Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Aubrey-Maturin in Brief 2: Post Captain

Second installment:  Post Captain.  This is often considered O'Brian's tribute to Jane Austen.  It is there:  the romance, the class politics.  The lusty Aubrey combats his own swashbuckling ways for the utterly dedicated Sophie, while the mother disapproves on socioeconomic bases.  Maturin falls for Diana, someone as intellectual, tempestuous, and essentially unattainable as himself.  This is played against a backdrop of fox hunts, balls, and (yes) Naval action.


For Aubrey, this is a tale in which for the most part everything goes wrong. His career is thrown into jeopardy by peace. He and Maturin are in France when Napoleon declares war again; he barely escapes with his life. He finds his prize money has been bamboozled, and he is on the run from the law. He is given command of ship with a deservedly bad reputation and has to endure further abuse from Harte, his jealous oppressor from the first book. He even finds himself at almost deadly odds with Maturin.

For me, the most interesting aspect is that this is really Maturin's story.  Although the book is still largely in the third person, there are several insertions of Maturin's own diary, showing his philosophy and doubt.  His laudanum-fueled contemplation of love and life--via Aubrey, via Diana, via Sophie, and via himself--form the mood and the core of the book.  As his role as an intelligence officer of the Crown also is revealed, Maturin emerges as a dark and complicated character, a loner at war with himself for whom science--and his friendship with Aubrey--are an escape from his personal demons.  

I always read books as potential movies (yes, I'm weird).  The first book, Master and Commander, is Star Wars:  a self-contained plot that is also the introduction to a grand universe.   Post Captain would be an interesting novel to adapt into a film, something perhaps with the foreboding mood of Barry Lyndon, picturesque and less concerned with action than the struggle with one's own feelings.  This is not, however, The Empire Strikes Back.  It does not end as a cliffhanger.  It is also still an O'Brian novel.  There's plenty nautical, and it ends with a big battle.  Yet the adventure here, whether love's labors or the consequences of war, is internal...
"The Start of the Hunt" by Heywood Hardy

(1) 1802.  Aubrey and Maturin are passengers aboard the frigate Charwell.  They are overtaken by a French ship, but as they are about to engage them in battle they learn that peace has been declared.  This is not good news for a naval man.  Aubrey and Maturin agree to rent a country residence together, Melbury Lodge.  In the Downs, they take up their new lifestyle and join a fox hunt.  Maturin meets a woman, Diana Villiers…and Aubrey falls off his horse.  At nearby Mapes Court, a Mrs. Williams lives with her two daughters, Sophia and Cecilia, and Diana.  The women learn about Maturin and Aubrey when Admiral Haddock visits.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Aubrey-Maturin in Brief 1: Master and Commander

Here, my friends, is the first installment of "Aubrey-Maturin in Brief."  This is yet another in Lou's series of "I Write About It So I Can Think About It, Then I'll Share It" posts.  In short, as I started rereading O'Brian's books from the beginning, I kept notes as I went.  These notes, by no original design, led to a chapter-by-chapter condensation of the plot.  For those of you who have not read O'Brian, these may serve to get you interested, although out of completeness I will warn that there ARE SPOILERS.  For those of who who have read O'Brian, I hope you may find these either a nice trip through pleasant memories or a tool for keeping track of the Captain and the Doctor.

The first book, like in any first in a series, originally stood alone but can now be seen as an introduction.  First and foremost, we are introduced to the protagonists, who I will brazenly describe as the Kirk and Spock of the British Navy.  Maturin himself describes Jack Aubrey as a "pirate:"  lusty, impetuous, driven.  Dr. Stephen Maturin is both passionate and scientific, a man of knowledge and of mystery.  These two are both complementary and polar.  Aubrey represents war and discipline, while Maturin represents both humanitarianism and naturalismism.  The relationship is that of two sparring compatriots that always end up back on good terms.  In essence, they personify Britain itself at the time:  Politics and combat, the tension between progress and tradition, will still be ironed out by gentlemanly code.

We are also introduced, very carefully and methodically, to the British Navy and life at sea.  This is done in four ways.  The first is via Aubrey, with whom we are thrown straight into Naval life as he assumes his first (titular) command.  The second is via Maturin, whose ignorance of the ways of the sailor and of nautical terminology serves as both a means for the author to educate the reader and an ongoing source of humor.  This relates to the third means, as Maturin is as frequently taught by Aubrey as he is by a recurring set of characters such as Pullings and Mowett, both of whom among others are introduced in this book.  The fourth and most dramatic means is by O'Brian's detailed descriptions of Naval tactics and combat.  There are many actions in this first book, leading to the climactic battle with the Cacafuego.  O'Brian ends the book very wisely by putting it all into larger context with the Battle of Algeciras Bay, a battle involving some 18 ships near Gibraltar.

Master and Commander, however, can stand on its own and is more than just a first chapter in the Aubrey-Maturin epic.  There are two marvelous subplots that both serve both an introductory function and make this a distinct book in the series.  The first is Aubrey's increasingly public affair with the wife of the Commandant of Port Mahon.  The second is the tense relationship between Maturin and Lieutenant Dillon, who knew each other as part of the Irish Rebellion  of 1798 but now both serve the Empire.  But enough premable.  This is the book that will hook you on O'Brian (or not).  It happened like this...

"Third-Rate Entering Port Mahon," from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

(1) 1800, The Napoleonic Wars, the British port of Mahon on Minorca.  Jack Aubrey, a Lieutenant in the Navy, attends a concert at the Governor’s House.  There he encounters Stephen Maturin, who nudges him for keeping time to the music, a gesture Aubrey considers an offense.  When the music is over, they issue a full challenge to each other.  Fortunately, Aubrey, who has been without an assignment for some time, receives orders to become master and commander of the brig HMS Sophie.  His spirits raised by receiving his epaulette, he meets Maturin under more peaceful terms, and their love of music forms the beginning of a strong bond.  Aubrey then meets with Captain Harte, commandant of Mahon, with whom he has a bitter relationship, especially since Aubrey is having an affair with Harte’s wife, Molly.  Unable to get any assistance for his new ship directly from Capt. Harte, Aubrey turns to Mrs. Harte, who uses her influence to Aubrey’s benefit.  Aubrey begins to gather his officers and assumes command of the Sophie.

Monday, November 21, 2011

and a Bottle of Rum: The Playlist

A number of months ago, I read Wayne Curtis' superb and immensely enjoyable and a Bottle of Rum:  A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.  It's all here really:  Rum, history, pirates, the Royal Navy, old Havana, Tiki bars, anthropology, and even recipes.  As I was reading--and drinking--my way through Curtis' socio-historical tale of the New World's definitive tipple, I also started thinking of music.  Keep in mind that the real Lou, besides playing a pirate, is a Doctoral Candidate in Ethnomusicology (the anthropology of music) and a former public radio DJ.  So, when I finished Curtis' book, I went back and figured out how to make a sort of soundtrack to it.  Some of the tunes I already had, others I quickly snatched from iTunes.  At Pauline's request (it didn't take much urging, really), I have posted the annotated playlist here.  Consider this music not just to drink by but to contemplate by...a playlist for the thoughtful rumpot.  We start, in time, at the beginning...

Chapter One:  Kill-Devil
The simplest definition of rum is distilled sugar cane juice.  Whether it comes directly from the cane, from sugar, or from molasses is just one of the variables that make the many varieties of rum different.  Sugar was, with a due nod to historian Sidney Mintz, along with tobacco, the foundation of North American economics, the goods that made the Colonies profitable.  Someone, perhaps in Barbados, figured out that what Curtis calls the "industrial waste" of the sugar plantation could be made into alcohol, and so not only did North America have a native booze but also another tidy means of making cash.  Some called it "rumbullion," meaning "tumult," while others called it "kill-devil."  Let's just say that the earliest rum was hard and rough, the moonshine of the Caribbean.

I lead my playlist with a sort of theme song, performed by my favorite folk trio led by Gordon Bok, Maine's premier maritime folk singer.  "My Images Come" is an ode to to the many inspirations of the songwriter, with "a bottle of rum" a constant in every verse.  It seemed appropriate to acknowledge the slaves that worked the plantations and may in fact have invented rum themselves.  For this I turned, naturally, to possibly the best songcatcher in Ethnomusicology, Alan Lomax, but unable to locate anything from Barbados I instead found a couple good songs from Grenada...

1.  "My Images Come" by Bok, Muir and Trickett from The First Fifteen Years - Volume II -->
2.  "Work Song" by Norman Miller from The Alan Lomax Collection: Caribbean Voyage - Grenada Creole and Yoruba Voices
3.  "Roll, Roll, Roll and Go" by Irene McQueen from The Alan Lomax Collection: Caribbean Voyage - Grenada Creole and Yoruba Voices

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ahoy! Still afloat...

Yes, yes, I haven't posted in a really long time.  I'm planning to get back in it, but I have been busy--I work in Medicare land, and it's that time of year when old folks inundate customer service with questions, plan changes, and the inevitable errors and problems of a major health plan.  So I haven't been on the water much, but...

I have been sailing again the wonderful oceans of O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series.  I totally started over, and at this exact moment I'm with the Surprise and crew in Bombay, halfway through H.M.S. Surprise.  There is, as many of my readers probably already know, so much to these novels:  loads of nautical daring-do, amazing amounts of historical detail, characters with depth, Dr. Maturin's old medicine and Darwin-like naturalist exploration, Brontë-esque romance and courtship, and, simply put, atmosphere to spare.  In fact, one of the things I'm doing this time is actually taking notes.  The series is so epic I decided to make sort of a Cliffs Notes version of each book which will allow me to go back and track characters, events, and ships.  I plan to share these summaries...that will likely be the next major post.

Why does my manager keep taking my ale?

Logan, meanwhile, has been living a quiet, off-season existence.  He did go out for Halloween--at work; at the Castaway Lounge of Dan Ross' big, long-standing West Seattle party; and at our front door, threatening youngsters who expected candy but instead got the business end of a flintlock (just kidding).  I love Halloween.  I have recently received orders from the CWB to report to their Christmas party for a sort of impromptu, wandering story time.  Aye!!  More on this later.

Clear the mess and pipe up the grog!

The aforementioned Mr. Ross, also known as Capt. Ross of the Mirus (our host for the Duck Dodge, as mentioned in previous posts), introduced Zanne and me to quite possibly the COOLEST BAR EVER.  It is now called the Benbow Room, essentially the rear of the Heartland Café, but for fifty years before that it was the Admiral Benbow Inn, named for the opening location of Treasure Island.  Dan told us how as a kid he used to look in the window of the place and dream of the day he could go in.  It's awesome.  The place looks like the lower (gun?) deck of a tall ship, with exposed beams, hanging lanterns, and rear gallery windows complete with water effect.  To riff off of one reviewer, this is what adult fans like myself of the original Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland WISH was at the end of the ride.  (Vintage Pirates, way before Sparrow, back when the Pooped Pirate was still chasing the "lively lassie.")  Anyways...the Benbow is equal parts kitsch and dive, a cheap bar with nostalgic theme park vibe.  They also serve a completely legit Dark 'n' Stormy:  beautifully dark Gosling's rum, sharp Gosling's ginger beer, and even served in a Gosling's jar!  The nice bartender let me keep the jar--I have a penchant for getting free swag at bars lately--which is now pretty much the only thing I drink out of.  I could keep going, but let's just say that, in the absence of a liveaboard replica 18th Century Bermuda sloop, I'd move in at the Benbow (or at least pass out under a table) if the landlord kicked us out.

Grandpa Charboneau
The worst news of late is the passing of William Charboneau, Zanne's grandpa.  His 86 years were full and amazing.  He was a horn player who worked with the legendary Dorsey and Goodman bands.  He was a proud veteran of World War II, recipient of a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars nonetheless.  As a member of the 89th "Rolling W" Infantry Division, he was witness to horror and history.  Not only was his division the first United States unit to liberate a Nazi concentration camp, Ohrdruf, part of the infamous Buchenwald camps, but he was at the front of his division and thus one of the first Americans ever to witness the atrocities of the Holocaust.  I only had a chance to meet him once, but even in his evening years he remained a man of wit and warmth.  Sure he kept telling the same jokes, but each time it was just different.  Every single word he spoke was enrapturing--heartfelt, important, even profound.  Neither Zanne nor I could make the funeral in Houston, tho' G'ma and her brother Bill did.  In addition to a few choice guayaberas, I inherited his immaculate gold Gruen pocket watch, an honor I keep with me now everywhere I go.  He was a very, very remarkable and loving man.  Salute to you, sir.  I only wish I could have known you better.

Goodbye, State Liquor Store

On a more upbeat note, the best news of late has been the liberation of liquor in Washington State.  Ever since Prohibition, Washington has been a "control state," and the Liquor Control Board has maintained a pious monopoly on hard alcohol. For those of you in more freethinking places, this means that when I want me rum, I have to go to my local Washington State Liquor Store; I can't simply get it from the local grocery store, much less some wonderland like Spec's.  With Initiative 1183, the voters of this often bass ackwards state have finally moved booze into the actual modern era of the free market.  Sure, Costco dumped millions into the campaign; why wouldn't they want to profit from us lushes?  Will this mean drunken kids?  Not if the Control Board actually does their job and focuses on enforcing the law rather than trying to make a buck off of it.  And what of the employees losing their jobs in this tough economy?  Well, Costco is apparently beneficent enough to offer them all interviews; c'mon, who better to run the liquor section then someone who already has?  But the real point is this:  The government should not be in the business of alcohol.  Separation of church and state?  How about separation of hooch and state?!  I look forward to the actual transition next June, when I can--imagine that!--get what booze I want, when I want it, and where I want it.  Victory at last!

Lastly but not leastly, when Zanne and I are not trying to just keep our ship afloat, help family, or drown our sorrows while watching Bitchin' Kitchen, we are embarking on a major project.  We call it Roadside Distractions.  Remember road trips as a kid, and all the weird things you saw from the backseat?  Motel signs portraying tropical oases in neon?  Concrete dinosaurs?  Likenesses of Bigfoot carved with a chainsaw?  We do, and we have the faded, fuzzy snapshots all digitized to prove it.  Yet these symbols of American wanderlust--and plain oddness--keep getting destroyed, disappearing into disposable memory.  So our cameras are ready again, now on a rescue mission.  Our goal is a sort of generation-wide family album of the highway bizarre.  We're even going to recycle trashed books to do it.  As soon as we can, we are going to launch a funding site on Kickstarter.  Lots more to come.

So I have hardly been idle.  OK, there's a lot of flopping and drinking, but you expect that from me, right?  But there is stuff to report.  Close to 3,000 people have now dropped in since the beginning of the Journal of Blue Lou Logan, even though I haven't written in over two months.  Apparently I may actually have an audience, and I would hate to disappoint!