Category Archives: Journal – Vol. III

CXXXVIII. Fugue II

June 28, 1914 — A dustup in Sarajevo. Someone shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. That tragedy triggered a Great World War. While the Industrial Revolution had been changing the way we do things, first in Britain and then in America, trains speeding up travel, factory chimneys polluting the air, the changes were gradual. The First World War produced a shock wave, crumbling the cultural towers of society, changing our ways suddenly, unexpectedly and forever.

June 28, 1919 — The signing of the Treaty of Versailles: The Germans were peeved. For some twenty years thereafter they held a grudge. With so many of our faces buried in our smart devices, it might be expected someone will soon start marketing screen savers for our noses. Do we think about the causes and effects of these events leading from one Great War to the next and to the insidious spread of Communism and the Cold War, and on and on and on and on? You know how it goes. Or we should; alas, most of us, no. The interweaving of events of the 20th century and into the 21st has produced one long fugue.

June 28, 2020 — Today a new enemy has ambushed us, one trenchantly parallel to that other, insidious killer of 1918-1919, the Spanish flu pandemic. Our new one is COVID-19. We have to go out in public attired in battle gear – gas masks, pith helmets, gauntlets, germ killers, or something akin to these; at least, that’s what it feels like. And then when we come home, to meticulously shed our attire and shower seems like dismantling a live bomb. In 1918-19 the Spanish flu was spread in large part by the mobilized troops in Europe, and when they returned home, injured, they spread it here in the United States. So many individuals were living young, healthy, vibrant lives; then they got the flu and they died. My grandparents told the stories of their close relatives who died. In 2020, we must be cognizant of history lest we be doomed to repeat the past.

The New York Times published a beautiful and thought-provoking photo essay and story on June 26, 2014: “The War to End All Wars? Hardly. But It Did Change Them Forever.”

My friend R wrote a poem that I want to share here, lest we forget the deeper implications, lest we fail to recognize the profound parallels to our lives today, lest we forget to remain vigilant:

SHADOWS OF WARS

The shadow of war
Revolution, no more
The lesson unlearned
Power, Privilege and Wealth soar
Senate and Congress do hoar
King, Czar, Sultan returned
Tell who’s who and what’s for
 
Observation towers and bunkers
To profits old clunkers
Enslaving the poor
Through to the core
From battlefield to graveyard
The law defines who’s ward
To die on your own
And be buried unknown
 

World War II Observation Towers on the Delaware Bay. From these we watched for German submarines coming up the United States East Coast, from the Atlantic Ocean, up the bay to the chemical plants and refineries lining the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del., to Philadelphia, Pa. Photo by Robert Pennington Price

This poem is thought provoking vis-à-vis the 28 June 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the 100th anniversary of the First World War; and of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War Western Allies landing on Omaha Beach, D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Today the battle of COVID.

Poppies grow in the French fields now, shrouding where the unknown soldiers missing in action rest. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn…?

I watched a 1984 TV series recently, based on the M. M. Kaye novel, The Far Pavilions, set in 1870s India. In the end the Brits crossed the Indian-Afghan border to engage in battle at Kabul to prevent the Russians from taking rule of Afghanistan.  1870s. This 1870s British-Russian standoff was called, not the great war, but The Great Game, a term Rudyard Kipling’s 1901 novel, Kim, made popular, a scenario made even more popular when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Where are the poppies of peace in the killing fields of life? Harvested in Afghanistan for opium, one medium of numbing ourselves to events…. How lovely. It’s the human condition. It is as with unresearched declarations on social media, harvested by the masses too lazy to rise from their saddles to research what’s really going on, to ferret out the truth. Rather, let’s educate ourselves, and, then, build our fortifications and defend them.

This fugue interweaving battles and disease plays across the centuries. We cannot flee it. It is never ending. I, for one, am tired of being locked in my cabin. I do go out, but not often, attired in my battle gear, but I don’t do masks well. I can’t breathe, I can’t see over them, so I’m afraid of tripping and falling. At my age I could fracture things and that might even prove fatal. Besides, the mask steams up my glasses.

COVID pandemic, where are the poppies in the fields of wheat? When is VC-Day (victory over COVID)? When will this end? When will this ever end…?

—Samantha Mozart
for June 28, 2014
Revisited & Revised July 25, 2020

CXXXVII. The Gateway

Thursday, April 23, 2020—In the Eastern High Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, the dry air smells of pine sap and granite dust. Hiking up the mountainside, at 9,000 feet altitude and higher, I round a bend, unexpectedly to come upon a waterfall. I stand in awe, mesmerized, watching it shift and lift and change, sonorous, a white lacey veil played by the fingers of the wind. I move on, tripping the light fantastic along the banks of a glacier lake, taking care not to stumble over the plumbing, the pipes running from that lake down to the next and the next, ultimately to supply water for the town of Mammoth Lakes and other California places. The long arm of mankind reaches into the backcountry.

Even so, the place is alive with nature mankind has not touched, yet. It is real, not virtual. All one has to do is be there, be among it. Glaciers, like the one that carved Yosemite Valley where the incense cedars grow along the green Merced, recede, recede. They feed the water that cascades with grace over the sheer cliff face. The ground beneath my feet shifts and even the formidable granite mountain walls grow with every earthquake, and there are many, mostly small, imperceptible tremors.

Unless you’re in a dark closet, be aware of your surroundings. Is your neighbor really cooking dog or does it just smell like that? I don’t know what they were cooking in that California apartment below me, but I didn’t want to eat it. Here, outside my window the vermillion dogwood leaves burnished by golden October sun, against a slate-gray wind cloud backdrop, quiver in the breeze surfeiting a corner of my mind with abundant beauty as I type this, filling the white page with black words in Times typeface.

In the High Sierra, sometimes I hiked with companions; sometimes I hiked alone. Always I listened, felt, watched, sensed, sniffed the air. The pine sap I touched made my fingers swell a little. High above, the sun glinted off an airplane, a silver sliver aloft in the blue, the singular sound of its jet engines in the high dry atmosphere, a sound that carries me back to the Sierra on the rare occasions the humidity is low here on the East Coast and I hear that sound again. Hiking in the Sierra, I didn’t take a cell phone, though always a camera, a bottle of water and a snack. The wildlife was different there from at home in Southern California; there were blue stellar jays, marmots and mule deer. The marmots resemble miniature bears, really miniature; I steered clear of real bears, which at close encounter appear way bigger than portrayed in photographs

Now, here, in middle Delaware, I take a walk on an autumn afternoon. I leave my cell phone home. With my face aglow in the light of the smart phone I’ve buried my nose in, I’d miss my natural surroundings—the golds and reds and browns of the fallen maple leaves and the dry, smoky aroma rising from them as I shuffle through them; the venerable bald cypress incensing my hair and ears and shoulders with exotic fragrance as I walk in the cathedral of its graceful arms and hear the chittering and chirping of the many, busy little lives sheltered deep within.

As I walk, I walk through the gateway joining earth and heaven. As I recall these times, I walk there still.

–Excerpted and developed from CXIV: “A Treat for the Senses,” October 24, 2013

 

CXXXVI. Snow Comes Softly

Monday, February 11, 2019 —Yesterday came cold and blustery. Flurries of  shoppers arrived at the store where I work, and I felt good to be out among the people and greet them. Children, their animation electrified, anticipated the coming storm. It … Read more »

CXXXV. Memories, As They Lay Their Long Shadows Before Me

I remember driving on blustery, gray November days with my mother, Emma, the hour and a half across New Jersey from Delaware to see Aunt Mary. Aunt Mary was Emma’s mother’s sister, my great aunt. She had a little farm in Absecon Heights, just across Absecon Bay from Atlantic City. Walking a half mile down the dirt roads through the reedy marshes, to stand on the little wooden dock at water’s edge, a mixed aroma of clams, salt and sulfur permeating our senses, and looking due east across the water, we could see the skyline and lights of Brigantine, on the barrier island above Absecon Inlet, north of Atlantic City. As a child, Emma spent all her summers with Aunt Mary, coming down from West Philadelphia.

Aunt Mary kept cats. She needed good mousers. Emma used to dress them up in doll clothes. I pictured those sweet cats in their colorful dresses, and wondered at their docility. I’m allergic to cats, although we did raise some when my daughter, Kellie, was growing up. Unlike cats, I seem not a good mouser. True, I lay in wait, ready to pounce on nouns, verbs, images, phrases to combine and devour in whole stories, but rarely can I devote the time these days. Instead, I must fill my hours at my day job where I pursue merchandise in a retail store. Ah, but today I have off. Happily, I’ve carved a slice from time to tell you some stories I remember.

Driving across New Jersey those gray November days, we were on our way to Thanksgiving dinner. Aunt Mary made the best stuffing, moist and sagey. Even though Emma, my brother and I have the recipe, we have never been able to duplicate Aunt Mary’s; and, no matter where we go or whose we eat, never have we tasted any as good. Aunt Mary always got a live turkey for Thanksgiving. We’d visit her earlier in the season, see the turkey in the pen, and then eat it on Thanksgiving. Aunt Mary raised chickens, too. In the spring, she’d have a new little pen of fuzzy, yellow baby chicks. When they grew up, they laid brown eggs. The rooster’s crowing woke us at dawn. My brother stuck his finger through the chicken wire surrounding the chicken yard. When the chicken pecked his finger, it hurt, and everybody said, “We told you.” He never did that again. Occasionally, Aunt Mary would go out into the yard, grab a chicken, break off its neck and we’d eat the chicken for dinner. I remember her standing at the sink in the back kitchen of her bungalow boiling the chicken and plucking the feathers. Once, Emma got chased by a chicken with its head cut off. She ran up the steps to the back door and the chicken came right up after her.

Aunt Mary had a framed poem hanging on her bedroom wall opposite her brass bed–Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”:

Sunset and evening star,
  And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
  When I put out to sea

I would lie in her bed and read it, wheezing, nearly unable to breathe from asthma from the cats, when I stayed with Aunt Mary for an occasional week during the summers.

In November 1974, Kellie, my dog, Kolia, a friend and I drove from Wilmington, Delaware, to a suburb of Towson, Maryland, near Baltimore, in search of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is my favorite author and kindred spirit. We set out on a typical November day–chilly; gray; misting rain; a counterpane of wet, golden leaves spread over the damp ground. I was on my way to find the house at La Paix, the estate of architect Bayard Turnbull, where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their daughter Scottie had stayed briefly, a quiet place where Scott could write and Zelda receive treatment at nearby prominent psychiatric institutions. I had embarked on a journey to touch Scott’s spirit. We did find a big, empty pillared pale-yellow, stucco house there, but it wasn’t the La Paix house where Scott had stayed. That house had been torn down, I learned later. Maybe I did encounter Scott’s spirit; the place certainly evoked the sense of something. The serenity there, the aroma of the fallen leaves underfoot, the mist in our faces, everything listening as the wind whispered stories through the trees: soft, tranquil, compelling me to write.

There’s a song, it’s called “Give,” by a group called Dishwalla. “I want to remain a child with you forever,” the words go, “and hear, as you lay before me, you tease me and tell me to stay. What would you give? What would you give?”

Memories, as they lay their long shadows before me, tease me and tell me to stay.

As a writer, I must capture thoughts and feelings, fleeting as twigs fallen into layers of wet golden leaves on old brick sidewalks before the wind stirs them into unsettled interludes.

Fitzgerald rendered much guidance on writing and I gobbled up every bit, filling reams with lines copied from his notebooks and memorizing them. He fed me well.

He found it difficult, as I do, to discipline himself to sit in a room and focus on writing; we believe the world is going by without us.

My favorite living writer, Orhan Pamuk, says he becomes irritable when he is deprived of his daily writing time in his room. I do, too. As I age I find it easier to focus on my writing; indeed I crave my time to write. Like an actor who stays in character while making a movie, when I’m away from my writing room, thoughts of what I would write eddy in the corners of my mind, leaves of many colors. It becomes difficult for me to focus fully on anything else until I can sweep those leaves onto the page before they blow away.

On a windy Sunday, I stood outside with Jetta, our 11-year-old teacup poodle, when she and Emma were still alive. Jetta could no longer stand much of the time nor walk straight. Her equilibrium was off and she was weak. She’d fall over and lie on her side. If she could get up again without my lifting her, I’d praise her: “Oh! See? You rolled over!” This I do because when she was healthy and I would command her to roll over, she’d stand there and look at me as if to say, “Why? That’s a silly trick; pointless, don’t you think? I mean, really, think about it. It’s like when you tell me I have to wait for the turkey until you cook it and then when it’s cooked you say I have to wait until it cools. Why bother to cook it? Just eat it. That’s far more efficient.” But, now, when she fell over and just had to lie there, she accepted it. She’d just lie there and I’d reach down and pick her up and try to stand her on her rubbery legs.

Life involves allowing oneself to release control, to accept and to enter the void. “What would you give? I want to remain a child with you forever.” There is not nothing; there is something: see what happens when you come out the other side. “Tell me to stay.”

When Jetta and I stood outside that windy Sunday, our wind chimes and the neighbors’ all up and down the block, all different sizes, from the tiniest to the longest tubes, were ringing wildly, an unharmonious tone poem. The sound was mystical, evoking the quality of a hundred Russian church bells.

It is impossible not to be uplifted into the vibrational frequency of those Russian bells. Bells, you know, have a huge void in the center. The tone of the ringing of the wind chimes lifted me into a kind of acceptance: What ancient mystical stories and truths is the wind telling us through those bells? Recalled for me the sounds of Russian church bells, I have to say that they are the sounds of my soul. I therefore feel compelled to quote from Jane Fonda’s book, Prime Time, “Sooner or later we will come to the edge of all that we cannot control and find life, waiting there for us,” at the door. Fonda continues, “The psychologist Marion Woodman says that with ‘vulnerability lives the humility that allows flesh to soften into the sounds of the soul.’”

“The Wind Whispered Stories Through the Trees,”
Samantha Mozart, November 22, 2011
Revisited and Revised November 4, 2018

 

CXXXIV. Snow Comes Softly II

Sunday, December 10, 2017 —Yesterday came cold and blustery. Flurries of Christmas shoppers arrived at the store where I work, and I felt good to be out among the people and greet them. Children, their animation electrified, anticipated Santa Claus’s coming to town.

It began to snow. The purity of the white is centering. Snow falling is quiet, peaceful. I think I will decorate for Christmas this year simply with only a few greens and bows and candlelight. It will be a quiet observance, the halls of my home dressed in a raiment of soft, warm light.

It is Sunday. The bell in the little Episcopal church across the street rang this morning, as it does every Sunday. It is a real bell, in the steeple, that somebody rings. This little historic church recalls all the chapels in all the English villages, meadows and dales that I see in all the British dramas I watch. They don’t ring the bell long in this Episcopal church – eight times for the eight o’clock service and ten for the ten o’clock service.

One Sunday morning, I was walking in front of the Methodist church down the street when suddenly the bell tolled. I rose several feet off the sidewalk and I suspect not lifted on angel wings. In fact, I exclaimed, “Holy [expletive].” This is a real bell, too, and apparently a good sized one; it is loud, and it goes on ringing for eons. It’s a big church and the congregation continues arriving for ages.

Snowflakes alight briefly in flurries or waltz in endless patterns bending, swirling, reaching and touching everything all the dull gray day and into the deep blue night, well beyond three o’clock in the morning.

Prose arabesques from the pens of writers ornament the characteristics and romance of snowflakes. Each snowflake is uniquely shaped. The flakes fall softly, individually, in pairs and in gatherings. Yet they all come from the same source and are composed of the same matter. Snowflakes have a mission: they fall out of the clouds and they land on black slick streets, red-brick sidewalks, brown winter grass, mounds of dried leaves blown into corners of flower beds and on the bare dogwood branches outside my window. Sometimes the snowflakes melt on contact, sometimes they pile up. And then everything turns white. Watching them fall, we become quiet, meditative, nostalgic, always a little awestruck. We watch snow fall with anticipation: snowfall shatters our routines, like a snowball walloped against the surface of a frozen pond, makes us turn to something new, view life with a fresh perspective. Sometimes each snowflake makes a light ticking sound as it touches down. The birds get quiet when it snows. I watch the squirrels and the birds and I can predict the weather. The squirrels bustle gathering nuts in advance of the coming cold. Birds flock and chatter and then get quiet. Birds have different songs for different types of weather and different times of day. They have their cheery morning song, their spring song for temperatures mounting on soft southern breezes; they have their evensong.

Mothers bring their young children outside to witness the first snowfall of the season. I observe one child extend her arm to watch the snow accumulate in her pink mittened palm.

I like driving in a car when it is snowing. I love being in the magic of the snow flying at me, the cypress and cedars and oaks lining the road, their branches laden with snow, the padding of the car tires on the snow, the few other cars on the road all traveling slowly as in a dream, and the tire tracks of an unseen car gone before me.

Snow fulfills its own purpose. Snow comes softly; it piles on tree limbs, bushes, holly berries and cars. Snow comes softly, like a gentle soul, filling in the footprints on our paths. It stays for a while, and then it is gone.

—Samantha Mozart

CXXXIII. Zinfandel

I have come to my blog this afternoon. I haven’t been here in a while. Maybe you noticed. The place is incredibly dusty. Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog, does not dust. He sweeps up after parties, hangs new headers, and cooks borscht, but he does not dust.

I walk over to the round table. Even the orange candle in the bottle we keep in the center of the table is dusty. Someone has scrawled “Dusty Destry rides again” in the dust on the table surface, and, “Meet us at Bottleneck.” “Oh, so funny,” I think, dryly. “Moriarty.”

I open the windows and let in the light and air. I go into the kitchen. Fingerprints pepper the dust all over the black stovetop, and a stippling of dots, like someone has sneezed. There are a couple of corks on the stove, but no companion bottles. A pot of leftover chili sits on a burner, still warm, the handle of the big spoon sticking out at the rim of the lid. Moriarty must be here. I go into the back kitchen. Fingerprints are in the dust all over the old black stove here, too, and paw prints on the top front edge. And bird claw prints. Odd. I find a couple of rags in a drawer, dampen them and begin dusting. I climb to the catwalk. While dusting the apparatus, ropes and wires along the open spaces, I hear music – Moriarty’s banjo – and then peals of macabre laughter reverberate through the beams and railings. I stop. No … that’s not Moriarty. He doesn’t laugh that way. Silence ensues. A chill runs up my spine. Goosebumps rise on my forearms. This is my blog. I welcome visitors. But this – who else is creeping around in here…? A stranger listening for me? I’ll never get done dusting if I stop and wonder. I certainly do not want to be in here till midnight. I continue dusting. Once or twice I hear a dog bark – Moriarty’s black, fluffy dog, Dickens?

Now I am hungry and the chili back there on the stove smelled good. I come down to the kitchen, rinse out the rags and take a break. I reheat the chili, sit at the round table and eat what is left. In the gathering gloom I think I hear again the evil laughter. I listen; then, stillness unbroken. I look around. I see no one. I get up, go into the kitchen and wash the dishes, chili pot, and the stoves in both rooms. I stay at my blog until well after dark, dusting. Finally I am done. I close the windows. I am ready to go home.

I think I hear Dickens barking. They must be in the cupola. I am tired and want to sit and relax with a glass of wine and good conversation. In the kitchen I find a wine glass but no wine, just bottle corks, and no cheese and crackers. The cupboard is bare. Unusual. I should visit my blog more often.

I climb the creaking, winding staircase, carrying my empty glass, and, brushing peeling yellowing paint off my sleeve, remember that I must get Moriarty to put a fresh coat of paint on these walls.

At the top, the cupola door is shut. Beyond the door I hear muffled voices. The door sticks a little, but I push it open wide. Dickens rushes to me, all wiggly, nuzzling me. He sniffs my hands, to see if I am bringing food, and my clothes. I probably smell like moldering rags. He sneezes.

Moriarty lolls in one chair and across the space, in the half-light, I see a dark-haired scrawny man sprawled in another. The man’s face is sallow, bony and crumpled, uneven, like whoever planned this face hadn’t laid out the parts on a grid first. He has a small mustache and random curls drop over his high forehead. His eyes are sunken, yet bright and beady, like small black grapes. He is dressed all in black, a black turtle neck sweater, with a scarf wound tight and tied about his neck, and jeans. He wears black loafers but no socks, the mark of a Southern man, or one who has lived for some time in the South.

“Samantha, this is my friend, Poe,” says Moriarty.

“Poe? As in Edgar Allan?” I ask, still standing just inside the door, staring at the pair. Poe fixes his eyes on me. They shine with dark intent – mysterious glinting blades. I reach to the doorframe for support.

“Poe is my first name,” he answers. “Edgar Allan Poe is my ancestor. My mother named me after him. He is my ancestor on my sister’s side.”

“…What? Your sister…?” I ask.

“Yeah. Paula,” he says.

I don’t pursue the conundrum. He seems a bit wacky to me. And he is creepy looking. I hear a whirring. Suddenly, a large bird swoops down, close in front of my face, and perches on Poe’s shoulder. I start. It is a raven, having apparently been perched on the frame over the doorway, right above my head: the explanation for the bird claw prints on the stove.

“Come in. Sit,” says Moriarty, waving his arm toward the remaining empty chair. “I see you found my message.”

“The one in the dust about meeting you at Bottleneck?” I say.

“That one,” says Moriarty. His banjo stands against his chair.

“Where’s the wine?” I ask. “I’ve been dusting all afternoon and I’m ready to near-drown in a glass of Zinfandel armed with cheese and crackers serving as floaties. Where’s the wine?”

The two gaze at me blankly. No, sheepishly. Then I spot over in the corner, and lining one wall, even in the gauzy light of the few candles Moriarty has brought up to the cupola with him, a contingent of Zinfandel bottles. They are empty. All of them.

My eyes widen. “You drank all the wine?!”

“We’re having a frightfully good time,” says Poe.

“We’re telling each other spooky stories,” adds Moriarty, “and then singing them.” He sniggers.

I don’t find these two boys particularly amusing. I’ve been scrubbing prickly cactus on a dusty desert all afternoon, reaching precariously over the edge of the catwalk, filling my lungs with dust and my ears with reverberating peals of macabre laughter seemingly out of the ethers, I am moldering and thirsty, and I want at least one glass of wine, a large one. Filled to the rim.

“There’s no more wine anywhere?” I say.

“It was a faulty case,” says Moriarty.

“Now, wait a minute,” says Poe, indignant. “I didn’t think the case in my detective story I just told you was faulty.”

“No, the case of wine,” says Moriarty. “The bottles all had leaks.”

“We should have brought a cask,” says Poe.

“I’m sure,” I say, flatly. “And, no cheese and crackers?”

“Nothing more,” says Poe.

Dickens walks over and sniffs the empty plate on the floor next to the bottles. There isn’t even a crumb for him to lick up.

The raven burps. Dickens trots over to the bird and begins barking up at it, still perched on Poe’s shoulder, Dickens commanding, as if to say, “You ate ‘em all. Cough ‘em up, buddy.”

But, I suspect it was Moriarty and Poe who ate the greater balance of them.

The candle flames flicker in the bare draft whispering through the open window. The curtain rustles lightly. We sit in silence. Poe stares down at the shapeshifting shadow specters dancing a fantastic fandango across the candlelit floor. The raven blinks. Moriarty watches Dickens settle onto the worn red Oriental rug, against my chair. A distant bell tolls.

Poe sits bolt upright. He peals,

“‘And the people–ah, the people–
 They that dwell up in the steeple,
    All alone,
  And who, tolling, tolling, tolling,
    In that muffled monotone,
  Feel a glory in so rolling
    On the human heart a stone—,’

“I think I’ll write a poem about that,” he muses, “something about bells. It has a nice ring, don’t you think? It just rolls – rolls, rolls, rolls, rolls – rolls lightly off the tongue. A tintinnabulation.”

“You’re making me hungry,” says Moriarty. “Rolls and butter.”

“It’s already been written. By your ancestor on your sister Paula’s side,” I point out. “It’s called ‘The Bells.’”

“Ah, iron bells.” The rusty tone of his voice rises from a deep well within him. There is a peculiar, dark nervousness about this man. He twitches and fidgets and then suddenly he is calm, strangely calm, glassy. Then, I notice his eyes are not black, but light, yet acute, and sad, yes, sad. And, every time he twitches and fidgets, Dickens watches, amused, as the raven puffs its wings, roughs its feathers and shifts its position.

“Has Dickens been fed?” I ask.

“Well, smooth, sweet nepenthe. Of that I must have more,” says Poe. “I must get my hat and depart thee. I must get to the store. Then, I am headed to my chamber. I feel an urge, a pressing urge to write ever more.”

He rises, turns and then stops. He stoops and reaches into one of the bottles, the raven hopping, turning, adjusting its wings and claws on Poe’s shoulder for balance. “Look at this. It’s a message.” He sticks a finger into the bottle neck and coaxes out the paper. “A message in a bottle. Cool.”

He unrolls it. “Uh-oh,” he says upon examining it. “I wrote this.” He hands it to Moriarty. I read it over his shoulder. It is faded and hard to read in the feeble candlelight, but I can make out the title, in large print: “MS. Found in a Bottle.”

“You just gave yourself away,” I say. “You’re the real Edgar Allan Poe, not some descendant on your sister Paula’s side.

“I won a literary award for this,” says Poe, “my only one. In 1833. I entered it in a fiction contest sponsored by the Baltimore Saturday Visiter [sic] newspaper. Fifty dollars, I got for my short story.” He reaches and pulls his black cape off the back of his chair, sweeps it around his shoulders, turns and heads down the winding staircase, the raven teetering as they descend as one. He waves a hand over his shoulder, “Ciao,” he says, and he and his raven vanish into the murkiness of the hour.

I turn to Moriarty. “You, my dear Phantom, have an intriguing menagerie of friends.”

Moriarty smiles.

The scent of fresh, wet earth rises as a soft rain begins to fall. Moriarty pulls the window closed and extinguishes the candles save one. He carries it to light our way as we descend the winding stairs, Dickens leading. Our shadows in the lost light glide alongside us like leviathan grotesques navigating inside a diaphanous wall.

“Remember, I asked you to paint these walls,” I say. “Would you do it soon? Please?”

“They have to be scraped first,” he says, “sanded down, to reveal the bones beneath.”

–Samantha Mozart
October 20, 2016

 

CXXXII. “Under the Trees It Was Green and Cool”: F. Scott Fitzgerald

The singer is gone, but the song lingers on. September 24 is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday. This year he would be 120.

September 24, 2016 — F. Scott Fitzgerald came to live in Wilmington, Delaware, in March 1927. With him he brought his wife, Zelda, and his little daughter, Scottie. They stayed two years.

The feudal atmosphere in Wilmington under the du Ponts, thought Maxwell Perkins, Fitzgerald’s editor at Scribner’s, would provide the creator of The Great Gatsby with the tranquility he needed to finish his new novel, “The World’s Fair,” and give him material for future work.

For $150 a month, they leased Ellerslie, the white three-story 1842 Greek Revival cupolaed mansion on the Delaware River in Edgemoor. Wilmington attorney John Biggs, Fitzgerald’s former Princeton roommate, found the house for them.

For the first few months, life at Ellerslie floated along on the wings of a dream. Fitzgerald wrote to Ernest Hemingway: “Address for a year – Ellerslie Mansion, Edgemoor, Delaware. Huge old house on the Delaware River. Pillars, etc. I am called ‘Colonel,’ Zelda ‘de old Missus.’”

Scott and Zelda devised a system of calls and echoes so they could find each other among the 14 of the 27 rooms they kept open. Scottie romped the broad green lawn with the Wanamaker and du Pont children. And from the second-story bay window room where Fitzgerald wrote, he could see the lights far across the river.

Ellerslie

Ellerslie, image from the Hagley Museum and Library

At Ellerslie, in the deep night, amid the whispering old oaks, beeches and horse chestnuts, you might glimpse the suggestion of a figure, perhaps Gatsby himself, standing on the pillared portico of the magnificent house, lifting his arms outstretched toward the dark water.

The invitations went out and the crazy weekends began. Fridays the French chauffeur drove to the Wilmington train station to meet the guests who included Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Thornton Wilder, Edmund Wilson and Charles MacArthur. The chauffeur drove them back on Sunday. In between were dinner dances, polo matches staged with plow horses and croquet mallets, and late-night bedside visits by the resident ghost. If things got dull, they caroused the town: John Biggs received the middle of the night phone calls to get them out of jail.

At Ellerslie, Fitzgerald had turned 30. Indeed, a weekend guest recalled one of the parties as being a virtual funeral wake for the passing of his 30th year. His sense of loss plagued him.

“There was a demon within him to be the greatest writer of his generation. He didn’t feel he was accomplishing this,” remembered Biggs.

He got distracted when he started writing. “I get afraid I’m doing it instead of living…. Get thinking maybe life is waiting for me in the Japanese gardens at the Ritz or in Atlantic City or on the lower East Side.”

Zelda wanted to build a surprise dollhouse for Scottie. Fitzgerald and his little girl waited in their car on a quiet red-brick street corner while she disappeared with some papers through a door lettered “Cabinet Maker.”

It was a fine November day. The last golden leaves clung to the trees, sprinkling little shadows here and there on the sidewalk. The daddy yawned. A very little boy walked up the street, taking very long strides. He went up to a door, took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and proceeded to write something under the doorbell.

“He’s making magic signs,” the daddy told the little girl. The daddy then wove a tale of fairy intrigue. ‘The little boy was the ogre and he was holding a princess captive behind the closed curtains of the flat on the corner. The king and queen were imprisoned 10,000 miles under the earth.

“And what, Daddy? What?” demanded the little girl, caught up in the magic. The man continued the story. He wanted to be in his little girl’s fairy world with her. A shutter banged closed, then slowly opened. Suddenly the room turned blue. That meant the prince had found the first of the three stones that would free the princess.

The man could remember that world but he knew he would never again see it or touch it for himself. “Outside the Cabinet-Maker’s” was published in The Century Magazine, December 1928.

The Fitzgeralds interrupted their two years at Ellerslie voyaging to Paris in the summer of 1928. There, at a dinner party hosted by Sylvia Beach, a Baltimore native and founder of Shakespeare and Company, Fitzgerald met James Joyce, where he was so overawed by the genius of the Irish author that he sank onto bended knee, kissed his hand and later referred to the evening as “The Festival of St. James.”

Leaving Ellerslie for good in March 1929 the Fitzgeralds sailed for Genoa. In April they were somewhere in France. By June they were in Cannes.

After they sailed, Ellerslie was acquired by the Krebs Co.

In Europe Zelda suffered her first major breakdown, most likely bipolar, and spent 15 months in a Swiss clinic. Upon her release the Fitzgeralds returned to the United States to live in Baltimore in 1931, but Zelda broke down again and was treated at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Tender Is the Night, begun in 1925 as “The World’s Fair,” winged its way into the literary world in 1934. One year later, the big square rooms of the sweeping white mansion on the Delaware housed the offices of the DuPont Co. pigments plant.

Fitzgerald published “Afternoon of an Author,” a short story, in Esquire magazine in August 1936. In the story he wrote:

“He went into the kitchen and said good-by to the maid as if he were going to Little America. Once in the war he had commandeered an engine on sheer bluff and had it driven from New York to Washington to keep from being A.W.O.L. Now he stood carefully on the street corner waiting for the light to change, while young people hurried past him with a fine disregard for traffic. On the bus corner under the trees it was green and cool and he thought of Stonewall Jackson’s last words: “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.” Those Civil War leaders seemed to have realized very suddenly how tired they were—Lee shriveling into another man, Grant with his desperate memoir-writing at the end.”

Fitzgerald took rooms at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, for the summers of 1935 and 1936. He thought the respite at the inn would help him stop drinking and write more.  Tender Is the Night was not selling well: during the Depression people weren’t inclined to read about the highlife of the rich. He was supporting Zelda’s institutional stay and daughter Scottie’s Vassar education. At the Grove Park Inn, Fitzgerald turned 40.

The Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N. C.

The Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N. C.

Some years earlier, Scott Fitzgerald had met Asheville native son, Thomas Wolfe, author of the autobiographical novel, Look Homeward, Angel, through Maxwell Perkins, their mutual editor. Perkins and Wolfe marked birthdays around Fitzgerald’s, September 20 (1884) and October 3 (1900) respectively. So, you might regard this story as a triple birthday commemoration. Wolfe and Fitzgerald maintained a correspondence on the philosophy of writing.

In 1937 Fitzgerald went to Hollywood to write for the movies. Gone With the Wind was one of them. He was also working on a new novel, The Last Tycoon. He stayed at the Garden of Allah residential hotel in Hollywood.

Garden of Allah

Garden of Allah

On December 21, 1940, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, lyrical prose writer, author of novels, short stories, poems, essays and plays, died in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, of a heart attack. He was 44.

Thomas Wolfe died on September 15, 1938, in Johns Hopkins Hospital, his brain riddled with tuberculosis.

Maxwell Perkins, a kind father to both these men, died on June 17, 1947 of pneumonia.

Zelda perished in a fire at Highland Hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 10, 1948, when flames ripped through a wooden building where she and eight other patients were housed.

In 1972, the gracious summer home on the Delaware, riddled with termites, was demolished.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, great grandnephew of Francis Scott Key, the author of the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the United States national anthem, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on this day, September 24, 1896. Happy Birthday, Scott.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards
Already with thee! tender is the night

—from Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats

This Ode to Fitzgerald is in part excerpted from a piece I published in the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal, “Only the Memories Remain,” under my byline Carol Child,
April 24, 1986.

Samantha Mozart

CXXXI. Music: Part 3 – “The Wallflower” and The Saga of Annie & Henry

May 14, 2015 — I was in eighth grade listening to hit songs on the radio sung by Doris Day and Perry Como, when my friend, Anne Sullivan, said, “You’ve gotta listen to this.”  It was “Roll With Me, Henry,” sung by Etta James (1938-2012), the first rock ‘n’ roll song (now commonly known as doo wop) I had ever heard. The song, I learned today, has an interesting backstory.

According to Wikipedia: The Wallflower” (also known as “Roll with Me, Henry” and “Dance with Me, Henry“) is a 1955 popular song. It was one of several answer songs to “Work with Me, Annie” and has the same 12-bar blues melody. It was written by Johnny Otis, Hank Ballard, and Etta James. Etta James recorded it for Modern Records, with uncredited vocal responses from Richard Berry, under the title “The Wallflower” and it became a rhythm and blues hit, topping the U.S. R&B chart for 4 weeks. It was popularly known as “Roll with Me Henry”. This original version was considered too risque to play on pop radio stations.
In 1955, the song was covered for the pop market by Georgia Gibbs with the title “Dance With Me Henry”. That version charted, hitting the top five of several pop charts, including number one on the Most Played In Juke Boxes chart on May 14, 1955 , spending three weeks on top of that chart.[1] In 1958, Etta James made her own cover version of “Dance With Me Henry”.

Hank Ballard (1927-2003) & The Midnighters (formerly called The Royals) released “Work With Me, Annie” on January 14, 1954. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) immediately opposed it incanting that it had crossed over to a white teenage audience and the overtly sexual lyrics were thought unsuitable for them. But efforts to ban the song failed. The song had sold a million copies as did each of the succeeding Annie songs in the trilogy (“Work With Me, Annie,” “Roll With Me, Henry” and “Annie’s Aunt Fanny.”)

The success of these recordings instigated the practice of recording double entendre and answer songs. “The Wallflower” (popularly known as “Roll With Me, Henry”) is the answer song to “Work With Me, Annie.” The Midnighters recycled the melody once more for “Henry’s Got Flat Feet (Can’t Dance No More).”

An answer or response song, as the term suggests, is a song made in answer to a previous song, usually in recorded music. This concept became widespread in blues and rhythm & blues in the 1930s through the 1950s. Country music answer songs were popular in the 1950s and ’60s, primarily recorded by female singers in response to an original male recording. Response or answer music extends through to today in hip hop, rock music and filk music.  Wikipedia defines filk music as both a musical culture, genre, and community tied to science fiction/fantasy fandom and a type of fan labor. The genre has been active since the early 1950s, and played primarily since the mid-1970s. The term (originally a typographical error) predates 1955.

It appears to me that these answer/response song artists were engaging in pre-tech-age forms of flash fiction, blogging, and blog comments and replies.

Here are some YouTube links to original performances of these songs:

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters’ “Work With Me, Annie”  — a 12-bar blues song, the first in the Annie series.

Etta James, “Roll With Me, Henry

This is a later, Platters version of “Roll With Me, Henry” — or as The Platters female singer, Zola Taylor, (1938-2007) says it, “Hennery.”  This is funny — and I thought I could jitterbug. Brings back memories.

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, “Annie Had a Baby

The Midnighters, “Annie’s Aunt Fanny

The Champions, “Annie Met Henry.”

There are no coincidences, some say, yet I stumbled on this today, May 14, 2015 , the 60th anniversary of Georgia Gibbs’s (1919-2006) “Dance With Me, Henry” topping the jukebox charts, because a fellow blogger visited my site for the first time and commented.  I responded and in turn, visited her blog — she writes about music, mostly rock ‘n’ roll (http://www.jinglejanglejungle.net).  She wrote a post about The Champs and “Tequila” and that made me think of the first rock ‘n’ roll song I had ever heard.

Samantha Mozart

CXXXI. Music: Interlude

September 24, 2014 — F. Scott Fitzgerald came to live in Wilmington, Delaware, in March 1927. With him he brought his wife, Zelda, and his little daughter, Scottie. They stayed two years.

The feudal atmosphere in Wilmington under the du Ponts, thought Maxwell Perkins, Fitzgerald’s editor at Scribner’s, would provide the creator of The Great Gatsby with the tranquility he needed to finish his new novel, “The World’s Fair,” and give him material for future work.

For $150 a month, they leased Ellerslie, the white three-story 1842 Greek Revival cupolaed mansion on the Delaware River in Edgemoor. Wilmington attorney John Biggs, Fitzgerald’s former Princeton roommate, found the house for them.

For the first few months, life at Ellerslie floated along on the wings of a dream. Fitzgerald wrote to Ernest Hemingway: “Address for a year – Ellerslie Mansion, Edgemoor, Delaware. Huge old house on the Delaware River. Pillars, etc. I am called ‘Colonel,’ Zelda ‘de old Missus.’”

Scott and Zelda devised a system of calls and echoes so they could find each other among the 14 of the 27 rooms they kept open. Scottie romped the broad green lawn with the Wanamaker and du Pont children. And from the second-story bay window room where Fitzgerald wrote, he could see the lights far across the river.

Ellerslie

Ellerslie, image from the Hagley Museum and Library

At Ellerslie, in the deep night, amid the whispering old oaks, beeches and horse chestnuts, you might glimpse the suggestion of a figure, perhaps Gatsby himself, standing on the pillared portico of the magnificent house, lifting his arms outstretched toward the dark water.

The invitations went out and the crazy weekends began. Fridays the French chauffeur drove to the Wilmington train station to meet the guests who included Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Thornton Wilder, Edmund Wilson and Charles MacArthur. The chauffeur drove them back on Sunday. In between were dinner dances, polo matches staged with plow horses and croquet mallets, and late-night bedside visits by the resident ghost. If things got dull, they caroused the town: John Biggs received the middle of the night phone calls to get them out of jail.

At Ellerslie, Fitzgerald had turned 30. Indeed, a weekend guest recalled one of the parties as being a virtual funeral wake for the passing of his 30th year. His sense of loss plagued him.

“There was a demon within him to be the greatest writer of his generation. He didn’t feel he was accomplishing this,” remembered Biggs.

He got distracted when he started writing. “I get afraid I’m doing it instead of living…. Get thinking maybe life is waiting for me in the Japanese gardens at the Ritz or in Atlantic City or on the lower East Side.”

Zelda wanted to build a surprise dollhouse for Scottie. Fitzgerald and his little girl waited in their car on a quiet red-brick street corner while she disappeared with some papers through a door lettered “Cabinet Maker.”

It was a fine November day. The last golden leaves clung to the trees, sprinkling little shadows here and there on the sidewalk. The daddy yawned. A very little boy walked up the street, taking very long strides. He went up to a door, took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and proceeded to write something under the doorbell.

“He’s making magic signs,” the daddy told the little girl. The daddy then wove a tale of fairy intrigue. ‘The little boy was the ogre and he was holding a princess captive behind the closed curtains of the flat on the corner. The king and queen were imprisoned 10,000 miles under the earth.

“And what, Daddy? What?” demanded the little girl, caught up in the magic. The man continued the story. He wanted to be in his little girl’s fairy world with her. A shutter banged closed, then slowly opened. Suddenly the room turned blue. That meant the prince had found the first of the three stones that would free the princess.

The man could remember that world but he knew he would never again see it or touch it for himself. “Outside the Cabinet-Maker’s” was published in The Century Magazine, December 1928.

In March 1929 the Fitzgeralds sailed for Genoa. In April they were somewhere in France. By June they were in Cannes.

After they sailed, Ellerslie was acquired by the Krebs Co.

Tender Is the Night, begun in 1925 as “The World’s Fair,” winged its way into the literary world in 1934. One year later, the big square rooms of the sweeping white mansion on the Delaware housed the offices of the DuPont Co. pigments plant.

On December 21, 1940, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, lyrical prose writer, author of novels, short stories, poems, essays and plays, died in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, of a heart attack. He was 44. In 1972, the gracious summer home on the Delaware, riddled with termites, was demolished.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, great grandnephew of Francis Scott Key, the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the United States national anthem, was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on this day, September 24, 1896. Happy Birthday, Scott.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards
Already with thee! tender is the night

—from Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats

This Ode to Fitzgerald is excerpted from a piece I published in the Wilmington (Del.) News-Journal, “Only the Memories Remain,” under my byline Carol Child,
April 24, 1986.

Samantha Mozart

CXXXI. Music: Part 2 — Rhapsody

September 11, 2014 — What if you handed each person in the world a guitar or a tambourine, and then asked all to play their instruments in unison, speaking as neighbors one to another. Think of the dialogue this would create. What effect would this have on the world?

Recently, I attended a dinner reception for a group of jazz musicians. When I stood up to leave, one of the musicians at the table asked me a question, and in response I began telling a story. In the middle of my story, suddenly I became aware that the musicians were looking up at me, listening with rapt attention. Was my story that fascinating? Probably not. It occurred to me that the musicians were about to go on stage and perform, and here I was performing for them. I was not the performer here; they were. I quickly wrapped up my story and left to go over to the hall where they would play that evening. On the way, I thought, musicians listen, they really listen. They have to; how else would they be able to perform together if they didn’t listen to one another? The result would be chaos. And then I realized why I have long felt that the heart of my life was when I worked at the catering/food distributing company in the 1980s. Nearly all my coworkers were musicians, and we had so much fun together – we played together – talking, joking, telling stories, laughing, singing, and always listening: we all listened to one another, accepted the other’s expression and didn’t judge. We intermeshed.

That August Saturday night of my watching all music on television, my PBS station followed John Sebastian and my folk interlude with Gustavo Dudamel: The boy who conducted his toys at age four and grew up to lead The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, operated under the auspices of El Sistema (founded in 1975 by Venezuelan musician, educator and economist José Antonio Abreu, to take indigent children off the streets by giving them free musical instruments and lessons), today is the musical director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and conducts great world orchestras, all with passion, exuberance, expression and joy.

Watching Gustavo Dudamel conduct, I am at once transported to 1973 when my daughter and I went to see the young Zubin Mehta conduct the L.A. Philharmonic at the L.A. Music Center performing Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony. Zubin Mehta was extraordinary (also extraordinarily handsome, still is). When the concert ended, we in the audience stood and applauded at length. During the performance the momentarily idle violinists and cellists smiled across the orchestra to each other apparently acknowledging some string-players’ inside joke. This is the only orchestra in which I have seen members smiling. They smiled again this time under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel – who smiled, too, throughout.

To my ever-broadening grin, this Saturday evening I was privileged to watch Dudamel conducting works of George Gershwin, with Herbie Hancock on piano, in 2011 at spectacular Disney Hall, designed by maestro architect Frank Gehry, a hall where the audience sits surrounding the stage where sit the musicians. If any musician can bridge the gap between youth and popular music and the great classics, besides world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, it is Gustavo Dudamel. When you watch him conduct, you know by his facial, arm and bodily expressions exactly what the composer coded and precisely what Dudamel desires to draw from the orchestra. He makes listening to music compelling and fun.

Unlike great European orchestras, comprised traditionally of mostly stodgy, gray-haired men, the L.A. Philharmonic, like the City of Angels itself, is comprised of a rich ethnic diversity, of both men and women, young and old. Even in the early days, when my daughter and I sat in the audience, we watched a conductor, Zubin Mehta, now Music Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic, whose Parsee family had migrated from Persia to India generations back.

Yo-Yo Ma, who has performed with Mehta often, was born in Paris of Chinese parents who immigrated to the United States when Ma was 7. What an unexpected change in the architecture, observed the boy who had already been playing the cello for three years, from a city of low buildings with tile roofs, and the Eiffel Tower, to a place of square buildings, flat roofs and water towers. Yo-Yo Ma from about age 4 or 5 has always wanted to know “Who did this and why?” He considers himself both a forensic musician, therefore, and a citizen musician. “I am a musician, but what can I do with this,” he thinks. So he plays all types of music with musicians playing all variety of instruments, exemplified by his Silk Road Ensemble. He classifies classical music along with all other music genres as simply “music,” citing composers who have crossed genres such as Argentine-born Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), a bandoneon player, who came to Harlem and whose nuevo tango/jazz compositions were influenced by the music he heard there.

Yo-Yo Ma believes that when he is performing, he is not some great and distant maestro deigning to demonstrate his musical achievements to the audience, rather, he is doing what he can do, sharing his music, that he is the host and we, the audience, are his guests. Music is what occurs between the notes, he says, as do other accomplished musicians, naming Soviet-born violinist Isaac Stern (1920-2001) and Spanish Catalan cellist Pablo Casals (1876-1973), and defines his peak experiences in music as occurring in that moment: how do you go from this note to the next, from the end of this musical section to the next, do you stop, pause, do you continue, running the notes together, do you rise in a partial tone, one note to the next? And for example, says Ma, in Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G, the cellist must go on from the Sarabande (a slow dance) to the Minuet; you can’t just end with the Sarabande and leave the music hanging.

When Krista Tippett on her September 4 National Public Radio (NPR) show “On Being” asked this artist, Yo-Yo Ma, in an interview titled “Music Happens Between the Notes,” what is his definition of beauty, he responded, “Transcendence.” He said that beauty occurs at that peak moment, the moment between the notes. The Silk Road Ensemble’s new, 2013, album is titled “A Playlist Without Borders.”

Music by its very nature is transcendent; and music is transitory by its nature and by the nature of performance. So, where does music come from? When I was very young and first heard an orchestral recording, I thought music came from the spheres. Later, on television, I saw a large group of people sitting together producing those same sounds: that was an orchestra, I learned. Many years have played through the score my life and now I believe that music comes from the spheres – its creation, as with all art, and the tones and overtones produced. A violinist said that she wanted to play the violin when she heard the violin in Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s (1844-1908) symphonic poem “Scheherazade.” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” is the first composition that greatly impressed me and instilled my love for classical music.

Music, as with all art, is without borders. While artists pursue their art religiously, art is not a religion; for religion implies dogma, and dogma has borders; to imply your art as religion would be to enclose yourself inside a box, wherein would cease your ability to explore new vistas of creativity.

Yo-Yo Ma and Zubin Mehta have often performed with maestro pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, an Israeli born in Argentina of Russian Jewish parents. Barenboim, who, when in his youth immigrated with his parents to Europe, lived and studied in Vienna, and in Paris with French musician, composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger (1877-1979). Among Boulanger’s students, who became leading composers, soloists, and conductors were Aaron Copland, John Eliot Gardiner, Elliott Carter, Dinu Lipatti, Igor Markevitch, Quincy Jones, Daniel Barenboim, Philip Glass and Astor Piazzolla.

In 1999 Daniel Barenboim with cultural theorist Edward Said (1935-2003), an agnostic born in Jerusalem, Palestine, who taught at Columbia University, formed the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, whose home is now Andalusia, Spain, comprised of musicians from Israel, Palestine and other Arab nations, as “a means to debate the meaning of democracy and cultural identity through music,” as stated in a story about Israel on The Culture Trip.com website. Nonetheless, Barenboim and Said chose to form the Divan orchestra for humanistic rather than political reasons “on the assumption that ignorance is not a strategy for sustainable survival. Education, dialogue and understanding are at the heart of their solution.” This thought extends to relationships between individuals, obviously: it is dialogue, listening and understanding thus to reach a consonance in resolution. I paraphrase Barenboim’s recounting one Arab musician’s saying, “It’s what happens between the white and the black keys.”

In 2001 Barenboim, who holds Israeli, Palestinian, Spanish and Argentinian citizenship, stated his democratic philosophy, gaining notoriety in some circles, by conducting the orchestra before an Israel Festival audience in Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde Prelude. The audience would hear Richard Wagner’s music for the first time since Kristallnacht. Barenboim’s argument proposed that breaking this 30-year ban on performing Wagner’s music in Israel would be democratic. The point of performing the Prelude is that in it partially resolved chords create tension and ambiguity, suggesting conflict solved with difficulty, which only resolve themselves in the final bars.

The orchestra was named after a collection of poems by Goethe, inspired by the Persian poet Hafiz, which deal with the idea of the Other as a manifestation or element of the Self.”

What if you handed each person in the world a musical instrument, and then asked all to play their instruments in unison, speaking as neighbors one to another…?

On this August Saturday, as I watched Gustavo Dudamel conduct “Rhapsody in Blue,” he allowed space for each instrumentalist to articulate his or her solo with expression, so we, the audience could listen and appreciate, and then as the final crescendo built, in the last two or three minutes of the composition, Dudamel opened his arms wider and wider, embracing the grand sounds, simultaneously ascending higher, onto his toes, then jumping up and down; this action transcended only by his ever broadening grin, measured by deepening dimples on each cheek, so that as the crescendo climaxed and released, I half expected him to dematerialize leaving only the Cheshire cat grin. Here is a video of this performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3IPut9pUZc. This is just over 41 minutes; “Rhapsody in Blue” starts at 20:15, the final theme at 34:00, and 39:00 is where Dudamel jumps up and down.

—Samantha Mozart

CXXXI. Music: Part 1 – Syncopating Jackhammers

September 2, 2014  — I’m up! I am awakened on a Saturday morning in August just past eight to the sound of two syncopating jackhammers directly below my second floor bedroom bay window. My bed is situated within the cove of the windows. Ensconced lazily beneath my counterpane I can view activities outdoors on all sides of my house, from the bay window and the window on the wall opposite. Outside the bay window I can watch the squirrel eating the green berries on the dogwood before the berries ripen to red, ricocheting the remains off the chain link fence and onto the ground – crackle, ting, thack, thack-thack, tick, thack. These are the sounds that recently have awakened me. Good morning, Squirrel. My bay window reaches out, gathers, and cups the sounds from the street below.

From my bedroom I can see and hear the world; the room is like a wheelhouse. Yet, as I am ensconced within, under dulcet intervals, my bedroom becomes the acoustically ideal music room, the hexagonal space embracing the sound as within a conch shell. Truth be told, within my being is mostly music (preferably a waltz). It’s odd I don’t play an instrument beyond a little guitar, and piano extra-lite. I did compose music, rudimentary, at one time, but no more – maybe one day, given passionate inspiration.

The windows are closed this Saturday morning, thankfully. Still I cough from the rising dust penetrating the windowpanes. My next-door neighbors are having the cement walk that runs alongside their house dug up to be replaced with fresh cement. Incredibly for this day and age, the guys with their cement mixer arrive so suddenly, my neighbors don’t have time to warn me. And I had dusted Friday.

I am not pleased.

I get up. The sound of the jackhammers transporting me to times in August 1966 in Washington, D.C., when at the end of my workday, I, pregnant, would emerge from the Congressman’s office on Capitol Hill and squeeze into the red bucket seat behind the steering wheel of our sleek, black Austin-Healy 3000 where on the dashboard the water temperature gauge read 120 F. They had just begun constructing the D.C. subway that summer, so the sound of jackhammers pervaded the town, ever present. The popular song then was John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City”: “Hot town, summer in the city; back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.”

Only a couple years earlier, before I had gotten married, my roommate said to me, “You have to go to the Cellar Door [in Georgetown] and see this group, The Mugwumps. They are really, really good.” I wanted to but never got there. The Mugwumps were formed in 1964 with (Mama) Cass Elliot, Denny Doherty (both later to become two of The Mamas & The Papas), Zal Yanovsky and John Sebastian (both later forming The Lovin’ Spoonful) and a Jim Hendricks. Barry McGuire and Roger McGuinn as well as John and Michelle Phillips were also connected. The Mamas & The Papas’ song “Creeque Alley” tells this story:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVTC7Vggd2M

Barry McGuire wrote “California Dreamin’.” Here is his recording with The Mamas & The Papas singing backup:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yH7szheL6vc

Jackhammer-Saturday night, our local PBS station holds a fundraiser and I just happen to tune in to “John Sebastian Presents Folk Rewind.” There, in a 1960s black and white film, is Judy Collins singing “Turn, Turn, Turn” to Pete Seeger, the composer, who is singing harmony. For an hour or so I watch all the great ‘60s folk artists performing, either in archival film or currently, as with Roger McGuinn and Barry McGuire. Barry McGuire sings “Eve of Destruction” with updated lyrics, although they don’t need much updating; in fact, the message of most of the folk songs from that era remains relevant today: the times, they haven’t changed. And, yes, included are The Lovin’ Spoonful performing “Summer in the City,” replete with jackhammer.

So, what is music? Is the jackhammer in “Summer in the City” employed as a musical instrument? An ongoing debate endeavors to define what can be categorized as legitimate music. The late composer John Cage (1912-1992) believed that any sound, or lack thereof, could be considered music. For, what is music without silence? The sound of silence is an integral component of music. In John Cage’s composition “4’33”” (1952) silence is the music: Cage instructs the musicians to remain silent for four minutes and thirty-three seconds: on the recording, here a musician shifts in his seat and there, towards the end, one coughs, verifying the presence of someone following the score. (I’d upload this piece to my sidebar playlist, but, well … you know….) Others of John Cage’s many compositions include pieces for prepared piano, “Child of Tree” (1975) for percussionist and amplified plants, and “Inlets” (1977) for four conch shells and the sound of fire. I especially like this latter. It is meditative. I am considering making a John Cage playlist for my iPod. Really. I could: John Cage’s compositions require deep listening, compelling the listener to focus, and contrary to what some might think, many are pleasing to the ear and psyche. Possibly so because he was a follower of Zen Buddhism.

The jazzy syncopated sounds of the squirrel crackling dogwood berries and thwacking them onto the chain link fence and ground below: is this then not music, too?

— Samantha Mozart

CXXX. Under the Sun

August 15, 2014 — The writer sits down beside me, a small round table laid with wine and cheese between our easy chairs. He leans towards me and he begins chatting, telling me long, enthralling tales of his experiences growing up in Ocean City, New Jersey, and the history of his family and the Italian people, since before the Etruscans, in evocative detail, indeed since the first human set foot on the Italian boot. He does not miss a stitch.

The writer isn’t really sitting beside me, but it feels so. He is noted American author and journalist Gay Talese, and he is relating the Italian saga in his book, Unto the Sons. I wanted to read this book after reading in The New York Times that Gay Talese and his wife have a home in Ocean City, and that he, nine years my senior, had written in this book about his growing up there. In his Ocean City Victorian home, he writes from a third floor room: my ideal. In 1974, I considered moving to Ocean City, to live there year-round and write.

Talese writes stories about his growing up with his Italian immigrant tailor father, his mother, from an Italian-American Brooklyn family, and sister, living above his father’s tailor shop and dry cleaning store in Ocean City and how Joseph Talese, the father, came to emigrate to the United States in 1920 from Maida, Calabria, situated in the foot of the boot: Giuseppe Garibaldi’s unification of Italy in 1871 had rendered Southern Italy economically depressed, therefore many young men came to America for jobs, sending their money back home to the wives – called white widows due to their husbands’ perennial absence – and children and parents they had left behind in their dusty villages.

Back in the dusty villages in The Kingdom of Southern Italy, in the foot of the boot, they were surrounded by water. Thereby vulnerable to constant invasion, writes Talese, the mafiosi arose to serve as bartering intermediaries between the inhabitants and the invaders.

Italians and Ocean City have always held a special place in my heart.

Prohibitionist Methodists founded Ocean City, on the next barrier island south of Atlantic City, in 1879 and to this day it remains a dry town. You have to drive over the bridge across the bay to Somers Point to buy liquor. At the north end of Ocean City, where the island broadens, is an area called The Gardens, where the Italian families have their homes.

In my childhood, I vacationed in Ocean City often with my family. Our family owned a home at the south end of the island before I was born. Although my family, and I later with my friends, vacationed in the central and southern parts of the island, I always liked The Gardens and the Italians, down from Philadelphia or year-round residents. Often I found myself drawn to walk up the boardwalk to the quiet north end and The Gardens, felt drawn to the Italians and their openness and warmth, so different from the reserve of my Anglo-Saxon family; drawn to that part of myself I had yet to meet and come to know. To one so shy in those days as I, the Italians were people with whom I felt comfortable, people with whom I could express myself openly; they accepted me without judgment.

I have worked for Italians in several jobs. Those were the jobs I liked the best. I liked working for the Italians. They treated me like a family member. When I went to their homes, they fed me. And I like to eat. Of course, one company where I worked for Italians was a food distribution and catering business. That was in Southern California. That was nearly 30 years ago, and one friend and mentor, an Italian-American, remains my treasured friend.

When I was a teenager in the late 1950s, my classmates and I spent summer days in Ocean City, lying on the beach at 9th Street or 14th Street, slathered in baby oil and iodine or riding the waves, and evenings strolling the boardwalk. We’d stay at Victorian-era rooming houses, the kind where we shared a room for $6 a night each, and the bathroom with the claw-foot tub at the end of the hall. On the boardwalk we ate T-buns – toasted cinnamon buns – and listened to rock ‘n’ roll on the jukebox with the heavy bass. We ate most of our main meals at The Chatterbox at Central Avenue and 9th.

In Ocean City I met and dated a guy named Len D’Ignazio (D’Ignazio pronounced with a long “a”, Len had told me), a good-looking blue-eyed Italian with curly blond hair. I liked Len. He was a nice guy, easy to be with. His family had a home in The Gardens, and his family owned a restaurant, D’Ignazio’s Townhouse, in Media, Pa., west of Philadelphia.

My parents had divorced a few years earlier, so my mother would come pick up my brother and me from our home outside Philadelphia, where we lived with our father, and often take us to D’Ignazio’s, where they served the best Italian food I have ever eaten.

I asked Len how his family could be Italian and he have blonde hair. He said his family was from Northern Italy. In revisiting these memories I wondered about Len. So, I researched him online. I think he is dead. Apparently he died in the 1990s. Life is short, even when you live long. D’Ignazio’s is still there, in Media, has expanded into neighboring buildings and has won awards.

One summer for a few weeks during my teenage years, my aunt, uncle and grandmother rented a house in Ocean City. My uncle loved to ride the waves, as did I. The surf was peopled body-to-body one day, so when a huge wave suddenly arose, I had no time to maneuver my raft (air mattress), and my raft and I rode right in on the back of some guy riding his raft. Every evening while my aunt was preparing dinner, we’d relax on the upper deck and my uncle would proclaim, “The Ocean Bar and Sea View Grill is now open.”

It has been a decade since I’ve visited Ocean City; I shall return.

Ocean City Boardwalk, 1990s

Ocean City Boardwalk, 1990s

Row of Victorian Homes, Ocean City, 1990s

Row of Victorian Homes, Ocean City, 1990s

My uncle loved Italy and the Italians, too. During the Second World War, serving in the U.S. Army, he was among the Allies who landed on Sicily and then crossed the Strait of Messina onto the boot, “picking the helmets off the heads of the dead,” he said, on their way north. He often spoke fondly of Palermo and “Napoli” and “Milano.” After the war he went back two or three times, vacationing with my aunt. Later, he painted with oils paint-by-number Italian landscapes, which my aunt hung on their living room walls.

During the two world wars, the Italians were known to be terrible soldiers, soon tiring of battle. Gay Talese writes that Italians don’t see the reasoning of killing groups of strangers, against whom you have no personal vendetta; for Italians it’s a one-on-one thing, a personal blood feud. Talese makes the point, too, that Italians have prismatic vision; they are able to see all sides. I, too, have prismatic vision, one way I relate to Italians.

Back before the First World War, many young Italian men left Southern Italy with their wives and settled in Paris where they raised their families, their children when grown often marrying the French.

Later, when King Victor Emmanuel III and the Grand Council replaced Mussolini on July 26, 1943, the attitude of most Italians was, “Well, whatever.” The Italians welcomed the Allies then; the mafiosi, many imprisoned under Mussolini, now freed, opened the way for the Allies to cross Sicily. Many mafiosi were connected to relatives living in the U. S., many, naturally, were members of the American Mafia. Southern Italians arriving in America were taken under the guidance of a patrone who connected them with jobs, attorneys, doctors, friends and relatives – the familiar “I know a guy….”

I found it interesting to note, as Talese writes, that those from impoverished agricultural Southern Italy, upon arrival on the U.S. East Coast and speaking no English, were likely to be discriminated against and attacked, so settled into ghettos. Originally, Greeks inhabited Southern Italy, until when, generations later, the Italians booted them out. Therefore, it would be natural to designate Southern Italians as being actually Greek. Whereas, those from industrial Northern Italy were broadly educated, more sophisticated, spoke more than one language, and when they came to the U.S., assimilated quickly, felt comfortable traveling alone across country and often settled on the West Coast – where I worked for their descendants.

Nonetheless, the Italians didn’t connect me to this story. Wanting to read about what it was like to grow up in Ocean City, I got more than I bargained for – a fascinating history of Italy and the Italians and how they got to Ocean City. I had no idea that I was in for an encyclopedic history, a history Talese derived from his father’s stories, from his ancestors’ diaries and from extensive, intensive research – a book that reads like a novel, all 600-plus densely typeset pages, that held me spellbound. I have read a number of books since I read Unto the Sons last winter, yet this one stays with me. In fact, I inadvertently engaged in reading tutti Italian, winter into spring. I don’t know why I did it; I just did. I read Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany, which made me wish I were younger and could go buy my own ancient villa there, as Mayes did, and from which I derived some really good and economical Tuscan peasant recipes. It’s like I’m preparing for an Italian journey that I don’t yet know about – or maybe that was it, seen through the magical pages of books. Some things come spontaneously, stepping out of the cobalt blue shadows of the sun. They radiate in electric white light standing before you for a moment in time, and they never quite leave you.

—Samantha Mozart

CXXIX. Fugue

June 28, 1914 — A dustup in Sarajevo: Someone shot dead Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. That tragedy triggered a Great World War. While the Industrial Revolution had been changing the way we do things, first in Britain and then in America, trains speeding up travel, factory chimneys polluting the air, the changes were gradual. The First World War produced a shock wave, crumbling the cultural towers of society, changing our ways suddenly, unexpectedly and forever.

June 28, 1919 — The signing of the Treaty of Versailles: The Germans were peeved. For some 20 years they held a grudge. With so many of our faces buried in our smart devices these days, it might be expected someone will soon start marketing screen savers for our noses. Do we think about the causes and effects of these events leading from one Great War to the next and to the insidious spread of Communism and the Cold War, and on and on and on and on? You know how it goes. Or we should; alas, most of us, no. The interweaving of events of the 20th century and into the 21st has produced one long fugue.

The New York Times has published a beautiful and thought-provoking photo essay and story today: “The War to End All Wars? Hardly. But It Did Change Them Forever”: http://goo.gl/qJfTp8.

My friend R posted a poem on his blog, http://goo.gl/SJLaqu, that I want to repost here, followed by my comment: Lest we forget the deeper implications, lest we fail to recognize the profound parallels to our lives today, lest we forget to remain vigilant:

SHADOWS OF WARS

The shadow of war
Revolution, no more
The lesson unlearned
Power, Privilege and Wealth soar
Senate and Congress do hoar
King, Czar, Sultan returned
Tell who’s who and what’s for

Observation towers and bunkers
To profits old clunkers
Enslaving the poor
Through to the core
From battlefield to graveyard
The law defines who’s ward
To die on your own
And be buried unknown

R’s photo of two of the Delaware Bay World War II Observation Towers

World War II Observation Towers on the Delaware Bay. From these we watched for German submarines coming up the United States East Coast, from the Atlantic Ocean, up the bay to the chemical plants and refineries lining the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del., to Philadelphia, Pa.

World War II Observation Towers on the Delaware Bay. From these we watched for German submarines coming up the United States East Coast, from the Atlantic Ocean, up the bay to the chemical plants and refineries lining the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del., to Philadelphia, Pa. Photo by Robert Price.

Excellent, Robert. Beautifully written. Encompasses the twin towers of poignancy and pertinence. How thoughtful and significant the accompanying photo of the World War II watch towers, standing sentinel along the Delaware Bay beaches, persistent reminders for the young people who know what those towers are.

Thought provoking vis-à-vis the 28 June 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the 100th anniversary of the First World War; and of the 70th anniversary of the Second World War Western Allies landing on Omaha Beach, D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.

Poppies grow in the French fields now, shrouding where the unknown soldiers missing in action rest. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn…?

—Samantha Mozart
for June 28, 2014

CXXVIII. Once Upon a Time

 

June 14, 2014

Once upon a time in the far off land of my childhood …

Granddaddy took me everywhere with him. Then he got sick and died when I was seven. He was 63. I asked if he got sick because he didn’t eat his lunch. Uncle Bob, sitting at the head of the table at family Sunday dinners and holding our plates, large spoon piled high with mashed potatoes poised to serve us, said to my brother and me in turn, “Do you want them easy or hard?” He was 61 when he died unexpectedly of colon cancer in 1973. Whenever I asked Daddy the meaning of a word, he said, “Look it up.” He took us on Sunday rides through the country, to the old Southwest Airport (now Philadelphia International) to watch the airplanes, and wrote a novel before he was married; he sent it to one publisher, who rejected it. He played the piano and organ and composed music. Daddy lived a long life. He died in 2004 at age 90, suddenly, when his aorta split. As teenagers, Daddy played the clarinet, Uncle Bob the sax. Daddy and Uncle Bob loved big bands and had extensive record collections. Uncle Bob loved photography and reading. He’d often vanish into a spare bedroom for a couple of hours and read a whole novel.

(There is a soundtrack to this story: click on number 40 in my “The Dream” playlist.)

 

Granddaddy, Uncle Bob, Daddy and their dog Tippy relaxing on the porch at our family home in Sea Isle City, N.J., 1930s.

Granddaddy, Uncle Bob, Daddy and their dog Tippy relaxing on the porch at our family home in Sea Isle City, N.J., 1930s.

Here they are relaxing in rocking chairs on the porch of the family summer home in Sea Isle City, N.J., with their dog, Tippy. Tippy died in 1939, two years before I was born, but the family talked about him long after. This photo was taken in the late 1930s.

Granddaddy & Me 1941

Granddaddy & Me 1941

Granddaddy didn’t drive. He had a chauffeur until Uncle Bob, two years older than Daddy, learned to drive. They said the chauffeur only polished the side of the car facing the house, as the car sat in the driveway. Uncle Bob was a good driver; he was a volunteer fireman and later chased fire trucks; he taught Daddy and Aunt Marguerite how to drive. He taught Grandmother, too, but she had a lead foot, so that didn’t work out so well.

Granddaddy Outstanding in His Driveway

Granddaddy Outstanding in His Driveway

There was an owl. It hooted outside Uncle Bob and Aunt Marguerite’s bedroom window where they lived in my grandparents’ home in the western Philadelphia suburbs until 1950 when their own home was built.   When I was two, Granddaddy, Uncle Bob and Daddy took me to get a puppy, a collie/shepherd mix. They named him Butch. Uncle Bob drove the Packard. Daddy rode shotgun. I rode in the back seat with Granddaddy and Butch, who had his paw in Granddaddy’s pocket.

Me, Aunt Marguerite & Butch, about 1944

Aunt Marguerite, Butch and I, about 1944

Carol, 9, Butch, 7, & Bobby, 5 - 1950

Me, Butch, and my brother, Bobby, 1950

Uncle Bob and Daddy went away in the Army during World War II. Daddy was stationed at Fort Dix, N.J.; Uncle Bob went overseas – to North Africa, with the Allies onto Sicily, up through Italy and to Belgium. I remember when the war ended and they came home. Uncle Bob brought me a doll from Brussels. This was a special doll; I have always cherished it and still have it.

Uncle Bob Army Uniform, Sept. 1941

Uncle Bob 1941

Uncle Bob "Avec Amour"

Uncle Bob “Avec Amour” to Aunt Marguerite

Granddaddy loved being surrounded by people. He and Grandmother hosted large dinner parties inviting all sides of the family. One of Granddaddy’s four sisters, Edna, married a man who came from England, Edgar. Uncle Edgar talked funny. Uncle Bob and Daddy used to call them Edner and Edgah.

Granddaddy, Grandmother & Boys Oval

Granddaddy, Grandmother & Boys, 1916-17

We often vacationed at the South Jersey shore in the summertime. In the early days, the three men would travel to work in the city during the week, returning home to the shore by train each evening. Years later, when I was a teenager, my brother and I stayed with Uncle Bob and Aunt Marguerite in Ocean City, N.J. That’s where my brother fell running on the boardwalk. It took a long time to get all the splinters out of his shins. Uncle Bob and I spent our beach days riding the waves on rafts (air mattresses). On the upper deck of this house is where Uncle Bob proclaimed daily at 5 p.m., “The Ocean Bar and Sea View Grill is now open.”

Bud & Bob on the Beach

Bud & Bob on the Beach

Uncle Bob & Me OCNJ

Uncle Bob & Me, Ocean City, N.J., 1957-58

Granddaddy, Uncle Bob and Daddy, all three of them were my fathers in many ways. They gave me a secure and happy childhood. I could not have asked for more. This is my humble tribute to them. I will miss them always.

Uncle Bob 1930, age 18

Uncle Bob, age 18

Daddy Portrait - 1930s

Daddy, 25, Sept. 1939

Daddy, Marvine Ave. backyard, 1930s

Daddy, backyard of his parents’ home, 1930s

On this page I have placed just a few images. I have uploaded more from our family albums. If you are interested, you can see more of the family “rogues gallery” here. It is curious how the mind telescopes time. Seeing these old photos and nostalgizing on relevant events evokes their presence as if they are right here with me again, as if all that went in between never existed. Happy Father’s Day.

Daddy & I -- 1999

Daddy & I — 1999

—Samantha Mozart

CXXVII. Snake in the Grass

June 8, 2014 — I didn’t see the snake until I tripped over it. It was a long, silver-gray snake lying in the grass in the back of my backyard, under the shade of the trees, where Wallie and I were moseying. I am Wallie-sitting again this weekend for my friend’s Bichon-Poo. Wallie didn’t notice the snake. He was riveted on the scent of rabbit. I suspect so was the snake. We stayed out of the back of the yard for the remainder of the day.

Wallie lookalikes:

images-1 images-2 images

 

A few days ago, I encountered my neighbors who live behind me inspecting their vast, cyclone-fenced yard. They were afraid to mow their lawn on their rider mower for fear of mowing down baby rabbits. Two mothers had made rabbit holes in their yard and were out monitoring their offspring. The baby bunnies, two to three inches long, were hopping around in the grass.

Two nights later, near midnight, the barred owl hooted, and hooted, loudly and exuberantly, from a tree near the neighbors’ yard. Then the owl actually cackled. It sounded like the Wicked Witch of the West making a flyby. The barred owl call is sometimes defined as sounding like “who-cooks-for-you?” But, why take the time to cook it when you can eat it fresh and raw. A tiny creature squealed and squealed. And, then all went silent. Midnight fare.

DownloadedFile

The hoot of a barred owl:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5zc-NHIipw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fppKGJD3Y6c

This morning Wallie and I ventured to the back of the yard. I wanted to see in broad daylight if the snake was still there. It was. It hadn’t moved. I stepped closer. Still life: a hollow skin, no head, no tail.

Snake resemblance

Snake resemblance

The snake had apparently shed its skin right there in my backyard and slithered away. Wallie sniffed it and said, “Whatever.” No bunnies in the yard, either. Wallie checked around the rabbit hole under my shed. He found nothing enticing. Maybe the rabbits were napping in their warren. They come out mostly at night and eat the clover. I have seen no baby bunnies in my yard, although I don’t go out there to inspect daily. Maybe the babies met unseemly ends. Or maybe they were nestled safely away from the snake.

*************

I was sitting on my front porch one afternoon last week when a car pulled up in front of my house. A black man with a Deep South drawl leaned across his woman companion in the passenger seat and called, “Hey! How y’all doin’?”

“Fine, thanks,” I said.

“Do you mind if I park here?”

“Not at all,” I replied.

He got out and called across the top of the car, “I just wanted to make sure it’s all right if I park in front of your house.”

His woman kept her head down, as if studying something in her lap.

“No problem,” I said. “It’s a public street.”

“I have to stop at your neighbor’s house; so I wanted to ask. I’m from Alabama.”

He seemed like a real nice guy.

It’s been 100 years since World War I, 70 years since World War II and 150 years since the American Civil War. Yet, down home in the Deep South, some have not shed that antebellum skin; still lying like a snake in the grass, ready to pounce on a person of a different skin who needs to park a car in front of a house on a public street. To live in constant trepidation….

—Samantha Mozart