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I don’t do too well without deadlines. I imposed one on myself for this series; I would write about every song before I went to see the show. But then it became clear that I wasn’t going to make it, and I just lost steam. It’s been over a year.

In the absence of deadlines, however, polite requests are very effective, and someone at church asked if I were going to get back to this. Even more influentially, he indicated that he’d read them all and they’d helped spur him to listen to the album. All right, then! Onwards to “Take a Break”!

When we see a driven, brilliant person who accomplishes more in his profession than seems possible for any mortal, we might wonder, what is he like at home?

It’s hard to pull him away from his desk, even for dinner. He has to be nagged into spending a few minutes with his son on the child’s birthday. It’s almost impossible to get him to go on vacation. “I will try to get away,” Hamilton tells Eliza. Yeah, right. Every workaholic has uttered these words, and every spouse, child or friend of one rolls their eyes when they hear them. He will try, but then he’ll discover that he has to write one more draft, talk to one more Congressman, add one more argument, recalculate one more set of figures . . . The work will always be there, there will always be more of it, and it will always loom in his mind as too important to put aside. His family can’t possibly compete.

But he does adore them, and this song shows that both sides of that tug-of-war have force. When he’s finally compelled by Eliza to come hear Philip (“He’s been practicing all day”), he hears not more piano, but a novice rap. Don’t you love it? So does Alexander–“Hey, our kid is pretty great!”–and it’s a sweet moment. It’s just a snapshot, but enough to show the love in the family.

The dialogue with the off-stage Angelica also sketches a complex relationship in a few strokes. When I finally read Ron Chernow’s biography (see? I wasn’t wasting those months of non-blogging), one of the questions on my mind was “Did Alexander really write a letter that began ‘My dearest, Angelica’?” It seemed like a small but significant piece of evidence on which one could build a case that they had an affair, at least an emotional one (they were separated by an ocean most of the time). But no; it appears to be Lin-Manuel Miranda’s invention. What does have a historical basis is that brother- and sister-in-law had a relationship that was close, intellectual, playful, and supportive. Chernow writes that their flirtatious banter raised eyebrows, though it might not have done had Alexander not already had a reputation as a ladies’ man.

We see all of those elements here. Close:

Eliza: Angelica!
Angelica: Eliza!
Hamilton, with audible longing: The Schuyler sisters.
Angelica: Alexander–
Hamilton: Hi.
Angelica: It’s good to see your face.

Intellectual: “You must get through to Jefferson,” she advises; “Sit down with him and compromise / Don’t stop ’til you agree” Hamilton takes his sophisticated work problems to her. Playful: They banter via Macbeth references, though Angelica is the opposite of Lady Macbeth. “If you take your time, you will make your mark,” she tries to reassure him, and when she teases, “Screw your courage to the sticking-place,” she isn’t urging him to be more ambitious, but to put down his work and be with his family. Supportive: “Your favorite older sister . . . reminds you / There’s someone in your corner all the way across the sea.”

The way the sisters’ voices weave in and out around Alexander’s protests, it seems as if they must be irresistible. But when they go away for a quiet lakeside summer, he stays behind. Bad move.

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(Consider this backdated a week. I have been too tired from full days of museum-walking and street-exploring to do much blogging.)

In case Paris decides it needs a new slogan, I suggest “It lives up to the hype.” I loved Paris when I visited as a college student, and however it may have changed in the subsequent decades, its reputation as one of the world’s best cities, if not the best, is completely deserved.

Great food: check. Every grubby little place has excellent bread and delicious French onion soup. Even the tourist trap we reluctantly went to when we were famished and too near the Eiffel Tower for anything else was terrific. Boulangeries and patisseries are on just about every block, and we never ate anything at any of them that was less than delicious (French people must faint dead away when they taste what most U.S. bakers pass off as croissants).

I’m sure someone in Paris knows how to knock out a crappy meal, but we were fortunate enough not to order anything from that person’s kitchen. It really is a city of cooks who love and know food. We had precisely one disappointing meal, and that was only because it was billed as the best Chinese food in the city, which I doubt it really is. It was pretty good anyway, but we happily went back to French cuisine the next day.

Eiffel Tower: check. It’s the world’s most overviewed tourist attraction, and you know what? It’s still gorgeous. Each of us had seen it on her previous visit and put it low on the list of things to do this time around, but when we had gone all the way to the city’s museum of modern art to see a mural that turned out to be closed to view, and discovered we were half a mile from the tower, we couldn’t resist.

Also, you have to love a place where the street vendors are selling champagne to accompany your picnic. We did not buy any; for that matter, we didn’t picnic. But we walked up close.

Mona Lisa: Check. As I wrote last week, it’s hard to see it afresh, but it’s still a beautiful work of art. So are the Venus de Milo and the Nike (Winged Victory) of Samothrace, the other two items at the Louvre that are so requested that the museum just posts signs all over saying “This way.” Probably the guards got tired to giving people directions. My favorite of the three is the Nike, but none could be called a disappointment. The Louvre piece I would personally walk miles to see (actually, I think I did) is Michelangelo’s “Dying Slave.”

Beautiful city: check. Cobbled streets, graceful old buildings, spires rising here and there–it’s just lovely. Standing on a bridge at sunset watching the Seine wend through the city is even nicer than romantic movies lead one to expect. We even saw swans on the river once, though boats filled with tourists are far more common.

I have some thoughts on the shadow side of the city’s beauty in my next post.

 

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