Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Books I'm Reading: The Invisible Century

Richard Panek's The Invisible Century (Penguin, 2004) is a slim volume that makes some moderately obvious points, yet it makes them clearly and in lucid prose. The book looks at modern thought through brief biographies of Einstein and Freud, the former a scientist at the forefront of a transition in scientific thinking from curiosity about the nature of matter and life toward curiosity about aspects of the universe we cannot see, the latter spearheading a movement in philosophy directed at attempting to answer questions about the nature of the unconscious. An interesting read.  

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 144 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage. Not quite so new, but the most recent piece I've finished. Art-making has been on the back burner the past few weeks, pre-empted by a two-week trip interpreting for a Japanese film crew in the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley area and then an unusually busy work (translation) schedule.

This is Untitled Collage No. 144 (Santa Rosa). May 14, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (artist's trash), pastel, collage. 13.8 x 9.8 inches. Matted to 24 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Sultana Bar, Williams Arizona

On my recent trip to Arizona, I had little time to casually photograph things that interested me along the way, but I did snap this view of the neon cocktail glass sign in front of the Sultana Bar, in Williams, Arizona. Excuse me, the world-famous Sultana Bar.

For more, use the "Cocktail Glass Collection" tab at right.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Music I'm Listening to: Haley Reinhart (June 3, 2016)

Last night. Haley Reinhart at the intimate (and slightly decrepit) Mystic Theatre, in Petaluma. First stop on the 2016 Better Tour, promoting her new CD "Better." I love her voice when she sings with the Postmodern Jukebox  people. This was more pop/rock in style (the first "rock concert" I've been to since probably Joni Mitchell, 1974 or so), but still fun. She did, at least, sing the gum commercial Elvis song that so nicely shows off her voice—"Can't Help Falling in Love."

Friday, June 3, 2016

On the Road: Sedona to Las Vegas (May 25, 2016–May 27, 2016)




I left Monument Valley on the 25th and headed for Sedona, Arizona, one of those odd places that have almost completely lost their identity to tourism. Sedona is in an undeniably beautiful setting. The red rock formations are impressive, even if not as big as those in Monument Valley and not so impressively set off by empty space, and I imagine the town has its charms, but virtually the entirety of the main street (and there is only one main street) is bad restaurants and tourist shops catering to those who come for the "spiritual energy" the place is supposed to exude. There are psychics and fortune tellers, yoga and meditation shops, and many stores selling rocks, minerals, and crystals—rocks, minerals, and crystals all laid out with tags describing their supposed powers. Practically none of these have any connection to Sedona geologically speaking. Inconveniently, Sedona is mostly red sandstone, which doesn't seem to possess much of interest to the spiritually minded. The minerals come from Argentina, South Africa, Brazil.... The hotel proprietor came from India, his office reeked amiably of curry. The place reminded me of Lourdes, in France. One thing I did like about Sedona is that all the intersections are roundabouts, which is great.

I did have the opportunity to see Sedona from the air, however, in a hot air balloon, which was a pleasure. It had been many years since my last balloon ride. The valleys around Sedona were set off in the early morning light by smoke from a forest fire burning to the north of the town. In places you could see smoke flowing over the hills and down into the low spots. Later in the day, I visited the Chapel of the Holy Cross, graciously shown around by Father Kieran, who is in charge of the place. Built in 1956, it's a modern piece of architecture but it sits comfortably in its niche in the rocks and offers excellent views over the town of Sedona and the surrounding rock formations, including excellent distant views of Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte, and Bell Rock.

On the morning of the 27th I headed back toward Las Vegas, my starting point on this trip, which was a working trip, interpreting for a small Japanese film crew getting footage for a number of TV programs to air later in the year. At Peach Springs, on the way back, you can access the only drivable road down to the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon. It's a bumpy, unpaved 19 miles, part of the way through water, but it was not as bad as people lead you to believe, at least at this time of year, ahead of seasonal rains, which seem to come mostly in July.


From the perspective of bird-watching, the trip was rather disappointing. I had few opportunities to get anything more than fleeting glances at anything. The Common Raven seems to be the most common bird. It's easy to see why ravens figure prominently in so many folk tales and in native lore of the area. Otherwise, I noticed a lot of House Sparrows and House Finches. Other birds included Great-tailed Grackles,  Scrub-jays, and Western Tanagers. At Desert View, in Grand Canyon National Park, I came across a flock of Chipping Sparrows, which  are fairly uncommon at home. In the canyon itself, there were many Violet-green Swallows and White-Throated Swifts. The only new birds I saw were a variant of the Dark-eyed Junco I've never seen before, also at Grand Canyon, either the Red-backed or Grey-headed variant—notably pale grey all over with black around the eye and a rufous patch at the rump—and the Juniper Titmouse (Baeolophus ridgwayi), at Airport Mesa, in Sedona. The Juniper Titmouse, a life bird for me, looks almost identical to our Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus), but I noticed its vocalizations were different. Some day I'd like to revisit the area as a birder.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: Sherry Parker—Collage Work on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi (May 31-July 31, 2016)

For readers in the San Francisco Bay area, I'm pleased to announce the next show on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi, in downtown Cotati will feature the surreal collage work of Sherry Parker. The show, opening Tuesday, May 31, will run through the end of July.

Opening reception the following Monday, June 6 (5:30-7:30PM). Come meet Sherry, have a glass of wine, see friends, enjoy the work. Aside from the reception, art work on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi is viewable during regular restaurant hours. Shige Sushi is at 8235 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, CA 94931. More information about The Art Wall at Shige Sushi.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

On the Road: Monument Valley (May 23-May 24, 2016)

Monument Valley is visible from many miles away. It takes a surprisingly long time to reach the valley after the famous rocks begin to appear on the horizon. A large visitor center overlooks the most famous of the formations, formations familiar to anyone who has seen a few classic westerns. Guide companies hang out near the visitor's center. Bernard, my guide, was a big Navajo man who at first seemed taciturn but turned out to be a good talker with a sense of humor. There's a road through the valley that allows a self-guided tour, but traveling with a guide gives you access to the back roads. Bernard showed me some of his favorite back country views, a natural bandshell in which he played flute and drum, and a wall with petroglyphs left by occupants that pre-date the Navajo, who began to occupy the valley around 800 years ago. The petroglyphs, obliquely lit by bright sun, were almost invisible until Bernard raised an arm against the stone walls to create a shadow.

The natural amphitheater mentioned above is a consequence of the sandstone's tendency to form domed shapes that erode away to leave behind concave spaces, these eventually turning into arches if erosion occurs on both sides of the dome. In some places there were large curved chunks of fallen rock that looked remarkably like giant reddish-brown seashells.

I ended up staying overnight in the valley, sleeping on the dirt floor of a traditional Navajo hogan, a round yurt-like dwelling built of cedar logs chinked with bark and sealed with mud. The stars were beautiful despite a bright, nearly full moon that gave the monuments an eery quality after dark.

The next morning, I got up early to watch the sun rise behind the spire known as "The Totem Pole," although that seems incongruous, as the Navajo don't make totem poles. The Totem Pole stands alone next to a cluster of similar tall, thin rocks that Bernard referred to as yei' bi' che, which appears to be the Navajo word for the deities the Hopi and others call kachinas. The sunrise behind these rocks has been photographed so often that it's become a cliché. It's used on the cover of the AAA guide to the region I picked up before leaving, but it's an impressive view nevertheless.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On the Road: Lake Powell (May 22)

The road out of Grand Canyon north to Page skirts the Little Colorado River Gorge, which cuts through a plateau dotted with green sage bushes and Mormon tea. I noticed the people here never seem to say "the Grand Canyon" but only "Grand Canyon." I wonder why.

I spent the entirety of May 22 in the vicinity of Page, Arizona, making an early visit to the overlook at Horseshoe Bend, a dramatic curve cut through sandstone by the Colorado River just outside Page. A short walk takes you from the parking lot to a ragged outcropping of tawny rock that gives a view of the river channel several hundred feet below. A local resident told me three to five people fall to their death from the unprotected overlook each year, mostly trying to take pictures of themselves too close to the edge. As I was leaving, a bus load of elderly Japanese sightseers arrived for a look, crouching far too close to the edge for my comfort. It was hard to watch. The view is impressive, though.

I then headed out for a day on Lake Powell, motoring into Padre Bay, which gives panoramic views of the lake and the dramatic rock formations, once canyon walls, that form its perimeter. The lake, like Lake Mead to the west, is artificial, created by the Glen Canyon Dam, built between 1957 and 1963, which blocks the flow of the Colorado River here. The lake is about 180 miles long and is said to have more shoreline than the US West Coast. Before the dam was built, the now-filled canyon must have looked much like Grand Canyon.

Eventually I arrived at Rainbow Bridge, about two hours north of the marina near Horseshoe Bend that was my starting point. From the landing near the bridge it's a mile walk into a side canyon before the arch appears. This is sacred ground to the Navajo who, according to my guide, view natural arches as gives from the gods, gifts useful for crossing streams, fleeing flash floods, and escaping from enemies.

The stone that forms Rainbow Bridge is part of the redder formation known as the Navajo sandstone. The same rock is visible in parts of Grand Canyon, in Monument Valley, which straddles the Arizona/Utah border, and in Arches National Park, further into Southern Utah.

Something of a rock hound as a child, I know a thing or two about how rocks fracture. Obsidian perhaps has the most obvious conchoidal fracture among rocks that most people know, but the Navajo Sandstone, too, fractures in a way that leaves behind concentric curves. Many of the formations have a rounded quality. Natural arches form when the inner portion of a conchoidal fracture face erodes away more quickly than the rock above it. But the geology here is complex. There are many different layers of stone, including natural conglomerates, sandstones, and limestones. Some surfaces are pale, others redder, reflecting different amounts of iron oxide present. Some are smooth, some rough. Others are fractured and eroded into what look like rows of stacked pillows. Some are reminiscent of Chinese landscape paintings in ink, others of Egyptian statuary carved into the rocks. In several places I was reminded of photos I've seen of Egyptian sites near the lake created by the Aswan High Dam.




Friday, May 20, 2016

On the Road: The Grand Canyon (May 20, 2016)


On the road, truly. No time to write much today. Suffice it to say that the Grand Canyon is as beautiful as they say it is. Monumental in scale and constantly changing in aspect as clouds pass over and the light changes.

Here I post views from the easily accessible rim trail along the south canyon rim The last of the three is a view from Pima Point where I had gone to watch the sunset. The rock faces change color dramatically as the sun drops below the opposite canyon rim. About an hour before sunset, a bank of heavy clouds rolled in, however, blocking the sun and the light display. On the opposite side of the sky a nearly full moon rose. I'll be up at 4:00AM tomorrow to try for sunrise over the canyon.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

On the Road: Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon (May 18-May 19, 2016)

Following a day in Las Vegas, headed east toward the Grand Canyon. Looking to get views out over the city of Las Vegas (or, strictly speaking, the City of Paradise, Nevada, as the main Las Vegas strip is in that town) and into the desert, I went up the Stratosphere Tower--according to something I read, the highest observation tower in the United States, at 1,149 feet. I also rode the High Roller Ferris Wheel, the highest observation wheel in the country, at 550 feet. Both offer excellent views. The tower, although stationary, is somehow scarier than the slowly turning wheel, which takes about 30 minutes to make a revolution. It runs until 2:00AM.

Las Vegas remains the pit of excess it always has been. The hotels are too big, the casinos are too big, the distances between them are exhausting. Gambling seems a fool's amusement, but I had a truly excellent steak dinner at Gallagher's Steak House, in the New York, New York Hotel complex. I'm not a big meat eater. In fact, I'd be quite happy vegetarian, but the Rib-eye steak I had, with a shallot and Beaujolais reduction sauce, was easily the best piece of meat I've ever consumed.

 On the morning of 19th, I head out in the direction of the morning sun on the only road more or less that leads to the Grand Canyon. There's some picturesque scenery with scrubby vegetation, chollas, a few Joshua trees, and a show of spring wildflowers as well. Distant mountains, mostly eroded volcanic formations, provided a backdrop. I then road the Grand Canyon Railway to Williams, where I'm staying the night. Tomorrow I'll ride the train back to the canyon to start a day of photography there. Today I got only a glimpse, but it looks every bit as spectacular as people say it is.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

On the Road: Las Vegas (May 17, 2016)

Just arrived in Las Vegas after an uneventful flight—although, annoyingly, I hardly got to see out the windows. I really don't understand people who have the opportunity to look at the world from 30,000 feet and never even open their window shades. I will make sure to get a window seat on the way home.

As always, I enjoyed looking at some of the exhibitions at SFO while waiting for my flight. In contrast, the Las Vegas airport is fairly dull. While I've been to Las Vegas before, I've never entered through the airport. Its only decorations seem to be kitschy slot machines.

SFO really is a treat to visit. I was able to see the show of pottery by Marguerite Wildenhain now on. I missed it last time I visited the airport because it is behind security and I wasn't flying. Some of her very early work in Europe is on display, including formal dinner ware she designed while working for a pottery company in Germany. I had no idea she had been at the Bauhaus for several years before eventually being hounded out of Germany by the Nazis. She ended up at Pond Farm, an artists' colony in Guerneville, by way of the Netherlands and Oakland, California. Most of the work on display is from her time at Pond Farm. Well worth seeing. The photo above is an abstraction made on the bus on the way to the airport.


Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 143 (Santa Rosa)

Feeling I didn't have enough green in my life, I made a stack of monoprints in green and black and in green and blue. From these will emerge new collage work. Here is the first such piece.

Untitled Collage No. 143 (Santa Rosa) May 10, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, pastel, collage. Image size 19 x 26.4cm. Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site. Click on the image for a larger view.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Serendipitous Art: Incised Tree Bark (May 16, 2016)

A cross-shaped incision in the bark of a tree and the background of natural fissures around it looked like art to me. Serendipitous Art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Wines I'm Making: Sulfur Spraying 2016

Spraying the grapes with sulfur, to prevent mildew, is a game of tag with the rain, and it always requires judgement when the vines start to bloom—as they have already. The Sangiovese buds have opened, the Cabernet Franc vines are just beginning to bloom and the Cabernet Sauvignon buds  will soon be open too. We've probably had our last rain and I wanted to get them protected before full bloom, so I sprayed them yesterday. I had sprayed once before this year, about two weeks ago, but most of that got washed away by rain. I hope yesterday's spraying will hold them for a while, although I'll probably have to spray once more, just after bloom is over, in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Art I'm Making: A New Collage

Another new collage. This one is made using scraps of older papers (papers I monoprinted or painted quite a while ago), mostly in warm tones.

Untitled Collage No. 142 (Santa Rosa). May 7, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 11.3 x 12.8cm. Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, use the Art I'm Making tab here, or visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Rain: 0.4 Inches in May (May 7-8, 2016)

Even if El Niño wasn't as spectacular as some had hoped, we've had more rain than last year, and, importantly, more rain much later in the season. Last year, the rain stopped in January. Last night we got 0.4 inches of new rain, which, while not a lot, is not insignificant either. That brings our total at my northern Santa Rosa location to 30.80 inches for the 2015-2016 rain year (October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016). We're unlikely to get much more, as the rains usually stop about now even in a good year, but we're already way ahead of the last couple of years. The overall deficit remains, however, as average annual rainfall in Santa Rosa historically has been around 36 inches.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 141 (Santa Rosa)

I  have been making collages at a fairly steady pace, new papers rather sporadically. The result of that difference has been a cyclical effect in my collage-making. A batch of new papers induces a flurry of activity—a group of new works that are fed by the excitement of having new material to work with. These pieces tend to be larger, as they use newly created full-sheet monoprints. Gradually, new material is consumed. The work that follows becomes smaller, more delicate, fed by the scraps and leftovers of other work. Eventually I reach a place where it's difficult to create at all using the bits and pieces left behind (although these are treasured as accents and unexpected additions—little is thrown away). And then, suddenly, in a burst of energetic activity, I create new papers. And from these, new collages emerge.

Today, at the end of a phase of this cycle, I finished a new piece that was a considerable struggle. I was pleased to have arrived at a good place despite aching to get out my tempered glass plate and my paints to spend a few hours monoprinting (perhaps tomorrow, or over the weekend).

This is Untitled Collage No. 141 (Santa Rosa). May 5, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 13.7 x 21cm. Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. For more of my collage work, use the Art I'm Making tab here or visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Serendipitous Art: A Wall of Invisible Marks

Recently at the De Young Museum in San Francisco I saw a wall covered with marks—marks made by human hands—around the hand railing on a staircase. They are invisible in most lights, but, at one oblique angle and with the light coming down from above, they appear momentarily...until you move slightly and they become invisible again.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Music I'm Listening To: A Week of Music

I heard Midori in recital at the Green Music Center on April 23 and Hilary Hahn in recital at Davies Symphony Hall on the 26th. On the 29th, I'll be in San Francisco again to hear a concert conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado featuring Shostakovich's Symphony No. 9.

It's sad a name as big as Midori can't fill the Green Music Center. Filling the hall seems to have been a persistent problem since its opening, about four years ago. The first two seasons, I was delighted to subscribe to reasonably priced San Francisco Symphony concerts at the Center, but that program was abandoned—because the hall was usually no more than two-thirds full. Is Rohnert Park too far to drive if you live in San Francisco? I suppose people who live in San Francisco don't feel the need, no matter how good the sound, and it appears the native (Sonoma County) audience for classical music isn't big enough to support the venue unaided. I've heard it suggested that the Center hasn't been well enough advertised in San Francisco. Perhaps attendance will pick up if Bruno Ferrandis is replaced by a better, more charismatic conductor at the Santa Rosa Symphony (his contract runs out at the end of this season and will not be renewed).

At the Midori recital on the 23rd, I sat in the seats behind the stage for the first time. They are closer to the performer than I realized, but it's easy to forget how directional the sound projection of a violin is. I remember noticing sharp changes in dynamics at concerts by Kyung-wha Chung (who virtually dances while playing, frequently turning from side to side). Midori, mostly facing away from my vantage point, was sometimes hard to hear, especially during the opening piece, a Bach sonata for violin and piano that lacked impact. However, I very much enjoyed her performance of Schubert's C Major Fantasy for Piano and Violin (although it always seems a little longer than it needs to be) and her performance of the Brahms Piano and Violin Sonata No. 1, in G Major). Two pieces by Tchaikovsky rounded out the program—The Valse Sentimentale and the Valse-Scherzo. Midori also played an encore, a song by Grieg, as she told us in the lobby after the performance. She was accompanied on stage by pianist Özgur Aydin.

I've heard Hilary Hahn twice before in San Francisco, playing the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, with James Gaffigan conducting, and playing one of the Prokofieff concertos, with Osmo Vänskä conducting. I'd never heard her in recital before. It was an excellent opportunity to listen closely to the sound of her violin (according to the Wikipedia article on Hahn "an 1864 copy of Paganini's Cannone made by Vuillaume"), which seems particularly sweet in the mid-register and rather nicely balanced throughout its range, unlike some violins that seem to favor either the low or the high end.

The program was varied, earlier music in the first half, more modern music after intermission. It began with Mozart's Sonata in G Major for Violin and Piano (Cory Smythe accompanying) followed by the Bach Sonata No. 3 in C major for Solo Violin. Hahn played the Bach absolutely purely, absolutely correctly—every note articulated and right where it was supposed to be—without sounding in the least cold or distant, somehow being  utterly confident and charismatically present yet almost transparent, the music seeming to flow through and out of her. Her performance was mesmerizing—probably the most convincing performance of one of the Bach solo violin pieces I've ever heard, its only possible rival in my experience being one by Itzhak Perlman I heard as a college student in the early 1980s in Columbus, Ohio. Hahn was deeply moving. The entire audience immediately rose to its feet after she finished and brought her back on stage to acknowledge the applause several times before letting her go and starting the mid-concert leg stretch. She wore a beautiful floor length skirt—black with embroidered metallic discs.

She was equally impressive in a selection from Anton Garcia Abril's Six Partitas for Solo Violin (which I'd like to hear more of), in the Copland Sonata for Violin and Piano that followed, and in Tina Davidson's Blue Curve of the Earth, which is one of the 27 pieces Hahn commissioned for her recording In 27 Pieces (Hahn played this as an encore at the May 25, 2012 concert with Osmo Vänskä that I attended, so I've heard her perform it twice now).

For an encore, Hahn played the world premiere, she said, of Catch, by Aaron Severini, one of the honorable mentions among the 400 or so pieces she received as entries in her encore competition. She spoke directly to the audience in introducing the piece. After the concert, signing autographs for the longest line of people I've ever seen at Davies Symphony Hall waiting for a signing, she kindly wrote the name of the piece in my program for me. She gives the impression of being an extremely gracious, down-to-Earth person. When I asked her to date the CD cover she signed for me, she didn't know what day it was. It must be hard to keep track sometimes when you travel as much as a touring performer does.

[Update: The concert on the 29th was wonderful. Heras-Casado was overflowing with energy and so was the music. The program included Dance Suite by Bartok, the world premiere of Auditorium, by Mason Bates, Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Symphony No. 9, by Shostakovich. ]

Photo of Midori courtesy of the Green Music Center website. Photo of Hilary Hahn courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony website.


Friday, April 22, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 138 (Santa Rosa)

Another new collage, although the first I've done in a couple of weeks. This one was inspired by a piece of Japanese textile stencil I found at a rummage sale. I usually avoid found paper in my work, because I don't trust ephemera not to fade, discolor, or stain the other papers I use. Found papers often have too strong a personality of their own, drawing attention away from the abstract qualities of the composition, which, for me, always are primary.

I loved the color of the stencil, though—a deep maroon or oxblood with an ever-so-slightly iridescent effect when side-lit—impossible to reproduce photographically. I'm confident this paper will retain its qualities: it's already decades old, and these stencils, stained with persimmon tannin for water repellency, always seem to be this color or something close to it, thus stable.

Untitled Collage No. 138 (Santa Rosa), acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (Japanese textile stencil), collage. Image size 23 x 27cm, matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab here, or visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Serendipitous Art: Scratched Window

Although this looks like a piece of modern calligraphy, it's scratches on a window I saw somewhere in San Francisco not long ago. The window had been painted over. Looked like art to me. Unintended art, serendipitous art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Book I'm Reading: Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

Much has been written about Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. I've read five or six biographies myself. This one—Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (By Michael Korda, Harper, 2010)—is probably the best of those. It seems unusually well researched, it's fluidly written, and, perhaps most important, while it details Lawrence's time in the desert with the Arab Revolt, it presents a balanced picture of his life, devoting more space than usual to his childhood and also to his later days, after he attempted to retreat into anonymity as an airman in the budding RAF. In the first instance, Korda elucidates Lawrence's relationship with his religiously zealous mother in particular, in the latter, his uncanny ability to stay connected with and influence the most influential people in Britain even as an airman. His intellect was irresistible. Reading Hero, I'm left wanting to read Seven Pillars of Wisdom again.

Rain: Another Half Inch Overnight (April 21-22, 2016)

Rain has been in the forecast for today, Friday, for the past couple of days, but it started early, late on Thursday and it was enough to make a difference. I found 0.55 inches in the rain gauge this morning. It's still drizzling. So far that brings our total for the 2015–2016 rain year to 29.90 inches at my Santa Rosa location. That's still below normal (historically, almost 34 inches by this time of year), but the most rain we've had in three or four years.

[Update: It rained hard again later in the day. By the end of the 22nd we had had 0.90 inches of new rain, this 0.45 inches in addition to the amount reported above. So, the total at my location now stands at 30.35 inches for the 2015-2016 rain year. This may be the last significant rain of the year. If it is, we will end up about six inches below normal but still far ahead of the last couple of years. So, much better in the short term, but not real relief from the long-term drought.]

[Sudden rain again on the night of April 26-27 sounded impressive, but left only 0.05 inches in the rain gauge, raising the total to 30.40 inches.]

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 137 (Santa Rosa)

My most recent collage. This is Untitled Collage No. 137 (Santa Rosa). March 14, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 18.3 x 15.3cm. Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab here, or visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Rain: Unexpected Rain Overnight (April 14, 2016)

A sudden downpour woke me last night. I found 0.35 inches of new rain in the rain gauge this morning. Rain hadn't been in the forecast. This new precipitation raises our total for the 2015-2016 rain year to 29.35 inches at my northern Santa Rosa location. While that still leaves us below average, the very fact of appreciable rain this late in the season is a good thing.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 136 (Santa Rosa)

Following a comparatively large piece, I made another diminutive one. It measures 10.8 x 10.6cm, or roughly four inches square. This is Untitled Collage No. 136 (Santa Rosa). March 11, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the "Art I'm Making" tab here, or visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Rain: April Showers (April 9, 2016)

More rain. It was beginning to look like rain was over for this year, but we've had a half inch of precipitation overnight and this morning. Before this new rain, our total for the 2015-2016 rain year stood at 28.25 inches at my north Santa Rosa location. The historical average for this date is 32.83 inches. Thus, we are still about 5 inches below normal, but the rain virtually stopped in January last season, so we are miles ahead, even if this is the last rain we get until autumn. Let it rain.

[Update: Further drizzle has left 0.75 inches in the rain gauge this morning (April 10). That brings our total for the current rain year to 29.00 inches at my Santa Rosa location.]

Friday, April 8, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 135 (Santa Rosa)

I've been doing collage work for almost three years now. In that time, I've never made a piece bigger than about 8 x 10 inches and my smallest pieces have been no more than about 2 inches on a side. This hasn't been by design. It's just happened that way. The monoprinted papers I use, seem to work best at a size that requires close examination.

I recently made a large piece, however,—or at least large for me. Untitled Collage No. 135 (Santa Rosa) is about 9 x 14 inches, although I can't measure it as I write this because it's in a show at the O'Hanlon Center for the Arts, in Mill Valley, through April 19. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (automatic drawing fragment in archival markers made by a Doodlebot). February 25, 2016. Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the "Art I'm Making" tab here, or visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Music I'm Listening To: Master Class with Cellist Zuill Bailey

Cellist Zuill Bailey, in Santa Rosa this week to perform with the Santa Rosa Symphony, gave a master class for string players of the Santa Rosa Symphony's Youth Orchestra and Young People's Chamber Orchestra on Monday, April 4. Bailey worked with three young cellists during the class, but I was deeply impressed by the broad applicability of the ideas he stressed. Much of what he said pertained to efficient and productive practicing—of any instrument.

He emphasized getting the structure of the music down solidly before attempting to make it your own, reflecting his view that really good music has most of its expressive qualities written into it and that the music and its audience  often are best served simply by faithfully playing what's written, paying attention to rhythm in particular. Several of his remarks drew laughter from the young cellists and the spectators, but he got an especially big laugh when he suggested you can easily save hundreds of dollars in music lessons simply by buying a good metronome and using it.

Bailey also pointed out that efficient practicing is essentially problem solving—that it's pointless aimlessly to run through pieces you're working on without a goal. He suggested always asking yourself what you aim to achieve before a practice session and he recommended focusing on the technically difficult passages or—and this seems very important—the passages that may not be technically difficult that you nevertheless have trouble with or feel uncomfortable about, whatever the reason.

He emphasized the importance of not just repeatedly trying to get these right without finding the cause of the problem. To do less, he said, is to repeatedly play the passage wrongly—thereby reinforcing the wrong way to play it rather than mastering the difficulty. He recommended always playing through these difficult or otherwise troublesome spots while practicing (not stopping in the middle of them) by at least two bars and, when going back to try again, always starting at least two bars before the trouble spot, to avoid creating the habit of stopping at these places or becoming unnecessarily apprehensive about their approach because, as he put it, "practice makes permanent." That is, practice reinforces both good and bad habits and eventually solidifies them.

Using this method, he suggested, clarifies problems, finds the right way to surmount them, and reinforces a relaxed overcoming of them while avoiding repeated frustration and repetition of mistakes and errors to no purpose. I very much wish my son, a clarinetist with the Youth Orchestra, had been able to see the class. Although Bailey spent a lot of time working with the young cellists on string-specific problems such as finding the most comfortable and solid fingerings, he said much that was applicable to anyone studying a musical instrument. It was a pleasure to hear him play and watch him teach. The almost instantaneous improvement he drew out of the performances of his pupils in the class was remarkable as well.




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