Friday, June 23, 2017

ten things I hate about parades

One: their outsize effect on innocent ordinary traffic. SF Pride, which is not until Sunday, prevented me from getting to a Symphony concert Friday night. I was running too late for public transit, and I'd forgotten about Pride since I wasn't planning to come up during the weekend, and it wasn't until I was already irrevocably committed to going through the Civic Center area (which was my destination in any case) that there were signs warning of street closures, which weren't taking effect yet anyway.

But they did. I spent an entire half-hour in completely unmoving traffic only 3 blocks from the symphony hall, and only escaped by popping into the space left open by a car that had darted down a wrong-way alley and then imitating the action of the tiger. The open road was the one leading away, so thence I went.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

concert review: Garden of Memory

The first time I went to one of these annual walk-through concerts, over a decade ago, I assumed from the kinds of ambient and avant-garde music being promoted, and from the fact that the event was four hours long, that we'd be likely to be offered some four-hour-long works, of which there exist quite a few, by austere quasi-minimalist composers like LaMonte Young or Morton Feldman.

Nope. Some of the music sounded like theirs, but the performers played mostly in half-hour sets with breaks between them, which, in a world in which unbroken four-hour-long music exists, struck me as slightly cheating.

This year, however, something close to that order of magnitude finally happened. A pair of new performers, violinist Helen Kim and pianist Samuel Adams (yes, that Samuel Adams, and I noticed that his famous dad had come along to listen) occupied the main chapel for 75 minutes with Feldman's For John Cage. Wispily ethereal, like most of Feldman's work, it actually maintains interest for all this time by the minute variations Feldman continually runs on a set of tiny upward scale passages, microtonal on the violin just slightly off from the piano.

The performers had to play much louder than the score's ppp because, even in the separated main chapel, a continual wash of echo from other performers down the hall kept seeping in. Plus plenty of found sounds in the chapel itself, including my empty water bottle rolling off the bench and onto the floor. But this is a work dedicated to John Cage, who would not have minded such intrusions in the least.

Other performers I heard in the main chapel were Sarah Cahill playing a session of Lou Harrison piano music, which is also what she did last year, and Kitka, the small but mighty acapella female choir, which this year gave us extremely spicy South Slavic folk music.

I spent most of the first hour, which is always the least crowded part, wandering around in search of performers I hadn't heard before. I was most taken by a pair of women in the large columbarium, Krys Bobrowski who played glass harp on a set of industrial beakers while Karen Stackpole rubbed large gongs with a mallet, setting up an ambient sound of conflicting overtones that buzzed mightily. I also liked Robin Petrie and friends, as they were billed, who played a gentle folk-like ambience on hammered dulcimer, guitar, and hand drum. The Real Vocal String Quartet, who were playing a jazz-bluegrass fusion work and humming as they played, sounded promising. For the rest, I heard a guy playing a xylosynth, which is what the name sounds like; another group whacking away at wooden xylophones in a dead, dry sound; a saxophone quartet playing slow ambient dissonance; another sax and plucked cello in slow jazzy improvisations; an ambient electronic hum so quiet and motionless I couldn't tell whether I could hear it or not; a slow noodle on electric guitar; a strangely weak violin and cello duo; a solo violinist playing what the sign outside his niche said was "Cluck Old Hen Variations" and it sounded like that; and what I can best describe as a modernist baroque harpsichord.

I did catch a set by old favorites Paul Dresher and Joel Davel on their battery of electronic synthesizers, and the superiority of their music-making to much of the rest was renewedly impressive. But I missed their space-mate Amy X Neuburg entirely, and percussionist Laura Inserra (but I picked up a CD of hers at the main sales table), and every time I tried to look in on Probosci, the new group that most impressed me last year, the other group sharing their cramped space (the Garden of St. Matthew, which is always overcrowded) was playing instead.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

items

1. It's been blazing hot here lately, getting up to the 3-digit numbers Fahrenheit. And to think that it's only June. It's so hot in the desert that planes are forbidden to take off. Memo: don't change planes on summer afternoons in Phoenix or Vegas.

2. Accordingly, I bought a small watermelon at the store. It wasn't until I cut it open that I discovered that it was a variety with yellow pulp, which I'd never had before. It tasted like any other watermelon, but looking at it was disorienting.

3. It's so hot that the cats are thiiiis long. Maia has been playing dead on the carpet, though it'd probably be cooler on the linoleum.

4. Speaking of the linoleum, it's been the subject of Pippin thinking outside the box, as it were. We don't know why he's doing it. It's not necessarily associated with the box needing to be cleaned, and we've had him medically tested for any physical problems.

5. The word before the Georgia election was that even a narrow loss would be a grand repudiation of the Republicans. The word after the narrow loss is that it's a disaster for the Democrats. My own take is that a continuing series of narrow losses won't cut it.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

concert reviews

I was almost on my way out the door to the San Francisco Symphony last Thursday afternoon when my editor phoned and asked if I wanted to review ... the San Francisco Symphony. Well, that was easy.

I had my review in Saturday morning, but I don't think the copy-editors work on weekends, and it usually takes them most of a day to get the work up, so the review didn't appear until this morning. Now that SFS is moving all its first performances to Thursdays instead of Wednesdays, this will create a timing problem.

I'd like to add something about the process of writing a review like this. I'm a repertoire-oriented classical listener, not a performer-oriented one. When I talk about Lalo's orchestral style, or compare Rachmaninoff to earlier Russian composers, I'm speaking from long-standing personal knowledge of their full orchestral oeuvres. But the individual characteristics of performers, even distinctive ones, tend not to stick in my head. That's where having a dozen years of a blog in which I review all the concerts I attend, whether I'm covering them professionally or not, is useful. My statements about the styles of conductor Petrenko and violinist Bell (whom I barely restrained myself from calling "the famous Washington Metro busker") come from comparing what I thought this time with what I'd written about them before. That's the external memory function.

I used the same technique to write, for my other outlet, this preview article on tomorrow's (it's tomorrow's now; it was next week's when it was published) Garden of Memory concert. I waited until the list of this year's performers was posted, then I scarfed up descriptions I'd written of them from previous concerts, strung them together, and that's the article. I wrote this for publicity. Although it's already crowded enough in there, I'm still trying to get others to attend. I know lots of people who would love this event, but I've only occasionally seen any of them there.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Dark Carnival

According to the news here and here, the Berkeley SF and fantasy store Dark Carnival (named for Ray Bradbury's first book) is shutting down.

Sorry to hear it, though I confess I hadn't been there often in recent years. My sf/f fiction buying has dwindled, and the store is 50 miles away and a bit off my usual beaten paths. But I have gone there occasionally, because it's a gloriously cluttered store full of tiny nooks, odd balconies, and miscellaneous contents, in particular books of non-mass-market origins, the kind I most want and that are hardest to find. For years its alphabetical shelves featured large stocks of hard to get books like Philip K. Dick's Nick and the Glimmung or the Newcastle edition of Dunsany's 51 Stories because nobody bought them out. I was last there in search of a copy of Mervyn Peake's collected Nonsense Poems. I was sure they'd have it. They did.

But I remember Dark Carnival from its earliest days. It was the first sf specialty store in the Bay Area, long before Borderlands or Future Fantasy and even a bit before The Other Change of Hobbit or Fantasy Etc. (Of these, only Borderlands is still with us, and it had a scare not long ago.) I found it down on the south stretch of Telegraph, the first of its three locations, when I returned to UC in the fall of 1976. It was very small then, mostly a large semicircle of paperbacks, but there wasn't a lot to stock in those days. Jack Rems, owner ever since, was usually there, as was his first clerk, a young woman named Lisa Goldstein, who'd occasionally mention she was working on a novel. It was published several years later and led her on the path to becoming the renowned fantasy author she is today, but then she was a bookstore clerk. D. and I would hang out down there and indulge in a lot of chatter with Jack and Lisa, but we'd also buy books.

I remember author readings by the likes of Peter Beagle and Patricia McKillip, the first occasions I met either, but the occasion I most remember is walking in a few months after opening to find Jack holding out an ARC (cardboard-bound pre-publication Advance Reading Copy) from Ballantine Books that had just come in. It had a letter printed on the cover from the editor, Lester Del Rey, saying that he had something really special here: for everyone who had loved The Lord of the Rings, this was the new book they were waiting for. Lester was proud to offer us this epochal reading experience.

Remember that this was early 1977 and nothing else like The Lord of the Rings had yet seen print. We were curious and hopeful. But it took only a few minutes of flipping through the ARC to discover clumsy hack writing, carbon-copy ripoffs, and generally pervasive badness of a kind we'd not seen before in books that were supposed to be good. (We've seen it a lot since, though.)

You're ahead of me. The book was The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Didn't buy a copy of that one.

Monday, June 12, 2017

*sigh* Adam West

I reviewed his memoir, Back to the Batcave, when I read it a few years ago. Here's what I wrote:
The memoirs of a man's struggle to be taken seriously as an actor. See him searching for psychological insights into Batman's character before playing him in the camp (West hates that word) 1960s TV series. Yes, really. But what most annoys him is that he's never been asked to play Batman in any of the movies. Points out that he's old enough now (this is 1994, when he was 66) to do the "Dark Knight" role, and he'd play it that way too, he says. Lots of amusing stories of the itchiness of the costumes, the breakdowns of the Batmobile, etc. Repeated avowals that various guest villains were delights to work with are rendered believable by blunt accounts of a few who weren't.
To which I can add that I remember that he specified that the three big repeat villains - Cesar Romero (Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), and Frank Gorshin (Riddler) - were always fully prepared and professional on set, but that it was Gorshin in particular that West made friends with. They'd go off and have a drink together after work.

The fact is that, as a boy, virtually my entire consumption of superhero media consisted of TV shows - the Adam West Batman, re-runs of Superman, and the endless Marvel cartoons of Spiderman, Incredible Hulk, and Fantastic Four that infested the afterschool TV hours. I never read the comic books; I had other things to read. Consequently I was never among those irritated at the Batman TV show for not taking seriously enough the concept of a man fighting crime while dressed as a bat. In fact, I liked the show and West's deadpan straight-arrow portrayal of the righteous hero. Sorry I never saw him in anything else.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ashland in the cool and damp

Two years ago when B. and I attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in June, it was so blazing hot that the power in the big indoor theater shorted out during a performance.

This year it was cold, and wet. A lot of, though not consistently, drizzle, with the occasional cloudburst. Even though we had to walk around in it, we know what we prefer.

We saw five plays this year.

Henry IV, Part I: A routine and not especially inspired modern-setting production, complete with strobes and machine guns in the battle scenes, and ridiculous accents for Glendower and Douglas, only partially redeemed by a sprightly (as opposed to the more usually played irritable) female Hotspur (Alejandra Escalante) and a brilliant delivery of Falstaff's speech on honor (V.1) (but, alas, nothing else) by Valmont Thomas.

The Merry Wives of Windsor: Another Falstaff play, but this time Falstaff was played by a woman, and appropriately a woman of age and size at that (KT Vogt), but unlike Hotspur the character was played as a man. This was one of OSF's patented fast and cheerful Shakespeare comedies, further livened by excerpts from and allusions to 80s pop songs with lyrics appropriate to the plot, with a band to back them up. The entire cast, in their Elizabethan costumes, sang and danced a couple, including something by Whitney Houston (I was told: don't ask me what, as I don't know anything about Whitney Houston) and Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart"; others were more individual, for instance (one of the few I recognized), Master Ford (Rex Young) expressed his rage and jealousy by singing "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads, with the French parts of the lyrics interjected by the French suitor, Dr. Caius (Jeremy Johnson). Surreal, man.

Beauty and the Beast (stage adaptation of the Disney movie): OSF casts actors, not singers, but the singing here was all first-class and the best part of the show. The acting and pacing were likewise good, and I was never bored; but the staging, particularly of the supernatural elements, was so primitive as to be totally incomprehensible. Were it not for my dim memories of the movie (which I saw only once, when it first came out), I wouldn't have been able to figure out what was going on.

Shakespeare in Love (stage adaptation of the Miramax movie): Slightly spacier (as in, less coherent) than the movie version, played by actors who mostly (the Viola conspicuously excepted) physically resembled the ones in the movie, this was more like watching a remake of the movie than I was entirely happy with. But it was well done.

Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles (modern adaptation of the Euripides play) by Luis Alfaro: Begged for comparison with last year's The River Bride by Marisela Treviño Orta, likewise a new play of Latino pedigree with a strongly mythic plot. That one really socked me, in part because the myth was new to me; in this one, the plot was by Euripides, so I knew what was going to happen, searing as it was. Also, unlike as in Euripides most of the plot was packed into the last ten minutes, instead of slowly unfolding; the rest was mostly background. But it was well-done background; Alfaro translated that plot into his undocumented-immigrant LA setting well, and I was not expecting the marriage to Glauce to be translated as literally as it was. The acting was of course excellent. Sabina Zuniga Varela as Medea was as chatty and bubbly as any young actress in the post-show talk, but on stage, like a good actress, she was totally different: still, silent, and dangerously reserved.

Culinarily this was not much of a visit of discoveries, except for accidentally finding that the Black Sheep, the pseudo-British pub that's one of my favorite local spots, is closing down next month, so I'm glad I'd decided to eat there one last time. Most of the new restaurants in Ashland are the kind with tiny menus, specified side dishes (I hate that, as the mains I like are invariably paired with the sides I don't, and it's insulting the chef to try to mix and match), and high prices. We took advantage of slack in our time schedule to have our best meals out of town.

Monday, June 5, 2017

and a potato chip factory

or, some other things I saw in Virginia

Before my conference, I spent a couple days in the Shenandoah Valley. Mostly because I never had, really; I'd crossed it a few times, but not explored it.

Much of my focus was on the town of Staunton (pron. Stanton1). Staunton was the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson in 1856, though he moved away as an infant when his preacher father was offered a better-paying job in Georgia.2 Nevertheless his birthplace manse, on a hill above downtown, is preserved as a museum of life in those times and classes.3 Next door is a museum of Wilson's life, covering its pluses (he vetoed an immigration restriction) as well as minuses (he maintained segregation).

Downtown Staunton - all within easy walking distance from a sufficiently large parking garage - also has two large and worthwhile used book stores, a hearty restaurant specializing in ribs, and the American Shakespeare Theater, which plays in a small space described as the world's only reproduction of a Shakespearean indoor theater.4 They put on several plays in tightly-cast repertoire seasons; the one on the evening I was there was a basic Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet. The line-reading was intense and invigorating, presenting the play as a bawdy comedy in the first half that then goes wrong.5 Romeo was eager and Juliet was earnest, and everything was good but I felt it would be tiring to see much more like this. Best feature was the costuming: basic Elizabethan, but the families were distinguished by putting the Capulets in reds and the Montagues in something around cyan or teal.

Outside town, the floor of the valley is littered with Civil War battlefields. At the ones still out in countryside, it's possible to figure out what was going on. I equipped myself with topographic maps photocopied from this book, and explored 4 or 5 of the, at last count, 16 that I drove through, victories of Sheridan and Hunter as well as defeats of hapless generals like Fremont. Driving along Sheridan's Ride in the opposite direction from which he rode it is slightly disconcerting.

Also on the floor of the valley, out in an isolated industrial park, at least as interesting as any 150-year-old battlefield, and a lot tastier, was the Route 11 Potato Chips factory. You can stand at large windows that peer into the factory floor and watch the cooking, sorting, seasoning, and bagging of the chips, and, as you do, informative company employees will come up and explain to you what's going on. Then you can munch on a few samples of freshly-cooked chips, and buy 2 or 6 ounce bags of every flavor they make. Really good chips, too.

Winchester is a bustling town with a large museum of Valley history and art, another great used book store, and a downtown pedestrian mall lined with restaurants, of which the only one empty of customers at noon on a Wednesday was Italian. I ate there anyway, making it one person from empty, and enjoyed my fish and sauteed spinach, marred only when what looked like a couple slices of baked apple on the plate turned out to be potato. Chips I'll eat, but that's it for me and potato.

I drove a stretch of Skyline Drive, the Blue Ridge summit road through Shenandoah National Park. Impressive views from the overlooks, particularly west to the valley (the plains to the east were misty), though there isn't much else to do up there unless you have all day to take a couple hikes. The visitor center display on the history of the park informs on how disruptive the 1930s land confiscation was to the mountain people, and of how it took 12 years to get the concessionaire to stop having race-segregated picnic grounds: it may have been "the custom of Virginia," but it was against the law for federal facilities.6

But, as I noted in an earlier post, the Confederacy is still deeply embedded in the Valley. They must be very grateful for Stonewall Jackson around there, because otherwise they wouldn't know who to name anything after. Stonewall Jackson Road. The Stonewall Jackson Highway. Stonewall Jackson High School. The Stonewall Jackson Hotel and the attached Stonewall Jackson Conference Center. u.s.w.

1. There's also a town called Strasburg, pron. Strawsburg; there's no explanation of this.

2. Wilson was one of 2 U.S. Presidents to have lived under the jurisdiction of the Confederacy. Can you guess the other? Jefferson Davis doesn't count.

3. They don't shy away from telling you that the family "servants" would have been slaves. Not their own slaves, but ones rented for their talents at housework from the surplus at large plantations. Contracts would have specified their care, but the owners got all the money.

4. It isn't, actually: the Wanamaker Playhouse in London, part of the Shakespeare's Globe complex, is built to basically the same design, and I've been there too. But it's not as if they're common.

5. It occurs to me that Much Ado is built to the same plan, though it manages to rescue itself at the end, as R&J does not.

6. But if that's so - and I think it was, because the point of the Freedom Riders was that segregated seating was illegal on interstate buses - then why were there segregated restrooms on the NASA base in Hidden Figures, over a dozen years after segregation was ended in the park?


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Moria with the lights turned on

So the maze of twisty little passages that I've been holed up in for the last two days is the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia, a vast expanse of meeting rooms (at least 50 on each of several floors of each of several buildings) that look as if they've been xeroxed from each other, appropriately so as rumor has it that this used to be a Xerox corporate training center, and what you were mostly being trained in was how to find your way around. The title of this post is a description one attendee has of the place.

And the conference that's occupying some four of the rooms in one corner of the building (but with the sleeping rooms over here and the dining hall over there, so walking is necessary) is MythMoot IV, a Tolkien conference sponsored by Signum University, an online learning venture specializing in teaching Tolkien-relevant subjects that brick universities can't work up the critical mass for any more, like Old Norse. The presiding genius is Corey Olsen, who podcasts as "The Tolkien Professor."

Sometimes my aging Tolkienist friends wonder where all the younger Tolkien scholars are, or indeed if they are. They are. They're here. Most of the presenters here are young, they're all as sharp as we were at their age, as insightful, as well-educated, and they give great papers. I feel very gratified when a young man can say to an appreciative audience, "I don't think I have to explain to most of you who Boethius is." There's a few of us veterans around, and we add up to a total of 120, about Mythcon-sized.

I've heard papers tracking the disappearance of the Ilkorindi from the legendarium, defining the Destruction of the Ring as the final resolution of a plot beginning with the Rebellion of the Noldor, computer-analyzing the text of The Hobbit to see which chapter stands out for the words used (it's not the one you'd think), and considering the awareness of Tolkien's characters that they're part of a cyclical history, and another one arguing much the same about Beowulf. I gave a paper myself, titled "C.S. Lewis, Númenorean" (from which it should be possible to guess its subject), and spoke on a panel describing and outlining the journal Tolkien Studies along with my co-editors, who are also here: it was a rare chance for us all to meet in person.

They're both special guests, giving robust plenary speeches, Michael Drout on the challenges of being a philologist in an age when philology is discounted and the secrets of the great philologists of the past, like Tolkien, are largely lost; and Verlyn Flieger on instances of the sense of wonder in Tolkien's work. (When Gimli rapturously describes the Glittering Caves of Aglarond to Legolas, he's marveling at the caves, but we're marveling at how they have raised the gruff, taciturn Gimli to eloquence.) There's more. Ted Nasmith displayed his Beren and Luthien art, and John DiBartolo told how his song about Gil-galad's spear, Aiglos, inspired an enthusiastic swordsmith to design and make a reproduction of the spear, which he brought along. Not a form of Tolkien art I'd have thought of, but it was a beautiful piece of work.

There was a session teaching Scottish Gaelic waulking songs ("waulking" is beating new-woven cloth to soften it, and waulkers sing work songs for the same reason that sailors and chain-gangs do: the results are strophic verse/choruses, but built totally unlike conventional folk songs), and last evening about a dozen of us gathered outside in the warm night air around a firepit to read aloud, round-robin, Tolkien's "Tale of Tinúviel" from The Book of Lost Tales and lately reprinted in the new Beren and Lúthien. I liked some of the unusual pronunciations we got, of which my favorite was "Tuna-ville."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

interim report

I am in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

in a state

I'm still irked at the time Stephen Fry posed a gotcha trivia question to the effect that the US had only 46 states because the other four are called commonwealths. I'm in the Commonwealth of Virginia right now, and it's a state. I see road signs saying it's State Law to yield to pedestrians, and ones on how to contact the State Police. It's a state.

It's also a state, at least this part of it, where every other road is named for Stonewall Jackson. If you're not on Stonewall Jackson Road, you're on the Stonewall Jackson Highway. And, of course, the town square has a statue of a soldier on a tall pillar emblazoned "C.S.A. 1861-1865." Anyone wishing to undo memorials to the Confederacy around here will have a lot of work ahead of them.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. Today is also the centenary of the birth of JFK. JFK was a veteran. Oo-ee-oo.

During the previous presidency, we used to hear occasional grumbles that it was somehow inappropriate for troops to be ordered into combat by a President who wasn't a veteran. We're not hearing any of that this year, though: funny about that.

Of course, FDR wasn't a veteran. Some say he served in the Navy in WW1, but he didn't: he was a top civilian administrator of the Navy, no more ex officio a veteran than the President was. Nor was his Secretary, Josephus Daniels, a veteran; nor was his President, Woodrow Wilson.

Abraham Lincoln, though, he was a veteran. At age 23, he spent two and a half months fighting mosquitoes in the Black Hawk War, as he himself later put it. Never saw combat, though he did see some victims of it.

My late father was a veteran: he was a Navy physician (though never a combat surgeon) during and just after the Korean War, and he continued occasionally but regularly serving Naval families as a Naval Reserve officer for many years afterwards.

B's father was in the Seabees (that's the Naval Construction Battalions) during WW2, which is where he met her mother, who was in the WAVES (that's the Women's Naval Reserve). So I owe the US Navy a lot.

They're all gone now, but their naval service was touched on in their funerals.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

two musicals and some chamber music

While everyone else is at Wiscon or Baycon or whatever, I went to two musical theatre productions, both from the South Bay Musical Theatre. Both were ... mixed.

Their regular production was My Fair Lady. Of all the classic shows from the classic period of Broadway history, this is the classicest, if that's a word. Every song in it is better than good, most are great. Eliza had a very strong voice, and kept her accents straight. If only she'd put more power in "Show Me" and "Without You", which is where she really tears loose. Higgins developed character over the course of the show, as if the actor gradually stopped being afraid of the part, but he wasn't that great a singer. Doolittle cut the rug with his music-hall songs pretty well. Freddy was ... unmentionable. The best actor in the show was the Mrs. Higgins, but the best moment was the look on Mrs. Pearce's face as Higgins sings the last verse of "A Hymn to Him" to her. The costumes were impressive throughout: When Eliza steps out, she's rigged for the part.

B. was with me for that one, but one was enough for a weekend for her, so she didn't go back the next evening for Chess in concert, first of a mere two-performance run. The reason for doing it in concert, just the music with a thin skein of narration, proved to be to cram in as many songs from as many different versions as possible without having to make them fit or to deal with what the director, who delivered the narration, feels is a basically unstageable plot.

Because it was a concert, the parts were all divided up among a lot of different people. Some were quite good, and some were ... not. (The ones who could never hit the right note; the ones who kept shifting between octaves in the middle of the song. On the other hand, then there was the singer who plowed through on the right notes despite the orchestra being completely out of tune.) The problem was that there wasn't enough of the good ones. By far the best of a lot of medium-good Florences (pinch-faced, but excellent voice with good characterization) sang "Nobody's Side" and hardly anything else. I also liked one Anatoly with a really deep voice. A woman sang "One Night in Bangkok," but maybe it should have been some other woman. And maybe her microphone shouldn't have kept cutting out. The narrator was right; the storyline falls apart in Act 2, and it went on too long.

In between, I got up to Davies for a gratifyingly heterogeneous SF Symphony chamber music concert. In order of increasing oddness, Barber's String Quartet (where the famous Adagio for Strings comes from), a flute-oboe-piano trio by Eugene Goossens (very French-sounding), a wind-quintet-and-piano sextet by Poulenc (a chaotic work from his "Stravinsky fils" period), and the Varied Trio by the centennial boy, Lou Harrison, for violin (played normally), piano (sometimes with its strings plucked), and percussion (alternatingly xylophone, rice bowls (some with water in them), and baking pans), exotically peaceful.

Friday, May 26, 2017

fifty years ago next week

In commemoration of the impending 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, I am proud to present you with ...

what I believe is the first cover version of any of its songs to be released. It was released in June 1967, same month as the original album, and it was produced by the same George Martin who produced the album. It's a comic actor and musical comedian artist of his (remember that Martin got his start in comedy records) named Bernard Cribbins, singing "When I'm Sixty-Four."



I haven't directly compared this with the original, but it seems to me as if George Martin just took the backing tracks from the original recording, stripped out the backing vocals (none too well), slapped the new lead vocal on top, and called it a day.

I gather that Bernard Cribbins is well-known in the UK, but he's not so familiar over here. I had to be reminded who he was, and who he is to me is the comic actor who played Mr. Hutchinson, one of the most memorable guests ever to stay at Fawlty Towers. Yes, he's this guy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

publications ahoy

After too long an absence from other scholarly venues than the one I edit for, I got to finalize the texts of two papers today, OKing the final tweaks from their editors.

Both are fairly short, but it's good to have them out. And for one of them, it means I get to be in this.

Also, I've gotten the reading text of the paper I'm giving at a conference next week down to 25 minutes, by cutting out everything that could possibly be considered extraneous. When I gave it at Mythcon last year, it was nearly 50 minutes, but I had an hour slot. This time I have half an hour, so it'll just barely fit if I talk fast.

Among the things I cut out was this:

"Early science fiction was often breezy about the problem of people on other planets speaking different languages than ours. In Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, for instance, the protagonist discovers on arriving that he's somehow grown a new organ that the natives have, which conveniently allows them to read minds and instantly learn each other's language, thus bypassing entirely any question of translation. This is the sort of thing that Douglas Adams was parodying when he invented the Babel Fish."

Monday, May 22, 2017

busy weekend

I managed to do everything I planned on Saturday.

First to the downtown Redwood City street fair. They were holding a chicken wing cookoff, and I didn't want to miss that. Eleven booths in a row were cooking up their own varieties, and $10 was reasonable for eleven coupons good for one wingette each, plus a voting coupon to insert in one of the boxes on the side of the ticket booth to honor your favorite.

Some of the wings had sauces, some had rubs. One had a hugely thick breading. Some were spicy, some not. A couple of the more tangily Asian varieties had the booth workers precariously balancing tiny pieces of cucumber or sprigs of cilantro or whatnot on the wings, from which they'd fall off, usually into the bowl of sauce on the preparation counter, and if not, then in the customer's hands before you could eat it. Not really very well planned.

Also badly planned: no napkins, anywhere.

All this to the accompaniment of a very loud band down the street which was performing actually quite good cover versions of all the songs you used to hear on the top ten radio 30 years ago: "Hotel California", "Eye of the Tiger", and that song that goes "Leo, woah woah woah woaoaoah" - what is that song, anyway?

However, the wings were mostly pretty good, and that was my lunch, before heading to Bing for the afternoon to hear the Stanford Symphony in Anna Wittstruck's farewell concert as conductor. Stanford's reaped the reward of insisting she's been only the Interim Music Director these last two years, and she's leaving for a more stable job at the University of Puget Sound. (So, see, all you Seattleites: there is culture in Tacoma, or at least will be when she gets there.) She's been a good director, and we'll miss her.

She led a dynamic concert with Arturo Márquez's Danzón No. 2, a fine performance completely devoid of the flat Anglo accent that most norteamericano orchestras give it, plus a similar Cuban rumba-inspired piece, a new Dance Suite by Stanford faculty composer Giancarlo Aquilanti, and Beethoven's Seventh, all also well done. In fact all of the music was dance-like (Wagner called Beethoven's Seventh "the apotheosis of the dance"), except for a new piece by another faculty composer, Mark Applebaum, which he titled Xenophobe: In Memory of Democracy. One guess why he called it that, and one for what it sounded like.

No time for dinner: I had to rush up to the City for Other Minds' big Lou Harrison centenary concert, at Mission Dolores in the evening. I already had a ticket for this; if I hadn't, I might have fugged out, but I'm so glad I went. I've never been a big Lou Harrison devotee, but I've always enjoyed his music when I've heard it. Perhaps not so much the two astringent organ pieces that made up much of the first part - one of them was for foot pedals alone; an interesting idea, and we should have thought of applauding it by stamping our feet - but the very long second part was old Lou at his primest. It consisted of two multi-movement suites, both written in the 1970s, both in his mature modal, old-temperament, Asian-influenced, serenely spiritual style, and both accompanied by the "American gamelan", a collection of found percussion instruments that Lou and his partner Bill Colvig had conjured up out of tin cans, old oxygen tanks, and the like, wielded here by the William Winant Percussion Group, because really, who else would do it?

One was the Suite for Violin composed with Richard Dee, played by Shalini Vijayan, and the other was La Koro Sutro, a big choral setting of a Buddhist prayer translated into Esperanto. Don't laugh: Lou was a big proponent of Esperanto, which he found more useful than English in talking to Asians of various cultures on equal terms. Both works were hypnotically enchanting.

The concert began at 7:30. It ended at 10:30. Not just because the pieces were long. So was the intermission. Why? Well, the basilica was packed, but it has only 3 restroom stalls per sex, and that includes the portapotties they trucked in. Fortunately the Mission District is still hopping at 10:30 on a Saturday night, so I was able to get something to eat, finally, before heading out on a BART slowed by a derailment earlier that day.

I didn't get home until after 1 AM, but I was finally up and awake in time for a late Sunday afternoon concert in San Mateo by Viva la Musica, the choir to which L. is a lately-adhered soprano. For a volunteer choir that doesn't even audition, I thought it did more than pretty well, and I was very impressed by the recently-composed repertoire: a mesmerizing "holy minimalist" setting of St. John of the Cross' "dark night of the soul" prayer, music by Ola Gjeilo, a composer who's impressed the gizzard out of me before, beautifully matched for the choir and instruments (including a piano whose part sounded like a cross between Rachmaninoff and George Winston); and a Jubilate Deo by Dan Forrest, setting its psalmist text in about seven different languages in as many musical styles, all of them slightly florid. Forrest is less incisive or truly inspired than Gjeilo, but still workmanlike and interesting, with a lot of captivating rhythmic accents in his fast movements. The only real flaw was the addition in the Mandarin setting of an erhu, the Chinese equivalent of a haegeum, and you already know what I thought of that.

Also this weekend I had published a review from last week. I actually attempted to interview the 15-year-old soloist after the concert, though I didn't get much out of him, except a few basic facts most of which make up my second paragraph; he seems a lot more confident on stage playing the violin.

And what do you know, the choir from the last concert will be pairing with the orchestra from this one some time next year, so maybe I can review that and get two birds with one. We'll see how the schedule works out. The number of groups I've had to turn down because I'm going to be gone one weekend in June is unbelievable.

Friday, May 19, 2017

another one to cross off his list

I confess I've never read much of the criticism of F.R. Leavis. What I have read was enough to demonstrate that, rather to my surprise, Frederick Crews' famous "Simon Lacerous" parody - "Another book to cross off your list" - isn't much of an exaggeration. Leavis really was that brutally waspish - or waspishly brutal.

At one time, around the 1950s, he was the most influential critic out there. His disciples, trained by him at Cambridge or by his own earlier disciples, infected English departments everywhere, and the loaded terms seem appropriate. I've read one account by a dismayed college don whose department welcomed its first Leavisite, or tried to. He refused to engage in everyone else's give-and-take conversation about critical views. Either you accepted the master's dogma whole or you were beneath his notice.

The don emphasized that Leavis himself, whom he didn't really know, wasn't like that. But the style was in keeping with the severity of his critical views. Nowadays, I understand, Leavis is out of fashion. An age which eagerly studies even the confessed trash of literature - even if it's really only because everything else has already been done to death - on the grounds of what it says about popular taste and the publishing and societal context in which greater works were written, isn't going to have much time for a view of literature consisting of a tiny canon of unquestionable masterpieces and a vast realm of outer darkness.

But back when establishing a canon was the way to go in literary studies, it was he whose canon was the smallest and purest who became the highest priest, and that, I suspect, was the core of Leavis' appeal.

What I didn't read enough of Leavis to establish was what criteria he used to determine his canon. Which is why I was so interested to read this summary in a lucid book called Literary Feuds (Leavis' is with C.P. Snow, of course) by a state college professor named Anthony Arthur. He writes that Leavis saw great literature "as a positive moral force within society, particularly in the ways it exemplified the virtues associated with preindustrial rural life and exposed, as he saw it, the hollow and degrading materialism that the Industrial Revolution had unleashed."

And it occurred to me that anyone who holds those views ought to have loved The Lord of the Rings. Positive moral force? Check: Tolkien has one of the strongest moral visions in literature; to him, virtue consists of acting virtuous. It isn't inherent in the white hats the good guys wear. Perils threaten on every side. Contrast Tolkien with later fantasists like George R.R. Martin, for whom the absence of any moral force is treated as a feature, and you'll see the difference.

Virtues of preindustrial rural life? Check: By Tolkien's own account, the Shire is an idealized English Midlands village of his own 1890s childhood, with the Industrial Revolution entirely stripped out. The societies the hobbits visit on their journeys are equally idealized icons of cultures in the medieval literature that Tolkien studied professionally.

Exposed the hollow and degrading materialism of the Industrial Revolution? Check: The villains are manic industrialists, pouring out pollution and slag heaps everywhere. They're driven by self-aggrandizement and a lust for power and control. Saruman in particular rapes the Shire for his own creature comforts and to deny them to its inhabitants (see not just the Scouring of the Shire, but the stocks of goods that Merry and Pippin find in the ruins of Isengard).

This adds up to a book that Leavis should have been pleased to consider worthy of his canon of great literature. But somehow, you know, I suspect that he didn't. Leavis never wrote anything about Tolkien - probably he considered him beneath his notice, and the one thing that rings false in "Simon Lacerous" is the idea that Leavis would have bothered to attack Winnie-the-Pooh at such length at all - but less fastidious but equally high-minded critics like Edmund Wilson and Philip Toynbee did attack Tolkien. I don't need to cite how they violated their own loftily-stated critical principles in dismissing The Lord of the Rings - in Toynbee's case, stated not four months earlier in the same newspaper review column - because Tom Shippey has already done it in The Road to Middle-earth.

Would Leavis have done the same, had he bothered? Probably. His loss.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

This turned out to be quite the worthwhile concert.

The conductor was Roberto Abbado, new to me but a nephew of the late great Claudio Abbado (not that his bio in the program book says a word about that; they never say anything interesting.)

The first piece on the concert was also new to me, selections from a suite of incidental music to Gozzi's play Turandot, composed by Ferruccio Busoni some 20 years before Puccini's opera on the same topic.

I confess never having given Busoni's music the attention it deserves. This was impressive stuff, extraordinarily colorful, based on the winds and brass with nearly omnipresent timpani, and the strings mostly in a supporting role. It was highly rhythmic and great fun to listen to, in the same realm as another much later piece, Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, part of which is based on - surprise! - Weber's incidental music to Turandot.

Followed by a slow drift into more familiar territory. Veronika Eberle was soloist in Schumann's soft and dreamy violin concerto, and it wrapped up with a rhapsodic performance of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

movies not finished

A few weeks ago somebody in my FL commented on and linked to an article praising the movie Tomorrowland for its positive vision of the future. I recalled an intriguing trailer for this movie before it was released, but I hadn't heard another word about it since.

I should have taken that as a warning (it's not always deserved: some obscure movies are really good), but I borrowed it from the library.

An interminable distance in, the bratty teenage girl who appears to be the hero is, along with the viewer, desperately trying to squeeze out some clue to the plot from the even brattier pre-teen robot who's been manipulating her life, when the robot threatens to shut down if she asks any more questions.

"Yes! Do it!" I thought, and then I thought, "I have the power to do it to you. It's called the 'stop' button." So I did, and then I checked the scene selector to discover that it was still less than halfway through the movie.

Yikes! Neither the presence of George Clooney nor of Hugh Laurie (badly miscast: should have tried someone like J.K. Simmons), nor a walk-on character named Hugo Gernsback (nothing to do with the original), can save this terminally boring clunker.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Gilbert and Sullivan review

The Lamplighters, A Song to Sing, O!, written by Barbara Heroux

I can't send you to this one, because this was the last performance. Wish I could, though.

Once before, maybe 30 or 40 years ago, the Lamplighters did a show with this premise, telling the story of G&S through their music. That one was an original stage musical with the real people as characters, with the songs taken from G&S but with new lyrics written.

This one isn't like that at all. It's essentially a concert performance of highlights from the G&S repertoire, delivered mostly in chronological order and performed by a cast of ten, not consistently representing any particular original performer, in evening dress with a minimum of costuming (usually just the headgear appropriate to a pirate or policeman or poet or peer). This is embedded within a part-dialogue, part-narrated script, delivered mostly by two non-singing actors as Gilbert and Sullivan, mostly from inside shells at the sides of the stage decorated as their personal studies. Much of the script is taken directly from letters and other original sources, and it includes just enough plot summary to make sense of the songs' context.

Most of the songs (some of them abridged) are greatest hits, though there were a few surprises (Katisha's solo, which is often cut), and the requirement to cover every show has put in such gems as the "matter matter" trio from Ruddigore and the Christy Minstrels number from Utopia Limited. At the end, after the description of G&S's deaths, comes the sorrowful "The world is but a broken toy" from Princess Ida, which makes a lot more sense here than in its original place.

Occasionally a song will interact with the narration, as when Bunthorne begins his solo with his recitative "Am I alone and unobserved?" and then stopped and glared at Gilbert in his study until he retired, before going on with "I am." And the narrative description of the Carpet Quarrel is illustrated by the agitated "In a contemplative fashion" quartet from The Gondoliers, the show that had immediately preceded the quarrel.

The stagings, though simple, were always clever and imaginative (other cast members walked across the back of the stage illustrating each of the Mikado's crimes and their punishments), and the performers were the cream of the Lamplighters' estimable crop. There were two unsurpassable comic baritones, Lawrence Ewing and Chris Uzelac; two lyric tenors, Samuel Faustine and Patrick Hagen; two darker baritones, the veteran William Neely and the outstandingly strong Robby Stafford; two lyric sopranos, Jennifer Ashworth and Erin O'Meally; a Katisha/Buttercup in Sonia Gariaeff; and an alto in Cary Ann Rosko to play Psyche, Pitti-Sing, Phoebe, and Tessa (the Jessie Bond parts). It was just excellent all the way through, it was stuffed with 33 superb numbers, and it took three hours.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

stage review: Monty Python's Spamalot

The unanswerable question is, How is it that someone as fond as I of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail had never seen its stage musical spin-off, Spamalot?

Well, I have now. Palo Alto Players is doing it, and they're doing it with such zest and imagination, plus quality, that it's terrifically worth seeing it, and it finishes this weekend, so locals should act now.

It only loosely follows the movie, with just a few parts of the script directly taken from it - and several of these, notably the Black Knight and the reading from the Book of Armaments, were performed quite differently - but it was terrific fun on its own account.

There's gobs of anachronisms, and the fourth wall may never recover from the amount of breakage it took during this show. But what I liked best of the added material was the fair number of really cheap puns, like this one:

ARTHUR (explaining the Holy Grail to uncomprehending knights): It's a symbol.
ORCHESTRA: [cymbal crash]

The songs are quite lively and several, even among the new ones, are memorable, and the spirit and characterization brought even by the back-of-the-stage ensemble members was admirable. I was particularly impressed by Michael Monagle as Arthur; not only did he both look and sound like Graham Chapman, but he had the combination of comedian and straight man mixed perfectly. (Others were more incongruous, but still good: Galahad looked like Jack Black, and Robin looked like Roddy McDowall.)

One other line I particularly appreciated. Having been instructed by the Knights of Ni to seek success on Broadway, and having been informed that this can't happen unless you have some Jews, Arthur is in despair on finding any until Patsy reveals that he's half-Jewish.

ARTHUR: You never told me that.
PATSY: It's not something you say to a heavily-armed Christian.

Friday, May 12, 2017

his stomach hurts

Jim C. Hines has been writing about his depression issues, and one point he keeps bringing up is to say "Depression doesn’t make me creative or smart. My creativity, my work as a writer, these things happen in spite of my depression, not because of it. ... Please stop spreading the bullshit myth that creativity and intelligence are in some way enhanced by mental illness."

Maybe not, at least in his case. And certainly it's better for your mental health not to believe it.

But I'm thinking of two of the twentieth century's most beloved creative artists. And while I don't know whether they suffered from clinical depression or not - and neither does anybody else, because they never got diagnosed or treated for it - they did at least both suffer from profound melancholia so severe that it crippled their social lives, and they were both absolutely convinced that it was the entire engine of their creativity. Which is why they refused to have it treated.

And they may have been right, because a deep sadness and melancholy pervades their best work, and that's what people love it for - though that's along with an equally pervasive sense that you have to accept what life deals you and keep on grappling with it, no matter what happens.

No matter how much the toad work squats on your life. Or no matter how often Lucy snatches away the football.

For the two beloved creative artists I'm thinking of are the English poet Philip Larkin and the American cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Despite the interesting fact that they were born the same year (1922), they never had any interaction so far as I know, and it would never have occurred to me to think of them together had I not happened to be browsing through biographies of both in close succession.

Then it stunned me how much they have in common, in particular how much that pervasive sadness in their work is responsible for its distinctive character, and - from the biographies - how certain they were that they'd rather live with it than risk losing the creativity they were sure was bound up with it.

Of course, there's more to it than that. Both men's intimates testify that they could be be boon companions, riotous fun to be with; but it's also true that both were totally averse to public lives and rarely appeared there - Larkin had a particular response to the idea of speaking or reading in public; he said "I don't want to go around pretending to be me" - and tended not to travel much, preferring to hole up at home. Larkin had his job as a university librarian; Schulz, who always said he was good at only one thing, had his cartoonist's studio.

There were differences, of course. Larkin, though he never got less melancholy, dried up as a poet in later life, much to his distress, while Schulz, tied to newspaper deadlines, managed to crank them out, publishing a strip daily, with only one short break, for nearly fifty years.

Another difference is that Larkin never married, though he kept a couple of women stringing along for years thinking that he might; an aversion to domestic obligations and to children seem to have been his problems here. Whereas Schulz married twice and had five children. But here's where the melancholia theory really hits the road. Schulz's biographer, David Michaelis, while attributing much of the breakdown of his first marriage to Schulz's inertia and withdrawal, also says that Schulz considered his first wife something of a bully. She was the model for the character of Lucy. Charlie Brown was always saying, "My stomach hurts"; well, Charles Schulz's stomach always hurt. After he divorced and embarked on a much happier second marriage in 1972, his stomach never hurt again, and neither did Charlie Brown's.

But here's the thing. That's also just about the time that Peanuts lost its edge and began to turn into the random mush that disfigured its later years. Maybe he was right: he needed to be unhappy to create great work. Good grief.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

scholarly book review

Tom Shippey, Hard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction (Liverpool University Press)

Tom Shippey is, of course, the renowned Tolkien scholar, famous for his lucid explanations of what Tolkien was actually trying to do, and his robust denunciations of critics who carp at Tolkien from positions of cluelessness as to either his intent or achievement.

I knew that Shippey was also interested in SF, partly because he's edited collections of both the literature and of criticism, and because I knew of his interest in SF and fandom on a personal level. Once when I got to spend most of an afternoon in his company, he spent much of his conversation with me discussing Peter Weston (to whom this book is dedicated) and his fanzines, perhaps because I was the only person Shippey would be meeting on that trip who knew Peter Weston.

But this collection of essays, some of them dating back 40 years, is the first I've read of Shippey's own criticism in the field. And sure enough, he treats it just as he does Tolkien, explaining lucidly how SF works and chiding critics who don't get it. The first chapter, following the same principle of close reading pioneered by Samuel R. Delany in The Jewel-hinged Jaw, compares a sample opening scene in an SF novel (Pohl & Kornbluth's The Space Merchants) with a similar opening "man performing his morning ablutions" scene from a mainstream novel (Orwell's Coming Up for Air), and showing how the details in each give you information about the society you're in, but whereas Orwell's are designed to fix the character in a socio-economic context known to the reader, Pohl and Kornbluth are giving you new information ("depilatory soap"? "trickle from the fresh-water tap"?) and force you to store it in your mind until you've accumulated enough to form a picture of the society you're reading about. SF readers are used to reading this way. People who find SF unreadable don't.

Even better is a set of two chapters on a novel that forms an ideal topic for Shippey's approach. Usually when an established mainstream author writes an SF novel, the results are pretty dire, because they've wandered into a field they don't know how to write. But what happens when an author of high literary reputation who does know the SF field and its conventions writes an SF novel? Well, you get a competent SF novel. But what you also get is a large set of book reviews by literary critics who'd normally never touch SF, but who review this book because of its author's high literary repute. So Shippey has dug up all such reviews of Kingsley Amis's 1976 alternate-history novel The Alteration, and analyzed their near-universal and comprehensive Not Getting It.

In another essay, Shippey uses The Alteration to examine the rules and conventions of alt-history in general. In a third chapter he compares and contrasts it with "change the past" stories, literally drawing a matrix whose axes are the desirability of changing the past, and the possibility of actually doing so (given the opportunity to try). For instance, Lest Darkness Fall and A Connecticut Yankee both treat change as desirable, but in the one it succeeds; in the other it fails.

I really appreciated a chapter on magic in SF in the Unknown Worlds tradition, which treats it as a predictable, reliable science (actually more engineering). Shippey points out that this derives, directly or indirectly, from Frazer's The Golden Bough, which codified rules of magic from societies which consider them predictable and reliable. It's an entirely different view from one treating magic as religion. He contrasts this with stories in which whether, or how well, magic works depends on who's doing it (citing Earthsea, about which he has a whole separate chapter, as an example of this). But isn't it true even in our world that some people have the engineer's equivalent of a "green thumb" and others just don't?

Another place where I felt a little cautious came in a generally excellent chapter on cultural engineering in SF. Shippey discusses two stories by Poul Anderson and Winston P. Sanders (bashfully admitting in an introduction that he hadn't realized when writing the essay that they were the same person) showing that SF authors (at least this one) realize you can't just show up and engineer a culture around: if you try, there will be blowback and other disasters. (See also Le Guin's "The Word for World is Forest," which Shippey does.) What got me was a citation of John W. Campbell getting this point by writing an editorial in ASF in 1959 saying that American intervention in Vietnam would accomplish no good. Shippey commends Campbell for having the self-control to avoid crowing about this perspicacity ten years later; but I think it's far more likely that by ten years later, Campbell had changed his mind. I suspect that someone as right-wing as he would be unable to resist the temptation to be on the opposite side from the anti-war protesters.

Oh, there's much more in this book: a discussion of why 1984 doesn't really work, either as SF or as a novel; discussions of Jack Vance, Bruce Sterling, and Starship Troopers. I'd recommend it with enthusiasm for anyone interested in the thought that goes into SF literature.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Charles Dutoit conducted two big pieces - Mozart's K.482 piano concerto with Emanuel Ax, and Debussy's La mer - and two bonbons rarely heard from orchestras at this level, de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat dances and Sibelius' Karelia Suite, the latter of which SFS had never done before.

The pre-concert speaker described La mer as not trying to portray the sea in the way that Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony portrayed a storm, but more to portray one's feelings in response to the sea.

And I thought, is this a case of the locating emotional response solely in the respondent and not in any inherent qualities of what's being responded to that C.S. Lewis railed against in The Abolition of Man?

Maybe, but the performance itself put the lie to the premise. It was most outstanding in the surging sections, the parts that carried the most dramatic onomatopoeia of the sea. That was the highlight of a compact and intense performance.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

concert reviews

Two of them have been published lately.

First, I went to Kohl Mansion in Burlingame to hear a Russian piano trio in the last concert of the Kohl season. A piece by Rimsky I'd never heard before: interesting.

Then, I went to Lesher in Walnut Creek to hear the California Symphony in the last concert of its season. I'd reviewed Dan Visconti's guitar concerto here last year, and that was pretty good, and his cello concerto was more of the same. So I was happy to expend my space on that, even though the reason I wanted to go was for a chunk of Bruckner.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Sebastopol tiger crawl

My plan for Saturday was to occupy part of the day by heading out to Bodega Bay for lunch at one of the fish & chips places there.

I didn't get any further than Sebastopol, a modest-sized town less than halfway out to the coast.

I'd made a brief stop at a used-book store, and then noticed in the window of the ice-cream parlor next door a big poster for the Tiger Crawl, a tasting tour of 23 restaurants in town, and it was to be that day.

No information on time and tickets. The ice-cream parlor wasn't yet open for business for the day, but the door was unlocked, so I went in and asked. Yes, they were one of the participants. It was a fund-raiser for the local high school, tickets could be had there, and it began at lunchtime in an hour and went at your own pace.

So I went to the high school and bought the ticket, which consisted of a large colored sheet of paper with a map on one side showing the restaurants, and a more detailed list on the other. At each stop there was a box for them to sign you off, or just as often forget to do so.

In theory the restaurants were all within walking distance, but it'd be a long walk. I drove around to the more outlying ones, which were in clusters, including the ones at the end of the list on the other side of town where I was one of the first customers, then going back to downtown to finish up.

At most places they'd set up a trestle table on the sidewalk, staffed by volunteers, usually students from the high school, and one or two of their signature dishes, of which they'd give you a bit. It's best to take very small portions at these; it's easy to get quite stuffed.

The best items I had were corn and bean samosas (no potato) at a brewpub, and the equally vegan veggie & dumpling stew at a highly-rated little cafe. But I was also impressed with the tender pulled pork at an aggressively Texan bbq place.

I finished all 23, though it took over 3 hours to do it, and despite the car a lot of walking. I went back to Santa Rosa and rested for the rest of the day until the evening's concert, including skipping dinner for which I had no mind. Oof.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Shostakovich Eleventh festival

You all know that one of my favorite composers is Shostakovich, right? Well, my favorite Shostakovich symphony - it's not the greatest, but it's my favorite - is the Eleventh, an unbroken sixty-plus minutes of the grimmest, bleakest music you ever heard. How could I resist the rare opportunity to hear two different orchestras play this chilling masterwork on consecutive evenings?

So this past weekend I parked myself up in the North Bay, and went to hear the UC Berkeley Symphony under David Milnes play it on Friday evening at Hertz Hall on campus, and the Santa Rosa Symphony under Bruno Ferrandis play it on Saturday evening at Weill Hall in the Green Music Center.

The performances weren't all that different. Berkeley's was rawer and rougher, putting more emphasis on the finale, which was marked by a strong upturn in tempo and some tremendous clanging from the percussion, especially what Leonard Bernstein used to call the "Winnipeg Sound" from the gong. In Santa Rosa, Ferrandis, who bobbed and weaved around the podium for the rest of the program, stood stock-still for this piece which he led with firm control. There are times when iron rigidity is the proper approach to music, and this is one of them.

The reason the Eleventh is such a dire work is that it's a musical depiction of the 1905 Winter Palace massacre and the tragic atmosphere around that, with suggested overtones of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, which occurred just before the piece was written. Ferrandis explained all this in a pre-concert talk, adding that the election tension in his native France right then was making him identify with the work even more.

Oh yes, there was more on the programs. Santa Rosa offered an all-Soviet evening, with high-energy performances of Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite - his most tuneful work that isn't Gayne - and Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto, which Vadim Gluzman whipped through with smooth ease. Berkeley had a graceful and pastoral rendition of Elgar's Cello Concerto, with as soloist a recent graduate named Melody Huang. Is she going professional? No, she's going to Harvard Medical School this fall. Also a recent concerto for a Korean bowed instrument called a haegeum, of which I'll just refrain from speculating what kind of animal in pain it sounded like.

On the way home on Sunday I stopped by the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek to hear the California Symphony play my favorite symphony by another of my favorite symphonists, Bruckner's Sixth. It further turned out that this was the concert that my editor had been trying to reach me to ask me to review, so that folded together quite nicely. Of course that did mean the review would have to focus on the cello concerto being premiered, but fortunately it was Really Interesting. I'll show you the review when it's published, probably on Tuesday.

That did leave some time between concerts, much of which I spent in monkish concentration on revising a scholarly paper, with no home computer, or cats wanting petting or food, to distract me. On Saturday I was on my way out to lunch when I was waylaid by ... but I'll tell you that story tomorrow.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

hungry Pippin

One result of watching that set of Star Wars remakes of the Sgt. Pepper songs, that's gotten enough signalling in the past few days that I shouldn't need to link to it, is that it's setting the original songs loose in my head again.

So there's Pippin, (im)patiently waiting for his dinner even though it's over an hour till feeding time, and I sing for him:
Hungry Pippin, pussy cat:
When are you going to feed me?
When are you going to fill my bowl with food?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Grania Davis

who, it would appear, died yesterday, was one of the most interesting people I knew - and one of my favorites, a model of the lively and intelligent older woman.

In her distant youth, she was for a few years the wife of Avram Davidson, and remained a friend and literary collaborator with him ever afterwards, and one of the foremost proponents of his work after he died.

Soon after her time with Avram, she was for a brief period the live-with ladyfriend of Philip K. Dick. Being romantically entangled with PKD was a hazardous occupation (Grania slotted in between his third wife and his fourth wife), but she remained devoted to his work as well, and one of the last times I talked with her was over dinner at the PKD conference in San Francisco a few years ago.

By the time I met her she had settled down for the long haul, in a home in Terra Linda in Marin County, with a very calm and quiet doctor named Steve Davis, who died a while back.

But it's unfair to define a woman by her men, however important or interesting or relevant they may be. Grania was a solo author herself, not just Avram's collaborator. I first encountered her in the form of the name on the title page of The Rainbow Annals, a fantasy novel based on Tibetan mythology, which is something you don't see every day. It stuck with me, and I remembered it when I met her some time later at some fannish social event.

We always remembered each other, and always had a great time talking. She was interested in almost anything. I was not in the least surprised to see her and Steve among the audience at a performance reading of Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon, something else you don't come across every day. And the last time I saw her was at Borderlands for the publication party of her short-story collection, Tree of Life, Book of Death: The Treasures of Grania Davis. That I had to have, and I was delighted to get it in the author's presence.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

concert review: Murray Perahia

Another recital by one of my favorite pianists since I first encountered him when he was an obscure student some 45 years ago. I last heard him three years back, also at Davies, in a program much like this one.

Three medium-weight works by heavyweight composers: a French Suite by Bach, a set of Schubert Impromptus, and a stray but dark-toned Rondo by Mozart. Plus one very heavyweight work, Beethoven's final Sonata, Op. 111.

Perahia played them all with feeling and authority. Considering that the last time I heard Schubert's Impromptus they were played with no feeling whatever, it increased my appreciation for what a truly great pianist can bring to a work.

No encore. After applause brought him out yet again even after the house lights had gone up, Perahia put his hand to his heart to express his appreciation, and then went offstage again. I expect he felt that after you've given Beethoven's final words, there's nothing more to be said.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

concert review: Dover Quartet

This is the string quartet that won the Banff competition the time before I went, and the video embedded at the bottom of my review (of the finale of a different Beethoven quartet than the one they played this time) is the same video I embedded at the bottom of my post last year saying "I'm going" to the competition because "I want to hear more people who can play like this."

And I did; and I see from the bio in the program book that the winners of that iteration, the Rolston Quartet, will be teaming up with the Dovers to play Mendelssohn's Octet in Montreal in June. That should be good, and not just because I believe that whenever two string quartets appear on the same program, they should be required by law to play the Mendelssohn Octet.

I have heard the Dovers myself before now: they re-appeared for an alumni concert at last year's Banff, and I caught them last fall in San Francisco playing Dvorak's "American" Quartet, not a gnarly enough work to catch this group at its best. This concert, though ... this one was tough stuff. I reported the pre-concert lecturer (well-meaning, but it's really about time for him to retire) mentioning that one of his community-class students had asked him in puzzlement at the Shostakovich, "How do you listen to music like this?" I didn't give the lecturer's frustrating answer, "Just listen." Isn't it obvious from the question that the student needs his or her hand held a little more than that? I'd find a more lyrical recording of the piece - there are some - and point out the melodies and what the composer does with them. Once you absorb that, you can hear it in a tougher performance, and use it as a base to grasp what the tougher one adds to it. I don't have that much trouble with Shostakovich (any listener who finds the Second baffling will be absolutely dumbstruck by the late quartets), but that's how I learned my way around late Beethoven. I was astonished the first time I heard a performance of Op. 132 (the piece played here) that brought out the curvaceous beauty of the work: I'd never heard that before. But now that I've found it, I can always hear it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

workshop review: theatricality and the string quartet

They said it was a workshop, rather than a concert. It lasted about an hour, and was held in the Bing Studio, a small cubical space tucked away in the basement of Stanford's Bing Concert Hall. I went because some of the music was by Caroline Shaw, a composer with a good claim for a space on my list of top ten living ones.

The music was for vocalist and string quartet, a medium that's attracted Arnold Schoenberg and Laurie Anderson, a quaint pair, but not many others. The singer was an avant-garde soprano named Majel Connery, and the quartet was the St. Lawrence, Stanford's resident artists, who are always up for strange collaborations. The theatrical part was delivered by enlisting a "daring ... unconventional" (it says here) opera director named Christopher Alden.

I rather liked the music, two works commissioned for the occasion. Shaw's piece, Contriving the Chimes, sets excerpts from a notebook kept by Isaac Newton at the age of 19 listing his sins. ("Contriving the chimes" was one of them, though nobody seems to know what it means.) Connery chanted, yelled, and occasionally sang over hyponotically fragmented motifs from the strings. That lasted about 15 minutes. The other piece, August is also cruel by Doug Bailliett, is about twice as long. It's a song cycle inspired by Schumann's Dichterliebe. Most of the texts (by the composer) are varied declarations of love, often frustrated. Both instrumentally and vocally it was far more expressionist than the Shaw, with occasionally campy vocal styles and a lot of overripe harmonies.

If not always the most attractive, the music seemed interesting, and it honestly presented itself. The staging, however, was pretentious and full of itself.

It looked like this: the quartet played on a platform in one corner of the room. They were dressed in black from neck to ankle, and barefoot. So was the singer. She walked, crouched, rolled, and otherwise carried on while singing from a runway that extended diagonally across the room from the platform. The audience were mostly seated at café tables scattered around the room.

Suspended around the length of the runway at various heights, hung from strings tied to the rafters, were a couple dozen apples. (Isaac Newton - apples - get it? In the post-concert discussion, the opera director was actually proud of coming up with this infantile connection.) The apples played an increasing role as the performance went on. During a moment of anguish near the end of the Shaw, the singer vigorously batted all the apples, which went swinging around the room. Those seated near them ducked. One apple actually went flying, as it accidentally came loose from its string and landed smack on the table immediately behind me. Fortunately it hit no one; had it hit me, I would have been a lot less forgiving than was the startled man who had an apple explode in his face.

During the Bailliett, the singer cut down all the (remaining) apples and stuffed them in a suitcase, which she then stabbed with the scissors. What the thinking was behind this action, I couldn't say.

The composers get a solid B. The performers get an A for effort. The direction gets an R for "Remedial training needed." The most concise evaluation I can give of this event is that my old friend V. would have liked it; and if you knew her, that'll tell you what this felt like.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

wickedly funny

Not everybody shares my sense of humor, but I hope some of you will be amused by this. I got it from the blog of Mark Evanier.

First, in order for this to work, you have to be familiar with the stage musical Wicked and the song "Popular". If you're not (as I wasn't), watch this decent-quality clip from the first stage production a couple of times to get to know the song. It's pretty funny already.

This is from the schoolgirl backstory in Act 1 of Wicked. Glinda, future Good Witch of the South (Kristin Chenoweth, in the Emma Woodhouse part), expresses her eagerness to perform a makeover on her homely roommate Elphaba, future Wicked Witch of the West (Idina Menzel, in the Harriet Smith part).

OK? Now watch this clip from a recent Actor's Fund Tribute to Stephen Schwartz, the composer and lyricist of Wicked (also Pippin, Godspell, etc). Tenor and comedian Jason Graae comes on not just to sing "Popular" in the presence of its composer, but to sing it to its composer, just as Glinda had sung it to Elphaba. Only ... even funnier. Brace yourselves: this is wicked.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

concert review: Stanford

Sometimes I've gone to Stanford for senior recitals. Some singer or instrumentalist will sing or play some pieces. This one, however, was a conductor's senior recital. Diego Hernandez led a pickup student orchestra and chorus in the Fauré Requiem and just the orchestra in Milhaud's La création du monde. He was able to cram in enough expressive gestures in a mostly straightforwardly time-beating style to generate attractively lyrical propulsive performances from good musicians, impressively light and airy despite some heavy orchestration in both works, and even more impressively considering that the concert was held in the outstandingly damp and echoing acoustics of the Stanford Memorial Church.

This fortuitously followed a lecture, in a class hall halfway across campus - but it's a large campus - by musicologist Beth E. Levy from UC Davis, based on her book Frontier figures: American music and the mythology of the American West. She discussed works like the "Indianist" music of Arthur Farwell, taking Native melodies and embedding them in European harmonic practice, the "open Midwestern prairie" school of music, focusing on a Carl Sandburg setting by the protean Lukas Foss, and a brief consideration of the "cowboy" music of Roy Harris and Aaron Copland. I liked Levy's ability to ground emotional and cultural impressions by citing specific musical techniques. Interesting, and I'll have to read the book.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

a cluster of holidays

Being an interfaith family gives us a double ration of holidays.

Saturday, while B. was at church, I went for Pesach seder with the family of friends who've kindly taken me and some other assorted individuals in for a number of years. It was a subdued occasion. Our hostess was ill and hid out in her room for fear of contagion; didn't see her at all. Her husband, who does the cooking in that family anyway, took care of all the hosting duties. Some other customary attendees also weren't there through illness. Our usual seder leader, the hostess' mother, had lost most of her voice from an allergy attack, and one of the other guests took over. She did very well, but then she is, as I now recall, a former radio announcer.

Easter with B.'s family was larger and livelier, and full of people of all ages, down to younger than the children at seder. The house seemed full of a thundering horde of 3-year-old girls, who only slowed down on an offer to have their toenails painted. As an eldest child myself, I gave B's eldest sister advice on how to respond to digs at her age from her obnoxious little brother. Meanwhile, the pug was interested in anything you were standing up to eat from the appetizer table, even if it was prawns with cocktail sauce. After a while I retreated to the porch to read.

Both meals featured lamb as the main dish, and to both I brought the same, or nearly the same, contribution. Having recently discovered that my roasted broccoli dish will travel and still tastes good after a couple hours at room temperature, I've started taking that to events, except that for the seder I left out the parmesan cheese, to make it more compatible with our vague obeisance to the laws of kashrut. At Easter, B's sister-in-law M. (the family's most potent cook) was fascinated, quizzed me closely on the ingredients, and left me with instructions to bring it when she hosts Christmas. Will do.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

concert review: Redwood Symphony

This review marks the only Redwood Symphony concert this season I was able to get to. No, my complaint about the unhappy small child didn't get in it.

Nor did my astonishment at a lapse in the conductor's pre-concert talk. Lou Harrison's symphony contains a movement consisting of three sub-movements, "A Reel in Honor of Henry Cowell," "A Waltz for Evelyn Hinrichsen," and "An Estampie for Susan Summerfield," and while he did explain what an estampie is (a medieval dance, a term Harrison was fond of resurrecting), when he was asked who the three honorees were, he apologized for not knowing. I'm not surprised he didn't know Hinrichsen (Harrison's publisher) or Summerfield (a keyboard exponent of his music) - both of whom I had to look up myself - but Henry Cowell? An equally renowned composer, Harrison's teacher and mentor. I would have expected the conductor to know him offhand.

The other astonishment is that it took the cancellation of another work to get the Harrison on. It's his centenary next month: how can you not have planned to honor it, when as a composer he's so much up your alley? Other people are, though I don't know if I'll get to any of these. Most in the area conflict with other things I'm doing, and while I like Harrison's music and have always enjoyed hearing it, I'm not as moved to seek it out as I am for Cowell's.

Friday, April 14, 2017

items impersonal

1. Science fiction isn't supposed to predict the future, but I get a kick when journalism does. I found two examples in The New Yorker's new 1960s decade collection. One is in a 1965 profile of Marshall McLuhan. Among the wacky things that McLuhan has said, it reports, is that he has "predicted a happy day when everyone will have his own portable computer to cope with the dreary business of digesting information." Well, that happened.

The other is an interview that I'm astonished I'd never seen reference to before. It's of Brian Epstein, in New York in late 1963 on his scouting trip to make arrangements for the upcoming visit of what the article austerely calls "a group of pop singers called the Beatles" ("the origin of the name is obscure," it adds). Although nobody in America has yet heard of this group, they seem to be very popular in Europe. Epstein concludes the interview by saying, "I think that America is ready for the Beatles. When they come, they will hit this country for six." I don't know what that expression means, but I can guess, and that happened too.

2. A lot of my friends are posting papers at academia.edu. I have a reading account, but I've resisted the temptation to contribute to it myself, and the e-mail I recently got explains why. It says that 143 papers on academia.edu mention my name and then offers a link to "View Your Mentions." Only that's not what the link does. It takes me to a page where I can upgrade my membership. That's not what it says, of course. But any button on that page that says "Get Started" or "View Your Mentions" gives me the same popup where I can pay $99/year for the privilege of seeing what it just told me I could see without bothering to mention this charge.

It says it can find things Google Scholar can't. Maybe so, but as most of the mentions of my name on Google Scholar actually just mean that my last name - which is not unique, and is used by at least 3 other scholars, one of them much more prolific than I - and my first name, which is quite common, appear somewhere in the same paper. And I'm not paying $99 to find out if this is the same.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tolkien Studies 14: an announcement

On behalf of myself and my co-editors, Michael D.C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, here are the expected contents of volume 14 of the journal Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review. All of the works are now in the hands of our publisher, West Virginia University Press, and the volume is scheduled to be published in softcover and on Project MUSE later this year. - David Bratman, co-editor

Tolkien Studies 14 (2017)
  • H.L. Spencer, "The Mystical Philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien and Sir Israel Gollancz: Monsters and Critics"

  • Christopher Gilson, "His Breath Was Taken Away: Tolkien, Barfield, and Elvish Diction"

  • Kathy Cawsey, "Could Gollum Be Singing a Sonnet? The Poetic Project of The Lord of the Rings"

  • Eleanor R. Simpson, "The Evolution of J.R.R. Tolkien's Portrayal of Nature: Foreshadowing Anti-speciesism"

  • Leonard Neidorf, "J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fall of Arthur: Creation from Literary Criticism"

  • Jeffrey J. MacLeod and Anna Smol, "Visualizing the Word: Tolkien as Artist and Writer"
**
Notes and Documents
  • Paul Tankard, "'Akin to my own inspiration': Mary Fairburn and the Art of Middle-earth"

  • J. Silk, "A Note on the Sindarin Translation of the Name Daisy"

  • Giovanni Costabile, "Stolen Pears, Unripe Apples: The Misuse of Fruits as a Symbol of Original Sin in Tolkien's The New Shadow and Augustine of Hippo's Confessions"
**
Book Reviews
  • A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins, reviewed by Arden R. Smith

  • The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger; and The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Aleksandar Mikić with the assistance of Elizabeth Currie, reviewed by Dimitra Fimi

  • The Feanorian Alphabet, Part 1; Quenya Verb Structure, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Gilson and Arden R. Smith, reviewed by Nelson Goering

  • Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Other Works, edited by Leslie A. Donovan, reviewed by Diana Pavlac Glyer

  • Laughter in Middle-earth: Humour in and around the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Thomas Honegger and Maureen F. Mann, reviewed by David Bratman
**
  • David Bratman, Edith L. Crowe, Jason Fisher, John Wm. Houghton, John Magoun, Robin Anne Reid, "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2014"

  • David Bratman, "Bibliography (In English) for 2015"

Monday, April 10, 2017

and then it turned out ...

... that installing the Bluetooth software disabled Outlook.

Outlook is an important program for me. I maintain all my e-mails on it.

Amazingly, however, repeatedly insisting to Windows that I wanted to start Outlook anyway eventually reversed the polarity and caused Outlook to disable Bluetooth instead.

However, since I was done with Bluetooth and hope never to have to use it again until the next time I buy a new cell phone and have to upload a ringtone when there's no other way to do it, that satisfies me.

I refuse to use wireless accessories on my computer, and this gives me another reason why.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

nightmare in blue

One nuisance of getting a new cell phone is that if you want your own choice of ringtone you have to upload it from scratch again. There's no way to pass it over.

In previous iterations, I think I was able to send the ringtone directly from the site I got it from to my phone. But this time, I was told on the website to save the file and upload it to my phone. Also, the tutorials on the phone's website say that the only way to get files on or off the phone is via Bluetooth, using the phone to connect with the other device which also has Bluetooth.

Bluetooth. Great. I didn't have Bluetooth on my computer. Neither did B. As of yesterday morning, I knew exactly two things about Bluetooth:

1. It's some sort of wireless communication protocol.
2. It's named for an ancient king of Denmark.

Now I know a lot more, including why it's named for an ancient king of Denmark, but first I had to learn it. I read the Wikipedia article, which amazingly was helpful. Then I set out to find some Bluetooth.

I didn't have Bluetooth.
B. didn't have Bluetooth.
The phone repair store didn't have Bluetooth.
The AT&T store didn't have Bluetooth.
Nobody had Bluetooth. Why does the phone require it, then?

The last told me I could buy a Bluetooth device at the computer store for maybe $10. If I hadn't already read on the Wikipedia article about the existence of Bluetooth transmitters that plug into computer USB ports, I wouldn't have had any idea what the guy was talking about, but I did, so I went.

After some trouble finding it, including sending a phalanx of employees around looking for the guy who ran that department, I bought a Bluetooth USB Dongle. I thought that was a slang word, but that's what they're actually called.

The guy said it was plug and play. It wasn't. It came with an installation disk. The disk was 3.25 inch instead of 4.75 inch, so I had to figure out how to get my computer's CD-ROM reader to take one of those without it falling through the hole in the middle.

The installation process gave me some cryptic error messages, but seemed to work. I had to correlate the Dongle's manual with the phone's online tutorials, and found that neither set of instructions bore more than the remotest resemblance to the actual processes, either of getting the phone and the Dongle to recognize each other, or of then designating the ringtone file on my computer and getting it transferred. Only years of experience trying various tricks on recalcitrant computers enabled me to get past the various error messages, failure messages, and lack of options where the instructions told me options should be, and complete the process.

All to put a ringtone on a phone. Good gravy.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

some news

1. To my amazement, when my anti-virus program finally expired today, I was able to re-load and register it with the help of only one quick call to customer support. I'd thought my renewal had been canceled, but somehow I now have it for four years instead of the offered two.

2. On my trip to the wildflowers, my cell phone died. Not exactly: it was still on, I could still make calls on it, but the screen was totally dead. I took it to a repair shop and they said it could actually be fixed, for $90. I judged that, since I could buy a new one for $50 (I'm still sticking with clamshell dumb phones), I'd be willing to go through the hassle of learning a new model.

The one that the AT&T store is selling these days is from a company called LG, which they claim stands for "Life's Good." Yeah, well, it would be better if your cell phone weren't so irritating for its lack of options, like one to silence the on/off tone without also silencing the ringtone. And boy did I struggle to write my first text message on the thing, because instead of putting in what you type it changes it to what it thinks you mean, and it's always wrong. At one point it thought that "home" was "gooe" and asked me to add that to the dictionary, so I had to inform it that "home" is a word. Then I lost the whole message while trying to figure out how to put a period at the end of it.

3. Review later, but this will probably not go in it, so:
Dear parents, When you take your small son to the symphony, even if you dress him up for the occasion, if he spends the whole concert squirming, rattling his program, whispering in your ears, and so bugfck restless that he chews up the end of his tie, then he is bored and he is not appreciating the music. I don't blame him - I wouldn't have gotten much out of such advanced stuff as this when I was his age, either - but please put him, and yourselves, and me - the innocent bystander you chose to sit right in front of at this open-seating concert - out of our collective miseries and let him play outside or something.

Friday, April 7, 2017

wildflower alliance

I used a slight pause in my usual schedule of reading and computer-sitting to take advantage of the fact that I live in California. I spent yesterday on a wildflower-sighting expedition. After the heavy rains of last winter, this is becoming a spectacular spring for them, and I thought it about time I took something more than a desultory look.

The peak has been moving slowly northward with the sun, and this week it was reported to have reached Carrizo Plain, a place I'd long wanted to return to. Located high up in the coastal mountains some distance south of here (basically, you drive up the Salinas Valley and then turn left), in the deep countryside some 50 miles from any actual towns, Carrizo Plain is a rift valley generated by the San Andreas Fault (oh, relax: we're used to earthquake-related geology around here). It's a national monument (BLM variety, not NPS) with a small visitor center, which wasn't yet true when I was last there.

After an early lunch in Morro Bay, a small coastal town with a huge rock and lots of great seafood restaurants, I drove up into the mountains. At first I saw mostly little clusters of orange California poppies, the state flower, by the roadside; then these gave way to various yellow and blue flowers. Soon I could see that the green hills - themselves a temporary phenomenon; 9 months of the year the grass is brown - held splashes of yellow so intense as to be visible half a mile, then - as the vistas broadened - 3 or 4 miles, then even ten miles off.

In the plain itself, the wildflower carpets - mostly different species than I'd seen earlier on - were sometimes so thick as to eradicate the green. Flowers were even growing in the alkali flats. There were a fair number of people around, even on a weekday, taking photos or just looking.

When I reported to B., she was more interested in the fauna. I saw a wild turkey, lots of crows, and a couple lizards darting into the underbrush: larger, darker-colored, and more broadly built than the tiny brown fence lizards we have at home. Many visitors brought their dogs to see the flowers, including one giant black poodle the size of a Great Dane.

The plain is actually closer to the Central Valley than to the coast highways, so when I left at 4:30 I just headed east, down the precipitous slopes into the low valley, and for dinner sought out the rather good Indian restaurant that improbably sprouted up at the I-5 Buttonwillow exit some years back. From there, a straight marathon run back home.

Photos, we have a few: just of the flowers, mostly. The colors, though, were ever so much more vivid in person.

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This one shows the ground carpet effect, a little of the alkali, and a distant view of yellow splashes on the hillside.

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A closer view of a hillside splash.

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What the splash flowers look like close up.

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This was the most common flower on the plain. From a distance, they look yellow and black, but close up it appears that the black is an illusion.

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But it's not a monoculture.

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A typical human sight: people taking photos of family members sitting in the flower beds. From their ages when I saw them closer up, this seems to have been a teenage boy taking a photo of his mother, with Dad looking on. (Yes, that's an actual lake - another seasonal rarity in the desert - in the background.)

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A different mix of flowers in a field some 30 miles to the west. (At Shell Creek, for anyone who cares about the geography.)