Friday, February 25, 2011

A new face has appeared on the property.  We're used to the big gray squirrels, the ones Fritz hates and calls tree rats, but the other day I looked out and this little guy was bounding around looking like he was having the time of his life.  He's less than half the bulk of one of the big grays and while no more athletic, he seems to have a great deal more energy.  Red squirrels somehow pass the Fritz White Glove Test, because he doesn't hate them the way he does the others.

Here he's below the seed feeder.  It's engineered so that if anything heavier than a woodpecker gets onto the ledge where the seed comes out, the seed is covered up and the intruder is dumped onto the ground.  Not the little redhead, however.  He's discovered how to balance in just the right place so that he can reach the seed without triggering the automatic eject.  He scoops the seed out of the feeder and saunters down to the ground (or surface of the snow in this very severe winter) and feeds at his leisure.


Late last fall, Fritz planted greens in the cold frame, watered them and we let Nature take its course.  That course very quickly turned to serial heavy snow storms.   The three garden terraces, the cold frame and even the compost bin disappeared completely.  We had to go up the hill a couple of times to shovel out the area in front of the solar panels that was piled so high with snow that the snow blanketing the panels had nowhere to slide down into.  But we generally hadn't the energy to dig all the way over to the cold frame, so it remained completely buried for over a month.

We went up earlier this week after several days in the 40s or 50s had reduced the snow cover somewhat and carefully shoveled a path over to the frame, scooped the snow off the glass and there it all was, having been growing without sunlight for well over a month.

So here it is: spinach and lettuce in the upper part of the bed, bok choi and kale at the bottom.  And it's so good.  


I've been to a number of productions this year where the old and, I feel, somewhat tired topic of updating theatrical and operatic productions has come up again.  There is a very determined, extremely vocal segment of the audience that views producing plays in any period other than the one in which it supposed to be set as some kind of artistic high treason.

Theater audiences have traditionally been more adventurous, more accepting of experimental or reinterpreted stagings.  I suspect that playgoers have simply written off the possibility of seeing Hamlet, for example, dressed in late medieval garments ever again and they're ready to get on with it.  But that kind of acceptance doesn't come easily to the more conservative crowd that frequents opera and, especially, ballet.  I'm a radical in that I not only like but I practice the new production styles and I'm heartened to find a bit less knee-jerk rejection with each passing season.  But there's still resistance and skilled, thoughtful designers and directors are still booed savagely with some degree of regularity. 

So, here's one small comment on the issue of "updating." For the vast majority of the long history of the performing arts, audiences saw characters on stage dressed in styles contemporary to the audience. The concept of historically researched costuming is only a little over 150 years old, and wasn't adopted universally for some while after it had began.

For a glimpse of what Shakespeare looked like on the English stage of the 18th century, go to Google images and type in Quin as Coriolanus. Here's the first image you'll see, top row, left.  Everyone's in standard English court costume of the period.  Nobody looks remotely like anybody from the Roman Republic, and nobody was disturbed in the least.

When people say that opera should be staged as the composer intended, in my experience they generally mean "the way it was done when I first saw it at age seventeen" which for any opera written before, say, 1950 is NOTHING like what the composer knew.  In fact, if we could and DID exactly replicate the productions that Verdi, Bizet, Wagner or Mozart knew, audiences would most likely find them grotesque and laughable.  On one or two occasions, even Wagner found productions of his work grotesque and laughable.

Art always pushes forward, it will not be stopped.  It always relates to or reacts against issues and realities in the culture if its own day, not the past.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

 Douglas Worthen

Our day in the Representatives' Hall at the State House to lend our testimony to the effort to fend off repeal of Marriage Equality here in New Hampshire was fascinating but tiring.  We ended it with a real treat -- a friend of ours who is a highly accomplished flautist was giving a recital at St. Anselm's College in Manchester at 6pm.  It lasted just an hour in a handsome chapel in Italian-Byzantine style, now turned into an art gallery.  

Doug chose three works for flute and piano that were French or French-influenced: a 1957 Sonata by Francis Poulenc; the 1926 Sonata per Flauto e pianoforte by the tragically short-lived Mario Pilati (died at age 35); and the 1943 Sonatine by Henri Dutilleux.  The wonderful accompanist was George Lopez whose work impressed us enormously.  

As it happens, I'm not a great fan of the piano as an instrument; I find its sound hard, clangorous and monochromatic, exacerbated by the fact that I feel most pianists play much too loudly, particularly in vocal and instrumental recitals where they frequently drown out those they should be supporting.  But Mr. Lopez was a sterling colleague who scaled his volume to the space, the works and the solo instrument at hand.  The result was elegant, delightful playing that perfectly complimented Doug's virtuosity and beautifully controlled lyricism.  The very lovely second movement of the Poulenc Sonata served as the encore, again played with beautiful tone and perfect line.  


Voters don't want gay marriage repealed

By Mo Bexley  

We should find out this week whether the New Hampshire Legislature will actually do what 96 percent of Republicans want them to do: govern with a laser-like focus on the economy.  A recent nonpartisan poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center unequivocally shows people expect the Legislature to dig us out of this stubbornly bad economy. Job creation and fiscal responsibility are what they care about. Not social issues.

And in a poll released days later by New Hampshire Freedom to Marry, in a number that politicians would love to claim in any election year, 63 percent have no appetite to eliminate the freedom to marry in the Granite State.  Nonetheless, on Thursday there will be a legislative hearing on whether to scrap the popular 2009 law that has allowed more than 1,300 loving and committed New Hampshire gay people to marry.

Fritz Bell, 78, and Will Fregosi, 65, of Raymond, have been together 14 years. They got married in Massachusetts seven years ago to make that commitment to one other. And they wanted to ensure that in their senior years, they can take full responsibility and care for one another as other married couples do.  "I actually carry our marriage certificate in my wallet," Bell says, "because if something should happen to me I want there to be no doubt that Will belongs by my side."

One of the bills to be debated Thursday, sponsored by Rep. David Bates, would take away that marriage certificate. The state of New Hampshire would no longer recognize the Bell and Fregosi marriage.

In the Freedom to Marry poll, Granite Staters overwhelmingly believe repealing marriage equality is a bad idea, including 66 percent of independents and even one in three Republicans.  Majorities of voters in more conservative-leaning regions - Manchester, Salem, Nashua and surrounding towns - oppose overturning the law. And despite the goal of some to insert these marriages into the Republican presidential primary, only 1 percent of Republicans see it as an important issue for the 2012 nominee.

Gay and lesbian couples are our neighbors, nurses, firefighters and small-business owners who get up every day and go to work. They take care of their families. Eliminating their freedom to marry doesn't square with New Hampshire values. We don't want the government interfering in our lives. Equality and freedom are what we value. And that means freedom and equality for all of us - not just some of us.


Moment of delicious irony: this guy has taken the put-down of homosexuality from Leviticus 18:22 and tattooed it on his bicep, BUT just a little later in Leviticus 19:28 it is forbidden to get tattooed! So he believes in the one and not in the other, the cafeteria approach to the Bible that allows a lot of people to condemn what they wish according to their own prejudices, while flipping god the bird when they don't want his laws to get in the way of their own lifestyles. I sincerely doubt this guy would throw out all his mixed fiber clothing (polyester makes the cotton SO much easier to live with), toss out his pig skin belts and shoes, or adopt strict dietary laws 'cause, damn!,  surf 'n turf is just SO good, as is ham and cheese or shrimp scampi -- all of which are Levitical no-nos.

It needs to be remembered (as one anti-gay speaker in the Representatives Hall the other day did not) that Jesus never said ONE WORD against homosexuality.  His feelings on all kinds of topics, social, political, sexual and spiritual are recorded in the gospels but NOTHING about homosexuality.  He surely knew homosexuals.  The Romans lived and their soldiers were stationed throughout the area.  Four miles out of Nazareth was a Roman military town of some size.  A carpenter like Joseph whose son was being trained in his father's trade would surely have gone to the Roman town for work which would have been plentiful there.   

The Roman army was full of homosexual couples and singles.  And the one documented encounter between Jesus and a homosexual was the Roman officer who came looking for a cure for his young lover, as Biblical scholars have now admitted is the proper translation of what used to be called the Roman officer's servant.  If Jesus had condemned homosexuality, he could easily have refused the officer's request, or delivered a condemnation.  What he did was cure the young man and praise the Roman for his faith.  

Some people need to be reminded of these things at regular intervals.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


This is the advertising piece for an opera for which Fritz and I have written the libretto from our own original story.  I've designed sets and lights for Intermezzo productions for the past seven years.  The chance to write the story and text for an opera came up largely by chance almost a year ago and went very well once we were confirmed in the assignment and under way.

Barbara Kilduff is an internationally know soprano (Metropolitan Opera, New York; La Scala, Milan; Vienna, Hamburg and Bavarian State Operas, etc.).  We are thrilled to have her headlining the production as Isabella Stewart Gardner. 

The production process has begun.  Before the end of the month I'll be showing design sketches to the director and laying out lighting, furniture, and properties plans.  In March, I start building and painting the set.  We're on our way!


We've spent a lot of time in the state capital, Concord, this week.  We're working with the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition to help defeat three separate bills the new Republican Representatives and Senators have filed to repeal same-sex marriage equality.

When Massachusetts legalized gay marriage,  New Hampshire rushed to pass a bill preventing the state from recognizing another state's same-sex unions.  But the situation changed very quickly -- civil unions were passed by the legislature in the spring of 2007, followed by full marriage in January of 2010.  Despite being told by Republicans and the Tea Bag (who aren't always the same thing) that the first priority would be the economy and jobs, it seems that repealing gay marriage has to occupy everybody's attention for a while.  And it seems that it has to do so even though 63% of the state's voters who were polled feel strongly that marriage equality should be preserved, and a whopping 90% of the state's Republican voters feel that the priority is the economy, only 1% having any concern about social issues at all.  According to the new Republican legislators, government should listen to the people -- except, apparently, when what the people want isn't exactly what the Republicans want.

So we spent a couple of hours in NHFTM's offices Monday night getting prepped for a press conference this morning and testimony before the Judiciary Committee tomorrow.

The press conference went very well.  We were joined by a couple of very high profile figures in the business/financial community here, as well as the proprietor of our favorite book store, Water Street Books in Exeter.  The lead speaker was a young former Marine who came with his wife in support of his gay brother's right to marry.  We spoke after him and were followed by a number of women speaking as adoptive mothers, business owners and as partners in long-term relationships who had then married.

Tomorrow (Thursday) will probably be a long day spent waiting to be called to give our testimony which is to focus on gays and lesbians not losing hospital visitation and next-of-kin rights at the end of life or during any other health crisis.  Exactly when the vote will be taken on the three proposed bills is up in the air.  It could be Friday or it could be put off to the next election.  We'll have to see how it all works out.


Fritz forces paperwhite narcissus for the Christmas Holidays and Amaryllis in the spring.  He's bringing two along this year.  This is the first to blossom and the good news is that it seems to have calved a new amaryllis bulb.  The other one should blossom a vibrant crimson color.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A very happy Valentine's Day to everyone . . . . 
. . . . and I do mean Everyone!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

One of the great political fixtures here in New England, and in particular here in New Hampshire, is Town Meeting.  Sandown's Old Meeting House is typical, although Town Meeting might be held in one of the local churches, at town hall if it had a chamber big enough, or at a local school.  A lot of the feistiness and independence of the classic New Englander can be traced back to the Town Meeting tradition, the forum to which everyone who wishes entry is welcomed to help hash out issues and initiatives of importance to the local community.

Along with open meeting our town, and I presume many others, has a newspaper that reserves a great deal of space for letters from the public on any subject and any viewpoint.  I was particularly impressed with this one:
"There have been several letters to the editor recently regarding the separation of church and state.  Many Christians feel separation of church and state is not part of the constitution, because it is not worded as such in the first amendment.  Thou shalt not murder is not in the constitution either, but is very much part of our law.

"During the Supreme Court case “Everson” in 1947, Justice Hugo Black defined what the establishment clause means in a very definitive manner.  Virtually every court case involving separation since 1947 has relied heavily on his words.

"The clause also allows atheism to be part of our culture.  Trinity College has done a survey of religious affiliation in 1990, 2001, and 2008.  In 2008. The percentage of Christians was 76%, down from 86% in 1990.  The only group that grew in every state was “no” religion.  Atheists average 15% in the U.S., with Vermont at the highest rate of 34%.  New Hampshire is 29% non-religious.  Atheists tend to be intelligent, educated, don’t go to church, don’t try to convert everyone, and have respect for other religions until they try to control our lives.  More atheists should come out of the closet."


Allen Ginsburg, not the beat poet but a contemporary blogger, made this observation that I feel beautifully captures the reality of present day America, not the pure white, purely Christian fantasy that the Republican Party is trying to con the nation into believing is what the country is -- or should revert to being in their very limited vision of what the United States used to be:

“This is America, where a white Catholic male Republican judge was murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress, who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon, all eulogized by our African American President.”


I learn much by reading other blogs.  Joe Jervis at Joe.My.God reported the other day that Sarah Palin is applying to trademark her name and her daughter Bristol's name.  He wondered aloud (ie. in print) if her name will now appear in print media as Sarah Palin™.  We might read that Sarah Palin™ is speaking at a Tea Party Convention, or that Sarah Palin™ told Glenn Beck that all children over the age of six should be required to carry an automatic weapon to school in their lunch boxes.  
The concept of a person becoming a brand name raises some interesting questions, many of them involved with marketing.  Given the fact that getting elected these days has ceased to be about the candidate's intelligence or competence and is much more involved with issues like the number of guns owned (as in the recent screening of candidates for the position of chairman of the National Republican Committee) or complete ignorance of American History (as in Michele Bachmann's recent, appalling public performance) marketing candidates like junk food has a certain grim appropriateness. 


Sad news from Los Angeles about the famous Watts Towers of Simon Rodia.  The amazing openwork constructions of concrete with inset mosaic surfaces are deteriorating from neglect.  While not immediately endangered, they've suffered enough damage to be vulnerable in a seismically active area like southern California.   The neighborhood in which they stand is still shunned by many potential visitors because of the the violent Watts Riots of 1965.  

European tourists to LA frequently list the Towers very high on, or at the top of, their list of must-sees, but Americans largely stay away.  The Towers have become culturally isolated from their own country, as well as from potential contributions to support their maintenance.  

The approximately hundred foot high towers have been compared in style to the spires of the still-unfinished cathedral La Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona.  In continuous construction from 1921 to 1954, and designated a national landmark in 1990, they consist of 17 discreet structures, all interconnected, made of metal pipe, wrapped in baling wire and then coated with cement into which was pressed found objects including bottle caps and tons of smashed glass and ceramic of every kind.  The artist-architect was Italian-American Sabato (aka Simon or Sam) Rodia, 1875-1965 -- although different sources give different dates of birth.  

The triangular lot on which the complex stands is a California State Park but responsibility and funding for the towers' upkeep is now a matter of contention among different organizations, leaving the remarkable structures in a state of uncertainty.      

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

We've been clobbered by two or three snow storms a week for a while, the roughest one being two that combined into one yesterday and today.  This unbelievable scene -- you can't call it a roll-over but I don't know what you can call it -- happened about fifteen miles south-west of us on Route 93, the main road north from Boston through New Hampshire.

I've been doing a lot of indoor work during all of this, spending yesterday and today tiling the high sills below clerestory windows that run around the sides and back of the house.  The sills mark the top of the poured concrete shell on which the framed portions of the house sit.  Since the house is set into the hillside, ground level occurs about five feet up the walls in the back and on the sides, thus the high windows.  The sills have bothered me from the beginning--I like their line in the room but they gather dust and dirt.  We've been putting small art objects on the sills, which is fine, but they were never set off well. 

Since the guys who tiled the shower over-bought with abandon, I've had boxes and boxes of tile lying around the mechanical room for years.  I had already tiled the low sills in the front of the house, so tiling the rear sills seemed the next natural step.  I've got tile in the kitchen, dressing room and our bedroom set in with the adhesive.  After the adhesive's had a chance to dry thoroughly, I can apply grout and the job will be done.


We're careful to refill the two bird feeding stations -- the seed feeder and the block of suet with either berries or grain set in it -- frequently as there's no hope they'll find anything under three to six feet of snow.

We have unintentionally created a monster, or at least an obese woodpecker.  In the picture above, the white sticking out on both sides of the body is the huge breast and belly of a once sleek bird.  He comes to the suet often during the day and sits there for up to five minutes just pigging out.  He can still fly somehow -- we both thought he would be too heavy by now -- but it's getting harder and harder for him to walk up and down the tree trunk in any sort of normal woodpecker posture. 

And here's Starr doing three of her favorite things at once: lying on top of my laptop's keyboard, clutching something wool (or alpaca in the case of the sweater I'm wearing), and getting her tummy massaged.

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