The Two Faces of January

 

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

Albus Dumbledore, from “The Prisoner of Azkaban”

“Winter Solstice” by Eimear Quinn:

 

“Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

“Tundra” by Ola Gjeilo (courtesy of Mount Royal Kantorei):

 

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 log fires 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.

“Wexford Carol” (courtesy of Elaine Hagenberg Music):

 

Winter Solstice rituals around the world (courtesy of Christel Veraart):

 

“Solstice Carole” by The Wyrd Sisters, performed by Merrigan (courtesy of Merrigan):

 

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.’

“Feed The Birds” sung by Julie Andrews from the film “Mary Poppins” (courtesy of Omoto Nagie):

 

“In the Bleak Midwinter” (courtesy of Mousehole Films):

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.

Courtesy of Wiktor Sajdak:

 

“Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson (courtesy of Nigel Fowler Sutton):

 

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!

Courtesy of Caters Clips:

 

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

Courtesy of nationalgalleries:

 

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.

Skating on thin ice, literally (courtesy of National Geographic):

 

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.

“Winter” from “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi, performed by Itzhak Perlman and the London Philharmonic Orchestra (courtesy of Batuhan Birol Keskin):

 

“Carol of the Bells” (courtesy of Patrick Dexter Cello). The melody for this Christmas carol is based on a prehistoric Ukranian folk chant ‘Shchedryk’ which celebrates the winter Solstice.

 

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.

“Snowdrop” by Debbie Wiseman (courtesy of Debbie Wiseman – Topic):

 

Courtesy of Artur Homan:

 

Forsythia, the first flowering bush of Spring

“Winter Interlude” by Miguel Berkemeier:

City names are not accidental, and the city I am writing about here although Genoa now, in the Middle Ages was called Janua. As already mentioned, 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.

“The Two Faces of January” by Alberto Iglesias (courtesy of Alberto Iglesias – Topic):

 

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

A mini bio of Columbus (courtesy of Biography):

 

City of Genoa, Italy

Courtesy of ALL in 4K:

 

Courtesy of Evgeny Soin:

 

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.

From the film The Devil’s Violinist, Paganini David Garrett plays at the tavern (courtesy of nikix1):

 

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.

“Whispers in the Wind” (courtesy of Brandon Fiechter’s Music):

 

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.

“Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43: Variation XVIII” by Sergei Rachmaninov (courtesy of piano77man77):

 

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.

Sonata No. 12 in E minor by Paganini, performed by David Garrett (courtesy of davidgarrettmusic):

 

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

Here are a few books to consider as I promised:

 

 

It just remains to wish all my readers a very Happy New Year! The composer Debbie Wiseman wrote a piece of music for the new year, dedicated to looking to the future with the “hope of better times to come”. The work , “A Lustre to this Day”, is performed by the cellist Steven Isserlis and the pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen (courtesy of Classic FM):

 

And André Rieu provides a cheering version of the traditional finish with “Auld Lang Syne”:

 

 

 

 

56 thoughts on “The Two Faces of January

  1. It is such a fascinating article that I cannot find the words to express my appreciation.
    I liked everything, including the story of Paganini: despite being Italian, I didn’t know all the details you presented 🌷🌷🌷
    Have a happy 2023 ❣️

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful article…Happy New Year 👍🏻

    Like

  3. Wow! Just wow! An absolutely wonderful post to finish the year off with Joanna. You’ve excelled yourself with this one, and that’s saying something. I’ll need to read it all again, as for once I’m lost for words – except to say ‘have a great weekend and a fabulous 2023 – and also for brightening up my days with your amazing posts throughout 2022 💙

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful compilation, Joanna!! Season’s Greetings!!

    Like

  5. What a wonderful presentation of art and music and Nature. Just delightful. Happy New Year Joanna!

    Like

  6. JoAnna, I woke today to the song of a cardinal and purple ruella flowers being pollinated by an orange butterfly. Your lovely post brought me snow, ice, and the flowers of early spring. The sleighs, ice skaters, and Currier and Ives illustrations are delightful! The photo of naturalized snowdrops is breathtaking.

    What a stunning New Year presentation! There are so many things I love. “In the Bleak Midwinter” is one of my favorite carols. Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” was my late husband’s favorite classical music. It was enjoyable to learn more about Winter Solstice traditions. I thought I knew quite a lot about Christopher Columbus, but I learned a bit more today.

    Thank you for this lovely post. Happy New Year! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you, Cheryl, for your wonderful comments! Your detailed praise, Cheryl, is greatly appreciated!
    I do hope for a better next year 2023! Happy New Year!

    Joanna xx

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you, Carolyn, for your beautiful thoughts about my post.
    Happy New Year, Carolyn, Grant, and all the Nature in your paradise.

    Joanna xx

    Like

  9. Thank you, Indira, for your lively comments! Greatly appreciated!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you, Malc, for leaving me speechless with your comments! You made my weekend elevated to great heights, will I be able to come down for the change at midnight on the 31st?

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you, Athira, for your kind comment and best wishes, despite your problems with WordPress. Greatly appreciated!

    Happy New Year!

    Joanna

    Like

  12. Thank you, Dear Luisa, for your wonderful comments! Coming from you, Luisa, the praise is priceless!
    Happy New Year!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thank you so much for being such a sweet friend 💞
    Happy New Year!

    Like

  14. Welcome, as always!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  15. LOL. Have a lovely weekend regardless 🙂

    Like

  16. You have outdone yourself with this very impressive story. Love the interesting plot and the preamble to the story. The musical videos are a real plus. You are certainly ending the year on several high notes. 🎻🎻🎻🎶🎵🎼

    Like

  17. Thank you, Pat, for your most generous comments! Greatly appreciated!

    I hope that the posts in the new year will please you too!

    Joanna

    Like

  18. That would certainly be my expectation, Joanna. You have not disappointed to date, no do I expect you to do so.

    Like

  19. Fabulous post Joanna, thank you so much. Happy New Year to you and yours.

    Like

  20. Thank you, Peter, all the very best in the New Year 2023!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Nicely written dear Joanna. Wishing you a Happy New Year ahead full of blessings, abundance, and joy 🤗❤️❤️❤️

    Like

  22. Thank you, Dear Krishna, greatly appreciated!

    Happy New Year!

    And all the best to you and your family!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Thank you dear 🤗❤️🙏🏼

    Like

  24. You are welcome!

    Joanna xxx

    Like

  25. ‘Janua’ means the door, itself is quite a key to the new year. Thank you, dear Joanna. What a lovely tribute to the New Year, to such a musician I knew nothing except he played the Violen. Thank you for your stories Joanna, as for me they only equal to the folk that I never heard.

    My wishes, to you and your loved ones. Happy New Year.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Thank you, Narayan, for your kind comment. Greatly appreciated.

    Happy New Year to you and your loved ones.

    Joanna

    Like

  27. wishes received dear Joanna, thank you.

    Like

  28. Goodness! So much to take in but with all the music that you have added, this is a wonderful way to end the year! Joanne, have I mentioned how amazing you are, for putting these posts together in words, pictures and music?
    Wishing you a peaceful, happy and healthy 2023 💌💙💛💌🌹🙋‍♂️💙💛😘

    Liked by 1 person

  29. JOANNA! How could I spell your name wrong?🌹🌹🙋‍♂️

    Like

  30. Thank you, Ashley, for your wonderful comments! Your generous praise made my day!

    May I wish you, and your Family all the very best in the upcoming 2023!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  31. It doesn’t matter, Dear Ashley!

    Happy New Year!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  32. What a marvellous post, Joanna, that too on the eve of new year, when we look both back and forward, the two faces, that you have described in a very eloquent manner. Your talk of spring ahead and concerns for birds are appreciable.

    From Janua and door to Genoa and Niccolo Paganini, whatever have been mentioned by you here are just amazing. I was not very much aware of this celebrated violin virtuoso of Italy, whose instrument, as you said, spoke human language. His story is amazing as to how he sharpened his violin skills in a hostile surrounding and with his cruel, and casino gambler father. I’m happy that he played violin to depict thunders of uprisings, and revolution.

    Thank you, Joanna, for this exceptional post that reminded me of Tennyson’s poem that I had read in my school. Your videos, especially of sleigh ride are lovely and entertaining.

    Wish you,Joanna, a very happy, healthy and fulfilling year 2023.

    Like

  33. This post finishes 2022 with a flourish, Joanna. As the art, the music and your eloquent thoughts swirl round my mind, I wish you a blessed New Year and

    Liked by 1 person

  34. …. many more journeys through the arts to fill your thoughts and ours!

    Like

  35. Thank you, Kaushal, for such a wonderful beyond words comments! I was very much taken by Paganini’s life and read quite a lot on his life. I am very grateful, Kaushal, for your friendship, despite a very busy day, you have found time to comment extensively on my post.

    Thank you again, and all the best in the upcoming year, health, peace, prosperity to you and your family.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Thank you, Dora, for your beautiful comments! Your words will stay in my heart!

    May I wish you all the blessing in the New Year 2023, and health, prosperity and peace.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Thank you so much, Dora!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  38. You’re welcome, Joanna! There is no time constraint for you and your posts. Thanks for wishes that I heartily reciprocate.

    Like

  39. What a beautiful post Joanna! I will be back to take in the essence in all of your captures in writing, song and video when I can immerse myself into the richness of your gift of sharing.
    Have a beautiful New Year. Love from Ollie, Hunter and Star too.. and me of course.. haha 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Thank you, Cindy for your wonderful comments! Take your time but Paganini is worth it!

    Love to you, Ollie, Hunter and Star,

    Joanna xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Thank you – and Happy New Year, Joanna! ❤️🥳🎉

    Like

  42. You’re most welcome Joanna! I will for sure.
    Thanks for the love and good wishes!
    💞

    Like

  43. You are more than welcome!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  44. Thanks much…Happy New Year 2023😊

    Like

  45. What a marvellously detailed and wonderful compilation Gabby!!
    Wish you a very happy 2023. God bless 💖🤗💐

    Like

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