So how’s the piano playing going?

Thanks for asking.

It’s going great! Wish I could practice more. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • Memorizing is harder than when I was a kid but not impossible. If I practiced more, I’d have a lot more stuff memorized.
  • I don’t have the attention span to work on long, difficult pieces. If I had more time…
  • Balancing between mastering pieces and sight-reading is my biggest challenge. I could spend a lifetime just working my way through this book:

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  • Nobody cares that I play, and that’s fine. It’s not like every house I visit has a piano, and people are dying to hear a little Bach. That might have been the case 80 years ago when Cooke wrote Playing the Piano for Pleasure, but not anymore.
  • I’m definitely expanding my repertoire — more Brahms, more Schubert, more Debussy, more Lennon & McCartney.
  • I bought a book of scales and chords with a firm purpose of improving my technique and my music theory. Can’t say I’ve made much progress, though.
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Third draft is done

It mainly involved cleanup of the significant changes I made in the second draft. The biggest change was choosing a different point-of-view character for a chapter. Not too bad. Except…

There’s one thing about the novel that bugs me. Is it a problem or not? I can’t quite decide. Fixing it (if it needs fixing) would require a bit of rejiggering. I may need to put this to a vote of my writing group. We live in a democracy, after all.

This Living Hand

When we think of Rome, the first thing that comes to mind, of course, is the English poet John Keats, who died there in 1821 of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Here is his grave in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, with the epitaph he wrote for himself:

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Odd that the gravestone doesn’t even mention his name. On a wall next to the grave we see this:

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Next to Keats’s grave is that of his friend Joseph Severn, who accompanied him to Rome, since Keats was too sick to travel by himself:

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There are worse things to be remembered for, I suppose, than being the friend of John Keats.

A couple hundred yards away from Keats are interred the ashes of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who died in a boating accident in Italy at the age of 29:

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The quotation is from The Tempest.

Here is a painting of Shelley’s funeral pyre:

Many of the details of the painting are apparently made up. For one thing, Shelley’s body was in bad shape by the time he washed up on shore. (The only way they recognized him was his clothing and the copy of Keats’s poems in his back pocket.)

Keats died in a tiny apartment at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. This is now the site of the Keats-Shelley Memorial House, which contains letters, books, and other memorabilia of English poets. Via Wikipedia, here’s what happened to the contents of the House during World War 2:

During World War II, the Keats–Shelley House went “underground”, especially after 1943, in order to preserve its invaluable contents from falling into the hands of, and most likely being deliberately destroyed by, Nazi Germany. External markings relating to the museum were removed from the building. Although the library’s 10,000 volumes were not removed, two boxes of artifacts were sent to the Abbey of Monte Cassino in December 1942 for safekeeping. In October 1943, the abbey’s archivist placed the two unlabelled boxes of Keats–Shelley memorabilia with his personal possessions so that they could be removed during the abbey’s evacuation and not fall into the hands of the Germans. The items were reclaimed by the museum’s curator and returned to the Keats–Shelley House, where the boxes were reopened in June 1944 upon the arrival of the Allied forces in Rome.

I didn’t have time to visit the Keats-Shelley House, but here’s what it looked like at 23:00 on a Roman night:

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And this gives me a chance to reprint this final fragment by Keats, written as he confronted the certainty of his coming death.

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d–see here it is–
I hold it towards you.
I find these eight short lines utterly terrifying.

Why would anyone root for the New England Patriots?

Some guy has come up with a spin on being a Patriots fan that got published in the Washington Post. He felt sorry for Atlanta fans last year, and he thinks Patriots fans have been made miserable by their success.

The typical Patriots fan, on the other hand, was miserable with success by then, our blood long since curdled and our spines crooked with the glut of good fortune. Anything less than a Super Bowl win last year, as this year, would be considered a failure.

Being a fan is an interesting psychological condition. For me, as with most people (I don’t know about the Post writer), it’s tied up with my childhood. For most of my Boston childhood, we didn’t even have a football team. We saw the Giants play on TV every Sunday, and that turned some kids into Giants fans. But what did I care about Frank Gifford and Y. A. Tittle?

Then we got a team in the American Football League, so I had to root for the Patriots, and the league. I saw them play at Fenway Park. I saw them play at B.C.’s Alumni Field. But the Patriots were no good. They were never any good. They played in the AFL championship game in 1963, and they got clobbered. After the merger with the NFL they still sucked. Finally when I was in my thirties they made it to a Super Bowl, and they got clobbered yet again. When I was in my forties they returned to the Super Bowl, and the clobbering continued.

Meanwhile coaches and owners came and went. Now it’s 2001 and I’m middle-aged, maybe beyond middle age, and my team has never accomplished anything.

Then came the Tuck Rule Game, and the football gods finally started to smile on the Patriots–40 years after I became a fan. It was about time. Seventeen years later, the gods are still smiling on the Patriots. Do I feel sorry for Atlanta fans and Philadelphia fans and Buffalo fans and all the rest? A little, I guess. Not enough to change my ways, though.

Go Pats!