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Occupy Wall Street

(The New York Times, 17 October 1931)

Bank managers across the nation met Friday to establish new standard business hours to help cope with the country’s new financial needs. The new hours, effective immediately at most major U.S. banks, will be: Monday through Friday, closed; Saturday, closed; Sunday’s closure for holy-day observance will remain unchanged. The banks plan to return to their former hours in 1936, with notices of resumption to be delivered at that time.

“We apologize for any inconvenience our new hours might cause anyone, but we’re certain that with a little time, everyone will be able to make the adjustment,” said New Jersey Citizen Bank President Henry Frigger. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

The new hours were posted on Citizen Bank’s doors, alongside a poster decorated with a fanciful cartoon bear in a top hat and tails, and the words, “Please ‘bear’ with us!”.

“We ask that everyone please be patient through our schedule adjustment,” said smiling bank secretary Harriet Kincaid, as she pulled blinds to block the view of the crowds outside.

Other bank tellers and clerks hurried about Citizen Bank, putting dust covers over the furniture and office equipment, while some reinforced the windows and doors with nails, wooden planks, and steel caging.

Worried account-holders attempting to place telephone calls to the bank were greeted with an automated message in lieu of an operator’s voice. The message stated that, although the call was important to Citizen Bank, switchboard operators were unable to speak at that time. The message was followed by a recording of the popular tune “Yes, We Have No Bananas”.

While many may be inconvenienced by the change in hours, Mr. Frigger said plenty of customers may still be able to withdraw money in times of need. “If your last name is the same as mine or my wife’s before marriage, I may be able to make an appointment for you outside our normal business hours. Such customers should come round back and slip a request under the door.”

In the meantime, Mr. Frigger said bank staff will be”doing a lot of remodeling, painting the front lobby, and attempting to locate approximately $900,000 in cash.”

The splendidly named writer Robert Thicknesse has long been an evangelist for opera, the most maligned of art forms. But, he’s beginning to wonder, what’s the point of it all? Has he been defending the indefensible?

I’ve been writing about opera for about a decade now, and over the years, as I’ve watched one companion after another’s eyes glaze over, or close gently, during a show, I have begun to wonder: what if I’m wrong about this? What if it actually is all rubbish, self-indulgent, glittery, adolescent, incontinent, with a vastly inflated view of its own importance? Can opera ever be more than a diversion for people with too much money and too little taste? And was it ever intended to be, anyway? Opera’s latest defence mechanism is a retreat into high camp best summed up by Rufus Wainwright’s recent quasi-opera Prima Donna, a piece that enshrines the extraneous things that have become the point of opera for many of its audience. It took a critical pasting because many of the critics are in the business of convincing themselves that opera is actually something else – a notable forum for discussing issues of great contemporary moment, for example. “Attacking me for using cliché in an opera about opera is absurd,” says Wainwright. “Cliché, camp and sentimentality are cornerstones of the form and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that.”

Is Robert Thicknesse playing the role of agent provocateur hoping to get droves of opera haters to defend an art form that they have absolutely no interest in – for the sake of defending art? Such a ploy must surely be doomed as very few are interested and many perceive it as a bourgeois art form to be enjoyed by bankers.

If it is not a ploy, should we then take what he says at face value? If one does that, then one really wonders at his critical acumen. Is he tired of the buildings, the opera-goers, and the marketing, rather than the art form itself? Seems he is. Even the Viennese writer Karl Kraus (one of the most cynical writers who ever penned a feuilleton) was capable of appreciating operetta – which is for some a watered down or dumbed down version that sits between opera and the musical. However, like Thicknesse, Kraus was merciless when it came to satirising the “Opera World”. I think one can be adult enough to separate the two. I can enjoy art without bothering to think of all those odious people in Japan, New York or Moscow buying the art works, or those imbibing wine and chattering about taxes spoiling their weekends. I think that opera transcends their values and lifestyles. It has its roots in what after all was seen to be an entertainment for the people, its themes a distillation of the sentiments and melodrama of ordinary people.

It was a subversive art form. It has tremendous potential in the postmodern period for providing a locus for all art forms. Why not defend that? Why not promote that? Instead of going for an ideologically safe approach, and say opera is exclusive.

Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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