Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you, You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me, as of a dream,) I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you, All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured, You grew up with me, were a boy with me, or a girl with me, 5 I ate with you, and slept with you—your body has become not yours only, nor left my body mine only, You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass—you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return, I am not to speak to you — I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone, I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again, I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
Gould tocou durante duas horas, directamente para dentro das pessoas, com emoção. Tinha tantas notas nos dedos que, quando tocava, o seu esforço não era fazê-los mexer, era refreá-los, para que não tocassem tudo de uma vez. Tocar, para ele, era impedir os dedos de se mexerem. Muitas vezes pensava assim na música: um dó sustenido que poderia ter sido, um fá que quase se pronunciou, um si que lhe ficou preso na unha, um lá bemol que tropeçou. Era como a vida, como as pessoas que, ao escolherem ser alguma coisa, rejeitam todas as outras, uma infinidade de coisas, uma enormidade que lhes fica pendurada nas unhas, nas dobras dos pensamentos, nos cabelos espigados. É assim que se faz uma música, e é assim que aparece uma imagem no espelho, bem definida, recortada por tudo o que não somos. Gould tocou derramando-se.
(originally published on my now defunct Medium page, sometime in 2013)
I want to know exactly how many of your skin’s goosebumps would fit under my finger.
Applying pressure where it is softest, very lightly of course (after all, it is important to not scare the papillae away), moving the tip of my index a fraction of a millimetre above that dimple at the very end of your back, upwards so slowly that it would take a lifetime to reach the base of your neck.
I wonder if you’d close your eyes, sigh softly, and surrender.
(originally published on my now defunct Medium page, sometime in 2014)
I know exactly bugger-all about poetry.
It’s not that I haven’t tried, I have very often and very hard, too: after all how could I resist the temptation, led on by a high-school teacher’s remark, that reciting poetry was the surest way to impress girls? So and in step with was being discussed in class I attacked Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud and all of the poètes maudits with unparalleled determination: all my other ploys to dazzle girls having met with various degrees of failure, poetry couldn’t conceivably fare worse, I thought.
I could already picture my then unrequited crush on her veranda hopelessly swooning at my declamation of the Fleurs du Mal under the full-moon. I was going to be Cyrano, damn it, and without stupid Christian de Neuvillette, too.
Sadly, reality intervened: no matter how much I read I invariably rebelled in anger after a few pages, jumped from my chair, paced the room furiously, yelling the by now familiar, for-fuck’s-sake-get-to-the-fucking-point-what-in-god’s-name-are-you-trying-to-say-make-it-stop-it’s-making-my-head-melt-oh-hell-yes-I’ll-have-another-drink-or-ten-et-meeerde litany. Also and to add to my despair, try as I might, I couldn’t memorize a single verse.
I had no problem with the poets themselves, mind you: their biographies were fascinating. After all, how many drug fiends, gun runners, absinthe drunkards, runaway criminals and suicidal maniacs does it take to make me take notice? Not many and there were plenty of those.
The fact is that Roxane looked very distant now.
It is true that I may have been an arrogant little twit back then and simply didn’t have the tranquility and wisdom that may have been needed to fully appreciate the rhythm, flow and music of the words. Today, as time has changed me into a much bigger arrogant twit, poetry doesn’t anger me as much and I do read some of it with great pleasure. Always careful, always on the look-out for the signals that are going to make me boil again and sufficiently wise as to simply put down the book should I feel attacked again.
Not that I understand it any better, though. Some of it stuck much like the many other passages from authors who aren’t poets and often for reasons that aren’t especially noble. I can quote Verlaine’s first stanza of the Chanson d’Automne for instance (les sanglots longs/des violons/de l’automne/blessent mon cœur/d’une langueur/monotone) but the explanation couldn’t be more pedestrian: it is prominently featured on the movie The Longest Day. And by the way can you spot the apparently arbitrary separation of sentences and how irritating that is? Right.
Perhaps the word “poetry” has a very specific connotation in my mind, one which doesn’t correspond to what it is usually understood to mean; Shakespeare, to me, isn’t classified under “poetry” for instance. Not even his sonnets, which, incidentally, have served me well with many a Roxane. Or a few. Well, at least one. Who would’ve thought that one day I’d softly whisper into some beautiful ear, …Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved? And yet I did, and the words worked wonders.
My high-school teacher who I’ve now come to realise must have been an incorrigible romantic failed to tell me about the most important fact about wooing your love interest with poetry: namely that in the dance of courtship it is equivalent to the thermonuclear solution.You don’t simply pull out the verses for no good reason and offer them trivially: for one your ammunition is limited (trust me, it is) and then the effect is lost if it is used too often.
You could always use your charming struggles with poetry, instead. I’m told that it works extremely well.
(originally published on my now defunct Medium page, sometime in late 2013)
Votiv Kirche, Wien
We met by coincidence on a lazy Viennese afternoon, but I still have no idea who Eduard Kosmack was.
While exploring my new surroundings I came across a museum of modern art right next to where we lived. There was no elevation in any of this, no thirst for art, no sublime sharpening of the inner vision. The truth is simply that I was out of cigarettes and the museum’s coffee-shop was the only establishment open on Sundays. As it turns out it didn’t sell cigarettes either.
There were two enormous paintings downstairs: one by Roy Lichtenstein and another by Warhol (the Orange Car Crash, maybe?), which promptly made me forget why I was there to begin with. I had never seen so closely anything quite like it. I had heard about both painters, had read about them and seen their work in books. I even knew a little more about Warhol due to a slightly alarming teenage fixation with the Velvet Underground but this was different. There was texture and dimension, there was light pouring in from the majestic bay windows of the palace, there was space!
I must’ve run up and down the stairs of the three floors of the museum hundreds of times that day. So much so that when I finally came out of it, exhausted and lighthearted, I had to sit down on a bench on the Fürstengasse to try and catch my breath and catalogue everything I had just seen.
It was of no use. All that was left was an incomprehensible and chaotic blur: giant photorealistic paintings danced in my mind to the music of deconstructed pianos while fat ladies had tea and Picasso watched mockingly as Jasper Johns painted a perfect target, ever so patiently. Moderns, Nouveau Réalisme, Fluxus, Pop-Art, Actionism, I did remember the labels but that was about it. Despite my unavoidable compulsion to devise a meticulously organised mental library I couldn’t say who went where or why anymore.
Nor could I believe that I lived a few hundred meters from such an exhilarating pandemonium for that matter—it was inevitable that the Palais Liechtenstein should become my surrogate living-room for the next few years. I enjoyed every single corner and wall of it seemingly becoming an integral part of it and it of me to the point of knowing most of the staffand every single piece exhibited by name. I was a jealous visitor too; only when truly forced to it would I share the palace with someone: I couldn’t bear the prospect of a real voice disrupting the conversation in me. Mine.
Despite my increasing familiarity with the collection there was always one single very clear image that kept creeping back, calling me. It wasn’t a painting of striking dimensions (around 1m x 1m), by comparison with some others and it hung modestly in a smallish isolated room on the very last floor, as if put there to be discovered by the worthy alone and ignored by the others.
What caught my attention first were the eyes.
It was a portrait of Eduard Kosmack, by Egon Schiele, but I didn’t know that then. I just felt his eyes, looking at me, only at me, waiting.
Egon Schiele, Porträt Eduard Kosmack, 1910
The very first time that I paid any sustained attention to it, it made me uncomfortable and vaguely angry. After five minutes I made myself leave and promised to not give it another thought.
Which didn’t last for very long.
I couldn’t let go of Kosmack’s uneven eyes, the awkwardly and simultaneously defensive and defying position, the writhing of the hands, the face, as if cut into shape by a knife. He was waiting. He was waiting for me. He was waiting for me to ask him something. He was waiting for me to ask him something or to answer a question I didn’t know how to ask. I hated it to the point of having to come back again and again just to look at the one portrait, ignoring three or four floors of joyful, pensive, mischievous, and flirtatious accomplices.
With time we became accustomed to each other. Those initial sessions of five minutes turned into more minutes and then into dialogues where time wasn’t a consideration anymore. I sat in front of him as one sits with a friend and we talked.
I asked him about his city, told him about the apparently unsolvable paradox of being, at the same time, fascinated beyond words by my new habitat and yet absolutely terrified at having been once again uprooted and transplanted somewhere. Of having become the battlefield of the memories I had left behind and those that were now forming, asking me for a ruling, as there seemed to be no place for both. Of new and old friends. Of both the pettiness of some days and the grandiosity of others. Of ups and downs. Of love and hate and indifference and sorrow and joy.
Through it all he was patient. “Slow down”, he seemed to say, “breathe”.
And as time passed my respiration grew even and my compulsions slowly gave room to a quieter contemplation both defying and defensive in pose, hands not writhing but impregnable, relishing at the prospect of, first of all, waiting.
(that’s, I hope, “Happy Birthday, Mr. Pärt”, who was born on this day, in 1932)
Für Alina is the music to youth exploring the world and probably the quintessential illustration of Arvo Pärt’s tintinnabuli style.
Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises – and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. . . . The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.
Tiny bits of information cross your path at all times and it is mesmerizing to realise how their apparently disparate voices can combine in the most beautiful seemingly random counterpoint. It may very well be that it is not random at all, that there is some higher order of wisdom involved, but I’m not a religious person; I’ll leave at our own inner search for higher grounds.
All this because, for no particular reason, I was looking at how Mozart’s works were listed and classified. Ludwig von Köchel published his Verzeichnis (German for List) in 1862, hence the K525 for the Serenade No. 13 in G, (Eine kleine Nachtmusik), or sometimes KV525 (as in Köchel Verzeichnis). Of course many other works were discovered after that but musicologists tend to revise Köchel’s work instead of proposing a new numbering system.
Really slowly now:
It so happens that Köchel also catalogued the works by a Johann Fux, composer and teacher of the late Baroque.
Fux is mostly known for his treatise on counterpoint called Gradus ad Parnassum (or Steps to Mount Parnassus) meant to teach the mathematical relationships of intervals as proportions between numbers and how they can translate into smaller and bigger half tones. In my (surely incomplete) understanding, it tries to establish a few ground rules on how create harmonically interdependent relationships between voices that have no common rhythm or pitch, the foundation of my beloved ricercares, fugues and canons.
That Haydn used Fux’s work obsessively to the point of recommending it to Beethoven or that Mozart’s father Leopold should have taught his son from the book or even that it was part of Bach’s extensive library of theoretical works was to me an obvious and marvelous surprise.
I am fully aware of my tendency to bore people to death with my wonder at how we all reach for an absolute, at our process of climbing the steps to Mount Parnassus, sacred to Apollo and home of the Muses of poetry, music, and learning (and incidentally the reason why Paris’ Montparnasse got its name) but can’t avoid being once again drawn into the warm and welcoming arms of the gorgeous melody of life: not only can we better ourselves, it also seems that we have no choice. We just need to listen and start climbing very slowly.
The voices we hear are all part of us and of something which is larger than us.
We are larger than ourselves.
Here’s a marvelous visual rendering of one of Fux’s exercises illustrating the conspiracy of mathematics, music and graphics to etch the counterpoint in me:
Another great example is Debussy’s satirical interpretation of this very point (ha!), included in his Children’s Corner:
Ad Parnassum before it’s too late (but it never is.)
I didn’t know that Wes Anderson had shot the short Hotel Chevalier a whole year before The Darjeeling Limited and that it somehow ties in with the film. This is the perfect occasion to admire his manic obsession with detail, geometric composition and camera movement (not to mention the always superb Natalie Portman of course.)
I had written the opening scene of Darjeeling, and then I wrote the short. Then I asked Jason and Roman if they wanted to work with me on the script. As we got going, I realized that Jason’s character in the short was the same character in the feature, and I started linking them together. And then we made the short a year before we shot the feature. (…) When it was all done, I didn’t want to incorporate the short into the movie. But I couldn’t decide how I wanted it to go. I wanted to play the short in front of the movie, but not always. Sometimes I preferred to watch the movie without the short. It became a puzzle to me. So in the end I decided that I would like to have the movie open in America without the short, but I would like people to have access to it if they want to see it first. So we put the short on iTunes. After a month, I’d like to feel it out and maybe add the short back to the feature. And it’ll definitely be on the DVD. Different people will see it in different ways, but I like that because they both stand on their own. At the same time, the feature kind of requires the short. Ideally, I wouldn’t mind if people watched the short and went to the movie the next day, or later that afternoon. I don’t know if they’re made to go right from one into the other.
Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will—whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures—and the best of them lead us not only outwards in space, but inwards as well. Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection…
Lawrence Durrell — Bitter Lemons
Departures always hurt.
Departures are the unavoidable pain, the secret ingredient which ferments the superior balm.
Claude Monet — Marée Basse Devant Pourville (1882)
For keeping safe until the leaves start to fall.
I’ll need it to remember the the warm bright water and the afternoons when everything but the crickets seems to have surrendered to the heat of velvet lazily dressing the landscape and even the sounds, a world suspended where a minute such as this is both an eternity and its refreshing shadow.
I love that Max Richter describes SLEEP as “a manifesto for a slower pace of existence” (and it is intended to send the listener to sleep) and am really curious to listen to all eight hours of it, assuming I don’t fall asleep midway but then again that is exactly the purpose.
This isn’t something new in music, it goes back to Cage, Terry Riley, and LaMonte Young, and it’s coming around again partly as a reaction to our speeded-up lives – we are all in need of a pause button
I also love that I know next to nothing about Richter — aside from his Vivaldi Recomposed of which I’m not sure to be a fan (the jury is still out on that one) — but the few details of his biography I’ve read this far (peppered with names like Future Sound of London, Roni Size, Tilda Swinton, Sigur Rós, Arvo Pärt and Haruki Murakami) announce a brilliant new exploration.
The release date is September, 4th (a one hour abridged version will also be available)
By coincidence, and much to my astonishment as I have been for years a staunch critic of that form of music, it so happened that I started attending a few free/improv jazz (don’t really know what to call it) concerts lately.
I guess it takes getting used to and especially experiencing it live.
The concert I’ve enjoyed most until now was a few days ago. First because it was performed by superior musicians — and the simple fact that I can now (subjectively) tell the difference between musicians that I like better than others is to me the ultimate surprise as I always thought of the whole thing as glorified noise where individual musicianship and the quest for a common vibe were simply irrelevant variables — and second because the music made me think so much and so incredibly clearly.
It started with the obvious question of structure and the lack of it: coming from a background of loud, simple and fast 4/4 tempos I have always thought of myself as a musician with a need for clear and linear boundaries, as if they defined the base from which I could elaborate and reach (or at least try) for more and more multiples of complexity. As if whichever absolute one pays allegiance to could be glimpsed in some strange attractor in a hidden fractal formula, one which needed simply to be codified.
It became stranger when I realised that not only had I been assuming this premise as obvious all my life but also that I only applied it to music. It never occurred to me that, looking at the way I live my life, structure is really the least of my yearnings or even talents. For some reason, amidst the dissonance (is it really one?) the paradox became so obvious that it made me smile.
“So, what about them?” I thought. That they live in a musical world of absolute fluidity with no bars no tempi no structure and no score doesn’t exclude the fact that they too are reaching for the absolute they pay allegiance to. This is what we all do and musicians especially have no choice but to do it, this prayer of sorts.
What was clear to me was that tempo is what made the difference and who am I, a complete virgin, to say that there is no tempo there? Maybe there is. Maybe I’ve spent too much time thinking about the discrete measures of time assuming that they’re infinitely divisible (which they are, but still by definition discrete) and that all those forms can somehow be combined to create ladders to climb to higher levels of aufhebung.
What struck me is that the music I was listening to, did have tempo. It’s just that I couldn’t process it. I wondered if tempo is fluid, continuous and analog after all, if my 4/4s and 13/8s and what have you are just crude (but much more powerful) representations of a pulse of infinite complexity, a pulse of a complexity that cannot, should not be understood.
As if what I was marveling at in those musicians was seeing how their form (because there is one however elusive) commanded that reaching a level of rational understanding immediately implied stepping into a greater unknown, a greater mystery where nothing is understood at all until the next level of understanding and then letting go again. As if pure feeling and musicianship were paradoxically the ultimate expression of both abandonment and supreme reasoning.
Bound but free but not, all this while they played.
I suppose I will never cease to be intrigued by how much easier it is to confess how I’m feeling to a perfect stranger rather than to the ones closer to me. It’s not that I don’t realise that there’s an explanation for it, I do: it is one about baggage attached to a familiar face or, in the case of the perfect stranger, the lack of it but it doesn’t make the whole affair any less intriguing.
Reading Stoner by John Williams made me feel like the stranger, someone who can but listen and is never allowed to retort.
It is simply a report of a life with no dramatic events of the kind that carry the plot to unexpected stories. It all happens in the same city and is focused around William Stoner’s ruminations, as he grows from a country boy to a university professor, about his parents, his family, his lover and his colleagues. It could be anyone’s life. It could be my own or yours with their failures and successes big and small and the pain that inevitably recedes into the distance and the shame and the joy and love.
The most accurate summary for the book would probably be “nothing happens” (and the point is driven home right on the opening paragraph), except that everything does. What truly happens is a lesson in refusing to let yourself be engulfed by those circles, wider each time, the circles of an increasingly blurred self, out of focus. A lesson in developing character, no matter how clumsily. A lesson in becoming more than just almost someone.
In that sense the story doesn’t need a retort at all. It is our story and we know it well:
He found himself trembling; as awkwardly as a boy he went around the coffee table and sat beside her. Tentatively, clumsily, their hands went out to each other; they clasped each other in an awkward, strained embrace; and for a long time they sat together without moving, as if any movement might let escape from them the strange and terrible thing that they held between them in a single grasp.
It has been a very long time since I’ve read a book which insinuates itself like an epiphany on my unsuspecting self or a disease which I can’t get rid of (maybe the same thing?)
In my own subjective and wholly unqualified ranking of masterpieces Franzen’s Freedom is instantly recognizable as a one if only for the microscopic and tender attention paid to every single detail, no matter how painful or casually exquisite. This is an unfair reduction however: there is at least Carver and Updike and Roth and even sometimes Dos Passos in his genes and a ruthless pursuit of mind-blowing prose and plot on every single page, paragraph and word.
It is significant to me that when I closed the last page there lingered that same bitter aftertaste that Musil’s Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften left behind forever: it made me think of parts of me that I never knew were there or much less needed thinking about. It first made me angry at discovering that no moment is ever trivial and then sad at the fundamental impossibility of cataloguing them all and then at peace at the prospect of the depths to which one can navigate to consider just a single one of those moments.
The tripe which surrounds us is not obvious, it being the bland, processed and artificial manifestation of sentiments like those. Not an easy foliage to shed.
Freedom helps. Simply and immensely.
And so he stopped looking at her eyes and started looking into them, returning their look before it was too late, before this connection between life and what came after life was lost, and let her see all the vileness inside him, all the hatreds of two thousand solitary nights, while the two of them were still in touch with the void in which the sum of everything they’d ever said or done, every pain they’d inflicted, every joy they’d shared, would weigh less than the smallest feather on the wind.