Cabarets and Conviviality

Monday Morning Musings:

“Life is a cabaret, old chum

Come to the Cabaret!”

–John Kander and Fred Ebb, “Cabaret,” from Cabaret

 

“Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first?”

–Jane Austen, Letter to her sister Cassandra, June 15, 1808

 

On a summery autumn day,

we left the sunlight

to enter the smoky den–

(the Cabaret, old friend)

Germany in the 1930s

but goose steppers are looming

the winds of war are moving

soon the guns will be booming

but for now, there is consuming

beer and goods,

here in the night,

the women are beautiful

the men are beautiful

they slink and glide

in barely-there wear

the Emcee, in heels and gowns

feather boa and garters,

looming

grooming the audience

flirting and diverting

we’re there, but here

then, but now

I’m surprised–

though why–

startled at my own emotion reaction

because it’s no longer an abstraction,

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me”

and Nazi insignia–

my throat constricts,

the body knows what the mind refuses to accept

(more goose steps)

I hear “some very fine people” gather

drivel and blather

echoes of then and now

the need to fight and disavow

what do politics have to do with us

the characters ask

We’re Germans,

(We’re Americans)

that can’t happen here,

our rights will never disappear

people standing tall and proud

arms held straight in devoted salute

They worship him

(no matter what he says)

small steps with profound consequences

(build a wall and many fences)

the slippery slope

and where’s the rope to pull us back

to ring the warning bell

to tell us now that all is well

So, what would you do

My brave young friend?

Would you pay the price?

What would you do?

What should we do?

What will you do?

 

 

We walk and talk

a wonderful production

the set well-designed,

the orchestra well-tuned and engaging

the voices delightful

the direction, insightful

altogether, quite a show

but—

(rightfully so)

a little too close to current events

(Maybe this time)

we’ll be lucky

maybe this time

he’ll go away

 

We wander some more

through old city streets

encounter wedding parties

one right after the other

brides, grooms, sisters, brothers

“the wedding stalker,” my husband says,

but it makes me happy to see love and joy

(where some want only to destroy)

affirmations of love and life

after the violence, hate, killing, and strife

 

We drink coffee

stroll across the cobblestones

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where men met to create a nation

to establish here a firm foundation

(remember the ladies, Abigail said)

but no, they simply went ahead

We’ve come a long way, baby

but still and all–

life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

flawed men with lofty ideals

feet of clay

and yet they found a way

it’s still the best we have

pledges made then and now

pledges these couples make in wedding vows

to love and cherish

to pursue life and happiness together

to do their best

we must do our best

(to join together)

 

After the play, we join our friends

friends of years

through love and tears

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kindred spirits

saying farewell to one couple’s house

not their first

but one where babies were born and nursed

here a family gathered

here we’ve shared many meals

often, like tonight Chinese food

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viewed one way

something we’ve done before

but there’s always something new and something old

moments to cherish and hold

close here to heart and mind

to bring out and remember

should we ever find the need to,

we say farewell to the house

but not the friendship,

remember that time, we say?

That day?

And then?

Remember when?

“What do you talk about? one friend’s daughter asked.

How do you describe the talk of old friends?

We talk of all our important nothings

and then we talk some more

of children, homes, work, and retirement

of travel, plays, movies, and books

of bats in our houses

and grandchildren in our beds

of catching mice

and stalking cats

of coffee cups and chocolate cake

of food and wine

and all the time

of then

and now

and all things fine

(and some things not so)

until finally it’s time to go.

We part with hugs effusive

despite the hour

and as the moon peeks from her cloudy bower

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we part–

Auf Wiedersehen,

but not goodbye

À bientôt

Enjoy life’s show–

it may be a cabaret

but if so, the set changes every day

and yet love, the light, true friends remain

and all our important nothings

in turns out

are really something

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Bends and Echoes

Monday Morning Musings:

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past. . .

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

Footfalls echo in the memory,

down the passage we did not take,

towards the door we never opened,

into the rose garden. My words echo

Thus, in your mind.”

T.S. Eliot, from “Burnt Echo”, No. 1 of “Four Quartets”

 

“So much of history is mystery. We don’t know what is lost forever, what will surface again. All objects exist in a moment of time. And that fragment of time is preserved or lost or found in mysterious ways. Mystery is a wonderful part of life.”

–Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter

 

This week–

a photo,

hidden within a mislabeled envelope, appears

challenging history

what is known and what may be,

tangible, frangible,

certainly mysterious

does it show what we think it shows?

Can it?

Will we ever know more of lives that soared and crashed?

The photo,

a door opened into the past,

within it the people still live

a passage, a channel

leading this way or that

perhaps many such secret passages exist

burrow along well-traveled pathways

winding passages that bend and shape the straight roads of time

time past, time present, time future

 

We go to a play,

three men enter a room, one at a time,

Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, Count Leo Tolstoy

(Barefooted and dressed as a peasant, he says

don’t call me Count, throughout the play.)

The room is furnished with a drawered table and three chairs,

in the drawer, the men will discover notebooks and pens.

(Jefferson is amazed at a pen with ink–amazed he did not think of it himself.)

Though they lived in different times,

each man has just died and entered this room,

At this discovery, Jefferson remarks,

“Evidently time bends.”

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Bulletin board in the lobby of the Lantern Theater.

The door lock after each enters the room,

they cannot exit until—what?

Each man is a writer,

and it turns out each wrote his own version of the gospels,

each man was a visionary of sorts

who wrote about reforming society,

each failed within his own life to uphold the standards he envisioned

and in this amusing and entertaining play,

the men write and argue,

debate their ideas,

and write some more,

facing the mirror—us–

we, the audience, the fourth wall

hear their words,

hear them confess their deeds and weaknesses.

And what if they did meet,

and what if they did debate and discuss,

and what if we could hear them,

bending time

 

On a beautiful summer day,

after the play

we walk the streets that bear traces of Jefferson everywhere

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a medical school and university named for him.

Centuries ago, he walked these streets

sat in a room, penned (with quill) his elegant words*

of sacred rights, of equality and independence,

even while he continued to enslave others,

words that led to a revolution,

words that still resonate today,

I imagine him,

his long-legged stroll across the cobble-stoned streets,

conversing with his unlikely friend John Adams,

perhaps opening a door into a rose garden

there

the scent lingers in the air

the words echo

time bends

Charles Dickens visited Philadelphia, too.

in March 1842, he stayed at the United States Hotel

on Chestnut Street near Fourth,

the part of the city

now called Old City

where Jefferson and other delegates declared our independence

I imagine their ghosts meeting on these city streets

that Dickens found much too regular

longing for a crooked street–

perhaps seeking a place where time bent

and echoes lingered in the air

 

Dickens met with Edgar Allen Poe,

they discussed poetry.

Dickens had a pet raven, Grip,

his stuffed body rests in a glass case

at the Free Library of Philadelphia

Dickens wrote about Grip in his book

Barnaby Rudge,

which was serialized in the Philadelphia Inquirer,

and Poe reviewed the book for a Philadelphia publication in 1842,

mentioning the raven,

and Poe later writes a poem about a raven

whose word “nevermore” echoes in the air

and through time

 

And on this beautiful summer day

we sit outside at a café,

drink wine

(and beer)

 

eat cheese

(luscious)

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I wonder to my husband

how it would have been—

what if a woman had been in that room?

He says, was there one who wrote gospels?

I don’t know,

though I think there must have been

perhaps, lost to history,

or yet to be found,

a mystery,

perhaps to be revealed

in a mislabeled envelope,

or amidst remnants unearthed from a secret passage

in the locus of past, present, and future.

We sit at the table

(a window becomes a mirror

old buildings blend with new)

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watch the people,

listening to words echo

lingering in the breeze

 

We saw The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens & County Leo Tolstoy: Discord by Scott Carter at the Lantern Theater Company in Philadelphia.

We went to Tria Café Washington West

A photo said to be of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan was in the news this week.

*Jefferson’s rough draft of the Declaration of Independence 

Second of July

 

BEP-GIRSCH-Declaration_of_Independence_(Trumbull)

By Frederick Girsch at the American Bank Note Company, for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (Restoration by Godot13) [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Pomp and parades

to celebrate this freedom day,

pomp and parades

for the declaration, brigades

will fight, fireworks can’t convey

the costs, the lives lost, yet I say

Pomp and parades

 

Celebrate it

with illuminations and shows

celebrate it,

to posterity, we’ll transmit

our hopes through this inspired prose,

this declaration we propose

celebrate it

 

This is a double rondelet. I used some of the words from a letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, about the events of July 2, 1776. Full text here.  On this day, the Second Continental Congress approved the motion for independence, which Richard Henry Lee of Virginia had brought forth in a resolution on June 7. The Continental Congress approved the actual Declaration of Independence document, written mostly by Thomas Jefferson, on July 4th. Most of the delegates signed the document on August 2. It is believed that Thomas McKean of Delaware signed at some point in 1777.

And if you’re interested, you can read more about the daily life during this period of American History in my World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia.

 

Love and Marriage: The Independence Day Edition

Monday Morning Musings

In the United States, the 4th of July is a national holiday. It’s the commemoration of the day Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and ordered that it be printed. (Congress actually declared independence on July 2, 1776, and the delegates signed the official document at a later date.) Typically, Americans celebrate the holiday with barbecues or picnics, parades, and fireworks.

This year we celebrated with a wedding.

Our beautiful, kind, and amazing younger daughter married a handsome, strong, and amazing young man. I guess that makes them the amazing couple.

Fortune or Mother Nature smiled on them, and the rain held off for the lovely outdoor ceremony. As their officiate explained, they traced the genesis of their relationship to their casting (by him) in Albright College’s stirring and affecting production of Tennessee William’s play, A Streetcar Named Desire—she was Blanche; he was Stanley. (During the production, the future bride-to-be going out of her way to assure me that this man, “just a friend”—cast opposite her as Stanley–was really nothing like the him.) The sparks that ignited onstage, continued to smolder offstage. Friendship deepened to love. The wedding vows this couple wrote, each making promises to the other, were funny, poignant, and heartfelt. It was as if they were letting the rest of us—people who love them both—in on a private, tender moment. And we were fortunate to be there to share it with them.

After the wedding

After the wedding

With my daughter ( the bride) and my mom

With my daughter ( the bride) and my mom

In a swirl of rainbow colors and whimsy, they were married. As Americans have learned, we are stronger together. Together this young couple can now strive for “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”—together. They can stand united against whatever fate may bring. They can take Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words to heart: “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

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From now on, the nation will celebrate on their anniversary.  There will be fireworks and parades. Neither will ever have an excuse to forget their wedding anniversary. But, as my husband noted, this day is only the beginning. In his closing words from his toast to them, he said,

“My greatest wish for the two of you is that through the years your love for each other will so deepen and grow that years from now you will look back on this day, your wedding day, as the day you loved each other the least.”

But perhaps each year they should throw a party or have a barbecue so we can celebrate with them.

We’ll bring our crowns.

We got crowned! (Our youngest child was married.)

We got crowned!
(Our youngest child was married.)

Next Monday: Rainbow Challah for a Rainbow Wedding