Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 3: Tom is Back Plus a Wedding

I stayed awake for this episode, mostly because Cora did a lot more talking than usual and Edith finally fired her editor (either that or he quit — I couldn’t quite tell) and as a result she, too, did a lot more talking. It perked me up, to see both of those ladies expressing an opinion. Usually, they spend each episode like well-dressed turtles: inert, lying in one place, until at unexpected moments a face emerges. The eyes become animated and finally, slowly, there is some movement. A walk across a room, say, or a gander at some pigs at a fat stock show.

But don’t get too excited, folks, as next week Cora could be sitting on a couch again, dully staring into the middle distance. And Edith could go right back to being her old self, arms dangling at her sides, watching helplessly as Mary steals Mr. LandAgent right from under her nose and Marigold goes to live with Mrs. Pigman.

And Mary might just do this, since she’s been lacking a man to emasculate since the season started (though Mr. LandAgent might not prove to be much of a challenge in this regard).

In this episode, the big news at Downton Abbey is twofold: a Wedding and a Comeback.

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Countdown to 2016…

Hey, People of the Internet.

In the waning moments of 2015, I want to wish all of you a Happy New Year, and share this video that my brother made with our nieces and nephews offering a nostalgic take on Old Times Past. See you back here on Monday, January 4th for our last first episode recap of Downton Abbey. (I’m making choking sounds as I type this: half in relief, half in grief.)

Local Culture

Local culture is one of those trendy phrases that permeate, well, local culture (and beyond), but shoring up local culture is where I spend most of my energy. Why do I do this? For reasons that go way beyond nostalgia, way beyond trying to capture a sense of a simpler time. Life wasn’t necessarily better in the past in so many ways, but in our technological race to improve our lot in life, we are losing many of the distinctive aspects of the human experience, much of it having to do with occupying a unique place in the world, being surrounded by unique culture.

It’s too much to get into right now, especially because when I do bother to write a blog post or update the site, The Roving Home is given to an overview of things — aesthetics lite, if you will. I don’t usually go into the heavy duty reasons for why I’m involved with the particular events I’m involved with, but maybe I should do this more. Do more explaining about the investment of time, money and energy I put into building and restoring a sense of place. We often hear of the problems that come with the homogenization of America, and, on a larger scale, the effects of globalization in flattening cultures. We hear about it so often that it has lost its power to affect us. Or maybe we don’t even understand what the big deal is. But it is always worth a pause to consider what we are throwing away before we toss it: your grandmother’s recipe for kielbasa? Your dad’s banjo? Your uncle’s old fishing gear? This applies to buildings and furniture as well as songs, heirloom seeds and ideas. Please think before you throw, as the recycling adage goes.

We need to pay attention to what we have around us before it is completely gone and we are all eating the same industrialized waste and sleeping in reassembled flat-pack beds from IKEA (at least the beds will be attractive, some small consolation).

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At Home in Ohio: Spring 2015

I head to my home state of Ohio a few times a year. I go back to see my beloved family, I go back to stay at the farm where I grew up, but mostly I go back because I have to: it is home.

Home can exist as a state of mind, it’s true, but home as an actual physical place has a stronger claim on a person than any abstract notion ever could. This doesn’t even have to mean that your home is a place you even necessarily want to be, but it is still a place, not just an idea. A place that exists in a specific spot on the planet — one that is unlike any other for you, utterly familiar no matter how long it’s been since you’ve been there. That’s how the farm is in Ohio for me. And not just for me; it’s the same for a lot of people in my extended family, scattered across the continent and the globe. We all converge in this particular spot any chance we get. It’s not that our farm is particularly amazing, though it has plenty of amazing elements, it is that it is ours. When I’m there, I think about my grandpa, who died in 2006, the year my oldest son was born. Just as my grandpa no doubt thought about his grandparents every time he was back on the same farm, their farm, long after they had passed away.

Spring came while I was in Ohio for this last visit. We celebrated Easter and mourned the dead and dying Ash trees that cover the property, the work of an invasive species which showed up  in 2002 and has managed to kill millions of trees in little more than a decade. Death and life, as always, go hand-in-hand and even as dead ash trees are cut out of the landscape, the tiny seedlings my sister planted in anticipation of summer sprang from the dirt and cheered us all up each time we walked past this little field of green.

The days are getting longer, long enough for the kids to run around outside to the point of exhaustion, but not so long that there isn’t time for adults to sit around in front of a fire in the wood burning stove on my mom’s porch, hot tea taking the chill off a late evening in spring, at home in Ohio.

Downton Abbey: Season 5, The Finale: Mary Sings Like a Bird

Well, we made it, folks. The season is over and we say farewell to the House of Grantham until the Year of our Lord 2016, just ten short months away. I’ve had a week to recover from the prospect, and think I’m ready to review what happened in the season finale. That is, if I can remember it.

Much took place in the final episode, which packed in a whole bunch of dead grouse and one giant Christmas tree. It all culminated with Lady Mary singing a carol in front of the master and servile classes as they gathered together. All of them, to a person, managed to listen to her warbling without openly weeping at the travesty that, of all the people there — so many of them fine — the most horrible individual present should be the one given the honor of singing Silent Night. I’ve never been so convinced of British reserve as I was in that moment, as I’m sure it took everything those people had in them not to cry.

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Downton Abbey: Season 5, Ep. 8: “What a Palaver!”

What a palaver! Tom says during a momentary lull at the latest ruined dinner party. This particular one is destroyed by Rose’s mum, Sour Sue, who, in the midst of her divorce from ol’ Squishy, has missed out on so many recent terrible dinners. Sour Sue decided that if no one else was going to say awful things at the table, then it might as well be her, since no one likes her anyway.

Apparently the British are only repressed when two or fewer people are in the room. A proper Brit refuses to even look at her husband in private, as that would be too indiscreet. No, the best thing to do is wait until you’re gathered around the table with the entire family, a complement of servants, and several near-strangers, then — one or two courses into an elaborate meal that cost 150 pounds a head factoring in food and labor — announce to all and sundry that you never did like your husband much. Or Jews for that matter. And did I mention? The host, as a person, pretty much makes me want to puke in my soup here. And his politics! His politics make me positively want to rip the hand-sewn beads right off my dress and scatter them around the room just before poking him in the eye with my oyster fork. Okay now, back to the soup, everybody! Nothing to see here! What a palaver!

Sour Sue preparing remarks for the dinner table. Topics for discussion  include anti-semitism, divorce, blackmail, poverty, and my intense dislike for my daughter.

Sour Sue preparing remarks for the dinner table. Topics for discussion include, but are not limited to: anti-semitism, divorce, blackmail, poverty, and intense dislike for one’s own child.

Love is in the Air

The show opens with the household in a flurry over the upcoming nuptials of Rose and Atticus. I had no idea what was happening for roughly the first twenty minutes, since the last we saw R & A they were ancillary to the real action, which took place at the last disastrous dinner party with Larry and Gary Merton. But here is Rose, suddenly taking center stage with a minimum of pre-wedding plot lines — stories which I fully expected to go on for years and years. So you can imagine my confusion (or maybe you don’t have to imagine it) when this episode opens with everyone running around the kitchen getting ready for a wedding. Whose wedding? I thought. But then I was distracted by the visual splendor of the elaborate wedding cake being made with great care by Daisy, who is not only a scholar, a budding farmer-socialist and a first-rate Undercook, but a sort of genius artist when it comes to sculpting roses made of icing. This particular cake is so special, it needs to be made over several days. It can only be crafted at Downton, where Mrs. Patmore and Daisy Undercook keep the family’s collection of giant cake pans, after which it will be transported down to London in an open-air motor car with limited shock absorbency, a hot, shaky, coal-smoke bellowing train for several hours, then another motor car, placed in the gentle hands of a taxi driver — watch the delicate icing roses, sir! — then hurried down to the bowels of the London house to clog up kitchen counter space for several more days in anticipation of a wedding reception, which will take place at some point in the future. The cake will taste like cardboard and the roses will have been crushed several times over, but at least it is there, on the table, towering over the proceedings like the 21st century anomaly it is. Continue reading