Wednesday, July 31, 2013

is there a draft in here?

Today was the deadline for the 6,000 word Tolkien article commission that's been occupying most my time for the last month, in between concertizing and trips to Michigan. Actually, I find on checking that the request was to get it in "by the end of July so we could have August to turn it around," which is a lot less formal than 31 July on the dot.

Which is good, because it's not quite done. There are still a couple gaps where I skipped over points that just weren't coming out adequately, it's completely unformatted, and the casual sweep with which it's written alarms even me. Also, it's 7,400 words long. (That's actually pretty good for me. Usually my research articles end up at twice the length intended.)

I turned it in anyway. I want to prove that I've actually done the work (I was a last-minute fill-in, thus the haste), I need a break from it if I'm to regain any perspective, and I really need feedback.

A problem I've had in writing, especially in recent years, and which is what made me nervous about accepting this assignment at all, is that often, especially in formal writing, I know roughly what I want to say, but I can't get the words to dribble out of my fingers and on to the keyboard. I sit there in frustration for ageless periods.

This month, because I had to be away from the keyboard at Mythcon and at concerts, I took a notebook with me and drafted various chunks of the article in pencil during intermissions and such. (I also drafted my Carmel Bach Festival reviews that way.) Surprisingly - because I hate to handwrite, and don't even know cursive* - I found that the words in my head did leak out and appear on the paper.

I wonder why that is. My best guess is that I type faster than I usually compose, so my fingers get impatient sitting there waiting for my brain to catch up, and that makes my brain nervous. Whereas I can't handwrite as fast as I'm composing, so it's all I can do to keep up with the flood, and the words pour out in a steady stream as fast as I can get them down. A good third of the article was written this way.

The next step, I suppose, is to find out if I can do this deliberately, and not just when schedule exigencies force me to.

*This is not because I wasn't taught. I was a stubborn little kid, and when the teacher said brightly, "Today we're going to begin to learn a new way to write," I just flatly refused to learn it. The way I felt was, I'd already gone to enough trouble to learn the old way to write, and I was dashed if I was going to start all over again from scratch. Eventually, when I reached the age of dealing with financial and legal documents, I learned with some difficulty to sign my name, but to this day that's the only thing in cursive that I can write. But it doesn't look childish: I conscientiously developed an idiosyncratic and not entirely legible signature. I figure that the point of signing a document is not to allow your name to be read: for that you can print, or type. Signing is to verify that you're acknowledging or approving the document, and, for that purpose, the more distinctive, unusual, and unreplicable by a forger your signature is, the better.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

why should a woman bear a son?

So that, fifty years later, he can show her how to operate electronic equipment.

The woods are full of 'em.

Monday, July 29, 2013

one day at Menlo

The Music@Menlo festival doesn't pack events quite as closely as the Carmel Bach Festival does, but when it does have a full day, at least they put everything in one spot. Menlo's big hall is a mile and a half away from their main campus, and you wouldn't want to walk it (narrow streets, no sidewalks, lots of traffic), so at least theoretically it made it easier that everything on Saturday was at the big hall.

The young performers' concert was at 1 p.m., over by 3:30. That left more than two hours before the Prelude concert, so I ducked off over to Kepler's Books to browse for a while. As usual, it was either too much time or nowhere near enough.

But the Prelude ended at about 6:15, and that was a little tight to leave and have dinner and return in adequate time for the 8 p.m. main concert. The meager food offerings at the table in the courtyard did not attract me, nor did their price. So I sat in my car and ate cold chicken that I'd packed in a cooler.

I'd have gone to the earlier performances anyway, but the point of doing so was to be able to mention them in my review. This is how I write about a subdued concert whose virtues were down in the subtleties, and also one which I'd had no time to preview the repertoire for. (Except for the Britten, I'd heard all these pieces before, but with one other exception I didn't really know them well.)

After my colleague Janos' review of the Danish Quartet last week, I was expecting fireworks, but no. They were very good players indeed, but so distant in the Haydn that I wondered if the acoustics had swallowed them up.

Friday, July 26, 2013

repeating myself

I know it's lazy when, remembering a quote and wanting to make reference to it in an article on Tolkien I'm writing, instead of looking around for it in the source books it's likely to be in, I just Google it and hope that Google Books or something will turn it up and give me a page reference I can then check.

It's mortifying when what then turns up is a Google Books entry for the same quote appearing in one of my own old articles. Gah.

Back to paid concertizing work tomorrow, instead of other social events.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I'm in Carmel. No sooner had I returned from Michigan than I'm sent down here at my editor's command to spend two full days covering the Carmel Bach Festival. And they really are full days: over them, I've attended 4 ticketed concerts and 5 free events (1 mini-concert, 2 lectures, 1 lecture/concert, and a master class). I'm staying down here for the duration. Carmel is too far to drive home from after an evening concert, as I discovered the one time I tried it. Since the desired goal is not just to report on the music but convey the experience, I've gone native to the extent of having my meals in Carmel restaurants, instead of cheaper places over the hill, which also means I can find a parking space before dinner instead of afterwards. This dining is a little rich for my blood, and (on a regular basis) my wallet, but the food is good.

Though it's far from my first time knocking about Carmel, this is my most extensive, and I'm impressed by how difficult it is to find anyplace here. As I well knew, within the city limits (which, appropriately, are not marked by signs in any way), Carmel has no street addresses. (And no mail delivery, either. Everyone has a PO box.) Locations are given by the block they're on, or nearest intersection, which does not always make them easy to find, particularly if they're a tiny shop down a long narrow passageway in the middle of the block. Onwards.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Grania Davis book release party

Grania Davis was having a book release party, and she's a favorite of mine, so I hopped it up to Borderlands yesterday afternoon. It's a short story collection - short story collections are my favorite form of sf, but they're hard to find and getting harder - so I was determined to come home with a copy. I thought I would just sit in the audience quietly as she read, but it didn't work out that way. Almost everybody there was a personal friend of hers, she was delighted to see them all, and she even had us all introduce ourselves. At my turn, I said, "I first encountered Grania when I read The Rainbow Annals. Then we met in person, and we've been running into each other at parties, SF cons, Beowulf readings, and suchlike events ever since."

Many of the attendees I also knew, or soon met, and I wound up having much more conversation than I'd expected or was geared up for, which is why I silently disappeared immediately afterwards. Dick Lupoff was the editor of this book and responsible for its publication, and he introduced Grania, who read bits out of the autobiographical introduction (the story of Phil Dick and the Versailles throne, the story of Avram Davidson and the tiger iguana) and a story titled "To Whom It May Concern", which is the funniest Jewish-dialect monologue since Carol Carr's "Look, You Think You've Got Troubles".

Speaking of which, Carol Carr was also there, and Dick Lupoff incautiously revealed that an upcoming project is publishing a collection of her writings. So I told them both that I will be first in line to buy a copy.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

one more Mythcon anecdote

I forgot to mention this one earlier, but I find it telling.

One of the great advantages of Mythcon as a forum for conversation is that we all eat meals in the cafeteria together, and much cross-pollination can occur depending on who happens to sit at which table.

I was seated one lunch with a party including M., a long-time Mythsoc stalwart who only occasionally gets to Mythcon these days, and a Tolkien fan but not a scholar, who asked a question relating to Peter Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien in the Hobbit movie. And M. prefaced it by apologizing to me for bringing it up; I might want to avert my ears, as a well-known Jackson-hater am I.

The thing is, the other people at the table that M. was primarily addressing the question to were a pair of Tolkien scholars as distinguished and renowned as they come. And they winced at the prospect of discussing Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien.

So I had to interject: "M.," I said, "you have to realize that I'm the moderate end of Jackson-dislike among Tolkien scholars, because I'm willing to talk about it." Many more prefer not to, they find the whole subject so distressing, and that includes most of the top names in the field.

A survey would be muddled now, first as there is now a large cadre of people sometimes counted as Tolkien scholars who, though knowledgeable enough about the books, are really more pop-culture scholars of Tolkien fandom, and most of them like the movies; and second, there are also now many major scholars whom I don't know personally, and I don't know their attitude towards the movies. But of the major Tolkien scholars I do know, only one is on public record as liking the movies with fewer reservations than appreciations, and I once toted up a list of the six most distinguished Tolkien scholars in existence (though it might need to be expanded now), all of whose views on the movies I do know, and only one of them, Tom Shippey, has a good word to say about the movies at all, and that's mostly a forlorn hope that it will lead readers to the book. The other five, including the two at that table, dislike the movies a lot more than I do.

bloody peasants

I just got an e-mail that I presume is real, because none of its links go to flytraps, from my website host. It says I'm approaching my monthly traffic limit, and my site will become unavailable for the rest of the month if I overtake it.

I think I know why that happened. My previous picture-laden post - not the Edward Eager one, but the trip to the tall, thin house - I'd hosted the six pictures, not on Flickr, but on my web site. This was because I'd been frightened off of using Flickr because of the reported problems with its recent changes. I went ahead and used Flickr for the Eager post, and since it was OK, I've uploaded the pictures from the previous post onto Flickr and changed the links, so it's safe to view again now.

But blimey, is one month's traffic on six pictures enough to push the limit? I'd better be cautious with uploads in the future, and hope none of my pages ever get slashdotted.

How should I keep track of traffic? The e-mail provided a link which it said was to a traffic tracking program. But if I click on the link, I get my hosting service's general software page with no trace of such a program on it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

the answer man

The two kids in line behind me at the supermarket, who kept crowding up as if they wanted to pass me, were a girl of perhaps 14 and a boy of 12. Their dad, standing behind them, was forties-ish. As we waited in the checkout line, the kids began entertaining themselves by posing queries about the celebrities of past and present mentioned on the headline literature festooning the racks. They knew who Johnny Depp is, but the fun began when the girl asked, "Dad, who's John Denver?" I suffered a little vertiginous shock, having never previously consciously dealt with anyone's need to ask that question - but however vivid he still seems to me, it's now been nearly 16 years since he ran out of gas over Monterey Bay, which is almost certainly before she was born - while dad gave a basic and fairly succinct answer, which was enough to enable the boy, with perhaps a better recall of MOR oldies radio than his sister, to dredge up from memory one of his song titles, which, alas, was "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."

Then, prompted by a tabloid cover, the kids asked, "Who's O.J.?" Oh boy. I gave quiet thanks I wasn't the person who had to answer this one. Dad competently outlined that lurid disaster, and then the kids, perhaps motivated by the past tense grammar of the previous answer, asked the follow-up, "How did John Denver die?" (An odd question to ask, actually. Would you ask, How did Cory Monteith die?) And dad described that differently lurid disaster, in less succinct terms than I would.

The next question was, "Who's Katharine Hepburn?" but by then my purchases were being rung up.

Friday, July 19, 2013

"They call me Sir Kath," said the strange knight, "and I hail from Toledo, Ohio."

I've visited the sites where many of my favorite children's stories take place. I've been to Watership Down, Alderley Edge, the Hundred Acre Wood. But there is one real-life locale of a childhood fantasy favorite where I'd never been, though it's here in the states: Toledo, Ohio, site of Half Magic by Edward Eager. And though other intrepid tourists have put up photographic websites devoted to some of these other locales, nobody, so far as I can tell, has gone Eager-hunting in Toledo. Until now. I made a point of including this on our post-Mythcon trip.

Half Magic (I've never cottoned much to the sequels, which undercut the unique appeal of the original book), was published in 1954 and is set "about thirty years ago" (in 1924, to be precise, as that's the date of the movie the children see in the Martha chapter). Eager spent his own early childhood in Toledo, though by 1924, the year he turned 13, his family had moved away and he never returned to live. The story concerns four children - siblings, a boy and three girls - who find a magic charm which, they eventually figure out, gives you half of what you wish for. Over the course of a week, inadvertent or impulsive wishes make their cat half-talk, take them to half of a desert island (just the desert, in Arabia), make Martha half-disappear (It is not often that one is watching a movie, and suddenly a wailing ghostly figure rises from the floor and scrambles past one), bring their mother suddenly half-way home from their stuffy aunt's house, and much else. Only Katharine, by carefully wishing for twice as much as a trip to Camelot, gets what she thinks she wants, if you don't count Jane, who angrily wishes for twice as much as belonging to some other family. If it all sounds a lot like E. Nesbit, that hasn't escaped the author.

In the parts of the story that keep the children in Toledo, local geography is ample. The street names are all real, and the area they live in turns out to be a neighborhood of colorful late 19th-century houses called the Old West End. My first stop was the public library, whose predecessor building features in the story (for the children are all enthusiastic readers, especially of Nesbit), to check the city directories for Eager's address. He lived on the same street the children do, Maplewood Avenue, but his house is no longer there, for half or more of two blocks of Maplewood has been pulled down to make room for a passing freeway and its off-ramp.

The remaining houses on those blocks and their immediate neighbors are today in a sorry state: run-down, paint peeling, spotted with vacant lots. The street pavements are likewise peeling and the sidewalks are grassy, easy to hide a magic charm in. Other parts of the Old West End are in somewhat better shape, with colorful paint jobs on some houses while their immediate neighbors are ripe for fixing-up.

In the Jane chapter, the eponym on becoming She-who-was-no-longer-Jane flounces off down the street towards the house where she now belongs. This is the most geographically interesting part of the story, and here are some pictures. (By the way, I seem to be the only person in the world having no trouble whatever uploading to the new Flickr.)

Far down Maplewood Avenue they could just make out a genteel figure in Jane's dress ... As they watched, the figure turned to the right, into Virginia Street. (That would be at the end of the block, halfway down the photo, near the big tree on the right.)

Looking back along Maplewood in the other direction from the corner of Virginia. That is a dead end, where the freeway exit cuts through where the street used to go.

"She must be in this block somewhere," said Katharine. "She hasn't had time to walk any farther." ... Luckily it was a short one, with only eight houses in it. Almost all the houses looked very much like their own - comfortable, slightly shabby, family sort of houses, with an easy-to-get-along-with, lived-in look. All but one.

Could it have been this one? (Off to the left of the previous photo.) No.

Try the block from the other end.

This is a block further down Maplewood, closer to where the children lived. Eager's house was on the other side of the street from here, where a hedge now ineffectively masks freeway noise. Why the German flag on the house here, ich weiss nicht.

A typical pair of fixer-uppers from a couple blocks away.

And here's a little more color in a better part of the neighborhood.

And ... lions! Reminds me of this sequence: As Mark passed Mrs. Hudson's house he wished, as he'd often wished before, that just for once the iron dog in the yard would be alive, instead of only iron. Then he looked back. For a minute he thought he heard a faint muffled bark, and it seemed as though the iron tail had started to wag.

music at Mythcon

My Mythcon report didn't mention the musical performances. Saturday evening our frigid auditorium was heated up with a concert performance by the Saline Fiddlers, who get their strange and savory name from the town near Ann Arbor where they are all high school students. It's a neo-bluegrass group that plays Mark O'Connor and his ilk, with an occasional appearance by something actually trad. There's about eight violins, usually playing in unison (which is trickier than they think), five cellos, and a mixed electric-acoustic rock backup section, whose electric guitarist gets occasional solos. Several of the players also double as dancers.

These are fiddlers, not violinists, so their playing behavior is liable to alarm classically-trained string musicians: turning in choreographed movements as they play, cellists balancing their instruments sideways on their knees to strum them, etc. I've seen antics like these before, so, remembering firmly that it's an entirely different musical tradition, it didn't bother me.

What did bother me was the overall quality. Sure, for one small-town high school there was an impressive amount of talent and training on display. And the players were consistently energetic and enthusiastic, with lots of stage presence. That made the show quite enjoyable overall. At least, when asked for comment afterwards by enthusiastic fellow attendees, I could mention that, and ignore something else: that nothing could hide the fact that none of the violin or cello players could play in tune. At all. And this is not something that good bluegrass needs any apologia for.

The "Lord of the Ringos" ensemble, which goofed up the stage on Sunday, has apparently run out of rock songs worth writing Tolkien-reference lyrics for. I can enjoy a boozy scratch parody performance if I know and like the original song, but this time, their first three numbers were songs I didn't know and most certainly didn't like. I couldn't stand any more and left, occupying my time reading the tourist brochures on the registration desk until it was over. Remembering past editions of these shenanigans, the fault lies in the choice of material rather than the rendition.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mythcon in Mich., again

The previous Michigan Mythcon was at the U of M in Ann Arbor in 2004. Perhaps to give equal time to the universities, this one was at Michigan State in East Lansing. Last time, programming and housing were so far apart we were bussed between them, the only time that's happened, but less of an inconvenience than might have been thought. This time they were in the same building. MSU maintains a hotel and conference center on campus. The conference center is very small: one cozy auditorium, a few meeting rooms so tiny that even our breakout sessions filled them up, and a banquet hall just large enough. The sleeping rooms, reportedly converted from dorm rooms, were also tiny. The bathrooms got particular comment: so small that the shower was in a corner of the room with only a curtain hanging from the ceiling to mark it; not even a low tub rim to keep the water from spreading all over the floor. Ycch. And the auditorium was kept so perishingly cold that hardly anyone except me liked it. Other than that, a serviceable venue.

Meals aside from the banquet were in a sprawling multi-station cafeteria on the second floor of a huge modernist student center across the street. The food was tolerable if you were only eating there for three days, longer than which it would have quickly palled.

The most provocative paper on the program was Megan Abrahamson on Tolkien and fanfiction. Contrasting Tolkien's famous dream of having "other minds and hands" contribute to his mythology with his furious denunciation of fans who offered to publish sequels to The Lord of the Rings, she stopped short of making the usual accusation of hypocrisy (usual, that is, from fan-fiction landsmen against authors who don't like it done to their works) by treating the first statement as somehow negating the second. In fact, however, she'd made the usual error of fan-fiction landsmen of entirely mistaking the conditions under which authors object to fan fiction, which mistake underlies every accusation of hypocrisy, and every specious defense of the long and noble history of fan fiction, ever written. Nevertheless an exceedingly well-crafted and tightly-woven paper.

My favorite paper was by another student named Megan, Megan Naxer. She's in music theory, and gave a close musicological analysis of Donald Swann's Road Goes Ever On song cycle. I described this work in my article on Tolkien and music as "a sophisticated art song cycle ... sensitively and expressively arranged," and it was pleasing to see this judgment confirmed by someone far more expert in the technical matters than myself. The paper demonstrated Swann bringing out in his music, and even elaborating on, the characteristics of the species to whom the poems are attributed, while leaving open the question of to what extent this is due to Swann's perception of the species from the book, and how much is just due to his musical response to the characteristics as expressed in Tolkien's verse styles.

My own paper was a critique and analysis of the story and artwork in three classic children's picture books by P.D. Eastman: Sam and the Firefly; Are You My Mother?; and Go, Dog, Go! I thought it was about time that picture books received the same level of somber scholarly study as older children's literature now currently being wasted in direly boring McFarland essay collections, though I fear I did not succeed at being as reductionist or tedious as my models. (My initial goal had been to exorcise the demon, as Asimov exorcised stuffy scientific literature in his thiotimoline papers.) Instead, my audience sounded positively entertained!

And I also got to introduce the scholar Guest of Honor, which I began with the words, "When I was eleven years old, though I didn't know it yet, I wanted to grow up to be Douglas A. Anderson," and then explained why (I made my own primitive attempt to construct what would later appear as the variorum in his Annotated Hobbit), and I had my usual gig of narrating the presentation of the Not Ready for Mythcon Players (E. Farrell & B. Rauscher, concoctors), a typical stirfry of influences to which they gave a title which I pronounced, stretching it out a little for effect, "Watership Downnnn...ton Abbey."

The most elegant ever, and least wasteful of food ever, contribution to the annual banquet food sculpture was made by Wendell Wagner, who honored author GoH Franny Billingsley's most recent novel by walking from table to table with a glass of water, striking the edge with a spoon for a ringing sound, and pronouncing, "Chime."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Technically, my Nook Color is not an e-reader but a small-format laptop configured to facilitate e-reading. But I find it most useful as a portable computer to take with me on trips to monitor e-mail and do occasional necessary web surfing. It's damnably difficult to type on, but it functions, and it's a lot smaller than a full-sized laptop, which I wouldn't find much easier to use.

One curious property its web browser has is that any web page it visits which is a document file as opposed to an HTML web page - a PDF or .doc file - is downloaded and saved in a folder. Every once in a while I plug the Nook into my desktop computer, so that I can see the file directories which are otherwise unavailable, and clean out that folder.

You know what the most common type of file is that it contains? Restaurant menus. Restaurant web sites often keep their menus as PDFs, and tracking down information on restaurants is one of my most frequent uses of the Nook's web browser on a trip.

This time it also contained a PDF of the DOMA decision, which I downloaded via a newspaper web site when it was released during my last trip. That was something I was definitely curious to read.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

marches by Tchaikovsky

This is another placeholder musical post until I can get back to unveiling obscure symphonies.

Lots of composers have written marches. Many of them are pretty grand, including some by Tchaikovsky. But Tchaikovsky was also the master of the cute, light, scintillating march. Everyone knows this one, the March of the Toy Soldiers from The Nutcracker:

But do you also know these?

Here's the March movement from his lesser-known Symphony No. 2:

And the strikingly Nutcracker-like (as are other movements of this delightful suite) "Marche miniature" from his even less-known Suite No. 1:

Saturday, July 6, 2013

quasigrecian thoughts

It's been mightily hot here for the last week plus. Even without direct evidence, I could tell from the rate at which I'm going through ice cubes, and by the way the cats have been lying like limp rags on the kitchen linoleum. They've also been eating less. One day I was driven sufficiently mad by the heat to conclude against fixing anything hot for human supper, and got takeout Chinese chicken salad instead, as I didn't want to try making that from scratch.

I'm engaged in a tiresome copy-editing struggle against editors who want to make the bibliographic citations inconsistent in the name of consistency, and I'm trying to explain why that doesn't quite work.

Today brought the horrible news of a plane crash at SFO, apparently the work of a pilot who couldn't quite coordinate the event of the wheels touching the ground with the arrival of the beginning of the runway. It includes the first fatalities at an SFO crash in almost 50 years. Naturally this closed the airport for a while, and naturally this discommoded a lot of other schedules, and naturally the newspaper reported some grumbling over this. Some passengers from out of town reported being told to catch a fight out of Oakland but without being told where that airport is or how to get there. I'm surprised at the claim that the airlines didn't pass out that info - getting to Oakland from SFO is actually easy, as long as BART is running, but you have to know about that - but if that claim is true, I don't agree with the condemnation of the grumblers as heartless. Maybe they also expressed sorrow at the crash, and the paper just didn't quote that part, because misleadingly quoting people out of context is what newspapers do. And in any case, no number of dead or injured passengers on the crashed plane are a relevant excuse for not giving directions to other passengers whom you want to go somewhere else.

Friday, July 5, 2013

password rant

On reflection, I have come up with a system that addresses the issue of secure passwords. All passwords are 25 random characters long, with a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters, never written down. We will never remember these passwords, and soon our computers will go unused, the Internet abandoned. We revert to an agrarian society, become lean-bellied and broad of shoulder. Some of us get eaten by bears. It's not a perfect system.
-- Password rant.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

on a hot July the Fourth

At the backyard party and picnic I usually attend on the Fourth, I met an evolutionary psychologist, one of that tiresome breed of people who use the term "ape brain" a lot, and attribute every aspect of human behavior to our species' upbringing on the savanna. Look at the yard around us, he said. There's a lawn behind the house, while all the trees are clustered up away from the house, against the back fence. This, he said, is because of our deep instinctual need to have our homes surrounded by the savanna, away from the forest.

I suggested that it's also due to our deep instinctual need to follow the fire code regulations.

Got home in time to watch the TV broadcast of the fireworks shows highlights from around the area, from the comfort of our couch. It appears that if I'd gone as far as Marin, I'd have seen a show particularly worth seeing. B. and I sang every other set of words we could think of to the patriotic band tunes that occupied the sound broadcast:

"To Anacreon in Heaven
Where he sat in full glee ..."

"Glory, Glory Harry Lewis
His cloth goes shining on."

"... Send him victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the king."

since my return

from my trip a week ago, I've been keeping busy. The three days immediately after my return were a welter of stage attendance. Much of this was due to the free concerts at the end of the Stanford Chamber Music Seminar. This year, these are now being held at Bing, which has the advantage of being - unlike Campbell, the old venue - well over large enough for everyone who wants to attend. But it's not as intimate, and that turns out to be a big problem. Not for the St. Lawrence Quartet, the resident leaders and mentors of the seminar. In the six months since Bing opened, they've figured out how to fill the space acoustically, which had initially been a problem. With Stephen Prutsman they gave an absolutely dynamite performance of the Franck Quintet last Friday.

The student groups, however, have not had the opportunity, nor the professional experience, to make this adjustment. Nor are they always technically very good. They often compensate generously for that with charm, earnestness, and dedication, but these are qualities more easily appreciated in a much smaller space than Bing. On Saturday we got a variety of performances from a rice-paper-delicate Dvorak Dumky Trio to a soddenly dull Beethoven Razumovsky First. Sunday's marathon of individual movements was worse. I often have to leave that for other commitments before it's over, but this time I didn't even stay until the last possible minute I could get away with.

I also think I've discovered the absolute worst seats, acoustically, in Bing. I shall be checking this out further to test this suspicion.

I've also seen two stage shows, one live and one virtual.

The virtual one was one of those "film of live theater in a movie theater" gizmos, of the London production of The Audience by Peter Morgan, starring Helen Mirren as QE2. Having boldly imagined her relationship with Tony Blair in The Queen, Morgan and Mirren are now tackling most of her other PMs - eight of the twelve have speaking parts - in a lump. It's not in chronological order - the Queen's mind drifts back and forth in time, remembering her weekly audiences with each, interspersing them with imagined conversations with her own childhood self. A foreigner would have to know a lot about British political history of the last 60 years to follow what's going on here; fortunately, I do, and for that reason curiosity demanded that I see this.

The Queen was a serious movie, but I couldn't see The Audience as anything but a put-on. Caricatures walk the stage, not real people. The politicians are reduced to ticks. Churchill is commanding, Eden headstrong, Thatcher dismissively hypocritical, Cameron so boring that the Queen instantly falls asleep when he answers her question about the state of the Euro - oh, come on - and when he asks her to name all her PMs, she forgets Jim Callaghan, who then walks on stage to pout about it. And so on. Morgan's favorites seem to be the two he allows more than one scene each. John Major, whose tick is to be endearingly hapless, gets two, and Harold Wilson gets three. He starts out aggressively working-class, and ends, having become the Queen's old chum, sadly seeing his security paranoia as a symptom of Alzheimer's and preparing to resign. Neither is true of the real Wilson - though born poor, his path to power was not that of a class warrior, but of a classless meritocrat; and his paranoia lessened, not increased, during his premiership; nor is it at all certain that the first signs of his disease were the reason for his resignation: Wilson never said so, and he'd been talking about retiring as PM after eight years long before he reached that landmark, not to mention that he then stayed on in the Commons as a backbencher for another seven years, not the act of a man crushed by the crumbling of his superb memory.

The other show was the San Jose Lyric Theater's production of The Grand Duke, the last and least of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. It's not that the songs are bad - they're all expertly composed, some of them are perfectly agreeable to hear and even faintly catchy, though there are no hidden gems like there are in Utopia, Limited or even The Rose of Persia - but that it's so infernally long and complicated. The text was cut, but I've seen it once before (a Stanford Savoyards production about six years ago), where it was cut more and was consequently better. The sets and costumes for this one were absolutely outstanding, the singing very good despite the requirement of a large cast spreading resources thin, and much of the acting better than adequate. The biggest problem was that Michael Cuddy, though as good in the lead role as Ludwig as he always is as Gilbert's fatuously self-satisfied characters, occasionally when he was not speaking would forget to act, looking distracted rather than responding to information that would greatly interest Ludwig. The best part was the costuming at the start of Act 2, where the characters cavort around pretending to be ancient Greeks.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

restaurants of central Oregon and vicinity

(scarfed from my Yelp reviews)

Bingen, Washington (pronounced Binjen, and right across the Columbia from Hood River, Oregon)
Solstice Wood Fire Cafe: About the most intensely flavorful food I have ever tasted. Just really the bomb as flavor goes. So good in that department that it totally overcame my initially unenthusiastic reaction to the menu. The thin crust, crunchy chicken pizza was so well made it overcame my mixed reaction to the choice of toppings. (You can make your own choice, but the pizza becomes quickly more expensive that way.)
Also, Moroccan beef stew, a sauce made entirely of a vast array of tastily blended spices, with big chunks of juicy beef, beans, and carrots. Served over potato, but they gave me a full sized bowl of the stew even after I asked for it without the potato.
Less enthused about the apple crisp: apple too wet, crisp too dry.

Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Oregon
Kah-Nee-Ta Resort: I stopped over here for lunch because tour books suggested it was the best food between Hood River and Redmond, not a thickly inhabited region.
Getting here tried my patience. You turn off the highway at a junction, drive ten miles through deserted sagebrush landscapes to another junction, drive another ten miles to a third junction, three miles to the entrance to the complex, two miles to the road to the lodge, then up a winding hill to the parking lot, which fortunately is right by the lodge's front door. This better be worth it. Well, it wasn't not worth it.
Lunch turns out to be served at the "Warm Springs Grill", a cavernous space behind a bar. Looked deserted, but the service turned out to be fairly attentive and the food from the basic pub grub menu well made. I got the most Indian thing on the menu - this is after all a tribe-owned and operated resort on a reservation - a bison burger on fry bread. Thick, juicy, not overcooked burger, and the fry bread, which was a lot lighter in texture than it looked, was addictively tasty.

Madras, Oregon (named for a bolt of cloth in the general store, the founders having had to cast around for another name in a hurry when the Post Office turned down their first choice because of duplication)
Rio Distinctive Mexican Cuisine: What do you know, road warriors, a really decent yuppieish Mexican place in a hopeless-looking ranching town. It's a small house made up as a restaurant, with a menu focusing on enchiladas. I got a mixed enchilada plate with assorted mole sauces on top, all tasty if not great, and the plate presentation is beautiful. It is expensive for what you get, but what you get is good.
Service was kind of pressed at a busy dinner hour, but boy did the staff ever hustle. I have never been asked so often if I wanted more chips, and I never finished the ones I had! Those chips had paprika sprinkled on them, by the way, a unique and greatly enhancing touch.

Bend, Oregon (named for a bend in the river, which makes me wonder why there aren't more towns called Bend)
Barrio: Walking down the street downtown, looking for a place for lunch among the many big-city urban offerings here, I spotted a menu in a window listing paella. This is something you don't often see, so in I went. Yes, one-person servings of paella for $10. Order at the counter, find a table or barstool in the tiny space.
The house paella, with an odd taste I could get used to, has shaved chorizo, hunks of almost-undercooked chicken, and, unfortunately but inevitably, peas. You can add (additional) veggies or seafood; if you ask for seafood, it includes one large shrimp, one large mussel, and a couple large hunks of salmon and white fish. But it's better than this sounds; the fish is moist and embedded in the mix, so you can cut it up easily with a fork and have bites with the rice.
Zydeco: Austere dark wooden furniture like a Japanese restaurant, but it serves yuppie-Southern. Jambalaya pretty good; enough big hunks of sausage and shrimp, but it tasted like it was made with brown rice.
But the bread and olive oil that comes before the meal! Oh, heavenly! Moist bread with thick crunchy crust, and the olive oil on a plate is infused with salt, garlic, and parsley, and it is just so addictive. If I dared, I'd go back and have just four or five plates of that.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

in a tall, thin house redux

This is the tall, thin house, of which I once previously wrote.

This is what you can see out of its window.

(There's another big white mountain just like it on the other side.)

These are the resident dogs, with their enthusiastic fans.

This is the cat down the road, where I stayed.

This is what we all looked like inside the house.

And that's where I went on my driving trip last week.

I took Kevin Standlee's recommended shortcut north off of I-5 - US 97 from Weed to the Klamath Falls area, then NW to Eugene on OR 58 - no longer a road than the freeway and a lot less mountainous, but unfortunately also slower, due to fewer lanes but just as many trucks, and road work going on in the Cascades on 58. Still, I got to Portland in time for dinner and to raid Powell's before retiring for the evening. The following morning, after a visit to Classical Millennium, my favorite remaining CD store - now sadly downsized into one large room between the Music Millennium storefronts instead of occupying one whole storefront by itself - I headed across the river and up into the mountains to hobnob with my fellow wizards.

Three days later, I emerged and crossed over into the Hood River Valley, stopping at the fruit stands for treats some of which made it all the way back home, and once at the top of the valley on OR 35, then over the Mount Hood passes and down US 26 into the less verdant but, it turned out, still rainy regions of the high steppes and mesas of central Oregon. Besides the concert in Bend and then the plays back over the mountains in Ashland, of which I already wrote, and meals, my agenda consisted of three things:
1) The fossil beds in the John Day National Monument to the NE. The Clarno unit, though the most isolated of the three units, is the closest to where I was, so I went there. The easily tourable area consists of high palisades, from which chunks of rock occasionally break off and fall, adding to the regolith below, which you can clamber around and see the ancient tropical plant fossils exposed on their fracture surfaces.
2) The lava tube cave in the Newberry Volcanic Monument south of Bend. I'd been here as a smallish child and had always wanted to go back. There's no light provided inside the cave; you may rent a lantern or bring your own lightsource. I had a flashlight, which though powerful was weak against such overwhelming massive darkness. I had to keep it focused on the ground in front of me to avoid tripping over rocks or pits. Every once in a while I'd stop, and play the light around the cave.
3) One other hoary item, the briefly infamous hobbit-hole housing tract in Bend. This boom-era development supposedly went bust in the last crash, but it's still there, and someone is still trying to sell the remaining lots, though the advertising sign at the entrance no longer says anything about hobbits, but claims the homes are in European Cottage style. Since, though, the street names are still Shire Lane and Ringbearers Court, that does give the game away. The one newly-built house is, glaringly, not in European Cottage style, and half the lots are still empty, but you can position yourself to take a picture with the street sign and some of the more colorful dwellings like this: