Monday, March 14, 2022

Ouida: Signa

 By Craig: I read a lot of books. Most of the books I read are from authors long dead. Authors mouldering in their graves for decades or even centuries. Their voices muted but not wholly extinguished. One of these authors of yore was a prolific writer in the late 19th century. Maria Louise Ramé AKA 'Ouida' as she preferred to be called, was the author of numerous novels and short stories. I was familiar with a few of her stories. When I was a young boy, I read A Dog of Flanders. I had almost forgotten about her and indeed it had been many years since the name 'Ouida' had even crossed my mind. It came back to me when I came across her once again while reading about one of my favorite writers, Jack London. I have read a good portion of London's work and read that one of the reasons he decided to become a writer was after reading Ouida's book Signa. I had never heard of this book, but since London thought it was such a great novel, I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed!

Signa was published in 1875 while Ouida was living in Italy. It tells the tale of a young genius named Signa who listens to the sounds of nature and sings at the country church. Signa plays the lute and has a melodious voice. Though he is a peasant, he is unlike the other young people in the town. He cares nothing about toiling the land. He would rather sing with the birds and dream of the music that forms in his head. He lives with his opportunistic uncle, Lippo and his wicked aunt Nita who thrash and abuse him on a daily basis. Signa seems to accept his lot in life until one day he sees a violin in a shop window and becomes obsessed in obtaining it. 

Signa's origins are unknown to him. At a year old, he is found by his uncle's Bruno and Lippo during a flood next to his dead mother, Pippa who had tragically fell to her death off a cliff. Lippo, of course, is married and has a brood of children while his older brother, Bruno lives alone on a hillside farm, sulking in misery, years after the death of the woman he once loved. Most of Signa's life is harsh and brutal except for the time he spends with his uncle Bruno who makes it his life's quest to do right by the boy. Bruno is a solitary man who spends his days working the farm and doting on the boy who becomes a sort of obsession to him. Bruno lives for Signa, but Signa lives for his music. 

Signa is also friends with Palma and Gemma, two sisters who live in the village. Palma is a plain hardworking girl and who secretly loves Signa, but the boy's affections are directed at the selfish and beautiful Gemma who makes him do things (like stealing) that are otherwise foreign to his character. One day, Bruno takes Signa to the city where a painter hears the boy sing and paints his picture, telling him that one day he will be famous. He gives Signa the money that he needs to buy the violin that he has longed to possess. However, when Lippo and Nita find out that he has spent the money on what they consider a toy, they are furious. Nita attempts to beat Signa but the boy finally fights back and injures Nita who swears revenge. Signa knows that if Bruno finds out that Lippo and Nita have been beating him that Bruno will kill his brother. In order to protect Bruno, Signa runs away, taking the opportunistic Gemma with him. Bruno finds out that Signa has gone and is devastated. He goes after them and eventually finds them about to embark on an ocean voyage under the insidious enticement of a scoundrel that uses children for his own monetary benefit. Signa willingly returns with Bruno as long as he promises to not hurt Lippo. Bruno then shelters the boy from his brother and as the years roll on Signa becomes restless. After an argument with Bruno, the man destroys his beloved violin in an act of rage. Bruno almost immediately regrets what he did and makes up for it by sending the boy to study music in the city. Eventually, Signa becomes famous for his operas. His travels back to Bruno and the farm become less frequent. The ending is a classic tragedy in the vein of a Shakespeare play. 

The novel is written in a stylish prose that was common for the time but this in no way takes away from the story. In fact, it is the descriptive scenes of peasant life and nature that add to the novel's mystique. The character development in this book is beyond exceptional, especially Bruno who carries the novel and is one of the great personas of literature. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story and rank it as one of the best books that I have ever read. It ranks up there in my estimation with Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge and Daphne Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn as one of my favorite novels. It is hard to believe that this timeless book is almost forgotten today. In fact, there are very few reviews of Signa that I can find online. If you get a chance give it a try. 

                                                                   Ouida




Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Player

By Robbie: My dad and I were spending a usual day roaming through the antique malls in the Gaston county area. As I was looking around,  I saw the usual stuff. Typically, what you might find in these certain establishments are the belongings of either a deceased individual or someone trying to sell a hand crafted product. I always see the typical Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe posters and vinyl records; jewelry of a woman who roamed the earth in the days of yore and even old works of art that have gone unappreciated. Perhaps, maybe the art they created didn't make sense to anyone else, but it did to the artist who created it. Sometimes these places really are sad, but nostalgic.

 


However, on this day I stumbled upon something interesting. It caught my eye as I gazed around the crowded stalls. It was a small trophy.  It was a Best Supporting Actor award given out by the Little Theater of Gastonia to a one, Mr. Chuc Presley-Clubb. Immediately I began to wonder, who was this man? Obviously he gave a marvelous and noteworthy performance; at least according to the trophy which was dated in the 1996-1997 season. However, I wondered why his award was being sold in an antique mall? And why for $21.95? This didn’t make sense, so I did some investigating. A quick google search  found that Mr. Presley-Clubb died on the 2nd of November 2018. Although I did not know this man I felt a little sadness in my heart. I did a little more investigating online and I stumbled across a video recording of a scene of the play that he had won the award for in the late 1990s. I watched it with unusual interest. The guy was funny! This, however, was the only record of any performance that he ever gave. At least that is all that I could find. When I looked at the views it had a respectable 5.8 thousand! I assume that after he died  at  the relatively young age of fifty two, his family and friends reminisced and watched the video. Now, here I sit today, reflecting. I am probably the only person who isn’t in his family that has any interest in watching it. 


As it has been three years since his passing; Knowing very little of him and being only able to see clips of his performance I wondered what he wanted in life. Perhaps this was the start of an acting career that he had dreamed of pursuing or maybe he was just intrigued like so many others and said why not try out? What have I got to lose! Nevertheless, although Chuc Presley-Clubb did not make it to the status of Elvis Presley, he still did something. He accomplished something. He made people laugh! In life we look too much at the big things that we forget about the little things that make our existences tolerable. Mr. Presley-Clubb might not be entertaining people today, but I know this; based on the laughter and merriment in the audience that day back in 1997 season, Chuc did what he was good at. He fulfilled his purpose in life by making other peoples evenings a little bit better. Isn’t that the reason why we act? A real actor should be doing it for the craft and should not expect an enormous amount of praise for the work. Even though I don’t know how Chuc really was as a human being, I will say this. He did what he had to do in the time in which he was living. Some people affect the world in big ways and others in little ways. It doesn’t really matter which way you do it, because in the end we all face the same fate. Chuc, at least for one night of the fifty two years he spent on planet earth, accomplished something that he enjoyed doing and others enjoyed watching. He left the world a little better for it.


Sunday, September 5, 2021

Welcome Robbie Hipkins to Craig & Jay's History of Anything!

 I welcome my son, Robbie Hipkins to Craig & Jay's History of Anything. Robbie is a senior in High School and is an aspiring actor and writer. His first post is Bubba and His Path. I hope you enjoy it!



A Lost Moment In Time: Bubba & his Path

 By Robbie: I can recall many fond memories from my formative years of a dog named Bubba. Bubba was not like most dogs of the modern day. Throughout the dog's entire life he lived and strolled with leisure around a certain quartet of houses where my father lives in North Carolina. I can distinctly remember the first time the dog came barging through the garage door like I was the intruder and this was his house! Indeed, it really was his abode. My dad didn't know it, but he came with the house! The dog lived a life of repetitiveness. His day would consist of going back and forth between four different houses. While visiting these houses he would get his daily dose of food from each of the suckers that lived there. Afterwards, he would most likely go hunt a squirrel or two, or collapse on the floor of whatever house he chose where he would let out a big fart; that would cause people to sometimes, on rare occasions, feel dizzy and faint!! 

 I choose to call this little snippet, Bubba's Path. Bubba, as long as I have been a resident at Hillside Drive, had always been there. It was as if he were a permanent resident that belonged to this street, and if removed would cause chaos and unbalance. I used to think: what is going to happen when the great Bubba finally dies? Could it be that Bubba is beyond death? That's impossible, I used to think, he has to die. He is an old dog! Probably as old as me and I am only a teenager! Finally, one day my question was answered. After almost a week of not seeing Bubba, my family and I began to get worried about what happened to the dog. We were told by our next door neighbors that Bubba had to be put down, because of the amount of pain he was in. At first, this made me cry, and it still does a little to this very day. The great Bubba of Hillside will no longer take his path around the quartet of houses on Hillside Drive. He has taken his final journey. Time has stopped ticking in his world. However, the memory is not gone. For as long as there are those alive that remember Bubba, he will not easily enter into the realm of oblivion. Nevertheless, one day, after living memory passes there will be no one to remember him; a big, friendly black dog with a full belly who left his mark. On that day, the only memory of Bubba would be if one happened to catch a glimpse of a ghostly canine strolling down the street, forever on his path.



Friday, April 2, 2021

Elements of Time: Ripley's Comic Digest # 1

 By Craig: I have been collecting things since I was a small boy. My twin brother Jay was the same way. We collected baseball cards, stamps, coins, running medals and ribbons and of course, comic books. I can remember the excitement of waiting for the next issue of The Unexpected, or the House of Mystery to be released. We would ride our bikes to the next town where there was a small bookstore and check to see if the latest issue had arrived. We would also canvass the local flea market (Rietta Ranch in Hubbardston MA) and sometimes find old back issues of comics for a nickel or a dime. Some of these comics were in rough shape, with detached staples or simply missing the covers completely. We did not care. We were interested in the content inside of them. We would read anything that we could get our hands on that was interesting to us. Sometime during the summer of 1979, Jay and I found a table at the flea market that had a box of old comic books that peeked our interest. Inside the box were two old comic digests from the early 1970s. One of them was Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery and the other one was Ripley's Believe it or Not! Of course, we had to have them and I do not even remember how much we paid for them. A quarter a piece perhaps? We were only 10 years old and in those days, a quarter was worth a lot more than it is today, especially for a kid. I can remember the day well. We brought them back to our house and took turns reading them. 


At some point, I don't remember when, the Boris Karloff digest disappeared. It must have been years ago, as I do not recall having seen it since I was a kid. My brother Jay kept the Ripley's digest until his death 3 years ago and it now resides with the rest of my comic books on a bookcase in my bedroom. As you can tell from the image above, this comic is well read. In fact, it is so well read that it appears that we almost devoured it! I picked it up just recently and read it again. The back cover is gone, swallowed by the ravages of time, or perhaps my brother mixed it with his oatmeal and ate it. Surprisingly, I still remember most of the stories in the book. There is the tale about old Simon who carry's his weighted sins in a large bag on his back. He is the subject of ridicule by the townspeople who throw rocks at him and mock him as he passes through. He is eventually murdered by a scoundrel named Langley who believes that Simon is carrying gold and silver in the bag. What Langley does not realize is that he is now destined to carry the bag weighted with his own sins. Another tale tells the story of Mary Walker who is murdered by two men in 1631 and convicted on the testimony of a ghost! Then there is the story of a French officer named Steingal who is warned of his impending death in battle by a dream. The last few pages of this story have been torn out of the digest. Did my brother add those to his oatmeal? I can still see my twin brother pedaling down the road in front of me, sometimes standing in the stirrups as he coasts down a hill with his wavy red hair blowing in the wind. He turns around and smiles.  


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Existentialism, Martin Heidegger & Sein Und Zeit

By Craig: I am a cynic. I find it hard to believe anything without proof and even then I am dubious. I am currently plugging through Martin Heidegger's Sein Und Zeit. It is a book about 'existence' and 'the state of being.' I can only read so much of it before laying it down and picking up something else, but, nevertheless, it is fascinating. What is time? How does it relate to existence and life? I have been asking myself this question since I was a little boy.

If one turns on the news today, it is fraught with danger, warnings and other unpleasant things. It is mere observation of events that are existing or not existing relative to the temporal state of ones own existence. One own existence is an aberration. A fleeting moment in time. Macbeth said it best and I quote:
              Life's but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and                 then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This is nihilism in its finest moment. But, thankfully, nihilism in its true, pure, and unfettered form cannot ever exist. Even as I examine the words that I just typed, it dies before it ever has a chance to live. The reason for this, is that existence itself is based on awareness. Without awareness or consciousness nothing can truly exist. Matter itself becomes irrelevant and meaningless just as the words that I just typed and the contradictions that I just found by reading them. Are we not all contradictions? Each day we plod onward toward a future that will one day be swallowed up by time's perpetual and infinite corridor, yet we continue to move along the linear plane as if we had some stake in it. The future, as a term and concept, is meaningless and at the same time isn't. How can this be? Infinity makes time meaningless. It is the one constant, the numerator and the denominator divided by zero.

"Where am I going with this? I do not know. I am still waiting for Godot to meet me at the tree of existence and tell me.











Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A Lost moment in time: Rudolph Zallinger & the Dumpy Dinosaurs

By Craig: I have always had a fascination with things prehistoric. When I was four years old my parents bought me and my twin brother Jay a Marx Dinosaur playset for Christmas. The dinosaurs came in three colors; mint green, white, and chocolate brown. I can remember memorizing the names of the dinosaurs and setting them up on the coffee table in my grandfather's den. Usually we would split them up, sometimes I would have the green ones and my brother would have the white ones or the brown ones. We would form them up in battle lines as if they were human armies. The anachronistic cavemen that came with the set would never fare well. They would almost always be the first victims of the battle. Sometimes, however, the dinosaurs themselves might speak and instead of fighting would band together to form a civilized society. The Tyrannosaurus Rex would team up with the Hadrosaurus, Stegosaurus and Dimetrodon to form an alliance against the killer canine that would take the form of my grandfather's dog Charlie. One day, the mint green Tyrannosaurus disappeared and my brother and I searched high and wide for him to no avail. Then, one day the following spring we found him in the tall grass in the back yard. He had become the savage victim of Charlie's canines! Or perhaps it was our dog Coco that chewed him up. It must have been an undignified and humiliating experience for T-Rex to be reduced to an unrecognizable mass of plastic by the teeth of an evolved mammal!

One day my father brought home a book Willy Ley's "Worlds of the Past" illustrated by Rudolph F. Zallinger. We must have been 5 or 6 when we received it and my brother and I devoured it. We were enthralled by the illustrations. There was Elasmosaurus with its long neck and sharp serrated teeth looking like the top of the food chain in the ancient Cretaceous sea. Pteranodon's flying like birds over a choppy sea hunting for food while a Mosasaur waits for a chance to snag one within its crocodile like mouth. Two Tyrannosaurs fight over the bloody carcass of a freshly killed Hadrosaur while volcanoes erupt in the background. Then there is the massive Diplodocus that peers behind him, possibly sensing the approaching danger of a pack of Allosaurs. All of these illustrations left vivid imprints in my mind and nearly a half a century after first seeing them they are still there.

My brother Jay also enjoyed the work of Zallinger and even procured a copy of his "The Age of Reptiles." The original is in the Yale Peabody museum in Connecticut. He also was able to somehow acquire a Zallinger autograph which I now have and proudly keep in my library. In the last 75 years since Zallinger was painting his prehistoric murals paleontologists have come a long way in determining what the dinosaurs were really like. Zallinger portrayed them as slow, lumbering creatures that plodded along through the Mesozoic like present day Americans after gorging on cheeseburgers and super sized fries and soft drinks. The thinking now is that they were not at all slow, torpid creatures, but very energetic and even acrobatic!

I still have my copy of Worlds of the Past and every now and again open it up and get almost as much enjoyment looking at it today as I did 45 years ago. The crayon marks are still visible from when either me or my brother decided that it was a good idea to scribble in the book. One day I will pass it on to my son, who will hopefully pass it on to his kids and eventually the original owner along with the memories will be long forgotten in the dark recess' of time.