Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pieces of personality

It is Lipschitz's fate to live in courtyards

It is not just that women tend to do what their men friends do, so that I learned to drive much better (and got a secondhand 356A Porsche to do it in) when one of them was into rallyes and autocrosses. With him I even learned to lay out a rallye for otthers in our Sports Car Club to compete in. Earlier I learned with great pleasure to put together Heathkits, not only the power amplifier and the pre-amp but even the tuner, so that they worked. Anyone who likes embroidery or very small doll clothes is likely to enjoy soldering, with a pencil-point iron; that was in the 1950s when there were no printed circuits with solder-filled eyelets to poke the wires from either end of resisters and capacitors through, so that the printed layout had to be carefully adhered to if the device didn't end up just a jumble of wires and small parts at odd angles such as wouldn't fit into the box. I might have got into the latter from a friend I had in elementary school whose father was at Bell Labs. But all one's life one picks up friends' tastes. It is not as if one became somehow a core self with borrowings plastered on like stickers, however. An aptitude is wanted. When I was taken up to Timberline to learn to ski, my aptitude was only for falling without getting hurt; it was as bad as ballroom dancing, in which I not only couldn't follow but couldn't have led even if I were a man, or swimming: I just can't put my head under water. What is fascinating is a the lifelong accumulation, aggregation, and finally assimilation and development of pleasures that very probably were due to friends. For example, I just ordered a novel on line that my old friend M. mentioned in an email, and it would be typical for me to go on to read more of the same author. And such reading becomes part of oneself. When we were young I profited from the tastes she got from her father, of which a result has been a lifetime's enjoyment of Benjamin Britten. When the 1944 Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings was re-released on CD, I got it for myself, remembering their 78 rpm album. D.S. downstairs already had taught me to admire Dennis Brain, but Britten's setting of Ben Jonson Hymn to the goddess Diana has remained one of the anthems of my musical memory, specifically as sung by the young Peter Pears. The Ben Jonson also made me think of Dum Dianae vitrea sera lampas oritur. When I began to indulge a passion for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and not least for his repertory, the Britten made the LP called Im Spiegel der Antike for months my favorite of all his, with its Schubert settings of German Romantic poets. So I got myself a volume of all those poets and their contemporaries. And so it goes. That is just one strand. I'm sure anyone of my age, or near it, has a personal imagination in which a great mass of of once oddly assorted material has become simply what one is. Peter Pears, besides, is the only one besides Edith Sitwell herself who can do Fa├žade. It was my friend David who introduced me to Sitwell. We both got the 10" LP of her live performance at the Museum of Modern Art (I think it was) and memorized it, and David who went with me to the great shows in San Francisco, beginning with the Matisse retrospective, then the Fauves, then the Cubists. San Francisco already had Matisse's Woman in a Green Hat, and, being from Oakland, anyway, we were interested in the Steins' collection of Matisse, so that three years ago, when I went to Baltimore for the first time, I had to go see the Cone collecion if I saw nothing else—and they didn't disappoint. And, to bring this around in a circle, it was M. who took me to the museum there, altogether an excellent one. I'll see if I can find a snapshot of something from the sculpture court there (photography in the paintings forbidden).