Monday, November 2, 2015

First Monday with Characters

Susan C. Price, recently in Italy
This was REQUESTED, so...if it’s not funny or interesting, blame the requestor :-) (Oh, and yes, i have a sort of shopping...interest / addiction / whatever. In the years when i was working it made sense, as i wore something different five days a week. i still have the appetite...but not the...oh, lets call it “need”…I buy things anyway...and...i’m working on it, so judge away...but don’t expect me to listen.)
    Italy. i went the first time 1971-ish with my aunt and uncle of dear memory...(except...they were always grumpy about me not coming to see them enough, phoning regularly was NOT ENOUGH, and each visit had to begin with the “minefield of guilt” as i called it, about my failure to visit, before we could get to just hanging out with each other)...but they did take a 21-yr-old – sometimes grumpy, bitchy (did not drink wine , wanted water with ice...) – with them to France and Italy. And we drove and i am good with maps and directions, once i conquered my tummy – reading in a car never its strong suit. That first time was Rome, and Greve in Chianti country, where some pals of theirs owned a restored villa(!), and Florence. They kept pointing to “how high the water came” in Florence...i was confused and had always thought that the 1966 Italian flood had happened to Venice...I bought a fine leather purse in Rome, which i thought was cool but turned out to go all schlumpfy and lost its shape when it sat on the floor. I bought heavy art books and annoyed the customs officer in New York because i listed all my purchases and he would have to assess a fine. I knew that, i just didn’t understand why he was so angry?
    Next time...2000, mike and i rented a car at the Milan train station and drove up Lake Como to Tremezzo. Frightening narrow roads with SUV and big buses bearing down, tore off a side mirror. Lake Como is lovely. My brother says he prefers Lake Maggiore. I could not imagine, i do not NEED, a better lake than Lake Como! When we arrived at our lovely corner high-ceilinged hotel room with views across the lake to Bellagio and down the lake to the town of Como, there was a plate of very fine cookies on the bureau, and written in chocolate, “Welcome to Tremezzo,” and i said “I am never going home!”
    We also stayed in Milan. Some do not like a busy business city. We loved it, and the business is largely fashion, so what’s not to like? We got to go to La Scala, they were having a touring production of West Side Story in english! Before this trip, we kept asking our Italian restaurateur pal in Santa Monica, “recommend a good restaurant in Milan,” and he finally said in exasperation, “you can’t get a bad meal in Italy.” He is, and was, correct. I bought suits, shawls, and an Armani jacket, at Armani. It still hangs in the back of the closet, as i don’t wear suits...and...ahem, can’t close the jacket anymore. Mike bought me a lovely pale lavender and green embroidered shawl, a Kenzo. I take it out and look at it now and then.
    In 2006, we went to the chocolate festival in Perugia, instantly overwhelmed with the over 60 booths of small chocolate vendors i had never heard of. We had a fancy meal in the excellent hotel. Then one at the excellent recommended restaurant down the street. The third day, we said, “We just need a salad and a pizza!” Found it – the best arugula salad and pizza...ever. The restaurant was not exactly open or closed. The three guys “working” there were watching soccer on tv. I drew them a picture of themselves on the paper tablecloth. They helped us stuff paper napkins in the wine bottle we were not finished with, to carry it home to our room. The next day, the concierge helped us hire a driver who spoke some English to get us to the three cashmere factories i had found in my research. At the end of the day, I did my totals and cried, “I’ve spent a full half of my clothing allowance, and we haven’t been to Florence yet!” Mike said calmly, “Well, half here, half in Florence, and half in New York.” I said, “I like your math.”
    The funniest bit was where we did buy chocolate and carefully separated it into 5 packages and asked the concierge’s assistance in shipping them to pals at home. “Si, si,” she said. They never arrived. Multiple emails were sent, “Oh, the Fed Ex truck had an accident, and your stuff fell out”...the other excuses were equally imaginative. In Florence i bought more cashmere and more clothes, and a watch, but i needed it, the watch i was traveling with chose the best moment to die. And gloves at Madova. And had a wonderful suite in a Ferragamo hotel, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Arno and the Ponte Veccio.
    In 2011, my brother was on a Fulbright in Lisbon, so we went to Lisbon, then Barcelona, then Bologna. We picked Bologna because it had a reputation for great food and we had never been there. I found a cooking class via Travel Advisor, and we spent a fun day meeting in the market, touring all the vendors, then taking a taxi to the advisor’s home and cooking together all day. She is from Puerto Rico and attended Boston College, married to an Italian who teaches at the University of Bologna. At the end of our late, long lunch of what we had prepared, she walked us back to town (one of Bologna’s charms is that it is eminently walkable), pointing out the old waterways one can view from portholes in walls. We are still pals with her.
    This year we flew into Milan and the next day took an 8-hour train ride down the eastern coast, along the Adriatic, to Lecce...the “heel “ of the “boot.” (A pal alerted me to Peck, in Milan...a wonderful deli right next to our hotel, so we had stocked up and i brought a knife in my luggage, mike forgot a bottle opener, but we bought one.) The train ride was fun and quiet and we had great views and a fabulous picnic.
    I had started the planning for this trip as we usually do, buying some actual books in an actual store on the areas we are thinking about. As i read about Southern Italy, the west coast, with Salerno, Sicily, etc. did not interest me as much. We don’t do “love scenery,” “great hikes, beaches,”...generally, we don’t do the outdoors. But the description of Lecce said, “the Florence of the South,” and lovely. So ok then. And it was cheap in comparison to Florence. Lecce is walkable and the food is good and then we were done. The room had a complicated light switch system that we never fully mastered and 20-ft ceilings. Their website features a former guest prominently, Richard Gere, but he was not there. A short flight and a lost earring later, we were in Florence. Actually had a fabulous hamburger at a fast food restaurant in the airport at Brindisi!
    Florence was, even though the “high season” of summer was long past, full of groups, troups, tribes of folks meekly following a person with flag or furled umbrella held high, the guide. Yuck. Not our thing. We evaded, avoided, and shopped and ate and saw the Bargello sculpture museum, the Medici gardens. wonderful gelato across the Arno, and had interesting experiences in leather stores and the Archive of the City of Florence. I love artichokes and our guide book recommended Antica Noe, wonderful, and their t-shirts are a perfect purple, so i bought one for me and one for my granddaughter. Found a new store that makes flats to order. I got fitted and got to pick from about 100 different leathers and trims...two pairs, should arrive here before the end of this year. It will be interesting to see how Customs charges me, and if the State of California requests its share of taxes, which they are entitled to do on everything one buys outside the state! The best time was a dinner at a Florentine home chef’s apartment, Ms Patriczia. I found her via and she was charming and talented. Homemade pasta and pesto and five more courses. Four other Florentines came also and the discussion was lively and sometimes quite sad. One had studied in New York, and came home raring to get funding donated for the Opera and other important cultural events. But wealthy Italians hide their funds. And donating is not a habit, and there are no jobs in culture and it is very sad. Patriczia and I are now facebook pals and she has received my ginger cookie recipe.
    We might be done flying across the pond. We might be done with Italy. I don’t know. I still love New York and the theatre.
Bettina Sperry, preparing for winter
Winter is sliding in once again. This past few weeks have been about getting electricity to one of the dog buildings for warmth and light, finally. I also had a non-electrical heat source installed in the event of an electrical outage during the cold months. I do like being prepared and able to manage extreme weather with the assuredness that, in the event of an emergency, the farm is relatively stable.
    The new foal, Envious, has spent the past month at O’Sullivan Farms in Charles Town, WV. She’s been on the receiving end of training fit for a Little Princess and Miss Independence with a bad attitude. She is now kind and gentle, permits me to pick up her legs, and gives hugs. What a doll she is...finally. Thank you, John, Vince, Virginia, and anyone else who has helped her connect with the human spirit. She was one hellava mess for a few months.
    It is time to start cleaning up some of the fencing around here, and I am so looking forward to that. I’ve also done some pre-winter gardening and prep work for the rose garden, which I so look forward to as well, come spring 2016. The two new cows arrived a few days ago. The bull was removed, but it became clear that he didn’t want to leave the farm. He turned out to be a lot of work for his former owner – getting him out of here was a day’s work and involved some upheaval on the farm. He has left his mark on Franklin Hill Farm. He will be missed. New jellybeans (calves) should start cropping up in the next five to eight months.
    I do love my farm.
William Silveira, in conversation
A little over two years ago I joined a Great Conversations discussion group (formerly known as Great Books) at the College of the Sequoias, in Visalia, California. I have enjoyed it very much. Around last January, I believe, a new participant joined our group. We were all sitting at tables that formed a square and this new participant was sitting directly across from me. I thought that it might be Jim (James) Willwerth, a former fraternity brother at Cal. But I rejected the idea inasmuch as the Willwerth I had known had, upon graduation, gone to work for Time magazine and had quickly become one of their staff writers. A man with that kind of career surely couldn’t have decided to settle in Visalia. But I could see that he was looking at me as well. So, as soon as our meeting ended I approached him and asked him if he weren’t Jim Willwerth, my former fraternity brother. Indeed he was.
    Jim is living in Visalia with his delightful wife, Ully, who is a physical therapist working with people in their homes here in Tulare County. Last Sunday we joined Ully and Jim at the Ol Buckaroo Inn in Three Rivers for breakfast. The kitchen is an enclosed trailer and service is on tables arranged on open ground overlooking the Kaweah River. Three Rivers is a small community, but has a large number of independent, free thinkers, many of whom are very involved in the arts and music. These people add to the atmosphere of the setting. Jim and Ully like to hike and had been hiking in the Little Dome area of Sequoia National Park the day before. They had had dinner at the Buckaroo on their way back to Visalia and thoroughly enjoyed it. The owner came out and danced for his customers.
    Before leaving home for breakfast I decided to do some Google research on Jim. On the Amazon site I discovered four books Jim had written. They all sound fascinating. The books are: Jones: Portrait of a Mugger (Oct. 1974), Eye in the Last Storm: A Reporter’s Journal of One Year in Southeast Asia (1972), Badge of Madness: The True Story of A Psychotic Cop (2015),and American Tragedy: The Uncensored Story of the O.J. Simpson Defense (co-authored with Lawrence Schiller). Having been a judge, I was interested in drawing Jim out on the Simpson criminal trial. I wasn’t disappointed. Jim is a great story teller. I learned a great deal about how authors find New York publishers and what makes books marketable. Schiller was a well-connected Hollywood insider who had most of the facts. He hired Jim to write the book and gave him the facts. This book had an excellent review in The New York Times, which I was able to read by typing in the book name in the Amazon search bar. Now I have to read it!
    On October 14, Marylin and I drove to Porterville, where we joined Joe and Shirley Hickman for lunch. Shirley was a very young and new faculty member at Tulare Union High School when Morris, Jim Rix, and I were juniors and seniors there. She taught Speech, Drama, English, and Modern Dance. While Shirley may have retired from teaching, she continues to work at writing. She has published several books; her latest is Is Everybody Happy Now? This book is a sequel to Don’t Be Give Up, the story of her early childhood years in the then coal mining town of Crested Butte, Colorado. Is Everybody Happy Now? begins with the Skufca family move to Gunnison, Colorado in 1947, when Shirley is about to enter the sixth grade, and ends with her eighth-grade school graduation. I will do a more complete review for a later posting on the blog. After lunch we all enjoyed a good, long conversation ranging over many subjects – including the then recently televised debate among the Democratic candidates for President in 2016.
The Rogers, under  inspection
October is a busy month for us here in Costa Rica. First is the weather. The change is coming but the rainy season will not give up easily. We work around the hard afternoon rains on projects from the yard to my car, which has to be inspected every October. This year I found I needed a lot of work done and, having failed the test once and spending far more than I like to fix everything, I went back on the 26th full of apprehension, to try once more. Well, the re-inspection wasn’t bad! It cost half as much as I expected, and they only checked what had not passed previously. I was in and out in about 10 minutes. This video tries to sell what a happy experience vehicular inspections are in Costa Rica [5:27]:

    We have decided we are spending far too much on our supplemental medical insurance. We go to the doctor in the States once a year, for which we use Medicare, whick pays nothing outside of the US. For doctors in Costa Rica we use its government-run universal healthcare system, Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, known as CAJA. I’ve been researching various supplemental plans to see which one might be best for us.
    My wife Janie will be going back to the States for Thanksgiving, and our dog (Del) and I will be left home alone. I will miss her but will be able to get some things done that have been on the back burner. I’m hoping to get some writing done during those ten days also.
    That is about all from CR.
                                                                Pura Vida from Ed & Janie
Dawn Burke, in northwest Arkansas
Hello, everyone, from northwest Arkansas. The Fall craft fairs have come and gone. We are having some nice Fall colors. October 11th brought the return of The Walking Dead and, though plenty may disagree, it is one of our favorite shows and so far it is quite a season!
    As I write this, Halloween is almost upon us and the kids are looking forward to it.
    Soon, sadly, will be the 2nd anniversary of my (our) Sweet Pa’s passing. I miss him and my Sweet Mum so much! Not much else to report at this time. Hope everyone is having a lovely Autumn!
André Duvall, in eastern Tennessee
For my two days of Fall Break, I travelled with a friend to the largest state park in Tennessee. Falls Creek Falls is located in the eastern portion of the state, between Nashville and Chattanooga. The park is home to multiple breathtaking waterfalls, including the 256-foot-tall waterfall that is the park’s namesake. The on-site inn and restaurant are situated beside a lake, allowing us to enjoy meals while viewing the changing colors of foliage and gently moving waters. The Cascades, pictured below, is not as high as the other waterfalls, but it is wide and had a stronger flow of water that day. I was able to easily and safely come very close to the top to sit, listen, and watch, unlike some of the other ones in the park that are too dangerous to approach because of falling rocks from above or loose rocks below.
    I’ve been preparing a solo concert/presentation centered around character pieces for piano. I presented a short version of this program in Maumelle, Arkansas two weeks ago and in Memphis last week. In a couple of weeks, I’ll present the program in Texarkana, Texas as part of the James Herrin Memorial Piano Festival. The following day, I’ll lead a piano pedagogy/literature discussion for the local music teachers’ association, followed by my assistance in adjudicating their student piano festivals/competition.
    My sister and her four children spent Halloween with me this year. It was too wet from rain to go to the much anticipated corn maze, but we did go on a fun, haunted trail, and visit two haunted houses, in addition to playing some board games and having a great opportunity to catch up.
Jim Rix, out and in of management
After 35 years in business, my company, SoftRix Corporation, has retired. I have shut down the computers, which had been running continuously for those many years. Now I manage the SoftRix office building in Nevada, which I had already been converting into five apartments, and manage my primary residence in the Tahoe Keys (in California) as a vacation rental. I have moved out of the apartment in the SoftRix building that I had stayed in when my house was rented and moved into a chalet in the woods a mile and a half from my house.

    Other than that I’m cruising along in Tahoe doing home maintenance and waiting and hoping for snow so that I can get back on the slopes. Also I’m thinking about treating myself to a retirement gift. I’m looking at a Prius. The last new vehicle I acquired was a green Toyota Tundra 15 years ago (although I have s second used red Tundra formally owned by my brother Dan and being taken care of by my son Lee until and when the green one dies – it has 235,000 miles on it).
    Because I’ve been eating a plant-based diet for more than 15 years I have little else to do compared to friends my age who spend an exorbitant amount of time dealing with illnesses and seeing doctors – neither of which I do. My friend Heather, for example, has been able to lose weight on a low-carb diet, but as a consequence of the high animal protein she eats suffers from dementia and has been on disability from her job for three months having to make weekly visits to her Doctor Dementia specialist in Reno (70 miles away), who recommends she eat more protein. I guess once you have dementia you are unable to understand that the brain gets its energy from one source only – carbohydrates. One can only wonder why Doctor Dementia apparently doesn’t get it either?
Chuck Smythe, in between
Between concert season and several minor home catastrophes, I haven’t had time for much else lately besides the enclosed review of this past weekend’s two Monteverdi concerts for the upcoming Second Monday Music column. I also plan to review the film The Martian.
    The catastrophes: a burst pipe in the basement, followed by many thousands in mold and asbestos abatement and reconstruction. A dead washing machine. The technician declared it unfixable (for $90!) so I fixed it myself. Ditto the TV remote. That’s my update, if you want to use such a sad tale. Fortunately, the concerts were also in there!
Geoffrey Dean, in matrimony
At the start of October I knew I would exchange wedding vows with Christa, but I was not sure that I would travel to Sofia later in the month to defend my doctoral dissertation. Thanks to the daily alerts on price fluctuations from, I was able to get a roundtrip ticket from Salt Lake City for under $1,000, making the trip a little more financially bearable. I actually had to go, or I would have lost the right to a defense, which must happen within four months of the academic jury’s appointment.
    The defense itself was a very positive experience, and I was grateful that some of my fellow Sofia University doctoral students could attend. I feel inspired to continue my research and to apply it in my music performances and teaching.
    The wedding ceremony and dinner before my brief Bulgarian sojourn was an elaborate event by my standards, with many guests and a number of close family members who had come to SLC especially for the occasion. It was very moving to feel so loved and supported on this important day for Christa and me. Thank you, Lynn (Christa’s mother) and Morris (my father), for speaking (and singing!). Thank you so much to everyone who was able to attend, and to everyone who wanted to but could not – we know you were thinking of us and we are very grateful for that!
Morris Dean, in tux & tenor voice
    In case you haven’t already figured it out, yes, the “When a Man Loves a Woman” lyric published on October 12 [“Second Monday Music: A lyrical inspiration”] was part of my reading at Geoffrey and Christa’s wedding. The reading part. The singing part was “What’s It All About?” inspired by the lyric of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s theme song for the 1966 movie Alfie, starring Michael Caine.

We ask you, Christa, what’s it all about?
You met a man his parents named Geoffrey
And for him and you things would never be
The same again; what’s that all about, sistah?

And you, Geoffrey, what’s this all about?
You met Christa and now you will find out:
things will never ever be the same again.
And may this beginning never ever end.

In matrimony, Christa, you will find out
what this thing with Geoffrey’s all about.
And you, Geoffrey, in matrimony you’ll find out
what this thing with Christa’s all about.

In matrimony both of you will find out
what it’s all about, what love’s all about,
what it’s like to be, instead of two, to be one;
and may you, may you both, have lots of fun!
    Note that both lyrics that inspired my reading appeared the year I met the woman who would give birth to Geoffrey in December of the following year. However, I didn’t remember that both songs had appeared that year until after I had already chosen the two songs and begun to compose my wedding lyrics for them. When it finally dawned on me, I could only suppose that either my own personal muse or Cupid had been involved – perhaps they collaborated?
    Further note that when I took the microphone from the wedding officiant, I frankly didn’t know that I would literally sing the whole of this part of my reading. I had read the whole thing both to myself and aloud to myself many times, but I never did feel quite comfortable and confident that I had mastered it. I don’t think I did master it. When the time came to deliver, I left it to my muse to guide me however I could be guided. It seemed to come out all right, but perhaps only because everyone of the wedding party wished me success and was extremely forgiving. I am as grateful for that as Geoffrey is for everyone’s love and support.
    But I knew I was doing okay when I saw Christa’s tears of joy during my delivery. Thank you, Christa, for not hiding your heart under a bushel.

Copyright © 2015 by Morris Dean

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