Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rain: Yet More Rain (March 24-25, 2012)

It's been raining off and on since last night--not heavily, but enough that we've already accumulated about half an inch. The forecast is for showers over the next week. This is likely to be our last chance to catch up before the dry season begins in June (although we get sporadic rain in April and May, and a good storm in the coming weeks could be significant, we've typically had most of our rain for the year by the end of March).

Checking the rain gauge on the morning of the 25th, I see that we got 1.25 inches yesterday and overnight. That brings our 2011-2012 rainy season total to 21.30 inches. The historical average for March 25 is 31.68 inches in Santa Rosa. The historical annual average is 31.91 inches--which means that by now we've usually had nearly all the rain we're going to get, so it seems likely that we'll end the rainy season about 10 inches below normal.

Miscellaneous: New Family Member--Milo the Cat (March 24, 2012)

We acquired a cat about three months ago. The local shelter was giving them away, already neutered, all shots and papers complete, microchipped. They had too many to take care of. Despite having grown up with two cats in the house as a child, I wasn't in favor of the idea, but I was overruled.

As cats go, he's an amiable fellow that likes to sleep at the foot of a warm bed--although he has a habit of suddenly nipping at a hand or foot when you least expect it. I suggested we call him Mr. Hyde....

Why am I writing about Milo now? Because he acquired his name only yesterday. One of my son's friends declared the cat "Milo," and we all liked it--which is remarkable, because for the past three months no one could agree on what to call him. I had settled into a pattern of referring to him as "the cat" and just saying "Kittie!" when calling him to come in out of the cold. My mother was calling him "No name." Now, he is Milo. So, I welcome Milo to the family. Until he had an agreed-upon name, he didn't quite seem official.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms--California Poppy (March 21, 2012)

I noticed the first California Poppy of the year yesterday morning--the first in my garden anyway. I've seen them blooming around town for the past week or so. The first poppy in the garden opened on March 31 in 2011, on March 5 in 2010, and on March 19 in 2009. So far, the poppies around the house have calculated years of 355, 351, and 390 days, which average to just over 365 days--or nearly exactly an actual astronomical year.

Books I'm Reading: The Pacific War: 1931-1945 (March 22, 2012)

There are quite a few boxes of books sitting in my living room at the moment. Despite the clutter, a path through them remains that allows a connection between the kitchen and the front door. These are books that belonged to my father, who died in February.

I picked up Ienaga's The Pacific War: 1931-1945 (published in 1968 in Japanese, this translation published in 1978, by Pantheon) yesterday from the top of a pile close to the front door--not really intending to read the book. As I didn't know my father as well I would have liked, I want to go through these books before they are dispersed, as they seem in some sense to preserve something of his mind, a mind he opened to few people and then only rather clumsily. I have been leafing through a few books here and there, tentatively, not knowing where to begin. This particular volume was absorbing enough from the first few pages, however, that I read it virtually in one sitting. So, I have made a start, even if it's a random one. If I had picked up a book from a few feet away, it would have been about something else--although most likely about motor racing, the craft of writing, sailing, the film industry, the history of the Napoleonic Wars or the Civil War or some other war, fine food, travel--or it would have been a murder mystery. A man's library is a kind of biography.

In retrospect, I was vaguely aware of Ienaga. Following the end of the Pacific War, he began a long battle to oppose the system in Japan of government textbook approval, a form of censorship that continues to this day, that is annually in the news in Japan as the process is repeated--opposed by some, supported by others. This is the first time I've read anything by Ienaga, either in English or Japanese, but this modest-looking volume (256 pages), written more than 40 years ago, seems still fresh and worthwhile. It has a simplicity and clarity that few writers achieve on any subject (I was particularly impressed by the translation; being a translator by trade, I can say that it is excellent, although, unfortunately, the writer of the English gets no credit). The book is startling in its objectivity and forthrightness. There are no detailed descriptions of campaigns or battles. It is more a psychological probe that lays bare the stupidity, ignorance, and pig-headedness of Japan's military by seeking to answer questions like: What allowed the Pacific War to happen? and Why were the people of Japan unable to prevent it from escalating? Ienaga looks at a broad range of material--including everything from contemporary diaries and soldiers' accounts to transcriptions of reference materials used in conferences with Emperor Hirohito during the war. He traces the effects in Japan and Japan-occupied territories of the thinking that was both seed and sustaining force behind one of the most destructive, wasteful, and irresponsible sets of actions any elite has perpetrated in recent history. Ienaga has harsh words also for the United States and those in Japan that allowed the country to re-arm as soon as a stronger Japan became part of Cold War-era US military strategy in Asia.

Ienaga's fear that post-war sugarcoating of the history of Japan's Pacific War might allow a new generation to repeat the mistakes of the past is palpable. I first landed in Japan in August 1977. I spent a year in high school in rural Japan (Shikoku, near Matsuyama). I spoke no Japanese at the outset. I was mostly put into English classes and classes like art and music on the assumption that my lack of language skills would be a relatively small handicap in such subjects. I did take a world history class, however, and I remember being startled to find that about half of one period on one day of the school year was the entirety of the Pacific War discussion my classmates and I got (in US history classes at home, we had spent the better part of two weeks on World War II). Emperor Hirohito was still alive, the Ministry of Education controlled the textbooks and the curriculum. It is chilling to remember, particularly as Ienaga lays much of the blame for early Japanese enthusiasm for the Pacific War on government control of education and the ignorant, brain-washed population produced by that control. Despite the availability today of much more information about what happened in Japan before and during the Pacific War, and despite vastly greater openness in Japan now, this book still seems necessary and highly worthwhile.  I'm not surprised to see that it's still in print. Absorbing. A classic argument against militarism. Highly recommended.

Rain: A Little More Rain (March 21-22, 2012)

Overnight last night we got a little more rain--although not enough to make much of a difference. The rain gauge had 0.15 inches in it this morning. That brings our 2011-2012 total to 20.05 inches. It feels good to finally be above 20 inches, but we should have had close to 30 inches by this time of year. We still need more. Rain is in the forecast for the weekend. Hoping for the best....

Wines I'm Making: Vines Pruned (March 21, 2012)

I finally got around to pruning the vines yesterday--quite a bit later than usual. Buds on the Sangiovese vines were already beginning to open. The pruning removed quite a few of these, but the plants will leaf out from lower buds. And so, another year of winemaking begins.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms--Weeping Cherry "Snow Fountain" (March 20, 2012)

The first blossoms on the weeping cherry tree on the side of the house--a variety called "Snow Fountain"--opened yesterday, March 20. This little tree blooms only briefly, once a year, but it's very pretty when it's entirely covered with white flowers at its peak. "Snow Fountain" has been a very consistent bloomer. It bloomed on March 20 in 2011 as well, for a year of 365 days. It bloomed on March 23 in 2009 and on March 14 in 2010, calculating years of 356 days and 370 days.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Music I'm Listening To: The Santa Rosa Symphony with the Eroica Trio (March 19, 2012)

Last night I heard one of the last Santa Rosa Symphony concerts I'll hear for a while, as I've decided not to renew my subscription, after 11 years. The new seats assigned in the Green Music Center for next season were not especially good, as I expected, and they've eliminated the mini-series option (your choice of three of the season's concerts) that I liked. The cost relative to the quality of the performances just didn't make sense any more. Instead I've added the Green Music Center series of the San Francisco Symphony to my regular subscription in San Francisco--which seems the best of both worlds; you get four concerts with the San Francisco performers and guests at the new music center for only a modest sum more than the cost of the Santa Rosa Symphony subscription.

On the program last night was The Chairman Dances (subtitled Foxtrot for Orchestra) by John Adams, Beethoven's Triple Concerto, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the Eroica (appropriately enough).  The Chairman Dances has a somewhat convoluted origin. It was originally conceived as part of Adams' opera Nixon in China in a scene with Chairman Mao dancing with his wife but was deleted from that project and reworked as a stand-alone piece only to be later worked into the opera again, in a different context--in a scene that involved President Nixon and his wife dancing. As the program points out, we mostly think of Madame Mao as a member of the Gang of Four, but she was in her younger days a rather glamorous actress, Chiang Chin, and the original conception of the piece draws on the tradition of cinematic dance music with that part of her history in mind. Hearing it as a concert piece, of course, none of that really matters.

It was typically Adams in its use of repetitive, almost hypnotic sections with sudden gear changes that drop the listener into passages of more upbeat and expansive material, all colored with a wide range of instrumentation, including piano, harp and a large and varied percussion section. I always like Adams. Despite a somewhat shaky start, Ferrandis got things under control fairly quickly and he and the orchestra delivered a workmanlike performance. The piccolos and horns were standouts.

The main event was the Beethoven Triple Concerto, with the Eroica Trio, with founding members Erika Nickranz and Sara Sant'Ambrogio on Piano and Cello, and with Susie Park on violin; Park joined the trio in 2006. The women created quite a stir as they entered the auditorium, Park and Nickranz dressed in glittering silver, Sant'Ambrogio in white with silver shoes.

Again, a solid performance. Although Maestro Ferrandis kept the accompaniment so quiet through much of the first movement that the soloists seemed rather too loud, the rest of the performance was nicely balanced. Cellist Sant'Ambrogio seemed more on top of the challenging cello part than Alisa Wielerstein was when I last heard this piece live (in San Francisco). The cello was particularly sweet in the middle movement. The trio played a Piazzolla tango "Oblivion" as an encore--perhaps the highlight of the evening.

Ferrandis's reading of the Eroica seemed rushed to me in the first movement, but all in all it was a creditable performance, despite a certain lack of attention to the long lines of the piece. Again the woodwinds and the horns seemed especially good. On the whole, Ferrandis seemed more in charge of things and more focused last night than he often is. Normally I attend the Sunday afternoon concerts. Because of a schedule conflict I had to switch to the Monday night performance this time. Perhaps he's best in the evening performances?

Photo of Bruno Ferrandis courtesy of the Santa Rosa Symphony website. Photo of the Eroica Trio from the Eroica Trio website (photo by Nina Choi).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Miscellaneous: Wise Words from Homer (March 19, 2012)

I have a daily quote application on my blog here. Often the quotes seem silly or insignificant. Sometimes they seem more timely or meaningful. This one happened to come up today.

Wealth should not be seized...for if a man take great wealth violently and perforce, or if he steal it through his tongue, as often happens when gain deceives men's sense and dishonor tramples down honor, the gods soon blot him out and make that man's house low, and wealth attends him only for a little time.

Attributed to Homer. It seems little has changed in the past few thousand years.
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