31 December 2017

Visible and Invisible

After celebrating Latin mass tonight (Saturday), I found myself at a retirement party at Max's Opera Cafe. While the combo (piano, vocals, clarinet, flute, double bass, sax) covered tunes from the American songbook, a plaque was presented, wine was poured, edibles were offered, conviviality flowed. Someone asked a priest, who is also a mathematician, what the two vocations have in common. "Both" he replied, "make the invisible visible." (27.V.17)

Agave Baroque

After high mass this morning, and a visit to the Asian Arts Museum this afternoon to look at the Tomb Treasures exhibition, I returned to church for a performance by Agave Baroque, to hear music of Heinrich Biber and others. Biber (said the program) "invented numerous new tunings for his violin, to achieve extended techniques, special tone colors, and 'artificial harmonies.'" The stunning virtuosity and chatty introductions of the lead violinist, Aaron Westman, brought Biber's technique to life --- "baroque heavy metal!" said Aaron, twice. The continuo players (box organ, theorbo, baroque guitar, viola da gamba) were no shrinking violets either. During one tuneup, a car alarm sounded, giving the organist and viol player a chance to riff off the chord. The organ, by the way, has a name: "Mister Toots!" (21.V.17)

Dr Pangloss

I was charmed to hear this afternoon that I express a certain "Panglossian naivete." No one has applied the adjective "Panglossian" to me before. (14.V.17)

Soapbox Racer

The neighborhood motorcycle shop has closed. It opened a few years ago in a space formerly occupied by a typewriter repair shop. At the time, prominently displayed in the front window was a soapbox racer, which remained visible for a few months, then vanished into the recesses of the shop, to be followed by a succession of motorcycles, including an electric. In the past few weeks, the motorcycles went away one by one, and the racer reappeared, alone in an otherwise empty shop. Now it has gone too. So long and Godspeed. I like to think that there's a kid somewhere who will ride it to a victory or two, or more. (10.V.17)

Stravinsky and Purcell

Friday evening past, and Sunday afternoon, I took myself to the Conservatory for their final opera performances of the season, Stravinsky's 'Mavra', and Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas'. I had not known about 'Mavra', a charming, short (25 minutes) comedy, complete with a hulking soldier character, Vasilli, whose quick change into drag as Mavra, as demure and 'feminine' a housemaid as one could imagine, he accomplished with skill, aplomb, and panache. He carried the piece. The unusual arrangement, for double bass, piano, French horn, clarinet, and bassoon, supported the comic mood.
But unalloyed joy cannot last. On to 'Dido and Aeneas', which began in love and ended in suicide. (Why are operatic characters thwarted in love, women usually, expected to die tragically?). An impressive production, with a simple set and modern dress; the chorus went from business suits to jacketless casual to sailor shirts and back to jackets with great efficiency, when they weren't singing or rearranging the furniture. The singers were splendid of course, and the baroque orchestra equally so. Dido sang her Lament with great feeling. A good time was had by all. (2.V.17)


I'm amused to hear, tonight, that a character named "Alex Martin" has been, um, dispatched, as it were, in a Doctor Blake mystery. (24.IV.17)

Suor Angelica

Tuesday past, a friend and I were in Cafe Creme at the Conservatory, when a nun made her way to the counter. After consideration of the likelihood that a nun would be in the Conservatory at all, never mind the Cafe, it dawned on us that the "nun" was a singer in a dress rehearsal of Puccini's 'Suor Angelica'. Also on the bill was Massenet's 'Le Portrait de Manon.' At the performances tonight, the singing and playing were splendid.The cultural assumptions underlying these pieces are outmoded, of course, but did not detract from the performances. Love across a class barrier is somewhat easier than it was, perhaps, and nowadays no one would expect a nun to commit suicide because she had had a child years before. The most important thing about the Puccini is that all the characters are women; one would like the attitude toward feminine emotional life to be more positive. (7.IV.17)

Bad Advice

A beggar on Upper Market this afternoon offered "Bad Advice --- Only $3" (2.IV.17)

03 July 2017


     While I waited for a bus at Stonestown late this afternoon in a light rain, a rainbow appeared against the clouds in the eastern sky. A rainbow is a rare sight in The City, a joy really, and many people remarked on it. I thought of the opening to Owen Barfield's book 'Saving the Appearances': 

      "Look at a rainbow. While it lasts, it is, or appears to be, a great arc of many colours occupying a position out there in space. It touches the horizon between that chimney and that tree; a line drawn from the sun behind you and passing through your head would pierce the centre of the circle of which it is part. And now, before it fades, recollect all you have ever been told about the rainbow and its causes, and ask yourself the question: Is it really there?" 

      The full quote is too long to include here. It begins a discussion of reality and representation and much more. Yesterday I asked a friend (a Platonist and mathematician) why the world is thought to be an imperfect copy of a Platonic Idea. How can a rainbow be imperfect? (26.III.17)

Play today

This evening (Monday), by chance or by Providence, half a block from the Conservatory, I encountered JR on his way to hear a guitar department recital. I had some dull plan for the evening which included grocery shopping. J said, "Why play tomorrow when we can play today?" I adapted to the new situation, and went to hear the music. A few composers were new to me, some music (by Charlie Chaplin and Britney Spears) was unexpected, and the final ensemble (of all ten players) was an impressive surprise. A good time was had by all. (6.III.17)

Kiss of Peace

This afternoon at the supermarket, I encountered the young cashier whom I spoke to three months ago (see November 13, 2016). He had electric blue hair then; today he sported green hair. We gave each other an urban arm wrestler handshake and a brief hug --- a secular Kiss of Peace. (19.II.17)

Haida Gwaii

     I learned a few hours ago (from television) that the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the north coast of British Columbia, are now called Haida Gwaii, 'Islands of the People'. In 1974, my father's ashes were scattered at sea off the islands. He had been a sailor on Canadian Pacific ships when he was young, and had said that the currents would carry his ashes around the Pacific and beyond.
     When I was a teenager, I went with my father to the Maritime Museum in Vancouver, to look at a large model of the ship he had sailed on, either the Empress of India or the Empress of China --- I don't remember which. He showed me the porthole on a (very) lower deck, where his berth was. He always regretted that the Great Depression permanently interrupted his training to be an officer in the Merchant Marine. But I have often thought that had he become an officer, he would have been sailing on troop ships and the like during the World War, and might have gone down on one of the many ships that were sunk. (2.II.17)

The Entertainer

At my usual cafe this afternoon, someone ventured to play the baby grand. She began with a chunk of the Moonlight Sonata, continued with other fragments of the Classical Hit Parade, and wrapped up with Scott Joplin's 'The Entertainer.'. A good time was had by all. (12.I.17)

Turn of the Screw

This afternoon I took myself to the Conservatory, for a performance of Benjamin Britten's opera 'The Turn of the Screw.' I had not seen or heard this work before. The house was full; there were few desertions at the interval. The singers and players carried it off splendidly. I was very interested to hear the 12-tone "screw" motive twist through the piece. All in all, an engaging and challenging work. (11.XII.16)

Piano pieces

     Tonight, I took myself to the Conservatory to hear Sarah Cahill (well-known local musician and radio presenter) and others perform works by Ruth Crawford, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, Frederic Rzewski (new to me) George Lewis (also new to me) and Terry Riley.
      The least interesting piece was Cowell's, pleasant, conventional, forgettable. The Crawford Preludes were short and bracing. Lou Harrison's piece ('Varied Trio') was very Lou Harrison: interesting, engaging; instruments included tuned rice bowls, baking pans, and a gong!
The three remaining works were for piano solo, demanding but not overbearing, involving, tuneful even. The Riley rag 'Be Kind to One Another' was delightful, and, according to Sarah, is a favorite of Riley's grandchildren! And the exhortation is pertinent, at this bizarre moment in American political life.
      Sarah played an encore, a minimalist piece by the Canadian Ann Southam. It surprised me that Southam would be known here. (15.XI.16)

Blue Hair

The young cashier at the supermarket this afternoon was adorned with very electric blue hair. "Love your hair, man!" I said; "beautiful!" He looked pleased and self-conscious at the same time. "You have anything exciting planned this afternoon?" he asked. "Shopping, work," I said; "I'm rather dull!" "C'mon," he replied; "you look like a fun guy!" Indeed. (13.XI.16)


Today, I'm 70, the Biblical age, as the Psalmist says, "The days of our years are three-score and ten..." I recall Miss Marple's remark in 'A Murder Is Announced': "We are allocated three-score years and ten, and I shall soon be overdrawn!" (7.XI.16)


This afternoon at The Cove on Castro, I watched a slide show, on one of the screens, of carved pumpkins, sophisticated creations far beyond the simple versions common in my boyhood. And the costumes on display, inside the restaurant and out, added to the effect. Years ago, someone asked me to describe San Francisco in one word. "Hallowe'en!" I replied.(30.X.16)


This evening in The Castro I observed a young man, apparently anticipating Hallowe'en, dressed as a pope, complete in a white cassock and white cope, carrying a thurible and wearing a triple tiara. He liberally blessed and censed everyone who crossed his path. (22.X.16)