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Comparative And Superlative

Thoughts for the day…

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Most of us are aware of our own language and the way it works its mysteries in a wide variety of settings. The nice thing about American English is its ability to change, grow and adapt as history moves forward. But who makes those language changes? We do!

The good folks at Merriam-Webster regularly add words to our language. In a like fashion, the internet’s Urban Dictionary keeps us abreast of less official changes in our language that come from the street. However, the engine that runs both is the collective will of the American people to be more clearly and precisely understood. In an effort towards better communication, we often use the comparative and superlative forms of our adjectives to hone in on exactly what we mean.

Comparative adjectives amplify the common adjective by comparison. Hence, tall becomes taller; small becomes smaller, etc. These adjectives are amplified…

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Lunedi Senza Parole #105

Indovina dove! Guess where!
Foto © Allen E. Rizzi

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Photos Speak

Remembering some of the men in my family on Fathers Day 2021.

Photos speak to us…. especially the old photos that most of us have tucked away.

When I was researching source material for my book, The Horse Whisperers from Anaconda, I went through the many old photos I have from my family. While some date as far back as the Civil War, I focused on those that told the story of my mother’s family which migrated from Missouri to Montana. There were many to choose from but the one that stuck out the most in my mind was the above photo which pictured a simple morning’s hunting outing with a father and his two sons.

Simple? Some would say extraordinary when counting the number of rabbits that are displayed with the three men. But in our family, such a morning’s hunt would have indeed been just ordinary. These were people of pioneering stock who hunted not for pleasure but for the nourishment of their large extended family. The scene in the photo depicts a rabbit hunt on the Allen farm in Louisiana, Missouri in 1912. The Allen family had returned to their farm from their new home in Anaconda, Montana to attend a family funeral.

It was a cold morning that foretold a bit of the family’s future fortunes. Proudly displaying the morning hunt of 39 rabbits was a family bonding between men that would soon be shattered. After their return to Montana, the family would move to Fresno, California. James E. Allen, on the left, would enter the world of commercial art only to be caught-up in World War I as a pilot in Belgium. The father, William Allen, would lose his wife. Elmer Leroy Allen, on the right, would join his brother in war and fight in the Argonne Forest. Lives, livelihoods and family bonds would be altered forever…. but never broken! All three men would survive their misfortunes and go on to help put their brand on the American West.

For a moment in time, three men stood in the frozen morning as the pillars of the Allen family’s pioneering spirit. At the moment that the shutter clicked, all was well in the world.

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For a full account of the Allen brothers and their family, read The Horse Whisperers from Anaconda.

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Missing Dino

Dean Martin is a name that most Americans know. Whether you’re 18 or 98, you probably have some recollection of the man. He was one of the original spaghetti crooners and  he also filled the silver screen during the 1950’s and 1960’s. He and Jerry Lewis were partners in the immensely popular comedy team Martin and Lewis. He was a member of the “Rat Pack” and is also remembered for his celebrity roasts of the 1970’s. He was an entertainer for all seasons and even had his own TV show from 1965 to 1974.

Dean Martin was born Dino Paul Crocetti on June 7, 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio. Many people, including me, mistakenly concluded that he simply shortened his name from Martini to Martin. Martin’s first language was an Abruzzese dialect of Italian and he did not speak English until he started school at the age of five. He attended Grant Elementary School in Steubenville where he was bullied for his broken English. He later took up the drums as a hobby as a teenager. Martin then dropped out of Steubenville High School in the 10th grade because he reportedly thought he was smarter than his teachers. With a bit of a chip on his shoulder, he bootlegged liquor, served as a speakeasy croupier, was a blackjack dealer, worked in a steel mill and boxed as a welterweight.

Dean Martin was married three times. In October 1941 Martin married Elizabeth “Betty” Anne McDonald. They had four children before the marriage ended in 1949. Martin’s second wife was Jeanne Biegger, a former Orange Bowl queen from Coral Gables, Florida. Their marriage lasted 24 years (1949–1973) and produced three children: Dean Paul Martin (November 17, 1951 – March 21, 1987), Ricci Martin (September 20, 1953 – August 3, 2016 and Gina Martin (born 1956). Martin’s third marriage, to Catherine Hawn, lasted three years.

Dean Martin’s successful life was dramatically changed with his son’s death in 1987. Dean Paul Martin died in a jet crash. His Air National Guard F-4 Phantom jet fighter departed March Air Force Base and crashed in California’s San Bernardino Mountains during a snowstorm, killing him and his Weapons Systems Officer, Captain Ramon Ortiz. After the death of his son, Dean became withdrawn and seemed to have lost much of his gusto for life.

He was a heavy smoker and was diagnosed with lung cancer at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in September 1993. He was told he needed an operation to prolong his life, but refused. He died of acute respiratory failure resulting from emphysema at his Beverly Hills home on Christmas Day, 1995 at age 78. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor. Martin is interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. His crypt features the epitaph “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime”, the name of his signature song.

I remember Dean Martin as a star of film, music and TV but also as a personal acquaintance during the late 1970’s. During this time I was a popular songwriter who frequented Dean Martin’s restaurant in Hollywood. It was called simply Dino’s Lounge. As a weekly guest, I would often see Dean Martin there and being a ham of sorts I did impressions of him. He thought they were amusing (if not good) and we became solid acquaintances. Contrary to public opinion and his television image, Dean Martin was not a drunk. He drank in very modest proportions but used his comedy skills to often portray himself as a lush. He would roar with laughter at my weak attempts at impressions as I launched into Everybody Loves Somebody, replete with a stagger and drink in hand. I also did impressions of some of his friends including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior. Throughout our long acquaintance,  I think he genuinely liked me.

Dean was a well grounded kind of guy, ordinary in his humor and modesty. He was simply a great person to be around. He was warm, funny and knew how to have a good time with his friends. He did not have the typical snobbery that invades so much of Hollywood. Talent aside, he was just a great human being and I am proud to have known him. I think about him a lot and especially when I hear the song, Everybody Loves Somebody. And yes, I still do those hammed-up impressions for my wife and friends.

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The Photo That Makes Them Laugh

I have many favorite photos in my vast collection of over 25,000. They range from family photos, to vacation photos, travel photos and virtually everything in between. I cherish the one above for very unusual reasons.

Many years ago when my wife and I had been married just a few years, we were looking through some family photos together with my parents. Together we stumbled upon this photo and immediately my father started laughing at the way I looked back in my high school junior photo in 1965. My wife took a look at it and she started giggling as well. My mother came to the rescue of her son, defending the photo and admonishing the two to stop laughing. Then in a fit of capitulation, she broke down in giggles as well.  All three then broke into a roar.

Now I don’t have a huge ego but I must admit I was a little hurt. Why was my entire family laughing uncontrollably at my picture? I thought I was pretty good looking back in the day. Was it the Ricky Nelson lips? Was it that the photo was just too 1960ish? I protested loudly several times but each time their laughter just became stronger.

This scene was repeated year after year for a decade or more. Each time the photo appeared in a photo album, the three would go through their routine. First my father would laugh, then my wife and finally my mother. It became sort of a ritual for the three of them. They loved picking on me and my simple photograph.

My parents are gone now but the photo remains. I look at it every now and then and I honestly don’t see the humor in it. But then my wife arrives and in a minute she is almost on the floor. Since this isn’t apt to change, I decided to write this post. I talked about writing this post with my wife. Her response? “Don’t go there!” (muffled laughter) She said she just couldn’t help laughing all those times because of my parents. As I recall, it was definitely a team effort!

Anyway, here’s the photo for the whole world to see and judge. Is it really that bad? Do I hear laughter out there on the internet?

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Kindergarten

Kindergarten – from the German word meaning literally “children’s garden,” is a preschool approach to education traditionally based around playing, singing, practical activities such as drawing, and social interaction. The first such institutions were created in the late eighteenth century in Bavaria to serve children both of whose parents worked outside of the home. This was especially common in farming communities.

Most of us in the United States have been to Kindergarten to initiate our elementary school journey. It is the one place that most of us have in common as an experience and is the very foundation of our education and socialization. But how many of you have been in contact with your Kindergarten alumni?

I asked myself the same question several years ago and embarked on a long trip down memory lane to find the people I went to school with when I was just a small child. Fortunately, I had a vintage class photo of my Kindergarten class from 1954 to help me. Mrs. Rodriguez’s class had only twenty of us little cherubs so I started doing a little digging. After a few months I had located 11 of the 19 of my other classmates. Why all the effort? No particular reason, just that I felt it was important to locate a few of these folks and see how we all turned out.

On further examination, I found that of my meager class of twenty, three have passed away and the rest of us are out there running around somewhere in the world. I have contacted most of them but some have eluded my grasp. One in particular dropped out many years ago. His cousin told me he just doesn’t want to interact with anyone from his past. Hey, that’s fine. The others were happy to hear from me as we exchanged notes on our work histories, spouses and lives. While we didn’t know it at the time, we all were bound to be diverse, accomplished and interesting people. Sadly, I was not able to find what became of our teacher Mrs. Rodriguez, who would be about ninety today. As she was the one who set the educational foundation for most of us, I especially wanted to locate her. Thank you Mrs. Rodriguez, wherever you are.

Of my Kindergarten class, I have only a few vague memories. I remember getting in trouble because I spilled soap on a little girl’s dress over 60 years ago. Sandy was her name. I also recall we learned a horrible song about a mockingbird singing “Los Angeles, Los Angeles” all night long. I was an unwilling participant in rest time, as I was a bit hyperactive. I can recall lots of tempera paint, a long row of windows with blinds and a beautiful piano. Lastly, I recall that Mrs. Rodriguez played that piano very well and usually wore colorful petticoats. The rest is a blur of tetherball and hot Southern California playground asphalt. It’s funny how our minds work….

If you haven’t already done so, I recommend that you get in touch with your past. Kindergarten is a great place to start. You would be surprised that knowing what became of your past has so much to say in guiding your future.

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Hushabye

Hushabye is the name of a song that was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman in 1959 for the doo-wop vocal group The Mystics. It is based on the lullaby “All the Pretty Horses”. It spent sixteen weeks on Billboard Hot 100 (nine of those in the top 40), reaching #20 at its peak. It’s an American classic, especially for those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The Mystics are a singing group which began in Brooklyn, New York, USA in the late 1950s. The group was known as The Overons, a quintet that, when signed to Laurie Records, consisted of Phil Cracolici (b. 1937, lead), Albee Cracolici (b. 1936, baritone), George Galfo (b. 1939, second tenor), Bob Ferrante (b. 1936, first tenor), and Al Contrera (b. 1940, bass). Under the direction of their manager, Jim Gribble, The Overons became The Mystics when each group member wrote a name they liked on a slip of paper, placed the papers in a hat and Al Contrera’s choice was drawn.

Hushabye is a lyrically simple song but very well suited for the doo-wop sound. However, this song was covered by the Beach Boys on their 1964 album All Summer Long , featuring Brian Wilson and Mike Love on lead vocals.

Give both a listen here and let me know what you think. Which is best?

Mystics – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94VWNiOcss0
Beach Boys – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kugBjlnnaA

Hushabye was also covered by The Kingsmen (1966), Jay and the Americans (1969), and Robert John (1982)

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English In Italy

English in Italy? In a couple of words: Practically non-existent! However as the local English speaker par excellence, I must ever try.

We live in the Val di Non of northern Italy where the English language is largely just a mere rumor. Our local languages are Nonese (ancient vulgar Latin), Italian, German and Tirolean (low German dialect). English is at best an afterthought hereabouts. It is a curiosity that is practically never explored by local residents.

However English is our native language and as such, we speak it together most of the time. Locals are amazed. They often ask (with a straight face), “What language do you speak together at home?” English of course! Although we do speak a bit of Nonese, Italian and German within our abode just to keep each other on their toes.

When we speak to one another in English in public, heads whirl about. It is probably not that our neighbors dislike our language. It is just that most have never heard it leaving the lips of another person. Occasionally we are asked, “Siete di Ingleterra? (Are you from England?) I almost always respond, “Ma no. Abbiamo denti e menti! (Oh no, we have teeth and chins!) The poor joke is rarely appreciated. Like English itself, there is not a lot of curiosity where we live and little humor as well.

We have a satellite TV system which brings us little bits of our native tongue via broadcasts. However this English is of the isles version and takes some getting used to. There are no Ts and all ending As are pronounced as Rs. “So ‘ats ‘he ‘hing, isn’ i in Americer.” An English teacher friend of ours in Italy used to call while preparing her lesson plans for the following week. A frequent question was, ” Is is I have or I have got?” My answer, also a tired joke, was always, “It depends on whether you are teaching modern American English or the medieval variety still used in Britain.” In the end, she always went with the latter.

While most of Europe’s population speaks at least some English, Italy is the notable exception. The volanta’ (will) just isn’t there. English is offered in schools here and there is some hope for the younger generation to learn the language. However, as with any new language, one must speak it regularly to retain it. Children go to school, learn English for an hour and return home to where their parents and friends don’t speak English. It is not a supporting system. Aah, but necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Once these same students understand that the majority of the internet is presented in English, a new motivation is found.

There is a small paper-thin minority who have taken the time to learn other languages including English. However, without much support, it has been difficult for them. Some have gone abroad to learn and practice the language. These same people almost always relish the opportunity to practice their English and often admonish me not to speak their native Italian. They value the practice. They are the exception and never the rule in Italy.

English in Italy? Probably not in this century. Things are slow to change here. But who knows? C’e sempre la speranza….

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Lunedi Senza Parole #104

Indovina dove! Guess where!
Foto © Allen E. Rizzi

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Alligator Anyone?

GUEST POST BY RACHEL RIZZI

If you haven’t eaten alligator, you should really give it a try. You may have heard the old adage that it tastes just like chicken. Not really. It’s actually a lot better. Alligator used for food preparation usually only includes the tail meat so don’t try this with a dead gator you find on the side of the road. Packaged alligator tail meat can be found nationwide. It tends to be a bit pricey, usually at $15 per pound, but a little goes a long way. For those of you with an adventurous streak, here’s a recipe that you’re sure to enjoy.

FRIED ALLIGATOR

INGREDIENTS

1 lb. Louisiana alligator meat (tenderloin or sirloin cuts of tail meat), cut into chunks
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Flour, for dredging
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup hot sauce
1 bottle store bought ranch dressing, for dipping

DIRECTIONS

1.) Lightly season gator meat with salt and pepper prior to dredging them in flour.
2.) Combine buttermilk and hot sauce into 1 mixture.
3.) Dip the gator meat into the buttermilk and hot sauce mixture and dip, once again, in flour.
4.) Then place in deep fryer until golden brown, just a couple minutes.
5.) Drain on paper towels and serve with ranch dressing.

It’s finger snappin’ good. Let us know here how you liked it!

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