Friday, March 23, 2012

Midnight in Paris.

See this movie. No, really. See it. Heck, just go on and buy yourself a copy.

I had heard a little buzz about it, but didn't give it much thought since I'm not a huge fan of Woody Allen (too much whiny angst, as Mister says) or Owen Wilson (plays the same character in every movie). Then my big brother recommended it to me. Big Brother has impeccable taste and has never let me down, except for that Christmas when I was 6 years old and he gave me this horrible troll-like stuffed animal-thing, but that's a whole 'nother story. Anyhow, the first time I went to go put it in my Netflix queue, it wasn't available, so I promptly forgot about it. Something triggered my memory a few weeks ago, and I ordered the movie.

Seriously, this is one of the most adorable things I've seen in a long time, in spite of Woody Allen and Owen Wilson. It just so happens that Wilson's natural goofiness is perfect in his role as Gil Pender, a burned-out screenwriter/hopeful novelist who longs to be in 1920s Paris. It's evident from the start that his relationship with his fiancee Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, is ill-fated when she makes faces about walking in Paris in the rain. She has no imagination and her parents are even worse.

Gil and Inez are in Paris for some pre-wedding shopping and a visit with her parents, who are there on a business trip. And then there's the pedantic Paul, a friend of Inez's who is an expert on everydamnthing and is happy to tell everydamnone. (I couldn't decide who was worse: Inez, her parents, or Paul.) It's Paul who makes the comment that people who long for the past are just living in a fantasy world of false romantic notions because they can't handle the present. (More on that later.)

Understandably, Gil would prefer to spend some time alone in his beloved Paris than hang around with these jokers, so that's what he does. While he's sitting on a sidewalk bench at midnight, an antique car pulls up, and the partygoers inside tell him to get in the car - and they promptly drive off into the 1920s.

Gil meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, and my personal favorite, Salvador Dali, played by Adrien Brody. He also meets a beatiful French woman, Adriana, with whom he promptly falls in love. Adriana wants to go back to the France of the 1890s.

I don't have to tell you that chaos ensues, in 1920 and 2011. I won't spoil the conclusion, but I will point out that in each of these time periods, someone wants to go Somewhere Else. The artists of La Belle Epoque want to go back to the Renaissance. Is it because they can't handle the present, as Pedantic Paul says early in the movie, or is it simply because they feel a connection to the past?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I don't think I have any false romantic notions about life before running water, sanitation, and migraine meds that work. I love to study history because I want to know what the people who came before me did, and to keep some of those skills alive. I love the 21st century, mostly, but I think it's prudent to know how to get along if the power goes out. It's great being able to use all the modern technology and whatnot, but we still need to know what to do when those things aren't available. I mean, I don't know about you, but I intend to survive the impending Zombie Apocalypse.

Besides that, we are irrevocably connected to our ancestors. That's a fact. And it's darn near impossible to move ahead without first considering what came before. I know you've all heard the one about "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

History is part of the fabric of the future, after all.

Till next time ---- get some popcorn and have a movie night.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why, yes, I do have a little Irish in the family tree.

I just love an election year, don't you? It really brings out the best in people, doesn't it? And I can predict exactly what's going to happen. Thing 1 will win, then the people who followed Thing 2 will cry foul and there will be a great weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth from the losing side. It really doesn't matter who Thing 1 and Thing 2 are - this has happened in every election since I've been voting, and even more so since the Great Hanging Chad Debacle of 2000. Fasten your seatbelts, because we've got about six more months of this folderol. But of course, that's not what I came to talk to you about. Being that St. Patrick's Day is two days away, I wanted to talk about my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, or at least what little I know of him.

Like a lot of historical reenactors, I wanted to research my family history to see if anyone fought in any interesting wars. In the beginning, I was hoping to find a Confederate soldier or two and maybe some Irish ancestry, even though I knew a good bit of my forbears were German. I did most of this research back when was still free for basic access - that should tell you how long ago it was. I also had a copy of a huge tome on my father's side of the family, which had been written in the 1980s by a distant cousin. I had a glimmer of hope when I found out that my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather Jacob Vatter (later Feather) married a woman named Mary Connoly. Connoly's an Irish name, right? Well. . . if you've ever done any genealogical research, you've probably found the farther back you go, the less information there is about your female ancestors. All we know is that she was born in 1769 in Pennsylvania, and that she married Jacob, a Rev War vet, around 1790. To this day I have yet to find any information on her parents.

So. Moving on to my mother's side of the family, I discovered they were mostly Dutch, coming to America in the 1600s: first to New Jersey, then New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and finally to Kentucky 300 years later. One of my g-g-g-g-g-grandfathers on that branch, Jacob Van Meter, was a founding father of Elizabethtown, KY, and has a DAR chapter named after him. It's this side of the family tree project that got really fun, because I had to do my own research, and you all know that my geek love of research knows no bounds. And it was my great-grandmother who led me to Daniel McMillin, born in Ulster in 1757.

I haven't been able to find much specific information about Daniel, except that he came to America at an "early age," and fought in a Maryland unit during the Revolutionary War. He was also a minister of the gospel: I'm presuming he was a Protestant, although I could be mistaken. I haven't found anything yet that says one way or the other. For his service in the war, he was awarded a land grant in Pennsylvania, which he later sold. He died in 1838 in Indiana.

Daniel married Eleanor "Nellie" Keenan of Cumberland County, KY. They had one child, Patrick Keenan McMillin. After Nellie died, the good Reverend married a second time and had several more children, but Patrick is my g-g-g-g-grandfather. As I expected, there's not much information out there about Eleanor, except that her father was a man named Patrick Keenan. Hey! Another Irish name! As of yet, I haven't found any more information about Patrick Sr., but I'll keep looking. I did discover that Patrick Keenan McMillin was a War of 1812 veteran, but again, no specific details yet.

And that Confederate ancestor? I found one, and only one. Patrick McMillin's nephew, John D. McMillin, fought in the CSA in a Missouri regiment. My other Civil War ancestors wore blue suits, seeing as how they were from West Virginia and all.  (One of them, John B. Feather, died at Andersonville prison at the age of 19.)

So, this St. Patrick's Day, I'll be raising a glass to the McMillins, Keenans, and Connolys. (It won't be green beer, however, because green beer is an abomination unto man.) Most of all, I hope they'll like the music, because I have a feeling they'll be listening.

Till next time - NO GREEN BEER.