Thursday, July 29, 2010


Garden Bounty & Annual Opera Pilgrimage

The horrid weather conditions that inhibited the garden last year are nowhere to be seen this year -- strong sun, clear skies and high heat have been the norm. Starting with these big, beautiful red cabbages, here's a look at some of what we're harvesting almost daily:

Pole beans, which were part of dinner tonight

Two winter squashes under their own foliage's protective canopy

The tomatoes have become a kind of mini-jungle

Dill, which we both love, catching the late afternoon sun

Kale to the left and beets to the right. The kale didn't have its accustomed flavor tonight for some reason.

Potatoes growing in their special planters behind one of the two new compost bins.


"They think I like opera because I’m proper. They’d be shocked if they knew I like it because it *sounds* like an orgasm *feels*"
--from the blog Post Secret

As someone who is pretty intensely sound-oriented, I KNOW that feeling. And I'm going to get some more of it this weekend on my annual pilgrimage into the lovely rolling farmland an hour west of Albany at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival in Cooperstown, NY. The
Agenda: lunch Friday with a friend and fellow blogger; great dinners Friday and Saturday evenings at Villa San Isidoro; picking through antique barns and buying a case of Hennepin Belgian Ale at the Ommegang Brewery on Saturday morning; four operas in three days at Glimmerglass, and the usual surprise encounters with friends from Boston and New York and even one year, from Canada.

I always have a great time and Fritz, who is not an opera lover, remains in New Hampshire and enjoys telling everyone he's an opera widow for the weekend. But I've prepared well, baked a new loaf of bread to last him the weekend and we'll have a great reunion Sunday night.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Floral interlude between the two sections of Boston's Ladies of Opera and the Arts:

The friend who made up the garden plan for us told us that the third year after planting would be the first really spectacular one. This is year two and it seems pretty good to us.

The north side, the edge closest to our big front windows. Not everything is in flower all at once; she planned it so that we'd have different plants in flower throughout the summer and fall.

Coneflowers and black-eyed susans flank plants whose flowers are now gone by but display lovely foliage.

Cup plant (r.) which struggled its first year, has come roaring along this summer with six foot high flower stems. Raspberry wine beebalm on the left attracts hummingbirds and damsel flies.

At cup plant's base is a boulder with a hollow in one side that I set up for Fritz to have as a miniature garden place. He chose different succulents, one of which puts up a big flower stalk each year ("big" is, of course, in relationship to the size of the actual plant).

Beebalm flowers close up.

Solomon seal puts out a flower but it's for the lovely foliage that you plant it in the garden. We have three of these, each standing in front, and set off by the stonework of, one of the house's corner piers. The woods surrounding the house are filled with a lot of the smaller wild variety of Solomon seal that lacks the distinctive white edging on its leaves.

It's been a hard summer on the 57 new bushes and trees we put in during the spring. Almost three weeks of heat wave and drought stressed them all even when frequently and heavily watered. We got lucky finally and are now having fairly regular rains. We seem to have lost only one of the seven low-growing junipers that edge the "cliff" to one side of the herb garden; the rest are doing very well, our Japanese hollies full of berries.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Boston's Women of Opera and Arts, Part One

Recent news that the heads of several companies are stepping down to take on new or, at least, different challenges caused me to realize that opera in Boston has been presented and managed almost exclusively by women since World War II, the city's major concert, music and dance series for a transforming decade and a half.

Boston had an active operatic life way back into the mid 19th century at least. In 1909, the Boston Opera House was built just two blocks from Symphony Hall with a stage exactly the dimensions of the then twenty-five old Metropolitan Opera in New York City, so that MET productions could be shipped by rail to Boston for performances there (for a century, the maximum width of a scenic flat was 5'-9" because that was the largest that would fit through a boxcar door). Performances ceased some time in the 1940s. Northeastern University got the opera house declared structurally unsound (it wasn't -- it is widely believed that some shady deals were done between the University and the City of Boston) during the post-war urban renewal mania in 1958 to build a parking lot, now a dormitory. There had been little major opera except the Metropolitan's one week stand during its post-season national tour, until this lady appeared on the scene.

Sarah Caldwell came to Boston in 1952 after growing up a musical prodigy, with early experience directing operas. She progressed from heading Boston University's Opera Workshop, to audaciously producing Wagner's huge Die Meistersinger in a town not noted as a Wagner audience, to founding Boston Opera Group in 1958 with an outdoor production of an Offenbach operetta so successful it was invited to play on the White House grounds for President Eisenhower and his guests. She was on the map.

It would take a series of blog posts adequately to profile Caldwell, a genuine visionary who produced brand new operas, a huge number of U.S, premieres of important 20th century works ignored by the Metropolitan and other American companies, and many operas in their original versions, works that had been changed or obscured for decades by the tinkering of other hands. In the process she attracted some of the world's greatest singers who were anxious to find new dimensions in the roles they sang under her direction. All this in a decaying 3500 seat former Lowe's movie palace with an inadequate stage, orchestra pit and backstage facilities. That's the good news.

The bad news is that Caldwell was so obsessed by opera and her work that she ran the company, researched scores, and directed and conducted virtually every production. Normal everyday concerns such as personal grooming and hygiene, adequate sleep and diet, competent financial management of the company, and delegation of responsibility to qualified assistants weren't on the lady's radar. Legends abound to this day, most perfectly true. By the 1990 season (when Leonard Bernstein knelt before her on stage, kissing her hand following a tremendous production of his Mass) the company was bankrupt, the Feds were moving in to examine the books, and she defaulted on any further productions -- AFTER having collected subscribers' money for the next year's season, and angering the Boston banking brain trust known as "The Vault", which in turn muddied the waters for other music and theater companies seeking loans to sustain their work.

Many years later after a time spent in Siberia -- literally -- Sarah returned to Boston to pitch a revived company in a renovated theater if the city would just please fork over large amounts of cash. Boston refused; it was over. But for the better part of three decades, Boston Opera was one of the great opera companies of the world.

Martha H. Jones, Marty affectionately, will have run the Boston Celebrity Series for 15 years when she retires to take up free-lance arts consultation -- a career for which she is superbly equipped -- at the end of this coming season. A willowy, energetic, casually elegant figure as she comes before the curtain to welcome an audience warmly and tell them in no uncertain terms to turn off their electronics, Jones has kept the Series going through a couple of changes of corporate sponsorship as well as the economic crisis, and expanded its mission to include emerging artists who are presented at smaller venues at very attractive prices. She has also added audience development programs in which particular works are analyzed, and educational programs.

The annual offerings are the usual eclectic mix of big orchestras from around the world, chamber ensembles, world music, dance (always anchored by a one week stand from the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater), classical and popular vocal and instrumental recitals, performance groups from Stomp to the Kodo Drummers of Japan and Vienna Choir Boys, and "conversations evenings" featuring icons such as Stephen Sondheim interviewed by Frank Rich.

Marty has always been accessible to the Series' audiences, greeting people before or saying good-bye after performances in the lobby. And she's open to suggestion about artists to bring in future seasons; one friend of mine who recommends opera and concert singers who would be both artistically rewarding and good box office, has seen several of his suggestions presented by the Series. Marty always promotes class acts, but the classiest act may well be Martha Jones herself.
Phyllis Curtin remains one of America's most prominent singers long after her active career on the stage has ended. Known for the silvery beauty of her voice, her impeccable musicianship, and statuesque elegance on stage, she created several characters in world premieres, most notably the title role in Carlisle Floyd's Susannah. After her retirement from the stage she joined the music faculty at Boston University (under whose auspices she had made her operatic debut in 1946) and became Dean for the Arts in 1983.

In 1987 Curtin founded the B.U. Opera Institute, a performance-based program to provide postgraduate-level students with two years of intensive training in voice, repertoire coaching, Italian conversation, acting, and movement (stage combat, ballet, period styles, commedia, Alexander Technique), business strategies, social protocols for the artist, audition techniques, and networking. It's the agenda of a hard-working, highly accomplished artist and it pays off. Only 12 students annually are admitted and the results I have seen are impressive. Voices emerge from the Institute clear, unforced, well balanced (Curtain's own vocal technique was rock solid, leading to a 36 year career ending at age 61).

The young singers get lots of stage time in main stage productions of standard repertory and in Fringe Festival performances of more arcane fare "in the round" or in other "environmental" stagings at B.U.'s black box studio theater. Several singers I saw in lead roles within the last decade are now with major companies including the Metropolitan, Chicago and San Francisco Operas, the Glimmerglass Opera Festival, and other companies internationally.

To be continued . . . .

Friday, July 16, 2010

Just when you think they've run out of mouths to stick their expensively designer-shod feet in, the Pope and his misogynist cohorts come up with this. They have a genius for anti-public relations.

Catholics angry as church puts female ordination on par with sex abuse
Women's groups describe Vatican's decision on female ordination as 'appalling'
John Hooper in Rome
Thursday 15 July 2010

Three ‘bishops’ at the ordination of a female French priest in Lyons in 2005. All four women were excommunicated. From left: South African Patricia Fresen, Austrian Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and German Gisela Forster.
Photograph: Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP

It was meant to be the document that put a lid on the clerical sex abuse scandals that have swept
the Roman Catholic world. But instead of quelling fury from within and without the church, the Vatican stoked the anger of liberal Catholics and women's groups by including a provision in its revised decree that made the "attempted ordination" of women one of the gravest crimes in ecclesiastical law.

The change put the "offense" on a par with the sex abuse of minors.

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, called the document "one of the most insulting and misogynistic pronouncements that the Vatican has made for a very long time. Why any self-respecting woman would want to remain part of an organization that regards their full and equal participation as a 'grave sin' is a mystery to me."

Vivienne Hayes, the chief executive of the Women's Resource Center, said the decision to raise women's ordination to the level of a serious crime was "appalling".

She added: "This declaration is doubly disempowering for women as it also closes the door on dialogue around women's access to power and decision making, when they are still under-represented in all areas of political, religious and civic life. We would urge the Catholic church to acknowledge that women's rights are not incompatible with religious faith."

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: "We are sure that the vast majority of the general public will share in our abject horror at the Vatican's decision to categorize the ordination of women as an 'offense' in the same category as pedophilia – deemed to be one of the 'gravest offenses a priest can commit'.

"This statement follows a series where the Vatican, an institution which yields great influence and power not only in the Catholic community but also wider society, has pitched itself in direct opposition not only to women's rights but to our equal worth and value. We hope this is an issue that the government takes the opportunity to raise if it still feels the impending papal visit is appropriate."

The revision of a decree first issued nine years ago was intended to address the issue of clerical sex abuse. Last night it remained unclear why the Vatican had decided to invite further controversy by changing the status of women's ordination in canon law.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We returned yesterday evening from almost a week away. We'd left Wednesday morning very early on the first leg of a trip to Gatlinburg, TN, where Fritz was scheduled to present at a big educational conference. Gatlinburg plotted out to be almost exactly 1000 miles from our house, so we planned for a two day drive, doing at least two thirds of the distance on the first day to make sure we'd arrive at our hotel early in the afternoon of the second day so he could visit the convention center, check out the room in which his session was scheduled, and have some time to decompress before the Friday 8am starting time.

We were on the road Wednesday for 11 1/2 hours, which should have been exhausting but for the fact that the new Hyundai rides smooth as silk, handles beautifully and has a great air-conditioning system. We stopped for the night near Lynchburg, Virginia, our motel on a hilltop with the promised mountain view:

The near-100 degree temperatures and smothering humidity hit us hard whenever we stopped, but we perked up significantly when we got back in the car.

Another advantage is that we'd been lent three books on CD by Fritz's office manager. I'm used to popping an opera or two into the player on long trips but had always been skeptical about listening to a book being read at length. So, this was my first experience and it was a real winner. We listened to Lisa See's Shanghai Girls, a novel about the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, the refugee family's struggles to reach the U.S. and their efforts to balance assimilation and preservation of their culture as we headed south; and to David McCullough's superbly researched John Adams on the way back home.

After Disc One (of eleven) of Shanghai Girls, (beautifully read and acted by Janet Song) I was fully on board with the idea of listening to a book while driving. Absorbing but never distracting, at least for me, they made the time pass quickly. Well-known actor Edward Herrmann read the somewhat abridged story of Adams on nine discs, amusingly from time to time in his unfamiliarity with Massachusetts pronunciation. Haverhill, which he pronounced literally, is really Havrill here and Quincy is pronounced Quinzy. But his rich voice and crystal clear enunciation made the narative flow effortlessly.

Gatlinburg is approached by one of the most heavily congested and schlocky commercial strips I've ever encountered. Engulfing the road (currently being widened further to facilitate even greater tourism) through the town of Pigeon Forge, it has every imaginable form of fast food, cheap motel and tourist trap, from amusement arcades and parks to an upside-down house to this:

Unfortunately, the fiberglass iceberg jammed onto the other side of the hull wasn't visible to us until after we'd passed it in our rear-view mirrors.

Then suddenly, like turning off a faucet, it ended and we were in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. For four miles, we followed the bed of a rocky stream and were surrounded by towering trees growing up the deep sides of a canyon it had apparently carved. Then we were in Gatlinberg with a row of half-timbered commercial buildings built certainly to give a European alpine feel. They gave way to Gatlinberg proper: hotels, shops, the sprawling convention/conference center, cable cars ascending the surrounding mountains and crowds everywhere.

The agency that hired Fritz booked us into a Marriott Garden Inn, the only hotel/motel room I've ever been in with its own fireplace (fire courtesy of natural gas).

The stream we'd encountered on the way into town ran directly opposite our hotel, so we began our exploration there. Although extremely shallow and not much wider than five to six feet, it was billed as Gatlinburg River and was attractive, even with hotels crowded around its banks, "Balconies overhanging the River" being a commonly advertised come-on.

Mamma and her ducklings almost disappear into the colors and patterns of the water.

Gatlinburg itself, while not without some interest, is essentially an oasis of commercialism within the magnificent landscape. There are some true artisans among the T shirt and souvenier shops but few and far between. Fortunately, a former student of Fritz's from long ago and far away (Las Vegas) had relocated some years ago to Nashville. She and one of her sons joined us for the afternoon and a long leisurely dinner.

The presentation next morning went well, although it was the last offering of the 3 1/3 day conference and many teachers drifted away before the end to head for airports, buses, or to begin long drives home. After lunch, we drove out of town to the south, crossing the entire National Park, its approximately forty mile length with a 35 mile speed limit and frequent turn-outs to view the beauties everywhere.

We returned home a different route, visiting a nephew of Fritz's in Franklin, NC, a sister in Greensboro and another nephew, his wife and daughter in Takoma Park, just north of DC along the way.


Pope Benedict XVI's now-infamous $400 a pair red Prada shoes.
I have to wonder if vanities like these aren't contributing to the problem reported on below more than is admitted. As I recall, Jesus, whose representative on Earth the Pope is reputed to be, wore simple sandals and cared little for luxuries or even for possessions of any kind. Were he to come back now, I bet he'd be thrown out of the Vatican as a dirty, badly dressed bum.

Vatican sees third straight loss
Sunday, 11 July 2010 10:03 UK

The Vatican has seen its third consecutive financial loss, with a 4.1m euros (£3.4m; $5.2m) deficit in 2009. It saw revenues of 250.2m euros against expenses of 254.3m euros. But annual donations from churches worldwide - known as Peter's Pence - were up by about 9% in 2009 at $82.52m.

Most of the Vatican's outlay was to cover the activities of Pope Benedict XVI, and services such as Vatican Radio which is broadcast on five continents in 40 different languages. It said it also faced costly improvements to its telecommunication system while restoring cultural treasures and ensuring security added to the bill.

The Vatican began publishing annual financial reports in 1981 when Pope John Paul II set out to challenge perceptions that the Vatican was rich. In 2008, the Vatican lost 900,000 euros but in 2007 saw a 9.1m euro deficit.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


Happy 4th to everybody!

It's the 4th tomorrow; in the morning Fritz and I will be heading to downtown Raymond and parking near the old Victorian-era train station. Waiting for us will be a horse-drawn carriage, the annual entry of the Raymond Historical Society in the town's Independence Day Parade. We'll get in the carriage and ride the parade route as the Society's representatives for 2010.

It isn't something I ever thought I'd be doing, but if it weren't for me the Society, which does good work documenting and preserving the town's heritage, wouldn't be in the parade at all. We're members of the Society, and during a meeting a couple of months ago it was announced that the usual sponsor of the carriage and team was unable to continue his annual support. The Society itself didn't have the cash to foot the bill, so I volunteered to underwrite the rental because I couldn't think of anything less logical than to have the Historical Society not be in the parade.

It's forecast to be 94 and humid tomorrow. We'll have plenty of water with us. I'm wearing a red and white striped shirt with a white collar and, if I think I can stand it for an hour in the sun, I'll also have a tie that says VOTE on it amid red, white and blue stripes; I don't think anyone ever proposed that the 4th of July should be a subtle event. Fritz will be wearing a reproduction Thomas Jefferson-era white gauze shirt and he's providing us two pretty sensational straw hats. The parade steps off at 9:30am.


We're suffering empty nest syndrome here at the house -- literally. For the last week or so I've been doing all my outside work in front of the house with as little noise as possible and no sudden motions anywhere near the maturing chicks in the nest over the front door. Even at that, the parent birds kept a sharp eye on me from one of the petunia baskets hanging from the eaves (the father) or the whirligig near the front door (the mother); the chicks gave me the eye but never seemed alarmed.

Last Thursday, I decided to go into the house by the front door when suddenly, with a great flapping of wings and peeping cries, all five of the adolescent birds flew out of the nest simultaneously right over my head and headed for various trees near the house. There was no fluttering or faltering, the little ones had found their wings. The parent birds are gone as well; the nest now completely abandoned. We'll see if they do raise a second family during the same summer, in the same nest, as the bird books and websites say is a common practice for Eastern Phoebies.


Does this chandelier make me look TOO gay?
It's one of a pair Fritz's nephew came by way of, and seems to have immediately thought of us. I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing. He thought they were 19th century but there's no question in our minds that they're modern.
The best part of them, albeit a bit over-sized, are the crystal ball and spike.

There are also supposed to be crystals hanging from the dishes under the candles, but we're just as happy we haven't inherited those. Lots of hanging crystals aren't our style, as with the big chandelier in the great room whose crystals didn't survive and weren't replaced. But the lines of the brass work on that one are simple and elegant, whereas these have just a whiff of the New Orleans bordello about them. I'm considering losing the swagged chains. Cleaned up that way, they might be fun for the Christmas/New Year's entertaining season. Thoughts?

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