Thursday, June 30, 2022

actors in the past

While burrowing through a drawer of old theater and concert programs in the garage, I found my early programs for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and this prompted me to check on something.

In 1975, one of my early visits there, I took the backstage tour, which was led by a couple of young members of the acting company. One of them was Jean Smart. Yes, the now-famous Jean Smart, then 23 and unknown and in her first (and, I think, only) year at Ashland. Not too surprising, actually: a number of promising young actors who've gone on to greater things have spent a stint at Ashland.

What I wanted to check on was, did I also see her on stage? Answer: not really. She was in the ensemble in Romeo and Juliet, which I saw, but her main role was, despite her young age, as the mother in Long Day's Journey into Night. I didn't see that. I saw it when they did it again 40 years later, thinking I ought to expose myself to great drama. I don't know why I keep doing that: excellent acting could not disguise the fact that long was the only word conceivably of praise that could possibly be attached to the script.

However, when I checked the program for the cast, I found that one of Jean Smart's sons was played by another young actor a year and a half older than herself: William Hurt. Ba-ding.

Him I did see, as it turns out: he also played the master-gunner who has 18 lines in Act 1 Scene 4 of Henry VI Part One. (I just looked it up.) Surely I must remember that.

Monday, June 27, 2022

I'm not there

The continuing project of cleaning out the garage is generating enough books and old magazines to be sold (I've kept all my copies of BBC Music, but I never look at them again, so: out) that it was time for another visit to Half Price Books to sell a batch. I like Half Price because they'll buy everything, so I don't have to bother about disposing of any residue. Not for much money, true, but they act as if they care about what they buy and will find an appropriate place for it all, and that matters more to me than maximizing gain, since I'm selling this stuff to trim my storage, not to liquidate assets.

The problem was, Monday was the only day I'd have free this week to go over there - it's a half-hour drive away - but I didn't realize it'd be a problem. This is because of a hole in my personal scheduling process.

Tasks I need to do every day - from taking prescription pills to cleaning the cat box - I've found it best to memorize: 4 to do at this time in the morning, 2 at that time, and so forth, and I can then remember what they all are without overlooking one. One-shot things like appointments and concerts, and regularly recurring events I keep in an appointment book, writing the recurring events long in advance (like "pay estimated tax" four times a year). Most irregular things come in scheduling e-mails, and I write them down them. Paying monthly bills I can usually count on remembering to do, especially as the statements come in the mail, and things without statements, like rent, are due at the same time the bulk of the bills are.

What falls in between is our Zoom play-reading sessions. We do those Monday afternoons, but not every week because we're not always all available, and therein lies the rub, because we can't keep the schedule in advance, I can't write it down automatically, and if I don't write it down individually I'll forget it. That's what happened today. I hadn't had my appointment book handy so I didn't write it down for today and clean forgot. I don't have a tag in my head that reads "Monday = play reading." This is in keeping with my complete inability to remember to watch TV shows when they're on; fortunately with DVR that's unimportant, but now I forget to log them to record.

And so I left my fellow play-readers bewildered. Fortunately I'd left for B., who is one of them, a note saying where I'd gone, but if I'd been able to tell her in person she'd have caught me.

Maybe I should write the play reading down for every week and then cross it off when we're not doing it. Is that likely to work? Any other suggestions?

Saturday, June 25, 2022

am I there?

Tonight is the first time this pandemic that I'm not going to a concert for a reason other than covid. Not surprisingly in this drought season, a number of wildfires have sprung up around the area, and one of them knocked out a power transformer, cutting off power for the next few days to a sheaf of customers, one of which happens to be Stanford University. The whole university. So they're shutting down for a few days and cancelling everything, including tonight's chamber music marathon concert. So I'll be home.

One thing which was on today, fortunately, was the city recycling center's free paper-shredding event. After a clerk checks your ID, you drive up to a dump truck, the workers unload the contents of your car trunk into a large trash container, and then the truck's mechanical arms upend it into the inbuilt shredder. I brought along such of my mother's financial and legal papers that I'd kept after her estate closed - I needed to get into those boxes fairly frequently for a couple of years, but they've been untouched for five years now, so time to go, except for a few things like the deed to the cemetery plot and the remaining copies of her death certificate, plus one three-ring binder (see below) and about 5,271,009 paper clips - and the surprising discovery of a box of 1996 Hugo ballots, which should have been disposed of years ago. They have now been terminated with extreme prejudice.

And I've received the final PDF of the book I'm indexing, which I printed out at FedEx, punched three holes in, and loaded into a binder I'd emptied and rescued from my mother's papers with the name of my grandfather's lawyers on the cover.

Now I've received an invitation to a large party in mid-August. Not counting family events, nor Mythcon which is coming up at the end of July, neither of which feels like quite the same thing, this is the first in-person social event I'm facing in two-and-a-half years, not since the Andi Shechter memorial in Seattle. (And wasn't that an emotional kicker, with grief + people I hadn't seen for 30 years.) The thing about the party is, to my surprise I'm not sure if I'm up to going. I've been living in extreme introvert mode now for so long I no longer feel the urge to get out of it, nor sure if I can do so. That's not mentioning the whole covid situation. I'll have to think about this one for a bit before replying.

Friday, June 24, 2022

welcome to the Republic of Gilead

Because that's where we're headed. Rapidly.

One of the anti-Roe protesters photographed outside the Court was holding a sign reading "Human rights begin in the womb."

And now they end when you have a womb.

Women below menopause, girls above puberty: you're beasts of burden now.

It's on the same principle that now you have the right to carry a gun (unless you're black, probably) but you don't have the right not to be randomly shot. (Or not to be on hair-trigger alert all the time: that's not my idea of freedom.)

Or the people who want the right to breathe covid virus on other people, but not to give the other people the right not to have covid breathed on them.

For a few decades, we came close to having a free country. We've lost it now.

Megan Rapinoe wants men to stand up and say something. I've said something.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

summer, right

The media is offering the usual general cheer that the solstice has arrived and the warm weather is to follow, but it's not welcome here. We dislike the heat. On Tuesday the temperature got above 100F for the first time this season, and it was the second of what's anticipated will be at least seven consecutive over-90F days (last year we never got more than 5 of those in a row). The cats are drooped across the floor, the window fans are on as soon as the outside temperature drops enough, and I'm either making cold dinners or getting takeout. And we know we don't have it nearly as bad out here as some.

Tuesday I spent the afternoon at the library, where they have air conditioning, reading all the Year's Work in Tolkien Studies articles that I had in hard copy and taking notes for the writeups. Now I have to find a time when it's both cool enough and I'm awake enough to transcribe and edit them. Meanwhile I'm also loading my plate for Mythcon programming and girding myself for two fast indexing jobs to come, having gotten the truly hairy special issue of Tolkien Studies successfully through the first stage of proofing, with, I hope, only confirmatory work and minor cleanup to come.

Monday, June 20, 2022

letters from Father Christmas

Surveying a newer entry in the complex publication history of Tolkien's Letters from Father Christmas, I note that this one claims to be the first collection of the complete surviving entries of the letters that F.C. (Santa Claus as he's known stateside) wrote to the Tolkien children in response to their own.

And it also occurred to me, as it also includes reproductions of the postal envelopes (Tolkien conspired with the postman to have them delivered), I can figure out something I've never seen systematically discussed: what ages the children received letters at. How old does a child have to be before they can appreciate the magic of this, and then at what age do these letters cease to be credible?

Tolkien had four children, in order John, Michael, Christopher, and Priscilla. Three of them were born in October or November, but the letters appear to have been sent just before Christmas, so I'll assume after their birthdays in each case.

The first letter, pretty simple, is to John in 1920, aged 3. Michael's first surviving letter is in 1924 when he was 4, but it reads as if it's not his first. Christopher is added to the address of a joint letter in 1926 when he was 2, and Priscilla first appears by name in 1929 when she was but 6 months. But again these are not separate letters to them individually.

The last letter naming John and Michael is in 1932 when they were 15 and 12 respectively, and there's a later letter of that year addressed to Christopher and Priscilla only. Christopher lasts until 1937 when he was 13, and Priscilla to 1943 when she was 14. One suspects this is more because she was still hanging up a stocking for Christmas treats than because she still believed in Father Christmas at that age.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

critical mass, 2022 edition

The Rubin Institute for Music Criticism is a training session for budding classical music critics. A raft of professional critics critique and mentor work by students. And every once in a while they hold a public discussion.

This year's, held in the small recital hall of the San Francisco Conservatory, featured the eight faculty discussing the relationship between critics and their editors. The critics like copy-editing that saves them from awkward expressions and factual errors - Gary Giddins, ex of the Village Voice, compared it to a net - but not to have their work rewritten. No surprise; I feel the same way.

Some of the newspaper writers talked about the difference between having editors who are knowledgeable about classical music and ones who are not. You'd think you'd prefer the former, but if the latter are receptive, it's better, because then you have to explain why the music is important instead of just diving into performance trivia.

I asked an audience question: who makes city paper review assignments and decides what's covered? Two such writers replied that they have essentially free rein, though the editor may nudge them to say you're covering too much of this and not enough of that. Steve Smith, formerly of the NY Times, said that in Anthony Tommasini's day, Tommasini and the editor would work out the assignments before the weekly staff meeting, so the junior writers were mostly stuck with what they were given, though some give and take was possible if you had strong objections.

Some of the best stories came out of moderator Janice Page's declaration that there has to be a writer-editor relationship of mutual trust. Page, a Washington Post editor, told of the time a previously reliable writer failed to turn in an article by the deadline, confessing to being totally stuck. Page said, just send me your notes and we'll make something out of that, and the writer did. (I thought, that's interesting, as that's pretty much how New Journalism was born.) It turned out well, but Page said never again: the writer had breached trust.

A more spectacular story of trust fulfilled came from Natasha Gauthier, a Canadian critic. Tasked in 1994 with writing a feature story on a music festival, she interviewed its musical director, conductor Charles Dutoit, in his dressing room. With her tape recorder visibly running, he made verbal and then physical passes at her. "I'm here to work, M. Dutoit," she said. "Why are you here?" He had her kicked out of the room and cancelled the article.

Gauthier told her editor. "Do you have it all on tape?" he asked. Yes, she replied. "Write it up and we'll publish it," he said, and they did. And this was over 20 years before public allegations of sexual assault were made on Dutoit!

They also talked interestingly of censoring issues. Steve Smith told of the time he edited a new critic's review that compared the length of Yo-Yo Ma's vita to a roll of toilet paper. That's original imagery, he thought, and approved it, but wasn't expecting the objections it got. He also told of a review of his own where he wanted to compliment the libretto of a new opera for brilliantly condensing the long book it was based on. The word he picked was "flensing," which means to trim the blubber from whales. His editors said no-one will know what that means and cut it. But it was the perfect word, he objected, because the opera was Moby-Dick (music by Jake Heggie, libretto by Gene Scheer). Page told of the time management refused to publish, alongside a relevant article, a photo of Michelangelo's David because it was full-frontal. Only the most famous statue in the world, but ...

Apropos of I forget what, Zachary Woolfe, new chief classical critic of, and formerly an editor at, the NY Times, said that the best writing by a critic at the paper is from their wine critic, Eric Asimov. He makes wine interesting even if you, like Woolfe, know nothing about wine. Neither do I, but I also find Asimov's columns interesting.

John Rockwell, the panel's alte kocher, then made a gratuitous remark to the effect that he still preferred the science fiction of Eric Asimov's father Isaac. Buzzz! Wrong! Isaac wasn't Eric's father, he was his uncle. I called that out but nobody heard me, and I was unsuccessful at catching Rockwell afterwards. Editors save you from factual errors, but not this time.

Friday, June 17, 2022

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

It was not possible to walk around in the City last night without hearing - on the streets and even over the transit system loudspeakers - frequent bellows of "WORRR-YERRRS!" I believe this is a reference to some basketball team, which must have just won a game in whatever tournament they're playing in. See, I'm not completely ignorant of matters of popular culture.

I needed that comfort, because I was carrying with me to read the latest issue of The New Yorker, which was filled with an article about some apparently famous TV show called "Evil" that I'd never heard of, and an article about a famous author named James Patterson whom I'd never heard of. So when reading an article about Yoko Ono's pre-Beatles career in performance art, which is full of references to supposedly obscure people like LaMonte Young whom I'm quite familiar with, I was disinclined to share the writer's skepticism over Ono's claim that she had never heard of John Lennon when they first met in 1966.

All this walking and reading were pursuant to passing the time and covering the space to get to my last SFS concert of the season, and after numerous guest-conductor stints the first one in my series with Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen since, oh, February.

EPS led a program of consistently fast, cheerful, and bustling performances. Bartok's heavily modernist First Piano Concerto, with buzzing soloist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, was fast, cheerful, and bustling. What I hadn't noticed about this work was how little the tiny string section plays, and that mostly in supporting harmonies: the orchestral part is all winds and percussion. Jessie Montgomery's Strum, the revenge of the string section, crisp and sonorous, was also fast, cheerful, and bustling. So was Respighi's Pines of Rome. Even the dark and gloomy catacombs movement was a cheerful and bustling kind of dark and gloomy.

During the stomping marching Roman army finale, EPS frequently turned around to conduct a supplementary brass section of half a dozen players stationed in the first balcony behind him. My position was so that they were just as far to my left as the orchestra was to my right, for a nice antiphonal effect, though the sheer size of the orchestra was capable of drowning out the supplement.

What this piece connected with was the fourth work on the program, in which Luciano Berio indulged his penchant for scribbling graffiti over older music by taking Boccherini's Ritirata notturna di Madrid, a little military march, and arranging it for large orchestra in a gigantic crescendo and decrescendo. At last it fades away, the conductor lowers his arms and looks quizzical, and you applaud.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Kate Bush redux

So a fair amount of fuss is being made of the sudden chart ranking, for the first time in the US Top Ten in her 44-year career, of a song by the British indie songwriter-performer Kate Bush. The song is "Running Up That Hill" (original music video) and it was released way back in 1985.

The prompt for the sudden interest in the song is its appearance, in an episode released about three weeks ago, in the Netflix series Stranger Things. But that doesn't really explain the reason for its hotness.

One point I've seen made is that the catalog of pop songs is now so extensive and deep that younger people, who are the main audience for Stranger Things, may simply never have stumbled across work that might impress or move them, and when they do, it comes as a memorable surprise.

Even I can testify to that. Despite the fact that it's evidently been a big hit for several years now, I'd never heard of Stranger Things before now. On the other hand, I'm certainly old enough to know Kate Bush from her 1980s heyday. Many of my friends were great admirers of her work. I was never a big fan, and never bought any of her albums, but I certainly knew some of her songs, "Running Up That Hill" among them.

I was hit, though, by an example of the gaps in my knowledge from reading John Scalzi, who's been running in his blog entries about songs that have been personally meaningful to him. Most of the songs I find perfectly pleasant to listen to, but only two have really hit me as appealing to me. One was by Kate Bush, whom I evidently like more than I thought, but the other, which it me as strongly as it had Scalzi, was a song I had never heard or even heard of before, despite the fact that it was released in 1982, which was right in the midst of the only time in my life that I was regularly listening to pop radio. Scalzi counts it as surprising that he came across this song, because its sound wasn't typical of what the station he heard it on normally played, and maybe that's why I never came across it at all. But there's a song I had heard that it reminds me of, and that's "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics. On the other hand I didn't hear that one on the radio either: I came across it on some of my rare exposures to MTV, and it was the really weird video, not the song itself, that first caught my attention.

Back, though, to Kate Bush. Someone has put online the scene from Stranger Things featuring the song, and seeing this I think I see further explanation for the song's popularity. The scene features a teenaged girl named Max who's in some sort of trance in our world while, in some alternate fetid reality, she's awake and being menaced by a hideous monster. Her friends, back in our world, have learned that she can escape the alternate reality if she hears music, so they clamp earphones on her comatose head and fumblingly grab a cassette of her favorite song - "Running Up That Hill." (Why is it the favorite song of a teenage girl? Because this is taking place in the mid 1980s, a setting which the showrunners chose so that they could make reference to Eighties pop cult, Kate Bush among it I guess.)

The emotional intensity of the scene - as testified to by numerous YouTube commenters; it really doesn't have much impact on someone who doesn't know the characters and has never seen the show - is one additional reason I can think of for the dramatic interest in "Running Up That Hill."

And there's another. In the video you don't get to hear much of the song. Just a few clips, some of them beneath background noise. If the sound of the song catches your ear - and why shouldn't it; Kate Bush doesn't really sound like anybody else - you'd have to go seek out a full recording of the song in order to give it a good listen. And that perhaps accounts for sales figures, even today.

I think that's the last of the necessary qualities that explain it.

Monday, June 13, 2022

virus safety at conventions

At the Mythopoeic Society book discussion yesterday (it was held online), a number of members expressed their decision not to attend Mythcon, the Society's annual convention, next month, because it's not requiring attendees to be vaccinated.

This policy is the result of the influence of a strange type of person I've encountered elsewhere as well: people who, though themselves fully vaccinated, oppose requiring it at in-person gatherings. I think they have some soft-headed idea of 'choice', but the freedom of choice is limited to oneself: risking infectiousness is making choices for other people, not for yourself. Public health is like that, and for that reason is an area of life, possibly the only one, where arbitrary bureaucratic regulations must be obeyed.

Mythcon's policy is not exactly what the objectors are describing. It's full vaccination or verification of a negative PCR test within the last 72 hours.

My take on this is very different from that of the objectors, but I didn't go into this at the meeting because I didn't want to get into an argument, and I'm not trying to change their minds but persuade undecided people who might be influenced.

The present state of the virus is that it can infect the vaccinated as easily as the unvaccinated. This is currently being demonstrated by a married couple, friends of ours, who've both come down with the virus (and showing symptoms) from their adult daughter (now recovering) who picked it up at the preschool where she works. All three of them are thoroughly vaccinated, but it happened anyway, and this is not uncommon.

What vaccination does do is markedly reduce the risk, if you do acquire the virus, that the infection will become serious and require hospitalization. That's what vaccination does.* It doesn't change the likelihood of accidentally infecting other people, or affect how serious their infection will be if they catch it from you.

My take on this is, since the virus can infect vaccinated people, that a negative PCR test is not just an adequate, but possibly even a better, screening process than vaccination.

That assumes you can rely on negative tests being accurate, and you can't. So you fall back on the backup protection measure, masking, supplemented by social distancing and ventilation.

And Mythcon has a very strict masking policy. Masks to be worn at all times in public areas or group settings except while actively eating or drinking, or speakers while presenting. (I'm not sure I'll abide by the latter when speaking. If one person is speaking to a silent audience, the one person in the room who most needs to be masked is the speaker. The risk depends on distance and ventilation.)

How we'll handle group meals I don't know: the banquet will have outdoor seating and good ventilation, they say, but that leaves the hotel breakfast. Other meals are not being offered, and while the convention expects most attendees to go across the street to a food hall, its offerings aren't suitable for our meal needs, so B. and I will probably go out to eat and/or bring back, to our hotel room, takeout from the Whole Foods not far away.

I'm far more worried about traveling, where masks are no longer required, than I am about Mythcon. I aim to remain strictly masked during the air journey, which at least will offer one-way protection.

As I'm retired, I haven't had much experience of wearing a mask all day (I did while I was on jury duty), but such as I know and what I've read suggests this approach to the problem of masks becoming uncomfortable when worn for a long time: make sure you have a 95 mask that fits your individual face - there are different types of models. And replace it at least once, more likely twice, during the day.

And that's how I'm approaching Mythcon.

*I'm hesitant on relying on this because of medical conditions that render me more susceptible to an infection becoming serious than is the case for other vaccinated people. But the person at the meeting most objecting to Mythcon's policy is even more susceptible in this way than I, and she'd be accepting of a mandatory-vaccination policy.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

book discussed

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark (Tor)

Spoilers for the first chapter and (but not too explicitly) the ending

This was our Mythopoeic Society book discussion topic for today's meeting, and I read the whole thing (well, with a lot of skimming in the middle). That's a test that few novels pass for me these days, but I don't consider it a very high bar. So while the world-creation was provocative and fairly well-done, I didn't find this a satisfying read because the plot and characters weren't very interesting.

The opening chapter is entirely different from the rest and promised a different book from what we get. It introduces us, in some detail so we think he'll be a major character, to a man, an Englishman living in Cairo in 1912, mostly among other expatriate English. Clearly, too, this is an alternate universe, with magic and advanced technology that puts Egypt, not Europe, at the top of the civilized world.

But then it turns out that the chapter is going to depict a mass murder and our viewpoint character is one of the victims. Apart from references to some paperwork he left behind, that's the last we ever hear of him.

More glaring is this at the end: "... their screams filled the room. Not just their screams, Archibald realized. Because he was screaming too."

Oh, come on. You don't incidentally notice that you're screaming. You're screaming because you're in terrible pain or distress, and that should be occupying all your attention. It's weirdly emotionally detached sentences like this that make me wonder if the author has ever met a human being.

Also really, really annoying to me is references to a character, one of the expatriates, who is called both "Lord Alistair Worthington" and "Lord Worthington." You can't be both. Later we're told he was the younger son of a duke, so the former is correct, the latter is not. Christ, if Clark had only read the stories of Lord Peter Wimsey, who is also the younger son of a duke, he'd know that the character is always called "Lord Peter" for short, never "Lord Wimsey." Same should apply here. And don't tell me "it's an alternate universe." There is nothing in this universe that explains why the centuries-old established rules of British noble nomenclature should be changed to match the ignorance of an American author.

At this point, everyone you've met being dead except the (unidentified) murderer, the story switches gears and becomes a police procedural detective story to identify and arrest that murderer. This is where it started to bore me. I don't read formula mystery novels (I only like Sayers insofar as her books aren't mysteries), I'm not interested in plodding investigative work to piece together clues. I didn't find the detective very attractive or interesting, nor her partner, nor her girlfriend. It goes on for quite a while. I took to skimming a lot.

Eventually a character previously noted for being a wallflower is revealed as the villain and suddenly erupts into a monstrous wielder of powerful magics who meets an end when the magics turn on the wielder in what should make a spectacular light & magic climax when this book becomes an animated movie.

A lot of the characters are not humans, they're djinn. They're kind of a lower-class servant caste. I was reminded disturbingly of American Blacks in the Jim Crow era. There are some scenes of "hey, your best friend might be a djinn in disguise" and "djinn have feelings too" but I saw nothing to suggest that we should feel really uncomfortable with the second-class citizen bit. Making it worse is the presence of some American Black proto-jazz musicians hanging out the way in our world they hung out in Paris. They like being in Cairo because there's no Jim Crow there. Well, not for Blacks.

Kaiser Wilhelm II is in town for some conference and makes a couple cameo appearances. He doesn't much resemble the original, who was the Donald Trump of the turn of the 20C.

This book is a finalist for the Hugo Awards this year. Well, worse novels than this have actually won the Hugo, but it doesn't encourage me to read the other finalists.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

concert review: Redwood Symphony

This was just a pretty good concert, not much more to say than that. This conductor's last outing in Tchaikovsky did not turn out very well, but whatever his problems with that composer, he solved them here. Yeah, pretty good show.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

morning after an election

California had its primary election yesterday. It came on with a bit of a start to me, as we'd long since cast our votes, dropped off our ballots, and got e-mails saying they'd been counted, and didn't pay any attention to the actual election day.

Necessary background: We have a top-two primary system here. All candidates regardless of party run in the same primary, and the two who get the most votes, regardless of party, compete in the general election in the fall.

But here's a wrinkle I didn't know. I was reading a news article about some of the local races - county offices and such - and it said, "To win outright in those races and avoid a runoff, a candidate must collect more than 50% of the vote."

I didn't know we did that. But which races does that apply to? I mean, Governor Newsom is getting 56% of the total vote in his re-election race, but surely he's not going to avoid a runoff. (In Louisiana, the other state which has these "jungle primaries," he would.) In fact, the articles are already talking about which shrimp is going to take him on: it'll be one who got 17% of the vote - 17%! - a Republican state senator from Lassen County. That's about as obscure a locale as we've got.

So where does the "avoid a runoff" provision apply and where does it not?

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

away, foul temptation

I just got an announcement: the Garden of Memory is returning this year. That's the annual spring solstice walk-through concert at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, that I started going to about 15 years ago and have always had a fabulous time.

It ceased with the pandemic, of course, but this year they're doing it again. Vaxx and masks are required, but still ... it's awfully crowded and stuffy (not much air circulation) in there, and you're sitting around for four hours, and the virus is no respecter of vaccination: that just increases the probability you'll have a mild case.

I so want to go again, but this one, I think: better not.

Monday, June 6, 2022

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I had given some thought to getting a ticket to last week's SFS concerts, but decided not to bother, until my editors pinged me at the last minute and asked me to review it. (I'm almost always available, so I make a good backup when the regular people have to cancel.)

I am so glad I went. I have rarely enjoyed a new work, even by the same composer, as much as I did the Piano Concerto by Mason Bates. I remember how skeptical I was of his work when I first heard it 15 years ago, and then of how each subsequent new work has improved vastly. The great part of sitting in the reviewer seats in the VIP section of the main floor is that I was literally right in front of Mason Bates. When his piece ended I got immediately to my feet, turned around, and said, "That was your best work yet!"

So I want to assure you that I drafted my review entirely from my notes and memories without any outside influence, because only then did I read Kosman's review in the Chronicle. To no surprise from me, he didn't like the concerto, but he was impressed by the other new work, by Lotta Wennäkoski, in a way that I was not. So I added a few comments that, without saying so explicitly, are a direct reply to Kosman.

What bothered Kosman about the concerto was that it presented itself as a little tour through musical history without sounding much like the periods it was intended to show. Well, I'd figured out that it wasn't supposed to, and already had that in the review, saying among else that "Bates is writing not pastiche but impressions." What I added to that was the comment that "listeners who find the concept distracting should ignore it; it will only confuse them." That listener I'm referring to is Kosman, the point being that he's hung up on the concerto not being what it's not trying to be.

Not only had I noted that the orchestra didn't sound much like the historical periods, but the piano was even less so. When I wrote that in one movement the piano was "at least as reminiscent of cool jazz-pop pianism as of anything older," I was thinking of Vince Guaraldi, but I didn't mention his name both to save space and because he's one of the few composers in that style I know. Another section, I said, was "of a soft-jazz cast," of which all I need say is that before the term "new age music" was invented, "soft jazz" is what it was usually called.

What made me sure that Kosman was being intellectually dishonest was his claim that "the opening movement is less reminiscent of the actual Renaissance than of second-tier imitations by such 1970s prog-rock bands as, well, Renaissance." In the first place, there's not enough Renaissance-era evocations in Bates's piece to justify this kind of differentiation. In the second, I know the work of the prog-rock band Renaissance, I know it very well, and despite their name they did not go around imitating Renaissance-era music. That's a cheap shot, and an ignorant one.

On the other hand, Kosman was enraptured by Wennäkoski's use of a theme from an opera by the earlier Finnish composer Ida Moberg. This didn't work for me. I'd already written that the full presentation of Moberg's theme was undigested and didn't fit with the remainder of Wennäkoski's work. In reply to Kosman's remark about Wennäkoski quoting the theme in her own melodic fragments, I added, "if the listener doesn’t know it thoroughly, then the references mean no more than the implications in the Bates." So there. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, and their own judgment, but somebody has hold of these works entirely by the wrong end of the stick, and I don't think it's me.

Sunday, June 5, 2022


To our niece's son, who just graduated from high school. (He's going to Case Western in the fall.) (He's planning on being an engineer, like all three of his uncles.) (But not like his parents, who are an accounting executive and a psychologist.) This is the grand-nephew whose birth announcement was one of my first LJ posts, so that's how you measure time passing.

Mom, as is her wont, threw a party to celebrate. This was not the typical family holiday party. For one thing, she hired a local taco vendor that does catering, and they set up their portable grill on the back porch, where they made fresh tortillas on the spot and sizzled up little carne asada, pollo, or carnitas tacos to order for no extra charge. Very tasty. I didn't have to seek out any dinner before heading off to the concert I was reviewing ... more on that later.

Another thing she rented was a karaoke machine. This was my first close-up encounter with one of these. Judging from the songs that other guests, mostly younger, were singing, there wouldn't be anything on it that I knew, but someone showed me the massive catalog of the contents, and sure enough, there were. Later B. commandeered it and sang a few show tunes like "Anything Goes" and "Cabaret", but in the meantime I looked up a few of my favorite popular-music bands and found that exactly one of them had exactly one song in the catalog. It was "All Around My Hat" by Steeleye Span. I thought I could sing that, so I gave it a try. I had the usual amateur's difficulty of matching my pitch to an actual backing track, but I only sang about half the song, spending the other half arguing with the cheat screen's terrible mistranscriptions of the lyrics.
But on the catalog's "new additions" list I found something that B. and I could do as a duet. It was "We Don't Talk About Bruno." That was fun. That went well. I'd do that again. Note to self: If ever forcibly dragged up to a karaoke machine, demand an appropriate duet partner and sing "We Don't Talk About Bruno."

Saturday, June 4, 2022

theater review: The Odd Couple

I've gone occasionally to the Tabard Theatre, a small company that performs in a rickety old building off San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose, when they're doing something interesting. I enjoyed their all-female 1776 some years ago, and a serious play about an infamous 1930s murder and lynching that occurred right here in town.

This month they're doing Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, which I've seen performed before, so I knew at least the script was good. Going there was a strangely bifurcated experience. San Pedro was hopping: there was a deafening drum kit (sounding like the kind employed by college marching bands, without the band) playing outside the restaurant where I tried to have a quiet dinner, and when I got out at 10 PM the crowds around the bars were seething even though it was only Thursday.

And none of them had a mask on, of course (though it was required in the theater audience). This is how the virus spreads, children. A relevant sight when I was up in the City on Friday (what I was doing there will wait for later) was a man wearing a t-shirt reading "That which doesn't kill you, mutates and tries again." Despite this grim but accurate sentiment, he didn't have a mask.

What made this bifurcated is not just the mask dichotomy but that, despite the crowds outside, the theater was nearly deserted. Maybe they should do fewer performances, as even the small space (would seat maybe 100) had few patrons: there were only 11 people in the audience.

Nevertheless the actors were fully professional and put their all into the performance without becoming frantic about it. I laughed as much as I could (knowing the show meant no real surprises) and clapped and cheered loudly at the end. Looking at it from a review perspective, I really liked the Oscar, a husky fellow who was quick and sarcastic. Felix, though tall and thin and thus physically appropriate for the part, didn't seem to inhabit it quite as much, though Felix's carryings-on (his honkings to blow out his ears, his cries of pain at any physical strain) were well-done. The rest of the cast (the poker players and the Pigeon sisters) were not quite up to the leads' level as part-players, but they were all competent actors, and distinctly individual both in looks and behavior.

It's playing through Sunday matinee, and again next weekend Thursday-Sunday. Locals, why don't you go and give this little neighborhood company a deserved boost?

Friday, June 3, 2022

dentistry as industrial process

All my life I'd been going to dentists in hushed offices in professional buildings. Each hygienist had a personal station inside an individual carpeted office with a closable wood-and-glass door, the dentist had his own, larger office; the ambiance was quiet and deliberate, the pace was slow and thoughtful, the buildings were in suburban or hospital-fringe professional centers.

When I graduated out of pediatric dentistry, my parents signed me up with a partner of their own dentist (because he's the one who had room for new patients) and I stayed with him for several decades - even when I was living 900 miles away for grad school, I arranged my dental appointments for when I was back visiting. (If I'd had a dental emergency, I would have had to do something else, but I never did during that period.) When he retired, he sold the practice to a younger man specializing in prosthetic work who wanted a regular practice on the side, and I've been there for several decades. I've always had excellent hygienists: very slow (which does mean you have to sit there for quite a while), very cautious and careful.

Until now. Change of insurance plan on entering medicare meant my existing dentist wasn't covered. Telling them I was parting was an unemotional business arrangement; we were friendly but not personal friends. The insurer sent me a list of covered dentists noting which ones had openings. I picked the one B. has been going to: they seemed as OK as any of the others. My first appointment was yesterday.

It's in a local shopping center, near B.'s gym and a drug store I often visit. It's part of a chain. There's no carpeting. Go through the door from the front counter and there's a long corridor with numbered open bays with dental chairs, the ambiance rather resembling auto repair bays. You're assigned a number, the hygienist comes in, then so does the dentist (a woman, by the way) who gives you a quick look-over. The hygienist is equally efficient, fast and systematic. I felt as if I was part of an industrial process.

They want me to try some things my old dentist never mentioned. They employed a laser to clean my teeth, something else new to me. I have a partially-broken tooth that isn't causing me any trouble. My old dentist had said, it probably needs a crown, but he never seemed inclined to do anything about it. I get the impression my new dentist is not going to be so casual about it. I'm returning in a month to see how the regime is going, something else I'd never had. It's a new world.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

the dish ran away with the bowl

So B. reads a notification on FB from "NH Public Health Service" (is that New Hampshire? I'd guess so) that certain old dinnerware may have lead in it that may be exposed in scrapes. We've had ours for over 30 years, which is old enough to be covered (I thought lead was already phased out by then, but I guess not), and it's from this manufacturer, Corelle, so we ordered a new set.

There were some mighty ugly and annoying-looking patterns out there, but we're simple folk and went for a simple pattern of dots and lines neatly around the edges of the plates, not unlike the pattern we had before.

They arrived yesterday and got washed, and my first use of one of the new items was a small bowl for mixing the dressing for Asian chicken salad, which is the one cold dinner in my repertoire for hot evenings like yesterday. Let's see: so much soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger and garlic ...

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

cold running crud

So the latest misconception I find one has to guard against is the belief that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the gyre where the plastic and other waste that's going in the ocean winds up, is an actual floating pile of garbage.

It's not. Here's an article about that.
The so-called patch isn’t so much an island as it is a soup, however, in which broken-down bits of plastic are like pepper flakes. Much of the waste is pea-sized or smaller and floats below the surface. That explains why, when you’re there, “it just looks like ocean,” said Melanie Bergmann, a marine biologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, who last visited the region in 2019. The same is true for a handful of other marine garbage patches, which form around gyres — systems of rotating currents.
According to NOAA, while there are some abandoned fishing nets and other macrotrash out there, there's no heaps of it and most of the time you won't see anything at all. By the time it gets out there, most of it has been broken down into tiny fragments. The curse of plastics is that, no matter how much you break it down, it doesn't go away, and that's why these patches - and ocean pollution generally, because the patches are really only a small part of it - are such a problem.

But if you see anyone claiming to have skimmed huge piles of plastic trash - of the kind you'd expect to see in your city garbage dump - from the middle of the ocean, it's a fake.