Saturday, August 27, 2011
The US from 36,000 feet
In Seattle we changed planes again and flew to Sitka for a total of 16 hours of travel, 11 of it in the air.
We woke this morning to this view from our hotel, just after dawn looking east south east. We spent today exploring the Russian origins and heritage of Alaska in this neat and friendly town aka New Archangel when it was the seat of Russian government and the Orthodox religion from Siberia to northern California.
Tomorrow we begin a cruise through the Inside Passage that will end in Petersburg, on a small ship of 29 passengers total, the same boat on which we sailed the Snake and Columbia Rivers last year.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
The big project for me is building and painting the set pieces and props for the fall production by our opera company, Intermezzo. The work is Rocket's Red Blare, a political satire in the guise of a children's storybook. It was written twenty five or so years ago by James Yannatos, for three decades the conductor of the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra. There was a staged student production shortly after the score was completed, but Intermezzo will be giving the first professional staged performances at Radcliffe's historic Agassiz Theater on the 23rd and 24th of September.
I have a personal art project that is approaching completion. There is a swale behind the house, a twelve foot or so wide bed of gravel about six feet deep that allows all the water that drains from the roofs at the back of the house and all the water that drains down from the hillside to percolate down and be carried by big pipe drains under the house to prevent any flooding. The question was, what to do with this space.
A good friend of ours, a nurseryman and landscape designer suggested something like a Japanese Zen Garden, not with raked sand but with recycled Landscape Glass nuggets as water. He proposed a stream flowing the length of the swale with "islands" in it that could be planted with bulbs or miniature plants. I loved the idea and developed it further based on the Japanese Inland Sea. The glass nuggets, which will be blue in a mix of shades, will arrive in about five weeks. When an inch or so layer of the glass is in place, sparkling in the sunlight, the effect should be very beautiful. Here are three preview shots:
An antique, hand-colored photograph of the original "Husband and Wife Rocks of Futami."
Pictures of the completed project will be posted in late September.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
The Songster notes, perhaps superfluously but certainly accurately, that Dr. Dany is also very cute.
NDP stands for New Democratic Party which is regarded as center-left in its place on the political spectrum. Local NDP branches form the provincial governments of Manitoba and Nova Scotia -- the Party seems to have "arrived" pretty securely in Canada's political life. Dany's already the NDP associate critic for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transsexual issues.
How very different is the political reality for LGBT citizens of Canada versus those of the United States! Here we get to watch as candidates for President from one of our two major political parties and their Christianist supporters spew hate speech, argue as to whether we should have all existing legal protections stripped from us, or be deported, or forced into ex-gay therapy, or put into camps, or all of the above. Or just killed.
I know that no place is absolutely perfect (although Denmark heads the list every time the poll of the world's happiest people is updated, and my four trips there convince me that it's true) but the contrast right now between the US and what looks like a blessedly rational nation just to our north seems particularly sharp these days.
Bonne Chance!, Dany -- perhaps you'd be a good candidate for that new Ministry position should it ever come into being.
On his wonderful blog The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross who is a MacArthur "genius award" recipient and the music critic for The New Yorker, comes down firmly on the side of the unstuffy and unpretentious in concert wear for performers:
"There's an interesting debate going on among Mark Swed, Amanda Ameer, and Anne Midgette over Yuja Wang's fashion choices at recent recitals.
"I'd side with Anne here. For too long classical performers have been costumed essentially as high-end hired help; let them dress as they wish."
I was very pleased that Alex takes this stand. Musicians in full evening dress is really an anachronism. On the few occasions where a more informal, yet still neat and non-distracting style has been worn by an orchestra, I have been much more comfortable myself. And surely the purchase and upkeep of all that formal wear will become a progressively bigger burden to musicians as orchestras beg for wage and benefit concessions in the face of the worsening economic situation for arts organizations.
Men's formal wear was largely fixed in the aftermath of Prince Albert's death when Queen Victoria decreed standards of formal dress during the heavy mourning period decreed for her late husband. Previously, there really hadn't been any formal "uniform" for men -- they merely wore the best versions they had of the style of the time. Interestingly, no fixed style has been imposed on women once orchestras became gender-integrated. The women wear what they want: pants, dresses of varying hem height, long or short sleeves, etc. just so it's black.
I do understand the idea of a uniform color to avoid visual distraction within a large group. I just think that it's time to leave mourning for Prince Albert behind.
Do stop over to the tumblr site Bachmann-eyezed! Where all sorts of people from politicians to Betty White have been given Bachmann "crazy eyes." The site proudly declares, "We use nothing but 100% real Michele Bachmann eyes" and solicits your nomination for anyone you'd like to see get the Bachmann treatment. I have requested Richard Nixon -- I think Bachmann eyes would give him the final flourish of crazed megalomania. www://http://bachmanneyezed.tumblr.com/
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Usually, nothing of any interest goes on in the swale. I did begin an art installation back there a month or so ago (that will be revealed in due time) but all of its elements are stationary and wouldn't hold her attention beyond a passing glance. But I began to understand her interest when I walked into the swale this afternoon and saw a largish snake on the ground more or less right outside"her" window. But the snake was not alone. The following picture may be disturbing to some; it is, however a legitimate part of nature.
The Santa Fe Opera will present three new worksBy ANTHONY TOMMASINI, The New York Times
The first will be “Oscar,” based on the life of Oscar Wilde, composed by Theodore Morrison, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan, with a libretto by the director John Cox, who has staged six productions for Santa Fe. Drawing heavily on Wilde’s descriptions of his ordeals during two years of imprisonment, as well as his letters and documents from his contemporaries, “Oscar” will star the countertenor David Daniels in the title role.
The other commissioned work is “Cold Mountain,” based on the best-selling novel by Charles Frazier, with music by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon set to a libretto by Gene Scheer. Scheduled for the 2015 summer season, it will feature the baritone Nathan Gunn in the role of W. P. Inman, the Confederate soldier (played by Jude Law in the 2003 film version of the novel), who deserts the army as the Civil War is coming to an end. Both “Oscar” and “Cold Mountain” are co-commissions with Opera Company of Philadelphia through its American Repertoire Program.
The third new work will be the 2014 American premiere of “Miss Fortune,” by the British composer Judith Weir, which was commissioned for and given its world premiere this summer at the Bregenz Festival in Austria. It will also be presented next year at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden in London, which co-commissioned the work. With a libretto by Ms. Weir, “Miss Fortune” is based on “Sfortuna,” a Sicilian folktale. Two of Ms. Weir’s earlier operas had their American premieres at Santa Fe: “A Night at the Chinese Opera” in 1989, and “Blonde Eckbert” in 1994.
In a statement Mr. MacKay noted the Santa Fe Opera’s “enviable record of presenting new works to the public,” including 9 commissions, 3 world premieres and 44 American premieres, starting with the premiere of Marvin David Levy’s opera “The Tower” in the company’s inaugural 1957 season.
A blue shark found in the woods of New Hampshire
I think it's a wonder the coyotes didn't get it before it began to rot.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Some serene beauty and some very real ugliness
I first saw the original of this strikingly austere and geometric view of Japan's Mount Fuji in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia in the summer of 2002. It dates from 1818-1819 and is rendered in ink and other color media on paper in the form of a scroll, not a hanging scroll but a horizontal handscroll which is in the collection of The British Museum. It's title is "The Summit of Mt. Fuji in All Seasons." It's dimensions are given as Height: 13.3 centimetres, Width: 1341.1 centimetres, meaning that the scroll is approximately 100 times as wide as it is tall. The curator's note on the work is below:
"The identity of Minamoto (no) Sadayoshi, author of the preface and painter of the handscroll, is otherwise unknown, but he explains that the depictions are based on observations made of Mt Fuji from the early spring of Bunsei 1 (1818) onwards, after an unusually heavy snowfall. The scroll shows a total of thirty-one views of the mountain, all from the same vantage point with the bulge of Mt Hoei in silhouette on the right slope, and thus seen from the west. Two views are drawn at the beginning and middle of every month, recording the receding snow-line, and then seven extra views are given of unusual meteorological phenomena. In the section illustrated the inscription reads: 'Cloud shaped like a flat travelling-hat [kasa]: when this moves south it is fair; when it moves north it rains'. It is followed by pictures of double- and treble-'travelling hat' cloud formations."
Lenticular clouds as they are called, form with some frequency on mountains when the proper combination of wind, temperature and moisture coincide.
Mount Fuji with an actual lenticular cloud, not as strictly symmetrical as Minamoto's. He apparently went by several different versions of his name, but is such an obscure figure that his biographical note is a very bare bones affair. I was deeply impressed by the scroll when I saw it and have always been surprised that the artist was not better known. Had he worked in the famous woodblock print medium, as with Hokusai's 100 Views of Mt. Fuji series of individual, easily replicated pieces of art, he would surely have achieved notoriety. But the single and very sizable scroll format would seem to indicate a treasured work in the collection of a connoisseur, perhaps with servants on each end of the scroll, rolling the images past important guests, other artists and collectors, and not available to the general public.
Sunrise on a lenticular cloud over Sicily's Mount Etna. These clouds have frequently been reported to police and the military as UFOs.
NOM, the conservative National Organization for Marriage, has issued its own anti-gay hate pledge to members of the GOP presidential field. Michele Bachman, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum rushed to sign it. Signers of the pledge vow that if elected president, they will:
A) Promote a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage,
B) Nominate and appoint Supreme Court and federal judges that oppose LGBT equality,
C) Vigorously defend DOMA,
D) Establish a presidential commission to investigate the harassment of anti-gay Christians,
E) Establish legislation to repeal DC marriage.
Now it worries me that many gay men who are justifiably disappointed in Barack Obama's record and pace on LGBT rights are declaring that they will either not vote in the coming election, or will vote for a Republican. Given the sentiments above, to which those candidates have enthusiastically subscribed, and the rampant homophobia current in the Republican Party and its rogue spur The Tea Party, any gains made by Republicans in the next election could be disastrous for gay rights. Here's a completely insane statement:
"I will tell you ladies and gentlemen, I detest and despise everything the left stands for. How anybody can endorse and embrace an ideology that has killed a billion people in the last century is beyond me." - Tea Party Nation CEO Judson Phillips, speaking at a Republican event in Wisconsin.
Now here's another example of a Republican twisting history totally around and presenting it as truth. In contemporary parlance, Left = Liberal. Who, exactly, was responsible for the many deaths during the last century? World War I began with an assassination that unleashed total European war due to a convoluted network of alliances that guaranteed every nation on the continent would have to fight. With almost no exceptions, the combatant nations were conservative, imperialist monarchies that could hardly be considered Left/Liberal.
Joseph Stalin slaughtered vast numbers of Russians in the Gulags, in the basements and courtyards of secret police headquarters, in slave labor constructing vast public works projects like canals, dams, and subway systems before, during and after World War II. Utilizing the existing network (or in Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn's memorable book title, Archipelago) of concentration and slave labor camps while enjoying the services of a secret police system directly descended from Ivan IV (the Terrible), Stalin was simply an absolutist Tsar in a business suit. Liberal? I think not.
World War II itself was triggered by the conservative, reactionary, Fascist Nazi regime's invasion of Poland and stunning invasion and occupation of the majority of the continent. The Final Solution to "the Jewish Question" was an act of simple genocide partly suggested, apparently, by the Turkish massacre of Armenians earlier in the century. In Italy the conservative and reactionary Mussolini regime became Germany's partner with the militaristic, conservative Japanese militarist regime joining in as well. Not a Liberal in sight.
Mao's revolution in China led to the slaughter of huge numbers of Chinese citizens, in a country already reeling from the Japanese massacres in the recently-ended war. Mao's China was a seriously reactionary, anti-intellectual, absolute monarchy thinly disguised as a People's Republic Liberal? -- not within a country mile.
Further genocides in Cambodia, the Balkans, Africa and elsewhere were perpetrated in the name of "cleansing" countries ethnically. Liberals are progressive, not reactionary, and favor granting and guaranteeing people's rights. The vast slaughter of the 20th century was intended in all cases to be the ultimate denial of people's rights by denying them everything, right down to their very lives.
When will Americans wake up to the lies of these people?
I have lightly edited this tragic and infuriating story from today's San Francisco Chronicle. It is precisely the sort of thing that frustrates gays and other well-intentioned people who voted for Mr. Obama, whose intentions are difficult to determine given incidents like this one. This issue has appeared on several blogs today and I am including it on mine in the interest of spreading the story and, hopefully, inspiring people who read it to register a protest in support of these two besieged men.
S.F. gay married couple loses immigration battle
Citing the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration denied immigration benefits to a married gay couple from San Francisco and ordered the expulsion of a man who is the primary caregiver to his AIDS-afflicted spouse.
Bradford Wells, a U.S. citizen, and Anthony John Makk, a citizen of Australia, were married seven years ago in Massachusetts. They have lived together 19 years, mostly in an apartment in the Castro district. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied Makk's application to be considered for permanent residency as a spouse of an American citizen, citing the 1996 law that denies all federal benefits to same-sex couples. Makk was ordered to depart the United States by Aug. 25. Makk is the sole caregiver for Wells, who has severe health problems.
"I'm married just like any other married person in this country," Wells said. "At this point, the government can come in and take my husband and deport him. It's infuriating. It's upsetting. I have no power, no right to keep my husband in this country. I love this country, I live here, I pay taxes and I have no right to share my home with the person I married."
Husband's pleasWells pleaded with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and President Obama to intervene.
"Anyone can identify with the horror of having the government come in and destroy your family when you've done nothing wrong, and you've done everything right, followed every law," Wells said.
The agency's decision cited the Defense of Marriage Act as the reason for the denial of an I-130 visa, or spousal petition that could allow Makk to apply for permanent U.S. residency. "The claimed relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary is not a petitionable relationship," the decision said. "For a relationship to qualify as a marriage for purposes of federal law, one partner must be a man and the other a woman."
Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder decided earlier this year that the law, commonly known as DOMA, is unconstitutional on equal protection grounds and that the administration would no longer defend it in court. House Republicans hired an outside counsel to defend it instead. However, the administration said it would continue to enforce the law, while exercising discretion on a case-by-case basis.
ICE's director, John Morton, issued a memorandum in June that offered guidance to agents in making enforcement decisions. Because no law enforcement agency can pursue every case, they routinely prioritize where to commit the government's limited resources. The memorandum said prosecutions should seek to promote "national security, border security, public safety and the integrity of the immigration system."
Makk meets several of the circumstances specified in the memorandum. Aside from being a spouse of an American citizen, he is also the primary caretaker of a citizen, has no criminal history, and has legally resided in the country under various visas for many years. The couple said they spent nearly $2,000 to file the petition that was denied, and now must decide whether to file a motion to reconsider the decision, which Wells said would almost certainly be denied, giving the couple at most another 30 days of residency.
Poor alternativesWells could move to Australia, but he said doing so would require him to give up his extensive medical care and insurance in the United States. "We are appealing to the Obama administration to begin to put into action what they've said repeatedly they can do," said Immigration Equality spokesman Steve Ralls. "The Department of Homeland Security and ICE have said again and again that they can exercise discretion in individual cases, but they have not done so for a single gay or lesbian couple yet."
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said Pelosi has contacted immigration officials on behalf of the couple and "will be working to exhaust all appropriate immigration remedies that are open to pursue.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Among the great cathedrals of Europe, the ones whose difficulty and length of time in construction caused them to become eccentric in some form have always held a special fascination.
Work at Beauvais went slower, with breaks when the money ran out. Also, Beauvais' goal was to surpass all other cathedrals in Europe in the height of its interior. Height was the obsession of Gothic architecture and the Choir of Beauvais is indeed the highest of all. But four years after Paris completed its cathedral, the vaults over the Choir (above) of Beauvais collapsed. Rebuilt with reinforced columns and a different configuration of the vault ribs to handle load stress better, Beauvais continued at a snail's pace with the Transept (the "arms" of the cross-shaped plan of most cathedrals). Finally, work began on the great tower over the junction of the Choir and Transept, a daring 500 foot tall construction.
For 300 years after the collapse of those Choir vaults, all effort for decades and decades had been focused on that tower. It fell one day in 1573, hundreds of tons of gorgeously carved French limestone, centuries of dedicated labor and an enormous financial outlay were obliterated in a few thunderous, earth-shaking seconds. The project never recovered. After clearing the considerable debris field, a simple facade was built over the arched opening where the Nave should have begun, closing the building. All that remains of Beauvais' grand design is the Choir and Transept, the limited size of the cathedral's footprint only serving to emphasize its dramatically soaring height.
One side effect of the fact that the Nave and towers were never built is that the historic old Bishop's Palace and the little Carolingian-era Romanesque church directly in the path of the original plan weren't demolished and remain to this day in the shadow of their impossibly high neighbor.
Oh, and it was Paris that soon became the dominant northern French city!
Much of the cathedral was damaged and some of it actually destroyed in the fierce Religious War against French Protestants during the 16th century. Reconstruction progressed by fits and starts from the 17th through 19th centuries, ending during the Bourbon Restoration after the Napoleonic Era. The new details, conceived during eras when the Gothic style was considered ugly and representative of dark and repressive religious philosophy, sit oddly on the Gothic base, particularly the multi-columned tops of the towers, as if little Roman Temples had been piled up on top of each other
More remarkable is the effort required to build the cathedral as all its stone had to be hauled uphill to the top of the butte. Great teams of oxen labored day after day at the task . . .
I visited Laon with a group of students in the mid-90s, part of a travel-study tour that brought us to several cathedrals. Standing in the middle of the Nave, I was very moved to think of the vision and determination that had gone into the building's creation. I didn't know Fritz yet and it's a good thing, because I always kid him when he tears up at something like someone getting an award for great accomplishment or someone achieving a goal. That day he would have kidded me mercilessly!
With thanks to Joe Jervis of the blog Joe.My.God:
"Just got spam letter from M. Bachman! My reply: Woman go back to school take history! If I was on my deathbed and your best friend was JESUS, I wouldn't vote for your gay-hating, bully-loving, poser Christian ass!'" - Cher, tweeting about Michele Bachmann.
It may LOOK like a sweet moment between Cat and Matt, but what's really going on is the beginning of the takeover, of Matt's subjugation to the cat's rearrangement of Matt's life including his schedule and the way his home life is organized. Around here, it is reinforced constantly by the gentle rollover onto the keyboard in the middle of my work, with seductive writhing to remind me that it's time for yet another tummy rub. Or by Madame sitting ever so demurely on the floor in front of Fritz's chair staring fixedly at him until he gives up and provides the scheduled meal.
For Matt, the path to becoming Staff of the Cat begins with shared smiles and the adoring look. It's the Euphoria aka the Denial Period when Matt's thinking, "Oh, this incredibly dear and innocent little thing LOVES ME -- how sweet is that!" Matt, step away from the precipice; it's the gentle hook before the iron paw begins ever so subtly but firmly to be deployed.