Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Perfect Mother's Day Weekend

Joshua and I did not do much this weekend.

We stayed home Friday night and did our laundry and caught up on our reading.

We stayed home all day yesterday, too, and continued to catch up on our reading. Yesterday afternoon, Josh wrote about one of the books we just completed, “A World Undone” by G. J. Meyer, a one-volume (but nevertheless fairly comprehensive) history of World War I. I think it is the best thing Josh has ever written.

One of the books we are still plowing through is an English translation of “Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, And The Nazi Welfare State” by Goetz Aly, the German journalist and lecturer. “Hitler’s Beneficiaries” is a 488-page argument, poorly-advanced, claiming that the reason the German populace supported Hitler’s regime throughout the war was largely due to generous tax breaks, lavish welfare programs, prosperity based upon theft from Europe’s Jewish population as well as theft from occupied countries, currency manipulation, and a constant stream of luxury goods imported into Germany from all over the world in order to bribe the German people.

Aly’s is an extremely irritating book, partly because his arguments are not tight and do not hang together, partly because the research cited is not logically organized or comprehensively analyzed (nor is the research necessarily complete, or even reliable), partly because Aly ignores any facts contrary to his controversial proposition, and partly because Aly is simply bone-headed, demonstrating a typical German resolve stubbornly to refuse to accept or address or consider anything not purely consistent with his hypothesis.

Aly’s book has been received with great acclaim in some quarters, and with great dismay in others. I reserve final judgment until I finish reading the book, but I can state, without reservation, that the standard of scholarship demonstrated in the book is shockingly low—and, unlike others, I am not convinced that the book was written solely to be provocative. I believe Aly has convinced himself that what he has written is eternal truth.

There is definitely something very wrong with the German mind and the German character.

Last night, Josh and I had my parents over for dinner, an early Mother’s Day gift for my mother. Josh and I had not seen my father for exactly two weeks—we had last seen him on the evening of April 26, when we had seen him off at the airport.

Josh and I had deliberately left my parents alone on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the first two nights after my father’s return from Taipei, and we had declined my parents’ invitation to accompany them to a Friday night concert by the Minnesota Orchestra.

From my parents’ accounts of that concert, we did not miss much. The orchestra played Schubert’s Eighth and Mahler’s Ninth under Mark Wigglesworth, and the concert apparently was not any good in the least. My parents said that Wigglesworth was totally at sea in the Mahler, and that numerous concertgoers had in fact walked out, with departures picking up steam as the Mahler symphony progressed. It must have been a truly awful account of the Mahler, both because the Mahler Ninth is such a cherished work and because Minneapolis audiences are generally far too polite to walk out during a performance.

Ten years ago, I thought that Wigglesworth might turn into a major talent. I no longer believe that.

His career appears to reflect that assessment—it is a career going nowhere. The Detroit Symphony took a serious look at Wigglesworth shortly after Neeme Jarvi retired, but it took a pass on Wigglesworth, and his name has not cropped up on the lists of any other orchestras currently seeking conductors.

It was the very thought of Wigglesworth conducting Mahler that had prevented me from wanting to attend this week’s Minnesota Orchestra subscription concerts in the first place. If a good Mahler conductor had been engaged, I very well might have attended one of the concerts.

While we were preparing last night’s dinner, Josh and I caught up with my father on what had happened in Taipei. Happily, my mother and the dog did not object to having to hear the details of his trip a second time.

Josh and I gave my parents a good dinner. We gave them a dinner of fresh tomato-cream soup, followed by a garden salad with shrimp, followed by stuffed pork chops, escalloped cheddar potatoes, lima beans, carrots and an apple salad. We gave them homemade vanilla pudding with delicate, lacey French chocolate cookies for dessert (the cookies were from a bakery). I think my parents had a nice evening. The dog certainly enjoyed his pork chops and pork chop bones! We sent the box of cookies home with my parents, because both my mother and my father love that particular kind of French cookie.

During dinner, Josh and I asked my parents whether they wanted to attend today’s matinee performance of Theater In The Round’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”. We thought that might make a nice Mother’s Day outing for my mother (and my father, too). They declined—probably an act of naked retaliation for our refusal to join them for that Wigglesworth Mahler!

So today, after church, Josh and I went downtown by ourselves to catch the Sunday matinee performance of the O’Neill, the final performance of the run.

I thought the performance was quite poor. I did not think anyone in the cast was up to the demands of his or her role. I readily acknowledge that “Long Day’s Journey” is a demanding if not exhausting play, and that its actors are called upon to go through a draining, if not agonizing, range of emotions throughout the course of the lengthy drama. Nevertheless, this production was nothing to write home about.

One of the company’s actors had become seriously ill during the rehearsal period and had had to be hospitalized, setting back both rehearsals and performances for over a week (the entire first week of the run had to be cancelled). I sympathize with everyone associated with the project, because that illness had to have thrown a major monkey wrench into the production’s development.

The text used by Theater In The Round had been judiciously pruned, but the production nonetheless came in at three-and-one-half hours (there were two intermissions), making for a very long afternoon in the theater. To be endurable, “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” must soar. This production did not soar.

My parents did not miss much, as things turned out (which is what they had heard from friends).

After today’s matinee, Josh and I went to my parents’ house and we picked them up and we took them out to an early dinner, another gesture to my mother for Mother’s Day.

We went to a nearby French restaurant, which some persons insist is the best French restaurant in the Twin Cities (while others insist that it is not). Josh had never visited the restaurant, and neither my parents nor I had been to the restaurant in ages and ages and ages.

The menu is a la carte, so we had to be mindful what we ordered (we all took a pass on the $79.00 seafood appetizer, for example).

We all ordered the same thing: a very simple dinner of Salade Lyonnaise, Steak Dianne, Pommes Frites and Green Beans Amandine. We skipped dessert, but we did ask for and accept the waiter’s recommendation for a bottle of wine to accompany our meal.

It was a nice dinner, I thought, and I believe my mother enjoyed it very much.

After dinner, Josh and I took my parents home, and we stayed for a bit to chat and to play with the dog and to eat some of the lacey French chocolate cookies.

Josh and I have nothing on the schedule for this coming week—although we are thinking about going to hear the Minnesota Orchestra at lunchtime on Thursday (if we go, it will be to hear only the second half of the concert, featuring three rarely-performed choral works by Brahms).

Next weekend, I think we shall go up to the lake for the first time this year.


  1. Drew, Joshie's writing about that book is very fine, and I just told him so. It makes me want to go out and buy the book tonight.

    I hope you guys are bracing yourselves for the 2400-mile road trip to Oklahoma, Denver and back!

  2. I read Aly’s "Endloesung" ten years ago and noted that the author hadn’t presented anything original on that topic, though the presentation itself was, in the original, good. Of the hundred or so "Poets and Thinkers" that I interviewed between 1973 and 1983, however, not a single person recalled being in any sense of the word “economically blessed” during the war years. Many German readers were indeed shocked when "Hitler's Beneficiaries" first hit the stores. Even so, the consensus of opinion among English-speaking readers is that the book is positively relevatory. Go figure. To borrow a quote by your Dad, Andrew, it appears – so far – that Aly’s body of work is at once poorly original and commendably unoriginal.


  3. Paul:

    I thought Josh's examination of the Meyer book was exceptional, and I told him so. I am pleased you agree.

    I would indeed read "A World Undone", if I were you. I think you would enjoy it.

    Our upcoming road trip will be wearisome, I fear. 2400 miles in six days--YIKES!

    Josh and I are trying to decide what music to take along so that we can somehow make it through the trip.

    We are drawing a complete blank.


  4. Dane:

    Much of Aly’s book dumbfounds me.

    Given that husbands, sons and fathers were losing their lives left and right, given that families were being bombed out of their homes from 1941 onward, and given that everything from clothing to food was in increasingly short supply from early 1943, it is almost ridiculous for Aly to claim that the Nazi regime was maintaining its broad support among the populace largely because of economic bribery. In time of war, civilians tend to support their governments as a matter of course (and the Joseph Goebbels propaganda machine was GOOD), and the German populace more or less did so. Further, in Nazi Germany there was no alternative to the regime in power, and everyone was well-aware of this fact.

    Aly seems to ignore the scholarship on Goebbels, and I find this to be very troubling. Goebbels knew, more than anyone, that Germany was losing the loyalty of its population—in late 1943, the German government stopped surveying its citizens about the depth of their support for the war, because the results were so depressing—and it was the fear of foreign invasion from the East, not perfumed soap from France, that kept the population in line with the nation’s war strategy.

    On Saturday, Josh and I ordered Adam Tooze’s “The Wages Of Destruction”, which should serve as a counterweight to Aly’s book. Tooze’s book came out immediately after Aly’s, and it covers much the same territory. Tooze and Aly have been sparring back and forth on the issues raised in Aly’s book since 2006, and Josh and I look forward to reading what Tooze has to say on the matter.


  5. You and Josh will not be disappointed with Tooze's book. I promise. Only one thing, though: it's twice as fat as Aly's book. Where on earth are you guys going to keep it?


  6. Dane, our apartment is so small--it is only one room, really, with a small kitchen and a small bath attached--that Josh and I only keep a few reference books and whatever books we happen to be reading at a given moment in our apartment. The rest of the books have to be kept over at my parents' house.

    The same is true, mostly, for our compact discs as well.

    Happily, my parents do not charge monthly storage fees (a policy subject to revision at any time, without notice, according to my mother).

    I am pleased and heartened that you have recommended the Tooze. Both Josh and I look forward to reading it when it arrives.

    The Aly book is leaving a very bad taste in my mouth, and I frankly do not believe the "evidence" he presents. Not only do I think his "evidence" is incomplete, I also believe it may be misleading, whether deliberate or not.

    I thank you for your recommendation.

    Are there any other important books of the era that may have escaped our notice? My father, Josh and I try to keep up with the major history volumes published here and in the U.K. by reading reviews and trying to select the books that appear to be most promising. However, we cannot read everything.


  7. Dane:

    In Alex Ross's book, he claims that it was very likely that Adolf Hitler attended the Austrian premiere of Richard Strauss's "Salome" in Graz. Ross goes on and on about that claim--it is almost a leitmotif throughout his book, as he tries to create all sorts of spurious connections between music and politics.

    Have you ever read anything suggesting that this is so?

    I have not, and I have read the standard biographies of Hitler, and I recall nothing about Hitler attending the Austrian premiere of "Salome" (and rubbing elbows with Mahler, Lehar and Strauss himself, as Ross claims).


  8. Andrew,

    There is NO evidence that Hitler attended the 1906 Austrian premier of "Salome." I have heard that story for so many years, I'm sick of it. It is absolutely unfounded. But let's not be polite here: It is a LIE! Moreover, Ross betrays himself by hammering the issue: he KNOWS the story is apocryphal ("the lady doth protest too much")!

    The only verified fact I can think of about Hitler in Austria which is not known by the general public is the one about his triumphant 1938 entry into Vienna after the Anschluss. Louis Krasner and others have testified that Hitler had to enter the city TWICE because there were not enough (cheering) people in the streets the first time.

    I think historical tidbits like that are far more interesting than fabrications about Strauss and Hitler.


  9. I also don't have time to read everything, especially now when I'm studying 4000 pages of Solzhenitsyn. I haven't actually read Aly's most recent book, but I rely on the opinions of people that I trust.


  10. Thanks, Dane.

    Since Kershaw never mentioned that Hitler had attended that "Salome" in Graz--and Kershaw covered EVERYTHING in his volumes on Hitler--I thought that Ross's claim must be bosh.


  11. Hitler DID attend the premiere of Tippett's "The Midsummer Marriage" at the Royal Opera House in 1955, I am given to understand. Did Ross address this in his book?

    I am amazed at the depth and breadth of your reading. You guys devour books like jackals tearing into carcases.

    What's this about driving 2400 miles? Whatever for? And why not listen to books on tape during the trip?


  12. Well, Hitler always WAS a big fan of Tippett, you know--despite the thorny matter of "A Child Of Our Time", which Hitler apparently was prepared to overlook.

    Next Thursday, the 22nd, Josh and I will drive to Oklahoma. Josh's sister graduates from high school the following day.

    On Saturday morning, we will drive to Denver to help my brother with packing and cleaning and such. We will bring some of his things home with us when we return on Tuesday.

    It is over 800 miles to Oklahoma, over 600 miles from Oklahoma to Denver, and over 900 miles from Denver to Minneapolis.

    It will be a long, long weekend.