Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We decided to check out sitcom night on ABC and just a few seconds into Hank, the new Kelsey Grammer comedy, was Melinda McGraw. She was a student of mine many years ago. I knew she had gone to LA and was doing well but co-starring on a Network sitcom is very good exposure. Hank is decently written and she was very strong in it.

From there, the level dropped quickly. The Middle passed by us without causing even so much as a chuckle. At one point, I asked Fritz--I didn't have my watch on--if there was any hope of it ending soon. This was followed by Modern Family for which we'd had some real interest, given the presence of a gay couple who've adopted a little daughter. Like The Middle, Modern Family was shot down by poor writing.

We gave up completely with Cougar Town--Courtney Cox appears to be doing a Julia Louis-Dreyfus imitation, just for starters.

So it wasn't a very good night on the tube.


The latest outdoor work:

Concrete steps set into the rather steep hillside from our little parking area to the vegetable gardens and solar panels high above on the hillside.

What will be the herb garden on the right, with about half its good soil in it. I carry the stuf in five gallon buckets from two . The little notch taken out of it in the upper right is designed to house three big garden pots with different types of mint planted in them. I'm building a retaining wall,
to the left, to hold back and stabilize the loose soil; actual solid rock begins in the upper middle of the frame and goes off to the right.

Inside the house, the sun is rising right behind one of the glass block windows in our exercise/dressing room, throwing a carved wooden statue of the Indian goddess Lakshme into total silhouette.


We have tickets to violinist Joshua Bell's tour appearance in Portsmouth in early February. Joshua did a little experiment while in the D.C. subways a couple of years ago:

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.....

The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later: The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes: A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children.
Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money, but continued to walk at their normal pace.

The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition. Findings:

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world.
He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million. Two days before Joshua Bell had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the Metro Station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and people's priorities.

The questions raised: "In a commonplace environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?"

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made............How many other things are we missing?

Saturday, September 26, 2009


Some time last night or in the wee smalls of this morning, my site meter reported the 200,000th visit to DesignerBlog, joining my beloved Jeep Cherokee in the 200,000 club. I should add that this is not for the five year history of the blog but just since I added the meter about three years ago.

Thank you all who stop by here, whether you comment or not (although I really love it when you do--I've met so many great people that way).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Last weekend, the state of Maine finally kept its promise to me. For years and years I've seen the signs on the side of the road: Moose Crossing. I've never seen a moose anywhere in the state. But on Saturday night as our hostess (a high school classmate of Fritz's) was driving us home from a very fine fish dinner (Italian Seafood Stew--shrimp, mussels, haddock and scallops in an herbed white wine broth) there they were.

She slowed quickly and stopped for two young males, nicely antlered, who were standing in the road ahead of us. They didn't freak or run, but casually walked up to the car, passed the driver's side, looked in the back windows, and then went on their way into the trees.

And I didn't have my camera with me.

The weekend was lovely, with perfect weather. We walked around the property on Plummer's Point down to the shore and saw some young seals warming themselves on the rocks. There was a visit to the big botanical gardens in the area, good talk and relaxation.

The shore--Maine's rocky coast.

A vertical garden wall panel at the botanical gardens

Artichokes in bloom.

A glass sculpture by our hostess's nephew, his second commission in the gardens (a wild wind storm destroyed the first one).


A couple of new pictures of the granddaughter:

At six weeks, holding her head up and a big smile.

Sacked out with her father and the cats.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Two weeks ago on September 4th, it was National Penis Day in New Zealand. The New Zealand AIDS Foundation began the event in big cities on both islands. Guys and a few ladies sympathetic to the cause (Penisettes?) gathered in public squares , striped and celebrated, climaxing (ahem) in a big sit down or stand up formation in the shape of a giant penis and testicles. A lot of fun was had by all and a great deal of attention was paid to the Foundation's goals in care and education.

Amazingly, the fabric of Kiwi society does not seem to have been rent into shreds, major societal institutions like marriage and the family remain in shockingly good condition, children haven't been rushed into emergency rooms or psychotherapy, and life goes on among a people notable for their optimism and good humor. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?



We're leaving for the coast of Maine later this morning, visiting friends of Fritz's in Damariscotta and Bath. I doubt I'll have any internet access for the duration but the laptop goes with me anyway just in case.

We had a very optimistic Board of Directors meeting for the opera company last night in Boston. Since we don't own any space, or have a standing chorus or orchestra under contract that require ongoing payment, we're in very good condition to outlast the economic crisis. We do "guerrilla" productions; we put together a cast with a pianist or a small ensemble of instruments with a conductor, hire a director to do either an existing work or a new commission, identify a performance space suitable to the work, and I put the physical production together. We move in, do our technical and dress rehearsals, perform, then strike everything, load out and it's all over until the next time with no continuing expenses.

We've laid low for a year or so, gotten a couple of small but valuable grants so that there's some money in the bank. We're now planning to do a combination performance/fund raiser late next January or early February at a high end B&B in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood that runs a series of musical evenings not unlike the famous salons of the 19th century--except that you have to pay to get in. We'll do an auction and a pitch for donations and if all goes well, we'll probably be going into production with something this time next year.

I'll be back Saturday evening.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Mystery Paintings

We may well have an Indian Summer here, but for the moment, temperatures are mild to cool, downright chilly at night, and color is beginning to appear in the swamp maples, the usual heralds of the change of season.

We normally don't see squirrels up at the house--chipmunks yes, squirrels no. But this little fellow was bounding around in front of the house yesterday morning gathering what he could find. As we were getting up, he climbed this tree directly outside our bedroom windows, to breakfast on one of his finds.


I own two paintings that are mysteries to one degree or another. Neither one has a signature and both
, one of them in particular, depict a specific place that nobody has been able to identify so far.

When I moved into my house in Boston's Roslindale neighborhood, I knew that it had been a farmhouse built in 1860, plus or minus, and had been the very first house in the immediate area. Berries and apples had been grown on the property. The owner sold them in Boston as a supplement to his coal and ice business on Atlantic Avenue. This last bit of information came from a ledger book found in the attic that detailed sales figures, the location of the business, etc.

I also found this landscape in the attic, up on the rafters in a place that had been covered by a piece of plywood. There were also a couple of old frames up there and I adapted one to fit it. It hung in my dining room all the years I lived in the house.

Several years later, friends from a different area of Roslindale told me they had also found a painting left behind when they bought their house, the one above. They didn't care for it and offered it to me. The two canvasses made a nice pair as they're within millimeters of each other in size.

There's obviously a story to this painting; the house with the word Riverside painted on it and the big institutional building up on the bald hill in the background are very specific structures. No one's ever been able to identify the shape that suggests some kind of structure behind and to the left of it. The house probably isn't eighteenth century to judge from the four chimneys that suggest wood-burning stoves. Boston has a western suburb called Riverside and the Charles River winds through it so perhaps that's the site, but it's all just speculation.

Neither painting is in good condition. The unpainted areas of the canvasses have been seriously weakened by dry rot and are no longer holding onto the stretcher frames very well. If I want to keep them on the wall, I'll have to have them restored. I don't think for a moment they're important works, but they were done with some skill and I'm very fond of them.


I was very touched by this photo--my son-in-law and my now five week old granddaughter, who seems to be concerned about something to judge from her knit eyebrows.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The laptop (MacBook Pro) went crazy yesterday morning, its click bar freezing up after the sudden onslaught of a bizarre period where it would open and close sites spontaneously and any cursor use would result in dragging unintended icons all over the screen, etc. The tech believes it's an electrical problem, possibly a short circuit, because the click bar clicked when the machine was off but was jammed hard when it was on. Also, it mostly worked when a conventional mouse was hooked up.

Anyway, between the laptop and three days of houseguests, posting may be in short supply here. I'll kind of in communication withdrawal--I can have some time on Fritz's machine down in the Center but nothing like normal. Best to you all--hope I'm back soon.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Some more from our trip, a little ancient eye candy from the Getty Villa in Malibu which houses an extremely important collection of Greek and Roman antiquities of all kinds in a copy of Roman structure entered through a pretty good reconstruction of a late Hellenistic theater. An interesting man, Mr. Getty--an oil baron who used his money to endow culture. Entrance to the collection is free (they get you for the parking but there is no admission charge to any part of the grounds. Enjoy!

The Jeep, which you may remember stopped running suddenly the day before our trip to the west coast, has had a starter transplant, followed by a wonderfully hasty recovery, and is now up and about leaping like a gazelle among various new Hampshire towns.

OK, a BIT over the top, but I am obviously very happy to have the Jeep back under me again, and for a reasonable repair bill into the bargain. The problem was a bad cable whose corrosion penetrated and ruined the starter. I was lucky that when it stopped working, it did so here at the house rather than out where I had just been doing errands or some in other inconvenient place—like new York City, for instance.


The weather has been simply perfect here this week and looks to remain so through next Tuesday at least. This is great news as we are once again hosting the annual Work and Play Weekend over Labor Day, an event might well be subtitled Gay Men and Their Chain Saws. The first of our friends arrived last night with more expected today, which will end with a Sweat Lodge gathering.

We have several big things to do—taking a deceased chest-type deep freeze to the Transfer Center (aka dump) and shingling a small shed roof over the wood pile for the Sweat Lodge, for two. But the big job is cutting up, splitting and stacking wood from the big trees—a black maple and a huge sugar maple—that came down in last December’s hugely destructive ice storm. We should be at full strength this afternoon when the big rented wood splitter is to be delivered. We have our own splitter, a small one that is great for run of the mill stuff but that won’t touch the 42 inch diameter chunks of trunk from the 200 year old sugar maple. Its weight is so great that some of its branches were driven deep into the ground when the tree was ripped apart and fell.

There will also be a lot of play time, good food, good talk, and we’ll probably get ourselves up to no good somewhere along the way.


With a tip of the hat to the invaluable Joe Jervis:

“Rachel Maddow reports that after five years of legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the state's divorce rate has plummeted to "pre-WWII levels." Kinda sticks a fork in the argument that homo marriage destroys opposite marriage, dunnit?”

Fritz and I are, of course part of the Massachusetts married gay community, our union now recognized here in New Hampshire. For the record, my elder daughter and son in law’s marriage is in great condition while my younger daughter and her boyfriend are moving steadily in that direction, too. Obviously, their father’s “toxic” marital status hasn’t deterred them one little bit.


Question of the day--how did a mouse get into this house with its poured concrete shell and its frames structure so tight that a negative air pressure test showed there was virtually no air infiltration at all? Somewhere around three this morning I heard the deep yowls from Starr that are her unmistakable signal she'd caught something. of course she trotted proudly with the live mouse in her mouth right into the bedroom.

As it happens I wasn't quite in the mood for the Drama of Life and Death to play itself out around--or on--our bed, so I chased her and her prey out into the living room and closed all the doors between it and the bedroom. After this interruption, sleep eluded me for most of the rest of the night, so I got up early and disposed of the little cadaver that had been lovingly laid out for us in the back hall outside the sauna, congratulated her on her kill, and am now starting what is going to be a fun and accomplishful day with The Boys.

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


I thought I'd write a bit concerning one of my very favorite actors, Stanley Tucci. The last two movies in which I've enjoyed his performances, The Devil Wears Prada and Julie and Julia, he's been cast opposite the protean Meryl Streep and has in both cases established a strong and memorable character on his own. A writer, director and producer in addition to being an accomplished and versatile actor (Puck, of all characters--and a charming one, in A Midsummer Night's Dream opposite Rupert Everett, Kevin Klein and Michelle Pfeiffer) Tucci has serious Broadway credits in addition to his many movies.

Not so well known is that during the filming of Julie and Julia, Tucci's wife began the terminal stage of her fight with cancer. She died in May of this year. Typical of his personal style, he made a dignified, quiet, deeply felt public statement and is now continuing to raise their three children on his own. I've admired him and his performances enormously over the years and look forward to whatever project he approaches next.


Some more Portland pictures. We spent most of one day traveling to and exploring Mount Hood and the Timberline Lodge, a grand hotel built in the worst years of the depression as a WPA project, driven by the personal interest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who came out west to preside personally on its opening and dedication.

Construction of the Lodge at the 6000 foot mark on the southern flank of the mountain was a major engineering feat. A small army of workers was required to build access roads and accommodations for the construction crews and decorative artisans before the big job of clearing the site and then harvesting construction stones, many weighing several tons, from the mountainside began. All framing timber came from trees felled on the lower slopes.

The spectacular site--here's Mount Jefferson, the next peak to the south in the great volcanic Cascade Mountain Chain, seen from the Lodge's terrace--was meant to be a major draw.

But the style of the Lodge was a matter of great concern. It would have to be fully in line with Oregon's culture and use as much in terms of native materials and building technique as possible. Margery Hoffman Smith, a Portland interior decorator was engaged to design and coordinate the interior; in the process she made the Lodge into a museum of arts and crafts as well as a hotel. She established that all furniture, fabrics, wood work, rugs, art and paintings, lighting fixtures, door handles, newel posts--everything--would be hand crafted by local artists and artisans. She employed hundreds of mostly destitute people, successfully pulling some through the depression singlehandedly. The watercolor artist engaged to paint a vast series of studies of native wildflowers, trees and shrubs to decorate the walls, was living in the wooden packing crate for a piano at the time Margery Smith was shown an example of his work and determined to hire him.

The great central hall, built around the monumental hearth and chimney.

A buffet table with ram's head carvings.

Timber and ironwork of the great hall's roof.

Each of the scores of newell posts in the lodge has a differnt bird or animal carved to top it. All ironwork was custom done, including the delightful door ring, below.

The construction workers were paid 90 cents an hour ($30 for a 40 hour week), an almost princely sum at the exact time that my English grandfather and grandmother were surviving on their youngest daughter's salary of $13 a week in a basement apartment in New York City.

The lodge was a huge success in the years immediately following its opening but was closed during WWII on the grounds that its operation and upkeep required staff who were needed for the war effort. Essentially abandoned, it fell perilously close to ruin, but was rescued and restored at many times its original million dollar (mid-1930s dollars) cost. Ms Smith was present at the reopening ceremonies and contributed to the documentary film that shows in a small screening room off the great hall.


The end of that day, Fritz and I spent a wonderful evening with Stephen Rutledge (Post-Apocalyptic Bohemian) and his husband Rolfe in their North Portland home. Old theater men like Fritz and me, they took a semi-derelict house and handcrafted it into a quirky, eccentric, deeply personal and unique residence.

The back yard, of typical size for a modestly-scaled house in a residential area, was reengineered and imagined into a space that defies recognition of its small area or presence in a crowded neighborhood. By the time you work your way through the house and then arrive at "The Fort", where we ate dinner and spent the bulk of out time, we might have been deep in a more than slightly enchanted woods. The two wizards who accomplished all this were great hosts and I'm looking forward to our next meeting. Given the fact that my daughter and son in law love it in Oregon, and will certainly be there for a long time to come, our next trip there should come sooner rather than later.

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