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

 

The Lost Generation FOUND: or, How I’m Learning to Stop Kvetching and Love the Americans in Paris

"You are all a lost generation." ~Gertrude Stein

“You are all a lost generation.” ~Gertrude Stein

In October of this year, my choir — MasterVoices — will present the New York premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon‘s opera, 27, about the literary and intellectual salons held at the home of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the years between the world wars.  Hemingway and Fitzgerald are characters.  So are Picasso and Man Ray.  It should be a heady romp of an opera!

Because the opera is so literary, I decided it would be fantastic if I could bring my College Bridge Senior English class to see it, but this posed a challenge: How in the world would 12th graders ever truly appreciate the work without some knowledge of all the key players?  Or, for that matter, how would I?

See, I’m somewhat poorly-versed when it comes to the Lost Generation.  I know all the big names of the era that any self-respecting English major should know, but I haven’t ever spent much time with them.  I read “The Old Man and the Sea” in 7th grade twenty-five years ago and remember very little of it beyond the fact that I disliked it.  I tried to love Hemingway by reading The Sun Also Rises on two separate occasions but found the book to be a tiresome chore.  I’ve never been gaga about Gatsby like a lit-lover is supposed to be, and I think I opened up Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons once while in college, read a single poem, shuddered, then promptly returned to it to its shelf in the library.  Thus ended my time with the Americans in Paris in the 1920s.  To me they seemed purely hedonistic and self-absorbed, and really self-important.  I didn’t have much of an interest.

And I might have left them there, sitting on the shelf and continuing to accrue accolades from everyone but me, but for three things: this upcoming Ricky Ian Gordon opera, as I’ve said, and Joyce and Woolf.  They’re of the era and of the ilk, more verbose than their American counterparts and a thousand times more cerebral and difficult…and yet I adore them.  As an Irishman and a Brit, there might be an argument for the difference of their literary output, but, most things being the same, I ought to be able to find something worthwhile in their American peers, right?  So it occurred to me that the only reason I ever came to love Joyce and Woolf in the first place was due to my professor, Richard Hood, who provided rich, detailed background to their lives and times that gave their writing a context and a point of approach.  He made their writing feel vital to a young twenty-something in the late 1990s, a fact for which I’m deeply grateful and now need to replicate for my own students.

I never had that with the Americans in Paris — I’ve never read them in the context of a class — but if I’m going to enjoy performing in an opera about them, and if I’m going to provide my students with a richly satisfying educational experience, then I’d better damn well get studying and teach myself so that I can pass the knowledge on.

everybody-behaves-badlyWhich is what I’ve been doing.  First, I made a third attempt at The Sun Also Rises, and this time I finished it.  I won’t say it’s become my favorite book or that Hemingway’s genius dripped from the pages in any obvious way, but I really did like it — so that’s a start.  I’m currently reading Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece, The Sun Also Rises by Lesley M. M. Blume, a book that seems to have been released to coincide exactly with my interest in the subject matter; it came out at the beginning of last month, just as I was piecing together my course of study.  Blume’s book has acutely sharpened my appreciation for and interest in Hemingway.

Anyway, in the days and weeks to come, I plan to post my explorations of the works I read in a way that is meant to be shared with my students, but will hopefully be of interest to any reader who stumbles across my blog.  I’m coming at this with an open mind, yes, but, more importantly, with a humble mind.  My previous encounters with the Lost Generation writers have left me feeling dismissive of their talents, but this time around my thought is, “You know what?  They are beloved for a reason.”  Rather than try to trash them, I’m going to try to see what it is that others see, and I’m going to share this experience with my students.

And with you.  So if you’re reading this and you have any reading suggestions for me, please feel free to pass them on in the comment section.  Otherwise, keep checking in for updates!

***Apropos of nothing, here’s a video of my aforementioned professor, Richard Hood, playing the banjo as he’s wont to do.  A man of many, many talents; he not only taught modernist literature, he toured the country (world?) with his bluegrass band, led humanitarian trips to Haiti and moved me cross-country from Ohio to California.  Hemingway may or may not be a genius, and Stein probably isn’t (not really…), but Hood sure as hell is!

 

Stolen Child

When I was in high school I had a recording of Loreena McKennitt singing W. B. Yeats’ poem “The Stolen Child,” only I didn’t realize that it was a Yeats poem.  In fact, I didn’t know who Yeats was at the time.

A few years later I was in college (Denison U., Class of 2000!) and idling through the library.  I found a copy of poems by Yeats — and had heard of him, albeit only nominally, by that point.  As I was acquainting myself with his work, flipping through the pages, I came across this poem.  I only half remembered the Loreena McKennitt song, so as I read I had this sense of knowing the poem as a distant, unplaceable memory.  It was 1996, so the internet was in its infant stage and there was probably no way for me to search the lyrics to find the connection anyway.  So it stuck in my brain for about a month until I happened to play the McKennitt CD.

My face lit up with a smile.  The poem and song found me.

They’ve been in my head of late because of Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Our production will make use of the changeling Indian Boy mentioned in the text but not (usually) seen. Why does Titania really take him in?  What would Oberon do with him?  What is life like living with the faeries?  What is it like to be a stolen child?

Is the world really less full of weeping with the faeries…?

wp-1453078180151.jpeg

My nephew in Connecticut.

The Stolen Child
by William Butler Yeats

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

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!)

The Living and the Dead: Winter, New Jersey and Joyce

During a recent trip on a NJ Transit train somewhere outside of Hackensack, the train paused for five minutes alongside a cemetery.  James Joyce’s short story “The Dead” came to mind before I even took this picture:

It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns.

It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones,  on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns.

From the end of “The Dead“:

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

This story has been on my mind ever since June 2014 when WNYC’s Greene Space (with the Irish Arts Center) in New York produced Arthur Yorinks‘ audio play Dubliners: A Quartet.  I had a small part in the chorus (thanks to the Chorale‘s Ed Barnes who arranged a number of Irish hymns and folk songs and directed the musicians), so for two nights at the end of June I spent four hours listening to (and singing for) four of the Dubliners tales brought to life for the radio recording.  No costumes, no sets, just the actors’ voices and Joyce’s words.  The poetry of Joyce’s prose is no secret to anyone who has read his work, and neither is the musicality of his phrasing.  The surprise for me was how these stories — “Araby,” “Eveline,” “Clay,” and “The Dead” — which had been familiar to me for twenty years took on a fresh new form, and all these months later I still hear the stories in my head. They’re nagging me to find a way to work them into my curriculum.

So…

The students in my English class have just finished discussing Huxley’s Brave New World.  One of the major questions that book asks is whether it’s nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune if by doing so you’ll lead a rich, if emotionally turbulent, life; or, would it be better if we could all live an anaesthetized existence whereby everyone is content with their lot in society at the cost of the desires, dreams and emotions that make each of us individuals.  Through the character of John, the Shakespeare-quoting “Savage,” Huxley clearly argues for the former when he has John say, “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”  My students almost unanimously agreed with him, as do I, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to John’s foil, Mustapha Mond, when he tells John that his choice to keep his humanity means accepting a world of pain: with our ability to love comes our ability to betray; with the freedom of expression comes the awkwardness of not knowing what to say; with the acceptance of heartache in theory comes the inability to know how to process heartache in reality.

So we’ll follow up thematically with two short stories that illustrate this tragic beauty of John’s (and our own) choice to be human: Jhumpa Lahiri‘s “A Temporary Matter” and — you guessed it — Joyce’s “The Dead.”  I’m looking forward to showing my students the video from the performance at the Greene Space.  I’m not going to tell them that I’m in it — let’s see if anyone notices… — but for those of you not in the class, you can spy me towards the end, around 1:10:35.

Bloomsday 2013

On this day in 1904, nothing momentous actually happened in the real world.  Alright, I may have written that out of ignorance, perhaps something did happen, but whatever it was, it is not the reason that this day has been immortalized for book geeks and literary aficionados.  For us, today is remembered for what happened on the imaginary June 16th, 1904, in James Joyces’ Ulysses.

Page selected at random from my copy of Ulysses

Page selected at random from my copy of Ulysses

So what happened on that imaginary day?  Well, not much, actually.  Leopold Bloom gets up, thinks about his failing marriage, thinks about his friend who died, tries to place an ad in the paper, watches people eat, watches and girl on the beach and thinks she’s pretty.  Stephen Daedalus, the proto-hipster, gets up, makes some snarky comments, goes for a walk, drinks too much, pees on a wall.

Just another day in Dublin in 1904.

For a book whose narrative structure is largely patterned after Homer’s Odyssey — a foundational work of Western literature — it seems a real scaling back of scope.  Neither character is in a fantastic amount of danger.  Neither is a plaything of jealous gods.  Each man faces the kind of everyday challenges that each of us face, and if there’s an overall point then perhaps it’s this: Isn’t just facing your everyday challenges heroic enough?  And to face them with a sense of perspective, through the prism of your own foibles and imperfections, yet still manage to treat others with love and respect — that really is heroic.

Having put it that simply, you’d think this would be one of the feel-good books of the century, read and beloved by all.  That’s not quite the case.  Joyce’s writing strives to exist on a different astral plane — he drove straight through Didacticism, Erudition and Polymathematical and ended up in some distant alterna-Dublin that is to actual Dublin what the Heavenly Jerusalem is to its earthly counterpart: strange, beautiful, composed of metaphor and foreshadow.  To put it lightly, it’s a hard read, and it takes awhile to get the very simple message mentioned above out of it.  But it’s an exciting process.

I first learned about the book’s riches when I was studying abroad in Bath, England.  I took a course on Georgian architecture and Jane Austen, but my roommates were in a class about Ulysses and every evening they’d have their classmates over to our flat to talk about the book.  Every now and then I feel left out when I can’t participate in a conversation about sports, but that could never compare to the sense of inadequacy and jealousy I experienced when I couldn’t take part in these talks about Ulysses.  The topics and allusions were so wide-ranging, it seemed that if you could plumb the book’s depths you’d receive a four-year college education for the price of a single book.  I had to study it.

So, next semester, back on Denison University’s campus, I approached our resident Joycean, Richard Hood, and asked him if he’d be willing to teach Ulysses the following semester.  He sat there and thought about it, then said yes on the condition that we make it a high-level, invitation-only seminar.  He envisioned a class where everyone would not only pull their weight, but would cherish having done so.  We came up with a list of about twelve or fifteen such students and it was one of the best classes I have ever taken.  Ulysses was the only book we read in the course, and it was the only class that came with this dictum: “You must read the book on your own over the summer.  When I say read, I mean you must at the very least look at every word whether you understand what’s going on or not.  And you’ll hate the experience.  You’ll think it’s the worst piece of high-falutin’ crap ever.  But.  When we come back in the Fall, you’ll read it again, and we’ll take it apart piece by piece, and you’ll understand that it’s the most brilliant thing you’ve ever read.”

Dr. Hood was right.  Ulysses is the richest, most frustratingly brillant and playful work I’ve ever read.  It lived up to all the expectations set for me by those conversations back in England.  But my advice to anyone who wishes to attempt it is this: find a group.  Uncork a bottle of your favorite wine, and discuss no more than 2-5 pages in a given session.  You’ll have a blast unpacking the puns, discovering wordtricks, the likes of which you’ve never seen, researching allusion after allusion after allusion.  If you let yourself be open to it, you will laugh quite a bit, and you’ll love this book that at first seemed so difficult to love.

And by doing that, you will have done something heroic.