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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A barbecue at Rudy's house

Real estate agent hype to the contrary, the Durham-Chapel Hill area is pretty built up by now; our wild spaces have been "improved" at a reckless rate by well-connected developers who bulldoze hundreds of acres at a time - ignoring all lip-service laws about trees and stormwater runoff - and erect scores of huge cookie-cutter houses with hefty price tags and tiny front lawns. "The Village of Chapel Hill" my eye.

Luckily, there are areas which have yet to be discovered by these rapacious improvers.

For instance, drive a fairly major road around here and you may see a discreet road sign marking what appears to be a long rutted driveway disappearing into the trees.

This dirt trail rises through the trees, past farm fields, past another driveway sporting a self-important road sign (this "road" is named after somebody's favorite ball team), taking you so high you can see the "pickle building" and, my friend Rudy claims, the Shearon Harris nuclear facility far in the distance.

The road gets worse and worse. Its low point is almost always full of water; at this mini-pond's muddy verge one often sees deer, musing picturesquely as if they think they're okapi at a Serengeti watering hole.

I bump through this wet area very slowly because my van hasn't had functioning shock absorbers for several years.

The road then rises again and one starts to see partly - or mostly - demolished or rotted outbuildings, some covered with vines, dotted around the fields and woods. This area used to have an evocative nickname; it was covertly inhabited by undomesticated hippies, living without electricity or running water, who eventually inadvertently burned down most of the buildings while in a state of, uh, oneness with the universe.

Pass the vine-covered ruins and turn left and you've come to my friend Rudy's antique outbuilding in the woods. She and her sons - whom she raised from babies there when it had only an outhouse! - often see coyotes - which raise pups nearby and feast on feral cats - and a gigantic black snake which lives under their old tobacco barn.

Rudy and I met on (another story) and turned out to be quite compatible, being somewhat eccentric women who live in the woods and suspect themselves too strong-minded to find suitable mates among the men who populate our wimpy, red-state millennium.

I email her every morning so somebody in the world will know I'm still alive.

My son Zed and I went over there for a barbecue last night. We brought hamburger and Zed and Melina's famous "Don't Inhale" homemade sauce. One of Rudy's sons made space for us on the grill while he cooked scores of vegetable shishkebobs, watched by his cheerful, attentive harem of three gorgeous young women. (All four of them left fairly early to head off to Mt. Airy and stake out a good piece of real estate prior to the fiddlers' convention.)

We all enjoyed Loco Pops, popsicles made locally by somebody with a restless imagination. They come in multiple flavors and are unlabeled - you might get strawberries and cream, but on the other hand you might get raspberry and chile peppers, chocolate with rosemary, lime and basil, or tamarind.

The high point of the evening, for me, was meeting Wayne. He is a man of legendary status, a taciturn and ingenious jack-of-all-trades who's helped Rudy, over the years, turn her place from a packhouse (without electricity or running water) into an elegantly landscaped, gorgeous home with many ingenious improvements I will not describe as it's possible they were devised and executed without the official stamp of the local Grand Viziers.

Lately, Rudy's dog ate a raccoon; when she called the vet to inquire about his rabies shots, the vet ratted him out to the authorities. Then did the Grand Viziers sent henchmen to Rudy's home many, many times, to capture and destroy this tainted dog. (To be fair, they gave her the choice of having him (1) euthanized or (2) sent to spend 6 weeks in the pokey at Rudy's expense - but a virus sweeping through the animal shelter has killed quite a few dogs lately.) In response, invoking the principle of civil disobedience, Rudy sent her dog into exile many, many miles away. She visits him frequently on - as she is opposed to gasoline - her recumbent bike.

There are no mercury vapor "security lights" up on Rudy's hill, so as Zed and I bumped cautiously home we could see the stars.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Pratie Heads at the Celtic Cafe, June 2

If you're in the Winston-Salem area, come hear me and Bob this coming Friday as we resurrect more wonderful old songs (he started playing one the other day, one we hadn't played since the 80s of course, and it gave me goosebumps and, also, I remembered all the words) and tunes at the Celtic Cafe, 6:30-9:30. The food is good, too.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Melina En Nueva York: Episodio V, "El Helado"

This is a very short episode. Walking home from my date with El Enfermo, I passed an ice cream truck. I bought an ice cream. I met a guy who was also buying an ice cream. We talked a little bit. I learned that he went to Harvard and that he works in finances. Then I went home.


Melina En Nueva York: Episodio IV, El Enfermo

Hoy es viernes, entonces I had another date.

This guy was sick the first time we were supposed to get together, so we didn't, but it seems he actually *was* sick and did want to reschedule, so we'd sent each other about 30 emails by the time we actually met. This actually made me kind of anxious. What if he changed his mind? Life is too short for the coy email exchange.

But we did meet. I liked El Enfermo (he seemed recovered from his illness). His excellent spelling on his e-profile made more sense once I learned that he was a magazine copy editor, which meant he spent a lot of time ensconced in his own little world, poring over text and shaping it into its ideal/correct form. He seemed a little gloomy but I wasn't really sure why. What it seemed like, was, El Enfermo was a man who had been born in the wrong time.

Ma and I have this discussion sometimes - Ma sometimes thinks she was born in the wrong time. And this guy had the same feeling. He enjoys the austerity of copy-editing: working on his own, righting the little sins of the article writers one by one. He lives in Brooklyn surrounded by hipsters. He's not comfortable with grownups "acting like they're still in high school, only with credit cards" (El Enfermo doesn't own a credit card, as he doesn't believe in spending money he doesn't have). He hates Oprah, because even if she's doing good by bringing attention to important causes and making people happy, she seems shallow inside, so that's not okay. He doesn't like cookies in the office, because people giving him cookies are trying to buy his happiness, and cookie-based happiness is temporary and fleeting.

In spite of being so down on everything, El Enfermo made me almost snort out my drink a couple times. Pretty funny guy. No pretences.


El Enfermo does not enjoy postmodern times. How about you -- are they rigt for you? Do you think you'd have done better in some other place or era?


The bats are back.

If you've been around Pratie Place since last August, you know there was grand excitement when Melina discovered I had a gazillion bats in my attic, behind the ventilation area you see in this picture; you can see my bedroom roof on at the left.

These are last year's pictures. There were way more bats before I disturbed them by going up the stairs.

I nailed up a big piece of hardware cloth on the inside of the louvers, so the bats would no longer bulge into MY part of the attic.

As I hammered, the bats were flying out of the louvers, and by the time I was finished, only three bats remained - all on my side of the hardware cloth! They flapped around our heads in the attic up there and we were pretty freaked out. Then they oozed out of tiny holes I wish I hadn't seen and Melina and I were - at last - alone.

They never came back. It turns out they were ready to fly the coop anyway, as I read in a newspaper article which said: "Thousands of big brown bats are fluttering out of Triangle attics. They've been holed up there for birthing season since May, and now that the young can fly, they are tearing off on a nightly swarm."


I woke up early this morning and since before dawn I've been watching little bodies hurtle in and out of the space just above my window; they fly so close I can hear their wings whirring. There are lots and lots of them. I even heard some excited whistling and chattering, I think (unless that was the sound of some mighty strange birds).

And that's today's report from the bush.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Conducting and writing

1. The Triangle Jewish Chorale had its last concert of the season on Tuesday. It was an informal affair, in a nice room with a good piano, and the audience was big (for us), and enthusiastic, and sang along when asked. A fine time was had by all!

I first started conducting this group about ten years ago. That's a long time; my life has changed tremendously since then, and the vigorous, opinionated businessman who used to (through his wife) pay my salary - that was before the group was a non-profit - is now a shadow, shuffling through his Assisted Living Center with a hunted look on his face.

When I got the job, I took it entirely as a musical assignment. I thought my mandate was to make excellent music, so I was frustrated when the group couldn't duplicate phrasings I sang for them, or when pieces had to be abandoned because they were too difficult for untrained singers who meet only once a fortnight. I was embarrassed when there were mistakes in performance.

Now, though, I realize my mandate is actually to inspire the people who are in the group, and make them happy in a musical context. When they're happy, their joy is communicated to the audience, and joy is the goal.

I write almost all our arrangements now, keeping the group's ability level in mind.

I've learned to communicate what I hear in my head using lots of words, using humor and plentiful analogies; I've realized meticulous verbal descriptions work better than saying: "do it like this" and singing for them. I guess that's because these particular singers are highly literate people and learn best through words.

(In contrast, my musician buddies couldn't care less about words - they're more like Silly Putty - if I sing or play something for them, if I press them up against what I hear, without discussion the idea travels through their ears into their fingers and voices.}

In concert, my smiles and funny faces fill the singers with courage, and I communicate the rhythms and phrasings with my hands, arms, and entire body. The audience gets the backside of that, hope they enjoy it ...

After the concert I tried to hug or shake hands with every member of the group, to look into each pair of eyes and share my appreciation. It touches me to see how each singer loves our music. Where once I might have been irritated at flubs, now I see the big picture: that life is fleeting and that joy, especially this spiritual joy, is too rare to squander.

2. My son Zed is home from college. He doesn't have a job (long story), and so I've set him the task of writing a page for me every day, his choice of subject, due by 9 pm sharp.

I'm hoping this will help get him in the habit of writing for pleasure; he's had a blank-page phobia for a long time. I'm hoping it will help him figure out what he likes to write about and what's important to him. I'm hoping he will find some joy in the process.

And lying here, listening to the birds (just as I wrote that, the melodious little sounds of songbirds minding their own business were blotted out by a gang of rasping crows), I realized: that's what blogging does for me.

In addition, in accordance with The Artist's Way (I still never got beyond chapter one) I've been writing "daily pages" every day since November, looking forward to going downstairs and getting a ballpoint pen and writing in a spiral notebook (I'm currently on the fourth). It was the daily pages which inspired me to start painting, and to study Yiddish - which is now one of my most inspiring obsessions. The writing inspired me to get back in touch with Bob - and playing Pratie Heads music again fills me with, well, a spiritual joy.

When Zed left home last August, I was afraid my world would shrivel, but instead it's blossomed. Meaning, it seems, that I'm out and about, doing things that excite me, and there's less time for poking around the internet.

To be continued, in some form or other...

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rehearsing with the lads

The Mappamundi way - I don't know, is this is how other groups do it?

Yesterday Mappamundi member Ken Bloom and occasional member David DiGiuseppe came over to my house to rehearse for a Bar Mitzvah.

We had vague instructions from the customer: "Folky, rootsy, dancing, Jewish and Greek and swing..." Our task: to put together 3-1/2 hours of music in one rehearsal.

The lads hauled into my house:
  • Accordion
  • 2 Bouzoukis
  • Mandolin
  • Guitar
  • Clarinet
  • Two gigantic sacks of sheet music.
Ken often jokes that the Mappamundi repertoire long ago ceased being measured by number of songs and is now measured by tonnage; he says it's about thirty pounds. I'm staggered by how much music I've duplicated over the years on my rickety 22-year-old Ricoh Ripro Junior copying machine.

David got here first. He dumped his gigantic pile of music from our previous gigs on the floor and we went through the pile together, choosing according to the client's preferences.
  1. Songs in Hebrew and Yiddish - but nothing from the Holocaust of course, and it's a bar mitzvah, so a minimum of sappy love songs;
  2. Klezmer and Israel dance tunes - but nothing it would take too much time to remember, as it's very difficult to rehearse 3-1/2 hours of music in a two-hour rehearsal.
  3. Greek dance tunes, ditto - Ken and David and I have done a few wonderful Greek gigs together so we have a nice collection;
  4. Swing tunes - same selection criteria.
We gave preference to pieces we could find several copies of, and also to well printed charts - we rejected scrawled and poorly xeroxed charts, our eyes can't take them any more.

At this point Ken showed up and we presented the 50-60 pieces we'd chosen to him.

Together we peered at the pile as David shuffled through it. "We know that one ... that one's fine ... wait, let's try that one." So we'd put down the pile and try one, starting with the critical questions: "Is this really the key?" "What instrument are you playing?" "What's the intro?" "Does this use a syrtiko rhythm?" David's frequent question to Ken: "Are those really the chords you're playing?"

The rehearsal ended with a discussion of whose sound system to take: mine is ancient, from the same era as the copy machine, but David needs his for another gig that same day, so we decided on an amalgamation.

We finished in plenty of time. I'm looking forward to getting to play all the way through all the pieces, finally, when the day of the simcha rolls around.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

The Solitude of the Country (II), Samuel Johnson

While I'm still waiting to see if I'll get it back together, here is part two of that excellent article by Samuel Johnson.

To neither of these votaries will solitude afford that content, which she has been taught so lavishly to promise. The man of arrogance will quickly discover, that by escaping from his opponents he has lost his flatterers, that greatness is nothing where it is not seen, and power nothing where it cannot be felt: and he, whose faculties are employed in too close an observation of failings and defects, will find his condition very little mended by transferring his attention from others to himself: he will probably soon come back in quest of new objects, and be glad to keep his captiousness employed on any character rather than his own.

Others are seduced into solitude merely by the authority of great names, and expect to find those charms in tranquillity which have allured statesmen and conquerors to the shades: these likewise are apt to wonder at their disappointment, for want of considering, that those whom they aspire to imitate carried with them to their country-seats minds full fraught with subjects of reflection, the consciousness of great merit, the memory of illustrious actions, the knowledge of important events, and the seeds of mighty designs to be ripened by future meditation. Solitude was to such men a release from fatigue, and an opportunity of usefulness. But what can retirement confer upon him, who having done nothing can receive no support from his own importance, who having known nothing can find no entertainment in reviewing the past, and who intending nothing can form no hopes from prospects of the future? He can, surely, take no wiser course than that of losing himself again in the crowd, and filling the vacuities of his mind with the news of the day.

Others consider solitude as the parent of philosophy, and retire in expectation of greater intimacies with science, as Numa repaired to the groves when he conferred with Egeria. These men have not always reason to repent. Some studies require a continued prosecution of the same train of thought, such as is too often interrupted by the petty avocations of common life: sometimes, likewise, it is necessary, that a multiplicity of objects be at once present to the mind; and every thing, therefore, must be kept at a distance, which may perplex the memory or dissipate the attention.

But though learning may be conferred by solitude, its application must be attained by general converse. He has learned to no purpose, that is not able to teach; and he will always teach unsuccessfully, who cannot recommend his sentiments by his diction or address.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Melina does Illustration Friday - "Sorry"

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Mike does Illustration Friday - "Sorry"

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Solitude of the Country (I), Samuel Johnson

There has always prevailed among that part of mankind that addict their minds to speculation, a propensity to talk much of the delights of retirement: and some of the most pleasing compositions produced in every age contain descriptions of the peace and happiness of a country life.

I know not whether those who thus ambitiously repeat the praises of solitude, have always considered, how much they depreciate mankind by declaring, that whatever is excellent or desirable is to be obtained by departing from them; that the assistance which we may derive from one another, is not equivalent to the evils which we have to fear; that the kindness of a few is overbalanced by the malice of many; and that the protection of society is too dearly purchased by encountering its dangers and enduring its oppressions.

These specious representations of solitary happiness, however opprobrious to human nature, have so far spread their influence over the world, that almost every man delights his imagination with the hopes of obtaining some time an opportunity of retreat. Many, indeed, who enjoy retreat only in imagination, content themselves with believing, that another year will transport them to rural tranquillity, and die while they talk of doing what, if they had lived longer, they would never have done. But many likewise there are, either of greater resolution or more credulity, who in earnest try the state which they have been taught to think thus secure from cares and dangers; and retire to privacy, either that they may improve their happiness, increase their knowledge, or exalt their virtue.

The greater part of the admirers of solitude, as of all other classes of mankind, have no higher or remoter view, than the present gratification of their passions. Of these, some, haughty and impetuous, fly from society only because they cannot bear to repay to others the regard which themselves exact; and think no state of life eligible, but that which places them out of the reach of censure or control, and affords them opportunities of living in a perpetual compliance with their own inclinations, without the necessity of regulating their actions by any other man's convenience or opinion.

There are others, of minds more delicate and tender, easily offended by every deviation from rectitude, soon disgusted by ignorance or impertinence, and always expecting from the conversation of mankind more elegance, purity and truth, than the mingled mass of life will easily afford. Such men are in haste to retire from grossness, falsehood and brutality; and hope to find in private habitations at least a negative felicity, an exemption from the shocks and perturbations with which publick scenes are continually distressing them.

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Friday, May 19, 2006


Real life is getting in the way of blogging here at Pratie Place. Both Melina and I have been very busy, doing things we mostly can't post about.

I've been writing tiny stories in Yiddish to give to my teacher, Sheva Zucker. I'm working hard in preparation for my Yiddish Immersion class in Paris in July - I rashly signed up for "Intermediate," even though, at the time, I was only up to Beginner's Chapter Two.

I've been playing a lot with Bob. He seems to have found the Pratie Heads a lovely once-a-month berth at the Whole Foods Market - people we know who visit us there feel sorry for us, playing in a grocery store, but it's actually great fun. This past week I brought a stack of tunes and songs we hadn't played for decades - or perhaps never played - and we read through them, and then we got paid well. We'll be there again, middle Wednesday in June.

Meanwhile, in family news, Zed finished up his schoolyear at Wesleyan by taking his Spanish exam twice, the first go-round having been sabotaged by a brain-cloud. (He got permission from his professor via email as the guy had already hied himself to Istanbul.)

This, plus Zed's natural tendencies to dither and procrastinate, put him a bit behind schedule.

We had cooked up a complicated plan: Melina drove out to Long Island after work in Manhattan Wednesday night, picked up her famously free car from her ex-boyfriend Yankl's driveway, and drove to Zed's dorm in Middletown. She would bunk down there and they would leave first thing yesterday morning.

However, I got a call Wednesday night around midnight from my Type A daughter meeting up with, well... this was her astonished, rageful observation: "Mom. He hasn't packed. He hasn't packed!"

She went to sleep curled up in his closet (never having seen the sleeping bag he'd borrowed for her - and somehow he didn't notice she was sleeping with her head on a pile of socks and books) while he packed all night. At 6 am he hit the pillow and his grunt of satisfaction woke her up. Three hours later they were on the road.

And at 8:15 last night, as I was saying goodbye to a friend downtown, Zed called and allowed as how they would be home in half an hour and hadn't eaten. So I rushed to the grocery store and there was stir-fried chicken and broccoli on the stove when they staggered in the door. They hovered around the frying pan, hunched over their steaming bowls like refugees. It was the first meal I'd cooked in months, my staples as an empty-nester being Shredded Wheat, peanuts, and oranges.

Life has been so interesting lately I haven't been inclined to write. I'll try to get it together, friends.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Don't throw your tickets away

I had an experience like this once with U.S. Customs...

Extracts from
China Dispatch: Tickets, pleas.
By Brian Sack, the Banterist

When traveling China by rail it's important to remember one thing which they do not tell you when you buy your train tickets: you will need your used tickets to leave the station.

Granted the tickets may say this, but the tickets are in Chinese so it might as well be written in paw prints and coffee stains.

Therefore, when your train arrives at its destination do not leave the tickets on the train or throw them in a trash bin because, as I've mentioned, you'll need them to leave the station. Why? No idea. You're done with them, but they want them back.

Failure to have your tickets with you will result in significant discomfort, as evidenced by comparing these two scenarios:

Scenario #1:

1. As you approach the station's exit you hand your tickets to the guard.

2. He lets you leave.

Scenario #2:

1. As you approach the station's exit you don't hand your tickets to the guard because you don't have them.

2. He prevents you from leaving the station.

3. You pantomime throwing the tickets away.

4. He shows you a ticket and pantomimes you giving him a ticket.

5. You pantomime throwing a ticket away.

6. Five thousand Chinese people who have their tickets are behind you, eager to exit the station, and are attempting to do just that by pushing their bodies and baggage through you.

7. The guard talks to you in Chinese and pantomimes you giving him a ticket.

8. You shrug your shoulders and point back towards the distant train.

10. Instead of taking the tickets from the throngs passing by, the guard engages you in a one-sided Chinese conversation which seems to indicate that he expects to receive tickets from you.

11. Meanwhile, hundreds of people filter past the guard without having their tickets collected because he's engaged in talking to you - making you realize the whole collection process is pointless and arbitrary anyway.

15. You again pantomime throwing tickets away.

16. A crowd gathers to watch the Increasingly Frustrated Westerner Show.

17. Eventually you ascertain that you are being told to return to your train and un-throw-away your tickets. After much fuss you determine that the woman is telling you the train in question is still on Platform 2.

18. You run against more swarms of arriving passengers, bolt up a ramp and finally arrive on Platform 2, where your train isn't.

19. A Chinese gentleman appears and indicates his interest in helping you out of your predicament. After much pantomiming and finger-drawing he understands you were on train Z14. He seems to know where it is. You follow him as he runs down the ramp.

22. When you locate your car the helpful Chinese man explains your predicament to the overseer. She brings you into the train. You enter your compartment and notice the trash can has been emptied and the table cleared.

23. The entire cleaning crew gathers to watch The Panicky American Show as the overseer grills them on whether they saw any tickets. Eventually you come to understand that the cleaning staff claims they saw no tickets.

24. You begin to imagine life in a train station and wonder which platform you and your wife will make your new home in.

26. All hope is lost. Then you discover the tickets in your camera bag.

29. You run all the way back to the exit where your wife has been patiently waiting her fate under the gaze of amused passengers and security personnel.

30. She asks you where the tickets were and you parse your words like Bill Clinton so as not to appear guilty: "I found them in the room" is technically true.

31. You hand the tickets to the guard and he scrutinizes them, obviously looking for a fight. He finally waves you on.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A few more photos from Bethabara...

From Saturday's Celtic Festival at Bethabara, these were taken by my friend the ex-expat.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Bluegrass in Siberia

There's a bar by Port Authority (a.k.a., my least favorite neighborhood on the West Side, a.k.a. "the Hellmouth") and this bar has no sign on the door, no window, only a red light on a black door. It's called Siberia.

My friend from high school is now in grad school, and her roommate works at Siberia as a bartender.

This bar is owned by Tim Curry. It is mostly empty. When I asked why Tim Curry owned such an awful bar in such an awful neighborhood, which he clearly didn't even care about enough to put a sign on the door, I received a variety of answers I didn't really understand such as "He's an actor, and he needs to network" and "He owes people favors, and it's good to have an open bar when you owe people favors." I'm not exactly sure how, but these comments in aggregate gave me the impression of something having to do with heroin.

At any rate, nice place to spend an evening. The bartender, who is actually winsome, sweet, kind, and teetotaling (in spite of her edgy appearance) is also in a bluegrass band, which played its end-of-year concert in the basement of Siberia due to this excellent connection to management. Management said, at one point, "this is the only time a bluegrass band has ever played here."

The basement of Siberia is even weirder than the main room. I was told it was a gay bar. However, when my high school friend and I poked our heads down there to see what was going on, one night, I kid you not, there were like 15 guys sitting around drinking, and watching this one guy who was sitting on the stage in a chair, and another guy was using clippers to cut his hair, and a third guy was shining his shoes with bootblack and a cloth. I thought this was maybe some situation that was too kinky for me even to comprehend but Ma thinks "maybe they just needed haircuts."

The grad students in the bluegrass band played away, for several sets, with varying degrees of competence - timid violinists-turned-fiddlers, ferociously competent mandolinists, fuzzy-haired guitarists who kept missing their cutoffs, and one poor beleaguered bass player in the back trying to keep it all together. Most of them could play decently, but boy they sure sang out of tune... but as we all know, if they have a good time, that's what counts.

Sent from Atlanta

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H. L. Mencken quotes

I love the dreadful curmudgeon H. L. Mencken even though he was an anti-semite. He would have written good fortune-cookies:

A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there.

A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.

A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.

A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers.

A man always remembers his first love with special tenderness, but after that he begins to bunch them.

A man may be a fool and not know it, but not if he is married.

A metaphysician is one who, when you remark that twice two makes four, demands to know what you mean by twice, what by two, what by makes, and what by four. For asking such questions metaphysicians are supported in oriental luxury in the universities, and respected as educated and intelligent men.

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

Adventures of the NYC Office: El Viejo

El Compositor has quickly become a somewhat complex situation, partly because I am taking him seriously. In fact, so seriously that I got flustered between Date 1 and Date 2 and set up three more dates with total strangers to try and balance him out.

For some reason, there are twice as many men as women registered on the personals site I'm using. Maybe women are more leery about meeting strangers (and quite reasonably so). Maybe fewer women, on the whole, don't see the computer as a social access point or as a recreation tool. Regardless of the reason, it's a pretty lively site for a young woman.

Who should pop up this morning saying hi to me but a brand new live one, another musician, his face fashionably blurred in his promo album, his age so advanced that I dare not reveal it. With my usual compassion, I will here call him "El Viejo."

Now I know something about no-longer-young single male musicians on the prowl, (I am not thinking of any in particular here, Mom, just the general scene), and no way I could ever fall for any of the lines he might try to pull. So weird! Why does he want to meet such a young girl as Melina! There can't be a good reason, can there? But hey, I had some afternoon free time, and I'm trying not to be so judgmental in my life. So I met El Viejo.

And it was fun. He was comfortable with himself, he was cute, he knew how to ask me questions about myself, he was not very mature, but hey, that's how you get to be a single guy of XXXCENSOREDXXXX years of age. He had a little earring. I asked him where to find cheap furniture in the city, and mocked him for being old, and asked him for relationship advice, and he took it well. He's touring in Europe for the next two weeks - when he gets back, maybe he can point me to some good concerts in town... maybe some I can take my next dates to go see. A mutually-agreeable kiss on the cheek for Viejo. Thanks for the nice chat. Bye, Viejo. Play on, player.



Celtic Festival at Bethabara, quick report

I only have time this morning to post a few pictures from yesterday's Celtic Festival at Bethabara Park. Bob and I were invited by Sonny Thomas of Fiddle and Bow Society to play for the festival.

The first person we saw as we rolled into the park yesterday was Ken Bloom, my bandmate from my other band, Mappamundi. He does Revolutionary War Reenactments as part of a Scottish regiment and was there to tell stories and play his brand new bowed dulcimer. He nicely moved a bunch of rocks and made me an excellent parking space.

The first band on yesterday - Isla, based in Nashville. They were really good, and friendly people too.

Assorted characters:

Bagpipes all day:

This dog's tartan outfit had embroidered on it, "Therapy Dog." He marched in the parade of the clans:

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Happy Mother's Day To Melinama!

!Es una madre increible!

'm so lucky to have her. She's my best friend, so funny, so thoughtful, and always there when I need her.

The New York office of Pratie Place salutes Melinama, offering its warmest regards and its most profound gratitude.

All hail!

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Man, 9th avenue is crazy. even for straight people. Today I was walking down the street and a rumply mid-30s-old hipster introduced himself to me, and presented me with a flyer for a concert of his that had passed. he asked my birthday, and when I told him, he said "Scorpios really like my music. It's sensitive." I told him very sensitively that I was looking for someone younger.

Trip to Seattle: The last day

Here is my hostess Kimberly - musical tzarina of the Cascadia English Country Dance Weekend - entering the "Polish Home" for our morning session.

She told me the area was named "Capitol Hill" by early real estate tycoons who hoped the state capitol would be placed there, in which case their fortunes would multiply agreeably. This not-so-subliminal suggestion failed; the name remained.

The stairs up to the dance hall are decorated with framed tributes to famous Poles, including Helena Modjeska, star of my dear friend Beth's current book project.

There are also pictures of Poles dancing, like this one ...

... which was a reflection of what was actually happening in real time at the top of the stairs.

Here are some of the musicians and the soundman's prow. The fiddler in the middle is Cathy Whitesides, who wrote a gorgeous tune ("My Cabin Home") which is a Pratie Head staple.

When I was done playing, I thought I'd go hide somewhere, but welcoming hands kept reaching out to me and inviting me to dance, so for a happy hour and a half I tried to remember my right from my left and not ruin the elegant patterns being traced on the floor by the experts.

The last dance was, of course, a waltz, and by then I couldn't take any more. I am an inveterate wallflower: I skulked happily on the sidelines.

My eyes teared up at the noble sight of human beings, aging as gracefully and bravely as they can, coming together to have a good time and hurting nobody in the process. Motion and music, what an excellent combination. At that moment I was quite in love with my species.

We were advised to stop by the kitchen on the way out: Polish delicacies were being cooked and served.

Tables of very Aryan young people eating and yelling lustily made me a little bit nervous.

Then Kimberly took me to a farmer's market, where she bought kale and I lusted after home-made toffee.

While shopping we mused over the vagaries of life, which brought to her husband Paul the Squamous Monster four years ago; said monster may have in large part departed but the repercussions will endure forever, and let me remind you NEVER to ask anyone who's had cancer: "So, are you cured?" It's either morbid curiosity or a gauche reminder that YOU are tired of hearing about, or worrying about, the sickness.

I cheerfully ogled this handsome purveyor of austere local vegetables.

More foodstuffs (see "handcrafted groceries" in previous post) I don't think will be coming to North Carolina any time soon: bruschettini handcrafted from octopus & chickpea, rhubarb with sage blossoms, egg with wood sorrel, and stinging nettle pesto.

Worm tea: it doesn't say so, but I infer it is not for human consumption.

Finally, utterly overwhelmed with all that the day had contained, I fled to Kerry Park and the company of my fellow tourists.

And I got one of them to take my picture so I could prove to myself that I really did make this trip across the country to play beautiful English country dance music and be housed by kindly, generous fellow bloggers and be moved to tears by the kindness of strangers.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Trip to Seattle: Pike Place Market

Friday I walked down to the Pike Place Market. I didn't take any pictures while I was inside - it's very crowded and noisy, what with all the fish-throwing and the ancient hippies singing and banging on their guitars etc. - but I was interested to see that there was a tiny view of the sound from a park adjacent.

Seattle is one of the many cities which built highways along its waterfront, thereby ruining a priceless asset. Doesn't it amaze you that, for instance, real estate along the Hudson River in Manhattan, which would have been so gorgeous, is covered with cars going a zillion miles an hour?

The highway, as you see, cuts humans off from any contact with the water. Traffic is deafening down by the Pike Place Market. But you can get a few pretty glimpses of the Puget sound and its many activities.

Where did these two women get these baby mass-transport devices?

It was on my trip to Pike Place Market that I bought:

  • Two kinds of local cheese for $16 per pound;

  • Local hazelnuts, 4 ounces for $4.50;

  • A map of Paris, for my July Yiddish-Immersion adventure at the Bibliothèque Medem;

  • A pierogi which was too salty to eat, but it sure was big;

  • A postcard for Menticia which I addressed, put a stamp on, and lost.

There was a store full of clever animal placards (example: "Dogs have Masters, Cats have Staff") and a quilting store I'd have drooled over when I was a fiber-arts maven in early years. There was a not-good bakery or two. The fish was the freshest I've ever seen anywhere except pulled in out of the ocean in front of my eyes, and I lusted for some, but I wasn't going to walk back up Queen Anne's Hill with my arms wrapped around a prize like that.

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Group houses are full of people who make great first impressions

Speaking of dating, my daughter Melina wrote last night:
I actually believe that your first 24-hour period of knowing someone can set the tone for the entire relationship - that in just a few formative hours you can set up power dynamics that last for years, and during those hours both of you decide exactly which of your personal psychological defects will be activated, enhanced or healed by the relationship.
Do you agree? It's true some people make you feel funny and smart and kind, right off the bat, while others make you (or me anyway) feel shrill and neurotic, and that's crucial information! But after brief ruminating, I have some initial objections to the 24-hour test period:
  • A first meeting can be haphazard (I met my first love, my own El Compositor, over the steam tables at breakfast in college) or - as with the internet sites - intentional. Preparation does not necessarily improve a first meeting, but it does alter it!

  • Some people show you their best at first meeting (wait in vain for more, this is all there is) and some unfold over time. Some seem, at first, to be sad-sacks or jerks, and yet turn out to be wonderful. Some seem wonderful at first and then turn out to be awful jerks. This is because

  • There are introverts and there are extroverts; there are clutch hitters and then there are choke artists. Which leads to Melina's father's excellent observation:

  • "Group houses [and, let me add, internet-spawned dating situations] are full of people who make great first impressions."
It's possible I'm more against decisions based on "first impressions" - or "first chemistry" - because the slings and arrows of my own life have beat me up so much I no longer trust in my intuition.

That said, some initial impressions will never be erased and should never be forgiven. If a guy insults you, even in jest, on the first date; if he leaves a chintzy tip for the waitress; if he brags about his SAT scores or his car; if he turns on the television; if he drinks 18 drinks; well, then, enough said...

So, what do YOU think? I'm really interested - since my own intuition is shot, I'd like to hear from yours...

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Trip to Seattle: The Seattle Center is a ripoff

This view, taken from Kerry Park (where, Kimberly and Paul informed me, all the picture postcards are snapped) had me curious about the Space Needle.

It's Seattle's most famous landmark, a Jetsons-looking thing built for the 1962 World's Fair.

Oh, wait, I forgot, some of you don't know the Jetsons. Here they are. Observe the lower right corner of the picture...

So when my hike in the Cascades didn't pan out, I came back to town and visited the Seattle Center. I parked near my hostesses' current site (she's an architect) and walked over to this tourist hub.

How much do you think it costs to go up in the Space Needle? $5, $7? No, try FOURTEEN DOLLARS. So I didn't go up. Why spend $14, when I can look down on the Space Needle from above for FREE?

While I was there, I saw a lot of tourists go up to the window, stare in astonishment at the price, and walk away. Seattle, you are shaking us plebes down mercilessly. Shame on you.

The Science Fiction Museum on the grounds was, obviously, designed by Frank Gehry. I can't report on what's inside - probably Yoda, etc. - because it cost $13 and again, shake-down.

So I circled around it from the outside.

OK, friends: This is the only free entertainment at the Seattle Center. This guy has some marionettes and a boombox. He slowly raises and lowers all the marionettes at the same time over and over while a very distorted recording of Stephen Stills plays loudly on the boombox. Well, you get what you pay for.

This picture sums up my experience at the Seattle Center. My advice: skip it.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Love Update

I believe Borracho may be out of the picture. We're down to exchanging two-word emails, two days apart. I think the bottom blew out of the whole thing. I am a bit relieved, to tell you the truth. I actually believe that your first 24-hour period of knowing someone can set the tone for the entire relationship - that in just a few formative hours you can set up power dynamics that last for years, and during those hours both of you decide exactly which of your personal psychological defects will be activated, enhanced or healed by the relationship.

Undaunted by the disappearance of Borracho, and supported by that "everybody's doing it" feeling, I joined a personals website. By putting my picture up on said website (all the while reciting to myself in a soothing tone "everybody's doing it") I earned 200 "points" which they claimed I could then use to contact "men."

For some reason, the inventors of this personals website made it extremely complicated. They seemed very afraid that it would be taken over by advertising-bots and also that people would put up their email addresses directly and thus avoid the need for their stupid "points" system in the first place.

Seeing as how I was a little nervous about the whole thing to begin with, I spent the whole evening trawling the website in states of alternating delight, that so many men existed, and panic, that I was unable to manipulate the website in order to approach the ones I liked and avoid the ones I did not. It was like being in an bar, if the bar was underwater, and you were surrounded by 50 David Blaines and you had one hand tied behind your back.

Readers, I think I spent my 200 points well - I spent them on El Compositor, of whom more will be ere long told.

Trip to Seattle: Day trip to the Cascades

The whole reason I flew into Seattle on Wednesday was so I could hike in the Cascades on Thursday. I had the whole day free.

Kimberly and Paul had a mint-condition (i.e. perhaps not personally field-tested) guidebook to hikes around Seattle. The guy who wrote it was a pretentious snob. He thought he was Henry David Thoreau or something - a rugged individualist, etc., nobler than ordinary humans.

He looked down on the places where the plebes go. Well, I'm a plebe, so I decided to go see Snoqualmie Falls. Or, at least, go hiking around the Snoqualmie Pass.

This is not my picture. Why? Read on...

I drove my car 50 miles east of Seattle and took what appeared to be the correct exit. There, I was overwhelmed by the sight of several gigantic parking lots in an unlovely chain, ringed by huge drifts of filthy snow.

The drifts of filthy snow were ringed in turn by quonset-hut style commercial buildings. (You can see the red roofs just above the snow piles.)

There was nobody around except for a few truckers.

Where were the throngs of tourists? Perhaps I should have been asking myself: "What do the other plebes know that I don't know?"

Way at the back of this picture you can see the ranger station - closed.

CLOSED? Why closed?

A poster on the kiosk gave directions: go under the overpass and take the first right, a driveway leading to the trailhead.

I took the first right, but instead of leading into a national park it went up into a "Members Only" ski resort dotted with "chateaux" crowded together like silly little mushrooms.

So I turned around and retraced my steps. I finally found, between the ski resort and the overpass, this unmarked driveway. It was unmarked and also unplowed.

I'd driven for almost an hour and this was my whole, entire plan for the day, so I didn't give up so easily. I left my car by the snowdrift and struggled a little way up the road, where this sign warned of Video Surveillance.

I went further and found the parking lot, and in the parking lot I found the kiosk (right) with information about the trail and probably warnings about your dogs etc.

You can see by my shadow that I was looming far above it! Since it was sticking out a foot above the snow, it made a fine bench; I sat on it and sent disgruntled text messages (reception: four bars) to friends and family.

I continued struggling my way up the hill for a while, but noted that
  1. If there were, in fact, trails, they were unmarked (or they were marked somewhere under 6 feet of snow);

  2. The sun was warm, the snow was getting softer and softer, and I was falling farther and farther into it with each step;

  3. My favorite orange sneakers were getting very wet;

  4. Coming down was sure to be harder than going up.

I don't like giving up, but I also didn't want to fall into a giant snow drift and be found weeks later by hungry dogs, so I retraced my steps...

... not without sinking into the snow up to my knees many, many times...

I took myself back to town and proceeded to Plan B, which will be the topic of tomorrow's travelogue.

Moral of this story: The Cascades in early May? I don't think so.

Previous day's Seattle adventure.

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