Sweet Memories

by Randy Munch

On a driving vacation with our daughter and her husband we toured through Germany, Austria, and Hungary. While in Budapest we learned that the company that our daughter worked for had staff located there who reported directly to her. They insisted on showing us around the city. They arranged a candle lite dinner cruise on the Danube.  They took us on tours to the city center where we either dined on fine cuisine or stopped at street side cafes for the renowned chocolate Dubos Torte. They helped us make our way to the surreal Memento Park that contains all the statues erected during the communist regime. Statues that were ripped from the streets and dragged to a site outside the city. And they provided us with tickets to the State Opera House where we took in a ballet and an opera. The building was amazing: intricately designed mosaics covered the entry foyer only to be outshone by majestic marble columns that supported gold leaf covered arches reaching for vaulted ceilings that displayed magnificent murals; gold leaf covered lamps and stunning chandeliers lit the stone stairways and the rich scarlet carpet of the hallways. The impact of that building led me to contact a close friend when we returned to Canada.

This friend and I had been baseball teammates for many years. He and his family had also toured much of Europe and its museums and churches. My message to him was essentially how we had both experienced those magnificent structures and how I had attended an opera no less, in a magnificent building, and yet he and I had never attended a baseball game in the old Yankee stadium – an edifice of unmatched magnificence for baseball partisans.

His response was strange in that he insisted that we make the trip ASAP. At the time of departure I understood his urgency. He had learned of the cancer that was metastasizing in his body. He was weak by then but keen to go. We went on to attend a four game series against the Toronto Blue Jays. We sat together admiring the dirty concrete floors, the rusty old steel columns that hampered our view, and the amazing emerald green diamond where many a Yankee great had plied the trade that we so loved. He passed away shortly after we returned home and our time in that baseball shrine remains a bitter sweet memory.

However each of our weekly Joy of Writing club assignments brings back better memories of my old friend. Dave was a gentle bear of a man and regardless which forest he walked he was smarter than the average bear. He had graduated from Harvard with a degree in chemistry and then obtained a master’s degree in education at the University of Saskatchewan. He spent his early career as a teacher and then later developing science curriculum for both provincial and federal school systems. Following our respective retirements we often corresponded by e-mail. With each message we tasked ourselves to out-do the other’s dissertation and write a more eloquent response. A tough job when your opposition is a Harvard graduate and you as an engineer are expected to struggle with three syllable words.

One year, shortly after out retirement, he and I and our wives were wintering together in Lake Havasu and I received a two dozen pack of Nut Goodies, a personal favorite candy bar that is not available on shelves in Canada. They had been sent by my daughter who found them on-line from a company somewhere in the American Midwest.  Normally I would have horded those treats most selfishly but on this occasion I shared them with my friend. My sharing of those treats with Dave sparked an eloquently worded e-mail from him when he got back to Canada. He wrote:  ……    

“Although the Nut Goodie presentation has not inspired any bards to write of abject and sacrificial friendship leading to such an event as a gift of Nut Goodies, Nut Goodies themselves have inspired some doggerel  …

I think that I shall never see

A poem quite as good as a Nut Goodie      

A Nut Goodie beneath its wrap of red

Five precious bites and one’s well fed

With chocolate, nuts and gooey white

Marshmallow, yielding pure delight

Poems are adapted by fools like me

But only Pearson’s Candy Corporation, St. Paul, MN.,(and available at Walmart, Cub Foods, Fleet Farms, Rainbow Foods, Sam’s Club, Super America, and Snyder Drugs) can make a Nut Goodie.”

            Clearly that e-mail, which is now permanently on file with my important personal documents, was the all-time winner in our writing assignments and, more importantly, it will always be a sweet memory of a dear friend.

Art Appreciation

by Randy Munch

The Joy of Writing Club members were presented with a color photo of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting The Luncheon of the Boating Party. The assignment was to write an art appreciation essay on the masterpiece. However believing me, a linear thinking professional engineer, can write an intelligent dissertation on a Renoir masterpiece is as absurd as thinking that masterpieces are painted on black velvet canvases. But what the hell – engineers are known for thinking that with a little study of the subject they can figure out how most everything works …. So here goes!

I like paintings that are realistic. The perspective must be accurate. Walls must be portrayed as vertical planes that intersect at right angles and parallel lines must extend to the same vanishing point on the horizon. I expect water surfaces to lay flat reflecting the sunlight as opposed to standing straight up and down like a window pane. I suspect that my preferred style is realism and “the Luncheon of the Boating Party” is an example of impressionism. Art historians write that Renoir’s preferred style in his early years was realism. One of his early works was a most realistic study of a buxom nude. The picture was considered improper by the French – by the French no less! So he put a hunting bow in her hand, a dead dear at her feet, and the skin of an animal across her lap to make her nakedness less blatant.  He then named the painting Diana – Goddess of the Hunt. While the subject was hardly realistic in that only a fool would go hunting in the woods completely naked, his adaptation to produce a work that could be placed on sale in a public gallery was economic realism. That painting went on to become one of the great figure paintings of nineteenth century realism.

I like art work that induces you to think about the subjects and a possible sub-plot. Art historians write that the “Luncheon” is an actual party with Renoir’s friends and over the years each person has been identified. There is a story there amongst the guests. They are of the upper class evidenced by their top hats, bowlers, and yellow straw boaters and the fact they are attending a party on a deck overlooking the Seine. Were there really six people at the party wearing yellow hats? In France yellow signifies betrayal and weakness. Had some of them lost favour with Renoir? Or does Renoir just take direction from Van Gogh – “How wonderful yellow is”?

I like art works that contain various peculiarities scattered across the canvas. In many of Renoir’s paintings there is an uncanny amount of portrayals of the hands of his subjects which are painted most realistically. This is evident even in his impressionistic works. In the “Luncheon” there are 12 hands clearly evident. Such a strong focus on hands is ironic in that toward the end of his career he suffered from severe crippling rheumatism in his hands. Art historians expound on how Renoir changed his style of painting throughout his life concluding that during this period he changed his preferred style to reflect different brush strokes with less definition. Seems to me that being so handicapped that the fact he couldn’t pick up his brush on his own would dictate a different quality to his work and not some preconceived  change in style.

Questionable observations of this nature by art historians and art critics are all too common. Recently while visiting our nation’s capital city and touring the National Gallery of Canada we came upon a large room that displayed a highly recognized piece of art. The room was empty except for a piece of string that was connected at the floor in one corner of the room and that extended kitty corner across the room to be attached at the opposite corner on the ceiling. I was infuriated that my tax dollars funded a National Gallery that would display such a worthless piece of junk; that my tax dollars paid the salary of a curator, presumably an art aficionado, who would actually approve the display of such a waste of rental space in the building, let alone suggest that it was art. I appreciate that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder but there was nothing to behold but the utter stupidity of including the string as a work of art.

In 1990 that same Gallery purchased an 18 foot tall canvas with nothing more than a vertical red stripe between two blue stripes for $1.8 million. At that time Canadian tax payers were infuriated. The purchase has since been justified by the fact that the value of the painting, and others by the same artist, have inflated over 20 times the original purchase price. Which in of itself is ludicrous?

 The demand for this type of art and the gullibility by the art community and the art critics that promote these pitiful works confirm the message in Hans Christian Anderson’s nursery story that embraces authenticity. The public feared being seen as stupid if they were to assert that the emperor wore no clothes and thus they cheered him along his route. But his lack of beautiful new garments was clear to the eyes of an innocent child.

Christmas Letter

by Randy Munch

Well here I am writing my inaugural Christmas letter. My dearest spouse insists that only a total social Philistine would refuse to dispatch greetings to his family and friends at this special time of the year. As such I am composing with some fancy font to add a more personal touch and some appropriate colorful icons along the border. I expect this joyous gift of prose will reach everyone before the eve of the birth of our Savior and Lord however if not that too will reflect appropriately my commitment to the exercise.

At this time of celebrating traditions that we have grown up and old with while the strains of carols fill the airways I am tempering those joyful sounds with the warm glow of political correctness. I am not singing “White Christmas” (not because I can’t carry a tune in a Christmas shopping bag) but rather to avoid being labelled a racist. I am refraining from the refrains of “Felice Navidad” knowing full well that a WASP like me will assuredly be accused of cultural appropriation. I won’t sing along to “Frosty the Snowman” on the chance I will be seen as sexist. I am totally backing away from “Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer” to avoid exposing children to the concept of bullying. I do however wonder how those same children, with Easter eggs in hand, will cope with learning of the guy that bullies nailed to a cross.

I believe that a Christmas letter is to opine as to the well-being of your children and of their accomplishments. However those who might give a damn are geographically or socially close enough to already know of these matters. As for the trips that we have taken during the course of the year, which I believe is also apropos for a Christmas letter, we are spending our winter in Arizona.  I am hoping that on our return trip to Canada we will receive the same welcome at the border as the thousands crossing the border in Eastern Canada who claim they are refugees escaping from one of the best places in the world to live, the United States of America.  Yes. Maybe I won’t be asked to provide a passport or that I won’t have to declare what I have been doing in the USA and for how long or what items that I purchased. Maybe they won’t care if my shoes are new or worn or whether I changed the oil in my vehicle. Maybe we will be offered a temporary abode to help us with our cost of living once they let us in. Not unreasonable since I have paid taxes for some 55 years to support this concept that my government currently provides to those illegal aliens. 

Now if you sense a tad bit of cynicism in this my first Noel you should understand that it veils my appreciation for the fact that many of my friends and family point out to me, most eloquently in some cases and in some not so eloquent monologues, that after the last couple of years, I should just be happy that I am still able to celebrate a Christmas.  Well I am !!     and I treasure the help and support that I have received from them all.  

So I am wishing you and yours a “Merry Christmas” and God forbid that as such I am seen to not value the beliefs or to marginalize anyone who celebrates Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or nothing at all.

Randy                       (I would have included the signature of my good wife however she has given serious second thoughts to having encouraged me to write a Christmas letter. I suspect that my inaugural Christmas letter may be my first and last.)

What’s in a Name

by Randy Munch

Two of my daughters who are currently successful professionals in the IT industry attended Bedford Road collegiate which is a high school in a Canadian city of about 200,000. It was one of six high schools in the city and one of two that had a higher enrollment of First Nation students. My daughters interacted with all of their class mates in a respectful and friendly manner. Those two daughters and many of their teammates competed proudly on the Redmen teams and proudly wore the logo which resembled that of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. As far as I could see that pride was felt by the entire student body.  

I have since been informed, by those who insist they are more sensitive to social injustices, that I should have known the name of the team that my daughters so proudly wore had grown out of the fertile soil of racism and misogyny. I have also been informed that my oft farewell to dear friends – “see you soon God willing and the creek don’t rise” is clearly racist. Apparently the reference to the creek has nothing to do with water. Originally the phrase referred to the Creek who were a hostile Native American tribe that was feared by early American settlers. The use by me thereby promotes ethnic stereotyping.

 As such it is confusing to note that the US Army’s helicopters and fixed wing aircraft bear names that reflect fierce and courageous warriors who have fought well for the armed forces. By edict the names chosen for these aircraft must not sacrifice dignity and are meant to promote an aggressive spirit that reflects confidence in the aircraft. Those names include the likes of Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, and Black Hawk.  And yet current social justice warriors are convinced that those same names, when associated with sport teams, are reprehensible. They take positions that team names like the North Dakota Fighting Sioux is racist if the team is not made up entirely of Sioux athletes. I never realized that all the athletes at Notre Dame were Irishmen, the collegiate team known as the fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Armed with this greater awareness of political correctness and social justice I have begun to more carefully assess the name of professional sports teams. While I hear the objections to names like the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians I am more offended by the name Minnesota Vikings. This name promotes prejudices and misunderstanding. My paternal grandparents were Danish and Swedish and being of a Scandinavian blood line I take particular umbrage at the stereotyping of my roots as vicious Vikings. The term Viking is generally used to describe the people of Scandinavia during the medieval period but it is really a name for a profession of Pagan plunderers. It was coined by the people who were their victims. The Vikings were all men – clearly a sexist organization– who used their skills to make terrifying murderous raids on towns and churches of neighboring kingdoms. These raids were a part of an intensely masculine, warlike culture that emphasized battle as a way for a man to prove himself. The name misrepresents our culture. We were explorers, farmers, fishermen and merchants. The name is hurt full to me because my forefathers, albeit members of the wicked white colonial establishment, settled and developed thriving and caring communities in much of Minnesota and Western Canada without raping and plundering.

The misguided cultural appropriation of wearing horned head gear which is encouraged at football games is especially hurt full. The portrayal by football fans as screaming Beserkers, who were Viking warriors that were so consumed by battle frenzy they felt no pain and could strike with such power they terrified anyone who faced them, paints a horrible image of our culture. What’s worse is that Vikings never even wore horned helmets. The belief has been adopted only because of cultural appropriation costuming in 17th and 18th century operas. Further the portrayal of Viking women with long blond braids and big busts promotes misunderstandings. They didn’t all have long braids.

It doesn’t matter that many Scandinavians don’t believe the name to be racist. What we need are more institutions with the progressive thinking of the University of Minnesota. An institution that chose a name and mascot for its sports teams that was not racist. It respected the Scandinavian’s culture and knew those who settled and worked the fallow fields of the American Midwest and Western Canada understood the tenacity of the golden gopher. I believe the name Vikings should be changed to Valkyries. In modern Scandinavian culture Valkyries have been the subject of art, music and poetry and have no racist or misogynistic implications. In fact modern thinking portrays the Valkyries as noble maidens helping the Norse god Odin guide warriors to Valhalla, an elegant palace where only heroes abide.   

Transportation in the Yucatan

by Randy Munch

A number of years ago my wife and I joined another couple to spend time in a vacation rental on the Yucatan Peninsula near a tiny village that was essentially free of tourists. Being removed from traditional transportation corridors we had to make do with whatever we found. Circulating for two weeks through remote villages and the Mayan jungle we experienced a transportation infrastructure totally foreign to us but loaded with fun.

 Daily trips during our first week involved grabbing the local shuttle service to the nearest village where we could buy groceries and other staples. Each trip started as the shuttle rumbled along the narrow, poorly paved, road skidding to stops and screaming like the jungle monkeys – we were unable to tell if it was the brakes or a slipping fan belt that made that horrifying noise. Finding such a ramshackle rusted out van would necessitate a search in the junk yards of a North American city. Gears were shifted but the transmission seemed to refuse to cooperate until it had barked and growled like a junk yard dog. Had there ever been a concern for passenger safety it was clear that that ship had sailed. I actually had to grab the arm of a little old lady to keep her from sliding off the seat and out the door that had swung open as we traversed a sharp turn on one of our trips. Jamming on the brakes and the door slammed shut and to our horror she smiled and politely thanked me as if that was a normal occurrence and I had merely assumed the responsibility of all riders on the inner seats.

Kudos were in order for every rider who scrambled for a seat from their road side “casitas” of which many resembled the tin shacks of a Rwandan ghetto. Like they were all on their way to a dress up affair they were each dressed to the nines in clean, colorful outfits free of even a single wrinkle. Many a rider carried the fragrance of ivory soap. Noticing each occurrence of that fresh and clean odor, we would glance at one another and smile. Outwardly we must have appeared trustworthy which may have explained a strange occurrence on one of our return trips.

Pivoting to view his riders, the driver yelled something as he slammed on the brakes. Questions as to our unscheduled stop were put on hold when the lady next to me sat her little boy on my lap and scurried out of the bus and into a roadside shop. Raspberry Mr. Freezie in hand, the little guy seemed unconcerned as he sucked away. Saturation of my pants by the melting droplets was my immediate concern. The wait seemed endless but eventually the boy’s mom returned to the bus with a large bag of groceries, retrieved her child from my lap, smiled, and thanked me and off we went. Undoubtedly we were experiencing transit infrastructure protocols unlike anything we had ever known.

Visiting the many attractions throughout the country side clearly required more reliable transportation. We rented a Toyota sedan. Extenuation by the sales agent did little to answer our questions as to where and when the Toyota had been manufactured. “Yesteryear” should have been stamped next to “Toyota” on the grill in that the car lacked virtually every standard convenience of any modern automobile. Zigzagging across the Mayan countryside on narrow side roads we travelled in a roll down windows, key only door locks, standard transmission, radio-less and sans A.C., unique, late (?) model Toyota and always in perpetual fear of even a minor breakdown.

Romantic Mysteries (Fortune Cookie)

by Randy Munch

A long time practice of mine is to remain quiet when all the Asian cuisine diners are reading their fortune cookies. Invariably they insist that I tell them what mine says so I offer with something to the effect …. “there are gorgeous women who think you are handsome and intelligent who are asking about you” …. Most smile and my wife always replies … “you are such a liar”

Getting home last Monday after writing class I sat down beside my wife as she worked on her easel. I boasted of my creative endeavors and of my next assignment. I opened my fortune cookie while she watched and I read it exactly word for word … “A romantic mystery will soon add interest to your life”  ….  “she promptly put down her paint brush and said …. “You are such a liar”.

At that point my fortune cookie had added more ridicule than interest to my life. Knowing full well that the chances of a romantic mystery actually occurring in my modest existence is about as likely as seeing a screen door on a submarine. I therefore presumed that the fortune was proposing that the writing of a romantic mystery would bring interest to my life.   

        Wikipedia tells me that a romantic mystery generally refers to a work of writing where the mystery is the prime interest of the plot with the love interest being secondary. The romantic aspect allows the author to give some reality and life to the protagonists.

In keeping with the cookie wisdom my wife tells me …. “expand your horizons and write some romantic fiction”. She’s saying that to a husband who loves her dearly but gave her the extra-large, gift wrapped order of Omaha steaks for a Christmas present. Anyway Margaret Attwood, a highly successful Canadian novelist, says that a good writer is a good reader and you must read reams of work written in your genre of interest. Nora Roberts is a highly successful romantic mystery novelist and she has written more than 200 novels. There are 500 million of her books in print. She began writing under the pseudonym of JD Robb because she was writing too many books to publish under one name. The exclamation mark of my ignorance regarding romantic mysteries stands with the fact that not only have I not read any of her 200 works but I didn’t even know who she was.

Actually I completed four years of an undergraduate degree and a couple of post graduate years in a college of engineering in the late 1960’s. That’s six years of continual reading books on technologies. Unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s school of architecture in Scottsdale there was no requirement of engineering students to have any or to learn of any of the fine arts.  For that entire period the closest I came to reading a work of fiction was Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. Her book marked the beginning of the environmental movement and at the time I was studying for a career as an environmental engineer. Thus there was an underlying motivation to read it. Since then I have found little other motivation to read fiction.

Except of course the time when one of my daughters was at university majoring in English literature. She insisted that her Dad, if he was to purport to having even a semblance of worldly intelligence, had to at least be familiar with well-known Canadian fiction writers. Subsequently I read a couple of the works of Robertson Davies. His books “The Fifth Business” and “The Manticore” were my ventures into the world of fiction. While his books were strangely entertaining the one thing that I remember thinking was that the dude that wrote that stuff had a mind that worked in some weird and bazaar ways. I politely passed on any more recommended readings from my daughter.

So it’s no mystery why I won’t be writing a romantic mystery or most any noteworthy fictional work. I read biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, some history, and I especially like investigative journalists. I think Margret would see me and romantic mysteries as likely as those screen doors on submarines.

Tourism of the Rich and Famous

by Randy Munch Oct/21

A Word List storey utilizing the following 15 words:

                 space               kitchen              function           dinner              far-reaching

                 window           power              radiant             match              natural

                 camaraderie        replace          synthetic          choice              hydrate                          

For many days during the year 2238, in Riverside, Iowa a small boy named Jimmy sits at the dinner table gazing out the kitchen window.  He is fixated not on the sky, but the vast far-reaching space beyond. He dreams of one day commanding a star ship and going boldly where no man has gone before. He dreams of discovering new worlds and new civilizations. He dreams that unlike Icarus his wings will not falter in the intense heat of the radiant rays of the sun because his star ship will have the power to function in the most hostile of environments. He dreams all of this because he is James Tiberius Kirk and one day he will graduate from Starfleet Academy and soon after be given the command of the USS Enterprise.

What Jimmy doesn’t know is that some 270 years earlier a fictitious Captain Kirk would portray many of Jimmy’s yet-to-be adventures in an entertainment medium of a long antiquated media technology. Due to years of success of that portrayal this impersonator would be able to afford a tourist flight to space which would match only the shortest and the most inconsequential flights of the USS Enterprise.

In order to make such a flight it is only natural that the aspiring Captain would have to train as a modern day astronaut. During his training he would develop a camaraderie with his fellow astronauts who simply replace Scotty, McCoy, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, and Chekov. Driven by the explosions of synthetic jet fuels the “wanna-be” Captain would experience the violent G forces of a launch into space. While he would have no choice in setting the course, the path of the flight would allow him to watch the blue of the sky instantly flash into the blackness of space and he would wonder if that’s what it’s like to die. Upon re-entry his ship’s capsule would parachute safely onto the desert of West Texas where on that arid spot on Earth he and his crew would hydrate with a bottle of champagne. Then they would pontificate on their voyage.

Little Jimmy would eventually learn that more than two centuries earlier his impersonator, at 90 years of age, would be the oldest human to ever experience the voyages of the tour ship Blue Origin and to “boldly go” to the edge of space.