JC, Truffaut, Don Quixote and Lamb’s Wool

My Dear Rotarians and friends, in particular my Action Presidents,

It is New Year’s Eve. Just as one has barely recovered from the mandatory partying and merriment of last week, one now has to brave yet another weekend sinking in a gentle pool of wine, or champagne depending on one’s taste and affordability. One is of course talking of the days when the gastro-intestinal constitution was much stronger and the mind much less set for duties and responsibilities. I had a late lunch yesterday with two Action Presidents after a working session of the Institute Findings Committee. We were picking pictures to go into the Proceedings. It was hard work, albeit rather pleasant. Between the three of us, we discussed a number of Rotary projects and the weekend programmes. As for me, the children are back and Rosita’s father, her two sisters and two of their children are visiting, which means that every meal could be one for up to nine people. In practice, this has happened only once so far, but then it became a dinner for 15 because Rosita’s two cousins and their spouses also came for a reunion. We have planned another big meal tonight, this time in a friend’s place, and I am keeping the champagne cool.

This is the last day in office for Karyn Bisdee as President of Junior Chamber International (JCI). Karyn has been working very hard throughout the year and sending weekly messages on the Internet to her members worldwide, even when she was sick or traveling extensively. Believe it or not, her weekly messages have actually helped keep me going with my letters to you. In the week ending 29 December, however, she sent round three messages and promised that there would be a last one today. I am actually looking forward to receiving it. I hope to pick up a few gems in the message, as I sometimes would; and I must say that I have a lot of admiration for this young lady for her stamina, determination, leadership and seemingly endless energies. She signed many of her messages as “Always your 2000 JCI President” and I am impressed by her total dedication. I suggested to her once that she should consider joining a Rotary club when she retires. Maybe she would, and I hope she would.

In her message sent out on Boxing Day, Karyn quoted from Eleanor Roosevelt, and I would like to share these quotes with you. I am sure she would not mind.

Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.

To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.

Anger is only one letter short of danger.

If someone betrays you once, it is their mistake. If they betray you twice, it is yours.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

They who lose money, lose much; they who lose a friend, lose much more; they who lose faith, lose all.

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.

Learn from the mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift.

Young people and youthfulness always fascinate me. I attended the General Meeting of my own Rotaract Club last Friday. They had asked me to attend the meeting some weeks ago and I had the date marked in my diary. I was torn between whether to have dinner with Rosita’s extended family that evening, but in the end decided to attend the Rotaract meeting. They had invited a young and famous director to give a talk as part of the Club’s professional development programme. I had not heard of the director’s name before I met him and I could not recognize him by sight. I hasten to say that that is due more to my ignorance of the local multi-media scene than to the director’s fame. Over dinner, we discussed a range of issues from general to specific, from art to culture, from press freedom to responsibilities of journalists, from Hong Kong to Hollywood, from rights of consumers to the poetic freedom of film directors, and so on. He grew on me and I decided to stay on for his full presentation even though it was late and I was rather tired.

My Rotaractors told me that the director is barely forty. I was intrigued therefore when Mr. Director began by citing Fahrenheit 451 directed by Francois Truffaut as the film and the film director that had motivated him to go into the film or multi-media industry. I recall Truffaut made the film in 1966 or thereabout. I remember because I happen to like the film very much and I recall exactly when and where I saw it and with whom. If he is forty now, he could not be older than ten when he first saw the film. I was tempted to challenge him, but I refrained from doing so because he could have seen it first time when it was distributed here a second or third time. Besides, even if he lied, it would not diminish the man’s achievement.

It reminds me of a literary debate on why Cervantes wrote a sequel to Don Quixote which could be seen as largely his creation or a reflection of his own life. Whatever position one takes, it would not diminish the greatness of this Spanish writer, even though he was not perceived exactly as such four centuries ago when he first created Don Quixote. Miguel de Cervantes lived a hard life. He wrote for a living, died poor and was buried in the yard of a nunnery without a tombstone. Later, the grave had to be removed, but nobody knew whether the body was removed with it, which means that the exact burial site of Cervantes remained a mystery. The fact is that the legend of Don Quixote prevails. The story was translated into many languages and the principal protagonists were localized in some countries. Don Quixote is now a legend and living. His golden helmet from Mambrino and his Dulcinea live in the hearts of readers as is his knight-errant. Little wonder President Frank Devlyn has cited Don Quixote to urge his Action Governors and Action Team to create awareness and take action without any trace of doubt about not getting our mission accomplished.

Coming back to New Year’s Eve, it has been long established custom for gentlemen to drink to the health of each other during festivities such as New Year’s Eve. In the Nineteen Century or earlier, they would use wassel-bowls or wassel-cups and would take wassel-bread, wassel meaning festivity or intemperance, from the Saxon word weshael, meaning “be in health.” In an early nineteenth-century verse by Richard Polwhele – Old English Gentlemen – the wassel-bowl was called by yet another name, and filled with a favourite year-end beverage called lamb’s wool, made from ale whipped to a froth with baked apple. Here goes the verse –

A massy bowl, to deck the jovial day,

Flash’d from its ample round sunlike ray.

As, to the sons of sacred union dear,

It welcomed with Lamb’s Wool the rising year.

On the eve of a new year and what many who can count would call a new millennium, I wish you would have plenty of Lamb’s Wool with your friends and loved ones.

Talk to you soon.

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