Friday, April 27, 2007

Eugene Onegin: Part One, Sets and Singers

Dear Anne GG, cadh8, Kay, Elaine, Amy, and Other Lovers of Opera,

The other night I was flipping channels. (Well, let's be real, my husband was flipping channels. I personally have never actually held the remote control.) However, he flipped to PBS and I said, "STOP!" with undeniable firmness. Since I rarely react that strongly to TV programming, he stopped. And he immediately knew, that the die had been cast for the next few hours of viewing. It was an opera.

Opera trumps Law and Order, opera trumps The Office, opera trumps American Idol, opera trumps all.

The work was one this year's Metropolitan Opera TV features, Eugene Onegin.

I loved this opera. (I know, I say this after almost every opera.) But this production had it all. The singers were fabulous and one did not outshine the others.
Renee Fleming, one of the current reigning divas was great as Tatiana.
Dmitri Hvorostovski as Onegin(As Seinfeld would say, "I can't say it, but I think it's spelled like the symbol for Argon.")
Ramon Vargas as Lenski--This guy has an amazing voice.

I won't say any more about the singers, but it was joyful to hear them. Here are some pix and then I want to talk about the amazing minimalist sets.

The sets were bare, except for a few devices, a sweet minimalism. Some of the scenes used leaves as the only props with enormous walls edging the stage. One scene began with a chorus (excellent vocals) of women sweeping leaves. They began in center stage and swept a perfect oval. By the time they exited the oval of open floor had been prepared for the entrance of Tatiana and Onegin. Impressive. Several of the scenes surrounded the action with a rectangle of chairs. In the ball scene the wooden chairs, each different with delicate, open-worked backs, embraced the crowded dance floor. It was like the baby bear's porridge.

The Onegin story was written by Pushkin--Opera by Tchaikovsky. I really need to read the Pushkin story and then comment about it. It fits in with some things I've been contemplating about moral choice. And I'd like to compare the poetic artistry of the Pushkin work with the musical artistry of the composition by Tchaikovsky. The primary defining feature of Pushkn's writing in this work is that it is almost entirely written in verses of iambic tetrameter with the unusual rhyme scheme "aBaBccDDeFFeGG", where the lowercase letters represent feminine rhymes while the uppercase letters represent masculine rhymes. This form has become known as the "Onegin stanza" (or "Pushkin sonnet"). Is that amazing or what?

Betsy aka Mom

Not Zorro, Not Zorro

Dear Keebler Elves,

One of my favorite commercials of all times was the "Not Elves" commercial that got me hooked on E.L. Fudge cookies. You remember, Ernie, in it you elves, for certain marketing reasons, denied that you were cookie-making elves.

Well, raccoon denial may be similar to elf denial. At least for some time I was not sure of the existence of two raccoons. Hence I was in denial. Now I have photographic proof.

Pix 1: Proof of dual existence. There are two raccoons.

The question you may ask is, "How does one identify the difference between raccoons." Well, there are two answers: behavior and looks. The video below is "Not-Zorro." He is very nervous and ready to run on a moments notice. Were I to move too quickly or "heaven forbid" open the sliding glass door, he would waddle away at top speed, which for raccoons I have observed is about 0.1 mph. Zorro, on the other hand, would look up and say with his eyes, "Hi there."

The look of raccoons really is different, just like elves. If you compare the videos, surely you too will begin to see the subtle differences.

You Keebler Elves, Ernie, Fast Eddie, Flo, and all, may continue to deny your own existence as cooking-baking beings, but I know for sure that their are two raccoons, Zorro, and um.m.m, Not-Zorro.


Monday, April 23, 2007


Dear Fine Institutions of Education,

This morning I had breakfast with a young man. Let’s call him "A". He told me of his education in Africa. Sometimes, when his family had $50 he could study for one semester. They did not often have $50. I read a paper that he wrote. In it he spoke of that time. He said he lusted for education. He told me how grateful he is that he can now study every single day, every single semester.

(I think of other boys I have known at his age. They may have lusted, but it was not usually for education.)

Coming to the United States as a UN refugee in 2004, this young man began to learn English, to write papers, to enjoy the benefits of mandatory public education. For him this was a great gift.

After breakfast this morning, my husband left to take this guy to a small junior college to participate in an open house and, later this afternoon, to try out for a soccer team. Perhaps, soccer will provide the avenue by which "A" may continue his education.

"A" has given me permission to let you read an essay that he wrote. It is not perfect grammatically. It may lack polish. However, those things might betray an institution if they were to use those criteria or the results of a standard testing measure to exclude this person from participating in the academy. If I were an institution seeking students. I would seek this boy.

I am a survivor

I woke in the morning, heard the sound of soldiers banging on the door trying to get in the house. Daddy told us, “kids go under the bed”, I didn’t see my father again for two years. I’m one of the many survivors who endured the 1998 civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo; I didn’t see anything but the importance of surviving from the war.

I survived in the most disastrous war despite the important of names that brought hatred, and killing between I and Congolese civilians and soldiers. Because of my name, "A", I was buried into a shadow of death; just because the name I had represent me and the rebel. Most people labeled me names like “rebel”, “kanyamurege”, and “cockroach”, to determine rebellion between them and me. Because of the birth name I carried, people began to attempt to kill me. I was a survivor of the name tragedy when people tried to kill me; my name brought suffering, lonely, and painful in my life at that time. I wouldn’t be here today if I wasn’t a survivor. I was one of the scared boys who always thought I can die today or tomorrow but was still standing and afraid of dying. Just because I carried that name I was in the very dangerous moments that allowed people to come and try to burn me alive. When I mean burn, that’s they were trying to catch me and put gasoline all around my body and start burning me. For example “American barbeques meats” but I was supposed to be the meat who got barbeque with gasoline around me, but nothing happened because I ran away from them. The reactions made me start thinking of what strategy can I use to be able to survive.

Nothing helped me to survival in 1998 war except what I learned and what I had been told by my parents. “Son, never put your self first, but last.” My parents wanted me to understand society life matters not movements that were going on. As always taught to me "patience and self control is always the first goal to survive situations" I used that same goal to protect myself and my family to stay away from getting killed. I was patience that time, escaping troubles and being around people who knew me; and always remembering the word, patience and self control, is the key in my life as a survivor.

I used self control to be a very skeptical young boy to people around me and to protect my family at the same time. I was about to get poisoned by my own friends. They put soda, a very strong African poison, into my food I was about to eat that food but someone told me to not. I lost the beautiful trust that I had for my friends just because of that step and I couldn’t trust my friends any more. I was automatically being skeptical before doing or taking a step. For example, I lost my beloved once just because of lack of self control and patience in their step; they were burned by Congolese civilians.

Finally I came to discover one important key to survive, faith, I saw myself getting on my knees, trying to put my faith into God’s hands but still scared of getting killed. Faith helped me to stand and look forward to survive the war. By the grace of God, I am a survivor. No matter what situations comes into my life I will succeed and continue be a survivor.

I find this all very amazing. Sitting across the breakfast table from a young, bright-eyed man who enjoys bacon and eggs, liked seeing a raccoon, and teases my son because he couldn't remember the words "A's" mother told him to tell me, I would be tempted to forget, that this person grew up hiding from from rebel bands instead of participating in marching bands. But that difference is the very thing that "A" will use to survive and succeed in this culture. Perhaps one day, he will lead us and we will all benefit from the inner strength that he has to offer.


P.S. Got a scholarship? I've got the recipient for you.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ben Jelloun Draws Such Strange Words in the Sand

Dear Tahar Ben Jelloun,

Sand Child, your book of storytellers and gender shifts in Morocco was a bit difficult for me to understand. No, it was very difficult for me to understand. It is a puzzle. It reminded me of the first time I tried to solve a cryptogram in a newspaper. I looked at those coded letters believing solution to be impossible. No one could do this, I was sure, and then I began the process of finding the answer. My early attempts at cryptograms were halting and frustrating, as have been my first brushes with your book.

Immediately, I believed the book was a critique of gender in the world of Islamic Morocco. I tried to understand the movement of the book in that context and though it seems there is some comment on that issue within the text, I think I would be mistaken to believe that the presentation of gender is more than the model or symbolic metaphor you have chosen as a vehicle for a very different message.

Fortunately, my friends from the book club have been feeding me ideas. One said that she thought the imagery carried the weight of colonialism and the response of Morocco to the intrusion of Western will upon the culture. Is that it? I know very little of the history of this land, so fitting that jigsaw together would be daunting. Then I found some things on Laila Lalami’s blog (affectionately remembered as that suggested an even more intellectually complicated ending. Then I followed the track of Borjes, gathering more evidences of how, perhaps, you expect this book to be interpreted.

Then I read your biography on your official Web site He are interesting snippets:

July 1966: my philosophy studies are interrupted; I am sent to a disciplinary camp run by the army.

In June 1971, a statement of the Interior Ministry announced that philosophy teaching is to be arabized as of the new school year. Not being trained for it, I requested an exemption from the Ministry and decided to leave for Paris and prepare a PhD in psychology.

June 1975: I defended my doctoral thesis in social psychiatry on “affective and sexual problems of northern-African workers in France”.

1984 : “Hospitalité française”, essay on racism in France

1985: “L’enfant de sable”, novel, Le Seuil.

Most of my work is translated into Arabic. Unfortunately, the Moroccan edition of which I revise the translation is systematically pirated by pseudo-editors in Syria and Egypt. To make matters worse, they redo the translation and take out fragments susceptible of annoying the local censorship. I have so often protested against these practices that I have come to believe this to be a lost cause. The piracy that afflicts the Arab world is symptomatic of the condition of its culture.

I chose these tidbits because I think they shed light on the book and my understanding. As I understand more, perhaps I will come to understand whether they inform my thinking. Here are some more factoids from less authorized Web sites.

Quoting Ben Jelloun and from a critic "Arabic is my wife and French is my mistress; and I have been unfaithful to both," it is obvious though that bilingualism is an integral part of his life as well as a theme in his works.

And also from that source, “Ben Jelloun draws upon his experience as a psychotherapist for his creative writing.”

And here: The novel is written in highly poetic language and does not have a linear narrative. The prose seems to recreate the dissociation experienced by the child.

Well, all that is interesting. And, I like cryptograms.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Nebuchadnezzar and Solomon

Dear Animal Lovers,

I just wanted to show the animals in the petting zoo, the domesticated ones.

Who was shaking that camera?


P.S. Perhaps I should say a little more about these animals. The white one, Nebuchadnezzar, is an Arab. He is dear and smart but literally afraid of his own shadow. This causes problems while riding, when, he inadvertantly and unexpectedly sees his own shadow. He isn't actually white, but what they call flea-bit, light gray with rusty colored dot-smears on him. The dark one, Solomon, is part Apaloosa but looks like a Morgan (who knows). He is wonderful to ride--has a nice smooth gait. However, he can at times use his size to his own advantage. I am working on teaching him not to do that.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Books, Music and Studies of the Year 2007

This is a list. I am tracking my year of reading, listening, and studying.

Under Books I’m listing books that I’ve basically read straight through or perhaps read “mostly.” Does that last part sound like I’m cheating. Yes, perhaps under one definition of cheating. That would be the third grade, sitting on a stool in Ms. Bowers room and under her steel-eyed glare, saying, “Yes, Mzbowrz, I did read about Guatamalan exports, but I forget,” when really you did not read about Guatamala at all, but sat on your bed the night before with the social studies book on your lap while you traced the pattern of the pine knots of your bedroom paneling with your finger-definition of cheating. See note below for my current definition.*

Also, reading for me is usually done in audio form. I listen to books and agree with author Orson Scott Card who says that listening to books aloud is the best way to read because you can read with your eyes shut and just allow the mind pictures to form.

Under Music I'm listing the music that is important to me. Thus it is heavy on the classical. I will also list other things that I find that strike me as fine. I am also working on a "Requiem Mix" list, just because.


The Last Gentleman—Walker Percy—End of 2006
As I Lay Dying—William Faulkner—End of 2006
Bel Canto—Ann Patchett
The Plague—Albert Camus
The Moviegoer—Walker Percy
Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits—Laila Lalami
The Libretto for Tosca
Truth:Four Stories I Am Finally Old Enough to Tell—Ellen Douglas
A Street in Marrakech—Elizabeth Fernea
Secrets of Videoblogging—Michael Verdi and Ryanne Hodson
The Sand Child—Tahar Ben Jelloun (My post on this)
The Abolition of Man—C.S. Lewis (My post on this.)
The Book of Isaiah
The Gospel of John
The Trouble with Poetry—Billy Collins
Lancelot—Walker Percy
Enders Shadow—Orson Scott Card
The Turn of the Screw—Henry James
King Lear—William Shakespeare
Taming of the Shrew—Shakespeare
New Southerners—Discussions with and Readings by Emerging Southern Writers from the National Humanities Center
Eugene Onegin and other poems by Alexander Pushkin Translated by Charles Johnson (a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin)
Saving Grace by Lee Smith
The African-American Audio Experience—This set included readings from Langston Hughes, Mikki Giovanni, Lorraine Hansberry, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Included was a full dramatized reading of Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.
Year of the Elephant—A Moroccan Woman's Journey Toward Independence—Leila Abouzeid
The Stranger—Albert Camus
Black Boy—Richard Wright
American Hunger—Richard Wright
Much Ado About Nothing—Shakespeare in the Square
Teacher Man—Frank McCourt
At Canaan's Edge—Taylor Branch
The Penultimate Peril—Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler
The Bad Beginning—Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler
Remembering Jim Crow—Stephen Smith, Kate Ellis, and Sasha Aslanian
Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination—Toni Morrison
Lemony Snicket—The Unauthorized Biography—Daniel Handler (Which reminded me very much of the graphic work of an unknown Mississippian whose work, Sandusky Review, vol.1, I had on order, but whose distributer, sold out of and is dragging his feet about publishing a second run, believe that or not.)
The Grim Grotto—Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler
More Super Sudoku—(OK so I'm an addict. But I can finally do these things!)
The End—Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler
The Kite Runner—by Khaled Hosseini
Sense and Sensibility—by Jane Austen
The Space Between Us—by Thrity Umrigar
Hamlet—by William Shakespeare
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books—by Azar Nafisi
Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self Help Book—by Walker Percy
Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith—by Anne Lamott
The Inheritance of Loss—by Kiran Desai
Lolita—by Vladimir Nabokov
Tears of the Giraffe—by Alexander McCall Smith
The Thanatos Syndrome—by Walker Percy

The things listed here are either CDs or live performances or TV/video/DVD performances

La Boheme—Knoxville Opera Company—Live
Tosca—Leontyne Price—CD
I Puritani—Metropolitan Opera/Public TV Broadcast—Anna Netrebko
The First Emperor—Metropolitan Opera/High Definition Cinema Broadcast—Placido Domingo
German Requiem—Johannes Brahms
War Requiem—Benjamin Britten
Appalachian Journey—Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor
Rutter: Requiem—John Rutter
Mozart Requiem
Faure’s Requiem
Mozart’s 25, 40—Mozart Meets Mariner
Nickel Creek—This Side
Bruce Springsteen—Nebraska
Classical Mix from Diane
Portrait of Kiri Te Kanawa
The Chairman Dances—John Adams with the San Francisco Symphony
Eugene Onegin—Tchaikovsky—PBS Broadcast from Metropolitan Opera—Renee Fleming and Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Liszt Piano Recital—Leif Ove Andsnes—EMI Classics
Il Trittico—Giacomo Puccini—Metropolitan Opera/High Definition Cinema Broadcast
Akhnaten by Philip Glass
the CIVIL warS—a tree is best measured when it is down—ACT V—The Rome Section—by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson
Albert Herring—by Benjamin Britten
The Turn of the Screw—by Benjamin Britten performed by the University of Tennessee Opera Workshop
Requiem—by Roman Maciejeski
Romeo and Juliette—by Gounod—Metropolitan Opera Goes to the Movies with Anna Netrebko and Roberto Alagna

Requiem Mix

Introitus or Intro—Brahms, Mozart
Introit and Kyrie—Faure
Dies Irae—Britten, Brahms
Pie Jesu—Rutter

Website Experiences

YouTube I Puritani by Bellini—Anna Netrebko sings The Mad Scene
YouTube Nixon in China by John Adams—Mandy Kelly sings I Am the Wife of Mao Zedong

*cheating—reading something or studying something because you "have to" and not because you love it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

If Your Guest Drinks from a Finger Bowl, What Do You Do?

Dear Emily Post,

I hope you don't mind my turning to you for advice, but I'm not sure. If party reporter Sally Quinn offers advice about guests who drink from a finger bowl, then what would you advise about guests who wash in tumblers?

Zorro has been such a perfect guest up to this point.

And, after all, as Sally might point out, "The most important thing you can do as a host or hostess is to make your guests feel comfortable, welcome, wanted."

So I guess I should just let Zorro wash in my glassware anytime, as long as he knows he is welcome here with us.


Friday, April 06, 2007

ROUS Visits the Backstep Zoo

Dear Animal Planet,

Eat your heart out! The backstep zoo continues to grow. These animals are volunteering. Well, it is a Tennessee Zoo after all.


Rodent of Unusual Size Stops by for a Bite

ROUS Withdraws from Intimacy

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Plague

Dear Albert Camus,

I have been reading your masterpiece. Did you think it so?

It has taken me several tries to get beyond the point of no return with it. I almost got there the last time--half way through. You make us wait a long time.

Tarrou makes the difference for me.

At any rate, I like your statement:
"..there's no question of heroism in all this. It's a matter of common decency. That's an idea that may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is - common decency." (In one volume, this statement hits at p. 136. For me it hit on CD #4 I think.)

Common decency! Is this the Summum Bonum that I have been searching for? Be ye nice, one to another.

Perhaps it is enough.