Thursday, July 31, 2008

 
I’m hitting the road today for a long weekend away, giving Fritz yet another good excuse to claim being an opera widow. Tonight I’ll be at a rare performance of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s masterpiece, King Roger. First performed in 1926, it’s a retelling of the great play by Euripides, The Bacchae, set in 12th century Sicily during the time when the French monarchy there had adopted Arab culture and ran a tolerant, multicultural society.


I’ll be meeting blogger Alan Ilagan in Albany for lunch on Friday before heading further west to Cooperstown, NY for my annual weekend at the
Glimmerglass Opera festival. The program this summer is built around works based on Shakespeare:

Bellini’s I Capuletti ed I Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues) based on the Italian sources Shakespeare used for Romeo and Juliet;

Wagner’s Das Liebesverbot (Love Banned) based on Measure for Measure;

Cole Porter’s musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate based on The Taming of the Shrew;

Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Julius Caesar in Egypt) which has in common with Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar only that Caesar appears in both;

and a concert performance of the complete incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Felix Mendelssohn, including the solo songs and chorus numbers.

I’ll be back Sunday night—have a great mid-summer weekend!

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

I mean, there needs to be a wholesale effort against racial profiling, which is illiterate children

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

 
Today it’s about animals of one sort or another.

I had another middle of the night wake-up early Monday AM when I heard a series of deep roars from outside. The moment the first set began, all the dogs in the immediate area broke the silence and began to bark in alarm. All in all, there were three sets of these deep, rugged, upward roars.

In the morning, Fritz and I traded notes; it didn’t sound like a coyote in any way, so that was off the table. Fritz suggested a moose giving mating calls, this being close to the time when moose in our area begin to mate, and we’ve identified moose tracks on the property in the past.


The other, perhaps stronger possibility is a bear They’re everywhere now in the southern part of the state. Even if we’ve never actually seen one ourselves, friends and friends of friends have had them on their properties not very far from here. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a moonlit night so I wasn’t able to go to the window and see the source of the sound, but it was close and it was loud. Interestingly, Starr takes these deep night animal sounds in her stride.

*******

On a slightly gentler animal topic, we’ve noticed for a couple of years a fairly large, hovering creature working Fritz’s butterfly bush. I say creature because neither of us, and nobody who saw it with us, had any idea even what species it was.

It looked and flew for all the world like a humming bird and was exactly the right size. But it didn’t dart away the way humming birds do when you approach, and there were these ANTENNAE. Humming birds just don’t have insect-like antennae. So was this pretty and benign little nectar gatherer some kind of mutant humming bird? And what about an opinion from Fritz’s office manager that it was a kind of moth? The deadlock was broken this last weekend by one of the guys who came up for the monthly Sweat Lodge gathering—it’s both, at least as far as it’s name is concerned. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce:


The Humming Bird Moth

HBM’s are part of a moth subset known as clear wing moths because their wings are transparent like a bee’s. They hover and sip nectar from flowers just like a humming bird, but they’re definitely insects. They’re also not spooked by human activity in their general area, allowing for close observation and good in-flight photo opportunities.


Birds mate and stay together for some period of time, of course; I have no idea whether moths do, or whether this type does, but two of them do show up together a lot, and we always look forward to seeing them. Doug Taron, can you fill me in here?


*******

After neglecting the guest room which Starr took over (causing good friends of mine to dub the guest room The Starr Chamber) for more pressing jobs, I went in last week to get it ready for a houseguest who will be here next weekend.

The neatly folded acrylic blanket at the foot of the bed was covered with cat hair, so it had to be laundered. I made up the bed, put a lightweight India print spread on it, took the stacked pillows, cleaning the cat hair off the one on top, and arranged them at the head of the bed. I had, of course, completely upset the lovely soft and warm little world Starr had for herself there.


Her response wasn't long in coming. Denied her upstairs lair, she moved onto one surface in which she’d never shown much previous interest—the seat of my chair at the kitchen table. And, she occupied it for most of the rest of that day. Not, mind you, Fritz’s chair that actually has a softer, nicer corduroy-covered pad, but my chair with the thin, worn-out pad (I will be making new pads, for the whole set of chairs, in the near future).

I pointed this out to Fritz but he did as he always does at moments like this and says I’m just projecting. Fritz is more of a dog person; he loves those sweet, enthusiastic, lovable but dim animals and knows little of the intelligent and infinitely devious ways of the cat. But I knew. I knew I was being put in my place--which was away from my place, just as I had put her out of HER place. I do so love cats.

We finaqlly made amends--and I got my chair back--when I took a beat up old pillow that really should be tossed out and put it where the blanket used to be:


*******

Installation of the photovoltaic panel system has begun. Here’s the frame in its early construction phase—it was finished yesterday. We thought the guys would be back today to finish the job but nobody showed up. Since the panels are extremely heavy, we assume they have to wait until they get a complete crew, not just the single man who’s done all the work until now.


*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

We cannot let terrorists hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

 
We had a scare up here Thursday in a storm that lasted for the majority of 24 hours. There was constant thunder, lightning and rain--unimaginable amounts of water at times, falling hard in torrents. Roads were flooded and closed, property was damaged. And then the tornado struck.

In the aftermath, the National Weather Service hemmed and hawed about what it really was but local authorities and residents had no doubts at all. It snaked its way through several counties, destroying and damaging houses all along the way, and dropped to earth especially hard in Deerfield, the next town to ours northwest, where a woman died when her house collapsed on her. This was maybe fifteen miles from us, but we had little or no wind at all here.

The next day, the NWS got its act together and confirmed that, yes indeed, it had been a tornado—a rare but by no means unknown event for Northern New England, and one which we’re told will become more frequent with the deepening of global warming.

*******

I’ve finally activated my gym membership. I took it out just after I’d broken my ankle last November, taking advantage of the opening offer of virtually give-away monthly fees even if I couldn’t use it right away. But once I was back on my feet, it seemed if every time I was on the verge of going, there was some project meeting or some job to be done on the house that kept me from getting it into my schedule.

So now I’m following up on my weight loss and the beginning of the firming up of what’s left. I’ve never been to a gym before but am enjoying it. It’s a Planet Fitness, the only facility in the immediate area, and on one level it’s a bare bones operation. It has exactly one shower stall in the smallish men’s locker room and no place anywhere to sit—not even a bench on the main gym floor to rest for a moment between machines.

On the other hand, it’s scrupulously clean, brand new and the machines are easy to use for a complete novice like me. I’ve established a schedule of three visits a week--Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons—and I’m keeping to it.

*******

The Golden Boy That Never Was

Some of you are aware of the “Nicky Cooper Blog Fraud” situation that’s blown up this last week. I’ve been following it closely. I not only read and corresponded with “Nicky”, it’s possible that one aspect of my family life was appropriated by the western Canadian grandmother who originated the fraud, and incorporated into the fictitious Nicky’s life.

For those of you who never read Cooper’s Corridor or it’s successor Nico’s Niche, “Nicky” (short for Dominic, not Nicholas) was presented as a young, gay Forestry Service fireman of exceptional eloquence and sensitivity from northern British Columbia. He wrote of his romance with nature in a deeply personal style that can only be called luminous or radiant or, as I recently noted in a comment after the whole affair unraveled, of transcendent beauty. An indication of the reach of “Nicky’s” appeal was that German blogger Martin Wisser of Martininbroda, wrote me two days ago to inform me kindly that he had quoted my descriptive phrase in his entry, Die “Nicky-Cooper-Saga”: “und die Phrase der „transzendenten Schönheit“ rührt von diesem Gentleman her.”

As I’ve mentioned on my blog from the beginning, I raised my two daughters adopted from Korea as a single father. I haven’t shown pictures of them because I’m the member of the family who decided to blog in public, they weren’t. But I have discussed the vital part they play in my life, including my coming out.


One night I got an email from “Nicky”: he knew I’d raised two children alone, admired my accomplishment and hoped I’d give him some advice. He’d been contacted about two little boys who needed a home with the hope that he’d make one for them and eventually adopt them if everything turned out well. What did this mean in terms of juggling a career and family, how had I managed, did I think he could manage?

I wrote back at length. Sure, I said, there had been problems and frustrations but all that had paled to insignificance beside the joy of raising my children, which had become the central and defining event of my life. I told him of some support systems he had to make sure were in place, of what he could expect in terms of demands on his time, and other big changes he should expect in his life. I told him I thought he’d be a great father, and I offered him my support at any time he needed to talk. We had some further email exchanges. Not long after, Dario and Matteo entered “Nicky’s” life and we saw lots of pictures of the little boys in the light- and love-filled home "Nicky" was making for them.

Then there was a strange interruption—the blog disappeared, there were charges of plagiarism, and a fight broke out on the Joe.My.God blog over “Nicky” and blog ethics.

But “Nicky” came back with an invitation-only blog he claimed was necessary to protect him and the boys from hostile people’s comments. Those of us who were included on his access list rallied ‘round and the love feast continued—until last week. The story came out; behind the glowing façade of the poetic boy with the storybook kids, once the fairy tale bubble popped, there was NO “Nicky”—indeed there never had been. The two images seen here were his official blog pictures--I have no idea who this man really is.

The story, midwifed by Joe of Joe.My.God and Father Tony of Perge Modo and confessed by grandma herself to Joe, was that a large amount of “Nicky’s” prose was lifted virtually verbatim from the blog of a young mother raising her family in the wake of losing one child of a set of twins soon after their birth.

Dario and Matteo are actual little brothers in the care of their grandmother who, we are told, developed an alternate personality she internalized in early childhood and gave the name Nicky. Cooper’s Corridor was her attempt to personify Nicky and give him some form of reality via the gay blog community. After the Corridor was taken down when plagiarism was exposed, Nico's Niche was her defiant return to blogging behind the flimsy protection of the closed list of invited readers. Plagiarism continued.

Now all this could be considered just a benign prank like some of the other fake blogs that have been exposed over the years. For example, two Aussie blogs called Dalai Banana and Rex Mottram were both busted, the former with some deep resentment over the sympathy and support its author invited by faking a savage gay bashing that had never taken place.

But the Canadian grandma, in my opinion, stepped way over the line and became toxic when she led three young men into email romances with "Nicky", allowing and/or encouraging one of them to travel to British Columbia where, of course, there was no “Nicky” to be seen. The story, that he was out on the fire lines and couldn't see the beau who had invested considerable time, money and emotion to come calling, was all this man had to return to New York with.

At the moment there’s a great swirl of opinions, theories, and some charges that other blogs that had become involved with “Nicky” are also fakes, generated by the same obviously extremely needy grandma support of her primary fraud. Questions are being raised about trust, gullibility and the morality of life on the internet.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

I have a different vision of leadership. A leadership is someone who brings people together.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

 
The New Yorker magazine’s staff swears that the now-[in]famous Barack and Michelle Obama cover was intended as a satirical comment on the idiocy that’s been printed and spoken by conservative Republican commentators about the democratic candidate and his wife. This little video, titled "I’m Voting Republican," is perhaps a more obviously recognizable example of political satire--

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=FiQJ9Xp0xxu

*******

Northern New England has become the tropics. Virtually every afternoon and evening we have thunderstorms, frequently accompanied by huge amounts of rain that continue in waves of downpours during the night. There are flood watches on our rivers throughout the southern half of the state.

We’re not in any flood danger because of our position on the hillside, but it’s become impossible to work outside even in moments when it isn’t actively raining, because everything’s sodden. The humidity is so high that the dehumidifier we bought is taking three gallons of water out of the air every day and would take more if we left it running at night.

The up side to all this is that our new plantings are very happy and have gone into the ground with no shock at all. But with as much as three more inches expected today, it’s all becoming a huge bore and very frustrating.

With work outside difficult to impossible most of the time, some finishing details inside the house are getting done faster than I expected.

The iron grates high on the wall of the great room allowing excess warm air to help heat the second floor during the winter got installed on Tuesday. They aren’t in the florid Victorian style but a much simpler geometric pattern that goes perfectly with the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired lines of the house and the Deco/Moroccan feel of the upstairs. We found them at the big, wonderful architectural salvage place in Exeter where we’ve found so many of the finishing details for the house. They responded well to a stiff wire brushing to take off a century’s worth of soot, rust and caked dust and dirt. Then a Rustoleum base coat and finally whatever color worked best with the wall on which they were to be placed.

In the guest room (now Starr’s room) that color is Suntan Yellow, a bright, warm shade that washed out in this shot almost completely.


It was after lunch, and I moved around the room as quietly as possible because Starr had already settled in to rest up from the rigors of her after-breakfast nap. As it turned out, she was completely out. After giving me one slit-eyed lookover, nothing roused her, not even the power drill when I sank the two screws needed to secure the grate to the wall. I wasn’t around later to catch her reaction when she discovered that her days of walking through the opening in the wall and onto the great room trusses are over.


In the bathroom, where the color scheme is black, white, medium charcoal and pearly metallic silver, I chose the silver, which looks very sharp against the wall tile.


Downstairs, I had a sudden thought that my collection of French country pottery known as Quimper after the town in Brittany where it’s made, would look very good against the same orange color as the accent wall in the room. I ran it by Fritz, who encouraged me to go for it. The result transformed the two corner cabinets and pulled the color around the room in a really good way.


*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

I was proud the other day when both Republicans and Democrats stood with me in the Rose Garden to announce their support for a clear statement of purpose, "You disarm, or we will." [10/5/2002]

Sunday, July 20, 2008

 
Cats being cats, it was only a matter of time before Starr found her way through the ventilation ports from the top of the great room into the upstairs guest room and bath. Here she is walking the truss:


She’s claimed the guest room as her own, by the way, sacking out there most of the day. And as those of you who have cats know, NOTHING sacks out like a cat.

*******

We’ve started planting on the property, something I’ve been anxious to do for some while. There are some real problems, including the fact that the earth in what had been a fairly dense woods isn’t particularly good for growing anything.

To start, there’s a lot of sand in the soil from the unstable, shale-like volcanic rock. Then there’s the fact that actual soil is composed mostly of decomposed leaves (oak, shag-bark hickory, beech, birch, and black maple for the most part) and pine needles. The result is a dry, powdery soil that doesn’t retain moisture well because it drains easily or runs off, creating gullies.

My first planting took place in the retaining walls for the berms on the east and west sides of the house, which had been created by our excavator with me picking out the boulders to be used and deciding how they should be dropped. I used either sizable crevices between rocks or created pockets by adding smaller stones, filling them with good, composted soil to make rock gardens.



The relatively few vegetables we’d planted on the hillside leading up to the site of the photovoltaic array are doing well enough. The wood chip mulch we’re spreading gradually over the whole area is holding the soil during heavy rains (which are frequent lately) and keeping much more moisture available for our tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, and green peppers. I think we’re going to have to use MiracleGro or some other fertilizer because I don’t believe there’s much nutrition in the soil. Friends of ours who farm in Candia--the next town to the west of Raymond--have, however, offered us unlimited amounts of their composted manure for the taking, so we should be able to plant in some fairly decent stuff next year.

Another friend put us on to the fact that a local nursery was selling well-developed, roughly two feet high flowering bushed on a buy-one-get-one-free basis.


We went down and bought four bushes right away: two hydrangeas with flowers in a lovely shade of mauve, and two holly bushes, one male and one female. The tan/gold flat rocks between the bushes were all dug up when planting just these two bushes, which shows how much rock this property is sitting in top of.


The female holly already has a nice crop of berries coming as well as a new flowers, so she should be a strong bearer. I was particularly anxious to have holly growing here, because I love to give it away during the winter holidays and to have it in the house as decoration.

We spent all of Friday morning breaking up big clumps of day lilies in Fritz’s old gardens and planting them up here on the leach field for the septic system. We can’t allow any trees to get established there, but shallow-rooted day lilies and iris, which spread quickly, are perfect for the location and within a couple of years should give us a spectacular field of brilliant color.

*******

Our first attempt at dry setting stone, and not too shabby, I think:


Fritz set this one by himself. It’s the front wall of one of the planters that will eventually span the areas between all the piers across the façade of the entire house.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

It's exciting; I don't know whether I'm going to win or not. I think I am. I do know I'm ready for the job. And, if not, that's just the way it goes.

(That’s the way it went, Georgie, unready (and downhill) all the way.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

 

Who's Afraid of Bernd Alois Zimmermann?

Not, apparently the sell-out crowd that stood and cheered loud and long at the second performance of five of Die Soldaten last Wednesday night .

The greatest compliment I can give everyone involved in the production is that they made it look easy. And easy is definitely something it was not.

The score is complex and sometimes monumental, the acting space narrow and something like 200 feet long, the audience moves back and forth on the seating risers, a quarter of a million pounds total weight supported on three sets of industrial train tracks laid parallel with the acting platform on each side of it. The lighting installation is massive (some of it hanging on a truss that spans the front of the seating riser unit) and computerized to refocus and change color frequently during the action of the opera.

The Park Avenue Armory is no stranger to the arts in any form, having hosted the now legendary Armory Show in 1913 at which Marcel Duchamp scandalized the American art scene by showing his iconic Nude Descending a Staircase. The production embraced the design and structure of the building, making no attempt to hide any technical workings of the setting, which works well with the idea of Die Soldaten taking place inside a vast machine. Given the size, materials and shape of the almost block long space (a big barrel vaulted roof made of steel and glass, spanning masonry walls) the singers and orchestra had to be amplified, mixed and heard partially through speakers. Amplification (sometimes passed off as “sound reinforcement”) is anathema in the opera house where the natural, unmediated voice is sacred. But given the space and the care with which the sound was managed, the result was unexpectedly successful.


Surprisingly clear and accessible for a work summarily dismissed as unperformable when it was new, were the actual sounds that came from Zimmermann’s huge, percussion-enriched orchestra. His music--sometimes almost gossamer in its delicacy, sometimes made up of strata of overlapping masses of orchestra—sounded more expressive of emotion, more able to differentiate characters one from another, and just more interesting to listen to than, for example, the twelve tone music of Arnold Schoenberg.

One thing I do know is that nobody left during the intermission, and that a polyglot, multigenerational crowd stood and cheered the splendid cast, musicians and technical crews at final curtain. Speaking of the technicians, they were everywhere before and after the performance and during the intermission, available to talk with the audience, explain how it was all done, answer any questions, and make the intricately complex production as transparent as possible). I heard many comments wishing that the seating riser had zoomed into scenes even more than it did. That thing was fun to ride.


The public areas of the Armory are very special, high Victorian to Edwardian in style, comfortably spacious and bearing some important names. The Veterans Room was designed by the [in]famous Stanford White (see the June 9th entry for his story) in collaboration with famed glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.


Throughout the building, all the original metalwork gas chandeliers and sconces remain, with their original glass globes, now fully restored and converted to electricity. There will be more performances for me at the Armory—the New York City Opera has announced that even after the New York State Theater in which it performs reopens after a year’s renovation, it will perform Olivier Messiaen’s magnificent, sprawling Saint-Francois d’Assise in the Armory during the 2009-2010 season.

And, unexpectedly, an email from NYCO arrived just after I got home from New York with this news about how the desperately needed renovation of the theater is to be financed:

Dear Friend of the New York City Opera,

Today's thrilling news about David H. Koch's $100 million naming gift to the New York State Theater is nothing short of historic. As New York City Opera prepares to take a bold, new direction in 2009-2010 under General Manager Gerard Mortier, this support to modernize our theater is a grand step along that path.

The concept of having $100 million to give away is just breathtaking to me.

*******

When is a cat not a cat? When it’s a fisher cat, that’s when. We have them living in the woods around us.


Although the popular name is fisher cat, the proper name is simply fisher and even that’s a misnomer as they do not fish for their food nor even particularly eat fish when it’s available nearby. They’re related to weasels and martens, aggressive fighters heavily armed with sharp, powerful claws and teeth. The males top out at about fifteen pounds, about three times the size of the females. They’re excellent tree climbers. Once hunted almost to extinction for their fur pelts, they are now found across most of the US.

We haven’t seen them but have certainly heard them. A couple of times in the wee small hours, we’ve been awakened by a loud, harsh screech (one reference source says of their cry that it sounds like the scream of a child in pain). On both occasions that I’ve heard it, I’ve been even more glad than ever that I keep my cat indoors at all times.

*******

Oh, do you remember my writing about the new opera that's been written on the old horror movie, The Fly? I posted that picture of the lovely young naked baritone crouching in the scientific chamber—well, he’s emerged:



*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

As governor of Texas, I have set high standards for our public schools, and I have met those standards.

On a third grade level, perhaps?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

 
In about an hour, I’ll be on my way to New York City for what promises to be THE high point of the opera year. The Lincoln Center Festival has brought over from Europe a stunning and technologically astonishing staging of Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s great post-WWII anti-war opera Die Soldaten.

The production originated not at an opera house, but by a free-lance company that assembles production teams interested in working at large, highly untraditional industrial spaces (in Germany it played at a former gas plant). The enormous Park Avenue Armory is actually somewhat smaller than the original venue but the set has been adapted in a way that preserves its most striking feature—the motorized 974 seat audience seating riser unit that straddles the long, narrow (approximately 10’-6” wide) acting platform and travels up and down it on railroad tracks designed for the movement of giant construction cranes. The riser glides the audience back and forth along the stage platform at 7-1/2 inches a second to track scenes in the opera, some of which take place in “the present" while others are set in either the past or the future.

Here are some pictures from the various New York Times articles leading up to the premiere performance on Monday:




Musically, Die Soldaten was called unperformable often during its early years, one critic saying it had taken the twelve-tone “atonal” style to its outer limits. The orchestra numbers 110, with a heavily reinforced percussion secgtion. Performances were few and far between for a while until musicians and singers learned how to perform the “unperformable” opera (Franz Schubert’s Symphony #9 and Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle” were also called unperformable when first presented to the Vienna Philharmonic and the Hungarian State Opera respectively. Both are now repertory standards.) Critics now mention how many parts of this score are delicate or lyrical.

Sadly, the composer wasn’t able to see the opera become, if not a repertory standard, at least a viable challenge for companies looking for compelling contemporary works to produce. Zimmermann committed suicide five years after Die Soldaten’s premiere in 1965.

More—probably much more—when I get back.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

 
“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” - Jean Cocteau
(Borrowed from Alex in Salem, Oregon at Words of Sashazur)


We have such a cat. She’s taken completely to the new house and has her schedule, her special places and everything else operating just the way she wants.

*******

The other day I finished the new storage shelves for all our CDs. They stand on the east wall of my new Studio at the top of the stairs. I’m told CDs are all obsolete now, but these are going to be played for a long time to come.


I’m still building things using the masses of scrap lumber left behind by the various contractors—a major financial help. I could have designed standard rectangular bookcase-type storage shelves but wanted something more interesting, something more in the Deco style that predominates upstairs

*******

An opera has been written on the classic movie, The Fly. It was a success when premiered in Paris and the production will come to the United States soon. The Fly is a horror story but some elements of the opera are obviously not horrible at all but, in fact, extremely pleasant.


Meanwhile, the Bavarian State Opera in Munich is giving this extremely decorative production of Ferrucio Busoni's Doktor Faust:



*******

Classical Trivia: Greek Fire

The Ancients in the near- and mid-east learned about oil and what could be made from petroleum products very early in the game. They knew where oil oozed up through the ground, pooled on the surface and was ready for the taking. They also had a great deal of chemical knowledge, much of which has been irretrievably lost.

Simple incendiary bombs were an early invention--petroleum in an earthenware pot with a cloth or rope wick that was lit and then hurled at the enemy. But it was left to the Byzantines to refine such crude weapons into one of the most devastating and feared substances ever invented—Greek Fire.

It made its debut in 677 to break a three year long naval blockade of Constantinople by the Arab Caliph Muawiyah. The Caliph was spearheading a northward push of the great first expansion of Islam through the eastern Mediterranean. Unable to break through Constantinople’s walls, he employed the largest fleet ever assembled to blockade the city’s supply routes and starve it into submission.

Charged with finding some device to break the siege of the city, Syrian engineer Callinicus of Heliopolis demonstrated his latest invention to Emperor Constantine IV, an incendiary substance with properties unlike any ever seen before.  The public test was a huge success.


Byzantine warships outfitted with trumpet-like spouts extending from their bows engaged the Arab fleet in the Sea of Marmara. The liquid weapon, which ignited fiercely and spontaneously when exposed to oxygen, was stored in tanks and shot in long, flaming streams through the air at the arab ships which were soon engulfed in flame.  Greek Fire could not be put out with water—in fact, dousing it with water caused it to spread, one of its most feared qualities being its ability to cover the surface of the sea and turn it into a mass of fire. Sailors who abandoned ships sinking in flames were burned to death in the water.  Mauled almost to the point of total destruction, the Arab fleet fled back to the southern Mediterranean.  Greek Fire was used with devastating  effect on the Byzantine Empire's enemies for another 750 years. 

Nobody knows the exact ingredients of Greek Fire (naphtha, saltpeter, sulphur and a variety of other chemicals are suspected of being in the mix), because the recipe was a closely guarded state secret that disappeared when Constantinople finally fell to the Turks in 1453. The modern equivalent is, of course, napalm, invented by chemists purposely trying to develop an incendiary liquid that would replicate the Byzantine original.

*******

The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

I am mindful not only of preserving executive powers for myself, but for predecessors as well.

(Thereby allowing dead presidents the retroactive opportunity to trample on the Constitution and violate the rights of law-abiding American citizens?)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

 
We started a vegetable garden last week, pretty late in the game, but it’s not like we haven’t been doing other things. I’d always wondered where we might plant vegetables up here on the hillside, but Fritz pointed out the obvious—above the house on the slope leading up to the photovoltaic arrays.

The site is ideal in many ways—virtually 100% of available sun due to the trees having been cut away so as not to shade the solar panels, easy access via the bridge out the back of the second floor, the land up there is already stripped bare. So far, so good but there were some disadvantages—gardening on a slope isn’t always the easiest thing to do, the soil’s not great because it’s super-drained and therefore doesn’t retain water a lot, when it rains the soil can wash out because of the steepness of the grade.

What we did was to rescue some flats of tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers and parsley, along with a pot of thyme, at a nursery where they were plainly past their “sell by” date but still viable. I had bought a huge bag of fertilized composted manure and we mixed a lot of it into the holes we dug for each plant, and we used some of the thousands of stone fragments that are everywhere to construct little walls around each plant to combat erosion and help retain water.

The next step was mulch and we were a leg up on this one. Fritz needed some trees taken down a couple of years ago and had the chipped wood dumped in a big pile near one of the two parking areas. It’s still in pretty good condition, but broken down just enough to retain moisture well. We’re ferrying big cartons full of the stuff up to the hillside; Fritz’s idea is to mulch as much of the hill as possible to help the vegetables and to control soil erosion. All things considered, it feels good to be planting something again.

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I never really got into the whole HNT thing but when I mentioned my recent weight loss and toning up, romach dropped a pretty broad hint that he’d like to see a little skin as evidence. So, here’s the new torso:



And some upper arm:


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I’ve also been working inside. Our mechanical room is becoming is a great pantry/general storage space. On one chunk of wall between storage shelves and a metal utility cabinet, I did a hanging tool arrangement:


As Fritz likes to point out, I’m a strong J according to the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator.

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The Wit and Wisdom of George W. Bush

One of the common denominators I have found is that expectations rise above that which is expected.

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