Thursday, June 30, 2005

Buongiorno, Roma.

Have yourselves a nice couple of weeks. I am off to one of my favorite places--Italia. But I should honestly say that I will spend but 2 days in my favorite city, and then it is off to places unknown, to me anyway. To Rapallo for a few days, and then on to Torino. In the first place I am Pound-hunting, and in the latter hoping to look at some of Vivaldi's own collection of manuscripts.

So wish me well. One thing is certain: I will eat well. OK, really two things, if you count the drinking separately. Ah, the land of good, cheap wine!

Friday, June 24, 2005

25 June 2005

This weekend two of my friends are getting married.

I wrote that sentence only because I wish it were true, and because it should be true. The more accurate sentence, but really not the truer sentence, should say, This weekend two of my friends are exchanging union vows. Of course they, like any other pair of women (or men) who have decided that they want to commit themselves to one another, cannot get married.

You will notice that I am not at their wedding, and the result is this intense dilemma. I am not at their wedding because last weekend I got married, and this weekend I am exhausted, and I really need to spend some time with the PP without everybody looking. This weekend, no one takes a picture when I hug him. This weekend I am not getting my hair done or putting on panty hose, and he does not have to wear a tie. I will probably spend all of this weekend with my feet in and out of only one pair of extraordinarily comfortable shoes. No parties--I am putting my foot down. This weekend we are drinking beer and watching movies and not answering the phone and maybe eating dinner out somewhere low-key where we do not need to dress up.

Who am I kidding? You don't have to dress up to eat anywhere here!

But this means I am not at their wedding, and instead I am thinking about them desperately. I am thinking that I hope that whatever family members got their reply cards all tangled up in their so-called morals, and so could not even send a polite "no" but had to raise a stink about not approving, are not missed. I am thinking about their chocolate fountain, and hoping that whoever they got to make it when the first guy--who originally said it was not a problem to make a chocolate fountain for a same-sex couple but then later stopped returning their calls and finally said he couldn't do it--backed out, I'm hoping that that new person makes them a hell of a chocolate fountain, and that my two beautiful friends can then see past that first guy and his hang-ups and enjoy that chocolate fountain for all they are worth.

I am thinking about the discussion we had recently about honeymoons, about where in the world would you go if you could go anywhere in the world, and how one of them had decided exactly where, and the other looked at me in disbelief at the idea that the whole world was out there, available, but then not really because this was just an abstract question with no footing in reality. But once I rephrased it as "where would you go if you had two weeks and $3000 and enough frequent flyer miles to cover your tickets," she got on it right away and we all had a great time thinking about possibilities--and laughing at ourselves.

I am thinking about their mothers, for whom this wedding has become a sort of realization of all the ways that being queer in America sucks--and of how people who don't know you decide they can go ahead and judge you because they have decided that that is what their Bible says to do. (Not that those people tend to be the best readers--I know this because they have been in my classes, and I have worked desperately with them, but it has not helped.)

And I am thinking about how they managed to be stronger women than I am, and bring their anxious it-is-only-a-week-until-our-wedding selves to my wedding, and to be happy for me, and even dance some and laugh a lot. I am thinking that I wish I had the endless strength that could have gotten my ass on a plane to Virginia today, so I could be there to say to them that I think that what they are doing is heroic and honest, not to mention that they are adorable as can be and that they inspire strength in me, even when I am not able to carry it forward.

Because I do not have enough strength to get on that plane, I am here having a quiet weekend with the PP. I wish I could say that I do not feel bad about that, but a part of me does, even as a part of me would not have this weekend any other way. But that is the way it goes, isn't it? That we rarely have untempered joy or grief?

But here's to you, my two wedding friends. I hope this weekend can be a real moment of joy, and that at the end of it you feel exhausted by the love of your family and friends.

Seasons 5-770

I would be willing to bet pretty much anything that you do not own as many Vivaldi CDs as I do, and that positions me well to recommend a few for you that may not have come across your desk. Well, that and the fact that I am still too brain-dead to complete the real work I should be doing, and the PP is off at work, trying desperately to pay off his deficit of paid vacation.

So all further self-pity at my sad and lonely state must be pushed aside.


Please, for a little while, stop listening to The Four Seasons. Yes, there is some truly lovely stuff in there, but the man wrote something like 770 works, for goodness sake!

OK, here is a small bone for Quattro Stag fans. You might be wonder why those pieces get to have all the fun. Let’s go back to the first part of this century, when little of Vivaldi’s work was known, and Grove still said “Vivaldi in fact mistook the facility of an expert performer (and as such he had few rivals among contemporaries) for the creative faculty, which he possessed but in limited degree.” At that point Alceo Toni, a musician and journalist, made reductions of the four concerti for four-hand piano. That meant that in bourgeois households all over Italy, the quartet of concerti that would make Vivaldi famous could be played and played again.

If you are interested in hearing how the Four Seasons sounded in some of their earliest twentieth-century performances—and certainly the earliest recordings—listen to the Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia from 1942, conducted by Bernardino Molinari, available on a very cheap CD from Aura. Set it next to your favorite contemporary recording of the piece, and behold the power of big string orchestras! Sixteen first violins! Big organ sound for the basso continuo! To our ears, accustomed as we are to the later-twentieth-century taste for pared down baroque, this is a trip back in time, a chance to remember another sensibility.

The finest performer of Vivaldi’s work for violin that I have heard is Andrew Manze, whose recording of the Opus 6 concertos and the “Cuckoo” Concerto (RV 335) rocks (with the Academy of Ancient Music directed by Christopher Hogwood, on Decca). There is nothing mechanical in his playing of the baroque violin: in his hands, the solo line is sexy and even jazzy.

But there are so many other wonderful concerti by Vivaldi, each with its own flavor and an enormous range of orchestral composition. What pleasure there is in moving from the traditional solo violin to the Concerto funebre (RV 579) for oboe, chalumeau (the jury is still out on exactly what that is), violin, three violas all’inglese and of course strings. Or a concerto for two recorders, two oboes, bassoon, two violins and the obligatory strings. I am personally fond of the bassoon concerti, and there is a great disc of six of them performed by I Musici under the direction of Klaus Thunemann on Philips, but that may be out of print, and there are lots others out there.

Bach knew something of the range of Vivaldi’s work, as he transcribed a number of his concerti for harpsichord and organ. I would give my left eye (if I could later get it back) to hear his concerto for four harpsichords and orchestra (BWV 1065), a rendition of Vivaldi’s concerto for four violins (RV 580). I understand there is a recording of it on Naxos, and I am still trying to track that down, but I would rather see it performed live, so I could see what all those keyboardists are doing. You can find a couple of the harpsichord transcriptions on Richard Egarr’s J. S. Bach: Per cembalo solo… (harmonia mundi).

The tradition of transcription continues today, and there are far worse introductions to the range of Vivaldi’s music that Yo-Yo Ma’s recent Vivaldi’s Cello, performed with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra directed by Ton Koopman. The disc includes pieces written for cello, but also transcriptions of familiar and unfamiliar works into cello pieces. There is the slow movement from the “Winter” concerto of the Four Seasons, and a concerto for viola d’amore (RV 540), but then also we find pieces from such big choral works as La fida ninfa and Juditha triumphans, not to mention the famous setting of the Gloria (RV 589). This whole collection is fabulous.

Do not miss the choral works, though, in their choral state. You might already know the RV 589 Gloria, but Vivaldi has another Gloria (RV 588), as well as a Magnificat (RV 611), Stabat Mater (RV 621), and a Beatus Vir (RV 597)—all of which could be yours in a (pardon me) glorious 2-disc performance on Philips by the John Alldis Choir, English Chamber Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Vittorio Negri with numerous soloists. Still less known is Vivaldi’s bel canto work, the Serenata a tre, the tale of pastoral love among nymphs and a shepherd. It is available in a recording by René Clemencic and the Clemencic Consort on harmonia mundi.

And Naïve has undertaken a fine collection of recordings of all the Vivaldi works held in the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino. When these over 300 works were discovered and catalogue in the 1920s and 1930s, and then gradually published over the course of the twentieth century, Vivaldi’s reputation could not but be revived. What an amazing thing to discover, that this composer who had long been dismissed as a mere virtuoso performer had in fact composed an enormous range of music for exciting combinations of instruments as well as for singers. Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso has been performed before, but have a listen to the new Naïve recording (performed by Les Eléments and the Ensemble Matheus under the direction of Jean-Christophe Spinosi). I can personally recommend the Naïve recording of Vivaldi’s Motets, featuring soloists Anke Herrmann and Laura Polverelli performing with the Academia Montis Regalis under the direction of Alessandro de Marchi.

And lest you think this work of recovery is complete, have a listen to the newly rediscovered and reconstructed Bajazet: Fabio Biondi did the hard work of recovering arias missing from the score, and his recording on Virgin Classics makes that work available to us all.

So the next time you think about Vivaldi, do not roll your eyes at how kitschified his work has become. Steer past the “baroque favorites” CDs and venture into this amazing trove of compositions.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Put your body next to mine and dream on.

If all you want is the short version, then here it is: I am now wed, and I have the funky piece of metal on my hand to prove it.

And if you have no interest in the incredibly long and drawn out version, read no further.

As I was drowning in the endless anxiety that I understand is normal for weddings, a friend wrote:

Many congratulations on your upcoming nuptials, and all the best to you both. And I'll keep my fingers crossed for rain. As they say in France, 'Mariage pluvieux, mariage heureux'. However, the weather during our civil union in Vermont was dazzlingly sunny--but then it was early July--and yet I think we've done tolerably well.

Lucky me, that I have such a collection of sensible friends, who know how to give the advice that lessens anxiety. Believe me, friends, I have taken every bit of it.

(Special thanks to my seminarian friend: I used her advice again and again, sometimes in jest, sometimes under my breath.)

It did not, as it happened, rain, so I have to be hopeful that my union will fare as well as my French-quoting friend's. In fact, even the oppressive humid heat that typifies summertime in my hometown broke just in time for all the festivities.

(Which is more than I can say for the mosquitos and no-see-ums. Note to self: sack-like voluminous dresses at garden parties allow the little blood-suckers all the way up into places that do not need mosquito bites.)

And festivities there were: we had a smallish (by which I mean about 15 instead of about 95) dinner on Thursday, then an Italian-themed rehearsal picnic on Friday (featuring a gondola made from a kayak with rudder add-ons, a beer cooler in its seat, and none other gondolier than a scarecrow featuring the PP's enlarged photograph face, with a most fabulous curly moustache painted on), then the wedding itself + reception, then a party at my parents' house (more fabulous food), then a brunch on Sunday.


But despite what everyone says, I remember a lot from the Big Day.

I was thrilled and surprised that my 80-something year-old great uncle and his wife could be there. He is the brother of my mother's natural father, who was killed in World War II, and when his reply card arrived, there were immediate celebratory phone calls throughout the family network. My great-uncle and great-aunt charmed everyone at the wedding with their fabulous dancing and good spirits, not to mention the fact they had driven all the way from Buffalo for the occasion.

We had a terrific collection of family and friends reading in the ceremony. Two of our friends from here officiated (although no church or state has vested authority in them), the PP's sister read from Song of Songs, my father read three poems he had written (which were by turns overwhelmingly touching and then hilarious), and a dear friend from here (who vied with my great-aunt and great-uncle for Most Likely to Charm the Wedding Guests Off Their Feet) read a tribute to our parents. The best part was that although we had worked with her on that tribute, and written our own vows, we had not read or heard my father's poems or our officiants' words, so the ceremony was mostly new material for us. What a thrill to listen to wise people say wise and emotional and hilarious things in your honor!

We had chosen two officiants because we wanted a balanced statement of a lasting relationship, and the couple who spoke have been good friends of ours ever since we have been together. I loved it that they each wrote parts of their words, and then combined them, because both their voices--so different from one another--were there, as were words from Plato, Margaret Atwood, and e. e. cummings.

And in my father's poems we could hear pieces of our quotidian existence turned and returned into little finely crafted pots. Recognizing many of the stories around which the poems were built, I got to see those moments in a new way, or through new eyes, or with more insight, that made them feel important, revelatory. The first poem was called "The Wedding," and it imagined the wedding itself as an unruly child, willful and ready to take over your life, even as you wanted it there. The second, "The Poem from One to Together," began with the word "one," and imagined how two very different ones might get along, ending, as you have probably by now guessed, with the word "together." Rereading that description, it sounds hokey, which it definitely was not. The last, "Your Wedding," took my almost obsessive fascination with penguins and turned the entire "congregation" into a waddling, wobbling conglomeration of the funny birds.

We had enjoyed writing our vows together, too. We knew that we wanted original vows, but I was afraid that, being the emotional sap that I am, I would not be able to deliver mine audibly. Plus, we were a little uncomfortable at the idea of vowing different things to each other. So we wrote them together, trying to hone an entire relationship's worth of feelings into about 9 vows. (Granted, some had multiple parts.) Then our officiants read them aloud and we repeated them in unison. We alternated between more abstract and more concrete visions of our relationship. A number of folks complimented us afterwards, although the vote is still out over whether "I vow either to cook or clean up but rarely both" or "I vow never to comment on the condition of your study" was the most resonant.

Given the high praise, the PP, of course, is working on how we might sell them.

Another highlight, though, was our first dance. We had wrestled with that one, because all the songs we really love got tricky for that moment, given the complications that real life throws into one's own relationship and that pop music has the privilege to ignore. We finally settled on "Handle With Care" by the Traveling Wilburys, and decided that given the perky nature of the tune and our vision of the wedding as being a communal experience, we would ask everyone to dance with us. We arranged for a number of "audience plants," so that people would believe the DJ when he asked them to get up and dance. And to our amazement, they did! The little dance floor was completely packed with our family and dearest friends dancing and laughing and remembering this old hit, and realizing that they too had been beat up and battered around, that they've been robbed and ridiculed, that they still have some love to give, and that they still needed somebody to lean on.

I have decided that getting married when you're older, when the world has hit you in the face a few times, is fun. Neither of us believed that this was or would be the most important day of our lives. Neither of us believed that every detail had to be perfect, as if it were some kind of storybook fantasy. Neither of us freaked out when the DJ was caught in tunnel traffic and so arrived about 2 hours late. I, for one, did not worry--and I don't think the PP did either--that my body was not what I would have hoped for in my wedding pictures, because is it ever?

And neither of us ran away to Las Vegas, because ultimately, it was just a big party. OK, so really it was five big parties in a row, and maybe we are a little too old for that. But I love the memories of our family and friends' words in the ceremony, of the audience giggling at some of our vows, of everyone dancing around and laughing. Because if a wedding is not about dancing around and laughing, what is it?

Monday, June 13, 2005

Settle down, Beavis.

A friend told me that the only really essential parts of a wedding are the happy couple and the officiant. Looks like we have those covered.

And being me, I have also scanned through my 5 lists about 6,000 times a piece. I have a AFTER FRANCE list (check), a BEFORE WE GO list (check), a TO TAKE ALONG list (all check, save toothbrush, etc.), a WEDDING WEEK LIST and a DAY OF THE WEDDING list. Those last two, of course, are NOT check, and maybe that is why I am not sleeping.

But tomorrow we get in the car and drive to the old home town. I have all the outfits picked out (and Mom, I even packed earrings!), we have CDs ready for the cartrip, we have spare towels for the three barf-ready cats traveling with us, and all the gifts for people who are doing nice things for us. Plus it looks like we don't have to drive through Arlene.

It is interesting to come across my cousin's blog and read about how she is about to set off for her vacation, which includes the wedding.

And last night my family, who were making bombolieri for the reception (little Jordan almonds wrapped in netting and tied with a ribbon). As is the tradition, they passed the phone around the table and I got to say hello to everyone. The person who is coordinating the rehearsal dinner, and also the bombolieri-making, was a little concerned, because about two-thirds of the way through the process they had to switch from 4 to 3 almonds per packet, and she was hoping that no fights would erupt at the reception because of this inequity.

I passed along a word of advice that a friend gave me yesterday: "if anyone gives you any shit in this next week tell them your presbyterian seminary friend said they can sit on it."

With that in mind, it is going to be a good week. If only I could use those words every week.

Talk to you again in a week or so.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Only the finest heteronormativity for me, thanks.

I am thinking a lot these days about categories--boxes, compartments, the places we put ourselves because they feel safer. The ways we show that we are different from people around us. The ways we affirm what matters to us.

It turns out I am not the only one. I am no longer surprised by comments that suggest that those who disagree need not apply--or show up, or read even. Here are a couple of examples, both from blogs I like, but which seem to have pretty different readerships. In one part of the blogosphere, a writer responded to the discussion generated by a previous post by saying, “I don’t disagree on substance with any of the respondents. We’re all in the left wing of the Democratic Party.” Elsewhere, a respondent reassured a writer: “Perhaps ‘furious’ would be better suited to this blog, rather than one that is obviously far too phallocentric as yours, bk.” Underlying both comments, and many others in cyberspace is the assumption that people read only those sites that they already agree with. And such passes for free and grass-roots discussion of ideas.

This is no surprise. Lots of people--all smarter and more on the ball than I--have written astute things about how the web supports fractured communities, places we can all go and feel safe and fuzzy knowing that the other people are just like us. Just. And how nice it is to express ourselves to those we know will agree! It so beats discussion with people we might actually have to convince--whose motivations and points of view we have actually have to understand or even identify with in order to convince them.

I had a conversation with a friend who works for the GOP. He pointed out that left rhetoric often alienates conservatives. He noted too much profanity. “How would that play in Peoria?” he asked me, also referencing his own ardently Christian grandmother.

He is right. I was also right, I might add (with puffed up chest), when I noted that there is plenty of conservative rhetoric that similarly alienates. He gave me that. We had a warm fuzzy moment where we knew that although we could not agree about the results of the election, we both know that America is going to hell in a hambiscuit, as a friend used to say.

So that is one kind of box--the kind we put ourselves in and are content to occupy. From time to time we venture to other people’s boxes, but mostly when they look really a lot like ours. There are exceptions, of course, and I applaud them. To name one example, freeman routinely imagines a dialogue with the left, and he even has selected a sidebar of writings that he thinks should especially appeal to those of the leftist persuasion. I only wish we were all more willing to venture into unknown territory.

Then there are the boxes made by those who see a black and white world. I have come across two instances recently of discussions that specifically take on that issue of binaries.

Recently on ALAS (a blog), a self-described bisexual man wrote about biphobia in the BGLT world, and his piece has (so far) elicited 104 comments. The argument rages--what does it mean to occupy a position that is neither gay nor straight, attracted to both but a part of neither? Based on the comments, it seems that a good bit of the discomfort with bisexuals in the gay world is pretty much like that in the straight world: why don’t they just figure out where they belong and go there?

Furious, wouldn’t you be more comfortable reading ideas of people like yourself than of liberty-loving people like ourselves?

And in another part of the blog world, Ian Williams suggested that some of the discomfort with gray shades comes from our switch from analog to digital culture:

In the 70s, when I came into consciousness - in the 80s, when I came of age - and in the ’90s when I played out my adolescence - we had something called “static.” It was the space between radio stations, the poorly-received television signal, the hum of the record player at the end of an album, and the hiss of a bad phone. This was an Analog culture, where shortcuts could be taken, songs could kinda be heard when driving under bridges, and mix tapes had to made in real time.

Those days are rapidly disappearing, replaced by today’s Digital culture, which is clear, clean and unforgiving. With XM Radio, you either get a signal or you get nothing. Either your iPod works or it doesn’t. Cable TV is on, and there’s no getting the porn channel by placing the dial in-between stations. Your cell phone, even your internet signal is binary: you get service or you DON’T, there is no in-between.

For Ian this was an explanation. I agree with his read, but for me, it is a lamentation. What does it say about us that we have lost our ability to imagine something that our iPod cannot?

I had a conversation yesterday with a lesbian friend of mine. Over lunch, she gave me a gift and a great card in honor of my impending marriage. She asked how I was feeling about it, and I told her honestly that although I am thrilled to imagine a committed future with my Patient Partner, I have real questions about marriage itself. Like others of my friends, she had smiled patiently at me a few months back when I told her I wanted to print lines from Marianne Moore’s “Marriage” on my invitation:

This institution
or perhaps one should say enterprise
out of respect for which
one says one need not change one’s mind
about a thing one has believed in,
requiring public promises
of one’s intention
to fulfil a private obligation:
I wonder what Adam and Eve
think of it by this time,
this fire-gilt steel
alive with goldenness;
how bright it shows--
“of circular traditions and impostures,
committing many spoils,”
requiring all one’s criminal ingenuity
to avoid!

OK, so that might not have made the most enticing invitation, but still!

Although I did not say so to my friend over lunch, because the conversation turned in other directions, I wondered: with this ring, am I (as I profoundly hope) buying an inside line to shape the institution as I see fit? Or am I buying into the dominant paradigm, giving over my position of resisting those boxes? Is it yet another delusion to think that any individual could impact an institution so powerful as this? Should we just have the ceremony’s readings be from Althusser and just be done with it?

I am grateful that the PP shares my concerns, though his reasons are of course his own. I am grateful, PP, for your optimism, and that you do not let me sink into the various Doomsday scenarios to which I am prone. Keep me strong, PP, and keep me honest. Don’t let me get complacent, or settle into the easy dismissal of others that this safe box could allow.

So wish me luck next Saturday. If all goes well, I won't bolt for Las Vegas or New Mexico and then call the police. Or if I do, I will have the good sense to drag the PP with me.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Intelligent Design

I owe all of my readers an apology.

I was not, as I sarcastically claimed, taking a class on intelligent design for the last two weeks. That was supposed to be an oh-so-witty comment on the debate here in the south about removing evolution from science curricula in the public schools. But three of my four readers took my sarcastic claim seriously, which, as any teacher knows, means that the problem was not in the test-takers but in the test question.

So sorry for the lame joke and confusing post.

But I can tell that over the last two weeks I have been doing some thinking about design, intelligent and otherwise. Especially the otherwise, of which I have encountered numerous examples.

Here are my conclusions:

1. Having people waiting in a long line go through a series of stages to, say, oh, check in for a flight, is not a bad idea, but the stages should be designed such that the first checkpoint does not hold up the waiters so long that the checkers at the second checkpoint are waiting around for new waiters to approach their checkpoint.

2. There should be an application process for people who are going to use the machines that dispense tickets at, for instance, a museum. The process should be rigorous, so that when people get to the machine they do not stare at it blankly, then look around helplessly for someone to help them. Questions on the application might include:

* Did you get your money ready while you were waiting in the long-ass line, or are you planning to wait until you are right in front of the machine to fish around in your change purse?

* Are you capable of interpreting the little graphics that show which way to insert your credit card?

* When the sign reads "This machine accepts 1's, 5's, 10's and 20's" does this really mean:

a. The machine accepts 1's, 5's, 10's and 20's only.
b. Because I am special, I can expect to pay with a 50.

3. Digital cameras are the downfall of the museum experience. People seem to think that because they do not want actually to look at paintings, taking digital pictures of them is a good idea, so they can prove to all their friends that they saw them, even though really they did not. Digital cameras make this process easier because you need not hold the camera up to your eye, but can simply look at the little screen. Plus, since you do not have to buy film, why not take a picture of every painting you see? Never mind that photos of paintings from museums tend to look crappy, and even worse when you shoot with a flash and the picture is covered with glass. Plus, hasn't anyone told these people that repeated flashbursts dim the pigments in paintings?

4. I understand that it is necessary to have your bags before you clear customs, but in this modern world filled with brilliant thinkers, can we not come up with something more efficient that waiting to get off a plane, waiting to go through Immigration, waiting to get your bags, waiting to clear customs, waiting to re-check your bags, waiting for the dumb train to take you to the main terminal, waiting for your bags again?

5. While we're talking about clearing American customs, would it be so difficult to including some English signage to indicate which line you need to be in? I appreciate the goodwill that comes from telling speakers of Spanish, French, and Japanese which line they need to be in if they are bringing clams into the US of A, but would a little English break the Homeland Security budget?

OK, I am done complaining now, and, yes, I had a marvelous time in France, and, yes, I have the imperial waistline to prove it.