Our Labor Day Weekend…(By Joan Huang)

Recently, bad news has come one after another, such as the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the Hurricane Ida, the Delta virus, the floods in Northeast, the California wildfires, Texas Abortion ban, etc … I prefer not watching news, but still can’t help it.

I saw a teenager named “Lele” on the Internet with this message: “Things are still blooming in dreams, and my garden is still the same, rippling with dreamlike tranquility. The fields are still green, fortunate by this lonely peace, gently swaying in the wind, swaying… Suddenly, the flower in the dream withered in pieces, and my home is no longer like that calm. A group of robbers broke into our home, and the cruel rain of bullets shattered the peaceful world. The sun is dim, not as brilliant as it used to be. On the streets, the children are crying looking for their parents, or vice ver-sa, the parents screaming sorrowfully for their children. So painful and tragic! However, yesterday’s greens swaying in the wind have been burnt to ashes; that lonely peace has already turned into mournful tears. People are crying in the smoke of the ruins. The sound of moaning is penetrating my soul like a sharp sword and tear my high spirit into pieces. I am sitting alone by the window, looking up at the sky with twinkling stars, a meteor quickly crosses the sky. The fast speed makes people too late to see, and it turns into a beautiful arc in the sky. With both hands, I’m praying: “Peace, Peace, Peace!”

I’m writing something for this long weekend.

We noticed that, at present, California lacks labor, restaurants and farms are short of people for picking, packaging, and transportation. I hope the arrival of Afghan refugees is a good news for California. Our Governor Newsom has said that California welcomes them: “We are a state of asylum, and I am proud that California has accepted more refugees than any state in the United States in the past ten years.” California Rep. Zoe Lofgren also said: “The governor’s approach is correct. We have always stood up to welcome new Americans into our homeland, and we have become stronger as a result.”

I live in an immigrant friendly neighborhood in Altadena, everyday, when I’m walking our dog Gigi, neighbors always so warmly to greeting us. I see many sighs saying: “Immigrants & Refugees Welcome, We Must Not Stand Idly By…”, I instantly have a sense of security.

My previous blog “Spontaneous Thoughts of Chinese Qixi Festival” wrote about the laboring scene of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”: “You are plowing while I am weaving textiles; you re carrying water while I am sprinkling field.”  After the Qixi Festival, it comes “Labor Day” in America. It also coincides with my husband Bill’s birthday day. That would be another project.

Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor. “Labor Day” was promoted by the Central Labor Union and the Knights of Labor, which organized the first parade in New York City. In 1887, Oregon was the first state of the United States to make it an official public holiday. By the time it became an official federal holiday in 1894, thirty states in the United States officially celebrated Labor Day.

Labor Day is a federal holiday in the United States celebrated on the first Monday in September to honor and recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.[1][2][3] It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend.(from Wikipedia)

The following video briefly introduces the history of Labor Day in the United States: The History of Labor Day:

For many Americans, the arrival of Labor Day also means that summer is gradually closing — the last holiday of the summer, the summer vacation for students has also ended. Here, the children have started to go to school wearing masks. It’s worrisome because they are not eligible to get vaccines.

When Labor Day is here, I’m just casually talking about my attitude towards “labor”. I remember when I was a child, I watched a cartoon entitled: A Little Kitten Go Fishing, in which the title song “Labor Is the Most Glorious Thing”:

“The sun is bright and golden,

The rooster sings its song three times,

The flowers woke up,

The bird is busy dressing up.

Little magpie built a new house,

The little bee gathers honey,

Where does a happy life come from?

It depends on labors which create.

Green leaves and red flowers,

Little Butterfly is playful,

Don’t love work or study,

We don’t learn from it at all.

To learn from magpies to build new houses,

To learn bees to pick honey,

The joy of labor is endless,

The creation of labor is the most glorious thing.”

At the beginning of the summer, when the covid eased, in order to be kind to myself, I bought a barbecue online. I’ve been marinating and grilling, and enjoying fresh BBQs at least twice a week. Our garden is always full of meaty aroma.

During the nearly one and half year of epidemic, every day was my working day behind the closed door. I worked hard, either composing music or writing blogs. For me, a creative life is the best remedy to overcome all kinds of anxieties and kill all negativities.  Special circumstances lead tp special ways of life, I’ve learned a hard way when I was sent to a farm to do forced labors during the China’s Cultural Revolution.  The quiet atmosphere makes me very focused and my thoughts just go wild. Somehow this is good for me to be calm down and do whatever I would like to do.  Numerous ideas like stimulant energies saturated into my fingertips and they were dancing on my computer keyboard.  Every detail in my daily work during the quarantine period is a beautiful beating musical note, they swarmed onto the musical staff. I want to write my experience. For me, labor is a real enjoyment. For me, if there is no such word as labor in life, there will be no sense of happiness, it would be boring and dull.

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Last year, I wrote a multi-media composition entitled Soliloquy in the Epidemic Spring

Here’s the description about the piece:

“When the Covid-19 pandemic spread to America, the beautiful world shut down in front of us.  Completely unprepared, I lost the sense of goals in the music world and became dysfunctional: depressed, wandering, ineffectual.  Until one day I heard Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise on KUSC (Classical music radio station), I was deeply touched by the heart wrenching melody.  

It was in the middle of the most gorgeous season, the roses in our garden are    blooming, producing a riot of colors.  The visual and audio splendors became the huge inspiration for the “monologue” of my personal quarantined life.  

Social distancing may accompany us for a while.  As a composer, my concept of creation has to adapt to new media and possibilities.

The piece is for String Quartet, Electronic Sound and Visual Effects.  Everything had to be created solely by myself instead of live musicians.

It is a spontaneous mixed thoughts of reality and subconsciousness of uncertainty.  

I. Morning coffee brewing , kitchen sound, birds chirping, from the radio, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is wafting in the background.

II. String Quartet joins the natural world, continue to “sing” this memorable   and emotional Vocalise.

III. Pandemic outbreaks, “Stay-home” order was enacted by the government, people were panicking, driving to supermarkets, stockpiling food.  

IV. Eerie ambulance sirens mingled with newscasts, people were very scared and got lost.

V. Calm down, calm down, with the soothing melody from the second movement “Scene at the creek” from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 sounding by my ears, my pastoral life begins: staycation, gardening, harvesting and cooking.  

VI. People are dying, the statistics are rising, a shroud of ghostly sensation is approaching.  

VII. The “Elegy” for the deceased Covid-19 victims.

VIII. Reaching out: through FaceBook, FaceTime, Skype, WeChat, Zoom, etc. My quarantined space is limited, but social media on the internet are limitless.

IX. Spring is here, there is light at the end of the tunnel, maybe?  I want to be hopeful.

X. I’m not alone, it’s the PANDEMIC!  We have to face this universal catastrophe and voice solidarity with the world.  

Musically, it’s a quasi Variation based on the theme of Vocalise, the string quartet dispersed with electronic sounds of the uncontrollable concrete realities.”

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I also wrote another composition:  Episodes During the Plagued Summer. Through my “labor”, all the musical notes like the little tadpoles, one by one, jumping onto the “river” of the 5-line staff, I’m feeling great to have something accomplished during the 18-month isolation.   Throughout the summer we have a total of 7 festivals: 1) Chinese Dragon Boat Festival; 2) Father’s Day; 3) July 4th; 4) Bastille Day; 5) Chinese Qixi Festival; 6) Labor Day; 7) Rosh Hashanah.

The following page is from the 6th movement: “Labor Day”.

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A comfortable and beautiful home is through hardworking and wisdom, and the reward is very generous. Throughout the summer, day in and day out, under the scorching sun, I’m plowing, weeding, watering and harvesting in the vegetable garden by my diligent hands.  I’m making homey meals and experimenting new recipes day after day.  As a result, every bit of my work definitely gives me positive energies, which makes me feel complacent.  Now at the early September, the sunset is much earlier than in June. The crop of corns of 3 months ago is no longer lush.  There are still plenty of red and green peppers in the vegetable garden, long thread of yard beans tangle together with other tomato plants.  There are violet-colored eggplants, a few of red and yellow tomatoes.  Growing vegetables is so much fun!

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Cooking is the relaxation technique during the unpredictable near future.  I’m improvising our dinners every day. Practice is the process of learning.

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I’m using Sheila Lukins’s “Labour Day Picnic” as our main recipe for Labor Day. I will make some adjustments and try to create some rustic flavors of  a “farmhouse”:

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1) Delicious Tri-Colored Salad: This salad’s main ingredients are lentil, celery, carrot.  The starchy soil of lentils can fully absorb pungent onions and garlic, then garnished with chopped celeries and carrots.  On top of 3 main ingredients, dripping with homemade dressing made from olive oil, lemon, mint, red vinegar, shallots and yogurt.  You can taste all the detailed flavors.

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2) Skirt Veal Steak: Since we live in Southern California, Mexican tortillas are very popular. Delicious skirt veal steaks, with onions, Tabasco sauce, lime juice, red vinegar and coriander in tortillas are so delicious.

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3) Roast Four Reds: Red is a symbol of happiness and joy. There are red beets, juicy red tomatoes, crispy red onions and shiny red bell peppers. Slice them all, add a little golden corns and green onions, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, drizzle them with olive oil, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

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4) Plum Crisp: This simple and easy-to-make late-summer desert on Labor Day will give you a taste of the last batch of plums in season. The top layer of plum crisps is like candied fruit, sweet but not greasy, and has all the flavors of butter pastry taste. Freshly baked plum crisp and vanilla ice cream are the best match, add a little bit Creme Fraiche to end the Labor Day  dinner to a satisfaction.

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After a day’s work on Labor Day, drinking a little bit of Hennessy, while watching the US Open Tennis Tournament, I’m feeling very relaxed…

Published by Joan Huang

I'm a freelance composer living in bucolic Altadena, the suburb of Los Angeles. Besides music making, I love cooking, drinking wines with friends, gardening, hiking and traveling.

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