Thursday, March 31, 2005

March - Lion and Lamb

Since it's the last day of March, I remembered the old saying, "In like a lion, out like a lamb, or in like a lamb, out like a lion." Here in the beautiful Ohio, we had the former. Today was a beautiful (but windy) day, with loads of sunshine.

May your 1st day of April not bring too many fools!! :)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Thoughts for a solemn but joyous season

Perhaps I should have waited until after Easter to post my reflections on Dante and baseball, as their placement yesterday sort of interrupts the thread I began with the Ashley Smith story and continue with this post. But in any event, apropos of Easter and all that it represents, Barney Madsen shares some thoughts worth passing along, which you can read here and here. Meanwhile, in Classical Education, another of my favorite blogs, my friend Joi Weaver posted these reflections on Good Friday, plus this poem, titled "Mea Culpa."

Friday, March 25, 2005

Dante and baseball (10/17/03)

[I love baseball. Or more accurately, I love the game as it used to be, before the likes of Bud Selig, Donald Fehr, and the steroid crowd came along to inflict their peculiar brand of horrors on the grand old game. I confess that I have not paid a great deal of attention to baseball in recent years, precisely for that reason; yet my love of the game continues to lurk just below the surface, and I know it would not take much to get me to feel the old magic again. I still exult in my occasional glimpses of it.

With that in mind, I submit this post in anticipation of Opening Day, which is just around the corner. Although slightly edited for purposes of being posted on this blog, the following was originally composed as a mass e-mail sent to co-workers at the Maricopa County Superior Court on October 17, 2003, the day before that year's World Series began, and two days after the infamous Cubs meltdown during their NLCS playoff game against the Florida Marlins, which is mentioned here.]

While I was watching last night's Red Sox-Yankees game with my 14-year-old son, it suddenly occurred to me that if Dante had lived in our time, he might have been an avid baseball fan. True, he was rather dour by nature, and thus, at first blush, it might be a little difficult to imagine him eating a hot dog and drinking a beer in the bleachers at Fenway. For a number of other reasons, however, the notion of Dante as a fan actually makes a good deal of sense.

First of all, he was fixated on the numbers three and nine, and multiples of them. In Vita Nova, for instance, he attaches a great deal of significance to the fact that he met Beatrice when she was entering her ninth year and he was ending his. The Divine Comedy is composed of three canticles -- two with 33 cantos and one with 34, for a total of 100 -- and consists entirely of a succession of three-line verses with a rhyme scheme of ABA BCB CDC, and so on, with very precise syllabification. (The scheme is known as terza rima. If I had a better command of Dante's 14th-century Italian, I might undertake to retell the story of "Casey at the Bat" in terza rima, imagining that Dante might have rendered it in this fashion.) The total of 100 cantos was no coincidence; it signifies the square of three, plus one (to denote the Trinity as three constituting one) with that number (10) in turn being squared. Thus, it is easy to imagine Dante being attracted to a game with nine players on each side, nine innings, three outs, three strikes, etc. In a perfect game, the pitcher faces exactly 27 batters, that number being, of course, a multiple of 9. The bases are precisely 90 feet apart. He would probably not like it that a batter walks on four balls rather than three (or nine), but in all other respects the numerical symmetry of the game would appeal to him.

Moreover, the game itself might be understood as having parallels to the Divine Comedy. The object of the game is, of course, to go home, and thus home plate might be likened to Paradise. The runner faces all manner of hazards in the journey between the batter's box and home plate; and of course, the Comedy is about a hazardous journey to Paradise, by way of Inferno and Purgatory, the former of which is infested by strange and hideous monsters and innumerable hazards and difficulties. When the runner takes signs from the dugout or one of the coaches, the individual flashing the signs thus assumes the role of Virgil, who in the poem guides Dante through Inferno and most of Purgatory, then turns him over to Beatrice. I'm not sure who would be the Beatrice figure in a baseball game; perhaps the home-plate umpire, if the runner makes it there safely. Otherwise, I suppose the home-plate umpire could assume the role of Minos, who, in Inferno, decides into which circle of hell each sinner is to be consigned.

It was perhaps not without significance that A. Bartlett Giamatti, the baseball commissioner whose life and tenure were tragically cut short by a heart attack (he was 51), was a Yale professor and a noted Dante scholar. He wrote a wonderful little book about baseball, titled Take Time for Paradise, which I read a number of years ago, and still have somewhere. If I find the book, I am going to reread it. This book is full of allusions to Dante, which I would appreciate far more today than I did then. And when I get to the afterlife, I plan to look up Mr. Giamatti, who I believe would have been one of the great baseball commissioners -- certainly far better than Bud Selig, whom I regard as one of the lower forms of life -- and perhaps we can discuss Dante while watching a doubleheader together. (Of course, I would imagine Dante himself being present to share the occasion with us.)

And finally, before the start of Wednesday night's game between the Marlins and the Cubs, it would have been altogether fitting if the famous marquee sign at Wrigley Field had flashed to the assembling multitudes these lines, from Canto III of Inferno:

Per me si va ne la citta' dolente,
Per me si va ne l'etterno dolore,
Per me si va tra la perduta gente.
. . . Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'intrate.

("Through me the way to the doleful city,
Through me the way to eternal pain,
Through me the way to the people lost. . . .
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.")

I hope this bit of admittedly useless speculation has brightened everyone's Friday, and given you something to ponder as we enter the World Series.

Ciao a tutti voi,


Friday, March 18, 2005

"He is risen indeed!"

As we enter Palm Sunday weekend, 2005, Barney Madsen's latest post in Odd Bits is strongly recommended to everyone checking into this site. I thought of addressing the same topic in this blog, with a separate concurring view of my own; but after some additional thought and reflection, I decided against doing so. Instead, I am merely referring here to his post -- I hope in a way that will spark your interest -- and providing the necessary link so that you might read it yourselves. This is the story of an ordinary young woman, with one of the most ordinary names imaginable, who, in a moment of great crisis, somehow managed to rise to the occasion and accomplish something truly extraordinary. Between Barney's post, the linked Peggy Noonan column, and my accompanying comment -- plus any other comments added to it later -- all is said that really needs to be said. Read all of these pieces, then reflect and ponder. Prepare to have your heartstrings touched.

And then, rejoice!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

"Home is the sailor, home from the sea . . . "

I found this interesting obituary in yesterday's online edition of the Deseret Morning News, and this related article in today's. As a history buff with particular interest in the Second World War, I am always fascinated by stories such as this one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Readers Anonymous, anyone?

I have often been described as a voracious reader -- a word I have put in italics because I have heard so many people use it in this context that I suppose one and all would agree that it fits me like a plug. I am seldom without a book in hand or within easy reach, and in fact I have one about 6 inches away from my computer keyboard as I go about the day's blogging. Thus afflicted with a major, lifelong case of bibliophilia, I can naturally empathize with others who likewise suffer -- if, indeed, afflicted and suffer are the appropriate words to use here. Perhaps there should be a support group called Readers Anonymous, based on the famous 12-step recovery program; but of course, we all know it would end up being a literary club instead, with members meeting every week or so to discuss War and Peace or the latest offering from Oprah's Book Club.

I found a kindred spirit this morning in the author of this article. It brings back some fond memories of reading to my two children when they were very young. In fact, the very first thing I ever read to my son Colin, who is now 16, was a Sports Illustrated article about Dodger pitcher Orel Hershiser, who had just won the National League Cy Young Award for his pivotal role in the Dodgers' 1988 World Series victory. Colin was all of two weeks old at the time. Later he developed a preference for such bedtime fare as a book called Baby Farm Animals, although it is perhaps not entirely coincidental that he also became a baseball fan. With Vanessa, who just turned 11, I had a bit less luck. When she was very young, the only book she ever wanted me to read to her was a Spanish-language version of The Little Red Hen, which fascinated her even though she could not understand a word of it. (I think she always wondered why Mommy was unable to read it to her, even though Daddy could.) Later she enjoyed my various renditions of The Three Little Kittens. Her favorite version was the one in which I had the kittens weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth as they confess having lost their mittens, to which their mother reacts with snarls and roars as she pronounces the dread sentence, to-wit, that they shall have no pie. In other versions of this tale, I had the mother cat talking like an old geezer, or like Bruce R. McConkie; and in still another, I had the kittens sounding like Richard Nixon. Of course, I could always mix up the voices, and often did so; and my favorite trick was to do Nixon or the geezer when Vanessa wanted instead to hear the kittens cry.

So, enjoy this piece, and then go read to some child, whether it be yours or someone else's. Incidentally, one day last year Sheila and I speculated about what the Divine Comedy might have been like if Dr. Seuss had written it instead of Dante. I'd love to flesh this out when I have some idle time, but one verse might go something like this:

"One circle, two circles, three circles, four --
My goodness, my gracious, could there be more?"

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The prayer of Sir Francis Bacon

I have long been an admirer of Sir Francis Bacon, notwithstanding his conspicuous failings; and today, after a brief Internet search, I have found this prayer, composed by him, which I first discovered several years ago, and have ever since included among my favorites.

Monday, March 07, 2005

From Dr. Johnson's pen

I have a great reverence for the written word, and from time to time come across a passage of unusually fine writing that grabs and holds my attention, and makes me want to savor it as I would a meal at the Grotta Guelfa in Florence. Now that I have a way to do so, I will want to share some of these passages with you, as I come across them in the course of my extensive reading. I found one such nugget over the weekend. At the moment, I am rereading Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, one of my all-time favorite books, which is rightly esteemed as a classic of English literature, and is considered by many to be perhaps the finest biography ever written. This passage appears in a footnote in Boswell's masterpiece, and is taken from Dr. Johnson's famous account of his tour of the Hebrides.

Parenthetically, I wish to add a personal note. In October, 1994, my wife, son, and I spent a few days with my older sister Sheila, who lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia. (My wife is also named Sheila, which creates a bit of confusion at times when they are together.) I love history, and Sheila's home is located within a few miles of four major Civil War battlefields. One morning at around 8:00, she dropped me off at the Chancellorsville battlefield, which I had wanted to visit. When she asked what time she should pick me up, I said 5:00 or so would be fine with me. I think she wondered what there was about this place that could possibly keep me occupied for an entire day, but in fact there was plenty. I walked perhaps 10 miles that day, sometimes through woods, sometimes on roads, and sometimes along the still-visible Confederate trenches, stopping at every historical marker I passed, drinking in the atmosphere, and pondering the great cataclysm that had taken place there some 131 years previously. One of the spots I visited was the site of the final bivouac Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson ever had together, on the night of May 1-2, 1863, just hours before Jackson was fatally shot in the dark by one of his own men. I wanted to walk the entire 12-mile route Jackson and his men took in their famous flanking maneuver that caught Joseph Hooker completely by surprise, but alas, I ran out of time for that. I mention all of this because in reading this passage, I sense that Dr. Johnson would have understood why I felt a need to spend hours on end roaming around this battlefield.

With all that as backdrop, here is the quote:

"We were now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy, as may conduct us, indifferent and unmoved, over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. The man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona."

Boswell adds the following commentary, to which I add my concurring voice:

"Had our Tour produced nothing else but this sublime passage, the world must have acknowledged that it was not made in vain. Sir Joseph Banks, the present respectable President of the Royal Society, told me, he was so much struck on reading it, that he clasped his hands together, and remained for some time in an attitude of silent admiration."

Lest we forget

I found this article in today's edition of JWR. Because I share the concerns expressed here by Mr. Pitts, I will soon be adding to this blog a permanent link to Yale University's Nuremberg War Crimes Trials archive. (I may also add a link to the transcripts of the Adolf Eichmann trial, although I do not wish to focus excessively on a subject as unpleasant as this one.) Meanwhile, read this, and I hope you will be as touched by it as I was.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Something truly to be lamented

One of the true joys of my life has been my love of classical music. During the waning days of my bachelorhood in the 1980s, when I lived in Salt Lake City with two wonderful roommates, I used to spend hours on end reading in my room, with my boombox providing a constant backdrop of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bach, Handel, Dvorak, and the other great composers. One evening, in fact, I had the rather unusual experience of one of the roommates asking me to turn the music up. Over the ensuing years I have lost none of my love for the genre, but I regret not being able to listen to it nowadays as often as I would like, partly because the responsibilities of marriage and family have constricted my free time, and partly because most of my music collection is still on cassettes, which of course are swiftly following the 8-tracks into obsolescence.

I am old enough to remember when classical music was heard frequently on television and radio; for two examples among many, during the 1960s the opening bars of the second movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony provided the theme music for NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report, and on Saturday mornings millions of pajama-clad children were introduced subliminally to the great masterworks as they watched Warner Brothers cartoons in their living rooms. But classical is today passing out of fashion, and is largely unknown among the MTV generation. Thus this column by Diana West notes its sad decline in popularity, which in turn drives the media outlets that used to bring it to us.

Friday, March 04, 2005

A couple of random thoughts

I am prone to coming up with totally useless ideas, and this one just sort of popped into my head yesterday while I was at work. I've shared it with about a half-dozen people already, but I think it may have gone over the heads of some of them. Perhaps it will be appreciated more in this forum. Anyway, herewith my latest burst of inspiration:

I feel very strongly that Ricky Martin needs to write and perform a song about Dante. It would be written in terza rima, of course, and the song would be titled -- what else? -- "Livin' La Vita Nuova." (I presume that Ricky Martin, of all people, would also figure out a way to dance to it.) Surely it would quickly rise to the top of the pop charts, and I, for one, would eagerly purchase the CD, and probably listen to it for hours, the way I do with Cecilia Bartoli. (I hope Erika sees this, as she herself has, quite literally, been living La Vita Nuova for the past several weeks. And, in the process, presumably living "La Vida Loca" as well!)

A co-worker recently loaned me a book titled A Thousand Days in Venice, written by Marlena de Blasi. The author, an American food critic, married a Venetian, and the book is an account of their life together in Venice, which ended when they decided to move to Tuscany. On page 142 I found this little gem. (The person who loaned me the book later told me that she had thought of me when she read this paragraph).

". . . Massimiliano sat with him one day and asked him if he'd prefer to marry a girl who liked boys who shoot pool or boys who read Dante. Fernando says he asked him why he couldn't marry a girl who liked boys who shoot pool and who also read Dante and the man told him it wasn't possible, so he said he'd prefer the girl who liked boys who read Dante, of course. Massimiliano looked at him and asked, 'Don't you think you'd better be getting ready for her?' Fernando says the man's words hit him like rocks, that he read Dante day in and day out, waiting for this girl to come along. He says how strange it is, sometimes, which conversation or event stays with us while so much else melts as fast as April snow. Yes, I tell him."

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Update from Erika

I received an e-mail from Erika this morning, which was erudite, entertaining, and informative, just as all of her messages tend to be -- and as I am sure her future posts to this blog will likewise be. (Among other things, she wrote of an experience she had while reading T. S. Eliot on a train between Helsinki and Tampere, which led me to wonder how many young people ever read Eliot at all -- but here was a young student in Finland, of all places, doing just that, and evidently for recreation to boot.) She expressed a wish that she could be "more active," but said most of her waking hours these days are consumed by a paper she has to finish for a seminar to be held on March 21. She added that once the seminar is over, she expects to be a regular contributor to this blog, which is something we can all look forward to with eager anticipation. I mention this to all of you so that you can remember to keep Erika in your thoughts and prayers, as the seminar paper is very important to her. Speaking for myself, I am confident that she will do just fine, and I can't wait to learn of the result of her efforts. (Her topic, by the way, is a treatment of Dante's Vita Nuova in a sort of vacuum -- that is to say, as a work by itself, without taking into account such later works as Convivio and the Divine Comedy. Most of the Dante commentators with whom I am familiar seem unable to do that, so I hope Erika can plow some new ground with this project.)

She also thanked me for inserting that special link just for her. I sort of chuckled as I added it to my link field, partly because of the realization of just how useless it would be to the rest of us. Check it out, if you haven't already, and you'll see what I mean! :-)

I also need to correct something I said in my previous post introducing Erika. She is not the youngest member of this blog after all. I realized later that evening that this particular distinction actually belongs to Jed Madsen, who is about one month her junior.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

An important change to this site

I came in extra early this morning to work on this blog, and I am taking part of my lunch hour to do the same. As a result of some rather labored efforts to figure out how to do it, I am pleased to announce the addition of a link field, which you will see on the left-hand side of your screen if you scroll down just a bit. Thus far, I have inserted links to 22 websites, which include all of the dozen or so places I visit regularly. I have wanted to make I miei cari amici a sort of one-stop-does-it-all site for me, so that I can simply check in here each day, click the appropriate links, and go where I want to go from my home base, as it were. Because this is your blog as well, I will be more than happy to include any links you want me to add; just send me an e-mail with your request, along with the appropriate URL, and I will add that one to the list, which I anticipate will soon become rather lengthy.

Some of these links have been inserted primarily for the benefit of others; for instance, you will see one link for which I specifically mention having had Erika in mind. I feel confident in predicting that this particular webpage will be pretty useless to the rest of us, but I hope she will enjoy and derive benefit from it. :-) I have also added the Virtual Finland homepage, which is in English, to help us all become more familiar with Erika's homeland.

I was going to go back and rearrange all the links in alphabetical order, but I decided that would be a bit too much of a hassle; so I am leaving them the way they are, at least for the moment. I hope the addition of the weblinks is helpful and interesting to all of you.