Friday, March 31, 2006
Do you suppose the guy playing Pilate stood up during the trial and succumbed to the temptation to yell out, "I shall welease -- Wodewick!"
While filming the flogging of Jesus, did any of the guys playing Roman soldiers go to raise their flails and inadvertently lose their grip and let them fly away behind them?
Did James Caviezel, playing Jesus, ever have to stop and yell, "LINE!"
Did the three guys on the crosses spontaneously break into "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life"?
As George Carlin once said, "These are the kinds of thoughts that kept me out of the really good schools."
:: Monty Python's Flying Circus. The funniest damn show ever. I mean, this is the funniest damn show ever. I mean, this show was so funny that I'm seriously considering using the hated "blink" tag in writing the words, "the funniest damn show EVER". That's how funny this show was.
:: Frasier. Ask me this same question tomorrow and I'll likely name Cheers, but Frasier was brilliant as well, and even in its inevitable slide in quality in its last several years it was still better than most of the crap on TV. The creators took the Frasier Crane character from Cheers, made some logical progressions as to what he'd be doing after that show ended, and surrounded him with characters who were, for me, as memorable as Norm and Cliff and Woody. Maybe not quite so memorable as Carla, but hey, who is?
:: Star Trek: The Original Series. The first two seasons of Trek were brilliant. The third, not so much. I'll still take the original over The Next Generation, which, despite many brilliant episodes, often felt just a bit "safe" to me. (Of course, I could invoke one of my famous "cheats" for list-memes like this and take TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise all as parts of one giant series that ran for over thirty-five years! In fact, yes, that's what I'm gonna do. It's my blog and I can do whatever I want!)
:: Once and Again. I've waxed poetic about this show before. In terms of human relationships, this might be the most insightful television show I've ever seen, and I consider it one of the hallmarks of TV as an artistic medium.
:: Great Performances. How cool would it be to have every single performance of opera, classical music, theater, or whatever else that's ever appeared on this PBS standby on DVD?
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
"Christian, I just don't think you're into this relationship."
The words hung there in the air as Christian Andrews spooned sugar into his coffee. I'm being dumped, he thought. At least I can come up with a witty remark.
"Uh...what?" Yeah, that's it.
"You haven't been happy. You think that I'm stifling you. You spend time with me in the room, but not with me." She looked down at her Italian soda. The bubbles seemed to be popping in slow motion. "And I know you think it's partly my fault that your work isn't going well these days."
"Ange, that's ridiculous."
"Really? Do you think I don't notice the looks you give me when your paintings aren't turning out the way you envisioned? Do you think I don't realize that your work used to be so good, and now you hate everything you do? I'm sorry, Christian. I wanted to be with you. But the truth is, you don't want to be with me." She drained her soda. "I'll get my stuff tomorrow while you're setting up for the show. I'll leave a check for half the rent, and the key." She got up and kissed him on the forehead. "Find your heart, Christian. You can't give it if you don't have it to begin with."
Then she was gone. Christian just sat there. He knew that guys who have just been dumped out of the blue always have the same expression on their faces that he had just then. He knew it, and he didn't give a shit.
He woke up the next morning on his couch, his hand still clutching a paint brush. His palette had ended up face down on his pants, the paint dripping down onto the floor. Luckily he kept plastic wrap on the floor and didn't care about that pair of pants. He glanced at the canvas and saw a hideous montage of red, yellow, and green streaks. Wow, I'm glad I don't remember painting that.
It was then that Christian realized how much his head hurt and how dry his mouth was, and how lousy he felt in general. Pain shot through his stiff joints and his angry muscles as he pushed himself to his feet. As he turned he kicked the empty bottle of rum, which had been full when he'd started painting. Well, that explained things, especially since he rarely drank.
Christian was staggering toward the bathroom when the phone rang. He normally loved that phone, with its pseudo-antique look and its real brass bells and none of that wireless shit; but its ringing sounded just now like giant church bells up close. Moving as fast as he could -- which was pathetically slow -- he crossed the apartment to answer it, each ring creating all new waves of pain.
"Hello?" His voice was a raspy mumble.
"Christian, where the hell are you? Are you trying to kill me?" Davis Flannigan, owner of The Fourth Muse Art Gallery, was frantic. Christian had a show there scheduled for that night. Oh, shit. He frantically looked at the clock. Oh, shit. It was after noon already. He gurgled a response, but Davis wasn't even listening. "Do you have any idea how hard it is for me to run a show without the artist? Are you trying to kill me? You watch the way I eat and you think that you'll drive me to a heart attack or something?" He went on like that for a few minutes, allowing Christian to grab some clothes from his closet and pull them on. Hangover means earth tones. "You'd better be here in twenty minutes, Christian, or so help me--"
"Davis, Angela dumped me last night."
Two seconds of merciful silence. "Sorry, Christian. She was pretty, nice, and rich. Twenty minutes or I go nuts with a squirt gun full of bleach and turpentine."
"I'm not sure you'd want to mix those."
"Try me!" Click. Christian hung up and headed for the bathroom to see to his hair and breath.
He got there in eighteen minutes and walked in to find Davis steering a wealthy patron around. A very wealthy patron.
"Christian!" Davis beamed, the anger of the phone call nowhere in evidence. "Meet Mrs. Charlotte Morgan."
Christian swallowed. Mrs. Charlotte Morgan was the wife of Michael Morgan, the city's wealthiest citizen and foremost patron of the arts. She could make or break any artist's career with a few carefully chosen words whispered in carefully chosen ears. Christian was meeting her unprepared, without showering and nursing a hangover. Angela couldn't have waited one damn night.
"I was just showing Mrs. Morgan your latest efforts," Davis said. Christian winced. He knew what his work had been like lately. This was going to be a long day. Mrs. Morgan had bought one of Christian's earlier works, but today she pronounced his current output as "barely adequate to hang in the concourse of the new bus terminal". Of course, she made this pronouncement when the city's other three richest collectors were in earshot. Davis tried to contain the damage by steering her toward some other artist's work while Christian decompressed. After the show ended, he gathered his paintings and left. None had sold, and Christian shuddered to think about what would be said about him tomorrow in the art community. The worst part, of course, was that Mrs. Morgan was exactly right: his work lately was amateurish, with none of the spark that had made him an artist to watch just a year before. He prayed that his current malaise was merely a passing phase, but deep in his heart he was petrified that it was not. He realized that without Angela to pay half the rent and most of the expenses, and with his work regressing, he might very well have to return to gainful employment.
There was something strange about the apartment when he returned there, and it actually took him a minute to realize that it was the disappearance of Angela's belongings. Her rent check and key were on the desk by the window. Christian looked at the check. It was twice her usual share; he could live there a whole month on that. He put a canvas on the easel and began a new painting. Wherever his touch had gone, he would have to find it again quickly.
He didn't find it that day. Everything Christian painted looked horrible; his abstracts were banal, his landscapes two-dimensional and dull, and he didn't even dare attempt any type of portrait. To make matters worse, his mind kept returning to Angela. Damn her! What does she know, anyway? She was the one who broke it off, what does she know about commitment? Damn her anyway! There must be another man, someone else who's more sane than this artist-freak. It's probably some financial whiz who wears blue suits and votes Republican. Damn her, damn it all, DAMN THIS PAINTING!!!
He hurled paint at the canvas, but the splotting sounds brought little if any satisfaction. He threw bigger and bigger gobs of paint, then he threw the brush itself, and his palette, and finally he lashed out with his foot, kicking the easel over with a loud crash. The canvas fell off the mounting and slid onto the floor, and the wet paint began to run in slow streaks of green and yellow and red.
Christian surveyed the scene, and the post-tantrum feeling of stupidity set in almost immediately. He had made a sizable mess and maybe even broken his easel, which he could not afford to replace at this moment. Finally cursing himself instead of Angela and the world he headed for the bathroom to wash his hands and get some towels. He stopped when he entered the bathroom. There was a book that he had never seen before on the back of the toilet.
It was a library book: The Fall of Rome, by Ian Edmonds. It must have been Angela's; she was always reading stuff like that. He felt another spasm of anger as he realized that he was now stuck with returning this book to the Owen County Public Library; either that or taking it to Angela, whom he certainly had no wish to see just then. He opened the book and flipped through its pages. As he did so something fell to the floor: a small, square envelope made of thick cream-colored paper.
Finding things in library books was hardly unusual, even for someone who read so sporadically as Christian did. He found all kinds of pieces of paper stuck in library books: grocery lists, research note cards, bookmarks, those little slips of paper the library provided for the jotting down of call numbers. But he had never found a sealed envelope, much less a nice one like this. He gave in to curiosity and opened the envelope. Inside was a folded piece of paper: thick, quality paper, matching the paper of the envelope. Unfolding it, he saw that it was a letter, written in a feminine cursive hand using purple ink.
To Whomever finds this letter,
I placed this letter here in hope that it might be found by a caring soul, a person whose heart is warm and not worn down by life. I know that it may not be found for many years, or perhaps it will be found next week. I am writing this on the last day of my life in the hope that perhaps in finding it you, Dear Reader, will join me on a journey that may end well for both of us.
I know that this sounds very strange, but I hope that you will allow me this indulgence. It is, after all, the only thing I have left to offer: guidance for a soul who may need it. So, Dear Reader, I ask you to do this: find the phonograph recording, belonging to the Owen County Public Library, of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, played by Andrew Dorian and the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Marx. Find this recording and listen to it.
Christian read and reread the letter. The reference to "the last day of my life" gave him pause. Was this some kind of suicide note? Had this Elizabeth Hannon written it, put it in some library book, and then killed herself? What on earth was this all about? And why would she direct someone to an old record album?
Then he thought of Angela. She had checked the book out, after all; maybe she knew about this. He was pondering that when the phone rang. It was Davis, calling to inform Christian that he had arranged a show with a friend of his who owned a gallery in Gordonville, a community about an hour away from New Mowbray. Christian's name was still well-known enough that surely his works would sell there, where tastes were less discriminating (though Davis didn't come out and say this). Could he be there Friday morning, say ten o'clock, to help set up? Christian said yes, hung up, and went back to pondering the strange letter. The phone rang again. He answered it with an annoyed "Hello", which didn't help matters when it turned out to be Angela.
"Nice to talk to you, too," she said.
"Sorry," he said. "I'm not having a great week."
"How much of that is me?"
"Some. And the show didn't go well. My paintings are crap."
"I'm sure it wasn't that bad."
"You weren't there."
"No, I wasn't," she said, her voice colder. "No mystery why, I suppose." He winced; had he really needed to say that? "Look, Christian, I got my stuff out as promised, but I left a library book there. Could you return it for me? I finished it a few days ago. I think I left it in the bathroom."
"You never read in the bathroom."
"I put it down when I was boxing up my toiletries," she said, definitely sounding irritated now. "I forgot it. Can you return it?"
He looked at the letter that he was still holding. "Ange, did you find anything in that book?"
"Did I find anything? Christian, what are you talking about? It's just a library book, do we have to--"
"I'll return it, Angela," he said, cutting her off. "Anything else?" After a frosty No he said goodbye and hung up.
She had read the book, but she hadn't found the letter? He shook his head and went to clean up his mess.
The Owen County Public Library was a large three-story stone building that had been erected in the 1800s with money from an oil magnate, or railroad owner. There had been some impetus to build a new, modern library, but no one wanted to see the grand old building sold or razed, so it still housed the Library despite increasingly cramped quarters. Christian returned the book to the Library the next morning and then he went downstairs to the A-V room. They still had phonograph records and record players, though he wondered how often they were ever used. He requested the record Elizabeth Hannon had specified, and the librarian didn't bat an eye as he went to fetch it. A few minutes later he sat down at a listening station, put the headphones on, and listened to the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto.
Christian knew next to nothing about classical music, generally preferring jazz, rock and techno. He wasn't sure at all what he was supposed to be listening for. It was a nice enough piece of music, he supposed, but why?. He had half-wondered if there would be some kind of subliminal message, a "Paul is dead" kind of thing, but he discerned nothing of the sort.
He turned the record sleeve over and read the liner notes, which had the standard life of Rachmaninov, a few words about the work's composition, and bios of the performers. There was nothing interesting in the paragraph about Leopold Marx, so he turned his eye to the paragraph about Andrew Dorian. Dorian had grown up in New York City, studied under Rubinstein, performed with all the finest orchestras, and married a fellow pianist named Elizabeth Hannon.
Christian stared at the name. What was this? He checked the record's copyright date: 1955. Had the letter been that old? Surely the paper would have yellowed, or taken on the smell of the old book? For no reason he looked in the record sleeve again -- and now he found a slip of paper there. It hadn't been there before, had it? He reached into the sleeve and pulled it out. It was actually an index card. On one side was written, in the same hand as the letter, "Owen CountyRegister, October 19, 1957". Taped to the card, under those words, was a tiny brass key. And on the reverse of the card was written, "Listen to it again." The word listen was underlined twice. He put the earphones back on and listened again to the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto.
Something was different this time. The music was the same, down to the pops of the phonograph needle traveling the grooves, but now Christian heard it, he really heard it. The ominous chords that opened the work led into a melody of melancholy drive. The piano moved in and out of a shimmering orchestral tapestry. Now he was hearing "color", if that word could describe it -- it was the only word he had. The gentle beauty of the second movement moved him, the third thrilled him, and his visual imagination was filled with shifting abstract images. He wasn't merely listening to music; he was perceiving art. When the last chord of the third movement faded away he sat for a few minutes longer, contemplating the themes that still wove through his mind. Then he returned the record to the librarian, and headed upstairs to the Archives.
Christian walked up the three flights of marble stairs to the top floor where the Archives were. He went in and filled out his request slip. Then he handed it to the Archivist, a gray-haired old lady.
"Let me see now," she said. "The Register, October 19, 1957." She pursed her lips and looked up at Christian. He could see a question in her eyes, but she only gave an embarrassed smile before she went off to fetch the papers.
She was gone for two or three minutes, during which Christian stood listening to the buzz of the lights and breathing in the smell of old newsprint and dust. What was so personal to that librarian? She finally came back and handed Christian a roll of microfilm. The question was still in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," Christian said, "but does that date mean something special to you?"
She sighed. "Yes, I'm afraid it does. You see, I was working here.I had just started when...well, I found her."
"You found her." Christian had no idea what she was talking about.
She nodded. "Yes. You can read all about it; the microfilm readers are over there." She pointed, and Christian walked over and took a seat behind one of them. A moment later he was scanning through the headlines of October 1957. It was all pretty prosaic: news on what President Eisenhower had done, reviews of movies long since relegated to late-night, gossip in the society pages. And then, there it was, front and center, the banner headline of October nineteenth.
PIANIST FOUND DEAD IN LIBRARY; POLICE SUSPECT HUSBAND
The headline hit Christian between the eyes. He stared at the huge black letters in disbelief, and then he read the story.
On the morning of October 19, 1957 the staff of the Owen County Public Library arrived to open for the day. The youngest librarian on the staff, Miss Alice Thaxton, went upstairs to open the rooms on the top floor, and that was where she found the body of Elizabeth Hannon lying atop the Library's Steinway grand piano. Her neck bore the ligature marks of a pair of strong hands, leading the police to conclude that she had been strangled. Her husband, pianist Andrew Dorian, had appeared the night before with the New Mowbray Symphony.
That gala performance had been the talk of the town since being announced weeks before. Andrew Dorian had been a rising star in the musical world, but he had gone into seclusion for the year leading up to his return engagement in New Mowbray. That an artist of Dorian's caliber would play in New Mowbray was amazing enough, but that he would choose this city instead of Chicago or New York for his return was astounding. And his stunning wife, who was a pianist of nearly equal repute, would be with him. It was to have been the crowning moment in New Mowbray's patronage of the arts.
Andrew Dorian disappeared, though, almost immediately after his performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1 in B-flat minor. No one had seen him since he left the stage, refusing to return for an encore. Elizabeth, too, had vanished after leaving the VIP Box at the Gunderson Opera Hall, not to be seen again until she was found the next morning by Miss Alice Thaxton.
Eyewitness accounts of a green-eyed man being seen with the couple led nowhere, and Andrew Dorian became the prime suspect. It was unknown how Dorian had entered the library or where he had gone afterward. A manhunt began, with Andrew Dorian as the quarry. As of Halloween 1957, he had not been found. Christian spooled the microfilm back up and returned it to the Archivist.
"You're Miss Thaxton, I presume?" he asked.
She nodded. "Mrs. Bond now, actually."
"I suppose I should look at the November papers."
She shook her head. "Don't bother; I've read them all more times than I care to remember. On November 4, a father and son went fishing on Lake Michigan and found Andrew Dorian's body floating near a buoy. His fingers matched closely enough the marks on Elizabeth's neck, and the police assumed that a pianist would definitely be strong enough to strangle someone. It was ruled a murder-suicide.
"You sound skeptical."
"I don't know. I always thought that they might have made more effort to find that green-eyed man, but the police were satisfied with the evidence they had."
"Did you see the green-eyed man?"
Mrs. Bond nodded. "I did. I was at the concert, you know. It was my first date with Charles Bond, who is now my husband. His family is very rich, and they owned the box next to the VIP box where Elizabeth sat. I couldn't help but look at her and that stunning white gown of hers. Audrey Hepburn would have been proud. But then I saw him, standing in the shadows. He had dark hair, and a beard, and very bright green eyes which never left the back of Elizabeth's head."
"No one knows who he was."
"No one knows," she said. "Elizabeth and Andrew were buried together in Oromotoc, Elizabeth's hometown. Both deaths were mourned in classical music circles. The title of Great American Pianist passed to Van Cliburn. And Elizabeth was the dutiful wife who was slain in passion. Puccini might have written an opera about it."
"Look it up. You're in the right place for it." She smiled and turned to greet two patrons who had just entered. Christian left the library, thinking about the story of two dead pianists and a mysterious brass key.
Christian returned home to find two messages from Davis Flannigan. The show in Gordonville had gone fairly well; two of his four paintings in the show had sold. Of course, they had gone for less than what Christian was accustomed to, but it was enough that he would be able to live in the apartment for another month or two. Davis' second message was, of course, to see if Christian had received the first.
It was a fairly warm autumn day, and he decided to take his mind off things for a while by going to McKinley Park and do some sketching. Perhaps he could even cultivate some ideas for future paintings. He grabbed his sketchbook and pencils and headed for the park. There he took up residence on his favorite bench, beside the pond, and looked for something or someone to draw. There were people rollerblading, children feeding ducks in the pond, old men playing chess and smoking cigars. There were other artists sketching in their own books; Christian knew a few of them and nodded hello to those who saw him. Then he selected his subject and began to draw.
It was an old lady wearing an overcoat of tweed. Her white hair fell about her shoulders from under a purple beret. She cradled a long slender case of red wood in her arm. Christian watched as she produced a handful of seed from her pocket which she scattered on the ground for the fat pigeons. Then she opened the case and began putting something together. Her back was to Christian, so he couldn't see what it was at first, but then she turned back to him and he saw that it was a flute. She lifted it to her lips and began to play.
A single instrument by itself had never sounded to him so beautiful. She played with a lightness that made the unbroken line of melody as pure as anything Christian had ever imagined. In his own art he strove for purity, which he described as perfect clarity: painting that so captured the essence of the subject -- even if abstract -- that the viewer lost all awareness of the brushstrokes. He aspired to that ideal but rarely achieved, if indeed he ever had. Now here was this old woman in the park, as the leaves were turning and he was the only one noticing, and she was attaining that same ideal. As she played on and on his pencil danced across the page.
At first he kept referring to her, looking up every couple of pencil strokes. His inner eye, though, took over gradually and he no longer looked up at all. She finished playing as he finished the drawing, and as he touched up the shading in one spot she rose from her bench and walked past. She smiled at Christian and then she ambled off, disappearing around a bend in the curving walk that wound through the park. Christian looked again at the drawing. It was only a simple black-and-white sketch done in pencil, but it was the most satisfying thing he had produced in a long time.
"Hey, nice work, Christian!" someone said behind him. Christian turned and found a friend of his looking over his shoulder, a man named Paul who had a great deal of talent but refused to commit to his art. It drove Christian mad.
"Thanks," Christian said. "I think I've got the shading right. I'm usually not very good at that."
"You've been doing too many abstracts lately, that's why. You should do this more often."
"So should you," Christian jibed. "You off today?"
Paul shrugged. "I have to do some work later." He was a consultant of some sort. "I've been over there for a couple of hours." He pointed to another bench that was secluded under some trees. Christian hadn't seen him there. Paul leaned over and took a closer look at the drawing. "That's some fine work. And from memory, even."
"What are you talking about?"
"You did it from memory, right? No subject."
"I had a subject. She was sitting right there, on that bench. She played the flute."
Paul's eyes narrowed, and he shook his head. "I've been here for two hours, Christian. I didn't see anyone who looked like that. And I didn't hear any flute. What's with the modesty?"
Paul hadn't seen her. What could that mean? There were several alternatives, and Christian didn't care for any of them. He didn't want to argue the point with Paul, either. He shrugged. "Uh...I mean, I saw her earlier today."
"Oh, I get it," Paul said. "Yeah, you've got a pretty good eye. I'll catch you later, okay?" He grinned and headed off on his way, leaving Christian alone to ponder the drawing he had apparently made of nobody.
When the Owen County Public Library opened the next morning, Christian was there to research the life and times of Elizabeth Hannon and Andrew Dorian. It was the only starting place he could think of to find out what the key was for. He knew that he should probably be painting, but somehow this seemed more important.
Elizabeth had grown up in Oromotoc, a town about a hundred miles away on the northeastern shores of Lake Michigan. She was born in 1928 and was a musical prodigy, playing Beethoven's sonatas by the time she was six. She spent the Depression giving recitals all over Michigan, and when she was sixteen she went to Chicago to play with the Philharmonic, the poor-sibling orchestra to the mighty Chicago Symphony. While attending a Symphony concert she met the other young piano genius of the day, Andrew Dorian. The two were kindred spirits, and she was in love with him before the end of the second movement of the Brahms Piano Concerto #2. He, likewise, was smitten during her delicate performance of the Chopin nocturnes. The two were married in 1951, and their union was blissful, a real-life fairy tale.
But no fairy tale is without darkness. Andrew's interviews depicted a man of deep dissatisfaction. He viewed performing as a lesser art, devoted only to mere reproduction of other people's art. He wanted desperately to compose, and in 1955 he announced his retirement from the stage so that he could write his Symphony #1. The musical world bemoaned the loss, however temporary, of one of its brightest stars, but Elizabeth continued to perform while Andrew composed. Thus the musical world went on.
On October 18, 1956 the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered the Symphony #1 in d-minor by Andrew Dorian. It was, however, a fleeting triumph; the premiere was a disaster. One critic wrote: "This Symphony is an exercise in banality." Another had this to say: "Richard Strauss, at his most self-important, could not have written so pompous a work." And from another: "Perhaps Mr. Dorian should take his compositional wares to Hollywood, where they might be put to better use then being displayed in all their shortcomings on the stage of Orchestra Hall." But worst of all -- by far -- was that the audience had laughed at his work. Andrew was devastated, and he withdrew after that concert into near total seclusion. Elizabeth continued to perform, but only in the Midwest, never more than a few hours' travel by train from the side of her husband. She granted few interviews, and in those she would answer no questions about her husband.
But then there was an announcement on September 12, 1957: Andrew Dorian would at last perform again, playing the Tchaikovsky #1 with the New Mowbray Philharmonic. For one night, October 18, the eyes of the musical world were on New Mowbray as Andrew Dorian returned to the stage, his wife watching from an opera box. The performance was electric, and no person in that audience would ever forget it. After the Concerto, Andrew Dorian left the stage and refused all curtain calls and gave no encores. Elizabeth left her opera box at the same time. No one saw them leave the Opera Hall, and no one saw them again alive.
In the course of all the reading he did, Christian learned that Elizabeth Hannon's father had been a Catholic priest who had left the Church, and that Elizabeth had also played the flute at a high level. And her only living relative today was a niece who still lived in the Hannon family home in Oromotoc. Maybe that was where he would find an answer to the key.
Christian spent the entire day at the Library, except for two jaunts to the hot dog vendor across the street for lunch and dinner. When the Library was closing for the night, he closed all of his books, put them on the carts to be reshelved, and headed for the stairs to the first floor and the exit. He rounded the banister to go downstairs, and then he stopped cold. A woman stood in the doorway to the history room. It was the old woman from the park, whose features Christian now realized bore an amazing similarity to those of Elizabeth Hannon. She beckoned for him to come to her, and his entire body went to ice. He shut his eyes and opened them again, and now she was no longer there. Great. Now I'm seeing things. Even as he thought it, it was less than convincing. No, she had been there, and she had gestured to him. She had beckoned him into the History Room….
Elizabeth Hannon's favorite grade school subject had been history; Christian had read that somewhere. And the letter, that first letter, had been in a book on Ancient Rome. Was there something that she wanted him to see? He took a deep breath and walked into the History Room. He half expected to see her apparition there again, but there was only a library page who was shelving books.
"Excuse me," he said, "where are the books on Ancient Rome?"
"We're closing, sir," the page replied.
"I'll only be a minute!"
"That aisle," the page said, pointing. Christian's urgency frightened her a bit.
Christian mumbled something and dashed down the aisle. He was able to find the Rome books fairly quickly; the Dewey Decimal system seemed to roughly follow chronological order and Rome was a popular subject for historians. He thumbed through the shelves and squinted at the titles on the spines. The light back here was fairly dim, and it was slower going than he expected -- especially with the shelves so tall and packed full. He finally found where the Rome books began, and one by one he started pulling them off the shelves and rifling through the pages. He tried to choose books that looked old enough to have been in the library in 1957, but it wasn't always obvious which these were. Christian, you've gone off the deep end, he thought.
"Sir?" That damned page again. "I have to ask you to leave now."
"Just a minute," Christian muttered. He was as annoyed at the page for interrupting him as he was at himself for engaging in such nonsense in the first place. Go home, the books will be here tomorrow! his little voice shouted. But he kept going, searching for...something.
"Excuse me, sir. You need to leave now." It was a burly security guard speaking now; he stood at the end of the aisle and glared at Christian. "I can have you barred from this library for life, son."
Christian noted the guard's angry stare and decided not to fight. When did library guards start carrying sidearms? He glanced at the shelf to memorize his place, where he would begin tomorrow -- and a shiver went through him as he saw a book that shouldn't have been there. The Sonatas of Beethoven. Christian snatched the book down and opened it. An envelope fell to the floor, the same thick square envelope that he had found before. His eyes widened as he picked it up.
"I'm leaving," Christian said as he pushed his way past the guard. On his way out he handed the book to the page and said, "This was in the wrong place."
I wish I knew what kind of person you are. I hope that you are a person with curiosity, a person with dreams and a willingness to follow trails without knowing where they may lead. I hope that you will follow this trail a bit farther.
Do you have the key? Then go to Oromotoc. Sometimes we need help to complete our journeys.
Christian sniffed the letter. The paper smelled new, and he could even smell the ink. This letter had not taken on that "old book" aroma, as the first one had. This one could have been written the day before. And could a book really remain mis-shelved, in the same spot, for more than forty years? Even in a library the size of the Owen County Public Library? Christian knew nothing about library procedures, but that seemed implausible. He was mulling it all over when the phone rang.
"Christian?" It was Angela. He had partly expected Elizabeth Hannon….
"Hi. I'm sorry to bother you. I can't find my slippers anywhere, did I leave them there?"
"Oh. They must be here, then." There was an awkward pause then, during which Christian prayed for a merciful end to this conversation.
"How are you, Christian?"
"Well, I ran into Davis Flannigan yesterday, and he's worried about you."
"Davis is worried about everything."
"This is different. He's really worried. He thinks you're giving up, that you're going to do something Van Gogh might have done."
Christian sighed. "I'm not suicidal, Ange. And I have both ears. Davis doesn't need to worry."
She sighed too. "He says that there's desperation in your work these days. I think he might be right. I'm no expert, but--"
"Wait a minute. You saw my paintings?"
"You went to the gallery, didn't you."
Pause. "Yes. Davis let me see your work; he has them out back."
Christian was flabbergasted. Angela only went to the gallery on the first nights of his shows. She wasn't much for visual art.
"Why did you go there?"
"It's a free country, Christian."
"I'm not saying you can't go there, I'm just -- well, why did you go there?"
He heard her exhale. "I wanted to see your work. I missed the paintings." Christian had no idea what to say to that. "Look, Christian, I have to go. I'll tell Davis you're fine, you're in a slump, everybody has them. Take care of yourself."
"Bye, Ange," he said and hung up. He looked over at his easel, with a blank canvas sitting on it. Angela missed his paintings.
I miss them too.
The drive to Oromotoc took a bit more than two hours. The road followed the lakeshore, winding past vineyards and woods and through one-stoplight towns. The landscape was beautiful, and Christian wondered why he had never come this way before. He had vacationed in Miami, San Francisco and New York; he had been to Chicago many times and he had even once been to Paris, but he had never simply driven north along the lakeshore. The wide expanse of water stretched off to his left, and he felt like he was driving along the side of the sea. I wonder if Cape Cod is like this? Angela had always wanted to go to Cape Cod.
He arrived in Oromotoc shortly before noon. It was a beautiful town, with white buildings and wide, tree-lined streets. In the center of town was a traditional square complete with a Civil War monument. Christian parked his car and walked around, looking for the local library. He found it fairly quickly: a stately old brick building with two stories.
The library was crammed almost completely full of books, so much so that there seemed to be no way possible for new acquisitions to be put anywhere. Behind a desk covered with an amazing amount of clutter sat the librarian, a long-haired man in sandals. He was deftly repairing the binding of a book with needle and thread, when he looked up.
"Yes?" the librarian said.
"I'm looking for information on Elizabeth Hannon. You know, the pianist?"
"Are you looking to take lessons?" the man deadpanned. Christian pursed his lips, and the librarian grinned. "Sorry, I guess that was funnier in concept. Actually, we don't have a whole lot about her -- some books, and a few newspaper articles. But I can get it all for you, if you want."
"I'd appreciate it," Christian said. Minutes later he was exploring the library's materials on Elizabeth Hannon and Andrew Dorian. The librarian had been right; there wasn't much new here that he didn't already know. He read about Elizabeth's collection of antique music boxes, and the cottage on the lake where Elizabeth and Andrew had spent their summers. That cottage had passed to Elizabeth's sister Grace after her death, and Grace had sold it in 1978. Grace had died of cancer in 1984, and now her daughter Carole lived in the Hannon family home with her husband and two children, here in Oromotoc. Christian jotted down the address.
It was early afternoon when he finished his research at the library. After lunch at the local greasy-spoon, Christian decided to visit the Hannon family home, where Carole Hannon-Masters now lived. He felt increasingly uneasy as he walked down White Oak Drive, a wide street lined with massive elm trees and not a white oak in sight. As he walked he tried to think of what he could say that would make Mrs. Hannon-Masters not think he was just some crackpot hobbyist. And then he was there, 417 White Oak Drive.
Christian sighed. It was exactly the type of place that Angela had always said she wanted: a three story brick house with a circular cupola that sat on a big grassy lot, probably one acre total. The lot was bound by tall hedges, and a tire swing hung from the giant red oak tree out front. A red brick driveway led to a red brick garage. The grounds were dotted with fallen leaves, and a minivan was parked outside the garage. Take away the minivan and the scene could have been a Norman Rockwell painting. Christian drew a deep breath, walked up to the front door, and rang the bell. He heard a set of pounding feet inside, and the door was thrown wide open to reveal a teenage girl who grinned at first, but then rolled her eyes when she saw that the visitor was not whoever she had been expecting.
"Hello," Christian said. "Is your mother--"
"MOM!" The girl bellowed as she turned away from the door and disappeared into the house. Christian stood there feeling pretty stupid until Carole Hannon-Masters came to the door. Christian stared at her. Her slight build, chestnut hair that fell gently about her shoulders, hazel eyes -- he had seen those features before. She smiled.
"I look just like her, don't I?"
"Uh -- yes, you do, actually." He felt himself turning red as she stepped out onto the front porch and closed the door.
"Cats," she explained.
"Oh." He stuck out his hand. "Mrs. Hannon-Masters, my name is Christian Andrews."
"Andrews?" she said as she shook his hand.
"Yes. I've been researching what happened to your aunt."
She nodded. "You do have that look. Why don't you come in? We can talk in the study."
She opened the door and led him inside and down a hall past a flight of stairs. The place had wood floors, paneled walls, Oriental carpets, the whole bit. She led Christian into a room on the left. It was an open, airy room that had tall windows and two glass doors that led to the backyard. There was a fireplace, and stocked bookshelves. A desk sat in one corner with a computer set-up and a bunch of papers spread out.
"I'm a freelance writer," Carole Hannon-Masters said. "My husband is a Regional Sales Director for Paulsen-Price Pharmaceuticals."
"Sounds lucrative," Christian said. Paulsen-Price was a very wealthy company.
"We do pretty well," she admitted. "Do you like my taste in art?" She gestured to the painting that hung above the mantel, and he felt a jolt as he recognized his own work. It was one of his most striking abstracts, a study in reds and vermilions and rusts that he called "The View From Olypmus Mons". It had sold quite handsomely to….
"Patrick Masters," he said, nodding. "I always liked this one." Another connection!
"So did I, although I admit that I know very little about art. Or music, for that matter. Not everything runs in the family."
"You're a writer."
"Freelance travel articles, local history, human interest. I've got a novel that I've been working on for a couple of years, but -- I wouldn't call myself much of an artist."
"All shapes and sizes," Christian said. She gave a half-smile and gestured to one of two armchairs in front of the fireplace. He sat down, and so did she.
"I'm always surprised that Aunt Elizabeth still interests people forty-five years later. And you're not a writer or a reporter. What is your interest, if you don't mind my asking? Why Elizabeth Hannon and Andrew Dorian?"
"It started with this." He pulled the first letter from his pocket and handed it to her. After she read it he told her how he had found it, and about listening to Andrew's recording of the Rachmaninov, and finding the brass key, and finding the second letter. For now he left out the apparitions in the park and the library. This was weird enough without bringing ghosts into it. That would sound so ludicrous, so utterly absurd--
"You also saw her, didn't you?" she said. He looked up, and she nodded.
"Oh God," he said and swallowed. In for a penny....
"I've seen her too."
"You've seen her," Christian echoed. He had partly hoped to learn that he was, in fact, crazy. That it had all been a series of oddball coincidences.
"This was her home, you know. She'll appear to me there, in that corner." She pointed to the corner where the desk sat. "That's where her piano was."
"And you put your desk there?"
"I guess you could say I was hoping for some kind of communion," she said. "I don't know if I've received it. The strange thing, though, is that I see her as an old woman. Do ghosts age?"
"Until now I wouldn't have been the one to ask."Christian glanced over at the desk in the corner, expecting to see Elizabeth Hannon there. All he saw was the desk.
"You mentioned a key?" Carole asked.
"Yes, I did," Christian said. He pulled out the key and handed it to her. She turned it over in her hand. "Like I said, it was in the record sleeve."
"It looks like the key to a music box," she said.
"She collected music boxes!" Christian said. "Could it be to one of them?"
"All of her music boxes are still here in the house, and I have all the keys. Except one, that is--" A shadow passed over her. She stood and walked over to the desk, where she looked through one of the drawers. After a moment she returned and handed Christian an old magazine. It was an issue of Musical Review, dated October 1956. A photograph of Andrew Dorian graced the cover and the splash headline read "A Prodigal Son Returns". Carole flipped the magazine open to an interview with Andrew, the last one he ever gave.
"It's not a very long interview," Carole said. "Just typically polite questions, and typically polite answers. What had Uncle Andrew been doing during the year out of public view, that kind of thing. It's not a very illuminating article, except for the very last exchange." Christian flipped to that point.
Q: You and your wife, Elizabeth, recently celebrated your anniversary. Did you do anything special?
A: We had a nice dinner, and we played some duets. It was a lovely time. I gave her a music box that I had made especially for her.
Q: What does the music box play?
A: I'd rather not say. It's personal to her and to me.
Christian looked up at Carole. "You think that this is the key to that music box? The one he gave her right before they died?"
"If it's a key to any of Aunt Elizabeth's music boxes, that would be the one. I have all the others."
"You don't have that one?"
Carole shook her head. "It was buried with Aunt Elizabeth."
Dusk was falling when Christian drove to Chestnut Hill Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Oromotoc. It occupied six blocks and was surrounded by tall fencing of wrought iron. The main gate was closed, so he parked on a side street and walked around the cemetery perimeter until he found a spot where the iron fence had been pushed out of line by the growth of a tree. He thanked God for his washboard stomach as he squeezed through the impromptu opening. Then he picked his way through the graves to the road that wound through the cemetery. There were streetlights -- actually small lampposts designed to look like gaslights -- so he wouldn't need his flashlight. Not yet, anyway. He wondered which way to turn, and for no particular reason he turned left.
The cemetery was hillier than he had expected. The road looped around, in and out and up and down knolls and valleys. The winding road, paired with his general disquiet, bollixed his sense of direction. He had no idea where he was relative to where he had entered the cemetery, and he felt as if he had covered more ground than was actually possible in this place. He stopped and leaned against a tree. This is absolutely insane! I can't believe I'm even considering doing this! He looked over and thought he saw where he had entered the cemetery. He could leave right now, leave the whole damned business of Elizabeth Hannon and Andrew Dorian behind him.
And then he heard the piano.
For a second he thought that it might be coming from one of the neighborhood homes, but even as the thought occurred to him he realized that it was not. Christian walked with purpose now, led by the strains of a sad melody and the mournful chords that surrounded it. Dense mist settled over the cemetery like a shroud as he came around a final bend. There before him stood the tomb of Elizabeth Hannon and Andrew Dorian. It was a large mausoleum of gray marble. Their names and a treble clef were engraved on the iron doors, which stood slightly ajar. Between them could be seen a sliver of flickering light. The piano music came from inside.
"Oh my God I can't go through with this." Christian whispered that over and over again, even as he walked forward and pulled the doors open. There was no squeak of rusty hinges, just a rush of musty air from inside the tomb. And standing before him was….no one at all. He breathed a sigh of relief, and only when he exhaled did he realize that the piano music had stopped. He stepped inside, into the flickering yellow light.
That light was cast by a guttering candle on a shelf along the back wall. There was no piano and no obvious source of the music. To either side sat the two crypts, with a walking space in between them. The lids of the crypts were covered with a layer of dust. They were marked by chiseled initials in the lids: EH on the right crypt, AD on the left. There were no other adornments save the single brass handle in the center of each lid. As Christian stepped forward his feet sent up little swirling clouds of dust, a few particles of which finally entered his nose and made him sneeze involuntarily. The sneeze echoed in the tomb as if he was standing in a cave and a large boulder had fallen nearby. He looked about wildly, certain that someone -- alive or not -- was soon to come find him and to ask what he was doing here. Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God Oh my God.... His heart felt as though it were about to explode from his chest. He waited for the silence to settle again, and eventually he became aware of his own breathing again, and he managed to restore some calm.
Reaching into his pocket, his fingers found the brass key. The music box. He had come here for the music box. He grated his teeth together and with his other hand grabbed the brass ring on Elizabeth's lid and lifted it up, swinging it back on hinges that did squeak loudly. There, below, was the coffin. Without waiting for a count of three Christian reached in and lifted the coffin lid as well, finding it unlatched. He turned his gaze away then, but not completely; he couldn't turn all the way away. His gorge rose, and he swallowed several times to keep from vomiting.
The body was there, after almost fifty years of rot. The hair was gray and brittle, the skin tight and shredding like dried leather, the eyes sunken. The bony hands were folded over the chest, and the clothes -- a very nice suit, once -- were tattered and yellowing. Those hands were clasped over something made of wood. The music box. Christian nearly vomited again when he realized that he would have to move those hands to get at it. The last words Carole Hannon-Masters had said to him before he'd left her home ran through his mind. "I won't hold anything against you, Mr. Andrews, if you follow the trail to where it seems to be taking you. You seem to be looking for something. I hope you find it." But could she forgive him this? He whispered the name of the Lord for the tenth time that night and reached forward, hating every second of this. He tried to tell himself that it would be just like touching a chicken, and he let out a reflexive giggle as he realized that he had made Angela do all the cooking. Maybe I can move the wrist by lifting the cuff of this suit.... And the nagging doubts in his mind crystallized.
The body in Elizabeth's coffin was Andrew.
Christian lurched backward and crashed into the other crypt. His flashlight clattered to the floor and he twisted his ankle slightly. Wincing in pain and revulsion and shock he whirled about and without thinking lifted the lid of Andrew's crypt. There was nothing inside at all -- save a thick manila envelope on the crypt's floor. Christian reached down, leanign forward as far as he could, and picked it up. He opened it and drew out the contents. It was a sheaf of sheet music, not professionally printed but an actual handwritten manuscript on yellowing paper. Each page was signed by Andrew Dorian, and on the first was written "Sonata in A. For Elizabeth, in love. The woman who fuels my dreams."
Elizabeth and Andrew had loved each other dearly, and here now in Christian's hand was a physical artifact of that love. Andrew had composed music for her. He had created art for her. Christian's thoughts turned to Angela. In the days when their relationship had been new and wonderful, she had asked him once to paint something for her, something that would be her very own, and he had promised that he would.
Of course, he never had.
He remembered the music box again, and now he turned back to Elizabeth's crypt, and Andrew's body. A placid calm came over him, and he easily lifted the hand aside and picked up the music box. It was larger than he had expected, and heavier; its wood was carved in musical symbols on the sides and the Greek muses on the lid. Christian set the music box on the shelf next to the candle and used the key to open it. The years had not dulled the lock at all; the box's lid lifted open smoothly and effortlessly.
The compartment inside the music box was deeper than most music boxes, and it was filled with a fine gray powder. Christian shook his head; he had a good idea what that powder was. So, they were buried together after all. He probed the underside of the music box for the knob and wound it. There was music then, a tinkly sound that plinked out a pleasant melody. But when the melody was done, it was taken up by a piano, a single piano that played that same melody with rich harmonization. Christian glanced at the sheet music again and he realized that the piano was playing Andrew's Sonata in A. He remembered enough of his grade-school music lessons to follow the music for a few moments until it became too complex for him, and then he simply let his hand fall to his side as he listened to it. It didn't bother him at all, now, that there was no piano anywhere in the tomb.
Christian sat down on the dusty floor and followed the score as best he could. That music reminded Christian of sad and happy things. It turned angry at times, and then defiant; it was by turns yearning and pleading, soft and understated. And as the mood of the music changed, so did the character of Andrew's handwriting. The penstrokes were deep and slanted during the stormy passages, as if Andrew had gouged the pen into the paper when writing them. During the tender passages the strokes became thin and delicate, the ink taking on the translucence of watercolors.
Christian turned to the last page, still following along. His eyes fell to the bottom, and he realized that Andrew had never finished this work. The music simply stopped with an uncompleted measure, and the music that sounded about him was moving steadily toward that point, where it would end without resolution. Andrew had died with this, his work of love for his wife, unfinished. The end drew nearer and nearer….and then it was there. The strains of music stopped abruptly, the melody becoming tentative and then breaking off altogether. It was like seeing a beautiful vase shatter on the floor in slow motion.
Silence filled the tomb again, and Christian wondered if he had actually heard that music, if it had played at all for him. Had he imagined it all? He slid the music back into the envelope and laid it carefully beside Andrew's body. Then he closed the music box and put it back where he had found it. It was all there, together, in one place. He lowered the coffin lid and closed the crypt, and as he did so the candle blew out at last. It didn't matter. He recovered his flashlight and left the tomb, closing the doors behind him. He drove home that night in silence, his thoughts on Elizabeth and Andrew and Angela. He didn't know what it had all been for, but he felt a growing certainty that the trail had ended.
When he got home it was very late, and he was as tired as he had ever been. But still he placed a blank canvas on the easel and began to paint.
The last letter came a week later, dropped anonymously in his mail slot.
I always wanted to hear the music that you found. Andrew said that he would play it for me when it was finished. That has finally come to pass. How to explain this all to you, so you might not feel as though you were a pawn in some game?
After the premiere of the Symphony, things were very dark for us. I hope that you are the kind of person who can understand the rejection of your work, of your very life. But even darker days came just after the premiere when we learned that Andrew had cancer, and less than a year to live.
We wouldn't give up. My father was an anthropologist, and he knew of lore that was lost to our doctors. There were ways, he wrote in his notes, of extending life if one was willing to pay the price. Andrew and I were willing. We had to have more time together. Andrew had to finish the sonata.
We put the word out, and soon a man came to visit us. He never told us his name, but he made his offer: we could have a year together, but at the end of that year he would return and exact the price, and our year would end. Andrew didn't want to do it, but I agreed. I wish I could describe the look in that man's eyes, his green eyes.
We lived that year in Thoreau's quiet desperation. Andrew struggled for hours each day to finish the Sonata, testing first this theme than that, working through developments and fugues and codas. Some days went well, others not so well. There were many mornings when I came downstairs to find the previous day's work tossed aside and Andrew asleep over his keyboard. There was so much pain in him, not all of it physical. Finally he began to break through, though, and the work began to come to him much easier. The good days at last began to outnumber the bad, and the pile of completed pages of music began to thicken. That was when Andrew's health began its final turn, and that was when the man with green eyes came back. All he said was, "One week." That was all we had. Andrew poured all of his strength into preparing for that last performance, which we had announced just a few weeks before. The score to the Sonata never left his side. He was going to finish it before the week was up. The only time he did not have the Sonata was with him was when he walked onto the stage for that last performance.
I wish I could have truly listened to that performance, but it went by as would a dream. When it was over I returned with my husband to our hotel. Our time, at last, was up. My dearest Andrew died in his bed, the pages of the Sonata scattered on the bed around him. My heart was torn asunder, but I could not mourn. The man with green eyes was there, to exact the price I had agreed to pay. He took me to the Library – why there, I never knew – and there, on the top floor, he whispered to me: "Please know that I find no pleasure in removing from the world beauty which it so desperately needs." Then he put his hands around my neck.
What role, then, for you, stranger and (I hope) friend? Why a person I can never know, never thank? Because there are powers that rise above time and death. Some of these powers are dark, but some are light. You have made certain things possible. Perhaps one day you will learn how, or perhaps this will always be the mystery of your life. I can't know any more than that. But for me, it suffices that through you, he and I are together again.
Yours in Gratitude,
Christian only read that letter once before he turned to his easel and put the finishing touches on his latest work. When he finally judged it complete, he picked up the phone and dialed.
"Angela? It's me."
"Christian? Hi. I'm in a hurry tonight, I've got a dinner meeting--"
"That's OK, Ange….I've just been painting, that's all. And I'd like you to see it. Can you drop by after your meeting?"
Insane. There is no way. It's over, Christian. Deal with it.
"I'd love to."
An anonymous collector bought "Elizabeth and Andrew" for seventy thousand dollars, utterly stunning Christian and provoking Davis Flannigan into three days of drunken revelry. The painting was even noticed by Mrs. Morgan, who pronounced that "Clearly the work of Christian Andrews has finally taken the turn that his earlier potential suggested it might." The three other works he had produced for the show all sold for respectable sums, but of course nowhere near what that anonymous collector had paid for "Elizabeth and Andrew". It was Christian's breakthrough.
Several days after the sale, Christian and Angela went for a walk in the park as the first snow of the season fell lightly from the sky.
"Look at that," she said as they passed a newspaper machine. A headline read, "Unknown Sonata by Andrew Dorian Discovered". Christian bought a copy of the paper and read the story. The Sonata in A by Andrew Dorian had been found by a researcher in a previously unknown box of papers the pianist had left behind on the estate. Dorian had dedicated it to his wife, Elizabeth, with the words "The woman who fuels my dreams". Carole Hannon-Masters was quoted: "I had no idea. I've been through these papers so many times, I can't understand how I ever missed this music." Several musicologists, having examined the score, pronounced the work "remarkable", and it would be premiered later that winter in Chicago by the great Yevgeny Moseivich.
You have made certain things possible, she had written. Christian suddenly laughed. "He finished it."
"Who finished what?" Angela asked.
"Nothing," Christian said as he folded the paper and put it under his arm. Angela cocked an eye at him.
"Are you OK? You seem nervous or something."
"I'm fine, Ange. Really." He took her hand in his. "We should get going, before the restaurant fills up."
"Let's go then, Mister Andrews. You could have made a reservation, you know."
"I know," he said. As they walked off together, Christian hummed the first melody from the Sonata in A by Andrew Dorian. He held Angela's hand in his right, and with his left he made sure the ring was still in his pocket. Two months' salary indeed, he thought.
A delivery man carried the parcel into a luxurious penthouse on West 57th Street in New York City. "Where do you want it?" he asked.
"Please unwrap it and hang it there," the anonymous collector said, pointing to a prominent empty spot on the wall.
"I just deliver them, pal."
"I'll double your gratuity."
The delivery man shrugged and did as asked. When it was done, the collector paid the delivery man and then stepped back to admire his newest painting, "Elizabeth and Andrew". As he did so the sunlight through the windows gleamed off his green eyes.
Monday, March 27, 2006
:: No one ever says in journalism school that when you agree to enter the field, you are prohibited from voting, from being a private citizen or from having your own opinion. (Agreed. The stuff we find to support our perceived "media biases" is sometimes laughable.)
:: I am concerned sometimes about the assertion from some members of the far right, that if one is a Liberal and a Democrat then therefore there is no way one could also be a Christian. (You and me both. What tires me more than anything is that what is portrayed as "Christian" is almost always the hardcore evangelical variety.)
:: i was diagnosed with lung cancer on 6/23/05 and now find myself on an amazing (never dull) journey to becoming cancer-free (the good Lord willin' of course!) its been a rollercoaster of emotions, laughter mixed with tears of uncertainty... (that's not from a post, but rather from the blurb at the top of the blog. She's blogging her battle against cancer. Wish her well.)
:: I live in the center of what is called 'The Strawberry Capital of the World'. (Yeah, and I spend money every week keeping The Daughter in her strawberry habit. I should put her in a strawberry detox program or something!)
:: It has been very hard for me to accept that I can't "get" others to do what I want them to do, even if it would be good for them and for the relationship.
:: I'm facing the idea of the roller coaster with a some trepidation. It's kinda like having sex for the first time after you have a baby...you know you're gonna have a good time, but those first few moments make you hold your breath. (Maybe that's what it's like for the mother, but for the f...nahhh, I'm not gonna finish that thought. Nothing good can come of it!)
:: I'm going to blog about Purel and I'm sorry (The title of a post, actually. Damn! The NICU and PICUs with Little Quinn didn't even demand Purel.)
:: Eric shrugs his shoulders and says, "No, Grandma just acts old," he says pausing long enough to take a sip of his juice before adding,"It's her job." (Talk about your insights from the mouths of babes!)
:: Anyway freakin' Manilow was on. Freakin' singing. Freakin' arranging music. Freakin' being Manilow. It made me cackle the cackle I have. If you've ever talked to me on the phone and made me cackle. I cackled. I was a cackling cackleheimer. (As I wrote in a comments thread at Idol Tongues, do es anyone ever see Barry Manilow anymore without also envisioning Principal Vernon rifling through his wardrobe?)
:: Yes, I'm terrible at the business end of writing. I don't write a variety of stuff for paying markets, I hardly ever submit anything anywhere, and I tend not to write anything that isn't fun or interesting to me.
Am I doing it wrong? (Geez, I hope not -- because I'm doing the exact same thing. I'm increasingly looking at it this way: I've got a job that pays the bills, so why should I expect writing to do it?)
Now a few links from more regular haunts of mine in Blogistan:
:: I'm not the least bit insulted that Eliot Spitzer has realized the economic straits that upstate is in; but unless he proposes some serious tax relief for us, then he's not really serious about our situation. (Then why doesn't someone in the media ask him the damn question! Seriously, whether we compare ourselves to Appalachia or not -- and believe me, there are places about thirty miles and farther outside Buffalo that are as poor as anyplace you'll find in the knobs and vales of West Virginia -- it can't be denied that the Upstate NY economy is a wreck, and that the state is losing population for a reason. So are we going to make our state more friendly to business and trade and commerce, or not?)
:: You hadn't heard of the Chinese city of Chongqing? Neither had I. Fun to learn that someplace so little known is so huge, as well as the fastest-growing city in the world. It's the unknown megalopolis. (Michael Blowhard also links this article about this city. Stories like this are what make me want to scream about the "Buffalo will never be a big city again" people. No, we may not become one of the economic powerhouse cities of the entire world, but why should we stop striving for growth? Why should we settle for some critical mass that's less than what we are now, and well less than what we were when this was a "big city"? I don't want a "smaller but still nice" Buffalo. I want a Bigger and Better Buffalo. BTW, pound for pound you'll find more interesting linkage at 2Blowhards than anywhere else on the Net.)
:: I'm also increasingly convinced that the blogosphere is made up of people who self-select, and many are ideological and spiritual cronies of Glenn Reynolds himself -- i.e., libertarians, sci-fi cultists, transhumanist fellow-travelers, and the like. (This individual has been blogging about Glenn Reynolds like mad lately. Some of it's interesting, some of it's really over-the-top. I'd take issue with his apparent belief that SF lovers tend to be libertarian, for instance. I also think he tends to assume that Reynolds is more of a factor in Blogistan than he really is. Yes, an Instalanche is good for mucho traffic, but what of it? For great swaths of Blogistan, Glenn Reynolds isn't even on the radar. I myself almost never read him unless a liberal blogger that I do read mentions something of his. Whenever I have read Reynolds, I've found his insights dull and witless, and few people I read in Liberal Blogistan care if they're on Reynolds's good side or not. For my money, one of the funniest things I've ever seen online was Reynolds enthusiastically linking Adam Yoshida, and then starting to back away when he took a closer look and realized how batshit crazy Yoshida really is.)
:: If it has seemed lately that Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, arguably the crowning artistic achievement of the American musical theatre, was likely to spend its old age in the opera house, then consider the current revival Broadway's resounding objection. (Heads up, John!)
:: Victory! Party gains 300 experience points. Party die as virgins. (This is the winning entry of a caption contest, which is a regular event over at Dave's Livejournal. The entry, by the way, is by Jostein.)
Wow. I could actually go on and on; it was a particularly compelling week for my comings-and-goings in Blogistan this week. But this is pretty long by now, so I'll have done. More next week!
Sunday, March 26, 2006
This is all subjective, of course, but I've always loved the sight of a beautiful city skyline -- especially at night when the air is clear.
Buffalo's skyline isn't nearly as spectacular, of course, but I love it just the same -- not just because it's home, but because the buildings are lower and older. It's a skyline that doesn't look like much from a distance, which makes the Buffalo skyline a good metaphor for Buffalo itself. You have to get up closer and look at the details to really see what's so special about the place.
(Here's a good photo of the Buffalo skyline at night. This is a long-standing peeve of mine: even given that our buildings are old and made of materials that don't gleam like the newer steel-and-glass buildings that dominate the skylines of more vibrant cities, our night-time skyline is too dark. In fact, the entire city is too dark at night. I'm always struck by this when we arrive home after a day in Toronto; we don't even have streetlights along the "Mainline Thruway", the section of I-90 that runs right through the Buffalo-Niagara region. If I could make one physical change to Buffalo, it would be to add more light.)
:: The Movie Timeline, which provides a history of the world assuming that everything that's ever happened in a movie either actually did happen or actually will happen. It sure would make for a more interesting world, right? (via Mefi)
:: How to make your own Peep-like confections. Because the ones you can buy just aren't icky enough. (via Mr. Sun)
:: Bastard Operator from Hell. When your tech guy is, well, a bastard. Or something like that. Mostly stories of stupid calls to IT support, as far as I can see.
:: Looks like a Borg wedding gown to me.
:: This woman has one of the more unique hobbies I've seen. She and her friends/acquaintances seem to be having a blast. I would certainly hope so! I found some of these almost infectiously cute. (A handful of her photos are not work-safe, but for reasons of surprising practicality.)
:: Remember the episode of The West Wing that had a flashback to Jed Bartlet's days as Governor of New Hampshire? He was entertaining a couple of marketing guys who were trying to sell him on a new tourism slogan for the state: "New Hampshire -- it's what's new!" Bartlet was having none of it. Well, anyway.... (via PNH)
That's all for this week. As I note, it was a great week for general weirdness and/or goofiness on the Interweb!
I seem to be really drawn to minor keys. Some people would say, well, they're melancholy or they're dark, but I don't think so. I think they're richer and I get a sense when I listen to a minor key that the composer has somehow worked harder at it.
...and then dares us to identify the speaker. Luckily, he provides a link so we don't have to go a-Googling.
I'll spoil the surprise: the quote is from Condi Rice, as part of this interview she gave a while ago. It's mostly about music.
I confess that I never really think about specific musical keys, and whether or not I have an affinity for major or minor. It would be all too easy for me to rattle off a list of minor-key works whose emotional content moves me to delirium (my oft-mentioned Rachmaninov Symphony #2 in E-minor, frex), but then I'd have to balance those out with a major key work that also moves me to delirium (Beethoven's Seventh, frex). I just can't seem to reconcile myself to the idea that a work's musical effect on me is a function more of the mathematical relationships of the tonalities within the work than the composer's musical thoughts and emotions themselves. When I listen to that wondrous Mozart D-minor Piano Concerto, it's not D-minor that's moving me, it's Mozart. He just happens to be moving me in D-minor.
(I know that I'm not saying anything that's specifically contra anything that Dr. Rice says, so don't flood me with corrections!)
I note with interest some things about Dr. Rice's tastes in music. She's into Russian Modernists (Prokofiev, Shostakovich) but not so much the Russian Romantics (Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov); I'm kind of reversed on that, but even there, not really. I adore Shostakovich and Rachmaninov, I don't really know a whole lot about Prokofiev (he's kind of eternally on my list of composers to delve into more), and while Tchaikovsky wrote some things that I can't live without (the ballets, the Violin Concerto, the Fifth Symphony), there are other things of his that I can just as soon live without (the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies, the 1812 Overture). No mention, oddly enough, of Stravinsky is made. Dr. Rice talks a lot about her affinity for Brahms, whom I adore, and also Schumann (another guy I need to explore) and Schubert (about whom, I'm sorry to say, I know almost nothing except for the last two Symphonies).
This utterance of Dr. Rice's, however, really rankled:
I don't particularly like programmatic music and Liszt, of course, as the father of that School, has never been particularly interesting to me.
GAHHH! Of course, she meant to say "Berlioz" there, not "Liszt". The symphonic tone poem may owe more to Liszt as a form than to Berlioz, but Berlioz was the real pioneer of programmatic music in the Romantic era. Let there be the gnashing of teeth!
I also found it interesting that, given Dr. Rice's main focus on piano music, Chopin is barely mentioned in the interview at all. Ditto American composers like Copland, Gershwin, Ives and so on. But then, it was a radio interview, and Dr. Rice did have some other pressing matters at the time, so I'll cut the slack there. I've never made any secret that I don't hold Dr. Rice's political accomplishments in much regard -- I'd certainly never vote for her for President -- but if the position of NEA Chair were elevated to cabinet level and she was nominated for the post, I'd be fine with that.
The interviewer, by the way, is Gilbert Kaplan, a man who first came to the attention of the classical music world when he fell madly in love with Mahler's Second Symphony (the Resurrection). As the tale is related in this article comparing recordings of the Resurrection:
But while most of us manage to live with our fantasies, Kaplan turned his into an obsession, dedicating himself to intensive research into the symphony's background, sources and history. He acquired Mahler's autograph score, published scholarly essays, restored Mahler's composing cottage, established the first Mahler museum, created a Foundation, lectured extensively and emerged as the world's foremost authority on the Resurrection. But even that was not enough – at the age of 40, he learned to read music, took conducting lessons and toured the world to lead the Resurrection. In 1987, Kaplan produced a recording. Reportedly, it's become the best-selling Mahler record of all time.
Quite a way to spend one's retirement, eh?
(Lynn Sislo also concurred with Dr. Rice's take on minor keys.)
Both of these games are race-type games in which the object is to be the first person to reach a certain spot with their game piece, and both games involve very simplistic game play.
In CandyLand, the game "route" is a path consisting of brightly colored squares that repeat the same color pattern over and over again: Orange, purple, yellow, blue, pink, green, and then orange again. There are also a number of spaces decorated with pictures of candy, and a handful of spaces where one's progress is blocked. One moves in CandyLand by drawing cards from a deck. These cards are printed with colored squares as well, so if you draw a card with a blue square on it, you move to the next blue square in front of you on the path. There are also several cards with two colored squares, allowing you to move two spots of that color, and there are cards matching the "foodie" squares. Draw one of those, and you move to the corresponding square on the board, whether that square is in front of you or long behind you. (On the "blocking" squares mentioned above, if you land on one, you are required to remain in place until you draw a specific color, noted on the game board.)
Now, with Chutes&Ladders, one starts at the bottom of a grid of squares that are numbered 1 through 100, and one moves by spinning a spinner and moving the appropriate number of spaces, forward across one row, then up to the next row and back again, in roughly the same manner that the collection plate is passed at church. However, occasionally one encounters a "ladder", whereby one scoots from a square in one row to a square on some row above the current one; or one lands upon a "chute", whereby one is plopped back down a row or two (or three or four). There's a fairly creepy moral dimension to Chutes&Ladders, though, as the chutes and the ladders depict little pictorial morality plays. At the top of one chute, there might be a little picture of a kid standing on top of a chair to reach the cookie jar, and then at the bottom you'll find the same kid sitting on the floor, chair having fallen out from under him, backside aching, and the cookie jar in pieces. The ladders are accompanied by pictures of good behavior being rewarded. It's all very strange.
But even so, Chutes&Ladders is quite a bit more fun than CandyLand, for one reason: there's a much greater element of chance involved. You can't control the spinner (well, you could, but if you're cheating at Chutes&Ladders, then the jig is up for you and there's probably a six-day job as a Washington Post blogger in your future). In CandyLand, however, there's virtually no chance involved. Once the deck is shuffled and game play begins, the fates are pretty much sealed, and all you're doing is seeing how the cards have dictated that this particular game is going to work out. The only chance comes in the event that the game exhausts the entire deck, in which case one has to reshuffle. But that's it. For a game about wandering through the carefree land where all is literally sweets and sunshine, there's an odd sense of fatalism about CandyLand.
We don't really play these games anymore. Currently The Daughter enjoys Monopoly (in the Star Wars Saga edition that I bought last year, and worth the price just for the cast iron game pieces), although we've never yet played it to the point when we had houses and hotels ("settlements" and "cities" in this version). We end up just going around the board, collecting money and buying things like Republic Assault Cruisers and the Mos Espa spaceport and the like. Truth be told, I'm very certain that I have never -- not once -- seen a game of Monopoly through to its ultimate conclusion. I have a suspicion that Monopoly games never end so much as just stop by acclimation. (It also strikes me as odd that the Star Wars version of Monopoly still has the traditional "Jail" and "Free Parking" spaces. Seems to me that the game pieces should be sent directly to Detention Block AA-23 without collecting 200 Credits.)
Our favorite now is Sorry!. Here's a standard race-type game, but with wrinkles: you have four pieces, not one, to get all the way around the board; and there are ways built into the game in which you can put the screws to your opponents by bumping their pieces back to the start. Like CandyLand, pieces are moved according to the instructions on a deck of cards as you turn them over, but because the player is responsible for four pieces and because some cards allow things like backward movement, switching places with an opponent, and moving two pieces in the same turn, the game becomes one of strategy. And for a board game intended for ages six and above, Sorry! can get pretty damn riveting. It's not uncommon to see one player with all of his pieces progressing nicely around the board while another has three of his four pieces languishing in "Start" (which you can only exit by drawing a 1 or a 2 from the deck), and still see the latter player end up winning the game later on. If the game's life lesson -- "Hey, sometimes it's fun to screw the other guy!" -- is slightly questionable, well, who cares? It's all in fun, and the game almost always seems to balance out the karma.
Good old classic Checkers will probably be next, and then in a year or two, I'll attempt to teach The Daughter about Chess. And from there, I'll finally have to teach her Go -- but only after I learn it myself.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
A few years ago, while writing a column involving the international Tolkien Society of Great Britain, I sent along an e-mail that asked a simple question.
I noted how devoted readers of James Joyce gather on "Bloomsday," June 16, to celebrate the Joyce classic, "Ulysses." I wondered why a similar day wasn't set aside for Tolkien, considering the raw passion of his devotees around the globe.
Months later, I read a wire story explaining how the Tolkien Society had designated March 25 as Tolkien Reading Day, and I assumed many readers had made that same suggestion.
Get this. I eventually got a note from officials in the society, explaining how they planned to credit me as founder of the worldwide Tolkien Reading Day.
That's right, folks. Yet another entry in the roster of Great Things from Upstate NY that nobody realizes originated in Upstate NY. I swear, this is the most underappreciated region on this planet.
Anyhow, Mr. Kirst solicits people to visit his Syracuse.com weblog and share bits of insight or personal reflection about Tolkien. He kicks things off on his own blog, in which he draws an unfortunate analogy between Middle Earth and Upstate NY, saving the really unfortunate part of his analogy for Mordor:
To really capture the essence of Upstate New York - especially the cities like Syracuse and Buffalo - I'd say you compare the region to Middle-Earth.
I realize that with particular power now, at 46, almost 35 years after reading the trilogy for the first of many times.
There is little question that the basic connection between my childhood and Tolkien's world came from a shared, overriding sense of loss. From Weathertop to Moria to Gondor, Middle-Earth was filled with once-grand landmarks crumbling into ruin, and the music and poetry all looked back toward a better day.
As a child, my parents often took me into Buffalo, a prominent American city whose heyday was already - tangibly - in the past. The city was filled with the neglected work of great architects and engineers. Litter and graffitti cluttered humbled landmarks. Everywhere was a feeling of greatness lost, and a wistfulness for those days to return.
On the way home, we'd drive through Lackawanna, where the great industrial torches still burned in the air, where the sky above the lake was filled with sulphur fumes, where the sunset itself was turned into a strange black-orange hue by the dark smoke in the air ...
So I had seen Mordor, even before I knew the books.
Geez, what a bummer -- although the great industrial torches have long fallen cold and silent, so maybe we're not like Mordor after all. Maybe we're more like the Dead Marshes. Or maybe we're like Osgiliath, the city that everybody knows is gone except for the poor faction of folks still defending it. Of course, if we once were Mordor, how sad is that! Buffalo is now so downtrodden that even Sauron has left for, well, pastures more to his liking. (He wouldn't choose green pastures, obviously.)
As for Tolkien and myself, I won't go deep into reflection here. I would just like to note one of my very favorite passages from The Lord of the Rings, and contrast it with another favorite passage of mine from Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry. From The Return of the King, here is the last paragraph of the chapter "The Siege of Gondor":
Gandalf did not move. And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.
And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.
And here, from The Darkest Road, is the greatest deed of Diarmuid dan Ailell:
He saw. And then he heard, they all heard, as a ringing cry rose up, echoing in the twilight air betweent he armies of Light and Dark:
"For the Black Boar!" he heard. They all heard. "For the honor of the Black Boar!"
And thus did Diarmuid dan Ailell take Uathach's challenge upon himself, riding forth alone on the horse his brother had brought for him, his sword uplifted high, his fair hair lit by the sunset, as he raced toward the dance his bright soul would not deny.
I am incapable of reading either of those passages without feeling my heart quickening. That is why I come, again and again, to Fionavar and to Middle Earth.
Because the worlds are beautiful, and the tales that unfold within those worlds are told by their masters in a way that makes my heart leap and sing and weep.
And that's what literature does, if it does anything at all.
I have to admit that I have occasionally considered closing things down here, but the idea always vanishes fairly quickly, as I inevitably come round to the realization that I'll still have stuff to say and I'll still want an outlet for it all, and since I've invested so much time in this outlet, it makes sense to keep it going. I have abandoned any pretense of daily blogging, of course; it's not the worst thing to just not post anything if I don't have anything to say. I also find this particular medium a lot more personal than, say, the Usenet of old, when the only binding tie between one and the people with whom one interacts is an interest in the subject matter of the newsgroup in question.
Anyway, best of luck to Drew in his future endeavours. I hope he sticks around as a reader!
That Americans haven't risen up in protest is just too depressing. We've accepted warrantless searches. We've accepted massive debt. We've accepted an endless war on an unidentified enemy. We've accepted a presidency that is unaccountable and above the law. We've accepted that manufacturing, biotech, and computer technology will all go to other countries. We've accepted that the government won't save us from natural disasters. Basically, we've all just given up.
So this is how it will be? We'll talk a good game, but when we actually do something we'll screw it up. And eventually we'll just lack the resources to do much at all. We'll brag about democracy, even though we loath our government. We'll shake our fists at those damn terrorists, but we'll know in our hearts we aren't doing much to about them. We'll blame it all Clinton and the media, because we're too ashamed to admit we just sat on our ass and watched Bush piss it all away.
One of the things that brought down the U.S.S.R. was the Moslem "dead-enders" in Afghanistan who didn't realize they couldn't beat a nuclear superpower with small arms and improvised explosives. The Soviets failed to put enough troops on the ground, failed to win hearts and minds, and just kept pouring money into the war until they ran out of money.
And here we are in Iraq, fighting Moslem "dead-enders" who only have small arms and improvised explosives. We failed to put enough troops on the ground, failed to win hearts and minds, and we just raised the debt ceiling so that we could borrow more money from China to keep the war going.
Do people even think about that? We can't keep fighting the war in Iraq unless we borrow more money from China. Right? And in Iraq we're fighting the same people who beat the Soviets in Afghanistan. Right?
And we all sat on our asses and watched it happen.
I can't deny that on my worst days this is pretty close to how I feel about things.