Building roads is a massive undertaking. In the ancient world, it was the work of empires and conscripted labor.
So the Isaiah 40:3-4 text—
A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low;
The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.
used by Christians in Advent isn’t expressing, in its original context, a happy-go-lucky kind of sentiment.
Isaiah’s liberation to the captives implies woe to the captors. A year of favor and forgiveness of debts comes as a boon to the indebted…but a crushing loss to the lenders.
Part of the genius of Kenneth Louis’ “Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord”—and in particular, this performance of it by the choirs of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church and the UCSD Newman Catholic Community—is the way it expresses the foreboding and unsettling power of God’s coming.
You can hear it from the dark and ominous opening piano chord, the rattlesnake gourds and tambourines, the wordless, pulsing beat of the choir (echoing generations of prison work gangs), the eerie, jazzy guitar fills. Even after the song reaches its joyous climax (4:36) and the congregation bursts into applause, the choir and musicians don’t let it end on that moment of cheap grace.
They bring it back to the rhythm and hums of the wordless, nameless workers doing the hard and necessary work of preparing the way, building the road, remaking the landscape for the acceptable day of God’s coming. Prepare ye the way of the Lord indeed.
We’ll finish out this Thanksgiving week of food songs with Neal Hefti’s “After Supper” as recorded by Tony Bennet and the Count Basie Orchestra. If you were lucky enough to have a full Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday with people you love, then “After Supper” slow, sweet, bluesy groove probably captures something of how you were feeling at the end of the day.
After supper, when you’re feeling fine and mellow….
James McPherson is one of our most eminent Civil War era historians. Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis & The Confederate Civil War is McPherson’s attempt to set aside his own views of that conflict and consider Davis, if not objectively, at least from Davis’ own perspective. As McPherson states in his introduction, there’s a lot to set aside:
“Full disclosure is necessary. My sympathies lie with the Union side in the Civil War. The Confederacy fought to break up the United States and to sustain slavery. I consider those goals tragically wrong….After spending many research hours with both Lincoln and Davis, I must also confess that I find Lincoln more congenial, interesting and admirable.” (p. 5)
After quoting some of Davis’ Confederate contemporaries’ views of their president (sample: “a little conceited, hypocritical, snivelling, canting, malicious, ambitious, dogged knave and fool”, p. 5-6), McPherson confesses those critics had something of a point. Davis “did not suffer fools gladly, and he let them know it. He did not practice the skillful politician’s art of telling others what they wanted to hear. He did not flatter their egos, and he sometimes asserted his own. He did not hesitate to criticize others but was often thin-skinned about their criticisms of him. Davis could be austere, humorless, and tediously argumentative.” (p. 6) Read more…
In Bel Canto, those characters include:
- Roxanne Cass – a globally famous American soprano opera singer;
- Katsumi Hosokawa – founder and chairman of Japan’s largest electronics industry and opera lover;
- Gen Watanabe – linguistic polymath and Mr. Hosokawa’s personal translator;
- Rubén Iglesias – born into poverty, having worked his way through school to become a lawyer, politician and now vice-president;
- Carmen – a young Quechua terrorist from the jungle of her unnamed South American country with a devotion to St. Rose of Lima.
- General Benjamin – the chess-playing former schoolteacher turned guerilla fighter.
The government of this country which is not Peru* has enticed Hosokawa to visit with the promise of a private performance by Cass. The concert is held at the vice-president’s mansion; at the last minute, the president is unable to attend—and thus is not taken hostage by General Benjamin, Carmen, and the rest of La Familia de Martin Suarez when they arrive.
After a few days, everyone in the house—hostage-takers and hostages alike—begins to settle into a weirdly out-of-time existence, building relationships that otherwise would not exist and that the characters, to varying degrees, realize would not last outside of the hothouse environment of this slow-moving hostage crisis.
Patchett has a remarkable talent for making these relationships come to life as they develop day by day, page by page, incrementally shifting and changing so that when love affairs emerge—as they do between Ms. Cass and Mr. Hosokawa, and between Gen and Carmen—they seem unforced and wholly believable.
*Bel Canto was inspired in part by the events of the 1996 Lima Crisis, when members of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement stormed a party at the Japanese ambassador’s residence and held a group hostage for 126 days.
I’ve fixed your favorite dishes,
Hopin’ this good food fills ya…
Everybody eats when they come to my house.