Saturday, January 30, 2010

Miscellaneous: Oh, The Irony

Miss Virginia, one Caressa Cameron, became Miss America 2010 today. Didn't you know? I didn't know until I happened across a news story on the subject. The AP press release I read included this wonderfully written and edited one-sentence paragraph:

Cameron is broadcast journalism student at Virginia Commonwealth University, and wants to become an anchor.

Well, I is appalled. I hope the new Miss America does not emulate the writing style of the journalist reporting on her victory. This tidbit reminds me of an English-language essay written by one of my host sisters when I was an exchange student in Japan. She let me read it. Her ambition, according to the essay, was to "become a technical skill." I wonder which is harder--becoming a technical skill or becoming an anchor? My host sister, I should point out, was a teenager, not a journalist, and not a native speaker of English.

Birds I'm Watching: Ellis Creek Water Treatment Ponds

Finally got a good look at a Sora and was even able to get two or three decent photos. These birds so rarely come out of hiding that it's very hard to see them, much less photograph them. Most birders identify them by ear. This appears (from its coloring) to be a youngish bird. Adult birds usually have more black around the bill and on the throat, I believe.

Nothing much else of special interest today, but getting a photo of a Sora made going out worthwhile.

 For more information about bird watching in Sonoma County, see my Website Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots.

Art I'm Looking At: Art is Where You Find It

A fun blog entry came to my attention recently that started me thinking. I was moved to post a comment. Never one to waste a good paragraph, and because, coincidentally, the ideas there were very much in tune with my post of a couple days ago about street art (see below), I append the comment here.

The only definition of "art" I have ever heard that seems complete--that is, that seems to work no matter where you apply it--is that art is "the making special of something." That may seem so vague as to be of only modest usefulness, but it's actually quite powerful. It can help to explain why we are moved by so many things--from a wet flower petal made transparent by rain or the slightly misaligned folds of an envelope to people spontaneously dancing in the street, a framed drawing, sound ringing in the air, or a lone voice crackling over a dramatically lit stage. All that is required is that our attention be called to something special, different, something worth noticing. It need not be intended as art--I would argue that much art is serendipity enshrined. All that is required is that someone has noticed it and pointed it out.

I love to look at the worn paint and re-painting of lines and symbols on the playground at my son's school. Not many people stand around looking at the patches of pigment or photographing them the way I do, but there they are. Art. I remember once in college sitting in the Fine Arts Library (appropriately enough), studying, watching raptly the girl sitting at the table next to me as she one-handedly braided her own hair without ever looking up from her book. Performance Art. Taxi drivers in New York City, stopped, doors open, half out of their cars (noses virtually touching), lunging at each other, gesturing, shouting. This is drama of the best kind. Gallery art, too, is art--often sublime--but we probably miss more art on our way to work every day than is in all the galleries of the world. Art is truly all around us. All that is required is to notice it and then to play a giddy game of show-and-tell. That game, too, is Art.
I made the photo posted here in Tokyo, in 2005. Just a wall, but worthy of a frame.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tidbits: J. D. Salinger--RIP

I note here the passing of J. D. Salinger today. Makes me want to go back and re-read all the short stories. It's been a while, but they're right here on my bookshelf.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rain: Yet More Rain (January 26, 2011)

Since last reporting (January 22), another 1.8 inches of rain has accumulated at our location. That brings the 2009-2010 total in my part of Santa Rosa to 17.8 inches, which is 1.6 inches above the level considered normal for January 26th (16.2 inches). Some local stations are reporting as much as 19.78 inches. It's a good thing, but I'm beginning to get a little tired of it. Could we have some sun now?

[Update: It's now January 30th (can you believe it's almost February?). Since last posting about rain (I know, I know, but rain is a big deal around here. We either get too little or too much) we've had an additional 0.2 inches, bringing the total to 18.0 inches, which is almost one inch above normal for this date (17.09 inches). However, some local stations are reporting considerably more than we have had--as much as 20.1 inches.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Music I'm Listening to: Santa Rosa Symphony

Just got back from a good concert by the Santa Rosa Symphony--the best I've heard from this ensemble in quite some time. I hear the musicians like Bruno Ferrandis, but I'm afraid this concert has only confirmed my feeling that he's not getting the best out of them. Setting aside one or two weak entrances from the brass section, the performers today were mostly together, playing crisply, attacking with energy, and apparently with enthusiasm, although the concertmaster looked a bit sour from time to time--surely my imagination.

Guest conductor JoAnn Falleta conducted the players in four works: The Holiday Overture by Elliott Carter, The Red Violin, A Violin Concerto by John Corigliano (originally written for Joshua Bell and based on music first composed for the 1998 film, The Red Violin), Aaron Copland's El Salon Mexico, and Barber's Symphony No. 1 in One Movement. Michael Ludwig was the soloist in the violin concerto. We also got an encore from Ludwig and the orchestra in the form of Kreisler's Caprice Viennois.

I say mostly together because the first piece, the Holiday Overture, seemed a bit disjointed, although I'm really no judge in this case, as it's a piece I don't know (of course, that won't prevent me from offering an opinion about the other unfamiliar piece on the program, The Red Violin, which I enjoyed very much). I confess that I wrote off the Holiday Overture as a warm-up piece, which is, no doubt, unfair to the musicians, the composer and the composition--but few orchestras are always in top form.

With the Corigliano, everything came together. Taut and edgy in some sections, more expansive in others, the conductor seemed to have everything nicely in hand throughout. The orchestra was clearly in tune with her (no pun intended). I enjoyed watching her bouncy yet precise style of wielding the baton. She has a distinctive way of swinging her hips as she works that in some sections gave the impression that she was dancing to the music. I found that disconcerting at first, but there was never any doubt she was in control, despite the playful visual effect.

What an interesting piece of music the Corigliano concerto is. I loved it for it's wide range of unorthodox sounds--including unusual bowings in the strings, heavy use of mutes in the brass section, and diverse percussion. I'd very much like to see the score to get an idea of the notation used for some of the odder effects--notably a strained creaking sound from the strings that was especially effective. Despite these very modern elements, the piece has a rather grand, romantic sweep to it, and some sections sound distinctly 19th century--an interesting juxtaposition. I understand there's a Joshua Bell recording of this music, which I plan to look for. I will also look for more from soloist Michael Ludwig who was excellent throughout--from the more abstract sections of the Corigliano to the Kreisler with its somewhat silly flourishes that kept bringing Bugs Bunny cartoons to mind--all in good fun. The concert was worth it for the Corigliano alone. Now I'm curious to rent the film that spawned the concerto.

El Salon Mexico is one of the first pieces of music that I got to know as a teenager exploring classical music. I feel like I know it well. The performance was competent and enjoyable, although in places it seemed to lack a bit of forward drive. Still, it was fun to see it performed for the first time.

I very much enjoyed the Barber. I don't listen to Barber a lot, but always seem to like what I hear. While I have heard the Symphony No. 1 in One Movement before, I don't own a recording of it, so it was good to hear it again for the first time in many years.

All in all, a pleasurable concert. It was nice to be reminded what the Santa Rosa Symphony is capable of with an inspiring conductor at the helm. I very much look forward to the move to the new Green Music Center--if it ever gets finished. 

(Photo of JoAnne Falleta used with permission, courtesy of the Santa Rosa Symphony.)

Art I'm Looking At: Street Art, San Francisco (January 24, 2010)

I've seen these stenciled Japanese koi in various places around the city. I rather like them. They are assaults on public property, yet they are also art. What I found interesting about these particular ones was that someone had deliberately painted them over existing graffiti, creating a double layer of property destruction/art. On top of that, I have now photographed them and shared the documentation. This, too, is art?

Places I'm Visiting: Bi-Rite market, San Francisco

I imagine this place is well known to the cognoscenti, but I happened upon it yesterday for the first time after a tasty breakfast at Tartine, on Guerrero St.

Bi-Rite Market is at 3639 18th St., between Guerrero and Dolores. It has a very New York feel to it--staffed by quickly moving, rather efficient-looking people. It's clearly run by foodies. I like the store slogan: "Creating community through food." In one of those odd coincidences, the night before I had been reading about cheddars and Stilton in Steven Jenkins's Cheese Primer (slightly outdated now, but still an excellent cheese reference book). I had picked it up off the shelf in the kitchen for no particular reason. It was handy in one of those unfilled moments that seemed to require reading material. Inevitably, though, it piqued my appetite and rekindled my interest in cheese (not that that interest had been in any special danger of petering out).

Following day, there I am in San Francisco, walking in the rain by Bi-Rite Market. I stopped in and was very pleased to find an excellent selection of cheeses--including several I had just been reading about. There is also a good selection of wines (and a fair number of more unusual bottles that are a refreshing change from the same old things you see in so many small grocery shops), fresh produce, and meats. Great little store. I picked up some Sonoma Dry Jack, some authentic cheddar, and a great four-year old Gouda. (Sorry about the hazy flare in the photos. These are just quick iPhone snaps.)

Bird's I'm Watching: San Francisco

In the city on Saturday morning--San Francsico, that is--I spent some time at Lake Merced and then at Golden Gate Park, mostly in the Strybing Arboretum area. Lake Merced was rather disappointing. I'm sure it's a good place for birds from time to time, but yesterday there were few and none of any special interest--mostly coots. Not that I have anything against coots. Actually, I do. A coot is a particularly hard bird to photograph. That's what I have against coots. They're all black except for their all-white bills. Expose one right and the other is inevitably overexposed or underexposed. But, enough about coots.

At Golden Gate Park, there was similarly nothing out of the ordinary, but I ran into an Anna's Hummingbird that was remarkably tame. It allowed me to approach to well within an arm's length. Although I didn't try to touch it, I could have. I got some good photos of it, a couple of which I've posted here. In the second shot, you can even see its little hummingbird tongue. You can enlarge the photos by clicking them.
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