Archive for the ‘snippets of memories’ Category

The Letter V (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 28, 2015

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle

Note:  As Provence is in the region of Vauclaus, and as the Peter Mayles lived in a house with a Vineyard, I feel that there are sufficient Letter V’s associated with this selection.

When I was a child I always eagerly awaited the arrival of the Reader’s Digest.  As soon as it arrived I would seize it and scan the right hand column of the table of contents, hoping to see humorist Will Stanton’s name there. I loved him. I believe – and I would like to look into this further but I don’t have time right now – that he was the one who wrote a story about an episode involving an American diner and a French waiter.

If I remember correctly this was basically a conversation recounted in the first person by the fictitious American, in which he and the waiter try desperately to communicate in basic French phrases.  Of course each phrase is most slap-stickishly misunderstood and even more hilariously misspelled using similar sounding but totally inappropriate English words.  I particularly remember one line where the waiter bows obsequiously and murmurs “Tray of Beans!”  Now, thanks to my many years of careful study of the French phrases employed by Hercule Poirot, I understand that this was obviously a joke on “tres bien” and so I can easily see why it was funny. I don’t know why I thought that it was funny then as I had not yet met Monsieur Poirot, but it simply slayed me. Desperate to share the joke I carried the magazine around and inflicted this story on each person in my family individually, making them drop everything and listen while I read it out loud, and every time I got to “Tray of Beans!” I would first break into titters and then into guffaws and then I would fall helplessly onto the floor laughing uncontrollably, unattractively, ungracefully and all by myself, because no one else thought it was funny at all.*

I am hopelessly enamored of the French language and it is the cruelest of ironies that Fate gifted me with a congenital inability to pronounce correctly even the simplest of French words.  I think it’s partly physiological — I’m pretty sure that to produce the tones intrinsic to the language requires a sinus structure that is not present in my head, and perhaps a smaller and more flexible tongue, and also a much stronger and more coordinated musculature of the lower face — and also partly psychological — I’m just way too self-conscious to even try making those beautiful, sonorous Gallic noises, much as I swoon at the sound of other people making them.  In my second year of college I was given a French song in my voice lesson and my tentative honks and infantile mews caused my voice teacher, the kindest man you can imagine, who was accepting to a fault and never laughed at anyone, first to go all wild-eyed and twitchy behind his beard and then to break down entirely. He was so sorry, afraid he had hurt my feelings, but I totally understood.  Languages in general are not my strong point, but French in particular is just not going to happen.

Still, I fantasize about living in France (perhaps as a mime) and here I found A Year in Provence to be very encouraging. On a casual first read it seemed to that Mr. Mayle and his wife plunged into living in France in exactly the way I would be likely to do if left unsupervised (that is, recklessly, on a whim, with no forethought whatsoever) and that it was only once they had arrived and settled in and he was casting about for something to keep himself busy that he conceived the bright idea to write a hilarious book about his experiences, kind of as a hobby, a little project on the side, something to fill the long afternoons.**

On second read, though, it is obvious even to me that A Year in Provence was certainly not only in the works, perhaps already under contract, but that it was no doubt the whole reason for the move in the first place and that framing it as a spontaneously plunging into a new experience was carefully planned as a major theme of the first few chapters, in which although Mr. Mayle does not know the language well and both misunderstands and mispronounces his way through the first few months, he is able nonetheless able to negotiate the activities of daily living in French.  Here’s the clue: after a while as you read you realize that these activities – visiting markets, gossiping with the neighbors, being available all day for the builders, making excursions to neighboring towns, seeking out the best places for lunch, finding out all about truffle hunting –  could only be the daily activities of a man who has the flexible schedule of a writer and the assurance that when he assembles all these experiences into manuscript form he will certainly be compensated most lucratively.  That’s alright, that’s the way sensible people do things.  Spontaneous activities run most smoothly on a roadbed of painstaking preparation, as I have been reminded often by the Patient Man (but not in those words, which he would think were not only an incomprehensible but a downright silly way of saying it).***

The book lures you in, though, seduces you with the idea that maybe you could really just up stakes and move to France yourself.  Is it any wonder that everyone envies a writer?  I wonder what else I could do remotely via computer from a farmhouse in the French countryside.  Medical data transcription?  Email fraud?  A pyramid scheme? Cold call insurance sales?  Tech support – no, probably not tech support.  One more reason to get cracking on the next Great American Novel, I guess. It could be a step to the Great American Living in France Novel.

See you tomorrow for Letter W,


*None of them speak French either.

**Actually I’m probably the only reader who ever interpreted it that way.  As I said, I do not have the gifts of forethought and planning and I so desperately wish that things could work out nicely without them that I’m always on the lookout for success stories of this type that I can share with the Patient Man and this probably coloured my initial reading.

***It’s amazing how many years it took me to figure out, for instance, that the very simple picnics being unpacked so casually on the lawn (oh, I’m sorry, the Lawn) at Tanglewood were the result of much planning, shopping, cooking, baking, garnishing, coordinating, accessorizing, packing and presenting.  All my picnics seemed to consist mostly of paper plates and plastic Walmart bags escaping to fly around annoying the old money.  I still don’t have the knack.  I mean, I can shop, plan, cook, bake, garnish, coordinate, accessorize and pack, but when it comes time to present I get nervous and drop things and then off fly the paper plates again.


The Letter T (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 24, 2015

Travels With Charley, by John Steinbeck

Four years of summer college music tours throughout Europe and Asia infected me with a disgusting sense of superiority as well as with a great lust for travel, and not for blue-shirted-violin-toting-group-tour travel either.  No, I was going to be the solitary traveler, the dusty, backpack shouldering, guidebook studying, local food trying, hostel staying, many languages speaking, local customs understanding, itinerary eschewing, tourist trap avoiding, apt quote spouting, flinty-eyed and seasoned traveler. I was going to be the Sea Rat.*

A look at my first paycheck disabused me of that one.**  So I turned to travel books instead. One of the first was John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley.

I first read Travels With Charley sitting up in bed on a rainy Saturday morning in Salem, Oregon, just a few weeks into married life.  I fell in love with it partly because of John Steinbeck and partly because it described the only kind of travel that now seemed to be within my grasp. Of course but a few months earlier I had scoffed at domestic road tripping, however, now I was willing to admit that if it was good enough for John Steinbeck it might be good enough for me.  Travels With Charley was published in 1962, two years before I was born, and so described an America already past, but it made the (American) open highway seem such a romantic place, a place where someday surely I too might be able to brood thoughtfully and pronounce poetically as well.

John Steinbeck took this ten thousand mile drive around America at a time when he was ill; although he was only in his late fifties he was in the last years of his life and at a stage when all men wax philosophical.  Traveling only in the company of his big blue poodle he pushes northward into New England and then wends westward to Pacific Northwest, south through California and then homeward via the South, camping in his truck or staying in auto courts and talking casually with those he meets in campsites and restaurants and places of business. He finds much to wax about, seeming almost to rejoice in his resignation to bad health and approaching old age, in the privilege of his hard-earned experience and wealth and in the end-of-life perspective and the wisdom acquired over a lifetime of traveling and working and writing and thinking.

Over and over he reflexively bemoans change and then recants, saying that it is not his world anymore and that it is not for him to judge the values of the new generation.  He is able to resign himself to this everywhere except for his hometown of Salinas, California where he finds a population increased twenty-fold, landmarks disfigured or obliterated, sprawl and ugliness everywhere, his old friends elderly or dead.  Of this he writes:

I find it difficult to write about my native place, northern California.  It should be the easiest, because I knew that strip angled against the Pacific better than any place in the world.  But I find it not one thing but many — one printed over another until the whole thing blurs.  What it is is warped with memory of what it was and that with what happened there to me, the whole bundle wracked until objectiveness is nigh impossible. This four-lane concrete highway slashed with speeding cars I remember as a narrow, twisting mountain road where the wood teams moved, drawn by steady mules.  They signaled their coming with the high, sweet jangle of hame bells. This was a little little town, a general store under a tree and a blacksmith shop and a bench in front on which to sit and listen to the clang of hammer on anvil.  Now little houses, each one like the next, particularly since they try to be different, spread for a mile in all directions.  That was a woody hill with live oaks dark green against the parched grass where the coyotes sang on moonlit nights.  The top is shaved off and a television relay station lunges at the sky and feeds a nervous picture to thousands of tiny houses clustered like aphids beside the roads.

When I read Travels With Charley in the late eighties I did not take particular note of the publication date.  When I read it again this morning I thought to do the math and discovered that my second reading was almost exactly twice as far into Steinbeck’s future world as my first reading had been, an interesting coincidence.*** When I discovered further that I am now in the same decade of life as was Steinbeck when he took his journey I began to consider changes that had occurred in my own world during the equivalent span of years.

In my college town, the lookout point where couples used to go for a little quiet time is now a gated community of trophy homes.  Pastures have given way to subdivisions, lawns and playing fields to student housing and to vast parking lots gleaming with the cars none of us needed only three decades ago.  The straightforward four-way stops that were perfectly adequate in the mid eighties have been expanded into enormous, over complicated interchanges fringed with thickets of signage – arrows and yield signs and reflector posts and blinking lights and warnings to enter here or not to enter there – and, even more confusing, there are entire major roads that weren’t there at all before and they don’t look particularly new.  It even appears that a medium sized brook has been entirely rerouted. This is unsettling, and I don’t like it, and this is only my college town, a place to which I have only a minor emotional tie.

I don’t think you could pay me enough to go back to my idyllic childhood home, a four-bedroom ranch house we built with our own hands in a grassy mountain valley above St. Helena, California on a one-acre lot bounded with deer fencing, with a small carefully tended orchard (where, nose in a book, I watered the fruit trees with a garden hose according to a timer which hung on a string around my neck), two raised strawberry beds, a one-row vineyard of Concord grapes, a high woodpile full of lizards, a garden which provided most of what we ate and a lushly green front lawn studded with young white birches.  The blue California sky arched overhead from the hills behind us to the woods across the street, the shadows of hawks sliced silently across the rows of beans and the air was warm and dry and wholesome with good earth.

I do not want to know what this place looks like today.  As for the field across from the elementary school where one early June morning during parent/teacher conferences I wandered giddy with sweet relief at the excellent report I knew my parents were getting from my sixth grade teacher – an untamed field thick with deep tangles of every kind of wildflower in purple, pink and gold, humming with bumblebees and busy with dragonflies and peppered with sprays of baby grasshoppers, dewdrops still trapped sparkling in the serrated folds of the wild oats  – if that delectable meadow is a parking lot now I don’t want to know about it.

Hundreds of miles further south there is a place where antique postcards show a valley of farmland running up to green foothills laid against snow dusted grey mountain ranges.  Now foul incrustations of houses creep scablike up the foothills, the valley is paved and cluttered over and laced by grimy ropes of freeways glittering like scaly tentacles of an alien ship. The fact that the mountains are still clear and pine scented almost makes the ruination of the valley harder to accept.

When I write my own travel book I will not visit these places.  But it’s funny, rereading Travels With Charley makes me itch for a domestic road trip much more than for a trip abroad done either luxuriously or aging-hippie-style.  I must be getting old. Perhaps it’s time to get out the Rand McNally and lay in a supply of notebooks and start planning my route.****

See you tomorrow for Letter U,*****


*Kenneth Grahame’s Sea Rat, from Wind in the Willows.

**The Patient Man was in law school and I was slightly underemployed.

***I hope that makes sense, in a twisted ‘Back to the Future’ kind of way.

****It would be an interesting trip and I hope we would both come back alive. I say ‘we’ because it doesn’t seem nice to go off and leave the Patient Man, but he does not love to travel.  If we do it cheaply he bemoans the discomfort.  If we splurge a bit he bemoans the expense.  Above all else he hates to ride in the car – the speed limits and the long hours and the gross stupidity of all the other drivers create for him a private hell which he relentlessly insists I must inhabit with him.  Perhaps he can be Katz to my Bryson?

*****Yes, I know I’m a day behind.  I’m afraid I can’t do anything about it.

The Letter S (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 22, 2015

The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas* **


The Three Musketeers is one of my five beloved paperbacks, the soft and cuddly ones I mentioned before that are as comforting as old shoes and as welcoming as old friends.  I think I read once that the real genius of Alexandre Dumas is his gift of dialogue, and if I didn’t read that somewhere I should have because to me that is the whole charm of The Three Musketeers.  Open your copy and find a place where Athos, Porthos and Aramis are bickering, possibly with one or more of their servants involved as well, and then D’Artagnan shows up and joins in.  They can go on for pages.  None of the lines needs the speaker to be identified because there is never a question of who is speaking.  I love this, and because natural dialogue has never been my forte several years ago I set myself to write from memory amusing or important conversations that happened around me.

Two recent events reminded me of that exercise.

Event the First:  This past weekend on the closing night of Young Maria Callas’ opera scenes show, Little Miss Sunshine and I took her and a new friend of hers out for a celebratory dinner. This new friend asked if we had any amusing and hopefully embarrassing childhood stories about Young Maria Callas, and since we were feeling pretty jolly by that point I took out my phone and opened one of these conversations I had saved.  I read it to him, using the various appropriate voices, and after that our table became very hilarious indeed.  It occurred to me then that it might be fun to post that conversation here, later on, after A-to-Z is finished, because it sheds light on the personalities of both Young Maria Callas and the Pokerface Joker whom most of my readers have never met.

Event the Second:  This morning I realized guiltily that although in the beginning of the Challenge I was very faithful about visiting five blogs daily and leaving thoughtful comments, I have lately gotten out of that habit.  I decided to do this before writing today’s entry because I knew if I left it until afterwards I would very likely run out of time and not do it.  So before I even got out of bed I poked through the list of participants, clicked on an appealing title, and discovered to my utter delight someone whose entire A-to-Z theme is the recounting of faithfully recorded conversations and these conversations are not only natural and lifelike but also very, very funny indeed.***

Is it not amazing how when you really want to do something you can find all sorts of signs indicating that you really should go ahead and do that thing right now without delay.

So out the window went poor Alexander McCall Smith,**** who was to have been the subject for the  Letter S, and in came Alexandre Dumas (who at least has an S at the end of his name, and plus he shares a first name with Alexander McCall Smith whose last name does begin with S) because he can serve as a springboard to the brilliant use of dialogue and from there to this dialogue exercise of my own!

And so now without further ado here is the conversation:


The Pokerface Joker and I are lying on his bed. I am reading to him. Young Maria Callas enters the room, stomping, and towers over us, frowning.

Young Maria Callas: There aren’t any band-aids.

Me: Do you need a band-aid?

Young Maria Callas: No. But I might soon, and there wouldn’t be any. PJ, did you use all the band-aids again?

Pokerface Joker: No.

YMC: Yes, you did. You took them all and stuck them all over yourself. There isn’t even one left.

PJ: No, I didn’t.

YMC: Yes, you did. When you weren’t even hurt. You just waste them. You do it all the time.

PJ: No, I don’t.

YMC: Yes, you do.

PJ: Well, I didn’t this time.

YMC: Yes, you did. You always do that.

PJ: No, you always do that.

YMC: No, you always do that.

PJ: No, you always do that.

YMC: No, you always…

Me: Stop it! Stop it!

YMC: (ostentatiously turning her head away from the Pokerface Joker) Mom, we need more band-aids. PJ took them all and stuck them all over himself when he wasn’t even hurt just like he always does.

PJ: No, I didn’t

YMC: Mom, we need more band-aids.

Me:  Alright, Young Maria Callas, I will buy more band-aids tomorrow. I cannot do it tonight. Do you need a band-aid now?

YMC: (reluctantly) No. But I might. And then there wouldn’t BE any, because PJ took them all and stuck them all over himself when he wasn’t even hurt. Just like he always does.

Me: Tomorrow I will buy some more. And PJ won’t do that anymore.

PJ: She’s the one who does it.

YMC: Fine.

PJ: Not me.

YMC: Shut up! Just shut up!

Me: Everyone! Stop it! I will buy band-aids! No one will waste them anymore! Okay? Can I read now?

YMC stares down at us with folded arms while I try very hard not to laugh. My mouth twitches. I can’t help it. She begins to retreat furiously. As she reaches the door the Pokerface Joker mutters.

PJ: She’s the one who does it.

I can’t help it. I snort.

Young Maria Callas slams the door hideously. I ignore this and begin to read aloud. Young Maria Callas opens her own door across the hall and immediately there is a terrible crash followed by horrific shrieking. The Pokerface Joker and I lie very still. We are very afraid.

The shrieking stops.

Young Maria Callas’ door opens and closes.

The Pokerface Joker’s door opens.

Young Maria Callas enters and glares at us. She seems to sort of float across the floor toward us on a wave of fury.

YMC: In case you care, even though you didn’t bother to ask, I’m okay. Except I stubbed my toe.

My mouth is twitching and I can’t seem to breathe in or out. I don’t dare blink. I speak very evenly.

Me: I’m sorry, Sweetie. Are you alright?

And then the Pokerface Joker speaks very sweetly.

PJ: Do you need a band-aid?


Alright.  Thanks for your patience.  Tomorrow we will talk about an actual book, I promise!

See you tomorrow for Letter T,


*I did mention earlier that I’m a champion rationalizer and manipulator of rules and that the constraints of the alphabet would be as nothing to me in the way of limiting what I might choose to feature for any particular letter.

**Probably here ‘S’ should also stand for Self-Serving Segue.


****Actually nothing would please me more than to spend the day immersed in the eighteen or so Alexander McCall Smith books I’ve got lying around but unfortunately I’ve got one or two things to do this afternoon, so the signs and omens directing me to switch over to something I’d already written were very welcome indeed.  Just to clarify, I don’t actually believe in signs and omens.  Unless of course they tell me something I want to believe anyway.

The Letter Q (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 21, 2015

The Queen’s Gold, by Norma Youngberg

I think I’ve mentioned before that as a child my reading list was restricted to animal stories and the books of Seventh-day Adventist authors.  I always went home from camp meeting with armloads of books from the sale bin and I have to say that most of those were pretty horrible – preachy collections of stories that clumsily hammered heavy moral lessons out of coincidental events, adventure books that seemed promising but then introduced plot lines that fizzled and disappeared, pointless tales told in the syrupy, didactic tone of an out of touch older person talking down to a kindergarten classroom, memoirs of obscure church workers I had never heard of.*

On the shelves, though, for full price and NEVER on sale were the classic missionary stories of beloved SDA writers such Josephine Cunnington Edwards, Arthur S. Maxwell, Eric B. Hare, Miriam Wood, June Strong, and Norma Youngberg.

My copy of Norma Youngberg’s The Queen’s Gold was an old well-read gold-coloured cloth bound book with an ink drawing of a boy paddling a canoe on the cover.  Inside was the riveting story of an English boy, Steven, who survives a pirate attack in the waters of Borneo, then is taken in by a local tribe of Dyak headhunters and adopted by Chief-elect Rasak and his wife Siti.*** Eventually, of course, the pirates come back to get him and here it becomes very exciting.  I could not get enough of this book, and upon re-reading it this morning I can see why.  No preachiness, no sanctimony, actually no Christian or religious theme of any kind.  Just a rollicking good adventure story and most excellently written.  It is still in print today, available on Amazon, and I recommend it. You could hand it to any pre-teen who loves to read and they would thank you.

There are two more SDA classics that I read to bits: Josephine Cunnington Edwards’ Swift Arrow and Arthur S. Maxwell’s The Secret of the Cave.  Both of these writers have many books that hold a special place in the hearts of people who grew up in the SDA church, but these volumes are the two that I loved the best.  My copy of Swift Arrow is now nothing more than chunks of pages carefully stored between detached paper covers, creased and folded, the cover art flaking away in white patches, bits of dried yellow glue falling out whenever I pick it up. Being cloth bound The Secret of the Cave has fared better, the blue and white drawings of the two handsome brothers in the pompadours and striped shirts of the era still fresh on the inside cover. Both of these books, like The Queen’s Gold, are exciting adventure stories, rich in local and historical colour, told simply and well and with no moralizing attached.  If you have a young reader on your gifting list you couldn’t go wrong with these.

See you tomorrow for Letter R,


*and now I suspect not many other people had heard of them either.  Of course at the time I thought that anyone meriting a book must be a Very Important Person indeed so these books, dull and boring and cringingly awfully written, were puzzling to me. They mostly involved fond reminiscences of mild scrapes gotten into at boarding academy, an early marriage, the raising of three or four children while the husband went to college and the wife did laundry including cloth diapers by hand in a crummy house with no food in the kitchen cupboards, a boring recitation of the various church posts they held over the next forty years and then a kind of coda chapter which described them spending their twilight years managing a mobile home park in the desert and being visited by their grandchildren.  Hardly thrilling stuff.  Of course, these books were in the sale bin, and at camp meeting – just as everywhere else in this life – you get what you pay for.

**Even though it was written in the 1950s it could be read aloud today in any company without giving offense.  Well, the pirate king is once referred to as a ‘hulking savage,’ but as he and his men had been rampaging up and down the river murdering people by the hundreds and in this scene he is actually towering over Steven with the express intent of tearing him to pieces the argument could be made that this was justified. Possibly this term has been expunged from the current edition, though; I haven’t checked.

***When the voice thing on the iPhone first came out I ran excitedly for my copy of The Queen’s Gold  because I was sure I remembered that Rasak’s wife’s name was Siri.  I was so disappointed to find that I was wrong, but now I’m glad, because Siti was quite nice and in my opinion Siri is a real bitch.

The Letter P (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 17, 2015

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I discovered Jane Austen by accident and held onto her out of desperation.

Within a period of twenty-six months during the late eighties I went from cocky brand new college graduate who knew more than anyone to snotty grad student surely about to rack up unprecedented academic honors to grad school dropout to minimum wage office gopher to new bride (one bright spot at least!) to different office gopher (just while my husband was in law school – then I’d go back to grad school*) to (Ack! Surprise!) new mom.  It reminded me of the time I had travelled from St. Petersburg, Russia (at that time Leningrad) to New England to California to far Northwestern Alaska (above the arctic circle) in the space of six days**  Both experiences left me dizzy and disoriented and, when looking at my watch, not entirely sure if it was 3:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m.

During the long days alone in a small apartment with Little Miss Sunshine,*** who I was slightly afraid of because I actually had never so much as held a baby before she was born, I discovered the delightful fact that as long as I would hold her in my arms she would sleep peacefully for hours.  I’m sure I’m not the first new mom who has perfected the art of gliding smoothly around the house cuddling the baby closely and securely with one’s right arm and upper left arm while using one’s left forearm to reach for things.  One day my left hand reached out, t-rex-like, and grabbed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and carried it over to the couch and Little Miss Sunshine and I sat down together – I to read and she to sleep – and that was the end of my getting anything else done for awhile.****

All six of Jane Austen’s books (second hand paperbacks, of course) were sitting unread in the living room bookcase.  I had acquired them months before during a weekend spree at Smith’s Family Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon and had brought them home and given them pride of place on a shelf right at eye level but had not yet taken any of them out to read.  I knew they were classics. Very intelligent and articulate friends of mine – English majors – raved about them.  The trouble was, I was slightly afraid I wouldn’t like them and that this would reflect badly on me.

Of course I needn’t have worried. Where I had gotten the idea that the books would be dry and hard to follow is beyond me. Everyone knows (at least everyone reading this knows) how engaging and insightful and appealing and timeless and generally wonderful the Austen books are so I won’t go into that here.  Instead, as I do increasingly, I’ll use Jane as a springboard to another and only tenuously related topic.

Jane Austen, who lived at home all her life and wrote her books in the parlor, is known to have covered up her work whenever anyone came into the room.  I find this so endearing of her to have done.  I understand it so well.  When I am writing anything – and I mean anything from my novel I’m supposedly working on to a blog entry to a nasty letter (a guilty hobby of mine) to a fb messenger conversation with one of the kids – and anyone happens to stroll into the room, I simply can’t continue.  If the Patient Man comes in and stands behind my chair and makes as if to look at the screen I have to close the screen. Goodness only knows what he must think I’ve been looking at.  But if Jane Austen didn’t want her own family catching a glimpse of such as Pride and Prejudice before she was ready to show it, how much more should I feel the need to shelter my poor scribbles?

Another really interesting thing I recently learned about Jane Austen was that, lacking google docs or wordperfect or even a typewriter and a bottle of white out, she made extensive revisions to her handwritten manuscripts by writing the new material on little pieces of paper and pinning them into the original with straight pins. I found this out by following a link an English teacher friend posted on facebook one time.  It was similar to this link which I found just now through google.

Isn’t that interesting?  This is what I miss about facebook.  I had so many friends there whom I don’t have access to in real life, and some of them put up really interesting things almost daily and I picked up so much esoterica by clicking on those links.  I miss that a lot.

I think I might have to go back.

Actually, I feel that I really owe it everyone involved to go back.

It’s not like I was providing educational or improving links that others were relying on.  No, I was mostly just doing the same thing I’m doing here, yakking on and on, arranging small words in such a way that I come out looking clever and funny and interesting without actually saying all that much. The real reason is that I’ve just switched over to posting everything on Instagram and ‘accidentally’ pressing ‘share on facebook’, which even I can’t pretend isn’t really just using facebook.  And if I’m going to do that, and with graduation and birthday and recital and vacation season coming up you can bet I’m going to continue doing that, it’s very rude of me to turn my face away while backhandedly slipping my own pictures right out there where everyone else has to look at them.  This is a behavior analogous to gathering up your winnings and leaving the game while you’re ahead (I infer this from fiction, as I don’t know how to play cards) or (this one is from my experience) to requesting that your own child play first on the program and then getting up and walking out of the recital without staying to listen to everyone else’s kids.

But as long as we were speaking of Jane Austen, let’s think about it.  Would not she herself have simply adored Facebook? What a rich addition to plot and characters.  What a goldmine of gossip dressed as photo captions and passive aggressive treachery lurking in perky comments followed by smiling emoji!  And how the characters could have revealed themselves through their facebook activity!

  • Mary Bennet would post links to reviews of learned books she hadn’t read.
  • Lydia and Kitty would giggle together and goad each other into inappropriately friend requesting young officers, and repeatedly infest their computer with viruses picked up from celebrity gossip pages.
  • Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst would take delight in posting unflattering pictures of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet and then commenting on what perfect likenesses they were.
  • Mrs. Bennet would spend hours minutely analyzing the pages of all her women friends and then shredding their characters based on her findings, to Mr. Bennet, who would pretend not to listen.
  • Mr. Bennet wouldn’t have a facebook and would sneer at anyone who did.
  • Jane Bennet would move systematically and judiciously through her newsfeed each morning bestowing likes and comments equally on friend and foe.
  • And Elizabeth Bennet?  How I would love to know how Jane Austen would deal with Elizabeth’s facebook involvement. I have an idea she would have made her one of those people who will set up a page and then never use it because they aren’t actually all that interested in such trivia. If Elizabeth had had a page she would most certainly have deactivated it during the time Mr. Darcy was ignoring her.

Whatever your opinion of my speculations expressed above, I think we can all agree that facebook society is as rich in plot and drama as any Regency Period English village ever was. There’s just so much there! I ask myself, “What Would Jane Do?”

And I answer myself…

See you tomorrow for Letter Q, and quite possibly see you soon on facebook,


 *Nope.  Didn’t.  Too lazy.

**Look at a globe and count up how many time zones that trip covered.  I’ve never bothered to do so but I know it was several. I was a wreck all summer, and living in constant daylight above the arctic circle didn’t help.

***Little Miss Sunshine is herself all set to graduate from law school next month.

****I think I mentioned before that I can’t seem to get as much done as other people do.  One reason may be that I will always immediately drop anything to read a book.  This is not a virtue and I’m not presenting it as one.  When I told my mom that I had discovered a wonderful new author and was taking advantage of Little Miss Sunshine’s nap times to read (which I thought of as necessary refreshment for the frazzled spirit) she was horrified.  “I should think that you’d want to use the baby’s naptime to catch up on your housework,” she said reprovingly.  I don’t think she actually thought anything of the kind; she had known me quite well for twenty-four years and during all that time I’m pretty sure I never once willingly put down a book in order to do anything useful.

The Letter H (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 9, 2015

Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I bought this paperback edition at the delightful ‘Briar & Tobac’* in Brainerd, Tennessee, a shop which sold pipes and tobacco in the front room and used books in the back room.  Books bought there smelled deliciously of pipe tobacco; if I open my copy just enough to admit my face, press the pages tightly to my ears and bury my nose deep in the binding I can still catch a faint, fragrant whiff.  I’m a tiny bit embarrassed to say that I first picked this book up because I thought it had something to do with unicorns.**  The reason for this is that under the title “Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead” were the words “by the author of ‘Bring Me a Unicorn.’”  I pulled the book out and added it to the stack in my arms, and then noticed that the next book on the shelf was that very Bring Me a Unicorn.  I pulled that one out, and just inside the cover a poem was printed:


Everything today

has been heavy and brown.

Bring me a unicorn

to ride about the town.   – A.M.L.


My, wasn’t that whimsical.  I admired it very much, because back in those formative years I still saw myself becoming someone just that charming and whimsical.  This was before I evolved into the cynical monster I am today, who views all things whimsical in a very negative light. Not long ago I walked down the main street of a self-consciously quaint New England town, one of the smaller, poorer ones way inland that doesn’t have much to attract tourists, and as I was walking along minding my own business I nearly tripped over a pair of green wellington boots someone had left right in the middle of the brick sidewalk.  I tried to kick them to the side and found that they were actually glued to the bricks.  Incredulously I noticed that there were two or three more pairs of boots in other pastel colours glued in a carefully random pattern under a shop window.

“I’ll bet someone thinks they’re being very whimsical!” I raged, and sure enough, when I looked up at the window there was the hated word right there in the name of the shop.

I am happy that I bought the two books, whatever my feelings on whimsy might be today.  They are two volumes of an autobiography told in diary entries and letters.  Although the excerpts are carefully selected and no doubt sanitized in order to present her life in the best possible light, still they tell her story from her own perspective, which is of course what we all would do if given the chance.

This was a girl so sheltered and tradition bound that the most daring act of rebellion she could imagine was defiantly enrolling at Vassar when all the women of her family had gone to Smith….and even then, she didn’t actually follow through.  A shy little rich girl, daughter of an ambassador, who read books and wrote poems and didn’t like talking to strangers but somehow grew up to marry the wildly famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, to learn to navigate and to fly and to accompany her husband all over the world.

It’s a kind of life you wouldn’t necessarily even dream of unless you read an account by someone who lived it.

Just the kind of treasure you can find in the back room of a tobacco shop.

See you tomorrow for Letter I,

*I tried to look it up.  If it still exists, it hasn’t bothered to inform Google.

**I can’t imagine why this would have appealed to me; I just remember thinking it.

The Letter G (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 9, 2015

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m pretty sure this is middle-class snobbery, but of all the things I can be insufferable about, the purest distillation of my disgust is reserved for those who without shame will say that they haven’t read the book – any book – but they have seen the movie. This may be because I appreciate books so much because it took me so long to find them.

I was just starting college far from home, fresh from a childhood spent reading only church-published missionary stories and I was desperately trying to figure out how to find the great books of the world.  A few tantalizing glimpses had told me that there were some out there, somewhere, but I had no idea how to look for them.  There was no Google; there was no facebook with its helpful quizzes on “How Many of These Classics Have You Read?” and for better or worse I had tested out of all the required college English classes so if there was something to have been learned there I missed it.

One Sunday afternoon while babysitting for one of my professors I happened to pick up his little girl’s copy of Anne of Green Gables.  The next day I went to the bookstore and bought the whole series, devoured them, and went roaring out for more.  But what? Where?  I didn’t know where to start or what to look for.  All I had was an old-fashioned children’s author who had confirmed through a character I desperately wished I could be like that there was a whole world of literature out there if I could only find it.  Fortunately a friend introduced me to used bookstores and boy did I go on a spree then.  There was one bookstore that charged by the foot – we stacked up our selections and they measured the stack with a ruler and we paid something like eighty-five cents per twelve inches of what might or might not turn out to be good literature.  At less than a dime a book even a student can afford to take chances.

Eventually through much trial and error I began to refine my search habits.  The obvious strategy was to buy all the books written by any author I liked.  The next step was to make a note of any writers or books mentioned in books I liked and track those down too.  I think it was during the first year or two of this mad orgy of book lust that I found my way to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Unfortunately, I just wasn’t ready for it.  I had no background that would enable me to understand what the words represented.  I could tell there was a profound plot there, great sadness, great tragedy, great despair over something Gatsby strove for all his life and could not attain…but what was it?  Why couldn’t he have it? The book was a masterpiece, the writer a genius.  I knew this, but I could not grasp why.  I read and re-read the scene where the confident Gatsby, thinking he has won, comes to dinner at Daisy’s house and is so quickly reduced by Tom to a cheap, stuttering upstart…I read it again and again but I could not see how Tom had done it or why Gatsby was so easily felled.

So I put it away and tried not to think about it.  It’s never pleasant to admit that there are things beyond our scope, things we’re not bright enough to understand, especially when we think we’re pretty bright.

Then decades later the movie came out.*  Technically I’d read the book, even if I had not been capable of internalizing it. So technically I was allowed to watch the movie.

It was a revelation.

It instantly became clear that part of my failure to understand the book was because at a sheltered nineteen I had not been exposed to the kind of jazz age excesses that were going on at Gatsby’s house, nor had I seen any house grander than what might be owned by a moderately well-to-do small town physician.  I remember my mental image very well.  In my imagination, Gatsby’s house and Nick Carraway’s house had stood side by side only a few yards back from a badly paved two lane country road, their properties separated by a narrow path of gravel and a row of lilacs.  Nick’s house was a peeling bungalow set in a lawn of crabgrass.  Gatsby’s house was a two-story split level with a big double front door (with brass doorknobs) and a plain rectangular concrete swimming pool in the backyard surrounded by a four-foot chain link fence. There were picnic tables scattered on his manicured green grass and this was where the parties happened.  Is it any wonder I could not get ahold of this story?

So I went back and read the book again.

And upon this reading the other deficiency of my childish understanding was made plain.  In those early years I believed without really thinking about it that mobility was possible within the American class system, that it was only a matter of making enough money to buy the kinds of things that would mark you as rich and therefore upper class. I had no inkling of the tools the old classes so effortlessly use to remind social inferiors of their place. That Tom actually with his voice articulated out loud the difference between himself and Gatsby is unusual.  Words are not required for class differences to be understood by all parties involved.

And now I fully appreciate The Great Gatsby for the brilliant work that it is.  Thanks to the lavish movie production I no longer picture Gatsby dead on a KMart floaty toy in a crummy subdivision pool.  Thanks to years of observing social interaction I wince with Gatsby as all his efforts come to nothing in the face of Tom and Daisy’s cruel and casual disregard.

So, the moral of the story is, sometimes it’s okay to watch the movie.

Sorry this was a day late.

See you later this evening for Letter H,


*the 2013 movie

The Letter C (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 3, 2015

A Child’s Garden of Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson

When Young Maria Callas was three years old and cheerfully holding center stage at all the family parties by reciting poetry, a beloved great aunt now deceased presented her with Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, requesting that she would please learn the poem My Shadow and helpfully marking the page with a yellow paper clip so that we would not forget.*

YMC was more than happy to learn the poem, and I was delighted to find that the very first poem in the book was Bed in Summer, which I had read long ago in the margin of a first or second grade language-enrichment textbook and had nearly forgotten:

Bed in Summer

In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candle-light.

In summer, quite the other way,

I have to go to bed by day.


I have to go to bed and see

The birds still hopping on the tree.

Or hear the grown-up people’s feet

Still going past me in the street.


And does it not seem hard to you,

When all the sky is clear and blue,

And I should like so much to play,

To have to go to bed by day?

As I read the verses again I remembered that as a seven year old I had loved the poem but had also found it confusing. How could a child in bed hear people’s feet in the street?  Why did the child in the poem have to get up so early during the winter, and why would he have been put to bed in the middle of the afternoon during the summer, when surely there wasn’t even school the next day? Was he being punished? The illustration showed an unsupervised child in a nightgown holding a candle so obviously it had been written a long time ago, before there was electricity and before parents knew that allowing children to play with fire was dangerous.  Perhaps in those olden days the nights and days were of different lengths.

Of course now the magic of Google tells me that in Edinburgh, Scotland (Robert Louis Stevenson’s hometown) the sun rises at 8:44 am in the deep of winter and sets at 10:03 pm in the height of summer.  In Riverside, California (my hometown) the latest winter sunrise is at 6:55 am and the latest summer sunset is at 8:05 pm.  So that clears that up.  As to the people walking in the street, young RLS must have had a bedroom at the front of his house at 17 Heriot Row, for he writes in the poem “The Lamplighter”


For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,

And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;

And O! before you hurry by with ladder and with light,

O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!


And that is why a little boy in a front bedroom of a house in Edinburgh can hear the sound of people’s feet on the pavement below him, and a little girl in a back bedroom of a tract house in Riverside, California cannot.

Finally, as to the unsupervised candle-handling, that was probably the illustrator’s error.  I think it most likely that the nurse took care of the candle.

I was delighted to have a whole book of verses by the writer of that beloved poem and for years I carried A Child’s Garden of Verses from bed to bed every evening as one by one I read the children to sleep.  In much the same way that I had loved yet wondered at Bed in Summer, the children and I found the whole volume to be both endearing and confusing. Some of the poems were instantly appealing:  Windy Nights, Where Go the Boats, The Land of Counterpane, The Swing, and these we read together over and over, but many other poems seemed odd to us and after one or two baffled attempts to ‘get it’ we skipped them. Now, as an adult reading it at my leisure (and without having to concentrate on getting four children to bed) I understand that these puzzling verses are the specific personal memories of RLS.  This volume was a childhood memoir expressed in poetry, a tribute to his own nurse, to his mother and father, his aunts and cousins and playmates.  Read in this light and as a whole it is a beautiful homage to a happy childhood.

Here is a contemporary review that appeared in the Guardian on May 13, 1885:

To write good verse for children – verse which is neither stilted nor bald, neither sentimental nor prosaic – is among the difficult achievements of literature, and Mr Stevenson’s delightful little volume is quite a triumph in its kind. A child’s way of looking at things is so different from ours that a grown person in trying to express it almost feels as though he is using a foreign language, while yet from the nature of his task he is bound to the greatest simplicity and homeliness.

This difficulty Mr Stevenson escapes through his wonderfully sympathetic imagination. He not only knows what the children like, but he likes it along with them. His verses are full of the surprises which children themselves constantly give us in their odd mixture of fantasy and realism. They are admirable pictures of wholesome child-life, “innocent and honest”, to use his own words – old-fashioned we had almost said, but, alas! for the world if so it is – delighting in its own wayward play.**

I can’t walk beside a stream without reciting, “Dark brown is the river, Golden is the sand…”  

It makes me happy, and sad, and seven years old.

See you tomorrow for Letter D,


*She did not forget.  For months to follow a highlight of family parties was Young Maria Callas’ performance, standing on a table and solemnly lisping, “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, And what can be the use of him is more than I can see…”

**”A Garden of Delights, A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, Reviewed in the Guardian, May 13 1885.” The Guardian. N.p., 1 Aug. 2003. Web. 3 Apr. 2015.

The Letter A (A-to-Z Challenge)

April 1, 2015


Isaac Asimov


It’s Been a Good Life (Prometheus Books, edited by Janet Jeppson Asimov)

When I was a child and wanted to read adventure stories and fiction, my mother would sometimes offer me autobiographies of famous people instead, asking me if I wouldn’t actually prefer to read them anyway because they were so fascinating and inspirational.  I did NOT want to read the autobiographies; I was as self-centered then as I am now and in my young and narrow experience I simply could not identify with or care about the stories, hardships, triumphs or life lessons of anyone over the age of twenty or so.  Thus, I take as a sign that I have grown up the fact that I am now totally addicted to autobiographies and memoirs.*

A few years later, but while I was still lusting after fiction and refusing to read inspirational autobiographies, I managed to get my hands on Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series and was hooked for life.**  I read this series, and then the Robot Series, and then all the additional Foundation books that Asimov thoughtfully provided over the years, and on the day he died I felt personal loss.***

And then one evening while pawing through a pile of $.99 books at Building 19 I found his autobiography, It’s Been a Good Life.  I started reading it in the car on the way home, holding the book high to catch the headlights of the car behind ours.

A quote from the book jacket says, “Isaac Asimov revolutionized what it means to be a writer.  He created superbly enlightening science and history books about the world around him and wonderful science-fiction worlds where his readers could lose themselves for hours.  No other twentieth-century writer wrote with such Shakespearean eloquence or had more of a literary impact than Isaac Asimov.  Simply put, It’s Been a Good Life is a behind-the-scenes look at genius and a must-have for Asimov fans as well as science and science-fiction fans in general.”

I love the book myself because it is a simple, undecorated account of his own life written by a man so brilliant he doesn’t even bother to pretend that he isn’t.  There is no false modesty here, because it would be pointless, but there is no bragging either, because the facts speak for themselves.  We all know there is a way of stating facts that pretends not to be bragging, and that is a sickening thing to read, but when a person is secure in his gifts and talents and blessed with humour and eloquence the result is a delight. It is gross self-flattery to think that I could have carried on any kind of conversation that would have caught his interest for even a moment, but when I re-read Asimov’s It’s Been a Good Life I always wish I could have been his friend.

See you tomorrow for Letter B,


*A quick shuffle around the bookcases in this room, without going upstairs where I know there is another big stack of them, nets a memoir count of thirty-four.  The Goodwill is an excellent source for memoirs.  Apparently people receive them as gifts (many of mine are inscribed with birthday or Christmas greetings) and then, after a decent period of time has passed, quietly slide them into the donation bin.  Most appear to be unread.

**Why a person like myself who has no interest in actual science should have fallen so hard for science fiction is beyond me.  It’s not an indiscriminate interest though.  Only Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury.  That’s it.

***The Patient Man had to break it to me gently.  I still remember that he came home from work and said, “I have some bad news.  There won’t be any more Asimov books.”  I absorbed this, and then I cried.

Wind Bashing Apology Post

March 6, 2015

Last week in a February funk I behaved snarkily to the wind quintet combination.   I said they were only tolerable in the springtime along with all the other chirpy things, and I may have compared them to a screaming toddler.  Well, as I said, it was February.

Actually I quite like wind instruments.  We had a wind quintet play at our wedding.  Well, it was really a wind quartet because we didn’t know any horn players well enough to ask them to travel to California but among our nearby good friends were a clarinetist, an oboist, a flutist* and a bassoonist.  I say, they were among our good friends.  Hopefully they still are.

Even if I weren’t in apology mode I would tell you that I very much admire orchestral woodwind players, a group that includes the players of all sizes and keys of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons. These play solistically all the time; that is, there is only one instrument to a part, each player is totally on his own, and this on an instrument with carrying qualities and a distinctive tone so that anyone listening knows exactly who is responsible for it.  One thing I impress on young string players in a youth orchestra situation is that they must never, ever, EVER turn and smirk at a wind player who has come in wrong.  Strings – except for section principals – do not understand the kind of courage it takes to play a woodwind instrument in an orchestra.  In a major symphony there may be a section of twenty-two first violins arranged at stage front, playing in unison, and although each violinist’s body language implies that he is individually responsible for holding the whole show together, let me tell you that each of them is relying on the principal to bring them in.  If he brings them in wrong, they will throw him under the bus.**

But I digress.  This is supposed to be about the woodwinds.

In contrast to the string players, who sit in packs at the front of the stage reaping a great deal of glory for an investment of relatively little personal risk, the woodwind section is buried in the middle of the orchestra (behind even the violas!), each individual player responsible for coming in on time with huge solos full of chromatic and rhythmic difficulties which he always seems to play with effortless fluidity despite being hindered from making excessive interpretive body motions by the fact that he must keep both hands on his instrument and his instrument centered in front of his body.***  Oboists, flutists, bassoonists, and clarinetists all have so many solos woven throughout everything that we don’t even really count them as solos, which doesn’t seem fair.  When they play correctly we take them for granted.  When one of them comes in wrong we all know exactly who it was.  A woodwind player does not have the luxury of faking away a false entrance.  If a string player has not been counting and thinks it might be time to come in but isn’t sure, he can balk: approaching the string with gusto but not making any noise until the entrance is confirmed by those around him.  No one will really know for sure, because if he was wrong he can easily change a false downbow entrance into a shrug, rolling his neck and tilting his head like he was just relieving a crick, and if it was an upbow entrance he might move his hand quickly from fingerboard to pegs, leaning discreetly to the side and tapping the bow lightly on the strings to pretend that he was checking his tuning.   A false woodwind entrance, though, can be nothing but a false entrance, a bright toot embarrassingly misplaced.

Last weekend Yale Man was playing principal cello so we went to his concert. First up was the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, which I listened to once in Survey of Music and have never felt the need to listen to again.  Sitting there a little glassy-eyed, just waiting for it to be done so we could get on to Beethoven Five, I was startled to hear the sound of a single, very familiar cello and I quickly looked up and focused. There was Yale Man playing a little solo of four measures or so, a tiny beautiful gem with trills, arpeggios and all sorts of good stuff, his cello singing out all alone through the packed hall. The Patient Man and I nudged each other and grinned the whole time and even the Pokerface Joker nodded twice in approval and gave a thumbs up.  It was a really big deal, and if I had known ahead of time it was coming I would have been a nervous wreck on our son’s behalf. I seem to be digressing yet again but I’m not – my point is that here we were bursting with pride over four measures of a principal solo, while virtually every single note an orchestral woodwind player plays is just that exposed and identifiable.

Perhaps it is this constant individual self-reliance that makes the woodwind section seem to be a collection of individuals, sixteen or so independent persons sitting straightforwardly in a line, each facing the conductor head on rather than circling the wagons in the way the strings do.  They do not seem to have the solidarity of the brass players at the back of the orchestra, who look like a football squad and act like class clowns in the back row of English class.****  One imagines that if the trombones came in wrong they would all crack up laughing and then high-five each other, and that a wrongly entering trumpet player would carry it through with alpha-dog confidence, leaving the rest of the orchestra to wonder if perhaps he hadn’t been right after all.  In contrast, all the woodwind players seem to be such sensitive people.  One fears that the clarinetist who toots out wrongly during a rest might crawl under his chair to die, and that a flutist might drop her flute and fall weeping into the arms of her friends. A bassoonist who miscounts might look pained behind a brave facade and then go home and write tragic verse.  One hates to even imagine what an oboist might do.

Okay, one more story about me***** but this one is actually relevant.  It’s rare that a violinist can incur the extent of a conductor’s wrath, but I’ve done it, and so I know how it feels.  I was fourteen, cocky about winning the second-to-last chair in the second violin section of the local college orchestra; I was too lazy to count and too cool to watch the conductor.  In my first concert we played some classical symphony that ended with several chords.  The spaces between the chords were not of the same duration.  Particularly, the rest between the penultimate and ultimate chords was at the conductor’s artistic discretion and I did not bother to look up and see what he wanted.  It’s unfortunate that I decided at that moment to take to heart a comment my dad had made a day or two before, which was “We paid for a whole bow, so why do you only use six inches of it?”  So, with great strength and bravado I used my whole bow on a great crashing fortissi-issimo four-string chord . . . all by myself, into dead silence, while everyone else was still waiting for the cue.

I’ve often tried to find the perfect adjective to describe the conductor’s eyes at that moment, but although I can wield a wide variety of words I just can’t find one that really works.  He controlled his face and his body very well; he flung up his head and did a savage open mouthed grin of triumph and stretched his arms high and wide, fingers clawed and curved to pull the real final chord from the rest of the orchestra, but his eyes (oh, his eyes!) locked maniacally with mine in intense, focused hatred mixed with suspended white hot fury.  After he lowered his arms and the applause began he kept this look skewered on me until the moment he whipped around to take his bow.  It was a look that said, “Because there are people watching and I’m trying to save face, I’m pretending like this is over now, but later I’m going to find you and I’m going to kill you.”  I ran away to cry.  I had really thought that he was going to put his baton right through my head and I knew I would have deserved it.

And that is how I know what’s at stake every time a wind player takes a breath.  I know that every orchestral woodwind player sits on a trap door above a seething pit of a conductor’s fury and this trap door is secured only by his ability to count.  I respect them for their courage to sit there, but what really amazes me is how rarely they fall in.

So, as a humble peace offering, here is a list of some of my favourite music that include woodwind solos great or small:

Smetana, The Moldau.  We practiced this during the first orchestra rehearsal of my freshman year in college.  I was in awe – In AWE! – of the two flute players who had the courage and the skill to play this opening theme right there, all by themselves, with all of us listening.

Debussy, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique (listen for the clarinet solo)

Beethoven, Symphony No. 6, Pastoral

Dvorak, Symphony No. 8 (but then be prepared to spend some time deeply regretting that you never learned to play the French Horn)

Mozart, Clarinet Concerto, especially the Adagio (second movement)

Vivaldi, the Bassoon Concertos******

Mozart, Horn Concertos  (yes, a horn is made of brass, but was implicated in the wind quintet insult so deserves some restitution here, even though all I said was that it had a warm and sunny sound)

J. S. Bach, Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor, especially third movement

J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

J.S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2

Mozart, D Major Flute Quartet, especially the Rondo (third movement)

Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue

And on the way home from the Pokerface Joker run this morning I happened to hear Rossini’s Barber of Seville Overture. I don’t know if you’d find this one on a list of wind excerpts for auditions, but the winds certainly play their cheerful part and the whole thing is lots of fun to listen to.

Enjoy these selections, and be kind to wind players.

See you soon,


* I know as well as you do that a flutist is really a flautist, but I think if you’re going to say ‘flautist’ instead of ‘flutist’ you have to be consistent and say ‘faggottist’ when you mean ‘bassoonist’ and I’m just not prepared to commit to remembering to do that on a regular basis.

**The conductor will look at them questioningly and they will look back at him in wide-eyed sympathy, making minimal but eloquent shrugs and wry faces that clearly say, “Don’t blame us.  You’re the one who made him principal.”  But really, that’s just violin players.  Cello players generally are too nice for this kind of behavior (they are the trombonists of the string family) and no one hears what the violas are doing anyway so they can really get by with a lot.

*** Except for flutists.  They can dip and sway, like (first) violins, and this is appropriate because flutes are the first violins of the wind family.

****Except for the horns, who look like a Mathlete team.

*****What do you want?  I’m a violinist. 

****** Concerto/Concerti — Cello/Celli — Sorry, I’m just not consistently pompous enough, although I do have my moments.