August 31, 2014

The Guns of August

Barbara Tuchman author of 'The Guns of August' winner of 1963 Pulitzer Prize
As will soon become known the world over, The Den is a great champion of women...especially women who overcome adversity and/or obstacles, however she encounters them, and perseveres.  GSL is the grateful product of such women (at least 3 consecutive generations current research indicates) who will be respectfully introduced in the near future.

While The Den will be introducing great women over the coming weeks who are currently fighting the good fight, I thought it most appropriate to honor the late Barbara Tuchman today.  With Russian tanks and troops rolling into the Ukraine, the Islamic State broadcasting mass executions and vowing to bring mass bloodshed to the West, Israel and Palestine currently in a sharp uptick of their perpetual hostilities, China starting to aggressively assert itself militarily that alarms it's neighbors and the US, and of course North Korea, the failed state run by a lunatic, with nuclear seemed only appropriate to reflect back exactly a century to August 1914 when an assassination of a relatively minor figure (Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria) in Sarajevo a few weeks prior (June 28, 1914) set the world ablaze and it's aftermath is still being dealt with 100 years later as the redrawing of the maps of Central & Eastern Europe and the Middle East virtually guaranteed another world war and perpetual conflict between Muslims of different sects and tribes in the region and also Muslims and the West.

Barbara Tuchman's book The Guns of August was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for 1963. It is a beautifully written work of popular history that has sold millions of copies and will never go out of print.  While professional historians give her very high marks on literary quality, they take issue with some of the finer points that she either didn't address or didn't present in proper context yet they still say she got most of the main points right from a macro level.  I have recently finished Catastrophe 1914 by Sir Max Hastings that gives a more in depth look into the causes of the Great War (WWI) and he praises Barbara Tuchman lavishly in the introduction as having a profound influence on him becoming a historian and studying the causes of WWI. President John F. Kennedy was a huge fan and cited 'The Guns...' as giving him more caution during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 when the US & Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war.

Barbara Tuchman is a woman we can all be inspired by.  She didn't let being a woman in a field dominated by men dissuade her, nor did she let her lack of academic credentials (she only had a Bachelor of Arts degree) give her pause, and The Guns of August was her first book which she published when she was 50 years old.  She won a 2nd Pulitzer for her biography on General Joseph Sitwell.

August 28, 2014

Dramatis Personae (Updated)

Below are a few characters that will be used in a Lion's Den exclusive debuting November 11, 2014 in serial installments as The Confessions of Mossy Kade

 recent pic of  Jimmy Marlow - narrator
(pic borrowed from The Godfather)

Jimmy Marlow- (narrator) Pulitzer Prize winner, 3 time finalist for National Book Award,  and page 3 columnist for The Chicago Telegram. Almost the first person Jimmy met when moving to Chicago was Mossy. Mossy is 6 years older, a mentor, and Jimmy usually runs his writing by Mossy for input and refers to him as his best reader.

Mossy Kade circa 1971

Mossy Kade at age 25
(pic borrowed from The Public Enemy)

Mossy Kade- the protagonist who some may say bears a striking resemblance to GSL to which GSL responds: "yes in certain ways but many events depicted are not precisely accurate; characters that friends of GSL may recognize have composite aspects from other people for the sake of brevity and artistic license is often needed rather than getting bogged down in sorting out minutiae  and yes 'Mossy Kade' is a name I've used as an alter ego for over 30 years...those most in the know will say The Confessions ring true without being 100% accurate"
Estella and Ripley in Wales

Estella about 2004

Estella- often thought to be "Mossy's girl" by his (and her) family and friends although their relationship is far more complex and evolving;  Estella's mother, far from being the cold bitter Ms. Havisham, is a gentler and charming version of Downton Abbey's Dowager Countess if she had been raised on a large Southern tobacco farm and she has always had a special place in her heart for Mossy.

The Magnificent Ambersons
pic from the Orson Welles movie

The Magnificent Ambersons:  so named due to their extraordinary success and influence.  Contrary to the Booth Tarkington Ambersons, the 5 sons here are all world beaters in their own right in fields such as medicine, law, politics, construction, and Information Technology.  The Good Doctor, a middle son, is Mossy's best friend later in life and sees himself as something of a big brother to Mossy. The family patriarch, Judge Amberson, is a political powerbroker who has often been summoned to  the White House and Camp David.  The Judge takes an active interest in Mossy's life and seeks to become a mentor.

Queen B- like a sister to Mossy and charming hostess

Prince Peter of Bucktown- husband to Queen B whose successful marriage Mossy helped facilitate

Dutch- best drinking buddy to Mossy who is from a branch of a very prominent family whose surname always catches the attention of hot-on-the-make strivers.

Terence Bedford Jackson IV aka "Terry Drama" & "eye-vee"

Terence Bedford Jackson IV aka 'Terry Drama' or "eye-vee"- by Terry's friends Mossy is sometimes referred to as "Terry's straight friend"; they often attend the Opera together or join Terry's Swans for bacchanalian lunches or drinks out that can sometimes find Mossy entangled with an 'attached' Swan....everybody that meets Terry mentions within the first two minutes how "you remind me of Truman Capote...." and yes the resemblance in every way (except when holding a pen) is uncanny.
The greatest author's note in the history of English Literature seems well placed here.
From Brideshead Revisited
suggested by Darling Jane Hattatt

© Copyright 2014 The Chicago Lion's Den and GSL

August 24, 2014

Den Wear Sneak Peak Part II

Den Intimates© introduces the Boadicean Brassiere
Only yesterday Naomi gave me the business about starting a line of intimate apparel without any support for the hourglass's top half. Bebe rummaged through her attic searching for a few family heirlooms that could provide inspiration.  In an old trunk she came across an old family matriarch's riding habit only this matriarch wasn't just some Grand Dame who rode sidesaddle to picnics at Exmoor; she was Boadicea, the Joan of Arc of Late Antiquity who led 100,000 men into battle against the Roman Army and sacked their cities of Camulodunum, Londinium, and Verulamium (GSL likes gals with moxie).  Bebe had the metalsmiths at her Woodcock Pocket atelier fashion a replica of Boadicea's breastplate out of a special lightweight alloy that won't rust, tarnish, or even dent from high caliper rounds fired from point blank range.  Even Madonna could look fierce in this.

Now ladies, don't ask me about fit, sizing, or support issues; Bebe can help you with all that.  Remember, GSL is a caboose man.

Boadicea exhibiting  'command presence'.  After her husband, a tribal King, died, she was flogged by the Roman Army and her daughters were raped...but she doesn't do victim groups. She leads men into battle and sacked 3 of their cities.

August 23, 2014

Den Wear Sneak Peak


Ladies, I really do read my fan mail (Curator, what is that lovely scent you mist over the watermark?) and while I am deeply touched by the high praise I regret that my work in the field doesn't allow me to respond to each and every one of you individually.  However there has been a common thread running through many of these epistles of yearning and we here at The Den wish to assuage your cravings and bring out a line of undies to help gird your loins between posts. My co-conspirator, Bebe, has been tasked to take charge of quality control.  Karl Lagerfeld loaned me his best tailor, Marcel, to help arrive at the right the way I find the French only excel at food, wine, and cutting panties.  This is just a sneak peak until we roll out the whole line next March in Paris.

Below is a selfie Bebe sent me donning a prototype of The Lion's Den Kitten Panty in Faux Fuchsia
*GSL would never ever knowingly caress an under cushioned caboose (The Devil's Deficit), and yes, thongs revolt me.

The Lion's Den Kitten Panty from Den Intimates© as modeled by Bebe.
As you can see Bebe has been no stranger at the gym. She reports that she got her pleasing hip to waist ratio by pounding a tractor tire with 20 pound sledgehammer for 3 hours every day.

August 19, 2014

The Red Lion: "Home of the Poet's Pint"


The Red Lion Pub in Chicago's Lincoln Park on 2446 North Lincoln Avenue directly across from the Biograph Theatre

The Red Lion Pub has just been rebuilt and reopened after having been closed for 6 long years.  I have been a regular since moving to Chicago in 1988. It's a British pub with a real British pedigree.  The original building was built in 1882 and went through a variety of owners until being purchased in 1984 by prominent local architect and former City Planning Commissioner John Cordwell.  In addition to being the Mayor's point man on urban development in the 1950s, Cordwell had previously been a Royal Air Force pilot shot down over Germany during WWII and served as a Prisoner of War.  He was part of the group that engineered The Great Escape that was later made into the classic Steve McQueen movie.  The character based on Cordwell was depicted on screen by Donald Pleasance. After his years at City Hall and as a successful private sector architect, Cordwell wanted to become a 'publican' so purchased the building across from the Biograph Theatre and opened The Red Lion Pub and served as host until his death in 1999 where he always looked resplendent in RAF mustache and ascot while cradling a glass of the very best port.

John Cordwell aka "Cordwell the Elder"

From the very start, The Red Lion was a saloon where conversation reigned as there was no music and only one old TV for watching old movies (usually British and/or War movies) and it quickly became a hangout for writers, actors, professors, politicos, and history buffs. The elder Cordwell was a great storyteller and us younger guys just liked basking in his presence as the local powerbrokers, world leaders, and stars of stage and screen settled in with those who just liked to enjoy a few pints and a good talk into the wee small hours.
Donald Pleasance who played the forger based on John Cordwell in The Great Escape

Upstairs in the old building, the Red Lion would host amateur theatricals and became a hangout for many in the theatre community with Brian Dennehy often stopping in. A small theatrical troupe led by Barbara Gaines had the lofty ambition of becoming a Shakespeare Company and back in 1986 held their first production of Henry V on the 2nd floor patio.

Barbara Gaines founder of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre during their inaugural production
of Henry V in 1986 on The Red Lion's upstairs patio.
That little troupe that started outside on The Red Lion patio grew to be one the world's preeminent Shakespeare Companies performing in front of 225,000 attendees each year and doing outreach to 40,000 Chicago area school children.  I have much more I want to say about Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and will do so in a couple of upcoming posts.

Colin Cordwell, Red Lion Pub proprietor, aka "First Lord of Chicago Barkeeps"
When John Cordwell died in 1999, his son Colin Cordwell took the helm and has been our very charming and gracious host ever since.  One of Colin's highlights was the night Christopher Hitchens stopped in.  Colin and I have long been admirers of  'Hitch' for a variety of reasons and for Colin, like Hitch, a Great War (WWI) poetry aficionado, it was a real treat as they spent an hour and a half volleying passages (over Macallan 18) by Owen, Graves, Sassoon, McCrae, et al.  I wasn't there during Hitch's visit as I was in Baghdad serving in the Army.  When I was home on leave from Iraq in October 2007, my friends hosted a reception for me at The Red Lion and Colin told me of Hitch's visit.  Hitch had been the most eloquent and forceful advocate for the Iraq War and for that he was very dear to me (**see footnote below).     

The late Christopher Hitchens aka 'Hitch' who stopped in one memorable evening
and discussed Great War poetry with Colin over Macallan 18

Not a very good picture taken during a pre-opening party July 11, 2014
Lighting now much more subdued!

The old building had fallen into severe disrepair after 120 years and in 2008 had to be closed down and rebuilt.  There were many complications but finally Colin got a new building erected and opened only about 3 weeks ago. I can report that the new building's interior feels new and different but with the many bookcases bulging and the spruce beams it has the wonderful ambience of a very clubby library.  There is now a little music (such as the Beatles) that hovers unintrusively in the background but it remains a saloon for conversation.  The front room is known as The Great War room with some memorabilia commemorating Colin's grandfather, a highly decorated British soldier, wounded (bayoneted) at Gallipoli. There is a wall devoted to his father's exploits during WWII and upstairs is The Africa Room in honor of his mother, a noted Africa Scholar, with some artifacts from her travels there.

The cozy upstairs  Africa Room

I donated this Dr Johnson portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds that is hanging prominently
over the main floor in a frame I will soon be replacing with something more suitable.

Colin says he feels more like a steward than owner and he is the gracious host that makes you feel even more than you belong. For me, it would have a special place in my heart regardless but I did donate a number of my favorite books: Complete Shakespeare, Harvard Classics, and many works either by or about my hero Dr Johnson who, as I noted in a previous post, famously said: "There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn."

Directly across the street from The Red Lion is the famous Biograph Theatre where John Dillinger was gunned down by
G-men in 1934 after 'The Lady in Red' gave him up. That crowd above has assembled around the corpse.
**I enlisted in the US Army back in August 2006 after they raised the maximum enlistment age allowing me to serve for the first time since 9/11/2001. While I arrived at my reasons for supporting the Iraq War independent of Hitch, he was the most eloquent, tireless, and fearless spokesman for a cause I strongly believed in.  Hitch, like me, had many friends who were very anti-Iraq war and I always felt a strong connection to him as a comrade in arms, hard-drinking raconteur, and loved his brilliant writings on literature.

***GSL has no financial or official involvement with The Red Lion Pub of any kind.

August 10, 2014

Let There Be Light...only much less.

These are far more than just Romantic (yes, do note the large 'R')

I've been chomping at the bit to put my foot down on this topic and can hold my tongue no longer.  I have been fortunate enough to be invited to numerous dinner parties, weddings, galas, etc. and no matter how charming and stylish the hostess or posh and swanky the restaurant or hotel, with the most succulent of cuisine and elegance of décor, the one thing they always seem to get wrong is the lighting!!!

Why is this? When I'm RSVPing and checking the fillet over the fish, I'm going to start scribbling on there that I'll also pass on the interrogation lighting thank you very much.  Oftentimes when I sit down to dinner I feel as if a dentist is about to hover over me with his curled pic and baby mirror.

This is Home Depot's idea of a Dining Room and perfect for your Atlanta suburb McMansion.  An ideal setting for telling your guests of recent acquisitions from Saks.
There is a reason the Tony Awards have a separate category for Lighting as it can set a mood and focus your attention in a certain direction.  Let us learn from this exercise and also realize that dimmer lights create a greater sense of intimacy as it heightens the senses.  People always look better by candlelight but you'll soon notice they sound better too as it helps draw out their more interesting aspects and you'll hear them in a more meaningful way as well. 

I would be remiss if I touched on this topic and didn't pay tribute to an occasional blogger who seems to really understand lighting and, from what I gather, always gets it right.  Please, Cynthia from The Perfect Life, do stand and take a bow as not only do you keep a fabulous table, I notice that it's always perfectly lit with a couple of candles. Bravo, my dear and I'm sure your Alice will follow in your always well shod footsteps.


August 06, 2014

Out on a Tuesday Night

America's only zoo free of charge located downtown on Chicago's Lakefront.

Tuesday night is a very underrated drinking night but don't tell anyone lest word get out and those packs of overgrown frat boys start jacking it up for us old pros. I stopped in at the recently reopened The Red Lion Pub (TRLP) to knock a few back and lo and behold if the place wasn't nearly jam-packed.  I also intended on getting a few more details to do my formal introduction of TRLP but Colin (the proprietor) was busy as a beaver pulling pints while correcting some uppity grad student on some Shakespeare he had mangled. He had his hands full just keeping my whistle whetted...I did keep him busy.
Lincoln Park Conservatory

I was talking to a very nice gal, and longtime regular, 'D', of our shared enthusiasm over TRLP's rebirth when another gal walked in and was warmly greeted like the longtime friend she is of our charming host Colin.  After she tucked herself into a very well  pored Red Zin, introductions were made and this charming lady turned out to be none other than Lincoln Park's 43rd Ward Alderman Michelle Smith. For those of you not familiar with  Chicago politics, the 43rd Ward is probably only behind the 42nd Ward (which encompasses the Gold Coast, Magnificent Mile, River North, etc.) in the pecking order of most influential wards.  My new drinking buddy (I wonder if she'll start referring to herself this way at official functions) is the boss of the tony Lincoln Park neighborhood and Old Town, which contains the priciest residential real estate in the Midwest.  I usually don't immediately warm up to politicos but I really liked her as she's a straight shooter and, like the rest of us, fed up with the corruption and financial mismanagement.  Unlike the former alderman in my ward, she doesn't use her position as alderman and former hotshot prosecutor and corporate lawyer to make herself rich while placing relatives in cupcake government 'jobs' with fat salaries and fatter pensions while being unqualified.

Theatre on the Lake in Chicago's Lincoln Park

My old drinking buddy, Dutch, also stopped in with his cousin/business partner and I made introductions as Dutch & Cousin own a booming boutique hamburger joint nearby who just so happened to need some Aldermanic assistance (something about the sidewalk/alfresco dining, etc.).  Michelle (my belle) was on it. I was impressed. I gave Colin my subtle little "the Lady will have another Red Zin"  gesture and we resumed our discussion on Chicago, politics, TRLP, etc. until she begged off having to get home and up early to see that her constituents are well governed. I am starting to think that might actually be the case in Chicago's 43rd Ward.

UPDATE 8/9/2014: I got a very nice email from Alderman Smith and separately from her staff that give me further hope that green shoots of reform and competence are starting to take root in Chicago politics.  As mentioned in a previous post, The Den will profile and promote the people and institutions that are helping Chicago become The Great American City it needs to be.  We would like nothing more than to sing the praises of Alderman Smith and her staff as a shining example of highly ethical and competent governance across 6 continents (and counting).  We will keep a close eye and report our findings.