We are pointer people. But we’re not dog nuts, not into the whole eugenics and breeding thing. Nonetheless, I have to do a favor for Debbie on Friday morning by driving 16 month-old Eloise to the SVDFA—that would be the Sacramento Valley Dog Fanciers Association—in Dixon, California. Wondering if Boulez has ever been to a dog show, I leave early in the morning with Eloise sound asleep on the back seat and a bag of pricey dog food in the trunk. Commute freeway traffic is at its usual lethal prestissimo, SUV’s and Toyota Tacomas threading themselves in and out of the four lanes with the fiendish alacrity of a video game. I listen on my iPod to Wednesday’s Italian lesson, blushing in embarrassment at the sound of my own voice struggling with a sentence “A volte la politica si infila in un paio di scarpe.” (“Sometimes politics insert itself into a pair of shoes.”) Where the hell did that come from, and why am I memorizing it? Speaking three foreign languages incompetently I am now enthusiastically adding a fourth one to cheerfully abuse.
Dixon is Flat Earth country, in the middle of the vast Central Valley about five miles to the east of the much-travelled Route 80. I turn off the big road and point the car east along an absolutely straight two-lane country road that goes through acres and acres of farmland. Less than a mile off the freeway is a lonely sight, the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery, a military cemetery stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Not a tree or a even a shrub to protect the graves from what in the summer is a pitiless sunlight that daily grills the landscape at temperatures well over 100 degrees. The gravestones are planted absurdly close to each other like the stalks in the crowded fields of corn in the distance. Along the perimeter are several clusters of Port-a-Potties. The whole sight has the lugubrious look of a corporate enterprize run on the cheap. But I look at the rows and rows of simple white graves and my mind tries to take in the histories they embrace-doubtless mostly Hispanic lives, young guys who died in Iraq or maybe Vietnam. Or maybe even older vets, many of whose lives upon returning from the service were spent living in tiny towns in the West.
The road bumps over a railway crossing. In the middle of utter flatness, with visibility stretching for miles in every direction there is a stop sign. I pull to a full stop. Years of driving country roads have taught me to do things right.
Finally the Dixon May Fairgrounds looms into sight over the horizon. Hundreds of dog breeders move around the state competing on an almost weekly basis. It’s a business. Get your ribbons and then you can sell a litter for a thousand bucks or more per pup. Dog people, like their dogs, come in all shapes and sizes, but the general size tends to be extra large. A common sight is a 250 pound man or woman dressed in a suit (nylons and flat pumps if a woman; jacket and necktie if a man) galumphing around the ring holding a leash to which is attached a frequently miniscule animal.
After walking all around through a maze of a thousand or more owners and their creatures I deliver Eloise over to Josh, who is going to give her some “tough love” for the weekend and show her on Sunday. Josh and his wife are living out of their Winnebago, and they’ve got it surrounded with dog cages. He’s a professional handler, and today, although we’re out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but cornfields in sight, he is dressed in a suit and tie. He’s just finished showing a dog and his face is covered with sweat. A very friendly guy, he calls me “sir” all the time, which makes me mildly uncomfortable. “She’ll do well in the ring, sir, once she gets to know me. My wife is a behavorial psychologist and knows how to get inside a dog’s head, sir.”
I’m grateful to hand over Eloise because I’m outta baggies, and I am deathly afraid she’s going to do another poop in front of hundreds of professional dog people. See you on Sunday!
On the way back I get sick of listening to my stupid errors in Italian and I scroll the iPod, dangerous business on Interstate 80 with cars screaming by at 90 mph. I settle on Mitsuko Uchida playing the Hammerklavier Sonata fugue. The day before I’d been reading “On Late Style” by Edward Said. I was feeling that Said was much too enthralled with Adorno, much too willing to be dazzled by the “logos” and grim vision of his apocalyptic aesthetics, and I wondered if listening to the Hammerhead would change my opinion. Did this represent “intransigence, difficulty and unresolved contradiction,…a sort of deliberately unproductive productiveness…a moment when the artist who is fully in command of his medium nevertheless abandons communication with the established social order of which it is a part and achieves a contradictory, alienating relationship with it”?
The fugue is preceded by one of the strangest moments in all of Beethoven, a non-sequiter sequence of fantastic gestures, flamboyant, improvisational, pounding, knocking, nervously twitching. It’s a set-up of course, a moment of totally subjective fantasy that throws into sharp relief the music that follows, the maniacal rigor of the fugue itself. The fugue doesn’t so much “begin” as it is “sprung” or “launched.” Has there ever been a pianist who, at this very moment, didn’t have his or her heart pounding and ready to jump out of the mouth and onto the floor beside the piano bench and lie there throbbing?
And it goes, piling up these dizzying ascents and descents of manic semiquavers, chains of buzzing trills and thumping, pounding motives, all charging forth, some chopped into fragments and spewed forth, upside down or backwards, making a glorious cacaphony. And it is cacaphony, albeit tonal. Is this “polyphonic objectivity” as opposed to “harmonic subjectivity?”
As a huge semi emblazoned with “Sacramento Meat Packers, Inc.” zooms past me in the far left lane I think to myself that Beethoven in this fugue is saying “you wanna talk about technique? OK, here’s technique. Don’t fuck with me, wimpface.” Indeed, sir.
Copyright © 2010 by John Adams
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