Friday, September 30, 2005

 

As I walked through the for pay and free newspaper dispensers in Kendall Square today, my eye was caught by the cover of the satirical DIG--full title, Boston's Weekly Dig. We've already begun the great rivalry weekend during which the regular baseball season comes to an end as the Yankees and Red Sox confront each other in three games right here in Boston. People walking around the city in Yankee caps report being jeered. An unprecedented number of police are patrolling around Fenway Park to avoid the kind of trouble that resulted last year in the killing of an innocent bystander by a "non-lethal" police pepper spray bullet. $45 tickets have been seen offered for $800 on the internet. And this cover is causing controversy.

So, what's NOT to like about this cover? A couple of bears--real, heavy, hairy GUYS--are trying to bury the hatchet (or in this case the tongue) to help end the bitter rivalry between Boston and New York. I think their position is admirable and am confident should this example fail, they're prepared to take things into their own hands. But out there somewhere, our old friends the religious Right apparently feel this picture will corrupt children and endanger traditional marriage.
As if a picture of Pat Buchanan wouldn't put the average kid off his food for a week!

I just logged my first piece of spam in the comments to yesterday's entry. If this keeps up, I'll probably add Blogger's spam filter word verification device to the blog. I know most of you have this on your blogs already. Apparently, it's the way we have to live now.


I found Andy Borowitz's column tonight thanks to a friend who forwarded the address: http://www.borowitzreport.com. Here's today's delightful column:

DeLAY, FRIST TO WED
Embattled Republicans Seek Legal Protection as Gay Married Couple
In what some skeptics saw as a calculated move to protect themselves from impending prosecution and ethics probes, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and former Speaker of the House Tom DeLay announced today that they were engaged to be married. Holding hands on the steps of the Capitol, Sen. Frist and Rep. DeLay denied that there were any ulterior motives for their stunning decision to wed "Let our critics say what they want," Rep. DeLay said. "Bill and I have never been more in love."

But before reporters could question the two smitten lawmakers, Sen. Frist added, "And as a gay married couple, we expect to be protected from harassment by the government, including prosecution for conspiracy and investigation of insider stock sales." Rep. DeLay, seemingly fighting back tears, concurred: "We refuse to be attacked by those who won't accept our love."

The two men said they would go on a brief honeymoon to Hawaii and then would start working on legislation that would classify them as an endangered species.

As outspoken opponents of gay marriage, the two conservative Republicans' decision to wed surprise
d many in official Washington. Even Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay lawmaker from Massachusetts, said that while he embraced the union between the two men, "I'm still having a hard time getting my brain around it. I know politics makes strange bedfellows, but those two are the strangest bedfellows I've ever seen," Rep. Frank said.

Elsewhere, Saddam Hussein's prosecutors said they would seek the harshest sentence possible for the deposed dictator, forcing him to share a prison cell with Army Pfc. Lynndie England.


Rep. Barney Frank skeptically contemplates the DeLay/Frist engagement

Thursday, September 29, 2005

 

Baseball, Baby, and Bush

Fenway Park in the Kenmore Square-Fens area of Boston

End-of-season baseball fever has gripped Boston hard. Tuesday night it took me an hour and twenty-five minutes to make a trip that should take fifteen to twenty at the most. I was on my way from MIT to the host house for this month's gay book club meeting and the problem was that, as the crow flies, Fenway Park was directly in my path. Unexpectedly, there was a double header Tuesday due to Monday night's rainout. So, as one huge crowd was leaving Fenway, another huge crowd was coming to Fenway for the evening game, just as Boston’s entire work force was trying to go home at the end of the work day. The regular season ends with a three-game series this weekend between traditional rivals-to-the-death Yankees and Red Sox, so Boston should be tied up just about completely on both Saturday and Sunday.

The "new" Red Sox owners have galvanized the city, first by actually fielding a team that broke the "curse," and then by making the firm decision NOT to move the team to some anonymous concrete stadium in the boonies somewhere outside the city. They’ve been making some carefully designed changes to increase the seating capacity at Fenway by something like 5000, while moving offices out of the ball park into surrounding buildings. In the vacated space they’ve developed more public services including child care and decent rest rooms. They've also started holding regular fan family events, an innovation that's going over extremely well. Fenway will always be one of the smallest parks in baseball, but the fan base has been expanding due to their outreach.

For residents of the Fenway area, these changes are a mixed blessing. There's a severe lack of parking in the area and traffic coming into and out of the Fens is cramped into a very few main streets. Worse, developers have bought up virtually all the existing two and three storey commercial buildings, demolished them and putting up monster high rises. One of these buildings will house several floors of shopping, several more of offices and then a residential tower many of whose units will look down right into the ball park. Long-time residents of the area fear being priced out of their apartments or being displaced when their buildings are demolished to make way for bigger, more expensive structures.

I'm very happy the decision was made to stick with the old century plus old ball park. Cities like Baltimore put up new parks consciously trying to recreate the old ball park feel. But Fenway IS a genuine old-style urban baseball park and staying with it is typical of Boston's respect for tradition and authenticity. My older daughter and I spent many happy afternoons and evenings in the grandstand behind right field. The dynamic in Fenway is very special, sort of like a gathering of an entire New England city in the middle of which a baseball game just happens to be going on.



My new cousin Neil Michael, about four hours old

Boston's weather was extraordinary yesterday, crystal clear with a deep and intense blue sky. Atmospheric pressure was invigorating and I thought of the poem Fritz learned as a grammar school student about "October’s bright blue weather"—four days early and very welcome.

I got a new relative yesterday as well. Neil Michael was born three weeks early in Pittsburgh, his first name in honor of Neil Armstrong since both his parents had wanted to be astronauts; his middle name in honor of his paternal grandmother whose first name is Michael. Although he's just over four pounds, he's full term in his development, and everybody's doing well.

I don't think I’m a vengeful person but watching the roof cave in on the Bush administration isn't doing my mood any harm at all. The indictment of Tom DeLay and the continuing investigation of Bill Frist combined with the worsening situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the hurricane response disaster, the energy supply and pricing situation, the unimaginable amounts of debt Bush is racking up, and poll numbers indicating that Americans are finally catching on to the truth will, I hope, begin to break Republican control of Congress starting with the 2006 elections. I don’t look at life through rose colored glasses: the prosecutor who's taking on DeLay claims to have brought four times as many Democrats to trial as Republicans. But given the choice, I'll take corruption with enlightened social and financial policy over corruption with a rapacious environmental philosophy; a reactionary, theocratic social and political philosophy; and arrogant incompetence any day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

 
Blogger's strange and random acts of sabotage

By coincidence, I had just left a note on Joey Destino's blog the other day about how infuriating the technical glitches on Blogger can be, when I went back to my own blog to discover several paragraphs at the beginning of the last entry that had become compressed and illegible. I had made no changes, nor done nothing in the template. I remembered my last big Blogger problem when what Bryan (That's Interesting) called "stray lines of html" had appeared spontaneously on the blog template, wrecking my layout.

So, I went into edit mode and discovered essentially the same thing in the form of some html at the beginning of my entry putting the font size down to 0%. Absolutely not my doing. I corrected the problem and the blog returned to normal (I'm getting better, Bryan, thanks for your coaching). Does anyone have any idea why Blogger does this sort of thing? One thing I do know about Blogger is that when I send questions to tech support, the're completely ignored about 80% of the time.

Fritz is away in Albuquerque this week teaching for Lesley University. He'll also be getting together with an old friend of ours who moved out there many years ago. There was one year when he seemed to be jetting all over the country every month for teaching gigs but, while lucrative, that kind of schedule was hard to sustain. H's teaching one of his specialties, psychological type, as in the Myers-Briggs type indicator. This summer he received the prestigious Lawrence Award, national recognition for a distinguished career in teaching on the subject
.


Author Jeffrey Eugenides and his magnum opus

The gay book discussion group of which I'm a member met last night and the subject was "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner and beautifully, sometimes even thrillingly written. His story, which is partly autobiographical, traces just over fifty years in the history of a Greek immigrant family who fled the death throes of the Greek colony in Turkey during the 1922 Turkish slaughter of Greeks and Armenians during the destruction of the city of Smyrna. They settle in Detroit only to go through the same race and ethnicity-based rioting and destruction in Detroit during the 60s. Running through the entire story is the legacy of inbreeding by the family's ancestors in the tiny hillside village in Turkey from which they all descend, and the ultimate result in a hermaphrodite in the final generation we meet in the book. Raised as a girl but ultimately finding identity as a man, this courageous and resourceful young person acts as narrrator and ultimately as hero of a remarkable drama.

If this all sounds a bit unlikely, it doesn't come over that way in Eugenide's fascinating narrative. Issues of gender identification and sexuality are prominent but most of all it's a great read, conceived as an epic but told in extremely personal and engaging terms.

And lastly, my political orientation . . .

You are a

Social Liberal
(71% permissive)
and an...
Economic Liberal
(18% permissive)
You are best described as a:
Democratic Socialist



Monday, September 26, 2005

 

A nearly perfect weekend

Saturday was an ideal early autumn New England day. Clear, rich blue skies, pleasant temperatures and lovely breezes. I spent the bulk of the day outdoors, doing my end-of-growing-season yard work. Mowing, the last trimming of the forsythia hedge, clearing the dried day lily stalks and generally cleaning up. Aftenoon tea and reading on the deck. Perfect.

The day was capped by dinner with four fellow gay Boston Bloggers in Cambridge at the Border Cafe. This was a first attempt at seeing if there's a gay blogging community out there, and a most pleasant one it was. I'd met Karl and event organizer Bryan before, but this was my first contact with Keith and Jason. We gave Bryan minimal grief about arriving late for his own event and for the fact that the pink shirt everyone was supposed to recognize him by looked bright yellow in the street lights. There are about sixteen more area gay bloggers--I found the 16th just this afternoon--and we're hoping to attract more guys to the next gathering which Bryan suggests be a dim sum in Chinatown. After dinner I headed up to New Hampshire and slipped into bed with Fritz.

Sunday was a disappointment only as to weather--solidly cloudy all day. We did errands in the morning and then occupied ourselves with part of the bumper crop of raspberries Fritz has been bringing in on an almost daily basis. He made preserves and I made raspberry sorbet. The flavor of both was intense--my favorite berries captured at their freshest. We took time out for some good sex in the afternon and then got ready for this month's Sweat gathering.

We were fourteen men all together. Despite the concern here over West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, recent cool nights had just about eliminated all the mosquitoes and we had no concern about undressing and standing around the fire until the soapstones were red and glowing translucently. After some introductory chanting, talk in the sweat lodge turned political. Our Catholic priest friend is going through a very bad time, as you can imagine, with the start of the current witch hunt for gay men. He alternated between needing to vent and a desire not to think about things any more than necessary. We were happy to note that the big anti-Iraq War protest in D.C. had drawn 100,000 while the counter demonstration in favor of Bush consisted of maybe 5000. The usual pot luck supper ended the Sweat and the day in high spirits.




At MIT, today was totally given over to work on LEOCADIA, the fall production. The pictures show the color sketch for the Duchess's salon along with paint swatches and a picture of the classical statue of a Roman matron that's part of the set dressing. The other photo shows a model of the bicycle-driven ice cream cart that's required for one of the outdoor park scenes. I'm having a lot of fun with this one--not too many directors these days want to put plays in the proper period and this is a "pretty" show into the bargain.

Friday, September 23, 2005

 
I got back to my stationary bicycle and weight bench after the Labor Day weekend and found today that my weight's down between three and four pounds. Of course, I've also been eating carefully as well, but it feels really good to be exercising again. I was away from my two very modest machines during our July vacation and when we got back, it was hot and I'd lost the routine. I like the feeling that my body's tightening up again and it was a big help this week in particular, because there was a lot of heavy lifting to do at MIT.

My younger daughter emailed yesterday, asking if she could call so I could help with one of her crossword puzzles. She lives in New York City and we've developed some nice rituals to keep in touch. Lunch or dinner when I go down to the City for the opera; the same here on those occasions when she's up here on business. And crosswords. She likes New York Magazine's puzzles which suits me just fine. I always liked Maura Jacobson's crosswords--a good challenge so as to be interesting, but not so difficult as to kill the fun of doing one at a single sitting.

So we get on the phone and bat words back and forth and gossip about our men. Well, hers actually because I've got my man and she's still in the dating pool. She was set up on a blind date recently by a guy friend, and the date unexpectedly turned out to be a rabid Bush fan. His opening gambit was to tell her that George Bush is working ceaselessly for the betterment of the world. The evening, she told me, ended early, badly, and with him informing her that he expected her to pay for her own dinner. I said I hope she walked out and left him with the check, but she said she paid willingly, not wanting to be obligated to him on any level. Her guy friend has apologized profusely.

She works for a major communications company recruiting top professionals for its publishing arm and she's really good at it. She puts herself out to the public with a real chic and writes beautifully. Having a designer for a father can't have hurt, but her sense of style is her own and was evident at a young age. When she was around nine or ten, I stopped buying clothes for her and started taking her to the kind of thrift shops to which we're both addicted so she could put together her own looks. Her color sense was perfect and she always knew what looked best on her increasingly willowy and lithe frame.

Tomorrow evening, I'll be at the first gathering of gay Boston bloggers at the Border Cafe, a raucous, fun Tex-Mex restaurant in Harvard Square noted for its margeritas and good food. While I think there are at least twenty of us in the area (not counting boyfriends and husbands), it looks like we might be only six at dinner, a small event compared to the big (apparently quite naughty this year) New York City bashes that inspired it. But I think we'll have a great time and with luck more guys will be able to join us in future.


The massive traffic jam evacuating the Texas coast
Among the fallout from these hurricanes, it seems obvious that evacuating our cities in times of crisis is not possible without massive problems. The hundred-mile back-ups and cars running out of gas along the roads in Texas was a nightmare, not to speak of the deaths both along the roadside and in the bus of elderly patients thet blew up. One of our local papers reported today that Bosto's evacuation plans are as good as useless. Although Boston's Mayor Menino immediately protested, this isn't news. Anyone who's tried to get out of Boston on an autumn leaf peeping or winter ski weekend knows that the roads in and out of the city are wholly inadequate. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is total chaos all up and down the Northeast Corridor. The infrastructure isn't in great shape either along lengthy stretches of our highways, the bridges in particular.

I have a strong feeling that this country is heavily overextended what with the enormous expense of Iraq and the prospect of another two decades of weather patterns favoring these monster storms. Fritz told me a couple of years ago that he looked on the Bush administration as marking the beginning of the end of the United States' international power and influence and I agree. I don't see how, bankrupted as we are financially (and morally before world opinion), we can maintain our superpower status and take care of overwhelming problems at home that have been scandalously neglected or actively worsened by Bush, all at the same time. It saddens--and angers--me that my daughters will live in a time of decreased quality of life, degraded national security, and deteriorating infastructure and economy. This is not what all of us have worked for so hard and for so long.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

 

Getting with the program(s)

A big part of last weekend was helping clean out a small apartment on the first floor of Fritz's house. One of our friends is going to stay there for six or eight months while he goes through some life transitions. He worked out with me what pieces of furniture he'd like to stay and what should go into storage to make way for his own pieces. Then he slipped away to spend the bulk of the weekend with his boyfriend and I went to work.

In the couple of years since the last tenant, the room had become something of a storage dump for random things Fritz and I weren't currently using, so there was a fair amount to move, and a lot of decisions to be made about throwing things out. As Fritz was teaching all weekend, guess who got to do most of the cleaning! As I think I've mentioned before, each of us individually is pretty lame when it comes to throwing out items from our past. But when we get together, each is really effective at "editing" the other's stuff. Without him with me, I had to go through things carefully and lay items out into piles: obvious garbage, obvious keepers, and two or three shades of gray area. In the middle of all this I came across a big cache of old theater and opera programs.

Fritz & theater: check. Fritz & opera: Error Message, this concept has permanent and fatal errors. It turned out that the programs had belonged to a partner of his before I arrived on the scene and he had never gotten rid of them. I noticed immediately that there were a LOT of programs to the musical HAIR, all in different sizes and designs, so they were obviously souvenirs of different productions in different places. I immediately declared break time for myself as I'm a devoted program reader and I turned up some delightful tidbits.


The three productions were London 1968, New York 1970 (late in the original run), and Detroit 1970. In each case one member of the cast achieved stardom and everybody else has remained in at least comparative obscurity. In London the great Elaine Paige, then 22 years old, was a member of "The Tribe" with no individual roles, but she's credited with two other London productions, three pantomimes (a typically British form of holiday entertainment), and several films including the original "Oliver." In New York the young Joe Mantegna had three small parts but was also understudy for Berger, one of the three leads. So at that point in time, his career was essentially launched. In Detroit three small parts (including one in drag) were played by young rocker Meat Loaf. Here's his program bio:

MEAT LOAF has been described as a "heavy" singer. He studies Tarot and Astrology faithfully and considers gospel and blues to be the greatest influences on his music style. He appeared with a rock group called Popcorn Blizzard, later renamed Floating Circus. His personal motto: "Make no small plans for they have not the power to move men's souls."

Also in the pile was the newspaper-sized program for the 1980 exhibit of Judy Chicago's iconic feminist installation "The Dinner Party" which was shown at the Boston Center for the Arts in the Cyclorama Building. Using painted china and needlework (traditional female arts according to Chicago), the exhibit in the form of a triangular banquet table with 13 place settings on a side honored powerful and creative women beginning with mythic female archetypes and ending with Georgia O'Keeffe. Much of the symbolism on the painted plates was openly, joyously vaginal. The idea, according to Chicago, was to celebrate the history of women in western society in the same sort of imagery as had been used for "The Last Supper." "Men," Chicago said, "had a Last Supper but women had dinner parties."


At the time, I was painting scenery in the basement of the building for one of my opera productions and one Saturday morning before the exhibit opened to the public I came upstairs and walked through it for about an hour, fascinated by the wealth and variety of the imagery and the bold confidence of the concept.

In the years since the Boston showing, I haven't heard where "The Dinner Party" is being housed of if it's even on public display anywhere. Anyone know where it is?

Art for two of the dinner plates: Sojourner Truth (left) and martyred Roman philosopher/scholar Hypatia (right)


Monday, September 19, 2005

 
Has anyone else noticed the return of public service announcements on the media for Selective Service registration? Boston's WBZ radio is suddenly full of exhortations to 18 year old males to do their duty, show that they're really men, etc. This was not happening earlier in the Iraq War to the best of my knowledge, and I can't help but wonder if this isn't the thin edge of a wedge that might lead to reinstatement of the draft.

New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes--early in his career (left) and more recently (center)

Here's another contemporary glamour boy of opera, New Zealand baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes, of mixed European and Maori heritage. Like so many of the other young opera stars he can act as well as sing and hold an audienc's rapt attention. It doesn't hurt that he's tall and very handsome. He also shares with many "new singers" a devotion to music by contemporary composers.

A large number of the great singers I grew up with had perfectly gorgeous voices that were exclusively at the service of music of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many refused to do "modern music" and an air of the museum hung over opera and the concert hall.

Today's singers are far more adventurous and insist on performing the music of NOW. Many even commission new work instead of waiting for it to come to them. Among the young composers they favor are Ricky Ian Gordon and Jake Hegge whose music admits to a wide variety of influences from jazz and pop to world music. This is another way in which everything is different now--traditional audiences often feel alienated while younger, much more eclectic crowds are rediscovering opera houses and recital halls. And speaking of recital halls, American soprano Dawn Upshaw sings one of the song cycles written for her in costume and lying UNDER the piano instead of standing formally in the curve of its side. Theater and the concert platform are beginning to merge.

Anyway here's Teddy in the very successful operatic version of the movie "Dead Man Walking" (left) and in a grainy but revealing still from the opera based on Tennessee William's "A Streetcar Named Desire" (center). Both were big hits for him, as was his star turn as the Pilot in Rachel Portman's opera "The Little Prince" adapted from the beloved French children' story.

Here's a bitter, hard-hitting little presentation on George Bush and the federal government's response to the hurricane and the immense damage their inactivity did to New Orleans and its population:
http://www.wiseass.org/files/katrina1.swf

Saturday, September 17, 2005

 

Weekend in New Hampshire

I'm spending both days of the weekend at Fritz's and it's a working weekend for both of us. He's starting a new Masters Degree class for Lesley University and I'm doing various jobs around the house, including installing a rack I made for his CDs, videos and DVDs, and beginning the reupholstery of a good old wing chair.

George W. Bush joke that arrived by email yesterday:
Q. What does George W. Bush think of Roe versus Wade?
A. Actually, he doesn't care how people get around New Orleans.

I guess my old Catholic high school has decided to pass on bringing me down to New York City for their fall career day. After issuing the invitation back in August and receiving my reply with all requested information, there's been thunderous silence. Actually I'm not surprised, particularly now that there's an official Inquisition going on by Papal command to eliminate all gay men studying for the priesthood and all teachers who dissent from any part of the "party line" from seminaries all over the U.S. Possibly the guy who sent the invitation didn't know I'm gay and was informed when the list of respondants showed up. Or maybe they didn't feel that someone from the arts community had anything to offer they wanted their students to hear. Their loss.

Yesterday morning I attended the first faculty meeting of the year that included both Theater Arts and Music. Many of my colleagues in Theater think of these as a huge yawn, but a couple of us find them fascinating and always show up. An acting/directing teacher reported from a committee that's working to assist in the reconfiguration of the core requirements at the Institute now that so many new disciplines in biology, robotics, artificial intelligence, media, etc. are becoming established.

There is and has been a huge resistance to change by the flagship math and engineering departments and much of what's being discussed won't please them at all. For one thing, it's being proposed that calculus may not be needed in the core requirements any more as other types of math would satisfy the needs of the newer disciplines a great deal better. And everybody at MIT is struggling with the continued reluctance of the students to register for classes that require large amounts of writing.

None of this reinvention process can be attributed to our new president, the first female president in MIT history, because the initiative began well before her arrival on campus. But she'll be in the thick of things and the Institute's willingness to examine itself, tearing things apart and retooling for new challenges about every decade, seems to me to be a sign of continuing health and vitality. How the arts and humanities will fit into all this is the subject for a future post.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

 

My visitors, and an astonishing visit I made

I check my site meter every other day on average. Some of the info is trivia but some is fascinating. I have some regular visitors most if not all of whom have never, to the best of my knowledge, left a comment or sent an email.

Someone from Vancouver, B.C., for example, reads at length. There's a regular visitor from the north of France near Paris, several from the U.K., at least one from Moscow, a good number from the east coast of Australia as well as one from Perth and another from Melbourne. Today I logged page views from Kuwait and Singapore. Last week there was a visitor from Morocco, which just happens to be an artistic "home" of mine.

If any of you who fit the descriptions above drop by, please let me know who you are either in the comment section or via email--I'd be delighted to hear from you.


100 Memorial Drive on the banks of the Charles River

I had a Collyer Brothers experience today. A lovely lady from Virginia came into our design and production building yesterday afternoon, attracted by our Theater Arts sign. She told us she was breaking up the apartment of her 85 year old aunt who had lived at 100 Memorial Drive, a noted example of Bauhaus architecture in the U.S. that just happens to be a half block away. The aunt had gone to an assisted living situation and would not be returning to her apartment. Would we be interested in items of clothing, furniture, housewares, etc. for our prop and costume stock? We thanked her for thinking of us and made an appointment to drop by at 4pm today.

When I first saw the place, I thought that the niece had unloaded all the closets and drawers onto any available surface, allowing some items to drop to the floor everywhere. But I soon realized that the aunt had suffered from disposophobia, otherwise called Collyer Brothers Syndrome after the legendary brothers who had lived for decades in an upper Fifth Avenue townhouse in New York amid towers of newspapers, books, food remains, and at least three automobiles that had been dis-assembled, brought in through the door and reassembled. The police finally entered the place when neighbors complained about a horrible smell; one brother who had died some years before was found mummified and the other was found recently crushed under a collapsed tower of magazines and newspapers.

Nothing in this apartment was anywhere near that bad but there were narrow passageways between tall islands of books, papers, boxes containing photos, piles of clothing, stacks of shoe boxes and assorted household items. The rear bedroom could not be entered without climbing over a barricade of boxes, piled clothing and just plain trash. A row of women's suits hanging on the shower curtain raod looked as if they had been caught in a heavy snow storm--several years, maybe a decade--of dust. As L, our costume designer, and I moved around carefully trying to catch a glimpse of what lay under all the debris, most of the time our feet never touched the floor or the carpet. A thick layer of old mail, magazines, used paper towels, clothing, shoes and paper bags of all kinds including some insulated Howard Johnson ice cream bags from the 1950s lay as deep as six inches everywhere. There was a big cardboard box that had split split open spilling letters sent to the aunt beginning in the 1950s .

For use as props and for research material on hair styles, make-up, clothing and all kinds of household items, we took as many Life magazines from the 1950s, 60s and 70s as we could find. I left a list of furniture, art and luggage items (many suitcases from the 1930s and 40s), including a very handsome Louis XV-style armchair and a beautiful round end table carved in India that I would like once the niece has chosen everything that can go to the assisted living facility. We came away with a great deal in heavy plastic bags. I'll start a tax deduction inventory tonight. Tomorrow we'll begin cleaning the items we've taken so far, the "snow" covered women's suits among them. Just before leaving, our costume designer suddenly asked, "where did your aunt sleep--the beds are piled high." "She slept on the floor."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

 

This, that, and a beautiful statement on gay rights

UPDATE! The proposed anti-gay amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution has just been voted down by a resounding 157 to 39. It was a far greater margin than I had thought possible, or that seems to have been expected. Gay marriage, that had been derided as "the work of activist judges" has now been validated by the state legislature.

A few random thoughts:

Driving home last night I was startled to see gas selling at one station in my neighborhood for $2.84. Several stations had come down to, and remain at, $2.99 but fifteen cents lower than that is very good news.

It may be getting ugly in New Orleans with the first criminal charges (negligent homicide) brought against the two owner/managers of a hospital. A large number of aged people were discovered inside--all of them patients--no doctors, no orderlies, no nurses or administrators. It looks as if when the crunch happened, the staffs of at least two hospitals fled and left the aged, infirm and ill to drown. And for those trying to get New Orleans back on its feet again, they have to fight a huge invasion of mold that is consuming parts of buildings and any material it can feed on.

So Bozo finally admitted yesterday that the Federal Government's response was inadequate and a mess, saying that he accepts responsibility and the blame. Finally, the little SOB wasn't smirking on TV. Maybe he actually "gets" the fact that helpless human beings drowned while he was playing yet another game of golf with his rich, uncaring Republican cronies. At the very least, making that statement on national television is the kind of public humiliation I've been hoping for him for a long time.

The vote on an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Massachusetts state Constitution comes up for a vote today if the originally announced schedule holds. On Monday, Boston's WBZ radio described legislative support for the amendment as "collapsing rapidly." Several prominent names in the House and Senate formerly in support of the amendment have announced that they will now vote against it in fairness to gay citizens, or because they believe in universal civil rights or--this one heard very frequently--because the horrors promised by the radical religious right if gay marriage came to the state have not come to pass. The amendment is expected to be defeated handily.


A second amendment that was introduced in expectation of the defeat of the first, is less overtly homophobic but everyone knows what defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman means. If the first proposed amendment is shot down later today, I think the second will have a really hard time passing when its turn comes. But if the second amendment does get passed, it won't go before the voters until the fall of 2008. There will be at the very least three more years of legal gay marriage here and, therefore, three more years for citizens of this state to realize that nothing is harmed by letting two men or two women marry.

Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero

In Spain, the vote in favor of gay marriage was greeted by this beautiful speech delivered by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Its phrasing and literacy point up once again just what a crude clod we have in our White House. Zapatero even quoted two highly regarded gay poets in what is being hailed as “probably the most remarkable speech in favor of full equality for those with same-sex hearts ever delivered by a head of government anywhere."

"We are not legislating, honorable members, for people far away and not known by us. We are enlarging the opportunity for happiness to our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and our families: at the same time we are making a more decent society, because a decent society is one that does not humiliate its members.

"In the poem 'The Family,' our [gay] poet Luis Cernuda was sorry because, 'How does man live in denial in vain / by giving rules that prohibit and condemn?'

"Today, the Spanish society answers to a group of people who, during many years have, been humiliated, whose rights have been ignored, whose dignity has been offended, their identity denied, and their liberty oppressed. Today the Spanish society grants them the respect they deserve, recognizes their rights, restores their dignity, affirms their identity, and restores their liberty.

"It is true that they are only a minority, but their triumph is everyone's triumph. It is also the triumph of those who oppose this law, even though they do not know this yet: because it is the triumph of Liberty. Their victory makes all of us (even those who oppose the law) better people, it makes our society better. Honorable members, There is no damage to marriage or to the concept of family in allowing two people of the same sex to get married. To the contrary, what happens is, this class of Spanish citizens get the potential to organize their lives with the rights and privileges of marriage and family. There is no danger to the institution of marriage, but precisely the opposite: this law enhances and respects marriage.

"Today, conscious that some people and institutions are in a profound disagreement with this change in our civil law, I wish to express that, like other reforms to the marriage code that preceded this one, this law will generate no evil, that its only consequence will be the avoiding of senseless suffering of decent human beings. A society that avoids senseless suffering of decent human beings is a better society.

"With the approval of this Bill, our country takes another step in the path of liberty and tolerance that was begun by the democratic change of government. Our children will look at us incredulously if we tell them that many years ago, our mothers had less rights than our fathers, or if we tell them that people had to stay married against their will even though they were unable to share their lives. Today we can offer them a beautiful lesson: every right gained, each access to liberty has been the result of the struggle and sacrifice of many people that deserve our recognition and praise.

"Today we demonstrate with this Bill that societies can better themselves and can cross barriers and create tolerance by putting a stop to the unhappiness and humiliation of some of our citizens. Today, for many of our countrymen, comes the day predicted by [the great Greek gay poet] Kavafi one century ago: 'Later 'twas said of the most perfect society / someone else, made like me / certainly will come out and act freely.' "


Monday, September 12, 2005

 

American tenor Brandon Jovanovich

Gee, I never knew you guys were so into opera. Everybody's having a good time and my comment count's going through the roof, so here's another one.

If there was ever a singer made for action-adventure roles it's Brandon Jovanovich. He's a tenor instead of a baritone so he gets the hero roles, although the one at the left is a kind of anti-hero. Brandon obviously works out and he looks great in leather and camo.

The opera is a very modern one, "The Mines of Sulphur" by Peter Maxwell Davies about a group of desperate actors who break out of quarantine during the bubonic plague of the 1660s in London. They break into a supposedly abandoned country house to take refuge but find the owner and a single servant instead. Among the other things they do (including theft and sexual torture) is to spread the plague outside the city; as the opera ends the first one of their number dies and they realize they're more trapped here than they were in London.

The production opened at the Glimmerglass Festival then traveled to the New York City Opera where it and the cast got strong notices. From the costuming, it obviously wasn't done in strict period. Brandon is that rare singer who OWNS the stage whenever he enters. Tall, very physical, and wielding a strong young dramatic voice, he makes you look at him even when he's standing quietly but intensely watching someone else. He's also quite versatile. When he starred in "Flight" here in Boston he played a young husband trapped by a storm in an airline terminal with his wife. During the night he slips into the Flight Attendants' Lounge for his first same-sex experience with a hot young cabin steward.

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

When I wrote about kilts a couple of weeks ago, there was a lot of negative comment about them until someone brought up the subject of sarongs and they took the heat for a while. I found a shot of this barefoot, (badly) saronged hiker and it certainly confirms most of the negative comments. Would anyone like to contribute some captions?--the picture seems to cry out for some.

Planning the new house

So, Sunday afternoon we spent about an hour with M, a house designer and builder at his own place to talk about the practicalities of my plans and check each other out as potential collaborators. His own house is highly individual, intelligently and beautifully designed, with a strong profile and well coordinated with the land on which it stands.

He had made many design choices that correspond well with my own. I have an old New England slate sink in my basement that I'm very anxious to have become the kitchen sink of the new house--he has a smaller but similar one in his kitchen. I will want a specific shape of open arch from room to room--he has a different arch but the same technique connecting his kitchen to his dining room.

The realities of contemporary construction costs came up in our discussion, not bad enough to scrap the plan but enough to get me thinking about some alterations that may also be beneficial for the over-all design. Among other things, he told me that concrete has gone to $100 a square yard this summer, and that all materials can be expected to go much higher in the wake of hurricane Katrina. The day when earth-sheltered construction was cheaper than conventional frame construction has ended.

However he told me he liked what he saw and was definitely interested in the project. Our friend A the potter/ceramicist who made the introduction told us that M is a real artisan and that he not only accepts but thrives on lengthy calls from clients discussing fine points of the aesthetics of the design. We exchanged business cards, and when I have made up a couple of different approaches to a revised house layout, we'll be getting together again and quite possibly beginning a working relationship.


Friday, September 09, 2005

 

British Baritone Simon Keenlyside

No, this is NOT going to turn into the "barihunk du jour" blog, but as there was some appreciative comment on the Adam Cooper and Nathan Gunn photos (characterized by frequent repetition of the word hot and implied heavy breathing), I thought I would post, strictly in support of high culture you understand, this lovely picture of Simon Keenlyside.

Simon's another Brit, currently much in demand (on stage, and I'm sure elsewhere) for an elegant, seamless voice and a charismatic personality on stage. In England he was tapped to sing Prospero in the world premiere of gay composer Thomas Ades's opera THE TEMPEST and he stood Boston on its ear two years ago with a tremendous performance in Debussy's PELLEAS ET MELISANDE that went to New York City with similar acclaim.

He can also dance--ballet or modern WHILE singing--as he did when he turned one of Schubert's great song cycles into highly acclaimed dance song theater. He's got to have limitations--everyone does--but so far he's done a particularly good job of hiding the fact.

The French have a saying, "Paint the devil on the walls and he'll appear to you in person." I wrote about Matthew Bourne's production of Swan Lake yesterday and today I picked up IN, Boston's gay arts newspaper, and saw that it will perform in Boston next April 20 through 23, and I expect that means it's on national tour. I rather doubt Adam Cooper will be recreating his now legendary role, but one can at least hope that another male dancer with something like Cooper's tremendous sexual allure will have been cast.

I'm heading down to New York tomorrow for the first of my operas this season, Richard Strauss's lovely conversation piece CAPRICCIO. This is a new production at the NY City Opera. Last time I saw it performed it was at the Metropolitan with Simon Keenlyside in it, by coincidence. After the matinee, I drive back up to Fritz's where we have a meeting on Sunday afternoon with an architect who has experience designing earth-sheltered homes.

The proposed building site, a south-facing slope covered in mixed hardwood and pine

I began this the other day so here's some more of the story. I'm currently planning to leave MIT, barring any totally unforeseen problems, at the end of the academic year in June of 2007. By that time Fritz and I will have been together ten years but will never have been able to live together due to the demands of our individual careers.

It's time. I want to be able to establish a big garden with him; he has some plans about which he and I are very enthusiastic that involve taking his excellent bargello needlework and turning it into marketable items; we want to spend each and every night in the same bed. I'll not be retiring, but leaving MIT. There are several possibilities for me to explore in the area, just an hour north of Boston and only about half an hour further from New York City than I am now.

The genesis of all this was several years ago when I illustrated a textbook for Northeast Solar Energy Corporation about active and passive solar technology for private homes. I learned an enormous amount and the concept made enormous sense to me. There were models I didn't like, like the really scary Saskatchewan Super-insulated Solar House that has no windows or doors in the north, east and west sides and only 10% of the south wall is window. It surely conserves heat--much of which comes as a by-product of toasters, light bulbs and refigerators--but is too much like living in an underground bunker for my personal taste.

There were, however, many delightful, light-filled possibilities and I drew up plans for a house for myself for "someday." I showed them to an architect friend at the time and he thought they were excellent--he said he'd give them his stamp any time I wanted to go ahead with them but the time and circumstances were never right. Now they will be.

My ideas have changed over the years in regard to energy self-sufficiency and current technology. I want to explore photovoltaic cells, the efficiency of which has made quantum leaps over the years. And I want a very warm, comfortable, Moroccan feel to the place along with space enough to really entertain. I love giving long, informal dinner parties. Because of the new technology in particular, I want the collaboration of someone who has had experience in this type of construction. As more material is generated, I'll get it digitized and onto the blog.

The Gerber baby in the time of salsa

This was sent by a friend who knows my off-beat sense of humor well. It's a litle bit of "sick" humor, perhaps like some of Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons, but I got a big laugh out of it and hope you will, too.



Wednesday, September 07, 2005

 

Nathan Gunn and Adam Cooper

Adam Cooper (front and center) as the white swan . . .
It occurred to me that many of you might have been stumped by my celebrity crushes #6 and 7 yesterday so I thought I'd introduce them to you, particularly for anyone who thinks of the worlds of classical music, opera and ballet as being a bit stuffy or lacking in sexual allure. . . . and the black

Adam Cooper is a Brit who came roaring into international public conciousness in choreographer Matthew Bourne's stunning reimagining of Tchaikovsky's romantic ballet "Swan Lake" as a homoerotic tale of one repressed man's emotional and sexual awakening through an encounter with the untrammeled forces of nature. In the original story the swans are all women and the ballet is thrilling but very decorative. In Bourne's version, the swans are overwhelmingly beautiful men led by the astonishing Adam Cooper, the odor of testosterone is almost tangible, and the young prince's awakening is scary, passionate, ultimately triumphant.

As in the original scenario, the lead plays dual roles symbolizing the two faces of love and sex, the classicly beautiful, faithful white swan and the seductive, destructive, predatory black swan. Cooper moves effortlessly from white feather to black leather and back again, creating memorable characters as well as dancing magnificently. There is a video of this (and probably a DVD by now) that is very much worth seeing and yes, the object of the swan's liberating romantic interest DOES bear a striking resemblance to the young Prince Charles, not only physically but also in terms of his situation in life. Their great love duet in Act 2 is a superb piece of dancing and symbolic lovemaking between two men.


Nathan Gunn as Billy Budd in Benjamin Britten's opera

When I was first attracted to opera, it was still a very traditional art form whose acting and production styles far more reflected the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than the post-World War II, -existentialist, -Elvis, -Summer of Love, -gay liberation world in which I encountered it. Opera soon changed; I spend a great deal of my time now writing and speaking in defense of the new theatricality that has come to opera in the face of often hostile reaction by ultra-conservative factions in the audience.

A great part of the "Shock of the New" in opera came from the story lines of the contemporary works premiered in the last fifty years. Gone were the sweet, sentimental tales of long-suffering women who lived and died with--and sometimes from the behavior of --their men. Many out gay composers brought openly gay plot lines to their work, no one more so than Benjamin Britten. And many out gay and lesbian directors began to explore matters of sexuality in the new (and even, scandalously, in the older) operas, introducing partial or complete nudity and insisting on sexualizing the opera singer in line with the sexualizing of society in general.

Enter the new, slimmed down, buffed up, frequently stripped to the waist male opera star. They're everywhere and one of the most talented and in-demand is American baritone Nathan Gunn, prime example of what's now called the "barihunk."

End of the opera as Captain Vere takes leave of Billy who is about to be hanged

You can't get away anymore with just standing on the stage and singing like an angel--although Gunn has that one covered with room to spare. You have to be able to act, sometimes dance, always inhabit your character, and be a superb musician into the bargain.

The homosexual undertow in Herman Melville's novel "Billy Budd" is not difficult to locate. Life on a late 18th century British man o'war featured hundreds of men living in close quarters along with daily rituals of discipline, dominance/submission, and humiliation. The production from Munich, Germany shown in these pictures updated the action to an unspecified time when the ships are of iron and the lads who sail them serve without benefit of shirts. Typically, the audience was divided about the updating and lack of overt Royal Navy trappings, but there was universal praise for Nathan Gunn's singing, acting and physical beauty in the part of Billy who is frequently described by Melville as "the handsome sailor."

That just about covers it--or uncovers it, as the case may be. I think both these men are sensational and both are at the very height of their careers right now. Cooper is dancing everything from the Classics to George Gershwin and London musicals, while Gunn is preparing to star in the world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera of gay composer Tobias Picker's "An American Tragedy" adapted from Theodore Dreiser's novel of the same name.

Thumbnail from Dax Berg's site

For anyone interested in male beauty, I've added a new link in the photography section to DaxArt. Dax Berg lives and works in San Francisco. His approach to portraying men is less consciously artful and polished and his "models" more gritty and real than in the work of many other well-known erotic photographers. The men he chooses are all real guys off the streets of the Castro or men who send in snapshots to see if he'd be interested in shooting them. Dax is a bear and he's interested in guys who aren't shaved clean, who have body art and attitude, and that intangible thing called presence. He shoots them in ones, twos and threes and they're quite something to see.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

 

Busy Labor Day weekend

The Playhouse in Winter

We had a total of ten guys, although never all at the same time, up at Fritz's for the long Work & Play weekend, which turned out to be the best and most productive we've ever had. The major agenda items were painting the downstairs public rooms of the Center a new, warm shade of very pale pumpkin, repairs and maintenance to the Sweat Lodge, and the felling of trees in a couple of areas of the property.

Two of our friends are very skilled with chain saws and the big developement for me, personally, was that Fritz asked them to clear what will become the driveway up to my house site on the west side of the property. More about this in my next post, but it was a real thrill to see the gently curving and rising roadway appear next to an ancient New England stone wall, on its way to the south-facing hillside into which the earth-sheltered, energy self-sufficient home I dsigned for my self almost 20 years ago will be built.

For the rest, there was a movie night, good food (one of the guys smokes his own meats and fish), an evening session in the Sweat Lodge, and the sort of frolic one might expect when a group of good gay friends get together for a good time. I was away for a while both Friday and Saturday evenings at the Hackmatack Playhouse just across the border into Maine for the performances and strike of the opera double bill production I had designed. Since they were both in English, Fritz and one of the guys came with me for the opening on Friday which drew a good and enthusiastic audience. Saturday I arrived just in time for the strike which took only a half hour.

On the way back to Fritz's I noticed the result of rampant greed of one gas station owner in Berwick, Maine. On Friday the station had been selling gas for $3.69 a gallon in an area where the lowest prices were at Getty for $2.89 and a couple of independents at $3.09. On Saturday, the price gouger had backed off to $3.47 and still wasn't doing any business. While driving, I was listening to one of the talk shows on WBZ radio and a caller from Maryland said he had heard a talk show from Mississippi on which a caller said that all the destruction was caused by the Soviets. The Soviets had manipulated the jet stream so the hurricane would make a direct hit on New Orleans(!) I suppose it IS a welcome relief from hearing that gays and lesbians caused it all.

Today we're registering students at MIT with classes starting tomorrow. There will be meetings all day on and off and tonight we host an open house at our design and production center for new students at 7:00 and everybody at 7:30 to make sure people know there are arts on campus.

I got tagged by blog-pal Albert at Obliquity, So here's my response to the Questions in 7s:

7 Things I want to accomplish before I die:
1. Build my self-designed house (see above and next post)
2. Finish the book I'm writing on the history of theatrical lighting before electricity
3. Develop and begin to market my own personal art in whatever medium I find I like
4. Visit northern Italy and the marble quarries in Carrara, the origins of my family
5. Learn to play the harpsichord I rescued and restored so my daughters would have an instrument to play at home while they were in school
6. Work on the interior restoration and redecoration of an historic theater or opera house
7. Live with Fritz in health and happiness, maintaining and extending the gay community he developed and for which he is so beloved

7 things I can do:
1. Paint flat scenery in a trompe l'oeil technique that will make you believe it's in three dimensions until you actually touch it
2. Embroider
3. Love and care for children and animals
4. Cook really well and bake good bread
5. Sing (to myself only!) about 50 complete operas by heart, humming the orchestra-only passages
6. Organize complex productions and events
7. Love one man 'til I die

7 things I can't do:
1. Stomach all the hate and bullshit of the radical religious right
2. Stand to see George Bush's smirk on TV one more time
3. Tolerate being lied to
4. Leave a penny or other coin on the ground if I see it while walking
5. Drink heavily--too much tragic, self-destructive alcoholism on my mother's side of the family
6. Anything that involves a lot of physical coordination like athletics or "social dancing"
7. Read music, sadly

7 things that attract me to members of the same sex:
1. Facial hair, particularly goatees or anything "interesting"
2. Tattoos
3. All the hair nature gave them, chest hair in particular
4. A great smile
5. A positive, outgoing personality
6. Being out, confident and happy about it
7. A good body and knowing what to do with it

7 celebrity crushes:
1. Sting
2. Vin Diesel
3. Russell Crowe
4. Adriano Marquez
5. Chad Allen
6. Nathan Gunn
7. Adam Cooper

7 things I say most often:
1. Take care
2. Yeah, well . . . (when skeptical about something)
3. I love you (to Fritz)
4. What's my deadline on this project?
5. What's the budget on this project?
6. And the problem would be . . . ?
7. Ok, what needs doing?

This is where I'm supposed to tag someone, so I'll tag Karl from Adventures in Gastronomy.

Friday, September 02, 2005

 

"The Medium" in Maine

DVD cover for the 1950 movie of Menotti's powerful opera

Technical and dress rehearsals for the double bill at the Hackmatack Theater in Berwick, Maine went very well. Last year things were disorganized at the theater and the stage itself was not in proper condition to turn over to a guest company. I had a nice and productive conversation with the artistic director after we opened and this summer things were radically improved.

"The Medium" is arguably Menotti's most enduring work. It is debated as to whether he is an Italian or American composer. Musically, he stands in the line of descent directly from Puccini (La Boheme, Tosca, Madame Butterfly) in terms of both musical style and dramatic ability. Menotti was a creature of the stage and he builds scenes to overwhelming climaxes.

The story is set in Europe just after World war II (nowadays it is set almost anywhere but generally works best if it has a period feel with sets and costumes from the 40s or 50s). Madame Flora is a psychic communicator with the dead--except that she's a fake and is currently beginning to break down. She drinks too heavily and is suffering the beginning of guilt feelings. Her assistants are her early teenaged daughter Monica and an orphaned mute gipsy boy she picked up on the street in Budapest. The kids, for whom hormones are clearly beginning to kick in, rig up the fake seance apparitions that make the clients believe they're in contact with lost loved ones. Dead children are a specialty and Monica appears in gauzy veils in the shadows, assuring mothers she's happy in the Beyond. During one seance, Madame feels a hand on her throat and freaks out. She sends the clients away and grills the kids about who or what has touched her. Both deny any connection. She begins to pray.

In act 2, she's already drunk when the curtain rises, and she leaves to drum up business. The kids stage a small puppet play in which they use the puppets to declare their love for each other. Flora returns in a bad mood and interrogates the boy, whom she suspects of being the throat grabber. The clients arrive for their weekly seance. Madame gives them back all their money and shows them the mechanics of the fake apparitions. She has Monica do the voices, which the clients swear are NOT the ones they have heard, and they demand one more seance. Madame throws them out and then throws the boy out of the apartment as well. Alone, she hears voices, drinks more, hears noises and passes out. The boy sneaks back in to get his things and she wakens, grabs a gun and shoots him. Monica runs in to cradle him as he dies while Flora pounds away desperately with "Was it you?--was it you?--was it you?"

Madame F, is a great role for a strong singing actress and we have one. Everyone's happy with the set and lighting and I think it should go over very well at tonight's opening. Menotti wrote a little two-character curtain raiser called "The Telephone" about a woman so addicted to the phone her boyfriend has to call her in order to get her undivided attention so he can propose. It's slight, charming, and works beautifully with cell phones which is the way we're doing it.

"Souvenir" was a delight from beginning to end. Judy Kaye's characterization of Florence Foster Jenkins was somewhere between the British comedy actress Patricia Routledge and Nathan Lane. Her recreation of Jenkins's singing was almost painfully funny and the various gowns and costumes she wore on stage were designed with both wit and a sense of the outrageous. But Jenkins was never once ridiculed by either the script or the performers. A beautiful touch was that at the end, after Jenkins has died, her accompanist says he has always wondered "Didn't she KNOW? How could she not have KNOWN?" But he says he's finally figured it out--the public heard what she really sounded like on the outside, but inside all she heard was beauty. And Judy Kaye appeared in a simple, classic gown and sang one of Jenkins's numbers clearly and beautifully, standing radiantly happy as the spotlight faded on her. The play moves to Broadway this fall and is a real treat.

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