Politics & Policy

February On The Mall, &C.

So, it’s going ahead: The National Museum of African-American History and Culture will be built on the Mall, to be part of the Smithsonian Institution. I have not studied this issue, I must tell you–but, as usual, that won’t prevent me from writing about it.

I have never liked segregation, in history or elsewhere. And if black Americans aren’t part of the general American story, no one is. This new museum gives official, federal sanction to historiographic segregation. It is the Smithsonian’s own February.

Well, if we must have such a museum–better make it good.

‐This one, I’ve filed under, “Could Never Happen Here.” Did you see the story out of Malta? I know we don’t see much news from there. I’ll quote Reuters: “An image of Christ’s immersion in water by John the Baptist will be shown on Maltese euro coins, reflecting the cultural heritage of the deeply religious Mediterranean island, officials said . . .”

I’ll continue: “The image of the baptism of Jesus Christ is a reproduction of a marble sculpture at Valletta’s St. John Cathedral.” Valletta is the capital of Malta (not that you didn’t know that). More: “A priest had spearheaded an e-mail campaign to include the baptism scene, selected through a public vote.”

Hey, listen, I was just shocked and pleased we got Reagan on a stamp.

P.S. to itchy-fingers: No, I really wouldn’t want “it” to happen here. Call me Joe Pluralist (and, no, I wouldn’t want competing religious coins). Just having a little fun.

‐Yesterday morning, I was in the office of the president of the Juilliard School, staring at manuscripts of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and his Grosse Fuge. Also at a chunk of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.

Yes, I said manuscripts, as in manuscripts–originals.

And what did you happen to be looking at Tuesday morning?

As you may have heard, Juilliard has acquired a stupendous collection of musical manuscripts. Bruce Kovner did the collecting, and he has given his purchases–all of them, apparently–to the Juilliard School. They are never to be sold.

Kovner is one of the world’s great businessmen, and he is also an intellectual and art lover. (You may be interested to know that he is chairman of the American Enterprise Institute–and chairman of the Juilliard School.) For the last decade or so, he has amassed his manuscript collection, which includes works of Bach, Schubert, Schumann–well, everybody, really. The earliest manuscript comes from the 16th century; the latest comes from the 1990s (Schnittke).

Kovner plays the piano and harpsichord (à la WFB). He also plays the markets like a violin, or so the record would show.

He said, at the school yesterday, that he had a choice between putting those manuscripts “under a mattress” and sharing them with the public–and he chose to share them through his gift to Juilliard. (“Gift” seems too weak a word for something like this, but there you have it.) The manuscripts will be kept in state-of-the-art surroundings.

The president of the school, Joseph Polisi, had referred to the collection as “priceless.” And, in a poetic sense, it is. But it’s not literally priceless, of course, because Kovner bought all of these manuscripts. So, how much did they cost, all told? Kovner replied that he didn’t know–he hadn’t done the accounting. Millions, however.

And was he done collecting musical manuscripts? Maybe not. He may acquire some other things, in the future. (Perhaps he has a wish list.) Kovner also collects paintings and books.

He said he got kind of a spiritual kick out of collecting the manuscripts, and looking at them–joining up with the composers through them, in a way. I stared hard at the Ninth Symphony manuscript and the others. No one reveres the music–all of it–more than I, but I must say that the manuscripts didn’t do anything for me. Not even a slight frisson.

This is some defect in me, I feel sure.

You may recall my writing from, or about, Salzburg last summer. Some of us had taken an excursion to Garmisch, to be shown around the Richard Strauss home (by the composer’s grandson). I have never felt closer to individuals by visiting their houses, or handling their effects, or what have you. Most others do, I believe, and I envy them.

As to Bruce Kovner: What a marvelous life he seems to be living, and what fantastic uses he is making of it.

‐Another note about music, if I may–and about the War on Terror. (What?) One of the lines I least like about the war is, “Oh, don’t worry so much about the Muslims–Christian Europe was doing all of these barbaric things not so long ago.”

I actually thought about this, while covering La Forza del Destino the other night. (This is Verdi’s opera The Force of Destiny.) I will encapsulate the story, real, real brief-like. We are in the 18th century. The daughter of a nobleman–a marquis–falls in love with an Incan prince. (Please, bear in mind this is an opera.) The marquis no like. The Incan kills him accidentally. The young lady and the Incan run off (though having to go their separate ways).

The girl’s family feels itself deeply ashamed–and brother Carlo spends the rest of the opera, the rest of his life, hunting down his sister and her fiancé, to kill them. He succeeds in killing his sister–it is his dying act.

And what is this, ladies and gentlemen? Honor killing–honor killing of exactly the kind we read about, constantly, from Jordan and elsewhere. (Hell–from Muslim communities in the West.)

Anyway . . .

‐A friend of mine called me the other day and announced that James Woods–the actor–was his new hero. Why? Because Woods had declared he was sick of making “douchebag feminist movies” in which he played “a bad guy in a nice suit.”

Well, I think that qualifies him for some kind of heroism, don’t you?

‐I have long lamented the dirtification of the word “secretary”–I mean, the odor that has become attached to the word “secretary.” “Secretary” has a whiff of shame about it, now, for some reason. These days, no one’s a “secretary”; everyone is an “assistant.”

It pleases me that, in Europe, “secretary” still flies. It is even a word of honor. The other day, I got a message from the, er, assistant of a great world leader who signed himself “Secretary” to said world leader.

Which made me rather smile.

‐A final notice, to Brownians (or whatever the proper term is): I’ll be giving a talk at Brown U tonight, 7:00, Starr Auditorium, in MacMillan Hall, 167 Thayer St. See you (or not!).

‐A little music criticism, from the New York Sun: For a review of the mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, performing with Les Violons du Roy, please go here. And for a review of the pianist Alfred Brendel in recital, please go here.

‐A golf note? I’ve had this in my files–what I laughingly call my files–for a few weeks now. In the UAE–this is before the Emirates became a hot story!–Tiger Woods shot a 66, or six under par. (This was in the Dubai Desert Classic.) According to the AP, “Woods’s score might have been even lower, but he found water twice at the Emirates Golf Club . . .” Said Tiger himself, “I turned a great round into a–a round. Frustrating. I don’t ever like making bogeys.”

And in this frustrating, bogey-bedeviled, ungreat round–he shot 66.

Just sayin’.

‐Let’s have a little mail. A friend of mine, responding to my interview with Michael Chertoff, the homeland-security chief, said that Chertoff reminded him of Herman Wouk’s “memorable protagonist,” Victor “Pug” Henry, in War and Remembrance. (Henry is a senior naval officer in WWII.) Describing a new staff position, Henry says, “When I do my job right, there’s no sign of it; disasters just fail to occur.”

‐Another letter cited a Reuters report, which went, “A sharply divided U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, backing a second conservative nominated by President George W. Bush in his effort to move the nation’s highest court to the right.”

Asks our reader: “When Breyer and Ginsburg were voted in, did the wire services say that Clinton was moving the Court to the left?”

I can’t check, just now, but I doubt it.

‐Remember that word “floccinaucinihilipilification”–the one that Paul Johnson used in a recent column of his (which I pointed out here, in Impromptus)? Several readers wrote to advise me that this word featured in a commercial for Geico insurance–found here.

‐A reader writes, “Jay, any chance you saw/heard Carrie Underwood’s rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at the NFC championship game? [No.] It was crazy–it was the national anthem like we learned it as little kids! No strange embellishment, no changing the melody, no messing around–just a beautiful voice, in a wonderful song. By the end, you could hear the entire crowd singing along, because it was straight-up meat and potatoes.”

Fabulous. Take that, José (Feliciano).

‐A friend of mine was amazed and pleased to hear a reporter on NPR–NPR, of all places!–use “Turin,” instead of “Torino,” unapologetically, talking about the Olympics. The astounding evidence: here.

‐Finally, received this: “If only Cheney had said to Whittington, ‘You better put some ice on that,’ it wouldn’t have been a story.”



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