Saturday, December 03, 2005

Hibernian Rag

It was dark outside of Symphony Hall and a cold wind was blowing. We'd just heard Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra and I was still in a state of astonishment. He composed it toward the end of his life, in exile from Europe's horrors, ill with leukemia and destitute. And yet the music is full of life and joy, humor even, exuberance and affirmation.

I found it strangely comforting: when I die I will join him in death. Being dead with Bartok will be a good thing, right ? My theology, two weeks into Advent, was becoming increasingly desperate. Skip birth. Go straight from non-being to non-being. From yet-unborn to resurrected-in-concept only. It may be bad faith, but at least it's faith ! Beckett the seminarian. With existential tendencies. STRONG tendencies. Who has been known to support (and even lead) an existential lifestyle. Uh oh.

The sidewalk was thronged with concertgoers. I zipped my jacket up over my chin against the wind and noticed a surprising number of women in full length fur coats.

"Did you bring your red paint ?" DK chortled into my ear.

Going to symphony is, by and large, a pastime of the economically and educationally privileged classes, so it is no wonder that expensive and, as DK put it, complicated garments can be found there. But fur ? Pelts ? The blood-drenched ectoderm of tormented and slaughtered mammals ?

Who are these fur-clad women, I brooded. The wives of weapons manufacturers and arms dealers ? The wives of CEOs of petrochemical or pharmaceutical companies ? The wives of bribe-giving, worker-oppressing, Republican-voting, meat-eating, earth-despoiling corporate magnates ?

And why wives, for that matter ? Why give the mink-wearing women the benefit of being once-removed from evil deeds ? Hell, maybe they themselves were the multinational corporate criminals ! Where was my red paint !

We crossed the street. There was a small, kiosk-like billboard on the sidewalk. It drew my eye. It featured four black-and-white photos, close-ups of farm animals, and the caption Please, please don't eat me !

I laughed, and wished I had my camera. Now that would be a shot, maybe even a cheap shot -- fur-clad women juxtaposed against the anguished face of the doomed chick pleading for clemency. The vegan's revenge. Sweet.

I hunkered down into my coat. Which of my garments, I wondered, came from the sweat shops that fueled the profits that bought those minks ? The world is awash in red paint and worse. I am, as the saying goes, unclean. What gets out red paint ?

I thought of the movie My Dinner With Andre, the part where Andre speculates about a network of centers, like the monasteries in the dark ages, that would keep the cultural fires burning in a dark time. That would preserve art, science, philosophy against a rising tide of ignorance, appetite and violence; that would stave off clashing fundamentalisms and the rampant ideology of profit-at-all-costs, the most dangerous ideology of all.

There are such outposts of light, of course. There always are. Small ones, large ones, compromised ones, improvised ones. Some mainstream, some marginal. Some as small as a moment --

-- in which a roomful of people, none deserving of such grace, join Bartok in his wild and beautiful totentanz.

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