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Dinner Music

Friends over for dinner last night--first official dinner party in the house, I suppose. It was a happy nod to A Pig in Provence and my memories of similarly market-fresh meals I made on our too-short stays in the south of France. Salade nicoise with Italian tuna in olive oil, farmer's market fingerling potatoes and local eggs, haricots verts from the new Trader Joe's, a favorite Zinfandel and a poppy seed cake made from a recipe card I'd copied out in college. (It's a satisfying cake to make--you soak the poppy seeds in milk which turns a purplish hue, you thinly slice the lemon zest and make the egg whites stand up tall like ghostly paperdolls.) Delicious dinner. Then talk turned to whether or not grumpy--or worse!--people can make good art. And obviously they can. Edgar Allen Poe was surely no prince. Years ago I taught in a school where the history teacher's mother had known Robert Frost and had had nothing good to say about his parenting skills. Pound was just a little more than problematic. Yeats ended up proposing to Maud Gonne's daughter after Maud herself had turned him down time and time again. There are many, many more contemporary bad boys and girls best left uncited. So why do I turn a blind eye on writers' noxious behaviors, but hold composers to a higher standard? Could it have anything to do with the fact that I'm a writer and not a musician? I'm sure not... But ever since I found out that Debussy tried to kill his wife, then, thinking she was already dead, tried to rob her (since she wasn't things just went from bad to worse), I just don't hear "Afternoon of a Faun" with a sympathetic ear. I adore "Les Nuits d'Ete," those evocative songs of Berlioz' about longing, love and desire. But once I learned about his totally whacked-out obsession with Harriet Smithson, I confess I hear them differently. And Carlo Gesualdo murdering his first cousin/wife and her lover? Well, my dinner guest friends, both musicians, are trying to convince me to listen to his Good Friday Responsories with a more open mind. They can keep working on me. But I may hold on to my double standard (at least I admit it's one). I can always claim that I think musicians are called to a higher expression of art and so therefore ought to be better people for it. I'm sure I don't really mean that. I may just be making excuses for writers. And hoping that musicians, in our stead, toe my randomly-determined moral line!

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