Monet’s Water Lilies and Wisteria, Disappearing Texas Dance Halls
In Quadrant, Anthony Daniels writes about how professional sports have changed for the better and the worse: “When I was a boy, professional footballers went home on the bus after the game rather than in a Ferrari, and to a landlady more likely than to a mansion; and no one knew anything about their private lives, however famous as footballers they were, and however often their picture appeared on cigarette cards. They were paid a maximum wage not very much more than that of a skilled worker in a factory, and in those days the pitch turned almost immediately into a sea of mud if it rained. It cost very little to gain entrance to a match, the facilities were spartan, as if designed to expose infants to the elements to see which were fit to survive, and the behaviour of the crowd on the whole was good. It was much more a working-class spectator sport than it is now, when no politician, celebrity or chief executive of a vast company dares admit to an indifference to it or not to ‘support’ a team (whatever that may mean), mainly composed of foreign mercenaries with no essential connection or loyalty to the locality in which the team has its stadium. ‘Supporting’ a team is at best a form of local pride for fools. I remember hearing, when I was boy of about ten who went to matches with a friend of the same age, a man in the crowd saying to the people around him, ‘No swearing, there are children present.’ The quality of the football has improved out of all recognition, it is far faster and more skillful nowadays, but (somewhat against what one might have hoped or expected) with prosperity has come coarseness.”
Researchers discover a Monet under a Monet in Holland: “‘There is no obvious reason why he would reuse a canvas,’ Ms. Hoppe said in an interview at the Gemeentemuseum, pointing out that Monet was wealthy at the end of his life, and had hundreds of yards of blank canvas in his studio that he could have used. ‘The most logical reason for me was that he wanted to try something new, and he wasn’t sure yet where it would end,’ she added. ‘To my eye, this is a bridge between the water lilies and the wisteria.’”
Daniel Wiser, Jr. reviews a new book on silence: “There has always been a thin line between the terrors and joys evoked by silence. Whether solitude results in spiritual growth or despair ultimately depends on the conditions of the solitary life and the state of one’s mind, heart, and beliefs. Monks and nuns deliberately reject many of the values and priorities of the world that most of us inhabit, choosing instead to wait, listen, and pray in the presence of the eternal. But as Brox points out, religious orders also live by an ethic of community that encourages compassion for their fellow monastics and all human beings created in God’s image. Monasteries have never been able to fully detach themselves from the world or avoid the frailties common to all human institutions—the ‘world has plundered monasteries, monasteries have grown corrupt from within, and their history at times has been steeped in violence,’ Brox writes—but, even as their numbers decline, they remain a bastion for silence in a cacophonous world.”
A new documentary traces the joyful, hectic life of Luciano Pavarotti. Kyle Smith reviews: “Pavarotti lived a life of joy, at operatic scale. In the hundreds of still photos the director Ron Howard displays in his unspeakably beautiful documentary Pavarotti, the tenor is smiling vastly in almost all of them (albeit suffering and soon to perish in the ones taken of him performing on the stage, where he died hundreds of times). An Italian flutist remembers Luciano telling him to pack a suitcase full of tortellini and prosciutto and other delights when joining the singer on tour. In a 1979 TV appearance, the daytime talk-show host Phil Donahue corners Pavarotti as the tenor demonstrates his spaghetti-cooking prowess: ‘Can we agree, sir, that it is fattening?’ Donahue presses, the self-appointed pasta policeman. Pavarotti replies: Why, yes, Phil Donahue. Yes it is!”
Tom Holland writes about the enchantment of the past in a review of a new book on Pliny the Younger: “Herculaneum, a town on the Bay of Naples that was buried beneath volcanic ash when Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, has only been partially excavated. Some buildings stand open to the sky; others, such as the theatre, can only be accessed through cramped and winding tunnels; many lie entirely entombed within rock. A visitor’s reaction to this can be an interesting gauge of character. The glass-half-full person will exult in the chance to walk the streets of an ancient city. The glass-half-empty person will wish there were more streets to walk. In Herculaneum, where furniture, bread and figs were all carbonised by the pyroclastic surge, the trace elements of life as it was lived in the heyday of the Roman Empire can serve to tantalise as well as satisfy the curious. To study the distant past is always to be greedy. It is to be like Orpheus, snatching after ghosts. We can never know enough . . . In the hands of a lesser historian than Dunn, this might have made for a dull book. That In the Shadow of Vesuvius is never less than compelling is due principally to two things. The first is the subtlety of its structure. Rather than give us a strictly chronological biography, Dunn opts instead to trace the rhythms of her subject’s year . . . Dunn also knows how to work a sentence.”
A Reader Recommends: Tom Berner recommends Gavin Lyall’s Major Harry Maxim Series: “Lyall, a retired RAF pilot churned out somewhat standard thrillers until he produced this four-volume series at the end of his life. In this he echoed the career of Charles Willeford, a retired US Army sergeant whose best received work was the four volume Hoke Moseley series also produced as a coda to his career.”
Essay of the Day:
Texas once had 1,000 dance halls. Now there are fewer than 400. In The Los Angeles Times, Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes about the effort to save those that remain:
“In 140 years, Twin Sisters has never stopped hosting dances. But it’s come close. And Haas fears it could go the way of hundreds of other dance halls, Texas traditions that survived the 19th and 20th centuries only to shutter in the 21st.
“The German immigrants who built it by hand named the hall Twin Sisters, Tanzsaal der Zwillinsschwestern, after a pair of surrounding hills. The club created to run it was chartered with one condition: monthly dances. Men — and later women — paid a nominal fee to join and bring their families. Even during the World Wars and Vietnam, when other halls went quiet, the dancing never stopped at Twin Sisters.
“Like Twin Sisters, dance halls across the state were built by immigrants: Czech, Polish and Swiss, as well as Mexicans, who created conjunto music, an accordion-driven polka hybrid. Many towns once supported multiple halls, and in some parts of Texas it was common to hear more German than English.
“But over time crowds dwindled as descendants died or moved away. Bands became expensive. In recent years, the cedar shingle roof at Twin Sisters started to leak. The pine plank floor threatened to buckle.”
Poem: Spencer Short, “The Gentle Art of Shabby Dressing”
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