Tuesday, July 23, 2024

concert review: Carmel Bach Festival

It's been a week - a very long week in the outside world - since I came home from two days at the Carmel Bach Festival, and my review has finally hit publication day at SFCV.

I'm satisfied with how I conveyed the impressions left by the music that I heard, but I said nothing about the logistics. So, here.

Parking in Carmel was pretty tight on Sunday when I arrived in late afternoon, having already claimed my hotel room in Monterey (only a ten-minute drive away, but much less expensive to stay at). I found a parking space on the uphill side of the shopping district, convenient for stopping in at an old favorite restaurant for dinner before continuing on to the theater, but that did mean a half-mile walk uphill back to the car when it was over. That was a bit much, and I sat at a bus stop and read for quite a while.

My tickets hadn't been obtained, and while the theater staff was able to accommodate me for the Sunday concert, they told me to phone the Festival box office in the morning for the rest. These folks said they were giving me everything for the day, including the Bach organ recital which I'd been intending to skip in favor of lunch. It was now after 10 AM, and the organ recital was at 11 at the Basilica out on the far edge of town. I hastened over to the one deli market I knew in town and grabbed some stuff for a makeshift lunch, keeping it in my car as I then drove out and looked for parking, ha ha, near the Basilica.

I'm glad I got to the organ recital, though: it was the best music-making I heard in the whole visit. As I sat there waiting for the recital to be over so I could visit the restroom (thus do our bodies betray us even during our most ethereal experiences), it occurred to me that if the critics hated Sibelius's Second Symphony because it keeps seeming like it's just about to end long before it does so, that Bach's organ music has the same characteristic.

Drive back into town, find one of the last parking spaces right by the theater, so no half-mile walk afterwards tonight. Eat my makeshift lunch, then a long walk to the Presbyterian Church for the master class. Get to the church. It has two doors, both locked. I'm stumped. Finally someone else comes along and suggests that a brick-laid garden path wandering off somewhere is the way uphill to the ground-level entrance to the second floor. That's where the sanctuary is, and that's where the master class is. Suggest to ticket-takers that a sign would be a good idea; no response.

Have to skip out early for another long walk to another church where the chamber music concert is. After that, finally a gap of free time. Dinner at a conveniently nearby restaurant that's new to me and very good. Back to the theater in time for the pre-concert talk and a brief concert by the volunteer Festival Chorus, which I forgot to mention in the review, blast it. Anyway, that's them in this concert in the photo in the review labeled "Singers at the Carmel Bach Festival," led by their conductor, John Swedberg.

Main concert, then that's it, back to my hotel room and home the next day.

Monday, July 22, 2024

computer issues

1. Everyone is remarking on Joe Biden having dropped out of the presidential race and endorsing Kamala Harris. Nobody seems to be remarking on the fact that he did both these things on (the service known until recently as) Twitter. The first thing I'd have done, were I a reporter charged with writing this up, would have been to phone the White House and ask, "Is this real or was he hacked?"

2. Opera, which for years has been the backup browser I used for anything Firefox hiccuped on, has suddenly broken. (This was yesterday, Sunday.) All sites now give me an error message of "This site can't be reached. The connection was reset." All suggestions I've received for fixing this are random lists of things you might try that are either 1) obviously inapplicable (your connection might be down [not if my other browser works fine on the same sites]; turn off some feature you never turned on); 2) don't work; 3) are hideously complicated and time-consuming to try (and after half-a-dozen that don't work, you're skeptical that these will). I don't want a random list of unlikely-to-work fixes; I want a diagnosis of the problem and then a fix for that.
Not getting one, I'm giving up on Opera. I have Edge anyway whether I want it or not, so I'm going to try that.

3. The airline meltdown caused by the CrowdStrike bug has impacted at least one person I know: the Music@Menlo publicist, whom I work with because of my reviewer duties, has been at least three days delayed in getting from her base in NYC to the festival, which started, ta da, on Friday. At least there is still e-mail, plus other staff members to step in.

4. This isn't about computers, but Mark Evanier is skeptical of stories of parents throwing away valuable comic books. It never happened to me; I never had any comic books and hardly ever read them. (I find a love for superhero comics as inexplicable as a love for dogs or for roller coasters.) But I had two male friends in college who testified that it happened to them in exactly the same way: not that their parents disapproved of comics or made their sons get rid of them. Instead, after they went off to college their mothers went through their belongings at home and threw out anything they wanted to throw out, without asking or even informing the person whose belongings they were.

Friday, July 19, 2024

the beard

So far, commentaries have been saying that J.D. Vance, who looks like this:

would be, if elected, either 1) the first Vice President with a beard since 1933 or 2) the first Vice President with a beard since U.S. Grant's Schuyler Colfax.

Both wrong.

The Vice President who left office in 1933 was Charles Curtis, and he had not a beard but a mustache:

Facial hair, yes; beard, no.

The most recent Vice President with a beard was not Colfax, who left office in 1873, but Charles W. Fairbanks, who left office in 1909 and looked like this:

Fairbanks shaved his cheeks, leaving his beard unattached to his top-of-head hair, but lots of men even today wear beards like that; they're still beards.

Incidentally, Vance's beard is nothing like Lincoln's. Lincoln shaved his mustache. Look:

He probably did that because in his day the mustache was firmly associated with military men, and even with a beard (which the archetypal military man did not wear), he didn't want to be associated with the military, resulting in a style of beard most associated with clergymen. Or, more recently, with this guy:

No, the other beard-wearer whom Vance most closely resembles is this guy:

Stephen Colbert suggested that, since DT couldn't choose that guy as his running mate, he picked the closest thing available, the one who'd play him in the Lifetime movie.

Two more things about Vance:

First, he's one of those people who gives Tolkien fandom a bad name. To political criticisms of Tolkien like Michael Moorcock's I have traditionally responded, "Tolkien isn't asking you to vote for him." Well, Vance is the kind of guy who doesn't realize that Tolkien isn't asking you to vote for him.

Second, Wikipedia is currently disputing the question of whether he should be listed as J.D. Vance, J. D. Vance, or JD Vance. Really they are.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

not my day

I've been having online vendor problems.

Last night I went to my health care website to order some medication refills, only to find that the system had no record of my having any prescriptions on file at all. I called the help line, and after having gotten trapped several times in automated subsystems I didn't intend and having to hang up and call again to get out, finally reached a person by repeatedly pressing 0. Of course they couldn't fix it themselves, but they reset my account and then sent a trouble ticket to IT.
This morning I tried again and it worked OK.

Then I went to our grocer's website to place our big weekly order for pickup tomorrow. I was halfway through choosing the substitutes (you want to do this, otherwise if your item is unavailable they're sure to pick a substitute you don't want) when I started getting flashing messages that most of our items were not on the shelf, and then the substitute lists went blank, then the entire order disappeared. When I tried again, it wanted me to log in in a different way than I ever had before, and when I gave the information it said "Are you sure you want to change to a business account?" What? No! Start over yet again, redo the entire thing, it worked this time.
Let's see what happens when I go to pick it up in the morning. All kinds of weird things often happen at that stage.

Nothing went wrong in logging in to my monthly Zoom conversation. When I arrived, everyone else was discussing one person's acquisition of a new pet animal. They were already into the conversation, and nobody said for a while what kind of animal it was, dog cat or ?? When someone said the word "puppy," I had the weird sensation of feeling the wave function collapse.
But then B. came in and reported that her car was ready, which was a surprise because the shop had told her it wouldn't be done until tomorrow. But we had to go now to pick it up before they closed, so I had to bow out of the meeting.

I haven't been watching the RNC. I am not interested in what Republicans have to say. I am only watching the late-night comedians' reports, and skipping over the tape clips, also the parts where they irritatingly imitate DT's voice.

I see that Bob Newhart died. He was always very funny in a quiet, sneak-up-from-behind way, but I was never a big fan of his, because I found his calculated stutter to be too irritating to listen to for very long. I didn't like it much from Hugh Grant, either. It's entirely different when someone stutters naturally because they can no other - in any case the natural stutterers I've known don't sound like that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

been away

I'm back from a couple days out on the coast, where mostly it's cool. Stepping out of the car and feeling a cool breeze for the first time in months - I'd forgotten what one feels like. One day I even wore my light jacket for a while.

I went out there to hear music, but more about that later.

A couple major events happened in the world while I was gone, but contrary to declarations that everybody gets their news through social media these days, I did not. I don't read social media of the Facebook/Twitter sort, because I don't enjoy reading in such fragmented bites, and none of the bloggers I read has discussed the events directly, not even as of now. Instead, I got my news as I normally do, through the websites of newspapers and political commentary magazines or their simulacra.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

calm down

The high-90s low-100s F heat wave (and higher inland) that's been hitting us continually since July 2 is finally breaking, and we're down to the mid-80s which is tolerable. I've been spending a lot of days in libraries for relief, and have entirely avoided using the oven. Once a week I make Chinese-style chicken salad, which is the only cold dinner in my repertoire. Meanwhile the oppressive heat is moving to the eastern US.

Tybalt has backed down from aggressive Defender of the Territory mode and is back to his normal rambunctiousness. But Maia, having been burned badly already, is having none of it and avoids him entirely, which leaves Tybalt rather lonely. Maia won't even come up into the bathroom to eat alongside Tybalt, so we have to take her dish downstairs, usually putting it by the living room couch, the underneath of which is her safe spot. It's armed camp mode.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

one done

Well, I've finished my paper for Mythcon in three weeks. That will give me time to write the shorter presentations for the two or three (I'm not sure if the third one has been confirmed) panels that I'm on.

I've written several papers on "the minor Inklings" over the years, and decided that this was the year I was going to complete my long-mooted intent to write one on John Wain. At which point, especially when describing this orally, I have to confirm that that's WAIN not WAYNE and that they have nothing to do with each other. John Wain was a pupil of C.S. Lewis's whom he invited to the Inklings, but he didn't really fit in and much of my paper is about why. As a writer, he's faded into complete obscurity today, but on a time when Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim was first published, Wain's Hurry on Down came out almost simultaneously and was much discussed with it. They're remarkably similar novels in some respects, completely different in others. Amis and Wain had gone to the same college in Oxford at sort of the same time, and were friends. At least then; later their friendship decayed, mostly because Amis thought Wain was a pompous git. He wasn't entirely wrong.

Writing this paper went very fast, because I'd been holding most of it in my head for years. This includes summary characterizations of some of Wain's novels, which I read some 20 years ago but haven't forgotten. I got the books out to check the facts, but only afterwards.

Of course the first thing I did on completing the draft was to read it aloud to see how long it was. 40 minutes: that's about the maximum I can get away with without cuts. This procedure has the further advantage of bringing out verbal infelicities for correction.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

world according to cats

Things are not going so well again.

One day recently while I was out, seeking relief from the heat, that cat from the apartment building next door showed up at our living room window again, curious about the cats it could see inside.

The cats inside, meanwhile, consider any other cats within their line of vision to be interlopers to be attacked with fury. This is normal expected indoor-cat behavior, and despite alarming hissing and fluffing it normally causes no harm, as the indoor cats can't get at the outdoor cat.

What's not normal or acceptable is that Tybalt, unable to get at that other cat, then takes his fury out on Maia. He's been going into attack mode whenever he sees her, and she, meanwhile, is terrified of him and keeps hiding. Peaceful coexistence, which was the case most of the time in the past, is gone.

What we've been doing about it:

1. Trying to block off the weak spot in the decaying fence by which the cat is entering our property. We're not handy types, so this is kind of awkward.

2. Installing a pheromone diffuser that's been recommended to us as a way to calm down overexcited cats. It doesn't work immediately, though.

3. Keeping them separated. When I was in college we had two cats who didn't get along, so we partitioned the house between them, which was easy because there was a heavy swinging door between the living room on one side and the kitchen on the other. But there's nothing like that here.

Maia has been spending part of the time living in B's office, where her food and water and a litter box have been installed. But she doesn't like being shut up in there, but she also doesn't like coming out only to find Tybalt. So part of the time we were letting Maia loose and shutting Tybalt up in the bathroom (the regular food and litter box location), where he howls like a banshee and hurls his little body against the door. Eventually we - and by "we" I mostly mean B., who has more cat experience and has been doing most of the heavy lifting here - let them both out and hope they don't kill each other.

Meanwhile we're watching the fence and hoping the outdoor cat doesn't get through again. If it does we'll paper over the window it goes to.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

one more little anecdote

about the backyard party on the Fourth.

One of the Norwegian guests mentioned that he was reading, in English, the great Russian novel The Brothers ... and then he had trouble with the last word.

I knew how to pronounce Karamazov. Why do you think that is?

Friday, July 5, 2024

on the UK election

1. Contrary to the headlines, it's highly misleading to say that Labour won the election. They had little more of a vote percentage than the last election five years ago, when they did poorly in the results. What really happened this time is that the Conservatives lost decisively, and Labour got to pick up the pieces..

2. In the west of England, the Conservatives lost due to tactical voting for the Liberal Democrats, the longstanding third party, which has finally rid itself of the stain of its unfortunate coalition with the Conservatives in 2010-15, and now has more seats than it's had since its predecessor party in the 1920s.

3. In the east of England, they lost due to defections to Reform, which got a lot of votes but only 4 seats, fewer than they were expecting. That's specifically why Liz Truss, the infamous momentary prime minister, lost her parliamentary seat. And now Nigel Farage, Reform's toxic leader, is an MP. Well, there have been toxic MPs before and the kingdom has survived; remember Ian Paisley?

4. As of now, mid-afternoon Friday British time, two seats have still not declared a winner. What's with that? This was supposed to have been completed by early this morning.

5. Labour has about as many seats as it did during the last blowout, in 1997, and it follows the same pattern: purging the party leadership of its leftist elements and adopting some of the less savory principles of the Conservatives. Only this time, they went so far as to expel their previous leftist leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Who won his seat as an independent, a feat expelled party members rarely achieve. (Because tribal unity has been so strong in the UK, a feature now evidently on the wane.)

6. The main difference from 1997 is, though, that nobody seems very excited about Labour, as witnessed by their vote share and voters' comments. Maybe the voters learned their lesson from the overblown hopes of last time. Maybe it's because Labour's policies are so damp and unexciting, or maybe it's because Keir Starmer, the new PM, is damp and unexciting.

7. Starmer is so private that his two teenage children have never been seen in public and even their names are literally unknown. I'm astonished an intrusive media lets him get away with this.

8. Starmer is also an atheist. His wife is Jewish, and that's how they're raising their children, just about the only thing they've ever said in public about them. Hard to imagine an atheist getting elected to any major office in the US. Also, his wife is a vegetarian. Starmer himself eats fish but not other meat. Another thing hard to imagine among major politicians in the US.

9. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer is a woman, first ever in that job. Rachel Reeves is her name. They've had 3 woman prime ministers, but never before one of these.