Rabbit Holes, Barrow Mounds, and Biblio-Burros: Does no one care about scholarly rigour anymore?

A casual reading of Guglielmo Spirito’s “The Legends of the Trojan War in J.R.R. Tolkien”1 sent me down a polyramified rabbit hole the other day, questing for attribution, a bugbear of mine I’ve touched on before (see also the Tom Stoppard footnote below). Spirito begins his paper with a long quote from Alberto Manguel’s Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey: A Biography, which I will repeat here:


In 1990, the Colombian Ministry of Culture set up a system of itinerant libraries to take books to the inhabitants of distant rural regions. For this purpose, carrier book bags with capacious pockets were transported on donkey’s backs up into the jungle and the sierra. Here the books were left for several weeks in the hands of a teacher or village elder who became, de facto, the librarian in charge. Most of the books were technical works, agricultural handbooks and the like, but a few literary works were also included. According to one librarian, the books were always safely accounted for. ‘I know of a single instance in which a book was not returned’, she said. ‘We had taken, along with the usual practical titles, a Spanish translation of the Iliad. When the time came to exchange the book, the villagers refused to give it back. We decided to make them a present of it, but asked them why they wished to keep that particular title. They explained that Homer’s story reflected their own: it told of a wartorn country in which mad gods mix with men and women who never know exactly what the fighting is about, or when they will be happy, or why they will be killed.’2

Interesting, I thought. And, where did this marvelous story originate? I pulled from my shelf my copy of Manguel’s book and looked at the footnote: ““Mucho más que libros”, Semana, 4 June 2001, Bogotá”. Okay, I thought. Easy enough in these internet days for a guy who’s just off a plague year project of translating Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño. I’ll ask Alexa. . . .

How odd: The Semana article is about a celebration of the opening of Bogotá’s new library network, and, there’s Manguel in the first sentence as a special guest. But nothing about donkey’s carrying copies of The Iliad to the eagerly waiting poor people of rural Colombia. I’ll skip over most of my thrashing about in this rabbit hole to say I’m not the first to question Manguel’s story of The Iliad in Colombia, but I haven’t come across anyone else who has noticed the simple editorial mistake that led me through so many convoluted bunny tunnels. César Domínguez, in “Literatura mundial en biblioburro. Un caso procomún de circulación literaria”3 referring to an almost identical telling of the donkey/Iliad story in Manguel’s The Library at Night,4 makes clear that Manguel is wrong in attributing the creation of the donkey libraries to the Ministry of Culture – they were, in fact the invention of a single individual volunteering his time and donkeys (p. 125). And Domínguez further points out that there is little evidence for Manguel’s claim that a Spanish translation of the Iliad was the only book that villagers refused to return. In fact, Luis Soriano, the young man who founded the “Biblioburro” program, acknowledges that a number of volumes have gone missing from the itinerant library’s collection, but The Iliad doesn’t seem to be one of those (p. 127).

What’s going on here? Well, the fact that Manguel reuses the anecdote is no black mark on his name: as Tom Stoppard remarked in an interview with Ronald Hayman in 1974 and published in 1977 and again in 1978 “If it’s worth using once, it’s worth using twice.”5 But how did Manguel get things wrong about the Ministry’s involvement. And where did the idea of the loss of The Iliad come from? Well, I think the answer to the first lies in the nature of celebratory gatherings such as the one at which Manguel was an honoured guest: somebody at the Ministry claimed more credit than the Ministry deserved, it got printed in Semana, and Manguel accepted the claim. As for the Iliad claim, when Manguel tells the story in The Library at Night, he gives two footnotes, one, sourcing the description of the program and the Ministerial contributions (Semana) and one sourcing the story of the loss of The Iliad (“Personal interview, Bogotá, 25 May, 2001.”)

So, Manguel accepted people’s word for things and forgot to make a note of the names of the people who gave him his information. And forgot to move one of the footnotes over when he cut and pasted the story from one book to another. Oh, and, somehow he managed to include in The Library at Night a photo of Luis Soriano, the volunteer creator of Colombia’s itinerant library system, with his burros loaded up with books. And the photo is captioned “One of the ‘donkey-libraries’ of the Colombian rural areas.” (p. 232). No hint that this man and these two donkeys were the actual font of all the learning that Manguel was describing.

Does it matter? Certainly I learned a great deal down the rabbit hole Manguel left for me with his mildly sloppy yet very simple clerical work. But I would prefer that he had, if not guided me down the path, at least shown me the gate and not turned the thing into a mystery story. And it would have been nice if Manguel had given Soriano the credit he deserved.  And maybe I should have quoted the Spanish references here, guiding you down the path, rather than just giving rather full references in the notes for those who wish to go through those particular gates . . . .

I started by referencing a paper about Tolkien and I should bring things full circle. Last night I started reading Deborah Sabo’s “Archaeology and the Sense of History in J.R.R. Tolkien’ s Middle-Earth”,6 and was struck by this little bit:

Encounters with ruins are found in the earliest expressions of English literature, so it is not surprising that J.R.R. Tolkien would also include such scenes in his own fiction. For example, the dragon’s lair in Beowulf is a chambered tomb (Keillor and Piggott 360–61), the Old English elegiac poem The Ruin describes a Roman town (Mitchell 131), and in Tolkien’s own translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the green chapel is a barrow mound(79).7

“. . . in Tolkien’s own translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the green chapel is a barrow mound”. This wasn’t a deep rabbit hole. Sabo provides the page number (79) so it’s easy to check out Tolkien’s translation. Indeed he does describe the Green Chapel as a barrow mound. But anybody who actually looks at the original Middle English poem will see that the 15th Century poet described it in those very terms. So, Tolkien was being a good translator. But Sabo’s description makes it seem like the barrow mound description is something uniquely Tolkien’s: the dragon’s lair as chambered tomb is of Beowulf; The Ruin “describes a Roman town”; but,  “ the green chapel is a barrow mound” in Tolkien’s translation [uniquely?]. I can’t help suspecting that Sabo didn’t bother looking at the Middle English, which is sad, because it would have been such a simple and obvious thing to do.

Sone, a lyttel on a launde, a lawe as hit were;
A balȝ berȝ bi a bonke þe brymme bysyde,
Bi a forȝ of a flode þat ferked þare;
Þe borne blubred þerinne as hit boyled hade.
Þe knyȝt kachez his caple, and com to þe lawe,
Liȝtez doun luflyly, and at a lynde tachez
Þe rayne and his riche with a roȝe braunche.
Þenne he boȝez to þe berȝe, aboute hit he walkez,
Debatande with hymself quat hit be myȝt.
Hit hade a hole on þe ende and on ayþer syde,
And ouergrowen with gresse in glodes aywhere,
And al watz holȝ inwith, nobot an olde caue,
Or a creuisse of an olde cragge, he couþe hit noȝt deme
with spelle.8

1Guglielmo Spirito, “The Legends of the Trojan War in J.R.R. Tolkien”, Hither Shore 6 (2009) pp.182-200.

2  Manguel, Alberto. Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey: A Biography, Vancouver 2007, p. 6.

3 Domínguez, César. “Literatura mundial en biblioburro. Un caso procomún de circulación literaria”. Gesine Miller, Jorge J. Locane, and Benjamin Loy, eds. Remapping World Literature, pp. 119-130.

4 Manguel, Alberto. The Library at Night. United Kingdom, Yale University Press, 2007, pp. 229-30.

5 This was another very deep rabbit hole. In the interest of providing the reference absolutely no one in the world who quotes this Stoppard quip seems to be aware of: page 2.

And here’s a really complete reference:

Tom Stoppard

Contemporary playwrights

H.E.B. paperback contemporary playwrights series

Heinemann Educational Books Paperback: Contemporary playwrights series

Author Ronald Hayman


Publisher Pearson Education, 1978

ISBN 0435184415, 9780435184414

Length 146 pages

6 Deborah Sabo, “Archaeology and the Sense of History in J.R.R. Tolkien’ s Middle-Earth”, Mythlore 26:1/2 Fall/Winter 2007, pp. 91-112.

7 p. 91.

8 Tolkien, J.R.R., and E. V. Gordon, eds. Sir Gawain & The Green Knight. Oxford, 1960. pp.67.

Haggis-filled Baked Perogies

Burns Night is a little different this year — no big gatherings due to the pandemic, of course.  But also, there seems to be even more of a desire among the momentary Scots to take part somehow in a tribute and a toast to the Immortal Memory.  As my part I’ll share one of my family’s favourite little Scots/Slavic fusion recipes, Baked Perogies stuffed with Haggis accompanied by a Laphroaig Cream Sauce.

I’ll not bother with a recipe for the Haggis — I could never do better than that readily available year-round at Old Country Sausage House here in Edmonton.  About half a pound suits this recipe nicely.

The Perogies

2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 lb lard
1 tsp salt
2 tsp instant dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1/2 lb haggis

Combine the flour, lard, salt, yeast and sugar with a pastry cutter.

In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and the sour cream.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir and then knead for five or ten minutes.

Set the dough aside in a cool place for a few hours or overnight in the fridge.

With a rolling pin or pasta press roll the dough to about 1/8th of inch thickness. With a three inch diameter cookie cutter or glass, cut out rounds of the dough.

Place about a teaspoon of haggis in the centre of each round, brush the perimeter of the round with egg wash and seal the perogies into a crescent shape.

Brush the top of each perogy with egg wash and bake in a 375° oven for 12 minutes or so.

The Sauce

15 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 good helpings of Laphroaig
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
salt and pepper
juice of half a lemon

Heat the cream. Add mustard and laphroaig and whisk. Turn the heat up and simmer for a few minutes, whisking. Season with salt and pepper and add the chives and lemon juice.

Ideally, serve everything warm from the oven and the range, but it all can certainly be made ahead and reheated. The cream sauce may be served poured over the perogies or as a dipping sauce if you wish.

The Merry Widow Fizz

In my post about The Helen Twelvetrees Cocktail I suggested that later I would dig up more on The Merry Widow Fizz mentioned by Kurt Vonnegut in The Sirens of Titan. Well, now it’s later and here’s what I’ve found by searching through cocktail books on hand. Yes, a google search would have been easier, but never near as enjoyable.

Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book, the obvious place to start a search for old drink recipes, pretty much begins and ends the search for the Merry Widow, but without the Fizz. On page 104 of the 1930 edition, Craddock gives us:


2 Dashes Pernod.
2 Dashes Angostura Bitters.
2 Dashes Bénédictine.
1/2 French Vermouth.
1/2 Dry Gin.
Stir well and strain into cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel on top.

Doesn’t sound to bad at all!

But . . .

Oscar Haimo’s The Barmen’s Bible (originally published in 1943, but I have the 1977 revised edition) lists this on page 69:


1 oz. Dry Vermouth
1 3/4 ox. Byrrh. Stir with Ice & Strain. Twist of Lemon Peel.

Also sounds interesting, if you an get your hands on a bottle of Byrrh.

And then we have Fred Powell’s 1971 (1979 reprint) The Bartender’s Standard Manual, p. 56 which adds even more confusion:


1 jigger Cherry Brandy
1 jigger Maraschino

Shake with ice. Serve with Cherry

That one just seems more than a little heavy on the Cherry!

And then page 95 of the “Sixty-First Edition, New and Revised” of the Mr. Boston Deluxe Official Bartender’s Guide (1981) cuts through a bit of the confusion by adding numbers to the names:


1 1/4 oz. Old Mr. Boston Dry Gin
1 1/4 oz. Dry Vermouth
1/2 teaspoon Benedictine
1/2 teaspoon Absinthe Substitute
1 dash Orange Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Add twist of lemon peel.

This is, of course, Craddock’s recipe with Orange Bitters replacing Angostura.


1 1/4 oz. Maraschino
1 1/4 oz. Old Mr. Boston Wild Cherry Flavoured Brandy
Stir with ice and strain into cocktail glass. Serve with a cherry.

And that’s a repeat of Powell’s cherry bomb of a drink.

But, still no Fizz. . .

. . . until we look just a little further along page 95 of the Mr. Boston Deluxe Official Bartender’s Guide:


Juice 1/2 Orange
Juice 1/2 Lemon
1 Egg White
1 teaspoon Powdered Sugar
1 1/2 oz. Old Mr. Boston Sloe Gin
Shake with ice and strain into highball glass with two cubes ice. Fill with carbonated water and stir.

Something totally different from the various Merry Widow Cocktails, not simply in being a Fizz, but also in every one of its ingredients.  So, at the end of the Merry Widow Fizz search, we are left with what is basically a spiked, bubbly orangeade, and a few new cocktail recipes to try!

The Helen Twelvetrees: or how an old cocktail let me witness ignorant pompous snobbery in the Edmonton beverage world


The internet has become a wonderful resource for readers. When I was young, I enjoyed referring to Benet’s The Reader’s Encyclopedia and often found myself going down a rabbit hole of interlinked entries, much as one can become lost in a digital reverie when researching online.

A few years ago, while rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan, I came across a passage that The Reader’s Encyclopedia could never help elucidate, and at that time, even the Google helped me very little. This was just at the beginning of the latest Cocktail Renaissance and the web was not yet overwhelmed with cocktail recipes obscure and old and new.

Here’s the passage that stirred my interest:

The hotel’s small cocktail lounge was known as the Hear Ye Room.
    In the Hear Ye Room were three people — a bartender and two customers. The two customers were a thin woman and a fat man — both seemingly old. Nobody in the Wilburhampton had ever seen them before, but it already seemed as though they had been sitting in the Hear Ye Room for years. Their protective coloration was perfect, for they looked half-timbered and broken-backed and thatched and little-windowed, too.
     They claimed to be pensioned-off teachers from the same high school in the Middle West. The fat man introduced himself as George M. Helmholtz, a former bandmaster. The thin woman introduced herself as Roberta Wiley, a former teacher of algebra.
     They had obviously discovered the consolations of alcohol and cynicism late in life. They never ordered the same drink twice, were avid to know what was in this bottle and what was in that one — to know what a golden dawn punch was, and a Helen Twelvetrees, and a plui d’or, and a merry widow fizz.
     The bartender knew they weren’t alcoholics. He was familiar with the type, and loved the type: they were simply two Saturday Evening Post characters at the end of the road.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., The Sirens of Titan, p.86-87. (in my 1988 Dell Paperback edition)

Sometime earlier I had developed a little fantasy of boarding a cruise ship for nowhere with a stack of all fourteen volumes of Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories. I would sit in the topmost lounge in a comfy chair, reading. And each time Mr. Bond ordered a drink in the book, I would ask the bartender to arrange the same drink for me. And for breakfast every day I would have “green figs, yogurt, and coffee, very black” just like Mr. Bond in From Russia, with Love.

So naturally, when I read about Mr. Helmholtz’ and Ms. Wiley’s interest in the cocktails they were being served, I became interested in the cocktails they were being served. I did manage to find the Golden Dawn, which is still a favourite of mine, and the Plui d’Or, whose Kummel threw me off a little, and I still haven’t dug up the Merry Widow Fizz, but I think I might (later on tonight).

The Helen Twelvetrees, another continuing favourite, will be my focus here.

I won’t go on about the life and career of the name-sake Hollywood actor, now sadly largely forgotten. You should look up Helen Twelvetrees yourself. I’ll just offer the recipe and then a little story about a shopping trip for one of the ingredients.

The Helen Twelvetrees

Combine in a cocktail shaker

one part Gordon’s London Dry Gin
one part pineapple juice
a few dashes of Parfait Amour (I like Marie Brizard)
lots of ice

Shake like the wind in the leaves of twelve trees.

Serve in a pretty cocktail glass.

The Helen Twelvetrees is a different, wonderfully refreshing, disturbingly approachable cocktail that is very handy to have in any home or professional bartender’s repertoire.

Of course, gin and pineapple juice have been readily available for decades in any season in all civilised parts of the world. Parfait Amour, however, has not always been so easy to find. It was, of course, a staple of sophisticated Western Canadian high school students’ Blue Mondays in the 1970s, but it seemed to vanish from our stores sometime before the turn of the millennium, only becoming something like common again quite recently. So, when I went shopping for the final ingredient needed to fully appreciate The Sirens of Titan, I figured I better go to one of the high-end, trendy, boutique sellers downtown for this relatively obscure part of a classic but forgotten cocktail.

I walked in. I looked around. A gentleman asked if he could help me. I indicated what I sought. The gentleman’s nose rose to the ceiling and he said dismissively “Oh. We wouldn’t have something like that!” and walked away. So I walked away, too.

I suppose I could have said something, although, I’m not sure what I could say.  “Actually, I’m a scholar researching a classic cocktail mentioned in a classic piece of American Literature and I was hoping that an establishment as sophisticated as this one pretends to be would have some of the materials required for my research or at least would offer to bring such materials in if such were available.” Maybe I should have said it. But I left and found my Parfait Amour somewhere a little less pretentious, a little less pompous, a little less snobby, and perhaps a little less ignorant. I don’t think I’ve darkened the door of that high-end, trendy, boutique booze seller downtown since that afternoon.

And, despite my peremptory dismissal that afternoon, somehow, among all the stuff I’ve come to do, I have come to quietly act as anonymous consultant to the cocktail menu designer of a certain somewhat trendy restaurant group downtown.

Goodbye Blue Monday!

The Witch of Edmonton: A Cocktail

This is a little trifle in the martini family that I came up with as a bit of a special Edmonton thing. The name, of course, comes from the title of the Elizabethan Play

I won’t tell a big story, just straight to the recipe:

To a cocktail shaker add

3 parts Strathcona Spirits Barrel-Aged Gin
1/2 part Liquore Strega
1/2 ml Token Calder Chai Bitters
lots of ice.

Shake vigorously.
Pour into a martini glass.
Garnish with a Belice olive from The Italian Centre Shop.

And . . .

Enjoy . . .

. . . with your familiar.

“Lost in That Dream”: Some thoughts on Audrey Alexandra Brown’s “Laodamia” and a few associated poems.

Forþon biþ eorla gehwam æftercweþendra
lof lifgendra lastworda betst . . .
— The Seafarer, ll. 72-3

Audrey Alexandra Brown is a poet unjustly neglected. I certainly had never heard of her until I found, in a rural Alberta antique store, a first edition of her somewhat surprisingly titled collection A Dryad in Nanaimo. (It is from this 1931 copy from Macmillan that all quotations below come.) When her collection appeared, she had the praise and support of (male) powerhouses of the Canadian poetry scene. The poet Duncan Campbell Scott (today remembered for his work in the civil service rather than for his fine poetry) promoted her work. Pelham Edgar — literary scholar, major force behind the creation of the Canadian Writers’ Foundation, and powerful influence on Northrop Frye — wrote the preface to A Dryad in Nanaimo and in that preface gave particular high praise to her poem “Laodamia”: “one of the most beautiful decorative narrative poems that has come out of America”. What Edgar did not mention is that with “Laodamia” Brown was going toe-to-toe and head-to-head with William Wordsworth, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom.

Brown won the match by a knockout.

But first a few notes on the first three poems of Brown’s collection. After a longer discussion of “Laodamia”, I’ll leave the rest of Brown’s poems for you to discover on your own.

A Dryad in Naniamo opens with the poem which gives the collection its title. “A Dryad in Nanaimo”, the poem, is an appreciation of the landscape with only the briefest of nods to the history of the landscape. The focus is on a single maple tree and the spirit of that maple, the Dryad of the title. I can’t help but think that the Dryad is the poet’s shy vision of herself, having learned that she was herself reserved and uncomfortable in company. There is such bitter-sweetness in the powerful acknowledgement of both the seasonal mortality of the leaves and the ultimate mortality of the tree, and of the dryad herself. The poem is most definitely a meditation on mutability with all the vivid power of Ovid but far greater gravity than the Roman usually managed to achieve. Although Brown’s classic style would not suit our sadly narrow post-modern attitudes, and the absolute lack of mention of the pre-Contact population of the landscape would offend our modern drive for Acknowledgment, “The Dryad in Nanaimo” remains a moving and powerful expression of a love of place and a love of the spirit of Nature, an expression that is very much relevant to our world today. It is unfortunate that our own prejudices will likely keep “A Dryad in Nanaimo” in obscurity, sadly lost as her maple tree was also doomed to be.

“The Reed” at first seems a bit light and frothy, but it soon becomes a pleasant meditation on inspiration and the muses. And the pastoral land of Arcady is described as “the shepherdess-land” which is an interesting feminization of a land traditionally dominated by shepherds.

“Diana” is a fine classical piece. But “This is not Greece” and “Pan is dead” she writes. A melancholy, elegiac farewell to the lost world of gods and men.

With the opening three pieces, Brown has set an elegiac tone that to my mind sets her work apart from the English Augustans she in some ways so resembles. Brown is not so much celebrating the Classical world of order and duty. Yes, Brown is fond of the richness of that lost world, but she has no illusions that it is a world that is not lost. Brown is clearly looking at the real world around her, the real landscape of Vancouver Island, the real trees outside her window. She is using and remaking old forms and old symbols to talk about the real, modern, everyday world around her. “Laodamia” is the story of a war widow in a land distant from war receiving the messenger carrying her husband’s death notice, the story of so many young women just a decade before Brown wrote her poem. And it is in “Laodamia” that Brown most fully fuses the classical forms and symbols with her everyday reality. And it is in “Laodamia” that Brown writes poetry that transcends literary pigeon-holes such as Augustan, Classical, Romantic, Victorian, Modern, Post-Modern, Keatsian, or “decorative narrative”, and achieves something as timeless as anything human can be.

If you read English, but, like Shakespeare as described by Ben Jonson, have small Latin and less Greek, and yet would like to have a true, visceral understanding of the difference between Virgil and Homer, I have a recommendation for you: find a copy of “Laodamia” by William Wordsworth and (with perhaps more difficulty) find a copy of the poem with the same title by Audrey Brown. Read Wordsworth’s piece. Try to pretend that this treatment of the grief of a war widow by the Father of Romanticism is not pompously Augustan and remarkably, uncomfortably, male. Wordworth’s piece is startlingly impersonal and emotionless, flat and contrived. Lines 13-18 have to be some of the worst verses ever produced in English:

O terror! what hath she perceived?—O joy!
What doth she look on?—whom doth she behold?
Her Hero slain upon the beach of Troy?
His vital presence? his corporeal mould?
It is—if sense deceive her not—’tis He!
And a God leads him, wingèd Mercury!

But the piece constantly echoes Virgil, particularly the Virgil whose hero sails away from the suicidal love of his life because his fate calls him on and never thinks of Dido again until he can’t avoid her in Hell.

In line 90 Wordsworth remarks that Love’s “favourite seat be feeble woman’s breast” and cements his position as the Misogynist Laureate of England. In line 106 he mentions the “fields investead with purpureal gleams” whatever purpureal gleams might be. And, to continue with his denigration of the title character, just before her husband dies (again), Wordsworth has him tell her:

“And Thou, though strong in love, art all too weak
In reason, in self-government too slow;
I counsel thee by fortitude to seek
Our blest re-union in the shades below.
— ll. 139-42

For what is life — or death — without a husband? She hasn’t seen the guy in a few years, and shouldn’t be surprised to have to wait at her loom for two decades, going about the affairs of life, managing a household on her own, being Penelope, for goodness sake!, but, if she gets final, certain word that her old man has caught a spear at Troy, she should off herself? How very noble is this world Wordsworth has given us!

And then there’s Audrey Brown’s “Laodamia”, a far more sensitive and, in short, better piece of art in so many ways than Wordsworth’s (mis)treatment of the mythic title figure. Brown’s treatment is a woman speaking for a woman in a woman’s voice, instead of a bombastic bit of versified mansplaining. And Brown’s poem is distinctly Homeric in tone and image which should perhaps spur us all to reconsider one of Samuel Butler’s less accepted theories.

Brown begins symbolically in media res, with explicit reference to Demeter’s grief for her lost daughter Persephone in her first stanza. Wordsworth, in contrast, does not get around to linking Laodamia’s loss to the mythic macrocosm of grief until lines 79 ff. Instead of getting to the emotional point, as Brown does, Wordsworth rambles on with exposition like Alexander Pope on a drunken tear in stanzas that are one shot short of heroic couplets.

Brown’s stanza’s, feeling more like Sappho’s lyrics than Pope’s couplets, root Laodamia’s grief in the grief of Demeter (stanza one), the tragedy of Acteon (stanza three), of Phaedra (stanza four), of long-suffering Penelope (stanzas six and eight), a Tennysonian hint of the Lady of Shallot (stanza seven). We feel Laodamia’s loss without needing to be told of it directly by a Wordsworthian loudspeaker or billboard. The specifics are not necessary to Brown’s poetic power; she is using the Homeric, perhaps Hesiodic, rustic pastoral mode to root us into a physical and emotional landscape. Wordsworth, on the other hand, is stuck in Virgil’s historic/prophetic/bombastic mode, and the result is an unfortunate emphasis on the dead male in neglect of the living, grieving female. One finds oneself wishing Wordsworth had been rereading Virgil’s Eclogues rather than The Aeneid before composing his “Laodamia” — but even then, he might have given us something like Lycidas singing of Amarylis as a metaphor of Livia, or, worse, Lycidas mourning for Aeneas, forced by manly fate to sail from Carthage.

Audrey Brown has obviously studied her Classics as carefully as she has studied the natural world around her:

. . . the brindled hound that lay
Beside his couch, unmoving, half the day —
The lame old steed it was his will to keep,
That from the stable turned soft eyes of pain
Seeking Protesilaus, even as she, in vain. (p. 17)

the absent master’s waiting hound and horse, of course, parallel Odysseus’ faithful old dog Argos.

A lovely little tragedy provides the prophet Chalcas’ prophecy:

“Then rose King Agamemnon, and he cried
To Calchas sitting silent at the feast
Cold-eyed, among the lowest and the least —
‘Come — that our spirits may be satisfied,
Rise, prophesy with all-divingin lips —
What honeyed fortune waits our southward-seeking ships?”

“Among the many lights a sudden moth
Ventured, and perished in a little smoke:
–Slowly the prophet raised his head, and spoke:
‘Thus do the gods forewarn me, being wroth,
Blood is required. Who leads you to the shore
Shall see these happy fields of blossomed vine no more’. (p. 18-19)

I have been unable to find any classical source for this particular image as an augury; it seems to be Audrey Brown’s own felicitous invention.

Brown’s Laodamia is, not “weak in reason”, as Wordsworth describes his heroine. She is not fooled by any talk of the immortality of memory:

“Have thy comrades wrought
Thy name and deed in all-enduring stone?
Nay, but the jasper shall be overthrown
By the dim years; and thou will lie unsought,
Unhonoured, mingled with that common earth
From which shall spring new nations, ignorant, to birth. (p. 24)

But she has not passed over into some sort of mortal despair:

“Yet while we live, behold us: for our care
Shall keep thy name remembered; we will make
Our sad eyes blind with weeping for they sake,
And sorrow as a garment we will wear. (p. 24)

Everyone, every monument, every memory must crumble to dust, but the best monument to the dead is the memory of the living.

Laodamia wanders the palace in a daze of grief, until . . .

There was a casement looking to the west,
Bound dark with clematis and striped with rain;
There, when her sight returned to her again,
Laodamia found herself. A nest
Hung in the tattered vine, deserted now,
And fallen petals starred the fading jasmine bough. (p. 25)

She sees her own emptiness reflected in the deserted nest on that tattered vine, and at last she weeps the tears she had promised:

All the world like smoke
Wavered before her seeing eyes, and passed,
As with undreamed-of tears her spirit broke at last. (p. 25)

And so she prays to Persephone, and the prayer is effective:

“They prayer is heard in Hades. Of her grace,
And for the love she never knew, with pain
Persphone gives back they dead again,
That though may’st weep with him, and may’st embrace,
And take farewell. One day, no more, is given
From the eternity of Hades and of heaven.

“Sleep; let the drowsy poppies of my hand
Breathe slumber on they heart, and seal thine eyes
With such an aching dream as weary lies
Upon the meadows of the twilight-land:
Sleep take thee, as the uplands take the rain;
Fear not; at daybreak rise, and find thy love again.” (p. 27)

With the “heavy sweetness” of the poppies of Persephone, Laodamia falls into a deep sleep, and there is the possibility that her in-the-end-permanent reunion with her husband ought to be construed as a wonderful opium dream, a dream, in fact, induced by a fatal overdose. Rather than leaving her alone, on the floor with Death, as Wordsworth does, Brown gives Laodamia and her husband Protesileus the permanent brightness and lightness of Love:

“And in that twilight world, whose floodless sea
Washes the margin of a silent land,
We shall not walk alone, but hand in hand,
And Love shall warm our immortality
With an eternal spring; since even death
Cannot dispart our souls, nor chill our mingled breath”.

So at the door they kissed with wordless lips,
And crossed the sill together: nightingales
Made rapturous all the air; the misty sails
And shadowy hulls of unreturning ships
Went by them seaward; but they looked above,
Lost in that dream whose height, whose breadth and depth is Love. (p. 38)


What Edmonton Theatre Could be in this Year of Plague

Four hundred years ago, the theatres in London were closed by Royal Decree as plague ravaged the city. For two years the theatres remained shuttered. But the theatre companies did not remain idle. They got creative, travelled to the provinces, the rural areas. They performed shortened versions of their plays. They performed whatever they thought would entertain an audience. They got creative and kept themselves ready for the day things got back to a new normal. They did not remain idle.On August 22, 2020, I did something quite unusual for these pandemic days: I went to a play, to live theatre, with a live audience and live actors. There was even a talk-back with the actors and playwrights afterward.At the precise time that the Edmonton International Fringe Festival would have been joyfully crowding people into Old Strathcona in an alternate, non-Covid reality, in a year when virtually all live theatre world-wide has been shut down due to the pandemic, I sat at a table with my partner, suitably socially-distanced from the eighteen-or-so other audience members, in the perfect, tiny RuminariLive Arts venue in Beaumont, a small city on the edge of Edmonton, and thoroughly enjoyed Soror Cara, performed by members of Edmonton’s Tiger’s Heart Collective as a part of the second annual Beaumont Fringe Festival.And I saw what the Edmonton Theatre Community could actually be in this time of pandemic, and it was a really, really exciting vision.But first I’d best explain some details about the Beaumont Fringe experience at RuminariLive. This Fringe Festival is still very small — just a half-dozen performers this year. And the RuminariLive venue is an ordinary store front in a strip mall on the southern edge of Beaumont. We waited outside for the doors to open and had our temperatures checked before entering. Everyone was required to be masked until seated at the tables reserved for our respective parties. The two actors in Soror Cara were separated by well over two metres, one on the floor, the other in the balcony. Absolutely everything was conducted according to Alberta Health Services pandemic guidelines and the result was a tremendous success. These elements — the venue, the smallness/intimacy, and the stringent adherence to pandemic guidelines — together with an amazing script and performance such as we saw in this staged-reading of Soror Cara — are the keys to the Pandemic Theatre I can now imagine.It must be noted that Soror Cara is an amazingly polished — more amazing for being so young — script of a two-woman play about sisters and all the sweet and bitter complications of sisterhood. These particular sisters are living in Roman Britain, about 100 AD, but they could be anywhere, anytime. Danielle LaRose and Harmonie Tower (who also perform the script), sisters both, though not of each other, have written this text as a sensitive riff on a tiny handwritten piece of Latin discovered in the 1970s in northern England, the voice of one woman writing a heartfelt note to her sister. LaRose and Tower performed their play as a staged reading, scripts in hand, but in simple costume, with simple props, and with overwhelming power. Soror Cara is, I’m certain, a piece we will be seeing much more of when the pandemic’s done, and very likely before then.Tiger’s Heart Collective, lead by Danielle LaRose, has, like her husband Benjamin Blyth’s Malachite Theatre Shakespearean collective, been vigorously using Zoom performance both to keep Edmonton (and global) theatre artists working through the pandemic and to keep those artists connected with their audience. As well, both before and during the pandemic, they have been pioneering the staged reading as a viable (ticketed) live-performance mode in Edmonton, first at the Malachite’s Winter Shakespeare Festival with The Witch of Edmonton and The Merry Devil of Edmonton, then with Tiger’s Hearts’ Troilus and Cressida at the Skirts Afire festival and now with the amazing staged reading of the all new script of Soror Cara in Beaumont.We had left early for our evening in Beaumont, wandering down Edmonton’s 50th Street, which becomes Beaumont’s 50th Street as one moves farther south. We explored the industrial area east of 50th street, around the old newspaper plants of The Journal and The Sun, now sitting largely empty, like so many industrial areas and buildings in Edmonton. After enjoying Soror Cara, I mentioned these empty buildings in conversation with Benjamin Blyth, planting the seeds of this pandemic theatre idea in my own mind and, I hope, in his.Edmonton (and the world) is hungry for live theatre. There are several hundred theatre artists in Edmonton who were preparing their shows for the 2020 Fringe when the plug was pulled by a virus. There are venues sitting empty. There are a great many empty industrial and commercial spaces whose landlords would love to see activity in their spaces, if only for one night. It doesn’t need to be a full production, people! A staged reading of any of the aborted Fringe shows, with a minimum of props and costumes, like the Witch of Edmonton, The Merry Devil of Edmonton, Troilus and Cressida, or Soror Cara would easily fill a space with twenty or thirty or more socially distanced, ticket buying theatre goers. The Grindstone Comedy Theatre and the Sewing Machine Factory are bravely getting their toes back into live performance with the Re-Set Festival, but there are so many more that could be doing so much more. The Fringe’s own Westbury Theatre could probably seat 50 or more in accordance with pandemic guidlines. At $15 a seat, that’s $750 just waiting for the Fringe and the artists to divide at virtually no cost. The Citadel has four theatres, plus the amphitheatre above the MacLab Theatre. These venues and all of Edmonton’s other venues sit largely empty, but could host a socially distanced, safe, marvelous theatre event every single night that people would joyfully pay to attend. And think of the points you would win with granting authorities when you mention these creative efforts on your next grant application!But, hosts have to work with artists. Landlords, for lack of a better term, must be willing to give the theatre companies a break on rents. And the City of Edmonton, and the Province must be willing to see the value of these events and streamline (or eliminate) permit requirements, including temporary licenses to serve liquor. And the artists themselves have to realize that every production doesn’t in any way need to be a full production: staged readings, from the simplest table-read to up-on-its-feet with props and costumes are worth more than the price of admission. The audience doesn’t mind the script in your hand: we get it. We totally get it.So, Edmonton business owners, property owners, property management companies, landlords: are you ready to try something a little different to get people into your spaces, to get your name out to the public as community minded? That space is sitting empty anyway: there’s virtually no cost and you’ll be paid with positive exposure and maybe a little bit of cash.And, Edmonton theatre people: you say that you’re “creatives”; are you up for the challenge of finding creative ways to bring live theatre back to us? You don’t have to travel to the provinces (although that would be a darn good thing to try: small town Alberta is hurting far more than the cities. Spread the love!) How about an open rehearsal that we can buy tickets to and sit and watch? Have a new play you needing a read-through? Why not sell us a few tickets to listen? Maybe some community leagues would like to have some voices in their empty halls. Why not get ambitious and pack eighty or a hundred of us into a big empty industrial space off 50th Street, 20 of us into a community hall, or three of us (masked) into your living room for the theatre experience of a pandemic lifetime?It’s time to imagine a creative, safe, very live theatre, Edmonton.


A Brief note on “Norse Poems” translated by W. H. Auden and Paul Beekman Taylor

One of the joys to be derived from second-hand books is the faith that the volume one holds and reads was held and read by someone in the past — one walks this new road with an unseen companion. I have written previously about this sort of experience — but with companions well-known to me and exceedingly well-met — involving a volume of The Paston Letters. Recently I’ve enjoyed another such friendly meeting-by-means-of-a-second-hand-book involving the translation of Norse Poems by W. H. Auden and Paul Peekman Taylor published by Faber in 1981. While mildly disappointed in the translation, which seemed to me to lack both the poetry I would expect from Auden and the fidelity to the original Norse I might have expected from Taylor, the volume as a particular object brought me a sweetness of empathetic affect a brand new copy could never have brought. I will explain why.  On the front flyleaf, a little down from The Bookseller, Mr. Prins’ penciled price of $8.00, is the not terribly careful inscription “Bradley Willis, JUNE 2002”. “Who,” I thought, “might Bradley Willis be?” Well, thanks to the wonders of Googling, I know a little about the late Mr. Willis, scholar and attorney-at-law, and I have gazed on his slightly melancholy but still smiling quite Norse-looking face. Included in his 2019 obituary in the Edmonton Journal are these paragraphs, which was always in my mind as I read, amongst my books, “stacked floor to ceiling” the little blue volume that had been in Mr. Willis’ hands as he had read it himself:

A gifted scholar, Bradley’s passion for literature, languages and music was second to none. His home was filled to the brim with books that showed, stacked floor to ceiling, his eclectic interests and thirst to know a little bit about everything. He will be remembered for his wit, charm, encyclopaedic knowledge and sesquipedalian tendencies. He was unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit.Of particular interest to Bradley was Icelandic language and culture. Both his maternal grandparents immigrated to Winnipeg from Iceland, and he had strong ties to and deep affection for his Icelandic heritage. He immersed himself in that country’s language and literature throughout his life. In 2011, he was finally able to travel to Iceland to see it himself for the first time.

It is the passing of a book from hand to hand, from mind to mind, across space and time and generation which makes the book-as-object so much more than simply a text. I have a very large “collection” of books. But the books most important to me are not important because they are rare or high priced or “desired by collectors” or even visually beautiful. Among the individual book-objects that are most valuable to me are, for example: the copy of Alexander Pope’s Poems with a dried begonia leaf plucked over a century ago from the grave of Abelard and Eloise; the bookworm-eaten Greek Grammar printed in Lyon seven years before Shakespeare died; various volumes that have been owned as undergraduates by professors who later in life influenced me as an undergraduate; and, now, a slim volume of Norse Poems in translation that once belonged to Mr. Bradley Willis, who I would have very much liked to have met.So, if by chance Juliet, Aaron, Gaïa, Nathan, Randy, Jay, Slade, Kirsti, Colleen, Marvin, Dea-Anne, or all those nieces, nephews or two grandchildren of Mr. Willis should somehow happen upon this little note, please know that your husband, father, brother, uncle, grandpa has touched one more life through a book that he bought out of his love of learning and love of learning about Iceland. Thank you for sharing Bradley Willis.This book that was once his has now become one of my treasures.


On Certain Events Along the Shores of ‘Nnalubaale, Separated by a Century

History is almost always written by the victors and conquerors and gives their viewpoint.
Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India.
In his account of his circumnavigation of ‘Nnalubaale (now known as Lake Victoria), Henry Morton Stanley, furthering the explorations of Burton and Speke, describes a moment of tension and violence on the Lake. It is March 27th, 1875, somewhere along the south coast of the Island of Uvuma — now Buvuma — off what is now Uganda’s Lake Victoria coast. Perhaps interestingly, Stanley had sailed past the peninsula of Entebbe just a few days before.
The canoes astern clapped their hands gleefully, showing me a large bunch of Mutunda beads which had been surreptitiously abstracted from the stern of the boat. I seized my repeating rifle and fired in earnest, to right and left. The fellow with the beads was doubled up, and the boldest of those nearest us was disabled. The big rifle, aimed at the waterline of two or three of the canoes, perforated them through and through, which compelled the crews to pay attention to their sinking crafts, and permitted us to continue our voyage into Napoleon Channel and to examine the Ripon Falls.
Through the Dark Continent, Vol. I, chapter VIII.

In dispassionate legal terms, Claus Kreß and Benjamin K Nußberger describe an event that occurred about a hundred kilometers west of and about a hundred years after Stanley’s encounter on the lake:
Shortly after midnight on 4 July 1976, as ‘the sand in the hourglass [is] about to run out’ the Israeli machines land ‘by surprise and without any authority from the Ugandan Government’ at seven-minute intervals at Entebbe International Airport. Only fifty-three minutes later, they depart with the freed hostages. The Israel Defence Forces had stormed the airport terminal, killing seven hijackers and liberating the prisoners. Yet, the rescue operation also results in four casualties, three Israeli passengers and one Israeli officer, and a number of serious injuries. About twenty Ugandan soldiers are fatally wounded and the airport building is heavily damaged. Furthermore, allegedly in order to ensure their safe return flight, Israeli soldiers destroy a number of Ugandan aircrafts, which are parked nearby, and other military equipment. After a refuelling stop in Nairobi in Kenya, which is allowed ‘purely on humanitarian grounds’, Israel’s rescue mission safely returns to Israel
The Knesset of Israel also offers a description of this incident:
. . . Following the Government’s decision to go forward with the plan, four transport aircrafts took off from Sharm el-Sheikh en route to Entebbe. The raid on the airport resulted in five Israeli casualties: IDF officer Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu (brother of MK and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu); Dora Bloch, an elderly woman hospitalized during the raid and murdered after the raid (her remains were returned to Israel in June 1979); Ida Borochovitch, Jean Jacques Maimoni, and Pasko Cohen were killed during the Operation. On the return flight, the planes landed in Nairobi, Kenya for refueling to attend to the fatally wounded with medical care. IDF Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur announced it at first as an emergency landing, but it seemed to have been coordinated with Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta. . . .

Narrative. The Stories that get told. The Stories *we* tell. The Stories we tell each other and ourselves. Look at these stories.
We know Stanley’s name. We can look at photographs of him. Read his words. His Story.
The man holding the beads in the canoe and his uncounted and barely visible companions at the receiving end of Stanley’s “big rifle” are cyphers, placeholders, unknown tokens, indistinguishable but readily extinguishable pawns on the black side of History’s chessboard.
We know Yoni Netanyahu’s name. We can see his photograph with a few key strokes on Google. We can hardly fail to know about his kid brother Benyamin. We can find out about all the hostages and hijackers, about Mordechai Gur and Jomo Kenyatta and Idi Amin. But there are “about Twenty” Ugandan families who lost sons and husbands and fathers that day. What are their names? Where are their pictures? What did they have for their last meal that July day in 1976? Did they laugh in joy as they left their mothers/wives/children for their work? What are their stories?
Taking a crazy and ultimately pointless long view, what would have become of the man brandishing the beads in the canoe off the shore of Buvuma that March day in 1875? Would the flapping butterfly wings of his genes and his community influence his story — have led Uganda to a different 1976? And what of the unknown number of young Ugandan soldiers killed that July night at Entebbe? What did the world lose by their deaths, by history’s erasure of their very names?
And, because the victors, the conquerors have preserved his name for us, what would the story have been if Yoni Netanyahu had returned alive from Entebbe? What would his kid brother have been like under the influence of an older brother who, as a young man, had seen, who had been in command of the erasure of “about twenty” young men so very much like him?
We can never know.

A Bread Recipe for Michael

My friend Michael in this time of plague isolation had a bit of trouble with one of Jamie Oliver’s bread recipies, so, I’m sending her my recipe that makes pretty much all of our bread at home, plague or no plague.

Feel free to try it yourself and let us all know in the comments how it worked out!

About a tbsp of yeast in about a cup of warm water.
Two cups bread flour.
1/2 cup whole wheat flour.
About a tbsp of fat. I use bacon fat.
Some honey.
Some salt.
Add the yeast and water.
Use hands.
Knead it a bit.
a bit more.
Cover and wait a bit.
It’s big and shaggy!
Knead it a bit more.
Cover it again and wait a bit.
It got big again! But not shaggy.
Make it into a loaf.
Maybe a tiny bit more flour.
Into a loaf pan, sprinkle with a little flour, and cover.
Uncover and bake at 500° for 5 minutes and then 10 to 15 more minutes at 450°. Spray water into the oven now and then while baking.