Monday, February 27, 2006

The French have a very old saying: "Paint the Devil on the wall and he'll appear to you in person." Well I painted one of my devils on the wall in the modern way by posting a picture of him on my blog quite recently. And last night he indeed appeared in front of Fritz and me in an elevator at Massachusetts General Hospital.

It was the end of another lovely weekend with Fritz's neice who had just flown in from Amsterdam to start a business trip showing her latest designs and colors for linoleum flooring on behalf of her Dutch company. We took her out to Marino's in Cambridge for her birthday on Saturday, and museum-hopped at Harvard on Sunday. We dropped her at her hotel late in the afternoon and then headed to the hospital to visit M and see how he was doing.

As we walked into the elevator vestibule the tall, bearded man in the brown Franciscan friar robe, sandals and impeccably trimmed gray beard was unmistakable. The smooth low bass voice confirmed the picture--we were in the presence of Boston's Archbishop Sean O'Malley.

There were three of us on the elevator besides O'Malley and his aide, a young priest. The petite woman was on her way with Fritz and me to the 21st floor. O'Malley, whose homophobic policy and unfeeling treatment of Catholics concerned about moral and financial impropriety in the Church have won him a Cardinal's hat from the Vatican, stood ramrod straight with the air of someone who's used to being recognized and gushed over, which none of us chose to do.

For a moment, as I later told Fritz, I had a wild thought of introducing us as a married gay couple and challenging him to say his worst, but I didn't and he left at the 8th floor in any event. We went on to find M much improved. Today he was back home in his apartment at MIT with an encouraging prognosis on his heart and oral antibiotics for a bacterial infection in the blood that had triggered the entire crisis.

Fortunately, there are some prominent religious figures who are far more level-headed and inclusive than Cardinal-designate O'Malley, as seen in this story:

Historic United First Parish Church in Quincy, site of the tombs of the first father-son president combination (John Adams and John Quincy Adams) is seeking permission to support same sex marriage via a huge banner stretching across the facade of the building.

The Unitarian-Universalist "Church of the Presidents" has petitioned the Quincy Zoning Board and the Historical District Commission for permission to hang a 34-foot by 4-foot banner reading "People of Faith for Marriage Equality" above its main entrance on Hancock Street in the heart of downtown Quincy. The church needs city approval to hang the banner because its proposed size is more than twice that allowed under city code. Both votes will have been taken by March 7th.

Pastor Sheldon Bennett said the congregation's longstanding independence and support for people facing "persistent bigotry, hatred and prejudice" led to the decision to mount the banner on the church. "Equality is a fundamental principle in our state constitution, which was written by John Adams, so it's not entirely a coincidence that our congregation holds equality as a key principle. We're the continuation of the church in which John Adams was a member" and in which John Hancock, first and most prominent signer of the Declaration of Independence, was baptised.

City officials are being very discrete on the matter, stating that if the banner is not approved it will be solely because of its dimensions and not because of its content. Quincy's mayor was more blunt: "no comment."

"We're expecting widespread support as well as gratitude from many people that we are making this sort of publicly visible affirmation," Rev. Bennett said. "I expect some people will have different opinions, but we’re doing what we believe as a religious community."

The news has had several items lately about the overcharging that's been going on for those of us who have Fast Lane transponders to get through the tolls quickly. So I checked through last year's Fast Lane bills to see if I'd been overcharged and I did find one instance: I was charged $4.50 instead to $2.50 for a trip through the Ted Williams Tunnel last April. So I called up Fast Lane Customer Service. And they blew me off. They will not credit a refund for any overcharge more than two months old. I registered my opinion and hung up the phone. Loudly.

Tuesday morning: I drove across the Masachusetts Avenure Bridge this morning to see a hack on the great dome at MIT. It's been a long time and I was wondering if we'd get any good hacks or any hacks at all this year. This one rated a solid B but not more because the materials were a bit flimsy. Unmistakable, however, was the broad burgundy colored ribbon with the five Olympic Rings embroidered on it looped over the top of the dome, and the huge gold disc with the hole in the middle hanging flat against the drum of the dome--this Winter Games' design for Olympic gold.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The aftermath of my lovely weekend story isn't so happy. At one point on Monday while Fritz and M were talking about M's techniques of voice training that Fritz had appreciated while watching and listening to the actors on stage, I was talking with M's partner T. I mentioned the quadruple bypass operation Fritz had to have a year and a half ago.

M had been fighting off what seemed like asthma attacks for a couple of weeks. He'd gone to MIT Medical. He'd never had asthma, and here were no coronary symptoms at that time. They gave him some cough medicine to loosen the chest and help clear the lungs. M and I had speculated on some possible causes--he'd come from Ireland where the climate is more moist in winter than here and he's suddenly been put into a modern, centrally heated building with very dry air; allergies to something in his guest apartment (rugs, drapes)--that kind of thing.

Last night I was sitting in my kitchen doing a Sudoku puzzle to wind down from a thrilling performance I had heard at Symphony Hall when the phone rang a couple of minutes before midnight. In my experience, a call at that hour usually means there's trouble somewhere. T was on the other end, upset and obviously needing to talk. M had been taken in an ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital, feeling very unwell. He was passed surprisingly quickly through Emergency to Admissions--the diagnosis was heart failure.

T said he was assured that "heart failure" didn't mean M's heart was going to stop working. They used the term to indicate that circumstances were causing the heart to fail to work properly at this time. Those circumstances are a highly elevated blood pressure that has no immediate explanation. M's heart is having to push very hard to do its job and suffering periods of fatigue as a consequence. There's no sign of any kind of heart attack having taken place.

M's on medication to reduce the blood pressure and will undergo a battery of tests and scans this morning. T and I will be in contact by phone during the day. Fritz is coming down from New Hampshire tomorrow morning and we'll drop in at Mass. General, just one stop away from our little design and production building on the red line subway. And we'll all hope for the best.

Update: as of this afternoon, M is resting as comfortably as a vigorous, somewhatimpatient man can rest when he's confined to bed. He seems to be in no immediate danger but there's no word at all about the cause of the off-the-chart blood pressure. Both men are marveling at American-style hospital careand said that if this had happened back in Galway on the west coast of Ireland, M would have been in very serious trouble.

With one pioneering, sometimes embattled, gay bishop in the Episcopal Church here on the east coast, the possibility now exists that another may be elected a continent away on the west coast. Here's an edited version of the Associated Press story:

Gay Episcopal priests up for bishop in California
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Two openly gay priests are candidates to become bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, and the election of either could worsen the rift over homosexuality in the bitterly divided church. The Rev. Bonnie Perry of Chicago and the Very Rev. Robert Taylor of Seattle are among the five candidates. Both have longtime same-sex partners.

The church has been torn over the issue of gay clergy since 2003, when the Rev. Gene Robinson, who has a longtime male partner, was elected bishop of New Hampshire.

The following year, an emergency panel of the global Anglican Communion, which includes the U.S. Episcopal Church and 77 million people in 164 countries, asked for a moratorium on installing bishops who are in same-sex relationships. But each province within the Anglican Communion can make its own decisions because the group lacks a governing body like the Vatican for Roman Catholics.

The American Anglican Council, which advocates on behalf of traditionalists who have formed a separate network of dissenting churches, posted a strongly worded letter on its website opposing the two gay nominees. Conservatives believe the Bible forbids gay relationships.

"If the Episcopal Church had any intention of repentance, candidates would clearly adhere to the authority of Scripture, affirm the apostolic faith, and commit to the immediate cessation of ordination/consecration of non-celibate homosexuals as well as the blessings of same-sex unions," the letter said.

Canon David Anderson, the group's president and chief executive, said American church leaders who accept same-sex relationships "need to repent" and reconsider their decision.

The Rev. Paul Zahl, dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa., said if either of the gay candidates is chosen as the new bishop, it's a "definitive thumbing of the nose at the worldwide church." He said hundreds of Episcopalians already left the church after Robinson was consecrated and "for those who are still hanging in there, this election would be the final straw. That's no judgment on the individuals, but on the principle."

The election to replace the retiring Rev. William Swingis, the country's longest-serving bishop, is scheduled for May 6 in San Francisco.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The cover of the current New Yorker magazine (which printed Annie Proulx's short story when nobody else would) features yet another "Brokeback Mountain" parody, this one featuring Bush and an armed Dick Cheney, ready to shoot friend and, uh, friend alike. The title of this cover art is "Watch Your Back Mountain."

Sunday was a Sweat Lodge day at Fritz's. We had eighteen men including ourselves, too big a group for the Lodge. Three elected to go hot tubbing with Fritz and the fourteen of us who remained were delightfully but not unbearably close. When there's that big a crowd, it's much more comfortable to sit with arms around each other's shoulders, which we did, the fourteen of us linked in one big circle of men around the steaming rocks.

It was largely a wordless Sweat with some chanting and a few remembrances of men no longer with us, then it fell completely silent until the soapstones had given up their heat and we all left for the pot luck at the Center. It was extremely cold Sunday, but one of the interesting effects of the Sweat process is that when you emerge from the Lodge, the body is insulated with stored heat for up to five minutes and that gives you time to towel off and dress before you feel the temperature.

At dinner we were finally able to close the deal on an event we've been hoping to hold for some time. In April one of our close friends will arrange and officiate at a Passover Seder for gay men of all spiritual orientations. We're excited and pleased to be able to host this at last. There will be a Sweat on Saturday night and the Seder on Sunday, with guys invited to come to one, the other, or both and stay with us the entire weekend. Spring should be well underway by then and the weekend a beautiful way to celebrate it.

On Monday M, our guest director at MIT and T, his partner just arrived from Ireland for a visit, came up by bus from Boston. The weather was brilliant. We took them to lunch in Exeter, one of those architypical New England towns with the bandstand in the center, the row of Victorian shops, the river cascading over the mill dam as it runs through town, and streets lined with handsome 18th and 19th century houses.

At the Loaf and Ladle, started years ago by a good friend of Fritz's, $5.95 gets you a generously sized bowl of beef and swiss chard stew, cream of portabella mushroom soup, gypsy stew, or squash and sweet corn soup along with your choice of two thick hunks of homemade bread chosen from among four varieties.

We hiked Fritz's thirty-six acres, then had a mid-afternoon tea break. In the late afternoon we set up the maple sap boiler and showed our guests how to tap a sugar maple properly. After wine and appetizers and dinner of seafood-stuffed haddock, M, T, and I drove back to Boston. It had been a lovely weekend.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

First of all, thanks to Karl of Adventures in Gastronomy for pointing out to me that the Massachusetts Bishops' goal was slightly different than the impression I had gotten from the TV news coverage. Their actual request to the state legislature and, eventually , the courts is for an exemption from the state's anti-discrimination laws, allowing them to deny adoption to gay couples seeking to adopt through Catholic agencies. Up until now, gays and lesbians have adopted through the Catholic system smoothly if not in particularly great numbers.

Interestingly, Governor Romney, of all people, is very cool to the Bishops. There has been a big reaction against their request, as even those not in sympathy with gay rights recognize the danger of selectively allowing any particular group to begin discriminating against a class of U.S. citizens. The Bishops seem to feel that reviving legally sanctioned discrimination in this country is the way we should go. Surprised?

Similarly, the Judiciary Committee of the New Hampshire Legislature has reported against adding an amendment banning gay marriage to the State's constitution. By a vote of 14 to 7, the Committee recommends to the full Legislature that the amendment be quashed, citing enormous public opposition, particularly at the public hearing a couple of weeks ago that Fritz attended. He was unable to stay long enough to make a statement, but clearly his presence and the presence of a huge crowd opposing the amendment made an eloquent statement.

I heard a recital last night by the Polish contralto Ewa Podles at Boston's Jordan Hall. Podles has an astonishing voice, the single darkest voice I've ever heard from a woman, the voice of earth mother Gaia. In point of fact she has sung that character, or its Nordic equivalent, in Wagner's RING OF THE NIBELUNG where she was a majestic, oracular Erda the earth goddess.

Last night she sang Chopin, Rachmaninov and Brahms songs and blew the roof off the hall in a virtuoso Rossini concert piece about Joan of Arc. Encores were another big Rossini coloratura piece and a dramatic Tchaikovsky song. She doesn't just stand and sing, but acts out the characters in her songs and fully inhabits the strong strain of tragic melancholy in Slavic music. But she also has an impish sense of humor. One Chopin song deals with a young girl explaining to her mother that she met a boy out in the fields. The mother is angry that the daughter's garland is wet. Keeping in mind that a garland is a traditional symbol of a young girl's virginity, here are the final lines:

"True, mother, true. I went to see my lover.
In the field we wandered hand in hand.
And dewdrops were splashed upon my garland."

Thanks to Aussie blogger Paul Kidd for this interesting item from the Australian passport office. Oz is going through a strange moment at present, with a largely sex-positive population and big gay community under a right-wing, homophobic government led by Prime Minister Howard. A couple of other English-speaking countries seem to be in this same situation

The passport office, however, has a different take on the subject entirely. The application form for an Australian passport appears to be a tacit official acknowledgment of the validity of same-sex relationships.

Paul goes on to comment:
"If my same-sex relationship isn't valid, Mr. Howard, how come the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, through the passport form, treats it as equivalent to an opposite-sex de facto relationship? Isn't it a bit odd that the passport section of DFAT acknowledges same-sex relationships in this way while the consular section is
actively working against them?

DFAT passport website is even more forthcoming:
'The guarantor ... must not be related to the applicant by birth, marriage, de facto or same sex relationship.’

"If the guarantor is 'related to' the applicant by same sex relationship, doesn't that imply that the relationship exists, and doesn't this constitute an official acknowledgment of the validity of that relationship, Mr Howard? If so, how come that relationship isn't given equal treatment under the law?"

Paul’s blog (link at left) is

Thursday, February 16, 2006

We're enjoying an almost unprecedented February warm spell this week. Yesteday I was walking around MIT in my shirt sleeves. Today is schedueld to be more of the same. Fritz will be tapping the great maple trees that surround the parking lot at his center if this continues much longer.

He describes the action in the layer of the trunk through which the sap passes as like an elevator. In the early morning the day warms the trunk and the sap rises; in the evening the process is reversed and the sap runs back down to the roots. There has to be the right balance of warm day and cold night to get the pumping action going in the trees.

When it's time, he drills a hole an inch and a half or so into the trunk at a slightly upward angle and secures a metal tap (a tube that acts as a spout) into the hole. Plastic tubing is then tied solidly to the tap with the other end in a five gallon bucket on the ground. Two or three taps can be fed into one bucket. We gather sap once a day and often twice when the sap is really flowing. The buckets are then carried down to be emptied into clean 50 gallon plastic garbage barrels standing near the boiler. The buckets are immediatly taken back to the trees.

The ratio is 40 to 1--for every gallon of maple syrup you have to collect forty gallons of sap. And the sap has to come from sugar maples. We have several other varieties here in New England, notably the Norway maple that the state of Massachusetts is going to try to eliminate (or at least control the spread of) in the coming years as it's not a native species and is crowding out the sugar maples. It's the sugar content of the sap that distinguishes the sugar maple among all the others, along with their spectacular colors in autumn.

We finally know what happened last weekend at the Cultural Center that caused us to be locked out from our second and final performance. We had thought that the Center's manager simply assumed cancellation in the face of the Sunday blizzard. It's worse than that. He went out of the country over the weekend and never bothered to inform anyone else on the Center's staff that the place had to be opened, heated and otherwise gotten ready for a paying client by 3pm.

J found this out when he confronted the manager over claims for return of a portion of the rental fee and compensation for lost ticket revenue. It wasn't snow-related at all; it was pure and simple irresponsibility. Apparently it took the guy a while to admit that he'd really screwed up. The money was negotiated at least to to J's minimal satisfaction, and J was offered a free day if he ever wants to book the space again. We both feel that's risky and, besides, the lighting system is extremely limited and antiquated into the bargain. Fritz, who runs a much bigger conference and function operation in New Hampshire, was amazed that anyone could just walk away from a scheduled event without arranging a cover to take care of the tenant.

After the barrage of coverage over Neil Entwistle's return to face murder charges here, there appeared this item on the morning TV news. In their goodness, christian love and moral purity, the four Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts, led by the Boston's Archbishop Sean O'Malley, are going to place a suit before the state's court system to ban adoption by same-sex couples. It's simply unbelievable that they're still at it. All the tired old arguments that adoption by gays and lesbians constitutes violence against children are to be trotted out once again.

I doubt that the thing stands a chance in the courts. But O'Malley's desperate to be named Cardinal. He'd been overlooked in the late Pope's last batch of Cardinals, almost certainly because he failed badly to handle the financial aftermath of the priest pedophilia scandal in Boston without alienating a huge portion of the Catholic population here. He probably feels he has a better chance sucking up the current Pope now that the witch hunt for gay priests and seminarians is in full swing, and run by a former Hitler Youth into the bargain.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

The Sunday afternoon performance of the opera was scheduled for 4pm, with the call for all members of the company 3pm at the Cultural Center. A declared snow emergency in Boston meant that there was no parking on the main streets which the plows had cleared really beautifully right to the curbs. The side streets were full of cars, no parking anywhere, so I put the Jeep in a garage and arrived just about 3:10 to see the everyone standing on the sidewalk. Nobody from the Cultural Center staff had shown up to open the building and phoning all the numbers we had got no results.

We joked around and I asked J what "plan B" was. He said that if it got to be 3:45 and nobody had shown up, he would distribute checks to singers, orchestra and tech staff and would be having a very severe talk with the staff on Monday. He had made a call to the office already, leaving a voice mail reminding them of details like a signed contract.

Some audience members began to arrive atound 3:40. The south End is a huge resource for gay opera lovers, and they're in easy walking distance of the Center, undeterred by snow emergencies. I quickly discussed with J that the strike of the production, scheduled for immediately after the now-endangered performance would have to happen during the week when we both had jobs. We agreed that the Center would have to be extremely flexible in allowing us to come and go at odd times for the next couple of days. J is a sweet guy and a real gentleman, but Intermezzo is his baby, his passion--and having it treated this way was, I could tell, a source of real anger under the calm, professional facade.

At 3:50, the checks had all been distributed, the guys and women had all been kissed good-bye and wished well, the stalwart would-be audience members thanked and sent home. I walked back toward the garage with our tech assistant who was going home to his boyfriend to experiment with different kinds of pie crust recipes.

I made two trips to the center yesterday to get props, furniture and lighting equipment out and will make a third today to do the big ladder work getting the last lighting gear down and returned to the rental house. Theater is like this. You never know.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

It's noon, the wind is howling, snow is coming in almost horizontally, and there is both thunder and lightening. Here in the neighborhood streets we haven't seen a plow yet. In a couple of hours I have to take the Jeep and head into Boston's South End, where a declared snow emergency will have eliminated hundreds--thousands--of legal parking spaces, to assist at the final performance and strike of the opera. Can you guess how much I am NOT looking forward to this?

But how amazing is THIS? You remember my hate/hate relationship with my old Catholic high school back in Kew Gardens, Queens, NYC? How they sought me out for a page on the new alumni site, accepted it even though I declared myself openly to be a gay man, then had me down to speak to the students at a Career Day last October that turned into a healing experience? Ok, good, we've caught up.

So, I'm at the final dress/technical rehearsal for the opera on Thursday, having gotten some lighting glitches fixed, sitting quietly in an audience seat listening to the conductor iron out a few details with the chamber orchestra. S, the stage manager, a very nice guy I'd met just two days before at the first tech, sat down next to me and we began to talk. He said he was a New Yorker who had come to Boston, and was having a hard time meeting guys he'd consider for a long term relationship:

Will: I'm from New York, too, originally.

S: What part?

Will: 72nd Street and Broadway for the first five years, then Rego Park in Queens. What about you?

S: Middle Village
Will: Ha!--we were practically neighbors.

S: Did you go to high school in Queens?

Will: Yes.

S: I thought it was you. I recognized you from my high school's alumni site.

Will [stunned]: You CAN'T mean Archbishop Molloy?

S: Yes!

Will: Oh. My. God!

So, really, what are the odds? Two men, of different ages who had real problems fitting in at a New York City Catholic high school that had no use for the arts or for gays, meet in the middle of an opera production in Boston. S had also put a page on the site (a nice one that I've checked out) although he didn't mention being gay on it as he feels it's part of him but doesn't define him. He seemed very interested in my being so out to the school and agreed they needed to know they had gay alumni. I told him of the huge changes that have taken place there since we left at our various times. I began to mention names of "problematic" teachers, some of whom were still there during his years and he updated me: "heard he was that way but must have mellowed with age," "still an unbearable asshole," etc.

S works at Harvard, just two train stops away from me at MIT. We'll be getting together for dinner in a week or so near where I work so I can show him our design/production center and we can talk a bit. Perhaps I can even give him some pointers on ways to meet men who might be husband material here in Boston.

OK, another meme. This one's via Karl at Adventures in Gastronomy:

Name 4 movies you own that you think none of your friends own:
1. "Fire Over England" with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh--the film that led to her being cast in "Gone With The Wind"
2. "Morgan" a wonderfully subversive English film from the 60s with David Warner, Vanessa Redgrave and Robert Stevens
3. "The Hidden Fortress" by Akira Kurasawa which George Lucas credited with being a major influence on "Star Wars"
4. "Männer" (Men), a gay German film directed by Doris Dorrie

Name 4 books you own that you think none of your friends own:

1. "J.C. Leyendecker" by Michael Schau, advertising art of the 1930s by the man who created the "Arrow shirt collar man" image. It's filled with art of stunningly handsome male models, most of whom Leyendecker had sex with after they posed. Leyendecker's valet had the job of recruiting beautiful young men who would be cooperative.
2. "Al-Andalus: The Art of Islamic Spain," A Metropolitan Museum of Art book
3. "Sultan Ibrahim Mirza's Haft Awrang: A Princely Manuscript from Sixteenth Century Iran" by Marianna Shreve Simpson. One of the most magnificent illuminated books ever written and illustrated.
4. "Bath and Bathing in Classical Antiquity" by Fikret Yegül. Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic bathing traditions and bath houses. Dean from aman yala just might have this one, actually.

Name 4 cds you own that you think none of your friends own:

1. "Andalusian Music from Morocco" by the Moroccan Ensemble Fez (well, maybe Dean has this one also)
2. "La Purpura de la Rosa" by Tomas de Torrejon y Velasco, the first opera written in The New World--a lively and incredible mix of Spanish flamenco, Inca and Baroque styles, written in early colonial Peru
3. "Ludis Danielis," the 12th Century Play of Daniel from Beauvais, France, heavily and exotically influenced by music of the Turkish near east brought home by the Crusaders. Performed by the Rene Clemencic Consort.
4. "London Pride: Songs from the London Stage" sung by Twiggy, and sung very nicely indeed.

Name 4 places you've been where you think none of your friends have been:

1. The Kremlin of the Belorussian city of Pskov
2. Marimbula on the eastern coast of New South Wales, Australia,

where the bell birds sing and a restaurant overlooking the little harbor unexpectedly had a mirror portrait of Fritz's great aunt, the American soprano Lillian Nordica
3. The Hammam (Arabic Bath) in Granada, Spain
4. Inside the base of the gigantic statue of "Mother Russia" that looms over Kiev, Ukraine

Saturday, February 11, 2006


The tow truck man cometh

The Jorge Hernandez Center where Lee Hoiby's opera "The Scarf" opened last night is deep in Boston's South End, a densely populated area where competition for parking can be fierce. J, founder, director and often star baritone of the company, had told several of us that there was a "secret" parking lot in the courtyard of a school four or five blocks away where one could park without fear of being towed after 7pm. I slipped into a space at 7:15 last night, got to the Center early enough to make a couple of adjustments before the house opened and was comfortably settled into a pew in the balcony (the Center's a former church) for the performance.

"The Scarf" is a tightly wound, ultra-romantic opera based on the Anton Chekhov short story "The Witch." It takes place somewhere in the Russian outback. The three characters form a love/hate triangle of an enigmatic, fascinating young woman who was married off young to a cold, older man, and the rural postman who seeks shelter with them in a blizzard. The woman, Miriam, knits incessantly and her husband firmly believes her to be a sorceress.

Which, indeed, she is. The knitting is a kind of web to which she wishes to attract men younger and more virile than her demanding, dried-out husband. The postman arrives right on schedule. When the husband catches them together, he order the postman out into the storm and Miriam wraps him in the voluminous red scarf as an extra protection before he goes into the night. The husband follows to make sure he and his horse vacate the property. Miriam takes out her hidden conjuring gear and casts a spell to bring the postman back.

But it is the husband who returns--wearing the scarf. Miriam demands to know why, but realizes her husband has probably murdered the younger man. In a kind of mock-seduction, she gets her husband on on the floor secures the ends of the scarf tightly around her forearms and strangles him, standing in triumph over the body as the opera ends.

It's powerful, more than a bit over the top and it plays very well as staged by our director whose next gig is to direct "Madam Butterfly" in Anchorage, Alaska, followed by some revival staging at the Metropolitan Opera. Just before the house lights went down he gave me a really meaningful compliment, saying that while the company's minimalist production policy meant there was very little on the stage, I had nevertheless given him a full, rich color palette that allowed the scarf to dominate menacingly throughout.

It went very well, the audience loved it, there was much happiness and good cheer over the wine and munchies afterwards and I walked back to the secret lot in a great mood. My Jeep was gone.

Two possibilities: stolen or towed. Thought process: it's a seven year old, slightly worn vehicle, who'd want it? But J, a resident of the area, knew that they never tow after 7pm.

In my entire life I had never lost a vehicle to towing or theft--what an odd and scary feeling to be suddenly stranded. I walked back to the Center where J was saying good-bye to the last members of the audience. He was stunned and felt dreadful, having repeatedly reassured me it was safe. He drove me to the nearby Station 4 of the Boston Police, telling me on the way that when his car had been stolen several years before, it was found with the motor running two hours later with all the seats, the entire dashboard and anything else that could ve sold gone. Somehow that wasn't what I needed to hear at that particular moment.

I also realized that my snow shovel and my laundry, including all my socks and every piece of underwear I own was in the back of the Jeep.

But at Station 4 the news was good--it might have been after 7pm when I parked, but it HAD been towed and the Jeep was at a towing lot a mile or so away. J, who is a great gentleman as well as friend and artist, insisted on paying the $136 to bail the Jeep out. There was no damage. He said he would immediately stop recommending the lot to anyone else and when I got home I immediately emailed a warning to our director who had been planning to park there tomorrow night.

Tomorrow is the second and last performance, followed by striking the sets, costumes and lighting and loading everything out of the Center. Boston is expecting a blizzard.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


HNT and a meme

I'm joining Half Naked Thursday today with a picture of my upper right arm. I posted this a year or more ago but the readership of the blog has changed a lot over that time, so many of you haven't seen it. The Aztec tortoise bearing the sun on his back as he walks across the sky every day was my very first tattoo. On the way back from East Providence, Rhode Island where I got it done (tattooing was illegal in Massachusetts at the time), I was already planning where the next one would go. I designed the "pedestal" below the tortoise from three or four pre-Columbian design motifs.

Our MIT production opens tonight after a generally very successful series of technical and dress rehearsals that peaked on Tuesday night with one of those performances where everything falls into place and ignites. Last night was technically flawless but lacked the spark. The cast was tired and began to push a little too hard for energy, something that always leads to fragmentation of focus. M, our director, wisely sent them home as soon as the rehearsal was finished, telling them he'd give notes today before the opening performance rather than keep them up any later than MIT students normally stay up to complete the huge amounts of work they have to do.

Things also improved at the Hernandez Cultural Center where the opera opens on Friday. A local theatrical lighting supply house bailed me out big time by digging deep into their obsolete equipment stock. The Center has an antiquated lighting system over the stage powered by a state of the art control board and, in the middle of everything, three Vari-Lights that sit among the antiques like alien vessels just landed in a Spielberg film.

Fully computerized, Vari-Lights go for $5000 each and contain within themselves a prism that lets you select 120 colors of light and project 80 or so patterns onto the stage. To focus the light you don't have to touch it, merely program it from the board, its motors and controls giving you any shape of light beam, at any angle, to any part of the stage. Vari-Lights can completely change focus, direction and color at a moment's notice. To see them hanging there among corroded lekos and fresnels plugged into circuit connectors that stopped being made 45 years ago is just a little bizarre.

At any rate, Advanced Lighting and Production Services of Randolph, MA supplied me with a hastily improvized adaptor cable with just the right connectors to allow me to rescue the major lighting effect of the opera. As I left the Center for the rehearsal at MIT last night, all was finally in place for Friday night.

Both Mark (Zeitzeuge) and Karl (Adventures in Gastronomy) put out untagged memes lately, inviting anyone to pick them up who wanted to. Here's Mark's:

Four jobs I've had:
1: Macy's New York: two high school summers selling bicycles in sporting goods. Me
in sporting goods! But I sold a lot of bikes.
2. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: painting backgrounds for historic fashion exhibits
3. Capron Lighting and Sound, Needham, MA: designing special events--Papal visit to
Boston; Opening of the JFK Library on Columbia Point; 100th Anniversary of the
Boston Symphony Orchestra; Christmas ornamentation for Boston Common, etc.
4. Total Communications, Needham, MA: Art Director for "Identity Kuwait," a multi-
media image and sound show presented in English at Kuwait's airport and in Arabic
in Kuwait City.

Four places I've lived:
1. New York City, 72nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan--one of the great areas; then
Rego Park in Queens--Siberia.
2. Beach Haven, New Jersey--my one and only job in summer stock
3. Middlebury, Vermont--a lovely little New England college town. Not much to do in
winter if you don't ski, drink heavily of screw faculty wives. I struck out on
all three.
4 Boston, in Kenmore Square, near Symphony Hall, in Brighton and now, Roslindale.

Four places I have been on Vacation:
1. New Zealand, North Island
2. Istanbul, Athens, Delphi and the Greek Islands
3. All of Scandinavia except Norway
4. Russia and Ukraine from St. Petersberg to Kiev

Four favorite foods:
1. Home-baked bread
2. Duck
3. Bluefish
4. Fruit and berries of all kinds

Four TV shows I like to watch:
1. PBS, Great Performances.
2. Will and Grace
3. PBS, English comedies
4. New England Chronicle
I actually don't watch much TV.

Four albums i can't live without:
1. Birgit Nilsson: Songs of Scandinavia
2. Any of the LA Four's jazz albums
3. Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung
4. Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte

Four Movies I can watch over and over:
1. Gladiator (so many skantily dressed, hunky men)
2. The Ten Commandments ("Oh, Moses, Moses"), Samson and Dalilah (any C. B. deMille
3. Ben Hur (for Stephen Boyd's adorable chin dimple if nothing else)
4. Land of the Pharaohs (extremely early Joan Collins, with gay British star Jack
Hawkins--great campy fun)
Hello, my name is Will and I'm a Hollywood costume epic, brain-rotter addict. I stand unashamed. You can also throw in The Fall of the Roman Empire, The Robe, The Silver Chalice, Spartacus, Esther, and all the rest--as long as they have sandals, reasonably godawful dialog, Edith head costumes, and fanciful recreations of ancient architecture.

Four sites I visit daily:
1. Towleroad--essential to know what's going on in gay culture on a daily basis
2. aman yala--good writing, a vivid historical sensibility, and (lately) lovely torso
3. The Rest is Noise: Alex Ross, classical music critic for The New Yorker. Gay,
witty, deep--and cute as all hell
4. Zeitzeuge, among many others on my blog list--people I have come to care about
through their writing.

Four places I'd rather be:
1. Anywhere Fritz is
2. Granada, Spain: 10pm at an outdoor café with tapas and sherry and the whole city
passing by as a swallows swoop and circle overhead
3. Aix-en-Provence, France: 2pm at an outdoor café on the Cours Mirabeau with the
fountains splashing, the dense canopy of trees giving shade from the afternoon
Mediterranean sun, a glass of white wine, a salad and a cheese plate. Do we see
a pattern here?
4. Any good opera house or theater in the world, seeing an opera or play I haven't
yet seen on stage.

Anyone who'd like to take this up, please feel free.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Today is the first day of the Spring Term at MIT (Great Dome, left, hacked as R2D2 from Star Wars). The production that opens on Thursday night is going very well; the opera I designed for the "little gay opera company," for whom I am resident designer, opens Friday night and is going less well.

The facility we rented to perform in showed us all their equipment including stage extension platforms on which we based our production concept and designs in December. The facility manager very casually informed me yesterday that in the month and a half since being told we could use any or all of their stuff, they had simply tossed all the extension platforms in the dumpster, and they were gone for good. We're scheduled to load in and get ourselves settled into the space this afternoon.

Moments such as these are when I'm very happy I've developed a Zen approach to this kind of crisis over the years. I emailed the company head and director with the news and we all took a fairly calm approach to a situation over which we have absolutely no control. The director (who works a couple of productions each year as assistant director at the Metropolitan Opera in New York) had mentioned over lunch one day that it doesn't do to make big plans in advance in his business because invariably they become impossible to realize once you start the actual work. He relies on informed improvization. I suspect we'll be relying on it from now until Friday.

Monday, February 06, 2006


What some call "Hell WeeK"

We began production week for "The Old Law" yesterday afternoon with the cue-to-cue rehearsal. After four weeks of the actors rehearsing on a bare floor with colored tape marks to indicate the entrances onto the set and where any steps and platforms are; the designers working in their various shops building scenery, properties and costumes; the lighting designer planning what type of lighting instrument hangs where and are
equipped with what color and/or pattern to project on the stage; the sound designer assembling all the sound effects and music cues--after all this, it's brought together on stage and integrated for the first time.

The cue- to-cue began yesterday at 3pm and lasted, with one twenty minute break, until about quarter to ten. The entire play is not performed, just the sections in which cues take place. The stage manager directs the actors to begin one or two lines before the lighting or sound cue or set change, the cue occurs, they do it again and again until the timing is perfected, they adjust where on stage they stand to be perfectly in the light, the sound is just at the right volume level, the walls or other set pieces move in and out at just the right pace, etc. Then they jump to the next cue and do it all over again for that one.

Potentially it's a very destructive and exhausting process. All the work that's been done in the rehearsal hall getting the performance running smoothly is torn apart to introduce necessary new elements just a week or less before the production goes before the public. But with the proper artistic discipline and coordination by the stage manager (who begins the also necessary process of taking control of the play from the director at the cue-to-cue), it can be a highly creative process as well. Actors very frequently say that their final identification with their characters occurs only when they get their costume on and begin to learn how to wear it, move in it and play with its various elements.

Our cue-to-cue went well. Tonight we have the first tech/dress rehearsal in which the full text of the play is performed with all the elements now fully absorbed. We'll have four of these rehearsals beginning this afternoon before the production opens Thursday night to restore the play's momentum and perfect the coordination of all elements so that the actors have all the moves and timing instinctively in their bodies and the running crew feels the pace of the production perfectly. Then it opens and finds its audience and it's on its way.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


A Tale of Two Insurance Buildings: Part Deux

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s visionary film "2001: A Space Odyssey" opened nationwide. It scored an enormous success not least for its enigmatic message that was debated endlessly. Among its most powerful images was the "slab", a dark blue, polished alien presence that appeared just before every one of the great advances made by primates on the road to human intelligence. The slab always seemed radically out of place wherever it appeared; its austere, unadorned, mirror-like surfaces gave no hint of its inner life. Shortly after the movie's premiere, I.M. Pei's design for Boston's new Hancock Tower was shown to the public and many of us couldn't help but wonder if Kubrick's slab hadn't been a major influence on Pei's creation.

There had certainly been slab buildings before (the infamous Lever House that was said to violate the aesthetic of Park Avenue, and the United Nations Secretariat building, both in New York City), but Pei's design was something else. The others had defined areas of window and defined areas of stone or metal facing that indicated where the floors were. Pei dispensed with all that.
The entire exterior of his building was mirror-finished glass, each of the massive 5 feet wide, 11 feet tall, 500 pound twin-pane glass panels being held to the structure by daringly thin mullions that gave no idea of any interior structure or activity. The building was also not rectangular but a parallelogram with V-shaped channels carved into each of its thin ends to stress vertical thrust into the sky. There was no ornamentation or variation of any kind, and the effect of Pei's choices was the illusion of four gigantic mirrors facing different quadrants of the city, reflecting structures and skyscapes on each of its sides.

The Hancock Tower, seen here with the old Hancock building to the left and Trinity Church in the lower left corner, was scheduled to open in 1971. As its exterior neared completion, it seemed a triumph. Best viewed from a distance, it showed a reflected chunk of sky against the rest of the sky, a surrealist image right out of a René Magritte painting. On street level people, traffic and Boston architecture were reflected in its sides, crystal clear and without distortion. The glass was marvelously and perfectly flat, having been attached to the building's skeleton with such precision that there was no jump in the reflected image from panel to panel. Sunsets reflected on the west face of the building against the darkening eastern sky were unbelievably beautiful. It was perfection.

Until the day that one of the marvelously and perfectly flat glass panels flew out of the daringly thin mullions, plummeted downwards, and exploded into a deadly shower of glass shrapnel in the street. After a couple of days another fell, then one cracked and shattered in place, its huge shards disintegrating out of the frame and heading downwards where people and vehicles passed night and day. Work on the building stopped. Observers were hired to scan the building constantly and ring alarms to alert those below when a panel was falling. Experts were consulted as to the nature of the problem and its possible cure. The police closed streets around the building any time winds in the area approached 40 miles per hour. The glass kept coming down.

At M.I.T. a model of the building and its surrounding neighborhood was made and tested in a wind tunnel. M.I.T. said that as wind blew past the building, air pressure dropped, creating a partial vacuum that pulled the windows out. M.I.T.’s solution to the windows that cracked in place was to use glass that had chicken wire embedded in it. Hancock execs tried to envision working in one of the many luxurious corner offices surrounded by chicken wire, paid M.I.T.'s invoice for services rendered and quietly shelved the recommendation. Other theories ranged from building subsidence causing pressure on the glass panels that squeezed them out; wind that caused the two layers of glass in each pane to vibrate and shatter if they should suddenly touch each other; and substandard construction techniques.

Years later, another possible explanation presented itself. Fritz and I attended a ceremony at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire at which I.M. Pei was given a lifetime achievement award. During his acceptance speech, he mentioned that in each new commission he explores a material or construction technique he has never used previously and with which he is totally unfamiliar.

There were other difficulties as well--the Hancock became a lightening rod for big, expensive problems. Early in construction, the huge barriers put up to support the side walls of the excavation buckled and almost caved in. When they were reinforced and the earth pushed back, the outward pressure began to undermine the foundations of the neighboring Trinity Church and Copley Plaza Hotel. There was damage to water, sewer and electric lines in the surrounding streets. Community relations weren’t helped when some construction debris fell off an upper floor of the tower and destroyed one of the Church’s magnificent stained glass windows. The Hancock Insurance Company had to repair the foundations of both buildings, pay for repair of the public utilities, recreating the window, and a complete cleaning of the huge and ornate church exterior. Hancock threw in the last item voluntarily in an attempt to mend fences; the company eventually even purchased the hotel to silence the steady barrage of complaints, damage claims and negative publicity.

All the glass was ordered removed and yo be replaced with plywood until a solution could be found. The once magnificent, shimmering building seen by commuters driving to Boston in the morning was replaced by an ugly, boarded-up hulk that was derisively dubbed "The Plywood Palace." Wonderful or bizarre things related to the building's problemns began happening regularly in the area. A wooden shed appeared in Copley Square containing a glass blowing furnace. A glass artist had gotten city permits and made an arrangement with the construction company to deliver some of the glass to him as it was removed from the tower. He then melted it down and blew handsome bowls, goblets, plates and pitchers that sold like hotcakes as Hancock Disaster Glass. On another occasion, pile drivers appeared in the streets surrounding the tower and drove interlocking steel beams down through the pavement, establishing a barrier wall to keep the building's downward and outward pressure isolated from surrounding structures.

Ironically, one of the very best places in the city to observe the ever-developing problems of the new building was the Top of the Hub Restaurant on the uppermost floors of the Prudential Tower. Its eastern windows gave a splendid view of the entire mess.

A gag order prevented publication of the cause of the building's problems when it was eventually determined. But around M.I.T. the word was that the Hancock's thin parallelogram plan, sixty floor height, and position in relation to prevailing winds made it a giant airplane wing straining to take off. The same forces that give an airplane wing lift were sucking the windows right out of their frames. This analysis also explained the excessive swaying of the building's upper floors that actually caused seasickness in many workers. The solution to that was to sacrifice the 58th floor for offices and construct a tuned mass damper consisting of two 300 ton weights mounted on railroad tracks at either end of the building. When the swaying started, these moved back and forth automatically to counteract the swaying and twisting motion.

Soon after the Hancock Tower opened (five years late), an engineering study revealed that in certain wind conditions, the building could actually fall over, not on one of its flat sides but on one of its thin ends. 1,500 tons of extra steel bracing was added to prevent such a catastrophe. The final price tag for all the extra materials, labor, creative problem solving, repair to surrounding buildings and public utilities, etc., etc. was 100 million dollars in addition to the original estimate of 75 million for the construction alone.

Was it worth it? The Hancock stands today looking as modern, striking and dramatically disturbing, shouldering its way into Copley Square, as it did when it was finally finished. The new, single pane glass isn't quite as optically flat as the original but the effect is still amazing if not exactly as spectacular as what we all experienced for one brief month before the glass began to fall, for the thirty days when it was possibly the most beautiful modern building in the world.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Latest news on the attack in New Bedford against patrons of the gay bar Puzzles Lounge. The attacker was Jacob Robida who is actually eighteen years old, not nineteen as first reported. He is currently at large and police consider him armed and very dangerous. They want to get him off the streets as soon as possible to avoid any further incidents.

The early morning news showed pages from his My Space site on which he identifies himself as a neo-Nazi, poses with guns and combat face markings that look strangely like Chinese opera make-up, and names the hatchet as his favorite weapon. He actually began his attack in the bar with a hatchet. When that was wrestled away from him, he started shooting.

From the bar, Robida ran home, where he lives with his mother, bleeding from a head wound. He grabbed some things and left hurriedly. His present whereabouts are unknown. Two of Robida's friends were interviewed on the morning news and painted polar opposite portraits of him. One called him violent and said he would go down fighting and do everything possible to take others out with him. The other claimed that the pictures on My Space were just pictures, that he was a good kid and would never harm anyone. Three injured gay men, two of them bearing hatchet wounds to the face, would seem to indicate otherwise

The good news is that Robida is not a murderer, at least not yet. One of his victims is still in critical condition, however.

The mayor of New Bedford issued a very strong statement almost immediately condemning Robida's attack and saying that violence against anyone based on sexual orientation would not be tolerated in New Bedford. Our homophobic governor Mitt Romney has made no comment at all.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


A Tale of Two Insurance Buildings

The 1970s saw a huge building boom in Boston. The Prudential Insurance Company had put up a tower in the Back Bay in the mid-60s, the first modern sky scraper in Boston's history. Prior to that, the only buildings taller than about ten stories were the famed Custom House Tower in the financial district and the John Hancock building whose illuminated spire indicated the coming weather by solid or flashing red and blue lights. Even they weren't very big buildings in the scheme of things, and the vast majority of the city rose to only four or five stories. Before the Prudential went up, you could stand on the Cambridge side of the river and see the gold dome of the State House against the empty sky; no obstructions, no competing skyline behind it.

The problem was the muck of the Back Bay, filled land that was notoriously spongy. There were major questions about how far you had to go down to hit bedrock. The Prudential was a gamble that was watched in eager anticipation by architects, engineers and, of course, developers. If the Prudential could be made to stand in Boston then almost anything was possible and the feeding frenzy could begin.

The excavation went down for forty feet or so. Then the pile driving started. Old-style friction piles wouldn't work with a tower so heavy. They used big tubular steel column segments, hollow inside and marked every five feet in white chalk. A segment was driven into the ground until its top was about four feet above the excavation floor and then another segment was welded on and the pounding began again. There wasn't only a chalk line every five feet, there was also a number to indicate how far the pile was going down into the earth.

The excavation site became a major attraction. People lined the fence and waited eagerly to see how far down each pile would go. Anticipation increased after a hundred feet, then a hundred and fifty; a hundred and seventy five. Finally, at one hundred and eighty feet, the first pile bounced back up about a foot. It was struck again, and bounced again. Very gently it was tapped into place against solid rock. Now they knew. The process was repeated for several weeks until the floor of the excavation was a geometrically laid out field of steel stumps and Boston's first sky scraper--at a modest fifty-two stories, but taller than anything else outside Manhattan island--began to rise. Eventually, a major complex of apartment, office, commercial and entertainment buildings along with a convention center would surround the Prudential and spark further development in a ripple effect across the city.

Boston's "other" great insurance company, John Hancock, watched the Prudential dominate the city, company name spelled out in exhibitionistic white letters on all four sides of its top floors. Its own handsome, elegantly understated art deco-era building was no longer the tallest in Boston and in fact was dwarfed by the intruder.

Nothing would do but that John Hancock had to have its own skyscraper, thrust dramatically into Boston's heart. Hancock's tower would be designed by emerging star architect I.M. Pei, and would put architect C. Luckman's boxy, already stylistically passé, 1950s modernist Prudential in the shade. It would rise in elegant Copley Square, a quarter of a mile from the Prudential complex, and boldly stand in mirrored splendor among four major Boston landmarks: the iconic Copley Plaza Hotel (1890s beaux arts grand hotel style), venerable Trinity Church (Victorian Romanesque), the Boston Public Library central branch (imposing Italian Renaissance revival) and Hancock's own original, much-loved building. It would be a tall, daringly slender tower. It would be an architecturally significant tower that would put modern architecture on an equal footing with the great styles of Boston's past. Hancock's tower would be nothing less than the new symbol of Boston.

What it became was Boston's Tower of Babel.

(To be continued)

Quick update: The early morning news, both local and national, carried the story of what officials are not hesitating to call a hate crime from New Bedford, Massachusetts. During the night an approximately nineteen year old man entered Puzzles Lounge, ordered a drink and asked if it was a gay bar. Told that it was, he pulled out weapons--a gun, a hatchet and a knife--and began to attack. Three men were rushed to Boston hospitals, their condition not known as of 8:00 am. The attacker fled and is being hunted by police.

I suppose when you feel from their publicly expressed attitudes that you have the President of the United States and most U.S. Catholic and Christian churches behind you, you asume you can do anything you want.

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