The Durrells in Corfu

My mother loves all things PBS and Masterpiece Theater, so when she mentioned a new series she was watching I listened politely, nodded, and didn’t watch it.  I’m more of the reading type, but every now and then I enjoy a good television show or movie.  Those seem to be few and far between.  Downton Abbey is no more, and while waiting for Poldark to return, I tried a couple of American TV shows I used to follow.  I believe I’ve outgrown them.

What was that series my mother mentioned?  Oh, yes:  The Durrells in Corfu.  She pronounced the family’s name in such a way as to rhyme with Purell, the hand sanitizer.  Turns out it was pronounced more like the word rural if you switched out the R for a D.  I requested the Season One from the library and couldn’t wait to be entertained by what Mother described as a charming series set on a Greek island.  She made it sound romantic and beautiful.

My husband and I watched the first episode, and while it wasn’t depressing, it wasn’t the delightful whirlwind adventure of picking up and moving to a Greek island that we thought it would be.  Widowed mother of four, Louisa Durrell, was at her wits end trying to make ends meet on her widow’s pension.  The idea to move to Corfu came from her oldest son, Larry, an estate agent who wants to be a writer but never writes.

Second son, Leslie, decided he’s going to quit school and find a job to help make ends meet.  Margot, his sister, announced that she, too, will quit school because she’s not that bright to begin with and school really wasn’t doing her any good.  Then there’s Jerry, the youngest son who loved anything to do with the animal kingdom and was rather odd.  This family was what one would describe as a hot mess.  In fact, by the third episode, husband and I looked at each other and wondered why we were still watching.

The Durrells were downright horrible to each other sometimes, especially Larry who delivered the harshest barbs to his mother and siblings. When they arrived in Corfu from England, they displayed the attitude of foreigners who couldn’t quite let go of their own culture to make the effort to fit in.  Throughout the first season, the worst character for this was the boorish Leslie who blathered on at the locals insisting they speak English even though it’s their country.  It was rather refreshing to know that Americans aren’t the only ones to do this even though we seem to be the only ones catching flack for it.

Larry finally took up writing, but this meant he wasn’t bringing in any money to help his mother.  In fact, none of the three eldest Durrells lifted a finger to help Louisa.  Leslie and Margot have clearly abandoned school, but they made no move to gets jobs.  I couldn’t feel bad for Louisa because she enabled them to be the slugs they were by constantly coddling them.  I turned my attention to weird little Jerry who also wasn’t attending school but provided himself the most amazing hands-on education by exploring the island for wildlife and building a personal zoo.

Still, I couldn’t quite connect with any of the Durrells.  It was time to focus on the peripheral characters.  I started with Lugaretzia, the Durrell’s housekeeper and cook who mumbled Greek to herself in such a way that even though one had no idea what she said understood that she, too, thought the Durrells were twits.  She took a liking to Leslie, who she declared the best son when he decided to learn Greek just so he could communicate with his girlfriend.

Then there was Theo Stephanides, the naturalist who assisted young Jerry in his pursuit of all things animal.  One couldn’t help but fall for the soft-spoken man as he guided Jerry through his makeshift education especially when he acted the part of a priest and presided over a bat funeral.  He and Jerry dug up the bat later so they could stuff it, but at least Jerry had a solid and intelligent father figure in his life.

Spiros Halikiopoulos was also a major favorite.  He was the type of person who believed he knew everything, yet he didn’t come across as arrogant because he actually did know everything.  The handsome taxi driver was always getting the Durrells out of scrapes and attempting to teach them how to be more Greek.  It was obvious he was sweet on Louisa, but he held back and was most gentlemanly toward her making him all the more desirable.

Another interesting peripheral character was Sven, the accordion-playing Swedish farmer.  Of the three men, he was the one Louisa fell for.  There’s a spoiler alert with Sven and Louisa’s story, so I’ll leave it up to my followers to either watch the series and/or discover what that was.  Sven was odd but likeable, handsome but practical.  He was a man of few words, and while he could be easily offended, he also forgave quickly to maintain the friendship.

Leslie Caron made a delightful cameo as the Countess Mavrodaki in the first season, and Jeremy Swift, who portrayed the unpleasant butler, Spratt, in Downtown Abbey, played her manservant, Dennis.  But with all these great peripheral characters, what about the Durrells?  It was, after all, their show.  My husband and I finished watching Season One and not for lack of something better to do.  We laughed several times over a couple of lines that were absolutely brilliant.  Kudos to the writers.

Still, what was it about the Durrells that kept us coming back?  In short, they were so true to real life, and we couldn’t wait to discover how things turned out for them.  We were actually quite pleased that the series didn’t end up being a piece of fluff.  We agreed that Leslie was our least favorite, that even though Margot was dim her family should probably stop telling her so, Larry was an ass (there’s no other way around it), and Jerry needed a bath in the worst way.  Yet when Season Two started last week, we were right there watching the Durrells stumble their way through life and learning the hard lessons.

Where Are We Going With This?

The other day I banged out a sentence on the ole laptop and paused when my son interrupted my thought process to ask a question.  When I returned my attention to the sentence, one word in particular caught my attention.  My head tilted as I assessed the word, questioned the spelling.  Strangely enough, the obnoxious red squiggles Microsoft Word is so found of hadn’t appeared, so I assumed I’d spelled it correctly.  Still, something didn’t look quite right.  Or perhaps I should say spot-on.

Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that I spelled the word in question, travelling/traveling, as if I was writing for our friends across the pond.  I mentioned before in How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words that I’ve been tripped up by the British spelling preferences.  Usually, Word catches them.  Not so this time.

I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that travelling and traveling are both verbs meaning to go from one place to another, as on a trip or journeyThis isn’t a case of a second or third definition.  In fact, the two spellings can be used interchangeably.  What’s more, what I’m about to tell you applies to travelled/traveled and traveller/traveler.

So what’s the difference, you ask?  There isn’t one.  Today’s The Weight of Words is another example of British versus American spelling preferences.  British writers employ the double L version of the word and American writers go for the single L spelling.  No big deal if you’re jotting off a note to someone or a private letter.  But if you’re writing a larger work for a particular audience or about Brits or Americans specifically, it might be wise to use a spelling your intended readers will not think is a mistake.

A tidbit of research uncovered the reason behind the differences in spellings:

Each word has its own unique history, but the primary mover and shaker in this transatlantic drama is the nineteenth century American lexicographer Noah Webster, he of dictionary fame.  According to “A History of English Spelling” (Manchester University, 2011) by D.G. Scragg, Webster’s dictionary of 1828 is largely responsible for standardizing the accepted spelling of American English.

Before 1828, many words, such as humor (or humour), defense (or defence) and fiber (or fibre), had two acceptable spellings on both sides of the pond, because they were introduced in England via both Latin and French, which used different spellings.  Webster picked his preferred forms (the former ones in each example above), justifying his choices in various ways, but partly on nationalist grounds:  he wanted American spelling to be distinct from, and (in his opinion) superior to, British spelling.

I can appreciate Mr. Webster’s patriotism, but sometimes I wish he’d chosen another way to express it rather than in different spellings.

~~~~~

Wolchover, Natalie. “Why Do Brits and Americans Spell Words Differently?” LiveScience, Purch, 17 Apr. 2012, http://www.livescience.com/33844-british-american-word-spelling.html.

Undercutting the Competition

June of 1925 was an exciting time in the life of John Welles. He had graduated from high school with honors and been accepted to the University of Maryland for his pre-med studies. With his Aunt Prudence’s help, John was one step closer to achieving his dream of becoming a doctor.

undercutting-the-competition-3For the occasion of his graduation party, Prudence guided her nephew on the decision of clothing and haircut. She had her reasons for showing off John to his peers, their parents, and most importantly, John’s own family. While the lanky teen bore the new look well, his appearance and success drove home Prudence’s self-serving point better than she could have predicted, and the results were disastrous.

undercutting-the-competition-2I always pictured John with undercut hair for this scene. The style, popular in Edwardian times, the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, resurfaced in the 2010s. Soccer star David Beckham sports the style as do actors Brad Pitt, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michael Pitt when he portrayed Jimmy Darmody in Boardwalk Empire. Unfortunately, the style was also favored by the Nazis, but don’t allow that to deter you from considering it.

undercutting-the-competitionThe haircut is defined by long hair on top, parted on either side or down the center, with the back and sides buzzed quite short. Originally, undercut hair was considered a sign of poverty because one could not afford a barber capable of blending the back and sides with the top. The style, popular with working-class men and especially street gangs, was held in place with paraffin wax.

undercutting-the-competition-5Throughout the years, the style enjoyed slight variations. One such disaster was the result of combining undercut hair with a centrally-parted bowl cut, which was favored by fans of new wave, synthpop, and electronic music in the 1980s, and curtained hair, an atrocity worn in the 1990s. In England, some schools banned undercut hair because it was reminiscent of the cut worn by the Hitler Youth.

undercutting-the-competition-4Today, a myriad of products, including wax, pomade, gel, and mousse, exist to keep one’s undercut hair looking slick. There are also tutorials on YouTube for everything from how to cut the style yourself, what to tell a stylist when requesting the undercut, and how to achieve the look you desire for the long top portion. I do have to wonder, though, what the men and boys who originally wore the style, and wouldn’t use anything other than a comb and wax, would think of the inclusion of hair straighteners, hair dryers, and curling irons to the routine of maintaining an undercut.

Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

PoisonSusan Fromberg Schaeffer’s novel, Poison, is a brilliant work of fiction; it is how all novels should be written. Poison explores the themes of love, greed, desire, human strengths and weaknesses, peoples’ perceptions of each other, and how we are molded by these perceptions. The author allows us inside the heads of a wide cast of characters and gives the reader the opportunity to decide who is good or bad, right or wrong. You’ll find yourself comparing the characters to your own friends and family all the while claiming, “I would never act like that.” The stream of consciousness style gives the reader the delicious, wicked sensation of reading someone’s private correspondence or diary. The letters between several characters heightens the experience.

Ms. Schaeffer employs the scenario of a death and a will like a bomb to set off a series of explosive events. It’s a situation many readers will find familiar. Like watching a slow-motion train wreck, one cannot turn away from reading the disastrous accounts of the characters’ lives. Your allegiances will shift throughout the book.

Poison is not a beach read. It is not for readers who want to plow through a book or those who want to be told everything up front with lots of action and a singular POV. But if you are willing to allow the story to unfold, the characters to develop and evolve, Poison will prove to be incredibly satisfying. I truly believe the novel will appeal to the intelligent reader whose mind can juggle multiple POVs, information given out of chronological order, and backstory appearing right up to the conclusion. It may sound like utter chaos, but I found Poison to be remarkably well-structured, one of the best works of literary fiction I’ve ever read.

Race to the Finish Line

imagesThe year is 1935, and one of John Welles’ best friends, Sam Feldman, has just been swept off his feet by the beautiful and charming Abigail Cohen.

Gladys Feldman, Sam’s mother, orchestrated the initial meeting between her son and Abigail, called Babby. Gladys’ goal was to curtail her late-blooming son’s wild dating spree and settle him down with a good Jewish girl. Her planned work, and before the end of their first visit, Sam and Babby were in love.

Fast forward a few months to Sam’s bachelor party. John, along with his other best friend, Claude Willoughby, takes Sam on a three day bachelor’s weekend prior to his marriage to Babby. The trio sneaks off to Kentucky to watch the Derby and revel in the festivities.

The only hitch to their plans is a small white lie told to keep the women in their lives from worrying; they claim they’re going to a pediatric conference. Being the savvy women they are, Mrs. Feldman, Babby, and John’s Aunt Prudence laugh over their boys believing they’ve gotten away with their scheme.

The Kentucky Derby is rich with too much history for one blog post. For this reason, I decided to start with the horse who won the Derby in 1935, Omaha. The chestnut horse with a white blaze stood at an impressive 16.3 hands high. The third horse to ever win the Triple Crown, Omaha was the son of Gallant Fox, the 1930 Triple Crown winner.

I have included footage of Omaha being ridden to victory at the Kentucky Derby by jockey, Willie Saunders, as well as a clip of all three of his Triple Crown wins.

In January of 1936, Omaha made the move to England to continue his racing career with the Ascot Gold Cup the desired goal. While he ran well in several races, he never achieved the coveted trophy.

During retirement, Omaha failed to impress as a stud horse. He was moved a couple of times before landing in Nebraska where he lived for another nine years. Upon his death in 1959, Omaha was buried at the Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack in Omaha, Nebraska.

240px-OmahaHorseStinsonParkOmahaNE

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