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Scaramouche (1952)

"He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony. His very paternity was obscure, although the village of Gavrillacs had long since dispelled the cloud of mystery that hung about it."

Scaramouche, Book 1, by Rafael Sabatini

Scaramouche07I'm very surprised that I've never heard of Scaramouche (the film or the book).  We just watched the movie this evening and it's a lot of fun.

  I was looking through Netflix earlier this month to find movies for younger son and I to watch while the dear husband and the older two were visiting relatives.  Scaramouche was on the "Swashbucklers" list, but it sounded so good that we waited to watch it with everyone. We weren't disappointed - except that younger son is now disappointed that we don't own it!  It also has the longest (6 1/2 minute) sword duel on film (to the right).

Scmask_1 Scaramouche takes place in pre-Revolutionary France.  Andre-Louis Moreau (Stewart Granger), of unknown parentage, vows revenge against the man (Mel Ferrer) who killed his foster brother.  Since he is wanted by the military as a revolutionary, he must hide out in a Commedia Dell'arte actors troupe, playing the part of Scaramouche (who, conveniently, is masked - one type of Scaramouche mask to the right).  He throws himself into learning to fence to prepare for his revenge.  And, to tell any more would give too much away. 

Scaramouche2 Eleanor Parker and Janet Leigh (to the right) play the two women in his life.  Janet Leigh, you, of course, know from Psycho.  Eleanor Parker, who is excellent in Scaramouche (and reminds me of Kathryn Grayson playing Lilli Vanessi in Kiss Me Kate), has been in numerous films, most of which I haven't seen.  I had seen her in one film, however - she plays Baroness Schraeder in The Sound of Music ("“Darling, haven't you ever heard of a delightful little thing called boarding school?”). 

Scaramouche was originally a book (published in 1921) by Rafael Sabatini.  It was first made into a movie in 1923.  Sabatini wrote prolifically, and two of his other novels, Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk were also made into movies.

I definitely want to read the original Scaramouche, and, although it is available online, I would much rather get it from the library.  One of the Amazon reviewers says, "Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, this swashbuckling novel is exciting throughout, and it presents one of the most dashing heroes in fiction, a man who can fight equally well with his mind, his mouth, his pen, and his sword, a man who stirs up events wherever he goes" - which strongly reminds me of another favorite French story.

[Pictures thanks to La Rubrique Cinéma, which mentions that Laurence Olivier, Ava Gardener, Elizabeth Taylor, Fernando Lamas and Ricardo Montalban were all considered for the movie before the final casting was finished.  If you haven't seen the movie, and if you read French, don't read the website, however, because it will give away parts of the plot.]

High-Stakes Testing

Why the high-stakes testing fad doesn't impress me:

Test pressure is getting to our schools: It's inspiring cheaters and stifling real learning  by Macarena Hernández

When I was teaching sophomore English in 1998, one of my students, a
stocky 16-year-old football player, came up to me one day after class to
say he wanted to transfer out. His last English teacher, he said, spent
much more time preparing her class for the state's standardized
assessment test, mostly by having students bubble in sample tests. He
had decided my class, where we analyzed poetry and wrote essays
constantly, wasn't going to help him pass the test.

"If I fail, Miss, it's going to be all your fault," he told me.

He wasn't the only one afraid. Many other students, as well as my
colleagues, were, too.

Today, in this "no child left behind" culture, less than 10 years after
my year teaching public school, the stakes are even higher and the fear,
I suspect, even more rampant. There is just so much riding on this test:
For the kids, advancing to the next grade and, ultimately, graduating
from high school. For the teachers, their salaries and job evaluations.
For the school districts, public money and the right to stay open.

These days, the only acceptable way to measure progress seems to be
through these tests, and they're completely changing the way teachers
teach and students learn. Practice-test drills are common, teachers tell
me, and they also complain they have to suppress their creative juices
as supervisors demand they play it safe with dumbed-down, rigid

Our students no longer are having to pass a test to prove they've
learned. Now they're learning tricks just so they can pass a test...
Dallas Morning News

Read the rest here.

You learn how to write by writing - not by bubbling in little practice tests. 

Creature Blogging - July 29, 2006


Dear husband found this snake while mowing the lawn earlier this week.  He called to younger son to come see it.  Younger son is now old enough, and careful enough, to pick up small creatures on his own.  He was very gentle with this ring-neck snake while he brought it to show the rest of us.


Inside creatures too.  Lina is our inquisitive kitty.  Anything new, and she is on it, or in it, immediately. 


I spent a bit of time chasing this tiger swallowtail around trying to get a picture.  And, of course, when it would land on a maltese cross (pictured) I would have to wait for the flower to stop swinging around.


And, I couldn't decide which picture I liked better so here they both are. 



This wasp was much easier to photograph (on butterfly weed).

This swallowtail was also easier to photograph because tithonia flower stems don't wave around the way maltese cross stems do.

Gardens - July 29, 2006

For various reasons, I've been too exhausted today to write anything, but I've posted every day for the last seven days - which is a record for me so I'm going to keep going. 

So...if I'm too tired to write much - garden photos are always good.


This hibiscus has never bloomed this beautifully before.  Usually the Japanese beetles feast on it - but they haven't been too bad so far this year.  I'm not sure why.


Dear husband has built two benches in the back yard.  This is the view from the one which is wonderfully shady in the afternoon (the view from the other one is here).  This bed is at its peak right now, with Joe Pye-Weed (pink and tall on the right), phlox (pink on the left), black-eyed susans (yellow, mid-front), pink cone flower (mid-front), and petunias.


Close up of....ummm...I never remember their name.  But they're also blooming beautifully this year.  In the shade.  If I bloomed, that's where I would bloom in this weather.  I'll ask dear husband in the morning what they are (By the way, there's an interesting comic post about heat on the Dilbert Blog).

[Later note:  I didn't make it.  While I composed the post on Saturday, I didn't post it until a little after midnight on Sunday.]

French Bloggers

From the International Herald Tribune:

The French distinguish themselves, both statistically and anecdotally, ahead of Germans, Britons and even Americans in their obsession with blogs, the personal and public journals of the Internet age.

Just why the French have embraced blogs more than most is anyone's guess, but explanations range from technical to historical and cultural.

Sixty percent of French Internet users visited a blog in May, ahead of Britain with 40 percent and little more than a third in the United States, according to Comscore, an Internet ratings service.

...More than three million Internet users, or more than 12 percent of those online in France, have created a blog, according a study released in June by the ratings agency Médiamétrie.

"You cannot be elected president of France without a blog," said Benjamin Griveaux, director of Web strategy for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former finance minister who in 2004 was among the first politicians to start a blog. "Blogs have not replaced traditional media, but they are absolutely necessary for every politician."

Some even harbor a faint hope that flourishing online discussions might curb the French population's penchant for taking to the streets in protest.

"With so many blogs, I'm hoping for fewer protests and strikes in Paris this fall," said Loïc Le Meur, a pioneer French blogger and European managing director of the blog-hosting company Six Apart. "If people can express themselves online, then maybe they don't need to block the streets."

French blogs stands out in other measurable ways. They are noticeably longer, more critical, more negative, more egocentric and more provocative than their U.S. counterparts, said Laurent Florès, the French-born, New York-based chief executive of CRM Metrix, a company that monitors blogs and other online conversations on behalf of companies seeking feedback on their brands.

"Bloggers in the United States listen to each other and incorporate rival ideas in the discussion," he said. "French bloggers never compromise their opinions."

... Cultural explanations describe blogs as a natural outgrowth of the French national character.

"It is clear that in France we have very large egos and love to speak about ourselves," Le Meur said. "If you look at Germans or Scandinavians - off- line and on the Internet - they really don't talk about themselves."

...Like elsewhere, the grass-roots freedom of blogs has proved problematic for French companies, with activist groups and skeptical consumers taking their strong views online, said Cyril Klein, marketing director of Scanblog, a blog-monitoring firm in Paris.

"Consumers in France have few outlets to make their views heard, so blogs have become their counterpower," Klein said, citing as an example, a Web site that fights against sexist displays of women. "The difficulty for brands is that French culture encourages people to express unhappiness and criticize."

... But the French can be quirky as well as serious. One of the most popular video blogs, Bonjour America (, was started by Cyrille de Lasteyrie to explain France to foreigners - and to find a way for him to meet his hero, Clint Eastwood.

...Griveaux, the director of Web strategy for Strauss-Kahn, reckons the popularity of blogs comes down to France being a nation where each and every citizen thinks he or she should be in charge.

"We had 16 presidential candidates at the last election, and we will probably have the same number next year," Griveaux said. "Every French person wants to run the country - a blog is the next best option."

[Hat tip to University Diaries]

What is Modest Attire? Part 3: A Step Further

In Hugo Schwyzer's second post on modesty (inspired by the recent letter on modesty from Bishop Yanta (of Amarillo)),  "The real meaning of modesty:  'coveting' and 'koismos',"  he makes an important, and almost-never-mentioned, point about New Testament mentions of modesty.  I'm going to quote at length (and, again, the whole post is worth reading):

I never finished the koine Greek classes I started, but I do know enough to know that the word the New Testament uses  that is usually translated as "modesty" is kosmios.  Kosmios generally means "orderly" or "proper", neither of which are helpful words in clarifying skirt length!  Given the subjectivity of what it is that different cultures and different individuals regard as "proper", it's hard to find evidence anywhere in the New Testament that suggests a clear standard for how much skin women were to reveal.

But one aspect of modesty is well-covered (pun intended) in the New Testament: the importance of avoiding displays of wealth. In fact, the New Testament only explicitly defines immodesty not in terms of revealing flesh but in terms of ostentatious displays of property.

1 Timothy 2:9: I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes...

Gold, pearls, and expensive clothes are set up as the opposite of kosmios; the decency and propriety here is economic rather than sexual. 

1 Peter 3:3-4:  Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.

These are the two most explicit references to how women ought to dress in the entire New Testament. In neither instance is there any evidence of concern with dress as a symbol of sexual impropriety.  In both cases, the emphasis is on avoiding crass displays of wealth -- particularly gold and expensive outfits.

...It's telling that most churches in America are so attentive to issues of sexual propriety and deliberately unconcerned with economic display.  Imagine if Bishop Yanta had had the courage to preach a truly biblical homily about modesty!  Building on 1 Timothy and 1 Peter, he could have asked his congregants not to wear gold, platinum, or diamond jewelry to Mass!  He could have preached against the sin of wearing designer labels, or of pulling into the church parking lot in a 7-series BMW.   Such a sermon would have been far more closely based on the original use of kosmios!

...But for the sake of discussion, let's suppose I grant the conservative case that women are at least partially responsible for the lust their bodies arouse.  If that's true, is not the well-dressed rich man equally responsible for the envy he arouses with his Rolex?

Bishop Yanta quoted the Commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife". If you read his sermon, that's the only kind of coveting he refers to.  But Exodus 20:17 reads:

You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Bishop Yanta is engaged in the classic modern conservative mistake: elevating sexual sin to a level of greater concern than economic injustice.  The Commandment makes it clear that coveting one's neighbor's wealth (symbolized by house and donkey) is as great an offense to God as coveting his spouse.   In modern terms, there is no theological difference between staring longingly at someone's jewelry or brand-new car and staring longingly at the exposed body of the woman in front of you at the altar rail.  Both are acts of coveting -- but the good bishop, like most theological conservatives in this country, comes close to giving a free pass to those of us who want to indulge our materialist fantasies.   The longing for someone else's body is labeled the sin of lust, while the longing for someone else's car is refashioned (in the modern American heresy) into praiseworthy ambition! 

 ... But a close reading of either testament of Scripture suggests that our forefathers and foremothers in faith considered the display of wealth to be at least as egregious as the display of the body, if not more so.  And they considered the longing for material possessions to be as sinful as the longing for one's neighbor's partner.  Though a few churches (like the Mennonites) generally preach a holistic understanding of modesty, one that embraces both the sexual and the economic, too many leaders are like the bishop of Amarillo: obsessed with the thongs that creep up over the backsides and out of the low-rise jeans of young female parishioners, and blind to the watches and rings that adorn the fingers of their parents.

This point brought a number of questions to my mind:

If young women should forego from their usual minimalist dress and have more completely covering church clothes, and if those in more physical occupations should have dressier clothes for church, should the weathly have simpler, less expensive clothes for church? 

And, should this be just for church or a way of dressing in general? 

If it should be a way of dressing in general, what of the conflict between the clothes required for certain occupations where stylish and expensive clothes are expected (you wouldn't show up at the Academy awards in a formal dress from Target!), and the Biblican injunction (also mentioned above) that:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.  1 Peter 3:3-4


What is Modest Attire? Part 2: Responsibility

Hugo Schwyzer's first post on the Bishop's letter (Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo) is worth reading in full, and I'm not going to recap the whole post here.  But I will bring out a few points.

The Bishop starts his letter by grounding his thoughts in Scripture:

Immodesty in dress is governed by two citations from God’s Law:

1) The Ninth Commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Exodus 20:17);

2) Jesus said: “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

Whom are these two verses addressing?  I think you can assume that the context is heterosexual - so these two verses about not coveting your neighbor's wife or looking at a woman lustfully are addressed to men. But the vast majority of the following letter has to do with what women are doing - not with what men are doing.  And women are held responsible if men violate these two verses. 

However, as Mr. Schwyzer points out:

Both the Commandment and the passage from Matthew 5 address coveting and lust; both place the onus for avoiding lust solely on the one who is lusting, not on the object of the desire!

Now, I suppose it would make it easier on men if women covered up more at church.  It would make it easier for those on a diet, or, more significantly, diabetics, if churches didn't prominently display doughnuts in the lobby afterwards (or bake sales, or Girl Scout cookie sales, or pancake breakfasts...).  It would make it easier for those with migraines if churches didn't serve coffee (or any other migraine triggers). 

In all these cases, however, the person doing the lusting - after women, doughnuts, pancakes, coffee, or whatever - is responsible for their own thoughts, their own behavior and their own health.  And, here again, I like the way Mr. Schwyzer put it:

But whether the woman across the aisle from me is young and comely or wizened by age, whether she is in a miniskirt or wearing hijab, my eyes and my thoughts are still under my control -- a control that is one of the promised gifts of grace.   I will not be tempted beyond what I can bear, and if it seems I am, the fault is mine -- and mine alone. 

[Note:  I suppose I should mention that I do dress modestly because, first, as a 40-something, roundish, mother-of-three it would be silly to do anything else, and second, even when I was younger and slimmer, I wanted people to notice my mind.] 

What is Modest Attire? - Part 1: Welcome

Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo sent out a pastoral letter recently about modest attire at Mass, and, since then, comments about it have been bouncing around various blogs.    The two that have caught my eye are from Modestly Yours and Hugo Schwyzer.

To get my own thoughts about dress at Mass, or church, out of the way...  I dress neatly and I do dress up for church.  However, I'm not going to spend lots of time shopping for just the right clothes/current styles, etc. - which means that some most of the clothes I wear to church are outdated.  Especially since I lost some weight last year and now can wear dresses that I haven't worn since before younger son was born. 

However...I have had children age 5 and under for fourteen out of the last eighteen years.  So, I've had young children climbing in and out of my lap during Mass for fourteen out of the last eighteen years.  If you can stay modest in a dress with that - more power to you!  When I have small children, I wear black pants to Mass - they don't show stains and don't ride up when small children are climbing or squirming around. 

But, I don't generally pay much attention to what others are wearing to church.  I noticed enough to know that one dresses up more in the Episcopal Church than in the Catholic Church, but I'm not really interested in fashion.  And - since I'm short, and since church is more interesting to children if you sit in front, I can't usually see most of the people at church anyway since we're in one of the first few pews (Which is why I had little sympathy for the comment in Modestly Yours:

Bishop Yalta is definitely more old school than I am, but I applaud his outspokeness on this. If I never saw another tube top, thong strap, or baggy shorts falling off someone's butt in the pew in front of me, I'd be so happy! What do you think?

If you sit in the front pew, these things won't bother you! Front pews aren't generally very crowded at Mass.).

Even when I do notice clothes that are out of the ordinary at church - like the young lady last year dressed in Goth fashion - my first impulse is not "How can she dress like that at church?!"  My first impulse is "I hope she doesn't feel out of place or unwelcome.  I would hate for someone not to come back to church because they dress differently."

Maybe it's my own natural inclinations - helped by years of hearing Father C's emphasis on welcoming people to Mass - but I feel that welcoming people to the House of the Lord is far more important than worrying about how they're dressed. 

Quark/"Master of the House"

For any other odd people outside my family who like both Star Trek and musicals, while looking for a video of Nana Visitor singing "Fever" (which I couldn't find), I found this video of Quark clips (from Deep Space Nine) set to "Master of the House" from Les Miserables.  I've seen other compilations of clips from movies or TV shows set to a song, but this is the best one I've found.  The person who put it together was able to match the video and the songs very well.  If you know "Master of the House" and DS9, you can probably figure out who will appear in the video during the last verse of the song.

Bonus for those who like LOTR and "Pinky and the Brain" - a video which combines both (by the same person).

[For those who aren't fans, LOTR is Lord of the Rings.]