Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Easter Eggs for the Czar

                                EASTER EGGS FOR THE CZAR

                                              Vladimir Possipov

It is true, of course, you will not have heard of me. No, you will have heard of that fop who made jeweled eggs, everyone has. But mine was the true art, created from dark chocolate and spun sugar, butter creams and rare liqueurs, exotic fruits and nuts and secret spices. I was the Imperial Easter Egg Maker in the Court of Nicholas and Alexandra, and my art was even greater than Faberge's for its evanescence. A Possipov confection was like a Nijinsky entrechat-dix--impossible to capture, but once experienced, never forgotten.

I was working in my father's humble candy shop in the village of Kobal when the Czar's messengers came for me. I had no time to pack or change, off I went in the coach still in my apron, taking only my wire whisk and a sausage for the journey. My family waved farewell, proud tears in their eyes. "Remember the hard ball in the water trick," my father cried as the horses clattered over cobblestones.

When we reached the palace, it was ten days before Easter. "The Czarina has heard great things of you," said General Malinsky, Commander of the Royal Kitchen. "She wishes you to create Easter eggs for the prince and princesses. You make, we hide. We have a secret police for such things. Now, is there anything you need? Is the larder satisfactory?"

My poor naive peasant eyes grew wide. Never had I seen such treasures: peach halves in Cognac, figs the size of gourds, sacks of Indian cashews, barrels of coconuts, apricots glazed with honey, coffee beans and peppermint plants, gigantic slabs of Belgian chocolate...

I worked without ceasing, without sleeping, until dawn of Easter Sunday. I made chocolate eggs in the shapes of mosques, bears and ballerinas. I sculpted Cossack riders in butterscotch. I reproduced the Crown jewels in candied tropical fruits. I wrote Pushkin's poetry on chocolate with peppermint fondant.  Finally I fell, exhausted, in a corner of the kitchen. But before I lost consciousness, my heart sang at General Malinsky's words of praise: "Not bad, Possipov."

And so my career began, and gloriously it continued, for many joyous Easters. (I did, of course, create confections for other occasions--like the life-size chocolate St. Nicholas that stood in the square at St, Petersburg at Christmas. Children of the nobility were allowed to come and nibble on it.) But Easter was the great time of year.

Then, the changes began. First that grotesque pig Rasputin arrived, and began to demand X-rated eggs. Whole corps de ballet he wanted, jumping out of eggs at officers' dinners. Then, worse, came the Revolution. Lenin never ate chocolate. He had adored it as a young man, but now he forbade himself its taste, as a test of endurance. The toll such restraint exacted was the falling-out of his hair. As for Stalin, he ate nothing but yak jerky, and had the vilest breath in all the Caucasus.

Soon I realized my life was in danger. I began to plan my escape. And my escape was the culmination, the pinnacle of my art. I constructed an enormous chocolate egg--hollow, but with a shell six inches thick. I carefully drilled miniscule holes in the shell, crawled inside, and sealed the egg from within. I had already prepared a packing crate for the egg, and addressed it to Miss Pola Negri, Hollywood, USA--a particular favorite of Stalin's.

And that is how I came to leave Russia. Once in the United States of America, I made my way to a small town in Pennsylvania. There, with the chocolate egg as my capital, I went into business. (Under a new name, of course--they are everywhere. I became known as O. Henry, the chocolate maker.)

And--such undreamed of happiness! I fell in love with a maiden known as Sweet Marie, and we have lived happily ever after, with our children, Hershey, Reese and Godiva, and the twins, Masha and Moishe--or, as we call them, M and M.

Sweet wishes for Easter, and hopes for a return to the splendor and decadence of the glorious Romanov past!

                                                          V. Possipov.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cue the Salamander

It is reported that fossils of super-size salamanders have been discovered in Portugal. These lethal lizards, which lived 200 million years ago, were the size of crocodiles, and they existed on a caveman diet.

What next, we wonder, from our Paleolithic past? Gerbils the size of 18-wheelers? Mosquitoes with wings like 747s? Man-eating squirrels?

The news will, we're sure, have been greeted with cries of joy in Hollywood, where even now scripts are being rushed into production for such films as "Rise of the Giant Salamanders" and "Planet of the Lizards."

Arnold Schwarzenegger is ready.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cruzin' for the Presidency

The only person born in Calgary campaigning to become President of the United States declared his candidacy today. Ted Cruz, wearing jeans to show he's a regular Texan guy, announced that he is ready to go to Washington and fix things.

Note to movie fans: This is Ted Cruz, not Tom Cruise, although Tom, taking on another Mission Impossible, might have a better chance of getting elected.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Checking the Date

The United Nations has declared this International Happiness Day, which, considering the shape the world is in, shows what a fine sense of irony they have down there at the UN.

It is also, according to the calendar, the first day of spring. The two songs that spring--oops, sorry--the first songs that leap to mind are "They Say It's Spring" and "Spring Will Be a LIttle Late This Year."

And this was the birth date, in 1928, of Mister Rogers. Put on your cardigan and sneakers and have a lovely day in your neighborhood.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Making No Bones About It

There is word out of Madrid that researchers believe they may have unearthed the bones of Miguel de Cervantes from the convent grounds where he was buried 399 years ago.

Cervantes, for those who tuned in late, wrote "Don Quixote de La Mancha," considered by many to be the greatest of all novels (although not by those holding out for "War and Peace" or "Dream of the Red Chamber" or "I, the Jury").

The Spanish writer expressed a rueful sense of humor in the face of many misfortunes, and he might simply shrug at this latest indignity (which is not as embarrassing as the digging up of Yves Montand to find DNA and settle a paternity claim).

Even so, Cervantes might wish he had left gravestone instructions similar to those of his English contemporary, W. Shakespeare. These read:

"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Notes of a Political Junkie

* BC's Liberal government has announced a multi-million dollar program for road and bridge building outside Metro Vancouver--"where it's needed, and where people actually vote for us."

* Owen Sound gave us Tom Thompson, Billy Bishop, and now...Larry Miller??

* Didn't we all feel safer when we saw that photo of Stephen Harper squinting over the barrel of a .303 Lee Enfield?

* It is reported that Playboy magazine has published an interview with Dick Cheney. As long as they don't give us a Cheney centrefold.

* And who knew Netanyahu was Irish?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Big Julie and St. Pat

We have made it past the Ides of March, which is more than Julius Caesar did. Ignoring the soothsayer's advice to stay away from the Forum that day, the Roman ruler gave Wayne and Shuster material for one of their most famous skits: "Big Julie, I said, don't go!" And "Bartender, give me a martinus." "You mean a martini." "If I want two, I'll ask for them." A joke unappreciated by those who flunked Latin.

Next major event on the calendar is St. Patrick's Day. St. Pat (who was not actually Irish, but don't say that down at O'Doul's Pub) is famous for chasing the snakes out of Ireland and for explaining the Holy Trinity by holding up a three-leaf shamrock--which still left some of us confused.

Adam McDowell, who writes a National Post column called "Fix My Drink," and undoubtedly enjoys his research, has suggested various St. Patrick's potables. Included, of course, is Black Velvet, a combination of Champagne and stout. Mixer McDowell recommends pouring the Champagne first and topping it with stout.

But the drink that surprised us was the Tipperary. This is a concoction of Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, and green Chartreuse, with a twist of orange. Okay, we'll have one. Hold the vermouth. Hold the Chartreuse.

Too bad Caesar didn't have a shaker of Tipperaries that March 15th morning. He never would have made it to the Forum.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

On the Road with Kerouac and Murphy

March 12 is the birthday of Jean-Louis Kerouac, better known as Jack, who played football so well he was offered scholarships by a number of colleges, including Notre Dame. He chose Columbia instead.

A football field may be he last place you would expect to find the author of "On the Road" and the best known Beat of the Beat Generation, but there it is and there he was.

Jack Kerouac wrote several novels besides "On the Road," and while "Dharma Bums" and "The Subterraneans" are more famous, we like to remember "Dr. Sax," which is a childhood fantasy, and "Maggie Cassidy," a teenage romance full of sweetness and innocence.

He also appeared, partially wrote and partially improvised an underground film called "Pull My Daisy," in which, Dwight Macdonald wrote, he showed "an unexpected virtuosity at the great American art of kidding."

All of Kerouac's books are in print, which is good to know, but we think we'll observe his birthday by playing "Bop for Kerouac" by the San Francisco jazz singer Mark Murphy. On this recording Murphy sings lyrics to music of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, and delivers inspired readings of passages from "On the Road" and "The Subterraneans." If you're going on the road, few better companions than Jack Kerouac and Mark Murphy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Politically Incorrect

Jason Kenney has yet to comment on the image posted on his Twitter feed in which participants in a religious ceremony were described as victims of Islamic extremists. Neither has his office removed the clips from "Ben Hur" in which Charlton Heston and the galley slaves are said to be hostages aboard an iranian nuclear submarine.

Meanwhile, Primer Minister Stephen Harper has urged Canadians to enlist in a "Neighborhood Jihad Watch." Mr. Harper says he has been losing sleep over the mounting threat to Canadian security. "He may have been losing sleep," said Tom Mulcair, "but he hasn't been losing weight."

In Washington, DC there is controversy over the open letter sent to Iran's leadership by forty-seven Republican members of Congress. "We understand their wish to make their views known," said a spokesman for President Obama, "but we think they went too far when they sent Valentines."

More controversy continues to follow the issue of Hillary Clinton's e-mail. And while Mrs. Clinton has long been the presumed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential election, there are many hoping Elizabeth Warren will enter the race.

This corner is pulling for Sarah Silverman.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Dear Bix

March 10 was the birthday of Bix Beiderbecke. He would have been 112 years old, if he hadn't died at 28.

Beiderbecke's legend has grown over the decades, but he is more often written or talked about than heard. A few recordings are available, including "Bix Beiderbecke - Singin' the Blues," which includes his most famous solos, and "Bix 'n' Bing," performances from the time both he and Crosby were members of Paul Whiteman's band.

Bix Beiderbecke played B-flat cornet, which might be thought of as the little brother of the trumpet. He also occasionally played piano, and his solo keyboard composition "In a Mist" is a small Impressionist gem that Ravel and Debussy might have admired.

More important in jazz history is that Beiderbecke was the first "cool" horn player--cool as distinct from the "hot" style played by Louis Armstrong, and most other jazz musicians. Neither style is superior to the other, but it's interesting to trace their lineage: Armstrong's descendants include Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie; Beiderbecke's include Chet Baker and Miles Davis.

Dorothy Baker's novel "Young Man with a Horn" and the resultant, misguided film are thought to be based on Beiderbecke's career, but the finest tribute, in its oblique way, may be Dave Frishberg's song "Dear Bix," in which the singer tells Bix he's "not just an ordinary B-flat guy."

Whitney Balliett, in his book "American Singers," wrote this:

"'Dear Bix' is addressed to the legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who died of alcoholism at twenty-eight in 1931. It is addressed to him as if he were still alive, and, cognizant of his problems with drink and of his various aesthetic frustrations, it wishes him well and cheers him on."

Here are the last lines in Frishberg's lyric:

"I wonder, Bix, old chum,
When you reminisce in years to come,
Will you ever hum that someday song
You've been looking so long to find?
So, do what you got to do--
'Cause you're one of the favored few,
Dear Bix, you're one of a kind."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Good, The Bad and the Early

We are talking about Daylight Saving Time, and the question is--what can you do with all that daylight you save? Go on vacation in the winter?

Yes, dear friends, the dreaded (for some of us) DST has returned. How can you tell? Watch cars going by with drivers dozing at the wheel, praying that the caffeine will soon kick in.

In recent years, energy conservation has been given as the rationale behind the time change. But we prefer the reason put forth when Daylight Saving Time was introduced--that it provides more hours for golf.

The practice of setting clocks one hour ahead has never been embraced by the largely agricultural province of Saskatchewan, because, as Mr. Berkley Bigler of Horizon astutely observed, "Cows don't play golf."

Trumpeter Ray Anthony's band used to play an old Maurice Chevalier song called "Moonlight Saving Time" ("There oughta be a Moonlight Saving Time/so I could love that girl of mine/until the birdies wake and chime/Good Morning") but the tune that springs to our mind and lips is "I Was Up With the Lark This Morning." At 2:30 a.m., we could hear morning DJs all across Canada cursing.

But enough of the bad stuff--consider the positive side of Daylight Saving Time: You get to Happy Hour a full sixty minutes sooner.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bibi, Boehner and Baird

"No matter how much bagels and lox you eat, it won't make you Jewish" -- Gerry Altman.

Benjamin Netanyahu, "Bibi" to his buddies, was in Washington, DC to address a joint session of Congress. Not all members of Congress were present; some felt the invitation to the Prime Minister of Israel, extended without running it by President Obama, was a breach of protocol, or a huge display of chutzpah, and simply not kosher. Speaker of the House John Boehner said, "Fey--these guys should quit their kvetching" and privately dissed them as "a bunch of schlemiels."

But there were many in attendance to hear Mr. Netanyahu's speech, among them former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, wearing a yarmulke borrowed from Stephen Harper. Israel's Ambassador to the US said, "John's a true mensch."

Mr. Baird, for his part, declared, "We agree with everything the Prime Minister says, and anyone who doesn't is plain meshuga."

Following the address, Speaker Boehner invited the Prime Minister to lunch, saying, "Care for a nosh, Bibi? Uh--is it okay to call you Bibi?"

Mr. Netanyahu: "No."

In the Congressional Dining Room, guests were served schmaltz herring, chicken soup with matzo balls, pastrami and latkes, and Mogen David wine. Mr. Netanyahu said, "I'll have Jack Daniel's and ribs. Make the Jack Daniel's a double."

President Obama did not attend the event. His press secretary explained that "Unfortunately, the President has been called away to attend an urgent pickup basketball game."