Summer Vignettes. From the past and from this week:
In the late 1970s a friend and I were sitting with his parents in the living room. Bedtime arrived, and the father said, “Will it be a night for the fan? We can put the fan in the hallway, leave the bedroom doors open, and it may feel less hot.”
It was a night for the fan. I slept with the guest bedroom door open and with no cover and wearing only shorts, and had a fairly good night’s sleep.
The time was the late 1970s; the place was Athens, Georgia. A friend and I had rooms in a shot-gun house with a tin roof, no air conditioning, no fan. Sleep was fitful, short naps, with sipping water between naps. A quick cold shower in the morning felt good.
The husband of a cousin in eastern NC has found his fences for livestock cut in several places several times. He has no clue who may be doing the cutting. He assumes it is “illegal Mexicans” and blames them, without any evidence. I asked him why he thought it was “illegal Mexicans.” He said only, “When Trump is elected, he’ll send the damned people home, we’ll get that wall built, and then we won’t have such worries.”
Recently a dinner guest and I were enjoying glasses of Merlot with our cassoulet. I asked her if she’d like some water. “Water!” she said. “No! Water is for animals.” When she asked who was singing the soprano part in a movement from Peer Gynt, I brought her the cover for the CD. “Good Lord!” she said. “Some people get the best names. How I’d like to go around introducing myself, saying, “I’m Lucia Popp!”
Notes on Reading. Fiction. Eudora Welty, The Robber Bridegroom. (1942) Atheneum, 1963.
Welty’s fairy tale is set in Mississippi and Louisiana along the Natchez Trace. Fairy tale motifs include the forest as a place of danger and daring, the wicked stepmother and other various evil people, the protected and innocent young woman, and the dashing hero.
Welty populates the tale with characters from history and various backwoods types: Mike Fink, the mass-murderer Harp Brothers (Big Harp now a talking head kept in a basket by his brother), an idiot boy named Goat and his slatternly, degenerate mother and sisters, and savage, vengeful Indians.
Welty’s gifts as a writer are evident: keen sense of place, interesting use of flat characters, an ear for regional speech, and control of a plot in which there are mistaken identities.
The part I like most about the book is Welty’s use of images (sometimes exaggerated) of the rural South as appropriate setting for the fairy tale. Examples: (1) “. . . Spring and the clear and separate leaves mounting to the top of the sky, the black flames of cedars, the young trees shining like the lanterns, the magnolias softly ignited; Summer and the vines falling down over the darkest caves, red and green, changing to the purple of grapes and the Autumn descending in a golden curtain; then in the nakedness of the Winter wood the buffalo on his sinking trail, pawing the ice till his forelock hangs in the spring, and the deer following behind to the salty places to transfix his tender head. And that was the way the years went by.” (2) “As his foot touched shore, the sun sank into the river the color of blood, and at once a wind sprang up and covered the sky with black, yellow, and green clouds the size of whales, which moved across the face of the moon. The river was covered with foam, and against the landing the boats strained in the waves and strained again. River and bluff gave off alike a clear-green light, and from the water’s ed the red torches. . . ”
Listening. Inspired by the comments about George Gershwin in a friend’s blog, I decided a good way to celebrate July 4 would be to listen to several of the works of Gershwin. He has contributed to world music by the masterful use of jazz in works in classical forms.
I enjoyed again his Three Preludes for Piano, one of which I once learned, by listening to and watching Enrique Graf’s performance on “YouTube.” I listed to Gershwin’s excellent piano concerto, “Piano Concerto in F” and his more popular work for piano and orchestra, “Rhapsody in Blue” and the two-movement piece of orchestra, “An American in Paris.” (My recording: Werner Haas, Orchestre National de l’Opera de Monte Carlo, Edo de Waart, pianist.) Most of the afternoon of July 4, I enjoyed my recording of the complete opera, Porgy and Bess. (Glyndebourne National Opera, Simon Rattle, conductor)
I’ve often heard, especially in high school, Gershwin’s work denigrated by those who thought they were in the know about classical music. They didn’t like jazz idiom, and they classified Porgy and Bess as a folk opera, not grand opera. I enjoy the idea by Gerald Early that jazz will be recognized as one of the three contributions of American culture to the world (the other two being baseball and the Constitution.)
Enjoying jazz was thus a perfect celebration of July 4.