The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal: a memoir that encompasses the story of a collection of netsuke. We trace the movement of the netsuke through their owners over the years and in the process find out a lot about the lives of the families who host them. Wars, passion, scandal, disgrace, boredom, business success, strategic alliances — all the variety of people’s lives. From a shocking elopement:
Eleven days after Anna’s wedding to her banker, Stefan, the heir-apparent — groomed for the life of the bank, with his fantastic waxed moustaches — elopes with his father’s Russian Jewish mistress Estiha. Estiha only spoke Russian — this is written on the annotated family tree — and broken German.
Stefan was immediately disinherited. He was to receive no allowance, live in no family property, communicate with no member of the family. It was a proper Old Testament banishment, admittedly with the particularly Viennese slant of marrying your father’s lover. One sin piled on another: apostasy on filial disgrace. And linguistic incompetence in a mistress. I’m not sure how to read this. Does it reflect badly on father or son, or both?
… de Waal swings to the description of a woman’s dress, complete in the most minute details:
Emmy dresses to go out. It is winter 1906 in a Viennese street and she is talking to an archduke. They are smiling as she hands him some primroses. She is wearing a pin-striped costume: an A-line skirt with a deep panel at the hem cut across the grain and a matching close-cut Zouave jacket. It is a walking costume. To dress for that walk down Herrengasse would have taken an hour and half: pantalettes, chemise in fine batiste or crepe de Chine, corset to nip in the waist, stockings, garters, button boots, skirt with hooks up the plaquette, then either a blouse or a chemisette — so no bulk on her arms — with a high-stand collar and lace jabot, then the jacket done up with a false front, then her small purse — a reticule — hanging on a chain, jewellery, fur hat with striped taffeta bow to echo the costume, white gloves, flowers.
The Hare with Amber Eyes is as easy to read as a well-written novel, but has a history lesson in the background. Details of streetscapes, dress, social attitudes, background politics, day-to-day activities — all bring life to the Paris of the late 1890s, the Vienna of the early 1900s and on through other cities to the present day.
Ellen Hargis, soprano, and Christopher Bagan, harpsichordist, at the UBC Music Building with a concert of Italian love songs from the time of Monteverdi. Hargis is a delightful personality, warm and friendly, and her voice is sublime. In the pre-concert talk, she invited the audience to understand a little more about the songs she would be singing. During the concert itself, she acted out the variety of emotions being portrayed without ever overdoing it or detracting from the music. Christopher Bagan is a superb musician. He had a number of solos on the harpsichord and also played the chamber organ. The show-stealing encore was “Crazy,” written by Willie Nelson but most associated with Patsy Cline. I had never heard that kind of syncopation on a harpsichord before! And the song made the point that emotions like passion, jealousy, and loss are the same across the centuries.