Sunday, March 15, 2020

Letter from the Crescent City


I'm sitting at a coffee shop on Royal Street in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, not far from the French Quarter.  It's 9am on a Sunday.  Aside from me, two people are here, not including the owner and the barista.  It's early, though, for this city.  I asked the owner, Fred, how business was.  "Not bad."  But he's not complacent.  He's sanitizing the hell out of tables and door handles.  Will he shut down?  "I may have to."

1400 miles away, in New York City, my daughter lives.  I was supposed to see her one-woman show last week, but she urged me not to come.  It would make her too anxious to have me there.  I'm 74.  Prime real estate for the virus.  So, I didn't go, missing an event a father shouldn't miss.  I know. There are a lot more serious situations.  Thousands like mine, many much worse.

Do I feel guilty asking the gods to take special care of my daughter, to protect her, and to guard her from harm?

No.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

A very great and very funny French writer

French writers.

They're of two sorts, IMO.  One are the writers who draw form their minds.  To wit: Corneille and Racine.  Voltaire and Sartre.  I think many French see themselves as intellectual aristocrats, and that's one reason they worship those dudes.

But the other great French writers, those who write from the heartnot without great skill and mental prowessare the giants, to my mind.

At the pinnacle, Molière and Balzac.

I doubt anyone would contest Balzac.  But I would wager most French wouldn't place Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, aka, Molière, at the very top.  I'm on shaky ground, of course, not being French.  How dare I!  Well, as the French say, enfoiréRoughly translatedwell, look it up.

One reason, I think, is because Molière is funny.  Comic writers have always securely occupied a second rung in literature, never the first.  Which is fucking ridiculous.  

But who is not one of the greatest writers who ever lived if not Cervantes, a comic writer to the marrow?  

Molière
Molière (1622-1673) was and IS funny.   He's more than that, natch.  A great satirist. (Got him in trouble.) but, in the end, he makes you laugh.  Still, 350-odd years later.

To wit.  In his play, Le Malade imaginaire (The Imaginary Invalid), a doctor is trying to woo a young woman.  To entice her, he proposes:

"...I invite you to come see one of these days, to amuse yourself, the dissection of a woman, about whom I'll lecture."

The woman's servant drily replies:

"A very agreeable amusement.  There are some who would take their lady love to a play, but a dissection is something much more gallant."

A scene from an American production of The Imaginary Invalid
To get an idea of how brilliant Molière was/is, all you need to do is to check out any of Richard Wilbur's translations. They are masterpieces in themselves.  

In fact, Le Malade imaginaire was Molière's last play.  Sick with TB, he insisted, in true theatrical tradition, that the show must go on.  He collapsed and died shortly thereafter.  He was refused burial in sacred ground because he was an actor.  WTF?  Never mind that he was also an author.  144 years later, the French woke up and had his remains transferred to Père Lachaise Cemetery.

What I would give to see what he would do with our present times.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Art for art's sake, and ours

Went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few days ago.  (Umpeenth time.)  Perfect museum daygray, rainy.  Walked three hours, randomly.  The Met is so cached with art, it's hard to fathom.   

Yes, Met's a big place.  That's not the subject of today's monologue, though. 

The subject is the splendor of what we've made in the brief time we've inhabited this blessed plot.

You don't need me to inform you of the destruction and pain humans have caused.  That's The NeverEnding Story.

But so is art.  

To spend three hours in the Met walking aimlessly as you would down the streets of a foreign city, is to drink draughts of panoramic beauty.

In the Met can you experience the sheer array of thousands of years of human artistic efforts.  You can see Egyptian jewelry from four thousand years ago crafted by an anonymous master...

Necklace of Princess Sithathoryunet, ca. 1880 B.C., Middle Kingdom, Egypt
..and a somberly inspiring view of New York buildings seen from a bridge painted by Edward Hopper.

"From Williamsburg Bridge" Edward Hopper 1928
 You can see an almost perfectly preserved Etruscan chariot...

Etruscan bronze chariot, 6th century B.C.

...and, a short stroll away, a silk and metal textile by a contemporary Ghanaian master.

Textile by El Anatsui, Ghana, 2006
Etc.

We see enough of ourselves at our worst.

It's helpful, once every while, to see ourselves at our best.