Thursday, July 18, 2024

not my day

I've been having online vendor problems.

Last night I went to my health care website to order some medication refills, only to find that the system had no record of my having any prescriptions on file at all. I called the help line, and after having gotten trapped several times in automated subsystems I didn't intend and having to hang up and call again to get out, finally reached a person by repeatedly pressing 0. Of course they couldn't fix it themselves, but they reset my account and then sent a trouble ticket to IT.
This morning I tried again and it worked OK.

Then I went to our grocer's website to place our big weekly order for pickup tomorrow. I was halfway through choosing the substitutes (you want to do this, otherwise if your item is unavailable they're sure to pick a substitute you don't want) when I started getting flashing messages that most of our items were not on the shelf, and then the substitute lists went blank, then the entire order disappeared. When I tried again, it wanted me to log in in a different way than I ever had before, and when I gave the information it said "Are you sure you want to change to a business account?" What? No! Start over yet again, redo the entire thing, it worked this time.
Let's see what happens when I go to pick it up in the morning. All kinds of weird things often happen at that stage.

Nothing went wrong in logging in to my monthly Zoom conversation. When I arrived, everyone else was discussing one person's acquisition of a new pet animal. They were already into the conversation, and nobody said for a while what kind of animal it was, dog cat or ?? When someone said the word "puppy," I had the weird sensation of feeling the wave function collapse.
But then B. came in and reported that her car was ready, which was a surprise because the shop had told her it wouldn't be done until tomorrow. But we had to go now to pick it up before they closed, so I had to bow out of the meeting.

I haven't been watching the RNC. I am not interested in what Republicans have to say. I am only watching the late-night comedians' reports, and skipping over the tape clips, also the parts where they irritatingly imitate DT's voice.

I see that Bob Newhart died. He was always very funny in a quiet, sneak-up-from-behind way, but I was never a big fan of his, because I found his calculated stutter to be too irritating to listen to for very long. I didn't like it much from Hugh Grant, either. It's entirely different when someone stutters naturally because they can no other - in any case the natural stutterers I've known don't sound like that.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

been away

I'm back from a couple days out on the coast, where mostly it's cool. Stepping out of the car and feeling a cool breeze for the first time in months - I'd forgotten what one feels like. One day I even wore my light jacket for a while.

I went out there to hear music, but more about that later.

A couple major events happened in the world while I was gone, but contrary to declarations that everybody gets their news through social media these days, I did not. I don't read social media of the Facebook/Twitter sort, because I don't enjoy reading in such fragmented bites, and none of the bloggers I read has discussed the events directly, not even as of now. Instead, I got my news as I normally do, through the websites of newspapers and political commentary magazines or their simulacra.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

calm down

The high-90s low-100s F heat wave (and higher inland) that's been hitting us continually since July 2 is finally breaking, and we're down to the mid-80s which is tolerable. I've been spending a lot of days in libraries for relief, and have entirely avoided using the oven. Once a week I make Chinese-style chicken salad, which is the only cold dinner in my repertoire. Meanwhile the oppressive heat is moving to the eastern US.

Tybalt has backed down from aggressive Defender of the Territory mode and is back to his normal rambunctiousness. But Maia, having been burned badly already, is having none of it and avoids him entirely, which leaves Tybalt rather lonely. Maia won't even come up into the bathroom to eat alongside Tybalt, so we have to take her dish downstairs, usually putting it by the living room couch, the underneath of which is her safe spot. It's armed camp mode.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

one done

Well, I've finished my paper for Mythcon in three weeks. That will give me time to write the shorter presentations for the two or three (I'm not sure if the third one has been confirmed) panels that I'm on.

I've written several papers on "the minor Inklings" over the years, and decided that this was the year I was going to complete my long-mooted intent to write one on John Wain. At which point, especially when describing this orally, I have to confirm that that's WAIN not WAYNE and that they have nothing to do with each other. John Wain was a pupil of C.S. Lewis's whom he invited to the Inklings, but he didn't really fit in and much of my paper is about why. As a writer, he's faded into complete obscurity today, but on a time when Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim was first published, Wain's Hurry on Down came out almost simultaneously and was much discussed with it. They're remarkably similar novels in some respects, completely different in others. Amis and Wain had gone to the same college in Oxford at sort of the same time, and were friends. At least then; later their friendship decayed, mostly because Amis thought Wain was a pompous git. He wasn't entirely wrong.

Writing this paper went very fast, because I'd been holding most of it in my head for years. This includes summary characterizations of some of Wain's novels, which I read some 20 years ago but haven't forgotten. I got the books out to check the facts, but only afterwards.

Of course the first thing I did on completing the draft was to read it aloud to see how long it was. 40 minutes: that's about the maximum I can get away with without cuts. This procedure has the further advantage of bringing out verbal infelicities for correction.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

world according to cats

Things are not going so well again.

One day recently while I was out, seeking relief from the heat, that cat from the apartment building next door showed up at our living room window again, curious about the cats it could see inside.

The cats inside, meanwhile, consider any other cats within their line of vision to be interlopers to be attacked with fury. This is normal expected indoor-cat behavior, and despite alarming hissing and fluffing it normally causes no harm, as the indoor cats can't get at the outdoor cat.

What's not normal or acceptable is that Tybalt, unable to get at that other cat, then takes his fury out on Maia. He's been going into attack mode whenever he sees her, and she, meanwhile, is terrified of him and keeps hiding. Peaceful coexistence, which was the case most of the time in the past, is gone.

What we've been doing about it:

1. Trying to block off the weak spot in the decaying fence by which the cat is entering our property. We're not handy types, so this is kind of awkward.

2. Installing a pheromone diffuser that's been recommended to us as a way to calm down overexcited cats. It doesn't work immediately, though.

3. Keeping them separated. When I was in college we had two cats who didn't get along, so we partitioned the house between them, which was easy because there was a heavy swinging door between the living room on one side and the kitchen on the other. But there's nothing like that here.

Maia has been spending part of the time living in B's office, where her food and water and a litter box have been installed. But she doesn't like being shut up in there, but she also doesn't like coming out only to find Tybalt. So part of the time we were letting Maia loose and shutting Tybalt up in the bathroom (the regular food and litter box location), where he howls like a banshee and hurls his little body against the door. Eventually we - and by "we" I mostly mean B., who has more cat experience and has been doing most of the heavy lifting here - let them both out and hope they don't kill each other.

Meanwhile we're watching the fence and hoping the outdoor cat doesn't get through again. If it does we'll paper over the window it goes to.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

one more little anecdote

about the backyard party on the Fourth.

One of the Norwegian guests mentioned that he was reading, in English, the great Russian novel The Brothers ... and then he had trouble with the last word.

I knew how to pronounce Karamazov. Why do you think that is?

Friday, July 5, 2024

on the UK election

1. Contrary to the headlines, it's highly misleading to say that Labour won the election. They had little more of a vote percentage than the last election five years ago, when they did poorly in the results. What really happened this time is that the Conservatives lost decisively, and Labour got to pick up the pieces..

2. In the west of England, the Conservatives lost due to tactical voting for the Liberal Democrats, the longstanding third party, which has finally rid itself of the stain of its unfortunate coalition with the Conservatives in 2010-15, and now has more seats than it's had since its predecessor party in the 1920s.

3. In the east of England, they lost due to defections to Reform, which got a lot of votes but only 4 seats, fewer than they were expecting. That's specifically why Liz Truss, the infamous momentary prime minister, lost her parliamentary seat. And now Nigel Farage, Reform's toxic leader, is an MP. Well, there have been toxic MPs before and the kingdom has survived; remember Ian Paisley?

4. As of now, mid-afternoon Friday British time, two seats have still not declared a winner. What's with that? This was supposed to have been completed by early this morning.

5. Labour has about as many seats as it did during the last blowout, in 1997, and it follows the same pattern: purging the party leadership of its leftist elements and adopting some of the less savory principles of the Conservatives. Only this time, they went so far as to expel their previous leftist leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Who won his seat as an independent, a feat expelled party members rarely achieve. (Because tribal unity has been so strong in the UK, a feature now evidently on the wane.)

6. The main difference from 1997 is, though, that nobody seems very excited about Labour, as witnessed by their vote share and voters' comments. Maybe the voters learned their lesson from the overblown hopes of last time. Maybe it's because Labour's policies are so damp and unexciting, or maybe it's because Keir Starmer, the new PM, is damp and unexciting.

7. Starmer is so private that his two teenage children have never been seen in public and even their names are literally unknown. I'm astonished an intrusive media lets him get away with this.

8. Starmer is also an atheist. His wife is Jewish, and that's how they're raising their children, just about the only thing they've ever said in public about them. Hard to imagine an atheist getting elected to any major office in the US. Also, his wife is a vegetarian. Starmer himself eats fish but not other meat. Another thing hard to imagine among major politicians in the US.

9. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer is a woman, first ever in that job. Rachel Reeves is her name. They've had 3 woman prime ministers, but never before one of these.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

heat

As you may have heard, we've been having a heat wave since Tuesday, with another three days at least to go. It's been over 100F here, and we're in the first valley in from the coast (which is moderated due to a cold current). Further inland it's much hotter. Fortunately it's dry in these parts and the temperature goes down, at least somewhat, at night.

Having no air conditioning here, we've used that fact to evolve a pattern for dealing with this. About 5 p.m., B. turns on the fan in the bedroom window. This cools the bedroom off enough by bedtime to sleep in. Further judicious window-opening elsewhere in the house also helps. Generally it remains tolerable until about 11 a.m. At that point I head out for lunch and then spend the afternoon in the public library, both air conditioned places. B. manages the heat better than I do and stays home and watches the cats.

Wildfires out in the mountains and prairies are extensive, but they haven't come around here. What I'm more worried about is something breaking out due to excessive illegal fireworks usage, but it's 11.30 pm on the Fourth now and I've heard much less random banging than in most years.

Since the libraries weren't open today (holiday, natch), I took advantage of the annual invitation to attend a backyard party at the house of friends in Berkeley, which is exposed to the Golden Gate and thus not quite so warm. Pleasant all day, and didn't cool down enough in the late afternoon too much: usually the stragglers wind up chasing the remaining sun across the back yard, but we didn't do that this year.

Pleasant conversations as usual. Hostess is recovering from knee replacement surgery and is reaching the point where the benefits outweigh the discomfort. Other interesting people around: how often do you meet someone whose job is drug-testing athletes in Oslo, Norway?

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

from the title by Harlan Ellison

Nigh on four years ago now, J. Michael Straczynski, executor of the estate of Harlan Ellison, announced that he would be completing and submitting for publication The Last Dangerous Visions, the long-lost anthology of other people's stories that Harlan had first announced for publication in 1973 and kept on dangling before the public, and the authors in it, with promises for another decade or so, but which kept sitting unpublished in his files for 45 years until his death in 2018.

Progress has been slow, but publication was eventually arranged and announced for Oct. 1 of this year. (To which many wits replied with the title of an old sf story, "October the First Is Too Late.") ARCs are apparently going out, and behold, here's the table of contents.

So what's in there? Harlan had kept buying stories for LDV while not publishing it, so there's no definitive list of what was to be in it, but the single most comprehensive TOC was one associated with an impending three-volume set that was scheduled to appear in 1979. It had, according to my count, stories by 98 separate authors in it. Another dozen or so stories have been known to be on the book's list at other times.

Again, according to my count, 14 of those 98 authors are on the current TOC, along with another 4 from the other miscellanea assorted list. A couple of the titles are different, so it's not entirely sure if they're the same stories. Leaving aside two authors for whom I have no information, 8 of the remaining 16 are deceased.

Plus another 6 stories newly commissioned and added.

As far as I know, only 2 of the 18 backlog authors are female, and only 1 of the 6 new ones is. At least 5 of the 6 are in their 50s.

Let's compare this result with what JMS originally announced in 2020. He notes that "a number of [the original stories] were withdrawn by the writers and published elsewhere," adding that "it makes no sense to republish stories that are otherwise available." Big of him; if the stories were withdrawn, then the Ellison estate no longer owns the rights. He also says that "some of the remaining stories have been overtaken by real-world events, rendering them less relevant or timely, and regrettably will be omitted," but he assures us that "many more" are still "fresh" (yes, after half a century) and that only a "few stories" will be omitted.

Let's note, then, that of the 98 stories on the 1979 list, by my latest count 36 have been published elsewhere by now - enough to make a heftier reprint anthology than the size of this book. With 14 of the remainder being published here, that leaves 48 stories which JMS chose to leave unpublished. That's a lot more than a "few," and includes never-seen work by authors such as Alfred Bester, George Alec Effinger, Vonda N. McIntyre, Edgar Pangborn, Mack Reynolds, Wilson Tucker - all of them deceased - and many others whose work, tucked away in Harlan's closet for decades, will still not be published. Though JMS says he will formally return the rights to all stories he does not include.

The discussion of what's new in the book also sounds as if it'll be a lot more extensive than what we see here, though it's known that a lot of authors JMS approached turned him down, largely due to not wanting to be associated with Harlan's besmirched reputation.

Then JMS writes of "one last, significant work by Harlan that has never been published" that will be included. There's no apparent trace of this in the TOC.

What he doesn't mention that I was most curious about was the introductions. Harlan wrote long and characterful introductions to the stories in his earlier Dangerous Visions anthologies, and when he announced various publication dates for LDV, he'd usually say something like "I just have to go home and finish up the introductions," but the introductions to a hundred-story anthology would be a massive project. Did he ever get them done? Apparently not, though he did start, because Harlan's introduction to exactly one story is included in the TOC.

So it's apparent that LDV as JMS announced it would be a massive project, much bigger than what's being published now, and I wondered if, like Harlan before him, JMS had simply bitten off something bigger than he could chew. My doubt that what he described was feasible, together with his disconcertingly Harlan-like insistence that it was really in the works, led one incontinent Harlan-booster to make the absurd claim that I was invested in the book never appearing. Why would I want that? All I wanted was not to be burned again as Harlan had burned the entire SF community many times.

Had I seen - which I did not, until now - a further announcement by JMS the next year, 2021, I would have seen him backing down. Here he admits that a large percentage, not just "a number", of the original stories were withdrawn, and points out that publishing anywhere near all of the remainder would result in too large a book to be feasible. Yes, well, Christopher Priest pointed that problem out in The Book on the Edge of Forever 30 years ago, so glad that JMS caught up. Though who knows ... with electronic publishing, length of text is less a restriction, but JMS is wedded to the idea of print, as he says Harlan was also.

The second announcement uses the fact that there was never a lasting definitive list of stories for LDV as an excuse for publishing only a tiny selection. That's a fakeout; Harlan's list did alter but it was always very long. And as far as I know he only ever added stories, not voluntarily took them away. JMS says that Harlan "was the first to say that some stories would have to be trimmed to make room for ones that were more current." I don't recall Harlan ever saying anything like that; do you? With that view he ought to have been relieved when space appeared, but he was extremely cross whenever any authors withdrew their stories.

And JMS includes in this second announcement a pitch promoting the idea of what it turns out now that he's actually publishing ... a small selection from The Last Dangerous Visions. Not LDV itself or anything like it, but a nugget. Well, it's better than nothing, to be sure, and I intend to read it; and despite his rhetoric it's a good thing that JMS chose to back down to a reasonable size rather than give up or disappear; but to read an announcement that says The Last Dangerous Visions will be published and then get this ... it's a deflating rather than fulfilling sensation. I was right, whatever the Harlan-boosters may say: what JMS originally described in 2020 could not and never would appear. But I'm not happy about it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

I didn't ask to review EPS conducting Mahler's Third. My editor assigned me the job and I didn't object. But I wasn't looking forward to it. The last time I heard the Third, MTT was conducting and I castigated myself afterwards for having subjected myself to an hour and a half of tedious undifferentiated sludge.

But I equipped myself with a score from the library - wasn't going to cover a work like this without one - and braced myself to my duty. As I was sitting there waiting for the start, my colleague Lisa of the Iron Tongue came by and expressed surprise to see me there, knowing my take on Mahler. I explained my duty. What she did not say was that she was reviewing it for the Chronicle, though I was hardly surprised to find it there later. She's been writing for them about once a week for a month now, and the more she steps into Kosman's retired shoes the happier I'll be. (It's an important and necessary job, but not one I'd want to undertake myself.)

Anyway, we basically agreed on EPS's approach; the difference was that I was even happier with it. I've heard occasional successful Mahler performances before, but this one took the cake. I wonder if, as with the saying "There are no bad dogs, only bad owners," that there are no bad composers (at least among the big names), only bad conductors. As with the realization I had about the hideous Anton Webern the time I heard him played to sound tender and attractive, I wonder if the reason I normally loathe Mahler so much is because most people insist on playing him so badly.

At least with his earlier work: I find even sympathetic performances of his later symphonies to be impenetrable. There's room for contemplation here.

Monday, July 1, 2024

what, a newspaper?

Several years ago we stopped taking a printed newspaper, a decision which has affected the contents of our recycling bins, to be sure. Several reasons, of which the much greater cost of a print over an online subscription to our local paper is one. (The occasional practice of the delivery people to forget and give us a copy of the local Chinese-language paper instead is another.)

So now I have two online newspaper subscriptions: our local paper and the Washington Post. Originally I got the latter because there was a discount deal for subscribers to our local, but I kept it on because it's a good national paper with useful takes on the news, plus among its columnists is the supremely sarcastic Alexandra Petri. Recent events suggest that the newsroom may be going belly-up - its classical music coverage has already done so - and if the national coverage does so also I'd probably quit, because the strong national beat is what I want an out-of-town paper for.

A number of people on my feed often link to interesting articles in the New York Times which I can't access. I sometimes look those up on the public library computer, but mostly I forget to do so. I don't really want to subscribe to the Times, which does not have a good reputation among people of my political persuasion, past glories of the Pentagon Papers or no. And that and the Wall Street Journal (infamous for its appalling editorial page) and USA Today (only worthwhile as a free handout in hotels, and barely that) are about it for other nationally-oriented dailies in the US.

We got a recommendation for the Philadelphia Inquirer as a trustworthy progressive paper. But I looked at it and it seemed to me that it's primarily a local paper in a sense that the Times and Post are not. And since we have no connection to Philadelphia that's of no use to us. Most of the articles I saw in the national news section had just been picked up from the AP. I was impressed that the paper did send a reporter with Fetterman on his visit to Israel, but he is the senator from Pennsylvania after all, so his doings are of local concern to them.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

half a concert

This week was the Stanford music department's annual chamber music seminar, where visiting and nonpro groups get coaching. Public events included noon concerts, which I didn't get to because weekday parking at Stanford is so difficult, and a Sunday daytime blowout where everybody plays, which I didn't get to because I didn't get going early enough in the day.

But I did get to the Saturday evening showcase concert, though I can't tell you who was playing because they didn't hand out programs, just posted one on a wall. You could photograph it, but my screen would have been too small to read it, so forget it. A group of I think 7 string players, including Paul Wiancko, the new cellist of the Kronos Quartet, played a hypnotic-sounding work of his. And a young string quartet undertook Beethoven's Op. 132, surely the second most challenging quartet in the classical repertoire (Op. 130 is tougher). This was the first time I've heard it without any preparation whatever, but by this time I know it well enough that I didn't feel I needed any. Excellent job, basic interpretation effectively done.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

instead of the debate

on tape, you could be watching Jon Stewart's take on it. It begins as a dig at the media hoopla, but it does get into the substance of the debate itself. And it tells the basics a lot more succinctly and without the agony of having to watch the whole thing, plus: Stewart's personality.

concert review: Stella Chen

Next month I'm scheduled to review violinist Stella Chen in the Barber concerto with SFS. I'd heard Chen before - she was in the Music@Menlo chamber music festival last summer - but I thought I could use more exposure to her style, so I attended her SFS-sponsored violin and piano recital (with George Li, pianist) at Davies.

I was quite pleased with the results. Chen seemed to me to be most outstanding in her command of the melodic line and phrasing, especially in lyrical sections. In fast sequences of figurations, she displays the overall shape of the passage without resorting to the overemphasis of key notes. All this gives character to the music within a fairly strict control of tempo and note values.

Her tone is relatively consistent, though it can change between pieces. Mostly it is light and clear, but she doesn't shift around between tone styles to provide character. I'd describe her as a conservative and restrained violinist who relies on her skill and communicative power within those restrictions to convey the meaning and effectiveness of the music with tremendous virtuosity but without flamboyance. I noted at Menlo her ability to take command of a chamber music piece, and even without an ensemble the same surety is there.

The main item on the program was Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, a long and rambling piece which, despite taking all the repeats, Chen and Li kept controlled and clearly shaped. It was a most satisfactory performance of a work I usually find difficult to grasp. Schubert's Rondo in B minor seems to me a piece of garrulous fluff, but Chen - who considers Schubert her favorite composer, and she recently issued a CD of his violin music - found the lyricism in it. The third piece was new, No Man's Land Lullaby by Eleanor Alberga, a quiet (and less somber than I was expecting) tribute to the front lines in the World Wars, closing with quotations of fragmentary phrases from the lullaby, the one by Brahms.

Chen is in her early 30s. In speaking to the audience, she expressed delight to be in San Francisco - "I am a Bay Area girl!" she said; she was raised here in Silicon Valley. She gave an excellent if fairly brief show to a gratifyingly large audience.

Monday, June 24, 2024

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

First I was going to go to this concert on Friday. But that was Garden of Memory. Then I switched it to Saturday. But then I decided to attend the Rainbow Symphony. That left the Sunday matinee.

The reason I was so eager to go is that EPS would be conducting Bruckner's Fourth. It turned out to be very worthwhile. He had sure control over the shape and flow of the music, knowing just when to let a pause linger a bit and when to build up the intensity. It wandered a bit on the large scale but was under firm control moment by moment. He found previously unsuspected reservoirs of graciousness in the scherzo's trio section.

Only the sound quality was slightly imperfect. The full-orchestra fortes were overloud and a bit coarse, while the pianissimos could get too quiet. The brass chorales were played ideally enough, but the sound was a bit thin and slightly grainy.

And to fill out the program, Schumann's Piano Concerto played by the frequent visitor Yefim Bronfman, a big bear of a man with a gentle, caressing way at the keyboard. The clarity and beauty of it was a delight.

Slight amusement value in the lobby beforehand, listening to two ladies seated near me reading the program notes for the Schumann and trying to figure out who Florestan and Eusebius were. (They were personas for the different sides of Schumann's personality whom he invented as mouthpieces for his music reviews, and they're often taken by program-note writers as the composers of the contrasting moods in his own music.)

Slight difficulty getting home. I entered the BART station just after a train had left, but after 15 minutes of the next train being 9 minutes out, I deduced it was not going to arrive, so I left the station - the gate charged me $2.80 for the privilege of not being able to take a train, and that's the senior discount - and took the city bus ($1.25, senior discount), rattle and bang on the badly-paved streets, all the way out to the distant BART station at which I'd parked.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

concert review: Bay Area Rainbow Symphony

I sometimes go to concerts by this group ("San Francisco's leading orchestra promoting LGBTQ composers and artists"), and didn't want to miss this one as it was the retirement concert of music director Dawn Harms. She's worn a lot of hats locally as conductor and violinist, so she's a familiar face. Besides, it was a delectable program.

A large audience at Herbst Theater cheered the orchestra on through a program designated as celebrating "Freedom, Equality & Pride": the Boatswain's Mate Overture by Ethel Smyth (the great suffragist composer), Copland's Lincoln Portrait (with local actor Curt Branom as narrator, sometimes drowned out by the music, which isn't supposed to happen), and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the one whose "Ode to Joy" finale is taken as an anthem for freedom.

The performances were delightfully crisp and energetic throughout, especially gratifying in the rarely-heard Smyth, but things started to get really interesting in the "Ode to Joy." With Herbst's smallish stage already fully occupied by the not-overlarge orchestra, plus the solo singers in front, the chorus (members of the Masterworks Chorale) had to crowd onto the landings for the side exits next to the stage, women on one side, men on the other. The conductor signaled to them as if semaphoring to a distance.

Harms beefed up the orchestral presentation of the "Ode to Joy" theme by exaggerating the dynamics in both directions, so that it became an even bigger crescendo than Beethoven had written. Then baritone Hadleigh Adams, who fitted this concert in between appearances in Handel's Partenope at the SF Opera at the other end of the same block, brought his operatic acting skills to his part here. When he sang "nicht diese Töne" he looked and sounded genuinely distressed, and when he turned to "Freude" why he seemed joyful.

Big cheerful sound, only slightly blurry towards the end, mighty applause and cheers afterwards.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

concert review: Garden of Memory

Owing to the vagaries of the Gregorian calendar, the summer solstice this year actually fell on June 20th, but the annual solstice walk-through concert at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland went on as usual on the 21st, but without, so far as I could tell, the customary bell-ringing ceremony at sunset.

Last year they saved money by not printing a map of the labyrinthine venue and the locations of the various artists parked among the chapels, niches, and crypts, and sent out an e-mail telling attendees to download the map from the website in advance. I did, but a number of people missed the announcement and apparently were rather cross, because this year there were plenty of copies of a big glossy 11 x 14 sheet version.

The curious thing is that, although the event opened at 5 p.m. and the artists were, so far as I saw, all in place by then, most of them weren't ready to start yet. Having already been sitting in my car for an hour eating an early dinner, because arriving early is a necessity to find a parking space within reasonable distance, upon entering I made a bee-line for the secret restroom hidden in the basement, the one that was unoccupied then but had a line of ten people in front of it two hours later. Then I went back up to the niche occupied by my favorite of the returning artists, Laura Inserra, who specializes in padding drum sounds. But she wasn't ready. Tinkered with a few of her instruments, then left the room. Some ten minutes later, I and the other person who'd been waiting gave up and left. Meanwhile other people had been wandering into the room and quickly leaving, some of them after scratching their heads at the map trying to figure out where they were.

Some time later when I returned, Laura was apparently playing but the niche, and the niches in front of it, were so full there was no chance of getting in, let alone getting a seat, which is what I'd arrived early for.

So I wandered around and heard other things. What I liked best, and was able to find a seat for half hour sets of, were people who did vocalizations over what I'd best describe as landscapes of electronic sound. Briana Marela sang fragmentary lyrics above soft shifting sounds, and someone named SoRIAH performed Tuvan throat singing over throbbing beats of unutterably deep darkness. It didn't have the harshness you'd expect of rock-type music of that description, it was just firmly enveloping of the listener. A little like Dead Can Dance, actually, but much stronger and darker.

I heard various odd blurring sounds from other performers as I wandered about, but spent the most other amount of time at the atypical for this venue, but Garden of Memory regulars, the Orchestra Nostalgico, a ten-or-so-piece sax-and-clarinet-led band that does vaguely jazzy stuff, of which some Henry Mancini was the only thing I recognized.

Then I left early, which I hadn't done before. It was getting too crowded, the elevators were malfunctioning, and I didn't think I was missing anything I really wanted to hear.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

opera review: Innocence

A year ago, after I attended a semi-staged production of Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater at the SF Symphony and was impressed by it both dramatically and musically, a couple commenters suggested that in that case I really ought to attend when SF Opera was putting on Saariaho's Innocence the next spring.

So I signed up and last night (5th of 6 performances) was it.

I have to say, this is a powerful piece. I'd known it concerned the aftermath of a (fictional) school shooting and, especially after learning that one of the production sponsors was an anti-gun-violence group, I feared that it would be a polemic designed to berate the audience with the fervor of its righteousness. I've seen too many contemporary stage plays like that. I should have trusted the nuanced approach that Saariaho and her collaborators took to the topic of revenge in Adriana Mater. This was nothing like a polemic.

The topical theme for the bulk of the opera was the psychological trauma that surviving a mass shooting (either personally or by being the relative of a victim) imposes on the survivors. This was reflected both in the text (by Finnish novelist Sofi Oksanen, adapted by dramaturg Aleksi Barrière) and the music. Characters change singing style when under severe stress: a baritone rises to a falsetto keening, a woman nearly chokes on her words in Sprechstimme style, another woman sings in a piercing nasal folk style from rural Finland. Though the principal action is sung in English, another sign of stress is for characters to revert to their native languages. Along with the student survivors being from an international school and speaking - more than singing - in their native languages, the text was in nine different European languages. (Double supertitling rendered both the originals and translations.)

That being the case, I felt that this theme was rather undercut towards the end, partly by the students embarking on facile self-healing (the writeups deny any such thing happens, but it does) but more by the emergence of the real theme, reflecting the title, of breaking down the distinction between guilt and innocence. Some of the innocent turn out to be guilty also, in ways the audience is intended not to be expecting, and not just in the sense of having enabled the shooter by failing to intervene (though that comes up too). On the one hand, this reveals that the distinction between guilt and innocence can hang on a thread, which is a valuable point; but it also distracts from either the psychological damage theme or the process of healing from it, and while one principal character (Tereza) does begin that healing process, by a striking scene of her mental image of her dead daughter telling her to let her go, the other principals are left shattered and there's no resolution.

I can't say more without spoiling the plot (there was a warning on the synopsis in the program book, which I'm glad I didn't read in advance). Despite the sense that this is two pieces welded together, it was both powerful and effective. The music was clattery and anxious, giving a sense of dread even to opening scenes which are supposed to be calm and normal; the singing was chromatic and drama-oriented. The set was a two-story Bauhaus-modernist cube, whose rooms, with exterior walls of glass, were intended to represent multiple buildings at different times; it was constantly rotating to shift the viewer's attention from scene to scene. The first round of applause at the end went to the stagehands.

I haven't forgotten Adriana Mater and I won't forget this either.

Monday, June 17, 2024

ouch

I have been slowly reading my way through Richard Taruskin's epic Oxford History of Western Music, and have reached the chapter on Handel. Taruskin makes no excuses for Handel's plagiarism, which he says was not - as defenders sometimes claim - normal for the time; instead he quotes contemporaries citing how Handel was notorious for it.

Handel also borrowed from himself, and Taruskin mentions one that I was curious enough to go and look up. It appears that "For Unto Us a Child Is Born", my favorite number from Messiah (and you'll forgive me the arrangement I chose to link to) was reworked from an erotic Italian duet that goes like this. Fascinating.

But! Taruskin (or, possibly, the scholarly source he's quoting, but I doubt it) commits a horrible historical error in the same chapter: not related directly to music, so it's not his field but that's no excuse. He's quoting a reprint of a rapturous review of one of Handel's earliest oratorios, which speaks of "a crowded Audience of the first Quality of a Nation, headed by the Heir apparent of their Sovereign's Crown." At which point there is inserted a bracketed identification of that last person, "[the future George III]."

Wait a minute, I thought. When was this? I checked: April 1739. In 1739, the future George III was a babe in arms, being about ten months old at the time, and unlikely to be heading a concert audience. Nor was he the heir apparent, that position being occupied by his father, Frederick Prince of Wales, who was 32. Though "poor Fred / who was alive and is dead" did not live to occupy the throne, he was certainly alive in 1739. You really ought to check this stuff up before you go around serenely announcing who is who.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

two concerts

1. Cambrian Symphony. Conductor Scott Krijnen ran on stage, leapt up to the podium, and instantly launched the orchestra into Glinka's Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture, one of the fastest and most energetic works in the repertoire. Jennifer Higdon's blue cathedral and Debussy's La Mer which followed were likewise quite good, and the Hammer Theatre acoustics cooperated gratifyingly well.
However, one of the pieces in the second half was to be a concerto for electric cello, and the electric cellist was practicing on stage during intermission. Much of what was played sounded like hard rock electric guitar. I did not wish to hear that, so I just left.

2. San Francisco Symphony Chamber Musicians. It's worth traveling up to Davies to hear these concerts, if they're playing something you want to hear, because the SFS musicians are just so incredibly good: polished and sublimely skilled. They also have the advantage of being able to play odd works rarely heard because of the instrumentation: like Dohnanyi's Sextet (string trio, clarinet, horn, piano). Clarinet and horn are hard to find on the chamber music circuit, but in an orchestra they've got 'em.
The Sextet was a bit turgidly Brahmsian, but a marcato episode in the slow movement was particularly excellent, and I liked the way the coda of the finale suddenly changed keys in the last bar.
Also good was Kodaly's Serenade for 2 violins and viola, and Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 2 brilliantly conveyed the existential horror of being a Russian citizen in the middle of WW2. Shostakovich does better expanses of gloomy Russian music than anyone else, if the players catch it accurately. Here they did.

ETA3. A third concert: My review of the Masterworks Chorale one held a week ago.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Wisconsin in July

Thursday was Take Your Felon to Work Day (descriptor courtesy of Senator-elect-to-be Adam Schiff), and the felon in question is reported to have told his fellow Republicans, "Milwaukee, where we are having our convention, is a horrible city."

Naturally, the ones from the area were upset by this, and claimed he was talking about the crime rate or the election results or something, but the most remarkable response was from Rep. Bryan Steil, who twitted, "I was in the room. President Trump did not say this. There is no better place than Wisconsin in July."

No better place ... The last time I was in Wisconsin in July (I've been back 3 or 4 times since, but not in July) was for the 1999 Mythcon, which was marked by a heat wave comparable to what's hitting the East (but not Wisconsin) this week. Here's an actual quote from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, taken from my B's con report: "The temperature peaked at 99 in Milwaukee, but just after 1 p.m. a record high dew point of 82 created a heat index of 119, a level considered dangerous to human health."

Mythcon was held in a conference center just south of Milwaukee. In what is now Rep. Steil's congressional district, by the way. It was right across the road from the shore of Lake Michigan, but that fact allowed us no relief, nor did the end of daytime. There was little air conditioning in the building, and after suffering through no sleep one night, B. and I decamped to an air-conditioned hotel room.

We arrived on Thursday. The weather finally broke on Saturday, and by Sunday morning the temperature was fine. Sunday was August 1st. No longer July. I didn't realize it would take 25 years to do it, but I think the weather was trying to tell Rep. Steil something.

Friday, June 14, 2024

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

The 90F+ heat wave of earlier this week has receded, but it was still plenty hot enough at home. But when I got up to the City, it was cold and foggy. Oh, nice! Traditional San Francisco summer weather, by the way.

EPS conducted. Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the young cellist who made a hit playing at Meghan and Harry's wedding, performed Shostakovich's First Cello Concerto. This is a tough work to judge a cellist by, being angular and crabbed in the usual Shostakovich mode, but it do-+++++ have its dazzling-performer moments, like a long lyric passage entirely in harmonics. [Inserted comment by Tybalt, rolling around on my desk.]

EPS told the audience the well-worn story of the time in 1936 that Stalin went to see Shostakovich's opera, and a few days later a review appeared in Pravda titled "Muddle Instead of Music" and concluding with blood-chilling finality, "This is a game that could end very badly." No wonder Shostakovich was terrified for the rest of his life. EPS says he reminds his students of this when they're upset about bad reviews. "There are good reviews, there are bad reviews, and then there's this. So chill out."

Also on the program, Fairytale Poem by Sofia Gubaidulina, a short piece written, like Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, for children's radio, and almost as delightful. Has the eerie Gubaidulina flavor while being charming and lively and colorful. And Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, a tone poem which the composer dismissed as "cold, false, and weak," and which the program note describes as "buffet[ing] us violently about." The performers did their best to make it sound convincing.

I tried an experiment on my way in. Usually going up to the City for a Symphony concert, I have dinner at Tadich Grill, an old-line seafood restaurant claiming to date back to Gold Rush days. But recently the Chronicle published an article slamming Tadich for lousy food and surly service - neither of which I've ever had there - and pushing a similar vintage seafood place called Sam's instead. So I tried Sam's. And the food wasn't bad, but not a patch on Tadich. The petrale sole fillet was smaller than Tadich's, it was breaded in some egg coating that didn't work well, and it was insufficiently deboned, yccch. The clam chowder had a nice broth, but was quite deficient in the clam department, again unlike Tadich's. Nope, I'm going back to my old reliable in the future.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

anniversary

Today was our Big Round Number wedding anniversary. It's big ... and round ...

Did we do anything? No. That's because we're old and creaky, and even before we were that we were homebodies. We gave each other cards (no presents). I baked a chocolate cake - something we do only for birthday and wedding anniversaries. And I made our favorite dinner dish, a turkey meatloaf, with brussel sprouts and broccoli on the side.

The only time I went out today, in fact, was to rush down to the grocery store to buy eggs for the cake, because we were out.

We might go out for dinner some other day. We have already taken one vacation this year, to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and are planning another in a couple months, so maybe those could count as anniversary trips. Otherwise it's a quiet life here with just each other, the cats, B's musical instruments, and our books.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

world according to cat

Things have returned to normal around here. Maia is willing to be in the same room as Tybalt, and Tybalt has resumed climbing on to my desk and knocking things over.

Monday, June 10, 2024

A Woman of the Iron People

is a novel by Eleanor Arnason, who's Guest of Honor at Mythcon this summer, so we chose it as our topic of discussion for the June meeting of the Khazad-dûm book discussion group. Some of us liked it, others said they were glad they'd read it but didn't plan ever on reading it again. I was sort of in between; I enjoyed the book; I'd enjoyed it when I read it on publication in 1991, but I hadn't read it again until now, but more because I didn't have to: it stuck with me.

Looking beforehand for material on the book, I came across Jo Walton's review from 2012. She seems extraordinarily exercised by the fact that it won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. It's not fantasy, it's science fiction, she says.

I find from the comments at the end that I'd responded to this at the time, but I'd like to do so more fully now. She's right that it is science fiction; specifically anthropological science fiction in the mode of The Left Hand of Darkness (another book I find it unnecessary to re-read). But she seems unnecessarily hung up on the definition of the term fantasy. First, defining fantasy and science fiction as mutually exclusive categories leads to all kinds of fruitless arguments over the borderline, over everything from Darkover and Pern on down. Second, before "fantasy" came to mean a publishing genre, which happened during the 1960s-70s, it was a more generic term for nonmimetic literature as a whole, including science fiction. As late as the 1930s, some science fiction fans even abjured the term "science fiction" as too newfangled. That's why, for example, when a group of science fiction fans founded their own APA in 1937, they called it the Fantasy Amateur Press Association.

Lastly and most importantly, though it is called a fantasy award, it is also said to be for mythopoeic fiction "in the spirit of the Inklings" and mythopoeic science fiction is certainly in the spirit of the author of Out of the Silent Planet. Mythopoeic science fiction is rather rarer than mythopoeic fantasy (in the narrower sense of fantasy) but it exists. Jo again is confused here; she thinks that the judges must have felt that the myths of the natives in the story are fantasy from the human viewpoint, so maybe that qualified it as fantasy? No, nothing so complicated. By creating these fictional myths, fantasy or not, Arnason is a mythmaker. Her work is mythopoeic. That qualifies it for the award.

And I should know: I was the administrator of the Mythopoeic Awards at the time, and neutral though I was as vote-counter, I thoroughly approved of this book's eligibility.

Sunday, June 9, 2024

nitwit Tolkienists

I'm not going to name this book, because I haven't finished reading it yet, but it's not the only recent book on Tolkien to begin by rudely and inaccurately denouncing all previous Tolkien studies for failing to fit the standards of the author's own perfect and unimpeachable work.

Once it gets past that, it does have some interesting and original things to say, but I was stopped cold by this sentence:
Merry ... finally contributes to the fighting in a decisive way, using his magic sword to slay the Black Rider, thus saving Éowyn's life.
There are about three things wrong with this sentence.

First and least importantly, "Black Rider" is rather an obsolete term to use for the Nazgûl at this point. The horses which originally earned them that description from the hobbits disappeared long ago at the Ford of Bruinen. True, the Nazgûl still has a steed in the form of that monstrous flying creature, but even though Tolkien still uses the term "Black Rider" for him, more often he's the Ringwraith or the Lord of the Nazgûl, better choices for describing the scene.

Secondly, "magic sword." That's a clumsy and inappropriate term. The blacksmith whose country's enemy was the Witch-king of Angmar did not cast a spell when forging this sword. Its particular virtue and appropriateness for this deed is subtler than that. Read Tolkien's description:
So passed the sword of the Barrow-downs, work of Westernesse. But glad would he have been to know its fate who wrought it slowly long ago in the North-kingdom when the Dúnedain were young, and chief among their foes was the dread realm of Angmar and its sorcerer king. No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will.
"Magic sword," with its implications of cheap hack fantasy, doesn't do it justice. Sam and Galadriel's conversation about "Elf-magic" should have taught you that, if nothing else.

Thirdly and most importantly, Merry doesn't slay the Nazgûl! Merry, who's been crawling on all fours, sick with horror, manages to stab the Nazgûl in the leg from behind. The Nazgûl topples forward, and Éowyn, struggling up from her knees, raises her sword - which has no particular animus against the Witch-king - and drives it into what passes as his face. Éowyn kills him; Merry provides essential assistance. It's all very clear on the page. Read the fricking book before you try writing detailed analysis of the author's prose, why don't you?

Thursday, June 6, 2024

concert review: Stanford Early Music Singers

Driving to Stanford last evening was a dicey proposition, as it's graduation time and the parking lots were packed. But I persevered, because I wanted to attend William Mahrt's retirement concert.

He's a music professor whom I once took an extension class from, and who's best-known on campus for having founded and directed, for 52 years (!), this ensemble, which at first he wanted to call the Grateful Quick. (I don't need to explain the references there, do I?)

It's 20-25 members, a few students but mostly faculty and community people, who give acapella concerts in the reverberant acoustics of Memorial Church. This one was nearly 2 hours, and included two sets devoted to a single composer each, Josquin and Lasso, for the variety of their output; also one of English motets by Tallis and Byrd; also works by Victoria, Gallus, and a number of others. Mostly in Latin, of course, but German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English were also heard.

Beautiful stuff, emotionally healing, and it was cool in that grandiose stone edifice on a hot evening. Glad I went.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

cat fight

We came home from a 5-day (including travel time) trip to find that our two cats had been fighting. Utmost hostility still reigned and more fights broke out.

This was unprecedented. Usually a milder "don't get along" is a sufficient descriptor. It's really sort of one-sided. Tybalt is big and rambunctious and likes lots of stimulation, while Maia is smaller, older, and quiet. Typically, Tybalt jumps Maia in order to play. She doesn't like this, hisses at him (which he's oblivious to) and runs away.

But now they've been getting into actual fights when encountering each other (I haven't seen these, but I've certainly heard them), and Maia is now spending all her time in her last-resort hiding place, a tiny narrow space under a cabinet which Tybalt can't get into. She's not eating or drinking, and I hope not pooping, because moving that cabinet, which is full of books, would be a bear.

Tybalt, meanwhile, seems weirdly abashed. He still wants lots of affection, but he's disinclined to play with toys and has abandoned coming into my office and walking around on my desk, which used to occupy most of his attention when I was working and he was not sleeping. I think he's depressed and lonely with no Maia to bug.

We were puzzled by all this. It's been a year since we were both away, but we'd been out several times before and never had a bad reaction like this before.

Yesterday afternoon, B. found a possible answer.

She heard yowling, and thinking it was another fight, went downstairs and found Tybalt up against a window, yowling at a cat outside. (Our cats are indoors only.) We'd never seen this other cat before; when B. went outside to chase it off it kept coming back but eventually disappeared through a hole in the fence to the apartment complex next door. Perhaps someone living there had adopted it.

Our cats, who love the windows for providing Cat TV of squirrels and birds, would surely be unhappy to find another cat in their view. Certainly the late Pandora went utterly berserk when another cat showed up on the patio of our old house. It would be useless to chide our cats for defending their territory; the only course is to, as B. did, chase off the other cat, even though obviously - because of the returning - its interest in our cats is to make friends. No luck there.

B. thinks that maybe this other cat had showed up the previous day or two, and inability by our cats to do anything about it led to displaced aggression against each other. I hope they get over it, because we're living in an armed camp in here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

part of an opera review: The Magic Flute

I'd had no idea Mozart could be so boring.

I've seen other Mozart operas staged before - The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte - and they were all beautiful and imaginative. But this - this is a cut-rate opera. Mozart throws off an endless series of empty display pieces, and that's all that there is.

Furthermore, it's nearly three hours long. At the end of the first of two acts, I gave up and bailed out. I was sorry to miss the Queen of the Night's famous aria, which is in Act 2, but judging from the performance of her Act 1 aria, I probably didn't miss much.

The one good thing about the show, which I'm sorry I missed the rest of, was the staging, which featured the cleverest and most imaginative animated backgrounds imaginable. The singers stood in front of a white wall, sometimes on little platforms emerging from the wall when they needed to be high up. The animation was projected on to the wall and they interacted with it. That only explains how it worked, but what the designers did with it can hardly be adequately described.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Shakespeare and a half

Or, five productions in three days at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Much Ado About Nothing
This was OSF at its best, equal to the fine Much Ados they've done in the past. From the beginning of the parlay between Benedick (John Tufts) and Beatrice (Amy Kim Waschke), it was clear this was going to be a gem of a show, a bright comedy full of wit and action. Beatrice most amusingly crawled around in the audience while spying on the conversation about Benedick's love for her between Hero (Ava Mingo) and Ursula there was no Ursula, she was folded in with Antonio and dubbed Antonia (Sheila Tousey).
It had been announced to be a musical production, but the music was not overdone: four or five interpolated songs, starting with a monologue from Don John expounding on his evilness, with a number of lines from other Shakespeare plays woven into the lyrics. The closing song includes a verse for Hero in which she wonders, after all that's gone down, whether she really wants to marry Claudio after all. But it's done without the sourness of productions of Measure for Measure in which Isabella walks out on the Duke. In this production, this is a happy play.

Macbeth
For my tastes, Macbeth is above all else an eerie play, drenched in the supernatural and the paradoxes of prophecy. And this dark and brooding production played that up to the hilt. The three witches (Kate Hurster, Amy Lizardo, and Jennie Greenberry), dressed in rags and full-face masks (which they only removed for curtain call), dominated the play, lurking in the background more and more as it went on and even taking on some of the messenger/functionary parts in the later scenes. Atmosphere it had, and Lady Macbeth (Erica Sullivan), pale and thin, carried on in that spirit.
Unfortunately, Mackers himself (Kevin Kenerly) and Macduff (Jaysen Wright) were nearly inert. You don't want to hear "O horror, horror, horror!" or "Lay on, Macduff" spoken with all the emotional vacancy of Keanu Reeves (whom Wright rather resembles), but that, alas, is what you get.

Virgins to Villains: My Journey with Shakespeare's Women
A one-woman show in which OSF veteran Robin Goodrin Nordli recounts, quite entertainingly, her history as a Shakespearean actor starting as a high-school Bianca, and finishing by describing her favorite character, Queen Margaret of the Henry VI-Richard III tetralogy. Included are plenty of excerpts demonstrating how she acted particular performances, including the early encounter with Ophelia in which she understood "mad" to mean "angry."
I saw Nordli give a version of this several years ago. But it's been rewritten, updated, and trimmed to focus more on her own journey, and supplemented with props (when she brings up a play, there's usually a paperback copy for her to grab and wave around) and projected photos of herself in the roles. When she says that her other artistic accomplishment in high school was to play the piccolo in band, by gum she plays a quick run on a piccolo. I enjoyed this more than the earlier version.

Born with Teeth by Liz Duffy Adams
This also I had seen before, in a production at Berkeley's Aurora Theatre last year. I enjoyed that one very much, so I'm sad to report that this production was nowhere near as good. I think it was rewritten in the interval, or at least trimmed; there are some things I remember from the earlier performance that weren't in this one.
This is a two-actor play that's supposed to be about Shakespeare and Marlowe collaborating on the Henry VI plays over a three-year period. But this production cut back on the playwriting and is mostly about Marlowe's other career as a spy and on the two characters' sexual attraction for each other. It alters the balance and makes the story much more tedious.
Further, it was poorly cast. Marlowe opens by being brash and domineering and Shakespeare only gradually begins to hold his end up. But that evolution was undercut by the robust Alex Purcell as Marlowe being much bigger and louder than the smaller and slighter Bradley James Tejeda as Shakespeare. The balance between them never changes, and the ending - which I daren't give away - undercuts the presentation instead of culminating the evolution.

Jane Eyre adapted by Elizabeth Williamson
When shall we three meet again? All three of the witches from Macbeth had major roles in this play, which we saw the same evening as Macbeth in the afternoon. Jennie Greenberry was the feisty Jane, and Kate Hurster a hilariously frosty Grace Poole. The rest of the acting was also all around excellent, and the staging (Efren Delgadillo, scenic designer) brilliantly merged the Elizabethan Theatre's Tudor design with Thornfield's Gothic.
Also, it was an excellent adaptation, boiling down a long and complex novel (summation: Mr. Rochester really isn't a very satisfactory person, is he?) into a dynamic 155 minutes, despite a large amount of narration delivered by Jane. It ran rings around a rather discursive Great Expectations that OSF did several years back, not to mention an incoherent Wuthering Heights from Berkeley Rep. Or are the books responsible, in which case is Charlotte really that much better an author than Emily is?
Jane Eyre being thus an admirably written and performed play, what was with the costuming, or lack of it? Most of the women wore the kind of trousers you ride horses in. Couldn't OSF afford some dresses? And what was with the bizarre and out of character dancing they do at the end?

Thursday, May 30, 2024

world according to cat

Tybalt has been following me around, as he often does when he's not sleeping, or burrowed underneath sheets or a blanket (and probably sleeping), and he's taken to a new habit: when he begs to be picked up (by putting his front paws on my chest), he responds to being cradled in my arms by climbing up onto my shoulders and draping himself around the back of my neck. Always with his head on the right. Up there he can groom my hair to his heart's content. (I think he likes it even better when it's freshly washed. Maybe the remaining scent of shampoo appeals to feline taste.)

And he'll stay up there for quite a while, even as I walk around or go up or down stairs with this extra ten pounds on me, unless I sit down: then he'll jump down right away.

I'm finding that when I don't have a cat on my shoulders I miss the feeling, even though it includes claws digging through my shirt.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

success

Two gratifying things:

1. I got my eyes checked yesterday, but the technician said my pupils were too small, even after some time in a dark room, and needed to be dilated. I've long had a phobia about having anything put in my eyes, but I thought, it's over 40 years since I last tried, maybe I've gotten partly over it, the way my fear of heights has diminished over the years. So I had them try it, and not only did it work, but the technician said the dilation solution relaxes the eyes, which also meant I had less trouble with reflexive blinking than I usually do. I had to wear dark glasses outside for the rest of the day, and I found I had trouble reading even under optimal light conditions. But that all wore off.

2. Slate runs a daily trivia contest, which I always take. Today's was on history, and not only did I get all six questions correct, which is not unprecedented, but this time - and still so, three hours after I took the test - I had the highest score, which is unprecedented. (You get extra points for being fast, and I'm rarely fast.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

reading the biography of an author I don't like

Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes by Rob Wilkins (Doubleday, 2022)

The most useful thing I learned from this book is that I'm not the only person out there who doesn't like Terry Pratchett's fiction. His own mother refused to read any of the gift copies she was given, and once when the driver of a car she was in put on a Pratchett audiobook, she almost immediately reached over from the passenger seat and turned it off.

Once when Pratchett was in Hollywood, he attended a screening of the not-yet-released movie Shrek. To my mind, Shrek is the perfect animated comedy, but Pratchett didn't care for it. That's appropriate, or at least symmetrical: I don't like what he thought was funny, and he didn't like what I think is funny.

Clearly we had very different senses of humor, because I find his writing desperately failing at a quest to be humorous. However! In this book I found a Pratchett joke that actually made me laugh, first of its kind. As a 17-year-old tyro journalist, Pratchett was assigned to write his paper's children's page, and he filled it with wacky inventions, including the story of a Welsh shepherd named Bedwyr and his sheepdog, Bedwetter.

OK, that was funny.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Richard M. Sherman

Here's what I had to say about the recently-deceased songwriter on the one occasion I found to bring him up:

* * *

Which reminds me that another song everybody hates except me is "It's a Small World." That was one of the Sherman brothers' Disney songs, which in turn reminds me that I watched a documentary on the brothers on Disney+. This weirdly overemphasized their differences and disagreements, so that you wouldn't realize that they kept on collaborating on songs even at the time that the documentary would have you believe they weren't speaking to each other.

I like a lot of the Sherman songs, especially those for Mary Poppins, but there are two I do purely hate the way that others hate "Small World." One of them is the Winnie-the-Pooh theme song, which is nauseatingly cutesy, and the other is "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow," which has the demerit of a catchy tune combined with sententious lyrics. "Man has a dream, and that's a start / He follows his dream with mind and heart / And when it becomes a reality / It's a dream come true for you and me." That's disturbingly unspecific. What if that dream is some industrial process which may produce a useful product but destroys the environment? And, uh, what about Hitler? There was a guy who sure had a dream, and unquestionably followed it with mind and heart, so that recipe is not necessarily a good thing, is it?

Sunday, May 26, 2024

no barbecue, man

I've just written and erased three accounts of why I needed to make an emergency scholarly visit to the local university library, so the heck with it. Let's just say that I did and that it had to do with finalizing the proofs for the next issue of Tolkien Studies. I went yesterday, and I picked that rather than Friday or Sunday (yes, the library will be open today) because of the recent article in the paper announcing a barbecue competition going on nearby, sponsored by "Famous Dave" of the eponymous bbq chain, who would be there in person. The where and when was as follows:
The contest, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. outside Famous Dave’s at The Plant shopping center on Curtner Avenue, is free and open to the public. Sampling will start at 11, and the People’s Choice voting on barbecue chicken wings will begin at 1:30 p.m.
Study that well, because it turned out to be totally misleading.

I was there by 11, and joined a not-too-long line of people in the back parking lot waiting for the opening. Expecting to be asked to pay something, I was puzzled that that didn't come up. As the event opened, we were each given a bag containing a bottle of bbq sauce and some coupons and other bling, went past another table from which we could take small bags of chips, and then to a third table where a man whom I gathered was Famous Dave himself was giving everyone small cardboard baskets with a tiny chopped-pork slider and a cup of mac and cheese. There were some drinks over on one side and tables to sit at, but that was it.

I went back to Famous Dave. "Is that it? Is there anything else?" I asked. "No, that's everything you get," he replied. "But I thought there was going to be a barbecue wing contest or something," I said. "You have to pay for the wings," he said. "They're over there," pointing to a detached area with some smokers and grills. "That's what I meant," I said: "is there anything else?"

I walked over to where he'd pointed, where I was the only customer, and asked someone behind a table. Wings won't be ready for an hour, they said. OK, it opens at 11, but the main event doesn't begin until 12 though the announcement didn't say that.

I ate my free food - eh - and went off to do my library research, which enabled me to return at 1 pm. Surely there'll be wings by then, and the event doesn't close until 4. When I arrived, large numbers of people were gathered in the area where the wings were supposed to be, but nobody seemed to be eating or serving wings. I went back to the free food table and asked the guy there now about it. He said he didn't know anything. "Well, who would know?" I asked, my usual response in that situation. That didn't produce any results. "Is there anybody in charge?" I asked. He pointed to Famous Dave, who was off by the drinks counter. I went up and asked him. "Oh, the wings are all sold out," he said. "Then what are all those people doing?" I asked. "They're waiting for the judges to issue their votes," he said.

This is about the most disorganized event I've ever attended, I muttered, and went off without any bbq.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

a quiver of books about Shakespeare

What Was Shakespeare Really Like? by Stanley Wells (Cambridge University Press, 2023)
Short book, revised transcript of four lectures, intended to convey Shakespeare's personality as deduced through his works, including the Sonnets. Best at discussing the compositional process of the plays, though it doesn't go far into how the roster of the currently available acting company constrained the writing of the plays.

Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (Cambridge University Press, 2013)
Collection of essays by various hands, defending Shakespeare against alternative authorship theories. Surprisingly sympathetic to Delia Bacon, depicted as a talented scholar driven mad by the lack of academic opportunities for women in her day. A very clear essay on the Earl of Oxford, exploring the evidence for his connection with playwriting and the theater: he had his own company of players, making it improbable that he would have been writing plays for some other company. Sophisticated discussion of other associated attribution questions in the light of the authorship controversy, and an even more daring one on lies and false attributions in the plays themselves.

Shakespeare in a Divided America by James Shapiro (Penguin Press, 2020)
Eight essays on hot spots in Shakespeare's reception in America. John Quincy Adams, though famously anti-slavery, was utterly repulsed by the inter-racial relationship in Othello, to the point of writing an article denouncing it. The young U.S. Grant was once cast as Desdemona in an army camp performance, which was cancelled due to the homophobia of the officer cast as Othello (but who did he think was going to play Desdemona in an 1845 army camp?) John Wilkes Booth's acting career in Shakespeare: he liked to play villains like Richard III and Macbeth, avoided the romantic comedies. Yeah, that sounds like him. How Kiss Me Kate dealt with changing women's roles in its day. Same thing with extramarital affairs and homosexual desire in Shakespeare in Love. Lastly, the controversy over the production of Julius Caesar which depicted Caesar as looking and acting like Donald Trump. Various indignant persons said, "What if there were one in which it were Obama?" Well, there had been one, and it passed with no controversy whatever, including sponsorship by the same companies that were so shocked, shocked, at the Trump one that they pulled out.

Nine Lives of William Shakespeare by Graham Holderness (Continuum, 2011)
One chapter each on nine ways of looking at Shakespeare - as writer, actor, working class lad, businessman, husband, lover (of both men and women), possible Catholic, and through his portraits - each divided into discussions of the known facts, the recorded traditions, and speculations. The briefest of these is the "Facts" section on Shakespeare's supposed inamorata the Dark Lady: "The documentary facts can be disposed of quickly and simply. There are none. The only certain existence of the Dark Lady is as a fictional character." But that's not all! Each chapter is followed by a fictional document or story elaborating on it, including memoirs as if written by people who knew Shakespeare, plus a pastiche Sherlock Holmes story about the theft of Shakespeare's ring from a museum, and a pastiche Hemingway story transferring the account of the Dark Lady to World War I.

Friday, May 24, 2024

news

1. My favorite Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto closed last weekend. I've been eating at Jing Jing since they opened in 1986, and it's where I took the traveling Tolkien scholars on their last visit here. Fortunately - purely by luck, because I hadn't known they were closing - I stopped in just last week for a final taste of my favorite lunch special, the braised shrimp.

1a. On the other hand, the long-empty restaurant space just opposite the San Jose State University library has finally reopened, and as a Chinese restaurant. That means I can have lunch there when I visit the library, as I often do. I tried that for the first time also last week, and it was pretty good.

2. California is on the verge of banning plastic shopping bags altogether. (The little ones you put around meats or vegetables are still OK.) I don't know how thrilled I'll be with this, because recycled paper bags are often alarmingly flimsy. But when I pick up our weekly grocery order and it comes in up to 15 plastic bags, disposing of the bags is a nuisance. They can't go in regular recycling. I've been stuffing all the rest of the bags inside one, tossing the inflated lump of them in the back seat of my car, and waiting for the next occasion - maybe once a month - when I get to the one grocery which has a recycling bin for plastic bags.

3. I'm not sure I follow all of this. But remember the recount for the local congressional race? The rule in California is that two top finishers in all-party primaries go on to the finals, but there was a tie for second place. A judge ruled that all three go on to the finals, but somebody paid for a recount (which has to be paid for here by a volunteer, usually the losing candidate). And they found a few extra ballots, but the ironies are 1) the tie was broken for the candidate who tried to stop the recount; 2) nobody knows who paid for the recount, but the money appears to be traceable back to the first-place candidate, who evidently thinks he has a better chance of winning against one opponent than against two.

3a. Also: the candidate who was kicked off the ballot, a long-serving local rep whose dreams of Congress are now at an end, quietly accepted the result. He did not send a mob storming the state capitol or anything like that. In short, he behaved like a human being.

4. A correspondent writes that the Ellen Klages episode of Jeopardy, disappeared from YouTube just after I posted a link to it, may be found in chart form on the online Jeopardy Archive. No video, but you can see all the clues and who got them right. Leaving aside brain freezes during the actual game, which I'm sure would slay me were I an actual contestant if I ever did get the buzzer, which I doubt I would, I find that I could solve about half of the 61 clues in the game, including several that none of the contestants got. I knew Jesmyn Ward's "Salvage the Bones" finds a poor Gulf coast family riding out this 2005 disaster & its aftermath even though I'd never heard of the book, because "Gulf coast" and "2005 disaster" were enough clue for me. There were two categories where I knew all five clues: "Amadeus" (a Mozart category) and "Treaties" (a historical category), even though each had one clue that flummoxed all three contestants.

5. Sumer is icumen in. Cats shed much.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

a train to Santa Cruz

I've written before about Roaring Camp, which runs narrow-gauge trains with a vintage steam locomotive on excursion runs up a mountain in the hill country above Santa Cruz. But they also run a beach train from their station down to the Santa Cruz boardwalk. I'd never taken that, but I decided it was time to try. On summer weekends they make two runs a day - the trip takes about an hour in each direction. If you come back on the same run you went out on, there's a 45-minute layover, which isn't very long; but if you go on the first run and come back on the second, you have five hours from 11 AM to 4 PM, which is long enough to have a leisurely lunch and then hang around.

So that's what I did last Saturday, before taking my car over to Aptos and attending that bassoon concert where I won the audience quiz.

The train runs through some thick redwood forests and halfway up along the side of some vertical cliffs, before descending down into Santa Cruz where it passes through an industrial district and then settles along running down the middle of a street. I'd driven that street and seen the train tracks, but I hadn't seen a train along them before. The feeling was not totally unlike that scene in Inception. The train then makes a left turn and runs - slowly, so that pedestrians can get out of the way - along the boardwalk, puffing to a halt alongside the big century-old roller coaster ride.

Physically getting off the train without the ramp they have back at the station was a little awkward (there's steps, but they're difficult), but once off, I walked back along the boardwalk, past the roller coaster and the bumper car ride and the video game parlors - I didn't even know they still had those - way over to the other end where the wharf is, which is where the good restaurants in the area are.

Adequately lunched, I sat on a bench on the wharf, reading and looking out at the beach and ocean, and about 3 began wandering slowly back towards where the train would be. I spent some time gazing at a flock of beach volleyball courts, most of which were occupied by games of two people (both sexes well represented) per side. It occurred to me, first, that two per side isn't really enough people to play an effective game of volleyball; second, that clearly the reason for playing volleyball on a beach is to facilitate making a saving hit while diving head-first into the ground. I used to play volleyball occasionally - it was the only team ball sport I was ever the slightest bit good at - but never on a beach, only on asphalt. Clearly I was missing something.

Train in the other direction, then hobbled back to my car and was off.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Ellen Klages on Jeopardy

Here it is, folks: my friend, and many of yours too, Ellen Klages as a contestant on Jeopardy today, May 22. First time I've seen anyone I actually know as a contestant on this show.

Two warnings, though:

1. It's a very defective recording. The video freezes, though the audio is OK, throughout the second half of the first round, including the contestant interviews, and Final Jeopardy is mostly cut off. I tried three different postings of the episode and they're all like that. If you find a better one, let me know.

2. Ellen got shellacked and came in third. The other two were faster on the buzzer, that was the main reason.

ETA: 3. And now they've all been taken down anyway. Puh.



As on other recent occasions when I've watched Jeopardy, I'm dismayed by the number of items that none of the contestants knew but I did. There were 6 of them this time, including one which Ellen got wrong, aargh! But would I have been able to do any better under the pressure of the actual show? I doubt it. So a warm round of applause to Ellen for doing her damndest.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Bing preview

I received an invitation to a 'preview party' for the next season from Stanford Live, the organization that puts on concerts at the Stanford campus, and I decided to go. About 60 people were there at Bing, Stanford's keynote concert hall. I think the event was mostly aimed at big donors, but there was room for at least one press person - me - though I didn't recognize anybody else as a classical journalist.

The administrators spent an hour describing the themes of the season and specific concerts therein, accompanied by video clips of the performers and, in two cases, the performers live themselves for sets of about ten minutes each. That was what most enticed me.

Katherine Goforth is a trans woman classical singer, the first I've encountered, though there was an interesting article about trans opera singers in SFCV recently. In speaking voice and in presentation - not just appearance, but how she moved and carried herself - like other trans women I've met Goforth was entirely a typical woman. But her singing voice was that of a baritone. (Her publicity says tenor, but it sounded baritone to me.) It had the rougher texture more characteristic of men's voices.
It was not disconcerting if you were expecting it. But trans vocal singing range is an interesting problem, and the SFCV article discusses how its practitioners deal with it.
Goforth's repertoire was Mahler songs accompanied by piano. One of the season themes is "Mahler and the Second Viennese School," be still my heart.

Edmar Castañeda is a Colombian folk-jazz harpist. (Harp is another of the season themes, and judging from one of the recorded clips of other performers, Philip Glass etudes sound really good on harp.) I can't describe Castañeda's style except to note that he pats the strings a lot.

Afterwards there was a reception in the lobby, with drinks and a small snacks table with berries, melon slices, and crunchy little cookies. You could pick up a copy of the printed season brochure straight from the boxes the printer delivered them in. I noticed two things of particular interest. 1) The entire London Symphony Orchestra is coming to play Mahler's roof-blasting First Symphony in Bing's tiny space. Something is going to blow a gasket. 2) Despite claiming that it's disbanding entirely, the St. Lawrence, Stanford's resident professional string quartet, is carrying on with its traditional once-per-term Sunday afternoon concerts, with the three surviving quartet players joined by others for chamber music collective programs like the others they've done recently. This year, two string sextet concerts and a collaboration with a student cello ensemble.

Monday, May 20, 2024

concert review: Peninsula Symphony

I hadn't covered the Peninsula Symphony for the Daily Journal yet this season, so I reviewed their big blowout season finale, big grand extroverted - and also very well-known - works by Sibelius, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky. Performed with all the panache the orchestra could summon, except that the guest pianist in the Grieg Concerto, Jon Kimura Parker, wanted to be fairly quiet and ruminative.

At the pre-concert talk he told an amusing story of his first performance of this concerto. He's originally from Vancouver BC, and went off to attend Juilliard. Soon after his arrival, one Saturday he got a phone call from the Vancouver Symphony, saying that they knew he was a rising local pianist, and hoping he'd be available for a concert next spring. Parker was impressed to hear from the orchestra he'd grown up listening to. But when they asked, "Do you know the Grieg Concerto?", if he said "No, but I'm a really fast learner," he was sure they'd cancel the invitation. So he said "Sure, I know it well." And they said, "Great. Our guest conductor, Harry Ellis Dickson, will be in New York on Tuesday; you can play it for him then."

Uh-oh. Parker ran out and bought the printed music, then disappeared into a Juilliard practice room for three days. He was a fast learner; by Tuesday he had the first movement practiced and memorized; not so much the rest of the piece. When he met Dickson, he put him off by offering to play the Beethoven Appassionata Sonata, which he did know well and which is half an hour long. Finally, Dickson said, "Let's hear the Grieg now." Parker started, and halfway through the first movement Dickson waved him to stop. "OK, that's enough," he said. "See you in March."

By which time, of course, Parker had learned the whole concerto, and did well enough that Dickson invited him to play it with his home orchestra, the Boston Pops, of which he was assistant conductor.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

concert review: Santa Cruz Chamber Players

I ventured down past Santa Cruz to a tiny church perched on a hilltop on the fringes of Aptos - a town that already consists mostly of fringes - for one of the quaint little events that this concert series specializes in. It turned out to be far better performed than the last time I heard this rubric over a decade ago, but then the personnel were entirely different.

Concert director Ivan Rosenblum, a pianist formerly an instructor at UCSC, had decided to put on a concert in celebration of the bassoon, an instrument that proverbially "don't get no respect." For a soloist he recruited Michelle Keem, the new principal bassoon with the Santa Cruz Symphony. She was an excellent performer, and made fewer breathy or grunting noises than any other woodwind player I've sat so close to - did I mention this was a tiny church? - at a concert.

Keem began with a bassoon arrangement of a C.P.E. Bach sonata for unaccompanied flute, and the rest of the bassoon music was trios for bassoon, clarinet, and piano, with Rosenblum on piano and local notable Erica Horn on clarinet. Glinka's Trio pathetique sounded more like Mozart or a bel canto operatic duet than like the echt-Russian music Glinka's better-known for. A trio by Bill Douglas, a jazz performer who also works the classical side, had no more than a touch of jazz and was very agreeable. One by Rosenblum himself, from his student days in the 60s, records his rebellion against the serialist hegemony of the day by placing counterpoint against dissonant piano chords but ending with a consonance. And Mendelssohn's fussy little Concert Piece No. 1 for clarinet and basset horn, with the latter arranged for bassoon.

Plus some tiny pieces for unaccompanied clarinet by Stravinsky, and a couple short piano pieces commenting on the program: a sad little elegy by Fanny Mendelssohn, which couldn't have been her response to her brother Felix's death because, pace Rosenblum, she died six months before him instead of the other way around; and one by C.P.E., who, again pace Rosenblum, wasn't J.S.'s eldest surviving son - that was W.F.

* * *

But that wasn't all. To give the bassoon its due respect, the concert began with an audience participation quiz. Keem played three solo passages from the bassoon's orchestral repertoire. If, after hearing them all, someone in the audience could identify all the works, they'd get a free ticket to one of next season's concerts.

I guess I was the only person to raise my hand, because I was called on, and everyone seemed very impressed that I got them all right. Rosenblum asked, "Are you by any chance a bassoonist?" and I replied "No, I've just been listening to classical music since I was shorter than that bassoon." (A bassoon is about 4 1/2 feet tall, if you're curious.)

And indeed, I could have identified these pieces as easily when I was 12 as I could today, though I didn't say that. I'd been expecting something like the bassoon melody that opens the finale of Shostakovich's Ninth, but the choices were, I thought, dead easy. But since everyone else was so impressed at my identification skill, I'm giving you a chance. I've managed to excerpt and strip the ID off recordings of the three, and here they are.
  1. Number 1
  2. Number 2
  3. Number 3
First accurate reply in comments gets the star.

I didn't drive all the way to Aptos just for this concert. I had another errand in the area and picked this day because it coincided with an agreeable concert. What else I was doing, I'll tell you later.

Friday, May 17, 2024

concert review: South Bay Philharmonic

B's second concert as a member of the viola section of this community orchestra. The players communicated the charms of both Florence Price's Dances in the Canebrakes and Gabriel Fauré's Dolly Suite. Antonín Dvořák's Symphonic Variations was another matter: it's probably mostly the composer's fault that it wanders around directionless for most of its length. Unity of ensemble was this orchestra's biggest virtue, though it often took a few measures to get this into shape at the beginning of a movement or, in the Dvořák, in successive variations.

As an addition to the program, a string quartet made out of regular orchestra players performed a movement from a Haydn quartet in a sprightly manner, plus an arrangement of "Yellow" by Coldplay, which I infinitely preferred to the original, and which came out - as a lot of recent pop songs do when played by classical ensembles - sounding rather minimalist.

The Dolly Suite has a quaint origin. It's formed out of what were originally piano pieces that Fauré wrote to amuse the young daughter of his mistress, a girl nicknamed Dolly (real name, Regina-Hélène). The movement titles include a couple that sound as if they're cat references, but they aren't. "Mi-a-ou" isn't a cat sound, it's the infant Dolly's attempt to say the name of her elder brother Raoul. The "Kitty Valse" isn't about a cat either. Kitty (actually Ketty) was the name of the family dog.

Footnote: After her affair with Fauré had run its course, the mistress, whose name was Emma Bardac, ran off with Raoul's piano teacher, whose name was Claude Debussy. They had a daughter of their own, whose nickname was Chouchou (real name, Claude-Emma), and the piano pieces that Debussy wrote to amuse her form his Children's Corner Suite.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

this is amusing

It seems that the professional women's basketball league, experiencing an upsurge in popularity, is starting new teams, and the one here is to be called the Valkyries.

Good name for a women's sports team, I thought, especially one in a game that requires a lot of bounding around; but the result has been a flood of queries to Google as to what "valkyries" might mean.

Oy. Haven't they ever heard this?

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

this is just to say that

I have sworn eternal hostility against every claim that Apple device interfaces are "user-friendly." A more frustrating, illogical, incomprehensible, inconsistent screen I never hope to see. Bah.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

concert review: Mission Chamber Orchestra

This was a difficult review to write. The MCO, already the diciest in technical quality of those local orchestras which claim professional quality, has gone distinctly downhill in that aspect since I heard them last a year ago. I suspect, though not with enough assuredness to say so in print, that the retirement of the longtime music director, Emily Ray, is responsible: her militarily-precise conducting style kept them pretty firmly in line.

I felt I would be remiss if I didn't mention the problems honestly. But the performances were still enjoyable and effective, and I had to emphasize that too. I hope I managed this balance. At any rate, the editors did very little tinkering with the text, so they must have judged it a satisfactory report.

Monday, May 13, 2024

sort of like KFC

A while ago I came across somewhere what purported to be the original recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. I remember the KFC of my childhood, much tastier than the stuff they have today, so I saved it in my recipe book, but I didn't pull it out until now, when the prospect of an evening's dinner at home on my own made it feasible to try the rather elaborate directions.

I bought a couple pounds of my favorite chicken piece, wing mid-joints, as they're called in the Japanese market which is the only place I know where you can buy a package without having to get drumettes along with them, lined up the other ingredients, turned on my little portable deep fryer, and set to work.

First you soak the chicken for half an hour in a buttermilk and egg mixture. The recipe is for a full 8-piece regular chicken, and my wing flats were less than that, but I had to make a double helping of the mixture to cover all the chicken.

On the other hand, I had more than enough of the mixture featuring the famous eleven herbs and spices. I already had ten of these in my pantry, and the last was easy enough to get. You take varying amounts, usually a tbsp, of each, totaling about a cup of material altogether, and mix it with two cups of flour. Dredge the chicken in the bowl of the mixture, let it sit again for another half hour, and it's ready to cook in small batches.

The recipe said fry at 350 for 15-18 minutes, but wing flats, which I've fried before, are very small and don't take nearly that long. I tried the first batch for 8 minutes, and found the coating was a dark brown, not the "medium golden brown" the recipe states. I then tried a batch for 5 minutes, which is closer to my usual frying time for flats. The meat, when I tasted it, was juicier because not overcooked, but the coating was just as dark.

It didn't taste much like KFC. The seasoning was faintly reminiscent, but not nearly enough so to have been worth the trouble of assembling a small army of spice jars to make it. And the coating, besides being rather dark-tasting, was hard and crisp, not the soft and dangly of traditional KFC. It was good chicken, but not very akin to KFC.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

a talent to annoy

Compilations of annoying things that people do never include this one, but it's happened to me more than once.

A group of people (not co-workers in an office, but e.g. a committee of volunteers, with other things in their lives) needs to hold a meeting. Careful planning is done to ensure it's an acceptable and feasible date: either it's discussed extensively at a previous meeting, or through one of those online apps that enable people to say what times they're available.

Then somebody complains that they can't make that date. Either they weren't part of the previous discussion, or their plans have changed, or something.

So the organizer makes a unilateral decision to change the date of the meeting, without checking with anybody else as to whether it suits them. And this after the elaborate procedure to try and establish a good date the first time!

Well, guess what: I have a conflicting engagement. Do I register my own objections? In this case, my conflict is unimportant: I can just cancel it, though I wouldn't have said I was available on this date if I'd been asked the first time. So I don't object: I can't feel arrogant enough to put the group through another date-setting hassle for a trivial reason.

In another case, I then went to great lengths to change my engagement on the new meeting date to the only other possibility, the old meeting date; and I only complained when the organizer then changed the date back again for equally arbitrary reasons. I said I cannot remain part of this committee if it's going to be run in this manner.

It's not just that a carefully-planned process can be overturned if it doesn't work for one person; it's not that the date couldn't be changed again if necessary; it's that the organizer made a unilateral decision, suddenly dropping the previous principle of being generally consultative.