Category Archives: Musings

Why Valentine's Day?

It’s not just a Hallmark holiday: it commemorates a bishop of the 3rd century named Valentine. Hearts and flowers came later.

According to one story, Valentine was under house arrest in the home of a Roman judge. The judge challenged the Christian to prove the validity of his faith, bringing out his blind daughter, Julia. Valentine laid his hands on her and implored God to save the girl (and him). When he removed his hands, Julia’s vision was restored. Amazed by the miracle, the judge and all his household converted to Christianity. He broke all his idols and freed all the Christians in jail. 

Another account relates that Valentine continued to evangelize. He married Christian couples, which allowed the men to avoid conscription in the imperial army. To remind these men of their vows, Saint Valentine is said to have given them hearts he cut from parchment, which may explain the hearts of Valentine’s Day. 

Valentine supposedly wore a purple amethyst ring, as did other Christian bishops. He had an image of Cupid, a pagan god, engraved on it. Romans recognized the god of love and would ask him to marry them. (Probably because of the association of amethysts with Saint Valentine, the gem has become the birthstone of February, and is thought to attract love.)

Claudius, the emperor, was not pleased. He had Valentine brought to Rome, but he took a liking to the bishop, at least until Valentine tried to convert him. Claudius refused and condemned Valentine to death. On February 14, 269, he was stoned (or beaten with clubs) and then beheaded when the torture didn’t kill him. More than two centuries later, Pope Gelasius declared a feast day on that date. But sadly, it was downhill from there. Since 1969, inclusion in local liturgical calendars became optional.

Before his execution, some say Valentine wrote a note to Julia, the judge’s daughter, and signed it “from your Valentine,” a possible origin of Valentine notes and cards. Oh, and if you’d like to see what’s left of his head, his alleged skull is crowned with flowers and exhibited in a Roman basilica. Other relics are scattered throughout Europe.

Some say that Geoffrey Chaucer was responsible for the association of romance and St. Valentine. Chaucer wrote the Parlement of Foules on the first anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. The poem contains the lines, “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” But the royal engagement was on May 3, also the day another Valentine (of Genoa) died. So who knows? It’s impossible to know how much is fantasy and what part of the legend reflects historical fact. Indeed, there were actually as many as 12 St. Valentines.

By the 18th century in England, the 14th of February had evolved into an occasion when partners expressed their love for each other with flowers, chocolate, and other gifts. And in the 19th century, the sending of Valentine’s cards had become so popular that they began to be mass produced, especially in America and Europe.

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Lilacs in the snow

Look closely and you’ll see the lilac buds. Lilacs are early bloomers, and their buds are already beginning to swell. The indomitable buds point straight up in defiance of the snow. It may have triumphed today, but the snow’s victory is ephemeral. Already it is weakening, its icy grip melting in the sun.

But what about America? Winter is coming. Trump’s grip is tightening. He is beefing up the army, fortifying the police and expanding the reach of the ICE. The power of all three is growing. Trump is adding soldiers, police, agents, jails and judges to enforce his decrees. Does this sound like the beginning of a police state? Does Trump want a Wall to keep his enemies out or will he have to keep Americans in?

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A cat, some ducklings and World Peace

This story about the love between implacable enemies suggests to me that if individual Israelis and Palestinians were to try to see each other clearly, they would learn that they have many of the same fears and needs. With greater and more subtle knowledge of each other, they would begin to cultivate mutual respect, then friendship and eventually, even affection. Then they could be well on their way toward healing and overcoming the mutual hatred that is eroding both societies.

This is of course applicable to all relationships based on fear and ignorance, the parents of hatred.

If this seems like pie in the sky fit only for Pollyannas, please watch the video. I guarantee you will be amazed.

HT: Wafa Faith Hallam

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Hire great writers

“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off.

“That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.”

I found this on LinkedIn. It was posted by Tim Perez, who honestly said he stole it. I assume it’s been circulating for some time. It is also an  excellent justification of a liberal arts education. The humanities are losing ground rapidly, and with them go the creativity and critical thinking needed to analyze problems and communicate results clearly.

 

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Dreaming of Cuba

1955 Chevy on El Malecón in Havana, Cuba, with El Morro Castle

1955 Chevy on El Malecón in Havana, Cuba, with El Morro Castle

When I was growing up, I spent a part of every year in Cuba with my Cuban family. I almost remember — I heard the stories so many times — standing at the railing of my grandmother’s balcony when I was two years old. Pushcarts teeming with fruit and vegetables, others with knives and cutlery, yet others piled high with many-hued fabrics, each vendor hawking his wares with a distinctive cry, kept me pressed against the railing, fascinated by the colors and the sounds. When my grandmother saw something she needed, she’d lower a basket on a rope so that the vendor could fill it with mangoes and papaya or bacalao (salted codfish) or sacks of black beans and rice. Then she would hoist the basket back up, remove the groceries, count out the pesos she owed and send the basket with the money back down to the peddler waiting below.

I remember a Havana that was noisy and garish, rhythmic and musical. At dinnertime it was redolent with the smells of ropa vieja, picadillo, arroz con pollo, tostones, frijoles negros and the like. Bananas grew in the backyard. At 11 in the morning, we had a break at school and ate pastelitos de guayaba, flaky pastries filled with guava paste that I still savor and crave today. I remember the incomparable beaches and the people who loved me.

That was before Fidel’s triumph. During the long decades that followed, my memories persisted, even as the distance between them and harsh reality continued to grow. Today I’m reading Havana Nocturne, T.J. English’s account of the seamy, violent and thoroughly corrupted underbelly of the beautiful city in those halcyon days. Cuba is very much on my mind as it is for many in the wake of the rapprochement between Pres. Obama and Raúl Castro. In the weeks to come I will be reconciling nostalgia and history as this new era unfolds.

Photo by James Seith Photography

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Do you love Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, et al.?

AnythingGoesLast night I went to a wonderful show — classical music from Broadway, by which I mean Rodgers & Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Lerner & Loewe, Irving Berlin … There are many more, but what’s the use of naming them? Only audiences “of a certain age” not only recognize but love the music created by those names. (I and a few of my friends know all the lyrics and can sing them all.) I often wonder MyFairLady2when I look around me at the audience at the opera or chamber music or even pop standards like those I heard last night, and see only grey and balding heads: What will happen to this music when the greyheads are gone?

Guys&Dolls2Peter Gelb is doing a masterful job of revamping the opera, things like ripping “Rigoletto” from its 16th-century palace setting and plopping it down in a casino in 1950s Las Vegas. I think that is a brilliant move, since the power plays of the debauched nobility differ little from the depravity of 20th-century gangsters. Jealousy, pride and a father’s love aren’t bound to time or place. With novel staging in new productions and free outdoor showings, Gelb may well succeed in enticing new audiences. SouthPacificGreat theater deals with the human condition, and since that doesn’t change from one age to another, the costumes worn by the players in no way alter the themes of love lost and won, jealousy, treachery, death, cleverness, stupidity and so on.

I suspect the musical theater is different. OklahomaThe “younger set” no longer swings to the music of Glenn Miller or Harry James — they don’t need to cling to each other on the dance floor when they can hook up in bed with no effort. Cole Porter’s marvelously witty lyrics no longer resonate.

Every age, of course, has its own passions, styles and crazes. And each age thinks theirs are the best. As they should.

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The Raven’s many colors

Once upon an evening dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over bunches of notes and notebooks and pages from studies of yore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a banging,
As of something sharply whomping, well outside my chamber door.
“’Tis some blasting there,” I muttered, “blowing up my chamber door—
    Must be that and nothing more.”
So I gazed outside my chamber, and this is what I saw:
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Eagerly I kept on watching, watching from my chamber door.
Only that and nothing more.
And the fireworks kept coming, exploding by my chamber door.

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“What could they be?” I wondered as I looked and looked some more.

Finally I went to Google, asking and inquiring wherefore.

 

 

“For the Chinese New Year,” came the answer.

Only that and nothing more.

 

 

Apologies to Edgar Allen Poe

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