Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thais - A Meditation

Last week's Live in HD opera was "Thais", starring the diva de jour Renee Fleming. I knew nothing of this opera except that beautiful violin piece "Meditation from 'Thais'", which I used to do my Tai Chi routine to, along with the adagio from Mahler's 5th symphony. (They worked perfectly with the moves and I could imagine that I was looking graceful but probably wasn't.) The story of "Thais" is as old as the hills: Bad woman (in this case a courtesan), good man (a monk). Good man tries to convert bad woman. She becomes good, he goes bad. She dies.

It was nice to see a performance in which the lead singers are actually very attractive. Renee Fleming is gorgeous, Thomas Hampson, who played the doomed monk, is very handsome. The music was as beautiful as the singers. It was just lovely. Renee Fleming has the most wonderful voice with an amazing range. She's not much of an actress, performing and singing mostly to the audience instead of her co-stars, but who cares.

There's one thing I wish someone would tell her. She claims to have sung with a jazz group while she was in school, and she has recently made a CD of popular songs and has performed on Garrison Keillor's radio show and other places. Oy! She is TERRIBLE, laughably so. Her voice swoops in an attempt to sound bluesy and guttural, and she is trying to be soulful and it sounds like hell. I think she has reached a point in her career where no one will tell her the truth. If anyone reading this knows Ms. Fleming, please tell her to cut it out and stick to opera or lieder and never, never, never try this again and to collect all those CDs and have a bonfire. Oy!

The violin solo comes in between scenes when Thais is meditating on her sinful life and making a decision to be a good woman and give up her evil ways and all. It was played by a young man who is one of the first violins in the Met orchestra and it was so beautiful you could die. He took a curtain call at the end along with all the stars and got tremendous applause, including from many people in the audience in Akron, Ohio, who seemed to be under the impression that he could hear them.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Merry Christmas to All


The lazy person's way to save stamp money: My Christmas card, featuring yet again, Dupree, the wonder cat. Actually, he is too old to get interested in baubles now, but he did have his day as a tree wrecker.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The House Almost Without a Christmas Tree

John is always in charge of the Christmas tree, the getting of it, the putting it into the stand and the stringing of the lights. He usually does this a week or two before Christmas, unlike the old days, when I got the tree a couple of days before Christmas, and put it up on Christmas Eve, giving the children something to do besides whine about how long the day was, and how they wouldn't be able to sleep that night, etc., etc. It did keep them busy, but there was always the annual what ornament to put where fight, resulting in a few slammed doors. Peace finally reigned, though and they went to bed happy, as did I. Since there are no kinder about, John likes to have the tree around early.

This year, however, he and Cynthia got back from visiting Emily in Germany barely a week ago and has been dealing with the inevitable jet lag. In fact, every night he has wanted to watch a Christmassy videos, but hasn't been able to stay awake past 8:30 (2:30 a.m. German time) or so. Cynthia comes over for dinner, I put on the video and end up listening to the two of them snore while I watch the movie by myself. So Monday, he said that he didn't think he was up to getting a tree this year and would I mind terribly if we didn't have one. At this point I hadn't even put out the manger or the little cheap lighted village, so I said it was okay with me if we didn't have a tree.

Then yesterday, he decided he could not have Christmas without a tree and bought one of three left on the lot and brought it home. He said it was deformed and I think he felt sorry for it. He managed to get it up and straight in spite of a very crooked trunk. After dinner, Sally, Cynthia and I added the ornaments and, of course, it looks beautiful. Every Christmas tree we have ever had is the most beautiful tree we've ever had.

The manger is up (Joseph is missing his crook) and the little lighted village is aglow and there are candles everywhere, including bayberry. Gifts are wrapped and right now we are roasting chestnuts, which just set off the smoke alarm. Tonight we'll go to the Unitarian-Universalist candlelight service. They were just given a brand new concert grand piano, so the music should be outstanding.

One of our favorite old TV movies is "The House Without a Christmas Tree", which of course, ends happily (I mean it's a Christmas movie), and we just missed being one of those houses. I guess a person could survive, but it's nice not having to.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good Movies You Might Not Like At Christmas

Good movies are always piled up at the end of the year to make the choosing of awards easier for those who select the winners of Oscars and Golden Globes and Critics' awards. I have recently, after a bit of a movie drought, seen three very fine movies. Unfortunately they are not the sort that will get one all cozy and ready for the holiday season.

The first is "Rachel Getting Married", which has some great acting, even though it is about those precious, wealthy kinds of people who live in large houses probably in Connecticut. It's hard to figure out exactly who these people are, since they seem to know a lot of musicians (It was written by Sidney Lumet's daughter, who is also the granddaughter of Lena Horne), and a racial mix of vaguely theatrical and academic types. And the wedding itself is a sort of "Monsoon Wedding" clone, for no apparent reason. Anyway, it involves a spectacular case of sibling rivalry and is fun to watch. If you think Mom liked your sister best, you may not enjoy it.

The next movie is "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas." It's a Holocaust story and heartbreaking, so it's hardly "The Christmas Story". It did come out quite a bit before the holiday season, but just reached this area around Thanksgiving. The acting is fine and it is something that could have happened - but probably didn't. I have been trying to think of what we called that horror before it started being called "Holocaust." I remember when the book and then the TV mini-series came out that it became the name of the tragedy. I think after the war, we called it "the death camps" or the "concentration camps" but didn't give it a name. "Holocaust" fits because that's what it was, of course, or genocide. It is just unbelievable still. The movie doesn't explain anything, because I don't think it is possible to explain such a terrible thing. It is worth seeing.

The best movie I have seen in a long time is "Slumdog Millionaire,"even though it, too, has some parts that are very hard to watch. The premise is so clever, even though it seems implausible: a poor street kid, who has had to fight to survive, gets on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and is able, because of his experiences, to answer more and more difficult questions. He is accused of cheating, and tortured by the police. In telling how he knew the answers, we see his life and find out. It's an amazing story and though fictional, you know that there are hundreds, probably thousands of children in Mumbai and other large cities where small children have a daily strugglem, often brutal, to survive on their own. It's funny and sad and just such an absorbing story. There is happy ending, a downright joyful ending.

Of course, I shall watch "The Christmas Story" for the zillionth time and laugh and all, because it is the season for that sort of thing. But is was good to see a few fine flicks for a change.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stuff, as in Too Much Of It

Once in a while, if I wake up around 3 a.m., I start thinking about all the stuff I have in this house, and what I am going to do about it. I envision renting a Dumpster, opening a window and throwing, throwing, throwing until the dumpster is full. Then I think, wait a minute, some of that stuff is probably worth something, and also that some of that stuff belongs to my far away children, as well as those close by. I have told them that I am not running the Burnell Museum of Childhod Stuff. And I know that they also have vast collections of stuff where they live, too.

Most of it is my own stuff, of course. I have in my living room three antique pieces of furniture: an old school master's desk, a pie cupboard, and a washstand. They are all full of stuff: LPs, videos, photographs, family letters, scrapbooks, and odds and ends. That's just the living room. I have two closets full of clothes. I always wear the same things, and most of the other clothes are things I might wear some day. And twice a year I send bundles of clothes to the Vietnam Veterans clothing drive. I have shoes and shoes, which seem to breed.

I don't consider my books stuff. They are sacred, even though they are in every room. I have taken some to the library for their book sales, but most of those are books I bought for research when I was writing in the pre-Google days. I have pledged not to buy any more children's books and have avoided the Antiquarian Book Fair for the last 4 years. I have reference books I could probably get rid of. I don't think I really need the World Book Encyclopedia I bought for the kids back in the 60s - or the the Britannica I bought at a yard sale many years ago. (It's not that valuable edition of the early 20th century anyway - the 15th edition? )

The worst collection of stuff is in the basement. There's a cupboard under the stairs which contains God knows what. I do know that there is a copy of the Atlanta Journal from December, 1939 containing an account and pictures of the premiere of "Gone With the Wind," when all those real movie stars came and paraded down Peachtree Street in open convertibles, and my sister and I got to see them all. I guess I snagged it when my mother was getting rid of her stuff. I haven't seen it for a long time, because there is a lot of stuff in that cupboard: toys from the 50s and 60s that are no doubt collectible, but which no one wants to go through or get rid of. And there's a closet down there that has a lot of things in it which no one remembers. Oy! Sometimes I feel like Miss Havisham without the wedding dress or cake.

I made a small start this Christmas. I am giving recycled things to my family as gifts. Nothing ratty or awful, just things that I don't use but that they may enjoy, and that are small enough that they won't add to their own piles of stuff. I think of all those people frantically shopping at this moment, getting stuff for people who don't need it. I mean, we all like to give and recive, but we have become inundated with stuff, those of us lucky enought to have a place to put it. We live in a consumer economy and we certainly do consume a lot of stuff. There must be a better way to manage.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Intro to Christmas

Last night was the annual Christmas concert of the Kent State Chorus, an event which , for me, kicks off the Yule season. (They actually perform closer to Christmas than the tradition of right after Halloween so common these days.) The chorus is comprised of both university and community members and it is always a lovely way to get into the spirit of the season. It's also an antidote to the ubiquitous and annoying racket in shops this time of year, where one can't avoid hearing things like Elvis singing "Blue Christmas" or Burl Ives warbling "Holly, Jolly Christmas" blasting from hidden speakers. ."

There is a new, young choral director and he started things off with a bang and a laugh. The first number was "Jalapeno" sung to the "Hallelujah chorus. It was hilarious, full of food references and included kaopectate, too. I don't know who the clever lyricist is, but it was much enjoyed. There were a number of lovely carols, including "Still, Still, Still," a favorite of the Burnell Family Singers, who recorded it a few years ago for the Kaffee Klatsch annual Christmas CD. (We have not done a song this year for this prestigious CD, but hope we are still on the mailing list.) There were opportunities for the audience to participate in a couple of traditional carols

The final presentation was the Christmas section of "The Messiah," with the real "Hallelujah" chorus as the finale with the audience joining in. The soloists were a bit iffy, unfortunately. They were all students and one or two were a bit insecure. It's a difficult thing to do those highly ornamented arias and the bass in particular seemed to have lost his way a few times. Young or amateur singers, especially those in the lower range, tend to have a definite touch of the Cowardly Lion's wobble. Hard to keep a straight face at times and best not to sit toward the front where one can be seen to shake while trying to stifle guffaws. But all in all, it was a lovely evening and I am so glad to live in a community which provides so much good and accessible music.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Words the Sisters Taught Me

I was thinking recently, apropos of nothing , about the words and concepts introduced into my very young brain in elementary school some 74 years ago at St. Anthony's School in Atlanta. At the end of second grade, having arrived at the Age of Reason, we were prepared for our First Communion, preceded by out First Confession. We had already been apprised of the concept of sin, both Mortal and Venial. We had studied the Baltimore Catechism: Q.Who made you? A. God made me. Q. Why did God make you? A. To love Him and serve Him ...and so on and so on.

These questions and answers got more complicated as we made our way through succeeding grades, with very long answers to very complex questions, most of which were forgotten as soon as the answer had been memorized and parroted back to Sister Mary Frantic, et. al. We had to memorize the Ten Commandments and the Seven Sacraments, but not the Seven Deadly Sins, mainly because I don't think the nuns particularly wanted to have to explain Lust. It was bad enough getting past Adultery really fast before some smart ass kid blurted out a detailed explanation. Then there was a mysterious thing called Impure Thoughts, which had no meaning until we reached the Age of Lust much later.

I'm not sure how the Church (all these things must be capitalized by order of the Papal Nuncio, whoever that is.) came up with the idea that seven was the Age of Reason, but pounding these heavy concepts into my head at that age caused such confusion that I was sure having a book overdue from the library was some sort of sin. Now, Mortal Sin meant that if you died with one on your Soul you were going straight to hell, not passing Go, but directly. Mortal Sin was, like, killing somebody or missing Mass on Sunday. Venial Sin, on the other hand, well, you would not go to Heaven, but Purgatory, a sort of mini-hell. However, there was a system involving Indulgences, Partial and Plenary, which meant that the folks you left behind could have masses said, or pray for your Immortal Soul, until you had accumulated enough Indulgences to get you out of there and up to heaven where you probably should have gone in the first place, being only human. While you were alive, that is.

Along with regular Sin was the Occasion of Sin, which one was to avoid. There was even the Near Occasions of Sin. We just figured out that meant you were standing next to your sister when she talked back to your mother. (Talking back to one's mother or lying were the main sins of childhood. How bored must the priests have been in the confessional!)

At least we were picking up a rich vocabulary, even though there were few opportunities to show off our superior linguistic skills to our neighbors, who went to the Protestant School (which is what we called public schools). Words like Partial Indulgence could not ea sly be worked into a conversation about whether to play hopscotch, Red Rover, or Mother, May I? We used to think that Protestants were lucky that they didn't have to worry about sin. They were doomed anyway, since they didn't belong to the True Church.

One thing about growing up in Catholic schools is that one has a hodge-podge of confusing religious concepts. Not the nuns fault; I just never reached the Age of Reason by their standards. They were just trying to keep us from going to hell, after all.



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

This past Saturday was the annual Kent State Folk Festival day of workshops
at the Student Union. Actually, there are no students present at these workshops because they are all holed up in their dorms Twittering with their friends in the next room, or glued to their computers. Another reason is that most students these days have to work in order to pay for the outrageous costs of higher education. The folk festival was started 40 years ago by students, and although they are no longer a part of it, it still goes on, supported by old folkies and the Kent community.

I remember going to the very first one, which was held in a classroom building. I took my guitar with me, hoping to learn a few new licks. At the time, I was mostly playing tunes from the Burl Ives and the Weaver's Songbooks and mournful ballads like "Lord Randall." I felt very old (I was 41) and all the participants were, like, 20 or so. Kent was a hot spot for folk music, along with a magnet for rock groups in the bars downtown. Some of the kids I met at that first folk festival kept returning over the years until they were way older than I had been at the beginning of it. Unfortunately, if their kids came to the university, they did not carry on their parents' love of folk music.

Its glory days are over, since everything is scaled down and the top performers now come in for one night only, playing at the theater downtown over a week of concerts. There are no more Andean pipers, or Appalachian balladeers, or old Alabama shape note singers doing the workshops. The Saturday workshops now feature area musicians, all of whom are worth hearing and watching, but they are people you've seen a lot of times already. There was a fine Irish group, but my favorite was a group playing choro music from Brazil, beautiful dance music, European with an African beat.

Along with its being good day for music, it's an even better day for people watching, since these folks come out of the woods or wherever they live during the rest of the year. I'm not sure where they find the clothes they wear, but they are always interesting. The couple pictured were there last year, and I looked for them this year, but they might have been in disguised as suburbanites and I just could have missed them. Fedoras, worn with long hair, were big this year among the younger men. Ugg boots were also prominently displayed, even though the weather was quite mild.

This used to be held in February, which was a perfect month for it in terms of fighting cabin fever, but it was also a bad time for traveling, so they moved it to the fall - and then ran out of money to bring in acts who would have had to travel, thus creating a perfect Catch 22.
Time to Stop
I think it's time to lay off the Obama cult. Last week's New Yorker cover is the kind of thing I am talking about: a picture of the Lincoln Memorial, and the "O" in the title is hovering over it in silver. The new Newsweek has a picture of Lincoln looming over Obama. Editorial headlines proclaim the hope that Obama will save the country. Editorial writers I admire have joined in the Obama worship, as if he is the second coming.

I realize that we have just been through an 8 year "dark night of the soul", if I may paraphrase Scott Fitzgerald, but this is too much to put on the shoulders of one man. Along with everyone I have great admiration and high hopes for this new president. However, it seems to me that we are setting him up for failure if we have such unrealistic expectations of what he can achieve. I think everyone just needs to calm down and get real. He is not the Messiah. He is not Lincoln. He is an intelligent, responsible, good man whom we all need to support in any way we can, but this adulation is getting ridiculous.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obscure Connections to Fame

A number of years ago, my daughter Polly developed an idea about obscure connections to fame, spurred by the fact that the uncle of a man she was dating had invented the UPC, those little stripey things that are scanned whenever you make a purchase. This idea caught on with my family, and extended to anyone careless enough to have experienced such a connection. The obscurity can pertain to both an obscufre person who has done something noteworthy, or to whatever object or activity may be connected to a famous person. For instance, there's the wonan who had been thrown up on by Paul Lynde at a drunken football game at Northwestern. Another person was offered a joint by Jack Nicholson, a stranger to her, on a ski lift in Colorado. My son's girlfriend's sister's boyfriend, who is a leather worker in Kentucky, made the harnesses used in the movie "Seabiscuit." It can't be something as prosaic as "I met George Cloonery", but rather that you bought a second hand jacket in a Good Will store that George Clooney's' father had worn on a local TV program in Cincinnati in 1965. I don't know anyone to whom that has happened, but only offer it to demonstrate the limits.


As I have shared this phenomnon with people, I have gathered some really fine connections and it has even grown into the Burnell Museum of Obscure Connections to Fame, nade up of objects sent to me by enthusiasts. I have a dried up apple from the orchard of the writer and critic Edmond Wilson, who was at one time married to Mary McCarthy ("The Group"). I have toilet paper from the home of the late Norman Mailer. These came through the originator of Obscure Connections, Polly, who lives in Provincetown. I have a paper napkin used by Hal Holbrook, when he was appearing in "King Lear" in Cleveland, snagged from his table in a restaurant by daughter Emily. A Playbill from a performance of "Chicago" in New York that was taken from the seat occupied by Rex Reed was sent by friend and Obscure fan Chris Jehle. Chris also sent me the picture of Rip Taylor. What makes that a worthy entrant is that Chris and his partner were walking on a beach in Hawaii, encountered Taylor, asked for his autograph (for my museum) and Taylor already had on him a pack of autographed pictures. On a beach in Hawaii!


The prize of the collection is a cigarette butt, dug out of an ashtray by our friend David C. Barnett, who interviewed Joe Esterhaz on the Cleveland NPR station when Esterhaz was in Cleveland for the opening of his movie "Telling Lies in America." He refused to put out his cigarette for the interview, telling David, "no cigarette, no interview." This butt is a trifecta of sorts. A few years later, Esterhaz developed throat cancer and was interviewed by Terry Gross to talk about the dangers of cigarettes and his battle with cancer. Then, recently he was on some NPR show talking about how his bout with cancer and his recovery had led him to become - A BORN AGAIIN CHRISTIAN! So, this butt has a lot going for it in the obscure connection story. David is also responsible for the piece of video tape, which he clipped from a videocassette of "Freebie and the Bean," which came from the estate of Sammty Davis, Jr. "Freebie and the Bean!"


I met a woman who had dated the son of the woman who does the "Find the hidden object" pictures for Highlights magazine. But the very best of all the encounters related to me came from my brother Mike. Several years ago, he was walking through the hospital where he gave people new hips and knees, and met a colleague who had just returned from Poland. This doctor was a proctologist. He held up his forefinger and said to Mike, "Touch my finger." Well, one hesitates to touch the forefinger of a proctologist, doesn't one? So Mike hesitated. "Go ahead," the man repeated. "Touch my finger." Reluctantly, Mike did. "You have jut rouched the finger of a man who traveled to Poland specifically to give a rectal exam to the Pope's confessor!" he proudly exclaimed. So that is one of the best of all obscrue connections. Not the Pope (the late John Paul II), but his confessor. There may be other Obscure Connections to Fame out there. but this is the absolute best.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Country 'Tis of Thee

Well, I didn't go to a movie. I didn't turn on the TV, but I had left the radio on after "All Things Considered" and let it play. I started fooling around on the computer when they started talking about the map you could follow as the state returns started coming in. So I sort of followed along with side trips to YouTube and FaceBook. As some of the states turned blue, I kept myself from jumping to conclusions. A little after ten o'clock, when Ohio turned blue, my phone rang. It was Emily in Germany, where it was 4 a.m.

"Can you believe it?" she cried. "I am so thrilled!. We have a bottle of expensive Champagne chilling in the refrigerator which we're about to open. We're going to stay up for the acceptance speech, too. This is just great." The girls had already gone to bed, but were really interested in the ourcome.

It wasn't long before it had truly happened. Barack Obama is the new president of this country which is my country once again. I am so proud of us. I am so proud that people began to actually think about what this country needs and did not let racism interfere with their vote for the right man.

I went to bed, but not to sleep, because the phone rang again around 11. It was my friend Susan in Dayton.
"Can you believe it?" she shouted. "Obama made it. I am so relieved. I didn't think it could happen." I could almost see her jumping up and down. We exchanged mutual happy shock.

I drifted off watching my little black and white TV, and saw a bit of the acceptance speech. I watchd more of it this monring. It was so moving and even though Mr. Obama and the Rev. Martin Luther King are from a different era, there were echoes of that wonderful speech from 1963, which I can never hear without tearing up, in the words of the new young president-elect. Everyone I have talked to today has had the same sense, and everyone I have talked to has been moved to tears. Emily called again today and she said that she and Chris were both crying as they watched the speech. Emily said that she saw on TV a German waving an American flag. They are wild about Mr. Obama over there. The Europeans had written us off after the incompetence and arrogance of the Bush years.

There are those who say that race should not be an issue here, but it cannot help but be. It's a landmark, a promise kept after centuries of limits imposed on Americans because of color. It's just plain wonderful for all of us. I hope that the Democrats keep a cool head and do not act like Republicans in Congress. We've been given a gift, which many people worked very hard for, and I hope we use it well.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Moving to Canada?

Tomorrow is the big day for all of us here in the United States of America (which all of the candidates keep calling the country we live in, with emphasis on the last two letters, like KAH!) I am leery, having been down this road so many times in the last 40 years. I was thinking today of all the times I swore I would move to Canada in the various election years: Both times that Nixon was elected, both times that Reagan was elected and both times that Bush II got into the office of President (of the United States of AmeriKAH.)

The media, the current villain of all of us in AmeriKAH, is giving the election to Obama, which I find worrying. There are people, among the undecided (Who are those people and where have they been for the last year and a half - or for the last seven years?) who might figure that they might as well not vote at all, or vote for McCain, figuring they want to make him feel good. I don't trust undecided people to make good judgements at this point in time.

I worry that all that early voting will somehow screw things up. Since I live in a small precinct, I have no problem voting on election day, because it is rarely crowded, so I can understand those who live in big cities who may have to wait in line forever on official election day. However, there have been waits of up to an hour in the early voting areas, so I don't know what the point is. In our county they are not using paper ballots, so that isn't an issue here.

What the current administration has done to this country in the last seven years has created the most dangerous time in which I have ever lived. It is hard for me to believe that anyone can think that we need more of the same.

As for McCain's choice of a vice presidential candidate, I agree with Colin Powell that it does call into question his judgement. I am astounded that people think she is capable because she is "just like us." I don't know if the people who say this think themselves capable of dealing on a global level with other world leaders and the many problems of planet earth, or if they are just too dumb to understand that we are not considering a race for the student council president's office.

Tonight (Monday) I'll be watching NBC's Saturday Night Live Presidential Bash for comic relief. Tomorrow morning I shall vote for Barack Obama and every Democrat on the ballot. Tomorrow night I shall go to a movie and not turn on the TV or radio until Wednesday morning. No matter what, I'll probably not move to Canada once again.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Telling Stories

Last night, on the official Halloween, was the second annual ghost walk in Kent. Last year this was quite a success, so this year there will be two nights. I am one of the storytellers stationed at the various places purported to be "haunted." I lucked out last year by being at the great old Kent mansion on the hill. It was the home of the person for whom the town was named. It's a wonderful, magnificent house, which has belonged to the Masons for over 80 years. It's beautiful inside, with walnut woodwork, vast rooms with high ceilings and exquisite workmanship throughout. The Masons have, over the years, taken loving care of it.

Back in the 1880s, one of the Kent women was burned to death while trying to light a heating stove in the ballroom. There have been sightings of the figure of a young woman, dressed in white, wandering around in the billiard room, or floating down the graceful winding staircase. Her grieving husband had sat on the great porch in his rocking chair, and after his death some 15 years later, the empty chair was seen rocking all by itself.

Well, I don't believe in ghosts, but I think these are fine stories for the telling, and last year I had such a good time. I sat in the massive doorway with a lantern at my feet. We had over 200 people from all over during the 3 hours. I had never had to tell the same story 10 times, and by the third hour I felt as if I was babbling a bit.

This year I was not so lucky. Stories had been solicited from the public and I was given a story which in itself was a good one, except that there was no background that would explain why this particular place might be haunted. I was finally able to work it into a narrative of sorts. I had assume that I would be able to stand or sit on the porch of the "haunted" house, but no one had bothered to tell the present occupants, and I was relegated to standing across the street and pointing to it as I wove my tale.

Unfortunately, right behind me was a storefront church which was sponsoring a Halloween party for teenagers, complete with a really loud rock band, heavy on the drums and bass (MBOWMBOWMBOW) and that sort of guttural screaming stuff, like "OWOWOWOW "- Rockin' with Jesus, I guess. The kids were very nice, not rowdy, polite, but VERY NOISY. The "music" was coming from inside the building, but many of the kids were congregating in front of their "church." They politely moved out of the way when the tour groups came along. I couldn't move too far away from the noise because my ghost-ridden house could best be seen from that vantage point, avoiding the trees screening it. I couldn't cross the street because there was a lot of traffic and the large groups in the tour might have gotten stranded waiting to cross and it would have slowed things down, with tour groups piling up on each other. Or worse, turned into group road kill. Which would maybe create a whole new ghost story for next year.

In a way, it worked, because once in a while the moaning electric bass came in at the point where the ghost showed up in my story. I had parked my car right there, so between groups I could sit in the car and listen to NPR and try to drown out the booming music. I was there from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the weather was mild and not too cold. Tonight someone else will be at that spot and will not have to compete with the Christian teenyboppers.

I don't think I shall do it next year, but I have certainly enjoyed it up to this point. I'm learning that a lot of people actually believe in ghosts. I have decided that these are Sarah Palin people, bless their hearts. And my ears are still recovering.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Twick or Tweat

Beggar's Night is no more. It is now on the Sunday afternoon before actual Halloween. Since we live on a dead-end street, only one and a half blocks long, this is a very popular spot for hoards of costumed urchins, dropped off by parents in pick-up trucks from all over the county. I don't mind this particularly, because there are not so many children living on this street as in the past. When my children were that age there were over 60 children just on this block. There were, of course, many Catholic families here (along with a few fertile and careless Protestants), since it is close to both the church and the school. We were the greatest generation indeed. Or the greatest generators.

The costumes are always interesting and indicative of current pop culture. A tubby little girl wearing a long, blond, curly wig appeared on the doorstep, accompanied by another little girl with a head set on. 'Oh, are you Cinderella, or Goldilocks?" I asked, innocently. Blondie, looking puzzled, replied, "I'm not either of those people." "She's (some name) from 'High School Musical', and her sister here is Miley Cyrus," piped up their mother proudly. Fortunately, they were followed by two Dorothys from "The Wizard of Oz," which was nice to see. And there were a number of princesses, probably with names from Disney movies, but I didn't want to know that. I could at least pretend that maybe their parents read to them once in awhile.


My main complaint is that people bring their infants in arms along and hold out a bag to fill with candy for them. I wanted to do a W.C. Fields on them: "Do you honestly intend for that toothless spawn of your loins to ingest this sugary, choking hazard treat? Have you no sense of decency? Are you totally clueless about what is proper for that helpless costumed lump dressed as an alligator which you are holding in your arms?" I almost did when this guy holding an infant whose mouth was plugged with a pacifier held out a bag. I asked,"Does this baby eat this kind of stuff?" "Of course," he said, smiling broadly. Right.


Who are these people? I expect they are the same people who bring their toddlers to slasher movies. Or a screaming two year old to the restaurant where you are trying to have a quiet meal and a glass of wine. Or take their six year olds to rock concerts. There's a whole generation of clueless parents out there who themselves are devotees of instant gratification and push their children into activities they're not ready to really enjoy.


Good grief, I sound like one of those old ladies who inhabit every neighborhood I've ever lived in -the ones who threaten to call the police if a child so much as puts one foot into their yard. Old Mrs. Cole here on Edgewood Dr. threatened to do that, so every time the kids walked by her house, they would put one foot into her yard just to see what would happen. Well, I don't care if kids run through my yard or play outside and make noise. There are so few kids here now that it's a joy just to hear them once in a while. That's why I enjoy even the watered down Beggars' Night Sunday Afternoon once a year. It's their former kid parents that I want to call the police on when they set foot in my yard begging for treats for babies.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Back to the Opera

The first live HD transmission of the Met Opera was a performance of Richard Strauss' "Salome", starring Karita Mattila, a very sexy, blonde, Finnish soprano. Her performance of this role a couple of y ears ago had been reviewed with great praise for her "Dance of the Seven Veils" - daring, sensual, completely erotic, a bit shocking, etc.  I mean, raves. I had seen her last year in "Manon Lescaut" and she was great.

The broadcast started with her being interviewed backstage by Debra Voigt, who told us that she herself had played this role in the past and that  it was a very strenuous part. (Ms. Voigt used to be a very, very large woman. Several years ago she was denied a role  at Covent Garden on the grounds that she was too big to fit into the costume even though she has one of the most glorious voices in the field of international opera. She has since lost a very, very lot of weight, but still it was hard to imagine her in the past doing any kind of dance, much less peeling off a bunch of veils.) So, anyway, she asked Ms. Mattila how she prepared just before going on stage. Ms. Mettila replied, "It's time to kick some ass!" and hurried off to the stage. Ms. Voigt looked a bit startled, as the camera followed the star onstage, where she proceeded to do a lot of rather gymnastic warming up exercising. She was wearing a very clingy sort of slip dress with a halter top, which she kept fiddling with, as if to tear it off right then and there. (I looked around to see if there were any creepy old men in raincoats in the audience.)

The opera was set vaguely in the present time and the set was quite grand and modern, with lots of metal contraptions and glass floors and platforms and an enormous staircase guarded by ominous winged human gargoyles. You just knew that really, really bad things were going to happen.In fact, one of the pages keeps telling one of the guards that if he doesn't stop staring at Salome, something terrible will happen. Who doesn't know that story? John the Baptist is called Jochanaan and he spends most of the time in a well under the stage so that all  you hear is his voice. Which is a good thing, it turns out, when you finally see him. 

Well, the first bit of hilarity is when Salome insists that he be brought to the surface so she can get a good look at him. (Every time his voice is heard, Ms. Mattila sort of gyrates seductively, as in hot to trot.) When he is brought up, she just about goes crazy. The singer who plays him is a man of very large girth. She looks him over and sings, "How wasted he looks!" Now this guy is lying on the stage looking like a beached whale and I don't know if the audience at the Met laughed, but there were quite a few guffaws at the theater here in Ohio. Then she goes on, "His skin is like ivory!" More guffaws in Ohio. The makeup artist must not have read the script: the guy is so filthy you can't tell what color he is. "His hair is like black grapes!" More guffaws as the matted dull wig the guy is wearing looks like something coming out of one of those discarded couches you see on the side of the road. "His eyes are so lustrous, like gems!" Huh-uh, more little piggish. Of course the audience at the Met has the advantage of distance, but we are right on top of the performers. Suspension of disbelief is simp,ly not possible. But surely they can see his bulbous form as it rises from the floor. 

Anyway, we settled down in expectation for the Dance of the Seven Veils, the much heralded highlight of Ms. Mattila's "Salome." And so far, the singing is great, even from the whale. After being cajoled by Herod, her lecherous stepfather, to dance for him, Salome disappears and soon returns, wearing a  top hat and a set of gray tails, a la Eleanor Powell from those 30s musicals, and I wonder if she is going tap dance the Seven Veils number. But, no, she is going to do "Dancing With the Stars", accompanied by a couple of courtiers in tuxes. They whirl  her around to Strauss' beautiful, sensuous music, doing leg lifts, spins - all the stuff you've seen on DWTs. (I'm giving her a 7 so far.) Then she throws off the hat, the jacket and the two guys help her off with the trousers and the long fishnet hose and she's down to a black bustier. She turns her back to the audience and flips off the bustier, turns back to the audience with her arms across her chest and that's about as daring as it gets. 

As Salome's reward for the dance, Jochanaan gets his head chopped off (off stage) and then Salome (now wearing a bathrobe) does her necrophiliac final, endless aria with the head, getting blood all over her face, and the curtain comes down as Herod orders the executioner to kill Salome. We don't get to see that part. (The ominous human winged gargoyles do nothing but stand on these tall perches for the entire hour and a half of the opera. I wonder about them. How would you describe a job like that? It's not even as noteworthy as being a spear carrier in "Aida", for Pete's sake. What do they tell their kids?) 

The next live HD performance is John Adams' "Dr. Atomic", about Robert Oppenheimer and the atomic bomb.  The composer also did "Nixon in China" and "The Death of Klinghoffer". I probably won't go. 

Monday, September 29, 2008

Clyde from Ohio

There is a Clyde, Ohio, which is the actual town on which Sherwood Anderson based "Winesberg, Ohio." 
The Clyde in the above title has nothing to do with either Anderson or Clyde, Ohio. Clyde Singer's paintings are currently being displayed in two area museums, the Butler in Youngstown, and the Canton Museum of Art. He was an Ohio native from a very small town south of Canton.  As soon as he could, he got out of Ohio and went to New York and studied at the Art Students League with Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry. The reason for the double exhibitions is that this is the centenary year of his birth. He ended up coming back to Ohio and was the director at the Butler for a very long time. 

I don't know if he's known much outside of Ohio. He was a contemporary of some of my favorite American painters of the 30s and 40s, like Charles Burchfield and Edward Hopper. His work would be considered very old fashioned now. He was a realist and a lot of his work is narrative. He did some fine paintings of street life in New York, McSorley's Saloon and its habitues, baseball players, parades, and small town shops and shoppers, and street  crowds.  He did paintings of steel workers, men in line for soup kitchens during the depression, and factory towns full of grimy buildings and smoke stacks pouring smoke and ash over roof tops of dreary looking houses.  Almost all of his paintings are full of people with the exception of a few landscapes.  

Over two weeks I went to both shows and could go back. There is so much to see in his work. I can get lost in the images of what life used to be like in towns when the sidewalks were full of people, some looking straight ahead, some looking in windows, some chatting and gesturing with friends. That's pretty much gone  around here. Small towns have been replaced with malls and shopping strips with no character and no sense of place. I wonder if anyone under 50 will even "get" Singer's work. As I said, it's pretty old fashioned. It's far from sentimental, though, because much of his early work coincided with the Depression and he didn't make it pretty. There's a strong emotional content in those paintings. 

I decided to drive  home from Youngstown along what used to be the major steel producing valley road, Rte. 422.  It seemed only appropriate. It's like that road in "The Great Gatsby", only without the giant spectacles of Dr. Eckleburg. On one side are the giant remains of abandoned steel mills, which look like dinosaurs looming up. On the other side are dusty shops of indeterminate businesses (auto parts, cell phones), many bars, a few churches (mainly Catholic). an abandoned 4 story steel company office building, more bars, and side streets leading to neighborhoods of wooden houses that you don't want to think about. This time I noticed a huge parking lot, empty, containing a tiny wooden structure that looked about 16 feet square. There is a huge sign, almost as big as the building, that reads "LAW OFFCE. It goes on for miles like this. 

I don't know why I like to drive this way, but it is thought-provoking and not really depressing. I mean, I don't have to live there, just pass through it. I try to imagine what it must have been like when the steel mills were producing. It probably looked a lot like a Clyde Singer painting, with smog so thick you probably couldn't see all the people walking, shopping and chatting. Even like that, it was preferable to what it is like now. At least there was life there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Got Ethics?

Several weeks ago I read that the university was sponsoring a free workshop on the ethics of blogging. Thinking that  it sounded interesting, I called and registered, assuming it would be some sort of small local affair. It was to be held at the newly renovated Franklin Hall, an old classroom building on the front campus, which had originated as the university training school back when this was a normal school. It is now the headquarters for the journalism department and I was anxious to see what it looks like. Years ago I had taught a class there in the Experimental College.

When I entered the building there were a number of young, fashionably dressed young women who directed me to the third floor. When I got there I realized that this was not going to be some small event. There was the typical registration desk with name tags and binders for the participants, plus a table full of Danish rolls, bagels and choice of beverage. We were ushered into this huge, new, high tech auditorium, with computer connections built into the tables and three enormous screens up front. Quite a few participants were already twittering away on their laptops. There were people there from all the major newspapers, both local and national. A young woman sitting next to me was from the Chicago Tribune, where she runs a blog on racial issues. 

The opening panel consisted of heads of journalism departments from various universities around the country and journalists and editors and a couple of heavy hitting bloggers not connected with newspapers or universities. I wondered what I was doing there, but decided to stay anyway. I mean, there was a free lunch.

The focus of the workshop was to explore the impact of blogging on the print media and to examine what kinds of ethical considerations might or should be adopted in what is basically a form of citizen journalism, a really "free" press. Journalists do have restrictions in the form of codes of what is acceptable or ethical, e.g., conflict of interest in coverage,  neutrality, transparency, and accountability, etc. in "straight" reporting of news. (They did not discuss editorial content in relation to this code.) Journalists are also required to back up their stories with reliable sources.One panelist, Jay Rosen from NYU, said that the advent of the internet and blogging has caused a real revolution in that the means of production have now changed hands. He quoted A.J. Liebling: "Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one."  Rosen also said that press "tools" are now in the hands of the people through video, audio and the computer. High tech note: when he came to a certain spot in his presentation, he also appeared simultaneously on one of the big screens in a pre-recored image speaking at the same time to emphasize what he was saying. It was a very "Wizard of Oz" moment. He also quoted Roland Barth: "One writes to be loved." I like that.

The newspapers represented also have bloggers on their staffs and there were a few of them discussing what they did and how they combined their blogging ethics with their professional journalist's codes. I did question one guy's use of Shirley McClain as a reliable source when he used, as an example of blogging's advantage of immediacy, to brag about being the first to break the story of Dennis Kucinich having told McClain that he had seen UFOs. I liked Jay Rosen's definition of ethics: "Rules of practice that lead to trust." I'm not sure I trust Shirley McClain.

All in all, it was an interesting day, especially now when the print medium is in a state of such flux. Both the local daily papers that  I read are making some pretty drastic cuts right now, dropping staff, minimizing sections, cutting features. Most cities now have only one newspaper,  and they are using their own blogs to "scoop" themselves, with the risk of making mistakes, which happened recently to one of the area newspapers when their blog reported the death of a well known resident who was gravely ill but still alive. Because the internet is so vast, the report went out nationally, causing dismay to those who knew the person and embarrassment to the paper. It used to be that people believed something to be true if it was in the paper and now the same holds true if it's on the internet. Retraction is possible, or course, but doesn't always work. How many people still believe that Al Gore claimed to have invented the internet? Even one of the panelists at the this conference made an joking reference when discussing the internet. Everyone needs ethics in print or in person, I guess.

Monday, September 15, 2008

How People Talk II

Upon reading my last post, my friend Char reminded me of another now common  language usage. I go to lunch once in a while with friends who are even older than I (It's possible that people of great age are still ambulatory!), and we are invariable asked by the young, perky servers, "Can I get  you guys something?" After we have received our meals, they're back with, "Do you guys need anything else?" Before they bring the bill they ask, "Do you guys want any dessert?" (My friends and I are not eating in greasy spoon diners, so I don't know where this trend comes from.)

Now, my aged friends and I pretty much look like old ladies, even though we do have the occasional chin whiskers from dying hormones. We don't talk in gruff voices, we don't wear pinky rings or shoot our cuffs. 

I once called a young waitress on this terminology and her response was to look confused: "What should I call you?" 
"How about just "you"? I said.
"Oh," she replied, as if it had never occurred to her that the word is both plural and singular.

I don't know if that changed her, but it is still "you guys" wherever I go.In some places, especially in Western Pennsylvania, it's "youns" and in some places in Ohio it's "youse", pronounced "ewes." Growing up in the South, we used "y'all", but most Yankees are apt to use that word when addressing a single person rather than more than one person and it grates on the ear. 

Maybe I should just put a poster up in the entry of the restaurants I frequent and let them know that "you guys" is a really weird way to address customers, especially us geezer ladies. 

Monday, September 8, 2008

How We Talk

There was a time about 30 years ago, when the term"lady" was downgraded, with "woman" the preferred nomenclature for those of the female persuasion. "Lady" was reserved for our mothers. We were WOMEN, hear us roar. At the same time political correctness required that we use non-classist and non-racist words in referring to everyone. Thus the term, "cleaning lady" evolved, at least in the U.S. of A. (In Germany a putzfrau is not called a putzdame, but then they are not known for tact over there, much less polical correctness..) 

One result of this overly correct, non-offensive language is that terminology for referring to others has resulted in some strange, non-specific descriptions of people not previously accorded the terms "lady" or "gentlemen." For instance, I heard an employee of a bank which had been held up say that "the gentleman handed me a note demanding that I give him the money before he blew my ***** head off."  Our secretary at work would tell me there was a gentleman waiting to see me. Expecting to find Alistair Cooke, I would instead be confronted with Stanley Kowalski. One hears cops reporting being "kicked in the balls" by a combative "lady." These usages render the words meaningless

I don't know what to do about this, other than to drop the terms "lady" and "gentleman" from our vocabularies, since they no longer have a place in our egalitarian society. We're all men and women here, with no need to categorize our selves as gentlefolk. We did win the revolution.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Same Old Dupree

A couple of blog posts ago I mentioned that Dupree the cat was feeling poorly (Midwestern for "sick"). He is quite old now, even older than I in cat years. He had two shots and an application of flea medicine which was too much for his delicate constitution apparently. The result was that he was totally wiped out. He could barely walk, couldn't eat, and spent all his time under the arbor vitae tree out front, where he has a sort of nest. 

We would periodically check on him to make sure he was still breathing. Since he was under this very thick fir tree and he is black, it was hard to see him, and we had to sort of crawl through the branches before we could find out if he was still alive. He would not stay in the house at all. All could think of is how animals tend to creep away when they are dying. 

As soon  as the weekend was over, John called the vet, who told him that some cats can have an allergic reaction to the flea medication. Who knew that? She said as long as he was eating he was going to be all right. But he wasn't eating, and this is a cat which can drive you crazy with demands for food, especially when you are busy with something else far from the kitchen. 

After two days he staggered into the house and ate a bit and drank some water. He then went back to his nest under the tree, but it was a good sign. Gradually he started to come inside and eat a little more and then a lot more and now he is recovered. John has decided to let the fleas have him rather than ever go through this again.

Dupree's health problems distracted me from Democratic convention, but I do know that Obama was enthroned and I did listen to his very fine speech. Now I can ignore the Republican convention with impunity. It doesn't take a sick cat to keep me from watching McCain and his beauty queen vice presidential choice. That is the most cynical political move since Bush I appointed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Those clueless Republicans!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Great Randolph Fair

As luck would have it, the day I went to the fair, Senior Citizens Day, was hot and muggy, so I didn't get around to all the animal exhibits, like the really fairish kinds of  animals, like the sheep and the hogs and the cattle, the ones that smell  like farm barns. I did check out the goats, of course, and there were vary few Toggenbergs like Finbar. They are now breeding strange looking critters with no ears and lots of the pygmy ones and varied color Nubians. Nothing spectacular there. I spotted this senior citizen in one of the buildings. I'm not sure whether she was wearing her boyfriend's pajama top or plays for an unusual baseball team. I didn't want to use my camera, but I can vouch for the accuracy of this sketch.

I decided to have a look at the domestic exhibits: sewing, baking, and quilting. One of the women in my water aerobics class had entered a passel of cakes and pies, but I couldn't see the names on the entries. She told me later that her chocolate zucchini cake had won a blue ribbon. Good way to get rid of t all that zucchini, I guess. 

In the arts and crafts building I came across the usual unusual
offerings like this wooden cow (?). Several years ago, 
perhaps the very same woodworker, had made a sort of Rube Goldberg potty chair, all gaily painted with pretty pink flowers, complete with its own attached toilet paper holder. I reckon the recipient of that potty chair has grown and now has her own home in which to put this lovely cow (?).  

The needlework building was full of embroidered pillow cases and crocheted doilies as usual, but now there seem to be many more quilters than ever before. There were some really beautiful quilts, a few stunning antique quilts and a live quilting bee, which was fun to watch. 

I decided to have lunch at the dining hall before the crowd started pouring. Typical fair fare: chicken or meat loaf, with mashed potatoes and green beans with pie for dessert. Since I don't drive on a heavy stomach, I settled for a hot dog and the best French fries ever. I rarely eat fries, but these are so good, loaded with catsup, that they complete the fair experience. 

My last stop was the vegetable building to see the vegetable creations some of the 4-H kids 
make, like veggie villages and people. Some clever kid had his squash and bell pepper man wired for sound. The main attraction here are the giant pumpkins.
The winner weighed 675 pounds and the top three were all raised by the same family. They said they had an 800 pounder at home but didn't say why they didn't show it. Transport problems?

Since it was so hot, I didn't bother hanging around until the Ferris wheel got started up. It's  great place to take pictures from, and many years ago one of mine made it onto a calendar and also into a newspaper ad. Since nothing much has changed, I didn't need to take another one. 

The fair's over, and the neighborhood kids started school yesterday. There's still good corn and the tomatoes are perfect for BLTs, so summer's not over yet.

Monday, August 25, 2008

August Events

It's been a busy month since my last post. I had a birthday in the middle of the month which began with a 6 a.m. phone call from Australia, where Emily and her family are visiting Chris' family. That was fun, and as an extra I was serenaded with the Happy Birthday song from down under, courtesy of Chris' sister Ann. Emily reports that they are having the coldest winter there in years. They should be heading back to Germany in the next week or so, stopping in Dubai for a few days where it is 110 degrees in the shade - except that there isn't much shade.
Polly sent me one of her sculptures and a Beatrix Potter plate she got at a yard sale from the NPR Paris correspondent Alice Furlow - a perfect obscure connection to fame. Polly's sculptures are fascinating small pieces that you can keep looking at and finding new things. The photograph does not do this one justice. There are stories in them. I love having this treasure. If you want to see more of Polly's work, you can find it here.
We had a jolly birthday dinner at the Pufferbelly, after which there was a concert in
 the square featuring my friend Helen, the Brit songbird. She had a fine jazz quartet behind her. She did a special number for me, her lovely version of "Over the Rainbow". When she was singing the words, "Birds fly over the rainbow",  way up high above the stage a group of birds went flying over - a little bit of unplanned magic. All, in all, a fine day to be a year older. 

Lat week I went on another geezer tour, this time to Put-in-Bay up on lake Erie. I hadn't been there for at least 20 years and it was another one of those perfect August days, with a clear blue sky and a gentle breeze. I was happy to find that old friends Pat and John Balazs, were also along which made it more fun, especially since I didn't know anyone else on the bus. When our children were young we spent a lot of time together, but as they got older and Pat and I both started working, we hardly saw each other over the years. We still have a lot to talk and laugh about. Pat 
still remembers shopping trip we took to Akron years ago and my amazement at what an intense and persistent shopper she can be. I remembered exactly how many pumpkin colored sweaters she looked at before deciding on one - and she still has it. It was the first time I had driven to Akron - I had just gotten my license a few months before, and all I could think of was that I had the trip back to Kent ahead of me. Put-in Bay is a beautiful place and we toured the entire island in our own touristy tram with a guide narrating the hot spots. One of these spots was a winery and I was the lucky winner of a gift basket. When I got home I unwrapped the cellophane covering and discovered three outrageously scented candles, which I had to dispose of before my house smelled like a bordello (not that I've ever been in one), some made-in-Ohio foodstuffs and a bottle of sweet Catawba wine which I'll have to be pretty desperate to drink. But it was, as we used to say, a pretty fun day.

I have more to say, but I have laundry to hang out and a sick cat (he had some shots and flea medication yesterday and it's made him a tad puny), so I"ll write abut the great Randolph Fair later.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Abundance of August

August has always gotten a bad rap - the dog days, the hottest month of summer. Just myths. Since it's my birthday month, I have always been aware of what August is really like. It's cool nights and blue sky days. It's when the gardens give up the best foods of the year: corn, tomatoes, green beans, and the orchards are laden with that most beautiful of all fruit, the pink, yellow, light orange, juicy peach. For those who care for squash and zucchini, there's more than a person could possibly eat in a lifetime. The farmer's markets which have been rather sparsely stocked are now a brilliant mosaic of all this produce from local farms and gardens. The zinnias are out in all their many colors and country fields are full of goldenrod and purple asters. August is a feast for the eyes and the belly.

Speaking of bellies, the county fairs are starting and they are great places for people-watching. Our local county fair is a very popular one, since it is small enough that one can see everything without falling down with exhaustion. Back when Polly had her goats, we really got into it ourselves, even entering some of the exhibits. I think Polly even won a ribbon for her apple pie. We loved to watch the goat judging and were very proud of Polly and Finbar, the beautiful, enormous Toggenberg wether, who won a number of huge, vulgar trophies. Polly won the showmanship award on her very first show, much to our surprise, and the disappointment of some veteran goat people who gave us dirty looks as we marveled at the trophy with a golden goat on top.

There are sewing, quilting, baking, vegetable, flower (with tallest sunflower, e.g.), antique and art exhibits. There are the usual rides and corn dog stands. The tractor pull and the demolition derby are usually sold out by the morning of the first day. There will be a fair queen and king selected, some healthy teen agers who are in 4-H. There is always a senior citizens' day when geezers get in free, and will be entertained by a kitchen band playing songs that our great grandparents liked. (It does not seem to occur to whoever plans these things that there will eventually be geezers whose music of choice will run to the Stones, or even worse, Britney Spears. There will be doddering old ladies with names like Madison or Miley, with tattoos and nose rings.) There are hogs, sheep, goats, rabbits and fancy chickens with topknots. Folks from the big city (i.e., Cleveland) come to show their kiddos where McNuggets come from. There are also semi-sleazy hawkers of vinyl siding, replacement windows, hot tubs, vitamin supplements, garden tools like the ones you might see on late-night TV, magic cleaning liquids, and other goods that will improve your health and household.

This fair has been going on for 150 years and one of the early founders was the man who developed the Hubbard squash, right here in Portage County. I have personally never seen a Hubbard squash and try not to eat or even look at squash in general. But folks here in Portage County are mighty proud of Mr. Bela Hubbard, his squash and the Portage County Fair. And the fair is one of the things I like about August. I shall go on Senior Citizens' Day and see how the goats are doing these days.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Not Your TV ER

So, Friday night I had an episode of choking on something and John gave me the Heimlich maneuver. Eventually, I was okay but my ribs were very sore, very very sore. I had a big week-end ahead: a friend's 80th birthday party on Saturday, a Sunday morning breakfast with the Quilting Addict, Nancy and her husband Joe, at their friends the O'Keefe's house, and a Sunday night concert at Blossom Music Center with friends and the Monday morning arrival of my friend Susan, who just got back from an amazing trip to Egypt and Petra.
I made it to the birthday party without too much pain and had a grand time. Sunday morning I woke up in a lot of pain but I was not about to miss seeing old friends, especially the Quilting Addict who lives Near Philadelphia and does not get to Kent very often. I popped a (product placement) Tylenol, which worked well enough to keep me from gasping every time I moved. I decided after a delightful breakfast with delightful people that I would run over to the emergency room at the local hospital to get an Xray to see if anything was broken. When I got there, the waiting room was empty and I got right into the part where they take care of you. A doctor (aged 12) showed up immediately, poked around a bit (to my muffled screams) and ordered an Xray. Right on, I thought, I"ll be out of here in a jiffy. Then I waited and waited to be taken to Xray. Finally I was wheeled through a series of wide corriders and arrived at the icy cold Radiology Department and was given a nice warm blanker. The Xray lady admired my shoes, which were exactly like her (product placement) Easy Spirits, for which she gave a sincere endorsement and let me know that she has 2 pairs of same, which she bought, as did I, at (product placement) Macy's. She took a number of pix of my sore ribs and sent me back to my cubicle, where I did some more waiting.

After a while, the kid doctor returned and said that he wanted an ultra sound to make sure my liver wasn't lacerated. A lacerated liver??!! I don't even like sauteed liver. I hadn't even thought about that possibility. So I waited and waited until the ultra sound lady showed up, which took over an hour. She apologized, saying that she had had an inpatient who had taken a lot of time. ....probably one of the many obese Portage county people I had watched being wheeled past my cubicle. (One of the local fire departments has just purchased a stretcher that can hold 800 pounds. Seriously.) She informed me that my bladder was full, which I already knew. As soon as she left I scooted to a nearby restroom and returned to wait again. And wait. And wait.

Finally the kid doc came back and said the ultrasound was inconclusive and he was ordering a cat scan. He explained that one's liver could be damaged and one would never know until something exploded, or words to that effect. By this time I realized that there was a TV in my cubicle with which I could pass the time. The offerings were: an LPGA tournament, a Tiger-less PGA tournament, a replay of the Football Hall of Fame Parade from Canton, an Indians game, and those awful Law and Order episodes that always seem to be on when you can't sleep at 3 in the morning, the ones with that weird Vincent D'Onofrio, who tilts his heard and bends over suspects and uses psychobabble from an abnormal psych text book. I lucked out around 3 o'clock when (product placement)PBS reran the "La Boheme" I had seen in a theater live last winter. It made the time go a little faster to watch that cute, chubby little Mexican tenor and the beautiful Romanian soprano do that wonderful Puccini music. (Their lovemaking to music was so passionate that I swear I heard Schaunard sing "Get a room" in Italian.)

As soon as Mimi coughed her last, I was taken down for the cat scan, which didn't take too long, but I had already been in the ER for 6 hours. Six hours! So I waited some more. Used the restroom a few more times. Watched other people come in, get treated and leave. Finally, finally the kid doc said everything was okay, gave me a prescription for a pain killer (product placement) Vicodan, which I won't take anyway because it's too strong. Fortunately I had called John to have him call my friend with whom I was supposed to go the Blossom concert, so I did miss one of the planned activities of the weekend. I had spent seven and a half hours in the ER to find out that nothing was seriously wrong and that there's nothing much I can do about the pain but take (product placement) Tylenol until the pain goes away. All because my son tried to save my life. Is there some irony there?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Blissfully Multitasking

During July and August here in Kent, we have the opportunity to enjoy free chamber music concerts by the students at the Blossom Music Program. Chamber music has not been one of my favorites forms, but these students come from all over the world to study with members of the Cleveland Orchestra. They are just superb musicians and I love to watch them as well as to listen to the gorgeous music they produce. Many of the pieces are familiar, but there are always new, to me, composers, mostly contemporary. I have even learned to appreciate Hindemith ... although he was no Mozart.

A few years ago, after taking a drawing class at the university, I started carrying a sketch book around, encouraged by the class instructor to do so. There are not many places I can actually use it. I have taken it to Provincetown when visiting my daughter there. That's the ideal place to sit and draw in public, because there are so many real artists there that an old lady sitting in the middle of town with a sketch book is completely ignored. No one looks over your shoulder and asks, "Watcha doin'?", which is a good way to kill one's enthusiasm. It's also a good place because there are so many interesting people to draw wandering around.

I started taking it to these chambers concerts, and that's an ideal venue. I sit in the front of the small auditorium where there's enough light from the stage to see by. As I listen I make quick drawings, trying to catch the movement, especially in the strings, where most of the action is, so to speak. I love the way these kids sit on the edge of their chairs, their straight backed posture (except for a certain oboist a couple of years ago), how they position their legs and feet. The women all wear delicate spike heeled shoes. They are all dressed in white blouses and shirts, and black trousers or skirts. Sometimes the women wear glamorous black evening gowns. Most of them will go on to playing with symphony orchestras or professional chamber groups. Some will become teachers at conservatories. I don't know how many of them will go on the solo careers, or how that works. They all seem to me to be extraordinary musicians at this stage, but I am far from being an expert. Although some of them already appear to have a certain star quality it's hard to pick that out from what is essentially the cooperative performance form of chamber music.

At any rate, I enjoy sketching them in action. I even drew one of the page turners. They also serve who only sit and wait.



Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ladies With Hats

I have been volunteering at the local history museum, a repository of bits and pieces of the lives of Kentites past and present. I have been scanning scrapbooks, with the idea of reducing the vast amounts of paper materials in order to save space in the building. The actual scrapbooks will be moved to a vault at one of the banks whose director is on the board of the historical society. Some of these scrapbooks contain some wonderful pictures and stories from the 19th century and I love to read the flowery language of the newspaper accounts of engagements, marriages and deaths of people whose names live on in streets, buildings and neighborhoods. One of my favorites was from one of the fraternal organizations, the name of which I shall omit for the fol owing reason: the scrapbook contains photographs of prominent citizens in black face performing in a minstrel show put on by the organization as recently as the 1950s. Hey, it's part of the town's history!

My most recent scanning job involved the Women's Club Scrapbook from 1955-56. There were dozens of pictures of ladies in hats. This reminded me of my mother. When she was very old, retired from all of her many community activities and feeling useless, I spent a week-end collecting her many newspaper clippings and putting them all together in a scrapbook. For many of her grandchildren, who only knew her as an old lady, this scrapbook became an eye-opener. It also became on opportunity for her to look back on her life as a busy community activist. All the many pictures were of her with other women, all wearing hats and perusing documents, or tea tables or receiving plaques for work in community organizations. She was one of those women who ran things: the United Way, the local symphony, the Red Cross, the hospital volunteers, the Girl Scouts, Catholic Charities, etc., etc. She also really loved hats.

She was sure that when my father retired he would join her in these interests, but he preferred to stay home, read and listen to music and wait 'til the sun was over the yardarm for a bourbon and branch water. He complained that she should be getting paid for all that work. And she had to get used to his asking her where she was going and how long she would be gone, until she could no longer manage to drive. At that point, in her 80s, she volunteered to call "poor old people" to make sure they were all right. They were mostly younger than she.

I have not followed in her footsteps. Who could? I don't wear hats.
(That's herself on the left above. Terrible picture.)


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Tribe

This blog has been neglected for a couple of weeks, mainly because Emily was here for her 30th high school reunion. And she was here without her children or husband. I remember the first time I went away without the kids and how enjoyable that was, even though I loved them dearly. No one asking me where their shoes were, or what's for dinner, or having to go to the library to look up something for a paper due the next day (this is well before the computer and Google, of course). FREEDOM! What kids? Emily had a marvelous time at the reunion and looked gorgeous and much younger than her classmates. I know everyone's mother thought the same thing, but really. It was great to have her home and we laughed a lot. She enjoyed wandering around Kent and seeing old friends.

We took a trip up to Corning to see her aunt, my wonderful sister Mary Lucille (know to others as Mary Lu Walker). Much more laughter, and Ichat visits with some of the cousins. Took in the Rockwell Museum which specializes in Western art, including Remingtons and Russells. Don treated us to a great Indian dinner down in the historic district. It was a short but very fine visit and the drive along the green hills is beautiful.

All this family visiting made me think of how lucky I am to be a part of such a terrific tribe. There 's my immediate family - my four children. There are my two beautiful grand daughters. There's my birth family - my sister and my two brothers, and the memory or our late oldest brother. There are my 22 nieces and nephews and countless great-nieces and great-nephews. These are all splendid, attractive and brilliant people, naturally, being my relatives and all. Some of them are my namesakes - fortunately as a middle name so that they will not be burdened as I have been. I did hear that darling little Sophie in Dayton wanted people to start calling her Guenveur, but I hope she has changed her mind by now. (If she insists, I wonder if I could take the name of Sophie, which I really like.)

Besides these relatives, there are dear friends, too, whom I consider part of this tribe, the kind of folks we all have in our lives who are like family, people who don't have to like you , but do. I don't mean acquaintances, but people who know you well and still like to hang out with you. That's a good thing in the world today.

Well, the house seems empty this morning now that one of my tribe is on her way back to Germany and her children and husband. They'll be glad to have her back, but we - John, Sally and I - will be missing her.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Best People

Sunday I drove up to Ashtabula to attend a graduation party for the daughter of one of the former volunteers at Townhall II, the local crisis intervention service here in Portage County. I became a part of that organization 37 years ago as a volunteer, became the training director and then ran the community education/prevention program until I retired 16 years ago. Renee, the mother of the party honoree, has been living in North Carolina for 14 years, and it was so good to see her. She was one of hundreds of Kent State students and community members who had volunteered at the agency over the years. Another "old" volunteer, Elaine, was also at the party, so there was a lot of reminiscing done. One thing we all agreed on was that our time there, especially back in the 70s, was spent with some of the best people we had ever known.

The crisis line began on campus in the winter of '71, instigated by the counseling center as a response to the many students who had returned to Kent State in the fall of '70 after being traumatized by the shooting of students the previous May. The center was seeing a lot of students who just needed to talk about what had happened and how it had affected them. The psychologists had already thought of training paraprofessionals to deal with the mostly short term effects of crisis and decided the time was ripe to set up a training program and began recruiting volunteers. Within 2 years, the service moved off campus and became part of the county mental health system as a 24 hour crisis intervention service.

I volunteered in the fall of '71 and found myself in a group of 25 or so trainees, almost all of whom were students, with the exception of another community member, Nancy. She was a secretary and the wife of an older student, and I was pretty much a housewife and a member of the PTA and the League of Women Voters. The rest of the people looked like John and Yoko, with the beads and the peace signs and the hair and the beards. Four letter words I had never heard spoken aloud flew around, used as nouns, verbs and adjectives in most creative ways. The first party I went to with the group announced its location by the scent of pot wafting from an apartment. I didn't stay long, fearing the possibility of a headline featuring a local matron caught in a marijuana bust. It took some time to adjust, but we seemed to all fit together quite well.

As I got to know these kids, I realized that they were some of the brightest, funniest, kindest, most humanitarian and generous folks I had ever known. They were probably about the last generation of college students before technology took over person to person communication. They were pre-internet, pre-Ipod, pre-video game, and pre-cell phone people. It was also when the cost of attending a state univesity was within reason, so that these kids had the time to volunteer several hours a week. They also had a social conscience. They read books, they liked films, they played games, they made music. They knew how to listen, of course, since that's what we were trained to do, but you could also have a real conversation with them, using real words. Of course, it wasn't just the students who were endowed with these qualities. More community members joined the group: we had a bunch of local ministers, a priest, more housewives, a college instructor or two.

I have kept in touch with a number of these great people over the years. Some of them stayed in the area: Dave, Annie, Bill, George, Kat, Bev, another Dave. Craig, Rich and another Renee live in Columbus but come up once in a while. Judi and Toni both ended up in Atlanta, as did Ken. Nancy, after getting her master's degree in theology, is in Philadelphia making quilts. Sue retired from being a corporate lawyer in Chicago and returned to Cleveland to do pro-bono legal work. Jackie travels around the world with her music. Elaine quit her job as a newspaper and radio restaurant reviewer and has gone into online marketing. There were a number of marriages: Ted and Saunis, JBell and Ed, Elaine and Brad, Joyce and Dan. Quite a number of those hippie kids became lawyers, doctors (one also an author), nurses, school teachers, college professors, librarians, social workers, psychologists, business men and women, writers, editors, musicians, and journalists. Some are gone from us: Carol, BJ (who insisted on being called Zachery) and Joyce.

The "kids" are now in their late fifties, early sixties. They're older now than I was when I met them. Some are even grandparents. Whenever I run into one of them, they always say. "Those were some of the best times of my life." They tell me how the skills they learned have helped them in their careers. It was a real community of like-minded people who got as much as they gave from the experience. As Renee said in Ashtabula the other day, "These are people I keep in my heart."

(The above photo does not include any actual people I know. It's a Photo-shopped combination I put together from the web.)