Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bloomsday in Rome; Polyphonic Grief on the Adriatic

Through much good luck I will be in Rome this Saturday, which is Bloomsday! Joyce moved there on July 31, 1906, with his young family when the school he was teaching in in Trieste had financial troubles and his employment wasn't certain.

Joyce very specifically chose to move to Rome,  but his time in the city was not happy. One big mistake was taking a position in a bank.  Jonathan deBurca Butler offered some very interesting thoughts about Joyce in Rome in Verbal magazine:

"From the very beginning his letters to Stanislaus speak negatively of the city and its people. His work in the bank was soul destroying. He often had to work 12 hours a day, copying out up to 200 letters James Joyce text portraitin an office where he had no interaction with the public.

His struggle was compounded by his drinking; a vice that infuriated his landlady, Signora Dufour and towards the middle of November she requested that he leave the accommodation on Via Frattina. Joyce expected to charm his way out of the tight spot but the Signora kept her word and he found himself out on the streets with a young family and nowhere to go. After four days searching, with suitcases and child in tow, he moved into 51 Monte Brianzo.

Today the area, which is near the wonderful Piazza Navona, is by no means objectionable but was rather grim in Joyce’s time. The house was located beside the river that Joyce disliked so much. 'The Tiber frightens me', he wrote. Its deep gorge and hasty waters apparently no match for the Liffey’s more placid demeanour."

It's too bad Joyce had such a rotten time in Rome, but with friends Alaric & Maurizio at the Irish-owned Scholars Lounge it will be an excellent place to celebrate the great writer on his special day.

When David Heard
From Rome I go to Ancona, an Adriatic seaside town, for a choral week with Patrick Craig built around the the text from 2 Samuel 18:23:

"When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went down to his chamber over the gate, and wept: and thus he said: 'O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom. Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

We will sing multiple versions of this text of epic grief set by many Renaissance composers, which are some of the the most glorious choral pieces ever written. I'm such a sucker for bringing polyphony to life in the 21st century with other choral nerds. It's a nice bonus when it's an international bunch.

No blogging for a while. Please follow me on Twitter for tweets from Italy.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Rare Long Weekend: The Jubilee Queen Meets the Transit of Venus

Americans don't have Jubilees. The only way I can think of that we relate to the word is Cherries Jubilee. And that, it turns out, was created by Escoffier for one of Queen Victoria's Jubilees (she had a Golden in 1887 and a Diamond in 1897).

The Catholic Church has Jubilee years, during which plenary indulgences may be obtained by the performance of certain pious acts, but probably the less said about that the better.

Today is the 59th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, televised, at her request, in order to open up the ceremony. The only part not on camera is the holy anointing by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is what made her Head of the Church of England.

Elizabeth actually ascended to the throne on February 6, 1952, when her father King George died. (The King is dead, long live the Queen.) But there were very formal ideas of mourning back then, and it was not considered proper to have such a joyous occasion until more than a year after such grief.

The official royal website has a wonderful amount of information and pictures. 

Old Rituals in the 21st Century

So the United Kingdom is swaddled in bunting this weekend through to Tuesday, the core of the celebrations, starting with Epsom Derby today.

The big idea events are the Flotilla down the Thames, inspired by an earlier pageant, and the Jubilee Beacons.

The Daily Mail explains:
"Three hundred and fifty years ago, on August 23, 1662, the River Thames disappeared.

The extraordinary sight was witnessed by one of the greatest observers of all time, the diarist Samuel Pepys, who, with his gift of being in the right place at the right time, had secured himself a vantage point on the roof of the new Banqueting House at Whitehall, overlooking the river.

Or rather, where the river should have been.

Instead, it appeared boarded over, such was the mass of vessels great and small crowded on it. Pepys estimated there were ‘a thousand barges and boats, I think, for we could see no water for them’."

At high water in the afternoon of Sunday 3 June 2012, up to a thousand boats will muster on the River Thames in preparation for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

The Queen, accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal Family, will travel in a Royal Barge as a centerpiece of the flotilla.

Back to The Daily Mail:
"At the head of the procession will be the new royal barge: 88ft long, with 18 rowers, a canopied pavilion amidships and a high stern, richly carved and gilded with river gods and goddesses and the royal arms.

It will look like the royal barges of old and be named the Gloriana after the first ‘Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory’. According to Margaret Rhodes, the Queen’s cousin and confidante, Her Majesty has mixed feelings about this spectacular display.
‘Excitement is not quite the right word,’ says Mrs Rhodes. ‘She slightly dreads the ship thing.’"

Slightly dreading "the ship thing." That's why people love this Queen. She is very down to earth.

The other call back ritual will be the Jubilee Beacons. Something else for which there is no American equivalent.

There is an ancient tradition of bonfires across Great Britain, sometimes used for signaling (fictionalized in The Lord of the Rings with the fires of Gondor.) They are lit for Guy Fawkes celebrations, and they were lit for Queen Victoria's Jubilees (great photos on the Beacon website).

New York Times: Royal Room for Debate
The NYTimes has pulled together one of its multi-voices Op Ed section for the Jubilee, lots of interesting ideas.

I know it's easy to mock the pomp and circumstance of the British Monarchy.  The history of the British Empire is bloody and immoral on many points. But you know what? Most of history is bloody and immoral.

It is human nature to build institutions and rituals. The Anglo Saxons happen to be particularly good at both.

But more than that, it is the personal stories of people who fate has put in some extraordinary circumstances, like 26-year old women who rose to Queen because of a family abdication, that appeals to me. She has been Queen through the decline of the British Empire, but she will be remembered as a great monarch.

She has recovered from her one large misstep--simply not understanding how Diana had revolutionized the institution while suffering from some very modern infirmities.  And everything about her trip to Ireland was pitch perfect.

The Jubilee, like weddings, isn't for the participants. It's for the family. Some people don't care about it. Fine. Clearly there are many others who find some meaning or at least joy in considering the woman who has been the titular head of their government for 60 sixty years, something that brings friends and family and neighbor together. And adding some joy to a personal life is about the best thing a government can accomplish.

And Then There's that Transit
I  also like the "once in a lifetime" essence of the activities. And, it turns out, the 2012 Transit of Venus  will occur in the middle of Jubilee celebrations, on June 5/6.

From Wiki:
A transit of Venus across the Sun takes place when the planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and Earth, becoming visible against (and hence obscuring a small portion of) the solar disk. During a transit, Venus can be seen from Earth as a small black disk moving across the face of the Sun. The duration of such transits is usually measured in hours (the transit of 2004 lasted six hours). A transit is similar to a solar eclipse by the Moon. While the diameter of Venus is almost four times that of the Moon, Venus appears smaller, and travels more slowly across the face of the Sun, because it is much farther away from Earth.

Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena.[1] They occur in a pattern that repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121.5 years and 105.5 years.

The next one isn't until 2117. Imagine that. What are the odds of this transit intersecting with QEII's Diamond Jubilee? Astronomical, I'd say.  But then, she was anointed with holy chrism at that coronation . . . . Maybe if we had a soothsayer more could be revealed about the "meaning" of these two once-in-a-lifetime occurrences.

And now for C.G.P. Grey

My very favorite "explanation" is "What is the United Kingdom?" Best Venn diagram ever, and really does explain the differences between Great Britain; UK; England, Scotland, Wales, etc.