Monday, May 20, 2013

you can always go downton

I have been a bit slow lately.

A persistent cough.  A slight fever.  One day of swollen lymph glands under my right arm.  And fatigue.  A draining fatigue.

Fatigued enough that I put myself on the couch and decided to watch something mindless.  Downton Abbey seemed to fit the bill.

I have never understood the allure of these PBS costume dramas.  If you are one of the few people in the Western world unaware of the series, it is another upstairs-downstairs English Edwardian tale of manners and manors.  What Barbara Cartland might write.  Soap opera in period dress.

One thing I have found fascinating among my friends is that there seems to be an odd correlation.  The further left one travels on the political scale seems to increase a love for British aristocratic life.  Perhaps harboring some sort of hope that an earldom is just waiting out there to be inherited.

Even the presence of my beloved Maggie Smith could not keep me interested.  So out came my only Gilbert and Sullivan CD -- a rather good performance of Ruddigore.  My full vinyl collection went into exile at Goodwill when I sold the Salem house.

The tale -- like most of Gilbert's work -- is a bit of whimsy rapped around a serious  core.  In this case, that core is the corrosive power of evil.  It is not quite Faust, but there are obvious musical joking references to Don Giovanni

The last time I saw a production of Ruddigore was when the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company came to Oxford in the mid-70s.  I had joined a group of fellow students at their dining club.  

They suggested we head off to the playhouse for the night's performance in our white tie getup.  And so we did.  (Quite a bit different than my far more casual music-listening underwear on Sunday evening.)

At the interval, I was standing off to the side in the lobby when a matronly woman approached me, and asked, in that polite inquiring voice of the English:  "Could you tell me where I could buy some chocolates" -- obviously confusing me with the ushers.  I, just as politely, responded: "You might try a sweet shop."

The worst fear of the English -- at least, the English I knew in the 70s -- was to commit a social faux pas.  Even though I did not intend to embarrass her, the woman was literally chagrined.  I could tell by the look on her face that she wished the ground would open up and relieve her of her shame.  Because she was positive her "I am so dreadfully sorry" was not going to repair the mistake she just made.

And, so there you go.  I start by complaining about the leftist lust for costumed social drama, and I take pleasure in telling you a dress up tale of social manners.

Telling this tale makes me realize how much I thoroughly enjoyed those days of being an American at Oxford -- where my nationality gave me a passport to break through the barriers of what were then very clear class lines.

We didn't have Downton Abbey.  However, we did have an amazing ride.

And I did get a title out of it. 

But that certainly is a story for another time and place.

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