November 27, 2010

Halifax Again: Gravlax to Music

During the Halifax Sea Music Festival we had lunch at Stayner’s Wharf, entertained fabulously by the talented, funny, and perfectly named (they will tell you so) Dory Bungholes. In the group are Jon Stone, Jay Perry, Margo Carruthers and Vince Morash. Many people will ask…they’re called what?? Well, Jon explained it clearly: the bunghole is a round hole in the bottom of a small boat such as a dory, at the stern end. It’s used to drain water when the boat is out of the water. In the water, it’s stopped up with the bung, so the boat doesn’t sink! Better to be a bung than a hole, said Jon.

Once that that was perfectly clear, we had lunch.
Chuck ordered chowder, the best so far, he says!
When I ordered something I’d never eaten, gravlax, the waiter said, are you sure??? Yes, why do you ask? Well, the salmon’s not cooked; it’s preserved, sort of like sushi. OK, I said, I like sushi…though he still looked doubtful.

He placed it before me, then stopped by again when I’d about demolished it to ask how it was. When I said that it was VERY good, he seemed relieved!
The generous amount of thinly sliced fish was placed on slightly toasted white bread and served with a sweet, almost mustard sauce. I looked it up later, to see what I’d swallowed so eagerly.

“Gravlax or gravad lax (Swedish), gravad laks (Danish), gravlaks (Norwegian, Danish), graavilohi (Finnish) – that’s me…if you’re of one of these heritages, you’ll want to try it! - graavilõhe (Estonian), or graflax (Icelandic) is a  Nordic dish consisting of raw salmon cured  in salt, sugar and dill. It’s usually served as an appetizer, sliced thinly and accompanied by a dill and mustard sauce, either on bread or with boiled potatoes.”
“During the Middle Ages, gravlax was made by fishermen who salted the salmon and lightly fermented it by burying it in the sand above the high-tide line. (Now who would’ve thought to do that? Looking about, whistling: Fishing? Who, me? Oh, no – How about let’s go for a drink!) The word gravlax comes from the Scandinavian word grav, which means literally "grave" or "hole in the ground" and lax (or laks), which means "salmon", thus gravlax is "buried salmon".”

Clary Croft sang for us, too. Yeah, it was a memorable time.

Sea Shanties in Halifax!

Why did we decide to go to Nova Scotia this summer? We were drawn by the Celtic music and the nautical heritage! The deep maritime traditions of the eastern coastline include music, too. There could hardly be a saltier location than the waterfront Museum of the Atlantic to host the Halifax Harbor Sea Music Festival. Sadly, day one was canceled due to hurricane Earl, but Sunday was sunny, glorious and full of music.

Sea shanties celebrate the nautical life. You get a pat on the back if you know what they are; a big hooray if you sing ‘em now and then!
 Halifax A Pirate's Fate 2Shanties were songs sung by seamen in the days of sail to coordinate routine tasks that had to carried out handily and rhythmically. When hauling a line, rowing a boat, lifting an anchor or pulling a heavy sail aloft, the shantyman led a song to maintain the pace while the crew sang the chorus. Songs talked about about life aboard, yearnings for home, heroism, myths and distant ports. Sailors boasted or made fun of the crew. They sang about battles and pirates. Harmony, unity, celebration of history, eulogy, community, tragedy and nostalgia – all these plus a good bit of craziness and a dose of the bawdy are embraced in sea shanties. 

Shanty Krewe KathiI thank K.C. King, a fellow concertina player and founder of the NO Quarter Shanty Krewe (a name with New Orleans and nautical allusions) for teaching me about the music and getting me to sing with the group back in 2003. As he insisted, “enthusiasm trumps talent,” so I qualified. Here we were before Hurricane Katrina somewhat depleted our ranks. We even sang at Jazzfest once – in the Kids’ Tent!


Enough, back to the Halifax festival and some of the singers we met! Sea shanties from mariners worldwide were passed on orally as sailors went from ship to ship and port to port. Nowadays, many are re-discovered in old music collections. Bob Walser, singer and music historian, told us the history of one you know, The Sloop John B.
Depending on your age you might have learned the song from The Kingston Trio (1958) or The Beach Boys (1966). The Beach Boys’ version was ranked #271 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. But it’s way older! It was in a 1927 collection of songs by Carl Sandburg, and in a field recording Alan Lomax made in Nassau in 1935. It seems that there was an old Bahamas sponger boat called the John B (see some here) whose crew always got wildly jolly whenever they made port. She was wrecked and sunk in Eleuthera about 1900. An illustrious history!  Check it out on Wikipedia. Bob is on the right above, with Geoff Kaufman, singer-songwriter and member of the shanty group Forebitter.
Sea songs and shanties are still written today. Alastair Macdonald creates beautiful, emotive songs about nautical life along Nova Scotia’s shores.
Here are Tom Lewis, Bob, and Melanie Ross. 

And Debra Cowan; then the group Pitch’n Timbre. We sang along with them all, too many to show. Here are bios of them all.


The evening concert brought all the singers onstage. Afterward, those who couldn’t bear to go home gathered at the Hart & Thistle to wind down, chat and get better acquainted. Quite late in the evening someone found a homesick Boston sailor at a table alone. Everyone gathered around and put music to work cheering us all, beginning with the melancholy “Grey Funnel Line” (by Ciril Tawney). We got in several more before the pub closed and cast us out. It was simply a perfect day!

                    And all the time, I was thinking of you Shanty Krewe, wherever y’all are!
P.S. I’m excited! While we’re here in New Orleans, the NO Quarter Shanty Krewe will sing in a historic New Orleans home for the Holiday Home Tour on December 11 and 12! This will be a blast!

November 19, 2010

A Quiet, Rainy Day


Sipping coffee all through the morning. 

 Reading the paper - online.

Perusing stacks of e-mails, catching up on favorite blogs.

Should-do’s, could-do’s and have-to-do’s can wait. There’s plenty of time.

We’ll be here for weeks!

We’re back in New Orleans!

At Kathi & K.C.'s. And this is how long it's been since we left:

Hernione, nearly grown!

November 13, 2010

The Shot Heard Round the World!

October 2010: I saw the sign flash by and called out over our loud Dodge engine, “Take the next exit!”
We were headed down 95 from Bar Harbor, ME toward Mystic, CT, just enjoying the fall colors, when we approached Lexington and Concord, and the sign marking the Minute Man National Historical Park popped up.

What was a country dirt lane at the start of the American Revolution is now 2A, the winding Lexington Road, lined with suburban neighborhoods and clusters of older buildings. The Park follows the crooked road, where battles once were fought. We got lost, then found ourselves at the  historic North Bridge scene by pure luck. There's Chuck on the bridge.

Costumed reenactors representing both the British and Colonists told us their views of what happened on April 19, 1775. They answered questions while cleverly sticking to their roles.

The months leading to this day were a tense time for both British and colonists. In Boston, British troops enforced rigid new rules, arresting colonial leaders and confiscating their weapons. Colonists throughout the countryside were infuriated by the restrictions imposed. Not trusting the British, they created bands of Minute Men and cached guns to protect local communities.

Paul Revere set out in the dark last night, April 18, 1775  on his famous ride through Mystic, Arlington and Lexington, waking colonists, alerting them that British troops were marching to Concord to search for stashed weapons. Revere was captured outside Lexington by a British Patrol at 1:30 am on April 19, but his associate, William Dawes, escaped to continue warning residents along the road that the British were on their way. Minute Men gathered in homes, farms and town squares along the route.

At dawn, 77 armed colonists stood in the field near the Concord River North Bridge. On an overlooking rise were 700 British soldiers. Captain John Parker, leading the outnumbered colonials, intended to simply make a display of patriot resolve. A shot rang out – the shot heard round the world! To this day, no one knows which side fired, but British Major John Pitcairn could not stop his troops from shooting at the now fleeing colonials. Eight were killed.

And here we were, where the action took place. It was an eerie feeling to know that the scene had changed little in 234 years.

This is the British viewpoint of the field where the colonists stood on that April 19th morning.

Today, artists on the other side of the bridge look up at the hill where the British appeared. It's easy to imagine their presence!

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the words “the shot heard round the world” in his poem, Concord Hymn. The poem was sung as a hymn on July 4, 1837 when the tall Concord Monument was installed next to the bridge. The spire commemorates the American Minutemen resistance to British forces.

The famous phrase appears on this Minute Man sculpture at the site, where he stands with with his gun and plow.

The British went on to Concord to search for colonials’ weapons while word of the killings spread like wildfire throughout the area. Colonists along the route the British would take back to Boston were ready for a fight. Wild skirmishes took place along road as the British headed home. At Lexington, the British gained 1,000 British reinforcements who had rushed out from Boston. At one point, over 5,000 men  were fighting on both sides before the British reached safety in Boston, where gunships protected them.

The score: British – 73 dead, 174 wounded. Colonists - 49 dead, 40 wounded. The ultimate result: a rebellion that set the stage for an eight year war for independence and creation of the United States of America. In March 1776, British troops would leave Boston.

There are several fine battle paintings and a film at the the Minute Man Historical Park, which includes historic buildings along the battle road. The Park Visitor Center also has a great film.

Maybe because I grew up in the far west – Hawaii – I find the eastern U.S. historic sites fascinating! The Revolution, historic towns and buildings and the Civil War.  Funny, I've not read many of the fine books about those days, but being there is always intriguing. The history becomes real when you can be a witness on the spot. I feel the same way standing atop a pre-historic temple in Mexico, but somehow that’s a different sort of adventure!

This day also proves that many of our most fun times happen on the spur of the moment. No planning needed!

CONCORD HYMN by Ralph Waldo Emerson

By the rude bridge that arched the flood, 
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.