Saturday, December 29, 2007

Family Ties

We spend Christmas Eve with my siblings and my cousins. Including the youngest generation, there are about 30-35 people for dinner. We don't use paper plates. Instead, the fine china, the good silver, and the crystal wine glasses are brought out. For most of us, and for our children, this is about the only time we see them!

My china was originally my grandmother's--the grandmother I share with my cousins. Several years ago now, DS#1 made the connection: he was holding a plate that his great-grandmother had held, a great-grandmother that died when his grandmother was a newborn. The great-grandmother who was also a redhead.

"Wow!" he whispered, in awe.

This year, my uncle, my mother's brother, was unable to join us. He's suffering from Alzheimer's and lives in secure assisted living. He becomes agitated when he's out too late, when there's a crowd, when there's a chaos and confusion. My cousins decided to leave him at his residence, although one of them would bring them to the celebration on Christmas Day, when it would be just his girls.

The absence of her brother--her only sibling--and her impending birthday got to my mother. During dinner she proposed a toast to the family. She wants us to continue to get together for Christmas Eve (and the Fourth of July) even when she's no longer around.

Fortunately, we all like each other and enjoy each other's company. Even better, our children seem to enjoy each other as well.

It's not that we always agree or never have fought (hey, we shared bedrooms as children!). It's not that we haven't driven each other crazy with our quirks, our actions, our beliefs. But we're family and some how that triumphs all else.

And we've seen what happens when family members hold a grudge. They miss out.

Christmas Day is dinner at Mom's with "just us." Including spouses, children, and the occasional family friend, that's "only" about 20. We're much more casual than on Christmas Eve. At Thanksgiving we draw names; the siblings and spouses in one pool, all the grandkids (known as "The Cousins Draw") in the other. At Mom's we exchange those gifts as well as the gifts from and to Mom. We open in order, starting with the oldest. We have to get the little kids when it's their turn. Once they've opened a package, they run off to play until their next turn.

After Christmas gifts, we celebrate Mom's birthday. Each year my cousins make her a birthday cake which she doesn't cut until after Christmas presents. We light a candle and sing and while we eat cake, Mom opens her birthday presents, even though her actual birthday isn't until the 26th. None of us ever remember her waiting.

On Dec. 26, my goal is to stay in my pj's all day. I try not to leave the house for any reason. The kids are too busy playing with their toys to notice, although they will watch a movie or two with Hubs and me.

And, yes, they still get toys. There's nothing like a Wii to bring the family closer together!

Movie Review: Sweeney Todd

Okay--who in their right mind would bring a two-year-old to a movie subtitled The Demon Barber of Fleet Street? The movie is rated R, it's by Tim Burton, and has Johnny Depp. At the very least you should have an inkling that it's going to be dark.

Yes, someone did bring their toddler and ended up taking her out just about every time the music rose to a crescendo and blood spattered the screen.

Just for the record: this isn't The Sound of Music.

DS#2 saw the movie with some of his friends. He enjoyed it, except for the music--he didn't realize Sweeney Todd is a musical. However, his biggest objection to the music is that the songs all sounded the same, just with different words. Part of it might be that Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman don't have a lot of range in their singing voices. But Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays Anthony Hope, and Jayne Wisener, as Johanna, are excellent. Helena Bonham Carter is Mrs. Lovett, who loves Sweeney Todd in her own limited way, and who owns "the worst meat pie shop in London."

Ed Sanders, who plays Toby, a young orphan Mrs. Lovett takes in, is a true find. I hope he finds work.

Hubs and I enjoyed it, although Hubs was expecting it to be more of a comedy. The ending is the only one it could have, but it's not happy. But it's not Old Yeller sad, either. The movie is shot in muted tones, which makes the red of the blood all the more startling and surprising.

I did find the fact that three of main actors, Rickman, Bonham Carter, and Timothy Spall, are also characters in the Harry Potter movies. (Spall plays Peter Pettigrew.) Rickman and Spall have several scenes together which just reminded me of Snape and Pettigrew. C'mon--aren't there other actors in England?

Johnny Depp does mad extremely well. I believed he was pushed over the edge of sanity and yet could remain capable of thinking logically. Rickman has done subtle evil so often it must be nearly second nature. (It must have been quite a relief to play a snotty British actor playing an coolly logical alien on Galaxy Quest.) Helen Bonham Carter walks the edge of madness and sanity, truth and lies, love and obsession. More than anything she wants a middle-class life: a home, a husband, a child. Mr. Todd is the closest chance she has of getting that and deep inside her, she knows he can't give normality to her. Toby is her surrogate child, but he forces her to see the reality she doesn't want to see and make a decision she doesn't want to make.

Several of the plot "twists" were obvious to both Hubs and I, in part because there are few resolutions for tragedies.

On the way home, Hubs and I debated whether or not DD#2 should see it and if she would enjoy it. (She's 14.) He didn't think so; I think she would, in part because, thanks to her older sibs, she's had a lot of exposure to dark comedy and to Tim Burton. I will admit several of the scenes made me jump even though I knew what was coming.

Can I recommend this movie? A qualified "Yes." Like the Stephen Sondheim musical it's based on, this won't be everyone's cuppa. IMDb classifies Sweeney Todd under "Thriller" and "Crime" as well as "Musical." I suppose those will do. I knew the general outlines of the story, so I was prepared and I enjoyed it. Hubs didn't know any of the storyline, but he's watched enough Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movies to have an inkling this wasn't going to be a light and happy holiday movie. He enjoyed it and is curious to see it as a stage play with actors who can sing.

On the March Hare Scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Tickets

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Book Review: Beowulf

I read the translation by Seamus Heaney, with the Old English on the facing page. I can see why the movie producers & writers felt they had to "jazz up" the original: it's very talky and the description of the action is pretty minimal. Still, I would like to see someone present this as it must have originally been spoken, as a story around a mead-hall, with a winter storm raging outside.

Beowulf is a Geat, a people from southern Sweden, who sails across the water to the aid of the Danish King. After defeating the monster, Grendel, and Grendel's mother, Beowulf becomes king of his own people, ruling for 50 years, until a dragon threatens the Geats and Beowulf dies defeating it.

According to my edition, the fact that the English-speaking world even knows of this poem and this warrior is something of a miracle. There is only one manuscript, which survived a fire in the 18th Century, which has been, in Mr. Heaney's words, "...transcribed and titled, re-transcribed and edited, translated, and adapted, interpreted and reinterreted, until it has become canonical."

A fellow poet prefers the translation done by Howell Chickering--in his opinion it's more poetic. However, I found I enjoyed Mr. Heaney's translation. It reminded me of Leaves of Grass by Whitman: kind of a "natural voice" verse form, with consonant sounds repeated within the line rather than a forced rhyme at the end of each. If his transcription of the original Old English is at all close, it seems to me that this follows the original.

No, I don't read Old English. But I love words and it was interesting to look at the line in the Old English and compare it to the Modern. Some words, like helm, have come down intact through the centuries. Some make sense when read out loud phonetically. Others are a mystery. I enjoyed reading Mr. Heaney's introduction where he discusses why he chose the form he did and how he decided to translate some of the more obscure words.

As for the story... In Beowulf's bragging about his exploits, his courage, his strength, there is a lesson sent to young male listeners: this is how a hero behaves. These are his duties. If you act like this, your name and your deeds will also live on in song and be passed down through the ages. For Beowulf was no idle boaster--he was every bit as brave and daring as he claimed. He was loyal and was rewarded for his loyalty. In turn, he rewarded those who were loyal to him and he took care of the widows and orphans of those who stood with him but did not survive.

Embedded within the story of Beowulf are older stories: of betrayal, of the importance of having strong leadership, of the rubbing of old religions and ways of thinking and the new (Christianity).

The fragments is only about 3200 lines long--213 pages in my edition, which means about 107 in actual text pages. The story is simple and straightforward; much like I imagine the societies of that time to be. Yet, I recognize the beginning of the idea of chivalry, of protecting women and those who are weaker, that loyalty and reward run not just from subject to king, but also from king back to subject.

1300 years after it was written, Beowulf is still entertaining. And it just might have something to show us about ourselves as well.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out 5 Golden Bookmarks

crossposted at Catholic Media Review

Apologies, Apologies

My sincere apologies to the faithful few who continue to read this humble blog! Several things have conspired to keep me from posting, mostly the fact that the President of my division moved on to greener pastures (I hope!) and the CEO decided to Take Control. While I do not work in HQ, the Tech Guys (and Gals) do. Discretion being the better part of valor, I'm trying to behave myself. And keep my mouth shut.

Yes, that's very difficult for me to do!

Then, of course, there were the Holidays. Or as I prefer to call them, The Holidaze. We went to visit my in-laws over Thanksgiving. DS#1 came home about a week before I expected. Gifts had to be purchased, sent, made.

I still can't find DS#2's school pictures from this year. They were just on the wine rack. Or the table. Or by the "big" computer.

Still, in the words of the Grinch, "Christmas came! It came just the same!" And mostly everything that needed to be done got done. Much remains to be completed before the 12th Day--Jan. 6, Epiphany, Little Christmas. My escape hatch!

My wish of the love of family and friends to all during this season and for 2008 as well! May God grant you the faith of the little children He gathers to him.