Not Enough Midori

April 29, 2010

I don’t underestimate the effort it takes to learn, rehearse and play the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor. It is one of the most difficult violin pieces this side of a Paganini Capricio and a Bach Partita. But in last Saturdays performance the power of Midori’s playing was sandwiched between two other orchestral pieces, and we were treated to only one exemplary exhibition of virtuosity. I was not unhappy, just disappointed that there was not more. And, by the time we got out into the lobby, there were no more tickets for the Perlman jamboree on Tuesday night. The Midori Adori were out in force and clustered around the artist who was kind and brave enough to appear in the lobby to autograph programs and CDs.

Despite my chagrin, the Golden Rectangle of Light and Sound still held me in its spell. And the sight of the timpanist bending once again over his skins to check their tuning during and even after the Tchaikovsky Symphony #5  made me feel almost at home in my $35 seat at the back of the Schnitz. His bending figure reminds me of the immense attention to detail that any orchestral performance demands; at any level worth listening too.

It has been a month of world class violinists. First, Zuckerman, then Midori and Perlman. When will that happen again?

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I have just accepted an invitation to a Frogmore Stew Party in late May. I am told this is a South Carolinian Low Country dish.  It reminded me immediately of a little known and possibly fictitious event in France. Part of my acceptance note is as follows:-

“Of course, I hope you all know that this date is probably coincidental with Le Grande Festival des Grenouilles Cuites which occurs every year in the small town of Mangezvite, nestled in the rustic foothills of the Massif Centrale. Every late May and early June tens of thousands of frogs have from time immemorial gathered along the banks of the short rapidly flowing streams that descend from the Massif into the Rhone Valley to feed on the abundant insect life and of course mate, vigorously and often. It is this public and erotic display that persuaded the historical inhabitants of the region to create some of the best recipes for Frog known to man and celebrate this in a festival of amphibian love and gustatory excess. Young and old alike delight in donning the traditional Robe Longue de l’Amour de Grenouille and hop around in lustful leaps hoping to show that they are Le Grand Vert de Mangezvite.  The Mayor of Mangezvite chooses the best dressed female frog and receives special favors from the winner in a sort of Droites de la Grenouille Aînée. This old practice has been banned many times by the authorities but no-one takes any notice, least of all the Mayor. Visitors from Lyon, Clermont Ferrand and even from Paris have often tried to attend the Festival but the mayor does not announce the exact date and time until the signs are right. Any visitors who do show up are encouraged to stay and be fleeced by the local hoteliers and restaurant owners who then publish their new Menu de Grenouille. C’est tres cher!  No-one really knows exactly how many years the festival has been running but the town prospers, even if all the children do seem to look terribly similar to the mayor.”

 

In amongst the usual pile of instantly recyclable material in my mailbox yesterday was the Land’s End Mens Catalogue. Before consigning it to join its fibrous siblings, the Dish Company, the Internet Company, the local small ads and the AARP insurance offer, I flip through the pages.  I am not disappointed. It is the same as always. brightly colored and amazingly patterned clothing that in six months will be part of the Land’s End clearance catalogue as we remark, “what were they thinking?”

But one thing did disturb me. There seems to be a nascent trend toward shorter pant legs. Pair this with the news in the New York Times that the flared leg may be making a comeback and my fashion hackles are rapidly inflamed and rising.

When I first came to the U.S. so many years ago there was no Barney’s in New York and the flared pant held a tenuous hold on fringe hippies and jeans. Most American men were still wearing suits and pants with turn ups that showed a good inch or even an inch and half of sock between shoe and cuff. Flappers, I called them.  And I thought they were the silliest looking garment; especially on shorter men, upon whom they appeared ludicrous, almost clownish. My own London fashioned flared pants cut right to the shoe welt seemed to me to represent the absolute pinnacle of fashion awareness and Euro chic.

When the flared pant gained momentum in shall we say bourgeois American mens styling it found an even more ludicrous incarnation in flared pants cut high above the shoe line. Even when I bought a Pierre Cardin three-piece ice cream suit at Barney’s in the spring of 1976 the salesman advised me to have the pants altered to show acres of sock. I ignored him and sewed the thing myself, with cuffs, safely below the shoe line.

From the lofty heights of the present day I can admit that both styles were pretty damn silly. And so Land’s End and whichever fashion guru the New York Times is following are about to become the objects of my derision as they independently foment the resurgence of a look that will I am sure be announced as ‘NEW!’, ‘TREND SETTING!’, ‘EDGY!’, and so on. It could make a lesser man than me think about wearing a kilt.

As the ash from the Icelandic Volcano with the really tricky name continues to cause havoc across Europe the airlines are calling for a change in the safe to fly criteria.  And of course the authorities will change (lower) the safe to travel criteria until such time as when an airliner or two crash after flying through a cloud of ash from a volcano. Then there will be much wringing of hands and wrist slapping and finger pointing and denial. Perhaps travel insurance will enjoy a resurgence.  Meanwhile, more high-speed  rail lines, solar powered sea liners, and atomic dirigibles anyone?

Accumulating Equine Fear

April 17, 2010

At a workshop/ conference for writers. An exercise produced this short poem;-

The only horses I ever met either kicked or bit me

Crossing the field where the gypos live,

Dirty and unloved in their old lorries and faded wagons

Camped as always on the edge of town

Tying their pathetic ponies down with iron pegs.

Crossing it daily on my way to school

Crossing a wierd frontier and passing out

Crossing through a scrubby fearful region

Accumulates an equine fear over some years

That unpurged, so far,

Makes any riding I do a modern miracle.

Ask yourself this. What would you have become if you had taken all the bad advice you have been given, and then, of course, what would you have become if you had taken all the good advice you had been given? Right away I can see that this is the bare skeleton of a book. And I can also see that some of the flesh and organs of the book would have to be discussions on the nature of advice, what makes it good or bad, and would the conclusion be that it does not actually matter because what seemed like good advice in 1986 proved to be bogus over the intervening  years? Is advice then of the moment and not to be taken seriously? I am not talking about the advice which is plainly common sense or survival. Dont put your hand in the fire, don’t breathe underwater, dont punch policemen, and so on. No it’s the advice that friends, bosses and relatives give you when they take you into a quiet room, ask you to close the door, sit down and listen. Those special moments, or so you thought, when you would make a leap forward, or were saved from some awful stumble.

So there you have it. Get writing. Let me know when you publish. And let me give you some advice about that…

Grand Theft Soft Fruit

April 13, 2010

If you had been watching me yesterday at one of our local supermarkets you might have been puzzled by my behaviour in the fruit and vegetable department. As I rounded the corner between the soft fruit and salad greens areas I suddenly froze. And I remained frozen in  mid stride for several minutes. I had not suffered any form of paralysis, or heart attack, or any other health threat. The cause of my arrest was nothing so ordinary. No, far more interesting and entertaining. I was a witness to a crime. Barely a few steps from me a man was casually helping himself to grapes and eating them right there in the aisle as if the soft fruit department were a dessert buffet. He was focusing on the yellow grapes when I first caught sight of him. An older man, I would have guessed late seventies or eighties, pushing  the standard cart containing only one of those thick aluminum walking sticks.  Dressed in jeans and pullover, white hair. His technique was to get close to the table where the grapes were laid out in their mesh plastic bags. Standing very close his hand would slowly creep over the edge of the table, push a bag open and snag a few grapes. Now and then he would look up from his task but not around.  Munching he walked slowly on. making a circuit of the other tables and the adjacent bread, jelly and dry goods section, before he reappeared to settle alongside the red grapes and resume grazing for a minute or two. He seemed quite oblivious to my presence and there were only a few other shoppers who whizzed by on the errands. As I stood and watched him I began to think. Is he hungry? if so why not something more substantial? Is he with someone and they have told him to drift while they go shopping in earnest.  Does he do this often? Am I the only one to notice? Should I do anything? How soon will it be before I am so careless of my reputation that I cruise the supermarket aisles filching foodstuffs. As he shuffled off to wherever he was going I regained my step and resumed my own errand with a mental note never to buy grapes without checking the bag.

In a weird and wonderful week I spotted four landmarks of British auto engineering at either its worse or best, depending on your personal point of view. Heading out to town along the usual stretch of road mostly patrolled by bloated SUVs the size of a house I am passed by a blood-red Jaguar XKE. Returning later on the same day down the interstate I pass a pristine Sunbeam Tiger (Close relative of the Daimler Dart). I am already tingling when a few days later I am able to touch and photograph an IGC (in good condition) Sunbeam Minx that is parked on a street downtown. And then yesterday as I am cursing the traffic on Martin Luther King Blvd. I see waiting at the Broadway lights a light green Ford Cortina! A car I once owned in a darker shade, if not a darker time. If I see a Hillman Imp in the next few days I shall know that something is up. Whatever degree of randomness is generating these sightings must surely be a sign. I shall be checking for random oil slicks daily.

More stupefying examples of error messages that only serve to add to the confusion. This one is a new example from my machine:

Exception of type ‘System.OutofMemoryException’ was thrown.

Apart from the obvious riposte, “thrown where?” how is this helpful?

And from a good friend who has more software savvy than I will ever possess comes this little beauty;

An unexpected exception occurred.

Number: (none)

Message:

Transaction (Process ID 198) was deadlocked on lock resources with another process and has been chosen as the deadlock victim.  Rerun the transaction.

Inner Message: (none)

Well, of course it was deadlocked. That’s exactly my emotion too. And I really feel for the victim.