Tag Archives: The Arts

Old Age No Longer Cause of Death

By Kary Vannice

In August of 2022, the World Health Organization took “old age” off the list of official causes of death. The council that reviews the International Classification of Diseases now recognizes the term, “aging-associated biological decline in intrinsic capacity,” in lieu of “old age.” There were various factors contributing to this reclassification, primary among them was that “old age” could be classified as “agism.”

Vitality, Life, Death

So, while many of the considerations in this debate were sociopolitical, the new terminology is actually more accurate from a physiological and medical standpoint. The true cause of death in cases such as these is indeed biological decline, the loss of vitality from the body’s organs and cells.

The word “vitality” is not something we give much thought to until we start getting older and experience loss of it. But what does “vitality” actually mean? The word vitality has its roots in Latin and means “vital life force,” or as others might define it, “energy,” something the modern western medical system doesn’t often consider when treating biological decline.

Western medicine is fantastic at diagnosing and treating the symptoms of illness and disease, but mostly fails to consider the energetic root cause. Alternative medicine, on the other hand, looks beyond the symptoms to identify and treat energetic imbalances that lead to the expression of symptoms.

Energy and Vibrational Therapy

Vibrational therapies are founded on the fundamental belief that the human body is not merely a collection of biological systems but a dynamic, interconnected matrix of energy and consciousness. From this perspective, health is seen as a state of balance and harmony within this energetic framework. When the body’s energy flows smoothly and harmoniously through its various pathways and centers, it is better equipped to combat illness and maintain vitality.

Vibrational medicine acknowledges the intricate interplay of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects in an individual’s well-being and provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and promoting better health and wellbeing.

And because energy practitioners delve beyond surface symptoms, into the unique energy patterns and imbalances of each person, they may offer more personalized care. This tailored approach not only fosters a deeper connection between the practitioner and the patient but also leads to more effective treatment plans that consider the individual’s specific needs.

And it’s no secret that many medical interventions come with a host of side effects. Vibrational therapies, on the other hand, offer a more non-invasive and low-risk approach, making them suitable options for individuals who seek treatments with fewer adverse effects or who may not respond favorably to conventional medical approaches.

Beyond merely addressing ailments, vibrational therapies aim to enhance overall well-being. Patients often report notable improvements in their energy levels, reduced stress, and a heightened sense of inner peace. This holistic well-being perspective resonates with those seeking more than just symptom relief but rather a deeper and more harmonious connection with their own vitality.

Extending the Range of Healing

Alternative therapies serve as a vital bridge between conventional and holistic healthcare approaches, providing patients with a more extensive range of healing modalities. With an understanding that physical health is deeply intertwined with energetic balance, embracing the concept of overall vitality and holistic well-being paves the way for exploring the diverse alternative healing options available in the Costa Chica of Oaxaca. In next month’s issue, I’ll be sharing several alternative healing options that are available in various communities along the picturesque Oaxacan coast.

Kary Vannice is an energetic healer who practices a form of vibrational medicine called The Body Code which restores balance, energetic flow, and well-being to the body. Find out more on her website – https://bookme.name/KaryVannice/

The Entrance to the Underworld Is Here in Oaxaca

By Brooke O’Connor

The entrance to the underworld is here in Oaxaca, and now we can prove it!

The Mitla Ruins: Home to Multiple Cultures

Approximately an hour’s drive from Oaxaca City is Mitla. The name Mitla comes from the Nahuatl word Mictlan, which means “underworld” or “place of rest” in Zapotec, a Nahuatl language still spoken widely in the region. The Zapotecs emerged from the agricultural communities of the central valleys of Oaxaca, building their capital at Monte Alban (approximately where the state capital, Oaxaca de Juárez, is now); the Zapotec civilization flourished at Monte Alban from about 500 BCE to 900 CE.

At that time, perhaps driven out by their neighbors to the west, the Mixtec, the Zapotecs created a new capital at Mitla. Mitla dates to about 100 CE, but may be much earlier; its earliest extant buildings are from about 450 CE. Its ruins are perfect examples of geometric stone architecture that tell stories of a culture steeped in tradition.

Mitla is considered the main religious center of pre-Hispanic culture in the area; both Zapotecs and Mixtecs frequented this “religious metropolis.” John M.D. Pohl, an archeologist at Cal State at LA, has written extensively on the paintings on doorway lintels at Mitla. His analysis has identified the creation tales of three distinct cultures: the eastern Nahua, the Mixtecs from Apoala, and the Zapotecs from Zaachila.

Eventually these cultures weakened in influence and came under the rule of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma. When the Spanish arrived in 1520, Moctezuma welcomed them to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), only to see virtually all of Mexico conquered and colonized within a year.

Mitla and the Spanish

Here’s where the plot thickens.

In 1552, after the conquest, Mitla was ordered to be destroyed, as were many indigenous religious centers. In 1590, Dominican missionaries began building the church of San Pablo Apóstol (St. Paul the Apostle) atop a platform left by the earlier demolition. They documented how, during construction, they had sealed off the entrances of a labyrinth beneath it.

Francisco de Burgoa, born in Oaxaca around 1600, had joined the Dominican order in 1629; he became a “chronicler,” or historian; in 1674 he wrote about Mitla in a broad-ranging geography that included the “Sito astronómico de esta Provincia de Predicadores de Antequera, Valle de Oaxaca” – the astronomical site of the Province of Preachers of Antequera (Oaxaca de Juárez) in the Valley of Oaxaca.

He described an extensive cavity in the earth at Mitla. When the missionaries went to explore, they found that

such was the corruption and bad smell, the dampness of the floor, and a cold wind which extinguished the lights, that at the little distance, they had already penetrated … they resolved to come out, and ordered this infernal gate to be thoroughly closed with masonry.

The Dominicans sealed all entrances to the tunnel network; the Zapotecs had called the labyrinth Lyobaa, or “place of rest” – i.e., the underworld.

The royal Zapotecs were said to have been buried in Mitla in cruciform graves that were directly beneath the flooring, according to a legend passed down to the Spanish. The Spanish further reported the existence of a Zapotec priest who resembled the Catholic Pope. He was known as the vuijatao, or “Great Seer.” People would travel from all across Oaxaca Valley to consult with the vuijatao, seeking prophecies, judicial opinions, and contact with their departed relatives. The vuijatao lived in what is now called the Group of Columns, where the burial chambers for the highest levels of royalty were located. Families would bring their mummified monarchs to be buried among the columns, where the vuijatao could speak with them.

Mitla’s multiethnic past demonstrates that holiness transcends cultural boundaries. What was formerly the residence of the Zapotec patron deities of death and the underworld is now the residence of twenty-one Catholic patron saints. Every year, the procession for Saint Paul begins within the ruins, with the bulk of the town present. Some locations never lose their sacred meaning.

What’s the Latest?

Now in late summer of 2023, we have some solid and scientific answers from Proyecto Lyobaa: Estudio geofisico del subsuelo en Mitla, Oaxaca (Project Lyobaa: Geophysical study of the subsoil at Mitla, Oaxaca). The project is a collaboration among the Mexican National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH), the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the Association for Archaeological Research and Exploration (ARX Project).

Results from Stage 1 of Project Lyobaa have been released. An archeological team used ground penetrating radar, electrical resistive tomography, and seismic noise tomography for non-intrusive visualization; they combined these results to produce a three-dimensional model of the underground. They discovered extensive rooms and passageways 5 to 8 meters (a bit more in yards) underneath the church of San Pablo, along with evidence of an ancient temple and a giant cavern, right underneath the main altar of the Catholic church.

According to The ARX Project report on the 2022 season of Project Lyobaa,

These findings will help rewrite the history of the origins of Mitla and its development as an ancient site, as well as providing valuable information for the management and prevention of seismic and geological risk in the area.

Stage 2 of Project Lyobaa has already begun; the schedule includes more geophysical scans in other groups of structures. Researchers will work to confirm the existence of further subterranean rooms and passageways, as well as to provide information to mitigate structural risks to the Mitla ruins.

Whenever burial sites like this are rediscovered, uncovered, or tampered with, it opens the imagination to another Hollywood blockbuster. Let’s hope the writers integrate modern Zapotecs and Mixtecs into not just the storyline for accuracy, but as the main actors in the movie.

Into The Stretch: Year-End 2023 Notable Novels

By Carole Reedy

Catch up on your reading now, because the last few months of this year are filled with new works from our favorite writers.

But who’s missing? Donna Tartt fans are combing the web in search of her next book. It seems she publishes one every ten years: 1992, The Secret History; 2002, The Little Friend; 2013, The Goldfinch. 2023? Tartt’s novels are long and lush with unforgettable plots that twist and turn. They always feature vivid characters and an imaginative writing style that captures the reader from the start. My search for her next work has been unsuccessful as of this writing.

In better news, here’s a selection of new books that have been published or will soon be during the second half of 2023. This list includes some of my favorite writers and, judging from your messages to me, yours too.

Provocatively, there are three books of short stories on this list. I consider myself and readers of this column literary novel admirers, but these brilliant collections just may just have turned my head.

Crook Manifesto: A Novel, by Colson Whitehead
Second book in the Harlem Trilogy

This is Whitehead’s second novel in his Harlem Trilogy. While you can enjoy Crook Manifesto on its own, for maximum pleasure take time to read Harlem Shuffle (2021) first. I like to call the Trilogy Whitehead’s love story to Harlem. This second novel takes place in 1976 as the bicentennial celebrations are in full swing. However, it’s business as usual for crooked politicians and the manipulation of the poor and disadvantaged by up-and-coming “wannabes.”

Ray Carney, everyone’s favorite furniture vendor, seems to find himself once again in the midst of the machinations of less-than-savory company, including a shady candidate for political office who is ironically actively supported by Ray’s wife Elizabeth. Ray’s family has a welcome presence in this second book, and we hope will again in the third.

Delightfully dark and mysterious characters, though tinted with affection, sprinkle the text. This is Whitehead’s magic: he gives us the harsh reality of Harlem from the inside out. He goes to the heart of the city, as well as to the heart of his characters, offering a glimpse into the soul of the ‘hood and the denizens who struggle there daily.

Zero-Sum: Stories, by Joyce Carol Oates
Despite more than 100 extant novels, short story collections, nonfiction books, and essays, Oates delivers every year new creations to equal and even surpass her past successes.

Oates is audacious and intrepid, conveying that which often goes unsaid. Her latest collection does just that with a wide range of characters, emotions, and settings in place and time.

The most memorable of these is a story called “The Suicide,” told from the point of view of the one attempting to commit it. He mesmerizes us with his confusion, determination, apprehension, and pain.

Three other stories especially will remain with us and even haunt our dreams. We who have experienced a pandemic now have visions of our future world. Oates delivers a triad of stories about the future years of our planet. Need I say more?

Cravings: Stories, by Garnett Kilberg Cohen
Garnett Cohen popped into my life several years when a Chicago friend gifted me her novella, How We Move the Air (2010). A collection of seven linked stories, it was an unusual and stunning read in many ways, leaving me craving (no pun intended) more from this author. Since then I’ve religiously read Cohen’s collections of short stories as well as her individual works published in a diverse range of magazines. I and my band of avid readers highly recommend her short story collection Swarm to Glory (2014).

Through the details of everyday life, Cohen opens up a character’s world. The slightest phrase evokes a flood of emotions. At one point I felt, “This author knows me; I feel this way too.” There is good variety in the selection of these stories: they’ll make you laugh, cry, or just sigh. Like Joyce Carol Oates, she can be dauntless, an admirable and necessary quality in a writer.

Thoughts of Proust and involuntary memory come to mind when reading these stories. From the end of “Hors d’oeuvres,” the first story: “Our memories travel with us over the years, popping up when least expected.” As an avid traveler, I love to think of my memories traveling with me, at home and abroad.

I would have liked to point to my favorite story from the collection, but I can’t. I admired them all, each in its own way.

Roman Stories, by Jhumpa Lahiri
Many of us were crushed a few years ago when Lahiri announced she was moving to Italy to write and publish her future books in Italian. This endeavor proved successful, and we’ve now been rewarded for our patience. Lahiri has created an homage, a collection of short stories where the main personage is the magical city of Rome. She wrote these stories in Italian and translated them to English with Knopf editor Todd Portnowitz.

Kirkus gives the collection a starred review, praising this new work from a veteran writer: “A brilliant return to the short story by an author of protean accomplishments … filled with intelligence and sorrow, these sharply drawn glimpses of Roman lives create an impressively unified effect.”

This is Lahiri’s first short story collection since she published Unaccustomed Earth in 2008.

It’s also appropriate to mention here Lahiri’s first novel written in Italian, which she then translated into English. Called Whereabouts (2021), it consists of 46 chapters, or rather entries into a diary, that are one woman’s reflections on her life. Highly praised by critics and a definite thumbs-up from me.

Baumgartener, by Paul Auster
One never knows what to expect from this icon whose repertoire over 38 years always surprises and never disappoints. His range of subject matter is vast, as are the style and breadth of his 18 novels.

This newest asks, “Why do we remember certain moments in our lives and not others?” The protagonist is a soon-to-be retired philosophy professor and phenomenologist. Auster’s prose takes us on a literary journey with characters Sy Baumgartner, his dead wife Anna, and his Polish-born father, a dressmaker and revolutionary.

This is his first novel since the extraordinary 4 3 2 1: A Novel was published in 2017.

Recently, Siri Hustvedt, Auster’s renowned philosopher/author wife, posted on Instagram that Auster is suffering from cancer and being treated with chemotherapy and infusions. As a fan since 1972, this news breaks my heart.

Day, by Michael Cunningham
It’s difficult to contemplate writer Michael Cunningham without conjuring up thoughts of an equally imposing author, the illustrious Virginia Woolf. Cunningham resurrected the memory of Virginia Woolf with his Pulitzer-winning novel The Hours: A Novel (2019). In The Hours, Cunningham relates moments in the life of Woolfe through three separate characters and stories. It is a tour de force that will haunt you long after you finish it.

In his newest novel, Cunningham takes us through three days (April 5 in 2019, 2020, and 2021) in the lives of a New York family.

The highest praise comes from another famous writer, Colum McCain (Let the Great World Spin, 2009) “Michael Cunningham crafts a glorious sentence, and at the same time he tells an achingly compelling story that speaks precisely to the times we live in. And it all flows so damn gorgeously that at times you just want to suspend the sacred day itself and hold it close, never let it, or the characters, go.”

The Bee Sting: A Novel, by Paul Murray
Rave reviews everywhere. Long waitlists at the library that include yours truly. The Los Angeles Times calls it a masterpiece, saying “it ought to cement Murray’s already high standing…it’s a triumph of realist fiction, a big, sprawling social novel in the vein of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. The agility with which Murray structures the narrative around the family at its heart is virtuosic and sure-footed, evidence of a writer at the height of his power deftly shifting perspectives, style and syntax to maximize emotional impact. Hilarious and sardonic, heartbreaking and beautiful.”

Plus a sneak preview …

March 2024
James, by Percival Everett
Move over Demon Copperhead, James is coming. Everett reworks Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884 in the UK, 1885 in the US) in this most anticipated novel. We’ll be eager to see if he can accomplish what Barbara Kingsolver was able to achieve in her brilliant and award-winning novel Demon Copperhead: A Novel (2022), which possesses the bones and heart of the beloved Dickens classic David Copperfield.

Percival Everett’s most recent books include Dr. No: A Novel (2022, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award), The Trees: A Novel (2021, finalist for the Booker Prize and the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award), and Telephone (2021, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize).

The Art of Portraying Food in Art

By Randy Jackson

I was interested to see a recent news story about a restored fresco from Pompeii depicting what the headline billed as an early version of pizza. The fresco shows a flatbread with toppings believed to include pomegranates, dates, and a type of pesto sauce. But what attracted my attention was not an interest in the history of pizza, or even the fascinating discoveries of daily Roman life frozen in time at 79 CE, but our ongoing interest in depicting food in art.

I trace this curiosity to a much younger version of myself wandering around art museums in Europe, and pondering why there were so many paintings of bowls of fruit. What, I wondered, was so great about that? In an attempt to answer that, and to hopefully develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of still-life painting, it helps to have some historical context of food in art.

The Meaning of Food in Art

When food is represented in any human artwork, it always conveys, or intends to convey, some meaning. Some of the earliest depictions of food appear in the Egyptian pyramids. These drawings were thought to hold magical properties that could enable the deceased to have food in the afterlife. Food as sustenance, and in the afterlife, you gotta eat, right?

Centuries later, the ancient Greeks and Romans painted food in their frescos of celebrations. Here, food was portrayed as symbols of wealth and abundance. One thing the Pompeii flatbread painting has taught us is that good quality food was not reserved solely for the elites. The everydayness of the meal, portrayed in the fresco of a house attached to a bakery in Pompeii, demonstrates that a much wider group than the elite enjoyed their meals, and had access to foods prepared, at least in part, for the pleasure of eating.

As European civilizations moved through the Middle Ages, the depictions of food in art no longer reflected food as celebratory, but rather as one of the regular features of daily life. Paintings of the period often showed food preparations for meals and feasts. Christianity was of course a central force running through the Middle Ages and food is an important symbol of devotional Christian practice (bread = the body, wine = the blood of Christ). Probably the best examples of this, in art, were the paintings of the Last Supper, where fish or lamb (both symbols of Christ) were conveyed along with wine and bread.

As European society gradually emerged into the Renaissance, food in art began to represent abundance. There was also a movement in paintings towards detailed realism. Scenes of butcher shops and kitchens (notably in the Italian Baroque) were common, although food did not yet serve as the centerpiece of a painting, often being shown as part of busy crowded scenes in the paintings of the time.

But the attention to detail for everything in the paintings, including the food, was greatly elevated from earlier paintings of the Middle Ages. While food remained a secular object, it was rarely painted without some Christian symbolism.

An interesting side note on food in art in the Renaissance is seen in the work of Italian painter Giuseppi Arcimboldo (1526-93). Arcimboldo’s work is recognizable today for its creative genius – he painted portraits entirely from fruits and vegetables. These food portraits were only part of Arcimboldo’s more conventional body of work; the portraits were understood to be for the amusement of the court (he was a painter for the Habsburg court in Vienna). Arcimboldo’s other paintings, including his religious paintings, have largely been forgotten in the context of better-known Renaissance paintings.

Food in Art in the Dutch Golden Age

The movement towards naturalism and detailed personal observation emerging in Renaissance art provided the underpinning for still-life genre paintings to emerge, culminating in the Dutch Golden Age of the 1600s.

The Dutch Golden Age is thought to cover a good portion of the 17th century. Spurred on by the wealth of overseas trade, the Netherlands emerged to lead Europe in the arts and sciences. Of note in this flourishing is the Dutch Reform movement that shifted the Netherlands away from Catholic-dominated Europe, which then led to independence from the Church in intellectual life, commerce, and the arts. In the Dutch Golden Age, wealth was largely held by the merchant class. As a result, decisions in all aspects of society reflected perspectives and interests different from those of the elites, royalty, or the church, which still shaped most of the rest of Europe. It was the wealthy merchant class who commissioned works of art. This, along with the Renaissance movement towards naturalism and observation of details, motivated Dutch artists to create the genre of still-life paintings.

Dead Game, Red Lobsters, and Bowls of Fruit

To my own youthful question about what is so great about paintings of bowls of fruit, the answer, somewhat clearer from the passing of years, is that attention to detail is a deepening of awareness. Artists can bring a greater awareness to us, the viewer, through their attention to detail and the reproduction of that detail on canvas of texture, light, shadows, and hues. This can, if we apply our own attention to the painting, bring a sense of marvel. Articulating many aspects of the beauty of Food in Art, I recommend the New York Times article titled “A Messy Table, A Map of the World” – an amazingly entertaining tutorial in understanding the social history of art.

Email: box95jackson@gmail.com.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“When we name an inanimate object, we are intentionally building a relationship, elevating it to a character in our lives. Not only do we feel closer to things that we name, but perhaps we name our things in order to feel closer to them.”
Kathryn Hymes in The Atlantic

Words. Where would we be without them? We marvel at a baby’s first words- usually little more than a gurgle, we learn the names of objects, we learn to read, we learn to manipulate and interpret their meanings and along the way we take them for granted, until the day when we start losing them one by one.

In translation, beyond word substitution, there are gaps of meaning within languages. We’ve all heard about how some tribes in the Arctic have 50 words for snow. There are other languages that have words that give more specific meaning to things, such as the German word Treppenwitz which translates to stairs (treppen) + wit- and means “the perfect retort that comes too late”, what you didn’t respond in the heat of the moment because you only thought of it while you were already leaving. I need at least seven English words to describe what this German word captures with one. By the way it’s a noun, in case you were wondering how to integrate it into your speech. German is full of amazing compound words like Lebensmüde, which means “life-tired”.

In Iceland they have Gluggaveður – which describes when the weather looks pleasant from your window, but is actually really cold and you need a jacket. Gluggaveður literally means “window-weather”.

One of my favorite words is the Japanese Komorebi, which refers to the scattered sunlight that filters through the leaves on the trees. So poetic and gentle feeling. What do you think… noun or adjective? If you are a native English speaker I bet you guessed it is an adjective because it feels so descriptive. It is actually a noun which makes it even cooler because it is a thing, it has form, it’s more than a description- it’s a slice of a moment and the Japanese have captured it with a word, naming it gives it heft.

This month our writers explore the naming of things. On the surface this topic feels flat but it is anything but. Naming is the first act bestowed upon us when we are born. Attaching words to things, people and emotions is how we find our place in the world and give form to our experiences. In fact, naming is such serious business that many countries have regulations regarding naming. In Mexico, in the state of Sonora, the name Hermione is banned, as is the name Robocop. Sarah is a banned name in Morocco, although without the ‘h’ it is permissible. Linda is banned in Saudi Arabia due to its association with Western culture.

Names have so much power. In Harry Potter there is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Judaism avoids mentioning G-d other than when reading the torah. This is because he is thought to transcend the word as no word can capture the essence of G-d.

And for when you start forgetting the names of things or people, the Hawaiian language has Pana Po’o – the act of scratching your head in an attempt to remember something you’ve forgotten.

See you next month,


What’s in a Name?

By Randy Jackson

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet professes her love for Romeo despite the underlying feud between their families, by saying: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In saying this, Juliet expresses the notion that the name of something is of less importance than the underlying thing the name is referring to. This might be true for the beloved Romeo, he would still be the person Juliet loved even if his family name (Montague) were something else. But if names, more broadly words, have little to no meaning in relation to that which the word is referring to, then what of mantras, prayers, or even magic spells? Would any choice of words get the same results?

“Abracadabra” is a word we are all familiar with. In modern times, this word is associated with a campy version of magic, as when a rabbit is pulled from a hat. But its origin is far more serious. “Abracadabra” was first recorded in the Liber Medicinalis (Medical Book) by Serenus Sammonicus, a tutor and physician to the Roman Emperor, Geta (Publius Septimius Geta), around 200 CE. It was a medical incantation to cure certain illnesses. The treatment involved intoning “abracadabra” while inscribing it so that it could be worn as an amulet for eleven days which, it was believed, would cure the patient.

There is some thought that “abracadabra” is much older, handed down from the Aramaic (as early as the 11th century BC) to Hebrew; in that scenario, it would be roughly translated as “It will be created in my words,” “I create what I speak,” or perhaps – in the Hebrew – “It came to pass as it was spoken”; in any event, all the meanings had to do with the connection between the word and the creation of a reality. Indeeed, the word was still being used in the 13th century, inscribed above London doorways to ward off the plague.

In today’s world, the notion that words or sounds have some power to affect physical reality seems ludicrous to many. But this, I think, is shortsighted. To start, one would have to dismiss the solid research on the placebo effect, which, according to Harvard Medical School’s online magazine Harvard Health (2021) can range between 30% and 60% effective in a certain range of conditions. If the placebo effect is to “work,” the patient has to believe they are receiving treatment. To me, it doesn’t seem that much of a leap from someone receiving an amulet with “abracadabra” written on it in the 3rd century to a patient today who receives a sugar pill from a doctor in a white coat.

“Abracadabra” had particular meaning(s), based on the context, in the distant past, but it has a different meaning to us today. It is the meaning of a word to the person who hears it that fastens a name to an object (or concept) it refers to. In the classic science fiction novel A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959), author Walter M. Miller, Jr., describes a post-apocalyptic world where monks study an artifact for its spiritual significance. This artifact is in fact a contemporary grocery shopping list: “Pound Pastrami” has a different meaning after a nuclear holocaust than it would have had to a sandwich maker in 1959.

So, what’s in a name?

Our meaning of things. Romeo Montague is the guy Juliet loves, a rose is a beautiful flower with a delightful scent, and Sarah Palin™ (yup, she trademarked her name), is, well, Sarah Palin. Names hold our understanding of the objects they represent. Although it is possible to talk about names as being separate from the object or concepts they represent, we cannot talk about an object without using “its” name. Names (with the help of a few other types of words, like verbs) are how we transmit our thoughts to others. So … there’s a LOT in a name.

Then there’s the universal meditation mantra of “OM” (pronounced ah-uu-mm). Not a name per se, but it is still a sound we make to express something. “OM” is thus in a different category of sounds we make than those we call “names” or “words.” Names/words are the sounds we make to collectively understand the structure of our world. This is a “rock,” that is a “cup,” and we call that guy “Romeo.” “OM” is different. It is our imitation of a sound that in most Eastern religions is thought to represent the sound of the universe. By our vocalization of this sound, we seek something beyond the collective understanding of our structured world view.

Through our meanings of names like “rock,” “cup,” and “Romeo,” we lock down the structure of our perceived world, creating our reality. “OM” and other mantras are our attempt to reach beyond our reality, to understand something more. How could we puny humans with a bit of air passing over our vocal cords vibrate the sound of the universe? Well, maybe that’s all we’ve got. We use our vocal cords to name, structure, and communicate our reality, so why not use it to call upon the universe? Then to answer Juliet’s question about what’s in a name – everything, Juliet, everything.

Book Titles: “What’s in a Name?”

By Carole Reedy

Myriad factors enter into the success and sales of a book: the popularity and marketing reach of the author, the book’s jacket and design, the reviews, length, friends’ recommendations, and, of course, the subject, style, and focus.

Add to that list the title of the book.

Authors generally prefer to create their own titles, but since publishers take part in the financial risk and success of the book, they, too, have input. Based on market research, a publisher may have a better insight into reader expectations than the author. Of course, a well-established, proven-popular author may have more influence in the final decision than an unknown writer.

Authors themselves may change their title decisions as the process of publication proceeds. Usually, the author starts with a working title but is certainly not wedded to it. Books go through several metamorphoses before the final sentence is penned, so honing the working title is likely.

Titles can reflect the subject and general ambience of a book. They can be clever, funny, explanatory, or express a feeling. The title is the first thing a reader sees or hears and is significant in swaying a reader to purchase and read a book.

To understand the process of choosing a title, let’s look at actual titles of famous novels to understand how they were named and even re-named.

Often authors derive their titles from other sources familiar to their readers. The most popular seem to be the Bible, Shakespeare, poetry, popular phrases within or outside the book, or the names of particular characters. The idea is to attract attention to the book by conveying the essence of the book and the intentions of author in a succinct phrase.

Inspired by the Bible

The Grapes of Wrath, the title of John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, is a reference to a passage in the Book of Revelations that reads, “So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God.”

The title is also a phrase from the first stanza of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the lyrics penned by Julia Ward Howe in 1861 to what was until then a military marching song called “John Brown’s Body.”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.

The title was suggested by Steinbeck’s wife Carol, and the author deemed it a worthy choice.

The title East of Eden, another Steinbeck novel (1952), is a symbolic re-creation of the biblical story of Cain and Abel woven into a history of California’s Salinas Valley, a popular location for Steinbeck’s novels. The title refers to Genesis 4:16: “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden” (King James Version).

Inspired by Shakespeare

The title Remembrance of Things Past, the approximately 1,250,000-word novel by Marcel Proust, could also fall into our “Inspired by Poetry” category below. The first English translation of the title (by C.K. Scott Moncrieff, 1922) was derived from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:

Proust wrote his 1913 seven-volume masterpiece in French, with the title À la recherche du temps perdu, which more directly translates into In Search of Lost Time. Proust did not approve of Moncrieff’s, title although he made no attempt to change it. He felt it did not accurately convey his intended meaning of memory as involuntary rather than voluntary. Proust did, however, praise Moncrieff’s translation of the first volume, Swann’s Way, possibly the only praise he ever handed out to a translator of his works.

The working title David Foster Wallace originally used for his thousand-page magnum opus Infinite Jest (1996) was A Failed Entertainment. The novel is partly based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and the ultimate title refers to Act V, Scene 1, when Hamlet holds up the skull of the court jester Yorick and says

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is!”

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962; film version 1983) is a dark fantasy novel featuring two 13-year-old best friends and their nightmarish experience with a carnival. The title is taken from MacBeth Act 4, Scene 1, when the witches predict the outcome of the play:

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.

A most appropriate title for Bradbury’s novel, as it teeters between fantasy and horror. On his 80th birthday, Bradbury enjoyed the writing process as much as ever before. “The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me. The feeling I have every day is very much the same as it was when I was 12.”

Inspired by Character Names

J.K. Rowling named the first book of her blockbuster Harry Potter series Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Scholastic, the publisher, felt children might reject a book with the word “philosopher” in the title and changed it to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1998).

The Great Gatsby (1925) was originally titled Trimalchio in West Egg by the author F. Scott Fitzgerald. The publisher thought the title too obscure (Trimalchio was a character in the Satyricon of Petronius, a Roman writer in the late 1st century CE), and suggested a change. All agreed, and the book came to become one of the most beloved pieces of American literature.

Mrs. Dalloway (1925). The perfect title for this classic stream-of-conscious masterpiece written by Virginia Woolf, which takes place one day in 1923 in the life of the title character. The working title for the book was The Hours.

Fifty years later author Michael Cunningham wrote a highly regarded novel with exactly that title. It relates the stories of three different women – Virginia Woolf, on the day in 1923 she starts writing Mrs. Dalloway; Laura Brown, a depressed American housewife who is reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949; and Clarissa Vaughn, who (sometime in the 1980s or 90s) is hosting a party to celebrate her friend Richard, a poet and novelist who has just received a lifetime achievement award but is dying of AIDS.

The film The Hours, starring Meryl Streep as Clarissa Vaughn, came out in 2002 (a British film titled Mrs. Dalloway was released in 1997, is a faithful retelling of the book and starred Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs. Dalloway); The Hours was turned into an opera by composer Kevin Puts; it debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in November 2022.

Charles Dickens (1812-70) is known for colorful characters in his trove of novels and writings. His unique style incorporated linguistic technique to invent characters whose actions were reflected in their names (Mr. Bumble, Scrooge).

In all, Dickens created 989 characters, and many more individuals, for his books. No wonder he titled many of his works with the main character. Among those are some of his most beloved works: Nicolas Nickleby, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Martin Chuzzlewit, Little Dorrit, Barnaby Rudge, and Edwin Drood.

Inspired by Phrases (often from the text of the book) and/or general theme

Ayn Rand at first chose the title The Strike for her monumental classic novel Atlas Shrugged (1957), her last and longest book and one she considered her magnum opus. However, she thought perhaps that title revealed too much. Her husband actually suggested the title we know, which refers to a conversation between two of her characters. One personage notes that the greater the effort Atlas made, the heavier the world became and the best one can do is “to shrug.”

Faith Martin’s DI Hillary Greene series, about a British detective who lives on a narrowboat, originally had “Narrow” in all the titles: A Narrow Escape, On the Straight and Narrow, Narrow Is the Way, etc., but the titles were changed when a new publisher took over. In place of “Narrow,” the word “Murder” was used to reassure the readers they were getting a murder mystery (Murder on the Oxford Canal [2004], Murder of the Bride [2006], etc.) The new titles seem to be selling better than the originals.

Inspired by Poetry

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934; film version 1962, TV mini-series 1985), is the fourth and final novel by the formidable jazz-age writer. It was not well-received by critics at the time, but time proved them wrong. The title comes from John Keats’s poem “Ode to a Nightingale”:

Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (1874; film versions, 1967, 2015, among others) bears a title drawn from Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1750), which was inspired at least in part by the death of the poet Richard West in 1742:

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

In a review of the 2015 film (The Guardian, April 15, 2014), British writer and journalist Lucasta Miller tells us that the title of the book is an ironic literary joke; in his poem, Gray is idealizing noiseless and sequestered calm, whereas Hardy “disrupts the idyll, and not just by introducing the sound and fury of an extreme plot … he is out to subvert his readers’ complacency.” (Note that “madding” means “frenzied” in this context.)

When the Title Comes First

Many authors have the title for their book ready before they start writing. In the words of Jhumpa Lahiri, “Interpreter of Maladies is the title of one of the stories in the book of the same name. And the phrase itself was something I thought of before I even wrote that story.” Beloved Irish author Frank McCourt is supposed to have said – perhaps about his memoir Angela’s Ashes (1996; film version 1999), “I think I settled on the title before I ever wrote the book.”

To close on a lighter note, here’s a quote from everyone’s favorite humor writer, Dave Barry: “It isn’t easy, coming up with book titles. A lot of the really good ones are taken. Thin Thighs in 30 Days, for example. Also, The Bible.”

The Resurgence of Classical Music in Mexico City

By Carole Reedy

Even before the pandemic, classical music, and especially the opera, appeared to be on the downslide in our grand cultural city. Over the years, music lovers had become accustomed to a solid season filled with operas, symphonies, and string quartets as well as individual appearances by world famous artists, such as Chinese pianist Lang Lang, Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča, home-grown tenor Javier Camerena, and even the queen of opera Maria Callas, the American-born Greek soprano, in the 1950s.

It is true that classical music venues in México do not receive adequate support and funding from the government. Neither is private support up to the level of other nations. For whatever reason, the scene was not the same as it had been in earlier years.

Then came the pandemic and everything shut down.

However, during those bleak pandemic years emerged a single figure, a young musician, to rescue the classical music scene. His enthusiasm, knowledge, foresight, diversity, and dedication to communicating with the public has changed the course of music for all of us.

Enter Iván López Reynoso
His name is Iván López Reynoso. In his early 30s in 2020, and after two years as assistant conducter of the Orquesta del Opera Bellas Artes at 18, López Reynoso was named Director Artístico de la Orquesta del Teatro Bellas Artes. From that time to the present, the roster at Bellas Artes has been chock full of opera and symphonic concerts, live and online. The maestro’s personal calendar is even more impressive.
López Reynoso was born in Guanajuato in 1990; after his parents, who were engineers, recognized his interest in music, he began to study violin, piano, and conducting from an early age. At 15, he studied at the Conservatorio de Las Rosas in Morelia, and from there he went to Mexico City..

He’s also a significant figure in the music world outside of Mexico, conducting in Oman, Spain, the US, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany, among other countries.

The first time I saw Maestro López was on a free Zoom session during the pandemic in which he analyzed Verdi’s opera Rigoletto by sitting at a piano for two hours, playing the score, singing many of the parts (he is an accomplished counter-tenor), all while explaining the opera to his attentive listeners. From that moment I knew he would be a significant figure in my life as well as for the future of opera in Mexico.

He states the philosophy of his career simply in an article from Forbes magazine: “I have as a mission and as a philosophy that every concert I direct, every note I sing or every chord I play, I have to play it as if it were the last chord in my life, as if it were the last concert I am going to conduct. That is, with the maximum dedication, the maximum effort, love and devotion possible.”

This is evident in every concert he conducts and every role he sings as a countertenor, his other talent.

Of significance to the listening public, López Reynoso communicates actively with his followers on social media (look for him on Facebook and Instagram), where he announces concerts, musical events, and venues, all with a very personal touch. When information is readily available, the music community responds with enthusiasm. Gracias Maestro for bringing the music to us!

Not only does the city have the ambition and talent of López Reynoso, but venues elsewhere here are opening once again for concerts.

And the Beat Goes On …

The Auditorio Nacional has opened its doors to the Metropolitan Opera of New York transmissions. Each season, the Auditorio presents ten of the Met’s operas, which provides a perfect sound system and a huge screen for viewing.

In addition, opera transmissions from the Royal Opera House in London will be presented once again at CCU (Centro Cultural Universitario). The popular Carmen, Il Travatore, Turandot, Cinderella, The Marriage of Figaro, and Sleeping Beauty will be among the operas shown on Sundays in May, June, and July 2023.

Sala Nezahualcóyotl also has a full schedule ahead with the Orquesta Filarmónica de la UNAM (OFUNAM), performing regularly in May and June

Soprano Elīna Garanča returned to Mexico in March at the magnificent Bellas Artes venue. And each week other musical events are adorning the main theater. Check the schedule online. I am happy to conclude this article with positive thoughts for the future of classical music in Mexico City!