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The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments – They just don’t make movies like this anymore. I’m talking about the 1956 American biblical epic film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille not to be confused with the horrible Exodus: Gods and Kings film of 2014.

As one of my favorite films, I deeply appreciate the dramatized biblical story of the life of Moses, an adopted Egyptian prince who becomes the deliverer of his real brethren, the enslaved Hebrews. It is a classic and I can’t image anyone else playing Moses than Charlton Heston or anyone other than Yul Brynner as Rameses. Yvonne De Carlo as Sephora was sensitive if not a bit over-acted. Even Anne Baxter as Nefretiri (definitely over-acted) seems an integral part of the movie that could never be replaced by another actress. The only sketchy casting was Edward G. Robinson as Dathan. I always expect him to say: “What do you think of your Moses now?” in a gangster like threatening voice. There’s just so much great stuff in this movie that the small flaws are overlooked.

This movie is from the day when “cast of thousands” really meant it and was not just a foley edited piece of digitized nonsense. The special effects were pretty good for 1956 but they were achieved chiefly through the use of much reality. When you saw the chariots rushing into the Red Sea, they were the real McCoy. The long line of Hebrews leaving in the Exodus was composed of real actors and they were many. Every aspect of the film was large, literally taking on biblical proportions. The special photographic effects in The Ten Commandments were created by John P. Fulton, A.S.C. who received an Academy Award for his effects in the film.

Historically, DeMille was a stickler of accuracy. History was meticulously researched, resulting in such small details as the two different helmets that Ramses wears. Pharaoh is usually shown wearing the red-and-white crown of Upper and Lower Egypt or the nemes royal headdress. For his pursuit of the Israelites, he wears the blue Khepresh helmet-crown which the pharaohs wore for battle. The movie is full of other historically accurate details which lend warmth and genuineness to the production. Of course decades later, it is now generally acknowledged that Ramses was not the pharaoh of the Exodus but rather Thutmose II (1493 or 1492 to 1479 BC). But remember, this film was made over 60 years ago.

My wife and I always watch this film at Easter/Passover. But with a running time of 220 minutes (3 hours, 40 minutes for you millennials), we find we need to start early. Invariably I nod off shortly before Moses tosses the tablets and re-awake minutes later when he is on top of Mount Nebo gazing at the promised land. With the film’s final line from Moses, “Go, proclaim liberty throughout the land, onto all the inhabitants thereof!,” I feel a bit and restored as I shuffle off to bed. Movies just don’t get much better than this!

If you haven’t seen this movie (Is that possible?), I recommend it very much. If you have seen it, watch it again because it never seems to get old. Watching it during Passover will give it a bit more special meaning.

Photo: Original movie poster for The Ten Commandments.

By the way, can you name all of the Ten Commandments? Most people can not. How many do you know?

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The Talking Toilet At Tret

A flush always beats a straight but a flush can also beat your neighbor, or so I thought.

It was early in the morning and I slowly stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom. I was weary from the grappa onslaught of the night before and was trying to talk myself into beginning another day here in Northern Italy. The bathroom was warm from the wall heater and the pine toilet seat was also warm and comfortable. It is those little things in life that we learn to appreciate the most as we get older.

I sat down and readied myself slowly for one of life’s nominal tasks. After a few moments, there came a thunderous noise from beneath my ass. I thought it a good fart at first. But is sounded like someone blowing their nose; then something jabbered in Italian, the precise content of which I could not immediately make out. Odd though, that this discourse should issue forth from the very bowl upon which I was perched. I pitched forward a bit, craning my neck to listen more closely. Yep, sure enough, it was Italian punctuated by a great occasional honking of someone blowing a very large nose.

When you move from the United States to Italy, one of the first things you learn to accept is the concept of communal living. Owing to the high cost of real estate here, most people opt for apartment living. The other perhaps more imploring reason to live in an apartment here though is the fact that people here have been living on top of one another for centuries. It is simply the way things are done in this part of the world and most people here follow their ancestry in every nuance.

Our initial first-hand experience with this type of living reminded my wife of her childhood days in an apartment in Brooklyn. One evening, long ago, her father came home exhausted from a day’s work as a city fireman. Listening to the ruckus through the paper-thin walls, he grimaced and bleated out his summation in New Yorkese, “We’se live like mice!” My wife remembered this tale and shared it with me shortly after we moved to Tret and discovered that the walls and floors here are actually a great deal less sound proof than those of New York are.

Undaunted, we grudgingly accepted the concept of mouse house living. But like so many things here, our acceptance found its limits. Bad neighbors do not help this happenstance in the least and so it was with us when the creatures arrived downstairs. They were a couple from a big nearby city and at first glance they exuded a white trash quality that I had previously only thought to be available in the rural butt haired lands of far off America. Big city folks often tolerate more noise and more disrespect because they are both the recipients and givers of such. These people, however, seemed to take a special delight in being extra noisy, extra vulgar and extra insensitive.

The first morning of the talking toilet at Tret proved to be just the initiation of a long process without end. Invariably, sound issued forth from between my legs at every appointment with the cabineto and I was treated to a wide variety of foreign language learning experiences as I sat wiping my butt. These ranged from the simple expletives shouted from beneath me to whole discourses that echoed up from the pipes below. I did not previously know in fact that water was such a good conductor of sound.

I pondered on what to do about all of this noisy Italian springing up from beneath me. Should I speak to my neighbors? But could I speak on such a subject in a land where talking about the weather borders on the personal? No, I thought it better to remain zitto and so I said nothing for many months. But the sound continued and echoed through by bathroom like Poe’s Raven. In life, immaturity often becomes one’s only last-ditch defense and so I too was drawn to the dark side. I found a response to the racket below me. When I heard the nose blowing of the Canada Goose below me, I leaned into the wall and gagged like a dying old geezer complete with the sound effects of atomized sputum. I then would greet each new line of Italian with a curt flush; a small flush for a sentence or two and a really big one for a major argument ensuing beneath by bottom. Tit for tat, flush for flush, I continued until I was finally convinced that one of the creatures below had indeed noticed. They had indeed noticed but in their boorish world, it mattered not. The clatter continued like a bad impression from the film The Godfather.

Yes, here too we’se live like mice. Viviamo come i topolini! But, alas, in our mouse house the talking toilet of Tret continues to verbalize beneath my gluteus maximus and it seems that I am destined to forcibly listen. Another lesson learned as one of Italy’s latest (legal) immigrants.

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Comparative And Superlative

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 further by the superlative form. Taller becomes tallest; smaller becomes smallest, etc. Most of us understand these basic concepts and apply them in everyday discourse. We don’t want a better deal; we want the best deal!

But what happens when a comparative and superlative do not exist for an adjective? Right! We invent one and eventually, it becomes part of the language. Let’s take an odd example. In recent times, the word douchebag has been used to describe a person who is a jerk, snobby or obnoxious. This evolved to referring to someone as being douchey. I suppose that this word is an adjective. But where are those familiar comparatives and superlatives? Why not douchier and douchiest? Example: He is douchier than most people and the douchiest one I know. Do these words exist? They do now.

There are probably some limits to this argument but maybe not. If a video clip is a viral video, then why not use more viral and most viral? Is the woman bitchy, bitchier or the bitchiest? Can a person with clammy hands also have hands that are clammier or clammiest? Can a person with pop corn hair be described as pop cornier or pop corniest? Yep!

Where do we go from here? We may just be the cleverest, douchiest crowd of linguists since the last ice age.

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Pocahontas

March 21, 2017 marked the 400th anniversary of the death and funeral of Pocahontas at Gravesend, England. Although her history has been largely obliterated by idiotic Disney cartoons and comparisons with Senator Elizabeth Warren, a little true narrative is due on this occasion.

Historians have estimated Pocahontas’ birth year as around 1595 at Werowocomoco, Virginia. Very few records of the life of Pocahontas remain. The only contemporary portrait is Simon van de Passe’s engraving of 1616. Later portraits often portray her as more European in appearance. Her birth name was Matoaka and she was born to Algonquin chief Powhatan. Pocahontas was a nickname she inherited as a child, meaning “playful.” She was also called Amonute. In a well-known historical anecdote she saved the life of English colonist John Smith by placing her head upon his own at the moment of his execution. This story appears to modern day historians as pure fiction invented by John Smith upon his return to England. Pocahontas later married a colonist named John Rolf on April 5, 1614 and changed her name to Rebecca Rolfe. On January 30, 1615, Pocahontas gave birth to Thomas Rolfe. She died while visiting England in 1617. That’s a short summary of her life.

The myths that arose around the Pocahontas story in the 19th century portrayed her as an emblem of the potential of Native-Americans to be assimilated into European society. The imagined relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas romanticizes the theme of assimilation, and dramatizes the meeting of two cultures. There were in fact no romantic ties between Smith and Pocahontas. That she did marry an English colonist after she was kidnapped by the colonists and taken aboard their ship is fact. While her motives are somewhat unclear, it appears that she really loved John Rolfe and honestly felt there could be peace between her people and the English.

In March of 1617, the Rolfes boarded a ship to return to Virginia from England. The ship had only gone as far as Gravesend when Pocahontas fell ill. She was taken ashore, where she died, possibly of pneumonia or tuberculosis. Her funeral took place on March 21, 1617, in the parish of St. George’s. The site of her grave was probably beneath the chancel of St. George’s, which was destroyed in a fire in 1727. Members of a number of prominent Virginia families still trace their roots to Pocahontas and Chief Powhatan through her son, Thomas Rolfe.

Many films about Pocahontas have been made, beginning with a silent film in 1924 and continuing into the 21st century. She is one of the best-known Native Americans in history, and one of only a few to appear regularly in historical textbooks. Theatrics aside, her importance as a woman can not be under estimated. She was one of the first Native-Americans to have documented contact with the English colonists and her life was a paradox between the hope for a united new world and the slaughter of virtually all Native-American peoples that was to follow.

On this 400th year anniversary, we “non-native” Americans may want to look back on the actions of our forefathers. It is not so much that we should feel belatedly guilty, rather we should ask: To what greater good did we put the annihilation of a people and their entire culture?

Photo: The only credible image of her, was engraved by Simon Van de Passe in 1616 while she was in England, and was published in John Smith’s Generall Historie of Virginia in 1624. She appears stiff in Jacobean court attire, but the costume probably hid tattooing and provided the chaste image wanted by the Virginia Company, which sponsored her trip and probably commissioned the print.

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What Has And Hasn’t Changed

A few short thoughts for this week’s blog:

Look at the above photo very closely. It was taken in Yosemite Valley, California in 1963. What has changed? Physically, nothing at all; it would take a much longer time to change the physical characteristics of this magnificent place. Time works wonders and I’m sure someday in the very distant future, the valley will look different. But we’re talking about millions of years.

However, take a closer look. Do you see any pollution? Nope! That is what has changed. In 54 years, the valley has seen increasing pollution. That fact can not be denied. Pollution has invaded every part of our planet as well and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

In 1963, the environmental movement was in its infancy yet things were much cleaner then. Now we have a full-on environmental awareness (if not compliance) but things are worse than ever. What has changed? We have grown a tad wiser but still have a long way to go. What hasn’t changed? We still put ourselves first before our environment and our planet. It’s time to make a change for the future…. in a hurry!

Photo: Yosemite Valley, California 1963 by Barbara L. Rizzi

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A River Runs Through It

My fellow fly fishermen may enjoy this. Some of the rest of you might enjoy it as well.

Many people have seen the 1992 film A River Runs Through It starring Brad Pitt. It was an excellent movie based closely on the story of the same title by Norman Maclean. Robert Redford did a great job adapting the book to the big screen. In the book, there are many pages that deal with the selection of appropriate flies, reading water and other subjects that the general public has little to no interest in reading about. Redford reduced these passages and re-wrote the timeline of the book to make it appealing to the public at large. In the book Norman is already married. In the film, he is courting his future wife. True, if you are a fly fisherman, you enjoyed both treatments.

While there are many great moments in the film, some of Maclean’s marvelous writing did not find its way to the screen. One such example is the scene where Norman has to tell his parents that his brother Paul was beaten to death and left in an alley. In the movie, the mother just staggers upstairs upon hearing the news. However, in the book a larger picture was painted with meticulous strokes: “My mother turned and went to her bedroom where, in a house full of men and rods and rifles, she had faced most of her great problems alone. She was never to ask me a question about the man she loved most and understood least.”

I have a copy of the book. It is the same edition that I gave to my father in 1995 with the simple inscription: To my father – who taught me all of life’s tight lines – Love, Allen. It is a cherished piece of our family tradition of fly fishing as well as a personal reminder to always be the best I can be and attempt to love those around me, even if they are elusive. Having seen the movie and read the book many, many times I can honestly say that I love both equally for their superb portrayal of a fly fisherman’s approach to life.

To many of us, fly fishing is not merely a sport or a pastime. It is a philosophy of living that binds us to nature in our busy daily lives and affords us a clear vantage point to view the world around us with extreme clarity. When you have waded hundreds of streams in the search for trout, you learn to read people and the world around you much in the same way you read a river’s currents. What is underneath the surface often becomes immediately clear, ultimately leading to a better understanding of our surroundings and how to deal with them. This is not to say that fly fishing is actually a religion, although some including me would argue that it is indeed. Rather, as Maclean’s book states: There is “no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” Standing alone in a stream in the early morning mist, connected with the world’s natural rhythms, is in many ways a greater communion with God than sitting in a pine pew and having the world interpreted for you.

The book and the film partly inspired my own book, The Blackest of Canyons. The themes are different but in the end both books deal with fly fishing as a backdrop to larger questions in life. Maclean’s book largely deals with loving people in one’s life who can’t be fully understood. My book deals with how father and son trade places as life moves forward and the bonds that allow that to happen.

For fly fishermen, a river does run through all of our lives, be it a spiritual stream or one of the many rivers we have fished. In the end we are all haunted by waters….

Photo: Author on the North Fork of the Willamette River, Oregon in 1994 (Photo by Rachel Rizzi).

BlackestofCanyonsCoverCD

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Of Dice And Men

And the winner is….

Everywhere in America, we are literally gambling our lives away. There is sports betting, track betting, off-track betting, online gambling and of course, everyone’s favorite, the plethora of lottery games.

The latter is especially hurtful in that the people least able to spend money on gambling often are the largest purchaser of lottery tickets. Yes, it can even become an addiction. South Carolina regularly runs ads offering to help those with gambling addictions. In true southern fashion, they claim it’s impor-dant to help people with gambling addictions in their advertisements on television. Of course, they turn right back around and encourage everyone to buy more tickets: It’s the money honey!

Gambling seems to be in our blood and we can’t get enough of blood sports. Boxing, football – you name it and there is a way to wager on it. What do you win off of someone else’s misfortune? Not much in the end. Spartacus would have been proud though. But somewhere in the coliseum there was sure to be a long line of losers grumbling at the denarii they left on the gaming tables.

Then there is the huge drain of both cash and productivity that plagues our country. Take a close look at Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Are the winners really those poor broken down souls yanking the levers of slot machines? Of course not. The winners? Big companies, often foreign owned. The losers? People who usually can’t afford to lose a dollar no less the thousands of them that they spend. It is pitifully sad but it has also become normal and acceptable.

From the casinos of Las Vegas to the back streets of Chicago, people are betting on the come. From the craps tables to the alley ways, America is constantly rolling the dice. America is becoming a gambling tragedy – a country of dice and men.

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Fly Away

A long, long time ago, I wrote a song called Fly Away. It embraced what I felt at the time were determinations that would shape my life, namely to explore life to its fullest and not just simply do what was expected of me. Some 40 plus years later, I still feel the same about those determinations. I have traveled most of the world, shared nearly four decades of exploration with a wonderful woman and learned to find a reason to be happy every day.

Ironic how time often just reinforces our feelings rather than changing them. Indeed, “the moon reached out and bit me on the shoulder, lit a lamp light deep inside.” The song is still one of my favorites.

Here’s the song in its original 1977 pre-production demo form:

For the complete lyrics, read Three A.M. – The Complete 1970s Lyrics. Three A.M. is the definitive lyric anthology for the 1970’s songs of Allen E. Rizzi. This collection contains 81 song lyrics written between 1974 and 1980, including many not previously released to the public. All song lyrics are accompanied with back scenes that comment on the songs’ origins, performance histories and other interesting facts. Forty years on, these lyrics are a blueprint of a 1970’s songwriter craft.

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The Best Dog Ever

People often ask me and my wife why we don’t have a dog. The answer is simple really: We had the best dog ever and that was more than enough for a lifetime.

It was May, 1986 when my wife and I visited the animal shelter in Agoura, California. We spotted a dog that was among 13 sired by a Labrador Retriever. There were two mothers involved, both Australian Shepherds. Of the 13, my wife immediately lit on one because he was “spunky.” We took the 8 week old pup home and were asked by our son if we had rescued a Harbor Seal. We named him Smokey. The color fit and so did the name. Little did we know that our blue merle Australian Shepherd mix Smokey would be our companion for nearly 17 years.

In the first weeks with our new dog, we would have to walk him extensively just to tire him out enough so that we could get some sleep at night. Yes, the dog was spunky. That was an understatement! Super hyper would be a better adjective. His enthusiasm for everything in life was catching. He loved being in the thick of things and he especially loved food, any food. He would eat anything we ate including sauerkraut, ice cream and pickles. His favorite was a hand-fed banana. To this day I can’t peel a banana without a tear in my eye.

Several months later, we moved from California to Oregon and Smokey began his life-long relationship with water. He loved water in any form and soon found that he loved Oregon’s large streams. He was always at my side while fishing and he learned to read the water for trout and salmon like a pro. When he wasn’t on a stream, a puddle seemed to do; anything as long as it was wet!

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As the years progressed, his favorite place in the world became Black Canyon. This is a stretch of the Willamette River that runs down from the Cascade Mountains and through the city of Eugene where we lived. Black Canyon is a place along the river with a tree-covered campground. It was one of my favorite places to fish as well. Smokey and I spent countless afternoons there together. It was his second home. Years later, I would write a novella called The Blackest of Canyons. For a full account of Smokey’s days here, you can find the book here.

BlackestofCanyonsCoverCD

Smokey, like people, had his quirks. One was to go nuts when he heard the whisper of the lawnmower primer button. How a dog could hear that minute sound from in the house is beyond me. It always set him off and I could never train him not to bark at the lawnmower. I did train him in many other ways. He learned all commands in two languages plus hand signs. However, he often showed-off for our guests by ignoring all commands. He once chased deer but was trained so well not to that a deer could approach our elevated deck and Smokey would just tremble but never bark or lunge. All the while he quietly waited for the “okay” command that never came.

Since Smokey thought he was a person, we treated him like a true member of our family. He made more car trips to remote locations all over the Western United States than most people. He loved the road and couldn’t wait to get on it. The new smells of places like Anaconda, Montana were always a lure for Smokey. In each of these far away places, he always found something special, whether it was a sleeping bison in Yellowstone or a simple stick to chew on the St. Regis River in Montana. Home was often on the road and he loved every minute.

Smokey was with us in the good times and the bad but like everyone around him, he aged as well. At twelve years, he needed a ramp to get into our jeep. I custom made one with artificial turf so that he could enter and exit comfortably. I also bought him a harness so that he could wade rivers move safely with me while fishing. In short, we treated him always with the respect that we would afford anyone in our family who was aging. I had two parents who were also aging at the time and everyone seemed to understand each other perfectly. My father would spend hours with Smokey at Christmas while my mother often giggled like a school girl while tossing him oyster crackers. But all the while our family friend was getting older.

Nothing is for ever. Friends and family die and so did Smokey. He was nearly 17 years old which in dog years is, well, a very, very full life. Do we miss him? Of course! Do we want another dog? Not really. We had the best dog ever!

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Il Groppello Ritorna A Cloz

Questo articolo è stato scritto 12 anni fa per l’inaugurazione della Cantina Rizzi a Cloz. Perché mi piace ancora Groppelo così tanto, ho ristampato qui.

Nel 1904, a Cloz era nata la Cantina Sociale che per molti anni il vino Groppello produsse, in questo villaggio della Val di Non. Cento’anni più tardi, una cantina nuova è nata in Cloz, la Cantina Rizzi di Valerio Rizzi.

Una volta la coltivazione della vite di Groppello era comune in tutta la Val di Non ed ebbe quasi a scomparire con l’introduzione della coltivazione della mela. Gli unici paesi dove rimaneva coltivato il Groppello erano Revò, Cagnò e Romallo.

Valerio ha sempre avuto la passione per l’uva, infatti quando lui era ragazzino aiutava il papà Remo nel fare il vino di casa, iniziando dalla pulizia delle botti alla fermentazione (boidora) entrando essendo piccolo nella minuscola apertura della botte facendo la pulizia della stessa, fino a portare la brocca del vino dalla cantina alla tavola. Dopo la morte del padre (1982) Valerio continuò la tradizione insegnatali dal padre. Alcuni anni fa, rimise a dimora le nuove viti di Groppello nei vecchi vigneti di famiglia posti sui pendii del torente Novella sotto il villaggio Cloz. Sentendo il parere di amici esperti del settore, trasformò una sezione della casa di famiglia (stalla) in un locale a norma di legge sanitaria per imbottigliare e commercializzare il vino prodotto, etichettandolo con il proprio nome e stemma.

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Valerio Rizzi

Sabato, il 30 Ottobre 2004 segnato il primo raccolto dell’uva Groppello di Valerio, che si verificò essere sostanzioso, segnò un grande giorno nella storia recente di Cloz e la sua prima pigiatura, aiutato da famiglia e amici il lavoro terminò in giornata con grande festa dei presenti.

Quando gli venne chiesto quando sarebbero state pronte le prime bottiglie, Valerio sorrise e disse verso la metà del Giugno 2005.

Lo stemma sulla porta di casa, proclama orgogliosamente la nascita della cantina, marcando il ritorno a Cloz dello stemma della famiglia Rizzi e del vino Groppello dopo lunga assenza.

Buona fortuna Valerio e Ti ringrazio!
Sopra: Lo Stemma della Cantina

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