Friday, June 29, 2007

 
I don't think I post too many rants, but my friend Karl at Adventures in Gastronomy posted a piece on the shooting death a couple of days ago of an eight year old boy in Boston, and a number of my buttons got pushed.

First of all if this story didn't make national news, the boy was shot in the abdomen in his own home and died not much later in hospital. His mother told the police that three young men had forced their way into the apartment and when they weren't able to find the person they were looking for, shot the little boy and left. This shooting caused major public outrage in Boston, a city currently experiencing a huge spike in gang violence.

Local ministers in the black community were brought together--again--to discuss what could be done to stop the street violence (which has caught and killed many innocent people, largely young people, in the cross fire). The mayor returned home early from a conference of mayors to deal with the situation. There were vigils in the neighbor hood and new appeals for people to come forward, break the “code of silence” to help catch the three gang members who were so cruel as to kill a little boy when they couldn't get the person they really wanted.

Except, there were no gang members, at least not this time. Two days after the shooting, the boy's mother came forward and apologized to the community for lying about the apartment invasion, and the details she gave of how it really happened were no less horrific than the original lie. Her sister had come over with a seven year old son in tow and the women left the two boys to play by themselves--with a loaded illegal hand gun that was in the apartment. The seven year old pulled the trigger while the gun was pointing at his cousin.

The result now has been more, long overdue (but doubtless futile) calls for gun control and for parents to look after their children (as of the last TV news I listened to, nobody has yet admitted to owning the gun, although the household in which the boy was killed was said to have included a “gang-related person”).

In any event, Karl wrote with some passion that he couldn’t see why there was so great a furor over the killing of a child when other people, teenagers and adults of all ages, are being killed daily and their deaths don’t seem to cause the same outpouring of anger and concern--the media drop their stories relatively quickly and they fade into statistics. So I left the following comment [here slightly developed and expanded] on Karl's blog, venting sentiments I have had for years about our society and how it does or does not value the lives of its members:

Karl, I agree completely but I would extend your concern to other areas. Maybe it's just because I'm gay, but I've always wondered why women have always been protected in emergency situations but it's just fine for men to be slaughtered ("Women and Children First" and other vestiges of the old "Chivalric Code").

When the feminist movement started, demanmding that women be fully equal to men, I thought that if there were to be real equality, then women should have to be drafted, go to war, and serve in combat. Some of that has actually happened now that we have an all-volunteer army, but at the time nobody (including women) wanted to see teenaged girls drafted and sent to Viet-Nam. I keep hearing test balloons put out by the military about reinstating the draft, most recently when the army complained about having to lower standards to get more recruits. If women aren't included in any future draft, then we do not have true equality in this country.

Whenever a child is killed we always hear "(s)he had his/her whole life ahead of him/her." This is nonsense--whenever ANYBODY is killed, they have their whole lives ahead of them. A person's adult years and old age are no less unique and valuable than their youth. Life is precious--or used to be.

When I was growing up, it was in a post WWII culture that still harbored severe prejudices against Germans and Japanese. I heard in school, at home, and throughout society that "'Orientals' have no respect for human life” because there are so many of them. The reasoning was that if they lost a million or so, who cares?, there are millions left. This was bullshit, of course--Asian societies have immense respect for human life. The way they care for and respect elders in their various cultures is wholly admirable and the exact opposite of what goes on in western cultures, particularly in the U.S. where there's contempt and neglect for the old and the focus is entirely on youth. It is we who are cruel and lacking in respect for human life.

The U.S. and the "coalition" have now killed more Afghan civilians than the Taliban, and the Afghan president is rightfully calling us to account for doing so. Bozo shakes the bible over stem cell research to defeat proposed laws that could lead to the cure of millions who suffer from deadly degenerative diseases, but has no hesitation sending our people to their deaths in Iraq, and no care for the thousands and thousands of Iraqi civilians who are slaughtered every month. He probably thinks they're some kind of "gooks" who have no money and no votes in American elections and, therefore, don't matter.

*******

I’m on the road later today to Fritz’s (surprise!) for the weekend to help him host a family reunion that will include somewhere around forty people. While I've already met a large number of his relatives, I'll be meeting several new ones at this event. In my family (all four grandparents immigrated from Europe and all were from families of eight to thirteen children) the generations have had progressively fewer and fewer children, but in Fritz's there have been multiple births and the widespread siblings, cousins, aunts, nieces and nephews and their extended families all keep in pretty close touch. It should be a lot of fun.

Now she doesn’t know it yet, but my cat is going up this weekend never to return to Boston. We always kid about her visiting her "country estate" when she comes up with me for a long weekend or other stay, but this time she's going into residence so that when the junk men come next Friday or the movers come the following Tuesday, she won't be scared stiff or maybe slip outdoors through one or the other of the house's doors that will be wedged open.

Getting her into her carrier for the car requires a bit of strategy. If I do things like put her litter pan into a plastic trash bag to pack in the car, she knows what's up and disappears. I believe firmly that cats know exactly what's going on and are always ready to do the precise wrong thing (hunker down in the geographic center of the space below a queen-sized bed) at exactly the right moment to cause major inconvenience and confusion if they feel their right to run things is threatened. Fortunately, once she gets in the carrier, she calms right down and is a very good traveler.


Have a good weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

 
With the brutally hot weather here in Boston going into a third day, I'm doing a lot of work down in the basement just to get away from the heat. My house was built in 1860 plus or minus (a fire in Boston's Hall of Records in the late 19th century destroyed any trace of the original building permit and other documents. What I do know about my house is that it is he oldest in the general neighborhood, a farmhouse in what was then orchard and farm country south of Boston.

When I first moved in, I found a couple of interesting things on rafters over the two finished rooms in the attic level. One was a painting, a landscape of what may or may not be what the area looked like back in the 1860s, and the remains of a ledger book with records of berries and apples being sold off the property. The owner had a coal and ice business on Atlantic Avenue near the Boston waterfront and was also selling his produce there.

Over the years, the property was subdivided into progressively smaller and smaller lots. Twelve years before I bought it, the final subdivision was made, taking the remaining lot down from a half acre to an eighth of an acre. On the three resulting eighth acre lots, standard Cape Cod-style three bedroom houses were built. But opposite me is a very significant house built in the 1890s, a house that was actually mentioned prominently in the advertisements for the sale of my house—the Fox Estate.

The Fox family made movies in Boston. There's a building in the South End known from the name set in brickwork on the façade as the Magna Building; it was the center of early movie making in Boston. Opposite it is another movie-related building that had a small movie theater built into it which eventually became the first home of Boston's gay theater group, Theater Offensive, under the name Triangle Theater. The Fox Family (yes, THOSE Foxes who eventually became 20th Century Fox) eventually joined the migration to California with its promise of heavily increased sunlight for exterior shooting and vast areas of undeveloped land for the construction of studio complexes.

The Fox Estate opposite me originally consisted of several acres of land with an enormous Queen Anne-style house surrounded by a vast veranda with an extension that allowed its residents to walk under cover to a sizable carriage barn. Some time after the Foxes left, one entire wing of the house was cut off and moves to a subdivided lot behind it to become a separate four bedroom home. The carriage house was also turned into a good size house and the veranda extension was taken down.

If you look at the main house now, the big entrance stair and projecting gable section of the old veranda that covers it are at one side of the house rather than centered as it was meant to be. That same side of the house looks like something was chopped off with a meat cleaver (which is essentially what happened) and finished with a flat wall with some windows in it that don’t match the windows in the rest of the house.

In the last couple of years, any house that has a side yard is selling it off to developers who are constructing whatever will fit on it and the neighborhood is becoming progressively more and more crowded. However these properties and the older homes that come on the market are not selling well. The real estate slump here in Boston is actually worsening and given the figures for the last two months that have been published this month, I'm extremely lucky that my house sold when it did. The percentage of houses on the market that sold in May and early June is way down from April when I got the offer that I decided to accept.

My days are filled now with final preparations for the movers on July 10. I'm taking as much up to Fritz's as I can in the Jeep and will actually have made the majority of the move by myself when it's all over and done with. There's no question that I'll miss this place--I see my daughters everywhere I look, the big years of my design career happened here, and the dining room is filled with memories of dinners lit only by candle light with friends and colleagues celebrating holidays, the opening of productions, birthdays and anniversaries, all of life.

Plans are under way for the new house to become exactly the same kind of place, one that's open to all the people Fritz and I love and work with, family gatherings and a place to meet new friends. And, finally, we won’t be visitors in each others home, but making one together.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

 

*******

At 1:45 Friday afternoon, the dynamite was detonated and the big chunks of ledge in my excavation got blown to bits. Fritz called a couple of minutes later to tell me. The guys had worked the drill and set dynamite charges for two days so they could blow the whole thing at once and Fritz said that not only is there enough good rock to face all six poured concrete piers across the front of the house and build the planters that line the entire façade, there's probably enough rock to build the house entirely of stone if we wanted.

I got up there Saturday afternoon and the site was transformed, with the backhoe perched on top of a huge pile of rocks and the excavation much deeper. We're hoping that the blast was sufficient and that the work can now get back underway on the house itself.


We had a great Sweat Saturday night. Sixteen men, a lovely early summer night, and the newly cedar-sheathed Lodge interior beautifully scented by the wood and by eucalyptus oil in the water that steamed off the red hot rocks. At the pot luck afterwards, B the Chef had made me a lovely birthday cake topped with glazed peaches and raspberries (my two favorite fruits).

********

One of the big adjustments I'll face in moving to southern New Hampshire (now in just three weeks) is learning in detail the state's politics. I'm not uninformed in that subject already, but there's a lot more to learn. Fritz will, of course, be an invaluable resource (in that as in all else), as he bought his house there many years ago within weeks, coincidentally, of my having purchased mine here in Boston.

Politically, it used to be that Massachusetts and New Hampshire were polar opposites across a shared border. With our perennially Democratically-controlled legislature (albeit with the occasional election of a therefore automatically hobbled Republican Governor, just to confirm the political wackiness of this state) Massachusetts is the home of the People's Republic of Cambridge and other ultraliberal communities in the midst of a far-left state.

New Hampshire, particularly during the governorship (1973-79) of Republican Meldrim Thompson, was a rabidly right-wing state. It was widely believed that the real power wasn't wielded by Thompson so much as by the editor of the powerful Manchester Union Leader, William Loeb. All this was back in the day when newspapers really mattered, before the media explosion, and before the rise of people's publication via the web.
I was frequently assured during those years that nothing of any substance was proposed or discussed in the governor's office without a preliminary phone call by Thompson to Loeb. The Union Leader's voice was reactionary, hawkish, homophobic, frequently vicious in attacking people of whom Loeb disapproved, and the tenor of the political discourse was similar in nature (albeit far less juvenile in style--which wouldn't be difficult) to the pronouncements and rants of Ann Coulter.

Born in 1905 to the son of German Jewish immigrants (Loeb published his birth certificate on the front page of a couple of his papers in order to prove he wasn't Jewish), Loeb had a very checkered career professionally and personally before he hit his stride to achieve almost unlimited power to control thought and politics in the Granite State. An opportunist and something of a charlatan, Loeb married and dumped two wives when they proved less than useful, along the way to seducing Elizabeth "Nacky" Scripps, heiress to the massive Scripps newspaper heritage and fortune, away from her then husband (there were physical and legal battles between the men).

Previously, Loeb had gotten out of service in World War II on the basis of ulcers that he was alleged to have inflamed by drinking massive amounts of alcohol prior to his various medical exams. There is also evidence of spurious resume entries; ugly law suits against his mother over money (she disowned him and, on her death, he brought suit against his siblings, consuming the bulk of the inheritance in legal fees so as to deprive them of what he could not have himself); and his own abandonment of a daughter when she was severely injured in a fall from a horse.

His early newspaper publishing career was spotty at best, riddled with disputes and suits with investors over his having misrepresented his political opinions while soliciting their money, and their disapproval when they found out where he really stood. He also hated labor unions and preferred to kill a couple of his own papers and throw hundreds of employees out of work when there were strikes for better conditions and wages.

Early in The Union Leader's history, Loeb exported the paper to Boston during a newspaper strike here. When it was discovered that his sports reporting was inaccurate, he fell afoul of The Mob--all that sports betting, you know. But Loeb recovered and established an almost complete monopoly over news coverage in New Hampshire in an era when out of state radio signals couldn't penetrate the state's mountains and local community newspapers were few and far between. He eventually found allies in the highest levels of state government and not only reported the state's political news but took a strong hand in making it.

Loeb eventually died in 1981 and a new editor took over, although the paper remained published and heavily influenced by his widow Nackey until her own death in 2000. When I first met Fritz, he had the Union Leader delivered to the house daily because despite its vile politics, it was THE paper in New Hampshire if you wanted to find out what was going on in the state. Much of the style of the Loeb days remained--gratuitous and openly insulting references to President Clinton and, of course, to Hilary (who was treated as devil woman), and a revoltingly sycophantic devotion to Ronald Reagan. Fritz eventually had delivery of the Union Leader stopped; he now makes due with TV news.


On the local level, Fritz has dealt for years with state representative Jack Barnes, a raging homophobe last seen in the Boston media angrily denouncing the passage of same-sex civil unions in New Hampshire; Barnes did everything but snarl and bare his fangs on the video clip shown several times on WBZ-TV. But the era of Barnes and others like him may be coming to an end, and fairly quickly.

The latest figures on population loss and growth among the six New England States shows that New Hampshire is the only one gaining population--and rapidly at that. The attraction is the beauty of the state and the availability of land (which means, of course, development which immutably alters that beauty). There's also the storied lack of state income or sales taxes (offset by heavy property taxes--essential services have to be paid for somehow). But still people come, and the ones who are moving in are much like me demographically--highly educated, professional and academic people who are predominaltly liberal. This 'immigration" is happening in such numbers, joining the not popularly known but significant pockets of socially progressive, liberal New Hampshirites, that in five to ten years it's predicted New Hampshire will be transformed into one of the "blue" states.

It may be that I'm on the crest of a wave that will change New Hampshire politically for a long time to come.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

 
My cat's finally discovered some good in the packing and moving process. I have a pile of plastic garbage bags--not the soft kind but a plastic that gives a satisfying crinkling/rustling sound when you pounce on it. Right now she's bounding around, watching the bags slowly relax and expand in the breeze after she moves off them, which is great because then she gets to do it all over again, get frantic, leap and scare herself silly. I couldn't live without a cat.

*******

Last night Fritz and I went to the Methuen Memorial Music Hall (actually better described by its original title Organ Hall) for a concert featuring a new composition by a friend of ours, the composer Graham Gordan Ramsay. Titled "Jacob vs. Angel," it's a major six-movement piece for grand concert organ "about crisis of conscience,ambiguity, and misinterpretation expressed through depiction of a major battle, the goal of which is nevermade entirely clear." In other words, the Bible encounters contemporary philosophical doubt.

The organist was Heinrich Christensen, with whom Graham is going on a 16 day tour of Scandinavia, where this piece (and the rest of last night's program including works by Daniel Pinkham, Johan Christian Heinrich Rinck, Marcel Dupre, Jean Langlais and Takeshi Kondo) will be played on cathedral and castle organs in Denmark, Sweden and northern Germany. Christensen is Dean of the American Guild of Organists, Boston chapter, a multiple award winner and a recording artist--and needed all of his experience and skill to manage the the demands of Graham's score--which he aced impressively.

Jacob vs. Angel is on its way to being an opera that the Intermezzo Chamber Opera for which I design may produce in a couple of years. Graham's score is massive, confident and multi-colored, based on a series of six poems by Alice Weaver Flaherty with titles such as: Crash, Fracture, Renamings, and Carnage of Feathers.

The Music Hall may look something like a church but never was. From the beginning it was planned to be the home of a vast organ reclaimed from the old Boston Music Hall that was driven out of business by the opening of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Symphony Hall. Of all the pictures on the web that show the interior, this is the only one that shows the splendor and over-the-top High Victorian ornamentation of the interior as well as the monumental size and style of the carved wood case of the organ.

There were probably two hundred in attendance last night, a predominantly middle-aged crowd come to hear mostly very contemporary organ music, a large number of them gay men in couples or groups of various sizes. They were a lively and enthusiastic group and Fritz and I were taken not only by openness of the gay community in this old-guard New England mill town (much kissing among the guys) but also by the town's quirky architecture which places the Flemish baroque Music Hall next to the mill canal with its granite towers done in a wide variety of medieval styles.

*******
The rock ledge in the excavation is scheduled to be blown up today. I had to leave Fritz's at 9:30am to get back to Boston but I got pictures of the big machine drilling into the rock to set the dynamite charges, and spoke with the guys a bit. I called half an hour ago (about 3:30pm) but the blasting still had not begun. I go back up on Saturday (we have a Sweat Lodge gathering that falls on my birthday) and will get more shots of the completed excavation at that time.

*******

For those of you who play Scrabble, here's some advice from an MIT student, Jason Katz-Brown, a veteran of more than 30 Scrabble tournaments, who last year was North America's highest-ranked player. Jason's ending his third year as an electrical engineering/computer science major, a combination that may give some hint as to how his brain operates. He began by learning all of the 100,000+ words in the official Scrabble Dictionary and, during a summer job in Japan some years ago, he spent the 90 minute each way commute to work memorizing all of the approximately 24,000 eight letter words in the English language.

This kid's serious--he alphagrams. I'd never heard of alphagramming, which entails placing all the letters in a word in alphabetical order. Jason does this and then memorizes the resulting string of letters (scrabble becomes abbcelrs). "Then when I play, I just put my scrabble tiles in alphabetical order, and the words pop up."

Jason has no interest in knowing what the words mean; for him Scrabble isn't a word game but a math game, the alphagramed letter strings a means to gaining points. As a child, his father insisted he join in family games to increase his intelligence, but he was bored stiff. Then his older brother gave him the book "Word Freak" by Stefan Fatsis and the competitive abstraction strategy revealed in the book fascinated him. He credits his scrabble obsession with getting him into MIT and then getting him a summer job at Google headquarters in California. Future plans include either a full time job at Google or a grad degree in Europe, and somewhere along the line becoming the best Scrabble player in the world.

Jason's Scrabble hints for the non-tournament-bound (from the MIT publication, Spectrum):

1. Learn the two letter words early. There are some really high-scoring ones like Qi, Za, Jo, Xu and and even vowel-only words like Ai, Ae, and Oe. [note—I found about half of these, but only half, in my big Webster's Unabriged].
2. Strive for about an equal number of vowels and consonants on your rack after you make your play. If that's not possible, more consonants is better.
3. Play the Q as quickly as you can, using words like Qi, Qat,, Qadi, and Qaid [these looked very much like Arabic words to me and at least three of them are. Given Scrabble's rules about no foreign words, I assume they've been assimilated into English as either math or science words].
4. Don't worry about defense; instead, concentrate on making good use of your best tiles to keep a sustained offense going. For instance, save your S and blank tiles for high-scoring plays that form plurals of words already on the board.

So much for a nice, friendly no-pressure after dinner game!

*******

Fritz must have gotten this from a friend or colleague and sent it out again:

One morning a blind bunny was hopping down the bunny trail, and he
tripped over a large snake and fell, kerplop, right on his twitchy
little nose.

"Oh, please excuse me!" said the bunny. "I didn't mean to trip over you,
but I'm blind and can't see."

"That's perfectly all right," replied the snake. "To be sure, it was my
fault. I didn't mean to trip you, but I'm blind too, and I didn't see
you coming. By the way, what kind of animal are you?"

"Well, I really don't know," said the bunny. "I'm blind, and I've never
seen myself. Maybe you could examine me and find out."

So the snake felt the bunny all over, and he said, "Well, you're soft,
and cuddly, and you have long silky ears, and a little fluffy tail and a
dear twitchy little nose... You must be a bunny rabbit!"

The bunny said, "I can't thank you enough. But, by the way, what kind of
animal are you?"

The snake replied that he didn't know, so the bunny agreed to examine him.
When the bunny was finished, the snake said, "Well, what kind of an
animal am I?"

The bunny had felt the snake all over, and he replied, "You're soft,
you're cold, you're slippery, you haven't any legs to stand on, and you
haven't got any balls... You must be a Republican.”

*******

I had always known of Walt whitman's Calamus Poems, and here in Boston we have the GLBT Calamus Book Store. But I never knew what calamus meant.


It turns out that a calamus is this beautiful, exotic flower, much beloved by the New England Transcendentalist writers (Emerson, Thoreau, et al.) for its erotic, phallic shape. There was more going on among that crowd than they ever told us in high school.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

 
I was scrolling through some Daedalus Books & Music pages to order some books to give as gifts when I got a page telling me that based on my previous orders, I might like a 170 CD boxed set of the complete music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (Fritz, don't panic—this isn't even being considered)

The label is Brilliant Classics which has a history of putting out multiple (to say the least) CD sets with encyclopedic retrospectives of a particular composer's output (the Bach collection runs to 155 CDs--they thought I might like that also, unaware that I am not a big Bach fan). What's truly significant is that the technical quality of the Brilliant line is pretty good and the prices hard to believe--the Mozart set is being offered for $119, which comes out to seventy cents per CD!


*******

I took a break from packing and cleaning today to build a new sawbuck for Fritz. All the trees we cut down to make the road up to the new house will have seasoned for use as firewood this coming winter. Fortunately the biggest pile is located right near his house and the wood can be cut with the lighter weight electric chain saw that's my favorite. The new house will have a handsome Vermont Castings wood stove to supplement the radiant heat in the poured concrete slab floor.

We both love wood stove heat--there's a quality to it that's intimate and personal. The scent and quality of it are unique and very New England. Since there are 36 or so acres to our combined properties, there are always plenty of trees that need to be taken down because they're dying, dead, in the wrong place or crowding more desirable trees. So, the supply is virtually endless, free, and the effort required for taking them down, cutting, splitting and transporting is perfect exercise.

Otherwise, not much is new. We always knew that once I stopped working at MIT we would be able to travel during more advantageous times of the year for air fare, cost of accommodations, etc. etc. Right now we're looking at next spring and thinking about how much we enjoyed the riverboat cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam two summers ago. We're thinking seriously now about the China and the Yangtze River cruise. There are all sorts of side trips off the river and the boat looks wonderful in the pictures.

I took my daughters back to Korea, where they had been born, in the summer of 1985 (the last summer when they could both still fly for half fare). After our time in Seoul, we flew to Hong Kong and began a 12 day tour through China. It was a time of great change. Consumer advertising billboards were very new and all over the cities, while privately owned businesses had been allowed for the first time about six months before our tour began.

The Chinese have always been very savvy business people and the atmosphere in the private shops was radically different than in the big state-run stores. You,d go into one of the latter and practically have to drag a sales person over to a display case if you wanted to buy something. But in the private shops you were greeted immediately and personally, offered tea, asked what you would like to see, invited to sit and have merchandise brought to you. A movement started that has exploded into a whole new national culture. I know that if we do go over--and I think it's virtually certain we will--I'll probably have difficulty recognizing the country. I remember thousands and thousands of bicycles, farmers in Qualin bringing their wagons drawn by oxen into town, people going down to the river to wash their dishes. In Xian, women in the streets sold quilted vests they had made and decorated with fantastic embroidered and partially three dimensional animals, birds and insects. After the ritual, and absolutely required, haggling, they cost the equivalent of thirty five cents in American money (I bought many to bring back as gifts).

Now China rivals the US for traffic jams in the big cities and from the pictures I see on TV, Shanghai is transformed into a modern architecture showplace. I think China's getting to be THE place to be and I can't wait for us to see it again for ourselves.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

 
A VERY HAPPY FATHER'S DAY to all the gay dads out there. The ones I know of are Ed and Eddie (Gay Dads), Atari (Ready, Reset, Go), Ted (The Neighbors Will Know), Dean and Joe (Aman Yala), Stephen (Chaos), Anthony (Evilganome), Richard (Richard the Tenor), Jim (Becoming Visible), Dominic (Cooper's Corridor), and Victor (V-Hold). To any guys I've missed and to any gay dad who reads DesignerBlog and is celebrating Father's Day today with his children, congratulations and my sincere compliments.

*******

Thursday night was gay boys' night out at the Dogwood Cafe, a very popular bar/restaurant opposite Forest Hills Station just north of me. Stephen and I made a dinner date, it got expanded to include Atari and Stephen’s boyfriend Charles (aka Grinny). An extra treat was when Steve and Grinny showed up with 4Moms--Steve’s name for Ryan who was born to a lesbian couple who later broke up, each woman eventually pairing with a new partner to give him . . . four mothers. Gay life is SO incredibly rich and varied. Steve was in high good spirits, Grinny and 4Moms turned out to be great young men, Atari and I enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and the time flew by.

*******

My house has developed an echo. On Friday I rolled up most of the rugs and tied them securely. I took the smaller ones up to Fritz’s along with a big load of other stuff. All of my window curtains are also down, so there’s not much to absorb sound in the house any more.

The place is built like a fortress. It dates from 1860, back when 2x4 was actually a little thicker than two inches by four inches, not the skimpy measurements of today. My basement walls are two feet thick and made of granite, the subfoundation under them is four feet thick and of granite. The house's main sills are the size of railroad ties and the interior walls are three layers of real plaster over lath. And all the plaster had goat hair intermixed as an extra binder. They truly don't build them like this any more. The plaster is so thick and solid that when I talk to my cat, or talk on the phone now that there’s nothing to damp down the sound, I can hear my voice ringing off the walls.

*******

Fritz and I had an accomplishful weekend. The big job was to finish cleaning out the "garage" part of his barn so that my furniture can be stacked there in July when Gentle Giant comes to do the moving. This space is on the lowest level of the barn, easily accessible from the road. It probably sheltered farm wagons back when it was built. We also weeded our new blueberry bushes, restacked his woodpile in preparation for cutting up tree trunks that have been seasoning all year for next winter's fire wood, and ran errands. We also had a couple of lovely dinners, talked a lot and laughed continuously.

I have a couple of tasks. Tomorrow and Monday and I'll be building a new sawbuck to hold the seasoned tree trunk sections for cutting into wood stove length. And I have to get going on change of address notices, lots of them.

As soon as I arrived on Friday we went up to the house site. Excavation had begun in earnest and we were anxious to check out the situation on ledge, the rock stratum just below the surface. I'm building on the side of an ancient volcano and there’s rock everywhere. It's of two kinds--old volcanic rock and huge surface boulders from the glacial period. The later aren't a problem--the earth moving machines can roll them to the side of the site. Ledge can be a big problem, but in the preliminary digging all of it had broken up readily. This is referred to as "rotten ledge"--stratified stone that has been softened up by tree roots and the freezing and thawing of the ground over the millennia.

But it turns out that there are two areas within the house footprint--the northwest corner and a section more or less in the middle of the front of the house--where the ledge isn't rotten at all, but good and solid. This will require blasting. I called the general contractor right away to let him know. He'll have to find someone who can come, do the drilling, set the charges and blow up the obstructions before much more of the excavation can go ahead.

Otherwise, it's back to packing. My next trip up with a load (lamps, rugs and some small furniture) is Wednesday. That night we'll drive a bit south to Methuen, MA for an organ concert at the famed Methuen Music Hall. G, a talented photographer and emerging composer is having a big piece on the subject of Jacob wrestling with the angel played as part of a program that will tour through Denmark and Sweden this summer. The organ piece is the source of themes for an opera he's writing on the same subject, that's under consideration for production by Intermezzo, the opera company I design for. G's a great friend and I'm hoping the opera gets produced so that I get to design it for him.

*******

Heard in Highlands, NC last weekend during one of the wedding events: "The trouble with Oklahoma is that the women think they're from the South and the men think they're from the West." That could be a problem but it sounds more like the premise for some serious bodice-ripper Romances.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

 
I have less than a month here in the house. Closing with the new owner is set for July 12 but I was able to schedule Gentle Giant Movers for July 10. Starr will go into residence at Fritz's as of the July 1st weekend when we're hosting a big family reunion at his Center. By that time I'll be down to the bare essentials and anything that's too big to put into or on top of the Jeep.

I still have tasks to do before the closing and I'm getting them lined up. Extra smoke and carbon monoxide detectors have to be installed. Since E, the new owner, wants to keep the ADT security system I have, they'll do the installation. I can put up the one extra carbon monoxide alarm myself. I'm also working on the complete clean-out of the basement (and making good progress) and storage attic. This morning I got all the rugs below room size rolled and tied and ready to go this Friday when I take another load up to New Hampshire and Fritz and I clear out the "garage" area of his barn to take the mover's load in July. I'm ending the morning purging files. For some reason I love saying that--purging files sounds to me like something dangerous done by a power-mad bureaucrat.

I tend to be a worrier. Things usually turn out fine, which I chalk up to the fact that I do worry and get going in advance on big jobs. Still, looking at 28 days left before I have to be completely cleaned out and ready to give the keys to E, I get little anxiety attacks. OK, sometimes I get scared shitless--there it is.

Last night was the big biennial Baroque opera production by the Boston Early Music Festival. They always do these things to a turn with excellent musical research and restoration, and strong production values. This year was "Psyche" by Jean-Baptiste Lully (originally Gianbattista Lulli before he moved to France), Louis XIV's major court composer. The plot, like most Baroque opera, comes from Greek mythology, this time the story of the nymph Psyche and her adventures falling in love with the god Eros, which infuriates his mother Venus, the whole situation being resolved when Jupiter makes Psyche an immortal so Venus won't have to endure seeing her son marrying down. This transformation is celebrated by a half hour of dance--the French were mad for ballet and their operas were always full of dance interludes and finales.


Lully, by the way, died youngish (age 55) and in one of those bizarre deaths French musicians seem to suffer (Charles Alkan was crushed to death by his own music library). Lully was conducting an orchestra which in those days was done not with the lightweight short baton we use today but with a big ceremonial Marshall's baton, a long pole with much decorarion and a big, heavy ornamental knob on top. He brought the baton down hard for a downbeat, crushed his right foot, and died from infections and gangrene shortly thereafter.

The Festival used to do these operas in completely historical recreations of Baroque scenery and it was a wonder to see. And expensive--really expensive. For the last couple of productions, their designers have been doing unit sets that hint at the general look and style of the 17th century stage sets while reserving their resources for truly gorgeous, finely detailed costumes and one or two special effects. As a set designer who has done his share of Baroque recreations (I designed the first two productions by the Early Music Festival, operas by Monteverdi and Mozart) I was a little disappointed by this shift, if only because the lightening-fast transformations and magnificent trompe l’oeil painting style called for are thrilling to see when done well. But in my role as arts administrator, I also know that budgetary responsibility is sometimes a big imperative.


This year the effects were gods and goddesses flying in, either just their bodies flying through the air, or descending in special cloud or sunburst “chariots” that always make a spectacular impression. Since the traffic between heaven and earth is so frequent in “Psyche”, the flying was the major attraction, was done superbly and got big audience response.

Tonight a couple of us (Steve from Chaos, Atari from Ready, Reset, Go) are getting together for dinner at someplace TBA. Tomorrow AM I pack up and head north. Our excavator began work this week, doing the final clearing of the house site. This morning, as I type this, Fritz, the excavator and the general contractor are meeting on the site to discuss details and scheduling. It feels very good finally to be under way.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

 
We had a most enjoyable weekend down in Georgia and North Carolina. We flew out of Boston Logan Friday morning, landed on time, met another wedding guest--a delightful young woman from Santa Fe who needed a ride to the wedding--got our rental car and headed out into almost impenetrable traffic.

Atlanta, it turns out, has major league traffic heading out of town as early as 2pm on a Friday afternoon. We were on our way to Highlands, North Carolina and Route 85 wasn’t cooperating. Fortunately we had good air conditioning and had been upgraded to a PC Cruiser--a convertible, no less--for no extra money. I'd never been in one. It turned out to be very comfortable and fun to drive, particularly on the many heavily curved switchback roads we had to negotiate for the rest of the weekend. Highlands is called Highlands for a very good reason. Situated in the mountains southwest of Ashville, North Carolina, every road into town goes either up or down along the edges of steep hills or through very narrow gaps with continual tight curves. I loved it. I thought the roads were fun and a great challenge to a driver. Fritz and our traveling companion were less thrilled.

In Highlands we settled into our inn and were soon attending the first event of the weekend, the rehearsal dinner (none of us had to rehearse, just be on hand afterwards for the food and the wine and the big family reunion). I met several members of Fritz's family I hadn't yet had the pleasure of meeting, and enjoyed seeing his nephew S again. S, a very talented mokume artist (a Japanese technique for fusing metals of different colors together to make jewelry and art objects) had made our wedding rings, as he just finished doing for the bride and groom (his elder son).

There were two video features during dinner: a lovely retrospective of photos of the couple growing up through the years individually and then pictures of them together. The second was an animated movie made by the Groom's younger sister and their father(S) that was a risqué, tongue in cheek chronicle of their meeting, courtship and (presumed) wedding night to come. Not everyone was pleased. Fritz and I thought it was great and the younger crowd, of course, was in hysterics. Having some semi-obscene references at a wedding is a very ancient and honorable custom.

Saturday was a lazy day, with a little exploration around town (filled with wealthy Republicans on shopping jags), some down time, tea at the inn (they had addictive, buttery biscuits made with candied ginger), and then the wedding itself out of town in the fields below an incredible cliff rearing high above us, crowned with a fringe of Georgia pine. We then retreated to a tent set for dinner and dancing. Lots of good wine, excellent filet of beef with a superb horseradish sauce, the best grits I've ever had (white grits turned out almost like polenta and full of flavor), Cajun shrimp, ratatouille, and salad. I also encountered an old custom I didn't know--the Wedding cake and the Groom's cake.

In the "old days" the Wedding cake was eaten as dessert and the Groom's cake was cut up into pieces, carefully wrapped, and given to the unmarried to put under their pillows when they went to sleep, the better to dream of a perfect mate. They did this for several nights and then they finally got to eat the cake (I'm not sure I want to think about that too long). These days, fortunately, everybody just gets a piece of both cakes to eat right then and there. The Groom's cake was chocolate with a complex frosting and just yummy. The wedding cake itself was a rich carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and big--BIG--strawberries.

Sunday began with a farewell brunch at the inn, lots of talk and trading of email addresses to share pictures. We left around eleven and began to make our way back to Atlanta. The weather was perfect and traffic almost non-existent. I'd booked us into the Highland Inn (no relation to the inn in Highlands, NC), an old-fashioned, gay-friendly, comfortable place near the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site, where our "room" turned out to be a three room suite including a full kitchen, in the northeast section of the inner city.

We spent the afternoon at the High Museum of Art downtown, a striking Richard Meyer-designed complex of buildings with wonderful light in the galleries. The major exhibitions began with a big Annie Leibovitz retrospective (including her pictures documenting her partner Susan Sontag's last illness and death) focused mostly around her photos of various celebrities and public figures in deeply personal, very revealing moments. It was gay daddy day at the museum apparently; we saw a couple of families including one male couple with an enchanting four and a half month old daughter.

From there, we crossed a bridge into the museum's other pavilion to see three of the legendary gilded bronze door panels from the Baptistry of the Cathedral of Florence, Italy. The panels are about 30 x 30 inches and have been painstakingly cleaned of centuries of grime, chemical corrosion and weathering. There were also several of the framing panels demonstrating the stages of cleaning down to the original, highly detailed and beautifully composed gilded bronze surfaces. As it was close to closing, we took pot luck and just wandered randomly around the rest of the place--through some amazing rural Georgia folk art, through furniture from the arts and crafts movement, and finally we found ourselves at a stunning mid-19th century Italian statue of a classical Roman woman with a sheer gauze veil over her head and face. We, along with another couple, stopped in astonishment at this piece. The technique was so sure and virtuosic that we could all have sworn we were looking at her face through actual gauze.

For dinner we went back to our neighborhood and Babette’s Café (named for the movie Babette's Feast, I suspect) that promised "European Farmhouse Cuisine" and delivered handsomely. We both had first class paella, splitting a bottle of crisp Chilean chardonnay and ending with ice cream (Fritz) and date/pistachio pastries (me).

We spent Monday morning in the Jimmy Carter Museum and Library. It's well laid out and, while inclusive, isn't either exhausting or intimidating. We toured around the grounds, walking through the Japanese Garden, and then went and had lunch with JB, the friend of whom I spoke last time. He lives in one of the many relaxed but elegant 1920s bungalows that fill this section of Atlanta and neither he nor his boyfriend is afraid of color. The living room walls are a deep cranberry, other walls are in Tuscan gold or orange. We had lunch at a neighborhood hangout for the local Democrats (Js into "guy food"), then walked back to the house with him, kissed him good-bye, got back into the Cruiser and drove out to the airport to fly home.

Now here's an interesting side note. On Friday evening I noticed that there was a change going on in my pierced left nipple. I had it done at least twelve years ago, a closed ball ring for starters, replaced eventually by a heavier gauge curved barbell. I noticed that the barbell was closer to the tip of the nipple than previously and as the weekend progressed, it seemed to be pushed further and further forward. On Saturday, I mentioned to Fritz that I thought my body was rejecting the piercing and by Monday morning there was only a very thin, virtually transparent film of skin over the stainless steel of the curved bar. Not wanting it to rip itself out, I undid one ball and slipped it out, the thin skin almost disintegrating as I did so. I would never have thought it possible, but after a dozen years, I no longer have a nipple piercing, just one regular-sized nipple (the unpierced one on the right) and the one on the left that became rather enlarged in response to being pierced.

Fritz thinks it's somehow symbolic of the big change that's happening in my life.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

 
Fritz and I are leaving Friday morning for a long weekend in the South. We fly into Atlanta and then rent a car to drive north into the mountains of southwest North Carolina. The town of Highlands is the scene of a big family (his) wedding. We'll be there through brunch on Sunday morning and then drive back down to Atlanta, check into our gay B&B and explore a city that will be brand new to me.

We'll also visit our friend JB who leads many of the Body Electric School events that Fritz hosts at his Center, and whose think pieces are featured on the site Gaytwogether. We get back late Monday night and I'll return to blogging next Tuesday.

The Purchase and Sale Agreement on my house was signed in my kitchen Wednesday afternoon. Present were my realtor and E, my purchaser. As E arrived early we fell into conversation, which isn't hard to do with him as he's bright as a new penny and very outgoing. My instincts were right about him: he asked where all my stuff had disappeared to, I mentioned storage room at my husband Fritz's place, he sighed and said "my first boyfriend was named Fritz." So from there we were off and running.

I've invited him over for dinner in a couple of weeks to orient him to the neighborhood and give him all the info he'll need about the neighbors, the possible places to install a second bathroom, etc. He was pleased to hear that the boys next door were looking forward to meeting him. He also told me how he loved the house and what I've done with it. I know you're not supposed to get involved in who buys your house, but I'm really delighted that it's E who'll take it over from me. This house means a great deal to me. I told him it was the the site of many happy events and a lot of love. He said I had to come down and see it when he'd done what he's got planned. It's all turning out quite well.

A lovely weekend to you all!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

 
I feel sorry for my cat these days. One by one all her little hidey holes and favorite places to curl up are disappearing from the house. I'm actually a bit ahead of schedule on packing things up, which was a big goal for me because I don’t want any mad scrambles at the end. My libraries of both books and music are all gone, stacked at Fritz's, along with all the art, more than half my kitchen and dining room stuff, and a significant pile of items specifically intended for a big yard sale this summer.

I've found Starr trying to get comfortable on surfaces and in places she'd never go before, looking perfectly miserable (cats suffer magnificently). I keep telling her that next winter she's going to have a whole new house to explore, rooms and rooms that don't yet have her mark on them. But it's small consolation. I think that when she finds out the first floor of the new house has heating pipes imbedded in it, all will be forgiven.

I found four new gay Boston bloggers last week and have already met one of them. Links to their blogs are on the left in the Boston Section. I first discovered Rising from the Ashes by phoenix316 (not to be confused with the New York City blog, From the Ashes by Tom Rico). I haven't had time to go back into the blog's history (which is only about a month old, apparently) but I like what I've read so far--a number of song lyrics developed from his life experience and blessedly free from the usual cliches.

From RftA I found Obsessive Convulsive by Bob in Jamaica Plain. JP is the next neighborhood north of Roslindale along the Jamaicaway, a section of the parkway that leads from the Back Bay and the Public Gardens all the way down to the terminus of "The Emerald Necklace" at Franklin Park. Bob has a dry wit, which always scores points with me, talks about food, anything that amuses him, and his really cute partner Jess. Obsessive Convulsive is three months old.

I don't remember how I found Evilganome but when I looked at his profile I was struck by his wide-ranging musical taste from jazz, country, and rock to opera. He reads E.F. Benson and historian Barbara Tuchman. There was a special mention of the treasurable Lucia Popp, a much-beloved Czech soprano who excelled everything from Mozart to the lighter heroines in Wagner and who died way, way too young. I left a comment, and by return email found out that Anthony works in the Math Department offices at—MIT!

So I stopped by his office today and instead of the rather austere and forbidding face on the profile, I met a ruggedly handsome guy with great tattoo blackwork on his arms, a pleasant, open manner and easy conversation that soon got around to opera . We seem to agree that there's a lunch in our immediate future. Evilganome is coming up on a year old this August. From a remark in one of his posts, I found Masspurgation, by Mike Mennono (not to be confused with Tom Menino, Mayor of Boston), who has a persona--and a very good looking persona it is--as The Naked Gardener.

Mike's garden plot is in the Fens, a green area between the Fenway Park neighborhood, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Boston Conservatory of Music. The old Victory Gardens from WWII were so loved that the city's kept them going for local residents who wanted a plot of land to grow flowers and vegetables--or to get laid. Ever since I've been in Boston, the Fens has been one of the most active cruising areas for gay men, who live in the surrounding neighborhood in great numbers (see also Evan's blog, Life is Sweet in the Fenway). In the bad old days, it was also a very dangerous place, as gangs of homophobic thugs liked nothing better than to find a couple of men in the bushes and beat the crap out of them.

The worst incident I can remember over the years was the time several punks jumped two young men, dragged them in to their car, and drove down to the Arnold Arboretum. They pried open a manhole cover and, after beating the gay guys, dumped one of them into the manhole head first. Slamming his skull into the concrete bottom of what was a storm drain, he drowned immediately. They then threw the other man in. Injured, he nevertheless survived because his fall was broken by the body of his companion and his head never went below water level.

Fortunately, things are much safer these days. Mike rescued a neglected, overgrown plot and created the lovely urban oasis seen above. Evilganome also gardens in the Fens. The idea of community gardens spread from the Fens area throughout the city. Several mayors of Boston have overseen the development of thriving gardens on unused land that was hosting drug dealers and/or being used for dumping. Boston has its failings like any city, but at its best, it's a very livable, personal town.

Friday, June 01, 2007

 
There was a middling amusing movie from the early 70s called "If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium." Bob Dishy, Susanne Pleshette and Patricia Routledge, as I recall. Anyway, that's what I'm feeling like at the moment--if I can't look it up in my schedule book, I have no idea where I am or what I'm supposed to be doing. There's just so much going on.

Recently, it's very good news. The "For Sale" part of the sign on my front fence has been replaced by "Sale Pending." And that shouldn't be there long as the Purchase and Sale Agreement is supposed to be signed later this afternoon, allowing another change to "Sold." The young man who's buying the house (and who I'm pretty sure is gay) has said he trusts me completely to clean up a couple of items, most of which I've taken care of already, so the process is mellowing out.

Wednesday morning very early I had two guys from my plumber come to repair a part of the hundred and forty-seven year old cast iron main drain that runs through my basement. A couple of hairline cracks had developed in two of the elbows. The house inspector found them and my buyer, not unreasonably, wanted them replaced. In walked two young men and the first thing I thought was "this looks like the beginning of every cliché porn flick." M, the slightly older guy in charge was my type down to his work boots--shaved head, a couple of tattoos showing just below the hem of his short sleeves, shadow of a goatee, twinkle in the eye and a wicked sense of humor. His assistant was a close-cropped redhead (and I've always had a weakness for redheads). They did a great job, quick and neat as a pin, and the three of us did a lot of joking around as I suddenly found myself having to do a considerable amount of packing and cleanup in the basement. Two and a half hours flew by, I was charged considerably less than I'd expected and they became a happy memory.

Yesterday morning I sat with my financial advisor at Merrill Lynch downtown and we crunched the numbers on my retirement income. As I've mentioned before, I've been a real workhorse in my life. Wherever I've been based, I've always taken in free-lance work and for two thirds of my MIT career, I held a part time position running the stage for a private school in the area that not only got me my daughters' educations for a minute fraction of the actual cost, but gave me the money I needed for their college. And it got me a second pension, while all the extra Social Security payments got me a very hefty benefit.

So after an hour of discussing the pros and cons of various approaches, we made some decisions and the result is that I will retire on almost exactly double my final annual salary at MIT. When I left the building I called Fritz immediately (we talk several times a day usually, but this was special) and gave him the news. A lot, and I mean A LOT of travel and other experiences we want to share once we're together forever will be possible--even easy--to manage. And the plan is set up to allow regular cost-of –living upgrades to the bottom line.

Tomorrow I'll leave Boston early in the morning and go up to Fritz's with another big load in the Jeep. Moving as much as I can myself myself will keep the moving charges low, and is keeping me in very good shape.


Have a lovely weekend, everybody!

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