Thursday, February 24, 2011

We're really going

For those who have been following the Gordon/Lerdau Sabbatical travel plans it looks like we are really going to China from May through August. We’ll be in southern Yunnan province near Laos and Vietnam. I’ll be doing archival work for my next book, the minor mode, the rubber plant and the early modern masque and brushing up on my ancient Chinese. (Not really) This has been a long time in the making and makes doing research at the Vatican look like a quick trip to the CVS. It came about in part because I have DRAGED my family to Italy three times since we had children. This meant suffering through prosecco, afternoons in churches, gelato, walks through ancient ruins etc… The poor deprived children were simply forced to meet their mother for lunch in St Peter’s Square and the beleaguered husband had to find collaborators in Rome that fed him a few bottles of wine before talks. And my poor Mom had to hang out in piazza's with her grand kids. So in the spirit of a modern take turns couple I said “it’s your turn I’ll go wherever you want.” And for the record Manuel spent the bulk of his early career doing extremely cool and very remote filed work and that came to a halt when we had kids. Not because I said he had to but because he didn’t want to be away from us. That’s one of the reasons that despite the fact that at times he is as incompetent as any other man and represents he is in fact in the upper two percentile. We discussed South America, where he has done the bulk of his field-work before. This led to visions of the kids and I learning Spanish and sitting on beaches while he measured leaves. Somehow we morphed to rural China and no I will not be learning Chinese. For one thing many of the people where we are going speak Dai. And for another I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life working on Italian, Latin, and French and I’m languaged out…

But all joking aside and despite the agonized looks I have often given when discussing this scheme, we are all looking forward to a hell of an adventure. As I see it there are lots of weird and inconvenient things about being an academic, especially in this economy. (low salaries, most people seem to think I have a hobby not a job, the coincidence of the tenure and biological clock that leads to things like having to finish a book with six month old preemies etc….) But there are some pretty great things. And one of the best is that we get family adventures. I’ve never been anywhere in Asia. My knowledge of China is limited mostly to the newspaper, 17th century singing Courtesans about which I know quite a lot, and some novels. And I’ve never seen a rubber plant. We will yank the kids out of school a month early. (seems fine to me) If all goes well we’ll have some sort of organized activity for the kids so I can get some writing done. A famous musicologist once told me that four hours a day with the butt in the chair is enough to get the job done. So if I can get a few hours that will be great. But if I don’t we’ll consider it a really cool post tenure adventure for the family. And I’ve spent enough time in far away places and enough time watching Manuel deal with the Chinese government that I’m sure there will be parts of this that suck and are infuriating. But they should suck in good ways.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Historical Snippets and the Potty

It’s always a bummer when you find a juicy quotation that you can’t use. I completely suck at organizing materials. I’m pleased to say that it’s been a good decade since I found a footnote to “orange Pirrotta book” in anything I’ve written. I’ve spent some time in the last few weeks skimming texts by Cardano. He was a 16th century doctor/musician/philosopher etc… He is probably best known for his contributions to algebra and medicine. I’ve always liked him because he was one of the first people to argue that the deaf could be taught to read and he was impressively accident-prone. He also had the misfortune of being used by his father as a table for books. And his horoscope of Jesus got him in trouble with the inquisition. I’m looking for a quotation I found somewhere in which he explains that the voices of exhausted people sound thin and weak and therefore thin strings sound weak and high. I can’t remember where I found it or even what language I read it in. And it’s not crucial to the larger argument about the sympathetic relationship between humans and instruments at the turn of the seventeenth century. But I like it. And to make the skimming easier I finally noticed a 1973 translation of his writings on music. (Why have I been writing about this guy for 20 years and only now found this…...) So I keep the book in my backpack and when I get bored or frustrated with what I’m doing I skim the text looking for my mystery quotation. At the very end of the book I noted a great discussion on why musicians never get rich. He wonders if “its practitioners, addicted to sensual pleasure and gluttony, squander money as fast a they make it.” or “is it because in their capriciousness they cannot keep friends or possessions? Or is it “because those who take pleasure in the art are foolish adolescents who have little money and who are equipped to continue other actives that are more physical in nature?”

Other than the nice Cardano book this week’s good news is that every child has gone to school every day and I have not had a single conversation with Nurse Brown. But even more importantly, Eli has finally made some progress on potty training. This kid, with his will-of-steel attitude towards the potty may do me in. The downside of any kind of negotiating with a four-year-old third child is that the stakes are high. While for a two year old one or two m and m’s might do the trick. This kid would like a star wars action figure. The weekend was especially dramatic. As my friend Liz described the scene. “just to let you all know that our lives are infinitely easier than Bonnie's right now... I watched her being summoned to the potty about 15 times in the space of 2 hours and she had to wait, crouched on the floor beside Eli as he screamed about torpedo poops. of course Manuel wouldn't do, and of course physical contact was needed”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentines and Flu

I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day and have thought of it as a Hallmark holiday devised to make everyone feel bad—it reminds those not in relationships that they do not have the socially prescribed partner, and those in relationships suddenly have pressure to feel lovey-dovey and do something nice even it’s on a random Wednesday when either they have not a second of free time or they happen to be mad at their partner. And then the kids start school and perfectly normal grownups can find themselves stressing out over red construction-paper hearts… My grad school roommate and I regularly had anti-Valentine’s day parties complete with black lipstick and other grotesque things. However, the Charlottesville Rec. Department father-daughter dance every Valentine’s Day weekends is one of the cutest things on the planet. There’s nothing more adorable than a bunch of fathers and daughters walking around the downtown mall with little girls in fancy dresses and Dads in their finest, often inflected with their daughters tastes. Manuel was dressed this year in a pink shirt with delightful flower tie. Rebecca always works very hard on her outfit and took the opportunity to wear her flower girl dress from the summer. This is one of the most diverse and integrated events in Charlottesville. While we have, for sure, come a long way in Virginia, the bottom line is that most things my kids do—soccer, gynmastics classical music lessons, artsy summer camps, swim team, etc… still involve primarily affluent white kids. In contrast, the Rec Department dance, centrally located and virtually free, involves little girls and dads across class and race lines. And for this and the sheer adorableness of my husband and daughter walking down the street holding hands on the way to a dance, I love it and have had to reconsider my Valentine’s Day cynicism. I will, of course, be cursing madly by the time we finish the annual cram to make forty-six valentines with one kid who thinks each one should be a masterpiece and another who wants the whole business to end in 4 seconds or less.

While Manuel and Rebecca were living it up at the Dance, I was home with Jonathan and Eli. The older boy was still getting over the FLU, despite the FLU SHOT. The boys were in rare form. At some point he asked if scientific studies had shown that I was too old to have kids. My answer was that I didn’t want any more babies. The next question was, “so is that how you get a baby just by wanting one?” I was beginning to wonder where we were going with this. And given the various ways and stages at which people we know have built and are building their families, the business of age and how you get your kids is far from straightforward. Not to mention that when you have boy/girl twins who share a room and often are still physically connected enough that they forget where one’s body starts and the other’s ends, the whole business of “the talk” is loaded. It’s been a while since they sucked each others thumbs, toes etc… but still. Anyway, I said that yes wanting a baby is how it starts. He responded, “So you really wanted Eli?” I said, “Yes, of course we really wanted Eli.” As always, the kid then took it in a totally different direction than I was prepared for. “Are you sure you really wanted him? He’s turned out to be such a loud unruly thing…….” This is also the kid who said about me to my mother “you just can’t trust that woman”

For those friends and family members following the Gordon/Lerdau petri dish, we seem for the first time in six days to be relatively disease-free today, and everyone should go to school tomorrow. Jonathan’s flu was wretched for five days and involved a fever of 105. The Tamiflu made him puke so we got rid of that. So far the other kids haven’t gotten the flu though Rebecca did wake up with strep yesterday-a mere seven days after finishing her last antibiotic for strep. And maybe someone can explain to me why it’s so exhausting to stay home with a sick kid and to get puked on.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Failed Bedtime and a Fire at the Met

I know my kids have good ears. They can match pitch and the big ones play their musical instruments reasonably well. Eli plays star wars while obsessively singing the Darth Vader leitmotif. But if I say the word shoes they become deaf and seem to turn to stone. As in “ok put your shoes on.” Nothing happens no one looks up from their books or their legoes. If they do bother to acknowledge my voice (which is about once every two weeks) it’s with a look of shock and surprise—the notion of putting on the shoes in news to them. Yesterday I was so irritated that I told my mom that I’d try something like “touch your butt with your head” just to see what happened. (they really like to say the word butt) My mom suggested reverse psychology. So I tried it with “NO ONE put your shoes on.’ They looked up quizzically and asked why. Well it’s a no shoe day duh….. Then I said “DO NOT under any circumstances clean your room.” This got the same response. Finally Rebecca proclaimed that it was opposite day and not only did they all put their shoes on but for the first time ever Eli put his coat on. Thanks mom! I’m sure this was a one shot deal but still……

The kids were all three in hot water this morning not least because Oedipus one and two took their fathers absence as an excuse to sneak into my bed. They then snored and kicked all night. But the real reason I was mad at them was that I carefully put them to bed at their usual time and did all the normal bed time things before going downstairs to among other things have a phone date. At 9:45 all three cane down accusing each other of keeping each other awake, chasing me around the house and ignoring my “what are you doing awake this is ludicrous…….”

It turns out that in addition to whatever else they were doing they also grabbed off my desk an 1884 New York Times article about a stage fire at the Met during a Meyenbeer opera. They were full of vaguely intelligent questions this morning and wanted to know if I had more stuff like this to read. I do but its mostly in Italian which they claimed is not a problem since they have learned Spanish in school and Italian and Spanish are basically the same…. (As far as I can tell they can sing some cute songs and count) Then they wanted to know if I was alive in 1884. Can we please put chronology on the SOL’s so those of in midlife crises can stop having to tell our kids that we are just not that old….. ?Eli wants an “opwa fireman” costume…. I have to admit that I get their fascination. I’ve been morbidly obsessed with breaking stage machines, lighting fires, and injured opera singers for a few days now. I’m thinking it doesn’t take a deep Freudian analysis to figure out what this is about….

See below for what captivated them. They quibbled with the reporter who claimed there were “a few screams by women.” They know that men scream too…..

December 18 1884
“A few minutes before 8 two scene shifters lowered a long horizontal piece of the scenery from above. Its edge was a little frayed, and one of its shreds dangled between the wires that covered a border light. In an instant a big of flame puffed up and then shot along the fly which was of light material. The fireman who was detailed to the opera house was standing near and shouting to the scene shifters to run for an extinguisher. Meanwhile the ropes holding up the fly were cut, and it dropped to the stage making a noise which some in the audience heard but paid no attention to…..”