Contemplate your god or oblivion, for it will reveal that you will never experience mortality, and at least in that sense you are indeed immortal.
Concert pianist Van Cliburn is dead at 78. Cliburn won world fame in 1958 by taking first prize at the first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow at the height of the cold war, a competition designed to highlight Soviet culture and musical talent. And he did it playing nothing less than Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto Number 1 (more here). This was also a time when I was starting to mess around with the piano at idle moments. I was blown away by his interpretation, one that has since become a world standard.
After Jo Ann and I started dating, his artistry remained a part of our lives for years afterward. We were both classical music fans and shared a habit with many other UCLA couples of going up into the Bel-Air heights during evenings now and then to enjoy the city panorama. The radio was tuned to KFAC, the LA classical music station, and as we settled in at 8pm the Gas Company Concert came on with the triumphant opening phrases of Tchaikovsky’s Number 1 – talk about motivational music. Two hours later the program’s end was again announced, this time by the concerto’s second movement, the languid refrain from its Adagio – it was time to start getting things together to go down the hill and back into the real world.
And so it went during our undergraduate years as Sputniks launched, Camelot came to Washington, and Cuba and Berlin vied for the touchpoint for WW3. Throughout it all Van Cliburn played his masterful rendition every weekday night for Los Angeles audiences that also included some young couples on local mountain tops in cars with foggy windows. Thanks for the memories Van – RIP.
And yesterday we also buried Leo. Leo was a cat to behold, given to us by friends as a frisky little ball of black fur nineteen years ago. We lived on Saddle Peak Rd in the Santa Monica Mountains. This was wild country where on the roads or in your driveway you could see pumas, bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, owls, eagles, hawks, deer, …, and rattlesnakes galore. We always took in cats and had lost over 30 of them to local predators (mostly coyotes and owls) by the time Leo arrived. Cats were our first line of defense against rattlers, territorial critters that eat the same things that cats do. The idea was to limit their food supply to keep their population down (in ten years we reduced the annual rattler kill rate from seven to one), but the kitties paid a price for our living in God’s country by also becoming part of the food chain.