Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Minor Blessings

There are lots of terrible things going on the world, to be sure, but every once in a while, something simple and remarkable is worth dwelling on briefly. Let me give you an example.

I bought a pair of Nikon Monarch binoculars ten years ago for $300. It was a bit of an expense, but one could easily pay much more, and this pair came with a lifetime guarantee.

Hilary had the same model and we often got them mixed up. That wouldn't have been a problem, except that she wears glasses, and therefore has her eye-pieces screwed in, whereas mine are screwed out. (In the instant it take you to adjust the eye-piece, the bird you've been waiting a decade to see might be gone. FOREVER.)

I wrapped a red rubber band around one of my eye-pieces and a purple one around the other, to make it easier to tell whose was whose at a glance. This method worked, but eventually my eye-pieces, perhaps affected by the proximity to the rubber, got ornery, uncooperative, and the left one finally fell off.

But I had a guarantee, and although the binoculars were now ten years old, I printed out a return form I found on the Nikon website, filled it in, boxed up the binoculars, and shipped them off to an address on Wilshire Avenue in downtown Los Angeles.

That was two weeks ago. A week ago I received an email acknowledging receipt of the optical device. It was four paragraphs long, and contained language like this:

"To view your service details, please use your service order number 7063417 and your "Bill-to" name TOREN, JOHN to log-in. Your "Bill-to" name is usually your last name and it needs to be input exactly as it appears on our attached document including punctuation and any spaces.

We are also mailing you a printed copy of this acknowledgement/estimate. If you approve an estimate via the service website before you receive this mailing, it will not show the most current status.  While your equipment is being serviced, our website status will indicate "Shop." When service is completed, the status will indicate "Shpd".
This means the order has been invoiced and shipped." 

OK then.

Just today a small box was delivered via UPS. It contained a lot of packing peanuts, under which lay my binoculars. They worked fine. They worked great. Better than ever! There was a lengthy invoice at the bottom of the box describing services rendered. A team of little men in a windowless warehouse in downtown LA  (or so I imagine it) had not only fixed them, they had cleaned them. And realigned them! The itemization was followed by a total charge— 0.00.

I was reminded of an old Czech saying: "When God wishes to rejoice the heart of a poor man, he makes him lose his donkey and find it again."

There was only one problem. These weren't my binoculars. They were Nikon Monarch binoculars, but a different model; they lacked the ribbing on the sides, and they had two indented screw-holes on the bottom. These details only confirmed what I had known the minute I held them in my hands. These were zombie binoculars, not mine.

Well, I'd better get over it. Spring migration is picking up. We spotted some wood ducks in Bassett Creek lagoon just yesterday.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Before Bach's Birthday Bash

It's been going on for years, though I'd never heard of it—five hours of organ music in celebration of Bach's birthday performed in five neighborhood churches, each of which possesses a distinctive pipe organ. That might sound like a long haul. How much organ music can anyone enjoy? The genius of the event—aside from that of Bach and the performers involved—lies in the fact that each organ has a distinctive sound, and the churches are close enough that you can walk from one to the next through the sun and spring air during the half-hour interval between programs.

It was a brilliant Saturday afternoon, and though the sidewalks were both icy and riddled with puddles, the parade of Bach enthusiasts from one church to the next added a zany touch to the proceedings. To judge from a show of hands inside one of the churches, many had been present since the first program, which started at 9. We had spent the morning running errands, grabbed a sandwich at Broder's Deli, made a brief stop at the Weinstein Gallery on 46th Street to see the new show by local photographer Alec Soth, and then bolted across town—in so far as it's possible to "bolt" from Minneapolis to St. Paul through the construction zone on N 35W—to St. Clement's Episcopal Church for the first afternoon event.

St. Clement's has a dark and highly ornate, almost Pre-Raphaelite interior. (see above) As I listened, my mind wandered, and I also spent some time trying to decipher the saying that stretches across the arch of the nave, without success. The Toccata and Fugue that opened the program was well performed but steeped in that guttural, almost flatulent zone of sound that gives organ music a bad name. The chorale, pastorale, and grand fugue that followed were performed at lighter and more pleasing stops, while the viola piece by Walter Cogswell, midway through the program, of a few dance movements from one of Bach's solo cello sonatas, offered a refreshing tonal contrast. I was also impressed by the skill with which Cogswell kept to the tempo, allowing the emotion to emerge naturally from the melodies and the structure of the sounds.

A parade of Bach-lovers heading to the next church
The next program took place at Unity Unitarian Church, three blocks east on Portland Avenue. Its interior is brighter, more modern, less religious in feel—and the cushions on the pews are thicker. The program included several pieces for piano four-hands and a sonata for cello and piano, but the highlight for me was Bach's Trio Sonata #5, the three movements of which organist Stacie Lightner delivered with perfect punctiliousness and grace from the anonymity of the organ loft in the back of the church.

One of the pleasure of an organ recital is that you seldom see the performer. This gives the music a more abstract and floating quality, and Bach's often rigorous idiom contributes to the same heavenly effect. I found it easy, sitting in my pew, to associate the setting and the beauty and intricacy of the sound with some sort of cosmic spirit, but Bach would have disapproved. Recent critical analysis of the annotations in his personal bible has made it clear that he was a devout, conservative Lutheran who would have taken my frame of mind as idolatry pure and simple.

The final performance took place only half a block away, at House of Hope Presbyterian Church, one of St. Paul's classic urban spaces. I could easily have skipped it, but I'm glad we stuck around. Not only is the church's interior majestic, in a cozy way, but the organ has a deeper and fuller sound than anything we'd heard earlier. We were near the back, sitting under the largest battery of pipes, yet the sound, rich and varied and earthy, seemed to be coming from all directions, filling the nave with an array of overtones and subliminal vibrations that made me think of truffles. It was a revelation.

All the same, the most dazzling music of the day came from a piano—a Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue performed by a U of M student named Dong-Suk Michael Min. He tore through the piece flawlessly at break-neck speed--something a pipe organ isn't designed to do, I think--while also fully exploiting its expressive potential. I would say he has a promising future ahead of him, except that he's already won prizes at four or five international competitions.   

Michael Barone, long-time host of the Minnesota Public Radio program Pipedreams, organized the event with the help of colleagues from the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, the Bach Society of Minnesota, the National Lutheran Choir, the St. Paul Conservatory of Music, and the University of Minnesota School of Music. Barone also introduced each program. No doubt there were many organists in the crowd, which grew larger at each venue. Perhaps some of them got together later for a jam session.

We drove home through the still-sunny afternoon along Summit Avenue and up River Road.

What to listen to while making dinner? How about some solo cello sonatas? Or Angela Hewitt playing Bach's Art of Fuge? On the piano.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Confessions of a Sporadic Reader

When I read a book, I often take a sideways look at the location of the bookmark.

"Gee, I'm nearly halfway done!"

And I feel a surge of pride every time I actually finish a book. Not that every book you pick up has to be read cover to cover. Far from it.

For example, Nate Chinen's Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century  is a collection of pieces he wrote about jazz over the course of a decade and more. Thumbing through the pages and index, I was pleased to see that I recognized some of the "younger" artists he was writing about. It's hard to keep up with that field, in which every innovation seems to involve some sort of fusion that results in a bastardization. In the course of his analyses, Chinen makes some useful distinctions between musical generations, and he classifies the artists whom I consider youngsters together to form a "new elder statemen" category. I'm thinking here of Greg Osby, Nicholas Payton, James Carter, Roy Hargrove.( I missed the Wynton Marsalis era entirely.)

As I write these words I'm listening to the first track of Kamasi Washington's 3-CD extravaganza, The Epic. It's called "Change of the Guard," but to me it might just as well have been called "Pharoah Sanders Goes Hollywood," because the core music is mostly good, while the strings-and-vocals background sounds pretty bad. Such vaguely pretentious titles are nothing new to jazz; they stretch from Herbie Hancock's Directions in Music (2001) to Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) and Stan Kenton's Innovations in Modern Music (1950). Chinen writes:
Washington steered clear of hip-hop beats or electronic production on The Epic, favoring a style more in tune with Alice Coltrane's astral soul jazz. The cover art encouraged this interpretation, depicting the tenor saxophonist against a sci-fi backdrop of interplanetary alignment, a cosmic medallion resting on his chest. It was no wonder so many people mentioned him in the same breath as Coltrane, whose late-period music vibrated with a questing spirituality, and Sanders, who extended that agenda for the Aquarian age.
Chinen discusses Washington's youth in LA and the role played by his father, Rickey, an underappreciated jazz musician, in his career and recording choices. Such information may be well-known to those who have followed the music but it was all new to me, and though it's biographical rather than musicological for the most part, it gives me the patience to settle back and appreciate the music.

I also read Chinen's lengthy essay about pianist Brad Mehldau with interest, it part because Mehldau has always irritated me and I was hoping Chinen's analysis would help me understand why. It didn't. Then again, Chinen's  interest lies more in the twists and turns that jazz culture has taken than in individual stylistic peccadilloes.

A second book with a quirky cover that I dipped into recently was Bitwise: A Life in Code by David Auerbach. The author is a computer engineer, and he grew up with the industry, though his perspective is slightly removed from that of "present at the creation" memoirs. Some of the interest lies in insider computer tales, but Auerbach, who went to grad school in literature before switching fields, does a pretty good job explaining where binary metaphors can be useful in understanding the wider world of human emotions, and also where their limits lie. In fact, he has ideas about all sorts of things, and he delivers them in a forceful but not entirely arrogant way. For example:
So it is with audio. where audiophiles insist that no digital process can quite replicate the experience of listening to the analog performance of a vinyl record channeled through a diamond-tipped stylus on a turntable, preferably amplified through transistor-free tubes. I do not buy these claims. Whatever differences there are (and there surely some) between records and digital playback, they are capable of being captured within a digital representation ... Audiophiles want to be convinced that they are experiencing more and truer music than the ordinary listener.

If this sounds a little cut and dried, consider that a few pages later Auerbach takes up the question whether or not the word GOD, typed onto a computer screen, constitutes a "representation." It doesn't matter much to most of us, but it's an important question for Orthodox Jews, who are not permitted to erase or desecrate God's name. Does this apply to computer print-outs?

Auerbach goes into a brief but well-reasoned analysis of art, as opposed to representations of art, though he seems to be unaware that there are already well-traveled paths through those woods. For example, the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce (who was hired to write a lengthy essay on aesthetics for the Encyclopedia Britannica, way back when) held the view that a work of art is an act of thought rather than a thing. The representation, be it a painting or a poem, is merely a vehicle by which the artist attempts to convey his or her expression to a viewer or listener.
I've only made it to page 70 of this memoir. Will I keep at it? It's hard to say. But I've gotten enough out of it already to fork over $5.71 (including shipping) to purchase a used hardcover copy online.

One delight of the winter season has been Life in a Northern Town: Cooking, Eating, and Other Adventures Along Lake Superior, by Mary Dougherty. The photos are colorful, the text is crisp and not too bubbly, and three of the recipes have already entered our permanent repertoire, namely the Corn and Smoked Trout Chowder, the Spicy Cauliflower and Potato Soup, and the Chicken Thighs with Asian Flair. And flipping through the pages just now, I spotted another likely candidate, the Niçoise Salad in a Jar.

The northern town in question is Bayfield, Wisconsin (or maybe nearby Washburn). Hilary and I were up there hiking the forest trails and taking the ice road out to Madeline Island just a week or two ago. I wish I could make the same claim for another of our favorite cookbooks, The Summer Time Anytime Cookbook, which draws its local color from Santa Monica Beach ... 

I also made my way through at least eight novels in recent months: Ngaio Marsh, Gerbrand Bakker, Willa Cather, Leonardo Sciascia, Tess Hadley. That might be a personal record. I don't know what's gotten into me. Maybe the heavy snowfall?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Revisiting Diderot

A friend sent me a note a few weeks ago alerting me to the appearance of a new biography of Denis Diderot, the eighteenth century French thinker who, among other things, edited the multi-volume Encyclopedia that's considered one of the cornerstones of the Enlightenment. Diderot also wrote pioneering works in both art criticism and dramatic theory, and his brief dialogue, Rameau's Nephew, is now taken to be a high-water mark in French literature, though Diderot was reluctant to publish it.

I haven't thought much about Diderot in recent decades, but I secured a review copy of the biography, Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely, by Andrew Curran, from the editor of Rain Taxi; I enjoyed reading it, wrote a brief review, and went on the read much lengthier reviews of the book in both the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. While preparing my little piece, I also checked P.N. Furbanks biography of Diderot (1992) out of the library and gave it an extended look, and wrestled my copy of A.M. Wilson's massive biography (1972) up the stairs from the basement "stacks," though I can't claim to have looked at it much.

In the course of absorbing all this material I was reminded of how much I used to admire the way Diderot integrated serious ideas into a stylistically elevated yet entirely casual narrative. I have always considered the opening paragraph of Rameau's Nephew as a matchless example of those qualities—something you would never come across in the works of Hume or Rousseau.
  "Rain or shine, it is my custom towards five o'clock in the afternoon to walk in the Palais-Royal. There I may be observed, always alone, musing on the bench by the  Hotel d'Argenson. I am my own interlocutor, and discuss politics, love, taste, and philosophy. I give my mind full swing: I let it follow the first notion that presents itself, be it wise or foolish, even as our wild young rakes in Foy's Alley pursue some courtesan of unchastened mien and welcoming face, of answering eye and tilted nose, and then quit her for another, touching all and cleaving to none. My thoughts are my wantons."
Diderot goes on to describe the various chess-players he watches if the weather is inclement.
"Paris is the corner of the world, and the rue de la Regence the corner of Paris where the best chess is played: here, at Rey's, the profound Legal, the subtle Philidor, the solid Mayot do battle with each other; here may one witness the most astonishing strokes, and hear the most foolish conversation, for if, like Legal, one may be a man of parts and a great chess-player, one may equally be a great chess-player and an ass ..."
Rameau's Nephew?
The reader's reaction to all of this might be a hearty "Who cares?" On the other hand, it's refreshing, I think, to conjure, along with Diderot, such moments of idleness, pleasure, and anticipation, without making a big deal about it. Who can say what stray and brilliant thought might roll into view?

As it happens, on one of these occasions Diderot meets up with a man he describes as "one of the oddest personages this country affords, where God has not been sparing of them. He is a fellow made up of insolence and cringing, of folly and good sense: notions of good and bad conduct must needs be strangely mixed up in his head ..."

At this point Diderot's reverie becomes a dialogue, during which he discusses a wide range of ethical and aesthetic issues with someone who shares virtually none of his bourgeois sentiments. It's an interesting conversation, to say the least, with none of the tendentious interrogations that sometimes mar Plato's  dialogues. It would be a mistake to imagine that Diderot "wins" the debate, but equally wrongheaded to suggest, as Curran does, that in Rameau's Nephew Diderot is somehow repudiating the power of reason itself. Diderot's belief that, as Curran puts it, humans "are inescapably drawn to the beauty of doing good," is well founded. But since the eighteenth century, it's never been fashionable to say so.

There is little point in examining Rameau's Nephew in detail here, or Diderot's more speculative and scientifically oriented companion dialogue, D'Alembert's Dream. What struck me on reconsidering them in the context of his biography was the discretion with which Diderot chose to limit his philosophical oeuvre to two unforgettable gems of artistry and thought, unlike, for example, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, who chose to rehash a limited set of ideas again and again. And again.
A second issue that arose as I read the recent reviews of the new bio involves the concept of enlightenment itself. We are in the habit of imagining that enlightenment is a good thing. Would you rather "be in the dark" about things, or would you rather be enlightened?

On the other hand, as Adam Gopnik observes at some length in his review of the new biography, the Enlightenment, as an intellectual movement, has come in for a good deal of criticism in the last hundred years. He writes:
"The Enlightenment’s supposed faith in reason ... is held responsible for racism, colonialism, and most of the other really bad isms. Enlightenment order is now understood as overlord violence pursued through other means. Its true symbol is not some peaceful Temple of Reason but the Panopticon—the all-surveying, single-eye system of Jeremy Bentham’s ideal prison. Where pre-Enlightenment Europe was sporadically cruel, post-Enlightenment Europe was systematically inhumane; where the pre-Enlightenment was haphazardly prejudiced, the Enlightenment was systematically racist, creating a “scientific” hierarchy of humanity that justified imperialism. “Reason” became another name for bourgeois oppression, the triumph of science merely an excuse for more orderly forms of social subjugation."
This is a more-than-decent synopsis—Gopnik is good at such things—of an argument that has been fashionable for half a century, but also historically jejune. Gopnik doesn't buy it, and neither do I. Racism, colonialism, and authoritarianism predate the Enlightenment by centuries, if not millennia. 

An illustration about bee-keeping
 from the Encyclopedia.
Meanwhile, the basic principles of the Enlightenment are as sound today as they were when Diderot and others advanced them in the eighteenth century. Chief among them are the notions that experience is a better source of truth that divine revelation; that every individual ought to be subject to the same laws, privileges, and civil procedures; that some sort of reflexivity ought to hold between those in power and the people over which they rule. 

The arguments offered against the Enlightenment follow a logic amounting to something like this: the Germans transported Jews to the gas chambers by rail, therefore, civilization was better off before the steam engine was invented.

Among the many things that the Enlightenment has produced are ecology, habeas corpus, feminism, penicillin, social security, national parks, public libraries, cell phones, and Wikipedia. Books still need editors, and parks still need rangers. But that doesn't make the Enlightenment evil.
In his biography of Diderot F.R. Furbank raises the issue of whether we ought to speak of "The Enlightenment" or simply of enlightenment with regard to the era. It's a matter of getting to know things better—what they are, how they work, what they portend. I suspect that Diderot would agree. Though his biographers invariably describe him as an atheist and a materialist, it's clear from his voluminous writings, including his fresh and inconsequential letters to Sophie Volland, that he was cultivating an ideal of curiosity, conviviality, and fellow-feeling to which the concept of spirit could easily be applied.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Swedish Surrealism and Beyond

The American Swedish Institute is the perfect destination for a blah Saturday morning: the size is manageable, the café is appealing, and the exhibits are a bit out of the ordinary. The overall tone is one of relaxed Old World sophistication mixed with North Woods charm, and even the ultra-bright fabrics in the gift shop—too cute to actually consider buying—help to lift the mood on a cloudy winter day.

A selection of large landscapes by a self-taught young Swedish Photoshop expert named Erik Johannson are currently on display. The landscapes would be beautiful in themselves, but Johannson has taken them apart and put them together again digitally to create fantastic images in which, for example, a rural highway rips open like a zipper, a lake becomes a broken mirror, or a snowy field is transformed into a stitched white fabric.

The results are entirely realistic and wonderful to look at, albeit only briefly. There is no deeper significance to the images than what we see at a glance. They're a testament to human fancy and hard work. A video on the second floor illustrates the many layers Johannson is required to create to achieve the effects he's looking for. (You can watch that same six-minute video here. It's perhaps more interesting than the image itself.)

I'm a big fan of landscapes, if not exactly a connoisseur. I also spend a fair amount of time using Photoshop, though my technique remains amateurish. I was charmed by the fanciful imagery being put forth by Johannson in such a precise and unfanciful way, less surreal than super-real ... but I would also like to have seen the landscapes themselves—the grasses, the rocks, the surface of the water, the clouds—undisturbed by any bizarre manipulations. Depending on your frame of mind, a patch of moss can be more beautiful and fraught with mystery than the Sistine Chapel.

The images that pleased me most were the ones in which the "event" rather than the landscape dominates the scene, and we don't need to bemoan the vista that's been digitally transgressed. For example, in one image two sheep are being shorn, and we can see that the wool will soon take its place in the sky as clouds and thunder. 

In another image–not included in the show—a workman is unloading moons from his van while a woman in the background is attaching one of them to the horizon.

As it happened, my craving for honest landscapes was assuaged on the third floor of the mansion, where we came upon an exhibit of photos taken with a panorama camera in northern Sweden just after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. The prints were small, and they had faded somewhat, but there were forty or fifty of them on display, and many were lovely.

By the time we got back down to the restaurant, the only table for two available was right next to the front door. We decided to skip the Roasted Beet and Gjetost, sunflower seed, shaved apple, and radish sprouts on danish rye, and head home to a refrigerator full of leftovers ... but a much cozier table.

Friday, February 22, 2019

A Winter Day

It starts with a spin around the trails at Wirth Park at 7:30 in the morning. For the first time in quite a while, the snow was great, the temperatures were moderate ... and there was nobody there! No school teams, not even a single ski-skater. We did the "woods" trail, pausing often to admire the peachy light in the sky and the luminescent blue of the chalky and still pristine snow.  Ah, bliss!

Hilary went off to sort old photographs with her parents, and I settled down in the "office" to work on a few books. An hour here, and hour there. Then Norton called. He wasn't happy with the proofs he'd received from China. A blank journal with a photo of Paul Bunyan on it. He was eager to stop by for a consultation. Fine.

"I thought we'd gotten rid of that sign," he said as he handed me the proof.

"No," I replied, "I removed the sign on the other side. Right here. You can still see the post. But I could change the other sign, remove the date and the word Bemidji, and make it read Paul and Babe."

"And what about the back?" Norton said. "It's sort of blank."

"How about if I lighten it up and then create a noise panel so it glistens a little bit?" He liked that idea.

Twenty minutes later I'd sent off another proof to China and we were talking about the Timberwolves. Would they beat the woeful Knicks tonight? Probably not.

An hour later I was making Brazilian black bean soup from a recipe out of the Moosewood Cookbook. Outside the dining room window, goldfinches and siskins were quietly feeding together on the thistle feeder, while cardinals both male and female were fighting one another off ferociously on the sunflower feeder just above their heads.

I'd put a CD on the stereo of a strange group called the Westerlies that we heard last night at the Machine Shop. It's composed of two trumpeters and two trombonists doing everything from Beiderbecke and Ellington to Ravel and Debussy, as well as their own compositions. That arrangement of timbres calls for precision as well as dynamic control, and these young performers had it—now brash and joyous, now as rich and mellifluous as the soundtrack to an old Western. A friend had given us the tickets, so we'd bought to CD as a contribution to the cause. A day later, it made a pleasant complement to the birds and the bright sun on snow outside the window, and the aroma of cumin and garlic within.

But my biggest accomplishment of the day came early on: I succeeded in canceling my subscription to Amazon Prime. That may not sound like such a big deal, but yesterday, when I went in to terminate our free three-month trial, which was due to expire at the end of the month, I was shocked to discover that it had already been renewed—for a year!

"So that's how they sucker you in," I thought, cursing myself for my dilatory behavior.

"Why not call customer service?" Hilary said. "Maybe we can get our money back."

"Not likely," I said. There's probably some fine print somewhere that says, "Ten days prior to your expiration, your subscription will automatically blah, blah, blah."

But I found, double-checking the website, that there was a way to back out of the agreement, if you hadn't made use of the benefits. Thus with a single keystroke, I wiped an entire year of guilt and recrimination from my conscience, and a year of impulse purchases off of my shelves.

I could live again!  

Friday, February 15, 2019

February Light

An exhilaration comes upon you in the midst of that sparkling brilliance. You're out cleaning up the driveway in the crisp morning air, no wind, temperature near zero. It's not that you're looking at something beautiful. Rather, you're breathing something so open, bright, and full of energy that  nothing could be better. It glows in the chalky white snow, it cries out in a sky so intensely blue you can feel it in your throat.

The energy from that same February light lies behind the icicles hanging from the eaves, which weren't there a week ago. They're quaint, like a Christmas card, but without the moody darkness. And they provide you with an excuse to linger in the morning air. You grab the bamboo snow rake from the garage and get started on the heaps of pristine snow that have risen above the gutters these last few weeks.

But that's not quite enough of a good time, so you decide to cut back the highbush cranberry and the green twig dogwood before the new buds start forming. Something you forgot to do last year—until it was too late! Then it's around to the back, where the icicles outside the bedroom window are impressive indeed.

Ah, the joy of a good dump of snow down your neck as you maneuver that ten-foot snow rake from high up on the ladder while battling the branches of the pagoda dogwood that overhang the roof!

February light doesn't hold the promise of spring. It's an intrinsic good, it's free, and it's all the more pleasant and surprising for the fact that, unlike a comet or the Northern Lights, it spreads itself everywhere without undue commotion.

We drove north with some friends the other day to the rocky hills, snow-covered lakes, and black spruce forests of the border country. We skied across Everett Lake and later hiked through the woods to Kawishiwi Falls. The snow was new, the air was fresh and calm, the sun was brilliant. 

No, the sun was new, the snow was fresh and calm, the air was brilliant.