Old Daily Shows--January 2001

Find the archive of past entries at archive.htm. Today's entry is at daily.htm.

January 18, 2001
In which time is rather selectively defined
Such that "soon" means "now" rather than "soon"

Now we are six. The Magnificent Seven we soon will be. In a year or two, we'll make a competent imitation of a Magic Eight Ball, shortly before practicing to make the All-State Ninepins team. Tennis will be next after that.

What we are not, have never claimed to be, have little chance of becoming, and are in fact wholely unlikely to resemble is punctual about writing the dang webjournal.

Sorry. I haven't been writing much lately.

So, then, here's a quick update. Not too much, as it's getting late and I really ought to go to bed.

I'm on a grammar/word kick again. This is not to say that my prose has improved or, indeed, will do so in the near future, nor does it mean that I'm going to go back and revise this. Nope. It means I'm reading grammar and word books again, and am enjoying them. I asked for Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis's Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay . . . for Christmas, and got it. Lovely book indeed. More recently I've been working through Style, by a gentleman named Williams.

I've been working on compiling the word list. This is a list of words, predictably enough. Words that I like to use and others frequently misinterpret, words I'd forgotten, words whose definitions were more interesting than I'd recalled, words that others often misuse. The list of definitions will follow eventually, but the list of words is up. 314 words, at present.

I've finally gotten to reading Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing With Dragons and Searching For Dragons. Copies of both were given to me by Ms. Laura Bonem, whose passion for Wrede's work seems to know few bounds. After reading these, I can begin to understand.

They're lovely fantasy, told in a wonderfully off-beat style. Still, one thing bothers me: the conclusion of the romantic episodes in Searching. More specifically, the timing--I have trouble with the speed shown by our heroes in their personal lives. One small nitpicky point amid many many wonderful pages. Lovely books. Lovely. I'll have to read the rest of them as soon as I can find them--local bookstores don't stock them.

I'm knitting! Still the damn scarf that I worked on in Logan Airport (Boston), but knitting all the same. Also I have much yarn with which to make hats once I get back to school and Rachel teaches me how. My mother has gotten interested in knitting again, and today bought a book about knitting sweaters. She said it jumped off the shelf at her; I maintain she bought it because she was unable to resist the power of the sheep (or rather, the lamb displayed prominently on the front cover). Yay knitting.

I have rethought this page layout a bit. One change is that the white part of the table should be 505 pixels wide--your browser should take care of it automagically, but if it doesn't, resize things so that the white is the same width as the thin black line at the bottom of the table.

Learning Irish arrived as my birthday present, along with a copy of the Simon Fraser Collection which has yet to arrive. Irish orthography is, perhaps, the most bizarre thing in the history of the planet. How do you suppose Oiche mhaith! is pronounced? It means good night.

Those of you who guessed [i: wa:] win a doctorate in Sneaker Repair from Trinity College, Dublin, and a trip to the Gaeltacht of your choice. The rest of you get to be confused.

I read something one time. It was pretty good. Then it was over, and I stopped.

I went contra dancing last Saturday night. Contra is much fun, and I'm irrationally pleased to have discovered it in Potsdam. Turns out there's a semi-regular contra dance here during most of the year. Fantastic!

So, I went to this one after spending the day judging for a Speech and Debate tournament. I didn't change or anything--even brought my backpack, which had a whistle still in it. Good move. As it turns out, the band was a semi-open one. I talked to their whistle player during the break, and we went off and chatted together. Turns out he's a Religion professor at St. Lawrence University, in Canton. Nothing unusual there. The weird bit is that he's a former member of the faculty at Swarthmore. Yep. We talked about some people who are still around--Don Swearer, Tim and Janet Williams, etc. Cool!

We talked a fair bit about whistles. He plays an Oak whistle; I had my Susato high D. We exchanged whistles and played a few sets--it's not so easy to switch whistles! The air pressure required is very different on different makes of whistle. Still, it was a fun experiment. I got to play a few with the band a bit later. Lots of dancing, lots of music; an evening I thoroughly enjoyed.

Then there are the game days with Shye. At Shye's house. With Jen, Elena, Mike, Amy, and Denise. And of course George, Shye's cat. I haven't got time to go into detail on these, so here are a few highlights:

"Misogynistic bastard!"; "STDs"; Gendarmes; The List Of Games; etc. We had two game days, and they were fabulous. Fabulous! Faboo, even.

I just did some laundry. We dyed scarves. I got tea. No, I didn't "get" tea, I got tea at the store. Various kinds, including Gunpowder Green which sounds scary but far too intriguing to pass up. Hooray for that wonderful touchstone of Potsdam life, the Potsdam Food Co-op. Woohoo! My saving grace.

Uhh... That'd better be all for now. Oh, right. We watched many West Wing episodes. Superb show! Beautiful! Magnifique. I will miss seeing it when I'm back at school. Sigh.

Please size your window so this bar is the same width as the white table
January 8, 2001

The time has come, at last, to begin writing again. I've been home from Hogmanay for five days, and I'd probably do well to write this stuff down before it fades even more from memory. So, then, to work! What follows is a rather disorganized, rambling tale of lots of things. You'll probably find that it reminds you of the way I'd tell a story in person. Chris Layer pointed out that my stories are often rambling adventures. Well, he's right. Here's one for you.

I played for the Hogmanay Ball hosted by the Delaware Valley Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society on New Year's Eve this year. Delaware Valley is the Branch of the RSCDS that governs Scottish country dancing in the Philadelphia area. Amusingly enough, the ball was held at Tarble-In-Clothier, right on Swarthmore's campus. It was quite funny to have gone home from school only to be back in TIC four days later.

Hogmanay, for those as aren't familiar with the term, is the Scottish traditional celebration of the New Year. Often, a Hogmanay celebration will involve copious amounts of drink, lots of people, and a general party atmosphere. Substitute dancing for the drink in that sentence, and you've got a decent description of Hogmanay, Delaware Valley style. It's a huge ball--about 150 people, by our estimation--that takes the prize of "Scottish Dance Marathon." The ball begins at 9 p.m. on December 31st, and finishes whenever the last dance is finished on January 1. There are two halves of the program--one for the old year, one for the new--each of which comprises fifteen or sixteen dances.

It's a damn lot of fun.

So, this was my first Hogmanay. Susie Petrov and I have been playing Scottish music all semester, and this seemed an opportune moment to have me get some performance experience, as she was in charge of the music for the ball. Lots and lots of tunes to learn--for the parts of the program I worked on, I learned fifty-eight new ones. It was wonderful.

Anyway, first I had to get there. I took the Amtrak Adirondack train down on Wednesday the 27th of December. Met Dan Fairchild '03 in Plattsburgh, where we hit the train bound for NYC. We split up at Penn Station--he went to Queens to visit relatives; I went to New Jersey Transit to get to Newark, NJ, where Susie was to meet me.

On the Amtrak line, Dan and I played games, we talked, and we read books. Across the aisle from us, a family of four had chosen to sit: a father and his elder daughter (about ten, I'd guess) in the seats next to ours, and the mother and younger daughter (five, perhaps?) in the row behind them. The elder of the two was reading Wild Magic, by Tamora Pierce. It's a favorite book by a favorite author. I can't remember if I wrote about Tamora last year-- anyway, she's been one of my favorites for years, and I brought her to give a lecture at Swarthmore last spring. It was lovely. Anyway, I tried to strike up a conversation with the girl about Tamora, but she hadn't read any other books yet and was only just beginning that one, so she didn't really chat. It was kind of entertaining--her father gave me a look that seemed sort of bizarre, like he thought I was some kind of pedophile or something. Certainly everyone who's friendly on the train is out to get you. Bah.

Anyhoo, several hours later, she'd read a good bit farther in the book and was really enjoying it, and wanted to talk to me about it. This was good, as I'd been tiring of the book I was reading on the train and wanted a break. We talked about the plot of Wild Magic for quite a while; about which characters she liked, about what she thought might happen, about characters she couldn't stand. Dad started warming up to me, and we got into a discussion about children's fantasy books. He'd only read Harry Potter, as had his daughter, so I pointed him at some other good writers. Who knows--maybe I will have opened some new avenues for the family to read. Turns out his daughter is a writer as well, or wants to be. She had a little notebook with stories she'd written in it, and she took it out and wanted to read them. Cool! Alas, we had only about five minutes left on the train, and people were being very loud. She finished reading one story, which was about a unicorn. It was moderately interesting, I guess--I hope she'll keep writing. We pulled into Penn Station, and it was time to go.

Her younger sister, who'd been sitting quietly behind us, listening to everything, waved to me and said she had something for me. What could this be? A picture she'd drawn, of the unicorn from the story and various other characters that had come up. She said it was for me and gave it to me. I might scan it some day if I get the chance. Anyway, it's ridiculously cute and may well become a Treasured Object.

On the New Jersey Transit train, things were very crowded, and I ended up sitting in a very cramped seat with a gentleman from Ohio and two women from the Jersey Shore. They started talking about how you shouldn't date people whose desired level of affection is radically different from your own. I was, shall we say, rather amused. We chatted a bunch. They wanted to see my bagpipes, so I cracked open the case. They were surprised to find themselves next to a bagpiper on the New Jersey Transit train. Guess you can meet just about anybody in the big cities!

Got off at Newark, and found Susie. We spent a little time catching up while we waited for Susie's sister Anne to arrive on a later train. Anne, appellée Madame le Docteur, had recently flown back to the US from Paris, where she was recently awarded a doctorate in English History at the Sorbonne. Anne, an American, moved to Paris, studied at the most prestigious French university around, where she wrote and defended in French a dissertation about an English scientist. Isaac Barrow, a gentleman who taught Sir Isaac Newton his mathematics, was her subject. Anne was awarded her doctorate. The degree? Highest Honors, with Unanimity. Not bad, eh? Anyway, Anne got in on the next train, and we were off to Philadelphia!

We got to Susie's house, where we played a little bit, and I went off to do Yet More Beethoven Analysis. Woohoo. I finished it the next morning, and we went out to do errands. Fun stuff.

First up was the shop of Michael Copeland, proprietor of Copeland Woodwinds, one of the more famous whistle makers around. Michael's a nice guy--he showed us around his shop, talked a good bit about music, and played a bit of a session with us. I showed him my highland pipes, and we all went to lunch.

In all honesty, I'm a little disappointed with his whistles. They have pretty nice tone, but I have serious issues with their tuning, and for a $350 whistle, you don't want to have problems. Oh well.

Off from Michael's shop to Swarthmore, by way of Lansdowne (Susie's house), to pick up and drop off my music assignment. A quick stop at Kinko's to photocopy it, and we were off! Then comes the minor trauma--I wasn't exactly sure which house was Gerry's (my music prof). Nori told me the house number, but I wasn't certain it was right. Oh well... Knocked on the door; nobody home. I put it through the mail slot with a prayer, and emailed the prof (later) to make sure he'd gotten it. He had :). Back to Lansdowne for chili with much garlic. Good stuff. We practiced a lot, too.

It's probably worth introducing the dramatis personae, at least the ones you'll be hearing about. Susie is Susie PETROV, resident of Lansdowne, my Scottish music teacher, and various other things. She plays piano and accordion. James is James GRAY, a graduate student (Mathematics, Edinburgh University). He plays piano, and is originally from south Wales. Chris is Chris LAYER, a good friend of Susie's, originally from Indiana but now from New York City. Chris plays just about everything, chiefly flute, whistles, highland pipes, Scottish smallpipes, and uilleann pipes. Dan is likely to be Dan HOUGHTON, who is (I believe) American--he's related to Alfred Hurd, at any rate--but lives in Scotland. Dan plays highland pipes, border pipes, mandola, flute, and a bunch of others as well. Dan may also be used to refer to Dan EMERY, an architect from the Philadelphia area who plays highland pipes, Scottish smallpipes, and flute. Laura refers to Laura RISK, a wonderful fiddler who lives in the Boston area, though she spends a fair amount of time in Montréal, Québec. Laëtïtia, whose last name I don't know, is (presumably) Dan Houghton's significant other; she came along and listened and wrote letters.

So, then, on with our story. The original plan was that James would fly in from Edinburgh on Thursday 28 December. You may recall that there was a bit of nasty weather around that time--well, they got it in Edinburgh too, such that James got stuck in the airport and couldn't get out. Quite annoying for him, I imagine. Anyway, rather than getting James on Thursday, we ended up getting him on Friday night, if I recall correctly. He was kind of tired from being in airports three days running.

Laura got in on Saturday evening, having taken the same train I rode. Hooray for Amtrak. She walked into the house and wanted to practice, so practice we did. We all did rather a lot of practicing together... The night before, Susie and I had gone down into the basement to practice, so as not to wake James who was sleeping off the time change between Edinburgh and Philly. We went down there at 10 p.m., planning to run a few sets of reels at slow speed, just to make sure they were firmly in control. We finished up and decided it was probably bedtime, given how tired we felt. I guessed it was 11:15; she thought more like 11:30. It was actually 12:50. Time flies when you're playing Scottish music!

James made an Indian chicken dish with a lovely dill curry for dinner; Susie made sourdough bread from a Montana starter that was 100 years old; I made baguettes. We, collectively, ate quite well, thank you. Another time, Susie made this kale/bean/potato soup that was quite nice. Lots of rice to go with it all, too.

On Saturday, the three of us (me, Susie, James) went to Inverarity, which is a monthly dance party at the home of Kate and Ed Nealley, who are Del. Val. dancers. It was fun--we played some tunes and froze our extremities. Thankfully, Kate was nice to us and brought us little electric heaters, and then we weren't so cold. Whew!

Sunday, 31 December 2000 arrives. The day of the Big Event. We were still missing Dan and Laëtïtia, who were driving down in the snow from Vermont somewhere. Chris was nowhere to be found. The two from Vermont got in sometime in the early afternoon, and Dan played a bit before we headed out to Swarthmore. Still no sign of Chris at 2:30, when we left Lansdowne. Got to TIC to find Jennifer (Tyson '01) and Steven (Rusche, her significant other and also Hogmanay ball chair), and a very glad-to-see-us Chris. Woohoo! We were putting the Band together, and Jake 'n Elwood would have been proud. The group of us moved things in to the hall, and we started tuning up the pipes. Dan Emery was there as well--we planned on doing some numbers with the four pipers, and so he had arrived early to help figure it out. We set some basic things up, checked to make sure our impressions of the tune were similar, and that was that. Band practice time! We all sat down to practice tunes. It was lovely! So nice to play in a group with really good musicians. I was in awe a lot of the time, let me tell you.

We knocked off tune practice at around six to order pizza for dinner and relax before the show. Ordering pizza, it turns out, is a non-trivial exercise when you don't have the pizza place phone numbers and your only method of finding them is using the Swarthmore voice-recognition thing. For those who aren't familiar with it, the voice-recognition thing is this really neat piece of technology that allows a computer to act as operator for the college. You say the name of the person you want to call, and it'll connect you if you don't know the number. Some helpful folk also programmed the numbers for local take-out places, including some pizzarias, into the system. Unfortunately, however, the system isn't all that good at recognizing some words, "Renato's" and "Appetito's" among them. Eventually, however, we successfully called the pizza place, and dinner was on its way.

Guess who showed up a little while afterwards. Kira! I was thrilled to see her--we'd been talking on email a bit, and I finally convinced her that she should come down from Wellsville to dance and chat and such. It was wonderful to chat. We just sat and talked for an hour or two. She's just finished working at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT. No, that's not a lameass pet store. It's a neato aquarium thing, with seals and such. They are _not_ otters. Kira showed me pictures of her seals. It was very happy indeed. I wish we could have talked longer, but she needed to go change, and I needed to do sound check, so we hugged and went our separate ways. She came back later in her ball dress, and... wow. She looked absolutely stunning, and I do hope she'll read this so I get the requisite brownie points. Did you get the straps fixed, hon? :>

There's just something about bagpipes--they're damn loud, and they'll send shivers up your spine. Four of them at once is even better. We played the Grand March with a three-song set: Dum Dum (Dan Emery's nickname for Scotland The Brave; we approve mightily), Green Hills of Tyrol, and the Battle of Waterloo. I like the last tune; Dan Houghton hates it. Blah blah blah. It's a good tune. Anyway, we had a couple of tempo issues, but we fixed them, and I doubt anyone noticed. When grand marching, the pipers lead the dancers onto the floor, then stop at the front of the room while the dancers continue to march as directed by the ball chairs. They split couples, rejoin, join in lines, finally ending up in sets to start the first dance. It was fun. They clapped for us a good bit.

The ball itself went by ridiculously quickly. Some highlights: the "solo" that Susie and I played, a strathspey set for the dance Peggy's Strathspey. A little bit nervous going in, but it all worked out fine, I think. People seem to have liked it. Another: the set we did for Reel of the Royal Scots, the dance which closed out 2000 and the first half of the ball. We did a pipe set for this one, and if you don't think four stands of bagpipes will wake people up, you're wrong. We did a setup where one piper would play a tune of his choice, then we'd all come in on Lexy MacAskill. It worked really well--they asked us to play it again, and we did. Actually, they asked us to play again nearly all of the sets that had the lot of us--I guess an audience likes a big sound.

Tea at midnight was nice. Fireworks, conversation, hugs. I got to chat with some people I've not seen in a while. Susie, Laura and I played Auld Lang Syne for everyone to sing.

I am now officially tired of writing. More will follow soon.