was as though they thought I was a slave.”

“What did you do – quit?”

“No, I just put the old brain to work and came up with a plan.  I would perform my job real good and the boss would soon see he had hired somebody special.  I could then move right on up in the export-import business.”

“How’d that work out?”

“Actually, great.   I moved up to head of the department and before too long I was made the boss’s right-hand man.  And I began making some real dough.”

“Sounds like a good situation.  But it seems something bad happened?”

“Right.  And the something bad that happened was the boss’s wife.  I realize I’m not the one who’s supposed to say it, but fact is, there was this good-looking young dude around the place and she began to get ideas.”

“Oh, that could be trouble.”

“And it was.  I wanted to have nothing to do with her; she was the boss’s wife, for God’s sake.  I didn’t want any entanglement, nothing that would get me fired.”

“So what happened?”

“She was sore because I wasn’t interested in any of her reindeer games so she set out to get me.  She was heartless, accused me of doing all kinds of stuff – none of it true – and she managed to get me tossed into the slammer.”

“Incredible.  Yet obviously you managed to get out. “

“Yeah.  I just had to put the old brain to work again.  But that’s pretty well been the story of my life, one humongous problem after another.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Berowne's 233

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "F" is for France)

Here’s another in the series titled “Berowne’s Mediocre Adventures.”

A few decades ago I was working as a film-maker and I received a wonderful assignment: to make a brief movie on Paris.

One item I certainly wanted in the film was some special footage of the famous Place de la Concorde, known, surely, to every tourist.

This place is possibly the most beautiful public square in what generations have claimed is the most beautiful city in the world.

It wasn’t always beautiful.  A few centuries ago it was called the Place de la Revolution.  The unfortunate French king had to mount the stairs to keep his appointment with Mme la Guillotine...

And the executioner impulsively showed the result of his work to the cheering crowd.  The equally unfortunate Marie Antoinette had to make the same trip.

But “concorde” suggests reconciliation, so no one gets beheaded there these days. 

At one end of the famous public square was a building I found fascinating.  It was the National Assembly, home of the French Parliament, and if I could get up there on top of it I would be able to get sensational footage of the entire Place de la Concorde.

However, I was told that no commercial photographer or cameraman had ever been given that permission.  They told me in the French version of our phrase, “Fuggedaboutit.”

But I persisted.  I emphasized that I was no commercial photog or paparazzo; I was working for the French Government Tourist Office.

Ergo, or ipso facto, or whatever, I was one of them; we were all working for the same boss, the gouvernement of France.

But there seemed to be some morose person in that building who was sure, once I got up on top, I’d whip out a home-made bomb and blow the whole place to the French equivalent of smithereens.

It took quite a while, but finally the word came through that, okay, even though they didn’t think it was a great idea, they’d give me the permission.

They assigned me two gendarmes, a sparse quasi-military unit that was to make sure I wouldn’t pull any funny stuff. 

The two cops were prepared for this assignment as though it was a platoon of Wehrmacht troops they were supposed to watch over.  They each had a mitrailleuse – machine gun – hung from a sling over the shoulder. You have not experienced the thrill of movie-making until you try to shoot a film with two machine guns pointed at you.

Anyway, I set up my tripod and camera and went to work.  Looking through the viewfinder I saw a beautiful sunlit view of the entire Place de la Concorde.  I got medium shots, wide angles, closeups, the works.

When I notified my two chaperons I was finished, I thought they seemed a bit disappointed that I hadn’t done anything unacceptable that would have allowed them to use their popguns.

The sequence later proved an important part of the finished film, a featurette titled “One Man’s Paris.”  The movie was distributed by Universal-International and I was proud to invite the entire staff of the French Gov’t Tourist Office in New York to see it playing at the Palace Theater on Broadway. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

232 Quiz Answer

 Don't forget, before the American Revolution we Americans were British.  And that includes the British colonel mentioned in this post, whose name was (drum roll) George Washington!

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday; "E" is for "epic")
Who was this British soldier?

Speaking of history – (which nobody was) – I’ve always been interested in the conflict known as the French and Indian War, because it seemed to me that it wasn’t covered much in school.

Way back decades before the American Revolution, a large portion of the American continent belonged to the British but a much larger portion belonged to the French.

In fact, the French possessed two to three times as much American land as the British.

So there was – what else? – a war.

The French, who had Indians on their side, built a great fort in what they regarded as the center of the American continent: Fort Duquesne.

They thought of it as the center because it was where three major rivers got together.  Fort Duquesne was built right smack on what is now, in a more mercenary age, downtown Pittsburgh.

The British fought the French and Indian War successfully.  It was a large part of the reason why the French decided to cash in their chips and check out.  They left their vast territory east of the Mississippi, and their even vaster territory west, to the British.  The French influence was pretty well eradicated in those areas.
The end result of that war was the beginning of modern America.

The French and Indian War started as a sort of local war story, but it turned into an epic; numbers of countries in Europe were involved in the squeamish fight, a massive international conflict that came to be known as the Seven Years’ War.

But to get back to our French and our Indians, here’s what always interested me about that struggle. One of the most important people involved was a young red-coated British lieutenant-colonel, who led his British red-coat troops when fighting in that war.


Here’s a picture of that British colonel, proudly wearing the red-coat uniform in which he had served his monarch, King George.  He certainly played an important part in the formation of modern America.

What was his name?

(The answer will be posted Friday)


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