Saturday, July 2, 2022


Can you classify people by the type of berries they like to eat? I eat blackberries, which I developed a taste for when I lived in Seattle where they grew wild in profusion. At the height of the season I'd accompany a friend to harvest some and then she'd bake blackberry and apple pie.

B. eats blueberries. She puts them in her oatmeal in the morning. I don't eat blueberries: I have trouble with the concept of blue food.

Consequently berries of both kinds are on our weekly shopping list. For a couple of weeks now we've had trouble getting blueberries. B. wondered if they'd been scarfed up by people wanting to have red white and blue meals for the Fourth. But that week was a little early to be saving berries up that long for.

Whatever the reason, I went back out to another store and found the last two small containers of blueberries (we usually buy a large container) in the organic foods section. But this week, nada. Our regular Safeway was out, the larger supplemental one I often try was out, the nearby Luckys, not noted for its produce at any time, was out. It even had a notice that they were applying their sale price to raspberries on account of the shortage in blueberries.

I decided not to try the produce markets: they're good for large fruit like apples and peaches, but I don't recall having seen a lot of berries there.

Instead, I invested the time and gas money to drive to Lunardi's out in the south suburbs. As a different chain they might have their own distributor. And sure enough, plenty of containers of blueberries, with a label saying they were from Petaluma, a good farming town not far away.

So I came home with the blueberries, and also with a dinner's worth of the high-quality fresh crab cakes they do so well.

Friday, July 1, 2022

that's three more boxes gone

I sold four boxes of old books and magazines at the used bookstore last week, and this week got rid of three more boxes from the garage almost as expeditiously.

I'd found two boxes of material of my grandfather's that I'd taken after my mother and I cleared out his belongings after his death, and which I'd evidently never looked at, because I was surprised at how useless it all was for any purpose other than stoking his own memories. Bound volumes of the daily newsletters from cruises he'd taken in the 1950s. A scrapbook full of newspaper clippings from the year he chaired the local Community Chest. This was a campaign to raise money, but what it was to raise money for, the articles never did say. (It was for charities. This is what subsequently changed its name to the United Way.) The local paper was apparently so desperate for news items from the town's machers that they even printed a birth announcement for his first grandchild - that would be me - although my parents were living nowhere near the area at the time.

I knew from previous conversations that my brother would be interested in looking at this stuff before we discarded it. Instead, he just sealed it all back up again and took it away when he finally came over this week. He thinks his son, now only 7, will be interested some day.

Anyway, it's out of here. I'm old enough now that keeping stuff that I never use packed up because I might want to look at it someday is no longer really viable. That someday has arrived.

Also found and also out is a whole boxful of duplicate books about Tolkien and the Inklings, some of them rare pamphlet publications, that I gathered up to sell, or donate to the Mythcon auction, or something, years ago. I contacted a friend, or more accurately a friend-like acquaintance, who's in the Tolkien collector biz. He said he's retired from it, but when on request I sent him the contents list, he couldn't resist. He's no longer quite local, but he was in town this week so we met up in the parking garage of where he was doing his personal business, and he took it for a lot more money than I'd have gotten from the exceedingly de minimis bookstore.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

actors in the past

While burrowing through a drawer of old theater and concert programs in the garage, I found my early programs for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and this prompted me to check on something.

In 1975, one of my early visits there, I took the backstage tour, which was led by a couple of young members of the acting company. One of them was Jean Smart. Yes, the now-famous Jean Smart, then 23 and unknown and in her first (and, I think, only) year at Ashland. Not too surprising, actually: a number of promising young actors who've gone on to greater things have spent a stint at Ashland.

What I wanted to check on was, did I also see her on stage? Answer: not really. She was in the ensemble in Romeo and Juliet, which I saw, but her main role was, despite her young age, as the mother in Long Day's Journey into Night. I didn't see that. I saw it when they did it again 40 years later, thinking I ought to expose myself to great drama. I don't know why I keep doing that: excellent acting could not disguise the fact that long was the only word conceivably of praise that could possibly be attached to the script.

However, when I checked the program for the cast, I found that one of Jean Smart's sons was played by another young actor a year and a half older than herself: William Hurt. Ba-ding.

Him I did see, as it turns out: he also played the master-gunner who has 18 lines in Act 1 Scene 4 of Henry VI Part One. (I just looked it up.) Surely I must remember that.

Monday, June 27, 2022

I'm not there

The continuing project of cleaning out the garage is generating enough books and old magazines to be sold (I've kept all my copies of BBC Music, but I never look at them again, so: out) that it was time for another visit to Half Price Books to sell a batch. I like Half Price because they'll buy everything, so I don't have to bother about disposing of any residue. Not for much money, true, but they act as if they care about what they buy and will find an appropriate place for it all, and that matters more to me than maximizing gain, since I'm selling this stuff to trim my storage, not to liquidate assets.

The problem was, Monday was the only day I'd have free this week to go over there - it's a half-hour drive away - but I didn't realize it'd be a problem. This is because of a hole in my personal scheduling process.

Tasks I need to do every day - from taking prescription pills to cleaning the cat box - I've found it best to memorize: 4 to do at this time in the morning, 2 at that time, and so forth, and I can then remember what they all are without overlooking one. One-shot things like appointments and concerts, and regularly recurring events I keep in an appointment book, writing the recurring events long in advance (like "pay estimated tax" four times a year). Most irregular things come in scheduling e-mails, and I write them down them. Paying monthly bills I can usually count on remembering to do, especially as the statements come in the mail, and things without statements, like rent, are due at the same time the bulk of the bills are.

What falls in between is our Zoom play-reading sessions. We do those Monday afternoons, but not every week because we're not always all available, and therein lies the rub, because we can't keep the schedule in advance, I can't write it down automatically, and if I don't write it down individually I'll forget it. That's what happened today. I hadn't had my appointment book handy so I didn't write it down for today and clean forgot. I don't have a tag in my head that reads "Monday = play reading." This is in keeping with my complete inability to remember to watch TV shows when they're on; fortunately with DVR that's unimportant, but now I forget to log them to record.

And so I left my fellow play-readers bewildered. Fortunately I'd left for B., who is one of them, a note saying where I'd gone, but if I'd been able to tell her in person she'd have caught me.

Maybe I should write the play reading down for every week and then cross it off when we're not doing it. Is that likely to work? Any other suggestions?

Saturday, June 25, 2022

am I there?

Tonight is the first time this pandemic that I'm not going to a concert for a reason other than covid. Not surprisingly in this drought season, a number of wildfires have sprung up around the area, and one of them knocked out a power transformer, cutting off power for the next few days to a sheaf of customers, one of which happens to be Stanford University. The whole university. So they're shutting down for a few days and cancelling everything, including tonight's chamber music marathon concert. So I'll be home.

One thing which was on today, fortunately, was the city recycling center's free paper-shredding event. After a clerk checks your ID, you drive up to a dump truck, the workers unload the contents of your car trunk into a large trash container, and then the truck's mechanical arms upend it into the inbuilt shredder. I brought along such of my mother's financial and legal papers that I'd kept after her estate closed - I needed to get into those boxes fairly frequently for a couple of years, but they've been untouched for five years now, so time to go, except for a few things like the deed to the cemetery plot and the remaining copies of her death certificate, plus one three-ring binder (see below) and about 5,271,009 paper clips - and the surprising discovery of a box of 1996 Hugo ballots, which should have been disposed of years ago. They have now been terminated with extreme prejudice.

And I've received the final PDF of the book I'm indexing, which I printed out at FedEx, punched three holes in, and loaded into a binder I'd emptied and rescued from my mother's papers with the name of my grandfather's lawyers on the cover.

Now I've received an invitation to a large party in mid-August. Not counting family events, nor Mythcon which is coming up at the end of July, neither of which feels like quite the same thing, this is the first in-person social event I'm facing in two-and-a-half years, not since the Andi Shechter memorial in Seattle. (And wasn't that an emotional kicker, with grief + people I hadn't seen for 30 years.) The thing about the party is, to my surprise I'm not sure if I'm up to going. I've been living in extreme introvert mode now for so long I no longer feel the urge to get out of it, nor sure if I can do so. That's not mentioning the whole covid situation. I'll have to think about this one for a bit before replying.

Friday, June 24, 2022

welcome to the Republic of Gilead

Because that's where we're headed. Rapidly.

One of the anti-Roe protesters photographed outside the Court was holding a sign reading "Human rights begin in the womb."

And now they end when you have a womb.

Women below menopause, girls above puberty: you're beasts of burden now.

It's on the same principle that now you have the right to carry a gun (unless you're black, probably) but you don't have the right not to be randomly shot. (Or not to be on hair-trigger alert all the time: that's not my idea of freedom.)

Or the people who want the right to breathe covid virus on other people, but not to give the other people the right not to have covid breathed on them.

For a few decades, we came close to having a free country. We've lost it now.

Megan Rapinoe wants men to stand up and say something. I've said something.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

summer, right

The media is offering the usual general cheer that the solstice has arrived and the warm weather is to follow, but it's not welcome here. We dislike the heat. On Tuesday the temperature got above 100F for the first time this season, and it was the second of what's anticipated will be at least seven consecutive over-90F days (last year we never got more than 5 of those in a row). The cats are drooped across the floor, the window fans are on as soon as the outside temperature drops enough, and I'm either making cold dinners or getting takeout. And we know we don't have it nearly as bad out here as some.

Tuesday I spent the afternoon at the library, where they have air conditioning, reading all the Year's Work in Tolkien Studies articles that I had in hard copy and taking notes for the writeups. Now I have to find a time when it's both cool enough and I'm awake enough to transcribe and edit them. Meanwhile I'm also loading my plate for Mythcon programming and girding myself for two fast indexing jobs to come, having gotten the truly hairy special issue of Tolkien Studies successfully through the first stage of proofing, with, I hope, only confirmatory work and minor cleanup to come.

Monday, June 20, 2022

letters from Father Christmas

Surveying a newer entry in the complex publication history of Tolkien's Letters from Father Christmas, I note that this one claims to be the first collection of the complete surviving entries of the letters that F.C. (Santa Claus as he's known stateside) wrote to the Tolkien children in response to their own.

And it also occurred to me, as it also includes reproductions of the postal envelopes (Tolkien conspired with the postman to have them delivered), I can figure out something I've never seen systematically discussed: what ages the children received letters at. How old does a child have to be before they can appreciate the magic of this, and then at what age do these letters cease to be credible?

Tolkien had four children, in order John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla. Three of them were born in October or November, but the letters appear to have been sent just before Christmas, so I'll assume after their birthdays in each case.

The first letter, pretty simple, is to John in 1920, aged 3. Michael's first surviving letter is in 1924 when he was 4, but it reads as if it's not his first. Christopher is added to the address of a joint letter in 1926 when he was 2, and Priscilla first appears by name in 1929 when she was but 6 months. But again these are not separate letters to them individually.

The last letter naming John and Michael is in 1932 when they were 15 and 12 respectively, and there's a later letter of that year addressed to Christopher and Priscilla only. Christopher lasts until 1937 when he was 13, and Priscilla to 1943 when she was 14. One suspects this is more because she was still hanging up a stocking for Christmas treats than because she still believed in Father Christmas at that age.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

critical mass, 2022 edition

The Rubin Institute for Music Criticism is a training session for budding classical music critics. A raft of professional critics critique and mentor work by students. And every once in a while they hold a public discussion.

This year's, held in the small recital hall of the San Francisco Conservatory, featured the eight faculty discussing the relationship between critics and their editors. The critics like copy-editing that saves them from awkward expressions and factual errors - Gary Giddins, ex of the Village Voice, compared it to a net - but not to have their work rewritten. No surprise; I feel the same way.

Some of the newspaper writers talked about the difference between having editors who are knowledgeable about classical music and ones who are not. You'd think you'd prefer the former, but if the latter are receptive, it's better, because then you have to explain why the music is important instead of just diving into performance trivia.

I asked an audience question: who makes city paper review assignments and decides what's covered? Two such writers replied that they have essentially free rein, though the editor may nudge them to say you're covering too much of this and not enough of that. Steve Smith, formerly of the NY Times, said that in Anthony Tommasini's day, Tommasini and the editor would work out the assignments before the weekly staff meeting, so the junior writers were mostly stuck with what they were given, though some give and take was possible if you had strong objections.

Some of the best stories came out of moderator Janice Page's declaration that there has to be a writer-editor relationship of mutual trust. Page, a Washington Post editor, told of the time a previously reliable writer failed to turn in an article by the deadline, confessing to being totally stuck. Page said, just send me your notes and we'll make something out of that, and the writer did. (I thought, that's interesting, as that's pretty much how New Journalism was born.) It turned out well, but Page said never again: the writer had breached trust.

A more spectacular story of trust fulfilled came from Natasha Gauthier, a Canadian critic. Tasked in 1994 with writing a feature story on a music festival, she interviewed its musical director, conductor Charles Dutoit, in his dressing room. With her tape recorder visibly running, he made verbal and then physical passes at her. "I'm here to work, M. Dutoit," she said. "Why are you here?" He had her kicked out of the room and cancelled the article.

Gauthier told her editor. "Do you have it all on tape?" he asked. Yes, she replied. "Write it up and we'll publish it," he said, and they did. And this was over 20 years before public allegations of sexual assault were made on Dutoit!

They also talked interestingly of censoring issues. Steve Smith told of the time he edited a new critic's review that compared the length of Yo-Yo Ma's vita to a roll of toilet paper. That's original imagery, he thought, and approved it, but wasn't expecting the objections it got. He also told of a review of his own where he wanted to compliment the libretto of a new opera for brilliantly condensing the long book it was based on. The word he picked was "flensing," which means to trim the blubber from whales. His editors said no-one will know what that means and cut it. But it was the perfect word, he objected, because the opera was Moby-Dick (music by Jake Heggie, libretto by Gene Scheer). Page told of the time management refused to publish, alongside a relevant article, a photo of Michelangelo's David because it was full-frontal. Only the most famous statue in the world, but ...

Apropos of I forget what, Zachary Woolfe, new chief classical critic of, and formerly an editor at, the NY Times, said that the best writing by a critic at the paper is from their wine critic, Eric Asimov. He makes wine interesting even if you, like Woolfe, know nothing about wine. Neither do I, but I also find Asimov's columns interesting.

John Rockwell, the panel's alte kocher, then made a gratuitous remark to the effect that he still preferred the science fiction of Eric Asimov's father Isaac. Buzzz! Wrong! Isaac wasn't Eric's father, he was his uncle. I called that out but nobody heard me, and I was unsuccessful at catching Rockwell afterwards. Editors save you from factual errors, but not this time.

Friday, June 17, 2022

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

It was not possible to walk around in the City last night without hearing - on the streets and even over the transit system loudspeakers - frequent bellows of "WORRR-YERRRS!" I believe this is a reference to some basketball team, which must have just won a game in whatever tournament they're playing in. See, I'm not completely ignorant of matters of popular culture.

I needed that comfort, because I was carrying with me to read the latest issue of The New Yorker, which was filled with an article about some apparently famous TV show called "Evil" that I'd never heard of, and an article about a famous author named James Patterson whom I'd never heard of. So when reading an article about Yoko Ono's pre-Beatles career in performance art, which is full of references to supposedly obscure people like LaMonte Young whom I'm quite familiar with, I was disinclined to share the writer's skepticism over Ono's claim that she had never heard of John Lennon when they first met in 1966.

All this walking and reading were pursuant to passing the time and covering the space to get to my last SFS concert of the season, and after numerous guest-conductor stints the first one in my series with Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen since, oh, February.

EPS led a program of consistently fast, cheerful, and bustling performances. Bartok's heavily modernist First Piano Concerto, with buzzing soloist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, was fast, cheerful, and bustling. What I hadn't noticed about this work was how little the tiny string section plays, and that mostly in supporting harmonies: the orchestral part is all winds and percussion. Jessie Montgomery's Strum, the revenge of the string section, crisp and sonorous, was also fast, cheerful, and bustling. So was Respighi's Pines of Rome. Even the dark and gloomy catacombs movement was a cheerful and bustling kind of dark and gloomy.

During the stomping marching Roman army finale, EPS frequently turned around to conduct a supplementary brass section of half a dozen players stationed in the first balcony behind him. My position was so that they were just as far to my left as the orchestra was to my right, for a nice antiphonal effect, though the sheer size of the orchestra was capable of drowning out the supplement.

What this piece connected with was the fourth work on the program, in which Luciano Berio indulged his penchant for scribbling graffiti over older music by taking Boccherini's Ritirata notturna di Madrid, a little military march, and arranging it for large orchestra in a gigantic crescendo and decrescendo. At last it fades away, the conductor lowers his arms and looks quizzical, and you applaud.