Monday, July 30, 2007

 
The other day I said to Fritz, “this laptop was absolutely made especially for me.” “How can you tell?,” he asked. I said that I’d been working on the review of the Kirov production of Wagner’s RING of the Nibelung that the head of the Wagner Society of Boston had asked me to write for the Society’s newsletter. When I typed in the name of the company’s music director, Valery Gergiev, the name Gergiev was obviously already in the spell check’s dictionary since it didn’t appear with a red line underneath it. That’s my kind of computer

*******

Something popped into my head the other day, an incident from the late 1980s when I was working on the creation of Theater Arts at MIT out of several performing groups. I was on a search for a director/acting teacher and had received something like 375 applications. We had done the first cut, the “total slaughter” cut and were beginning to look at the resumes from which a short list would eventually be chosen.

I used to say jokingly to friends and colleagues that when you opened more than half of the applications for such a search, you could hear a voice calling out from far, far away, ”please--PLEASE--get me out of the mid-west!” As it happened, one application from a director at one of the big mid-western universities made it to the second round in which we progressed beyond resumes to checking credentials and references.

The first two were routine, from colleagues with whom the candidate had worked. The third was from his department chair. I read through the praise for his productions, teaching and leadership in service to the university and then was stunned to run right into, “but most importantly, he is a manly man.” I couldn’t quite believe it, so I went back and read the paragraph again and there it was at the end, “he is a manly man.”

My first thought was, “well, I guess that tells US effete east coast liberal academics.” Then I thought how completely inappropriate the comment was. Finally, I wondered at the mind that could have so smugly considered a man’s (presumed) heterosexuality more important than all of his professional, intellectual and artistic accomplishments. Other members of the committee were as surprised as I except for one who had seen something like it before. The candidate didn’t make it out of the second round, but not for that reason--none of us would have disqualified him for his department chair’s bigotry.

*******

I submitted the Kirov Ring review to the Boston Wagner Society last night and am reprinting it below. I know that a couple of you are into opera and thought that others might be interested in the kind of writing I do for newsletters and arts journals from time to time.

A bit of background: The Ring of the Nibelung is a massive four opera retelling of the Nordic/Teutonic myths of creation, the introduction of evil into the world, redemption, and the end of the world by fire and water. As with so many cultures, there are parallels to the creation/destruction myths of other civilizations. The Nordic gods, for example, share major characteristics with the Greek deities, and Brunnhilde is a female version first of the Mesopotamian/Christian Lucifer (being ejected from heaven for refusing to serve as commanded), and then of the Christian Jesus as she gives her life for the purification of the world from evil. Here’s the review:


The Quirky, Compelling Kirov Ring

Premise: Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung seen through the prism of the Slavic myth and culture of the production’s creators.
Context: The Metropolitan Opera whose audience (except for the briefly seen Herbert von Karajan production) has never experienced a non-pictorially realistic Ring in New York City.
Reality: There’s very little money in Russia these days to produce epic-scale theater and opera.

Russia once had an admirable Wagner tradition until two massive global conflicts with Germany banished his operas from Soviet stages. The Kirov Opera brought to this year’s Lincoln Center Festival a Ring that reclaims the great work for Russia in a contemporary style that generated endless speculation and debate.

Music director Valery Gergiev and designer George Tsypin created this Ring together without a theatrical director. A unit set, very few props, and as few costume changes as possible provided a fast moving, singer-oriented production that Gergiev populated with extraverted, athletic, passionate singers whose intensity and enthusiasm made up for occasional vocal deficiencies. The result was fresh, endearing performances.

The Kirov orchestra exhibited all the characteristics of traditional Russian playing—biting brass tone with a healthy snarl, aggressive strings and pungent winds. Gergiev took brisk, purposeful tempi and climaxed the entire cycle in a visceral, all-enveloping performance of Siegfried’s funeral music that packed a huge wallop. In the pit, as elsewhere in this production, taking risks and pushing the envelope was preferred to safe, predictable routine.

The stage was set with three enormous faux carved wood idols (I immediately thought of the three idols of Wotan, Fricka and Freia that were to be set up outside any Nordic house, Gibichung Hall included). A white surround took projections and abstract color patterns that changed mood more effectively than place. Russia’s financial woes no doubt account for the occasionally cheap and amateurish execution of some production elements. Better to concentrate on the ideas rather than their realization.

Several of those ideas made absolute sense. When Siegfried died, the vassals placed his body not on his shield but in his boat, lifted it and carried it into the hall for cremation—a classic Nordic hero’s ship funeral. A small company of dancer-mimes shifted scenery and played many roles, including Loge’s familiar spirits, fire imps with electric magenta hair who were present at Brunnhilde’s mountain top and around Mime’s forge. One particularly haunting image was Erda, slowly spiraling aimlessly upstage into oblivion, after her final interview with Wotan.

Failures? A few. The cataclysm at the end had to be taken on faith. After the Rhine Maidens sent Hagen spinning upstage to his doom (it worked fine once but shouldn’t have been repeated), we sat there and listened to the music without much else taking place. Fortunately, Wagner made it happen in the orchestra. One feat of inadequate casting was Oleg Balashov’s Siegmund. An attractive light tenor and ardent actor, his voice fell apart up top and lacked the strength for the end of act one in Walkure. He pulled himself together for a credible act two, but the damage had already been done. And for all his good singing, Mikhail Petrenko was too recessive and almost benign as Hagen

Singing may have been variable, but it was rarely less than dramatically compelling. There were seven stand-outs: Alexei Tanovitsky’s commandingly tall, gauntly handsome Wotan with a strong and tireless bass; Vasily Gorshov, a superb actor whose finely focused high tenor sounded brilliantly through Loge and the Siegfried Mime; veteran Larissa Diadkova whose classic Fricka just keeps deepening; young Mlada Khudoley, a Sieglinde whose wide-ranging soprano and intense, charismatic acting could make her a worthy successor to Leonie Rysanek in this role; Olga Savova, an opulent, intense Gotterdammerung Waltraute; and Victor Lutsuk, the genuine article as the same opera’s Siegfried, tireless and full-voiced to the end. Last and very much not least was the venomous Rheingold Alberich of Nicolai Putilin

Honorable mention to: Leonid Zakhozhaev in the title role of Siegfried. A lyric tenor with a pleasant timbre and admirable stamina, he arrived on Brunnhilde’s rock in surprisingly fresh condition and sang the part straight through to the end; Gennady Bezzubenkov’s scary, richly sung Hunding--this man knows when doing nothing purposefully is the most powerful on-stage gesture you can make; and Yevgeny Nikitin’s unusually interesting, vibrant Gunther.

One singer’s accomplishment was emblematic of the entire enterprise. Olga Sergeeva’s Brunnhilde had its great (the Immolation) and not so great moments (a wild war cry, Brunnhilde’s awakening) in an unfailingly exciting and involving performance. Left totally alone on stage and kneeling by Siegfried’s body in this staging, she lovingly and forgivingly addressed the beginning of the Immolation directly to him rather than to the audience as a star solo. Her performance frequently recalled the Brunnhildes of Gwenneth Jones and Hildegard Behrens, with all the minuses and plusses that statement implies. In the end, this was a Ring that thrilled, provoked thought, and satisfied in surprising ways, as a loudly enthusiastic audience confirmed evening after evening.

*******

And since we’ve gotten to opera, here’s a new picture of “barihunk” Nathan Gunn that has appeared recently on some websites.



Tuesday AM update: Just this morning Nathan was on Good Morning America singing (not lip-synching) a cut from his new pop/classical album, looking gorgeous (what else?), sounding wonderful, and being boyishly charming.

Friday, July 27, 2007

 
This one will be mostly visual, a history of the construction of the concrete components of the new house. These pictures are the ones chosen yesterday morning for submission to the consulting engineer and the building inspector to demonstrate the presence of steel reinforcement in the concrete.


Frames for the footings. This one is for the pier at the west corner of the master bedroom.


Footings poured for the front of the house, including the west corner pier of the great room (foreground) and the west corner of the master bedroom (Background).


Footing for the back wall, looking west. The second blast cleared out rock twenty feet or so behind this footing.


Forms set for pouring the back wall of the house and parts of the side walls—the walls that will have earth bermed up to them.


View from outside our bedroom across the front of the house. In the background, a form is in place to pour the top of the great room’s east corner pier.


All the vertical concrete completed, waterproofed and insulated. This shot was taken Wednesday night.

I haven’t heard what the engineer’s and the building inspector’s reactions are to these photos but M tells me that they should be close to conclusive that proper concrete reinforcement procedures were followed. Everybody thinks that the pouring of the upper section of the piers was pretty crude (last photo foreground, in particular) but crude can be solved by a little grinding and crude doesn’t necessarily mean structurally unsound.

Yesterday and today the bed is being prepared for the house drains and the heating pipes that will be encased in the slab, and the plumbing could start going in immediately after that. Pouring the slab--the last of the concrete work--should happen Tuesday of next week, weather permitting.

*******

Wednesday night while watching something on television, I felt an irritation in the inside of my left elbow and looked down to see an infinitesimal brown tick just beginning to burrow in. I got a metal nail file and grasped the tick between it and my index finger nail. He hadn't gotten in too deep, but it was still a bit of a job to get him pulled out. Fritz had a ziplock bag and we dropped it in.

The tick is very small--literally the size of the head of a pin--and brown. Fritz is quite sure it's a deer tick, the type that can carry lyme disease. I called my new doctor (I'd gotten established with an excellent area HMO a couple of months ago so I'd be covered as soon as I moved up here) and I have an appointment later this morning. Lyme disease is such a concern here that they want to check me out right away and they were delighted that I had the tick. They send ticks that people bring them for testing and track the disease's appearances throughout the state.

This is one of the lesser joys of country life!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

 
It shouldn’t make much if any difference to you, but it makes a tremendous difference to me that this post is being composed on my brand new laptop. I’m enjoying every keystroke! Not alone that, Fritz contracted to have wireless internet installed at the Center and it was activated today. This place has gone from being on dial-up with only one computer at a time able to log on, to a high-speed connection that can take the entire staff, over two hundred students with their own laptops if necessary, and me--all at one time. It’s absolute heaven.

*******

I went up to the hillside yesterday afternoon to check on how things were going and saw that my general contractor and the town’s building inspector were in intense conversation. They turned when they saw me coming and I called our “Good afternoon!” The building inspector shot back “It WAS” and I knew there was trouble.

This town, it turns out, has a more stringent series of inspections required than is the state standard. While my general contractor had called in the building inspector for the first time at the normal time—the completion of the foundation—the town’s requirements were for inspections of each part of the foundation’s development. Firstly, when the footings have been poured; then the reinforcement rods and any electrical conduit has been placed into empty forms; finally when the pouring is complete and all the forms removed. The inspector was looking at a finished product with no proof that there was actually any re-rod in the concrete and he definitely wasn’t happy.

He was even less happy with the way the upper half of the piers had been poured as he had no proof there was any rod connecting the bottom half to the top half that had been poured with a “cold joint” to the bottom half,. something he didn’t like either. I decided my best position was to remain out of the conversation and let the general contractor deal with the situation. Others felt the same way—the excavator and the plumber, who was marking out where all the house’s drains were to be located, were staying as far away as possible on the other side of the site.

When the inspector left I asked R, the general contractor, “how bad is this?” He said it really wasn’t bad, that he would get another copy of the town’s inspection schedule on new construction--he said he had never received the first one--and follow it to the letter. As to the possibility that the piers would have to be reconstructed he told me, “That’s my problem, not yours.” Then he said, almost under his breath, “It would be great if there were some pictures of the site as the cement work developed.” “But there are,” I replied, “I’ve been taking pictures of every phase of the construction.”

To make a long story short, M, the guy who did all the construction drawings, said he’d coordinate the distribution of my pictures to the inspector and to the consulting engineering company so that everybody would be on the same page about how the house was put together. When I mentioned that I had no way of getting the photos off my camera as the cable that would connect it to my computer was lost somewhere amid the vast pile of cartons that had been moved into Fritz’s barn, M said he has a printer that will print from memory chips, so my pictures can be retrieved and shown to the inspector to prove that there was the proper amount of rebar in the walls, etc.

I checked the site this morning around 9am and nobody was there working at all; I figured that we’d be delayed a couple of days while everything got sorted out. But by noon, the insulation company came to waterproof and insulate the entire underground and bermed parts of the cement shell. We seem to be back on track, as the general contractor told me that the inspector had been convinced that things had been done in an approved manner.

*******

The following was forwarded to me in June by the niece of one of the men involved. She has read my blog and thought I would be interested. The story is heart-breaking but also very beautiful and is the kind of story the population of the U.S. needs to hear much more often. From the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram:


Simple Walk a Big Leap for Lovers
by Bill Nemitz June 6, 2007

Eliott Cherry will never forget the feeling.

It was the summer of 1995. He and Chris Chenard, the love of his life, had just returned home to Portland from a vacation in Provincetown, Mass.

There, much to Cherry's pleasant surprise, two gay men could spend their entire day walking downtown hand in hand -- and fit in.

But back here, as they ambled around Back Cove, holding hands felt too risky, too frightening, too out there.

"We suddenly realized how alive we felt in Provincetown," Cherry said on Monday. "And how half-alive we felt here in our own community."

So they did something about it. Working with the Maine SpeakOut Project, Cherry and Chenard founded the Walk With the One You Love -- a chance for Mainers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender to simply join hands and go for a stroll.

Starting at 1 p.m. Sunday, the walk will wind its way through Deering Oaks. And for the first time in a long time, Cherry once again will have that half-alive feeling.

Just over two weeks ago, Chris Chenard, 56, died of pancreatic cancer. Sitting by his bedside, Cherry made him a promise -- and in doing so took another bold step forward.

"I told him, 'From now on, I will refer to you as my husband,'" Cherry recalled. "It was so clear to me that I was losing my husband of 16 years -- and I want people to know that."

Squirm if you must. Or raise an eyebrow and say a man can't call another man "my husband" because there are laws about these things and blah, blah, blah

Cherry doesn't care. The two rings -- his and Chris's -- he now wears on his finger mean as much to him as a pair of weddings rings will ever mean to a heterosexual couple.

"How dare anyone try to minimize or put our relationship down a notch because it doesn't fit some mold," he said.

All of which proves that while some things have changed, some haven't.

Nonheterosexual couples can now hold hands without fear in many public places, yet Cherry admits he'd "think twice" before doing it on Congress Street in downtown Portland.

Equal rights are now ensured for Mainers regardless of their sexual orientation, yet our state and federal laws still balk (for now) at the notion of same-gender marriage.

"We have this thing on our wall -- Vermont Civil Union -- with the date and everything," Cherry said. "But what are you? You're not married. You're unified? Civilly unified? What do you call it? Nothing on there tells you what you're supposed to call the other person."

Sunday at 10 a.m., a memorial for Chris Chenard will be held in Payson Park. Then it will be over to Deering Oaks for what the Community Counseling Center (which now runs the Maine SpeakOut Project) has aptly renamed the "Ninth Annual Christian Chenard Walk With the Ones You Love."

Cherry, however grief-stricken, will be there. But part of him will be back at Maine Medical Center, where only weeks ago he and the man he loved took their final steps together up and down a hospital hallway.

Cherry smiles at the memory. "We said, 'Look! We're doing the walk with the one you love!'"

Look indeed. And come Sunday, all of Maine should give them a hand.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:
bnemitz@pressherald.com

Monday, July 23, 2007

 
There's an evil creature here in New Hampshire that's worse, if possible, even than the mosquito. It's called the deer fly. I suppose they've been here every year that I've known Fritz, but never in the numbers that are out this summer--clouds of them. They specialize in hitting--literally--the head, ears and neck whenever you venture out; they come in fast and hard. Occasionally one lands a sharp bite. They aren't particularly impressed by insect repellants. Whatever conditions have led to their population explosion this year, I hope it's a temporary thing.

*******

The new house: this was a huge weekend for its progress. As I left for New York on Friday morning, the crew was already finishing off the forms for the shell wall and the big piers on the front of the house. I first stopped in Boston and spent about two hours in my old office at MIT packing up whatever remained of my stuff and I prepared the chandelier for transportation on the top of the jeep during my return trip on Sunday. By the time I got into the city and called Fritz, he told me I had walls; still in the forms, of course, but real walls, rising from the footings that will eventually be four feet or so underground.

*******

The second half of Wagner’s Ring Cycle was a lot of fun (yes, I find four hour and fifteen minute long operas fun). The Russian cast was impressive and endearing. Russian performers tend to be very emotionally available, physically involved in their roles and generous with both their energy and concentration. The orchestral players are nothing if not intense and extraverted. The strings really dig in, sometimes to the point of a gritty, biting tone, but it's really exciting as is the snarl on the heavy brass. It's singing and playing that means something even when it's less than perfect in other areas.

And the Russians aren't afraid of the big gesture on stage. They don't simply enter, they seize the stage. They listen intensely to each other, their dialog scenes are done with passion. All that counts for a lot in an art form like opera that's by nature over the top, and thrives on big personalities.

The scenery and costuming has been problematic in some respects but are preferable to the safe, illustrated picture book style the Metropolitan Opera chose for its own production that's now a couple of decades or more old. Some ideas in the Russian version don't translate well to American audiences unfamiliar with the figures of Russian myth, but a couple that I did pick up on were right on target.

For example, when Siegfried, the dragon slaying hero of the plot is murdered, the chorus usually places his body on his shield, lifts it to their shoulders and exits in a kind of dignified funeral procession. In the Russian production, they laid his body out, then went to get a small boat in which Siegfried had presumably come down the Rhine River. They placed him with his weapons into the boat, lifted it onto their shoulders and circled the stage twice before exiting. This is exactly right--the Varangians (from the Varanger Fjord in what is now Sweden) who founded the Russian state always dragged a dead leader's boat unto land, fitted it out with food, drink, slaughtered sacrifice animals and one of the hero's women (heavily drugged), piled up lots of wood around it and set the whole thing on fire.

*******

Saturday during the day I spent a lot of time again at the Metropolitan Museum, especially in the Poiret exhibition. Paul Poiret was the French fashion designer in the first third or so of the 20th century who led the revolution against heavy corseting for women in favor of elegant and sensuously draped garments. An important part of his style derived from the fact that he never learned to sew--many of his most striking designs were draped right on the body of the woman for whom they were being designed, cut and fastened to her specific proportions. Many of his great early garments were made from rectangular pieces of fabric just as ancient Greek garments were made.

The exhibit was large and very well presented. Several of the large number of garments that have survived were shown behind a scrim curtain. As you watched, animated projections on the front of the scrim showed how the uncut, unconstructed cloth was twisted, draped and fastened around the body until the garment was complete, then the lights came up behind the scrim to reveal the actual dress or coat brilliantly lit.

I walked to and from the Museum across Central Park that was full of life, from the masses of half naked men and boys playing Frisbee and softball on the Great Lawn to the colorful crowds gathering for a Sudanese music and dance performance in the Cedar Hill area of the park.

I spent intermissions during the two opera with friends, old and new. I'd been invited on Friday night to dinner at the Met Oper's Grand Tier restaurant by dear old friends from Boston who were spending a couple of weeks in New York to take in almost everything at this year's Lincoln Center Festival. The Met's half hour (sometimes longer) intermissions always seem too long--unless you're trying to eat an whole dinner during one of them. We had fun, caught up on the progress of the houses they and I are building simultaneously, and ate some excellent creamed corn chowder, poached salmon, asparagus, and assorted desserts before settling back in our seats--just in the nick of time.

Saturday night I met (for the first time) and had a drink with Steven Smith of the blog Marginalia. We discovered we both have NOLPs (non opera-loving partners) and discussed the performance in some depth. Steve's fun, outgoing and very knowledgeable. We decided that with luck we'll both be at some of the same performances this coming season.

*******

I drove back on Sunday morning from a motel I like in West Haven, Connecticut and, after tying the chandelier on top of the Jeep at MIT, I headed straight up to the new house site to check out a transformed scene. It's become very real. You can walk through it, check out the views from where its windows will be, climb over its thresholds. It's developing quickly now.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

 
3:00pm
It's been a busy day up at the construction site. Fritz and I went up this morning on our way out to do local errands and discovered that the last of the footings had been poured yesterday evening, one day ahead of schedule.

When we got back, there was a phone call from the general contractor to say that today was the day for pouring the shell of the first floor, and that the electrician would be there to place conduit into the forms so that all the electrical outlets that are to be in outside walls would be in place. The work would start around 1:00pm and I made sure to be there about ten minutes ahead of schedule to answer any questions.

The electrician came first and we settled the big issues right away--we want all our outlets to be 18" above the finished floor level, and the cable coming down off the hillside from the photovoltaic arrays will NOT pass through the back wall underground. It will come up above ground and pass into the house through the conventionally wood-framed section of the top of the first floor, above the concrete shell wall. When the general contractor arrived he agreed that I'd made the right decision--neither he nor the electrician thought it was a good idea to breach the back wall anywhere for any reason if it could be avoided. Both felt that no matter how good the modern sealants are that could be placed around such a hole, water would find a way in if it could, and none of us wants that.

By 1:30 everyone involved had arrived and the site was incredibly busy. The footings were being marked and prepared for the forms to go up. The electricians were constructing their conduit segments and the little feet that would keep them at the correct height within the forms during the pouring process. Throughout, a series of very gentle showers had passed over, not enough to stop anything from going on. By 2:15 it was decided that all questions had been answered and I came back down to the Center to do email and start this entry. It's now 3pm actual rain has started which may scuttle any further work. So far, however, I haven't heard the fleet of trucks come down from the site.

5:45pm
Amazingly, the crew stayed on despite progressively heavier rain. A little after 4pm, the excavator stopped by to check on progress as he'll have to do all the back-fill with crushed rock around the bermed-up portions of the house once the shell wall has been poured and fully waterproofed. He told us that pouring concrete tonight was out of the question but that the crew would finish the forms and set all the electric conduit despite the weather. With luck (and the forecast makes this seem very possible), the shell walls will be poured early tomorrow morning.

I'm on my way early tomorrow, stopping at MIT to prepare a big--and I mean big--chandelier that I was given for the new house for transportation back to New Hampshire. From MIT, I head down to New York City for performances on Friday and Saturday nights of the last two operas in Wagner's Ring Cycle, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung (Night Falls on the Gods) as performed by the Kirov Opera Company. On the way back from New York I'll stop at MIT and get the chandelier up on top of the jeep, tie it securely and bring it up here.

J, director of Intermezzo, the chamber opera company I design for, had this chandelier in his apartment and wanted to donate it to MIT's props collection or give it to me if I could use it in the new house. The thing that endeared it to me was its scale. At over three feet feet high and about three feet around, it’s the right size to hang over the dining area of the great room. It's late Victorian in style but not too over-ornate. Much of it is cast iron so there are some weight issues. I'd put it in the Jeep but the latch to the back door is currently jammed shut. I should be able to get it on the roof, on a mover's pad, and secure it without too much trouble. Given its very open framework, there shouldn't be much wind resistance.

Once the chandelier is here I'll have to find an electrician to rewire it and we'll need to decide how many of the crystals that it's meant to have (none of them has survived) we want to restore. Neither of us wants it to be too flashy. One thing I'm anxious to get is the large faceted glass obelisk-shaped ornament that is meant to be mounted on the base of the chandelier and rise through it. A friend of J's, the music director of Intermezzo, borrowed it for whatever reason. He and J christened it "the crystal dildo" and I can't wait to see it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

 
I've pretty much settled in here at Fritz's, or at least as much as I can settle in given the space available. I've set up an office/"studio" and am managing my affairs pretty well. There's a lot of paperwork to do still to transfer all my contacts and cancel a lot of insurance having to do with the house in Boston.

A great surprise was that my bank here (which was also my bank in Boston, allowing me to keep going on as usual without having to establish myself with a different bank) converted many of its accounts to higher rates of interest. Their super-preferred savings account now pays almost twice the rate of interest as my MIT Credit Union account, so I'll be transferring my money from there to here. I kicked off the new savings rate by depositing the check from the sale of the house in Boston which arrived from the lawyer yesterday. So I now have all I'll need to complete the new house right here and accessible any time.

Speaking of the new house, here's the short-term schedule as I got it from the builder today:

Tomorrow, the last of the footings for the house will be poured. If the weather allows, the shell of the first floor (the parts of the house that will have earth bermed up against them) will be poured on Friday. They'll both cure over the weekend. Then next week, all the pipe work will be set--plumbing entries and drains out of the house, duct for the electric line from the photovoltaic arrays to the inversion panel in the mechanical room, ducts for the phone, cable and internet, and all of the pipe for radiant heat in the slab floor. Late next week or early the following week, the concrete will be poured for the slab. After that cures, the framers come in and the walls begin to go up.

*******

Alan Ilagan tagged me on five blogs from which I've learned. Given the fact that I think (hope) I learn something from all the blogs on my blogroll, here are five that have been big influences in that regard.

Joe.My.God. Joe's a Floridian transported to New York who's assimilated the City's culture. He writes frequently and at length about a wide variety of topics. Joe's authenticity is impressive, his espressivity can be heart-breaking, and the range of topics that grab his interest is amazing. He's a great observer, an activist--and for all the sophistication and tough edge he sometimes tries to project, he's actually a very down to earth, warm man who writes extremely well.

Cooper's Corridor. Dominic (Nicky) lives in western Canada and is as close to Nature as you can get. He writes luminously about the environment, the land and sky, the First Peoples (from whom he descends) and, now, about adopting two very young boys and the whole process of becoming a father. One thing I learn from this blog is how far I still have to go to write the way I'd like to on a consistent basis.

The Rest Is Noise. Alex Ross is music critic for The New Yorker magazine. His knowledge of, and taste in, music of all kinds from rock to the most arcane levels of contemporary composition, is truly mind-boggling. He's never pretentious or obscure. His writing is natural, informative and often extremely thought-provoking. He has a huge readership but, surprisingly, answers email very cordially. From Alex I learn about music history and, conversely, about stuff that was composed last week.

Towleroad. One thing I value about Andy Towle's blog is the easy access to the latest in politics that affect gay men and lesbians, and to the popular culture. With my departure from MIT, I'll no longer be working and interacting with teenagers and 20 somethings on a regular basis. As a working artist, I don't want to lose knowledge of what's going on, and Andy gathers information from a wide variety of sources. I'll be leaning on his blog more than ever now.

Alan Ilagan. Yes, the tagger himself. Alan's a writer and excellent photographer. There was a big connection between us when he began to explore photographically, with himself as subject, the strong undercurrent of sexuality and eroticism, particularly homoeroticism, in Catholic religious art and imagery.

Apologies to anyone who feels he should have been listed in "the five." As I said, I learn from all my blogs. I began blogging to connect with the gay online community and what I've learned from all of you is the dazzling variety and richness of gay life. For that I am truly grateful.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

 
It was a really nice weekend all around. I'd arranged to meet my younger daughter for dinner before my 8pm curtain at the Metropolitan Opera to celebrate her birthday--her choice of restaurant. She picked the Dan Japanese on Broadway at 69th. Since I didn’t know it, that was fine--and I think it's going to be useful for me as a reasonably priced, good quality place for my evenings at Lincoln Center in future.

She and her current beau were leaving the next morning for a week in Belize. This trip may be a sign that something serious could be beginning to develop. We had a good time. I caught her up on the move and my beginning to settle in at Fritz's. She talked about her job (liking it more and more) and about how surprisingly comfortable she is in the new relationship.

The opera, the first part or "Prolog" to Wagner's RING, was a huge success vocally and orchestrally. I wasn't carried away by the direction, a dutiful walk-through of the required action, but neither was it inadequate. The scenery, part of a production that was conceived specifically to be light-weight enough to tour easily, was mostly symbolic and didn't captivate many in the audience. I didn't mind the symbolic approach but do insist that if you're going to use symbols, you have to apply them consistently—although individual scenes were certainly striking.

The most interesting moment in the evening, for me at least, came very late in the opera. As Wotan was preparing to lead his brother and sister gods into the newly completed Valhalla his wife, the goddess Fricka, entered wearing a tall headdress with a bear's face mounted on top. She carried a similar one with a jackal or dog's head and helped Wotan put it on. Their costumes and these headdresses were white, and as they progressed upstage to the appropriately empty and bombastically ceremonial music Wagner provided for their entry into the new house, they looked as if they'd been institutionalized into iconic idol figures.

As I was going to make the visit to my old employer in the retirement home in central Jersey, I drove out of the city after the opera through the Lincoln Tunnel and found a motel in the town of Cheesequake. For someone who's lived so much of his life in Boston, home of the Great Molasses Flood, Cheesequake sounded like it might be an interesting place. Alas, no.

The motel was far from full so my economy room was kindly upgraded by the desk clerk to "a very beautiful room—a really lovely room." Remember, I was in northern New Jersey--heavy Sopranos territory--and beauty is in the eye of the beholder depending on the local culture. I was on route 9, a dreary commercial strip full of auto body shops, restaurants and lounges (Nonna's Italian Feast, Connie's Italiano Bar, Grill and Dancing). The beauty of my room (that came complete with full kitchenette) was that the cheap masonite-backed wall paneling was laid on in a herringbone pattern and--so classy!--the stippled plaster ceiling had multicolor glitter embedded in it. All this for $62, including all state taxes.

Saturday morning I headed south on route 9 hoping for some change of landscape but the miles and miles of strip malls, shopping plazas, pool and spa centers, etc. never let up. Eventually I turned west onto route 70 and passed through Lakehurst (site of the Hindenberg hydrogen-filled airship disaster in the late 1930s) and into Whiting, my destination. I stopped to pick up a potted flowering plant for my old employer's window sill and our meeting was a delight.

At 94 she's sharp as a tack and very animated. Earlier this year she suffered a small stroke that thickened her speech, but I soon learned how to understand her. She positively lit up when I entered her room and we had a lovely time together. At one point I asked her if she'd like to show me around the place which she liked the idea of, so I pushed her wheelchair wherever she indicated she wanted me to go and she explained what was what. Through one of the windows we saw a beaver waddling through the edge of the woods, which consists of a lot of short scrub pines and low underbrush making an inland town look like a beach community. The place itself is lovely and the staff extremely nice.

She showed me a stack of books she'd gotten out of the local library--a lot of travel books and a history of opera. I told her how important my earnings from the business were in keeping me in theater and opera house ticket money as a kid. We talked a long while. I took some pictures and a staff member took one or two of us together before I said good-bye. I'll probably go down again next winter on one of my trips into the city. It's not that far from New York and she seemed to enjoy it tremendously.

Saturday night was the second of the RING operas, this one far better directed with scenes that crackled with energy and dramatic tension. The last two are next Friday and Saturday night.

*******


Here’s a picture of the kind of rock that was blasted out to make way for the foundations of the new house. As you can see, it’s very complex stuff with all kinds of minerals, crystals, silica and other kinds of rock embedded in it. It’s volcanic and should make really interesting and beautifully colored facing for the big concrete piers across the front of the house.

Friday, July 13, 2007

 
Thanks for all the congratulatory comments on the move. I took Wwdnesday evening completely off. Both Fritz and I were bushed and I was probably under a bit of emotional stress as well but, truth to tell, I've been part of his life for ten years so his place is very much like home.

We went to bed fairly early and there were three interruptions: a rainstorm, a middle of the night phone call that turned out to be a wrong number and a big ruckus from my cat that woke Fritz but not me. He told me in the morning and I got up, walked around the foot of the bed, and found the mouse cadaver that Starr had carefully laid right in the geographic center of the little rug on Fritz's side of the bed. I disposed of the remains and we both praised the Great Huntress.

On Thursday morning we heard activity up at the house site and went up to find the excavator clearing shattered rock from the second blast. It was a huge success. The hillside is blown out about twenty feet or so behind the house's back wall, just low enough to allow the grading and drainage backfill necessary to guarantee the proper management and routing of water coming down the hill during heavy rains.

The rest of the day was devoted to my finding essential records and files, setting up an office in a guest room of the house and catching up on bill paying and other pressing business.

Today, I'm off to New York City for the first half (Das Rheingold and Die Walkure) of Wagner's massive Ring of the Nibleung (the last two are next weekend). The Kirov Opera from St Petersberg, Russia is presenting its interpretation at the Metropolitan Opera. There had been a great Wagner tradition in Russia until the 1930s when the Hitler-Stalin accords went sour and Wagner was effectively banned from performance in the Soviet Union for a good forty years or so.

Russia's horrible sufferings at the hands of the Nazis took a long time to overcome. This Ring production is apparently based on a Slavic view of the interaction of myth and nature and is extremely Russian in both philosophy and visual presentation.

Saturday morning, I'm driving down to Whiting, New Jersey to visit a 94 year old lady in a retirement home. She and her husband had run a gift store in Rego Park, Queens, New York. While I was in high school, they provided me with my first job and enough in earnings to keep me in Broadway and opera ticket money. They were childless; I think that the fact that they kept in touch with me through the years meant that they had in some sense "adopted" me. While I was in college they sent cards and sometimes a modest bit of money to help me through. I sent pictures of the girls as they grew up and we traded cards at the important holidays,

He's gone now and I thought that before it was too late I would make an actual visit. The woman who cares for her needs wrote me how excited she was that I was coming down to visit. She's apparently extremely active, goes out to dinner with some frequency and enjoys being taken to the local library to pick out books and CDs. I'll spend at least two hours there, probably more, and take her out to lunch, then back to the City for the evening performance. I'll be back here in New Hampshire Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

 
To borrow a title from Shakespeare, "All's Well That Ends Well." At approximately 11:30 this morning I ceased to be a property owner and resident of Massachusetts and, after signing a small mountain of paperwork, handed over the keys for my house to E, who was just bubbling over with enthusiasm to move in and begin his life there. It wasn't bittersweet at alkl. The closing was more like a small party of friends gathered to celebrate some significant life passage. Here's how it all came to be the last couple of days.

Tuesday. At 8:45am, right on time, Gentle Giant Movers arrived and three great looking guys walked up to the front door. Istvan, Andrei and Andrios, all of them Roumanian, turned out to be pros in the best sense of the word. Completely organized, supremely careful of my possessions, polite (at one point Andrei apologized for holding a conversation with Andrios in a foreign language in my presence) and full of good humor, they had everything inventoried, wrapped for shipping, packed into the truck and ready to go in just three hours. While they worked, I loaded the Jeep with everything small I could put my hands on. I also kept an eye out for the Fire Department smoke and carbon monoxide alarm inspector who was due between nine and noon.

Having been denied the required certificate the week before, I was very careful to mount all the CO detectors exactly where the first inspector had said they should go. But by 11:45, nobody'd shown up. The certificate was a total requirement for closing the next day so I was concerned. Just after the guys took off for New Hampshire with the truck, a car pulled up and the inspector got out of it slowly and with some difficulty. The inspection process was surprising to say the least.

He was a very nice man who had a crippled leg and walked with difficulty. He had some trouble making it up the two steps into my front hall, so I was concerned about his ability to negotiate the stairs in my house, particularly the rather steep ones going up to the attic level. I needen't have worried. He tested the two smoke and one CO detectors on the first floor and then looked me straight in the eye, " You've got the same equipment and the same set-up on the two upper floors, right?"

"Yes, and placed according to instructions of the inspector who came last week."

"What have you got in the basement?"

"One smoke detector at the bottom of the basement stairs."

"Great, that's what we like to hear. Where's there a place I can write out the certificate?"

The entire process took seven minutes. He wished me well on the move and left. I followed him out and took off for route 93 north. Because the movers were going to take their mandated lunch break along the way and I settled for take-out while driving, I got to Fritz's ahead of them and was able to greet them on their arrival. In about half an hour, almost everything was neatly stacked in the lower of the barn and it was time to get the antique soapstone sink that I had inherited in the basement of my Roslindale house (it's going to be the kitchen sink in the new house) out of the truck.

The guys had mounted it onto a piano moving dolley (we estimated its weight at 400 pounds) and very carefully guided it down the truck's ramp and into place in the barn. I pulled out a dolley I had ready for it and watched as just two of them lifted the sink from theirs to mine, setting it down very gently. Fritz and I were amazed, and he commented on their ability to do that kind of lifting. "Were especially trained" Andrei said with a wink, and the move was over. I gave them each a good tip and off they went. Fritz then joined me for the return trip to Boston to help in the final cleanup.

After a good dinner out (there was no possibility of cooking anything with what was left in the house) we dug in, and before bed time we put a small mountain of trash out for pick-up on Wednesday. We slept on an old foam mattress I had kept for guests which went onto the trash pile in the morning.

Wednesday: I woke at five to the dawn chorus of birds which is always very full and loud in Roslindale and a beautiful way to start the day. We got up about six and made the final comb through the house to make sure the place was picked clean. Then I vacuumed while Fritz checked everything all over again. The Jeep was close to full when we broke at eight for breakfast at Starbucks, then back to the house where the last few items were squeezed into the Jeep. I found one or two little surprises in cabinets or behind radiators and most of them were trashed.

E, all bright and excited, arrived early for the walk-through. I took him around, showed him where I had put the instruction manuals for equipment in the house, where spare doors and woodwork that matched the deck outside the kitchen and spare siding from my having had the outside redone were stored. I showed him my kitchen range with the big, self-cleaning oven and he was delighted. He always has his whole family in for a big Thanksgiving Dinner (he worked as a chef for a caterer for some time in the past). His realtor and mine arrived within minutes of each other and all were delighted at how clean and truly empty the house was--apparently some owners leave a lot of stuff behind. I had spoken with E in advance about what curtain rods or shades he might fine useful for me to leave for him, so there were no problems. We headed out in convoy for the closing.

It took an hour. The lawyer representing me had all the paperwork ready. A hearty, outgoing type, he was great to deal with and we spent a lot of time joking. E and I talked back and forth across the conference table, his realtor (an old friend of his parents), my realtor, and Fritz stayed on the sidelines enjoying the show. Finally, I handed E the keys and it was all over. Handshakes all around. E and I hugged and kissed each other on the cheek. I wished him every bit as much happiness as I have had in the house. I know sellers aren't supposed to care who buys the property just so long as it sells, but I had a wonderful feeling about E taking the place over.

Fritz and I drove north. He can be a wonderfully silly man at times. As we crossed the border he said, "By the power vested in me by the governor of this state, I welcome you to New Hampshire. " When we crossed the line into town, it was, "By the power vested in me by the Board of Selectmen, I welcome you to the town of Raymond." And when we parked in the driveway it was the Board of Directors of his non-profit. Then we got out of the Jeep, hugged--and I was home.

Monday, July 09, 2007

 
Monday night, and the movers are due at 8:30 tomorrow morning. I'm ready for them but NOT for a "walk-through" of the house Wednesday morning at 9:30 before the 10:30 closing. My realtor failed to inform me of this practice until yesterday. I'd been looking forward to a quiet Wednesday morning when I'd do my final vacuuming of the floors and kiss the place good-bye and that would be that. Fritz. bless him, will come back to Roslindale with me tomorrow afternon and help me do the final sweeping and cleaning.

Yesterday afternoon and evening Atari hosted a farewell dinner (with drinks, including my first margarita ever) for GayProf and me. In attendance also was the irrepressible Stevie from Chaos with his adorable twelve week old Jack Russell terrier puppy. I got there just after 3pm, the others were present before 4 and the next time I looked at my watch it was 10:30. The party just flew by. Atari cooked (excellently) on the grille and we ate in the back garden of the house he shares with two other guys one of whom worked with his mother to turn the garden in to a showplace thet got one of Mayor Tom Menino's awards for a beautiful property. There was a big rain storm (we just moved the table under the second floor deck), the wine kept on appearing in our glasses and I discovered I really like margaritas. Good drinks, good talk and great men--a superb evening.

*******

As I turned into the driveway of Fritz's place early this afternoon, I encountered the drillers who had just finished the holes for tomorrow's second and (hopefully) final blast. Maybe I'll be on the property to hear it go off. After that, the final concrete will be poured and then it's on to framing in all the walls and roofbeams. We progress!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

 
There have been times during the entire house sale and moving process when I've felt like the heroine of the old silent movie cliff-hanger serial "The Perils of Pauline." In spite of planning ahead, beginning the packing and transportation of goods and small furniture months ago, and all the foresight I could summon, a lot has been going wrong.

The most recent things were this last week. The code on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors has tightened in the past few years and my realtor gave me a list of the number of each and location where they should be installed so I could get the certificate required next Wednesday for the closing. I followed his list and the manufacturer's instructions on how the CO detectors should be installed (I already had several smoke detectors but added a couple)--and failed the inspection on Thursday. The inspector would not allow any placement of a CO detector other than on a plaster wall (not on wood and not standing on any surface, both of which were virtually recommended by the instructions). So, I will reinstall today. Luckily I was able to get a new inspection appointment on Tuesday (day before closing) or the closing wouldn't have happened. Fritz keeps reminding me to breathe.

Some months ago a friend slammed the back hatch of my Jeep closed on a piece of rope and the lock jammed. I finally got it open with a lot of help but it's been touch and go ever since. I found a way of working it so that it would lock for security and release when needed but yesterday between my house and Fritz's with a full load, it decided to jam. As it happened, everything I had inside was (just) able to get out via the side door because I couldn't open it on arrival. The last two loads will be difficult but I should be able to make it through. This complication I really didn't need in my life at this point in time.

On a far more positive note, Atari's holding a back yard barbeque for Anthony (GayProf) and me tomorrow afternoon in the yard behind his house in Jamaica Plain. Anthony and I are both leaving Boston within two weeks of each other, although I'll be back as a visitor for performances, museum exhibits and two productions a year with Intermezzo, the opera company I design for. Anthony's going much further afield, but to a great job that he's looking forward to, which is great news and very well deserved.

The next couple of days will be a bit of a scramble but i'll try to post progress reports. Oh, yes--preparations for the new blasting of ledge on the house site have been made but the actual blasting hasn't yet happened. I don't know what the delay is but I hope they'll get it done on Monday and that the pouring of the shell of the first floor of the house can begin soon.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

 
This is going to be relatively short as the days are very few between now and the arrival of the movers, and particularly because the closing has been moved up from the 12th in the afternoon to the 11th in the morning. After doing business here this morning, I'll take a Jeepload of things, mostly electronics and kitchen items, up to New Hampshire. When I come back, Fritz will be with me for a couple of days to help get the rest packed up and ready to go.

He'll also be digging up some lily of the valley, iris and day lillies to plant temporarily before they get moved next spring into place at the new house. I found this house with almost nothing on the land but grass and I've landscaped it nicely. We both want to bring some pips, corms and crowns up with us to start off the planting at the new house. I have no intention of introducing grass or a lawn on that hillside, but there will be some careully planned plantings, probably in raised beds defined by, what else?--rock taken from the vast piles left over from the blasting.

The emotional impact of all this hasn't really hit yet. Wherever I look in this house there are memories of my daughters, who grew up here from the moment they arrived from Korea to the time when they went off on their own to college, first jobs and making their own lives. I suppose I'll have a let-down once the heavy work of getting packed and moved is over and I'm in the five month or so interim period between moving to Fritz's and then finally moving into the new house. During that time, the vast majority of my stuff will have to remain packed in cartons, and I'll need to find ways to carry on preparing for speaking engagements and the occasional opera design without all the normal resources.

********

Alan, thanks for tagging me--I'll work on it ASAP--I actually like doing those things. Early next week my ability to blog may be reduced, but I'll try to get back to normal as quickly as possible.

Happy 4th of July to you all!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

 
When I got to Fritz's on Friday afternoon, there was a lot of activity at the house site. All loose rock had been cleared from the house's footprint and the concrete crew was putting up wooden forms to pour the lowermost footings for the walls and piers that will support the trusses over the 24' wide great room. It was fortunate that I was there. The general contractor and M who had made the construction drawings arrived one after the other at about 4pm.

They told me that the blasting earlier in the week was a success as far as it went but hadn't removed enough rock behind the house. The top of the "cliff" was too high for the downstairs windows and water draining down the hill would fall directly onto those windows. To make matters more urgent, two huge cement trucks were at that moment on their way to pour the footings. There were two alternatives:
1) cancel the cement trucks and have the crew break down the forms, have the excavator re-dig the front of the house several feet south, then rebuild the forms and pour concrete some time next week, or:
2) have the trucks pour the footings, let them set over the weekend, have the excavator cover the newly poured footings with crushed rock to protect them and then blast out the top five feet of the cliff. By the time we'd clarified the options and calculated the increased expense of each option, the trucks were 10 minutes away. Nothing like a little pressure.

We went with plan #2. The trucks arrived with a great grinding roar up the compacted crushed rock road to the house and then, one after the other, drove right into the house's footprint. Cement began pouring down the trough from the trucks into the forms. The crew raked and smoothed the cement into the forms, around the reinforcement rods that would secure the eventual walls and piers to the footings. All this was between 5 and 6pm on a Friday afternoon on what many considered to be a holiday weekend. By 6:30 the site was empty of trucks and crew. I'm now the proud possessor of a foundation. The remedial shaping of the cliff will happen early next week.

I went back down to Fritz's house and helped greet the arriving relatives for the reunion weekend. On Saturday and today I led two separate tours up to the site after explaining how the house had come to be designed and showing the plans. Everybody loved the site and many carried away pieces of the broken rock of the ledge. The stuff is exotic and gorgeous. Some pieces of the amber-to deep blood red rock contain glittering silica or marble-like veins. Fritz found a geode-like piece inside which crystals mixed with granite. One of his cousins loaded a big chunk into the trunk of his car to place in his garden.

All this rock will eventually sheathe the six big piers along the front of the house, and I proposed to Fritz that it might also face the inside of the two corner piers of the great room, one of which will back the Vermont Castings wood stove.

The reunion was a big, fun, non-stop party. For Saturday night's dinner, Fritz had engaged the caterer to whom we refer wedding and special event clients so he and I could enjoy the big meal of the weekend (he and I had cooked all other meals during the weekend). We had relatives from Illinois, Texas, North Carolina and California among other states and everyone had a great time.


*******

I returned to Boston tonight. Our new Democratic governor Deval Patrick has announced three very interesting initiatives:
1) He's joined a coalition of Green State facilitators. The object is to make this state into a leader in energy conservation, alternative energy production and environmental responsibility.

2) He will propose a constitutional amendment to ban all attempts to write bias or discrimination into the Massachusetts Constitution.
3) He will block the raising of tolls on this state's roads until he has made sure all current toll revenue is being spent properly without waste or loss due to graft.

*******

This piece appeared recently on the Playbill site about a legendary singer. It's both inspirational and a slap in the face to those who feel gay unions aren't sincere and motivated by genuine love and devotion:


Hugues Cuénod — the Swiss tenor who was a member of Nadia Boulanger's madrigal group, sang in the world premiere of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, played one of the animals in The Cunning Little Vixen for Simon Rattle's Glyndebourne debut, and made his own Metropolitan Opera debut at age 84 — celebrates his 105th birthday today.

He won't be out partying, though. "I will probably stay in bed," he told the Associated Press in a telephone interview yesterday. "I won't do anything special," he told the Swiss news agency ATS earlier this year, "I'll wait for the next [birthday] — if there is one!"

As for his longevity, he told ATS, "It's not my fault, I didn't do anything for it. I'm in good health, I'm lazy and I have a dear friend to look after me." Which is to say that Cuénod got married earlier this year — well, okay, he got civil union-ed. He and his partner of two decades, a 64-year-old retired Swiss civil servant named Alfred Augustin, registered their partnership in January after Swiss law was changed to give same-sex couples most of the legal benefits of marriage. "It was a logical decision, especially at this age." Augustin told ATS. "Most people were happy for us," he continued, "though a few promised us 15,000 years in hell."

The two live together in the Château de Lully, which overlooks Lake Geneva not far from Lausanne and has belonged to Cuénod's family for more than two centuries. The birthday boy is now hard of hearing and can no longer read, reports ATS, but he still gets out of bed every morning, eats his meals at the table and regularly visits restaurants. "I have a quiet life, I receive some visitors," he says. "I'm very happy and don't particularly think about the future. For me the future is perhaps several months."

But Augustin tells ATS that "Hugues still likes to go riding in the car, especially with the top down so he can let his long white hair blow in the wind."

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