Saturday, August 31, 2013

bacon explosion

It isn't often that one learns of a cultural event from one of those freeway message signs that usually broadcast bridge closings or child abductions. But concerns about traffic to today's Bacon Festival in San Jose prompted its inclusion in the warnings given to motorists.

Curious, I looked it up and found that it was to consist of a collection of food trucks, all serving specially-priced inexpensive dishes featuring bacon. This seemed like a good opportunity to investigate the rising gourmet tide of food truckery, so I decided to go.

It was an exhausting experience, one I'm not eager to repeat, and not too culinarily successful either. The festival occupied part of the back parking lot of the San Jose Flea Market, with most of some two dozen trucks lined up, bumper to bumper, in a long row. Stacks of upside-down plastic buckets under canopies provided the only seating. The sun baked the pavement. People all around talked and munched. DJs with turntables blasted out the kind of music that makes me wonder why it's minimalists who get slammed for being endlessly repetitive. Just to add to the broiling chaotic noise, a drum band repeatedly marched up and down the entire length of the festival.

And it was very crowded, though ticket sales were limited. I arrived soon after opening, when none of the trucks had more than ten people in line. By the time I'd finished my first snack, though, some of the lines were awesome. (Meanwhile, the proprietors of other trucks peered out their order windows at the passing crowds, begging them to stop and try their wares.) One line had literally 70 people in it and stretched all the way across the parking lot; I counted them as I sat nearby on a bucket eating something else. At the speed of service, it would take an hour to get through. And what was that truck serving? Grilled cheese sandwiches.

With bacon, of course. I tried maybe five items, all of them dishes that would normally be served without bacon, but which had small pieces of bacon added (or, in some cases, possibly not), whether it enhanced the dish or not. It didn't enhance the Louisiana Territory truck's "Si-food chowder" (a name on the menu board which it literally took me 15 seconds to figure out), that's for sure. The scope of the offerings can be best illustrated by the two dishes I purchased from a truck called Chutney Mary's. One, an ear of corn on the cob drizzled in chutney sauce, cheddar cheese, and bacon, was astonishingly tasty, though my post-prandial reaction to it was still "Now that I've tried that, I don't ever have to have it again." The other, a bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo that reputedly also contained bacon, was so abominably greasy that it was inedibly vile. I had to throw most of it away.

Most of the offerings didn't even look appetizing enough to try. I suspect, or at least hope, that the trucks were not at their best. Offering menus more limited than their usual fare, to far vaster numbers of customers than they usually get in a day, probably was no more inducing of fine food than the Valentine's Day menu at a romantic restaurant.

Convinced that I'd by now spent all afternoon broiling away at this event, I dug my watch out of my pocket to discover that I'd been there no more than two hours, and it was only 1:30 pm and promising to get hotter. I doubted I was going to want to eat any more any time soon anyway, so I dragged my weary carcass out of there, headed home, and fixed a determinedly vegetarian dinner of cheese enchiladas and steamed broccoli. No more bacon for a while.

Friday, August 30, 2013

two books that think they're tv specials

Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking by Susan Cain (Crown)
Maphead: charting the wide, weird world of geography wonks by Ken Jennings (Scribner)

These two books seem to exist for the purpose of assuring the people described in them that they're not alone. And, of course, my primary egoscanning interest in them was in seeing how well I fit. Some things, but not others. Of Cain's twenty, I think (both books have gone back to the library) characteristics of introversion, about 12 sounded like me and 5 were definitely not me. I'm not quiet, for one thing, but that's because I do have the introverted characteristic of, put me in a structured environment where I'm comfortable, like a classroom with a subject I understand, and I'll talk. It's when you put me in an unstructured one where I'm uncomfortable, like a noisy party full of strangers, that I'll mutely drift off into a corner or, more likely, out the door. Cain describes high-octane energy-building pitch sessions, but oddly without describing this introvert's reaction to them, which is total immunity. (I remember Harlan Ellison pitching his I, Robot movie script at Iguanacon, to the utter thrill of the audience, except me; I was standing in the back, thinking, "This movie will never happen," and indeed it did not.)

Cain's is a pop-psych book, including real ideas but treating them casually, that emphasizes that classification is fuzzy and that no one fits perfectly any template. Jennings' is just a tour around various types of wonks, some of which are me (people who can spend all day staring at maps), some of which are sort of me (competitive country-collectors, except that I only collect counties - countries are too expensive, time-consuming, and the necessary travel too uncomfortable - and I'm not competitive about it), and some of which are emphatically not me (geocachers).

Jennings has a chapter on fantasy world maps, in which he discusses Austin Tappan Wright (a name too little remembered), Tolkien (with a fair sprinkling of insignificant factual errors), and Brandon Sanderson, who was - dear god - Jennings' college roommate.

The two books have one other thing in common: they're both written like verbal descriptions of tv news specials. After short salvos of straight-to-camera simplified exposition, we are taken, in a burst of "you are there" enthusiasm, to an expert or exemplar who can illustrate the point. The person is described: their person, their character, their office or home or lab. They give extended soundbite quotes. And we're off to the next point.

Monday, August 26, 2013

food service

1. Beware, beware, the ides of sauce. Indian simmer sauces are a standard item in our pantry. They usually come in jars. Half a jar in a covered saucepan with chopped veggies, then add cooked pasta and sometimes a little leftover chicken near the finish, and it's a meal. The only catch is, sometimes they're spicier than B. likes. My latest discovery is a brand, Kitchens of India, where even a "mild" label on the jar will not save you from ultra-spicy. Even their tikka masala - an inherently wimpy Anglo concoction, the chop suey of Indian food - was too spicy. Using just a third of the jar and diluting it with water didn't work, as it sometimes does. Next try, a few days later: cutting it with tomato sauce. Still too spicy. Finally, rummaging around in the fridge produced a successful recipe. Two parts sauce. Three parts mayonnaise. And one part milk. That, at last, brought it down to the merely brightly tasty.

2. For a Sunday early afternoon backyard bbq, I found myself tasked with bringing drinks. This would be a score of people mostly older than myself, so loading up on soda pop* didn't seem quite the thing. I headed for what the very large local Safeway calls the "specialty drinks" aisle. I bought a lot of medium-sized bottles of that uncolored but fruit-flavored water, some Starbucks chilled coffee of some kind (I know little of the ways of coffee), some Snapple, and, because I couldn't resist it, two different professional golfer brands of lemonade. Arnold Palmer lemonade is evenly mixed with ice tea, and Jack Nicklaus lemonade has mango in it. I prefer Jack's. I found I didn't much care for the uncolored water; it tastes too sweet for me, even though it doesn't seem to have any sweetenings in it. Lemonade, on the other hand, does not.

*Some people say "soda" and some people say "pop", but I say "soda pop".

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I use three browsers

Some time around 2005 I abandoned IE in favor of Firefox, the next new thing. I spent considerable time customizing it, changing the display colors (because I hate bright white screens glaring at me) and installing ad blockers up the wazoo. I updated it a few times, but when version 3 was released in '08 I balked, because I heard it was buggy, and when later, reportedly less-buggy, versions were released, I hesitated, fearful that feature creep would prevent all my painstakingly-arrived-at settings from transferring over.

So I'm still using Firefox 2. This is still OK for some sites, but for others it means the site won't load or the displays won't appear. I have a particularly hilarious time on sites like Amazon, where my extreme ad-blocking causes the hot function buttons to disappear - as displays; the buttons are still active. I have to feel around the screen with my mouse looking for hot spots that will do something if I click, and then hope it's the right one because, since there's no display, I can't tell what it does. I stayed on the old LJ interface as long as I could, but when that was discontinued the data entry display went all wonky and I could no longer make out what I was typing as it kept overwriting itself on the screen.

By that time I'd already picked a backup browser to keep updated and not use blocking on, for those websites that were just impossible with Firefox 2. I picked Opera, because I'd heard good things about it. And, indeed, it's good except for three things, two of them display-related. First, I can't find any way to change the color settings, so the white screen glares at me. Second, its display sometimes interacts awkwardly with my Windows settings, which are also reversed color, and on some sites, e.g. Slate, I get white-on-white, and have to highlight the text in order to read it.

The last straw, however, was the third thing, which was the latest update to the LJ interface. The "post" button is disabled on Opera, even the latest version. You can see it, but nothing happens if you click on it. Same on Firefox. Same on IE 8, when I dusted that off and tried it. In desperation, I downloaded Chrome and tried that. Ta da, it works! Also, though I can't figure out any way to change display colors on Chrome either, at least it doesn't import my Windows settings on Slate text, so at least I can now read that.

So now I use Chrome for LJ and Slate and a few others, Opera for everything else that won't work on Firefox 2, and Firefox 2 for the rest. Which is enough that I'm having trouble remembering which sites I use on which browser. Why don't I just abandon Opera for Chrome? Well, three reasons. Opera does two tab-related things I really like, which Chrome doesn't. First, when I open it, it opens the same tabs I'd closed with. (Firefox only does that if it crashed.) Second, when I'm switching among tabs by alt-tab, it takes me first to the last one I used. That means I can have, say, 5 tabs open, but if I'm just comparing two of them at the moment, I can switch back and forth between them without having to cycle through the other 3 or use the mouse. Neither Chrome nor Firefox does this.

Thirdly, Opera, like Firefox, is an independent project. Chrome belongs to Google, and I don't want Google tracking what I do any more than necessary. Yeah, I keep declining to "sign in," as they call it, but do I trust them? Not one bit.

But man, I really wish Opera and Chrome would let me change the display colors.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lee Daniels' The Butler

This movie stars Forest Whitaker, who plays a White House butler by spending two hours looking stricken.

Typical scene: The President of the moment decides firmly against taking a stand for civil rights. Forest Whitaker, quietly serving drinks in an ellipse of the Oval Office, gives him a stricken look. President changes his mind, decides to send troops to Little Rock, submit civil rights bill to Congress, etc.

The Presidents are played by ludicrously-chosen star actors. Robin Williams as Eisenhower is actually one of the more believable, if you can believe it. John Cusack plays Nixon as if asked to play Dan Aykroyd playing Nixon. Alan Rickman, the Gloomy Gus of the acting profession, plays the perpetually-sunny Reagan as if under the impression he is playing Al Gore instead. Millions of people throughout the world can do a decent Reagan impression, and whaddaya know, they give the job to the one guy who can't do it.

No wonder Forest Whitaker keeps giving them stricken looks, but that's not all he can look stricken over. He looks stricken when successive Presidents keep asking him his personal opinion on racial issues, the kind of question that no employer should ever ask an employee on any subject. He looks stricken when told he's the best butler in the White House, when he keeps not getting a raise despite that, when his son goes out and actually does things, when Obama is elected President, when he remembers that once he won an Oscar for playing Idi Amin and now he's reduced to this?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

festival by bicycle

One thing I like about my small blue car is that, as it's a hatchback with fold-down seats, I can fit my bicycle inside. However, once it's in, there's no room for anything else except the driver.

And what B. likes about her new folding bike is that it will fit in the trunk of her car.

That means that we may now drive together to go bicycle riding in places further than we'd wish to ride to, as unlike our mighty nephews we are not epic cyclists.

Our first thought had been to go down to the baylands trails, but this weekend was the Assyrian Festival in Willow Glen, so we decided to go there instead. I like these little ethnic festivals for their little ethnic food. Willow Glen is an older, small, quiet, off-the-main-highways town long since swallowed up by San Jose. We parked at the park-and-ride lot out by the Almaden corridor and rode our bicycles through the older and more colorful residential neighborhoods, down tight little winding streets where it'd be difficult to sightsee by car, enjoying the vistas of the houses and the occasional cat, and then circled out to the Orthodox church where the Festival was.

The Festival's announcements said it opened at 11. When we got there shortly afterwards, we were let in, but told it really didn't open until 11:30. And it didn't actually get going until about noon, when the food booths got cranking. I've been to better-organized festivals than this, but also to less-organized ones. (You do not want, while waiting at a food booth, to hear one staff member say to another, "We have a health inspector emergency," as I heard once at a festival to remain nameless.) Once the food was up and ready, we had yogurt salad with dill and cucumbers (lotta dill, lotta cucumbers; lotta yogurt, too) and dolmas, which apparently are Assyrian too, and brought home some flatbread.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

a review of something different

There are things that other people do, that perhaps most of the people I know do all the time, that I have never done, or have done rarely.

One of those things would be, "go to a rock concert." Now, if electric-folk bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span and the Oyster Band, or for that matter the Roches or Suzanne Vega, count as rock bands, then I've been to such concerts, though not for a long time. But if you mean a rock band, or even a pop band, in the stricter sense, then no, I have never been. Ever.

Until last Saturday. It was due to the blandishments of my editor at the San Mateo Daily Journal and of the conductor of the Redwood Symphony that I consented to review a concert at which the Symphony played the parts of the London classical session musicians who played such important parts in later Beatles songs, the parts of the Beatles themselves being taken by a group called the White Album Ensemble, which, as its name suggests, specializes in playing in concert the later songs that the Beatles never played in concert themselves.

Now, there are several reasons I don't attend rock concerts.

Most importantly, 1) I hate most of the music. Not the case with the Beatles. There's a few famous bands I like one or two songs by, even if I hate the rest (I do have to draw a blank with the Rolling Stones), but I actually like about 80% of the Beatles' songs, something I can say about only one other non-folkie rock band1; and, looking over the set list of this concert beforehand, I realized I could review this because, not only do I like most of the songs, I know all of them, the way I know classical pieces. I couldn't have done this if it were anybody's songs but the Beatles'.

2) They're too crowded and humongous, and the acoustics suck. But this was no horrible arena show2 - I wouldn't have gone to hear even the Beatles at an arena show, and after a while the Beatles couldn't stand to go either, which is why they stopped touring - it was at the old Fox Theatre in Redwood City, and it was only a tribute group. I thought it'd be manageable on all accounts, and it was.

3) Too expensive. Not if you've got a reviewer's comp ticket it isn't. And this was easily affordable anyway, cheaper than a lot of classical concerts.

4) Too loud. Well, that I was worried about, so I packed my industrial-strength earplugs, which I last used on Fairport Convention. I wore them about half the time. Though everything was amplified, some of the songs were not too loud: "When I'm 64" and "Martha My Dear" certainly weren't, not to mention "Eleanor Rigby" and, fer cryin' out loud, "Yesterday." By classical standards this was, at its most, a piercingly loud concert. By rock standards I expect it was very quiet.

Here's the review. It had to be brief, hard for me when there's 30 pieces in the show, but I hope it's clear I had a good time, especially because of what I dared to call the band's "classical aesthetic," which meant that their first priority was to play the song as written, not to jazzify it, which annoys me more than anything else in pop covers.

One thing I didn't have space for was to describe the band.3 There were eight guys in the ensemble on stage, and they split up the original Beatles' roles pretty extensively. Despite their fidelity to what I guess I should call the score, they made no attempt to imitate the individual character of the playing or singing, any more than classical musicians imitate the style of other players, and they didn't look like the Beatles at all. In fact, they looked like other people. The guy who sang Paul's parts looked like Pete Townshend. The guy who sang John's parts looked rather like Neil Young. The lead guitarist looked like David Bowie. The guy who stood in for the voices of both George and Ringo wore a cap like mine, dark glasses, and a mustache, and as a result looked as much like John Astin as anybody.

Anyway, they did some amazing things, which I also didn't have much space to describe. They actually played the outro to "Strawberry Fields", though they didn't attempt the one to "I Am the Walrus".

1. Anybody care to guess what the other band is? DGK knows.
2. When I was living in Seattle, some 33 1/3 years ago, the Rolling Stones came to town, and all of my friends just had to go. I was immune, not just because of the detestable band, but because of the venue, which was the domed pro football stadium. "You know the acoustics are going to suck," I told my friends, and they nodded; they knew. Afterwards I asked various of them how the concert was, and they all began by saying that the acoustics really sucked.
3. In an unsuccessful search for good and appropriate photos of the band online - in the end, the print edition published the review without photos - I took to Googling the names of individual band members, and found out that one of them is a registered sex offender. (He pleaded no contest.) I really didn't want to know that. But I guess even they need jobs.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

fantasy: the view from 1942

Tolkien scholar John D. Rateliff has already posted this intriguing little discovery on his blog, but I want to expand on the point.

When C.S. Lewis discovered E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros at the end of 1942, he was so enthusiastic that he wrote Eddison a fan letter - not the only time he'd write such a letter before even finishing reading the book, nor the only time he'd do so in a pastiche of the author's own prose. Eddison wrote the Worm in a style containing elements of a resurrected 16th century English, and Lewis went whole hog on that in his letter. (He had reason to: he'd already begun systematically reading through the entire 16th-century English literary corpus for his eventual volume on it for the Oxford History of English Literature.) The two of them conducted almost their entire correspondence in this style, and one wonders how they talked when they finally met.

Anyway, in the letter Lewis describes how he found out about Eddison's novel. He had found it mentioned in
a foolish book (on the novello) that came late to my hands, made by som poore seely wench that seeketh a B.Litt or a D.Phil, when God knows shad a better bestowed her tyme makynge sport for some goodman in his bed and bearing children for the stablishment of this reaulme or else to be at her beads in a religious house.
To which one can only say, wow, how misogynistic can you get? It's possible that Lewis was merely trying to ape the 16th-century attitude (really, cloistered nuns? though such still existed, and Lewis had just dedicated his novel Perelandra to some whom he'd been in correspondence with), but the fact that he turned to such language and found it appropriate speaks unfortunate volumes.

Actually, Lewis's intent was to criticize this particular book and not to disparage all women in scholarship, though, as when he belittled Jane Studdock's thesis work in That Hideous Strength, he fails to make the distinction clear - and, especially in this case, emphasizing the author's being a woman (he'd hardly criticize a man in the same terms) is what makes it so noxious.

Why I say that Lewis's beef was with the book will have to wait until we find out what book it was. Eddison on replying asked who the scholar was, and Lewis had to reply that "the name, with the book, is goon from me," but he emphasized that she had not been critical of The Worm - as Eddison, reading Lewis's vehement comments, had thought - but that it was just a case of a praise so incompetent that it was a case of "with friends like this, who needs enemies?" (a phrase Lewis gives in the original Latin).

And there the matter rested. For years, though we had Lewis's letters, we had no idea what the book was. All we had was Lewis's opinion that it wouldn't do for a university English thesis, and that he was particularly incensed that the author had compared Eddison to Swinburne without noting his deep indebtednesses to William Morris, Sir Thomas Browne, Homer, and the Norse Eddas. At least, though, Lewis was grateful that it had brought Eddison's work to his attention, however poorly its attractions to him were conveyed.

It was Paul Edmund Thomas, the Tolkien and Eddison scholar responsible for the new editions of Eddison's works that have come out over the last couple decades, who found it. It's called What's in a Novel by Helen E. Haines (Columbia University Press, 1942), a book which went through several printings over at least two decades, and which, as a then up-to-date and wide-ranging survey of recent novels, was a standard library selection guide for fiction for some time. Haines was determined and gutsy in her work: she got in trouble with the anti-Commie mania of the 1950s for refusing to support censorship in library collections.

Now we can say where Lewis, besides being misogynistic, was off-base in his criticism. First, Haines was no pitiable wench. She was, at this time, a redoubtable 70 years old. Secondly, she wasn't English ("for the stablishment of this reaulme," said Lewis) but American, not that this would have raised her any favors in Lewis's eyes. Thirdly, she was not seeking a B.Litt. or Ph.D., and never had been. She was an experienced library collection development specialist (she taught at library schools, but never actually worked as a librarian) who'd been writing on the topic of book selection for some years. Her goal in this book was not the kind of penetrating literary analysis Lewis would have sought in a thesis, but a light overview to guide librarians in their choices.

Lastly, her reference to Swinburne was hardly fairly conveyed by Lewis's description: "Now this wench, Sir, made mentioun of yr honours historie and heroicall romans entituled Oroboros, wherein fondlie comparing of youre eloquent stile to Swinburne she made plain discoverie of her own follie and her ignorance of such good and allow'd auctours in whom I perceive you to be verie well versed …"

What Haines actually says - and here she's not talking about The Worm at all, but has gone on to Mistress of Mistresses, a fact Lewis evidently missed (and a book rather different in style which he had not at that time read) - is "There is throughout a sweeping, changing luxuriance of language, sometimes of Swinburnian rhythm, sometimes vigorous Elizabethan, lordly or plebian, sometimes Romanesque, sometimes echoing the cadences of Greece." Which suggests to me that she was casting around, trying to find some comparison that would convey the flavor of this unique work, and while that wouldn't do for a thesis, it does remind me of some of the early reviews of The Lord of the Rings a few years later, which had the same problem. And what she found in Mistress (and not in The Worm, of which it would be less appropriate a comparison) was a stylistic echo of Swinburne, not a straight comparison of Eddison's style to that poet's. I think Lewis was reading quickly and sloppily, and tossed the book aside without another thought.

It's a pity, because What's in a Novel is actually a very interesting book. It mentions the big name modernists, Joyce and Lawrence and Woolf and Hemingway, though it doesn't discuss their work in detail. Haines is more interested in popular than literary fiction, and in a section on "proletarian fiction" she discourses effusively and at length on The Grapes of Wrath, along with Richard Wright's Native Son and some less-remembered books. There's a chapter on historical fiction (yes, Gone with the Wind gets a wave), separate ones on European and Latin American fiction, a chapter on mysteries (whose popularity she traces to Woodrow Wilson's fondness for one by somebody named J.S. Fletcher), which discusses the form more than recommending particular books, and refers the reader to another more specialized volume for advice; and, most interestingly to us, a chapter on fantasy, which is where Eddison comes in.

Her fantasy topics are
1) James Branch Cabell ("His theme of woman centers on sex.")
2) Eddison ("an atmosphere of magical enchantment, like a shining, iridescent bubble, is beautifully sustained")
3) Robert Nathan ("delicate fantasies, with their charm of humor and grace" - omitting, oddly, Portrait of Jennie, though it mentions another even newer book)
followed in less detail by Sylvia Townsend Warner, David Garnett, James Hilton's Lost Horizon, Aldous Huxley's After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, and John Erskine's The Private Life of Helen of Troy, intermingled with some books I've never heard of, most enthusiastically The Far-Away Bride by Stella Benson. Then she turns to "utopia," by which she actually means science fiction, because some of the books she mentions are no utopias. There's Bellamy, of course; Wells, Huxley, Stapledon, Fowler Wright, and others. (Essentially nothing from the Campbellian SF revolution had yet appeared in book form.) Then she throws in a brief reference to a pack of dog-viewpoint novels, including Dunsany's My Talks with Dean Spanley, and concludes the chapter with some highly complimentary remarks on T.H. White's early Arthurian books (in retrospect effectively drafts for the yet-uncompiled Once and Future King) and one more author. Of White's books she concludes,
To many readers they may seem books for children; but in reality they are full-fledged fantasy at play for old as well as young. So is The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again, that adventure into the land of Faerie, where dragons, elves, goblins, dwarves, and creatures of magic still challenge the dominion of men. Written by J.R.R. Tolkien, professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, for his own children, it fuses legend, tradition, and the dim beginnings of history into a robust imaginative creation that mingles homely simplicity, humor, drama, pictorial beauty, and a truly epic quality.
How about that? As John Rateliff points out, this is one of the first, if not the first, published comments on Tolkien's fiction outside of book reviews.

The sad thing I have to report is that Haines's tastes, admirable as they look from today's postmodern viewpoint, didn't win her any favors at the time. Though the book got mostly good reviews, the author was criticized for her "aesthetic unconcern" and "somewhat undiscriminating appetite," and, worst of all, for being "middle-brow." Which I guess means that she recommended books that she thought were both good and that public library patrons would enjoy. and not those that other people thought they ought to read.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tolkien Studies 10: an announcement

Usually I can count on some other eager scholar to announce this first, but here we are: I happened yesterday to visit the library where I normally do research, and looked up Tolkien Studies on Project MUSE, the online journal server. There I found that this year's issue, volume 10, is up and running.

Printed copies, for those that have ordered them, should be appearing by the last week in August.

Link to previous post of the table of contents.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

concert review: Cabrillo Festival

For the final concert, chronologically, of the flood that's kept me occupied for the last three weeks - I have one more review coming later, of a slightly earlier event - my editor sent me to the Cabrillo Festival finale, at Mission San Juan Bautista, pretty much because I'm the furthest south reviewer, the only one for whom driving to SJB isn't much of a burden. It's about an hour from here if there's no traffic, but there was.

My first thought was, "Ugh, the Mission's hard benches." But they weren't much of a problem this time. My second thought was, "Ugh, Magnus Lindberg's clarinet concerto," but that turned out not to be much of a problem either.

The concert was at 4 p.m. (there's an evening repeat, but I had to be back by then) and I arrived about 1:30, figuring to have a leisurely late lunch in one of the tiny backwater town's 3 or 4 peaceful backwater restaurants. Not a chance. Sometime since the last time I've done a concert at the Mission, they've set up a street fair in SJB on Cabrillo Sunday. Not like one of the art festivals we get further north, this was table after table, block after block, of junk from people's attics. Not antiques or anything like that, just junk. Nevertheless it was hugely popular, and the town was packed. So were the restaurants. It was after 2 before I'd parked, surveyed the scene, and determined that there was no booth food worth having, so I had to run back to Gilroy for a quick snack instead.

Short version of the review: I didn't exactly like any of the music, but it all impressed the heck out of me.

On the long walk back to the car, I overheard a man behind me note to his partner that he'd attended an organ recital from the Carmel Bach Festival at the Carmel Mission just a couple weeks before, so that was two mission concerts in short order. I turned around and said, "Have you ever been to a concert at Mission Santa Clara?" He said no, but I have, and I've been to concerts at Mission San Jose, too. He, in turn, reminded me of Holy Cross in Santa Cruz (ta da, same name), which might count as it's the successor church of a mission. So we've been to concerts in five of them, and I've been to a wedding in a sixth. That puts us in a good missionary position. Only 15 to go.

Friday, August 9, 2013


Let's see. I've read and responded to all the submissions that my co-editor sent before she decamped to England for a fortnight (sigh). I've reviewed the edits on my Tolkien paper that came back a few days ago. I'm listening to the music for my Sunday reviewing assignment. After three weeks of running ragged, I think I'm pretty much caught up on current work tasks. Just don't ask about any of the longer-term projects I need to undertake to keep up.

And that, also, is after taking most of two days off to celebrate B's birthday. First I went out and bought the Nook book presents (you don't want to get those in advance, as they send the recipient an e-mail), and baked the second annual sugar-free chocolate birthday cake. Then, on the morning itself, we indulged in the birthday meal at one of the local breakfast specialists, and then went to the small San Jose zoo, which we hadn't visited in quite a few years. It's been markedly rebuilt since then, but it still has meerkats and a capybara (a Rodent Of Unusual Size), as well as tiny foxes with giant ears, from North Africa (the foxes, not just their ears). There were a lot of lemurs, but there were also some lemur displays that appeared empty. Maybe the inhabitants had gone to lost Lemuria. In the barn/petting zoo area was a corral with 20 goats. I don't believe I have ever seen so many goats live at once. And in their midst, a man endlessly sweeping up pellets, because that's what you get with 20 goats.

Better even than the displays was an animal show. The keeper who ran it talked and talked and talked and talked, and talked, but he did manage to show a few animals. Many of them were rescue critters that had been bought as pets by foolish people who quickly realized their unsuitability and begged the zoo to take them off their hands. Like a Burmese python. B. was particularly taken with the barn owl. The keeper urged us all to build owl boxes and we'd soon get residents who'd clear the area of vermin. I kind of doubt we'd get an owl, as far into the urban buildup as we are, and if we did, it'd probably first eat the fence lizards which we like. Most unusual of the animals was a young orphaned kangaroo joey. He had been named Sasquatch, so I can now say I've seen a Sasquatch, live and close-up.

After that, as long as we were in the general area, we stopped off at my favorite little old tamale vendor in Alum Rock, in east San Jose, for a couple dinners' worth of what I call Eastern Tamales. (To distinguish them from the different-style ones I get from a vendor in Mountain View, which is west of here, and which I therefore call Western Tamales.)

Call it a successful day out.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


I really did say, prior to the Kronos concert I attended last weekend, that the problem with reviewing the Cabrillo Festival is that anything less than total enthusiasm will be met with vehement denunciation. I was thinking of this review two years ago, which got me told the startling and unearthly news that reviewers have no right to express judgment, a proposition which, if true, would cause the entire reviewing profession to vanish in a puff of logic. What the complainers actually meant, of course, was, "reviewers have no right to disagree with me."

And sure enough, my Kronos review has now been graced with a vehement denunciation by one of those people who thinks he can read, but shows no evidence of actual comprehension. My reply only gets at about half of the illogicalities and misreadings packed into two paragraphs. Clicking on this person's user profile reveals someone who makes a habit of trolling various online boards posting sarcastic denunciatory comments; but if you want sarcasm, you'll get sarcasm.

But it's only Cabrillo, do you notice? In my last Menlo review I slagged off some of the finest chamber musicians on the planet, but nobody complained about that. Say that something is "recurring" at a Cabrillo concert, though, and you must have been totally dismissive of the entire effort. Oo-ee-oo.

Fortunately I had nothing but praise for the performers and everything else in my latest Menlo review. It was almost as intimidating to be sent to review a performance of the whole of Bach's The Art of Fugue as it had been to be sent to review a recital of Bach unaccompanied violin music, but actually this was fun, enjoyable, and - as long as you weren't expected to produce a dissertation on Bach's use of counterpoint - easy to understand. I had a great time, and I hope so did everyone else.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

and what are "things", anyway?

"Dan Wakefield's Going All the Way was originally published in 1970 but is set in 1954, and it's hard to imagine a 16-year stretch in American history when things changed more."

I dunno. 1853 to 1869 comes to mind. How about 1938 to 1954? 1922 to 1938? I could go on.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

an evening with the Kronos

The Cabrillo Festival concert I was sent down to Santa Cruz for on Sunday was a recital by the Kronos Quartet. No, not a recital: an event. A happening.

I used to attend Kronos concerts regularly when minimalism was still the latest thing, because I liked the music. But Kronos' ethos of playing only the most contemporaneous of music requires them to throw all the babies out with the bathwater every few years, and whatever came after that I didn't like so much, so I stopped going. This must be the first time I've heard them since before Joan Jeanrenaud left.

Kronos used to play concert recitals. You know, with acoustic sound, ordinary lighting, intermissions, and all. Not any more. Not only did many of the works have added electronics, but even the live sound was amplified, which in my line of music is très tacky. The lighting was all oo-ee-oo subdued and focused entirely on the performers, which meant there wasn't even enough ambient light to read the program book. As a result, if you hadn't already memorized the program, you had no idea where in it you were or what would happen next.

That only increased the "submerged in a butt of malmsey wine" feeling of being stuck there, in the dark, for two full hours without an intermission, exposed to ceaseless new and unfamiliar music. No break to mentally process and absorb what you'd heard. And another thing which, with a higher word count limit, I'd have alluded to in the review by quoting Allan Sherman: "If you sit there, my friend / from beginning to end / Then your bladder better be strong."

I had my notebook. I took notes by scribbling blindly on the pages and turning them whenever I was afraid I was about to write over myself. Then I transcribed it all, what I could read of it, into the computer when I got home, and out of that wrote the review.

(One more item: the encore. Harrington introduced this by saying, "You know, Kronos is originally from Seattle, and Seattle was the home of one of America's greatest composers ..." and I'm hoping he'll say Alan Hovhaness. Or even Kurt Cobain would be tolerable at this point. But no, it's Jimi Hendrix. Blech. And don't ask me which song they played, because I do not know any of them, nor could I retain its shambling chaos (to use the appropriate Lovecraftian imagery) in mind long enough to check up on it afterwards.)

Monday, August 5, 2013

another day at Menlo

I spent pretty much all day Saturday at the Menlo-Atherton CPA again. This time the Young Performers Concert began with the ten-year-olds being impressively mature in movements from an early Beethoven violin sonata and ended with the full run-through of the Third Brandenburg whose rehearsal had suddenly materialized in front of me on the lawn the last time I'd visited the Menlo School campus a few days earlier. (You think someone has just turned on a very good, very loud stereo system, and then you turn the corner and ... there they are, playing away in t-shirts and blue jeans.) Along the way was enough of a good turn on Arensky's piano trio to convince me there's something to that work, and the most disconcertingly weightless first movement of the Schubert string quintet I'd ever heard, though it was very prettily done.

A day of concerts at the CPA, which is deep in a residential neighborhood (a few blocks from the house garage where Google started), does leave the question of where to go eat. There was enough time between the Yg Pf (concert 1) and the Prelude (concert 2) for me to dash off to the taqueria at the near end of N. Fair Oaks, which is adequate but ehhhh. Then Lucy Huntzinger drove down from petsitting gigs in far northern lands to join me for the main event (concert 3). About the merits and demerits of both the compositions and their performances we were in sufficient agreement that our discussion was of much help in clarifying my thoughts for the review. I'm sorry to have to have been so down on the Franck, but it just didn't catch. And I had an absolutely dynamite performance of it only a month ago, by the St. Lawrence and Stephen Prutsman at Bing, to remind me of how it can go. And an ensemble with David Finckel and Ian Swensen in it ought to be of the same caliber.

The question was, though, when was I to write the review? Not when I got home: almost straight to bed, stopping only for ablutions and to feed an Imperious Pandora. Not Sunday morning, which I spent cleaning up the text file of my Tolkien article, edited in printout between concerts on Saturday, and then sending it to my editor. After which I took my mother to the airport for a trip to visit my brother, and that wasn't a simple drop-off job either. Then home for what turned out to be a much-needed nap before driving down to Santa Cruz for the Cabrillo Festival concert which is my next review. (The nap was much-needed because the concert turned out to be mind-numbing.)

But I had a plan. Knowing that the local street fair coincides with Cabrillo, I went down early enough to eat street-booth food for dinner (the baked chicken from the Greek booth was outstanding) and be done before 6, when I cleared everything off from the fold-out table where I was sitting, got out my notebook, and used my newfound handwriting-composition skills to write for two hours, interrupted only by a woman who insisted on giving me a bottle of water to drink, as I looked so forlorn there without any food. When the ticket booth opened at the auditorium across the street, I picked mine up and then leaned against a pillar to finish, completing the review with a final . literally seconds before the auditorium doors opened. In fact, the review was so full that I had to cut it when I typed it up this morning. So see, Mom, everything came out all right.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

still drafty in here

After I turned in my big Tolkien article, in a slightly incomplete and very rough state, on Wednesday, my editor (6K miles away, by e-mail) gave a big sigh of relief - this was a short-deadline fill-in job - but said that he wouldn't be able to look at it until Sunday, which would give me a chance to tinker with it. That's OK - the purpose of a deadline in academic publishing is to give plenty of time to edit - but the last thing I wanted to do was to look at it again right then.

It turned out that that didn't last. A couple hours ago I finished filling in the last gap in the text, on top of which I've been doing polishing of various other sections. I've also put in subheadings - tough for me, as my prose tends to flow without demarcation lines - compiled the citation references (63 items, not bad for the bibliography of a piece written in a month), written a bio to the ridiculously short limit of 50 words, and moved several parenthetical remarks to footnotes.

The publisher guidelines had deprecated footnotes, but the editor had sent me the already-submitted articles bordering mine, and they used footnotes, so I'm going to also. Actually, apart from giving them a brief glance so I could see where the borderlines went - I'm not sure if I can say yet what my specific topic is, but it's a historical one divided into three periods, and I have the middle one - I hadn't looked at them since they arrived. I didn't want to be distracted. Now I've looked at them again, and the thing that had most disturbed me about my own piece - that it seemed to me too quick and selective a survey of what should be a large topic - I don't think I have anything to worry about. The borderline articles, one of them by a highly regarded name in the field, are more quick and selective than mine. They had to be: we have our word-count limit, and I exceeded it more than they did.

So I've gotten past the "ugh, this is terrible" post-partum depression stage of writing and am now feeling better about it. Now I'll print it out and carry a copy around and muse on corrections until Sunday morning when I'll turn it in again. Good timing, as I'm about to plunge into a maelstrom of reviewing gigs - 5 of them in 9 days.