Sunday, June 24, 2007

Nuovo post.

I have never used the Italian-language blogger before. In case you are curious, "preview" is "anteprima," and to see how your post looks on the actual web, hit "Visualizza blog."

But I did not come to this internet cafe to give you Italian lessons. I came to remind you how amazing it is at 6 p.m., when all the church bells in the city go off. Well, many of them. Then a few follow at 6:02, then at 6:05 there are more, then still a few hangers-on around 6:07. Did I say hangers-on? It is now 6:30 and a couple more are going. I had observed this in Roma, and I always took it to be lingua romana for "The sun has gone over the yard arm." Turns out it happens in Venezia, too, where you might be standing just a building and a narrow canal away from a campanile when it lets loose.


Equally glorious was the choral music in San Zanipolo this afternoon. (In case your Veneziano is getting rusty, that is Santi Giovanni e Paolo in standard Italian.) I went in there to see the way the light plays on the stone in the floor, illuminating the entire place with a warmish reflected glow, and the wall tombs carved by Pietro Lombardo. I had not expected to find a choir practicing: there were only four singers, and they were standing on a high balcony, just below the organ pipes. What a sound--and what a way to hear "Maria regina cielo....."

Time to hit "Pubblica post."

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ta ta. So long. Ciao. See ya.

Well, my friends, I must bid you (temporarily) adieu. I am off this afternoon to Italy for one of the most important conferences I will attend this year--and also my very favorite. Or, at least, the last time I attended it, two years ago in Rapallo (also Italy), it was awesome. This is one of those conferences that is not too big, but not to small, and there are some really good papers, but the whole atmosphere is pretty laid back. And what is the subject of the conference, you may ask? The entire thing is devoted to Ezra Pound, the subject of my current research.

The meetings all take place in Venice, which should be gorgeous, but also CROWDED. High season is not my favorite time to travel to major tourist destinations, but so it goes. I am sad to say that Tim's post today about work travel amidst leisure travelers hit it on the head. (But luckily where I am headed, decent coffee will not be in short supply.)

The itinerary is basically this: fly in and out of Milano (where I have never been, but where Futurism and Fascism both began--important to my book), travel to Venezia and spend 7 nights there, then go on a several-stop outing organized by the conference folks (to Verona, Sirmione [on Lake Garda], and Tirol0 [5 miles from Austria], for a mini-conference about Imagism in Pound's daughter's castle), then back to Milano for a couple of days to visit some of the major museums of modern art and design and track down the offices of Il Popolo d'Italia if I can--AND, if I am a very good girl, find a couple fabu Italian yarn stores.

So it seems I am prepared for the two weeks of travel: passport--check, conference paper--check, e-ticket confirmation--check, trenitalia e-ticket confirmation--check, contact solution--check, travel alarm--check, knitting--check. What more could I need? Oh yeah: a prayer that my suitcase makes it to Milano with me.

So have a great couple of weeks, everyone!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Let's face it.

I'm pooped.

I know: it is not an exciting thing to say, and the more smart-alecky among you will remember (much to my dismay) that I say this a lot. Well, too bad. I am saying it again.

I'm pooped.


In the spirit of the archive, here are a few things that take it out of me:
1. Funerals.
2. Traveling to funerals.
3. Traveling too many places in too short a time.
4. Not learning.
5. Teaching swim clinics to little kids.
6. It does not matter whether they are cute and attentive or the picture of ADD: it is tiring to teach little kids.
7. Teaching generally, now that we are being honest.
8. The heat.
9. Wait, it's not the heat, it's the humidity.
10. Yes it is too: it is the heat and the humidity.
11. Teaching swim clinics to little kids in the heat. (No, not little kids in heat!)
12. That my shoulder still hurts. Not too bad, but just a little, and constantly.
12a. UPDATE (how could I forget?): Recent surgery. (Thanks, Scott!)
13. That I am about to take yet another trip, this one overseas.
14. See #3+4.
15. A too long to-do list.
16. Making too many plans.
17. Not having things planned well enough.
18. Shopping.
19. Swim practice, when there are too many people in the lanes.
20. Showering after swim practice, when there are too many people in the locker room.

Now that I am thinking about it, 20 does not usually = "a few." See what I mean?

Have I mentioned how tired I am?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Spoleto 5: Jojking and epic.

If you are not familiar with jojk (or yoik) singing from Finnish Samiland, then you might have been just as surprised as many of the folks in the audience at the Westminster Choir concert at Spoleto at the sound of Veljo Tormis's setting of "Raua needmine" from the Kalevala.

Let me back up.

The Westminster Choir gave two concerts in St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, and we saw the second one. The program was mostly contemporary music from the Scandinavian and Baltic (read: diacritical-rich) region of Europe: pieces by Alfrēds Kalņiš, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Trond Kverno, Veljo Tormis, and (surprised?) Johannes Brahms. Mäntyjärvi's setting of "Ave Maria" was powerful, with the women's voices whispering prayers while the men sang. And Kverno's "Ave Maris Stella" seemed to gesture in sonically rich ways to chant traditions of early music. Beautiful stuff.

But it was Estonian composer Veljo Tormis' Raua needmine, or "Curse upon iron," was the real knock-out for me. He composed this piece in 1972 against the evils of war, and it was banned by the Soviet government. The piece opened with an abrupt "HWAET!" from the kamchatka, which was some kind of percussion instrument played with a large padded hammer. It scared the living daylights out of the people sitting in front of me, but trust me: it was one of the more suitable epic openings I have heard. Then a number of male voices began to jojk.

Saami folk music is called jojk and is a singing style where melody and verse are of equal importance. Jojk is improvised while singing and can express feelings of sorrow, hate or love. To sing jojk means deeply identifying yourself with someone or something.

Saami nåjd sang jojk and drummed to reach religious ecstasy. Consequently, the church looked on jojk as "the song of the Devil" and banned it well into the 1900s.

Today, Saami musicians still practice traditional jojk but with the accompaniment of instruments. Often their playing is flavored with influences from western music.

Jojk performed in a church! I first encountered this style of singing from Wimme Saari, who often records just as Wimme. His music has a striking combination of this very traditional form of singing with electronic music--and it is absolutely addictive.

All this to say: Tormis' setting of a piece of the Kalevala, usually considered the Finnish national epic, was fabulous. Listening to it, I started to understand in a way I had not before what it might have been like to listen to other epic poems--poems that gave people a sense of what it meant to be them. The words of "Curse upon iron" object to the metal as "You spiller of innocent blood!," telling the story of the ore's (mythic) origins, and how it is shaped by "the forge of death," "hammer[ing] anger into iron." It is epic at its best, and so modern (don't forget the Kalevala was compiled in the 19th century, and I am guessing this version may update it even further):

Brand-new and up-to-date technology,
The ultimate word in electronics
Ready to fly in any direction,
Stay undeflected on its course, hit the target
Paralyze, and knock out of action, obliterate,
Render helpless and defenseless,
Harm and hurt, cause unknowable loss,
And kill, kill with iron and with steel,
With chromium, titanium, uranium, plotonium,
And with a multitude of other elements.
Ohoy, villain! Evil iron!

If only my Beowulf students could have been there!

Back to working out.

17thman posted last night about returning to coached swimming:
It's been a few weeks since my last coached workout and boy did I miss it. I forgot what it feels like to be sore and tired after a good workout. I forgot how fun the chase of trying to catch up to another swimmer or staying ahead of another. Of course swimming at night gives me a buzz so even though my body is sore and wants sleep my mind is wide awake. I'll post more about the workout in a post in the morning.
It's good to be back!
I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sprint set.

Last night at practice I was planning to get out early. It was my third swim in a row, my shoulder was feeling a little tired, I was feeling bombed from so much (relatively) swimming this week, and I have been trying to be careful about not overdoing it.

But as I was getting ready to get out, everyone was standing on the wall, and my coach said, "Put your fins on, my dear." I told him my little cup-shaped fins had been tearing up my toes, so he said try the big ones. They felt OK, so sure, count me in for the sprint set.

The idea was to swim 5 x 50 all out on a 5:00 interval. That meant we had time, after the 50 sprint, to swim about 150 cooldown and then still have over a minute rest before the next go-round. As you might guess, I am not quite ready for sprint swimming (especially after having already swum 1500 meters), and I was feeling solidarity with Joe, and I did my sprints as all kick, all on my back in streamline.

Here are my times:
Round 1 (fly kick) :35
Round 2 (free kick) :33
Round 3 (fly kick) :33
Round 4 (free kick) :32
Round 5 (free kick) :30.5

I managed not just to do my first sprint set in quite a number of months, but to descend! Of course, my times are nothing compared with Therese Alshammer in the 50 fly yesterday, and she was not wearing big fins. Or any fins. Ahem.

Total workout: 2500 LCM

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Between Marx and Marzipan in the Dictionary.

So, I may be the last to discover this little tidbit, which was circulating around some knitters' blogs about a month ago. But I plead my illness!

Isis --


A real life muppet.

'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at

So don't say I never told you so.

(Manah manah.)

R.I.P. Jay Evans Paul.

Born September 1915 in Brooklyn, NY. Deceased June 2007 in Newport News, VA.

And for the record, played a mean hands of cards. And finished my crackers after I licked the peanut butter off them. And never sounded anything by thrilled to hear my voice. And spent every moment he was allowed with his wife as she ailed from congestive heart failure, holding her hand, looking lovingly into her eyes.

Grandpa, I'll miss your voice, and your smile and laugh, and I am sorry I haven't managed to beat you in cards. Maybe next hand.

Spoleto 4: Dresser of curiosities

When Aurélia's Oratorio begins, there is a dresser on stage. Gradually, a hand emerges. Then a head, or later a leg. Or two arms at once that seem contortionist because they emerge from different drawers at remarkable angles. A hand pours wine into a glass held by another hand. A hand dresses a stocking over a foot--then adds a shoe. Amidst much opening and closing of drawers, two separate arms and two separate feet are visible--could they possibly be connected?

Perhaps this is less surprising once we know that the show draws its inspiration from medieval manuscript illuminations of inside-out and upside-down worlds.

The show goes on like that--well, like that if that can happen on stage curtains acting as trapezes or ladders, or if there is any likeness between a chest of drawers and a coat rack. There is a likeness: they both have become frightening alive, as has a coat and a pair of shoes, and the entire rigging of the stage curtains. Puppets watch a performance in a little puppet theatre, being put on by a human head. An old-fashioned chair-taxi (carried by a person at each end, the chair held to poles) enters stage right , but carried upside down. Soon a woman comes down from a "window" in the curtains and catches a ride--she is riding upside down. A man wrestles with a coat, and loses. A man pulls a spangly skirt upside down over his head and chest, holds a woman's shoes on his hands, and using those shoes and his own (on his feet of all places) he performs a beautiful ballroom dance (though there is literally nothing to see above either partner's waist). A man and a woman perform a remarkable dance of putting on and taking off the same coat, while gypsy jazz plays in the back. A woman opens a door in her voluminous hoop skirt to reveal a sort of hour glass, that seems to be consuming her legs and then her hips and then all of her and turning them into sand--which a man later collects with a dustban, dumps into a drawer, and the woman re-emerges. A woman with a whole in her middle enters a stage where a toy train is running on an elevated track, and using her own hole-y body, becomes a tunnel.

When you come out of the show, it is remarkable that the ground stays under your feet.

How then do you look at the woman in the pool the next day, swimming with a lithe body and a long braid of finally contained hair, and believe that she is affected by the elements as we are?

Being coached.

Last night I did the first real practice I have done since I returned to the water. By that I mean that the coach told me what to do, and I did it--instead of just swimming back and forth as best I could.

When I first came back to swimming, I did everything with long fins. Now I am doing almost everything with short fins. Butterfly is still very squirrelly, but the other three strokes I can do pretty well. Pain is light, as opposed to pretty strong when I first came back. And strokes and turns are starting to feel more normal again, although I know there is still some imbalance between my left and right sides.

I'll celebrate this progress by reporting in detail last night's workout. To those of you swimming regularly, it won't look like much, but to me it was a great victory.

Everything is LCM:
Warm-up: 1000 (200 swim, 200 swim, 200 kick, 200 kick, 200 drill) [short fins]
Kick set: 6 x 100 kick (50 easy, 25 build, 25 fast) [2 with long fins, 2 with short fins, 2 with no fins]
Recovery: 200 easy [short fins]
Swim/drill set: 8 x 50 (alternating swim-kick-swim by thirds of a length) [short fins]
Cool-down: 100 easy + stretching and therapy motions

Monday, June 11, 2007

(Not exactly) Spoleto 3: Tropical Storm Barry.

I knew we were at the coast when I realized that the TV in our hotel room defaults to The Weather Channel. Not that I am complaining: I have been known to be a Weather Channel fan. Blame it on growing up in Tidewater Virginia, I suppose, where I learned early the importance of constantly watching hurricane tracks and projected paths, just in case.

Not that my enduring attention to all things weather makes me prepared. For instance, even after a discussion with the PP about packing rain jackets, did I pack mine? (Do I really have to answer that question?) Luckily, a certain outdoor store became the store where I dropped the most money. We called it the store we visited every day, because the first time we bought sunscreen, the second time my (fabulous) new rain jacket, and the third time lots of brightly-colored ankle socks to wear with my sandals. I even spent more money there than at knit! (I must admit that this is partly because I have bought so much yarn elsewhere of late, and I was trying to be restrained....)

Anyway, the PP and I woke up the morning after our arrival to find ourselves socked in. If you have ever lived at the coast you know what I mean: about 98% humidity, no breeze, spitting rain, gray everywhere you look. We realized then that we needed to get that replacement raincoat right away, and hurricane expert Dr. Lyons confirmed our concern that the weather would only get worse. I never got that distinct low pressure headache that Yarngineer described (I have before, and yow they are intense), but as the day went on, the wind picked up.

We could not help but laugh, though, because the night before we had seen The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, a Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht number I had been eager to see ever since I heard Ute Lemper sing songs from it. (Do you know "Alabama Song," which was covered by The Doors? It is from this show.) Anyway, the opera has as a sizable plot device a hurricane, and so we had spent some time during the turn from Acts I to II (I think) watching the storm come in, destroy a city, and then barely miss the city of Mahagonny.

So as we watched the Weather Channel, with its little arrows, they looked for all the world like the arrows on the primitive maps in the show.

But Barry was no hurricane. I realized the difference between people used to coastal storms and those not in watching reactions to the storm. Should we evacuate? asked the PP.

All scoffing aside, the wind was pretty intense, not in a destroying buildings kind of way, but in a way that made umbrellas everywhere fear for their skeletal systems, and it did quite a job on one of the Spoleto banners hanging near our hotel. (That thing being whipped around was like gunfinre.) And we just got used to having the hems of our pants and skirts soaked.

At least now I have an awesome new raincoat.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Spoleto 2: O body swayed to music, O brightening glance.

When Shen Wei writes in his program materials that "I wasn't taught the arts separately, so I don't separate them in my work," he means it.

At first I took this to mean an intimate link between the music and the dance. I buy that: sometimes the music dictates the movement in a way that goes beyond mere choreography.

But he meant more than that, because a ways into the performance of Connect Transfer, it dawned on me (and maybe suddenly on the others in the audience, too) that the large white fabric laid over the stage was not just to allow a contrast with the dancers' costumes. It was a canvas, or a scroll.

The bulk of the movement in this performance was performed on the floor, but it did not look like tumbling so much as dancing horizontally. The movements were circular--not just in the sense of roundness of pattern but also of repetition. Yet this was not dervishness so much as fluidity--as often a gentle motion as a furious one.

When the dancer wearing a mitten dipped in black paint or ink started her pattern, the floor turned into an enormous scroll of running style calligraphy, made not by a brush but a body, or a body and a brush, or a body become a brush. When other dancers appeared with red and then blue and green and yellow and purple--sometimes on their mittens, others on socks or on their backs--the stage had become a brilliant jumble of significant nonsense, and all the while watching it appear on the page was like watching Jackson Pollock paint--if he could really dance.
Makes you rethink textuality.

And the music--written by Kevin Volans, Iannis Xenakis, György Lineti--was a knock out.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Spoleto 1: And that is the longing, and this is the book.

Will you work with me for a moment? I had intended to write a bit about the Spoleto Festival while the PP and I were in Charleston, but my access to teh internets was not what I had hoped. So, if you do not mind, I am going to pretend it is last week. Can you do that with me?

The first time that we ran into Philip Glass on the terrazza of the Holiday Inn (are you still working with me here?), I figured it was not really him, because given that his show, being an American premiere and all, was kind of the headliner for the festival, would he be staying at the Holiday Inn? And besides, everywhere you looked, there he was on a poster or a t-shirt or a coffee mug or another poster or a gigantic banner on Gaillard Auditorium.


So the afternoon before we went to the first performance of Book of Longing, I assumed my eyes were tricking me when I saw him talking on his cellphone in a t-shirt and jeans, and kind of pacing around.

But then after we saw the show, and him on stage--and us in the front row (friends, it pays to think ahead)--then, when we saw him a couple days later, I knew it was him, and felt bad for poo-pooing the PP's sense that we had seen him.

And of course I thought about telling him that for reasons I still cannot quite get a handle on, his piece moved me to tears. Was it just Leonard Cohen lyrics? Or that wonderful relentlessness of his music? Or the intimacy of seeing the performers so close? Or the way the intimate "I" of the poetry shifted in and out of the bodies of tenor, bass-baritone, soprano, and mezzo? Or the weird disparity between the super-erotic lyrics and Leonard Cohen's own self-sketches (rendered into a multimodal array), very much about seeing his own face look old?

But I feel dumb saying such things to someone who obviously knows that his work is important, so I never go up to famous people.

Still, what I really wanted, absolutely desperately wanted to ask him was: What is it like to see your own face, stylized into a portrait made of thumbprints, and of about 30 years ago, plastered everywhere you look?