Archive | September 2016

If you notice me singing, do join in…

mom-thinking-2I often walk to my favorite cafe in the morning. Since my right knee complains with every step, I sing as I walk. My brain isn’t capable of multi tasking, so trying to remember the words of old songs seems to lessen the pain. It works to some degree. When someone comes by, I lower my voice so I won’t be heard. Yet, what fun it would be if strangers joined me in song just like they did in the old musicals I so enjoyed when I was a kid. Ta-da….

judy-garland-fred-astaire-in-easter-parade

Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in Easter Parade

Even then I remember feeling a little silly as I watched some of those movies. The goings on onscreen could be unrealistic. For example, all the passersby knew the words of the songs and the dance steps and so were able to join Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in the ‘Easter Parade’ — dressed in their Easter best. Young as I was, I knew that didn’t really happen.

Yes, there were a few mindless plots weakly held together to

singing-in-the-rain-gene-kelly

Gene Kelly in Dancin’ in the Rain

showcase the talent of the stars in them, and Gene Kelly did dance in the rain on the sidewalks of New York in ‘Dancin’ in the Rain’, but you can’t deny he was entertaining.

Were musicals all silly, mindless fluff? I think not. Many important issues were covered in Broadway musicals — issues which society would not have been ready to confront in any other format at the time. Just as comedy was, and continues to be, used to help us deal with the serious and even unbearable, musicals often sugarcoated difficult themes. Without realizing it, audiences were encouraged to look at and hopefully rethink their ideas and attitudes.

thomas-carey-carol-brice-porgy

Thomas Carey and Carol Brice in Porgy & Bess, 1934

Gershwin and Heyward’s ‘Porgy & Bess’ is often regarded as the first great American opera. The music is brilliant but at the same time, the story makes a strong statement on the difficult position of blacks in America — as valid today as when it first came out in 1934, years before Martin Luther King came along.

Even earlier, in 1927, Kern and Hammerstein touched on black and

paul-robeson-1936-old-man-river-showboat

The great Paul Robeson, Showboat, 1936

white issues in another timeless musical classic ‘Showboat’. (In my opinion those who protested against the show in Toronto some years ago, could not have seen it.)

Then, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘South Pacific’, which came out in 1949, tackled racial discrimination head-on. A real inter-racial love affair takes place on the stage/screen. It was a daring move which clearly defined the needless tragedy that results from racist thinking in Lieutenant

mary-martin-and-ezio-pinza-in-sp

Mary Martin & Ezio Pinza in South Pacific

Cable’s romance with a Polynesian girl, Liat. The American Nellie, portrayed so well by Mary Martin, is shocked when she discovers Emile, a Frenchman, has children who are half-Polynesian. In the end, Nellie chooses to deal with her own prejudices and marries the man she loves. (By the way, Mary Martin, who washed her hair in each performance, claimed all that hair-washing did no harm.)

‘Hair’ about the hippy movement, free love and the drug culture, raised many an eyebrow with its passive nudity in 1968. I remember being shocked myself when I first saw it. Those scenes seem mild to us today. Modern audiences probably don’t understand what the fuss was all about.

I’m reminded of these productions when I find myself singing some of the old show tunes while I walk in the morning. If you catch me at it, do join in.

 

Advertisements

Hudson’s Bay Company and — Tsar Nicholas????

Muriel Susan

Daughter Susan and me, you can blame her for this blog

I’m not a shopper. I have no patience and particularly hate trying on clothes. I also don’t like large department stores — haven’t a clue where things are and too often can’t find someone to ask. Our Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) is one such store. I avoid it if I can. They once had a huge sign on the outside of their downtown location declaring ‘Shopping is good’. I didn’t approve. The statement is debatable, but that’s a whole other story.

Our bodies have to be clothed, so it becomes necessary now and then to shop.

summer pants at HBC

found a new pair of these at HBC

That means going to larger stores for me. I’m short. I need a petite. Most smaller stores don’t carry petites, so I went to HBC for my recent summer clothing requirements. Who’d have imagined what I read about them later?

220px-Indians_at_a_Hudson_Bay_Company_trading_post

HBC didn’t only buy and sell furs

I’m a history buff. Of course I knew HBC, as one of the oldest businesses in existence, would have a long history. However in reading ‘The Secret Plot To Save The Tsar’ by Shay McNeale, I learned the company had been involved in far more than just buying and selling furs.

The book says HBC was contracted to construct a residence in Murmansk, in northern Russia, to be used as a safe house for Tsar Nicholas II and his family pending a hopeful rescue by the Allies in 1917. It was believed/hoped this might even lead to the Tsar’s eventual return to power. And it was HBC’s Henry Armitstead (1877-1956) who headed the project.

During World War One, (1914-1918) HBC operated as purchasing agents for France, Russia, Romania as well as others. The firm had headquarters in London. They were able to claim the house was being built for use by employees, but it was paid for by the British Admiralty and constructed under the auspices of the British Secret Service. (Armitstead’s boss, C.V. Sale, was head of HBC at the time.)

As during most revolutions, in the Russia of 1917, factions jostled for power. Bolsheviks, Czechs, the White Army, Reds, Cossacks, Caucasians, and others manoeuvred, used extortion, blackmail, ransoms, bribes and double-dealing to gain control of the country during the civil war. Agents and double agents infiltrated the various factions, often changing identities and names, other countries utilized a multi-tracked policy of espionage. It was a real, live ‘cloak and dagger’ whodunnit with murders and disappearances a common occurrence. Lenin was a master at the game. He accepted huge bribes from all sides — and was the guy who trained Stalin — only too well.

Family II

Tsar Nicholas II and family

King George V and first cousin Tsar Nicholas, often called twins

First cousins: Tsar Nicholas and King George V ‘The Twins’

What is the truth? Did the Tsar and his family actually survive? To this day some think so. Some don’t. The Tsar was closely related to many other European Royals. His first cousin, King George V of England, and he looked so much alike they were often called ‘The Twins’ and easily mistaken for each other.

Do I think they survived? No.

And what do the Hudson’s Bay’s records say of all this? Their

220px-HBCWinnipeg

HBC Winnipeg — archives

archives are online and fascinating — I spent hours totally intrigued. They say Armitstead was indeed employed by them and was posted in Archangel, on a ‘special trade mission’ during 1917.  Archangel (Arkhangeiska) is located in the north of Russia. Interesting, no?