Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Wholly See's Rarebit and Reliquary from the Star

On our annual pilgrimage to our local mall we just had to pay a visit to the immaculately white shrine of Mary See. All of her attendants were dressed in white and black and wore plastic gloves. As usual there was a line of "pigrims" with quite a wait. I was allowed to purchase one box of Wholly Peanut heart's/stomach's favorite. My wife had the maiden attendants hand-pack a special pound of Wholly Dark Chocolate Truffles from the Elixir of the gods. What a gustatorial thrill. We felt we had fulfilled our annual quest and contentedly made our journey home to partake in these offerings. We are so devoted to this ritual each year at this time. My parents made my sister and I initiates to this ritual way back in our childhood.
And what to my wondering eyes should appear... but a miniature "rarebit", yes, an icon of another holiday, right there in my box. I'm just sure it was a wholly relic so I immediately took a picture of it above...before I bit its head off in ritual satisfaction. Can you spy the tiny eyes, wiggly nose and mouth? I must now resist the temptation of this ritual more than once a day. I am so dedicated. I've even thought of inviting friends over or alerting the media to come an witness this wholly delicious event.
Today is also the day we start our annual countdown to that Special Day on the 25th of this December. Our dear friends, the Buck's, from the Star, have made it oh so easy and delicious this year by providing a little grouping of red boxes in the shape of a coniferous tree. Each day, starting today, you open a box and take out a chocolate treat and then turn the little box around to form a festive scene on which to meditate. This is called a reliquary box and it holds only the very wondrous of delights in wholly anticipation of that glorious event on the 25th (more gluttonous feasts). It is also customary to imbibe in the guaff of the aromatic bean during these daily rituals. Ah such fun!
Yes, I'm having fun with my Art History Class this year. We have just studied the Romanesque Period and Byzantine Period where it was quite normal to "worship" Icons and then into the Gothic Period where wholly religious pilgrimages and Crusades were taken to the Holy Land to rid it of the "infadel". Along the way, cathedrals would charge a fee to see Holy Relics ie. a Saint's toe, a fingernail, a lock of hair kept in a box (reliquary). In this way they were able to build bigger and better churches and altars for the Saint's glory. Then there arose those who banned the worship of Icons and Relics because of the 2nd Commandmnet ie. "Thou shalt not make any graven image..." That is why the "Blue Mosque" today, which was once the "Hagia Sophia"(Eastern Orthidox Christian) has no "images" on display...only very intricate designs and calligraphy in gold leaf. We saw the picture of Pope Benedict visiting there today and praying with the religious leaders about bettering relationships. I'm wondering if he got down on his knee, as they do, and raised his bottom in the air? I wonder if he took off his shoes, as we did? Did he smell the awful stinch of smelly feet/socks, as we did?
I'm truly sorry to be so "iconoclastic" here but it just seems to me that everytime in the news we see some "new holy image" on a shower curtain or shiny building or water-seapage spot in the sewer that we just have to "alert the media". Here's to the "true meaning of the season"...New Life and the Giving of Love! Bob!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It Ain't Easy Bein' Green.

Kermit the Frog (Muppet) sang it best. Back then "he" was referring to his "different" skin color. Lately, it has taken on a few more poignant meanings. ie. Saving a species...not only a "Mountain Yellow-Legged" one but US! Yes, it seems to me and people like Al Gore and Gary Larson that this may be a very "Inconvenient Truth!"

A little local amphibian may very well be our first and only "canary" in our global environment's mine. Our booming population is causing pollution and warming at an astounding rate. We seem to be unable to do anything significant about it. Oh, we continue to try, but only like a few "bell-weather-individuals" on a scary "ride" called "The Entropic Planet of Doom".

Yes, they found these little survivor tadpoles in one of our local San Jacinto Mountain streams. This was after an earlier attempt to save some others (thought the last of the "Mohiccans") had all died of "frog tuberculosis" in the lab. Now, rather than leave them in that "drying up/polluted" stream they have successfully gotten most of them to morph, as the picture shows, to "froglets". I'm sure this is just the "tip of the frogberg" when it comes to endangered species.

With some degree of guilt I must admit I have enjoyed my share of "froglegs"...yes, they taste just like "fishy chicken". My first time to have them was on a family camping trip to Lake Hume. My dad was a fisherman. He wasn't catching that much on this overpopulated lake, even back then. So he decided to go "frog hunting". He took me along to hold the lantern because you have to do it at night from a small row boat. From somewhere he found a giant, 10-penny nail and cut off the head with a pair of dikes he always seem to have in the trunk. He then found a straight pole-type branch and stripped it of bark. He then took a log and knocked the nail into the end backwards to make a spear. Yes, he was crafty that way. Then out we went with our Coleman lantern, and a gunny sack. Oh, the excitement of it all! Dad and I out on an adventure. I was a bit shocked when I first witnessed the procedure. In the shallows of the lake we sat in the boat and quietly waited. Pretty soon we began to see lots of frogs around our boat and they were just frozen and mesmerized by the lantern light. Croaking ceased. My dad was deadly with that homemade spear...but, they wouldn't die! He had to take them off the spear and hold them by the back legs and konk them in the head on the side of the boat. I became very quiet too. The next morning over the campfire he gleefully pulled their "little pajama bottoms off, rolled them in flour and fried them. They were delicious but I can't remember having them again in restaurants more than once or twice as a "escargot".

Gary Larson's cartoons are missed. He knows it. He has only recently consented to do another calendar with all the profits going to "Conservation International" to help end the illegal trade in Asia...a noble gesture. Since so many of his "subjects" were comic wild animals and how they might want to fight back, I included a cartoon above showing a one-legged elephant talking on the phone about his new "ash-tray" foot/leg. Gary grew up near a great swamp and used to spend hours observing the fauna, salamanders frogs etc. "Now it's filled in...everything is getting filled in, overrun and generally made uninhabitable for everything but humans." To follow up on these concerns:

Thanks to Netflix I just saw "An Inconvenient Truth". Besides being extremely depressing, it was galvanizing and I only wish I was younger. It is a masterful presentation that Al Gore, former Vice President, (winning the popular vote, but losing the electoral vote, thanks to Florida) is giving all around the country and world. It is packed full of facts and proofs that our planet has recently been getting warmer because of the pollution our growing populations are making. He goes into the political and ideological reasons why it is not being recognized. He believes we have a "moral imperative" to now start doing something about it before it is too late. ie. He sites, shrinking glaciers, ice caps, icebergs, polar bear populations as being the "too late" warnings. It then affects the weather and can even be attributed to "Katrina". Our leaders just don't seem to want to pay attention until some shocking "911" type event happens environmentally. It just isn't going to happen that way. It will continue to be very gradual creeping up on us like the "high tides" over many of our major cities ie. New York, San Francisco, not just New Orleans.

History is repeating itself..."Ice Age" "The Meltdown" but it is not the sequel to a very successful DVD cartoon. This is for keeps. If we don't do what we can now, our children and grandchildren won't have a chance. Bob!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Phonetic Pros?

"Bravo, Charlie Alpha! You made it back from the Delta. I hear you stayed at the Echo Hotel in India, where you learned to Foxtrot(?) and play Golf.(?) Did you bring the Kilo that Juliet gave Mike in Lima? Big Papa Oscar has wanted it back since November. He wanted me to give it to Romeo in Quebec. I was going to drive my Sierra cross-country. I was even willing to Tango in Uniform with Victor if I had to. No, I haven't had too much Whisky! Do you need your brain X-rayed? I'm just trying to be a good Yankee Doodle Zulu!

This is supposed to be the NATO Alphabet. It is used by police, maritime communications, air traffic control and military. I'm wondering who actually thought it up. Isn't it time for a new one? I wonder what it looks like in another language. I always thought it was..."Alpha Beta Charlie Dog"...from that travel novel by Steinbeck - "Travels with Charlie". He and his cute little dog traveled across America in his camper with many an insight about our national life. When I was in the Naval Air I attempted to learn this alphabet by recognition of the various flag positions that were used to communicate aboard ship. Yes, this was in "ancient times" before...computers...radar etc. I think it was called "Semiphor". Then there was ASLAN. These are hand/finger signs for all the letters(for the deaf) I used to teach it to some of my more precocious students. I told them that when I was in Jr. Hi. we used to get a pass, get out of class (to go to the restroom?) and actually "talk" to our friends in other classrooms through the little windows in the classroom doors with our hands only...until we got caught and got a "citation". Then we had "detention".

Last night there was an interesting new show on TV called "3 lbs." In it a young violinist had a "stroke" during a recital that seemed to first effect her left "fingering" hand. The computer graphics were awesome. It also disabled her language/speech centers (Broca's) in the left lobe. She was worried about her disability also taking out her skill with music. The "heroic surgeon" assured her that center was in the right-brain. That was quite a relief to her. I think it has been some time now that we have known that the brain isn't so location-specific. Otherwise her left-brain would've shut down her bowing-right hand first. There is this amazing structure called the "corpus collosum" which connects the two hemispheres. They say it is more developed in women. "The Arts" are not stictly right-brain and "Language" is not strictly left-brain. They also abused terms like "soul" and other "intangibles" like "meditation". To top it off they almost lost her on the "table" and when she came back she wrote a note that she had communicated with her dead twin sister. Boy, doesn't that just push all the right buttons? We want to believe so much that we now make primetime TV shows about all of this "esoteric communication" ie. "Ghost Whisperer" "Medium". Until we all get better at communicating with each other here on Earth, even with my outdated Phonetic Alphabet, we should leave the other kind to...telepathy! Don't you think? Bob!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


What a perfect title for a concert of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Op. 37, "All-Night Vigil" also called the "Vespers" by the Los Angeles Master Chorale at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Synonyms for "resonate" or "resonance" are: reverberation, sonority, fullness, vibration, depth, resounding, booming, loud. That is exactly what it was this past Sunday night in Gehry's magnificent structure.. There were 15 hymns or selections sung in very precise Church Slavonic, not Russian or Cerilic. We had the sheet for translation and the Chorale had a consultant to help with the pronunciation and meaning. He was with Grant Gershon and Alan Chapman at the "Listen Up" at 6:P.M. It was very informative. I didn't catch his name or see it in the printed program above.

Historically, Rachmaninoff composed this master work more for performance and not for worship in the Russian Orthidox Church which was being shut down after the Revolution (1915) So it wasn't performed again in a church until the 1960's. What a loss. It was/is so inspiring. Sergei had to leave Russia by way of Switzerland and Stockholm before finally coming to America. He wrote very little after this composition (6) in all those years, dying in 1987 in Beverly Hills. His favorite work was Edgar Allen Poe's "The Bells" and he wrote a companion piece for that too. He was often "at odds" with his "mother-church" and wrote more secular music. This may have been because he married his cousin which was frowned on by "the church" at that time...probably still is. The "Vespers" is actually only partially correct as a name. There were 3 parts to the Festival in the monastic church on the Eve of a Feast Day. They had an "all night vigil" every Saturday night and it went on for hours. The Russians love to sing is my guess, especially the Russian Monks. The piece was originally written for a "choral school" and originally performed there. It certainly must've been a challenge especially for the deep bass voices. Two story/comments mentioned about that were those of the conductor saying it was harder to find competent low basses as it was to find asparagus in winter. He is reported to have told the basses to sleep with the winter window open and have several shots of vodka just before the performance.

Musically this work is considered the "pinnacle" of the Romantic/Harmonic Period. Sergei took many of the themes from indigenous "chants" from the local monks and some he even "made up". It has the "horizontal feeling and phrasing" that chants produce but with a richness and depth of harmonics that is just unbelieveable. Forget simple SATB and think SSS,AAA,TTT,BBB all interlaced and moving at the same time ie. a full spectrum of sound. Then there is just something about singing the Russian music and the deep resonating contrabass underneath that just gives you goose bumps, hearing or singing it. Selection #5, "Lord, now Lettest Thou Thy Servant" reaches a low Bb. The basses in the choral were mostly in the back and center and out of my view but you didn't need to see them. I had "a baritone" closest to me I'm guessing by the way he sang and when he chimed in. He had a blue spotlight on the back of his head and his gray hair was combed to produce a couple of little horns. Hardly what you'd expect or be reminded of when hearing this angelic work. In the "Listen Up" it was mentioned that RACH-maninoff "signed" his major works with a cadence that "said" his name. Four chords which usually finished the piece. Usually they were quick paced and decisive. In this work they were slower and more ponderous and Perfectly Authentic. During the several standing ovations I had to step out to hit the restroom and when I came out they were singing an encore...#2 I thought."Bless the Lord, O My Soul" Even from the lobby it was heavenly. The dynamics in so many of the selections were so extreme from very PPP to very FFF in just a few bars and with a group of more than 150 up there it was just awesome that they could sing so softly and then so loudly. Grant's direction was so expressive with hands only, no baton. This is one of the reasons I sit where I do, so I can watch his expressions and emotive gestures. He is a master ie. so expansive and yet so precise with his cut-offs. At times, I just had to close my eyes and transcend so I missed other visual cues. I truly did enjoy the singing of a tall second soprano #6 from the left in the third row. She was so attentive and really feeling the meaning of what she was singing even though it was in Slavonic. The two tenors named as soloist in the program were right there in the choir. I could see Charles Lane at all times and he really can sing. I couldn't see Sal Malaki but his voice was so perfect in tonality with this rich sonorous music. I think I caught a glimpse of Daniel Chaney but I couldn't be sure.

I think, in another life, I must've been a Russian Monk, a bass for sure. Or if not, maybe I will be. I'm sure they will be asked to sing in "heaven" simply because they RESONATED so heavenly here on earth. Thanks to RACH-maninoff!...and the L.A.M.C. Bob!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Stranger than Fiction?

I think I now have a new "favorite movie/screenplay". It, at least, has to share that spot with "Groundhog Day" in my profile here. I just can't stop thinking about it. We saw it yesterday, the first day it was addicted are we? "Stranger than Fiction" with Will Ferrell just looked like our kind of movie from all the ads on TV.

Besides an all-star cast ie. Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and ___ Gillingham, all with outstanding performances, there is this very tight and inclusive screenplay. I took a class on writing screenplays and I know how hard it is. There is also the appeal for the fiction/non-fiction prose writer like me...potentially me. Who knows? "Little did he know"...(one of the plot turns in the movie) There is the question there for all of us, "Will my life be a comedy or a tragedy?" There also is the "narration factor". Will and Emma play it beautifully.

I've known someone now for years who "narrates" her life. I tease her about it but it seems to have kept her "sane" so far. She, my wife, grew up mostly alone and just got in the habit of talking to herself...aloud. I actually think we all do it to some degree...just not out loud. It is part of our consciousness. ie. thinking of what we are going to do next or should do next and then how we fell about it. Will's problem is that Emma is doing that for him with a "better vocabulary" It would drive anyone nuts especially if they are trying to see themselves as the "hero/ine" of their own life like the Dickensian "David Copperfield". What decisions and follow-up actions does one have to do to become that "main character" in such a personal novel?

It has to go back to the Greeks and their mythology. The basic definitions of "Comedy" and "Tragedy" are from them. We see it again in Shakespeare for the stage. "Having a life that rises from low to high estate" = "Comedy" and the opposite: "Having a life that fall from high to low estate" = "Tragedy" Fate...some say is what causes it all. Others, me included, say that your positive thoughts preceed your positive actions and determine your "fate" or not.(also called planning) Dustin's character, a literature professor, asked Will, "Harold Crick" to just stay home and "do nothing". That was very hard for him to do, but he did cease hearing the narrative voice. That may be an option for some of us...but it can't be for long.

It all gets real interesting when he starts to fall in love with his next "auditee" (he's an IRS Auditor). She, Gillenhall, starts to make him think differently and not just always about himself. It is such a heart-warming love story.

Of course there are all kinds of parallels that can be drawn between the "writer's blocked" character, Emma, and's concept of god or some supreme being that predestines all our lives. Then there is the surprise twist at the end that just makes you think about your own life in it's "latter years". How will mine end? Will it be tragic? Will I see it coming? What can I do about it, if anything, as it approaches?

I dug the "graphics" of the movie and the "wristwatch" as a "vehicle" of fate. Time continues to be our modus operendi and eventually our "executioner"...but maybe not for "Harold". Oh, how we would all like to escape the "time-n-ator"...and its effects. Any thoughts or ideas on how we could? Bob!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Outside Assignment: The Museum

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "museum" as "...a place devoted to the acquisition, study, and exhibition of objects of scientific, historical, or artistic value". Its derivation is from the Greek word for "Shrine of the Muses" (Mouseion). In Greek Mythology, Zeus, king of the gods, had nine daughters, muses, who presided over different arts and sciences. They were to inspire artists and poets of old and maybe even today. Cynthia Freeland, a modern muse and author of "But is it Art?: An Introduction to Art Theory" in a chapter on "Money, Markets and Museums" raises the question: "Museums preserve, collect, and educate the public and convey standards about art's value and quality- but whose standards, and how?" Are museums just repositories for valuable objects? Can they still be places to have meaningful experiences? Are they responsive to the new challenges of our society or are they too traditional and frozen in the values of the past?

To begin to answer these questions for myself, I decided to investigate two of our traditional American Institutions which are synonymous with the word "museum". Webster's New World (Roget's)A-Z Thesaurus lists my two choices among more than thirty others worldwide. The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanic Gardens in Pasadena, CA (San Marino) and The Smithsonian Institution's American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. have actually been my choices for years. As a child, I remember my parents taking me several times to see "Pinky" and "Blue Boy" at the Huntington's main residence, their actual home. It was always on a Sunday afternoon and usually with out-of-town house guests to impress. I was also impressed- mainly with the wealth of the Huntingtons. In the Naval Air I had the opportunity to fly to Washington, D.C. and time off to visit the Smithsonian. Again, I was impressed with the immense wealth and privilege that must have created and maintained such displays. In the years that followed, as a teacher, I was able to bring my students on annual field trips to the Huntington. I found grants and funding to attend the special Summer Prep. Classes for teachers for the next semester's visit. We rotated our visits to the galleries and gardens every other year. My wife and I joined as "Sustaining and Senior Members". We probably visited at least four times a year (seasonally) and checked out the new exhibits. We watched the New Conservatory being built and took "Flat Stanley" on a trip to the Children's Garden for our grandchildren's benefit. (see previous blog/post in March of '06) I have subscribed to the "Smithsonian Magazine" for many years and have used it in my lessons.

Over the years I have noticed changes in these institutions; not only in the displays but in their support and funding. Beginning, as they both did, as "private collections" of wealthy business men/families, they have had to adjust and adapt to the demands and tastes of their growing and changing public supporters and requirements of governmental and private funding. The most recent project at the Huntington, as mentioned in my blog/post, is the New Chinese Gardens and Art Display (see Huntington website). So many of the current patrons and supporters of the Huntington who actually live in the area have Asian Ancestry. The first Chinese to come to the U.S. were "employed" (enslaved) by industrialists like the Huntingtons to help build the Transcontinental Railroad and other infrastructure that made them so wealthy. They have had to offer more interactive exhibits for younger people in order to stimulate their interest and get the "educational funding" various "Title Funds" require. They have had to increase their "market-ability" with attached gift shops and on-line access. We love to have "High Tea" at the Huntington's Tea Room. We always check out the annual "plant sale" from the Huntington Gardens. Yes, I believe that these two traditional museums have had to adapt to "stay alive" and that their "public supporters" (like me) have had to stay actively involved in their programs and exhibits. I find my on-line membership and visits are less involving but interesting. They keep me in touch with what's going on at both institutions ie. performances, lectures, etc. For the actual, visual enjoyment of the art I have to make the trip in person and that is what my wife and I did last weekend at the Huntington. (see included photos)

After renewing our membership we walked right by the sign on the fenced off Art Gallery We approached the ionic columns of the Scott/Boone Gallery with excitement. We were stepping back into history ie. An ancient Roman Domus "fauces". Next to the "impluvium" was this inspiring sculpture of "Diana the Huntress". We are "moon children" (Cancers) so we were thrilled to see her crescent moon headdress. I had read in Gardner that she is sometimes called "Artemis"(Gr.) "Selene-Luna". We later found her again twice inside the Erburu, miniature and a nude, black bronze over 6' tall without the moon. The friendly/informative guard told us it was rare to see her nude and hunting(she had her bow and arrow in each hand and was balancing on her right foot. Might she be our muse today as we hunted for more "inspiration"? How about the "Blue Hourse" at the Smithsonian's website.

I was then shocked and spellbound by "Vesuvius from Portici". It was just as I had imagined it back in May '06 as I stood on the crumbled ruins of the forum at Pompeii and took pictures of the, now dormant volcano. The artist had seen smoke still rising from the cone in 1774, seven years after it had erupted again. I noticed the white-hot magma and compared it to the serenely white full moon in the lower left. I was awed at the tragic spectacle and yet delighted at the surreal composition of the landscape. It must've been just like that! (see Pliny the Younger's eye witness account in Gardner)

My wife called me over to feast on the rich portrait of "Boy with Peaches" Considered the best painter of children in France at the time, Drouais put life, transparency, humility and charm into his eyes. Peaches symbolize "truth" thus "out of the mouths of babes..." It was then I realized that "children" (all the ones I taught over the years)have been my muses. Oh, I've had some congress with "Calliope", "Terpsichore" and "Thalia" because I loved teaching the Arts, especially Performing Arts.

We then revisited the new Chinese Gardens which are partially done and the "Chrysanthemums of the Eastern Hedge". We would like to bring our new daughter-in-law to see these. She is my oldest son's new muse.

Yes, Cynthia Freeland, I believe the Huntington "standards" over the years have done the job for me and my family even when the kids were "Sick" and we were "Looking for the Mountain" (Smithsonian website) Bob!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Anonymous Friends?

Somebody must be your friend! But who? How many friends have come and gone in my life so far? How many more will I have? Better questions: Will I be considered "a friend" to anyone? Will I still have time to make more? How can I do that? Can I conceiveably be "a friend" to someone I've had to be "a parent" to? Are there ever "parental friends"? ie. they take care of each other throughout life. Is it even possible this could be done "anonymously"? That is the topic of a surprise article in the L.A. Times Sports Section today.
Yes, we knew Jim Sterkel. My wife knew him and his family better because they went to her church. Upon seeing this article, she immediately went to her scrapbook and pulled out pictures of their wedding party. Now which one would be the "anonymous millionaire"? After we moved to Claremont and "shamefully" left the "Downtown Church" we lost track of many of the notables there. We did keep up with the "fame" of the Sterkel Family. ie. Joanne and Jim's daughter Jill and her "Gold Metal" in Olympic Swimming. We were always amazed at their dedication and athletic ability. The senior Sterkels were more the friends of my wife's mother. She was quite a "sports fan" and a loyal "Trojan Supporter". However, we always thought that Joanne and Jim were UCLA fans. Little did we know of his former attendance at USC and his brief athletic career there. Wow!
Now, his name is on the new basketball floor at the New Galen Sports Facility and because he was a "good friend" and co-alumni there. What a story of loyalty to a place where "friendships" can start. I remember the old gym/basketball court at SC. I took a class on it when I was getting my teaching credential there back in '62-'63. It was old and drafty then. I can't remember any actual skills or techniques I learned there nor do I remember any "friends" that I made. I was a commuter grad students on the "Ford Foundation" getting my credential after my military service. I also rembember that in that building I learned how to thread and rewind a 16mm film projector which was a "requirement" for new teachers then. (my career ended with video tapes on VCR's in the classroom...nope not DVD's) The last time I found myself on the SC campus I walked right passed Coach Robinson and he waved and said,"Hi". I have taken classrooms on field trips to the Exposition Park Museums across the street there and even brought some of them to see "Tommy Trojan" in the quad. I toured the place with my third son hoping that he might go there someday.
What is even more interesting is that his surviving family didn't even know of this "anonymous gift" in his honor. His daughter was moved and said, "My dad was never famous, he never cared about that. He was just a good guy and a great parent." His wife wept and said, almost in disbelief, "He was such a good husband, such a good man, but do people really notice those things anymore?" Maybe they do...anonymously. Too bad it took ten years after his death for this to all come out and still remain "anonymous".
We seem to be so quick at letting others know what we don't like and who we are critical of but we keep our friendship making acts and comments to ourselves. Is it just a "sign of our times"? I can certainly understand why "Sherman, a cartoon shark" doesn't seem to have any "friends". Just like in "Finding Nemo"..."fish are our friends". Some of us have this "annoying habit" of "devouring our potential friends" and/or turning them away before we do. What a shame. Bob!