WEEK 8

February 19, 2017 – SUNDAY

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Petanque Court limit – indicated with hose

The sound of music:  I ventured out only two times today. The first time to bring in the newspapers and the second to place the hose across the front yard demarcating the area we are thinking of placing an Italian bocce court (actually a petanque court – French, same game, but less restrictive). This day, pre-dawn or post-dusk all day, unremitting dullness. Today, not just the sameness of the sky, the sameness of the experience, at least compared to yesterday.

I’ll forget the dullness of this day by thinking of yesterday’s entertainment. Yesterday was a more interesting day, a day filled to overflowing. We live in an area rich in culture. There are so many cultural events one hardly knows where to start. We do not have to go to big venues to be entertained. We have dozens upon dozens of small ones (50 seats or under), so many local events populating our ‘art’ scene: theaters; live music; poetry readings; photo – painting- sculpture exhibits. Last night, at the suggestion of friends Jay and Eileen, we went to a program put on by “Piedmont Piano Company,” a company at one time was located on the end of Piedmont Avenue just before the avenue terminates at the huge cemetery designed by Fredrick Olmstead, the landscape architect of New York’s Central Park (but not Golden Gate Park, as many think). A few years back the owner moved from his small building to downtown Oakland, a short walk from City Hall, into an old art supply store. The new location is expansive with high ceilings that shelter lights in an oval cove. Persian rugs of various sizes covered the floor. The space has an Art Deco feel. Piedmont sells only one kind of musical instrument, the piano. The building is filled with pianos, the selection varied, including uprights, grands and baby grands. A few I looked at closely:IMG_1092  RCA Storytone

  • A RCA Storytone piano (home entertainment center with a phonograph in the seat) lacking both its guts and bench, but a pretty piece of Art Deco furniture even if it now is unable to function.
  • A replica of the 1931 “PH Piano” designed by Danish architect Poul Henningsen. Its body was wrapped in padded red leather (rather like the top of a stool in an old dinner). Its sheet music holder was composed of six glass panels held in near-rectangular metal frames. The piano’s top — which resembled a dragonfly’s wing making it seem as if it were about to ‘lift-off’ — was made of undulating shiny metal and semi-domed glass panels. That piano ‘lid’ reminded me of Paris’ Art Deco (or was it Art Nouveau?) entrances to the Metro.
  • My personal favorite, a Steinway made in 1910 (my father’s birth year) in walnut with a solid tone, selling for a trifle — over $30K with tax. I’d rather have it than a stone ring, but I’d be able to find a place to store the ring, not so the piano.

I had wanted to take my camera out with us last night, but JM suggested I leave it behind and simply enjoy the evening without shooting. The music started. I found the appearance of the musicians interesting and suggested that JM take a shot of them. He shook his head. His comment, “It’s tacky.” — Then a man came from behind, phone in hand, sat in front of us videoed the performance, leaving and coming back again and again. There in front of me, on his tiny screen, the scene of what was before him, the band. I wanted to capture on a camera the miniaturized two-dimensional image (life concentrated) held in his hand and capture the real-life 3-D band just beyond. There the real thing and an image of the real thing, both seen at the same time. It fascinated me. I wished I had had my cell phone. JM did take a hurried shot with his cell phone, for he too found it fascinating. I “flashed on” an art piece concept: the band, the image of it captured on a phone screen, both captured on another phone screen captured by yet another behind, micro scene capturing what is in front of it. I would be something like this:

  • Band;
  • Band; Band on Screen;
  • Band, Band on Screen, On screen,
  • Band, Band on Screen, On Screen; On Screen…

And so each phone photographing what is being photographed on the phone preceding it. One cell phone behind another, photographing it and what is in front of it —- and another behind another and so forth so that as one moves away from the band, the real-life band becomes smaller and smaller as the distance increases and the band in each phone gets smaller and smaller, as each cell phone captures what is on the phone in front of it and the scene beyond the phone.  The big scene becomes a macro scene, the macro becomes a micro scene which becomes a micro, micro, each step back miniaturizes what lies before it. It is kind of like history, the further away one is from an event, the less its impact. It becomes compressed and more compressed until it hardly exists at all.

Toward the end of the show I did borrow JM’s phone and got a few photos of the players, but did not get the shot of the whole group or the shot I so much wanted to capture: The full scene, reduced onto a 3” x 6” screen, with the actual event there in front of the cell phone. Perhaps another time.

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I-Phone: Musician at Fazioli

Now to the MUSIC: The pianist – playing on a Fazioli grand piano costing who knows how many thousands, even hundreds of thousands, made of the same wood used in Stradivarius violins, Jay said – was accompanied by a local bass player nattily dressed in a snug soft-woven blue suit; a casually dressed local drummer in an animal camouflage vest sitting partially hidden behind his drums and cymbals; and two visiting musicians from the Czech Republic out in front, with their horns (sax and trumpet & something else), dressed in thin, worn, rumpled black suits, but their shoes, more sleek in style and of finer leather than those worn by their American counterparts. The spike-heeled female pianist, wearing a gold toe ring and a flared black torso-fitting, knee-length skirt dress, sat erect with perfect posture. I envied her posture, her firm gym-contoured arms, but her playing more. I wished I’d had my wide-angle lens to get the whole scene (worthy of a painting) and a sound recorder, too.

My parents gave me years of piano lessons. They never took. I pretended to play the piano, running my fingers over cardboard boxes, my fingers running up and down the keyboard over imaginary keys, playing complicated music. No black key or white key was ever neglected. My fingers stretched as far as physically possible, each finger playing a note, ten fingers at a time I played. Then, given a piano and lessons, the sounds that came forth did not compare to those I heard from my cardboard piano. What I had played in my head had been beautiful. It was music of the most exquisite kind. Sitting on a bench in front of real ivory and ebony keys, my fingers sought to create what I had played so often but could not tease from the new instrument. Reality did not compare with my imagination, and I preferred my pretense to what I produced when finger met key. I wanted to be a virtuoso with flying fingers and hand crossing hand, hitting keys from one end of the keyboard to the other. That I wanted, but I never even mastered ‘chopsticks.’

I sat through the concert listing to incredible sounds come out of a dull tarnished silver trumpet and a less dull brass saxophone. Those virtuoso Czech brothers (‘2 wild and crazy guys’ – JM’s reference from early SNL) could play. They played physically, from tapping toes to shaking heads. The saxophone player sometime stood stork-like, moving his whole body as he played. (One can see why Bill Clinton was drawn to the instrument.) The red-faced trumpeter did too, but his feet (perhaps because of his heft) stayed more firmly on the ground. He often shook the accumulated spit from his instrument – what else was he to do when playing with wet, hot breath? Each musician, playing a different instrument, was engrossed in teasing sounds from instrument, but at the same time they responded to what the others were doing. It seemed they were passing off the music, like a pro player passes a basketball to a teammate. I thought about how jazz came out of the African-American slave experience and was passed over the ocean to Europe and has ricocheted back from Europe to America. Live music resonates in our bodies in the moment it is played, but beyond that musicians hear it, carry it in their minds then later express it, their bodies teasing sounds out of the musical instruments they touch, sounds written in their psyche.

I thought how in some ways it is easier to perform alone because one only has to think about one’s self. Those musicians had to think not only about what they were doing, but also had to consider other musicians and what they were doing or might do. Playing a musical instrument well is difficult and playing with a group, especially when members of the group are new to one another, is likely even more difficult than playing alone. The group played together, but individuals were featured too, one musician after another was featured. They moved from song to song with no conductor. How did they know what to do and when to do it? At the start of some pieces there was the 1-2-3-4- and the music picked up the beat. The BEAT was there with heat and breath pulsating as if a beating heart. Some pieces were standards and others original, created by the musicians.

I’m often stunned when I hear good musicians and think of the excess of talent and the lack of fame and, more than that, the difficulty talented musicians have making even the meagerest of livings. They perhaps are cursed by their talent, doing something they excel at, that benefits society but for which there is little demand for or appreciation of. In the Hollywood musical “La La Land” the actress made it big, becoming rich and famous. Her once boyfriend, pursued his love of JAZZ, had his dream jazz club, but in pursuit of his art form, his reward was small success with few appreciating his ‘art’ or his work to preserve it. I appreciate the talent, the hard work that went into creating the music which I, in passing, enjoyed last night. I realize that most of those who create music almost certainly sacrifice as a result of their pursuit. Without musicians’ expertise and musicians’ commitment to their art and craft, our culture would be less, but more, we individually would be less too. Musicians contribute to the richness of our culture and to the richness of our lives, and they are not compensated in accordance with what they contribute. A few are, but most aren’t.

And, now in this day and age, on this or any day (gray or bright), I can have my sounds, almost any sound I choose playing in my ears. How we take music for granted.

February 20, 2017 – MONDAY

Charley in things

Charley and flowers

Charley being beautiful

Feel it:  This morning I work up to loud purring. Charley is our only cat with a loud purr. Halima and Oskar purr, but theirs more a vibration than a purr. Charley used to sometimes get in bed between our pillows, curl up and purr. The purr a prediction of rain, that tomorrow would bring rain. He was our in-house weatherman. We suspect that he, when a stray, had spent many a damp cold night and was letting us know he was grateful for a home and asking that we not put him out into the coming rain. Then this year the rains kept coming, and he stopped his purring predictions. We suspect partially it was because the rains came too often, in fact they seemed never to end and prediction became unnecessary. When we lived in the Midwest and South, rain came and went, skies opened up for a downpour / gully washer / toad strangler; an occasional hard thunderstorm with lightning bolts and rumbling thunder came any time of the year, the storms came, but were gone as suddenly as they appeared. Not so here in our Mediterranean climate. Our summers here are dry with virtually no rain for many months, but in the wet season, our winter, we get our rain, and in wet years it lasts. This record year in Northern Californian, it has not been raining part of the day but all day, one day into another and one week into another. Storm sliding into storm – weeks of endless rain- and so Charley sees no need to predict what we are in the midst of.

February 21, 2017 – TUESDAY

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Raindrops on Window

Yes, Rain AGAIN!!!:  There is certain sameness when one rainy day follows another. On truly miserable days one tends to say in the house. The house becomes a prison, walls that protect also hinder. Variety, indeed experience, seems limited. No wonder prison is so difficult; it’s predictable and that breeds boredom. When things are the same or similar hour-to-hour and day-to-day, how the mind must numb in the unrelieved tedium. Without change, there is no rhythm in life and time is meaningless. If there is not sun, then there is no day. If sun is hidden behind rain, there is no infinite sky or change in brightness. Shadows do not move because there are no shadows. An object bathed in sun or cast in shadow becomes unique with light and time, but without the sun-clock, it stays the same.

Today it is difficult to tell time, and the boring similarity of moments stretches into hours. I read papers, took a leisurely bath and just when I was making ready to go to my class, I discovered that it was an hour later than I thought and my class was already underway. If I would have made my way to Berkeley, by the time I arrived the classroom, the lecture would be concluding. I did not go. And JM and I talked of a Bocce/petanque court in our front yard instead.

February 22, 2017 – WEDNESDAY

Bring it on:  Sun for the first time in days, and JM said upon waking in response to sunshine, “I feel wonderful today. Not that I was feeling miserable yesterday.” Cool and crisp and sunshine, a good day for a bike ride, save for the wind that slowed us down when we faced her and pushed us faster when she was at our back.

It was so clear a day that we could distinctly see the mountains of Marin and the cities of the bay.   But the bay itself muddy brown. I’ve never seen the bay so dull. It was as if no light was reflected from its surface. I suppose the drabness is the result of flooded rivers and streams dumping sediment into the bay — good soil carried from farmland, lost in the bay or the ocean’s bottom. Perhaps today is what the bay looked like during the gold rush when miners lay waste our land, hosing mountains down into valleys in search of gold. Nothing as precious as a gold nugget and as a result the bay filled with the remains of lost land. Nothing mattered then save gold. Perhaps that has been the way of our nation since it was founded. Some get the gold, leaving others with little and the land devastated. The bay seen today could be the wide muddy Mississippi River, flat and brown, if it were not ringed by mountains and hills.

Play Off  Reeds @ Bay’s edge

At the start of the ride, on a tidal pool to our right, white bird bottoms moved up and then down as birds thrust their heads into the water. What? Maybe avocets? I’ve only seen them walk long-legged in the water, never floating and bobbing. “Yes,” Peter said, after talking to bird-watchers on a bridge. “Avocets!” I said to the couple, “ I’ve never seen them on the water.” To which they responded, “The birds are as delighted as we are with the sunshine.” ‘Bob away,’ I thought and threw my arms skyward, ‘YES!’

We rode hard past groups of birders, past women in their long gowns wearing head scarves / hijabs (one walking with a cane), a Chinese woman giving staccato commands to her grandchild, past mothers pushing strollers or biking with babes strapped into tot-seats, and near the center of the loop we biked past a bare-chested, well-muscled black man jogging the trail. He looked up and smiled at me. I responded to his smile, “Enjoying the good weather?” He nodded and as I rode off, I added, “And your body (implying ‘beautiful’ body, and it was!)!!!! He gave me a thumbs-up gesture. On the way back we rode past him again. He waved and smiled. On seeing the young man the second time, JM said to Peter, “I should warn him to ‘Watch out for cougars.’” To which Peter replied, “Cougar spotted on Bay Trail. Make yourself as large as possible and back away!”

February 23, 2017 – THURSDAY

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In search of the perfect:  A second day of sunshine without rain, a day to expand into. The sky baby blue with only a single small cloud.

JM went to the university, dropping me off at the Design Center to peruse more fabric. I did so until my feet ached. I wish I could find several of the fabrics we bought 18 years ago, bright, wonderfully designed Swiss fabrics, but they are no longer produced, and fabrics I like as well I have not seen. Now the task is to find something serviceable even if not as glorious as those Swiss fabrics. I’m picky about fabric. In doing genealogical research I learned that my mother’s family had mills in Switzerland, one textile, and centuries ago my father’s ancestors were weavers. —- Perhaps textiles are in my DNA.

Fabric has weave, texture, pattern, pile, sheen, thickness, stiffness, softness, color (or lack thereof) and … I’ll like the pattern of a fabric, the color of a second, the fiber content of one, the sheen of another, some fabric’s durability and on and on, but to find just the right pattern – color – texture – weave for our sofa, chairs, pillows – is daunting.  I’ve selected hundreds of fabrics today from the thousands upon thousands I seen, and yet I’ve found none that I like as much as those Swiss fabrics now covering our big sofa, the worn love seat and our window seat. I wish I had bought twice the fabric I needed — oh, for big our sofa I did. Unfortunately I had it treated chemically, and the chemicals have made the fabric deteriorate.

The first sofa JM and I owned was a woven fabric of red background with stylized flowers of gold, blue, purple, green – I still have a piece of the fabric. It was wonderful! Then we bought a brown corduroy sofa without arms. I missed having arms to lean against. I sit on the sofa sideways, a sofa’s arm supporting my back and the seat cushion supporting my legs. We took that armless sofa with us to Atlanta. I suppose we brought it to California, but I have no memory of what happened to it because, as a piece of furniture, it made no impression on me. Next we bought a gold-brown leather sofa, the style the same (but length different) as the ones we have now, but the leather was boring. Rather than re-upholstering it, since we loved the form we bought two new sofas of the same style – a 3-seater and a 2-seater. We loved our sofas’ fabrics too, but fabrics wear. Our big red sofa has been reupholstered in its original fabric. The loveseat is over-worn and needs either to be re-upholstered or replaced.

Later in the afternoon JM picked me up in a fabric showroom. We made our way to our car that was parked next to a Design Within Reach. “Oh, let’s take a look,” I said and we did. When we entered, JM (who hates to shop) said, “I like going into DWR. I feel at home. It feels good.” Michael tried out Eero Saarinen’s ‘Womb Chair.’ We have been thinking of getting his Womb Settee. Both chair and settee fit the body wonderfully well: supporting body and back and head. We are undecided about buying it because it is 35.5 inches tall, several inches taller than our well-worn and loved loveseat. Do we buy a new higher loveseat or reupholster the low, contour-fitting old one? That is the question. The cost will be about the same, so it is a question of size, of volume, of ‘fitting in’ the space. And if we keep the old loveseat, a question of finding the right fabric.

Tonight we will measure and re-measure. JM & I will talk and talk, but we need to make a decision because the fabric on our old loveseat is more than thin, it has worn through in spots. We’ll consider and re-consider our options now since the annual Knoll sale lasts only a few more days (and the old sofa won’t last another year). A choice must be made – unless, of course, we want to plop our ample butts down onto one threadbare loveseat.

February 24, 2017 – FRIDAY

The mother of all drums:  It was a big drum. The biggest I’ve ever seen. I mean the BIGGEST I’ve ever seen, made of a giant tree trunk, at least 4-1/2 feet in diameter and 9 feet tall, its top covered by the hide of a deer or elk, and when it was beaten thunder rolled. It was played from atop of a tall platform onto which the drummer had to climb. A powerful drum played by a powerful drummer. Across the stage another tall platform wrapped in black cloth, several Djembe (African drums) and a diminutive drummer. And onstage between the two towering platforms, the traditional Oakland Orchestra.

Music has its own intelligence, its own language, one that for the most part is not verbal. Notes are like an alphabet. Different cultures have different notes, different scales, therefore different alphabets and different music. All sound, all music, but different. The Oakland Symphony featured Native American music tonight stitching it together with classical European music. More than that, it was the blending of cultures, Native American, African, Cuban and European.

The highlight of the evening:

  • Native American singer Kanyon Sayers-Roods whose voice sent chills up my spine.
  • Wood flutes, whose sounds were of nature – animals and birds uniting sky, earth and fire – played by Emiliano Campobello.
  • Drum duet between Marcie Chapa playing Djembe and Jayson Flann on the giant drum, both playing from tall platforms, sending sounds back and forth between them and across the auditorium. And,
  • Off stage beyond sight, singers chanting Gregorian chants, Buddhist chants, likely Native American chants, with vowels held long by a chorus, but sounding as if one voice.

I love the violin, the cello, the French horn, the oboe, the harp, but I would have had much more of Native American dancing and singing and the playing of the flute and the beating of the drums tonight and less of our European tradition.

And the drums. I recall the first drums I heard calling the village to Sunday service in Congo. Those drums, beaten with large wood drumsticks, spoke in rhythm, a language understood by the Congolese villagers. A poisonous snake had been spotted in the compound. I was late to service and making my way alone, I peered into the top slit of one of those long, log drums propped up on short legs hoping to see the dangerous reptile. I did not spot it, but to make sure it was not hidden inside the drum, I took up a drumstick and beat away. That was my one and only experience beating a drum and an exotic one at that.

February 25, 2017 – SATURDAY

IMG_1471 copy  Aging & Neck

Wishing it were so:  I wished mirrors lied. Fun house mirrors do, but not mine. So much of my younger body I’d like back. I never had a ‘good’ neck, but even with the less than perfect neck I had, I’d like it back. Ain’t going to happen. My new invention, a neck girdle to synch in my wrinkled neck and sagging chin.