Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rae Imamura 1945-2008

YESTERDAY WE ATTENDED a memorial service for Rae Imamura, the Berkeley pianist who died eight days ago of a brain tumor very recently discovered. Rae was a fine musician and a remarkable woman, dedicated to her students and to the music she played. She was particularly dedicated to contemporary music, which she served with fidelity and egoless intelligence.

The service was held at the Buddhist temple on Channing Way, where her father had been an officiant for many years. It was quite moving, beginning with chant, moving through three songs sung by the Rockridge Choir which Rae often accompanied, and reminiscences by two friends, and ending with incense burning and flower tributes.

There were a lot of people there, from the Japanese-American community — Rae was born in a relocation camp in September 1945 — and from the music world. I had a short conversation with her sister Hiro, who pursued a considerable concert career of her own.

I was moved especially by Rae's caretakers, who sang with the choir; and by remarks by two of her close friends, Janet Woodhams and Andrea Yee, who spoke of Rae's loyalty and humility and humor. And moved, too, by hearing recordings, at the end of the service, of Rae's performance of some limpid, clearly written two-part music, maybe Beethoven bagatelles, I'm not sure; very sure, elegant, no mannerisms at all.

Fifteen years ago Rae asked if I had anything for piano that would work in just intonation. One piece, I told her, and a piece I've never heard played at all; Three Pieces for Piano, written in the winter 1963-64. She played them on a wonderful program, with Charles Ives's "Concord" Sonata, at Annie's Hall, Berkeley, on an instrument tuned not in equal temperament but to Kirnberger 3. Alas, no recording equiipment was on the scene. The music was splendid in that tuning.

I told Hiro yesterday that I remembered that when Bob Basart was dying, twelve years ago I think, I produced a radio broadcast of his music. There was one piece he'd never heard, his last one, for solo piano. I gave it to Rae as soon as I got the music, two days before the scheduled broadcast, and she learned it and recorded it at KPFA. I told her the second movement was too fast judging by Bob's indications; he particularly wanted it quite slow.

"I don't have time to learn to play it slow," she said. "I recorded it on the Disklavier; you can slow the tempo to whatever you want." Bob was pleased. He died a week or so later.
First you learn the notes
find the (spirit) behind them
brush the notes aside

I have found the way, she said
good! What is it like? I asked

I can't tell you now…
(this is what her friend recalled)
…cannot find the words

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gli Uccelli

Via Dionigi, Rome, Nov. 23—

Birds over the Tribunali

FOURTEEN MILLION STARLINGS doing their exercises in solid geometry, is what I wrote from Rome over four years ago — Feb. 1, 2004, to be precise. That's the only precision here: don't regard the phrase, or any other above or below my name, as factual. The number may be off by quite a bit. They may know no more than I about solid geometry. And they may not have been starlings.

I've asked a number of people what these birds are called, and only one person has hazarded a guess more specific than uccellini, little birds. Passeri, he said they were called, passeri, because they migrate. At least I think that's what he said; he definitely called them passeri, which my little dictionary tells me is Italian for "sparrow."

I'm pretty sure, though I'm no birder, that these aren't sparrows. They might not be starlings. I tend to call any small black annoying bird a starling. They act like swifts. You don't see them at first, you only sense they're about to show up; then suddenly there they are, great clouds of them wheeling about in the sky. You stare at them in open-mouthed (not a good idea) wonder. Why do they do this; how do they avoid collisions; what communication exists among them; do they have leaders in any sense.

We got off the number 280 bus in the Piazza Cavour and saw, first thing, people standing around looking at the sky. We knew why: the bus had come up the lungotevere, the avenue along the Tiber; it's lined with plane trees, and the birds were already lighting among those trees. You could hear them, and you could see their dirty work on the pavement, which is washed daily, I think.

(You could also see an astounding exhibit of their work on one unfortunate car which must have been parked under that tree for a number of days. If the car were mine I wouldn't claim it until well after the rains have come.)

The birds have been flocking here to Rome for some time; we first noticed them a couple of weeks ago, when we saw two people in hazmat suits working the Piazza Cenci, down the street from the Argentina. They were brandishing machines that made eerie electronic sounds, in an effort to frighten the birds away from the piazza's trees — a futile gesture, I thought, rather like blowing leaves into the wind: but I suppose it makes work, and maybe there's something particularly sacred about the Cenci.

I've always enjoyed looking at birds in flight, and particularly like the ever-changing patterns of these huge flocks. Since in Rome one's mind is always straying back to antiquity you can't help thinking of how these avian exercises may have struck the ancients, whether rustics out tending sheep — who, come to think of it, flock, the sheep I mean, not the rustics, pretty much the way the birds do — or whether city-dwellers here in Rome. Birds, of course, were Meaningful; the patterns of their flights, and of their entrails and on their livers for that matter, were useful in precipitating decisions of various kinds, and in foretelling the future.

The hotel clerk has no idea what these birds are called, but he knows why they're here: Rome is warm, being a city full of burning petroleum products, and has plenty of nice tall trees; Rome attracts these birds from all around.

C'e un disastro, a man on the street said the other day, It's a disaster, they come every year at this time, they're noisy and dirty, they ruin the passaggiata, you can't walk under the trees, or sit outside with an aperitif.

I suppose he's right: I certainly don't walk under the trees, not if I can help it. But the displays are beautiful, arresting and beautiful and utterly organic, natural and transient and amazing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Rome Photos

I JUST PUT 35 photos taken this month in Rome up on the Web; you can see them here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Music in Rome

Via M. Dionigi, Rome, Nov. 18—

ROME HAS GIVEN US an amazing variety of music this last week, and it's time to think about it. Monday last — can it really only be eight days ago? — we went out to the Parco della Musica, a complex of concert and rehearsal halls, a fine bookstore dedicated to the arts, and cafés — to hear a concert of Gagaku, of all things. A touring group from Japan performed three items from the traditional repertory and a piece by Toru Takemitsu written for the traditional ensemble.
Two of the pieces involved dance, one for a solo male dancer, one a duet — if a work involving two men, side by side in indescribably complex and beautiful costume, performing identical choreography, can in fact be thought of as a duet.
The music was delicious and strange, veering from unison ensemble to various solo instruments, a continuously lyrical, pungent, keening sound, now quiet, now suddenly full-throated, played by reeds, flutes, plucked strings, and percussion.
The performers knelt on the raised platform, all dressed in formal yellow gowns, very gravely walking in and out with their instruments, meditating some moments before beginning each piece. The concert lasted only a little over an hour; the hall was sold out; the crowd was appreciative and extremely excited afterward.

TWO DAYS LATER we were at the Rome Opera Theater, in the center of town, a fine small opera house with seven ranks of galleries, to hear Der Rosenkavalier in a co-production with Tolosa. Sung in German, a language I don't know at all, but intelligently supertitled in Italian, Hoffmansthal's book was expressive enough; and Strauss's music was beautifully played by the orchestra and sung by the cast (barring wide vibrato in the first few minutes of each of the three sopranos).
I don't know any of the cast — it's years since I kept up at all with opera, and in any case I'm sure these were mostly young singers near the beginnings of their careers. The Feldmarschallin and the Rosenkavalier were really quite wonderful; Sophie was fresh and lyrical; Ochs a bit exaggerated, of course.
Since it was a traveling production the set was fairly minimal: the tedious jokes of the third-act opening were therefore minimized; fine with me. This production was more about age and youth, or perhaps I should say experience and youth, than it was about the clash of court and country.
Perhaps because the Bellini show was still in mind, this Rosenkavalier seemed unusually philosophical, ultimately both moral and aware: every Moment dissolves into Continuity, true enough; but it's also true this involves Loss. A beautiful, resigned, realistic view of transience; an appropriate subject for this Eternal City.

A FEW DAYS LATER we moved from the sublime to, well, it wasn't ridiculous, to pure entertainment with a revue in the Auditorium on the Conciliazione, Good Morning Mr. Gershwin. A dozen dancers moved through solos, duets, small ensembles, and full production numbers involving tap, break dancing, hip-hop, comedy pantomime, and jazz dancing, all to (alas pre-recorded) music by Gershwin.
Behind them a screen filled the huge width of the stage with video projections of the same dancers, sometimes mirroring the choreography on stage, sometimes serving as pure décor, often nude but prettily, not provocatively. The numbers were often but not exclusively comic: one routine involving a sturdy woman eating an éclair might have come straight out of 1920s vaudeville.
Toward the end, though, the act turned serious, recapitulating the social history of the "Negro" in the U.S. The projections became documentary; the choreography expressing, without ever simply depicting, the emotional quandary of this huge subset of the American population as it was so stupidly and wrongly marginalized.
Our president-elect was never mentioned or depicted, thankfully: the production was set long before the historic election of two weeks ago. But the evening ended on a note of celebration: the worst of those injustices are far behind us, a Dark Ages of our own time. Again, the house was full; again, fully appreciative — jubilant, in fact.

LAST NIGHT WE HEARD an orchestral concert: two Third Symphonies, one by Schubert, one by Bruckner; again at the Conciliazione which is now, since we've moved into a hotel in the Prati, our neighborhood hall.
It's a dry, bright hall, and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma is a young, brash orchestra, and while last night's conductor, Lior Shambadal, was neither young nor brash himself he did nothing to tame his brass and timpani players; the resulting interpretations weren't memorable.
The Schubert was more ponderous than it should have been and the Bruckner was unbearably slow much of the time, as if Bruckner's vast architecture was being examined with a magnifying glass. But what a delight to hear these two composers coupled on a program, and to hear and watch their music being played live! Next week they play the "Unfinished" and two Mahler song-cycles, and perhaps we'll be there again.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bellini: mental perspective

Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 15—

TO THE SCUDERIE the other day, up on the Quirinale, to see a blockbuster show of paintings by Giovanni Bellini, ?1435-1516, an artist who had the luck to live in a time of great change, the intelligence to be aware of that and to respond to it, and the genius to do that in work that continues to seize the intelligence and sensibility of onlookers half a millenium later.
Giovanni Bellini: Pesaro Altarpiece

The Scuderie show offered dozens of paintings, beautifully hung and lit in ten rooms on two floors, beginning with the Pesaro Altarpiece, perhaps Bellini's major breakthrough, painted when the artist was thirty or so (his birth date is uncertain). This online reproduction does the work no justice, of course: the first thing you have to know is that it is nearly eight feet wide. In a curious way, thanks to Bellini's mastery of recessive space, as you contemplate the painting the distant landscape gradually becomes its most significant component. It's as if the figures at the foreground and the divinity symbolized by the cherubim above were mediated through landscape, I thought looking at it; and indeed the little pamphlet we were given agreed:
…here the relationship between divine and human is very nagurtally and simply translated into landscape. A relationship that becomes mental perspective.
This mental perspective returns in what was to me the most arresting and memorable work in the show, the "Sacred Allegory" of perhaps twenty years later. The painting is arrestingly modern, even ahistorical, bringing to mind such disparate work as Fra Angelico's Annunciation and Degas's Spartan Youths.
Giovanni Bellini: Sacred Allegory

Incredibly rich and moving, this painting refers to Plato's allegory of the cave, to pagan times (the centaur barely visible at the right edge beyond the lake), to the Hebrew creation story and Christian legend (St. Peter about to go fishing, left of center), to the progress from youth to age (figures on the right, foreground), and to contemporary times (that timeless woman, left, in the black shawl).
I don't know what to make of the porcini-like, flying saucer-like apparatus at the upper left corner, but the distant landscape full of architecture, center, recalls by its placement the one in the Pesaro Altarpiece — though more fully elaborated. Oddly, though you don't see it in this reproduction, the classical temple facade with the dark doorway, just above exact center, is the most brightly lit passage in the painting.
I think Bellini, at least by the time he painted this Sacred Allegory, was not Christian but Hellenistic: I mean, uncommitted, privately, to an exclusively monotheistic, let alone Christian, view of life and nature, individual and society, moment and continuity. The progress of his Madonnas is a fascinating thing to see, and can be seen readily in this exhibition: when again will you ever see the identically posed Detroit and Milan Madonnas in a single room? Painted a year apart from a single cartoon, they show an increasing secularization of the subject. Bellini's view of the Madonna and Child is more about Maternity than theology, I think; the foreboding in the Madonna's face as she considers her son's future is universalized because it is generalized beyond anguish toward contemplation of an inevitable. Birth incorporates death, as the Moment incorporates Continuity, once self-sentiment is transcended.
I suppose this is what Christianity attempted, two thousand years ago, here in Rome: a mythic apparatus that would appeal to a rising sense of individual self in a society grown insanely complex. As far as I'm concerned, in succeeding at appealing to hoi polloi at the expense of scrapping Hellenistic subtleties of intellect, it lost its usefulness; I suspect Bellini has this in mind late in his career.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Peace memorial

Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 9—

Richard Meier's building for the Ara Pacis

UPTOWN TODAY — I always think of upstream in Rome, toward the Piazza del Popolo, as "uptown", I don't quite know why — to see the first new building in central Rome in eighty years, or something like that: to my taste rather a nondescript flatroofed boxy thing of glass and concrete, next to the Tiber; set on a plaza and backed by a handsome travertine wall down which water sheets into a gutter leading to a clichéd square pool with four rows of four vertical jets. Some like this; I find it a little unsettling — it refers to Rome, of course, with her fountains and piazzas; but it's unlike anything else here, yet insufficiently arresting to justify its irrelevance.

Oh well: this container is interesting for the thing contained, the Ara Pacis as it's called — in fact not the Altar of Peace, apparently never found, but the cube of a roofless building that enclosed it. The Ara Pacis was erected a couple of thousand years ago to commemorate the Roman pacification of Spain and Gaul, as I understand it: I have no idea what the altar looked like, but its enclosure, say thirty feet square and nine or ten high (I'm guessing), is a thing well worth seeing, even worth commissioning a nondescript new building to protect.

Inside Meier's museum the first thing you notice is a scale model of the supposed original spatial context, very different from today's. The Tiber makes the same bend, but only three buildings are to be seen on the huge expanse that was then the champs-de-Mars, the training ground for young soldiers: the Pantheon, built in 27 BCE by Augustus Caesar's son-in-law Agrippa; Augustus's mausoleum, which he himself had built at about the same time; and, midway between them but considerably east of their axis, the Ara Pacis, dedicated eighteen years later. (Between the Ara Pacis and the center axis was an horarium, a paved rectangle serving as sundial whose gnomon was an obelisk.)

Reconstruction of the Campo Marzio, 9 BCE: at left, Augustus's Mausoleum; right, Pantheon; center distance, Ara Pacis beyond Horarium

Two things are immediately striking about this: first, the apparent emptiness of the zone, given more to Nature than to architecture; second, the location of the Ara Pacis, away from the river and oriented toward the sun — an orientation underlined by the Horarium, designed so that the gnomon's shadow will fall on the Altar at noon on the equinox, as I understand it.
The deliberate mirroring of the Pantheon, celebrating all the gods, and the Mausoleum, celebrating Augustus Caesar, is unmistakable. I think, too, that the openness of the plan, all that empty grassy field between, reinforces a sensibility that must have been oriented more toward Nature and her spaces, less to the city-dwelling system of "development" and its complex economic, political, and technological structures.
Augustus was passed off as a god himself, descended from Apollo: after the experiment of the Roman Republic failed it took divine intervention to restore a degree of order and impose a degree of "peace" on society. It must have been important for him to have been seen as something apart from the mass of humanity in the city that had built up to the south, in the harbor and the forum and the apartments and villas surrounding the Capitoline hill.

WELL, YOU CAN'T put things back as they were two millenia ago, and I suppose this new installation of what's left of the Ara Pacis is a good thing, though the point of the original setting is largely lost, and the Ara itself is missing, and its original enclosure turned 180 degrees from what was intended as I understand it. The fragments that have turned up so far are set into a concrete wall reconstructing the size and shape of the original; missing figures from the bas-relief sculptures are indicated in two dimensions; the entire surround is placed high on a podium. Walking up those steps and entering the enclosure is a solemn kind of experience, quite like entering the Pantheon.
There are plenty of explanatory panels, in Italian and English, identifying the figures in the reliefs, which portray a kind of parade celebrating the peace Augustus has imposed on those distant colonies. Considerable light falls from all sides, thanks to Meier's glass curtain walls. The sculpture itself is intensely interesting, both for its intrinsic qualities and for its historical significance. (It's hard to think of it colored, though, as it must have been when new; but that's a subject for another day.)

From the sublime to the ridiculous: We left the Ara Pacis and headed for the Spanish Steps, with the usual Sunday crowds jamming the streets. It was the hour of the passaggiata, that slow amble Italians and other latins, I think) love to take on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Something was heightening the effect, though, and as we neared the Corso we heard a marching band just stepping out of sight toward the Piazza del Populo, enthusiastic children marching along behind it; and then here flew nine fighter-jets low overhead, right up the airspace over the Corso, red, white, and green smoke trailing behind them to lay the national colors out across Apollo's sky. We've largely lost the Augustan context, but human nature continues to respond to his instincts. I suppose it always will.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Shopping in Rome

Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 8—

"Garden" of the Villa Corsini, across from our apartment

ANOTHER LAZY DAY in Rome, begun with an amble up the via della Scala, through the Piazza Sant'Egidio (whose trees have grown considerably since we stayed there four years ago), through the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, down the via S. Francesco a Ripi to nearly the viale, then up the Natale del Grande, pointing out our favorite shops for pastries, cheeses, salume, household items and the like. Pointing out, too, the Pizzeria da Ivo where we really must eat one of these days, since we both (both couples, I mean) have grandsons named Ivo, and since it is a soccer pizzeria, and Hans is a soccer adept.

The goal was the Santo Cosimato market, our local market. Last time we were here it was being torn up; now everything's back in order. Not as many stalls, Lindsey said; I disagreed. Finally I asked a saleswoman at one of the stalls: Ci sono tanti banchi come avanti, um, avanti la ricostruzione della piazza?
The woman looked puzzled, and well she might: my Italian is atrocious. But she figured it out, and said No, not quite as many.
Mi dispiace sentirlo, I said, I'm sorry to hear it: it means my wife is right, and I am wrong.
Sempre così, it's always like that, said the smiling woman.

We bought clementines and bananas and a scarf for me, a nice black one, and Anneke found a carry-bag, and I found a couple of used books. But where was the handsome tall redhead we'd enjoyed looking at four years ago? I approached an unoccupied fish-merchant: There used to be a tall, thin, red-headed guy here—
He stopped me, waving toward the man we'd bought the clementines from. It's his friend, he said. Yes, he's still living; he doesn't come as often. A contadino.
Reassured, we turned back down the Natale del Grande toward the viale. Time for tea. More shopping on the street, though: socks, sweaters, scarves, a nice black hat. I always buy my socks from stalls on Italian streets. They frequently give out at the toes after a few wearings, but some of them don't, and they're cheap enough the gamble's worth it.

We sat out the rain with a cup of tea, then toured San Francesco a Ripi, stopping to enjoy the theatrical lighting of Bernini's nearly obscene Beata Lodovica Albertoni, an amazingly lifelike marble sculpture of a robed woman in ecstasy — spiritual ecstasy, we're assured. I was more interested in a small painting — perhaps a self-portrait? — memorializing Margareta d'Arezzo, a woman who had been a painter of flowers in the mid-19th century. The inscription referred to her as modest, productive, and devout, and she looked so ordinary, so down-to-earth, that I wanted to know her. She, and the funeral whose close we respectfully waited before touring the church, meant more to me than Bernini's virtuosity.

Mid-day dinner at Alberto il Sardo (described at Eating Every Day); then the tram 8 up the viale, pointing out G.G. Belli's statue at his piazza, to the Argentina to see about concert tickets. Alas, no music these days at the Argentina: but at Feltrinelli's box office we bought opera tickets for next Wednesday; then trammed back to Trastevere to shop a little for our supper.
Bread and foccaccie at "our" bakery on the via Mora, where I finally made the cold beautiful blond behind the counter smile when Lindsey corrected my Italian: fiore di zucca, not zucchini. Zucca, zucchini, zuccaccia, I said; Sì: tutti corretti, zucche, zucchini, zuccaccie, the woman smiled, and served out our foccaccie and cut a loaf of bread in half, for we buy it half a loaf at a time, warm from the wood-fired oven.
Up the street, the wrong street, and back to find the right one, and up that one to our little supermarket for a bottle of water and a few rolls of toilet paper and such.
Past the casual market at the Piazza Trilussa — another Trastevere poet, though not as ribald as Belli: who could be? — where once again Hans did not buy a beautiful black cap though he admired it, and where none of us was interested in the jewelry. Up the via Benedetta past my favorite breakfast bar, but we did not go in for a coffee; it's time rather for a pot of deicious Lapsong Souchong at home. And back to thumb through the guidebooks, to read the e-mail harvested on my pocket computer as we walked past a wifi hotspot, to read a few pages of Calvino, to nap.
Lazy days in Trastevere.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Via Corsini

Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 6—

the via Corsini

TIME TO WRITE a little about our apartment, no. 10C, via Corsini, Rome. Except for one problem we couldn't have done much better. The apartment is huge: thirty-one meters long, Anneke says, after pacing it off, and nearly five wide, divided into two bedrooms, a big sitting room with two couches and an armchair, two bathrooms, and a nicely equipped kitchen.
The via Corsini is rarely driven on; across the street from our building is the Villa Corsini's "back yard," a one-acre lawn behind a handsome iron fence and set about with huge palm trees; down to the left, at the corner, past the carabinieri station (which keeps us safe), is the equally handsomely gated entrance to Rome's Botanical Garden, always worth a stroll.
We're at the foot of the Janiculum hill, and Garibaldi's huge bronze presence above the Garden seems to watch over us. Down the street to the right, the via Lungara would take us straight up to the Vatican, if we only cared to go. Instead we turn the other way, coming in twenty meters or so to the Porta Settimiana, the southern gate in the old Roman wall on this side of the Tiber.
Across the Tiber: trans tevere; Trastevere. We feel at home. A free wi-fi cafe around the corner on via Dorotea takes away the sting of our apartment's one failure: the advertised Internet connection has never worked. A little further down, my favorite breakfast place supplies organic milk and blood-orange juice and fine breakfast pastries, to be eaten there with Trastevere's best cappuccino or taken home.
The Ponte Sisto is very close, just at the Piazza Trilusso: it's only a few minutes' walk across the river to the Campo dei Fiori, the via Pellegrino, and, a little further, Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, where the best coffee in Rome (and possibly all Italy, therefore the whole world) is available at Tazza d'Oro.
The days have been quiet and lazy. There was of course the exciement, muted in our apartment for lack of Internet and English-language television, of the presidential election. Otherwise we've been strolling with Hans and Anneke, taking in the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, Trastevere, and, yesterday, the Aventine, whose hill I'd not yet climbed.
Last night we dined at the American Academy, where we first listened in on a little seminar comparing Ovid lines in Latin, English, and Italian translations. I've written about dinner over at Eating Every Day and won't repeat that here: but let me note that after dinner we ventured downstairs to a media room to watch Margaret Fisher's Letters from Duchamp, a video presentation of her work from my opera The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, and then her half-hour video Exquisite Corpse, a cut-up of haunting prose, sound, and visual material including actors and documentary footage. I always find Margaret's work supremely intelligent, deep and solid; clearly narrative though never restricted to linear story or fixed plot. Work, I think, for connoisseurs.
moonlight at the Academy

We left the Academy about eleven o'clock, walking across the dark dark garden, admiring the moon beyond the pines, then turning down the street, past carabinieri protecting a consulate, across the piazza in front of the silent Fontanone supplying Trastevere's many fountains, and turning down a staircase to find our way home easily. Quiet night; civil town. We feel quite at home.

Il Mondo Cambiato

Via Corsini, Rome, Nov. 6—

WE STOPPED OFF at the edicula on the Piazza Sta. Maria in Trastevere this morning, on our way for a day's walk to Sta. Cecilia and then the Aventine and so on, to buy the historic newspapers. Reppublica had a dozen pages on the election, with articles by Madeline Albright and others, and the complete acceptance speech (in Italian, of course).
Le Monde also had complete coverage, including detailed results state by state, and a twelve-page supplement into the bargain. And the International Herald Tribune, of course, was not to be outdone.
Huge photos of the serious or smiling president-elect Obama were on every front page. Surprised in spite of myself I exclaimed to Lindsey: Look at them! Obama everywhere!
A woman on my other side turned and asked pointedly, in American English, Where are you from? California, I said, Northern California.
I'm from New Hampshire, she said; We couldn't be farther apart.
But now we're very close, I said; side by side, in fact.
She wasn't buying it. I'm afraid, she said, Very afraid. I don't know what is going to happen.
Are you afraid for his life, I asked.
I'm afraid of everything, she said. And I believe she was. Her face was nearly rigid with fear; fear sat in her eyes. I didn't know what to say, I'm sorry to report, and didn't think to try to reassure her.

Her fear does not seem shared by the newspapers. They all report that the world is changed; a new optimism (or at the least realism) is in place; America has reassumed her position of enlightened leader into the new millenium.
Most curiously, Obama's election, it's widely reported here, has ended racism and finally ended America's Civil War. This is proclaimed in headlines, even adjacent to maps showing most of the Confederacy went red for McClain. It's a little odd to be here at this moment; we wonder what the mood is really in the States, the mood among those voters, nearly half of them, who voted against Obama, the ones who voted against equal rights to marriage.
And I continue to wonder if democracy can work in a culture that replaces education with propaganda, paid advertisments, and trivialized "information" elicited and published by a press whose chief role seems to be entertainment.
We elected the right president, I think, and we seem to be giving him the support he'll need in Congress. Western Europe is clearly behind him one hundred percent. Perhaps this has been the turning point; perhaps now America will address social problems internationally and at home as just that: problems, to be recognized, analyzed, and dealt with intelligently and practically, not from an ideological program. Let's hope so.