Sunday, December 24, 2006

Green grow the rushes, O

I can’t get this song out of my head:

"I'll sing you one, O
Green grow the rushes, O

What is your one, O?
One is one and all alone
and ever more shall be so!

I'll sing you a two, O
Green grow the rushes, O

What is your two, O?
Two, two, the lilly white boys, clothed all in green, ho ho

One is one and all alone
and ever more shall be so!"

Steed is accompanying me to a house party at the estate of a famous book collector. Then I’m off to Antigua for New Year’s. (I told Steed I was going to Bermuda, so shh.)

Compliments of the season to all. See you in the new year.

"Here comes a candle to light you to bed. . ."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Oh My Stars . . . .

I cannot get over the list of birthdays for December 18:

Keith Richards
Brad Pitt
Steven Spielberg
Katie Holmes
Christina Aguilera

as well as Ramsey Clark, Gillian Armstrong (I just saw Mrs. Soffel again),and Leonard Maltin.

Yes, and many, many other people, I know. But there is quite a confluence of something going on for that one birth day.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Waaay Behind the TIMEs

Is it even news any more who the TIME person of the year is? Can you name last year's cover? (I couldn’t—it is a strange mix of an Irish rock star inserted between a very wealthy couple. Very odd.) I have never been a TIME or Newsweek reader, but the Person of the Year cover used to make some interesting noise in the ritual of the year’s closing.

This year, “TIME Person of the Year: You” feels like the gasping, desperate “we get it” of OM. Does anything sound more square than “For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.” Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.”

Ugh. "Welcome to your world" is a sentence so lame it almost makes me want to close down the newly opened shop. And it’s really not a contest. There is a deep need for the resources, expertise, and talents of professional journalism. If OM wasn’t reeling from the scandals of Rathergate and the likes of Stephen Glass, it wouldn’t doubt itself so.

What sets the blog apart from the Op-Ed page and page one isn’t “beating the pros at their own game,” but the sheer creativity that is part of the blog essence. Blogs are fabulously individual and creative. Even just the naming of a blog requires thought that can be pushed to wit. The form just begs for and rewards connections and allusions to other cultural forms. Even the more journalistic blogs, like the extraordinary posts from the soldiers in Iraq, show a wide range of sensibility from their titles: All Along the Watch Tower, Hello from Hell, Blogs of War—each telling a story imbued with a personal sensibility.

The real point is this: the blog/vlog has unleashed an explosion of creativity upon the world--geographically, not metaphorically--the reach, depth, and scope of which has never been seen. What will this torrent of creative energy lead too? When the ripple effects of the user-generated revolution can be detected and articulated, that will be the story of the century.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Does Your Mother Know You're Out, Rufus Wainwright?

I went to the Met the other evening to see Rigoletto (thank you fabulous neighbors). I had never seen that opera, but on the walk over to Lincoln Center I remembered the classic Odd Couple episode when Richard Fredericks guest stars as a friend of Oscar’s. He has agreed to star in a little opera that Felix is producing, when he gets hurt during a softball game with Oscar. “You broke my Rigoletto,” Felix wails.

I like pop culture introductions to classical music. It’s a low-barrier entry way for many people to see what's beyond. I’m also a fan of high-low art crossovers.

An embodiment of that exchange is the singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright. The next evening Steed and I went to The Wainwright Family & Friends Christmas Show at Carnegie Hall. Steed was the Rufus fan first, and bought me Want One when we went to see Rufus at the Beacon last year.

The Christmas Show is unique because it included his sisters Martha and Lily and Aunt Sloan, and guests Jimmy Fallon, Teddy Thompson, Laurie Anderson, and Lou Reed.

Rufus is still the centerpiece of the show—his chatter, his faux ‘where are the lyrics’ ‘is this mike on’ confusion is all part of the performing persona. Part jester, part prima donna, he's charming because he knows just how far to push it and when to pull back.

How can you describe the Rufus voice? It is very distinct. It’s a clear, pointed sound, with a nasal but not unappealing undertone. He swells note to note in well controlled verbal scoops. His sound has a sexiness that pretty much defies gender categories.

He sang “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” channeling Rosemary Clooney. If he had been in a black strapless dress, it would have seemed perfectly natural. His "Cantique de Noel," with a beautiful piano accompaniment, was elegant and very moving.

There were other great numbers: Martha and Jimmy Fallon singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside”; Laurie Anderson droning a hurdy-gurdy to all verses of “O Come All Ye Faithful” which she graced with the O Superman inflection; and Sloan singing a knockout, uplifting, joyous rendition of Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas”

And then there was Lou.

He comes out wearing a bright yellow, wild jacket. Must be his idea of festive. He sings "White Christmas" with Rufus. And then a "Silent Night" that was hallowed, in its way. His driving rock beat under a jagged—jarring semi shout of "Silent Night." And yet a seeming respect for the words—all 3 verses. “Son of God, Love’s pure light. Radiant beams from they holy face; with the dawn of redeeming Grace. Jesus Lord at thy birth. Jesus Lord at they birth.” All with.----The Reed rhyyyyth-mnic----phrasing.That----we know---and love. (He is our aural e. e. cummings)

In a recent interview Rufus said that in the new year he is headed to the Alps to work on his next commissioned piece: An opera. Imagine that. “Caro nome che il mio cor/festi primo palpitar; le delizie dell’ amor/mi di sempre rammentar!”

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Q.Q.F. File: New Orleans King Cake

This week Q.Q.F. is ordering a King Cake from the famous Haydel's Bakery in New Orleans. It is a sumptuous, festive, traditional King Cake, with purple, green, and yellow fondant icing, Mardi Gras beads and doubloons, “the baby in the cake,” and a porcelain trinket. It will brighten any holiday dessert table, and it is a way to help the recovering NO economy. They ship overnight almost anywhere.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Artful Moments

Steed is just back from London (very hush hush) in time to accompany me to the opening of the Whitney’s group show at Altria, “Burgeoning Geometries: Constructed Abstractions.” We are not of the New York art world, although I have dabbled in sculpture and oils. But we are happy to exercise our fine art muscles when the opportunity arises. The space is large and industrial, and probably looks best in the day when filled with light. But the impersonality quickly evaporates as the human element floods in. This is not the establishment, but the young artists looking for their place in it all, and in relation to one another.

The show is aptly called—geometries are burgeoning everywhere you look. The pieces are dimensional by nature, with textures coming from “the materials of everyday life: cut paper, felt, discarded paint, straight pins, left-over Styrofoam, fluorescent lights, or cardboard,” as detailed in the press release. The pieces are testaments to labor-intensive hand-craft within larger installation visions. The press release again offers guidance, that the small, intricate elements are meant to “direct the viewer to the sprawling, interconnected nature of modern life.”

Steed liked the piece that combined a biological motif with the pink and red of a valentine card. And having thus connected personally, we took our leave.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Travels with Cadfael: Images Regained

(continued from TWC:The Camera, below.)

Roman cab rides, unlike their London counterparts, are one of the great cheap thrills still around. Cad and I were back at Santa Sabine in a flash. Running back to the cloister, I really thought I would see my camera sitting in the far corner of that ageless enclosure.

But no. It wasn’t there. My disposable camera was gone.

There was a caretaker of sorts lurking about—he had been moving around flowers from a recent wedding when we were there earlier. I said to Cadfael, “Go speak Italian to him.” Cad explained the situation, while I beamed hopefully. But no, no. He hadn’t seen any camera—-no one had turned anything in.

Hmm. He was looking nervous. I was not convinced.

Cad, let’s ask at the rectory. (S. Sabine is the central church of the Dominican order.)

Yes, but they will likely all be at dinner.

We clanged the huge brass knocker on the enormous wooden door (which felt like Kong’s gates on Skull Island) several times. No answer.

We were walking away, when we heard the door open behind us, and out stepped a stunning figure in gleaming white robes and Billy Idol hair. He was Gandalf after Moria.

Yes—Yes, Can I help you? Cad spoke Italian, with a monk inflection—and the brother insisted we all go back together to look for the camera. We looked in the church, we swept through the cloister. Nothing. Then we encountered the shifty-looking caretaker. The brother spoke to him out of ear-shot, and then shifty went behind a room screen in the corner and came out with my camera. He could lie to the two Americans, but not to that force of goodness.

Brilliant. Two days of memories returned. We thanked the vision in white profusely, and headed for the Piazza Navona for dinner.

I noticed 4 more pictures had been snapped. When I had it developed, it was pictures of the floor of S.Sabine, and of the caretaker himself.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Q.Q.F. File

That would be “Quite, Quite, Fantastic,” of course. This week's entry is the live blogging party for Studio 60 over at Lance Mannion. The regular commenters (scroll way to down to see) took some issue with the guest blogger’s lack of knowledge about the show. But the layered bon mots—-minute by minute, if you refresh your browser often enough—-add a layer of actual witticism that is missing from Sorkin’s dramedy. Comedrama? Therapy session?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Travels with Cadfael: The Camera

Steed was off visiting one of his many Aunties when I met up with Cadfael in Rome. We headed for the Cimetero acattolico so I could pay respects to Keats and Shelley. It was extremely hot for September, and when we came upon the a.k.a Protestant Cemetery we made a deeply unfortunate miscalculation of direction: we were just down the block from the main entrance, but we thought it was around the corner. We were midway along the opposing wall before we realized we were 180 degrees from where we needed to be. That wall. That relentless, endless, overwhelming wall. We walked and walked, and still weren’t at the gate. Little cutouts in the stone taunted us with slivers of views of the inside. Still we walked and sweated—-the wall was winning, the stiff upper lip was quivering. Finally the stone gave way to iron.

We went to Keats first, of course. Anyone who cares about poetry would be moved. The tombstone is something you can embrace as a touchstone for everything you love about that great talent. I took many pictures; Cad took many pictures of me with the stone.

I need to stop for one point: the tombstone has a wrong date. Keats died on Feb. 23, 1822. The stone says Feb. 24. I have never seen anyone point this out. There’s a typo on the sacred grave marker of the god of many English majors and it’s never mentioned? Very odd.

Next we found Shelley. Yes, there were newly dried roses on the stone. More photos, Click, Click, Click.

On to a swirl of visiting: Up the Aventine to the famous keyhole in the Knight’s of Malta building, Click; into the sublime S. Sabine, Click; a temporary rest in its cloister Click, Click, so Cad could get on his cell, and I could write a postcard to Steed; then jumping on the Metropolitana, over to the Lateran.

In front of the formidable entrance, we sat savoring some luscious bianco sotttobosco with a Barolo we had picked up (a very different experience from tea with no lemon and marzipan delights.) We were just ready to journey on, when I reached into my bag for my camera—and it wasn’t there. No, no, that can’t be. “Turn it inside out.” No camera.

I went white. Two days' worth of pictures. Keats. Shelley. Me. Cad calmly said we could retrace our steps tomorrow, and take a whole new set of pictures. No. No. Not the wall again. I can’t face the wall.

Think, M.A. When did you last have it?

In the cloister of S. Sabine.

Okay—we’ll go back now. Maybe it's still there.

Cadfael--the gentlemen of monks.

So tired. But we’ve got to try. Back to the Aventine. To be continued.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Anthony Minghella and Morse

Most serious TV watchers Tivo to control their video destiny. I much prefer the chance of coming upon something. I don’t need to control every facet of my life—I like letting the universe have some sway.

By chance I surfed over Channel 13 running a completely random Inspector Morse episode the other night. It is an exquisite series: Oxford as character; decent mystery plotting; unabashed use of classical music, from Morse's opera CDs to the strong incidental music. I hadn't seen a Morse since it first ran, and I was instantly attracted, again, by the bold, unsettled, disorienting narrative snippets that begin the episodes, in between the black credit slates. On this slate (for “Deceived by Flight”) was "written by Anthony Minghella." I did not know this. It’s those layers of discovery, as you move through experience and connect your world, that has always made TV an interactive medium for me.

Morse. Devoted opera aficionado. Minghella. I am squarely in the “Bravo” camp for Minghella’s staging of Madama Butterfly this season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in a production he first staged in London. All of his stunning, bold visual effects serve the story and transform the hallowed art form for a 21-century visual sensibility. Steed remarked, mid sips of a Louis Roederer 1999 Cristal Brut after Act 1, that the story had never been as cogent as it was that night. I quite agree.

Technorati Profile

Monday, November 27, 2006

Travels with Cadfael

Meet Cadfael—a Benedictine monk I have traveled with from time to time. (My monk isn’t really named Cadfael—that’s the nom de blog I have given him. Although there are similarities to Ellis Peters/Pargeter’s creation, especially the worldliness.) Because he is studying for an advanced degree in Rome, he is often at leisure between terms and free to travel. And we became great travel partners--it was just one of those things. We met in Solesmes a few years ago, when I was studying Gregorian chant and he was a visiting American monk. But that’s a tale for a second season flashback.

This is a Rome snapshot. On my first visit to the ecclesiastical city, Cad was a living audioguide with a wicked laughtrack. He was gracious in revisiting the landmarks he had seen too many times, including, of course, St. Peter's. There was one blip of actual excitement when we came upon John XXIII in an altar. Cad: “This is huge. I heard he had been brought up, but I thought it was an urban legend.” Hip monk humor—it makes me laugh. Lots of Cadfael travels to come—stay tuned.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

No More Apologies

Longtime friends know what a fan I am of the first 2 seasons of Miami Vice. Since Michael Mann hit the big time, I no longer feel the need to apologize for it. I’m thrilled that SleuthTV is replaying them in order. I have just stumbled on an episode that guest stars Viggo Mortensen, Annette Bening, and Lou-Diamond Phillips, and PHILLIPS is given the place of honor as the last guest star with that little special "and Lou-Diamond." Next up came the ep with story by Dick Wolf, guesting Melanie Griffith, Veronica Cartwright, George Takei, and Bill Boggs. It’s the Love Boat of the crime set.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A New York Left Slugfest

Steed and I recently went to the Atlantic Monthly’s reception for the New York leg of their Ideas Tour celebrating their 150th year. It was at the New York Public Library, and the proceedings were elegant and festive, as you would want, including a proper toast with champagne (which, to Steed’s delight, was not overchilled). Revelers were also invited to go to the panels the next day. These events were folded into Paul Holdengraber’s fabulous NYPL Live! series.

On the sign-up sheets, I saw an old acquaintance—Walter Benn Michaels, who would be debating Katha Pollitt and her review of his book, The Trouble with Diversity. I knew Professor Michaels almost 2 decades ago when he was a visiting prof. at Rutgers from UC Berkeley, shortly before he published “Against Theory” in Critical Inquiry. (He’s now at University of Illinois-Chicago.) He brought literary theory into my world, and it turned out I had quite a knack for synthesizing the work of Stanley Fish, Norman Holland, Wolfgang Iser, et al. (At that time, I didn’t question why one would want to do that, which now seems to be the only question.) And with Michaels’s recommendation, I was accepted to the doctoral program in English at Berkeley—but that’s another story.

I knew Michaels when he was a newly minted hotshot prof. On the library’s stage, he was the middle-age establishment, still gangly, but no more glasses. The topic was not his literary acumen, but his position that "the Left” is dissipating its energy on race and gender issues at the expense of leading the revolution we need for an equitable redistribution of the wealth. He arrives at this tenet with some sweeping notions like “race does not exist,” and here’s where the Left, voiced by Katha Pollitt, takes huge issue with him. As did Scott Stossel, of the Atlantic, who was moderating.

This is not a political blog, and I am a political pragmatist in no particular camp. The discussion was animated and hyperarticulated on both sides, and enjoyable to see. I was struck by several things: I was unaware that anyone seriously discusses “the exploitation of the worker” anymore outside of old Woody Allen films (so I guess that’s one of my limitations); Pollitt was particularly concerned about African Americans, of whom there were 2 in an audience of 120 (or so); “the poor” were often invoked—“they” are in great need of saving. This academic thing is not my world. I decided to avoid the one clich√© I had control of, and did not approach Michaels with the “I was your student” babble. Besides, Steed had a pedicab waiting for me (up theme music).