Monday, October 18, 2010

Stunning Monteverdi Heard Here

Yesterday morning I saw a piece in the newspaper about a rare opportunity to hear Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 performed by Apollo's Fire (The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra), conducted by founder Jeannette Sorrell.  I got online right away, reserved two tickets up close, and looked forward to the evening all day.

I bought my first of two recordings of Monteverdi's Vespers back in grad school, 1968 or so.  I'd read a rave review in the defunct magazine, High Fidelity and Stereo Review, and then saw the records on sale in my favorite cubbyhole at Penn State, Nittany News.  The Nikolaus Harnoncourt recording captured the  flashy, intricate lines in a "perfect" acoustic that sounded like a church but not like a train station.

Monteverdi didn't title his work "Vespers of 1610."  These were "Vespers to the Blessed Virgin."  The program liner notes last night informed us that solid scholarship has established that Monteverdi wrote these Vespers most likely for the wedding of the son of his patron, the Duke of Mantua, in 1608.  They were later published in Venice, though they were certainly not written with the acoustics of St. Mark's Cathedral in mind.  Monteverdi didn't work there until 1613.

Enough of scholarship, on to the making of music.  Jeannette Sorrell is a most impressive conductor.  She gave us a vibrant, sensual, fresh, vigorous, dramatic, languid, even playful experience of this piece.  I was moved toward a gush of tears twice in the first couple of minutes.

I only wish this rare opportunity had been paired with a suitable acoustic.  The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is a space more like a gigantic train station than a place to hear musical details.  The space is so vast, the famed cathedral of St. Marks in Venice could be tucked inside it!  The reverberation in this space suffuses intricate musical detail in a glowing Venetian mist.  Hearing Monteverdi in there is like seeing great paintings through waxed paper.  We got all the benefits of supremely graceful pacing and phrasing, but few of the benefits of Monteverdi's bravura writing.

It's too bad that the Cathedral Concerts have to take place in that cathedral.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Getting There

The humming birds haven't been around for a few weeks.  They've moved on.  I feel one with them.

In every sense of the phrase, I'm getting there.  The phrase came to mind as I thought of all the household drama that's going to erupt next week when the fixtures arrive for our double bathroom remodel project.  We've been living amid demolition and reconstruction for three weeks, and it's been fun to adapt while skilled workmen go about the business of correcting the flaws in a thirty-year-old house.  We've been reminded on several occasions of the need to expect the unplanned detour.

Two days after our new furnace was installed, the plumbers came in to prepare the main floor for new locations of toilets, sinks, and showers.  They drilled a circular hole in the floor for a toilet and said, "were those PVC pipes down there when we bid the job?"  It seems I had not thought to tell the furnace guys that their choice of a route for the PVC vent pipes should take into consideration the expected new bathroom drains above.  Fortunately, the problem was easily solved with some angle joints, and work flowed ahead with only a hiccup.

A few days ago, Steve Brandt, our general contractor, said, "did you know there's a roof vent up there that runs the length of the house, but that there's a big section of the roof that's not opened up to use that vent?"  I said I thought I'd heard something to that effect from the house inspector.  Could he open it up?  It turns out that he could, and so we're getting the top of the house in correct order and trim before Steve closes up the options with drywall.

If I lived anywhere near Steve, I'd want to be his friend.  He's one of those people with a gift for thinking well, for doing things completely right, and for dealing with people well.

So we're getting there, and the journey is as much of the joy as the arrival.  So much of life strikes me that way.  Last week I gave a daylily talk to a club near Evanston, Indiana, and I began and ended my slide show with a photographic "setting" of some lyrics of Bob Dylan's song, "Mississippi," which is one of my favorites.

Every step of the way
We walk the line.
Your days are numbered,
So are mine.
Time is piling up,
We struggle and we scrape;
We're all boxed in,
Nowhere to escape.

I used mainly some scenic photos I'd taken in Vermont almost thirty years ago and had sold to Vermont Life Magazine over the course of a decade.  I used a backlit shot of laundry flapping in an October morning breeze to go with "we walk the line."  I used a "still life" of an interior of a Victorian historic house -- a small writing table in a bay window looking out to a red maple tree -- for "your days are numbered."  I used an old photo of myself holding a small pumpkin on the ground as if for a place-kicker in football - for "so are mine."  A late afternoon shot of a clock belfry in the distance in a small town illustrated "time is piling up."  A shot of the back of a Ford pickup hauling a load of firewood down the Granville Gulch (taken while driving behind him!) illustrated "we struggle and we scrape."  And a green-gold scene of tall trees on either side of a vacant downward path in the Hyde Park cemetery illustrated "we're all boxed in, nowhere to escape."

My days are numbered, but I don't know the magic number.  Here I am watching earnest young men the age of my children ply their trades to create "the perfect house" for Kathy and me, and I pray I'll be vigorous and able to make this place hum with gardening for another twenty years.

This is our Master Bedroom on a Saturday morning.  Steve and Tim are using it as a "shop" for the work they're doing on the master bath and guest bath.  As soon as they finish, they'll replace that window with a longer one.  Then Rick and a helper from Beseda Flooring will come in and lay down golden oak hardwood flooring.  Then Steve will put in baseboards, and I'll follow up fixing the nail pops and dings in the paint job on the walls.  And then Kathy and I will move in from the guest bedroom to the Master Bedroom.  Steve and Tim, and the plumbers and the electrician, will then remodel the dining area and the stairs to the basement.  We won't be done with this in October, I'll bet. There's landscaping to prepare for, too.

There's the shower in the Master Bathroom.  Carl Andersen brought in the cultured marble shower pan yesterday.  We're getting there, and in other ways we're not.

These fibreglass entry doors do not belong on this style ranch house.  They remind me of typical entry doors of steakhouses in The West forty years ago.  I expect to see a sign that says, "Please check your firearms at the door."  Putting a proper set of doors on this house would set us back about $5,000, so the entrance became "low priority" yesterday when we priced what's needed.  We'll live with these doors and play saloon music on our music system.

I don't drink whiskey from shot glasses, though, and I don't wear cowboy attire with any grace.  I sip single malt Scotch from crystal glasses I bought in Colle val D'Elsa ten years ago, and I sip it rarely, and slowly.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tattooing the Back Yard

Two weeks ago we moved onto a lot with an immense amount of planting space.  Our acre and a half is shaped like a wide slice of pie that is tipped downwards toward the tip, which is submerged in Hidden Lake.  When I considered how to map out a large daylily hybridizing operation on this sloped triangle, I thought of making a big, horticultural tattoo like the doodles I used to draw during meetings.

I enlarged the survey of the property and used a French curve to lay out a series of sweeping curves around the right side of the house.  We'll develop the left and right back yard first.

Yesterday I got down to business with a Bosch rangefinder laser, a tape measure, and my map.  The survey is pretty much drawn to scale, but "pretty much" was the cause of much figuring when it came to establishing marks on the grass.  For one thing, the concrete and rock swale that takes stormwater down the left side to the lake is not a straight line, as drawn.  Nor is the line of the fence on the left positioned accurately with respect to the brick wall.  The fence is gone now, but a line of straw shows where it once was.

My plan called for the garden beds on the left side to have edges 8 feet to the right of the swale.  Since the position of the swale was inaccurate on the map, my first challenge was to establish a straight line roughly eight feet from the rough edge, taking into account the evidence of secondary water flows on the grass.  The swale, you see, is a jumble of concrete rubble that does more to divert the water away than to channel it.

Then I tried to mark the location of Kathy's six vegetable plots, each 4 x 10, with 6-foot paths between.  With some fudging, I got them plotted and then discovered that the slope away from the driveway had forced my plot much farther down toward the lake than I'd imagined.

So I worked back from the shoreline, 15 feet, and laid out my big area for growing selected seedlings, measured what was possible, and marked the dimensions on the map.  Then I used up my two cans of bright orange "upside down paint" to mark deeply enough that something would remain after today's lawn mowing.

When Kathy and I looked at that design from the deck, we both agreed that we needed to change the design and try another idea there.  This morning I took a picture of the layout we saw.  I used the "pen tool" in an editing program to reinforce the lines I painted on the grass.

My big bed is about 50 x 50 feet in this view.  Each small bed is 4 x 10.  The new plan is to pull the right boundary of my big bed back from the lake another four to six feet.  Then we'll move the left set of three small beds onto the left side of my big bed, making the big bed a rectangle.  What's sacrificed from the big bed will be restored to the left of the veggie beds on the slope up.  I may terrace that area.  The new plan will keep the veggie gardening entirely on flat ground.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Mystery Tree at Hidden Lake

I have a mystery tree in a walled-in corner just outside my garage door at Hidden Lake.  My local nursery couldn't tell what it is from just a leaf sample.  Here is a full frontal picture of my tree.

It is about six feet tall and can grow taller, I think.  I looks to be more than six feet across.  The leaves haven't begun to turn color and I can't say whether they will do that.

The trunk appears to peel, reminding me of birch.  Color is copper brown.  At a height of three feet, I appears to have been purposely "topped" to force all its branches to emerge from its head.  Growth is dense.

Leaves are dark green, mounted in pairs, with buds at the leaf notches.  Veins radiate from the base of the leaf.  Edges are smooth, not hacksaw.  Form is rounded, generally coming to a point.

Note the buds at the leaf notches.

Growth habit appears to provide for substantial expansion each year.  If so, this tree has no business in its current location.  If you know what this is, please drop a comment.