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Posts Tagged ‘Mozart’

Having just finished an enourmous sandwich at Panera’s, I walked towards my car in order to drive to a nearby coffeeshop (which is where I am writing this post from). Today is blazing hot and as I entered my car it felt like I was inside a pizza brick oven.

I stepped on the brake, turned the key, shifted the gear and released the brake. The beast started moving. Simultaneously, the car radio came to life. This was playing.

I laughed out loud in child-like delight.

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The reason there were no posts over the weekend is that I went solo-camping in the San Gabriel mountains just north of Pasadena.

The idea of spending a weekend alone in the wilderness first occurred to me during a hike I did in the San Gabriels with a couple of friends last summer. I was awestruck by the utter beauty and solitude of a particular spot that we passed along the way. It was a place to remember, highlighted by a little brook that flowed arrestingly between the trees — bouncing over shiny round stones and creating little cascades. That’s when I got intrigued by the idea of spending a few days in these mountains alone — observing, musing, relaxing, and yes, doing math.  Last weekend I finally decided to do it.

After some research I settled on Hoegee’s campground. It seemed to fit the bill — beautiful, secluded, relatively close. I already had a tent and a sleeping bag. I rented other essential stuff —  cooking utensils, a stove, a sleeping pad and a bear-proof container (yes, there are bears in the San Gabriels). I also packed a lot of math books and print-outs of research articles.

Hoegee’s is three miles away from Chantry flats, the closest car-accessible place. I started hiking around noon on Saturday. Almost immediately I realised that these three miles would not be fun. The trail was uphill, and I was carrying too much load. I had on my back a large, rather poorly balanced backpack behind which was attached another backpack full of books and under which was tied my sleeping bag. I held the tent bag in one of my hands and the sleeping pad in the other. It felt like I was hauling up rocks. What made things worse was that the backpack wasn’t really the correct size for me — as a result it put all its weight on my shoulders. Everyone I passed remarked about the amount of stuff I was carrying (after I returned from the trip, I checked the weight of my load — it was a shade above seventy pounds).

The hike to Hoegee’s was nice otherwise. The trail wound its way along the forested slope high above a canyon before descending down. The campground was situated next to a shaded creek that flowed along the bottom. I reached to find several tents and many people already out there. I had hoped for a quiet, nearly empty place and this was rather unexpected and disappointing; however I also felt a mild sensation of relief — spending the night completely alone in the jungle amidst bears and other wild animals may have been scary.

I set up camp, had lunch, and then wandered around for a while. There were two small dams on the creek very near where I had set up tent. I settled myself on top of one of them and worked for a while. Later, I returned to the campground,  had dinner, and went inside my tent. I read a math paper in the lantern light for about an hour before going off to sleep.

         That's the dam I sat on

The next morning, I woke up very early. I ate some breakfast and then decided to hike up to the top of Mount Zion, a little over a mile away and about a thousand foot elevation gain. It was a foggy morning and as I hiked up, the clouds came rolling in, blocking everything from view. It looked almost surreal in the early morning light.

         On the way to Mt. Zion  

I didn’t meet anyone else during the journey, which lasted a little over a half-hour. The peak itself was a flat little area — there I spread out a sheet and sat down. For a while I read a book on automorphic forms. Then I listened to some music on my headphones. I realized again that Mozart sounds most beautiful when heard amidst nature. Finally I came down around noon. I would have stayed even longer had the weather not been so cold and wet up there.

         The peak

I could hardly recognize the campground when I returned. Everyone else had left (check out the contrast in the pictures below) and it looked a totally different place. There was no sound to be heard except the constant gurgle of the stream and the occasional chirp of a bird. Little sunlight reached the ground and the overall effect was one of total seclusion. I stood transfixed for a few minutes before proceeding to cook some lunch.

                                   The campground last evening    The campground that noon

After I finished eating, I packed up everything and headed back.

Pack-up time

The return was less torturous since much of the way was downhill — though my shoulders still suffered. My car was as I had left it and I drove off Chantry flats with memories of a beautiful weekend down at Hoegee’s, one I’d probably do again, though I’d carry less stuff next time and also stay for a bit longer.

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“The sonatas of Mozart are unique: too easy for children, too difficult for adults. Children are given Mozart to play because of the quantity of notes; grown ups avoid him because of the quality of notes … Mozart is the most inaccessible of the great masters”

Artur Schnabel

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I haven’t had much time to blog this weekend. Ideas for posts came and went. News broke, and got stale. I gave them all a haughty ignore and, with single minded devotion, concentrated on my L-functions.

One of the drawbacks of being a fourth year grad student is that you need to do a lot of research quickly enough to produce a decent body of work by next winter — for the perusal of the grim committee that will go through your job application. And I am a fourth year grad math student. My research consists of proving things — by the power of thought. Which means I work when I think and I … umm … think when I walk. So when do I blog?

Yet, being a student comes with its perks. One of them is that I get student-priced tickets for concerts. So I went to the Pasadena symphony yesterday to hear an evening of music. They were playing three piano concertos by Mozart, my favourite composer.

The pianist was superb. He played beautifully. The music was pure and simple and true. It was mostly joyous, sometimes moving and deep, but without an iota of negativity. It was a bit like the best kind of mathematics.

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It is summer, and there’s not much to do. In other words, there is plenty of opportunity to feel sad.

I suppose it is a season of dementors. They glide into you and take control, and sometimes they do their job so well that you think you’ll never be happy again. But eventually they let you go, they always do. When I was younger I didn’t know that, and once had the terrifying suspicion that they were never going to go away. I tried to express my fears into mediocre poetry, which, taking advantage of the reader’s patience, I reproduce below.

Apprehension

Lips trembling, face burning, heart pumping;
The forces of id work relentlessly to overthrow
reason from this temple – A strange unnatural heat
spreads through the body like a spirit freed;
Turbulence in the soul, sweat in the brow
And vague senses of doom in the ears ring.

 

Man’s worst enemy is at work, wrecking vengeance
On his conscious; Making me fear – anticipation
of something that is perceived to be killing
brings with it a poison far more galling
than what it seeks to analyze – And makes me shun
my most creative tool as greatest foe-my subconscious.

-written by me sometime in the year 2000. 

Yet, there is Mozart.

He makes me happy. He has this incredible capacity to drive away the dementors by the beauty of his music. He makes me think of pretty flowers and tender leaves, green vales and lofty mountains. He shows me all that is beautiful in the world and fills me with love.

This post should end here, but I just remembered something slightly unrelated. Once, after one of those moments of utter happiness granted by music- I was hearing Mozart and Salil Chowdhury- I wrote to someone:

“If I had to spend a lifetime on a desert island,
Three things would I ask
Mozart, Salil Choudhury, and Math
Yeah, that, and no more.”

To which she wrote back( and if you know her you’d know why it was the best possible reply):

If I had to spend a lifetime on a desert island,
I would ask to retain my imagination,
with the added quality that I not need anything real,
to project my imagination onto. “

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