Thursday, September 17, 2009

Quick Takes

1. Earlier this week I came across an interesting old article in The Washington Post. Apparently at some point in January 2007, Joshua Bell, one of the world's leading violinists, opened his violin case in a crowded subway station during rush hour and, for the next 45-minutes, proceeded to play. The question was, would anybody stop to listen? Reportedly, not many. A handful of people lingered, here and there, before rushing off, unwilling to be late for work, but he never actually drew a crowd. From this, the article writers drew a host of comfortably predictable conclusions: basically, Americans are unsophisticated workaholics; and, he would have drawn a crowd in Europe. Maybe, but I wonder. After all, mid-level employees in Rome or Paris or London also have to get to work. The pace of big-city life isn't exactly slow even there. It's interesting though and I'm curious, what do you think? Why didn't anybody stop to listen? What would you have done had you been there?

2. Another interesting experiment: write 365 sonnets in a single year. Canadian teenager, Mike Fan, didn't, but he tried. Two years later, he's still writing. You can read his work at 365 Sonnets. Check it out! Some of his poems are actually pretty good.

3. On a wildly different note, do you drink beer? I don't usually, but the other night Chris brought some Czech beer home with him from Germany and it was surprisingly delicious. In the Czech Republic it's called Budweiser (although it's not affiliated with the American brand), but in the US I think it's sold as Budvar. If you're a beer drinker, you should give it a try!

4. Who's your favorite Italian writer? Lately I've been reading a lot of Giovanni Verga. Is there anybody else you'd recommend?

5. I've been thinking a lot about Art (that's right, the kind with a capital A) these past few days and it makes me wonder, what inspires you?

6. My quick takes this week feel painful. For some reason I'm hesitating to write anything too personal. Penelope cried this morning when Chris left for work. Really, really cried. She was trapped in her highchair, blueberry-stained tears streaming down her cheeks, and when I let her out she raced over to the door. She was banging on the wood, crying "Daddy! Daddy! Where Daddy?" I don't know how to tell her that he has to work. Sometimes, he has to be gone. She misses him so much when he's away. Today we were supposed to decide for sure whether or not he's going to stay in the Navy, but now we don't know what to do. We don't want to sell his presence in her life (or Katherine's either), but we just can't give up on all that security--health care, the assurance of a steady job--right now either. Like I said, we just don't know what to do.

7. Well, that's it for me. I guess this week I don't have 7. (Except, blogger users out there: does your spell check feature work? Mine never does and it's getting annoying.) If you're looking for a full 7 quick takes, head over to Jen at Conversion Diary. And have a great weekend, everyone!


  1. 1. I think we're very un-schooled in instrumental music over here. We don't know good from bad in most cases, and a violisinst standing in the subway would seem to be someone shifty or desperate. Which would make them seem - by association - untalented. False or not. But also, I think that if the people had been alerted to the fact of how famous this guy was, it might have been a different story. They might have stayed to listen even if they didn't know anything about violinists because the prestige of fame is intoxicating. Interesting story.

    6. So sweet and sad about Penelope missing her dad. Mia, every single night, asks her dad "are you going to stay here in the morning?" The hope radiates from her and it kills him to deny her the "yes, sweetie, I am!" I'm sorry you guys are in the middle of a tough decision - hopefully something will be made plainly clear either way.

    7. I've been having trouble with spell check in blogger too. In the new post editor, I can't figure out how to do it. So, I frequently switch back and forth between the new and the old editor, where the spell check is easily located. Even if you write a whole post and then realize you can't spell check it, you can switch editors in the middle of writing and nothing gets lost or changed. I go to Settings, Publishing (I think), scroll most of the way down to a bullet on the new post editor or old. Good luck!

  2. Hey Emily. First of all, good luck with figuring what you guys will do regarding the Navy. I know it must be a hard decision in so many ways and wish you all the best.

    Second of all, I saw the Joshua Bell article a couple years ago and found it interesting as well. However, I took it more that one must be in the right mindset to appreciate something beautiful. Clearly, the author did suggest that Europeans leave that mindset less often, but I am with you that people would not notice as much in large European cities as suggested ... though I think they would benefit from having many more people who play the violin there on average, which could help them appreciate a true virtuoso. Still, I just think this article shows that presentation matters! :)

    As for Sonnets and Czech beer, I have long been a fan of both though to very little personal gain. Ha. However, now I am thinking about beer/poetry combinations and so far have come up with Czeslaw Milosz with Zywiec, T.S. Eliot with a Boddington's Ale, and the somewhat shocking W.B. Yeats with a Belgian Tripel. Somehow though Guinness may be the cause of many an Irishman's poetic tongue, the drink itself just does not seem expressive enough Yeats. :)

    Regarding Italian writers, have you read any Umberto Eco? Surely you have, but I cannot recall discussing it with you.

    Finally, in general I tend to be drawn towards Art that makes me think about something in a new way, see something from a different perspective or feel something deeply discomforting. This is altogether too vague a notion, which is why I consume rather than create such things I suppose. :)

  3. 1. If I needed to be somewhere I wouldn't have stopped to listen, but I would have enjoyed it while I was able to hear it. What would really be interesting, though impossible to know, is how it affected people that day. Were they calmer, kinder, more creative, more inspired? I'll bet the ripples of that music spread farther than anyone would know.

    5. I'm pretty inspired by the pear I drew last night in my drawing class :)

    6. Poor little P. It's hard to be so little. I know you guys will be fine, no matter what you decide, but I also know that doesn't make the decision any easier. I wish it didn't have to be so hard.

  4. Oh, what a big decision! Good luck!
    A couple of Italian writers: Grazia Deledda (Nobel prize in the 20s, her novels are set in rural Sardegna), and Tiziano Terzani (un altro giro di giostra).

  5. I disagree with the premise of the Joshua Bell article that because people didn't stop and listen, they didn't appreciate the music. I take metro to work every morning, and often there is a musician at my stop. Some are decidedly mediocre, occasionally there is someone who is just amazing. I spend the same amount of time listening to all of the them (the time it takes me to head up the escalator and on my way to work), but the AMAZING ones make me smile and stay with me all day. I do think that people can appreciate and be affected by good music, even if they aren't in a place to take the time, stop and listen.

    It's interesting to think about. Thanks for asking the question.

  6. Sarah: I didn't even know there was a "new" editor! It doesn't help with spell check (stupid blogger, I mean how hard could it be to help the poor, lousy spellers of the world?) but's something new! Thanks!

    Jeremy: You're right, I was oversimplifying the argument. I did think it was interesting that every single child who walked by wanted to stop and listen to the music, but very single parent hurried their children on. I can remember sitting with Katherine for an hour listening to the organist practice in an ancient stone church but later only letting her dance for a minute (maybe two) in front of a talented musician on the subway. So yeah, I guess context matters.

    Love your beer/literature combinations. And thanks for the Umberto Eco tip!

    Mom: I absolutely agree. Just listening to the music while you walk could have a huge, but subtle impact on your day.

    Can't wait to hear more about your art class!

    Francesca: Oh! I haven't read either of those authors. Thank you!

    Carrie: Wonderfully well said! I absolutely agree!

  7. You have a beautiful glad to find it...
    Had a free night to blog hop. Hope you will stop by new Christmas blog ...There is a great giveaway that I will draw for on Oct 1st and all you need to do to enter is comment.

  8. Also - I've tried to check up on your other blog lately, and the link isn't it still there?

  9. 1. I actually do believe their would be more - but not by much. Like you say, city life is (unfortunately) city life.

    I don't believe that we are that much more uncultured than the average European. Do they learn more about this starting at a young age? Yes. But just because we didn't have the Renaissance in American doesn't mean we don't have culture - and appreciate quality forms of art! Enrico Caruso sold out plenty of shows when he came to American, right?

    3. Yes! And thanks for the heads-up :-)

  10. Teresa: I always love a good night of blog hopping! Glad you ended up here!

    Sarah: I'm surprised anybody noticed! I took the Typepad blog down. They make it hard to import from blogger and I didn't like having to pay for service on a blog I was writing so slowly. Instead I've been trying to do some "flashback" posts here. Maybe one day I'll figure out a better system, but for now I'm staying put. (I obviously have trouble settling on location, both in life and in the blog-o-sphere!)

    Peter: When we first moved to Europe I had this naive belief that everyone here would be better educated, more cultured, etc. than the people I saw in America. Then I was shocked (SHOCKED!) to see Italian women in ugly, unfashionable outfits or to hear people with lilting British accents cussing each other out in the street. Now I think I'm a little *too* quick to rush to the defense of America. I think you're right, Europeans are probably exposed to more history and culture earlier in life, but I hate the way America is so often dismissed as a "culture-less" society. Does that make sense?