Sunday, February 25, 2007

 
Howler of the week if not the year: in his kick-off television ad for his almost two year long presidential campaign, Mitt Romney is actually having himself described as "the Republican governor who turned around a Democratic state." This ad is playing frequently right here in Massachusetts, from whose governorship Romney actually suffered the political equivalent of being ridden out of town on a rail.

Voters, the legislature and the Judiciary in this state put into law and into practice everything Romney loathed, same-sex marriage at the forefront. He was such political poison that he was required to stay completely away from his Lieutenant Governor's run for governor in the last election until the very end, and then watched her go down to a humiliating defeat. The state became more Democratic and less conservative-friendly than ever when every candidate Romney DID get to endorse went down to defeat. So what's with these people? They apparently think we have no memory, no ability to think for oursel . . . oh, right, America elected Bozo to a second term.

There was a delightful item on CBS news today. As Romney moves around the country campaigning, the media did some research, uncovering the fact that Mr. "Marriage-is-one-man-and-one-woman" had a great-great grandfather with twelve wives and a great-grandfather with five. While he was governor here in Massachusetts, the press generally gave Romney a pass on polygamy in the family. Why is it so important that this issue become better known?

Romney has made the cornerstone of his anti-gay campaign "the 3000 year (sometimes it's the 4000 year, he's not quite sure of which) recorded history of marriage" as being between one man and one woman. During that lengthy history, polygamy flourished in many cultures (Biblical King Solomon maintained a large harem) and there was an approximately 600 year history of Christianity performing union ceremonies for same-sex couples (see John Boswell: Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe). Romney is ignorant of, or actively suppresses these documented facts. He needs to be called on his hypocrisy, and his family's advocacy for polygamy into the 20th century needs to be pointed out to the Baptist majority in the hierarchy of the Republican Party. They're already very suspicious of Mormons (considering Mormonism a cult, not a Christian religion) and, while I object to religion ever being a part of politics or government, ANYTHING that can be done to stop Romney's presidential ambitions must be done in my opinion.


Here's the history: Great-grandfather Miles Park Romney married wife #5 in 1897, a little over six years AFTER the Mormon Church itself banned polygamy and more than thirty years AFTER the United States government banned it by law and told Utah that it would not be admitted to the Union if polygamy was allowed to continue. Great-great grandfather Parley Pratt was the one with the harem of twelve; his preacher brother Orson declared polygamy to be a direct revelation from God. It has been pointed out that the Romney family as a whole retained the practice of polygamy longer and made it more important within the family than a great many other Mormons. The tradition of polygamy among Romneys was only broken by Mitt's grandfather.

A number of splinter sects of the Church of Latter Day Saints still engage in polygamy and there have been scuffles with the law over that fact, but the practice goes on.

It was also announced that the family of the late Senator Strom Thermond has released records and documents showing that the Senator's ancestors once owned the family of Rev. Al Sharpton. Think about that one for a minute--it's a real mind-boggler

We had a low-key but accomplishful weekend. Saturday morning we took in a home show at Rockingham Park race track in Salem, New Hampshire. We stayed about an hour, managing to get a lot of info and business cards for things we'll need for the new house, especially sheds and gazebos (one of each I want as outbuildings to the main house); solar powered exterior lighting; kitchen cabinets; and Solatube skylights, small clear bubbles placed on your roof with highly reflective pipe ducts that flood interior spaces with natural sun- or moonlight. I have no doubt we'll be doing business with this company since Fritz developed an instant case of the hots for the cute young president/CEO, spending the rest of the weekend suggesting yet more and more places in the house that desperately need natural light brought in through these devices.

Saturday night we caught up with the movie "Cold Mountain" via DVD. Fritz doesn't like violence in his movies and there certainly was a lot of it in "Cold Mountain." I focused more, I think, on the visual beauty of a lot of it, and the coming together of two women to form and maintain a new family structure during the fratricidal chaos of the American Civil War.

Signs of spring: I was leaving Fritz's this afternoon our attention was caught by a lot of movement on the ground at the feet of the huge old maple trees that surround the Center and its parking lot on the north and east. Not one or two, but a large flock of robins was checking out the grub and worm life among the damp autumn leaves on the floor of the woods. A woodpecker was working one of the dead branches. Fritz commented that as it was a very warm afternoon and the nights are below freezing, meaning that it's time to tap the trees for maple sap. We agreed to get the boiler out of the barn next weekend and begin to make syrup.


This came from a friend of ours. It's a billboard in New Zealand, and is offered without further comment.

Friday, February 23, 2007

 
My trip to New York netted me the hearing of a rarely performed but exciting opera and the chance to hear a highly promising young Italian tenor break through into stardom.

"L'Arlesiana" turned out to be a vibrant slice-of-life drama by a composer much more known for decorative period romances. For those of you who know the plot to Bizet's "Carmen," Francesco Cilea's work is the reverse image, as if Don Jose had never left home, his domineering mother and lyric sweetheart by his side, but obsessed to the point of death by a seductive and manipulative woman he's become involved with in the city of Arles, whose memory courses through his veins like some kind of toxic aphrodisiac. This opera might be considered a second or even third rank Italian melodrama, but it packs a wallop with a good cast, and it has become famous for one aria in particular, "Frederic's Lament," first heard in 1907 when Enrico Caruso sang it at the premiere performance.

Giuseppe Filianoti dying as a suicide stripped to the waist in Massenet's "Werther"


Wednesday night that aria was sung by the young, good looking Giuseppe Filianoti with an astonishingly sure combination of desperate tension, gorgeous vocal tone and a daredevil willingness to take risks for the sake of dramatic truth. His reward was a yelling, foot-stamping ovation from audience, orchestra and chorus that went on for a couple of minutes with calls of Encore! which, after a quick consultation with conductor Eve Queler, he sang to yet another ovation. Signor Filianoti received good notices for his Metropolitan Opera debut earlier this season, but getting this kind of reception on the stage of Carnegie Hall in New York unquestionably turns highly placed heads in the New York music scene and signals the arrival of a star performer.

The other big performance of the night was that of Marianne Cornetti, an industrial strength dramatic mezzo-soprano in the role of the mother, a real piece of work who reacts to one of her son's anguished bouts of depression with "Why don't you just tear my heart out right here?" It's always about Mamma, apparently. Oh, and the first words of her big aria in the last act translate as "Being a mother is perfect hell!" Somehow, one is not surprised when Frederic mounts the ladders to the highest gable of the family's barn and leaps to his death on the cobblestones below.

On a lighter note, I was up in New Hampshire early this morning for a meeting with Fritz, M (who's doing all the structural drawings for the house), and P, a prospective general contractor recommended by a close friend, an architect here in Cambridge whose designs P has been building for some years. It went very well. We walked up to view the house site (P had brought a sub-contractor who would be doing the excavation work) and then sat for about forty-five minutes with the plans down at the Center. P revealed some encouraging experience with high energy-efficient houses and the fact that his company has its own framing crew for whom my house would not present an impossible challenge. He also expressed real enthusiasm for doing the project.

P thinks the house will take from four to five months to complete and May 1 was placed on the table as a distinctly possible start date. Even if there are delays along the way, that would probably place us in the house by the end of October, very much within our hoped-for schedule. No offer was made today, nor did P venture any estimates of the cost of the building. All that will come later. Our next meeting with him will come March 9 when we visit a house he built up north of Concord, New Hampshire's capital. In the meanwhile, the consulting structural engineer will have finished his review of the construction drawings, and will have returned them to M. We can then immediately submit them to the town's Planning Board as part of our application for a building permit. We'll be interviewing a couple of other prospects for general contractor as insurance, but if we engage P, which looks like a reasonable assumption given how he interviewed today, all obstacles to breaking ground will have been eliminated.

Rhode Island is moving toward recognition of other states' same sex marriages and civil unions. This is a significant development. There is nothing in any of Rhode Island’s laws or in its Constitution to ban such recognition. The formation of a network of sympathetic states through which married or civilly united gay/lesbian couples can pass while keeping their rights will be a big step in solidifying the slender, painfully slow gains we're making. It's all in the Northeast so far--and virtually all in New England except for New Jersey--but I think it's going to gather momentum and become a force to reckon with.

Similarly, a Superior Court Judge today dismissed a suit brought by two sets of parents in the west suburban town of Lexington, declaring it perfectly legal to have discussions and assign readings concerning same-sex couples in the classroom. The Judge went on to affirm the principle that parents may not dictate the curriculum in public schools. The parents, who protested the reading of the book "King and King" about a male couple in their children's classroom, plan to appeal. But this IS Massachusetts after all, and I seriously doubt their chances.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

 
This frankly sex-positive horoscope comes from Spider (A Spider’s Web in Thornton Park http://richmondspider.wordpress.com/ See the February 15th entry if you want to check out your own) via Lewis's The Spirit of St. Lewis. One or two things I mustn't comment on out of whatever shreds of modesty I have left, but I know for certain that this is, overall, the most accurate horoscope characterization of me I've ever seen.

CANCER:. The Cutie
MOST AMAZING KISSER. Very high sex appeal. Great in bed!!! Love is one of a kind. Very romantic. Most caring person you will ever meet! Entirely creative. Extremely random and proud of it. Freak in bed.
Spontaneous. Great telling stories. Not a Fighter, But will Knock your lights out if it comes down to it. Someone you should hold on to.

I like the stylized Cancer symbol on the left--so reminiscent of 69 and appropriate in a gay man's horoscope.

I'm off to New York City--yes, again--with friends from New London, CT for a concert performance of Francesco Cilea's lovely romantic opera "L'Arlesiana" inspired by the same Alphonse Daudet play that brought Bizet's famed incidental music into being. One interesting aspect of the play and opera is that the title character of this story, "The Girl from Arles" never appears on stage. But her off-stage influence looms large over the lives of everyone involved. I'll be back in time to teach my late morning class on Thursday.

My younger daughter sent this to me the other day. Many of you will probably have seen it elsewhere, but it's cute and fun and those of us who live with cats know only too well how accurate the characterizations are.

Pet Diary Excerpts

The Dog


8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Dinner! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!


The Cat

Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre
little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the
other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them,I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates my capabilities. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies." I must learn what this means, and how to use it to my advantage.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released, and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded. The bird must be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now...


Monday, February 19, 2007

 
The trip down to New York was smooth and free of either traffic or problems, in brilliant winter weather. Whenever possible, I enter the city through the Riverdale section of the Bronx and drive down the Henry Hudson Parkway and West Side Highway along the river which sparkled Saturday in the low-angled sunlight. I was born in Manhattan and there's always a thrill going back.

The matinee was Janacek's "Jenufa," which some people refer to as a Czech opera although its composer and the play that inspired it were deeply Moravian culturally. I mentioned a bit about the plot last time. Janacek took many of his story lines from newspaper items about crime, or in one case from a comic strip about a group of barnyard and woodland animals.

Gabriela Preissova, the writer on whose play the opera is based, did very much the same thing, combining two unrelated police reports into a seamless plot: one about a young man who slashed a woman's cheek with a knife because she loved his brother instead of him; the other about a mother and daughter who disposed of the daughter's illegitimate baby in a sewer. But Preissova and Janacek were part of a pan-Slavic culture that virtually always looks for forgiveness and redemption to grow out of depravity or criminality. Jenufa ends in a blaze of major key reconciliation and hope for the future, specifically a short but emotionally powerful duet in which Jenufa, and the young man who had slashed her cheek out of frustrated love, join hands and vow to remain with each other to the end.

The duet destroys me every time. And from the sounds of sobbing around me, I'm not the only one. People think that "Madama Butterfly" packs an emotional punch, but the tragic geisha has nothing on Jenufa. There was pandemonium in the opera house at the final curtain, not least when the charismatic soprano Karita Mattila threw her arms around the other two leads--all three of them Finnish in this performance--as the applause built into an ovation.

The evening's opera "Yevgeni Onegin" is based on a novel by Alexander Pushkin, the bedrock writer of Russian literature. Tchaikovsky turned a satire on over-romantic affectation into a super-romantic opera about mis-timed love and loss. Tchaikovsky was gay in a society that did not tolerate homosexual behavior. The idea of marrying to provide some cover began to seem appealing. What followed next was either a massive coincidence, or the working of fate.

A young woman pursuing music studies sent the composer a letter innocently but highly emotionally declaring her love. At this very moment in time, Tchaikovsky was considering Pushkin's "Onegin" in which a young, romantic girl on a country estate sends a sophisticated and bored man exactly such a letter. For some while, the development of the opera and the composer's life seemed to parallel and even intertwine.
While the hero and heroine of the opera never marry and even reject each other at various times in the plot, Tchaikovsky went ahead with the marriage, fully believing that young Antonina understood his offer of a marriage in which there would be only "brotherly love."

The result was a personal disaster for Tchaikovsky. The marriage collapsed within weeks and he fled the country for a while. The opera ends with the desolate hero crying out in anguish and fleeing the home of the once-naïve young woman who had written him the letter offering him her love. Life imitating art, imitating life, imitating art, etc., etc.

Dimitri Hvorostovsky grows handsomer and hotter as the years go by and was mesmerizing as the alienated Onegin. Renee Fleming demonstrated just exactly why she's a huge star. The evening was alive with erotic tension.

Sunday was given over to Fritz and our friends. We lumberjacked in the afternoon, clearing the way to the site where the well will be drilled, and hosted a Sweat and dinner in the evening. I got quite a workout, carrying four and five foot long sections of hardwood tree trunk and heaving them onto a growing pile of logs to be seasoned for firewood. The Sweat was very quiet, almost silent this month, low on distraction and focused primarily on the joy of being with each other.

During the dinner that followed, I mentioned something that has occurred to me for a while, but I'd not really put into words before. What we do: a ritual of men gathering in an intimate, hidden space to explore their spirituality, followed by a communal meal, very closely resembles what we know of the spirit of the earliest Christian gatherings before dogma, guilt, "infallible" decrees, and an entrenched priesthood hijacked the movement into something obsessed with self-aggrandizement and self-preservation. They got it wrong, but I think we've gotten it back to rights again in the woods of southern New Hampshire.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

 
A comment I made in jest, a witty quip to begin a blog entry, turned around and bit me on the ass on Thursday. You who hang on my every word will remember that I said men in southern New Hampshire were pursuing me for my raw sewage. Well, on Thursday I was being pursued all right, not by the men, but by the raw sewage!

Let me explain. I was teaching my scenic design class from 11am until 12:30pm (brilliantly as always, of course) and when it was over and I started upstairs to my office, our technical director told me he'd just gotten a call from the boys in the MIT Press Store. The main drain out of the building across the parking lot had clogged and raw sewage was cascading down on the furniture and set pieces in one of our storage rooms. As he was rushing off across campus to teach a class in the theater himself, I'd have to handle the situation.

This, as I've often observed, is why I make the small-to-medium-sized bucks. I won't bore you all with the details other than to say that the situation was very bad, the smell infinitely worse, and that I was very grateful indeed that all this wasn’t happening in the room in which the upholstered furniture was stored.

I'd been advised to call some functionary well down the chain of command in the Facilities Department to get this problem attended to, but I've learned in life that if you think something's really serious, you go right to the top. And this WAS serious. I couldn't have either our students or our rental clients down in that basement in the condition it was in without everything being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. We need the stock for our productions and for the rental income to professional and academic theaters all over the region which is vital to our operation. I called the Environment, Health and Safety Office, introduced myself and spoke the magic phrase--raw sewage. They swung right into action.

Within half an hour, I was meeting with the EHS Office's representative and the head of Custodial Services outside our room where the dripping had finally been reduced to almost nothing. Furniture was standing in infected water, which was standing in puddles on tables and desk tops, splashed onto the sides of antique cabinets and a genuine Boston antique fireplace mantle from the 1860s. But there was a plan--at 9:00 Friday morning an industrial cleaning company that knows how to deal with antiques was coming in to clean and disinfect all of our items in the room, and the floors throughout the basement where water had spread.

Yesterday morning an estate agent and his crew came to remove a whole lot of furniture from the house and give me a bit of money in return. It was a good bargain--I wasn't emotionally connected to any of the stuff (all the good pieces are slated for various rooms in the new house) and doing it this way saves me from trying to run a yard sale and maybe being left with a bunch of stuff that didn't sell. Also somebody else (including a very comely young man named Joey) did the hauling instead of me.

Thursday night I got home to find that the sleet and snow on my front walk had melted a bit during the day and then refrozen into a sheet of glare ice. I went out to my local hardware where they told me they were completely sold out of anything to put on sidewalks. Then they said they could save me the trouble of looking all around the neighborhood. As customers came in desperately looking for salt, sand or the new chemical stuff, they asked where they had been that was already sold out. They had a list that even includes the big guys--Home Depot, etc. Everybody was completely sold out. I had the guys coming at eight in the morning and had to put something down to make it safe. My only choice was kitty litter which I scattered liberally.

I knew what would happen--they'd get it on damp shoes and I'd be left with a clay-colored residue everywhere. And so it was--and these guys were careful and neat. But as soon as they were gone I did a serious vacuuming of all the rugs (I'll still probably have to shampoo them) and wet mopping of the bare floor areas. But now that stuff’s out of the house and I can "stage" the p ace for putting it on the market, which will probably happen on or about March 1.

I'm off to New York with my oldest friend in the world for a double header at the Metropolitan Opera today. First comes Leos Janacek’s "Jenufa,"a heart breaking story of a young girl whose step-mother will go to any lengths to protect her, even to shoving her new-born illegitimate baby under the ice on the local mill pond to save her from social ostracism in their little 1920s Moravian village. The legendary Finnish soprano Anja Silja, now in her mid 60s and still burning up the stage in dramatic character parts plays the step-mother with another Finnish Soprano, the luminous Karita Mattila as Jenufa, who finds the strength to forgive and move on in the opera' redemptive finale.

Tonight is Tchaikovsky' telling of the very Russian tale of the "Superfluous man" and the havoc he causes in the sweet provincial family to which he's introduced. The hot and handsome Dmitri Hvorostovsky and wildly popular soprano Renee Fleming star.

Both photos are shamelessly stolen from Sogalitno, the Southern Gal In The North—with many thanks, of course.

And here's another, with thanks to Gaytwogether. Those of you who love old movies will understand why my title for this is "Burt and Deborah."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

 
I needed to bake bread last night and adapted a recipe so I could use half unbleached white flour and half millet flour. I also always add a quarter cup of flax seeds for heart health, as well as chopped nuts (pecans in this case), seeds (sunflower) and, about half the time, a little chopped dried fruit (dates or Turkish apricots). I never take a recipe at face value. I adapt, substitute or otherwise personalize the ingredients until I get it where I want it.

As soon as a new loaf comes out of the machine I always slice off one of the heels, spread a little margarine on it and give it a taste. Just as there's something special about the smell of bread baking, the taste of newly baked bread is special and ephemeral--actually special BECAUSE it's ephemeral. The millet flour gave the bread a mealy texture and rich, earthy taste.

Just after New Year's, Fritz and I visited friends in Maine for a couple of days. As we were getting a tour of the town of Bridgton, they stopped at a specialty grocery store where I discovered they had many unconventional flours. I bought four: almond, quinoa, garbanzo bean, and millet. I've already baked with the almond flour and got a delightful, slightly sweet loaf. But if I hadn't known, I wouldn't have exclaimed "almond!" when I tasted it. I'll be trying the other two soon.

Boston is sheathed in ice. The storm began yesterday morning with a little snow that turned into sleet, clogging most of the storm drains. Temperatures rose in the afternoon just enough to bring ice cold rain that flooded streets, sidewalks and open spaces. I drove home through ponds, with reports on the news that temperatures were dropping rapidly and all the water would soon freeze.

When I got home, shoveling my sidewalks (I live on a corner so I get to shovel double what everybody else does) was a lost cause--theyu were frozen almost solid. J from next door was trying to hack his way through the stuff but it was hopeless. Since the surface was highly textured, it wasn't as treacherous to walk on as I'd thought. Since it's a brilliant, cloudless morning, the sun should help as soon as it gathers a little strength.

Yaniboy from Adelaide in Oz had this meme on Yaniblog, and I picked it up because I wasn't seeing it everywhere else. It's simple and fun, particularly when you find yourself going back to certain comments to get them stronger, even closer to what you really feel.

List ten things you want to say to 10 people you know, but never will for whatever reason. Don't say who they are. Use each person only once and only use one sentence.
1. You are so incredibly ANNOYING!
2. It wasn't so much what you did, although it was devastating at the time, but the gratuitous cruelty and enjoyment with which you did it.
3. If you hadn't been a student, I would have been all over you in a heartbeat.
4. I can’t tell you how your chest hair turns me on!
5. I never meant to hurt you of all people, but I was falling completely in love with Fritz and didn't know you were falling in love with me at the same time.
6. I worked for twenty five years on this project and when it came under your jurisdiction, you screwed it up royally, so I'll never see it happen.
7. Would you PLEASE stop talking about it and just DO something!
8. Stop hovering; I'm a big boy who can take care of himself and just not that fragile.
9. What I did really wasn't as difficult as people think but I'm delighted to take all the credit you're giving me.
10. I DID tell you that underneath it all I'm a total sleaze.

Just to avoid any misunderstanding, none of the above is addressed to my beloved. Anyone who wants to, have fun with this!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

 
Last week the Boston Symphony began a three day run of performances of "The Damnation of Faust," a big vocal/choral piece by Hector Berlioz after the play by Goethe. Of making Fausts in music there once seemed to be no end--Gounod, Berlioz, Schumann, Liszt and Boito (among others) wrote major works based on the gigantic, two part play in the 19th century. Wagner dreamed of writing one but eventually just put out an overture.

There were many fewer Fausts in the 20th century as belief in god and adherence to organized religion began to fade (Stravinsky appropriated some of the Faust story for his opera "The Rake's Progress" and Busoni wrote a big bear of an opera called "Doktor Faust"). There probably are people (perhaps from those churches in the mid-west where they equate Harry Potter with devil worship) who believe in making pacts with a devil in a red suit, but modern composers aren't among them.

I was in the audience last Thursday night for what turned out to be a very exciting performance. The chorus under John Oliver was stupendous--simply unbelievable in their magnificently solid, beautiful tone. The orchestra played with enormous virtuosity even with conductor James Levine taking extremely fast tempos--rare for a man usually criticized for being too slow. The solo singers were excellent with one exception, the stand-out being the great veteran baritone Jose van Dam, now 67, his voice still rock solid and very suave. Mephistopheles is a famous role for him, and during the intermission two guys I know said that he could seduce them into Hell any time he liked.

Tenor Paul Groves sailed through Berlioz’s high–lying tenor music easily with sweet tone. Mezzo-soprano Yvonne Naef was effective but not on the level of the other soloists. Her choice of gown was bizarre to say the least—pea soup-colored chiffon with a kind of breast plate in lime green sequins strapped around the waist and over her shoulders around her neck like a halter top. Besides being intensely unattractive in itself, the gown didn’t begin to suggest the kind of character she was portraying in the story.

One of my favorite breakfasts: fill a small bowl with the desired amount of plain, non-fat yogurt. Sprinkle sugar to taste--I use far less than the over-sweetened commercial yogurts. Add a splash of pure almond extract--more or less according to your love for almond flavor. Mix together and enjoy.

Middlebury College in Vermont has banned the use of Wikipedia as a research tool by its students. I completely support this move. From the time I first became aware of it, Wikipedia has scared the hell out of me. The fact that members of the public--armed, perhaps, only with opinions--can go onto Wikipedia and rewrite someone else's article, which may itself be full of errors, means that the research pool is beginning to fill up with unsubstantiated gossip or worse. Since the newspapers, most magazines and many of the major publishing houses have laid off their fact-checking staffs, I worry that a lot of totally undocumented information is going to be accepted as fact and get published, leading to an ever-expanding landscape of misinformation.

Another Vermont story--the legislature has begun the process of adding same-sex marriage to the state's existing civil unions.

My day ended with drinks and dinner with fellow gay blogger Atari at the cosy Dogwood Cafe in Jamaica Plain by Forest Hills Station. You know you're having a really good time with a friend when you sit down at the bar together at 6:30 and in virtually no time at all it's 10:15 and you still don't really want to leave.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

 
I'm being pursued by men all over southern New Hampshire. I allowed myself to be immensely flattered until I discovered that they don't want me for either my body or my sparkling wit. They desire me for--how to put this discretely?--my raw sewage.

I received an envelope from the town of Raymond's Building Inspector the other day confirming approval of the septic system for the new house. For those of you who've never set foot outside of a city, a septic system does for a single building what big water treatment plants do for a whole town. If you're outside of the urban area, beyond where the sewer lines end, you have to have one.


Water that's drained or flushed anywhere in the house passes through a tank buried in the ground where--we'll just call them solids--are separated out and settle to be broken up by enzyme action. The water is then routed through a network of perforated pipes buried in an area called the leaching field where there's either very good natural drainage or a lot of sand and gravel have been imported. Water passes out of the pipes into the ground where it percolates through the earth or evaporates into the air, becoming filtered and purified; it returns to the general water supply in the earth actually cleaner than the water treatment plants get it.

Apparently the approved septic design was posted publicly on the town's site, so now that the--um, solids--have hit the fan (so to speak), contractors know who I am, where I am, and how to contact me. I’m getting daily mail and phone calls from well-drillers, excavators, and septic specialists, all clamoring for my attention.

But I can't hire a single one, because I don't have a general contractor yet. I have declined the idea of being my own general contractor for several reasons, the most obvious of which are:
1) that I haven't any established house building skills beyond some of the rough framing carpentry required to assemble a straight, weight-bearing wall;
2) am a resident of Massachusetts some seventy miles away from the building site with a full-time job and a house to sell; and
3) I don't have in my pocket a list of sub-contractors with whom I've worked for years to whom I call and say things like, "the framing will be finished tomorrow. I need you come the day after tomorrow and start the electrical wiring" so that the work proceeds in a swift and orderly manner.
The general contractor has first call on who does what, although they will probably entertain some discussion with the homeowner. I was advised that I cannot begin any phase of actual construction except the road up to the site, until a GC can be found, most importantly one who's not scared away by a project that isn't "a square stick-built house."

Southern New Hampshire has immense standing stock of traditional 18th century housing, most of which is being kept up very well indeed (Fritz’s house dates to 1792), but it's now filling up with vast tracts of frankly cheap-looking, not very attractive cookie-cutter condo colonies. Each and every unit looks like each and every other unit, all are in the exact same bland beige color, and their most prominent architectural feature is usually the barricade of two-car garage doors facing the road that makes the grouping look like some sort of self-storage warehouse.

THAT is what the general contractors gravitate to: simple, not to say simple–minded, repetitious work that a crew can do once and then repeat into infinity. A custom design like mine, not that it requires anything truly exotic in construction technique, scares them off. OK, there IS one aspect of the house that's a bit difficult--the trusses that support the 24' span of the great room will have to be built on site and dropped into position by a crane. But for the rest of it, it's put up the forms, pour the concrete, frame in the walls, put on the roof, etc, etc. The general contractor is going to be the cliff-hanger of this story.

Gaytwogether, a site that features stories and images of men in pairs, lately has been featuring vintage photographs of men in obviously affectionate poses from early in the history of photography. There's a whole book out there somewhere, the title of which is gone from my head, devoted to these images. The great value, in my opinion, is the demonstration that it's always been this way, that men and women have always paired off and made lives and families together. Many of the pictures are affected negatively (no pun intended) by the conditions of early photography--the stiff poses, often assisted by the post and neck clamp device that helped the subject remain totally still for the duration of the relatively long exposure required by early cameras and film. But this one appealed to me as being among the most relaxed and natural--and these boys look like a pretty hot item to me, too. As Fritz so often says in such circumstances, "I'd buy THAT video."

And finally, a good friend of ours sent us a youTube video from the Netherlands where not only does sanity reign in regards to gay rights, the gay family is celebrated openly. I haven't been able to import the youTube screen to Blogger but please cut and paste this URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_qfOpuHJ-KM

In the search window at the bottom of the page, type in two fathers and you'll get the video at the very top of the next page that comes up.

Friday, February 09, 2007

 
We opened last night to a little over half a house--actually very good for a Thursday opening at MIT. Audiences will grow steadily from now on as we're essentially a word-of-mouth campus as far as theater events go. I expect we'll be sold out for the last three performances next week and for tomorrow (Saturday) night as well. Tonight we should do really good business.


At seven this evening the director and I are going to do a half hour or so informal pre-show chat on the visual world of this production, my design process, etc in the theater. Depending on how many we get, we're anxious to have them walk up onto the stage and through the variuous component spaces that make up the stage environment.

I'm posting three pictures taken during the final dress rehearsal on Wednesday. Some more will come next week, particularly some full stage shots. The set is much more in the line of a museum installation than a conventional stage set.

The above shot comes from the end of scene one when the giant robotic cockroach that takes pictures to be projected simultaneously on screens scattered around the stage makes his first appearance. I designed him on the body of a radio-operated miniature army tank. Did I mention that I had a great deal of fun with this production?


This shot is one of the live action with
simultaneous projection moments in the play

An estate furniture guy came to the house this morning to look at all the furniture I’m getting rid of in preparation for the move up to the new house. None oif it is anything I’m deeply emotionally committed to. Fritz and I had inventoried all of the furniture and art in both our residences, and decided what would go, what we were keeping, and into which room of the new house all the good pieces would go. The guy who came this morning said he’d take everything and if I get a couple of hundred dollars for it, fine. The big thing is that he’ll remove it from the house and I won’t have to try to dispose of any of it through yard sales of charitable donation myself.

Before he left, he said there’s even a possibility he can get a crew to pick it up today(!) which would be fantastic. But if not today, next Friday. This whole transition in my life
is becoming more and more real by the day.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

 
Last weekend was given over to technical rehearsals, the seemingly interminable process in which set, costumes, lights, sound, props, and in our case the video component (two big video projectors and eleven televisions scattered around the set) are brought together and coordinated for the first time. The production, that's been bouncing along, gathering strength and smoothness is suddenly fragmented. An individual set shift or fast costume change is run over and over again until it is perfectly timed with the accompanying light or sound cue. Absolutely essential to the final, flawless running of the performances, the tech rehearsals can be thunderingly dull and frustrating. It's best to bring a book, a writing project or some knitting.

I was off Saturday morning and early afternoon which were given over to the director, sound and lighting designers setting levels and achieving preliminary looks for each cue. I worked on cleaning out a side sun porch where all my daughters' college stuff had been stored, books and dorm stuff, most of which (predictably?) they no longer want. Because this glassed-in porch was so full, I hadn’t used it for a long while and made the grim discovery that the porch roof had begun to leak and cause water damage. I'll have to have a new roof put on it in the interest of selling the house.

The day improved hugely when I met Steve of the blog Chaos for brunch. He wanted to discuss some issues in relation to parenting, a role he has recently assumed unexpectedly and under interesting circumstances that can be checked out on the blog. Steve turns out to be a great guy--sharp, funny, wonderful company--whose pictures don't begin to hint at how good looking he is. An hour at the Trident Bookstore Café on Newbury Street flew by, then I walked back across the river in gorgeous weather to Cambridge to begin the next phase of the tech rehearsal.

This part went from 3 until 10:40pm with an hour out for dinner. I worked through the break, taking care of several painting notes and bringing in coffee and a sandwich to eat once the ongoing rehearsal resumed at 6:30. I took my last notes of the day at the short production meeting while the actors were getting out of costume. This play feeds voraciously on props, a new list of which I had to look forward to gathering. We also suffered the malfunction of the red and blue guns on the bigger of the video projectors so that the images spread over the whole stage from time to time all came out a livid lime green. Then I was out the loading dock of the theater and on the road north just after 11pm, slipping into bed with him at midnight (route 93 was running fast Saturday night--85mph right up to exit 4 in New Hampshire). I had to be back at MIT the next morning to set up for the tech to resume at 1pm, so we had very little time together but that was preferable to not seeing him for what would have amounted to two weeks.

Yesterday began the most insane week of all. The first dress rehearsal, the beginning of the spring term with students registering for classes—I teach two during this, my last term at the Institute. These are days when I'm in at 7am and hope to be out by 11:30pm. I drive home, undress and get into bed, get up in the morning, dress and go to work. My cat HATES these days and I'm not so thrilled either, but that's what's necessary to get a production on stage.

I notice that Bozo has developed an expanded identity. Several times now I've heard him describe himself as The Decider. No matter what Congress or the Military or the Judiciary or the American People might want or feel to be the best course of action, it is Bozo who will Decide.

What are the implications of this change on the future of the Presidency? Will our candidates run for the Decidership of the United States of America? their wives becoming the First Decideresses? their seconds in command becoming Vice-Decider?

What about the peripheral titles? Decider-in-Chief of the Armed Forces? Will the press refer to him as the Decider of the Free World? Bozo has certainly shown a great willingness to make everybody in the world's decisions for them. And the Presidential March will have to be rewritten--"Hail to the Decider" just doesn't scan.

I'm reminded of a time a little over 2000 years ago when the Romans, famed for their representative republican form of government, woke up one morning to find that a man named Octavius had decreed himself Emperor Caesar Augustus. The Senate and the people's Tribunes would no longer drive Rome's government; the Emperor who had formed a major partnership with the military would henceforth make all Decisions. On matters of life and death, HE would Decide. Canceling out many of the citizenry's civil rights, he turned the Senate into a rubber stamp.

I mention this because now we have a Decider, too. Fortunately, we took control of the House and the Senate in the very nick of time.



George W Bush: struggling to Decide, and having Decided.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

 
I've been spending my mornings from 7:30 to 10am painting the stage floor for our current production, "Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom" by Suzan-Lori Parks. The mutabilities in the title are the incidents of progress made by African-Americans, socially and economically in American culture. Imperceptible refers to the actual size and significance of this progress. The Third Kingdom is the playwright's invention, a state of being caught between cultures and never actually being allowed to settle into the new culture into which black America has been thrust. The play is heavily layered, filled with wonderful language and vivid visual imagery. It's been a great and stimulating challenge and an extremely rewarding project.

Early in the design process, our director suggested looking at the work of the late artist Basquiat. Jean-Michel Basquiat was the son of a Haitian-Puerto Rican couple, born in Brooklyn in 1960. He showed an interest in art and an unmistakable talent very early. By age 17 he was a big force in the New York City graffiti art scene and evolved with it from the streets and the sides of subway trains to art galleries and major exhibitions. He was highly prolific, combining a wealth of graphic imagery and text in bold colors laid onto big canvasses in confident, slashing brush strokes or with common household paint rollers.

By the time he turned 20 he was a star in the neo-expressionist movement. He dated a young, aspiring singer named Madonna and started painting with Andy Warhol in 1982. He was exhibited internationally in the company of Americans like Keith Harring and the top Europeans. By 1984 he was experimenting with heroin, concerning his friends.

When Andy Warhol died in 1987, Basquiat became seriously depressed, and his heroin usage increased. He gave himself an overdose in 1988 and died at the height of his youthful powers at age 28.

I had become aware of Basquiat and his story while researching an earlier project to which his style wasn't really relevant. This time, however, I was struck by the similarity in technique across media of his paintings and the writing style of Parks. Both work in broad strokes and bold statements filled in with a myriad of subjective details.
Both are social commentators and their work shows the exuberance and richness of Black America while always letting you see the heavy undertow of pain and anger underneath. But their work is most compatible on this level: she works in complex, layered prose that also includes a strong element of visual imagery; he worked in complex, layered visual images that also included a lot of text. In other words, they dovetail perfectly.

Basquiat's interests covered a broad spectrum of urban, human and natural subjects. It didn't take long for me to find images in his work that corresponded to plot lines and characters in the play. The production style we developed for "Imperceptible Mutabilities" does not include a conventional theatrical set. When characters are not in a particular scene, each retreats to his or her own private lair around the stage that includes hints of furnishing and possessions that the character would have in life. Our director dubbed these "dioramas." We've treated the set as a kind of museum installation rather than as a stage set--which is what's actually been happening in theater world-wide for a decade or so anyway.

Because our theater has an amphitheater style seating bank, everybody can see the floor very clearly. I immediately suggested using Basquiat imagery to create the individual areas on which the cast would establish their personal spaces.
Its like putting a mosaic together--ten separate areas, each with its own character (the totally bogus anthropologist who examines black people as if they were a lower life form necessary for his research; the highly anal retentive professional woman; the three good friends who gather at one of their apartments to bitch about life, eat constantly and fight an infestation of cockroaches; the 1960s army sergeant who is heaped with titles and honors but who is used by the army as a glorified janitor; etc. And in the middle of all these is the Third Kingdom--the hold of the slave ship in transit through the Middle Passage, its human cargo suspended somewhere between Africa and America, one culture and another, one reality and a spiritual plane they sense but cannot reach.

The challenge for me is to keep the areas balanced, keep them individual in style and color but have bits of color running through them all that make a unified stage picture rather than a jumble. It's been a great project and it's rolling along now very well. I'm particularly happy because this will be the last production I design in my MIT career and I was hoping I could go out with a strong visual project--this is definitely it.

I'll be posting pictures of the actual production next week. Some of the Basquiats from which I've taken visual motifs appear in this post.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

 
After a long, rather hard day of painting the stage floor and other parts of the current production, I went to a concert at Symphony Hall, one of conductor James Levine's Beethoven/Arnold Schoenberg combinations. Schoenberg, to put it mildly, isn't everybody's cup of tea, particularly his compositions after abandoning traditional melody and tonality. Tonight the program consisted of Beethoven's Coriolan Overture, Schoenberg's half hour monodrama "Erwartung" (Expectation) for soprano and [very] big orchestra, Beethoven's big concert aria "Ah, Perfido" and Eighth Symphony. Star soprano Deborah Voigt sang the Schoenberg and the concert aria thrillingly.

"Erwartung" is opera that's spent some time on Dr. Freud's couch. The situation presented is ambiguous to say the least: a woman who's dressed to the nines and may or may not be insane is looking for her lover who may or may not be dead because he may or may not actually exist. The text is VERY early twentieth decadent romantic and makes unmistakable refernces to Wagner, particularly "Tristan and Isolde." Some critics have even suggested that the opera's about a neurotic 20th century Isolde who's killed Tristan with her own hands this time.

One half of the gay couple sitting behind me commented during the bows for the Schoenberg, "what a complete waste of a great voice!" He was presumably happier with the Beethoven aria that followed. The audience gave Ms Voigt a big hand for both. Levine concluded the concert with a performance of the Eighth Symphony that tied it into the irresistible rhythmic force of the preceding Seventh more forcefully than any other performance I've ever heard--it might almost have been renumbered Symphony 7a.

Nasty Food MEME, with thanks to Ur-Spo

1. Your oddest craving?
Vegetables of the cabbage family: Kohl Rabbi, Brussels Sprouts, Red and Green Cabbage--many people can't stand them but I can't get enough.
2. The forbidden food?
Forbidden by whom? Candied or chocolate covered insects, I guess.
3. A dish that makes you queasy?
Raw cherrystone clams. I tried them as a kid at my parents' insistence but just couldn't take them--slimy and I couldn't taste anything so why bother?
4. Your least favorite food vegetable?
Cilantro. I've just never "gotten" the flavor
5. Your worst cooking disaster?
Giving a dinner party and finding out after we'd all sat down to dinner that two of the guests were so strictly vegetarian that they couldn't eat ANYTHING I'd made except for the dilled carrots.
6. A Cooking exercise you don't do well?
Dropping living crustaceans into boiling water. My parents were crazy about lobster but while I like it, there are many things I like a great deal more--and none of them involves killing something in my kitchen.
7. Food that arouses the most suspicion?
Anything on a supermarket shelf that isn't properly labeled as to contents and nutritional values, or--and this happens way too often--that doesn't have a proper price tag.
8. A drink you used to drink but no more?
Milk. A couple of decades ago I became lactose intolerant. Fortunately, I can digest aged (over 90 days) cheese, and cultured products like yogurt and sour cream properly, so I get my calcium.
9. Least favorite fast food chain?
Roy Rogers. Years ago in D.C. with my daughters, a Roy Rogers was the only place anywhere near our hotel to have breakfast. Greasy, badly cooked food and bad coffee.
10. When in doubt, eat….
A stir fry of sliced chicken breast, mushrooms, onions, summer squash and ginger sauce, served over steamed barley.
11. A restaurant faux pas that would get you to speak up?
Being overcharged for any item on the bill. It happened at McCormick and Schmick, a highly touted seafood restaurant in the Boston theater district. On the way out, two young men who had also been overcharged on the bill were complaining about their treatment. I've never set foot in the place again.
12. Is there something spoiled in the fridge right now?
No
13. Food you can’t buy as your spouse/partner won’t allow it in the house
Duck. I love a good roast duck but neither Fritz nor my daughters have the slightest interest. It’s not a “partner won’t allow it in the house” issue, but he wouldn’t be interested in it under any circumstances.
14. Food your spouse/partner likes that you don’t like.
Raw oysters.
15. Your least favorite type of cuisine?
Anything in Mexican or Tex-Mex cuisine that's so mindlessly over--chilied that all you can taste is hotness instead of food.
16. I food you hated as a child but now love?
Doesn't exist. I've always loved it all. OK, I have issues about sea weed.

Here's a sensible little op-ed piece:

Republicans: Stop thinking about gay sex
Alamogordo Daily News
By Jeff Stevens
01/28/2007

It seems to me Republicans spend more time thinking about gay sex than any other group of people in the known world even more so than gay people trying to find other gay people with whom to have sex.

Of course, I'm talking about our very own esteemed state representative Gloria Vaughn. In case you missed the latest, Vaughn has proposed we amend the New Mexico State Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Now I could criticize this move from so many angles that frankly my mind fizzles and goes blank, making it hard to choose from which direction to attack. Nevertheless, I'll give it my best.

How about: It's a colossal waste of time.

Evidently, every New Mexican makes a decent living wage. No child will go to bed tonight with an empty stomach, because they are all well fed. For that matter, no child will go to bed with an empty mind because our education system is tops in the world. Evidently our streets are free of drugs. Every New Mexican has a job and can feed their families with a $5.15 minimum wage. Our roads are the best in the nation. Everyone in the state has access to affordable health care. We can only assume such is the case, because Vaughn isn't seeking to amend the Constitution to solve any of those problems. No. The most important item on her agenda is to make sure that gay people can't marry one another in the state of New Mexico.

How about instead we pass a constitutional amendment that defines a family as a group of people who love one another and don't do harm to each other. That way it would be unconstitutional for people to verbally and physically abuse their own. Or, since by her own admission, the Bible is the basis for Vaughn's desire to constitutionally define marriage, let's take that definition directly from the Bible. "Therefore what God has put together, let man not separate." That passage can be found in Mathew 19:16 and if my ability to divine what the author had in mind is worth anything, under that definition, divorced folks would be unconstitutional.

We all know that won't work because, church and state issues aside, applying the Bible to modern society doesn't work. The Bible hasn't changed in 1,500 years but the world has.

So please Mrs. Vaughn, and any other Republican who supports this, let's work on some issues that might actually improve the lives of New Mexicans. After all, time is short. There's only 60 days in the session and while you all were arguing about legislative initiatives to ban gay marriage last year, you failed to pass any laws to improve the minimum wage. In other words, some poor mom will cry herself to sleep tonight because her kids went to bed hungry. She's trying to figure out how to make ends meet on $5.15 an hour . She doesn't give a tinker's damn about who's sleeping with whom.

And for any legislators who can't focus on the important issues, just do what the rest of us do and stop thinking about gay sex.

Jeff Stevens is the assistant editor of the Alamogordo Daily News. He can be reached at jstevens@alamogordonews.com. Popular opinion and Joe McCarthy be damned, Jeff Stevens is not now and has never been a member of the Communist party.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?