Archive for the ‘Culcha’ Category.

December, Part 1

The world finally slowed down a tad, before turning on its heel and hurtling into 2010.  I’ll recap December a bit, then turn and face the new year head (and blog) on.

The month started, I think, with a cold, enough of one to make me postpone a business trip to eastern Washington.  It was still lingering a bit on a Friday afternoon when I boarded a plane for a week away from home, first to visit my mom in Toledo for a weekend, then on to Milwaukee for a week of work.

We had a really pleasant visit.  I did something over that weekend I hadn’t done in about 40 years - practiced my trumpet in the basement of the house I grew up in.  See, I’ve been hauling it on my business trips since I’ve been playing in this band, because laying off for a whole week would just kill any progress I’ve been making all fall, and our holiday concert was coming up the next weekend.  (In the hotel rooms, I put my cup mute in, sit on the floor and point the horn under the bed. On a good day, it might sound to anyone in adjacent rooms like space alien sex.)

We made a trip to visit the Toledo Art Museum.  It’s one of those venerable old civic institutions endowed by industrial barons of the gilded age (in this case, Libbey Glass), and has a surprisingly extensive collection.  I would say it’s easily twice the size of Seattle’s.  Toledo was known for a long time as the Glass City, owing to its housing the corporate headquarters of Libbey Glass, Owens Corning, Owens-Illinois and Libbey-Owens-Ford.  It’s no surprise, then, that one of its featured collections is glass art and artifacts, dating from ancient Egypt.  They opened a Glass Pavilion annex a few years ago, and we watched a glassblowing exhibition and perused the exhibits (Click any photo to enlarge):

On Sunday, I did a few odd jobs, including hanging some curtains, that required me to go out to the garage and riff through my dad’s tool shelves. They are laden with tools that date from the 40s and 50s, and the sight of them stirs some of my oldest memories. My dad was a delegator, and when he was doing some job around the house, he always wanted one of us there with him - ostensibly to learn the particular task or skill, but more to the point, to run to the garage and retrieve tools as he needed them. As I touched them, I could hear his words: “electric drill; brace-and-bit; 3-in-one oil; Phillips screwdriver (this one confused me for a while, as they called me “Philip” in my early years). The tools remain there even with the infrequent use they get now, a shrine to a doggedly resourceful DIY guy.

Lip Service

So I continue to play in a concert band.  We’re busily rehearsing for a holiday concert on Sunday, 12/20, and the trumpets just have a ton of playing to do.  Stamina could definitely be an issue, so I’ve been practicing at home a little bit longer, and working to extend my comfortable range a bit higher.  The basement spiders should be hibernating now, so I don’t think I’m disturbing their ecosystem.

Another amusing director quote: Anita, the associate director, was rehearsing a piece we’re playing called Three Klezmer Miniatures.  In places there are intricate rhythms that need to be traded back and forth between sections, and the other night we started out a little out of sync.  She stopped the band and said, “If anyone were dancing to you guys, they’d be hurting themselves.”

To get you in the mood, here’s the piece we’ll be starting our concert with (again, not our band):

Let’s Put Up The Tree, Already

At practice last night, we exchanged our TVLand music for the first burst of music for our holiday concert on December 20. The two pieces we sight-read were pretty challenging, and I think that brought us out of a post-concert daze.  One of the pieces was a movement from Gustav Holst’s Winter Suite.  It features antiphonal fanfares from the trumpets, and we experimented with placing pockets of trumpet players in various places around what will be the stage.  It was really exhilarating.  If you go here, there’s an icon you can press to hear the piece (note: that’s not our band).

I’m usually pretty late getting down with the holidays, as my slap-dash gift-giving attests, and look with disdain on the desperate cacophony of holiday commercials that seems to start right after Halloween.  But, after this last practice, my head is in December already.

Also, I finally pieced together photos and video from the OSU band reunion in September here.  It’s taken me a while to get used to the Mac multimedia stuff, iMovie and iPhoto.

Concerted Effort

My Rainbow City Band had its fall concert Friday night.  The theme was TVLand, and we played music from several decades of television shows.  You wonder what kind of petri dish that earworms incubate in?  Look no further:

  • Muppet Show Theme
  •  Star Wars Through The Years
  • West Wing
  • Brady Bunch
  • Olympic Fanfare
  • Mission Impossible
  • Golden Girls
  • Sitcom Medley

We had a “technical rehearsal” at the concert venue the previous Tuesday, in order to get used to the tighter seating, its effect on what we could hear, and to coordinate various announcements and multimedia.  I was a little worried, as it seemed our numbers only sounded good the second time we played them, and there were some technical glitches that I didn’t think actually got fixed.

I was also a little dismayed that, at that point, we’d only sold 150 of the 300 seats in the hall.

Not to worry on either count.  We had a surge of walk-up business, and had to turn a lot of people away.  And, once the curtain opened and the baton came down, we were very tight and focused.  I was thrilled with the entire enterprise.

There was one moment of peril on the night of the performance.  During intermission, the people preparing for an Archie and Edith Bunker skit discovered that no one had bought beer, which apparently was a featured part of the skit.  I volunteered to run up the street and buy a can, and off I went.   As I was running at a dead flat sprint out of the convenience store on the corner of Broadway and Madison with a pair of Budweiser tallboys dangling from my hand, I passed an idling SPD squad car, and my skin started to crawl.  I’m pretty sure that it was the tux that saved me.

I’ve been around the writer’s block before, you know…

I’ve been busy, as you may have guessed, with business business and personal business.  Just returned from a week in Milwaukee, and look forward to making good use of the remaining weeks of summer.  The weather was very pleasant in Milwaukee, and I got out on a few bike rides.  A lot of folks bike around the area where my client and hotel are (north of the city in Glendale/Whitefish Bay/Fox Point), and seeing them cruising around prompted me to buy a bicycle last year and store it at my client’s plant.  Here’s my ride on Wednesday, starting from my hotel parking lot.  About a mile of the ride was on something called Fairy Chasm Road.  Charming name, but puzzling - I saw no fairies, and no chasm, either (maybe they meant sarchasm, which I normally pride myself in recognizing).

As much as I’d like to remain in denial that summer is hurtling to a close, Labor Day is 3 weeks away, and with it comes my annual haj to Columbus to play and march with my OSU Alumni marching band.  It means that within days, I need to break out my trumpet, slink down into the basement and start making the unworldly sounds that a year’s absence portends. I have my plane tickets, as do my two younger brothers, and we’ll hook up with our mom for our Buckeye debauch.

Also, I really need to do something about this laptop.  The screen is faltering - won’t come on sometimes when I boot, and when it does, a little black spot starts to grow in the lower right corner, and the border in that area is as hot as a stove burner.  (I can plug a separate monitor in with no ill effect).  I’m still back & forth with the Dell vs. Macbook issue.  I’m starting to conclude that I’ll be indifferent to the added Mac-ness and will be frustrated by any impediments to running my Windows programs.  And, as Dell tells me every day in my Outlook inbox, “Hurry - the Dell order you saved is about to expire!”  And I worry that they’ll never let me enter another one.

I managed to finally finish a book last week, after 3 or 4 months of incomplete assaults on myriad innocent victims.  The book, Updike’s The Widows of Eastwick, is a 30-years-on sequel to The Witches of Eastwick.  I first encountered Updike when I read Rabbit Run in the 70s.  The Rabbit series, 4 novels written at 10-year intervals, is probably his most recognizable work, although he was incredibly prolific, writing art and literature reviews as well as a cornucopia of his own work.  The Rabbit series to me was like the progression of movies from Black & White through Technicolor and Cinerama to HD; the quality of prose, and of content as Updike gained skill and life experience, burgeoned with each novel. Some have complained of a perceived misogyny in Updike’s oeuvre; I’m not prepared to debate that here, though I don’t dismiss the perception out of hand.  I will say that I am wont to take delight in occasionally positing that “Rabbit is Everyman” to certain of my female bookie acquaintances;  it’s the feminist’s worst nightmare.

In the Widows, the three are in their late 60s/early 70s, and are widowed by the husbands that enabled their diaspora from Eastwick.  They are managing adjustment periods, and, little by little, begin to reconnect via telephone and travel opportunities.  They eventually decide to summer in Eastwick in order to try to recapture some of the excitement their synergy there had afforded, a tacit admission of the failure of their fitful individual attempts at widowed fulfillment.

Like wines in the cellar opened  a bit late, they give whiffs of their former potency, but then languish in unremarkable inertia.  The bodies that they used and abused so cavalierly in the 70s now consume an inordinate amount of their physical and psychological attention:

Jane says to Alexandra (on the phone): “There hasn’t been a day in thirty years you haven’t walked through my mind, lightly clad and quite majestic.”

“How nice, Jane. You haven’t seen me lately.  My face is crackled like an old squaw’s with too much sun, and I’ve gained weight.”

“Listen, doll: we’re ancient. It’s the inner woman that matters now.”

“Well, I’m an inner woman wrapped in too much outer.”

Relationships with men are similarly waning.  Since her husband’s death, Alexandra has been sorta-courted by Ward, a neighbor:

 From there, her mind wandered to why Ward, who had such a handsome genial mouth really, affected that silly little patch of bristle just under his lip.  She was afraid, with enough red wine some evening, she would come out against it, and if he defied her and kept it or complied and shaved it off, it would push them either way into an intimacy she wasn’t ready for.  She didn’t want to get into keeping score with a man again, the unspoken tussle of favors given or withheld, of largesse and revenge.

That last sentence is what I love in Updike: with a deft economy, he universalizes an otherwise mundane transaction.

I have to indulge in another citation, which Updike seemingly larded with loving detail into the novel for no other purpose than because he loved the musical piece as much as I do. They’re listening to one of those public radio programs that is mc’ed by someone with carte blanche to play tunes and pontificate:

 ”And now another sentimental treat,” he growled, “a platter to bring tears to the rheumy eyes of us over a certain age-Bunny Berigan, who played in the Miller band as well as for Paul Whiteman, the Forseys, Benny Goodman, and his own short-lived aggregation-Rowland Bernard Berigan, born in Hilbert, Wisconsin, and dead at thirty-three in New York City, of cirrhosis of the liver, favoring us with his singing voice as well as his moody, stuttering trumpet work, doing his signature rendering of ‘I Can’t Get Started,’ melody bu the great Vernon Duke, lyrics by the ditto Ira Gershwin, recorded in 1937.”

I’m probably a couple of ticks younger than the mc, but this song, with it’s soaring trumpet coda, moistens this trumpet-player-wannabe’s eyes every time.  Those of you who have thrilled to my Valentine podcasts will remember that I included I Can’t Get Started in my 2008 oeuvre (it’s the fourth song in the podcast):

The Widows, then, is a story about aging, decline and death, yes, but also about the powerful vitality that abides us unto the grave, and an admonition to act on that vitality whenever we have the capacity.  The narrative wanders now & then, but the guy was 77 and a year short of dying.  Still, there are strong whiffs of the Updike vintage here.  And for those of you who couldn’t forgive Updike for allowing Rabbit to screw his daughter-in-law, you may take some solace in one of the widow-witch’s extended dalliance with a 30-something boy-toy (even if it’s a Chucky - sort of toy).

Don QuickOats

Not sure if I’ll get all, or any more, reviewing done, but here’s one, anyway:

It’s a testament to the juvenile nature of my mind that, every time I hear “Don Quixote”, it reformulates in my head as “Donkey Hottie”, which is very near the title of the first porn movie I saw as a freshman in college.

The task of staging this rambling novel in two hours seems impossible (as did the task of staging Crime and Punishment with 3 actors in 90 minutes, which we saw at Intiman earlier this spring).  I’ve never read it; my exposure is limited to the tedious translation of parts of it in high school Spanish, a production of Man of La Mancha in college and bedtime anecdotes as Mrs. Perils read both volumes a couple of years ago.

Since most know the basic story line, however, the playright’s task was to select 3 - 4 episodes that would best illustrate the main themes.  The short story is that an old man has so besotted himself with romantic novels of knights-errant and chivalry that his friends and caretakers have concluded that he’s become unhinged from reality, and summon the priest to rescue him from the grip of the poisonous fiction.Instead of succumbing to their ministrations, he outfits himself in various household metallic gewgaws, recruits his neighbor Sancho Panza as squire, and sets out in search of conquest.

The intensity and vividness of Quixote’s fantasies lends itself to conflating these imaginings with the act of writing.  In the play, this is pretty explicit, and Quixote prides himself in being able to confront a perilous situation, say, “that’s not how this is supposed to be” and basically re-write the outcome.  This works a couple of times, and then he confronts a situation with characters that he simply can’t control.  Each time he re-writes a situation, it morphs into something he hadn’t foreseen.

Cervantes himself appears as a character in several incarnations, and is not exactly sympathetic to what appears to be a writer’s plight. In fact, Cervantes sits back and heckles his hero at many critical points.

It’s a sometimes-hilarious romp with moments of serious epiphany regarding the rejection of life as it is vs. what you think it should/could be, and the aging process, with some satisfying sotto-voce swipes at the Catholic hegemony.  And it’s easy to be swept up in the Impossible-Dream vs. grinding reality upon which both the play and the novel trade.

However, there’s a dark side to the idea of his messianic quest here that kept needling me.  I had a literature professor who disdained the Romantic movement, positing that it provided the central myths that the Nazis invoked in their theories of master race.  And Quixote is invoking an idealized Spanish era to try to gather followers in his quest.  The only person who actually follows him is Panza, and I think he does so not because he believes in his master’s fantasy as much as that he simply wants to shirk his duties on the farm.  Still, people are put in peril due to Quixote’s exercises.  You start to wonder how, with a strikingly similar starting point, Hitler succeeded and Quixote failed.

But that dark side is in my head, and nowhere to be found in the play.  It was staged outdoors in the Elizabethan theater, under balmy, starry skies.  I have to remark upon a hilarious scene wherein one of the long-time actors in the company, Robin Goodrin Nordli, lurchingly sneaks into a bedroom shared by Quixote, Cervantes (in mufti) and Panza, intending to jump Cervantes’ bones but instead alighting upon the indignant (and immediately enraged) Quixote.  If you go, watch for this scene.

Culchah, Again

So, I fly home tonight (Friday), arrive near midnight.  My mom will fly into Seattle from Toledo tomorrow evening, and on Monday she, Mrs. Perils and I will fly south to Medford, OR to make our annual haj to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Check any of the “Ashland” categories in the sidebar to see what we’ve done in prior years.

To recap, we started going to Ashland when our son was in middle school and a group from their school would attend the Festival.  After he graduated, we bought our own membership in the Festival and continued to attend each year.  We’ve found so many other interesting things to do there that we’ve kept adding days to the trip.

This year, we’ll be seeing:

I know it looks like a lot of dead time, spreading 8 plays over a week  (we fly back to Seattle the following Monday), but we are usually very busy, heading out of town for hikes and other adventures.  It’ll be really nice to get a whole week off of work, throttle back, maybe actually read a book.

Saturday Studiousness

I lolled around in bed this morning until 11, alternately reading a novel and cruising the morning papers on my laptop.  I used a long-overdue haircut appointment as a catalyst to get out of the house for most of the afternoon.

After my haircut, I walked to a cafe, bought my second espresso of the day and settled in with my book again, determined to get the first 100 (of its 400+) pages read, just to establish a beachhead.  The novel is The Virgin In The Garden by A. S. Byatt, and it’s this fortnight’s book club selection.  It’s dense with meticulous description and deliberate pacing, much in the mode of Iris Murdoch, whom Byatt admires.  It lacks the romance and interpersonal sizzle of the more accessible and popular Possession, but I’m drawn to its intricacies.  I’m also seeing a little hint of Gravity’s Rainbow in its delving into parapsychology and mathematical puzzling, but that may prove to be a mistake as I advance.

Mission accomplished, I set out for a little stroll around the ‘hood.  Things are blooming an blossoming all over, and I walked through this metaphorical tunnel between winter and spring (Click photos to enlarge):

I passed an apartment window that had an interesting table decoration. When life deals you lemons…

When I saw the license plate bracket on this car, I knew I’d find some piece of Washington State Cougar insignia elsewhere on the car:

Tulips are coming into their own, a little bit late, here in western Washington:

More culcha tonight - we’re off to the Intiman Theatre to see a stage adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. After today’s stew of philosophical sturm and drang, I’ll be parsing tomorrow’s Sunday comics for signs of humanistic nihilism vs. moral values that can only come of religious faith. Watch out, Doonesbury!

Wherein I Actually Finish Reading A Book

I only made one New Year’s resolution this year, thought it’d give me a better shot at keeping it, and that was to write a blog entry every day.  I’m beginning to think I suck at New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve been pecking away at E. Annie Proulx’s collection of Wyoming short stories, Close Range, and finally finished it over the weekend.  The last story in this collection is Brokeback Mountain, from which the film was made.  I don’t have much basis for determining whether her characters in these stories ring true or if they tend toward caricature.  I haven’t spent that much time hanging out in ranchland cafes.  In some cases, I think she intended to caricature; in others, including Brokeback, they’re more carefully crafted and nuanced.  She keeps a chilly distance from virtually all her characters.  She’s not their buddy, and I remarked at one point that I didn’t think any of her characters got out of her stories alive.

I do have enough visual knowledge of the West to know that she’s got a wonderful talent for describing the landscape:

 You stand there, braced. Cloud shadows race over the buff rock stacks as a projected film, casting a queasy, mottled ground rash. The air hisses and it is no local breeze but the great harsh sweep of wind from the turning of the earth. The wild country–indigo jags of mountain, grassy plain everlasting, tumbled stones like fallen cities, the flaring roll of sky–provokes a spiritual shudder.

I’ve been there, and she takes me vividly back.  I also liked this description of a sunrise up on Brokeback:

Dawn came glassy orange, stained from below by a gelatinous band of pale green. The sooty bulk of the mountain paled slowly until it was the same color as the smoke from Ennis’s breakfast fire.  The cold air sweetened, banded pebbles and crumbs of soil cast sudden pencil-long shadows and the rearing lodgepole pines below them massed in slabs of somber malachite.

She may not be sympathetic to her characters, but she’s clearly taken with the country.  I see she’s published two further collections of Wyoming stories, and I’ll have to put them in the queue.  That one that already stretches to the time when I’ll be too blind and addled to read them.

I saw the very tail end of the Brokeback Mountain film in my hotel room last month, and really want to see the whole thing now that I’m finished with the story.  Also intriguing: Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) was involved in the screenplay.


We’re off to a Halloween party - I have to leave a 3-3 Penn State-Ohio State game at halftime (click to enlarge if you can stomach it)