Semple’s Muse – Part 8

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Wrenna launched into a technical explanation—slightly dumbed down—of how the Klemperer Group’s considerable computing power had been dedicated to teasing from the Internet information regarding Miss H-V. Beyond the occasional “Ah?” or “Really?” Semple didn’t know what to say. At last the narrative came to an end. “And you found nothing out about her?”

“Not a scintilla. There’s no proof that your housekeeper has lived on Earth. No birth certificate or passport is associated with a woman like the one you described, having the name Hegyi-Virág. There are no credit cards, no driver’s license, no bank accounts; no retinal scans; not even a library card.”

“Did not having her Christian name hobble your search?”

“Knowing that would have been helpful but in the end it wasn’t much of an obstacle to overcome.”

Semple drew a deep breath. “What will this wild goose chase set me back?”

She laughed. “That’s the kind of practical question I would expect to hear from Mother. Consider it gratis, Father.”

“Then Herr Klemperer is an extremely generous man. Please thank him for me.”

There was another peal of laughter. “It’s best that my boss remains in the dark about this particular topic. To be honest, I ran the search remotely from my apartment over several nights, when the system capacity wasn’t being fully utilized.”

“I do not know what to make of this fragmentary information.”

“Try not to worry, Father. Not leaving a trail of electronic breadcrumbs is unusual in the Twenty-first Century but that doesn’t make Miss H-V an axe murderer. Oops: I’ve got to go. Love you!”

Wrenna’s face disappeared in a blink and the laptop screen was again filled with text. It occurred to Semple that he had just wasted a portion of irretrievable creative time, and for no good reason. He massaged his face then bent to his work. Just as he had been back in the rhythm of things for almost an hour a new Skype call came in.

“Oh hello, Maisie. I don’t mean to be short but thus far today my writing schedule has been a dog’s breakfast. I really must finish the chapter I’ve been working on.”

“I apologize, Papa.” Maisie’s personality was the more conventional of the twins’. The undercurrent of French in the background indicated that Maisie was calling from her cubicle in the literary agency in Rouen. She wore an expensive tweed business suit and a thick plait of shiny black hair was draped over her left shoulder.

“Wrenna texted me right after she spoke with you. This H-V woman concerns me. If my sister was unable to track her down, then your housekeeper must have a good reason to mask or erase her identity, don’t you think? What if she is a terrorist?”

“Miss H-V has her quirks but I very much doubt she fits the profile of an anarchist.”

“’Quirks?’ Whatever do you mean by that, Father?”

Semple wished he could take back his last remark. “Oh, just a few small things. You needn’t worry about them.”

When it came to inheriting Emma’s personality traits, Maisie had Wrenna beat, hands down. She was like a terrier that, once she had something in her jaws, worried it to death.

“Father, I have holiday time coming to me; why don’t I pop over for a short visit?”

Semple knew she really meant: “Why don’t I investigate this woman in person, as I think she’s got you hoodwinked?”

“I appreciate the offer but there is no reason for you to use your time off for that purpose.” Semple’s irritation got the best of him. “If I feel a need to be rescued I’ll let you know. I really must get back to work. Goodbye!”

*     *    *

            The wisdom of seeking advice about his housekeeper gnawed on Semple for the rest of the morning. As capable—and concerned—as the twins were, damned if he would give them free rein into exploring his affairs. By noon he had reconsidered the matter. Picking up his mobile he made a call that left him feeling both hopeful and somewhat nervous.

Down in the kitchen Semple ate lunch then he fished a rectangle of card stock from his shirt pocket and propped it against the water glass. It read:

 

Dear Miss Hegyi-Virág: this evening I shall dine out.

You need not prepare a meal for me.

 

Semple shut down the computer on the stroke of six. He shaved for the second time that day and showered. He put on a crisp white shirt, the midnight blue suit not worn since Emma’s funeral and a red silk tie. Standing before the lavatory mirror he gave himself the once-over. When last had he taken such care over his appearance? Indeed, what reason had he for doing so now? Semple splashed cologne on his cheeks and left the house.

[© 2019 Robert Edwin Stone, II]

“Put ‘er there!” – Holiday edition

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People may experience a spectrum of emotional responses to the year-end holidays. These range from joy and contentment to frustration and sadness. Of course, some or all of these feelings may surface during the course of the celebratory time.

Faithful readers of this blog know that I’ve posted before on the topic of shaking hands with all manner of folks that I encounter daily. I’m happy to say that doing so has become second nature: at first I tried keeping a mental file of the kinds of strangers and service providers whose hands I shook to express thanks for what they had done for me. Admittedly, in the months that have passed since I began this practice I’ve started to lose track of them!

Now I want to talk a bit about how my handshaking campaign has gone, amid the hustle and bustle of this season. Why did I want to focus particularly on this narrow window of time?

As I noted at the outset, the holidays can leave practically anyone feeling stressed out, regardless of how positive their attitude toward them may be. The tempo of life can accelerate to a frenzy pitch, driving out patience and goodwill, replacing them with exasperation and closed mindedness.

Recognizing this I decided to make even a greater effort to act in a manner that might provide momentary respite for those with whom I interacted. What was my intention? It was to hold hands I grasped in thanks just a little longer, perhaps deepening the brief connection between us.

I have no way to quantify my experiment’s impact. That being said, I’m willing to take it on faith that its been worthwhile!

 

Film review: “They Shall Not Grow Old”

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There is so much to commend in Peter Jackson’s new film that I hardly know what to write without making the balance of this post One Humongous Spoiler Alert. That said, in my opinion New Zealand’s maestro of the silver screen has outdone even “The Lord of the Rings” with this project.

As readers ought to know, November 11, 2018 was the centenary of the Armistice that brought the tragic and costly First World War to its end. (At one point World War I was called the “Great War,” not because it was wonderful, but because it dwarfed all previous conflicts.)

As the 100th anniversary of the war’s outbreak rolled around in 2014, Britain’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) contacted Jackson, inviting him to oversee a venture that would be a fitting tribute to the men that fought, were wounded and died in it. The caveat was, only footage from the IWM’s 100+ hours’-worth of film shot during the war could be used in its production. There would be no re-enactments of historical events on screen, nor costumed actors mouthing period dialogue.

The person hours of an international production team, the talent and computer power Peter Jackson wrangled to meet the unique demands of “They Shall Not Grow Old” are testament to his deep desire to give the subject its due. How was this massive undertaking brought to fruition?

The first task was to review hours and hours of film, picking out sequences portraying events that spanned the entirety of the war. Jackson was loathe to attempt to cram four years of history into a film whose duration was a little over two hours. This realization led him to omit the Royal Navy and the Royal Flying Corps: to include these threatened a patchwork quilt, one that would consist of mere snippets, instead of a coherent narrative. Jackson decided that the common British infantryman, the “Tommy,” would stand in for the men that battled for King and Country in the air and on the seas.

Determining which film to use was one thing but dealing with its condition was quite another. Early cameras weren’t motor-driven: the operator advanced the film by turning a crank on the side of the machine. Individual technique affected the speed at which the action was recorded, so only by chance would the work of one cameramen match up with that of another. Also, hundred year-old film, long subjected to variations in temperature and humidity, invariably shrank. Because of this the sprocket holes at the film’s edges mismatched the sprockets of the projector through which it was shown, yielding a distracting, herky-jerky motion on the screen.

Another challenge was posed by the subjects of the project itself. No doubt many British troops of World War One had seen a movie but they were highly unlikely to have been in one themselves. It wasn’t unusual for soldiers being filmed to stand stock still, transfixed by the camera. Peter Jackson imagines there were plenty of times when cameramen yelled at the men before the lens to move around, damn it!

So, once the archival film was stabilized for speed and colorized (described in a program following the movie but something I won’t reveal here – sorry) Jackson noticed that a vital element was missing: the sound of soldiers talking.

Fortuitously the British Broadcasting Corporation (the beloved “Beeb”) possessed 600-plus hours of the memories of World War veterans, recorded in the 1960s. Even though nearly a half century had passed since the events they recalled took place, these elderly men were sharp minded and their memories were clear. The veterans’ words form “They Shall Not Grow Old’s” auditory backbone but there’s more to the tale. I also choose not to divulge that, friends.

Obviously there is a lot that will amaze you when the opportunity to view this fantastic work presents itself. The movie is already out on DVD and Blu-ray but as yet it is not available in the North American format. The only other thing I will say is that, when color first seeped into the sepia-tinged record of the past, many people in the audience of the packed theater where I saw Peter Jackson’s masterpiece gasped in amazement at what he had wrought. See this film.

 

 

Semple’s Muse – Part 7

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The following morning Semple came down for breakfast. His covered plate contained the broiled tomato and mushroom, the scrambled eggs and sausages that constituted a “proper” English breakfast. Two slices of wheat toast stood at attention in the toast rack, which was flanked by a small dish of strawberry preserves and the butter dish.

Semple removed the tea cozy that Emma had knitted and poured the day’s first cup of Darjeeling. After stirring in the requisite three sugar cubes and dash of milk he touched the fragrant cup at his lips before putting it down.

Conducting a slow circuit around the kitchen, Semple peered at every shelf and peeked into every cupboard. It was in the act of sitting at the table that what was wrong hit him.

He walked to where the saucers and cups were kept. The latter hung from brass hooks. Five teacups were in their places; one hook was empty. Semple recounted the cups, including the one in his hand. There were six—all of them were whole.

Semple checked and double-checked the saucers and the cake plates. There were as many as before anything was broken in the hall outside the aerie. With unease he minutely examined every piece. Nothing indicated that any repairs had been made. Normally Semple ate breakfast with gusto but now he only picked at what was on his plate.

Abandoning the kitchen and its mysteries for another time, Semple went upstairs and started work. Even thought he forgot to turn on BBC Four the speed with which he focused on churning out pages without the background noise’s help surprised him. He stopped at the sound of his tea break things being set down. This time Semple got to the door before the housekeeper could retreat down the hallway.

“Come here please, Miss H-V.”

The tall woman pirouetted, brushing a stray wisp of auburn hair behind her left ear as she did so. “I’ve a lot to do today.”

“I shan’t keep you long. I want to ask about the time when you dropped the china outside my door. What I do not understand is that nothing appears to have been repaired. Nary a teacup, saucer nor small plate in the kitchen shows any damage. How do you explain it?”

“Mr. Semple, I have never so much as chipped a piece of your precious Royal Doulton, let alone broken any of it: It’s my habit to treat my clients’ belongings with the utmost respect.”

“But I saw you on your knees.” Semple held out his hands. “You were picking up from the accident. You put everything in your apron . . .”

Miss H-V’s expression showed she suspected her employer had gone dotty. “Mr. Semple, you work very diligently. You could not have written 236 pages in so short a time otherwise.

“May I suggest that perhaps you devote fewer hours to your craft? I am confident your novel won’t suffer for it, and that the resolution of the conflict between Lord Creswel and Lady Allith will come in good time. Now, if you will excuse me.”

The woman in the green skirt and peasant blouse strode purposefully away. The constellations on the latter garment winked at him with the movement of Miss H-V’s slender frame. Closing the door behind him Semple went to the keyboard. He’d hardly begun to type when something the housekeeper had said stood out from her denial of having broken Emma’s treasured china.

Semple printed off chapters of his manuscript as they were completed. He preferred to hold the work in his hands, rather than staring at pixelated characters on the laptop. Picking up the latest completed chapter, Semple fanned the pages until the last one’s number came into view: 236.

He had scarcely taken in this information when a Skype call popped up. It revealed Wrenna’s face, framed by a mass of reddish copper curls. His daughter’s hair was spiky and a riot of colors wasn’t it? Now the hue of Wrenna’s face matched her hair. Semple had never seen her so agitated.

“Whatever is wrong, my dear?”

“Father! I hardly know how to tell you this but . . . your Miss H-V does not exist!”

[© 2018 Robert Edwin Stone, II]

What “Near as I Remember” has taught me

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Given that the one-year anniversary of my first-person talks about aspects of the Civil War soldier’s daily life is just around the corner, I thought it an opportune time to reflect upon what the experience has meant to me thus far.

On average I’ve addressed audiences of between 20 – 25 people. Many of my presentations have been delivered to folks in retirement homes. It pleases me to say that virtually everyone to whom I have spoken takes seriously my desire to be accepted as an actual Civil War veteran!

Not surprisingly, employing many props in the course of my lectures really helps flesh out the history that I am attempting to communicate. The Adams Express box from home that I talk about in “Winter Camp and the Soldier’s Christmas” has been a big hit. Folks pay close attention to the variety of goodies that I pull from the excelsior in which they are nestled: the bottle of “blueberry cordial” made by Mother receives knowing chuckles.

Of course the learning hasn’t been a one-way street. I’ve gained a lot from listening to some of the elderly women and men that have listened to me speak. After a recent event a lady (in her 80s or 90s) told me about her brother, who was killed in World War II. He had only been in Italy a few weeks when he lost his life in combat. A faraway look came into her eyes as she recounted how a soldier in her brother’s unit had painted a portrait of him, something that became a family keepsake. For me hearing about this was a sobering – and priceless – experience.

I feel good about how “Near as I Remember” has been received, and look forward to making many more presentations in the New Year.

Angels / Guardian Angels

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“All night, all day.
Angels watching over me, my Lord.
All night, all day.
Angels watching over me.”

So goes the chorus of a traditional American children’s song. It’s December, the time of year when angels receive heightened attention because of their association with the birth of Jesus. While angels are found in many religions and mythologies I’ve chosen to focus on their role in the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Linguistic Background: The Modern English word angel is sourced from Old English engel (with a hard g) and the Old French angele. Both terms came in turn from Old Latin angelus (literally “messenger”). The root word for all these derivations was a Late Greek word commonly translated in its phonetic form ángelos.

The rendering of ángelos is the Greek Septuagint’s default translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mal’akh, which simply means “messenger.” In the Latin Vulgate, when ángelos or Hebrew mal’akh denote a human messenger, nuntius or legatus are employed: the translators called a supernatural being angelus.

Judaism: A variety of phrases appear in the Torah when it speaks about angels. There’s “messenger of God”; “messenger of the Lord”; “sons of God” and “the holy ones”.

Mal’akh appears elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. Depending upon the context, it may refer to a human messenger or to a supernatural messenger. Human messengers might be prophets or priests. Supernatural entities include “Malak YHWH,” who is either a messenger from God, an aspect of God’s being or God’s self as the messenger.

Only in the later books of the Hebrew Bible do these names come to identify the benevolent semi-divine beings that are familiar from later mythology and art. For instance, Daniel is the first biblical figure to refer to individual angels by name, mentioning Gabriel (God’s primary messenger) in Daniel 9:21 and Michael (“the holy fighter”) in Daniel 10:13. These creatures figure in the prophet’s apocalyptic visions and are an important part of all literature of that type.

Christianity: In the early days the Christian Church angels were simply messengers of God. Later on some of them are named: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael and Uriel. Then in the space of the 3rd to 5th centuries C.E. the idea of angels took on definite characteristics in both theology and art.

By the late 4th century, the Church Fathers agreed that different categories of angels existed, with appropriate missions and activities assigned to them. However, there was disagreement over the nature of angels. Some people maintained that angels had physical bodies, while others asserted that they were entirely spiritual creatures.

Angels are represented throughout the Christian Bible as spiritual entities that act as intermediaries between the Deity and humankind. They are created beings: “for in [Jesus Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16, RSV).

The Christian Bible includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. For instance, three separate cases of angelic visitation deal with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus In Luke 1:11, an angel appears to Zechariah to inform him that he will have a child despite his old age, thus proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:26 the Archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation to foretell the birth of Christ. Angels then proclaim the birth of Jesus in the Adoration of the Shepherds in Luke 2:10. Likewise, angelic beings are stationed at the resurrected Jesus’s empty tomb.

Islam: The Quran and Hadith contain numerous references to angels. God entrusts them with specific tasks, such as testing individuals by granting them abundant wealth and curing their illnesses. Although believing in angels remains one of Islam’s Six Articles of Faith there isn’t a dogmatic angelology in Islamic tradition.

Guardian Angels: In the eyes of many people today the idea of having a guardian angel, tasked specifically to watch over their affairs, is a hot topic. However, belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity.

The idea that angels guard over particular people and nationalities played a common role in ancient Judaism, while a theory of such beings and their hierarchy was extensively developed in 5th century Christianity. Adherents of Eastern and Western Christianity alike believe guardian angels serve to protect whichever person God assigns them to, and present prayer to God on that person’s behalf.

Guardian angels appear in the Hebrew Bible as God’s ministers who may be commissioned to carry out specific actions. In Genesis 18-19, angels carried out God’s wrath against the cities of the plain but they also delivered Lot from danger; in Exodus 32:34, God said to Moses: “my angel shall go before you.” The role of angels as guides and intercessors is found in Job 33:23-6; in Daniel1 0:13 angels seem to be assigned to certain countries.

In the Christian scriptures angels serve as the intermediaries between God and humans. Examples include the angel who freed the Apostle Peter from prison. Hebrews 1:13-14: specifies the angels’ place in the heavenly hierarchy, while describing their duties: But to what angel has [God] ever said, “Sit at my right hand till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet?’ Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?

Finally, while it appears that in Islam the concept of guardian angels isn’t as developed as it is in Judaism and Christianity, many still Muslims hold that each person has two guardian angels, going in front of and following behind him/her.

Searching “guardian angel” on Google or YouTube yields a cornucopia of sites and videos that claim to aid in contacting or soliciting the help of one’s guardian angel. Those I visited and viewed overwhelmingly fall into the category of New Age spirituality. Their make their intent self-explanatory:

5 Facts You Need to Know About Your Guardian Angel

11 Signs You’re Being Visited by Your Guardian Angel

15 Signs You’re Being Visited by Your Guardian Angel

Guardian Angel Invocation

How to Have a Relationship with Your Guardian Angel

How to Know the Name of Your Guardian Angel

How to Meet Your Guardian Angel

How to Tell If You Have a Guardian Angel

How You can Talk to Your Guardian Angel

Who are our Guardian Angels?

And on, and on, and on . . . The message I sense from the folks that devise such content is that it’s possible to bend these semi-divine beings to human will, thereby obtaining spiritual or material blessings.

My Perspective? It isn’t very exciting. As someone seeped in the study of biblical history and languages, I try to understand what the texts say, not the results of extrapolations and traditions that have grown up around them.

Therefore, I am content to understand angels to be God’s messengers, at times tasked with carrying out God’s will. Nothing more, nothing less.

But “guardian angels”? I don’t buy it.