Garden Prince

A Vicki Sawyer greeting card (on Sawyer’s animal art, see my 2/5/22 posting “The groundhog and the scallion”) from Ann Burlingham, Troublemaker (that’s what it says on her business card) — written on the 20th, postmarked in Pittsburgh on the 22nd, arrived in Palo Alto on the 26th — with a reproduction of Sawyer’s composition “Garden Prince”:

(#1) The Garden Prince wears a crown of carrots and a royal neckchain of peapods, which together serve both as symbols of his authority and as indicators of his tastes in food (also note the conventional simile like peas and carrots ‘getting along well together, being compatible’)

In #1, Ann “saw something akin to a Renaissance portrait. Crossed with Watership Down?” YES!

I even have a nominee for the Renaissance prince in such a portrait. Who took on his first title of nobility and power when he was 6 years old and then collected more through his life, meanwhile pressing on with the aggressive subjugation of the Americas for Spain and with fierce warring against the Protestant Reformation, the Ottoman Empire, and France. From Wikipedia:

Charles V (24 February 1500 – 21 September 1558) was Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria from 1519 to 1556, King of Spain (Castile and Aragon) from 1516 to 1556, and Lord of the Netherlands as titular Duke of Burgundy from 1506 to 1555. As he was head of the rising House of Habsburg during the first half of the 16th century, his dominions in Europe included the Holy Roman Empire, extending from Germany to northern Italy with direct rule over the Austrian hereditary lands and the Burgundian Low Countries, and the Kingdom of Spain with its southern Italian possessions of Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia. Furthermore, he oversaw both the continuation of the long-lasting Spanish colonization of the Americas and the short-lived German colonization of the Americas. The personal union of the European and American territories of Charles V was the first collection of realms labelled “the empire on which the Sun never sets”.

… Charles V revitalized the medieval concept of universal monarchy and spent most of his life defending the integrity of the Holy Roman Empire from the Protestant Reformation, the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, and a series of wars with France. With no fixed capital city, he made 40 journeys, travelling from country to country; he spent a quarter of his reign on the road. The imperial wars were fought by German Landsknechte, Spanish tercios, Burgundian knights, and Italian condottieri. Charles V borrowed money from German and Italian bankers and, in order to repay such loans, he relied on the proto-capitalist economy of the Low Countries and on the flows of gold and especially silver from South America to Spain, which caused widespread inflation. He ratified the Spanish conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires by the Spanish conquistadores Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, as well as the establishment of Klein-Venedig [“Little Venice”, in Venezuela] by the German Welser family in search of the legendary El Dorado. In order to consolidate power in his early reign, Charles overcame two Spanish insurrections (the Comuneros’ Revolt and Brotherhoods’ Revolt) and two German rebellions (the Knights’ Revolt and Great Peasants’ Revolt).

(While Voltaire’s Candide, first published in 1759, is set firmly in a fantasy version of the 18th century, the Bernstein et al. comic operetta Candide, first performed in 1956, introduces themes from the 16th-century reign of Charles V, notably the endless religious wars and the search for El Dorado. As it happens, the real world of 2022, plus an accident of my daily life, have made the Bernstein Candide suddenly, horribly, relevant; after I finish with Charles V and go on to Watership Down, I will turn to the duet “You were dead, you know” from Act I of Candide.)

Titian’s 1548 portrait of Charles V (to compare to the Garden Prince; the rabbit has a great deal more charm, but still there’s a resemblance):

(#2) Linguistic note: Charles V spent his early life in the Low Countries, speaking primarily French and Dutch, learning Spanish only when he became King of Spain, and German only when he was elected Holy Roman Emperor (in effect, king of the Germans) — Just In Time multilingualism, so to speak

Watership Down. After the devastations and depredations of the 16th century, it’s something of a relief to turn to rabbits (even granting that in the real world, despite their adorable furriness, they’re destructive garden pests). From Wikipedia:

(#3) Cover of the first edition; note carrots

Watership Down is an adventure novel by English author Richard Adams, published by Rex Collings Ltd of London in 1972. Set in southern England, around Berkshire, the story features a small group of rabbits. Although they live in their natural wild environment, with burrows, they are anthropomorphised, possessing their own culture, language, proverbs, poetry, and mythology. Evoking epic themes, the novel follows the rabbits as they escape the destruction of their warren and seek a place to establish a new home (the hill of Watership Down), encountering perils and temptations along the way.

Thursday 24 February. I rose for the day at 3 a.m., with my Apple Music player partway through the 1956 original Broadway cast recording of Candide (Robert Rounseville as Candide, Barbara Cook as Cunegonde, Max Adrian as Pangloss, Ira Pettina as the Old Lady):

(#4) The album cover

What was playing was a duet between Candide and Cunegonde, “You Were Dead, You Know”, celebrating the reunion of the lovers and the end (as they see it) of their travails. But the delightfully joyous duet — some analysis below — comes only partway through Act I of two acts (it’s #7 of 16 musical numbers in the whole show), so their joy is, alas, premature.

But then on with the day, already filled with anxiety. On Tuesday afternoon I’d had an abdominal ultrasound (the results of which were surprisingly reassuring; my old-man prostate was a bit enlarged, but only a bit, and nothing else set off an alarm) and a set of blood and urine tests (the results of which were alarming indeed, indicating a sudden drop in my kidney function). So on Thursday, an afternoon FaceTime appointment with my nephrologist, who ordered up more blood and urine samples (Friday morning) for further tests (including some “esoteric” ones that had to be sent to the Mayo Clinic) and urged me to have a kidney biopsy (actual surgery, with a day’s hospital stay and suspension of my blood-thinning medication).

So, Thursday morning: massive anxiety attack, weeping despair, soaring blood pressure. Then I went to the morning news on MSNBC and discovered that Putin had invaded Ukraine and there was now a war in Europe, which I’ve been following pretty much all through my waking hours since then. I tried going away to view old sitcoms, but even Welcome Back, Kotter and its ilk couldn’t keep me from dwelling obsessively on the unfolding war, so I returned to MSNBC, in the grip of a second, parallel, anxiety attack.

Through meditation and other calming exercises, I got my blood pressure down to 140/75 at 1 p.m., but that was still too high. So I took things, literally, into my own hands, via a session of sex therapy — recruiting a flood of hormones that clear the sinuses and also produce a relaxed, calm afterglow. I was feeling wonderfully mellow when I checked my blood pressure once again: 66/38. Oh, I thought, I’ll just sit here in this comfy chair a bit, luxuriating in the mellow, and not try to stand up, that would be a mistake. After 20 minutes, refreshed, I went back to working at my computer (I continue to manage a posting a day). Half an hour later, my blood pressure was 124/80, in my target zone, and it stayed re-set in the zone for the rest of the day. It’s the miracle of orgasm, something I marvel at even after 71 years of being granted its benefits.

No, I don’t know what I’m going to do about that biopsy. Very hard to make such decisions when you’re probably close to the end of your life anyway; for quite some time now, every day I wake up to is a little gift.

So I’ll go back to Candide and Cunegonde. The duet is an amazing marriage of tune and text, music and lyrics. The central part comes in rhymed quatrains, some with rhyme scheme AABB, some with ABAB, all of it set to amazingly agile music (more or less instantly recognizable as Bernstein’s). Instead of Rounseville and Cook, here’s a YouTube of an equally satisfying performance of “You Were Dead, You Know” (one you can watch, not just listen to), with Paul Groves as Candide, Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonda, and the New York Philarmonic — the orchestra score is a third voice in this song; and partway through this song, it echoes the theme of “El Dorado” — conducted by Marin Alsop.

The central part of the text, divided into quatrains (note the complexity in the way the text is passed back and forth between the two characters):

Candide: Dearest how can this be so?
– You were dead, you know.
– You were shot and bayonetted, too.
Cunegonde: That is very true.

– Oh, but love will find a way.
Candide: Then, what did you do?
Cunegonde: We’ll go into that another day.
– Now let’s talk of you.

– You are looking very well.
– Weren’t you clever, dear, to survive!
Candide: I’ve a sorry tale to tell.
– I escaped more dead then alive.

Cungonde: Love of mine where did you go?
Candide: Oh, I wandered to and fro.
Cunegonde: Oh, what torture! Oh, what pain!
Candide: Holland, Portugal, and Spain!

– I would do it all again
– to find you at last.
Both: Reunited after so much pain.
– But the pain is past.

Candide: We are one again.
Cunegonde: We are one at last

It’s funny, and sweet, and passionate, and absurdly naive, all at once. The thing is, churches are forever persecuting heretics and rulers are forever seeking power and riches by going to war. In the midst of endless carnage, Candide and Cunegonde just want to let their garden grow (that’s the finale of the show). Maybe they’ll plant carrots and peas, hoping that their vegetables will not be flattened by the machines of war and incinerated by the torches of the true believers. If you are a prayerful person, you should pray for them. For them, and more pressingly, for the Ukrainian people.

Footnote. Earlier postings on numbers from the show:

— in my 1/16/17 posting “I won’t even mention the auto-da-fé”: “What a Day for an Auto-da-Fé”

— in my 7/18/21 posting “Between the glutes”: “I Am Easily Assimilated”

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