Modest Proposals

The reasonable time for talking about grandchildren is 10 minutes. Keep it to that and you have a no-lose situation.


The reasonable time for talking about grandchildren is 10 minutes. Keep it to that and you have a no-lose situation. Grandma is glowing. A person who has no grandchildren goes away thinking, “Thank God I don’t have brats like that in my life”. The moment to draw the line is when grandma starts claiming that the four-year-old shows signs of becoming an astrophysicist or a surgeon (mind the cat). Then you can reasonably bring the conversation back to earth. It’s easy. Just say, “In our day, children did… or didn’t…” and the conversation is mutual again. The reasonable time for a Sad Story … it’s hard to be dogmatic. You must listen to every detail if the sad story is about your friend or someone close to her or him. But if it’s gruesome for gruesome’s sake and concerns someone you have never heard of, and indeed, the teller may not have met for 30 years, then stop it right there. The acceptable thing is to say: “This wine is very nice. Where did you get it? Let’s have some more and be happy.” Oh, listen to me, making rules! I am not taking the high moral (or immoral) ground here. We all talk too much about such situations. Suffering becomes tellable because it means we are still alive and fairly well. But there are better ways to rejoice in one’s (temporary) immunity from disaster. Old age is full of revelations. Sometimes we need to go back to the old conventions. For example, when we were young, people said, “How do you do?” and the only acceptable answer was to say “How do you do?” back. These days people actually tell you how they do, and some of it is really boring. If people ask how you are and you think they would not understand you saying just “How are you?” back, then just say “Can’t complain,” and see the relief on their faces. Just one more thing before I get off my high horse: don’t react when young people say they are laying down. We know they mean lying, but to say so only confuses the poor things. Don’t even think of mentioning verbs agreeing with subjects. You will get locked up. I fear the idea of offshore care for old people. It is in the tradition of Swift’s A Modest Proposal, but not yet spoken of freely. Not so far as I know. But if the thought hasn’t entered the heads of our politicians, why is it that I can imagine so clearly the spin they would put on it? ****** In the ‘70s and early ‘80s, some arts incomers from the UK and Europe thought that Adelaide had everything to learn. They got away with saying that Adelaide was a little town on the way to nowhere and that Adelaide women didn’t know how to dress. They thought we needed their lofty northern hemisphere know- how. We needed some of it, for sure, but how insufferable some of these men were. Not so Myer Fredman, who came from Glyndebourne to Adelaide to be the musical director of The State Opera of South Australia. He had liked what he had seen and heard here. And he wanted to build on it and eventually sign off saying, “THAT was worth doing.” Myer died last month in Hobart, after a career that must have satisfied him as it pleased others. I liked him enormously. For a start he didn’t ask me to call him “Maestro”. Another conductor I interviewed about that time sent his man to ask me to do this. (I can tell you that in the late ‘70s I was in no mood to call any man maestro.) Myer was not into that. He gave me a long interview that I am still quite pleased with because it explains what conducting an orchestra means and a great deal about his approach to helping a new company in this city he had chosen for his post-Glyndebourne career. “Musicians,” he said, “who ignore theatre are ignoring the real meaning of music”. And, “we should treat all new music as though it were old and all old music as though it were new.” I hope, when the news of his death at age 82 reached Adelaide, that people were moved by memories of programmes he gave us, including the Australian premieres of Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage and Britten’s Death in Venice. He made several world premiere recordings and wrote a book about the role of the conductor in Mozart’s operas. The Italian Government gave him an award. Why didn’t we? One little memory I have is of a picnic in his time when the opera company sang happy birthday to my four-year-old son, but the significant memory is of a nice man who made a gift to Adelaide of his great talents at an important time, rather than become one of the jet set boys of the baton. If you want to read more about the beginnings of opera in South Australia, Elizabeth Silsbury’s State of Opera (Wakefield Press, 2001) is a readable, musician’s history, with the gossipy stories left in. @mollyfisher4

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