Sunday, March 31, 2019

present to myself

Ursula K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home: Author's Expanded Edition, ed. Brian Attebery. Library of America, 2019, hc, 826 pp., ISBN 978-1-59853-603-4; $35.00.

When Le Guin's Always Coming Home was first published, I reviewed it as "her masterpiece to date ... it rivets the imagination like no other secondary world since Middle-earth itself ... [it depicts] a joyous, happy, mature society without the didacticism, sappiness, or artificial perfection of a utopia."

I still consider it her masterpiece, and her magnum opus, which is why I was so delighted to find that the fourth volume of Le Guin in the honored and authoritative Library of America series, after sets of the Orsinian and Hainish stories, is this one. It is likely to remain the definitive edition of this great work.

First, there is the original text of the book, in all its complex, varied, and extensive form. It's meticulously proofread – one spot where I was sure I spotted a typo turned out to be a correction from the first printing – and clearly presented. Neither the pagination nor all the features of the layout of the original are preserved, but all the words are there (except the publisher's blurb), and all of the maps and Margaret Chodos-Irvine's illustrations are there, in pretty much the same place as typography permits. The recorded music and poetry are not there, but they may be ordered separately as CD or download, and information for doing that is given.* The major change from the original text is that the endnotes after some individual items have been converted to footnotes: placed at the bottom of the relevant page and marked with asterisks. This strikes me as a superior presentation.

There is, however, more. Le Guin preserved and later revised about 40 pages of additional Kesh material: poems, mostly from the women's Blood Lodge; some material on Kesh syntax which will please the linguists; and what from its billing appears to be the addition Le Guin was most asked for by readers: the "complete novel" Dangerous People, the Kesh novel of which chapter 2 appears in the original book.

Well, it isn't a complete text. Dangerous People is described in ACH itself as a "long novel," but turns out to be only three chapters, of which chapter 3 is fragmentary, having been "damaged in transit" from the Kesh. However, chapter 1 at least is well worth careful study. Read after chapter 2 it bears some quietly-presented but astonishing revelations which deepen the reader's appreciation of chapter 2 considerably. So do innumerable footnotes, to both the old and new material, which explain Kesh customs the reader otherwise picks up only by osmosis or here and there in the book's bits of expository material.

But there’s more than that. Editor Attebery has included other writings by Le Guin related to ACH. These include "May’s Lion," a sketch for a short story reimagining a real-life incident from the primary-world valley involving an old woman and a wayward mountain lion into a tale of the Kesh; and several essays discussing Le Guin's approach to fictional creativity and her relationships both with the California landscape and the Native peoples who inspired this story. Most of this material previously appeared in collections issued during Le Guin's lifetime.

But three items did not, and it's their presence here which most pleases me. For all three derived from the 1988 Mythopoeic Conference at which Le Guin (and Attebery, too) were Guests of Honor, and up until now all three have only been seen in the pages of Mythlore, the Mythopoeic Society's journal. To have them available in this definitive edition pleases me utterly, especially given my role in midwifing them all into existence. For I was the chair of that Mythcon, I chose the Guests of Honor and the ACH-related theme, and thus commissioned Le Guin for her GoH speech, "Legends for a New Land," which outlines her motivations and goals behind the book far more explicitly than she wrote elsewhere.

Then there is the panel transcript, "The Making of Always Coming Home," featuring all four of the people on the original title page: author, artist, composer, and geomancer (to find out what that word means, read the transcript). I feel particularly proud of this detailed explanation of how the book was put together. I conceived the panel, arranged for all four of the participants to be on it, made the tape recording, transcribed it, sent it to the panelists for corrections, and finally submitted it to Mythlore where it appeared in issue 65. I had also asked some of the questions which kept the panel going: the first questions on each of pp. 762, 764, and 769 were all me.

Lastly and most preciously, there's the endpaper illustration by Patrick H. Wynne, "The Valley of the Na, looking south near Kastóha-na." The credits don't say this, but this was the headpiece to the publication of Le Guin's speech in Mythlore 56. And in neither place is the origin of this illustration explained. After Mythcon, I arranged for and conducted a van tour of the Napa Valley with an eye towards the places significant in Le Guin's fictionalized Valley of the Na, whose locations I had determined from the author’s maps. On Highway 29, going up into the mountains above Calistoga (site of Kastóha-na in the book), we stopped at a foothill turnout that overlooked the valley. A photograph of the scenescape taken at that stop formed the inspiration and basis for Pat's gorgeous illustration.

And now all Le Guin devotees, not just those who know about Mythlore, may see and appreciate all these things in this most magnificent and worthy volume.

*The CD is supposed to include a copy of Le Guin's original liner notes and lyrics, but the copy I ordered did not. Fortunately I still had two copies of the original cassette, so I transferred one copy of the sheet over to the CD sleeve.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

news of web and cats

On top of everything, my personal website was on the fritz. I noticed this before I went to New York; all the host gave was an announcement of a migration. When I came back I found nothing at all. (Nothing wrong with my e-mail, which comes from the same host; just webspace.) Then followed long conversations with the kind of tech reps you expect: their names are Anglo, but their accents say they're from India. I was told that migration had been delayed, but I could be escalated, and I'd get an e-mail in a couple days when it was up. First I got the e-mail but the website wasn't up. Then, several days later, I didn't get another e-mail but the website was up.

Well, most of it. My reviews listing, which would be rather helpful vita material if I were looking for a job, wasn't there. And I needed to update it today anyway, with this review of the Peninsula Symphony. Then I found the FTP [file transfer protocol] isn't working, so I can't update the file. And the host's team that deals with that is closed on weekends. So, let's wait.

I also should try to figure out how to get the web site to reappear on a Google search for my name, from which it's entirely vanished.

Meantime, there's much cat activity at home. Tybalt is a bold little boy, and will jump up on the kitchen counter to lick spills off the stove or dirty dishes in the sink. Now Maia is doing that too. She never used to. But apparently she figures if it's OK for him to do it, she can do it too. The problem is that no, it's not OK for either of them to do it, and they know that, because they jump off guiltily when they see us coming. But there's a reason that the word is "copycat".

However, Tybalt is quite the little charmer at playtime. He makes tiny inquisitive mews (yes, with a rising inflection) when he wants to play, and squiggles around. He carries his plush toys (plus the strings and poles they dangle from) around the house to stashes in different rooms, and I have to hope one of the stashes is around when he wants to play. Sometimes he plays on top of the bed, and will dash right off the edge, or even fall off while squiggling.

Occasionally he is the self-playing cat. Watching him skillfully bat around a small plastic ball on the kitchen floor yesterday, with the finesse of a good soccer player, I thought about making this inquiry of the soccer association: although human players are in most play situations not allowed to touch the ball with their arms, if you're a four-legged player, do your front legs count as legs?

Friday, March 29, 2019

harsh day

The nightmare began Wednesday evening, as I used the aggregator site to search for a flight for my next trip to the East Coast, which will be in about 3 months. I found a suitable schedule at a suitable price, and was taken to the discount broker to ticket it. It was processed fine, but when I went to the airline's site to double check, it had the booking but indicated that it hadn't been ticketed or paid for. But the broker's site said it had been.

It was too late to call the broker, but I spent the next day submitting a series of increasingly concerned e-mails and phone messages to them with no response. I had also called the airline to confirm the status and that they couldn't do anything to unplug the problem.

This morning I called the airline back. I already had the basic info; what I was trying to find out now was what would happen if it stayed in this limbo status indefinitely. (Broker reservations don't automatically expire.) I spoke to three successive agents, and all three absolutely and utterly sucked at customer relations. They kept on telling me things I already knew (like that I needed to contact the broker), despite the fact that we'd established that and I was trying to move on to follow-up questions. They kept blaming me for the broker's problems, even saying it was my fault for being foolish enough to use one. And when I got frustrated at this unhelpfulness, they blamed me for that, too.

Then I made one more call to the broker, and surprise, got right through. I told the guy, who said he was a manager, about all the messages both written and spoken I'd left the previous day, and he apologized but didn't object when I said I wouldn't be using them again. But he also said the reason for the holdup was that the airline's website wasn't processing the order properly. It wasn't a problem with my credit card, as I'd feared. So maybe it wasn't the broker's fault, but the airline's? The man said he'd cancel the reservation and I should try booking directly with the airline. The cancellation went right through, and I thanked him and hung up.

Now, on to the airline's site to discover that I couldn't book the return I'd gotten on the previous booking, and none of the options it offered were anywhere near as good schedule-wise. So I called them again and was able to book it through one of their agents, though it cost a heck of a lot more. Was its unappearance due to one leg being a code-share flight? Was it due to the extra-long layover at O'Hare? Was either of these the reason their site didn't process my original reservation? I was unable to get an answer to any of those questions, but I did get the ticket.

And I like my 5-hour (yes, 5) layover. This should be long enough for me to leave the airport and take the El to some appealing neighborhood in Northside Chicago to have lunch, something I've done before. I was dreaming of such a thing, in fact, on my nonstop flight home from New York. It wasn't at all uncomfortable by the standards of air travel, but I felt intensely restless and itchy, and was wishing for a good long layover as a break. If this makes for a less restless trip, then I may just not book non-stops westbound (which takes longer) from the east coast any more.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

indicative vote

So the hapless UK House of Commons, having been unable to find a Brexit plan, or anti-Brexit plan, that a majority of MPs will support, decided in the teeth of the government to hold an "indicative vote," that is, a sense of the House that didn't bind them to anything. And instead of voting on a series of proposals, whose order of consideration might affect the outcome, they took the possibly unprecedented step of voting on all of them at once. Eight varied proposals appeared on the voting paper, and MPs could vote for as many of them as they approved of.

And they all lost. All of them. This only proves what we already knew: that there is no path through this thicket that a majority of MPs support. That means one of two things will happen.

One is that, no matter how many times the House passes a resolution against a no-deal hard Brexit, it will happen, just two weeks later than originally expected, because that's the default course they're on now, and will stay on unless they choose another one, and as we've seen they can't agree on another one.

The other is that somebody - remotely the UK government, possibly the EU, more likely the House - changes their mind. Theresa May's plan seems to be to keep submitting her exit plan over and over until deadline pressure forces the MPs to recognize that it's this or a no-deal hard exit. The problem is that the MPs most susceptible to government pressure in general are also the ones who are least bothered by, and in some cases welcome, the idea of hard Brexit.

But since the indicative vote is intended to be the beginning of discussion, maybe the wise old heads like Letwin and Clarke will come up with some meeting of the minds.

Here's something to think about, though. Here's a list of how everybody voted. I had wondered - did anybody vote against all the proposals? Turns out that 28 MPs - all but two of them Tories - did.

And I thought: what if you couldn't do that? If enough people vote against everything, then of course anything will lose. But surely you have to be in favor of something, even if it's revocation (which was one of the options). What if those 28 were disallowed on the grounds that nihilism isn't an acceptable option?

Subtract 28 from the no votes, and two of them win. Ken Clarke's permanent customs union, which came closest at 264-272, would win at 264-244. So would Margaret Beckett's request for a confirmatory vote, which would squeak through at 268-267. (A number of other MPs abstained on some items and voted no on all the rest; subtracting them doesn't change any additional outcomes.) Nor are these two strictly contradictory, and I wonder if negotiations could start from there.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


Mark Evanier, whom I read, has so often praised Frank Ferrante's one-man "An Evening with Groucho" show that when it came to town I decided to go see it, even though I'm not a big Marx Brothers fan. The small theater downtown was not entirely full, and I got the impression that his complaints that the audience was not very responsive were not entirely part of the act. The fact is that stage performers of the vaudeville era, where Groucho originated, were very "hot" and fast in their presentations. Compared to today's slower, cooler stand-up comedians, they require a lot of concentration by the audience to follow and appreciate. I was kind of tired out and it was hard to summon up the energy and intense application needed. Some of the puns were new to me, but the jokes were mostly old ones. Good ones, and well delivered, but not subject to bursts of surprised laughter. I felt dampened, and a little embarrassed for the performer, because the level of impersonation he displayed was very high.

The bigger problem is that, while I never disliked the Marx Brothers as I did the Three Stooges, I was never a big fan of theirs, either. (Nor were my parents, who were more of their time. My mother's favorite comedian was Jack Benny.) I learned the Marxes mostly by osmosis, as they were revered by my generation of college students as great comedians of an earlier age, much as (I take it) Monty Python is by many young people today. (And the major Marx Brothers movies were no older then than the heyday of Python is today, and doesn't that seem weird.) I've seen most of the movies, but usually only once each, long ago. In fact, my favorite Groucho incarnation is his avatar as the wily ruler of a late-medieval city-state in Dave Sim's barbarian-hero-parody comic book Cerebus.

I'm reminded, indirectly, of the many people reprocessing their often intense personal feelings about Michael Jackson in the wake of the disturbing claims publicized by the recent documentary. What causes the reminder is that here I feel even more separated than I do in a roomful of Marx Brothers fans. I'm not reprocessing my personal feelings about Michael Jackson because I have no personal feelings about Michael Jackson, and never have. He's never meant anything to me, and thus ranks in my mind with all the molesters I'd never previously heard of at all. The only song by Michael Jackson I know is "Eat It" by Weird Al. As with Sim's Lord Julius, that's kind of a separate thing.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

New York: culture

Did I do anything more high-cultured in New York than visit historical buildings and eat bagels? Yes, surely.

I had three consecutive musical nights out. One I mentioned before, a house concert in a private apartment with baritone Peter Walker and pianist David Alpher to hear songs by Swann and Vaughan Williams, a very fine performance. The other two were more public.

1. Lincoln Center. I'd known this was there, I'd never been in it. A large concrete plaza surrounded by theaters. The Metropolitan Opera over here, the symphony hall over there. And in this corner, one with a thrust stage currently hosting a touted revival of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, and that's what I saw. The sets were remarkably able in suggesting detail and depth with a minimum of means, and were constantly being flown or twirled on and off stage in an astonishing way (Higgins' house was four roofless rooms on an enormous table, and each would slowly turn to be in front as the actors walked through them). The cast seemed more competent than vivid. Laura Benanti as Eliza had more verve than bite. Harry Hadden-Paton as Higgins seemed almost bland, but his songs seem to stick with me more than most. Danny Burstein had all the energy that Doolittle's songs require. I'll give Christian Dante White the credit to have a powerful enough voice to pull off Freddy's "On the Street Where You Live" without sounding at all sappy. A few points of acting were of note. At the very end, Eliza lightly caresses Higgins' face (when this production first opened, she slapped him: glad they changed that) and then walks off, raising the question, so why did she come back at all? Allan Corduner's facial expressions as Pickering in response to Higgins' theoretical questions about male behavior in "A Hymn to Him" suggest that maybe Pickering is in love with Higgins, and wouldn't that be a kick?

2. At a medium-sized theater on the Upper West Side called Symphony Space, the Irish Arts Center in collaboration with Carnegie Hall (on whose web site I read about this, and was surprised then to learn it wasn't held there) hosted the annual Celtic Appalachian Celebration, and it was two days before St. Patrick's, wasn't it? One Irish-American band (The Green Fields of America: 2 fiddles, mandolin, accordion and concertina), one Appalachian bluegrass band (The New Ballard Branch Bogtrotters: fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, and string bass), and assorted other musicians including a black bluesman (Jerron Paxton), played separately and multi-culturally together. Also accompanied by some free and easy Irish dancing. This was Irish dancing as I saw it at folk events in the 70s: while yes, it's all about the feet, they do still move their arms around freely, not hold them stiffly by the side like those weird Riverdance people did. A fairly genial and friendly evening.

And books: paid brief visits to Argosy and Shakespeare on the Upper East Side, which enabled me to eat up there too; Academy Records, which I escaped without anything; and two lengthy delves into the Strand, meeting up with DGK for lengthy abstruse discussions, and taking out two literary essay collections, the sort of book they're best at in there.

Friday, March 22, 2019

New York: more posts about buildings and food

NYC is strange territory to me. I've not been there often; this was my first visit in over a decade, and its six days is by far the longest I've ever spent there at a time. I actually feel more comfortable in, know better, and have spent more time in London. But this visit gave me enough time to get to know at least Manhattan, which apart from going to and from airports I never left. For one thing I finally began to figure out the subways, and only found myself on the wrong platform twice in the whole trip.

Touristing besides the Morgan Library: Theodore Roosevelt birthplace. Exact replica of the original building, filled with original and period furnishings. Excellent tour focusing on the development of TR's political and moral philosophy (very liberal, by today's standards) from his parents' training. // Federal Hall. Site of the US capitol when that was in New York in the 1780s, but not the same or a replica building, but a tomb-like early 19C Greek temple. A few museum exhibits in the corner, but not much. // Fraunces Tavern. Original 18C building, major social center in its time, as explained in the fine museum upstairs. Lots of interesting period artifacts. One dining room is where Gen. Washington said farewell to his officers at the end of the Revolutionary War (as recounted in a memoir by Benjamin Tallmadge, his head of intelligence). Restaurant downstairs, serving modern (not period) bar food, good place for lunch.

Food: Besides 18C tavern and British-style pub, I ate Chinese, Thai, and Korean (all quite good), and soul food in Harlem (highly-touted restaurant, not good at all). But the function of eating in New York was to try the city's specialties and compare them to the versions available back home.

Delis: Not many of these left, actually. 2nd Ave Deli (no longer on 2nd Ave) had impressively soft and tender matzo balls, kishke (rarely seen, too big and heavy a lump to finish), brisket that was too dry, and was out of tongue pastrami, which I'dve liked the nerve to try. Not really a match for the good delis in LA; SF is more variable. Didn't get to Katz's this time, though I remember it fondly from past visits. The winner was Pastrami Queen, a tiny establishment oddly located on the Upper East Side. Claims to have the best pastrami in New York, and it was both tasty and impressively tender.

Bagels (a separate item): From a list of the five best bagels in New York, I tried two. Black Seed Bagel was no more than OK. Absolute Bagel, way up the Upper West Side, however, is as good as any I've had: crunchy outside, soft and chewy inside. Yes, more than a match even for Izzy's in Palo Alto, my go-to home for bagels.

Pizza: Of the seven great pizzarias in Jon Stewart's famous rant about New York pizza, so far as I could tell from their web sites only Joe's serves pizza by the slice,* so since I was on my own and have to limit my pizza intake, it was the place to go. And it was good, but ... better than the slices from Pizza My Heart back home in California? No. Just a light basic pizza, notable mostly for startlingly fresh tomato sauce, to which the toppings added little and even got in the way. Connoisseurs supposedly eat it plain, and I can see why.

*I wasn't going to tramp around and check in person, and phone them? And try to make out what's shouted at me unintelligibly over the noise of a New York pizza parlor? No thanks.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

seen at the Morgan

The Tolkien exhibit at the Morgan Library was open to a free viewing by anyone attending the Saturday conference for an hour before it started, but I decided to avoid the crowds and the rush by coming in on Thursday. Not only was the exhibit smaller and hence more easily grasped than the monumental one in the Bodleian, it was also better lit. It occupies the single exhibit room up on the second floor of the building. I spent a couple hours wandering around it, taking it all in.

At one point a docent tour came in at the start of the exhibit, and I tagged along to hear what it would say. Persistent small factual errors were hilarious but insignificant, so I didn't attempt to correct them, not even the repeated references to Tolkien's guardian as "Father Brown," which is most famously the name of a G.K. Chesterton fictional character. It was particularly strange to get the name wrong in the Morgan Library, as that was in fact his name.

The Morgan of the library, though - no relation - was the famous financier J.P. Morgan, who had the original wing of this building built to house a sumptuous office where he could display and gloat at his treasured paintings and rare books. The office is now open for viewing, and made a better sight than the overly precious modern art in the other new display galleries. The office is lined with valuable Italian Renaissance paintings, interspersed with two of J.P. glaring down at himself. "I celebrate myself, and sing myself," I murmured, quoting Whitman, as I gazed upon this spectacle. To the side, now open for all to see, is the hidden vault, the size of Imelda Marcos's closet, where J.P. kept his most valuable treasures to gloat on in private.

in the company of cats

I came home from a quick visit to the library to find that a reply, fortunately unsent, had been opened to the e-mail that happened to have been sitting on my desktop at the time I left. The text read:


Just so you know.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Tolkien conference in New York

The reason for silence over the last week is that I was fully occupied in the events surrounding the New York Tolkien Conference to which I've previously alluded. Living in a tiny hotel room in the middle of Manhattan, going out every day on the subway to here and there, is not my normal life, and I found the physical strain of so much tromping around on concrete and climbing stairs (escalators and elevators are only occasional luxuries on the subway) to be stressful to the point of damaging on this aging body, so I'm glad I don't have to live that way very often. But my, it was exciting and adventurous while it went on.

The inspiration for the conference was the importation to the Morgan Library, one of NYC's more notable private museums, of the Bodleian's fabulous Tolkien exhibit that it put on last year. The Morgan version is still going on through May 12, and I'd urge anyone interested who's not already seen this to get there and do so.

It's worthwhile even though it's a much smaller exhibit than the Bodleian put on. I'd estimate that about a quarter of what the Bodleian displayed made it over, but that does include such precious objects as the original art for the Hobbit jacket, the working map of Middle-earth for The Lord of the Rings with all its corrections and pasted-on overlays, and the cover of the composition book labeled "The Cottage of Lost Play," the beginning of the first version of the Silmarillion.

Having traveled to England for the Bodleian exhibit, I wouldn't have gone to NY just for the Morgan version (though, again, I'd encourage you to do so if you're in the US and haven't seen either), but I was glad for the renewed acquaintance; and the opportunity to also attend and participate in a Tolkien conference, in the NY series I'd heard of but had never attended before, was the kicker, as the opportunity to attend a Tolkien conference is the main thing likely to get me on the road these days.

The conference came in two parts:

1) Saturday afternoon, March 16, a 3-hour symposium in the Morgan's lecture hall. This had five selected guest speakers from the passel of Tolkienists coming in.

2) Sunday, March 17, an all day (10 am-5 pm) conference, mostly three tracks of papers, held on the 6th and 7th floors of a "vertical campus" belonging to CCNY's Baruch College. This was about ten blocks away from the Morgan, like it on the east side of midtown Manhattan.

Once I learned that the program would include a performance of the Tolkien-Swann song cycle The Road Goes Ever On (more on that below), plus a paper by David Emerson analyzing "Errantry" from that cycle (impressively insightful), I decided to resurrect my old Mythcon paper "Music in Middle-earth", on the kinds of primary-world music I think Tolkien had in mind when describing the music within the secondary world. This paper is fun to give because it comes with lots of musical illustrations. I brought my sound files on a flash drive and, amazingly, it all worked perfectly on the classroom's computer on the first try.

Lots of interesting stuff, but the most enlightening two hours came from 2-4 on Sunday afternoon, in which a vehemently insightful paper by Nicholas Birns on the roles of unmarried males, as such, in The Lord of the Rings was followed by a panel of brief presentations labeled "Queer Tolkien." These seemed to me to be ideal models for the study of sexuality and sex roles in Tolkien's work. Instead of having an agenda of "proving" that Frodo and Sam are gay, in violation of both the text and the author's inspirations, as has been done so often in the past, these all started without agendas and studied what Tolkien actually wrote about sexuality, and seeing what comes out. Chris Vaccaro, convenor of the panel, had introduced the concept of "homo-amory" in his talk the previous day, defined as the demonstrative love between men without assuming either the presence of a sexual relationship or its absence. This attitude freed him from a lot of irrelevant baggage and enabled a clear view. I was also particularly impressed with Yvette Kisor's analysis of Tolkien's actual use of the word "queer", though she didn't have time to give much more than her statistics. She showed good reason to see Tolkien defending the word "queer" from the negative connotations of his time, thus almost prefiguring the recent reclaiming of the word by the very people it's been hurled as an insult at.

I didn't attend bass-baritone Peter Walker's performance of The Road Goes Ever On at the conference, but that was because I'd heard him and his pianist, David Alpher, at a small house concert in a high-rise apartment near Lincoln Center the previous evening. In addition to Road and the Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel with which they paired it, at the house concert they had the time to add a few more appropriate songs by the likes of John Ireland and Ivor Gurney. Peter's strong deep voice made an ideal Treebeard, he enunciated excellently, and he had good control over his high notes, which was particularly desirable in the VW, a work sometimes attempted by tenors who can't quite manage it.

There was more to my visit to the Morgan and to Manhattan in general beyond this, and I'll tell you more about it later.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

winter guard

And if you already know what that is, you're ahead of me.

Long-time readers here may recall my occasional but welcome encounters with the five-year-old who asked me to index her book, who became a ten-year-old who ran in the municipal race. Turns out that the omen for the future on that occasion was her dance academy performance, when she and a line of other pre-teens in sailor costumes tap-danced to a recording of "Anything Goes."

For now she is seventeen. Seventeen. Not a little girl any more. And her love of dance is now manifesting herself in ardent participation in her high school's team in the aforementioned activity of winter guard.

For it seems that the custom of having flag-spinning and other formalized cavorting around marching bands at football game halftime shows and such events, itself derived from the practice of the guards of regimental flags at military parades and like it called color guard, is so enjoyed by the flag-spinners and cavorters that they've taken to discarding the band and performing in indoor gymnasia during the winter months, and that's winter guard. I'd never heard of this until recently, but it's a thing. It's dancing of a kind, quite dissimilar from ballet or anything else I know, as it's still ultimately of military derivation, and military dancing is to dancing as ... well, you get used to it.

Our heroine's team was appearing in a competition in some other school's gymnasium, just after the Inklings conference let out, so by permission her mother whisked me over there. I saw most of the set, about six teams. Interesting stuff, varyingly imaginative choreography at which daughter's team was the most distinctive. Daughter thought her team was at its worst today, and I did notice a lot of glitches, but the others dropped more clams (in the form of dropping their spinning flags and mock-rifles), and her team won the set if only by default. If there's no marching band, what's the music? Prerecorded; movements from Philip Glass violin concertos are popular; otherwise various pieces of Windham Hillery or singer-songwriter folk songs.

Here: this is daughter's team last year, when they gave a crisper show, so you can see what I've been trying to talk about:

Monday, March 11, 2019

Pacific Inklings Festival

I was down in the L.A. area - specifically in a small lecture hall at Vanguard University, a Christian college in Costa Mesa - to attend the first Pacific Inklings Festival. This is a project of the Southern California C.S. Lewis Society, a long-established, Christian-oriented but not restrictive in membership, book-discussion group.

It was a small, first-time conference, with maybe 50 attendees. Over the course of six hours, including breaks for lunch and to spend time in the book sales room upstairs, as well as a brief awards ceremony, there were four papers.

Sørina Higgins was the keynote speaker. Editor of a book on the Inklings' Arthurian writings, she gave a wide-ranging and insightful talk on the role of Arthurian material in modern British literature, what moral and intellectual points the authors were making by using it.

Michael Paulus spoke on Charles Williams and the image of the city. A basic topic in Williams studies, this was impressively expanded by contrasting Williams's positive Way of Affirmation to his view of cities against the Way of Rejection of philosophers who loathe the urban, applying a similar contrast to technology, and tying it all to views of the future of artificial intelligence.

James Prothero, convenor of the Society, gave a similarly thematic talk bringing the Inklings into a consideration of the Romantic poetry movement: the goals and aims of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley; how Lewis as a scholar reacted to this and how it applied to his own creative work.

My own contribution was more modest in aim. Titled "C.S. Lewis Writes a Fan Letter," it was pulled from major research articles I'd done in the past on the history of the Inklings. Lewis, an unusually appreciative reader among major authors (compared to Tolkien, certainly) had a habit of writing living authors whose books he enjoyed, often before finishing reading the book, and inviting them to Oxford to meet the Inklings. Some of them actually came. I described the circumstances and read from the letters. The ones to E.R. Eddison, whose pastiche Elizabethan prose Lewis skillfully expanded on in his letters (and Eddison followed suit in reply), were particularly fun.

I was inspired to attend to make or renew acquaintance with these and other attending Lewis and Inklings scholars and sundry, and we had a pleasant, educational, and competently-run day of it. And then I was carried off to ...

Saturday, March 9, 2019

concert review: Los Angeles Philharmonic

In Disney Hall. Yes, I'm in LA; tell you tomorrow what for, but in the meantime I went to Friday night's concert.

Dudamel conducted the premiere of a new work by John Adams, plus Mahler's First. It was an interesting echo, because in his very first concert as music director, nearly ten years ago now, he conducted ... the premiere of a new work by John Adams, plus Mahler's First.

The premiere this time was a piano concerto titled Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, a rhetorical question attributed to Martin Luther. But the question I have is, was I too tired out - for it had been a long day after a short night - to appreciate this properly? For despite the estimable Yuja Wang (clad as a leather dominatrix, I guess) as soloist, this did not seem to me to be top-drawer Adams, which tends towards the luminous. This struck me as clotted and undifferentiated clanging noise, succeeded eventually by some less clanging noise, followed by a resurrection of the clanging noise. Yuja worked very hard, but virtue is not its own reward.

As for the only Mahler symphony I really like, Dudamel seems to have outgrown the drastic and rather odd tempo modifications he employed on the recording I've heard of his earlier outings. It was still a dramatic mixture of the thrusting and the reticent, and he did not stint on encouraging the orchestra in weird and often harsh sound quality in a variety of passages. An interesting and striking rendition.

Instead of my usual when-in-LA pre-concert dinner in my favorite Mexican place on Olvera Street, I ate in a (previously visited) Cajun place in, of all neighborhoods, Chinatown. Coming back to my rented car in street parking around the corner in this rather dodgy neighborhood, after politely dealing with the guy who wanted to exclaim how similar my license plate number was to his even though they actually had nothing in common, I found in the vacant lot nearby a feral cat colony. Four cats were visible, one of them fuligen-like black. I tried to entice them nearer, but they were scared and gradually disappeared.

Friday, March 8, 2019

you're pronouncing it

My trip to Seattle last November brought to the forefront of my mind some quaint customs and practices of life there that I'd internalized back when I was a resident, and which consequently I hadn't much thought about. They were normal to me. But returning as a visitor so many years later, on a visit which was not primarily occupied with the distractions of a convention, brought their oddness to the forefront.

Of these, primary was the extent to which things in Seattle are not pronounced the way you would expect. I was thinking of writing about this, and then what should I find but a new article on how to pronounce local names and words in Seattle.

Some of these are classics. Sequim (place name) and geoduck (type of clam) are true shibboleths. They're not pronounced how they look; everyone in the Seattle area knows how to pronounce them properly; outsiders never do. All a visitor has to do is pronounce one of these words correctly in front of a Seattleite, and you'll be praised for the profound depth of your local knowledge. I've had that experience with people who don't know I used to live there; that's how they find out I did.

Others, not so much. I never had to guess how to pronounce Duwamish or Tukwila when I first encountered them; they came out right the first time without guidance. Nor can I recall hearing people mispronounce them, though they don't come up that much in visitors' discourse.

But the practice of unexpected pronunciations in Seattle extends far beyond challenging words of Native origin, which all of the above are. There are things in Seattle which are never, ever referred to by their proper names orally or in informal writing, although those proper names are all over the things themselves with no indication that those names are never used. Except for the University, I don't believe I have ever heard the proper names coming out of anybody's mouth for any reason, even as an explanation for the benefit of visitors. You're just expected to know. The conspicuous examples that come to mind are:

University Way (street): pronounced The Ave (with a short a). Why it's called that when it's almost the only north-south street in the vicinity that isn't formally an Avenue I have no idea, but it's the main business street in the university district, and the first thing a newly-arrived student, as I was, learns is: it's always and only the Ave.

Speaking of which:

University of Washington: pronounced U-Dub. In this case it's OK to say the formal name in formal references. But in any other circumstance it would sound prissy.

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks: pronounced Ballard Locks. Ballard is the district of Seattle where this set of locks in the ship canal that crosses the city's isthmus is located. Chittenden was a locally renowned army engineer who died just as the locks were completed, so his name was put on them. But not in anyone's mouth.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (semi-defunct newspaper): pronounced the P-I. It would sound like an insult to the intelligence to say the full name. I have literally never heard anyone do so. Seattle's second daily in my time (the other is the Times), it subsequently folded as a print newspaper but still maintains an online edition.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

three movies not nominated for Oscars

The Old Man & the Gun. Quiet little movie mostly about a slowly-developing romance between two old people, Robert Redford (82) and Sissy Spacek (69). The gimmick - and that's really all it is - is that Redford's character is a bank robber. But since he's very polite to all his victims, never uses or even points his gun, and commits his robberies more for the fun of it than anything else, he can still be the hero. Redford really has a knack for playing charming rogues like this, going back to the Sundance Kid. Weirdest footnote: his gang consists of Danny Glover and Tom Waits. Charming movie.

Leave No Trace. Another quiet little movie, this one about a 13-year-old girl gradually realizing she needs a life apart from her father, with whom she's always been very close. The gimmick in this one - but this time it's more than just a gimmick - is that Dad is a veteran, apparently with PTSD, with an utter phobia against living in civilization. He camps out in the woods, going into town just once a month to pick up his meds, which he sells to other woodsy types to get cash to buy supplies. He's trained his daughter to love this life too, but when the authorities force them into a rural home and job, she finds she likes people. (And having a bed and a roof, et al.) Dad admits everyone's being very nice to them, but he can't take it. The ending is sad but not tragic. Effective movie.

The Front Runner. Bio-pic about the fall of Gary Hart. Remember him, the author of a biography of James Monroe? Turned out to be one of those irritating movies in which everyone is always talking at once, mostly blither that's either designed to catch the viewer up on the events of 30 years ago or else smugly assuming the viewer still remembers all that stuff. I doubt anyone too young to remember it will watch this meticulous but tone-deaf reconstruction of tawdry events, and there's no reason that they should. Annoying movie.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

concert review: Symphony Silicon Valley

One new work, one modern concerto, one old warhorse symphony.

If there's sarcasm in my calling the new composer "an ambassador from another world," it's a bitter one. I am so sick and disgusted with people trying to deny the existence of the serialist hegemony. I had to live through the damn thing. It was a real thing, and it's still trying to be one.

I didn't actually have any strong feelings about this performance of the Barber Violin Concerto, though I tried to disguise that. I've heard the piece many times before, I've even reviewed it before, but I don't feel as if I really know it.

Tchaikovsky's Fifth, on the other hand, I know, and I was continually fascinated by what was going on in this performance, much of my reaction to which I was able to capture in words. This was the first time with this work that I consulted the score afterwards for enlightenment on the interpretation, and what most struck me is that keeping the work (especially the finale) from sounding like an emotional breakdown requires ignoring some of the composer's explicit instructions. Which would explain why so many old performances from the ultra-literalist "everyone wants to be Toscanini" period did sound like emotional breakdowns. Not so much any more, though. Musical interpretation is an art in itself; I already knew that, but this reinforces it.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

concert review: New Millennium Chamber Orchestra

I didn't want to miss this one: three English composers from the early 20C pastoral and folksong-collecting school - Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, and George Butterworth - and their mutual teacher, Hubert Parry. One of my favorite clusters of musical composition.

NMCO is always wise to program a little violin concerto that their concertmaster, Colyn Fischer, can play, because he always does that so well. This time it was the most famous work of the entire English pastoral school, VW's The Lark Ascending. Fischer wrote the program note and suggested that the source of its "gravity and depth" is that, while VW conceived and began the piece before WW1, he didn't revise and orchestrate it until afterwards, and that war had changed him like it did everyone who served in it. "This piece is not nostalgic, it yearns for innocence; it is not merely a pastoral, it is an invitation to peace." Nicely put as an explanation of what people hear in it.

Holst, when they're not playing The Planets, is usually represented by the sprightly and dance-like St. Paul Suite, but NMCO music director James Richard Frieman dug out a favorite work of mine which actually put Holst's folksong findings to use. A Somerset Rhapsody would particularly interest some of my readers because it begins, on an oboe, with the same melody for "A Rosebud in June" that Steeleye Span uses on Below the Salt. Combine that with a couple of livelier folk tunes and a return to the quiet beginning and you have the rhapsody.

For Parry, Frieman did an even better turn by presenting what I've long thought must be his best composition, An English Suite for strings, an absolute charmer of cool-minded neoclassical bent. From its seven movements, Frieman excerpted four: the three slow movements (probably the easiest for a nonprofessional orchestra to play), plus the final "Frolic", which is fast and utterly delightful. I defy anyone who likes, say, the Holberg Suite, the Simple Symphony, or Wiren's Serenade, not to put this high in their company.

Butterworth, a close friend of VW's, is the least-known of these, and that's because his career was cut short when, like Tolkien's friend Rob Gilson, he was killed while serving on the Somme. Butterworth was 31, old enough to leave some legacy behind him, including two orchestral works played at this concert. The Banks of Green Willow is, like Holst's rhapsody, based on folk song melodies. His Shropshire Lad Rhapsody is not - its main tune comes from Butterworth's own setting of one of the Housman poems - but it's a big and powerful piece that received an effective performance to close this concert.

This was not the only concert I got to this weekend. On Friday I made a beeline for Bing for more VW. Too often I hear his magnificent choral monument A Sea Symphony in bad acoustics, and here was a chance to hear it in good acoustics. The acoustics were fine, though the performance by a Stanford student orchestra and choir was merely OK, and I suspect that it's simply that the conductor, Steve Sano, doesn't have full command over a work of such magnitude. The orchestra sounded pretty good and the chorus sounded very good. The soprano, Marnie Breckenridge, is a professional, while the baritone, Kenneth Goodson, is a moonlighting engineering professor. But wait, he's professionally trained as a singer (he even studied with Fischer-Dieskau), yet he had trouble carrying his voice.

Also on the program, a perky little flute concerto by Jacques Ibert, played by an undergraduate named Nnamdi Odita-Honnah. His parents are immigrants from Nigeria, he grew up in Texas, and he took up the flute, at which he is impressively talented.

And on Saturday, I heard Symphony Silicon Valley, and for that you'd best wait for my SFCV review to appear in a day or two.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

in the company of cats

I was getting ready to leave just before dinnertime - why, I'll let you know a little later - and everything I did, from dressing to teeth-brushing to gathering pocket detritus, was accompanied by the feeding chorus from the opera about cats.

This is expected. It doesn't matter how early or late in the morning they were fed (which happens when a human gets up), they're always ready for it by 4:30 pm, at least an hour early. I'm usually working in my office, where I keep the door closed now to keep Tybalt from wandering in, climbing all over the desk (including the keyboard), or jumping on the back of my chair to lick my hair.

However, the door doesn't latch, and unless I prop up a folding chair against it, which I sometimes do, Maia, the older and bigger cat, is strong enough to get it open. So typically at a certain time of the afternoon I hear the door (which I can't see from the desk) creaking and groaning, and then in marches Maia, followed by Tybalt. "All right, this is a raid. We demand your cat food."

At other times of day, if Maia comes in alone, it means what her presence in my room has always meant, an expectation of ministrations of adoration mostly in the form of scritching her head. This occurs on the bed over in the main bedroom, so I lead or follow her over there, but now I shut and latch the door lest Tybalt interrupt the proceedings. When Maia is done receiving her due, she jumps off the bed and leaves, so now I must hasten over and open the door for her. I do not want her to feel trapped in there; she can always leave when she wants to.

Playing with cat toys is more vexing. Tybalt is big on this, but Maia watches from a distance. She wants some too. The problem is, if I waggle the toy at her while Tybalt's attention is apparently distracted, she'll respond, but after a few seconds Tybalt will dash in from where he'd been wiggling his butt across the room, and knock Maia over in his pursuit of the toy. This often spawns a hiss-fest or actual cuffing.

And to think that some people only have to deal with Kim Jong-un.