Monday, March 03, 2008

The parade of snowstorms continues, but Yesterday was a brilliant, if very cold, winter day in southern New Hampshire. We spent the weekend cleaning the house from top to bottom, clearing out trash and reclaiming scrap wood for kindling in the wood stoves down in the Center and in Fritz’s house.

Then we swept and vacuumed piles of sawdust. It’s everywhere, including clinging in a thin film to all the walls, the Aga, the cabinets, the window glass. But the house looks great, mostly clean and neat for the next round of subcontractor work. This week the electrician is back to install outlets, switches and to start hanging all the restored lighting fixtures. Being fully electrified will be a huge help—we now run everything from a box in the mechanical room underneath the circuit breaker box with extension cords all over the floors. The tile work is being grouted as I write, and finish carpentry resumes Tuesday.

Sunday, after Quaker Meeting, we stopped off at Lowe’s for another roll of cheap construction paper to restore the covering over the acid dyed floors. The original paper had gotten torn and needed to be covered over in high traffic areas. After that we installed all the handles and knobs on the new kitchen cabinets, getting us that much closer to moving in.


I was on the road a lot last week. On Wednesday I drove down to New York City via New London, CT to pick up a friend and Meriden, CT to get a friend of his. We were on our way to one of the Opera Orchestra of New York’s semi-staged concert presentations at Carnegie Hall, Vincenzo Bellini’s La Sonnambula.

Italian opera of the early 19th century wasn’t overly concerned with logic in their plots. Their texts existed to set up a series of dramatic situations that explored a variety of raw emotional states in which the audience could lose themselves: hopeless love, betrayal, revenge, intense romance and—above all—mental instability and insanity. The Romantic Age had rejected the classical balance and logic of the 18th century and lived right out on the edge.

Based on a highly successful Romantic ballet, La Sonnambula takes place in a Tyrolean village and deals with sleepwalking, a little-understood aberration at the time that lands the heroine in a heap of trouble. On the eve of her wedding to a local farmer, Amina sleepwalks into the bedroom of a nobleman (paging Dr. Freud!) and is discovered there by the villagers, who immediately assume the worst. Her fiancé takes back his ring and she sinks into a depression.

The nobleman’s attempts to explain sleepwalking are dismissed and the situation is saved only by Amina’s appearance on the roof of the local mill, clearly in an altered state and in great danger of falling to her death. Breaths are held and a hauntingly mournful aria is sung. She makes her way perilously but safely to the ground, is gently awakened by her mother and friends, is reconciled to her intended, and all ends happily.

It was a lovely performance, dominated by Cuban soprano Eglise Guttierez and Russian tenor Dimitri Korchak, both of whom have assimilated the period style and possess excellent voices used with great intelligence and sensitivity. The stage director was Ira Siff, aka Madame Vera Galupe-Borszkh, legendary drag diva of the much missed La Grand Scena Opera.


On Friday we headed northwest to the little town of Randolph, Vermont and the shop/museum of music box builder/restorer Dwight Porter.

We’re not talking about little boxes that sit on a vanity and play “Moon River” here but big mechanical devices that have multiple chime and bell arrays and that play lengthy classical, religious, folk, or popular material via large metal discs punched out like the earliest computer cards. These precision, clockwork-driven instruments can cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and have attracted an amazing group of people to Porter’s shop, including Bjork who features a two disc model set into a stunning clear Lucite table case in some of her concerts. Its twin is on exhibit in Porter’s museum.

The occasion was picking up a chime unit that fits into an antique grandfather clock that came down through Fritz’s family to his younger sister who lives in Cambridge, MA. The unit had broken down over the years and been slightly damaged by an inept attempt to get it running again. In addition to the regular hour chime, the clock is meant to play one of six selections from a disc on the hour. The day was beautiful, right between snowstorms. The mountain/valley vistas were spectacular up through the Connecticut River Valley and into central Vermont.

After we did our business and learned about some of the highly complex restoration projects in the shop, Mr. Porter opened up the museum, normally closed for the winter, and gave us an hour tour and demonstration of some of his treasures. These included automatic entertainment devices dating back to the 18th century in some cases.

One automated diorama under a glass dome featured a ship in full sail being gently tossed by the waves of a blue fabric sea while a windmill on a cliff turned and a song played. In another, ballerinas pirouetted on point. A two and a half foot tall Parisian lady, magnificently dressed in high belle époque style from the era when she was made, played a harp--the key to wind her up sticking incongruously out of her right hip.

Visit Dwight Porter’s site and view many of his pieces (the lucite music box like Bjork’s, unfortunately, isn’t shown as he hasn’t yet found the right way to light it for maximum effect) at


I arrived in New London Wednesday earlier than expected, so I stopped at a big antique place downtown and found a wonderful pair of cast iron brackets. I had a marble-topped shelf in my front hall in Boston supported by two wooden brackets that were firmly attached to wall and so I only took my marble piece with me. When I saw these exotic bird brackets, I realized that they were perfect both for the new house and for the size of the marble piece. Crawling around antique places is one of my favorite activities.

Aren't you glad you retired? You'd have no time at all if you hadn't!
i've been away from blog-land with the flu, but am glad to see you are as busy/happy as ever.

Italian opera buffa does not do too much for me. but I enjoy some of Donezetti (I don't think that is spelled correctly).
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