Odds and ends from Conference weekend
As some of you are aware, I am visiting Utah for a few days, mainly for the benefit of my son Colin, but also because of the General Conference of my church. "Conference," as we refer to it -- we don't always add the "General" when we talk about it among ourselves -- is a central part of the calendar of every practicing Mormon, as it is held twice annually, during the first weekends of April and October, and always involves thousands of people descending upon Salt Lake City from every corner of the world. I did not actually attend any sessions, however (except for the priesthood session, which was broadcast on closed-circuit television at the BYU Marriott Center); instead, Colin and I spent the weekend with the Madsens in Provo and watched the general sessions on television, thus having the benefit of hearing and seeing them while allowing a few more out-of-town visitors to have physical access to the Conference Center.
Of Conference itself I will say little here, since not all of my readers are LDS, and because I said most of what I wanted to say about it last night, during the Madsen family's traditional post-Conference wrapup. I told the group -- which as always was presided over by Dr. Truman Madsen, patriarch of that noble clan -- that for the second General Conference in a row, my favorite talk was given by President Boyd K. Packer. He spoke this time of the importance of the Book of Mormon. Although this is old news at this point, I noted that the previous Conference had taken place shortly after I had reread the Doctrine and Covenants, and for some reason Section 117 had just sort of leaped out at me at that time, in a way it never had before. So a few weeks later, President Packer got my rapt attention when he based his talk on that very text, and I have read the discourse several times since then. (To read this particular talk, click here.)
Most of these reflections, then, will center around the other aspects of the trip that are extraneous to Conference. I'll be jumping around a bit, but I suppose I should begin with the confession that there is another woman in my life now. I asked Barney and Cindy not to disclose this scandalous news to my wife, and they said they would not, although I was left with the distinct impression that I might not really be able to trust them to keep the secret. I suppose it doesn't matter now, though, because I talked to Sheila myself on the phone last night and 'fessed up, and she was in good spirits during the conversation, and really does not seem all that concerned about her "competition." The "other woman" referred to here is the Madsens' daughter Caroline, who is 11 years old. This is actually the second time Caroline has smitten me, the first being on Thanksgiving Day, 1994, when we were living in Ohio and the Madsens in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C. Sheila and Colin were on a three-week trip to Utah at the time -- we couldn't afford airfare for three, so I stayed home -- so I drove over to Washington to spend Thanksgiving with Barney, Cindy, and their kids. I ended up spending almost all of Thanksgiving Day babysitting Caroline while her parents prepared the traditional feast, and for this I received profuse thanks afterward. Cindy said they could not have accomplished their task without having someone there to take care of Caroline, and in the process of helping them out, I had oodles of fun. (If they had hired me for the day to serve in that capacity, I think I might actually have ended up paying them for the privilege.)
Fast-forward to the present. I love opera with a passion, and tend to favor sopranos and mezzos in particular. During this trip, I learned that Caroline is a truly gifted soprano, and Cindy played for me a CD recording of a voice recital given by her daughter last November, a few days after she turned 11. It was simply breathtaking, and she reminded me instantly of Charlotte Church. I could easily imagine this little girl performing one day at the Met or La Scala, given enough additional training and seasoning, and apparently her voice teacher agrees with me on this. I asked for a copy of the CD, and Barney burned one on his computer and gave it to me. Later in the day, I did something that seems to have surprised and delighted Caroline, and you can see it yourself if you click on my name on the list of contributors and read my personal profile. On the list of my favorite music and musicians, I have added Caroline's name, which is deliberately placed amidst the likes of Cecilia Bartoli, Angela Gheorghiu, and Maria Callas. And as I told her, it is staying there, even though at the moment I am the only person in all of Bloggerdom who includes Caroline Madsen in his list of interests, but I am confident that this will change during the next 15 years or so. It was my way of honoring her efforts and encouraging her to keep at it.
Later, I had the opportunity of introducing this bright and exceptionally talented child to Italian crossword puzzles, using the permanent link in this blog. (One can do the crucintarsi and some of the other games on the puzzle site without knowing any Italian, and Caroline took to it quickly, doing two or three of the puzzles pretty much on her own, and with considerable gusto.) And shortly before Colin and I left last night, I got online with her again and logged on to the Princeton Dante Project, which features, among other things, audio recordings of the full Divine Comedy in Italian. I played Canto II of Inferno for her, after reciting the first few lines myself:
Lo giorno se n'andava, e l'aere bruno
toglieva li animai che sono in terra
da le fatiche loro . . .
Then I told her about how the Comedy was written, explaining as well as I could in so short a time the terza rima rhyme scheme, the roles of Virgil and Beatrice, and the journey through Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. I don't know if she will take to Dante in the same way as someone like Erika -- who, incidentally, I wish could have been there with me when I was talking to Caroline, both to share the experience and enhance it -- but Cindy thanked me afterward for what I had done. The Madsens home-school their children, and have been hugely successful at it; not only that, but as I learned only after the impromptu Dante lesson, Caroline's voice teacher wants her to learn Italian, and what better way to introduce her to the language than by having her listen to Dante? Regardless of whether Caroline takes to Dante the way Erika and I and some others have done, it was a sweet and almost sacred privilege to introduce her to him, and I will always cherish my memories of this experience. (Unfortunately, with respect to Dante, I have not found nearly as receptive an audience in my own 11-year-old daughter Vanessa, who likes to poke fun at him.)
The weekend visit to the Madsens was good for Colin as well -- very much so, in fact. Saturday morning, bright and early, Sheila's sister Joyce took us to the light-rail station near Temple Square in Salt Lake City, where we got on the train that took us to Sandy, where in turn we boarded a bus that took us the rest of the way to Provo. Barney picked us up there, and took us on a tour of his firm's new office building, which they purchased after we had moved to Arizona. It features a mahogany-lined conference room, which immediately reminded me of the boardroom on "The Apprentice" -- a show to which I, by the way, am addicted. I had Colin sit at the table, whereupon I sat down opposite him, and in my best Donald Trump impersonation told him he was fired. (He took the firing quite good-naturedly, I might add.)
Accompanied by Barney, his father Dr. Madsen, and some others, we attended the priesthood session of Conference at the Marriott Center Saturday evening. (Truman Madsen greeted Colin and me by putting one arm around each of us and saying, as nearly as I can recall, that we were "distinguished members of the posterity of the modern house of Israel." Colin seemed very touched by the comment, which he wrote down in his journal. I was on Dr. Madsen's right, and Colin on his left, when this remark was made. Later, during dinner, each of us flanked Dr. Madsen again, this time with Colin seated on the right and me on the left, a circumstance which immediately reminded me of the story in Genesis about the blessing Jacob gave to Manasseh and Ephraim, at the request of his son Joseph.) Everyone gathered at the senior Madsens' afterward for banana splits and edifying conversation, this being a tradition I was participating in with them for the first time. (Up until now, I have only attended their Sunday-evening wrapup, and did not realize their Conference tradition included this, too.) Afterward, I asked Barney if we could stop at Border's for a few minutes, and while there, I purchased three CDs, one each for myself, Barney, and Colin. Mine was a collection of Puccini arias sung by Angela Gheorghiu; Barney's was a Ronan Tynan CD that featured "Mansions of the Lord," a song he seems to love nearly as much as I do "O mio babbino caro;" and Colin's was a jazz-and-blues recording, titled simply "New Orleans." So I am happy as a clam today, now that I have brand-new CDs of Angela Gheorghiu and Caroline Madsen. (I took Colin to school this morning, driving Joyce's car. I took my sweet time about coming back home, however; instead, I drove around Centerville listening to Angela sing Puccini on the car's CD player. Man, this is a wonderful recording!)
For the Sunday night get-together, I did some of the cooking, preparing a large batch of the Tuscan bean and rice soup everyone seems to enjoy so much. I gave the recipe to Cindy afterward; I had withheld it from her until now because I wanted to be the first to serve it at one of their Conference gatherings. This ambition of mine has now been fulfilled, and it appears to have been a huge hit with the group. I will be preparing another batch of it later today, for a gathering of Sheila's family during which I apparently am slated to be the guest of honor. (This is my first visit to Utah since we moved to Arizona 2-1/2 years ago.) Sometime in the near future, I will probably be posting the recipe on this site, after I first look up the metric equivalents for the ingredients. (This would be for Erika's benefit, as I imagine she might find our English system confusing and bewildering).
My last item for this rather lengthy post concerns some other members of my "family," with whom I got to rub shoulders for about an hour Friday evening, and whom I will see again tomorrow. Court interpreters tend overwhelmingly to be female, and when I worked here, I developed a close and unusual friendship with the Third District Court interpreters, who treated me like a king and gave me one of the best experiences I have ever had with any group of people. (As an aside, they threw a going-away party for me just before I moved to Arizona, and during the party I wondered aloud if Dante had been feted in this manner when he was exiled from Florence in 1302. There were chuckles around the room, and someone said yes, but that Dante had been given pizza at his party.) Anyway, Friday night some of the interpreters had a party in Bountiful and invited me to drop by. I did so, and was treated pretty much like a conquering hero. Tomorrow the whole gang is meeting for lunch at a Greek restaurant we always used to go to, and I look forward to the camaraderie and good conversation, along with the mezadakia around which our old tradition centered. I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life where friendships are concerned, and have been uniquely blessed by this group of women, whom I affectionately refer to as my seraglio, or harem. (My association with them led me to muse that I have become a sort of middle-aged Dobie Gillis, in that I have many women in my life and love them all, but my relationship with all and sundry is entirely chaste, wholesome, and decent. They, like so many others, have consistently managed to bring out the best in me.)
Well, I suppose that wraps it up for the moment. I hope you have enjoyed this post, which is more in the nature of a journal entry than some of the other stuff I write.