I was a Downton Abbey virgin

expect a sequel

downton abbeyWhen Downton Abbey was on our PBS television station a few years back, my wife discovered it about halfway through the first season. Eventually, she watched the whole series. I supported this, nay, stoked it, as I purchased each season on DVD.

Heck, I bought her Christmas At Downton Abbey music CD back in 2014, which is pleasant enough. (Note to self, for this holiday season…)

However, I never actually WATCHED the show. I might walk through the room while she was viewing it, but not enough to know the names of the characters, let alone their relationships. Peculiar too, because I did see a bit of Upstairs, Downstairs back in the 1970s, which Downton broadly resembles.

I saw the trailer for the movie repeatedly. This is no spoiler: the king is coming to Downton! After catching a number of television interviews with the actors, it allowed me to think I might just go see the film.

My wife had the day off from school for Yom Kippur, so we went to see the second matinee showing at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. By then we knew it had done well enough to warrant a sequel.

I liked the movie, actually. More than occasionally, I was unclear who was related to whom, but it mattered little. Unsurprisingly, I found the “downstairs” people much more relatable. I rooted for them in the major plot point about them collectively.

Almost every time Maggie Smith, who is the Countess of Grantham, had a line, or dialogue was spoken to her, I laughed. But I LOVED Carson (Jim Carter) who came out of retirement to help with the house. The anti-royalist sentiment also intrigued me.

Still, I should note my wife’s reaction. She’s been watching the series all of these years, after all. As the credits rolled, she said, “it was yummy.”

It occurred to me that the Downton Abbey series was probably a soap opera. I don’t mean that pejoratively. When I was watching Grey’s Anatomy recently and she was in the next room, she said, perhaps snarkily, “It sounds like a soap opera.” We all have our own sudsers, I suppose.

October rambling: direct the whirlwind

Washington can’t be trusted

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The family trekked to Kennebunk and Kennebunkport ME the first weekend in October 2019. We got to pass through four states – NY, MA, NH, ME – in less than five hours. Twice in three days.

We went to a nice little museum, with a historical house. When it was in danger of closing in 2011, President George H.W. Bush offered to have some of his memorabilia be collected in one large room of the museum. This saved the day. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Bushes, but this was a kind and decent offer.


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Mark Evanier has decided that until djt leaves office — and maybe even after — he “will feature one story each day about what he’s doing to The World, America, The Rule of Law, The Dignity of the Executive Branch and himself. He, of course, is concerned only with the last of these.”

His capitulation to Erdogan destroys U.S. credibility; by abandoning America’s Kurdish partners in Syria, the White House has sent a message to allies everywhere that Washington can’t be trusted. It’s just him being himself.

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O for either Ontario or Ohio

neither Cleveland or Cincinnati is the largest city in Ohio

OntarioO. was not uncommon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for either Ontario or Ohio. An assumption of intranational context was often the only disambiguating factor in that era.”

OH Ohio, a state in the Midwest US, often not abbreviated at all. Capital and largest city: Columbus. The dominance of Columbus is relatively recent, which is why there are major league baseball and football teams in Cleveland and Cincinnati. Ohio has the only state flag that is not rectangular.

I’ve been to Cleveland twice, in 1998 and 2016, both times visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

During the 2016 trip, we also went to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton and the Olin International Family Reunion in Ashtabula. On our way back from Indiana in the summer of 2019, we stopped to eat in Ashtabula County.

The previous reunion

ON Ontario, a province in Canada, sometimes abbreviated Ont. Capital and largest city: Toronto, which is the largest city in the country. The capital of Canada, Ottawa, is also in Ontario.

I have been to Niagara Falls several times. The family made a loop around Lake Ontario in 2011 and visited Toronto for a few days. Our ultimate destination was the Olin International Family Reunion in Petersborough.

in 1998, my friend Sarah and I got gasoline in Windsor, right across from Detroit, MI, because it was cheaper in Canada at the time.

OK Oklahoma, a state in South Central US, historically abbreviated Okla. Capital and largest city: Oklahoma City. I wrote about the state in 2013. as I noted, I’ve only been to Oklahoma once and it was brief.

I had been to a Texas Small Business Development Center conference in Galveston in 1996. Then I took a short trip by plane from Houston, TX to Norman, OK and had a meeting with statewide representatives. It was in a non-descript hotel, which could have been ANYWHERE.

Of course, Oklahoma was the home of the late, great blogger Dustbury.

OR Oregon, a state in the Pacific Northwest of the US, traditionally abbreviated Ore. or Oreg. Capital: Salem. Largest city: Portland. I have a vague recollection of the Oregon Treaty of 1846.

O is for ABC Wednesday

Halloween 1978 with Sid and Shirley

makeup debacle

I have no recollection of any Halloween costume I wore as a child. If there were pictures, I’ve not seen them for years, if at all.

Perhaps there were a couple of times I think I dressed up in college, but they’re lost on me as well. The year I turned 25, in 1978, I remember, perhaps because there was a picture.

My girlfriend Susan had a friend who was having “a Halloween costume party. I’m not sure that I had any costume ideas, but Susan did, and when she suggested, I embraced it. (Or so I remember.)

“I had a beard and a mustache at the time, so I shaved them. Then Susan and a couple of her friends made me up. We found a dress in a second-hand store, a wig and shoes from somewhere, and we went to the party, she as ‘Sid’ and me as ‘Shirley.’

“I affected a high pitched voice, but frankly, I figured that people would know it was me. After all, I was still a six-foot black person. Much to my shock and amazement, no one recognized me! Well, not until later in the evening, when my ‘five o’clock shadow’ starred to appear.

“The Halloween of 1978 inspired me to dress up for several years thereafter, though never again in drag.” I have pictures that I need to scan. My favorite was a skull mask, a wizard’s hat, and my college graduation robe. There’s a picture with me leaning on a car, reading the New York Daily News comics section.

Another involved a Frankenstein mask, beret, and a seersucker jacket. I’m sure I bought both masks from FantaCo, where I worked. Boy, were they warm.

My daughter did Halloween for a few years, often utilizing dance outfits she wore when she studied ballet. I was not inspired to dress up as I took her house to house.


Still, I relate to the sentiment of my buddy SamuraiFrog: “This is my favorite time of year, but it always brings with it the disappointment of seeing some of my fellow Halloween lovers being total hypocrites.

“Seriously, if you’re a person who starts visibly celebrating Halloween in August, don’t turn around and attempt to dampen anyone else’s spirits just because they start getting excited about Christmas in November or October. Don’t try to make people feel bad about being excited about something you’re not, you selfish prick.”

Makeup debacle

I know it wasn’t for Halloween, but Justin Trudeau’s brownface debacle seems seasonably appropriate for discussion. TIME magazine obtained a photo of Canada’s prime minister at an ‘Arabian Nights’-themed party at a private school where he was teaching in 2001.

In response to the photo surfacing, Trudeau apologized for his actions, agreed that the photo is racist, and said it “was a dumb thing to do.”

There have been many debacles, for Halloween and otherwise, about blackface. Megyn Kelly, who’s only about 14 months older than Trudeau, ended up off her NBC News show for suggesting that blackface on October 31 was no big deal where she grew up in upstate New York. But Virginia governor Ralph Northam is still in office.

On a hopefully less problematic topic, here are Halloween costumes on Pinterest. Also, 29 Best Halloween Events Near You, From Festivals to Costume Contests.

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles

stories by Sholem Aleichem

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles is a documentary about the making of the Broadway production, and the subsequent movie called… yes, you guessed it. Fiddler on the Roof is one of my Top 5 favorite musicals, so when the story about it hit the Spectrum Theatre, my wife my daughter and I had to see it.

It is really good.

The narrative contains several strands. How do you take stories by Sholem Aleichem of Tevye (the Dairyman) and his Daughters and turn them into a compelling musical narrative? “He wrote in Yiddish between 1894 and 1914 about Jewish life in a village in… Imperial Russia at the turn of the 20th century.”

Earlier iterations had been staged: a play in Yiddish in 1919 was made into a movie in the 1930s. An off-Broadway production, Tevye and his Daughters, was created in the late 1950s.
How would this time be more commercially successful?

Watching the process between Jerry Bock, who wrote the music, and lyricist Sheldon Harnick was fascinating. Jerry would send Sheldon music snippets on reel-to-reel tape, and Sheldon would say some of them fit perfectly.

I was really glad to see the late Hal Prince, who was the producer and who brought in director/choreographer Jerome Robbins. Prince’s death was so late in the filming process that the death notice was clearly tacked in early in the opening credits. Robbins and the writers came up with the musical’s title, based on paintings by Marc Chagal.

Still, it was a struggle. Zero Mostel, who played Tevye, fought with Robbins. Other cast and crew also had issues with the director. Yet Prince thought Robbins’ contributions were worth the grief.

Once the classic opening number “Tradition” was created, the narrative began to solidify. Still, the out-of-town tryouts in Detroit weren’t successful, in large part because of a too upbeat penultimate number, When Messiah Comes, that was thankfully cut.

Ultimately, Fiddler shows the universality of the musical, which plays well in Thailand and with New York City black schoolkids, in Japanese, and in Yiddish. The documentary uses interviews with participants of recent productions, plus archival footage, in telling the story. Fiddler on the Roof is certainly a story about oppression and optimism. Is it also a feminist tale? One can make that case.

The documentary, which the last time I checked had 100% ratings from both the critics and the fans on Rotten Tomatoes, is recommended.