Friday, November 30, 2007

 
There was a brilliant sunrise here in southern NH this morning. The sky was mostly clear with a few stratus clouds poised low in the sky providing a palette for the sun to splash color.

It began with a classic “red sky in the morning: sailor take warning” deep, intense crimson at the horizon, set off by a robin’s egg blue sky rising to teal. The whole thing was impossibly, almost vulgarly Technicolor but absolutely magnificent. Crimson gave way to orange with the clouds, streaked across it, bright gold. Very slowly the whole ensemble went through various shades of flame, amber and apricot before settling down to a pale straw color and then it was simply day and the show was over.

We’ve taken to leaving the shades up on our bedroom’s south-facing windows. There are no privacy issues and the sunrises are just too good to miss.

*******

Up at the new house, the insulators are stretching a pressed mesh made of some artificial fiber over the studs on all exterior walls and various ceilings preparatory to blowing in a high R rating insulation early next week. As soon as they’re finished, the wallboarding and plastering will begin.

Fritz and I are keeping a careful eye on details of the electrical work before the walls are sealed up because we have an electrician who may well be a good worker and a fine technician, but who has a very low aesthetic sense. He doesn’t quite grasp the concept of centering hanging fixtures in spaces that were designed along obvious axes, even when the drawings are very clear that a pendant light is to be centered on an entrance door. He finds the nearest joist that’s more or less in the general area, installs the electrical box and that’s that. The under-soffit lights were planned to be in a particular symmetrical relationship to the main entrance door and its two sidelights; They currently bear no logical relationship to the door or to each other.

Some things we have been able to get changed (like the electrical feed into the sauna being placed on the wrong wall), but some we may just have to accept. All the under-soffit V-groove pine plank has been installed and ripping it all out now is not something any of us wants to do.

Anyway, here are the latest pictures, taken yesterday:


Façade of the great room. All exterior trim that’s exposed to the elements is cedar.



Jean, our very French-Canadian siding crew chief, working on the house’s main entrance and the windows of the master bedroom.

**

We’ll be down in Boston for the weekend for a family wedding. One of Fritz’s nephews is getting married at a little Catholic church in the Back Bay, with reception/dinner Saturday evening and brunch Sunday morning at the Harvard Club. My beloved Quaker husband and I, happily lapsed Catholic that I am, will have to experience the full-length nuptial mass with all the trimmings before we get to the champagne and [hopefully] haute cuisine.

I’m going to try to find something respectable to cover my toes where they stick out of the cast. The rather dog-eared airline socks that currently keep them warm aren’t in the same fashion league as the rest of this event.

Speaking of fashion, I'm wearing a terra cotta-colored shirt I bought at Zara in Spain, a woven and embroidered Nepalese vest, and dark burnt umber slacks--all very late fall colors. The tie is still somewhat up in the air. And no suit jacket, ever!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

 
From my cousin in Montreal to me via email:

“They now have an Italian airline that flies out of Genoa...it's called Genitalia.
(I'm dying to see the logo!)”

*******

Here, two weeks into my recovery from breaking my ankle, is the rig I go out into the world in every day.



*******

There was a little “council of war” at the new house yesterday morning as more siding went on and the insulator sprayed foam into the crevices between the house’s studs and the frame around each and every window. The stated agenda was to resolve issues for the plastering/wallboard crew who will begin working next week (estimated length of their job, two weeks). There’s a lot of plastering in the house because the concrete shell of the first floor on the side and back walls will have plaster applied directly to it.

We also looked realistically at the huge delay caused by the framing crew getting involved with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in October. On the tube it may look like it’s a great big barn raising party for a couple of days followed by a weepy/happy celebration as the affected family moves into a magically transformed house. We were told that in reality, it was a chaotic, badly disorganized scramble, one which cost us two weeks of the framing crew’s services—and delayed every phase of construction to follow.

Just as problematic, some of the work they did after getting back on their feet and onto the job again turns out to have been sloppy, wrong in some places and incomplete in others. The siding crew says they’ve been taking longer to do their job because of having to correct mistakes made by the framers. I talked turkey to the general contractor about the fact all this would cost me extra money and he said no, that an overage like that was his responsibility and would come out of his fee rather than my hide, which I can live with.

Bottom line: we’re now looking at not getting into the house until late January, the worst possible time in northern New England to be moving furniture, appliances, etc. The new schedule is for the Aga cooker (that’s British for stove or kitchen range), the dishwasher, freezer and the washer/dryer combination to be delivered on January 7th.

On a happier note, we began the coordination of the propane tank installation, hot water boiler, etc. that will lead to getting radiant heat in the house and guarantee the various crews good conditions to keep working through the coldest months.

We’ve both been working on the windows and their frames, painting them with clear water-based matte polyurethane. We’re putting two coats on to protect the wood from being stained or watermarked by the plastering that’ll come right into the frame of each window. We’re finished with the second coat on the downstairs windows (the vast majority) and will start upstairs tomorrow because the insulators are finished there.

*******

With the arrival of movie and theatrical directors on the opera staqge, as well as the huge shift in the way opera is being interpreted and designed these days, new directions are being explored for some very traditional material and characters. Clearly a new direction for this production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni is leather, with more than a hint of s&m. The Don is Teddy Tahu Rhodes, a suave and sexy New Zealand baritone.



Monday, November 26, 2007

 
Thanksgiving dinner got me thinking, in part because it wasn’t different from most other dinners of the year for me. Ever since I left my family and went out into the world, I’ve always looked at dinner as the culminating event of the day, an occasion for making and preserving contact with people, celebrating or sharing concerns with them,enjoying just being with them over good food.

When my daughters were growing up, we always ate together at the end of the day. Few of their friends ate with their families. Many if not most of them had cars—which I could not afford to give them—and went out for pizza or McDonalds with friends, or ate at home but without their parents in their rooms or in front of the TV. I always cooked. We sat down together and talked about the day and their classes, or made vacation plans, or discussed the implications of the news of the day. I credit the closeness we’ve maintained over the years to the fact that we were a close little family that took time in the evening to devote to each other without outside distractions. Dinner was a centering ritual for us, one that meant home and caring.

*******

We went into Manchester, NH for a meeting with the orthopedist. It began with an x-ray of the ankle with the cast on to determine the current state of the healing, and whether the cast was still the optimum fit for the next phase of the process. When the doctor came into the room, the first words out of her mouth were “Your pictures look fabulous!” I was hugely relieved—all the bone pieces stayed in contact and have had 12 days to begin knitting together.

There are now two more visits scheduled: on December 11th, I go in for another x-ray through the current cast to make sure everything is still going well. On the 21st, the current cast is cut off and x-rays are taken again. Based on the amount of new bone growth that’s visible in the pictures, I’ll get either a cast in which I can begin to walk or a kind of ski boot that will allow me to walk and that can also be removed for showering, etc. So, it’s all good news

We celebrated by heading immediately to Brentwood NH, home of Brentwood Power Equipment where I bought the biggest, most powerful and safest damn snow thrower we could find. It’s an Ariens Pro model with a 38” scoop in the front, four forward speeds, two reverse speeds, a self-starting engine, a headlight for night operation, a handsome set of warrantees on various parts of it, free delivery, free pick-up and delivery for tune-ups or other servicing in future years, and an engine powerful enough that there will be no problem getting it up the hillside on the road to the new house, and no problem cutting through even deep show that’s heavy with slush.

This thing should easily maintain both the house and the parking facilities at Fritz’s center, buying him out of the expense of having a guy come with a truck and a plow during big snowstorms. It’ll be delivered on Wednesday and we’ll get a tutorial on its operation at that time. I’m not going to be a candidate to operate it until some time in the new year, but it is easily THE solution to the question we keep being asked, “How are you guys going to plow this road up to the new house?” By purchasing a big new toy, that’s how!

*******

From the relatively new site, Barihunk, which Michael is very effectively filling with new classical singer eye candy at frequent intervals, here's Canadian baritone Daniel Okulitch, seen in Jake Heggie's opera Dead Man Walking:


Saturday, November 24, 2007

 
It was a lovely, intimate Thanksgiving. My younger daughter drove up from New York City with Poopsie, the totally air-headed little poodle she adores (it’s mutual). My cat retreated to a neutral corner for the duration, maintaining her dignity and superiority like a champ. The eau de contempt radiating from her was tangible

Before dinner we went up to the new house so my daughter could see it in daylight, murky and foggy though it was. We haven’t been under but IN a cloud for close to a week now and had become a real bore, but blessedly it broke yesterday afternoon into a magnificently clear moonlit night.

Fritz turned out a great turkey breast, juicy and flavorful, along with butternut squash, mashed potatoes broccoli and cranberry sauce. My daughter brought a bottle of a good sauvignon blanc, and we had a very nice dinner. We spent the afternoon playing Rummikub, discretion prohibiting me from mentioning who won by a margin of 56 points.

Around 7pm we hit the turkey again. I’d baked a loaf of quinoa-almond bread that sliced up well for sandwiches. Then it was Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy, a phone call with my older daughter on the west coast, and the day drew gently to a close—a very sweet Thanksgiving Day.

*******

I was liberated yesterday, sprung out of the area by Fritz as we went down to a Boston Symphony concert. I’d purchased the tickets last summer as part of a subscription; with a little preplanning and a lot of help from the BSO’s customer service people, we had a great time.

I called ahead because our seats were in the second balcony—our favorite place to sit for the hall’s legendary acoustics, but full of steep steps to climb for someone on crutches—and we were given two on the aisle in the orchestra for no extra charge given my current disability. The staff couldn’t have been nicer.
On the program was a single major work: Ma Vlast, the great cycle of six tone poems in which Czech composer Bedrich Smetana celebrated the history, myth and countryside of his native Bohemia. The overture to Smetana’s most popular opera, The Bartered Bride, was played as a “curtain raiser.”

Under James Levine’s direction, the orchestra’s playing was absolutely superb—strings creamy and rich, brass that was burnished and noble, seductive woodwinds. My mood improved immensely and I’ve been “up” all day. There's something about Czech music from the Romantic period right into the 20th Century by the great string of composers--Smetana, Dvorak, Suk, Fibich, Janacek and Martinu--that speaks directly to my emotions in a way that even Italian opera can't match. I realized this years ago and am not sure where it comes from, only that it is and that I never fail to be deeply moved by the music.

*******

Monday morning at 9, I go in to the orthopedist for new x-rays to see how the bones are knitting. Depending on the results, I’ll either go into surgery to pin the fragments together or get another cast and work my way toward being able to put weight on the ankle in a week or so—and maybe even be allowed to drive again.

*******

A friend from my gay book group sent me this so I can't swear its authenticity, but the song is funny:

Julie Andrews turned has celebrated her 69th birthday. To celebrate on October 1, she made a special appearance at Manhattan 's Radio City Music Hall for the benefit of the AARP. One of the musical numbers she performed was "My Favorite Things" from the legendary musical "Sound Of Music."

Here are the actual lyrics she used:

Maalox and nose drops and needles for knitting, Walkers and handrails
and new dental fittings, Bundles of magazines tied up in string, These
are a few of my favorite things.

Cadillacs and cataracts, and hearing aids and glasses, Polident and
Fixodent and false teeth in glasses, Pacemakers, golf carts and porches
with swings, These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak, When the bones creak, When the knees go bad, I
simply remember my favorite things, And then I don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions, No spicy hot food or
food cooked with onions, Bathrobes and heating pads and hot meals they
bring, These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pains, confused brains, and no need for sinnin', Thin bones and
fractures and hair that is thinnin', And we won't mention our short,
shrunken frames, When we remember our favorite things.

When the joints ache, When the hips break, When the eyes grow dim, Then
I remember the great life I've had, And then I don't feel so bad.

(Ms. Andrews received a standing ovation from the crowd that lasted over
four minutes and repeated encores.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wherever you are, whoever you're with, whatever the menu, have a lovely day and a very Happy Thanksgiving!

*******

Yesterday we saw the concrete dye-wash work of the guy who poured the great room floor and hand-troweled the expansion joints into it. He’d done an office building in Exeter where we could see his textures and color full-sized rather than by photographs or small samples. So, we went off in the snow—a very gloomy day here—and liked what we saw.



We need only about half of the first floor of the house done; the great room, master bedroom and the entrance hall between them. A lot of the effect is dependent on the concrete itself, the way it was poured and smoothed, and whether a plank was laid across it for the guys to walk on as they did the work. Everything that happened to the concrete before it fully dried and cured affects the denseness and grain across the entire surface. To some extent it’s an art of chance. The acid washer can apply several layers to deepen a color, layer different colors one over the other, put chemicals into the concrete before the colors go on to change the colors or their texture. We came away with sample charts from three different companies.

The insulator has now joined the party. For the past two days, he’s been foam-sealing every single open crevice in the walls of the house.



The well was drilled on Monday, successfully, by Digger Day’s Artesian Well Co.—“For a Well That Won’t Go To Hell.” At 320 feet down they got a rate of 8 gallons a minute, which didn’t sound like a great deal to us but everybody else involved was quite happy. Before we’re allowed to hook up the well to the house, a chemical analysis has to pass the local building inspector. For now it’s capped pending the approval.



Siding, plumbing and electric are all going along well. I accepted the estimate of one of the propane companies this morning, so our gas supply is in the works, and the solar energy company representative has been by to finalize the location of the photovoltaic panels. With my ankle broken, I wasn’t able to clamber up the hillside to help choose the site, but Fritz did the work and they picked a spot directly above and behind the house about 25 feet or so back from the edge of what we call “the cliff” that remains from the blasting into the rock ledge. Things progress!

*******


Ted at The Neighbors Will Hear posted this Seven Deadly Sins survey and, as a fully invested gay man, I was very happy with the results: Lust predominates (can I get an Amen?) and I can justifiably say I’m proud of the fact that Pride comes in at #2. It’s quick and it’s fun and the questions aren’t always what you’d think.


Greed:Low
Gluttony:Medium
Wrath:Low
Sloth:Very Low
Envy:Very Low
Lust:Very High
Pride:Medium


Discover Your Sins - Click Here

*******

Changing of the guard at the Boston Lyric Opera. In response to the current demographics of arts audiences, BLO General Director Janice Mancini del Sesto announced a retreat to the very standard core repertory, an “all top 20, all the time” approach that’s actually a paraphrase of her own statement. It hasn’t worked. Large numbers of subscribers cancelled, BLO tickets are now being dumped for half price at the BosTix booth, and our other company, Opera Boston, is selling out with a varied and challenging repertory, and forging new artistic ties (the latest being with the New England Conservatory of Music). The Boston audience is apparently a good deal more sophisticated than she had given it credit for being. The following appeared on an arts blog at Boston.com:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Breaking: Janice Mancini Del Sesto Leaving

Earlier this afternoon, Janice Mancini Del Sesto, Boston Lyric Opera's longtime general director, gathered the staff to tell them she would be leaving. Her exit won't be until 2009, but it comes with BLO already searching for a replacement for Music Director Stephen Lord. From a just-issued press release:

"Boston, MA — Steven P. Akin, Chairman of the Board of Boston Lyric Opera (BLO), announced today that Janice Mancini Del Sesto has informed the Board of her decision to leave her position as General Director upon completion of her current contract in June 2009.

“When her contract expires, Jan will have held her post for 17 seasons and believes that both she and the organization are ready for change,” Mr. Akin said. “During the search for new artistic leadership to replace Music Director Stephen Lord, Jan concluded that Boston Lyric Opera would be better served by putting a new administrative and artistic team in place going forward. She wanted to give notice of her decision in order to provide ample time for the search and an adequate transition period.” Maestro Lord ends his tenure with the Company after 17 seasons in June 2008.

“It has been a great joy and privilege to serve as General Director of BLO,” Ms. Del Sesto said. “At this point in my personal and professional life, I look forward to new challenges when I complete my tenure in 2009. BLO has a strong staff, board and support base; a healthy balance sheet; and an excellent product, programs and reputation. There couldn’t be a better time for the Company to recruit a new administrative and artistic team.”

*******

Sent by a friend:


Sunday, November 18, 2007

 
OK, so being temporarily disabled sucks, that’s a given, and I have to move on from there. I’m picking up some wonderful new skills, like learning how to carry all sorts of things clutched in my teeth as my hands are taken up managing the crutches. I can also carry folded clothing around tucked firmly under my chin (Fritz, who has always found some of what I do a source of high amusement, looks up from his work or his reading, sees me in these strange postures and goes into hysterics).

Yesterday we visited the supermarket and I tried out the electric handicapped cart. Aside from the fact there was no provision at all to carry or store the crutches (I mean, that’s THE POINT, isn’t it—you can’t walk so you need the cart, and you can only have gotten to the cart with a cane or crutches) it was a pretty slick piece of equipment. It had forward and reverse (when I was leaving I backed it into it’s little berth, just like I do with the Jeep), it turns on a dime, has very easy-to-control speeds and an effective brake.

I navigated the whole store and through the check-out without hitting anything or anybody, a particular achievement considering that people didn’t really scatter or rush to open up a path for me when they saw me coming. As it was my first time driving one of those things, I know I would have gotten out of the way if it was ME standing in the aisles, but I managed it all without even a close call and had some fun into the bargain.

I’m having to be careful as my left leg now shows signs of fatigue from doing all the work. I was in pretty good shape before the fall and ankle fracture, but I’ve noticed that my biceps are pumping up and strengthening by the day. I told Fritz that if I don’t come out of this with pecs of steel, I’m going to be really pissed.

*******

Here’s something pretty cool for anyone thinking of getting a complex tattoo that’s designed to spread over a large part of the body. Loïc Zimmerman, a computer graphic artist in France has developed an animated program for testing out the effect of a large two-dimensional design when applied to the contours of an actual person.

Once the program was up, he entered photos of his own body in a variety of angles and poses, then sized and placed the shoulder blade/sleeve/pectoral design onto it, rotating his body to check out the results from all angles. What he saw led him to modify small parts of the design for placement, but the images seen below apparently are very close to the look of the finished tattoo.



Loïc maintains a site where you can view his professional work for the French video game company Quantic Dream, his free-lance work, and follow the progress of the tattoo program, as well as the ink on his body, via his blog.



You'll have to cut and paste to get to the site at http://loic.zimmermann.club.fr/blog/index.php because while this is the URL, I haven't been able to get Blogger to set a link that works. The link in the next item seems to work just fine. Ah, Blogger!

*******

In a YouTube video, Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders declares before the Senate why he would not vote for Michael Mukasey as Attorney General. Senator Sanders lays it out the Bush administration’s violations of the Constitution very, very clearly, and establishes that waterboarding (which Mr. Mukasey thinks is just fine and dandy) is considered torture throughout the civilized world, of which 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is apparently no longer a part.

Sadly, a majority of the Senate did not hear, or chose not to hear (Mukasey was confirmed), because his speech is a good example of the kind of reasoned, logical and yet sincerely felt statement that’s missing in so much of today’s debased political discourse.

In case there's any misunderstanding, waterboarding is a contemporary version of Medieval water torture; yes, the same kind of thing that was used to get women to "confess" to being witches. It is to this level that we have sunk.





Do a cut and paste to get to the YouTube video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Up1J3kaPNg

Friday, November 16, 2007

 
I’m a good patient/bad patient type. I’m good in that I learn as much about my situation as I can, and follow instructions. I’m careful about medications and don’t over-medicate; in fact, whenever possible, and with the doctor’s knowledge and permission, I move by degrees to the smallest dosage that works.

I’m a bad patient in that I loathe being sick (and in this case, partially immobilized) and dependent on others. I’m a very active, independent man; I adore driving and being able to take off and do whatever I want whenever I want. For about a month and perhaps for six weeks, I won’t be able to do any of that. If ONLY I’d broken my left rather than my right ankle, I wouldn’t have the frustration and feelings of helplessness that envelop me from time to time. But I’m having a lot of trouble with that and, as a result, I’m probably trying to do too much too fast.

Fritz is being Fritz and there’s nobody like him. I first realized how much he loved me ten years ago when I got back from Greece with a vicious airplane virus and he came down to Boston to nurse me back to health. He’s very patient with this impatient patient but sometimes I get a very stern look that tells me I’m attempting too much for my current level of crutch dexterity and that if I’m smart, I’ll back off and let him take charge.

So here’s the situation. I went to the orthopedist yesterday morning and had the temporary splint taken off. The doctor and her crew were super to work with. New x-rays were taken because she was pretty sure that the damage wasn’t confined just to my ankle and she was right. I have the hairline crack across the medial maleolus at the bottom of the tibia, the big bone of the leg, and also a crack toward the top of the fibula, the slender bone. The good news is that there’s no displacement of the pieces of bone on either side of the fracture lines—I fell hard enough to fracture the bones but not hard enough to rupture the membranes on the bones’ surface, and those membranes are holding things together like a delicate internal cast.

I left with a bright red fiberglass cast from my toes to just below the knee. The fiberglass comes in a variety of colors and I figured why not make a splash? I told her I could not continue with percocet as a pain reliever because any pain would be preferable to the nausea and extreme dizziness that came with the percocet . We worked out a dosage for ibuprofin to control pain that’s working without side effects and still taking care of discomfort. I tend to have a pretty high pain tolerance anyway (I made it through Reagan and Bush--so far), so it’s all working out.

I’m going to have to miss a couple of performances I have tickets to, and Christmas shopping (about half of which I had already done) is going to be difficult. I’m going to have to learn a lot of alternate procedures (we got through my first post-fracture shower this morning thanks to a lot of forethought) and not to feel guilty for leaning on Fritz for so many things. I’ll miss the upcoming Sweat gatherings tomorrow and perhaps in mid-December as well. I’ll get over it--I just have to adjust to the reality of the situation.

*******
Craig Smith, the practically sainted director of Boston’s Emmanuel Music died suddenly and unexpectedly this week. He was only 60 years old. Emmanuel, named after the Back Bay, Boston church where the group is housed, spans the baroque and the modern, with forays into the Romantic period. The music-making is of the highest quality and has included cyclical performances of the complete Bach cantatas, the complete Schubert (including at least one of the operas in concert), Schumann (including HIS big opera Genoveva in concert), Brahms, Ravel, and a lot of premieres by important contemporary composers. Smith's collaborations with composer John Harbison and the late mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson were highlights of his incredibly varied and distinguished career.

Always one to seek out and join with the new, Craig Smith worked as music director for enfant terrible Peter Sellars's productions of the three Mozart operas to libretti by Lorenzo da Ponte and memorably collaborated with modern dancer/choreographer Mark Morris on Handel's L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, ed il Moderato.

The large pool of first-rate singers and instrumental musicians we are blessed with in the Boston area always blossomed under Smith’s leadership. There are a number of fine conductors and composer-conductors associated with Emmanuel to keep things going for a while until a suitable replacement can take on the over-all direction of the company. But Craig Smith's death leaves a big void in Boston’s music scene, and his much-beloved presence will be sorely missed.

*******

The doors are on the house now, siding is going along well, mostly devoted to sheathing the undersides of the big overhangs with V-groove pine plank, now that the under-soffit lights have been installed. Electrical and plumbing continue to progress and we’ll go out next Monday to an office building in nearby Exeter to view examples of the acid washing that will bring color and texture to our concrete floors.

IKEA deliverd our kitchen cabinets in knocked-down form for us to assemble early this afternoon. These days, the road to the house is lined with cars of all the subcontractors and their crews. Today there were one plumber, three electricians, three siding men, the general contractor, and the wallboard/plasterer who came to take measurements and resolve some questions. I wish I could just walk up to the site any time I want like I used to, but I have to wait until Fritz can take me up in the car. I do hope the next six weeks go by very fast!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

 

Broken ankle? No, thanks, just had one

Update--Going down to the house last night from the Center, I got to the section of the path that becomes steps made of railroad ties. Ther was an extremely thin coating of ice that didn't even show in the light over the door and my legs went out from underneath me. I went down fast and hard but somehow didn't hit either my head or spine. But I did manage to give myself a hairline fracture at the bottom of the tibia of my right leg, accompanied by some loosening of the ligaments going into the ankle.

I was stunned and went into shock--for the next twenty minutes or so, I was trembling uncontrolably. I managed to get myself up and into the house where Fritz got me covered for warmth and we assessed the situation. The pain was severe and I decided we had to get into Emergency at the hospital in Manchester.

The response there was excellent; I was given a pain killer, got x-rayed and the doctor molded a fiberglass splint onto the foot and ankle, all in a relatively short amount of time. I began thinking about how much the next six weeks are going to change for me. As it's my right ankle I won't be able to drive, for example, and that's just for starters. Things you don't need in your life!

*******

I hadn’t meant to be away so long, but things have been incredibly busy with the house and in other areas of our life. The best part of it all was meeting and getting time to spend with Lewis of The Spirit of Saint Lewis. He’d written a week or so ago with news that on Saturday he’d be on the crew of a flight from Portland, Oregon to Boston—a rare occurrence for him. We made arrangements for me to drive down to Boston to get him, bring him up here for dinner, have him spend the night, see the new house on Sunday morning, go out to brunch and then deliver him back in time for the return flight.

I’ve been reading Lewis’s blog for a while, enjoying his sweet perspective on things, his impish sense of humor, and his very good photography; Fritz was caught by his comments to my blog entries and started reading The Spirit of Saint Lewis also. We were very up for meeting him in person and had an absolutely delightful time. Lewis is not only great fun to be with and filled with good talk and insights, but also a very real and a lovely person. We’re hoping he’ll be able to come east again, and this time bring his partner Steven.

We also know that we’ll be flying out to Portland in the not too distant future to visit my older daughter and son-in-law who recently moved to Salem. With luck we’ll be able to get together with them out there and learn some of their city that we’re very anxious to get to know. Lewis, thanks so much for coming out here and giving us a chance to meet you at last!

*******
I subscribed to both offerings of Granite State Opera this year (they’ll present Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte in May) because I think you have to see more than one production by a company to get an idea of what they can really do. I came away pretty happy last Friday night about GSO’s musical standards, rather less so concerning their approach to opera as theater.

One of their self-imposed limitations is that they perform each opera twice, once in Portsmouth at the Music Hall and two nights later in Manchester. So productions have to be lightweight and built to travel quickly. In the case of Lucia di Lamermoor, this also meant old-fashioned painted drops and wings rented from the Anthony Stivanello company in New York City. I went to the company’s site but found that it doesn’t feature pictures of what they rent out, which may be a very good idea. The old tromp l’oeil painted scenery can be quite wonderful depending on the skill level of the painter; when it’s done badly, when the muslin on which it’s painted has been folded numerous times so that the crease lines are glaringly visible, or when one setting uses pieces done by several painters with different styles and radically different talents (all of which was the case on Friday) the results can be less than satisfactory.

Also--and this has been my deeply held belief since I began going to opera as a child--opera is theater, not a concert in costume. There didn’t seem t be much evidence of a director’s hand in the Lucia production. Singers generally entered and gravitated downstage, more or less center, and stayed there singing out to the audience. I don’t blame the cast. I suspect that the company doesn’t get a lot of rehearsal time, a common problem for regional and smaller opera companies.

There was one interesting directorial choice: Lord Arturo, the man Lucia is forced to marry against her will, was cast as a much older man instead of the young nobleman one usually sees. Further, when he entered telling everyone in the castle how lucky they are that he’s come along to bail them out of their financial and political difficulties, he made it obvious that he had a wandering eye and wandering hands for the ladies. So when Lucia first saw him, she was confronted not only with a marriage she didn’t want, but by a groom who was the worst possible match under any circumstances. Had there been more thinking like this applied to the production, or some basic character work done with the singers, the results might have looked more like dramatic action and less like traffic management.

Musically, things were on a higher plane. The small orchestra played well with particularly nice work from the two French horns. Horns are treacherous, even the modern kind with valves. Lucia (1835), like many Romantic era operas, is full of exposed horn passages exploiting the instrument’s mournful, deep colors. The two young women who played on Friday night came through the evening without any mishaps and provided a lot of pleasure. Philip Lauriat was far more at home as conductor than as stage director, supporting his singers well while also shaping a propulsive performance of the beautiful score.

The class of the cast was unquestionably Barbara Kilduff, formerly of the Metropolitan and major opera houses throughout Europe, now teaching and singing in places that allow her to raise her children and have a family life. Petite, pretty and in superb vocal shape, she was simply dazzling. The other standout was Jimi James as Lucia’s manipulative brother. James has a dark, virile baritone and good stage instincts, which he needed.

Tenor Eric Fennell is tall and lanky and needs direction. As the star-crossed lover Lucia wants to marry, he spent far too much time holding his head in his hands, slumped over and staggering around the stage in a manner that was supposed to suggest despair, but that was uncomfortably close to Quasimodo instead. Nobody in the supporting roles gave offence.

The Mozart next May stars Theresa Cincione, also of the Metropolitan Opera, but Cosi Fan Tutte is an ensemble opera and all six roles need to be cast very well to do it justice. I had a reasonably good time at Lucia but am hoping for something better visually and dramatically from the company next time.

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Latest pictures from the construction site—it’s all about windows today:






Thursday, November 08, 2007

 
I haven’t indulged in a good rant about Bozo in a while, but the events of the last week in Pakistan have exposed a couple of the current administration’s most hypocritical and arrogantly self-serving attitudes. I think it’s time.

During the long over-due and surprisingly chummy French-U.S. reconciliation that’s been going on, there’s been some stern criticism from Bush concerning the suspension of the Pakistani constitution. He lectured Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf about reinstating his country’s laws and demanded he take off his uniform; one cannot, Bush pompously declared, be president and run the military at the same time.

Well, last time I checked, the President of the United States is also Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States, a duality of power I haven’t noticed Bush renouncing at any time recently.

A few days before, Condoleezza Rice had stated that the U.S. would be reviewing its heavy aid package to Pakistan, and she publicly lectured Musharraf that when a country faces problems, suspending its population’s constitutional rights is not the way to go--this in the face of the Bush administration’s violations of due process and prisoners’ rights, etc. along with its engaging in several kinds of illegal surveillance directed at perfectly loyal, innocent, tax-paying U.S. citizens.

But there’s more. On Slate.com, Ron Rosenbaum reports that National Security Presidential Directive 51, issued earlier this year, guarantees “continuity of government” in the face of “catastrophic emergency.” This undefined term can be interpreted to embrace everything from earthquake to another major terrorist attack, and gives the president the power to do anything from canceling elections to launching a nuclear attack, including suspending the U.S. Constitution. Neither the Supreme court nor the Congress was ever consulted or informed about this according to Rosenbaum.

Apparently fertile imaginations among political bloggers ran to speculation that Bush and Cheney could easily stage a coup d'etat next year before the elections, based on authority conferred by NSPD 51.

NSPD 51 also contains two secret clauses the content of which the administration refuses to reveal, claiming the usual “national security” concerns. Rosenbaum concludes that this sort of thing is not how it’s done in a democracy and that the Congress ought to hold investigative hearings immediately.

*******

With the seemingly uncontrollable rise in energy prices (gasoline, heating oil, jet fuel, diesel oil, all of which drive up the cost of the goods they help to transport);

the credit crisis linked to the horrendous housing market upheaval;

the major slide in the value of the U.S. Dollar against other currencies (it was announced on ABC News tonight that the Canadian Dollar is now worth more than the U.S. by eight cents and that it now takes one and a half dollars to buy one Euro);

and the steadily deteriorating conditions in the Near and Middle East caused by our disastrous war, not against Terror but against Iraq that had not done us harm, the coming five or six months look very much like The Winter of our Discontent.

*******

Tomorrow night I check out the Granite State Opera via their production of Donizetti’s melodious old standard, “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Based on a novel by Sir Walter Scott (the rage of Europe during the Romantic Period for his moody, dark stories of lovers torn apart by dynastic politics, violent upheavals and terrible weather), Lucia was for a time one of the most popular and influential of all operas. Tolstoy and Flaubert both placed heroines involved in turbulent, adulterous affairs (Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary) at performances of Lucia to highlight the hyper-emotional nature of their situations.

Lucia is driven mad by her brother’s cruel scheme to use her for political advantage by marrying her off to a wealthy young nobleman when she secretly desperately loves an outcast who is her brother’s enemy. On the wedding night she hacks her husband to death and runs insane among the wedding guests, covered in blood, singing intricate and fantastic vocal ornaments as a symbol of her uncontrollable mind.

I’m looking forward to checking out the standards and style of the local opera company that performs in both Portsmouth (tomorrow) and Manchester (Sunday). Barbara Kilduff, formerly of the Metropolitan Opera, now a frequent performer in Boston where she also teaches voice, stars in the title role.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

 

100,000 and Counting

Sometime Saturday morning while I was driving to New York City, my 100,000th visitor hit the blog. Thanks to all of you who stop by, whether you comment or not (although I do wish you would, as I enjoy meeting new folk very much).

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For those of you who are following the house’s development, here it is as of last Friday morning, with the roof finished.


Today the electric installation got seriously under way and the framing crew made huge progress in getting the windows installed. When we visited the house at the end of the work day, something like three quarters of the downstairs windows were in. After a day of rain, the sky was clearing and we stood in the great room looking out at a gorgeous sky through the big expanse of the south-facing windows. I said to Fritz that we’re going to have moments like this on a daily basis for the rest of our lives; we just stood there holding each other in quiet euphoria.

*******

So, the Friday night blogger gathering was just great fun. I met Anthony (Evilganome) and Tate (Tater, from Chicago) outside the Cyclorama building of the Boston Center for the Arts and we decided to eat at Picco, pizza place and ice cream parlor, while waiting for the farmboyz who were caught in traffic coming up from Hartford. While waiting outside the restaurant two friends of Fritz’s and mine came by, tall and handsome men who saw me and came over with hugs and kisses. We went inside shortly thereafter and in about half an hour Chris and Tony joined us.

I knew the farmboyz through their blog and from Joe (of Joe.My.God)’s affectionate references. They turned out in person to be vibrant, interesting, fun men, and dinner among the five of us was a delight. From Picco we stopped at D-4, the old District 4 police station, now converted into luxury condos with a totally over-the-top lobby that looked like the Design Within Reach catalog on steroids with a couple of garden gnomes tossed in for good measure.


Photography and hilarity ensued. We dropped Chris and Tony at their friends’ condo to clean up from the trip with a promise to join us later at Fritz (Fritz, the gay bar--not Fritz, my gay husband).

Anthony, Tate, and I then went to join Atari. I’d never been to Fritz, and I enjoyed it. There was a very positive energy, guys of all ages and styles, no particular affect, and a big friendly bear of a bartender who pours a pretty healthy glass of pinot grigio for your $8. I was there a couple of hours as people we knew came in (including two of Anthony’s colleagues from the Math Dept. at MIT). The only blogger I had hoped to see who wasn’t there was RG—he and another guy were celebrating the Celtics’ victorious season opener at Boston Garden, so meeting him will need to be a pleasure deferred. I left a little before 11 and made my way over to Cambridge, where Fritz’s sister was putting me up for the night as I was leaving for New York City early the next morning.

*******

The big weekend consisted of three operas and dinner on Saturday with my younger daughter and her young man. The matinee was Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella) set in the 1950s, somewhat cartoonish, with the fairy godmother emerging with all her wonders from a big TV set. Very appropriate, I thought, as TV was/is the source of so many of our dreams and fantasies. The cast featured French and French-Canadian singers, so language and vocal style were authentic. Great old veteran Joyce Castle made a meal of the step-mother in a wardrobe full of gauche colors and leopard-skin print.

For dinner I had chosen Old John’s on 67th and Amsterdam. It’s intimate, the waiters all know me now and you can hear yourself speak, something that’s becoming rare in restaurants these days. My daughter’s beau is a very nice young man, intelligent, a good conversationalist, and they're obviously getting on very well. When we came out of the restaurant, there were big explosions going on. Policemen in the street reassured the crowds that it was just fireworks going off in nearby Central Park in celebration of Sunday’s New York Marathon—we were all still a bit jittery from 9/11 in New York. I commented that it sounded the way it must have in the old days when a city was under siege by heavy artillery.

The evening’s opera was at the Metropolitan—Verdi’s version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Verdi was devoted to Shakespeare who was revered by the Romantics, and he captured the spirit of the play very well within the conventions of Italian Opera. This production was set in a post-World War II Europe that was still dangerous with local upheavals. It worked very well.

I was back at the New York City Opera for Sunday’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. The success of this revival stood firmly on the shoulders of conductor Anne Manson who led the City Opera Orchestra in a very impressive reading of the complex neo-romantic score, and on the charismatic soprano Lauren Flanigan in the title role.

Barber is one of America’s greatest composers. Vanessa was received initially with enthusiasm by American critics. Then the production went to the Salzburg Frestival and the Europeans tore it to shreds as being devoid of any connection to contemporary World or American politics and for having an old-fashioned Romantic score just as they were embracing twelve-tone serialism. Vanessa went from being the big hit (Barber got the Pulitzer Prize) to being the big outcast; American critics decided to reject the opera based on the European criticisms. Vanessa never entirely disappeared, but it was prevented from gaining the recognition it deserved.

As of today, the strength of the City Opera's production has caused the New York Times to call for a complete re-evaluation of Vanessa, and a place for the opera near or at the top of American operatic achievement. And they especially acknowledged the presence, forty-nine and a half years after Vanessa's premiere, of a member of the original cast. Rosalind Elias, as a glamorous and lavishly talented mezzo in her mid-20s, had premiered the role of Erica, Vanessa's ambiguous young relative--is she Vanessa's neice or Vanessa's daughter by Anatole, Vanessa's former lover who ditched her? Now in her mid-70s, Ms. Elias sings the Old Baroness who looks on the action of the opera in stern disapproval. Still smooth and firm of voice--and still someone who knows how to possess a stage, Miss Elias deserved every bit ot the ovation the audience gave her.

*******

And to close, a picture of a deer taken by the outdoor wildview camera late last week. It’s feeding on a bed of Fritz’s comfrey, a healing herb with big, showy—and obviously tasty—foliage.


Friday, November 02, 2007

 

Chinoiserie Condom Couture

Just when you think you might have seen everything modern fashion design has to offer, along come those crazy Chinese who are surging ahead in every aspect of economic, political and social development these days. This isn’t your Grandpa Mao tze-tung’s China any more. And what WOULD that noted fashion maven, Madame Mao say?!
Here’s the news release and the pictures hot off the catwalk:

Condom Fashion Show in China

Models parade in outfits made of condoms during a fashion show at the 4th China Reproductive Health New Technologies & Products Expo in Beijing July 11, 2007. Condoms of all shapes and sizes were used to make dresses, hats and even lollipops. Models fought through extravagant soap bubble special effects to show off tight-fitting wedding gowns, scaly-looking evening dresses, outrageous bikinis and other garments made entirely of condoms. The show was held at the Fourth China Reproductive Health New Technologies and Products Expo and organized by China's largest condom manufacturer, Guilin Latex Factory, to promote the use of condoms in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It also marked World Population Day, organized annually by the U.N. Population Fund.





















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There’s a gathering of some Boston and some New York City gay bloggers this weekend. The new Yorkers are coming up here; ironically, I’m heading down to NYC Saturday morning for an orgy of three operas at the MET and New York City Opera on both Saturday and Sunday*. I also get to meet my younger daughter for dinner on Saturday evening along with her current beau, one I am told looks very good for the long haul. He sounds to be a very nice young man from her descriptions.

However, the gathering begins tonight (Friday) with dinner at some chic but hopefully minimally affordable little bistro in the tres gai South End, followed by the rest of the evening at Fritz (Fritz the bar, not Fritz my husband). I’ll definitely get to meet the Farmboyz, heretofore known to me only through their blog Perge Modo and Joe.My.God’s always affectionate references, and maybe some other guys if they aren’t all going with RG to the Celtics game. The Farmboyz were kind enough to direct my attention to Fort Lauderdale’s City Hall as another building in the Boston City Hall “Brutalist” tradition.

I’m rooting for Atari to get better so he can join us, and will also get to see devoted Back Bay Fens gardener Tony (Evilganome) after way too long. It should be a lot of fun and I hope all of you have a great weekend as well.

*City Opera: Massenet’s Cendrillon, and Samuel Barber’s Vanessa with the charismatic Lauren Flanigan, as well as Rosalind Elias who sang Erika fifty years ago in the world premiere, now as the Old Baroness.

The MET: Verdi’s Macbeth in a new production that seems to be extremely interesting. Reports early next week

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