Friday, October 12, 2018

The Hunt for mid October

Persons from points elsewhere may not have heard, but in Pittsburgh this year the seasons are on the Julian calendar. It snowed through the middle of April, and on Tuesday we had a high of 86F.

It seems wrong to complain about such warm weather, though if you and I have not gotten acquainted, jawing about the calendrical wrongness of the weather is one way to do it. You don't have to email; you can just imagine us agreeing with each other for as long as you want to forestall doing something useful.

A delay in the onset of rotten fall weather (of the rainy November variety), or at least the crisp arabesques of a biting, non-raining October eve, the kind that reminds you of your mortality (which is why they put Halloween where they did), seems like something to laud, and yet the calendar tells us that things are amiss, paradisical atmosphere or no. Besides, it is a little hot out. I could do with some 70s.

There is something particularly grounding about the character of the various seasons. Of course, I am speaking with the bias of someone who grew up in the temperate part of the northern hemisphere, where it is supposed to snow at Christmas and bud at Easter. Halloween is when the trees are supposed to get scraggily, and the earth cold and dark. If it doesn't, we won't have an excuse to put up our Christmas lights by the middle of next week. Though I should point out that the darkness is keeping its part of the bargain.

Having a website has helped make me more aware of the world at large, and the world at large doesn't do anything in harmony. In Australia, everything is starting the bloom. And in Alaska, it's probably been night for a month. I am aware that I have readers from many locations where the situation is very different. I celebrate what I know, sometimes with a vengeance. And I hope you'll forgive my parochialism.

This week I've had visitors from Australia, France, South Korea, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Actually, that was just Wednesday.

Only about half of my readers come from the United States. Actually, a while back I tried checking the box that says google should emphasize the U.S. I wasn't doing it to be isolationist, but it seemed that since everything is in English, it might make more sense to advertise to an English speaking audience. It didn't help. I switched it back, and my user numbers are back up.

Recently I figured out that I could see which cities peopled had logged in from. On Tuesday, the first part of the list reads: San Antonio, Adelaide, Allentown, Azusa, Barcelona, Burgdorf, Camano Island, Cebu City, Chichester, Closer, Colchester, Dallas, Dickinson, Ellensburg, Fairfax, Ghent, Hartford, and Hazen. The app won't let me see the rest. It's fascinating to see things at the city level, particularly when there are places I've never heard of. Where's Burgdorf?

Probably Germany.

It is also possible to see which networks people were using. That doesn't often yield anything interesting, but if someone is using a University computer I can see which college. On Monday I had somebody from the Nevada system of higher education. And the Moscow local telephone network. Also, Carbon Lehigh Intermediate unit 21. A shout-out to my peeps in the 7th grade.

Universities and schools interest me because I have a hunch students are using pianonoise to do their homework. This is mildly depressing because it probably means that most of my readers aren't really having a good time and don't want to be here. I entertain this hunch because my numbers always go down on weekends and holidays.

What, you don't think listening to Mozart or reading about Beethoven is great entertainment for the weekend?

That's cold.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Mr. Rogers


They're filming the Mr, Rogers movie with Tom Hanks in Pittsburgh now. At least, I think that was what was happening as we drove past WQED this morning. That's where he used to work.

There's a statue built to honor him on the banks of the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh. A man who hosted a kid's show on television. So many people, remembering him and what he did, sound so grateful for the influence he had on them. Mr. Rogers stories abound. Even among people who were adults when his show aired. Meeting him was a privilege, they all say. And he was every bit as nice in person. They all say that, too.

His show began airing nationally 50 years ago at a station in Pittsburgh, so we Yinzers are doing a lot of celebrating. There's even a documentary on his life that came out this summer. We went to see it a while back. My personal Siskel and Ebert said it came with "all the feels."

But into every life some rain must fall. He wondered after a while whether he'd made any kind of positive difference at all. He was hard on himself, And, though it seems more than a little bizarre, he had his detractors.

Some people liked to make fun of him for seeming just plain too good and too nice. Sometimes there would be a parody on TV or the radio. I saw some of them. A couple of them were kind of funny, the rest--not. Some adults couldn't deal with that kind of persona on a children's show, apparently. With cartoon characters it would have been ok (as long as they beat each other occasionally), but not with a human being.

At one point he became the poster man for all that was wrong with America. The cranky old person's movement was just gearing up back in the 90s, and their complaint was that what was wrong with America's youth was that they all thought they were special, and the guy who told them that was Mr. Rogers. It was his fault for making them think they didn't have to work a day in their lives, or be anything other than a drain on society because he already thought they were terrific and once somebody has a case of the self-esteems you can't get a thing out of them, productivity-wise.

It's a shame that those of us who know this to be a load of manure can't convince the rest of you that it is a load of manure.

In the first place, Fred Rogers, who went to Seminary to become a Presbyterian minister, was basically just telling people what their Sunday school teachers were telling them--that their worth came before their accomplishments. That you don't have to win the race in order to matter (not that you shouldn't try, that is not the same thing). That you aren't a loser just because you lost a game. It is, in fact, possible for everybody to matter. To be special. That doesn't mean everybody gets the gold medal. But the 999 thousandths of humanity that never will doesn't have to feel like total failures all the time because of it. I think I heard somewhere that God loves you no matter what--from some of the same people who thought Roger's exercise in empathy was a weakness of the first order. And some people's parents try to model the same thing. What was so awful about a guy on television saying it too? Were they afraid this time we might take it seriously?

It's traditionally been in  the best interest of the rich and powerful to make sure people only see their self worth in terms of what they are doing for their bosses. If somebody gets the idea that working hard is important but that their very image doesn't depend solely on that aspect of their lives--those bosses fear-- you may not get them to stay all weekend and all night, forget their marriage and their children and their health and just go until they burn out and burn up and destruct. Exploitation doesn't want well-adjusted people. It wants addicts. It's greatest worry is that the only way you can get people to do things is when they are empty inside and try to fill it with work. If their most basic needs are already satisfied--if somebody goes around telling them they can be loved whether or not they show up on Monday, maybe they won't do it, because why else would they? And if you are a crappy boss at a crappy outfit, maybe you have reason to worry. Maybe you have nothing else to offer but fear and dependence.

Meanwhile, despite the participation trophies and all the encouragement (horrors!) it turns out Xers and Millenials are doing some pretty amazing things on this plane. Some of them are working pretty doggone hard, going out and getting what they want and not assuming the world owes them everything. But you can sit on your own butt and complain about them if you want. They are passing you by.

Mr. Rogers wasn't about the corporate bottom line. His point was that you matter first and foremost before anything else. And that life is a marvelous thing to be savored rather than a long frenetic ride through a land of continual anxiety.

The other night I was talking to my brother. My niece is on two sports teams. In one of them the coach encourages everybody, is positive, and works hard to see that everybody is motivated. In the other, the coach yells at everybody all that time. Guess which team is not doing well this season?

Yup. And the one where the coach "coddles" everybody won the state championship last year and looks like they have a shot at it again this year.

I had some teachers in high school who would never have believed this. They thought life was hard, and they wanted to make sure we knew it, too. They treated us like dog turds. I'm familiar with the stories of the teachers that people thought were rough on them at the time and then later realized were doing them a tremendous favor by making them work really hard. These folks were not like that. They were just jerks. I've had the kind that were purposefully tough on me. I could usually tell at the time that through all those high standards was a person who basically liked me and wanted me to excel. These folks knew not only how to set the bar high but to do their own jobs to make sure we were equipped to jump high enough to get over it--and to give us the encouragement to try.

I'm afraid a lot of people have lost the distinction between making somebody work hard and being abusive. Seeing someone else's worth as no more than what they can do for you is a distinct sign of the latter. And  fretting that anybody who thinks they might derive their worth as a human being independently of anybody else's estimate is some kind of godless commie is ridiculous--and one sided We are all responsible to each other, and for each other. That was in Fred Roger's bible, and he preached it, without his little flock ever knowing it.

It seems like America these days has a major case of "get off my lawn!" in more ways than one.

Fred Rogers didn't make anybody lazy, or make anybody feel entitled, or lose their zeal for hard work just because they had it mixed in with a joy of living. Mention of his name still brings smiles to all of the children of his neighborhood. Some very motivated children, I might add.


Friday, September 28, 2018

Back then (or "Serial Pianist")

Remember the good old days?

When were they, exactly?

I was watching something called the Victor Borge show, on DVDs I borrowed from the library. Mr. Borge was a concert pianist turned comedian, whose musical comedy reliably turned up around PBS pledge drives for years. I saw him once on tour. Born in the 1909, he died in 2000. Long before I knew of him, or had even been born, he had a short-lived show on NBC, in the first part of 1951.

Borge's show was interesting for the occasional glimpse into the beginnings of material he would later use on stage as he toured. But it was not on the same level. For one thing, Borge, who had arrived in the US not ten years before without being about to speak a word of English, had to come up with a half hour show every week, and had only one other writer to help him. These days, a show that airs a few times a week will have about 20 writers. Borge had two including himself, and they didn't always come up with great material. It was more of a variety show, anyway, so sometimes you'd get dancers, or singers, or acrobats, or--well, you never knew what you were going to get. And it was only occasionally about the piano, or music at all.

Actually, it was really about cereal. You just knew the show's sponsors were constantly telling the host to plug their cereal more, and after a couple of months, the two 90-second commercials had grown to three. The host had to mention them on the air a couple of times a show, they incorporated it into sketches, and so on. And they were the only sponsor. I'm not going to mention the cereal's name because I am kind of annoyed at how often they plugged the cereal. I get it, I get it, you are paying money to get your name put on the show but could you just lay off just a little? Anybody with an IQ above 4 has got it already by the second commercial and probably won't be able to think about anything else all day as it is!

But what do I know. Maybe people in 1951 had goldfish memories and couldn't remember brand names for more than 30 seconds. On the other hand, they may have been people just like us.

Anyhow, there was a sketch where Mr. Borge asked us what had happened to the good old days. I had been under the misapprehension that 1951 WAS the good old days, but of course the problem with that is that this was said in 1951 and the good old days are never now. They were always then.

But to be honest, I'm not sure they were ever then, either. I mean, Borge suggested they might have been "20 years ago" which would have put them in the 1930s, which seems like strange times to be good, considering there was a major depression and was soon to be a major war. If anything could make a person wonder whether the idea of a "good old" anything was just a trick of the nostalgic imagination, that might be it. I've mentioned before my own good old era, the halcyon childhood when, in return for not having to pay bills, there was the threat of immanent nuclear war; and terrorism, and starvation, and genocide abroad. Other than that, perfectly lovely time to be alive. Not a care in the world.

I know I'll never get anywhere with this, but I do sometimes try to get people to examine their myths. And there are good reasons for that.

As a musician, I am supposed to hold with the idea that there was a time, in the middle of the last century, when people were much more educated about classical music then they are now, that they were friendlier to it, knew more about it, and valued it more highly. But I've seen a glimpse of the 1950s and, if they weren't there, I don't knew where they'd be. Certainly not in the 60s.

Borge wasn't Leonard Bernstein, of course, and didn't try to be. All the same, he didn't ask very much from his audience. He'd occasionally play a very shortened version of a famous piano concerto movement, or a solo piece. But sometimes several shows would go by without much musical content at all. And many of his jokes were more attitude than music. A few times he would imitate Shostakovich (still alive at the time) by smashing piano clusters like a four year old and declaring he'd come back when the composer got sober. He wanted us to know that this Russian didn't know how to write melodies, either. This was the height of the cold war, so it was easier to have fun by completely misrepresenting a living composer (anybody who has actually heard Shostakovich knows he could be very melodic; also that he was pretty much on our side when it came to Stalin, too, and was even being used for anti-Soviet propaganda by us. Would that have been too complicated? Why not at least pick another Soviet composer to make drunk jokes about?).

The self-congratulatory comedy didn't stop there; it had me wondering if this is what people thought was so educational. Instead of really teaching a little bit about music here and there (which you can still do in a comedy show and get away with it) you got a few of the famous pieces everybody knew, a few reinforced stereotypes about music and musicians;  in short, the kind of thing designed to make the audience feel good about what they thought they already knew rather than curious to know more.

All of this could be depressing, finding out that the good old days weren't so musically extraordinary as people have been making out. On the other hand, many of us go through the latter part of our lives disappointed and angry at a world that never seems to measure up to the way we thought things were.

Finding out that they never were that way can change our perspective a little.  I could unburden us.

I will say that Borge was still his affable self, and that was a pleasure to watch. I would argue that, while you could certainly point out that today there wouldn't even be a show that featured a classical pianist, I don't know that having one who has to dance around the opportunity to play real music and really talk about it, except very tangentially for a very limited amount of time is much of an advance on today. Also, Borge's show only lasted six months, so apparently the public patience for even that smattering of musical "culture" was limited.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Lemonade

It is said that people who can play Steinways can't afford Steinways. And vice versa.

I got my Yamaha from a woman who was making room for her new 160 thousand dollar Bosendorfer so people could play it at her parties. She did not want to be soiled with a 20 thousand dollar piano for the background music her hired pianists would play for her guests to talk over. She didn't play herself, of course. Perish the thought!

Persons who play other instruments occasionally have this problem as well. The great violinists of the world never own their instrument. Even though they make a good living, it is not enough to lay out several million dollars for a Stradivarius. So they get it loaned to them by a foundation.

The rest of us bozos get by on loaned instruments as well. I have a piano at home which is not concert worthy, but it helps me practice. I can't make good recordings on it, though. Most of the things you hear on pianonoise were made on Steinways that I had regular access to for some reason, such as having a position at a church, or for a recital.

Which is why, after some bit of exile, I should be in the driver's seat again. I am teaching a course about Mozart next month and wanted to finally get around to recording some of the sonatas, only to bump up against the latest hurdle: the piano is out of tune.

I don't mean just a little bit, either. I'm talking "church basement" out of tune.

Most churches in Pittsburgh have a piano, but only as an afterthought. Nobody plays it. We are an organ only town. And while Third Presbyterian has a nice Steinway model A which dates to 1929 (good year!) it is not particularly good at holding its tune.

We've been working on that in the year since I arrived. The massive fluctuations of temperature and humidity in a very large, non-airconditioned sanctuary in the middle of a humid, river-bounded town have to be contained. We've added a cover for the piano. We are set to install a damp chaser under the piano to keep the sound board at a consistent humidity--when the technician gets to it. Then, in a few weeks, he'll tune the piano, once the instrument has made the adjustment.

I got tired of waiting. One day, seated at the organ, I committed sacrilege by playing one of the Mozart sonatas on the organ. Then another. Then another. After a quarter century I can still remember large chunks of them without the score. I decided I liked the sound. After all, it may be an Allen, but it has a very large sound library of famous organ builder-generated sounds, and the charm of some of the registrations I was coming up with seemed to justify the experiment. So I recorded a few. I haven't had a chance to post any yet because I am in the middle of a busy week, so you'll get to hear them later.

They're not historically authentic, of course. Mozart didn't have a large, English cathedral style organ, or a French Cavaille Coll with hundreds of stops. And he did specify piano for these pieces.

But I think this may be sweet revenge for the organ. After all, Mozart was a great publicity man: he said that, to his "eyes and ears, the organ is the king of instruments." We organists like to trot out that quote every so often. But he didn't actually write anything for solo organ. Not a thing.

So maybe this is justice. It is a bit odd for a pianist to play an organ transcription of something he could just as well play on a piano, though. It is one thing when a beleaguered bassoonist steals something written for the violin in order to have some good literature to play on his neglected instrument.

The organ versions of these pieces do provide an interesting way to listen, however. Any great piece of music has many layers. Sometimes the best way to uncover some of them is to alter the medium. It causes us to hear differently. This doesn't mean I'm playing them the right way. There isn't a right way.

Arthur Schnabel said he wanted to play pieces that were impossible to play as well as they were written.

Anyhow, I've had to deal with some lemons in my career as a pianist and this week I found an unusual way to make some lemonade. I didn't squeeze all the juice out of the sonatas: you never can. But It yielded some intriguing results.

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Apparently somebody else complained about the piano this week from an outside group, so we are having it tuned today. Maybe I acted impatiently. Good thing.

As always, pianonoise.com is up with new recordings an articles if you want to explore the world of music.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Too many cooks

I end up playing father-confessor after concerts a lot.

"You know, I used to play the piano, but I quit. I wish I were still playing."

I don't happen to think this is actually true; much of this is just a polite attempt to have something to say, to forge a connection. Which, I suppose, is revealing.

It isn't that the speaker doesn't occasionally wish they could play the piano; probably they don't think about it that often, except in moments like these, but there is probably some genuine regret in not being able to play.  The idea of just being able to sit down and toss something off after a long day probably holds a grass-is-greener romanticism, but if a magic diva descended from Altissimus and instantly granted the ability to play like Horowitz, many of these folks would probably still only touch the piano once a year. Or so. I know because I've heard stories like that (without the magic diva).

Being able to play the piano is different from actually playing the piano. Being able to play is basically to display your credentials. This is what drives human beings. Showing your stuff.

The other week after a wedding when that young man came up to us and mentioned that he played the piano (self-taught) and the pastor said he could use the piano, I knew exactly what he was going to play, because it is the same as 11-year old self-taught boys everywhere. The first nine notes of Beethoven's Fur Elise and the first four measures of the Moonlight Sonata. Somehow it has become known in the pipeline that being able to play those pieces shows a high level of accomplishment. And they are conveniently possible to learn without reading music. And short. You leave off before the piece gets hard. Nobody wants to hear the rest anyway. You've made your point. You can play. That's the logic as I understand it.

The point being that you are important because look what you can do! Because everybody goes gaga over the pianist with the fast fingers and the playing from memory and don't we all want to be the center of attention?

This harsh analysis of human motives would explain why few people are likely to take up my challenge.

When people express regret at not being able to play I tell them that musicians like myself need people like them to come to concerts because otherwise we'd all be playing to empty rooms. Listeners are important. They support us. And music is about more than executing it anyhow. It needs to be understood, and enjoyed, and encouraged. It is a skill to be cultivated by listening and supporting. And it is important. It is vital.

This is an uphill battle. You can't sit down and prove to everybody in the room in a few seconds that you know how to listen to sonata form. Or that you can appreciate national dance forms in the music of Bach. Those things will make you a better listener, which will make your own experiences more enjoyable, and cause you to patronize artists who are setting the bar higher. But they don't, apparently, give you the power to command attention. Not the obvious kind.

Power is a strange thing. I recently came across my essay on Mendelssohn, which I'm going to post on pianonoise.com next month. Mendelssohn's dilemma, according to one biographer, was that he needed to please his father by overtaxing himself as a conductor and neglecting his own needs as a composer. His father didn't think much of composing, but waving a stick around and getting people to do what you say every moment, now, that is impressive! It is true that, in the main, people regard performers much more highly than composers. When persons like Mozart did both, they got much more respect for their performances than for their compositions.

But if you think about it, you realize that an entire symphony orchestra may be watching one person's stick change direction, but everybody, including the conductor, is following the marks on the page, and doing what the composer said to do. The composer may not be visible or in the room at all. They may have been dead for centuries. But they are the one causing everybody to do what they are doing. Even the conductor. The one front and center getting all the attention. Odd, isn't it?

Everybody has a role to play. Some of those roles are quite visible. But they shouldn't be confused with being the most significant roles, necessarily, and certainly not the only ones. Patrons of the arts come to mind. People who fund the symphony and the arts organizations. People who will not only tolerate Schubert, they will be moved by him. In a small audience after a lot of preparation and a great performance by a hard working pianist, that person who is able to ask an eager question, show appreciation for the music itself and not just the flying digits, let the performer know that they did more than impress the audience with pretty sounds for a few minutes and then overstay their welcome, but forged a real connection through art.

So if you used to play the piano and quit, you can feel like a failure if you want to. I can't control that. But not everybody was made to play the piano. I played T-ball one year and stopped after that, and I don't go up to major league ballplayers and tell them that I used to play and I quit and I'm really sorry I did. I don't feel it necessary. It takes all kinds. And the folks who don't play the piano any more can still do something that many people who do play aren't able to do. Really get into the music. Really understand the music. Realize it isn't just about showing off your fingers or your resume, or playing fast and loud in order to impress. Go to concerts. Support musicians. Love what you are hearing. Probe, be curious. Learn.

Be alive!




Friday, September 7, 2018

No Pressure

The interwebs is a fun place. Some people last week were excitedly proclaiming it was now officially AUTUMN and therefore time for SPICED LATTES! Others, more dour, and thus, better informed, were trying SUBTLY to remind the first group that it was currently 90 degrees in the shade and that maybe they were being a tad premature. Which is what Americans do best anyway. We're first in everything. Especially when it comes to being six weeks early.

In the real world, the coming of the great September is not always a cause for celebration. Many new things have begun with a bang. A friend of mine who teaches both high school and college said he felt like he'd been drinking out of a fire hose all week. Deadlines start to come faster and more furiouser. I'd clean that last sentence up but there is no time.

I have a piano recital to give this afternoon, at the end of a week when I was preparing for two Sundays: our grand return to the sanctuary, and thus the large organ, or, if it is too hot, and the pastor decides we'd better adjourn to the social hall. Preparing for both possibilities meant having two preludes ready and figuring out who to get some of those anthems and whatnot to work on the piano.

Meanwhile, there is another concert in two weeks, with a different piece to relearn, and another full recital on the organ which isn't for a couple of months but needs to be prepared now. Also I'm teaching a class in a month, but the deadline for pitching the one that comes next semester is this week so that proposal will have to come first. And I'm trying to finish up a composing project while I still can which is pretty much not anymore. I'm out of time. Now!

There seem to be only two speeds in American life: busy and ridiculous. Busy is the one where we aren't all that busy but we don't want people to think we're communists or something so when people ask how we are we grin our best weary grin and say "busy" and they commiserate with us. The other form occurs typically near the beginnings of semesters, and at the end of them. Although in grad school I noticed that once things took off with a lurch they stayed at that level of intensity except they kept escalating through the end of the year.  It usually took about a month of summer to remember what it felt like to be human.

I'm not ready for that spiced latte yet, but I am looking forward to it. Metaphorically, of course (I'm not that into pumpkins). Despite all the hubbub, somehow autumn is still my favorite season of the year. Must be the weather. It's never in a hurry. This week they finally rolled out the weather we were supposed to get the last half of July.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Driving in Pittsburgh

If you are stuck for a conversation starter with people who are visiting Pittsburgh, one tried and true approach is to complain about the driving. The folks visiting our sanctuary last week were glad to know that it wasn't just them that were having trouble.

Pittsburgh is notoriously hard to drive in. The folks with the automated cars noticed that and decided that if their cars could make it here they could make it anywhere. They didn't ask if it would add to our stress levels. They just did it. For nearly two years those satellite-dish-adorned cars have had the run of the place, and only managed to kill one pedestrian that I know of.

The hills are part of the problem, of course, but the age of the city has to be part of it, too. There are roads that go practically straight up--or down, jutting off at funny angles from the main roads. In most cities, the large roads don't have stop signs, but here, they often do. If they didn't, some people would never get to work.

It is rare to find a four-way intersection with perpendicularly oriented streets. Usually there are an assortment of left and right turns at various acute and oblique angles, which can make using GPS an adventure. Sometimes it will advise you to take a "slight right" but that rarely covers all the options. There are usually at least two roads that could qualify.

There are a multitude of intersections that seem like they could have been designed by a third grader. Sometimes two roads decide they like each other enough to have a sort of a rendezvous which does not qualify as an intersection, but isn't exactly a merger, as the two roads eventually part company again, usually involving hills and oblique angles.

I was discussing this all with a friend last night and he opined that you would have to ask yourself before driving "do you feel lucky" to which I responded "you have to feel lucky or you'd never leave the house!" He laughed.

But something interesting has developed among the drivers of Pittsburgh. Though there are occasional honks of impatience, there also seems to be an unusual degree of empathy and general maturity. I was stuck in traffic for 15 minutes because a truck, going down a hill in reverse, had impaled itself on the steep angular streetbed below, and not one driver honked even once. Something that is also common to Pittsburgh is how marvelously often another driver will wave a person from a side street or parking lot in front of them; otherwise, between the speed on the oncoming traffic and the habitually horrid sight angles, you'd never get in. Pittsburgh drivers do this because they all know that it is impossible to drive here; we are all in the same boat, and if we do it for other people, it creates a culture in which they'll all do it for us. Here, the Golden Rule isn't just a nice maxim to live by, it is a survival skill.

Then, of course, there is the Pittsburgh left. The way this works is that a person making a left turn does it in front of the oncoming traffic before they have a chance to go, rather than yielding and waiting his turn. This works at certain intersections because the streets are narrow and, in order to accommodate transit vehicles, the white lines at which you have to stop may be 40 feet away from the white lines across the intersection. Neolithic drivers must have reasoned that they could make a left and be well on their way before it was a concern of anybody else. They are usually right. However, I did see one unfortunate driver nearly get his clock cleaned trying to do this maneuver in front of impatient traffic. I have been lefted on a few times; I've been counting, and in the two years I've lived here I've made six of them myself. But you have to know when to do so. I don't think my insurer has a category for "Pittsburgh left" that gets anyone off the hook in case of an accident.

If you are traveling to Pittsburgh these are things to know. This is not new knowledge. At the top of the Duquesne Incline is displayed a column written by famous WWII correspondent Ernie Pyle before the war in which he lamented the difficulties of driving here. Things haven't gotten any better. The roads in the winter can be awful: last year we had chuck holes deep enough and wide enough to have their own zip codes. The city brought out what I assume were a herd of asphalt shitting cows to graze around the holes and produce chaotic piles of black tarry stones which were soon strewn all over everyone's cars and the rest of the city, opening the holes again a couple of days later. The following summer they came with the real equipment and managed to lay a brand spanking new surface in just a few days.

Those wishing to learn compassion and non-attachment can either travel to the Himalayas and learn it from the wise monks on the high mountains, or you can save some travel time and expense if you live in the United States by coming to Pittsburgh and bringing your car. Sometimes the best lessons in life can be had for only $3.69 a gallon.