Letting it all hang out, &c.


I’m glad to know about Marisol Valles Garcia, a fantastically brave young woman, age 20. She agreed to be the police chief in her Mexican town — one of those towns “plagued by drug violence,” as they say. The previous police chief was murdered, of course. Having escaped death thus far, Valles Garcia is now in America, seeking asylum.

To read a little about her, go here. It’s amazing what privileged lives we have, really — despite all our problems here in America.

One of our problems is the New York Times. In a column, Howard Kurtz quoted Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times. Keller said, “The question of whether Times reporters can write fairly about Fox [News] is answered by the fact they do it, over and over. Tim Arango, Dave Carr, and Brian Stelter have set the standard for fair, tough, incisive coverage of Fox, its business, and its on-air personalities.”

Okay. But I’d like to ask a question: Does the Times “set the standard for fair, tough, incisive coverage of” CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, and so on?

I got an e-mail with an unusual heading: “Mephistopheles, Marx, and you.” Pray tell. My correspondent asked, “What do you, Mephistopheles, and Groucho Marx have in common? You all pronounce forte correctly.”

He means forte as in expertise or strong suit — which is pronounced “fort.” Forte the musical direction, as in loud, is pronounced all’italiana: “for-tay.” At least once in this column, I have cited a Groucho Marx joke: Margaret Dumont (or someone) says, “Singing isn’t really your forte.” He answers, “I wish Knox were my forte,” nyuk nyuk.

Anyway, our reader wrote, “I’m fond of the Groucho line, but I have something more devilish for you. I picked up Goethe’s Faust and began reading it last week. I have the translation by Walter Arndt. On page 9 of my copy, in the section titled ‘Prologue in Heaven,’ there is a quote from Mephistopheles” — who says,

Since once again, o Lord, I find you deigning
To walk amongst us, asking how we do,
And in the past you thought me entertaining,
You see me too here with your retinue.
Fine speeches are, beg pardon, not my forte,
Though all this round may mock me; but I know,
My rhetoric, you’d laugh it out of court,
Had you not cast off laughter long ago.

Forte rhymes with court. But there will come a day — as the traditional pronunciation is lost, engulfed — when no one will understand what the translator was doing there. “How can you rhyme for-tay with court?” They won’t understand Groucho, either. Kind of a pity.

Have you ever been so excited by a teacher — by listening to him, by being in his classroom — that you could hardly pay attention? I was talking to a friend of mine who went to Harvard College in the 1950s, I believe. His Greek-history professor was the renowned Werner Jaeger. My friend said, “I was so excited, he was such a great teacher, I could hardly concentrate on what he was saying. It was just so great to be there. And we found excuses to visit him during office hours — just to be in his presence.”

Everyone should have a professor like that — maybe two. I wish I could have sat in on Jaeger. My friend added that the professor did not actually visit Greece, his lifelong subject — his forte, if you will — until quite late in his life. People didn’t jet about so much then.

I was in Carnegie Hall Sunday afternoon, covering a voice recital (Joyce DiDonato). I encountered a distinguished fellow critic. He is on the left, of course, as almost all arts-world people are. He told me he was sending pizzas to the union demonstrators in the Wisconsin capitol. I said, “How nice. Can you tell them to throw the boxes away? Why can’t they clean up after themselves?”

There was more, but — this column has been irritable enough.

Speaking of music — of music criticism — care for a piece in City Arts? This one addresses a concert by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Paavo Järvi, with Janine Jansen, violin soloist; a rendering of Mahler’s Third Symphony by Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra; and a concert of the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, with Lisa Batiashvili, another violin soloist.

Speaking of music (but not criticism): Found myself up in Yonkers the other day. Happened on Gene Krupa Street — or was it Drive? In any case, the street sign is decorated by a little drum, with sticks. Kind of neat. Unexpected.

A young Washington conservative sent me a thank-you note — not by e-mail. He wrote, “I don’t believe a thank-you really counts unless it has been done by a fountain pen on proper stationery.”

You often hear the question, “What is a conservative?” That, ladies and gentlemen, is a conservative.

Um, will be “on travel,” as they used to say in an office I once worked in. This column will probably not appear for a while. Too bad there’s nothing else to read on the Internet, huh? Anyway — thanks and see you.



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