Saturday, February 27, 2010

Recollection: Paris, Chopin and Sand

Frédéric Chopin was born on 1-March 1810. Next Monday will be the bicentennial of his birth. At least this is the date he and his family said was his actual birth date although his birth certificate shows that he was born on 22 February 1810. There will be a number of celebrations in many parts of the world on the occasion of his two-hundredth anniversary. The Warsaw Philharmonic is holding daily concerts of Chopin’s music from 22nd February to the 1st. Even the city of Chicago intends to erect, in downtown Chicago, a copy of the famous Art Nouveau Chopin Monument in Warsaw’s Royal Baths Park.

Chopin left his native Poland in 1830 never to return. He lived in France until his death in 1849. He became a French citizen but in his heart he was ardently Polish. His music shows the nostalgic rhythms of his native country as in his polonaises, études and mazurkas. His father was also an ex-pat as he had left his native France for Poland when he was a young man. Composer Frédéric Chopin was very homesick for his beloved Poland and his sentiments are heard in his compositions. Chopin said “music is the expression of our thoughts with the help of sound.”

Postcard of Frédéric Chopin

Most expatriates will at one time or another feel homesick for their native country. From reading my blogging friend Friko’s Musings post I have learned that there is a word in German for this feeling of the native land – it is called “heimat.” It cannot really be translated as the loss of “homeland” or “patrie” but the place where everything gives a sense of belonging. The Goethe Institute mentions that “in the German language, Heimat means origin. It is the environment, the landscape where one was born and the strong association one feels for them. It expresses the place where one has roots and the place one associates with one’s family and childhood. Or the place where one has built up one’s life and where one feels at home.” It is the place where people understand your language and the way you speak it. It is where you know your way around in all things, being the culture, the literature, poetry, humor and more. Chopin was homesick – he yearned for heimat.

The Chopin family apartment in Warsaw

Looking at the Eiffel Tower on TV or other French ads I have had this feeling of heimat, of missing my country of origin. Hearing French songs, eating an authentic croissant have done it too. I did not understand until now that it must have been the same for my father who was an expatriate in France. He was an Armenian who had left his native Turkey as a young man, never to return. In Turkey his mother, my grand-mother, had a beautiful grand piano in her living-room and she played the piano extremely well, especially Chopin music. My father did not play the piano himself but in our apartment in Paris he had a player piano with a wonderful sound.

My father's player piano was a newer model and had a better sound than this one.

From my earliest childhood I heard the music of Chopin regularly. The piano was in the living room where my little bed was placed. Many an evening my father sat by the piano pushing the lever to soften or amplify the sound of the Chopin music. People coming to our apartment would wait by the door outside before pushing the bell so as not to stop his playing – the piano did not sound like a player piano at all so they thought he was the pianist. I think my father felt his own emotions of homesickness, heimat, in Chopin’s preludes or polonaises. So when I hear the music of Chopin I am back in our Paris apartment watching my father at the piano, and I am homesick, too.

When a Polish family living in France decided to return to Poland Nicolas Chopin joined them. There he married a young Polish woman who worked in the household where he taught French to the children. They had four children, one son being Frédéric – which is spelled Fryderyk in Polish. The family moved to Warsaw where Nicolas became a professor of French and literature in the Saxon Palace.

Chopin's parents, Nicolas and Justyna

They soon realized that their son was a music prodigy. Frédéric published his first composition, a Polonaise, in 1817 (then 7 years old) and had his first public performance when he was 8 years old.

News of this young pianist started circulating in Warsaw and many aristocrats requested that he plays in their salons, as in the Radziwill palace owned at the time by Prince Stanislaw Zamoyski.

When Chopin arrived in Paris in 1831 there were many Polish political refugees who had come to France because it was the country where one could talk about freedom. They welcome Chopin in their salons where in addition to rich émigrés he met Balzac, Victor Hugo, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Franz List and the painter Eugène Delacroix who became a lifelong close friend. Chopin quickly became a member of Paris high society.

Chopin with admirers

He gave piano lessons to the children of the aristocracy, at a pretty high hourly fee. He became close friend to the Rothschild’s, one of the richest families in the world who introduced him to their wealthy connections. Chopin had a good knowledge of the French language as well as German, Italian and Latin. He had much social success as he had elegant manners, dressed beautifully and was charming.

Growing up I always saw my mother with a book. One of her favorite French authors was George Sand who had been the most famous French woman author in the 19th century and is considered a “classic” to be studied in schools. Mother gave me several of Sand’s books which I brought back with me to the USA. Here are some below.

George Sand (1804-1876) was the nom de plume of Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin, Baroness Dudevant. Her grandmother, Marie Aurore de Saxe (Madame Dupin de Franceuil) had a country estate called Nohant, in the Berry region, near Chateauroult. George Sand grew up in this estate and used it as a setting in many of her books.

She wrote 80 novels, some theatre pieces, political texts, essays and literary criticism. She was considered an early woman feminist and sided with the poor and working class. She felt that women should have rights in a progressive society. She adopted a masculine name for her novels and wore men clothes so she could walk in Paris without being stopped. She was a radical who believed in freedom of expression and showed it in her lifestyle. She was legally separated from her husband in 1835. Chopin met George Sand at a party in 1836 and by 1838 they lived together. They formed a couple of rare talent, both incredibly brilliant in their respective art.

To avoid gossips they traveled to the island of Majorca, off the coast of Spain, with George’s two children. At first they stayed in a beautiful villa but when Chopin became ill with bronchitis the landlord asked them to leave. They moved to an old monastery called Valldemosa where Chopin’s health deteriorated. Since birth Chopin had very weak lungs and was sick quite often.

There is a museum on Chopin in Valldemosa

After moving back to Marseille in France for a few weeks they returned to Paris.

Painting by Eugène Delacroix, French 1798-1863

During Chopin and Sand’s liaison they spent their winters in Paris where Chopin would play, often improvising, for their friends at numerous parties. In the summers Chopin would compose new music in Sand's country estate at Nohant.

After 8 years together the relationship was straining. Chopin and Sand had a terrible quarrel in 1847. They decided to live apart. In 1848 Chopin grew exhausted by the life in Paris and became seriously weak. Jenny Lind (1820-1887) the well-known Swedish soprano and wealthy philanthropist, invited him to England. There the English aristocracy greeted him with open arms. He played for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But the London smog did not help his lungs and he accepted an invitation to Scotland where he stayed for almost three months. Jenny Lind was his financial benefactor, through the intermediary of a Scottish woman named Jane Stirling, until Chopin died.

Jenny Lind painted by Eduard Magnus, German (1799-1872)

Getting weaker and weaker and speaking no English, Chopin decided to go back to Paris at the end of November 1848. By then he was seriously ill. He could not teach any longer but kept on composing. Doctors were called but they could not do much as his illness which was believed to be consumption (tuberculosis) was not curable at the time.

Knowing that his days were numbered, Chopin requested that his eldest sister Ludwicka come by his side. She arrived in Paris in August 1849 but even under her loving care Frédéric Chopin died in the morning of 17 October 1849. He was 39 years old.

Last photographed known of Chopin, taken in 1849 and a photograph of George Sand

His funeral in the beautiful Church of the Madeleine in Paris was a moving and grand event attended by a large number of artists and distinguished aristocracy. Mozart’s Requiem was performed. Jenny Lind had arranged for this lavish funeral with a special permission by Louis Napoleon, President of France.

La Madeleine, Edouard Léon Cortes, French, 1892-1969

According to his wishes Frédéric Chopin was buried at the Cemetery of the Père Lachaise in Paris. His sister took his heart in an urn back with her to Warsaw where it was sealed in a pillar of the Holy Cross Church.

There are always flowers, at both places. (Click to enlarge pictures.)

Chopin was an accomplished pianist who made the piano even more popular. His sheet music sold extremely well in his time and listeners and pianists play his music now more than ever. Enraptured audiences flock to Chopin concerts to hear his magical romantic melodies. After 200 years his music has still wide appeal and is cherished all over the world. Arthur Rubinstein said: “Chopin was a genius of universal appeal. His music conquers the most diverse audiences….Even in this abstract atomic age, where emotion is not fashionable, Chopin endures. His music is the universal language of human communication.”

A few years ago I visited the museum of Romantic Life (Le Musée de la Vie Romantique) which is near Pigalle at 7 rue Chaptal. This is an 1830 residence where the owners, the painter Ary Scheffer, hosted Friday-evening salons where George Sand and Chopin used to come as neighbors to visit with great artists. Numerous mementos of George Sand are displayed as well as the hand cast of Chopin’s right hand. It is a small but lovely museum.

The estate of Nohant, where George Sand died on June 8, 1876 can be visited as it is now a national monument, property of the nation. It looks much the same at it did when Sand and Chopin were alive. The decoration is the same as it was until George Sand died. For Chopin, George Sand was the love of his life. She had been everything to him – a lover, a companion, a nurse and a muse.

For my birthday in March 2001 my mother gave me the book “George Sand à Nohant.” It is the history of George Sand in the estate. This was the last book my mother gave me. She passed away in 2002.

Le souvenir est le parfum de l'âme.” George Sand (Memory is the perfume of the soul.)

Picture of rose named Frédéric Chopin

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Visiting a wildlife sanctuary in West Palm Beach, Florida

Last week in my post about West Palm Beach and Palm Beach Island in Florida I mentioned why we had flown to Florida (see post 18th February.) We stayed four days and enjoyed varied scenery and attractions. I had heard about the McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary and since my husband had spent a career in wildlife and environmental management I thought that this would be something he might like to see. The sanctuary is located on a quiet road in West Palm Beach.

We ran the doorbell

and a young lady came to greet us. She told us her name was Aneth.

She escorted us into the sanctuary.

Click on pictures to enlarge them

She gave us a quick background on the sanctuary. Mark McCarthy has worked with animals since 1972 – with a venom research lab and later with exotic cats. He purchased five acres in 1990 in West Palm Beach and built the McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary. There he receives animals from wildlife officers, animals that were sick, injured or orphans. He has also adopted hundreds of exotic animals which were unwanted, abandoned or illegally possessed. Some have become permanent residents. Some have been returned to the wild. The sanctuary is a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation facility licensed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the US Dept of Agriculture.

Below is a postcard showing the longest living resident at the sanctuary – a White-tailed Hawk named Vader. He came to the sanctuary as an adult in 1980. (I took his picture but it was blurred so I bought this postcard.)

Postcard photo by Karen Lindquist

We walked by the Scarlet Macaw named Norma Jean

then by the Ringed Tail Lemur . The species originated from Madagascar and is very vocal.

Aneth told us that she came from Tanzania 5 years ago at the same time as a baby Siberian tiger, named Sabi. She said she hand fed her until Sabi became too big and started to play rough. Siberian tigers can weigh from 350 to 600 pounds or more and eat 10 to 15 pounds of food a day - a combination of meat and other special food.

I found a picture on the net showing how big a Siberian tiger is. (Photographed by Wesley.)

We saw a smaller and then a larger turtle quite close

Click on photographs to enlarge them

Aneth took Louie, the Kinkajou, on her shoulder so we could touch its soft fur. It really was soft.

The Bengal Tiger can live up to 10 years in the wild, but 20 years in captivity. Here is one –

Aneth explained that many of the animals had been unwanted pets. For example some large cats, I believe it was the panther and the lion, were abandoned at a Motel Six in Orlando, Florida. Another cat, a Siberian tiger, was kept as a pet in Minnesota and was lead on a leash as a cub, but abandoned when it became too large and ate too much.

Here is Aslan the lion. He is 5 years old and weighs 450 pounds. Aneth says he is a big baby – I’ll take her word for it.

His roar was magnificent; the roar of a lion can be heard to a distance of 5 miles.

Aslan’s usual playmate is Lola the other Siberian Tiger –

We continued walking along the animal pens and saw more big cats including a leopard, another tiger and Sandy and George, the Florida panthers (also called Mountain Lions or Pumas or Cougars.)

Postcard purchased at the sanctuary (Photo by Karen Lindquist.)

These are my photos -

They were left homeless after a hurricane in Panama City.

The reptile room had quite a few interesting animals.

There were some cute baby alligators. Aneth held them so we could pet them, and I did.

Aneth took Snowball, the 12 years old 40 pounds Albino Burmese python, and placed it around my neck (it felt heavy and cold.) But I did not care to hold the tarantula – I preferred to have Aneth hold it while I took its picture.

So it was time to leave the reptile area and the main sanctuary too.

There are over ninety permanent resident animals at the sanctuary. Here are just a few others.

It is quite an expense to house these lovely creatures. The large cats, twenty-two of them, are carnivores and consume one thousand pounds of meat each week. The compound is very clean and well taken care of, no odors. Many of these animals would not have survived if it had not been for this sanctuary and many others across the country. A mixed Australian dingo and chow dog looks like he can keep the area secure.

We really enjoyed our visit and felt that we had been able to come quite close to the animals. Another couple had joined us after a while and the four of us were the only visitors. It certainly was a great relaxing experience. Later on we went to eat in a small Cuban restaurant and I finished the evening reading about what we would do next.

Italian painting (no more information)

Additional Note: For a long time there has been a growing trade in captive wild animals for pets. The sale of wild and exotic animals is thriving in the illegal world market and this needs to be stopped. More monitoring of traders should be done and smuggling wild animals needs to be severely dealt with. I read that the Captive Wildlife Safety Act bans interstate commerce of big cat but it does not restrict ownership of these animals. It does not cover other wild animals though. Georgia and several other states, 29 so far, prohibit keeping dangerous wildlife as pets. Every state should prohibit residents from possessing wild animals as pets. The Big Cat Rescue site lists the laws in each state regarding the keeping of exotic cats, click here to see what your state is doing to protect these animals. There are several organization protecting animals, one of them is Born Free, USA. You can check their site here for details. Additional information can be found at the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries: click here.
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