Saturday, October 31, 2009

The weather here has regressed to September temperatures—it’s 67 degrees as I write this at 6pm on a day when there was so little sun that our electricity production was a paltry 1.19 kilowatts. There are a considerable number of insects still out and about, although the mosquitoes seem to be gone, which brings joy to my heart. Working outside this last week and weekend has been a pleasure.

I’ve had two good-sized construction projects going on. One that was finished and installed yesterday was a cold frame for one of the vegetable garden terraces up on the hillside. We want to get our seeds started as early in the spring as possible, but Fritz also wanted it for this fall. He’d done a late planting of lettuce and swiss chard and was sure that with a cold frame to protect them, we could harvest fresh greens through December.

So here it is, but it isn’t protecting anything from the cold as there is no cold. The frame’s glass cover is chocked open to ventilate the young chards and lettuces from being roasted by too much heat!

The other project, a small shelter/cover for the propane tank’s filling valve (that got completely snow and ice choked last winter) should be finished some time Monday afternoon.


I need to put an addendum onto my story about the Levi’s ad with Levi’s claiming to have Walt Whitman’s actual voice accompanying images of young men and women wearing Jeans, frolicking outdoors in jeans and not much else, etc. It turns out there is a second ad in the series that has not had anyway near as much play here as the Pioneers! O, Pioneers ad. The second ad which I have yet to see but which Fritz did catch one day, is called America and does use the disputed but quite possibly authentic Edison cylinder that claims to have Whitman’s voice, about which I wrote in my last post. So, while Levi’s flat-out claim to have Whitman’s voice may be a bit tenuous, they actually do have a possible Whitman recording on at least one of their ads. Levi’s sound restoration by the way, while unable to eliminate all the antique cylinder surface noise, was able to bring the voice forward more clearly and understandably than any of the internet transcriptions.


Last weekend we had the considerable pleasure of entertaining Good friends from the Intermezzo, New England Chamber Opera for whom I am the resident designer. They came on Sunday which was one of those glorious New England autumn days pf crystalline air and brilliant sunlight igniting the color of the maples, birches sumacs and other trees and bushes.

The front entry was dressed for the holiday season. We began with by showing everybody around the house. I broke out the champagne to start dinner and to celebrate the company’s very strong past achievements, while looking ahead to new commissions and productions.

The menu was my current specialty, chicken tagine (here seen in preparation), with one of Fritz’s baby spinach, mandarin orange and sharp blue cheese salads. We finished with two of his signature maple syrup/hazelnut pies.

Working with Intermezzo has been the great pleasure of my later career, most particularly for the superb colleagues I get to work with and the shared vision of how to produce art through close collaboration.


A couple of things to celebrate:

May 22 is now officially Harvey Milk Day in California.

The HIV travel ban has been lifted by President Obama.

Next week’s elections will tell us if we have anything more to celebrate or if we have more and more work to do.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Is it Global Climate Change—or what the hell IS it? “It” is the fact that we are now two weeks and two days after the most likely date for a major killing frost here in southern New Hampshire, but around the house we’ve lost only our coleus. Everything else—impatiens, begonias, verbena, pansies, cosmos, petunias—are all out there blossoming like champs. More surprising, at least one of our day lilies has decided that it’s time to flower again:

From left: purple and yellow pansies, one pale cosmos, and a yellow day lily

In terms of autumn color, it’s OK, really very pretty, but the great flaming reds and brilliant oranges are in shorter supply this year than usual. Fritz’s huge sugar maples, usually the color leaders, are attractive but not more. Certainly, the bizarre late spring and early summer we had may have something to do with it. For us the first sign was a disappointing maple sugaring season that netted us only half the sap we’d gotten the year before.

Tuesday night we might have gotten hit with a serious frost, but in fact, the temperature stayed mild overnight. One thing I do know is that if the kind of temperature shift that’s hit the UK were to happen here, New England would be in big trouble economically. Temperatures in the north of England are now such that growing grapes is possible and the country has a new but burgeoning wine-making industry (Vins de Yorkshire?). Maple syrup and tourism to see the spectacular fall color are serious sources of income for New England, money whose loss would be a big blow to local economies.

Gossamer fungus in the big English garden


I heard on the radio last night that Maine's Governor John Baldacci and one of the state's senators are urging voters to reject the challenge to same-sex marriage. The following from Bay Windows reports on a meeting in a supporter's home attended by the governor:

"In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions," the governor said before the small crowd. "I came to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage."

The gathering at Dobres’ home celebrated the kick-off of the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign ’Get Out the Vote’ program, which reminds Mainers to vote Nov. 3.

After taking a moment to thank the campaign volunteers that have been working since late May -- when the marriage equality bill first came under fire from anti-gay and religious groups -- Baldacci explained his decision to sign the legislation.

"This is an emotional issue that touches deeply many of our most important ideals and traditions. There are good, earnest, and honest people on both sides of the question," he said. "I did not come to my decision lightly or in haste. My responsibility as governor is to uphold the Constitution and do, as best as possible, what is right. I believe that signing the legislation was the right thing to do."

State Senator Chris Rector, while unable to attend the event, also experienced a change of heart regarding marriage equality. "I voted for the marriage equality bill because it was clear that my constituents supported it," he said. "I also came to believe that it was the right thing to do for the state of Maine. The law should treat all Mainers equally; it’s that simple."


There is a hotly contested issue growing over the recent, widely telecast Levis jeans ad that’s a video montage of images of young people set to a resonant, strong voice delivering excerpts from the poem Pioneers! O Pioneers by
Walt Whitman. Word has circulated that the voice, very clearly reproduced, is actually the voice of Walt Whitman from an Edison recording on a wax cylinder in 1890. The Levis site, in fact, states flatly that it is Whitman’s voice, without providing any further documentation or supporting information. Is it?

Edison cylinder technology was well established by 1890, two years before Whitman’s death. When newly recorded and for several playings afterwards, the sound quality of
Thomas Edison’s wax cylinders in terms of volume and fidelity to the voices recorded on them, was notably superior to the sound reproduction on the flat shellac 78 + or – RPM discs that came along later. However the harder shellac discs kept their sound quality much longer than the softer wax cylinders, multiple playing of which caused the sound quality to decay as wax was gradually worn away.

Returning to the voice on the ad, it is extremely bright and clear in sound. Given modern digital technology, this is not necessarily surprising. Restoration of ancient discs and cylinders had produced some startling quiet and vibrantly present voice reproductions as long as the originals are in relatively new condition. However, there are only one, possibly two recordings of Whitman’s voice, and documentation is slim and partially speculative for those.

The old poet himself never mentioned that he had been recorded in any surviving correspondence or other writing. Letters of Edison’s confirm only that recording Whitman had been proposed and that the great inventor liked the idea—Edison developed a mania for recording major public figures of his day and would certainly have been interested in the revered poet. But there isn’t even a surviving cylinder—the reputed voice of Whitman comes from an old audio tape found in a reputable library that identifies it as Whitman speaking lines from his own, rather obscure poem titled “America.”

The voice is partially obscured by crackling and other noise typical of a worn cylinder, which experts say is not faked, but genuine. The voice has inflections and an accent consistent for a man of Whitman’s upbringing and from where he was born and raised. He does not read smoothly, but with brief pauses between many words, in a tenor voice—all of which experts say agrees with written descriptions of what Whitman sounded like when reading his own work. These are important points, as Edison sometimes hired actors to record presidential speeches and other material. The voice on the tape made from the now-vanished cylinder does not sound like a trained actor, and particularly not like an actor from the late nineteenth century with the amply documented voice training and delivery that was the norm on stage at that time.

The voice on the Levis ad does not sound like the voice from the cylinder. It is more baritone than tenor, reads quickly and surely and “dramatically”, without pauses breaking the lines, and has an accent that might actually be closer to those old, elocutionary actors of the 19th and early 20th centuries than the voice reading the poem America. It has also been suggested that the very obscurity of the poem favors Whitman actually being the reader, as someone attempting a fraud would probably have chosen a Whitman selection that was much more well-known.

In any event, the only claim ever made that Whitman recorded does not mention the poem Pioneers! O, Pioneers. You can hear the four lines of America from the cylinder by Googling: Walt Whitman wax cylinder; there are several sites that reproduce it. Don’t be fooled by the many Whitman selections on YouTube that feature computer animated images of the poet made to seem to be speaking his poems as read by actors and media celebrities such as Garrison Keillor. These are identified as modern work visually but the speakers are not always so identified.

As to the voice on the Levis ad, there's no chance it could be Walt Whitman.


This from James Jorden's opera site Parterre Box:

Nico Muhly to premiere new opera at ENO
Charlotte Higgins, Tuesday 20 October 2009

The musical toast of New York, 28-year-old American composer
Nico Muhly - who has worked with Björk and Antony Hegarty, and is a protegé of Philip Glass - is to premiere his opera, Two Boys, at English National Opera in 2011. About a young boy who takes on the personality of a middle-aged woman on the internet, its subject is, he says, "violent sexuality".

We look forward to this event keenly, not least because a recent pair of premieres at the Barbican earned him such very, very bad reviews. Our own Andrew Clements remarked that though Muhly was "flavour of the month" in New York, the pieces "gave no hint of what all the fuss might be about"; for the Telegraph, meanwhile, they were like "slow, painful death". But what we already love about Muhly is his splendidly game urge to fight back. On his blog, he writes: "I have never seen 'flavour of the month' spelled in that way and am secretly thrilled to be dismissed in such a fashioun [sic]"; he also refers to "cunty English reviews". At this rate, he'll be in for some more, so I look forward to the prose equivalent of composer/critic naked mud wrestling the year after next.

British critics are notoriously unfair and prejudiced against non-Brits singing, directing, designing, conducting and composing for opera houses in the U.K. They frequently end reviews complaining of “another useless import from the States” or “surely there are British singers far better for this role” or suchlike sentiments. Particularly after being described as “cunty,” I suspect they’ll show up at Nico’s premiere with knives sharpened and drawn

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH put on a very strong program last night, spanning two of the performing arts and growing out of the local theater and film scene. The focus was the gay-themed two-character play Just Say Love by local playwright David Mauriello that he and director Bill Humphries have turned into an intriguing and very beautiful movie.

Some of you may remember that a couple of years ago I spoke of a valuable Portsmouth theater group called The Players' Ring that produces its own material and also makes its venue available to other theater companies from the general area. One of The Players' Ring productions, Just Say Love, received exceptionally strong notices.

Beginning with the chance encounter between a gay man (Matthew Jaeger, above)

and a straight, latent bisexual man Robert Mammana), the play explores issues of physical desire, love, spirituality and their interaction in relationships. Key is Mammana's character's inability to express affection physically or verbally to another man, although sexual contact is no problem as long as he remains mostly clothed and all emotion is kept firmly beyond arm's length. The great central scene of the film begins with his finally undressing/allowing himself to be undressed, leading to what one audience member later described as an "erotic ballet" between the two men. Without a single genital shot but luminously lit, filmed and performed, the two make love very beautifully which leads to further complications and the final resolution.

The style in whch the film was shot is interesting. Humphries and Mauriello both had an aversion to the fixed camera documentation of stage plays that is so common, and that generally flattens them out beyond salvation. They chose to expand the set of the stage production extensively but to keep its theatrical form rather than redesigning it as a movie set. To both of them, it was important that the material's origin as a stage play be honored and retained. But within the stage setting, the camera moved in and probed the actors and the physical world within which they lived in the manner of a movie. The result was a successful fusion of the two media. Jaeger and Mammana, film actors with extensive stage experience, replaced the cast of the original stage production. Filming was done at a production facility in Tilton, New Hampshire. Just Say Love has been shown at film festivals in the U.S., receiving positive press and some awards. It's currently invited to be shown at film festivals in Spain and Italy.

The program began with brief statements by the Director of The Players' Ring that included her thanks to the City of Portsmouth for its continuing and expanding support of the company. We were shown the trailer for Summer Blink, a second film from a New Hampshire play, followed by Author/Producer Mauriello's remarks. There was then a performance of the song written for the closing credits, its effect somewhat compromised by a too heavy bass setting and bad enunciation by the singer. Co-producer and Director Humphries then explained the techniques he had used to put the material on screen and a short scene from the stage script was performed. The movie itself was shown and there was a question and answer session to close the evening.

Just Say Love was shown in Rochester, NY recently and will be shown in about a month in Chicago.

Altogether, it was a great program, well attended and appreciated by its audience. There will probably be more of these locally produced plays onto the screen in future at the Music Hall--I'm looking forward to them.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just over a week--I didn't intend to let the blog stay idle so long. I plead a run of good weather that's had me outside every day doing as much of my outdoor project list as possible while the weather remains benign.

The weekend of the 9th through 11th, we hosted a workshop/retreat presented by the Body Electric School. There were 17 in all, both presenters and participants, for whom we cooked and tidied up. We believe totally in what Body Electric does and are always delighted to have them with us. Fritz first brought them here some time in the early 90s. It was a very good group, with whom we had a lot of fun. Just about everyone went home after the event ended Sunday evening, although three stayed until Monday morning--and one man stayed until Wednesday, spending a memorable Monday and Tuesday night with us. And yes, that means what you think it does.

We received another delivery of trees and bushes to plant early last week, including three dwarf peach trees (the trees are dwarf, the peaches regulation size), an andromeda, a big rose-colored dogwood, three clethera (I now have a plethora of clethera), a viburnum, and a dozen rhododendrons of various varieties and sizes from dwarf to anything goes. We dug and dug and got them all into the ground before the rains came on Sunday.


I had my annual physical this morning. I'm very fortunate in my doctor and the HMO of which he's a member. I'd gone in to have blood taken last week so that he'd had all the test results in when we sat down to talk.

The visit didn't begin well. I'd just about gotten my clothing off when the alarms sounded, a mechanized voice announced an (unidentified) emergency in the building and told us all to evacuate. I got dressed again as quickly as possible and headed for the stairwell. We stood out in the cold for fifteen or twenty minutes, some people with IV drips in their arms, watching the fire and police vehicles arrive before the all clear was given and we were allowed back inside.

My doctor said the blood test numbers were my best ever. I got my (regular) flu shot. They don't have the swine flu vaccine in yet; he told me he's of two minds about it but that I could have it if I chose. We'll see.

Then it was time for the proctology exam. He always gives a nice one but there was a delay while he fished around unsuccessfully in several drawers for a tube of lube. He kept saying this is so embarrassing but I told him that as a gay man, I'd had several experiences where I was all set to go but the other guy couldn't find the lube. We both laughed and he stopped being so upset.

One of the best parts of my visits to him is that when the business is finished, he stays for five or ten minutes to ask about my current projects and talk about art, architecture and design with me. It's a really pleasant way to end the exam.


A couple of bits of humor that have come our way recently:

A SPANISH Teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.

'House' for instance, is feminine: 'la casa.'
'Pencil,' however, is masculine: 'el lapiz.'

A student asked, 'What gender is 'computer'?'

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether 'computer' should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that 'computer' should definitely be of the feminine gender ('la computadora'), because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic;

2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else;

3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval; and

4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be Masculine ('el computador'), because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on;

2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves;

3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they ARE the problem; and

4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

The women won.


From a friend of Fritz's:

How Twins are Made

Sunday, October 11, 2009


He did it! Now for the follow-through

The intense speculation that the President would make a big announcement on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was fulfilled last night during his appearance at the Human Rights Campaign dinner. I think this statement was made in far too specific terms--he said he was working with the Pentagon and with the Congress to introduce legislation to end the ban--and at a far too high visibility an occasion for him to drag his feet any longer.

Regarding the Defense of Marriage Act, that too depends on Congressional action which he says he is going to initiate. I suspect this initiative will face greater opposition than the repeal of DADT. And I bet there are some outraged sermons going on at Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches today.

It's the right thing to do and it's about time. The march in Washington today should be hugely energized by this announcement.


From the New York Times Arts section:
October 1, 2009, 11:24 am
Study Finds More Gay Characters on Broadcast Networks, Fewer on Cable
By Dave Itzkoff

Rex LeeHBO Rex Lee as Lloyd, a gay character on the HBO series “Entourage.”

The number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender characters has grown in recent years on prime-time network television, but decreased on cable, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said. For its recently published “Where We Are On TV” study, the alliance reviewed 79 scripted comedies and dramas announced to air on the broadcast networks during the 2009-2010 season, and found that of 600 series regulars on these shows, 18 are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The study said that ABC has the most such characters, with 8 out of 168 total series regulars; Fox has four (including cartoon characters from “The Simpsons” and “American Dad”), NBC has three, CW has two and CBS has none. In its review of mainstream cable channels, including HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central, AMC and others, the alliance found that the number of series regulars who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender decreased this year to 25 from 32 last year. When the gay-oriented cable channels here! and Logo were accounted for, the study said, an additional 27 such characters were added to the tally.


With all my studies into the European-Islamic interface form the seventh through seventeenth centuries--it's been a lot of reading--one area I haven't explored is the major literary voice of Islam at the time, poetry. For all the astonishingly advanced works on medicine, astronomy, mathematics, geography, history, engineering, and other branches of science, it was lyric poetry that was considered the major literary achievement. The form was so respected and so deeply interconnected with the culture that a large number of the major scientists and mathematicians were distinguished poets as well.

One who has become somewhat popular currently is Rumi (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī,
1207-1273), jurist, mystic and theologian. I first came across his work when I was invited ot sit in on the studio reviews at the MIT Architecture School, where one of the senior architects used poetry to encourage students to think first in images and themes rather than running immediately to practicalities like plans and site analyses. He assigned this one tgo a group working on the design for a library:

When I am with you we stay up all night
When you're not here, I cannot go to sleep
Thank God for these two insomnias
and the difference between them

and one reason for assigning this particular poem is that the object of the all night insomnias in the poem isn't a beloved person, but a book.

Because same-sex love was honored in Islamic cultre during the medieval period, Rumi has become a frequent read for gay men. Here is a short poem of Rumi's, a kind of Islamic haiku:

There is only one way to win him, this beloved of mine:
Become his.

The old scam resurfaces from a new location:

Good Day,

I am Mr. Hung, I've in my bank deal worth $32.5M, to transact with you. Reply me for more details

Best regards
Kwok Kin Hung
Chief Operating Officer
Wing Lung Bank
Hong Kong.

Short and sweet, no flowery introductions or explanation of relationships to cousins of high government ministers. And he says he's hung . . . .

Monday, October 05, 2009

I've been very domestic and very country the last week or so, with get-aways to New York City for the "scandalous" new production of Puccini's hardy perennial Tosca at the Metropolitan opera on Saturday, and the farewell tour concert by beloved American mezzo soprano Frederica von Stade (with glamorous gal-pal guest Dame Kiri Te Kanawa) in Boston on Sunday. Fritz, who does NOT like opera but who loves beautiful voices, joined me saying farewell to von Stade at Symphony Hall.

Last week we spent a chilly, slightly rainy afternoon at the Deerfield Fair. We go every two or three years. It's always fun. Fritz knows some of the vendors in the commercial area, we both love going through the arts and crafts building, and there's the animal barn area with pigs (Fritz used to raise them when he first owned the property), sheep, oxen, and our perennial favorites--the fancy poultry. Pictures follow:

This team just learned they were to pull 9,500 pounds and wanted none of it.

Piggy pile--how did that tan guy get into this litter?

Fritz and sheep (above); three top prize-winning quilts (below):

Do these feathers make me look gay?

No, but these sure do the trick!


Earlier tonight I took a cheese-making workshop at the Exeter Adult Education Center. I'd had a idea that I'd like to try making my own cheese for several years when I became blog buddies with Doug Taron (Gossamer Tapestry) who had been making cheese at home for some time and encouraged me to give it a shot.

I don't know, but I may have radiated gay because as we were all taking seats at small tables in the former Home Ec room of a converted high school, a lesbian couple headed right for me and we instantly became the gay table.

The handouts (cheesemaking equipment suppliers; local sources for raw and vat-pasturized cow's milk and goat's milk; recommended book lists; recipes) were excellent. The presenters were two women who've been making their own yogurt and various cheeses for years. It turns out that their preferred cow and goat milk suppliers are both within seven miles of me here in Raymond.

They made ricotta, mozzarella and a direct set goat cheese during the evening, having us do a lot of the work with them (we were about 14 altogether). They talked about how several of their former suppliers have now begun pasteurizing the milk too much for cheesemaking, and about failures they had to deal with until they could locate suppliers who will never pasteurize or who will only vat pasteurize which is gentler on the milk and doesn't break down the protein as much as in regular pasteurization. They were very level headed, fun to work with and responsive to questions.

Everybody oohed and aahed when I pulled out my digital camera to record the desired condition of the curds at various points in the process ("Why didn't we think of that?").

Curds (milk solids and protein) successfully warmed and solidified.

Curds, drained of whey, cut and ready to be kneaded into mozzarella.

The final phase of making mozzarella looks very much like a taffey pull.

I also took a lot of notes and brought home a good deal of whey to experiment making bread with. The evening ended with us eating all the new cheese. I learned a lot, including that it isn't an impossible process and is most likely something I will get into pretty soon.

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