Weltschmerz

Conrad H. Pavellas, 1913 – 2000

(Written 20 April 2012)

I am suffering from weltschmerz, a condition my father often had when we lived five awful years on the wrong side of the Gowanus Parkway at Third Avenue and 48th Street in Brooklyn—before we returned home to San Francisco in 1951.

Much of this feeling stems from my perception that all is not quite right with the country I love: the United States of America. There are many articles in the press and opinion journals about the current or inevitable decline of the USA, and a lesser number of writings refuting this.

Certainly the press sells papers by the implicit motto “if it bleeds, it leads”, and this is only a reflection of ourselves. There seems to be a wretched excess of such “news” in recent months. Perhaps my years have accumulated too much of what the press presents and I have grown sour.

As an antidote I have spent part of this day celebrating the USA through listening to words and, mostly, music.

I have celebrated with Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, James Earl Jones, and Abraham Lincoln, among others. These are some of the many people who speak to me of the America I love.

I listened to James Earl Jones recite A Lincoln Portrait, accompanied by the music of Aaron Copland. I listened also, with tears streaming, Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

I read again Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, part of which is spoken in A Lincoln Portrait.

I reminisced on my many listenings to Bernstein’s West Side Story, about which I have written. Yesterday I viewed a film on the life and work of Bernstein which celebrated his loving investment in the musical education of Americans, especially the young.

I mentally reviewed the work of George Gershwin whose joyous music buoyed me in my youth, and even still: Porgy and Bess; his Piano Concerto; Rhapsody in Blue which I played inexpertly on the piano at age 15; and others.

I reminisced about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his famous speech, but even more so about his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, which I have also mentioned in my writing.

Other people and occasions travel through my mind as I continue to struggle to regain my balance under this cloud of weltschmerz.

These memories, and the music and words I listened to, did help, but I still am searching for what there is now in the USA that is similar in nature to what I have written about here. When the youth of today are my age, what will they remember to make them grateful to have spent their formative years in the USA? What memories of public figures and what music will bring tears to their eyes?

Perhaps some young people will respond to this, teaching me to see what they may see as a positive answer to this question.

Posted in America, Music & Musicians | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

“If it’s yellow, let it mellow…

… if it’s brown, flush it down.”

From etsy.com

This phrase was shown on large signboards in New York during a water shortage in the late 1940s, when I lived in Brooklyn. Ever since, I have been aware of the way I and others use water. This awareness was augmented by two separate experiences when in university in the early 1960s.

The first was having several undergraduate and graduate courses in the School of Public Health centered on the development of fresh water sources and the purification and transport of both clear and waste water.

The second experience was a course in basic economics, which included the subject “the tragedy of the commons.” Wikipedia says it is “a situation in a shared-resource system where individual users, acting independently according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling the shared resource through their collective action. The theory originated … in 1833 by the British economist William Forster Lloyd, who used a hypothetical example of the effects of unregulated grazing on common land … in Great Britain and Ireland… In [the] modern economic context, “commons” is taken to mean any shared and unregulated resource such as atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, roads, and highways, or even an office refrigerator.”

Design on my William Morris mug

All this came to me as I brewed coffee today for my afternoon caffeine fix. Now that I am in voluntary quasi-isolation from everyone except my wife, I could take the time to be careful in my use of the tap water. I used a 1 decilitre cup, three times (turning the tap off in between ), poured the water into the heater, and, when steaming, into the coffee grounds in the filter sitting on top of my nicely designed William Morris mug.

I did not waste one drop of water. I filled the 1 dl cup to the top then turned the tap off, three times. Good boy!

I live in Sweden where there is good and, usually, plentiful water. I lived in Alaska at the same latitude as now (59-60 degrees north latitude) where there is also much fresh water. In both places I have occasionally offered thanks to the Great and Nameless Powers* for this water (*this is a construction I use in a novel I have been writing for ten years).

This led me to ponder on the great systems of water development and sewerage transport that we take for granted with rarely a thought or thanks for being here for us, even in this time when other services are diminished or not available at all.

Posted in Economics, Water | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments