1. The Book. One day, I will figure out why I read what I read, because there seems to be no pattern, rhyme or reason to my choices. Over the first few days of this week, I read Ursula Hegi’s Floating in My Mother’s Palm, a series of vignettes about people and events that took place after World War II in a small German town on the Rhine. The teller of the tales is a young girl growing up there, and she owes much of what she knows to the woman in charge of the pay-library. The book is related to an earlier Hegi book, Stones From the River, which I would like to read. The stories themselves may be by and large depressing (but is that life?), but they are told in a lyrical way that carries you right along. Sort of a Winesburg, Ohio with an edge.
2. The Concert. I disciplined myself to go to a Tuesday noontime concert at the Church of the Epiphany, a habit that pretty much has fallen by the wayside, I am afraid. I picked a good day to go, as a group calling themselves Ensemble Gaudior was performing two Haydn pieces (Piano Trio No. 18 in A major, and String Quartet in D minor), using period instruments (either original, like a 17th century violin, or replica). The musicianship was apparent, the sound was richer than I had expected, and the introduction to pieces by Thomas and Alexandra MacCracken, and their description of the instruments, added to the hour. As to the two pieces themselves, I found the quartet to be the more enjoyable, although I was interested to hear that the trio, which put a significant burden on the pianoforte, was unique for its time in this regard.
3. The Lecture. Surprisingly, 400+ people showed up at 6th and I Synagogue to hear a lecture entitled “Revisiting Memory: Facts and Myths About the Jews in Poland and Russia” by Brandeis U. professor Antony Polonsky. Polonsky is writing a 3 volume history to be published by the Oxford University Press, and seems totally on top of his subject matter. He made the point that the history of the Jews of Poland, Russia, Galicia, Ukraine and Lithuania have some major differences, which appeared throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, and that it cannot be assumed that they shared one history. He spoke about the optimism that surrounded Polish Jewry in the first three decades of the 20th century, of how the western Polish Jews were more assimilated and acculturated to their German surroundings, how the progress of Judaism in Russia was arrested by the Bolshevik revolution, even as certain anti-Jewish measures were abolished. He talked about the modernization of Hasidism and its institutions in Poland, about the ebb and flow of anti-semitism, and the when anti-semitic popular feelings were supported by governmental actions and when they were opposed by governmental actions. All in all, a very interesting lecture, although the density of his thought process, his command of detail, his South African accent, and some problems with the microphone that made it sound like he had not completely swallowed his oatmeal made the evening difficult for some attendees.
4. The Book Reading. On Monday, I heard Abraham Verghese read from his new novel, Cutting for Stone, the story of twin children of a nun at a convent in Ethiopia. My guess is that the book is well worth reading, but the highlight for me of the lecture was hearing Verghese, a professor of internal medicine at Stanford, talk about medical education today, about the difference between curing and healing, and about the dangers of an overly scientific practice of medicine where the computer patient becomes more real than the one in the hospital bed. He stressed the importance of bedside manner, which is clearly has in spades.
5. The Movie. Not at a theater this time, but on my TV screen. I re-saw “The China Syndrome”, not a perfect picture but still compelling, particularly in light of the Three Mile Island catastrophe and the Karen Silkwood murder. It’s the story of a nuclear power plant in southern California and a shift supervisor (Jack Lemmon) who believes, based on certain vibrations, that the plant is unsafe, and needs to be shut off the grid until it is inspected and repairs. No one believes him, and he is reluctant to testify, although he agrees to provide indirect testimony through a local TV news reporter (Jane Fonda) and her camera man (Michael Douglas). If you haven’t seen it, you won’t find out the rest of the plot here (I was accused of doing that, recently), so you have to get the DVD or see it On Demand.
6. The Hockey Game. Last night, it appears that the Caps were finally going to lose one at home; they just weren’t playing their best, although Alexander Ovechkin’s goal while he was sliding on his back was nothing short of extraordinary. But a score by David Steckel to tie the game with only about 2 minutes left, a penalty-less scoreless overtime, and two straight shoot out goals by Alexander Semin and Nikolas Backstrum, ended the evening with a 4-3 Caps win. The season has about 6 weeks to go, and the Caps will not be playing against any top ranked teams (they will play Philadelphia once and I think Pittsburgh twice), so it should be (I know, you can’t count chickens ahead of schedule) an easy road until the playoffs.