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Archive for December, 2012

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Now that it is officially winter, I thought I would share my reading from the fall. So, in no particular order:

I just finished re-reading The Hobbit in preparation for seeing the movie. It is still enjoyable and a much lighter read than Lord of the Rings. There is certainly a childlike feel to the story especially when Tolkien takes on the role of the narrator. Tolkien has a number of pinnacle events in the story from the destruction of Smaug  to the battle of the Five Armies. This was a device he also used in the Lord of the Rings when you would expect the story would end with the destruction of the Ring, but continues on to Frodo’s return to the Shire and subsequent departure. It was fun to get reacquainted with the book again. Since I haven’t seen the film yet, it will be interesting to see how they get three complete movies out of the original story.

As a fan of history, I thought I would step out of my comfort zone a little and read some historical fiction. I read Ken Follett‘s Fall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy on my Kindle. The book reminded me of one of the favourite authors from my youth – James A. Mitchener. There was a broad sweeping feel to the book and I enjoyed how Follett built the characters and weaved the story into actual historical events. It is a long read but it kept me engaged. One tiny item – every so often he would drop in a sex scene that was quite superfluous. I guess that is what sells. I will read more of Follett – it was nice to get involved in the book, characters and events.

In the history vein, I picked up Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History by Craig L. Symonds. As the title suggests, the book details specific naval engagements that range from the War of 1812, the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War II and the Persian Gulf War. I thought the author did a good job of placing the battles within the larger context of the conflict. The description of what the sailors had to endure, especially in the earlier battles, was something to read. I did think the book was biased, but I suppose this is to be expected – I guess no one wants to write from the losing side. It was a good read, not a great one.

My brother-in-law gave me Jackie Stewart‘s autobiography, Winning Is Not Enough, to read earlier in the year. Stewart was a three-time Formula 1 auto racing champion. I have an enormous amount of respect for Stewart who retired at the end of his last winning season. It takes a lot to quit when you are ahead. The book is at its best when Stewart talks about racing. He is very candid about the pain of losing so many of his fellow drivers and his decision to leave the sport. He did an enormous amount for safety in Formula 1 during and after his driving days. Where the book was disappointing for me was the name-dropping that took up a lot of the end of the book. However, the description of Stewart’s racing days made up for it in the end.

I did have the opportunity to see Stewart race three times at Mosport during his career.

Stewart's Matra on the inside of Mosport's corner 2 during the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix

Stewart’s Matra on the inside of Mosport’s corner 2 during the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix

I almost got to meet Jackie during the 1969 Canadian Grand Prix. He had a coming together with another car right in front of where we watching. Unfortunately I was off somewhere else taking pictures and got back to find out all my buddies had got Stewart’s autograph after he climbed out the of car. All I got was a shot of the wrecked Matra. But I did get to see Jackie win in 1971.

Jackie Stewart winning the 1971 Canadian Grand Prix in the rain at Mosport

Jackie Stewart winning the 1971 Canadian Grand Prix in the rain at Mosport

I did get one clunker this fall. I bought Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music by Rob Young for the Kindle. The book was supposed to be about the beginnings of folk-rock in England in the 60s. I have been a big fan of that style of traditional music fused with rock and roll for a long time and especially the music of Fairport Convention. It is not very often when I don’t get through a book but I couldn’t finish this one. Way too much detail and a tedious writing style did me in. I would recommend Meet on the Ledge by Patrick Humphries if you are interested in Fairport and the folk-rock movement. Electric Eden was anything but …

I have already started in on my winter reading and look forward to those winter nights curled up with a good book (or Kindle as it were).

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On the heels of my post about Ravi Shankar, another bit of my past surfaced this month. On December 14, PBS showed the Beatles film, Magical Mystery Tour, along with a documentary called “Magical Mystery Tour Revisited” about the making of the film.

The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour Album Cover

The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour Album Cover

Now a lot has been written about the film. My connection is that I saw the film in its only Canadian appearance at the O’Keefe Centre in Toronto in 1969.

mmtposter

Poster for the Toronto showing of Magical Mystery Tour (from http://www.capitol6000.com/posters.html)

I have to confess I don’t even remember the supporting acts but the film did make a big impression. I know the initial reaction to the film was very mixed. But for those of us who had two years of Monty Python under our belts, it seemed pretty normal 🙂 Seeing the film again just reinforced how far ahead it was for its day. Magical Mystery Tour really envisioned the music video long before they became commonplace. And I still found a lot of the film very funny when seen again – it was that dry British wit and nonsense that we grew up with, along with some really good music. It was a real treat to see it again.

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When I heard that Ravi Shankar had passed away last week, it brought back memories for me of 1967 or “The Summer of Love” as the media liked to call it. A couple of years earlier I had started reading about Indian philosophy. I will fully admit it was ‘trendy’ but the more I read, the more I became interested in the concepts. And being interested in music from an early age, I found an album in 1966 called “West Meets East” featuring Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist and Ravi Shankar. I was hooked. One of the great things about the late 60’s was the melding of different genres of music into new shapes.

West Meets East - Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin

West Meets East – Ravi Shankar and Yehudi Menuhin

In 1967 I got my chance to see Ravi Shankar perform. He played at the Shakesperian Festival in Stratford Ontario. This was perhaps the perfect venue to hear him. The theatre is in the round and modeled after the original Globe Theatre in England. I was dating my first ‘serious’ girlfriend at the time and we took the train from Toronto to Stratford. It was an amazing event – one that I had never experienced before. It may sound like trite, but I recall listening to his music as being in a dream. The structures were so different from what I had experienced before. Shankar has been quoted that he was concerned about the drug use that became associated with his music – I can tell you that you didn’t need drugs. Closing your eyes and letting the sounds wash over you was all that was required. It truly was a mystical experience.

What was even more fascinating was after a break, the musicians came back out and before they began to play, Shankar talked about Indian music and what it was about. He demonstrated various aspects of the sitar and talked about the fact that Indian music did not rely on written music but passed on their traditions using their own language. It was fascinating to watch Shankar speak, what sounded like gibberish, and then have the tabla player, Alla Rakha, essentially play back what Shankar had spoken. Amazing.

When you think about music mirroring society, it is interesting to think how Indian culture developed and gave us such complex and intriguing music. Heaven knows what today’s music says about us.

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