Thursday, June 28, 2018

Selected Shorts #01 - Civility


Talk about “civility” has been all the rage lately; which is something of an ironic joke, seeing as how the subject seems to come up only when someone perceived as “liberal” says or does something that offends the fee-fees of someone who is decidedly not. Apparently, rudeness is OK, nay, expected when it comes from quarters on the Right, but is otherwise untoward behavior, subject to pearl-clutching opprobrium.

Thus the spectacle of our most influential, allegedly liberal news sources reflexively equating actual violence against abortion providers with the act of informing an administration flunky, in very polite language, that she is not welcome in a restaurant. This is, to put it generously, a steaming pile of… false equivalency.

I’ve been observing this “civility” conundrum since I was a teenager. (I graduated from high school in 1965.) One example: I remember reading in Life Magazine that what really disturbed nice (white) middle-Americans about Vietnam War protesters was their use of “four-letter words.” Naively, I had assumed that the specter of useless slaughter and loss of loved ones might be more upsetting.

Another example: In the early 1980s, I attended a “Town Hall” held by our Congresscritter, a self-righteous slime worm… pardon me, Reagan Republican. This guy was a real class act, the kind of stalwart public servant who inevitably gets caught grifting and proceeds to blame his wife.

Anyway, there was much to “town hall” about, such as the incipient and illegal covert war in Central America and the planned evisceration of the social safety net. Serious stuff, so naturally they opened with a prayer. Some blow-dried Talibangelical called for God’s blessing and… wait for it… a “civil discussion” of the issues, thus presuming to represent any passionately rendered oppositional opinions as… what, unholy?

(I can only assume that his prayer was not meant to fall on the ears of the God of the Old Testament, a supremely uncivil deity.)

Look, I was raised to be a decent and polite person and still believe in “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The rest is commentary.” But there are times when certain “others” manifestly do not give a damn, civil or otherwise, about basic decency and are committed to imposing their will regardless of the cost.

In times like these - like now - a variety of responses seems appropriate. Working in the State Dept. has reinforced my belief that civility is essential in creating constructive understanding. But I maintain that there is also a case to be made for letting people who are dedicated to making your life miserable know, with all due respect but in no uncertain terms, that they are free to go fuck themselves.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Reflections From Roma #05

Reflections From Roma #05
03 giugno 2018

Photo Update Alert:
“Austria”  “Arezzo”

Extended Posting Alert(Got some catching up to do here.)

Hello there… Rodger French here.

Summer has arrived in Rome and, as one seasoned diplomat remarked, it’s going to be “like Pakistan, but with better ruins.” The ZOTA (ZOmbie Tourist Apocalypse) is already in full swing, as Anne and I enact our summer endurance strategies. Nothing fancy, just serious sun-avoidance and, if it is deemed necessary to visit a cultural hotspot, arrival as early as possible in order to elude those pesky busloads of visitors.

[Cultural Identity Sidebar- I am considering reclassifying myself as “Roman” for the next couple of years. Never mind that my Italian is patetico; Rome is 2771 years old and does not give a shit, so it might be worth a shot.]

A.J. has been traveling extensively as part of her job while I have been working mornings at the Embassy. But we have managed to squeeze in some (possibilmente) interesting activities, presented here in (più o meno) chronological order.

Arte- Roma is awash with great art and each of these exhibitions was wonderful, especially the Canaletto.

- “Visioni dal Giappone” - Japanese woodcuts by Utagawa Hiroshige. At Scuderie del Quirinale, our favourite gallery.

- “Opera della Tate” - Watercolors, many with Italian subjects, by William Turner.At Chiostro del Bramante.

- “Canaletto: 1697-1768” - Oil paintings, notably of Venice, by Giovanni Antonio Canal. AtMuseo di Roma-Palazzo Braschi.

Austria- We received an invitation to join my best friend from high school and his lovely wife for a week in the mountains near Grundlsee, about 80 km ESE of Salzburg. What a beautiful area, what a great trip. (Our hosts are dedicated hikers, so we had quite a few “I wonder where this goes?” moments. The answer was, invariably, “Up.”)

The Nightjet, an overnight Austrian train, cozily took us from Roma to Salzburg, where we were obligingly picked up and whisked off for a week of hiking, eating, and picture postcard scenery. The ZOTA was evident in some places, but not so much in others, and we managed to avoid it for the most part. It was a grand visit with dear friends, and we look forward to hosting them in Roma next year.

Then it was back to Salzburg for some casual touristing before taking the Nightjet home. Salzburg is a lovely city, but it is strong with the ZOTA for two unsurprising reasons: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and “The Sound of Music.” We took in an afternoon concert of Mozart violin sonatas performed by a couple of very talented young women, wandered in and out of churches, and had a drink at the charmingly 5-star Hotel Bristol.

Arezzo- Located 80 km SE of Firenze, Arezzo is much like Siena, albeit a third of the size and considerably less overrun by tourists. Arezzo is also the home of three legitimately historic figures:

Francesco Petrarca(Petrarch) - Scholar, poet, humanist. His rediscovery of Cicero's letters is credited with initiating the 14th-century Renaissance. He is also known for developing the concept of the “Dark Ages.”

Giorgio Vasari- Painter, architect, historian. Author of Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori(The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), which basically originated the field of art history.

Guido Monaco (aka Guido d’Arezzo) - Medieval music theorist and inventor of modern musical (staff) notation. A notably BFD.

[Musical Review Sidebar- Anne and I chanced upon a concert at Teatro Petrarca called “Adesso Tango!” The performance featured Cesare Chiacchiaretta, an excellent bandoneonist, accompanied by a small string orchestra. And improvisational dancing. Begging your indulgence, I have notes:

- The solo bandoneon needed to be considerably more prominent in the mix.

- The orchestra played decently, but could have used a bit more punch (aggression, if you prefer) on some of the pieces by Astor Piazzolla. A piano would have helped greatly. Also, there were occasional intonation problems in the viola section.

- Under-rehearsed Tango improv dance that includes a “Dia de los Muertos” figure is not necessarily a great idea.

- Program Correction: For the record, “La Cumparsita” was written in 1916 by Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, not Julio Iglesias (b. 1943).

Grazie mille.

In addition to historic buildings and museums, Arezzo has 16 churches within its walls, with a cumulative boatload of ancient frescos (notably by Piero della Francesca)and crucifixes (including a 13thcentury Cimabue). Also worth a visit are Fortezza Medicea (excellent 16th-century military architecture), the house of Giorgio Vasari (highly decorated and altogether livable), and the clock tower at the Palazzo della Fraternita dei Laici. (Built in 1552, the clock is a mechanical masterpiece and still keeps great time.)

And, since it’s Toscana after all, the food deserves a shout-out. Highlights included tortellini with sausage and peas in a cream sauce, and veal (sorry) roasted with olive oil, rosemary, and juniper berries. For dessert, a pink grapefruit granita… which is actually Sicilian, but no need to be too picky.

Bonus Musical Pilgrimage- Some of you know that we have “una familia italiana.” These are folks we’ve known since 1980 and have visited a number of times. They have also come to the States (The Italian Drama Tour!) and, when A.J. and I were doing our hardship posting in Washington, DC, I was honored to escort two of their teenage sons on some slightly surreal and altogether excellent excursions into the wilds of DC, Baltimore, NJ, and New York City. Anyway…

The aforementioned lads are now grown-ass men. They are both great guys (ragazzi fantastici) and one of them is seriously pursuing a career as a musician, primarily as a singer in a duet called “Toys in the Attic” and a band called “Underwoods.” When it came time for the band to cut their first album, I found myself in a position to cough up some scratch, which I was delighted to do.

This resulted in an invitation to the album release party in Pallanza, located on Lago Maggiore in northern Italia, so I trained to Verbania via Milano and spent two nights with mia familia italiana. They are such nice people and it was so good to see them again. (Anne and I are looking forward to visiting again early next year.)

The party was very cool, with a smattering of older folks, mostly band family members, scattered among a sea of younger faces. And the band pulled it off, in spite of some technical difficulties. (Their music is quite complex, requiring the use of click tracks and extensive monitors.) But they resolved the problems and the concert was un grande successo. These kids are very good, hard-working musicians. With a bit of luck, they should do well.

Which brings us up to date, più o meno. Now we hunker down for awhile, giving the Roman sun all due respect and the ZOTA a wide berth. Be cool, and feel free to keep in touch, as you’re able.