Monday, June 30, 2008

 
Matt, a relatively new blogger at A Gay Life Unexplored, posted this list which I took up because it has a lot of fresh questions and because I’m a sucker for these things. Thanks, Matt.

50 Things

1. What do you add to your coffee? Non-dairy creamer (I’m lactose-intolerant) and a small amount of sugar (that I’m working to wean myself away from).

2. What are you reading now? I’m finishing The Architect of Desire by Suzannah Lessard, and beginning The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal.

3. Do you own a gun? No, and would never do so.

4. Are you registered to vote? DO you vote? Yes and yes—always in every election that comes along, local or national.

5. Do you get nervous before doctor appointments? No. I was a bit nervous before getting a sigmoid colonoscopy, but not before any regular doctor or dentist visit.

6. What do you think of hot dogs? I usually avoid them—there are many, many better things to eat if I’m willing to let down my guard a bit against fat and empty calories.

7. Favorite Christmas Song? I don’t care for most Christmas music and have come to really hate the The LIttle Drummer Boy. The Ukrainian Carol of the Bells is one I do like very much.

8. What do you prefer to drink in the morning? Orange Juice to begin, tea to finish, Earl Gray being a particular favorite.

9. Can you do push ups? Yes!

10. What was the name of your first boyfriend/girlfriend? Depends on how you define boyfriend. Probably a boy named Donald in high school. He didn’t know he was my boyfriend, but he sure was mine.


11. What's your favorite piece of jewelry? A flat-braided steel Turk’s Head wrist cuff.

12. Favorite hobby? It’s between gardening and giving dinner parties.

13. Do you work with people who idolize you? I’m not looking for idolization but for productive collaboration. I do think the people I work with, and have worked with in the past respect me, and that means an enormous amount to me.

14. Do you have ADD? I suspect I may have a very mild case.

15. What's one trait that you hate about yourself? My tendency to seek out baked goods at moments of stress. The other thing that I do when stressed is begin to clean everything in sight. It’s a productive response that I refer to as getting in touch with my Inner Jewish Mother.

16. Middle name? Alexander. It’s for my paternal grandfather Alessandro and I’ve often been tempted to sign myself William Alessandro instead of William A. or William Alexander.

17. Name 3 thoughts at this exact moment. 1) I have a review deadline tomorrow for a book on Richard Wagner 2) I need to ask Fritz to buzz my hair some time this week 3) I have to remember that tomorrow is garbage pick-up day.

18. Name 3 things you bought yesterday. 1) Five antique cast iron shelf brackets 2) A large covered plastic storage tub 3) Four fresh lemons to preserve in brine with bay leaves and a cinnamon stick for use in cooking Moroccan tagine.

19. Name 3 beverages you regularly drink. 1) French roast coffee 2) Pinot Grigio 3) Orange juice.

20. Current worry right now? That January 20, 2009 won’t get here in time to keep Bozo from completely destroying this country.

21. What side do you dress to? I don't dress consciously to either side but it always settles to the right--the opposite of my political orientation, interestingly.

22. Favorite place to be? Right now, in this magical new house with Fritz. Otherwise, southern Spain or Europe in general.

23. How did you bring in the New Year? With a dozen or so gay guys at our four-day house party.

24. Where would you like to go? Barcelona; northern Italy; New Zealand’s South Island; Samarkand, ancient city and Tamerlane’s capital along the legendary Silk Road.

25. Name three people who will complete this. Three of my readers, I hope, and I’d be happy if they’d let me know if they do.

26. Whose answers do you want to read the most? RG (dulce y peligroso), because he has a wonderfully antic and unpredictable sense of humor; Ted (The Neighbors Will Hear) for roughly the same reason; Nicky Cooper because anything Nicky writes is always worth reading.


27. What color shirt are you wearing? A multi-colored rayon summer shirt that’s one of my [many] thrift shop purchases.

28. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets?. Not especially—flannel sheets are my favorite, summer and winter.

29. Can you whistle? Yes but not well.

30. Favorite color(s)? Several shades of orange (a very undervalued color), lapis blue, sage green.

31. Could you be a pirate? Not my style. I would, however, consider being abducted and ravished by one . . .

32. What songs do you sing in the shower? Now that I’m a New Hampshire resident and I shower daily with Fritz, I don’t. Most sane people don’t want to hear me sing under any circumstances.

33. Favorite girls name? Sophia. Greek for wisdom. It’s my younger daughter’s name. And there’s also the great Sophia Loren.

34. Favorite boy's name? Gregory. I took it as my second middle name.

35. What's in your pocket right now? Cell phone, keys, handkerchief, small change.

36. Last thing that made you laugh? Fritz being silly. He can be a supremely silly man and it’s a total joy when he is.

37. Best bed sheets as a child? The first sheets that had any color or pattern to them. My parents had been nursing ancient white sheets for decades—sometimes they’d shred during the night from dry rot underneath me.

38. Worst injury you've ever had? Breaking my ankle last November. Among other things, I broke my right ankle and couldn't drive for nine weeks. I nearly went bonkers.

39. Do you love where you live? Yes!

40. How many TVs do you have in your house? Three. I offer no apologies—I like to stay informed.

41. Who is your loudest friend? An opera-going buddy of mine who has a very loud voice that he doesn’t modulate a lot.

42. How many dogs do you have? None—I’m a total cat person. I couldn’t live without at least one cat.

43. Does anyone have a crush on you? I think there’s a guy who does. I know for certain there was someone several years ago but I had fallen in love with Fritz and that hurt the other man very much—something I would never willingly have done but the situation couldn't be helped.

44. What are the most fun things you ever did? The river boat tour we took up the Danube from Budapest and then down the Rhein to Amsterdam; climbing castle towers in Wales; a hot air balloon ride in Albuquerque.

45. What are your favorite books? Biography and history.

46. What is your favorite candy? Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds bar, marzipan, Altoids.

47. Favorite Team? The Boston Symphony Orchestra.

48. What songs do you want played at your funeral? Edward Grieg’s Second Elegiac Song as sung by Birgit Nilsson, the second movement of Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony #9.

49. What were you doing at 12 AM? Reading in bed.

50. What was the first thing you thought of when you woke up? Something delicious that was seriously XXX rated.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. (September 21, 2003)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

 
Thursday and Friday, I carried around at least a half ton of stone, maybe more, from where I had it piled up—the furthest into the property I could get the Jeep—to where it was needed.

The mini-cliff behind the house is topped and, in many places faced, by a strange combination of soils. There’s a very loose soil made up of centuries of decayed leaves, and there are great patches of putty-colored clay that is quite hard and dense, especially when wet. In rain storms such as we’ve been having daily recently (and are forecast to have for the next week), the leaf soil washes out easily and has been spreading all over the swale behind the house. The problem is that as it washes down it gullies and brings lots of rock with it. If it washes out in sufficient amounts, it could undermine the place where the bridge lands on the cliff.


What to do? A retaining wall, of course. So, I’ve been hauling rocks, setting them in so that they lock together to keep the bank solid. I’ve got a huge amount more to do, but my progress this week was significant.

I also completed the berm retainer on the west side of the house, which I’ve also set up as a rock garden.

Part of the beneficial fall-out from all this heavy physical labor is that I’m now at my very best weight since college, having dropped 17 pounds since New Year’s and firmed up a great deal of what’s left. And I’m now also in pretty great shape physically.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

We look forward to analyzing and working with legislation that will make -- it would hope -- put a free press's mind at ease that you're not being denied information you shouldn't see.

Monday, June 23, 2008

 

Oh, speaking of Roberto Bolle, I . . . .

. . . . what’s that?, we WEREN’T speaking of Roberto Bolle? Well, we are now.

It was just about half way through the La Scala Aida for which I did the intro and commentary. In the midst of the over-designed, cluttered and confused Franco Zeffirelli scenery in which you could hardly see the singers, a stunning, essentially naked young man entered and instantly became the focus of attention. Roberto Bolle had arrived in the Triumphal Scene.


Bolle has tremendous presence—had he merely stood motionless for the duration of the ten minute ballet sequence, I doubt anyone would have felt cheated.

But Bolle can dance. In fact, besides being drop-dead gorgeous, he’s the most exciting male dancer I’ve become aware of since the breakthrough performance of Adam Cooper (“the man the English press has called the Brad Pitt and the David Beckham of dance”) in Matthew Bourne’s version of Swan Lake.

If you check YouTube's files on Roberto, you'll see how often he's costumed in the stage version of the traditional Japanese underwear, the fundoshi (in Aida it was made out of slightly metallic gold material). And it isn't surprising he was costumed this way in a Franco Zeffirelli production as the Italian director has been a pioneer in emphasizing male beauty on stage through [near]nudity for over four decades.

In 1966, Zeffirelli was engaged to design and direct Antony and Cleopatra, the premiere production at the new Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. The women were encased in monumental, inflexible costumes while the Roman soldiers moved easily in helmets, breastplates--and thongs. The New York Times critic of the day commented sourly on "the queer ideas about costume design that are now beginning to become common in opera." This wasn't even code--the Times reviewer had caught on to the beginning of the trend among production teams to present opera informed by a gay sensitivity, and he wasn't happy about it. At. All.

Fast forward to 2008 and Roberto Bolle, with his boy next door good looks and his fashion model body, presents himself/is presented to the public with almost nothing on.


*******

Icelandic museum offers long and short of male organ
Thu May 15, 2008 12:06pm EDT
By Bob Strong


HUSAVIK, Iceland (Reuters) - Sigurdur Hjartarson is missing a human penis. But he's not worried: four men have promised to donate theirs to him when they die.

Hjartarson is founder and owner of the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which offers visitors from around the world a close-up look at the long and the short of the male reproductive organ.

His collection, which began in 1974 with a single bull's penis that looked something like a riding crop, now boasts 261 preserved members from 90 species. The largest, from a sperm whale, is 70 kg (154 lb) and 1.7 meters (5.58 ft) long. The smallest, a hamster penis bone, is just 2 mm and must be viewed through a magnifying glass.

One species conspicuous by its absence is homo sapiens, but that may soon be rectified since a German, an American, an Icelander and a Briton have promised to donate their organs after death, according to certificates on display.

The American, 52-year-old Stan Underwood, supplied a written description of his penis -- which he purportedly nick-named "Elmo" -- for display alongside a life-size plastic mould of the member as well as his pledge to donate it.

Hjartarson said the Icelandic donor, a 93-year-old from nearby Akureyri, was a womanizer in his youth who thought having his penis in the collection might bring him eternal fame. But vanity may make him rethink the offer. "He has mentioned lately that his penis is shrinking as he gets older and he is worried it might not make a proper exhibit," Hjartarson said.

WOMEN VISITORS

The museum, originally opened in Reykjavik in 1997, has now moved to the quiet fishing village of Husavik, 480 km (298 miles) northeast of the capital. Open from May to September, it is housed in a plain brown building, the entrance marked by a tall brown phallus near the door and a penis-shaped sign over the front porch.

A growing number of people from all over the world view the collection each year, 60 percent of them women. "We had 6,000 visitors last summer and actually made a profit," Hjartarson said with a smile.

The specimens, most of which were donated by fishermen, hunters and biologists, are kept in glass jars of formaldehyde or dried and mounted on the wall, creating an atmosphere that is part science lab, part trophy room.

Hjartarson has paid for only one -- an elephant penis nearly 1 meter long that hangs, stuffed and mounted on a wooden board, in the museum's "foreign section."

He said he began collecting penises 24 years ago, when working as a school administrator, with little notion he would one day be running a museum devoted to the subject.

"It was just a hobby," he said, adding that the collection was relegated to his office until the inception of the museum. "They were not on display in the sitting room."

The museum's "folklore collection" includes a few sculptures and joke items, but no sex toys or paraphernalia. The more risque displays stay under wraps.

"Two elderly German women came in a while ago and after viewing the exhibit, they scolded me for displaying a group of figurines in Kama Sutra poses, so I put them in here," Hjartarson said, lifting a black cloth off a glass-topped box labeled 'Erotica'. "This way nobody has to view them unless they want to."

Hjartarson maintains a light-hearted approach to his delicate subject matter, saying a sense of humor and a bit of intelligence are necessary to appreciate the collection. "I hope visitors leave the museum in a better mood than when they arrived," he said.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

 

It's ALIVE!


On Thursday afternoon, the Iceman cometh—and fixeth. The last major obstacle to our being fully functional was overcome with the repair, finally, of the refrigerator. Tom from Sears—tall, rangy, cute Tom—spent an hour replacing various parts that had deteriorated during storage in the barn all winter, and when he left, the fridge was pumping cold air. Hallefrickin’lulia!-- the wine’s chilling and we’re fully in business!

*******

With Paolo Szot getting the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical and our old friend, shirtless Nathan Gunn scoring raves for two recent classic Broadway revivals, the NY Times opera critic muses on how musicals used to be performed:

Out of Opera’s Cradle, Hunky Broadway Babies

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
Published: June 19, 2008

Opera buffs who admire the American baritone Nathan Gunn should perhaps be concerned about his recent forays into musical theater. After stealing the show as Lancelot in the New York Philharmonic’s presentation of Lerner and Loewe’s “Camelot” in May, he scored another triumph as Gaylord Ravenal in the concert adaptation of “Show Boat,” the landmark Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical, at Carnegie Hall on June 10.

Could the opera world be losing Mr. Gunn to Broadway? With his suave singing, handsome looks and natural acting skills, he made the transition to these classic musicals look easy.

For the baritone Paulo Szot, who on Sunday picked up the Tony Award for his portrayal of Emile de Becque in the Lincoln Center Theater’s fresh, respectful and affecting revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” it may already be too late. Though he has commitments in opera through 2011, Broadway producers surely have other temptations in mind.

Just a few years ago the Brazilian-born Mr. Szot was singing roles like Mozart’s Count Almaviva and Donizetti’s Belcore at New York City Opera to merely respectful reviews. Credit the casting team of “South Pacific” for recognizing his potential and Bartlett Sher, the production’s Tony Award-winning director, with helping him develop his debonair portrayal of de Becque. Singing “Some Enchanted Evening” to Kelli O’Hara’s irrepressible Nellie Forbush, Mr. Szot brings an affecting blend of dramatic urgency and melting lyricism to the timeless melody.

Both baritones are probably safe bets for long careers in opera, especially Mr. Gunn, who has had major successes in the field. Besides, “South Pacific,” “Show Boat” and “Camelot” are musicals of another era. The rappin’, rockin’, pop-infused scores that dominate Broadway today do not require singers able to bend the phrases of “Make Believe” or “If Ever I Would Leave You.”

These three shows have taken us back to a time when the worlds of opera and musical theater were fairly closely aligned, at least in the cultivation of the singing voice. In 1949, when the great Italian bass Ezio Pinza, at 56, created the role of de Becque in “South Pacific,” having retired from the Metropolitan Opera the previous year, critics were enthralled.

“Mr. Pinza’s bass voice is the most beautiful that has been heard on a Broadway stage for an eon or two,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in his New York Times review.

Today that comment seems a slight to singers who came before Pinza, especially the dynamic baritone John Raitt, who originated Billy Bigelow in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 “Carousel.” Raitt could easily have thrived in opera.

To understand how close the vocal traditions of opera and musical theater used to be, listen to the free, flexible and rich singing of Pinza’s co-star, Mary Martin, on the original cast album of “South Pacific.” Her phrasing is elegant, her diction articulate and unmannered. She was a natural vocal talent who had taken a wayward path into show business. Somehow she learned to project her voice and sing with shimmering richness.

On the 1954 cast recording of “Peter Pan” there is a revealing duet, “Oh, My Mysterious Lady,” when Martin, as Peter, pretending to be a beautiful woman bedecked in scarves, tries to ensnare Captain Hook (Cyril Ritchard). At one point Martin breaks into a flourish of fancy operatic runs, complete with leaps, trills and daring top notes.

She was no brassy belter, like the awesome Ethel Merman. Yet in Atkinson’s review of “South Pacific,” he describes her as “blowing out the walls of the theater with the rapture of ‘I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy.’ ”

Which brings up the major difference between the Broadway of 50 years ago and today: amplification. Until the 1960s Broadway theaters, like opera houses, were havens of natural sound. This did not mean that only powerhouse singers could thrive there. Think of Fred Astaire, with his small, sweet-toned voice. During the 1920s and ’30s, he starred in Gershwin and Porter musicals, and you never read in reviews that he could not be heard. Composers wrote songs with Astaire’s literate delivery style in mind and kept the orchestrations light. Back then, audiences were willing to lean forward and pay attention.

Amplification changed not just the nature of singing in musical theater but also the expectations of patrons, who grew reliant on beefed-up sound systems. The amplification for the Lincoln Center Theater’s “South Pacific” is subtle compared with the typically blaring Broadway show these days. Still, as much as I loved the production, I kept fantasizing about hearing the cast and orchestra perform without electronic assistance.

Surprisingly for a singer trained in opera, Mr. Szot has called the body microphone a “wonderful thing” that enables him to deliver spoken dialogue with conversational naturalness. It’s true that Martin and Pinza had to project their spoken lines in the 1,600-seat Majestic Theater, and for Pinza this was the toughest part of the transition from opera.

Just one week after opening night, he was afflicted with a throat ailment and had to miss several performances. In interviews he said the strain of speaking his lines, something he was not used to, was the cause of his troubles. Yet hearing trained musical theater artists speaking dialogue in strong, clear voices, without the processing of amplification, surely created another kind of intimacy with the audience.

Mr. Gunn, especially in “Camelot,” seemed not completely adjusted to his body microphone. He has a rich and resonant but not enormous voice. He is not one of those bellowing “tree-trunk Verdi baritones,” as he has put it. In opera he tries to sing full out, while being careful not to push his voice. Having to hold back because he was hooked up to a microphone seemed to throw him a little.

As usual, Mr. Gunn was a physically nimble and compelling actor, both as Lancelot and Ravenal. The assumption that opera singers are acting stiffs is outmoded and unfair. For the most part singers of the new generation pay attention to looking good and staying in shape, and welcome working with challenging directors, provided that the production is not loaded down with some incongruous concept.

But there have always been riveting actors in opera capable of great dramatic subtlety. The problem is that they perform in big houses in which nuances can be hard to discern. Opera on video and, now, streamed live to movie houses, has been changing the perception on this score.

Opera singers have been less skilled, over all, than their musical theater colleagues at projecting words. At its finest, musical theater is an art form that magically blends snappy, stylish lyrics with complementary music. Too many opera singers, juggling dozens of roles in several languages, become careless about enunciating clearly.

Mr. Gunn’s crisp, clear English diction eased his transition to musical theater. And for all his burnished singing, Mr. Szot does not fudge a single word of Hammerstein’s lyrics.

For now, among other roles, Mr. Szot has Escamillo in “Carmen” awaiting him next spring in Toulouse, France. But he is also thinking about “Man of La Mancha.” At 38, he has reached a crucial crossroad. Meanwhile, even if Mr. Gunn, 37, wanted a career in musical theater, he too would have to become a revival king. And there are not enough revivals around to keep him fully employed, thank goodness. Still, it’s been fascinating to accompany him on his fleeting visit to a neighborly genre.

*******

We're getting things the way we want them gradually, room by room. There won't be any pictures of the great room for a while because we're going to live in it and change things around until we get them where we want them. But here are some shots of rooms that are getting close to--or have arrived at--how we're going to be living in them:


The Exercise/Dressing room. The IKEA hanging clothing rack system is on the right. My weight bench is in the left foreground and the exercise bike in the background. I attached the top of a music stand to it so I can read a book while pedaling.



Nothing too interesting, just the new storage shelves in the mechanical room. The heavy steel shelves were given to me by the boys who run the MIT Press Bookstore. The wood uprights are salvaged from the tremendous stock of scrap wood from the house's construction.


The house at twilight with interior and exterior lights on. Through the windows you can see the chandelier lights int he middle and the line of little beam lights that give a gentle wash of light to the pine sheathing of the great room cathedral ceiling.


The base for the hot tub on its bed of crushed rock. The big flat boulder will act as a step for getting into the tub. It's about eight feet wide and must weigh a ton at least, if not more.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

 
Classical trivia:

This is the
Bocca della Verita—the mouth of truth—currently mounted on the wall of a small building facing the so-called Temple of Vesta in Rome. It’s reputed to be a test of honesty and the place to bring someone who’s to make a promise or swear an oath to you. The legend is that if someone swears a false oath while his or her hand rests inside the mouth, the marble jaws will snap shut as punishment.

Archaeologists are pretty certain that the Bocca originated in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) a little over 2000 years ago, represents a river god, and was one face on a large fountain with water pouring out of its mouth. How it wound up in Rome is much less clear.

Italians have always liked communing with stone faces. In Venice during the Renaissance, you could denounce someone anonymously to the inquisition by dropping a note into a stone lion’s mouth mounted on a wall of the palace. Various other stone or bronze faces served as mailboxes to inform against tax cheats and other kinds of lawbreakers.

*******

Opera Boston has established itself in an astonishingly short time as the city’s premiere opera company. It managed this by not underestimating the audience’s intelligence while the older, seemingly better established Boston Lyric Opera lost a considerable chunk of its subscription base by declaring it was going to produce only the “top 20 operas” all the time, canceling a contracted world premiere and what was to have been its first production of a work by Leos Janacek in the process.

However, the music scene in Boston is varied and pretty sophisticated; Opera Boston sold out contemporary and unfamiliar operas in strong, imaginative productions while BLO lost audience with its recycled standards. Now there’s this:

Boston gets new opera from old legend
By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff


Opera Boston will present the world premiere of an opera by Chinese-American composer Zhou Long. "Madame White Snake," based on a millennium-old Chinese legend adapted by Brookline librettist Cerise Lim Jacobs, will be given four performances at the Cutler Majestic Theatre beginning in February 2010 and will travel to Beijing later that year.

"Madame White Snake" is co-commissioned by Opera Boston and the Beijing Music Festival. It represents the first main-stage opera commission for the local company and the first American partnership for the festival. After the Chinese premiere in October 2010, the opera may be performed in Shanghai and in Boston's sister city of Hangzhou, where the ancient legend is set. Robert Woodruff, former artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre, will direct the production. Soprano Ying Huang and male soprano Michael Maniaci will be among the cast conducted by Opera Boston music director Gil Rose.


"I think it's an acknowledgment of the adventurous audience we have at Opera Boston, and a testimony to their appetite for interesting work," said Opera Boston general director Carole Charnow by phone. The budget for "Madame White Snake" is projected to reach $2.2 million, roughly equivalent to the company's entire operating budget for a typical season. Charnow says fund-raising efforts have begun, and State Street Corp. has pledged its sponsorship. The mayor's office is assisting with publicity and contacts in Hangzhou, says Julie Burns, director of the Mayor's Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events.

Zhou, 54, came to this country in 1985 and teaches at the conservatory of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He and his wife, Chen Yi, are prominent members of a generation of émigré Chinese composers who lived through the Cultural Revolution and have emerged as an animating force in contemporary classical music. This will be Zhou's first opera.

The idea for "Madame White Snake" actually originated with Jacobs, a Chinese-American attorney with no experience working in opera. Growing up in Singapore, she often heard the Chinese Opera versions of the Madame White Snake legend, about a demon who transforms itself into a woman and falls in love with a mortal man. Speaking by phone about her English-language libretto, Jacobs said that despite its mythic origins, "This is really a story about choice, brought down to a human psychic, emotional level."

Jacobs first showed Zhou the libretto over a dinner meeting early last year in New York City. He too had grown up with the legend and was immediately attracted to the subject, he said by phone: "I already felt the melody as I read."

*******

The wit and wisdom of George W. Bush

I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. (September 21, 2003)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

 
I got notice of Kelly Stern’s coming out story project via Lewis, the lovely guy from Portland, Oregon we had the chance to host last fall. Kelly asks his readers to post this picture he took, and tell their coming out stories. Here’s mine:


I knew I was attracted to men as early as age five, an experience I’ve learned isn’t uncommon for gay men. His name was Dave Powers, father of one of my playmates, New York City cop, a tall curly-haired blond. My apartment building entrance and his were on opposite sides of a small courtyard. I was looking out the window one afternoon when I saw him standing on the stoop in a short-sleeved shirt with two or three buttons unbuttoned, a rich mat of golden hair curling up his chest to the base of his neck. I was mesmerized and quickly developed a hollow yearning sensation in the pit of my abdomen that many years later I would recognize as sexual attraction. It had begun.

My parents were from families that were Catholic and, especially on my mother’s side, extremely sexually repressed. I was sent to strict Catholic schools so that the message both at home and in class was that not only was homosex the worst possible sin, but that heterosex wasn’t a great deal better, especially if you enjoyed it or indulged in it for any reason other than making babies strictly in the context of marriage. By the time I left for college, barely 17 years old, I was seriously screwed up.

As luck would have it, in my freshman year at Boston University I fell in with a first year music major, also raised strictly Catholic, who was good to study with. Rebellion and hormones being what they are, we began fooling around—nothing too heavy at first, but progressively more exploratory. We finally built up the courage to try something anal. We were both totally green and knew nothing of lube, etc. It was a major failure followed by massive guilt and revulsion.

Time passed. I spoke candidly with gay friends in grad school and during my early career, but always deeply ingrained was the idea that all this guilt and pain would go away with the love of the right woman. There was a marriage, not to the right woman--and not just sexually--as things turned out. There was a divorce. At age thirty-five I finally had a complete sexual experience with another man. Whenever I’ve been asked what it felt like, I’ve said it was like watching the sky clear after a storm, a realization that this was how it should be.

It was the age of AIDS. I had to be very careful on the one hand but knew I also had to get out and experience gay life fully on the other. A major reason for the caution was that I had two daughters adopted from Korea and had huge responsibilities to them. On the other hand, it was raising them as a single parent that led me to a realization of who I really was. So I did get out and about, did meet guys, have sex and break through various inhibitions to a point where I had large gay and straight circles within which I traveled--and that were mutually exclusive.

It was meeting Fritz that changed everything. I knew very soon in the relationship that this was it, a man worth changing my life for, a love more important than any fear. I knew I had to include him fully in my life and come out to my daughters, colleagues, and friends. I would start with the girls and move outward from them. I didn’t want to do it via email or over the phone--the right time would be a family wedding in Pittsburgh, where we’d all be together, a rare event with us scattered among various colleges and cities.

At the end, it was almost farcical. There were no moments all weekend where we had any alone time as a family within the greater family. It became obvious that the only time we would be alone together would be the time when we were among the greatest number of people—at the airport as we were waiting to go off in several directions on Sunday afternoon.

So that’s where it happened, a Southwest Airlines gate lounge. I got hugged and told they didn’t care just so long as I was happy and that they couldn’t wait to meet the man I was so in love with.

They also said they already knew and were just waiting to be told. In fact, just about everybody else I came out to said the same thing, to the point were I began to think, “Hey, this is a big step for me—couldn’t you at least fake a little surprise?”

I came out way too late, and I’m not happy about that but I’ve stopped beating myself up about it. I came out when I could, when
I’d finally gotten all the indoctrination, all the crap that society had imposed and that I had absorbed because I was so busy being the good little boy my parents informed me I was going to be-or else. The moral of the story is probably: rebel early and often.

*******

The refrigerator saga continues. When the repairman finally did arrive on Thursday, he said that the timer controlling the defrost cycle was broken, stuck in a position that would shut the compressor down. He replaced the control, turned the fridge on and left. I was practically euphoric.

Except that seven hours later, the refrigerator cabinet wasn’t one degree colder than before he came. I called Sears and told them that I needed someone to come ASAP and actually repair the refrigerator. The customer service rep said he’d set up an emergency service call for Friday and that I should call the dispatch office just after eight in the morning, to find out whether the repair would be in the morning or afternoon.

So I called the next morning but dispatch had no record of any service call for me. I came as close to blowing up as I get these days--not at the guy who was on the Sears end of the line because he had nothing to do with all the previous screw ups. But I made it very clear that they had to have someone come to the house and actually repair my refrigerator ASAP. He immediately set me up with a genuine emergency service call for Saturday and guaranteed a repair technician would arrive.

He arrived at almost six o’clock in the evening but he arrived and quickly established that the problem was a corroded sealed system that holds the refrigerant-all of which was gone. He canceled any parts and labor charged to me from Thursday morning's failed repair, and ordered the parts. It’ll be at least ten days before the actual parts installation happens but at least it’s going to happen and it’s going to be the correct repair. We’ll get by on a borrowed under-counter fridge in the meanwhile.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

 
We had a Board of Directors meeting for Fritz’s not-for –profit on Monday night and we decided to have it here at the new house rather than at the Center. The weather was oppressively hot outside but not bad in the house with its slab floor and earth-sheltered walls. We were one straight woman, two lesbians and three gay men, all friends for years. They were our first guests, the dinner was fun and the meeting very laid back.

We decided on a cold menu. Fritz made his wonderful chilled rhubarb soup--stewed rhubarb (8 cups of diced rhubarb, one quart of water, sugar to taste) that’s put through a strainer, frozen, then partially defrosted so that there are still some ice crystals, with whipped cream folded in. Everybody always loves this; it’s almost addictive on a really hot night. He also made the closer, a maple syrup pecan pie that’s just incredible.

I did the main course, a Chinese Chicken Salad:

4 cooked skinless boneless chicken breasts, diced
1 1/4 cup bean sprouts
1 1/2 cup snow peas
1/4 cup chopped scallions
chopped iceberg lettuce, romaine, field greens, whatever
1/4 cup diced celery
1 can (8-ounce size) sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 large can Mandarin Orange segments
Toasted Chow Mien noodles

Dressing:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
5 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon sugar (preferably brown)
or Newman’s Own low fat Asian Dressing

Combine the chicken, bean sprouts, snow peas, and scallions. Make a dressing using the oil, soy sauce, ginger, salt, pepper, and sugar. Add to the chicken mixture. Add the celery and water chestnuts and mix well. Toss in the noodles last thing before serving. Serve chilled.

Carpentry on the house was completely finished today. There’s still a very little electrical work to be done. For the rest, we’ll finish some second coats of paint in a couple of rooms, do touch-up on the others, and move the furniture in the great room around a lot until we get it exactly where we want it. There’s also the exterior work to do and I’m really looking forward to that. We’ll be dry setting a lot of stone to make the big raised bed for the wild flowers and the planters across the front of the house. Later in the summer we’ll have a garden shed built in cedar with roof shingles to match the house.

We’ll plant some trees and take saunas with our friends; after a career doing art for other people, I'll do some art just for myself and Fritz will continue to teach teachers to use the arts in every subject they teach; we've built our house and chopped our wood, we’ll bake our bread and make our garden grow.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.

Monday, June 09, 2008

 
Saturday was our first night in the new house. We’d moved a lot of stuff previously into the second floor rooms but downstairs was held up by the problems with the floors. With that solved, we set up our bedroom and the exercise/dressing room, began hanging art and generally settling in. Sunday morning we both woke up much earlier than usual. The dawn chorus of birds began at 4:30 AM almost on the dot and included a couple of different songs than we’re used to at the old house. Even though we’re only six hundred feet further up the hillside into the woods, we get wood thrushes up here with their clear, piercing song and a lot more crows who soar low between the tree trunks. We’re also keeping a lookout for the female mallard duck who used to keep the assistant stone mason company early in the morning.

We can’t eat here yet unless we being our food up from Fritz’s old house for each meal. We experienced another disappointment when my refrigerator, which had been working perfectly in Boston, wouldn’t get cold when turned on here. Something obviously happened during the move up here and storing it in the barn, or in the move from the barn to the new house. A Sears repair technician was due this afternoon, but stood us up and is now scheduled for Thursday morning. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s something relatively simple.

Meanwhile, we’re extremely happy to be “home” at last.

*******

One of the pleasures of my current life is that I’m getting to work my way through the great pile of books on my “to be read” list. After finishing Farley Granger’s autobiography, I realized that the obvious next choice was “The Architect of Desire” by Suzannah Lessard.


Granger had starred in “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” early in his career with the very young Joan Collins, newly arrived from England and an incredibly hot property in Hollywood.


In the film he played Harry K. Thaw who unleashed a mega-scandal in New York City in 1906 by walking up to the famed, iconic architect
Stanford White at a glittering social dinner, pulling out a gun and shooting him three times in the face from three inches away. Thaw’s actress/celebrity wife Evelyn Nesbitt (then nineteen and one of the famed Floradora Girls) was involved in a long-term affair with the architect.


A beautiful and amoral woman,
Evelyn first occupied White’s red velvet swing (long-rumored to be hanging in one of the many apartments he maintained around Manhattan to house various girlfriends) when she was just sixteen.


The [in]famous swing actually hung in the lavish suite White had designed for himself in the tower of the original
Madison Square Garden, a massive pleasure palace containing an arena, several theaters, and lavish public function rooms, in the Spanish-Moorish style. One of its many grand salons was where he would die.


Thaw himself was a major playboy, with sadistic tendencies toward his women. White, on the other hand, paid his girlfriends’ dental bills and made sure they were OK financially when their affairs ended. At the time of the murder, Thaw was only able to have sex with Evelyn after beating her up to get fresh bits of information about her sex with Stanford White.


The trial, predictably, was one of the major sensations of the final years of “The gilded Age.” White had designed urban multi-million dollar mansions and office buildings for the elite Robber Barons of New York society who weren’t anxious that details of White’s “chamber music” evenings (that began with Schubert and ended as group sex parties) be made public.
Thaw got through the trial by having all his meals in jail catered by Delmonico’s, one of New York’s greatest restaurants. He got off with an insanity plea and a hung jury. The rest of his life was a parade of events connected to the murder: a second trial, time spent--some of it involuntary--in mental institutions, He eventually moved to Florida where he died.


White’s own family, his wife whose tolerance apparently surpassed that of a saint, his son, daughter-in-law and a growing number of grandchildren, retreated to their country estate near Smithtown on Long Island (home, appropriately enough, to the legendary, extremely well hung Smithtown Bull) and rode out the publicity until things calmed down. The whiff of scandal hung over them for decades nevertheless. They decried the 1955 movie for its “lies,” author Lessard maintaining that a man who was so charismatic, kind and generous to his women wouldn’t have had to resort to the tackiness of drugged wine to seduce them. One of their friends and Long Island neighbors, the well-known stage and screen actress Cornelia Otis Skinner, had a role in the movie and White’s widow, feeling betrayed, wrote the actress to end the friendship.

Lessard writes beautifully and convincingly of Beaux-Arts architecture as a metaphor for the nation’s imperialistic aspirations. She also muses on the impact her grandfather’s buildings had and continue to have on the culture of New York City.


Many fell to the wrecking ball when the Modernists declared Beaux-Arts to be imitative and intellectually corrupt, including the overwhelming Pennsylvania Station, widely regarded as the most impressive and appropriate gateway for travelers to a great metropolis ever constructed. That demolition is still considered one of the great crimes of modern urban planning. Its cheap and dingy replacement, squatting in the basement of a high-rise office building, filled with odors, crowds and poorly ventilated, is enough to make one weep for what was lost.

But New York still has a large inventory of classic Stanford White buildings of all kinds, appreciated and admired once again. The scandal faded; his genius remains.

*******


The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

The law I sign today directs new funds and new focus to the task of collecting vital intelligence on terrorist threats and on weapons of mass production.
[11/27/2002]


Friday, June 06, 2008

 

Alex and Jonathan at the [mostly] opera blog Wellsung (a delightful pun on one dynastic strain in Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung) published this link to a big rap ensemble number from the new musical “In the Heights.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSTjRUMfOKI

I’m not normally into rap (although Beastie Boys really caught my attention—as if Kurt Weill had cross-pollinated with hip-hop) but this is very different—witty, filled with character and put together with startling similarity to a big act-ending finale to a Rossini opera. There’s the layering of voices, complexity of the shifting but always forward-moving tempi and the sheer delight of hearing everybody involved keep the big structure up in the air and speeding to the finish.

There are also related links to the author talking about how he got hooked on the idea of writing for the musical stage and other related material.

*******

Sunday afternoon I went down to Boston for Chorus Pro Musica/Boston Concert Opera’s performance of Bizet’s Carmen at New England Conservatory of Music’s Jordan Hall. The place was packed to the rafters and excitement was tangible in the audience.
Victoria Livengood was back in Boston as Carmen.


Livengood did an important part of her vocal training at the Conservatory—I still have a program for her in Menotti’s The Medium when she was just starting out. Her last appearance here, two years ago as Dalila in Saint-Saens Samson et Dalila, was close to sensational. Her voice is a dramatic mezzosoprano with a very strong lower register and a brilliant top. Despite the size and weight of her voice, she’s retained her ability to sing the grace notes and to feather the voice down to a slender thread of tone when required. When I complimented her on this at the post-performance reception, she was delighted since she works hard to maintain that kind of vocal flexibility.

She’s also a totally committed actress, and Carmen has become a specialty. It’s an opera that’s done all the time, but rarely done really well. It makes huge demands on the woman singing the title role: four major solo arias, a variety of duets and ensembles, a great deal of physical action (some of it violent), a broad emotional range, and some flamenco accompanying herself with castanets.
Livengood aced it all, and she directed the semi-staged production into the bargain (quite well, this lady knows what makes effective theater).

For me, the highlight of her performance was the short, fatal fourth act. I’ve never liked Carmens who go to their death kicking and screaming. She’s read her fate in the cards and specifically tells friends who warn her that her former lover is in the crowd that she fears nothing. Carmen’s a fatalist who knows there’s no escaping destiny. Livengood stood magnificently still and let her Don Jose, the very effective Adam Klein, stalk her, plead, threaten and finally snap. In a way it was passive-aggressive suicide; the more determinedly, contemptuously calm she became, the more he was driven frantic. Finally there was nothing left for him to do, no place to go or words left to say; just a blade in the gut and a sharp cry. She was dead, he destroyed.

This wasn’t a pretty or picturesque Spanish entertainment but a stark drama of life, death and fate. The audience exploded.

*******

Fritz got a call the other day from the head of the state's Democratic Party organization asking him to run for State Representative for the local district. I’d been away overnight and when I got back he was mulling over the pros and cons. There were many of both. My first reaction was what a wonderful capstone it could be for his career; my second was that he’s one of the least political people I know and I wondered if he wouldn’t be frustrated out of his head.

After we talked about it, he sent off emails to two very experienced, well-connected friends seeking their opinion. One of them, a guy who’s been part of our Sweat Lodge group for years and who’s done extensive public relations and event planning for our pioneering gay Bishop Gene Robinson, wrote a beautifully reasoned and composed reply that focused all the reasons why Fritz shouldn’t do it. In truth, Fritz already knew he shouldn’t, but having it so clearly and logically laid out enabled him to pick up the phone and say thanks, but no thanks.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to ptactice their, their love with women all across this country.


Monday, June 02, 2008

 
If you’ve ever wondered what responsible environmentalism would sound like set to music, this next item is just for you:

La Scala to stage opera version of Al Gore’s ’Inconvenient Truth’
By Associated Press
Thursday, May 29, 2008

MILAN, Italy - First it was the film and the book. Now the next stop for Al Gore’s "An Inconvenient Truth" is opera.


La Scala officials say the Italian composer Giorgio Battistelli has been commissioned to produce an opera on the international multiformat hit for the 2011 season at the Milan opera house. The composer is currently artistic director of the Arena in Verona.

One wag on an opera blog wondered what vocal range carbon dioxide would have.

*******

I don’t tend to be paranoid but the phrase “the plagues of Egypt” has passed through my head several times in the last three or four days. We had the ants, and then we were hit by bubbles.

These weren’t fun, pretty soap bubbles but eruptions all over the concrete floors that had just been recoated with sealer. Just when we thought we might be out of the woods with the floors, they looked like this:


The bubbles appeared on the bedroom Floor on Friday and on the entry and great room floors sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. To say we were depressed would be a gross understatement.

I called the concrete guys and they came over yesterday to see what could be done. One of the first things they said was that they didn’t recommend putting any more layers of sealer down. They popped bubbles open—a little circular ridge remained, sometimes with a very slightly discolored center. We decided to give scrubbing the bubbled areas with a mildly abrasive dishwashing pad a try. We got a texture that went surprisingly well with the mottled natural stone look of the original acid dye-stained concrete.

As a final experiment, we coated two small patches of the floor with one layer of the acrylic wax that’s meant to be the final dressing over the sealed concrete. It pulled everything together. We decided to give the sealer two more days to cure and on Thursday give the floors the required three layers of wax. Unless we’re hit with any more nasty surprises, Saturday is moving day!

Before the guys left, I asked them to give me an estimate on the concrete walks, steps, etc. that I want around the house. They took the measurements, calculated the cubic footage of concrete and gave me a very decent price. We’ve agreed that the work will start in late June or early July.

*******

We bid a hearty hasta la vista to the colony of carpenter ants that had invaded the house this afternoon courtesy of our local exterminator. He located the trail from the master nest in the woods to our house and sprayed it, then he did the entire outside of the house and got up high in the trusses ovder the great room to spray the entrance to the nest they'd established there. The only wood damage he found was one very small hole they had eaten through the v-groove pine sheathing of the great room ceiling, but he said he could hear them moving around and chewing up the foam insulation before he hit them with his spray.

The combination of finding an acceptable solution to the floor problem and getting the upper hand on the ant infestation left us much happier and more relaxed than we've been in several days.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee...that says, fool me once, shame on...shame on you. Fool me...you can't get fooled again. 9/17/2002


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