a nose by any other name

A few weeks ago, I started reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I have been making slow progress (due in part to a lack of time and wakefulness, and in part due to my slow grasp of who everyone is (the first several chapters are at a soiree, and there are so many characters introduced)), and there is a long way to go, but I’m quite excited to be finally reading it.

Being such an epic novel — both in actual length and in literary importance — I knew at the outset that I would occasionally need other reading material as a break from War and Peace. It just so happened that today my partner showed me a video of a scene from Dmitri Shostakovich’s first opera, The Nose. In this particular scene, there are a number of people (maybe ten or so) dressed as large noses, and they tap dance around the stage.

We were both very baffled by what was going on, and wondered what sort of opera could feature such a strange act. In the interests of edification, as my partner moved on to other things (i.e. work), I Googled it myself, and found that it’s actually based on a novella of the same name. As it so happened, it was written by Nikolai Gogol, one of the other greats of Russian literature.

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the recycling illusion

When I was in Grade 6, my teacher taught us about climate change and global warming. I’m not sure if it was part of the official curriculum, or she was just passionate about it, but it felt like we spent a lot of time learning about greenhouse gases and the ozone layer (or lack thereof). Ever since then, I’ve been concerned about the impact of my actions on the environment.

To be fair, my concern has varied over time, but there’s usually a baseline whisper from my conscience: Do I really need to buy this [item packaged in plastic]? Can I reuse or repurpose this instead of throwing it in the bin? Do I really need to drive, or can I take public transport? Am I using too much water?

Some time ago, I learnt that Australia was exporting plastic recyclables to China for processing, and then China decided it didn’t want our plastic waste anymore. Since there were insufficient local recycling plants to divert this to, all of our plastic recyclables started going straight to landfill. I even remember watching some kind of news story about a Victorian woman who was stockpiling recyclables along the side of her house until the government put a solution in place. (I hope she’s not drowning under piles of used plastics by now.)

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in which people are met, stories revealed

…and not much else.

I am willing to accept that I may be in the minority of people who are not completely enamoured with Mitch Albom’s novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven, but I must tell it like it is, and that is how it is. It is reassuring, however, to find that I’m not the only person to think that this was just ok, and nothing more (based on GoodReads reviews).

Apparently TFPYMIH spent over 90 weeks as a number 1 best-seller. Yes, that sounds excessive, and I’m not sure if the source was correct or what list this was, but either way, it has been a best-seller for multiple weeks, which is no small measure of astounding to someone who thought it was just ok.

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Saint-Saëns

Before I started listening to classical music on the radio, I’d never heard of Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns. I think most people probably don’t know who he was, which is a shame, considering he was a very remarkable composer and musician. I mean, most people know who Beethoven and Mozart were, even if they don’t like or don’t listen to classical music.

I was actually going to publish this post last week, but when I was doing some reading about him, I learnt that his birthday is actually today, so I thought that today would be better. I also learnt that he was a bit of an over-achiever, and was performing concerts by the time he was ten years old. He was also a genius of sight-reading music, and could play the most complicated pieces at first sight (something I could only dream of doing).

Saint-Saëns apparently started composing music around the age of six, but I think his best work (that I have heard so far) was one he completed in his early fifties. Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 — also known as the “Organ Symphony” — is also one of my favourite pieces of classical music, and almost always catches my attention when it’s played on the radio (provided I’m not too absorbed in some task).

I actually never thought the sound of the organ was particularly pleasant, but I think this symphony would not be as good any other way. Perhaps the problem was that I’d only ever heard the organ on its own, not together with and amongst other instruments.

To me, the Organ Symphony sounds majestic, regal and uplifting, and is something I never get sick of hearing. The first few times I heard it, I thought it sounded like something from a movie — maybe Lord of the Rings or something epic like that. But there’s a certain part of the symphony that’s very distinct, and I realised it is actually used in Babe, that delightful movie about a pig who becomes a sheepdog (or sheep-pig), which you might consider epic in its own way.

If you have time, I think it’s worth a listen. If nothing else, it makes for excellent background music.