PUNCH AND JUDY


Since earliest times people have used puppets or marionettes to deliver the wisdom or insults we are afraid to say ourselves. Imagine the Thai shadow puppets, the Muppets, or even Edgar Bergen’s wooden son, Charlie McCarthy, whose sole purpose is to entertain while delivering a punch to the gut.

To the continuing delight of children and adults alike, the Punch and Judy show remains popular and mostly unchanged since it was introduced in 1662, in Covent Garden, London. It has always seemed a fearsome play to me, but children being children, roar with laughter when Judy gets her licks in.

Played in a small wooden theatre by a single puppeteer, the story is traditional and mostly violent. After capturing the attention of Charles 11, the show was performed on a 20 x 18 foot stage after which the King gave the Italian puppeteer a gold chain and medal worth $3,000 today. Today the show is a popular boardwalk seaside attraction in England. As a child I watched the shows on the boardwalk in Long Beach, California, alongside the merry-go-round, pony rides, games of chance, and other seaside attractions.

The story revolves around Pulcinella (Mr. Punch) and his wife Judy who have an eternal noisy quarrel resulting in one or the other being whacked over the head with some sort of mallet. There are several stories which can be played, with a changing cast, all in the confines of the small theatre. The puppeteer keeps something in his mouth to give the main chracter the weird raspy voice and cackle of Mr. Punch when it’s his turn to speak. He often screams out “That’s the way to do it!” after hitting someone.

The original characters were marionettes, operated by wires attached their limbs and to a bar from overhead. Today they are mostly glove puppets operated by one person.

Another facet of the ancient Art of Theatre.

IS IT MORE THAN A GAME?


Is Bridge more than a game? I think it is probably the social media of the past; a way of connectivity. Playing cards are believed to have been another invention of China, along with paper, sometime in the 14th century. From China, the interest in card games spread to Persia, India and Egypt before arriving in Europe.

Tarocchi Players of Caso Borromeo, Milan 15th c.

My parents played cards throughout their lives. Game playing was very important during the Great Depression, and people played a great variety of card games along with Bridge, a game which allowed four people to play and demanded a certain degree of skill. My aunt and uncle made up the fourth at the bridge table, and there was no ceremony connected to their decision to sit and have a game of cards. My father was a natural card player who somehow knew what cards each of his opponents held. He was also an impatient player, which led my mother in later life to refuse to play with him. Strangely, none of the next generation of our family have chosen to learn the game. A favorite niece of mine, when offered a suggestion by a kibbitzer, threw her cards in the air and said “I give up!” Though we love games of all kinds, it amazes me to find that many of our friends do not. They much prefer an evening of good conversation, and we find that equally stimulating.

A “Bridge party” soon became a party, complete with food and beverage, and allowed the hostess to trot out her best linen bridge cloths and china, and supply tea and cookies. Hundreds of cookie recipes have been created to keep up with the social obligation of a bridge party.

When in my forties, I joined a group of women most of whom were learning to play the game, and we met once a week learn the finer points. I was late to the game as my interest lay elsewhere at an earlier age. The game takes concentration, and I have to admit that my focus was more on the food and the companionship.

My mother-in-law introduced me to the bridge party having two tables of four players, and as the years passed I found that two or even three tables were expected if you joined a bridge club. Your bridge club was a commitment to however often it was decided to play. If you found you would not be available on that day, it behooved you to get a substitute. Through the years I have belonged to several bridge clubs, some often containing the same women. As women aged, their intensity never waned. My sister-in-law and my best friend each took the game seriously, and would play at the drop of a hat or should I say at the drop of a card?

Game playing of any kind is a competition, and let’s face it, we all like to win. Playing with and against all kinds of men and women over the past 60 years, you can learn a lot about human nature. For those who stick too closely to the rules, I admire them and hope they enjoy their game, but I will be busy that day so you need to get a sub.

One lovely aspect of the bridge party is the sharing of secrets, and keeping up old friendships.

THERE’S MAGIC IN A TOWN


Ibecame familiar with Palo Alto, California while my father’s cousin worked at Stanford University. We were occasionally gifted with tickets to art exhibits and concerts there, and made the trip over the bridge from our island of Alameda. Years later, when I had the decorating business, Palo Alto was a source of much of the material I used in store design.

Allied Arts is a lovely group of artist studios and a small tea room where volunteers take your order for lunch, and even sell you the recipes. Shirley Temple Black waited upon us once years ago. I still use their recipe for carrot soup. Our young neighbors were married there in the patio.

The main office for Sunset Magazine was for many years in Palo Alto. The magazine was started after The Southern Pacific Railroad advertised that you could come out to California and buy a lot for fifty bucks. The magazine advertised the ‘good life’ showing how Californians decorated their homes, planted their gardens, and cooked food equal to that of anywhere in the world. Their building was an ideal typically California style, with hand made tile roofs and floors, and a quiet beautiful decor, showing off hand woven pieces, and pottery. It was surrounded by a rough post and rail fence covered with America climbing roses. When we began landscaping our home, we took note of all of it, and planted 125 America roses along the fence. It was a mass of peachy-red color in the spring. Time Magazine bought the magazine and moved their office to Jack London Square in Oakland. The lovely building in Palo Alto has become something else now. I hope they kept the roses.

Dr. A’s cousin worked for the Magazine for many years, and now our next door neighbor works in the testing kitchen a few days a week. She gets first hand knowledge of what goes into a coming issue, and frequently brings us a sample. This Christmas it was a delicious shortbread cookie.

The town itself was charming, filled with lovely old homes and tiny ‘candy box’ cottages, all owned by mega moguls working in San Francisco. As the years have progressed, businesses have begun to fill in the vacant spaces and it has become another busy place to stay away from. The lovely old homes are still there,surrounded by well-groomed gardens, and the tiny cottages sell upward of a million dollars.

Though Dr. A will always support his beloved University of California at Berkeley, we rarely missed a football game at Stanford, Berkeley’s arch rival. It had a lot to do with the country feel of the campus as opposed to ‘middle-of-the city’ feeling of Cal. It didn’t hurt that he took over the insurance for the University years ago. Today it finds itself in the middle of Silicon Valley.

A number of our friends were Stanford graduates and football fans, and we met each morning of a game in the same place for a “tail-gate” party. There were perhaps 10 or 12 people in our group, one who played in the infamous Stanford band, and whose parents and grandparents before him had graduated from the school. Amazingly, though he donated a great deal of money each year to the school, when it became time for his daughter to enroll, she was denied admission because all she had to offer was a 4.0 scholastic score. Stanford wanted someone who also was active in another activity, such as a sport. Stanford, named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr., became one of the most prestigious universities in the world and though in the middle of the city it still maintains its over 8,000 acres of tree-shaded beauty.

Football fans can become a bit over the top, and many people set up shop early in the morning with barbeques fired up, and drinks being buzzed in osterizers. Another friend, who was a big football star at Stanford, brought an enormous bus each game day, filled with his friends and fitted out with all the comforts of home, to be partaken of in the few hours before the game. Thankfully, in those sensible days, a game started at about 1 p.m. Today, most games are televised, and begin in the early evening, making it a very late evening before the game ends.
Stanford parking is in the unpaved woods under ancient oak trees. Of course if it rains, the area becomes a giant mudhole. I remember a story my mother-in-law told of being stuck in the mud after a ball game in their youth. Not fun in the mud and in the dark if it were a night game.

Today, our eleven year old great granddaughter has hopes of someday attending Stanford on a soccer scholarship. The dreams of an eleven year old can’t be dismissed. It always begins somewhere.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU


In my post AMERICAN POMPEII I wrote about how one idea can lead to an even greater idea. The human brain is remarkable in its ability to shift gears without actually stripping the original intention.

The young George Lucas had dreamed of making a new Flash Gordon movie in full living color. It had previously been filmed in black and white several times. He had lost the confidence of the movie studio after the cool reception of his first movie, and had no money. He took the advice of an Italian film maker and made a simple movie about teenagers in a small town to help raise money for his larger project. The simple movie turned out to be AMERICAN GRAFFITI, a box office smash hit. Lucas’s encapsulation of space journeys were still to come.

Lucas’s conception of Flash Gordon evolved into the magnificent seven film franchise of Star Wars. Star Wars captured the imagination of a generation of children who learned that “the force” was with them. Between the movies, the games.light swords and clothing it generated, parents could not refuse the desires of the young S;pace wanna-bes. Star Wars took over the world. There wasn’t a child or adult who couldn’t say “May the Force be with you!”

Two weeks into the filming of the original Star Wars, the production was plagued by failures, and young George Lucas was convinced that the movie would be terrible: R2-D2 refused to work. It wasn’t stubbornness on the part of the droid–a trait that would endear the character to millions of Star Wars fans around the world. Rather, as the first day of filming began on Star Wars in the Tunisian desert on the morning of March 22, 1976, R2-D2 wouldn’t work. His batteries were already dead. The little droid wasn’t the only one with a problem. Several other robots, operated via remote control by crew members standing just out of sight of the movie camera, were also malfunctioning. Some fell over, others never moved at all, while still others had their signals scrambled by Arabic radio broadcasts bouncing off the desert floor, and sending the robots careening wildly out of control across the sand or crashing into one another. As Mark Hamill, the 24 year old actor playing the hero Luke Skywalker said, “It took hours to get them set up again.”

The 29 year old George Lucas simply bided his time and waited. If a robot worked properly even for a moment, Lucas would shoot as much footage of it as he possibly could until the droid sputtered to a stop. Other times, he’d have a malfunctioning unit pulled along by invisible wire until the wire broke or the droid fell over. A difficult way to film a movie.

It was the first of what would be 84 long excruciating days of filming Star Wars–20 days over schedule. And the shoot was a disaster almost from the beginning.

It wasn’t just the remote control robots that were giving Lucas trouble. Anthony Daniels, a classically trained, very British actor who’d been cast in the role of the protocol droid C-3PO, was miserable inside his ill-fitting gleaming gold plastic costume, and unable to see or hear much of anything. With every movement he was poked or cut–covered in scars and scratches,–and when he fell over, as he often did, he could only wait for someoe on the crew to notice and help him to his feet.

It was very difficult to make things work. “We have no money, but we have to make these things work somehow.” But Lucas was determined to do it himself without the help of the studio. But you can’t fight them because they’ve got the money.

Between the lack of money, the wildly unpredictable weather in the Tunisian desert, the malfunctioning robots, ill-fitting costumes. equipment failure, and constant setbacks, Lucas was certain his Star was a mess.

excerpted from George Lucas, a Life by Brian Jay Jones

A bit of trivia: A droid (short for android) is a fictional robot with artificial intelligence. They were created by John Stears, a special effects artist, when robots were made to look like humans. Droid is now a registered trademark of Lucas Films.

GAME PLAYING


monoppoloy

There was a time when nearly every house in America owned a Monopoly game board, as well as Parcheesi, Checkers, both Chinese and the other kind, and if you were somewhat intelligent, a Backgammon board and a chess set. Suffering the lack of visual entertainment, we either passed the evening hours playing games or reading.

When TV knocked on the front door, we forgot how to play games. You might say we forgot how to think. It was so easy to sit in front of a lighted screen and wait to be entertained.

We played all kinds of games while I was growing up. I used the floor as my table for solitary four handed play. I’m sure I wore out at least a couple of Monopoly boards during the 30’s and 40s.

My family were keen on a great number of card games, the names of some are no longer in my memory. Game playing complements our spirit of competiveness as well as polishes our little gray cells. As we grow older we find that fewer people are playing games. Out of a large number of our friends, there are only a few who still like game playing.

I learned to play Bridge many years ago which has given me a great deal of pleasure, both in the game and in the social aspect. Some friends have been social players and some have been eager, go-for-the-throat players. Usually that kind of person likes all games.

My friend Joan was that kind of person. After learning a few tricks from a male client of mine, we entered a local Gin Rummy Tournament, and though we did not win, we didn’t disgrace ourselves.

I grew tired of Monopoly, perhaps because of such close early association, but a number of years ago on New Years Eve, we played the game with close friends at their cabin at Lake Tahoe. The men lost their paper money and went to bed early, which left Joan and I still in competition.

The hours passed, the coffee pot was refilled, and still we battled the game. This became serious stuff. The snow lay thick on the ground as the sun rose on a new year, when the game was finally decided—ten hours later, Joan was the unanimous winner! I have never played Monopoly again, and I do not expect to find another competitor with such determination.

Toward the end of her life, when beset with so many stumbling blocks, Joan continued to test her game playing with all comers.