my favorite things
2. Qawwali performers: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Sabri Brothers, and try this French collection of Qawwali music.
3. Author/novel: Daniyal Mueenuddin, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders. I am not sure why this book isn’t better known. It is better than even the average of the better half of the Booker Prize winners. Why doesn’t he write more?
4. Dish: Haleem: “Haleem is made of wheat, barley, meat (usually minced beef or mutton (goat meat or Lamb and mutton) or chicken), lentils and spices, sometimes rice is also used. This dish is slow cooked for seven to eight hours, which results in a paste-like consistency, blending the flavors of spices, meat, barley and wheat.”
6. Economic reformer: Manmohan Singh.
7. Economist: Atif Mian, born in Nigeria to a Pakistani family.
8. Textiles: Wedding carpets from Sindh?
I don’t follow cricket, sorry!
1. Favorite playwright: Carlo Goldoni, eighteenth century, best if you can see one rather than try to read it.
2. Play, set in: William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice. Read it carefully and repeatedly, it is far subtler on issues of racism and prejudice than you might have been expecting.
3. Opera, set in: Verdi’s Otello (James Levine recording). Even as a dramatic work I (perhaps oddly) prefer this to Shakespeare’s play.
4. Memoir, set in: Casanova, though I suggest you read an abridged edition. I strongly recommend reading Marco Polo as well, though I am not sure that counts as a “memoir.”
5. Short story, set in: Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice.” But a close runner-up is Henry James, “The Aspern Papers.”
Are you getting the picture? Venice has inspired numerous major writers and artists. However I don’t love John Ruskin on Venice.
6. Painting: Ah! Where to start? I’ll opt for Giorgione’s The Tempest, or any number of late Titian works. And there are so many runners-up, starting with Veronese, Tintoretto, the Bellinis, and later Tiepolo. Even a painter as good as Sebastiano del Piombo is pretty far down the list here. Canaletto bores me, though the technique is impressive.
8. Composer: I can’t quite bring myself to count Monteverdi as Venetian, so that leaves me with Luigi Nono and also Gabrieli and Albioni and Vivaldi, none of whom I enjoy listening to.
10. Photographer of: Derek Parfit, here are some images.
11. Movie, set in: I can recall the fun Casino Royale James Bond scene, but surely there is a better selection attached to a better movie. What might that be?
11. Maxim about: Pope Gregory XIII: “I am pope everywhere except in Venice.”
All in all, not bad for a city that nowadays has no more than 60,000 residents and was never especially large.
I’ll be there in a few days time.
1. Musician. I don’t love Steve Tyler/Aerosmith, so what am I left with?
2. Author: I find John Irving unreadable, so does it come down to Russell Banks? Who else is there? Salinger lived in New Hampshire for a long time, so I’ll pick him, though it is also pretty far from my favorite. Here is my Catcher in the Rye review.
3. Sculptor: August Saint-Gaudens.
“Law Supported by Power and Love”
5. Poet: Robert Frost, who seems to be clear winner for the whole state. There is a scholastic version of Frost which is quite dull, don’t be put off if that is all you know of him.
6. Movie director: Brian DePalma, Dressed to Kill and Mission to Mars being my favorites.
7. Painter: Maxfield Parrish. I feel I’m being forced into many of these choices — I simply can’t think of anyone else.
8. Secretary of the Treasury: Salmon P. Chase. Chase is one of the few people to have had a major position in the executive branch, served in Congress, and sat on the Supreme Court.
The bottom line: For all of my grumbling, for such a small state it does pretty well.
I am arrived in Baku! Here goes:
1. Chess player: Garry Kasparov. Maybe the greatest player of all time? He is not ethnic Azerbaijani, but grew up in Baku.
Teimour Radjabov. It is amazing for how long he has gotten away with playing the King’s Indian Defense at the highest levels of chess competition.
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Over the last year, he has had the best results of anyone in the chess world, including Carlsen. His forcing style resembles that of Kasparov.
Vugar Gashimov. He was pretty good too, passed away prematurely in 2014.
Cellist and conductor: Mstislav Rostropovich, born in Baku. His Bach Cello Suites are perhaps my favorite of all extant recordings. Here is one (different) YouTube version. As a conductor he was uneven, but capable of spectacular live performances of Shostakovich.
Philosopher: Max Black, also born in Baku. He edited Frege and worked on problems from Leibniz, such as the identity of indiscernibles.
Note that numbers 1, 5, 6, and 7 on this list were Jews who emigrated to America.
I am just arriving, and for the first time Here are my favorites:
1. Pianist: Emil Gilels, most of all for Beethoven and Chopin. Vladimir Horowitz was born in Kiev, he was often best in unusual pieces, such as Scriabin, Prokofiev, and John Philip Sousa. But there is also Cherkassy, Pachmann, Moiseiwitsch, Lhevinne, and others. Simon Barere was one of the greatest Liszt pianists. So we are into A++ territory here. But wait…Richter was born in Ukraine! My head is exploding now.
1b. Violinists: You’ve got Nathan Milstein, Mischa Elman, Isaac Stern, Leonid Kogan, the Oistrakhs, among others, with Milstein’s Bach recordings as my favorite.
2. Composer: Prokofiev was born in eastern Ukraine (or is it now Russia again?), but somehow I don’t feel he counts. Valentin Sylvestrov would be an alternative.
3. Novelist: One choice would be Nikolai Gogol, then Mikhail Bulgakov, born in Kiev but ethnically Russian. But I can’t say I love Master and Margarita; it is probably much better and funnier in the original Russian. His The White Guard is a more directly Ukrainian novel, and it should be better known. A Country Doctor’s Notebook is perhaps my favorite by him. For short stories there is Isaac Babel. Joseph Conrad was born in modern-day Ukraine, though I don’t feel he counts as Ukrainian, same with Stanislaw Lem. Vassily Grossman is a toss-up in terms of origin. The Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, now very much in fashion, was born in Ukraine.
4. Movie: Alexander Dovzhenko’s Earth, a 1930 take on agricultural collectivization. With Dovshenko as my favorite director.
5. Movie, set in: Man With a Movie Camera. It is remarkable how fresh and innovative this 1929 silent film still is.
6. Painter: David Burliuk, leader of the Ukrainian avant-garde and later member of the Blue Rider group. Ilya Repin was born in modern-day Ukraine, though he feels “Russian” to me in the historical sense.
7. Sculptor: Alexander Archipenko was born in Ukraine, though he ended up in America.
8. Economist: Ludwig von Mises. He was born on territory near current-day Lviv, part of Ukraine.
9. Actress: Milla Jovovich is pretty good in The Fifth Element and Resident Evil.
10. Tech entrepreneur: Max Levchin.
11. Israeli: There is Golda Meir, Natan Sharansky, and Simon Wiesenthal, among others.
Other: Wilhelm Reich deserves mention, though I’m not really a fan. The region produced a few good chess players too.
Overall, this is a stunningly impressive list, though there are legitimate questions as to who and what exactly counts as Ukrainian. They’re still trying to sort that one out, which is part of the problem.
No, I am not there now, but Adam D. emails me and requests this, so here goes:
1. Novel: Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, all about identity and erotic guilt. Next in line would be any number of Isaac Singer novels, I don’t have a favorite offhand. Soon I will try The Family Moskat. Gombrowicz is probably wonderful, but I don’t find that it works for me in translation. Quo Vadis left me cold.
2. Chopin works: The Preludes, there are many fine versions, and then the Ballades. The Etudes excite me the most, the Mazurkas and piano sonatas #2 and #3 are most likely to surprise me at current margins of listening. I find it remarkable how I never tire of Chopin, in spite of his relatively slight output.
3. Painter: This one isn’t as easy as it ought to be.
5. Political thinker: Czesław Miłosz, The Captive Mind, about the capitulations of artists to communism, though subtler than just an anti-state polemic. He once stated: ” I have never been a political writer and I worked hard to destroy this image of myself.” I do not feel I can judge his poetry, though last year’s biography of him was a good book.
8. Movie: Any of the Andrzej Wajda classics would do, maybe start with Kanal or Ashes and Diamonds. More recently I would opt for Ida. I like Kieślowski’s TV more than his films, and prefer Hollywood Polanski to Polish Polanski.
10. Jazz musician: Trumpeter Tomasz Stańko.
11. Economists: There is Kalecki, Hurwicz, the now-underrated Oskar Lange (doesn’t Singaporean health care work fine?), and Victor Zarnowitz. I had thought Mises was born in Poland, but upon checking it turned out to be Ukraine.
Overall the big puzzle is why there isn’t more prominence in painting, given Poland’s centrality in European history.
Let’s cut to the chase:
1. Symphonies #1, 5, and 7 are dominated assets, the latter two being too sprawling. #8 is meant to be seen live, and #10 isn’t Mahler’s finished version. #4 is attractive, but somewhat lightweight.
2. #2 requires a very good recording, my favorite is Stokowski with the London Symphony Orchestra, even though he changes the score. If you can’t find that, try Abbado or Levine, both of those two being good default choices for Mahler. Those two conductors are also good choices for #3, another symphony in the Mahler pantheon.
3. #6 is the most nerve-wracking and insane and requiring of full volume. I’m still looking for the perfect recording of that one, sometimes I like Barbirolli.
4. #9 is the best music, I recommend von Karajan.
5. Pierre Boulez offers an alternative perspective on any of these symphonies, plus he has one of the very best Das Lied von der Erde recordings, that song cycle being part of the canon of essential Mahler works.
6. The quality of your listening conditions is especially important for Mahler. And during any listen a) try to spot the Austrian folk tunes, and b) think of Mahler as one of the greatest opera conductors, including for Mozart, of his time.
7. A short piano piece by Mozart, as a palate cleaner, sounds especially good after a Mahler symphony.
That’s what you need to know.
There’s no point in doing a complete survey, but here are a few observations and suggestions:
1. I am not intrigued by much Mozart written before K330 or so. Piano Concerto #9 is one exception to this. But Toscanini was right to claim that too much of it sounds the same.
2. The string quintets are the best Mozart pieces you might not know, but skip K174.
3. The string quartets and Requiem might be the most overrated Mozart, though the latter would be wonderful if he could have finished it. It is better to listen to the fragmented version, without the artificial Süssmayr ending.
4. The Milos Forman Mozart movie is worth a viewing, if you don’t already know it. I thought I would hate it, but didn’t. Don’t try to learn history from it, however.
6. The operas reign supreme. Try Currentzis or Colin Davis for Don Giovanni, Haitink or Klemperer for The Magic Flute, Boehm for Cosi Fan Tutte, Giulini for Figaro, and Rene Jacobs for Idomeneo. I don’t know of a definitive version of Abduction from the Seraglio, but Beecham and Krips are good and Harnoncourt does the overture best, as he never lets up on the rambunctious in it. If I had to choose the operas, or all the rest of Mozart put together, I would go for the operas.
Too many people think of him as ordinary and earthy, compared to Mozart or Beethoven. Yet he composed amazing amounts of pathbreaking, first-rate music, and it wears remarkably well upon repeated listenings.
My approach to Haydn is pretty simple:
1. Some of the early piano music is boring, but a simple availability metric will point you to the best material. The deepest are the six last sonatas, and most well-known performances are quite good. Ax, McCabe, Kalish, Richter, and Brendel are among the first choices, Jando (Naxos) and Buchbinder are good enough to listen to but not preferred. By the way, piano > pianoforte, there was no great stagnation.
2. Listen to as many of the string quartets as you can, with preference given to Opus 76. On average, the later opus numbers are better, yet Op.9 and Op.20 still are worthwhile.
3. Listen to the London Symphonies. Again and again. All of them, Dorati being one option for conductor.
That’s hardly the only wonderful Haydn, but those are the pieces that work best through recordings. See the choral and vocal music live. Most of the concerti bore me, as do the piano trios. Many of the earlier symphonies are good, including the Paris set and the “Sturm und Drang” period, but unless you have lots and lots of time I say focus on the London ones for now.
As the years or decades pass, you will realize you have been underrating Haydn.
Yes, I am in Vienna, but I will take this country in discrete chunks because the contributions are so significant. Today is literature, here are a few remarks:
1. Thomas Bernhard. One of the very best post-war writers, obsessive and funny and extremely neurotic. The Loser [Der Untegeher] is the one that works best in English, though his unique style is not at its most fevered pitch. Wittgensteins Neffe [Wittgenstein’s Nephew] is my favorite, one of the smartest and funniest novels I know, close to perfect. Das Kalkwerk is entrancing, though I suspect unreadable in English. He remains grossly underrated in the English-speaking world, mostly for linguistic reasons but also he is a rebellion against the idea of a culture of entertainment. In my personal canon he is one of the more significant writers.
2. Hermann Broch. Death of Virgil is a 20th century classic, again much under-read amongst the American educated classes. Die Schlafwandler [The Sleepwalkers] is impressive, and perhaps seen as his major work, but it is more uneven in quality and eventually it falls apart.
3. Robert Musil. There are wonderful and historically significant major passages in The Man Without Qualities, but the drama loses its interest, the loose ends are not tied up, and ultimately I will call him overrated, especially compared to Bernhard or Broch.
4. Peter Handke. In German only, I say, and in any case not my taste. He is serious about politics in exactly the wrong way, and I hope future generations reject him.
5. Elfriede Jelinek. Many were surprised when she won the 2014 Nobel Prize in literature, and you are most likely to know her for writing the book behind the movie The Piano Teacher. Like Wagner, you could say her work is “better than it sounds,” but still it doesn’t sound that good. I find it irritating and offensive, plus she is a communist. Nonetheless, irritating fiction is better than boring fiction, see “Günter Wilhelm Grass.”
6. Karl Kraus. I used to think his work would eventually “come together” for me, but the more of it I read, and the more I read about him, I conclude he is a figure of historic interest only, and a good aphorist, but not an enduring literary artist. He was a keen satirist of the mores and totalitarian tendencies of his time, and that is to be appreciated. But if you try reading the rambling 500-page The Last Days of Mankind, in either English or German, you will conclude it was a work of its time only.
8. Christoph Ransmayr. He is popular in contemporary Austrian literature. I was not convinced, but will try again, if you love The Last World let me know.
9. Heimito von Doderer — I have not yet read him but am hopeful.
9b. Ingeborg Bachmann. I just bought some this morning.
10. Johann Nestroy. From the Enlightenment, mostly a playwright, worth spending some time with to get a perspective on Austrian literature before the 20th century.
11. Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Wittgenstein are both often best read as literature.
12. Stefan Zweig. The World of Yesterday is a favorite, sad and bittersweet, and it treats the European civilization that was passing away at the time of the Second World War, still relevant. Zweig committed suicide in Brazil, here is an excellent biography. The rest of his fiction still is read around much of the world (not so much America, famously in Russia), but I find it pretty ordinary and of its time.
I’m not counting Canetti, Kafka, and the like, who are not properly Austrian, though they lived in the Empire. Rilke does not count either, though he is one of the greatest of poets. Joseph Roth was born in Galicia, yet I think of him as an Austrian rather than Polish writer, again still somewhat neglected in the English-speaking world. Try Radetzky March. Franz Werfel I find ordinary, though I have not yet read Forty Days of Musa Dagh, for some his masterpiece, I did buy a copy of that one recently.
The bottom line: There are amazing wonders here, and yes “weird stuff.” Most of the educated people I know are not clued into them.
I am in Delaware only briefly. I have not covered the state before, so here are some of my picks:
1. Chemicals manufacturer: I think that one has to go to the Duponts, I enjoyed the Gerard Zilg biography of the Dupont family and history.
2. Economic historian: Alfred Chandler.
3. Monetarist who studied policy instruments and uncertainty: William Poole.
4. Semi-libertarian journalist: Dave Weigel.
Hmm…music? I don’t like George Thorogood. A quality novelist? How about a painter or sculptor? Some big time NBA star? Biden is my favorite of Obama’s VPs. It is claimed that the movie Fight Club is set in Delaware. So many special dishes too, in the local cuisine.
The bottom line: Small wonder it is!
The last time I was in Ireland I wasn’t blogging yet. What riches lie here, let’s give it a start:
1. Poetry: I pick Joyce’s Ulysses, then Yeats and also Seamus Heaney, especially if the word “bog” appears in the poem. A good collection is The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry, edited by Patrick Crotty. Beyond the ranks of the super-famous, you might try Louis MacNeice, from the Auden Group, or perhaps Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, who writes in Gaelic but has been translated by other superb Irish poets into English..
2. Novel/literature: Jonathan Swift: Gulliver’s Travels. One of the very very best books for social science too, and one of my favorite books period. After Joyce, there is also Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Lord Dunsany, John Banville (The Untouchable), William Trevor, and Elizabeth Bowen. Iris Murdoch was born in Ireland, but does she count? More recently I have enjoyed Anne Enright, Colm Tóibín, Eimear McBride, Claire Louise-Bennett, with Mike McCormack in my pile to read soon. Roddy Doyle is probably good, but I don’t find him so readable. Colum McCann somehow isn’t Irish enough for me, but many enjoy his work. Can the Anglo-Irish Oliver Goldsmith count? His Citizen of the World remains a neglected work. The recently published volumes of Samuel Beckett’s correspondence have received rave reviews and I hope to read through them this summer. Whew! And for a country of such a small population.
3. Classical music: Hmm…we hit a roadblock here. I don’t love John Field, so I have to call this category a fail. I can’t offhand think of many first-rate Irish classical performers, can you? James Galway?
4. Popular music: My Bloody Valentine, Loveless. Certainly my favorite album post-1970s, and possibly my favorite of all time. When the Irish do something well, they do it really really well. Then there is Van Morrison, Them, Bono and U2, Rory Gallagher, Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats, The Pogues, The Cranberries, and Sinead O’Connor, among others. I confess to having an inordinate weakness for Gilbert O’Sullivan. Traditional Irish music would need a post of its own, but it has never commanded much of my attention.
5. Painter: Francis Bacon is the obvious and probably correct choice, but I am no longer excited to see his work. I don’t find myself seeing new things in it. Sean Scully wins runner-up. This is a slightly weak category, at least relative to some of the others.
6. Political philosopher: Edmund Burke, who looks better all the time, I am sorry to say.
8. Classical economist: Mountifort Longfield and Isaac Butt both had better understandings of supply and demand and marginalism, before the marginal revolution, than almost any other economists except for a few of the French.
9. Theologian: C.S. Lewis, you could list him under fiction as well. Here is a debate over whether he is British or Irish. Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia covers Lewis, one of my favorite books from the last decade.
10. Silicon Valley entrepreneur: Patrick Collison (duh), of Stripe and Atlas, here is his superb podcast with Ezra Klein. Here is further information on the pathbreaking Stripe Atlas project.
11. Movie: There are plenty I don’t like so much, such as My Left Foot, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Waking Ned, and The Commitments. Most people consider those pretty good. I think I’ll opt for The Crying Game and also In the Name of the Father.
12: Movie, set in: Other than the movies listed above, there is Odd Man Out (quite good), The Quiet Man, and The Secret of Roan Inish, but my clear first choice is the still-underrated masterpiece Barry Lyndon.
The bottom line: The strengths are quite amazing, and that’s without adjusting for population.
Yup, I’m here. I made this list before setting off:
1. Popular music: Few from any country come close to Fela Kuti, the main question is how many you should buy, not which ones. Most of them! On the CD medium, that old series of “two albums on one CD” was the best way to consume Fela. On streaming, you can probably just let it rip. And rip. And rip. Other favorites are King Sunny Ade and I.K. Dairo, I don’t love Fema Kuti. You also might try Nigerian psychedelic funk rock from the late 60s and early 70s, for instance found here. Most of all, there are thousands of wonderful local performers in Nigeria, you can watch a few of them on the Netflix documentary on the Nigerian music scene, titled Konkombe, recommended and only an hour long.
There is now a good deal of hit Nigerian and Nigerian-American music, such as Wizkid. It is enjoyable but does not compare to Fela in terms of staying power.
2. Basketball player: The Dream is one of my three or four favorite players of all time. My favorite Hakeem was watching him pick apart David Robinson play after play after play…see the final clip on the immediately preceding link.
3. Novel: Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. Honorable mentions go to Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri, and my colleague Helon Habila. There are also the Nigerian-American writers, such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Teju Cole is worth reading, including his non-fiction.
4. Movie: Well, I’ve seen parts of some of them, and you should at least sample some Nollywood if you haven’t already. It’s kinetic. The documentary “Nollywood Babylon” (Netflix) gives you some background. As for “Movie, set in,” I draw a blank. “Album, set in and recorded in” would be Band on the Run, Paul McCartney and Wings.
5. Actor: Chiwetal Ejiofor, he starred in “Twelve Years a Slave,” and is from a Nigerian family in Britain.
6. Presidential name: Goodluck Jonathan.
7. Artist: Prince Twins Seven Seven, or more formally Prince Taiwo Olaniyi Wyewale-Toyeje Oyekale Osuntoki. He received his nickname because he was the only surviving child from seven distinct sets of twins.
8. Food dish: At least for now I have to say jollof rice, a precursor dish to jambalaya, further reports to come however!
The bottom line: Lots of talent here, plenty more on the way.
It has been suggested to me that perhaps North Dakota is the most obscure state in the Union. Maybe so! Let’s take a look:
1. Author: William Gass would be a possible pick, but I do not enjoy his work. Same with Louis L’Amour.
2. Humorist: Chuck Klosterman.
3. Sociologist of religion: Rodney Stark.
4. Painter: Clifford Styll is the obvious pick, except I don’t much like his work. If you were wondering, he dominates so many rooms in American museums because of restrictions placed on grants of his paintings from the artist’s own collection. I suspect some curators have come to resent this, but often the grants were made propitiously near the peak of Styll’s reputation. I suppose I’ll opt for James Rosenquist, although I am not a huge fan of his work either.
5. Evening television bandleader and toastmaster: Lawrence Welk. I can’t even think of a clear runner-up, with or without bubbles; this video will show you why he was a favorite of so many.
6. Movie and TV show, set in: Fargo duh. Otherwise it is Man in the Wilderness, which was the original and in some ways superior source material for The Revenant.
7. Actress: Angie Dickinson comes to mind, Dressed to Kill is a good movie.
8. gdp per capita — That can set many things right, although 2016 may not be as good as was 2014.
The bottom line: Hm..but yet we must consider Delaware and Rhode Island!
Author: A variety of writers have lived in or passed through the state for a few years’ time, including Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Rice Burroughs. A few of Hemingway’s short stories I admire very much.
Poet: Ezra Pound, yes I know he left at age three. Still, he was from Idaho.
Native American sage and explorer: Sacagewea. Did you know that her portrait design on the dollar coin is not in the public domain?
Economist: Lant Pritchett was raised in Boise.
Popular music: Built to Spill.
Composer: La Monte Young, The Well-Tuned Piano is one of the better pieces of contemporary classical music, still highly underrated. Here is a two minute sample from what is more or less a five hour work.
Movie, set in: The only one I can think of is…My Private Idaho.
Other notables: Philo T. Farnsworth invented television, more or less, and he also worked on nuclear fusion.
The bottom line: Per capita, this isn’t bad, even if not much of it is associated with Idaho. I’ll have to look harder for the most obscure state. It might be Idaho, but it doesn’t deserve to be Idaho. So perhaps Delaware, Wyoming, and Rhode Island will come under the microscope soon.
I thank Roy LC, Marcus, and kb for essential pointers here.