Friday, August 31, 2007

 
From the Greenfield Community College’s Senior Symposia catalog, Fall 2007:

The Real Mozart?
Instructor, Will F______

One of the seminal composers in western music, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been portrayed as angelic prodigy, Dresden china courtier, and braying idiot. Can the real Mozart be documented?

Illustrated by video and audio excerpts, this two-session symposium will focus on the composer’s iconic operatic output, placing it in the turbulent context of his historical period. We’ll examine how his life as a child phenomenon, role as “inventor” of the modern musician, revolutionary sentiments, and position in Vienna’s “New Hope” Lodge of Freemasons affected his pivotal role in opera’s transition from the Baroque to the Romantic Style. We’ll sample and discuss rarely heard operas from Mozart’s adolescence, the great late masterpieces, and the under-appreciated opera-serias from his prime, “Idomeneo” and “La Clemenza di Tito.”

William F_____ is Emeritus Professor of Music and Theater Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Wednesdays: October 10 and 17, 2-4pm

**

We’re beginning our annual Work and Play Labor Day Weekend tonight. We’ll be taking down all the trees that have to be cleared for the leach field for the new house’s septic system; taking up one old rug in an small conference room in the Center and replacing it with another; and there’ll be a lot of cutting and splitting wood that had been cut last year and left to season to burn in the wood stoves this winter. At night there’ll be the hot tub (we can’t have a Sweat for the boys this time because the woods are dry and wilting from the lack of rain and weeks of punishing heat—the fire to heat the rocks would be hazardous), DVDs and self-made music, games and, doubtless, some horsing around of the kind gay men do when they get together.

**

Here’s the latest phase of construction—the big roof is going up.



A very happy, fun-filled weekend to you all!!
xoxoxo
Will and Fritz

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

 
There are two planted areas, one lining the south and the other lining the north of Fritz’s wing of the house. Both have become overgrown during the years but each contains some wonderful plants and trees. A couple of days ago I played hooky from what I really should have been doing and began to hack my way through them. In all I spent four to five hours and had the most enjoyable afternoon I’ve passed in a long time.

There were challenges—a thirty-five foot sumac tree that should have been taken out when it was a sapling, a twenty foot maple that was sandwiched in between two hemlocks and virtually invisible, a variety of opportunistic vines, many heavily thorned. There were surprises—lilacs that were being smothered, a flagpole that had become completely engulfed, lovely beds of flowering myrtle that were being covered up by all kinds of underbrush.

At my house in Boston I had landscaped extensively and enjoyed my blueberries, gooseberries and two handsome holly bushes, one male and the other female so that I got lots and lots of berries for holiday decorating. But this is different. We have our own small orchard here, from which Fritz makes peach, pear, and rhubarb preserves, apple pies and apple sauce, and I make sorbet. All my “Italian gentleman farmer” instincts are coming out and getting fulfilled. Living here full time is a lot different from visiting, even visiting as often as possible as I did prior to the permanent move in mid-July—and we’re enjoying being together full time enormously.



The new house has grown upward in the area where it is two storied. Work should begin on the big pyramidal roof tomorrow. When that’s done, the roofs will start to grow outward over the great room and the master bedroom wing.

Monday, August 27, 2007

 
We’re running a revolving door for guests here for the next ten days. Fritz’s former student, the cuddly little koala who was such fun to entertain, left for Manchester Airport Friday morning; S and his boyfriend D arrived from San Francisco via Portsmouth, NH after dinner Friday night. They’ll leave next Thursday and on Friday several of our guys will show up to begin our annual Labor Day Weekend Work and Play gathering.

S and D are doing some touring around using the house here as a base, but their main purpose is a serious one—scattering the ashes of S’s great uncle Ed on Fritz’s property.

Fritz has always had a knack for accumulating people. Many years ago, S and his then boyfriend arrived at Fritz’s and went into residence in one wing of the house. Not long after that the boyfriend succumbed to AIDS and S’s great uncle Ed relocated from San Francisco to be with S and take care of him in his loss.

Ed was a complex and very interesting man, a highly decorated WWII hero from the Pacific branch of he war. He had been married and fathered a child but eventually joined the army and was posted to Pearl Harbor, where he survived the [in]famous attack of Dec. 7, 1941. Somewhere in all this he came out and the marriage and contact with his son ended.

As the war progressed, Ed was assigned dangerous intelligence missions in the south Pacific. He’d be taken by submarine to a Japanese-held island, row ashore in an inflatable boat, meet an American-friendly islander on the shore, be guided through the jungle just so far, then be on his own to locate Japanese camps, frequently crawling on his stomach for extensive periods of time. He’d record the pertinent information when he found a target, then make his way back through the jungle, hoping to find the guide, and return to the sub to make his report. A testimony to Ed’s skill and luck is that among the impressive array of medals on display in one of the conference rooms, there was no purple heart—he was never injured during his four and a half years of wartime service.

San Francisco was Ed’s home but when he returned there he did so in a double capacity: as an honored veteran coming home, and as one of the thousands of discharged gay service men who established San Francisco as the gay capital of America in the years immediately following the war.

Among the mementos and artifacts on display Saturday along with the medals and formal photos of Ed in his uniform, were stacks and stacks of photo albums. Ed didn’t only take a lot of pictures, he dated them and noted the names of people in each photo. During the war years, there were many snapshots of beautiful young men on Hawaii’s beaches. Back home in San Francisco there were photos of late 1940s and 50s gay parties and striking pictures of Ed in drag.

There used to be a term that has fallen out of use—a handsome woman. It was meant to describe a lady of significant stature and dignified bearing, with strong, attractive features and great presence. In drag, the tall and well set up Ed was a very handsome woman indeed, one who knew how to play to the camera with a variety of expressions from enigmatic to come hither. During these years Ed traveled extensively all over the world, a fact that was mentioned appreciatively at the service, along with the fact that he lived life fully on his own terms.

Ed arrived at Fritz’s to be with his great nephew at age 75. S, however, had ideas other than being under the wing of his strong-minded and curmudgeonly relative, and he moved out. Ed, for his part, announced that he’d moved for the last time and was staying put; thus he became Fritz’s tenant for most of the rest of his life.

Ed lived at Fritz’s for about 15 years before deciding to leave for a retirement home where he’d have more people around him and more support. He had a goal, which was to live to celebrate his 90th birthday and he achieved it. He died this summer, requesting his ashes be scattered at a place on Fritz’s property he called “the condos,” the top of a little cliff in which lived a variety of chipmunks, squirrels, and other animals that he loved to feed. Relatives and friends standing in a circle near the condos commented that Ed frequently treated animals better than people but there was plenty of evidence too that Ed cared about his family and had inspired great admiration and affection.

When all had been said, the ashes were scattered, Taps was played by a trumpeter able to play with a very sweet tone, and we all returned to the Center for a lovely buffet provided by one of Ed’s nieces. On Sunday the family gathered at the self-storage locker where Ed’s furniture and other personal possessions were stored. Decisions were made, everything divided among the relatives or assigned to charity. In the younger generation of the family is a young gay man whose great ambition in life is to become a lawyer and the next great legal advocate for gay rights. It’s an admirable goal for which he’ll need a great deal of strength and determination; in Ed, he has the best possible role model.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

 
This week we’re hosting a former student of Fritz’s from Long Beach, CA. He’s good company, full of fun, and delighted with the New England countryside and the history that’s everywhere (where he’s from the 1920s is considered Antiquity). We’ve taken him to the Shaker Village in Canterbury and to Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth. Yesterday we took him to the Ladd-Gilman House in Exeter (1735) and the associated tavern (1774-5) that once entertained George Washington. We had dinner at a lobster, fish and steamed clam house, then went to a talk on the famous stone walls that are everywhere here in the Northeast. He also joins us on our twice or thrice daily walks up to the building site. Speaking of which:



The framing crew has increased to four. Two of the guys are named Shane (my NYC daughter’s new boyfriend is also named Shane—there must have a vogue for the name a while ago that I missed somehow). As of this morning, they got the second floor up in about an hour and a half thanks to having pre-fabbed everything a couple of weeks ago.



*******

Continuing with the Glimmerglass story, dining in the area is becoming more interesting. In the past there had been one or two attempts to put in bistro or high-end cuisine restaurants but they had failed rather quickly. As one antique dealer told me this year, the Baseball Hall of Fame crowd, even when they come as families with mother and daughters in tow, is interested in pizza, hot dogs and beer. The opera festival lasts for two months, and you can’t maintain a good restaurant year round on just a two month bump of heavy patronage. However, the Villa San Isidoro has opened half way between the opera theater and the place where I stay each year in an early 18th century stone farm house attached to a 19th century Italianate Victorian house that a gay couple bought some years ago and have been restoring ever since. The Ristorante and Taverna opened last December and have been going strong ever since.

The difference for the Isidoro is the Taverna section with the wood-burning brick oven and the gourmet pizza, roast chicken, salad, pasta and Italian sausage menu. Everybody loves the place, and it came into summer opera/tourist season already established and going strong. I ate there both nights, once in each side of the place, and had excellent food and service both times. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’re still open next summer because I’d go back in a minute.

Saturday night’s performance was Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, one of his typical send-ups of Parisian society and what one writer called “Napoleon III’s carnival empire.” It was Offenbach’s first big hit; I’ve now seen two different productions and while I like the work, I think he hadn’t yet fully found his style.

It starts slowly but does build to the truly loony mayhem of the Underworld scene that’s capped by the famous can-can as grand finale. The production team wisely decided to trim the earlier scenes and get to the best parts of this Orpheus as soon as possible. Among the brightest ideas was to have John Styx, gatekeeper of the Underworld, done up a la Toulouse-Lautrec--walking on his knees where his shoes had been placed--and to have Joyce Castle as Public Opinion. Castle’s a wily and versatile old pro who still has great legs, as she demonstrated when she finally abandoned her stance as guardian of public morality and joined in the dancing at the end. By this time the work was truly flying and everyone left happy.

Sunday morning at 11am there was a concert version of what the British would call a "potted" version of Haydn's Orfeo ed Euridice. The recitatives and some minor numbers had been dropped and there was a well-written continuity narration to keep the plot going. Besides a rare opportunity to hear an opera by the great Franz Josef Haydn in performance, the singing and playing were on a very high plane. Even so, Sarah Coburn stood head and shoulders above everyone else in a spectacular performance. Unquestionably a rising star, she's blessed by physical and vocal beauty, brains and taste. Hers should be a very big career.

Monday, August 20, 2007

 
My trip out to Cooperstown is an annual pilgrimage and a most enjoyable one. The countryside is a combination of lush, rolling farmland and the easternmost finger lakes (not usually included with the big ones, but they’re a series of north-south lying, long, thin lakes in the midst of hill country nevertheless). Friday was a brilliantly bright and clear day—ideal driving weather.

Friday night, my first Orpheus opera was Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo, written in 1607, exactly ten years after the very first (now lost) opera, and the oldest opera that’s still performed with some regularity.

The production by “bad boy” director Christopher Alden could be considered controversial, and as soon as the intermission began one couple stormed up the aisle and charged the little box office kiosk at the entrance to the theater. The wife got there first and let fly with “I’ve been coming here for years and this is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen—disGUSting. It’s absolutely disGUSTING--and I want you to tell the manager. I want the manager told NOW.” Her husband tried to get a word in to register his own disapproval but he didn’t stand a chance; she had the voice of a buzz saw and more volume than most of the singers.

The program notes suggested that of the five Orpheus operas in the summer’s repertory only one, the version by Gluck, depends for its success solely on the artist singing the title role. Perhaps. Given the demands placed on him by the production and his own charismatic presence on stage, I could not imagine an opera being more dependent on the performance of its title character than this Orfeo was on tenor Michael Slattery. Young, blond, quite beautiful, magnetic on stage, and known for a specialized repertory from ancient music to the Madwoman in Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River, Slattery gave an extraordinary performance both vocally and physically.

So what was the controversy? The ancient myth was reset in a high concept contemporary reception room. The gods, nymphs and shepherds were all very young, punked-out, drugged-out kids. The boys were comfortable expressing physical affection for each other and one wore a big sheepskin vest; occasionally a tall, handsome baritone who was stripped to the waist would embrace him from behind and he’d bleat—very happily. You get the idea. So did the outraged woman standing there abusing the poor box office attendant. I wanted to say to her, “Lady, this story takes place in a community of shepherds in ancient Greece, for god’s sake—do the math” (or, “read the myth”), but I doubt it would have done any good. For the record, the rest of the audience was enthusiastic at the end.

The weather Friday night was wild. We entered the theater with temperatures in the 70s and a pretty sunset sky with a couple of dark clouds to the north. About five minutes into the first act a tropical downpour started that lasted for an hour and a half, making for some interesting dashes between the theater and the rest room building during intermission. It got colder and colder in the theater, the temperature having dropped at least 20 degrees. As I drove back to my B&B under a clear and starry sky, thick fog only about a foot high blanketed the roads—a startlingly beautiful effect. Then ten minutes after I got into my room, rain started again with strong north winds that went through the night.

Saturday mornings in the area are my traditional antiquing time. The area is full good places, and the ultimate goal is a huge barn well south of Cooperstown that is crammed not with chi-chi stuff but with masses of genuine late colonial period to 1930s furniture, colored glass window panels, hardware, rugs, glass--everything. There are extensive grounds with a huge assortment of exterior statuary, urns, and metal pieces from cast iron sculpture to old farm equipment and the gears of huge machines.
Fritz and I are looking for some striking piece for the center of a raised planting bed in front of the new house and this barn was a potential source. It’s one of those “we don’t know what it is but we’ll know it when we see it” kind of things.

I saw a couple of interesting pieces including a carved head that looks like something out of the Viking age. There were some impressive cast metal roosters in different sizes; the idea of inviting friends over to see my iron cock was momentarily amusing. I talked with Fritz and we decided on a three dimensional sun dial made up of steel bands in the form of a globe with an arrow as the axis that functions as the gnomen registering the time on a calibrated strip mounted on the inside of one of the steel bands.
Even if it isn’t THE eventual centerpiece, it will work well somewhere around the house and act as the visual focus within one of the raised planning beds. When I got home Sunday night he was delighted with the globe sundial, and it’s outside now in his front garden so we can test out if it really does tell accurate time.

I also bought several old cast iron shelf brackets in random designs. In my new studio I want a bookshelf running around the entire room about eighteen inches above a work table that will also run around the room. The idea of supporting the shelf with antique brackets was very appealing—I now have nine of them and will have to get more but I’m off to a good start. Then the big surprise—finding four Moroccan medium-sized bowls and one plate that could be a dessert platter in white with blue patterns that exactly match four big Moroccan plates I found at another antique shop last year. I’ll now be able to serve tagine dinners for four (check out recipes on the web—it’s absolutely delicious and very easy to make) with a complete set of authentic dishware.

Saturday afternoon’s performance was Philip Glass’s Orphee, written to the text of Jean Cocteau’s late 1940s surrealist film, in a smart, stylish production directed by Sam Helfridge. I met Sam three years ago when he was first getting opera directing gigs in Boston and wanted to rent props and furniture from me for one of his productions. He was great to work with, a really nice guy and a total pro. His career has been taking off and it deserves to. His work looked great and got movingly to the heart of this post World War II take on the Orpheus story. A poet here, Orpheus’s self-confidence is gone and he’s obsessed with Death in the form of La Princesse. She, for her part, falls in love with him and engineers the death of his wife Eurydice so she can have him for herself.

They all wind up in the afterlife by passing through a great mirror where Death is interrogated for having interfered beyond her orders in the life of mortals. She’s pardoned on the condition that there is no further irregularity; to guarantee the immortality of Orpheus’s reputation, Death actually commits a form of suicide for his sake. The concept is fascinating and is superbly realized in Glass’s luminous score.
This Orphee got great reviews in the press that I've seen. There's a lot of Glass being done these days. The Metropolitan Opera is producing his Satyagraha, based on the life and mission of Mahatma Gandhi this season.

I got home Sunday night to find the first framing in place on the house. More on Glimmerglass, and progress pictures on the framework on Wednesday.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

 

Got Slab?

Yes, I do, thank you very much and here are the pictures to prove it:

Tuesday was a great day—lots of fun and I got a tremendous amount done. The first cement truck arrived at 7:40, the second at 8:15 and the leveling/smoothing operation went on all morning. At least two thirds of the slab is now in place, fully set and beautifully polished.

By Wednesday morning we were able to walk on our actual floor, the first part of the house to be completed. Later, once everything else is finished, we'll have the surface acid dye washed, which will penetrate to bond with the concrete's surface.

We're still not certain when the remaining part of the slab will be poured, but it really doesn't matter. It will be the floor only for the great room and the entrance vestibule, two open spaces. The vast majority of the framing can now go ahead, eliminating any further delays.

I got cruised at Hannaford’s, our local supermarket. Actually, I’m relatively certain it was the embroidered design on my T-shirt that the good looking young man was ogling but the attention was extremely enjoyable anyway.

*******

We left just before 3pm, heading north to Lebanon for a dinner meeting with A, the director of the opera I’m designing for its September premiere. Afterwards, Fritz and I stayed for the evening’s performance of Puccini’s Turandot, for which A had been assistant director. The company was Opera North, whose standards turned out to be quite good and who presented a fully convincing performance of a troubled, demanding work.

Turandot is Puccini’s last opera and he didn’t live to finish the last, crucial section. The plot comes from ancient Persian and Chinese sources about a woman bent on avenging past atrocities to a female ancestor; she offers herself in marriage to any man who can answer three riddles. If he fails, he’s beheaded. There’s been a considerable amount of slaughter by the time the curtain goes up. The man who will finally solve the riddles arrives on the scene about four minutes after the beginning of act one.

Of course there are complications. Turandot panics when she’s faced with actually having to give herself to the victorious man and he, out of gallantry, offers her an “out.” His name is known only to two people left on earth, his ancient blind father (the deposed King of the Tatars) and the slave girl who leads the old man around and is hopelessly in love with the son. He gives Turandot until the following morning to learn his name to save her from the marriage and send him to the headsman.

Of course, the old man and the girl are found and put to torture. She will not reveal the name;Turandot and she have an interesting conversation about the power of love, a notion totally foreign to Turandot. The girl then kills herself rather than risk revealing the name, sacrificing herself so that the man she loves can be united to the object of his obsession. In the final duet scene, the prince is supposed to convert Turandot from heartless cruelty to loving femininity and the challenge of writing the scene was too much for Puccini’s failing health. He attempted several versions and died leaving a pile of notes and alternative takes on the subject.

Puccini’s family had the task of finding another Italian composer to complete the opera and, out of jealous protectionism of the great man, actually rejected all the really talented ones for fear their work would have too high a profile. They chose a competent musician and he did the best he could in a version that was hacked to shreds by the iconic conductor Arturo Toscanini, crippling the opera’s conclusion even further.

Opera North was very fortunate to have Claudia Waite, a tall, statuesque dramatic soprano from the Metropolitan Opera who is a highly skilled singing actress. She made it very clear in her performance that the moment of conversion is NOT when the prince tears off her veil and kisses her, but back further during the conversation with the slave girl who has the courage to confront her with the empty core of her life. Waite’s reaction to the suicide indicated that she was shaken to the core and when the prince did kiss her, the conversion wasn’t precipitous, as it usually seems, but the end of a convincing process. Friends sometimes ask why I go to a lot of performances “in the provinces.” In my experience, you can often find more interesting and challenging work in regional opera and theater on any given night if the conditions are right than in the big urban theaters that often run on automatic pilot.

*******

The framing crew arrived this morning with a huge flatbed truck stacked high with a combination of lumber, plywood, roof truss material, the prefabricated second floor wall frames, and the cubic construction that’s the “solar chimney”; it will sit on the apex of the high roof and manage the house’s ventilation. The electrical contractor was also on the scene early to finish off the conduits that bring outlets into concrete walls surrounding the rear half of the first floor. It’s going to be very busy on the site from now on; there are going to be big changes on a daily basis.

*******

Friday morning--I'll be seeing five operas over the next three days at Glimmerglass in Cooperstown, NY (and yes, I HAVE visited the Baseball Hall of Fame and had a really good time there. You have to love a place that memorializes something to the point of reverence at times and that still had room for a full color blow up of Jim Rice's famous underwear ads).

It's a theme season this year with a new general direcrtor at the helm of the festival. It's ALL Orpheus ALL the time! Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, Monteverdi's Orfeo, Offenbach's riotous Orfee aux Enfers, and Philip Glass's Orfee, based on the famous surrealist film by Jean Cocteau. There's also a showing of that film and a concert version of Haydn's L'Anima del Filosofo ossia Orfeo ed Euridice. (Next summer's offerings are all based on Shakespeare, including Wagner's Das Liebesverbot--based on the play Measure for Measure--and Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate).

I'll "see" you all again on Monday--have a happy mid-August weekend!

Monday, August 13, 2007

 

Four Years Old

We mark a little milestone today, the fourth birthday of DesignerBlog. I never quite remember the exact date that I took my life public (it was in fact August 8, 2003) and for some reason have it stuck in my mind that it was much later in the month. This birthday celebration, five days late though it may be, is accompanied by one of the most delightful cakes I’ve ever seen on the web, with thanks to the blog of a young Boston woman that she calls The Melody of Riot. And thanks to all of you who read, comment, and have become my friends through this blog.

*******

Harvest season has begun here at Fritz’s. The blueberries have gone by but the raspberries are just beginning and, if they keep producing at the pace of previous years, we’ll be picking them until the first killing frost. We’re getting a few pears, and apples will come a bit later. Right now, however, peaches are at their height and are absolutely delicious. Fritz has one old peach tree and a “new” four year old one that’s bearing heavily this year for the first time.

Years ago he told me that peach trees are self-destructive. They bear much more fruit than their long, slender branches can possibly support. The result is that the branches break under the stress of the load. The old tree is down to a gnarled trunk and only one long branch left, reaching way out to the sunlight, this in spite of Fritz propping up its many branches over the years with lumber or fallen branches from other trees.

When the young tree showed distinct signs of impossibly heavy bearing this year, we very reluctantly thinned out the crop (we both love peaches--they’re my favorite fruit of all). We supported the longest branches with sapling trunks that came from clearing out the new house site, but it was all in vain. Two branches snapped and one can be seen hanging straight down in one of the photos. The other shows the thickness of the crop, and these pictures were taken after the thinning and after a fair number had dropped or been picked.

Our peaches will go into pancakes, get preserved, be made into sorbet, be frozen—and be eaten in large numbers fresh off the tree that gives us so much by being careless of its own welfare.

*******

Saturday night we drove down to Cambridge, ate a good Indian dinner in Central Square, and then parked in back of a building with which I’m familiar to say the least, the Kresge Auditorium at MIT.

The MIT Summer Philharmonic Orchestra, now in its fourteenth year, was founded by a former student who double majored in one of the sciences and music. His idea was to provide students, alumni, and members of the MIT community involved in music with a major performance opportunity during the months when the Music Program is shut down. This summer’s concert featured a single work, Anton Bruckner’s hour and a quarter long Sixth Symphony. We were there because one of “our boys,” K, was playing in the viola section.

Bruckner’s an acquired taste, one of those likings that develop in fits and starts until finally the penny drops which, when it did for me, it did big time. I think of Bruckner as a great test for conductors. He wrote big, complex works. Keeping his huge rhythmically challenging structures up in the air successfully is a big accomplishment. His orchestrations are interesting for the late Romantic era—a massive group of strings, a lot of heavy brass (horns and trombones in particular) but none of the newer hybrid brass instruments that were being introduced at the time), very little timpani, and no other percussion of any kind.

Bruckner’s scherzos are highly individual and my favorite part of his work. There’s a manic energy about them, partly achieved by repetition of short, almost brutally rhythmic sections that build and build in volume and intensity until the movements come to abrupt and sudden ends. Although Bruckner’s music sounds nothing like Stravinsky’s, the work of both composers depends to an inordinate degree on the strength and precision of rhythm.

The orchestra played extremely well. From where we sat we could just see K toward the rear of the viola section. Besides being a truly lovely person, K is one of the most strikingly beautiful men you could ever hope to meet. Good friends of ours, another gay couple, had also come because K was playing and sat directly behind us; when the symphony ended, we all met him out in the lobby with kisses and hugs. Two other men joined our little group, and K fairly glowed, surrounded by six gentlemen admirers, and in the aftermath of a successful performance of a demanding, exciting work.

Friday, August 10, 2007

 
Found on the web this morning; score one—a BIG one—for Gene Robinson. It’s about time someone has the balls to come out and tell the whole truth, and Gene is in the perfect position of knowledge and, quite frankly, having nothing left to lose by telling it like it is:

Charles Onyango-Obbo
The Nation, Nairobi, Kenya

THE GAY BISHOP OF NEW Hampshire in the US, the Right Rev Gene Robinson, whose ordination sparked the split in the Anglican Communion, is a remarkably brave man.

According to The Times, Robinson, who is divorced and lives openly with a gay man, has claimed that the mother Church of the Anglican Communion would come close to shutting down if it was forced to manage without gay clergy.
He said he found it "mystifying" that the Church of England is unable to be honest about the number of gay clergy in its ranks. He alleged that many of the English Church's clergy lived openly in their rectories with gay partners, with the full knowledge of their bishops.

Well, what Robinson is saying is that Anglican bishops pretend not to "see" the gay priests (who haven't come out openly like Robinson), because they would have to discipline them. And because they are very many of them, the Anglican Church (except in Africa, perhaps) would just have to close shop because it would hardly have any priests left.

*******

GayProf (now settling into a new life in a big mid-western university town) featured this 47 question meme on his blog, and since the questions were quirky and not typical of all the other self-revelatory memes, I decided to appropriate it for DesignerBlog.

1. What Do You Say Most When You’re Trying Not To Swear?
The truth is that I don’t really try not to. I spent too much of my life repressing my true feelings. My favorite expletive is “Fuck, shit, piss and corruption.”

2. Do You Own An iPod?
No. But if you know of one that could load all of Wagner’s RING, seven Mozart operas, and Massenet’s Manon I’d seriously consider it.

3. Which Person(s) In Your Top Friends Do You Talk To The Most?
Does this mean my friends who are tops as opposed to my friends who are bottoms or versatile? I need further clarification. I love talking to people, all kinds of people.

4. What Time Is Your Alarm Clock Set To?
As Inspector Clouseau would say, “Neut eny meur!” When I was working it was frequently 6am or (when I had to get the three of us out to work and school) 5:30. Now Fritz and I wake up to the coming of dawn and get up around 7.

5. Do You Want To Fall In Love?
Trust me, I’ve got that one covered already.

6. Do You Wear Flip-Flops When It’s Cold?
I don’t wear flip-flops on any occasion.

7. Would You Rather Take The Picture Or Be In The Picture?
Take. I don’t generally like the pictures that are taken of me.

8. What Was The Last Movie You Watched?
In a theater, Little Miss Sunshine, maybe.

9. Do Any Of Your Friends Have Children?
Lots of them. That means lots of friends and lots of children.

10. Has Anyone Ever Called You Lazy?
Someone a very long time ago whom I eliminated from my life completely.

11. Do You Ever Take Medication To Help You Fall Asleep?
No. I try very hard not to take lots of medications, and not to over-medicate myself when I do. I usually fall asleep with ease.

12. What CD Is Currently In Your CD Player?
Mozart’s “Apollo et Hyacynthus.” It’s his very first opera, written when he was eleven years old, and I bought it in preparation for the Mozart symposium I’m giving in October. As Hyacynthus was the god Apollo's boytoy, the original story from the myth was heavily adapted to removing anything remotely homosexual for the commission by an all boy college in ultra-Catholic 18th century Austria.

13. Do You Prefer Regular Or Chocolate Milk?
A good crisp pinot grigio or a well chilled brut champagne. Yes, I’m aware I didn’t answer the question--although I told the truth.

14. Has Anyone Told You A Secret This Week?
No, but you can email me one of yours.

15. When Was The Last Time You Had Starbucks?
Two weeks ago in New York City before heading to the Metropolitan Opera for Wagner’s RING

16. Can You Whistle?
Yes, but not well. I can’t sing even more than I can’t whistle.

17. Do You Have A Trampoline In Your Back Yard?
No. God, no.

18. Do You Think People Talk About You Behind Your Back?
I certainly hope so.

19. Did You Watch Cartoons As A Child?
Not particularly—I was too busy reading history and biography. And yes, everybody thought I was weird. This cartoon is from the British humor (pardon, humour) magazine Punch. It's dated 1954 and the original caption--too small to read here and reversed anyway by the laptop camera--is typed in below it. I LOVE it and have always had a copy on my office door.

"We're all rather worried about William."

20. What Movie Do You Know Every Line To?
I could probably sing through about 20 to 30 operas from beginning to end from memory. Does that count?

The answer to the question is, none.

21. What Is The Last Thing You Purchased?
A zucchini and two beefsteak tomatoes at a farm stand. A little imagination and it's rather phallic, isn't it?

22. Is There Anything Wrong With Girls Kissing Girls?
No more than there is with boys kissing boys, or men kissing men, which is where it starts to get interesting for me.

23. Do You Own Any Band T-Shirts?
I did. I owned a T-Shirt for Split Endz, a garage band from Revere (pronounced Reveah) and occasional opening act for bands who opened for other bands. I designed their logo, all their publicity and whatever else they needed for about two years. The fact you’ve never, ever heard of them is absolutely not my fault—I did good work for those boys.

24. What Is Your Favorite Salad Dressing?
Fat-free ranch and/or Asian ginger.

25. Is anyone in love with you?
Overwhelmingly, unconditionally and completely. It’s the most incredible feeling to be loved like that. Nobody in my life has ever loved me the way he does.

26. Do You Do Your Own Dishes?
Yes—I don’t particularly like dishwashers and don’t particularly mind washing dishes. Or ironing. I’m very domestic.

27. Ever Cry In Public?
Yes, particularly when I was a very unhappy kid. As an adult, not so much.

28. Do You Like Anyone?
I like masses of people. I’m outgoing and gregarious.

29. Are You Currently Wanting Any Piercings Or Tattoo?
I’m still so astonished at my body rejecting my thirteen year old tit ring and pushing it right out of me that I think I’ll pass on any more metal. Yes on tattoos; I want an inverted tribal triangle on the small of my back under my backpiece to balance the big tribal wings on my shoulder blades.


30. Who Was The Last Person To Make You Mad?
Other than Bozo the Pig-Headed, our unelected “president,” probably some fatuous TV anchor deciding to give us his/her opinion of the news stories or the people in them. (See also #46)

31. Would You Ever Date Anyone Covered In Tattoos?
See #29 above and tell me what you think I’d say.

32. What Did You Do Before This?
Before answering this meme, I helped Fritz search the web for theater performances that friends of ours from Denmark might like when they visit us in late September/early October.

33. When Was The Last Time You Slept On The Floor
July 10th of this year after all my furniture had been moved. It was the night before I passed papers on my house to the new owner.

34. How Many Hours Of Sleep Do You Need To Function?
Five and a half.

35. Do You Eat Breakfast Daily?
Yes—not vast amounts, but I take breakfast very seriously.

36. Are Your Days Full And Fast Paced?
Yes. I retired early from MIT, not from life. Let's say full and moderately paced.

37. What are you doing right now?
Answering this, of course, and having intermittent thoughts about G, the United Parcels delivery guy for our address who wears shorts all year, has one of the best bodies and handsomest faces I’ve ever seen. We both have major hots for him.

I haven’t resorted to sending packages to myself—yet—but if there were a long break between UPS deliveries here, I might consider it.

38. Do you use sarcasm?
Yes, when making an anti-Bush comment or when obviously joking. I don't tend to use it against people.

39. Have You Ever Been In A Fight?
Probably back in school as an unhappy kid (see #27 above).

40. Are You Picky About Spelling And Grammar?
Yes. I don’t mind seeing language develop in logical, organic ways becaust that's inevitible, but I do mind seeing English get grossly abused and beginning to disintegrate.

41. Have You Ever Been To Six Flags?
No, and going there is not on my agenda for the foreseeable future.

42. Have You Ever Gotten Beat up?
Only emotionally.

43. Do You Get Along Better With The Same Sex Or The Opposite?
I think I get along with everybody. I do prefer to hang out with gay members of my own sex as often as possible.

44. Do you like mustard?
With a passion. I usually have at least five very different mustard varieties in the fridge at any given time. Currently: Honey Dijon, wasabi with lime, straight Dijon, American salad style, German style, and I just finished a jar of champagne mustard with shallots that was one of the best I ever had.

45. Do You Sleep On Your Side, Stomach, Or Back?
I start out on my left side and wake up on my back,

46. Do You Watch The News?
Yes, although American news broadcasting has become corrupted by the news-as-entertainment and “happy news team” movements. BBC news is still serious reporting and much less tolerant of anchors editorializing inappropriately, something that infuriates me (see also #30, above)

47. How Did You Get Three Of Your Scars?
Forearms—from diving through a window that I mistakenly thought was open when I was a kid.

Top of my right foot—sliced open (not too deeply) by a hatchet when I was a kid.

Lower palm of my right hand, toward the wrist—from a successful carpal tunnel operation about eighteen years ago that gave me my drawing and painting career back.

I didn't tag anyone, but if you'd like to pick this up and have some fun with it, please go right ahead.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

 
The rains Monday didn’t come until after a great deal of the heat tubing work had been done. I kept calling them heat pipes before because I was still thinking older technology. In fact, they’re clear plastic tubes, very flexible and easy to lay, requiring no joints or couplings.


In this picture, you’re looking from front to back with our bedroom in the foreground and the exercise/dressing room at the rear where the tubes change direction. As of the end of work on Monday maybe a third of the tube had been laid.

Yesterday morning during breakfast I got a call from M, who had worked out the expansion joint pattern for the concrete slab. I’d first seen these concrete expansion joints in the slab on which M’s own house is built. Even across a relatively short span, concrete will expand and contract with temperature and other changes of atmosphere. M explained that in my house, there needs to be a system of expansion joints separating the piers of the great room (that support the big cathedral roof trusses, and therefore are subject to a lot of vertical pressure) from the rest of the slab. He said he’d be faxing a layout of what he proposed for me to review with Fritz and see how we liked it.

But with this news came a complication. There are a couple of ways to make an expansion joint. They can be cut with a concrete-cutting circular once the slab has set, which is a very simple but also kind of ugly effect, like a raw slash across your floor. They can also be troweled by hand into the wet concrete, which requires more skill. When the fax came, it showed that M had planned many of the joints to run under framed walls of the house so we’ll never actually see them—these are to be simple saw-cut joints. But for a more finished look in the great room he’d specified the hand troweled joints; our general contractor’s concrete slab man had refused to do them and had withdrawn from the project. We will now go after the guy who poured and hand troweled M’s own floor, although this might cause a delay of several days to a week in getting the slab poured—and a further delay in the start of the framing.

As of yesterday afternoon, nobody had been able to make contact with M’s concrete slab guy (I heard this morning that contact has finally been made and plans faxed to him for a quote and schedule to be submitted on Friday) but the general contractor had some very good news. Even if there is a delay getting the slab poured, work has actually begun on the framing, not at the house site but in the framing crew’s shed. In what I take to be another indication of the big decline in new construction starts, the crew had decided to build frames for the walls of the second floor and roof. So, once the first floor has been framed in on site, everything above it can be assembled fairly quickly out of prefabricated elements. Although work at the site may cease for a bit, the house will still be going forward and the carpenters will be able to log in hours and get paid for some work which they probably need right now rather badly.

This afternoon, Fritz and I will go to The Granite Group in Manchester and sit with one of their sales representatives and pick out potential toilets, a shower enclosure for upstairs, faucets and shower heads, etc. We’d already done the same thing at Lowe’s (without the sales rep, of course) so this will give us a set of alternate of alternate choices.

*******

Through all of the upheaval of moving, my cat has indicated that she’s very happy to be in Fritz’s place. When I brought her up permanently ten days or so before the move, nights were surprisingly cold in New Hampshire and Fritz’s handsome Donegal tweed patchwork counterpane was on the bed.

However, by the time I arrived permanently on the afternoon of the closing on my old house, the nights were warmer and I folded the counterpane and laid it “temporarily” on a dresser by the window. Starr discovered it there and quickly claimed total possession. Not only is it wool, which cats love to nest on above any other substance in my experience, the tweed patches include every color that’s to be found in her fur. I’m sure she feels safely camouflaged during the hours and hours she spends curled up there asleep or watching birds coming into the feeder or chipmunks cavorting through the rocks and trees.

Monday, August 06, 2007

 
I don’t do particularly well with intense heat and humidity. Fortunately, both heat and humidity broke in the early hours of Sunday morning..

On Saturday we had some outdoor chores to do that we deferred to cooler times: building a rain deflector over the doors to the garage area of the barn where my furniture is stored until we can move it into the new house, and various bits of yard work. Instead Fritz finished the last Harry Potter book and I worked on the symposium on Mozart I’m giving in Greenfield, MA in October. I also began working on the Inman opera in earnest.

My first task will be to put together a scale model of the stage and part of the auditorium. A, the production’s director is up in Lebanon, NH working as assistant director for Opera North’s production of Puccini’s Turandot so he won’t be able to see the space until after he’s had to do most of his preliminary thinking. This is our third collaboration and we’ve always worked successfully from a model of the venue, and I’m not about to change a working process that has a proven track record.

Once the model is done, I’ll start working on the lights. The primary quality of the story that has to be conveyed is Inman’s isolation and on stage that places the burden on lighting first and foremost.

Sometime in the next two weeks, I’ll take all my drawings and the model up to Lebanon and meet with A. He already sent a couple of sketches of floor plans that he could work with but he was assuming a stage far narrower and deeper than the one at MassArt. I think he’ll be pretty happy with the sight lines when I adapt his prime areas to the stage we actually have to deal with.

*******

Lewis of Spirit of St. Lewis has become a good blog friend of Fritz’s and mine. Lewis works out of the Portland, Oregon airport but hadn’t particularly noticed a pair of driftwood horse sculptures near the entrance. Fritz first saw them when he flew to Portland for a teaching gig a couple of years ago and he wrote to Lewis about them, which led to the discovery of some information and this picture of the airport sculptures:

The sculptor is Deborah Butterfield and I found this on a site about contemporary American artists:

Deborah Butterfield: Horses features twelve evocative sculptures of horses in bronze, steel, and mixed media by the internationally acclaimed Montana sculptor. On view at the Norton Museum of Art from September 17 through December 11, 2005, most of the pieces are from Deborah Butterfield's personal collection and have rarely been seen by the public. An enormously popular and significant American sculptor, Deborah Butterfield first gained wide notice at the 1979 Whitney Biennial. Horses have been the single, sustained focus of Butterfield's work for over 30 years. Her early work, fragile creations of mud, sticks, straw, and found metal, evoke horses either standing or resting on the ground. Since the mid-1980s she has been creating medium and full-size horses from driftwood branches, casting the finished sculpture in bronze. The intricate casting process involving twenty people takes two to three months for a large horse. A true lover of horses, Butterfield is an accomplished dressage rider. She owns twelve horses and rides daily when at home in Montana.

Bitterfield doesn’t have her own site but googling her will get a lot of information on her life and output as well as some striking photos.

*******

As of Friday afternoon, the building site looked like this:

As you can see, all the crushed rock back fill behind the house is in place, rising to six inches below the top of the concrete. That top edge will eventually sit five feet above the poured slab floor with a row of clerestory windows on it that will bring light and air to the back of the house. The floor of the excavation has been smoothed and the house’s drains are in place. Work began this morning on the heating pipes and reinforcement grid that will be imbedded in the slab, but heavy rain and thunder beginning around 2:30 this afternoon will almost certainly have put a stop to that.

By the way, the photo was taken using the camera in my new laptop. For some reason, it flips the images so that any picture I take is reversed. Does anyone have an explanation of why this happens?

Friday, August 03, 2007

 
My oldest (in terms of duration—we’re both the same age) friend sent me a couple of questions the other day of which this is one—my answer follows:

Why can't we impeach Cheney/Bush?

Because no matter what their failures/crimes, I feel certain the Republicans in the House/Senate would do everything possible to prevent that total cataclysm for the Party and for their own re-elections. Also, Congress's approval rating with the American people is now down right in the same territory as Bush's. I suspect that for Congress to interrupt whatever little it's getting accomplished for an impeachment that would probably take almost as long as the remaining time to the next election (when we'll be rid of that scum anyway) would NOT be popular. America wants Congress to heal the wounds, not look for revenge.

And that's what I want, too, frankly. We're in an enormous mess, and the point that America and its infrastructure are being neglected criminally for this damned war came home forcefully last evening when the highway bridge fell apart in Minneapolis. Just my view of things.

*******

The general contractor has revised the cost of the completed building down about $40,000 because prices are dropping rapidly on building materials as new house constructions dry up. And the materials suppliers are willing to make deals with contractors beyond their own reduced prices because they're desperate to do business. What this does is make up for a lot of the reduction in the selling price of my house, and guarantees that I'll have a fair amount of money left for finishing details and some outbuildings (a screened-in gazebo and a big garden equipment and storage shed) that I've dreamed of from the beginning.

The plumber didn’t come today to begin laying out the heating pipes for the slab, so the pouring probably won’t happen until the middle of next week. I can deal. Things are progressing well on other fronts so a couple of day’s delay isn’t a big disappointment. The plumber is quite a character, by the way, with a wicked dry humor, and a lot of delightfully snarky asides that he just lets drop under his breath.

So far, I’ve gotten to know and like all the sub-contractors, something I think is really important. It’s also very pleasant visually. The actual subs are generally middle-aged guys, generally in good shape. But they tend to have hot young assistants, sometimes a whole crew of young assistants, who lose their shirts early in the day and keep them off until quitting time.

Yes, I’m slime--and proud of it.

*******

I spent the morning down in Boston today visiting Massachusetts College of Art (hereafter MassArt) whose theater will be the site of the opera company’s September premiere of the latest commission. Thomas Oboe Lee, a noted contemporary composer who has a position at Harvard, is writing an opera based on the story of Arthur Inman, one of Boston’s storied and genuine eccentrics.

Inman went to ground in a Copley Square residential hotel in 1919 and became progressively more and more reclusive as time went on, never setting foot outside his apartment and eventually shuttling between bed and a wheel chair. His life may seem a strange topic for an opera but Inman left volumes and volumes of diaries, a recapturing of time past that makes Marcel Proust look like a scribbler of memos by comparison. Inman died not too long after the Kennedy assassination, so that means over forty years of his observations that range from the blatantly pornographic (young women who were hired to read for him frequently provided other services as well) to the seriously offensive (he had some typical of the times racial prejudices) to the extremely acute politically. Whatever else he may have been, Arthur Inman was a keen observer and highly literate commentator.

Inman’s wife remained with him more or less to the end although he eventually installed her in an adjoining apartment from which she consoled herself via a long affair with her husband’s married doctor. He eventually purchased all the other apartments that adjoined theirs, effectively isolating himself from any noise of human activity. The opera is in two acts and has a classic structure; the first half sees Inman increasing the number of people willing to come into his secluded circle, while the second half finds him being progressively abandoned until there’s nothing left but a single bullet to the head.

The technical staff at MassArt couldn’t have been more helpful. The theater is a bit dead acoustically, but words project clearly--without a lot of natural reverb, and we get use of a good stock of lighting equipment and platforms. We also get to rehearse in the space—a huge advantage--and the loading access is some of the best we’ve ever had. I came away with lots of photos of the space, and good drawings of the stage that I supplemented with sketches and measurements of the auditorium. J, the company’s founder, director and leading baritone and I left the building today after our meeting very happy men.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

 
I’ve become a Harry Potter widow. I told Fritz this morning that I assume it’s his revenge for my obsession with opera. He reads the new book in bed in the morning when he wakes up, at night in bed before he goes to sleep, and in his normal reading and TV chair in the evening. He’s about half way through it now. He reads Harry Potter like I read history and biography. I’ve never read a single Harry Potter book or seen any of the movies beyond TV clips.

I think this is very healthy. We have so much in common and love doing so many things together that it’s good we each have some interests that are exclusively ours. Fritz told some friends that the range of interests between us could be judged by Saturday the 21st of July when I spent five hours at the Metropolitan Opera watching the Kirov Ring production and he was at the movies watching Harry Potter 5.

*******

I received a note from blog friend Alan Ilagan, a writer from upstate New York, celebrating the tenth anniversary of his coming out via a letter in his local newspaper. He’s put the text of that letter onto yesterday’s post to http://www.alanilagan.com/ and it’s well worth reading, a beautifully reasoned yet deeply personal statement to his friends and greater community. Bravo, Alan and happy anniversary!

*******

We go up to the construction site at least once and usually twice a day or even more. The excavation phase was long and sometimes fraught with delays but now that construction has begun—especially, I suspect, in a depressed market for new house construction—it’s all happening pretty quickly. The electrician and plumber were there as soon as the general contractor needed them and he has told us on a couple of occasions that the framers are good to go just as soon as the slab is poured and has cured.

We saw today that the drains out of the first floor had been set in the bed of crushed rock that had been laid by the excavator over the insulation panels that had been laid at the bottom of the excavation. Rolls of wire reinforcement grid are on site and the next phase is to get them laid out and the heating pipes installed on the grid. When all that’s complete, the slab is poured four inches thick, six inches at the edges. With luck, the slab may be poured on Saturday, meaning that the framers could be on site as early as Monday.

As we came down the hill to go to lunch today, I commented to Fritz what a complex piece of work a modern house is. Ours will be somewhat involved given that we’re producing our own electricity and will have radiant heat and a couple of extra features like a sauna in the house and a hot tub outside. But we won’t have a highly technological place with computers turning on and off a ventilation system, turning lights on and off, security cameras or a major home theater installation. Still, the coordination of details in the schedule of the construction, and the amount of checking and confirmation that needs to be done as we progress, make me very happy my house sold as early in the game as it did.

Frankly, I’m not sure that it would have sold this summer if E hadn’t come along and fallen in love with it. In the two or so months since I accepted his offer, the so called “bottom” of the existing home sale market in Boston has dropped further and further, each month bringing progressively greater and greater numbers of foreclosed housed flooding onto the market. Median selling price is dropping lower and lower. I wonder at the heartbreak and suffering of the many, many families who are being turned out of their houses. The latest estimates are that the market may not begin to recover until some time late in 2009.

*******

I’ve spent this week doing all the things needed to get my car to be a proper New Hampshire resident. Fritz’s insurance company accepted me as his domestic partner over the phone when I said we were married in Massachusetts, even though this is New Hampshire, and without asking for any paperwork to prove it. So we get the family discount and both our rates go down. Not alone that New Hampshire’s rates are incredibly lower than those in Massachusetts which has an antiquated, unfair and corrupt system, but with the family discount from The Hartford, my annual premium will drop from $1760 to around $450--with better coverage and lower deductibles into the bargain.

With the insurance I was able to register the Jeep and get my new “Live Free or Die” license plates with a graphic of the iconic Old Man of the Mountain rock formation that became the Old Pile of Rocks at the Foot of the Mountain on May 3, 2003. Natural weathering finally and catastrophically overcame all the steel rods and injections of epoxy the state had been using to try to keep New Hampshire’s symbol and major tourist attraction from dropping off the top of the cliff. Suggestions from the governor that a Disneyesque plastic recreation be hung in the Old Man’s place blessedly were never realized.

Now you see him . . . .

Now you don't.

Today I got my new license or, rather, my temporary 60 day license that is given only to those just moving in from out of state. The real license comes in the mail once the state checks me out to make sure that I’m not some sort of undesirable.

If they only knew!

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