JC Confessions #6

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert does a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.
~ JC

I am mostly oblivious to pop culture. If I read the Grammy nominations, chances are I don’t know any of the songs and haven’t heard of the majority of the artists. I haven’t ever seen Titanic or Avatar or Jurassic movies or the vast majority of superhero movies. I don’t stream and binge watch series from Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. and I don’t have premium television packages, which means that I also haven’t seen many of the shows nominated for Emmys, although I think it is good that I haven’t seen Game of Thrones or The Handmaid’s Tale because I would probably have nightmares. I don’t watch collegiate or professional sports, except an occasional baseball game. I don’t vacation at theme parks.

I am involved with a few popular things, the most notable being the Harry Potter books and movies. For the most part, though, if you want to discuss a pop culture topic with me, you’ll likely have to explain it to me first.

Some people might say that I am elitist and they are entitled to that opinion. I would like to say in my defense that I grew up in a tiny town in New England, have never lived in a large city, and have never had a high-powered career. Even though I am now a poet, I am a community-educated one and most people find my poetry accessible rather than esoteric. But, the fact remains that I am a poet, so maybe I am guilty as charged…

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Two-year-old ABC

Having our granddaughter ABC living in our home has been a privilege.

Now 26 months old, she is energetic and tall enough to climb onto furniture that used to be out of reach. She is still petite for her age, but she is similar to her mom in that regard.

Her bangs are almost long enough to tuck behind her ears.

She loves imaginative play. Lately, she has been running a pretend ice cream shop. She also has been loving eating ice cream, sometimes with sprinkles on top!

She is adding more and more words to her vocabulary and making longer sentences. She will also now address each person in the room when she is saying hello or good-bye.

It’s still a wonderful feeling when she snuggles near you, although if she suspects you are trying to get her to settle down to sleep, she is more likely to squirm to get down and starting running and jumping around in order to stay awake. Her mother used to do the same thing!

She has a new appreciation for books and will sit long enough for you to read each page, instead of just zooming through looking at pictures.

She loves to sing. She takes after her parents, who are both accomplished musicians. She sometimes devises her own codas to songs that she knows or comes up with her own little tunes. It is incredibly cute!

Among her new obsessions this summer, besides the aforementioned ice cream, are sidewalk chalk, bubbles, and riding the carousels. Our county has several historic – and free – carousels in our parks. Sometimes she will ask for dog – pig – cow, because one of her favorite carousels has a dog and a boar among the horses. The “cow” is actually a black and white paint horse that does resemble the dairy cows around here. Another park has all horses, but still has its original organ rather than using recorded music all the time as the other carousels do. This park also has a more accessible playground, which is easier for a small 2-year-old to navigate. Her favorite horse there is a palomino she has dubbed “yellow horse.”  When she asks for dog-pig-cow-yellow-horse, we take it to mean that any carousel will do!

And this will all end soon, and not just because summer will come to an end.

Some time in the coming weeks, E’s spousal visa will finally come through and she and ABC will move permanently to London to join their spouse and father L.

We know they will be happy to finally live together full-time, instead of just transoceanic visits.

But it will be so hard to have them so far away after having them so close for so long.

Remembering Nana in Slovenia

Our Smith College Alumnae Chorus tour of Slovenia was only a few weeks after the death of my mother, known here at Top of JC’s Mind as Nana. One of the things that was comforting to me was saying prayers for my mom at the various churches we visited. Sometimes, I was even able to light a candle in her memory.

In prior tour posts, I have shared some photos from some of the churches we visited, but I wanted to share a few more. The ceiling from the chapel of Ljubljana Castle:
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Most of the churches we saw on our trip had kneelers that were built into the wooden seats. I loved the curves of these pews from the Ljubljana castle chapel:
Ljubljana castle chapel pews

A cross silhouetted against Lake Bled in the entrance to the Mary of the Assumption:
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The beautifully painted Stations of the Cross there:
Stations of the Cross at Lake Bled

In Trieste, the organ and a bit of the rose window, which was a later addition to Saint Just, when technology had progressed enough to have that large an opening in the wall:

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Catholic altars contain relics, but one seldom sees them in such a conspicuous way:img_0233

A crucifix at St. George in Piran that had been restored from one of the older iterations of the church. I was struck by how contemporary designers have recalled this centuries-old style in their own work:
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The main altar:
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And the ceiling above the chancel:
chancel ceiling - St.George, Piran

There were two churches that I visited that were not part of the official tour. Because I was there as a pray-er rather than a tourist, I don’t have photos inside the churches, but they remain close to my heart. One was in Trieste, near the amphitheater ruins. Nana’s ethnic heritage was northern Italian, so it was special to be able to spend some quiet time in the church there. The other was when I went to Mass on our last morning in Ljubljana. It was comforting to be there as part of the congregation, even though they were speaking a language I didn’t know. All the same, I felt that the prayers in my heart were understood.

Besides my private prayer pilgrimage, I also silently dedicated my performances of the Duruflé Requiem to my mother.  This requiem is based on chants from the early church and is sung in Latin, as it would have been before the Second Vatican Council. Much of it is spare and meditative, beautiful but difficult to perform because the individual vocal lines are often exposed.

The most moving of these text for me is the “In Paradisum”, which is the final commendation of the deceased to God at the end of the funeral rite. The text translates:

May the Angels lead you into paradise:
may the martyrs receive you at your coming,
and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem.

May the choir of Angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, who once was poor,
may you have everlasting rest.

At my mother’s funeral, this was the point at which I was most emotional, so I worried that I might have difficulty singing through it, especially as Duruflé sets the first stanza for sopranos only. I found, though, that it was comforting for me to bring my mother to mind at that moment, making the traditional prayer even more meaningful. In the powerful silence after we very quietly finished the piece, I could find peace.

Our last full day in Slovenia

After collapsing into bed after our bus ride back from our Koper concert, we were gifted with a (mostly) free morning. B and I took the opportunity to finish shopping for gifts and remembrances to bring back. We shopped for honey, as Slovenia is home to a long-standing tradition of bee-keeping. We bought two Christmas ornaments, one of handmade lace and one of wood, both crafts that are important culturally. We bought sea salt from Piran. A cute, artist-designed Ljubljana dress with a dragon on it for ABC. Chocolate because they had interesting flavors, including a lot of white chocolate products, which I appreciated as I need to avoid dark chocolate.

Then, we started a string of official Smith College Alumnae Chorus events. We had a meeting to hear from our officers and take care of some organizational tasks. We went to a local restaurant for our farewell luncheon.  We proceeded to St. Jakob Church for our last rehearsal.
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LIke many other churches we visited, it had been renovated and changed styles as the centuries went on. Also, like other churches, some of the renovations had been necessitated by earthquakes.
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We were surprised to see a vehicle from the Slovenian version of public broadcasting. They were setting up to record the concert for broadcast. Our rehearsal in the church was quite short; we couldn’t run long because we needed to clear out for vigil mass. While we rehearsed, B took some more photos.
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For some reason, there was a donkey grazing beside the church…
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Street performers were amusing the children with giant bubbles.
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After rehearsal, B and I grabbed a quick salad from an al fresco restaurant before returning to the church to get ready for the concert. We were honored by a visit from a representative of the US embassy, who wanted to meet us before the concert.

The concert went very well. We again had a full house and the audience was very appreciative.
concert in Ljubljana

We had a reception back at our hotel, a last chance to talk and laugh together – and to compare which sections of the Haydn and Duruflé kept playing over and over in our heads.

And to eat cake, because, I, for one, always have room for a good piece of cake.

 

 

Koper

After a few hours in Piran, we boarded our bus for a late lunch in Koper and then went to the cathedral to rehearse for our concert that evening.
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The cathedral is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. Our Slovenian guide told us that about half of the churches in Slovenia are dedicated to Mary under one or another of her many titles. Originally built in the 12th century, the cathedral evolved over the centuries to incorporate elements of later styles. Interestingly, the bell tower was originally a Roman watchtower, which explains why the stonework is so different from the rest of the cathedral. You can see some beautiful photos of the cathedral, including its impressive artwork, here.

As we saw often in Slovenia, locations tend to be a mix of styles over its long history, most of it spent dominated by other entities. The square where the cathedral is located is named Tito Square, after the president-for-life of Yugoslavia. The City Hall, which is on another side of the square, is a 15th century Venetian palace.
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After rehearsal, we had a bit of time to get something to eat before we had to dress for the concert. Given that our lunch had been both late and large, B and I decided to visit a gelato shop down near the port. We ate quite a lot of gelato in Slovenia, as there were shops or stands selling it wherever we had free time, perhaps a nod to the Italian influence in at least the southern part of Slovenia. Fortunately for B, who is lactose intolerant, most of the shops had a nice selection of sorbets and vegan gelato. On this evening, I chose a yummy vegan peach gelato.

After we dressed in our black concert attire, we waited outdoors until it was time to file into the cathedral. Here, my roommate at Smith and my first Smith friend are sitting and waiting, utilizing the fans that she brought for us. The sitting was important because we would be spending a lot of time standing on stone floors. The fans were important because it was July and quite warm. We were lucky, however, to have been in Slovenia in the time between two major European heat waves that set many all-time high temperature records. (I’m the one on the right with the silver hair and blue fan.)
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The concert was well-attended and well-received. It was so much fun to sing in that acoustical environment. You can read more about the music and concerts here.
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Why we went to Slovenia

I have done a couple of posts on Slovenia here and here, but am hoping to do a series of posts on different things that we did and saw there. I thought I’d start on the reason we travelled to Slovenia.

I am a member of the Smith College Alumnae Chorus. We sing at occasional events on campus in Northampton, Massachusetts, and every other year or so, go on an international tour. This year, we spent a week in Slovenia. We sang the Haydn Missa in Angustiis, also known as the Lord Nelson Mass, and the Duruflé Requiem, in conjunction with orchestra, tenors, and basses from Slovenia. We did have a few tenors and basses of our own along, mostly spouses of alumnae, but, as a women’s college, the vast majority of our chorus is sopranos and altos.

We performed two concerts under the direction of our conductor Jonathan Hirsh on our last two evenings in Slovenia. Our Friday night performance was at the cathedral in Koper.
Koper cathedral performance

On Saturday night, we performed at Saint James’ Church in Ljubljana. To our surprise, a representative from the United States Embassy came to greet us and the performance was recorded by the Slovenian public broadcasting service.
St. James Ljubljana performance

To the delight of the audience, Maestro Hirsh addressed them in Slovene before each concert. He told them a bit about our chorus’s mission to collaborate with local musicians when we toured and a bit about each piece. Both were written in times of strife and uncertainty. The Haydn, which was the first half of the concert, ends with a forceful plea for peace. The Duruflé, however, is much more meditative and ends very quietly with the “In Paradisum” as the soul enters into paradise. Mr. Hirsh asked the audience to take a few moments to reflect before applauding.

Those moments of silence, after the last chord had finished reverberating in those magnificent spaces, were incredibly moving, illustrating the power of music to reach across language, social differences, and time to touch hearts and minds.

One-Liner Wednesday: in case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been…

Taken by my spouse B in the “Old City” of Ljubljana, Slovenia, where I was singing with the Smith College Alumnae Chorus in Ljubljana and Koper; blog posts will be trickling in over the coming days.
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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/07/24/one-liner-wednesday-creepy/

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com