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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Words and Music. By John von Daler

                     It was the orderliness of the whole thing that got to me every once and a while. I sat in the same chair in the library or at my desk in my room and read precisely sixty pages an hour, that is, four novels from world literature week after week for four or five semesters. I ate dinner at six o'clock mostly with the same students, got to bed around twelve every night, went regularly to most of my lectures and precept classes and partied every weekend. Every once in a while something had to give.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Taste of Blue. John von Daler

                    Karen #Blixen loved the color blue, especially the light Nordic blue that rises out of the great Greenlandic ice floes (which incorporate it together with a mystical touch of turquoise in sheet after sheet of frozen water), then appears in the Swedish flag and finally finds a permanent home in Danish royal porcelain. She uses it in the eyes of a beautiful figurehead on a ship out of Elsinore and in the porcelain that a poor, old lady spends her life buying up, just to find the color of the sea around the boat where she had spent two weeks as a young girl alone with a young sailor after a shipwreck.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pjerrot Speaks. By John von Daler

                  #Tivoli in Copenhagen is one of the few places where you can see genuine "#Commedia dell'arte" in Northern Europe. Every evening these half-hour "dumb shows" are performed at least twice in the old amusement park. For many decades these performances were accompanied by an orchestra playing in the pit in front of the old two-towered pagoda theater. Lately the shows have been accompanied by taped music - not nearly as much fun as the good, old days.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Boredom and Claustrophobia 2. By John von Daler

                   The theater for the Warhol movie was packed. We saw one picture where this guy did nothing. I do not remember whether it was a moving picture or not. As an audience watching a man do nothing, we did nothing unless it was getting asphyxiated. In Denmark they are not big on air systems. Sometimes they cool the air for you, but it really is just the same old air: recycling of your neighbor's carbon dioxide.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Boredom and Claustrophobia 1. By John von Daler

                 Everybody wanted to see Andy Warhol's movies. Me too, but God knows why. They were not interesting or sexy or beautiful or anything really but "in". All of Copenhagen had stood in line to see these two films, about a man sleeping or someone looking out into space or somebody eating. We got mashed into the little art theater like herring in a barrel. Not only that, but it was a double feature with a break: one film before and one after an intermission.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Under the #Mask. By John von Daler

                    I stood in my underwear and a great chesty coat in the costume room at the theater. The coat was buttoned in the back, with long, heavy, hairy, black arms sticking out of the green shoulders. On my head, the seamstress had placed a huge helmet, also green with protruding eyes and large, grotesque feelers. In my right hand I held my violin and bow while my left hand was making forays into the jungle I was within, working through the hair, the knobs, the extended insect arms, trying to find out what it was like outside this great costume. I was to be a huge violin-playing grasshopper in a total-theater production of Faust. But this was an unhappy grasshopper.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Cut. By John von Daler

               #Tulsa, Oklahoma, about 1950. Dad and I entered the large, light room with mirrors all along two opposite sides. White tiles covered the floors with a small, black pattern without any meaning. Small piles of hair were continually being swept up across the pattern. We took seats along the wall.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Oars in water. By John von Daler

                 "When I walked through northern Europe in the early thirties, men were scarce..." The old storyteller took a sip from his Bulgarian red wine; this was not a big enough occasion to break out the French bottles. Then he took a bite of pheasant liverpaste on a piece of French bread. He took his time; he wanted the point to sink in. I needed no pause in which to think it over. I had heard his tales before; I knew his methods; I took a drink too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Untold Story. By John von Daler

                     You remember #Bartleby the Scrivener by #Melville? Bartleby went crazy because he read all the letters that never reached their destinations; they landed instead on his desk in the Dead Letter Office. That's what not following a story through to the end can do to you:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Praising #Agee. By John von Daler

                 Inspired by The New York Review of Books, let me join in, not to sing the melody of praise about James #Agee's "Now Let Us Praise Famous Men", which I own but have never read, but to hum the bass line of a much deeper counterpoint: "Agee on Film". Read it. Just read it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ich bin ein. By John von Daler

                  I had discovered the place by accident: taking a walk by #Savigny Platz I passed an open door through which the scent of elegant sauces wafted onto #Kantstrasse. An elderly woman stood in the door doing what I suppose my Viennese grandmother might have called "taking the air", such as it is in Kantstrasse. I could not really see in the kitchen, so I tried to find a front entrance to what had to be a restaurant. Finally I found a small, fairly dark entranceway and walked inside two tiny, dark, adjacent rooms, one long with a bar and the other square with maybe eight or ten tables. The place had a feel of masculinity about it, as if the owner had decorated it with just a few not very well-placed pictures of people and places he liked and said who cares what anybody else thinks. It had an irresistible charm about it that appealed to me.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Wrong End. By John von Daler

                 "Twenty dollars", says the realtor with a chuckle, "You could have bought this place for twenty dollars back then!" We are looking at a colonial house in Connecticut.
                In corresponding situations I have always thought, and what's so funny about that? I would not have had twenty dollars back then and I don't have the price you are asking now!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I vote for Jan. By John von Daler

                   I commute between the extreme dictatorship of art that I work with and the extreme democracy of the society I live in. Keeping these two areas separate seems imperative if you think, as I do, that art usually worsens when everyone has a say, while society often improves. So I have chosen to live in Denmark where I create various forms of thought, artifice and artifacts.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Piece of Cake. By John von Daler

                     Ever since my kind and diligent Danish doctor peered over the tops of his round and rimless reading glasses and pronounced, "#Diabetes 2. You've got diabetes 2", I have been nobody's sugar daddy. With the exception of four teaspoons of marmalade every Sunday, plus the portions of sugar that fruit and vegetables may smuggle into my blood, I am as sugar-free as Lady Macbeth.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Coincidence. By John von Daler

                   In the Vienna of the last Habsburgs my great grandfather lived and worked. His passion was to collect good paintings, fine glass and beautiful artifacts. Once some work of art had been through his hands you could read all about its history and trust its genuiness; M. Strauss was both a fine lawyer and a meticulous art collector. Being the son of an award-winning and successful manufacturer of silk, he new the quality of the exquisite and could afford to track down and systemize some of the best art of his time.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Great Expectations. By John von Daler

                    It was the Cub Scout in me I guess. I just did not fit in well with the #sixties. Too punctual, too proper. These qualities were great for a musician, but in my private life they often presented problems. The worst part was that I got tired of myself. So I decided to do something about it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A close brush. By John von Daler

                   Second drawer from the top. Left-hand side. I knew the sound of the drawer opening by heart. Seeing it there, bristles up, you would not suspect that it had other uses than lightly stroking long strands of freshly washed hair. Turning it over, though, you could see that the oval back of redish wood, lacquered and smooth, might also be used as an intimidating weapon if needs be.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Memento 1. By John von Daler

                    #Deserted would be the one, all-purpose word. Deserted as in abandoned. Deserted as in a desert with hardly any visible growth.  Deserted as in empty of people. You choose it.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Wings of Song. By John von Daler

                 The band had invited wives and girlfriends to come to the Danish provinces. As if in response the summer had turned friendly and gray skies and choppy winds had rolled back out to sea revealing quiet, blue and yellow days. The land was covered with deep red poppies and bright golden mustard, the two colors of saffron.

Friday, November 8, 2013

His Mother's Tongue. By John von Daler

                      Having spoken the Danish language for four decades, it feels invigorating to come back to English. Writing it again gives me new vantage points. I feel creative and inventive. Here are some examples of my rediscovery of the language I was born with:

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Touching. By John von Daler

                 "Somebody touch me!" the old man would exclaim when he arrived at our place in Denmark. My wife would give my father a hug and offer to do his nails. This meant holding his hand and dipping it in warm, soapy water; with his wife now in her grave, he needed attention. His clothes were not ironed very well, his always clean-shaven face now showed stubble at various spots, his usually slick hair was fluffed up like a baby chicken. Here with us he could thaw up after those cold weeks alone.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Two Heroes. By John von Daler

                When I came to New York in 1959 at the age of fourteen, one of the first things I wanted to do was to hear the New York Philharmonic play at Carnegie Hall. We got tickets to a concert conducted by von Karajan featuring Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Audible #Eros. By John von Daler

                 On the way home from the drive-in movie, The Seven-Year Itch with Marilyn #Monroe, my prairy mother, riding shotgun, uttered a sharp admonition that her frontier predecessors would have applauded: "That woman is just tasteless. Why, in five or ten years women will be wearing a d├ęcolletage in the back of their dresses!" My father in the front seat and I in the rear remained as silent as cookie thieves with bulging cheeks. Neither of us in our obvious guilt could stammer out even one small syllable of feigned agreement.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Drawing a #blank. By John von Daler

                 Ah, all the writers who fear blank pages! Karen #Blixen loved them. She recounted how a certain cloister in Portugal cultivated fields of flax to make into sheets for the wedding nights of brides of the nobility.  The morning after the great event the sheets would be returned to the cloister to be framed and hung up in a gallery so that the great and the rich could see evidence of the virtue of their women. Karen Blixen goes on to say that the most interesting of all the displays was of course the blank one.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

By hand. By John von Daler

                  If you look at them now, they have small wrinkles around the edges like the folds at the waist of a sitting woman by Vermeer. The skin that they call white, is made of hardly any color, just layer upon layer of tissue reminiscent of the strata hidden in an iceberg in Greenland, but these are almost crimson: all of the layers taken together give a kind of soft, pale red glow. Maybe these are the fires of life that soon will soften, become embers, lose heat, crumble and finally turn white.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Splinter. By John von Daler

                  Usually the younger generation tries to shock its parent generation. Faulkner knew this and often let his fictional children build up emotional connections with their grandparents. While they antagonized their parents, they empathized with those parents' parents.

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