But They Matched at Home: Musician World Problems

Spotlights are wonderful things if you are an audience member. They are dreadful if you are a performer. They are hot. They blind you. And perhaps worse, they reveal that your black jacket and black slacks do not match. Or your black blouse and skirt. Awkward!

It’s a bit of a joke—OK more than a bit—among the goth and related communities that you need to make certain that your blacks all match. Anyone who has tried to pair up green and green, or green and a few other colors, know that not all shades play well together. Green seems to be infamous for that, although I have seen shades of red that clashed in unpleasant ways. But black should be black, and so what if one has a little more blue and the other is a tad bit greener? In a dark club, at night, no one will notice. Right? Glamor goths seem a bit more concerned about this than are others, but you can be unpleasantly surprised that some combinations collide.

For classical musicians, and others under spotlights or sunlight, clashing blacks become very evident. For several years, I noted that a certain gentleman in a local orchestra had a bluish-black tailcoat but greenish-black slacks. The stage lights made it obvious, and brought out the clashing secondary hues. Last year he got new slacks, and the problem went away. I suspect that the coat was made of wool, and the trousers of cotton or wool-blend, leading to the problem. Different materials plus different dyes causes different shades of the same dominant color.

When everyone else’s blacks match, you don’t want to stand out. For that reason, I am very careful to make certain that my black blouses and black skirts match before chorus concerts, or are close enough that no one notices any difference. All are cotton. The skirts are twill, the blouses are a plain weave, and both are slightly bluer than “pure black.” It works. For performances with the symphony, I have a dress. It is all cotton and all the same material, so I do not have to worry about the painfully bright stage lighting making me look odd.

Black and green seem the hardest to match, or to get to blend well. For years, my wardrobe was black, khaki, blue, and one pair of green-brown slacks. A friend teased me about being Mennonite, because my colors were so plain and my style so modest. But everything worked together, and as long as I didn’t wear a blue shirt with the green-brown pants. I had no problems. Other than matching my blacks. My plumage has grown a bit more colorful since then (white dresses for summer church, a few true purple or cool purple-rose turtlenecks), but 90% of it is interchangeable. Yes, I do get dressed in the dark, fairly often. I don’t like sartorial surprises.

However, last week, I got out my black “I’m faculty” long-sleeve, official issue tee shirt and tried matching it with black corduroy pants. Not happening. The shirt had too much green in it for the black pants. The combination was unattractive. However, very, very dark hunter green with a black undertone? Perfect!

Yep, goth/musician-world problems. The struggle is real! 😉

Red Lights, Rules, and the Running Of

So, I have gotten used to people running red lights in the early and late hours of the day, when traffic isn’t as heavy as at other times, and the law-enforcement presence is muted. In fact, on my route to Day Job, there’s one county road intersection (with stop lights and turn arrows) that I just assume will be run, often flagrantly. Indeed, on a daily basis, people race through north-bound, not even on a “stale green.” Sometimes the left turn light has been green for a while and they still blast through. Thus far no one has been hurt or killed *taps wood*, because those of us who travel the path anticipate the running of the light. But some day . . .

In other aspects of life and driving, I’m seeing similar disregard for the law. Rolling stops when people used to halt fully. More aggressive driving, less patience, more cutting off of other drivers. Less patience in the grocery store, or on the phone. Fewer people smile at strangers, or check to se if anyone is nearby before moving and thus causing a minor collision or thump. On a larger scale, civic organizations and places of worship are seeing less participation, at least in the larger towns. Fortunately, the recent spate of small disasters (only four houses lost, only hundreds of miles of fence burned, only a few tons of hay and forage burned to ashes, only two firefighters badly hurt. Only . . .) has generated the usual wave of assistance and kindness. There but for the grace of a wind-shift, and so on.

I suspect part of the problem comes from the past two years. Governments and well-meaning other organizations encouraged isolation, shifting to on-line presence, and discouraged participation in civic life. Or perhaps I should say “civil life,” because the little rubbing against each other that trains us into civility and politeness was suspended. Add to that the appearance of “rules for you but not for us” or “rules for you but not for them,” and a feeling seems to have seeped into life that, “if it won’t hurt anyone, why follow the law?” So lights are run, stop-signs ignored, polite greetings brushed off, doors not held, eye contact and handshakes not made.

Those are relatively minor (or will be until someone hits someone else at 55 MPH at 0630 AM). The greater sense of “rules can be ignored because those people get to ignore them” is poison. The US is based on the idea of the Rule of Law, that all are equal under the law, and that red lights apply to the mayor as well as to the school bus and the family car. When the Authorities ignore the rules, or apply them selectively, then everyone else looks at “pointless” and “petty” rules and ignores them as well. Or when rules are created that cannot, and will not, be obeyed, other more important statutes get flouted. Even Newton’s Laws, which, alas, often leads to fatal results for more than just the initial offender.

The decline in civility and civil (in all senses of the word) discourse happened so fast. Two years, and things have changed. I suspect that the change was in progress, but concealed, at least around here. The pattern of decay was not so obvious. Two years of abnormality, and of increasingly flagrant disregard for the concept that “all men are created equal” in the eyes of both G-d and the Law brought the pattern into the open.

Or perhaps it just seems like a pattern. One of my talents is finding patterns and seeing how pieces of the past fit together. I could be seeing patterns that only exist in my own mind, or even just in my own region.

I Think It Needs a Transfusion . . .

because it’s bleeding all over the place!

How to stage a murder scene in your bathroom or laundry room. Take one red, floral print cotton blouse, acquired on clearance. Add warm water and anti-allergy soap. Stir vigorously in the bathroom sink, using hands to squeeze warm water and soap into blouse. Stare at water as Moses and Aaron stage a reenactment of messing with the Nile. Brilliant crimson soapy water now fills the sink. Surprise!

Interestingly enough the Red family has had a problem with crimson clothing going back several decades. Sib had a shirt that never, ever stopped shedding color in the wash, even after a score of washes on cold. It always went in with the blue jeans and other really dark colors, and woe betide any sock or pair of pale underwear that somehow slipped into the load. It emerged pink. I tend to assume that red colored garments will shed dye until proven otherwise. Although . . . the “winner” is still a green dress.

Back in the late 1990s-early 2000s, rayon skirts and dresses from Asia became trendy. The skirts replaced broomstick skirts (which I had loved) with a lighter version that didn’t need re-pleating after each wash. The skirts had a few flaws, flammability being one major flaw. The other was that the dyes used weren’t always colorfast. So, I bought a very dark green rayon dress at a local western store in Flat State. Since it was rayon and imported, and because I’ve had raw green fabric bleed a little dye in the past, I opted to wash it with cold water in the bathtub.

To make an interesting half hour short, when I finished, I had a white-grey rayon dress. Whoever had dyed the material had used no fixative at all. None. Nada. All the dye went down the drain. No, I couldn’t get my money back, either. And the “call with questions” line led to someone with a strong Hindi accent who was less than helpful. I’m not sure he understood the problem, or why it was a problem.

The pink and red blouse, after one wash and three rinses with warm, stopped bleeding. It looks quite nice. I’m just glad it didn’t go into the washing machine with MomRed’s pastel blouses and slacks, though!

Why Are You Fussing?

My knee, the bad one, started fussing at me last week.

Me: What’s your problem?

Joint: Don’t you remember?

Me: I mean besides what happened [redacted] years ago. You haven’t ached like this for a couple of years.

Joint: [loud pop, then sigh] Remember what happened three weeks ago? The car door?

Me: [looks at still-technicolor, still-tender bruise on side of leg, just below knee] Yes. But that shouldn’t be a problem.

Joint: It is now! He, he, he. [maniacal giggles]

At least all it does is ache constantly, thus far. *taps wood* It doesn’t seem weaker, just “tired” and sore, like when there’s a major temperature change and I’m tense and cold and fatigued all at the same time.

Oh well. As long as it is only the usual places hurting in the usual ways, I’m in decent shape, really.

Book Review: Garden Variety

Hoenig, John. Garden Variety: The American Tomato From Corporate to Heirloom. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2018) Hardcover.

We all know that there are only two things that money cannot buy, per country music. Those are true love and homegrown tomatoes. Most of us have probably grumbled about the visually perfect and rather bland super-‘mater that is found in grocery stores in January, and many of us have sighed and sweated over trying to raise our own tomatoes in pots, or in gardens. And then felt overwhelmed by the produce overload that is known as August-September (in much of the US). Tomatoes are argued over, debated, immortalized in song, have a folk history, and serve as a powerful symbol of the problems of mass-grown corporate agricultural produce. But what if that story is a lot more complicated that most activists think? Enter John Hoenig and his fun book, Garden Variety.

Hoenig starts about 200 years ago, looking at the slow rise in popularity of tomatoes, and the problem of preserving them. You can’t easily dry, smoke, salt, or otherwise store tomatoes. Potatoes, corn [maize], turnips, squash, cabbage, beans, all can be easily kept for the long duration of winter, but tomatoes were a seasonal luxury until canning came along. Ketchups of mushrooms, then tomatoes, and sauces came first because of the limits of technology. Those limits also led to the creation of lots of regional canneries, each using local produce and serving a limited area. In those places where immigrants and others introduced new diets, like the Italians in the late 1800s, tomatoes became a luxury, then a necessity. To have the first tomato of the season brought a lot of money to farmers, and so cold-frame-grown tomatoes appeared, or tomatoes shipped by rail. However, most tomatoes ended up in cans, either at home or through the local cannery.

WWI and especially the Great Depression and WWII led to the explosion of both canned tomato products and the super-cannery. Standardized foods, like canned diced tomatoes, tomato paste, Ro-Tel™ tomatoes-n-peppers, and canned meals grew in popularity. The wars absorbed almost all the tomato products that Heinz and others made, forcing gardeners to can at home. With the shift in the economy and changing leisure-time interests, home canning faded for a while. That shift also led to the end of the bracero and other farm-labor programs. This is where the “industrial tomato” arose, when labor shortages in the 1960s forced growers to finally take interest in a mechanical harvester. Said harvester needed sturdier tomatoes, leading to the modern industrial hybrids.

Most histories of food in the US turn here, following the rise in mass-consumption and the “blanding” of the American diet as corporations came to dominate agri-business. However, Hoenig takes a different track, and points out how a combination of “back-to-the-land,” “gourmet,” and “traditionalists,” led to the resurgence in farmers’ markets and heirloom local tomatoes. Yes, most packaged produce still comes from big farms and corporations. However, the local tomato didn’t wither on the vine, and in fact old-breed varieties grew in popularity, as did farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This complicates the story of “corporate food.”

The book is shorter than it seems, because of the extensive end-notes and bibliography. It is not academic, for all that it is written as an academic monograph. Hoenig aims the work at interested readers, people who might know a little about farm history, or gardening, or food history, and who want to learn more. There are no bad guys, no super-heroes, unlike some books about farming and agri-business in the US. The story never strays from the tomato. I got the sense that Hoenig is not entirely comfortable with the giant corporations that dominate supermarket shelves, and the environmental problems associated with monocrop farming. Those topics are not his focus, however, and he steers clear of the shoals of polemic. I suspect a lot of us share his concerns, and are interested in buying local and supporting more variety in ag when we can.

I highly recommend this book for readers interested in the history of food in the US, in farming and mechanization, and in quirky histories about produce.

FTC Notice: I purchased this book with my own funds, and received no remuneration or consideration from either the author or publisher for this review.

This Product Sold by Volume, Not by Word

Yes, I’m paraphrasing that delightful thing you find on boxes of crackers and bags of chips, “This product sold by weight, not by volume, some settling may have occurred during shipping.” The phrase that is supposed to explain where all your chips or crackers disappeared to, since the box looks only 3/4 full.

In this case, the product was a book, a fantasy novel, sold by a major fiction publisher. The volume is a slim 119 pages, of relatively large type, with a short afterwords. The book costs over $20 US. I picked it up because the cover looked interesting, and it seemed to be the sort of story I like to read. Alas, the jacket copy un-sold the book, and the price sent both my blood pressure and my eyebrows rising sky high. The phrase “highway robbery” may have come to mind.

Have I paid that sort of price for a book that small? Yes. Academic non-fiction over a very, very specialized topic, with an additional 60 pages of footnotes and research notes, and appendices. It was worth the price, to me. I have spent similar sums on German books, or Hungarian, because I build that into by travel budget and I know that books cost a lot in Europe. I’ve never regretted buying a book over there. I have regretted not buying a title. So I allow for book purchases and overweight luggage (or shipping). These are not every-day purchases. The fantasy book? Too much for what you get, even if it were something that interested me.

I know Anne McCaffrey sold two or three novellas, with full color illustrations, for a relative high price each. The illustrations, quality of writing, and not-as-high-as-this price made me willing to save my pennies and either get them, or check them out of the library to see if they were worth the cost, and then buy them.

This does not have illustrations, and seems to have fewer words than the McCaffrey stories did. The cost/benefit doesn’t match. No, thank you.

Yes, I’m a Pedant

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (1992 film) It was very useful for the Lone Hunter’s story, and is a bit different from most Dracula movie scores. However, it had been a while since I’d seen the film, and I didn’t remember all the details, so I went on-line. And remembered why I never finished watching the movie.

I’d hit a wall of disbelief very early on, and had quit. The film depends on a massive theological error in order to make the plot work, and I couldn’t get past that. Now, I re-read the plot, shake my head, and my writer brain kicks in. How could that error become a legit plot point, without making the huge blunders?

OK, I realize that asking Hollywood to get medieval Catholic or Orthodox theology correct is . . . a stretch. However, it could be done. To summarize, in the film Vlad III Tepes is told by a priest that his wife is damned past any hope of salvation because she committed suicide to avoid being captured by the Ottomans*. Vlad loses his temper, to put it mildly, trashes the chapel, and stabs a cross with his sword, swearing that he’ll avenge his wife’s death if he has to draw on the powers of H-ll to do it.

Here’s where I hit the wall. The priest was wrong, at least if you read the Summa Theologica. Suicide was indeed considered one of the fast-tracks to damnation, with a very few exceptions. One of those exceptions was if the person committed suicide to avoid rape. I’m not as conversant with Orthodox theology of the time, but I’ve read that they too had a similar exception. This isn’t the place to argue over theology, but that movie bit was such a blatant error that . . . Yeah. That and that it was Vlad desecrating a painting and the cross*, NOT desecrating a consecrated Host, that damned him as well.

So, here’s where the writer brain kicked in. What if . . . the priest had deliberately lied to Dracula? Why would a priest do that? What if he was in the pay of one of Vlad’s many enemies, and they wanted Vlad out of the picture? What if there was some sort of magical protection tied to being in good standing with the Church, and the priest (who was forsworn, or being blackmailed, or . . .) took the opportunity to push Vlad to the breaking point? Vlad is excommunicate, he loses the shield of faith, and his enemies swoop in. Except he’s a better magic worker than they realize, and he casts a desperation revenge spell that . . . leads to the rest of the movie. And the priest gets what’s coming to him later on, but repents before he dies.

See, that would work, it wouldn’t make me throw things at the screen, and you only add a few elements to the film. But that’s my writer brain, and my having read parts of the Summa and other things. And it would move farther away from Bram Stoker’s book, so Hollywood wouldn’t really be interested.

Edited to add: OK, gang, now I’ve got a mental image of Deborah being all sweet and asking her slightly long-toothed grandfather, “Bunicot, where do Hunters come from?” And Arthur looking thoughtful and saying, “Well, Little One, the tale as it was told to me begins a very long time ago . . . “

*Or out of love when she is told in error that Dracula is dead. Which could still work – again, the corrupted priest or another traitor setting up the situation where Dracula renounces the church and . . .

**OK, I can sort of see the director’s choice here, because Bram Stoker said that using Hosts to deny a vampire access to his resting place was OK, and Van Helsing would have been in as big of a religious mess as Dracula if the director had been consistent. Personally, a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with silver and a few other things would be higher on my list of “things I need to get rid of a vampire.”

Just Give Me a Master Caution, OK?

DadRed’s car has too many lights. Far too many lights. I can’t tell what is “car is about to die” important and what is “Hi, I see you are driving. Would you like to use my template?” If Microsoft’s un-lamented Clippy was a car, it would appear on the dash of this vehicle.

When everything has a chime, horn, indicator, or light, the driver (or pilot) develops information overload. Like an electrical circuit, this leads to load shedding. What is important? Or what looks most important? That gets my attention. Ideally, this is the road, the mirrors, and then the speedometer and so on. In reality? whatever is orange or red and flashes catches my eye. Even if it is only a report that the speed limit on this bit of road is now 45. This is not helpful.

Apparently, car people don’t talk to airplane people. Aeronautical engineers have already learned that pilots tune out warnings that sound too often, or too early. Minor alerts should not be large, red, and flashing, or people get conditioned to ignore large, red, flashing lights. Too many similar sounding warnings causes the same problem. We ignore the honking. This leads to the (in)famous “Why didn’t you hear the Tower telling you that your landing gear was still up?”

“I couldn’t hear the radio over the warning horn, sir.” Which the pilot ignored, because it always sounded when he did this, this, and that. Since he had to do those things every time he landed, well, you know what happened.

My pickup has a master caution. Alas, it also only tells you what needs attention once, when you start the car. Thereafter the light stays on, and you might not be sure if this is “change the oil” or “gas cap is dangling” or “pull over because you have no oil and the engine is about to lock.” Give me a dedicated engine-things light, please, or a secondary things-of-pending-need light. Or just trust me that I know when to change my oil.

SIGH. Car people have not learned. The cluttered display gets ignored. DadRed’s car, at one point during a normal drive, had twelve different alerts, indicators, and other things on the main instrument panel, plus the speedometer and the gas-efficiency indicator. No tach, no oil pressure, no engine temp. You know, the important things. Toss in the secondary computer display, and gadzooks, there are too many lights.

Different Time, Different Minds

It’s hard to get a modern mind into a late medieval or even early-modern mindset. Especially for Americans (and Canadians as well, I suspect), our philosophical and cultural world is so very different from that of the late 1400s-1700 that it’s a wrench. Reading lots of documents and accounts from the time helps, a little, but those are often “official” and rather tidier than the average mental world of the run-of-the-mill soldier, sailor, traveler, or businessman. It takes work, and digging, and a deliberate effort to set aside what we know and to accept the framework of Back Then. And even so, it is an imperfect fit at best, because we lack some of the ingrained culture, the part of the iceberg deeply submerged.

I was thinking about this for a couple of reasons. One, I discovered that some of my students have had certain language patterns ingrained in them, to the point that they don’t see why using a certain term makes zero sense in the context of what they are discussing. Two, it’s the annual “Europeans are horrible murdering conquers who were incompetent as well” furor. Three, working on the Merchant books requires me to put on a different mental “costume” of sorts and to force myself into a world that often collides with my own. [As an aside, Arthur has one foot in that world, which might explain a little of why he is so draining to write as a POV character.] It is a mental world where survival comes first, where casual violence is the normal state of things, not the exception, where death is an everyday reality, where women are very important but not equals, and where life is hard and short. Tarno Halson is just over thirty. If you saw him in person, you’d think he was older because of how he moves and his outlook on life.

So when I read the accounts of people like Columbus, and Bernal Diaz, or descriptions of the Thirty Years War, the world of Ivan IV (the Terrible) as written by people of the time, it can jar and jar hard. I think something that sums up far too much of the Thirty Years War (and warfare into the modern day, outside of Europe and the Anglo-Sphere) is the statue of the soldier and the woman that is one of the plates in Geoffrey Parker’s book about the Seventeenth Century. I’m not going to describe it, other than to say that it is an amazingly well done depiction of something horrible about to happen. But someone commissioned the sculpture, and kept it, and valued it. That, right there, makes me pause and wonder about mental worlds. But I do delve into that world, because if I’m going to come anywhere close to understanding what makes people do things, and how other minds see things, I need to try. It can be entertaining, and amazing, and terrifying. Sort of like making myself think through blood-and-soil nationalism. I understand it, I can explain it, I can even write it as a point of view, but it itches and doesn’t fit.

Our world isn’t that of back then. Our rational scientific answers for “why” would sound as strange to Columbus, or Hugo Groetius, as miasma theory and the need to balance humors, or the casta system of the Hispanic colonies sounds to us. Back then, they had reasons based on observation and extrapolation that made good sense, even if they weren’t correct. Today, we do the same. Some things that were morally wrong in the early-modern world are just fine today, and things we condemn today were accepted as normal. And some things were excessive for both of us. The conquistadors were most certainly not saints. After 700 years of warfare, then crossing the Atlantic looking for riches and glory, well, saints are going to be very, very unusual. You know things had to be horrific when even Cortez wrote that what his allies did to the last Aztec defenders was appalling. So I’m not surprised that the Spanish, Portuguese, and others acted the way they did. Disappointed, perhaps, but not overwhelmed with surprise. So Charlemagne had multiple wives and official (and unofficial) lady friends. As did Charles V, at least the lady-friends part. Um, they were powerful men with lots of money (OK, Charles had some budgeting difficulties. Moving right along . . .) What do you expect? I’d hope for better, but *shrugs*

The point being, when we demonize people from the past for not having our modern sensibilities, we’re demonizing ourselves. When we elevate one group in the past as the pure, innocent victims, and make the others into horrible monsters who should have known better, we warp the story and strip the humanity from both groups. Most Native Americans/First Nations/whatever we choose to call them were not saintly, environmentally perfect Children of the Earth. They enslaved, massacred, loved, dreamed, murdered, seduced, fought, and were people. Likewise the Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, and everyone else. We are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. That’s an amazing – and humbling – inheritance. Warts and all.