A Quiet Place

In which I share two not-so-guilty pleasures.

Any one who has read this blog over the past twelve years knows that I have a fondness for visiting cemeteries. Not through any sense of the macabre or romantic fatalism but because they are often lovely spots of quiet in the middle of madness. They may be a hidden away in a overgrown woods (I’ve been sitting on those photos of the Yankee Hill Cemetery for too long now) or beside a small country church. Where ever they are they reflect the stories of a place, a time, and the lives, and deaths, of people.

I also love to travel both in reality and as an armchair passenger. And one of my favourite guides should it be the latter mode is my dear David over at I’ll Think of Something Later. It seems that David is forever on the go – either at home in London or in wonderful exotic places in Europe. Where ever his wandering takes him he manages to take me along with his wonderful photo essays. This past week I was able to travel with David as he took a walk through the Brompton Cemetery near his home in “West Ken”.

I thought I’d like to share that walk with my readers and a left click on the detail from Charles Booth’s 1889 Poverty map of London will allow you to join us.

We were fortunate that on our last trip to London back in 2016 – has it really been that long? – to be able to have brunch with David and J, his diplomate husband. Then we spent the afternoon wandering through Chelsea with David with our final destination the beautiful Chelsea Physic Garden – a true “hidden gem” in the heart of the city. I wrote about our visit and posted a slideshow of the pleasures of the Garden in the late fall. I made a vow then to return to see it at other times of the year and I really should fulfill it. And besides that would give me the chance to wander with David in real time.

On this day in 1907: The Mud March is the first large procession organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

Throwback Thursday

As I mentioned I’ve been going through exhibition catalogues. Of course when I say going through I mean I’ve been pulling one off the shelf and then spending the next three hours thumbing through it and reliving the experience. One of the most memorable, of so many memorable, was an exhibition I went through twice at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence: Bronzino – Artist and Poet at the Court of the Medici. As a Throwback Thursday I thought I’d revisit that exhibition again over the next day or two.

On this day in 1897: Dreyfus affair: Émile Zola is brought to trial for libel for publishing J’accuse.

Willy Or Won't He

Despite my constant complaining about their website TrenItalia does make travel within Italy remarkably easy to most of the major cities. With their new Frecce high speed trains Napoli is only 90 minutes from Roma as is Firenze in the other direction. So Sunday it came as no surprise heading back on the 2010 out of Firenze to see a fair number of people in our car clutching – as where my friend Peter and I – programmes from the Maggio Musicale performance of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino and catalogues from the Bronzino exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi.

We had taken a morning train up and arrived – in the pouring rain – at Santa Maria Novella with enough time to catch the exhibition, have a leisurely lunch at Trattoria 4 Leoni and make the late afternoon performance at the Teatro Communale. And we were back home in…

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Mercoledi Musicale

Much of the last few days have been taken up with writing the online programme notes for the PEI Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming concert. Dina Gilbert, a conductor very much on her way up in the music world, will be leading a programme which includes the first of the two Suites that Edvard Grieg arranged of the incidental music for Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. In all probability Grieg realized that Ibsen’s five hour epic verse drama would not become standard repertoire and he took eight of the twenty-nine pieces for the Suites. They are amongst the most often played and recorded of his works.

The death of Åse – Arthur Rankham – 1936

While researching the notes I’ve listened to several recordings of the Suites as well as a very fine disc of the complete incidental music. No matter the recording the one piece that reached me on so many levels is the brief 45 bars of music for strings where Grieg captures the sadness, anguish and resignation of the death of Peer’s mother Åse’s. And repeated listenings have convinced me that he captures the universal emotions at the death of any of our loved ones.

Peer returns to his mother’s cabin – because of his rash act of abducting Ingrid on her wedding night Åse has been left with only the bed Peer slept in as a child. Peer recalls a game that they played when his father left – the bed was a sleigh and their horse Grane took them to Soria-Moria, a castle east of the sun and west of the moon. This time Peer becomes the coachman and takes Åse on her final ride. Grieg’s haunting music matches the language of the last passage of the scene (a bit of a long read) perfectly.

There’s the castle rising before us;
the drive will be over soon.

I will lie back and close my eyes then,
and trust me to you, my boy!

Come up with you, Grane, my trotter!
In the castle the throng is great;
they bustle and swarm to the gateway.
Peer Gynt and his mother are here!
What say you, Master Saint Peter?
Shall mother not enter in?
You may search a long time, I tell you,
ere you find such an honest old soul.
Myself I don’t want to speak of;
I can turn at the castle gate.
If you’ll treat me, I’ll take it kindly;
if not, I’ll go off just as pleased.
I have made up as many flim-flams
as the devil at the pulpit-desk,
and called my old mother a hen, too,
because she would cackle and crow.
But her you shall honour and reverence,
and make her at home indeed;
there comes not a soul to beat her
from the parishes nowadays. —
Ho-ho; here comes God the Father!
Saint Peter! you’re in for it now!
[In a deep voice.]
“Have done with these jack-in-office airs, sir;
Mother Åse shall enter free!”
[Laughs loudly, and turns towards his mother.]
Ay, didn’t I know what would happen?
Now they dance to another tune!
Why, what makes your eyes so glassy?
Mother! Have you gone out of your wits —?
[Goes to the head of the bed.]
You mustn’t lie there and stare so —!
Speak, mother; it’s I, your boy!
[Feels her forehead and hands cautiously and says softly:]
Ay, ay! — You can rest yourself, Grane;
for even now the journey’s done.
[Closes her eyes, and bends over her.]
For all of your days I thank you,
for beatings and lullabies! —
But see, you must thank me back, now —
[Presses his cheek against her mouth]
There; that was the driver’s fare.

Peer Gynt: Act II Scene 4
Henrik Ibsen
translated by William and Charles Archer

On this day in 1918: British women over the age of 30 who meet minimum property qualifications, get the right to vote when Representation of the People Act 1918 is passed by Parliament.

Lunar New Year*

The Pig has a beautiful personality and is blessed with good fortune in life.

Last year I told the story of the Rat, the Dog and the Cat and how through sly manipulation the Rat became the first to reach the throne of the Celestial Ruler. In that telling I mentioned that the pig had spent part of the journey wallowing in the mud and need to bath before entering the Heavenly Presence. Given what is known of pigs many, myself included, accepted it as fact. It appears it may have been a rumour spread by a mangy pack of disgruntled – and hungry – wolves.

The Jade Emperor awaits the arrival of the animals.

Before the Celestial messenger arrived to announce the race a marauding wolf had destroyed the fine house the Pig had made himself and his family. Fortunately they were able to escape the wolf’s desire for a feast of pork but there was little left of their home. Pig had just finished rebuilding a new home – stronger and more protected than their previous one – when the heavenly summons was received. Pausing only to assure the safety of his family he trotted off for the Gate of Heaven. When he arrived he was still begrimed with the dirt and dust of his chore. He was a proud pig and had no wish to appear in this state before the Jade Emperor. He stopped to bathe before approaching the Celestial Throne. He was the twelfth to arrive and though late was still granted the honour of decreeing the blessings of the New Year. When he returned home he found that the wolf had once again tried to make a fine dinner of his little family. But he had built true and strong and his family was unharmed. Being a joyful soul the Pig accepted his place as the last of the Twelve Celestial Animals but revelled in being amongst the first in good fortune.

A left click will take you to one of the many horoscopes for the year 4717. I can’t guarantee the accuracy but we can always hope.

Whatever your horoscope may predict I wish you and yours:

Gung Ha Fat Choy – Gong Xi Fa Ca

*I was reminded by Laurent and by my blog buddy Debra’s post for today that it is not exclusively “Chinese” New Year but a new year for any region that follows the Lunar calendar: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Suriname as well as Mainland China. So I have changed to title of the post to honour everyone who is celebrating the arrival of 4717.

On this day in 1905: In Mexico City, the General Hospital of Mexico is inaugurated, started with four basic specialties.

Lunedi Lunacy

I wasn’t all that surprised that a goodly number of my faithful readers were also fans of the incomparable Blossom. Such impeccable taste is only to be expected. As I mentioned we have almost all her CDs in our collection but one is absence from the catalogue: the album that served as my introduction to the chantootsy (as Walter Winchell called the genre): My New Celebrity Is You. I believe it was the first recording issued under Ms Dearie’s label Daffodil. And other than in a very expensive Japanese pressing it has been largely unavailable on CD in North America.

Pro Musica Antiqua is the last track and was my favourite on the entire set. It’s a satirical little number by Jonathan Tunick and Steven Vinavar from Julius Monk‘s Ronny Graham in Take Five . Monk presented reviews at Downstairs at the Upstairs in Manhattan and set the standard for intimate revues in 1950-60s New York. Blossom included this little paean to the Early Music Movement in her repertoire over the years. I’ve not been able to find her version of it on YouTube. However Janet Seidel does a damn fine job in the Dearie style on her album Dear Blossom.

On this day in 1859: The Codex Sinaiticus is discovered in Egypt.