A Family Gathering

Hello everyone,


Here are some shots I took the day of Betty’s funeral.

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Sorry I could not get everybody! Not enough time, as we had to go back so soon after the services.

About France

I have read about a couple of authors who have characterized the French as being disappointed and discouraged. The theory is that the idea of France as a leader of civilized life has suffered a check. The idea is that the French are envious of the role that English plays in today’s world.

I hope that this is not true. For I have to say that what I find in France quite contradicts this. I have always found, in every part of that country that I have visited over the last twenty years, a proud people, very welcoming of me and my wife, whatever our competence in their language might be. (Believe me, for myself in the beginning it was quite negligible. In Montpellier in 1995 I was proud of being asked, by two young girls, what time of the day it was – even though the only thing I could do to answer was show them the face of my watch)!

We have visited Paris most often. This is a beautiful city, human in scale in a way that New York is not, which I admire. (There are too many skyscrapers already, so bless the Parisians for saying no more Montparnasse Towers)! In Paris, for us, there have been really very few problems. Most of the people we have to do business with speak better English than we do French. But when they get the idea that we want to speak their language, they are perfectly willing to do that too. That to me is gracious, even magnanimous. And we find that routine. There have been almost no occasions when a French person deliberately made us feel like foreigners.

We spent time in the Dordogne, near Sarlat, a part of the country that I compare to the Adirondack Park in my state of New York – but with much better wine. Another time we stayed in Menton, on the south coast, where we were traveling as members of a chorus, close to Italy but not really tempted to go there, for the city itself was sufficiently interesting. We drove through the mountains, along the Gorge de Verdon, to the beautiful village of Moustiers-St Marie, where countless visitors since the Middle Ages have made their pilgrimage. This village depends now on tourism, but it has a rich cultural and craft history. The people there were very welcoming. I could go on for all the parts of France we have visited, from Normandy to Strasbourg, from Sancerre to Tours. Everywhere we met only kindness and interest in our well-being.

There was a time in Sancerre when we were attending a language course at the Ecole de langues. My wife had a problem with her eyesight. The course director sent us to her own general practitioner who quickly referred us to a specialist in a nearby town. We went there by cab, and the driver waited in town for us to finish our business, and brought us back. We got excellent medical care, even though we were foreigners. I can hardly imagine the same good fortune happening to any tourist in my country.

Once we were in Rheims, and undecided about lunch, we bought some wine and charcuterie, and went to a local park to have a picnic. Our surroundings were clean and pleasant, and we had a wonderful time. Again, in my country, this little adventure would not have been possible. There would have been a lot of trash, and unpleasant people in the area.

We rent cars in France and travel on the AutoRoutes. The roadside Aires are magnificent by comparison with those in the USA; the road surfaces are smooth, the traffic is well-regulated, the trucks have to travel slower than anybody else. All of these things are worse in the USA than in France.

When we visit museums in France we find almost every time a class of students, led by their teachers, being instructed in the arts and history of their country. Generally this does not happen in America. If the French complain about their education system, imagine what they would say if they lived in New York.

My father’s tomb is at the military cemetery in Colleville, on the Normandy coast. We have often seen classes of students, led by their teachers, visiting the cemetery, and learning about the recent history of this part of their country. After seeing this I do not listen to people who make disparaging remarks about France.

We can only spend a few weeks at a time in France. To keep up our skills in the language, we take part in a literature group and a conversation group, each of which meets once a month. I have become a reader of French literature, particularly late 19th and early 20th century works. I see in this the origin of many of our cultural memes. The ideas that founded our country come in large part from the work of 18th century French writers. We cannot forget the support of the French in our own founding as a nation. Likewise, the works of many modern French writers and authors fascinate millions of Americans. What happens in French politics shows up on our TV. So, even though we speak English here, we owe a lot to French ideas, and we care about what happens there.

So, to my friends in France, not numerous but well -loved I say, forget about disappointment. You have a great country, and we still have a lot to learn from the way you do things.

The Republican Nomination Contest

Well, now we have both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz in the lists for President. Of the two, Paul is the more interesting because he is not a militarist, and he favors easing the punishment for drug law violations. This difference will cost him some votes vs. people like Cruz, and might gain him some votes against the Democratic nominee, almost certainly Hillary Clinton.

Paul’s libertarian views are extreme, and show a fundamental misreading of human nature. We are not autonomous individuals, but, inescapably, members of social groups of increasing size, benefitting and being benefited by those groups. The only apes that are autonomous, arguably, are the orangutans of Borneo, the males spending their lives alone except for an occasional mating with a female. The female’s only society is her own offspring. The orang is rather distant from us on the family tree of life. Closer are the gorillas and chimpanzees, all of which live in moderate sized social groups, comparable to those of human hunter-gatherers. We find these apes much more interesting, much more like ourselves. The reason is simple. Like them, we are social animals, and we rely on each other.

Libertarianism and conservatism would deprive us of Social Security, Medicare, and mandatory health insurance, would cut regulations on polluting industries and predatory corporations, let support for the indigent dry up further, privatize public education, sell off public lands, and refuse to deal with climate change and overpopulation. The Republican primaries will wind up selecting somebody to try to put a pretty face on all this. We should avoid being fooled.

A Failed Audition

I have been singing as an extra with Albany Pro Musica since 1990. This despite not being able to read music, at least not at the beginning. This failing of mine, that dates back to grade school when my parents and teachers allowed me to opt out of music class in exchange for doing more arithmetic, has been a limitation in my choral career. It slows me down in learning new pieces.

At times I thought maybe I would study music and learn how to sight read, but I never got around to doing that. I tried a couple of times to become a regular member of the chorus, auditioning with the founding director, David Janower. But being able to sight read is a requirement for full membership, and as I got older I think the quality of my singing declined a bit. I finally gave up the idea, but I remained a member of the “B” team and got to sing one or two concerts every couple of years. There are some good musicians who were not accepted into this group, which is officially called Albany Pro Musica Masterworks. So I was happy to be in Masterworks.

When David passed away a couple of years ago, the principal chorus sang with a number of interim directors before hiring José Daniel Caraballo, who moved to this area from Vero Beach. The first production involving Masterworks was scheduled for this spring, and it was necessary for everybody to have an audition with the new director.

I was not looking forward to this audition. I was rusty, and I had heard from some choristers that it consisted of a series of exercises of increasing difficulty that stopped only when one made a mistake. The audition itself seemed to me to go OK, but it really did not. I got an email explaining that I had trouble matching pitches, remembering patterns, and intonation, i.e., holding a pitch instead of drifting flat. I had to agree: with a diagnosis like that I would have a hard time participating.

But I was not entirely satisfied that this was a definitive judgment. In addition to certain physical frailties, I have substantial hearing loss, and I use hearing aids. These are sophisticated programmable devices, and I had four programs designed for different situations. Could it be that these were at fault, reporting incorrect pitches? I downloaded an application to my Iphone, called PitchPerfect ($2.00 from the Apple Store). This “listens” to pitches that are played or sung, reports the letter of the note, the frequency, and plots a whole note on the treble or bass clef. It can even generate leger lines, if necessary. I played a C on the piano, and this program dutifully reported the fact. Then I tried to match the pitch as best I could. B. It turns out all pitches on all my programs were reduced a semi-tone. This is because most of my hearing loss is in the upper frequency ranges, so the programs compress the sounds to push them into my better listening range. Most of the time it does not matter, but I noticed that a lot of musical pieces that I know well did not sound so great with these hearing aids.

I went to my audiologist and got a new program added, just for music, that does not change the pitches that are played into my ears. I got a second audition.

The result was much better. I could match pitches and remember short passages played on the piano. I still have a problem with intonation, but that is much more manageable than not being able to reproduce pitches that other people hear. I will have another audition and we will see then if I can fix the intonation problem. In the meantime, though, I feel pretty happy with the new program on my hearing aids. Music sounds better, and it is easier to produce.

I am adding an update. I had a second audition and was permitted to sing. But I really could not fix the problem and had to drop out.

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