Road Music

As a general rule, I don’t listen to music in the car, other than perhaps Dallas-Fort Worth’s classical music station WRR (101.1 FM) if I’m caught in a traffic jam.

On long trips, however, and especially driving through the bleak nothingness  that is northwest Texas, some sterner stuff is needed. Here’s what I brought along for this particular trip:

  • Steely Dan: Citizen Steely Dan
  • Procol Harum: Prodigal Stranger, Shine On Brightly
  • Lindisfarne: Magic In The Air
  • Kate Bush: The Kick Inside
  • Chicago: Greatest Hits Vol I and II
  • Genesis: Duke, …And Then There Were Three
  • Level 42: Running In The Family, World Machine
  • Joe Walsh: Look What I Did (greatest hits)
  • Wishbone Ash: Time Was (greatest hits)
  • Earl Klugh: Heartstring, Living Inside Your Love
  • Strawbs: Bursting At The Seams
  • Peter Skellern: Sentimentally Yours, Cheek To Cheek

…and some classical stuff that nobody’s interested in: Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Saint-Saëns, Chopin, the usual stuff.

Yeah, it’s a strange assortment. I like variety in my music. And yes, they’re all CDs. I see no reason to buy online music when I already have most of what I like to listen to.

 

Bucket List Entry #5: Cricket At Lord’s

To most Americans, “Cricket” is a darts game, or else a stupefyingly-boring sport played by Brits, or something.

To me, and to millions of people around the world, cricket is the ultimate gentleman’s sport: leisurely, subtle, with occasional moments of great excitement and still-more periods of escalating, gut-wrenching tension made all the more so by the quiet  hours that led up to them.

I’m not going to bother to explain the mechanics of the game: either you know how cricket is played or you don’t, and that’s it. Suffice it to say that there are essentially two kinds of cricket: first, there’s a quick slogfest that takes just a little longer than the average baseball game, but wherein over three hundred runs can be scored by each batting side (as opposed to the average winning baseball score of only four or five runs… talk about boring). It’s called “limited overs” cricket, and as the name suggests, each side gets a set number of “balls” (pitches) to get the highest possible score, the winner getting the higher score. I don’t much care for limited-overs cricket, because it’s just a slogfest (and therefore more popular with hoi polloi, go figure).

The second type of cricket is called “Test” cricket and is played between different nations — mostly, it should be said, by England and the former British colonies: Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh and the West Indies. (Other nations also play cricket, e.g. Scotland, Holland, Zimbabwe, Kenya and even the United States, but those are considered lower-class competitions, not Test matches per se.)

Test cricket is played over a much longer period of five days, and each side gets two innings to bat and field. (Unlike baseball, in which only three batters play per innings, cricket has all eleven players bat consecutively in a single innings.) If you think that a game which takes five days is going to be unbearably dull, well, it sometimes is. But that very dullness is not dull for the players, as each side attempts to penetrate the defenses of its opponent whether by bat or by ball, and dullness can be turned into heart-pounding excitement in a matter of seconds, let alone minutes. Over those five days, well over a thousand runs will likely be scored by the two sides — unless of course it rains (something which happens from time to time in England) and the match becomes shortened. It is also possible that five days will yield a draw rather than victory for one side.

Anyway, having not explained cricket to people who aren’t familiar with it, allow me, then, to introduce you all to #5 on Ye Olde Buckette Lyste.

5. I want to watch a cricket match, and preferably a Test match at the Lord’s ground in St. John’s Wood, London.

Lord’s is rightly called the “home of cricket”, and cricket has been played there since 1787 (admittedly, in three different locations, but the current ground had its 200th anniversary in 2014).

Currently, South Africa is touring England, and the first Test will be played at Lord’s on July 6-10 — and Mr. Free Market has informed me that he’s trying to get tickets for at least one of the days. (It’s a difficult task because both England and South Africa have very powerful teams at the moment, the rivalry goes back well over a century, and interest is therefore keen among the sport’s many followers.)

I’m holding thumbs on this one, but I have to say that if he’s unsuccessful, I’ll settle for watching a county match (between the home team and any other county side). It’s Lord’s, FFS, and it’s my personal haj (if you’ll excuse the cultural appropriation).

(Some people may comment on the unsightly colored advertising splodges on the otherwise-emerald-green turf. Don’t get me started.)

And about that rain business:

Colloquially, that’s known as Pub Time. And yes, I’ll be taking my brolly and wellies, just in case.


Incidentally, the darts game known as “Cricket” in the U.S. is called “Killer” everywhere else in the world. Just thought I’d clear that up.

Reality

Allow me to quote an email exchange I had with my Brit friends earlier this week. While everyone in Britain was oohing and aahing over the nuptials of skinnymalink Pippa Middleton to some chinless Brit dude, I was taken by something else: the car which brought the not-so-blushing bride to the church, and I commented as such to Mr. Free Market and The Englishman in an email which basically said “Never mind the bint, it’s the car I love”. And you have to admit, the Jaguar Mk.V is quite a looker:

I was rudely brought back to Earth, firstly by Mr. Free Market:

“All very well on a bright summer’s day — all 3 of those that we get each year — but the first sign of drama & it won’t start.”

…and yet more by The Englishman:

“Agreed — the idea of a ride in one of those is lovely, but actually they are bone rattlers, noisy, expensive to run and at the slightest excuse refuse to start. Demanding attention all the time with mysterious dramas. Of course with the top off they look fantastic, though often they smell a bit of damp leather and dogs. And in the end something a bit more modern with something up top and a decent level of comfort is a better ride.
And the same goes for the car.”

Such cynicism is appalling.

Not Your Normal Portraits

If you’ve ever wandered through the Louvre in Paris or through any of the great houses in Britain, you’d have come across portraits of royalty and the nobility and good grief, how boring they are. Most, of course, were painted in times when there were no photography, and to preserve any memory at all of King Louis the Umpteenth or His Grace The Duke of  Marmalade-Hyphen-Dogsbottom, a portrait artist was summoned and told, “Paint me.” Needless to say, of course, the painter would take great pains to hide His Majesty’s facial pox marks or the Earl’s syphilis sores, and the result was one of uniform blandness, generations and generations upon generations thereof. If the painter was really good, and not just some fashionable hack that all the Society Knobs were using at the time (yes, that happened then just as it does today), he’d maybe capture a spark of spirit in the eyes, or a dimple in a smile, but mostly they all looked like waxwork figures, with about as much life.

Then came Boldini.

Giovanni Boldini is definitely my favorite portraitist of all time, and indeed he’s in my top ten list of all artists, period. I’m not going to write a potted biography of the man (here’s a decent one on the website bearing his name); rather, I want to highlight just a few of my favorites of his works.

When heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt married the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895, one of the things she brought to the marriage, other than a gazillion of her father’s dollars, was a very American attitude towards one’s own children. In contrast to the other noble families of the time, who looked on their male children as “heirs and spares” and wasted no time in shipping them off to boarding school, thence to the Army/Navy or public service, Consuelo adored both her sons, and especially the younger, Ivor Spencer-Churchill.

Enter Boldini. By this time, he was one of the most sought-after portraitists in Europe — indeed, he made so much money through his portraits that in his later years he’d quit painting them and only painted what he wanted to paint (which we’ll look at down the page). Boldini spent some time with Lady Marlborough, and discovered the close relationship between her and her younger son. Then he painted this portrait of the two of them:

The portrait actually scandalized what was known then as “polite” society (even though it was anything but), because instead of having young Ivor standing stiffly at her side in the prevailing fashion, he had the boy lounging against his mother in a pose which, to the swells, looked more like that of a lover than a child, nestled up to her bosom and his hand possessively on her leg. Of course, Consuelo cared not a fig for the whispers — as one of the wealthiest women in the world, and married into one of the oldest and most storied noble families in Britain (or anywhere else) withal, she could tell them all to take a hike, and she did. So the portrait survives to this day at Blenheim Palace, and you can see it for yourself if you do one of the tours (unless the painting is being exhibited elsewhere). I think it’s absolutely incredible: Boldini captured the relationship between mother and son as well as Consuelo’s considerable beauty and elegance, and it remains one of the great family portraits of all time.

Even Boldini’s “ordinary” portraits are anything but. Here’s one of Lady Colin Campbell, a society beauty of the late nineteenth century:

…and I don’t know if there’s a sultrier, sexier portrait of its kind anywhere.

As I said, Boldini gave up portrait painting after a while and started to do works that interested him. Mostly, as his biography notes, they were of women — but instead of the realistic style of the portraits, they began to lean towards late Impressionism. (Whether that’s because of his failing eyesight or just because he liked the style is probably a moot issue. Myself, I love almost every one of his later works.) Here’s a sample. First, the “Spanish Dancer At The Moulin Rouge”:

Now let’s look at something a little (okay, a lot) racier, his “Reclining Nude III”:

Hmmm… maybe I should have put up the usual NSFW warning, but hey, it’s Saturday and you shouldn’t be at work anyway. Finally, here’s my favorite of all Boldini’s paintings, an earlier one entitled “The Hammock”:

In a word, it’s exquisite: the soft springtime lighting and the dense background of bushes, trees and flowers which surround the slight form of the girl sleeping in the hammock. It’s a view which is chaste (the long soft material conceals almost everything except her face) and yet intimate (the stockinged leg falling carelessly off the hammock and out from under the dress). It’s voyeuristic, but innocently so — and I think if Boldini had only ever painted this single work, it would still be considered a masterpiece.

Now you can go and look at his other works, here. No doubt you’ll find one or two that you prefer over my choices, and you won’t hear a word of disagreement from me, ever. That’s how highly I regard this artist.

Enjoy, and if you want to buy a print of one of Boldini’s works (on canvas or paper, in varying sizes), you can do so at the Art Renewal Museum.

 

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.