Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The debate over Boston’s City Hall lurched back to life late last year in the wake of the huge success of the new Institute for Contemporary Art building and other development on South Boston’s waterfront.

Clearly, the once-blighted and under-used multi-acre flat parcel in Southie, opposite the Financial District and just across the harbor from Logan Airport, is now seen as sexy property. The Big Dig used part of it and the new, behemoth Convention Center with its attendant hotels has gotten Mayor Tom Menino’s attention. He wants to build a new City Hall there, and sell off the cement-slab, hulking 1960s structure, designed by Gerhard M. Kallmann, Noel M. McKinnell, and Edward F. Knowles, three Columbia University professors, which is unrelievedly dark and grim inside. It’s also so badly designed that if you want to go from one side of the seventh floor to the other, you have to take the elevator down, walk across the entire building, and take another elevator back up. Useful for mass rallies, the acres of hard brick pavement surrounding City Hall are considered terrible use of urban space by many, as well as inhospitable and alienating. The whole complex has been derisively termed The Mayan Temple--and worse.

The current city hall replaces a large Beaux-Arts French renaissance-style structure that the city had outgrown; it now graciously houses businesses and restaurants. To build the new one, and satisfy prudish civic outrage at a tenderloin neighborhood adjacent to sacred historical sites, the entire Scollay Square area with its famous burlesque houses was razed in the early 1960s. The Old Howard Theater was vaudeville and burlesque’s last real stand in Boston (strip shows went on further south in The Combat Zone for many years but had nowhere near as much class as the true burlesque at the Howard).

Wednesday afternoon was unofficially Harvard Medical School Day in the Old Howard's balcony—students and professors both, according to reliable sources. Boston’s Blue Laws forbade total nudity on stage unless the girls stood rigidly still, covered with white powder, and in poses suitable to classical statuary (Boston WAS “The Athens of America”, after all!). So the Med School boys came armed with slingshots and paper clips. When the curtains rose on the much-anticipated “Statuesques” part of the production, a volley of paper clips flew out of the Balcony directly at the girls in an effort to get them to break pose. Invariably a stage manager would come out onto the forestage to give his ritual—and totally useless—admonition, “The gentlemen in the Balcony will kindly stop shooting missiles at the noods.”

The new City Hall’s architectural descent is clear. French architectural icon Le Corbusier’s monastery of Sainte Marie de La Tourette (built 1956-60) begat Boston’s City Hall (built 1963-68), which in turn begat the Central Library of Birmingham, England (1974). And lo!, some architectural critics said the begatting was blessed because beautiful; others said the begetting was barren because “Brutalist.” (a recognized architectural style). It all depended on how you viewed 50s-60s architecture in the context of the culture of the era. Then-Mayor John Collins is said to have gasped as the design was presented and blurted out, "What the hell is THAT?" Ordinary people who had to use or work in the building called it a turkey.

Here are the three buildings in order of descent:

Sainte Marie de la Tourette, near Lyon, France

City Hall, Boston

Central Library, Birmingham, England

And a vista of the gash in the Boston’s cityscape caused by the new building:

A very few monks are presumably still cloistered at Sainte Marie, but Boston City Hall and the Library in Birmingham are both the object of passionate calls for replacement—Birmingham already has theirs in development.

We’ll see in the coming months if Menino’s plan gets anywhere; it has powerful advocates and enemies in official circles, but the public has always hated the building and might like the idea—except when tens of thousands of them can cram themselves onto the Plaza for events like yesterday’s celebration of the second Boston Red Sox World Series Championship in four years.

Then they find they like it just fine.


Moving to another kind of art, Argentinian baritone Erwin Schrott is making a big operatic career internationally, and directors are obviously finding ways to show his talents off to the best advantage. Here are two pictures of him as Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Don Juan).

Monday, October 29, 2007

OK, it’s official—I just don’t “get” Michael Nyman or his music. I know he’s very well-regarded and that in his musicologist’s hat he coined the term “minimalism. Until yesterday I knew his work only from his movie scores for Peter Greenaway, but particularly for the movie The Piano, which I hated. The characterless, aimlessly wandering dreck he composed for Holly Hunter’s character to play was boring in itself and ludicrous as music for the Romantic Age, when Chopin, Liszt and others were revolutionizing and galvanizing keyboard music.

But I know well the difference in intent between movie music and opera. Yesterday afternoon I went to Nyman’s The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (based on the noted case study by Oliver Sacks) at Boston University School for the Arts’ Fringe Festival in hopes of being impressed and involved.

Alas. The highest profile moment in the score was a verbatim quote from Robert Schumann’s song “Ich grolle nicht” that blew away everything on both sides of it. It’s not minimalism with which I have any quarrel—John Adams and Philip Glass have provided some stimulating, deeply appreciated operas and other music in my recent listening experiences. Nyman’s music to me has no character and his characters on stage sound all the same, with no effort (or a failed effort if there was one) to distinguish one personality or situation from another. Except for one or two very brief glimmers, he didn’t make a case for the material even needing to be set to music in the first place, and particularly not HIS music.

It was a good production, based on geometrics in black, white and silver/gray in both the costumes and minimal set, principally the floor and three chairs. The tenor singing the Neurologist was outstanding, clear of voice and diction. The patient, a Russian baritone, had a good voice (although some notable pitch problems in high-lying phrases), and fine English diction through a charming accent. The wife had a large, sumptuous voice--and no discernable consonants anywhere in her mouth. I understood maybe a tenth of what she sang.

Between performances, I spent a couple of hours at the Museum of Fine Arts, mostly in the Near Eastern section. I was happy to see the MFA acknowledges that there IS a Near East. These days in the media and in White House briefings everything, including Cyprus and Israel, is considered the Middle East. I’ve been wondering for years just where the Near East had gone—Sicily, perhaps, or maybe just dropped into the Mediterranean, preparing for a National Geographic rediscovery by under-water archaeologists? Who know it had relocated to New England?

There was a terrific exhibit on the techniques of creating illuminated Korans and other Islamic manuscripts. Over in Far East, there was a very entertaining Kabuki actor and theater poster exhibit with examples going back to the 18th century.


The second Fringe Festival presentation of the day was in the early evening was Hostage, not from Brendan Behan’s famous play but an original story. Operating on two levels, librettist and director Craig Wich tells of an American Ambassador taken hostage and the tireless, frustrated efforts of his wife to get the government to have him freed, a plot that also serves as metaphor for their emotionally blocked message. Add that the Ambassador’s name is Jonathan Orfeo and the set-up is for a reverse-gendered journey to rescue a stranded spouse with both parties blindfolded due to the intensely political nature of the captivity.

In just under one hour, we saw about half the opera that is still ”under construction”—a couple of scenes from act one, all of act two, none of act three. A local composer, Headrick is on the music faculty at Boston University, but has been associated with both the St. Louis and Boston Symphony Orchestras as well as major music conservatories over the years. He writes in the neo-Romantic style that has been practiced by Giancarlo Menotti, Samuel Barber, Mark Adamo and Jake Heggie, among others in their own personal styles. Big, singable tunes well up frequently and are developed well throughout the score. Headrick knows how to shape scenes and write theatrical music. There was a particularly gorgeous duet for the couple in act two growing our of their isolated thoughts of each which leads to their walking into the recreation of a romantic dinner they had early in their relationship (the libretto does not stick to linear narrative but swims through time and place as necessary to tell the story and provide variety of experience). From what I heard yesterday, I will be looking for the first performances of the completed opera because I liked very much what I heard.

There were two alternating casts for Hostage because its vocal demands are serious. Yesterday there was a splendid young tenor, Edgar Ramirez as the Ambassador, with a big, Italianate sound, brilliant top and no inclination to oversing or otherwise distort a very attractive lyric voice. Annie Griffin, tall and willowy, very beautiful and a good actress with a strong if monochromatic voice, was the wife whose travails before a House Committee’s bureaucracy inevitably recall Magda in Menotti’s The Consul. Gideon Dabi sang well as the foreign Guard who enigmatically seems to have more of a connection with the American government than a “terrorist” military man should. Satisfying stuff that whets the appetite for more.


Yet another meme:

You know I can’t resist these things when they come along—clearly I have a compulsion to confess (or at least to reveal, as those who’ve seen me at a clothing optional beach can attest)—so here’s the latest one, via Karl at Adventures in Gastronomy:

Were you named after somebody? Two somebodies. My first name is William, for my mother’s father (my English or, rather, Welsh grandfather); my middle name is Alexander after my father’s father, Alessandro, my Italian grandfather. I wish my parents hadn’t translated it and have often contemplated signing myself William Alessandro F.

When was the last time you cried? Way long ago as part of a different life that I am very happy is over and done with.

Do you like your handwriting? NO, it’s truly dreadful, a revolt against the sappy Palmer Method the nuns taught in Catholic school, I suppose. OK, at least that was legible. Now I do speed printing that I picked up from doing all my drafting and technical drawings, and just sign my name.

What is your favorite lunch meat? Sliced roasted turkey breast, except when I go to New York City, when it becomes a well-trimmed Rumanian pastrami.

Do you have kids? Yes, two daughters adopted from Korea whom I raised as a single gay father; along with Fritz, they’re the joys of my life.

If you were another person, would you be friends with you? Absolutely! I’m great company and filled with a vast store of totally arcane and useless knowledge, so that interesting conversation is NEVER a problem. As long as you can hold up your end on the resettlement of the Goths in Burgundy during the Dark Ages, the differences among all the versions of Beethoven’s Leonore/Fidelio, or the symptoms of Bubonic Plague in 1347, that is. But you’re suave enough to have all that down cold, I’m quite sure.

Do you use sarcasm a lot? No, never. Just don’t read the end of that last answer too closely.

Do you still have your tonsils? No. There’s something else I don’t have that was removed without my knowledge or consent before I was old enough to protest, but we needn’t go into that here. OK, we just did.

Would you bungee jump? Surely you jest.

What is your favorite cereal? Grape Nuts, although I’m just cheap enough to grab them off the shelf as Nutty Nuggets whenever I find that house brand offered--it’s absolutely the same thing.

Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? Yes. The real question is: can I tie them properly when I put them on? The jury’s still out on that one.

Do you think you are strong? I KNOW I’m strong, physically and emotionally.

What is your favorite ice cream? Last summer it was raspberry chocolate chip. Next year it may be . . . I’m fickle about ice cream.

What is the first thing you notice about people? Are they outgoing, and do they make eye contact. If they’re men, I readily admit to doing the ocular disrobe VERY soon into the encounter.

Red or pink? Red, particular a rich Chinese cinnabar. I’m a designer, so I talk paint chip speak.

What is the least favorite thing about yourself? My pelvis. The male standard of beauty is the inverted triangle look, but I’ve got birthing hips.

Who do you miss the most? My Aunt Olga, my father’s sister. She was a strong, courageous, bright and caring woman, and the only person in my family who told me the truth about things. I miss her very much.

What color pants and shoes are you wearing? Black and very dark brown, in that order. I’m sure I’m violating some sacred gay code of couture with that combination, but that's what you get.

What was the last thing you ate? A piece of Fritz’s home-made New England Apple Cake, washed down with Flag Hill Winery’s Maple Liqueur.

What are you listening to right now? Act two of Janacek’s Jenufa—in my head.

If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Lapis Lazuli, although I don’t think Crayola talks in paint chip speak as I do (see Red/Pink, above).

Favorite smells? Bread baking and, um, a man’s body.

Who was the last person you spoke to on the phone? My best and oldest friend, in Boston.

Do you like the person who sent this to you? He’s a great guy and I like him very much.

Favorite sport to watch? Baseball. The drama in the faces and the body attitudes is fascinating. Besides, it’s done slowly enough that I can perceive and follow that drama, unlike basketball that I experience as nothing but a blur of jumping up and down, or football that bores me silly.

Hair color? S&P.

Eye color? Brown, with a cream-colored ring around the iris.

Do you wear contacts? I’d love to, and did during two separate periods in my life. Both times I developed calcium deposits under my eye-lids that became painful and forced me to give them up.

Favorite Food? I’m the man who never met a carbohydrate he didn’t like. I have to be VERY careful with baked goods, especially. Otherwise I love virtually all fruits and vegetables and fish.

What color shirt are you wearing? Black with an embroidered Tibetan saying on the chest.

Winter or summer? But for the chance to grow things, summer is my least favorite season--therefore, Winter.

Favorite dessert? Anything chocolate as long as it’s really good and not cheap glop.

Hugs or kisses? Both—I can’t separate them, particularly not when he’s handsome and a really nice guy.

What book are you reading now? The Letters of Arturo Toscanini. RCA Victor used to put a sentence or two at the end of his bio on the recordings to the effect that he was never so happy as when spending a quiet evening at home with his wife. We always knew that was a complete crock, but these newly published letters include dazzlingly pornographic communications with his many girl friends and mistresses, well into his sixties and seventies, thank you very much. The man was a total stud as well as the most influential conductor of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

What is on your mouse pad? Possibly an actual mouse. I use a laptop now, so my mouse pad’s in a carton somewhere.

What did you watch on TV last night? The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard on PBS.

Favorite Sound? Opera; after that, mockingbirds singing. Sometimes, they’re startlingly close to the same thing.

Rolling Stones or Beatles? Same as with hugs and kisses—both. They’re like Apollo and Dionysus. In fact, I think Mick IS Dionysus reborn. I love him for the fact that he’ll probably be out there shaking it while they’re trying to nail down the lid. They’re two sides of the same coin and I think their careers and the music they wrote are actually interconnected in several ways.

What is the furthest you’ve been from home? Either Xian in China, Marimbula in Australia, or Kiev in Ukraine. I should take the measurements on a globe. But my globe’s packed up in a carton somewhere, too.

Do you have a special talent? Yeeesss. :-)

Where were you born? New York City

Friday, October 26, 2007

The seventh veil has been dropped. Yesterday evening we went up to look at the house at the end of the day. Structural work on the roof was finished and it was sheathed with a tough, nylon-reinforced plastic rain guard material. The big blue tarp was finally gone, and while there are still some few details to add under the eaves, the shape of the house is now complete.

All the rough framing for the windows is done, so we now know exactly what our views will look like. The windows themselves won’t go in until after the roofers have completed their work, and they’re expected to begin today. One of these shots shows that you can stand outside the big great room windows and look straight through the house to the cliff behind the kitchen dining area.

View out the great room windows.

View when standing in the kitchen, at the place where the stove will be.

View from outside through the entire downstairs and out the back of the house.

Exterior, seen from the southwest . . . .

. . . . and from the east.


I seem to be something of a natural archivist. This has good and bad manifestations. For one thing, I collect stuff. Not baseball cards, match boxes, souvenir spoons, or things like that, but bits of interesting carved woodwork or antique drawer pulls that I may some day actually use in projects like a piece of furniture that I restore. After a while this stuff really piles up. I said a fond farewell to a lot of it when I sold the house in Boston and moved.

The other manifestation is that I have every program for every performance of a play, musical, concert, dance performance or opera that I’ve ever seen, arranged chronologically. I also keep a performance log on my computer, alphabetically by name of the composer, then chronologically by date of performance, including the name of the producing company and the performers. I have no formal training, so I’ve developed my own notational system as I’ve gone along. Here’s a sample:

Monteverdi, Claudio

5/23/81 BEMF MS McCarthy,Bryant,Larson,Sorensen,Gall,DeVoll,Maddelena,Struss; Pearlman
7,30,94 GLIM Hanchard, Pancella, Oswald, Daniels, Asawa, Pauley; Glover
6,25,00 CEMF T Larsen, Holland, Apestegui, Oliver, Newman, Roth; Reber
10,27,00 BB Lovat, Gilbert, Baker, Meek, Mehta, Smith; Pearlman

The codes indicate the producing organization (BEMF is Boston Early Music Festival, BB is Boston Baroque) and the MS indicates that it’s a production for which I designed the scenery. Given my writing of reviews, lectures and articles on opera, this archive has been something to which I’ve referred with surprising frequency. That 1994 Glimmerglass production of Monteverdi's Poppea marked the great breakthrough performance by American counternor David Daniels that propelled him into stardom.

I also keep the grand totals, which now amount to 804 performances of 334 operas and 17 major vocal works (oratorios, etc) by 140 composers. Those totals each go up by two this weekend when I see two contemporary operas (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Michael Nyman and Hostage by Samuel Hedrick) at the Boston University Fringe Festival.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The other morning while I was catching up on some favorite blogs, Fritz’s office manager came in with a sample foldable sculpture Christmas card sent by 3D Paper Graphics. These cards (there's also a line of collapsible counter-top promotional pieces), utilize many of the same techniques as the paper engineering that makes pop-up books possible.

Paper Graphics is something of a misnomer, as it happens, since the materials involved include clear acetate as well as paper. The Christmas card sample, seen here both standing up in 3D and lying flat, is a lot of fun.

And expensive, too. They’re $3.75 each and the minimum order is 50, so you'd better be willing to spend around $175 for Christmas cards if you like these things. But they’re very engaging. You can visit the site at


We were out and about yesterday choosing flooring, kitchen counters, and tile for our bathroom and the big six-person (OK, OK, six-man) shower that sits between the sauna and the downstairs bathroom of the new house. Our general contractor sent us to two places in Concord where we were very nicely received and found what we wanted relatively easily.

Fritz and I have managed all throughout the planning and construction of the house to take very little time in deciding what we want from all the options available—our tastes and our image of what we want the place to look like and how we want it to feel are remarkable in sync. Yesterday was no exception. We went through all the selections at the tile place in about twenty minutes and had it narrowed down to just two styles. The final choice, I now realize, is a softened version of all the textures and colors that exist in the remarkable rock from the hillside into which the house is set. Once we’d set the two sample panels next to each other, it was a no-brainer.

The second place had not only tile, but flooring and kitchen counters. We were able to include recycled materials in two of our choices. The thick, tough and resilient covering for the exercise room floor is made from recycled tires; our kitchen counters are an amalgam of the waste from other uses of granite and quartz, and are a lot more beautiful than that description suggests.

A bit harder was the choice of a floor surface for my studio. I wanted something very durable and very easy to clean. The choices were all very similar and drab but I finally found something that had some warmth and life to it. And for the upstairs bathroom that’s to be 1930s in style, there were the little hexagonal tiles with the black dot centers that I remember from old-fashioned bathrooms relatives of mine had in New York City while I was growing up.


When the day was over, I drove down to Boston to catch the last performance in the run of Opera Boston’s production of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar. Golijov is classical music’s wonderboy these days. His output is remarkably diverse and he seems able to channel a wide variety of musical traditions and styles while managing to keep his music totally recognizable as his own. A review in the latest issue of Fanfare magazine attests to this in a review of a recent Golijov CD. The reviewer’s wife walked in the house, heard two or three bars from the sound system and said to her husband, “Got to be Golijov.” James H. North goes on to say, “It is becoming apparent that Golijov is our new century’s first master, its Beethoven, its Stravinsky.”

Ainadamar (from the Arabic Ayn al-Dam, meaning fountain of tears) is an 80-minute rumination on the life and death of the great Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the mission of charismatic Catalan actress Margarita Xirgu to introduce his work to Latin America when she went into exile from General Franco’s fascist Spain.
Franco’s military strongman in Granada had Lorca arrested for anti-fascist writing and for being homosexual (a fact the opera recognizes but many modern histories conveniently overlook), and executed in the company of three others at an irrigation canal outside the city called the fountain of tears.

There’s little conventional “action” in Ainadamar apart from the execution scene late in the opera; Tony at the blog Evilganome makes the extremely valid point that it’s really a cantata that’s being placed on the stage. But Ainadamar is dramatic in its music, multi-colored, heavily rhythmic and very Spanish. Golijov is identified in the program notes as being Jewish of eastern European origin, but musically he’s on the crest of a wave stylistically. Three modern operas that have been big hits with audiences are Daniel Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas, Tan Dun’s The First Emperor and Golijov ‘s Ainadamar (he now has a commission from the Metropolitan Opera)—the hot trend to which audiences are responding isn’t a new compositional system like serial technique, but World Music. Golijov also writes with recorded sound effects and some use of amplification, as does Tan Dun, along with several others. This generation of composers will change opera radically.

The production on stage last night originated in Santa Fe and is visually a knockout with a set by the wonderfully named Gronk. The director was Peter Sellars. Sellars can be an annoyingly variable, sometimes seriously willful artist. Evilganome felt that the opera was about 20 minutes too long; I wonder if it felt that way because toward the end Sellars seemed to have run out of ideas on how to stage the build-up to the execution and Margarita’s death. People wandered aimlessly around, there was little tension between the victims and the fascist guards, the feeling went slack. I didn't understand what was going on or why I was supposed to care about it. But Golijov’s music was there and I chose to focus on that—it didn’t let me down.

One thing I really question is the characterization of Lorca. Played by the extraordinary contralto Kelley O’Connor in a strikingly androgynous manner (she often sounding exactly like a male baritone), Lorca in this staging went to his death weeping and groveling. I don’t buy that. Librettist David Henry Hwang sets Lorca up as a Jesus figure, with the teacher and only one bullfighter instead of the historical two as the three to be executed with Lorca in the middle—the imagery is obvious, particularly as Margarita, remembering Lorca’s death many years after, becomes a Virgin Mary figure mourning at his feet. A weak and tearful Lorca seemed to me to work against everything else that the opera was trying to do, and leads me to question Sellars' intentions.

The cast was splendid, led by the remarkable soprano Dawn Upshaw who is for her generation the great advocate for contemporary vocal music that Bethany Beardsley and Jan de Gaetani were for theirs. Undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, she appeared a bit puffy from the drugs but her voice was strong and unimpaired. She, her fellow singers, conductor Gil Rose and composer Golijov were greeted by huge ovations at the end

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I found this site yesterday by the usual route, hopping from blog to blog, checking out interesting-looking links. Saturnalia features homoerotic poetry and vignettes by Doug Smith celebrating men’s bodies and sexual liaisons. Smith is a serious writer, not a pornographer (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but his imagery is vividly and quite positively sexual. Named for an old Roman New Year’s fertility festival, Saturnalia can be visited at:


It’s just after 6pm and the Body Electric group is going into a processing session prior to the farewells and everybody returning to the outside world. It was a small group this time, so we got to know several of the participants very well during mealtimes and other breaks. One man, a Radical Faerie and an architect, was anxious to see the new house, so I took a small group up to the site and gave a tour. Another, a Texan from Austin arrived early (Thursday) and is staying over until Tuesday due to the vagaries of airline scheduling. We’re having a great deal of fun with him and will cap an important day for the house tomorrow by going out to dinner with him at our favorite Japanese steak and fish house.

Tomorrow is the day we drive down to IKEA and buy all our kitchen cabinets. I worked out the measurements twice (two old carpenters’ sayings: 1) measure twice, cut once; 2) measure once, curse twice), have a coherent list of all the many different units and accessories we’ll need, and we’re ready to go. Target date for delivery is November just before Thanksgiving, which is when the new appliances are also to be delivered—just one month away.


We were very happy that when the guys arrived this weekend the autumn color was just at peak here in the Manchester/Raymond area. These shots were taken around noon and just before sunset and give some idea of the depth and richness of the color in the big sugar maples that surround the Center.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The New George W. Bush Stamp
(totally tongue in cheek--sent by a friend):

The United States Postal Service created a new 43-cent first-class stamp with a picture of President George W. Bush.
However, it may be recalled soon because there was only ONE major problem: The stamp was not sticking to envelopes, which enraged the President, who demanded a full investigation.

After a month of testing, a special Presidential Commission presented the following conclusions:

1) The stamp is in perfect order.
2) There is nothing wrong with the adhesive.
3) People are spitting on the wrong side.



I’ve been making lemonade and I don’t mean the kind you drink, but the kind that’s advocated by the old saying “If life gives you lemons, . . . . Let me back up to say that Fritz and I had been out of town for a day and a half. Wednesday afternoon I gave the second and last part of my Symposium on the operas of Mozart at Greenfield Community College. It went very well and everyone there now seems to be on board with the idea that I’ll be an annual presenter. That’s just fine with me. The drive out and back on a bright New England day was filled with beautiful autumn foliage colors and Fritz went with me for this installment, so we were together for the afternoon drive out and back.

Except, back wasn’t here to New Hampshire but to Boston/Cambridge because I’d gotten an invitation on Tuesday to sit in with the brand new Committee for Design in the Performing Arts at the Boston Society of Architects this morning at 8am. The purpose was to give review the development of theater spaces throughout history. Fritz came along as he had designed a very good theater some years ago for Westtown Academy, a Quaker school near Westchester, PA. So we begged a room for the night at Fritz’s sister’s place in Cambridge and wound up at the meeting to find a number of men and women with whom I already had connections of one sort or another. The session was most enjoyable, business cards were flying back and forth when it was all over and who knows what if anything may come of it.

So, we got back here to discover that while we were away there had been a small crisis over the septic system. The excavator had struck ledge where the septic tank itself was supposed to go. I’ll be able to post a picture tomorrow morning, but the problem was that the tank, which is huge, had to sit on the ledge several feet higher than would be ideal. Code issues apparently aren’t a difficulty but easily could be. Since we weren’t around, some decisions had been made for us, and as a reinforced, cast concrete structure weighting a ton or more isn’t an easy thing to move after it’s been put in place and its inflow and outflow pipes attached, I had to do some quick thinking.

The way things have been resolved, the tank will remain where it is, with about five inches of earth on top of it and the land sloping down from the ledge on which it stands. Its sides will be bermed up and its exposed concrete face will be sheathed with some of the many tons of rock that was blasted out of the hillside late last spring. With a rock retaining wall coming forward at a 45 degree angle each side, a small “grotto” will be formed that can act as the centerpiece of a nice bit of planting.

We’re allowed to do anything we want on top of the earth-covered tank as long as access to the two lids through which it will need to be pumped out every so often isn’t compromised. This tank stands about twenty feet in front of our bedroom windows and it occurred to me that it would be the perfect pedestal for some wonderful sculptural piece that would be the focal point within a raised flower bed. The only thing we have to do immediately is get the stone facing put on ASAP because if any part of a septic tank is visible, a certificate of occupancy will not be issued when the time comes. So, I think we’ve got this one licked. I also think we won’t allow ourselves to be off the property for more than a couple of hours at any time until the house is actually 100% finished.


Every couple of months I go though the latest Dolce & Gabbana ads to see what the boys are up to now. Here’s a sampling of some recent work, and lovely work it is.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Happy Birthday to Nicky of Cooper’s Corridor! He’s celebrating this year for the first time as the father of two adorable boys, Dario and Matteo.

I found Nicky’s blog earlier this year and was caught immediately by the quality of his writing, observances of the nature round him and of the human condition that were deeply personal and astonishingly poetic. When the boys came into his life, we had some big things in common, as I’d raised two adopted daughters as a single father. He’s beginning a huge commitment, an all-consuming experience and, if he’s as lucky as I was, a great and joyous adventure.

These pictures of the boys are from the blog. I doubt that any gift he will be given or any wishes he could receive will come close to the presence of these two beautiful children who came into his life this year. But for what it’s worth, best and warmest wishes for health, happiness, love and laughter on your birthday and throughout the year.


After a couple of days lying fallow, there was a lot of activity going on at the house site. The Public Service crew arrived at 8:30, about four months late. We’d done all the paperwork over a year ago to make sure everything would be ahead of schedule if at all possible. I paid the $2,750 or whatever the fee was in the spring. Nothing happened, except a bunch of conflicting information leading to a complete screw-up, which caused the project to be kicked upstairs to a supervisor, who came to take over the project and finally things began to move.

The guys who arrived today installed the big transformer up by the house, pulled the cable through the conduit from the pole on my property up to the transformer, then installed the cable from it to the circuit breaker panel in the mechanical room. At which point they left without the final step, which is bringing the power from the pole on the street to the pole on my property, just twenty feet in.

While this was going on the insulators arrived to spray foam insulation on top of the great room pine plank ceiling between the roof joists. And while THAT was going on the excavator arrived to dig up the leach field area for installation of the septic system. Strange the things that excite one sometimes


I’m polishing the text for my second and last appearance on Wednesday at Greenfield Community College for the Mozart Symposium I'm giving. After that, we’ll hit the road for a couple of days to get some things started on the interior of the house. We’ll go north to Cape Neddick, Maine to a place that specializes in the rewiring of antique lighting fixtures to get my sconces and hanging fixtures ready for installation. Then early next week we head down to Stoughton just south of Boston to IKEA to order our kitchen cabinetry and closet storage system. And buy lots of IKEA food items!

The weather is just about perfect now—bright crisp days with the color in the trees ignited by the brilliant, clear fall light. It’s my favorite time of year.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Al Gore: Nobel Peace Prize, 2007

The man who would be president in 2000, who SHOULD have been president in 2000, has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, along with a UN Committee, on Global Warming. The announcement came through this morning on the early TV news shows and is one more indication, if ANY more be needed, of how pitiful a travesty of the presidency is the current incumbent.

While Bozo was assuring us all that there was no such thing as global warming, even as the Arctic ice sheet was disappearing and England becoming a great place to grow grapes for wine, Al Gore was working to do something for humanity other than destroying it. Congratulations, Mr. Gore! In terms of real achievement, you tower over the pigmy who robbed you--and us who gave you the popular vote--of a literate, thoughtful statesman as President of the United States of America.


You may remember that some while I wrote about a pretty major chandelier (seen here tied for safety and ease of transportation) that I'd been given and had gratefully accepted, to hang in the great room of the new house. At that time it was missing all its crystals and Fritz and I are pretty sure that we'll tread very cautiously in replacing them. We may even decide to have no crystals at all, in the spirit of the clean, unornamented style of the house’s architecture and finishing details.

However, there was one crystal feature that did exist although it hadn’t come with the chandelier when I picked it up—a faceted glass obelisk-shaped spike intended to rise from the base of the chandelier. The guys who’d salvaged the fixture and offered it to me dubbed this piece “The crystal dildo,” and one of them had kept it, even after the chandelier itself had been given to me, for unknown reasons that sparked a lot of ribald comment.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, at long last, the TCD was given to me and I’m sorry to say that it’s a rather more modestly sized bit of ornament than the nickname suggests. It will work with the piece beautifully and probably be the only crystal ornament we’ll use. But as I think you can see from the photo, our big, great room-sized chandelier is going to be hung more like a gnat than a horse.


I have no idea whether this is a legitimate Absolut ad or not and couldn't care less; it's enough to make you take up a lifetime of vodka martinis. Enjoy, and have a very happy weekend!

Monday, October 08, 2007

I’ve added a new link to the Fine Art Erotica list on the left--Studio 1088: The Art of Michael Breyette. I found it the other night and was very taken by his work--beautifully executed, of course, but truly erotic, not merely pornographic. The men, painted singly, as couples or threesomes, are very sexy but Breyette doesn’t put all their cards on the table--a lot is left to be explored, speculated upon and reserved to savor for another time.

There’s a blog on the site in which Breyette speaks about his creative process. He accepts commissions for portraits and obviously tries hard to get into the particular mind and tastes of his clients. They’re not seen sitting formally, but in action or other situations characteristic of their lifestyles and personal relationships. One couple is seen at the end of a night out on the town, discarding formalwear, just at the moment when simple undressing is transformed by desire into any scenario the viewer may wish to imagine.

Visit Studio 1088 at

We ended the visit with our Danish friends in Boston, showing them Frank Gehry’s Stata Building at MIT, the Mapparium at the Christian Science Center, and the Institute of Contemporary Art at its spectacular site thrust into Boston Harbor opposite Logan Airport. It was a first visit to the ICA for all of us.

All the galleries are on the fourth floor and are very white in the manner of galleries of a half century ago but seeming newly modern here. There were three major exhibits.

The sculpture of Louise Bourgeois springs mostly from images and experiences from her childhood in France. One eloquent figure of a naked man with a crutch, one leg gone below the knee and replaced by a wooden pegleg, is made from rough dark cloth, the seams crudely stitched, but with genitals large and proud. She made the figure in memory of the shattered World War I veterans she new in Paris when she was first old enough to work.

One bronze, filling all of a small room, was a gigantic spider that we had first encountered at Louisiana, not the state but the great modern art museum on the far east coast of Denmark that’s named after that country’s art-loving Queen Louisa Ulrika.

There was a review of the best--or at least the most visible--in modern design, everything from electronic gear to jewelry, architecture and industrial design. One standout was a dining room table made of four pieces of plywood, the pieces locking together by simple slots cut into the pieces. The artist developed a line of furniture that could be knocked down and stored flat in response to living in tiny urban apartments.

The final exhibit was of new acquisitions to the ICA’s collection and included what I thought the best and most exciting piece we saw all day, Cornelia Parker’s “Hanging Fire.”

Parker is an English artist who took charred wood from a workshop that had been burned in a fire of suspicious origin and suspended it from a square grid. Displayed in an otherwise empty white space, the work was both elegant and unexpectedly kinetic. The picture doesn’t hint at the presence of the “Hanging Fire,”, but as you walk by it, it appears to move with the look of a hologram. Parker says in the notes on the wall that when lying in a pile on the ground, the charred bits suggested a morgue; when suspended, they found a new life and vitality.

After late afternoon coffee and raspberry pastry in the museum café, we dropped E and F at Icelandair’s terminal at Logan and said good-bye until next September when we’ll meet them for a riverboat trip on the Saône and Rhône Rivers in Burgundy and Provence in the south of France, followed by time back with them in Denmark exploring the islands that make up the central area of the country called Fyn.

We’re moving into a new phase of the house’s construction. Inevitably, the framing crew with whom we’ve been having such a great time will finish their part of the work and move on to other jobs. If all goes as planned, and it may not because it’s raining heavily today and may continue to do so all week, they could be out of here in as little as ten days. Then there will come roofers, and the house will finally be weatherproof and can be fitted out with its electrical and plumbing infrastructure, all of which could be in place by the end of the month.

With our guests returned to Denmark, Fritz and I will be back to work on the place close to full time. We have to choose upstairs flooring, tile for both the downstairs shower and possibly for the upstairs bathroom walls, color and texture to be applied to the concrete floors downstairs, and get established with shops that can rewire old lighting fixtures, and reupholster and/or refinish furniture.

I want a virtually indestructible floor in my studio. I have a great layout planned for the space but the floor has to be tough and easily cleaned, and it has to have a great color and texture. The upstairs bathroom will, like the guest bedroom, be very 1930s. I remember the great tiling effects I’ve seen for years in New York City bathrooms with hexagonal tile in simple black and white, combined with the proper base tiles and running bands. The guest bedroom may well be the only room in the house with conventional hard wood flooring.

We’ll also be making the trek down to IKEA in Stoughton just south of Boston to purchase our kitchen cabinetry and closet storage system late in the week. Whenever we go, we’ll bring coolers filled with freezer pacs because we’ll want to bring back a lot of their food—everything from the frozen Swedish meatballs to the big round packages of Norwegian flatbread and boxes of Swedish bread mix.

It’s now widely accepted that being gay has genetic roots; it now appears that political orientation may also be influenced by inborn biological brain activity patterns:

Even in humdrum nonpolitical decisions, liberals and conservatives literally think differently, researchers show.
By Denise Gellene, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 10, 2007

Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show
that political orientation is related to differences in how the
brain processes information.

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments
whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

"There are two cognitive styles --a liberal style and a conservative style," said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research.

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative." They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to
refrain from tapping when they saw a W. M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

Researchers got the same results when they repeated the experiment in reverse, asking another set of participants to tap when a W appeared.

Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results "provided an elegant demonstration that
individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are
strongly related to brain activity."

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.

Sulloway said the results could explain why President Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq war and why some people perceived Sen. John F. Kerry, the liberal Massachusetts Democrat who opposed Bush in the 2004 presidential race, as a "flip-flopper" for changing his mind
about the conflict.

Based on the results, he said, liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas.

"There is ample data from the history of science showing that social and political liberals indeed do tend to support major
revolutions in science," said Sulloway, who has written about the
history of science and has studied behavioral differences between
conservatives and liberals.

Lead author David Amodio, an assistant professor of
psychology at New York University, cautioned that the study looked at a narrow range of human behavior and that it would be a mistake to conclude that one political orientation was better. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information could be a good thing depending on the situation, he said.

Political orientation, he noted, occurs along a spectrum, and positions on specific issues, such as taxes, are influenced by many factors, including education and wealth. Some liberals oppose higher taxes and some conservatives favor abortion rights.

Still, he acknowledged that a meeting of the minds between conservatives and liberals looked difficult given the study results.
"Does this mean liberals and conservatives are never going to agree?" Amodio asked. "Maybe it suggests one reason why they tend not to get along."

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Today from 10am to 4pm there are tours of around forty houses in New Hampshire that are built with solar and/or other sustainable technologies as a major part of their operating systems. We’ll be here for the first hour and then our general contractor will host for the rest of the day while we go down to Boston with our Danish guests, eventually taking them to Logan for their flight home.

Last year 50 people signed up for the sustainability tour--we were told that this year the number has doubled. We spent time yesterday afternoon joining the clean-up effort for the visitors. The day had been extremely busy, with a crew of five working hard to complete as much of the great room roof as possible. They also installed the SolarTubes into the master bath and the hall between the sauna and the shower room, the skylight into the attic, sheathed in plywood any remaining exterior walls, made several cut-outs in walls for crawl-space access into first story roofs and for the antique grates that are placed high in the great room‘s back wall to bring a little extra hot air into the second floor guest bedroom and bathroom.

Here are end-of-day pictures. The blue tarp over the great room is to protect the trusses and ceiling planks in the event of rain this weekend.

Completed truss system over the great room. The front gable will be built on these beginning Monday.

Looking from the great room through the kitchen to the dining area near the back wall. The mechanical room is to the left. The little work table stands in for the Aga stove in the big opening that will eventually have a 38" high p
ass-through counter built across it with a Tudor-style arch above echoing the line of the roof over the great room. What's now an open space in the framing leading into the mechanical room will eventually be a shallow alcove with stereo/TV shelves.

Looking from the exercise room into the master bedroom and out through our windows to the view beyond.

The stairwell. The recess to the left will eventually be filled with shelving for books and art objects. There will be down-lighting on the shelves from the underside of that beam.

Looking into the roof structure over the bedroom/exercise/sauna wing.

Sunlight pouring down through the SolarTube into the hall outside the sauna door.

I’ve finally seen the family—a flock, actually—of wild turkeys that have been sighted all over the property. With the light fading last night I remembered that I’d left something up at the new house and went to get it. I went up the gravel road rather than through the woods, and as I got to the foot of the rise on which the house sits, I heard a loud rustling sound, although the breeze was dead calm in the trees.

I looked around and there they were to my right, a line of them, six or seven in the area I could see, moving up the hillside through the carpet of fallen leaves and right past the windows of our new bedroom.

I was pleased for two reasons: 1) I had never seen them although just about everyone else had, and 2) They were perfectly comfortable walking through the construction site. Now, our various crews have been careful of the land up there, taking down no more trees than absolutely necessary and allowing us to keep a clump of white birch and another of shagbark hickory even though they were well within the zone they had asked to be cleared. Still, there’s a pretty big disruption of the land up there. But if the turkeys aren’t spooked by the work, then I figure minimal damage has been done and the wildlife should be back in force once everything’s finished.


For the rest of this entry, I’ve picked some items that I hope will be of interest, from a variety of sources:

1) This was sent by a good friend who is one of the kisser/kissees:

A group of very diverse men--ranging in age from high school to senior citizen--is presenting "When He Kissed Me" a performance of our experiences in kissing and being kissed by a man.

The performance features 12 stories, staged at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion. Tickets are free, but we're suggesting a donation of $10-20 to benefit gay youth. Here are the details:

October 11, 2007-in honor of National Coming Out Day 8-9:15 PM
Calderwood Pavilion/Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont St, Boston

Tickets available at the door only. Please arrive by about 7:30, as seating is limited.

Please spread the word---these stories are funny, inspiring, real and moving!

2) From The Rest is Noise, the blog of New Yorker music critic Alex Ross who is as knowledgeable about Radiohead as Rachmaninov:

From the letters column in the current issue of Science: "...Watanabe and Sato [Behav. Processes 47, 1 (1999)] have shown that Java sparrows can discriminate between Bach’s French Suite no. 5 in G minor and Arnold Schoenberg’s Suite for Piano opus 25. The birds were also able to generalize new music by Bach (Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major) and Schoenberg (Five Orchestra Pieces, Opus 16) and artists in similar categories, i.e., Vivaldi and Elliott Carter.

In these experiments, music by Bach and Vivaldi was considered classical music, while the music of Schoenberg and Carter was considered modern music. Watanabe and Nemoto [Behav. Processes 43, 2 (1998)] have also shown that, given the option of three perches producing either silence, classical, or modern music, the Java sparrows preferred Bach to Schoenberg and Vivaldi to Carter. These results indicate that Java sparrows or songbirds prefer classical to modern music, or perhaps just more harmonious to dissonant sounds. Additionally, the sparrows chose music they 'liked' (e.g., Bach) over silence or music they 'disliked' (e.g., Schoenberg)."

Aloex’s comment: A flawed experiment — I have a feeling the sparrows might have preferred Messiaen to all of the above. [My note: Messiaen based large amounts of his music on bird songs]

3) With thanks to Ethan reynolds of Brat Boy School:

Religious, Civil Rights and Child Advocacy Groups Back Same-Sex Marriage in California
Written By Chrys Hudson for GayWired

Scores of religious, civil rights and child advocacy organizations—along with numerous municipal governments, bar associations and leading legal scholars—urged the California Supreme Court to put an end to state laws that deny same-sex couples the protections of marriage by submitting 30 amicus briefs earlier this week.

"We are not treating all Californians equally if some can marry and others cannot," said Alice Huffman, president of the California Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "The law should protect all people equally, and all Californians should have the choice to marry," she added. "I am honored to join other civil rights leaders in calling on our state to end its ban on marriage for lesbian and gay couples."

The California NAACP joined more than 90 other civil rights organizations in filing briefs with the court. The organization's brief asks the Supreme Court to apply the Court's 1948 decision striking down laws banning interracial marriage to this current case. Longtime civil rights advocate Jon B. Eisenberg authored the NAACP's brief. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund also filed an amicus brief supporting same-sex couples, as did the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, in a brief comparing the arguments used in the past to defend laws barring interracial marriage with current arguments used to oppose marriage by same-sex couples.

In another brief, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Black Justice Coalition and numerous other civil rights organizations argued that California courts should subject laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation to the strictest level of constitutional review. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Equal Justice Society also submitted briefs urging the Court to strike down discriminatory marriage laws.

More than 60 Asian Pacific Islander groups, including the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, joined an additional brief describing the long history of discrimination against API communities with regard to marriage in California.

Briefs supporting the freedom to marry for same-sex couples were also filed by the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Long Beach and Oakland, as well as 14 other cities and counties.

The City of San Francisco, represented by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, is a party in the case. "I am proud to stand with an unprecedented array of community, religious and legal organizations to urge the court to strike down marriage laws that unconstitutionally discriminate against gay and lesbian partners," Herrera said in a release. "The marriage exclusion has denied too much, to too many California families, for far too long. This broad consensus proves that the time has come for this discrimination to end."

Numerous bar associations also submitted briefs urging the court to rule in favor of lesbian and gay couples, including the state's largest bar association, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and the Bar Association of San Francisco, the Santa Clara County Bar Association, the Beverly Hills Bar Association, the California Women Lawyers and others.

The American Psychological Association, the California Psychologic al Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the NASW California Chapter submitted a brief on the three decades of social science research that has consistently found that same-sex couples are just as capable of being good parents as different-sex couples and that their children are just as well adjusted.

That was just
about the first third of a lengthy article documenting the unprescedented outpouring of support for Same-Sex Marriage in California. What is not discussed is the tremendous organizational campaign that advocacy groups must have launched and sustained in California to deliver such impressive and comprehensive legal support. My compliments to anyone involved in this campaign.

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