Sunday, December 29, 2013

Year ended with music ... and cats

Another Christmas has passed - well, for almost everyone, but not all.  We celebrated with our daughters and family in Nashville, Tennessee. (Click on collage twice to enlarge.)

As I wrote in my post of January 2011, (click here to read it) most Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate Christmas according to the Gregorian calendar, i.e. 7 January 2014, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, the eastern Coptic Church and many others.  My late father's church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, celebrates Christmas on January 6th.  However, in the US, some Eastern Orthodox Christians use the revised calendar and celebrate Christmas on December 25th - but there are exceptions among the 1.5 million Eastern Orthodox in North America.  So I hope you had a nice Christmas, if you celebrated it, or will have a Merry Christmas with much fun, songs and dances if it is still forthcoming.

Anton F. Pieck, Dutch 1895-1987

My Christmas CDs have been put away.  My cat Cody, as you can see in the heading picture, was helping me ... somewhat.  My other cat, Mitsouko, was also helping but then they started a little fight.  So I placed them both on a chair - Mitsouko, the grey Korat, gave me a funny look but I placed a soothing guitar CD in the Bose and they stopped fighting and settled down.

Whenever we take the cats in the car to go to the vet, or other places, they become agitated and make a lot of fuss  As soon as some music is played through, they immediately stop and settle down.  They like music.  I think many cats enjoy music as I can prove it with some vintage postcards ...

"Il y a deux moyens d'oublier les tracas de la vie: la musique et les chats."
The only escape from the miseries of life are music and cats.
- Albert Schweitzer, French musician and philosopher, 1875-1965

Since I was a wee child, I have been surrounded by music and will write more on a post sometime, but for now I will only mention music in 2013.  I looked at my photos to remember some of the live music I listened to, in addition to all the music at home.  On May 18, 2013, we drove to Calhoun, Georgia, to attend the service commemorating the 175th  anniversary of the Cherokee Trail of Tears in New Echota, the former Cherokee capital.

In June we traveled to San Francisco.  On the first Saturday there we went to the market at the Ferry Building and listened to a group playing near the market.

Still in San Francisco, we went several times by a Chinese band close to our hotel.  In Fisherman Wharf there was a one-man band rocking the passersby.  We stopped and watched both bands for a while.

In August we went to the Decatur Book Festival and listened to a young lady playing the guitar.  On our way out of the festival we stopped and watched a group singing and dancing capoeira from Brazil (I wrote a post on it here.) 

In early October we went to New Orleans via the train called the City of New Orleans.  Much music can be heard in New Orleans just walking down the streets.  As we were walking to a restaurant, the evening after we arrived, a marching band was walking down our street as well.

Later we listened to a musician while sipping cafe au lait at the Cafe du Monde and even later a small group sounding just like African music was along Decatur Street - but I did not take any pictures.  The next day, there was a good young band playing near Jackson Square - a park built in 1721.  Many people were watching and some were even dancing.

Another day as we were walking along the Mississippi, a traveling musician came on his bicycle, tied it against the gate, and started playing his guitar sitting on his suitcase.  A passerby stopped to sing and dance.

 On a week cruise we heard a variety of musical genres, as the one below.

Returning to Memphis, Tennessee, the blues capital of the world, we did not walk along Beale Street since we had done this last year (post will come on this.)  Instead our daughter invited us to a concert at the Cannon Center in downtown Memphis to see Don Williams (born in Floydada, Texas in 1939,) one of the few country singers I really like.  You could tell that all his fans attended as they were singing with him and knew all the lyrics.  It was a great show.

With a daughter in Memphis and another in Nashville, Tennessee, they have many opportunities to listen to their favorite musicians.  A couple of months ago they went to a concert by the American rock musician (and occasional actor) Chris Isaak.  They saw him in a pre-event get together and were able to have a chat with him - and take some photos.  Here they are with him below.

Unfortunately, I did not go with them.  But I found a video of Chris Isaak in France, singing My Blueberry Hill at La Cigale in Paris (near where I used to live,) in a duo with French rock star Johnny Halliday.

While in Memphis though we did go to a music museum and saw some real collectors' items in the music field and listened to old records.

In November, in a small trip to New York City - we did not stay long but heard some good music: a superb violinist in a corridor of Grand Central Terminal.  Another night we attended an opera given by a small company in the Upper West side.  It was Giuseppe Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera - I'll write a post later on our New York visit.

Just like in New Orleans, one can hear good music on New York's streets, or even in the subway.

 One evening we were fortunate to buy a couple of tickets to a jazz production which sounded very exciting and was.  It was "After Midnight" a Harlem Cotton-Club inspired musical on Broadway.  Fantasia Barrino was guest star.  The Wynston Marsalis 17-musician Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra was on the stage too playing some of Duke Ellington's greatest music.  The singers and dancers were outstanding.  It was thrilling and I would love to see the show again.

Back in Georgia, we saw a Christmas show at a senior center.  After a youth choir a group of lively senior ladies (most in their 70s and 80s) gave a dynamic performance, dancing and singing to Christmas music.

Then finally, just a few days ago, we went to the Cathedral of St Philip, in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, to listen to the Russian choir "The State Capella of Russia."  This company of 45 singers was touring the US.  This was one of the best choirs I have ever listened to.  They gave a program of Russian Christmas music as well as western classic, old Russian songs and folk songs.  I knew some of these songs as my father had many Russian friends coming to our home when I lived in Paris.  They were called "White" Russians then as they were emigres or refugees from the revolution in their country.  My father could speak some Russian and I am sure felt close to them because just as them, he had lost his original country, was exiled in Paris, and could not go back.

The State Capella of Russia gave a magnificent performance - their clear and deep voices resonated in the great historic cathedral.  Afterwards at a reception the singers mingled with the audience and shared some champagne and hors-d'oeuvres.  This certainly was a wonderful way to finish a year of music.

They sang one of my favorite Russian folk songs which is called Однозвучно гремит колокольчик  or   Odnozvuchno gremit kolokolchik   or Monotonously Rings the Little Bell.  I took Russian in Paris, but that was a long time ago ... it still helped when I visited St Petersburg though.  I attach my document showing my approximate translation of the song in French then translated into English.

The little bell is on a troika - with three horses side by side in front of it.  The little bell keeps on ringing and keeps the horses running.  There is often the sound of bells in Russian music.  It is a melancholy song - a song of remembrance.  I found a video of this old folk song -

So the year 2013 is coming to an end.  I am pleased to have listened to such a variety of live music, now I can listen to my CDs - my husband gave me some Russian CDs for Christmas.

I hope you will hear some good music in 2014 and wish you all a Happy New Year

and a Bonne Année!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Santa Exhibit at Oglethorpe University and more ...

Last September we went to an art exhibit at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.  I wrote a post about it called "An Exhibition in Atlanta" where I showed pictures of Picasso, Braque and Leger drawings and lithographs.  There was another exhibit at the time, courtesy of Coca-Cola, called "Haddon Sundblom, Santa Paintings" (see below in bottom right of poster.)  The exhibit has been extended until December 21, 2013 - see article here giving information.  I took pictures of the Santas then and kept them for a post in December - now is the time to show them.

 This is a post about the Coca-Cola Santa but first, I'll start with the "more ..." from my title, or give some of my observations.  I read about 150 blogs where I comment often and another 50 where I do not comment.  I have noticed that the blogs getting the most comments are blogs whose contents rarely include any controversial subjects; they mostly are about food, gardening, photographs, decorations, books, family, etc. (Let me add that I like these blogs or I would not comment on them - although many of them do not care for mine.)   Many blogs including critical points in their posts receive little comments or their discussions are ignored - mostly in the US that is.  Among the blogs I read many are in French - those blogs often address critical issues (some from French Canada, too.)  I believe this has to do with culture.  We carry the culture of the country where we were born - that culture is natural to us - it is our way of life.  French culture is vastly different from the culture of the United States - some even say it is as different as the culture of India or China.  Within France there are regional differences just like a person in Manhattan-New York would have different views from one in a small town in Alabama - and would vote differently too.

For example in the US people tend not to use politics or religion as a topic of discussion.  In France it is the opposite as most French people prefer "controversial" topics for conversation rather than sports or discussions about money.  One of the worse things in the US is to make someone feel "uncomfortable."  In France, or at least Paris, people are bored by safe subjects and will stop conversing.  I carry my French, or rather Parisian culture with me even though I can speak and write in English.  I could as little lose my culture as forget how to use a fork and knife - it is who I am.  If I talk about social issues, equality, the poor, the state of US education or try to research subjects fully, even if I find unpleasant histories - I'll write about them and am sorry if I make anyone uncomfortable.  So, since I had these Coca-Cola Santa photos last September I researched the subject.

Many people and even Web sites repeat that Santa Claus in the US came from the Dutch version called Sinterklass and was imported in New York from Dutch settlers - it vaguely evolved from this tradition but mostly not.  The old cult of Santa Claus comes from Pagan, Scandinavian, Christian, Dutch, German and English traditions.  For example the early Norsemen believed that their Goddess Hertha came down chimneys and brought luck to homes.  St. Nicholas of Myra (270-343) was a Greek Orthodox born in Asia Minor, now Turkey.  The legend of Saint Nicholas is that he gave gifts to little children and helped sailors.  He is venerated in the Orthodox Church, notably in Greece and Russia.

St. Nicholas, the Wonder-Worker,
(Св. Николай Чудотворец), Moscow 1677
"If anything happens to God, we have always got St.Nicholas" - Russian proverb

The reason I say the legend of St. Nicholas giving gifts to children is because the real history is confused and combined with many pagan rituals and gods - "Nicholas' existence is not attested by any historical document, so nothing certain is known of his life except that he was probably bishop of Myra in the fourth century ..." - Encyclopaedia Britannica 99.  In 1969 Pope Paul VI decreed that "there was doubt that [this saint and 39 others] ever existed."  He and 39 other saints have been dropped from the official Roman Catholic Calendar - St. Nicholas is now an "optional" fest day.  But still in many places St. Nicholas is the main gift giver.  On December 6th, his feast day or St. Nicholas Day, children receive gifts rather than on January 6th, Christian Orthodox Christmas Day or December 25th, Christian Christmas Day.

St. Nicholas of Myra, 10th Century icon

Grandfathers dress up like St. Nicholas and offer gifts to good children and presents of coal made of sugar if the children have been naughty. In 1087 St. Nicholas' relics (San Niccolo) were transferred to the Italian city of Bari, where they still rest now in the 11th century basilica of San Nicola.  Below is an Italian sculpture of St. Nicholas in Bari, Italy.

St. Nicholas, being Greek/Turk was usually painted or shown with a dark complexion in ancient times (but not in modern ones!).

Charles W. Jones (1905-1989) was an American medievalist known outside scholarly circles for his research on the tradition of Santa Claus and the St. Nicholas' legend.  He wrote on these subjects where he explained forcefully that "There is no evidence that the cult of Santa Claus existed in New Amsterdam [New York] or for more than a century after British occupation."  He made a compelling case that this ritual did not cross the Atlantic because the Dutch were Reformation Dutch who believed that it was heresy and evil to venerate saints and they had severe laws prohibiting the celebration of St. Nicholas.  Santa Claus was consciously reconstructed in mid-19th century New York and was indeed an invented tradition.  In 1881, a cartoonist, Thomas Nast, made some illustrations of Santa showing him with a big belly in a red suit.  Below is the December 24, 1881, front page of Harper's Weekly with Thomas Nast's Santa Claus.

Until 1881 Santa was shown in different colored robes: blue, green, purple, brown, white in addition to red.  See the vintage postcards below.

The modern tradition of our Santa Claus was invented by writers (Washington Irving, Clement C. Moore, Charles Dickens, etc.)  and artists.  Norman Rockwell (American illustrator and painter, 1894-1978) painted Santa as well.  Below are some of his illustrations.

 At the Oglethorpe University Santa exhibition I read that our current figure of Santa was created by Coca-Cola in 1931 during the Depression to encourage people to drink Coke during winter.  He was drawn wearing a red and white suit as these are the colors of Coca-Cola.  The portrait of this Santa was so popular that in Iceland, in the 1930s, groups of men dressed in these Santa costumes were called "Coca-Cola Santa."  Click on picture to enlarge.

Haddon Sundblom (1899-1976) was a leading illustrator who produced famous advertizing images including Aunt Jemima, the Quaker Oat Man and Santa Claus.  The Coca-Cola Company had contracted with Sundblom to create their "Coca-Cola Santa" paintings to be used in their marketing campaigns.

For inspiration Sundblom read Clement Mark Moore's 1822 poem "A visit from St. Nicholas" (also known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas.") As other illustrators and artists had done he changed St. Nicholas' complexion from a Middle Eastern one to a white one.   For the next 33 years Sundblom painted portraits of Santa Claus for Coca-Cola as a cheerful, friendly and plump grandfather figure.  His original model was Lou Prentice, a neighbor.  In the 1950s after Prentice passed away Sundblom used himself as a model.  Sundblom created the modern image of Santa in the United States and everywhere else.  Sundblom's Coca-Cola Santa was reproduced on posters, magazines, billboards, calendars, and many other advertizing objects.  This commercial Santa is the one children love.

Through the years the portraits of Santa Claus have not changed much since Haddon Sundblom's first Santa.

Some of these drawings and paintings were exhibited at Oglethorpe University, courtesy of the Coca-Cola Corporation (and still are until next Saturday, December 21, 2013,) headquartered in Atlanta.  They are shown here courtesy of Coca-Cola and Oglethorpe University.

Santa Claus is more popular than ever.  An AP-GFK poll (Associated Press GFK) found that 3/4% of non-Christian adults believed gifts came down the chimney when they were children.  Santa is celebrated all over the world, in Christian countries, secular ones or countries with other religions.  In Communist China the Chinese celebrate Dun Che Lao Ren (Christmas Old Man) with gifts and decorate their homes.

Our international Santa Claus (made in the USA) has little ties to the spirituality of Christianity - he was created by writers and artists then a large corporation to attract more business.  For example, the French Solis Institute (specializing in ethnic marketing) found after a poll in greater Paris, France, that 47.5% of Muslim from North Africa celebrate Noel with Santa - 15% using a pine tree, and 39% giving gifts to children.  Even many French Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Agnostics and Atheists celebrate Noel in France with Papa Noel (Santa Claus.)  The French word "Noel" comes from two Gallic words "Noio" (nouveau/new) and "el" (soleil/sun.)  It is now embraced as a "cultural" family tradition.  (A 2006 Harris Interactive Poll found that the French are: 32% Agnostic, 32% Atheist, 27% believe in some sort of God or a supreme being - of the Christians, only 5% report attending church on a regular basis - even though most French people say they are Catholics....)  The French are surprised to learn that in the US some people reject Santa Claus on any ground.  My cousin in France (in greater Paris) told me that on her streets, she sees many decorated trees at that time, some from Jewish families and some from families originally from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia among others - it is just a fun time for children and adults.

If our jolly Santa Claus can unite people of many backgrounds, faiths and cultures in peace and friendship - why not ?  This is certainly a good thing!  Whatever his origins, Santa Claus is a harmless figure spreading joy and happiness.  Let's celebrate! and a Joyeux Noel to all!

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