Tuesday, January 31, 2006
I watched the TV movie "Flight 93" last night while getting a start on preparing my income tax. It was generally well done and the speculative recreation of events on board the hijacked jet that went into the ground on 9/11, 2001 was both credible and well acted. I had been especially interested to see how Mark Bingham was characterized. Mark was one of two men on Flight 93 who are believed to have organized and led the passenger uprising that attempted to storm the cockpit and prevent the plane from being used as a missile to destroy either the White House or the Capitol.
Mark was gay--a big, extraverted, bearish rugby player much beloved by friends and business colleagues. You wouldn't have known much of that from the movie. They picked a largish actor, had him grow a more-or-less Binghamesque goatee, and certainly had him take part in the assault on the cockpit. But the movie portrayed neither the outsized personality nor the physical bravado with which the real Mark Bingham lit up the lives of friends and family. And if you didn't know he was gay, you wouldn't have known he was gay. The closest the script came was to have him make a phone call to "Matt" at the beginning of the flight to tell him they'd be landing late--a thoroughly business-like call with no hint of anything personal. When the crisis hits, the movie Mark is essentially recessive until galvanized by the leadership of another passenger.
Ultimately, I felt the Bingham scenes were a distortion, or at least filled with omissions. I hardly expected him to lead the charge down the plane's aisle with "Let's kill the SOBs, and by the way I'm queer!", but scenes of the other major characters saying good bye to their families before leaving home were shown in real detail. It's known that Mark and his boyfriend were together that morning, that Mark impulsively asked him when they were going to get their relationship kicked up to a higher level of committment, and that they agreed to talk seriously about their future together when Mark got back from his business trip. Significantly, there's no depiction at all in the movie of Mark's life even one minute prior to his late arrival at the gate and hurried boarding of the plane.
Perhaps it's the tremendous acceptance "Brokeback Mountain" has been getting, but I think the nation could have survived seeing one man in a relationship with another before he goes off to give his life so that the lives of many others might be saved. "Flight 93" treated the doomed passengers and crew with great respect but as fully rounded human beings; Mark Bingham alone was shown incomplete.
And speaking of "Brokeback," while it's failed to capture the major portion of the prizes predicted for it in the many recent ceremonies, the movie continues to be a cultural phenomenon. Here's the latest political comment to adapt images from the movie:
Sunday, January 29, 2006
I got in to work at 7:45 this morning which was a bit of an effort. Last night's gathering of the QBB was still going strong when I realized I really should leave at 11:30 if I was to make it through what might be a 14 hour day today. I hated to leave since we were in the middle of a game of PervArtistry which is a polite name for XXX-Rated charades. The set we were using was a couple of years old and heterosexual in subject, so there were one or two items on which we were just a bit, shall we say, uninformed. The game directed us as to whether a topic should be described by drawing or acting out (too few of the latter for my taste, since some of the performances were extremely funny).
Typical of our gatherings, the talk and food had been so good that we didn't make it to the theme of the evening (games, not NECESSARILY pornographic) until 10:30. There were ten of us in all, and we were finally able to meet Jeff and Moe (Esoteric Diversions) and Chris (chris-says) who had come down all the way from coastal New Hampshire. Atari commented that I was responsible for getting him to drink wine out of a box and I promptly refused ANY responsibility for his alcohol consumption given the tales of his recent cross-country trips. We spent a lot of the night laughing and kidding each other.
At any rate I logged about five hours of sleep and got to our design and production building early for put-in day. Put-in is the loading of scenery, props and furniture onto a truck, transporting it all to the performance space, and installation of the set and lighting. Next week the lights will be focused, the floor painted, touch-up painting done to repair any damage to the set in transportation, and all manner of finishing details taken care of. Then we're into technical and dress rehearsals, heading for a February 9th opening.
Last week was a good one for meeting gay Boston bloggers. Not only did I enjoy Sean's hospitality last night (as well as that of his three cats, one of whom--Sam the Siamese--just takes you over whenever he feels like it, something I like in a cat) but on Thursday I got to meet Dean of the blog aman yala along with his partner Joe and a couple of fellow musicians at Roslindale's Cafe Apollonia.
Dean and I have been writing back and forth almost since I discovered his blog. We share a sense of, if not an obsession with, history and are both immersed in the arts of the Mediterranean. The Apollonia, where Joe and sometimes Dean perform on Thursdays, was the site of a delightful dinner Fritz and I had on May 17, 2004, the first day same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. We'd just gotten our marriage license in Brookline and had begun the evening seeing Brad, Eric, Orlando and all the other boys in "Troy." We were on our way back to Roslindale looking for a restaurant. The Apollonia, not open too long at that time, looked good and appropriate to the epic we'd just seen, so we gave it a try and were very happy we did. Now it has a new menu and different chef and the food is even better.
Joe on lute, Mike the drummer, and Dean with finger cymbals and wooden spoons played somewhat like castanets, played strongly rhythmic Greek and Ottoman dance music while a stunningly beautiful young woman did some real belly dancing, not the hoochie-koochie variety. Dean had revealed on his blog that he also belly dances (appropriately, as the form was originally belledi dance and done by young men for the entertainment of older men-- an art I think should be revived as soon as possible). I asked what it takes to get him dancing; he laughed and said "a lot more alcohol." They're both hoping to attend a QBB gathering when their schedules allow. However, I wonder if it would be an idea to hold a future QBB, which began in restaurants after all, at the Apollonia on a night when they're playing. Their music, which spans cultures from the Balkans to the Near East and North Africa is irresistible, the menu is excellent and the Apollonia's staff is warm and welcoming.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
It happened in the North End, part of the original Boston, bordered by the inner harbor. A lot of distilling went on in Boston in those days and molasses was needed for making rum. Molasses was also used extensively in commercial baking and was America's prime choice for sweetening. On Copp's Hill, just off Commercial Street and across the water from the USS Constitution's berth at the Charlestown Naval Shipyard, the Purity Distilling Company had built a mammoth storage tank some fifty feet high, with a capacity of around two and a half million gallons (click all images for a larger, more detailed view). Set in a concrete base and ninety feet in diameter, the tank had been sold to U.S. Industrial Alcohol as Prohibition loomed and Purity saw its livelihood threatened. U.S. Industrial soon realized the tank had structural problems and responded to warnings about it by painting it brown, the better to disguise the molasses leaking through its outer skin. No other action was taken.
The 15th dawned unusually mild for mid-January. It had been only two above zero the day before but, towards noon, the temperature hit forty degrees. Inside the tank, topped off just the day before by a ship carrying molasses from Puerto Rico, the sudden warm temperature probably triggered fermentation. At about half past noon there was an explosion inside the tank. Eye witnesses said the entire structure shuddered and rose slightly in the air, then flew apart. Steel plates severed girders of the nearby elevated railroad and smashed into houses. Then the suddenly unrestrained molasses began to move.
The mass of thick and heavy liquid rushing downward sent a wall of molasses estimated to be between fifteen and thirty feet high rushing at thirty to thirty-five miles an hour into the surrounding neighborhood. Anyone who couldn't outrun it was sucked in and smothered. You couldn't swim in it or float to the surface. It coated everything it touched and either crushed buildings or moved them off their foundations. A section of the Elevated was pulled down. The brown tide smashed through sidewalk-level windows to fill basements, vehicles were swept away, and most of U.S. Industrial's laborers died in the sticky mass. Blessedly, a nearby playground was empty but schoolchildren leaving the Michelangelo School for lunch were overwhelmed. Victims were still being found days later.
The final death toll was twenty-one, with over a hundred and fifty injured. Some were swept into the harbor (whose water was stained brown for six months), others were cooked to death by the hot, fermenting mass, still others were crushed or asphyxiated. Many horses, still being used at that time to pull delivery wagons, died in the flood or had to be shot when their broken bodies couldn't be pulled free. Emergency vehicles had difficulty reaching the scene as the spreading wave reached downtown Boston at a depth of two to three feet.
The clean-up took over six months. Ordinary water wouldn't dissolve the goo that thickened in the returning January cold, so salt water from the harbor had to be pumped into the city. For months molasses coated people's shoes as they walked in the city, clung to their hands and was transported wherever they went--into the neighborhoods and suburbs, and by molasses-tainted trolleys as far as Worcester according to some reports.
Litigation dragged on for over five years and involved thousands of witnesses. Boston politicos, anxious to divert attention from evidence of negligence and unsafe storage practices that weren't detected by city inspectors, hinted darkly at a bomb set off by Italian anarchists. The North End was--and remains--an Italian neighborhood; the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti trial and executions were just seven years away. In the wake of World War I (as always), foreign "troublemakers" made good targets to divert the public's attention. U.S. Industrial was eventually found to be at fault for the disaster, and paid between half a million and a million dollars in settlements and fines.
The smell of molasses, seeped into brickwork, caught between cobble stones, absorbed into wood, trapped in hollows, was said to have been strong in the heat of summer for years--decades, even--after the flood. There are some who still try to convince friends, students and tourists that the sweet odor of molasses can be detected in the warm months when a hot wind blows through the ancient, winding and narrow streets of Boston's North End.
(For more on this amazing incident, read "Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919" by Stephen Puleo.)
GWB Quote of the Day:
"Quite frankly, teachers are the only profession that teach our children. "
- George W. Bush
Heaven knows, HE doesn't.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Thanks to Ron's Log for this link to a fascinating story about a man who joined with friends to concoct a pagan, totally non-Christian cremation funeral for his lover. It's long and might not be everybody's cup of tea, but if nothing else it's a good reminder of the huge range of gay experience. There's little question these two were deeply in love and connected in some unique ways.
The weekend was a blast from beginning to end. Friday night I went to Boston's mammoth Wang Center, a preserved grand movie palace that's been renovated with the inclusion of a viable stage for big league ballet, Broadway and opera productions. It seats about 4000 and is actually one of my least favorite venues. Theater and musicals have to be amplified beyond endurance, and most presentations are lost in its vast expanses. But dance works very well in the Wang and Friday night it hosted the Mark Morris Dance Group in a revival of a famous work of theirs: "L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato" a series of poems by John Donne set to music by George Frederic Handel. In the pit were the famed Emmanuel Music orchestra, chorus and soloists led by famed conductor Craig Smith.
Smith's a local legend in the early music scene who's also had a significant international career collaborating with a number of much younger, mostly gay directors and choreographers, while teaching at the great music schools in this country. Morris no longer dances himself but revisited this work, premiered in the late 1980s, with his current company filled with beautiful men and graceful women all of whom perform with a fluid ease that matches the music's elegance to perfection. The accompanying photos don't do the dancing or lighting justice. But they give an idea of the joy and unconventionality of an approach to dance that has women lifting men and six male couples doing a two step interrupted by interludes in which they tap out the rhythm of the music by slapping each other's asses. This last drew a delighted, prolonged ovation from the audience, made up in large part of middle aged heterosexual couples.
Saturday at noon I picked up our guest director from Ireland and headed up to Fritz's. The idea was to give M, who has been in intense rehearsal with our students for the past two weeks, a breather in the countryside and an evening with our friends at a Sweat Lodge and pot luck supper. We hiked the property and cut several saplings that will appear in silver gilt, hanging upside down on the set of the production M's directing. We ate well, talked for hours over tea, and M caught up on his work in the relaxed and quiet atmosphere of the place.
He and Fritz also coined a new nickname for me. I explained on the way up in the car that people from different eras in my life know me by different nicknames--Bill at MIT and Will up in New Hampshire. So the two of them got together (Fritz loves to tease me anyway) and came up with Wib. I like Wib very much actually. I like it because it's unique to me and also because of the fun and mutual affection in which it was developed. M also had a great time Sunday evening with "the boys"--one of them in particular. He's a vivacious, smart and skilled theater professional and we're enjoying working with him at MIT immensely.
Dubya Quote of the Day:
"One word sums up probably the responsibility of any Governor, and that one word is ' to be prepared '."
- George W. Bush
Sounds like at least one child got left behind during arithmatic class.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Oddly enough, it wasn't all that difficult to write. I've been in something of a summing up and sorting out mode in regard to my past, my childhood and youth in particular (thus my reunion with my old high school last October). Fritz called yesterday in mid-day, said he'd read the entry and he began to break down. He hates it when anything hurtful happens to me and I told him it was really a case of my outlasting my childhood, doing what I could to get myself through until I was old enough to get away on my own. I did contemplate running away several times, but in the end I did what I always did and retreated into my room with the door closed and a symphony or opera on the record player. Classical music pulled me through.
Speakling of which, I was in Symphony Hall last night for a performance of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis," a huge choral/vocal setting of the Catholic Mass written for the installation of a noble archbishop into his cathedral at Olmutz in Germany. It wasn't ready in time, so Beethoven then marketed it to several publishers, creating a kind of bidding war until he had gotten the best price possible. Great artist that he was, he had exactly the business skills that Mozart lacked--Beethoven lived better and lived 22 years longer than Mozart as a result.
The Missa is enormous, a monumental and very public kind of work. There's no personal or intimate examination of the text, whose sentiments are flung into the cosmos with a kind of grand roar. I had never heard this work live or on recording, and left the hall feeling it was something to be awed by, something to admire but not a piece that I could love.
In spite of four classy, top level solo singers last night, the chorus was the star, and the Boston Symphony chorus sang magnificently. Of the originally announced soloists only the men, Canadian heroic tenor Ben Heppner and tall, hunky, uberhot German bass Rene Pape, actually appeared. The great mezzo Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson had cancelled due to a back injury some time ago and was well replaced by Jill Grove. Soprano Deborah Voigt pulled out either yesterday, early in the day, or Wednesday Her replacement, emerging star Christine Brewer, went on without time for rehearsal--and did just fine.
Well she did just fine vocally. Her choice of concert gown was singularly unfortunate. She's a big girl, not obese but what we used to call Junoesque. She wore a nice enough dark brown velvet under-gown but topped with an evening coat in some kind of weave or print that simulated either mink or animal stripe of some sort in dark orange and brown. The pattern ran horizontally. This was so completely wrong. However, she got a lovely reception from the audience and all her colleagues for her last minute rescue of the series of three performances beginning last night.
So I arrived home around quarter to eleven and did what any sane man would do who was still wired from a big, exciting event: I started baking a quiche.
Here's exciting and significant news from the European Union. Delegates have voted by an overwhelming margin to denounce homophobia and threaten to penalize member states who don't work to eliminate it from their countries. Would that another government I could mention was so enlightened. The full text of the article below:
Europe Passes Resolution Denouncing Homophobia
by Malcolm Thornberry, 365Gay.com European Bureau Chief
January 18, 2006
(Strasbourg, France) The European Parliament passed a joint resolution on Wednesday condemning homophobia.
The measure passed on a 469 - 149 vote with 41 abstentions. It calls on the European Commission to take a more proactive roll in fighting anti-LGBT moves in several EU states.
The resolution says the Commission should begin proceedings against those countries that fail to implement the directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation, and it says the Commission should consider the use of criminal penalties in cases of violation.
The Commission is also asked to put forward proposals that would guarantee the rights of same-sex couples and their children.
One of the main complaints of LGBT rights groups throughout Europe is that registered same-sex couples from member states where same-sex marriages or civil partnerships are legal loose all their rights if they move to another EU country where gay and lesbian relationships are not recognized.
During debate on the resolution supporters of the measure accused several former communist countries, now EU members, of rampant homophobia. Poland and Latvia came under the harshest criticism.
Latvia recently revised its constitution to become the first European country to ban same-sex marriage. In July the capital city of Riga banned gay pride observances following criticism of the event by Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis.
Pride organizers went to court and won a restraining order against the city, allowing the parade to go ahead. Hundreds of demonstrators lined the parade route and hurled rotten eggs and insults at the marchers. Several of the demonstrators got into scuffles with police and were dragged away.
Polish gays and lesbians demonstrated in several cities in November demanding that the government abide by European civil rights laws. The marchers denounced the mass arrest of gays in the city of Poznan, where riot police detailed 65 gays and lesbians who refused to disband when they attempted to hold a gay pride march.
"If we do nothing, we are complicit to the crimes of violence we can see happening in many EU member states," said Michael Cashman during the debate. Cashman is a British Labor Member of the EU Parliament and openly gay.
But, Polish MEP Konrad Szymanski dismissed the issue, telling Parliament that it was a "waste of time" and suggested that MEPs should not be "hysterical" about the situation of homosexuals in the EU. "Member states have their legal instruments to protect the rights of their citizens, and there is no need to organize some sort of union to protect homosexuals, as it would - quite on the contrary - undermine European integration."
In October the European Commission warned Poland that if it continues to oppose gay rights the country risks losing its voting rights in the EU.
George W. Bush Bon Mot du Jour:
"For NASA, space is still a high priority."
- George W. Bush
As opposed to, say, manufacturing atomic powered sex toys?
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
As I got close to the front door of our building yesterday, I saw a bunch of papers stuck into the door frame. I unlocked the building, put down my briefcace, and checked out the papers which turned out to be a bunch of single-page flyers ranting against psychaitry in really purple language, accusing psychoanalysis of being the source rather than the cure for mental illness, etc. etc. I couldn't find anywhere the name of the person or organization that was sponsoring and distributing these things. Finally, in miniscule type at the very bottom of the flyer, close squinting revealed the truth--the Church of Scientology.
So Tom Cruise is associated with this organization, yes? I began to read through the flyer, going faster with every sentence. I'd heard it all before; not the exact same arguments, at least the same sentiment that psychiatry is a kind of witch doctor religion that exists to lead man away from god. This point was drummed into us in Catholic school all the time and I was surprised to see it surfacing decades later from Scientology, about which I admit I know absolutely nothing. But a lot of bad memories were stirred up by those flyers stuck in the door.
My earliest brush with the Catholic condemnation of Dr. Freud and his process was over my mother. I haven't written too much about my not-very-happy childhood other to indicate that my family was almost pathologically insular, and that I became extremely withdrawn and frequently felt very alone.
My mother was an alcoholic from at least my earliest memories of her that I can document as being from sometime just after my second birthday. Her parents had been through the Depression, gotten wiped out, and were from England where there's a tradition of a great deal of heavy drinking in the family setting. There seems also to have been a genetic predisposition to alcohol addiction, as her sisters, mother and several uncles were alcoholic in varying degrees. A couple (or more) of drinks before a very late dinner (sometimes as late as 10:30 at night) was a nightly ritual. Heavy smoking went along with it, which is surely why I have never smoked and rarely drink anything stronger than wine.
It wasn't a great atmosphere in which to raise a child, and I knew it. There was a secretive air to so much of how we lived. I would have given my eye teeth for a brother or sister--someone, anyone for some support and companionship during the fights and weeks of hostile silence, and the burden of knowing there was a bottle of rye whiskey hidden under the double bed sheets at the back of the linen closet and another one under the bras in the second drawer of her dresser. There aren't a lot of secrets in a small four room apartment with exceedingly thin walls.
Of course, someone could have gotten her help. But complete privacy and secrecy were of paramount importance to my family. When I got old enough, I asked why mommy drank, why she wasn't getting any better. Every year in October or November like a ritual I was told that mommy was going to make a big effort and that her problem would be over by Christmas. And very frequently, the Christmas tree would be knocked over and the lights and ornaments broken, or full casseroles that were to have been dinner were dropped on the floor and smashed. Why couldn't she get help, I asked; there were places, there was AA, there were psychiatrists.
No psychiatrists, I was told. The Church disapproved of psychiatry as unholy and liable to lead the faithful astray. The Church's way was to pray and to give a healthy contribution to . . . surprise, the Church. So we all prayed and prayed and nobody got any better. And I mean nobody, because I figured out very early that her problem wasn't hers alone. And no AA, I was further told, because if she went to AA, then "everybody will know." Young as I was--no more than ten, probably--I realized that everyone in the family had signed on to her alcoholism in some way and was, in effect, preserving it, nurturing it in the guise of "helping" her.
I didn't know terms like "enabler" or "co-dependent" but I had a keen sense of what was going on. My father didn't have an addictive personality at all, but he was quite comfortable with other people's addictions. In my little kid's mind I invented the term "interlocking neuroses" which is nonsense on one level, but when I look at it now I see that I understood exactly what was going on. "We take care of our own at home" meant there would never be any professional help, that it was preferable to see her health broken and her body ravaged (to the point where the medical examiner thought she was my father's mother, not his wife) than to learn what the problems were and try to solve them. That was when they came for her the night she got out of bed to go to the bathroom and dropped with a crash, dead from a massive heart attack at age fifty two. But at least nobody knew.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Last night we went to a farewell pot luck at the home of two friends in Jamaica Plain to wish him well on a new trip to Asia, this time Nepal. After study with Buddhist monks, he'll spend a month of silence, meditating at a center in Marin, California. The party brought together a large group of his close friends, all gay men with the exception of a Harvard astrophysicist, his wife and their beautiful six month old son. All of the guys' father and uncle instincts were brought out by the baby's bright smile and completely open, enthusiastic personality. He was passed from lap to lap, held and cuddled, played with and rocked. He took to everyone, virtually all of us complete strangers, with no hesitation.
We got to see a sneak preview of an eight minute movie made by one of the guests that'll be premiered at the Phoenix (AZ) Film Festival and then travel immediately to the Sydney Mardi Gras. "Hitchcocked" is gay-themed, an homage to the style of Alfred Hitchcock thrillers. It features two very good looking, hot young actors who wind up naked in a shower stall, and has a funny plot twist that changes the title to "Hitchedcock" at the end. It was a fun evening.
Two of our friends used to live here in Boston but moved out to Seattle several years ago, supposedly to explore new professional opportunities--but we know it was actually to give us a good excuse to visit the west coast every now and then. They sent a Wikipedia entry on this incredible, malignant Sardinian cheese. I love just about all cheeses but don't think I could sample this one under any circumstances. I immediately thought of the Japanese gourmet delicacy Fugu, a plate of which can cost you your life. I found the Wikipedia entry for it and am reprinting them both with the question: why would anyone want to try these deadly delicacies?
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Casu marzu (also called casu modde or formaggio marcio) is a cheese found in Sardinia, Italy, notable for being riddled with live insect larvae. Casu marzu is Sardinian for "rotten cheese."
Derived from pecorino, casu marzu goes beyond typical fermentation to a stage most would consider to be decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly, Piophila casei. These larvae are deliberately introduced to the cheese, promoting an advanced level of fermentation and breaking down the cheese's fats. The texture of the cheese becomes very soft, with some liquid (called "lagrima") seeping out. The larvae themselves appear as transparent, white worms, about 8 mm (1/3 inch) long. When disturbed, the larvae can jump for distances up to 15 cm (6 inches), prompting recommendations of eye protection for those eating the cheese. Some people clear the larvae from the cheese before consuming; others do not.
Yaroslav Trofimov, writing in The Wall Street Journal in 2000, describes the cheese as "a viscous, pungent goo that burns the tongue and can affect other parts of the body." It is typically enjoyed with Sardinian bread (pane carasau) and Cannonau, a strong red wine.
Several food safety issues have been raised with casu marzu:
▪ Anecdotal reports of allergic reactions.
▪ A risk of the decomposition advancing to a toxic state. (Folk wisdom in Sardinia holds that still-living larvae are an assurance that this has not yet happened.)
▪ Risk of enteric myiasis: intestinal larval infection. Piophila casei larvae can pass through the stomach alive (human stomach acids do not usually kill them) and take up residency for some period of time in the intestines, where they can cause serious lesions as they attempt to bore through the intestinal walls. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, pain in the abdomen, and bloody diarrhea.
Because of these health threats, or simply because it is considered a contaminated product, casu marzu cheese cannot be legally sold in Italy. Within Sardinia, enforcement of the ban is sporadic and the cheese is available as a black market item.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Takifugu is a genus of pufferfish, often better known by the Japanese name Fugu. The fish defend themselves by inflating their bodies to several times normal size and by poisoning their predators.
The fish is highly toxic, but despite this--or perhaps because of it--fugu is considered a delicacy in Japan. The fish contains lethal amounts of the poison tetrodotoxin in the internal organs, especially the liver and ovaries, but also in the skin and the testicles. Therefore, only specially licensed chefs can prepare and sell fugu to the public, and the consumption of the liver and ovaries is forbidden. But because small amounts of the poison give a special desired sensation on the tongue, these parts are considered the most delicious by some gourmets. Every year a number of people die because they underestimate the amount of poison in the consumed fish parts.
The poison paralyzes the muscles while the victim stays fully conscious, and eventually dies from asphyxiation. There is currently no antidote, and the standard medical approach is to try to support the respiratory and circulatory system until the effect of the poison wears off. The fish is also featured prominently in Japanese art and culture.
In 1958, the first year the preparation of fugu required a special license in Japan, 176 people died of fugu poisoning. According to the Fugu Research Institute, 50 percent of the victims were poisoned by eating the liver, 43 percent from eating the ovaries and 7 percent from eating the skin. One of the most prominent victims was the famous Kabuki actor and "living national treasure" Mitsugoro Bando VIII, who died after eating four servings of fugu liver in 1975. The fugu chef serving the actor had to either refuse the request of a famous artist or break the law by serving fugu liver. Subsequently, the chef lost his license for breaking the law.
There are some reports of completely paralyzed but fully conscious victims who were believed to be dead, but woke up a few days later or just before being cremated. In some parts of Japan a fugu victim is put next to his coffin for three days to verify the death. If the body does not decompose, it is not yet dead.
George W. Bush Comment du jour:
"A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls."
- George W. Bush
Astonishing how a great mind can clarify these complex issues.
Saturday, January 14, 2006
Skipper's a Southern boy who very kindly asked to be interviewed in the format that's currently making the rounds. Here are my five questions for him, with a reminder at the end what he's now expected to do.
1) Like many gay men, you've identified your friends as your family. The Memphis Gaggle plays a huge role in your life. Were you a founding member, or did you find them somehow and get adopted, and how?
2) You're in your mid-30s, part of a gay tribe and out via your blog, but not to your parents. How do you see their reaction when and if?
3) Video porn is (in)famous for highly variable production values, but you speak of critiquing it like fine cinema. Who are the directors whose work you particularly like, individual stars and titles that meet your standards?
4) You slipped in without any further explanation that you'd gotten paid for sex twice in your life. How did this happen and how did you deal with it?
5) For a decade or more, Hotass has been a constant presence: friend, confidant, traveling companion, sometime housemate, companion in a number of "firsts" in life--but you've said there's never been sex between you. How would you describe your relationship with him; is love involved on some level?
Skipper paints and writes, and there are several similarities between us that made reading his entire blog from the beginning a pleasure. "At last" by Etta James is special to us (Fritz and I danced to it at our big wedding party), the same "type" is particularly attractive to us both, and he was a theater/communications major in college. His blog is a fun read and very nicely put together.
Again, here is what he's expected to place after his fifth and final answer:
Want to play? The Official Interview Games Rules:
1) If you want to participate, leave me a comment below saying, "interview me".
2) I will respond by asking you five questions - each person's will be different.
3) You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
4) You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5) When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
The Huntington Theater is housed at Boston University, performing at the B.U. Theater where I did my undergraduate studies in design and designed my very first productions. Going there for Huntington's handsomely mounted, generally well-performed productions is very much like going home. I went back again last night for the press opening of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," Christopher Hampton's adaptation of the famous, unique novel by Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos. Famous because the novel has had a major cultural influence, and unique because he never wrote anything other than this one novel in the form of a chain of letters passing among a group of nobles and their retainers on the very brink of the French Revolution.
De Laclos wrote in disgust of the morals and corruption of the nobility but was shocked to see them take enthusiastically to the novel as a kind of tribute to themselves. They delighted in its gossipy revelation of their private perversions, speculating with amusement on the possible models in society for each character and scandalous incident. Many of them fell to the guillotine only a couple of years after the book's publication. Choderlos de Laclos himself survived--in more ways than one. Not only did he live through the Terror into the Napoleonic era, his book became a literary influence. In the last several decades "Liaisons" has been adapted into at least three movies including the big one with John Malcovitch and Glenn Close, one or two ballets and an opera whose premiere in San Francisco was televised nationally.
The Huntington's production looked sensational in sets and costumes that daringly blended periods and styles. Costumes incorporated the panniers and wigs of the eighteenth century, the sexy curved profiles of the nineteenth, and the tailored lapels and sleeves of the twentieth. The cast wore them handsomely and lounged easily on the faux Louis XVI furniture and curved grand staircases that wouldn't have been out of place in a contemporary architect-designed mansion but seemes very 1785 in context.
As Valmont, Michael T. Weiss (the would-be boyfriend in the movie "Jeffrey" and a double character in "Dark Shadows") had the elegance and smooth baritone voice of an ideal seducer, but I had some problems with the general tone of the direction. There was much too much playing for laughs in a farcical manner. These people are essentially malignant, their polished manner underlaid with cruelty and inhumanity. There should be laughter, but laughter tinged with uneasiness, the kind of laughter the audience shares with Richard III as he confides his evil plans and makes them co-conspirators. Young Cecile is naive--painfully naive--but not simply a stereotypically dumb blonde, for example. Perhaps the cast will find some of the undercurrent of moral rot as the run progresses. Right now there's more real entertainment value than depth to this production.
Speaking of moral rot, at age 75 the Bishop of Detroit has come forward to reveal his own sexual molestation as a fifteen year old seminary student by a priest on the faculty. He has done so in support of legislation that will hold pedophile priests more easily liable to civil prosecution. He's the highest-ranking clereic in the U.S. ever to come forward and reveal having been abused.
I found this comment to Tuesda's post from creamedhoney last night:
"Will--in my home province of Alberta they have had wind turbines installed near Pitcher Creek since 1993. The 145 turbines produce enough electricity to meet the needs of 35,000 homes. A recent survey of residents showed that 96% strongly supported the wind energy industry.
"P.S. Pincher Creek in SW Alberta is not too far from Ft. Macleod where "Brokeback Mountain" was filmed."
Thank you for further proof that you don't have to step very far at all outside U.S. borders to find evidence of rational thought and intelligent approach to pressing social and environmental problems. I hope you'll visit here often.
George W. Bush Inanity of the Day:
"We have a firm commitment to NATO, we are a part of NATO. We have a firm commitment to Europe. We are a part of Europe."
- George W. Bush
First, there's a little thing called the American Revolution; second, there's the Atlantic Ocean. And wasn't Europe of no interest to you and your gang anymore?
Monday, January 09, 2006
The Jeep was steering and running just fine. I thought I'd heard noises like that before--wheel bearings and universal joints. But I hadn't heard such noises from THIS Jeep until this Saturday afternoon. The word came down today: both universals, one "totally smoked" and one beginning to seize up, and one wheel bearing so deteriorated that the ball bearings were just about gone. Why hadn't it been giving me noisy warnings for some time? The mechanic thought it should have been deafening but I hadn't been given a clue.
Whatever. Between the U-joints and the bearing, and with the rental car thrown in, the total will come out on the unhappy side of nine hundred dollars.
But wait--there's more! It's winter in Nouveau England and while it hasn't been especially cold--yet--it's still post-Katrina in terms of natural gas and home heating oil prices. I heat my water and my house and do my cooking with gas. I've kept the thermostat at an even 61 degrees and, before my beloved gave me the mushroom farm kit that requires no temperature lower than 60, I programmed my thermostat down to 57 at night. When I get home in the evening, I change into flannel-lined jeans and a sweater. Even with these fairly stringent measures my December gas bill is a whopping $449.
Of course, I'm lucky. I'm gainfully employed, as the expression goes, although at this rate there isn't going to be a lot of gain left. Still, the situation for a huge number of people in the expanding pool of the poverty stricken in Bush's America will be very difficult. A lot of families are going to be placed in a situation where they have to choose between heating the house or having food to eat, and that's going to hurt their children. Hurting the children--you know, the job all us gays and lesbians are supposedly doing.
Former Bostonian Ron of Ron's Log posted a news item today about the blood letting that went on in upstate New York over proposals to install a wind farm near one community.
A group of 22 to 34 wind turbines generates as much electricity in one year as one and one half million barrels of oil. Opponents, including a Republican (natch!) candidate for office, were objecting with rational arguments ranging from wind turbines cause mange in cattle, to women who live near wind turbines have up to five periods per month. Others claimed that the roaring noise of wind turbines (that are actually virtually silent at close range) was similar to the sounds with which the Nazis tortured Jews during the Holocaust. Sounds like excerpts from the Book of Intelligent Design.
Fortunately, the silent majority (58%) of open minded thinkers in the county finally came forward when it was time to vote, and the proposal passed. This winter will probably be painful but it just might get some of our politicians and government leaders up off their asses and working to free us from our ever-deepening dependence on fossil fuels.
George Bush Quote of the Day:
It's time for the human race to enter the solar system."
George W. Bush
And just where are we supposed to have been all this time?
Saturday, January 07, 2006
I think I might be even happier if the motto used some word other than tolerance, but I couldn't find any that said "teach acceptance" or "inclusion" or something like that. I know I get hung up on words sometimes, but tolerance and toleration both seem to me to have an odor of condescension and self-congratulation about them. "We'll tolerate you, aren't we being generous today?" "We'll put up with your undesirable qualities because we're advanced and of superior intelligence." That sort of thing.
Am I being too picky here? In the first scene of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," young Hendrick has a song with a line that sums up my feelings on the subject:
As I have often stated,
It's intolerable being tolerated.
I picked up M, our guest scholar and director for the big winter production at Logan Airport yesterday. His flight on AerLingus (which we both think sounds like some sort of sex act) was doubly delayed, once by a late take-off from Shannon in Ireland, and again by circling Logan because of heavy incoming traffic. That wasn't a problem: I've learned when picking people up at airports always to bring a book. I'm just finishing up "Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals by William Wright (St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-32271-2).
Wright is not a especially good writer, and certainly not an objective reporter. His gay blood boils regularly at details such as the manner in which the trials were conducted: in a darkened room with only one dim lamp. Five members of the faculty and administration confronted the "accused," very often with no indication given of what evidence the Court had, or who had informed on the victim squirming without the slightest knowledge of the exact charge or possible consequences. The examination tactics were eerily similar to those employed at the infamous Salem witch trials two centuries earlier. Under these circumstances, a certain amount of outrage is understandable, but not some of the invented conversations or questionable psychological analyses.
The Secret Court (so called at the time, and in the sealed files that were finally discovered and opened in 2002) caused the expulsion of a dozen or so students, one young faculty member, a tutor to students, and the persecution of several boys from outside the Harvard community. Those who were publicly disgraced and expelled lost their Harvard credits and even their degrees that in several cases were mere days from being conferred at the 1920 Commencement. Four suicides resulted, and many lives were irrevocably shattered.
Wright documents "trials" that bear no resemblance to any form of due process, firmly under the control of homophobic Harvard President Abbot Lawrence Lowell (here shown in his official portrait by (irony of ironies) gay painter John Singer Sargent (Lowell would later commission Sargent to place murals in important public buildings at the University). Lowell lived in state of aggressive mortification over the public prominence of his noted sister, the cigar-smoking lesbian poet Amy Lowell.
In addition to expulsion, part of the punishment was the charge given to the Appointments Office to inform anyone checking the academic record or recommendations of the accused of the moral degeneracy and unsuitability for any form of decent employment of the person in whom they were interested. For the most part, none of the boys accused and expelled had anything like the careers their intelligence and hard work while at Harvard deserved.
Only two escaped the University's relentless vengeance. One entered the world of Broadway theater where his homosexuality was, if anything, an advantage. He became a major Broadway producer whose dinner parties were gathering places for New York's artistic elite. Another managed to marshall family connections to circumvent Harvard's condemnatory letters of non-recommendation. He became a noted jurist and was even on a short list for a U.S. Supreme Court nomination. A more modern Harvard administration that had forgotten the Secret Court asked him to serve a ten year term on the Univesity's Board of Overseers--where he discovered that inquiries about him were still being answered with dire warnings of his disgraceful morals and unsuitability to work in decent society. Contemporary Harvard has publicly called the Secret Court "abhorrent."
Despite Wright's failings, particularly in organizing the narrative in a consistently coherent form, the story itself and the histories of the individuals involved are so compelling as to make the book a very good read. And it's also a warning to gay men and lesbians, particularly at this time, that places of residence, jobs, benefits, etc. can be taken away illegally just because of sexual orientation.
George Bush Quote du Jour:
"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
- George W. Bush
It's good to have that explained in such a clear and scientifically-informed manner.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
It was a very domestic and frankly very dull day. I did a lot of house-keeping, ironing, worked on a couple too many sudoku puzzles, and wrote letters. Yes, analog letters, not emails. And I ate chocolate. I got a lot of chocolate this Christmas--Lindt, Droste, Hershey's Kisses, a lovely little box from a local chocolatier, and one of those wonderful one pound plus bars of dark chocolate with almonds from Trader Joe's.
I felt a little dull today myself. The interview from Sage Grouse drew virtually no comment at all, which surprised me. I realize that there isn't much drama or angst in my life. I'm very happy and that probably isn't terribly interesting. I'm also not given to constant self-questioning. I've tried to center myself in a liberal, ethical, socially responsible lifestyle and get along with all kinds of people. If they are unable to accept me for who and what I am, I stay away--I've learned that it's a great deal better not to go where I'm not wanted.
Anyway, I was alone the entire day, just me and my cat and an occasional phone conversation with Fritz. I love having people around and being involved but sometimes I need to spend time completely alone. I can deal with being alone without being lonely, a trick I learned when I was growing up in a not very happy family situation with no siblings to act as buffers. I spent too many years in a kind of isolation but pulled myself out of it when I realized it was becoming pathological. Still, an occasional retreat as long as the duration is finite is something I enjoy and today was one of those days.
On a slightly more upbeat note, I spent the afternoon listening to a 1976 recording made in London of the score for Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita." I'm not a great fan of Lloyd Webber because I know where a lot of the skeletons (ie. his plagiarisms from many other composers for which he has paid out a huge amount of money in law suits over the years) are buried.
However, I think "Evita" is about the last of his shows that has some integrity, that fulfills the great promise of his youth. I designed it several years ago and had a very nice time doing so. I set it all in the great Teatro Colon Opera House that the Perons used frequently as the setting for their political events. The action took place on the forestage as if it was the stage of the opera house, looking into the auditorium. The chorus sang from the boxes and balconies and the big central box became the balcony of the Casa Rosada from which Evita sings "Don't cry for me Argentina." As she begins the number, the balcony slid downstage and away from the rest of the set, moving toward the audience and placing Evita in a kind of back-lit private space in which to sing her great anthem.
Each cast recording of "Evita" uses a slightly different score from the others. This one is a total studio job, very interestingly orchestrated--a small rock band of guitars, percussion, a harp(!), and keyboard against strings--and wonderfully cast. Most impressive is Julie Covington as Evita. Her work is beautiful vocally, very exciting and filled with character. Paul Jones actually makes Peron a compelling character instead of a stolid dictator and C.T. Wilkinson makes a lot out of Che Guevara. It's on vinyl
Tomorrow I hit the ground running with an early call at our theatrical supply company to bring in all the paints and surfacing materials for the set of the current production. And on Saturday I'll drive up to Fritz's and he'll put his arms around me and pull me in. Whatever is wrong in life will just fade away as it always does under his healing touch.
The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 4, 2006; 11:14 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY -- A pastor who has spoken out against homosexuality was arrested after propositioning a male undercover police officer outside a hotel, authorities said. As the Rev. Lonnie Latham, 59, left jail Wednesday, he said "I was set up. I was in the area pastoring to police."
Lonnie Latham, senior pastor at South Tulsa Baptist Church and an executive committee member of the Southern Baptist Convention, was booked into Oklahoma County Jail Tuesday night, Jan. 3, 2006, after being arrested on a lewdness charge for propositioning a plainclothes policeman outside a hotel, police said. Latham, who has spoken out against homosexuality, allegedly asked the officer to join him in his hotel room for oral sex.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
When I got back to Boston, I finally met my new neighbors and had a lovely surprise. The door was answered by J1 a cute and personable young man who then introduced me to J2 (pronounced h, as he's Hispanic)--yes, now there's a gay couple living next door. I'd speculated about that in my mind when I found out that the house was for sale, as Roslindale's becoming gayer all the time. J1 said that another neighbor had spoken about me, adding that I was away a lot, so I dropped the fact that my husband lives in New Hampshire and J1 brightened right up. So with all the cards out on the table, he suggested we should get together some time and become better acquainted which is fine with me. I'd been concerned about losing the wonderful family who had become good friends, but things have turned out very nicely indeed.
Because of Fritz I have new things growing all through the house. You have to know that he's one of the most generous and giving people I've ever known and spoils me rotten at Christmas and on my birthday. We're both avid gardeners but the winter gives few chances for that. On Christmas morning, however, I got a wildly beautiful orchid plant in a color between magenta and imperial purple, and a box with everything needed to force paperwhite narcissus bulbs. It's something Fritz does himself every winter, filling his dining area with their deep, heady perfume.
But "the big one" I actually had to open about ten days before Christmas when it was delivered because it was time sensitive and had to be started as soon as it arrived--a mushroom farm kit.
We both love mushrooms. He'd bought me one that grows the big portobellas. So I immediately opened it and set everything up according to directions. I harvested my first mushrooms, a large clump of four that weighed about half a pound, on Friday morning and took them up for our lunch. The box is currently going wild which is fine by me. At least three complete growing cycles are promised and more are probable.
My Blog Interview
So, Sage Grouse sent me these interview questions. The trick to this is that the questions are not standard but personalized to the interviewer. Sage has done a fine job for me and Atari, and Atari started another generation of interviews with excellent questions for Cement Brunette. Here are the guidelines:
If you want to participate,
1) Leave me a comment below saying, "interview me".
2) I will respond by asking you five questions - each person's will be different.
3) You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
4) You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5) When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
The art in all this, of course, is to study those who write and volunteer to be interviewed and to peg the questions specifically to their particular lives and experience.
Here's my interview:
Can you tell me about how you came to the decision to adopt your daughters?
For as long as I can remember I knew I wanted children, but I also knew I was attracted to boys. In freshman year of college I started playing with one guy in particular and as we explored further and further--two Catholic boys who came from seriously repressed homes and schools--all the pre-programmed guilt kicked in. I knuckled under and married. Lots of sex, no babies. Fertility tests, lots of little swimmers, no babies. The idea of adoption came up and we were both enthusiastic. Two girls came from Korean orphanages two and a half years apart. I was incredibly happy.
She had a big breakdown. She'd wanted a husband and children until she had them and discovered she didn't want the responsibility--or the competition for my attention. A lot of really bad stuff happened including psychological (and borderline physical) abuse of the girls, and of me. I pulled the plug and filed for divorce asking for full custody; she moved out.
Young as they were when the court social worker interviewed them (four and a half and two, respectively) the girls said they wanted to live with me and the court listened, something quite rare at the time in Massachusetts. I changed a lot of how I lived and worked to raise them as a single father and they, by leading me to fully acknowledge my nurturing and maternal side, led me to a full acceptance of my homosexuality. They grew up to be magnificent young women who adore Fritz and refer to us as Daddy One and Daddy Two.
Back in 2003, what prompted you to start your blog?
I'd always been a private person and had been advised that a diary would help me to open up. I wondered at the purpose if I was going to be the only one to read it: open up to whom? Then I found the gay blog community, read several regularly for six months or so, was fascinated all over again by the variety and richness of gay experience, by the honesty and courage of the writing, and finally took the plunge myself. It's been a very positive experience. I've enjoyed it enormously, particularly the friendships I've established with several bloggers and the opportunity to meet some in person.
What changes, if any, has marriage had on you?
The fast answer is none, in the sense that we'd been together seven years when we married, were deeply in love and committed for the long haul. We had rejected the idea of commitment ceremonies, etc. as irrelevant to who we were and what we had between us, but Fritz proposed when it became legal in Massachusetts on the grounds that all who could marry, should marry as a clear political message. I said OK but that when I was saying the actual words it would be personal, not political--which he said he knew full well, and so it happened.
I didn't think we could be any closer than we had been, but in a way I think we are. We had a magical gathering of our families, gay friends, colleagues, straight friends--everybody close to us--to celebrate. The joy and energy of that event somehow kicked us up to a higher level. We still talk about it and marvel. We're truly blessed in those who care about us.
Do you have a favourite porn star, and if so, who is it?
I sure do--Adriano Marquez. Total hunk, ultra-masculine, graceful, sensuous and with a look that pushes all my buttons. I could look at his scenes with Brad Michaels in "Island Guardian" daily and never get tired of them. Now when I'm asked for my "favorite" anything I usually have two answers, and they generally turn out to be directly opposite types. And so it is here--I wouldn't want to have to choose between Adriano and Aiden Shaw.
Aiden is completely different, cool, northern to Adriano's Mediterranean heat. Like many really hot Brits, he has a reserved manner that masks a fire within. He's a novelist, prostitute who began escorting as part of conceptual projects in art school, poet and survivor of a horrendous car wreck that nearly paralyzed him. But he's back on screen finally and looking great as ever.
So they're my co-favorites. And I'll add parenthetically that the last twenty five minutes of Kristin Bjorn's "Thick as Thieves" features two beautiful men who play an absolutely gorgeous scene together, totally erotic, taking care of each other, reveling in each other--everything I think sex between men can be and what I would like to hope my own lovemaking is, at least sometimes.
And lastly, if someone could only have one original cast recording, what would you recommend
"Pacific Overtures" by Stephen Sondheim. I first saw it here in Boston on pre-Broadway try-outs with about a hundred people in the theater. The reviews had been poisonous (the critics had no idea what it was or how to talk about it), but the physical production was imaginative and beautiful, the performances fine, the material incredibly sophisticated and brilliant. Years later I got to design it and had one of the finest experiences of my career. Last year I went to Studio 54 in Manhattan for a major revival, this one by a Japanese director and design team. Same great show, but a compelling different perspective. A new cast recording was made and it's very good (there are also recordings by the English National Opera and at least one other). My favorite is still the original.
To many lovers of the American musical, Stephen Sondheim is the devil. He has passed beyond musical comedy into musical theater. As one of my colleagues at M.I.T. puts it, "when Ameicans hear "musical" their first thought is 'where are the girls in the feathers.'" Except possibly in "Follies"--and then as a comment on a lost era of theater--there are none in Sondheim. He's daring, takes incredible risks and has, in my opinion, written some of the greatest musicals in American theater history. "Pacific Overtures" is my own personal favorite, especially because of my own lifelong fascination with Asian art, music and theater.
Runner up: "Gypsy" with Ethel Merman. A tremendous, traditional American musical starring a force of nature at the height of her game (Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics and ALMOST got to write the music for it).
Thank you Sage--I really enjoyed this and appreciate your careful reading of my blog. If anyone wants to be interviewed by me, I'll try my best to do as well.
George Bush quote du jour:
"I stand by all the misstatements that I've made."
- George W. Bush
That one I'm not even going to touch.
I'm off to M.I.T--this should be a "soft" week as things crank up officially next Monday--but there's never an uninteresting moment at the "tute." More later.