Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Mile High Jesus

Things have suddenly got very military.
For one thing, I have just emailed the Canadian Legion, thanking them for their website information on Grandview Heights, the community of homes built for Canadian veterans in 1948, and the place where the Lamb family landed one happy day early in September of the same year.
Memory is a funny thing, more often than we would like a victim of the owner's sloppy thinking, and the Legion, with a host of military historians at its willing beck and call, has been helpful in thoroughly cleaning up the loose ends of my recollections. It has also reminded me that once upon a time both Canada and the Empire/Commonwealth were on a war footing, and it was in that climate and its following years, an unmistakable imprint on the psyche of the time, that I grew up. Only an idiot ignores his roots, and yet fortunate is the man who has all his roots brought home to him. I had some of the streets mixed up or forgotten.
This happens, of course, when you don't keep in touch.
But I am in touch again, and thus precision is daily orders parts one and two, as they say in the army. The mystic, of course, is in touch as God wishes him or her to be so.
Once upon a time there was a birthday party. In a house built according to the prescriptions of a government realizing it had to do something for the returned soldiers and their families, so many of which were holed up in the highly questionable blessings of the old Hotel Vancouver. At that birthday party some adult, I suspect my father, said "It's his birthday. Isn't anyone going to give him a hug?"
And at that point a very lovely young lady zipped across the room and registered one unforgettable hug. It was the first I'd had from a female other than an older relative, and it was actually the last for a number of years. I could admire from afar as well as the next lad, but I never did get into the boyfriend/girlfriend thing on any sort of steady basis whatsoever until I was in university. A year or two after the hug I did think for a time of trying on a relationship with the hugger, but my always active mind drifted away to other interests. We encountered each other a few times before we both left high school, and the encounters were always interesting and memorable, but I had already been high-graded toward the life of the theologian, the mystic, the writer, thus the university, and she went into the work force. I saw her only once again, when she did not see me, the night my cronies and I went to a night club we had not visited before and did not again. At some point in the evening her engagement was announced and I saw her walk up to the MC to receive a corsage. I thought of introducing myself, of course, but I also unthought it, on instinct, and I was probably right. She was about to marry a Catholic, I was at that point experimenting in atheism and quite possibly would have said something that would not have contributed to the joy of the occasion. There were times when I owned the world's worst mouth, and that might have been one of them. We never saw each other again.
But half-a-century later, we converse. One low-key high school get together in the offing and my first published short story are the catalysts for the re-connection, and the responsibility of keeping the following tales accurate and properly credited requires us to keep it happening.
There seems to be quite the symbol at work here. We were both the children of the victorious warriors, as were most of the others at the party. We lived on streets named after battles, generals, and one murderously effective ship of war. The party was a peaceful enough affair - with my old man handy it was hard to conceive of it getting out of hand - but it came in the wake of the trumpets and the pipes and the guns that had blared away for six long years, coming to a happy conclusion, and all of us had to some degree a quiet gratitude that we could go one with normal lives, not having to brace ourselves to polish jack boots or learn emperor worship.
And in fact I was myself soon after carrying on in the military tradition, as an army cadet, and it was possibly because our cadet corps had girls in it that I was distracted from paying more attention to my gentle hugger. And because of cadets, and officer cadet school afterward, that I was not hanging about the neighbourhood in the idle days of summer, where we might have crossed paths in our leisure.
And now she has turned up in the Net in the same weeks that I begin a ww3 of my own against the infernal slop that has overtaken the Catholic liturgy when it is time to sing.
But not really my own, simply, of course. Whenever truth, goodness, beauty have to get to work, it is you-know-who that is actually calling the shots.
I have two pertinent images in mind.
The first is that of the state of mind of Guy Crouchback, the main man in Evelyn Waugh's war trilogy, 'The Sword of Honour", as it clears once he becomes aware, as an English soldier, that he is going to get a chance to take a stick to both the Nazis and the Russian communists together. Both are a blight upon the earth, and after the Ribbentrop pact they were a pair of blights to be dealt with together. But then Hitler makes one of his many odd moves and suddenly the communists are allies, which for Catholic Guy, quite muddied the lines of sight and organized and complete solutions to global mayhem. I've always been struck by the first situation. All the ducks in a row, when it came time for clean up. Thus, for me, not only inefficiency in music education universally, but also the piles of garbage stinking up the alleys behind most episcopal palaces, as their music committees keep throwing out the last decade's ditties to make room for the new twaddle.
When I was joining the Church in 1958, finding 'Father Smith Instructs Jackson' the finest text I'd ever read up to that point - it dealt with issues Hemingway didn't go near - I was over and over struck by two streams of memory. The first was of my love for the natural - confirmed, of course, by Ernie, - and how the Church had always blessed all that, as Father Smith kept explaining - and my second, my grateful experience of the military and its preparation for dealing with the concept of The Church Militant head on. No line of meditation in those months was stronger than the sense of me and my marriage surviving, simply because we would always be committed to the Faith, whereas I was already intuiting the eventual collapse of many of my peers' relationships. (Indeed, my life had only one flaw: I was not reading John of the Cross, even though I was living through the experiences he described.)
MT has been reading me from her research, and I have been getting the grace to think up new directions. Or maybe old directions. Maybe the whore masters that have been defying the real Vatican Two directions on the liturgy - as opposed to their fantasy lives - should get hold of my first published short story, and explore the symoblism of that.
You think I'm exaggerating?
Ah. Just in, yesterday, from an old friend concerned with liturgical standards: the story of a nun, still supressing decency in our diocese, actually kicking the shins, under the table, of a woman, a genuine professional musician, trying to express her legitimate concerns at a meeting of the parish council, called to deal with that unfortunate abortion known as CBW III.
Cut to the title.
March, 1993. That's when I saw the mile high Jesus, in the clouds of a rather wettish evening, as we were returning from a stroll to the mall on the lake shore. There was a moon behind his head, as the clouds drifted here and there. Even I felt a little awe, used as I am to having him drop in at regular intervals, albeit much shorter so as to fit under my roof or even that of the cathedral.
He also had been, in an oblique way, talking about this blog. It was all rather mysterious then. It's rather plainer now.
Bob Dylan has a rather prophetical song with the opening line "Sixteen years . . . ." I don't think I ever really understood how it fit into my personal responsibilities until now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gregorian Cleanup

The official 1000th hit on the Ranger is just in, from Wellington, New Zealand. As we did not engage Sitemeter for the first couple of months, it is not literally the 1000th, but there is still something very satisfying in seeing the number go up on the board, so thank you Reg.
We've been quiet for a week, for three reasons. One, to let me do some work on the second part of a short story that used to be called "To Hunt the Lions", and is now "Innocents Aloft", and two, to give me time to improve my grasp of Gregorian theory. (I was pretty sure THTL was merely a working title.) The modes, of any sort, ancient or modern, have always struck me as one of the best combinations of hornet's nest and spider's web that I know of, and now as I dig into them, I think I have discovered why, or perhaps, more accurately, have found more evidence that confirms what I had already suspected: they too are taught as if they were not really a branch of mathematics.
And three - and this may be the most important 'off road' journey - I've been reconnecting with an old schoolmate who does me the honour of enjoying my fiction. Grizzly went first, then Hemingway in the Kootenays, and I suspect The Filly will follow. I may be sparking the writer in herself, you see, and the teacher in me broods at his desk long after the classroom has emptied and the students gone home.
But back to the subject of the title.
Perhaps a month ago, MT discovered a thirst for Latin, and started laying in study resources offered on the Net, like the litanies of Saints available in both that language and English, some common prayers, like the Our Father and the Hail Mary, that she wanted to memorize in the old tongue. This led to a decision to start researching the availability of Gregorian manuals, that is, manuals with both the Latin text for the chants and English explanations that would help me understand the theory behind the music, especially now that I've been making the numbers work so well in the study of the scales we use now: major, minor, and blues.
I don't mean to say that Gregorian has ever been a problem for me to sing, once I got used to a couple or three intervals it seemed that I'd never run into before, because when I started, 1n 1959, there were available all manner of texts which laid the chants down in ordinary treble clef on a five line staff, just like any other sheet music, and I'd been able to read a single melody line for some years. Also, from the very beginning, Shawn's voice was right beside me, so it was hard to go wrong. So I sang away, quickly appreciating, for one thing, that all those forward vowels in the Greek Kyrie were just the thing for warming up head tone. When people complimented me on my voice, I could only think of how all those masses, especially in Saint Margaret's in Ocean Falls, had perfected resonance.

And now it is Sunday noon. We're just in from one of the longer strolls, recollecting that as we
poked along the old Burlington Northern right of way, once upon a time my father-in-law's responsibility, I was thinking about the above words, wondering if I would ever use my voice in the cathedral again. The choir, such as it was, opened with one of the good old hymns, but it was too fast, so I was not given any grace to sing it, and it was down hill after that. Am I totally on strike until they start bringing back the Gregorian, once they realize that when all else fails we should read the directions? Wellington Reg has sent an awfully pertinent hint in that direction, by passing on the link to a column by Los Angeles Times music critic Michael Hilkitz. Hilkitz was writing about pianist Glenn Gould's retirement from the concert stage for the sake of recording. Perhaps I should pull a similar stunt for the sake of chant, and I don't mean chant in English.
It is quite impossible to mount any argument against a moderate use of the old language, and the more I think about it the more I see this as the only route by which to return the music to a genuine liturgical quality. Hundreds of years of spiritual and musical genius produced an absolute treasure while the last decades have produced literature whose only real effect is to ruin voices, if not souls.
However, it must be said that I think that those who have been teaching chant theory, which is based on all that argumentative stuff about the modes, have bungled the math part. Amongst Marianne's downloads I discovered a booklet by a religious sister, from the 50s. To a point, it was quite nicely organized, and for that I was grateful, as I am still by no means clear on all the ins and outs of modes process. But I am also very clear on the absolute necessity of letting the numbers be numbers. The booklet was clear on letter names and solfa names for the degrees of the different modal scales, but then she tried to teach us that we had to let the numbers follow those identifications, and not let them simply count out the steps from the beginning as they were meant to do. Thus, in the D mode, D must be one. Singing or playing it as two because D comes after C is counter-productive, misses the point, and simply turns the number into a letter, thus eliminating the necessary opportunity of letting a number be a number. Did this good woman simply never learn the first rule of metaphysics? A thing is, and must be, what it is.
I know she was not alone, and wrote in defense of a common error, because long ago, teaching in Terrace and anxious to find some reliable rules, I ordered a booklet from - I think - Collegeville, Minnesota that said the same thing. When learning the C scale, the author said, it would be helpful to call C one in the major, and then capitalize on this scheme by calling A six when learning the A minor scale. This gave me one hell of a headache, until good old chords and the one, four, five prinicple came to mind. It was not a good idea to retrain myself or anyone to think of A, D, and E minor chords as six, two, and three.
As they say, a little learning.
And yet the music world is full of it, both secular and the other kind.
Nice to be going to war.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Innocents Aloft

The eastern shore of Howe Sound is unforgivingly steep. Heading east, as the climbers were, the only level ground they got to walk on was the highway. They had to climb from the beach, after breakfast, and then attack an even stiffer slope once they'd crossed the blacktop. With a full stomach, Toby found himself short of wind by the time they were a mere hundred yards up the logging road, which at that point ascended entirely without benefit of switchbacks. Nor did his joints seem to be as limber as he was used to. True, he hadn't worked in the woods for almost two years, but he had been walking or biking for months. What was the problem?
"Damn," he said. "I thought I was in better shape than this. It's a gorgeous morning, but I feel as if I were ninety-five."
"You mean you're not warmed up," Willow said.
"You're not warmed up. None of us are. You set the pace and it's too fast for so early in the climb."
Willow's favourite subject was biology. The remark came out with authority. "Why are you in such a hurry?" she said. "We've got all day. And nobody really cares if we get to the top anyway. The poetry before the peaks, right?"
"Right," Gabriel said. "But at this pace we might not even get to the poetry. Or maybe we're there already. Iambic pant-ameter."
Toby slowed down, but he still wondered if there was something wrong with him. "What do you mean, I'm not warmed up?"
"It's literal. It's not just a figure of speech. Your body actually has to rise in temperature before it can take on a work load like this. Uphill, on a full stomach. Why did you take off so fast? And why were we stupid enough to try to keep up with you?" She was laughing. It was always fun to tease such a workhorse, and necessary, often enough, to take the edge off his intensity.
Toby went even slower. "Did you learn this in biology class?"
"Of course. Didn't you?"
"I never took biology. I took chemistry and physics. I didn't want to cut up frogs and do all that drawing. Nor the memorizing, either. I'd rather figure stuff out than memorize."
"But you memorize songs."
"That's easy. You just keep singing them till they stick. How long does it take to warm up? Did they teach you that too?"
"At least ten minutes. Longer for some people."
Toby looked at his watch. They'd been going for a little over six minutes. He suddenly felt much better and started to laugh. "Hemingway keeps showing up. He has a story about his little boy, who had a fever and thought he was going to die because he got mixed up between Farenheit and Centigrade. Poor little guy. I feel like him, after Ernie straightened him out."
"Imagine boiling to death," Gabriel said. "Without the aid of water."
"So your temperature actually has to rise? I never knew that. How much?"
"Just a degree or so."
"That would show on a thermometer. Son of a gun. Well. So I'm not sick after all, or terribly out of shape. Whew! Now I can enjoy the day. First the tides, now my muscles. Anymore lessons coming in this part of the world?" He turned around and walked backwards for a bit, looking down on the blue waters of the sound. "I should go out with you guys more often. It's like being back in school and we can still hike around."
"But I'm going away," Willow said. "This is probably our last hike. You and Jelena might be in Toronto when I get back."
"I have to finish the book first."
"But you're almost done."
"I have to finish it and then see if they'll publish it."
"What will you do if they don't?"
"Try again. I like writing too much to quit just because either a publisher doesn't catch on or I haven't got there yet. Somebody told me I was a novelist, so I write novels. And whatever else comes to mind. You do your work as best you can, like Van Gogt, whether they like you or not. It works out. Two years ago I quit an office job to write a novel, I got half-way through the manuscript and ran out of money so I had to get a job and I they got my marvellous job in the bush. One day at a time, like this hike. If I hadn't agreed to come I wouldn't have learned about warming up being something actually scientific. Even if I already knew that you can't sing without being warmed up. I never thought of that having anything to do with temperature, just feeling my lungs suddenly ready to go."
"You wouldn't have learned about tides, either," Gabriel said.
"Don't push your luck. That was the first time in my life I've ever been wrong about tides."
"And you've never been wrong about writers."
In the academic year, Toby had written some book reviews. Gabriel Franklin had not always agreed with him, especially over Jack Kerouac, whom Toby had found less than perfect, particularly in the characterization of Japhy Ryder.
"I'm right about Thomas Aquinas and Gerald Vann and Maritain," Toby said. "Neither Kerouac nor Japhy Ryder nor all the other lame brains in San Francisco know how to read either of them.
It's too friggin' bad, but that's how it is. De gustibus and all that, to a degree, and also not to a degree. You want to be an artist? Same as being a philosopher. Keep thinking and studying and practising until you get to the intuition of being . . . ."
"Now you're warmed up," Willow said.
"Thank you." Toby grinned. "But you must know that it's because I had the intuition of being long ago, and then recovered it by getting out of law school and doing what I was born for, that I appreciate you two so much. You help keep me in it. That didn't start with you, of course, but with Gabe and his sidekicks. But you finished it by taking me home with you that frosty night in October. And you both have always done so much to keep me in it."
"Right," Gabe said. "We saved you from drowning."
"In the work ethic, as well as in Howe Sound," Toby said.
"Oh, I don't think you'll ever be completely safe from the work ethic," Willow said.
"Once I've published a novel I'll be able to relax."
"Once you've published a novel you'll have to deal with fame," Willow said.
"And a biographer," said Gabe.
"The biography will be the easy part,' Toby said. "A holiday. We'll do it on that yacht you were talking about last time we were out, remember? The one you were going to anchor off Nanaimo with a hold full of whiskey you could drink yourself - very slowly - to death with. You'll be allowed one question per bottle. That way it'll be a slow death.
"It wasn't off Nanaimo. It has to be a quieter shore. No ferries or tug boats."
"Like where?"
"I don't know. We'll cruise around until we find a quiet place. Some beach where there's always a sunset.'
"On our coast? We're lucky to get sun two days in a row in this part of the world."
"You're exaggerating."
"Of course. But you know what I mean. You can't take a day like this for granted, even if you do remember the occasional spell where the clear skies went on for weeks." Toby said to Willow,
"That's literal weeks. Not a figure of speech weeks. Like the autumn we had a huge tomato crop and went hunting and I shot two grouse and a dog salmon trying to get up a creek so diminished by the drought that the fish had to wait until the tide came in to get up the little estuary."
"You were right about the tide that time," Gabe said.
"Yes, but not about the fish. It was spawning time and it had no taste. My Mom could have shot me. She baked it in the oven."
"You were very lucky to have the inlet," Willow said. "It must have been so quiet."
"I was and it was."
"How come you don't go there anymore?"
"I did go up there two years ago, just about this time of the year. But even then it wasn't ours anymore. My Dad had traded it to the man who developed the place where the family home is now, above Port Moody. There was no one around, and I drove over in my Grandpop's little inboard to have a look, just for old time's sake. It was the first time I was ever there all by myself."
"How was it?"
"Very quiet, and also telling me I wasn't really a hermit."
"Did you actually expect to find that out from just one return visit? You would have had to stay there for a while."
"I couldn't afford the time. I was leaving three or four days later for the bush and I still had stuff to do. My income tax for one thing, move out of our basement flat and take my stuff to my folks' place for another." He could have said that he had found out an enormous amount of information about his state of soul from just this one visit, as far as being in his grandparents' house was concerned, but neither of them would understand him now. Maybe later. Maybe years later. But not now. Now he didn't even really have the vocabulary to explain it to himself.
They plodded on a while. "Gabriel," Willow said, "Do you think we can really get to the top of the Lions at this pace?"
"Does it matter? It's the one step at a time that really counts. I'm just happy to be here and not on a boat. I don't object to the boat, but I enjoy the change."
"Then we might not get to the top of the Lions and it won't bother you?"
"Not at all. We're poets, not alpinists. and Toby has already got his mountain anyway. Long ago. We don't have to get to the Lions at all, we only have to spend the day as we actually want to spend it."
"Oh, good. That's what I thought. But then I started to wonder how dedicated you guys were."
"Profoundly dedicated," Toby said. "To the next turn in the road. At the very least, those peaks are a problem for after lunch. That's a long time from now, especially when you're going uphill."
But help came to their schedule, whatever that was. They heard the rumble of a truck in low gear, and soon were overtaken by three friendly loggers with an empty tail gate, going up to their day's work. Toby's appetite for goals returned. "Looks like we might get to the top after all."
The tail gate provide a full view of the sound and its neighbouring mountains for a good half-hour before the truck turned north and left them foot sloggers again.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The New Fascists

If I had retained any doubts about addressing this post to the problem of the current state of music in the Roman Catholic Church, after having to endure the two-hour debacle of last night's Easter Vigil service, they were instantly and completely taken away by a very short clip on the six o'clock news.
For reasons I've detailed earlier, I've not always been delighted with the boys and girls at CanWestGlobal, but I found them spot on last night. First, they exhibited the insane performance of some "singing Christians" in Jerusalem for Easter, and then they mercifully, and showing exemplary critical intelligence, cut the nonsense off before it had time to make all viewers of any taste whatsoever absolutely sick. Seeing the Jerusalem Occasionals wing of the Mordor Children's Ensemble clinched for me the question of taking my attack's initial onslaught to the gates of Rome herself.
The Pope must act. Nothing in the history of Christendom has ever been clearer. Bernard, as we know, preached a crusade against Islam. And Pius V, of sainted memory, holed up for an entire day to pray the rosary for the victory of the Christians over the Moslems in the sea battle of Lepanto. But after hearing the wretched pagan squalls of both the Nelson cathedral and the Jerusalem whatever I sit here pondering the sons of the Prophet as much less dangerous to Christian peace of mind than that horde of squalor that has been writing hymns ever since Vatican Two and the moronic assumption that participation at the Mass meant that we should make complete asses of ourself rather than pray for our sins and otherwise learn to understand that God was a Divinity, not the girl next door.
We were not at the vigil last year, there having been some outrageous resource to inclusive language at the Good Friday service. The vigil is a long one, and when done right, the most instructive feast of the year. But of course the mystics already know all that it has to teach, and have known it for some time, so they don't really need to be there, especially when the vigil is being ruined by rampant sensuality and they can fulfill their weekly obligations at a much shorter Sunday mass. So, in a way, I wasn't really prepared for what happened this year, except in the ways of the spirit, which quickly made me begin to ponder the mental stability of the people who put the thing on and the pastors who allow it to happen. I am not alone in this question. For some time there has been much rumbling among the parishioners, although none of this has yet to reach the groundswell status. Perhaps a little street talk might tip the balance.
With Benedict, we have a Pope who grew up with Hitler. He was also probably informed about the mass nonsense in Italy and Russia. Hitler especially was a fool on the subject of music, condemning jazz, which does a fair bit to retain the tradition of mathematics, and adoring sentimental light operas, just like the seeming majority of those now providing liturgical music.
Most of the time in our cathedral you'd think we were a waltz pavilion, and I keep getting the feeling that everyone involved is just waiting for the call from Broadway, asking them to be involved in yet another "Godspell".
Yes, I am aware that Francis Xavier was all for all manner of ditties alluding to the Gospel message to be sung in the streets and slums of India. But he would never have allowed these at Mass. Worship is worship, and pre-catechetical verse is something else.
There is real trouble in this. I hear the heavens rumbling.
As Marianne's poem illustrates, twenty years ago, us with a car, and the great Dutchman at Saint Rita's, Castlegar, there was an escape from confrontation with clerical and episcopal dereliction of duty and other forms of sabotage. Now there is no car, just a lot of very angry infantry just itching for battle.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Vigil

Tonight we must journey
like the Magi warned away
for seven months
now pilgrims to a holy church
far from the cathedral towers
of our town.

What sorry pass
things have come to be
spiritual refugees
to find a place
where silence spills intoxicating
cool like a waterfall
deep in a forest found
where the mind can rise
toward the One
who stooped so quietly to earth
now roams the world in Spirit form
and enters glad into the heart
that will obey His call
fleeing every sorry state
that man creates.

Tonight we must journey
winter lingers though spring is here
this Easter vigil
the rains wash
hiding all mountains
the wind chilled
and no flowers have peered
past the dead leaves of autumn's passing.
three in number
drive with wheels our winged hooves
we hasten
to a birth of marvelous kind
Herod may rage on
this new life he cannot kill
we journey to beyond a veil
though there is silence now
around the grave.

We gather outside
the darkness of the empty church
the smoke of sweet smelling wood
curling up into the night
the flames reflect on the faces
gathered round.
The priest begins the ancient prayers
the Easter candle white
as yet unmarked
by the wounds of the Crucified
and another year.

I reflect on the white-haired priest
his Dutch accent
no longer on African soil
the faces black
the distant evening
vibrating with the beat
of the native soul.
He gathered them together
as night would fall he taught them
in persona Christi.

Here in this town
though faces change
and country outlines differ
on this holy night
he holds high the candle
that will bless the new waters
and the two small children
their bed-time long past
awaiting their own passage
across the Red Sea.
And thus it happens
one candle lit becomes another
'till the glow of many
fills the church
and yes, He is risen
the guards left blinded
by a Light
always before unseen.

The bells begin to ring
to greet the Reality unscorned
the mystery guarded
like the tomb
now empty
the Apostles soon to realize
it's not just woman talk
the sermon says.
Swallowed by the greatness
of this night
the music rises and falters
echoes of all too human sentiments
the Church
that mysterious pauper made Queen
by Him who rises above
the dictatorship of death
cleanses all clean and shining
even this little mill town
rings forth with Easter joy.

We step into the night
our journey has not ended
the big white car
crosses the inevitable
mountain pass
to a lonely valley
the night now closing in
the fog and driving rain
accent the darkness
that flares up
so resistant and so deep.
It is a lonely road
we pass a semi
creeping down the far side
its red lights cut
the gloom
and only the yellow line

Our destination
so small
haunted by the ghosts of mining men
the lure of gold
the veins now spent
the one main street
with the Purple hotel
now painted green
filled to overflowing
with the music of two minstrels
the children of my companions
this sacred night
the evening now in full swing
with one small table empty
the barman kind
busily providing
yes, there is room in this inn
he sees that we are served
before he speeds away.

The raucous local youth
drum the table
in time with the beat
the pool players dance their way
gesturing with loud calls
as the beat quickens or slows
to catch the breath
or the ostrich-feathered sweater
of the waitress who weaves
amongst the patrons
and the drunks
who enter surly
but end up charmed into good humour
and youthful fun.

As the evening draws to an end
the unison clapping
the happy faces
delighting in the singers
sends this bar-room into flight
to soar around the hills
far above the trees
engulfed in clouds
all time has stopped
for the passengers
aboard the only Purple hotel
with wings
so gently rests
in God's mysterious bond
now woven with humanity.

I laugh with the sheer delight of it all
and think of another poet*
in another time
far across the sea
meditating on his country
one Easter eve
as I pick up the tread he wove
the fabric is one weave
in persona Christi.

The evening ends
the crowd
shaking their heads in wonder
at the Grace
that entered in
begin to depart.
Outside the rain has eased
the wee hours of the morning
Christ has returned triumphant from Hades
there the party has just begun
the encore to be played
in fifty days
when He ascends
returning to the Father.

In the quiet
the windshield wipers
the rhythm
headlights illuminating
the lingering snow banks
the stillness of the solitary road
it is the time
when Christ returns to His mother.
In the first light of dawn
He will be in the garden
where Magdalene searches
and I to bed
to dream so sweetly
in the blessings of
this Easter morn.

M. Tremblay 1989

*Karl Wojtyla "Easter Vigil VII 1966"

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Short Story Alert

If I were smarter with this machine I might have known how to bring Post 71, which is a short story, to the forefront. MT suggests there may be a method for overhauling blog traffic. But if there is, I haven't learned it yet, so any reader interested in a bit of fiction will have to scroll back a few installments to find it. For those who know even less Latin than I do, "fiction" is from that language's word for making. Facio, facere, to make. With the past participle factus, which someone decided to spell with an "i" instead of an "a". Thus, fiction is not necessarily a completely imagined business. This is an elaborate way of saying that "Grizzly Gorman" is an utterly true story, with the customary changes.
I am enormously happy with this return to this genre. It was a major part of my apprenticeship, and as coincidence has it, I just found in my journal for a few years back, for yesterday's date, a note on our watching a film, with Faye Dunnaway and Karl Maria Brandauer, based on a short story by Stephan Zweig, called "Burning Secret". I did not read this story, or indeed, very much Zweig, but I often recalled his writing and I so pleased when I made the connection at the time of seeing the movie that the event found itself in my notes, to appear at the same time in a future April. It was the Muse's sign, of course, warning me that I would one day come back to the art I once worked hard to acquire.
I've always known I would tell the Skinner stories, but assumed this would as episodes in an autobiography. The idea of make each incident stand on its own pins never occurred to me until the blog got underway. I think the idea is going to return rather often, as I've been not only having an awfully good time with it, but also finding it a way, with various publications, of somewhat coming back home from Rome.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Putting off the Blitz

Okay, people, let's deal with the latest.
Having spent some of my youthful days with the Vancouver Sun, I know what it is to see the day's supposed headlines get kicked into a cocked hat. I was there when Paul St. Pierre and Barry Broadfoot, later both well published authors. but then humble newspapermen, get in a wrangle over the sudden shift in the front page makeup for the first edition of a given weekday. Broadfoot swore that the information coming in over the police radio blatting into the newsroom meant a kidnapping, thus a new headline for the 10 a.m; Paul said balderdash, and lost to managing editor Erwin Swangard's decision on the matter. It was in truth only an episode between separated husband and wife over the child, but a headline is a headline.
I came up here to see if I could get closer the conclusion of "Grizzly Gorman", and found I had two hits on my blog, one from one of the world's great photographers, for the last decades domiciled in New Zealand, the other from number two son, long a householder in Calgary. They both need to know that I have just written to Mark Knopfler's handlers in Toronto, in the hope that he can be something for my peace of mind in the long drawn out consideration of an "opera" based on "Gone With the Wind". I've been paying a lot of attention to the combined talents, admittedly outstanding, of Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, and pondering the possibility of the Muse most definitely having them in mind when he started me out on the original inspiration.
So, fiction to the back burner. It's a welcome distraction. Writing fiction is the hardest work I've ever known, the place where I never stop feeling utterly vulnerable. Anything to put it off.
Yes, as I learned yesterday through the intuition of the brilliant MT sending me to googling, there has in fact been an opera done on GWTW, and by no less than Trevor Nunn, whose credentials in general no sane man would argue with. I'm still waiting, for example, for BBC America to get their bloody act in gear and put out a DVD - following the video - of his immortal version of "Twelfth Night".
Trevor's version of Margaret Mitchell's classic - opened in April, 2008, in London, was scheduled into September, but closed toward the end of June. Thus, he proved it was not a vain idea; thus, I am not a wing nut. (This possibility never stops for both artist and contemplative, and nothing feels sweeter than confirmation.) But he also proved that the writing, or something, must have missed what is actually in the book, which, as novelist myself, I just might have a pretty good hand on.
Until yesterday, I did not know such an opera existed anywhere outside my own mind, although I've always wondered why it hasn't been done earlier. And, although I'm tempted to write the new Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, and ask him if he has any priests concerned enough with Vatican Two's expectations for bishops concerning themselves with the arts, and therefore qualified to tell me about the opera and why it folded early, I'll hold on for the moment to the possibility of Mr Knopfler instincts taking some hold on this, and babble a bit about my own inspirations.
Of course, as the cognoscenti might already have begun to intuit, I'm not just angling for the interests of one of Glasgow's finest. His recent work with Emmylou Harris, who just happens to be more American than Mark and I put together, and fairly Southern at that, is the fusion that fires the current generator, at least in my mind. (Two and more generations back, however, I have excellent credentials in US ancestry.) Emmy knows the States, Mark has a lot of feeling for them. And both write songs as well as they can be written, even without the masterful performances.
When I was writing to the then governor of Georgia, Zell Miller, about my idea, I promised him that GWTW would be an "American" opera, by which I meant that no amount of symphonic strings and the influences of Verdi or Wagner were going to obliterate the heritage of the Appalachians and the Blues. As I have written earlier, I am now working out the opening chorale - "Georgia" - which Trevor never had, on the five-string banjo, although of course I also putter at the piano, especially when I have the urge to explore the 2,3,4,5 harmony scale in either hand.(Teaching it to Hayley this morning, too, and working on getting it on the Net. But everything in its own time.)
The great thing about Trevor's effort is that it proves that GWTW is not a bloody musical. Musicals are fine. I've been in one - "The Man of La Mancha" - in the title role, as a matter of fact - but they don't cut to the deeper stuff. That is the job of opera. But not necessarily Italian opera, or German opera. Especially Wagnerian German opera. Get me the Monty Python crew and we'll do the most wonderful send up of Wagner writing an opera about Scarlett and Rhett that you could possibly imagine.
But you just can't do that to the best of the heartland music of the American states, nor to the incredible sense of neighbourhood that Margaret Mitchell brought to the novel form. Therein lies the success of the project, which, as a theologian and a mystic who has just informed our new bishop that the Sacred Heart has recommended that I start giving retreats to clergy, I have no intention, or permission from Almighty God, to do by myself.