Sunday, December 26, 2010

Another New Year's Day with the Mummers

Every New Year’s Day, thousands of Philadelphians, mostly men, don elaborate costumes of sequins, spangles, and feathers. They carry banjos, saxophones, and double-basses to march in one of the most unusual events in the world - Philadelphia’s Mummers Parade.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In Search of a Silent Night

© Sans façon.  By kind permission of Sans façon.

The holiday season is upon us, in case the endless Jingle Bell Rock loop at Starbucks hasn’t given it away.
-Jon Stewart

A few chocolates, a glass of mulled wine and a CD by the The Sixteen playing quietly.  Sublime.

Here today we are doing something special, we are stopping and appreciating the space between things, the unintentional sounds that make up our world.
-Dave Hilliard, Cage Against the Machine

Last year, in her post “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, Wide Open Spaces remarked on the auditory invasion of Christmas music at this time of year:
It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas music; I do have a nice collection of CDs that I bring up from storage this time of year.  I just don’t understand the need to have it invade all my listening hours.  Last year one radio station started playing Christmas music on November 1st –in effect, they devoted 17% of their annual product to these tunes. (And need I mention that these tunes are associated with a religious holiday that not all people celebrate?)
As she noted, while there is some decent holiday music out there, “not everything is listenable.  For every Bing Crosby or “O Holy Night”, there is Alvin and the Chipmunks or “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”  Blech.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Search of Lost Cookies Redux

And suddenly the memory appeared.  That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray . . . my aunt Léonie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea . . .

'Tis the season of the cookie.  With visions of Mom and Grandma baking Christmas cookies dancing in my head, I put out a call for family reminiscences and got this reply:  “No doubt you will make mention of Mrs. Schweer's cookies.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Cake

My husband only asks for one Christmas gift every year without fail - a Christmas Cake baked by me. This tradition started when we came to America, the land that does not know Christmas Cake. Until then, I could stroll into any food store in South Africa (even at the last minute) and buy a perfect Christmas Cake – non-baker that I am. Or, we could go to our mothers’ homes where my husband could get his home-baked fix. But that first Christmas in America, I just could not find the cake. You see, in this country, “Christmas Cake” is plain old fruitcake. Once I figured out that that was what I should be asking for, I was surprised to find that not only was it hard to find a good fruitcake in America (or at least in Florida) the cake was much maligned here – so much so, that there’s actually a Fruitcake Toss festival held in Colorado every year:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Slouching Toward Lachenmann: John Cage, In Silence and in Sound

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?
-William Butler Yeats

I love John's mind, but I don't like what it thinks.
-Pierre Boulez

I remember once, in my college days, going with friends to a posh art gallery in Chicago.  Down the middle of the gallery floor were piles of dirt and stone.  We drifted past, reaching down to touch the piles.  We thought we’d come too early, that the show wasn’t yet up, and the gallery was still under construction.  I’d been to Chicago’s Art Institute many times, so I knew what art looked like, and this gallery had no art.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Real Santa

Last week's newspaper came with an unusual sticker affixed to it. It advertised a local mall's "Fast Pass" to Santa. Apparently parents can now go to a website, purchase a photo package and then print out a Fast Pass which enables them to "bypass the regular line and hop onto our faster VIP line" to visit Santa.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving In South Africa

South Africans don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, nor do we have an equivalent to this uniquely American tradition.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Only Connect!"

Only connect!  That was the whole of her sermon.  
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted . . .
-E. M. Forster, Howard’s End

Music is my optimal language, and I want it to express my world.
-Dylan Mattingly, Composer

In 2006, a group of teenage musicians in California called Formerly Known As Classical presented a program of classical music that had been written “Since We’ve Been Born.”  That meant 1989, and the program they came up with was this:

Hallelujah Junction (1996) by John Adams
Nickelcurve (2005) by Preben Antonsen
Sonata for Lou Harrison (2004) by Matthew Cmiel
Of A Summer Evening (1988) by David Conte
Last Round (1996) by Osvaldo Golijov
Cantos Desiertos (1993) by Terry Riley

I knew the names of only two of the composers:  John Adams, who by that year was almost in his dotage, having reached the ripe old age of 59, and Terry Riley, who, at 71, was even older.  The others were unknown to me:  though Conte and Golijov were younger, they were well into middle age.  Antonsen and Cmiel are both quite young.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oh What a Night

The sign in the lobby said, "This show contains strobe lighting, gunfire, and profane authentic Jersey language," so I knew I was in for a good time when I arrived at Philadelphia's Forrest Theatre for a production of Jersey Boys.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Welcome Sound

This past summer, the Hudson Valley was dry and hot.  Ponds disappeared, turning beautiful vistas into tableaux of mud.  Turtles abandoned a log beached in waterless ooze.  Fewer insects meant fewer birds and dragonflies.  A catastrophe, albeit of a minor sort when thought of against the world at large.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Street painting originated in Europe in the 16th Century, when artists known as “I Madonnari” created images of the Madonna on street surfaces in exchange for bread and olive oil. Modern day “Madonnari” continue this artistic tradition by creating fine art with chalk as their medium and the street surface as their canvas.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"To Russia With Love"

Nelson Shanks just may be the most famous American artist you've never heard of. Shanks is primarily a portraitist and teacher, who has studied all over the world, but resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he paints almost everyday.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Conversation with Composer John Metcalf: “Everybody Has Genius”

The week before our visit with composer John Metcalf, a student had come up to him and said, “My teacher says you can’t write tonal music in 2010."  Metcalf replied, "Well, just tell him you can’t write atonal music in 2010."

Monday, October 18, 2010

"The Accidental Billionaires"

“I'm trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share” Mark Zuckerberg

Today there are over 500 million people connecting and sharing on Facebook. In fact, about one out of every fourteen people in the world has a Facebook account, including the founder of this ubiquitous online world. Mark Zuckerberg turned down an offer of a billion dollars for the company in 2005. “The Accidental Billionaires” by Ben Mezrich chronicles the founding of Facebook, from its Harvard dorm room beginnings to the conclusion of the numerous lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg by fellow students who claim he stole the idea for Facebook from them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Something Old, Something New

In going through some furniture, my mother-in-law found an old relic - her copy of Modern Bride magazine, from Autumn 1961. She lent it to me and I leafed through the magazine, thinking it would be essentially like today's Brides, except featuring Mad Men era bridal fashions.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Conversation with Composer John Metcalf: Rethinking Musical Forms

For composer John Metcalf, traditional musical forms are meant to be challenged and rethought.
I really passionately believe in the type of education that’s for the world we want, not the world we’ve got.  So, every time we’ve got any kind of orthodoxy, or if somebody says you can’t do that or you shouldn’t do that, or something seems to be a given, then immediately I want to say, why is that?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Moving in Circles

This time of year, I think a lot about the cyclical nature of things. It seems like only yesterday that I was watching daffodils and tulips come up. Now it is time to trim back gardens and enjoy autumn's mums and sedum. The warm afternoons will give way to frosty mornings which will give way to snowstorms which in turn will lead us back to spring sunshine.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Raining Acorns Redux

Today marks our first anniversary.
To mark the day, we are re-posting the inaugural post.

It’s raining acorns.  Last year I thought the sound was squirrels, harrying the leaves.  The sounds were scattered though, in space and time.  That should have been a clue, but I was too much a novice to connect the acorns strewn across our driveway with the noises in the woods.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Scranton, PA: More Than Just ‘The Office’

If you know Scranton, Pennsylvania, as the setting of NBC’s The Office—the U.S. version of Slough, the depressed and depressing overcast English city in which the Wernham Hogg Paper Company was doomed to eternally, if comically, fail—then your impression of the city is sunnier than the one most Scranton area residents have held of their hometown for decades.

Friday, September 17, 2010

“Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play”

The billboard outside the museum shows a headless mannequin child at play, dressed in an outfit that looks Victorian, yet makes me think of Africa.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Conversation with Composer John Metcalf: Discovering the Paths of Song

When Welsh composer John Metcalf opened the door to us, he apologized that he couldn’t shake our hands.  He’d been kneading bread and hadn’t quite finished.  He’d already alerted us that we shouldn’t buy any vegetables ahead of our visit, as he had a large organic garden “which you can raid when you're here.”

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

(Punk) Art and the City

I’m not an expert by any stretch, but I’ve been observing and writing about the productive relationship between cities and the arts since I moved to Baltimore in 2004.  In fact, my involvement with Pages & Places and its annual book festival stems from my awareness of reams of researching pointing over and over and over to the fact that cities heavily invested in a vibrant, diverse, street-level arts and culture scene are far more likely than their counterparts to thrive in the 21st century, and Liz Randol’s vision for the twin-themed Pages & Places Book Festival spoke directly to current best practices that cities like San Jose, Houston, Denver, and Memphis are struggling (some more successfully than others) to implement.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Summer's Ebb

You can't remember the last time you wore socks.

The days have imperceptibly become a little shorter, you find yourself surprised to see that it's only 7 or 8 o'clock when the sun is descending and the shadows are long. Some evenings you even consider pulling out a light sweatshirt because the air is cooling down more quickly each night. Even though in your mind it was just June, you realize that summer is waning all too fast.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Listening to Wales: Arvo Pärt and the Vale of Glamorgan Festival

Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer, turns seventy-five this September, and he’ll be celebrating part of his birthday week in Wales.  From September 5th through 11th, his glorious music will form the centerpiece of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, and Pärt will be in attendance September 8th and 9th.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Whale Watching in Hermanus

Every winter, from July to November, Southern Right whales show up along the coastal waters of South Africa’s Western Cape to calve, nurse and begin to rear their young. Walker Bay in Hermanus, a spectacular 90 minute drive across the Overberg Mountains from Cape Town, is the place to be if you want to see these giant mammals as they migrate from their summer feeding grounds in Antarctica. The former fishing village of Hermanus is located on a cove between sea cliffs and the Olifantsberg Mountains. The little town boasts an 8 1/2 mile cliff path, spectacular at any time of the year, but in "whale season" it offers some of the best land-based whale watching in the world.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Traveling in Wales: The Brecon Beacons

Of places to visit in Wales, the Brecon Beacons are typically overlooked in favor of Snowdonia and other higher peaks.  That’s a mistake, for the Brecon Beacons National Park is breathtaking in its beauty and full of things to see and do.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How to Build a Home

I am not a fan of so-called reality shows on television. My daughter, however, does have a soft spot for "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," and I must admit, if I catch the start of an episode, I always end up watching until the end. The premise of Extreme Makeover is, the show finds a family who is struggling to maintain its home - often a family member also has a physical disability or condition that makes the current home unsafe. Then the show flies the family off to a week-long vacation, while back at home they construct an entirely new house in one week. The finale is the "big reveal" when the family returns and sees the new home. By this time I am usually crying along with the grateful family members.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Photographing Birds in the Adirondacks

This year, we thought we knew the trick:  to steal off in a canoe right after breakfast and head to the far end of Elk Lake.  That way we were certain to come upon a great blue heron busy fishing before it was startled off by someone else.  That had worked the year before, after all.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Another Day in Paradise

As I stood gazing out at Elk Lake in New York's Adirondacks, a guest at the Lodge stepped up next to me and said, “Another day in paradise.”  That about sums it up.

Monday, July 19, 2010

When the Heat is On

I can't stand the heat, but I can't avoid the kitchen either. When the mercury tops 100, what to eat, when all you really want is cool sorbet or perhaps a mojito for dinner?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dining in the Dark

Close your eyes. Open them - no difference - it’s claustrophobically black all around you.

Friday, July 9, 2010

In Defense of Difficulty--From Metcalf to Messiaen

I’m listening to the music of John Metcalf as I write, and as I often do.  No matter the weather, no matter the difficulty or ease of the day, Metcalf’s music is a gift:  complementing a day that goes well or providing respite on a day that requires it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Camp

As I previously opined, I think every small town in America has its own claim to fame. "Blobfest" is the event that has put little Phoenixville PA on the map. For those of you unfamiliar with cult classic films, Blobfest celebrates everything associated with the 1950's camp classic movie The Blob.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Les Catacombes de Paris

When I was stranded in Paris during the first volcanic eruption, I decided to visit the catacombs at Denfert-Rochereau. I had heard someone mention the ossuary in passing and I only had a vague idea of what it actually was, but I imagined a dark world of secrets beneath the City of Light.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Listening to Ulysses

Before he was anybody special (well, at least before he had his own show), Stephen Colbert stood on the stage at Symphony Space in New York City and flexed his arms in preparation.  He was about to read two chapters from James Joyce’s Ulysses, Calypso and the Lotus Eaters.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

One for the Road

So it's summertime and you know what that means - Road trip! I do believe it's the law, in most states, for families with school age children to embark on one road trip to a touristy destination each summer. Staying home and getting ice cream at your local Dairy Queen does not count and could mean you run afoul of the law.

Monday, June 14, 2010

We Are All Africans - World Cup Update

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, decked out in full Bafana Bafana regalia, launched the opening ceremonies of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Soweto with a wonderful speech welcoming people from all over the world in his inimitable way, saying:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Anne Carson's Nox

Anne Carson has credentials when it comes to fragments.  She’s a professor of classics and translator of ancient Greeks who says, of using brackets when translating Sappho, “Brackets are exciting.”

Friday, June 4, 2010

South African Restaurants, and a Recipe for Bobotie

I noticed a curious trend on a recent trip to South Africa - a whole slew of “South African” restaurants had opened across the country. I lived in South Africa for most of my life, dining at the usual places - Steakhouse, Indian, Seafood, Italian, French, and all manner of Fast Food restaurants – but I’d never seen a restaurant billed as South African before - in South Africa, that is. Oddly enough, the first South African restaurant I ever came across was in Atlanta, Georgia, a few years ago - “10 Degrees South”- where my husband and I spent a lovely evening reacquainting our tastebuds with familiar flavors.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day, Observed

When I was a child, Memorial Day was marked by the annual Memorial Day parade, a smaller, quieter parade, at least compared to our elaborate 4th of July display. Various community groups, scouts, and veterans groups would parade up the main street in town and end up at the VFW Post building. I confess I always thought it was kind of a boring day; no stores were open and there was no entertainment save for our little parade.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

As I Sit Itching

I don’t recall my first encounter with poison ivy, but I remember the first with poison oak.  Driving thousands of miles along I-80 was de rigueur among the college set those many years ago.  I commuted between Chicago and California and participated in all manner of things daft.  That included clambering down a cliff to the Pacific Ocean, clad in swimsuit and sandals, only to realize the way back was straight up.  It hadn’t seemed so steep going down, so why was it necessary to crawl through the bushes to reach the top?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Day, This May

“Besides this May
We know
There is Another—
How fair
Our Speculations of the Foreigner!

Some know Him whom We knew—
Sweet Wonder—
A Nature be
Where Saints, and our plain going Neighbor
Keep May!"

- Emily Dickinson, Besides This May

In the news today - May 20th, the 140th day of 2010:

…the Devastating Oil Spill seeps into the Louisiana Wetlands, as the Interior Secretary Acknowledges Lax Oil Regulation; North Korea Denies Sinking a South Korean Warship; Bangkok Burns as Anarchy Reigns; Europe’s Ongoing Economic Woes Unfold; Air Travel Delays Loom due to Intermittent Volcanic Eruptions in Iceland; Pakistan bans Facebook and YouTube; and, in Washington, two retired generals are warning that more than a Quarter of Young Americans are now Too Fat to Fight

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Capitol Time

We only had 24 hours in Washington D.C. so we wanted to see much as possible. Getting to D.C. from most places on the east coast is easiest on Amtrak, in my opinion. We could relax and read while on the train instead of having to negotiate the traffic on the beltway. Trains arrive in the gorgeous Union Station, where you can catch a Metro subway, eat in any of a number of restaurants, or shop in a veritable mall of stores. Washington is a very walkable city, so we were able to stroll out of Union Station and over a couple of blocks to the Hotel George, a little boutique hotel on Capitol Hill where we had reservations.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Best Onion Rings You'll Ever Eat

“Myran’s has the best onion rings you’ll ever eat.”  Onion rings?  We were in the heart of crawfish country, headed for Myran’s Maison de Manger for lunch.  Among her many talents, our friend K. is a supremely good cook.  While we didn’t doubt her, we were surprised that, in this context, she’d give onion rings a starring culinary role.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mother's Day on Mother Earth

Unlike our mothers on earth, Mother Earth is our life source from cradle to grave. Unlike our mothers, Mother Earth nurtures and supports us tentatively, ultimately striking back if we damage her. Sometimes she even hurts us with no provocation, with terrifying fury, or cold indifference. It’s easy to respect our mothers, to treat them well - it’s hard to do the same for that grand mother, given her unpredictable nature and our greedy impulses.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Safe from the Sun

It's May in the northern hemisphere, and that means longer days and more outside activities. It also means your dermatologist wants to check out your spots! May is Melanoma Awareness Month , when the American Academy of Dermatology reminds us to check out our skin and make an appointment for a skin cancer screening if it's been more than a year since our last exam.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Photographing Birds in Louisiana

“Don’t worry if the feathers are blown.”  The voice over my shoulder belonged to our friend Marie.  In front of us, in the brilliant sun, were scores of great egrets, their feathers a blinding white.  We were looking out over a rookery where egrets gather to practice their rites of spring.  Marie, a professional photographer, was referring to overexposure so great that all detail would be lost.  Though I’d heard the term only once before, I knew I was in for it:  those egrets were white, and the sun was high in a cloudless sky.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Eyjafjallajokull - The Inconvenient Volcano

For 7 days I tracked its every move vicariously through BBC TV, SKY News and CNN in hotel rooms in London and Paris, waiting for the go-ahead to get back on an aeroplane bound for Atlanta, secretly hoping that it wouldn’t come too soon. Though I knew had to get back.