Thursday, March 31, 2011

Friday Morning Update:

In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, "I'm having a deja view (sic) all over again.

On April 1, 1997 we had a particularly vicious ice storm in Boston.  Power in the Roslindale neighborhood where I lived was out for four days.  In the western suburb of Wellesley where lightning took out the electric substation, there was no power for a week.  Roads were blocked by trees that fell over or were torn apart by the weight of the ice, and live power lines were down everywhere.

Well, below are three pictures of what the property looks like this morning.  It's a heavy, wet snow but fortunately, nothing like as bad as April Fools day 1997.  But even that storm's clouds had a silver lining: less than two months later, I met Fritz and my life got kicked into the stratosphere forever.       


We return you to the regularly scheduled Thursday March 31 entry:

We went down to the Center this morning to begin the fire in the maple sap boiler.  I had other chores to do, mainly cutting a lot of fire wood from among the wreckage of trees left in the wake of a serious windstorm a couple of years ago.  Just as we were entering the parking area, Fritz pointed excitedly to a long line of wild turkeys coming over the New England stone fence from the next property in a long, fluid line.  We missed the beginning of the line but after we sighted them, Fritz counted 25 of the big birds.

Wild Turkeys move in a smooth, calm manner that's quite graceful.  Even when surprised and they feel the need to move away quickly, they do so with considerable dignity.  Here, they're arriving at the edge of the field next to the parking lot, their next stop being the woods.  The two big maple trees, left and center, had just had their taps for gathering maple sap removed the day before.

Speaking of maple sap, we still have the final boil-down on the home stove and straining into preserve jars to do.  The last batch looks like it will give a bit over two gallons of syrup, meaning our total will be around seven and a quarter gallons for the season.  It means also that we carried about 280 gallons of sap from the trees to the evaporator.


Dr. Seuss was right! but where's the ham"

No, that's not an Easter egg in there.  It's a green egg. We were given three that had come from a home egg farm.  They were completely indistinguishable from "regular"white or brown eggs in flavor, size of yolk, etc.


I like stories like the one below partly, I think, because I have always been impressed by, and felt protective toward, objects and structures that have survived through the ages.  As a child I was fascinated by antiques and anything that was out of the ordinary.  In many ways, I still am.  In the arts I am a great proponent of the new, but the old is an important part of my life.

Given the many perils buildings face from fire and natural causes, a four hundred year-old building in the US is close to miraculous.  In the early 1980s, I saw many of Boston's 18th and early 19th century buildings destroyed in the transformation of the waterfront and financial area into a collection of modern and often undistinguished modern buildings.

In any rate, dedicated people with a clear vision, and the stamina to wait out years of obstacles and delay, took a stand and have made a difference.  Jersey City has a somewhat dog eared, depressed town that will, I think, benefit from this little bit of care to its early history.

Jersey City Independent
Plan to Complete Restoration of Jersey City’s Historic Apple Tree House Gets Approval
By Matt Hunger • Mar 11th, 2011

Seven years after it began, the restoration of Jersey City’s historic Apple Tree House entered its final phase Wednesday night with the passage of two resolutions by the City Council. Despite what has by all accounts been a long and frustrating process, and despite the city’s fiscal problems, the council — urged on by community members supporting the cause — found the landmark a worthwhile cause even in tight economic times.

The Academy Street home, which is on the Register of Historic Places at both the state and national levels, dates back to the 17th century, making it one of Jersey City’s oldest structures. The house is perhaps best-known for playing host to a supposed meeting between General George Washington and General Lafayette to discuss strategy over a meal during the Revolutionary War.

“These and other accounts about the Van Wagenen property have found their way into many histories about the Revolutionary War and New Jersey,” the Jersey City Past and Present project at New Jersey City University notes. “Without question, the legend has provided the added benefit of sustained interest in the property and its preservation for further study.”

Last owned by Provident Bank, the city purchased the house in 1999 to prevent a historic landmark from turning into a drive-through bank.

Even when faced with such a rich history right in their backyards, the council members on Wednesday expressed the difficulty of continuing what has become a lengthy and costly restoration project in the face of the city’s economic crisis.

According to Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) director Roberta Farber, approximately $600,000 of UEZ funding will be needed for the final phase of the restoration, which will include the construction of 16 parking spots, a security system and the completion of its landscaping. The restoration, which has come almost exclusively from UEZ funding, also utilized an $800,000 grant from the Hudson County Open Space Recreation Plan.

Current plans call for the first floor of the House to be used as a visitors center and a historic museum, with the offices on the second floor, according to city spokesperson Jennifer Morrill, will likely be used for the Division of Cultural Affairs.

While the final vote was unanimously in favor, there were some cold feet at the caucus meeting. Farber, who came to Monday’s caucus meeting expecting only to give a presentation on the final stages, instead found herself justifying the project’s existence seven years into its long restoration process.

Ward E councilman Steven Fulop maintained that in tough financial times the money could be used differently. While supporting the eventual completion of the plan, he said the city should focus on more pressing concerns.  “We just sold a museum that was hemorrhaging money,” he said, referring to the Jersey City Museum. “I’m sorry, but no one is coming to the city to see the Apple Tree House.”

But Cultural Affairs director Maryanne Kelleher gave an impassioned defense of the project, noting the House’s importance as a city landmark that not only celebrates the city’s history but can act as a potential revenue-generator.  Though acknowledging it wouldn’t raise “millions,” she said that Cultural Affairs would use the space for a variety of events that would take it beyond mere historical landmark.

“The Apple Tree House cannot stagnate as a house museum,” she said. “We plan to hold events there that will be cosponsored by nonprofits.” She said that would include monthly events such as history talks.

“This house is the oldest building in Jersey City and it was saved by the hard work, love, and dedication of conservationists throughout Jersey City,” Kelleher said. “In 2004 the administration and the council at the time made a commitment to Jersey City to get [the restoration] done. You’ve been gracious enough to see it through.”

Monday, March 28, 2011


The new GT Tower East in Seoul, Korea.  The vogue in architecture for lengthy, unsupported projections (as in Boston's Institute for Contemporary Art on the waterfront, below), have been melting, literally, into buildings with highly irregular "skins" that seem to defy interior structural support.  Transparency remains the watchword of the day in the totally glass skin.  This East tower will eventually have a twin.

I have to admit when I saw the GT Tower photo (and a full series of interior shots of the building on Mike Mennonno's blog, Mennono Sapiens) that I had a flash of New York's twin World Trade Center towers melted into bent, wavy forms from the heat of the fires that destroyed them.  I was born in New York and used to see the Trade Center towers from my parents' apartment on 14th Street.  I watched every minute of their destruction on TV they day they fell and those images are will be with me until the day of my death.

The news has probably spread pretty universally that Elizabeth Taylor's will leaves massive amounts if not all of her estate (estimated at over $1 Billion) to AIDS charities.  During her life, Liz didn't just give of material goods but put herself and perhaps her reputation on the line standing by gay men in an age when most had to be closeted to survive in public careers, and later when so many others were afflicted by AIDS.

It may have seemed to some, with her marriages and sometimes scandals (the Vatican was particularly vicious over her original liaison with Richard Burton during the filming of Cleopatra in Italy), the jewelry and generally hedonsitic life style, that she was shallow and self-absorbed.  But she was a close friend and supporter of gay colleagues such as Montgomery Clift; and when she went to the airport and escorted the gurney on which a gaunt, AIDS-wasted Rock Hudson came back home to die, any thought of shallowness on her part vanished.

In the last couple of days since her burial this lovely letter to the committee that oversees the Kennedy Center Honors has been released to the public.  It advocates an award for Barry Manilow and, characteristically for her, focuses on the theme of charitable giving by the super-wealthy.

 "Dear Gentlepersons,

“I have the good fortune to count among my friends an extraordinary man, a man whose talents have touched so many hearts and whose heart has touched so many lives. That man is Barry Manilow.
“One of the greatest names in popular music, this prolific singer-songwriter-performer has created the soundtrack for our lives. Ever since he first took the stage in the 1970, he has proved himself to be an unstoppable showman, a true musical genius who cranks out hits at a dizzying pace. His songs are as well-known as Beatles tunes, and it’s impossible not to sing along. I'm truly a fan.

“And then there’s his work as a humanitarian: Barry is tireless in pursuit of his charitable endeavors, which include raising funds and awareness for The Prince's Trust, United Way, The Starlight Foundation, The Foundation Fighting Blindness, and for many HIV-AIDS organizations, for which he holds a special place in my heart. I will always remember back to the early days of my fundraising work,when the stigma of AIDS was so great. I was seeking talent to perform at our first benefit event, and was receiving nothing but rejections--until Barry alone had the courage to come forward and say "yes."

“Barry has established The Manilow Fund For Health And Hope, which supports education, health and care efforts locally, and the Manilow Music Project, which supports musical equipment to local schools whose art programs have been eliminated. It is Barry's fervent belief that music changes lives: I know he's changed mine with his enormous talent.

“I can think of no one more deserving of a Kennedy Center Honor than Barry Manilow, and hope you will accept this letter of nomination and support. Thank-You in advance for your kind consideration.


“(in her own hand in ink matching the color of her raised letterhead simply) Elizabeth Taylor."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One of the earliest signs of Spring is the Witch Hazel's spidery blossoms.  We found this bush in flower when coming down from the garden after gathering spinach out of the cold frame.  We did a huge planting in the fall and are looking forward to seeing a big change in the look of the property this spring.  There will be another major planting some time in May most probably, after which approximately 90 percent of the landscaping plan will be complete.

Snowdrops are up!  These are just outside the front door.  Our first crocus are up.  Down the hill by Fritz's Center, there are the green shoots of daffodils and iris.  And, the sap is flowing.  This morning I brought 19-1/2 gallons of it in from the trees, and for the third time this spring, Fritz got a fire going under the evaporator to boil down the sap. 

Last night he finished off the results of the second boiling on top of the Aga and then ran the syrup through the fine screen of a couple of old coffee filters.  Mason jars and sealing rings that he'd cleaned previously, and sterilized sealing lids were ready to go. 

We filled the jars, then I wiped the rim clean of any syrup and dropped a lid in place, following it up by screwing down the metal ring closure.  As the jars cooled, we listened for the distinctive pop as the flat lids were pulled down into a concave form indicating that the seal was tight and the contents safely preserved.

So, here are eight more quarts of syrup.  Our total this spring so far is three gallons, but we have enough sap for the third batch that began this morning to make two more .  If the weather cooperates (nights below freezing, days up into the 40s and 50s) so that the sap keeps flowing, we could make six or even more gallons total for the year.


I had expected this moment to be coming but didn't think it would arrive so soon.  The following item is taken from the invaluable Joe.My.God, the blog of Joe Jervis in New York City.  I have seen a slow movement, accelerating in the last couple of decades, of American Catholics away from the "shut up and obey" philosophy of the Church.  As one subjected to 12 years of a very strict Catholic education, I "know where the bodies are buried" according to the old saying, and consider this decline a healthy thing.  I believe there is eventually going to be a split either within the Catholic Church in America, or possibly even between the American Catholic Church and Rome.  In any event, the results of this poll show a significant shift by American Catholics away from blind allegiance to healthy, independent thought:  

POLL: Majority Of Lay Catholics Support LGBT Rights And Same-Sex Marriage

In what may come as a shocker to the Vatican and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a just-released poll shows that a slim majority of America's lay Catholics now support same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.
Overall, the survey found 53 percent of Catholics supported the idea of same-sex marriage, while the general public is evenly divided on the issue. Fifty-six percent of Catholics did not believe sexual relations between two adults of the same gender constituted a sin, compared to 46 percent of the general population. Sixty percent of Catholics favored adoption rights for same-sex couples, 49 percent think gays should be allowed to be ordained as clergy, and 73 percent believe they should have legal protections in the workplace – all higher percentages than found in the general population. There was a powerful generation gap found in the survey, with Catholics under 35 much more liberal than those 65 and older. The influx of Hispanic Catholics into the U.S. church in recent years did not skew the results, as the young newcomers were divided between liberal and conservative views of homosexuality.  American Catholics also tended to be more liberal than evangelical and mainline Protestants, the researchers said.
The conclusions fit with a strong pattern of liberalism among Catholics that stands in opposition to the church hierarchy, said Michele Dillon, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire asked by researchers to comment. There has been a gulf on social issues between church teachings and the American laity since the mid-1970s on subjects such as abortion, divorce without an annulment, premarital sex and artificial contraception. “Catholics make up their own minds about these moral issues irrespective – or almost in spite of – what the bishops and official church teachings say,” Dillon said.
Catholics tend not to like or even may resent having politics in church, Dillon said. The survey found about one-quarter of church-going Catholics reported hearing about homosexuality in church – a much lower proportion than in Protestant churches. Two-thirds of the messages about homosexuality in church were negative.
Dillon said the poll is unlikely to sway the church hierarchy.
 But we could have all predicted that one, couldn't we?


Smørrebrød (approximately, SHMORbrul with the second r way back in the throat) literally means butterbread in Danish but is actually the name for the famous open-faced sandwiches that feature prominently in Danish dining and entertaining.  Fritz was going through a carton of books a couple of weeks ago and came across a multi-fold Plumrose advertising piece that lists and illustrates the different varieties of smørrebrød. 

When we're visiting out Danish friends in Helsing, an hour north of Copenhagen, Fritz likes to get creative and make all sorts of combinations, while Else looks on with a critical eye and says, "Fritz, according to me, these are not approved smørrebrød!"  Then they break up and hug because she knows he's done it just to kid her.  The numbered illustrations below key to the descriptions above. 

I like this fold-up piece for its 1950s style technicolor photography and layout.   I think the inside of the brochure, which is a good deal wider than the photo above shows, might be fun framed on a kitchen wall.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring isn't usually considered harvest time but there are some things here that we do make or dig up as winter ends.  Above, the take a couple of days ago of turnips (the little ones) and parsnips from the garden.  Fritz left them in the ground to winter over as several of the root vegetables taste better, radically sweeter in the case of the parsnips, if left to freeze in the ground.  We had them roasted in the oven, brushed lightly with some olive oil.  Just perfect.

This is the result of the first boil off of the sugaring season.  The sap is flowing pretty well this year.  Fritz placed the taps in eight trees.  One turned out to be dry, but the other seven have been flowing well, four of them quite well indeed.  We've been emptying the gathering buckets twice a day and as weather conditions are close to ideal -- days in the forties and fifties, nights with frost -- we've gotten about 85 gallons of sap so far.  The three and a half quarts, above, were made from 35 gallons of sap, confirming the classic formula of 40 gallons of sap for one gallon of syrup.  We're boiling down a second batch today.


Two views of the Boston Conservatory of Music's new theater in which A Place of Beauty, the opera for which we wrote the libretto based on the life of Isabella Stewart Gardner, will premiere on May 14.

The Conservatory took the building that held the theater and gutted everything but the stage.  A stage and the scenery fly loft above it is always a special construction with extra steel columns to support the grid from which hangs all the stage masking, flying scenery and stage lighting; so that wasn't touched as the expenses would have soared.

However, everything else is new.  The Auditorium (above) features excellent sight lines for its 309 seats, ditto for the acoustics.  There are brand new rehearsal rooms, backstage areas, etc.  The set on stage is not for our opera, but for Kurt Weill's One Touch of Venus that was in technical rehearsals on the day I visited.

There's still no actual loading dock or freight elevator for loading in scenery, costumes, etc.  The Conservatory exists on a very crowded block with a narrow alley for access to the rear of the building.  Everything comes in the front door and goes up to theater level in either the standard passenger elevator or is carried up the stair wells by hand.  Fortunately, the design I've worked out with the director consists of small mobile units that can be assembled on stage once their component parts have been loaded in.

We will have very limited technical set-up and rehearsal time in the theater before dress rehearsal and the performances.  I'll be working with the light hang for the dance production that immediately precedes us in the space, refocusing lighting instruments and changing color filters as necessary for our needs.  Fortunately we have only one special lighting effect.  There will probably be a fair number of light cues, however, as there are a number of scenes in the opera with transitional action between them.

I will start construction this coming week.  Next Friday we meet at the costume designer's studio and we get to meet soprano Barbara Kilduff, who portrays Isabella Stewart Gardner, to work out the various costume changes, some of which actually occur on stage during the action.


I'm twelve days away from the beginning of a two day symposium on French Opera that I'm giving at Greenfield Community College in north-central Massachusetts.  French opera has always been a favorite of mine, as I grew up with the language at home.  I had always known that opera was used by the French royal court to demonstrate the power of the nation via politically charged spectacle.  But in researching the origins of the French school of opera, I discovered that Kings Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis XIV and many of the major noblemen of their eras were accomplished dancers who appeared on stage, generally as gods from ancient mythology or other characters important to the theme of the opera and/or flattering to them personally.

Louis XIV styled himself as The Sun King around whom all revolved, the source of power and all benefit to the nation, the guardian of all intellectual activity.  His character on stage, therefore was Apollo, the god of the sun, and also of truth and prophecy, medicine and healing, music, poetry, and the arts.  The sepia drawing above is of the young Louis in his famous Apollo costume.  As he aged and gave up dancing on stage, he attended performances in the center seat of the front row, the high ostrich plumes of his stage headdress replaced by his famous wide-brimmed black hat piled high with red plumes that he wore throughout the performance, probably making anyone seated behind him extremely unhappy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Some interesting designs in this line of trompe l'oeil cycling helmets:

There were many others, one of which was a watermelon with a slice taken out of it.  The whole set of ten or so helmets seems to me a meditation on how fragile the head is, how vulnerable, and how easily the skull can be shattered.

Embarrassments of All Kinds

There's been a fair amount of coverage of the "shockingly phallic" graphic on the swimwear of the Singapore swim team.  The crescent moon and stars motif comes from the nation's flag and someone apparently thought it would be a good idea to have it printed on the team members' speedos.  It would seem to me that somewhere along the line, some official or other might have suggested that maybe this wasn't the best possible placement of the Singapore's symbol.  One comment was that everything would have been OK if the design had been rotated 90º so that the upwardly curving crescent moon was placed "more toward the side" of the trunks. 

As a designer, I think that the design would be meaningless if "more toward the side" as there is so much less material there that the crescent moon would have had no impact visually. What's really interesting is that the Singaporians, who are extremely conservative about some things, would have considered putting the flag on such a brief garment intended to be worn by largely naked men in the first place -- I remember the bloodletting here in the US when hippies started sewing the American Flag on various parts of their clothing, in the same areas the Singapore flag occupies on the speedos.


The recall movement in Wisconsin is already under way, and not just against Governor Walker who isn't actually eligible for recall until he completes one year in office next fall.  Republican state senator Randy (appropriate name, it seems) Hooper (R-Fond du Lac) who was one of the governor's supporters in union-busting, has been revealed to be living out of his district in Madison with his young girl friend who is a lobbyist.  As he was elected back in 2008, Hooper is ripe for recall right now.

Protesters who arrived at Hooper's home were greeted by the senator's dumped wife who informed them of the fact of her husband's adultery and relocation, using the very proper term "mistress" to describe the young woman in question.  She says she's looking forward to signing the recall petition herself and to drumming up support for it.  I'll just bet she is!


Michele Bachmann came here to New Hampshire and said how happy she was to be in the state where the "shot heard 'round the world" had been fired.  It just happens, of course, that the famous shot  happened in Massachusetts, and that Bachmann had once again revealed her shocking ignorance of American history, particularly as a flag-waving, supposedly superpatriotic Republican.

But it gets better: she made this gaffe twice in New Hampshire over two separate days and apparently nobody on her staff, nor any of her handlers, knew any better to correct her on day two.      

These people are being elected, backed by a party and by a dangerous segment of the population, that wants to suppress knowledge of proven science, wants to turn the country into a theocracy, and that is very happy to have an ignorant electorate so they can get away with anything they please.

Here's another one from New Hampshire (it's been interesting here lately), slightly edited from Foster's Daily Democrat which isn't a major newspaper, but is a much-needed antidote to the ultra-conservative Manchester Union Leader: 

Barrington state Rep. Harty resigns in wake of 'Siberia' remark
By Scott E. Kinney
Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A local state representative has surrendered his seat following continuing pressure to resign after making inflammatory comments to an agent of a local nonprofit.  

A public backlash followed the comments of 91-year-old freshman state representative Martin Harty, of Barrington, who said last week funding for the mentally ill should be cut because he doesn't support state funding for "the crazy people" who should be sent to "Siberia."

Harty said in his resignation letter Monday that he was sorry his "big mouth caused this furor." He said with all the "slightly unfavorable publicity" he couldn't be effective.

"Representative Harty came to my office today to offer his resignation in person," said House Speaker William O'Brien in a statement released Monday. "We both agreed that this is what is best for the House to move forward and focus on critical issues, like balancing our budget without raising taxes and giving the voters an opportunity to pass a school funding amendment to ensure local control. We will move quickly to request a special election to fill this vacancy."

NH GOP Chairman Jack Kimball released the following statement regarding Harty's resignation:
"I am pleased Mr. Harty acknowledged his comments were not appropriate for a legislator and I am satisfied with his decision to resign. He failed to represent the sentiments of his constituents and the core values and principles of the Republican Party."

Last week Harty told Sharon Omand, a program manager at Community Partners, which provides behavioral health and developmental services for Strafford County, that he believed in eugenics and disagreed with her about the need for funds for mental health services.

"The world population has gotten too big and the world is being inherited by too many defective people," he told her.

Omand said she asked him to clarify if he meant mentally ill and developmentally disabled and he responded, "I mean all the defective people, the drug addicts, mentally ill, the retarded — all of them."

"I asked what we should do with them," Omand said, and Harty said, "I believe if we had a Siberia we should send them to this and they would all freeze and die and we will be rid of them."

One is encouraged by his words to assume he also advocates "setting out" babies who have the slightest problem or defect, on bare ground to perish of exposure.  I live in NH now and am happy to report that his kind is in the minority here, but I'm very much aware that it's different elsewhere.


And lastly, because it's just too delicious:

It is speculated that the Prince, soon to celebrate his 90th birthday in June, had just farted. The facial expressions are delightful but Prince Harry's unrestrained break up is just great,

Saturday, March 12, 2011


12 on 12

I've never done one of these, and was reminded of that this week when two friends posted theirs.  I'll probably do one once we're into the theater with the opera and in tech and dress rehearsal -- you'll get a very different view of my life then than from the photo set below.

When I get up in the morning, I visit the bathroom, then feed the cat and put the kettle on for tea.  From the kitchen, this is my view out the front of the house; today there was a nice sunrise and a very bright day.
After breakfast, I went down to the great row of sugar maples that Fritz tapped last week and gathered sap.  Over five gallons had collected from the five trees yesterday afternoon and last night, which is pretty good.
I brought the buckets down to the boiler and poured them into the 33 gallon trash barrel that we use to gather it until enough has been gathered to start boiling down, then I fed the fire, something I did several times during the day.

Then I went upstairs in the Center.  One of Fritz's nephews is now in residence down at the old house.  He and i are working on relocating a little workshop from the downstairs, where there just isn't room any more, to one end of a storage room.  I had applied pegboard to the open studs to make tool hanging racks and had mounted two shelves on Friday.  Today I finished that and painted the dark brown pegboard white to bounce more light around the area. 

Downstairs I split wood for kindling and then . . .

went down to the barn to load up more wood to stack for boiling the sap.   There's a huge pile of wood in the barn, left over scrap from the construction of the new house.

We don't have any Chinatowns in New Hampshire nor any Chinese specialty markets.  On some of my trips down to Boston I make time to shop in Chinatown down there, but meanwhile I shop for canned Chinese vegetables rice vinegar and the like in the ethnic foods aisle of our local Hannaford.

One of the joys of being the human companion of an older cat is when the hairballs get tossed.  Starr is brushed regularly but still they come, announced by loud, deep yowl that sounds for all the world like OyYea!  When we hear that we try to move her off a rug and onto bare floor.  Then I get to clean it up.  

When the sun still has not set but is behind the trees to the west, I go into the mechanical room to record the total electric production for the day.  Today wasn't brilliant but quite respectable at 6.87 kilowatts.  Our best this year so far was 12.20 Kw on March 3.

Before dinner, I did quite a bit of writing for the upcoming French Opera symposium I'm giving at Greenfield Community College later this month.  I knocked off the bibliography and the section on Francis Poulenc today.  It's going nicely but I've been writing long and I have to spend some time now editing.
Fritz cooked tonight: baked chicken with a green tomato relish on top, summer squash in butter and two blended curries, roasted turnip chunks and wonderfully sharp garlic pickles made by Mark Huffaker out in Salem, Oregon.  Dessert was Fritz's spice cake with mango peach frozen yogurt.

I ended the evening baking Swedish farmhouse rye bread for breakfast tomorrow and several days this week.  It was all very domestic today.  

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A New Kind of Pride

I think that gay pride celebrations should include public readings of names of all the artists, writers, architects, philosophers, musicians, entertainers of all kinds, kings, queens, presidents, jurists, scientists, legislators, Biblical figures (David and Jonathan: "Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women," for example), explorers, mathematicians, inventors, athletes -- leaders of every kind, in every field -- who were documentably gay and lesbian.  A lot of people would be astounded and have to face some "inconvenient truths" they try desperately to deny.


Blogger/Facebook friend Mark Huffaker put this out on his page.  It relates to what's going on in Wisconsin.  Try to guess the speaker, then scroll down to the bottom of the post for the answer.

"We must close union offices, confiscate their money and put their leaders in prison. We must reduce workers salaries and take away their right to strike."


This little guy is amazing at four years old.  More to the point, he’s filled with the joy of performing, a joy I hope he carries with him all throughout his life.  It’s good but repetitious until around 1:40.  Shortly after that he catches sight of parents or friends and just lights up.  Enjoy!


Wall mural portrait of Nianknuhm and Knuhmhotep - believed to have been in the first ever recorded same-sex relationship, found in their joint burial tomb dating to the 5th dynasty in Egypt (2498 – 2345 BC).   This image, therefore, is the oldest known representation of homosexuality at an estimated 4425 years old.
From Wikipedia and two other sites: "In a banquet scene, Nianknuhm and Khnumhotep are entertained by dancers, clappers, musicians and singers; in another, they oversee their funeral preparations. In the most striking portrayal (above), the two embrace, noses touching, in the most intimate pose allowed by canonical Egyptian art.  An embrace scene of this kind is seen extremely rarely, even with representations of the deceased embracing his wife or with scenes of mother and daughter or mother and son.
"[Theirs] is the only tomb in the necropolis where men are displayed embracing and holding hands. In addition, the men's chosen names (both theophorics to the creator-god Khnum) form a linguistic reference to their closeness: Niankhnuhm means "joined to life" and Khnumhotep means "joined to the blessed state of the dead'" and together the names can be translated as 'joined in life and joined in death.'
"These men also shared titles in the palace of King Niuserre of the Fifth Dynasty.  The shared titles were 'Overseer of the Manicurists in the Palace of the King,' and 'King's Acquaintance and Royal Confidant.' Throughout the tomb there are scenes of the men embracing each other."
Predictably, there are some Egyptologists who doubt the men were in a homosexual relationship, pointing out that there was an ambiguous attitude toward homosexuality in the Fifth Dynasty, others citing the fact that both men were married and had children.  
Both of those conditions exist in this and in other countries today, however, and same-sex relationships are thriving, even in the face physical danger and continuing assaults on rights and legal protections.   Also, the tomb that was funded and constructed for the two men by the Pharaoh was not built to contain the men's wives or children, just the two men themselves, surrounded by what even the doubters admit are scenes, extraordinary in ancient Egyptian culture, depicting their undeniable love.
Answer ~ Adolph Hitler, May 2, 1933

Saturday, March 05, 2011

I came across the work of this artist on the Turkish site, Nucleus.  The artist Jennifer Maestre crafts sculpture from hundreds of pieces of a very common object.  Excerpts from a statement she made for an interview are interspersed with pictures of her remarkable work. 


Sculptures of Jennifer Maestre 

My sculptures were originally inspired by the form and function of the sea urchin. The spines of the urchin, so dangerous yet beautiful, serve as an explicit warning against contact. The alluring texture of the spines draws the touch in spite of the possible consequences. The tension unveiled, we feel push and pull, desire and repulsion. The sections of pencils present aspects of sharp and smooth for two very different textural and aesthetic experiences. Paradox and surprise are integral in my choice of materials. Quantities of industrially manufactured objects are used to create flexible forms reminiscent of the organic shapes of animals and nature. Pencils are common objects, here, these anonymous objects become the structure. There is true a fragility to the sometimes brutal aspect of the sculptures, vulnerability that is belied by the fearsome texture.

To make the pencil sculptures, I take hundreds of pencils, cut them into 1-inch sections, drill a hole in each section (to turn them into beads), sharpen them all and sew them together. The beading technique I rely on most is peyote stitch.

I’m inspired by animals, plants, other art, Ernst Haeckel, Odilon Redon, mythology. In fact, it isn’t easy to specify particular sources of inspiration. Sometimes one sculpture will inspire the next, or maybe I’ll make a mistake, and that will send me off in a new direction.

I started off in the direction of prickly things when I was in my last year at Mass College of Art. It all comes from one idea I had for a box with a secret compartment that would contain a pearl. The box would be shaped like a sea urchin, made of silver. In order to open the box and reveal the secret compartment, you’d have to pull on one of the urchin’s spines. The idea was of something beautiful, sculptural, but that you wouldn’t necessarily want to touch, and that also held a secret treasure. 

Many more examples of her art, along with career and exhibition information, are available at her site


Progress report on the opera:  The director and I had our first design meeting a week ago, although I had briefly proposed a design scheme that had interested her during our previous collaboration for the company in January.  We get along very well and have relaxed, fun meetings at which a lot gets done.  

Working with her on A Place of Beauty is a different experience, however, as I am one half, with Fritz, of the team that wrote the text of the opera.  It makes for an interesting relationship -- as designer (set and lights), I work in collaboration with, but actually for, the director in realizing her vision of the opera while she, in turn, works with, but actually for, the creative team in realizing their vision as expressed in the words and music.  I don't want to make this seem like a problem because the company works in a collaborative rather than a hierarchical manner; people swim between job titles pretty easily, and everybody keeps egos secondary to the goal of the best presentation of the work possible. 

Yesterday, one week after the design meeting, we had our first production meeting with the head of the company, the director, the all-important stage manager (the production's nerve center and the one who knows more about the entire operation than any other single person), Fritz and me.  I had made a small preliminary model of the scenic elements, we all had our own list of questions, huge amounts got decided (the design for the set was approved, for one), and we then toured the 309-seat theater that has excellent sight lines, fine acoustics, and a first-rate technical installation.  There's very comfortable "stadium seating" as in the newer movie theaters that means never having someone's head blocking your view of the stage.  

I will begin the construction and painting process in about a week.     


Here's a wonderful bit of silliness from The Onion, neatly skewering the fear tactics of the far Right about gays and lesbians. 

Marauding Gay Hordes Drag Thousands Of Helpless Citizens From Marriages After Obama Drops Defense Of Marriage Act

February 25, 2011 | ISSUE 47•08
WASHINGTON—Reports continue to pour in from around the nation today of helpless Americans being forcibly taken from their marital unions after President Obama dropped the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this week, leaving the institution completely vulnerable to roving bands of homosexuals. "It was just awful—they smashed through our living room window, one of them said 'I've had my eye on you, Roger,' and then they dragged my husband off kicking and screaming," said Cleveland-area homemaker Rita Ellington, one of the latest victims whose defenseless marriage was overrun by the hordes of battle-ready gays that had been clambering at the gates of matrimony since the DOMA went into effect in 1996. "Oh dear God, why did they remove the protection provided by this vital piece of legislation? My children! What will I tell my children?" A video communique was sent to the media late yesterday from what appears to be the as-yet unidentified leader of the gay marauders, who, adorned in terrifying warpaint, announced "Richard Dickson of Ames, Iowa. We're coming for you next. Put on something nice."

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