IMO: Vivaldi’s Winter, The Four Seasons

Except for a small lamp, I am sitting in the dark and face the computer screen. It is four in the morning. I’m grading college English composition papers where students compared and contrasted Ulysses S. Grant to Robert E. Lee. After the fifteenth one, my mind wandered and entered that zone where it splits–one side hears music while the other grades. I lose myself. On Pandora, Vivaldi’s “Winter” from Four Seasons begins.

It occurred to me that it has been twenty years since I last listened to Vivaldi’s “Winter.” It was four in the morning. I lived in the wasteland of Illinois during winter. Icy, bitter below-zero cold. The stars flickered, the air crackled, and the sun rose and changed the black into a powder blue sky. The sun teased, but the hope of warmth would not come that day.

I drove ninety minutes from my hometown to Illinois State University. My teenage kids still slept. They would get themselves up and eat breakfast and cross the street to school without my orchestration. Excited was I to be in college, and I fell in love with academia. I was in my thirties at the time and amazed by how little I knew about everything–history, literature, classical music, art, architecture, foreign languages, philosophy, and geography. I was starving and ate it up.

There is nothing to look at during the winter in central Illinois. The corn fields have been harvested. The expanse and flatness and dingy colors combined with the cold temperatures–well, that’s why I live in Arizona now. Two decades ago, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons played in the car. The first cup of coffee had worn off, and I was in that lull where one part of me heard the music while another part drove.

How wonderful then, today at four in the morning, that a time warp occurred. “Winter” by Vivaldi began on Pandora and triggered that long ride to campus. I was that non-traditional student traveling distances to learn. This morning, I am the instructor on the other side of the desk, that is, the other side of the computer who grades the paper I once wrote. Tied by Vivaldi, the music became a mirror, and I sat on both sides and said “Hello.”

Thomas Hardy and Pints at The Wiseman

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In 1996, I studied Thomas Hardy (Tess of the d’Urbervilles) in Dorset County, England for six weeks during the summer.  Dr. Morgan, an Illinois State University professor, was a Hardy Scholar and for over 20 years, he took students to this south-central slice of heaven. Before his retirement, I signed up for the graduate English course as one of a group of twelve. An Elizabethan summer home was converted into an Agricultural College and while students were out for the summer, our group used their dorm rooms and facilities.

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The upside to the incessant rain in June provided lush gardens for us to enjoy in July. img-216113732img-216113732

During the day, the gazebo at the top of this croquet garden was the perfect spot for reading Thomas Hardy’s books and poetry. At night, it was the perfect confessional for heart-to-heart talks under the stars.  Thomas Hardy lived in and loved Dorset County so much, he set his novels about the county, but changed the names of the towns and hamlets to fictional ones. For his most famous novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, our time in the Elizabethan mansion was a location spot, too. Hardy’s satirical story of Tess was a sad one. She was a milkmaid who was raped, loved and lost her man Angel. She became a mistress and a murderess. The double-standard of the Victorian female purity makes Tess a significant British novel.

For each of Hardy’s novels, we journeyed to the exact location of the plot and read it there. One such spot was Stonehenge. When I first visited Stonehenge in the late 70s, you could walk in and around and hug the stones, if you wanted. By the time I was last there in 1996, they had roped off the area due to vandalism. Imagine spray-painting one of the druid stones. Blasphemy! Now all one can do is walk around them from afar. If getting close to rocks is your thing, head up north to the other end of the island and take a ferry to the Orkney and Shetland Islands and you can dance around ancient rocks all day long.

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One spot (above) in Tess of the d’Urbervilles is the Sandbourne seaside resort area. Very close by is Lulworth Cove where a person can hike the trails for hundreds of miles along the southern coast. When I return to the area someday, I imagine hiking all day, followed by pints in the evening and a night in a B & B. What a great way to spend a summer in England, I daydream. Here are some of my favorite shots that I took.

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Speaking of pints, I love English pubs, especially thatched ones. When class was over for the day and we exhausted every angle of analyzing Tess, a small group of us would head off a mile away for evening mingling with the locals at The Wise Man Inn.

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Tuesdays were dart night. The league was getting ready to begin when a few of the men from the village had not shown up. There was a grandfatherly type who ran the show and he asked our table of six girls if anyone wanted to fill in. It just so happened I was a pretty good dart player; I had lots of practice when I lived in Scotland while stationed in the Navy.

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Feeling merry from the lager, I stood at the line, facing the board and wondered where to throw. UK dart players can count backward from 301 and reach zero a lot faster than I can, and the experienced dart players in a league liked to play quickly. It was our turn, and we had 103 points remaining to win the game. My partner, the old gentleman who’d been playing for sixty years, stood next to my ear and whispered where I was to throw the darts. “Triple 20.” Pling!  He whispered again, “Triple 13.” It was like he was in my mind talking to my hand. Perfect. Finally, he said, “Double two.”  Ha! We won the game, and everyone clapped. It was one of my finer moments.

“The Voice”

By Thomas Hardy

 

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

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