Friday, January 27, 2017

Rereading The Glass Bead Game

So many wonderful books to read! I've made it a practice to never reread something unless for a specific purpose.  In the '70s the books of Herman Hesse were very popular. I started with Siddartha as I think most readers did.  I read nearly all of them and finally, I read his last big book, The Glass Bead Game. So much for Hesse, I moved on.

 The Glass Bead Game was given to me for Christmas, it's been a LONG time since I read it; I quickly got into the 300+ dense pages of the utopian world set sometime in the future in some attractive part of Europe, one supposes, and followed the surely brilliant and intellectual Joseph Knecht from school boy as he was trained by the all wise masters of a subcountry that exists to be entirely intellectual to become master of their raison d'etre The Glass Bead Game. 

I noticed quickly, as the much younger me did not, that there were no women in this world.  None!  Not even mention of mothers. Chinese  philosophy is an aside and history was mainly the realm of a throw back Benedictine abbot. So much about this world makes no sense at all although it's Knecht's training in the highest thought of the time. Yes, I was seeing the story quite differently.

At the end Knecht is drawn to resign his grand office and go out into the world (where an elite still runs things although the one example is shown to be a very unhappy man). Knecht wishes to tutor a single young man -- and yes, I cannot help but see homosexual attractions although there is not a hint that any of these intellectuals have a sexual body. Within two days, we see that Knecht is incapable of caring for himself, physically. He and the young man go to a cabin some 9,000 feet above sea level. Knecht suffers altitude sickness that he does not recognize, and then, perhaps to win affection of the student, perhaps to prove his own prowess, dives into a frigid lake and drowns. He cannot survive in the "real" world -- it upsets his body, muddles his mind, is visually beautiful but cold and fatal.

Hesse was a brilliant man, but seems to have been blind to anything other than intellectual pursuits. I think I'll look for some biographical material about him.  I'm amazed that in the mid-20th century a writer (of any national origin) could posit such an organization and such a protagonist in such a world. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Ballet - Balm for the Battered Brain

The picture is the original cast in costume for Sleeping Beauty, the ballet with music by Tchaikowsky and choreography by Marius Petipa.  Yesterday's simulcast performance from the Bolshoi Ballet claimed it as a Bolshoi speciality but it was first performed by the Marinsky Ballet.  Never mind.  The costumes were equally ornate although the women dancers all wore very short tutus; the many mostly stationary members of the count were ornately dressed similarly to  these. That's all icing on the cake.

I'm very, very happy we are able to see these simulcasts. The dancing of the company is absolutely magnificent. I have seen four of their simulcasts and am stunned each time by the brilliant dancing, especially the danseurs. I saw Sleeping Beauty at the New York City Ballet and loved it. New York's dancers are (arguably, I suppose) the best in the United States. They are wonderful. But these dancers take my breath away. It's a long ballet, made up mostly of set pieces to show off individuals and couples, the story is very scant. But we all know the story and cannot help feeling the power of the curse of the bad fairy, the young princess's long sleep and her awakening. Tchaikowsky is never better than in his ballet music. I become bored listening to his symphonies, but when his music accompanies the dancing, pageantry, sets and lights on a stage, it becomes the perfect additional sensory completion. I look forward to seeing Swan Lake next month.

I begin with the background because I did not like the ornate set, and especially did not like the design on the floor. The NYC production was much simpler.  The busy design distracted from all the important dancing, especially as the video was all done from above looking down. 

However, the afternoon was, as my title says, balm for the battered brain.  This inauguration week has been an emotionally trying time. My heart is with all the women marchers. Of course I did not watch the mockery of an inauguration.  How wonderful to be in a fairy tale presented so beautifully!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Tomorrow is Here Today

This picture is only metaphorically related to the scene that's on my mind.  I realize I've lived through a lot of dawns but now I'm inthe middle of an amazing dawn of technology that I would never have imagined even five years ago.

Yesterday a group of women were sitting in my living room talking about books we've read. Two people had read the same book and agreed it was excellent. Others wanted to know who wrote it. The speakers couldn't remember.  One person pulled a smart phone from her purse and began typing. At almost the same time another woman pulled out her smart phone, pushed an icon and asked in a slow, clear voice, "Siri, who wrote....?" She got no answer immediately, possibly because other people were talking at the same time. So she asked again, in the same tone of voice, addressing "Siri." Then she read from the little screen, "Anthony Doerr."

I don't have a smart phone and don't feel a need for all that computing power and various sorts of information at my finger tips. I have a 'Siri" function now on my computer that I have used once, with success and a second time with no success. I have no understanding of the technology of any computer search. I have accepted that a complex of connections exist somewhere -- in my primitive imagination I see something like a room full of encyclopedia although I know there's no such thing. But my imagination is that of a mid-20th century person.  These wonders of the early 21st century are beyond my ability to comprehend.  How one can speak a question to a handheld little instrument which I realize is equipped to "hear" voices, nevertheless become a digital impulse to search for answers to questions like who wrote a certain book?

That was a "today" event here in my living room. The woman's phone was not attached to anything visible. Somewhere in the atmosphere were impulses that connected to her little phone. I am astonished. In an even simpler way, I think quite often, when I hold my car key in my hand as I approach the car, I push an icon on the key's top of an open padlock.  What kind of impulse goes through my hand to something in the car so that the lights flash and I usually hear the click of the car door unlocking. Long ago -- way back in that bygone 20th century-- I would think about the little radio that I took to bed with me so that, under the covers, I could listen to Frank Sinatra very softy crooning into my ear. The radio had a cord that was plugged into an electric outlet, that connection to the larger world was obvious. But beyond that HOW did that sound come to me?  Someone knew, someone understood those things.  And today someone, I think, understands how "Siri" can understand a question and provide an answer.  Meanwhile, I am astounded... This feels like the dawn of an age I could never, never, never have imagined back when I was listening to Sinatra and Siri was not even a flicker in anybody's imagination.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

And so it begins ....

This snow-capped mail box and rail was taken early this morning after yesterday afternoon and the overnight blizzard, as it was called by newscasters.  Maybe 10 inches of very fluffy and light white stuff.  The photographer was a fellow poet and email friend from Falmouth which is at the  western end of Cape Cod, Jack De  Benedetto.  We exchange poems and political commiserations, often with a third like-minded friends included in the messages. 

Yesterday was all gray, blowing snow. Rachel andI chose the option of going to a later showing (via video) of the simulcast of Verdi's opera, Nabucco, simulcast from the Met yesterday. Today proved to be brightly sunny.  Much of the snow piled on my car melted and I didn't go out to brush if off until afternoon. As usual with the newspaper delivery when there's snow I did not receive my NYTimes and sloshed over to the convenience store and bought one.  I cannot understand why the paper delivery person didn't get it all day long when the roads and weather were just fine.

The video of Nabucso is an example of the thoughtfulness and general good sense that I find living here on Cape Cod. The small art theatre that shows the simulcasts, sells tickets on line for these events as well as at the door. Hearing the dire forecasts for yesterday afternoon they made the decision to schedule the video, knowing that a large portion of their audience for these showing is older people who do no like to drive in bad weather. They sent an email to everyone who had purchased tickets online offering the opportunity to change dates.  This does not happen in cities. I was looking forward to seeing the opera but was happy not to have to brave the weather. Time and again, I find my heart warmed by the society of the place I've chosen to live.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Day, 2017

"Dawn comes up like thunder ..." wrote Kipling.
Most mornings dawn comes up as I eat breakfast,
breakfasts are much the same
the dawns are different every day.
Today's dawn valiantly took possesion
of the cloudy sky. I do not believe in omens.
An hour later as I write the clouds sit
on a dove breast soft gray at the horizon
while the sun is climbing over the dove's
back and into a clear blue sky.
But I do not believe in omens.
I will not see this as a promise,
I fear for what the year will bring,
not to me personally, I am OK in many ways,
but for our country, for the wreckage
of the good that has begun,
the tearing down of individual rights
the danger to our environment
and the tormoil likely to increase
in among nations under a leader the majority
did not vote for, a leader so unstable
so ignorant and arrogant I fear nothing good
can come when he takes office.  Thunder!
His thundering voice brings lightening, hail,
limb tearing wind, torrential rains.
I do not believe in omens,
but I believe in metaphors. Thunder ...
the voice that would shout down an opponent
that would spew hatred and fear
the ugly smugness on the face in yesterday's news.