Around the town.
A walk on the last day of summer. The morning, between 8 and 9 o’clock, is cool and dewy. The air is clear, and there is an equal balance of sounds of birds and insects, except for a mockingbird, which sings its heart out at the railroad crossing at Fourth Street. There are three single joggers, two men and one woman, wearing brightly colored t-shirts and short pants. There is a pair of joggers, woman and man, wearing white t-shirts. They are all in front of me at various places on my way. A woman standing at the door of a hair salon, smoking a cigarette, greets me, “Good morning. A nice day to walk.” “Yes,” I answer, “the last day of summer.” “Is it?” she says, exhaling, as if in doubt. Later on the walk a man greets me similarly. He acknowledges with a smile, “It is the last day of summer. But I bet it’s not the last day of summer heat.” “No bet,” I said. “We can count on all of September as hot.” (The first three days of autumn have proved us both wrong.) Dogwood trees sometimes turn dusty weak red color and crinkle. There are trees on the neighboring block, though, which are turning a rich wine-red color and will be even more beautiful in the sun in a couple of weeks.
At the grocery store. I entered grumpy, not feeling well. I longed for a siesta. I checked a carton of eggs, and finding one cracked, was returning it to the case, when a woman reached over me and took a carton of hard-boiled eggs. “Ever buy one of these? They are out of this world!” “No,” I answered. “You can use them to make egg salad or something or you can just eat them. “Good to know,” I said. “I can’t eat but just one of them. But I ain’t gonna be peeling them. That’s a thing about buying them like this.” I didn’t answer but smiled, remembering how I bashed up an egg, peeling it that morning. I got the other three items and went to the checkout. As I approached, an old man, probably my gage, caught my eye, and said, “Good morning. A beautiful morning it is.” “Yes,” I replied. “The summer has been wet,” he said. There was a delay. Another grumpy man wanting to pay was waiting for a price check. “I said a minute but it might be two,” said the woman running the checkout. The package of chicken arrived a second later, and she thanked the clerk who had gone for the price check and the man ahead of me for his patience. “You’re welcome,” he said. “I hope your day goes well,” he said to me as the left and I pulled my cart up to the checkout head. I felt calmed by his quiet and sincere wish. Meanwhile the woman at the egg case had pulled her cart diagonally across my exit line. In it she had put two large chrysanthemum plants. She saw me block, walked with her bag of eggs and whatever else and said, “I had you blocked. I’m sorry. Sorry!” she said as she walked off daintily. I had to smile. She ain’t gonna be peeling no eggs, I thought. I felt better for having encountered good folks in the grocery store.
A performance of the Winston-Salem Symphony. Performance, September 17, 2013. Three pieces: Michael Gandolfi, “Night Train to Perugia”; Felix Mendelssohn, “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, e minor” (Op. 64); Jean Sibelius, “Symphony No. 2, D Major” (Op. 43).
Robert Moody conducts with enthusiasm, passionate energy, and enjoyment, and the orchestra responds in kind.
“Night Train to Perugia” is fun. Program notes by the composer indicate that the piece is “musings on neutrinos (subatomic particles), trains, and surrealism. . . . Along the way, the piece depicts train whistles (old and New), train-track rhythms, Doppler effects, neutrino showers, time dilation references, and a host of contrapuntal thematic treatments.” It would be fun to program it with “A Short Ride in a Fast Machine” by John Adams.
The Mendelssohn featured the violin performance of Corine Brouwer, concertmaster, who played with bravado. I love the piece because it is one of the pieces that convince me that at the heart of reality is unbounded joy.
I did not know the Sibelius symphony. I enjoyed it because it featured most, perhaps all, sections of the orchestra and presenting a moving and powerful musical expression
I like the programming of the Winston-Salem Symphony. Moody does not hesitate to incorporate contemporary works. At the next concert, for example, the second half of the program is a piece by Brett Dietz, “Headcase: Opera Introspective,” from 2206. First half: Mozart and Weill.
Poetry. “Tales of a Wayside Inn, Part I” (1863) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. There are two original tales and five others from various world cultures presented in the frame of friends who are sitting by the fireside at an inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and passing the time by contributing stories. The characters and the stories:
The Landlord: “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” yes, the celebrated and famous poem; The Student: the ever-popular story of Federigo and his falcon from the Decameron; The Spanish Jew: the legend of Rabbi Ben Levi from the Talmud, explaining how the Angel of Death is never seen; The Sicilian: the story of King Robert of Sicily, how the haughty are mad low; The Musician: the Norse saga of King Olaf, told in twenty-two short sections of poems of various meters; The Theologian: a story about Torquemada, the infamous Grand Inquisitor of Spain, who encourages a fanatic father to burn his daughters alive for heresies; The Poet: “The Birds of Killingworth,” a cautionary story of the results of abusing nature. Those who love birds will revel in the descriptions here.
Longfellow was lionized in his day (honored by the English with memorial in Westminster Abbey, well-known and beloved in America). He was the first professor of modern languages at Harvard, and “Tales of a Wayside Inn” presents mid-century American readers stories from various world cultures. The stories show Longfellow’s sure sense of narration, charming descriptions, and mastery of verse forms.
But, the literati will protest, he is not a first-rate poet. Not a first-rate poet, Forsooth! Sentimentality and didactic expression are no more faults in nineteenth century literature that are cynicism, disbelief, soul-probing, confessional expressions in our time. Open the book, read slowly, enjoy, and rebuke yourself! Show me a better Italian sonnet than the first of the Divina Commedia series, and I’ll . . . memorize it.
I plan to read the second series later in the fall and the third series in the depth of winter. Where to find a fireplace by which to read?
A sample. I love this description of the Musician: “Last the Musician, as he stood / Illumined by that fire of wood;/ Fair-haired, blue-eyed, his aspect blithe, / His figure tall and straight and lithe, / And every feature of his face; / Revealing his Norwegian race: / A radiance, streaming from within, / Around his eyes and forehead beamed, / The Angel with violin, / Painted by Raphael, he seemed.”
Nonfiction. One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty (1984). The book is in three sections: “Listening,” “Learning to See,’ and “Finding a Voice.” The first section is interesting because it presents musings on her parents’ whistling, the striking of clocks, her mother’s singing, the music of the Victrola, gossip with neighbors. It includes antics with her brothers, remembrances of movies, and memorable portraits of the formidable and influential autocratic principal Miss Duling and the evangelist Gypsy Smith. “Learning to See” centers on road trips (c. 1917) from Mississippi to West Virginia and Ohio to visit grandparents and learn about their lives. The most interesting part of “Finding a Voice” is how an author imagines and portrays characters in fiction.
Thank you for reading. I hope you will have a good week.