Friday, July 31, 2009

 
I rolled into Cooperstown in heavy rains--the area from Albany west was under warning for floods, bad visibility on the roads--the whole package. Cooperstown itself is timeless--all fast food and national chains of anything are allowed a foothold only in the outskirts. The central core is all 19th century and glowing with prosperity as you might expect from a major tourist magnet or two.

There are a number of very handsome Federal Period houses and churches, pure white as befits their heritage from (what people thought were*) pure white Greek temples. And there are the riotously colorful Victorians, polychrome painted as they should be and beautifully maintained.

There's also a Chevrolet Museum of all things west of town, and a couple of first class antique barns--one on five levels that takes a good hour and a half to go through. I'm headed there next on the lookout for some sort of outdoor table for the new little deck I wrote about. I'm totally open to any style or material, just so it somehow relates to the house and is totally suitable for outdoor use.

From now on, it's ALL opera, All the time!

*In point of fact Greek temples and other buildings were painted even more brightly and with just as much ornamentation as the Victorian houses.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

 

It's that time of summer again when I get in the jeep and head westward to Coopperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame (yes, I have been there and loved it) for the Glimmerglass Opera. On the shores of Lake Otesaga, called Glimmerglass in James Fennimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, the Festival produces four operas each year in well rehearsed and interestingly conceived interpretations by major directors like Francesca Zambello, Mark Lamos and, this summer, Jonathan Miller.

This year there's the wonderful add-on of the once universally popular but now rarely encountered historical grand opera Les Huguenots by Giacomo Meyerbeer at Bard College's Summer Festival, just a few miles south of the route I normally take to get to Cooperstown.

I'm taking the laptop this year but have no idea of WiFi availability in the area. I stay at a B&B on a farm in the countryside and there isn't a Starbucks anywhere near Cooperstown. The opera's grounds may be wired but I may also find I just have no access until I get back Sunday night. See you then if not before.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

 
We're waiting on news to arrive from Portland, Oregon that my elder daughter has had her baby. Friday is the official due date but these things don't always follow a doctor's schedule. Everybody's pretty relaxed about things and she's getting on with life but I suspect she'll be happy to have it all over with given the unusually hot summer the Northwest is experiencing this year.

Since I posted the earliest picture I have of my elder daughter, I think I should give equal time to my younger. This picture wasn't big and sharp to begin with, but I think in reproducing and tweaking it I've brought up as much detail and clarity as possible. She arrived at three and a half months of age, earlier than expected, because another child became ill and couldn't make the scheduled flight--my daughter was bumped up and landed in the U.S. in Chicago. A Social Worker from there brought her to Boston.


This picture was probably taken some time during her first week. She looks a bit wary here, but is now vivacious, talented and highly skilled in recruiting, her particular branch of human relations, with offices in Los Angeles and New York City.

*******

All of which brought on a lot of family memories. My immediate family, my parents and I, was an extremely problematic grouping. There was also an extension--my mother's mother and younger sister--who always had an apartment in the same building where my parents and I were. I've never blogged about it but probably will someday. The family dynamic can cut both ways and in mine when it frequently cut in a bad way, it could be hell. Suffice it to say for the moment that I wouldn't wish my childhood and pre-college years on anyone.

My father's side of the family was a different story. All four of my grandparents had immigrated to the U.S. in the first decade of the 20th century, the maternal grandparents from Liverpool, England; the paternal grandparents from Paris (grandmother) and
Massa di Carrera in northwest Italy--heart of the famed marble quarry area of the Italian peninsula where Michelangelo and other famed Italian sculptors went for the finest white statuary stone.

My grandmother was very French even though her maiden name was Italian. She was born to an Italian import merchant family that had settled in Paris, with professional ties back in Italy which they visited regularly on buying trips.

On one of those train trips back from Italy, my very pregnant great grandmother gave birth to her eldest child, a daughter, in circumstances so improvised and chaotic that nobody took note of where the train was when my grandmother was actually born, or in what year.

All anybody could document was that when the actual birth began, the train was in Italy on December 31; when it was all over, the train was in France on January 1. There were legal difficulties about her nationality and her birth date for years. Her nationality was finally settled when both countries agreed to accept was that she was a French citizen because the train was French. As to her birthday, we always celebrated it at the stroke of midnight between New Year's Eve and New Year's Day because that issue was never resolved.


Two years after she came to the U.S. in 1902, she founded a school in New York City, an early manifestation of the Montessori method in New York City. She also offered something unique at the time, a day care extension program to serve poor children
with both parents working from the city's immigrant French community. The school was open from 7am to 7pm and offered education, recreational and cultural activities, two meals and refreshments during the day in a bilingual program that she ran for 40 years.

Grants from the French government partially funded the school, with private support in New York coming from prominent members of the business and arts communities whom she recruited relentlessly, stressing the joys of giving back from their positions of wealth and influence, while she sat immovable in their offices until a check was produced.

The medals above came from the Academie Francaise (two on the left), the City of Paris (far right) and finally from the French government--the Legion of Honor is third from the left, then a French Overseas medal of a type reserved for distinguished women, and one other I don't remember--in recognition of her work with the school and in many other ways to foster French culture and language.

I shook my head at the stupidity of the "Freedom Fries" and other anti-French propaganda idiocy from the Bush administration. We'd probably all still be singing "God Save the Queen" if it hadn't been for French support during the American Revolution (said support was a massive drain on the French treasury, the country's financial collapse being a major cause of France's own Revolution against Louis XVI, who authorized military aid to the Americans for years).

One taste that came down from my grandmother was for the French faïence pottery Quimper, named for the town in Brittany where it's been manufactured for centuries.



I don't collect it any more as I have a large number of pieces and it's rarely encountered any more in American antique shops, having become, as they say, "very collectible" with prices soaring to match.

This is a favorite piece, found with its mate (a man playing a set of pipes) wrapped in old newspaper and stuck in a crumbling cardboard box on a lower shelf in a shop in Lyon. I was in France leading a school group, we were in Lyon on our last day in the country and it was the end of that day. The box was marked "faience du pays"--country pottery. Not expecting much, I unwrapped one and realized that they were a pair of matching Quimper hanging wall vases, almost certainly 18th century, asking price just over $100 U.S. I sat on the plane all the way home, cradling them in my lap.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

 
There may be a lot wrong with Massachusetts—just like any place in the world—but vastly more that is right; here’s just another example [excerpted from The Edge].

Massachusetts City Becomes A Haven for Persecuted Gays
by Kilian Melloy EDGE Staff Reporter Tuesday Jul 21, 2009

In 80 nations worldwide, it’s a crime to be gay or lesbian. In some places, same-sex intimacy between consenting adults can be punished with steep fines, jail time--or even death. In countries without harsh legal penalties, the social costs, including harassment and murder, might be tolerated by officials disinclined to offer the protection of the law to gays.

But in Massachusetts, one of the focal points in the birth of modern democracy, the town of Worcester is a beacon in a new cause: that of GLBT equality.

According to a July 21 in the Worcester Telegram, Massachusetts is regarded by gay asylum seekers as a state where they might get a fair hearing; Worcester County is a hot spot within the state for GLBTs of various nationalities who have fled persecution in their countries of origin.

The article cited the case of a young Jamaican man, who saw a friend beset and beaten by a mob; when the police arrived, they simply watched.

The article also related the story of a gay Ugandan man who was taken captive and subjected to torments; after that, his business was razed by the government.

A Lebanese man was also profiled, a Muslim with nowhere to turn because both secular and religious law condemned him for being gay.

The article said that Lutheran Social Services of Worcester and Hadwen Park Congregational Church, also in Worcester, were instrumental in helping gay refugees looking for safety in America.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.
(Note: the article’s author has been here at the Center taking a workshop, is an excellent arts critic (and not JUST because he gave one of my scenic designs a rave review in print), and a very nice guy.

*******

The man who cannot pass up a meme strikes again—this time my enabler is Dr. Michael Rockwell, famed blogger Ur-Spo of Spo Reflections.

Are you a “clothes person”?
Sort of, yes. I like to dress interestingly in clothing that somehow reflects who I am. The men’s clothing industry makes this very difficult for me. I made a strategic withdrawal from the world of the business suit many, MANY years ago--that dreary world where all men look exactly the same, and brown in all its many manifestations is a major no-no, as is anything approaching interesting design in a tie.

What this translates into is that I have, on occasion, built my own clothes (in the manner of the provider of this meme, whose shirts and the fabulous fabrics he picks for them are the envy of all who’ve seen them. I also enjoy shopping at thrift shops, the thrill of the chase for the rare but still findable garment that is quirky, individual, and cheap. It’s a win-win situation.

What size shoe do you wear?
9, at least medium and sometimes wide depending on the style.

Oldest item of clothing in the closet?
A 1960s District of Columbia policeman’s winter greatcoat. I bought it at a surplus store in Boston to get me through my first winter in college. It is made of a navy blue wool fabric that is so tightly woven (and the coat so well lined) that howling winter winds simply do NOT penetrate it. It’s a long coat—mid-calf length and heavy but comfortable to wear. And the collar flips up just so and makes the wearer look kick-ass handsome!

An item you won’t discard?
Any pair of socks with a hole somewhere I think can be darned together again. (that voice in the background is Fritz saying, “just throw the damned things OUT and buy new ones!”)

Have you ever bought any clothes items from the following places?
Land’s End? No
International Male? One or two items. Decades ago. Never again.
Goodwill stores? YES!

Do you wear neckwear to work?
No, and not just because I don't work in a conventional office situation--or ever did. I do wear a tie with a vest when going out to performances, but the design of it MUST be interesting and NOT involve stripes at an angle.

How much ‘pink’ is in your wardrobe?
About one tenth of one percent, as a minor accent color in printed fabric.

(for those with partners) Do you share clothing items?
Sometimes.

Any leather? Yes
Any drag wear? No

Any fuzzy slippers?
Yes. a pair of faux fur-lined moccasin slippers.

The most ‘colorful’ T-shirt?
About half of them

Are you a Project Runway fan?
No.

Have you ever made your own clothing?
Yes, as mentioned above, the major item being a very handsome Norfolk Jacket out of an gorgeous hunk of sage green Irish tweed.


I long to have…
A couple more Australian Wildflower T-shirts from the Sydney Botanical Gardens Shop. The flowers were embroidered on, not printed. I bought one (the flower called the waratah) while I was there and should have bought two or three of the other designs.

Most cherished item?
The Thai silk vest I had built for me to wear at my elder daughter’s wedding.

What is forbidden/not allowed to stay in the closet?
These days, any trousers with pleated fronts, or anything DULL.

If I had the money I would buy a …..
Custom made, extremely elegant formal vest with lapels, made of a really fine grade of leather in a dark tobacco brown with antique buttons, a leather back instead of the usual sleazy acetate, and a high grade silk satin lining.

Monday, July 20, 2009

 
The countdown has begun to the birth of my first grandchild, due on August 1 plus or minus. Probably plus, as first babies are frequently late, but you never know.

Way back in the autumn when my daughter gave me the word, I said how lucky she was to be living in Oregon because she wouldn’t have to go through her eighth and ninth months in a lot of heavy summer heat. I thereby cursed her and everybody living in the Northwest to the hottest, driest summer anyone can remember. Apologies to Arnie, Blair, Rodger, Mark, Corin, Steven and Mark, Stephen, Matt—I didn’t mean to do it--really.

Things are going well and it’s now just a question of waiting. We have tickets purchased, a rental car and hotels arranged for a trip out in the last ten days of August to meet the new arrival and celebrate with her and my wonderful son-in-law after they’ve had a chance to get home, get some rest and settle into the new routine.

With the birth so close, I’ve been overwhelmed by memories of my daughter’s arrival from Korea and the first moments I saw her and held her in my arms. She was six months old (approximately—the exact date of her birth is unknown) and very petite (still is, just petite for an adult, now).

It was 1:30 in the morning at JFK Airport in New York and the flight from Seoul had lasted close to 24 hours including a couple of hours layover in Anchorage. Korea is 13 hours ahead of the US east coast, so for her the day was almost exactly reversed. But she came off the plane bright and wide awake in the arms of a passenger who had gotten the flight half fare for agreeing to escort an orphan baby to its new home, the other half coming out of the adoption fees I paid. I sat down on a waiting area chair and held her in front of me. She started bouncing up and down on my lap, all smiles, and then reached out to pull a pen out of my shirt pocket. I fell totally in love.

Regular reports had arrived, the first one with a picture, as soon as the adoption application had been matched to a child. She had been found, taken to an orphanage, given an extensive physical during which her age was estimated at two months, and placed with a foster family who cared for her until all the arrangements were finalized for her trip to the U.S. Here she is in a photo taken the day after she had been found—the earliest picture I have of her. As she awaits the birth of her own daughter, she has taken to using this picture for her Facebook profile.



Thursday, July 16, 2009

 

There was a sudden blow up last week in the Boston area over Governor Deval Patrick's proposal to cut funding for the Franklin Park (Boston) and Stone (Stoneham) Zoos. Like many states, Massachusetts is looking a financial abyss directly in the face and, clearly, something has to be sacrificed in order for the state to avoid the governmental form of foreclosure that so many state residents have had to endure.

The problem grew out of news reports on WBZ radio that the zoos would close and any animals that couldn't be placed with other zoos around the country would be euthanized. I couldn't believe this and put the word out on my Facebook page. There was a big response and all of it was solidly negative on the idea of putting the animals down. I found the governor's website and contact email address, put it on my Facebook for anyone who might want to submit a protest, and sent the following:

"Dear Governor Patrick:

"I was a Massachusetts resident for 47 years, 35 of them in Roslindale from which I visited the Franklin Park Zoo with some frequency. Yesterday I heard the reports on WBZ radio of the closing of the zoo, which is bad enough for the residents of the city and for those who come from surrounding cities and towns. But there was also an announcement that animals would be put down if they could not easily be placed elsewhere.

"I am writing to protest ANY killing of animals--they are totally at the mercy of the Commonwealth and never asked, or sought, to be placed in captivity. That the Commonwealth should kill a single animal that it finds financially inconvenient is to me completely repugnant behavior. I hope you won't make me rue the day I voted for you by proceeding with any killings. These innocent creatures deserve protection, not cruelty and death."

I gave my name and MIT position (retired) and thought, well that's that--I'll never hear from them again. In the meanwhile, news reports began to appear suggesting that there might be a way out of the zoo closings from private or corporate donations, and suggesting also that it was zoo officials who has placed the possibility of euthanizing animals with key media as a tool for forcing the governor to retract the funding cuts or the legislature to vote them down. There was also mention of the fact that the state house had been flooded with phone calls and emails protesting the entire business from closing the zoos at all to any thought of putting animals down.

I opened my email yesterday and found this:

Dear William,


On behalf of Governor Deval L. Patrick, thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the Franklin Park and Stone Zoos. The Governor appreciates your taking the time to share your thoughts with us on this issue.

As a supporter of the zoo and a parent who has visited often, the Governor wants to be absolutely clear about one thing: there has never been any talk in state government about euthanizing any animals.

In the midst of an economic crisis like this one, when families and businesses alike are making sacrifices, the administration is asking that the zoos learn to live within more limited means, for the time being, until times turn around. The Governor and his administration are working with the people at Zoo New England and the Legislature to find lasting solutions.

Please feel free to contact our office again in the future regarding other matters; your comments are always welcome in this administration.

Sincerely,

Governor Patrick's Constituent Services Team

Phone: 617-725-4005

www.mass.gov/contact

*******

T-shirt seen on a very good looking young man in the parking lot of our local Ace/Ben franklin hardware:

"I may not be MR RIGHT, but I'd be happy to f--k you until he gets here!"

No indication whether his target audience was male or female but from the look of him, he'd be welcome in either camp.

*******

I'm putting this item last as you may want to skip it entirely. It comes courtesy of Sandy at The Banal Chew and documents one more approach to living--well dying, actually--green.

Decomposting Bodies
What’s the greenest way to dispose of human remains?
by James Glave

Squirrels, it turns out, compost quite nicely. Small birds? Sure. Happens in the woods every day, after all. But stuff a human body into a backyard bin, and within a day or so the neighbours will start to complain.

Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, a Swedish biologist specializing in soil production, explains: “When you die, you start smelling, because the oxygen does not reach inside the body.” More specifically, an abundance of anaerobic bacteria quickly takes hold in such a large mass of tissue, resulting in the rank gases CSI techs use to sniff out “decomp.” But after a decade spent investigating green options for dealing with dead bodies, Wiigh- Mäsak has finally figured out how to discreetly turn our earthly remains back into, well, earth.

The technique is called promession, the facilities that will do the job are called promatoriums, and the first one will open early next year in a converted crematorium in Jönköping, Sweden. Think of the operation as a kind of corpse disassembly line. The dearly departed are first supercooled in liquid nitrogen to about minus 196°C, then shattered into very small pieces on a vibration table. “We wanted to make the body unrecognizable without using any kind of an instrument that you would see in a kitchen or garage,” she explains.

Next a vacuum is used to evaporate moisture while a metal separator, traditionally used by the food processing industry to remove stray foreign objects from meat products, shuffles aside fillings, crowns, titanium hips, and so on. (You can put that sandwich down now.) Finally, the vaguely pink crumbs are deposited in a large box made of corn or potato starch.

Surviving family members bury the box in shallow topsoil and plant a tree or shrub on top. With the exception of perhaps a few broken remnants of plastic pacemaker, in a matter of months nothing is left but memories and some lush greenery.

Assuming all goes well for Promessa in Jönköping, Wiigh-Mäsak expects partners will soon hang out their shingles in eleven countries, including Australia, South Africa, Germany, Korea, the UK, and even — pending regulatory hurdles and a still-in-the-works licensing agreement — Canada. But are we ready for this sort of thing?

Mortuary customs are among the most deeply entrenched in any culture, and in these parts the standard is deep burial. A mortician replaces the body’s blood with embalming chemicals, then arranges the preserved cadaver inside a casket made of metal or lumber — sometimes redwood or a tropical species like mahogany. Post-funeral, workers lower the casket into an underground vault six feet below ground level and backfill the grave. There, once microbes consume all available oxygen, the corpse putrefies into toxic skeletal sludge. Up top, constant mowing, fertilizing, and irrigation keep everything looking tidy.

Alternatively, the body is burned in a natural gas, propane, or oil-fired furnace, releasing a cloud of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, along with the aerosolized mercury from a lifetime’s accumulation of dental fillings. An operator then pulverizes the bones left behind in a cremulator and presents these “ashes” to the bereaved in an urn.

Despite the undertaker’s soothing assurances, neither option is especially respectful of either the body or the ecosystem, which is why “natural burial” groups have started popping up all over Canada and the world. These organizations advocate burying the dead in less intensively landscaped settings, closer to the surface, without benefit of embalmment, a casket, or even a headstone.

Mention promession to even this crowd, however, and you turn up the conservative take. “There may be a little bit of an ‘ick’ factor,” fears Janet McCausland, executive director of the Toronto-based Natural Burial Association. “Natural burial is what we have been doing for millennia. People may be leery of this new fandangled technology.”

Audio: Listen to James Glave talk about promession and decomposting on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

 
By any standards of evaluation, Fritz and I have had and continue to have a relationship blessed by love, harmony and a complete lack of discord. Except for one thing—we have radically different needs when it comes to the mattress we sleep on.

During all the years when we had to commute back and forth to see each other between Raymond, NH and Boston, MA, he was never comfortable on my super-firm double mattress, and I had severe lower back pain when I got up from his very soft queen-sized one.
Once we were finally able to live together full time two years ago (yesterday, by the way) one solution to the problem would have been twin beds with very different mattresses, BUT there was NO way we weren’t going to sleep together as a couple, let alone that we’re both Meyers-Briggs strong Es (extroverts) and very strong Fs (feeling types).

We bought a platform with storage drawers in it when we moved into the new house and put his queen mattress on it which did two things, neither of them successful—it made the mattress too firm for him and still nowhere near firm enough for me. So last week we broke down and decided it was time to hit a Sleep Number store.

I called yesterday morning to confirm their location in Manchester and ask a few questions. A bright-voiced, eager young man named Ken spoke with me and dropped the info that the big sale currently on would end today (Sunday). With Fritz teaching all day, both days we weren’t sure we could make it but we re-arranged dinner plans for last night and got there long before closing time.

The delightful Ken was nowhere to be seen—he’d fallen victim, we were told, to food poisoning (note to self: think twice about eating again in the Mall’s food court)—and there were several customers to be handled by only one sales person and her husband who was doing his level best assist wherever possible.

Now, Ken had told me that we would be spending a lot of time lying on different mattresses, testing the sleep numbers against our comfort needs and seeing how we liked various thicknesses of soft covering on each. It occurred to me that while New Hampshire is becoming more liberal by the day, we’d be two men lying on the mattresses together and I wondered if there would be comment, discomfort or outright disapproval from anyone in the store.

It went fine. The family and another couple who were their friends left not too long after we arrived, which meant we were left with the sales couple and a young customer couple, a Brit guy and his wife/gf who were heavily tattooed, she with a head shaved closer than his, both swathed totally in black with odd bits of chain and studs attached here and there. In other words, no problem—it was Alternative Night at Sleep Number.

In a fairly short time (Fritz and I are pretty low maintenance) we established that my sleep number is 100 and his 35, everything was arranged and paid for and we were on our way. Delivery should be some time this week.

*******

We’ve been happy this summer to see so much wildlife returning to the property now that it’s a year since the construction ended. Fritz drove home one light and saw a red fox on the side of the drive up to the house. We hear wild turkeys in the woods during the day and are hoping that they’ll emerge some day like they did in the past.

We’ve had a big increase in birds--nuthatches, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, wood larks, the usual sparrows, barred owls, flycatchers (who nested and raised a family just outside our kitchen window) and, on Friday, a goldfinch. There are many others we haven't identified from their songs yet.

*******

This astilbe survived transplantation from my house in Boston and replanting next to Fritz’s old house, and then transplanting again up here. It’s doing beautifully, here enjoying the activity of a bee.

This Japanese Maple went into the ground in the middle of last week, the beginning of the planting around the hot tub. It is beautifully visible framed in one of our bedroom windows.

*******

Spain is finally starting to confront the painful years of the Civil War that brought General Francisco Franco to power. It’s being done by opening the mass graves of the thousands and thousands who were executed, attempting to identify the remains and return them to families whenever possible.

Last October, High Court Judge Baltasar Garzon announced that mass exhumations could begin - including the grave where poet
Federico Garcia Lorca is thought to be buried. With this development, the Lorca family dropped its long-held opposition to any attempt to find his remains.

Lorca was taken out to a killing field outside Granada and shot in the company of several other political prisoners on the 19th of August, 1936. There is some controversy about the Nationalists’ motives for murdering him, but Lorca’s homosexuality (Salvador Dali had been one of his most prominent lovers) is believed by many historians, and by many of those who survived the period, to have been at least as important a reason as his anti-fascist politics.

The total ban on Lorca’s works was lifted only in 1953, and then publication was allowed in censored editions with some work still not made available. Discussion of the circumstances of Lorca’s death or his sexuality was not allowed until after Franco’s death in 1975. Since then he has regained his status as Spain’s great 20th century poet/playwright.

Every year in my design class I assigned a Lorca play—either Yerma or Blood Wedding. Lorca’s grasp of Spanish culture spanned the pre-Christian Celt-Iberians to the invasion of traditional village life by the machines and modernization of the 20th century. Both plays begin in the modern world and progress backwards through the depths of the human psyche, ending in ritualistic action in some sort pagan sacred space. I always thought of Lorca as a great gift to a scenic designer.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

 

The insects come for our intrepid blogger and his husband.

The lovely weather lasted two days and then the rain moved in again yesterday. At least we didn’t have the severe storms that hit Boston, but we’re getting soaked again.

Now that we’ve been in the house a little over a full year, some things in nature are restoring themselves to the way it was before the upheaval of construction, and others are cropping up for the first time, taking advantage of the altered conditions.

We're getting big colonies of this fungus, popularly called Indian Pipes. They're very pretty, translucent and kind of ghostly--altogether quite lovely.

We have two varieties of the herb thyme. This one has gone wild in the heavy rains and is now flowering. The flavor in a salad or stew is unbelievably good.

These tall and far from unattractive flower spikes are coming up well over five feet tall all over the property where we haven’t established special plantings. They were never a feature of the woods before we cleared a large amount of the land for the construction, but now they dominate and we don’t mind at all. They prevent far less attractive weeds from growing and they’re wonderfully sculptural. Their name is woolly [something beginning with m] which I’ve heard several times but the m word somehow doesn’t stick with me. Perhaps some of you will know (Dr. T?)

Some very nice birds are frequenting our new garden (OK, we’re shamelessly bribing them by hanging suet on the trees and they love it). We have a pair of nuthatches who are wonderful fun to watch as they can walk up the tree upright, then turn around and walk back down upside down. This one, courtesy of The Nature Group, is holding on sideways.

We also now have a number of woodpeckers in two varieties: downy and hairy, the two varieties looking remarkably similar except the hairy woodpecker is quite a bit bigger bird. I’ve heard the barred owls deep in the night and this morning the dawn chorus was started by a wood lark with its haunting, clear sweet cry, like running a wet finger around the rim of a wine glass and getting the crystal to ring. The flycatchers who raised a brood in a nest under our bridge have now fledged them out and the nest is vacant. In the afternoon, one or the other of our red tail hawks can be seen soaring above the house, and there are a lot of others whose songs we haven’t identified yet.

But it's nature and it's not all benign. We were putting plants in a week or so ago during a lull in the rain and heard a chilling sound not very far into the woods on the east of the property. It was a raspy, high-pitched cry and I immediately thought of a fisher cat. Combat soon broke out as a second animal voice started screaming in fear and, eventually, pain. At one point there was a break in the fight--the victim having apparently broken away, I saw one or two dark forms racing downhill through the underbrush--followed by sounds of capture and kill. Then an eerie silence.

We started getting big ants in the house again, so I called the exterminator. The night before he came, we were both exhausted from a lot of physical work--we'd had a rare sunny and beautiful day--so we decided to soak in the hot tub. When we pulled the cover, we saw where the ants were massing. Hundreds of them had moved into the tub, their larvae filling two wells in the plastic rim where controls are located. Many of them were swimming on top of the water, others swarmed everywhere. Fritz ran into the house for ant spray and we cleaned things up as best we could.

While all this was going on we were hit by clouds of mosquitoes, a bumper crop pumped out by any little pool of standing water left anywhere by the incessant rain. We leapt into the tub and got submerged as quickly as possible but they swarmed around our heads. We did 20 minutes and then got out, covered up and got back into the house ASAP.

*******

Here are the last of the Denver Museum of Art photos. There isn't much of a theme to my Museum pictures--I just shot anything that caught my attention and there was a fair amount of it.

This Chinese wooden horse dates from early in the Han Dynasty--about 200BC. A little over three feet high, the carving of its head and face was extraordinarily expressive.

A horse of a different color--one of Deborah Butterfield's many horses fashioned out of found objects and materials. In mid-August we should see three of her most famous at Portland, Oregon's airport when we arrive to meet my first grandchild who is due very late this month or early next.

In the American West galleries, this striking portrait of a Native-American woman dominated everything around it.

Afternoon tea meets Rube Goldberg. A mechanized art deco tea pot in sterling silver.

In the Spanish-American gallery, a contemporary madonna and child looks back at cultural stereotypes and has a lot of fun doing so.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

 
Five and a half years ago as Fritz and I were preparing our Massachusetts wedding, we had some talk back and forth about how we’d refer to each other. Partner was OK but had never really excited us (corporate somehow); lover seemed a little too private, although many gay men had been using it for decades; husband had inevitable heterosexual connotations. Was there, I wondered, a new term coming out of the inventive gay mind for a man married to another man?

Well, faute de mieux, we eventually decided on being each other’s husband and are totally comfortable with that. But last night I discovered that there actually IS a term for a man married to another man or for a woman married to another woman:

Dolos (pl, dolosse) n.
1. (South African, uncommon) The bones that are thrown for divination.
2. (South African, uncommon) The ankle bones of sheep or goats formerly used by children as playthings.
3. Interlocking blocks of concrete, used for protection of seawalls and to preserve beaches from erosion.
4. A gender-neutral alternative to the titles 'husband' and 'wife' for those in same-sex relationships, as in, He is my dolos; we became dolosse on June 17th, 2008. It is intended to convey the intrinsic strength of the engineered form, made even stronger when tangled together by the force of ocean waves.

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Over on Facebook, Christopher Ugo tagged me on a Ten Books meme. The deal is to name ten books that always have and always will stick with you, and not to drag it out—think for ten minutes, tops, and come up with the first ten you can think of.

Chris admitted that it was difficult given the millions of books out there and the fact that every genre was eligible, including plays—which of course played right into my career.

After that, the usual rules apply: tag ten others and watch it spread.
Here are my ten, with some explanation why:

1) The Bacchae by Euripides (play). Fifth century B.C., but in the 1960s, Euripides’ politically explosive examination of the confrontation between a sexually repressed young tyrant and Dionysius, god of excess read and played like what was going on in the streets all over this country. There were hundreds of productions, audiences in awe of the god’s seduction of Pentheus and the fury of the Dionysian women who tore him to pieces with their bare hands.

I designed sets and costumes for it early in my career in a fascinating production that the director and I placed in an Edwardian drawing room where elite Londoners gathered to read material that would not normally be accepted in public. Some it transfigured, others it destroyed--just as in the play.

2) Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom by Suzan-Lori Parks (play). The last play I designed at MIT, by a brilliant young African-American playwright who uses language with dazzling skill.

3) Pacific Overtures by Steven Sondheim (music & lyrics) and John Wiedman (script) (musical theater). One of my best design experiences ever. Pacific Overtures is a brilliant piece of theater.

4) Angels in America by Tony Kushner (play in two parts: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika). When I read these two plays for the first time, I was elated that there was an American who could still write this superbly.

5) The Rise and Fall of Paradise: When Arabs and Jews built a kingdom in Spain by Elmer Berdiner (history). This book began my thirst for knowledge of the real interface between Islam and Europe in the middle ages (completely distorted in my Catholic school history courses). I did an in-depth study for several years and wound up teaching the subject to students who were stunned by the immense discoveries and advances in all branches of math, science, medicine, agriculture, pharmacology, chemistry, engineering, geography, etc. that were made by Islamic pioneers centuries before the Europeans to whom they are routinely credited.

6) A Distant Mirror: The calamitous 14th century by Barbara Tuchman (history). Writing on history at it’s very best.

7) Wagner and the Art of the Theater by Patrick Carnegy (biography, arts history). The way we attend theater today descends directly from practices at Wagner’s own theater. Carnegy gives a full picture of the single most theatrically experienced and skilled composer in opera history.

8) The Loon Trilogy (Song of the Loon, Song of Aaron, Listen--the Loon Sings) by Richard Amory (fiction). From the 1960s, an idyllic fantasy of the joy gay life could be if there were acceptance and freedom for homosexuals—much of which has eventually happened. If not the first, The Loon Trilogy was among the very first works in American literature to depict happy, mentally healthy, sexually liberated and validated men in stories that didn’t end in their murder or suicide.

9) The Crimson Letter: Harvard, Homosexuality and the shaping of American culture by Douglas Shand-Tucci (history, sociology). A shocking history of institutionalized homophobia and persecution at one of the country’s leading universities at a time when Boston/Cambridge was perhaps the great center of homosexual culture in the country.

10) Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe by John Boswell (history). Controversial, but a moving and scrupulously researched account of a real past in which here were male-male and female-female marriages, including in the early Christian church. Not light reading, but very rewarding.

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It was Men’s Week in Milan as the big designers showed their new collections.








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In her rambling, very strange press conference speech the other day, Sarah Palin said that she had decided to resign as governor after "prayerful consideration that sacrificing my title helps Alaska most".

Well actually, no. Had she resigned her title, she would then have had to pack up her beauty queen tiara and send it back. Not that she realized it, but what she was actually resigning was her office. Ah, Sarah, the hits just keep on coming. As one wag put it, if Ms. Palin does decide to seek the presidency in 2012, Tina Fey is going to have SO much work--and SO much material work with.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

 
From Pam Phillips at Writing Every Day

I was working in the garden last weekend when this beautiful insect settled on a rock right next to me. Its iridescent blue-green body glowed and set off the velvety black wings. I thought it was a dragon fly of a variety I’d never seen before, but Doug Taron set me straight (so to speak) that it was a damsel fly.


This is my current project, a stone-paved culvert to take water draining past the house and direct it harmlessly to prevent wash-outs as it heads downhill. The frame is the underpinning of a short bridge from the paved driveway to the foot of the walk leading to the house.


Virtually all the plants are now set in the garden in front of the house. A few stragglers will come as they become available at local wholesale nurseries. Each of these perennials will expand with time to fill the garden solidly with flowers and ornamental foliage. Down front and center is what I call the “heelstone”, a small boulder with a hollow in its upper surface.


In the hollow, Fritz planted a miniature garden of hens and chickens and other succulents, now in delightful blossom.

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This story is almost too cute—it comes off like something from a 1940s movie starring Mickey and Judy and all the kids.


Those local theater companies that have so far managed to survive in the current economy are looking to produce less arcane and much more popular family material. The Gloucester Stage Company recently announced “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and went into rehearsal for a late June opening. Everything was going just fine until the opening day of the production with matinee and evening performances scheduled. That’s when Gloucester’s Charlie Brown, Stephen Gagliastro, informed the producer that he was ill and had no voice.

With cancellation of the opening staring them in the face, one of the company’s staff remembered that the High School in neighboring Rockport had presented Charlie Brown in the spring. A quick call to the Principal led to Brian Audano who had played the part. The 17 year old Audano had a ticket for the matinee opener and had put on his yellow shirt with Charlie Brown’s characteristic zig-zag horizontal black line that morning. The call came in at 1pm and Brian was offered the role. He left for the theater immediately as word spread rapidly through Rockport High’s student body. "It was pretty amazing, a little nerve-racking,” Audano said, “but I was lucky because all of the cast were so kind. I had about an hour and a half to go over new stage directions.”

David Sharrocks, who played the role of Snoopy, said they appreciated Audano stepping into the part, "I was thoroughly impressed that he never opened the binder with the script. He was surprisingly relaxed the whole time and he seemed very comfortable with the experience."

The stage manager came on stage at curtain time to announce the cast change and stumbled over the pronunciation of Audano’s name—at which point the audience, now packed with Rockport students and teachers, roared out the correct pronunciation. The performance proceeded flawlessly.

Audano, who will enter Wheelock College in Boston (where they do quite a bit of theater) this fall, will enter with a really nice professional credit and a fist full of good press notices.

With quotes from The Gloucester Times

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