Archive for June 2008

Up For Air

Wow.  We’re down to our last hour in our sweet little abode here in Ashland.  I set the bar pretty high for quantity, if not quality, in the Our Town review, and just couldn’t muster the same level of effort for the other plays.  I had promised my mom I’d post faithfully, and here we are.  Well, the poor woman watched me go through high school, so the incomplete-on-it’s-way-to-an-F shouldn’t be a shock.

Our schedule here didn’t leave a ton of time for quiet reflection, although less drowsing in the mornings might have yielded some results.  Typical day: roll out of bed at 9:30 or 10, coffee & toast, then off into the woods for the day’s hike.  We’d hike 8-10 miles, plan to be back in town by 5 or 5:30, and ravenous for dinner.  Our play for the day would start at 8:30, and we’d be back in our lodging by 11:30.

The weather was marvelous for both hiking and for watching plays under the stars.  I have a ton of photos, which I’ll process into html-able bites over the next couple of days.

One early casualty of the week was my Canon S3 IS (I had given it an unwarranted promotion to S5 in my post last week ).  I let the batteries get depleted, and on our Tuesday hike the lens would not retract.  When I got back to town and put in fresh batteries, it still wouldn’t retract, giving me a “lens error/restart camera”.  Of course, it wouldn’t let me restart the camera, and the wisdom of the internet suggests that it needs to go to Canon for repair.  It should still be under warranty, but it’s a pain to do the shipping, etc.

Luckily, I had my new A720 along and, althought the zoom and some of the other creature comforts of the S3 are missing, I got a pretty decent set of photos.

Well, it’s checkout time, and we’re packed for a sprint to the Medford airport.  See you on the other side.

Our Town

We saw Our Town by Thornton Wilder last night in the outdoor Elizabethan theater.  I thought I remembered seeing this play sometime when I was in high school, but maybe I only read it.

It’s a 3-act play set in the small New Hampshire town of Grover’s Corners, in the years between 1901 and 1913.  From the start, a couple of oddities strike you.  The set is completely bare.  I read that Wilder specified this because he wanted the personal interaction to dominate the audience’s consciousness.  The other device that jars you is the presence of a meta-character called Stage Manager, who introduces the play, shepherds the plot along and offers other commentary.  It’s as if one of Shakespeare’s Prologues was the nephew of the director, and got a longer part written for him as a result.  The danger of this device is that one might suspect that the Stage Manager is there to rescue what otherwise is weak dramatic material.

I think the intent, however, is to provide an emotional buffer between the audience and the characters, to make the experience of this play more of an academic exercise in anthropology and psychology than an immersion in plot and circumstance.  This is reinforced at some point when the Stage Manager brings forth a professor to elucidate the historical development of the town.  (this hits a comic moment when the professor chooses to start his narrative in the Pleistocene Era).

In snippets I’ve read from Wilder about the play, he’s making a concerted effort to move away from the particular and towards the universal, and these two devices (the bare set, the Stage Manager) seem to be part of that effort.  I have to say that it works very well.  We’re left with the bare facts of how generations accrete: two families raise two children, those children meet, court and marry and eventually everybody dies.  (the last scene is set in the town graveyard.

From my memory of the play, I was expecting something of a Norman Rockwell painting of small town life, and I suspect it may have been staged that way the time I saw it.  If I actually saw it.  And you do get a sense of generational and social connection peculiar to small towns.  But you also see, and the playright intends for you to see, how people’s expectations get cropped in order to fit the mold.  We only see one person who actually moves away, and the “out West” he moves to turns out to be Buffalo.  Another character that doesn’t fit, the church choir director, town drunk who evinces some thwarted artistic airs, commit suicide and is judged to “not be made for small-town life.”

The graveyard setting is the third strange aspect of the play.  It shows that everybody eventually leaves town, one way or the other.  Death doesn’t seem to be a strictly binary experience.  The folks in the graveyard can still observe life in the town.  But their interest in the events of the living seems to fade as their responsibility for influencing events is relieved.  A newly-dead character, not yet inured to this separation, wishes to relive a day of her life.  The more experienced dead advise her against it, but she returns anyway and is taken aback at how absorbed in the quotidian, the everyday, the living are, and returns to her grave unsatisfied.  The lesson we’re to take from this, I guess, is to try to maintain a heightened awareness during our brief days.

Day 1 - Loafing

Not much intellectual challenge to our first (well, truncated) day here in Ashland.  We checked into our digs - a sweet little house nestled up against Ashland Creek, and I immediately felt my mom’s absence, since the three of us have lodged here for the last 3 years or so in Ashland.  So, I called her and checked up on her recovery.  As it happened, she’d played bridge in the morning, and was resting up.

We walked over to the Ashland Co-op and bought groceries.  I perceived that, despite spending over $80 for staples, there was nothing that could remotely be called “dinner” amongst our gleanings, and followed my intuition with inquiries that led to our repast at Standing Stone Brewery, where I dined on a buffalo burger.

Following dinner, we stopped into the liquor store (hey, we had to go back to the house to put the half of Mrs. Perils’ steak sandwich that we boxed in the fridge, and the liquor store was on the way).  It’s a treat to buy our favorite vodka, Crater Lake Vodka, here in Oregon - it’s cheaper than in Washington, plus there’s no sales tax here in Oregon.  However, tonight I discovered a companion product that just might have to become the official beverage of Perils of Caffeine in the Evening (as always, click any photo to enlarge):

(j/k.  I don’t think I could actually put something like this in my mouth)

Our lodging is set amongst a collection of little art galleries, and as we headed out for a post-prandial hike up the Ashland Creek watershed, this whacked-out Honda Civic parked in front of our complex:

It had what appeared to be a 9-hole golf course on its roof, but the golfers were not your standard country-club fare:

And the back end…with a sufficient slug of weed, you could stare at all the bric-a-brac in rapt fascination until you starved to death. Or until the owner moved the car (assuming that you noticed that the owner moved the car).

As we emerged from the creek and headed back to the house, the setting sun emblazoned the west-facing hills above the town. The bump on the upper right is Grizzly Peak, and we’ll be hiking there sometime in the next few days:

Flyin’

We’re (finally) sitting in the Alaska Airlines BoardRoom, awaiting our flight to Medford.  We don’t have a play tonight, so we’ll just relax around town, maybe hike up Ashland Creek and cool down.  Weather looks to be sunny and mid-80s all week.  I was having brainlock trying to remember how to pack for warm weather, non-business travel.  Shorts and t-shirts were finally revealed at the back of the closet and hiding underneath fleece and wool in my dresser drawers.  I kid myself that they’ll fit when the time comes.

Our son and his girlfriend arrived at the house last night after 3+ months on the road, looking ripped after rock climbing their way through Joshua Tree, Zion, Yosemite and points in between.  Coincidentally, they spent last week in Ashland with some of our son’s old high school classmates, and gave us some info on the plays they saw.  Hated to miss them there, but I’m sure it’s more fun with one’s peers.

OK, we’re off to board.  More from the sunny south later.

Consumer Fever

For a couple years now, I’ve been shooting photos with a Canon S5 IS.  I love the 12x optical zoom, the awesome movie capability, the super-macro mode and a whole lot else about it.  It’s larger than your usual Point and Shoot, but a lot less bulky than a full-on digital SLR.  My only problem with it has been that Canon did not, and will not, make one of their nifty waterproof cases for it.  This puts a serious crimp in my ability to take it along in my kayak.

A while ago, I invested in what I thought would be a reasonable solution, a waterproof “bag” with a long snoot that accommodates the zoom lens.  In practice, the bag has been difficult to use because it’s tough to operate most of the controls on the camera, starting with the on-off switch.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my paddling buddies scored an enviable package on Craigslist - a Canon G7 and a waterproof case for $400.  The G7 (and its successor, the G9) has a 6x optical zoom and a lot of the functionality of my S5 IS, plus the waterproof case.  I started obsessing about trying to find a similar deal.  I bid and lost numerous eBay auctions, and combed the Craigslist landscape frequently, hoping against hope to encounter a deal as good as my buddy stumbled into, either for the G7 or the G9.

At some point, I was reading a user review of the G7, and the review referenced another Canon as a lower-priced alternative, the A720 IS.  As luck would have it, Seattle Craigslist had an A720 available for $175 (the going eBay price for the G7 seemed to be about $425), AND Canon makes a waterproof case for it.

I nailed down the Craigslist offering, passing my trusting currency to a stranger in the parking lot of an AM-PM minimart on the east side.  I then went to eBay and nailed a “buy-it-now” deal for a compatible waterproof case, whose progress westward from New Jersey I track periodically on the UPS website.

The A720 actually has some advantages over the G7 for my purposes.  First and foremost, the price and the eerie instantaneous availability on Craigslist;  plus, it uses AA batteries instead of the G7s proprietary Canon battery.  I learned on our trip to Joshua Tree a couple of years ago that a camera with a proprietary battery can be a problem if you’re out somewhere where you don’t have access to electrical outlets for recharging.  If a camera uses AA batteries, you can carry a supply of commercial batteries to supplant your rechargeables.

So, by the time I get back from Ashland, I will have a sweet setup for kayak photography, as my waterproof case will have completed its cross-country journey (I resisted the temptation to purchase expedited delivery).

Here’s a sample of the A720’s zoom capability:

Of course, embedded in this consumerist bliss is the inevitable worm of desire:  The feature set on the A720, combined with its smaller size, may start to compel me to carry it, instead of the S5 IS, on my peregrinations, rationalizing that the A720’s “good enough” for most applications.  Of course, it’s not “good enough” for all applications, but how much more does the S5 bring to the party?

The logic of which leads me inexorably towards upgrading the S5 with a full-on DSLR.  This juggernaut of rationalization needs to be derailed by the reality that I’m not a professional photographer, that I use only 15% of the capabilities of my middling cameras and, back to the reason I was infatuated with the S5 in the first place, I probably won’t be inclined to carry a DSLR and a coterie of lenses on 95% of the outings that afford me most of my photographing opportunities.

The only positive of this quandary is that I’m having it about cameras, and not cars or houses.

A Little Video

We had a delightful time last night re-acquainting with Rockin’ Teenage Combo.  The venue, a little cafe in Ballard, was cozy and intimate, perfect for the acoustic set.  I was able to make some video - here’s a Spanish-sounding number that begins with a really whacky solo on the string bass, then grooves into a mesmerizing piano solo:

The band played tirelessly in the late 90s/early 2000s up and down the west coast, but it’s a hard life living out of a van and living on cover charges, and Dara finally moved back to the Tri-cities to help her mom run a restaurant, and to start a family.  PK and Olli continue to play in the area pretty frequently, and once every year or so, Dara comes to town and they put on a show.

I’ll add another video to this after my software finishes cooking it down.

(Later that same evening) Here’s an old number of theirs.  There’s a bitchin’ bass solo at about the 4:40 mark.  I apologize for the Tourette’s cinematography on these.  I was multitasking, trying to manage noshing plates, my beverage, the camera on an unreliable tripod, my beverage, actually concentrating on the music and, last but not least, my beverage:

Meanwhile, my brother in Atlanta is sending me photo and video cell phone messages from an REM concert.  There’s quite a contrast in the aural experience.  I just received a video of Losing My Religion, with my bro’s voiceover crooning, “That’s me in the spotlight, losing my erection!”  No detectable backup harmony from my SIL.

Night Owls

Seems like we’re on a cultural roll here.  Tonight, we’re off to the Ballard Jamhouse to hear a reunion engagement of a groove jazz trio that was our house band in the late 90s/early 2000s.  The group is called the Rockin’ Teenage Combo, comprised of Dara Quinn on keys, Paul Kemmish (PK) on upright and electric bass and Olli Klomp on drums.  We hired them to play for both of our 50th birthday parties, gigs that, by their mere definition, degraded their image.

I posted about them previously here, which includes some audio clips:

I’m so psyched to be hearing them again.  They’re playing the gig at the Jamhouse at 9, then playing an extended set in a loft in the SODO district.  The loft is where we held Mrs. Perils’ 50th birthday party, but I think there’s not much chance of us making the Loft scene tonight, as the gig starts at 2 am.  We’ve been to the Loft a couple of other times in the early 2000s (one time exiting just as rosy-fingered dawn revealed herself to the city), but it’s pushing it these days to get Mrs. Perils out past 9:30.

I’ll try to record some clips.

Headin’ South

Lots of water under the bridge since my last post.

Next week, for the 15th year, we’re headed to Ashland, Oregon for a week of vacation. As before, the week will include attending plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, hiking in the Siskiyou Mountains on and around the Pacific Crest Trail and general R&R.

For the last 3 years, my mom has been accompanying us, and that was the plan this year as well. However, last week she came down with some form of pneumonia and ended up in a hospital over the weekend. She’d been feeling a little punk earlier in the week, but she says she was trying to nurse herself along and be well enough to make her flight to Seattle, which would have left today (Wednesday).

She was playing bridge on Thursday morning and getting worse, though, and her friends finally ended the game and insisted on taking her to a doctor. She said, “It must have been because they were concerned about me - my cards were really crummy all morning.” Tests came back Friday, and the doc urged her to go to the emergency room.

Meanwhile, my brother, who calls her just about every day, hadn’t been able to reach her on Friday, and on Saturday called me to see if I’d spoken to her.  She hadn’t returned my call from Thursday, so we stewed a bit about what to do.  We couldn’t reach either of her neighbors.  Finally, my brother called the police to go and look.  A neighbor who had a key happened to meet them there, and they looked through the house with my brother on the phone just sure they were on a body hunt.  Later, when we found out the details, my mom was mortified that the police were in the house “when it was such a mess, with dirty dishes in the sink and everything.”

I spoke with her several times while she was in the joint, and she was getting progressively perturbed at the confinement and not being able to sleep well. By Monday, she’d had it and insisted on being released. A friend picked her up, and she’s glad to be home and feeling better, despite some discomfort working her way through a couple of drug series. I called her this afternoon, and she said, “Why aren’t you picking me up at the airport right now?”

I waited until yesterday to cancel her plane reservations, thinking that if she got stronger in a hurry, I didn’t want to foreclose the opportunity. I’ll miss her enthusiasm - she’s always thrilled at the performances and the atmosphere of the theaters and the town.

So, we now have a capacious house for the week, and we’ll need to sell or exchange her play tickets. Shouldn’t be too hard - I bought our tickets last November in the member’s presale, and they just rock, they’re all in the first 3 rows.

Here are the plays we’ll see:

  • Our Town (Thornton Wilder) - will be the first 20th-century play they’ve stage in the outdoor Elizabethan theater.
  • The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler (Jeff Whitty) - begins where Ibsen’s play ends, resurrecting Hedda so she can see about getting a re-write.
  • Othello
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream - “What happens in the forest stays in the forest”
  • Fences (August Wilson) - They’ve been doing Wilson plays from the Pittsburgh Cycle for the last 3 - 4 years, although not chronologically.
  • Coriolanus
  • The Clay Cart - a 2,000-year-old (east) Indian play.

We’ll fly into Medford Monday and return the 30th.

Right now, I’m hurtling through the work week trying to ensure that nothing seeps over into next week, so I can relax and use my laptop for repairing this dysfunctional project.

Update: - check out the blog threads from our previous trips in the sidebar.

This Post Intentionally Left Blank


You Wonder If It Was Intentional

A song you should never hear in a men’s rest room in the Minneapolis airport: Close To You.

I did Friday night, but not in that rest room.  I still had to chuckle.