Thursday, December 30, 2004

I'm heading north today to Fritz's where we will be hosting our annual four day New Years party for the boys.
Including ourselves, we'll be about 22 in all. There will be a Sweat Lodge on Saturday night, fancy dress dinner for New Year's Eve, movies, dancing, lots of good talk, massage sessions, and what Carol Burnett, during a memorable send-up of the Bette Davis film NOW VOYAGER, referred to as "whatnot."

I'll be back Sunday night--here's wishing you all a great New Year filled with health, happiness, love, and lots of good, really hot "whatnot."

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

There's a little psychic thing I seem to have picked up from my mother. Whenever she had a dream that included some relative, we knew that within 36 hours a call would come to tell us the relative had died. This happened so many times that there really couldn't be any doubt she was connecting on some level with passings that had occurred or were going to occur very soon.

Last night the fact that two of our friends are in India came forcefully into my mind. These guys have been on a continuing spiritual journey that has taken them through southeast Asia in the recent past. They left for India at Thanksgiving. All I could think of was "I hope they're nowhere near the east coast" that has been hit so hard by the tsunamis. The death toll is now several thousand in India alone with many thousands more unaccounted for.

I mentioned this to Fritz when I called him this morning, but he was pretty certain they were in the western part of the country. Immediately after hanging up, I opened my email and there was a note from one of them that had been written at almost the exact time last night that I had my little "flash." He wanted us to know they were still in Calcutta but were working on changing their plans--they had been scheduled to go to the heavily stricken Tamil-Nadu region along the east coast the day after tomorrow and stay for a month. He also mentioned that news of the disaster was very hard to come by in India, so I sent him what has been reported here along with our love and relief that they had missed the disaster--by less than a week.

Nate Berkus, a fairly well known Chicago-based interior designer who has had a lot of exposure via Oprah's show was on the Sri Lanka coast, on the beach with his lover, photographer Fernando Bengoechea, when the wave hit. They tried to cling together on an uprooted telephone pole but Bengoechea was swept out of Berkus's arms by the force of the water. He hasn't been seen since. Berkus survived, but with everything gone, including all his clothing and passport. Most of the press reports I've seen "discretely" refer to the men as "friends" but I was pleased that on the ABC world news last night at least the word "partner" was used. I began to wonder if the current repressive climate in this country will cause gay relationships to be covered up in mainstream news items.

As I was driving in this morning, I heard a radio item about a new luxury resort hotel in Nevada that has pools, hot tubs, gourmet food, golf, tennis--and a three story high state-of-the-art fire arms training facility. As part of your luxury vacation you get training in shooting quickly and accurately, including time in a simulated environment where you are attacked by Disney-style animated muggers, abductors, terrorists, etc. and have to defend yourself with your weapon. You have to come with your own fire arms but they'll train you in whatever you bring. I couldn't help thinking of G. Gordon Liddy, one of Richard Nixon's inner circle who did time over the Watergate affair and who then set up shop somewhere out in the West in a secluded mountain area where he trains survivalists, right-wing activists, etc. in guerrilla warfare. I got an image of a really plastic but outrageously expensive de luxe resort surrounded by hundreds of big muscle pick-up trucks with gun racks in their back windows.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas was lovely with Fritz and my younger daughter, a quiet weekend of walks in the woods, good food, good conversation, games of Scrabble and RummyKubs, a lovely dinner out with friends on Friday, and exchange of gifts around the tree. It was a very old fashioned Christmas in many ways. Hovering over it all was the phone call on Christmas morning that Fritz’s brother, who had been battling cancer for some while, might not survive the day. In fact, he did not pass away until this evening by which time I had dropped my daughter off at Logan Airport for a flight back to New York City and returned to my own home. Fritz called at dinner time to tell me that J. was gone. J. was a vivid personality and while we were all aware that the time left to him was short, his passing will still be deeply felt in the coming days and weeks.

Driving south from New Hampshire to Boston was difficult, as a snow storm fueled by the nearness of the ocean began to intensify just as I hit Interstate Route 93. Radio traffic reports were full of accidents, including one of 20 wrecked vehicles in a one mile stretch of Route 95 that hugs the coast. The storm has since grown into blizzard conditions.

My daughter had brought her honey-colored miniature poodle, a sweet and fun little dog, quite gloriously dumb, who lives for human affection and attention. Just pick her up and cradle her like a baby in your left arm, or lay her on her back across your lap and tickle her tummy, and she goes into a trance-like state with her paws up in the air, blissed-out and giving off occasional sighs and trills of pleasure. My cat, completely at home in what we jokingly call her country house, reacted with stern disapproval. There were one or two little confrontations but for the most part they kept their distance.

It looks as if I’m going to be doing major shoveling tomorrow morning before I can think of getting the car on the road and going to MIT. Predictions are that this may be a very snowy winter—check out Ryan’s “thinking and drinking” blog for pictures of snow as far south as Houston Texas, of all places

Friday, December 24, 2004

I'm off to New Hampshire and Fritz for the Christmas weekend in about three hours. Here's wishing you all a lovely time with your friends, family and chosen loved ones! Back next week.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

A change of weather came in with a roar tonight as high gale force winds from the east south east brought temperatures around sixty degrees. At the height of the wind I looked out at the huge maple tree in my yard and was very happy that if it went over it would fall away from the house. Now the wind is dying down and we just have heavy rain. Tomorrow night the reverse is supposed to happen with the temperature dropping into the single numbers.

My younger daughter flew in today from New York with her new dog, a sweet and slightly loopy little miniature poodle. We'll drive up to Fritz's tomorrow noon for Christmas--our eighth together. We settled into a Christmas Eve ritual pretty easily. A light supper (which tomorrow night will be at the house of good friends) followed by a candlelight Quaker Meeting, then home for a cup of his intense home-made cheddar cheese soup and everybody opens one present from under the tree. On Christmas morning there's always coffee with German stollen (I think he got the marzipan kind this year) while we all open presents.

Newfoundland this week became the seventh Canadian Province (of ten) to legalize gay marriage. A number of these provinces (there are also three territories but I am not sure of their stance toward gay marriage) butt right up against U.S. states that have moved to ban same sex unions by law or in their state Constitutions. Canadians are no less religious than Americans so you have to wonder how people right next to us and so similar in many ways can be so right-thinking and this country be so mired in superstition and bigotry.

Speaking of bigotry, do you remember Ed Pawlick? He's the big lawyer I wrote about who, with his wife Sally, is spearheading the drive against gay marriage here in Massachusetts and seeking to have the state's Supreme Judicial Court purged of pro-gay Justices. He was recently on the air again with another commercial concerning a Boston Globe editorial on him and Sally in which the word "bigot" was thrown around pretty liberally. Ed was shocked, shocked! that anyone would think him a bigot. Why, he gushes, he owned and ran a firm with one hundred twenty lawyers in it and he had actually hired a couple of out gay attorneys. After a pause (during he apparently hopes we'll all vote him a humanitarian award) he goes on that once he even promoted a lesbian(!), so nobody can call HIM a bigot, by golly. The whole ad reeks of "Some of my best friends are . . . . " which is usually a dead give-away as to what's really going on.

If you haven't visited Towleroad, Andy Towle's photoblog that chronicles political, social, gay and pop culture news, you should go (link at right) to catch a really sharp, well-designed and up-to-the minute site. There's a sign on the road to Fritz's that I had passed many times but today I realized I should take a picture and send it to Andy. It's a yellow diamond-shaped sign with a glyph for a road intersection and a second sign just below that says Towle Rd. I got it onto computer and sent it to Andy with a note saying that I hoped it would give him a smile, thanking him for all the time and effort he puts into the blog. About five minutes later I got a really sweet thank you note back at me, and before the end of the afternoon he had posted the picture.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Boston, like most vibrant cities, has its own wonderfully quirky and eccentric traditions. Genuine looniness has always been received well here, something I credit to our strong English heritage--they really love the off-beat and the bizarre over there. We've had a great many off the wall public figures, from politicians to artists, academics and sports figures, who've thrived here but who might not not have succeeded elsewhere.

This year we celebrated the fifth annual Santa Speedo Run. Ostensibly a charity event to raise money for Boston Children's Hospital (which it actually does), it's also just a good excuse for a bunch of guys to take off about 97% of their clothes at the beginning of winter and run virtually naked through the streets of Boston in the smallest swimwear they can find. They come from all across the country to do this--how great is that? Here's the URL--click the little forward button at the lower right corner of the frame and hang on through all the pictures of people with their clothes on until you get to pictures of the actual race:

Even before yesterday's tragic loss of American and Iraqi life at the army base near Mosul, approval ratings for Bush's conduct of this ill-conceived war had dropped well below 50% and pressure to get Rumsfeld out of the Secretary of Defense position had spread even to key Republican legislators. If only this slide in public confidence had occurred BEFORE the election . . . .

I finished my shopping yesterday except for a bunch of stocking stuffers I still have to buy for a certain someone, part of whom never quite grew up, who delights in exchanging wonderful little toys and games and silly things with those he loves. The last of the cards went out yesterday morning. Most of the wrapping is done. The number of malls visited has blessedly been very low and was just to get gift cards rather than to shop for things. I shopped at smaller mom and pop style stores where I had a lot of fun and found great stuff. It's all been pretty enjoyable this year.

Monday, December 20, 2004

I had a good, interesting weekend. On Friday I drove down to New York City for a performance of Leos Janacek's opera KATYA KABANOVA at the Metropolitan Opera. Janacek was a Moravian composer who had a mid-life revelation when he met a much younger married woman who became his muse for the rest of his life. They apparently never had a sexual relationship (he was also married), but in all his works for the concert hall or the opera stage written after their meeting, she figures in a major way. They maintained an extensive correspondence. After the composer died the two women sought each other out for what turned out to be an awkward day together, but one that managed to tell each of them what she needed to know about the other. I think there's a play in this somewhere for someone with tremendous insight into female psychology.

On my way into Manhattan, I had detoured into Queens to visit the cemetery where three generations of my family are buried. I needed dates from my great grandmother's stone for the big geneology I've been doing on the family. By coincidence, the cemetery sits directly opposite the Catholic boys' high school I had to attend. I was to have been class valedictorian but that was taken away from me when I committed to attend a non-Catholic college. Incredibly petty, small-minded people. They also had no interest in a boy who was oriented toward the arts and who read history privately on levels well ahead of their own highly slanted teachings. I toyed VERY briefly with stopping in but maintained my vow never to have anything to do with the place ever again. I suspect many of you may understand my feelings. They called, totally unexpectedly, a couple of months ago (I had broken contact with them while I was in college) to ask for an update to their files for a directory that's to be published in the spring. I thought a moment and said sure, making very certain that they had all the information on my sexual orientation, marriage to a man, gay activism here at MIT, etc. etc. I hope they get a good look at the info and choke on it.

I drove over the 59th St Bridge into Manhattan. As I came down the ramp I could actually look into my younger daughter's windows at her new place on 60th; then I went across town on 57th street and the City was dazzling as it always is at this time of year. I was born and grew up there and wherever I wind up living, a piece of my heart and soul will always belong to New York.

Saturday I was up with Fritz, co-hosting the monthly Sweat Lodge gathering. Sunday morning was devoted to cutting down a Christmas tree for his place--a beautifully shaped one of noble height--and going to Quaker Meeting. Then back to Boston for our costume designer's annual Holiday Party (it's an Italian-Jewish marriage, so the FOOD . . . !) followed by dinner out with the boys in Cambridge arranged by S. and G., a couple who hosted dessert back at their condo. On the way up, we played "how many homos can you squeeze into a small elevator?," found out, got the giggles, and had the most delightful time.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Everybody has some personal quirks; here are a couple of mine:

I always back into spaces in parking lots, garages and other facilities. Doing this, apparently, is considered eccentric and irrational by some. Not so very long ago, one of the New Hampshire papers had a column by one of their op-ed people on just how weird it is that people back into spaces. The author must have been really hard up for copy that day because he attacked the topic from all different angles, all of them leading to the conclusion that there was something fundamentally wrong with anyone who would back into a space rather than heading into it.

I won't do anything else, because I think it's far safer to back into an empty space when I arrive than to back out when I leave, into a driving lane full of pedestrians and moving vehicles that are difficult if not impossible to see when you've got it in reverse and your vision is blocked by cars on either side.

The second thing is that I have a love/hate relationship with deadlines and always have. I need them. When I have way too much to do and an iron-clad due date staring me in the face, it all gets done, often with time to spare. But when the deadline is off somewhere in the future, or there's comparatively little to do, I can go cold on the project and risk not getting it done at all. A good example was earlier this week. I had designed a set of fourteen foot high windows that begin vertical but curve forward gracefully so that the tops hang over the actors' heads. The trick is that they have to be pushed into a couple of different locations on stage easily and quietly. Everybody loved the windows, but not the lumber-heavily conctructions that supported them on either side.

I knew I had to think of something better but no ideas came--I was blocked and knew it. The design meeting with the director was at 1pm and by 10am I was still making up excuses to empty my office waste baskets or check my email rather than face the job of making the structures modern and elegant. At 11am, the design that had been locked inside suddenly popped into my head and I began ripping the model apart, even taking our band saw to the window units to get rid of any vestige of the earlier side support for the windows. Then I began cutting and glueing dowels to make a kind of contemporary flying buttress that was clean and dynamic and would counterbalance the forward thrust of the curved window units and look very cool while doing it.

Ten minutes before the director arrived for the meeting, I carried the new model from my office to the conference area, grabbed some coffee and all my notes and other info on the production, and waited. She came in her customary five minutes early, glanced at the model and then walked over to it and began to gush. She loved it.

I always panic a bit toward the end--what if the idea doesn't come and I walk into the meeting with air in my hands? Well so far, the ideas have always come and I've done pretty well in my career. But it would be so nice if I didn't have to rely on stark terror at the end to get me shifted into overdrive.

Monday, December 13, 2004

I've been fighting off a sense of stagnation in my work, something that isn't like me and that I've never really had to deal with. Part of it has to do with the hybrid nature of a job that includes a great deal of administrative work that this year has been a much bigger load than usual. Part also is my growing impatience with having to run a commuter relationship with Fritz. To some extent, I've done it to myself by fixing a date--the spring of 2007--to leave Boston and this job and join him permanently at his place in new Hampshire. I'm the kind of person that when I've finally turned a corner on a major decision, I want it all to happen NOW. It can't happen NOW, so I'm restless and trying not to feel trapped in a position that's been so ideal for so long.

Time will pass, we'll wake up in the same bed every day, I'll build the house on the property that I've always wanted, the earth-sheltered home I designed to be both beautiful and completely energy self-sufficient, we'll trtavel together whenever we want--it will all happen. I just have to get through the time between now and then.

Over the weekend I got out of town and headed south the big city for two operas on Saturday and the revival of Sondheim's PACIFIC OVERTURES that is playing at the old, (in)famous Studio 54 Theater on 54th Street in Manhattan. This revival developed from a Japanese production that came to the U.S. for a very brief run of performances at the Lincoln Center Festival two years ago. Now, the Japanese director and design team have restudied and reworked the material for a longer, if still limited, run in New York.

It's sharper and somewhat more bitter in the hands of director Amon Miyamoto, less involved with scenic spectacle and more with the deep trauma of Westernization which was both enforced and, eventually, seduced upon the Japanese. There has been some updating that is essential--when time goes into warp speed at the very end and about 80 years of history are compressed into five minutes, the realities that fly by now include Japanese players on American baseball teams, the amount of Manhatttan real estate owned by Japanese firms and the fact that the largest selling car in Detroit now is the Toyota. In the original production, the dropping of the atom bomb was a blip that raced by in the accellerating vortex of change--now it is a major catastrophe that stops the finale dead and THEN the race to the future kicks back in like a gut punch and builds swiftly to the final blackout. the production looks great, mostly sounds great (the sound mix on the voices is way too bass-heavy for my taste) and is performed by a very strong cast. And when it ended and the capacity audience had done calling for more curtain calls, I left the theater and was struck by how MANY sushi places there are all over New York City.

Friday, December 10, 2004

David Brudnoy died last night, about 36 hours after making his farewell interview and telling his "family" (everyone who listened to his show and called in, as well as his colleagues at WBZ radio) that he was calling off his personal fight for life. One radio report today said that he remained lucid, calm and at peace with his life right to the end. Then a statement by one of his doctors was played. The doctor observed that he had seen several agnostics go serenely, even glowingly, to their deaths with no sense of fear or sign of needing religious faith. Once again, I found myself wondering why this concept is made to seem so strange, even against reason, in our society.

I was sent to twelve years of some of the most bigoted, intolerant and oppressive Catholic education that the Brooklyn Archdiocease (that included the borough of Queens, NY where I grew up) could devise. My journey away from Catholocism and, after that, belief in deity began in fifth grade when the nun who taught our class made a blatantly anti-semitic speech while reading the story of the crucifixion. I must have been all of ten or eleven years old but I realized even at that young age that something was very, very wrong.

As I've gone through life I have come to believe that an enormous number of the ills of the world are caused by religion in most of its manifestations. One or two--Buddhism, Quakerism, a very few others--really seem to preach peace, acceptance, open-mindedness and respect for life. Mostly we have to confront what should be an obscene oxymoron, "religious war"--and so many wars have been (and are being) fought over religion and/or the cultures and values fostered by various religions.

I consider myself an athiest. I also consider myself a moral man with my own strong ethical code. I don't feel the need of any religion to validate or inform my ethical beliefs, many of which came into being in opposition to what most religions teach. I don't feel the need of an afterlife--if I encounter one when I die, I'll accept it as a nice surprise and try to do my part to fit in. But I have no trouble accepting the fact that when we die, that's it. I believe we're in the same boat as all other animals except that we're the only species--that we know of, that is--who have evolved to the point of being able to worry about such things, or to invent gods and all the trappings, doctrines and fears that come along with them.

I am a very spiritual person with a particular belief in gay spirituality. I have friends who roll their eyes whenever I mention the concept, but it informs my life and relationships and has supported and nurtured me far more than conventional Christianity ever did. I attend Quaker meeting with Fritz, a life-long athiestic Quaker, because I admire their highly rational, humanist and pacifist stand over the centuries on a wide variety of issues.

So, it's more than just theoretically possible to live one's life well as a responsible human being and an admired member of various communities without benefit of belief in deity, or religious affiliation. David Brudnoy certainly did. He leaves behing him the Brudnoy Fund for AIDS Research that has done a huge amount of humanitarian work in the U.S. and throughout the world. And as a very moving tribute made on a rival network--ABC--by Peter Jennings made so clear tonight, he lived his live with kindness, politeness and a vast intelligence.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Time is very short for a Boston broadcasting legend. David Brudnoy has been hosting talk programs on radio and doing television work, as well as teaching at several of the top local colleges and universities, for a quarter of a century. Ten years ago he revealed that he had become HIV+ and during that decade he has been in and out of hospitals, generally successfully fighting off a variety of infections. But today it was announced that Brudnoy himself has declared the fight for life to be at an end.

WBZ radio has stood by and supported "Bruds" through it all, covering his nationally broadcast radio talk show and holding his position no matter how long each of his hospitalizations has been or how close to death he has come. Sometime in the last year, however, Brudnoy developed a rare and very aggressive form of skin cancer called Merckle's Carcinoma. He went into treatment and seemed to be holding his own until December 2nd when he went again into hospital and it was discovered that the cancer has spread throughout Brudnoy's lower body, including his liver and kidneys.

David Brudnoy has been an inspiring, quirky, intelligent, frustrating and occasionally infuriating figure. Highly opinionated but full of common sense, he never played games with what he considered the truth and he isn't doing it now. This afternoon he spoke from his hospital bed with Gary La Pierre, another well-known WBZ reporter, and said that one has to pick one's fights and he knows that this is one he cannot win. Given his doctors' advice that his cancer has entered its terminal phase and that the end is now only days away, Brudnoy says in the interview that he has decided to give up the fight for life. He will not ask his doctors to do anything illegal, much as he might wish they would. He is being heavily medicated, but only for pain. He will continue to eat. He will let nature take its course. He is not afraid. Told that listeners are sending word of prayers being offered Brudnoy, a life-long agnostic, said he doesn't believe anyone is on the receiving end of those prayers, but accepts them gratefully as a sign that people care.

I have assumed for some time that Brudnoy is gay but am not certain that he has ever actually come out to the radio audience. I listen to his program when driving at night but am not a regular listener to his or any talk shows. He's been a strong advocate of gay rights but some of his most passionately held opinions have not been what one would expect. Brudnoy is not a knee-jerk liberal--or conservative for that matter. He went his own way and did it with class, style, a wicked sense of humor and unfailing professionalism. The news has been all over the Boston media, with the utmost support and respect being expressed. For the next several days, thousands and thousands of Bostonians and others across the nation will be holding their breaths.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

If you’re liberal or gay or just intelligent and fair minded, you have something of a problem with newspapers in New Hampshire. The major paper, the one with the most resources and the biggest reach, is the Manchester Union Leader, long the mouthpiece for the rabidly right wing William Loeb. Loeb was long thought to have been covertly running the state via former Governor Meldrim Thompson who reputedly made no decisions without calling Loeb first. After Loeb’s death, his widow kept things going and when she died, the paper was taken over by other, equally intolerant, and ultra-conservative hands.

Some time ago, Fritz simply had enough and cancelled his Union Leader delivery. A while later, I saw a paper was being delivered again, Foster’s Daily Democrat, a smaller but very agreeable newspaper published out of the town of Dover. The word Democrat in the name doesn’t mean it’s a house organ for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. It is, however, an evenhanded observer of the political scene with the guest op-ed pieces and letters to the editor often showing an extremely liberal bias. One feature of the paper I have come to like is the Arts coverage.

There’s a lot of art in New Hampshire, from the famed MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, the oldest art colony (1907) in the U.S., to a generously sized group of symphony orchestras, dance and opera companies and a number of regional art associations that regularly exhibit the work of artists all over the state. Museums are of a very high quality. But without decent newspaper coverage, finding out what’s happening where can be difficult if not impossible. The daily Democrat actually has better coverage than some far starrier newspapers. The New York Times, for example, has suspended publication of its weekly Arts Calendar as part of its dumbing-down procedure to attract a wider audience and people only interested in pop-culture and sports. The quality of writing in the Daily Democrat’s arts coverage can be judged by this excerpt from critic Kristin Raymond Robinson’s review of the movie “Sideways”:

“If you’re looking for car chases, uproarious laughter or Hollywood happy endings, this isn’t your movie. In fact, not a lot happens. Like a fine old wine, this is a cinematic treat to be slowly savored. And despite the ubiquitous metaphor, this isn’t really a movie about wine. It’s a movie about life. Wine is simply the common ground that these characters share.

“Paul Giamatti as Miles leads a cast of lesser-known but extraordinary actors with a tour de force. Every twitch of his shoulders, every sidelong glance speaks volumes about who this character is and who he wants to be. In one of the most beautiful moments in the film, Miles explains his preference for Pinot Noir. He speaks of the thin-skinned, temperamental grapes that need so much care and nurturing to produce this favorite wine. The audience sees with painful clarity that Miles is really talking about himself; it is an utterly honest and vulnerable moment.”

You don't find Arts writing like that in the NY Times or the Boston Globe these days too ofen. To find it in a small, regional paper that also has an intelligent editorial policy and good coverage of its region in all its departments is very encouraging.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

I know this is going to sound weird, but after I 've been involved in the very heavy and time-consuming run up to the opening night of a production--15 hour days, coming home only to feed the cat, sleep, shower and head out to work again--I revel in some down time to vacuum, do laundry, wash down my kitchen counters and tickle the furry tummy that follows me around the house delighted that I'm back home by daylight (I'm talking about the cat here, not Fritz). Today I'm also going to get some yard work done and go out to buy Christmas stuff for my warm and loving companion in life (Fritz this time, not the cat).

You all know how little use I have for George Bush and his works, but I'm going to say one thing here--in terms of making a Cabinet that "looks like America," he's doing considerably better than many presidents who have been far more liberal and populist, at least on paper. Nominees for the new second-term Cabinet now include an African-American woman and two Hispanic men. His nominee for Homeland Security Chief has the warm approval of no less than Teddy Kennedy. I'm beginning to wonder if maybe, just MAYBE, he's listened to some advice (or if some inkling of just how close he has come to splitting this country in half) finally managed to penetrate that thick skull of his. The statement just before the election that he would stand by the concept of civil unions for gays and lesbians is, of course, going to have to be backed up by real action, and the viciously anti-gay rhetoric is going to have to be eliminated. I still worry about outbreaks of gay bashing by thugs who think the Republican sweep of the elections empowers them to do "God's will."

The admissions this week by the main contractor for the Big Dig that they knew about leaks and bad workmanship six and more years ago, but did nothing, is at least refreshing in the light of how such firms usually react under such circumstances. They've even said that the public will not be charged for the extensive patching and repair work that's necessary. Not that the public SHOULD be charged, certainly, but usually there's a fight over that and this time the incompetence is so blatant they haven't a leg to stand on. Pictures seen nightly on the evening news show badly deteriorated concrete from water erosion and there are reports of some serious damage to steel beams and other parts of the skeleton of the main tunnels--and the project still has a year or two to be completely finished and cleaned up.

That's it for today. Fritz and I are off to Barre, Vermont tomorrow--he for teaching meetings, I to wander around the cemetey in search of early members of my father's family who came over from the marble quarries of Italy at the turn of the 20th century. Three brothers, including my grandfather, settled in Barre, heart of New England's granite and marble quarries, so there should be some traces. My grandfather soon moved to New York to sculpt marble for the City's perennial building boom, but I'm hoping to find the brothers and their families. Because the quality of stone cutting and sculpture to be seen in this cemetery is legendary the morning should, at the very least, be filled with fine art.

Friday, December 03, 2004

I have always been just a bit skeptical about Global Warming. It's not that I deny the fouling of the upper atmosphere by our industries or that I am complacent and unconcerned. It's just that I read history extensively and I'm aware that cycles of warmer and cooler eras succeeding each other are common. There's excellent documentation. But this morning I became just a bit concerned. Global Warming may just have shown itself in my front yard.

The last week has kept me hellishly busy, leaving for MIT at around 7:30 in the morning and returning anywhere between 10:30pm and midnight. On my way in and out, my attention has been on where I'm going and what I have to do when I get there. But the dance production has opened and I decided to take it just a bit slower this morning, not leaving the house, in glorious sunshine, until almost 9am. And that's when I saw it--the growing season has begun again.

It's December 3, and brand new 18" long shoots are rising from my forsythia hedge with little crowns of fresh green leaves sprouting from them. A very similar situation exists with my rhododendrons, which are putting out new green shoots with fresh leaves, while flower buds are swelling everywhere on the bushes. My grass is a good 3 inches taller than it was in late September, is a lush bright green, and needs mowing urgently. Today it is again shirtsleeve weather. G.W. may well be not only very real, it may be here sooner than we could have imagined.

Speaking of things environmental, I went out to grab lunch from a salad bar yesterday and on my way back I encountered a delightful, appealingly cute and glowingly smiling young man named Matt. Matt had my complete attention even before he began his pitch for a donation to and Environmental PAC that's lobbying for strict enforcement of the no-roads rule through heavily treed old-growth forests.
Trying as much as possible to maintain some semblance of professional reserve, I engaged young Matt in a number of questions about his group's activities, none of which I was particularly interested in, and when I couldn't justify drawing our little meeting out any longer I forked over five dollars and took my receipt.

It was then that an item from the morning news popped back into my head--it had been discovered that the FBI and Office of Homeland Security had been covertly investigating an array of environmental and religious groups as possible terrorist organizations and potential threats to the President. These include an environmental group from within the Catholic Church and (of interest to my Fritz) The American Friends Service Committee of the Quakers. The AFSC has had a long history of scrutiny by the FBI going back to the days when any organization advocating peace and disarmament was reputed to be taking its orders directly from Moscow (the same charge was leveled against Martin Luther King, Jr.). So I asked Matt if his group was aware of any FBI investigation and he said no, not to his knowledge, but he would check.

I had thought (hoped!) the bad old days of Joe McCarthy and the House Unamerican Activities Committee and the libelous but devastatingly right wing slander sheet "Red Channels" were all nightmares of the distant past. But maybe not. Maybe they, like Global Warming, are here right now and sitting just in front of our front doors. Waiting.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

We're moving through tech week for the Dance Theater Ensemble concert and it's been somethng of a trial. There are four dances with an intermission between numbers three and four. The first half starts with a Baroque piece that involved perhaps ten days of costume construction and lasts all of three and a half minutes on stage. Nothing much happens and it's the kind of thing that when it's over you wonder why it was done in the first place. The second piece is a dynamic solo for a dancer who did her own choreography and it comes across pretty well. The last piece in the first half is based on cubist drawings from the teens and 20s of the last century. Three dancers dance in, around and through geometric metal sculptures I designed, in a constantly changing lightscape against an inky black background. There's a driving, machinery-inspired score for winds and percussion and extremely effective choreography by the Ensemble's director. It's punchy, it's fun, the dancers have a great time with it--and the evening should end right there.

The second half consists of a symbolist drama by Maurice Maeterlinck. Symbolist drama had a brief flowering at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Characters are not so much real as archetypes, the language is poetic, sometimes very dense and often not very clear, and the settings are frequently a dream-like medieval world that's usually recreated on stage by shrouding everything in layers and layers of luminous fog. In our production, actors and dancers work with each other to tell the story and create a mood which is, in a word, gloomy.

The play we're doing is "The Death of Tintagiles." Tintagiles (pronounced, roughly Tan-ta-ZHEEL) is an extremely annoying little boy who lives with a couple of his sisters in a remote kingdom where their parents have apparently been killed by an evil Queen who is never seen but whose very name engenders dread in all who hear it. After about forty-five minutes, Tintagiles is lured through a heavy castle door that closes and that his sisters can never penetrate. Something quite dreadful, but definitely highly symbolic, happens to him and he (finally!) dies. The play ends with one of the sisters weeping--the other has disappeared, should anyone care.

It's been rather difficult to sit through this piece night after night as we've been going through final rehearsals--the problem with symolist drama is that once you've grasped the symbols, there's very little left to occupy the mind. And there's very little light to see it by as symbolist drama thrives in the shadows.

Fortunately the technical director and I made a mutual-aid agreement to alternate nights this week instead of both of us being there all the time. So Fritz and I were able to get away for a nice Thai dinner and an evening at the architecture studio of a good friend. H. wanted us to join in the review
of a project to completely reimagine the outdoor Publick Theater that's set in a park on banks of the Charles River. Five student architects presented projects, at least three of which were dynamic, imaginative and very well presented in general. The evening flew and it's always a pleasure to be invited to do the reviews with him. Tonight I have one more evening to be in the theater watching Tintagiles die, and then I'm off the hook for good!

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