Sunday, September 8, 2019

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 214 (Santa Rosa)

After an intense period of collage-making that lasted almost five years, from the middle of 2014 to the end of 2018, I've been in a lull lately, my time taken up by practicalities such as making a living, and with the urge to create collages somewhat dampened by a feeling that it's time for something new. A period of work on cyanotypes ended (for the time being--I will get back to cyanotype) in frustration; cyanotype is a trickier process than one is often led to believe.

That said, I've not been entirely inactive in 2019. Here is Untitled Collage No. 215 (Santa Rosa), made back in February. I'd neglected to post it here. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper (handwritten music), collage. 27.8 x 37.3cm (10.8 x 14.8in). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

With the 2019 Art Trails open studio event looming (October 12–13 and 19–20), I've been working a bit again in the past few weeks. More to come soon....

To see more of my collage work and some of my abstract photography, visit my website at: https://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Friday, September 6, 2019

Books I'm Reading: Freedom Evolves

Daniel Dennett's Freedom Evolves (Penguin, 2003) is an engaging if rather challenging read. It's the sort of book you need to read several times to really absorb the arguments--that view more a reflection of defects in my intellect, I imagine, than defects in the author's arguments or the clarity of the writing.

Dennett looks at questions of free will and determinism, asking whether free will can exist in a deterministic world. His answer is essentially yes. He suggests human beings are unique in having evolved minds that give us free will and make us moral beings (without any need for religion, by the way).

Among the more interesting notions presented is the idea that it's possible to imagine a completely deterministic world that has randomness built into it. A lot to consider here, but too much  undigested (by me) to write much of a review. This is mostly intended as a note to myself that I attempted this one.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Wines I'm Making: Grapes Netted (August 12, 2019)

This year, I treated the grapes against mildew by dusting them with sulfur rather than wetting the sulfur powder and spraying them. Now, weeks after applying sulfur dust, I can report that dusting seems to work much better than spraying. Usually, by this time of the season, the grapes that are most shaded in our little vineyard are already showing some damage from mildew. In bad years, I've lost as much as 20% of the Sangiovese to mildew. Right now there is virtually no mildew on the grapes, which is wonderful. Removal of the trees behind the vineyard that were in my neighbor's yard has helped and this year I did not put up the reed fencing on the back fence that we usually have there, so I think they are getting more light and air as well, which helps against the mildew. In any case, the grapes are looking very good.

The berries are just beginning to turn color. I finished netting them against the raccoons yesterday. The next task will be to water them for the first time this season. I typically water at the end of July, the end of August and the end of September, although, I suspect they could be completely dry farmed now. That said, the Sangiovese shows signs of water stress well before the Cabernet. They need a little drink. There's a complication this year. I put down weed cloth under the vines this spring for the first time, to try to make the job of weeding the vineyard easier. It's worked very well, but, now, when I turn on the irrigation, the water mostly beads up on top of the cloth. I'm not confident it's getting into the soil. I'll probably have to go out and cut holes where the drippers drip.

Music I'm Listening to: Reorganizing a CD Collection (August 2019)

This is what happens when you start to reorganize your CD collection. For quite a while I've been thinking about how best to organize a CD collection that is mostly classical, but one spanning from Gregorian chant to contemporary music by living composers and including not only classical but also world music, Japanese pop music, rock music, blues, and jazz.

I've decided on the following: First, the classical--these chronologically roughly by death date of composer, divided by composer and within each composer by type of music, with chamber music, concertos, and symphonies each getting a separate section. Within classical, I've recognized sections for organ music, for guitar music, and for strongly national music. For example, I have a section that's mostly late 19th and early 20th century French music, with works by Debussy, Ravel, Frank, Poulenc, Milhaud, Satie and the like. I have a Spanish music section as well.

Then, at the end of the chronological classical section, I've grouped all classical CDs that are collections by artist or some other criteria (by instrument, or period--anything that's a mixture of pieces). Following these are three sections of classical vocal music--one for full operas and opera aria collections, one for art songs, and then one for choral music. Within art songs (and sections generally), I've made sections for individual artists if I have a significant number of CDs featuring one artist. In art songs, for example, Elly Ameling gets her own section. I have a Radu Lupu section, a Kyung-wha Chung section, a Melvyn Tan section, etc. Following the vocal music. I have my world music section. This includes everything from the Nenes (an Okinawan vocal group) to Mary O'hara (Irish harp), to gamelan music, and flamenco. Flamenco gets its own section. 

Next I have a jazz section (within this a Monk section and a Jackie McLean section), then a blues section (divided roughly into modern Chicago-style blues and Delta blues), and then the pop music, with the pop divided into Western pop and Japanese pop. It's now much easier to find things. I'm revisiting my entire CD and LP connection....

This seems to work. How do you organize your CDS or LPs?

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Books I'm Reading: Godforsaken Grapes

The grapes author Jason Wilson discusses in his Godforsaken Grapes (Abrams Press, 2018) have not been forsaken by god, but by people. Wilson attempts to introduce the reader to some of the more interesting obscure varieties from around the world, but he has room to discuss only a small number. There are said to be as many as 10,000 known grape varieties in the world (although that may actually mean 10,000 known grape names, as many of the common, long-cultivated and widely distributed varieties have numerous synonyms: Pinot Noir apparently has more than 300 used around the world). In contrast, the back-cover blurb of the book suggests there are 1,400 grape varieties in the world, but that number seems far too low. Precisely how many there are probably is impossible to know and any number offered up will depend on choices about what constitutes a distinct variety; the wine grape vine (mostly Vitis vinifera) is notoriously prone to mutation, and where you draw boundaries will necessarily affect the number you end up with.

However many varieties there are, about two dozen of them account for nearly all of the wine made in the world. I would guess that Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Gamay, Grenache, Carignan, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and Zinfandel, among red grapes, and Airén, Trebbiano, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewürtraminer, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Viognier, and the Muscat family among whites would account for most of it.

These grapes have dominated the world of wine for different reasons. Some have been cultivated for many centuries and have persisted because of their inherent quality—grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling, for example. Others have been widely planted and persisted more because of habit or convenience (they happen to do well in a particular set of difficult conditions) or because they can be consumed in vast quantities in making base wines for distillation—Airén and Trebbiano come to mind. According to online sources, there are about 840,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon in the world (the world's most commonly planted wine grape), accounting for about 5% of all grapes planted for wine production. The grape varieties Wilson discusses sometime exist in a single vineyard of no more than a few acres and nowhere else on Earth. Increasingly, rare varieties and the wine they make, are gaining attention among younger, less tradition-bound sommeliers, Wilson tells us, which has encouraged at least some growers to identify, preserve, and expand plantings of obscure varieties, some on the verge of extinction.

To chronicle all known grape varieties would require a project of encyclopedic proportions.* Wilson is necessarily selective even among the narrowed-down choice presented by grapes that might be considered obscure and forgotten. Any reasonably serious wine drinker will immediately be able to draw up a quick mental list of obscure varieties that don't even get a mention—and not all the grapes he discusses will be unfamiliar to readers with even a casual interest in wine. For example, there is a chapter on Grüner Veltliner, which has become quite trendy in the US of late and is not especially obscure in the areas where it is widely grown, most importantly in Austria and Hungary;  but choices had to be made. Here and in several other places in the book Wilson takes the opportunity to point out how confusing and insane grape naming can be by noting that there is also a Roter Veltliner, a Frühroter Veltliner, and a Brauner Veltliner—none of which are related to Grüner Veltliner at all. And remember those 300-plus synonyms for Pinot Noir.

That said, each of the sections introduces grape varieties that mostly are obscure—Altesse, Diolinoire, Hondarrabi Zuri, Juhfark, Ramisco, Timorasso, and the like—in a kind of travelogue style through accounts of visits to some of the growers and winemakers that nurture such rarities. Along the way, there is a fair amount of discussion about the economics of producing these varieties, particularly about how a comparatively recent obsession with the rare among well-heeled wine drinkers and sommeliers has supported the revival of more than a few. More often than not, however, a respect for place and tradition and a sense of duty to future generations seems to motivate the growers who work to keep little-known wine grape varieties from slipping into oblivion. Reading this book left me grateful, as many of them sound well worth exploring. Recommended.

*One of the most comprehensive attempts, the 1,242-page Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including their Origins and Flavours, by Jose Vouillamoz, Jancis Robinson, and Julia Harding, as the title suggests, covers less than 1,400.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Organic Fertilizer Bounty

Thanks to an amazing homemade organic fertilizer I learned about from a neighbor (who attributes it to a farmer in Wyoming with a YouTube video), our garden this year is producing an overwhelming amount of food. Summer squash, zucchini, Japanese turnips, green beans, bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, cayenne peppers, Fresno peppers, Italian horn peppers, lemon cucumbers, peaches..... Soon eggplant and tomatoes will start coming as well.

Very easy to make this fertilizer, which has only three ingredients: Alfalfa pellets, blackstrap molasses, and fish emulsion. Feed stores generally have the pellets. A big bag will last all year. Any good garden store will have the fish emulsion (should be marked 5-1-1 or very close to that). The molasses (unsulphured) is available online. The one-gallon jug of the molasses and the fish emulsion I bought are not even half empty and I started this regimen in April.

Put one pound of the pellets in the bottom of a five-gallon bucket (I've found that a one-liter measure filled to the brim with pellets is about a pound). Put about a gallon of water in and let the pellets soak up the water and swell up. There should be enough water that you're left with a soupy mixture with liquid, not mush. After a few hours, or overnight, add 150ml each of the fish emulsion and the blackstrap molasses (about 2l3 of a cup maybe. Measurements don't have to be exact). Stir well and let sit for a couple of hours.

This I dilute again for use, putting one gallon of the mixture into a five-gallon watering can--so, diluting 1:4. It sounds more complicated than it is. Once you've done it a couple of times, it's quite easy. Apply once or twice a week. As plants start to flower and produce fruit, I add an organic guano-based 0-4-3 fertilizer to the mix called HDK (25ml/five gallons) easily available from the cannabis hydroponics stores if you live in a cannabis-legal state. This all-organic mixture works wonders!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Wines I'm Making: Grapes Sulfur Dusted, June 2019

For the first time in the 16 years I've been making wine from our backyard grapes, this year I'm treating the vines against mildew using a duster rather than a sprayer. It consumes more sulfur powder than the sprayer, but being lightweight, it's much easier and faster to use than the sprayer. The question is whether the fine sulfur dust works as well to prevent mildew.

Actually, spraying the grapes has never been as effective as I would like. Using the sprayer, the sulfur doesn't stick very well; most of it runs off. The powder seems to adhere better, but it's so fine it's hard to tell. So far, everything looks good, helped by the very cool spring and early summer we had this year (with one, short, extremely hot three-day period an exception). Mildew likes things warm and damp. Late rain kept things comparatively damp, but it was never especially warm and damp. We'll see how the sulfur dusting performs as the season progresses. This was the second dusting so far this year.

[Now, weeks later (mid-August), I can report that dusting with the sulfur seems to work much better than the spraying. Usually, by this time of the season, the grapes that are most shaded in our little vineyard are already showing some damage from mildew. In bad years, I've lost as much as 20% of the Sangiovese to mildew. Right now there is virtually no mildew on the grapes, which is wonderful.]

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Rain: Last night (June 19, 2019) We Had 0.2 Inches of Rain

Strangely, it rained last night and into the early morning. Very unusual at this time of year. We had 0.2 inches of new precipitation in the rain gauge last night, bringing our total for the 2018-2019 rain year to 37.50 inches at my location in northeast Santa Rosa.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Books I'm Reading: Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant

This was a surprisingly pleasurable read. Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, subtitled: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone (edited by Jenni Ferrari-Alder, Riverhead Books, 2007) is one of those books that's been in my library for years; I can no longer remember when or where I acquired it. It may have been one of those left behind by my father. But I wish I had read this collection of 26 essays about solo cooking and eating alone sooner.

The essays are independent. Some include recipes (always for one), some do not. They can be read in any order, I imagine, but I found the stories had a certain cumulative effect; by the end of the book, I felt like I'd had a moving lesson in the way human beings respond at the intersection of food and solitude—solitude sometimes welcome, sometimes not. This is as much (or more) about being alone than it is about food.

Some of the names were familiar—M. F. K. Fisher, Nora Efron, Mary Cantwell, and Haruki Murakami, for example—most were not.  The writing is somewhat variable. Although good on the whole, one or two of the selections seemed a trifle unnecessarily vulgar to me—but there are real gems here, too. I think my favorite is the essay about asparagus by Phoebe Nobles. I don't want to spoil the fun, so I will say nothing about it except that it had me laughing out loud, which was a touch embarrassing as I read it sitting at the counter of the Pangloss wine bar in the town of Sonoma after a day of work driving wine tasters around the Sonoma wine country.

If I had to complain about anything, it would be the lack of an index. It might be necessary to re-read the book to find a recipe again or a particularly pleasurable paragraph, but this is a quibble; I might re-read it again soon anyway. Recommended.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Rain: Unusually Heavy Rain Late in the Season

It began raining on May 16, and really raining. It's unusual to get much rain in May at all—very unusual to have an actual storm come through. It rained most of today, May 17, and more rain is expected into next week. It's been cold and windy, more like December than mid-May. The rain gauge showed about half an inch this afternoon, but I had put the gauge away for the season and so missed most of the first day's precipitation, which I'd guess was at least another half inch, maybe more. I will update the total once the storm has passed us by.

[Update: As of this morning, May 21, we have had 1.65 inches of new rain, not counting the half inch or so I missed recording. That brings our total for the 2018-2019 rain year to 38.95 inches—or about 39.5 inches, assuming I missed about half an inch. I hope the rain is over for the year now. It's been a very long, very cold, very wet spring.]
 
[We had more rain on May26-27, adding 0.45 inches to the total for the 2018-2019 rain year. It looks like this, finally, will be the last for the year. It's been so wet and cold this spring that some of the plants in the garden had started to rot. Sunshine will be very welcome. The total at my northeast Santa Rosa location stands at 39.95 inches, which is on the high side of normal. Average annual rainfall in Santa Rosa is a little over 36 inches. Substantial rain this late in the spring is rare. Perhaps we will have a somewhat less threatening fire season in 2019. I hope so.] 

Monday, May 13, 2019

Books I'm Reading: My Name Escapes Me

Penguin asked Alec Guiness to keep a diary for a little over a year in the middle of the1990s. My Name Escapes Me (Penguin 1996) was the result. It's an idiosyncratic collection of daily jottings that, as the author himself puts it, reveal his "phobias, irritations, prejudices, childishness, and frivolity" (although he's a little hard on himself; he doesn't come across as terribly prejudiced, childish, or frivolous). It is mostly a dryly observed record of what Guinness was up to in 1995, by which time he had mostly retired from acting.

Apparently, he was an art lover. There are a number of pages about paintings he wished he could own. There is a fair amount of travel. There is a great deal of dining with friends and reminiscing about the theater and film. While Guinness drops names left and right, you never get the feeling he's doing it to impress. He simply knew many well known actors and actresses (although a fair number of the early British stage actors mentioned were unfamiliar to me).

Always intelligent, often quite funny (I especially enjoyed the several remarks that reveal he deeply regretted his connection to Star Wars). Not a challenging read, but entertaining and worth the time.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Wines I'm Making: 2019 Spring Shoot Thinning and First Sulfur Spraying Done (May 4, 2019)

A Cabernet vine before thinning
Yesterday I finished the biggest spring chore in our little vineyard of 34 vines. I thinned the excess growth from the vines, which will put out dozens of unnecessary shoots if left unchecked. I then sprayed with sulfur, which is a mildew preventative. The rows look neat and ready for the upcoming growing season—although the longest shoots are already 18 inches or longer. This is the second season since the neighbor behind us thinned out the trees that were shading the vines. They look stronger again and I think they will yield more fruit than they have in many years. I look forward to a nice crop this year if the mildew and the critters can be held at bay.

A Cabernet vine after shoot thinning
After sulfur spraying

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Books I'm Reading: Gorgon


Generally, I find little to complain about when reading anything published by Penguin, and this is a quibble, I suppose, but Gorgon, by Peter D. Ward (Penguin, 2004), once finished, seemed somewhat deceptively titled. The rather long subtitle (The Monsters That Ruled the Planet Before Dinosaurs and How They Died in the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth’s History) might better have been something like “Deciphering the Greatest Catastrophe in Earth’s History” as the book focuses not on the animals per se but on the author’s involvement in work in South Africa researching the great Permian extinction (an earlier and more pervasive extinction than the better known and much later Cretaceous–Tertiary mass extinction that killed off the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago; the Permian extinction occurred about 250 million years ago). While fossilized gorgons and other animals play a role in the story as chronological markers, the book tells us little about what these creatures were like—failing to satisfy expectations raised by the title and by text on the back cover of the book. I also noted six or seven typographical errors, which is quite unusual in a Penguin publication. Penguin texts are generally perfect in a typographical sense.

The book is worth reading nevertheless—for its examination of the causes of the Permian extinction—including a new (at the time of publication) theory to explain it—and for its look at some of the men and women who endure hardship in remote places to try to find answers to questions about the biological history of our planet. At the same time, it includes some nicely wrought descriptions of South Africa’s Karoo desert region and of the political and social climate of South Africa shortly after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the end of Apartheid in the country he later presided over.

Research by Ward and others seems to point to a number of important conclusions. First, it refutes the idea that the Permian extinction was slow and gradual (until lately, a widely accepted notion). At the same time, the data seem to refute the idea that it was primarily the result of a massive meteor impact, now the generally accepted explanation for the later Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction. Ward lays out a theory suggesting that the mass extinction was caused by a rapid increase in atmospheric temperature and carbon dioxide and an attendant decline in oxygen levels, these changes the results of a number of factors, which may have included an asteroid impact, although not one big enough to have been responsible for the extinction on its own.

He suggests that the survival and later flourishing of the dinosaurs can be explained by pre-existing adaptations in precursor species that allowed them to acquire oxygen more efficiently than competitors, and this is consistent with the idea that birds (with similar adaptations: mainly complex lung systems with ancillary airsacs that extend even into hollow bones in some parts of the body) are the descendants of certain types of dinosaur. Essentially, he believes the Permian extinction reflects a wholesale failure of life on Earth to survive a sudden increase in heat coupled with a decline in available oxygen. He closes the book asking whether the period of abnormally low oxygen beginning around the time of the Permian extinction might have implications for the development of other adaptations—namely live birth and warm-bloodedness. I have yet to encounter any subsequent material that discusses these ideas (this book is already 15 years old, and based on research done as much as 25 years ago), so it’s hard for me to judge the reception they have found. I would be interested to learn what further evidence the scientific community has turned up (or not) since Ward’s conclusions were advanced.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Miscellaneous: Fire at Notre Dame de Paris

Tragedy in Paris, at the cathedral, but it sounds like the bulk of the structure is unharmed and the damaged portions can be rebuilt. Here's to the hope that that is true.

Shown is "Notre Dame, Paris—Grim Guardian" circa 1930, by Warren R. Laity, my grandfather. Silver-gelatin print. Image size: 9 x 13 inches. My grandfather was a photographer beginning to get an international reputation just as he tragically died of complications during minor surgery at the age of 46, in 1936. We have about 60 of his exhibition prints, mostly of European architectural subjects, as that was his specialty. Many of them are plastered on the back with exhibition stickers from all over Europe and the US. This image has exhibition stickers on the reverse from New York and Budapest.

He taught art history at a women's college in NJ that later became part of Rutgers. On his summers off, he did classes on transatlantic cruise liners to pay his way to Europe for research. He also spent a couple of summers (1922 and 1923) traveling around Europe by motorcycle and photographing while writing articles for the Harley-Davidson magazine.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Miscellaneous: Goobye Milo (April 14, 2019)

Luck seemed to be with us yesterday when a swarm of bees obligingly moved into one of our empty bee hives. Today, luck abandoned us. I was awakened by a phone call from animal control--our cat Milo, hit by a car. Apparently paralyzed from the waist down and with severe internal injuries, he didn't make it. Very hard to put an animal down. Doesn't seem right to have a life or death decision over another creature, but the vet said he wouldn't make it through the day.

He was half-feral, would never stay at home, often seemed ungrateful, and he was sometimes cantakerous, but I will miss him. He was a handsome dark tabby with a broken tail, a rescue cat from the pound who, when he did come home and hang out with us, had a funny way of rolling around on the sun-warmed concrete of the driveway, showing his belly as if he wanted it stroked. Attempt to pet him there, and he'd usually try to bite. But I'll miss him.

We dug him a grand, flower-filled grave in a quiet place in the garden. I'll miss him.

Milo, in happier days, sleeping on the warm hood of one of our cars

Miscellaneous: Swarm moves in (April 13, 2019)

The last few days, a number of bees had been checking out one of our two empty beehives in the back garden. I was hoping it might be a scouting party for a swarm looking for a new home. And yesterday the air was full of bees and a large clump quickly formed on the alighting board in front of one of the hives.

We haven't had bees for two seasons. It will be nice to have bees again. I hope they become established and find their new home comfortable. Right now they seem to be cleaning things up, pushing dead earwigs and other debris out the front door. A new hive start has gotten so expensive now (I've heard as much as about $180), that a free swarm is a real gift. When I started keeping bees, in 2001, a hive start cost about $35.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Rain: Will it Never End?

Yes, we need rain. Rain this late in the season is a good thing, as it means it will take longer than usual for the summer months to completely parch the landscape, and it may mean comparatively low fire danger for longer than usual. That said, it's been so dismal and cool this spring that I'm really ready for some sun. It's been raining off and on the last couple of days and it's raining now. It's supposed to rain off and on for the next couple of days....

Since last reporting, we've had 1.15 inches of new precipitation, which brings our total to 37.30 inches so far in the 2018-2019 rain year at my location, which is  a little above normal. Other sites have had more than 38 inches so far. The historical average for April 4 in Santa Rosa is 32.43 inches.

[Update: As of April 12, it's turned sunny finally and little rain is forecast for some time now. Perhaps the bulk of our rain this year is now behind us.]

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Music I'm Listening To: Gil Shaham, Christian Tetzlaff, and Elena Urioste

Gil Shaham after the concert
Three recent concerts, two in San Francisco, one in Santa Rosa. I attended the February 8 performance of the SF Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. On the program were Steven Mackey's
Portals, Scenes and Celebrations (a Symphony commission and world premiere), Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1, and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted. Gil Shaham was soloist in the Prokofiev. This is a belated report. I can't say I remember the first piece at all, which shouldn't really count against it, but, by definition, it wasn't memorable. Shaham was his usual, highly competent self. MTT's rendition of the Tchaikovsky was on the slow side but quite enjoyable. It was particularly fun to see the substantial pizzicato sections live. This is a very familiar piece of music but not one I'd seen in person before.

Christian Tetzlaff takes a bow
On March 15, I was at Davies Symphony Hall again, this time to hear Christian Tetzlaff play Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3. He played some unfamiliar cadenzas, which added interest. Also on the program were Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin and Sibelius's Symphony No. 2. MTT conducted. Although I generally find MTT bland, I must admit he does the very late romantic stuff well. I very much enjoyed his handling of the Sibelius. So, that's twice that I've found him really engaged and putting a distinctive stamp on the music—this and a recent performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony

Violinist Elena Urioste
The following day, it was the Santa Rosa Symphony at the Green Music Center under the baton of Conductor Emeritus Jeffrey Kahane. On the program were Gershwin's An American in Paris in its original version (as Gershwin orchestrated it), Barber's Violin Concerto, and Copland's Symphony No. 3. Elena Urioste was the soloist in the Barber concerto. I was impressed by Urioste's performance and she was very gracious backstage. It was fun to see Kahane again, too. The Gershwin in the original orchestration sounded rather different than the version we're used to, which, according to Kahane, was cleaned up substantially by a Hollywood orchestrator. Gershwin apparently had little experience writing for full orchestra at the time. The Copland is not a favorite. It's rather ponderous, but it's interesting to hear the sections of Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) that were written into the symphony, which followed Fanfare by a year or two.

SR Symphony Conductor Emeritus Jeffrey Kahane

Art I'm Looking At: The Art Wall at Shige Sushi Closes (April 2019)


The Art Wall at Shige Sushi is no more. The restaurant owners have decided to permanently close the Cotati location to focus on their new location in Sonoma. It was a really fun four-plus years. As curator, I feel like I was able to show a great deal of really good local art in that time. I sincerely thank everyone who helped to make The Art Wall possible.

The first show was in December and January 2014-2015. Only one person came to the opening reception. It was pouring with rain, no one had heard of the place (except as a restaurant) and it was right before Christmas. In the end, that was a good thing. There would have been room for no more. We held the reception while the restaurant was open—a mistake in such a small space. I quickly learned to have the receptions on Mondays, when the restaurant was closed. I will always be grateful to Claude Smith and Sherrie Parker for agreeing to participate in the first show.

I curated 26 shows of 8 weeks each with a couple of exceptions—one was six weeks, one ten weeks. I showed the work of 28 artists, 27 living, one deceased (Lewis Bodecker). There were 23 solo shows, three group shows (collage work by Claude Smith, Sherrie Parker, and me; Lisa Beerntsen and Deborah Salomon had a show together, and we did a show of contemporary photography that included work by nine artists). Of the 23 solo artists, 17 or 74% were women. Several artists participated in more than one show, including Janis Crystal Lipzin, Sherrie Parker, Claude Smith, and Deborah Salomon.

We sold at least one piece in (or as a result of) seven of the shows, not including work I bought myself. Including that, we sold at least one piece in 11, or 42% of the shows. Katie McCann sold the most in one show, with three of her collages going to an enthusiastic collector. The most expensive piece sold was a piece in Sherrie Lovler’s show, which sold for over $800. As I took only a 25% commission on sales, The Art Wall at Shige Sushi was not a profitable venture in monetary terms. It would not have been possible at all if the owners at Shige Sushi had not allowed me to use the space at no cost. It was profitable in terms of other, more important things. 

Please join us next Monday, April 8, 2019 for a final closing party from 6:00PM to 9:00PM. Everyone's invited. If you never made it to one of our shows, this will be your last chance. Wine and beer will be provided, but please bring a little something to eat to share with friends. Pot luck. Bring your own bottle, too, if you care to. But come, even if you come empty-handed. I'd really like to personally thank everyone who was involved—the artists and the art lovers—with making The Art Wall at Shige Sushi a success.

The photo above shows postcards for each of the 26 shows I curated, in chronological order.

Books I'm Reading: Laurie Lee—Red Sky at Sunrise

I wonder if Laurie Lee (1914-1997) is not better known in the US because his name sounds feminine. I imagine it confuses people to learn, if they ever do, that Laurie is a man, Laurie being short for Laurence in this case. It's the sort of thing the British are more at ease with than we are. It may also be that the British, on the whole, have better taste than we do and that they are better educated. Or is that an illusion? Whatever the case, our current president has shown what a fundamentally ignorant, insensitive, mean-spirited people we Americans are—on the whole. The writings of a man like Laurie Lee could never go mainstream here, but perhaps not anywhere. His writing is too pretty to go mainstream. His prose reads like poetry, often requiring the attention and concentration that poetry requires. It can be tiring—although never overwrought and burdensome like the prose of a D.H. Lawrence.

I thought this particularly so in the case of Cider with Rosie, one of the three autobiographical books (originally published separately) collected in this omnibus volume from Penguin (2004). Not surprisingly, Lee is best known as a poet aside from these books.

Cider with Rosie, memories of the author's childhood in the Cotswold countryside, originally appeared in 1959. It's a nostalgic remembrance of his early life in an isolated village before the First World War, before automobiles were common, before the encroachment of modernity. Lee writes beautifully of the countryside, life with his sisters, life with his distracted mother, life with his absent father—his experience of growing up there from the age of three (his first memories) until just before he steps out into the world on his own as a young man—by walking to London (a distance of about 110 miles) and then across Spain.

The opening is beautiful and memorable. He remembers the first time he was out of the house on his own, at age three. 

I was set down from the carrier's cart at the age of three; and there with a sense of bewilderment and terror my life in the village began.

The June grass, amongst which I stood, was taller than I was, and I wept. I had never been so close to grass before. It towered above me and all around me, each blade tattooed with tiger-skins of sunlight. It was knife-edged, dark, and a wicked green, thick as a forest and alive with grasshoppers that chirped and chattered and leapt through the air like monkeys.
The prose throughout is as vivid.

The very idea of leaving home by spending several weeks to walk to London and then to walk across Spain (the subject of the second book, As I walked Out one Midsummer Morning, originally published in 1969) is alien in this age. A young American setting out on his or her own would rarely think to walk anywhere today, much less the distance from Scranton, Pennsylvania to New York City to look for work and independence from family. We are coddled and separated from the physical world by our computerized vehicles and computerized devices. Today, walking such a distance simply to get somewhere, or walking across a foreign country is reserved for the well-heeled tourist (always with money and privilege to fall back on in a pinch) or it's an act of defiance, a conscious attempt to return to some kind of ill-defined authenticity. Lee starts out in life by walking to London because he has no other way to go. Later, he walks across Spain, supporting himself by playing his violin in the streets, for much the same reason; he wants to go and he has no other conveyance. He is ill-prepared in both cases and nearly expires on several occasions from heat stroke in Spain, but the kindness of strangers and plain dumb luck save him. Lee at the end of the book ends up in jail and very narrowly escapes getting himself shot. His experience illustrates just how important happenstance often is in determining the path of an individual through life.

At the end of As I walked Out one Midsummer Morning, Lee is in a Spain on the brink of civil war. In the third and final book, A Moment of War (originally published in in 1991), he decides to go back to Spain (having once returned to England) with the idea that the Spanish Republicans deserve his help. Once again, hopelessly ill-prepared, he walks into Spain from France to join the cause, nearly freezing to death in the process. During his time in the Republican army he is met with suspicion and incompetence in a swirl of doomed enthusiasm among his peers that quickly deteriorates into a pool of squalid disillusionment. In the confusion of the early stages of the Spanish Civil War,  in far greater danger of being shot as a spy or dying of hunger and exposure than he is of receiving a mortal wound in the little combat he sees, he absorbs the random cruelty, waste, stupidity, and oppressive boredom that war always brings. In the end, he's sent home, lucky to have come away with his life intact, once again saved by coincidence. We should be glad of it. Had he died, none of these three books would have been written. Recommended. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Art I'm Making: Cyanotype progress

Under the heading of "For What it's Worth": I've been working with the new Christina Z. Anderson Cyanotype book, following a couple of months of experimentation on my own (but with the generous help of another member here who happens to live nearby), focused on classic cyanotype and Arches Platine paper.

Looking at the book, I was very impressed by the work by Eugene Starobinskiy (for example, on page 117). Saying to myself "That's the kind of print I want to make!" and reading his comment saying his best-looking prints have been done on Canson XL Watercolor paper (in a 9 x 12 tablet), I decided to start a new calibration using this paper. It has one huge advantage right off the bat--it's much cheaper than Arches Platine. Also, I don't like that the Arches Platine sheets always come with a sticker on them that ruins part of the already expensive paper. On the downside, the Canson paper is less absorbent, making it a little harder to coat evenly. The blues are slightly different, but hard to characterize. The Arches Platine blue is a little fatter, a little more velvety, but I don't dislike the color of the Canson XL.

The Canson seems to give me a much better range of tones. I used Christine's method to determine a base exposure (I hope I've done it right), based on the information on pages 49-53. I've modified my standard processing slightly, by increasing the acidity of the developing water--going from one tbsp of vinegar/quart to 1 tbsp/500ml, essentially doubling the vinegar--although that's still a comparatively small amount.

The first cyanotype I posted here, and my first real effort was appealing and I put it up with some enthusiasm because I was simply pleased to got an interesting image of any kind (the image of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco). However, the shadows are blocked up in the original print (on the left) and the mid-tones are muddy. Changing to the Canson XL Watercolor paper with the above-noted modification immediately produced a much better result. So, I think I will move forward trying to create a curve for this new paper and development routine. Information about the two prints is given below the images (I hope it's readable). Both were exposed in a beautiful UV-light box my brother made for me. Identical negative. Both classic cyanotype formula from Bostick and Sullivan. Double coated. Naturally, these are images of images, so approximations, but I've made an effort to tweak them so that the on-screen versions look as close as possible to the real prints--although they may look rather different on your monitor. Still, I hope the comparison is of some interest to anyone considering these papers. 

[Having posted this on the Facebook cyanotype page I unexpectedly triggered a long thread with many people much more experience than me. They've convinced me that the Canson is not a good choice for serious work because it has buffers in it that react badly with cyanotype chemistry over time. Although it works very well, it's not archival. Back to the Arches Platine.]

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Rain: More Rain and More Rain (March 21, 2019)

As of this morning (March 21, 2019), we've had another 0.65 inches of precipitation at my location in northwest Santa Rosa since last reporting. That brings our total for the 2018–2019 rain year to 34.00 inches. Today is clear and sunny, but rain is predicted again over the weekend and into next week.

[Update: Subsequent rain added 0.95 inches to our total, which, as of March 24, is 34.95 inches, but more rain is in the forecast for the coming week.]

[Update: As of the morning of April 2, we've had another 1.2 inches of rain, bringing the total to 36.15 inches, which is about the historical average for Santa Rosa. This year has been wet and cold. Everyone is ready for some spring weather....]

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Species Tulips (Tulipa Bakeri, 2019)

The first species tulips in the garden started blooming on March 10 this year. These are Tulipa bakeri, a pretty pink with a blazing yellow center. I planted several hundred of these years ago. Most were devoured in a season by ground squirrels, but about a dozen survive. Always nice to see them in the spring.

It is from species like these that  what most people think of as tulips today were developed. Tulips are native to places like Turkey and the countries of the Caucasus region. This is a variety called "Lilac Wonder." Tulipa bakeri bloomed in the garden on March 5 in 2009 and on March 16 in 2010 (although I seem to have two contradictory dates for 2010--also February 24), on March 14 in 2011, on March 4 in 2012, on February 25 in 2013, on March 6 in 2014, on February 20 in 2015, and on March 9 in 2018, so this is toward the late end of the range I've noted over the years, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Two-toned Daffodils (March 2019)

I belatedly report today that the first of the two-toned daffodils in the garden opened on March 4 this year. They typically open later than the yellow daffodils—and have done so this year nearly a month later. The yellow daffodils first bloomed on February 6 in 2019.

The two-toned daffodils first opened on February 22 in 2010, on February 24 in 2011 and 2012, on February 18 in 2014, on February 20 in 2016, and on February 24 in 2018. So, this is a little later than usual. 

Miscellaneous: Things We Need Words For

Things we need words for: A small machined metal or molded plastic part separated from its intended application carefully preserved in the (usually) vain hope that someday it will become apparent what it was made for and where it belongs. These things are clearly important and probably irreplaceable but not where they ought to be. The sort of little bit that, if you have it, the thing it goes to is ten times more valuable than an example of that thing missing the little bit you can't figure out.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Art I'm Making: My Museum Shadows Series Photographs on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi


On The Art Wall at Shige Sushi: Colin Talcroft—Selections from the Museum Shadows Series
March 5 through April 28, 2019
Opening reception: Monday, March 11, 2019 5:00PM-7:00PM

Abstract photographs by me. The Art Wall at Shige Sushi presents selections from my Museum Shadows Series, an ongoing series of shadow photographs begun in 2012 captured in museums and galleries around the San Francisco Bay Area and in Europe.

On the Art Wall at Shige Sushi, 8235 Old Redwood Highway, Downtown Cotati, 94931.
Art viewable during regular business hours. Restaurant closed Mondays. More information at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/artwallatshige

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Rain: Atmospheric River Dumps 5.5 Inches on Santa Rosa (Februray 27, 2019)

Looking at the rain gauge this morning, it was overflowing. I've never seen it completely filled before. The scale ends at five inches. I'm guessing there was another half inch above that, but I have no idea how long it was completely full and therefore not registering new precipitation. Suffice it to say that we've had at least 5.5 inches of new rain in the last couple of days. That brings our total to 32.60 inches at least at my location in Northern Santa Rosa, close to normal annual rainfall for the entire rain year (about 36 inches). Rain is in the forecast for the next seven to ten days. It seems very likely that this will be a wetter-than-average year. The Russian River and the Santa Rosa Laguna are already above flood level in places.

[Update: As of  noon on March 7, we've had another 2.4 inches of rain. That brings the total now to 35.00 inches for the current rain year at my location. More rain is forecast over the upcoming weekend and into early next week. Perhaps then we'll get a break. It would be nice to see a little sun again....]

[Another update: As of today, March 12, we've entered a dry spell. Nice to see the sun again. Between my last report and today we had another 0.75 inches of precipitation, bringing the total at my location to 33.35 inches so far this year.]

Monday, February 25, 2019

Books I'm Reading: Five Equations that Changed the World

Dr. Michael Guillen, in his book Five Equations that Changed the World (Hachette, 1995) succeeds in making five important equations easy to grasp and even entertaining to read about. None of the  equations he's chosen is especially difficult to understand, and the book might be faulted by some for trying to make things a little too approachable, but Guillen's writing only occasionally feels condescending. 

The book is divided into five sections, one for each of the equations. Each essay is itself divided into five parts—a prologue that relates an incident in the life of the man at the center of the story (and they are all men) intended, as the author says, to "set the tone for what is to follow;" sections headed Vini, Vidi, and Vici; and an epilogue. The vini (I came) sections describe how the hero of the story recognizes the problem that his theory solves. The vidi (I saw) sections attempt to explain why the problem was important. The vici (I conquered) sections describe how the protagonist arrived at the equation that solved the central problem developed in each section.

The hero of the first essay is Sir Isaac Newton. The equation discussed is his Universal Law of Gravitation, written as , where F stands for the gravitational force acting between two objects, m for mass (of the two objects in question), r for the distance between their centers of mass, and G for the gravitational constant, an example of an inverse square equation. The law was revolutionary in that it flew directly in the face of the idea that different rules applied to the earthly and heavenly realms. Guillen draws a direct line from Newton's realization that gravity acts the same way throughout the Universe to the landing of astronauts on the moon about 300 years later.

The second essay discusses Daniel Bernoulli's Law of Hydrodynamic Pressure, which deals with the pressure in a flow of liquid. It was Bernoulli's insight that as a fluid moves more quickly, its pressure declines and vice versa. While Bernoulli was concerned with liquids, airplanes (and birds) fly because the shape of an airfoil (whether natural or a man-made) causes air (in essence a very thin liquid) to flow more quickly over its curved upper surface than along its lower surface. Accompanying the speed differential is a pressure differential. Wings produce lift because the slower air flowing below them exerts more pressure than the faster air flowing over them.

The third essay tells the story of Michael Faraday's rise to prominence from humble beginnings and his Law of Electromagnetic Inductance, which Guillen writes as  . According to other sources that is actually a modified form of Faraday's original law, this version known as the Maxwell-Faraday Equation, and I noticed that in other instances the forms Guillen uses are not necessarily those most familiar to us (for example, he gives E = mc2 as E = m x c2). However stated, the core idea and Faraday's insight was that magnetism and electricity are two sides of the same coin—that electric currents produce magnetic fields and that, conversely, a changing magnetic field generates electric current in a conductor. Essentially, he recognized the principles behind dynamos and electric motors, and, once large reliable supplies of electricity became available, electric motors performed work far more efficiently than steam engines, important as steam engines had been. This essay dwells in some detail on the difficulties Faraday faced as a member of the lower classes (originally apprenticed as a book binder) in the English science establishment of his day dominated by wealthy gentleman scholars.

Rudolf Clausius, the subject of the fourth essay, is a less familiar figure than the others, but his Second Law of Thermodynamics is well known. Heat fascinated him. His breakthrough was understanding that cold things normally never become cold on their own, that natural temperature flows always go from warmer to colder—or, more formally stated: "heat always flows spontaneously from hotter to colder bodies, and never the reverse, unless external work is performed on the system" (from the Wikipedia article "Second Law of Thermodynamics"). By extension, he realized that energy changes and temperature changes were, again, two sides of one coin: they were changes in entropy.

The final essay, on Einstein's E = mc2 was particularly interesting, I thought, as it explained why Einstein started thinking along the lines that eventually led him to his conclusion about the interchangeability of energy and matter. According to Guillen, Einstein had understood that if you could travel as fast as sound waves emanating from a certain spot (only about 767mph) that you would cease to hear them because you would be moving away from their point of origin as quickly as they were; they would never reach you. Einstein apparently wanted to know what light would look like if you could travel at the speed of light away from a light source (almost 671 million mph, but more commonly given as 300,000m/sec). Ultimately, he concluded that the gravitational effects associated with travel at that speed would make it impossible to move so quickly and that light performs the feat because the photon is the only known particle believed to be pure energy and thus mass-less (and therefore not subject to gravity). Einstein decided that space and time are forced to change in such a way that the speed of light never changes—in short that space and time are mutable and everything, except light, is relative. An entertaining read if the history of science lights your lamp.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 213 (Santa Rosa)

Another comparatively large collage. I was in a dry spell, collage-wise, from the end of last year and into the start of this year, but recently I've started making more monotypes again, and that has led to some new collage work.

This is Untitled Collage No. 213 (Santa Rosa). February 12, 2019. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, graphite, collage. Image size: 28.1 x 37.5cm (11.1 x 14.8 inches). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.
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