Hello World Travelers! Recently, I’ve been obsessed with the notion of “living” and fearing that I’ll be 80 years old and haven’t truly lived for one day. I apologize in advance for the existential December Favorites post!
This makes me feel alive:
Unreal nighttime car rides with friends you never realized were true until that moment, truer than the wrinkles that blurt your age, truer than the piano in Tchaik’s concerto numéro uno, truer than the Mirror of Erised, truer than the happiness when you pick up that lost little penny. That song is blaring, your lips are spread thin but to their fullest extent, your eyes are wild with a laughter that comes back to haunt your boring thirty year old self. That joke, which ceases to be funny the morning after, but in that instant, right when the light turns yellow and he looks back to arch his full eyebrows at you, like he can see into your untamed heart of quiet exhilaration, it’s the most amusing thing in the world. And that gas station sign is a lighthouse of hilarity, a cheap fragment of our youth that marks the age of two dollar gas and roads that empty out by ten o’ clock at night, except for our humble car because we’re invincible and in love with the shadows and infinite just like Charlie said. In ten years, no one will say a word and all these nights, these inside stares and these memories, won’t even existent anymore, not to anyone. But maybe, just maybe, this cramped Sudan, with the impeccably clean carpet getting traipsed on by my fifty dollar Converse, and this drive, filled with bad R&B and no words unsaid and nothing holding our mouths by the electric wire, won’t fade and never will. We will remember this song. I will remember that look and this minute won’t be coated in a supernatural dust of forgetfulness but will turn into epic of grand normalcy and hot winter nights greater than Odysseus himself.
- Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams
This 1914 beauty is utterly transcendent and makes me think of Rohan and the wild forests of Middle Earth. It’s so uplifting, especially the lone violin in the beginning that evokes pastoral settings, birds that never cease to sing, and a hilarious episode of Mozart in the Jungle. Although its tune could be confused for bucolic sappiness and unwanted Little House on the Prairie vibes, I feel pure joy and the rush of fresh, moist dirt running through my grimy fingers as Levin threshes his wheat a few acres over. This work was based off an obscure poem of the same name by George Meredith. Particularly sweet sounding lines include:
For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.
- Cello Suite No. One by Bach
The cello is such a richly, deeply, amorously, and sensually sounding instrument, especially when it has a canyon of silence to fill just by itself. There is no trace of lingering sadness, only suns that never set, weddings where the dress fits as perfectly as the ring, cupcakes with endless icing on the top, and fields of wild poppies. The original suites were composed between 1717 and 1723, although the first one is the most well known. The Prelude is happiness without the sentimentality, only pure emotion that doesn’t wear out your mind with unnecessary drama (unlike EVERY WORK EVER by Tchaikovsky).
- Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Marquez
I’ve written about this delicious sauciness oodles of times, but its spicy beat and the alluring Gustavo Dudamel are worth the repeated mentions. I listen to this epic piece right before taking an exam, and it heats my blood and raises my level of ambition to astronomical levels within the first three minutes. I dance and laugh when violins sway back and forth like a serpent enchanted by its own emerald devilry. The unbridled scream of the strings combined with the brashness of the brass crash from their fiery high whenever the piccolo grabs the joint. Dudamel is a delightful show himself, his wild black locks and music-induced velociraptor impression more on point than J.K. Rowling’s Twitter comebacks.
- Jupiter by Gustav Holst
- Musetta’s Waltz by Puccini (from the opera La Boheme)
- Violin Concerto in D Minor by Sibelius
- Cello Concerto by Elgar
- ALL JOHN WILLIAMS EVER
- Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin
- Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saens
- Blue Rhapsody by Leonid Afremov
Although this Russian Jewish artist (from the same town as Marc Chagall!) runs a somewhat sketchy website to sell his art, the work itself is like a multicolored lollipop of taste in your mouth. Colors bust out of every inch of canvas, not ashamed of their boldness or striking nature. A woman passionately plays her cello in this piece, the wood and bow transforming into the trees and snakes of Elysium. Kitschy and messy it might be, but lackluster and forgettable it is not. One day, I will learn to play the cello and my fingers will simply dance on the fingerboard like beautiful little fools. Buy this painting here.
- The Kiss by Auguste Rodin
Part of being alive is letting go your inhibitions with another person, and this marble mammoth certainly fulfills the sexy rebel category. Sculpted carefully in 1889, this work depicts the doomed lovers, Paolo and Francesca, before their love affair is hatefully discovered by Paolo’s brother (Francesca’s husband). At this moment, the couple, at the very height of their Kiss, is not thinking about their sins or eventual internment in Dante’s Inferno. There are only parted lips, a mass of tangled limbs, and hair that feels so sweet and soft to wrap your fingers in. The couple was originally commissioned for The Gates of Hell project until Rodin decided a standalone spotlight was needed for the lovers. They are living gloriously, if only for a few brief seconds of shared truth.
- The Desperate Man (Self Portrait) by Gustave Courbet
Romantic to the hilt, this 1843 self portrait is wild and uncontrolled, like a person that does too much cocaine and not enough calculus homework on the weekend. Courbet’s eyes are frantic, searching the face of the viewer with something resembling fear and uncertainty. They are black, his eyebrows are blacker, and his chaotic hair is full of secrets from feral nights carousing with Merlot, French models, and oil paints. This man has a story. It may not be a sweet or pretty or innocent one, but the seedy era of Romanticism (19th century) was infamous for gory glory.
- When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer (1900) by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
–Essentially, this poem is about living and ditching the useless theory of everything to actually touch the petals, suffer the sunburn, and accidentally drink the saltwater. The narrator is trapped in a sticky web of “proofs, figures…columns” of astronomy theory until he finally breaks free and realizes the tangible beauty of the stars. Those lights weren’t calculated by some theory or another, but rather by the fleeting, unknowable laws of the universe.
- Walden Chapter Two: Where I Lived, and What I Lived For by Henry David Thoreau
“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”
–To live is to inhale the sublime out of being, until only a ground covering of oxygen is left for those who have not yet discovered that life is a celebration of existence.
- “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
–On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Fun fact: I ditched this book very soon after reading this lovely, burning passage.)
Happy New Years to all my readers, and may 2016 deliver oodles of life, happiness, and fulfillment in a neat Amazon Prime package at your door!