Saturday, October 24, 2015

R.I.P. Maureen O'Hara

Growing up, I always wanted to look like Mary Kate Danaher.

It's funny--I realized today that I've probably watched two of her movies every year since I was a kid--Miracle on 34th Street and The Quiet Man. And of course I grew up with The Parent Trap. Her performances are as much a part of my memories, my cultural grounding, as Monty Python or the Replacements.

O'Hara always seemed to play a woman who didn't need anyone's bullshit--you had to win her over. And I wanted to be that.

I've seen The Quiet Man probably 36 times, which is as long as I've been alive. My great-grandfather came from the area where they filmed it (though he left by 1904), and when the film came out, it became a family obsession, in part because of that, because we looked at it and said "we came from there"--and it's true, because we've met our family who still live near there, still have the family farm.

But not just my family--it was so popular in my neighborhood, that when I went to a funeral about ten years ago, I came across an old friend of my dad's, who, realizing he was one of the last of that crowd, sat there and told me about how he'd wished he'd moved away, and found his own White O'Morn. For some reason, it had a real hold on the men of my parents' generation, who grew up hearing about the Old Country from their fathers or grandfathers, treating the film like some sort of Irish-American Haggadah. I know people from Ireland hate this, because it can be patronizing--but it comes from a sincere place.

She had a good death, which is more than can be said for most people, famous or not. But it's hard not to feel a little sad--as others have already said, there's so little of Old Hollywood still living, I guess it's only Olivia de Havilland now.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tear Down Little Pete's? Sure, Can We Tear Down City Hall Too?

Philadelphia, I love you, but you’re bringing me down: Little Pete’s to Meet the Wrecking Ball
Little Pete’s, a beloved Center City diner, will meet the wrecking ball soon in order to make way for a 300-room hotel.
South Street is a shell of its former self; the Boyd is being hollowed out into a shitty multiplex; Little Pete’s is going to be torn down for a goddamn hotel. Hell, they even want Frank Gehry to tear out the steps of the Art Museum.

One of the great things about Philly has been that it’s a place everyone could afford live; I don’t want it to be the “sixth borough” or SanFranEast.

But what else is new?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sometimes Myths Are Real

It's been a rough winter in the UK--storms and floods have devastated counties like Somerset. One small positive thing that's come of it all, though, is the curious reappearance of a submerged forest of the coast of Wales:

Composed mostly of oak and pine, the forest is believed to date from the Bronze Age. It was buried under a peat bog 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, then inundated by rising sea levels until this winter's violent storms stripped away the covering of peat and sand. The high level of alkaline and lack of oxygen in the peat has preserved the wood in an almost pristine state. 
A walkway made of sticks and branches was also discovered. It's 3,000 to 4,000 years old and was built, it is believed, to cope with rising sea levels back then. "The site around Borth is one where if there is a bad storm and it gets battered, you know there's a good chance something will be uncovered," says Deanna Groom, Maritime Officer of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, who helped find the site. 
But what's really interesting about this is the location of this submerged forest: Cardigan Bay, in the area of the fabled Cantre'r Gwaelod--the "drowned hundred" of Gwyddno Garanhir, a legendary king, who may (or may not) be the same as the historical 6th century ruler Gwyddno ap Clydno of Meirionydd.

The earliest account is found in the Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin:
Seithenhin sawde allan.
Ac edrychuirde varanres
Mor. maes guitnev rytoes. 
Boed emendiceid y morvin
Aehellygaut guydi cvin.
Finaun wenestir mor terruin.
Seithenhin, stand thou forth,
And behold the billowy rows;
The sea has covered the plain of Gwydneu.
Accursed be the damsel,
Who, after the wailing,
Let loose the Fountain of Venus, the raging deep.

Briefly, a girl named Mererid fails at her duties of keeping the floodgates closed, and the land is subsequently drowned.

There are several Celtic legends like this: Ys at the bottom of Douarnenez Bay in Brittany, Lyonesse in Mount's Bay in Cornwall, and finally Cantre'r Gwaelod in Cardigan Bay, which, as it happens, is the same area as this newly-exposed forest that's been under water for five thousand years.

But this isn't the only lost land found again; a forest was found in Mount's Bay, Cornwall. As the BBC reported:
Remains in Penzance, Cornwall, can be seen after sand was ripped from beaches by a series of storms which hit the coast in the new year.
Geologists believe extensive forests extended across Mount's Bay in Penzance between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago.
The shifting sands have also revealed wrecks, an iron age settlement in Devon and wartime explosives in Devon, Somerset and Dorset.
Remains of ancient forests have also been seen on Portreath beach, Daymer Bay in Cornwall and Bigbury Bay in Devon.
St Michaels Mount in the bay is known in Cornish as Karrek Loos yn Koos - which means Grey Rock in the Wood.
This is the area often associated with Lyonesse, the drowned land that was home to Tristan.

On the one hand, we can't say for certain that the memory of these lost lands were carried down for thousands of years, but we do know that Britain has been continuously inhabited for at least ten thousand years, since the end of the last Ice Age. It's a leap, but not an entirely unreasonable one, to suggest that the stories later preserved by the Celts were memories of the culture that predated them, passed on, influencing their myths.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

If you like Icelandic sagas (and I do), this is pretty cool.

Chapter 18: Concerning Leia and the Sons of Dítú
A woman was named Leia; she was the daughter of Beilorgana, king of the Aldiran Regions in Ireland. Relations were cool between Beilorgana and Falfadinn, for Falfadinn, King of Norway, claimed to be King of Ireland as well, and he raided widely in the Aldiran Regions.
There were many chieftains in many lands who greatly disliked King Falfadinn, but did not like Jabbi, King of the Danes, either. Many went to new lands, to the Faroes or to Iceland or to the Hebrides or to the Orkneys or to the Shetlands. But the army of Falfadinn was great, and he had many large warships, and he raided the lands of those who would not acknowledge his absolute authority. He had many good men killed, and others he enslaved. He was a very unpopular king. And because King Falfadinn wanted to intimidate all who stood against him, he ordered to be built the greatest ship which men had ever seen upon the seas, and that ship held such a store of men and weapons that they could pillage an entire large city. And a name was given to that ship, and it was called Daudastjarna (Death-Star).
--from Tattúínárdǿla sagaStar Wars as an Icelandic saga, and other fun with Old Norse 

You know, every time I think I'm burned out on Star Wars, something like this happens, and it's very much up my alley.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Oh hey, so ancient Rome and China had some contact

Which you maybe already knew (I did, but only in a vague sort of way, and the fact that Ptolemy's Geographia mentions China and Japan). But I haven't actually read the source text for the Chinese side, the Weilüe (魏略), until today, thanks to io9:

The kingdom of Da Qin (Rome)1 is also called Lijian.2 It is west of Anxi (Parthia) and Tiaozhi (Characene and Susiana), and west of the Great Sea.3
* * *
The ruler of this country is not permanent. When disasters result from unusual phenomena, they unceremoniously replace him, installing a virtuous man as king, and release the old king, who does not dare show resentment.18The common people are tall and virtuous like the Chinese, but wear hu (‘Western’) clothes. They say they originally came from China, but left it.19
They have always wanted to communicate with China but, Anxi (Parthia), jealous of their profits, would not allow them to pass (through to China).20 

There's a lot more to be found at the site (and the notes are awesome), but one thing I found interesting is that they called Rome Da Qin (or Ta-Ch'in)--meaning essentially that Rome, being the other large empire at the other end of the known world, was The Other China.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Universe Wants Me to Listen to Foghat

I'm having one of those weird days of serendipity, and it's all about Foghat.

  • Two different stations were playing Foghat this morning as I drove to work; 
  • There was a reference to them on the lastest episode of the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour that I listened to at work today; 
  • I just now started watching MST3K episode Pod People, which also tosses off a reference to Foghat. 

This is more Foghat in one day than in my entire life. I don't even own any of their records.

Yep, this has nothing to do with the Celts or Philly or anything else. It's just kinda weird.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cernunnos: Looking Every Which Way

Ceisiwr Serith has adapted his article "Cernunnos: Looking a Different Way" (from the Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium) into a documentary, Cernunnos: Looking Every Which Way. This is the full-length version; he also has divided it up into eight parts, if that's more convenient for you. Check it out: