Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Week with an Opera Diva... and Tosca

This morning I said goodbye to an opera diva. A real one, in town for a week working with her voice coach, who happens to be married to the baritone playing Baron Scarpia in the Seattle Opera's production of Tosca. She was a guest in our home (her husband came to be with her for a few days of the stay) to our family's delight, as she's sunny, upbeat, funny, and so energetic, everyone around her pitched him/herself up a notch.

My husband and I joined Laura Diva, below, ( in viewing Sunday's matinée of Puccini's "Tosca." Attending any opera is for me a rare experience, and though the music was beautiful,, the plot
accessible (thanks to supertitles and a synopsis in the printed program), the voices incredible and the staging wonderful, I still left downhearted. Why? Because opera is all about dying.

In fact, all the main characters in Tosca die. Set in Rome in 1800 as Nepoleon's army approaches the city, the dictatorial police chief Scarpia tries to capture escaped political prisoner Angelotti, compatriot to the artist Mario Cavaradossi, lover of the opera diva Tosca. There's some duplicity, pursuit, torture, attempted rape, bribery, true love, piousness, lust. You know, the usual. Plus the deaths, by stabbing, firing squad, police aggression and leaping off tall buildings in a single bound (without flying afterward).

I guess life is both tragedy and comedy, but I much prefer the comedies. And none of them are operas. Now, I'm glad I went to Sunday's performance. It was great fun being with our friends and seeing someone we kinda know in the lead of the opera. It was fabulous to get great seats free in an acoustically and aesthetically beautiful hall. It was entertaining and even exciting to do something so seldom part of my world.

But I do understand why opera plays to an ever-more-select crowd: It's a downer. The good guy doesn't win, and in fact, he often goes first. It's a galaxy too far away, and a sound pretty far removed from rap and karaoke. And the logical lapses don't jibe for the sodoku culture that wants its movie plots tight and relentless. (For example, in the minutes before his scheduled execution, Mario is left alone with Tosca in an outside location to sing interminable farewells. Why didn't they just make a break for it? They could have been well out of the city before anyone returned.)

Despite its gaps, the opera was a highlight in a very high week with charming guests. Still, it's a genre that just doesn't hum for me. But the vicarious thrill of seeing Laura so enthralled with her music was nearly enough--as she says in her child-like giddiness: "I like to sing high," and for just a few days, she took the rest of us with her.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

And the answer is...Be prepared for this!

Thank you for your guesses about the creature who made the amazingly detailed house at right. I will now quote the caption as it appears published under that photo: "Despite being single-celled organisms without any nervous system, some species of amoeba are able to build a portable shelter and carry it around for protection. The intricate 'house' shown, which has a diameter of 150 micrometers, was built from grains of sand by Difflugia coronata."

Now, WHY would a single-celled "animal" make a "house" with a scalloped door? What are those pointy "fins" in the back that look like a '57 Chevy? How does the amoeba smooth the grains of sand into this oval shape? Where in its single cell does it keep the information or instinct that "tells" it how to make this house? Do these amoebas just live in colonies of little finned, scallop-edged sand-balls? ("Hey Joe, look at Ch
arlie's new digs!") These guys are ONE CELL, for goodness sake! Am I the only one who is just flabbergasted?

How do atheists explain this...random chance? After all, the amoeba could just have likely made his/her door square with zig-zag edges, right?

Probably the guys who designed this '57 Chevy Bel Air took their cue from Difflugia Coronata...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Creature Made this House for Himself?

I just read a mind-boggling article from American Scientist, "The Magazine of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society," for March-April 2008. It was a book review of Mike Hansell's Built By Animals: The Natural History of Animal Architecture written by biology professor and author J. Scott Turner. This photo accompanied the article. It is a house built by a non-human organism, carried around by that creature for its protection. Tell me what created this. After I get some responses, I'll reveal the answer--you will be agog.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Identity as a Democrat...or a Jew...Can Make or Break a Marriage

I'm listening to the radio, a talk show on which the subject of my previous post is being discussed--the NY Times article by the woman embarrassed to admit her husband's not of her liberal ilk. Can a Republican and a Democrat coexist in marriage? What if you're in the same political party, but differ passionately on one issue? Say...abortion? Immigration?

Is this akin to two people of different religions marrying? Can an observant Jew and a Christian--or a Reform Jew--live in the same house? I'd suggest it's easier to ignore political differences than conflicts in religious observance that just get more contentious when children are on the scene. This connects to my fears about militant Islam--with absolute certainty that you're doing God's will, you cannot be dissuaded. You can't sweep differences under the prayer rug. (or the Rosh Hashana kneeling rug, for that matter.)

Similarly, there are events in a relationship that people just can't when an unfaithful husband says he's completely re-dedicated to his marriage. You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, even if you both squeeze it the same way.

That's why it's crucial to marry someone who is consonant with you on self-defining issues; it's not a good idea to marry a Republican if you're a rabid Democrat. It's risky to marry a ham-eater if you're convinced of kashrut. It's a bad bet to choose a guy whose first marriage included dishonesty if you expect him to be faithful to you.

Back to the article: It concludes with the Republican spouse coming around to support Obama, for them, the great unifier. They may coo together now over Obama's message of love, hope and "yes we can," but I'd wager that if the candidate comes out with a position (ANY position--which he has yet to do) that the Republican can't abide, he might look with affection at his wife and admit, "No, I can't." But even in that situation, they can just smile and agree that their votes will cancel each other out.

Still, I wonder what does constitute a deal-breaker? Is the straining point a matter of who is most adamant in his/her position? I married a Republican, but politics didn't shape my identity. The family I create and maintain is the center of my world; my religion the overlay on everything I do and see. A Jewish religious lifestyle would be my make-or-break factor. Politics come and go; opinions on issues change, but if you believe your religion is the truth, well, there's little wiggle room in such a close relationship as marriage. However...I've known couples to break up over exactly how close they are in their Orthodox views. (Modern Orthodox? Black Hat? Chasidic? Which Yeshiva?) That could be a pity.

Of course, if Democratic or liberal politics IS your religion, as it is for many Jews I know, then party affiliation does trump all else.

Funny, when I first started going with my husband, I had to tell my friends in fast-paced L.A, "He's Orthodox: There, I said it." And now, they're even more yeshivish, more black-hat-religious than me. Life is certainly bizarre.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I Married a Republican... and now I'm One, Too

Woke up to my husband shoving in my face an article he'd torn out of the Sunday NY Times. Half-awake, the first thing I noticed was that it had been ripped from my personal favorite part--how dare he eviscerate the Sunday Styles section?

He'd pulled out an article called "I Married a Republican: There, I said it," by
Ann Hood, in which against all logic and her peer group, the author marries one whose party identification is "not a Democrat"-- but in the end (spoiler ahead) after much embarrassment and anguish, triumphs when he puts an Obama sign on their front lawn.

I can identify with Ms. Hood.

Before I married my own Republican, I had been a registered Democrat, surrounded by like-minded souls in the liberal halls of academia, for a dozen years. Not that I had an investment in progressive politics--as a dutiful student, I merely echoed the
"wisdom" of my teachers and fellow students, not spending the time to question or think much about the basis for their passion. The implicit message was that we were compassionate, generous and caring, while the Republicans were selfish, restrictive, old-fashioned and materialistic. We were young and vibrant; they were old, blue-haired and tired. We represented the future, the Age of Aquarius, in which adversaries negotiated rather than fought wars that took young people out of school and sent them to dangerous places.

I had rehearsed my arguments enough that when I found my Republican, I had my standard defenses in order. But, unfortunately, he had been there, too, and switched stances based on real-life experiences, an encyclopedic knowledge of history and fact, and an awareness of the prejudices of academia. And because I truly didn't care much about politics, but cared increasingly about him, I let go of my means of acceptance by my professors, and started listening to one once deemed the enemy.

I couldn't read much of Ann Hood's article without wincing. Her disrespect for Republicans rang too familiar, and too shallow. Her identification with her own cohort, membership in which was dependent on sharing the liberal mind-set, was too deja vu. (Can't shake Yogi Berra's "all over again" tag). Her naive acceptance of what she'd heard and what she was told was too close to my own experience.

But the capper--that her husband chose Obama--put the lie to her entire story. No matter how you slice it, Obama is not a Republican, and, other than his declared affiliation, we don't even know he's a Democrat. His platform is vacuous, filled with platitudes that any Republican could embrace. He says "yes we can," but to what?

To say "I married a Republican" who puts up a sign for a Democrat is not really too tough a trick for a liberal, because, wink, we know by the fact he married YOU, Ann Hood, that he must be sane, after all.


And wouldn't it be nice if the NY Times acknowledged that conservatives can be intelligent, too? Imagine the headline: "I Married a Democrat: There, I said It!" The response: "So?" But that dream is for another Sunday, when I'm not awakened by the rustle of mutilated newspaper.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine from God this morning

It's rejuvenating to have sunshine, and today God sent a valentine in the form of a luscious sunrise at 7 am...bringing light into my consciousness as I arose to give my motherly assistance at a Valentine's Brunch for my daughter and her sorority sisters at their "house"! There's sure something nice about a day when everyone expresses love. The atmosphere sparkles, and the millions of flowers transferred by caring hands to delighted recipients elevates the national tone from grousing to gratitude. During a contentious political time, isn't it wonderful to unite in our appreciation of those we love?

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Beautiful Wedding: Why Did I--and 200 Others--Cry?

Having just returned from the wedding of a young woman who--and I can't believe this--I've known since she was born, I am once again touched, just in time for Valentine's Day, with the significance of love. Sounds corny, but I'm not alone--at crucial moments in the proceedings, I observed, through wet distortion, faces twisted in sentimentality, and tears glistening on revelers cheeks. The groom, when approaching his bride, wept; the bride then became lachrymose, and the entire assembly, perhaps the bride's macho brother excluded, broke into a unison of sobs and sniffles.

What were we all crying about? Could we even verbalize it?
Is there something profound we tap into when we are choked-up? Is it the same sentiment that I feel when viewing a sappy phone company commercial as when watching this young woman, who I observed growing and developing, become the magnificent bride I cheered last Thursday night? Both experiences are an indescribable welling-up of emotion that overcomes me and removes me from speech and logic.

There is something deeply visceral in the loss/gain/profundity of two people committing their lives to each other, to shared goals, moving the time spiral another increment, passing human momentum from one generation on to the next. In these two people facing each other, with unspeakable emotion, we are infused with an awe of possibility, exaltation of continuity and, I believe, awareness of the transcendent.

I can't quite remember the Jewish source where I read it, but this idea stuck with me: tears are the filament that connect the spiritual with the physical worlds. They are the physical manifestation of a non-physical reality.

Can an atheist cry at weddings? Perhaps Christopher Hitchens (actually a darn good writer) would say yes, because he's touched by the love and connection shared by these people, by the significance of their shared destiny. But what is "touched"? What, for Christopher Hitchens, is "spiritual?" He might say these thoughts come from highly-evolved neurons in the brain that when visually stimulated, chemically provide an illusory perception.

Hmm, is an illusory perception "reality?" Aren't these tears that feel wet, taste salty, reflect the light embarrassingly in the sanctuary, and blur my vision, the result of something actual? Something I didn't choose to have descend upon me
when decked out in mascara and eye-liner?

I, for one, don't like feeling out of control. But viewing the bride's lithe white vision of tulle and anticipation removed my cool and replaced it with the same outpouring of feeling that enveloped two hundred others in that suddenly-sweltering room. And as for its source--I doubt Christopher Hitchens or any biochemist really have a clue.

Mazel tov, Ruthie and Asher...

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Politcal Gender Differences, & Someplace in the Southwest....

It's Tsunami Tuesday and it's pretty exciting around here. The Alpha Male in our home is glued to his computer, checking out the incoming totals, and hoping that McCain trounces his competitors.

I'm packing, off in a couple hours to the Big Apple for a wedding. Why is it that generally, women are less invested and emotional about politics than guys? Is it that Alpha thing, where they need to compete and hope to dominate? Is it because policies and politics are more global, and most women are consumed with local--their homes and families? Not that we're uninterested--I go downstairs to check the status of the Tsunami every so often--but I'm not tied in knots over it. Instead, I've got that pre-travel nervousness--the last minute scuttle and chaos that keeps echoing in my brain, "I wish I didn't have to leave!" even as I anticipate the celebration to come.

I think this is yet another gender difference--guys want to go conquer the world, and I want to conquer the contents of my suitcase.

In any case, the photo above was taken
in the Southwest at a location associated with a famous person. Can you guess where? I hope to be able to update my blog in a couple days, and let you know.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Groundhog Scoffs at Global Warming

Today was Groundhog Day. The day when Punxutawney Phil stands on the soggy soil of Gobbler's Knob, PA and issues his proclamation, dependent on his viewing his pudgy little shadow. The crowds roar and his handlers, in top hats, read his sage words, this time declaring that we shall endure six more weeks of winter. Had the sun not shone, then he would have predicted an early spring. One would think global warming should have spared us at least a couple weeks' shivering.

It is also the fifteenth anniversary of the film, "Groundhog Day" starring Bill
Murray and Andie MacDowell. This is one of my favorite films of all time because it shows a selfish guy who finally "gets it--" that we're put on earth for reasons beyond our carpe diem desires. As you recall, Bill Murray is a reporter sent to cover the prognostication of Punxutawney Phil, and due to a time warp, relives the same day repeatedly until he gets it right--and understands that his personal behavior has reverberations that can be positive, neutral or negative, and that perhaps there's a greater force who has a plan for each of us.

I celebrated Groundhog Day on this Shabbat afternoon by creating a table setting reflecting the theme. Black tablecloth, runner of moss and leaves, centerpiece of "lucky bambo
o," photos of giant enlarged kiwi slices for place mats under clear glass plates, black goblets, earthy print napkins rolled to fit in cowrie shell napkin rings. On the runner, I placed carved animals--a beaver in soapstone, a metal hedgehog, a plastic-clay moose, and a lifelike brown plastic Bigfoot Action Figure. I dressed in black and green to match.

Given that even Al Gore can't seem to bring an early spring, I thought that I'd provide you a photo of a season to anticipate. And this week brings "Tsunami Tuesday," a climax for the election-obsessed, so there's much excitement to keep us all warm.