Thursday, December 31, 2009

swell party

I like to wear my tux New Year's Eve & I'm donning it tonight for a wedding reception that's also a new year's party.

At the end of the piece, Satch says, "Now we're get'n warm."

Here's a bit of Anthony Lane's piece on Grace Kelly in the New Yorker:
It is customary to denigrate “High Society” by comparing it with its parent, “The Philadelphia Story,” but I knew the child first, when I was a child, too, and nothing can undo the movies that we are led to in our youth, or the skein of impressions that they leave. I remember my mother explaining to me, drawing on who knows what store of apocrypha, that Prince Rainier had watched the scene of his wife-to-be, droopy with drink, being lugged through the moonlight in Sinatra’s arms, both of them in towelling robes, and that His Serene Highness had bridled at the outrage and declared that her works be outlawed, henceforth and on pain of death, within the bounds of his kingdom. This struck me as precisely how a jealous monarch should behave, and the twin sense of Kelly as both sovereign and subversive was planted in my brain. I was told how remarkable it was that Kelly had deigned to sing, and therefore how natural it was that her yacht-borne duet with Crosby, “True Love,” should have sold a million copies on record. She fondles the end of his squeezebox as they harmonize, but that, I suspect, went over my head, as did their bizarre exchange beside the swimming pool:
“Gee, I didn’t know that you wanted a husband who would be kind of a high priest to a virgin goddess.”
“Oh, stop using those foul words.”
Best of all, my mother pointed out that when Crosby sang “I Love You, Samantha” he did everything—folded his handkerchief, tied his bow tie, wound his wristwatch, filled his cigarette case, and donned his tuxedo, crooning all the while—without a cut. I had never heard of a cut before, or a take. (And, if there is any actor alive today who could reach that extreme pitch of relaxation, I’ve yet to see him.) When the cut finally comes, it is to Kelly, listening at the window of her bedroom. She walks away, overwhelmed; we follow her, then pause, and pull politely back, as she turns and stands there, sheathed in her Oriental robe of yellow-gold. Downstairs, Louis Armstrong laughs and says, “Now we’re gettin’ warm.”
-- Two sides of Grace Kelly
High Society intro part 1

High Society intro part 2

High Society - Well, Did You Evah?

What a Swell Party this is

Who Wants to be a Millionaire

Now You Has Jazz

True Love

Original Trailer 1956

You're Sensational

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Forty Second Street

This comes from the collection of Detroit Publishing Company photographs at the Library of Congress. It was taken on a sunny day in the early 1900s. The photographer seems to have been perched high over the southwest corner of 42nd Street and Park Avenue. You can see the corner of a steel-girdered frame in the bottom right hand corner; that seems to be what he's standing upon.

We're looking west down 42nd Street. The sun is coming over our left shoulder and it's casting a short shadow, so it's probably late morning. From attire, it seems to be a temperate day, maybe a bit brisk: spring or fall.

The building to the right is the old Grand Central Terminal. It was about to be replaced by a new building at the same location. The large building just beyond it is Hotel Manhattan, which advertised itself as having a direct connection with the terminal, an 'advanced system of ventilation,' and no interior rooms.

Click image to view full size.

{LC caption: Grand Central Station and Hotel Manhattan, New York; taken between 1900 and 1906.}

Here are some detailed views of the photo.

1. The lamp post dominating the image at left is a gas light. It has climbing pegs on its sides, presumably not used every day but only when the fixture needed attention. Although most of the vehicles are drawn by two horses, a few have only one and there's one with four of them. Of the few pulled by one horse, the one at center seems to be the only two-wheel cart. The four-horse wagon is somewhat behind the cart moving in the same direction.

2. There are shops on the shady south side of the street. One has a pedestal out front on which is a turbaned statue, reminiscent of a cigar store indian. Below it, you can see a young lady wearing a boater and sailor outfit crossing Park Avenue, chatting with a fellow who sports a cloth cap.

3. Above the store fronts, I like the way the half-circle hotel sign lines up with the restaurant sign. It seems to be a breezy day (perhaps it's March?) as there's a wind-blown American flag, now limp. Below it is a clock and to the left you can see part of a recruiting office sign. There are cigar stores on both sides of the street, most prominently the one at bottom of this image.

4. A man walks his bicycle across the street. It's an ordinary bike without the new three-speed hub. From his pack you suspect he might be a courier. The gent on horseback is not a usual sight. Men and women didn't take their horses on city streets. They rode the park for pleasure and used cabs or cars for getting around town. He is seated well and has a handsome steed, altogether dapper I'd say.

5. A barrel wagon is commanded by a drover with lap robe. He's passing a small electric street car, and what looks like a coal cart. You can see some stylish pedestrians crossing Vanderbilt Avenue. They're all walking west, as is most of the other foot traffic in the photo; I wonder why.

6. The larger of these two cars is electric powered. The Metropolitan Street Railway had converted from cable to electric power only a few years earlier. Both cable and electricity were kept underground, below a groove between the tracks. The other car is horse-drawn though it uses the same tracks. A man near the front of the electric car is somewhat less formally dressed than most, white cloth porter's coat and a cloth cap. At top center of the image is a man standing in the middle of the street. The umbrella suggests that he's a vendor, but why would he locate himself there? The sign on the roof of the horsecar says Boulevard.

7. The owner of the goods wagon, C.H. Drake, calls himself "The Peoples Popular [something]. A young woman appears to be reading what's written on the other side. Over her shoulder she has what looks like a sash and on her neck a ruff. I can't tell what she's holding to her mouth. Above her in the shadow is a policeman with hard hat, mustache and brass buttoned coat.

8. Here are men taking their ease on the sunny north side of the street. The guy the bike (no. 4 above) might be headed to the Western Union telegraph office, home of A.D.T. Messengers. The woman with the floral hat seems to be wearing a bustle. At the palings by the telegraph office a man is getting his shoes shined. At bottom you can see a young woman who seems to be fashonably wasp-waisted.

9. This gas lamp over the telegraph office seems to be reflecting the sun. It seems to be intended to help people find the office rather than light the pavement below. The guy with the flat-top hat almost certainly delivers telegrams for a living.

10. This wagon is carrying all kinds of things, including a helper.

11. These hansom cab drivers are pretty elegant: top hatted and wearing double breasted coats with lots of brass buttons. Notice the patient horses politely ignoring one another.

12. This image shows a man selling newspapers and by him I think I see a newsboy with papers on his back. If so, I think he's the only child in the photo.

13. A rather nice American Express delivery wagon. These American Express wagons were the UPS trucks of the time. The white-suited man with matching white pith helmet is a city sanitation worker known as a "white wing."

14. This grand bird perches on the south east corner of Grand Central Station. It's presumably paired with another that we can't see off to right. There's a matching pair on the south east corner.

Monday, December 28, 2009

good will, again

I mentioned that good will overtook me while in church Christmas eve, but — sad to say — the words themselves more than the feeling. I thought of what the shepherds heard and wondered what it meant, then let my mind wander to variants. Good Will, I thought wouldn't be a bad handle for Shakespeare. A good will is one that survives probate intact, of course, and financiers like to trade in the goodwill of businesses, meaning something like the value of their reputations. It occurred to me that some believe the good will inherit the earth and, if so, it may be that no good will come of it. I wondered whether the phrase Good Will Hunting might have multiply layered meanings in the movie of that title (which I haven't seen). And some obvious variants came to mind: God's will, the goad that will prick, and, as my Indiana grandma might have said, 'it's a good while since I've seen you.'

What is there in this phrase?

Since it's Biblical, it's hardly surprising that there's dispute about it.

The Gospel of Luke is the only one that has shepherds being awed by glad tidings. Like the others, it was written in Greek. It's a bit of a surprise that the Greek word the author used — εὐδοκίας (eudokia) — was an esoteric word, appearing in Bible texts but rarely elsewhere.1 It's likely to have been brought over from a Hebrew word that appears frequently in the Torah, רצון (rason), meaning God's will, favor, or pleasure.2 Good will thus seems to be excellent English for the word.3

Although the King James Bible gives it thus, it's also rendered as good pleasure and similar phrases indicating God's pleasure. Still, the translations all convey well being.

So what's the dispute about?

The issue that has been argued over the centuries, and is still debated, is whether God is promising good will among people or making a wondrous announcement to people who please him, those, presumably, who will become Christians now that Christ is born. The King James version reads 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.' Should this be — as the Douay-Rheims Bible has it — 'Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will'?4 Most now say yes and I'm not going to disagree.5

There's a subsidiary dispute over whether God is addressing all people, including women, or just men. The word in the gospel is ανθρωποις (anthropos), which, in the singular, is literally man-faced, and thus means a man, or a human being. One writer suggests that internal analysis of the text indicates that the gospel author intended the latter.6 This makes sense since the author of Luke is more focused on women than the authors of the other gospels. As a wikipedia article points out, this gospel has more characters who are women, features a female prophet (2:36), and details the experience of pregnancy.

As I said in yesterday's blog post, the Gospel of Luke brings out the inclusiveness in the teachings of Jesus particularly with respect to outcasts and fringe members of society. It shows empathy with people who are poor and with oppressed minorities as well as with women. It's in keeping with this characteristic attitude that this gospel, alone of the four, says that the angels and assembled hosts gave the good news of Jesus' birth to a group of shepherds. A modern commentator explains: "To modern romantics the shepherds described by Luke take on the gentleness of their flocks, and in recent centuries they have triumphed over the magi as a better Christmas symbol for the common man. But such interests are foreign to Luke's purpose. In fact, far from being regarded as either gentle, or noble, in Jesus' time shepherds were often considered as dishonest, outside the Law."7 I try to imagine what it must have been like for the first people to read or hear this text and comprehend that these renegade types are pleasing to God, are among God's chosen people, and are being invited to become the world's first Christian believers.

Here are some images of ancient texts containing all or part of Luke's gospel. A set of web pages by Timothy W. Seid at the Earlham School of Religion shows how scholars cope with the difficulties of ancient manuscripts such as these. (See Interpreting Ancient Manuscripts and its contents page.) In many cases the pages are damaged and even the most complete and legible lack word spacing and punctuation. There are a lot of scribal errors of transcription. Where one text differs from another, there's often no easy way to determine which is the best.

{Papyrus 75, a codex with 51 surviving leaves containing the earliest segments of the Gospel of Luke. The pages were originally about 10.2 by 5.1 inches and well preserved. Each page is written in a single column of from 38 to 45 lines and each line has 25 to 36 letters. The pages are not numbered. The handwriting is a clear uncial which when compared to other papyri dates the manuscript to sometime between 175 and 225; source:}

{Papyrus 45 fragment containing part of the Gospel of Luke, heavily damaged; probably created around 250 in Egypt.; source: wikipedia}

{St Luke's gospel, Codex Sinaiticus, c.350, one of the two earliest Christian Bibles; contains the earliest surviving copy of the complete New Testament. Consists of parchment from both sheepskin and goatskin. The parchment, originally in double sheets, may have measured about 40 by 70 cm. All codex consists, with a few exceptions, of quires of eight leaves, a format popular throughout the middle ages. Each line of the text has some twelve to fourteen Greek uncial letters, arranged in four columns. source: British Library}

{The Codex Vaticanus, a 4th century uncial manuscript in Greek of the Septuagint and the New Testament, written in Greek, on 759 vellum leaves; it is one of the two extant 4th century texts of the Old and New Testament in the form used by the early Christians, the other being the Codex Sinaiticus. The manuscript has been housed in the Vatican Library, founded in 1448, for as long as it has been known, appearing in the Vatican Library's earliest catalogue in 1475. source:}

{The Codex Vercellensis, earliest surviving manuscript of the Old Latin gospels, circa 350. The MS appears in silver letters, in very narrow columns, on extremely thin vellum stained with purple. Because the codex was used for the taking of oaths in the early Middle Ages, much of it is either difficult to read or destroyed. source:}

{Codex Bezae Cantabrigensis, circa 400; written in an uncial hand on vellum; Greek pages on the left face Latin ones on the right; source:}

{Gospel of Luke in Coptic; source:}



1 At least according to a highly-sourced Bible study text from Prairie View Christian Church: Euodokia [i.e., Eudokia] in pdf

2 "Hans Bietenhard commenting on the usage of eudokia in the LXX, writes, 'The noun eudokia occurs 25 times (only in Pss., Cant., 1 Chr., Sir.). In 8 places it is a translation of Hebrew rason (56 times in MT), good-pleasure, grace, the will of God (40 times in MT). Eudokia can denote the will or pleasure of man (cf. Ps. 141 &140]:5; Sir. 8:14; 9:12), but also the divine good-pleasure, God’s grace and blessing (Ps. 5:13; 51:19 &50:21]; 89 &88]:17; Ps. Sol. 8:22). Sir., in particular, displays the tendency to use eudokia to render Hebrew rason, in order to describe God’s good pleasure, His gracious will, activity and election (e.g., Sir. 1:27; 11:17; 15:15 et al.). Eudokia denotes the divine purpose or determination in, e.g., Sir. 33:13; 36:13; 39:18)' (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology volume 2, page 818)." source: Euodokia [i.e., Eudokia] in pdf; and see The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text by I. Howard Marshall (reprint by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978)

3 εὐδοκία is also given as satisfaction, i.e. (subjectively) delight, or (objectively) kindness, wish, purpose -- desire, good pleasure (will), seem good. Other synonyms include kindness, kindly intent, benevolence, delight. -- source: Euodokia [i.e., Eudokia] in pdf.

4 The Biblos web site gives comparative translations from many sources. See also a post by Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden on their Making Light blog. They give many other renderings of the text in Luke, including Anglo-Saxon and the Middle English and Early Modern translations. A commenter adds one in Esperanto. Here is Lowland Scots: 'Glore tae God i the heicht o heiven, an peace on the yird tae men he delytes in!'

5 There has been quite a bit of blogging on this subject this Christmas season. See for example: Round-up of posts on Luke 2:14: And see Translating Luke 2:14 ('Glory to God in heaven and peace to people on earth who please him.') and comment upon this, December 17-18, 2009 ('Glory to God among the highest [beings] and peace on earth among people pleasing [to God].' And also see: The story of the Bible By Eugene Stock (Dutton, 1906) as well as my previous post on this: good will.

6 The writer is J.K. Gayle in Getting Luke 2:14 as Glorious Wordplay.

7 The Annunciation to the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-14) in Birth of the Messiah by Raymond E. Brown (Anchor Bible, 1999) See also Karen Armstrong's article, The season has meaning for all, celebrators and skeptics alike.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

good will

This morning I read an intriguing article by Karen Armstrong, an author whose work never fails to interest. In a short piece called The season has meaning for all, celebrators and skeptics alike, she wrote: "the Christmas story is a salutary reminder that faith has also encouraged radical visions for a more compassionate world." She says the Gospel's two nativity stories, given in Matthew and Luke, used imagined accounts of the messiah's birth to convey the unsettling message that this new religion welcomed outsiders, particularly the poor and marginalized people of the places where the new churches were forming.

As it happens, I was thinking about one part of the nativity stories while in church Christmas eve. I wondered about the phrase "good will" which, as it also happens, was not in the readings this year. As I'm sure you know, Luke's gospel tell us how angels announced the coming of Jesus to shepherds in their fields at night and heavenly hosts joined them to proclaim peace and good will.

While there are many English renderings of the verse in Luke where the good will of the King James Bible appears,* two that make good sense if not good poetry are 'highest honor to God, peace in the world, and kindness among men' and 'Glory in the high heavens to God, and on Earth peace with favored people.'** Perhaps the best literal translation is the one given by J.K. Gayle in a blog called Aristotle's Feminist Subject: 'Brilliant renown to god in the highest places and on the ground peace in blessed honor to mortals.'***

These literal readings line up well with Armstrong's homily. She tells us Luke's night-watching shepherds did not belong to a class of people who found favor in the culture of their time, and, probably for this reason, his God chose them to be the first to hear the good news. Shepherds, she says, were outsiders, a type "sometimes regarded as sinners by the pious Jewish establishment because they did not observe the purity laws." These members of a social fringe group were the prototype followers of the Christian faith. They were preëminently favored by God to hear of peace and blessings to come.

The authors of the King James Bible, and those who followed their lead, did well in choosing good will as their rendering of the Greek not because of its literal accuracy but because of its subtlety. The online Oxford English Dictionary gives nuances of the phrase in screenful after screenful of definition and usage example. Consider these two examples from Wordsworth and Shelley:
The Horses have worked with right good-will. (The Waggoner 1805)

And I will give thee as a good-will token / The beautiful wand of wealth and happiness. (Hymn to Mercury Translated from the Greek of Homer 1820)

One major strain of these meanings is the association of good will with empathy, a generosity of spirit, and concern for the well-being of others. I found this passage in a book of 1670 on the great fire that had consumed most of London in 1666:
When the will is strongly enclined and byassed [biased] to works of charity, so that a man would fain be a giving to the poor; and a supplying the wants and necessities of the needy; but can't for want of an estate; in this case God accepts of the will for the deed. David had a purpose and a will to build God a house, and God took it so kindly at his hands, that he dispatches an Embassadour to him, to tell him, how highly he resented [meaning the opposite of what this word means to us now] his purpose and good will, to build him a house. The Widows will was in her two mites which she cast into Gods Treasury; and therefore Christ sets a more honourable value upon them, than he dos upon all the vast summs that others cast in. Many Princes and Queens, Lords and Ladies are forgotten, when this poor Widow, who had a will to be nobly charitable, has her name written in letters of Gold, and her charity put upon record for all eternity. The King of Persia did lovingly accept of the poor mans handful of water, because his good will was in it, and put it into a Golden Vessel, and gave the poor man the Vessel of Gold. And do you think, that the King of Kings will be out-done by the King of Persia? Surely no.
-- London's lamentations: or, A serious discourse concerning that late fiery dispensation that turned our (once renowned) city into a ruinous heap. Also the several lessons that are incumbent upon those whose houses have escaped the consuming flames, by Thomas Brooks (Printed for J. Hancock and N. Ponder, 1670)

A second major strain in the OED's definitions of good will suggests the promise held out to the shepherds of tranquility and social justice that will come, all in good time, to people such as them. In the following passage an African-American preacher of the late 19th-century tells his hearers that the world is no pleasant place now, but there will come times when people will live together without conflict and, one is pretty sure, all will be able to hold their heads high.
Once more on the tall cliffs of Mount Paradise rest the melting rays of a setting sun. The bald tops of Gedor, Gibeah, and Mais Elias, as a thousand times before, flame in the distance with burnished gold. Gedor and Gibeah, from their bald tops, without emotion look down on centuries that have rolled away before them, like the mist of the morning. What shifting scenes, what tragedies of life have been played out on their sides and in the vales below. What mighty forces have gone out from before them to subdue the world, and to bring to it, peace and good will towards men. And still old Gedor and Gibeah stand on and on in grim silence, waiting for the perfection of that peace to come.
-- Poems by Howard Marion McClellan, African Methodist Episcopal Church. Sunday School Union. (Publishing House A.M.E. Church Sunday School Union, 1895)


* The Biblos web site's comparative texts for Gospel, Luke Chapter 2 verses 7-14 include:
  • King James Bible: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'
  • New American Standard Bible: 'Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.'
  • Darby Bible Translation: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good pleasure in men.'
  • Young's Literal Translation: 'Glory in the highest to God, and upon earth peace, among men -- good will.'
  • Douay-Rheims Bible: 'Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.'
. ** From: luke 2:14 on the shields-up blog.

*** Luke 2:14 in Greek is δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας. The last two words: (1) ἀνθρώποις, anthropos, is in the dative plural masculine, means man-faced, i.e. a human being -- certain, man and (2) εὐδοκίας, eudokia, in the nominative singular feminine, means satisfaction, i.e. (subjectively) delight, or (objectively) kindness, wish, purpose -- desire, good pleasure (will), seem good. Gayle's blog post calls attention to rhymes and word-play in Luke's text in order to show that Luke's inclusive language encompassed women as well as (presumably masculine) poor shepherds.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

written by hand

This week Anne Trubek tells us that Handwriting Is History but we should already have known this fact. Not many weeks ago Umberto Eco told us the art of penning was lost and he was not alone in noting the death of the art of handwriting. A century and a quarter past, Cassell's family magazine joined not a few others* in saying much the same.

Our great grandparents were told to watch out that the typewriter did not destroy penmanship and their much greater grandparents were told that the printing press would do the same.

So it goes. I haven't yet seen complaints that ten-finger qwerty keyboarding is giving way to text-thumbing and writing via touch-screen, but of course it is and I'll not be surprised when a complaint is made of it.

Just to show there's no trend without its counter, a new service called celery is trying to entice the fountain-pen generation to subscribe to a service that converts their scrawls to tweets.

All this is mere excuse for an opportunity to show off some artful writing of the seventeenth century.

Here's the signature of a man named John Collins, who taught writing before making himself indispensable as a disseminator of mathematical advances in the time of Newton.

And here a bit of clerkly writing in which Collins petitions for recovering of a long-overdue government pension.

This is Isaac Newton addressing a complimentary letter to Collins in which he answers some thorny mathematical questions.

These are some anonymous samples, respectively, from 1623, 1653, 1667, 1670, and 1675..

This is a detail from the example of 1667.

Although seventeenth-century folk might learn to read when young, they weren't likely to take up writing until years later. When the time came, there were many pen-men to give them instruction and some of these men prepared elegant teaching texts to smooth the way. One of the best was Martin Billingsley, whose book, The Pens Excellencie or the Secretaries Delighte, of 1618 became a model for most that followed. He described the principal hands, including Secretary, Bastard-Secretary, Roman, Italian, Court, Chancery, with their variations (e.g., sett, facill, and fast Secretary). He gave their principal uses and then, of course, showed how they were made.

The English Renaissance Electronic Service of Cambridge University gives both the preceding page scans and the following re-creations from Billingsley's plates:

{This is in the Italian hand}

{This shows the Court hand}

While at all times there are those who write with elegance and clarity and those who scrawl with varying legibility, there seem to have been more who wrote with pride, like Collins and Newton, in the seventeenth and more who wrote less artfully, like Boswell whose hand is shown below, in the eighteenth and onward.

{Example of Boswell's handwriting; source:}


* for example:
The theory and practice of handwriting, a practical manual for the guidance of school boards, teachers, and students of the art, with diagrams and illustrations, by John Jackson (W.B. Harison, 1894)

The reign of the manuscript by Perry Wayland Sinks (R. G. Badger, 1917)

Year Books of Richard II: 12 Richard II, 1388-1389, Volume 6 of Year Books of Richard II, edited by George Feairheller Deiser (Harvard University Press, 1914)

The origin and progress of the art of writing, a connected narrative of the development of the art, by Henry Noel Humphreys (Ingram, Cooke, 1853)

Pitman's journal of commercial education, Volume 66 (1907)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

music and books in the journal of Hélène Berr

Hélène Berr was a brilliant student and talented classical violinist. She was first in her class at a small Parisian private school, the Cours Boutet de Monvel taking honors in both philosophy and in Latin and modern languages. Entering the Sorbonne in 1938, she received her first degree in English language and literature, again with honors. In 1942 she registered for a doctorate at the Sorbonne with a thesis topic of Keats's Hellenism. She worked in the library at the Sorbonne and continued to attend lectures and seminars until prevented by the risk of being arrested and deported. She also took music lessons as long as she could and both played and listened to music with friends and relatives.

Her Journal records many of the books she read and gives extracts from ones that meant most to her, particularly poems of Keats and Shelley and Les Thibault by Roger Martin du Gard.

Here are some of the books and pieces of music of which she wrote.

Books Quoted or Mentioned in The Journal of Hélène Berr

Music She Played or Heard

Beethoven Schumann second violin sonata: Schumann 2nd Violin Sonata: 1st mov. Gidon Kremer vl. Martha Argerich pf.

Bach 1st violin sonata: Nathan Milstein playing Bach Sonata #1, Adagio and Fugue only.

Ravel Trio: Audio recording of Ravel's Piano Trio by the Claremont Trio from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, complete in MP3 format

Cesar Franck Sonata for Violin: Vadim Repin and Nikolai Lugansky Play Franck's Violin Sonata 2004, in Tokyo, 1st mov., 2nd mov., 3rd mov., 4th mov.

A personal note:

The Budapest Quartet was the first chamber group whose work I came to know and love. The version of the group that was active during World War II can be heard in two Beethoven Quartets listed above: Quartet No. 7, 1st mov. and Quartet No. 15, in A minor, Op. 132, Adagio, Heilige Dankgesang

{The Budapest String Quartet, from an early concert at the Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress; source: Library of Congress}

Friday, December 18, 2009

who takes the life

"It is raining Death on earth." Hélène Berr wrote this in her Journal on November 1, 1943.

And she wrote more than a year later: "The wheels of horror are turning and turning and grinding away without stopping. Some turns of the wheel crush strangers, others crush your own folk, leaving nothing behind but an inextricable mess of suffering and cares." (Written on Saturday, 22 January 1944)

For her the particular was more important than the collective. Each individual instance of brutality affected her deeply:
The pianist who played with us was arrested on Monday evening with his sister and has surely been deported. Denounced. Mme Jourdan [her violin teacher] and Nadine [a pianist friend] played a Beethoven sonata. Suddenly, during the Adagio, the cruelty and lunatic injustice of this new arrest — after a thousand, ten thousand others — seared my heart. A boy of such talent, a boy able to offer the world such pure joy through an art oblivious to human malice — up against brutality, matter devoid of spirit. How many souls of infinite worth, repositories of gifts others should have treated with humility and respect, have been similarly crushed and broken by Germanic brutality? Just as a precious violin, full of dormant capacities to awaken the deepest and purest emotions, may be broken by brutal, sacrilegious force. All these people the Krauts have arrested, deported, or shot were worth a thousand times more than they are! What a waste! What a triumph of evil over good, of the ugly over the beautiful, of strength over harmony, of matter over mind! Souls like Francoise's,* entire worlds of purity filled with marvelous abilities, have also been swallowed up by this machinery of evil.
-- Friday, 4 February 1944, evening
Throughout, although she no longer experienced moments of ecstatic joy, Berr struggled to maintain her sense of balance. She struggled and usually succeeded in staving off the despair of impotent fatalism or equally impotent anger and passion for ultimate revenge. She also tried hard to keep the Journal free of rhetoric and emotional venting. Working daily with the children of deported parents, she attempted to bring many of them to health and rescue at least a few from the same disaster.

Her sources of information were better than most and she consequently had a better knowledge of arrests, internments, deportations; of reprisals taken against innocent hostages; of the Germans' inhuman treatment of Eastern Jews and captive Russians; and of the risks borne by French people who helped Jews.

Still, though she advocated escape to her family, she refused to cease her own work and go into hiding.

There are few photos of the evil events of which Berr wrote. Here are a few that are related to the experience she recorded in the Journal:

In 1942 her father spent three months in the Drancy internment camp. Although most of the camp's occupants were deported to concentration camps in Poland and later exterminated, he was released after payment of a ransom by the chemical manufacturing company of which he was a director.

{The internment camp at Drancy, outside Paris, where Jews were confined until they were deported to the death camps; source: wikipedia}

{Jewish women detained at the Drancy holding facility; source: holocaustresearchproject}

{Aerial view of Drancy 1944; same source}

Of the Rafle du Vélodrome d'Hiver on 16 July 1942, Berr wrote:
Monsieur Boucher gives us news of the Vélodrome d’Hiver [an indoor cycle track near the Eiffel Tower where Jews were held before being sent to concentration camps]. Twelve thousand people are incarcerated, it’s hell. Many deaths already. (Sunday 19 July 1942, evening)

Details from Isabelle: 15,000 men, women and children at the Vélodrome d’Hiver, so crowded together they can only squat. Not a drop of water, the Germans have cut off the water and gas mains. Among them are sick people hauled out of hospital, people with tuberculosis wearing ‘contagious’ signs round their necks. Women are giving birth right there. No medical help. (Tuesday 21 July, evening)

{Une des rares photographies de l’intérieur du Vel’ d’hiv’; source: Olivier Beuvelet}

Of deportations, Berr wrote:
Little Bernard told me his story, stammering, in his child’s voice. His mother and his sister were deported, and he made a statement that seemed so old on the lips of a mere babe: ‘I am certain that they will not come back alive.’ (Saturday 5 September 1942)

Suddenly I realise that there is nothing to hope for and everything to fear. Monsieur R described to Denise [Hélène’s sister] what goes on prior to a deportation. Everyone is shaved, they are parked behind barbed wire, and then they are piled into cattle wagons without any straw, and the doors are sealed. (Sunday 20 September, 6pm)

Every hour of every day there is another painful realization that other folk do not know, do not even imagine, the suffering of other men, the evil that some of them inflict. And I am still trying to make the painful effort to tell the story. Because it is a duty, it is maybe the only one I can fulfill. There are men who know and who close their eyes, and I'll never manage to convince people of that kind, because they are hard and selfish, and I have no authority. But people who do not know and who might have sufficient heart to understand — on those people I must have an effect.

For how will humanity ever be healed unless all its rottenness is exposed? How will the world be cleansed unless it is made to understand the full extent of the evil it is doing? Everything comes down to understanding. That truth fills me with anguish and torment. War will not avenge the suffering: blood calls for blood, men dig their heels into their own wickedness and blindness. If only you could manage to make bad men understand the evil they are doing, if only you could give them that total and impartial vision which ought to be the glory of humankind! (Sunday, 10 October 1943)

{Roundup of Jews. Paris, France, ca. 1942; source: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York}

{French police round up Jews. Paris, France, August 20, 1941; source: Bibliotheque Historique de la Ville de Paris}

{Jews being deported from France; source: holocaustresearchproject}

The last entries of the diary are largely given over to meditations on death. On Wednesday, 17 November 1943, Berr learned about the horrible deaths suffered by Russians in Poland. When, a few days later her grandmother died in her own bed, she wrote:
I was born in the bed in which Grandma died, and so was Maman. Manam told me that this afternoon. I found it comforting to know that life and death were thus entangled.

We never stop being afraid for our loved ones; we can never plan for the future, not even for tomorrow. This isn't just rhetoric — the beauty of these lines [of Shelley's] Adonais struck me deeply, and I was tempted to memorize them:
He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again;
From the contagion of the world's slow stain
He is secure, and now can never mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown gray in vain...
At one point today I really did make those lines my own. ... The only immortality of which we can have certain knowledge is the immortality that consists in the continuing memory of the dead among the living. ... Human beings out to treat life and death as ineludtable. What you understand you can accept. what we do not accept is the criminal lunacy of people who spread death by artificial means, who slaughter each other. Death belongs to God.
-- (Sunday 28 November 1943)

{Percy Bysshe Shelley }

If only death could be as it is in Prometheus Unbound; that is what it would be if men were not evil:
And death shall be the last embrace of her
Who takes the life she gave, even as a mother,
Folding her child, says, 'Leave me not again.'
Astonishingly, that's what I was trying to express just now. I've just found it, like a light in the darkness, as I was reading Shelley's Prometheus. It's about the resurrection of the world after the death of Prometheus. The Earth is speaking.
-- (30 November 1943)

Here is the end of the Journal, written just before her arrest:
The monstrous incomprehensibility and illogical horror of the whole thing boggle the mind. But there's probably nothing to work out, because the Germans aren't even trying to give a reason or a purpose. They have one aim, which is extermination.

So why do German soldiers I pass on the street not slap or insult me? Why do they quite often hold the metro door open for me and say: "Excuse me, miss" when they pass in front? Why? Be­ cause those people do not know, or rather, they have stopped thinking; they just want to obey orders. So they do not even see the incomprehensible illogicality of opening a door for me one day and perhaps deporting me the next day: yet I would still be the same person. They have forgotten the principle of causality.

There's also the probability that they do not know everything.

The atrocious characteristic of this regime is its hypocrisy. They do not know all the horrible details of these persecutions, because there is only a small group of torturers involved, alongside the Gestapo. ... They have stopped thinking, I keep coming back to that, I think it's the root of the evil; it's the solidest prop of this regime. The destruction of personal thought and of the response of individual consciences is Nazism's first step. ... The only truthful report worthy of being written down would be one that included the full stories of every individual deportee. ... It must never be forgotten that while it was happening, the human beings who suffered all these tortures were completely separated from people who did not know about them, that the great law of Christ saying that all men are brothers and all should share and relieve the suffering of their fellow men was ignored. Horror! Horror! Horror!
-- (Tuesday, 15 February 15 1944)


* Hélène's friend Francoise Bernheim had been arrested and then deported in 1943; she later died at Auschwitz.