Siege Diaries 1/15/2021

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Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt:  Am I staying the course or being steered away?

One of my characteristic traits is flexibility — the ability to adapt and thrive in the face of challenges.  Is this incompatible with “staying the course”?   My answer is “no.”  What the Stoics are talking about is staying the course regarding the fundamental qualities that make people good human beings.  The Stoics weren’t concerned about career paths, they were interested in life paths, and on staying the course when it came to following fundamental tenets such as kindness and justice.  I’m not worried that I will be “too flexible” when it comes to these virtues–although I know very well that justice is no easy virtue, and requires work and courage that I still often feel I am lacking.  But I also find that when I am called upon to push my limits,  I learn, regardless of whether I am successful or whether I fail–I take both as learnings to build upon.

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We have arrived at the weekend before the US Presidential inauguration, the weekend where “armed protests” are planned for all 50 state capitals.  I am watching the news warily, hoping that this time, preparations will be in place to counter angry insurrectionists who will be certainly out to provoke violence.  More details continue to be known about just how close to being successful the January 6 revolt came–figures targeted by the insurrectionists were just minutes away from being trapped, and there were solid plans for hostage situations and even killing.  The interesting times continue.

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Today a CD arrived, and I listened music that Shostakovich wrote for two films:  The Fall of Berlin (1949) and The Unforgettable Year 1919 (1951).  The movies themselves are just about the purest propaganda films that Shostakovich ever had to write music for–and I don’t say “had to” lightly, as these–particularly the 1949 one–date to the period when all of Shostakovich’s work was banned for “formalism” and he lost his teaching position.  His only source of income was writing film music.  He was very, very good at it–and even the couple of choral pieces directly in praise of Stalin still manage to soar above other contemporary works.  I’ve seen footage from The Fall of Berlin, and it’s painful–joyous citizens fawning over an incredibly wooden Stalin, who wanders openly amongst them and even goes to Berlin at the end of the war–something he never did.  But listening to the music, I remember that there are plenty of just as cringeworthy Hollywood films from the same period–certainly not glorifying a brutal dictator, but full of patriotic, relatively vacuous tunes meant to instill that feeling of patriotism.   And frankly, those Stalin pieces aside, this is first rate, surprisingly complex film music.  In the second suite of music, there is an example of something that in the West was called a “tabloid concerto”–a short, Romantic-style piano concerto.  The first of these was Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, written in the style of Rachmaninoff  (Mockmaninoff?) for a 1941 movie, Dangerous Moonlight, about the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Nazis.  As the liner notes mention, Shostakovich’s entry is “even more Hollywood-like” than Addinsell’s work, “as if Shostakovich drew amusement from it.”  (No one knows for sure whether he had heard Warsaw Concerto but it seems rather likely.)   And it is indeed gloriously over the top and instantly identifiable as in the style of Rachmanioff–but there’s something just a bit off about it–perhaps that Shostakovich amusement factor.

I also watched the first two installments in WandaVision, which proves that just when you’re starting to take the Marvel Universe for granted, they throw something like this at you.  This puts superheroes Vision and the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) into, in the first episode, something like a 1950s sitcom, and in the second, to some kind of version of I Dream of Jeannie.  The first episode is played purely for laughs as the two superheroes try to fit into a 1950s suburb (luckily Vision, who is an artificial life form, can change his appearance into that of a regular suburban businessman).  But by the second episode we’re starting to get an idea that this must be some kind of mission.  For one thing the time seems to be advancing–I suspect the next episode will be yet another sitcom style from a later era.  The whole name “WandaVision” seems to be a play on the word “television.”  But we’re also getting the sense that the MCU is lurking somewhere offscreen–there are some mock ads from familiar brands, as it were.  I am looking forward to see where they go with this.

I’m also now four episodes in to the second season of His Dark Materials.  It’s a terrifically cast, absolutely gorgeous to look at production (even without the wonderful to look upon James McAvoy, who we’re not likely to see much of this season, depending on where it concludes).   It’s been a few years since I read the trilogy of books it’s based on, but it seems to me to be doing an amazing job of capturing the most important plotlines of the books, although making a few changes–for instance, starting to run Will’s story in parallel with Lyra’s during the first season, so that there is no need to backtrack to introduce him.   There is also a lot of architecture porn.  And I want all of the outfits the generally-evil-but-not-completely-unsympathetic Mrs. Coulter wears, with their strong late 30s feel (including wonderful hats).

And I’ve now made it far enough along with the embroidery of Shostakovich’s cat to share my progress–see above.

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