Transitory Ephemera Fleeting
Queen Victoria sat upon the throne of Great Britain from 1837 until her death at 82 in 1901. A good long reign that and those years were good for the kingdom....queendom. In 1876, Victoria was declared “Empress of India.” “Huzzah” I believe is the expletive cheer employed on such occasions.
For a number of those years in the latter half of the 19th century, the prime minister-ship went back and forth between Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) and William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), kind of like the Lakers and Celtics in the 1980’s.
Both men were capable executives of different political parties. Of course I cannot understand the British political system any more than I can understand...cricket and so will make no attempt to explain it here to you.
So I’m sitting in a sitting room in Buckingham Palace (they get a palace, our guy just gets a house) sipping tea from annoying teacups. The year was around 1880 or there abouts. To Queen Victoria and one of her prime ministers (I don’t recall which) I says “Vic Old Girl,” I says, “In the wink of 60 years or so, your precious empire will be reduced to what it was for the Battle of Hastings. Ireland gone. India gone. Properties in Africa and Asia all gone. London defenseless and bombed by your German cousins while your recurring prime minister pleads for help from the colonies (you may recall you lost 100 years ago), and British soldiers in retreat are plucked from the beaches of Dunkirk by fishing boats.”
She smiled and dabbed the corners of her mouth, then picked up the splendid silver bell that sat on the equally silver tray with the tea service. She rang the bell twice. Instead of the butler though, two beefy Beefeaters came in and clicked their heels and saluted once in position.
Victoria says, “Sargent, please take this harmless looney and lock him up in the Tower until his passage to Australia is secured. Take him away.”
And that was that. Dismissed like a bothersome child. Funny thing: Moctezuma responded quite similarly, Marcus Aurelius told me to keep my voice down. Temujin just laughed and laughed.
To tacitly presume that an empire, any empire, shall enjoy permanence, shall remain on the throne and in primacy forever and happily ever after, is just stupid. Sometimes the demise transpires so abruptly, well, it’s like waking up in another country and not remembering how you got there.
I thought W.E.B DuBois penned the line about “If you’re not mad as hell, you’re not paying attention.” I cannot find any definitive attribution about that, but the line unto itself is GOLDEN. And We, We are not paying attention. For all the hollering, court cases, protests, panels, podcasts, media saturation, websites, and copious tears and flapdoodle, We are not paying attention. We are numb, We are indifferent and We are instead, entertained. We are drunk for our arrogance. Dancing on the tracks while the train is in sight.
It was resolved at the outset of Folksizhome that this would not become a soap box for political venting. Nothing said here today violates that oath. I beseech all parties to pull it back, look around and consider deeply deeply; what is real, what matters? All is ephemeral, all is impermanent and we all become dust. This is not a bad thing. It’s just how it is. But while we’re here and above ground, We can make it better. Or, perish and bitch about it. Blame our neighbors. Few hundred years after we’re ALL gone, our planet will be a garden again, no problem, she knows well how to do that. Or, We can do better, be better, think better, see, hear, and learn better.
Am I getting preachy here? Trite? Condescending? What are your alternatives.
This 4th of July, as I do every year, I shall read the Declaration of Independence, the great 4th of July speech of Frederick Douglas and that Gettysburg thing until I bring it back to memory recital. Those Americans of eternal intellect saw the top of the hill disappear into clouds but knew by power of reason, that the summit was there none the less. To believe ourselves at the summit presupposes a descent and, gravity will not be doing Us any favors. Gravity is not ephemeral.
The American Chamber Opera Company
Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 in NYC
University Settlement House
In some time past, 10 years or more ago, I was sitting in the kitchen, drinking coffee, listening to the NYC lefty democrat radio station, and—no doubt—being unemployed or (more politely) under-employed.
On that particular morning, present on the radio were two fancy curators from the Met Museum (which I call “the Met” as opposed to the Metropolitan Opera which I call “the Met” as opposed to the NY Metropolitans which I call “the Mets”) who were discussing a show of early Renaissance portraiture they had just mounted.
I find this sort of thing thrilling. More thrilling to me was their resolve not to have Leonardo or Michelangelo pieces in the show, because if you invite either of those guys to the party, they suck all the air out the room. The list of painters who were invited was extensive—MVPs all.
I put on my pants, hopped on the bike, and made a bee-line for the Met, up 8th Ave., into the park, around and up the east side and out by Cleo’s Needle. I locked up the steed, paid my dollar and started into cruisin’. I know the joint pretty good.
The show was great, well hung and muscular. In my forage for eye candy, it began to occur to me, “Who’s this chick that looks like Uma Thurman or Ursula Andress? Seems like everybody in Italy painted her. Boy that’s a pretty girl! (A shayna maidel.)”
I went back to the top of the show, reading all of the little info placards beneath the paintings of this spectacular woman:
If one were to connect the dots, going backwards from Beyoncé and through Madonna, past Raquel Welch and Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, Jean Harlow, and Clara Bow, past Evelyn Nesbit and Audrey Munson and then through the centuries with all of their shining twinkling dots, you would find yourself in 15th century Florence, Italy, with It Girl Zero:
First Queen of Media.
The apex painters of apex Florence, then a republic, city, city-state, whatever, all knew about Simonetta. This big city, with its countryside, was only about 50–60,000 people, so really, everybody knew everybody. She came from Genoa and was married off, still a teenager, into the map-making Vespucci family. She became the toast of Florence and was dead (likely tuberculosis) by age 23. She may have been doing the beast with two backs with the de Medici boys. Rumors are an enduring truth of the human condition.
None of her admirers elevated her more than top-of-the-then-pile painter Sandro Botticelli. Botticelli, not his real name, was a nickname meaning “little barrel,” because he was a barrel-chested fellow, like Gérard Depardieu.
Botticelli was nuts from jump, but when Simonetta died, he lost it more completely. Really, they were neighbors, maybe lovers, but rumors abound. Only rumors.
The investigation that began for me that day at the Met went on for weeks, maybe months. I don’t recall. I am not an obsessive person, but a good story holds my attention, and this was a good story. Add to that story, some years after my girl’s death, a brilliant, fanatic religious fundamentalist and creepy-as-the-day-is-long autocrat priest named Savonarola. His temporary control of Florence and unseating of the de Medici did not go well or last long. Ultimately, he was made guest of honor at a rather public BBQ. Martin Luther’s Reformation stuck. Savonarola’s reformation, a decade or so earlier, not so much—it didn’t go well at all.
I read all I could. There is some fiction written about this snow globe episode and I avoided the fiction, but would now be remiss not to mention a fine novel by Salman Rushdie, “The Enchantress of Florence,” a gem and a half.
It happens now and then, one gorges oneself on experience, or research, and when full to the brim, you reverse the stream, and maybe, maybe it comes up Art.
This might explain the likes of Hemingway, Caravaggio, Conrad, and Greene. Emily Dickinson and Vermeer, not so much.
For myself, the research was regurgitated as an opera.
I love opera...the opera. As a child, there were my Mom’s dusty box sets of opera LPs, but I didn’t get it then. As an adult (???) I went to see Bohème at the Met. We sat in the nose bleeds, and boy oh boy, I got it, right between the eyes and in the corners, running down a cheek. Third act still gets me every time.
If there is another lively collaborative Art with greater means of expressing the human condition, please tell me what that might be. Once in a while, cinema comes close. Feel free to disagree.
Into my forties, I started playing all the opera I could get to. Playing in the pit is an excellent way to climb into an opera, I highly recommend it.
The story/script/lyric of an opera is called the “Libretto.” That’s what I did. I wrote the libretto. Now, after 450 years a voiceless face, and with my engagement and encouragement, after TWO postponements due to stupid Covid, Simonetta rises, born afresh and new again, arrived on a sea shell upon the shores of Capri. Splendid.
American Chamber Opera Company
Larry Lipkis / composer
Douglas Anderson / conductor
Andrew Joffe / stage director
Rob Block / libretto
University Settlement House
184 Eldridge Street
September 30 & October 1, 2022
I extend my gratitude to Robinson McClellan, Roger Malouf, Jake Heggie, and Al Ramos for support and direction in this lengthy endeavor.
I’m grateful to Doug Anderson for years of conducting and for having introduced me to Larry and Linda Lipkis.
Some years after my initial writing of the thing, but while it was still a work in progress, I was meeting my daughter Haley at the Brooklyn Museum, one of the great pocket museums of NYC. (“Pocket” as compared with the Met or Natural History.) When she was little, we regularly attended “First Saturdays” there. They opened up the museum for free, and there were films and lectures and performances and a big old dance party to end the night. Golden nights, safe and warm, and joy rolled down like a mighty stream. Splendid.
Now that she is an adult living in Brooklyn, we arranged to meet, nostalgically at one of those first Saturday events. Our rendezvous did not go smoothly, so I cruised a bit, confident we would find each other in time.
In the opera, the central piece...prop...maybe fulcrum, is a story from Boccaccio’s “Decameron” entitled, “Nastagio degli Onesti,” a really horrific little number, which back in the day, de Medici commissioned Botticelli to illustrate as a wedding gift to the child of a valued employee. I think three out of five of those small panels still exist. Upon hearing that Botticelli has received this commission on this awful misogynistic story, Simonetta has a fit to wake the dead. She tells Botticelli to give back the deposit and let Ghirlandaio take the work. Big fight, things were said. That is what I had Simonetta say in that moment, “Let Ghirlandaio have it.”
So I’m cruising the museum looking for Haley. I/we had not been there for years, and things were moved around. In a recessed corner somewhere, I noticed a painting unfamiliar to me. I moved in closer, and though poorly lit I recognized the cast: a black knight on a charger, the hounds, and the naked hunted woman. Nastagio degli Onesti. Who was the painter? Yup, Ghirlandaio. I did not know writing Simonetta that Ghirlandaio got that commission too, but I told Simonetta to say it. That, my friends, is an 11.7 on my weird-shit-o-meter. Spooky.
If you are in NYC at the end of September, I beg you to come see Simonetta. If you’re in Jersey, please make a night of it. Of course, if you are in L.A. or the middle of Lake Cheney, your attendance will be impossible. I will report and hopefully, in time, we can bring Simonetta to you.
And by the way, as with (we hope) the best of operas, you might want to bring a tissue. Maybe a few.
Rain all day,
Ain’t no use getting uptight,
Just let it,
Groove its own way...
I wish I wrote that and more to the point, I wish I could feel that way. I cannot.
“I’m frightened Auntie Em, I’m frightened,” Dorothy confessed to the globe encased image of her Auntie Em, searching for her storm-tossed niece in Depression era Kansas. The year was 1939.
My two cents; that scene is the high watermark of thespian chops and screenwriting in the 100 odd years of American Cinema. It always gets me, I imagine it, always will. I know it’s coming, I’ve watched it countless times. My lip starts to quiver and the tears roll down my cheek.
Now, Auntie Em, I’m frightened. And I’m scared and I’m angry and confused. And most of all, I’m exhausted.
God damn it, I’m tired!!
In 1939, this then somewhat united nation had gone to bed every night under a stinking wet blanket of financial collapse. Under the stewardship of a wise, capable, and challenged executive, we made it through until the War that would inundate our World and lift America out of its financial calamity.
Born in 1957, I missed those years of character fabrication (add to that, high American Art). My life sailed along under blue skies and upon ‘our sea’ whose glass smooth surface reflected only ourselves.
In those years, medical advances were realized, civil rights on various fronts were brought closer to the declared ideal. We walked on the moon, and two bucks in the tank got us to the beach and back.
Then those planes, our own planes came, and Fortress America was breached, indelibly so. The party was over.
Fah dimp, fah blunjit, fah drek, FAH KACHT!
Now anyone would tell you, or deny, that there have always been pulses of tribalism, factionalism and elitism in the U.S.A. These national character flaws dart below the surface no longer. Indeed, they bear down upon our shores like so many Armadas of so many ages ago.
One million (1,000,000) dead (and likely more) from COVID in this country alone and multiples more worldwide in the very short space of two (2) years, two years and within living memory of AIDS and a chorus of flu varieties. The ones that personally scares the bejeezus outta me are the diseases thought to be in a trunk in the attic now born again into the true faith of antibiotic resistance.
Like Dorothy in 1939, the clouds of War are not far behind me, nor are they ever. But today, bluebirds flee from the bombing, not of lemon drops, and chimneys are not the sources of columns of smoke way up high.
Will the “Better angels of our nature” ignore the itch we have scratched for maybe all of our human existence? I think not. You?
And if all that wasn’t enough, We are at least 50 years into a global ecological disaster, which we can’t even unanimously agree transpires before our eyes.
We are so very very fucked.
(I wrote that, so I didn’t italicize it)
I recall, as a child, the air raid drills in school as if crouching with your head between your knees might help you survive. How does a child cope now? I never believed in any sort of biblical prophecy, but now, there’s really no need to. Gods forbid nothing.
For these reasons and others, the latest offering at Folksizhome is a dark, grim[m], joyless, desperate, and arguably depraved tale because I kinda find myself resentful of all the giddy colored sugar water entertainment America serves itself with all 5 meals a day every day, then flush our toilets with drinking water.
I’m not apologizing for writing such a bleak and shitty story, I’m just telling you where it comes from. With this bulletin, we post the final installment of ”Alley.’’
It’s a blues you know. A sad slow song by which a collection of people might empty their pockets of sadness, onto a table between them so to see they all have the same problems, same demons, and same desires. America has some blues to sing and the sadness we conceal is the sadness we keep. I don’t want my sadness, so I throw it on the page.
I’m very grateful to the person designated “Slicky the Illuminator.” I think him an artistic soul come to Earth, in some part to my good luck and benefit.
I’m very grateful and fortunate to others for the continued blossoming of Folksizhome. They prefer to remain enigmatic as well.
We welcome your comments, inclusion, and engagement. Really, I’ve never understood why we receive so little, but you’re out there reading and we are grateful to You too.
Hang in there
Sing a blues
Hear a blues
Dance a night away.