I recently had brunch with a friend at one of my favorite hangouts, Gammon Coach House Bar and Grill, which happens to serve breakfast from11- 2 p.m. on the weekends. The “Garbage Omelet” is a four-egg monster with everything thrown into it; it’s delicious, but I can’t finish it, so I pack the rest home and have it for supper that night.
This blog is a sort of brief omelet; lots of different things have been on my mind, and I thought I’d share them.
1. words that are metaphors, or condensed forms of once longer phrases. E.g., stiletto heels. When you think of “stiletto,” those shoes, and the women who wear them become quite chilling. Another: “farewell” when listened to clearly becomes a blessing (fare well [or as Mr. Spock would say, “live long and prosper”]), as does “good-bye,” which is a condensation of “God be with ye (you).” Or Hebrew’s greeting (which I will try to spell phonetically), “meshlamech” (for a woman): the word is built on the same root as “shalom,” and means, in English, the loveliness of greeting by asking “how do you make your peace?”
2. A new (to me) composer: Peteris Vasks, an Estonian. I hear his 1996 piece, Dona nobis pacem on the local fine arts radio station, and suddenly felt as though I heard my people crying out, out of time (my mother was an Estonian survivor of the Holocaust). The piece has a huge dynamic range–sometimes you think something’s gone wrong because you can’t hear anything, but if you remain still, something will start to grow–and beautiful harmonies. He has written a great deal of choral music, because, he says, that was what Estonia and Latvia were full of: choral music everywhere. And somehow, I remember a mother, weaving a crown of dandelions for her daughter’s white blonde hair a hundred years ago. Vask also has four wonderful string quartets, some symphonies, concertos, etc. I just love them; suddenly I feel “these are my people,” and I want to weep.
3. The greatest composer in the West: Johann Sebastian Bach. Without him, and his Well-Tempered Clavier and other music, nobody would be able to do what they do today as composers. I heard on the radio an interview with a jazz musician (I paraphrase): When I want to learn how to move lines through a complex harmony of each other, I practice with Bach, to see how he does it. And how he’s reformed tonality. All types of musicians ultimately, somewhere in their practice, have to consider Bach. This now is me: yes. Yes, Yes. (Uh oh, shades of Molly Bloom?)
4. A question: how, and why did language originate? Lots of species have some kind of language, not always spoken, with which to communicate. Is that how humans started? Certainly, we have taken language to greater heights than other species: no whale could have written Moby Dick. But then, perhaps if someone sat down to a waiting whale and read Moby Dick to it, it would understand the character as no human can. It’s a nice thought. And language-as-communication, as it becomes more complex (poetry, for an extreme example), creates new things to be communicated, things that either never existed before, or of which we had not been aware, and so we grow. Do animals grow with their language? Students of animal life may understand some animal language, but is there a deeper subtlety to it that we can’t fathom? I am reminded of grade school, when we were told that what set humans apart from animals was that humans were tool-users. Yet since then, I’ve seen programs where an elephant moves a box over to a tree to climb on and reach something higher up it desires. No, we are not the only users, developers of tools, although (once again) ours might be more complicated, and the things we want–the moon, Mars, unknown life forms at the bottom of the wine-dark sea (sorry; I couldn’t help myself), other galaxies with other beings somehow like us–of no concern (note that I don’t say they don’t have curiosity) to other animals. But humans are very lonely; if only there were more beings to talk to. I think of Mike from Mars in Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and the kinds of relations and beings and innovations humans make in response. Oh, if only we could know! If only someone could understand us, show us the way, wherever that might be.
I think I’m ready for a slice of toast and a cup of coffee.
Talk to me; I too am lonely.