gentle rereader

. . . rediscovering Jacques Barzun

Media Mail

I am no friend of Facebook. Nor do I believe that brevity is the soul of tweet. Even tiny raindrops can turn into an extended deluge. More valuable things have come to me through Media Mail than all social media combined. And yet …

I did join Facebook in 2007, not coincidentally the year that Jacques Barzun celebrated the completion of his first century on this earth. Webmaster Leo Wong drove me to it. His Jacques Barzun Centennial Celebration website brought hundreds of JB admirers from all over the world together in a joyful chorus. Many of his visitors were simply appreciative listeners.

Until the centennial itself neared, I said very little. But I followed his leads, which I should call links. One of them sent me to Facebook, where Mr. Charles Huff had formed the Jacques Barzun Fan Club. The Facebook policy said Members Only, and I balked. But the lure of Jacques was too great and I joined a couple of days later.

That’s how I learned that the atomized distractions of social media were not for me. Why did I answer the persistent question – “What are you doing right now?” – with a sentence on the alluring smell of breakfast cooking? And why bother with the daily doings of the friend of a Facebook “friend”? So I unfriended all my friends, and even disowned my family (but only in the virtual world). I went on calling my loved ones, but kept coming back to the JB Fan Club – a quieter site than any English gentlemen’s club.

Within the last year I tried to help Leo with the seldom satisfying job of fishing the Internet for recent Barzuniana to post at the JBFC. I was glad to see Mary McCleary contribute, as I’m delighted that Mr. Christopher Reid pushed our membership past 200. Still, I admit to feeling a certain restraint about commenting when the new Facebook format pushes my sextant silhouette back into the spotlighted header for little more than clearing my throat. (Am I alone in this?)

Then about a month ago, on April 19 at 12:36 p.m. to be exact, Leo posted the tremendous news that the San Antonio Symphony would perform a special concert of Berlioz to honor Barzun. My current employment as a shipping agent made it next to impossible that I might attend. Still, I wanted one of those free tickets, though I hated the idea of taking a souvenir while leaving an empty seat that someone might have enjoyed in person. I rationalized that if no miracle occurred and Port business kept me home I’d return the ticket in time for some hopeful night-of-performance caller at the ticket window.

So I called the symphony box office and had a happy experience with the staff member who told me that tickets to the performance at the Majestic Theatre were still available. Aurora advised me about the relative merits of the remaining locations. There were open seats on the orchestra level, but they were tucked away beneath the balconies (about which see Mr. Mike Greenberg’s fine review of the concert). The bright young lady’s name prompted me to mention the late season display of Northern Lights that recently had shone over Valdez. We laughed about the warped pronunciation of Spanish place names like Los Angeles and Val-DEEZ as she took my mailing address (P.O. Box 1174, Valdez, AK 99686 … for those averse to Internet comments). To the nominal shipping charge I added a small donation to the San Antonio Symphony. Aurora and I said good-bye after she reviewed the details of my mezzanine seat.

Meanwhile, back in print, the San Antonio Express-News announced that the concert commissioned by Mr. Charles Butt would have as its guests of honor Mr. and Mrs. Jacques and Marguerite Barzun, PhDs. Attendance now seemed almost urgent. How many more opportunities would there be to get a first glimpse of my living hero? And then my ticket arrived in the mail:

Thank you, dear Aurora!

I would also love to give credit to my generous employer who found a way to say yes to my unusual request for three days off during a busy season. Unfortunately, corporate policy prohibits naming the agency, even as my benefactor. If word got out that I admire the radical empiricist – and a “Frenchman” to boot – Jacques Barzun, well the business consequences may be imagined. But I jest regarding Jacques, as I made no special request to headquarters to publish my gratitude to the company. Just following the policy, and the Internet detectives among my readers will have no difficulty figuring out which shipping agency I mean.

So with relish I made the reservations detailed in “Pilgrimage” and returned to the Jacques Barzun Fan Club. There, on April 27th, Mr. Eric Robert Morse proposed the formation of a Jacques Barzun Book Club, based in his new hometown of San Antonio. My journey to the Alamo city underway on May 13th, I suggested the following evening (the night before “Berlioz and Barzun”) for an inaugural meeting – a revelation of actual travel that would have incredible consequences.

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