Friday, January 30, 2009

 

The Boston Globe featured this photo of the punk-country band Three Day Threshold today. Is it just me, or does it look like there's a rather interesting scenario working itself out here?

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Small fanfare here! I have been given clearance by my elder daughter to inform all my friends and blog readers of the news she gave me on Thanksgiving morning, that on or about August the 1st, I will be a grandfather! She's doing very well and there's a lot of happiness around this coming event.

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A friend sent this to Fritz this morning and he forwarded it immediately to me. Trust me, you WANT TO SEE THIS.
It's fun if a little slow at the beginning, BUT once there's the first mention of The Pact, don't let your eyes wander off the screen. It's hysterical. www.freakybestmanspeech.com

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It’s funny how sometimes you fall hard for some simple item and wind up using it all the time. Back during the years I was still living in Boston and Fritz and I were running a commuter relationship, he always used to say that if I died before he did, one thing he would want from my house more than anything else was a silly little wooden-handled spatula. It was my favorite kitchen utensil and I reached for it before anything else when I needed to move food around while cooking.


A year or so ago I was rooting around in the barn and came up with a
simple bowl with straight sponge-patterned sides. It isn’t stoneware, china or porcelain, but something my English grandmother would call a pudding basin and crockery--simple pottery of no pretension whatsoever. It had been used as a plant pot for a while, but I fell in love with it and very soon, so did he. We use it for everything—we bake in it, use it as a salad serving bowl for two, a mixing bowl and a vegetable bowl. And I never get tired of it.

*********

The group from Laconia Technical College arrived Wednesday and the study began. The three students are not of normal college age but full adults who are looking for new or more advanced careers. They’d already seen plans of the house and were looking forward to seeing it in person.

We began giving them the tour, answering questions and explaining why certain choices had been made. Then they got down to business, beginning with a demonstration of their heat sensitive camera that shows hot and cold areas in a room visually and digitally reads the exact temperature of anything it’s pointed at, then takes pictures with a time stamp, temperatures and other information archived.


They set up the negative pressure gear in the front door and we turned off the two open flames we have in the house, the propane-fired flames in the Aga stove and the on-demand hot water boiler in the mechanical room.

Once they’d gotten the pressure down in the house they went around with the camera in search of places where cold air was infiltrating the house. In general the house is extremely tight, but we now know of one or two places that need some attention.


The rest of their time was spent establishing very accurately the exact square and cubic footage of the interior and recording data. They’ll be back again in about a month at which time I’ll sit with them and go over the construction records to introduce all the “green” materials that were used in the house.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

 
Fritz loves to have flowering plants indoors during the depths of winter. He forces paperwhite narcissus bulbs that fill the house with an intense, heady perfume. A big amaryllis is about to burst open sometime this week. This one of his Christmas cactus that’s now the centerpiece on our kitchen island.



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Brandeis University’s reluctant decision to sell off its art collection isn’t unique. Thom from Thoughts Made Bald commented today that a college in his home state of Virginia did the same thing for the same reason. Simultaneously, important members of the Brandeis community, including some of the donors of the art work involved, are moving toward legal action to stop the sale. Edited from today’s Boston Globe:

Museum backers seek halt to selloff

Say art should stay at Brandeis

Donors and longtime supporters of the Rose Art Museum are exploring whether they can block Brandeis University's stunning decision to close the museum and sell an art collection that had been valued at $350 million.

Jonathan Lee, chairman of the museum's board of overseers, said yesterday that he intends to meet with officials in the state attorney general's Public Charity Division to see if there is anything he can do to stop the university from shutting down the 48-year-old museum at the end of the summer.


Brandeis's announcement that it would sell the collection to help shore up the university's finances raises a thicket of legal questions about what the university can do with money and art donated to the Rose, especially pieces given with the restriction that they be displayed publicly.

"We can be angry, but the question is, can we save it?" said Jonathan Novak, a museum overseer and a Los Angeles art dealer who graduated from Brandeis in 1975 and has given art works and money over the years. "Had I had any idea when I donated work that there was a chance they would be sold to benefit the university, I never would have donated them."

Among those joining the chorus of outrage yesterday was Lois Foster, the widow of a former Brandeis trustee, for whom a new museum wing is named.

In an interview, Foster said university trustees raised the idea of closing the Rose a decade ago, recognizing the potential millions that could be raised by selling off a collection that includes works by Warhol, Lichtenstein, and de Kooning.

Her late husband, Henry, "talked for hours to get them to change their minds, and they did," Lois Foster recalled yesterday. Eventually, the Fosters gave more than $5 million to the school for the museum's Lois Foster Wing, which opened in 2001. Of the Rose closing, Foster said: "It's like a death."

Officials in the museum world continued to criticize the Brandeis administration yesterday. In a statement made on the eve of its midwinter conference, the Association of Art Museum Directors said it was shocked and dismayed to learn of the university's "regrettable" plans.

Meanwhile, a pair of petitions to save the Rose were posted online, and Brandeis students were planning a sit-in protest tomorrow.

Brandeis spokesman Dennis Nealon said yesterday that many alumni and donors had called to support the university's decision. While dismayed about the closing, Nealon said, the alumni recognized that Brandeis was making hard choices to undergird its core educational mission. And, he said, they recognized as well that the building will be used as a campuswide fine arts center.

It remains unclear how complicated any art sale will be. Much will depend on what arrangements donors made when giving the museum art. In some cases, Brandeis would need to file papers with the Supreme Judicial Court and seek approval.

Opened in 1961, the Rose was long one of the only places for art lovers in the Boston area to see contemporary works. This was before the Institute of Contemporary Art had a permanent home and prior to the opening of MIT's List Visual Arts Center.

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This is the new upholstery tapestry on our dining set. I had the table and chairs restored and refinished for the new house.


*******

So, we’re in the Year of the Ox according to the Asian calendar and horoscope. There’s a cycle of twelve animals but unlike the “western” horoscope, which is one zodiac sign per month, the Asian system features one sign per year for a cycle of twelve years:

2000 Dragon
2001 Snake
2002 Horse
2003 Sheep
2004 Monkey
2005 Cock (sometimes discretely called rooster)
2006 Dog
2007 Pig
2008 Rat
2009 Ox
2010 Tiger
2011 Rabbit

Not to brag, but I’m a cock myself.

Some years ago I had a friend and co-worker who was known for his success with women. He wasn’t used to being shot down and became obsessed with one young woman who did her washing at the same laundromat he used. No matter what he said and did, he could never score with her.

It was the era when being introduced to someone ran like this:
My name’s Steve—what’s your sign?
I’m Heather, I’m a Libra—what’s YOUR sign?

Well, he tried signs but got nowhere. She knew them all and told him that their signs were completely incompatible so, no nookie. Everything he tried waqs unsuccessful. The man was becoming desperate.

Then one day when he was eating in a Chinese restaurant, he looked down at his paper placemat and voila! There it was—-the Chinese Zodiac.


He checked out her year and animal, his year and animal and discovered that in the far east they were a perfect match. Not only that, the Beatles had recently made Asian religions and mysticism totally cool.

He started doing the same laundry over and over daily to make sure he’d run into her as soon as possible. And when he did he oh, so suavely mentioned his recent reading in eastern religion and, by the way, there was a different zodiac in Asia—did she know that? No? Oh, well there’s this system of animals for each year and your year and my year are the most compatible combination of all.

They had sex back at his place between putting in the bleach and the final rinse.

Monday, January 26, 2009

 

Happy Chinese New Year -- Year of the Ox

Silly things pop into my head at odd moments. On Friday it was a line from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum that stayed with me for half the weekend. Pseudolus is trying to force Hysterium to do something Hysterium has no intention of doing, and says if he won’t cooperate, he’ll tell the master and mistress that Hysterium hides in his cubicle Rome’s largest collection of erotic pottery. To drive the point home Pseudolus proceeds to act out each and every one of the positions.

Good gay men that we are, I realized that we have a couple pieces of erotic pottery ourselves:



*******

On both Saturday and Sunday our photovoltaic array produced record amounts of electricity. On Saturday they put out 9.85 KW, .25 better than the previous best in October. With Sunday’s forecast for a totally cloudless day we had hopes of similar or better.

By two forty-five Sunday afternoon we were already in the 9.6s and the sun was heading for the big white pine that begins to shade the array as of mid-afternoon. But the cells were cranking it out and were in the 9.8s by the time they began to be shaded. Once past the pine there were only bare birches and hickories in the sun’s path and the meter cranked slowly into the 9.9s.

As we had afternoon tea, we kept slipping into the mechanical room to check as the hundredths and tenths slowly added up. With the meter crawling, we flipped over to 9.99. The barest trickle was coming down from the array with us cheering it on to do just one extra hundredth. But the output window suddenly dropped to 0 and our daily total stopped heartbreakingly close to 10 KW.

Every day the sun is just a little higher in the sky, the day a couple of minutes longer. We didn’t get above 9.64 today but we should see and maybe beat the elusive 10.0 before too much longer.

In a related development, a professor and class from Laconia Technical College are going to do an in-depth project studying and monitoring this house (along with two others in the area) for the next five years. They’ll begin this Thursday with four hours in the house, including doing a negative pressure test by pumping out a great deal of air and checking the tightness of all the openings for windows and doors. The economics of heating the house will also be tracked. Since the deal to have the local schools fell through because of staff cuts and budget reductions that killed off-campus projects, we were very pleased to become part of LTC’s study.

*******


Since we cut our Christmas tree fresh and rushed it into a water-filled tree stand, it came down two weeks later remarkably fresh. When I carried it outside, I set it up in the deep show bank outside the great room windows and we’re still enjoying it just four feet away from where it was inside.

*******


My tattoo backpiece contains Leonardo da Vinci’s perfectly proportioned man (combined with the “What a piece of work is a man” passage from Shakespeare’s Hamlet). One of our friends sent me this, which he said his boyfriend had found and thought I would enjoy seeing:



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Further signs of the economic collapse: I got an email from Brandeis University (my MFA) regretfully announcing that to get them through the current endowment and fund raising decline, they're closing the Rose Art Museum later this semester and selling off the collection through an auction house this summer. The Rose's collection specialized in modern and contemporary art and its loss is going to mean a big hole in the life of the campus. But in the face of any number or thoroughly unattractive options, and in the interest of protecting the central educational mission of the school, the art will be sold and the building will become teaching space.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

 
I was out and about on Inauguration Day, shopping for my next opera design project, Ralph Vaughn William’s Riders to the Sea. It goes into technical and dress rehearsals the first of March and plays for two nights in the Chapel at Wellesley College. The producer is Intermezzo, The New England Chamber Opera Series for whom I’m resident designer, in collaboration with Wellesley College and Brandeis University (where I did my graduate studies in theater design). Because of the college tie-ins, we’ll have a much larger chorus and orchestra than we’ve ever had before as well as a bigger stage crew.

The project is to give special recognition to one of the Boston area’s great singers, Marion Dry. Marion’s a contralto—a real one, not just a mezzo soprano whipping her chest voice as hard as possible, a handsome woman and a fine actress. Marion has had a fine career (Netherlands Opera, Seattle Opera--Erda in Wagner's RING, Houston Grand Opera, the Tanglewood Festival, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Academy of Music, Cleveland Orchestra, the Boston Pops Orchestra, Madison Symphony, the National Symphony Orchestras of Ukraine and Panama, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Edinburgh Festival and the Kennedy Center) and she’s now on the Wellesley music faculty.

The role of Maurya, a mother living on one of the Aran Islands who's lost her husband, father-in-law and four sons to the sea, fits her perfectly. A fifth son is currently missing (a few pieces of his clothing arrive by which he's identified) and the sixth and last is planning to take a boat filled with horses across a dangerous strait to market on the mainland. A sense of inexorable fate hangs over the stone cottage in which the family lives. Did I mention it’s NOT a comedy?

When I first met the director we were part of a group including Marion, the choral director, the conductor (from Brandeis), the artistic director of Intermezzo, and a project coordinator from Wellesley. After touring the building and an organizational meeting, the director and I sat down together and looked at the highly decorated carved oak Victorian Gothic interior of the Chapel that’s about as far away from an ideal background for an Irish peasant drama as one could imagine.


In such circumstances when the venue has an incredibly high and inescapable profile, it seems to me that there are only two options: use it and work it into your set, or work in diametric opposition to it stylistically. My personal choice was to work against it in terms of color, style and composition but the director’s concept for the production which was unknown at that point has to be served. So we sat for a second or two making isolated comments on the relentlessly Episcopal feeling of it all, and then I broke the mood with, “Have you thought of the strong ritual and mythic implications of the story? The action begins with one of the girls sitting down at the spinning wheel and when Nordic or Celtic stories begin with spinning, it’s always a portal into myth and the supernatural."

Magically and excitingly, we were on the same page. I'll be posting some drawings in the coming weeks. We're both aware of the huge influence of classical Greek Tragedy on J. M. Synge who wrote the play on which the opera is based, and neither of us feels that it's just a "little play" written in a realistic style. Vaughan Williams takes it out of realism, particularly with his chorus of keening women (we'll have 50 of them!) and what I call Maurya's "Irish Peasant Liebestod." She sings it over the drowned sixth son's body, ending the opera addressing the sea and exaulting that it's finally taken everything from her and left her with no fear anymore. It's our plan to transform her into a Celtic priestess figure surrounded by a sea of women, the great matriarchy that was historically the basis of Celtic culture.

The shopping went well which is good because our concept requires rather large amounts of material (36 feet here, 45 feet there). Performance dates are March 7th (8pm) and 8th (3pm).

*******

Back to Inauguration Day. As I passed through fabric and theatrical hardware stores, they all had either a radio or television tuned to the ceremony. I had it on my car radio also when I was driving, so I missed very little. Justice Roberts’ flub notwithstanding, I choked up a bit during the taking of the oath and the presentation of Barrack Obama to the nation as its new president. (It turns out he took the oath a second time in the White House with witnesses to stave off any attempts from you-know-which-Party, which did in fact happen, to claim he's not really our president)

I got home in time for the motorcade from the Capitol to the White House, with the impromptu walk through the streets by the Obamas that scared Fritz badly because of how exposed they were. (By the way, did anyone take notice of the tall, striking looking Secret Service guy with the shaved head walking next to them?) And then it was time to get dinner ready and I asked Fritz if it might not be appropriate to celebrate the momentous day by opening a bottle of champagne. And so we did, drinking to his health and success, which will mean the nation’s health and recovery from the long dark years we’ve endured.

And it felt really good.

Monday, January 19, 2009

 
Down with demographics

Wynton Marsalis: "At the root of our current national dilemmas is an accepted lack of integrity. We are assaulted on all sides by corruption of such magnitude that it's hard to fathom. Almost everything and everyone seems to be for sale. Value is assessed solely in terms of dollars. Quality is sacrificed to commerce and truthful communication is supplanted by marketing. The type of gamesmanship that separates races, genders and ages by 'preferences' is a most cynical brand. The integrity and dedication shown by American artists throughout our history provides a most needed and unequivocal counterstatement. On the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, let's recognize the pernicious effects of separating people by generic categories."

*******

So, did you look at the various telecasts (HBO, CNN) of the ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial and wonder what had happened to Gene Robinson? Me,too. I did several searches of YouTube, typing in all variations Gene Robinson Lincoln Memorial Inauguration Obama and a couple of others with no success. Lots about Gene, but no clip of his prayer on Sunday. Joe (Joe.My.God) posted that HBO had purposely begun their transmission AFTER Gene’s appearance

Today, between Joe and Andy Towle (Towleroad), a fuller and perhaps more disturbing story has emerged. The powers that are at HBO were flooded with protests and inquiries and have firmly maintained that the word to not transmit Gene Robinson came not from any level of HBO administration--but from the Obama Transition Office. Whether they or the president-elect himself will ever explain that one remains to be seen. A clip on YouTube apparently lasted a short while before being yanked.

It was also revealed that the hundreds of thousands attending the celebration on the mall got to hear only a fraction of the gay bishop's four minute or so talk because a “technical failure” had shut down the speakers to anyone not immediately in front of the lectern.

Knowing the ways of bloggers and other techies, I was sure that somebody somewhere had taken down the speech for posterity. Andy Towle and a [very cute] assistant were close to the action with a video camera and made a clean recording, both sight and sound that they posted on YouTube and then on Towleroad. You can go to Towleroad, or to YouTube and type “Gene Robinson Invocation” into the search window. When the list of videos comes up, look for the one with the thumbnail of a lone figure up at a lectern with a crowd in front.

Update: Everybody, the Obama team and HBO, is backpedaling like crazy on the Robinson exclusion, calling it all a huge misunderstanding. It's being bandied about that Gene's opening prayer may be shown on the big screens at the actual Inauguration today, opening the ceremony before Rick Warren's Invocation.

*******


It's no secret that I loathe the ground George W. Bush walks on. As I write this, it's just a little over 18 hours before Obama takes the oath and Bozo'z out of an office he dishonered, governing a country and people he bankrupted and betrayed. I wrote this reply to a contemptuous “farewell” to George W. Bush that Scott Smith (Bill in Exile) posted today:

As you know, I share your hate. My concern is that he really does think he's done a great job and is going out with his head high. On the other hand, the lengths he's gone to in making White House records easily available to Obama (yes, I know he's shredded tons, but apparently the computers are habitually wiped clean when a president leaves, and they aren't being wiped this time) indicates that he just MIGHT be aware of the depth of the shit pile he's created and feel some some obligation to make it easier for Obama to get the American people out of it.

I read somewhere that the Obama inner circle has ruled out prosecution of Bozo and his gang, feeling that energies are best directed at solving and correcting things rather than revenge or even just retribution. Somewhere, sometime there has to be a day of reckoning. My hope is that the books that can now be written on the completed Bozo presidency will place before him the enormity of the calamity he's visited on us. I don't want that bastard going to his grave feeling like he did anything admirable.

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There's no particular reason for this little reminiscence other that the fact that this lady (who actually was NO lady!) was a larger than life character both on-stage and off-, whose star burned not long but exceedingly brightly, and who made compelling everything she touched.


Ljuba Welitsch was a Bulgarian dramatic soprano whose career began during the 1930s and advanced somewhat during WWII when she began singing music of Richard Strauss under his direction. But she burst like a cyclone on the greater operatic world just after the war ended and she appeared in London and New York as Strauss's Salome, a role that she made totally her own.

Ljuba sported a head of flaming red hair, a voluptuous figure, an uninhibited personality and a powerful, cutting voice that nevertheless had a clear, almost girlish tone--perfect for Strauss's fifteen year old nymphomaniac who develops a murderous sexual obsession on John the Baptist. She sang a wide repertory--Verdi, Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Janacek, Leoncavallo, Strauss (both Richard and Johann), you name it.

Like Janis Joplin, Ljuba needed to have sex immediately before appearing on stage, going through a large number of men among the chorus, orchestra and backstage crews at the MET in the process, and cruising 7th Avenue behind the opera house for willing gentlemen when nobody inside was available, able or straight.

Her most infamous performance was as Musetta in La Boheme at the MET. Another soprano, a usual Musetta, demanded of the autocratic general manager Rudolf Bing that she be cast in the leading role as Mimi or she would create all kinds of mayhem. Bing let her sing Mimi but cast Ljuba as Musetta. During act 2, as she was raised on the shoulders of two other cast members--which was what the director wanted--she pulled up her skirt and waved her legs at the audience, revealing that she wasn't wearing panties--which very definitely WASN'T! She created a sensation and a scandal (it was the early 1950s). One New York critic later estimated that at least 10,000 New York opera fans swore they had been in the 3,800 seat opera house for that performance. As for the other soprano, she was a very good girl thereafter, and Bing had his revenge.

It all ended early. Ljuba never gave less than 110% on stage and that meant taking her voice to the outer edges of its capabilities in some very demanding roles. By age 40 in 1953, her voice was a shambles, a situation worsened by a throat operation gone wrong. After several years doing character roles, she began acting in Austrian and Bulgarian films, delighted by the number of strapping young men on the technical crews.

Many years after her singing career ended, she returned to the MET for an acting role in a comic opera by Donizetti. The audience gave her an ovation just for making her first entrance and she was elated. At the opening night party, an old but still very handsome man approached her and introduced himself as having worked with her many years earlier. She looked at him uncertainly, so he explained. "I am, Madame, the only member of the backstage crew with whom you didn't have sex." Without missing a beat she shot back, "Ah--but there's still time!"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

 

As we approach the eagerly awaited transition from darkness to light, from lies, arrogance, stupidity and pig-headedness to rationality, healing and creative collaboration—-I have a question.

I know I’m a voice crying in the wilderness, but why is the oath of office taken by the president always and only on a bible? Why in a nation, one of whose founding values was separation of church and state, isn’t the oath taken on a copy of the United States Constitution? That’s the document the president is swearing to uphold and defend, not the Book of Ruth, Numbers or Genesis et al.

*******


The little plastic figure is of an Italian man, his legs stuck in a barrel of cement, who's name is Al Dente. He was a gift from Fritz for Christmas. Stereotype that he is, he is of course massively politically incorrect. But let's just skip over that because Al is a pasta timer.


The way he works is that once your cooking water has come to a boil, you dump in your pasta and then drop Al in after it. In my best husky Godfather voice I told Fritz, "he sleeps with the rotini." Being Italian, Al likes opera, particularly Verdi, which is the real reason Fritz gave him to me. Depending on the cooking time of your particular pasta, Al lets you know when it's done.

After 7 minutes, Al plays the triumphal march from AIDA. After 9 minutes, Al plays the elegiac "Va, pensiero sul'ali dorate", the chorus of captive Hebrew slaves from Nabucco. And after 11 minutes you get the lilting "La donna e mobile" from Rigoletto. Each selection is repeated twice in case you like your pasta just a bit more done. Al has a life span of eighteen months after which his music is silenced forever.

Al Dente is a product of BrainStream GmBH in Oerlinghausen, Germany www.brainstream.de and I imagine it can be googled.

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From BBC News
Man refuses to drive 'No God' bus

by Richard Dawkins


A Christian bus driver has refused to drive a bus with an atheist slogan proclaiming "There's probably no God".

Ron Heather, from Southampton, Hampshire in the UK, responded with "shock" and "horror" at the message and walked out of his shift on Saturday in protest. First Bus said it would do everything in its power to ensure Mr Heather does not have to drive the buses.

Buses across Britain started displaying atheist messages in an advertising campaign launched earlier this month.

Mr Heather told BBC Radio Solent: "I was just about to board and there it was staring me in the face, my first reaction was shock horror. I felt that I could not drive that bus, I told my managers and they said they haven't got another one and I thought I better go home, so I did. "I think it was the starkness of this advert which implied there was no God."

When he returned to work on Monday he was called into a meeting with managers and agreed to go back to work with the promise he would only have to drive the buses if there were no others available.

First Bus said in a statement: "As a company we understand Mr Heather's views regarding the atheist bus advert and we are doing what we can to accommodate his request not to drive the buses concerned. As an organization we don't endorse any of the products or sentiments advertised on our buses. The content of this advert has been approved by the Advertising Standards Agency and therefore it is capable of being posted on static sites or anywhere else."

The advertising campaign is backed by the British Humanist Association and prominent atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins. Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: "I have difficulty understanding why people with particular religious beliefs find the expression of a different sort of belief to be offensive. I can't understand why some people seem to have a different attitude when it comes to atheists."

Pressure group Christian Voice has questioned the campaign's effectiveness but the Methodist Church said it would be a "good thing if it gets people to engage with the deepest questions of life" and suggested it showed there was a "continued interest in God".

The advertisements run on 200 bendy buses in London and 600 vehicles in England, Scotland and Wales.


There's something wonderfully English about "bendy" busses.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

 

Dear World:

We, the United States of America, your top quality supplier of the ideals of liberty and democracy, would like to apologize for our 2001-2008 interruption in service. The technical fault that led to this eight-year service outage has been located, and the software responsible was replaced November 4. Early tests of the newly installed program indicate that we are now operating correctly, and we expect it to be fully functional on January 20, 2009. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage. We look forward to resuming full service and hope to improve in years to come. We thank you for your patience and understanding,

Sincerely,
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


Thanks, Skip, for the Dear World message text!

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This meme comes from Gossamer Tapestry, Doug Taron’s blog. The various accomplishments or experiences are fixed (who comes up with these things?). I’ve put the ones I’ve done into bold type.

1.
Started my own blog
2.
Slept under the stars While white water rafting on the Rio Grande.
3.
Played in a band Not a rock band but a percussion ensemble backing up the chorus in the play Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus.
4.
Visited Hawaii
5.
Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity


7.
Been to Disneyland/world Disneyland with my daughters, many years ago
8.
Climbed a mountain This is marginal, it was very small, but it was a certifiable Alp
9.
Held a praying mantis she was very good about it, all things considered
10.
Sung a solo As the Learned Judge in G&S's Trial By Jury which I also directed
11. Bungee jumped
12.
Visited Paris
13.
Watched lightning at sea
14.
Taught myself an art from scratch Stained glass, among others
15.
Adopted a child My two magnificent daughters
16.
Had food poisoning NOT recommended
17.
Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18.
Grown my own vegetables
19.
Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20.
Slept on an overnight train TRIED to sleep on an overnight train
21.
Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24.
Built a snow fort
25.
Held a lamb
26.
Gone skinny dipping At every possible opportunity
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29.
Seen a total eclipse
30.
Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32.
Been on a cruise And also cruised :-)
33.
Seen Niagara Falls in person And gone on the Maid of the Mist, and to the Cave of the Winds
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35.
Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language
37.
Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David No, but I did see his Pieta
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt No, but the geysers in Iceland
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44.
Visited Africa North--Arab--Africa
45.
Walked on a beach by moonlight
46.
Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49.
Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51.
Gone scuba diving or snorkeling Snorkeling off St. John, American Virgin Islands
52.
Kissed in the rain
53.
Played in the mud
54.
Gone to a drive-in theater
55.
Been in a movie in the background of a scene in a small movie I had designed
56.
Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59.
Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62.
Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64.
Donated blood, platelets or plasma As a very young man but they don't want my blood any more for reasons that should be obvious
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69.
Saved a favorite childhood toy My teddy bear
70.
Visited the Lincoln Memorial Very impressive
71.
Eaten caviar Overrated


72.
Pieced a quilt see above
73.
Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London No, but was sta
nding right outside the Palace in 1970 when the Queen went off in the big glass coach to open Parliament
77.
Broken a bone Two bones, also NOT recommended
78.
Been on a speeding motorcycle Again marginal--a Vespa at full throttle
79.
Seen the Grand Canyon in person And went down into it on the mules
80. Published a book No, but I have illustrated one book and a training manual
81.
Visited the Vatican and climbed the dome of St. Peter's to the very top
82.
Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86.
Visited the White House
87.
Killed and prepared an animal for eating flounder and its bigger cousin, fluke
88.
Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life found her incoherent and desperately ill with alcohol poisoning and got her into detox, later shepherding her through rehab and AA
90.
Sat on a jury
91.
Met someone famous and actually had a conversation: Carol Burnett and Shirley Maclaine
92.
Joined a book club
93.
Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95.
Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97.
Been involved in a law suit
98.
Owned a cell phone
99.
Been stung by a bee A swarm of ground hornets--MAJORLY not recommended--I went over their nest with a lawn mower
100.
Ridden an elephant

That's 63 out of 100--quite tolerable, and I hope to add a couple more before the end, although hopefully nothing else that involves hostile insects.

I think one of us should come up with a completely scabrous gay accomplishments meme. The possibilities boggle the mind! Ted? C. Scott? Anybody?

Monday, January 12, 2009

 

Since I'd mentioned last time that I had a striking photo of Japan's sacred Mount Fuji crowned with the same kind of cloud as Sicily's Etna (see last post for comparison), I thought I should drop the other shoe and put it on the blog.

I assume that the perfectly conical shape of some volcanos contributes to, or actually causes the formation of, these extraordinarily beautiful cloud crowns. Are there any meteorologists out there who can discuss this issue?

*******

I received the following item today from a friend who lives in northern Vermont. I think it's a very welcome and exciting announcement indeed. Another friend of ours who works for Gene in public relations and event coordination will undoubtedly be involved and I'm extremely happy for them both.


Out Gay Episcopal Bishop Eugene Robinson and his partner.
Photo by Boston Photographer Erik Jacobs http://www.jacobsphotographic.us

From Boston.com, slightly edited:
Bishop Gene Robinson gets inaugural role
Posted by Michael Paulson January 12, 2009 09:49 AM

Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the only openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, has been asked to give the invocation at the first official inaugural activity, a welcome event with the president-elect on Sunday afternoon on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Robinson had been critical of president-elect Barack Obama for asking Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor who encouraged voters to overturn same-sex marriage in California, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration.

Episcopal Cafe has an e-mail from Robinson:

"I am writing to tell you that President-Elect Obama and the Inaugural Committee have invited me to give the invocation at the opening event of the Inaugural Week activities, “We are One,” to be held at the Lincoln Memorial, Sunday, January 18, at 2:00 pm. It will be an enormous honor to offer prayers for the country and the new president, standing on the holy ground where the “I have a dream speech” was delivered by Dr. King, surrounded by the inspiring and reconciling words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is also an indication of the new president’s commitment to being the President of ALL the people. I am humbled and overjoyed at this invitation, and it will be my great honor to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community."

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization, praised the choice:

“Bishop Robinson models what prayer should be—spiritual reflection put into action for justice,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “It is encouraging that the president-elect has chosen this spiritual hero for all Americans to lead the nation in prayer at the Lincoln Memorial inaugural concert.”

Although there has been some debate about whether Warren should use the name of Jesus in his inauguration day prayer, Robinson made it clear, in an interview with the Concord Monitor, that he will offer a non-sectarian prayer at the Sunday event. He said he will not use the Bible as his text, saying: "While that is a holy and sacred text to me, it is not for many Americans," Robinson said. "I will be careful not to be especially Christian in my prayer. This is a prayer for the whole nation."

For those looking for more clues as to what Robinson might say, the bishop has just posted on his diocesan web site a prayer for the inauguration that he wrote for GQ magazine (this is not the prayer he will deliver Sunday):

"As we enter a new and exciting chapter in the story of this nation, people of faith are praying to the God of their own understanding – for the nation and for our new president. We are blessed as a nation – not because we are favored by God over any other nation, but because the God of every tradition wants the best for ALL of God’s children. And we ask God’s blessing on Barack Obama, who faces a nearly impossible task at an excruciatingly difficult time, bringing to that challenge his skills, his vision and his humanity. Even if you don’t believe in God, pray with me these prayers.
A Prayer for the Nation

O God of all creation, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, Afghan girls are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, easily-cured waterborne diseases, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world, and the courage to take our rightful (not always primary) place in the community of nations.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing our begrudging tolerance with a genuine respect and (dare I say it?) warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

Bless us with a sense of thanksgiving and appreciation – for those who give themselves for public service over private gain, and give us the strength to make the sacrifices that will be needed in playing our part in facing the challenges of these days. AMEN.

A Prayer for Barack Obama

O God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership, FDR’s courageous boldness and vision, and JFK’s ability to enlist the best efforts of our people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain for these times, not a fierce warrior who knee-jerk reacts to every real or perceived threat.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, remembering his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on his experience of the pain and rejection of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him patience and perseverance – not to give in to our whining (we love to do it when we don’t get our way), but rather to keep calling us to our better selves.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he’s president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking WAY too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace. AMEN."

Also this weekend, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced that the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), will give the sermon at the National Prayer Service on Wednesday, January 21st, the day after the inauguration.

The selections of Robinson and Watkins, effectively diversifying a slate of inaugural preachers that already included Warren and the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a civil rights leader who is giving the benediction at the inauguration, drew praise from Integrity USA, an organization that advocates for gay rights within the Episcopal Church:

"Bishop Robinson’s selection by the President-elect to pray God’s blessings on the opening event of the Inaugural week is good news not only for gay and lesbian Americans but for all who share the audacious hope of a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal," said Integrity President Susan Russell. "It also gives us hope that the age of an ‘America’s Pastor’ is behind us and that we enter a new era where diverse voices of faith speak from the particularity of their own experience of God’s grace, love and power. While there are many miles to go before we are done with racism, sexism and homophobia in this country, we look forward to Barack Obama’s inauguration, to Sharon Watkins’ sermon and to Gene Robinson’s prayers as signs of great progress and profound hope."


(Photo by Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

 
Before it gets filed in my "striking pictures" folder, here's an extraordinary shot of Mount Etna, the active volcano in the south of Sicily. It's dawn and the town of Bronte is in the foreground. The cloud that has formed at the peak of the mountain occurs sometimes to crown volcanos--I have a couple of shots of Fuji in Japan with this exact kind of cloud cap.

*******

Fritz launched a new Lesley University Masters Degree class Friday at 5pm. He'll be working through the entire weekend, which has left me somewhat to my own devices and today I began to take Christmas down.

I began with the cards that were pinned onto long red ribbons flanking doorways in or near the front entrance hall. I make a note of who sent cards for reference next year. I already have the cards I'm going to send. Many years ago I discovered that some very fine cards are to be had for very little money as soon as the holidays are over from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I developed a frugal streak when I was growing up, based on the fact that I find it easy to prioritize my wants and needs. The big things that I want to go after frequently aren't inexpensive, so if I'm to have them I cut corners elsewhere like crazy

I'll start taking ornaments off the tree tomorrow but wanted to show you some interesting ones that have been traditional with Fritz and me:

These are Fritz's Swedish folding cardboard bands. They can stand by themselves on a table, shelf, etc., then fold up small and flat for next year.

I haggled for these handmade ornaments with the women who made them, in the streets of Xian, China. From what I've seen reported from China recently, I wonder if you can find this kind of work there anymore. While other people on our tour were sending home fabulous cloisonne vases, porcelain and furniture, I collected Chinese folk art, and have lived to be extremely glad I did.

These ornaments are just over a hundred years old, very small hand-blown glass shapes that are paper thin. It's a miracle any of them has survived. They belonged to my English grandfather and grandmother.

*******

One thing about Starr is that she will always go for the newest and most interesting perch rather than going by habit back to the ones she's always used. Fritz let a pile of wool sweaters build up on top of his dresser, and when it had become sufficiently soft and warm it became the best place for the first big nap of the day. Behind there on a window sill is a wood carving of the Indian goddess Lakshme.

*******

There has been a significant restoration of a building that's part of a complex lost the depths of
Beijing's Forbidden City. For a slide show, cut and paste this link:
http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/12/31/arts/design/20090101_FORBIDDEN_10.html

Here's part of the story from the BBC News World Service:
For decades stories circulated among art historians of a mothballed Qing Dynasty retreat within the Forbidden City, the imperial behemoth with 8,700 rooms that anchors the Chinese capital. Word eventually reached the World Monuments Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving imperiled historic sites. Six years and $3 million later the first building of the Palace of Tranquility and Longevity to be restored, Juanqinzhai, left, has just been completed and will open to the public in the coming months.


A compulsive poet who oversaw the unprecedented expansion of China’s borders, Emperor Qianlong began creating the refuge in 1771, at 61, for his golden years. Employing the finest craftsmen of the day he spent five years building a fanciful collection of pocket gardens, banquet rooms, prayer halls and
a single-seat opera house.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

 
The weather, while not catastrophic, is bad enough with snow and "wintry mix" in New England. I'm leaving for New York City today to see the Metropolitan Opera's "new" production of Puccini's still somewhat rarely performed La Rondine in a production that's "been around"--somewhat like the opera's heroine.

La Rondine was supposed to be a Viennese-style operetta, commissioned by a theater in Vienna that wanted the composer at any cost and gave into any demands he made. Among the demands was for something more like an Italian romantic comedy with little or no dialog. World War I put an end toward any obligation to Vienna and Puccini proceeded to write a work that has the essential plot of Verdi's La Traviata (a "fallen" woman who sends away a naive young man who is potentially her salvation), combined with elements of Strauss's Die Fledermaus and Puccini's own early success, La Boheme.




At first glance unrelated, these sets for the first two acts clearly show that the columns cycle through the production, providing a unifying (and economizing) element. London's Royal Opera and the San Francisco Opera have presented Rondine successfully in this production. Opera's "love couple" Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna headline at the MET.

*******

I finally got around to joining Netflix and we got the first selection on our list, Good Night and Good Luck, yesterday. I think we're going to enjoy the service. I know you can see movies from Netflix on the computer but neither of us is interested in crowding around a laptop for two hours.

Netflix has a fairly good selection. I didn't find Luchino Visconti's Senso, which we became interested in after reading Farley Grainger's book, but did find Topkapi, something I had no success with at several Boston area video stores, even the big chains (which were, to be fair, closing right and left due to the inroads of on-demand and Netflix). There is even a collection of gay-themed films, although hardly exhaustive. Anyway, I'm in the free trial period now but if the service is always as fast as on our first delivery, I'll stay with it.

Friday, January 02, 2009

 
There’s an old saying that if you leave things behind at places you’ve visited, it means you want to return. If true, then a lot of the guys who were with us for New Years want to come back, which is, of course, just fine with us. An unprecedented number of things were left behind this year: a folding massage table, a canvas tote bag, a pair of CrossTrekkers athletic shoes, the power supply for a laptop, a potato masher, and a large blue freezer chest.

Items are often being left behind at our Sweat gatherings, etc. and I always send out email to the participants to find out who left what. Surprisingly, a lot of things never get claimed, in which case Fritz and I always hope they're in our sizes.

It was a somewhat low-key gathering this year, not dull or uneventful by any means, but very much about old friends getting together to catch up after some time without seeing each other, about good food and good talk.

There was a Sweat in some pretty deep snow, a couple of sessions of massage, a showing of the movie Shortbus that I had never seen and loved immediately, and a performance of a play in pantomime called “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter” by five of us, narrated by Fritz.

TLKD dates to the 1930s and is dependent on the comic timing and improv skills of its cast. We elected to do it in silent movie style, which I think is just about right. Fritz cast it with some of the more antic among us; the two women’s parts were done in drag, of course, and the [obviously captive] audience declared it a triumph—which seems to me an appropriate response. A sense of the style of the performance may be gotten from the fact that as the young doctor, I administered an injection into the arm of one of the characters with a dildo.

We kissed the last of the guys good-bye Friday afternoon and spent a fairly quiet weekend here catching up on correspondence and winding down from the holidays.

*******

A small but interesting debate grew up over the holidays on the identity of the world’s oldest living person. According to the Gerontology Research Group, Maria de Jesus, a Portugese lady who died at age 115 on January 2nd, had held the title for only five weeks since the death of a slightly older 115 year old in late November. The GRG says that American Gertrude Baines, born 6 April,1894, is now the oldest living person.


The Guinness Book of World Records has an entirely different take on the issue, and holds another person entirely to be the world’s oldest. Into the confusion steps an Isreali Muslim woman, 120 year-old Miriam Amash, who stakes her claim on birth certification issued to her parents by the Ottoman Empire which controlled Palestine, as the area then was. Madame Amash is reported to still be very physically active and mentally acute. Her family and numerous decendents through five generations fully support her claim. The good folk at Guinness say they just need to see the documents.

*******

A striking building was recently built on the shore of Boston’s Charles River as a Community Rowing House. The Charles has a wide variety of rowing facilities, generally built and controlled by major colleges and Universities in the area. Harvard has a couple of rather grand boat houses on the Charles; Boston University, MIT, and several others have variously sized buildings, all in very traditional New England styles.


This boat shed is anything but traditional. Meant to be a people’s facility, the architects rejected any historical references in favor of a simple, modern structure with one very unusual feature—the walls split open mechanically on demand, allowing air to circulate freely and dry stored boat hulls much faster than an conventional facility.

*******


Our Christmas tree, seen from outside at night, framed by four green glass hanging candle lamps that I found by lucky accident for $1 each at a thrift store. We cut it ourselves from a stand that we planted five or six years ago and it has remained so fresh that it might well last to Twelfth Night before we say goodbye to it.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

 

A Great 2009 to you all!

I've been wondering what's going to happen to the count-down timer for the Bush presidency once his calamitous term is finally over in less than three weeks. I suppose it's too much to hope for that it starts blinking "The stupid little s.o.b. is out of here!"

We're wrapping up the third day of our annual gay guys' New Years house party. We were supposed to be 18 men this year but one couple dropped out due to seasonal illness and one of our friends had to travel to New Haven for a very important job interview on Wednesday, so there are 15 of us and it's been a lot of fun.

Yesterday I managed to exhaust myself pushing the big Ariens snowblower for several hours so I've been taking it easy today, assisted by a cache of recent Unzipped magazines one guy brought. Anyone so inclined might want to check out the web for pictures of Damon Danilo who is OUTRAGEOUSLY hot and vibrant.


We're having our big dress-up dinner this evening to celebrate a 2009 that is bringing with so much hope of change from the stagnation, incompetence, and meanness of spirit that we've had to endure for the last eight years.

Speaking of which, one of our friends sent a video that nicely satirizes some big events of 2008. I'd never heard of Uncle Jay before, but this is very witty. I haven't had any luck trying to get one of those video screens onto the blog no matter how hard I've tried, but here's the URL and once you get there click on December 20, 2008: http://www.unclejayexplains.com

The Best and Worst of 2008 Meme, courtesy of Citywoof:

Happiest Event of 2008? Moving into the new house and finding it was better than we’d dreamed;


Worst part of 2008: Being immobilized for weeks with a broken ankle;
Most unusual activity I participated in during 2008: Acting as stonemason and discovering I wasn’t too bad at it;
Most enjoyable trip I took this year? Riverboat cruise up the Rhone and Saone Rivers in Provence and Burgundy'
Most exciting theater experiences? The monumental, surpassingly imaginative production of Bernd Aloys Zimmermann’s opera Die Soldaten at the Park Avenue Armory, NYC;


Most Embarrassing: I’ve tried to come up with one and haven’t managed it. I think I actually didn’t embarrass myself this year!
Best Movie: Milk; Runner-up: Up the Yangtzee;
Best CD: The late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s Wigmore Hall recital;
Most Exciting Night? Election day—precisely at 11pm when the west coast polls closed and Charles Gibson said, ”Ladies and gentlemen, Barack Obama is the next president of the United States."
Biggest Disappointment? The Prop 8 fiasco in California. However, I persist in considering it a speed bump in the road to full enfranchisement rather than an insurmountable obstacle.

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