Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Moment Of Prayer And A Book

I  knew kochuthressiamma pj (kpj) of pareltank only through her blogs and some exchanged comments.  I'd been a faithful reader and an admirer of her courageous, thought provoking, spiritual and sometimes hilarious posts. Offering a moment of prayer in memory of this beloved blogger here.

The Four Seasons 
Today's post is in honor of kpj as I am sure she would have loved knowing this angle of Vivaldi's Venice and of the orphan girls who were wards of the state as well as one time students of the Maestro. As made clear from interviews with the author, the book is not really centered around Vivaldi but rather around the lives of the girls. Laurel Corona hit the nail on the spot when she decided to do the book this way. Her interest in the lives of the figlie (wards) is genuine and paves the way for a very interesting and rewarding story. Fact and fiction are intertwined in this book and Corona differentiates relevant events/chronology at the end of the book.

I first heard Vivaldi from a CD of the Four Seasons my husband had. The name cannot fail to gather one's interest and the outstanding music cinches the deal. So when I got this book I assumed it to be all about Vivaldi. I was both right and wrong. You do get a good picture of the famous composer who was also an accomplished violinist. What you really love is the heartfelt portrayal of the figlie del coro who were trained from childhood to master music and perform mostly in churches and private parties in eighteenth century Venice. They were held in high esteem and the public enjoyed their music. Despite a natural sympathy you feel for the girls, I was truly amazed at how the Venetian setup managed to do so well by the orphaned girls. Many of the abandoned kids were a result of the strange system of allowable marriages in families which is made more complicated by the presence of courtesans and convents alike.

Corona's book starts with two sisters named Chiaretta and Maddalena who were given to the Pietà,one of  four such institutions (ospedalis) in Venice. They were given up by their mother who could not take care of them anymore. The Pietà took care of them by teaching them arts and crafts including lace making, and learning one or many instruments and singing. If anyone was good at any of the arts they would go up the systemic ladder to finally perform as part of the coro (choir). They were allowed to marry and were given a dowry if the alliance was seen fit. After a certain age the ones who did not make it were asked to enter the convent. Before you raise your eyebrows, you must know that the social system in Venice was in such a way that even the wealthiest, noblest families could not afford to marry off more than one girl or one boy. The remainder entered convents or courted courtesans without being able to have real families. Corona did a fine job of mixing the calm, musical and organized lives of the girls of the Pietà with that of the rollicking, fun loving Venetians in the book. Chiaretta became an accomplished singer and Maddalena an accomplished violinist who presumably was also Vivaldi's muse. As in real life Vivaldi started out as a violin teacher and composer to the acclaimed choir of the Pietà. I was surprised to find that he was a priest though he was allowed to absolve himself from saying the mass due to problems related to asthma. He became famous while at the Pietà and moved to better patronage later in life. But his most accomplished music is said to have occurred while writing for the female performers of the figlie de coro.  Maddalena is shown as the inspiration for Four Seasons which apparently is quite different from his earlier music. In real life a singer named Anna Giro and her half sister who played the violin  were said to have closely associated with Vivaldi. I like Corona's story better where Vivaldi had strong feelings for Maddalena which were never brought out of fear for her future as well as his own since he was a priest. In time Vivaldi went on to produce magic through his operas and Maddalena became the Maestra de violin at the Pietà giving wonderful performances and achieving a great sense of the self through her music. Loved the way the author introduced the idea of Four Seasons from Vivaldi when he figured out that the then adolescent and underling violinist Maddalena was the only person who could understand/feel the 'bird flying' or 'the dog barking' that he played on the violin.

I feel that I have written more about Vivaldi than the girls here but the novel does complete justice to both. Maddalena is the thinker and musician who slowly figures out her life and achieves satisfaction on a higher plane and Chiaretta is the vivacious singer of the golden voice who marries the scion of a noble family and lives a full family life but never really sings again according to the rules for girls married off from the Pietà. A beautiful book to read, this will not disappoint you. For my part I'll be looking out for books by this author for sure. Visit here and here for a rendition of the Four Seasons.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

I  read this book a few months back and was so enthralled that I sat down right then to write my impressions.  I am glad to be able to post it at least now.

Tony Hsieh is an Evangelist. Not the kind that your are familiar with though. He is an Evangelist who wants you to find happiness in life. He is well qualified to do the job because he is proving it through his own life. Granted, I first heard about Tony Hsieh's book as a rebuttal to Tiger Mom's book. I haven't read Chua's book but had read a lot about what people had to say on it. One of the articles suggested to read this book to get an opposing view.

Once you get hold of this book, the first few pages are enough to tell you that you cannot really claim Tony to a specific category. His message is universal and his life seems dedicated to make this happen. Although I finished the book I have placed an order for it in Amazon as a keeper and for my husband and kids to read and for me to keep reading as a reference. Some of the things he is doing in his company may not be applicable to you and that is not what he wants. In the end he just wants you to be happy. What appeals to me is that I wholeheartedly agree with his premise that 'if you always do the right thing, then everything else will fall into place". I say this to my kids and try to do follow as much as I can.  At work I had seen that things improved 100% and made me a much happier person when I just focussed on doing the right thing without worrying about who does what or who gets what. This strategy makes good soul out of everyone at work where you do spend a majority of the hours in any given day. This in turn makes workplace less stressful and life easier to live. Being humans we have our faults, but once we know them and do our best, nothing can really bring us down in spirit. So while Tony may never know this I am excited to find someone who is in a position to practice what he preaches and does it.

Tiger Mom's part in this is that apparently Tony was raised by his Chinese parents in a more relaxed manner and yet he went on to become an achiever. This was point the rebuttal wanted to make. Rebuttal or not I was glad to have come into Tony Hsieh's amazing story. After graduating from Harvard, Tony  founded Link Exchange with a friend which he later sold to Microsoft. He had enough experience running his own small food business while in Harvard. Before that he did a profitable penny souvenir type of business from home! Come to think of it, the man was destined to succeed I guess.  After selling Link Exchange he did his time as a venture capitalist and ended up as the CEO of zappos which eventually was bought by Amazon. Since Amazon agreed to keep the Zappos spirit as is, Tony is still the life and soul of this well run company geared towards the perennial formula of success that many still somehow forget. Customer satisfaction is the missing word here. The book is a joy to read and Tony Hsieh's enthusiasm and love for people can be quite catching.