Archive for August, 2012

Perhaps because I was born midway through the US involvement in World War II, I’ve always felt an affinity for popular music from that era: We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn (1939), In the Mood by the Glenn Miller Orchestra (1940), The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy by the Andrews Sisters (1941), The White Cliffs of Dover also by Vera Lynn (1942), and many more.

The Andrews Sisters

A particular favorite was an Andrews Sisters swing-jazz song, which I grew up calling My Dear Mr. Shane. I’m sure most of you have heard it at one time or another sung as: “My dear Mr. Shane, please let me explain/ My dear Mr. Shane means you’re grand./ My dear Mr. Shane, again I’ll explain/ It means you’re the fairest in the land.”

But as I discovered while reading about the song not long ago, many of us have had it all wrong. The line isn’t “My dear Mr. Shane” but rather “Bei mir bistu Shein,” which is Yiddish for “To me you’re handsome/beautiful.” It was the first major hit for the Andrews Sisters, who used Germanized spelling in the original title, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön.” In singing it, however, the Sisters used the Yiddish pronunciation Shein for the word meaning “handsome/beautiful.”

As the story goes, Jacob Jacobs (lyricist) and Sholom Secunda (composer) wrote the song in 1932 for a quickly forgotten Yiddish musical comedy, I Would if I Could. In 1937, the American songwriter Sammy Cahn heard a black group sing it in Yiddish at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and was intrigued by the melody and impressed by the audience’s reaction.

Cahn bought the rights to the song for $30 from Secunda, who split the money with Jacobs. Cahn gave the song English lyrics, and composer Saul Chaplin jazzed up the rhythm. Later that year the Andrews Sisters recorded it, earning them a gold record for more than one million sales.

Soon various versions of Bei Mir Bist Du Schön were being performed throughout Europe, including in Nazi Germany. The song was a hit there too until its Jewish origin was discovered and it was banned.

Ultimately the song grossed $3 million, of which Secunda and Jacobs got very little. In 1961, the copyright expired, and ownership reverted to them. Finally, they began receiving appropriate royalties.

The Star Sisters

The best video I’ve seen of Bei Mir Bistu Shein being performed features a Dutch group, the Star Singers, who included it in a 1983 medley of Andrews Sisters songs. Check it out. It’s good theater as well as good music.

My initially mishearing Bei Mir Bistu Shein as My Dear Mr. Shane is, by the way, a phenomenon called a mondegreen. As I wrote here a year and a half ago, the word mondegreen comes from people misunderstanding a line in an old Scottish ballad, “Thou hae slay the Earl of Murray and laid him on the green,” as “Thou hae slay the Earl of Murray and Lady Mondegreen.”

Another notable mondegreen is a line from a hymn, “the cross I’d bear,” being heard as “the cross-eyed bear.”

In other linguistic matters, researchers from Stanford University have been studying the accents and expressions of residents in various regions of California.

When I was a student at Stanford half a century ago, we were told that in comparison with accents in such places as the Deep South, Boston, and New York, Californians have a neutral accent. We supposedly sound like typical television anchormen. In fact, we Californians don’t all speak English the same way.

The ongoing Stanford study has been taking note of how people in the Central Valley, for example, pronounce various words. Is it wash or warsh? Greasy or greezy? Do they pronounce pin and pen the same way? Significantly influencing Central Valley English, the researchers found, were the “Okies,” who migrated to California during the Dust Bowl.

The researchers also spoke with people in Shasta County, according to a Stanford news report. In Redding, the report noted, they found “a phenomenon called ‘positive anymore,’ where the word ‘anymore,’ historically used only in negative sentences (‘I don’t shop online anymore’), is used in a positive sentence (‘I shop online anymore’).”

I showed the Stanford report to a friend in Inverness who wasn’t impressed. “Seems like a waste of resources to tease out differences which really don’t matter,” he responded. “Who cares about the small differences of white people in California?

“I just don’t see any value in it, except to the linguists who probably received grants. Hard for me to think of anyone outside that narrow field who would applaud the research.”

To me, on the other hand, the research amounts to linguistic anthropology. By their use of language, we can tell where various families came from, even when the current generation isn’t sure. But then, I studied English and Communications at Stanford, so the research probably seems more fascinating to me than to others.

“The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth,” wrote the French existentialist Albert Camus. As an existentialist myself, I’ve long believed that if this were a rationally ordered world, it would be much different.

This is true not only in the human world but in the animal world as well. The results can be good or bad — or just ridiculous. Let’s take a look.

Although roof rats sometimes eat birds’ eggs, they can — counter-intuitively — get along with adult birds. Here a scrub jay and a roof rat eat birdseed side by side on my picnic table.

The small, beady eyes of roof rats may make them look malicious, but this little junco feels safe enough to keep on pecking only inches away from one.

In fact, adult birds — such as this towhee — and roof rats are almost indifferent to each other when they both happen upon the same birdseed buffet.

The rats and birds not only share the same scatterings of seeds, they drink from the same birdbath. Because animals have no sense of absurdity, these arrangements no doubt seem perfectly natural to them.

Harder to understand are everyday absurdities in the human world.

Is it: ‘Speed up or be cited’? Or: ‘Slow down or be cited’?

This ambiguous road sign is beside Highway 1 a mile and a half north of Tomales Bay Oyster Company in Marshall. In recent years, signs announcing the ending of various speed limits have been sprouting up along the state highway and county roads in West Marin. Unfortunately, they don’t always say what speed limit is beginning.

It makes sense that the 55 mph limit along the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road ends here at Platform Bridge. As the word STOP painted on the pavement makes clear, motorists are approaching a stop sign.

The question is: what’s the speed limit on the other side of the stop sign?

To stay on the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, westbound motorists after stopping turn right and cross Platform Bridge; in slightly over a tenth of a mile, they eventually come to a 50 mph speed-limit sign. But what if they continue straight on Platform Bridge Road? They find no speed-limit signs whatsoever. Are unstated speed limits “radar enforced”?

In contrast to the paucity of speed-limit information at Platform Bridge, there’s an over abundance of it a couple of miles east at Four Corners. (Four Corners is the T-intersection where Nicasio Valley Road ends at the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. A ranch road provides the third and fourth corners.)

Most of us would assume that one, if not two, of the three speed-limit signs above is superfluous, especially when they’re all so close together. The excess is basically a distraction from the deer-crossing sign.

Which gets me back to my original assertion: if this were a rationally ordered world, it would be much different.

The Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History in Inverness on Saturday unveiled a new exhibit, Inverness Yacht Club. It features photographs from the museum’s archives, as well as a few items loaned to the museum by the yacht club.

The exhibit covers the first Inverness Yacht Club from 1912 through 1940, the in-between years when Del Bender owned the building, the new Inverness Yacht Club of 1949, and the celebration in July 1950 when the club was rededicated. There are also some later photographs.

Meg Linden (right), treasurer of the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History, and Ann Read with her dog Coco greet guests at the exhibition.

A photo that the late newspaperman Peter Whitney, who had a home at Chicken Ranch Beach, donated to the museum in 1999.

A burgee is the distinguishing flag of a recreational boating organization.

Nautical etiquette holds that members’ boats may fly their burgees while sailing or at anchor, day or night, but not while racing. Or so writes R.L. Hewitt, commodore of the Royal Yachting Association in 1969 and 1984, in Flags and Signals.

Brock Schreiber’s boathouse was built from 1911 to 1914, its wharf in 1908. The boathouse in 1978 was placed on the Register of National Historic Places.

In the early 20th century, weekend travelers to Inverness often got off the narrow-gauge railroad in Millerton and rowed across the bay in skiffs kept on the beach. “Brock Schreiber met the train in a launch if he knew anybody was coming,” historian Jack Mason wrote in Point Reyes the Solemn Land.

“One Inverness pioneer, Mabel Reed Knight, regaled friends for years with her story of getting off the train at Millerton, expecting to be ‘met.’ She shrieked across the mile-wide bay at Schreiber, and unable to raise him, hiked [around the foot of Tomales Bay] the eight miles to Inverness, suitcase and all, ‘with a dog nipping at my heels all the way.'”

“….These years were golden for Inverness. Schreiber’s two launches, the Kemah and the Queen, took excursionists down Tomales Bay; his rental sailboats were at the beck of weekenders.”

Independence Day at Shell Beach in the 1930s.

A sideview of the yacht club with people on the deck circa 1952.

Admiral Chester Nimitz and his wife Catherine at the Inverness Yacht Club in 1950.

During World War II, Admiral Nimitz was promoted to Fleet Admiral of the US Navy and won a series of decisive victories against the Japanese at islands throughout the South Pacific. In 1945 aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the admiral represented the United States in signing Japan’s document of surrender.

Aerial view of the Inverness Yacht Club and Cavalli’s pier (at center) in 1956.

The Small Boat Racing Association hosted by the Inverness Yacht Club in 1976.

The Lark, Spring Maid, and Skip Jack in a 1920 race off Brock Schreiber’s wharf.

Jim Barnett (center) racing his Flying Scot in 1980 with his crew.

The exhibit is open the same hours as the Inverness Library, with which it shares its building, Monday from 3 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m., Fridays 3 to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“Tomales Union High School opened on Aug. 5, 1912, with 23 students and one teacher/principal,” notes a Tomales Regional History Center Bulletin. On Sunday, Aug. 5, the museum opened an exhibit celebrating the school’s last century.

Approximately 300 people, including many former students, packed the history center, which is located in the high school’s former gym in downtown Tomales. The crowd at times was so thick that just getting around in the history center required a litany of “excuse me, excuse me, excuse me.”

The original Tomales High schoolhouse.

The class of 1916 was the first to complete four years at the high school. Teacher Edith Wilkins is at left and principal Benjamin Pratt is at right. Between them are (from left) students Marie Dempsey, Elsie Basset, Truman Fairbanks, Jane Burns, and Vivian Swanson.

Before the two-classroom school was a decade old, it was expanded to 10 classrooms thanks to a $30,000 school bond. “A hyphen-like hallway,” in the words of the history center, connected the new classrooms with the original school.

“The boys locker room in the school’s basement was one of the amenities of the larger school,” notes the history center.

Tomales High’s first school bus was chain-driven. Standing outside the bus is student and driver Harold Maloney, class of 1919. Original photo by Ella Jorgensen.

Tomales High’s third school bus as seen in the 1930s.

Attending Sunday’s opening of the exhibit was May Velloza of Point Reyes, a 1946 graduate of Tomales High and a school bus driver for almost eight years in the 1970s. How did students on the bus behave back then? “I had really good kids,” she replied. “You know why? ‘Cause I knew  the parents.”

Tomales High’s first agricultural teacher, William Reasoner, started the Tomales chapter of Future Farmers of America in 1929. Here is Reasoner with his National Champion dairy-cow judging team in 1931. From left: Reasoner, Neibo Casini, Donato Albini, Donovan Rego, and Ed Williams.

The National Championship trophy.

During Sunday’s opening of the history center exhibit, guests could also get tours of the new high school to see recent construction there.

The California Field Act mandates that all the state’s public schools be earthquake safe, and Shoreline School District trustees in the 1960s were faced with either retrofitting the old school or building a new one.

“Bond elections to finance various options followed and were twice narrowly defeated,” the history center bulletin notes. “One vocal group of residents believed the school should be abandoned altogether and its students dispersed to other, larger schools. Thus the question of Small-local-school versus Larger-more-specialized-school insinuated itself into the referendum process, its echo reverberating to this day.

“Finally in 1967 a third election was successful. Affirmative votes in all precincts except Inverness resulted in an overall 73 percent approval for the $1.1 million bond to finance a new high school. In a busy two years, a piece of property just east of Tomales was purchased from Romero Cerini; architects and contractors were consulted. The trustees worked hard to educate themselves about modern high school design.”

In 1969, the new high school opened along the Tomales-Petaluma Road.

Remnants of the old school. After the new high school opened, the old campus was largely unused, and in November 1977, most of the old school burned in a fire that many people suspected was arson although that was never established.

Left undamaged by the fire was the school’s gym, and in 1998 the building was restored to become the Tomales Regional History Center where the school exhibit is now on display.

Tomales High’s sports teams have done well over the years. The girls volleyball team won its division in 1998.

During World War II, Tomales High sports were limited to intramural games. The history center bulletin explains why:

“Student Kathie Nuckols (Lawson) clearly remembered the Monday morning of Dec. 8, 1941 — little more than 24 hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed. ‘Our principal called all the students… into the auditorium to hear President Roosevelt call our country to war. His voice came through a small radio, and we strained to hear his words, overwhelmed by the drama as only teenagers can be.’

“Blackout shades lowered in the auditorium, tanks passing the school on their way to occupy Dillon Beach, the imposed limits on travel because of gas rationing, especially affecting the sports programs which were, for the duration, limited to intramural games. These are some of the things students of the war years remembered.

“Yet these events were undoubtedly put into perspective by the biggest effect of all, the nine Tomales High students who did not come home from the war.”

The 1946 Tomales High band.

The 1954 band performs at a football game.

The Tomales High band in 1973. The school didn’t hold a nighttime football game until 2004.

Tomales High teams were originally called the Wolves, but in 1950, the name was changed to the Braves. Originally the mascot was symbolized by a cartoon-like Indian, but that image was later changed to the one here. In 2001, Shoreline School District trustees decided the name was disrespectful to Native Americans and voted to change it.

However, many district residents objected, including several Miwok descendants who said the name had been changed to Braves to honor them. A petition signed by 90 percent of the student-body objected to the change, and more than 100 of the school’s approximately 175 students cut class for half a day in protest.

Eventually the trustees voted to keep the name Braves but to drop the Indian image, saying it looked like a Great Plains Indian, not a Miwok.

Sports, agriculture, and sewage. Cows peacefully graze beside the town sewage ponds Sunday afternoon. The bleachers of Tomales High’s ballfield are in the background.

The tranquility of this scene was in sharp contrast to the high-spirited crowd at the history center. The biggest contrast of all, however, occurred a few hours later.

NASA illustration of Curiosity on Mars.

About 10:30 p.m. local time, a global audience went into a frenzy of excitement as NASA scientists endured what they called “seven minutes of terror” and gently landed a sizable exploratory-robot called Curiosity on the planet Mars 154 million miles away. What an historic day!