Saturday, April 12, 2008

Several years ago in Boston I joined a gay book group and soon fell in love with the entire concept as well as with the men who were members. In addition to the social aspect, the group got me into reading novels again (most of my reading had become history, biography and—surprise!—play scripts).

Among my favorite meetings were the ones where local gay authors who had been published agreed to give up a Sunday afternoon to sit with us and discuss their work. One who seemed anxious to meet with us was South Boston native J.G. (Joe) Hayes who came three times, on the occasion of two collections of short stories and finally the successful publication of his first novel.

I was concerned when I moved up to new Hampshire that my ability to take part in the meetings might be compromised and it was, not so much by the trip down to Boston and back as by the fact that work on the house and my schedule here always seemed to conflict with the dates they chose to get together. I regret that a lot and once Fritz and I are settled in the new house, I may see about starting a similar group in this area.

But I’m at least in touch with the guys via email and I received a link last week to a site they’d set up listing all the books and plays that had been read since the group started. I clicked and immediately got an adult site warning and had to click an “I am over 18 years of age” button to get in.

(Sidebar—does anyone truly believe that a randy fifteen year old boy when faced with such a warning actually thinks to himself, “Gee, I’m underage. I guess I’d better wait patiently for three years until I’m old enough legally to visit this site.”)

I scanned the list and confirmed my memory that all the titles were more or less mainstream, and that none contained obscenities and none was porn. I hit the “reply all” button and wrote:

Interesting the "adult content" warning on the site. I skimmed the list and can only assume that the very occasional occurrence (twice) of the word "gay" is now considered something the under-18 crowd has to be protected from. If we'd ever read The Vagina Monologues or the script for Puppetry of the Penis, I wonder if they'd have shut down the entire site. Sad--and stupid.

I also wonder if sites and blogs that are devoted to Leonard Bernstein or Broadway Musicals have an adult content warning because of the song “Glitter and be gay” from Candide. We are a frighteningly paranoid nation.


I went up to the house early one morning last week and the assistant stone mason, generally somewhat quiet and keeping to himself, couldn’t wait to tell me about his visit by a female mallard duck. He’d arrived around 7 AM to set up equipment and materials and shortly thereafter, he’s heard a quack from nearby. She was on top of a pile of logs that are seasoning for firewood and she kept him company for quite a while before flying off.

A duck is new in our experience of wildlife near the house site. We’ve had wild turkeys, Canadian geese, foxes and deer but no ducks. When I told Fritz about it later, we both laughed and simultaneously said to each other, “The Greeter Duck!”

Several years ago on our first trip together to Denmark (where there’s always a lot of water from lakes, ponds and fjords) we noticed that wherever we visited—a Neolithic burial mound, a major castle, a Viking site or an historic church—a duck would suddenly come running toward us, quacking loudly and doing a little dance in front of us. We weren’t naïve enough to think it was anything other than a blatant play for a food hand-out, but we had fun creating the myth of The Greeter Duck who’d always appear wherever we went to welcome us. Fritz decided that since we’re on the verge of moving in, the duck materialized that morning to let us know we're welcome to our new home.


This notice appeared in a little highlight frame on the Metropolitan Opera’s website:

The Metropolitan Opera Shop will close for renovations on April 30, 2008, and will reopen in time for the start of the 2008-09 season in September. You will be able to place Opera Shop orders by phone and internet through June. We look forward to welcoming you back to an exciting new retail destination for the best in music, design, and the opera lifestyle [emphasis mine].

That phrase “the opera lifestyle” is one I hate because I feel it perpetuates the idea that all people who like opera attend for social reasons and have large amounts of disposable wealth. It’s true that like all art forms, opera needs patrons and donors and I’m quite grateful to them because their generosity makes my satisfying my obsession possible.

But the heart and soul of the audience, the real fan base, is made up of ordinary people who are often of limited means. They don’t dress up to attend, they sit in the upper levels of the opera house (where the prices are low and the acoustics are the best in the entire theater), or they get standing room tickets and are on their feet for all four and a half hours of Wagner’s Parsifal or Die Meistersinger. They’re there because the HAVE TO BE THERE.

I suspect that the real reason for the MET Shop’s renovation is to follow the closing of Tower Records and Virgin Megastore by giving up the sale of CDs, probably to sell only HD DVDs for the eighteen months or so before THAT technology is declared hopelessly obsolete as well. The “opera lifestyle” may well be catered to by the sale of even more expensive jewelry (with opera themes if possible), of Madame Butterfly saki sets in cloisonné, and La Traviata cocktail napkins.

And people will pass by and think to themselves that opera sure is an irrelevant, elitist art form for the wealthy just as they’ve always been told and not the big, passionate popular art form that inspired revolutions and stood at the heart of western world culture.


Thanks for this to Joe of Joe.My.God:

Speaking to the annual Log Cabin Republicans convention in San Diego, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said that if the current initiative to ban gay marriage in California makes it to the November ballot, he will fight against its passage.

Gay journalist Rex Wockner quotes Schwarzenegger as saying: "Well, first of all, I think that it would never happen in California because I think that California people are much further along with that issue. And, number two, I will always be there to fight against that. I think we need a constitutional amendment so that foreign-born citizens can run for president, but not about gay marriage. That's a total waste of time."

The Governator's pledge drew loud cheers from conventioneers, with LCR president Patrick Sammon saying afterwards, "The topic was planned, the answer was not. I'm excited and delighted." This was the first time Schwarzenegger has spoken out against the ballot drive, although his spokesperson said that he has held the view for some time.

Given Arnold’s opposition to gay marriage itself in the past, this development would seem to signal either a change of heart or a realization on his part that writing discrimination into a constitution
Is an extremely bad idea. It will be interesting to follow his actions on the subject in future.

Reading your thoughts on opera, I was reminded of the comment of Coco Chanel: "Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity."
I have, as you know, very mixed feelings about opera, starting with the fact that it seems to me that the vocal production necessary to carry all the way to the back of the house often comes at the expense of beauty of tone. I'm going to be seeing some Verdi later this week at the Met, and I'm afraid that even when the production is very good, I always regard going there as "taking one for the team," i.e., something I do for my partner because he's just struggled through tax season with me.

There are always two thirty-minute intermissions so that the wealthy patrons can pay outrageous prices for small drinks. And while the Chagall murals are wonderful, spending an hour looking at them is a bit much.

I don't think that opera has been the art form of ordinary people for a long time now. I suppose that the radio broadcasts and the live broadcasts in movie houses are attempts to help remedy that situation, but I think that opera is going the way of much of the rest of our society: it plays to an increasingly small and increasingly affluent audience. I suspect it's a necessary consequence of capitalism.
I think that Arnold's change of mind is simply because Maria made him sleep on the couch for a week after his last veto.
it makes me sad to think of the Met without CDs to sell. I still like CDs.
As for opera lifestyle? I hope it means people who enjoy going and hearing them. That is about my extent into the opera world.
Yet another reason to move to France.

You'd think that the MET shop might just say, Gosh, Tower and Virgin and Footlight Records are gone - we should fill the gap and become the major classical music store in NYC. Alas - it will probably be scarves, and teapots and Pavarotti cookie jars.

Why does no one in the US care that they have no serious music store anymore? I'm not suggesting that I expect Walmart to carry opera beyond THREE TENORS - but when NYC can't even support a music store it's pretty bad.

When I was in France last fall I was in Chartres and they had a FNAC (a European chain that sells CDs and DVDs and Books. Their opera section pretty much rivaled Tower New York and its a town of 50,000 people. Lots of odd ball repertory and 25 versions of AIDA and so on.

And families and young people go to the opera in Europe. There were ten year old kids at SIEGFRIED just lapping it up! and it cost 9 Euros to go.

Ok - enough ranting :)
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