Figaro, John and Abigail

marriage-of-figaro-program Mental Multivitamin calls it synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity. It’s that glorious connection between what you just read/saw/heard and—in an unexpected way—what you are currently reading/seeing/hearing.

The practice of reading (deep and wide) is in effect laying down a swath of Velcro loops. And along comes something that enhances, expands, expatiates on what you already know: those are the Velcro hooks.

That aha! moment brings me great joy. My husband wishes he had written down every hunting experience he’s had since he was seven…for the pleasure of reliving them. I wish I had noted each experience of synthesis / serendipity / synchronicity in my reading life; for there have been many and, alas, my mind grows dim.

::today’s synthesis::

For a year I have been plowing through Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present. It is demanding and daunting. Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have had the fortitude and background knowledge to pull through. But it is rewarding in the same way that losing thirty pounds is rewarding.

Barzun writes several pages about Beaumarchais, the author of The Marriage of Figaro, artisan, wit, pamphleteer, and secret agent. Have you heard of him? Me, neither. Barzun calls him “the most effective helper of the [American] colonists in their war.” Do you find that an arresting description?

Mozart wrote an opera based on Beaumarchais’ story which challenged the French aristocracy, making Figaro, a valet (or barber), more noble than his master.

:: Pause, Barzun. ::

When I’ve been home alone this week, I have listened to Joseph J. Ellis’ history, First Family: Abigail and John Adams. After a five year separation, Abigail and her daughter Nabby joined John and John Quincy in Paris. The Adams family “attended an early performance of The Marriage of Figaro.”  Hello! I just read about significance of Figaro!! I reveled in the realization that for a time John and Abigail Adams and Mozart were both living and breathing in relative proximity.

::Pause, Abigail and John::

Three weeks ago I visited my friend Lisa in North Carolina. She had been culling books from her shelves and gave me a quaint 1913 book called Opera Synopses. In it I found more information on The Marriage of Figaro ; I learned the story is a direct continuation of Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville (created by Beaumarchais).

::return to Barzun::

Fascinating! I went back to Barzun’s tome and there it all was: “the man who wrote The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro before the librettists of Rossini and Mozart gave the two plays another meaning for the musical state.”

I had previously read that sentence, but because I didn’t have any Velcro loops of interest or connection, that fact just bounced off my brain. The synthesis, the recognition, made those words adhere.

So what? Although I am familiar with the overture and several arias, I have never seen the opera. I started to watch it on YouTube this morning, while I wrapped Christmas presents, but quickly realized that three hours of opera wasn’t on the agenda today. And if I’m going to be thorough (cough, cough) I should start by watching The Barber of Seville first.

So little time…


Finding Friends in Unlikely Places

One of the best stories I heard this year was from my girlfriend reunion in September.  It’s not my story to tell in specifics. The gist of it is that my girlfriend’s mom was talking to a tour guide in England, challenging the English interpretation of events between England and Scotland.  Pleased to engage with someone knowledgeable and articulate in British history, the guide allowed their conversation to develop, extending the time one would usually take with a tourist. At some point my friend’s mom realized she was speaking with a member of the royal family.

A similar frisson of recognition delights me when I come across a literary reference that connects.  I am oblivious to so many references, hopscotching right over them.  But when I am familiar with a work, or writer or quote the author mentions, the thrill of discovery goes right through me. 

Here are two recent catches:

As one who must always be acting a part, he had dressed up very carefully as a river-man; ‘the Jerome K. Jerome touch’, he had explained, ‘is what impresses the lock-keepers.’   ~ the quote is from The Footsteps at the Lock by Ronald Knox. The reference is to Jerome K. Jerome’s book Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog…) which is a very funny (in the dry British sense) book

Here was one of Miss Barbara Pym’s excellent women, a dying breed no doubt, even in country parishes, but once as much a part of the Church of England as sung evensong…; Sunday School superintendent, arranger of flowers, polisher of brass, scourge of choirboys and comforter of favorite curates.  ~ the quote is from P.D. James’ A Certain Justice (Adam Dalgliesh Mystery Series). The reference is to Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women, a comic novel about unmarried women that is at times too close to the truth to be funny (says a single friend of mine).  I didn’t know until this minute that it has been issued in a Penguin classics.  I collect Penguins

This happens in minor ways all the time. One learns a new word, a new work, a new author…and suddenly that new thing jumps out from the shadows. In January I wrote about the same thrill

~ happy sigh ~  People imagine that we readers are dull and boring, but really, the reading life is a thrilling life!

Harmonic Convergences

Patara Beach, Turkey

Delectable connections. 

With two chapters left in Frances Mayes’ A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller I am reluctant to come to an end of this book.  As much as I tried to slow down and savor the cultures, I’ve read it too quickly.  Initially I explored points and people of interest, like Spanish guitar composer Angel Barrios (follow the link…it’s two minutes you won’t regret).  But much of my reading was done when the computer was turned off. I would like to revisit A Year with my laptop, using Google and Youtube to see more. 

Last night I was reading about a reunion of friends in Scotland.  When Mayes described girlfriends Kate and Susan who opened the first bookstore-with-a-café, Printers Inc., in 1978, in Palo Alto, I had a jolt of recognition.  Their bookstore was described in a book I read last month, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.  The author of YLB, Lewis Buzbee, worked at Printers Inc. and named Kate and Susan in his book. 

~     ~     ~

This morning our New Testament reading and sermon were from Acts 21.  It opens

21:1 And when we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara(underlining mine)

I came home, drowsy and droopy, picked up A Year in the World and continued to read the chapter on Turkey’s Lycian Coast.  Turn a page and we’re in Kas.  Next page Patara Beach. 

Silky long-haired goats graze among the foundations.  Three brown-bearded ones pause and look up, as if to say, What brings you here?  Mustapha sees us coming and sends the dinghy.  We board in the same spot where Saint Luke and Saint Paul, that most peripatetic traveller, having landed here from Cos then Rhodes, found a ship to take them on to Phoenicia.

Though not uncommon, these moments of synthesis never fail to delight me.  Sweet!

Delectable Connections

It has been a week of delectable connections.  I read one book and see a reference to another that I’ve just read.  Or several authors (and Teaching Company professors) treat the same subject with interesting little twists.  It’s a worn out metaphor, but I’m looking at jewels turned by degrees.

My SIL and brother called last night from their cell phone after hearing the greatly esteemed David McCullough read.  Their was excitement throbbing in Kathie’s voice.  She had him autographed a John Adams addressed to me, an early birthday present. 

Forgetting for a moment that it was a reading, not a lecture, I asked, “And what did he talk about?”  He spoke about the thinking that is involved in the writing process, the same ideas I transcribed from a McCullough speech here. He laughed about college students asking him, “I know you’ve interviewed John Adams and Truman.  Are there any other presidents you’ve interviewed?”  His response was that he was old, but not quite that old!

Jim and Kathie both mentioned that he liked the beginnings of books and talked about beginning John Adams.  Last night was a girl’s night (except for my little grandson) and we picked up  Miss Potter (you need to watch this), and heard these opening lines from Beatrix Potter:

There’s something delicious about writing
those first few words of a story.
You can never quite tell where they will take you.
Mine took me here….where I belong.