Got a lot of soft, or softish, items for you today, guys. Want to start with Gen. Peter Pace, and George W. Bush. The president stopped in at a big Italian-American dinner the other night. Frankie Valli was there, Tommy Lasorda, Alito and Scalia — you know, all the greats. And, according to a press report, “Bush recognized one prominent Italian American, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was missing from the annual gathering . . .”
And I said (when reading this), “Oh, oh, oh.” So General Pace is not Pace, as in “set the pace.” He’s an Italian Pace, as in “PAH-chay,” as in “peace.”
Kind of interesting.
‐I told you these items would be soft.
‐Speaking of things Italian: The Departed has a lot of stars: Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen. (Don’t wet yourself, I know the movie’s Irish, just hang on.) But a supporting star, of a sort, is the Sextet from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Not only do we hear it in an opera house, the Nicholson character has it on his cellphone: That is the “ring,” so to speak.
‐Are you ready for some music — I mean, other than Donizetti’s Sextet? For New York Sun reviews of the pianist Leon Fleisher and Cav ’n’ Pag at the Met, please go here. For a review of a concert by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, please go here. And for a recordings roundup, please go here. Under consideration are the pianist Hélène Grimaud, the mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, and the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. (No, Maestro Salonen’s first name does not come from a nursery rhyme. It’s Finnish.)
‐Are you ready for some language? Friend of mine — Ned Currie, father of the famous Duncan Currie of The Weekly Standard, formerly of National Review — was talking about a Guy Ritchie film. And he mentioned that this was Ritchie pre-Madonna. And then he smiled and said, “‘Pre-Madonna,’ ‘prima donna’ . . .”
Aren’t words wonderful?
‐But sometimes English drives me nuts. There are certain instances when, in a piece of writing, you want it super-clear that “read” is in the past tense, and not the present, or vice versa. And English, sometimes, thwarts you.
Which reminds me of a story: I once met a foreign woman — can’t quite remember from where — who noted the moment at which she gave up on English. She had studied diligently. (I believe she was Eastern European.) For example, she knew that “read,” in the present tense, is “reed,” whereas in the past tense it is “red.” And she knew that “reading” is always “reeding.”
So she arrived in England and noticed a sign for a town called Reading. “Ah,” she said, “Reeding.” “No,” she was corrected: “Redding.”
She gave up.
‐Not long ago, I was on a New York-to-Washington train on a Sunday morning. Every human being on it — I exaggerate, just slightly — every human being on it was reading the New York Times. (I noticed this as I staggered to and from the café car.) It was amazing, slightly 1984-ish. It was like Official Reading (not Redding), or substitute church. A kind of secular Sunday-morning liturgy.
One can make too much of this, but . . . geesh.
I also observed something funny, speaking of English. On these Amtrak trains, the doors between cars have signs on them — little black squares — that say PUSH TO OPEN. And one guy was pushing a door mightily, having an impossible time getting it open. I tapped the black square, and . . . voilà (or “walla,” as people say).
The guy was amusingly embarrassed. But I said, “Look, it’s not your fault, the sign is badly worded. It should say, PUSH HERE TO OPEN.”
So that, perhaps, is my contribution to my government. I think the signs on the Amtrak doors should say, PUSH HERE TO OPEN.
I’m a regular Patrick Henry!
‐My friend Emmy Chang — formerly of National Review, now of Princeton — told me something hilarious. It is the best commentary on today’s gadgetry I have ever heard.
She was thinking about IM-ing, and she wondered whether you’d ever be able to give voice commands, to speak words, rather than typing them.
And then it occurred to her: “I’ve just reinvented the telephone.”
Perfect, isn’t it?
‐A couple of weeks ago, I had the honor of attending the annual dinner of First Concern, a crisis-pregnancy center in Clinton, Mass. The director of this center is Cathy Sneidman, a dynamo. She and her colleagues do blessed and necessary work, helping young women in distress. First Concern’s website is here. There is hardly a better cause.
At the dinner, incidentally – or not so incidentally – Cathy Sneidman gave one of the best speeches I have ever heard: on any subject, by anyone. (Her actress’s training couldn’t have hurt.)
And the master of ceremonies that night was another whiz, John Byler. I happen to have an amazing tale from him – absolutely amazing. He put it in an e-mail for me – for you, actually. And I know you’ll enjoy it:
My wife and I took our three boys to New York recently, and we had a jaw-dropping Seinfeld moment. A Larry David moment, even. As my family waited on a curb near our hotel, I stepped out into the street to hail a cab for that restaurant in Seinfeld at 112th & Broadway . . . but none in sight. Finally, I saw some a few stoplights away heading for us, and I said loudly, “Here come some taxis, or as I like to call them” — turning toward curb — “our yellow friends!” And there were two Chinese gentlemen in suits standing next to my family.
Aghast and speechless, we all filed into the taxi, me in the front seat staring straight ahead trying to sort out what had just happened. After a moment I turned to the back seat and we all just sort of shook our heads.
‐Was on an airplane the other day. The captain announced, “And we give a special welcome to Greg and Jill [or whatever], who are getting married tomorrow.” And the entire plane applauded.
Apparently marriage hasn’t sunk so low that it can’t get a round of applause, which is gladdening.
‐In a little Massachusetts town — not far from the aforementioned Clinton — I saw a beautiful building, and I asked my friend/host/guide, “What’s that?” Turned out to be a prison.
Yes, architecture — sensibility — was once like that in America. Who would have thought that there would come a time when the new churches were uglier — far, far uglier — than the old prisons?
‐Was in a little Maryland town. A church had obviously been converted into a coffee store. Its name: Holy Grounds.
‐The other day, I linked to The Greatest Website in World History, namely the Michigan Accent site (here). Needless to say, this brought in a crush of mail, from Michiganders and non-. (Mainly the former.) One reader advised me of a Pittsburghese site, and, in the spirit of equal time, I offer it: here.
Our reader said, “Yinz’ll love it!” And I do. Pittsburghese, I have long loved.
‐A lovely note from my hometown:
Dear Mr. Nordlinger,
I know you’re from Ann Arbor, and I was wondering if you had any tips for coping. I moved here about a year ago from Texas for graduate school and have had a tough time with the liberal idiocy. I’m sure they mean well [that’s where he’s wrong], but it’s almost like they lack critical thinking skills for the issues they rant about. [Almost?] Here’s a little example:
Every day from 5 to 6:30 there’s an anti-Bush rally by the post office. Sometimes I walk by on my way home, and I invariably see signs that say, “Democracy, Yes, Theocracy, No.” Recently this was combined with their shouting about how we need to leave Iran alone.
With his eye, and ear, for irony, I think he’ll do just fine.
‐A letter about San Francisco, to which I penned an ode recently:
I know what you mean. I go to S.F. five or six times a year (going there next week), and each time I’m there I think, “It would be great to live here.” But then I see the bums and the “Bush is the real terrorist” graffiti, and realize what the taxes would mean — and my thoughts go away.
But, damn, there is truly no other city anywhere near as physically beautiful. If they could somehow move the whole place to Texas . . .
That last line really made me chuckle.
‐Speaking of chuckle-making last lines: I just adored this letter’s:
I have the Palestinian argument with my mother-in-law every time I see her. And every time, I say, “Look: Palestinians sit on the Gaza Strip, which is 30 miles of beachfront property just waiting to be turned into something nice. [I heard Shimon Peres say the same thing in Davos once, by the way.] The Spanish, the Italians, the Israelis — why, even the French know what to do with their beachfront property on the Mediterranean. But, no, the Palestinians insist on maintaining their pile of rubble.”
The “plight of the Palestinians” is entirely self-inflicted, I’m afraid. Of course, being Jewish and all, my arguments don’t go very far.
Oh, by the way [this alludes to an earlier column], I do use the terms “pinko” and “commie,” but only with my mother-in-law, the red flame of West Palm Beach.
Man, I loved that.
‐Do you happen to be at Stetson University, in beautiful DeLand, Fla., with the St. John’s River meandering through it? If so, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow night, when WFB and I perform — or at least talk — in Elizabeth Hall Chapel. Be there or be square, dear Stetsonites.
‐Finally, I wanted to share with you an extraordinary letter. Several weeks ago, I ran a few items on “The Moment I Became a Republican,” or something like that. A reader contributed the following:
Black kids growing up on welfare on Chicago’s south side do not usually become conservatives. I did — not through some sudden road-to-Damascus moment, but through the discovery of a cache of National Review magazines in my high-school library. [Bless that high school.]
I found the arguments persuasive, but that wasn’t really what turned me into a conservative. What did it was the magazine’s remarkable tone of voice. It was winsome, wry, and mature — political discourse for grownups. This happened during the early 1970s, when the patriotic, optimistic liberalism of JFK and LBJ had given way to the gibbering rage of the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground. I had little use for their ideas, but what bothered me even more was the relentless nastiness and hatefulness that radiated from them. I didn’t mind their criticizing the U.S. — I was opposed to the Vietnam War as well — but they actually hated the U.S. They hated my country, and a great many of its citizens. That hatred made it impossible for me to be at ease with the Left. And it drove me toward a conservatism that was vastly more open-minded and enlightened than anything I saw on the left.
Frankly, a magazine sort of lives to see a letter like that.
See you, guys.