Music from Ida

Last night I posted at Facebook a piece by John Coltrane that was used in the gorgeous, extremely moving film Ida (2013, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski) I watched yesterday. The last music heard in that film is this Bach arrangement, as played by Alfred Brendel (film fans will also recognize this Bach chorale, in its original arrangement for organ, as the opening theme of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris). The austere beauty of the music and Brendel’s performance, and of the film for that matter, goes straight to the heart.

Here too is that John Coltrane piece, “Naima,” that was also used in Ida. So few notes, so much feeling.

Sunday Salon 11-23-14

Time: 8:00 a.m. Sunday, right after my morning gym visit, having some coffee, with a coffee shot and a coffee chaser.

Place: At my main computer at home.

Reading: Since my last visit to the Salon, which admittedly was a while ago, I have completed A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, Umberto Eco’s The Book of Legendary Lands (which I also wrote about), and The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, all of which were outstanding. Current reading includes Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto and Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby.

Viewing: My movie viewing was severely interrupted a few weeks ago when Dish Network, my now-former cable provider, dropped Turner Classic Movies along with several other Turner-related networks, including CNN. TCM is my one essential channel, and I gave Dish a couple of weeks to see if anything got resolved. Nothing happened, and therefore I am now a Charter subscriber – both for cable viewing and for internet. So yesterday’s viewing included TCM’s airing of Them!, which fit right in with all of those other (often very good) late 1940s and 1950s films about paranoia and the end of the world and Communism and the atomic bomb. Also viewed recently was Shohei Imamura’s dark, clinical, and remarkable Vengeance Is Mine, and, finally, The Big Lebowski (can’t believe it took me so long to see it).

Listening: Along with a sudden inexplicable interest in revisiting old Genesis songs that I haven’t heard for years (“Mad Man Moon” from A Trick of the Tail and “You Might Recall,” an outtake from Abacab, are current favorites), I can’t point to much I’ve listened to in the last week or two. However, a live performance in Berkeley last weekend of Benjamin Britten’s church parable Curlew River, with Ian Bostridge, is something I hope to write about in the next few days. Watch this blog.

Blogging: I haven’t been very active recently, aside from posting a couple of bits of poetry by T.S. Eliot and Xu Lizhi. But I have a couple of pieces in the works along with the Curlew River notes mentioned above.

Pondering: How I am going to spend my Thanksgiving holiday of five days. Aside from Thanksgiving dinner with the family, nothing is scheduled. It could be a time of writing, or reading, or movie viewing, or traveling, or staring at the wall. Possibly a little of each…

Anticipating: Among my recent technology changes is the addition of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall to my media empire. Even watching several trailers of archived performances last night was pretty exciting, and I will probably watch my first concert today. The treasures they have stored away are many.

Gratuitous Photo of the Week: Alexander Graham Bell and his grandson Melville wandering in Beinn Bhreagh, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1908. I saw this photo in the most recent National Geographic, loved it, and wanted to share.
Alexander Graham Bell with grandson

On My Deathbed

Xu Lizhi (1990-2014), “On My Deathbed”
From via Alexis Madrigal’s 5 Intriguing Things

I want to take another look at the ocean, behold the vastness of tears from half a lifetime
I want to climb another mountain, try to call back the soul that I’ve lost
I want to touch the sky, feel that blueness so light
But I can’t do any of this, so I’m leaving this world
Everyone who’s heard of me
Shouldn’t be surprised at my leaving
Even less should you sigh or grieve
I was fine when I came, and fine when I left.

Umberto Eco: The Book of Legendary Lands

Eco The Book of Legendary Lands coverUmberto Eco
The Book of Legendary Lands
Translated by Alastair McEwen
(2013, Rizzoli Ex Libris, 478 pages)

One of a series of beautifully illustrated books that includes The Infinity of Lists, History of Beauty, and On Ugliness, Umberto Eco’s The Book of Legendary Lands examines imagined utopias and dystopias from fiction, antiquity, folklore, and religion – entire worlds, continents, cities, or even dwellings that might be entirely fictional, or re-imaginings of existing places, but which, in Eco’s words, “have created flows of belief.”

Utopia, or non-place, has sometimes been interpreted as eu-topia, or good place. Thomas More was only one of the most famous of the many who imagined such a society. For instance, a concept found throughout human history is the Earthly Paradise: usually, according to Eco, “where at the beginning of the world one lived in a state of bliss and innocence,” was cast out, but may one day return. One finds it in literally all the major world religions, whether it’s the Garden of Eden, Mount Meru, the Kunlun Mountains, or the Elysian Fields. Woodcut map of the island of Utopia from 1st edition of More 1516Very often it lives in the imagination, but for many thinkers and religions it has been an earthly (but distant) place: Sri Lanka, perhaps, or remotest Africa, or Armenia or Palestine, or an island in the middle of the ocean, or the top of the world’s highest peak. Perhaps it is the Isle of the Blessed that was written about so much during the Middle Ages and Renaissance (many, like St. Brendan, found it in close proximity to Ireland).

Perhaps, too, Atlantis was such a place. Atlantis, the continent that disappeared into the sea after catastrophic earthquakes or a flood, is the prototypical legendary land. Plato’s mentions of it in a couple of his dialogues (in the Critias, Atlantis is an island where live the descendants of the god Poseidon and his mortal lover Cleito) are the earliest that still exist, although there is evidence that the idea went much farther back. Centuries after Plato, Roman writers like Pliny the Elder and Diodorus Siculus returned to the concept. There was a renewal of interest during the Renaissance as well, where America, and later, Scandinavia were identified with Atlantis (although how these still-existing places could be Atlantis if Atlantis was destroyed and fell into the sea wasn’t explained). Another period of interest was the late nineteenth century. J Augustus Knapp An Idealistic Depiction of the Atlantean Mystery Temple 1928Think of the appearance of Atlantis in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870):

“…there beneath my eyes was a town in ruins, demolished, overwhelmed, laid low, its roofs caved in, its temples pulled down, its arches dislocated, its columns stretching over the earth; in these ruins you could still detect the solid proportions of a sort of Tuscan architecture; farther off, the remains of a gigantic aqueduct,; here, the caked heights of an acropolis along with the fluid forms of a Parthenon; there, the remnants of a wharf, as if some bygone part had long ago harbored merchant vessels and triple-tiered war galleys on the shores of some lost ocean; still farther off, long rows of collapsing walls, deserted thoroughfares, a whole Pompeii buried under the waters, which Captain Nemo had resurrected before my eyes!” Read more