Great Books of the World – Part 10

“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times,
if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Albus Dumbledore

 

Winter is a season like no other. The world of many plants and animals becomes a time of rest and hibernation. For humans, December is a time of intense activity as Christmas approaches. The drab world of winter cities is transformed by lights of elaborate design hanging across the streets, and shop windows are at their most colourful. Wreaths with red ribbons hang on doors of most houses, and decorations make their interiors festive and jolly. It is a time of putting up Christmas trees, a time of pine garlands, multicoloured tinsel, gold stars and sparkling baubles. It is a time of logfires and brisk walks after Sunday lunch. A huge Christmas tree is erected in Trafalgar Square. It is a yearly gift from Norway to Great Britain for our help in liberating their country during World War II. And it is an unbreakable link with the past. It is a time of reflection.  After the Christmas celebrations comes January. This is the most significant month of the year as it has symbolised for millenia a new beginning. The end of the old and the start of the new.

The name January comes from the Latin word, janua, which means a door. It isn’t only a door that moves back  but is also a symbolic doorstep of going out and forward; it leads from yesterday and into an eagerly anticipated future. Janus was a Roman god who protected the doorsteps of human abodes and the gates of the cities. He was a symbol of the shadowy line that divides yesterday’s past from the future of tomorrow. He had two faces, one looking back and one looking forward, on the same head. That is why in January we pledge to refrain from our ‘sinful’ drinking, smoking, overeating and other bad habits for at least a month, but come February and our good intention becomes just that, good intentions only, at least for a few of us.

The winter’s cold taut air and lack of sun slows life. At this time all the birds that have not migrated need our help. The bird table should have as much variety as possible – seeds of all sorts, raisins, dried mealworms, lots of fat and any crumbs of our soft foods. One of the most popular songs that Mary Poppins sings is: ‘Feed the birds, feed the birds…’, and as the film is shown on TV each Christmas, it makes children put food out, and brings ‘a smile to birds’ cold faces.’

In northern European countries, winter is white with the blinding whiteness of the snow set against the horizon, where the iron-cast sky merges with the frost-bound earth. Even in our technologically advanced age, there is great delight to be a part of a kulig, a sledge cavalcade. Several large sledges cushioned with sheepskins offer comfortable seating for the revellers. The horses, usually in pairs, and the jubilant coachmen shouting ‘Who-ha!’, glide at full speed among the flurry of snow under the sledge runners. It is winter’s equivalent of summer gondola trips in Venice.  Winter brings skiing sports and the Olympics. On lakes, natural or man-made, scores of people practise ice-skating. In Finland and Russia some brave souls go for a morning swim in ice-cold water, and surprisingly live to tell how invigorating and beneficial this experience is. All I can say is rather them than me!

One of Scotland’s best-known paintings, The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, attributed to Henry Raeburn

Winter temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere fall well below 0 degrees Celsius. In London, during the time of Samuel Pepys, the Thames froze solid for a few months enabling people to walk across, set up market stalls and even enjoy this unusual happening. Water is affected not only by heat and cold but also by air pressure.  Although clouds are obviously formed by evaporation, our high atmospheric pressure is the reason that the oceans or big rivers don’t evaporate away totally. Water has other odd properties. It is at its heaviest at 4 Celsius degrees and ice floats on water lightly even though is solid. Most people think of water as a liquid to swim in or to drink but the two separate elements of which it is composed exist as two gases: oxygen and hydrogen. The wonder of nature at its best.

The end of February is the beginning of winter’s end. By now the whole northern world yearns for the warmth of the sun and for the first sign of Spring – snowdrops. We know spring is well on its way when forsythia’s branches burst with an amazing display of masses of gold flowers. After that, the catkins buds are at the ready to welcome Spring, as much as we are.

Forsythia, the first flowering bush of Spring

City names are not accidental, and the city I am writing about here although Genoa now, in the Middle Ages was called Janua. In Latin, it means the door, not only the door to go out but also the doorstep that is dividing the whole wide world from the abode behind it. It symbolises the new step toward the future and the link with the past. It had two faces symbolising the past and the future. The first month of the year was called January as it closed the last moments of Winter of the cold old year and was opening the path leading to Spring.  Genoa was in the centre of travellers sailing in search of India’s gold, and the spices of the East. It was in Genoa that a man, who wanted to close the doors on the old world and to open the way to the new wide world, was born, Christopher Columbus.

Christopher Columbus

City of Genoa, Italy

As this is a post in my Literary Series, I am going to tell you the story of the most famous son of Genoa, the greatest violinist that ever lived, Niccolo Paganini. Although at the end of this post, I will provide a few book titles, it will be my own tale about Paganini which I have known for a very long time.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

Niccolo Paganini was born on 27 October 1782, in Genoa, the third of the six children of Theresa and Antonio Paganini. There is a legend connected with his birth and his superhuman ability to play the violin and it started on the night of his birth. The Paganini family lived in a poor neighbourhood of Genoa, a typical grey maze of houses connected to each other through dirty corridors with the passage going across from one side to another in Passo di Gatta Mora. The midwife summoned to Theresa Paganini’s house tripped on the loose steps to their house and swore, “For Devil’s sake!” just as the door opened, and the harsh meowing sound of the just-born baby Niccolo, filled the air. The child cried all through that rainy and windswept night in cold October.

At that time there was a large, long building at Passo di Gatta Mora, dilapidated with black window frames and holes in the greenish with age walls, it was a place for the poorest called, “Albergo dei poveri”. Every day a group of dirty children would spill from there and fill the street with shouting, running, fighting and playing, throwing paper boats into the pools of water in the ground. Among the children, one could see a tiny monkey with a large forehead, sticking out square jaw, a very long nose and curly black hair, On the ugly face, surprisingly, stood out a pair of beautiful, agate eyes with long eyelashes. It was a startling contrast to the awkward body with thin legs and arms almost touching his knees and the very long fingers of a child; it was Niccolo.

His father was a fairly successful gambler and during one of his few days of absence to the casino, a young Niccolo stuck at home with a fever picked up his father’s lute and started to play. He was so absorbed in his playing that he didn’t hear his father’s return. Antonio stood listening and smiling, behind him stood his mother. When Niccolo stopped playing, Antonio clapped and for the first time put his hand on the boy’s curly, black hair. The child looked up shyly at his father, “Uh, what a horrible creature you are!”, said Antonio turning away from Niccolo. Antonio brought from another room an old violin and gave it to his son. “You will learn to play the violin and you will earn good money. What I lose in the casino, you will earn back on the violin.”

An Italian lute

Paganini playing the violin

This was the first lesson of playing the violin and Niccolo had difficulty in understanding his father. Antonio was impatient and would slap him frequently. Next, he brought a long ruler and hit Niccolo’s hands; they soon were covered in bruises. Getting angrier and angrier, he locked the boy in a cupboard and told him to play the first practice, and that he would stay there until he got it perfect.

Within a few weeks, Niccolo learned to play well and read the notes. One day during the absence of his father, Niccolo came out with his violin and played Carmagnola, a revolutionary tune, very popular at that time. Within minutes the women and men living in the building surrounded Niccolo and sang Carmagnola.  This was the first time that he had played in front of a large audience, a group of adults, and he felt excited and proud. It was the beginning of a difficult time for Niccolo. His father, impatient to capitalise on his son’s talent, decided to take Niccolo across the neighbouring towns and cities on a tour. It was a far too premature decision as a tiny child didn’t have the stamina to travel and practise relentlessly under Antonio’s cruel regime. Even when his hands couldn’t hold the violin any longer and he collapsed with exhaustion on the ground, Antonio would kick and slap him, demanding obedience. The beloved to Niccolo violin became an instrument of torture. If anyone were to look in Niccolo’s eyes he would see the depth of human misery.

The tour was the start of the fame, fortune, and unprecedented adulation of Niccolo Paganini. It was written by many of those who could witness the divine power of his playing that in his hands the violin became a live organism, specially created to play what was a miracle, his interpretation of the world around, and of the wonder of Paganini’s genius. When he played, the elated audience could hear the sound of bells from the church’s tower, the image of green fields suffused with sunshine, and the sound of grazing animals. With his playing, he evoked the journey through vineyards, gardens full of tulips, and the vibrant beauty of the blooming, green world. In the different, silvery, and high, clean tones, the spell-bound listeners could see the snowy peaks of the distant mountains, the streams cascading into the lakes below.

Paganini’s hearing was legendary; he could hear people speaking word for word in the whole street while he was in his third-storey mansard room.

The great, the noble, and the Church fought to have his services. When Niccolo played in any of the many churches in towns, to which Antonio was taking his wife and son, the crowd waiting to hear him would bring an unparalleled rise in the Church’s revenue. There were offers of concerts and one nobleman connected with the Stradivarius family gave Niccolo a Stradivarius after hearing him play with a passion that would elevate a piece of music into a masterpiece. Throughout his life, Paganini would attract envy, spite, and hate as well as fortune. When he grew up, women were ready to do anything to have his attention. Many were attracted by his passion displayed not only in his playing. The fact that he was ugly seemed only to add to his appeal.

There is not enough space here to describe the eventful path to glory, Paganini had to tread, the studying of the theory of music. the concert music of la vistas, adagios and cantilenas. All this was happening at a time of great political turmoil in France and in Italy. During his concerts, Paganini would paint with the sound of his violin the thunder of the uprisings, the revolution, and the gigantic upheavals that shook  Europe; at the end of the concert, the ecstatic crowd would sing the included combined bit of La Marseillaise and Carmagnola. Also, there is not enough space here to tell you about his life of extensive travelling to all corners of Europe, instead I will show you just a few pictures…

“Liberty Leading The People” by Eugene Delacroix

Later, Paganini had a wife, Antonia Bianchi, and a son, a pretty boy with blond hair and blue eyes, Achillino. The boy was 14 when Paganini died, and he loved his father. Paganini left his fortune to him. His life wasn’t peaceful and even in death, it was not free of controversy and problems. His unique talent couldn’t be analysed in human terms, it can only be compared to a magical wand that had power over the world of mortals. His hand moved over his violin like lightning as if the instrument was an extension of his heart. This instrument spoke the human language and was understood by all, but the only one who could speak it was Paganini.

As a sidenote, the spelling of his first name is varied.

Here are a few books to consider as I promised:

 

 

 

 

 

 

85 thoughts on “Great Books of the World – Part 10

  1. Wonderful quote!. Thanks for sharing.😊✨

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thank you, Pooja,, Very much appreciated!

    Happy New Year!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy New Year to you too!. Have a great year ahead. 🙂🎉

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dearest Joanna,
    Beautiful and such intriguing story. From the beautiful winters and Christmas times to the mystiques of Paganini..what a beautiful post. Thank you for visually creating the festive season in this post🙂
    May 2021 bring lot’s of joy to you❤️
    Richa

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Dearest Richa, Thank you so much for your wonderful comments! The joy is already mine! One day we will share Kadhai Paneer, with that pinch of sugar!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so much! Greatly appreciate your kindness.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love that you used a quote by Albus Dumbledore in the beginning! J.K Rowling is one of my most favourite authors!
    I didn’t know about January and Janus and having always been fascinated by Janus’ role and mythology, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the relation between him and the month.
    This was yet another gem of a write-up to end the year! I was sorry to read how Nicolo’s father treated him. He does sound like a truly gifted violinist and I look forward to checking out the books you’ve suggested.
    Happy New Year, Joanna!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Dear D, I am so delighted that you are a genuine friend since I have been so busy answering wonderful comments and emails while so wanting to tell you how much I adore your Christmas series. And you didn’t feel annoyed with, so easily, perceived neglect. Thank you.

    Happy New Year, to you, D, too!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing Paganini’s story, I often heard about him through my violin teacher, she would animatedly play his music, but I never knew he was so extraordinary:)

    It’s very sad hearing about the pain he had to endure in his life, it seems there are so many artists who endured pain and suffering in their rather short lives…but it is inspiring to hear that such a bond can be formed between a musician and their instrument that those listening were taken to faraway places…

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Thank you, Gannu, for your compassionate and such a wonderful comment. This is what makes my work so rewarding. Thank you.
    Happy New Year!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Good choices. Love reading about Paganini. My daughter was a wonderful violinist–so loved hearing her play.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Loved this post, Joanna. Was interesting to read about the month of January… My son was born in that month😊. As usual I’m always teleported through different eras when I read your posts. Stay blessed and wish you a Happy New Year! ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  13. My pleasure, Joanna! That’s absolutely fine! I’m glad you liked it.
    Thank you!

    Like

  14. Dear Diana,
    Thank you so much for your inspirational comments. I am so fired up by lovely praise, I am ready to start on the new post right now!!

    Happy New Year!

    Joanna
    ..

    Liked by 1 person

  15. That is a lovely coincidence, your daughter playing a violin! Thank you for your kind comment, much appreciated.

    Happy New Year!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Joanna,
    But I have to tell you and write it to you, you are a very talented storyteller.
    I just finished the text. I devoured it …
    You always choose an angle, you decide and develop with style, taste and mastery (and even I dare say it, with a lot of passion and heart) and you go in all its meanders of your thought with joy and lightness.
    It’s clear, fluid, I will even surely surprise you, it’s so clear that even by putting Google translation, your text is dazzling and chiseled … And I hope that on this one there, my Google translation friend will not betray me 😉
    I thank you of course because you always make the sky grow with my knowledge, my imagination, my garden of the beauties of this world.
    How about Janus, from this month of January, through this door, you lead us to Genoa, to this genius whose talent now thanks to you I cannot ignore the talent and the history as tragic as it is dazzling.
    I did not imagine the marthyr of this child, whose abusive father makes his creature …
    Joanna, I wish you one day bring all these stories together, because on top of that you distill such a beautiful energy, a force that impresses me article after article …
    Very strong🌹🕊🌠❤️💖
    Corinne

    Liked by 5 people

  17. Dear Corinne, the words fail me, I am already only halfway through “Ode to Joanna” and on my knees chanting “I am not worthy!” and bowing! I don’t think you realise what a fantastic confidence booster you are, and I need you! Have you ever thought about being a counselor? THANK YOU!!!

    Joanna

    Like

  18. Happy New Year to you too Joanna!

    Like

  19. Joanna, thank you for sharing this sad but sweet story. Your post makes me consider the bigger picture where we’re all concerned. You just never know what greatness lies within us, even with a less than desirable upbringing. I so look forward to your posts each week. Have a lovely 2021! 🌞

    Liked by 2 people

  20. What I say I say it with the heart and a very big presence to what I feel Joanna.
    It’s the truth, and she is so beautiful that you just have to accept her in her nakedness;)
    Joanna have no doubts what you are doing is of a high quality, said with as much intelligence as heart. Never stop!
    Good evening kisses
    Corinne

    Like

  21. In that case, THANK YOU, and kisses and hugs to you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you again to you and Google translator!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you, Lisa, for you such a lovely comment, you are right that we don’t know what we are capable of until the need arises,
    but a genius like Paganini was vired differently.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  24. A very interesting story, Joanna! Love the photos as well!
    Dwight

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thank you, Dwight, it seemed to be liked by so many people that it smashed our readership record – 222 readers in the first day.
    Happy New Year!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I loved your photos as always, and the Dumbledore quote brought a smile to my face. FrOm wHeRe dO YoU gEt tHe PhOtOs? Just kidding, I don’t put photos in my posts anyway, but I am awed by you. You are a genius. My definition of a genius is a person who can admirably do something which I am not able to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Honestly, 9, the quicker the school opens the better, not only for you but for me too! How do I read the “From to photos” coded message?
    Or is it? Anyway, you suppose to write about Paganini, not to give me your definition of a genius as someone who puts the photos into their blog. What praise! But I thank you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Thank you again! I just had a thought – you didn’t read the post past the quote?!!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Of course, I knew about Paganini, but not what you have written here! You have a great talent for telling a story along with a fresh look at history! I bow to your knowledge, to your amazing gifts. 💐🌹🌺🌻💐 Also, warm hugs 🤗😘🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Dear Ashley, thank you for such a generous comment. I love also all the little flowers and funny creatures! Everything you
    have written is such a morale booster, thank you.

    Joanna

    Like

  31. Thank you again, I greatly appreciate everything.

    Joanna

    Like

  32. That is really amazing and great!

    Like

  33. Wow, enjoyed taking this journey with you. It was completely different than the previous two posts and I wasn’t expecting it (and it turned out great). He seems like an almost mythical figure here (and a bit tortured also), with the ability to hear so far off. And then the way he learned by being locked on the cupboard. I guess the stories of what makes someone successful is varied and always interesting. Enjoy these posts because it reminds me how little I know and how much more there is to learn! Thanks as always for doing this!

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Thank you, Benjamin, for your much-appreciated kind comment. Your poetry is beautiful, and thankfully you don’t write it in a cupboard!

    Joanna

    Like

  35. No, I wasn’t talking about photos when I said, genius. I was referring to your ability to write such long posts and your knowledge.

    Like

  36. I did read past the quote. Also, can I give you some recommendations for people to post about?

    Like

  37. You can tell me but I don’t have ant social media outlets only the blog.

    Joanna

    Like

  38. Thank you, still, I am not a genius but you are always very kind.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  39. You could write more posts starring females, and people from the queer community. You could read about this person too https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manvendra_Singh_Gohil#:~:text=Manvendra%20Singh%20Gohil%20(born%2023,works%20with%20the%20LGBT%20community.

    Like

  40. I write about women who achieved something significant, as indeed will be the subject of my post this week. As to the other subject, I am not an activist, I am a professional writer writing on subject of interest to the general public and to me.

    Joanna

    Like

  41. Thank you for such a wonderful post on the renowned violinist, Paganini and interesting teaching on the month of January. I am reading your post from a very hot sunny South Africa, in the month of January and cannot help and yearn for just a little cold winter’s air.

    Liked by 2 people

  42. Thank you so much for your generous comment. I just took a break from writing this week’s post and found your lovely surprise. It gave me a lift that was needed. South Africa? I can only envy you!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

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