Tuesday, December 13, 2011

day's outing

It takes about an hour to drive from here to San Francisco or Berkeley when the traffic isn't heavy. Once you get there, however, you may not be able to find a convenient or inexpensive parking space.

Today I wanted to go to both San Francisco and Berkeley, and because I didn't want to have to deal with parking in both, and because I had the time to do it and wouldn't be heading back late when CalTrain stops running, and not so much because I wanted to be a good little green traveler, though that was a bonus, I went by public transit.

It took about three hours each way, which I knew in advance. It would have taken longer still if I didn't drive the 3 miles to the CalTrain station (and try to find all-day parking there, a story in itself). I think about those who don't have any choice other than to travel this way, and am reminded of someone's wise comment that it's very time-consuming (and expensive) to be poor.

CalTrain to BART to AC Transit, the last now costing $2.10 a ride (OK, it's time for them to start taking credit cards), the last not because the distance isn't walkable but because I'd have had to leave an hour earlier to catch a train that would have gotten me there in time to make the walk by our appointment time, got me to the Clark Kerr Campus in Berkeley for a site visit and meeting-with-the-staff about next year's Mythcon. It looks as if we'll have to do a certain amount of juggling regarding the availability of some meeting rooms we'll want to use, but the relevant people are on that, so I'm sure it will work out somehow.

A walk down to Telegraph Avenue revealed some sad changes, including the old building that burned up last month, now a knocked-down pile of bricks (I wonder if the inhabitants of the upstairs apartments were allowed to retrieve any of their surviving possessions first), and some others I hadn't known about. My up-until-this-moment favorite Mexican restaurant has changed name and management, and revamped and "updated" its menu, removing the tamales which were my favorite tamales in all the world, so much so that in forty years of regularly eating there I never ordered anything else. Unless they bring them back I shall never eat there again. Amoeba Records has closed down the secret but large attic room where the classical stock sat in peaceful splendor, and has tucked it into a much smaller space in the back of the jazz section downstairs. I may not be shopping there much any more either. However, Moe's Books is still there, and I scored a good used copy of a $55 musicology book for $15. And Julia Vinograd, Telegraph's resident street poet, is still there, as has been the case as long as I've known Berkeley. With a practiced saleswoman's eye, she caught my smile and told me she had a new book out for $5. Pleased that something is still unchanged in Berkeley, and liking the poem about Joan Baez I turned to at random, I bought a copy.

What I then went to San Francisco for was another lecture-demonstration on the history of the SF Symphony in the city library auditorium. This one featured four musicians - a violinist, a French horn player, a flutist/piccolo player, and the orchestra's pianist/keyboard player - talking about what it's like being members of the orchestra. Some honesty mixed with some hedging. Yes, we love our work. Yes, the conductor's approach and personality makes a difference. Yes, practice every day - you lose your edge if you don't. (I believe this - my fingers feel stiff and clumsy when I begin typing after more than a couple days away from the keyboard.) The violinist said his old teacher had told him not to begin by plunging into the works being played that week, but always start with scale exercises: "First the scales, then the fish." The horn player said that playing the Wagner tuba (a rare instrument that, despite its name, is more like a French horn and is consequently played by the same people) is really quite different, and that she feels conspicuous coming on stage with one. "It's like you're carrying a small baby goat." The flutist said she'd never planned on specializing in piccolo, but drifted into it when she found she was good at it. "I didn't pick it: it picked me." The pianist, an aging man with a ponytail, said that the SFS is a loose outfit in collective personality, less prim than the visiting orchestras he sees. "They don't wear Hawaiian shirts."

Each of the other three played a solo piece with the pianist accompanying them. The flutist's was a Carmen fantasia with a lot of extra-musical goofings off, including waving a fan, weaving seductively, whirling her outer blouse over her head and throwing it into the audience, and shooting the pianist with a pop-gun when his part threatened to take over the show. The other two sat utterly motionless while this was going on.

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