Sunday, November 30, 2008

It’s been a week since I’ve written. There’s hardly been a spare moment, what with Thanksgiving and some unexpectedly great weather that made it necessary for me to work outside as much as I could. I need to get the foundation in for one long side of the big raised bed in front of the house since the security of part of the driveway depends on it to resist washing out in rain and melting snow. As of today I’ve got about 85% of it done before snow and eventually heavy rain began. If I get just one more good outdoor work day this week—and the forecast says I’ll get at least two—I’ll have the foundation wall finished and the driveway secured and can leave the rest of it until the spring if necessary.


Thanksgiving was all friends this year, family on both sides being elsewhere. Dinner was roast turkey with cornbread, apple and currant stuffing; mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and salad, accompanied by two bottles of champagne. For dessert Fritz made a pear and ginger pie that he thought he’s placed too close to the top of the Aga’s baking oven is it seemed a bit too browned. I told him to announce it as pear brûlée if necessary, but it turned out to be perfect and was received very well.


Do you guys know Vince? Fritz and I love this guy. From what I gather, he works on one of the home shopping channels. We know him from the ShamWow! commercials on Logo. He fields a killer New York City accent and has a manic energy that cracks us up. He stands in front of a solid backdrop and behind a simple counter to demonstrate the product, the whole set-up being very similar to the early live commercials on television in the early 1950s.

Unlike most commercials these days that are mini-dramas, or are more involved with creating an image for the target customer than showing you WHY you should buy the product, Vince's actually demonstrate the product and discuss its component materials.


The Political Compass
Economic: Left/Right: -4.88
Social: Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.10

From Rick's blog, Bandit Talks, came this survey at that determines your exact political orientation based on two intersecting axes rather than the usual, far more simplistic Left/Right. I was gratified to see that I place extremely close to the Dalai Llama!


Earlier in the month we hosted a Move On event at Fritz’s Center. It’s a people’s initiative in coordination with the Obama administration that’s preparing to flood Congress with petitions from every state, backed up by photographs of hundreds of thousands Americans, urging legislators to cut the crap and act on the Obama Agenda quickly and positively.

Move On’s organizational work was pretty good although parts of the website were confusing for those of us who depended on it to download forms, upload photos to the organization, and confirm the number of guests we were to expect. In the event the town of Exeter, fourteen miles east, pulled the majority of the area’s activists. We were supposed to have had four but only two joined us for coffee, a listen to the national coordinator’s message (which I’d downloaded and burned onto CD rather than depend on the potentially overloaded internet transmission), and brainstorming session on ways to circulate the petition and gather the maximum number of photos in the local area.

I’ll be interesting to see if it works. Something has to kick those clowns out of their entrenched partisanship and get them working together for a change to clear the wreckage of Bush administration.


The last pictures of the European trip

These all come from Amsterdam.

From a Dutch fashion magazine, this ad for an animal rights group that isn't looking to stop the slaughter like PETA here in the U.S. but to guarantee decent conditions for animals during whatever life they have before being killed for their pelts. How the two guys come into the message I don't know but, on the other hand, I rarely protest or question the presence of half-naked men.

The relatively wide canal near Fritz's neice's home that leads from the city to the sea.

Art Nouveau-era building in the Rembrandtplein.

Our last day in Europe was an open studio day where Fritz's neice's husband has his studio. He's a painter who's gotten some very good recognition and sold quite a bit of his work. Peeks into several of the studios:

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Ioka Theater in Exeter is being closed by its current owner on the 24th of December after a run of Tchaikovsky’s perennial holiday favorite ballet, the Nutcracker. I had been scheduled to do pre-performance talks for the opera series through February at least, but the last one will be this Wednesday, a single screening of Gounod’s intensely lyrical and very beautiful Romeo et Juliette. I got the word yesterday when I did the talks for Verdi’s Otello.

The owner and I spoke via email afterwards. He’s thrown a lot of himself and his own resources into creating what might be called the entertainment version of a mutual fund—a list of offerings so varied that if one or two faltered at the box office, others would be able to carry the whole. He threw his lot in with a group called Emerging Cinema for the opera and ballet series (which wound up being the financial engine that kept the theater going) as well as a variety of movie selections from first run Hollywood and indies through cult and classic cinema and various community events to live music in a nicely appointed club venue downstairs.

And it could have worked but for the fact that building inspectors unexpectedly mandated an updating and extension of the sprinkler system that was estimated at $100,000. There was insufficient cash on hand and I can only imagine how hard credit would be to get in the current economy for an arts venue that was just scraping by.

I always worry about these old theaters that have managed to survive, by sheer luck for the most part. The Ioka isn’t one of the elaborate movie palaces that might attract angels to save it for its Beaux Arts ornamentation. In fact, it was built at the moment in time that the Beaux Arts style was being radically simplified into 1920s reserve but not yet what is now so very fashionable again, the bold exuberance of Art Deco that might have attracted far more attention. A couple of potential buyers have looked at the property but made no move to acquire it.

Anyway, the owner sounded exhausted to me, mentioning that the town and particularly the state had defaulted on promised support, which I can understand whether I like it or not, which I don't. Massive state budget cuts were announced a week ago here with an admission by the governor that more will probably have to be cut shortly. There will be hard times in New Hampshire whose state government and towns are supported by property taxes and fees alone, in a culture that has never imposed a sales or income tax. With house values down and new building at a virtual standstill, there’s going to be little money for essential services, let alone for a charming little venue that brings art to the people.


Barack Obama’s press conference at mid-day today was interesting for a number of reasons, among them that it was so beautifully conducted in a calm, professional manner meant to inspire confidence and a lack of panic as the financial/economic crisis worsens by the day. In light of the incompetence and current ineffectiveness of the Bush administration, Fritz looked at the lectern behind which he spoke, with it’s simple legend, “Office of the President Elect” and commented that Obama’s in some very real ways already president.

He’s making moves to hit the ground running in January by getting down to business during this transition period as I can’t remember any other president-elect ever doing. As I listened to him today I got angry all over again at John McCain, the Alaskan Bimbo, and their hangers-on for their “Not ready to lead” campaign against him. Rotten bunch of losers and liars—he’s got more ability to lead than the lot of them put together.


From internet news:

Could four more New England states get marriage equality by 2012?

The group that helped legalize gay marriage in two New England states wants to do the same in the other four by the year 2012. GLAD -- which stands for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders -- announced the campaign Tuesday, the fifth anniversary of the key court decision legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts. GLAD also backed the case that led Connecticut to start allowing gay couples to marry this month. Executive Director Lee Swislow says that by using know-how and experience from those fights, it wants to bring around Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island by 2012. GLAD says it will work in the courts and with groups that support gay marriage in each of those states.

In 2000, Vermont was the first state to offer civil unions. New Hampshire followed in 2007.


Today’s serving of our European trip—our last stop in Amsterdam where we visited Fritz’s niece and family:

They have their own boat and took us out on a tour through the city's many canals on a quiet Sunday morning. Amsterdam is a lot of fun to walk, strolling along the canals, but nothing beats exploring the city by boat and getting a special perspective on the many house boats and barges in many styles that line its waterways:

This jail cell built into a bridge is not in use any more but must have been a chill and damp place of confinement.

The Netherlands Opera rises from the city's big central canal

A canal-side cafe. We tied up there and sat for a coffee break before setting out again

Canal-side parking for a smart car parking the narrow way . . .

. . . and something even smaller, the smallest closed vehicle I've ever seen on a city street. This is an electric-powered "car" especially for the handicapped. It travels the city streets but is restricted to bicycle lanes whenever possible, and never over 45 miles an hour.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

When Proposition 8 passed in California, I was as disappointed, as hurt and concerned as most gay men, but in the weeks following the election I’m not sure that it hasn’t somehow been a good thing. First of all, there was the immediate reaction among gay advocacy groups and governmental bodies, initiating legal action against the Proposition, that has come to fruition in the California Supreme Court’s decision to hear the complaints and eventually (March sometime) make a ruling on whether the Proposition is in any way valid.

Perhaps even more encouraging has been the sudden revival of activism among gays and lesbians themselves, joined by encouragingly large numbers of straight supporters. The days and days of street demonstrations, and the protests in front of Mormon Temples, has been a joy to see--a very powerful sign of life in a community that was seen to be politically complacent not so very long ago. Father Tony at Perge Modo posted
this striking poster that was designed in the style of labor union and social protest art of the early decades of the 20th century, as well as this picture of some very handsome and committed men who were part of the big New York City demonstration:


James Jorden at the opera e-zone Parterre Box discovered a site called Typealizer that’s based in the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator and lets you find out your blog”s type. I hadn’t considered that there might be a difference between my personal type—ENFJ—and the way I write, but there is—a pretty strong difference. What’s interesting is that my blog’s type, supported on the analysis page by a map of the brain personalities that are in operation when I write, sounds astonishingly like my type anyway, even if three of the letters are different. Here are the results:

ESTP - The Doers
The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time.

As the old Irish ladies would say back in Rego Park, in the New York City borough of Queens where I grew up, that's me out the window.

Go here, and type in your blog’s URL to check out it’s type.


There’s been a big change in my younger daughter’s life lately, one that makes me very happy and proud. She’s made her entire career in Human Relations and has navigated the corporate world confidently and with style. It’s been a steadily upward trajectory from Boston to New York and now Los Angeles, and through it all, she’s remained a nice, genuine person.

She’s had a history of being recruited out of existing jobs into better ones. She’s been with a consulting firm, a major media outlet’s publishing arm, a major TV network, another media publisher, and now a huge west coast media/entertainment group. Along the way, she attained the title of Director and left behind her at former companies a pool of staffers she'd mentored and of supervisors and bosses who admired her work and who, in some cases, were the ones to recruit her for new and better positions.

After she accepted this new job, she was informed that she’d be responsible for offices in LA and New York City, dividing her time between coasts. We heard from her today. She’d just found an apartment in West Hollywood with which she’s very happy and told us that she loves the job, likes her staff very much, and hopes we’ll come out to visit soon.

Given all the challenges of parenting, it’s a joy when it turns out this way. She’s a phenomenal young woman.


More of Denmark, from our trip earlier this fall:

This is the low and narrow entrance into a 5000 year old burial chamber. These sites are common in Denmark; they exist in fields, with a sign on the side of the road to mark their presence. There's no control over them. Anyone can clamber through their often impossibly cramped interiors made up of rock monoliths, usually with a flat boulder weighting several tons as the ceiling.

The entrance passage as seen from inside. Wherever we go, if there's a castle or cathedral tower, I climb it. If there's a dungeon or neolithic burial chamber, I crawl into it.

Side walls of the chamber.

One of the treats of visiting Finn and Else is a visit to Roskilde, the ancient capital of Denmark that sits at the head of the Roskilde Fjord, to visit Else's brother and sister in law. The fjord (seen here from their front lawn) cuts deep into the country. It's been the scene of many historic episodes, and the large number of Viking longboat hulls raised from its waters led to a major Viking maritime museum being established in Roskilde. The town's large brick cathedral contains the tombs of many early Danish kings and queens, including Harald Bluetooth (died 985 0r 86) whose remains are walled up in one of the great piers that support the cathedral's transcept crossing.

Lunch at the house with smorrebrod, the famous open faced sandwiches for which Danish cuisine is famous. The bottles in front contain schnapps, a fiery aquavit that is the traditional accompaniment. Since I wasn't driving, I joined Else's brother in shots of each of the four or five differnent schnapps (pronounced snaps) he'd set out.

Roskilde Fjord is home to many boats and sailing vessels, including reproduction Viking longboats that sail daily from the museum, with visitors competing for places at the oars . I caught this lovely little two masted sailor as it was framed in the house's front window.

In addition to their careers, Else and Finn are both artists and they'e led us to the work of painters and sculptors during our several visits over the last eleven years. Peter Witt, who lives on the outskirts of their town of Helsinge, specializes in land- and seascapes. We visited him at his home/studio,

and then went to the hall of the local parish church where several of his paintings were on exhibition. They took us to meet Peter because I mentioned that one of his paintings that hangs in their kitchen impressed me a lot. He captures the quality of light in Denmark particularly vividly, his love for the land and sea of the country being particularly endearing.

These three canvasses do not make a continuous panorama but work especially well together.

This seacape was large and striking. Peter accompanied us to the church hall and spoke with us about his work. He has had to overcome an injury and disability, resuming his painting career with efforts like this.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I don’t know if it has anything to do with global warming but here in northern New England, albeit near the southern edge of northern New England, we haven’t had a killing frost yet. When we turn on the outside lights at night there are swarms of flying insects within seconds. While we’ve lost some of our most delicate annuals, quite a few remain and are thriving.

The average date for a killing frost here is around October 20th, almost a full month ago. It may finally happen tonight because the temperature has been falling steadily since a high of 68 degrees Saturday night at around ten o’clock. This afternoon we had a classic late autumn day for the Northeast—heavy, rolling clouds racing across the sky on cold, crisp air with blustery gusts that brought down the last of the autumn leaves. The promise is that winter is just about to begin.


You know how every now and then the scrambled letter word verifications actually spell something real? A while ago I left a comment on OF THE KOSMOS (academia, culture, literature, nature, opera) and my word verification test was gaudi. It wasn’t exactly a sign from heaven or anything, but here’s a little bit of Antoni Gaudi’s phenomenal work, just because:

The architect's most iconic work, the unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona

An art nouveau house facade

A cluster of chimney pots inspired by African forms

A phantasmagoric corner in the Sagrada Familia


Not your grandmother’s opera house: The Royal Opera Covent Garden, possibly encouraged by the success of a [partially] nude calendar including noted actress Dame Helen Mirren, decided to release its own calendar with members of the company from all departments baring all. There’s no full frontal for the men, and some artful posing of the women to avoid descending into porn, but these images are a sample of what I believe to be the first nude opera calendar:

It's has become somewhat common to have a mostly or completely nude executioner deliver the severed head of John the Baptist in Strauss's Salome. Here's the gentleman on stage (above) and in the calendar:

An actor/acrobat from the company

American tenor Charles Castronovo is one of the few singers to appear in the calendar. His page doesn't seem to be available on the web but this production publicity image was


Some more images of our time in Copenhagen:

The Rosenborg Castle, repository of the royal treasury and the vault holding the Danish crown jewels. It's 17th century and serves as a record of the country's history as seen in hundreds of paintings and tapestries

An elaborately three dimensional plaster ceiling

Solid gold objects in one of the [many] treasury rooms. Others are devoted to crystal, porcelain, gold and silver plate, etc.

A Danish princeling's playthings--solid gold, rather than common tin, soldiers--regiments of them

The coronation thrones of the King and Queen of Denmark (the lions are silver) . . .

. . . and the crowns

Copenhagen's city hall

Beloved storyteller Hans Christian Anderson in bronze, perpetually gazing at the towers on the gate to the Tivoli Gardens, the city's world famous amusement park

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our concrete guys took both Monday and Tuesday off for the Veterans Day Holiday but returned very early yesterday to finish the forms.

Before I knew it, a cement truck was coming up the hill and the pouring began. Today they removed the forms from the hardened concrete, cleaned up, and put a coat of masonry sealer on the finished work.

Fritz had envisioned, a zig-zag approach to the front of the house that would have visitors facing different parts of it as they walked up the rise, eventually confronting the facade of the great room head-on before turning to the right and arriving at the front door. I'd always liked the idea but when I stood downhill of the house and completed walks this morning, I loved the dynamic angles of the walk against the more serene geometry of the building.

Pouring the walks was the last job for which we needed a sub-contractor. All major construction is now completed! With the spring will come another flurry of exterior landscaping and garden activity.

The west side of the house with one of the two new firewood racks I built from sub-contractor leavings. The base is a stone delivery pallet; the sides are pressure-treated 2x stock, scrap from the construction of the bridge that spans from the rear of the house to the cliff. A bit of the shed can be seen down the hill.


Another strong indication of the new way our arts are being produced and experienced, edited from the New York Times:

The Music Is Classical, and the Bar Is Busy
Published: October 30, 2008

In some ways, it was a familiar New York scene: a crowd of people, mostly young, seated at tables in a no-frills, black-walled Greenwich Village music club on Wednesday night, sipping drinks and listening to a group playing its first set.

What was different was the music: the complete works for string quartet by the intensely complex modernist composer Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), performed by the adventurous Jack Quartet. I never expected to hear these seldom-played pieces at a club on Bleecker Street.

That club is Le Poisson Rouge, which opened this summer on the site of the former Village Gate. It was founded by two musicians in their late 20s, Justin Kantor and David Handler, who met as students at the Manhattan School of Music. Exasperated with the straitlaced protocols of concertgoing, Mr. Kantor and Mr. Handler decided to open a club that would present an eclectic mix of programming, not just old and new works from the classical music tradition, but rock, jazz, world music and anything else that might entice people, especially young people, who are curious about out-there music and care little about labels. The club’s motto is “Serving Art & Alcohol.”

Le Poisson Rouge is following an essential programming principle: architecture is everything. If challenging music is presented in an inviting and informal space, the theory goes, then open-minded young audiences will show up, whether the music is Bach, Ligeti or the stylistically eclectic singer-songwriter Corey Dargel, who performed the second show on Wednesday night.

Clearly, what mattered to the musicians and audience at Le Poisson Rouge were the visceral energy, weird sound effects, raucous busyness, sometimes pensive beauty and often sheer craziness that, on the surface, can be found in Xenakis’s pieces for string quartet.

I’ll be back to hear more music, and to try the dessert I passed on this time: warm chocolate cookies with a White Russian for dipping.


Today's pictures from the trip take us from the southern to the northern European part of the vacation.

When we flew into Copenhagen’s Kastrup airport, I could see clusters of wind turbines rising from the waters of the Oresund. On our earlier visits, we’d been impressed by the number of turbines in the Danish countryside, and had visited an experimental village where real people, not just scientists and their research assistants, are living in houses built in a variety of materials, amounts of glazing, insulation, and architectural styles. Energy was being generated by wind and solar technology.

Fritz and I have always felt Denmark to be an astonishingly rational country, but the actual statistics are truly remarkable. It is mandated by law that 50% of the country’s electricity must come from renewable sources by 2030. In 2007, Denmark produced 19.7% of its electricity via wind turbine, the highest percentage of any country, without exception. Not alone that, since beginning its wind power industry in 1979, Denmark now produces 50% of all the wind power generation equipment used in the world. It reserves 10% of what it makes to build up its own clean generating capacity and sells the other 90% worldwide, creating jobs and providing a nice chunk of money for its balance of trade. This could have been the US, but the Reagan administration’s policy toward things environmental can be summed up as “rape the earth”, and Bozo spent the last eight years denying that global warming exists .

In the same year that Danes were producing one fifth of their electric needs with wind power, the United States made 0.6%--six tenths of one percent—of the electricity we need. The inane chant of “Drill, baby, drill!” from the Republican Convention came back to me when I researched these various figures, as did Bozo’s statements about “Old Europe” being tired, irrelevant and of no use to the United States.

Copenhagen's Round tower, built in the 17th century with an observatory at the top,

and a continuous spiral ramp so that horses could walk up the tower pulling their loads with them. The tower's library has been converted into an art gallery which was showing significant examples of marionette art from the country's puppet theaters

These two big, brawny--and anatomically correct--guys reminded me of the two giants in Wagner's Das Rheingold.

From a play on the trial and execution of Socrates.


This display was in a store window along The Stroget, gay-friendly Copenhagen's major elegant shopping street. I can't quite imagine anything like it in a window at Macy's or Nordstrom.

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