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Friday, July 31, 2015

Mama Mia! That'sa spicy meat ball.

Micelangelo's  David

What do DaVinci and his Mona Lisa, Michelangelo and his magnificent sculpture David, Galilei and his startling astronomical findings, Marco Polo and his discovery of spaghetti and I, producer of this fine blog have in common? 

No, not that.

Our names all end in a vowel... which means (probably) we're ITALIAN. Mama Mia!

So do all Italian names end in a vowel? No, just most.

DaVinci's Mona Lisa
For me, all of my grandparents were Italian immigrants that came here through Ellis Island in the early 1900s and made new lives for themselves. My parents were the first American born generation.

I grew up next to my grandparents and enjoyed my cultural blessings--a little wine at the table, fabulous food, getting away with cussing in Italian but claiming to never understand what I was saying, great work ethic, overwhelming gusto for life and more--but never learned Italian because they forced their children to "speeka English."

Marco Polo's spaghetti
I really never wondered why most Italian names end in a vowel. I thought Italian was like 'pig Latin' where every word ended in "A." Imagine my surprise then when I read the credits of this fabulous video, "1,000 people playing the Foo Fighters in Unison."

As I read through the 1200 or so names of players, singers, producers, camera people, gofers and the like at the end of this very professional video, I saw that all but a handful of them ended in a vowel. That's Italy for you.

About that video, first, it is really impressive and fun to watch, even more-so if you like the music.

An Italian, Fabio Zaffagnini (see, vowel at the end) is a huge Foo Fighters fan who had the crazy idea to get the group to perform in Romangna Italy. He called his project 'Rockin' 1000.'
It took him a year to plan and gather 1000 musicians and singers together to play one of their songs, 'Learn to fly" simultaneously. And he did it masterfully! Musicians came at their own expense from all over the globe to be a part of this project. See for yourself.
Did it work? Well, there are two Italy concerts on the schedule for Foo Fighters this November so it was twice as good as hoped. Ah, the power of music.
Other famous vowel-ending Italians: Gina Lollobrigida, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mussolini (oh, scratch-a that-a one), Marconi,  Povorati... the list-a goes-a on-a and-a on-a. Also note many famous Italians are known by just one name. Many famous Italians are named Pope-a. 
As Shakespeare said: What's in a name? That which we call a Rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. So now you know why so many Italian women are called Rosa. See how it works?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pie in my eye

And so it begins... the greatest pie fight in history.

Sure, Soupy Sales, history's greatest "pie-ologist," took 20,000 pies in his face, but not all at one time. (If you don't know Soupy, do yourself a favor and click the link. you won't be sorry, I promise.) But it is Laurel and Hardy who hosted the greatest pie fight in recorded history.

"It's been a holy grail of comedy," film historian Leonard Maltin said of the lost second reel of Laurel and Hardy's 'The Battle of the Century'... "and that's not overstating the case."

Here's the set-up as reported in the New York Times: "In 1927,  Hal Roach Studios paired comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy... who would become the most beloved comic duo in cinema history. Among their  first films that year was a parody of a recent boxing match in which Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey after a referee's controversial long count.

The gag writers came up with a story line that called for Laurel to lose a "long count" fight after which his manager, Hardy, would try to collect on an insurance policy by having laurel slip on a banana peel. One writer halfheartedly suggested the inclusion of a pie fight, eliciting groans.

But Laurel saw possibility: "Let's give them so many pies that there will never be room for any more pie pictures in the whole history of the movies. (And there weren't.)

So Hardy drops a banana peel intended for Laurel in front of Ye Olde Pie Shoppe. A pie deliveryman slips on the peel and reciprocates with a pie to Hardy's face. Hardy throws a pie in return, only to connect with a young woman's derriere. She turns, receives another in the face, takes her time wiping the goo from her eyes, and stomps over to escalate matters.

Soon pies are hitting everyone; a man in a top hat; a patient in a dentist's chair; a sewer worker peering from a manhole; a lunch-counter patron; a man preening after his shave and haircut; a woman tending flowers. At one point, Laurels is inside the pie deliveryman's truck filling orders for cream-coated people seeking sweet revenge.

"The greatest comic film ever made--because it brought the pie-throwing to apotheosis," the novelist Henry Miller once wrote. "There was nothing but pie-throwing in it, nothing but pies, thousands of and thousands of pies and everybody throwing them right and left."

OK, so maybe you had to be there.

But when the missing film turned up recently and was shown at a film conference, the audience gasped with surprise and delight as they watched the legendary event begin with a simple cream pie in the kisser of Oliver Hardy. Over the next 20 minutes, more than 3,000 pies were thrown, each one triggering the next in a one shot sequence that involved hundreds of extras.

The first pie thrown dates to 1913 in silent film and it was a sure laugh staple all the way up to 1965 in "The Great Race" starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

In the days of silent movies, punch lines were visual and it wasn't the pie in the face that made the laugh but the set-up and flow by those early movie pioneers. Many of the gags became more sophisticated (as only a pie in the face can be sophisticated) in the early talkies but The first talkie, The Jazz Singer  in 1927, signaled the beginning of the end of a pie in the face, thousands of years before Disney, Pixar and others took movie making to space and beyond.

Earlier this year I posted Moviola a short fictional story I wrote about old time film making. I liked the story and if you are a curious, click the link.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pluto is the top dog... again!

In 1930, right after its discovery, an 11-year-old British girl told her grandfather that the name Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld, would fit the newly found planet because it stayed hidden for so long and could disappear at will. Lowell Observatory thought that would work just fine... and so did Walt Disney.

After the revelation and subsequent demotion of this curiously interesting body in the far reaches of our solar system, Pluto barks back. Scientists have already realized "that the Pluto system IS something wonderful."

It has taken New Horizons, our recent probe, 9 1/2 years at 30,000 miles per hour to cover the 3 billion miles between us. It takes 9 hours for the data our probe sends back to reach earth.

Pluto is just 2/3rds the size of our moon but in its 7,700 mile close-up 150-mile camera sweep, we saw a mountain range 11,000 feet high and "tens of miles wide." All this time we thought it was just an icy rock that would chill a giant glass of ice tea. We now know it is a highly featured and 4.5 billion years old, because we made a quick count of the candles on its birthday cake.

It has a moon, Charon, half its size which features cliffs and a deep trough three to six miles deep causing the Grand Canyon to say "Whoa!"

Getting there cost $720 million--which is $307 million LESS than the $1.027 billion cost of the new Minnesota Vikings NFL football stadium--and it has already returned information adding to knowledge of our solar system that scientist say is invaluable to understanding more about our universe.

The United States has now filmed all the planets and many moons, rings, comets and asteroids revealing amazing detail and information. When the Wright brothers first flew in 1903, who could have imagined these almost unbelievable feats. Have a look at 50 incredible photos of these solar objects.

Arf Arf! Nice job Pluto. As for the probe New Horizons, it is already millions of miles beyond on its way to space immortality.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"If I were a rich man... " (sung to the tune of "If I were a rich man... ")

I'm not one to brag (much) but I am lots richer than Alice Mhandara and she has 96 trillion dollars!

The difference is, Alice has $96 trillion Zimbabwe dollars... not quite enough for a bus ride home in Harare, its capital city, and I have 40 US cents which is worth more than a Zimbabwe 100-trillion dollar bill, perhaps with a picture of Scrooge McDuck on it. 

Inflation sucks. 

Eclipse 550
With all my riches in Zimbabwe-speak, I could buy my own private jet or two or three, if they were priced in those dollars. The cheapest is the Eclipse 550 at just $2.9 million. (It  doesn't have automatic roll-down windows or door locks and you have to reach outside and manually adjust the back-up mirrors.)

And while the people of Zimbabwe have a hard time coming up with the fare for a local bus ride, last year 16,784 pets flew with their owners on Netjets (like Hertz for the rich). Kind of an ironic comparison, yes?

Because I have been busy these past few weeks and haven't had time to blog, I'll throw in a few bonus extras to make you think I really know stuff:

Marajo Island on patrol
In Marajo Island (about the size of Switzerland) at the mouth of the Amazon River, adroit swimming buffaloes, imported from afar to help settle the remote island, have grown so numerous (450,000!) that the police use them to patrol the streets and create a softer image than police cars on patrol.

Born lucky? There is a well-known architect that was born on 5/5/55 on Fifth Avenue at 5:56 am. Aw, that's just like almost having the winning lottery ticket but you just missed by one. I'll give you a better lucky number example. My nephew was born on 7/7/77 at 77 o'clock in the morning. (OK, I just made the time up.) He is Swedish and his name is S(e)ven, S(e)venson. (That too but when you're on a roll, you just keep going.)

How would you like to die? The New York Times weekly research quizzed its readers and not surprisingly, 44% wish to die in their sleep while 29% more add peacefully in my own bet with loved ones. A heart attack, stroke or aneurysm say 15% and dying happily handles all but the 3% who don't know or don't want to die. Good luck there. When comedian Bob Hope was asked at age 98 where he wanted to be buried, he said, "I don't know... just surprise me."

Last but perhaps most telling, in her new book, The Selfie Vote by Kristen Soltis Anderson, she observes that "While the Democrats run ads in online video games, the GOP continues to buy 30-second spots during Jeopardy!"