Wednesday, September 20, 2023

not done

Our new patio fences are up, but there's still a lot of rubbish around and they're starting on our neighbors' fences, so the staging area occupying my parking space is liable to be there for a while. And one more thing ...

Yesterday morning, the chief workman came to our door and asked us to move B's car, which we'd put back in the driveway after they were done putting up the fence. He said they'd be painting the fence. We moved the car. The fence wasn't painted yesterday, or today either.

This is going to take a long time.

Monday, September 18, 2023


No. 8 in this post (there don't appear to be any internal anchors to link to) discusses others whom people commenting are reminded of by Elon Musk: their personalities, particular talents, methods of operating.

Walt Disney. Napoleon. Stalin.


Sunday, September 17, 2023

concert review: Nova Vista Symphony

The last symphony I'd heard in concert was at the beginning of June. It was Schubert's Great C Major.

Last night the summer hiatus finally ended, and I heard Schumann's Rhenish.

The Nova Vista is a community orchestra that conveniently played in the Mountain View CPA, and gave a pretty adequate performance, very plain interpretatively but competently played, thick and bold in sound despite a somewhat undersized ensemble, only losing the thread a little in the slow movement (the first one, nitpickers). I'm not surprised at the quality, as their music director, Anthony Quartuccio, who shows up locally a lot, is a pretty good conductor. Not a criticism: this isn't the major leagues, that's all.

Also got through two other works from the same milieu, Brahms's Academic Festival Overture and Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, and gave an impressively supple performance of the encore, Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 5. And if you think all this echt-German repertoire had a lot to do with why I chose to attend, you wouldn't be mistaken.

Solo violin in the Bruch was the winner of their young soloist competition, Riona Zhu, who's 14. As tall as an adult but otherwise obviously young, she put a lot of power and not a minuscule amount of expressiveness into her playing, only getting a bit awkward in some of the more complex fingerings in the finale. Quite impressive, in truth, and I'm sorry there wasn't a bigger audience to give her a bigger round of applause afterwards. The only thing she really has not learned to do is to take a bow with flair.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Thursday, September 14, 2023

day out

I avoided all the drilling and pounding going on in our front patio by taking a day out. My destination was an evening concert at the Freight by an Irish traditional band called Socks in the Frying Pan. Trio of accordion, fiddle, and guitar. Mostly jigs and reels played with the requisite speed and energy, interspersed with occasional guitar-led songs, not all of them slow. Small but appreciative audience. Enjoyable withal. Between numbers, they regaled us with travel horror stories from their current tour.

And as long as I was headed as far off as Berkeley, I made a full day of it by going out to Marin to plug a few loose ends from my previous visit.
I drove on the country road past Skywalker Ranch again with a better map, and this time was able to spot the entrance, which is a large gate with no markings or ID except the street number in large and conspicuous print.
I went back to Bolinas and had lunch in the cafe which I'd missed the previous time as it had already closed for the afternoon. Good soup and salad, and above the bar is hung, like a trophy head, the directional sign to town that the natives liberated from the now-unmarked highway turnoff years ago. They don't want anyone coming to Bolinas who doesn't already know how to get there.
And then I drove the high mountain back road to Fairfax that Tom B. had recommended to me. Twisty through alternating meadows and forests, very beautiful countryside, much like the back roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains that I'm more familiar with. Except the views were more spectacular, and there's a place where the road crosses a reservoir on top of the century-old dam, which is something else you don't get in Santa Cruz.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

do fence me in

update from

Having hauled away the old fence around our patio, dug (dugged?) new postholes, and cemented in the posts, the workers are now putting the slats of the new fence up. At least it has blocked the cats' unprecedented view out the window into the exotic lands of our neighbors' yards across the access road.

Finish this week? Let's bloody well hope so. We want our parking spaces (which they need to stage work in) back.

Monday, September 11, 2023

book discussion report

Into the Riverlands by Nghi Vo (

Eight of us gathered in a small apartment to discuss our fantasy literature topic of the quarter. We'd all read the book, which is kind of rare, and we all liked it! Which is rarer. Well, one of us whose usual reading is epic trilogies and the like felt about a 98-page novella rather as if she hadn't had a full meal, but that was a quibble.

The deeply Asian (I guess Chinese?) setting seemed a bit alien to some of us westerners. Lines like the one about the moon having gone off to visit its other wife allude to folk tales we know nothing of. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to remember which of a group of characters with equally strange (to me) names was which. But in the end that wasn't much of a problem, mostly due to the author's superb characterization. There's six traveling together and they're all memorable and distinct, and they each remain themselves despite changes in circumstances.

This is a story about storytelling. The characters tell stories to each other and the principal viewpoint character, Chih, a cleric - really a scholar, who I guess became a cleric because that was how you can pursue scholarship in this culture - who's on a quest to collect stories and history, laps them up and writes them down. One of us said it's a little like the Canterbury Tales. (Only much more succinct.) There are even more stories being alluded to, like the one about the moon, than are told, so there's always more outside your grasp, a sure way to lure the reader on. Chih, who knows little about the local customs and listens much, is our guide to the world.

I thought the characterization was most excellent in the scene where they find the dead body in the shed. This had impact to the reader mostly because of the way the characters react, and the full descriptions of how they feel about taking the body down and burying it. Then they all look at Chih. Oh yeah, I'm a cleric, I should say prayers over the grave, even though obviously pastoral work is not Chih's normal job.

There's more I could say but won't, because it didn't come up at the meeting. There's two more of these, also involving Chih but not, I gather, most of the other characters, and they look worth reading too.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

aged sportsman

Have you ever played bocce ball? I'd never even heard of it when B.'s sister announced that that's what she wanted to do for her birthday. We were all to gather at a local Italian restaurant-cum-bocce ball court, play for a couple hours and then have dinner.

I had to look it up and watch a couple instructional videos before I was sure that it was something that both B. and I, neither of whom can move about with any degree of alacrity any more, could physically do. Most of the instructions bogged down in details of the scoring and turn-taking rules, but I figured others could worry about that and tell us whose turn it was.

The playing itself was very simple, and I described it to B. as like the accuracy round of Golfimbul as we play it at Mythcon, except instead of hitting a doll's head with a bat at a stuffed bunny, with your hand you set a ball rolling along the ground at another ball.

The target is a small metal ball whose name I picked up as Il postino or some Italian movie title like that,1 except it was easier to think of it as the Golden Snitch. The balls you roll at it are bigger and heavy and made of ceramic I think, about the size of croquet balls, not that I have any memories of croquet less than half a century old.

Whoever comes closest to the Snitch wins, and an annoying number of our games (we played in teams of two) began with one of the opposing players rolling a single lucky ball that nestled up right by the Snitch, and the rest of the game consisted of an exercise in finding out how many other balls they would win by.

The game is played on a long court, maybe 10-15 yards in length, and while it's not slippery to walk on, it's almost frictionless as far as the balls are concerned, and most of my early rolls went right up against the backboard. I never quite got to the point of transferring to this hand movement my halfway-decent abilities at cue-striking on the much smaller field of billiards, because it turns out that the best action in bocce ball comes when you hit one of the balls that's already there and knock it out of the way.

The billiards master among our party turned out to be my niece Beth2, who was ruthless and skilled at hitting just about anything.

Meantime, as we were gently exercising on our reserved courts, the proprietors, who remember are also an Italian restaurant, were plying our party of 14 with enormous quantities of appetizers: fried calamari, crab cakes, bread, and cheese pizza, set out on the adjacent counter. The drinks menu included a lot of items like lemonade or ginger beer mixed with vodka, so they taste like the other thing but are firmly alcoholic.

When our time was up, we moved to an adjacent picnic table inside this cavernous space and dined on the contents of large serving platters passed around: pasta with meat marinara sauce, pasta with alfredo sauce, chicken milanese, and beef marsala. Basic Italian food, but quite good, and, most importantly, efficiently served. They got 5 stars on my Yelp review for that.

An interesting and unusual way for us to spend a birthday party.

1. It's actually il pallino, which I only mention to prevent people from telling me that. I could look it up, you know, and I did. It's just funnier to record how I got it wrong.
2. Beth is related to me exactly in the same way as Elizabeth Longford was related to Lord Dunsany. I'm her husband's mother's sister's husband, got it?

Saturday, September 9, 2023

I warned you this would happen

When the Peter Jackson-directed movies of The Lord of the Rings were about to appear, I warned you. I said that unless they were total commercial failures, they would bury the book. Media colonization of literature - it's a common thing.

Defenders of movie adaptations say, "The book is still on the shelf." That's about the most useless answer that could possibly be made. It doesn't matter where the book is, if the movie is in the head. The book is doing no good on the shelf unless somebody takes it down and reads it, and they won't read it if they think they already know what's in it because they've seen the movie. How shocked are people on first encountering Shelley's Frankenstein at how unlike the 1931 movie it is? How often do people get basic facts about the books The Wizard of Oz - The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, actually - or even The Princess Bride wrong because they got them from the movie? It's happened with Tolkien too. The frequency with which I read Sauron described as an impotent, helpless eyeball - he's supposed to be a powerful, threatening menace! The story doesn't work if he isn't!

It wouldn't be so bad if we could wall the movies and other media adaptations off. They do their thing over there, the book does its thing over here, all is peaceful. One can shuttle between them if one wants, and not if one doesn't. The movie defenders imply that. If one complains about differences, they say "movies are different from books." Fine, then, let them be different.

But that doesn't happen. The media keeps colonizing. You can't avoid the colonization. At Oxonmoot last week talk of The Rings of Power was frequent - a series that, whatever its virtues, is completely unlike Tolkien in tone, in style, in content, in fact in everything except a few character names. Surely that's not enough to fool Tolkienists into accepting it as an allied work. But apparently it is.

The proof came in the foreword to a new book, Tolkien in the Twenty-First Century: The Meaning of Middle-Earth Today by Nick Groom. My friend CFH, one of the few really sensitive to this issue, alerted me to this. Groom writes,
In contrast, Twenty-First-Century Tolkien takes as its starting point the Tolkien phenomenon today: a multi-media mix and fix of literature, art, music, radio, cinema, gaming, fandom, and popular culture - a never-ending Middle-Earth. We cannot return to a purely literary Middle-Earth independent of, primarily, Sir Peter Jackson's extraordinary films. We should therefore accept that any assessment of newly published works drawn from the Tolkien archives - as well as new adaptations of his tales and imagined histories - are inevitably going to be deeply coloured by the multifaceted twenty-first-century Tolkien 'industry', for want of a better term.
So there it is: as far as Groom is concerned, you can't just read the book any more. You can't take it down from the shelf and ignore the movie: the movie you will always have with you. It's even appropriated the name of Tolkien, though Tolkien had nothing to do with any of this: he just wrote the book.

"In contrast," Groom begins: in contrast to what? To books dealing with "arcana" for the "cognoscenti," "bogged down in the minutiae," or whose "extreme erudition stifles the appreciation of the works" with their "twists and turns of invented languages."

Well, look. This is a caricature. Yes, there are books that deal with the "arcana" of the invented world, though some of them, like Robert Foster's Complete Guide to Middle-earth, are easy to use and to understand and are designed for the beginner. And many of the most devout fans of movie and media adaptations are very eager to delve into that arcana and minutiae. You won't pick up half those character-name references in Rings of Power if you don't. (Harfoots, for instance.)

As for the erudite scholarship, yes it can be boring if done poorly, but I'm impressed by how much of it is done very well. When done well enough, it bristles with mind-exploding insights. Skip the first chapter, maybe, of Tom Shippey's The Road to Middle-earth, but you can't read the rest without learning so much about Tolkien's work and what he intended to convey by writing it. In one of the few things Groom writes that I agree with, he says that if The Lord of the Rings were the simplistic story of good and evil it's sometimes charged as, we wouldn't still be reading it now, 50 years after the author's death.

And what made it last? It was the deep thought and erudition that Tolkien put in to the story, things which a fluent and captivating scholar like Shippey - or many others - can bring out for you. You don't have to be a scholar yourself to understand the basics here, and it will help your appreciation a lot.

As for what Groom wants from other books, ones which avoid details and erudition and encourage "the appreciation of the works as literature," there are those too. That's what I tried to do in my article "J.R.R. Tolkien: An Introduction to His Work" in my book Gifted Amateurs. Shippey's other Tolkien book, J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century, goes into how and why Tolkien is appreciated. And Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon by Brian Rosebury is the best of several books which show how Tolkien is a masterful writer and fun to read. No arcana, no cognoscenti. He even, as his subtitle suggests, goes into adaptations and the wider "phenomenon," insofar as it existed 20 years ago when he wrote. Yes, Jackson is discussed. It's like an earlier version of Groom, but much better. (Judging from Groom's aggressively obnoxious foreword, and his first chapter, which is a foggily cluttered potted biography of Tolkien: that's as far as I've gotten so far.)

Thursday, September 7, 2023

construction update

Lots of jackhammering and other loud noises from outside as the workers dug new holes around the patio for the fenceposts. Concerned looks from the cats.

At one point they struck against the water pipe, so our water ran brown for a while. Fun!