Saturday, 26 June 2010

Riffage, n

This is a word which has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary in its June quarterly update. The OED says of it:

One surprise of this range was the fecundity of riff, n (and riff, v) in producing new nouns referring to the playing of catchy musical phrases. Besides riffage, this update also includes new entries for the whimsical riffola, n. and the retro rifferama, n. These words entered the English language amid an explosion of popular music journalism in the second half of the twentieth century, coined by critics who apparently felt limited by the staid predictability of riffing, n. The three new entries are only the tip of a neologistic iceberg: OED's files also contain examples of riffery, riffdom, riffmongery, and riffology, among others which may eventually be considered for inclusion in future updates.

I would never have thought of harmless little riff in terms of "the tip of a neologistic iceberg", and I daresay that neither would the great players of them (Buster Bailey, clarinet, for instance). I must let the editors know that in listing other derivatives for possible future inclusion they have failed to mention many important ones such as: rifflike, rifferoo, riffmanship, and of course the ever-popular if slightly vulgar phrase riff off, all of which have appeared in print and therefore qualify for an entry.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

One lovely black eye

It was not until I acquired this the other day (an accident: no other parties were involved) that I realised just how much amusement the sight of one of these evokes: half a dozen total strangers smiled at me when they saw mine and some ventured a friendly jibe such as "Auditioning for the panda role, are you?"; my retort in every case was the feeble "You should see the other guy".

I knew that two of these were the subject of a comic song made famous by Charles Coborn in 1886, Herman's Hermits, and others, and that the original tune was Italian, so I looked it up. It was called Vieni Sul Mar, and to my delight I found that there was a recording of it made by Tito Schipa, whose incomparable elegance and style made him my favourite tenor years ago. When you listen to a modern tenor (or three) giving his all you might well think "What a marvellous voice!", but when Schipa sings you think only "What a beautiful song!".

You can find the recording HERE, together with the Italian words, which make no mention of any lovely black eyes.

[Очи чёрные is sometimes translated as Black Eyes so this gives me an excuse for providing a link to a loud and passionate version of the song, in Russian with English subtitles, with an incomprehensible video in which a half-naked hussy prances about, putting a silly hat on one young man and then hitting another one in the face. It is sometimes described as a Russian gypsy folk song; in fact the words and music were written respectively by a Ukrainian poet, Yevhen Hrebinka, and a German composer, Florian Hermann. The poem was first published in 1843.]

Friday, 18 June 2010

Dream Couple

No 30 in an occasional series of extracts from The Postcard Century

August 1920 Annie sends this luxury tinted card with embossed borders from Hendon to Florrie Cowdery in Newport, Isle of Wight. I thought you would like this photo of M.P. and D.F. as you will see it was taken while they were here in London.
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were the great romantic stars of the silent screen and their marriage was made in Heaven and Hollywood. But they also knew how the business worked. They teamed up with Charlie Chaplin and the director of epics, D.W. Griffith, to form United Artists, a distribution company which has survived to this day as a major name in cinema. It was responsible in more recent years for the James Bond films.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The end of ties

We lay our railway lines on sleepers; over there they lay their railroad tracks on ties, while our ties are neckties to them.

But all this is now of no interest, if indeed it ever was, for at last the utter pointlessness of the bits of cloth we (and they) used to put round our necks has been realised, and the things are going the way of spats, turnups and shirts with tails.

During half a century of working life I put a tie on nearly every day (say, three hundred times a year) and until recently I somehow believed that I should keep them all, because occasions might arise when I needed to wear one again. However, I now see that my collection of a couple of hundred of them is a waste of space and two or three would be plenty, so a major cull is in hand.

Throwing away the wine- or gravy-stained ones was easy and I am left with those shown here. Sorting them out would have been a pleasant trip down Memory Lane, except that most of them carry no memories for me and with some exceptions they are an unappealing lot. I do not need to apologise for my taste, for few of them were actually bought by me. There are some lovely ones from my N & Ds, but most were gifts from sporting or business friends and colleagues. [A few nice Hermès ones came from Japanese contacts; as anyone who has visited Japan knows, gift-giving plays an important role in social intercourse there; apart from ties, there were watches and cameras, long since gone, and we have stored a great number of beautifully packaged knick-knacks in what we rather ungraciously call our Japcrap drawer.]

But back to ties. The sporting ones, Olympics apart, mostly commemorate transitory contacts with associations or visits to obscure events. I expect I had a good time at Asztalitenisz Budapest 1982, but I cannot recall the details; and how I acquired the ties of sports in which I never had any interest—Volleyball, Badminton, Pelota Vasca—I cannot imagine.

The business ties with their sad logos are the ones I am least likely ever to wear; the most outstandingly repellent is for an unidentifiable multinational and has motifs looking like festering sores on a background of pus. Others are subfusc and drearily discreet.

I have one tie which puzzles me. It has a picture of the door of No 10 on it and a facsimile signature of Margaret Thatcher. I have no recollection of the occasion when I received it; perhaps the whole shameful episode, whatever it was, has been mercifully blotted from my mind.

As I said, I shall keep just a few of the nicest ties and the rest can go to a boot sale, 3p each or 50p the lot. There is only one in the collection which I am likely to wear regularly in the future: it is the dark one lying across the middle of the picture,

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Casanova in the Convent

It has always been widely believed that monks and nuns do not lead lives of consistent virtue, and thus their transgressions have frequently been portrayed in literature and art for the gratification of the prurient.

In literature there have been many great writers who have strayed near—or even crossed—the borders of pornography in recounting tales of goings on among the devout: Chaucer and Boccaccio (and Balzac who imitated the latter's style in Les Contes Drolatiques) are in an ancient tradition of story-telling of this kind. In art there are of course many illustrations of misbehaviour in the cloisters such as the erotic watercolours of a certain Viennese painter (I give no link to these: OMF is a family blog).

But in opera, improprieties committed by members of religious orders are seldom explicit: nun/monk love arias are rare and never sung in flagrante delicto. No doubt someone will remind me of exceptions to this, but I can think of only one example of a naughty musical nun, and even then she is probably only thinking about it, or trying not to. In an operetta called Casanova, written by Ralph Benatzky in 1928 to music by Johann Strauss II, there is a nun's chorus; the operetta is hardly ever heard, but a few years ago a recording of this chorus made in 1932 became hugely popular and after a period of deletion had to be restored to the HMV catalogue owing to public demand.

We first hear the nuns at their devotions; the music melts into a waltz rhythm, and presently a single nun (the one Casanova is after?) begins a seductive, swaying tune. As the others join in, she soars higher and higher in voluptuous ecstasy (though the words indicate that she is praying to the Virgin Mary) while a solemn bell tolls, until finally a prim chord on the organ reminds us that we are still in a holy place.

There is a later recording of it here by the Viennese soprano Hilde Gueden; others, including Gracie Fields and Joan Sutherland, have recorded this delicious piece of bad taste with varying degrees of reverence and sexiness.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Under surveillance

Why is Google spying on me?

Well, of course, Google spies on everybody in the known universe, and many outside it. But few people have a watcher as assiduous as the one who looks at Other Men's Flowers. My hit counter tells me that almost every day, and sometimes several times a day, someone in or near Mountain View, California (pop. 70,700), logs on to this blog and has a good read. In some cases he (or she) goes to only one page so it is not possible to tell how long he was logged on or to what pages, but at other times he visits several pages and is there for much longer.

For example, on June 1st he logged on to OMF half a dozen times, mostly short visits but including one of 25 minutes, looking at two pages, and one of 66 minutes, looking at seven pages. From the record of the entry and exit pages it looks as if this person is working his way through all the 1,093 posts currently in the blog, a substantial task.

Just because his domain is and Mountain View is the home of Google does not mean that Larry or Sergey is taking a personal interest. It may be that a number of top Google operatives who are nearing retirement after years of undistinguished service have been formed into a team, the OMF Unit (or Squad), and given this tedious but very easy job as compensation for never having quite made it up the promotion ladder. This will keep them happily and uselessly employed for several years; their final report will, of course, be binned unread as soon as it is submitted.

Or perhaps this has nothing at all to do with dear old Google, but is the cherished project of some elderly resident of the Mountain View Sunset 'n Smiles Rest Home who works at it for hours every day and sometimes far into the night.

But what is his game? What does he want? Why has he never sent me a Christmas card?