AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

09 December 2016

The Kinks, "Father Christmas"

Happy Friday!

Today.

1966.


"I'm So Glad"

Fiddler.


The Waterboys' fiddler, Steve Wickham.

Build.


Hurl yourself at goals above your head and bear the lacerations that come when you slip and make a fool of yourself. Try always, as long as you have breath in your body, to take the hard way–and work, work, work to build yourself into a rich, continually evolving entity.

Sylvia Plath

08 December 2016

Today.

1976.


"Hotel California"

Imitate.


"Here is deposited the body of Jonathan Swift, Sacræ Theologiæ Doctor [and] Dean of this cathedral church, where savage indignation can no longer tear his heart. Go, traveler, and imitate, if you can, one who, to his utmost capacity, strenuously championed liberty.”

CONNECT

Motto.


During the Arts and Crafts era, mottoes were a way to keep the ideals of the movement alive in everyone’s home and workplace. The Larkin Soap Company’s Buffalo, N.Y., office building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright had mottoes painted throughout its five-story atrium. Wright’s own home had a fireplace mantel inscribed with the motto, “Good friend, around these hearth-stones speak no evil word of any creature.” The massive 1913 fireplaces at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., have many mottoes painted onto their walls. Not to be forgotten are the copper-hooded fireplaces at Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Farms, which also laud the “joy of work,” most notably in the motto “The lyf so short the craft so long to lerne,” a Geoffrey Chaucer sentiment offered as an inspiration to all visitors.

But most of us are more familiar with the hand-drawn mottoes reproduced on paper by leading Arts and Crafts manufacturers such as Roycroft, Rust Craft, Buzza and other early-20th-century firms. Sizes and paper choices were varied. Large, 11-by 14-inch mottoes were individually printed on handmade or watermarked papers using a letterpress.

07 December 2016

Wagner, Tristan and Isolde

Waltraud Meier performs the "Liebestod" ...

Swarming.


Out he slipped without his cap or apron, and sure enough the door was open. In he went, and up and up in the darkness, climbing the steps and then the ladders, until he was among the bells, when a sense of dread and loneliness came upon him all at once, and he fell in a swoon. So ends the second quarter.

When the chimes began to right Tony awakened, and many wonderful things did he now begin to see. The spirits of the bells were swarming all around him; goblins and fairies and elfin spirits in endless numbers were pouring out in all directions from the chiming bells, until the whole interior of the tower seemed thronged with them. But when the chimes stopped, the elfish figures, one by one, faded into nothingness, and then when the bells hung still Toby noticed for the first time that each bell was itself a strange and mysterious figure with a long beard, and its muffled hand on its goblin mouth.

Charles Dickens, from "The Chimes, A Goblin Story"

Stout.


The IVY GREEN

Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green, 
That creepeth o’er ruins old! 
Of right choice food are his meals, I ween, 
In his cell so lone and cold. 
The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed, 
To pleasure his dainty whim: 
And the mouldering dust that years have made 
Is a merry meal for him. 
Creeping where no life is seen, 
A rare old plant is the Ivy green. 

Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings, 
And a staunch old heart has he. 
How closely he twineth, how tight he clings, 
To his friend the huge Oak Tree! 
And slily he traileth along the ground, 
And his leaves he gently waves, 
As he joyously hugs and crawleth round 
The rich mould of dead men’s graves. 
Creeping where grim death has been, 
A rare old plant is the Ivy green. 

Whole ages have fled and their works decayed, 
And nations have scattered been; 
But the stout old Ivy shall never fade, 
From its hale and hearty green. 
The brave old plant, in its lonely days, 
Shall fatten upon the past: 
For the stateliest building man can raise, 
Is the Ivy’s food at last. 
Creeping on, where time has been, 
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Charles Dickens

Purcell, Jubilate in D major, Z. 232

Timothy Brown conducts the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge ...

Outstanding.

Dürer, Pine, 1497


In 1664 John Evelyn, diarist, country gentleman, and commissioner at the court of Charles II, produced his monumental book on trees: Sylva, or a Discourse of Forest Trees. It was a seventeenth-century best seller. Evelyn was a true son of the Renaissance. His book is learned and witty and practical and passionate all by turns. No later book on trees has ever had such an impact on the British public. His message? A very modern one. We are in desperate need of trees for all kinds of reasons. Get out there with your spade and plant one today.

Despite the catastrophes that crippled London in the next two years—the great plague and the great fire—Evelyn lived to see the book reprinted four times. A century later it was reissued with elegant copperplate illustrations and an exhaustive commentary to bring it up to date. Later editions of the book (renamed Silva) have followed, and many authors have tried to write in the spirit of Evelyn. But somehow Sylva has always remained head and shoulders above its successors. That is, until the present. The two new books on trees under review are both outstanding. In different ways their authors share many of Evelyn’s best qualities.

Happy birthday, Bernini.

Bernini, David (detail), 1623


Gian Lorenzo Bernini was born on this day in 1598.

Three things are needed for success in painting and sculpture: to see beauty when young and accustom oneself to it, to work hard, and to obtain good advice.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Simon Schama's Power of Art, "Bernini" ...

Smashing.

McClelland, Sailor Smashing Identification Models of Japanese and German Aircraft, 1942

06 December 2016

Diana Krall, "East of the Sun (West of the Moon)"



Thank You, Jessica.

Mood.

Hall, Sunrise, undated


We’d lived in nice places before, but this was different, and the first time we listened to the loons wail like wolves through the night, we knew we were lifers. Everyone needs something in the landscape to orient by: a mountain, a garden, a lake. We took our cues from Number 10’s mood. Was it a swimming day? A sailing day? A day to simply watch the light play across the surface? We named every corner. Birch Point. Cedar Shore. Loon Lagoon. We discovered the log where the turtles like to sun, and the water lilies where the catfish gang hides out. When our son and his friends got bigger, we sent them to the rope swing on their own.

But mostly we swim. We like to say that we enjoy the lake in every season—there’s the occasional miraculous Christmas ice skate—but let’s face it: November through April is an acquired taste. Mostly we leave it to the ice fishermen, unmoving black specks on a grainy white scrim. For us, rebirth comes in April, when the ice breaks up and the loons come barreling in like overenthusiastic summer people. I don’t know how they get the word at their Atlantic winter quarters, but they arrive as soon as the first channels open. They don’t even have enough runway to take off again, though when the ice gets soft, my son and I launch our canoe and use it like an icebreaker to help them. They hang tough until late fall—the parents leaving first, the kid a few weeks later, just ahead of the ice.

Sting, "Soul Cake"

Happy birthday, Eisenstaedt.

Eisenstaedt, Lumberyard, Seattle, 1937


Alfred Eisenstaedt was born on this day in 1898.

Reverie.

Homer, The Trapper, 1870


In our childhood, reverie gave us freedom.  We still dream of liberty as we dreamed of it when we were children.  Those original solitudes leave indelible marks on certain souls.  Their entire life is sensitized for poetic reverie, for a reverie which knows the price of solitude.

Gaston Bachelard

Nectar.

Rousseau, Still Life with Oysters, 1787


THIS BE the OYSTER

This be the cup, brimming fathoms of nectar
This, the well that flows from forever

This be the saltcellar, trencher of tears,
and also the teardrop, stone-wept from ocean

This be the stone, lost among cairns,
and there, another, hidden in middens

This be the hull that casts off its seed—
thus grows the reef, encrusted with life—

This, ancient vessel, anchored to reef,
This be the ark where life resides

and this, tiny cradle, bearer of treasure,
This be the oyster, slow-rocked by tides.

Mary Elder Jacobsen

Grace.


You need to read Gaston Bachelard outside, slowly, with great patience. You need to be free to pick up a stone, feel the breeze on your face, enjoy the Sun’s warmth on your skin, hear the water tinkling at your feet. Read him—this subversive humanist, one critic says—in the library and you won’t get it; you’ll toss the book and run away. Read him in the fresh air of outdoors and his unique way of thinking will insinuate itself into the way you see the world and reawaken, even energize, something you probably didn’t know you had: an imagination with taproots in the unconscious reverie of substances. Read him at his pace and Bachelard will school you in the slow grace of true poetry.

Richard Leviton

Today.

1977.


"Running On Empty"

05 December 2016

Help.


Who will help the tree when all the kids who built forts in the woods are dead and the people who vote spent their little time outdoors only on the trail, hands jammed in pockets, leaving the woods untouched and unloved?

04 December 2016

Mushrooms.

Potter, Lepiota friesii, 1895


When you think of Beatrix Potter, you might think of one of her beloved creations: the gullible Jemima Puddleduck, impertinent Squirrel Nutkin or, of course, the foolhardy Peter Rabbit, risking it all in Mr McGregor’s garden for a few broad beans and radishes.

You’re probably less likely to think of mushrooms.

CONNECT

02 December 2016

Neil Young, "Cortez the Killer"

Merry.


Don’t trouble your head with sickly thinking: take a cup, and be merry.

Billy Squier, "Whadda Ya Want from Me?"

Happy Friday!

Still.

Curtis, The Vanishing Race, 1904


For all our talk about suppression of human rights in other countries, and despite a nostalgic sentimentality about the noble Red Man, the prejudice and persecution still continues. American hearts respond with emotion to Indian portraits by George Catlin and Edward Curtis, to such eloquent books as Black Elk Speaks and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, to modern films and television dramas in which the nineteenth-century Indian is portrayed as the tragic victim of Manifest Destiny; we honor his sun dances and thunderbirds in the names of our automobiles and our motels.
       
Our nostalgia comes easily, since those stirring peoples are safely in the past, and the abuse of their proud character, generosity, and fierce honesty – remarked upon by almost all the first Europeans to observe them – can be blamed upon our roughshod frontier forebears. The tribes who once owned this country were simply in the way of the white man’s progress, and so most of the Eastern tribes were removed to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and the western tribes mostly banished or confined to arid wastes that no decent white man would want. By a great historical irony, many of these lands were situated on the dry crust of the Grants Mineral Belt, which extends from the lands of the Dene people in Saskatchewan to those of their close relatives, the Dine, or Navajo, in New Mexico and Arizona, and contains North America’s greatest energy resources. More than half of the continent’s uranium and much of its petroleum and coal lie beneath Indian land, and so the Indians are in the way again.  After 400 years of betrayals and excuses, Indians recognize the new fashion in racism, which is to pretend that the real Indians are all gone.

We have no wish to be confronted by these "half-breeds" of today, gone slack after a century of enforced dependence, poverty, bad food, alcohol, and despair, because to the degree that these people can be ignored, the shame of our nation can be ignored as well. Leonard Peltier’s experience reflects more than most of us wish to know about the realities of Indian existence in America; our magazines turn away from articles about the Indians of today, and most studies of Indian history and culture avoid mention of the 20th century. But the Indians are still amongst us.  “We are your shadows,” one man says and the qualities they were known for in their day so of glory still persist among many of these quiet people, of mixed ancestry as well as full-blood, who still abide in the echo of the Old Way.

Peter Matthiessen, from In the Spirit of Crazy Horse

Happy birthday, Callas.


Maria Callas was born on this day in 1923.

Performing "Una voce poco fa," from Rossini's, The Barber of Seville ...



Don't miss this.

Closely.


The birdcalls begin their praise.
And it's their right.  We listen closely.
(We behind masks, in costumes!)
What do they call? a little willfulness,

a little sadness, and such huge promise,

sawing away at the half-locked future.
And in between, healing in our hearing:
the beautiful silence that they break.

Rainer Maria Rilke


Painting by Jacob Collins.

01 December 2016

Protect.

Björk, "It's Oh So Quiet"



Thank you, Casey.

Shapes.


Nina Kraus explains how the neuroscience of sound, language, and music shapes human communication.

Universe.

Bach, Weihnachts-Oratorium, BWV 248

Nikolaus Harnoncourt leads Concentus Musicus Wien ...

Cantatas 1-3


Cantatas 4-6

Security.


Nothing in England exercises a more delightful spell over my imagination than the lingerings of the holiday customs and rural games of former times. They recall the pictures my fancy used to draw in the May morning of life, when as yet I only knew the world through books, and believed it to be all that poets had painted it; and they bring with them the flavor of those honest days of yore, in which, perhaps with equal fallacy, I am apt to think the world was more homebred, social, and joyous than at present. I regret to say that they are daily growing more and more faint, being gradually worn away by time, but still more obliterated by modern fashion. They resemble those picturesque morsels of Gothic architecture which we see crumbling in various parts of the country, partly dilapidated by the waste of ages and partly lost in the additions and alterations of latter days. Poetry, however, clings with cherishing fondness about the rural game and holiday revel from which it has derived so many of its themes, as the ivy winds its rich foliage about the Gothic arch and mouldering tower, gratefully repaying their support by clasping together their tottering remains, and, as it were, embalming them in verdure. 

Of all the old festivals, however, that of Christmas awakens the strongest and most heartfelt associations. There is a tone of solemn and sacred feeling that blends with our conviviality and lifts the spirit to a state of hallowed and elevated enjoyment. The services of the Church about this season are extremely tender and inspiring. They dwell on the beautiful story of the origin of our faith and the pastoral scenes that accompanied its announcement. They gradually increase in fervor and pathos during the season of Advent, until they break forth in full jubilee on the morning that brought peace and good-will to men. I do not know a grander effect of music on the moral feelings than to hear the full choir and the pealing organ performing a Christmas anthem in a cathedral, and filling every part of the vast pile with triumphant harmony. 

It is a beautiful arrangement, also, derived from days of yore, that this festival, which commemorates the announcement of the religion of peace and love, has been made the season for gathering together of family connections, and drawing closer again those bands of kindred hearts which the cares and pleasures and sorrows of the world are continually operating to cast loose; of calling back the children of a family who have launched forth in life and wandered widely asunder, once more to assemble about the paternal hearth, that rallying-place of the affections, there to grow young and loving again among the endearing mementos of childhood.

There is something in the very season of the year that gives a charm to the festivity of Christmas. At other times we derive a great portion of our pleasures from the mere beauties of Nature. Our feelings sally forth and dissipate themselves over the sunny landscape, and we “live abroad and everywhere.” The song of the bird, the murmur of the stream, the breathing fragrance of spring, the soft voluptuousness of summer, the golden pomp of autumn, earth with its mantle of refreshing green, and heaven with it deep delicious blue and its cloudy magnificence,—all fill us with mute but exquisite delight, and we revel in the luxury of mere sensation. But in the depth of winter, when Nature lies despoiled of every charm and wrapped in her shroud of sheeted snow, we turn for our gratifications to moral sources. The dreariness and desolation of the landscape, the short gloomy days and darksome nights, while they circumscribe our wanderings, shut in our feelings also from rambling abroad, and make us more keenly disposed for the pleasure of the social circle. Our thoughts are more concentrated; our friendly sympathies more aroused. We feel more sensibly the charm of each other’s society, and are brought more closely together by dependence on each other for enjoyment. Heart calleth unto heart, and we draw our pleasures from the deep wells of loving-kindness which lie in the quiet recesses of our bosoms, and which, when resorted to, furnish forth the pure element of domestic felicity.

The pitchy gloom without makes the heart dilate on entering the room filled with the glow and warmth of the evening fire. The ruddy blaze diffuses an artificial summer and sunshine through the room, and lights up each countenance in a kindlier welcome. Where does the honest face of hospitality expand into a broader and more cordial smile, where is the shy glance of love more sweetly eloquent, than by the winter fireside? and as the hollow blast of wintry wind rushes through the hall, claps the distant door, whistles about the casement, and rumbles down the chimney, what can be more grateful than that feeling of sober and sheltered security with which we look round upon the comfortable chamber and the scene of domestic hilarity?

Washington Irving, "Christmas"

Today.

1975.


"Light Up," the perfect song for putting up Christmas lights ...

Home.

King's College Choir, "The Holly and The Ivy"

30 November 2016

Age-long.


I know now that the revelation is from the self, but from that age-long memoried self, that shapes the elaborate shell of the mollusk and the child in the womb, that teaches birds to make their nest; and that the genius is a crisis that joins that buried self for certain moments of our trivial daily mind.

W.B. Yeats

Protect.

Robin Williams, " A Tale of the Deeds of the Tuatha Dé Danann"

A bardic account of the two battles of Moytura, the sacred megalithic complex in Sligo. From the magical lore of ancient Ireland, this tale recounts conflicts of the ancestors at the dawn of the world. Stark, strange, beautiful, violent and hinting always at hidden truths, this of all ancient Celtic stories presents an insight into Druidic allegorical teachings.

Steve Winwood, "John Barleycorn Must Die"

Bow.

Wyeth, Wessaweskeag, 1962


RELUCTANCE

Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

Robert Frost 

Happy birthday, Palladio.

Picart, Palladio, 1716


Andrea Palladio was born on this day in 1508.

Andrea Palladio: Through the Eyes of Contemporary Architects ...

Toh Shimazaki


David Chipperfield


Sir Richard McCormac


Roger Zogolovitch

Jim Malcolm, "The Wild Geese"