Sunday, June 28, 2009

 
The area south of Denver's State Capital building is rich in various historic and cultural institutions. We arrived in the morning, half an hour or so before opening time of the Denver Art Museum and strolled around to get the lay of the land and decide exactly what we wanted to do and when.

We found a little cafe opposite the Museum's new wing, which has been very highly praised for its architecture and exhibit spaces.


Looking back north from the cafe the view to the right is the main building of the Denver Public Library, actually a cluster of buildings or wings in differing materials, including a delightful little neo-Baroque pavilion sheathed entirely in copper.


Looking north and to the left was the original building of the Museum, dating to 1971 and rather obviously still owing a great deal to the 1960s "brutalist" school of architecture.


Right in front of us was the dazzling new wing, attached to the original Museum building by a bridge at second story level. Our first thought was that this was another Frank Gehry project--the huge shapes jumbled into each other, the severe angles, the titanium plates making up the exterior skin, all seemed to point to another Gehry extravaganza.

It turned out to not be Gehry but Daniel Liebeskind, architect of the lavishly praised Jewish Museum in Berlin. But one thing linked the building to Gehry--the fact that although the wing is only three years old its roofs have already failed (notice the figures of construction workers on the left of the building).


We got our coffee (me), tea (Fritz) and a piece of coffee cake to share and settled down to watch the arial ballet of the construction workers, tethered to the building with safety lines to prevent falls from the almost 45 degree grade of the surface they had to work on.


Watching became mesmerizing. Eventually other Museum-goers waiting for opening joined us, watching intently the dangerous work overhead. This shot suggested to me the stern of a sinking ship--and indeed, the home of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown"--she who took command of a lifeboat during the Titanic disaster--is only two blocks away.

The work was slow and must have been exhausting as they had to constantly stop to readjust the line's length and tension as they moved up and down the steep slant to guide bins of material into position on the little pedestals that had been installed especially for the purpose.


Denver Art looks west, not east, culturally. There are departments of American, West Asian, East Asian and Northwest Indian art as well as a rich collection of art of the U.S.'s Westward expansion--but no big collection of European art from any era, (although the African collection, while small is filled with very good pieces, above). It makes sense, and would make even more if there were a collection of the arts of New Spain in the 17th Century before the English ever set foot on the east coast.


The new wing is devoted to modern works almost exclusively. A high percentage is in the form of sculpture or installations.


The outer elements seem as if hanging in a cloud around the figure but in fact, everything is welded to everything else and the piece can be interpreted as the figure coming together out of a swirl of elements, or of the figure radiating energy in all directions.


Spaces are invitingly irregular in the new wing with useful nooks and crannies liberally provided by the architect in all directions. This installation obviously presents riotous behavior by an invasion of foxes, as the piece wraps around and under a staircase.


We especially liked three pieces from the First Peoples of the Northwest. The first two present a modern-style reinterpretation of classic motifs. Above: a combination of human, walrus and elk, stressing the interdependence of these species.


In this piece, the artist created a figure and a narrative out of found natural objects, allowing what was found to suggest the subject matter of the final piece.


Slightly over three feet tall, this highly sculptural ceremonial dance mask occupies a corner in dramatic fashion and is supported by a video of various dance ceremonies to suggest how it appeared in motion and in the context of other dancers and other masks.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

 

Quite a bit of interest was stirred up by the announcement this week that Haus Wahnfried, the home built in Bayreuth, Germany by
Richard Wagner, will be renovated and restored. A major tourist stop for opera lovers attending the Wagner Festival at Bayreuth, the house has been a museum for many years. It's a new exhibit that will be opened within the renovated museum that’s causing the stir.

Winifred Wagner and Hitler. Photograph: Corbis via Guardian.co.uk

The composer’s 29 year old great granddaughter Katherina Wagner, recently named co-director of the Bayreuth Festival along with her half sister Eva, will present an exhibit on the intimate relationship of the Festival and the family with Adolph Hitler. In particular
Winifred Wagner, the composer’s widowed daughter-in-law who ran the Festival during the 1930s and the war years, was “in bed” at least metaphorically (some think literally) with Hitler and the Nazi regime, which used the Festival and the composer’s operas as major propaganda tools. The regime subsidized the Festival by purchasing huge blocks of tickets and sending troops from the army of the Reich to Bayreuth for R&R.

Katharina Wagner. Photograph: Enrico Nawrath/EPA

That much is pretty well known but as
Katharina has also announced that the Festival archives will be made available for unrestricted scholarly research, the door is finally being opened to a full and honest revelation of the most difficult and disreputable period in the family-run Festival’s past.

While Wagner’s grandsons Wieland and Wolfgang (Eva and Katherina’s father) were placed in charge of reopening a presumably “deNazified” Festival in 1951 with the approval of American occupation authorities, the extent of their association with Hitler and approval of his policies has never been fully examined. The fact that a family member who is in control of things is making this move is of enormous importance.

“When I was growing up,” [Katherina] said, ” I was repeatedly confronted with this topic. Was my grandmother Hitler’s lover? To what extent was my father embroiled with Hitler? No one in the family ever spoke about it. If my sister [Eva Wagner-Pasquier] and I don’t ask the questions, who then will?” Katharina is currently seeking financial and organizational backing for the investigation, which she hopes will be completed in time for the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth in 2013.

There are also plans to host a show next year on the expulsion of Jews from Germany’s opera houses and to set up a permanent exhibition some point in the future at Wahnfried, the composer’s former villa, that focuses on the relationship between the Nazis and Bayreuth.
From an internet news source

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This interesting item was a birthday gift from Fritz's office manager who also does AIDS education in southern New Hampshire funded by a Federal grant. Any guesses as to what this might be? The answer is at the end of this post.

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All the perennials for the garden were supposed to be delivered Wednesday of this week, after we had returned from Denver. Instead, through mixed signals, they arrived the previous Wednesday, probably during our flight out of Manchester, NH. Nicely grown in generously sized pots, what you see above is about half of the total, which is just above 100. We found them Sunday, the morning after we got back.

There was a design drawing of the location of each plant in the big garden plot in front of the house. I had made up markers--popsicle sticks with the name of each plant written in permanent marker--so we could do the layout and adjust things before putting the plants in.

Once the markers were in the ground, we placed each plant by its marker in readiness for the arrival Wednesday afternoon of the landscape designer of the landscaping scheme who was going to make adjustments in the layout as needed. This is what it looked like just before she came.

In consultation with us, she made quite a few adjustments. We think she was surprised at how organized we were because she mentioned that she was used to doing all the layout work herself. Having all the preliminary work done by the client allowed all the consultation and changes to be done in just an hour and a half. Yesterday morning we began planting and most of the work was finished yesterday afternoon; only six rose bushes remain to have their holes dug and be placed in the earth. Pictures of the completed planting in the next entry.

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More on the trip. I had booked the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel through Travelocity for what I later discovered was about half the going rate for our room. It turned out the hotel was undergoing a $70 million renovation and lots of services weren't available. We were upgraded at the front desk to a suite, which was OK, but we discovered that even if the hotel weren't under renovation, niceties like WiFi in the rooms wasn't free but available for $10 a day plus tax. There were also a couple of very strange pieces of furniture and, for a suite that could sleep four, the single tiniest bathroom I think I've ever encountered in a hotel or motel anywhere in this country. There was a great view from our 17th floor windows, however:


All things considered, it wasn't so bad as we don't tend to hang out at the hotel a lot when there's a city to explore. We found this dear little house, now a lawyer's office, that got landmarked and survived the razing of the entire block on which it stands. Everything else is parking lot.

We'd be very interested to see how the block will eventually be developed around this house with its little garden behind that has to remain untouched because of its historical status.

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Answer: it's for the garden, a house for mason bees. Not a hive, but a house for the eggs of a variety of bees that usually lay their eggs in holes bored in trees by beetles or pecked by woodpeckers. The bamboo tubes mimic the bored holes. The females retreat to the furthest depth of the tubes, lay eggs and then seal the opening of the tube with a plaster made of mud--the reason they're called mason bees. The young develop over the winter and break their way out when spring warmth wakes them. The bee house can then be cleaned out and prepared for a new breeding cycle the following fall.

Monday, June 22, 2009

 
I found out yesterday that just before we left for Denver last week, the Grim Reaper had come for The North Shore Music Theater.


This local institution drew audiences from northern Massachusetts—and even Boston—as well as from southern New Hampshire. Its closing cannot be blamed completely on the current financial crisis, but the crisis did create conditions that prevented the theater from pulling itself out of its terminal financial situation.

North Shore did quality productions. It grew out of a 1950s summer stock tent into a strongly patronized regional theater that attracted first-rate talent from New York and occasionally some of the best of Boston’s actors and singers. In recent years, Fritz and I saw a fine Carousel there starring Aaron Lazar (male romantic lead in the Broadway hit “Light in the Piazza”), and an excellent production of Steven Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures.

But in 2005 a late night electrical fire devastated the building. Insurance didn’t cover the full cost of the damages, and the general manager’s gamble on renting expensive theater space in Boston to mount two productions while it was being rebuilt didn’t pay off. Debt grew when the new space’s reduced seating and other losses worsened the bottom line. When a new Artistic Director with no theater management experience took over, there was a staff revolt, crippling management resignations, and a deficit that rose to $5 million. With the debt greater than the assessed value of the 22 acre property, and with little hope of raising money from investors, North Shore announced it was closing for good. Subscribers who had paid for 2009-10 season tickets were informed that there was no way of refunding their money.

Speculation is that the property in desirable Beverly, MA will be purchased by a developer. Yet another mall, condo colony, whatever. One more valuable performance venue/cultural resource is gone.

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Alex Ross (of the great music blog The Rest is Noise, classical music critic for The New Yorker magazine, and multiple prize-winning author) on the accelerating elimination of arts criticism and comment from our newspapers:

“A digression on the sufferings of the newspaper business. I think the firing of critics and of various other thoughtful journalists will be seen as one of the industry's major blunders. The greatest mistake has been the panicky preoccupation with all things Internet — the decision to give away "content" for free, the attempt to sound "bloggy," the urge to make writing interactive, the narrow-minded focus on counting hits.

“Several years ago I wrote in passing: ‘I never took economics, but it seems to me that a company that gives away its product for free is committing suicide.’ I received a flurry of e-mails saying that if I had taken economics I would have understood that in the brave new world before us paid circulation didn't matter and newspapers would recoup any losses with online advertising. As in other areas of postmodern finance, my lack of training in economics didn't necessarily hinder my understanding of the situation. I'm generally a fan of the wacky world wide web, but I don't believe that it will put traditional journalism out of business, any more than television replaced movies or recording replaced live performance. The false either/or of Internet vs. print should be put to rest. And publications should emphasize their strengths and not their weaknesses.”

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So, some pictures of our recent trip to Colorado. The riches of the Denver Museum of Art are such that I’ll be spreading them out over a number of posts. We had two objectives: Fritz to deliver a presentation on “Reaching the Reluctant Learner”—not a title he would have chosen but the subject asked for by the education conference held at the Keystone Resort and Conference Center; and to have some fun in Denver before flying back to New Hampshire. Here’s the start of the trip:


The Loveland Pass at 11,990 feet above sea level, above the snow line, high enough to cause some labored breathing due to thin air.


While Fritz was presenting at the conference, I did some sightseeing on the road between Keystone and Breckenridge (the evening before, we'd found a dynamite Scottish/Irish pub along it). Somewhere in the area there was an antique auto rally. Convoys of cars and trucks passed me going in the other direction.




Wherever there was a rock outcropping on or near the very edge of a cliff, a house seemed to be perched on it.


Part of a huge chipmunk colony in residence at a scenic overlook near Breckenridge. Look closely.


Hotel de Paris, a mid 19th century building converted into a hotel by a French immigrant in 1875, now the museum in Georgetown, CO. In its heyday, Georgetown had no fewer than four fire stations scattered around its relatively small area. With that kind of coverage, the town avoided the devastating fires that regularly leveled most other wooden cities of the time. It stands now as a perfectly preserved Victorian-era town.

Friday, June 19, 2009

 

Happy Father's Day to all my fellow dads, straight and gay!

This will be an interim post until I get back home tomorrow evening. We're having a great time out here. Fritz's presentation went very well Saturday morning (when it was over he sold out all the copies of his two books that he'd brought with him); we took off across the mountains and returned to Denver.

I managed to not bring the cable that connects my camera to my laptop so I cannot post any of my pictures yet but will cull through them and post a lot ASAP. We're taking a mid-day break right now, but we're spending our day at the Denver Museum of Art where I've been able to shoot a lot of extremely interesting pieces and installations.


This one became an instant favorite of mine, "Fatherhood" by Wes Hempel, who took inspiration from Renaissance paintings of the Madonna with Child and attendant little cherubs to create a tribute to masculine nurturing and care.

But the most amazing show isn't inside the Museum but outside, watching a massive repair and refinishing job being done to the Museum's three year old new wing. Designed by uberhot architect Daniel Liebeskind, the roof has failed already and a crew of highly skilled construction workers is working on 45 degree angle surfaces high above ground , hanging from safety lines and moving heavy equipment in a kind of slow-motion ballet that's amazing to watch.

We're headed back to the Museum--more soon!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

 

We're off early tomorrow morning, flying to Denver. We'll rent a car and drive about two hours due west to Keystone, home of the
Keystone Resort and Conference Center where Fritz is presenting a workshop at a big teachers' conference Thursday morning. When that's done, we'll drive back to Denver, visit family, friends and sight see for two days, flying home on Saturday.


I have a birthday coming up in two weeks. On Saturday Fritz said he’d come across something on the web and wondered if I’d like it as a birthday gift:

You Are Cordially Invited to An 18th Century Evening in Portsmouth

Enjoy an historic performance of George Frederic Handel's acclaimed Water Music, originally performed on a barge on the River Thames for King George I in 1717, recreated aboard the Gundalow on the Piscataqua River by a 14-piece chamber orchestra.

Savor authentic 18th century fare as it is served in Pitt Tavern, built c. 1766, on the grounds of Strawbery Banke Museum. The delicious dinner will feature hearth biscuits, cranberry glazed oven roasted duck, tourtière, and conclude with scrumptious colonial desserts.


Date: Tuesday, June 30th - no rain date

Time: Concert - 7:00pm at the Gundalow
First Dinner Seating - 5:30pm at Pitt Tavern - Second Dinner Seating - 8:00pm at Pitt Tavern

I loved the idea--above and beyond the fact that duck is one of my favorites, the outdoor concert on the water and the old tavern setting for dinner sound delightfully romantic, so I said yes right away. We went online and made the reservations.

Oh, gundalows are part of the local history, freight barges based on 17th and 18th century Dutch canal boats whose masts were hinged so they could be lowered to allow them to pass under bridges. The New Hampshire gundalows were workhorse vessels of shallow draft, wide of beam, capable of carrying a lot of cargo from the docks of Portsmouth to towns and cities up the Piscataqua River, the Great Bay and the various other rivers that drained into it.

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I went to Raymond Building Supply on Saturday for some pressure treated 2x4 and decking planks for a small bridge over a drainage culvert. Each of the pieces of wood had a small tag stapled onto one end that said “Lifetime Guarantee.” That made me wonder, and not for the first time, what or whose lifetime?

Is it my lifetime, the purchaser’s lifetime? But how can that be fixed since if I buy the wood at age 20 I may reasonably be expected to live another 60 years, whereas if I buy it at age 50 my anticipated lifetime half that.

Is it the lifetime of the piece of wood? If it rots, breaks, splits or fails in some way, and you go back to the lumber yard asking for a replacement because you have a lifetime guarantee, what happens if the salesman says, “oh, sorry, it’s twelve years old and the lifetime of this board is ten years”? If so, who determines what the lifetime of a piece of wood is? And if someone has, why isn't it printed on the guarantee label?

Clearly, even with all the work I’m doing on the property, I still have a bit to much time on my hands.

And speaking of the outside work, here are a couple of pictures:


The rertaining wall around the little scoopp-out for the hot tub.


The big retaining wall holding the soil of the back of the excavation for the house. This was taken yesterday--I had it finished today.


This is the fine white sand mound under which our septic tank sits, higher than it should be but by the time the tank went in, the house's shell was complete and windows had been installed. We were told that blasting was necessary to drop the tank into the ledge at the normal height. But we knew what would happen to the windows if they blasted and we said absolutely not.

So, we now have this interesting mound with a flat top, the sides of which I've secured with fieldstone left over from the big piers across the front of the house (our stonemason grossly over estimated how much stone we'd need). There will be some kind of abstract sculpture eventually with the mound as its pedestal--hopefully by next autumn.

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The iris were out early in June and have just now finished blooming. Fritz made this arrangement for the kitchen.

Friday, June 12, 2009

 
One of the pleasures of blogging is the opportunity to meet fellow bloggers on occasion. In our case, we've been lucky to have had Doug Taron, who has family in the general area and comes to New England with some regularity, and husband Leon visit on several occasions. They arrived last Tuesday afternoon and stayed over with us. I did a big chicken tagine--very Moroccan--and Fritz made a [home grown] rhubarb crisp served with vanilla ice cream--very New England.

Next morning over breakfast, the subject of Paris and London museums came up and I mentioned an extraordinary painting I had seen many years ago at the Tate in London--a strongly horizontal painting of two identical women sitting up in bed, dressed almost identically in high Jacobean fashion, each cradling a baby in her right arm. There was an inscription written in paint that identified them as sisters, born on the same day, married on the same day, and having given birth on the same day. The painting, the title of which I could not remember, was obviously meant to memorialize what had been considered an extraordinary set of coincidences.

But there was one more coincidence left in this story. After breakfast, I left to do some business just north of Boston, to have lunch and see a movie with a friend, and to see the Boston Early Music Festival's opera production in the evening. As there was some time to kill between lunch and the movie, we wandered into a book store, randomly decided to check out the used book section in the basement, and the third book I pulled off the shelf to check out had--the painting we'd been talking about over breakfast on the cover! I got the name of it from inside the book and here it is:


The inscription (too small to be seen in the lower left corner of the painting) reads:
"Two ladies of the Cholmondeley Family
Who were born on the same day
Married on the same day
And brought to bed (gave birth) on the same day."
The painting has been dated to the first decade of the 17th century and is considered to be unique in it's subject matter.

So, I bought a book--not the one with the Cholmondeleys on the cover--Antonia Frasier's biography of Marie Antoinette in which she apparently explodes several myths, including the infamous "let them eat cake" remark.

We then went to the Coolidge Corner Cinema, a quirky, wonderful rescued and restored art deco movie theater with several screens added in odd corners. I mean that literally--we saw Valentino, The Last Emperor in a seventeen seat screening room that defines intimate, like watching a movie on an enormous flat screen TV in a [rather wealthy] friend's living room.


It's a documentary really, the story of the life and career of italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani (left, above) and his life partner/business collaborator Giancarlo Gelmetti (right). It's a brilliant study of the fashion industry, creative egos, the relationship of two highly volatile men, the creative process and, last but very much not least, Italians.


The movie climaxes at a lavish retrospective exhibit of Valentino's work in Rome (he designed extensively for Jackie Kennedy during her White House Years) that unexpectedly turns out to mark his retirement from active designing. It's an extraordinarily beautiful film.

Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea which I saw in the evening, was written in 1643, the last opera of a very great composer who didn't invent opera but who took what was a nine year old art form at the time he wrote his first opera, and transformed it into a grand, multi-faceted, almost literally Shakespearian experience.

Poppea is the first opera to be written about real people rather than mythical gods, goddesses, nymphs and shepherds. Written for a public theater rather than as an entertainment for a royal court, it teems with complex, fallible, corrupt, funny, horny, idealistic, real people as Nero and Poppea lie, cheat, order suicides and exiles and ruthlessly eliminate any opposition to placing her on the throne as his Empress. The music is gorgeous.

The Festival's production was simple but strikingly handsome, the costumes lavish and traditionally baroque, the acting and singing first rate. Done well, and it was done very well indeed here, Poppea the three hundred and seventy year old opera comes across as modern as what was written last week.


Frank Siteman/Boston Early Music Festival


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This is a section of one of the vegetable garden terraces. Two rows of sugar snap peas are in the foreground, cabbages and broccoli are behind.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

 

After almost a week on Cipro, I'm cruising through the days pretty well. I'll be on it for a little more than two weeks, but it has knocked the evil infection back to where I can enjoy life again.

We began this morning with Quaker Meeting, a regular feature of the first and third Sundays of each month. The small, exquisitely simple Meeting House in Epping dates to the mid-19th century when there was a huge congregation, including a very large and active children's program and a part-time hired minister. At that time, the Society of Friends was actually the dominant religious group in the state. Flash forward to now; if there are any more than five in attendance, we joke that there's a mob. Epping is a silent Meeting. We sit in meditation for an hour and then there's fellowship with cider and home-baked cookies.


We spent the rest of the day working outside. We planted a group of baby trees--crabapples, lilac, hawthorne, smoke bush and dogwood--that are part of the big landscape plan.


We also checked out the garden plots and found that a few of the young shoots have been nibbled by some little animal or other. By coincidence, Fritz saw a red fox on the property the other morning when he came back from driving a friend to the airport. We also have a bumper crop of toads this year, cute little guys who pop out at us from rock walls and from under plants as we work around the property, but I don't think they're to blame. The chipmunks who love all the dry-set stone walls I've been building are far more likely to have been munching on our radishes.

When it comes to what Fritz and I munch on, we don't use prepared or frozen foods but cook from scratch. That includes bread, which I bake. Normally, a loaf comes out looking like this:


But last week, an innocent recipe that calls for one extra large egg, two teaspoons of yeast and two tablespoons of gluten produced--breadzilla!


a loaf that almost pushed the top of the bread machine off. It's very good, but we wound up cutting it across into top and bottom loaves--each the size of a regular loaf--so we'd have a crack at getting a slice to fit in our toaster.


From the little dining area at the back of our kitchen the windows look out on the hillside above and behind the house, and the bridge from the second floor to the of of the "cliff". We'd seen a lot more activity than usual by birds outside out these windows recently, like the little one on the rail above. She showed why there was more activity when she swooped down from the rail, under the bridge and landed next to her nest where she fed her two chicks, those two little brown "bumps" at the top of the nest. We get to watch their feeding time during ours.


I've had this little cactus for about four years, maybe five. It has always remained a stable little green pincushion. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but the other day I looked over to see that a flower stalk had grown up and was about to open.

The lovely flower opened a couple of mornings later. Since then two other flower stalks have begun to erupt from the top of the cactus. We're lucky to be surrounded by flowers inside and out.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

 
New Hampshire is #6

The House and Senate in New Hampshire have voted in favor of same-sex marriage. The approved bill is now being rushed over to the Governor's office for his signature, which he promised to give if certain
adjustments were made to protect churches who would find gay marriage contrary to their beliefs. We are now the sixth state to have real marrige for gay men and lesbians. Six states = 1/12 of the states in the Union.



Tuesday, June 02, 2009

 
A rare occurrence: I’m sick. Not seriously, throwing up sick, but I’ve got a low-grade fever, slightly aching joints and general lack of energy. That last is particularly telling as I’m usually bouncing right along. But today I’ve had bouts of fatigue and wanting nothing more that to lie down and nap. I’m taking aspirin, drinking fruit juice and water—and blogging.

Tuesday morning update--I'm going in to my doctor early this afternoon--talking with his staff on the phone, there's a good chance it's Lyme Disease from one or the other of the last two ticks that I had pulled out of myself about a month ago. It's not the greatest news in the world but, caught early, a course of antibiotics can knock it down in about three weeks. And if it isn't Lyme, the hope is that they can give me something that lets me have my energy back,

A good friend of Fritz’s and mine, a member of the Board of Fritz’s non-profit, sent this delightful animated take on the economic crisis, set to favorite songs from West Side Story:
http://www.newsday.com/media/flash/2009-04/46217527.swf

You'll have to cut and paste the URL--it's supposed to work but doesn't.


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Bird uses body as dam to stop drainpipe soaking chicks
12:41PM BST 28 May 2009

Photo: SOLENT
The female thrush's body is semi-submerged in the water of the gutter as she holds back the flow, protecting the nest and her chicks


The Mistle Thrush had built her nest on top of a downpipe, blocking the water's passage and causing the gutter to flood.

But desperate to protect her young, she puffed herself up to twice her size and sat in the drainpipe to stop the tide of rain water swamping the nest. She was so occupied with her task that her mate was left to feed her and their young.

The images were captured by amateur wildlife photographer Dennis Bright at a house in Fareham, Hampshire.
Mr Bright said he was astounded by the female bird's behaviour.

"The nest was tucked away from the weather in the shade of the roof but it was so close to the downpipe the gutter flooded when it rained. It was only a matter of seconds before the pipe flooded, and water cascaded over the sides."

Mr Bright said he was amazed by the bird's ingenuity.

"She had to come up with a solution so she puffed herself up so she was twice the size of her mate and used her body as a cork to stop the water - it was absolutely amazing. She was very dedicated, sitting there even when the rain was hammering down. Then every half an hour she would get out, dry herself off and come back.

"The male was doing most of the work - feeding her and the chicks when she was sitting in the pipe. I feel so lucky to have witnessed something so rare and unique."

Hester Phillips, from the RSPB, said she had never seen such a situation.

"We've heard of them nesting in some unusual sites before, namely on the top of traffic light, but we've certainly not come across anything like this before. Birds can be amazingly hardy creatures, their endurance is incredible - especially when protecting their young."

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And that's it for tonight. I'm off to bed to read and get to sleep early, hoping to shake this whatever-it-is ASAP.

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