by Gilles d'Aymery
"Penso che una vita per la musica sia una vita spesa bene ed è a questo che mi sono dedicato."
"I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent and this is what I have devoted my life to."
—Luciano Pavarotti (1935 - 2007)
(Swans - September 10, 2007) ON SEPTEMBER 4, 2007, to mark the 100th anniversary of the great Norwegian composer and pianist Edvard Grieg's death, Ann Heiligman Saslav (piano) and Isidor Saslav (violin) performed the 1867 G Major Second Violin and Piano Sonata, Op. 13, at the University of Texas in Austin. Concertmaster Isidor Saslav, who graces Swans pages with his music reviews, organized a series of four concerts to coincide with the centennial tribute. The first two took place at the Northwestern State University of Louisiana (January 2006) and at the Longview Symphony in Texas (March 2007); the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will host the fourth concert on October 14, 2007. In each occasion, Ann and Isidor Saslav played (and will play) the same sonata. I hope that one of the four concerts will be made available on CD.
THE KING OF THE HIGH Cs, Italian Tenor Luciano Pavarotti, died on September 6 of pancreatic cancer. He was 71. I had the pleasure to meet him fleetingly at the Met in the 1980s thanks to Janet Wolfe -- a fascinating though lamentably unsung New Yorker and Manhattanite with a Jewish sense of humor rivaling that of the late Art Buchwald, who founded the New York City Housing Authority Symphony in the early 1970s and was its executive director for three decades, earlier on worked with Orson Welles, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini, etc., and knows about everybody one can imagine, from Mario Cuomo to Bill Clinton... (I'll have to write more about Janet one of these days. She's 93 and keeping at it -- with a bit of arthritis and memory lapse). The couple of minutes with Pavarotti were mesmerizing. He gave a huge embrace to Janet, shook my hand, and with his signature smile, alluded to how Janet always found the best-looking young men in town! He signed the program, and that was it. He had to move on. He was charming, courteous, glamorous, charismatic, and yet refreshingly simple.
THE EXPERTS ASSERT that he was a fine lyric baritone/tenor, perhaps a spinto tenor, who excelled in Donizetti's "La Fille du Régiment," which he certainly did, but that he was not a dramatic tenor and could not contend for a seat in the Opera Olympiads. I am an opera buff but certainly not a musical authority. (I wish Isidor Saslav would one day elaborate on Pavarotti's multi-facetted talents.) But to listen to his voice in Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," "La Bohème," and "Tosca," or Verdi's "Rigoletto," "Il Trovatore," and "La Traviata," keeps driving my heart and emotions into Nirvana. In his prime, Pavarotti's rendition of "Nessun dorma" in Puccini's Turandot was sublime -- Enrico Caruso, had he been alive, would have applauded the performance with admiration. Even in his later years, as he had become a popular icon while his voice was slowly fading, he kept delivering his signature aria in the "Three Tenors" tours. The crowds were enthralled and my eyes were filled with tears of joy.
WHATEVER JUDGMENT the cognoscenti render on the quality of his voice, or whether he was as "intellectual" as Plácido Domingo or as talented as Enrico Caruso will be debated by the cultured elite and opera purists forever. (His critics often accused him of being hardly able to read music, of being lazy, or of squandering his talent.) However, Pavarotti will be remembered for another stellar achievement, one that can neither be ignored nor contested. He popularized opera. He brought it to the masses, in the arena, as it used to be long ago, disseminating it to the largest audience the world has ever known. He was a worldwide ambassador extraordinaire for the genre. Thanks to his efforts, his genial and jovial personality, his talent, and his unique Italian voice, jillions of people discovered and became familiar with opera. He mixed it with pop music and rock & roll, unafraid to improvise, chartering a road that others would not travel. He was undoubtedly a superstar, but above all he was a people's star, which may well explain the condescension that so-called experts and purists had toward him, one that was reflected in most obits published in the corporate media. In the last analysis, it may well turn out that history will record that his popularization of opera will be his most lasting legacy.
THE WORLD WILL MISS the Maestro, this genial, warm, and popular artist. How popular was he? Already, since his death four days ago, more than 100,000 people have traveled to Modena to pay their respect to the great tenor. Sitting on the deck of our little place in the middle of nowhere, in a country engulfed in consumerism, wars, and self-destruction, I will continue to listen to Pavarotti's recordings with tears of sorrow (for the loss) and tears of delight (for the beauty) in my eyes, and he will continue to live on.
GOOD RIDDANCE, WEB ADVERTISEMENTS: Doesn't the number of advertisements that clutter Web sites, especially if you have a slow connection to the Internet, irritate you? More than an annoyance these ads are a real aggravation that drives many Web users, including this one, mad like hell. Until now, the only defense I knew of was to configure my Web browser -- Mozilla Firefox -- to block the download of the images from some of the heavy-graphic sites I visit, such as nytimes.com or counterpunch.org -- the latter has more than 55 ads displayed as pics for their books or for amazon.com, and a few text ads delivered by adbright.com. This method does work adequately; it speeds up the download of the Web pages, but the text ads keep showing up. This is no longer the case. If, like I do, you loathe these crass advertisements, Say Good-Bye to Ads, and Hello to Adblock Plus.
THIS SMALL PROGRAM (229KB) is an add-on to Mozilla Firefox. It works on whichever platform you use (Windows, Mac, Linux) so long, of course, that you use that open-source Web browser, which you should -- it's the best browser there is (along with Opera). Adblock Plus blocks all the major advertising servers that provide the ads to most ad-carrying Web sites. That's it, fellows. No more ads! They are simply whitened out -- a white space replaces the ad... Sweet, oh so sweet, oh so very sweet. Advertisers ain't too happy about that little trick. I can imagine that Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair won't be too happy to find out that a simple program can defeat their ads, but they should not worry too much. With Adblock Plus users can customize the program to accept the ads of one or more particular Web sites. In other words, it's a matter of choice for the users. You can accept or block the ads at your own will, but you are no longer forced to watch those ads and infuriating banners. Libertarians like Cockburn and St. Clair should welcome the choice provided by the program. More below on how to get it...
IRONICALLY, I learned about Adblock Plus by reading a September 3 New York Times article by Noam Cohen, "Whiting Out the Ads, but at What Cost?" The NYT...helping its visitors to get rid of the very ads they want us to click on! How sweeter can it be?
DOUBLE IRONY: As I was experimenting with this new discovery, my wife, co-editor, and partner in crime, Jan Baughman, was surfing CounterPunch when she found an article by Ralph Nader published (or, better said, re-posted) in the September 1 / 2, 2007 edition -- a scathing piece in which Nader excoriates the advertising business that has rendered Americans all but intellectually impotent; advocates "advertising-free zones"; and recommends his readers to visit Commercial Alert, a Web site dedicated to the protection of communities from commercialism. What Jan found hilarious was the two-facedness of CounterPunch -- the publication of a strongly anti-ad essay, drowning in a 55+-ad ocean. Appended just below the end of the article were five text ads from adbright.com: 1) "Prepare to be Shocked: You may be younger than you think. Take the RealAge test and find out." 2) "Looking for a New Home? Search RealEstateBook.com Online here." 3) "Free Salary Calcualtor [sic]: Get Salary Range by Job Type. Negotiation Tips!" 4) "Golf Clubs Factory Direct: Complete Set inc [sic] Bag from $89.99 Clubs, Bags, Hybrids, Carts on sale." 5) "Earn Income Now! Work at Home - Earn up to $25-$75 per Hour - Start Today!" (Even their ads are left unedited!) Below was another link to adbright.com, which read: "Your Ad Here." Finally, two more ads from Amazon.com ended these almost-pornographic double standards. I suppose that in the great muckraking land of the Web Wild West, one can have his cake and eat it too...but what a disservice to the message Ralph Nader was bringing to the fore. Or perhaps it made his message all the stronger...
ANYWAY HERE IS HOW you can get Adblock Plus. First, make sure that you have the Firefox Web browser installed and that it's the latest version. You can download and install Firefox from the Mozilla Web site. (Check the proper platform -- Windows is the default. For other platforms or languages, go to that page.) Once you have Firefox installed on your system, go to this addons.mozilla.org Web page and download Adblock Plus. Install it and configure it (quite a straightforward process). Voilà, you are now commercial-free! To learn more about Adblock Plus, visit adblockplus.org. (Note: In some cases, like CounterPunch for instance, the images are located on the CounterPunch server. Adblock Plus cannot block those images without blocking the entire site -- something you may not want to do. Then, within Firefox, point you mouse on top of the first image, right-click, and click on "Block images from CounterPunch." Now all the text ads are gone and the pics blocked...and you can read the actual content of the site. It's as simple as that.)
IF YOU ENJOY this little gem and want to thank me for helping you get those darn ads and pics off your screen, think about making a small donation to Swans. We do not carry ads, yet have to attend to very concrete expenses. Keep us in mind and write a check if you can.
SAVING ENERGY: Since we are in a community service kind of mood, here is a tip for our readers who reside in California: Under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is administrating a program funded by California utility customers that offers a big rebate on compact fluorescent light bulbs. A box of 4 bulbs costs only $1.00. Usually each bulb costs between $3 and $4 -- so it's a huge saving. Furthermore, these fluorescent bulbs use 75% less electricity and have a 10,000-hour lifetime. Hence, you save energy (electricity) and money. According to PG&E, an "average home" (12 fluorescent replacing 12 incandescent bulbs) can save up to $97 per year, or $914 over the products' lifetime; up to 595 kilowatt hours/year, or 5,596 kilowatt hours over the products' lifetime. CO2 reduction (greenhouse gas) is also substantial: 312 lbs per year, or 2,982 lbs over the products' lifetime -- as much as what an average car emits in four months.
So, it's beneficial to your wallet and to the environment, and it saves energy. The funding is limited. So do not procrastinate. Go to your local hardware or drugstore. More information on energy savings can be found at pge.com/save.
LAST MINUTE PG&E NEWS: In January 2008, the California utility company will raise residential its residential electricity rates 4.1%, it small business rates 6.9%, but large businesses will see their rates change from minus 3.7% to plus 1.9%. Thanks for the cheap light bulbs, PG&E! By the way did you notice in the above paragraph that the light bulb rebates are not paid for by PG&E, but by California utility customers -- in other words, those of us who reside in California. Don't you love capitalism?
ONLY-IN-AMERICA CORNER: Where in the world would a six-year-old purse dog be bequeathed the tender sum of $12 million placed in a trust fund so that the small white Maltese would live in opulence? In America, of course. Leona Helmsley, the real estate billionaire and luxury hotelier who died last month, was known as the "Queen of Mean." She once quipped that, "only the little people pay taxes." She had four grandchildren. Two of them got zilch. The other two, $5 million each so long as they visit the family mausoleum in Westchester County, NY, once a year. Three million were imparted to the upkeep of the mausoleum. When the purse dog dies it'll be buried next to Leona in the mausoleum. Another fairy tale story for generations to come.
STUDY IN CONTRASTS: If memory serves there were between 37 and 38 million uninsured people in the U.S. when Mr. Clinton took office in 1993. The number of uninsured passed the 40 million mark in 1995. Today, we've officially passed the 47 million mark. (I've yet to figure out whether so-called illegal migrant workers are including in this dismal number.) The number of people living under the poverty line has remained relatively stable at about 36 million between 1995 and 2006 (though due to the increase of the overall population, it has decreased in percentage from 13.8% to 12.3%). As to the state of the US education system, suffice it to read my September 1996 piece, "Shame on us." I guess none of these people will have ever heard of the $12 million purse dog. They would not, or could not believe it. It's too insane. And where's the outrage?
FINALLY, A READER ASKS why there've been no comments on Swans regarding Iraq and the Petraeus September report. Commentaries on the Iraq War can be found in the specific archive, "The Rape of Iraq." As to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker's pas de deux on the Congressional stage this week, supported by an army of retired generals, experts, and pundits, there is not much to write about. The Washington Establishment has already decided that the war will keep slogging on till the next president takes office in January 2009, and chances are it will keep on going under whatever new administration. In light of the November 2008 elections, one can easily predict that a few thousand troops will be withdrawn to help the Republican nominee. Nothing worth writing about, I'm afraid. The script is evident to all who care to pay attention. You can write to your US Representatives and Senators and you'll get the usual form letter back from their staff. The staffer then adds your name to their database in either the pro- or antiwar column, and on a weekly basis provides a tabulation to the senior aide of the representative or the senator. If you write often enough, as Jan Baughman does, I can imagine that the staff already knows your stand on whatever issue you address. "Ah, ah, ah," they must say among themselves, "here is Jan Baughman again..." As the saying goes, we have the government that we deserve.
AND DO NOT ASK ME to comment on the sixth anniversary of 9/11. Let Mr. Bush do the talking -- he tells a better story than I do.
. . . . .
Ç'est la vie...
And so it goes...
La vie, friends, is a cheap commodity, but worth maintaining when one can. Supporting the life line won't hurt you much, but it'll make a heck of a difference for Swans.