Thursday, May 31, 2007


My parents and my middle brother and Joshua are still trying to decide where we should go later this year, and when.

They are thinking of London in the first two weeks of September. However, London's scorecard is impacted negatively (in my parents' eyes, at least) by the fact that the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum will not have opened their respective seasons until later in the month. Further, there is nothing my parents want to see at the National Theatre during this period, and the September West End offerings are pretty thin and will not pick up until November.

However, Buckingham Palace IS open during this period, as is the Palace Of Westminster, and these venues are open to the public for only a few weeks each year. Consequently, there are advantages and disadvantages in going to London in September.

My parents and my brother and Josh have talked about spending one week in London and one week in Paris, but I am not especially keen on that idea (nor is my brother), since traveling between the two cities on the Eurostar, twice, effectively kills one whole day of sightseeing.

They have also talked about taking two separate journeys, one in October in the week that includes Columbus Day, and one in November in the week that includes Veterans Day, but my brother and I are lobbying against this idea, since that would involve two sets of roundtrip trans-Atlantic flights and two sets of roundtrip airfares, which we would like to avoid. I hope that this idea is off the table.

They have also talked about spending two weeks in Copenhagen in October, a new city they have added to their list of prospects. I would be happy to go to Copenhagen if everyone wants to go there, but I fear that we might find it difficult to find enough interesting things to do in the evening in Copenhagen--the opera and ballet offerings in Copenhagen in October are not particularly stimulating. I also wonder whether we should delay Copenhagen for another time, given that Copenhagen has many similarities with Hamburg, the destination of last year's trip.

I suspect that everyone will settle upon something soon.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Becoming Americanized

My parents had a wonderful time in New York, which I knew they would, visiting my older brother and my sister-in-law and my nephew.

According to my parents, my nephew is talking more than ever now, and he makes all sorts of gleeful noises while he is playing with his toys or sitting in his high chair or walking around the apartment. The whole apartment is now his playground and his castle, and he struts around like he owns the place. (My mother says that he is a carbon copy of his Dad at the same age.) He now has to be watched at all times, because he is prone to explore things and objects, like kitchen cupboards and such.

My nephew still does not get to eat very much meat--it's pretty much boiled chicken for him, and very little else--but my mother did make for him a very, very bland meatloaf. He was given only a small amount, but he absolutely loved it, according to my mother and father.

I think that my nephew was surprised and confused that Josh and my middle brother and I were not there, in the apartment, along with my parents. On Saturday morning, and again Sunday morning, and again yesterday morning, my nephew walked into the living room and looked at the sofas, and looked around the living room, as if he were expecting to find us there. He obviously associates our presence with my parents' presence, and he obviously wondered, since my parents were there, why we were not there, too.

My parents did not go to any theater performances this weekend. They gave some thought to attending "Journey's End", especially since that production is closing soon, but they decided against it.

However, on Sunday afternoon, my mother and my sister-in-law left my father and my brother home with my nephew, and they attended a New York City Ballet performance. Two Balanchine works were on the program: "Mozartiana" and "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2". My mother and my sister-in-law said that the performances were seriously under-rehearsed, perhaps because Peter Martins' new production of Prokofiev's "Romeo And Juliet" had consumed the bulk of the company's rehearsal time.

My sister-in-law loves New York City Ballet. She was born and reared on the repertory and dancers of the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, and that company, for her, was always the gold standard until she moved to New York.

However, after she had been in New York for about a year, my sister-in-law realized that the works of Balanchine were on an entirely higher plane than anything she had been accustomed to seeing on the stage at Covent Garden, and she further realized that the level of dancing at City Ballet was on an entirely higher plane than anything to be seen on the stage in London.

The Royal Ballet repertory still has, as its cornerstone, the works of Kenneth MacMillan (and not, unaccountably, the works of Frederick Ashton), and MacMillan ballets, unlike Balanchine ballets, are not from the hand of a master. In addition to their paucity of sheer choreographic invention, MacMillan ballets, according to my sister-in-law, are nothing more than muddled and lugubrious studies in sexual frustration. Being a psychiatrist, she would know.

Further, American dancers are much faster, and have a much higher level of technical proficiency, than dancers in any European company, including and especially the Royal Ballet.

My sister-in-law can no longer sit through something like MacMillan's "Manon", a choreographic black hole, although ten years ago "Manon" was one of her favorite ballets. My sister-in-law also can no longer watch Royal Ballet dancers without noting how slow they are, and without noting their technical deficiencies.

My mother also loves ballet, and she generally tries to attend a ballet performance during her visits to New York. She has, she says, been seeing "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2" on and off for over thirty years, and yet, she says, she has never seen a decent performance of this great work (which may require more rehearsal time than a repertory company can devote to it). I have seen "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2" only once, and I loved the ballet, even though it was obvious, on a first viewing, that the dancing was not confident or crisp or, when required, in unison.

I often worry about my sister-in-law, whom I love very much and whom I talk to and email practically every day. A native Londoner, she does not like New York. She finds the city itself to be dirty and unpleasant. She finds native New Yorkers to be coarse, and vulgar, and crude, and lacking in manners, and poorly-educated. In fact, she says that New Yorkers are the most provincial people on the face of the earth, insular in their outlook, dogmatic, close-minded, unthinking, thoughtlessly and incessantly spouting the platitudes of the day as if they were paid to do so, and totally ignorant about and uninterested in the world at large.

I find it interesting that my sister-in-law's views about New Yorkers are paralleled by those of a former law professor of mine, who himself is a native New Yorker and who never left New York until he was twenty-five years old. It was not until he left, he often said, that he realized how utterly and insufferbly provincial the place was. He often said that there were four indescribably provincial cities in the world: New York, and the three "S" cities of San Francisco, Seattle and Sydney. Myself, I question whether my former law professor ever visited Atlanta.

My sister-in-law does not believe New York to be a genuine center of culture. She says it is a genuine center of entertainment, but that New York has nothing whatsoever to do with culture, which is a very different thing. She finds the level of theater and opera performance in New York to be shockingly low. She likes the Metropolitan Museum Of Art and the Frick Collection, but she dislikes the Guggenheim and the Whitney and the Museum Of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum, all of which, she says, need new directors and new curators and new installations of their permanent collections.

My sister-in-law thinks that New York is an architectural wasteland. She says that there is not a single important New York novelist or playwright or poet, and that the city has a desolute, if not non-existent, literary life. She says that New York is a city of sensation-seekers.

Happily, my sister-in-law loves my brother, who is completely devoted to her and worthy of her love (and who himself has no views on New York at all; he views it merely as a place where his job is situated), and she loves her son, and she derives great happiness and pleasure from both of them. It is fortunate that my sister-in-law likes Minneapolis (except for the brutal winter weather), and that she likes Midwesterners. I think that she will be happier once she and my brother move to the Twin Cities, a move that is inevitable. My sister-in-law is ready for the move, I believe--in fact, I suspect that she welcomes the prospect of leaving New York and moving to the Twin Cities.

My sister-in-law says that she does not miss Britain. She says that she likes the American way of life, with its lack of red tape and lack of government interference. In fact, she says that she did not even realize how deeply the tendons of government had penetrated into her life until she moved to the U.S.--it was only after she had been here a year or so that it dawned on her how little the government on this side of the Atlantic interfered in the lives of its citizens. She also says that she appreciates the risk-taking nature of Americans, and our optimism, and our work ethic, and our determination, and our openness, and our readiness to take on big projects and big enterprises.

I think that my sister-in-law is in the process of becoming "Americanized'.

A Wonderful Weekend In Denver

Joshua and I had a wonderful weekend in Denver. My brother could not have been a more gracious or more welcoming host.

This weekend was the first time I have gone to Denver to visit my brother since the summer of 2005. When I was still in school, I would generally go visit my brother twice each summer, and I would generally stay for a week or so each time I visited. In addition, when I was in law school, my brother would generally come to Washington to visit me once each semester, and he would generally stay for a long weekend each time he visited. I miss those visits very much.

My brother was waiting for Josh and me at the airport, and he immediately took us home. He gave us a splendid dinner, which he had prepared himself--steak, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, steamed sweet corn, steamed carrots--and after dinner we stayed up late into the night, talking and catching up.

My brother lives in a one-bedroom condominium, which he keeps very clean and very neat. He does not like clutter, and he does not like an over-furnished room--his home has everything he needs to be comfortable, but there is nothing extraneous in his home. I like his condominium very much.

He allowed me to prepare breakfasts for us each morning. I know how he arranges his kitchen, and I know how he likes things done. I keep everything organized the way he likes, so he does not mind that I prepare breakfasts when I am visiting--in fact, he prefers it.

On Saturday, my brother and Josh and I walked around downtown Denver for several hours. Josh had never been to Denver before, and my brother showed Josh all of the major buildings in the center of the city. It was a very nice walk.

At the end of our walk, we visited the Denver Art Museum. We did so, not to examine the artworks, but to examine the new Daniel Libeskind building. The building opened last October, and it attracted a great deal of national attention at the time.

The design clearly was intended to make a "statement". Whatever the merits of the design, the building has not been a success thus far. Only one-third of the new structure is devoted to exhibition space, and this exhibition space overwhelms the artworks on display. The new building has not proven to be the financial windfall many persons had expected, because the museum--pleading financial distress--recently discharged fifteen per cent of its salaried staff. In the months since the new building opened, 340,000 persons have visited the museum, but ten per cent of those visitors came on opening weekend. Last month, almost six months to the day after the new building opened, the museum began replacing--not repairing, but replacing--the roof, which was leaking and causing water to fall on both patrons and artworks. The new building, clearly, is off to an inauspicious start.

Josh and my brother and I did not view the collection at the museum during our visit. None of us was interested in viewing the collection. My brother and I have seen the entire collection, more than once, and Josh was not interested in seeing the collection.

The Denver Art Museum has an extremely unimpressive collection, one of the least interesting and least important collections in the entire museum universe. The museum does not own a single important painting. The museum does not own a single important piece of sculpture. The museum does not own a single important antiquity.

In fact, much of the museum's collection is simply embarrassing. The museum owns mountains and mountains of Art From The American West and mountains and mountains of American Indian Art, almost all of which is indescribable kitsch. The museum also owns quite a lot of Asian Art and quite a lot of Contemporary Art, most of which is kitsch as well. Almost all of these portions of the collection are not of museum quality, are of practically no interest to anyone other than specialists, and are unworthy of display in a city of Denver's size and wealth. In fact, I am not confident that these items would be worthy of display in Grand Island, Nebraska.

The museum also owns a few random European paintings, most of which are 19th-Century French paintings, but none of these paintings is of the first or second rank. There is a collection of British paintings, too, but the British paintings look like remnants from an estate sale--leftovers after art experts had moved in and picked over and removed any good stuff.

The Denver Art Museum is, in many ways, an exact duplicate of the Milwaukee Art Museum and Atlanta's High Museum. All three museums have erected high-profile buildings designed by fashionable architects of the day, but all three museums are bereft of anything worthwhile to display in these new buildings. A worthwhile permanent collection, I believe, is a condition precedent to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new buildings, but trustees in Atlanta, Denver and Milwaukee apparently hold different views on this subject.

Only eight days ago, Philippe De Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, gave an interview to The Independent, the London newspaper. In that interview, he said:

"I think the answer to what makes a great museum is irreducible--it is the collections. The activities, the programs, the exhibitions, the educational materials--all of these things are ancillary to the collections. If a museum does not have great works of art, it is simply not worth visiting. You could put on the most beautiful or timely programs, but without great works their reach will only be local."

The Denver Art Museum fails the Philippe De Montebello test. It is simply not worth visiting. Having now seen the new Libeskind building, I doubt that I shall ever return.

After our Saturday walk and our examination of the Libeskind building, my brother took Josh and me to dinner at a seafood place. After dinner, we returned to my brother's condominium and we watched, on DVD, the movie "Patton", which all three of us had seen, countless times, and which all three of us could watch many times more.

It is amazing how well this film has held up, given how many other films from the early 1970's are too-firmly-grounded in the peculiarities of that era. Contemporaneous films such as "M.A.S.H." and "Midnight Cowboy" are horribly dated and practically unwatchable today, relics of a doomed counterculture. In contrast, "Patton" could have been made yesterday.

On Sunday, we played basketball, and afterward we went to the Wings Over The Rockies Air And Space Museum, which displays aircraft from the 1920's to the 1980's. It is a magnificent museum. My brother and I had visited the museum before, but we were happy to go again and to show Josh the bombers and fighters and transports and reconnaissance aircraft and civilian aircraft on display. The museum also has a few examples of spacecraft and rocketry, as well as a recreation of the Summer White House from the Eisenhower Presidency, during which Ike spent the summer months in Denver. We enjoyed our visit very much.

After the museum, we stopped at a food store and bought some things, and we returned to my brother's place, where I prepared dinner. I made some of my brother's favorite foods. I stuffed and roasted a chicken, and I prepared some other things my brother especially likes: mashed potatoes with sharp cheddar cheese, fresh green beans, fresh parsnips, a special tomato salad our mother makes, a special cabbage and carrot salad our mother makes, and a special pear-strawberry-walnut salad our mother makes. For dessert, I made my brother, from scratch, a cranberry-orange bundt cake, with orange icing. After dinner, we watched, on DVD, the movie "A Bridge Too Far", another fine World War II epic.

Yesterday we did not do much. We had halfway planned to drive down to Colorado Springs to visit the Air Force Academy, but we decided not to go because of the crowds (this weekend was commencement weekend at the Academy, with upwards of 10,000 visitors expected to throng the grounds). Instead, we played basketball again, and afterward we returned to my brother's place, where we hung out--and cooked some food for my brother to eat during the coming week--until it was time for my brother to take Josh and me to the airport.

We were sorry to leave him. My brother is wonderful company, and I like being with him as often as possible. We shall see him again soon, because he will come home for the week of July 4, arriving on the evening of Friday, June 29.

My brother will have more visitors before the summer is over--my parents are going to fly to Denver to spend a weekend with him in August.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Weekend Destinations

Early tomorrow evening, we will all depart for our weekend destinations: Joshua and I will head for Denver, and my parents will head for New York. Theoretically, our respective flights are supposed to take off one minute apart.

My father and Josh and I are all going to leave work a couple of hours early tomorrow and meet up at my parents' house, so that we can all go to the airport in one car.

I am looking forward to the weekend very much.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Travel Destinations

A November trip to Turkey is no longer on the table.

That idea did not last long.

The Ankara bombing yesterday put an end to that notion, especially after my parents read the travel warnings subsequently issued by the foreign offices of Australia and Britain. The U.S. Department Of State has not yet commented, at least insofar as I can ascertain, upon the most recent terrorist bombing in Turkey.

Today my middle brother sent me--as well as my parents and Joshua--a news story from one of the London newspapers. The story enumerated the many different terrorist bombings in Turkey since 2003. There has been a startling number of such bombings, many more than I had realized. The bombings are now increasing in frequency, and the bombings are now clearly targeting tourist areas, including those in Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara and Antalya, all of which we had planned to visit. I see from the London newpaper article that many British visitors to Turkey have already been killed or injured in these bombings.

This is the third time that terrorist bombings have prevented my parents from traveling.

My parents had planned a trip to Turkey between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2003, and the November 2003 bombing in Istanbul--the massive one, which destroyed the British Consulate--caused them to cancel that trip.

Their substitute trip for the cancelled 2003 Turkey trip was to be a trip to Spain in March 2004. Two days before my parents were scheduled to depart on that trip, the Madrid bombings occurred. My parents cancelled that trip, too.

I can understand my parents' concerns. They do not want to have to worry about safety during a vacation.

In this day and age, it almost seems that every conceivable destination carries undue risks. Myself, I believe that the most dangerous city for visitors, for the last several years, has been London. All major European cities have large unassimilated immigrant populations, but London has the largest number of unassimilated immigrants, both in absolute terms and in terms of the percentage of the city's population. It is inevitable that there will be more terrorist attacks in London.

My middle brother and I were in London--staying in the King's Cross area!--on July 7, 2005, the day of the London bombings. We generally left our hotel at 8:00 a.m. every morning, but that particular morning we left the hotel at 9:00 a.m., since we were going to spend the day at the Imperial War Museum, which does not open until 10:00 a.m. When we approached the King's Cross station, we noticed that there were mobs of persons standing outside. We learned about the terrorist attacks from persons on the street, who informed us that the station had been evacuated as soon as bombs had exploded on two trains shortly after those trains had departed from the station. My brother and I immediately returned to our hotel in order to watch the news on television. The first thing we did back at the hotel was to send our parents an email message, letting them know that we were safe. We stayed at the hotel for the remainder of the day, watching television, because everything in London--businesses, offices, museums, churches, historic sites, restaurants--closed shortly after the attacks.

My brother and I had been in London in the summers of 2003 and 2004, too, and long before July 7, 2005, we had always been uncomfortable riding the London Tube. We did so anyway, daily, as there really is no satisfactory alternative mode of transport to get around the city. I am sure that we will ride the London Tube countless times in future, too, but it will nevertheless continue to make us extremely uncomfortable.

Now that Turkey is off the table, at least for now, Joshua and my brother and my parents are considering some other travel destinations (London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Venice and Lisbon), and they are trying to figure out which city or cities to select. They are looking at the months of September, October and November. I told Josh that it did not matter to me where we went, or when.

One thing is clear to me, however--it seems that my parents and my brother and Josh have all worked out among themselves that we will all go together, whatever the destination, and whatever the dates of the journey. This is perfectly fine with me, as long as it makes everyone else happy.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Travel Bug

My parents have the travel bug. They are itching to go somewhere.

Their current notion is to go to Turkey, on a guided tour. They are contemplating a two-week escorted tour of Turkey in November, and they want my middle brother and Josh and me to join them.

My parents came across this particular escorted tour in a brochure, naturally. I believe that my parents are ordering far too many brochures, and I fear that it may soon be time to begin restricting their mail privileges.

My parents are extremely reluctant to go to Turkey by themselves, even on an escorted tour. They selected this particular tour precisely because of the dates: at its conclusion, the tour will deposit travelers back in the United States on Wednesday, November 21, the day before Thanksgiving. My parents' thinking is that the time frame of the tour is perfect for all of us, and that we can all disembark in New York on our way home from Istanbul on November 21, and spend the Thanksgiving holidays in New York with my older brother and his family (not that we have been asked yet).

My parents have never been to Turkey, although both of my brothers and Josh and I have visited Turkey. I would love to go to Turkey again, and so would Josh, and so would my middle brother. Our problem is that we three have limited vacation time, and going to Turkey in November would exhaust most of our vacation time for the year, and prevent us from taking any other trips.

If Josh and my brother and I go to Turkey, then we cannot go somewhere else during the first two weeks of September, which up until now had been our tentative plan. A Turkey trip, with a Thanksgiving extension in New York, would consume eleven days of our vacation time (it would require even more vacation days were it not for the fact that Veterans' Day and Thanksgiving Day fall within this time period).

Also in the back of my mind is the fact that I promised Josh that he and I would take trips--just the two of us--to Europe as often as possible. We have yet to take even one of those promised European trips by ourselves, and I am not living up to my promises.

The escorted tour my parents want to take is filling up, and my parents want to know as soon as possible whether my brother and Josh and I will go. If we say "No", then my parents will definitely not go, because they do not want to travel to Turkey by themselves.

My brother said it was up to Josh and me. He said that he would be happy to scrap a potential September trip somewhere, and to go to Turkey with our parents in November instead. My brother likes the fact that Thanksgiving arrives immediately at the conclusion of the tour, which means that he can combine a tour of Turkey with the Thanksgiving holiday, without a lot of extra flying around on his part.

I told Josh that it was up to him, and that I wanted him to make the decision, and that he could be confident that no one would mind in the least if he did not want to go to Turkey this year. Josh was fine with that--he is happy to make decisions--and he and my brother and my parents are going to talk things over the next two nights, and go over some details, and make a decision (I will have to work late tomorrow night and Wednesday night, so I am leaving things in Josh's hands).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

"This Is Home"

This week will be a very busy one for me at work. I fear that I may have to work late each night this week.

On Friday night, Joshua and I will fly to Denver to spend the Memorial Day weekend with my middle brother. My parents will fly that night to New York to spend the Memorial Day weekend with my older brother and my sister-in-law and my nephew. The next time that we will all get together will be the first week in July, when we will all spend ten days at the lake. I look forward to that very much.

Soon it will be one year since I moved back to Minneapolis, after being away for seven years, yet it seems like I have been back only for a week or two. I mentioned this to my parents this weekend, and they said that the time was passing so quickly for me because I have been so busy for the last year, what with settling into the apartment and preparing for and taking the bar exam and beginning work full-time.

I asked my parents when they thought that my brothers would move back home. My mother said that my middle brother would move back to Minneapolis first, and that my older brother would then follow. My father said that my mother was wrong, and that my older brother would move back to Minneapolis first, and that my middle brother would then follow.

"Why do you say that?" my mother asked my father. She was surprised, clearly, at my father's answer.

And my father answered that my older brother and my sister-in-law would be permanently settled in Minneapolis prior to the time that my nephew started school, and my father added that he would bet his life on that particular point.

My mother agreed with my father on the likelihood of my nephew beginning his schooling here in Minneapolis, but she said that my middle brother would already have returned home by that time.

"Why? Do you know something?" my father wanted to know.

And my mother said "No", that she did not know anything, but she said that she believed that my middle brother would return home sooner than my older brother, and that this was due to the fact that I was now back home.

"They'll come home in the reverse order in which they left" was my mother's final pronouncement.

My Dad seemed skeptical, and he asked me what I thought. I told him that I agreed with him about my older brother returning before my nephew started school, but I also told him that I did not know when my middle brother would return. I told my Dad that I was surprised that my middle brother had not already made some tentative plans to return to Minneapolis.

"That's because he is unsure whether you are going to remain here" was my father's reply.

My father was clearly alluding to Josh's plans, and the possibility that law school or graduate school might require Josh and me to leave Minneapolis and return to the East Coast.

Josh did not say anything, but he started shaking his head.

My mother and father looked at Josh, and then at me, wanting an explanation.

Finally, Josh said "I'm not going anywhere. This is home."

Quiet And Serene

We had a wonderful weekend at the lake.

The weather was overcast yesterday, but there was no rain, and today was sunny.

We did absolutely nothing all weekend, except walk in the woods with the dog, and sit upon the deck and read, and talk, and look out upon the lake. There was no noise except for the dog, who would bark and run down to the water's edge whenever he saw and heard a canoe pass on the lake (motorized boats on the lake are prohibited).

We cooked and ate outside last night, but otherwise we ate in the house.

It was so peaceful and quiet and serene that it almost makes me want to go up to the lake every weekend.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gear Ready

Joshua and I have our gear ready for the weekend, and we are all set to go. Our clothes are packed, we have selected our books, and all we have to do is to grab our stuff and head over to my parents' house tonight after work.

My mother informed us last night that we will not be leaving until 7:30 p.m. tonight, because she is going to make us eat something before we go. She is going to give us chicken salad sandwiches and potato salad before we head out. Then, when we arrive at the lake, she is going to make us omelets before we go to bed.

We have all selected our books for the weekend.

Joshua has selected Martin Gilbert's "Kristallnacht: Prelude To Destruction" for his weekend reading.

I have selected Theodore Rabb's "The Last Days Of The Renaissance" for my weekend reading.

My mother has selected Irene Nemirovsky's "Suite Francaise" for her weekend reading.

My father has selected Geoffrey Wawro's "The Franco-Prussian War" for his weekend reading.

As for Rex, he will try to have a go at the complete "Faust" of Goethe. Being a German Shepherd, he will naturally be using the original German text.

We are all looking forward to the weekend very much. I, especially, am looking forward to some rest, because this week was a very busy one for me at work, and next week will be even worse.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Back To The Lake

Joshua and I, and my parents, are going to go up to the lake this weekend. It will be the first visit to the lake this year for my parents.

My parents will not miss a Minnesota Orchestra concert this weekend, because the orchestra has been doing pops concerts all week, and the pops concerts will carry over into the weekend.

We are going to assemble at my parents' house tomorrow at 6:45 p.m. and head out from there. My mother will have the food for the weekend in a cooler and in a hamper, so we will not have to stop at a food store on the way.

The weather is supposed to be good this weekend, and we will have a very nice time. We will take the dog on walks through the woods, but otherwise we will just sit on the deck and enjoy the views over the lake and the peace and quiet.

Josh and I, and my parents, are still trying to decide which books to take with us this weekend, and I am sure that each of us will make the selections tonight.

This week has been a very busy one for me at work, and I look forward to a quiet and restful weekend. I had to work late into the night on Tuesday night and again last night, and I hope to be able to leave the office at a more normal hour today.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Haydn, Faure, Poulenc And Others, With Fats Waller, Too!

We listened to music all weekend, and my mother selected the discs for us. My mother loves French music, and two of the discs contained music by two of her favorite French composers.

Haydn's "Paris" Symphonies, performed by The Academy Of Saint Martin-In-The-Fields under Neville Marriner, on the Philips label

Faure Chamber Music, performed by Gil Shaham, Akira Eguchi and Brinton Smith, on the Vanguard Classics label

Poulenc Choral Music, performed by The Joyful Company Of Singers under Peter Broadbent, on the ASV label

A recital album featuring Dawn Upshaw, with the Orchestra Of Saint Luke's under David Zinman, on the Nonesuch label

"Ain't Misbehavin'", a disc of music by Fats Waller, arranged for brass quintet, performed by the Canadian Brass, on the RCA label

I love Haydn symphonies, and so does my mother, and so does my father, and so does Josh. They are ceaselessly inventive, and surprising, and bewitching. Each one of the six "Paris" symphonies is individual and unique, and shows Haydn at his very best. I could listen to these works daily, I almost believe. The Marriner performances are very good. They are analogue recordings, from the very late 1970's, and the sound is superb. The playing is superb, too. Marriner gets good results from his players without ever getting in the way, trying to make interpretive points. Recordings of Haydn symphonies are now more-or-less the exclusive province of original-instrument ensembles, but modern orchestras can sound wonderful in Haydn if the conductor knows what he is doing. Marriner knows what he is doing, and these performances are very successful.

Not long after he made this particular set of recordings, Marriner became Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra. His appointment was greeted with great acclaim--it was during the period of his greatest success as a recording artist, before his repertory was taken over by original-instrument ensembles--and his first year or two in Minneapolis featured a warm reception by the public and by the members of the orchestra, who had grown tired of Stanislaw Skrowaczewski after nineteen years. Things soon soured, however, and Marriner left Minneapolis after only six years, accepting a lesser post with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. In Minneapolis, after he settled in, Marriner was viewed--both by the public and by the members of the orchestra--as a master of the orchestral repertory from 1700 to 1800, but not in command of repertory from 1800 onward. Marriner's departure from Minneapolis was hastened by his dislike of some important members of the orchestra's administration and Board. Two Principal Guest Conductors during the Marriner years--Klaus Tennstedt and Charles Dutoit--also cut short their Minneapolis stays because of conflicts with these same individuals. Marriner still returns, on occasion, to conduct the Minnesota Orchestra. Next season, I see from the 2007-2008 brochure, Marriner will return to conduct one week of subscription concerts.

The Faure disc was the first recording made by Gil Shaham after his former label, Deutsche Grammophon, cut him loose in favor of Hilary Hahn. It includes much of the music Faure wrote for violin and piano, as well as arrangments of music for cello and piano adapted for violin, as well as his string trio. The Sonata For Violin And Piano No. 1 is well known, and the Berceuse For Violin and Piano is well known, and the Trio For Piano And Strings is well known, but most of the other compositions on the disc are seldom played. It is a nice disc, and Faure's music has its own unique "cool beauty", as that tired saying goes, but I do not think that these performances are the last word in Faure performance. The performances do not seem to be "internalized" and natural. They are performances in which the musicians can be heard to be striving for the essence of the music, instead of simply realizing it. Faure's music is very difficult to perform well, which is why his music is not often programmed, and Shaham and Eguchi and Smith are clearly not natural Faure musicians.

I love the music of Poulenc, and I especially love the choral music of Poulenc, and the ASV disc contains several of Poulenc's most important and most beloved choral works, including "Figure Humaine", Poulenc's masterpiece, and "Four Motets Pour Le Temps De Noel". The disc also includes "Seven Chansons" and "Salve Regina" and "Un Soir De Neige" and "Four Petites Prieres De Saint Francois D'Assise" and "Ave Verum Corpus" and "Exultate Deo". This is all magnificent music, beautifully written for massed voices, and we enjoyed listening to this disc very much. However, the Poulenc disc paralleled the Faure disc to the extent that both discs contained marvelous music, but not marvelous performances. The Joyful Company Of Singers is a London-based chamber group, and British singers are not as effective in Poulenc as French singers or, in a fairly recent development, German singers. Further, The Joyful Company Of Singers is not a choir on the exalted level of the Westminster Cathedral Choir, surely London's finest, and these performances are under-nourished (perhaps a larger chorus was needed) and under-characterized. I kept longing for a larger sound, as well as for the "tanginess" that French choruses supply in this repertory. This is perhaps the most disappointing Poulenc choral disc I have ever heard.

The Dawn Upshaw recital disc is, I believe, her very first such recital disc for Nonesuch. Many were to follow, and I think that I have heard them all. There are only four works on the disc: Barber's "Knoxville: Summer Of 1915", Harbison's "Mirabai Songs", the great aria "No Word From Tom" that closes Act I of Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress", and an aria from Menotti's "The Old Maid And The Thief", "What A Curse For A Woman Is A Timid Man". This is a lovely disc, with lovely performances, and we were captivated by each of the works. The Barber is his masterpiece, or so I have always believed, and this is one of the very greatest pieces of American music, despite the fact that its four sections are cut and pasted together instead of flowing organically from one section to another. The Harbison song cycle is very, very fine, and the Menotti aria is, surprisingly, very effective and even charming. And is not the Stravinsky aria the very greatest 20th-Century opera aria? I have always thought so.

Upshaw is a wonderful singer, and I have always admired her. My admiration is not unqualified, however, because there has always been something slightly "schoolmarmish" about her and her performances. In fact, there is something about her--something indefinable--that absolutely ticks off some people. My father, for instance, loathes her. Myself, I sometimes find Upshaw's performances to be slightly under-characterized and lathered with an all-purpose "sincerity" that is anything but sincere. In the Nonesuch disc, these shortcomings come into play in the Stravinsky--purely sung, but ultimately unmoving--and in the Barber, which seems to be too "fake simple", if not even arch on occasion. Further, in the Barber, while listening to Upshaw, I kept recalling certain phrases from the Leontyne Price recording--and it cannot be a whole-hearted endorsement of a performance if the listener is involuntarily thinking back to a different performance of the same music by a different artist.

Upshaw is now working regularly with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, having assumed a post as one of the orchestra's "guest curators". The word "curator" should never be used outside a museum setting, as it displays both the writer's pretentiousness and a counterfeit learnedness when used in a non-museum context, and I have been dumbfounded as this particular word has seeped into fashionable musical lexicography. Concert programs are "organized" or "devised" or "constructed"; they are not "curated". The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has made a mistake in abandoning the presence of a Music Director in favor of a series of "guest curators". What can Dawn Upshaw possibly have to contribute to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra except her presence as a guest soloist?

The Canadian Brass disc of music by Fats Waller is pure joy. My mother selected this disc, I know, because she knows that Josh loves brass music. The music is delightful, and the arrangements are delightful, and the performances are delightful. Waller was a very skillful composer: his rhythmic inventiveness was endless, and his tunes are original and individual, and they are susceptible to complex and unusal harmonic treatments (which cannot be said, for purposes of comparison, about much of the music of Cole Porter, a contemporary of Waller who also wrote popular music of some sophistication and skill). This disc appears to be out of print, and I cannot imagine why. It should be a constant and considerable seller.

One Weekend, Three Plays

Our weekend was a very nice one.

On Friday, Joshua and I enjoyed our night out downtown, even though we did not think very highly of "The Madwoman Of Chaillot", a very difficult work to bring off, I believe. "The Madwoman Of Chaillot" is a play in which it is very hard to find the right tone, as well as the right balance between its absurdist elements and its observations of very human (and very quirky) behavior. The Theater In The Round cast members were often at sea, unable to decide whether to play their roles in a highly-stylized manner or whether to offer semi-realistic portrayals. In the end, they often settled for situation-comedy acting, with the result that the play often came across as more cartoonish than its author perhaps intended. In any case, the play struck Josh and me as dated and peculiar, and sometimes tedious, and not very satisfying.

We had a wonderful Saturday. I got my mother's kitchen floor stripped and re-waxed, and my father oiled the furniture and the wooden cabinets in the kitchen, and Josh and my mother polished silver. We listened to music while we worked, and we had a very nice time. On Saturday night, we all went to Bloomington to eat out and to see a production of "Funny Girl", performed by a local cast. The performance was at a high level, and we enjoyed it very much. That musical is dated, and its second act bogs down, but we were pleased to have the chance to see this show, rarely staged now. Given that this was a civic-theater performance, the physical production was very fine, and it was nice to have a full orchestra in the pit. The audience responded very warmly to the production.

Yesterday we planned to take my mother to lunch in honor of Mother's Day and afterward to spend the afternoon doing anything of her choosing. When we got into the car after church, however, my mother told us that what she really wanted was to have lunch at home and to spend the afternoon at home, too, given that we had a Guthrie Theater performance in the evening. So we went home, and had lunch, and spent the afternoon at home, listening to music and talking and reading. Last night's performance of "Major Barbara" was disappointing. Perhaps we caught "Major Barbara" too early in its run--upon reflection, it may have been wiser to have waited a month or so, and then to have attended a performance--but our attentions meandered, and the play seemed to go on forever. I love Shaw, and "Major Barbara" is one of my favorite Shaw plays, but last night the play could not end soon enough for me. I place the fault in the hands of the director.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Weekend Devoted To Theater

Joshua and I have our plans set for the rest of this month.

This weekend will be devoted to theater--Josh and I are going to go see three different plays!--and to my mother's kitchen floor.

Next weekend we are going to take my parents up to the lake.

The following weekend Josh and I will be in Denver, and my parents will be in New York.

As for our theater weekend, it will begin tonight, with a performance of "The Madwoman Of Chaillot" at the Theater In The Round, a small company here in Minneapolis with a very fine 260-seat theater. Josh and I have neither seen nor read this Jean Giraudoux play, and we are not quite sure what to expect. When he gets off work this afternoon, Josh will drive downtown and pick me up at work, and we will proceed to the theater. We will only have time for a quick sandwich before the play begins.

Tomorrow night, Josh and I will take my parents and our landlady to Bloomington to see a performance of "Funny Girl", performed by the Bloomington Civic Theater. Although Josh and I have seen the movie, we have never seen a stage production of this musical. The production is a civic theater production, but it is supposed to be quite lavish and quite good--and it even uses a 24-piece orchestra!

On Sunday night, my parents will take Josh and me to see "Major Barbara" at the Guthrie Theater. "Major Barbara" officially opens tonight, while Josh and I will be at the Theater In The Round and while my parents will be at Orchestra Hall, suffering through the colorless Edo De Waart trying to make a go of that most colorful of all composers, Hector Berlioz.

Tomorrow, during the day, I am going to do my mother's kitchen floor. It will take me all day. I am going to strip the old wax, and apply three coats of new wax. Josh and my parents can read and listen to music--and keep the dog out of my hair!--while I work.

On Sunday afternoon, I think that Josh and I will just hang out at my parents' house after church, until we all head downtown Sunday night to see the Shaw play.

It should be a fun weekend!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sounds Good To Us

My brother has decided that he wants Josh and me to come to Denver over Memorial Day weekend.

He told us that he will take us to see the new wing at the Denver Art Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, which opened late last year. He also told us that he will take us to the Air And Space Museum, which has several World War II-era bombers, and that he will take us to the Air Force Academy, with its breathtaking cadet chapel.

That sounds good to us.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Receipts Must Be Available For Our Inspection

Joshua and I had dinner at my parents' house tonight, and we are all trying to decide what to do over the Memorial Day weekend.

For my parents, that decision is an easy one: they are going to New York to visit with their grandson that weekend.

My middle brother and Josh and I cannot decide whether to join them in New York, or whether Josh and I should go to Denver and visit with my brother that weekend.

We talked to both of my brothers tonight, and my middle brother, who has the farthest to travel if we all gather in New York, is going to make the decision, and the decision he makes for himself will also be the decision for Josh and me, too. He is going to sleep on it tonight, and decide tomorrow whether he wants to go to New York (in which case Josh and I will go to New York, too) or whether he wants Josh and me to come to Denver for a visit. Josh and I will go along, happily, with whatever he wants.

To help us make a decision, we were all discussing whether there are any performances in New York that we might want to attend and, upon close examination, we found that the theater offerings in New York are positively depressing. My parents and Josh might enjoy "Journey's End", but my middle brother and I saw the same production of "Journey's End" with a different cast in London two years ago, and we do not want to see that play again. It is a period piece, and not a particularly strong one. My sister-in-law hates that play--she had to read it in school, since it is part of the British school curriculum--and she volunteered that she could only be persuaded to join my parents and Josh at a performance of "Journey's End" if she were paid $500.00 an hour, starting at the time she left the apartment and ending at the time she returned. My father said that he would get back to her on that particular point.

The only other theater offerings that any of us could even sit through, we estimate, are two musicals, "The Drowsy Chaperone" and "Grey Gardens", the latter a show that people either seem to love or to detest, with little or no middle ground. Myself, I would be happy to skip both, and so would Josh. Neither of us is a big fan of musical theater unless a full orchestra is used and unless the singers are unamplified.

New York City Ballet will be performing that weekend, with performances on Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. The company will be presenting three different programs that weekend, and Josh and I would like to attend all three of the programs very much, if that were possible. However, it is not feasible for Josh and me to expect to spend most of our weekend at the New York State Theater.

My sister-in-law loves to attend City Ballet, and I know she would want to come with us, and my mother could easily be persuaded to attend one ballet performance. In the case of my father, he could be persuaded to attend the all-Balanchine program on Saturday night, because he loves Balanchine.

However, neither of my brothers has much of an affection for classical ballet, and for the rest of us to go to the ballet would leave my brothers out of the loop.

Aside from New York City Ballet, there are really not any New York performances worth going out of one's way to attend over Memorial Day weekend. Consequently, Josh and I will be perfectly happy to go along with my brother's decision, whatever it may be.

Tonight, my parents were having a discussion they seem to have each and every year: whether to attend this year's Shaw Festival in Canada. They have never attended the festival, not even once, and yet they ordered the festival brochure again this year, which they always seem to do. I am surprised that the people in Canada even keep responding to my parents' request for a brochure, given how many times my parents have ordered the brochure, but not purchased any tickets.

There are a lot of good plays on the bill this year, as there always are. My parents would be happy to attend performances of Shaw's "Saint Joan" and Somerset Maugham's "The Circle" and Tennessee Williams' "Summer And Smoke" and Brian Friel's adaptation of Turgenev's "A Month In The Country". They also would not mind seeing the Jerry Herman musical, "Mack And Mabel".

My parents wanted to know whether my middle brother and Josh and I wanted to join them for a trip to Niagara. They even suggested that we make a stop at Canada's Stratford Festival, too, and catch performances of Oscar Wilde's "An Ideal Husband" and Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance". (My parents have been ordering brochures from the Stratford Festival for years and years, too.)

My brother and Josh and I explained to my parents that it would be difficult for us to schedule a trip to Canada this summer, because we were all saving our vacation time for a trip to Europe in September. My parents' response was "Oh, we weren't going to go to Canada until September, anyway--we were going to wait until the summer crowds thinned out. Why don't you come with us in September to Canada, instead?"

Of course, it was very hard for my brother and me to take our parents' Canada plans seriously, given how many times we have listened, over the years, to them talk about going to one or both of the Canadian theater festivals. We told our parents to let us know if they made firm plans, and to have their credit card receipts available for our inspection, because we would require firm evidence before we believed that any such trip would occur.

I do not believe that Josh and I will need to pencil in any tentative Canada trips on our calendar.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Kind And Decent And Good

Happily, Joshua likes the Twin Cities very, very much. He says that Minneapolis is the best place he has ever lived.

Of course, that may not signify all that much, because Josh has only lived in Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., and the Twin Cities. And yet, I--prejudiced in favor of the Twin Cities, as I no doubt am--agree with him heartily: the Twin Cities is a wonderful place to live, surely one of the best places in the world.

I think that this is so for two reasons: first, Minneapolis has all of the advantages of a large city, in terms of colleges and universities, and cultural organizations, and employment opportunities, and sports franchises, and other such things; and, second, the people of Minneapolis are extremely kind and decent and good, free of the narcissism that infects the large cities of the East and West Coasts.

The citizenry of the Twin Cities is prosperous, highly-educated and civic-minded. The citizenry believes in the traditional public virtues, is more or less free of the various dogmas of the day, and is, on the whole, quite laid-back. That is a nice combination, and it helps to make the city friendly and civilized and welcoming and liveable. I am not sure that I can say the same thing about any other city, except perhaps Munich.

Of course, Josh and I do not live IN the city; we live in a nearby suburb. And yet the city is there, available to us whenever we want to take advantage of it. And when we do NOT want to take advantage of it, we live in the equivalent of a small town, where we know everyone in the immediate vicinity, and where everyone knows us, and where things are quiet and peaceful and safe and secure, if not outright idyllic. We have the best of all possible worlds, I think.

If we HAD to move elsewhere, I doubt that we could find a better place, at least for our needs. Neither of us was at home on the Eastern Seaboard, and I doubt that either of us would feel at home on the West Coast. Neither of us likes the Southeast United States, with its appallingly ignorant populace. The large Texas cities of Dallas and Houston might have many parallels with the Twin Cities, but I doubt that they are superior to Minneapolis. Consequently, my hope is that we stay in the Twin Cities for a while, if not forever.

Josh seems to be fine with that idea, and he is thinking about the University Of Minnesota for graduate school, and nowhere else, at least for now.

And I have to acknowledge that it would be very, very hard for me to leave my parents again--being away for seven years was hard enough for me, and I would not want to have to go through that again. I love my parents, and I like being near them, and I like spending time with them, and I like helping them, and I like taking care of them in any way I can.

I am the youngest child, and I am the one who will have to be there to look out for them as they grow older, since my brothers will have their own families to care for. And I look forward to that role, and I cannot perform it if Josh and I are living in Hong Kong or London or Vancouver.

Time For Reflection

Being responsible for another person is a great thing.

I am responsible for Joshua because he moved to Minneapolis to be with me. He has no family in Minneapolis, except that my family has now become his family, too. He had no friends in Minneapolis before he moved here, although he now has made friends with people at church and at the bookstore where he works.

Josh's career plans are on hold, for now. He gave up law school to move to Minneapolis, which did not please his father. Josh might still enroll in law school, but he is more likely to enroll in graduate school, because Josh truly wants to be an historian, not a lawyer. However, Josh has no genuine interest in teaching--his interests are in research and writing.

Josh has decided not to pursue graduate school until the 2008-2009 school term. He still wants to settle into Minneapolis before deciding what he wants to do long-term, and he has decided that two years is the right amount of time for him to sit back and reflect and decide what he wants to do.

The job in the bookstore is only part-time, and it only pays enough for Josh to make his IRA contribution and little else, but it gets him out of the apartment each day, and it enables him to keep up with the publishing field, and it allows him to keep abreast of new books of note. It provides him with a low-pressure job and something to do while he ponders longer-term plans.

I think that it is good that Josh has this time for reflection, and that this time be free of all stress. Josh has had difficulties in life that no young person needs, and a period of no-pressure contemplation is precisely the right antidote, I believe. He is free to pursue his own plans on his own schedule, free from financial worries and without artificial time constraints.

Josh gets the intellectual stimulation he needs--we read, seriously, all the time, and that is the stimulation Josh loves most of all, but we also go out and do interesting things whenever possible--and he gets friendship, and companionship, and love and affection, and emotional support, and the constance of a kindred spirit. I think he has what he needs, right now, and I think he will always get what he needs, in the future.

I have noticed, in the last year, that Josh is no longer as moody as he was when I first met him. He is happy now, and content.

I know this because I can see it in his eyes.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Quiet Retreat

Joshua and I have returned from the lake.

We left while there was still an hour of light remaining, so that we would be on a four-lane highway once darkness set in.

Josh and I really did not do much this weekend--we swam, and we walked through the woods, but otherwise we just enjoyed the peace and quiet. We took our own food with us, and we grilled chicken outside last evening, but otherwise we ate in the house.

Unlike many families, our family has never used the lake for boating or fishing. The lake has served our family as a quiet retreat, and nothing more.

When my brothers and I were kids, we would go up to the lake three-out-of-four weekends in the summer months. Our first summer weekend at the lake would always be Memorial Day weekend, and our final summer weekend at the lake would always be Labor Day weekend. In addition, we would always spend one entire week at the lake to coincide with July 4.

We always had a lot of fun. We would go swimming, and play badminton, and play volleyball, and play croquet, and play basketball, and play soccer. We always played basketball after dinner, and we would still be playing long after the sun had set. Only when our parents called us in for the night did we finally stop playing.

Of course, there being an odd number of us, my brothers and I always had to devise our own sets of rules for all games we played, creating special rules applicable for three players. Sometimes we had trouble settling on what constituted fair play, but ultimately we always worked everything out.

My parents never used the lake house except during the summer months, when school was out for the year. The house was never opened until the end of May, and it was always shuttered for the winter in early September.

Some families used their lake properties on a more frequent basis than we did. They would spend time there during the autumn and spring months, too, and even, on occasion, in the winter. One family, a retired couple, even uses their lake house as a primary residence now.

Our family, however, has used the lake house less and less in the past few years. After my oldest brother completed his schooling, and started working, and stopped coming home for the summer, we stopped going to the lake most summer weekends. When my middle brother completed his schooling, and started working, and stopped coming home for the summer, we spent weekends at the lake even more infrequently.

Last summer, we used the lake house very little. Josh and I did not come to Minneapolis until June, and he and I had to settle in, and we had our apartment to get ready, and I had to prepare for the bar exam, and it just seemed that we did not have enough time to go up to the lake most weekends last year. We DID spend a week at the lake last year over July 4, because my brothers and my oldest brother's family were home for a visit, but that was the only meaningful time we spent there last year.

We all plan to get together and do the same thing this year during the week coinciding with July 4, but I am not sure how often Josh and I, or my parents, will go up to the lake this summer. I am not certain that we will even spend Memorial Day weekend at the lake this year, since my parents are talking about going to New York to visit with their grandson that weekend, and since Josh and I are talking about going to Denver to visit with my middle brother that weekend.

In any case, the house is ready. Josh and I removed the sheets from the furniture, and vacuumed everything, and cleaned the kitchen, so anyone can visit at any time without any additional preparation.

Perhaps Josh and I will take my parents up to the lake to spend one weekend there prior to Memorial Day. I think they might like that.

Friday, May 04, 2007

First Time This Year

Joshua and I are going to go up to the lake this weekend. It will be the first time this year for us.

We will leave tonight, but not until 8:00 p.m. or so. We will take my parents' dog with us, because he loves going up there. My parents are staying in town, because they have a Minnesota Orchestra concert to attend as well as a Minnesota Opera performance of "The Marriage Of Figaro".

Josh and I do not plan to do much except enjoy the quiet. We will swim, and go walking through the woods with the dog, but otherwise we just plan to relax.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

France And The French

Many historians have pointed out that Germany should have been permitted to win World War I, because the end result would have been no different than the Western Europe of today: a loose confederation of states under the economic domination of Germany, Central Europe's largest--and only--power.

A victorious Germany in World War I would have had the incidental benefits--and quite significant those incidental benefits would have been, too--of no period of National Socialism and no World War II. Further, although it lost both world wars, Germany eventually--and inevitably, or so some would say--won the peace that came afterward, and the long-term losers of the world wars clearly turned out to be Britain and France, both of which had a hand in the first victory but only one of which had a hand in the second.

These thoughts have been in my mind as Joshua and I have been reading Rod Kedward's "France And The French: A Modern History", published in February of last year. (In Britain, the title is "France And The French: La Vie En Bleu Since 1900".)

The Twentieth Century was a very bad century for France. In 1900, France and its colonies occupied 10% of the land on the globe, its economy was one of the world's four largest, its standard of living was exceeded only by the United States, and it was one of only three genuine global powers.

By 2000, France's colonial period had long since ended, its economy retained no global significance whatsoever, its standard of living had declined to the point where Portugal and Spain were its peers, and its sole pretense to world power was fighting to retain its place on the United Nations Security Council.

What happened?

Well, a lot happened, and that is the story that Kedward attempts to tell in "France And the French". However, I do not think that Kedward tells the story particularly well, and Kedward's deficiency is in failing to address the economic choices--wrong economic choices, over and over--that France made throughout the Twentieth Century.

Failed policies in taxes, tariffs and trade are the true story of France's grim journey through the Twentieth Century, but Kedward seems uninterested in the minutiae of policies and economics, and the implications thereof. Instead, he focuses on the French "character" and he informs the reader, over and over, in a myriad of ways, that "the French are different".

Kedward is a British writer who wrote his book for a British publisher, but I doubt that British readers--let alone American or Canadian or Australian readers--need 736 pages to be told that the French are "different". Most readers, I believe, have long since gathered this fact on their own.

Kedward divides the history of Twentieth-Century France into three distinct periods: World War I and its aftermath; the Occupation and the Gaullist years; and the events of 1968--a revolution in all but name--and the aftermath of 1968, which carries France to the Century's close.

Joshua and I have completed the first two-thirds of the book, and we are eager to proceed to Kedward's analysis of the post-1968 years, which reviewers have deemed to be much the strongest part of his book.

The first two-thirds of the book have some pronounced strengths and some pronounced weaknesses. Kedward's treatment of World War I lacks new insights, and his discussion of the near-endless series of political and economic crises that France endured in the 1920's and 1930's is unsatisfactory. On the other hand, his chapters on the Occupation seem spot-on, and he is unafraid to declare the concept of the "Resistance" the fiction that it largely was.

It wll be interesting to see whether Kedward continues to ignore economic analysis in the final third of his book. France's economic failings between 1968 and 2000 constitute the overwhelming event during those three decades. In 1968, the per-capita income of France was 50% higher than the per-capita income of Britain. By 2000, the per-capita income in both nations was equal--and yet both were sorely behind comparable income figures in the United States, Japan, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. Since 2000, that gap has only widened.

How the mighty have fallen! Is it any wonder that Sarkozy has made the lingering effects of 1968 a recurring theme of his current presidential campaign?

While reading "France And The French", I could not help but recall one of Rudolf Bing's bon mots. During that same fateful year of 1968, the Metropolitan Opera traveled to Paris for a series of performances, and was received with chilly reviews by the Parisian press. Addressing one Paris newspaper's adverse comments about American soprano Roberta Peters, Bing said "Miss Peters may have had a bad night, but the Paris Opera has had a bad century."

France, too, has had a bad century, and economic and demographic and political studies suggest that the 21st Century will be even worse for France.

Already, France has ten million fewer inhabitants than Iran--and, with a current birth rate of 1.15 and falling, France's population is expected to be cut in half over the next thirty years. The economies of Korea and Taiwan and Brazil and Poland will surpass the economy of France in the next decade or sooner. In fifty years, France will be a dedicated third-world country (although one of my best friends, who studied art history in Paris for one year in 2004, already calls Paris "a third-world city with a great subway system").

And all of this has happened because of taxes, tariffs and trade. Does anyone--even Sarkozy--get it?

The Elysee Palace

The depositions in Baltimore were postponed, again. Otherwise, I would be in Baltimore right now.

The Sarkozy-Royal debate is going on, right now, as I type, and I am trying to keep up with the debate online. I know that Sarkozy is favored to win, but I am not confident that the French voters are ready for the magnitude of change that the country needs.

I await Sunday's results with interest. At the very least, the deplorable Chirac will be out of power.

Today Chirac has been extremely busy, refusing to allow a judge's warrant to be carried out. The warrant called for a search of presidential papers in The Elysee Palace.