The Sun Also Rises, Books 2 & 3 — In Pictures

Be sure to read/look at the previous entry if you haven’t already.  It explains my purpose with this post.  As before, page numbers refer to the First Scribner trade paperback edition, 2003.  All photos, unless they are mine, were pulled from the internet, so if one belongs to you and you would prefer that I remove it, just let me know and I will.

BOOK 2

Paris & Other Parts of France (& Europe)

[Bill] wrote that Vienna was wonderful.  Then a card from Budapest: “Jake, Budapest is wonderful.” (76)

Vienna.  Wonderful.

Vienna, Austria.   In German it’s called Wien, and sausages (and people, and anything really…) from Wien are called Wieners — which is where we get the word.   Wonderful!

budapest

Budapest, Hungary. Incidentally, the first city outside the US that I ever traveled to. Wonderful!

At the juncture of the Rue Denfert-Rochereau with the Boulevard is a statue of two men in flowing robes.  (78)

One of these robed gents is an architect.  Not the father of pharmacy as

One of these robed gents is an architect. Not the father of pharmacy as Bill says.

“Is she really Lady something or other?” Bill asked in the taxi on our way down to the Ile Saint Louis.  (82)

There are two very important islands in the River Seine in Paris.  The first is the Ile de la Cité, upon which sits Notre Dame cathedral along with the marker that is the cartographic center of Paris (ie. all distances from Paris are measured from that exact point) and many other important buildings.  Behind Ile de la Cité is the Ile St. Louis, which is somewhat more residential and is, in fact, one of the most expensive neighborhoods to live in in Europe.  It is in the foreground of this picture.

There are two very important islands in the River Seine in Paris. The first is the Ile de la Cité, upon which sits Notre Dame cathedral along with the marker that is the cartographic center of Paris (ie. all distances from Paris are measured from that exact point) and many other important buildings. Behind Ile de la Cité is the Ile St. Louis, which is somewhat more residential and is, in fact, one of the most expensive neighborhoods to live in in Europe. It is in the foreground of this picture.

We walked along under the trees that grew out over the river on the Quai d’Orléans side of the island.  (82)

The Quai d'Orleans side of the Ile St. Louis.  (I think...this is from our school trip in April 2015)

The Quai d’Orleans side of the Ile St. Louis. (I think…this is from our school trip in April 2015)

We walked on and circled the island.  The river was dark and a bateau mouche went by, all bright with lights, going fast and quiet up and out of sight under the bridge.  Down the river was Notre Dame, squatting against the night sky.  We crossed to the left bank of the Seine by the wooden foot-bridge from the Quai de Bethune, and stopped on the bridge and looked down the river at Notre Dame.  Standing on the bridge the island looked dark, the houses were high against the sky and the trees were shadows.  (83)

This is a view from a bateau  mouche on the Seine.  The building in the back to the right is the Musée d'Orsay, an art museum dedicated to Impressionist art (and one of my most favorite museums in the world).

This is a view from a bateau mouche on the Seine (bateau is French for boat). The building in the back to the right is the Musée d’Orsay, an art museum dedicated to Impressionist art (and one of my most favorite museums in the world).

“Say, there’s plenty of Americans on this train,” the husband said.  “They’ve got seven cars of them from Dayton, Ohio.  They’ve been on a pilgrimage to Rome, and now they’re going down to Biarritz and Lourdes.”  (91)

Rome, Italy.  "The Eternal City." All roads lead here, and it wasn't built in a day.

Rome, Italy. “The Eternal City.” All roads lead here, and it wasn’t built in a day.

Biarritz.  Swanky French beach town.

Biarritz. Swanky French beach town.

Lourdes, France.  in 1858 a peasant girl had visions of the Virgin Mary here, and the place subsequently became an important site of pilgrimage, in particular for those suffering from diseases that have no cure, for Lourdes is most famous for its number of miraculous healings (thousands of them).

Lourdes, France. In 1858 a peasant girl had visions of the Virgin Mary here, and the place subsequently became an important site of pilgrimage, in particular for those suffering from diseases that have no cure, for Lourdes is most famous for its number of miraculous healings (thousands of them).

The train stopped for half an hour at Bordeaux and we went out through the station for a little walk.  (94)

Bordeaux is a charming small city on France's southern Atlantic coast.  It's one of the most important wine-growing regions in France, which is probably the most important wine-growing country in the world.  Which would make Bordeaux the most important wine region in the world.

Bordeaux is a charming small city on France’s southern Atlantic coast. It’s one of the most important wine-growing regions in France, which is probably the most important wine-growing country in the world.  Which would make Bordeaux the most important wine region in the world.

Bayonne is a nice town.  It is like a very clean Spanish town and it is on a big river…We went out into the street and took a look at the cathedral.  (96)

Bayonne, France.  Note the cathedral in the background.

Bayonne, France. Note the cathedral in the background.

Spain

We past lots of Basques with oxen, or cattle, hauling carts alnog the road, and nice farmhouses, low roofs, and all white-plastered.  In the Basque country the land all looks very rich and green and the houses and villages look well-off and clean.  Every village had a pelota court and on some of them kids were playing in the hot sun.  There were signs on the walls of the churches saying it was forbidden to play pelota against them, and the houses in the villages had red tiled roofs… (97)

The Basque people, by some estimates, are part of the oldest culture in Europe.  Their language, Euskara (or Basque), is unrelated to all other languages in Europe; that is, it's not an offshoot of Latin (like Spanish, French and Italian) or German (like English and Dutch).  Some believe it goes back as far as the stone age, but it's origins are unknown.  it tells us that the Basque have been in the area for a very, very long time.

The Basque people, by some estimates, are part of the oldest culture in Europe. Their language, Euskara (or Basque), is unrelated to all other languages in Europe; that is, it’s not an offshoot of Latin (like Spanish, French and Italian) or German (like English and Dutch).  Some believe it goes back as far as the stone age, but its origins are unknown. it tells us that the Basque have been in the area for a very, very long time.

Then we crossed a wide plain, and there was a big river off on the right shining in the sun from between the line of trees, and away off you could see the plateau of Pamplona rising out of the plain, and the walls of the city, and the great brown cathedral, and the broken skyline of the other churches.  In back of the plateau were the mountains, and every way you looked there were other mountains, and ahead the road stretched out white across the plain going toward Pamplona.  (99)

Is that not gorgeous?

Is that not gorgeous?

At the end of the street I saw the cathedral [of Pamplona] and walked up toward it.  The first time I ever saw it I thought the facade was ugly but I liked it now.  (102)

Fachada_catedral_de_pamplona

We sat in the Iruña [cafe] for a while and had coffee and then took a little walk out to the bull-ring… (105)

cafe Iruna

The Cafe Iruña, interior

Hemingway-Camino

If you have your meal or your drink at the bar of the Iruña, you can drink with Hemingway’s statue!

 

We’re going trout fishing in the Irati River… (108)

The Irati River

The Irati River.  Dramatic.

As we came to the edge of the rise we saw the red roofs and white houses of Burguete ahead strong out on the plain, and away off on the shoulder of the first dark mountain was the gray metal-sheathed roof of the monastery of Roncesvalles.  (114)

Burguete

Burguete.  Red roofs and white houses, just as Hemingway described.

Roncesvalles monastery.

Roncesvalles monastery.

This isn't related to Hemingway, but one of the most important stories from the Middle Ages, "The Song of Roland", tells of the Battle of Roncesvalles.  In the story, Charlemagne's army is facing the Saracens and suffers its only major loss, one that would have been worse had Roland (Orlando in Spanish/Italian) not blown his horn and warned his fellow knights.  This story laid the framework for the concept of chivalry and knighthood in Europe.  This picture shows Roland/Orlando's death.

This isn’t related to Hemingway, but one of the most important stories from the Middle Ages, “The Song of Roland”, tells of the Battle of Roncesvalles. In the story, Charlemagne’s army is facing the Saracens and suffers its only major loss, one that would have been worse had Roland (Orlando in Spanish/Italian) not blown his horn and warned his fellow knights. This story laid the framework for the concept of chivalry and knighthood in Europe. This picture shows Roland/Orlando’s death at Roncesvalles.

In the evenings we played three-handed bridge with an Englishman named Harris, who had walked over from Saint Jean Pied de Port and was stopping at the inn for the fishing.  (130)

St. Jean Pied de Port

St. Jean Pied de Port

Most of the places mentioned in the Spanish section of the book are part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  This is an ancient pilgrimage route from the Pyrenees at the border of France and Spain to the Atlantic Coast.  Originally those who walked the Camino did so for religious or spiritual purposes, and many still do, but many others hike or bike the roughly 500 miles because it's a stunningly gorgeous walk!  Because people have been doing this for centuries, there are many hostels and places to stay along the way for pilgrims.  When Hemingway mentions that Harris walked over from St. Jean Pied de Port, he's implying that Harris was probably walking the Camino.

Most of the places mentioned in the Spanish section of the book are part of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. This is an ancient pilgrimage route from the Pyrenees at the border of France and Spain to the Atlantic Coast. Originally those who walked the Camino did so for religious or spiritual purposes, and many still do, but many others hike or bike the roughly 500 miles because it’s a stunningly gorgeous walk! Because people have been doing this for centuries, there are many hostels and places to stay along the way for pilgrims. When Hemingway mentions that Harris walked over from St. Jean Pied de Port, he’s implying that Harris was probably walking the Camino.

They’ve never seen a desencajonada. (136)

For the following quotations, see the videos below:

At noon of Sunday, the 6th of July, the fiesta [of San Fermin] exploded.  (156)

Before the waiter brought the sherry the rocket that announced the fiesta went up in the square.  It burst and there was a gray ball of smoke high up above the Theatre Gayarre.  (157)

People were coming into the square from all sides, and down the street we heard the pipes and the fifes and the drums coming.  They were playing the riau-riau music, the pipes shrill and the drums pounding, and behind them came the men and boys dancing.  (157)

The afternoon was a big religious procession.  San Fermin was translated from one church to another.  In the procession were all the dignitaries, civil and religious.  (158-9)

[Pedro Romero, the matador] was the best-looking boy I’ve ever seen.  (167)

Hemingway based the character of Pedro Romero on the young Toreador, .  He was right; he wasn't bad looking.

Hemingway based the character of Pedro Romero on the young toreador, Cayetano Ordoñez. He was right; he wasn’t bad looking.

 

Book 3

“No.  I can stay another week.  I think I’ll go to San Sebastian.”  (232)

San Sebastian.  Looks like a good vacation spot, no?

San Sebastian. Looks like a good vacation spot, no?

The Sun Also Rises, Book One — in pictures!

Something that helped me to get through The Sun Also Rises this time around (my third attempt…) was to read it as a travel book.  In the years since my second attempt at the novel, I’ve had the good fortune to travel to Paris several times.  Those trips really helped me to visualize and enjoy the beginning of the book (which, in my opinion, is the most difficult part) much more.  While I can’t bring students to France merely for the sake of enjoying a single work of literature (#teachergoals…), I can replicate here in this blog post what I did the entire time I was reading the book: pull out my phone to look up images of the places Hemingway name-dropped.

In other words, I used my smart phone to…you know…make myself smarter.

Hemingway is famous for following his early mentor Ezra Pound’s diktat eschewing adjectives.  He describes scenes with action mostly, but does do an awful lot of name-dropping of places.  I can’t imagine he expected his audience back home in the States to know what the places he named looked like.  His intention was probably to say “This glamourous place with this sexy foreign name exists, and I’ve been there, and aren’t you just so jealous?”  He might not have been quite that arrogant, but it is true that his writings for the Toronto Star and the writings of other American expats in Paris did much to contribute to Paris’s (and France’s…and Spain’s…) romantic allure, which thereby led to increased tourism that over-saturated the city with Americans and Brits, and caused the original expat community to shudder and look for the next great hipster beehive.

Anyway, I digress (was that last sentence a wee too judgy?).  My point is this: We don’t need a ticket on the QEII and a million dollars and two months of time to follow in his footsteps the way his original audience would have; all we need is Google.

So this post will try to illustrate as much of the book as possible in order to help students develop a mental picture of the setting.  Page numbers refer to the First Scribner trade paperback edition, 2003.  All photos, unless they are mine, were pulled from the internet, so if one belongs to you and you would prefer that I remove it, just let me know and I will.

PARIS (Book One)

We had dined at l’Avenue’s and afterward went to Café de Versailles. (14)

L_Avenue_Paris_01c

I’m sick of Paris, and I’m sick of the Quarter. (19)  
(NB: “The Quarter” refers to the neighborhood of Montparnasse that was the hub of the American expat scene in the 1920s, not to the Latin Quarter (as I mistakenly thought)

Tour-Montparnasse-56-8-630x405-C-OTCP-DR

This is a view from the Montparnasse Tower that was not there during Hemingway’s day.  Too bad for him.

Then I sorted out the carbons, stamped on a by-line, put the stuff in a couple of big manila envelopes and rang for a boy to take them to the Gare St. Lazare.  (20)

Gare_de_Paris-Saint-Lazare_001

Gare St. Lazare.  (Gare is French for train station.  Paris has quite a few.)

We went out to the Café Napolitain to have an apéritif and watch the evening crowd on the Boulevard.  (21)

download

We turned off the Avenue up the Rue des Pyramides, through the traffic of the Rue de Rivoli, and through a dark gate into the Tuileries.  (23)

rue des pyramides

The Joan of Arc statue where the Rue des Pyramides meets the Rue de Rivoli

tuileries

The ferris wheel in the Tuileries, which is the giant park in front of the Louvre Museum that runs along the River Seine.

Louvre

Your humble blogger in front of the Louvre Pyramid.

The dancing club was a bal musette in the Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève.  Five nights a week the working people of the Pantheon quarter danced there. (27)

bal musette

A bal musette (i.e., A dance club)

The taxi went up the hill, passed the lighted square, then on into the dark, still climbing, then levelled out onto a dark street behind St. Etienne du Mont, went smoothly down the asphalt, passed the trees and the standing bus at the Place de la Contrescarpe, the turned onto the cobbles of the Rue Mouffetard.  (33)

Paris_5_-_Saint-Etienne-du-Mont_et_tour_de_Clovis

The Church of St. Etienne du Mont

PlaceContrescarpe

Panorama of the Place de la Contrescarpe

rue-mouffetard-3

Rue Mouffetard

We were sitting now like two strangers.  On the right was the Parc Montsouris. (35)

parc-montsouris

Parc Montsouris

“Café Select,” I told the driver.  “Boulevard Montparnasse.”  (35) 

Historic-Montparnasse-cafes-in-Paris-Cafe-Le-Select

I went out onto the sidewalk and walked down toward the Boulevard St. Michel, passed the tables of the Rotonde, still crowded, looked across the street at the Dome, its tables running out to the edge of the pavement.  Some one waved at me from a table, I did not see who it was and went on.  I wanted to get home.  The Boulevard Montparnasse was deserted.  Lavigne’s was closed tight, and they were stacking the tables outside the Closerie des Lilas.  I passed Ney’s statue standing among the new-leaved chestnut trees in the arc-light.  (37)

LaCloseriedesLilas

La Closerie des Lilas (Hemingway used this particular cafe as his office.  Waiters in France will never make you get up and leave.)

leDome

Le Dome, a major cafe in the American expat scene. Hemingway hated it; too gossipy.

la rotonde

La Rotonde, another major expat cafe.

michel-ney-statue

Ney’s Statue in Montparnasse near Closerie des Lilas.  Marshal Ney was a military commander during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.

The horse-chestnut trees in the Luxembourg gardens were in bloom.  (43)

luxembourg gardens

Le Jardin du Luxembourg

From the Madeleine I walked along the Boulevard des Capucines to the Opéra, and up to my office.  (43)

The_Madeleine,_Paris,_France,_ca._1890-1900

The Madeleine is a church that is built to resemble a Greek temple. It’s incredible.

madeleine interior

I took this photo inside the Madeleine, August 2015

paris opera

The famed Paris Opera House

paris opera interior

Inside the Opera

phantom

As a Drama teacher I’d be remiss not to point out that the Paris Opera is where The Phantom of the Opera takes place.

At five o’clock I was in the Hotel Crillon waiting for Brett.  (48)

hotel-de-crillon

The Hotel de Crillon. Not too shabby!

lux_430x280_h_paris_hotel-de-crillon05

Inside the hotel, where Jake was supposed to meet Brett.

It was three days ago that Harvey had won two hundred francs from me shaking poker dice in the New York Bar. (49)

Harrys-New-York-Bar-Paris-photo-by-Jonathan-Savoie_1200Harry's

Finally we went up to Montmartre.  Inside Zelli’s it was crowded, smoky, and noisy. (69)

mary montmartre.jpg

My grandmother, Mary, in front of the iconic Sacre Coeur church atop Montmartre.  Montmartre is a hillside neighborhood famous for attracting artists an bohemians the generation before Hemingway.

And there you have it: The Sun Also Rises, Book One.

As a bonus, and unrelated to the book, here are a few shots of my students in Paris (April 2015) as well as videos of myself in France (July 2014 & August 2015; video credits to Gabino).

Versailles

Versailles

Versailles fountain

Versailles

Isaiah

Notre Dame

Casarr

Pigeons at Notre Dame

Zarriea

 

Winter of Content

All hail, great master!  Grave sir, hail!  I come
To answer they best pleasure, be’t to fly,
To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride
On the curled clouds.  To thy strong bidding, task
Ariel and all his quality.
~The Tempest, I.iii

It’s been four months since my Summer of Shakespeare ended, and my days have been nearly Bardless since then.  For three weeks in July I ate, slept and dreamt Shakespeare with an incredible team of colleagues, directors and coaches as part of Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance at the Globe Theatre.  As a teacher and director, it was the most exciting and engaging professional development I’ve ever had; as a lifelong student of literature and theatre, it was thrilling to explore Shakespeare’s works in such depth and in as authentic a context as one can hope to achieve in the 21st century.  We were all incredibly sad when it ended, but, as Shakespeare reminds us in many a play, our time on the stage of life is brief and the moments that shape it are even briefer — which is part of what makes every minute so precious and our need to make the best of our time here so crucial.

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance.  Believe me, love -- I've remembered.

There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Believe me, love — I’ve remembered.

That’s why I’m so pleased that a new season of Shakespeare is about to begin, and unlike my three week Summer of Shakes, this Winter/Spring of Shakespeare will be a season of indefinite length, like a George R. R. Martin winter (Winter is coming, but it shall not be a winter of discontent!).  It begins in two weeks when the drama club I direct at PACE High School will begin work on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This will be my first time directing a Shakespeare play, something I’ve wanted to do for years now, but never felt competent enough as a director until my experience at the Globe.  This means I’ll be teaching the play to my 12th graders in drama class, and hopefully creating lessons for the rest of the grades at school to make the play approachable for all the students.

I also have an intrepid crew of thespians who are participating in the English-Speaking Union’s National Shakespeare Competition.  Between now and February when we hold our school competition, I’ll help nine contestants develop their monologues into strong, stand-alone performances.  One of them will go on to compete regionally, and from there, if chosen, he or she will represent New York in the national competition.  At the moment we have a grand assortment of characters chosen by the students: Petruchio, Gertrude, Desdemona, Isabella, Viola and a few Richard IIIs.  I can’t wait to see what the kids do with them!

Additionally, my English class studies whichever Shakespeare play BAM happens to offer through their fantastic education program.  This year in April we’ll go once more unto the breach with the highly-acclaimed RSC production of Henry V.  I’m taking it upon myself to study the whole tetralogy (Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV and Henry V) and the Hundred Years War more broadly in order to teach the play from a place of deeper understanding.

(And there’s one other very exciting Shakespeare prospect on the horizon, but I’m not at liberty to share it until it’s official.  So stay tuned!)

Suffice it to say, I’ll be steeped in Barddom from now until at least May, and I plan to blog quite a lot about all of it.  I want to document my students’ responses and insights to their work with the plays and parts, share my own thoughts (and, likely, frustrations) as a director, and my questions as a reader.

The winter of content has begun!  And like Ariel to Prospero in the quote above, I’ll be rendering my services unto the Gentleman from Stratford as a teacher, a director, a coach, a writer — whatever he needs me to do, I’m his willing acolyte.

So you’ll have to excuse me now; I have a lot of fulfilling, life-affirming work to do.

Summoning the Scriveners: A Visit to Samuel Johnson’s House

Lexicógrapher. n.s. [λεξικὸν and γράφω; lexicographe, French.] A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Samuel Johnson.

My days in London weren’t all Shakespeare. I spent a considerable amount of our limited free time chasing down some of my favorites among London’s other literary luminaries: Chaucer, Dickens, Keats, Woolf, Blake.  I planned out a walking route that would hit upon some of their major sites, but the writer I want to discuss today is the one I didn’t plan for: Dr. Samuel Johnson.

A Johnson skeptic no more!

A Johnson skeptic no more!

No lie: I only went to Dr. Johnson’s house because it was marked on my city map and I figured that if it was important enough to locate on a general map, it was worth visiting.  Obviously I’d heard of Johnson: Dictionary, Boswell, lots of famous anecdotes**, etc.  No self-respecting English major hasn’t heard of him.

But I’ve never met anyone who was a Johnson specialist.  In my experience, he’s been more discussed than read, a frequent footnote in literary criticism. I assumed that this was because he only wrote the Dictionary and, being a witty bon vivant and raconteur, was primarily known through Boswell’s biography.

Obviously, if you are a specialist in Johnson and the 18th century then you’ll be sniggering at my ignorance, and rightly so.

But if you, like me, were not aware of how amazing he was, then keep reading.  This entry will be an account of my time at the Johnson house and the details that have managed to stick in my head from the experience.

First, a word about the house. I love how they’ve curated it. The rooms are simply furnished, the walls adorned with prints and images of people who were important to Johnson’s life.  Rather than complicate the walls with lengthy explanations alongside each image, they’ve created small booklets of information to accompany the images that you can read while sitting comfortably at a table in each room.  I don’t know if the tables are period or not, but they look it, and anyway it feels right to sit and read in rooms where Johnson and his coterie would have sat, read, discussed and thought, versus moving through just another gallery of what used to be a famous person’s house.

In the first room I flipped through a binder of news articles of sundry Johnsonalia.  Two in particular caught my eye.  The first was by Virginia Woolf, and since she was already on my list of people whose traces I planned to stalk that day, I read the whole thing.  It was (of course) beautiful – an argument for secular sainthood, nominating Johnson for beatification on the 150th anniversary of his death.  She argued that he’s one of few writers who genuinely loved humanity in all of its forms and colors, beauty and flaws.  Most writers, she said, are singular, moody, mercurial and only like people insofar as they see themselves separate from them; subjects to write about.  But some, like Shakespeare and Johnson, really loved people. It shows in their writing, but it also shows in how the people have adopted them: cabbies in the 20th century, she wrote, would quote Johnson — and perhaps they still do.  Again, like Shakespeare, he’d entered into the collective imagination and the collective voice of the people.

My photo of Barber's portrait in Johnson's house

My photo of Barber’s portrait in Johnson’s house

I was intrigued. I thought of him as being very stodgy (if only because I think of everyone in the 18th century as being very stodgy), but I was very much open to being wrong. I read about the people pictured in that room. The most interesting to me was Johnson’s valet and heir, Francis Barber, a Jamaican who had been sent to Johnson as a recently-freed slave.  Johnson — a vocal abolitionist — certainly didn’t treat him as such.  He saw to it that Barber was properly educated and could keep up with Johnson’s crowd.  As Johnson died without children, Barber was made sole heir. He retired to Lichfield, the town where Johnson was from, married a white woman (a fact I found particularly surprising and heart-warming given the time period), started a school and raised a family.

One of Barber’s descendants was profiled in the second article that caught my eye in that room. He hadn’t known that he was a descendant of Barber’s, and – being outwardly white in appearance – was shocked to learn he had a slave ancestor.  Anyway, long before he knew of his relationship to Barber, he himself had done humanitarian work in parts of Africa and taken a young man under his wing whom he educated and supported and thought of as a son. So Barber’s descendant ended up mirroring Johnson’s beneficence 250 years later.

Wow. Only the first room, yet it was clear to me that Johnson’s legacy was much more formidable than I had realized.  There was a magnificent spirit present in those walls, someone whose mind and heart seem to have been far ahead of his time, and yet so much present within his time that his name, words and character would basically define it.  A true man of the Enlightenment.

View from the second story window. Wonder who among this crowd might have been part of 'The Club'?

View from the second story window. Wonder who among this crowd might have been part of ‘The Club’?

In the upper chambers I learned that, true to Woolf’s assessment, he surrounded himself with artists and thinkers, politicians and plebeians, movers and shakers of all sorts. He and Sir Joshua Reynolds would regularly hold club meetings at the Turk’s Head Tavern where they would surround the dinner table with a representative from a variety of fields – business, law, theology, art, music, and so forth – and they would put forth a controversial subject for the group to discuss, just to see what ideas might come forth (with only one verboten subject: politics). Women, too, were included in his circles, some whose opinions he very highly esteemed.

The uppermost room — his garret (or attic) — is where he and his troupe of amanuenses put together not the first, but the most comprehensive and thorough English dictionary. It may as well have been the first; the others had entries like: DOG, n., An animal with four legs. By that definition, cows and cats and ferrets could all go by the name of DOG. By today’s standards, Johnson’s Dictionary was also flawed as far as objectivity was concerned, but let’s give the guy some credit: the tome included nearly 43,000 words and around 114,000 quotations from major authors of the English language to illustrate a word’s usage in each definition. And he didn’t have Google to find the multiple references to the words, he had his own memory.

Impressive.

I sat in the garret by myself, looking up from the copy of Johnson’s dictionary on the table and out the window to the street below.  The room and street were both very still.  In my journal I wrote as I sat there, “I wish I could summon the ghosts.”  I wanted to be able to hear the noisy silence of the fervent writing, page flipping, the occasional “Aha!” at the discovery of the perfect quotation to illuminate a definition.  As it was, I contented myself with the quiet and allowed myself to absorb the special significance of the room.

Dr. Samuel Johnson was born in the early 1700s and died near the end of that century, so he was every inch a man of the 18th century, a century that I, in my studies, have always glossed over as that period between the Elizabethan/Jacobean/Restoration and the Victorian where lots happened in the world politically, but little seemed to interest me in terms of literature. Spending time with Johnson in his own house where the English language was consciously shaped and codified left me profoundly moved and deeply interested in learning more about the man, his writings and his era.

I really can’t recommend it highly enough: if you’re in London, please go visit Dr. Johnson’s house. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn

 

**My favorite anecdote, which I learned in my high school English class twenty years ago: Johnson was seated next to a woman at a dinner party.  When she got a whiff of his intense body odor (a fact which the exhibition confirms: he would go weeks without changing his clothes), she said, “Sir, you smell!”  To which the good doctor-grammarian replied, “No, madame: you smell; I stink.”

Here are some shots of the Johnson House’s materials.  Gives you a sense of the kind of thorough, yet very readable literature they have set out for your perusal as you move through the house.  The three pages pictured go together and should be read in succession for more information on Johnson’s Dictionary.

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Traveling the Sistine Road (of Promise…)

Rehearsals have been underway for Kurt Weill and Franz Werfel’s The Road of Promise for several weeks now.  I can report that the Chorale is in fine voice and really enjoying working with this fascinating piece.  I was trying to think of how to describe it to someone recently, and it was hard to categorize.  It was originally an epic musical in the late 1930s titled The Eternal Road, the origins of which Janet Pascal has chronicled thoroughly here.  From what we’ve learned during the rehearsal process, it was quite possibly the most massive musical ever staged, with seven acres of set pieces, a 100+ person cast, and a length of nearly five hours.   This unwieldiness meant that revivals weren’t likely, so the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music commissioned a shortened version, which is The Road of Promise.

11078082_813690508720931_5446364770332979057_nAs a choral singer, you don’t get the full effect of a piece until you perform it with the orchestra and soloists, and there’s not a recording of this work yet (although there we’ll be: we’re making it!), but here’s what I can tell you.  While it is shorter in terms of time, it doesn’t seem to have lost much in terms of sound.  Weill’s sonic palate was rich and bright in this score, and his phrases are painted in broad strokes.  It’s luscious, even when we only have a piano to sing with; I can only imagine what the orchestra is going to sound like.

The story recounts a number of tales from the Old Testament as a Jewish community huddles fearfully in its synagogue during a pogrom.  Werfel’s lyrics, therefore, have the chorus perform one moment as God’s voice on the wind as he tells Abraham to spare his son, Isaac, and another moment as a choir of trumpeting angels.  Meanwhile, on the ground, you’ll hear us raucously rejoice as we worship the golden calf, pout grumpily as Joseph’s brothers who wish to kill him, and so forth.  It’s gorgeous music that relays profound subject matter, but it’s also quite a lot of fun to listen to.

So as I thought about how to describe it — lush sonic color, Old Testament themes — it occurred to me: this is the musical version of the Sistine Chapel, and I’m not just saying that to be cutesy.  Most operas and oratorios that deal with the same biblical subject matter hone in on a single story to explore in depth, but this work brings as many tales to life as it can in order to tell a much bigger story, which is exactly what the Sistine Chapel does.

So there you go.  I don’t know if anyone has ever described a musical work as ‘Sistine,’ but that’s what The Road of Promise is:

Huge. Breathtaking. Demanding. Gorgeous.

 

(AND tickets are still available!  May 6th and 7th at Carnegie Hall!)

Ode on a Grecian Urn

I’m on a Romantics kick, apparently.  The other day we had a meeting of students going on the upcoming trip to Europe, including a couple of days in Rome, where I told them we had to make a pilgrimage to the Keats Shelley Museum.  I’ve given Shelley his due recently; here’s some Keats for balance.

The photo is from a school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Spring 2014, with students from my Greek Literature class. Quite possibly my favorite picture I’ve ever taken of students doin’ that learning thing.

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“When old age shall this generation waste,/ Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe/ Than ours…”

 Ode on a Grecian Urn
by John Keats

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
         “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Defiance and Contrariness: Two Takes on the Requiem

A 2013 production of the Defiant Requiem.  (photo: Ruby Washington/New York Times)

A 2013 production of the Defiant Requiem. (photo: Ruby Washington/New York Times)

The New York Times has published a preview article about Monday’s performance of the Defiant Requiem (in which I’ll be singing with the Collegiate Chorale).  It’s an interesting read.  It highlights the history that I’ve already touched upon here and here, but it also discusses some of the controversy around the production:

So what moved the historian James Loeffler to condemn “Defiant Requiem,” in a 2013 article in Tablet, a magazine devoted to Jewish life, as an example of a new form of “Holocaust Music”? Such efforts, he wrote, “represent a tragically misconceived approach that distorts the memory of the Holocaust and slights the very musicians that they purport to honor.”

Mr. Loeffler…may be the harshest critic of “Defiant Requiem,” but he is far from the only one.

“A lot of scholars hate the show, the way they did ‘Schindler’s List,’ claiming that it misrepresents or exploits the Holocaust with cheap melodramatic effects,” said Michael Beckerman, a musicologist at New York University who has established a specialty in composers at Terezin. “But this fits into a long tradition of tension between performers and scholars. For some, Murry Sidlin’s interpretation of history would only be right if it looked like a scholarly paper.”

Mr. Loeffler calls “Defiant Requiem” “a virtual multimedia extravaganza,” “replete with factual errors and historical distortions in the name of a theme of spiritual resistance.”

“In some versions,” he adds, “actors reportedly wore striped pajamas — though their real-life models in Terezin did not.”

But Mr. Sidlin makes no great claims to scholarship. “What I wrote,” he said, “was as close as I could get to what the survivors related.”

Besides, he points out, scholars commit inaccuracies, too: “There were never striped pajamas in ‘Defiant Requiem,’ ” he insists, though an illustration on the Lincoln Center website for Monday’s performance shows a conductor wearing them.

“Jews are often accused of going like lambs to the slaughter,” he said. “I wanted to show that this was their way of resisting.”

In grad school I was a teaching assistant for a course on The Holocaust in Literature; that there should be concerns about representation is to be expected — it certainly was the case for nearly every book we read and film we watched in that course –and, I think, largely right.  It would be unethical to put forth artistic work that cheapens, trivializes or profits from the Shoah, but I don’t believe that this production does.   It certainly doesn’t suggest that music saved the day, nor that Terezín/Theresienstadt was anything like the retirement resort that the Nazis sold it as to unsuspecting Jews who unwittingly paid for their train tickets.  It is very clear that the treatment of the inmates there was as sadistic and cruel as in other camps, but that being permitted artistic outlets through music and performance allowed them to hold on to an aspect of their humanity that hadn’t be stripped away.  And, according to some of the survivors who contributed to the project, that bit of time they spent in rehearsal and performance helped many of them to carry on.

I feel honored to participate in the sharing of their story.