An Open Letter to Rachel Notley

Dear Ms. Notley,

           I was troubled to read the CBC Edmonton story on June 9th titled “Alberta NDP volunteers were ignored and demeaned, former workers say”. The story brings back to me bad memories of the dismal failure that was the last Alberta New Democrat election campaign in which parachuted non-Albertan “expert” managers seemed to completely misread the electorate of the province and stoked division rather than appealing to unity. It was a nasty, mean-spirited campaign that left a bad taste in many New Democrat supporting mouths. I feel worried about the coming campaign with the fact that the only Party spokesperson quoted in the CBC article is a transplant from Nova Scotia, together with the sordidly UCP-flavoured allegations from the New Democrat grass-roots.

      Please don’t misunderstand me: I am myself a transplant (four and a half decades ago) from Ontario; I recognize that expertise of all sorts can be found in all corners of our great country and should be drawn on whenever possible and appropriate. But we don’t ask a P.E.I. potato farmer how to grow canola in Grand Prairie or Hydro Quebec engineer how to suck oil out of the Oil Sands. And after the debacle of the last non-Albertan guided campaign and following the tragic farce of the Premiership of the Honourable Member from Oakville I can’t help but think it is time for voices from Sangudo, Donalda, and Rosebud to be heard, for advisors, party secretaries, and volunteers from every corner of the Alberta – not from Toronto, Ottawa, or points East – to be front and centre in the prelude to and in the coming campaign. Please, Ms. Notley, listen to, and let speak, the people of Alberta, all of them.

      Yes, the UCP has had a lamentable and damaging impact on our province. It has fed division, the type of toxic division that has become so common and so frightening around the world. Someone has to take a different path!

      You may not remember, Rachel, but years ago, long before you became premier, you made a mug of hot chocolate in your kitchen for my daughter. You’ve probably done such things for countless little girls and boys. I know that you know how to bring people together in warmth and love, no matter our differences of ideas or abilities or of lives-being-lived. Please, please, don’t give in to advisors who ask you to take the path of attack, of division. We are already more divided than any people should be.

      What I dream of seeing here in Alberta happened in Turkey a few years ago. In 2019 a new Mayor was elected in Istanbul. Ekram Imamoğlu ran in opposition to the candidate of the strongman President Erdoğan. Ekram Imamoğlu is the Mayor of Istanbul today. Of his campaign he has said “We had two simple rules: ignore Erdoğan and love those who love Erdoğan”.

      Is it too much to ask? Is such a positive campaign possible in Alberta? Can we believe that we don’t have to hate those who disagree with us, and that those who disagree with us might not hate us? Can we accept that others are deeply concerned about things we don’t think about and that others don’t think much about our deep concerns? Can we talk about it and maybe come together in understanding and in love?

      In the Alberta I came to as a child forty-five or so years ago, that was “just being neighbourly” (as an old-time Albertan I’ll never forget said to me one rainy night when I was about sixteen years old after he fixed a backed-up septic tank). Can the Alberta New Democrats run a campaign from Alberta’s true heart? Can we just be neighbourly?

     Can you make a mug of hot chocolate for someone and not care whether they agree with you?

     I saw you do it once.

     How about making a campaign of it?

Greek Green Cheese Sausage:A Fresh Take on Etymology


ὣς φάθ᾽, ὁ δ᾽ αὖτις ἰὼν κατ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἕζετο: τῷ δὲ συβώτης.
χεῦεν ὕπο χλωρὰς ῥῶπας καὶ κῶας ὕπερθεν:
ἔνθα καθέζετ᾽ ἔπειτα Ὀδυσσῆος φίλος υἱός.
— Homer, The Odyssey, Book 16, ll. 46-48

The swineherd, when the quiet man sank down,
built a new pile of evergreens and fleeces —
a couch for the dear son of great Odysseus
— Robert Fitzgerald’s translation

When looking at the title of a recipe for λουκάνικο Φρεσκων τυριων (loukanico freskon turion, “sausage with fresh cheese”) I said to myself, “Oh. Greek ‘Φρεσκως’sure sounds like English ‘fresh’ and Italian “fresco”!”

The words “Fresh” and “Fresco” (the habit of painting on wet plastered walls) in English are what is called a doublet: “Fresh” has been a constant, evolving part of the language going back through Proto-Germanic *friska to Indo-European *preyskos. There are versions of “Fresh” all over the Germanic world, from Icelandic frískur to Estonian priske to Afrikaans fris. And through Proto-Balto-Slavic, “fresh” has its various and beautiful forms from Lithuania to the Balkans to the tip of Kamchatka.

Weirdly, Indo-European “fresh” was abandoned by Italic languages (or a common ancestor) leaving the Roman’s with no word with exactly the connotation of “fresh” or “fresco”. Go ahead: check your Collins Pocket Latin Dictionary. Thus, while the Italic languages long languished unfresh, English has come to have two words for Fresh! And strangely, “Fresco” in English is a fairly fresh borrowing back from, of all places, Italian.

How can this be?

Well, Italian fresco has evolved from a Medieval Latin word which was borrowed from Frankish, a Germanic language — which to their Gallic horror, gave the French the names of both their country and their language. And, to make matters worse, the French owe their Gallic adjective ultimately to the Celts, although it was some more of those Germanic types who loaned the words to the Romans. As it seems the French have little linguistic originality, perhaps we may grant them that they make fine cheese.

So, imagine a Medieval Latin-speaking fellow on holiday in the South of Gaul, sitting in a Frankish tavern with his Frankish friend and remarking (in Medieval Latin): “My! The boiled leeks that came with my wild boar are really . . . I don’t quite know how to put it . . . and this cheese!” (Meam! Aliacocta porro quae cum apro facta sunt vere sunt . . . non satis scio quomodo ponatur . . . et hic caseus!)

And then imagine his Frankish friend shrugging his shoulders and saying “Frisk”.

Latin fellow: “Fresco! Perfect. I like that! Can I use it?”

[Gallic shrug]

But what of Greek “Φρεσκως”? Is it a borrowing from Latin/Italian or a word retained from Indo-European? None of my Homeric dictionaries nor my abridged Liddel and Scott have an entry for anything resembling “Φρεσκως”. Despite much internet rabbit hole searching, I’ve been unable to find anything that definitively says Ancient Greeks did or didn’t say “fresh”. I did, however, find some old English-Ancient Greek dictionaries that gave all sorts of other words as translations of “Fresh”, different words for different contexts, like words for “green”, or “new”, or “young”. So, I’m leaning toward the conclusion that Homer never enjoyed anything much fresh. But he probably had lots of things that were χλωρός, particularly grass in springtime and certain new, young cheeses. By moonlight over the water.

Postscript: If you are interested in the sausage recipe that set off this whole exploration, go here and follow the link to “Fresh (Raw) Sausages” and scroll down to “Loukaniko-Cheese 2”.

I’m Troubled by a Section of Anne Carson’s “Canicula di Anna”

Perugino, it is interesting to note,
was one of the earliest Italian painters
to practice oil painting, in which he
evinced a depth and smoothness
of tint, which elicited much remark.
In perspective
he applied
the novel rule
of two centers of vision.

— Anne Carson, “Canicula di Anna”, section 39, in Plainwaters, pp.76-77.

The other night I was reading along happily in Anne Carson’s Plainwaters when I was struck by the phrase “two centers of vision”, which was unfamiliar (to me) terminology when it comes to theory of perspective. So, I googled to see whence the phrase had come, whether it was just archaic terminology or was just one more of Carson’s poetic creations. As I googled, I kept coming across passages that were very similar to each other, and I soon realized they all derived from an early, now in the public domain, edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which, conveniently, Wikisource reproduces (and I reproduce here, with proper attribution, and in a manner covered by fair use principals):

Gradually Perugino rose into notice, and became famous not only throughout Italy but even beyond. He was one of the earliest Italian painters to practise oil-painting, in which he evinced a depth and smoothness of tint, which elicited much remark; and in perspective he applied the novel rule of two centres of vision.

1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, article on Perugino at:,_Pietro (italics mine)

What goes on here? I understand the concept of “found poetry”, but I also understand the moral (and legal) concepts of plagiarism and proper attribution when quoting substantial passages of another’s work, even when that work is in the public domain. I mean, My Sweet Lord! The passage is lifted basically verbatim from the Britannica and there is absolutely no attribution! However fine a poet may be, there can be no way that He’s So Fine as to not give credit where credit is due!

A Brief Note on “Opimihaw” by Mary Anne Barkhouse



As a rule contemporary art seems to aspire to hermeticism rather than the “condition of music” Pater described. Too often the viewer’s response is a quick glance at the piece, followed by a careful read of the long didactic card on the wall beside the piece, then one more brief glance at the piece, and a slightly perplexed shrug. Mary Anne Barkhouse’s sculptures and tapestries (sculptural tapestries?) collectively titled opimihaw at the galleries of Wanuskewin Heritage Park at Wanuskewin National Historic Site in Saskatoon is a remarkable exception to this sad rule.

While Barkhouse and curator Olivia Kristoff have provided the usual didactic cards, and the artist has provided a three page statement online, none of that is necessary as there is an immediate apprehension of the beauty, richness, and challenging call to reconciliation in the work. In Tapestry I (Tapestry of Voices), a sculptural beaver in a meditative pose contemplates the over 500 pages of the Executive Summary of the Report of the Truth an Reconciliation Commission, printed on a long linen ribbon, with the silhouettes of various species of birds. One need not (but should) read the Report of the Commission, nor know what clans might be associated with which bird to feel, as one feels when hearing the best music, the feelings this Tapestry of Voices is meant to stir within. Although Barkhouse has very much embedded text in most of these pieces, none, not even the four-scroll poem hanging next to Dominion requires reading for an appreciation. Everywhere Barkhouse has set up a palpable tension and a hopeful harmony between the Indigenous, the European, and non-Human nature, from the contemplative Beaver sitting on a very-European chair, through the fairy-tale border illustrations of knights and bison, to the Bison galloping through a Stargate to repopulate Wanuskewin after a century and a half absence.

Barkhouse’s works have at their technical roots collage, the individual images obviously being taken from various sources, whether the pages from the TRC Report, her own photos of wildlife, or classical Western art works. Like the world outside the gallery, the Canada beyond Wanuskewin and the valley of Opimihaw Creek, the elements of Barkhouse’s art have come together from a collision of cultures and natures. As Barkhouse has done with her inviting and harmonious and moving and challenging tapestries, we all are challenged to weave a harmonious future tapestry from the collage our shared history has thrust upon us. That Barkhouse’s weaving is so successful offers us some future hope.

Opimihaw by Mary Anne Barkhouse is on exhibit in two galleries at Wanuskewin Heritage Park until October 2021. After October, if the curators and directors of Canada’s major galleries have any sense at all, I have every expectation the show will be clamored for and travel widely. Experience opimihaw wherever you may find it, but preferably in its own landscape on the prairie above Opimihaw Creek and the South Saskatchewan River.

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)