Monday, May 22, 2017

busy weekend

I managed to do everything I planned on Saturday.

First to the downtown Redwood City street fair. They were holding a chicken wing cookoff, and I didn't want to miss that. Eleven booths in a row were cooking up their own varieties, and $10 was reasonable for eleven coupons good for one wingette each, plus a voting coupon to insert in one of the boxes on the side of the ticket booth to honor your favorite.

Some of the wings had sauces, some had rubs. One had a hugely thick breading. Some were spicy, some not. A couple of the more tangily Asian varieties had the booth workers precariously balancing tiny pieces of cucumber or sprigs of cilantro or whatnot on the wings, from which they'd fall off, usually into the bowl of sauce on the preparation counter, and if not, then in the customer's hands before you could eat it. Not really very well planned.

Also badly planned: no napkins, anywhere.

All this to the accompaniment of a very loud band down the street which was performing actually quite good cover versions of all the songs you used to hear on the top ten radio 30 years ago: "Hotel California", "Eye of the Tiger", and that song that goes "Leo, woah woah woah woaoaoah" - what is that song, anyway?

However, the wings were mostly pretty good, and that was my lunch, before heading to Bing for the afternoon to hear the Stanford Symphony in Anna Wittstruck's farewell concert as conductor. Stanford's reaped the reward of insisting she's been only the Interim Music Director these last two years, and she's leaving for a more stable job at the University of Puget Sound. (So, see, all you Seattleites: there is culture in Tacoma, or at least will be when she gets there.) She's been a good director, and we'll miss her.

She led a dynamic concert with Arturo Márquez's Danzón No. 2, a fine performance completely devoid of the flat Anglo accent that most norteamericano orchestras give it, plus a similar Cuban rumba-inspired piece, a new Dance Suite by Stanford faculty composer Giancarlo Aquilanti, and Beethoven's Seventh, all also well done. In fact all of the music was dance-like (Wagner called Beethoven's Seventh "the apotheosis of the dance"), except for a new piece by another faculty composer, Mark Applebaum, which he titled Xenophobe: In Memory of Democracy. One guess why he called it that, and one for what it sounded like.

No time for dinner: I had to rush up to the City for Other Minds' big Lou Harrison centenary concert, at Mission Dolores in the evening. I already had a ticket for this; if I hadn't, I might have fugged out, but I'm so glad I went. I've never been a big Lou Harrison devotee, but I've always enjoyed his music when I've heard it. Perhaps not so much the two astringent organ pieces that made up much of the first part - one of them was for foot pedals alone; an interesting idea, and we should have thought of applauding it by stamping our feet - but the very long second part was old Lou at his primest. It consisted of two multi-movement suites, both written in the 1970s, both in his mature modal, old-temperament, Asian-influenced, serenely spiritual style, and both accompanied by the "American gamelan", a collection of found percussion instruments that Lou and his partner Bill Colvig had conjured up out of tin cans, old oxygen tanks, and the like, wielded here by the William Winant Percussion Group, because really, who else would do it?

One was the Suite for Violin composed with Richard Dee, played by Shalini Vijayan, and the other was La Koro Sutro, a big choral setting of a Buddhist prayer translated into Esperanto. Don't laugh: Lou was a big proponent of Esperanto, which he found more useful than English in talking to Asians of various cultures on equal terms. Both works were hypnotically enchanting.

The concert began at 7:30. It ended at 10:30. Not just because the pieces were long. So was the intermission. Why? Well, the basilica was packed, but it has only 3 restroom stalls per sex, and that includes the portapotties they trucked in. Fortunately the Mission District is still hopping at 10:30 on a Saturday night, so I was able to get something to eat, finally, before heading out on a BART slowed by a derailment earlier that day.

I didn't get home until after 1 AM, but I was finally up and awake in time for a late Sunday afternoon concert in San Mateo by Viva la Musica, the choir to which L. is a lately-adhered soprano. For a volunteer choir that doesn't even audition, I thought it did more than pretty well, and I was very impressed by the recently-composed repertoire: a mesmerizing "holy minimalist" setting of St. John of the Cross' "dark night of the soul" prayer, music by Ola Gjeilo, a composer who's impressed the gizzard out of me before, beautifully matched for the choir and instruments (including a piano whose part sounded like a cross between Rachmaninoff and George Winston); and a Jubilate Deo by Dan Forrest, setting its psalmist text in about seven different languages in as many musical styles, all of them slightly florid. Forrest is less incisive or truly inspired than Gjeilo, but still workmanlike and interesting, with a lot of captivating rhythmic accents in his fast movements. The only real flaw was the addition in the Mandarin setting of an erhu, the Chinese equivalent of a haegeum, and you already know what I thought of that.

Also this weekend I had published a review from last week. I actually attempted to interview the 15-year-old soloist after the concert, though I didn't get much out of him, except a few basic facts most of which make up my second paragraph; he seems a lot more confident on stage playing the violin.

And what do you know, the choir from the last concert will be pairing with the orchestra from this one some time next year, so maybe I can review that and get two birds with one. We'll see how the schedule works out. The number of groups I've had to turn down because I'm going to be gone one weekend in June is unbelievable.

Friday, May 19, 2017

another one to cross off his list

I confess I've never read much of the criticism of F.R. Leavis. What I have read was enough to demonstrate that, rather to my surprise, Frederick Crews' famous "Simon Lacerous" parody - "Another book to cross off your list" - isn't much of an exaggeration. Leavis really was that brutally waspish - or waspishly brutal.

At one time, around the 1950s, he was the most influential critic out there. His disciples, trained by him at Cambridge or by his own earlier disciples, infected English departments everywhere, and the loaded terms seem appropriate. I've read one account by a dismayed college don whose department welcomed its first Leavisite, or tried to. He refused to engage in everyone else's give-and-take conversation about critical views. Either you accepted the master's dogma whole or you were beneath his notice.

The don emphasized that Leavis himself, whom he didn't really know, wasn't like that. But the style was in keeping with the severity of his critical views. Nowadays, I understand, Leavis is out of fashion. An age which eagerly studies even the confessed trash of literature - even if it's really only because everything else has already been done to death - on the grounds of what it says about popular taste and the publishing and societal context in which greater works were written, isn't going to have much time for a view of literature consisting of a tiny canon of unquestionable masterpieces and a vast realm of outer darkness.

But back when establishing a canon was the way to go in literary studies, it was he whose canon was the smallest and purest who became the highest priest, and that, I suspect, was the core of Leavis' appeal.

What I didn't read enough of Leavis to establish was what criteria he used to determine his canon. Which is why I was so interested to read this summary in a lucid book called Literary Feuds (Leavis' is with C.P. Snow, of course) by a state college professor named Anthony Arthur. He writes that Leavis saw great literature "as a positive moral force within society, particularly in the ways it exemplified the virtues associated with preindustrial rural life and exposed, as he saw it, the hollow and degrading materialism that the Industrial Revolution had unleashed."

And it occurred to me that anyone who holds those views ought to have loved The Lord of the Rings. Positive moral force? Check: Tolkien has one of the strongest moral visions in literature; to him, virtue consists of acting virtuous. It isn't inherent in the white hats the good guys wear. Perils threaten on every side. Contrast Tolkien with later fantasists like George R.R. Martin, for whom the absence of any moral force is treated as a feature, and you'll see the difference.

Virtues of preindustrial rural life? Check: By Tolkien's own account, the Shire is an idealized English Midlands village of his own 1890s childhood, with the Industrial Revolution entirely stripped out. The societies the hobbits visit on their journeys are equally idealized icons of cultures in the medieval literature that Tolkien studied professionally.

Exposed the hollow and degrading materialism of the Industrial Revolution? Check: The villains are manic industrialists, pouring out pollution and slag heaps everywhere. They're driven by self-aggrandizement and a lust for power and control. Saruman in particular rapes the Shire for his own creature comforts and to deny them to its inhabitants (see not just the Scouring of the Shire, but the stocks of goods that Merry and Pippin find in the ruins of Isengard).

This adds up to a book that Leavis should have been pleased to consider worthy of his canon of great literature. But somehow, you know, I suspect that he didn't. Leavis never wrote anything about Tolkien - probably he considered him beneath his notice, and the one thing that rings false in "Simon Lacerous" is the idea that Leavis would have bothered to attack Winnie-the-Pooh at such length at all - but less fastidious but equally high-minded critics like Edmund Wilson and Philip Toynbee did attack Tolkien. I don't need to cite how they violated their own loftily-stated critical principles in dismissing The Lord of the Rings - in Toynbee's case, stated not four months earlier in the same newspaper review column - because Tom Shippey has already done it in The Road to Middle-earth.

Would Leavis have done the same, had he bothered? Probably. His loss.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

This turned out to be quite the worthwhile concert.

The conductor was Roberto Abbado, new to me but a nephew of the late great Claudio Abbado (not that his bio in the program book says a word about that; they never say anything interesting.)

The first piece on the concert was also new to me, selections from a suite of incidental music to Gozzi's play Turandot, composed by Ferruccio Busoni some 20 years before Puccini's opera on the same topic.

I confess never having given Busoni's music the attention it deserves. This was impressive stuff, extraordinarily colorful, based on the winds and brass with nearly omnipresent timpani, and the strings mostly in a supporting role. It was highly rhythmic and great fun to listen to, in the same realm as another much later piece, Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber, part of which is based on - surprise! - Weber's incidental music to Turandot.

Followed by a slow drift into more familiar territory. Veronika Eberle was soloist in Schumann's soft and dreamy violin concerto, and it wrapped up with a rhapsodic performance of Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

movies not finished

A few weeks ago somebody in my FL commented on and linked to an article praising the movie Tomorrowland for its positive vision of the future. I recalled an intriguing trailer for this movie before it was released, but I hadn't heard another word about it since.

I should have taken that as a warning (it's not always deserved: some obscure movies are really good), but I borrowed it from the library.

An interminable distance in, the bratty teenage girl who appears to be the hero is, along with the viewer, desperately trying to squeeze out some clue to the plot from the even brattier pre-teen robot who's been manipulating her life, when the robot threatens to shut down if she asks any more questions.

"Yes! Do it!" I thought, and then I thought, "I have the power to do it to you. It's called the 'stop' button." So I did, and then I checked the scene selector to discover that it was still less than halfway through the movie.

Yikes! Neither the presence of George Clooney nor of Hugh Laurie (badly miscast: should have tried someone like J.K. Simmons), nor a walk-on character named Hugo Gernsback (nothing to do with the original), can save this terminally boring clunker.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Gilbert and Sullivan review

The Lamplighters, A Song to Sing, O!, written by Barbara Heroux

I can't send you to this one, because this was the last performance. Wish I could, though.

Once before, maybe 30 or 40 years ago, the Lamplighters did a show with this premise, telling the story of G&S through their music. That one was an original stage musical with the real people as characters, with the songs taken from G&S but with new lyrics written.

This one isn't like that at all. It's essentially a concert performance of highlights from the G&S repertoire, delivered mostly in chronological order and performed by a cast of ten, not consistently representing any particular original performer, in evening dress with a minimum of costuming (usually just the headgear appropriate to a pirate or policeman or poet or peer). This is embedded within a part-dialogue, part-narrated script, delivered mostly by two non-singing actors as Gilbert and Sullivan, mostly from inside shells at the sides of the stage decorated as their personal studies. Much of the script is taken directly from letters and other original sources, and it includes just enough plot summary to make sense of the songs' context.

Most of the songs (some of them abridged) are greatest hits, though there were a few surprises (Katisha's solo, which is often cut), and the requirement to cover every show has put in such gems as the "matter matter" trio from Ruddigore and the Christy Minstrels number from Utopia Limited. At the end, after the description of G&S's deaths, comes the sorrowful "The world is but a broken toy" from Princess Ida, which makes a lot more sense here than in its original place.

Occasionally a song will interact with the narration, as when Bunthorne begins his solo with his recitative "Am I alone and unobserved?" and then stopped and glared at Gilbert in his study until he retired, before going on with "I am." And the narrative description of the Carpet Quarrel is illustrated by the agitated "In a contemplative fashion" quartet from The Gondoliers, the show that had immediately preceded the quarrel.

The stagings, though simple, were always clever and imaginative (other cast members walked across the back of the stage illustrating each of the Mikado's crimes and their punishments), and the performers were the cream of the Lamplighters' estimable crop. There were two unsurpassable comic baritones, Lawrence Ewing and Chris Uzelac; two lyric tenors, Samuel Faustine and Patrick Hagen; two darker baritones, the veteran William Neely and the outstandingly strong Robby Stafford; two lyric sopranos, Jennifer Ashworth and Erin O'Meally; a Katisha/Buttercup in Sonia Gariaeff; and an alto in Cary Ann Rosko to play Psyche, Pitti-Sing, Phoebe, and Tessa (the Jessie Bond parts). It was just excellent all the way through, it was stuffed with 33 superb numbers, and it took three hours.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

stage review: Monty Python's Spamalot

The unanswerable question is, How is it that someone as fond as I of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail had never seen its stage musical spin-off, Spamalot?

Well, I have now. Palo Alto Players is doing it, and they're doing it with such zest and imagination, plus quality, that it's terrifically worth seeing it, and it finishes this weekend, so locals should act now.

It only loosely follows the movie, with just a few parts of the script directly taken from it - and several of these, notably the Black Knight and the reading from the Book of Armaments, were performed quite differently - but it was terrific fun on its own account.

There's gobs of anachronisms, and the fourth wall may never recover from the amount of breakage it took during this show. But what I liked best of the added material was the fair number of really cheap puns, like this one:

ARTHUR (explaining the Holy Grail to uncomprehending knights): It's a symbol.
ORCHESTRA: [cymbal crash]

The songs are quite lively and several, even among the new ones, are memorable, and the spirit and characterization brought even by the back-of-the-stage ensemble members was admirable. I was particularly impressed by Michael Monagle as Arthur; not only did he both look and sound like Graham Chapman, but he had the combination of comedian and straight man mixed perfectly. (Others were more incongruous, but still good: Galahad looked like Jack Black, and Robin looked like Roddy McDowall.)

One other line I particularly appreciated. Having been instructed by the Knights of Ni to seek success on Broadway, and having been informed that this can't happen unless you have some Jews, Arthur is in despair on finding any until Patsy reveals that he's half-Jewish.

ARTHUR: You never told me that.
PATSY: It's not something you say to a heavily-armed Christian.

Friday, May 12, 2017

his stomach hurts

Jim C. Hines has been writing about his depression issues, and one point he keeps bringing up is to say "Depression doesn’t make me creative or smart. My creativity, my work as a writer, these things happen in spite of my depression, not because of it. ... Please stop spreading the bullshit myth that creativity and intelligence are in some way enhanced by mental illness."

Maybe not, at least in his case. And certainly it's better for your mental health not to believe it.

But I'm thinking of two of the twentieth century's most beloved creative artists. And while I don't know whether they suffered from clinical depression or not - and neither does anybody else, because they never got diagnosed or treated for it - they did at least both suffer from profound melancholia so severe that it crippled their social lives, and they were both absolutely convinced that it was the entire engine of their creativity. Which is why they refused to have it treated.

And they may have been right, because a deep sadness and melancholy pervades their best work, and that's what people love it for - though that's along with an equally pervasive sense that you have to accept what life deals you and keep on grappling with it, no matter what happens.

No matter how much the toad work squats on your life. Or no matter how often Lucy snatches away the football.

For the two beloved creative artists I'm thinking of are the English poet Philip Larkin and the American cartoonist Charles M. Schulz. Despite the interesting fact that they were born the same year (1922), they never had any interaction so far as I know, and it would never have occurred to me to think of them together had I not happened to be browsing through biographies of both in close succession.

Then it stunned me how much they have in common, in particular how much that pervasive sadness in their work is responsible for its distinctive character, and - from the biographies - how certain they were that they'd rather live with it than risk losing the creativity they were sure was bound up with it.

Of course, there's more to it than that. Both men's intimates testify that they could be be boon companions, riotous fun to be with; but it's also true that both were totally averse to public lives and rarely appeared there - Larkin had a particular response to the idea of speaking or reading in public; he said "I don't want to go around pretending to be me" - and tended not to travel much, preferring to hole up at home. Larkin had his job as a university librarian; Schulz, who always said he was good at only one thing, had his cartoonist's studio.

There were differences, of course. Larkin, though he never got less melancholy, dried up as a poet in later life, much to his distress, while Schulz, tied to newspaper deadlines, managed to crank them out, publishing a strip daily, with only one short break, for nearly fifty years.

Another difference is that Larkin never married, though he kept a couple of women stringing along for years thinking that he might; an aversion to domestic obligations and to children seem to have been his problems here. Whereas Schulz married twice and had five children. But here's where the melancholia theory really hits the road. Schulz's biographer, David Michaelis, while attributing much of the breakdown of his first marriage to Schulz's inertia and withdrawal, also says that Schulz considered his first wife something of a bully. She was the model for the character of Lucy. Charlie Brown was always saying, "My stomach hurts"; well, Charles Schulz's stomach always hurt. After he divorced and embarked on a much happier second marriage in 1972, his stomach never hurt again, and neither did Charlie Brown's.

But here's the thing. That's also just about the time that Peanuts lost its edge and began to turn into the random mush that disfigured its later years. Maybe he was right: he needed to be unhappy to create great work. Good grief.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

scholarly book review

Tom Shippey, Hard Reading: Learning from Science Fiction (Liverpool University Press)

Tom Shippey is, of course, the renowned Tolkien scholar, famous for his lucid explanations of what Tolkien was actually trying to do, and his robust denunciations of critics who carp at Tolkien from positions of cluelessness as to either his intent or achievement.

I knew that Shippey was also interested in SF, partly because he's edited collections of both the literature and of criticism, and because I knew of his interest in SF and fandom on a personal level. Once when I got to spend most of an afternoon in his company, he spent much of his conversation with me discussing Peter Weston (to whom this book is dedicated) and his fanzines, perhaps because I was the only person Shippey would be meeting on that trip who knew Peter Weston.

But this collection of essays, some of them dating back 40 years, is the first I've read of Shippey's own criticism in the field. And sure enough, he treats it just as he does Tolkien, explaining lucidly how SF works and chiding critics who don't get it. The first chapter, following the same principle of close reading pioneered by Samuel R. Delany in The Jewel-hinged Jaw, compares a sample opening scene in an SF novel (Pohl & Kornbluth's The Space Merchants) with a similar opening "man performing his morning ablutions" scene from a mainstream novel (Orwell's Coming Up for Air), and showing how the details in each give you information about the society you're in, but whereas Orwell's are designed to fix the character in a socio-economic context known to the reader, Pohl and Kornbluth are giving you new information ("depilatory soap"? "trickle from the fresh-water tap"?) and force you to store it in your mind until you've accumulated enough to form a picture of the society you're reading about. SF readers are used to reading this way. People who find SF unreadable don't.

Even better is a set of two chapters on a novel that forms an ideal topic for Shippey's approach. Usually when an established mainstream author writes an SF novel, the results are pretty dire, because they've wandered into a field they don't know how to write. But what happens when an author of high literary reputation who does know the SF field and its conventions writes an SF novel? Well, you get a competent SF novel. But what you also get is a large set of book reviews by literary critics who'd normally never touch SF, but who review this book because of its author's high literary repute. So Shippey has dug up all such reviews of Kingsley Amis's 1976 alternate-history novel The Alteration, and analyzed their near-universal and comprehensive Not Getting It.

In another essay, Shippey uses The Alteration to examine the rules and conventions of alt-history in general. In a third chapter he compares and contrasts it with "change the past" stories, literally drawing a matrix whose axes are the desirability of changing the past, and the possibility of actually doing so (given the opportunity to try). For instance, Lest Darkness Fall and A Connecticut Yankee both treat change as desirable, but in the one it succeeds; in the other it fails.

I really appreciated a chapter on magic in SF in the Unknown Worlds tradition, which treats it as a predictable, reliable science (actually more engineering). Shippey points out that this derives, directly or indirectly, from Frazer's The Golden Bough, which codified rules of magic from societies which consider them predictable and reliable. It's an entirely different view from one treating magic as religion. He contrasts this with stories in which whether, or how well, magic works depends on who's doing it (citing Earthsea, about which he has a whole separate chapter, as an example of this). But isn't it true even in our world that some people have the engineer's equivalent of a "green thumb" and others just don't?

Another place where I felt a little cautious came in a generally excellent chapter on cultural engineering in SF. Shippey discusses two stories by Poul Anderson and Winston P. Sanders (bashfully admitting in an introduction that he hadn't realized when writing the essay that they were the same person) showing that SF authors (at least this one) realize you can't just show up and engineer a culture around: if you try, there will be blowback and other disasters. (See also Le Guin's "The Word for World is Forest," which Shippey does.) What got me was a citation of John W. Campbell getting this point by writing an editorial in ASF in 1959 saying that American intervention in Vietnam would accomplish no good. Shippey commends Campbell for having the self-control to avoid crowing about this perspicacity ten years later; but I think it's far more likely that by ten years later, Campbell had changed his mind. I suspect that someone as right-wing as he would be unable to resist the temptation to be on the opposite side from the anti-war protesters.

Oh, there's much more in this book: a discussion of why 1984 doesn't really work, either as SF or as a novel; discussions of Jack Vance, Bruce Sterling, and Starship Troopers. I'd recommend it with enthusiasm for anyone interested in the thought that goes into SF literature.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

concert review: San Francisco Symphony

Charles Dutoit conducted two big pieces - Mozart's K.482 piano concerto with Emanuel Ax, and Debussy's La mer - and two bonbons rarely heard from orchestras at this level, de Falla's Three-Cornered Hat dances and Sibelius' Karelia Suite, the latter of which SFS had never done before.

The pre-concert speaker described La mer as not trying to portray the sea in the way that Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony portrayed a storm, but more to portray one's feelings in response to the sea.

And I thought, is this a case of the locating emotional response solely in the respondent and not in any inherent qualities of what's being responded to that C.S. Lewis railed against in The Abolition of Man?

Maybe, but the performance itself put the lie to the premise. It was most outstanding in the surging sections, the parts that carried the most dramatic onomatopoeia of the sea. That was the highlight of a compact and intense performance.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

concert reviews

Two of them have been published lately.

First, I went to Kohl Mansion in Burlingame to hear a Russian piano trio in the last concert of the Kohl season. A piece by Rimsky I'd never heard before: interesting.

Then, I went to Lesher in Walnut Creek to hear the California Symphony in the last concert of its season. I'd reviewed Dan Visconti's guitar concerto here last year, and that was pretty good, and his cello concerto was more of the same. So I was happy to expend my space on that, even though the reason I wanted to go was for a chunk of Bruckner.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Sebastopol tiger crawl

My plan for Saturday was to occupy part of the day by heading out to Bodega Bay for lunch at one of the fish & chips places there.

I didn't get any further than Sebastopol, a modest-sized town less than halfway out to the coast.

I'd made a brief stop at a used-book store, and then noticed in the window of the ice-cream parlor next door a big poster for the Tiger Crawl, a tasting tour of 23 restaurants in town, and it was to be that day.

No information on time and tickets. The ice-cream parlor wasn't yet open for business for the day, but the door was unlocked, so I went in and asked. Yes, they were one of the participants. It was a fund-raiser for the local high school, tickets could be had there, and it began at lunchtime in an hour and went at your own pace.

So I went to the high school and bought the ticket, which consisted of a large colored sheet of paper with a map on one side showing the restaurants, and a more detailed list on the other. At each stop there was a box for them to sign you off, or just as often forget to do so.

In theory the restaurants were all within walking distance, but it'd be a long walk. I drove around to the more outlying ones, which were in clusters, including the ones at the end of the list on the other side of town where I was one of the first customers, then going back to downtown to finish up.

At most places they'd set up a trestle table on the sidewalk, staffed by volunteers, usually students from the high school, and one or two of their signature dishes, of which they'd give you a bit. It's best to take very small portions at these; it's easy to get quite stuffed.

The best items I had were corn and bean samosas (no potato) at a brewpub, and the equally vegan veggie & dumpling stew at a highly-rated little cafe. But I was also impressed with the tender pulled pork at an aggressively Texan bbq place.

I finished all 23, though it took over 3 hours to do it, and despite the car a lot of walking. I went back to Santa Rosa and rested for the rest of the day until the evening's concert, including skipping dinner for which I had no mind. Oof.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Shostakovich Eleventh festival

You all know that one of my favorite composers is Shostakovich, right? Well, my favorite Shostakovich symphony - it's not the greatest, but it's my favorite - is the Eleventh, an unbroken sixty-plus minutes of the grimmest, bleakest music you ever heard. How could I resist the rare opportunity to hear two different orchestras play this chilling masterwork on consecutive evenings?

So this past weekend I parked myself up in the North Bay, and went to hear the UC Berkeley Symphony under David Milnes play it on Friday evening at Hertz Hall on campus, and the Santa Rosa Symphony under Bruno Ferrandis play it on Saturday evening at Weill Hall in the Green Music Center.

The performances weren't all that different. Berkeley's was rawer and rougher, putting more emphasis on the finale, which was marked by a strong upturn in tempo and some tremendous clanging from the percussion, especially what Leonard Bernstein used to call the "Winnipeg Sound" from the gong. In Santa Rosa, Ferrandis, who bobbed and weaved around the podium for the rest of the program, stood stock-still for this piece which he led with firm control. There are times when iron rigidity is the proper approach to music, and this is one of them.

The reason the Eleventh is such a dire work is that it's a musical depiction of the 1905 Winter Palace massacre and the tragic atmosphere around that, with suggested overtones of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, which occurred just before the piece was written. Ferrandis explained all this in a pre-concert talk, adding that the election tension in his native France right then was making him identify with the work even more.

Oh yes, there was more on the programs. Santa Rosa offered an all-Soviet evening, with high-energy performances of Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite - his most tuneful work that isn't Gayne - and Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto, which Vadim Gluzman whipped through with smooth ease. Berkeley had a graceful and pastoral rendition of Elgar's Cello Concerto, with as soloist a recent graduate named Melody Huang. Is she going professional? No, she's going to Harvard Medical School this fall. Also a recent concerto for a Korean bowed instrument called a haegeum, of which I'll just refrain from speculating what kind of animal in pain it sounded like.

On the way home on Sunday I stopped by the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek to hear the California Symphony play my favorite symphony by another of my favorite symphonists, Bruckner's Sixth. It further turned out that this was the concert that my editor had been trying to reach me to ask me to review, so that folded together quite nicely. Of course that did mean the review would have to focus on the cello concerto being premiered, but fortunately it was Really Interesting. I'll show you the review when it's published, probably on Tuesday.

That did leave some time between concerts, much of which I spent in monkish concentration on revising a scholarly paper, with no home computer, or cats wanting petting or food, to distract me. On Saturday I was on my way out to lunch when I was waylaid by ... but I'll tell you that story tomorrow.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

hungry Pippin

One result of watching that set of Star Wars remakes of the Sgt. Pepper songs, that's gotten enough signalling in the past few days that I shouldn't need to link to it, is that it's setting the original songs loose in my head again.

So there's Pippin, (im)patiently waiting for his dinner even though it's over an hour till feeding time, and I sing for him:
Hungry Pippin, pussy cat:
When are you going to feed me?
When are you going to fill my bowl with food?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Grania Davis

who, it would appear, died yesterday, was one of the most interesting people I knew - and one of my favorites, a model of the lively and intelligent older woman.

In her distant youth, she was for a few years the wife of Avram Davidson, and remained a friend and literary collaborator with him ever afterwards, and one of the foremost proponents of his work after he died.

Soon after her time with Avram, she was for a brief period the live-with ladyfriend of Philip K. Dick. Being romantically entangled with PKD was a hazardous occupation (Grania slotted in between his third wife and his fourth wife), but she remained devoted to his work as well, and one of the last times I talked with her was over dinner at the PKD conference in San Francisco a few years ago.

By the time I met her she had settled down for the long haul, in a home in Terra Linda in Marin County, with a very calm and quiet doctor named Steve Davis, who died a while back.

But it's unfair to define a woman by her men, however important or interesting or relevant they may be. Grania was a solo author herself, not just Avram's collaborator. I first encountered her in the form of the name on the title page of The Rainbow Annals, a fantasy novel based on Tibetan mythology, which is something you don't see every day. It stuck with me, and I remembered it when I met her some time later at some fannish social event.

We always remembered each other, and always had a great time talking. She was interested in almost anything. I was not in the least surprised to see her and Steve among the audience at a performance reading of Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon, something else you don't come across every day. And the last time I saw her was at Borderlands for the publication party of her short-story collection, Tree of Life, Book of Death: The Treasures of Grania Davis. That I had to have, and I was delighted to get it in the author's presence.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

concert review: Murray Perahia

Another recital by one of my favorite pianists since I first encountered him when he was an obscure student some 45 years ago. I last heard him three years back, also at Davies, in a program much like this one.

Three medium-weight works by heavyweight composers: a French Suite by Bach, a set of Schubert Impromptus, and a stray but dark-toned Rondo by Mozart. Plus one very heavyweight work, Beethoven's final Sonata, Op. 111.

Perahia played them all with feeling and authority. Considering that the last time I heard Schubert's Impromptus they were played with no feeling whatever, it increased my appreciation for what a truly great pianist can bring to a work.

No encore. After applause brought him out yet again even after the house lights had gone up, Perahia put his hand to his heart to express his appreciation, and then went offstage again. I expect he felt that after you've given Beethoven's final words, there's nothing more to be said.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

concert review: Dover Quartet

This is the string quartet that won the Banff competition the time before I went, and the video embedded at the bottom of my review (of the finale of a different Beethoven quartet than the one they played this time) is the same video I embedded at the bottom of my post last year saying "I'm going" to the competition because "I want to hear more people who can play like this."

And I did; and I see from the bio in the program book that the winners of that iteration, the Rolston Quartet, will be teaming up with the Dovers to play Mendelssohn's Octet in Montreal in June. That should be good, and not just because I believe that whenever two string quartets appear on the same program, they should be required by law to play the Mendelssohn Octet.

I have heard the Dovers myself before now: they re-appeared for an alumni concert at last year's Banff, and I caught them last fall in San Francisco playing Dvorak's "American" Quartet, not a gnarly enough work to catch this group at its best. This concert, though ... this one was tough stuff. I reported the pre-concert lecturer (well-meaning, but it's really about time for him to retire) mentioning that one of his community-class students had asked him in puzzlement at the Shostakovich, "How do you listen to music like this?" I didn't give the lecturer's frustrating answer, "Just listen." Isn't it obvious from the question that the student needs his or her hand held a little more than that? I'd find a more lyrical recording of the piece - there are some - and point out the melodies and what the composer does with them. Once you absorb that, you can hear it in a tougher performance, and use it as a base to grasp what the tougher one adds to it. I don't have that much trouble with Shostakovich (any listener who finds the Second baffling will be absolutely dumbstruck by the late quartets), but that's how I learned my way around late Beethoven. I was astonished the first time I heard a performance of Op. 132 (the piece played here) that brought out the curvaceous beauty of the work: I'd never heard that before. But now that I've found it, I can always hear it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

workshop review: theatricality and the string quartet

They said it was a workshop, rather than a concert. It lasted about an hour, and was held in the Bing Studio, a small cubical space tucked away in the basement of Stanford's Bing Concert Hall. I went because some of the music was by Caroline Shaw, a composer with a good claim for a space on my list of top ten living ones.

The music was for vocalist and string quartet, a medium that's attracted Arnold Schoenberg and Laurie Anderson, a quaint pair, but not many others. The singer was an avant-garde soprano named Majel Connery, and the quartet was the St. Lawrence, Stanford's resident artists, who are always up for strange collaborations. The theatrical part was delivered by enlisting a "daring ... unconventional" (it says here) opera director named Christopher Alden.

I rather liked the music, two works commissioned for the occasion. Shaw's piece, Contriving the Chimes, sets excerpts from a notebook kept by Isaac Newton at the age of 19 listing his sins. ("Contriving the chimes" was one of them, though nobody seems to know what it means.) Connery chanted, yelled, and occasionally sang over hyponotically fragmented motifs from the strings. That lasted about 15 minutes. The other piece, August is also cruel by Doug Bailliett, is about twice as long. It's a song cycle inspired by Schumann's Dichterliebe. Most of the texts (by the composer) are varied declarations of love, often frustrated. Both instrumentally and vocally it was far more expressionist than the Shaw, with occasionally campy vocal styles and a lot of overripe harmonies.

If not always the most attractive, the music seemed interesting, and it honestly presented itself. The staging, however, was pretentious and full of itself.

It looked like this: the quartet played on a platform in one corner of the room. They were dressed in black from neck to ankle, and barefoot. So was the singer. She walked, crouched, rolled, and otherwise carried on while singing from a runway that extended diagonally across the room from the platform. The audience were mostly seated at café tables scattered around the room.

Suspended around the length of the runway at various heights, hung from strings tied to the rafters, were a couple dozen apples. (Isaac Newton - apples - get it? In the post-concert discussion, the opera director was actually proud of coming up with this infantile connection.) The apples played an increasing role as the performance went on. During a moment of anguish near the end of the Shaw, the singer vigorously batted all the apples, which went swinging around the room. Those seated near them ducked. One apple actually went flying, as it accidentally came loose from its string and landed smack on the table immediately behind me. Fortunately it hit no one; had it hit me, I would have been a lot less forgiving than was the startled man who had an apple explode in his face.

During the Bailliett, the singer cut down all the (remaining) apples and stuffed them in a suitcase, which she then stabbed with the scissors. What the thinking was behind this action, I couldn't say.

The composers get a solid B. The performers get an A for effort. The direction gets an R for "Remedial training needed." The most concise evaluation I can give of this event is that my old friend V. would have liked it; and if you knew her, that'll tell you what this felt like.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

wickedly funny

Not everybody shares my sense of humor, but I hope some of you will be amused by this. I got it from the blog of Mark Evanier.

First, in order for this to work, you have to be familiar with the stage musical Wicked and the song "Popular". If you're not (as I wasn't), watch this decent-quality clip from the first stage production a couple of times to get to know the song. It's pretty funny already.

This is from the schoolgirl backstory in Act 1 of Wicked. Glinda, future Good Witch of the South (Kristin Chenoweth, in the Emma Woodhouse part), expresses her eagerness to perform a makeover on her homely roommate Elphaba, future Wicked Witch of the West (Idina Menzel, in the Harriet Smith part).

OK? Now watch this clip from a recent Actor's Fund Tribute to Stephen Schwartz, the composer and lyricist of Wicked (also Pippin, Godspell, etc). Tenor and comedian Jason Graae comes on not just to sing "Popular" in the presence of its composer, but to sing it to its composer, just as Glinda had sung it to Elphaba. Only ... even funnier. Brace yourselves: this is wicked.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

concert review: Stanford

Sometimes I've gone to Stanford for senior recitals. Some singer or instrumentalist will sing or play some pieces. This one, however, was a conductor's senior recital. Diego Hernandez led a pickup student orchestra and chorus in the Fauré Requiem and just the orchestra in Milhaud's La création du monde. He was able to cram in enough expressive gestures in a mostly straightforwardly time-beating style to generate attractively lyrical propulsive performances from good musicians, impressively light and airy despite some heavy orchestration in both works, and even more impressively considering that the concert was held in the outstandingly damp and echoing acoustics of the Stanford Memorial Church.

This fortuitously followed a lecture, in a class hall halfway across campus - but it's a large campus - by musicologist Beth E. Levy from UC Davis, based on her book Frontier figures: American music and the mythology of the American West. She discussed works like the "Indianist" music of Arthur Farwell, taking Native melodies and embedding them in European harmonic practice, the "open Midwestern prairie" school of music, focusing on a Carl Sandburg setting by the protean Lukas Foss, and a brief consideration of the "cowboy" music of Roy Harris and Aaron Copland. I liked Levy's ability to ground emotional and cultural impressions by citing specific musical techniques. Interesting, and I'll have to read the book.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

a cluster of holidays

Being an interfaith family gives us a double ration of holidays.

Saturday, while B. was at church, I went for Pesach seder with the family of friends who've kindly taken me and some other assorted individuals in for a number of years. It was a subdued occasion. Our hostess was ill and hid out in her room for fear of contagion; didn't see her at all. Her husband, who does the cooking in that family anyway, took care of all the hosting duties. Some other customary attendees also weren't there through illness. Our usual seder leader, the hostess' mother, had lost most of her voice from an allergy attack, and one of the other guests took over. She did very well, but then she is, as I now recall, a former radio announcer.

Easter with B.'s family was larger and livelier, and full of people of all ages, down to younger than the children at seder. The house seemed full of a thundering horde of 3-year-old girls, who only slowed down on an offer to have their toenails painted. As an eldest child myself, I gave B's eldest sister advice on how to respond to digs at her age from her obnoxious little brother. Meanwhile, the pug was interested in anything you were standing up to eat from the appetizer table, even if it was prawns with cocktail sauce. After a while I retreated to the porch to read.

Both meals featured lamb as the main dish, and to both I brought the same, or nearly the same, contribution. Having recently discovered that my roasted broccoli dish will travel and still tastes good after a couple hours at room temperature, I've started taking that to events, except that for the seder I left out the parmesan cheese, to make it more compatible with our vague obeisance to the laws of kashrut. At Easter, B's sister-in-law M. (the family's most potent cook) was fascinated, quizzed me closely on the ingredients, and left me with instructions to bring it when she hosts Christmas. Will do.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

concert review: Redwood Symphony

This review marks the only Redwood Symphony concert this season I was able to get to. No, my complaint about the unhappy small child didn't get in it.

Nor did my astonishment at a lapse in the conductor's pre-concert talk. Lou Harrison's symphony contains a movement consisting of three sub-movements, "A Reel in Honor of Henry Cowell," "A Waltz for Evelyn Hinrichsen," and "An Estampie for Susan Summerfield," and while he did explain what an estampie is (a medieval dance, a term Harrison was fond of resurrecting), when he was asked who the three honorees were, he apologized for not knowing. I'm not surprised he didn't know Hinrichsen (Harrison's publisher) or Summerfield (a keyboard exponent of his music) - both of whom I had to look up myself - but Henry Cowell? An equally renowned composer, Harrison's teacher and mentor. I would have expected the conductor to know him offhand.

The other astonishment is that it took the cancellation of another work to get the Harrison on. It's his centenary next month: how can you not have planned to honor it, when as a composer he's so much up your alley? Other people are, though I don't know if I'll get to any of these. Most in the area conflict with other things I'm doing, and while I like Harrison's music and have always enjoyed hearing it, I'm not as moved to seek it out as I am for Cowell's.

Friday, April 14, 2017

items impersonal

1. Science fiction isn't supposed to predict the future, but I get a kick when journalism does. I found two examples in The New Yorker's new 1960s decade collection. One is in a 1965 profile of Marshall McLuhan. Among the wacky things that McLuhan has said, it reports, is that he has "predicted a happy day when everyone will have his own portable computer to cope with the dreary business of digesting information." Well, that happened.

The other is an interview that I'm astonished I'd never seen reference to before. It's of Brian Epstein, in New York in late 1963 on his scouting trip to make arrangements for the upcoming visit of what the article austerely calls "a group of pop singers called the Beatles" ("the origin of the name is obscure," it adds). Although nobody in America has yet heard of this group, they seem to be very popular in Europe. Epstein concludes the interview by saying, "I think that America is ready for the Beatles. When they come, they will hit this country for six." I don't know what that expression means, but I can guess, and that happened too.

2. A lot of my friends are posting papers at I have a reading account, but I've resisted the temptation to contribute to it myself, and the e-mail I recently got explains why. It says that 143 papers on mention my name and then offers a link to "View Your Mentions." Only that's not what the link does. It takes me to a page where I can upgrade my membership. That's not what it says, of course. But any button on that page that says "Get Started" or "View Your Mentions" gives me the same popup where I can pay $99/year for the privilege of seeing what it just told me I could see without bothering to mention this charge.

It says it can find things Google Scholar can't. Maybe so, but as most of the mentions of my name on Google Scholar actually just mean that my last name - which is not unique, and is used by at least 3 other scholars, one of them much more prolific than I - and my first name, which is quite common, appear somewhere in the same paper. And I'm not paying $99 to find out if this is the same.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tolkien Studies 14: an announcement

On behalf of myself and my co-editors, Michael D.C. Drout and Verlyn Flieger, here are the expected contents of volume 14 of the journal Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review. All of the works are now in the hands of our publisher, West Virginia University Press, and the volume is scheduled to be published in softcover and on Project MUSE later this year. - David Bratman, co-editor

Tolkien Studies 14 (2017)
  • H.L. Spencer, "The Mystical Philosophy of J.R.R. Tolkien and Sir Israel Gollancz: Monsters and Critics"

  • Christopher Gilson, "His Breath Was Taken Away: Tolkien, Barfield, and Elvish Diction"

  • Kathy Cawsey, "Could Gollum Be Singing a Sonnet? The Poetic Project of The Lord of the Rings"

  • Eleanor R. Simpson, "The Evolution of J.R.R. Tolkien's Portrayal of Nature: Foreshadowing Anti-speciesism"

  • Leonard Neidorf, "J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fall of Arthur: Creation from Literary Criticism"

  • Jeffrey J. MacLeod and Anna Smol, "Visualizing the Word: Tolkien as Artist and Writer"
Notes and Documents
  • Paul Tankard, "'Akin to my own inspiration': Mary Fairburn and the Art of Middle-earth"

  • J. Silk, "A Note on the Sindarin Translation of the Name Daisy"

  • Giovanni Costabile, "Stolen Pears, Unripe Apples: The Misuse of Fruits as a Symbol of Original Sin in Tolkien's The New Shadow and Augustine of Hippo's Confessions"
Book Reviews
  • A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgins, reviewed by Arden R. Smith

  • The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger; and The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Aleksandar Mikić with the assistance of Elizabeth Currie, reviewed by Dimitra Fimi

  • The Feanorian Alphabet, Part 1; Quenya Verb Structure, by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Gilson and Arden R. Smith, reviewed by Nelson Goering

  • Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Other Works, edited by Leslie A. Donovan, reviewed by Diana Pavlac Glyer

  • Laughter in Middle-earth: Humour in and around the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Thomas Honegger and Maureen F. Mann, reviewed by David Bratman
  • David Bratman, Edith L. Crowe, Jason Fisher, John Wm. Houghton, John Magoun, Robin Anne Reid, "The Year's Work in Tolkien Studies 2014"

  • David Bratman, "Bibliography (In English) for 2015"

Monday, April 10, 2017

and then it turned out ...

... that installing the Bluetooth software disabled Outlook.

Outlook is an important program for me. I maintain all my e-mails on it.

Amazingly, however, repeatedly insisting to Windows that I wanted to start Outlook anyway eventually reversed the polarity and caused Outlook to disable Bluetooth instead.

However, since I was done with Bluetooth and hope never to have to use it again until the next time I buy a new cell phone and have to upload a ringtone when there's no other way to do it, that satisfies me.

I refuse to use wireless accessories on my computer, and this gives me another reason why.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

nightmare in blue

One nuisance of getting a new cell phone is that if you want your own choice of ringtone you have to upload it from scratch again. There's no way to pass it over.

In previous iterations, I think I was able to send the ringtone directly from the site I got it from to my phone. But this time, I was told on the website to save the file and upload it to my phone. Also, the tutorials on the phone's website say that the only way to get files on or off the phone is via Bluetooth, using the phone to connect with the other device which also has Bluetooth.

Bluetooth. Great. I didn't have Bluetooth on my computer. Neither did B. As of yesterday morning, I knew exactly two things about Bluetooth:

1. It's some sort of wireless communication protocol.
2. It's named for an ancient king of Denmark.

Now I know a lot more, including why it's named for an ancient king of Denmark, but first I had to learn it. I read the Wikipedia article, which amazingly was helpful. Then I set out to find some Bluetooth.

I didn't have Bluetooth.
B. didn't have Bluetooth.
The phone repair store didn't have Bluetooth.
The AT&T store didn't have Bluetooth.
Nobody had Bluetooth. Why does the phone require it, then?

The last told me I could buy a Bluetooth device at the computer store for maybe $10. If I hadn't already read on the Wikipedia article about the existence of Bluetooth transmitters that plug into computer USB ports, I wouldn't have had any idea what the guy was talking about, but I did, so I went.

After some trouble finding it, including sending a phalanx of employees around looking for the guy who ran that department, I bought a Bluetooth USB Dongle. I thought that was a slang word, but that's what they're actually called.

The guy said it was plug and play. It wasn't. It came with an installation disk. The disk was 3.25 inch instead of 4.75 inch, so I had to figure out how to get my computer's CD-ROM reader to take one of those without it falling through the hole in the middle.

The installation process gave me some cryptic error messages, but seemed to work. I had to correlate the Dongle's manual with the phone's online tutorials, and found that neither set of instructions bore more than the remotest resemblance to the actual processes, either of getting the phone and the Dongle to recognize each other, or of then designating the ringtone file on my computer and getting it transferred. Only years of experience trying various tricks on recalcitrant computers enabled me to get past the various error messages, failure messages, and lack of options where the instructions told me options should be, and complete the process.

All to put a ringtone on a phone. Good gravy.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

some news

1. To my amazement, when my anti-virus program finally expired today, I was able to re-load and register it with the help of only one quick call to customer support. I'd thought my renewal had been canceled, but somehow I now have it for four years instead of the offered two.

2. On my trip to the wildflowers, my cell phone died. Not exactly: it was still on, I could still make calls on it, but the screen was totally dead. I took it to a repair shop and they said it could actually be fixed, for $90. I judged that, since I could buy a new one for $50 (I'm still sticking with clamshell dumb phones), I'd be willing to go through the hassle of learning a new model.

The one that the AT&T store is selling these days is from a company called LG, which they claim stands for "Life's Good." Yeah, well, it would be better if your cell phone weren't so irritating for its lack of options, like one to silence the on/off tone without also silencing the ringtone. And boy did I struggle to write my first text message on the thing, because instead of putting in what you type it changes it to what it thinks you mean, and it's always wrong. At one point it thought that "home" was "gooe" and asked me to add that to the dictionary, so I had to inform it that "home" is a word. Then I lost the whole message while trying to figure out how to put a period at the end of it.

3. Review later, but this will probably not go in it, so:
Dear parents, When you take your small son to the symphony, even if you dress him up for the occasion, if he spends the whole concert squirming, rattling his program, whispering in your ears, and so bugfck restless that he chews up the end of his tie, then he is bored and he is not appreciating the music. I don't blame him - I wouldn't have gotten much out of such advanced stuff as this when I was his age, either - but please put him, and yourselves, and me - the innocent bystander you chose to sit right in front of at this open-seating concert - out of our collective miseries and let him play outside or something.

Friday, April 7, 2017

wildflower alliance

I used a slight pause in my usual schedule of reading and computer-sitting to take advantage of the fact that I live in California. I spent yesterday on a wildflower-sighting expedition. After the heavy rains of last winter, this is becoming a spectacular spring for them, and I thought it about time I took something more than a desultory look.

The peak has been moving slowly northward with the sun, and this week it was reported to have reached Carrizo Plain, a place I'd long wanted to return to. Located high up in the coastal mountains some distance south of here (basically, you drive up the Salinas Valley and then turn left), in the deep countryside some 50 miles from any actual towns, Carrizo Plain is a rift valley generated by the San Andreas Fault (oh, relax: we're used to earthquake-related geology around here). It's a national monument (BLM variety, not NPS) with a small visitor center, which wasn't yet true when I was last there.

After an early lunch in Morro Bay, a small coastal town with a huge rock and lots of great seafood restaurants, I drove up into the mountains. At first I saw mostly little clusters of orange California poppies, the state flower, by the roadside; then these gave way to various yellow and blue flowers. Soon I could see that the green hills - themselves a temporary phenomenon; 9 months of the year the grass is brown - held splashes of yellow so intense as to be visible half a mile, then - as the vistas broadened - 3 or 4 miles, then even ten miles off.

In the plain itself, the wildflower carpets - mostly different species than I'd seen earlier on - were sometimes so thick as to eradicate the green. Flowers were even growing in the alkali flats. There were a fair number of people around, even on a weekday, taking photos or just looking.

When I reported to B., she was more interested in the fauna. I saw a wild turkey, lots of crows, and a couple lizards darting into the underbrush: larger, darker-colored, and more broadly built than the tiny brown fence lizards we have at home. Many visitors brought their dogs to see the flowers, including one giant black poodle the size of a Great Dane.

The plain is actually closer to the Central Valley than to the coast highways, so when I left at 4:30 I just headed east, down the precipitous slopes into the low valley, and for dinner sought out the rather good Indian restaurant that improbably sprouted up at the I-5 Buttonwillow exit some years back. From there, a straight marathon run back home.

Photos, we have a few: just of the flowers, mostly. The colors, though, were ever so much more vivid in person.

This one shows the ground carpet effect, a little of the alkali, and a distant view of yellow splashes on the hillside.

A closer view of a hillside splash.

What the splash flowers look like close up.

This was the most common flower on the plain. From a distance, they look yellow and black, but close up it appears that the black is an illusion.

But it's not a monoculture.

A typical human sight: people taking photos of family members sitting in the flower beds. From their ages when I saw them closer up, this seems to have been a teenage boy taking a photo of his mother, with Dad looking on. (Yes, that's an actual lake - another seasonal rarity in the desert - in the background.)

A different mix of flowers in a field some 30 miles to the west. (At Shell Creek, for anyone who cares about the geography.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

additional items

1. As a Honda owner, I got an e-mail a while back inviting me to test-drive their hydrogen fuel-cell car, the Clarity. I went to this a few weeks ago. Fuel-cell technology is old; the trick was making one small enough and reliable enough to use in a car. They seem to have done this, and the car is fun to drive. It's also surprisingly inexpensive to lease (no outright sales), as they're trying to build up the numbers so as to encourage the building of infrastructure, i.e. fueling stations. So far there are stations around California from Sacramento and Truckee to San Diego, which with a 350-mile range is enough to get you around most of the state except the far north and the eastern deserts. I went to this out of curiosity, but if I were looking for a new car, I'd consider this, except for one thing: they only have a luxury model, which I don't want.

2. Hugo finalists came out yesterday. There are still a few Puppies disfiguring the ballot, but not many, and the Puppy-inspired drop in female finalists has been entirely reversed: out of 24 fiction candidates, 17 are by women: 71%, the highest ever. Looks like we won the war on this front.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


1. Much talk of Mike Pence's rule of never being alone with a woman not his wife. Assorted thoughts: 1) does that apply to his daughters? his mother? (I don't know if she's still alive, but according to Wikipedia she lived at least long enough to witness his conversion to evangelicalism, of which as a Catholic she did not approve.) 2) At least it's better than Trump's rule of grabbing them by the ... 3) I thought conservative Christians disapproved of Sharia law, but whatever. 4) Is the purpose to avoid the appearance of impropriety, or fear of Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction, or - most likely - the self-loathing of men who (like the protagonist of Melanie Jeschke's Christian romance novel Inklings) fear female sexuality because they're men and they can't help themselves?

2. I'm saving this link to a recipe for creamy lemon pasta.

3. Yevgeny Yevtushenko died. Aside from Shostakovich's fabulously creepy setting of his poem "Babi Yar", I think of him mostly from Kingsley Amis's account of meeting him in Cambridge in 1962, at which Yevtushenko confessed his admiration of Kipling ("Isn't he an imperialist?" He gave a brief shout of laughter. "Oh yes. But ... good.") and recited from a Russian translation of same which, according to Amis, sounded like this:
Boots, boots, boots, boots, koussevitsky borodin
Boots, boots, boots, boots, dostoievsky gospodin
4. I'm really going to have to go to the library so I can finish reading this article.

5. Popped down to Lyric Theatre to catch their production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Princess Ida. This was marketed as a feminist show and used to promote a fund-raiser for girls' education; did they not see the third act? Regardless of the deflating ending, this was a good production with an especially fine turn by Elana Cowen as the imperious Lady Blanche.

6. I like the anti-virus program that the shop installed in my new computer a year ago, but I strongly and emphatically dislike the protocol for renewing my subscription, which caught me in a hellhole of endless loops and disputable charges which not even a friendly human in customer service, when I finally found a phone number for one, could get me out of. It keeps warning me I need to renew, and when I click on the link, keeps telling me I already have (which I did, or I think I did). It expires in 3 more days, and if it turns out it hasn't renewed, I'm taking it back to the shop, having the program removed, and replaced with the different one they're selling this year.

7. An occasional visit to File 770 (down at the moment, so no links) showed a piece on a huge and expensive library-market reprint volume of Tolkien studies from Routledge, with comments by Tolkien scholars Douglas A. Anderson that they hadn't sought permission, either from him or his publishers, for his contributions, and from Robin Anne Reid that she hadn't even heard of this set.

Well, that may be their experiences, but mine is that I was contacted by editor Stuart Lee (whose existing reputation in Tolkien studies is very good) a couple years ago to offer my comments on a prospective list of contents, and then again by him for permission to include two of my own essays. This was followed not two months ago by an e-mail from an in-house editor at Routledge to confirm formal permission for my pieces, adding that they'd already contacted the publishers of same.

Maybe I received this favor because I was a contributor to Stuart's previous Tolkien collection (original rather than reprint material, different publisher, expensive but more widely distributed), while Doug and Robin were not. But I should also add that news about the Routledge volume has made it into the grapevine.

As Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull say therein, and Robin observes as well, this is a rather unnecessary set as any libraries that can afford or would want it probably already have everything in it in their original publications, and is mostly intended to cadge money out of unwary collection development librarians. No doubt true, but I see no reason to attempt to disfigure the project by refusing my passive participation.

8. Speaking of Tolkien publications, the very last piece for this year's edition of Tolkien Studies has just come in formatted from my co-editor for my final review before it goes off to the publisher, so I'd best get on that now.

Monday, April 3, 2017

photographic proof

Before the funeral: the family (me, my brothers, my father's relatives by marriage).


I'm seated at right. Next to me is my stepmother, then my younger brother, then my stepmother's sister. Standing behind are the sister's family (ex-husband, daughter, son-in-law, son [also married, with a small child, but they're at home in Australia]), and at the far right my middle brother.

Me and a bunch of rocks.


Sunday, April 2, 2017

concert review: Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Usually a visiting foreign orchestra brings out the expatriate/immigrant community in force, literally waving flags. I've been to concert halls full of Venezuelans, even Kazakhs. But apparently there are no Danes around here, because only about half an audience, and that an everyday one, turned up at Davies for this largely blonde orchestra and its Italian conductor, Fabio Luisi.

Too bad, because it was a good show. No Danish classical concert would be complete without a piece by national icon Carl Nielsen, and here it was his curtain-raising show-stopper, the Helios Overture, in which the sun rises, crosses the sky in a blaze of glory (Nielsen wrote this on a vacation in Greece, and couldn't get over how sunny it was down there), and sets, all in 12 minutes.

Wagner's Wesendonk Songs. Local favorite Deborah Voigt has a regal soprano, but even in quiet music Wagner's orchestra does his singers no favors, and as far as the lyrics were concerned it came out like this:
And a bounding, eager, excited Beethoven Eroica, an outstandingly dynamic performance.

Judging from the conversations I heard on the way out, everybody in the audience recognized the schmaltzy encore, but nobody knew what it was. "Was that de Falla?" No, it wasn't de Falla. "Was it The Merry Widow?" It wasn't The Merry Widow. It was, in fact, that hoary pops favorite Jalousie "Tango Tzigane", and the reason the Danish National Orchestra chose such an unlikely-seeming piece for its encore is because, in fact, its composer was Danish. Yes, he was.

As the last ovation died away, something happened that I'd never seen before. Virtually all the members of the orchestra hugged their stand partner.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

concert review: Oakland Symphony

Gabriela Lena Frank, Concertino Cusqueño. Her orchestral works are even more colorful than her string quartets.

Anton Bruckner, Te Deum. This devout Catholic composer for some reason nearly gave up writing large-scale sacred music in his maturity; this is one of the few. Typical Bruckner orchestral noodling overlaid with vocal lines. Great chorus work, and outstanding principal soloists in powerful soprano Hope Briggs and well-textured tenor Amitai Pati.

Antonín Dvořák, Symphony from the New World. Closest existing work to the Platonic ideal of a symphony, this unsurprisingly had won an audience poll for what to play. Impressively deliberate performance of the introduction and slow movement, broad and stately in the finale.

Very good show. Glad that B. could accompany me to this, as it was a special occasion for me.

Friday, March 31, 2017

concerts in London

My free day in London (about 6 pm Saturday-6 pm Sunday) allowed me to squeeze in two concerts.

Saturday evening, after an improbably spicy dinner in one of the less touristy parts of Chinatown, I wandered down a couple blocks to the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, one of the least field-like open spaces in the western world, for one of their regular "[Baroque composer] by Candlelight" concerts.

This one was "Vivaldi by Candlelight," but though there were lots of candles around, the house lights were not entirely down, and strong beam lights glaring down from the sanctuary windows kept the musicians' parts illuminated. Nor was the music entirely Vivaldi, but a mixture.

The generically-named ensemble was nowhere near as good as the church's famous namesake Academy. They played Pachelbel's Canon as if it had been written for mechanical clock, and there was something rancid in their Bach Adagio. I doubt anyone else noticed.

Sunday morning I got to another one of the 11:30 AM coffee concerts at the noted recital venue, Wigmore Hall. This time the program was one I'd be likely to attend anyway: pianist Tamar Beraia performing Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and Schumann's Carnaval (two attractive and varied suites which have in common that Maurice Ravel orchestrated both of them, though most people only know about the one).

Beraia played with a strongly heavy hand, or two, with emphatic and thundering emphases. This suited the Mussorgsky fairly well, but led to some incongruities in the Schumann, plus a couple of conspicuously wrong notes.

I was waiting in the queue at the box office to purchase a ticket, and the man in front of me was trying to exchange his not-able-to-attend companion's ticket for one to a future concert. When the attendant said they can't do that, he just bought the future ticket, then turned to me and said, "Are you looking for a single ticket? You can have this one." Fortunately I had the presence of mind to offer to pay him for it, and he the courtesy to accept. He then said, "See you in the hall" and disappeared for the moment. But apart from his saying "Thank you" when I stood up to let him in to his seat, we did not exchange a single word for the entire course of the concert, because this was England.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Black Wednesday

I was in the UK on the previous day that earned this term, the day in 1992 that the pound dropped out of the European exchange rate mechanism. I was there again on this Wednesday, the one when Mrs May pressed the self-destruct button. The news reports seemed kind of subdued, though, except for a kind of false jollity in the right-wing press, as if they were trying to convince themselves that this was something to celebrate. I hope there will still be a Britain to come back to, whenever I do.

Speaking of which, I squeezed in an extra day to my journey and met up with Tolkien Society folk at the same time, same day of the week, and in the same pub that we met in on my last visit. Exactly the same people showed up, too, which is an effective way of finding out who your friends are.

My brother and I made a success out of our drive out to Wales, for which we had most of a day free. On our previous visit, we had been driven by necessity to eat the vile fast food at the motorway rest areas, having been unable to locate anywhere else at major exits as they'd be in the US. This time I checked Google Maps beforehand, and discovered that casual dining restaurants as we know them in the US do exist in Britain, it's just that they're in remote suburban shopping centers a couple miles off the motorway, where you'd never find them unless you already had directions. We ate at a place called Toby's Carvery, whose carvery didn't look very appealing, but we made decent enough small meals out of appetizers and soup.

While lunching at the one in Reading, realizing we'd have enough time and good weather for a small detour, I pulled out the map and we looked. "Stonehenge," said my brother. "In all my trips to England, I've never been there." So we went; and I have to say that, for a monument that's been there for 5000 years, it's certainly changed a lot in the 20 since I was last there. They've closed the highway that ran right past it, demolished the old visitor center nearby, and built a newer, larger, and tackier one three miles away (to restore the pristine quality of the original site), and run shuttle buses up the closed road so you can get there. Some people denigrate Stonehenge as a tourist attraction, but it remains one of the weirdest, and coolest, sites I've ever visited.

And, oh yes, our makeshift attempts at formal clothing proved quite satisfactory for the funeral.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

alas, a funeral

It was while driving the familiar twisty narrow road with the long Welsh name up the hill that it hit me in that visceral way: when I get to the house, my father won't be there.

My stepmother and her immediate family, all of them close to my father, were there, however, and so were my brothers, and that was comforting as we prepared to pile in to the limos and head off to the crematorium. As I've found before, being a pallbearer is more about the physical effort and care of what you're doing than about what it symbolises. But the ceremony was dignified. Though secular, it included a recording of a choir singing a Sabbath hymn to acknowledge Jewish heritage, plus the group singing of one church hymn in Welsh, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

(And suddenly I incongruously remembered something else my father had done for us. The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Allan Sherman parodied that on his first album. My father introduced us all to Allan Sherman's work, buying each of his albums as it came out and bringing it home with some ceremony.)

The small chapel, or whatever one calls it, was packed. He was well-respected in this small Welsh town, almost (not quite) the only American there. Interesting after building a fair community reputation back in California, he retired to Wales and then did it all over again. One of the first things he did here was get the British branch of Rotary International to establish a doctor bank for third-world countries, and to himself go to Pemba (an island off Tanzania) to deliver babies for a couple months.

So I have my memories, and a few mementos to bring or have shipped home. Did a little else here, which I'll save accounting of for my return.

Friday, March 24, 2017

theatre review: not quite Twelfth Night

I knew that what the Filter Theatre was putting on was not going to be your conventional Twelfth Night, but I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to get.

It didn't begin well. On an undecorated stage with equipment sitting around, a jazz combo played boring jazz music for too long, and then Orsino, who'd been conducting them for a while (I kept hoping his gestures were going to mean "stop"), speaking into a microphone, began his first line like this:

"If ...

If music ...

If music be ...

If music be the ..."

And so on, and on, and on. It's going to be a long night, I thought.

But it got better. As Viola comes on stage, a transistor radio is emitting a weather report. When she asks, "What country is this?" it's the voice on the radio that replies, "This is Illyria, lady." That was funny. Then she borrows a man's coat and hat from the audience to disguise herself. (Yes, really: I saw her give them back after the show was over.)

Toby, Andrew, and Maria's night-time carousing took the form of a musically-accompanied carnival, including audience participation in nerf-ball fights and a conga line. This went on very long, but it made Malvolio's furious shutting down of the party all the funnier.

On the other hand, there was nothing in the least bit imaginative or clever about the duel or the reunion scene.

Finished up the play in 90 minutes without intermission. Parts were tedious - too many and too much for such a short show - but parts were pretty good.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

oh, help

It's a day before I leave for my father's funeral, and my brothers and I get an e-mail from our stepmother with this in it:
I am sorry to emphasise this again but men attending the funeral will be formally dressed in either suit, or pants and jacket but all with shirt and black tie. I am sure you would all like to show the same respect to Robert.
I have to say this threw me totally for a loop. I'm well aware that "black tie" in an invitation is code for formal evening wear, what in Britain is called a dinner jacket and in America a tuxedo. And as Britain is already a more formal country than America, the word "formally" carries special weight there.

On the other hand, could she possibly expect men to wear a tux to a funeral? In the afternoon? Nobody would do that in the US, but I have no idea what British funeral customs are. And the "but all with" last part sounds as if we could wear the bow tie and fancy white shirt of a tux (why mention a shirt at all - it's not as if we'd attend topless - unless she meant a specific kind of shirt?) with other clothes for the rest. That would make no sense whatever.

My younger brother, the law professor, whose judgment I trust, says I'm overthinking this, and it means just wear a dark and sober tie. B. agrees with him, and thinks it's addressed at my middle brother, the engineering technician, who's apt to wear an open-neck shirt and lounge jacket even to a wedding. I already talked to him a few days ago and persuaded him that for this he needs to go out and buy a dress jacket and sober tie, which I gather he didn't already own.

But I just don't know. I mean, mistaking "black tie" on an invitation as meaning "wear a tie that's black" is one of the classic fashion faux pas. I don't even have a black tie, unless you count one with white checks all over it, though I do have a couple dark monocolored ones. My younger brother, who has better diplomatic skills than I, has agreed to query for a clarification, but he may not hear back before I leave. I'm thinking of staying up late enough to phone the Cardiff office of Debenham's when they open and asking them what they think, and whether it'd be even possible to hire evening-wear in my unusual size and shape on two business days' notice. But in the meantime, I can use any advice I can get.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is from Montana. He is, if my statistics are correct, the first US cabinet officer ever from Montana. (FDR was going to have one, but he died just before taking office.)

My statistics also say that this marks 48 states that have provided cabinet officers. The two states bereft of cabinet representation throughout US history are South Dakota (Obama was going to have one, but he had to withdraw) and Nevada.

He is also the first US cabinet officer to begin with a Z, thus completing that set except for Q and X.

concert review: St. Petersburg Philharmonic

I couldn't resist Shostakovich's Fifth performed by the same orchestra (though not, obviously, the same individual musicians) that gave the first performance nearly 80 years ago. (And to think the work was a mere stripling of 35 when I first heard it.)

The most notable aspects of this performance were the richness of the inner string sound in the slow sections, and the sheer vehemence, especially in the percussion, of the loud climaxes. Not so much the scherzo, which was light and witty, in violation of the current fashion for treating all Shostakovich scherzi as portraits in terror of Stalin; but the climax of the first movement and the entire finale were drastically enhanced. Even the slow wandering section in the middle of the finale seethed with looming menace.

But what I most appreciated were little touches of superb ensemble, such as the absolutely perfect meshing of celesta and harp in the final bars of the slow movement.

The other work on the program was Brahms' First Piano Concerto, a heavy warhorse of a different color. Garrick Ohlsson was the soloist, and as there's no pianist more capable of a light, silvery touch than he, it was quite a surprise in a hefty, dramatic Brahms concerto. But Ohlsson can pound it out with the best, too.

No surprise that it was conducted by Yuri Temirkanov, who's been leading this outfit since Mravinsky died some three decades past. Yes, I know. It's hard to keep track of famous Russian conductors making fools of themselves offstage, but Temirkanov is not the one who's cozying up to Putin, nor the one who thinks women are not properly suited to be conductors. He's the other one who thinks women are not properly suited to be conductors. Yes, there's two of these idiots.

It's self-evidently true that a lot of women can conduct just fine. But so can Temirkanov. He and his band gave a good show up in sopping wet San Francisco.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

an ending

Well. The news is, my father died yesterday.

I went over to Wales to see him last November. He had just turned 88 and was very frail, but seemed to be puttering along adequately. But he'd had medical scares in the past, and over the last month went into a serious decline. So I was mentally prepared for this. When I spoke with my stepmother on the phone after she came back from the hospital, she seemed more weary from accumulated stress than anything else. But she has a good support network and will be OK.

I will of course return for the funeral. The date hasn't been set yet. Lightning trips overseas are not something I'll find easy. But it will manage.

My relationship with my father was a complicated one which will not easily fit in this space. When I was a boy, some facile guidance counselor once suggested that Dad and I bond by tossing a ball around in the back yard. Neither of us could think of anything we were less interested in doing. Our ability to communicate in other ways was often at about that level.

Nevertheless, my father did much for me for which I remain grateful. He provided his part of a solid and secure family home life throughout my childhood. He, also with my mother's help, kept books and music around the house which I drew on for self-education. The books were mostly history; I was reading then-new tomes like The Arms of Krupp and Alistair Horne on the Fall of France when I was 12 years old.

He drove us on long vacations which took us to 36 of the 50 states before I left home. He paid for my undergraduate education (which is something a successful upper-middle-class income could easily afford in those days), and never raised any objections over my career choice of librarian instead of a more "manly" occupation like his own of physician. (He was an ob-gyn, which in any case is hardly the most macho of medical specialties.)

And he taught me two obscure but useful skills which I celebrated on his last birthday anniversary.

Friday, March 17, 2017

I'm not Irish

I'm seeing more St. Patrick's Day references in my reading list than usual, so this may be a good time to explain the effects of my not being Irish. Not even a little bit, unless something really surprising comes up when I take the genetic spit test.

B., however, has some Irish (though she's mostly German), and that came up when we were discussing what to have for dinner tonight. She's Catholic, and it's a Friday in Lent, so nothing with meat, and I won't have time today to make a complex dish. But the Irish in her didn't take to the idea of tofu or polenta on St. Patrick's, so I said all right, I'll roast her some tiny potatoes. She likes that, and there's nothing more Irish than potatoes.

I, however, do not eat potatoes. At all. I'll have to have something else. Which is OK, but it gives me the opportunity to bring up a natural phenomenon in the form of a rule of thumb (that is, it's not precisely true, but it works as a generalization) that applies only to me.

[My liking of a culture's food] + [My liking of that culture's music] = [constant]

That is to say, the more I like the one, the less I like the other.

The two extremes of this are Irish and Cajun/Creole. Potato is, I'm reliably told, entirely ubiquitous in Ireland, and not eating it would be a real burden there. (I've never been.) On the other hand, I adore Irish folk music. It is my favorite folk music in all the world. I can listen to it endlessly. Do you know a 1970s group called the Bothy Band? Gee, I'd like to be able to sing like that. I even like a lot of ersatz Irish music, like Enya and the stuff from Riverdance.

At the other end, I love Creole and especially Cajun food. I have visited Louisiana four times in my life, and each time my primary goal was to eat. There's nowhere else I've taken entire trips to for that purpose. But I don't like their music. 95% of jazz does nothing for me; zydeco doesn't appeal either.

That applies across the board. What's my favorite European cuisine? Italian. (Special virtue: it eschews potato.) But what's the biggest hole in my appreciation of classical music? Italian opera. Just don't care for it. My Italian music canon consists of Gabrieli canzonas, Rossini overtures (just the overtures), and Respighi suites and tone poems, not a representative selection.

Even in the rest of the world. I eat Asian food of almost all kinds, except Japanese which I have to treat with great caution. But Japanese composers have written by far the finest Western classical music in all of Asia, really great stuff.

What other food is Irish? I think mostly of boiled meat, a method of cooking it that doesn't much appeal to me; it's usually served inextricably mixed with potato (e.g. Irish stew), and is out on a Friday in Lent anyway. Irish-Americans traditionally eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's, though I dunno what they'll do today (descendants of Ulster Protestants in this country tend not to consider themselves culturally Irish), and the dish's claim to be Irish and not just Irish-American is dubious. Jews also eat corned beef, but as a Jew I have to say that I find Irish corned beef to be exceedingly goyische. I think they boil it.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

victory over wordage

Wednesday was a successful working day. I tackled the one remaining item I needed to cover for the Year's Work in Tolkien Studies: a large anthology of commissioned articles. Too integrated to be appropriate to set out all the papers separately, but too important to treat as if it were a monograph, I ran down each paper in turn. (If this were a book review, I'd never have written it this way: I hate reviews that do that. But the Year's Work serves a different purpose.)

And I wrote all 2400 words of it in one day. I'd read all the articles before, months ago, but I only had notes for about half of them. So a lot of reading was involved too. And a whole lot of potting: it's rather challenging to describe 36 well-researched articles in an average of 64 words each, including the titles of the articles.

But that's done, and the next-to-last missing piece from other contributors has also come in, so the ship is that much closer to sailing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tolkien studied

Found in some of those journal articles I was perusing yesterday:

Gay landsmanship argument no. 1: When Sam finds Frodo in the Tower of Cirith Ungol, Frodo has been stripped naked by his captors. Nudity = sex, therefore Sam and Frodo are gay.

Gay landsmanship argument no. 2: W.H. Auden was wildly enthusiastic for The Lord of the Rings. Auden was gay, therefore - since he liked it so much - The Lord of the Rings must also be gay.

Gay landsmanship conclusion: Tolkien may have been married for decades to a woman and had four biological children, but either 1) he was gay; 2) he was subconsciously gay; 3) since he was writing a mythology for England, he realized that England was gay.

Moooviefan argument: Tolkien's dialogue is stiff, wordy, and antiquated. It's boring for Eowyn to say "But no living man am I," but when J-Eowyn says "I am no man!" instead, that's hot stuff, and the audience cheered because Jackson's dialogue is so much better, not because of the exciting plot crux. (You don't hear them cheering when they read the book, do you?)

Moooviefan misprision: OK if you want to write an article about Jackson and not about Tolkien. You are, after all, writing in a film studies journal. But in that case, why put Tolkien's name in your title, and not Jackson's?

On the other hand, I was convinced by the proposition that George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire owes less to The Lord of the Rings than to Lord of the Flies; and I chuckled at this anecdote (unrelated to Tolkien, but good) from an interview with Peter Beagle in Foundation:
I can remember being the middle man on a panel in Oregon State. Lord, this would have been 1975–76, with Ursula Le Guin on one side of me and Vonda McIntyre on the other; they’re both old friends, both marvellous writers. For me, Ursula is still the master. And I was enjoying myself immensely just listening to the two of them, but there got to be rustling and grumbling in the back of the hall, a number of male students complaining they had come to hear talk about some good ol' rocket-jockeying science fiction, and not all this 'shrill feminism'. I remember the phrase. And as though they had been planning for it, Ursula peered around me and said, 'Vonda, I don't know how many times I’ve told you about being shrill.' And Vonda, without missing a beat said, 'No, Ursula, dear, I’m strident. You're shrill.' I remember that as a great moment in show business, me in the middle just listening.

Monday, March 13, 2017

concert review: Andras Schiff

For some reason I've never cottoned to Schubert's piano sonatas as I do to his string quartets and symphonies. Schiff played very clearly, but it still didn't strike any emotional resonance with me.

This may have been partly explained by the set of Schubert Impromptus. These can be charming and pretty music, but Schiff's compressed phrasing and his uniformity of tone made them sound sing-songy.

But I wasn't in the most receptive mood, true. I'd just driven up the scenic coast road from the UC Santa Cruz library, where I'd spent a full day hunched over a set of hot research databases. I had my work on my mind, and the news, plus some distressing personal news that's been coming from overseas via e-mail.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

hinky figures

Here's the thing. All winter long, I turn on the front porch light each afternoon that B's at work, because it's dark when she comes home at 6 pm.

Then, just as it's starting to get light enough in the spring that I don't have to do that any more, the clocks change, and she comes home an hour earlier. What's the good in that? If it has to change at all, shouldn't it be going the other way around?

Especially as, just as it's also starting to get light enough for her to see in the morning as she leaves, suddenly she has to leave an hour earlier and is plunged back into darkness again.

Truly it has been said that Daylight Saving Time is like cutting off the end of a blanket and sewing it on to the other end.

It seems to me that the real beef of the proponents of DST is not with human time measurement, but with the axial tilt of the earth. Perhaps they should try passing a law modifying that, and see how much luck they have with it.