Thursday, December 29, 2005

 
It's time for what one blogger called "the obligatory 'Brokeback Mountain' comment." Fritz and I saw it Tuesday night, and it's truly a fine piece of film-making. Annie Proulx, author of the original short story, has praised the film and director Ang Lee in particular, for refusing to sentimentalize the material. It's a doomed lovers story and there's one place in particular--Ennis's visit to Jack's room, pressing his face into Jack's shirt--that could have become a huge display of bathos. But Lee and actor Heath Ledger remained honest to the tone of the story and of the characters and didn't go there.

Because of that restraint, it's deeply but quietly moving in the theater although later, as we spoke about it together, Fritz broke down several times. The hopelessness of the men's situation, the cruelty and ignorance of the society that hems them in are fully present throughout the movie. In retrospect, the conclusion is as inevitable as in Greek tragedy. The script is incredibly faithful to the source material in content and tone. Incidents that expand the brief short story into a two hour and a quarter hour film are, in all but one instance, developed out of clear hints and references given by Proulx. But unlike some films that are over-careful adaptations of their literary sources, "Brokeback" isn't DOA--it's a deeply nuanced piece of work. Just a tiny flicker of a smirk flashing across Michelle Williams's face during a disastrous Thanksgiving dinner is enough to indicate Alma's secret pleasure that Jack has finally stood up to her bullying father. The movie is filled with many such subtlties.

The acting is fine, none better than Heath Ledger's portrayal of the conflicted, emotionally blocked Ennis. The one totally new scene, created by the screenwriters instead of from anything Proulx wrote, belongs to him at the very end of the movie. Ennis's daughter comes to tell him she's to be married and please won't he attend the wedding. He begins to hide behind his job just as he had done in the confrontation that broke his relatinship to Jack. Then he stops and tells her that the boss will have to find another another cowboy for the cattle drive. She breaks into a smile; he's managed to break through to expressing his emotions, not wanting to repeat the mistake that cost him the man he loved so dearly. Ledger plays the moment beautifully.


"Brokeback Mountain" has no car chases, explosions, high tech fantasies, doesn't pander to the audience or sensationalize the subject. It is an immensely honest and skillful piece of work.

Wednesday we headed down to central New Jersey, stopping in Manhattan to pick up my younger daughter, for a Christmas gathering with my cousin, his wife, their son and his wife along with their four year old daughter and new three month old son--the sum total of my family left here on the east coast. It was a lovely time, warm and informal. Today we drove back in chilly, murky weather--rain, dense fog--stressful driving.
Fritz returned to New Hampshire right away. I'll join him early tomorrow to get ready for our annual three day New Years house party. We'll have a fancy dress dinner for New Years Eve; videos and DVDs; possibly a dance; body shaving by one of our guys done with a straight razor and talc; massage, yoga, and a Sweat Lodge; good food and fellowship; and probably quite a bit of what Carol Burnett in a memorable parody of the movie "Dark Victory" called "whatnot."

I'll be back Monday evening. At that time I'll recreate my response to Sage Grouse's interview questions that I had almost completed tonight when Blogger ate them and they disappeared for good.

Happy 2006 to all of you, with best wishes for a happy, healthy New Year!

George Bush quote of the day:
"I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future. "
- George W. Bush

It’s the judgments he’s making now that scare the hell out of me.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

 
It was just a family Christmas and it was great fun. My daughters and one son-in-law arrived on Saturday. I'd gotten a tree and let them loose with the ancestral Christmas ornaments, some now almost a hundreds years old, paper thin blown glass and looking nothing at all like modern ornaments.
They'd requested I do a Chinese dinner like the ones we had had when they were girls growing up, so we had pot stickers in dipping sauce with toasted sesame seeds, Jook (aka Congee) with shredded chicken, chopped green onion and sesame oil, and stir fried shrimp in ginger sauce with straw mushrooms and other vegetables.

Fritz stayed in New Hampshire on Christmas Eve for the annual canbdlelight Quaker Meeting at the meeting house in Epping where we had our Quaker commitment ceremony. He arrived the next morning just as I was getting up, and an hour or so before the kids started rolling out of bed. We had coffee and an almond Christmas stollen before opening presents. The theme for every moment not eating something became games--Rummykub and Scrabble. Christmas dinner began at 3pm with Fritz's cheddar cheese soup and champagne, followed by roasted cornish game hens with fruit stuffing flavored with Grand Marnier, brussels sprouts, new red potatoes, and home-baked oat bread. Dessert was again Fritz's--his very special maple mousse. Afterwards, we played and laughed the evening away.

Everyone headed home yesterday morning, but Fritz will be back this evening. I bought advance tickets to guarantee we'll see "Brokeback Mountain" at 7pm. It's playing at a couple of small theaters around the area and one of them that sells tickets on-line already had sold out showings listed on its site. So I moved fast.
Tomorrow we drive down to Bernardsville, New Jersey for a gathering with my cousin, his wife and family--the only other people anywhere near here that make up my family.

I have new neighbors for Christmas. They moved in about a week ago replacing the great little family I loved so much. When he was three and four years old their son used to walk around the area naked, covered with temporary tattoos (both parents are graphic artists and staunch liberals). And for a four year old, this kid was hung. I thought to myself, he's going to be a very interesting guy when he grows up. They had a second child and when she became pregnant again I knew they'd be moving to something bigger soon. My efforts so far to meet and greet my new neighbors have failed but I'll try again this evening.

Do you remember the Virgin Mary made out of water drip corrosion in a Chicago underpass? The Virgin Mary fried into one side of a grilled cheese sandwich that was auctioned on the web? The Virgin Mary who appeared in the condensation patterns between layers of a failed double glazed window at a suburban Boston hospital? If not, now there's The Nun Bun.
The Nun Bun isn't new. She, or rather it, was discovered on October 15, 1996 at the Bongo Java coffee shop in Nashville, Tennessee. Someone looked at a formerly perfectly ordinary, innocent little cinnamon bun and asked someone else, "what does this look like?" "Mother Teresa?" came the hesitent reply--and a new devotional icon was born.

The Nun Bun went on display and then the good folk at Bongo Java went a little overboard, selling Nun Bun merchandise. Mother Teresa and/or her organization got wind of it and there followed a surprisingly gentle and humor-filled negotiation. It seems the tiny, seemingly dour little nun had a tremendous sense of humor and bore no ill-will--she was in fact amused. So amused in fact that as she lay dying she told her attorney "Tell those people that now they have to find a bun that looks like my successor." She had no objection to displaying the bun, but didn't want commercialization of or profit from her image, if, indeed her image it was. So sales of merchandise over the web, by phone or catalog were forbidden, but sales of anything at Bongo Java itself were given the OK.

Plans to market a baked good moulded to look like the actual Mother Teresa under the product name "Immaculate Confection" were dropped. But I wish they hadn't been--it would have been blasphemous and probably offensive to lots of people, but how wonderfully funny!

News reached the outside world today from Nashville that The Nun Bun has disappeared. Gone. Presumably, nobody's dumb enough to attempt to eat a nine year old cinnamon bun, but perhaps it was stolen for devotional purposes or perhaps it was taken to see if it could cure some terminally ill or disabled person. In order to become a saint in the Catholic Church, Mother Teresa needs to create a couple of undisputed miracles, and one of her devotees might just have decided to give The Nun Bun a try.

George W. Bush quote of the day:
" The future will be better tomorrow." George W. Bush

As opposed to yesterday?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

 

Christmas Eve

At least six feet two, dark curly hair, big brown eyes, a sweet smile and a voice like a cello playing softly. No, not some JO fantasy--that had already happened--but a very early morning caller from my local plumber yesterday.


My garbage disposal jammed about a week ago. In trying to get it going again I'd pushed the reset button so hard that it popped into the disposal's metal case and was gone for good. I called the plumbing company, and we set up two possible days when I could stay home from MIT--the Friday before Christmas and Tuesday after New Years. When they hadn't confirmed by Thursday night, I assumed we were going with the later date.

So on Friday morning I'd just gained consciousness but wasn't completely awake. I absolutely love that state--the problems, upsets and unpleasantries of life don't yet register and I float in a wonderful place between the aftermath of dreams and the onset of erotica. The phone rang. It was six forty. I'm not the first blogger to note that calls in the middle of the night or very early morning usually mean a death or big problems in the family. So I get to the phone--naked, hard, dazed--and a cheery voice from the plumber's tells me my repair man will be at the house in ten to fifteen minutes.

I can move very fast when this sort of thing happens. By the time Strati arrived I was dressed (OK, commando, but at least I had pants on), had turned on the outside light, cleaned out the cabinet under the sink, washed last night's dishes and gotten them into the drainer, made my customary morning call to Fritz, gotten some hot tea into me, and was ready to meet the public.

Strati (there's a large Greek-American colony in Roslindale and they brought their bakeries with them!) broke a decades-old pattern for me that can be summed up with "Electricians hot, plumbers not." He was a doll, really sweet, cute and extremely personable. Repair was impossible--the inside of the disposal's case looked like a metal filing dump. So he did a new installation, collected two hundred and eighty six dollars--two days before Christmas, you understand--and when he was leaving he looked around and told me how beautiful my house is and how much he likes doing jobs amid such lovely surroundings. I melted. For a brief moment I thought about taking a sledge hammer to my bathroom sink and seeing if I could get him back later in the day on an emergency call, but I'm not THAT gay.

George Bush quote of the day:

"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."
- George W. Bush





I'm thoroughly sick of this "national debate" on how we can't call it a "Christmas" tree, we have to call it a "Holiday" or "Magic" tree, etc. I believe completely in multiculturalism. When I was raising the girls we celebrated Christmas, lit a menorah, celebrated the Asian lunar New Year, did some Kwanzaa, some study of Islam, and they never tired of hearing about Odin and the other Aesir of Nordic mythology.





To me, multiculturalism means you accept and celebrate everybody's culture, not that you suppress a couple of random ones just to promote the others. Wholly unnecessary. And I'm an atheistic humanist anyway, so I could actually do without the lot of them, but what does it hurt to actually GET ALONG WITH PEOPLE? Radical concept, I know--it's just so much easier to hate. Sad.


So, to all of you who read me, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Seasons Greetings, Blessed Eid, Happy Holidays, Kwanzaa Furaha, Wondrous Solstice, Riotous Saturnalia, and a Happy, Healthy 2006. Whether I've had the pleasure of meeting you or not, I'm delighted you stop by DesignerBlog and particularly happy when you leave a comment. Love and hugs to you all and to your loved ones, whatever tradition enriches your lives.



Thursday, December 22, 2005

 
I found this today in one of the two MIT campus newspapers. Alan is a close colleague who has had plays produced in New York City and elsewhere in the country:

"The Housewives of Mannheim." a play by Associate Provost for the Arts Alan Brody, has won the Bloomington Players Project (BPP) Reva Shiner Full Length Play Contest. There were more than 300 entries for the BPP award, which includes a cash prize and a full production of the winning play. The drama, set in 1944 working-class Brooklyn, deals with homosexuality, anti-semitism, and gender roles. It will be staged February 9-25 at the BPP's new theater in Bloomington, Indiana. For more information, visit www.newplays.org.

I'm out of here in about an hour and not coming back until next Tuesday. I've got the majority of the full color scale model of "The Old Law" finished, as well as the scale drawings of every piece of scenery in the show, the groundplan and the cross-section view. I've pushed very hard this week to get it all done because it has to go into construction January 9, and our technical director needs the first week in January to plot all the engineering, materials and costs involved. I'll get a photo taken of the model next week and post it ASAP.


No discussion of Boston's rich and often bizarre past would be complete without mention of Isabella Stewart Gardner. Often referred to with the facile term "socialite," she was actually one of the most intelligent, creative, and discerning women in Boston's history.

Isabella Stewart was born in New York City into wealth in 1840 and married Boston financier John ("Jack") Gardner at the start of the Civil War. Established in the requisite Back Bay/Beacon Hill townhouse, she failed to gain acceptance from the hidebound old dragons of Boston society and developed a keen sensitivity to rejects and alienated--in particular artists, writers, musicians and troubled geniuses.

The Gardners' two year old son died in 1865, sending her into a deep depression. Jack took her to Europe where she became involved with collecting art. She remained for three years, returning n 1868 with a huge collection that she would add to throughout her life. Newly polished from her European sojourn, her parties and receptions became famous, filled with the creative rather than the social elite. Oscar Wilde was a frequent guest on his trips to the U.S., as were Henry James and John Singer Sargent (gay men all). She was painted formally in evening dress by James McNeill Whistler, and as something of a Buddhist saint by Sargent (left).

Not that she lacked for money, of course, but the death of her father in 1891 brought her a huge inheritance that allowed her to acquire very major pieces, including Titian's "Europa"," considered his finest painting and one of the greatest Renaissance paintings ever brought to the U.S. During the 1890s she proposed the construction of a grand house, large enough to house the collection as well as to live in, that would be built at some remove from the inhospitable, intolerant Boston Brahmin matrons but close to Symphony Hall, the opera house and the Museum of Fine Arts. Jack supported her fully but never lived to see it, dying unexpectedly in 1898.

The house was finished in 1903, officially called Fenway Court but unofficially dubbed "The Palace." The exterior is plain and austere but this house looks inward, away from the social scene that Isabella found shallow and hypocritical. It was the grand enclosed garden courtyard with its balconies and window frames brought from a dismantled and reassembled Venetian building that was to be the focus of her life and entertaining. The collection was housed around it in sumptuous, high-ceilinged music, reception and library rooms. She lived on the top floor in a huge apartment complete with private chapel that now houses the museum's offices.

Isabella survived a stroke in 1919 but remained as active as possible until her death in 1924. The Palace and its collection was left to the people of the city of Boston with the proviso that nothing be moved or ever changed. It had been opened as a museum very shortly after its construction was finished and has remained a huge draw ever since.

The collection is uneven, and therein lies its historical importance. It isn't the work of highly trained and erudite curators but of an amateur collector, informed but subject to falling in love with minor works for their charm or the major works of minor artists for their quirky subject matter. Taken as a whole, house and art collection give a valuable view of an era and a kind of life that will probably not ever be seen again. John Singer Sargent, massively talented, as eccentric as his patroness, painter of a series of magnificent male nudes that were only discovered after his death, was her confidant, close friend and practically house artist. The young Bernard Berenson, perhaps the greatest art dealer and connoisseur who ever lived, was her protogé, and later her advisor in expanding her holdings that included the very first Matisse to enter the country. At its considerable best, the collection includes some of the greatest works of art in the world.

On March 18, 1990, the museum was robbed of seven paintings. The thieves stole works whose combined value has been estimated as high as $300 million. These include: Vermeer's "The Concert, "Rembrandt's "A Lady and Gentleman in Black," "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee," and "Self-Portrait," Govaert Flinck's "Landscape with Obelisk, " and Manet's " Chez Tortoni." From the beginning an inside job was suspected and on two separate ocasions police have announced that they were very close to arrests and recovery of the canvasses that were sliced out of their frames--only to see the trail vanish in front of them. The empty frames remain boldly on display along with information on the robbery and an appeal to the public for assistance in finding the thieves and their plundered treasure.

I'm going to sign off each post for a while with quotes from our esteemed and oh-so-literate president George W. Bush. These quotes, which speak for themselves, are gems and truly worthy to be placed beside the legendary wit and wisdom of his father's vice-president, Dan Quayle:

"The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country. "
- George W. Bush

The rest come from "blue" states?


Monday, December 19, 2005

 
A couple of months ago Fritz suggested we spend a weekend in New York visiting a student of his from his days teaching and directing plays in Las Vegas. E has made a very nice career for herself teaching voice and speach among other subjects at good institutions like The New School and City University of New York. So we drove down on Friday.

It was my least favorite kind of weather in which to drive--constant heavy rain with limited visibility. Several of the major roads into the city from the north were closed because of flooding. But exactly at the Connecticut/New York border the cky opened and we had brilliant sun right into Manhattan.

E had gotten us tickets for "Avenue Q" on friday night in the sixth row orchestra. The show is beyond delightful. Excellently cast, it utilizes almost exact Japanese Bunraku puppetry techniques, but so obviously descends from Sesame Street that a disclaimer is posted in the lobby to the effect that Jim Henson's company is not involved in any way. If you can imagine Sesame Street puppet characters as adults with occasionally foul mouths, active or repressed and hurting sex lives, and all manner of urban angst, you'll have a good idea of what the show is like.

Watching one puppet take another home for a night of sex in every position imaginable--and the contortions the humans involved go through to make their night of passion happen--alone is worth the price of admission. The music's good, the humor ribald and the human condition includes inter-species romance, racial tensions in the neighborhood, and the eventual and triumphant coming out of the main puppet.

The current lead is Barrett Foa, a dynamic young man with a great smile and seemingly limitless energy. Cute, tall and blond with a solid singing voice, I suspect he's going to have a very good career. He's got a good site with blog at www.barrettfoa.com.

Saturday we breakfasted with E's former brother-in-law and his curent lady, a delightful couple from Las Vegas. He's a composer who's currently working on a chamber opera about the formidable Greek heroine Medea. We had a great time together, and I'll be taking information on him and his work to the director of Intermezzo, the chamber opera company I design for these days.

We spent the afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum. The current big exhibit is a superb collection of paintings by Fra Angelico. The big surprise is the embossing and gilding of the surfaces of the paintings, giving them a splendor that isn't hinted at in photo reproductions. We also spent a lot of time in the Van Gogh drawings exhibit, which was crowded almost to the point where you couldn't see it properly, and in the Santiago Calatrava Sculpture to Architecture show. Before we left we did some Christmas shopping in the museum shop.


Saturday night we went down to Union Square for Slava's SnowShow, a mime and clowning spectacle with a hard-working cast of five and some spectacular effects, like the blizzard that engulfs the audience at the finale, followed by extended play between the audience and the cast when balloons ranging in size from three feet to ten feet in diameter were bounced out onto the stage and punched into the auditorium. Slava, who's Russian, brought early versions of the SnowShow to London, winning enormous acclaim. Parts of it have played the Cirque du Soleil.

After the SnowShow I took Fritz and E to Osso Buco, a fine Italian restaurant just south of Union square that had been a family favorite back in the day when I had family living in the area. It hadn't changed or deteriorated in the five years since my last visit. Sunday we drove back to Boston, very happy and ready for the onslaught of Christmas and New Years.

You may remember my recent story of our friend J and his creative use for plantains (sure you do--I got more comments on that post than on any other recently!). An interesting and sweet man, he genuinely enjoys making guys happy. Well, J has a new toy now, and last week I got gloved.

The Fukuoku Glove is a battery-powered vibrating garment covered in some kind of teflon or silicone fabric. Whichever it is, the glove glides sensuously but with amazing stimulation over skin. Each finger has its own mini-vibrator and when the glove's powered up and applied to various parts of the anatomy, the result is absolute delight. Here's the description from one site that sells it:

This will give either of you the most erotic hand job you can imagine. We are lucky enough to have such a futurisic vibrating toy in the year 2004. The Fukuoku glove has five fingers each with an individual vibrator (yes a vibrator) at the tip. Buzzzz finger, feel, grope and probe with each finger. The glove is cloth & feels super! The single-speed control to control all five fingers (Whew!!!) resides in a waterproof pouch at the cuff. Cleaning is super easy, remove the controller, & vibes, & wash the glove with your lingerie! Hand wash, Hand dry!

Different sites sell for radically different prices. The best price I saw was $45 (others ranged up to $70) at Mr. S Leather (ww.mr-s-leather.com). We're so hoping he'll bring it along for our big New Year's bash!


The other night, a dog was attacked and killed by a pack--not one or two, but by a large pack--of coyotes in the George Wright Public Golf Course while it was being walked by its owner. It's a lovely golf course, one that draws families in the winter for its good sledding hills and hiking. My daughters and I sledded there and I did a lot of cross-country skiing over its rolling landscape and through its woods. The George Wright Golf Course is one quarter of a mile away from my house.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

 
Quick update: Fritz and I are heading down to New York City today for the weekend. We'll be staying with a much-loved former student of his and seeing two shows: "Avenue Q" tonight and "Slava's Snow Show," reputedly a wonderful mind-bending spectacle, on Saturday night. I think we'll visit The Museum of Modern Art on Saturday and then just walk around mid-town among all the Christmas decorations and crowds. See you again Sunday evening!

The "Mormon Era" in the Massachusetts governorship now has a firm end date. Mitt Romney announced this evening that he will not run for re-election. This is no great sacrifice on his part as his chances of carrying the next election were slender to non-existent. Public opinion as reported by the local media is almost unanimous that he was using the state and his high office as a springboard to a run for the presidency, and that he would never have been elected to the governorship again. He couched his decision in terms that his first four years had been so successful, that so many of his major initiatives had passed, and that the state is in such great shape that he has nothing more to accomplish here. Only if you listened carefully did you hear him admit that even if he stayed, his initiative to bring the death penalty back to Masachusetts would never be approved by the state legislature.

He completely glossed over the pledge he had made to run for governor again instead of making a run for the White House. And when asked by reporters, he said he would not resign early so that Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey could run her expected gubernatorial campaign with some time as an incumbent behind her. He said he loves being our governor and deoesn't want to miss a day, which brings up the question: why does he go on pre-presidential campaign trips nationwide and slam this state and its citizens everywhere he goes? Does the smarmy little bigot think we don't have TV news in this state?

There are some who discount Kerry Healey completely as inexperienced and a joke. I don't think of her that way at all. Even if she doesn't get some gubernatorial experience under her belt before the next election, I see her as a potentially dangerous conservative with a very large personal fortune--the better to support an aggressive campaign--who has to be stopped next November. The election is there for the Democrats to lose if they don't get their act together, field a viable candidate and then support him or her fully.

Here's another Boston story, one that unfolded during my college years here.


The greek earring at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is one of it's great treasures, a magnificent piece of jewelry from the Hellenistic period, circa 350BC. It is unique as its mate didn't survive antiquity. The large earring was made completely hollow out of thin sheets of pure gold to be light weight. The detail work is astonishing: Nike in her chariot, whose tiny wheels turn, has visible eye lashes. The earring was displayed under reasonable security in a locked case. Until the morning a guard came to work and saw that it was gone.

All the usual procedures were activated: a top to bottom search of the museum, investigation into the possibility of an inside job, contact with well-placed persons in the art fencing world to determine if any announcement of new property had been made. Nothing panned out. Eventually, the museum acted on the suggestion to engage a psychologist to assist in identifying the type of person who would steal such a high profile piece of art.

The picture of the thief that developed was at variance with the standard wisdom. The psychologist described a person who was withdrawn, lonely, possibly actively anti-social, who had seen the earring on a visit to the museum and become obsessed with it, obsessed to the point that possessing the earring was the only option he found bearable. Under the psychologist's tutelage, a letter addressed to the thief was written and placed in the local papers.

The letter addressed the thief personally, telling him that there were many things he should know about the fragile piece he so dearly loved. It was made of astonishingly thin gold and was hollow, so a big change in temperature and humidity could cause it to collapse in part or completely. Sufficient vibration could cause the minute welds to separate. Handling anywhere on the surface could flatten some of the exquisite detailing. An amnesty was offered--if he returned the earring in some safe, anonymous way, no questions asked or pursuit attempted, the earring would be taken care of and returned to public view in a new, even better lighted and designed case for him see any time he wanted and in a manner that would keep it safe forever. Wouldn't it be devastating if he who loved it so much should unintentionally damage or destroy this magnificent piece of art?

The letter was published in the Boston newspapers and the TV news shows reported the story, urging the thief to read it. A week passed, then another, finally a month. A note arrived at the museum with instructions to dig at the base of a particular tree in the Back Bay Fens, a park behind the museum and part of The Emerald Necklace. Not too far down a coffee can was found and inside, cushioned carefully and lovingly in pure silk was the earring. The thief has never been identified or caught. The earring, after a time out of the public eye for examination and cleaning, remains on display in the new case that was promised, one of the most spectacular pieces of gold jewelry ever made.

Jess of Splenda in the Grass tagged me on this subject, Five Simple Pleasures. Here are some of mine:
1) Afternoon tea, particularly with Fritz. I had an English grandmother on my mother's side and I was raised with the whole afternoon tea ritual. Fritz was also an afternoon tea drinker--one of the many things we found we shared from the very beginning, and that bind us together today.
2) Coming slowly into consciousness in the morning, knowing exactly where to reach out to find the cat curled up in the hollow of my waist, and feeling her start to purr under my hand.
3) Growing a lot of my own food. Going out into the garden in the evening to pick fruit and vegetables for dinner and eating them at the absolute height of freshness and flavor.
4) Sitting in a theater or opera house on one of those magical nights when everything's working at its best and then suddenly incandesces into an experience that transcends all the individual efforts, all the mechanics, and becomes a true work of art.
5) Giving dinner parties for friends, sometimes with the dining room lit only by candles. Bringing people together and sharing good food, talk and wine for several hours, away from all the frustrations and hustle of daily life.

Whom to tag? Some of these guys are easily associated with simple pleasures, others possibly not, and they may have some surprising answers: Walt (Inquitudes), Thom (Thoughts Made Bald), Atari (The Lost Find), Karl (Adventures in Gastronomy), Mark (Zeitzeuge).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

 
The weekend began with bizarre weather and ended in serene beauty. There was a light snow storm Friday morning. Pretty, fluffy snow, nothing difficult to negotiate. I worked at home in the morning and when the snow turned to rain around 1pm, began to drive up to MIT. Halfway there, all hell broke loose. The wind rose into a gale and the snow drove in with such density the visibility dropped to nearly zero. With a lot of luck and some tense maneuvering, I got my Jeep into the parking garage in the basement of the Stata Center and fought through the weather to my office. Two and a half hours later, like turning off a switch, the snow ended, the sky cleared and there was a lovely coral sunset. But during the worst of it, I saw conditions that I'd seen before—one Monday night in January 1978 when the great blizzard put Boston under marshal law for a week and four feet of standing snow and ice clogged the streets for days. Happily, this storm moved out to sea a great deal faster.

Saturday evening I had the pleasure of hosting the third QBB, or Queer Boston Bloggers gathering. On the agenda was a pot luck supper and poker. There were six of us (Karl, Bryan, Keith, Sean, first timer Atari and myself). Chris began the trip down from New Hampshire but was turned back as close as Saugus by completely jammed traffic. He sent an email regretting and hoping he can make it next time, as do all of us.

I think the success of the evening can be judged by the fact that we sat down to dinner just after 8pm and all of a sudden realized that it was ten o'clock. So the dining table was cleared and we began to play cards. Now, I hadn't until that night played so much as a single hand of poker, but the rules of Texas Hold'em are extremely simple. By the third hand I was relaxed and beginning to enjoy myself. I won a couple of hands and began to see some "now we're agoin' to break yer hands, hustler" expressions around the table. But it was all in great good cheer and, again, time flew. We broke up at 1am. These guys are a lot of fun.

Sunday I drove up to Fritz's to help out with a couple of repairs and to host the December Sweat with him. There were fourteen men in all. We got a really hot fire going, so the soapstones came out of the coals translucent and glowing red. They held their heat so long that the Sweat lasted a good forty-five minutes. Walking back through the woods at the end, the night was bathed in moonlight, sending long bluish shadows of the trees across the luminous snow. A pair of Canadian geese flew over us, their calls echoing off the stone outcropping that shadows the trail at one point. Just magic.


Every city has its own profile and stories unique to its culture. Here's the first of several that tell something about Boston and why it is what it is.

The witch hunt, trials and executions at Salem in the early 1690s are pretty well known, but Boston's role in the affair is less often reported. Despite trial records that seem to indicate everything was run out of Salem, a lot of strings were being pulled in Boston by figures, one very prominent figure in particular, who may have been extremely conflicted at this moment in time. Cotton Mather was the dominant cleric in the area, scion of a family of strong Puritan ministers. Son of Increase Mather, first president of Harvard College, and grandson of ministers Richard Mather and John Cotton, Cotton Mather presided over Boston's historic Old North Church and authored of over four hundred works on all aspects of theology.

But scratch the surface of both Increase and Cotton's lives and some major contrasts begin to appear. Increase ruled a college that from the beginning exhibited a generally liberal philosophy and Cotton received his degree as a teenager from his father's hand. Increase had lost faith in "spectral evidence," the impossible to confirm or deny but damning accusation that was used to "prove" the great sin of witchcraft. Had his influence in the trials been stronger, the hysteria might have collapsed. The fact that so many of the denunciations were based on the greed of neighbors who wanted to grab the land of the condemned or executed might have been exposed and the trials stopped a great deal sooner. Yet Increase used his position and influence to become involved in major international affairs of state and civil government in an unprecedented manner, thereby uniting church and state in a way that forged a theocracy in Massachusetts. A theocracy made the witch trials possible and guaranteed a high body count in the verdicts.

Cotton had no second thoughts about spectral evidence. His god was not a benign spirit but a stern and vengeful deity who held mankind suspended over the abyss of hell, to cite one of his most memorable images, like a moth over a flame. The judges in Salem came mostly from Cotton's congregation, were picked by him and mentored by him via correspondence. He set foot in Salem only once, to view the execution of defrocked minister George Burroughs. On the gallows, Burroughs recited the Lord's Prayer faultlessly, something thought impossible for a witch to do. As the crowd cried out for Burroughs to be freed, Cotton Mather ordered the hanging to go forward. Yet he was an early and embattled advocate of rational science. His promotion of smallpox vaccination and use of his own son as an example of the ease of the vaccination process earned him an incendiary device thrown through a window of his house. His belief that doctors should take into consideration the state of mind of a patient rather than depending on analysis of symptoms based on medieval beliefs earned him acceptance into the Royal Society in London.

But when the chips were down he chose religious orthodoxy--he was an ardent supporter of the founding of reactionary Yale University as a counterbalance to the liberalism of Harvard. And then there was this fascinating, documented incident: a woman in Boston was brought to Cotton's house said to be possessed by a demon. As she lay on the floor writhing and moaning, he knelt straddling her hips, pinning her firmly under him with his legs. According to witnesses he then leaned over and began wrestling with her until the demon was released. I've always wondered what else might have been released that day. The description of his exorcism technique sounds an awful lot like dry humping to me. Just how "pure" were those Puritans?


Quick update: The Golden Globe nominations were announced this morning and "Brokeback Mountain" led with seven, inluding Best Picture, Drama.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

 
We had a vicious little snow storm race through Boston yesterday and we're fortunate it was moving so fast. Had it stalled once it hit the coast, it would have pumped a huge amount of snow. As it is, I've got about eight inches (NOT personally) here just south of the city center and I'm hoping they plows arrive soon as I'm going to need parking around the house tonight.

It's QBB3, poker night with pot luck supper for what looks like seven of the gay Boston bloggers. If everyone gets here it's going to be the hard core with the addition of two new guys—Chris from UNH in Durham and Atari who made a pretty spectacular blog debut a short while ago and got firmly established with a steady readership right away. I'll be spending the day cleaning up the house for the first one of these gatherings that hasn't taken place at a restaurant.

I checked out my site meter this morning and discovered I'm one third of the way to the 100,000 hit mark that seems to be a common blog milestone. It's very interesting to track the search engine topics that bring people to me. My series on hot guys in the performing arts has brought me a huge number of hits, and it's a toss-up between the elegant, ultra-sexy British ballet dancer Adam Cooper and hunky American baritone Nathan Gunn seen here in two shots from the new opera he just premiered in New York, "An American Tragedy.". It seems that a couple of classical music sites (run by gay men, to be sure) have referred readers to DesignerBlog for Nathan's latest shirtless shots. And always ready to oblige, here are a couple more.

Actress Tilda Swinton is popular. I need to get more of her work on video (any suggestions?). My references and photo of her in Derek Jarman's post-modern, edgy, homoerotic film of Christopher Marlowe's Elizabethan play "Edward II" (about medieval England's queer king) bring people in steadily.


At MIT things should be winding down toward the Christmas-New Years break but that's not yet the case. I'm in the middle of designing the next production that goes into rehearsal and construction on February 9. Our director, M, is a guest, a gay British playwright and director currently making his career in the west of Ireland. He's in the country just this week to audition and hold design meetings before going back for the holidays. He comes into residence February 6 for the remainder of the academic year to teach acting courses in addition to directing the biggest production of the year.

So we had a very limited amount of time to confer with him, come up with a concept, get drawings or, in my case, a working model made, revise things after further discussion, and get approvals. I've been very lucky this year so far--actually it's simply because I'm HUGELY talented! :- ) and my luck held. He was enthusiastic about what I presented and in some of the surrealistic effects I had introduced, he said go for it and do even more. What he had spoken of was a world turned upside down by the main plot device: by a decree sent out by the dictator of a city state to the effect that men at age 80 and women at 60 are considered useless to the state and will be executed

The play is "The Old Law." It dates to the 1630s in England, about a quarter century after Shakespeare's death. M adapted it and premiered it in London to major acclaim as a slap in the face to Margaret "The Iron Lady" Thatcher's social policies. We all felt it would be an ideal play for the U.S. at this time.

Since M is so tied in to the political connection between a script and the society in which it is presented, I began to think what sort of look would indicate a world turned upside down for the MIT community. And of course it's the still controversial Stata Center by architect Frank Ghery. I do not, for course, intend actually setting the play in Stata, but referencing elements of Ghery's visual language to create a world in which all the normal presuppositions are exploded and no longer function. I'll post pictures as the design develops and turns into a full-scale theatrical set.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

 
I found this map of the original Boston (in white) with the various stages of land fill called out in color. What this map does not show is just how much of Cambridge is fill. Most of the core MIT campus stands on made land and we suffer for it every time a building goes up and the spongy, debris-filled subsoil is disturbed. The creation of land from the bays and coves around the original Boston (now the North End) is an immensely important part of the city's history.

The filling of Back Bay, the single largest of the filling projects, came about because of an earthen mole that was constructed across the opening of the bay to carry railroad tracks heading west out of the downtown area.

Immediately, all the water caught between the neck of land connecting Boston to the mainland and this new mole became a mosquito-infested swamp. Filling it in was a public health necessity as well as a golden opportunity for developers. The original MIT building, at the corner of Boylston and Berkeley Streets, was one of the very first to go up on the huge, flat and utterly barren site. After MIT moved to its new campus across the river in Cambridge, the building housed various high end retailers such as Louis of Boston and Bonwit Teller.

The Back Bay was laid out in a grid pattern, the first area of the city to have regular blocks and straight streets. Commonwealth Avenue was planned as a grande allee in the French style, two wide roadways separated by a park running right down the middle and lined with the mansions of the super wealthy and socially prominent scattered among handsome English-style bow-front townhouses.

Commonwealth Avenue runs westward from the Public Gardens, newly developed by Frederick Law Olmstead as a formal extension of the sacred ground that was and is Boston Common. Commonwealth Avenue and the Gardens were not only Boston's answer to upper Fifth Avenue in New York City, they were the beginning of Olmstead's master design for The Emerald Necklace, a green belt running from the heart of the city down along the rustic banks of the Muddy River and Jamaica Pond (then Boston's reservoir) to the twin pendants of the Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park in farm country south of the city.

Whereas Olmsted designed New York's Central Park to be a piece of faux nature in the middle of a vast city, he designed The Necklace to thread its way through Boston and invite its residents to leave the urban scene and visit real nature. Just south of those twin pendants is Roslindale, still affectionately and almost universally referred to as "The Village". Roslindale sits in a valley among high terrain to the east and west, no more so than where I live in what is known as Clarendon Hills. My house is an "American Gothic" house, tall and narrow with severe lines, dating from 1860. When I moved in, I discovered an old ledger in the attic detailing the sale of apples and berries off the property, whose original owner also ran a coal and ice supply business near the Boston waterfront.

Roslindale didn't begin to be settled in a serious way until the late 1890s, as a result of the Bussey Bridge Disaster. In March of 1887, a Dedham to Boston train was crossing Bussey Street that runs through the Arboretum when the 120 foot long trestle collapsed just behind the locomotive, and all the cars went into the breach, twisted and piled up on one another. There was serious loss of life (23) and injury (100). A couple of guys with entrepreneurial instincts immediately rented some of the old-fashioned hand pumped track cars and charged a good price to bring people down from Boston to the brink of the collapsed trestle so they could oooh and aaah and cluck their tongues at the wreck. But while gawking at the disaster, they also looked around at the beautiful, extremely cheap farmland and by the 1890s, Roslindale's development was off and running.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

 
There's no particular reason for these two pictures of Tim McGraw except the obvious one that he's one hot man and extremely pleasant to look upon. A year or so ago Fritz and I happened on a Tim McGraw special on TV and became country music fans so fast you wouldn't believe. The man is sex in boots and he can actually SING. At one point in the performance he wound up next to one of the back-up musicians who wasn't looking too shabby himself and Fritz commented, "I'd buy THAT video!"

I've been looking specifically for gay bloggers in Boston and have finally done something I should have a long time ago--expanded my heading to "boston-area bloggers." That's because Michael (Chaosfactor), Sean (Seanlandia), Jeff (Esoteric Diversions) and Agent XXX (Scott E D) all live outside Boston's peripheral highway, route 128. But when Chris (chris-says) from the University of New Hampshire just over the border in Durham joined us and signed up for the QBB pot luck and poker party at my house this coming Saturday, I decided the time had come to abandon the idea that all the local area gay bloggers were "from Boston."

Occupying slightly more than 48 square miles, Boston's population is just under 600,000 and has been declining slowly in the past couple of years. A major center for culture, higher education, medical facilities, banking and tourism, Boston is actually extremely small. When I came here from New York City for college I was surprised that the downtown area of a city that offers so much could be walked across in a mere twenty minutes. Eventually I came to love the compactness.

Boston has a very specific feeling. Europeans I know who've traveled all over the U.S. comment that Boston is the most European of American cities (they consider New York an international city and Chicago the quintessentially American city). They often compare Boston and San Francisco as being strikingly alike on opposite coasts.

The original Boston was almost an island in the harbor, very roughly circular at the end of a narrow neck of land attaching it to the mainland. There were three hills (the Trimount, memoralized in the city's Tremont Street) out on the "island" two of which were eventually leveled and one that was cut down to half its height (Beacon Hill) in the mid 19th century. Their soil was dumped into the harbor either side of the narrow neck, along with the soil from other hills cut down on the mainland, to create big tracts of land for residential development.

There are other interesting features to the city's topography. I live just down the street and downhill from an extinct volcano. It now supports the area's water tank. Out here in Roslindale and West Roxbury, the land is full of "pudding stone," huge composite rock formations of ancient stones and boulders trapped in lava. And the San Francisco comparison is apt because Boston was also destroyed by an earthquake, flattened completely in 1636, just half a dozen years after the first settlers established it. Other notable earthquakes here struck in 1727, 1744, 1755 (now estimated by seizmologists at 6.5 on the Richter Scale) and 1872.

Title page of an early History of Boston showing the three hills, probably volcanic in origin before they were cut down.

The original settlement was named, as were so many of the English settlements, after a location back home, Boston (in Lincolnshire) which is a contraction for St. Botolph's town. Botolph was a Saxon Abbot who died sometime around 680 and about whom little is actually known beyond his mention is several important chronicles. St. Botolph Street can be found in the South End, just off Massachusetts Avenue south of Symphony Hall and the Big Christian Science Church complex.

The reason the city is so small is due to the fact that Boston never absorbed towns and cities wholesale as did New York that swallowed the entire city of Brooklyn, for example, on its march to becoming a five borough megalopolous. Cambridge, just across the Charles River, remains a separate city, as do communities like Newton, Dedham, Watertown, Malden and Somerville that are as much a part of the life of Boston as Beacon Hill or the Back Bay. Brookline (which began as the farm community Muddy River Hamlet and fought a long time to become a separate town) even thrusts up into Boston from the south west like a giant fist, nearly cutting the city in two in the area of Boston University. Boston there is reduced to a strip of land only 900 yards wide along the Charles River until it opens out again into the Brighton-Allston neighborhood.

More on the city's interesting past and vigorous present in a future post.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

 
South Africa has become the fifth nation in the world to have approved gay marriage. For whatever reason or reasons, it will take as long as a year to establish the procedures, paperwoprk, etc. It sounds like a great lot of bureaucratic log-jamming to me but I'm not South African and not familiar with their processes.

One might think that as more and more nations sign on to the gay civil right movement, our government--our nation--might begin to reexamine it's anti-gay stand, but I have little expectation of that. This country was founded on non-involvement with foreign nations. As we've grown stronger and more arrrogant, the one breach we seem to have allowed in this policy gives us license to interfere in THEIR affairs and policies but does not allow their culture or international stand to influence OURS.

I was driving in to MIT yesterday morning when one of those stories so bizarre you can’t quite believe it was reported on the news. A large stray dog was attacked and eaten alive by squirrels in some town in the English midlands. There were eye witnesses who confirmed that a large number of the little tree rodents swarmed all over the dog and “gutted” it. Local officials then issued a statement that the attack could be blamed on a shortage of pinecones locally. I’m not sure exactly what that means. Squirrels do not eat pinecones and I doubt the tiny seeds could provide too much of the local squirrel population’s diet.

Just pardon me for a moment, however, while I make sure I’ve got enough cat food in the house.

Nobody reads any more. All over the country, newspapers are fading out--our news comes from TV sound bites now; we're told attention spans are down and people will not read anything lengthy. OK, so literacy as we know knew it is gone. But a simple sign giving the name of a building, a building at a major educational institution to boot, this they cannot read?

Our little design and production center is sandwiched in between two other modestly-sized buildings, one of which houses the MIT Traffic office and the Card Service office where ID cards and other magnetic strip cards are made. Every day, at least three people come in, look around at trees under construction or faux stone walls being painted and ask where they can get their parking stickers.

Clearly they haven't read the 1" high black letters that clearly spell out "Theater Arts Technical Staff--Design and Production Center." A variety of small signs saying "We are NOT the Card or Traffic Office" in 2” black block caps were totally ignored. 4" high light reflective pure white type giving the number of our building, E33 (everything has a number at MIT--people don't major in Physics but in Course 8) makes no impression and neither does a big sign with lettering on an arrow POINTING directly at the damn card office attract any attention.

Sometime in June of next year the building housing the Card and Traffic offices is scheduled to be torn down. I'll let you know when it happens, and please stop by. There'll be champagne and cake..


American composer Tobias Picker

The operatic version of "An American Tragedy" was received with a great deal of enthusiasm last night by a notoriously conservative audience, one that dislikes anything without hummable melodies and all the stock conventions of traditional opera. What they got was a splendid piece of musical theater, smartly and cleverly designed and directed, and performed by a superb cast. And the key to the opera's reception ws that the same number of people who sat down for the 8pm curtain returned for the second act that began at ten minutes after 10pm.

The story of the rise and fall of Clyde Griffiths begins and ends with Clyde as a ten or eleven year old boy on the stage, At the very beginning of the work, we see young Clyde in the Salvation Army milieu in which he was raised, interacting with his formidible mother. At the end, as the mature Clyde makes his way to the electric chair, young Clyde takes his hand and, as the last remnant of innocence remaining to him, stands by his errant adult to the end. In the intervening three hours, we see the consequences suffered by those who become involved with handsome, suave, incredibly seductive Clyde Griffiths who has no central core of ethics other than a vaulting personal ambition.

Mr. Fire Island Leather was back again, this time sitting in a side box surrounded by his boys. The younger opera lovers come in a variety of couture these days, including one boy in full evening wear with a pendented brooch in place of a formal tie--and a backpack.

Amid an enormously accomplished cast, there were two stand-outs--Big Dolora Zajick, whose massive voice doesn't just fill the 3,800 seat MET, but bounces off the walls and grabs you wherever you sit, playing Clyde's mother; and Nathan Gunn, in gorgeous voice, moving with the grace of a cat and sexy as all hell. Out Lesbian director Francesca Zambello is fully aware of what the contemporary audience wants to see and wasted no time getting Nathan out of his shirt for the fateful seduction scene.

After prolonged ovations for the cast, composer Tobias Picker received a roar of applause as he came out for the first of several bows. It was a very good night at the opera.

Friday, December 02, 2005

 

An American Tragedy


I'm working a half day at MIT today before heading down to New York for the world premiere of Tobias Picker's opera "An American Tragedy" at the Metropolitan Opera. Picker is a gay composer who had a big success a few years ago with his opera "Emmeline" that was performed by several U.S. companies and telecast on PBS.

Poster for the Movie and Nathan Gunn, star of the opera

The opera is adapted from Theodore Dreiser's once famous novel that seems to have be something of a companion piece to F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." Both novels deal with the life and death of "the American dream" as it works through the lives of two young men of great promise in the 20s and 30s of the last century. Gatsby achieves immense wealth and influence only to find it empty, and dies by the hand of a man whose wife has always been an elusive ideal for him. Dreiser's hero sees the goal hanging seductively within reach but for the plain young woman without social status he has toyed with and impregnated--and whom he disposes of from a canoe on a resort hotel's lake. The story ends with his execution.

Two important movies were made of the Dreiser novel, the better known version starring the now famous pairing of Montgomery Clift and the magnificent young Elizabeth Taylor, with Shelley Winters as the home town girl. Tonight's operatic version stars the handsome Nathan Gunn whose naked torso appeared here a while back as the hero of Benjamin Britten's "Billy Budd." Word leaking out of the final dress rehearsal is that the opera and the production make a very big impression.


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