No Ordinary Hat Rack

hat rack

Moving to another country is not simple, externally or internally. I have been excited and full of thoughts, but sometimes a wave of sadness hits me. That’s to be expected; any big life change, even a joyous one, probably comes with some sadness. I was paddling atop one of those waves when the doorbell rang; upon opening the door, I found a big box waiting. I knew what it was, but when I cut through the tape, pulled back the cardboard, and saw the gleaming green hat rack, my sadness skedaddled, landing me on dry ground. I spent a few minutes turning the rack in the light.

Over the past year I have written a few pieces about my great-granduncle Charles Fischer (the oldest brother of my great-grandfather), his company (the Chas. Fischer Spring Co.), and his inventions. Three people wrote to me in response:

1. Robert Charles Fischer, Charles Fischer’s grandson, with whom I have now met several times in person, to my joy;

2. A person inquiring about the drum magazine (manufactured by the Chas. Fischer Spring Co.) for the Thompson Submachine Gun, which was used in World War II;

3. A person in Ontario (a couple, rather) who owned a hat rack manufactured by the Chas. Fischer Spring Co. and wanted to know whether I would like to have it. Of course I said yes; I was thrilled. Here it is! I’m bringing it with me to Hungary.

Look at this lovely thing. Each hat rests atop a spring, to which a cord is attached. You can mount the rack high up in the closet or hallway and then just pull the cord of the hat you want. The stamp (which is faint) says PATENT APPL’D FOR / THE CHAS FISHER SPRING CO / BRROKLYN, NY. I couldn’t find the patent for this particular rack, but there’s a 1926 patent for an altogether different one. I don’t know which one came first.

It’s easy to take hat racks for granted–I’ve never even had one before–but they help you not only save space  but preserve the hats themselves. Putting them on a stand is much better than heaping them together on a shelf. The hat rack brings to mind a time when clothes were durable and people took good care of them. (That practice hasn’t entirely vanished, but it takes more determination.) Taking care of your clothes allowed you to survive on little money; you didn’t often have to buy new things.

Charles Fischer came to the U.S. from Hungary in 1890, at age 14, with his parents and seven siblings. From what I gather, they had lived in both Budapest and Györke (now Ďurkov, Slovakia). In the U.S., they started out at 346 East 3rd Street in Manhattan; then they moved elsewhere (Brooklyn, other parts of Manhattan, and Queens). Charles began working as a toolmaker before specializing in springs and founding his own company. It seems that he never went to school here; he began working right away. Yet the patent specifications are written in clear and elegant prose; the logic is clearly his, and the words probably are too. Someone may have edited his spelling and grammar, but the descriptions and explanations must have been his own.

I will write more about his inventions in future posts and essays; for now, I am delighting in the rack–not only the rack, but the thoughtfulness of the people who sent it to me. I can’t wait to mount it in Szolnok and put my hats on it. I will take good care of them all.

 

I added a detail to this piece after posting it.

Noah and the End of Endings

Noah's Sacrifice

The following post is not only for those of Jewish faith, or even the religious in general; the Biblical verses on Noah and the flood have meaning that transcends particular belief.

As I prepare to read three aliyot of Noah* this coming Shabbat, I am moved by the divine shift in these verses. Genesis 6:13 reads,

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים לְנֹחַ, קֵץ כָּל-בָּשָׂר בָּא לְפָנַי–כִּי-מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ חָמָס, מִפְּנֵיהֶם; וְהִנְנִי מַשְׁחִיתָם, אֶת-הָאָרֶץ.

And God said unto Noah: ‘The end of all flesh is come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

God doesn’t destroy them all, though; He saves Noah, his wife, his sons, and his sons’ wives. They must survive and bear the kind of loss that makes a whole life reel. The survival must be its own good.

I think of “Still, Citizen Sparrow” by Richard Wilbur, who died on Saturday at the age of 96. I quote just the last two stanzas (starting with the first full sentence):

…. Forget that he could bear
To see the towns like coral under the keel,
And the fields so dismal deep. Try rather to feel
How high and weary it was, on the waters where
He rocked his only world, and everyone’s.
Forgive the hero, you who would have died
Gladly with all you knew; he rode that tide
To Ararat; all men are Noah’s sons.

“Forgive the hero”–that is, the person who goes through all this cannot possibly be pleasant. People do not want to see what he saw; because his whole manner reflects what he saw, they find him “unnatural.” But Wilbur hints at something beyond the suffering. Through seeing “the towns like coral under the keel,” through riding that tide where it was so “high and weary,” Noah changed the world.

I have many thoughts on the poem, but I’ll return to Genesis now. Here there’s no hint of Noah’s thoughts, no mention of his suffering. We only get to picture the destruction along with him: the waters rising fifteen cubits high, all flesh dying, all life being blotted out, except the life in the ark.

But when the earth dries, Noah, after stepping out of the ark at God’s command, builds an altar (without being so commanded) and makes burnt offerings. God smells the sweet savor and says (Genesis 8:21-22),

וַיָּרַח יְהוָה, אֶת-רֵיחַ הַנִּיחֹחַ, וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-לִבּוֹ לֹא-אֹסִף לְקַלֵּל עוֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּר הָאָדָם, כִּי יֵצֶר לֵב הָאָדָם רַע מִנְּעֻרָיו; וְלֹא-אֹסִף עוֹד לְהַכּוֹת אֶת-כָּל-חַי, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי.

עֹד, כָּל-יְמֵי הָאָרֶץ: זֶרַע וְקָצִיר וְקֹר וָחֹם וְקַיִץ וָחֹרֶף, וְיוֹם וָלַיְלָה–לֹא יִשְׁבֹּתוּ.

And the LORD smelled the sweet savour; and the LORD said in His heart: ‘I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.’

There is extensive commentary on each word of this; I will focus here on the reversal of “the end of all flesh.” It was really “the end of all flesh with a few worthy exceptions”–but even such an end, according to these verses, will never happen again. The end has ended.

Whatever one’s religious perspective, one sees here, in these verses, a permanent shift in the divine. What happened with Noah could happen only once; maybe that is God’s atonement for the toll it took, but in any case, a changed God emerges, one who will never again smite every living being.

But the reason is strange: “for the imagination [purpose, plan] of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” One would think that human goodness, not evil, would dissuade God from acting in this way again. Rashi comments,

from his youth: This is written מִנְּעֻרָיו [i.e., without a “vav,” implying that] from the time that he [the embryo] shakes himself [נִנְעָר] to emerge from his mother’s womb, the evil inclination is placed in him. — [from Gen. Rabbah 34:10]

So one can understand these verses as follows: I, who created humans, must bear responsibility for who they are. Their evil is not just their own doing; it has been with them since their birth. Although I may punish them (and allow them to harm each other), I will never destroy them altogether, because their condition comes not only from them, but from me.

But there’s more happening here. God says  this after smelling the “sweet savour” of Noah’s sacrifice–and it was unprecedented among sacrifices, sweeter, maybe, than any that came before, because Noah performed it after participating in God’s plan for his survival–survival at the cost of happiness, of peace of mind. Noah’s sacrifice, his suffering, has already been enough by any standard, but he follows it with the formal sacrifice, which moves God to speak “in His heart [or mind, or seat of intention]” (אֶל-לִבּוֹ). So there could be a meaning like this:

Just as I answered evil, so I now answer good; evil will always abound, but good can change even the heart of God. I am changed by Noah’s obedience and piety, and not only by his character and actions, but by his life, this cherished life, this life that all along was everything. Accepting this sacrifice, smelling its sweetness, I cannot be the same God as before; I cannot put an end to all life, even with a few exceptions, ever again.

Whatever one’s religious, agnostic, atheistic or other views of life, one can imagine these verses, imagine a God profoundly shaken by the goodness of a man.

What does this mean here and now? It doesn’t mean that we should stop worrying about destruction; the threat of destruction is real. Nor does it mean that the good people are rescued and the bad ones destroyed. It means, maybe, that any of us can sit still with goodness, take it in, and, as a result, change forever how we deal with others.

So difficult it is to take in goodness; goodness itself is difficult. It isn’t always recognized; sometimes it’s mistaken for something else. Even when recognized, it isn’t easy to accept or fathom. Receiving another person’s goodness, one also receives the loneliness, the singularity. I don’t know exactly what it does, this “sweet savour,” but I think it leaves a person slightly gentler than before.

 

 

*In synagogue services, when Torah is read, the portion is divided into aliyot, which are actually honors with blessings. A member of the congregation, or sometimes a guest, is called up for an aliya; this person recites the blessings before and after the reading. In the past, the person receiving the honor would also read the Torah verses; today there is usually a separate reader. The reader chants the text according to cantillation principles. I will be reading at both the children’s service and the main service; hence the span of verses.  (This is my last Shabbat at B’nai Jeshurun before I leave for the ALSCW Conference and then for Hungary.)

The English translations of the Biblical verses are from the JPS 1917 edition (courtesy of the Mechon Mamre website). In two places I added alternate translations in brackets.

Image: James Jacques Joseph Tissot, Noah’s Sacrifice, Gouache on board, c. 1896-. The Jewish Museum (New York City).

The Not-So-Brief Soul of Wit

chasing the last laughI have not yet read the book pictured to the left (Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain’s Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour by Richard Zacks). I learned about it yesterday, early in the morning, when looking lackadaisically into humor and wit. Although I had resolved to buy no more books before leaving for Hungary–no more!–I broke down and ordered this one, because it looks too good to pass up. I didn’t know that Twain was a stand-up comedian or that he went on a world tour–or maybe once upon a time I knew this, “But, being over-full of self-affairs, / My mind did lose it.” (I did know that he was friends with Tesla, but that’s a separate matter.)

Yesterday I was thinking not about comedy in particular but about what makes some people uproariously and endearingly funny. Comedy and funniness are not identical; comedy is not always funny, nor do funny things necessarily constitute comedy. Funniness has many sources: it can come from setting up and breaking logical, semantic, and conversational expectations; taking an idea to an absurd conclusion; bringing a particular rhythm, tone, and timing into your speech; performing an exquisite imitation; and more. Today I will look at one ever-gurgling spring of funniness: the ability to exult in your foibles.

We all have foibles of one kind or another; many of us struggle with them daily. A comedian takes them and makes the most of them. Human fallibility attains splendor while retaining its clumsiness and silliness.

For example, some of us can be a pest at times. I am generally patient and unfazed by things–but when I really want to get something done, and it depends on other people, I will bug them until the thing is accomplished, whatever it may be. Sometimes I feel guilty about this; I type and untype an email, hover over the “send” button, delete the whole mess, start over, and repeat the process several times until I end up just sending the thing. It’s always polite–I don’t “flame” people–but still I may feel like a pest.

So when I listen to James Veitch give one of his talks about replying to spammers, I see that he’s taking this quality–being a pest, or feeling like one–and lifting it to its pinnacle. If you are going to be a pest, whom better to pester than those who are aggressively pestering the world: spammers with spurious business proposals? Veitch managed to get one of them so annoyed that he or she (the spammer) finally replied, “PLEASE STOP EMAILING US.” Now, in daily life, with people I know or even with strangers, I wouldn’t want this to happen–I’d be sad and remorseful if it did–but with a spammer, it seems beautifully fitting.

My one objection to his talk is that, in keeping with the TED worldview, he tells his audience, “do do this at home.” He qualifies this by saying they should use fake email addresses, but still, that’s bad advice. He can do this because he has a flair for it. Others could get themselves into trouble. It wouldn’t be the same. The TED illusion–that everyone can do this, whatever “this”  may be–detracts a little from his act. The best way to share in humor and wit is to laugh along, to recognize oneself in it, while also letting it belong to someone else.  Most of us know the feeling of trying to retell someone else’s joke: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, it’s not the same. Funniness is like a soap bubble. Its air is internal.

Another foible (if one can call it that) is awkwardness. Many of us know the feeling of being a little out of sorts and out of place in a setting–not quite saying the right thing, or saying too much, or not saying enough. Some comedians–such as Ismo Leikola–take their own awkwardness and turn it into a glowing orb. Many performers transcend their awkwardness, but certain comedians actually preserve and exalt it. You see Leikola stuttering and puttering around, flapping his arms, and having a grand old time.

On a different level, and in a different way, this foible-lifting is part of what I love in László Krasznahorkai’s prose. He takes you dancing in the characters’ vanities and exaggerations. When reading The Melancholy of Resistance, I burst out laughing many times; when reading Mrs. Eszter’s funeral oration at the end, I laughed myself to tears. The laughter came from the recognition of mind–not the brooding reminiscence of Philip Roth’s characters, but something inflated, clumsy, profound, absurd, and wondrous.

To make the most of foibles, comedians, humorists, and writers perceive kairos (in the ancient Greek sense of the word, not the Christian sense): the opportune moment, which comes again and again in life. Foibles are not always fun or funny, but each one has its spectacular hour or series of hours. That takes us into comedy itself. If comedy turns a potentially threatening, destructive, or even catastrophic situation into something life-affirming (or, at worst, darkly persistent), then, by playing out a foible at just the right moment, by being both flawed and exquisite at once, one can launch a round-the-world comedy tour, not like Mark Twain, but in and along an unrepeatable way.

 

I made a few edits to this piece after posting it.

 

A Cedar Rule of Friendship

bench

Friendship has become like plastic wrap: stretchable over everything, yet easily poked and ripped. The word has become thin in meaning; in a Facebook context, a “friend” may be someone we’ve never met, have met but may never get to know, or have known for years. With a few clicks, you can “unfriend” someone; friendship is not a commitment but a “status.”

All of this has been said before, by many people. I am about to propose a cedar rule that can make friendship more meaningful, no matter what its depth or context. It’s difficult to follow, but it seems good as an aspiration. (I call it a “cedar rule” rather than a “golden rule” because cedar suggests durability and majesty. It’s one of the most vivid symbols in the Hebrew Bible. (See Psalm 92 and Ezekiel 31, for instance.)

The cedar rule is this: Never say anything about your friend that you are unwilling to tell him or her directly. Moreover, avoid speaking disparagingly about anyone, friend or not.

This goes for a stranger, a best friend, and anyone in between. A friend of any kind or level deserves this dignity.

I am using the pronoun “you”  not to be preachy but rather to avoid the awkwardness of “one,” the insularity of “I,” and the groupiness of “we.” Pronouns can be a pain (and I would say this to their face).

Now, some would object: What’s the harm in talking about my friend to someone removed from the situation? There’s no harm, if this conversation prepares you to speak directly with the friend. But if it replaces such conversation, it’s a way of keeping the friend in the dark about your thoughts and needs (specifically regarding the friendship).

If you are annoyed with a friend’s habits (of being late, of texting too much, of showing off, of not replying to an email, of putting people down), then the question becomes: How important is this person to me? If important, there are two choices: put up with the habits, or address them directly. Talking about them to someone else is not fair; it does not give the friend a chance to respond. The friend may think you’re fine with it all.

In addition, disparaging talk (even with the person’s knowledge) does damage and should be avoided in general. This idea is a bit harder to take; my own response would be, “so, am I supposed to pretend I just love everyone, that everyone is great, that there are no human flaws in the world? Must I avoid saying anything about Trump, then?”

No–there is a difference between criticism and disparagement. It’s possible to object to a person’s actions–frankly and fully, laying your cards on the table–without putting the person down or claiming superiority. Public figures are automatically subject to criticism because of their responsibility to the public; but even there, the criticism can hold to standards.

Jewish law forbids “lashon hara“–the evil tongue–defined as speech that says something negative about a person, is not intended to correct the situation, and is true. It’s the second quality here–speech not intended to correct the situation–that sets “lashon hara” apart from helpful criticism.

So when criticizing, be specific, do away with the sneer, acknowledge your own limitations, and allow the person to respond to your complaint. In all cases seek the good. Aristotle saw the best friendship as the kind based in good will (eunoia). While he considered it rare (and while he was probably right), its underlying principle can serve as a general guide.

The two parts of this rule depend on each other. To treat a friend justly, you must have a foundation of just speech in general–that is, speech that provides an opening for the good. With people in general, it is sufficient to avoid putdowns and hurtful gossip. With friends, you go one step further by saying directly to them whatever you would say about them, including the most thoughtful and helpful criticism in the world.

Of course there are qualifications to this, particularly when it comes to praise. Sometimes direct praise can become too much for the recipient; indirection may be kinder (and will rarely cause harm). But even there, it’s worth asking: Am I willing to say this directly to the person, and if not, why not? Sometimes people have little idea how much they are respected and appreciated; it would help them to know. Or sometimes the excessive gush has other, less honorable, causes; in that case it may be worth holding back a little, even from the wide world with its vast indifferent ears.

If the cedar rule were applied to all friendships–light or serious, distant or close, online or offline–how much the discourse would improve! Not only would people speak more kindly, but when they had an issue with someone, they would approach the person directly. What trust and good work this would engender. This doesn’t require intimacy or stiff formality; all it requires is care with humans and words. “All” it requires! This may be the greatest human challenge: to treat words and humans with care.

 

I took the photo in Central Park a few weeks ago.

I edited and added to this piece after posting it.

A Three-Act Play in Sonnet Form

man-leaning-on-a-parapet-1881.jpg!Large

There are probably other three-act plays in sonnet form; if you know of any, please mention them in the comments! The idea occurred to me yesterday; I couldn’t resist trying it out.

The Rays of Royal Hope

A Sonnet in Three Acts

 

Dramatis Personae

King
Queen

Act 1

[Twilight. A parapet. A sword.]

King: Behold: a kingdom lies beneath my sword.
Queen: Expect no miracles. The deed is done.
King: O may we see new things under the sun!
Queen: Long may we live, and may we not be bored.

Act 2

[Midnight. Darkness. An antechamber.]

Queen: No more, no more, ennui! The cord, the cord—
King: Eh, would you end so soon? We have no son….
Queen: Of light I speak! Please pull the tassel, hon.
King: As you command, so acts your loving lord.

Act 3

[Morning. A terrace. Coffee and croissants.]

Queen: Now that the sun hath cast its rays above….
King: Let us say “has”—we live in modern times—
Queen: So let us cast our hopes. I sense a child.
King: I hope with you; I hope with all my wild….
Queen:  Longings and songs, the purview of my love….
King: You said it well, my lady. And it rhymes.

 

Painting: Georges Seurat, Man Leaning on a Parapet (1879-1881). Courtesy of WikiArt.

Villanelle: Goodbye to a Guitar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is my first villanelle in a while. The last one was a few years ago, I think, but I didn’t keep it.

Goodbye to a Guitar

Goodbye and getting rid are not the same.
I lift you up and lay you in your case;
you echo as though hollowed of my claim.

I played you rarely and I played you tame,
but still you rumbled forth your chordal lace.
Goodbye and getting rid are not the same.

I strum amiss and try to slap the blame
by rapping on the crack that splits your face.
You echo as though hollowed of my claim.

One day, in chords alone, you asked my name,
which might have spelled an end to this embrace.
Goodbye and getting rid are not the same.

“I could have dropped you in a dump of shame,
brushed off my pants, and shrugged at your disgrace,”
you echo, as though hollowed of my claim.

O may you play in sweet strong hands, in fame
or home, and may my ear pick up a trace—
goodbye and getting rid are not the same—
…..
You echo, as though hollowed of my claim.

 

I made three small changes to this poem (two punctuation changes and one word change) after posting it.

Guitar painting by Mark Beck. Courtesy of the Herron Guitars website.

Languages and Bikes

IMG_3794

People often ask me how many languages I speak and how I manage to learn them. I have a hard time answering the first question; I reply, “It depends on what you mean by ‘speak.'” Languages require upkeep; if I don’t practice a language, I become hesitant in it, and my accent grows thicker. Good pronunciation is much like playing in tune: essential to the music. Considering all of this, I often believe that I speak only English. But I can converse in several languages, read silently and aloud in a few more, and bumble around in a few more. The challenge is to get better at them.

As for the second question, how I do it, there’s nothing I “do” except steep myself in the language, way above my level. I don’t learn languages systematically. Or rather, the systematic learning is just one part of the whole. I learn by listening–to songs, poetry, prose, everyday speech–and sticking out my neck and making mistakes, saying things I don’t know how to say yet. A sequence of lessons can help. But if I were to limit myself to language classes, I wouldn’t get very far. This has less to do with the quality of the classes than with the limitations of language classes overall. I need the confrontation with words, sounds, and constructions that I don’t yet understand. For instance, yesterday I made some mistakes in my translation of a Hungarian folk song, but those mistakes were important. Two mistakes I caught on my own; at least two more I saw with help.

Sometimes it’s good to wade through language, with minnows around the ankles and pebbles and mud in the toes; sometimes it’s worthwhile to take up one of the pebbles and look at it for a while. From the photo above, which I took in Albertirsa in September, and from some other sources, I learned that there are at least five Hungarian words for bicycle: “bringa,” “kerékpár” (literally “a pair of wheels”), “bicaj,” “bicikli,” and the lovely old-fashioned “vasparipa,” “iron steed.” “Bringa doki” (in the photo) clearly means “bike doctor.” “Bringázz a munkába” (found elsewhere) means “bike to work.” The etymology of “bringa” is unclear. “Bringa” and “vasparipa” are my favorites here; I bet that if I refer to my future bike as a “vasparipa,” I’ll get some quizzical looks.

Wait: it seems that there are even more words for “bicycle”! Holy spokes; this is getting better and better. Here’s a list: vas, bicikli, vasparipa, bicaj, bringa, kenyérgőzös (“bread-steamer?”), vasszamár (“iron donkey”), velocipéd, kétkerekű (“two-wheeler”), drótszamár (“wire donkey”–a third favorite now), cajga, canga.

This stuff is both fun and substantial. I can learn a lot even when puttering around. That’s another great thing about learning languages: there are times for intensive study, times for utter bewilderment, and times for sitting back and enjoying a word or ten.

 

I made a small addition to this piece after posting it.

 

 

“Az erdei dalos madárnak is van párja….”

e8efb2131afd2eacedf4cef1f4f1fa53--postage-stamps-journalingThroughout my life, I have listened to folk songs and music from around the world–Bulgarian, Russian, Polish, Brazilian, Cape Verdean, Bengali, French, Irish, Dutch, Israeli, Hungarian, and many other songs and traditions. Folk songs and music go right to the heart. In a sense they need no mediation. But their meaning can be especially opaque; it can take years to understand them.

So it is with a Hungarian song I encountered, “Zöld erdőben de magos” (“A green but magical forest”). It starts out with an aching loneliness and then moves into revelry, ending with some kind of wild romance with a young “Gypsy” girl (“cigány lány”). From a modern standpoint, the song has a troubling aspect, especially at the end. That’s often the case with folk songs; they express passions and prejudices that “civilized” society rejects (on the surface, anyway). Keeping this in mind, I love the song’s intensity and allusiveness. It hints at a story instead of telling one. It creates motion. It reminds me a little of the songs in Federico García Lorca‘s Blood Wedding (Bodas de sangre)–and of Carlos Saura’s film as well. But I will need a long time to get to know it; translation is no simple matter here, and even a good translation does not come close to revealing all the meaning. (I have found no English translation online, but it may well exist in a book or CD booklet.)

Here are the first two verses, with my rough translation, and here’s my attempt at singing them (I am a beginner in Hungarian, but singing helps me learn). For the translation, I started with Google Translate but found it utterly unsuited to this task, so I corrected it as well as I could. Then I received some additional notes from a friend. It seems that sejehaj has no translation; it’s an interjection comparable to “heigh-ho.” The translation below incorporates my friend’s translation into my own (with her permission).

Zöld erdőben de magos, zöld erdőben de magos a juharfa,
Kicsi madár, a fészkét, kicsi madár a fészkét odarakja,
Az erdei dalos madárnak is van párja,
Csak én magam egyedül, csak én magam egyedül vagyok árva.

Rózsa, rózsa, rózsafa, rózsa, rózsa, tearózsa levele,
Nem beszéltem, sejehaj, nem beszéltem a rózsámmal az este,
A zsebkendőm is nála van a zsebébe,
Visszahozza, sejehaj, visszahozza, ha akarja az este.

In the green woods, in the green woods, the maple trees are so tall,
Little birds build, the nest, little birds build their nest.
The forest song birds have their mates,
Only I alone, only I alone am an orphan.

Rose, rose, rosewood, rose, rose, leaf of rose,
I did not talk, sejehaj, I did not talk to my rose in the evening,
My pocket handkerchief is in her pocket,
She’ll bring it back, sejehaj, she’ll bring it back in the evening if she wishes.

I learned the melody and rhythm from a beautiful performance by Szalonna és Bandája (with the singer Eszter Pál).

I found another recording, entirely instrumental, of a different and lovely melody of the song:

I look forward to finding out how much more I understand of this song in one, two, five, ten years. First the words may come, then the musical forms, then the associations, then the song’s history, then all of these together in new ways. Or the sequence might be different or nonexistent. Understanding comes in stages, with detail and clarity, but it is not a procession.

 

 

Image credit: Hungarian postage stamp, courtesy of Pinterest. (I changed the image after posting the piece; the earlier one was of a nightingale’s nest.)

After I posted the piece, a friend sent me an accurate translation of the song; I incorporated some of her translation in mine (with permission). If anyone else (who knows Hungarian) wishes to comment on the translation, please do not hesitate! It is a work in progress, and these are just the first two verses.

Pictures and Permission

IMG_4110When it comes to photographing my fellow humans, I am often in a bind; I prefer candid shots but don’t like to take photos of people without their permission. But there is a middle way; sometimes, through asking permission, I make a genuine connection, even for a few seconds, which leads to a lovely photo. So, while I didn’t ask permission to take the photo to the left or immediately below, all the others have permission and a story.

IMG_4116Yesterday a friend told me about the medieval festival (an annual tradition) in Fort Tryon Park, so I decided to go see it. I had caught the tail end of it two years ago and missed it entirely last year. I headed up the hill around 3:30 in the afternoon. It was a glorious day. All sorts of things were going on: a human chess game, knights in battle, music, magic tricks. Many people had dressed up for the occasion. I saw many colorful and elaborate costumes, but this was the most beautiful of all. I asked the woman whether I could take her photo, and she said yes and beamed. When I complimented her costume, she said, “I made it.”

IMG_4115 Then I saw a boy in an epic sword battle with his little sister. I asked the mom whether I could take a photo, and she said yes–but just at that moment, the girl hurt her thumb and started to cry. I walked away so as not to be in the way. A few minutes later, I came back, the brother and sister were at it again, and the mom asked them to slow down so that I could take some good pictures. I caught the tail end of the pinnacle of the fight. The slow motion only intensified it.

After witnessing such a display of martial arts, I was due for some music, so I found some troubadours. With permission, I took their picture, and they played for a few seconds. Then one of them asked, “You’re taking photos, not a video, right?” I assured them that this was so. Then they played a spirited song, and then another. I stayed for a while.

Yes, I will miss Fort Tryon Park. But probably this very thought pushed me to speak to these people and take these photos. I am usually shy about that sort of thing, but running out of time can make a person bolder.

 

I made a few edits to this piece after posting it.