This is a dark scene from the 1951 version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol which stars Alistair Sim as cold-hearted miser Ebenezer Scrooge. In it, the Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge two neglected waifs who represent "ignorance" and "want". A shaken Scrooge asks if there is no refuge for them and the Spirit replies by throwing the miser's own callous words about the poor back at him: "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"
"Jokes are one of the things that bind the culture. If you can't have jokes about everybody in society and if one group is hedged off and protected then that group can never truly be integrated." - Mark Steyn
Stephen Kiernan's novel is, as described in my summary post, set in a fictional village in Nazi occupied France. This is the first book by Kiernan which I've read, and I found it to be competently written about a subject which I find compelling. Emmanuelle is a sympathetic character who, after losing her father, her mentor, and her boyfriend, finds it easier to live without hope, expecting the worst. She has given up on her faith, doesn't believe the Allies will ever come to save them, and fatalistically assumes that her small acts of defiance against the Germans will eventually be discovered and she will be executed. Despite her words, however, Emma obviously hasn't given up completely because she does continue her defiance for whatever reason... her feelings and motivations are conflicted and complex. She refuses to join the actual Resistance. Unfortunately, the complicated facets of Emma's character are what are missing from most of the other villagers- and Nazis- in the novel. The Germans are mostly just one- dimensional baddies, which I can accept because someone living under their cruelty might very well regard their oppressors as uniformly evil. The problem is, most of the villagers are also character types rather than individuals: the outwardly gruff baker with the heart of gold, the slimy bureaucrat/collaborator, the fiesty barkeep/innkeeper who's in the Resistance... you get the idea. They never seem to come off the page as real people; they're mostly cliches. Though I think the book does give a good sense of the mingled resentment, shame, resignation, and defiance felt by the villagers about the occupation and the occupiers. One of the characters who shows some promise early on is the local priest who is wrestling with his spiritual conscience. He is genuinely grief-stricken over the villagers killed by the Nazis: he's burying people whom he baptized as babies years before. At the same time, some of the Germans stationed in the village are practicing Catholics and the priest refuses to deny them communion, which understandably enrages the faithful who are suffering under the boot of these occupiers. Unfortunately, he appears only periodically and not much is done with his character so it's kind of a waste. As I said, Kiernan seems to be a good writer but his sometimes almost lyrical or dreamlike descriptive writing seems to clash with sudden incidents of ugly violent realism, such as the murder of Ezra or the execution of a member of the Resistance and the subsequent rape of his wife. Perhaps this was a conscious choice by the writer, contrasting the ghastly brutality with the beauty of the French countryside, but it was jarring and didn't always work for me. What does work is his description of the Allied forces landing on the local beach on D Day, a section of the book which is skillfully written, horrific yet moving, giving a clear picture of the cost in human lives that taking Europe back from the Nazis would require. To sum up, I found The Baker's Secret to be well written but a bit uneven. I bought Emmanuelle and the priest as real people, but other characters lacked their development. The sudden shifts from bucolic village life to vile savagery sometimes worked for me but frequently didn't, yet the portion of the book describing the bloody DDay invasion is probably the best part of the novel.
Went on a sisters' road trip to New Brunswick to visit another sister and her family. We spent a lazy Saturday reading and baking.
There may have also been some percussion and duelling involved.
It was some months ago that this picture was taken:
Both the boys have grown a bit since then, but are still best friends:
I confess to being a wee bit jealous of my brother-in-law, who owns a complete Peanuts collection:
Saturday evening while their parents went away overnight, we watched a movie with the kids. Unfortunately, that movie was Pocahontas which I do not enjoy. I sided with the two nephews advocating for The Lego Movie but we were out-voted. Disappointing.
After tucking the kiddies into bed though, we put on a blast from the past: The X-Files
This image is from Stephen Leacock's 1912 book Sunshine Sketches Of A Little Town, which is a Canadian classic. It contains a series of short stories detailing the antics of a small (fictional) Canadian town called Mariposa. This particular image is from the chapter entitled "The Marine Excursions of the Knights of Pythias". It tells the tale of the sinking of the steamer Mariposa Belle on Excursion Day. One would think that this would be high drama but, like most events in Mariposa, it quickly devolves into farce with the rescuers, so-called, needing to be rescued themselves by the people on the deck of the sinkingship: "They might have wondered more about it, but it was just at this time that they heard the shouts from the rescue boat—the big Mackinaw lifeboat—that had put out from the town with fourteen men at the sweeps when they saw the first rockets go up. I suppose there is always something inspiring about a rescue at sea, or on the water. After all, the bravery of the lifeboat man is the true bravery,—expended to save life, not to destroy it. Certainly they told for months after of how the rescue boat came out to the Mariposa Belle. I suppose that when they put her in the water the lifeboat touched it for the first time since the old Macdonald Government placed her on Lake Wissanotti. Anyway, the water poured in at every seam. But not for a moment,—even with two miles of water between them and the steamer,—did the rowers pause for that. By the time they were half-way there the water was almost up to the thwarts, but they drove her on. Panting and exhausted (for mind you, if you haven't been in a fool boat like that for years, rowing takes it out of you), the rowers stuck to their task. They threw the ballast over and chucked into the water the heavy cork jackets and lifebelts that encumbered their movements. There was no thought of turning back. They were nearer to the steamer than the shore. "Hang to it, boys," called the crowd from the steamer's deck, and hang they did. They were almost exhausted when they got them; men leaning from the steamer threw them ropes and one by one every man was hauled aboard just as the lifeboat sank under their feet. Saved! by Heaven, saved, by one of the smartest pieces of rescue work ever seen on the lake. There's no use describing it; you need to see rescue work of this kind by lifeboats to understand it."
Christmas viewing has commenced with my very favourite animated Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas. I love Peanuts cartoons, but can take or leave most of their TV specials except for this one, which is essential Christmas season fare. A Charlie Brown Christmas was released in 1968 by a very nervous CBS, who though the whole thing was going to be a flop. They thought this for several reasons, one being that the animation was done on a shoestring budget and looked amateurish to the executives. Also the producer, Lee Mendelson, had had Vince Guaraldi compose the soundtrack and having a children's Christmas special set to jazz music seemed eccentric at best. In addition, Charles Schultz's story contained several features which, according to traditional TV wisdom at the time, should have proved fatal to the little cartoon. The pacing of the story was slow, and the kids in the Peanuts gang used big words and talked like little adults: “Don’t think of it as dust. Think of it as maybe the soil of some great past civilization. Maybe the soil of ancient Babylon. It staggers the imagination. Maybe carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon, or even Nebuchadnezzar.” The characters' wordy vocabularies were offset by the- at the time- unheard of insistance of Schultz to use child voice actors instead of adult ones for the Peanuts gang. Also, instead of being a relentlessly cheery holiday romp, the show addresses the melancholy and loneliness which can be experienced at this time of year through the character of Charlie Brown. In short, no one at the studio thought that the special was going to succeed and their disapproval shook Mendelson enough that he suggested to Schultz that they give in on one point and add a laugh track to the show. Schultz- thank heavens- refused to consider it. Worst of all, Charles Schultz was insisting that Linus recite from Luke 2, and what possible place could an account of the birth of Jesus have in a Christmas program? Despite pushback, Schultz wouldn't remove the scene and later Mendelson admitted that he thought this was going to end his career. Of course, this scene is actually the heart and soul of the special and Schultz's instincts were 100% right. The rest, as they say, is history: A Charlie Brown Christmas was a rousing success, its jazz soundtrack now a Christmas standard. The special has aired every year since 1968, providing enjoyment and the true message of Christmas to generations of children.