Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Hath Sprungeth

In Syracusa, Sicily when we were eating our typical cheap grocery store lunch on the side of the duomo I sighed "I'm tired. I feel like I'm always tired."
"Like weary? A general sense of weariness?" my friend asked.
"Yeah. That's it." There was a pause. Then as if I forgot something important on the kitchen table and was about to walk back and retrieve it I added simplistically, "I need to go home."
"Tell me about it."

That paints a fairly bleak picture of the state of affairs but in reality those moments are engulfed by the tasks at hand. The wonderful thing about being here right now is the sunlight. Sunlight really does have a lot to do with happiness. Yes, I am inside on a warm, sunny day because the thought of crowds of tourists is the opposite of appealing to me. However, the light penetrating the windows and blinds is enough to remind me that spring is here with all its joyful anticipation.

Before I go back to designing I'd like to share the two latest music obsessions: There Will Be Fireworks and Andrew Bird.

The former is a Scottish band from Glasgow that a friend introduced me to outside of "Plato's cave" in Sicily. I've listened to their album The Dark, Dark Bright an average of once a day for the past week. There's something that resonates deeply in a Mumfordian way recalling the spring of my senior year of high school when I binged on Sigh No More more than I've ever binged on any album prior or since.
It's hard to find much information about them because of their indie-ness but I'm intrigued after hearing  their songs "Ash Wednesday" and "In Excelsis Deo".



Andrew Bird's name is not new to me and I listened to a few of his songs years and years ago but for whatever reason I did not awaken to the thoughtful brilliance of his songs until sometime last month. If Youtube videos are any indication, I prefer his live performances to his studio recordings. Science, psychology, mythology, philosophy...he thinks about a range of topics and applies his thoughts to music. His explanation of his songs are fascinating because I have yet to run across a song of his that doesn't have some specific story or concept behind it.  Who writes a song about exiling all your stuffed animals ("your close advisers") as a toddler from your bed thereby establishing autonomy? (Apparently this happened.)

Oh, and he has an early instrumental version of his song "Eyeoneye" called "Oh Baltimore" and covered the blues song "Grinning In Your Face" so, bonus points for that.

My family acquired a violin through another family in our homeschooling years and it has been sitting in its case in my bedroom for years. Between my early exposure to folk and classical music and concerts at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as a kid I decided I wanted to learn violin. It didn't happen for several reasons. I taught myself guitar instead, kept playing piano, toyed around with mandolin, and now I think it's time to at least make an attempt. The idea of holding it like a mandolin and strumming the strings either comforts or fools me into thinking that it can't be so hard to pick up. Either way, life's too short to let that violin collect dust. La Città Eterna has been giving me plenty of thoughts like that.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Polyphony In the Cave

This morning at Mass the haunting echo of sung Greek filled the cold shell of space lit by a few candles and the damp day's faint light. In reality it was the Kyrie at S.S. Trinita in Rome but in my mind it was an Easter vigil in the magnificent grotto of Plato's cave. When we were in Sicily last week we went into the same cave that Plato and Caravaggio set foot in and it was one of the most poetic spaces I have ever experienced. Caravaggio said that the shape of it resembles a human ear and it was the ear that we first tested within. The acoustics in the cave are spectacular and we wandered through singing softly to ourselves and wishing that we were either completely alone or in unison to test the full strength of its power. The polyphony today in the darkness of the church reminded me of this experience and the words of Aquinas:

Taste, and touch, and vision, to discern Thee fail;
Faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.
I believe whate'er the Son of God hath told;
What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.

On this side of the veil we see shadows flicker on the cave wall in the "vale of tears". As hermits living in an apathetic world we seek strength by consuming "bread" in a "cave". Wasn't it in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, that a cave provided more for humanity than anything before? Plato, Caravaggio, the Gospel of John, Aquinas, Dante, and anything or anyone who has ever tried to express Light and Darkness, Truth and Hearing all poke at the indescribable beauty that can be found in this cave. 


Whether it is the cave in Bethlehem or the cave of Christ's tomb the cave seems to have a deep connection to the origins of something closely knit to human life. In G.K. Chesterton's book The Everlasting Man he spends two entire eloquent chapters on this very topic (which you should go read now if you never have). In the deliciously witty




Chestertonian way he speaks of the caveman and civilization and later of "God in the Cave". The caves of prophets, hermits, and saints were not escapes from life but were for escaping towards life. It isn't shutting oneself into the ignorant life of confined shadows but emerging to "see the world hanging upside down" as St. Francis, Chesterton, and Marcus Mumford all can relate.

"The man who went into the cave was not the man who came out again; in that sense he was almost as different as if he were dead, as if he were a ghost or a blessed spirit. And the effects of this on his attitude towards the actual world were really as extravagant as any parallel can make them. He looked at the world as differently from other men as if he had come out of that dark hole walking on his hands."
~ G.K. Chesterton St. Francis

When we enter the cave and listen we cannot come out the same person again if we have really entered to find something and have really listened and understood in the uncomprehending darkness.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ain't Nobody Got Time

11:17 am I woke up for the third or fourth time this morning and jolted out of bed and the strange dreams I was having. "It's so late. How long has it been since I slept in this late?" I asked myself. Leaving the albergo and turning the corner at Sant'Andrea I saw what I hope to see every morning - the 87 bus stopped at a red light. I picked up my pace to meet it at the bus stop but as I was mid sprint I realized some woman was trying to ask me directions to Piazza Navona. I stopped and told her in broken Italian, gesturing a left turn but saying "a destra". "A sinistra?" "Si, si, si! (Yes, I knew that. That's what I meant. I swear, lady, I'm not that ignorant, just tired.)". I don't know what happened to the 87 bus but I caught a 571 that happened to be at the stop. Unfortunately the driver took the long route to the Colosseum but fortunately the bus was basically empty as far as Italian buses go. I reflected on the fact that when we learned about directions in Italian class it has been more useful not for us asking for directions but giving them. The "sinistra" scenario played out in my head a couple of times before I rushed into studio.

Our project is due on Ash Wednesday so we have entered that time when studio is full but hushed. Everyone is plugged in, bent over giant white sheets of paper, brief glances become a form of communication in themselves...we are tired, obsessed (with either perfection or artfully fudging everything), and anxious. I feel guilty for writing this on a lunch break but maybe I'll be more focused after I drink the coffee I just made. Now begins the dark dinnerless days when no one wants to buy ingredients, cook, and clean so we stop eating formal meals and end up with whatever can be eaten at our desks. Don't even think about "eating out".

We have entered the time of "whatever works works". I start listening to whatever doesn't distract me be it strange or beautiful or both. I realized today that "Let It Go" hasn't been stuck in my head for a few weeks but since I have entered into the one-track-mind mindset I searched out repetitiveness. After the multilingual, instrumentalmashup, instrumental mashup, tribalsinglegoogle translate, fingerstyle ukulele, fingerstyle guitarmasculine, and, of course, original versions that has been remedied and I think I've just lost all appetite. If anyone wants to trade places for a few days I'd take all the snow if you finished and presented this project for me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have much less than 12 hours before studio closes.