Category Archives: Current Events

Jackie and Daniel

 

 

Hillary and Jackie is a 1998 film about the two British sisters Jacqueline and Hilary du Pre, one a cellist, the other a flutist. The film pretty much mirrors their actual lives.

Jackie became a virtuoso at an early age and rose to international prominence. Hilary struggled and eventually gave up performing to become a wife and mother.

Jackie was sent to Zermat, Switzerland as a teenager to attend a master class with Pablo Casals who called her a genius. She traveled extensively and in the sixties after returning from a Moscow concert she met Daniel Barenboim. (see previous blog) They recorded and made documentaries together.

Jackie and Daniel complemented each other very well. Both had been child prodigies and virtuoso performers. Their greatest joy was to play together. In 1967 they were married. She converted to Judaism and went to Israel with Barenboim where she met Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta and Pinkhas Zuckermann.

Barenboim said of her: ” Music was not a profession for her. It was a way of life”. The couple has been compared to another famous classical music duo, Robert and Clara Schumann.

 

Robert and Clara Schumann

 

Here’s an excellent quality video of Jackie playing the first movement of Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Barenboim conducting the London Philharmonic in 1967. Well worth a listen.

Jackie Plays Elgar

Then two years after their marriage, Jackie was beset with physical symptoms and in 1973, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

She tried to go on playing, but her body turned against her. Jackie lived for fourteen years after she stopped playing and died in 1987 at age 42.

Jackie said of herself: “In a sense I was lucky. Because the cello repertoire is small I had done most of what I loved and I can look back on a full musical life”.

During the last two years of Jackie’s life Barenboim moved to Paris to become director of the Orchestre de Paris and started an affair with Elena Bashkirova who eventually became his second wife.

 

Jackie du Pre



Who is he really?

 

He lists his nationality in this way: Palestinian, Argentine, Spanish, Israeli.

He was born in Argentina in 1942.

His Russian-Jewish parents emigrated to Israel when he was 9. He had already performed his first piano recital.

Like so many musicians, he was precocious. He started playing the piano at age five, but his greatest achievements were to be as a conductor.

In 1954, Daniel Barenboim took conducting lessons. His teacher, Wilhelm Furtwanger said, “this eleven-year-old is a phenomenon.”

Barenboim traveled all over Europe and America giving piano concerts and making recordings. As his career matured, he started to spend more and more time as a conductor.

 

Music is a universal language and its practitioners can live and be creative anywhere in the world. They can also choose their allegiances and the ones he chose are interesting in their priorities.

Barenboim is now director of the Berlin State Opera and the Staatskepelle Orchestra of Berlin. In addition, he is musical director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In 1999 he and Edward Said (a Palestinian-American Professor of Literature at Cornell) founded the West- Eastern Divan Orchestra. Headquartered in Seville, Spain, it is made up of young musicians from Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Israel and Spain. It is meant to be a model of cooperation across political and religious divides. The intent is to promote understanding between Israelis and Palestinians.

 

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra

 

The Orchestra is named after a collection of poems by Goethe inspired by Persian prophet Hafez.

Barenboim says, “Divan was conceived as a project against ignorance and to create a platform where the two sides can disagree and not resort to knives.” Barenboim is a critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

In 2012 the West-Eastern Divan orchestra performed for Pope Benedict XVI in the courtyard of his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo in Italy.

This year, Barenboim’s book, The Sound of “Utopia was published. It traces the history of the orchestra from its beginning.

In the next blog, I will further explore Barenboim’s life and career including his association with the cellist Jacqueline du Pre.

 

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Editor’s note: Here is a link to an interesting YouTube about the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Very compelling personalities in this group.

Intro to West-Eastern Divan Orchestra



The Man Who Repairs Women

Denis Mukwege

His name is Denis Mukwege. He is a doctor at Panzi Hospital which he created in Bukavu in the Eastern Congo (formerly Zaire) near the border with Burundi. This beautiful region, (parts look like Switzerland and parts like the Caribbean), is being ravaged by more than 20 years of ethnic conflict, tribal wars between rival groups of thugs’ intent on plundering Congo’s vast riches.

View of Bukavu

Mukwege’s father was a pastor and, as a child, he used to accompany him on his visits to the sick and wounded. He was struck by his father’s inability to help them except by praying with them and, encouraged by his mother, he decided to study medicine. In the first hospital where he practiced he came to work one morning and found that all the patients he worked so hard to treat had been murdered. He could not understand it. Why kill helpless people in their beds?

After his first experience of treating a woman who had been raped and savagely mutilated, he traveled to France to study gynecology and obstetrics. He soon realized the full extent of the ongoing violence. The destruction of women’s genitals was systematically used as a weapon of war. After he performed reconstructive surgery on the same woman for the third time he understood that more than surgery was needed to deal with such extreme cruelty and systematic violence.

The uncontrollable military groups were operating with impunity because the State did not intervene. In fact, there was no State It had been taken over . It was complicit. When there is no rule of law the law of the jungle prevails.

Those brave women got up again and again despite being raped by their own husbands, despite being rejected by their families for having dishonored them. Mukwege mobilized them, encouraged them to speak out, to support each other, to educate their sons and their husbands, and raised their spirits. “Be outraged! Say NO to violence,” he taught them,

Still because there was no support from any lawful authority, Mukwege himself was discouraged in a menacing way from speaking at the UN General Assembly, His life was in danger as well of that of his wife and children. Mukwege and his family went into exile in Europe.

Meanwhile, the women he was helping organized themselves, raised enough money by selling their crafts and sent him a ticket back to Africa. Thousands of women greeted him on his return. They called him The Messiah. He could have stayed in Europe, but he came back to continue his work. He now sleeps at the hospital, has a permanent guard that protects his every step and travels in a convoy of several vans. “The Man Who Repairs Women” (The Wrath of Hippocrates) is the title of the film he made of his experience. It was at first censored but has since been released. Denis Mukwege has received the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament and the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.
Panzi Hospital now treats more than 3500 women a year and Denis Mukwege performs more than ten operations a day.

We are often discouraged from judging people by their appearance but when I look at a picture of Denis Mukwege, I see the face of a man who cares.

(Editors note. Here is a link that will allow you to learn more about Mukwege’s work)

https://www.mukwegefoundation.org/about-us/



Music, Emotions and the Brain

In a video clip, a round-faced baby -no older than 2- is shown staring fixedly ahead, big tears slowly forming in his eyes and rolling down his cheeks. He seems to be in a trance. He is listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. It is as if he had known sorrow in a previous life and is being reminded of it. For where else would he have encountered sadness and been touched by it at such an early age?

On a city street an adolescent, violin tucked under his chin, is performing a lively tune, some passing teenagers have stopped to listen. Suddenly and spontaneously they start performing the most intricate steps, stomping, swirling and creating their own dance in tune with the music. It is as if the sounds were flying straight to their feet, and directing them to bend, turn and clap. Where did those joyful sounds find a home?

In all popular songs the heart is supposed the repository of all emotions especially romantic love. It is your heart that feels joy desire, distress, sorrow and fulfillment. At the risk of greatly disappointing young lovers, one must recognize that the heart is nothing but a tireless blood pumping machine, it is all happening in our head. or more exactly, in the brain. Listening to music creates emotions that increase the amount of dopamine in the brain.Dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

When a mother sings a lullaby to a newborn child the hormone oxytocin is released and results in a soothing effect and an uplifting mood. Autistic children can react to music beause it goes directly
to the brain and the subconscious.It helps in dealing with grief and sadness.Even joyful music can make us cry because it nostalgically reminds us of gone happy times. And we like melancholic music
and sometimes take pleasure at being sad.

Mozart wrote his first sympnony when he was 8 and already had a distinct voice. Chopin started composing at age 7. How emotionally mature were they? Could they have been merely mimicking feelings of sadness or longing?

And where did the voices in their heads come from? The pianist Lang Lang tells us that at age 2 he was watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon on television when he heard Franz Liszt Rhapsody No,2 and ran to the TV, entranced by the music.

What about background music?It is supposed to create a mood even though we mostly half listen to it and at tims forget that it is there. What if restaurants stopped playing it? Would we suddenly be startled by the sound of our own voices ? And why do we get tired to the point of boredom by some music (I no longer enjoy Grieg and even Dvorak) but can listen endlessly to some other? (For me it is all 18th century and especially baroque music)

It looks like I have more questions than answers but I know there will always be music in my life. But at times there will be complete silence too.



Gee…Mail

We often think of ourselves as unique and different from other living beings and mostly for the wrong reasons. We are not the only animal capable of compassion and empathy. We are not the only animal capable of living in organized societies. We are not the only animal capable of trickery, deceit or betrayal.

But we do have one remarkable trait which I think is unique to humans. Other animals use sounds and gestures. to communicate, but no other living being has ever invented symbols representing sounds, no other animal has organized those sounds into words and phrases to express thoughts and describe events.No other animal has invented writing and created a literature.

We should not give up this capability out of mental laziness and rely on primitive catch phrases to express ourselves.

But Google has a new idea about all that.

I recently noticed that my Gmail has taken it upon itself to offer me “one click” answers to my email. Has Big Brother arrived, and is he looking over my shoulder? Not quite. No human being is reading my mail. It is only an Artificial Intelligence Device, a sort of Mr. Robot who has been programmed to (timidly ) propose a choice of three bland replies like

1.How interesting!
2.Thanks for letting me know.
3.I did not know that.

Robot Man does not presume to reply himself but is giving me a chance to pick the reply I like best. I can see the usefulness of such features in business situations. Pre-built phrases or types of responses for often asked questions are a useful shortcut. When people are away from their desks or on vacation they can leave prepared set responses to routine queries.

But today I am more interested in personal email interchanges between friends and regular correspondents. In such situations, if the question is a simple one (How are you feeling? or Are you back at work?) you don’t need the help of Mr. Robot to respond. Even if he suggests what I would have said, it feels rather creepy.

And if it is a complicated response, you definitely want to do your own answering. Devices like “Smart Reply” have been made human-sounding and on-topic, but how will they deal with “What is your opinion of this film?” “What do you think of the latest book? ” There are just no pre- set answers to such questions.

I do love the way Mr. Robot takes all the spam out of my inbox, but for replying to personal emails, I think I’ll handle that myself.



Is Access to Abortion A Human Right?

 

 
Over the last 30 years more than 25 countries have changed their laws to provide greater access to abortion.  Unrestricted abortion is now available in he United Sates, Canada  most European nations, China, South Africa , and Tunisia among others.

But in Latin America and the Caribbean 97% of women live in countries with restrictive abortion laws. The exceptions are Cuba, Guyana, Uruguay and Mexico City.

At the moment the great battleground and test  case for abortion rights is in Argentina. After the Chamber of Deputies recently approved an abortion rights bill, the Senate on August 8 voted it down 38 to 31.

The battle that preceded this vote centered on two opposing groups. “Ni una menos” (not one less) was formed in 2015 to raise awareness about violence against women. Green handkerchiefs are the symbol of their efforts.

Opposing them are the pro-life activists, whose support comes mostly from rural areas.  They succeeded in defeating the bill. They wear blue handkerchiefs and their slogan is

“Si a la vida” (yes to life).  This group has the support of the Church, which calls abortion the murder of a child.  Also in their favor is the fact that the Constitution bans abortion except for rape victims. In Argentina, abortion is considered both immoral and illegal.

In  Chile restrictive measures on abortion were also introduced this year, and a protest march by women  took place on July 25.

Pope Francis, who is Argentinian, was in Chile at the time and he compared having an abortion to avoid birth defects to the Nazi idea of trying to create a “pure” race.

Our Great Leader, not to be outdone, also plunged into action. He promptly decided to deny funds to family planning clinics that provided abortions.

Banning abortions does not make them go away and  an average of 200 women die each year because of botched illegal ones. The victims of unsafe abortions are the poorest and most marginalized women. They fall victim to unscrupulous and dangerous quacks.

I believe that abortion should be allowed but used as a solution of last resort. Every living organism has a built-in urge to continue living and we are deluding ourselves when we affirm that killing a “pest” or slaughtering a cow or a pig is OK and that the “sanctity of life” applies only to humans. It is also true that aborting a fetus can have emotional consequences such as feelings of guilt and depression.

And so I agree with those who say that abortions should be legal, safe, and rare. Having the possibility of abortion available in case of need should be like having a fire escape in your building. You hope not to use it, but your life is more secure because it is there.



The Death Penalty: A Cruel and Unusual Punishment



Classical Arts Showcase

If, like me, you have reached a stage in life when you are not as mobile as you used to be and are no longer able to go to concerts, operas or other performances regularly, there is no reason to mourn. You can still enjoy these shows at home. There is a channel on your television called Classical Arts Showcase. It is the brainchild of the Lloyd E. Rigler and Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation and can give you up to  three hours a day of high-quality, commercial-free entertainment.

 

Luciano Pavarotti

 

There is no announced program, so you are just as likely to see a clip of the Red Army Chorus belting out “Moscow Nights” or “Ochy Chernye” as a puppet show of Peter and the Wolf complete with duck, cat and grumpy grandfather marching to the zoo with a captured wolf.

 

Charlie Chaplin

Everything comes as a surprise. Perhaps it will be Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times struggling with boxes on a conveyor belt  or a parade of  dominoes strutting to the music of George Bizet. Or it is just as likely to be a musical conversation with a singing Kathleen Battle resplendent in a gorgeous red dress and Wynton Marsalis and his glorious trumpet.

 

Wynton Marsalis

Sometimes you will watch interviews with obscure German actresses you have never heard of  or discover a rest home for retired Italian opera singers.

 

Herbert von Karajan

Symphony orchestras and their various conductors offer many insights. Some conductors like Bruno Walter or Herbert von Karajan are very formal; others like Zubin Mehta or Leonard Bernstein dance and sway exuberantly. All conduct with their whole bodies and facial expressions.

It is also fascinating to watch soloists’ fingers running on the piano or flute, or harp, or to observe violin bows rising and falling in unison.  Because some of the performances go way back in time, you can note in passing that many orchestras like the Berlin and Vienna Philarmonics did not  include women until recently.

You can also admire the dexterity and improvisation of the Modern Jazz Quarter or enjoy a rendition of “Bess, you is my woman now,” from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

This is not to say that every clip will always please you. You could happen on a boring “Pas de Deux” where the male dancer does nothing but twirl  the ballerina or hold up her leg and want to tell him: “Let her hold up her own leg and start running, pirouetting and doing entrechats.”

I also get tired of Russian classical ballet with stiff tutus  and of Pavlova and the dying swan.

And I turn off  or mute Richard Wagner or Richard Strauss’ Ariadne. Everyone has favorite tiresome performances

Renee Flemming

But where else are you likely to see artists who are no longer with us like Pavarotti or a close up of Renee Flemming’s face  singing Ave Maria or Vladimir Horowitz being given a standing ovation in Moscow?

All you need is  a television with a sharp image and good sound and a comfortable chair  to savor and enjoy.

 



Women And The Arab World

On The Move, But How Fast?

 

 

Real Change in Tunisia?

Emmanuel Macron recently visited Tunisia and declared that the Arab Spring was alive and well in the country. Women’s emancipation started there in 2011. The constitution declared equality between men and women and Tunisia became a progressive pioneer in the Muslim World.

But political flattery only goes so far and ignores powerful counterweights. It is true that many women go about in western clothes and wear no head scarves. In 2018 the interdiction against women marrying non-Muslim men was abolished. A new generation has come of age in relative freedom.

And yet a woman can only inherit one half of what a man inherits. Single mothers are still “an infamy.” Alternative life styles like LGBT are under Islamist menace. Patriarchal family traditions persist though not visible to the casual visitor.

 

Tunisian Women March

 

Six years after the “Jasmine Revolution” of 2o11, new protests reflecting frustration at broken promises are erupting. Some men resent the rising employment of educated women when the unemployment rate of non- educated men is still very high. And a new risk of militant violence can spill over from neighboring countries like Algeria and Libya.

 

 

Women Still In Prison…Literally and Figuratively

 

 

 

Saudi Arabia finally entered the 21st century (or is it the 20th?) by allowing women to drive. Women are rightfully celebrating. One woman said ”Saudi Arabia will never be the same.” Another enthused, “I feel like a bird.”

But this permission has graciously been granted to them as a favor from the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The women activists who fought for it were imprisoned and are still in prison! This new right also only affects a very small number of women and many males continue to prohibit their female relatives from driving.

 

 

Other improvements in lifestyle due to the monarch are: The reopening of public cinemas, lifting the ban on public concerts, and allowing women in sports stadiums.

But Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and still has very strict limitations on women’s rights. All women in the kingdom must have a “wali,” an official guardian, usually a male in the family. Women need their guardian’s permission for many activities: marriage, travel, signing contracts, even reading magazines and trying on clothes and there is no redress for domestic violence or sexual abuse. Many public places are segregated, and public buildings have separate entrances. (Does this ring a bell?)
The dress code is strictly enforcedt. Women wear an abaya (long cloak) and a head scarf.

So let us not yet rejoice for Saudi women. Sadly, they are still in prison. Rather, may the liberated women of the world communicate to the women in Tunisia and Saudi Arabia that we stand with them.



Thoughts On Mother’s Day

Editor’s note: You’ll notice we are publishing a Mother’s Day blog on Father’s Day. You could say we are very late…or perhaps very early.


 

Why was I unaware of Mother’s Day until I arrived in the United States in 1948? I spent most of my childhood and early life in Beirut and Tel Aviv. This was in the 1930’s and Mother’s Day was not celebrated in the region at that time.

The idea, however, was far from new. Cybele was an Anatolian Mother goddess. She may have been the precursor of mother worship in antiquity, She was partially adopted by the Greeks and Romans in the 6th century BCE and was incorporated into their deities cult.

Pharaohnic Egypt celebrated Mother’s Day 7,000 years ago. They had an annual festival in honor of Isis, who was the mother of Pharaohs and represented the ideal mother.

In modern Egypt a secular Mother’s Day was reintroduced and became an official holiday on March 26, 1956. From there the tradition spread to the rest of the Arab World. So when I was growing up in the Middle East during the 1930’s, the celebration of Mother’s Day had not yet returned from antiquity.

In France, where I lived after World War II, Mother’s Day, la Fete des Meres, also has an interesting history. It began as an encouragement to mothers to have large families to repopulate France after the loss of nearly 1,300,000 French solders and civilians killed in World War I.

Marechal Petain reintroduced the idea in 1941 for the same reason. However during my time in France, 1945-1948, there were no celebrations of Mother’s Day at all. It was not until May 24, 1950 that Mother’s Day was officially decreed by law.

In the United States Suffragette Julia Ward Howe had already written a Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 asking women to unite to promote world peace. Anna Jarvis created Mother’s Day in 1908, and it became an official holiday in 1914. President Wilson signed and officially established Mother’s Day to be on the 2nd Sunday in May.

As is the case with many celebrations, merchants quickly pounced on the occasion to promote gifts, flowers and candy. More phone calls are made on Mother’s day than at any other time. This commercialization caused Jarvis to try to remove the day from the calendar. Too late for that.

So how do I feel about Mother’s Day, now that I live in a country that celebrates it?

I would say that I am rather indifferent and have no strong feelings about it one way or the other. My family did not even celebrate religious holidays when I was growing up, because my parents were aggressively secular. Although Mother’s Day is a secular holiday, I am not really invested in it. If people want to send me good wishes I will be grateful for them, but if they do not I shall not be devastated.

Editor’s note: Your good wishes, of any kind and at any time, are always most welcome to Simone.