Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Second Half of the Year

It has been my experience that the second half of the year is often better than the first half.

Better how? Maybe it's just the satisfaction of knowing that so many warm months lie ahead, and when the darkness does start to close in, there will be plenty of gatherings and musical events to distract us. But that seems too analytical. I think it has more to do with the burden of the months lifting. In any case, the summer months breed confidence, as if we've completed a climb, exhilarating but peppered with hardship, and it's all downhill from here.

Hardship? This isn't something I think about a whole lot, even in springtime. A little trouble with the knee as the result of some reckless moves on the tennis court. A night in a tent under six hours of thunder and quite a bit of rain. The rabbits (or turkeys?) chewing the black-eyed susans to the ground, like they do every year.

One pleasant challenge that I face in late spring every year is to make thoughtful use of the birthday gift I receive from Hilary's parents--namely, cash--which they implore me to spend on something fun or unusual, knowing full well that they don't need to twist my arm very hard. This wad of cash loosens up my approach to the Daedalus summer catalog, among other things. 

This year I placed an order consisting of the following items:

A six-CD set of the Beaux Art Trio playing Mozart's complete piano trios and quartets
The Event of Literature by Terry Eagleton
An Englishman in Madrid by Eduardo Mendoza
Dante in Love by A.N. Wilson

 At an art fair in St. Anthony Park I happened upon another golden opportunity, landing 10 jazz CDs at $1 per disc. Among the highlights were:

Cassandra Wilson: Standards
Fred Hersch: Solo Monk
Nicolas Payton: Gumbo Nouveau
The Ultimate Bill Evans
Charlie Haden/ Hank Jones: Steal Away—Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs
Steve Lacy/ Roswell Rudd: Monk's Dream

The one book I purchased at the event was the well-known anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay, edited by Phillip Lopate. I cracked it open a few days later and was charmed by Max Beerbohm, whom I had previously known only through an unflattering cartoon. Near the end of one essay Beerbohm drops the thread of his story to reflect on how weak his recollections are:
It is odd how little remains to a man of his own past— how few minutes of even his memorable hours are not clean forgot­ten, and how few seconds in any one of those minutes can be recaptured... I am middle-aged, and have lived a vast number of seconds. Subtract ? of these, for one mustn’t count sleep as life. The residual number is still enormous. Not a single one of those seconds was unimportant to me in its passage. Many of them bored me, of course; but even boredom is a positive state: one chafes at it and hates it; strange that one should afterwards forget it! And stranger still that of one’s actual happinesses and unhappinesses so tiny and tattered a remnant clings about one!
Memories do tend to fade, recombine, blend together, and rearrange themselves into more convenient narrative structures. And maintaining an accurate chronology is simply not in the cards. Earlier this morning I booked a campsite at Crow Wing State Park. Hunting around for some photos of our last visit, which seems like a distant memory,  I was surprised to discover it was only a year ago—almost to the day. Beerbohm makes a similar point. 
...Memory is a great artist, we are told; she selects and rejects and shapes and so on. No doubt. Elderly per­sons would be utterly intolerable if they remembered everything. Ev­erything, nevertheless, is just what they themselves would like to remember, and just what they would like to tell to everybody. Be sure that the Ancient Mariner, though he remembered quite as much as his audience wanted to hear, and rather more, about the albatross and the ghastly crew, was inwardly raging at the sketchiness of his own mind; and believe me that his stopping only one of three was the merest oversight.

What will I remember of the spring just past? The summer tanager we saw out at the arboretum, five hundred miles north of his normal range? The bright morning cruise around Duluth Harbor? The gritty flamenco show? The get-together on the deck with friends? The bike ride through the woods to Utepils, our own local brew pub, on a glorious weekday afternoon?

I drove down to the Antiquarian Bookfair this morning. (Come to think of it, I did that a year ago, too.) Today I ran into a few old friends and chatted with a woman who's looking for someone to write a book about a sculptor she knows, recently deceased. (I gave her my card.)

I was not moved to buy anything. But I stopped by our local library on the way home to pick up a request that had come in and spotted two gems (or potential gems) in the give-away card by the front door: The Conscience of the Eye: the Design and Social Life of Cities by Richard Sennett and The Darkening Glass: a Portrait of Ruskin's Genius by John Rosenberg.

There are blue jays everywhere these days, squawking and reeling. It's the young ones, enjoying their newfound wings. Summer is just getting started. The afternoon sunlight is sublime. An atmosphere of unfocus descends, sweet and strangely passive, and it's hard to say when I'll get cracking on any of these books. Yet dipping into the book on Ruskin, I come almost immediately upon this passage: "Ruskin was eye-driven, even photoerotic, and confessed to 'a sensual faculty of pleasure in sight'...[He] looked at the material universe with preternatural vivacity and clarity, and believed that what he saw was divine."

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