The Novelty Advantage

October 2, 2022

That last week’s opening night of the Metropolitan Opera presented Medea (an Italian revision of Cherubini’s Médée) reminds me of a wonderful story that Hugo Weisgall told. Leonard Bernstein had a brilliant success at La Scala conducting the work with Maria Callas in the title role. As a result, the theater gave him a generous contract that was cancelled after he conducted Puccini’s La Boheme. He was lamenting this fact to some colleagues, saying that he couldn’t understand the change of attitude by the opera company and the public. To which Virgil Thomson suggested: “Lenny, they KNOW La Boheme.”

It Was Good

May 14, 2022

Nine years ago today, I was on my last visit to Catalonia before I moved here permanently. I took this photo from my lunch table in old Girona. It remains a favorite moment.

Today I took a long walk in the vast Nature Park of Garraf of 31,679 acres (12,820 hectares), from an entrance to it that is just 8/10 of a mile from my house (1.3 km), hence about that distance from the sea (though parts of the park go much closer to the sea). I am overwhelmed by the variety of this vast park, which I have never even begun to exhaust. What a blessing to have it nearby!
Meadows remain, where I imagine grazing animals in the past.
Herbs such as rosemary and thyme abound. There are some wooded areas with Aleppo pines and holm oaks. Other trees include wild olive, fig, and arbutus. The margalló, a Mediterranean fan palm, is the most characteristic plant of the area and a protected species. In the valley bottoms the vegetation is more typical of evergreen oak woodland and features evergreen oaks, madder, boxwood, lentiscus honeysuckle, and viburnum.
I took some pretty rough steep paths that are easier to ascend than to descend!
I saw no wild animals larger than these ants—though I heard plenty of birds, singing wonderfully, and those domestic horses pictured below—but watching these ants for a few moments, when it was just them and me, was very nice!

In the past, I have seen wild boars exiting the park and crossing the road with nonchalance, and the terrain also includes rabbits, Mediterranean tortoises, quails, Bonelli’s eagles, falcons, and other birds of prey. But those were all evidently feeling shy where I was today.
Ancient dry-stone walls are everywhere in this part of the world.

Some of the old properties remain in the hands of the families.
Shepherds needed, and had, stone huts as shelters from the elements.
After an hour or two, a seat is welcome.

The way home

Regression

February 12, 2021

Lately, books that I read with pleasure in the 1970s have figured prominently in my reading. Yesterday it was this book that I took up, which is interesting but not one of my favorites. In fact, Lewis later disowned aspects of it. (He felt that he misused the term Romanticism, on which the book is largely based.) But, as we all know, he and Tolkien loved imaginary lands and their maps. The endpapers of this book thus include this map of the pilgrim’s progress (or, rather regress) through Romanticism.

2020–2021

December 24, 2020

Whence We Come

October 15, 2020

When people express interest, amazement, or just questions about my cultural, national, or political ecclecticism, I can always point to these two not-so-remote ancestors as an excuse. I of course never knew my great-grandfather “Jeff Davis,” as he was called by his friends—named, of course, for the President of the Confederate States of America—who died when his granddaughter, my mother, was a child; but I knew his widow, my great-grandmother Susannah Duncan Fraley very well and, of course, his daughter, my grandmother Dora Fraley Davis.

Ulysses S. Grant “Doll” Bunton, I did encounter a few times when I was a little child, since he was the brother of another great-grandmother, maternal grandmother of my father, who sometimes lived with us, Nancy Jane Bunton Norris.

If the parents of Jeff Davis and Ulysses Grant had met during the 1860s, at least, they might have been inclined to shoot each other or call someone else authorized to do so. I appeal to this fact when people find me inconsistent—this, and the fact that my family also fought on both sides of the Revolutionary War. (My great-grandmother Nancy Norris—known as “Aunt Nan” to most who knew her, but “Mammy” to me—told me stories of marauding homeless “rebel” soldiers, as she, a Unionist and Lincoln Republican, called them, whom she remembered in the decades after the Civil War. Her mother threatened some with a shotgun when they attempted to raid her smokehouse for food that they were probably desperate for, supposedly saying, “If you had asked me for it, I’d have given you some. But I won’t have you stealing.”)

As for their forbears, the web gets even more tangled. The name Fraley had been Fraelich, since they had come, like the majority of my ancestors, from Germany, despite the Welsh surnames of both my parents’ fathers. But what could be less German than the Buntons (sometimes spelled Bunting and Bunten), who had originally been Benjamins, Jews who came to North Carolina from Toledo (in Spain, not Ohio) after a few centuries in Windsor?


I heard someone say, “If you wish to accumulate, you must speculate.”

I’m not the person to say if that’s the route to wealth, but I’m convinced that it is the kind of reading that leads to wide-ranging knowlege. You can’t just read the stuff that’s “good for you” or that’s “to the point” if you want to cultivate yourself optimally. Dr. Johnson says somewhere that the only reading that really sticks is material that interests you. And you often don’t know what interests you until you’ve read about it. In fact, we’re most interested in the things that we know most about.

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