A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the sun,
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms and yet a motley fool.
As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.
Les Fleurs du Mal, “Correspondances”
Set Your Subpoenas on Stun
The other blogging attorney in Pasadena, Justene Adamec of Calblog, is wishing she could be more of a Vulcan and less of a Klingon in court. Of course, most people assume that all lawyers are Ferengi.
And what's wrong with being a Klingon Attorney, anyway?
♣ On the road to courtrooms near and far, I had my first chance to use the promised Free High Speed Internet Access offered by Hilton Garden Inn. The Garden Inn brand appears to be Hilton's response to Marriott's Courtyard hotels, focusing principally on business travelers. They are promising high speed in every room of every hotel in the chain by year's end. It worked without a hitch for me last night, so make a mental note.
♣ Through ArtsJournal comes a link to a Guardian article on composer/critic Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji. Sorabji created works of fiendish complexity -- and often of tremendous beauty -- for the piano. His magnum opus, literally, is the Opus Clavicembalisticum, at over four hours generally accepted as the world's longest single work for piano. I have an old vinyl recording by Michael Habermann of Sorabji's Jardin Parfume -- inspired by The Perfumed Garden, which is roughly the Arabian equivalent to the Kama Sutra -- but that recording seems sadly out of print. Another is curently available, and you can sample the piece here.
♣ Well-deserved tributes to Johnny Cash are so abundant today that you don't need me to point you to them. If, however, you have not seen the mark ROmanek-directed video for Cash's performance of Hurt, really should oughta remedy that omission immediately.
♣ This is a family-friendly blog, so you'll find no unclad odalisques or goddesses in their scanties around here, no sir. But if you're interested in that sort of thing, you would do well to read Friedrich Blowhard's innocently titled " Pic of the Day" and the many comments (my own included) appended thereto. Beauty is truth, truth beauty, as they say.
I Wanna Houli[your]han?
Even before I started to receive links from actual poet/bloggers (and actual poetry-bloggers), I was noticing a small groundswell in the referrer logs of people getting here while searching for "Joan Houlihan." That topic seems to have taken off in earnest in the poetryblog world in the past week or so, so I'll revisit it ever so briefly.
My own post on the subject of Houlihan's latest item -- which went up in early August and in which I invoke the Moose, Bullwinkle J. -- can be found here. Mike Snyder's most recent comment on the subject can be found here; Henry Gould's HG Poetics weighs in here; Jonathan Mayhew's Bemsha Swing has a number of posts on the subject; and Chris Lott ruminates on the matter here. You can surely find more with the help of the search engine of your choice.
Oh, yes: the Houlihan essay that started this kerfuffle (and which I quoted at several points in my prior post) is right here.
[I admit I can no longer recall why I made that oddball Keats reference in the title of my earlier post. I think "lucent syrops" is just fun to say.]
The Curse of the Poodle Strikes! or, Step Right Up and Prove Yourself a Fool
I can think of no forum better positioned to betray one's own ignorance than one's own blog. (Well, all right: The New York Times editorial page is even better, but only the Professionally Ignorant have access to that.)
You may recall that I declared myself perplexed by the presence of a large poodle prior to the arrival of Mephistopheles in the new Los Angeles Opera production of Berlioz' Damnation of Faust. I am traveling tonight and for my airplane reading I brought along my recently acquired copy of Randall Jarrell's translation of Goethe's Faust. And what to my wonder eyes should appear in Scenes II and III of Goethe's original, but the infernal poodle -- which proves indeed to be the chosen form by which Mephistopheles infiltrate's the study of the good Doktor Faust.
So there you have it, friends: Don't go spouting off about operas without familiarizing yourself with their literary antecedents. At least I have been reminded of what I have in common with Socrates. Like that formidable Greek, All I Know Is That I Know Nothing.
My September 11 Story
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was scheduled to meet a new client for a breakfast meeting at a restaurant about ten minutes from my home. I had gotten up, showered and dressed, all without turning on a television or radio. At the time, I was driving a ridiculous rented Ford Escort, having already donated my own car to charity while I waited for delivery of a new Toyota Prius. The Escort was parked on the street, and when I started it up that morning I finally turned on the radio and got my first taste, through NPR, of what had been going on for the preceding few hours on the other side of the country.
The impression in the first few moments was hazy: there were still inaccurate reports coming in about a “small plane” having struck one tower of the World Trade Center. I rolled my eyes and grimaced over that news -- thinking that the towers had already taken enough abuse in the earlier bombing -- and then heard about the plane that had struck the Pentagon. A few more moments and I was out of the car and back into the house. My wife was still in bed, about to get up but still not quite fully awake. I told her, as I recall, that I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but that the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had been struck by planes and it sounded like “all hell was breaking loose on the East Coast.” We went downstairs, turned on the television, and got our first look at What Exactly Was Going On.
I had that meeting to get to, so I didn’t stay much longer at the house. I drove down the hill, listening in disbelief and mounting unease to the radio reports. Somewhat surprisingly, my client actually made it to the meeting. We talked about what needed to be talked about on the legal side, neither of us quite comfortable with any head on remarks about events in D.C. or New York. By the time we finished, the towers had fallen.
To make my own day trivial and absurd, I discovered that fate had arranged that I should have locked the keys inside my rented car when I went in for my meeting. I stood around for most of an hour waiting for a tow truck to open the car up, with no access to any news. My office was in downtown Los Angeles at the time, and I drove there after I was let back into the car. The news continued to be very bad, and now more information was coming in about the fourth plane.
Downtown Los Angeles was nearly empty of people when I got there. Most buildings, including my own, had been evacuated and largely closed down. Security measures had not been completely tightened yet, so I was allowed to get to my office on the 31st floor, where I grabbed a little work and called home to tell my wife I was on my way back. My office then was a block away from the Library Tower, the tallest building in downtown Los Angeles, and for a long time after September 11 most of us in that neighborhood thought about what a clear target it would be if anything like the September 11 attacks was tried on the West Coast. When I reached home, the networks were well into the repetition of their footage of all that had taken place that day. The towers fell, then fell again, then fell again, and kept falling until we couldn’t watch it any longer.
I had started reading blogs -- Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, that new guy Glenn Reynolds -- in the handful of months leading to September 11. After that day, I read a lot more of them and much more widely. Matt Welch has captured the change in the online world nicely in his recent CJR article:
Like just about everything else, blogging changed forever on September 11, 2001. The destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon created a huge appetite on the part of the public to be part of The Conversation, to vent and analyze and publicly ponder or mourn. Many, too, were unsatisfied with what they read and saw in the mainstream media. Glenn Reynolds, proprietor of the wildly popular InstaPundit.com blog, thought the mainstream analysis was terrible. 'All the talking heads . . . kept saying that “we're gonna have to grow up, we're gonna have to give up a lot of our freedoms,''’ he says. 'Or it was the “Why do they hate us” sort of teeth-gnashing. And I think there was a deep dissatisfaction with that.' The daily op-ed diet of Column Left and Column Right often fell way off the mark. 'It's time for the United Nations to get the hell out of town. And take with it CNN war-slut Christiane Amanpour,' the New York Post's Andrea Peyser seethed on September 21. 'We forgive you; we reject vengeance,' Colman McCarthy whimpered to the terrorists in the Los Angeles Times September 17. September 11 was the impetus for my own blog (mattwelch. com/warblog. html). Jeff Jarvis, who was trapped in the WTC dust cloud on September 11, started his a few days later. 'I had a personal story I needed to tell,' said Jarvis, a former San Francisco Examiner columnist, founding editor of Entertainment Weekly, and current president and creative director of Advance.net, which is the Internet wing of the Condé Nast empire. 'Then lo and behold! I discovered people were linking to me and talking about my story, so I joined this great conversation.'There has been so much writing online about September 11 -- how to respond, what it all meant, should we be sorrowful, should we be angry, should we just wish it would go away -- and that conversation will and must continue, unless we surprise ourselves by waking up one morning to the realization that humankind has progressed to a point where such acts against the innocent are literally unthinkable for the entire human race. That day won’t come soon, or perhaps ever.
On September 5, 2002, just before the first anniversary, James Lileks posted an item in which he explained, again, why he nurtured a deep and abiding anger over the attacks and all they conveyed. He rejected the idea that his anger was simplistic, jingoistic, gauche or what have you, and focused on the little girl, Christine, about the age of his own daughter Gnat, and how Christine had died with her parents on one of the planes when all they had meant to do that morning was to leave on a vacation.
Little Christine was Gnat’s age, give or take a month; bin Laden’s lackeys killed her - and did so to ensure that other fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters died as well, preferably by the tens of thousands. This little girl’s death wasn’t even a comma in the manifesto they hoped to write. They made sure that her last moments alive were filled with horror and blood, screams and fear; they made sure that the last thing she saw was the desperate faces of her parents, insisting that everything was okay, we’re going to see Mickey, holding out a favorite toy with numb hands, making up a happy lie. And then she was fire and then she was ash.Grief, for Christine and for every other victim of that day, is still appropriate, and a large part of what living human beings should do for themselves, for those who are gone and for those still to come. A slow, firm anger and a focus on changing the world, ourselves and our fellows for the better is appropriate as well. That need, that obligation to continue forward in spite of all, in the face of despair and in defiance of those for whom the lives of others count for nothing, falls to us not as Americans, but as human beings. Reflect. Love. Act. Live.
The Other Anniversary of the Day
The events of this day on the stage of the world will get most of the attention, but events in the realm of the personal count for a lot, too. A happy wedding anniversary to Rick and Kathy.
For Recall Conspiracy Theorists
While updating my legal blog Declarations and Exclusions, I made one of my daily visits to The Southern California Law Blog where Justin Levine is wondering whether Cruz Bustamante is taking a leaf from Governor Gray Davis' divide-and-conquer playbook.
Draw your own conclusions as Justin asks the musical question, Is Bustamante Bankrolling McClintock's Campaign For Governor?
Sausage Recipes of the Stars (You Don't Want to Know)
British film director John Boorman explains the nuts and bolts of contemporary film production, including this anecdote illustrating why the Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore:
In my memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy, I describe how Deliverance was made. Warners hired me to write a script. I submitted it. They said, OK, if you can cast it and make it for a price, go ahead. How naive that sounds by today's standards.[Link via Roger L. Simon, who knows a thing or twelve about movie making himself.]
Today, I would have received pages of detailed notes from a number of studio executives. I would have been obliged to hone the script down to a simple direct storyline that is clear and undemanding, and eradicate any eccentricity or quirkiness.
When the script satisfied their requirements, the studio would send it out to a star. If the star passed, the studio's response would be to hire a new writer. Further rejections by two or three stars and the project would be dropped.
If they found a star who was interested, the title, cast and storyline would then be test-marketed, asking people in the street if they would go to see such a film - four men canoeing a river and one gets buggered. Only with positive results would the studio go forward.
Demon Poodle Invades Opera House!
My youngest sister sings regularly with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Los Angeles Opera. Thanks to her generosity and fundamental kindness toward her brother, I attended the dress rehearsal of L.A. Opera’s new production of Berlioz' Damnation of Faust. (The production opens tonight; gala festivities ensue.)
This new production is a joint project with the Polish National Opera, Warsaw, directed and designed by Achim Freyer, who made his U.S. directorial debut in Los Angeles in 2002 with a staging of Bach’s B Minor Mass. (Freyer seems to have a penchant for staging, in Los Angeles, pieces not originally conceived as operas: Berlioz intended his Faust to be an oratorio, not necessarily an opera.) With him, Freyer brings his own Ensemble and these photos will give you an idea of his stock in trade: surrealism, expressionism and enough papier mache heads and masks to fit out a small anti-globalization rally. I was reminded repeatedly of James Ensor’s painting of “Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889”.
The production is never less than interesting to look at, though Freyer’s expressionist sensibilities are not always a good match for Berlioz’ Gallic grandiosity. When Berlioz introduces an Easter hymn near the outset, he means its spirituality to strike at the heart of Faust’s world-weary cynicism and to offer him a chance at redemption before his temptation. The music is accordingly sincere. Freyer, however, takes the occasion to reveal a blasphemous tableau of pig-faced cardinals and a crucified Christ resembling a skinned rabbit. In contrast, when Marguerite ascends to heaven in the finale, Freyer plays it straight on a largely bare, white-lit stage, and the effect is exhilarating.
The three principals -- Faust, Marguerite [whose last name we learn is Oppenheim] and Mephistopheles -- all sport stark whiteface, with Faust most resembling Cesar the Somnambulist, albeit with a better tailor. Denyce Graves as Marguerite -- who has nothing to sing until the second half of the evening, but does so splendidly when her turn finally comes -- is weighed down by braids that extend into the wings and that at one point levitates to resemble helicopter blades.
And, oh yes, the poodle. Would that I could show you pictures of the poodle. Its function is unclear -- it seems to be a portent of the arrival of Mephistopheles and is not seen again until the curtain call once that hardworking devil has made his appearance -- but it is an impressive costume, with glowing red eyes, and the Ensemble member inside it sits, stays and heels in a most poodle-like fashion.
Whatever missteps he makes in the early going -- and there are fewer than perhaps you might think from my descriptions -- his finale is stupendous: by a combination of virtuoso staging and lighting effects, Faust and Mephistopheles fly at tremendous speed toward the poor mortal’s deposit into a suitably lurid, Bosch-like Hell, sufficient to put the fear into any sinner. That coup de theatre is followed by the still beauty of Marguerite’s apotheosis. And when Berlioz -- having previously pulled out every other stop in his repertoire -- finally calls for a children’s choir, it appears from out of the floor like the foreground figures in Rossetti's Blessed Damozel. It is a strong finish that goes far toward leaving the viewer with more good will toward the production than might have been expected.
The music? I’m no judge of these things, but the principals (particularly Graves and Samuel Ramey in the full demonic mode that is a cornerstone of his career) sounded good to me. The chorus and orchestra provided the full range of sonic effects that Berlioz demanded, which is a wide range indeed.
Opera purists will probably want to close their eyes and just enjoy the music -- this is the sort of production that most definitely would not please culture blogger AC Douglas -- but fanciers of the Cirque du Soleil/Robert Wilson school of design and staging should be very happy with that there is to see, and the final scenes should please both camps.
Come On In and Make Yourself At Home
Welcome to those who have come here by way of this week's unexpected spike in links to this site by Real Established Blogs, and many thanks to the bloggers in question for those links. Our generous benefactors include:
♣ Poet bloggers Ron Silliman and Mike Snider. Mike is chiding me for being too much of an enthusiast for Eliot's Four Quartets (which I praised down here), but taste is the thing for which there is little accounting. We also seem to have caught the attention of Chris Lott, whose site had not previously come to my attention but to which I am happy to draw yours.
♣ Musician, journalist, blogger and what have you, Ken Layne has linked back to my brief post in praise of his Analog Bootlegs CD. That's another taste I'm willing to stand by, and I am looking forward to Ken's next "real" album, which he promises will feature music "filthy, heartbreaking and savage". Sounds yummy.
Deadlines and travel today, so blogging here will be somewhat reduced. Tomorrow for sure: Demonic Poodles at the Opera. Don't Miss It.
Notes from Underground
Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber links to a long and fascinating piece by Teresa Nielsen Hayden on abandoned subway stations and other artifacts of New York City's long transit history. The comments that follow the original of both posts are worth your while as well.
Chris remarks: "There’s something about abandoned stations (especially underground ones) that calls to mind murder, mystery, romance (the stuff of old movies basically)." The stuff of fiction, poetry and music, too: there's a long history of fascination with undiscovered, subterranean worlds. Obvious examples would have to include Alice in Wonderland and Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth . Some of my own favorite imaginary journeys underground -- guilty pleasures all -- would include:
Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which explores the world of London Below, existing within around and, of course, underneath the better known London. Much of the action transpires in abandoned Underground stations and the endpapers of the hardcover edition incorporated a fine map of the Underground system, with notations of the dates stations opened, closed, moved, were renamed, and so on. High adventure and clever puns, always a worthwhile combination.
Adventure and puns are also to be found in the late Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. With a screenplay by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, and starring David Bowie in a fine dry turn as king of the goblins, Labyrinth is openly and obviously influenced by Alice and by Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There, but with a punning, Python/Muppet sense of humor and a few thoughts on the value of imagination in growing up. An added bonus: the young Jennifer Connelly long before her Academy Award, already a very appealing performer and holding her own alongside Bowie and the denizens of the Henson Creature Shop.
That grand old dinosaur of a “concept album” (remember them?), The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, the last hurrah of Genesis before the departure of Peter Gabriel for his solo career (and the advent of Phil Collins as lead singer). The picaresque adventures of Rael, a New York City street punk somehow or other thrust into a subterranean world of literary references, more puns, Death as the tap-dancing Supernatural Anesthetist, Keats references, and displays of top-notch guitars, keyboards and drums. Brian Eno provides incidental effects (“Enossification” in the liner notes) resembling his contemporaneous Discrete Music, marking the advent of his "ambient" phase. None of it makes any sense at all, but it hardly matters. An only slightly pretentious lark all around.
Some Sound, Bipartisan Advice
Texan by residence but still a Californian in her heart, Virginia Postrel calls attention to a commentary in the San Francisco Chronicle by former California state Controller Kathleen Connell. Connell describes the manifold opportunities for further harm lurking in the "budget" cobbled together by the Legislature and recognizes that the entrenched partisanship of both sides in that body, combined with shortsightedness in the Governor's mansion, played a large role in bringing the state to its current dire state of affairs. Her suggestion: put budget reform in the hands of a truly bipartisan commission, with real authority, similar to the federal panel created to address military base closings.
Like Congress, California's Legislature has demonstrated it isn't up to the task of balancing the budget, perhaps thinking it is political suicide to cut programs close to home. Despite a $38 billion deficit, reining in spending and examining the usefulness of state-funded programs proved to be too much for the Legislature.Will any of the candidates for Governor (or the sitting Governor himself) embrace this seemingly rational (or should I say Reasonable) idea? That's probably too much to hope. The candidate who really ought to consider it is Arnold Schwarzenegger: a meaningful retooling of the budget of the kind the Commission would be charged to accomplish would bring real teeth to Arnold's hollow-sounding "first we open the books, then get rid of these crazy deficits" policy. If the Schwarzenegger campaign is listening (insert cynical comment here, gentle reader) and takes this helpful suggestion, they can thank me later.
The appointment of a budget commission similar to the base closure group, and giving it independent authority, would help make certain that state government operates with the transparency and accountability that shareholders now require of corporate America. California's taxpayers deserve nothing less.
Your Monday Morning Recall Round-Up
Jill Stewart, in a column describing some of the troubling choices being made in the state Legislature, catches Cruz Bustamante in a favorite rhetorical gambit, changing the terms of the question he is purporting to answer:
The utter fallacy, repeated two or three times by Cruz Bustamante, that illegal immigrants pour $1,400 more into California's economy than they get back, for example, should have been stopped cold. Look closely at his wording, and you will see that each time Bustamante was asked about all the troubles surrounding 'illegal immigrants,' he altered his answer and spoke only of what we gain from 'immigrants.'Rather a key distinction, that -- akin to Mark Twain's distinction between lightning and lightning bugs -- and one that still-Governor Gray Davis happily worked on erasing with his late-Friday signing of the bill (effective January 1, 2004) to permit driver's licenses for undocumented non-citizens.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has been criticized, justifiably, for not offering much in the way of specific statements of the policies he would adopt if elected. [Several people I know who were initially enthusiastic for Schwazenegger have commented on their frustration that he may be "just an empty suit," and are thinking of throwing their votes to other candidates.] Daniel Weintraub reports that the Schwarzenegger campaign has issued a more specific policy statement on one of the issues targeted in Jill Stewart's column, workers' compensation reform. Interestingly, Arnold's positions on that issue are not far off from those of California's Insurance Commissioner (and almost-candidate in the recall election), Democrat John Garamendi. I have been covering the Commissioner's positions on reform at My Other Blog, Declarations and Exclusions.