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This week: Mozart, Mosel wine & more
Literature: The English Year: From Diaries and Letters, compiled by Geoffrey Grigson (Oxford University Press): I don’t know when The English Year, a charming chrestomathy by the great, half-remembered British man-of-letters Geoffrey Grigson (1905–1985) was last in print in this country. I picked up my copy in London at Heywood Hill back when it was still a serious bookshop (it is now a pale shadow of its former self). It would be mean-spirited to tell you about a book that would pleasantly beguile a spare hour or two if it were not available; however, I am pleased to report that Amazon can still get you a copy for a modest consideration. It is, to alter that saying of Lincoln’s, the sort of thing you will like if you like this sort of thing: very short extracts, drawn from diaries and letters and arranged from January 1 to December 31, from the likes of John Constable, John Ruskin, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Francis Kilvert, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, and others. On August 13 (my birthday) we have John Ruskin in an uncharacteristically upbeat mood in 1872: “Entirely calm and clear morning. The mist from the river at rest among the trees, with rosy light on its folds of blue, and I, for the first time these ten years, happy.” Today, August 15, has two entries from the parson-naturalist Gilbert White. Here’s the one from 1783: “Took this morning by bird lime on the tips of hazel-twigs several hundred wasps that were devouring the goose-berries. A little attention this way makes a vast riddance.” Makes you sorry White isn’t with us today. I can think of some wasps we need to rid ourselves of. —RK
Nonfiction: The Glamour of Strangeness: Artists and the Last Age of the Exotic, by Jamie James (Farrar, Straus & Giroux): Ours is an age of “controlled cosmopolitanism.” Sophisticated folk on six out of seven continents take pride in their enjoyment of foreign tastes, neglecting the fact that the rise of an international elite culture has had a homogenizing effect on their experiences abroad. Dining, resorts, finances, and more have less local taste than ever across capital cities from Beijing to Bogotá. In the art world, this covering-over of regional differences has created a generation of artists who tout their multicultural influences despite all designing in the same formless, modern style. Of course, it was not always thus. In his latest release, the arts author Jamie James describes the expatriate poets and painters of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the period he takes to be the last great age of true exoticism. Rather than focusing on the American Lost Generation, James takes an interest in subjects who either left the West to venture east or southward, or their counterparts from non-Western nations who made their way to Europe—all of whom developed styles with more poignancy than the bare-but-boastful cosmopolitanism of today. —MU
Music: Così fan tutte at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival (August 15): It is not a novel observation that Mozart’s three collaborations with Lorenzo Da Ponte represent priceless entries in the operatic catalogue. Though not as tight as the two sisters, Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni, Così fan tutte is nonetheless a jewel of the repertoire, its first act boasting a slew of treasured arias and scenes. (See Jay Nordlinger’s recent post on a new production from the Salzburg Festival.) For one night only, Mostly Mozart will host the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and a cast of talented young singers in a concert performance of Mozart’s sunny score. —ECS
The grape: Wine tasting at The Cloisters (August 26): “Good wine is a good familiar creature,/ if it be well used.” So says Iago in Othello’s second act. He has a point—and this Friday The Cloisters will prove it. What could be a better use of wine than the furtherance of the appreciation of art? Those sticking around the city on Friday night will be treated to a complimentary wine tasting at the Met’s uptown medieval campus, featuring whites from the Mosel courtesy of the importer (and erstwhile art history student) Stephen Bitterolf’s vom Boden Fine Wines. Kingsley Amis, that indispensable sage of the vine, was an unabashed fan of Mosel wines, liking them paired with fish (though he thought them slightly too subtle, especially compared to Hock, which we would call Rhenish). Amis noted that “a German wine label is one of the things life’s too short for,” but that didn’t stop him from imbibing with vigor, nor should it you, especially in such grand surroundings as the Cloisters. —BR
From the archive: “Reading Waugh in Africa,” by James Panero: What Evelyn Waugh can tell us about contemporary Africa.
From the latest issue: “A paper dragon (with teeth)” by Allan H. Meltzer: On China’s fortunes and their relation to the rule of law.