Thursday, January 31, 2008

Medieval and Renaissance treasures at the Speed

Louisville's Speed Art Museum will host an exhibit, Medieval and Renaissance Treasures From the Victoria and Albert Museum, from January 22 through April 20, 2008:

Statuette: Crucified Christ by Giovanni Pisano, 1285-1300, Ivory, 15.3 cm. © V&A Images/Victoria and Albert Museum.
This once-in-a-lifetime exhibition presents 35 masterpieces including a rare notebook on geometry and mathematics by Renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. The notebook, written in mirror image cursive, is the highlight of the exhibition.

Drawn from one of the greatest collections of medieval and Renaissance works in existence, these mostly small-scale “Treasury Arts” were created principally for the church in the Middle Ages and for wealthy collectors during the Renaissance.

Included in the exhibition are carved ivories, bronze sculpture, jeweled metalwork, stained glass and works by Donatello and Pisano.
Victoria & Albert MuseumSpeed Museum

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Harry Pickens Trio at the Jazz Factory

Jazz FactoryI had the distinct pleasure of listening to the Harry Pickens Trio on Saturday, January 26, 2008, at the Jazz Factory, perhaps Louisville's premier venue for live jazz. The show exceeded the expectations set in the Jazz Factory's program notes for Saturday's performance:
Harry PickensThe jazz giant Harry Pickens celebrates his birthday at The Jazz Factory with his great jazz trio. Bring your friends, your family and your acquaintances for an evening of music that is guaranteed to warm the heart and fortify the soul. Harry lives, breathes and exudes the essence of jazz. He's performed internationally with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson, as well as top players from his own generation, including Kenny Garrett, Ralph Peterson and Wallace Roney. In addition to being a gifted musician, Harry is an eloquent spokesperson for the music and a charismatic performer.
Chris FitzgeraldThere is no substitute for a live musical performance, and even a recording from Saturday's show could do scarce justice to the power and the presence of the Harry Pickens Trio. But courtesy of bassist Chris Fitzgerald, who is also a member of the University of Louisville's music school faculty, I'm pleased to post two performances by the Harry Pickens Trio:
I've Never Been in Love Before

How Insensitive

Editor's note: Cross-posted at The Cardinal Lawyer

Saturday, January 26, 2008

I wish it would rain

Strictly speaking, this post presents contemporary bluegrass music that has no direct connection to Louisville or to any other part of Kentucky. But Southern music, whatever its precise provenance, falls well within the mandate of Danzig U.S.A., and this is an especially poignant song.

Nanci Griffith, I Wish It Would Rain, Little Love Affairs (1988)

Oh, I wish it would rain
And wash my face clean
I want to find some dark cloud to hide in here
Love in a memory
Sparkled like diamonds
When the diamonds fall . . . they burn like tears
When the diamonds fall . . . they burn like tears

Once I had a love from the Georgia pines
Who only cared for me
I wanna find that love of twenty-two
Here at thirty-three
I've got a heart on my right
One on my left . . . neither suits my needs
No, the one I love lives away out West
And he never will need me

Repeat chorus.

I'm gonna pack up my two steppin' shoes
And head for the Gulf Coast plains
I wanna walk the streets of my own hometown
Where everybody knows my name
I wanna ride the waves down in Galveston
When the hurricanes blow in
'Cuz that Gulf Coast water tastes sweet as wine
When your heart's rollin' home in the wind

Repeat chorus

When the diamonds fall darlin' . . . they burn like tears

© 1987 Wing and Wheel Music

Lynn MorrisThe Lynn Morris Band performs I Wish It Would Rain, a song originally written and performed by Nanci Griffith.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Die Preußische Staatsbibliothek

Die Preußische Staatsbibliothek

The Prussian State Library

Along Unter den Linden in Berlin, some distance east of Brandenburger Tor but considerably west of Alexanderplatz and Fernsehturm, stands the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. In the distant but hardly forgotten past this beautiful building bore a more assertive name: Die Preußische Staatsbibliothek. The Prussian State Library.

ReichstagUnter den Linden is lined with beautiful buildings, and many of them speak more overtly to the ebb and flow of modern German history. It takes a grotesquely lazy tourist to overlook the stunning reconstruction of the Reichstag, for instance. Touring the publicly accessible portion of the old parliament building, restored to its proper place as the seat of national government, helps even a casual visitor understand how a united, democratic Germany fulfills through living architecture the twin promises that the Reichstag has made: Dem Deutschen Völke and Der Bevölkerung. To the German People and To the Population.

Library courtyardFor those who approach Germany from the admittedly peculiar cultural prism of the American South, however, die Preußische Staatsbibliothek represents an obligatory visit in its own right. All Berlin, to the socially progressive Southerner, represents what our own "Heimat" should become. Reunited Berlin, once and rightful capital of Germany, after conquest, occupation, partition, disarmament, and global humiliation scarcely commensurate for Germany's crimes against humanity. If only Atlanta, Columbia, Birmingham, Nashville, and Richmond could be comparably redeemed from their own history. And there in the heart of Berlin, mere yards from the din of Unter den Linden, the courtyard of the old Prussian State Library beckons. This was the same ivy-covered oasis that greeted visitors and employees of the Library and its cousin, Die Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften (the Prussian Academy of Sciences).

Within the courtyard, a single inscription will stand out: MCMXIII. 1913. The year before it all began unraveling and Germany found itself on an often hellish journey of seventy-five years. No American Southerner can behold that inscription and fail to think, "What if?" What if my own homeland, at its historical precipice comparable to MCMXIII in Germany, had only known and had exercised its last clear chance to set things right? What if I had only known? What would we, what could we have done differently?

The last words Willie Stark utters, as he lies mortally wounded by his assassin's bullets, are as perfect in the courtyard of the Preußische Staatsbibliothek as they are in All the King's Men: "It might have been all different Jack. . . . You've got to believe that. You got to. You got to believe that. . . . And it might even been different yet. If it hadn't happened, it might — have been different — even yet."

Jack Burden, for his part, knows all too well that "the world is a great snowball rolling downhill and it never rolls uphill to unwind itself back to nothing at all and nonhappening."

Dem Deutschen VölkeBecause I live in Danzig U.S.A. in order to work toward its betterment (despite fearing at a deep level that the region truly is irredeemable), because I am a Southerner again by choice after having had opportunities to leave and to stay away for good, and because I too know how it feels to look back at that one moment and wonder, "Wenn nur . . . if only . . . ," I go out of history into history and the awful responsibility of Time. Und mittlerweile wartet die Preußische Staatsbibliothek auf mich.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thomas Merton's Louisville epiphany

Reprinted from The Cardinal Lawyer
Fourth Street LiveThomas Merton (1915-1968) put the intersection of Fourth and Walnut Streets (now Fourth and Muhammad Ali Boulevard) on the literary map of twentieth century America. His "Fourth and Walnut" epiphany is arguably the most famous piece of writing associated with Louisville.

There are in fact two versions of Merton's Fourth and Walnut epiphany. He wrote the first in his private journal on March 19, 1958, the day after his fateful visit to Louisville and the seventeenth anniversary of his taking the vows of the Trappist order. The second version appeared in his 1966 book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Excerpts from the two versions appear below:

1. From Thomas Merton's private journal, March 19, 1958:

Thomas MertonYesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream — the dream of separateness, of the “special” vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me is a special category except artificially, juridically. I am still a member of the human race — and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race!

Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being a man! As if the sorrows of our condition could really matter, once we begin to realize who and what we are — as if we could ever begin to realize it on earth.

It is not a question of proving to myself that I either dislike or like the women one sees on the street. The fact of having a vow of chastity does not oblige one to argument on this point — no special question arises. I am keenly conscious, not of their beauty (I hardly think I saw anyone really beautiful by special standards) but of their humanity, their woman-ness. But what incomprehensible beauty is there, what secret beauty that would perhaps be inaccessible to me if I were not dedicated to a different way of life. It [is] as though by chastity I had come to be married to what is most pure in all the women of the world and to taste and sense the secret beauty of their girl’s hearts as they walked in the sunlight — each one secret and good and lovely in the sight of God — never touched by anyone, nor by me, nor by anyone, as good as and even more beautiful than the light itself. For the woman-ness that is in each of them is a once original and inexhaustibly fruitful bringing the image of God into the world. In this each one is Wisdom and Sophia and Our Lady — (my delights are to be with the children of men!).

2. From Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo-angels, “spiritual men,” men of interior life, what have you.

Thomas MertonCertainly these traditional values are very real, but their reality is not of an order outside everyday existence in a contingent world, nor does it entitle one to despise the secular: though “out of the world,” we are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it, and to make a profession out of this consciousness. But does that entitle us to consider ourselves different, or even better, than others? The whole idea is preposterous.

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.” To think that for sixteen or seventeen years I have been taking seriously this pure illusion that is implicit in so much of our monastic thinking.

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.

I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

This changes nothing in the sense and value of my solitude, for it is in fact the function of solitude to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to anyone completely immersed in the other cares, the other illusions, and all the automatisms of a tightly collective existence. My solitude, however, is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them — and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just in my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not “they” but my own self. There are no strangers!

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.