Browsing Tag


When the World

Brooklyn Bugle Book Club: When the World Was Young, by Elizabeth Gaffney

March 14, 2015

When I was in Mrs. Blalock’s 12th grade English class at Robinson High School in Tampa, I was required to give a book report every six weeks. Mrs. Blalock said students must begin each report by saying why they had read the book. With a tip of the hat to my still loved though long deceased teacher, I’ll begin this with a disclosure: I read this novel in part because the author is the daughter of a friend, neighbor, and fellow Grace Church parishioner. “In part” because another reason for my reading it is that it’s set in the neighborhood I’ve called home for the last almost 32 years, Brooklyn Heights, though at a time long before I came here; indeed partly before I was born.

The story begins on VJ Day, August 14, 1945 (this is the date Japan’s unconditional surrender was announced in the U.S.; Japan did not sign surrender documents until September 3, which is now the official VJ Day). Wally Baker and her mother, Stella Wallace Baker (Wally’s full name is Beatrice Wallace Baker) go out into the pandemonium filling even the streets of staid Brooklyn Heights. Stella is taking Wally to the nearby house of Stella’s parents, Waldo and Gigi, who are both physicians, as is Stella. As the day progresses, we are introduced to Waldo’s and Gigi’s housekeeper, Loretta Walker, an African American woman who also serves as Wally’s caretaker, and to Wally’s closest friend, Ham, who is Loretta’s son. We are also, in conversation, made aware of William Niederman, a PhD in mathematics and the college roommate of Stella’s husband and Wally’s father, Rudy, who, at Rudy’s urging by telegram from the South Pacific, becomes a boarder in the spare bedroom of Stella’s and Wally’s apartment “for the duration.” The duration is now over, and Rudy will be coming home to his wife and daughter,

As VJ day draws to a close, Loretta and Wally arrive at Stella’s apartment a little later than planned; there they find Stella dead on the kitchen floor, a suicide.

From this beginning, the story takes us from Wally’s girlhood to young womanhood and, at the close, motherhood. It is a bildungsroman, or novel of growth, but also a todtsroman. It is punctuated by deaths–Stella’s, as well as the death of her first love and fiancé, who is killed by a log falling from a truck as they travel to his parents’ summer house, which sets the stage for Stella’s later, at first reluctant, marriage to Rudy; of Wally’s younger brother Georgie, who succumbs to whooping cough because no penicillin is available, it having been sent overseas for the troops; of Waldo and Gigi; and of an ant queen. It is also shadowed by the fear of death–of Rudy’s, when he is with the Navy in the South Pacific, and of Ham’s, when he enlists in the Army and is sent to Korea. At its close, though, it is a novel of life. Its ending, like that of Peter Wheelwright’s As It Is On Earth, brought to my mind the final sentence of Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Life, both natural, in the form of ants, and imaginary, in the guise of Wonder Woman, pervades the narrative of Wally’s growth and maturation. Ham becomes interested in the ant colonies he found in Waldo’s and Gigi’s back yard, and collects some to form a captive colony inside a fish tank. He communicates his enthusiasm to Wally, who does the same. Gigi takes them to the Museum of Natural History and introduces them to Vernon Somersby, an entomology curator. Somersby is impressed and offers them regular tutelage. He gets Wally onto a team of researchers who are studying how ants communicate, and she makes an important discovery.

Communication, or the lack of it, is the major theme of the novel. Wally regards Stella, who is reticent about her life away from Wally, as a mystery. Bill Niederman is a mysterious figure, engaged in secret war work. A failure of communication between him and Stella, once rectified, sets the action going. Ham is infuriated by Loretta’s late disclosure of his true parentage. Wally is grateful for RADAR (always in all caps), a form of communication of which the initial recipient is unaware but which reveals the recipient’s location to the sender, for keeping her father alive in the war. There’s even a discussion, by Bill Niederman after he returns to teaching math at Rutgers, of the “Traveling Salesman Problem,” which has to do with establishing the most efficient routes of travel or communication.

Wally is a fan of Wonder Woman, perhaps in part because she wonders about her mother, who is something of a wonder. Some time before Stella’s death, when her mother is away, Wally goes into her bedroom and finds, in a box under the bed, “the most remarkable costume [she] had ever seen.” There is a blue sequined cape on which were “long silver triangles plunging from shoulder to hem, like daggers.” Its lining is “electric-blue silk with blood red piping.” Under it is

a matching dress, short with a sequined bodice and more of those spangly silver daggers on a blue field. Under the dress lay a blue and silver headband and a pair of silver high-heeled booties. It was the costume Wally would have conceived for her mother, if her mother was a superhero.

What clinches it is that Wally sees, embroidered in the lining of the cape, Stella’s maiden initials: “S.W.” Wally takes this to mean “Silver Wonder.”

Worlds opened up in Wally’s mind like accordion folds. Long-standing conundrums sorted themselves out…. All those days and nights she was away, too busy for Wally–she’d been striving to make the world safe for her daughter. And the sense of withholding that Wally had sometimes felt, the sense that her mother was keeping something from her, all that made sense now, too….She was Stella Wallace Baker by the light of day, and the Silver Wonder, a shining streak of justice, by night.

My fellow Brooklyn Heights residents will find some interesting history here. Jim Crow was not absent from our neighborhood, as we see when Wally and Ham go to swim in the St. George Hotel’s Olympic size poll, and the woman at the entrance directs Ham to the “colored changing area.” Ham endures a severe beating when he and Wally go down to the still active docks below the Heights and a longshoreman takes offense at his being there with a white girl. Finally, we get to see what it was like for those living on Columbia Heights–including Waldo and Gigi–when Robert Moses’ “Brooklyn and Queens Connecting Highway” (now the BQE) takes away a large chunk of their back yards.

When the World Was Young is published by Random House, New York (2014).

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

From the Web


Photos from a "Hidden Harbor" Tour

July 23, 2014
A few weeks ago my wife and I went on one of the Hidden Harbor tours presented by the Working Harbor Committee. These tours, which use chartered Circle Line boats, take one into parts of New York harbor one doesn’t usually see closely unless one works in the maritime industry. Our tour departed from the Circle Line pier, near the foot of Manhattan’s West 43rd Street. As the boat backed out into the Hudson River, we could see Norwegian Gem docked at the nearby cruise ship terminal. A now retired Concorde SST is on display at the end of the pier that is home to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
As we moved away from the dock, we got a good view of the World War Two veteran aircraft carrier Intrepid.
Heading downriver, we passed the retired, now privately owned fire boat John J. Harvey and the also privately owned lightship Frying Pan. Six years ago I was on a cruise on the tugboat Cornell when we were called on to pull Harvey, then stuck on a mudbank, free. I recorded the incident on video. The large structure behind Frying Pan is the Starrett-Lehigh Building, (Cory & Cory, Yasuo Matsui; 1931), a striking adaptation of some elements of art deco architecture, such as rounded corners, continuous horizontal strip windows, and varying brick colors, to an industrial and warehouse structure.
Continuing down the Hudson, we saw another former government vessel now in private hands, the lightship tender Lilac. Behind her is the Borough of Manhattan Community College and the towers of the Independence Plaza housing complex.
Passing the tip of lower Manhattan we saw a skyline dominated by the new One World Trade Center (David Childs/SOM; completion expected later this year) and the newly opened Four World Trade Center (Fumihiko Maki, 2013). The low, white building on the shoreline below One WTC is City Pier A, built in the 1880s and expanded in 1900 and 1919. It was used at different times for police and fire boats, lay derelict for many years, and is now being rehabilitated as a venue for restaurants.
Looking up the East River, we could see the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, as the sightseeing boat Robert Fulton went by.
We headed through the Buttermilk Channel, which lies between Brooklyn and Governors Island. The retired harbor tanker Mary A. Whalen, purchased and restored by PortSide New York, is docked at a pier on the Brooklyn side. In the background, above Mary’s wheelhouse, is the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Building (Halsey, McCormack and Helmer, 1929), for many years Brooklyn’s tallest.
A double-crested cormorant was perched atop a buoy.
Heading across the harbor, we passed the ferry terminal on Staten Island and the ferry Spirit of America.
Entering the Kill Van Kull, which lies between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey, we passed the tug Brian Nicholas pushing two barges, one loaded and one empty, lashed side-by-side.
The tanker Skopelos was docked on the Bayonne side. In the background, to the right, is a wind turbine; an effort to reduce the demand for the fossil fuel tankers carry.
King Duncan, another tanker, was berthed just beyond Skopelos.
The World War Two veteran destroyer escort U.S.S. Slater was undergoing maintenance at Caddell Dry Dock and Repair Company, Inc. on the Staten Island side. There’s an article about Slater’s stay at Cadell’s, ending with a photo showing her after completion, sporting her bold camouflage, here. Slater is now back in Albany, where she serves as a floating museum.
A short way past Caddell’s we passed under the Bayonne Bridge, which is being raised to allow the gargantuan container ships now going into service to pass under it. The project is being done in stages, so as to keep the bridge open to traffic except during late night hours. Photo by my wife.
After the bridge, we turned into Newark Bay, and passed the outbound container ship MSC Arushi R., escorted by the tug Miriam Moran.

A digression: sometime in the late 1950s, as my dad and I were tooling around the port of Tampa in our little Carter Craft runabout, I saw what struck me as a most ungainly and un-aesthetic ship, Pan Atlantic Steamship Company’s Gateway City. It was a standard C-2 type freighter that had had its hull above the waterline extended in beam, so that it looked like the awkward offspring of a cargo ship and an aircraft carrier. Instead of graceful masts and booms, it had massive gantry cranes straddling its decks, and it listed noticeably landward when the cranes carried containers off the ship to deposit them on the dock. You can see a photo of Gateway City here (scroll down to 1957) and read about how she came to be here. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was witnessing the beginning of a revolution in marine transportation.
After MSC Arushir came Don Jon Marine’s Caitlin Ann, pushing an empty barge.
Maersk Pittsburgh was docked at Port Elizabeth.
Another Don Jon tug, Mary Alice, was headed up Newark Bay.
Ital Laguna was docked at Maher Terminals, Port Elizabeth. The First Watchung Mountain can be seen in the distance.
Elizabeth McAllister was also heading up the Bay,
Endurance, docked at Port Newark, is a rarity these days; a large civilian cargo ship flying the U.S. flag. She is a RO-RO (Roll On-Roll Off) ship, and is used to transport equipment and supplies to U.S. forces abroad.
Heading back toward the Kill Van Kull, we passed Ellen McAllister. The tug’s low profile suggests she may sometimes be used on inland waterways with low clearances.
MSC Bruxelles was docked at Port Newark.
As we came alongside Maersk Pittsburgh we saw St. Andrews, the tug that had brought the barge from which Pittsburgh was taking on fuel. Note the scrape marks on the ship’s hull.
Another view of the Bayonne Bridge as we headed back toward the Kill Van Kull.
The tug Houma passed us just before we reached the bridge.
We passed the Moran tug fleet’s Staten Island home port. Laura K. Moran and two other tugs were docked there.
A little farther along was the Reinauer dock, where Dean Reinauer and Kristy Ann Reinauer waited for their next assignments.
Traffic was heavy on the Kill Van Kull as we headed out. Ahead of us was Northstar Marine’s barge Northstar 140, towed by Reliable.
Here’s a better view of Reliable as we overtook the tug and her tow.
With the New York City skyline as a background, Bouchard’s B.No.280, escorted by Charles D. McAllister, headed up the Kill Van Kull.
Power behind B.No.280 was supplied by Ellen S. Bouchard.
Then came Manhasset Bay…
which was easily overtaking Paul Andrew pushing a barge.
We encountered three tugs in succession towing barges “on the hip”; first Brooklyn,
…then Sassafras,
…then Gulf Dawn.
We almost overtook MSC Arushi R., which we had passed earlier as we entered Newark Bay, as she left the Kill Van Kull headed for the Narrows and the Atlantic.
As we left the Kill Van Kull and rounded Constable Hook, we passed the Bayonne Golf Club, with its faux lighthouse club building (2006). The Scottish style links were built atop what previously was a waste disposal landfill. 
The container ship Positano, sitting light with no visible cargo, was docked at Bayonne’s Military Ocean Terminal.
Just past Positano was the U.S. Naval Ship Watkins, undergoing maintenance work at the Bayonne Dry Dock & Repair Corporation’s graving dock.
The cruise ship Explorer of the Seas was moored at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port, Bayonne. The Kirby tug Lincoln Sea and a barge were docked at the end of the pier.
After passing Bayonne, we saw the majestic skyline of … Jersey City, with Lady Liberty in the middle.
Hearing a droning noise overhead, I looked up and saw a World War Two vintage B-17 flying by. 
The Colgate Clock, on the Jersey City shoreline, is a memory from my childhood, when I passed it several times on ships leaving from or arriving at New York. The building on which it once sat has been demolished; fortunately, the clock (Seth Thomas, 1924) has been preserved.  We were right on time; our cruse started at 11:00 a.m. and was scheduled to last two hours.
As we approached our dock, I saw kayaks near Intrepid’s stern.
There will be more of these tours, including one this Saturday, July 26.  You may get tickets here for it or future tours.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

From the Web

Around Brooklyn, Bloggers, Books

Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, "The Green Fields of France"

June 28, 2014

Today, June 28, 2014 is the centenary of the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. This started a series of events that led, within two months, to the outbreak of a war unprecedented in its ferocity and breadth; one that would cause about ten million military and seven million civilian deaths. It may have created the conditions that led to the 1918 influenza pandemic that is estimated to have killed between fifty and 100 million people; perhaps as much as five per cent of the world’s then population. The war’s economic and political aftermath certainly contributed to the outbreak of an even greater war two decades later. It caused the breakup of two empires: the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire in central and eastern Europe, and the Ottoman Empire that encompassed much of the Middle East. The carving up of the latter by victorious Britain and France, as described in David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace, resulted in the creation of the existing national boundaries in the Middle East; many of which boundaries are contested today.

World War I also helped to precipitate two revolutions: the Russian and the Irish. British recruitment of Irishmen to fight in the war (see poster image above) was a factor leading to the Easter Rising of 1916. As the rebel song “The Foggy Dew” declared:

Right proudly high in Dublin town
Hung they out a flag of war.
‘Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky
Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar.

“Suvla” and “Sud el Bar” were  disastrous amphibious landings on the Turkish coast in which British troops, including many Irish, took terrible casualties. Another verse, not included in the lyrics on the linked post, has the words

‘Twas England bade our wild geese rove
That small nations might be free.

The second line is ironic. One of Britain’s appeals to prospective recruits was to fight for “small nations,” in particular Belgium (again see poster above) that had been or might be invaded and occupied by German troops.  The irony is that Ireland was a “small nation” that wanted to be free, but Britain would not allow it to be. The term “wild geese” in the first line was originally applied to the Irish Jacobite army that was allowed to go to France following the Irish defeat by the army of King William in 1691. It was later used for Irish soldiers who served in the Royal Army in European wars.

“The Green Fields of France,” sung in the clip above by Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, is one of the saddest songs I know. The name “Willie McBride” suggests Protestant Irish (William is not a popular name among Catholic Irish because of King William’s defeat of the Catholic rebellion in the late seventeenth century). The line “Did the pipes play ‘The Flowers of the Forest’?” at first indicated to me that he served in a Scottish regiment, as “Flowers” is a traditional Scottish lament, but the notes to this YouTube clip say it has become “[t]he traditional lament for the fallen in forces of the British Commonwealth.” So, the song was co-opted, after excising the lines

Sad day for the Order,
What’s happened to the border?
The English, by guile,
For once won the day.

We all live in the world the Great War (I still call it that; the Second World War was vastly more destructive, but the effects of the First include the Second and much more) created. I pray we do not have to see its like again.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

From the Web


The Monuments on Battle Hill, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn

May 22, 2014

Last week my wife and I, along with a friend, took a tour of some of the more impressive mausoleums in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Following the guided tour, about which I’ll be blogging more in the near future, the three of us went to Battle Hill, the highest point in the cemetery grounds (indeed, the highest natural point in Brooklyn. It was the site of an important engagement in the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island, as the area in which the fighting took place was not yet part of Brooklyn). The battle was the first engagement of George Washington’s Continental Army against the Royal Army, and was a defeat for the Americans. It could have spelled the end for the young Revolution, but for some heroic rear guard actions, including that at Battle Hill, and a stroke of luck, in the form of bad weather, that allowed what remained of Washington’s forces to retreat from what is now my neighborhood to Manhattan, then to New Jersey, then to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where they endured a harsh winter before re-crossing the Delaware and enjoying their first victories at Trenton and Princeton.

The monument in the photo above is topped by a statue of Minerva,”the Roman goddess of battle and protector of civilization.” She faces toward, and waves to, the Statue of Liberty, which can be seen from Battle Hill. On the face of the base below the statue are the words, “Altar to Liberty.” The mausoleum behind belongs to the family of Charles Higgins, the ink manufacturer who funded the monument.

There is also a Civil War monument (photo above) on Battle Hill.

The plaque on this face of the monument has the words:

Ever remember how much of National Prosperity is due to the brave exertions of the Soldiers who died in the service of their Country.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

From the Web

Bloggers, DUMBO

Karl Junkersfeld’s "A Tale of Two Bridges"

August 10, 2013

A Tale Of Two Bridges from Karl Junkersfeld on Vimeo.

My Brooklyn Heights Blog colleague made this video. He gave it the title “A Tale of Two Bridges” because it includes scenes of and on both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, but it concentrates on the latter, lesser known span. Lesser known, that is, until recently, according to this New York Times article. The Times piece attributes its new found popularity on the fact that its Brooklyn anchorage is next to DUMBO (“Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass”), a neighborhood that has undergone roughly the same evolution that SOHO in Manhattan did starting about two decades earlier: from decaying industrial area to place where artists could occupy cheap if not yet quite legal loft spaces to trendy Bohemian neighborhood to pricey place for the rich but hip, combined with office space for tech companies.

I have a particular affection for the Manhattan Bridge: it was my first crossing of any of the East River bridges. This happened in 1954, when I was eight years old.  My parents and I had just returned from England, where my dad, a U.S. Air Force officer, had been stationed for three years. We came by ship, and debarked at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. There we boarded a bus to Penn Station that took us by way of Flatbush Avenue (when we turned onto this broad thoroughfare my dad, an Indiana native who had spent some time in New York City early in World War Two, said “This is Flatbush”: noticing some low-lying shrubbery in a planter box on the median, I thought I knew what he meant) to the Manhattan Bridge, where I was thrilled by the view of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and East River traffic.

The  Manhattan Bridge was the last of four East River bridges–the others, in order of completion, are the Brooklyn (1883), the Williamsburg (1903), the Queensboro (now officially the “Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge”; also known as the 59th Street Bridge and as such immortalized by Simon & Garfunkel; March, 1909)–to be completed. The Manhattan Bridge was partially opened late in 1909, but not fully opened until 1912. It was designed by Leon Moisseiff, who was also involved in the design of the Golden gate Bridge and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, but whose reputation was blotted by his having been the principal designer of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a.k.a. “Galloping Gertie” (caution: the linked video may give you nightmares, though it may also warm the hearts of dog lovers).

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

From the Web

Around Brooklyn, Bloggers

British Pathé Newsreel: S.S. United States wins the Blue Riband on her maiden voyage.

July 8, 2013

The Blue Riband? It’s an award that is not likely ever to be given again. It was for the passenger ship that made the fastest crossings, both eastward and westward, of the Atlantic, measured between the Ambrose Lightship off New York harbor and Bishop’s Rock off Cornwall, England. S.S. United States won it on her maiden voyage in 1952, and retired with the title as transatlantic jet service supplanted ships. Queen Mary 2 annually makes one or two  transatlantic voyages between  my beloved Brooklyn and Southampton, England, traditional home port for Cunard liner services. Designed for cruising, Queen Mary 2 is unlikely to challenge any speed records.

Unfortunately, the United States is now in danger of going for scrap. The S.S. United States Conservancy, headed by Susan Gibbs, granddaughter of William Francis Gibbs, the marine architect and engineer who designed the great ship, is trying to raise funds to save her.  I’m hoping she may be preserved as a floating museum and perhaps hotel at a pier along what used to be “ocean liner row” on the west side of Manhattan, where she used to dock.

Update: The Conservancy has a Facebook page. Please consider giving them a “like.”

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

From the Web

Existential Stuff, History

The Texas Archives War

June 29, 2013

The statue in the photo above is of Angelina Eberly.  I’d never heard of her until I read Gail Collins’s column Wendy and the Boys in Wednesday’s New York Times. The column focuses on Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’s filibuster that succeeded in stopping a bill that may have effectively outlawed all abortions in Texas. Ms. Collins began it thus:

There is an old saying that Texas is “heaven for men and dogs, but hell for women and oxen.” But the state’s history is chock-full of stories of female role models. Barbara Jordan. Ann Richards. In downtown Austin, there’s a statue of Angelina Eberly, heroine of the Texas Archives War of 1842, firing a cannon and looking about 7 feet tall. 

Collins then says she doesn’t have time to explain the Texas Archives War, although she goes on to say, “it’s an extremely interesting story.” It seemed most interesting to me, as my wife is an archivist, and through her I’ve met many other archivists and learned a little about that fascinating profession. (“So, you’re an archivist. What exactly do you do?” my mother asked my wife-to-be. “I read other people’s mail and I don’t have to answer it,” was the reply.) Although I once had a silly fantasy about a comic book series called Action Combat Archivists, the notion of an “Archives War” seemed, well, bizarre. I had to look it up. The Texas State Historical Association website tells the tale:

In March 1842 a division of the Mexican army under Gen. Rafael Vásquez appeared at San Antonio demanding the surrender of the town; the Texans were not prepared to resist and withdrew. On March 10 President Sam Houston called an emergency session of the Texas Congress. Fearing that the Mexicans would move on Austin, he named Houston as the meetingplace. The citizens of Austin, fearful that the president wished to make Houston the capital, formed a vigilante committee of residents and warned department heads that any attempt to move state papers would be met with armed resistance. President Houston called the Seventh Congress into session at Washington-on-the-Brazos and at the end of December 1842 sent a company of rangers under Col. Thomas I. Smith and Capt. Eli Chandler to Austin with orders to remove the archives but not to resort to bloodshed. The Austin vigilantes were unprepared for the raid, and the rangers loaded the archives in wagons and drove away, but not before Mrs. Angelina Eberly fired a cannon at them. On January 1, 1843 the vigilance committee, under Capt. Mark B. Lewis, seized a cannon from the arsenal and overtook the wagons at Kenney’s Fort on Brushy Creek. Only a few shots were fired before the rangers gave up the papers in order to avoid bloodshed. The archives were returned to Austin and remained there unmolested until Austin became the capital again in 1844.

So, there you have it. A war in which the first shot was fired by a woman, and in which nobody gets killed, or even hurt. And all over archives. Well, to be fair, really over what was to be the capital of the then independent Republic of Texas. Another reason, along with Wendy Davis (and many others; see the addendum to this post), for me to love the Lone Star State.

The photo is from the home page of an Austin based “psychedelic Americana band” called Archive War. Alas, the band may no longer exist, as their last website update was in November of last year.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

From the Web


Could this year’s Mets rival those of 1962?

May 28, 2013

A bright start to this season led me to some very qualified optimism. The Mets managed to stay at or above .500 for most of April, but it’s been pretty much downhill since then. Last week I got to wondering how this year’s team compares to the notorious 1962 first edition, which set a Major League 20th century record by losing 120 games. This year’s Mets have played 48 games and have a record of 19-29, for a winning percentage of about .388. The ’62 Mets didn’t get to game 48 until June 6 because the season started later. At that point, their record was 12-36, putting them at .250. So the 2013 Mets are, at this moment in the season, decidedly ahead of the ’62 gang. With 162 games in the current season, if today’s Mets keep to roughly the same performance level, they should lose about 100 games. Should they get worse, they could challenge the 120 loss record.

The video above tells me a lot about why I love the Mets. One commenter complains that it’s unfair to “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry who, apart from his mishaps in fielding and base running, managed to smack 16 homers for the Amazins in ’62. I think Throneberry has his revenge in the banner shown at 3:10: “Cranberry, Strawberry, we still love Throneberry.”

I started to write this post last week. Since then, the Mets avoided a sweep by the Braves, then won the opening game of their four game series with the Yankees. From this I know two things: the Mets this season can occasionally beat their traditional nemeisis in the NL East, and their season record with the Bronx Bullies won’t be 0-4. I’m keeping my enthusiasm in check.

Update: Mets score a second 2-1 victory over the hated Yanks, thereby sweeping the home end of their four game series. The remaining two games are in enemy territory, but at least we’re assured of an even split of the season’s series. I’m trying very hard not to get too enthusiastic.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

From the Web


Divine Dvořák; Scintillating Shostakovich

November 25, 2012

Friday evening my wife and I went to a New York Philharmonic concert featuring guest conductor Andrey Boreyko. On the program were Felix Mendlessohn’s Overture to Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde (“Son and Stranger”), a sprightly piece that got things going nicely, followed by Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 99, with soloist Frank Peter Zimmerman. The concert concluded with Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor,  Op. 95, From the New World. I’ll discuss the last piece first, as it’s an old favorite of mine, as well as of many.

When I was nine years old, my parents bought the LP album Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music, an anthology of performances by the Boston Pops Orchestra, under Arthur Fiedler, of mostly familiar, mostly (in that early edition) nineteenth century romantic pieces that were accessible (or, as a rock critic might put it, “hooky”) to people unfamiliar with, and perhaps inclined to dislike, the classical canon. (The collection, greatly expanded to include more kinds of music performed by many orchestras and artists, is still available as a four CD set.) One of the cuts on the LP was the second movement, Largo, from Dvořák’s New World symphony. You can hear it, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra directed by Carlo Maria Giulini, by playing the clip above.

As I recall, the notes to the mid 1950s vintage LP said Dvořák got the principal theme for the Largo movement from a “Negro spiritual” with the title “Goin’ Home.” As I’ve discussed before here, classical composers frequently borrow tunes from other sources, including folk music and the work of other composers (“Variations on…” is a title frequently seen in classical music) just as pop tunesmiths sometimes mine the classical canon. This is mostly, but as George Harrison could have told you not always, considered Kosher, at least so long as the inspiring music isn’t subject to copyright. In any event, notes by James M. Keller in the Playbill for the concert correct the mistaken notion that Dvořák used a folk tune here. The tune was original to Dvořák, and acquired the title “Goin’ Home” some thirty years after the symphony was written, when Dvořák’s pupil and later teaching assistant William Arms Fisher wrote “dialect” lyrics for it that begin, “Goin’ home, goin’ home/ I’m a-goin’ home.”

Keller also observes that the composer’s notes accompanying the original score for the symphony, which were used when it was given its world premiere by the New York Philharmonic in 1893, had been kept in the Philharmonic’s archives. After the premiere, performances relied on a score published by the Berlin music house Simrock that lacked these notes and may have differed from the original score in other respects, although the Simrock score had the composer’s blessing. In 1989, at the request of another music publisher, Breitkopf & Härtel, the Philharmonic’s librarians produced the notes, along with the original score, and these became the basis for the
Breitkopf & Härtel edition that the Philharmonic performed last night.

I don’t know if it was in part because I’d never heard this version of New World before, and it was certainly in large part because of the skill of the instrumentalists and conductor, but this was easily the best performance of New World I’d heard, live or recorded. This is the kind of familiar work that can become formulaic and languid, but the Philharmonic’s rendition was crisp and energetic. Even the Largo, while keeping all its melancholy plaintiveness, seemed fresh. One thing that struck me was how “American” this music by an emigre from Central Europe seems; not only the Largo but, for example, the principal theme of the first movement, Adagio–allegro molto, in which I thought I could hear hints, though I doubt it was a conscious appropriation on Dvořák’s part, of Stephen Foster’s “Oh, Susannah!” In the tumultuous final movement, Allegro con fuoco, I sensed an influx of Slavic soul; on the way out I said to my wife that it seemed to me like John Philip Souza filtered through Modest Mussorgsky. I then had to explain that I didn’t mean it in a bad way.

Dmitri Shostakovich, considered by some to be the greatest composer of the past century, wrote his first violin concerto in 1947-48 and dedicated it to David Oistrakh, considered by some to be the greatest violinist of that century. It  may be one of the most challenging works ever written for the solo violinist.  According to Keller’s notes, Oistrakh “asked Shostakovich to show mercy.”

Dmitri Dmitriyevich, please consider letting the orchestra take over the first eight bars in the finale so as to give me a break, then at least I can wipe the sweat off my brow.

Shostakovich readily assented to Oistrakh’s plea. However, the concerto wasn’t performed until 1955, two years after Stalin’s death. Keller notes that the great cellist Mstislav Rostrapovich blamed the delay of its release on Oistrakh, implying that he was daunted by the work’s difficulty. But Keller argues that the delay was occasioned by Soviet politics.  Like many other artists, Shostakovich fell in and out of favor during the Stalin years, depending on the dictator’s whims. In 1945, following the defeat of the Nazis, Stalin wanted nothing but art that expressed unreserved triumphalism.  Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, published that year, was judged lacking in patriotic fervor, and therefore considered “decadent.” As a consequence, Shostakovich lost his teaching position at the Leningrad Conservatory and became, in Keller’s words, “indelibly traumatized and paranoid.” This may have caused his reluctance to release a work that might, like his Ninth, be characterized as containing “formalist perversions and antidemocratic tendencies…alien to the Soviet people and its artistic tastes.”

The video above is the best I could find of the concerto’s spectacular final movement. The soloist is the Russian violinist Vadim Repin, with the Orchestre de Paris conducted by Paavo Järvi. There’s also a black-and-white, somewhat grainy video of Oistrakh, who died in 1974, doing the cadenza here. These are both magnificent performances; Zimmerman’s on Friday evening was similarly awesome.

Source: Self-Absorbed Boomer

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Around Brooklyn, History

Next Homer Fink ‘Hidden Brooklyn Heights Walking Tour’: April 21

April 15, 2012

The next jocular, wonderfully educational Homer Fink’s Hidden Walking Tour takes place this coming Saturday, April 21, at 11 a.m. Learn about the odd, weird, controversial and amusing history of America’s First Suburb over a sprawling 90 minutes of fun, led by the faithful kingpin of the Brooklyn Heights Blog, Cobble Hill Blog and Brooklyn Bugle. More info is available by clicking on the black box at the top left of the BHB home page.

Source: Brooklyn Heights Blog » Brooklyn History

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