Thursday, May 27, 1982. I was 28 years old. My law school commencement took place this day, though I didn’t attend.
A remote association: In 1982 I saw the movie Fitzcarraldo, which portrays would-be rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an Irishman known in Peru as Fitzcarraldo, who is determined to transport a steamship over a steep hill in order to access a rich rubber territory in the Amazon Basin. The film, which takes place in the early 20th century, is derived from the historic events of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald and his real-life feat of transporting a disassembled steamboat over the Isthmus of Fitzcarrald. A lover of opera and a great fan of the internationally known Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, he dreams of building an opera house in Iquitos, a Peruvian port city and gateway to the jungle lodges and tribal villages of the northern Amazon. Numerous Europeans and North African Sephardic Jewish immigrants have settled in the city at this time, bringing their cultures with them. The opera house will require considerable amounts of money, which the booming rubber industry in Peru should yield in profits. The areas in the Amazon Basin known to contain rubber trees have been parceled up by the Peruvian government and are leased to private companies for exploitation.
Fitzcarraldo is an idealist with an impossible dream: a dream to build a European-style opera house in the jungles of South America. Did the character Fitzcarraldo symbolize for me my pursuit of a law degree? Was the practice of law my “impossible dream?”
Wednesday, December 25, 1968. Christmas Day. I was a high school sophomore and had just turned fifteen days before. In the afternoon I watched a TV broadcast of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Strauss’s tone poem, Don Quixote. Subtitled Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, Strauss’s musical work is based on the novel Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes’ central ethic is that individuals can be right while society is quite wrong and seen as disenchanting. The novel is essentially a tragedy in which Don Quixote’s quest to revive the knightly world represents an idealism and nobility that are viewed by the post-chivalric world as insane, and are defeated and rendered useless by common reality.
I remember at age fifteen being utterly bored by the Strauss tone poem. As an adult, Don Quixote is one of my favorite musical works by Strauss.