Funny how certain pieces of music have a way of appearing in our lives just when we need them.
After my grandmother died last year and her funeral was over, I was eager to get back to normal life. At that time MasterVoices was hard at work rehearsing Mahler’s 2nd Symphony — the “Resurrection” symphony, written in honor of a friend of his who died unexpectedly. We’d started the season with it, performing with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and we ended the season with the same piece, then with the New York Youth Orchestra — just a week or two after her funeral. The piece was a vessel for my grief, exactly what I needed to sing at that moment.
Well. As I noted in my previous post, my grandfather died last month. Just a few days before it happened I got an email from MasterVoices saying that we’d been asked to participate in another performance of Mahler’s 2nd, this time under the baton of George Mathew as a benefit for HelpMeSee, an organization that is fighting to end cataract blindness. I wasn’t going to sing it — we just finished Bach’s St. John Passion, this concert will take place four days later. I figured I might need a break (and, more importantly, I need to finish my novel draft by the end of the month to submit it to Jersey City Writers to be workshopped in March!).
But then my grandfather died. I remembered how much the piece helped me after grandma’s death, it seemed wrong to turn down the opportunity perform it once more — and coming so soon after my grandpa’s death, it just felt like more than a coincidence. Like they say, you can ‘call it odd, or call it God,’ but coincidences like this can’t be purely accidental.
So I said yes. The performance will take place this Monday at Carnegie Hall (click here for tickets). It is truly one of the most glorious pieces of music to sing. When we sang it with the IPO I didn’t have the loss of loved ones weighing on me, and even then I couldn’t sing it without tearing up by the end. I’ll probably look a mess after the concert this Monday, tear-filled as I’ll surely be, but I’m looking forward to it.
Please attend and support a wonderful cause!
(Somewhat semi-unrelated, but a few years ago I wrote a piece on Verdi’s Requiem and how it has had a similar way of calling me to it under interesting circumstances. I looked it up just now and saw that it was written on 11 February 2015 — two years ago to the day! Call it odd, or call it God.)
Here’s a link to a video of the final movement of the symphony, the part that features the chorus. (WordPress has changed its structure and won’t allow me to insert the video into the post as I used to do without buying an upgrade package. Grrrrr!!)
My Grandfather’s 92nd birthday is today, and he almost lived to see it. He was famous for calling everyone in the family on our birthdays to sing to us, and I think I speak for most of the family when I say my own birthday this year will be bittersweet without having him here to mark the occasion.
However, the fact that he’s no longer with us seems a poor reason not to honor his day. Below is the eulogy I read at his visitation along with a few pictures.
Happy Birthday, Grandpa!
Grandpa’s priorities in life were simple: to serve God, country & family. And I would say that these were the secret to his longevity; his dedication to service and living a life of purpose helped him to survive all kinds of health issues that would have taken down a weaker man.
So I would like to reflect on these a bit.
Grandpa was, above all, a family man. My earliest memories are of family gatherings downstairs at Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Evalie in Fairfield, not just for holidays, but because it was…Saturday. These were not quiet, tea-sipping affairs. First thing you would see at the bottom of the steps was a bar that sat four or five at least, a pool table to the right, and a living room to the left where everyone could gather comfortably. Grandpa might be drinking one of his beloved Manhattans, or he might have filled his glass from the keg refrigerator. Their house was fun; full of laughter and argument — everyone had an opinion, and everyone was free to share it.
As I’ve sorted through my memories of Grandpa these past few weeks, It surprised me to realize how many of them are of him — and all of us — by water. When I was very young we spent many weekends of the year at Lake Lorelei on the pontoon boat or grilling out in the yard along the water. If we were staying local on summer weekends, then it was a sure bet that we’d be swimming in Grandma and Grandpa’s neighbor, Bob Kay’s pool — a privilege we all enjoyed because Grandpa was Bob’s pool man, more or less.
When they moved south to landlocked Ocala, Florida, even there the majority of our activities were near the water — renting cabins along or boating on the Rainbow River where we saw all sorts of wildlife I’d only seen on TV. The first time I saw the Atlantic was at Daytona Beach with them, and we even made a stop at Weeki Watchee where they had live mermaid shows. Grandpa insisted I should get my picture with a mermaid…and then Grandpa insisted he and I should both get our picture…(…and then he got one with just him and the mermaid. He was always a charmer.)
In his later years, however, he traded mermaids and pool equipment, lakes, rivers and oceans for the small pond behind their apartment at Regency Run. Whenever I visited, if the weather was nice, I’d see Grandpa as we pulled in from John Gray Road, sitting quietly, watching the fountain and the ducks and the traffic with a statue of St. Francis next to him as his only companion (Grandma was more likely to be found inside playing online poker with college kids from across the country). He was still the life of the party, but it became clear that he had a quieter, contemplative side.
I got to experience this side of him up close shortly after Grandma’s funeral. My cousin, Nikki arranged for him to meet with Father Tharp, and I tagged along just because. I got to hear Grandpa tell Father in his own words just how much his long life, long marriage, and all the blessings that sprang from them meant to him. He spoke, too, of his military service, which I believe was an extension of his love for his family. Mark Twain said, “Love the country always; love the government when it deserves it.” Today too many people see country and government as being one and the same thing, which makes one very cynical, but grandpa didn’t: he could be very critical of the government, but he loved the people. He treated people with kindness and he served in the military on behalf of the people. Nikki, has described Grandpa as having a servant’s heart, and I think this is an apt description, because he never seemed to demand anything in return.
Case in point: On our way out from that meeting with Father Tharp, a young man in his twenties was walking towards us. He saw Grandpa walking with a cane, saw his WWII Veteran hat, and promptly took a few steps back to open the door for Grandpa, and said nothing more than, “Thank you for your service.” To this Grandpa replied, “No, why…thank you!” And then he continued on — no further conversation, no smug, self-satisfaction. Something about that exchange was deeply moving, and it was connected to the fact that, while he was able, he would raise and salute the flag on his flagpole every morning when he woke up, and salute it again before he took it down in the evening. When he saluted the flag, he saluted the people. He didn’t force others to do the same, and he didn’t care if anyone judged him: he did it because honoring and respecting people is what you do. It’s why he participated in more than a thousand military funerals; it’s why he called you every year, without fail, to sing “happy birthday” to you. Because honoring and respecting people is what you do.
I can’t say if Grandpa was always this kind of exemplar of grace — I only knew him for the last forty years of his very long life — but I think he was an excellent model to the rest of us of the things that really matter.
It has been said that living with the knowledge that you’re dying is like leaving a party early when you’re having fun and really don’t want to go. There has to be some truth to this, and Grandpa, as stated earlier, was the life of the party, but he was also a devout Catholic who firmly believed in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. For him, we hope and believe, the party has not ended, that it’s only just getting started because now he’s there. He’s left us here to mourn him, but he’s joined Grandma and loved ones he hasn’t seen in many years: his brother Bernard and Aunt Bert; his sister Alma & Uncle Al, their parents, Rose and Clarence. After catching up with all of them, laughing and probably having a bit too much to drink, he’ll step outside to look at the shimmering expanse of heaven as he looked at his pond here on Earth, and he’ll see us in the distance on the other side. Grandma will join him, and so will St. Francis — not the statue, but the man himself — and they’ll raise their glasses in a toast to us, as we raise our glasses in a toast to them, and they’ll continue to watch over all of us in the days, months, years and decades ahead, until we’re all reunited in that celestial home where water is turned to wine — or beer if that’s your preference — where our tears are turned to laughter, and where Grandpa — or Dad, or Uncle Norb, or just plain Norb — will turn to us with that gigantic smile of his, letting us know how honored he feels that we found our way back to him.
Grandpa, we salute you, we love you, and we thank you for your service in all the ways you served this world. We miss you, but we take comfort in the knowledge that we’ll meet again one day.
Given Grandpa’s fondness for St. Francis, I would like to end today by reciting the St. Francis prayer. If you know the prayer, please feel free to recite it along with me.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled
As to console.
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
If it’s a coincidence, it’s a rather remarkable one.
The New Yorker published Alex Ross’s fantastic piece on J. S. Bach’s religious beliefs — with a heavy focus on the St. John Passion — barely more than a month before our (MasterVoices‘) presentation of this incredible work at Carnegie Hall (Feb. 9). Whether you intend to come to our concert or not, you should really check out this article.
(And you should come to the concert…I mean really, why wouldn’t you? It’s so easy: You can buy tickets right here.)
This article was a found me at the right time. My revision experience is completely affirmed by this…
For every way our first drafts fail, they get us farther down the road to success. Here’s what you can learn from your first draft.
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.
[Bill] wrote that Vienna was wonderful. Then a card from Budapest: “Jake, Budapest is wonderful.” (76)
At the juncture of the Rue Denfert-Rochereau with the Boulevard is a statue of two men in flowing robes. (78)
“Is she really Lady something or other?” Bill asked in the taxi on our way down to the Ile Saint Louis. (82)
We walked along under the trees that grew out over the river on the Quai d’Orléans side of the island. (82)
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)
“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)
The train stopped for half an hour at Bordeaux and we went out through the station for a little walk. (94)
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)
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)
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)
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)
We sat in the Iruña [cafe] for a while and had coffee and then took a little walk out to the bull-ring… (105)
We’re going trout fishing in the Irati River… (108)
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)
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)
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)
“No. I can stay another week. I think I’ll go to San Sebastian.” (232)
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.
We had dined at l’Avenue’s and afterward went to Café de Versailles. (14)
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)
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)
We went out to the Café Napolitain to have an apéritif and watch the evening crowd on the Boulevard. (21)
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)
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)
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)
We were sitting now like two strangers. On the right was the Parc Montsouris. (35)
“Café Select,” I told the driver. “Boulevard Montparnasse.” (35)
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)
The horse-chestnut trees in the Luxembourg gardens were in bloom. (43)
From the Madeleine I walked along the Boulevard des Capucines to the Opéra, and up to my office. (43)
At five o’clock I was in the Hotel Crillon waiting for Brett. (48)
It was three days ago that Harvey had won two hundred francs from me shaking poker dice in the New York Bar. (49)
Finally we went up to Montmartre. Inside Zelli’s it was crowded, smoky, and noisy. (69)
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).