Conservative Timekeeping

One of the problems of having a conservative outlook is that it permeates every part of your life. Just because something is called “new and improved” does not necessarily make it so — which is even more the case when it comes to societal conditions, of course, in that if one is aware of history, there isn’t much new, and even less is an improvement that hasn’t been tried before, mostly ending in failure.

One might think that this isn’t the case with technology, but even there I look at things with a jaundiced eye. Automotive technology is certainly better than it was a hundred years ago, but we’ve climbed that far up the quality/performance curve to where today’s model is enormously better than the Model T, but not that much better than last year’s model. (And I still prefer a stick shift to an automatic transmission, and a bolt-action rifle to a semi-auto one, to name but two of thousands of examples.)

All this came to mind when I was having a couple of welcome-home drinks with Doc Russia, and he mentioned the fact that he was looking at buying a decent “dress” wristwatch, but because his experience with watches has been limited to utility rather than appearance, he was somewhat at a loss as to what he should be looking at.

As it happens, watches and clocks are something of a passion of mine — if I ever won the lottery, I’d be in deep trouble — so I was happy to offer some words of advice. (I’ve owned several decent watches in the course of my life: Omega, Longines, Piguet and so on, which has made me keenly aware of the value of a good watch — and not just one which keeps perfect time.)

Buying a watch is about as personal a decision as one can find — hell, I’ve known men to spend more time on deciding which watch to buy than selecting a car or even a wife — so there are all sorts of combinations / permutations of features and characteristics which go into one’s final decision which are, to put it mildly, very much individualistic. I realize that in today’s world, such a discussion is akin to such old-fashioned purchase decisions as to the best buggy whip to buy, or even (gasp) the best bolt-action rifles for your needs and wallet, but nevertheless, here we go.

At the outset, I’m going to exclude from this post any discussion of being comfortable with a drugstore digital battery-powered cheapie which keeps perfect time and costs less than fifty bucks. I have absolutely no problem with this attitude — hell, I’ve owned more than one Timex or Casio in my time too — and I’m also not going to engage with people who’ve quit wearing wristwatches altogether, leaving the timekeeping function to their cell phone. It’s the modern thing, and of course it’s your choice. That’s all well and good, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Remember, we’re not talking utility as the primary driving factor in buying a new watch; we’re talking class, beauty, style and quality of workmanship. This is akin to the difference between buying a Toyota Corolla and, say, a Lexus. Both do the same job, both are of excellent quality, but each offers a different style of delivery. This is no less true of watches.

As with all things, you have to start with budget. (If you don’t, you’ll just get frustrated.) Doc’s budget is between $5,000 and $7,000, which offers a wide range of options, all good ones. (Much more than this, say $10,000 plus, and we’re looking at investment watches, which creates a set of completely different purchase criteria.)

Let’s also stipulate that we’re looking for a wristwatch and not a pocket- or “waistcoat” watch, just to keep things simpler.

We should start with what I think is the most important criterion, which is movement: automatic, or manual wind? (There are few battery-powered watches in this price range, which I think is good. My everyday watch is a cheap-ish Dooney & Burke which, while very pretty, needs a new battery every eighteen months, and it drives me scatty.) Automatic is the lazy man’s choice — it self-winds by the movement on one’s wrist but to be honest, unless you’re spending a lot of money (more than our budget), the timekeeping is not always perfect to the millisecond and the watch may need to be adjusted occasionally. A manual wind — generally more precise and therefore more expensive — is of the “eight-day” type: one full wind will last for about a week, and then the watch will need to be rewound. I have no preference, myself, although I lean towards the manual (see “stick shift” and “bolt-action rifle” above): it’s the first of many personal choices we’re going to encounter. Here are some examples of manual-wind watches in our price range:

The last, the IWC Pilot, is normally outside our price range, but I’ve seen it on sale recently, so if you love it (and I do), you may be in luck.

With automatic (a.k.a. self-wind), prices almost halve. All the above examples which have automatic variants cost less than $5,000 — and with that premium removed, we also have a few more brand options within the price range:


…and so on.

Next, we come to appearance: white face, or black/colored? Myself, I prefer a white face, but some of the grays are quite gorgeous. Ditto the hands of the watch: simple, straight, ornate? And the numbers: regular, Roman, dashes, or Art Deco (to name but some). Other functions (date, day, month, stopwatch, moon phase etc.)? Leather strap, plastic strap or metal expandable strap? Once again, all this is a matter of personal choice. If you want or need a watch that does everything except make you coffee in the mornings, go for it.

Honestly, the choices are dizzying (in almost any price bracket), and there are hardly any bad choices once one gets over a thousand dollars. (Poor taste choices, however, are another story — but one man’s bad taste is another’s gotta-have, so I stay away from value judgments of that nature.) For myself, the plainer the better, and I don’t need a date because I hardly ever write checks anymore. I prefer the look of stainless steel over gold; although a decent gold watch always looks classy, the price premium is just more than I want to spend. I prefer a leather strap; I can’t wear the expandable metal straps because I have hairy arms and wrists, and the damn things pinch.

So here’s my shortlist of watches (in addition to all the above) which are more or less in Doc’s price range.

IWC (probably my favorite brand in this price range):

Longines:

Maurice Lacroix and Glasshutte:

And finally, no piece like this would be complete without showing the watch I’d want to get as soon as the Powerball guys got their ducks in a row and finally gave me the winning ticket:

If you wanna know how much it costs, you can’t afford it. Note the Art Nouveau numbering, the faded and understated gold… yowzah.


If you want to play like I did, and see just what’s out there, go to Prestige Time and browse. I don’t think their prices are realistic, by the way: I haven’t found them to be anywhere near those quoted by reputable retail outlets. But they have a bunch of watches showcased, so enjoy.

Insisting On Beauty

One of our favorite famille du Toit sayings is: “Architecture doesn’t have to suck.” And that’s because most often, it costs pretty much the same to build a beautiful building as it does an ugly one. (Yeah, sometimes the flourishes and carvings might make it a tad more expensive, but — to use another favorite family saying — “Long after you’ve forgotten how much it originally cost, you’ll still be appreciating its beauty.”) This article, I think, makes a good case for why beauty should be maintained, nay even required, in its examination of why beautiful architecture is so necessary.

My favorite distinction is between the Art Nouveau and the Le Corbusier (a.k.a. Modernist) styles:

  

Myself, I prefer the graceful, almost decadent style of Art Nouveau, and find the sterile straight lines and sharp corners of Modernism (or what I call the “East German”) style repulsive and soul-destroying. It should come as no surprise that the first style came about before the First World War, and the second style immediately thereafter — just like the exquisite art of Impressionism was followed by Cubism [50,000-word anti-Cubism rant deleted].

Yes, I know that Modernist buildings are more “efficient” (like that’s important) in their ease of construction and utilization of space. All I know is that I’d rather look down any classical Parisian street than any modern German one. (Or, for that matter, a street in an American city like Dallas, which is so ugly it’s small wonder that most North Texans prefer to live in the suburbs, which are themselves hardly a source of exemplary architecture.) And I can say with absolute certainty that I’d rather live on a beautiful Art Nouveau street than on one lined with buildings designed by Walter Gropius (another architect who — like Le Corbusier — should be in a space where the temperature is set to “Broil”).

I know, I know: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But as Joseph Campbell is quoted in the linked article above: “If you want to see what a society really believes in, look at what the biggest buildings on the horizon are dedicated to.”

We should live amidst beautiful things, we should strive for beauty even though some evil bastards may call it “decadent”.

A rose is beautiful, and it decays and dies. A concrete block is useful, and survives for centuries, its ugliness almost timeless. No two roses are alike; all concrete blocks are identical. We can always grow another rose to replace a dead one — but to get rid of a concrete block, we need jackhammers and high explosives.

I know that some people may find beauty in straight lines, and sharp corners, and orderliness. I’m just not one of them.

Enough Old Stuff

One of the several “throw or keep?” decisions I had to make when emptying the house was about my CD collection. As I came late to the Digital Revolution (21st Century version) — and some say I still haven’t joined it — I haven’t started downloading music from Amazon Musik or whatever they call it, simply because I have most of my favorite music on CD already, and with a very few exceptions, I find modern music unappealing.

Unfortunately, this also means that I’ve become sick of all the old music, “old” being defined as 60s-70s music of my rock star (uh huh) youth. I mean, if I hear “Sweet Home Alabama” and anything by Led Zeppelin one more time, I’m going to slip the safety off the 1911. Even longtime favorites like Genesis, Steely Dan and Jethro Tull are beginning to pall, and needless to say, I have every album of artists like the aforementioned as well as the Beatles, Joe Walsh and Wishbone Ash on CD, so the collection of my favorite musical genres is extensive. But I never listen to it anymore because I’m bored with it. I ended up keeping almost all my old CDs, but have yet to unpack any of them, let alone listen to them. The problem is that music has always been a major part of my existence, and I have to listen to something.

So what am I listening to, at the moment? Classical, mostly, because it doesn’t seem as though I can ever get sick of it. Lately I’ve rediscovered several old favorites like Saint-Saëns and Dvorak, and of course there’s always the perennials (Chopin, Bach, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven etc.) that can be relied upon for listening pleasure, as always. It also helps that their music is being interpreted differently by the various conductors and musicians (Lisitsa, Grimaud, Mutter and so on) — and just as I’ve veered away from Classic Rock, I’ve also lost interest in classical artists like Gould, Rubinstein, Horowitz and even Barenboim (the “Old Guys”, as I’ve heard them described). I like the freshness and verve that virtuosos like Valentina Lisitsa and Olga Kern bring to the old favorites like Beethoven’s Pathétique and Rachmaninoff’s Piano No.2, and the effect of that is almost, as I said earlier, a rediscovery of classical music.

In similar vein, I listen to the old standards like the songs of Rogers & Hart, Carmichael and Gershwin — they never grow old — but I have to say, I also enjoy the interpretations given their music by “modern” artists as well: people like the incomparable Harry Connick Jr. and equally-brilliant Norah Jones. Even Willie Nelson and Eric Clapton have started to reinterpret the standards and to my mind, are eclipsing the “old guys” like Fred Astaire and Julie London, who actually introduced me to this genre. (It’s not that the latter are bad — of course they aren’t — but I’ve just heard them so often, it’s starting to get stale. Yes, even Astaire.)

There’s a common thread to the above which I’ve just realized at this moment: it’s not the music I’m sick of, it’s the original versions thereof. Nobody is reinterpreting Classic Rock, other than as cover bands like American English (Beatles) and Zepparella (Zep).

So maybe that’s what Classic Rock needs: for new guys to reinterpret their music (as opposed to just reproducing it), much as Dred Zeppelin did to Led Zeppelin (I love the Dred, by the way). Let’s hear Dream Theater do their version of the White Album (minus the excruciating Revolution No.9, please), let’s see what Norah Jones does to Suite: Judy Blue Eyes and let’s find out what Samantha Fish does with Blowing In The Wind and Harry Connick Jr. with Only One Woman.

But if I can ask for one, and only one favor from all this reinterpretation activity: we do not repeat not need another version of Free Bird. Don’t make me slip that safety off the 1911…


Update: This wouldn’t be a decent post without an example of the “old” music, and a totally gratuitous pic of what I’m talking about. Here’s Samantha Fish:

…and here’s Only One Woman.

Cover Art, Journeyman Artist

Normally, when I do a profile like this, I do a short biography and some background of the subject… but there are times when I just want to shut up and let the man’s work do the talking.

This is especially true of Robert McGinnis, whose work is as popular with ordinary people as with book editors and publishing houses. I have to tell you, this is an artist of exceptional talent — yeah, he doesn’t do “fine” art, but I have to tell you, his art is just fine by me.

If like me you’ve read many paperback novels, McGinniss’s work will probably be familiar to you; and even if you haven’t, his style will be instantly recognizable. If you look for “journeyman artist” in a dictionary, it will be his face right there under the entry title.  Here are a few examples:

   

…and I know, I’m going to hear mutters of “graphic art, not fine art”. Yeah, I know: he’s no Boldini (whom we will be examining later this month). But just because McGinniss has earned his living with the above kind of work, it doesn’t mean that he’s incapable of a different class of art — like this one:

And then there’s this one, in which you can almost taste the dust:

…and this one, full of menace (can you spot it?):

I can hear the cries now: “Oh, Kim! Cowboy art? My smelling salts!”

Honestly, I think McGinnis’s work transcends style and trend: they are simply pictures which tell a story; sometimes you have to look for it, and sometimes it’s quite obvious. One more, for luck:

Yeah, it’s James Bond. Why not James Bond?

McGinnis is still alive, and he’s still painting, I think.  Go ahead and google his name if you want to see more of his work. It will take you a while to get through it all, but hey: it’s Sunday.

Side By Side

I can’t afford a new shotgun, or even a decent second-hand one, but I am going to need one for High Bird Shooting (and Missing) later in in the year, so I’ve been looking in more or less a dilettante fashion to see if I can get one that is acceptable but which does not require the sacrifice of a firstborn child. I have a shotgun already, of course, but it’s an old, ugly thing of uncertain provenance and even more uncertain performance — and it’s in the much-derided 16-gauge chambering, which would cause untold me embarrassment if uncased on Lord Whatsit’s estate (for ’tis there where I will be shooting in early November). Hence my problem. Even worse is that, current no-name El Cheapo shotgun aside, I do have some fairly rigorous standards about shotguns I want to shoot, let alone own.

And here are the details of the features I’d like:

1.) Side-by-side barrels, at least 29” long. Longtime Readers will remember that as an old-fashioned man, my motto about shotgun barrels is that they should be placed side by side, like a man and his dog, and not over and under like a man and his mistress.

2.) Concealed hammers. I’m not that old-fashioned.

3.) Boxlock action. Okay, I am that old-fashioned. I just like the looks of the boxlock. (Here’s a fine summary of the differences between boxlock and sidelock actions. I should note that with modern steel, a boxlock action is every bit as strong as a sidelock, and the boxlock shotgun weighs considerably less than a sidelock.)

4.) Double triggers. I prefer knowing that when I pull the rear trigger, the left barrel will discharge first. This is especially important if some time has elapsed since firing the first shot, or if one has to replace a dud cartridge.
Here’s a pic of all my desired features so far:


To continue:

5.) Full choke in the left barrel, Improved/Modified in the right. (“Full” and “Three-quarter”, for my Brit readers.)

6.) Chambering: 20ga. I know, I know… it’s not the mighty 12ga, but Mr. Free Market shoots the 20ga (for medical reasons), and I’d far prefer to mooch ammo off him Over There, rather than going through the schlep of carrying 500+ U.S.-bought shells over The Pond into Britishland.

7.) Little or no engraving on the receiver/barrels or checkering on the stock. Actually, I’d prefer no carving at all. I love the feel of smooth steel and smooth wood, and my hands don’t perspire, so there’s no danger of the stock “slipping” in my grasp. And speaking of stocks, I want an English-style “splinter” (small, tapered) fore end.


…and a “straight” stock (no pistol grip), which is also sometimes called an “English”-style stock:


8.) Safety: Not automatic. An “auto safety” on a shotgun typically engages [duh] automatically when you open the action for loading. Thank you, but I’m fully capable of deciding for myself when I want the safety engaged or not. When I load a shotgun, I want to shoot something, and when I close the action, I want to be ready to go.

9.) Ejectors: Adjustable. There are times when you don’t care where the empties go, and you have to reload quickly, and on those occasions a “full-eject” is desirable. Then there are times when you need to remove the fired cartridges manually, and put them away in a bag or something, so you don’t have to go grubbing around in the dirt for the past mile you’ve walked, looking for the spent cases. Also, if you haven’t fired and need to extract the live cartridges, it’s far better not to have them drop into the mud.

Not that I’m picky, or anything.

Sadly, there are few such animals on the market at the moment, so I’m going to be searching for some time — especially considering my parlous financial state, which will require some kind of bargain before I purchase one. Unfortunately, most shotguns of such beauty and features are seldom “on sale” because of their relative scarcity and high demand (see here for one such “bargain”, or here for another ), so it’s going to take me a while, and I may have to sell if not the firstborn, then at least the Forgotten Middle Child Whom Nobody Loves.

This being poor thing really bites.

French Friday I: (Re-)Intoduction

One of the many things I enjoyed about my old blog was something I did on Fridays, wherein I featured three items from a particular country. I don’t remember what I called it, but today marks its return, wherein I feature some fine things from la belle France. So who or what prompted the return of this (quite popular, as I recall) feature?

Juliette Binoche, that’s who. Here’s a (recent) pic of this magnificent French creature, at age 53:

Are you kidding me? I’ve had girlfriends in their twenties and thirties who didn’t look this good. And yes, lighting, flattering camera shot blah blah blah. Here’s a closeup from that same occasion:

Yeah, a few more wrinkles… and she still doesn’t look like a woman in her fifties. Now we all know that movie stars are not uncommon visitors to the plastic surgeon’s operating table, but the best part of Ms. Binoche’s appearance is that she hasn’t had any cosmetic surgery — in fact, she’s gone on record as hating the idea. All that, and she’s a brilliant actress too. The hills are alive… with the sounds of ordinary women chanting their envious hatred.

Speaking of hills, and to switch gears for a moment, as it were: here’s a French car I think looks quite sexy too. It’s the Alpine 110 Berlinette of 1968, which makes it a bare four years younger than Juliette:

The original 110 had a tiny 1.1-liter rear-mounted Renault engine, but later models (as pictured) sported a larger 1.3-liter block, and these would dominate the World Rally Championship (WRC) for several years — their reign ended only by the mighty Lancia Stratos in 1974.  I have to tell you all: I love the look of this little beast. It’s quirky and sexy (like Juliette Binoche), and I’d love to drive one around a track — maybe somewhere in the south of France.

And as a final segue in this post, talking of Provence reminds me of possibly my favorite modern movie of all time. It’s Ridley Scott’s A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe and the exquisite Marion Cotillard (Mlle. Binoche’s only contemporary competition in the “Gorgeous French Actress” category). The story is about how a driven, ruthless futures trader (Crowe) inherits a piece of property in Provence, and how the country, the place, and its people change him forever.

I watch this movie about every three months or so, or whenever I want to submerge myself in romance. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.

La belle France, indeed. And I didn’t even touch on French wine, cheese or bread. Those may come in a later post.