Friday, August 19, 2016

Fanciful Fantasies

“Everyone needs a fantasy,” Andy Warhol
 Marilyn by Andy Warhol

Although a fan of the “Game of Thrones” TV series, I’m not big on Fantasy literature such as the Harry Potter series, “The Hobbit,” or “The Chronicles of Narnia.” No fan of superhero action movies based on Marvel comics or animated films that have become Hollywood staples, I do, however, enjoy elements of fantasy in children’s literature.  Richard Scarry’s “Busy, Busy World” was a favorite of Phil and Dave, and the Berenson Bears were always good for laughs.  Mary Dawn has a recent series of “Fanciful Fantasies for Bright Children,” including “Snap Doodle” and “The Bug Club,” featuring such characters as a dung worm and a meandering mosquito.
Colson Whitehead with Oprah
Two new books by black authors employ elements of fantasy.  Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” an Oprah Winfrey book club selection, imagines the network of safe houses enabling slaves to escape to the North as an actual railroad.  Whitehead also plays tricks with the concept of time. Runaway slave Cora, for example, encounters a hospital – like at Tuskegee during the 1930s - where black men are unwitting victims of syphilis experiments; she performs in an “Old Plantation” (mis)representation similar to one displayed at the 1901 Buffalo Pan-American Exposition.

Jacqueline Woodson’s coming-of-age novella “Another Brooklyn” tells the story of four friends growing up among abusive relatives and dangerous neighbors in 1970s Brooklyn and dreaming of a more palatable environment.  Critics have compared “Another Brooklyn” to “A House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros.  Anne Balay’s nemesis at IUN cited her use of Woodson’s acclaimed Young Adult book “The House You Pass on the Way” – which touched gently on a same-sex teenage crush – as a reason to deny her tenure.  That year, ironically, “A House on mango Street” was IUN’s “One Book One Campus” selection.  Balay, researching a forthcoming book recently accompanied a long-distance trucker to California after a trip to Kansas with her dad to see his old haunting grounds.
en route to California; photo by Anne Balay
I haven’t watched many Olympic events but did root for the Brazilian beach volleyball team of Agatha (Bednarczuk) and Barbara (Seixas) during their upset of Americans April Ross and Kerri Walsh Jennings (the first Olympic defeat for the 38 year-old).  Unfortunately, the Brazilians then lost to Germans.  The big story out of Rio was a fanciful claim by swimmer Ryan Lochte that he and three teammates were robbed at gunpoint by someone posing as a policeman.  Actually, drunk after out cavorting all night, the swimmers trashed a gas station bathroom and then fabricated the cover story.  Lochke had a short-lived Reality series, and cynics speculate that he needed a publicity stunt to revive it.

A crash on 80/94, already congested due to construction, closed all westbound lanes.  After inching along for 20 minutes, I managed to exit at I-249.

Phil sent out a Fantasy Football League announcement, making sure all eight of us were returning.  Dave replied, “In it to win it.”  He’s won more than anyone else.  My lone title came with Colts Peyton Manning as QB and DeMarco Murray, then with the Cowboys, as my prime running back.  
Living out one of his bucket list fantasies, Jeff Leffingwell is on the big island of Hawaii and posted a photo of Alissa gazing out from Mauna Lani Bay.  Jeff wrote with deliberate understatement, “Second day of marriage is going well.”
Jeff Manes wrote a Post-Trib SALT column about Archives volunteer John Hmurovic entitled “Robertsdale native recalls refinery explosion.”  Both John’s father and grandfather, born in Slovakia, worked at Standard Oil in Whiting.  John’s mother was Croatian, what in those days was considered a mixed marriage.  After graduating from IU, John worked as a reporter and news director.  Last year he made a 30-minute film about the 1955 refinery explosion entitled “One Minute After Sunrise.”  Describing Robertsdale during the 1950s, Hmurovic said:
  Back then, there were all these old Slovak people who still had the accents and their European culture. We had to go to church every day at Catholic school. Right before the Mass for the students was the Mass for the Slovak women. They would be praying the rosary in Slovak. I can still hear the sound of their chanting echoing in that big church.
Streep and Grant; below, Florence Foster Jenkins in 1939, photo by Margret Bourke-White

Actress Meryl Streep never ceases to amaze.  In “Florence Foster Jenkins” she portrays a real-life society dowager who fulfilled her fantasy of appearing before a full house at Carnegie Hall in 1944 at the age of 76 despite being a terrible singer. Hugh Grant assumed the role of her longtime faithful companion and protector St. Clair Bayfield.  At one point we see that Jenkins is bald, the result of syphilis contracted on her wedding night a half-century before. The final deathbed scene imagines Streep as Jenkins singing beautifully in a flamboyant winged costume.

Friends with Arturo Toscanini and generous patron of the theater, Jenkins performed for small groups of friends in elaborate costumes that gave her recitals an element of campy humor.  Opera producer Ira Siff once opined, Jenkins was exquisitely bad, so bad that it added up to quite a good evening of theater.   She would stray from the original music, and do insightful and instinctual things with her voice, but in a terribly distorted way. There was no end to the horribleness. They say Cole Porter had to bang his cane into his foot in order not to laugh out loud when she sang. She was that bad.”  Like actress Margaret Dumont, who played stuffy matron Mrs. Rittenhouse in a half-dozen Marx Brothers movies, Florence appeared not to realize that she was the butt of jokes, though in the movie’s final scene Streep says, “People may say I couldn’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”

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