Friday, July 28, 2006

 
It's just after 10pm on Friday. Fritz and I made it safely back to Boston tonight after fighting our way across Connecticut through three hours of some of the most Hellacious storms I've ever encountered while driving. There were heavy winds and torrents of rain--estimated by one radio weather reporter at one inch in fifteen minutes in one location--and the traffic back-ups went on for miles. It was an unfortunate way to end what had been a really great road trip.

First of all, I need to share two great place names that are among the funniest I've ever encountered. In the conservative farm country of Ohio, there's the town of Sodom. What the person who named it can have been thinking I've no idea, but I love to contemplate the evangelical preacher who has to introduce himself as minister of the church of Sodom. And on the Delmarva peninsula, there's the little town of Onancock, which must certainly be the masturbation capital of Virginia

We logged 2,415 miles in twelve days. We headed westward from Fritz's through southern New Hampshire and Vermont, and across New York State, spending a day in Buffalo to visit five Frank Lloyd Wright houses in two locations, all of them belonging to a fabulously successful soap manufacturer named Darwin Martin and his family. His personal house was the centerpiece of one family compound in Buffalo; his summer place on a cliff overlooking Lake Erie one of two houses he built as summer retreats overlooking Lake Erie. In both places, Darwin Martin's great granddaughter was on the tour with us, having come up from Texas to check out the restoration and conservation projects on the old family properties. Then we drove across northern Pennsylvania and Ohio to Cleveland for two days with friends.

From Cleveland, we drove to Gibsonia north of Pittsburgh to visit family of mine, and from there to Uniontown. PA for two more Wright homes: the iconic Fallingwater where we went on the "in depth tour" all over the building and through the guest house; and a much more intimate, warm and delightful house called Kentuck Knob which everyone we met who has been there had fallen completely in love with.

Since we're big history buffs, we spent a day at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia (site of the famous pre-Civil War raid on the Federal armory by John Brown), where we were fortunate enought to be able to meet Thom of Thoughts Made Bald for lunch. Outgoing, with a twinkle in his eye and a sexy baritone voice, Thom was a delight and great fun to talk to. That afternoon, we drove southwest to Lynchburg, VA with a stop at the magnificent Natural Bridge that soars over 200 feet above the stream that carved it for a couple of million years. In Lynchburg we visited Thomas Jefferson's retreat in the woods, Poplar Forest. From there we headed back toward the east coast, stopping at Appomattox where the Civil War ended with Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Grant. We spent a full day at Williamsburg and a morning at Jamestown where just the day before several sensational finds had been made in the archaeological excavation of the original fort.

In the afternoon, we crossed Chesapeake Bay via the bridge/tunnel complex to visit Fritz's sister-in-law and her family. Then up to central New Jersey for one last family call--a cousin of mine and his wife, including a tour this morning through The Great Swamp in Basking Ridge, a large and excellently run wild life preserve that local residents saved from becoming a jetport.


Tomorrow we'll have a liesurely morning and then head up to New Hampshire for the weekend. We're having a Sweat Lodge gathering on Sunday with the guys and we need to rest up from the vacation!

Friday, July 21, 2006

 
The trip is going very well so far, at least until this afternoon when the front, passenger's side window motor died with the window down. With thunderstorms in the area and no way to secure the Jeep with a gaping window, I sought information on local Jeep dealerships. One in Chippewa, Pennsylvania said they'd take me on an emergency basis, so Fritz and I are in the service area which has free internet for customers.

They can't replace the burned-out motor but they can raise the window so that we'll be watertight and secure for the rest of the trip and I can get a permanent fix.

We never over-plan a trip and we've been having a few impulse side trips along the way. The most interesting so far was a two hour canal cruise at Lockport, New York, site of the first five locks of the historic Erie Canal. We've also been to two of our four Frank Lloyd Wright houses, both of which are undergoing extensive restoration after having been almopst demolished due to years of neglect, even abandonment.

Tonight we have dinner with cousins of mine just north of Pittsburgh and then we head south to spend the night in Uniontown, Pennsylvania for our tours of Wright's most famous house, Fallingwater and the smaller, very different KLentuck Knob.

With luck we won't have any more car trouble as we begin the loop back home.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

 
I've placed a new category in the links: fine art erotica. I came across Adonis Art, a London business that features the work of some truly outstanding figurative painters whose work is directed to the gay male audience. The majority of paintings and drawings feature full frontal nudity although there are many works that present gentler erotic situations that may or may not depict it. Leather, bondage, S&M, fantasy situations--Adonis shows the work of artists across the entire spectrum of gay experience. Everything's for sale, by the way.

The Delftboys site from the Netherlands is also devoted to homoerotica by historical and contemporary artists; there are some great sketches and paintings in many media from a wide variety of eras. There's a for-pay "Masterclass" area that contains the portfolios of a large number of artists, but the free "Lobby" section is chock full of good stuff. There's a plea for donations--apparently the memberships aren't quite footing the bills.

The Lohman Gay Art Foundation is American and the work isn’t quite on the level of the other two sites. I have no doubt that the U.S. and Canada have produced some top notch homoerotic artists, but other than some photographers like Tom Bianchi, Lohman doesn’t present what I think of as really first rate work in the paintings section. A lot of it strikes me as very obvious, porn cartoon-inspired drawing and painting that flattens and alienates. Still, they’re guys, many are naked there’s nothing wrong with that..

We're off tomorrow for twelve days doing a loop through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states out as far west as Cleveland, as far south as Lynchburg, Virginia, then back east to the Delmarva Peninsula and up the coast through New Jersey and back home. We'll pass through southern New Hampshire and Vermont, Buffalo, NY, Harper's Ferry, WV (with the idea of meeting Thom of Thoughts Made Bald), Williamsburg and Jamestown historical sites in Virginia, and The Great Swamp in New Jersey that's apparently a good deal more interesting and romantic than it might sound.


We'll be touring five great houses. Four are by Frank Lloyd Wright: the Darwin Martin Complex in Buffalo as well as the Martin family's country house called Graycliff thirty miles west overlooking Lake Erie; the iconic Fallingwater and the sharply contrasting Kentuck Knob, just seven miles away from each other in southwestern Pennsylvania; and Poplar Forest in the woods of southwestern Virginia. A typical Thomas Jefferson creation that was his deep retreat from the world, Poplar Forest's ground plan is arranged around a central chamber that's a perfect cube, the whole based on an elaborate and possibly mystical set of mathematical proportions.

There'll also be friends and family to visit and, as Fritz says, if we see a sign saying "See the two-headed calf" we'll go see the two-headed calf. I also have a crazy idea (that Fritz is indulging) of staying some night not in a modern motel or motor inn but in old-fashioned cabins. For some reason I think it would be fun. I remember staying in cabins as a kid when I traveled with my parents. I hope there'll be some along our route--we saw two sets of them still in operation far out on the Cape during our trip there last week.

I doubt I'll be able to post anything from the road but you never know. I'll be back the last weekend in July.


Friday, July 14, 2006

 
We had a lovely three and a half days on the Cape. Our rental house was large, comfortable, clean as a whistle and nicely equipped. Set in a pine grove, wildlife was all around with bird song eveywhere, a rabbit that came to nibble on the neighbor's lawn, chipmunks and squirrels everywhere.

Monday was beach day at the Coast Guard Beech in Eastham, a lovely, clean swath of sand that stretches seemingly into infinity north and south. The dune cliffs that back the beach are dynamic, constantly changing as the wind passes over their face, creating little sand cascades that look from a distance like delicate waterfalls. Above, bits of masonry lie broken on the cliff face, testament to the erosion loss that wears away at the Cape constantly.

We took a long walk past the lifeguard-protected area where a young man was working an inflatable frame parasail rig that pulled him through the water. Just on the shore line something stuck up from the sand that turned out to be a piece of iron reinforcing rod. As the wind dipped and shifted, the sail came down on that exact spot. We ran to get it away from harm but by the time we reached it, the sail had shredded itself on the rod that was embedded in something buried deep in the sand amd couldn't be pulled out. He came up out of the water and thanked us for our help, but the sail was so badly gutted that all he could do was deflate the frame and pack up for the day.

Fritz's new neice-in-law was with us, a charming, bright and spirited Colombian woman who's five months pregnant. We went off to the nature trails on Tuesday but the bugs--big green-headed deer flies--drove us back into an area called Red Maple Swamp where, strangely, there were almost no bugs at all. It was a serene, lovely place with an elfin frog at one turn of the plank boardwalk and great views of the marshes at the end. That night we had grilled swordfish in Barnstable with good friends in their tiny, almost infinitesimal harbor-side cottage.

Wednesday we went to Provincetown which was celebrating Bear Week. The streets were filled with big hairy guys, families (both straight and gay) and lots of positive energy. We shopped, browsed, had lunch at a South African Cafe and headed back to the Jeep when the light rain became too heavy for enjoyment.


On Wednesday night Fritz's sister arrived along with her son, so the young couple was reunited. We spent Thusday morning with them and then began the trip back to New Hampshire. Passing through Boston was a trial because of the catastrophic Big Dig connector tunnel roof collapse that had killed a woman riding in a car driven by her husband. Heavy concrete slabs weighing three tons(!) had dropped onto their car. The ONLY good thing was that if this tragedy had to happen (and there is now a great deal of bloodletting going on about responsibility), at least it happened at three in the morning or the death toll would have been huge, with speeding cars slamming into each other behind the suddenly stopped, stricken vehicle.

Now I know that responsible engineers had tested and approved the type of installation used in this tunnel but there are far lighter materials that can be used for tunnel roofs. My question is; why would any sane person hang TONS of concrete by four slender metal rods that aren't anchored to anything solid like a beam or reinforcing rod, over the heads of the public in a situation where vibration is a fact of life? The top of the rods were simply epoxyed into holes drilled up into the solid concrete of the tunnel's outer skin. We're now told that as many as 240 of these hanging points are suspect as beginning to fail. Conversely, the Ted Williams Tunnel out to the airport has thin, light weight metal plates that would surely dent a car if they came down and could cause damage but would not be an automatic death sentence. In any event, the Ted has tested OK for the solidity of all its roof plates.

The tunnel is now closed and being investigated as a crime scene. I think on some level we've all been awaiting something like this--so corrupt, flawed and inept has the Big Dig's construction process turned out to be. The closure may be for weeks and traffic in the city has become chaotic.

Oh, and our sometimes gutless legislators have postponed the vote on whether to put the anti-gay marriage amendment on the a ballot before the public until AFTER the elections this coming November. None of them, conservative or liberal, wants his or her position to be on record in an election year. Nice going, guys. Time for surgery to get some replacement spine.



Saturday AM update: Governor Romney has once again failed to oust Matt Amorello as head of the Mass. Turnpike Authority that "owns" the Big Dig. Between them is something that goes well beyond claims of Amorello's incompetence--it's personal and Romney has been desperate, probably for political reasons, to fire him. But the governor HAS seized inspection control of the tunnels and the number of suspect hangers is now around 350.

CBS TV news reported this morning that the hanging system for tunnel roofs that was in use here was declared dangerous and illegal in California. In the Northeast there's still an image among some people of Californians as drugged-out crystal-wearing whack jobs. But in my opinion, California really got it right.

The woman who was killed in the tunnel collapse will be buried today. Her sister was on TV and not particularly coherent, which is completely understandable as the family was hit very hard. She began by demanding answers as to how and why the collapse happened but ended by saying she knew--it was god's will.

I have so much trouble with that--I have trouble with the existence of god just for starters, but the idea of a god who slaughters people for his/her/their/it's amusement seems to me sick and wrong. Does god get up in the morning and decide there haven't been enough deaths by fire lately, and therefore sets a hotel burning? Does god think it would be fun to crush a random, totally innocent woman to death and devastate an entire family? What kind of unbalanced, sadistic creature would such a deity be?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

 

On the road again . . .

I'll be away with Fritz for two and a half of the next three weeks. We're heading down to Eastham on Cape Cod today until Thursday evening. We're sharing a rental house with some of his family on the ocean side of the Cape's northward-pointing "forearm." We'll beach, visit Provincetown and probably explore some of the historic old homes and lighthouses.

After three days home, we head out on the 17th for two weeks--I'll run down the itinerary of that trip when I'm back from the Cape.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

 
I had to leave my Jeep off this morning to have the ventilation/AC fan repaired. It suddenly stopped working the other day and neither Fritz nor I wanted to leave on our upcoming road trip (that will take us as far south as western Virginia near the North Carolina line) without the AC working properly. Yeah, yeah I know--THIS is the year we plan a domestic road trip just in time for the highest gas prices in U.S. history, and they're climbing daily.

So, after sharing a laugh over how he'd scored a signed original Frank Gallo lithograph worth around $5000 for $275 on eBay, I left my mechanic's place and took the T to MIT. When I got on the Red Line Train at Harvard Station for some reason it hit me how truly sloppy--not just casual but really sloppy--we've become as Americans. There was the usual number of girls in cropped tops and low-slung skirts or pants showing a badly proportioned naked band of lumpy torso merging into shapeless upper buttock; of boys with ragged jeans held up on their slender hips by will power alone, several inches south of the waistbands of their economy chain store underwear. One woman stood out.

I guess that revealing all the details of foundation garments became chic when Madonna started wearing her underwear on the outside in imitation of the whores in some 1930s Kurt Weill Berlin musical, but I think it's an unfortunate idea. This woman sat hunched over on one of the seats in a really nice silk knit tank top in a lovely, heathery shade of soft slate blue. The slender straps accented pretty shoulders--and right there competing with them visually were the dog-eared white nylon straps, drooping at odd angles and with all the necessary size adjustment hardware showing, of her bra.

Why did this bother me so? She was better dressed than many of the others. I suspect it's because while the others were wearing a basic look, even if one I'm not wired to appreciate, she was ruining a really nice garment by revealing something much better kept hidden. She was probably going to work where all day those crummy white bra straps were going to be falling off her shoulders or otherwise in plain view, looking awful.

The gradual demolition of the building adjoining ours is causing daily headaches. Our phones go dead and we lose access to the internet at regular intervals. I spent all day Thursday trying to get the services restored but by the time MIT Facilities arrived, the demolition contractors (who are currently tearing apart the building's interior) had left for the day. Worse, they'd changed all the locks on the building and on the chain-link fence that now surrounds and isolates it so that MIT can't even get into its own building. It wasn't until yesterday morning that we could finally get completely back to work.

One thing I worry about is that a large number of birds have built their nests in the building's pock-marked, rotted out concrete and brick exterior walls. With luck their little ones will be fully fledged and able to fly out by the time the wrecking begins. Otherwise a lot of parent birds are going to lose all their young.


By noon I got the call that the Jeep was ready to be picked up and I hopped the T back to my mechanic's place in Watertown. On the trackless trolley leg of the trip I realized that I was being pretty heavily cruised by the very attractive man sitting opposite me: richly dark hair, large brown eyes, full lips, quite handsome in a Mediterranean way, with strong soccer legs emerging from his shorts. It was extremely flattering. After a couple of more blocks, it was impossible to ignore any longer that those big, dark eyes were focused on me instead of on something passing by out the window over my shoulder. We exchanged smiles for a while.

Suddenly, "Your ring is really interesting." Which one, I wondered: my wedding ring in bonded silver and white gold, a Japanese mokume technique, made by one of Fritz's nephews; or a silver ay yildiz--the Turkish crescent moon and star--that I'd bought from a Boston street vendor hoping it would be a lucky charm that would get me to Constantinople (within three months the opportunity to go there was offered and I grabbed it). He meant the ay yildiz, adding that he bought a similar ring in Iraq when he was there in 1996/97. He asked about what I do; I asked if he liked Iraq; he said he did in the 90s but that when he returned to do two years active duty from 2002 to 2004, it was a different story. "Was it rough?" I asked. "Bullshit" was his reply, "it was total bullshit."

The bus slowed for my stop. I stood up. He looked up at me with those eyes and asked why I'd wanted a ring like that. I told him I was a life-long fan of Islamic art. "You could go to Iraq yourself," he offered. I said "I think I'll skip that, the way things are currently." We both smiled. Fifteen--even ten--years ago I would almost certainly have made an invitation, and we might have spent the warm summer afternoon together. But it's now, there's someone else, and a different agenda.

"Take care." "Yeah, you, too," and I was off the trolley, just catching sight of him looking back at me as it sped past.

P.S. Mark at the very popular blog Zeitzeuge is looking for sponsors for his participation in the AIDS Arms Walk to which I've been a yearly contributor. He's looking to raise $1500 this year and he's got about a quarter of that total now. If you feel you could contribute something, anything at all, he's one of the warmest, nicest people you could possibly support. There's a link at the left under Blogs I Read Daily. Thanks!




Thursday, July 06, 2006

 
In many ways, a big weekend with a lot accomplished. Not everyone would think it an ideal way to spend the 4th, but for us it worked well.

Saturday afternoon I drove up to New Hampshire in brilliant weather. The idea was that the two of us were going out to see the British movie "Kinky Boots," with Chris of chris-says joining us if possible. Since he's training to be a teacher, he wanted to meet Fritz and talk a bit. That morning, Fritz had told me on the phone that the woman who runs the office would be joining us; when I got to his place there was news that his sister and the friend with whom she was visiting in Kittery, Maine were coming also. So we were six all of a sudden.

When we got to Portsmouth I let Fritz off at the theater to buy tickets and went to park the car. When I got to the lobby, Fritz and Chris had found each other (gaydar anyone?) and our party of three gay men and three straight women with ages all over the map got settled in the theater.

"Kinky Boots" is a hoot. If you see it, bleep over a couple of big coincidences and a couple of other plot devices and just have fun with it. Reputedly based on a true story, it deals with a shoe factory in [formerly] industrial Northampton, England that's fallen on hard times to imports from China, Brazil, etc. It's a situation with deep resonance also here in New England. The Price Shoe Factory is about to be sold off to become luxury condos when its owner suddenly dies and his son, Charlie, who has no idea how to run a business and no idea that his father had actually given up, takes over to save the family heritage. Draconian measures like lay-offs and selling stock at cost don't work but a chance meeting between Charlie and a drag performer named Lola in London opens up the possibility of a niche market in luxury women's boots and shoes in sizes, and constructed for, men.

Lola aka Simon is the Nigerian-English actor Chiwetel Ejiofor who takes the movie over in fine style. Gorgeous as both man and woman, and doing all his own singing (there's enough of it that "KB" might possibly be considered a musical), he confronts head on the conservatism and discomfort with the alternative of Midlands society, galvanizing Charlie and quite a few others in the process. The six of us had a great time as did the rest of the audience with frequent outbursts of applause and supportive outcry. Comment in the lobby after wards among local women was how well their husbands dealt with a movie about a drag queen and what a sensational actor Chiwetal Ejiofor is. Not too well known here, he has an impressive resume that includes an appearance at 19 in Speilberg’s "Amistad," as well as the films "Four Brothers," "Melinda and Melinda" (Woody Allen), and "Love, Actually."

In England he's got all manner of awards for stage and screen work and, like all British actors it seems, he was classically trained very young and has the chops for leading roles in Shakespeare. His voice is as handsome as his face and he knows how to use it. If he has any drag experience at all, it isn't mentioned in any of the bios I've been able to access, which makes the performance even more impressive: his Lola is a knockout—a sexy, confident diva who deals with his/her demons with indomitable self discipline, and knows how to win over the opposition.

We all decided to stay together for a big barbeque dinner afterwards, during which my beloved suddenly began giving his sister's friend advice on Googling and saving photos and text files. All of us who know him well broke up and ragged mercilessly on a man who still hasn't figured out attaching files to emails and who still "punches in" URLs. He's totally adorable at moments like this—and I do.

Sunday after Quaker Meeting we went up the hill and cleared a little more of the road to the house site before the heat just shut us both down. Monday morning early M, who's putting together all the construction drawings and advising on the design, came over to finalize the house site and stake it out. On the way up, we met the two boys from the surveyor's office who were there to continue the subdivision and topographical survey. The site we finally all agreed on is generally flat with a high rise to another plateau behind it (where the photovoltaic cell arrays will be--and where a friend of ours has built a kind of Celtic shrine with stone cairns on an ancient lava outcrop). There's a small promontory with a gentle drop in front of where the house's main core will sit that'll provide great views of the mixed hardwoods, field pines and white pines in all seasons. Flagged stakes were driven into the ground at all four corners of the site.

After that we settled down at the house for further discussions on the design; a couple of changes were made, the biggest being that the wing with the guest room, small office/den and their bathroom will now be stacked over the kitchen and mechanical room at the rear of the house. The wing with the entry vestibule, our master bedroom, with its huge walk-in closet/storage area, and what I’m calling "The Baths" (lavatory, exercise area, sauna and group shower) will flip to the opposite side of the main core to be nearer the road up the hill. This change will significantly reduce the house’s footprint, place the office/guest area high in the trees with spectacular views, and reduce construction costs as well.

M left with a request for an intensive topographical analysis of the newly staked house site from the survey team who we hadn't been able to locate in the woods. From inside the Center, I saw them coming down the trail that leads to the Sweat Lodge, so we went out to meet them. They're both very young, one cuter even than the other, and they were very excited. "You guys have a real dope set-up out there with the sauna in the woods by the pond!" said one, and they both agreed it was really cool. Highly amused, we both suppressed the immediate thought of inviting them to come over and get naked with us and the guys sometime.

We spent the 4th quietly together, doing a little yard work (I continued to do poison ivy spraying up the road up the hillside), reading, watching the tube--and planning for the future.

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