Sunday, March 06, 2005

From.....Be a Sticky Good Sport

...In late 1954 we moved down the street to across from the School and Church. A whole new world of play areas opened up to us. We had the huge School yard/parking lot to the side and behind the School, the playing field beyond that, and the cemetery to the side of that and behind the Church. It was our destination in all types of weather. We played baseball on the field. We played wiffle ball, tag, jump rope, red rover, and other running games on the School yard. And the cemetery was great fun for chasing and hiding, go-karting, bivouacking under the numerous trees, winter sledding and snowball fights.

When the sledding wasn’t good on the School yard or cemetery, or there was no one else around who wanted to sled (I didn’t like to go sledding alone,) we’d play among the stones and trees of the cemetery. This was also a summer activity. There were plenty of trees all around the cemetery, usually pine oriented. In the winter, we’d push snow away and use the bases of the trees for forts. In the summer, there was no snow to move. The lower branches reached the ground and made good hiding places. There was enough room under some of the big ones to replicate Fort Apache. We’d play up through the darkness without any fear of our surroundings.

We could also use the unmowed school field portion going down hill in right field for our summer bivouacs. Crawling along fearlessly in the tall grass, mindless of bugs and snakes, we’d try to find each other and win the round of whatever we were playing. It was often me and Bill Feeney against Pat and Vince Smith. Feeney was a little big and reticent to crawl in the grass, but we enjoyed what we could do. He was hardly invisible in the brush, and we both ended up with grassy mouths. Dry grass in the mouth was a sign of manliness, especially if you chewed it. Since that part of the field was treeless, we had to crawl around to make anything interesting.

“Okay, Feeney. You crawl towards Eldred Street in a flanking movement. I’ll sneak around toward the cemetery and up the hill. Pat and Vince will see you and start moving down the hill….uh…Then I don’t know what we’ll do. We have no weapons, and they have nothing worth capturing. Let’s think this whole thing all over again.”

The big trees were down at the bottom by the cyclone fence. They were probably placed there originally to block the pedestrian view of the railroad property right behind the field and cemetery. But the bottoms were too open to provide any cover or interesting places to play.

On warm weather evenings, our neighbors, the Smith’s, often came out with their go-kart. Pat and Vince did most of the driving, but I got a chance on occasion. We’d drive it on the cemetery roads around the stones in relative safety and unburdened with religious misgivings about our location and without priestly interference. We were generally the only kids around the neighborhood most of the time, and they let us be. Any noise we made certainly wasn’t going to annoy the residents. Vince Smith, the father, would do the maintenance and fueling. Dad sometimes stood around to kibitz. Except for bumper cars, that was my racing career. The go-kart wasn’t fancy, just a frame with wheels, a seat, and a motor---probably from a lawn mower. The “gas pedal” was rudimentary as was the braking lever. The steering was done by with a small wheel and worked well. There were no safety features that I remember except for the parental “Be careful!”...

Friday, March 04, 2005

Anna and the King

Released by Fox in 1999, Jodie Foster’s movie Anna and the King is a re-telling of the teaching-adventure story of Anna Leonowens. The story, by now a familiar one, is about a 19th century English woman traveling to Siam to teach the monarch’s children.

The storyline is based on the 1946 Anna and the King of Siam, starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison (where Anna was presented as Anna L. Owens,) and 1956 movie musical, The King of I, starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. The latter was based on the successful Broadway musical of the same name.

The Broadway Musical was based on the 1946 movie, Anna and the King of Siam, which in turn was based on the book ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM (1944) by Margaret Landon, who wrote it as a modern update of Mrs. Leonowens’ full story from the 19th century.

The basis for Miss Langdon’s work was published in 1870: THE ENGLISH GOVERNESS AT THE SIAMESE COURT And in 1872: THE ROMANCE OF THE HAREM. Both were written by Anna H. Leonowens. The illustrations were based on photographs given to Mrs. Leonowens by the King of Siam, His Majesty Somdetch P’hra Paramendr Maha Mongkut. Imagine having to say that ten or twelve times a day.

Yes, a bit confusing. Well, just think of the story in chronological order: in 1862, Mrs. Anna Crawford Leonowens (1834-1914) was hired to teach the King’s children in Siam; then her book THE ENGLISH GOVERNESS…” (1870); her book THE ROMANCE OF THE HAREM (1872); Margaret Langdon’s book ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM (1944); the movie Anna and the King of Siam (1946); the Broadway play The King and I (1951); the movie, The King and I (1956); and now the movie Anna and the King (1999.)

Going back again, Mrs. Leonowens (who had already decided to accept) was officially invited by a letter from the King, February 26, 1862:

“Madam: We are in good pleasure, and satisfaction in heart, that you are in willingness to undertake the education of our beloved royal children. And we hope that in doing your education on us and on our children (whom English call inhabitants of benighted land) you will do your best endeavor for knowledge of English language, science, and literature, and for conversion to Christianity; as the followers of Buddha are mostly aware of the powerfulness of truth and virtue, as well as the followers of Christ, and are desirous to have facility of English language and literature, more than new religions.

“We beg to invite you to our royal palace to do your best endeavorment upon us and our children. We shall expect to see you here on return of Siamese steamer Chow Phya.

“We have written to Mr. William Adamson, and to our consul at Singapore, to authorize to do best arrangement for you and ourselves.

“Believe me

“Your faithfully,

(Signed) “S.S.P.P. Maha Mongkut”

Somehow, my mind hears these words in the voice and style of Yul Brynner. Indeed, it is a puzzlement.