My Day: I Could Have Done Without the Concert

The concert was the regular Tuesday noontime concert at DC’s Church of the Epiphany.  I am not going to name the group, because I’m not sure I am objecting to their musicianship. It just wasn’t music I like.

Three musicians – a flute, a viola and a harp.  The pieces they played were written for a trio of those three; they played arrangements.  This is often problematic.  And today, I thought it was especially so.

They played Ravel’s Sonatine, which is a beautiful piece.  But it needs a piano, not a harp.  They played Johann Gottlieb Graun’s Sonata in F Major (and 18th century piece which I do not know) – I got nothing from it, but see that it was not written for a harp, either.  They played some variations on an Irish tune (Drowsy Maggie), which was fine, but not concert quality.  And – to be fair – I have to admit that I really liked their final piece, “Apertif” by Lucas Richman, another piece I didn’t know, but which sounded just right with these three instruments.  I am not sure what it was originally scored for.  And, come to think of it, I don’t know why finished with an apertif.

 

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My Day: Innocent (Marum)

We just finished watching the eighth and final episode of the 2017 Turkish miniseries “Marum” or “Innocent”. Not perfect (but what is?), but worth watching.  It’s on Netflix.

While Turkish is a very foreign language and therefore hard to read aurally, the acting seems first quality.  The cast is made up of a number of well known Turkish personalities and, believe it or not, Turkey is apparently the second largest source of TV drama.  Of course, the U.S. is first; Mexico is third.

SPOILER ALERT. One thing you learn is that no marriage in Turkey is a happy one.  You have the detective Yusuf, whose wife left him for someone else (whom she also leaves); you have Cevdet and Nermin, who seem to have been unhappy for what seems to be approaching 50 years; Taner, whose wife has had an ongoing and known affair with Yusuf’s boss, whose own marriage must not be the best; Tarik, whose wife is involved with Nesim.  You also learn that sanity in Turkey is a rarity, and that mental illness is something to be so carefully hidden away that the family members who are the hiders become mentally disturbed themselves.  You also learn that murder is not always murder, but sometimes is.  And you learn that Turkey is a pretty appealing place (which it is), and that religious influence in the country is minimal (which it isn’t) and drink as prevalent as it is in non-Muslim countries (which in fact might be the case).

Cevdet has retired from his 40 plus years as an Istanbul police chief; Yusuf is a detective who had been mentored by Cevdet and whose best friend growing up was Cevdet’s older son, Taner.  Emel, the wife of Cevdet’s other mentally damaged son, Tarik, has been found dead in a car which has rolled off the road into the Sea (probably the Sea of Marmara); the car belonged to Taner, but Taner’s body had not been found. Was it an accident killing both Emel and Taner, as Tarik thought, or was it something of a criminal nature?  It’s Yusuf’s job to find out.

The mystery slowly works itself out, and is in fact solved in the last episode, although the episode raises some new questions unknown (to me) during the first seven.  And, although you could continue the show by having Yusuf confronting new story lines, this one is solved and over, as revealed in the 8th episode, and cannot be elongated.

There are some good lines.  Perhaps the best from Tarik, suffering from PTSD and schizophrenia, and hesitant to take the medication which dopes him up, has various recurrent dreams – his dead wife, his former commanding officer, his mother.  In his dreams about his mother, she is very comforting; not so, in real life, where she clearly favors her other son, Taner.  After a real life tear down by his mother Nermin, he looks at her and mutters “If I only could see you just in my dreams”, as we wanders off, leaving Nermin to look at him go, and say to her husband, “What did he say?”.  Also good is Nesim’s line to his lover Emel as she returns to her husband “I’ll miss you like water”, something that makes little sense until you see Taner watering the dying plants in Tarik and Emel’s apartment.

Perhaps the best, as well as the most frustrating part, of the series is its editing.  “Innocent” has more flashbacks and flash forwards than any other show I recall seeing.  You are often wondering where in time you are – is the the present, or is it in the past, and if it is in the past, where in the past is it compared to, say, the last scene, or the one before that.  It keeps you on your toes, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you are confused from time to time.  Just be aware that, by the time the series if over, all will  be clear.

The individual episodes are 45 to 60 minutes.  The first one is strong, but the second and third flag a bit, before it picks up again, to its somewhat surprising end in the 6th and 7th and especially 8th episode.  I recommend it.

My Day: Vanity Fair

I reported not liking the staged version of Vanity Fair at the Shakespeare Theatre, having seen it in previews and thinking it needed a lot of work before opening.  I don’t know how much it changed, but the reviews were pretty good, so maybe I was too harsh.  Hard to say.

But it did encourage me to pick up Thackery’s novel, which I had never done before. In fact, I had never read anything by Thackery.  The first thing that surprised me was that the book was so long.  In the version we had in our library, it was about 500 pages long, and each page was chock full of words.  Just looking at it depressed me, because I didn’t want to devote a major portion of my remaining life to it.

In any event, I am proud to say that I did read about 300 pages, and ashamed to say that I then put it back on the shelf.  I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  I didn’t realize that it was a satire and that it was both clever and funny.  But after 300 pages (and having seen the show), I had had enough of Becky Thatcher and her friend Amelia, I guess, and I sort of knew what was going to happen to them.  So I did stop to get on with other things.

But it is a surprisingly (to me) enjoyable book.

My Day: Babylon v. Jerusalem (Talmud, this is)

After Shabbat services, Professor Alyssa Gray of Hebrew Union College in New York spoke at Adas Israel. She is a talmudist and is particularly interested in the differences between the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds.  Her presentation was extremely intense and scholarly, but I think I can dissect it a bit, and break it down to two major points.

  1.  Where is God?  In the earlier Jerusalem talmud, God is around and about.  He is much more distant in the Babylonian talmud.  This might not be surprising since the Babylon talmud is further in distance and in time from the destruction of the temple.  In Babylon, more is up to the rabbis to determine without divine intervention.  The hidden God.  The silent God.
  2.  In the Babylonian talmud, it was important that everything be written down.  In Jerusalem, things were forgotten and then remembered later with divine help.  In Babylon, you had to intuit what occurred earlier.  Again, in Babylon God’s role was hidden.

Have I come close to getting this correct?  I think so, although her examples were more extensive.

My Day: A Little Time with Abner Mikva

Abner Mikva, you may recall, was an Illinois Congressman (represented two different districts – Hyde Park and North Shore), a Court of Appeals judge, and a White House counsel.  He died just a few years ago at 90,

My friend Sandy Horwitt, who had worked for him decades ago, spent three years meeting with him on a monthly basis, recording a series of conversations now compiled in a new book called, not surprisingly, “Conversations With Abner Mikva”.  Sandy spoke about his book this afternoon at Politics and Prose.

Highlights:

  1.  Mikva thought the Supreme Court recently issued the three most harmful decisions for American democracy – the Heller case on the Second Amendment, Citizens United regarding money in politics and Shelby County on voting rights.
  2. Mikva won three races representing the north shore suburbs of Chicago, each by one percentage point; it was a Republican district.
  3. He got along with everyone, regardless of politics, including Scalia.
  4. He thought the most important characteristics for a legislator to have were guts and integrity.
  5. He thought white collar criminals got off too easy, and he thought political crimes were a form of white color crime.  He thought that Illinois governor Blagoyevich rightly got 14 (I think) years, that Virginia governor MacDonald got much too little time, and that Ford should not have pardoned Nixon.
  6. Mikva met Barack Obama when he first became an Illinois state senator.  He called a friend in Washington to tell him he had met the best politician in 50 years.  This call led to others which led to Obama being asked to speak at the 2004 Democratic convention.
  7. Mikva smoked 3 packs of Pall Malls a day, and liked to eat salami and eggs.

That’s what I remember.  The books sounds worth reading.

My Day: Bashar Assad, ISIS and the Kurds

At my monthly Chinatown lunch today, our speaker was an experienced, and recently retired, American journalist, who specializes in the non-Israel (it seems) Middle East.  He is now writing a book about the Syrian war.

He said two things that surprised me:

First, he says that we should not gloat about our alliance with the Kurds.  He says that the Kurdish group fighting in Syria are part and parcel of the Kurdish groups that has been fighting the Turks, and that they are just another terrorist group.

Secondly, he said that Bashar Assad and ISIS have been allied – that Assad has funded and trained ISIS and used them to gain and old territory to weaken the Syrian groups that have been warring against the Syrian regime.

Is he correct on these points?  Or somewhat correct? I don’t know.  How, in this day and age, can you find a source about anything who isn’t biased?

My Day: “The Last Days of General Patton”

When I saw a copy of Ladislas Farago’s The Last Days of General Patton on a book store shelf, I decided I needed to buy it, as I had, that very day, given a talk to my Thursday morning breakfast group on another of his books, Palestine at the Crossroads.  The Palestine book had been written in 1937, and was one of Farago’s earliest, and the Patton book was published in 1981, just have Farago passed away.

I’m glad I read the book.  Patton was old for a WWII general, and had been a friend of Eisenhower’s.  Perhaps it was surprising that he received a command in Second World War, but he turned out to be a very successful (if hard to get along with) leader, whose main fault was that he just couldn’t obey orders.  If he was ordered not to attack, he might just go ahead and attack, frustrating his superiors, who generally couldn’t argue with the results.  Of course, he got in trouble for other things, like slapping a young soldier, but…..that was Patton.

After the war (and after his one unsuccessful unauthorized attack on a German POW camp), he was given the job to run the government in occupation of Bavaria, something that he was neither interested in, nor equipped to do.  He turned over the functioning of the government and virtually all decision making to a German who brought in ex-Nazis and questionable church officials, something against all regulations.  He treated German war prisoners much better than those in DP camps, and suddenly, it seems, turned his mind around and became pro-German, very anti-Jewish, and anti-Russian.  Unexpected and strange.

Eventually, he was relieved of his post, but before he could take his next assignment back in the States, he was involved in the automobile-truck accident that paralyzed, and after a hospital stay, ended his life.  During this period of time, he seemed to reverse his pro-German and anti-Jewish feelings, at least to an extent.  All rather mysterious.

This is all very interesting, of course, but most interesting perhaps is that Farago suggests that his mercurial peculiarities might have been the result of a series of many injuries Patton had received (all of which are chronicled in the book), and therefore the result of physiological changes over time.  Gets you to thinking about why bad people are bad, I guess.  May not always be their fault.

In any event, an interesting book, the second book about Patton written by Farago, who earlier wrote the biography of the general that served as the basis of the George C. Scott film.

My Day: “The Gondoliers”

There just isn’t enough Gilbert and Sullivan in this world.

Sunday, I went to see the Victorian Lyric Opera Company’s “The Gondoliers” at the Fitzgerald Theater in Rockville.  It was the final performance; the theater was pretty well filled, and I was certainly younger than average.  I don’t know why this was the case, either.

Sullivan’s music in “The Gondoliers” is as typically Gilbert and Sullivan as possible – some tunes forgettable, others that kept me up much of the night as they kept rippling through my brain.  For the most part, Gilbert’s lyrics are clever as can be.

The setting is Venice, where four and twenty maidens await the decision of gondolieri Marco and Giuseppe as to which two will become their brides.  The choices are made.

Another boat pulls up, with the Duke and Duchess of Plaza-Toro and their daughter, Casilda who is surprised to learn that she is about to become the Queen of Barataria.  How did this come about?  It turns out that she was married to the Prince, when they were each about six months old, and the secret has been kept from them.

But there are (at least) two problems.  First, Casilda is in love with her footman, or perhaps he’s the family footman. Luiz, some of which are parents are completely unaware.  Second, no one knows who the Prince of Barataria (to be king upon his crowning) is, although the assumption is that it is either Marco or Giuseppe, two young boys who were raised together by a nursemaid, to whom the young Prince was given in order to protect his life.  The nursemaid, as it turned out, was the mother of none other than Luiz.

Well, as you might have guessed, neither Marco nor Giuseppe turns out to be the Prince (they had been ruling Barataria as co-leaders), much to their disappointment and to the disappointment of their new wives.  And the real Prince turns out to be Luiz, meaning that everyone can live happily ever after in the most wonderful way possible.

As with all VLOC productions, the voices were strong, the acting good, the orchestra could have been a little better, the pace could have been picked up a bit, and the malfunction when a movie screen rolled down in the final scene, covering up some of the actors and requiring them to scamper a bit.  Oh, well……

My Day: “Slaughterhouse Five”

Having read Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, I moved on to Slaughterhouse Five, perhaps his most famous book.  While in the military, Vonnegut was present during the Dresden firebombing, an act which took more lives than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.  Having spent decades trying to decide how to write about it, he came up with an ingenious book, published in the late 1960s, at the heart of the Vietnam War.

It’s all about Billy Pilgrim, Ilium NY optometrist (Ilium was also the mythical town where Player Piano was set), who had been a hapless soldier who barely survived a series of mishaps after he and a few others were stranded beyond German lines, before he was arrested and imprisoned in Dresden.  Luckily, the site of their imprisonment was so protected, that they were unharmed when the U.S. bombed the city, and (maybe this isn’t so lucky), he was able to survey the ruins and gauge the scope of the tragedy.

Back home, he went into the optometry business started by his father,  married a wealthy young woman, but continued to have a life of misadventures, including a plane crash of which he was the only survivor.  After his recovery, things seem to go a little haywire, as he began to talk about his experiences being kidnapped by little green aliens and flown on a flying saucer to the far off planet of Tralfamadore, where he was placed in a zoo and joined by an attractive actress named Montana Wildhack, also a victim of earthly kidnapping.

The intricacy of the book is how Vonnegut is able to go back and forth between Billy’s life today, his wartime experiences, his peacetime history, and his time on Tralfamadore.  Back and forth and in and out.  Chronology doesn’t seem to exist.  Time is an unimportant factor.  Space can be moved through at more than the speed of light.  Life is fractured.  Fiction and fact seem equally real…..or unreal.

Interesting book.

My Day: Two Quick Books: “Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen” and “Jadis”

Two light books I read while cycling on my new stationary recumbent bicycle.  Alix Kate Shulman’s Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen is sort of a female Goodbye, Columbus. A girl grows up in a suburb east of Cleveland and, starting in high school, begins to have a series of relationships with her male contemporaries.  She’s writing about this later, of course, and I am reading about them even later than that, and it’s all reminiscent of the current Me, Too movement.  How girls get involved in situations that they really don’t want to be involved in, and how they get involved in situations that really shouldn’t want to get involved in.  And, in fact, the boys are just being boys – nothing out of the ordinary.  And she goes to college and she graduates, and her relationships multiply, and then she gets married, and then she gets bored and then she decides to go to Spain and meets just the wrong guy but, until she doesn’t, has  a great time, and then she comes back to her husband, and leaves him for another guy she met on the boat coming back from Spain.  And it turns out that she is not only a victim, but a perpetrator.  Another side, I guess of “Me, Too”.

Oh, yes,, it is enjoyable.

Then I read Ken Chowder’s Jadis.  Let me see if I can explain this quickly:  Jadis is the wife of Egg (yes, Egg), and he runs the toy store his late father had, and they don’t make any money, and Jadis runs off to California with her ice skating instructor.  But it doesn’t work out, and she comes home.  But, meanwhile, Egg has decided to track down his old girl friends (there were two of them) and Tory (who is Asian and living with and married to a man more than twice her age, who is a famous biologist, at a beach somewhere south) decides to come back to be with Egg, but Jadis comes back, too, and there’s sort of a rivalry, but for the life of me, while Tory and Jadis seem to be interesting in their own way, I cannot imagine why anyone wants to be with Egg.

And, by the way, the book is much better than it sounds in this brief (but accurate) description.