Saturday, December 31, 2016

the annual year-end post

Here's the municipalities I've stayed in away from home over the course of the year:

Romulus, MI
Ashland, OR
Camarillo, CA (2)
San Antonio, TX
Innisfail, Alberta
Banff, Alberta
Eureka, CA
Medford, OR
Eugene, OR
Glendora, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Hillingdon, England
Bristol, England
Aberdare, Wales

The two trips out of the US were both totally unplanned as of the beginning of the year. The others were all at least penciled in as possibilities. Only the first trip, to Michigan, got me into other jurisdictions than the ones I stayed in: Indiana, Ohio, and Ontario. Apart from the one-afternoon mini-Potlatch in San Jose, I got to just one public convention, Mythcon in San Antonio: that's the new normal for me. But this year I also got to see Shakespeare performed in England as well as in Oregon, fly to LA for one quick overnight trip just to see an opera, hear 14 string quartet concerts in one week in Alberta, and walk among the seagulls on Anacapa Island (that's why I was staying in Camarillo, twice because the first trip I was scheduled for was cancelled due to inclement weather).

I wrote and published 27 concert reviews and other musical articles for my two reviewing venues, and also published one book review, in Mythlore. And I co-edited Volume 13 of Tolkien Studies, which has just been published, as well as writing various nuggets of the annual "Year's Work in Tolkien Studies" therein.

my ghod, I did it: I predicted the election

I'd totally forgotten this, but I've been going through my posts of the last year in preparation for writing a year-end post, and found this: On January 31st, I predicted that, given a straight fight between Trump and Clinton, Trump would be elected President.

Let me repeat that: On January 31st, 2016, I predicted that Trump would be elected President.

Here's the relevant part of what I wrote:
The article's second argument is that "there are simply not enough struggling, resentful, xenophobic white people in the US to constitute a national majority sufficient to win a presidential election." The flaw in that reasoning is that, if Trump wins the nomination, he won't need merely that category. Unless the party splits over him, and I wouldn't count on it doing so, other Republicans will have nowhere else to go. Trump has high negatives, yes, but so does Clinton (if she's the Democratic nominee), and she doesn't have the enthusiasm of her party's base. Enthusiasm is what means turnout, and - as the difference between 2008 and 2010 amply shows - between two strong bases, it's turnout that wins elections. Combine that with the prospect of a sluggish economy, and in a straight fight between Clinton and Trump, it'd be a wonder if Trump didn't win.
Then I wrote, "Never say that a strong candidate can't win," with a link to a collection of quotes from as late as the day before the 2008 election saying that Obama can't, or won't, win.

My argument related to turnout, and I think it's clear that lack of turnout, relative to Trump's, was the massive problem that weighed down Clinton's boat to the extent that relatively minor problems, like the whole e-mail shebang, Russian hackers and James Comey and all, were capable of sinking it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

what else to read by Richard Adams

The author of Watership Down has died at the venerable age of 96. I don't have to spend much time praising that book. It's one of my favorite novels, and in my estimation the finest quest fantasy since The Lord of the Rings. I'd also call it one of the three greatest fantasies of any kind I've read from the last third of its century, and though it's a strongly male book, the other two - Fire and Hemlock and Always Coming Home - are much more female, and not just in their authorship, so it balances.

I'm guessing that the criticisms of Watership Down on grounds of its sex roles - some of them justified, some not - must have gotten to the author, because some two decades later he published a semi-sequel, Tales from Watership Down, which is so self-consciously and dutifully gender-egalitarian that it made my teeth ache. I think there's a lesson in that.

It also brings up an important point about Adams, which is that not everything he wrote is worth reading. But much of his subsequent work is excessively obscure - I've found a lot of people have never heard of Tales, though it's a staple at used book stores - so people may not know what to go for.

I, however, have read a great deal of his work, and here's three other books, in increasing order of quality, that I would also recommend.

The Plague Dogs. It has more of the human perspective than Watership Down does, and it's much more openly polemic. It's also about two dogs. And a fox. This gives it a different atmosphere. But it's as closely observant and detailed about its landscape - the Lake District - as Watership Down is about the Hampshire downs, and the story is gripping.

There was an animated movie of this, made by the same people who made the Watership Down one, and quite similar in style.

The Girl in a Swing. No animals in this one, a purely human story with a whiff of the creepily supernatural about it. It's the first-person tale of a shy antique dealer from Newbury (Adams' home town, and near where Watership Down opens, though this is of course not mentioned) who at a relatively advanced age suddenly finds true love and then has it snatched away from him. The story is drenched in a foggy mist of uncertainty and lack of clarity, and that's actually the book's strongest point. What's really happening, if it were spelled out clearly, would actually be rather stupid. But drenched in an atmospheric haze it gives a marvelous and memorable effect.

The US publication has a somewhat different text from the UK one, spelling out a few of the more cryptic allusions, and changing the name of the principal female character in a way that makes a more obvious clue to the meaning of the story. I prefer the original edition. There was also a movie starring Rupert Frazer and Meg Tilly that was more blatant still.

The Day Gone By. The unknown treasure among Adams' other books, this is not a novel but a memoir, covering his childhood, school and university days, and WW2 service, up to the age of 25. The quality of the prose, the engaging quality of the storytelling, and the evocation of each of the disparate settings is wonderful. This is where Adams alludes to using his war-time paratroop regiment as the model for his rabbit band, though he doesn't go into detail; you will also learn that the country doctor who helps rescue Hazel near the end of WD is Adams' father. My favorite set piece in the book is Adams' tale of how he and some university friends tried but failed to take a punt down an underground culvert in Oxford. The account of being plunged into war service and the responsibilities of a junior officer at a tender and untried age bears interesting resemblance to that by Christopher Milne, who was the same age as Adams, in his equally little-known second memoir, The Path Through the Trees.

Some people like Shardik and Maia, but I found that Adams' talent for evoking real places didn't extend to imaginary ones. I've read several of his other books, which I'll pass over quietly. But as Adams himself pointed out, if you can write Watership Down, that's enough. And he did do more good writing than that.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

daily special

(to the tune of: O Tannenbaum)
O Hanukkah, O Hanukkah
You coincide with Christmas.

(credit to B.)

Tis the season. Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 23, 2016

one more British gotcha

This is actually an Anglo-American gotcha, because it required bureaucracies in both countries to do it. This came to mind when reading a friend's account of bureaucratic woes involving her lost ATM card.

When attempting to purchase a visitor's Oyster card online - that's the electronic ticket card for London transport - I repeatedly got an error message when making the actual purchase. The message read as if the problem was with their system crashing, which is why I kept re-trying it, but eventually I followed a link to a phone number, which when I called it told me they were somebody else, not responsible for Oyster cards; but they gave me another phone number. After much expensive transAtlantic talk, they suggested I check with my bank.

I didn't see how that would help, but sure enough, it did. My card issuer had flagged that a purchase was being made in another country and blocked my card for suspicious usage. I said, "Oh" (this had happened once before with genuine fraud, and they'd reissued my card, which was a bear to deal with, since this was the card I had all my automatic payments on), "were you planning on calling me to let me know this?" Apparently the answer was, "Eventually."

It emerged - and I checked with my other card issuers and my ATM-card bank about this too, and they said the same thing - that nowadays they may block as suspicious any transactions out of country or even out of town (though they couldn't tell me how far out of town you have to go before this kicks in) unless the cardholder has previously informed them of travel plans. This puzzled me - I use my cards across the country all the time, and went to Canada four months ago with no problem - but I filed my plans with all of them. Dates; and country: UK only.

But that didn't save me, and this is the gotcha I came to tell you about. One of the things I did was drive the Dartford Crossing. This is the tunnel under the Thames at the eastern end of the M25 beltway around London. I didn't really have to take it: I was coming back to my hotel near Heathrow from Orpington, which is almost halfway around the belt, and decided to take the slightly longer route so that I could say I'd driven the entire M25.

The Dartford Crossing charges a toll, but it's electronic and with cameras, and the signs were clear: if you don't have an account, go online within 2 days, enter your license plate, and pay by credit card. So I did that, and it was declined. This time, unlike with the Oyster card, the error message was clear that it was my credit card that was the problem. Puzzled, I used another card, and it worked.

Next time I talked with B. on the phone, she told me that the first credit card's fraud department had called. Again. It turns out - get this - that though the Dartford Crossing is in England, the company that charges your credit card for the toll is in Ireland. And I hadn't filed a travel plan for Ireland. So they blocked it. My other credit card was less punctilious, it seems.

So does this mean that every time I buy books online from overseas, from now on, I'll either have to alert the credit card issuer first, or else use the other card? Apparently. In the past I've used only the first card for all online purchases, for security reasons, but until the Oyster card it was never a problem.

At least I got used to using the Oyster card and figured out how such cards work. There's a similar card for Bay Area transit, but I've never gotten one because I don't ride public transit here very often - about once a month on average, I'd guess - and because the instructions for using the cards sounded fearsomely complex. But now I feel slightly tutored. However, I read that, by the time I return to the UK, the Oyster card may have disappeared and been replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

and it will be yesterday morning tonight

Over the years since we moved here, the bottlebrush bushes that overlook the parking spaces have become larger and more top-heavy. Some time ago, a large branch from one toppled over and landed in my parking space, fortunately not while I was parked in it.

It took four days for someone to come and clear it out, and it's taken 2 1/2 years (I know, because I mentioned the incident in a post at the time) until someone showed up yesterday saying he was going to trim the bushes. On the other hand, though they said it might take 3 days to do the job, it took only one.

Now they look pretty bedraggled, because they shouldn't have had to wait this long to be trimmed. I should have taken before-and-after photos.

In other news: I am used to seeing signs painted on the roadway reading LANE BIKE or CLEAR KEEP. Today, in the tony suburb of Los Gatos, I found a variant, new to me, of the latter: BLOCK NOT DO.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

concert review: Palo Alto Philharmonic

Fumbling around after my return from the UK for a concert to review for the Daily Journal, I skipped all the holiday concerts, which 1) I wasn't in the mood for; 2) would require prior study on my part; and picked a local amateur orchestra that was doing Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto, an old favorite, and some other stuff I mostly already knew. Easy as pie. What was hard was 1) figuring out where the space lines were in the parking lot in the dark and pouring rain; 2) finding the rest room, somewhere halfway down the high school campus that the auditorium was on the edge of; 3) suppressing a rapidly developing cough which ruined most of the next week for me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

electoral collage

I see that more electors defected from Clinton than from Trump. It seems to me that this is an excellent example of "You're not doing it right." In the absence of anything substantive I can do about it, I turn to historical trivia:

I have seen, but unfortunately did not keep links to, some lists of past Electoral College defectors. These lists erroneously include two cases where a candidate had died before the electors met. Those weren't faithless electors. In fact, when James S. Sherman (Republican, VP, 1912) died and the Republican electors that year voted for Nicholas Murray Butler in his place, they were being the opposite of faithless: they were following the instructions of the RNC, which had hastily met and chosen Butler as a substitute.

In the case of Horace Greeley (Liberal Republican & Democrat, Pres., 1872), nobody issued any instructions and the electors were on their own. Some bumped up his running mate, Gratz Brown; some chose other candidates; and the 3 who held fast and insisted that they'd been chosen to vote for Horace Greeley so by gum they were voting for Horace Greeley had their votes thrown out when Congress counted the ballots, on the grounds that you can't vote for a dead person.

On a similar topic of confusion, there seems to be some perplexity on the question of, if Melania stays in New York, can Ivanka be First Lady? But the answer is a simple yes, of course. Despite the pretensions of some things claiming to be official lists, "First Lady" doesn't mean "wife of the President," it means "official White House hostess." Normally they overlap, but they don't have to. Presidential daughters and sisters and such have taken that role before, due to the illness or other unavailability of the President's wife, or her total non-existence: we've had 2 bachelor Presidents and several widowers. In fact, the term First Lady was first popularized to describe bachelor President James Buchanan's niece, Harriet Lane, who had also been his formal hostess when he was Ambassador to the UK before he was President (where she charmed Queen Victoria, reportedly not an easy thing to do). The most recent case was Clintonian, when Chelsea served as First Lady for the last few months of Bill's term, while Hillary was off running for Senator.

Monday, December 19, 2016

radio stationary

When I replaced my car radio a couple years ago, I found the new device allowed me to pick 18 FM stations. What was I to do with so many stations? I'd had the old one fitted with the various frequencies of the local classical station (it doesn't own a powerful signal, so it's acquired various smaller-wattage transmitters in different places), and filled it out with the local NPR station plus a few classic rock or adult contemporary stations that I thought I might listen to for a break.

But it turns out that I never do. The last time I deliberately turned on a pop music station was 1985, and the first time was 1981; my knowledge of top-40 songs as a group is consequently limited to the intervening period. (I had an interesting time a few years ago looking up on YouTube the often-amusing music videos for songs like "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and "Down Under", none of which I saw when they were new, because all I had was a radio, not MTV.) I actually do listen to a fair amount of popular music, but what I want to listen to and what radio stations want to play do not often mesh, which is why after a brief period of occasional meshing I gave up in 1985. So on radio I stick to classical, where, the execrable Doug Pledger having mercifully long since passed on, the meshing is usually pretty good.

When I go on a trip, I use this site to locate the classical stations and memorize or jot down their frequencies; but I recently realized that I have enough informational space on my own radio to keep the ones I'll be encountering that way. On my last couple of trips I set the buttons ad hoc beforehand, and now I've decided to make it systematic. Between the various frequencies of KDFC in the Bay Area and KUSC in SoCal and CapRadio in the Valley and Jefferson Public Radio up north, I have coverage of most of where I'm likely to drive to, and enough stations to fill my dial. And I'm keeping a little card in my glove compartment to help me remember what I've put where.

As for the 6 settings for AM, I'm stuck. There's one all-news station that I turn to when I'm on the road when a major earthquake strikes (which last happened in 1989) or for real-time traffic updates (which, not being a commuter, I need almost as infrequently), but otherwise there's nothing on AM I remotely want to listen to.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

in Gilroy

Gilroy is a farming and commuter-bedroom town in an inland valley about 40 miles south of here. I don't get there very often, and when I do it's usually to pass by on the freeway on my way somewhere else. It's best known as the Garlic Capital of the World, and hosts an annual Garlic Festival, which I avoid assiduously. I like garlic, but I detest enormous crowds.

Today, however, I fulfilled a desire to visit Gilroy. My favorite local used bookstore, forced to close in Mountain View early this year due to rising rents, had reopened in downtown Gilroy. Time to get down there and see what was up.

What I found was a large space, occupying two storefronts, not quite as big as the old MV one but large enough, and more spaciously laid out. So not as big a selection as at MV, but big enough, and largely a new selection. First visits to used bookstores are usually the best; keep coming back, and you get used to not seeing much you haven't already seen. But I saw a lot here I hadn't seen in MV. Our cats found a Christmas present to give to B. and me.

Even more important: they've preserved the old store's trade credit accounts. So I will have to be back: I still have credit there.

But I'll find somewhere else to have lunch. I tried a taqueria that Yelp had assured me was excellent. It wasn't. That's unusual for Yelp.

While there, I circled around to one of the roadside tourist-trap garlic shops on the highway south of town. There I bought a couple jars of crushed garlic, the kind that Trader Joe's doesn't carry any more, and no other markets I know around here ever did. They have chopped garlic, but I prefer crushed. It was overpriced at the tourist trap, but at least they had it, and now again so do I.

Outside of the shop, there were eight - no, nine - nine chickens pecking away at the grassy verge. B. would have enjoyed seeing those chickens. Wished I'd had her with me, which I had been glad I didn't during lunch.

Friday, December 16, 2016

concert review: Richard Thompson

"The bucket is a cruel mistress," remarked Richard Thompson as he dipped his hand into the one into which the staff of the Freight & Salvage had placed the audience's paper slips for the all-request show he played there in Berkeley on Thursday. It was the second of a four-night run, but I was only dedicated enough to go to the one. Four was enough to meet the demand, it seems, for the show was not entirely sold out. If it'd been just one, tickets would have vanished in a flash: RT is a legend among singer-songwriter-guitarists, which is why I felt moved to go, even though I'm not all that familiar with much of his work.

Judging from what he pulled out of the bucket, the audience divided into three categories:

1. People who wanted to hear RT perform his own compositions. Half of these requested "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," his romance of outlaw motorcyclists cast in the form of a traditional tragic English folk ballad. It was the first song he played, and then he kept tossing aside further slips naming the same song. "Ooh, 'Vincent White Lightning,'" he read at one point. "I haven't done that one yet," and he improvised a few cheerful bars on the subject.

Other songs of his own that I recognized were "Sam Jones" (a really outstanding performance), "Gethsemane", and one of his rare comic songs, "The Hots for the Smarts". Unfortunately he didn't get to my own choice, which was "The Poor Ditching Boy".

2. People who wanted to hear him play old Fairport Convention numbers, whether he sang them originally or not. He did both the long ballads "Tam Lin" and "Matty Groves", the latter of which he described as a more coherent story than the former; and Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" which he framed as a tribute to her.

3. People who wanted to hear him play any old thing, the more unlikely the better. He struggled through the Beatles' "Something", which he said he'd never played before, giving up before the middle eight. After that he started tossing a lot of slips aside: "Lovely song, but I don't know it," i.e. well enough to play. Lovers of RT's guitar virtuosity could admire his attempt to reduce another Beatles song, "A Day in the Life", to that compass, giant orchestral crescendo and all; again he gave up after the middle section and jumped straight to the closing chord.

Probably the most impressive cover performance of the evening was "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall", the same Dylan song that Patti Smith sang at the Nobel ceremony. But otherwise the requests started to feel disintegrated by the end, and someone called out, "Play what you want!" But RT replied, "Sorry, it doesn't work that way." After two hours, 'twas enough.

Monday, December 12, 2016

cats of old San Francisco

"This visit to San Francisco, a most strenuous one requiring two major speeches and two lesser ones, holds poignant memories. One was of speaking after dinner at the Press Club. It was to be a private and confidential speech, what in other press circles is called 'off the record.' In San Francisco it is called 'speaking behind the cat' - a large carved ebony cat carried in with ceremony and put before the speaker after the tables are cleared. The custom, I was told, began after the great earthquake and fire had destroyed the city in 1906. When the first daring spirits reached the ruins of the old clubhouse, all that remained to identify it amid the general devastation was the large fireplace in the lounge. Curled up beside it was a half-starved and badly singed cat, which was promptly adopted and lived out its remaining eight lives near the hearth of the new club. The cat was famous for its discretion, for although it listened carefully to all that was said, it was never known to have repeated a word. When in time it went to its multiple rewards, it was reproduced, larger than life size, with eyes and mouth tight shut, looking altogether inscrutable, an outward and visible sign of the security pledged to one who spoke behind it."

- Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (recounting events of 1950)

Sunday, December 11, 2016


1. In memoriam, Vaughn Howland. Tolkien scholars knew him as the domestic partner (that's the term they preferred) of Verlyn Flieger, and thus one of the small band of meta-scholars, including the redoubtable Janice Coulter and my own B., who keep their scholar-partners going. Vaughn was always relaxed and cool about it. He was a tall, rangy fellow with a quiet, slightly raspy voice. Go have some barbecue in his honor, because that was his favorite avocation.

2. Also gone from us, John Glenn, last of the original astronauts. Some day I may try to tell you the story of why his house moved. He lived a good, long life. Godspeed.

3. Also gone, 36 people in the Ghost Ship fire. This has gotten a lot of space in my paper because it's local, but aside from sorrow, my reaction to that angle is to be struck by how little I knew about it. I was vaguely aware that artists were working in warehouses in Oakland - even Jerry Brown lived in a converted loft when he was mayor there - but I'd never heard of the Ghost Ship or the music scene it was part of or any of the people involved. There are worlds beyond worlds in the naked city. What a shame it took this to bring it out.

4a. Britain is advanced: Everywhere I went, the credit card readers took chips. My own credit cards have only gone chipped within the past year or so. If you pay with a card for a restaurant meal, the server brings a portable machine which will even calculate your tip for you, instead of taking your card off god knows where.

4b. Britain is retarded: It has something I hadn't seen in the States for over 30 years, at least. Pay toilets.

4c. Britain is middling: Turns out New York is not the only city with overhead signs using arrows pointing up, meaning "proceed forward," right next to escalators that literally go up. So does London. Taking an escalator up to exit from the Hammersmith tube station, or so I thought, I found at the top another sign indicating that the exit was back down the escalator again. Did Lewis Carroll design this station?, I thought.

5. Half the time I start to read an article about Trump appointing somebody, it turns out that he hasn't actually appointed anybody: this is just speculation about whom he might appoint. The headlines don't make this clear a lot more often than they do. I don't want to read speculations, so I'm just ignoring the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

a pictorial trip to Britain

Click on the links for the pictures; there's more than I want to upload here.

At the feet of the statue of Dorothy L. Sayers is a statue of her cat. (This is in Witham, Essex, the town where she lived in her later years, and the first of many I visited that had no mobile phone stores. I even visited the town tourist office which told me, "We used to have one, but it closed.")

The village of Dedham, also in Essex, often considered one of the most beautiful in England. Where Constable painted. More. More.

Benjamin Britten's house, in Suffolk. His concert hall, nearby. The rather astonishing all-wooden interior (not by me).

Tolkien's Kortirion, alias Warwick: the town centre, the ancient church of St. Mary's, a glimpse of the castle.

Stratford-upon-Avon is a neat, bright, clean town (and where I finally found a phone store), with only one dilapidated Elizabethan building, on the left here: Shakespeare's purported birthplace.

This factory-like edifice is actually the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, where I saw The Two Noble Kinsmen.

The Swan of Avon.

My faithful rental car, parked by the village green of Brill - alias Bree Hill - Buckinghamshire, near Oxford.

A place-name nearby, appropriated by Tolkien for Farmer Giles of Ham.

The grave of CSL and WHL and the church by which it lies. Also present, Mrs. Moore. (There are actually two Mrs. Moores in this grave; she's the second one.)

The tower of St. Peter's College, Oxford, a truly strange attempt at imitating "Cotswold domestic architecture" by an architect with the iron of modernism in his soul; a possible model for CSL's Dark Tower.

Just to illustrate what a wonderful place Blackwell's is, here's less than half of its sheet music department.

I just happened across this pub and recognized the name: The Jolly Farmers. This is the pub where Oxford student Richard Adams, later the author of Watership Down, gave his 20th birthday party in 1940. Despite it also being the day the Germans invaded France, it was a great success. "No one had ever thought of giving a party in a pub before," Adams writes in his memoirs. "I can't think why not: it was the easiest way imaginable to give a party. You simply handed the landlord a capital sum and told him to serve the company free until it was exhausted."

In the village of Sutton Courtenay, south of Oxford, you may find the tomb of H.H. Asquith, notable British Prime Minister in 1908-16. And, to make this one churchyard doubly notable, just behind those trees in the background is the stone marking the grave of Eric Arthur Blair. Oh, come on, you know who he was, yes you do.

Out in deepest Sussex, somewhere near Cold Comfort Farm no doubt, is the grave of Mervyn Peake. Its church. The Sussex downs that overlook it.

A bookcase in Jane Austen's house in Hampshire. The dye garden. The resident cat. (Lives across the road, the staff told me, but spends its time over here.)

Ty Newydd Country Hotel, at the foot of the Brecon Beacons, where I stayed in Wales. The head of the long road leading up to it. The view out my window. Despite the age and isolation, a nice room, with a huge wardrobe and a functional bathroom. One warning: Dim ysmygu!

You gotta love Aberdare, the upper valleys town just below: the only town I know where the statue in the middle of the town square is of a choral conductor. Details. This is also where you can ask, why did the hedgehog cross the road?

On to Bristol: steepholm at the Clifton Suspension Bridge. (I hope some day to have her photo at the Golden Gate Bridge.) Me at Mrs Moore's house where CSL spent his leave during WW1. Various attempts at photographing steepholm's cat.

And then we decamped to Oxford for a special treat: a talk by scholars Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins on Tolkien's "A Secret Vice" paper on language creation, given on the 85th anniversary of the paper's presentation in the place - Pembroke College - where Tolkien gave it, date and place established by Fimi and Higgins themselves and discussed in their recent book containing the essay and associated papers. My own photos did not come out well, so here's the noble scholars, the rapt audience (I'm in front of the door opposite), the aftermath, and the seething celebration from the website that also has the video of the talk.

My favorite tourist site in London on this trip was an Inigo Jones monument, the Banqueting House, site of most state occasions in the 17th century, and the only surviving part of Whitehall Palace, then the monarch's principal home. What made it so great was the ingenious tourist aids visible in this photo I found online: the beanbag chairs and mirror-topped tables (on wheels, so you can move them around) for the better viewing of Rubens' allegorical ceiling paintings. A truly clever idea (though no cleverer than allowing Rubens to paint in his studio and hoisting the paintings up after he was finished, instead of making him hang from the scaffolding like Michelangelo). I told the staff they should write to the Vatican and suggest the same accoutrements to the Sistine Chapel; I got such a crick in my neck in there.

Also in London, Old Abe in Parliament Square. I'm not sure what he's doing there, but I was glad to see him. Churchill taking a ride on the top of a van. Monty, looking insufferably pleased with himself. Theresa, and Larry the cat, hang out in here. Monument to the women of WW2. Lastly, I came across this in the heart of the City: he's everywhere.

Monday, December 5, 2016

concert review: China Philharmonic

Yes, yes, I've been close to 3 weeks in England and Wales, and I'll report on it soon, once I get my photos and my sleep schedule organized. I didn't have any trouble adjusting to the time going there, but coming back has been a bear, as it usually is for me going west, and even the caffeine equivalent of two cups of coffee barely kept me going through tonight's concert at Davies.

I know why I went to the UK, but I'm not sure why the China Philharmonic and its artistic director, Long Yu, traveled all this way to give bog-standard performances of bog-standard repertoire like Beethoven's First Piano Concerto and Dvorak's New World Symphony. They're great pieces, but we can hear them any time from anybody. All that was unusual tonight were some emphases in the Dvorak and a bizarrely wooden way of playing the "weeping" ending of his slow movement.

And the pianist in the Beethoven, whose name is Serena Wang and who is Twelve. Years. Old. with feet dangling from the piano bench. Her performance was entirely competent, so it seems churlish to have to report that it was also rather stiff. She gets an A for learning her part, but she's not going to win any piano competition votes from me, not this year. Come back in another few and we'll see.

As with most such programs, there was an imported curtain-raiser, Enchantements oublies by Qigang Chen. As the title suggests, this is, like much Western music by East Asian composers, heavily influenced by French impressionism, and in particular in this case by Chen's teacher, Messiaen.

But what most impressed me was the encore, a little piece of Chinese folk music whose characteristic bent notes and micro-glissandi were handled with a confident assurance by the Chinese violinists that no non-native could match. This is the kind of music they're good at, and it's more of this they should be playing, not trying to best Westerners at a European game.