A visit to the library.
About once a week, I walk up to the library and spend a couple of hours or so browsing through periodicals and seeing what librarians recommend through displays. It’s a good library with knowledgeable staff. I begin with the local newspaper. In each weekly issue, a reporter asks a question to poll people’s ideas. Last week’s was “What do you think of Mitt Romney’s choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate? I smiled after I read the answer of one woman who said, “Awesome. I like how they look at things, pointing us in the right direction: God first, strong family values, and everythings depends on that.”
I found a grand book of black and white photography, Coastal Water: Images of North Carolina (Coastal Carolina Press, 2000), photography by Scott Taylor of Beautfort, NC, on display. I spent several minutes enjoying each photo.
The best part of this week’s library experience was stopping by the large magnolia tree on the side grounds and enjoying a big inhalation of a flower whose fragrance was so sweet, I sweat I could eat it. Summer, yes.
I don’t see much sign of summer’s slowing down. Yes, the days are noticeably shorter, and the insects during the day and night are more muted, less raucous. The dogwood leaves look a little tired. And some of the crepe myrtle trees. My pink one on the north side of the house has stopped blooming, but there are new buds about to bloom. Now I am walking early in the morning, only forty minutes, but I’ll increase the time as the summer wears away.
Entering City Hall to pay my city taxes for the year, I met one of my favorite people, Mae Edla, a retired French teacher, probably somewhere in her 80’s, whom I met at the Methodist Church when I attended there. “Stranger!” she exclaimed. “Where have you been? I was about to call the missionaries out on you.” She was seemingly surprised when she told me that so many rumors had been circulating around town about her. She had recently celebrated her birthday. One woman at church congratulated her on being 100 and she responded with a simple “Thank you.” Then during the week more and more people, who had previously congratulated her, returned with their surprise at her being 100, the minister included. And she said that she was stopped everywhere by people wanting to know about her car’s burning up. She had told only one person. Small town, yes. As we parted, I wished her a Happy 100th Birthday.
This week I enjoyed a novel and a book about France.
The novel was The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock. The reviewers’ comments on the paperback cover and first page compared the novel to works by Flannery O’Connor, Faulkner, and Cormac McCarthy. I would add the comment that there is a sadistic edge of Mark Richard, and the atmostphere of Tom Waits growling or yelping a song in the background. Characters include religious fanatics, mass murderers, evil preachers, suffering innocents. At times I asked myself why I was reading the ook; at the same time I was drawn back to it. Once or twice I laughed aloud. Often at the end of a harrowing chapter, I gave a sincere prayer, “Deliver us from evil.” And I cheered at the end. I have a new hero in the character of young Arvin. Excellent novel.
The nonfiction book was Paris to the Past by Ina Caro. The idea is intriguing: we can learn French history by visiting cathedrals and castles within a 90-minute train ride outside of Paris. Caro’s command of history is impressive, and she relates the stories with zest, energy, and humor. There are two different tones evident in Caro’s writing here, neither of which I enjoyed. Here’s one, illustrated by the dedication of the book: “For Bob. This is not an age when prince charmings, idealistic knights, and true love at first sight are taken seriously. When I was still in my teens, I fell in love with Bob, and he has been my Prince Charming ever since. And I want to thank him for never once changing into a frog, and for visiting with me the castle of Sleeping Beauty, which lies in an enchated valley filled with a thousand castles and food so magical that fish and asparagus taste better than cake.” [A thousand castles is hyperbole. Fish and asparagus always taste better than cake.] The other tone is disturbingly condescending: “…it didn’t matter how enormous the crowd became because our seats were reserved.” Or, describing a hotel she at first did not like, “I managed to do without a terry-cloth robe and found I was quite able to turn down my own bed.” Or, “I would have preferred coming on Thursday, so that I could have avoided the crowds of the lively market…it was very crowded with French.” Add a couple of usage glitches, a chapter entitled “My Favorite Emperor and Me” and the statement, “…it became customary for Bob and I to have…” All that said, I recommend the book for its concise and insightful stories of history.
John Corigliano, Symphony No. 1 (Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, conductor) 1990. Corigliano, to honor colleagues and friends who dies with AIDS, inspired by The Quilt, and feeling rage and anger at the epidemic, wrote this symphony. Each movement honors a friend: the first, a pianist; the second, a producer and amateur pianist; the third, a cellist. The symphony juxtaposes angry dissonances and beautiful elegiac passages. The first movement incorporates a tango that his friend like to play; the second movement is a Tarantella, featring the idea of going insane, the manifestation of AIDS suffered by his friend; the third is a Chaconne, “Giuilio’s Song,” feature cellos, which after playing a beautiful and ethereal melody, are overpowered by waves of dissonance from brass and percussion. It’s a powerful, sobering, inspiring work and should be played often and heard widely.
I am sure that colleges and perhaps high schools are putting together units of study of responses to the AIDS crisis. There are works of art (like the Quilt), pieces of music (like this symphony), novels (like Reynolds Price’s The Promise of Rest), dramas (like Angels in America), works of nonfiction (like Mark Doty’s Heaven’s Coast and Randy Shilts’s And the Band Played On). It would be interesting and beneficial to take some time and consider these response and reflect upon them.
And I’m wondering why the other major health crisis of the twentieth century, the 1918 flu epidemic, in which my maternal grandfather died, did not result in such responses. It was hardly ever talked about when I was growing up.
I have bought other of Corigliano’s recordings; his wonderful Oboe Concerto, his 3 Irish Folk Song Settings for tenor and flute, and the beautiful “Poem in October,” text by Dylan Thomas, with tenor, flute, oboe, clarinet, harpsichord, and string quartet.
I was fortunate to be in the audience at the Colorado Symphony Orchestra when it performed the debut of his flute concerto, “The Pied Piper.” During the last movement, flutist Pamela Endsley left the stage and played through Boetcher Concert Hall and went into the lobby, returning with about two hundred children, flute students, playing and following her onto the stage. Fun. And Corigliano was there to take a bow.
I will be with Quakers for a while. Reviewing my notes on Earth-Centered religions, I find them overly complicated. My idea of God in Nature (and transcendent of Nature) is more like those Carl Sagan proposes in Cosmos, more like those of Emerson in his long essay Nature. Sunday morning, I arrive five minutes late in Chapel Hill at the Friends Meeting House there. When I opened the door, I was suprised to see so many people.
I had been there at the earlier service a couple of times and worshiped with four of five others. The early service I attended in Denver for a couple of years was never more than ten or so. The room was filled. After twenty minutes children left to go to religious education classes. There were several people who were feeling the need to share. The Adult Forum before the service was on the topic of religious community, and several people had had time to assimilate their feelings about community and needed to share. It was all thoughtful, but I wanted more silence. A coincidence afforded me happiness. One woman stood to recite a poem by Wendell Berry, the same poem a friend had sent me the week before by email. And so the ideas and forces align!
Learning More About Thoreau.
I’m using Robert D. Richardson, Jr.’s Henry David Thoreau: A Life of the Mind (1986) as a guide, and I’ll be on Chapter 1, “1837” for a while. I wondered but didn’t know for sure until I read this chapter that Thoreau studied modern languages with Longfellow at Harvard. 1837 was the year that Thoreau returned to Concord from Harvard. He developed a friendship with Emerson, began writing his journal, read Horace and Emerson’s Nature, began teaching and resigned within a month.
I am stoping to read Nature. In the first chapter, there is a section often quoted in high school anthologies, the “I become a transparent eyeball” paragraph. When I read it again in context, I received an intellectual and emotional rush of awareness just as I had when I first read Nature many years ago. Emerson is magnificent. I will stop awhile from Richardson, leave the guide, and find out as much as possible about Thoreau in 1837. I want find what he was reading by Horace and perhaps read Horace (though in English); I want to read his journal entires of that year. I have a book with journal excerpts, and wanting read more may cause me to put aside some travel or house funds and invest in the complete journals. This study may take years, but I’ll plan to continue what I’ve begun.
Last week a friend asked what I thought was the best play I directed when I was working in drama with high school students. I asked her to give me a few days to think. The plays of which I am the most proud are “Macbeth” at Smithfield-Selma Senior High School and “Look Homeward, Angel” at Greeley Central High School. The plays the most fun to direct were “Evening of One-Act Plays” at Smithfield-Selma, “The Matchmaker” at Greeley Central, and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at Mullen High School. The plays from which I learned the most were “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail” at Smithfield-Selma, “The Fantasticks” with Neuse Little Theatre, “Allegro” at Smithfield-Selma, and “The Lark” at Mullen. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to do this work for so many years.
Thank you for reading I hope you’ll enjoy your week.