Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"To Make An End Is To Make A Beginning"

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

T. S. Eliot


Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
A Dance To The Music Of Time
The Wallace Collection, London

Oil On Canvas
32 3/4 Inches By 41 5/8 Inches

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"A Baby Is God's Opinion That Life Should Go On"

Joshua and I arrived in Minnesota this afternoon from Oklahoma.

My middle brother retrieved us at the airport, and promptly brought us home.

Of course, we were extremely eager to see my new niece.

She was not napping when we arrived. She was awake, being rocked in a rocking chair by her Granddad, when we walked into the kitchen.

She is so very beautiful I almost cried.

Josh and I had to hold her and rock her at once, naturally, and we immediately laid claim to feeding her her next bottle.

While I held her, she moved her arms and hands and fingers, as newborns are wont to do, and she appeared to be looking at me the whole time.

It was one of the great moments of my life, and I shall never forget it.

I have not forgotten the first time I held my nephew. I remember exactly how he looked that night. I remember his eyes and the expression on his face and the shape of his mouth whenever he yawned. I remember how proud my brother was, and how my brother could not help himself smiling. I remember how I had to lean down and kiss my nephew’s forehead over and over.

I had to do the same thing to my niece. It was a purely involuntary gesture on my part.

She didn’t seem to mind in the least.

My brother beams with pride, anew, over his daughter. Just like three years ago, when my nephew was an infant, my brother cannot help himself smiling.

He has great reason to smile.

Of course, everyone else was smiling, too, and with justification, since a baby is a miraculous thing.

My sister-in-law, relaxed and happy, is in glowing form. To look at her, one would never know she had given birth within the last three weeks.

She and my brother are perfectly fine. They do not look tired or wan in the least, apparently because they have been taking turns getting up in the middle of the night and giving my niece her bottle. Further, my parents have been handling the 6:00 a.m. bottle each morning, which must help a little, too.

My nephew was in high spirits today. He was delighted to see Josh and me. The dog was in high spirits, too, and delighted to see Josh and me as well.

In fact, everyone was pleased to see us—and we certainly were pleased to see everyone.

My parents are very thankful that everyone in the family is now home for the rest of the holidays. They very much missed not having Josh and me at home on Christmas Day for the second year in a row.

Tonight we all celebrated a second Christmas, because Josh and I exchanged our gifts with everyone. My mother had a grand dinner—half Norwegian, half English—prepared for us: Chicken Consomme; a cold Norwegian fish salad; Beef Wellington served with garlic potatoes, asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and an orange-cranberry-nut salad; and an English Christmas Pudding. After we opened our gifts, we ate Norwegian Christmas fruit cookies.

It’s good to be home.

The next four days will pass all too quickly.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"No, We Must Not Sleep This Holy Night"

No, we must not sleep
This holy night;
We must not sleep.
The Virgin, all alone, is thinking
What will she do
When she gives birth
To the King of Immeasurable Light;
If, before His Divine Essence,
She will tremble.
O, what will she say to Him?
No, we must not sleep
This holy night;
We must not sleep.

Fra Ambrosio De Montesino (1444-1514)
From Cancionero De Diversas De Nuevo Trobadas


Andrea Della Robbia (1435-1525)
Madonna And Child With Cherubim
National Gallery Of Art, Washington

Glazed Terracotta
37 1/2 inches by 34 3/4 inches
Tondo: 21 9/16 inches diameter

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mozart, Brahms, Martinu And Others

For the last couple of weeks, Joshua and I have been listening to four discs of music that we thought would be appropriate for the season—although only one of the discs genuinely is a Christmas album.

“The Mozart Album”, performed by the Canadian Brass, on the Sony label

Brahms’s String Quintets, performed by The Boston Symphony Chamber Players, on the Nonesuch label

Martinu’s Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, performed by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra under Claus Peter Flor, on the RCA label

“Christmas With Thomas Hampson”, performed by Thomas Hampson and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra under Hugh Wolff, on the Teldec label

The Canadian Brass made a number of excellent recordings. Josh and I enjoy listening to recordings featuring brass instruments (Josh was a trumpet player in high school) and we especially have enjoyed listening to Canadian Brass albums.

Hearing the Canadian Brass in concert was never much fun—the group’s concerts were devoted to shtick as much as music—but the Canadian Brass produced a substantial number of decent recordings, many of which featured serious music in serious performances. In the last couple of years, Josh and I have listened to the ensemble’s brass arrangement of Bach’s “The Art Of The Fugue”, a surprisingly successful performance in a surprisingly successful arrangement, and we have listened to the ensemble’s arrangement of music by Fats Waller, one of the group’s crossover recordings that actually is a pure delight.

“The Mozart Album” is excellent, which somewhat surprised me. Every time I hear a Canadian Brass album for the first time, I always worry that the brass timbres will become tiresome and that the brass arrangements will not work. Generally—but not always—the first audition proves my concerns unwarranted, and such was the case with “The Mozart Album”. The disc’s arrangements are imaginative and suitable for the material selected, and the order of the works on the disc makes for a very pleasurable and satisfying listening program.

Many of Mozart’s best-known works receive attention: the Adagio And Fugue In C Minor; the Ave Verum Corpus; the Alleluia from Exsultate Jubilate; the Rondo Alla Turca from Piano Sonata No. 11; the Tuba Mirum from the Requiem; “The Magic Flute” Overture; and three of Mozart’s most popular opera arias. A couple of less-known pieces are thrown in, too: a composition Mozart wrote for mechanical organ; and an excerpt from a piano duo.

It all works splendidly. It makes a festive album for December listening.

The disc of Brahms’s String Quintets offers capable performances. The Boston Symphony Chamber Players do not attempt “deep” performances of these two late Brahms masterpieces. The readings are largely objective, and somewhat dispassionate, even clinical. By no standard are these great Brahms performances. The playing also lacks tonal allure and glamour, which I find necessary in most of the chamber music of Brahms.

There is something very life-affirming about the music of Bohuslav Martinu, which is why Josh and I elected to listen to the disc of the last two Martinu symphonies. Martinu’s music has great vivacity and joyousness. It is also characterized by rhythmic vitality and propelling energy, to which is added a deeply-satisfying songful quality. Martinu was a major composer, and a major symphonist. It is regrettable that his music is so seldom programmed outside Central Europe.

All six of Martinu’s symphonies were written during his twelve-year sojourn in the United States. His first four symphonies were written during the war years. The Fifth, completed in 1946, came immediately afterward. The Sixth, titled “Fantaisies Symphoniques”, was completed in 1953, on commission from the Boston Symphony as part of that orchestra’s 75th anniversary commemoration.

Both the Symphony No. 5 and the Symphony No. 6 are major works, displaying the composer in peak form. Much incident is packed into each work’s thirty-minute duration, and yet the works are beautifully-shaped and perfectly-proportioned. These works should be far more widely-known.

The Flor performances are good ones. Recorded in 1987 and 1988, they remain among the finest versions available.

Flor is an excellent Martinu conductor. Many knowledgeable persons consider Flor to be the finest living exponent of Martinu’s music. Flor recorded a substantial quantity of Martinu’s music in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s before he lost his recording contract with RCA, and Flor’s Martinu discs, without exception, are uniformly fine. Happily, most of Flor’s RCA Martinu recordings may be tracked down, whether or not they are—technically—in the active catalog. This is no longer true, alas, for many of Flor’s other RCA recordings.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Flor was the conductor of the future among the younger generation of German conductors. He obtained the most prestigious engagements—Berlin Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra—and appeared in the most prestigious venues all over the world.

The emergence of fellow German conductor Christian Thielemann ended Flor’s brief period of major engagements and recognition. As soon as Thielemann came onto the scene, Flor had to take a back seat to Thielemann’s popularity and prominence—and not only in Germany, but elsewhere as well.

This phenomenon—a younger conductor replacing an older compatriot conductor in the public’s affection—often happens among conductors of European nationalities. The emergence of Simon Rattle in Britain shoved Andrew Davis to the sidelines. The emergence of Valery Gergiev in Russia affected the career of Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Esa-Pekka Salonen’s rise in Finland corresponded with a decline in demand for the services of Paavo Berglund.

Flor is no longer heard frequently in major venues. This is regrettable, because he is a major talent. He needs to be heard much more widely in the United States.

As Christmas albums go, “Christmas With Thomas Hampson” is not too bad, but primarily because standards in the genre are so low.

Hampson is in very good voice—the recording was made and released in 1991—and he has the advantage of excellent support from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Hugh Wolff.

At the same time, Hampson tends to be in love with his own voice, and this tendency sometimes comes across too blatantly in his recordings—and such is the case here. Much of the time, Hampson seems to be crooning to himself on his Christmas album, caught up in the beauty of his own sound. It can be off-putting.

Around the time this recording was released, Minnesota Public Television aired a documentary about the making of this recording. Substantial footage from the recording sessions was included in the documentary, and that footage was pretty unappealing: Hampson was having a romance with himself during the recording sessions, making goo-goo eyes to the microphone and making all sorts of ridiculous hand and arm gestures while he sang. I was only a kid at the time it was aired, but I remember that documentary vividly. While I watched it, I did not know whether to laugh or to vomit.

The purely aural results of those sessions are not quite so creepy, but nonetheless I cannot bring myself to like this album.

The traditional German Christmas songs, of which there are several on the recording, receive the finest performances. Hampson has always been a fine exponent of German lieder, and it shows here.

The more popular and more contemporary numbers are less fine. Hampson goes for “dreaminess” in the American popular numbers, and the dreaminess comes across as fake. In fact, it curdles. Hampson’s version of “White Christmas” is particularly annoying.

I did not care for the sequence of the numbers on the disc. The producer apparently was seeking maximum variety from number to number, and the end result was an unsuccessful hodgepodge. Traditional Anglican carols, German Christmas songs, French Christmas songs, popular American Christmas songs, a number from “The Messiah”: all were thrown around at random, proceeding from Handel to Irving Berlin to Gounod to “Go Tell It On The Mountain” to Praetorius without coherent order. We found the programmed sequence irritating, and had to shuffle the program after the first couple of listens.

The arrangements were the work of American composer Thomas Pasatieri. I thought Pasatieri’s orchestrations might be the best thing about the disc, but the orchestrations were completely unimaginative. This surprised me, because Pasatieri is a very skilled composer.

Perhaps his remit required him to produce orchestrations that were bland.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Unlearning Gerald Gunther's Learned Hand

When I was an undergrad, I read a collection of essays by Learned Hand. I do not recall which particular collection I read—there are several—but I do recall, vividly, Hand’s excellent essay on the four necessary sources of law.

One of those necessary sources is Natural Law, or what Hand termed “Super Source”. A law not rooted in Natural Law inevitably weakens the moral authority of the society that enacts such a law, as Hand pointedly noted. This truism—remarkably, not addressed by other noted American jurists—had never before come to my attention (I was twenty years old when I read the essay, and I had never given much thought to the field of jurisprudence). At the time, I thought Hand’s essay was profound. I shall have to seek out the essay in order to read it again soon, because I am not sure I would now accord the same profundity to anything Hand wrote.

Any change in sentiment on my part would have to be blamed, to some degree, on Gerald Gunther’s “Learned Hand: The Man And The Judge”, which I have just completed reading.

Gunther’s book was not written for a wide audience. Devoting hundreds of pages to the minutiae of life on the appellate bench as well as to Hand’s legal opinions, “Learned Hand: The Man And The Judge” is of interest primarily to lawyers, jurists, law professors and legal historians. I cannot imagine the book having appeal beyond those constituent groups.

Hand’s life was not particularly eventful. Hand was a lawyer and a judge, and seemed to enjoy few pursuits outside his chosen field of work. Nothing particularly notable happened to him in the course of a very long life. He cultivated few interests outside the law. He was not what we would consider “a cultivated man”. He lacked, grievously, the gift for friendship. He was a remote figure to his wife and daughters. He apparently was prone to pettiness. He was not good with money. He was not even a particularly successful advocate during his years in private practice, never enjoying the recognition and financial rewards that flow to those at the top of the profession.

Nonetheless, what was interesting about Hand was not the tissue of biographical event that marked his life. What was interesting about Hand was his mind. In the legal arena, Hand had a remarkable clarity of thought, and the ability to capture and set forth that clarity of thought in writing (two entirely discrete sets of skills). These skills made him famous during his lifetime. For decades, the name Learned Hand was synonymous with the concepts of probity, fairness, due process . . .and “the rare ability to clear out the underbrush in a forest of sticky legal thickets”, as one of my former law professors liked to say.

Hand’s celebrity did not long withstand his passing in 1961. He is largely forgotten now.

Today, lawyers know Hand—if they know him at all—as a name from the past, remembered above all as the most celebrated American jurist of the Twentieth Century never to obtain an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Historians associate the name Learned Hand with a widely-hailed speech Hand gave in Central Park during World War II. Persons who are not lawyers or historians know the name Learned Hand not at all.

Gunther’s book is unlikely to change this regrettable state of affairs, because only persons fiercely determined to read in depth about Hand—and prepared to wade through lengthy extracts from innumerable legal opinions—will be able to make it through Gunther’s very long and very tedious volume.

Gunther, now deceased, was a deadly writer. He was entirely incapable of crafting graceful and lucid prose in the English language (Gunther was born in Germany in 1927; he came to the U.S. at age eleven and later was to change his name from Gutenstein to Gunther). His sole lasting work was a casebook, "Constitutional Law", first published in the 1960’s and still in use more than four decades later. (Of course, "Constitutional Law" is a compendium of key legal decisions. As such, it relies upon the words of others, not upon Gunther’s own words.)

Gunther had a checkered career. He was a late convert to the law. After graduating from law school, he was one of the last law clerks of Learned Hand, who at the time had already assumed senior status and was no longer a full-time jurist.

Gunther taught at Columbia briefly, and moved to Stanford in the early 1960’s, a time at which Stanford was not yet a nationally-recognized law school. From his perch at Stanford, Gunther lobbied behind the scenes, mercilessly, for three decades, for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. No one took him seriously in these endeavors, as Gunther was not remotely qualified for a seat on the highest court in the land. Nonetheless, Gunther declared himself, publicly, to be America’s Erasmus.

Gunther was also a bit of a gadfly, quite typical for one lacking a clear-eyed view of his own abilities. Gunther had the unfortunate habit of inserting himself into public controversies having nothing to do with Stanford, the law or himself. Gunther never saw a public forum or open microphone he did not instantly love. He was an object of scorn on more than once occasion, and from more than one quarter. One of his final writings was a New York Times piece in which he offered “advice” to the U.S. Supreme Court, advice that, happily, was not heeded.

One of the strangest incidents in Gunther’s academic career was his attempt to oust the President of Stanford University in the very early 1970’s. Gunther and a colleague, unsolicited, composed a paper critical of the University President and submitted it to the Stanford Board Of Trustees. Shortly thereafter, Stanford’s President stepped down.

Learned Hand clearly had made a great impression upon Gunther, because Gunther worked on his Hand biography for over twenty years. It was the major project of the last two decades of his academic life.

Alas, Hand’s life may be summarized in five sentences—“A New Englander through and through, Learned Hand, son of a lawyer, found his calling early in life. He was appointed to the Federal Bench at age 37 and remained there until his death 52 years later. He had a remarkable talent for imposing clarity upon complicated factual and legal situations. This gift for clarity made him one of America’s best-known judges. His decisions have been cited by other jurists for decades.”—yet Gunther gave himself the task of somehow stretching out the details of Hand’s life to a mind-numbing 818 pages.

Gunther accomplishes this feat primarily with legal opinions. Portions of dozens upon dozens of Hand’s 4000 judicial opinions are reprinted in Gunther’s biography. Even the lawyer’s eye quickly glazes over.

However, Gunther attempts to impose order upon this proliferation of opinion, looking for patterns and searching for a judicial philosophy—and this is precisely where Gunther’s book falls apart. Gunther’s analysis of Hand’s legal opinions is filtered through Gunther’s own peculiar opinions and beliefs, turning the legal philosophy of Hand into hash. Indeed, the book has far more to say about Gunther’s judicial philosophy than it has to say about Hand’s.

For a start, Gunther makes no mention of Hand’s greatest contribution to American jurisprudence: Hand’s formulation of tort negligence. Hand’s analysis is still in use today, and was certainly his most insightful, original and enduring contribution to the field of American law—and yet Hand’s tort analysis is utterly ignored (aside from a passing reference in the forward). Omitting Hand’s work in the field of tort is akin to writing a biography about Samuel Morse without once mentioning Morse’s invention of Morse Code.

The reason for this omission is clear: Gunther has no use for Law And Economics analysis, and addressing Hand’s tort work would require Gunther to step into a field of legal analysis with which he holds no sympathy and about which he lacks penetrating views.

Gunther is resolutely, even ruthlessly, anti-capitalist, planting a veritable minefield of explosive devices in his text whenever he has to deal with business, economics and money: “smug”, “narrow”, “shallow” and “hardened” are Gunther’s four favorite adjectives to describe capitalists whenever he is forced to write about the intersection of law and economic policy. Gunther uses those four adjectives endlessly. The world of business, in Gunther’s mind, is patently evil and should be wiped from the face of the earth.

Alas, having chosen to eliminate Hand’s tort work from Hand’s life, and having further chosen to pay short shrift to Hand’s pioneering work in the field of Commercial Law, Gunther has far slimmer pickings from which to chose in assembling and articulating a coherent Hand judicial philosophy—and, once again, the philosophy that emerges has far more to do with Gunther than it has to do with Hand. Indeed, to fashion Hand’s philosophy in order to parallel his own, Gunther has to rewrite history.

First, Gunther pretty much throws Hand’s philosophy of Judicial Restraint out the window. Hand’s seminal Harvard lectures on Judicial Restraint, for example, the result of a lifetime of thought and study, are ignored. Hand’s public criticism of Brown v. Board Of Education as a classic example of “judicial usurpation” is also downplayed (although Gunther is quick to inform the reader that Gunther himself wrote major portions of the Brown decision while he was a clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren). Gunther has to ignore such considerations because they do not comport with the fictional philosophy of Hand he has crafted.

Second, Gunther sets up an imaginary clash between the legal philosophies of Hand and Felix Frankfurter, comparing their written decisions on issue after issue and always finding Frankfurter to be on the losing side of the argument. Such a contrast is entirely specious. The two judges shared similar views far more often than they held opposing views and, in any case, the two judges served on different courts and heard different cases—and different TYPES of cases, no less. This use of Felix Frankfurter as a straw man is a most troubling device, coming, as it does, from a Professor Of Law who would chide first-year law students for erecting such straw-man arguments.

Third, Gunther is totally lost amid the fabric of American history. He makes a complete and unaccountable botch of the U.S. role in World War I, the causes of the worldwide Depression of the 1930’s, and the U.S. role in World War II. Gunther’s treatment of historical background material is shocking in its ignorance. Clearly, Gunther was anything but a well-read man.

Despite spending 64 years of his life in the U.S., Gunther was the rare foreigner who apparently was never able to grasp the essence of the United States Of America and its special and unique role in advancing liberty and opportunity. Instead, Gunther equates the U.S. with big business interests, and views big business as the dominant, even primal, force in American history. Gunther finds the bogeyman of big business lurking around every corner and hiding behind every bush, and at every turn he seizes upon his deep-seated need to thwart business interests with gusto. It colors every subject Gunther touches.

Because Hand did not share Gunther’s hatred of big business, Gunther has to ascribe it to him anyway. He does this by “grading” Hand’s decisions. Those decisions Gunther decides to be anti-big business are deemed “correct” and “thoughtful”. Those decisions Gunther decides to be pro-big business are the result of other factors: Hand’s reluctant acceptance of the votes of other judicial panel members, Hand not fully understanding the effects of his decision, or Hand simply having a bad day. Such nonsense is unworthy of a serious judicial biography.

Even were Gunther capable of keeping himself and his personal ideology out of the story, he was not a natural biographer. He clearly had no talent for the field. I doubt I have ever read a more poorly-written and more poorly-organized “serious” biography.

The only reason I kept going, picking the book up and putting it down over a period of six weeks, was my hope that, if I kept plugging along, things were bound to improve.

They did not.

At no time does Gunther succeed in bringing Hand to life. In Gunther’s telling, Hand is an inscrutable, one-dimensional jurisprudence machine, issuing opinions much like a factory produces parts or a meat plant produces sausages. Gunther’s Hand was industrious and diligent in churning out opinions, but otherwise without distinguishing characteristics. Gunther has no idea what motivated Hand, what gave Hand pleasure, what Hand disliked, why Hand never traveled, why Hand was unable to develop lasting friendships, and why Hand was a remote and mostly unsatisfactory husband and father.

In biography, great length is no substitute for insight. At the conclusion of 818 pages, the reader knows no more about Hand the individual than the reader knew on page one. However, by page 818, the reader knows quite a lot about Gunther, and Gunther’s legal thinking, judicial philosophy and political ideology. Given this, Gunther would have been far better off writing about his favorite subject, himself, rather than having a go at the life of someone else. Gunther’s tome will keep better authors and better thinkers away from the subject of Hand for another fifty years—and that is the genuine tragedy of Gunther’s book.

Otherwise, no damage has been done. No one outside the field will ever read the book, and those within the field will all too quickly recognize its biases and shortcomings, even assuming they persevere to the end, as I managed, stubbornly, to do.

For Gunther, it was a wasted twenty years, all in all. He would have been better off devoting those many years to another project.

It will be up to someone else at some future time to present the real story of the American Lord Mansfield. Meanwhile, Gunther’s volume will collect dust, unread, on library shelves.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Splendid Week

The baby is home from the hospital and, as far as everyone in my family is concerned, Christmas has already arrived.

Of course, she doesn’t do anything but sleep, but nonetheless everyone is completely captivated by her. She has so many admirers that everyone has to take turns holding her and feeding her and rocking her. Between her parents, her grandparents and her uncle (who goes over to my parents’ house every night to visit her), she has people lined up to care for her.

My nephew finds her fascinating. He touches her tiny hands and feet, and kisses her on her forehead, and watches closely whenever she is given a bottle or has her diapers changed. While she sleeps, he has a tendency to want to go upstairs and check on her every five minutes—and, because so many others share this same tendency, someone generally takes him upstairs to look at her every five minutes or so.

This tendency will, no doubt, wear off in another few days, at least for him. I do not think, however, that this tendency will pass quite so quickly for my parents. This will almost certainly be the last time in their lives that they will have an infant living in their home, full-time, even if only for a couple of months, and I think they want to take advantage of the situation.

My nephew was surprised the first time he saw his sister. He thought she would be much larger, and be capable of moving around, and be able to play with him. As soon as he saw her, however, he immediately realized that such notions were unrealistic.

He is full of questions—“When will she grow?” and “Why doesn’t she have hair?” and “When will she talk?”—and he is displaying unending curiosity. He is very excited about her and pleased that she has arrived at last, but I don’t think he quite knows what to make of her yet.

I wish I could be there.

The dog is behaving very well. Apparently he senses or understands that babies are very fragile. For instance, he makes no attempt to jump up on whomever is holding the baby and he makes no attempt to jump on the arm of a rocking chair whenever someone is rocking the baby. He looks at her, and he has put his nose against the legs of her infant pajamas a few times, and he has even affectionately licked her pajama legs a couple of times, but his canine instincts must tell him that she is in need of lots of human care and protection right now and, consequently, he does not unduly interfere with whomever is caring for her moment by moment. He was much the same, I recall, when my nephew was an infant three Christmases ago.

It is probably all for the best that my sister-in-law has so many persons willing and able to help her with the baby right now, and assume all other work, too. She will be able to get plenty of rest, and not have to worry about meals, laundry, and countless other things in addition to taking care of two young ones. Right now she need devote her energies to my nephew and to my niece and to herself, and to nothing else. That is good.

My parents, with the help of my brothers, selected a Christmas tree last weekend, and erected and decorated it on Sunday afternoon and evening. They waited until my nephew woke from his nap before they started to decorate the tree, knowing he would find the whole process fascinating and would want to participate. My nephew, and everyone else, had a ball—my nephew was so excited he did not even want to stop in order to eat his dinner.

I don’t believe, however, that anyone has had much opportunity to make any other Christmas preparations. The arrival of the baby, and waiting for the arrival of the baby, have been the main events of the last ten days. No doubt things will get under way on the holiday front this weekend and next.

Tomorrow will be a very important day, because it will be my older brother’s birthday. He will be 34 years old tomorrow. My mother has planned a very special birthday dinner for tomorrow night, and I know he will be pleased.

It will provide a splendid conclusion for what has been a splendid week.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Welcome To The World

A girl in the family, at last!

Helena Anna, christened after your great-grandmother, welcome to the world!

We thought perhaps you were waiting for your father’s birthday to bless us, but you chose your great-grandmother’s birthday instead!

We wish you a life of great accomplishment, purest beauty and undying love.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Tribute Is Paid

In remembrance of those who perished.

Pearl Harbor
7 December 1941

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving In Minnesota

Our Thanksgiving weekend in Minnesota was too short, but it made for a wonderful break for us.

Joshua and I were halfway expecting the new baby to arrive while we were in Minnesota, but the baby was not of a mind, apparently, to arrive simply to accommodate Josh and me. However, the baby will definitely arrive soon, so we shall certainly see the new baby at Christmas.

This Thanksgiving was the opposite of the last two years’ Thanksgivings.

The last two Thanksgivings, Josh and I were living in Minnesota and it was my brothers who had to travel to Minneapolis to spend the holidays. This year, my brothers are living in Minnesota and it was Josh and I who had to travel to the Twin Cities to spend the holidays.

The last two years, it was Josh and I who helped my parents with the Thanksgiving preparations. This year, it was my brothers who helped my parents with the pre-holiday work. I am glad my brothers were there to help out.

My older brother and his family are living at my parents’ house for a couple of months until they get their own place. One of the reasons for this is the new baby—my brother did not want my sister-in-law to concern herself with establishing a new household while she was late-term.

Everything is working out. My parents’ house is large, and everyone can spread out and stay out of each other’s way whenever he or she wants to. However, trying to avoid the dog is virtually impossible, because he makes continuous rounds to see what everybody is up to. The dog prefers that everyone remain in one room—preferably, the kitchen, where food is always available—so that he can keep an eye on everyone at the same time without having to run all over the place.

My nephew is settled in, and thinks of his grandparents’ house as his own house. He has always been happy at my parents’ house, because he gets lots of attention, can spread his toys out freely and widely, and has a ready playmate in the dog. He’s happy as a lark.

He also likes having a large backyard in which he can run around. My mother and my sister-in-law bundle him up each morning and each afternoon and take him outside for fifteen or thirty minutes at a time, depending upon how cold it is. He runs around, kicking his balls and playing with the dog. On weekends, his Dad and his Granddad take him outside and play games with him. He loves it.

We stayed in all day on Thanksgiving Day and, between meals, caught up. We had a big Thanksgiving breakfast as soon as Josh and I arrived. We had a late lunch of Dutch Chowder right before my nephew’s naptime. We had traditional Thanksgiving fare for dinner.

Despite our instructions, my mother had baked a cake in honor of my birthday and Josh’s birthday, which we celebrated over Thanksgiving Dinner. I think she made the cake primarily so that my nephew could have a cake and blow out candles.

He celebrated his third birthday a month ago. He likes birthdays, and he likes cakes, and he likes blowing out candles on birthday cakes, so he got more fun out of the cake than anyone else.

He also likes birthday presents, and he received birthday presents on Thanksgiving Day, too. My mother got him a few things so that he would not feel left out when Josh and I opened our gifts. In fact, he helped us open our gifts in addition to opening his own. For him, it was just like having a second birthday celebration a few short weeks after his own birthday celebration, and he had a marvelous time.

On Friday morning, my brothers and I had to go downtown to address some business matters and to sign some documents. We got home just in time to eat lunch with everyone else. When it came time for my nephew to take his nap, my brothers and Josh and I went out to play basketball and swim.

Josh and I did something unplanned on Friday night. The Minnesota Orchestra was playing over Thanksgiving weekend this year—something the orchestra does not often do—and we decided to attend Friday night’s concert almost at the last minute.

My parents were not planning on using their tickets for Friday night’s concert because everyone was home for the holidays. However, two works Josh particularly likes—Berlioz’s Harold In Italy and Elgar’s Enigma Variations—were on the program, and Josh and I decided very late in the afternoon to attend the concert, but only if my parents attended the concert, too. My parents love the Berlioz and the Elgar, and Josh and I believed, correctly, that my parents might decide to make use of their tickets if Josh and I went to the concert with them.

I’m glad we decided to go. It was a lovely concert. Everyone at Orchestra Hall seemed to be in a relaxed, mellow mood Friday night, including the members of the orchestra, who did not force the sound and who did not overstate things, as they are sometimes prone to do, especially when Osmo Vanksa is on the podium.

The conductor was Yan Pascal Tortelier, the French conductor and son of the late cellist, Paul Tortelier. Yan Pascal Tortelier is pretty second-rate, all in all, but it did not matter Friday night. The Minnesota Orchestra can play Harold In Italy and the Enigma Variations in its sleep, and I actually found Tortelier’s music-making sort of charming. He brought a French objectivity to both scores, he was relaxed but kept tempos moving, and he did not try to score interpretative points. He also has an indefinable French “flair”, which was welcome even in the Elgar, which at no point devolved into heaviness (indeed, the Elgar was better than the Berlioz). It was a very successful concert, a perfect program for a holiday weekend, and we had a lovely time and a lovely evening.

The program also included the Overture to Mozart’s “Abduction From The Seraglio” and Delius’s “The Walk To The Paradise Garden” from “A Village Romeo And Juliet”. Neither work contributed to the concert’s success. Both works should have been omitted from the program. The Mozart sounded as if it had not even been rehearsed.

On Saturday morning, my brothers and Josh and I went out early to play basketball again.

After an early lunch, we did something special Saturday afternoon: everyone but my older brother and my nephew went downtown to see The Guthrie Theater’s presentation of “Shadowlands”, William Nicholson’s mostly unremarkable play about C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham.

The production and the performance were quite good. Simon Jones, a regular at The Guthrie (we last saw Jones at The Guthrie precisely a year ago in a Brian Friel play), portrayed C. S. Lewis. His performance alone made the trip downtown worthwhile. He is a splendid actor.

On Sunday, after church, my brothers and I took everyone to lunch at a nice restaurant in order to celebrate my parents’ wedding anniversary, which had occurred on Wednesday. We spent the remainder of the afternoon at home until it was time for Josh and me to go to the airport.

During the weekend, Josh and I decided how we shall spend our Christmas holidays. We shall fly to Oklahoma City on Christmas Eve, and remain in Oklahoma until December 28, on which day we shall fly to Minneapolis. Late in the afternoon on New Year’s Day, we shall return to Boston.

Happily, Christmas is only three weeks away!