Newtonian physics, the Beatles, and fish and chips
Thursday, December 13 2001
At around 5:30pm, in keeping with my new program of creative non-habitual alcohol consumption, I ate a dinner of malt liquor while Gretchen boiled herself a pot of ravioli.
At 7:00, it was time for a night out on the town in the upscale community of Brooklyn Heights, and this meant a ride in the subway. I'd been through the Brooklyn Heights station many times, but this was the first time I'd ever disembarked there. The station is interesting because passengers must take an elevator from the platform up to the street. Elevators, as I learned from watching a documentary on the London Underground, are not efficient mechanisms for moving large flowing crowds (escalators are much better). So to compensate for these inefficiencies, the Brooklyn Heights Station features three oversized elevator cars.
The reason for the elevator can be found in the name of the neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights. It sits atop a hill overlooking the East River. You can imagine the engineering headaches of a subway track that, just as it's poised to dive beneath the East River en route to Wall Street in Manhattan, must accommodate a subway station for an upscale hilltop community.
Our destination lay at the bottom of the hill, aboard a barge permanently docked on the shoreline just south of the Brooklyn Bridge. Here we'd be watching an oboist and string trio perform three classical works as well as one modern atonal monstrosity.
My favorite work performed was the first one, Quartet for Oboe and Strings, Opus 8, Number 4. It seemed to flow perfectly with the gentle rocking of the Manhattan skyline behind the musicians. Just above the cellist was the part of the skyline where the World Trade Center used to be. The buildingless void glowed with the bright lights of the unending recovery operation.
During the performance of Elliott Cook Carter's recent composition, the "challenging" atonal monstrosity Quartet for Oboe and Strings, I kept thinking that it sounded like every other "modern" classical work I'd ever heard. They all sound like the music in Being John Malkovich in that scene where the puppet freaks out and starts destroying the room around him. It looks like a lot of work to play, and not really worth the effort.
Then the oboist performed the G.P. Telemann Fantasie Number 2 for Solo Oboe and the suffering faces he made as he played gave me the impression that he was being drowned by his instrument.
The final work, String Trio in D Major, Opus 8, one of Beethoven's early works, seemed to drag on endlessly and repetitively. Just when we thought it was truly finished, it would start up again, like the villain in the final scene of a movie for men who like movies.
When the performance was over, we walked down the boardwalk to what looked like an interesting restaurant on the waterline closer to the Brooklyn Bridge. But it turned out to be one of those coat and tie places patronized by crusty old rich people, what a disappointment. So we went to a much less snooty Irish pub-type place back up in Brooklyn Heights. I was ravenously hungry at this point, so Gretchen secretly ordered me fish and chips. There aren't a whole lot of great things that came out of the British Isles, but fish and chips probably qualify. Newtonian physics, the Beatles, and fish and chips.
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