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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Finer Dining

Links in a Chaine Dept.: Back when chef Dale Miller took over the (now-defunct) Stone Ends Restaurant, he invited the local branch of the Chaine des Rotisseurs, a venerable fine-dining consortium, to hold one of its dinners there. He also invited me. Here’s the result.


FINE DINING IS AS MUCH of an art as fine cooking. The Chaine des rotisseurs is an international association dedicated to preserving both arts, with an impressive track record of doing so. How many associations can trace roots back to the 13th century?

Dale Miller. Photo by Tim Raab
Literally translated, it’s “chain of the rotisserie”; they police the fine-dining experience with dinners five or six times a year, each one preceded by an elaborate search for a good menu and sampling of its better items.

The Chaine and Dale Miller’s Stone Ends Restaurant were made for each other. Miller believes fine dining is an experience that should excite all the senses, and he’s eager to roll up his sleeves and show what he can do. The Chaine dinner provides that opportunity. He’s done it before, and done it well enough that they don’t even worry about tasting his menu samples. Besides, the menu is cooked up well ahead of time.

“I have to start six to eight weeks beforehand,” says Miller, who flew to California in July to visit Robert Mondavi’s winery in Oakdale and sample the wines that would be featured on the menu. “I had the Mondavi association in the back of my mind since the last Chaine dinner I did in April 1990. I wanted to prepare food that would be perfectly matched with each wine. Using Mondavi wines also allows me to serve American wine with American food.” Pairing food and wine is another art, one that can drown in pretentious mumbo-jumbo but, when approached without stuffiness, results in a pleasant, exciting enhancement of flavor.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Country Cousin

State of the Stage Dept.: Even before winning Pulitzer Prizes for the novels Alice Adams and The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington racked up several Broadway successes as a playwright. Here’s an unsigned NY Times piece from 1917 that gives a fascinating look at the craft, as Tarkington perceived it.


BUDDING and aspiring playwrights who cherish the fond delusion that the writing of plays is merely a “knack” which can be mastered by almost any one, and who wonder why the brain children which they are constantly bearing never seem to interest the unfeeling and unsympathetic managers, are respectfully referred by George C. Tyler to certain letters from Booth Tarkington, coauthor with Julian Street of “The Country Cousin,” the new play which the former produced last Monday night at the Gaiety.

Booth Tarkington
The Tarkington-Tyler correspondence might be labeled “A Play in the Making.” There are more than a hundred letters from the playwright-novelist in Mr. Tyler’s files directly bearing on “The Country Cousin,” and they cover a period of more than two years. They reveal, in an interesting and diverting manner, something of the worries, something of the intensive labor, and something of the meticulous care which enter into the writing of a play by an experienced playwright, and into the successful production of it by the much-abused producer.

A perusal of excerpts from them should dissipate the prevailing idea that successful plays can be “dashed off,” and the printing of them may not be in vain. If a contemplation of the labors therein set forth leads even a single foreordained shoe clerk to give up the notion of becoming the American Pinero and to settle down to his good little job and his nice little wife, Mr. Tarkington reveals in his delightful letters that the profession of playwrights entails the hardest kind of hard work and that it is far from being all the proverbial beer and skittles.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Schickele at Skidmore

 Music for You, PDQ Dept.: In late 2005, I was given the privilege of shadowing Peter Schickele during his residency at Saratoga’s Skidmore College. Here’s a longer version of the piece I wrote about it for Metroland.


ANTHONY HOLLAND IS A COMPOSER and conductor who, as an associate professor at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, conducts the college’s orchestra and works with students in the music program. “I hoped that Peter Schickele, despite his world-wide fame, would be approachable, friendly and enjoy relating to our students,” he said, commenting on Schickele’s week-long residency at the college. “My expectations were surpassed. He was warm and friendly and very easy to work with.”

Peter Schickele at Skidmore College
3 Nov. 2005 | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
That’s a comment echoed by all who commented on the experience. And to have Peter Schickele as an artist in residence was two-for-one deal, given Schickele’s considerable reputation not only as a distinguished composer but also as the tireless promoter of the music of P.D.Q. Bach, music that Schickele has continued to discover – with alarming frequency – for more than 40 years.

The residency ran from Oct. 31 to Nov. 5, and it was natural that the week would culminate in a concert including music from both of Schickele’s worlds, bringing together orchestra and chorus in a wide range of pieces that even included a world premiere.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Working in Coffeehouses, Part 397

Puffy Life-Rafts of Carb Dept.: Sunday morning. Ten o’clock. The rest of the family pursuing other interests nearby. I repair to my favorite coffeehouse for a revivifying bagel and a flagon of Italian Roast.

“You wake up next morning with a hangover, and then . . . ”

The place is crowded. I settle at the only available table. I can’t help but eavesdrop on my neighbors, but I get only provocative fragments.

“She had to be evacuated.”

I have four reviews due this week. I’ve started a page for each of them. Once I’ve nailed the lede, it’s usually smooth sailing. Hard to stay focused, however. I blame it on the bagel, which soon disappears.

Friday, July 26, 2013


One Liner Dept.: Violinist Elissa Koljonen’s debut album, on the Dorian label, featured my enthusiastic program notes. The CD is out of print, but you can buy an MP3 version. So here are the notes – in a slightly longer version than originally published – to go with it.


“WE WANTED TO MAKE an album of heartbreakingly beautiful pieces,” violinist Elissa Koljonen explained. “Something people would like to put on their CD players after they’ve come home after work.”

Koljonen is a romantic. She’s been playing works like Bruch’s “Scottish Fantasy” and the Korngold Violin Concerto in recent programs, and she’s pairing with her husband, violist Roberto Díaz, in Arthur Benjamin’s “Romantic Fantasy.” For her debut recording, she wanted to put together a program that’s a little different from the usual collections of violin encores.

“In the old days,” said Koljonen, “encore pieces made up a large part of a recital program. Nowadays it’s sonata, sonata, intermission, sonata, sonata – it’s all so serious! There’s so much great music written for the violin, it’s a shame not to play them. I more than make up for that on this record.”

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Going for Baroque

Bachanalia Dept.: Harpsichordist Robert Conant presented his Festival of Baroque Music for over half a century in the Saratoga area, calling it quits two summers ago. Here’s the kind of concert you’d have encountered, one that I attended and reviewed in 1988.


WHAT DO YOU FIND in an out-of-the-way cottage in this out-of-the-way Saratoga County town on a drowsy summer evening?

Robert Conant

And mosquitos.

But the music is always the winner when Robert Conant presents his Baroque series, which began its 26th season with a concert Tuesday evening featuring internationally-renowned soloist August Wenzinger to perform a series of viola da gamba sonatas with harpsichordist Conant.

Wenzinger’s ability proves the stupidity of the concept of retirement: although well past that age, his face has the youthful impishness of Fred Astaire’s. And the first notes of the Bach sonata that started the program had the authority of a master.

You can tell so much from those first few notes. The slow introduction had the self-assurance that comes from a performer who has explored the piece for years, balanced with that important invitation to the audience to come along for more such exploration.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lines Inspired by Traveling the Length of the Mass Pike

Her husband bought her a Lexus
(It’s a wealth redistribution).
She luxuriates now in the nexus
Between love and prostitution.

– 24 July 2013

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What the Hell Are You Saving It For?

Start Your Wining Dept.: In early 1999, the Albany area's food writers were visited by representatives of the Wine Market Council, for the reason described in my article below. What’s not mentioned is that, while the reps visited the other writers at their offices or with a trip to lunch, I was tapped for a dinner date. I took them to Albany’s Café Capriccio, where chef Jim Rua prepared a meal that they vowed never to forget.


ALBANY HAS BECOME unusually wine conscious during the past few weeks. You can’t miss the exhortations: billboards and TV commercials, radio ads and wine store displays demanding to know why you’re waiting to buy that bottle.

We’re a test market. Albany joins in Austin, Texas, as the ideal cities in which to run a three-month trial campaign designed to raise our collective consciousness about wine consumption. The message in a nutshell: enjoy it now.

“Our market research determined that the people we want to reach, the ones who aren’t buying wine regularly but might consider doing so, think of wine as something for special occasions, ” says John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, the group behind the campaign.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Arrogant Frog and the Superior Bull

Guest Blogger Dept.: Once again, let’s call upon Guy Wetmore Carryl’s Fables for the Frivolous, this time for one of the lesser-known of Jean de La Fontaine’s tales.


Illustration by Peter Newell

ONCE, ON A TIME and in a place
Conducive to malaria,
There lived a member of the race
Of Rana Temporaria;
Or, more concisely still, a frog
Inhabited a certain bog.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Yma Rocks, Betty Soldiers On

Cool & Strange Dept.: One of the most delightful magazines to which I’ve contributed was Cool & Strange Music, the brainchild of Dana Countryman, and which unfortunately came to an end after he entrusted it to a colleague. Here are two reviews I wrote for its eleventh issue, only one of which was published.


FOLLOWING A STRING of successful records that showcased the melismatic Ms. Sumac’s wordless vocalizings against tracks of lush exotica, her 1971 reunion with arranger/keyboardist/composer Les Baxter added a new component to the mix: a rock beat.

“Yma Rocks” wasn’t about to unseat any of the contemporaneous rock bands, because at the heart of it were those shimmering vocals, all five octaves’ worth, that are a style all their own, the accompanying beat notwithstanding.

But that beat does offer a unique counterpoint. Sumac and Baxter worked together on the 1950 “Voice of the Xtabay,” for which Baxter led this orchestra. For the “Rocks” sessions, he put together an ensemble made up of guitarist Chuck Cowan, drummer Skippy Switzer, organist Richard Persons, and bassist Roger Cowan, with Baxter providing additional keyboard support.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Princess Ida

Apologies to W.S. Gilbert Dept.: My good friend Richard McKee, who died in April, was for many years Artistic Director of the Syracuse Opera. The company used to present a summer concert of a Gilbert & Sullivan score with spoken continuity. In 2006, he asked if I could write something for "Princess Ida." It seemed appropriate to write it in verse. What follows is quite lengthy, and I expect only the most ardent G&S fan to stick it out.


A PALACE. A PAVILION, thronged with courtiers debonair.
We don’t know where this kingdom is, and, frankly, we don’t care;
We also don’t know when it’s set, although it’s safe to guess
We’re in the 1880s, time of vintage G and S.

King Hildebrand, protective dad, determined he would try
To save his son, Hilarion, from courtship gone awry.
He worried that his son and heir might wed some selfish shrew,
And so he got the kid betrothed. The boy was only two.

Or married – in the dialogue, the terms are often switched –
Whatever happened way back then convinced the prince he’s hitched.
A most discerning two-year-old, he liked young Ida’s style
As she capered on a carpet wearing nothing but a smile.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fancy Food Fancier

Caviar and Cheese Dept.: The Fancy Food Show returned to Manhattan this year after a three-years absence, and my report is in the current Metroland. Here’s what I gleaned from an earlier visit.


WE’RE SOLD ON the gospel of eating food that’s as locally derived as possible, and, if you’re like me, we’d enjoy doing so with a minimum of deprivation. Which leaves some complicated options when dining out or shopping. Most food products are local in their own localities, so can we morally assuage ourselves by consuming what’s handcrafted elsewhere?

Photo by Lily Whiteman
They were as different as chocolate and cheese, the items on display at the 55th annual Fancy Food Show in Manhattan’s Jacob Javits Center earlier this week, but they had in common a handmade determination. The 2,400 companies with products on view thus tried to straddle the concepts of corporate production and small-batch precision.

Tapestry chocolates, for instance, is an 18-month-old offshoot of Daffin’s Candies, which started over a century ago as a small Ohio retailer and now has a series of shops in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Tapestry displayed an all-new range of tasty items that included toffee, mint or peanut butter melt-aways, chocolate-covered pretzels, and good old but gourmet-styled chocolate bars with the likes of caramel or peanut butter within.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

You Say Tomato . . .

From the Garden Dept.: A paean to my favorite fruit.


ONCE UPON A TIME you could press baskets of overripe tomatoes into service by hurling them at horrible performers, but with the death (or dearth, I suppose) of live entertainment, that fruit now is relegated to trash or compost.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
In our house, late summer started with a trickle of ripening cherry tomatoes, a trickle that soon became a flood. We keep them in a bowl on a kitchen counter and pop them like candy, which is what they might as well be classified as, so sweet and flavorful are the little boogers. But we can’t nibble them fast enough, so they’re migrating into any number of dishes.

Most of which require that they be cut in half, a duty I perform with a razorlike Japanese chef’s knife. The tomato halves can be lightly salted and tossed with balsamic vinegar and chopped fresh basil, which is enjoyable enough right there. Throw in some fresh mozzarella balls and you’ve got a classic appetizer – but, as we’re discovering, they can be paired with plenty else, and much of what I suggest below with large tomatoes applies to the cherries.

My favorite breakfast is a sauté of halved cherry tomatoes (salt, pepper, basil and oregano) folded into a dish of scrambled eggs touched with sharp cheddar. If that sounds too healthful, throw in some sautéed pepperoni slices.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Travels with Alice

Doesn’t Have to Be a Dog Dept.: Another book report. I handed in very few of these during the entirety of my schooling years, preferring to sweat out the day of assignment-due reckoning with some improbable excuse. How nice it was, later, to discover that getting paid can motivate me.


HAVING IDENTIFIED HIMSELF as the champion of Kansas City barbecue joints, real chili and the bagel shop just around the corner from his Greenwich Village home, Calvin Trillin has given American cookery a thoughtful legitimacy. And he obviously had a good time searching for it.

Trillin also has spent years reporting on American villages for the New Yorker. He’s also likely to write about murders or the political scene (his weekly column is carried in the Saturday Gazette).

His 13th book brings back the Trillin family with whom we journeyed in American Fried and Alice, Let’s Eat, but this time it’s a European vacation. A series of them, actually, in a collection of anecdotal looks at various places abroad.

As seen by Trillin and family, which isn’t the perspective you or I would achieve. While not exactly cast in an Innocents Abroad mold, we at least get to see what’s usually a stuffed-shirt enterprise interpreted much more broadly. Who but Calvin Trillin who spend a chapter in search of the history of the taureaux piscine? As incredible as it seems, it’s a sport that is just what its name suggests: a contest to see how long a participant can share a shallow swimming pool with a bull.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pickwick Club Dissolves!

Not Schoolbook History, Not Mr. Wells’s History, but History Nevertheless Dept.: The Ridgefield (Conn.) High School Class of 1973 had its 40th-anniversary reunion last weekend, which I attended with trepidation and emerged from unexpectedly delighted. That particular corner of suburbia inspired some close and enduring friendships, and it was fascinating not only to see (and enjoy) those that persist but also to provoke some new ones. My own corner of the room included a group of iconoclasts whose unusual mode of dress and behavior back in high school provoked someone else to ask, “What are you, some kind of club?” “Yes,” one of us responded. “The Pickwick Club.” Having styled ourselves as a phony club, it only followed that we should concoct a phony history, and we wrote some articles about it that were published by the Ridgefield Press. You can find others in the series here, here, and here. The newspaper’s editor, who was very much in on the joke, opined that anybody who was fooled by the pieces deserved to be.


(The following history of the Pickwick Club was written by David Lawrence. The club disbanded on Labor Day.)

George Gordon, Moisha Fish, Jack O'Diamonds,
Milo Wumbek, and Ned Seagoon.
Photo by Jos. Hartmann
IN 1863, CHARLES DICKENS published his novel The Pickwick Papers, following the exploits of Mr. Samuel Pickwick, a benevolent old man who advocated bachelorhood as a way of life. In 1895, Mr. Jack O’Diamonds of Redding instituted, with friends, a local “chapter,” as he put it, of the “Pickwick Club.” In his memoirs, he wrote that the club was designed “. . . to further the philosofy (sic) and outlook of Mr. Pickwick, in which members shall recognize the disadvantages of emotional involvement with (women).”

A Hartmann photo taken at what was probably their first official meeting shows the
original members, who, in addition to Mr. O’Diamonds, were George Gordon, Milo Wumbek, Ned Seagoon, and Moisha R. Fish, Sr., whose great-grandson, until very recently, was still a member.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Difficult Forever

Second Hundred Years Dept.: My review of one of the more fascinating centenary tributes to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring this year.


WE BEGIN WITH the final Sacrificial Dance–but who is the chosen victim? A large ghost light hangs over the stage as the performers enter—15 of them—in the throes of what seems an almost involuntary passion, a painful ecstasy. Plangent chords and hellish rhythms from the last few minutes of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring are sounding; 15 rectangles define spaces against which the performers struggle.

Photo by Cory Weaver

One of them, SITI co-founder Will Bond, wearing the tunic and puttees of the First World War, delivers shell-shocked testimony to the experience. Again we’re thrown a temporal shift, but A Rite is a commentary on the post-Rite century. Alongside the tropes about war are a Schoenberg scholar’s Rite ruminations and reflections on the nature of time by string theorist Brian Greene. All of which comes together as an hour-long celebration that is by turns exciting, thought-provoking, didactic, annoying and terrific fun.

A Rite is a collaboration between Anne Bogart’s SITI Company, a theatrical collective known for its ensemble-based approach, and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Theatrical boundaries easily blur; these are actors comfortable with movement and dancers hip to character-based dance. But the resultant Rite thus defies pigeonholing.

Friday, July 12, 2013

In Memoriam: Toshi Seeger

Accounting Our Losses Dept.: Toshi Seeger died Tuesday night at the age of 91. She was in attendance at her husband’s recent performance at Schenectady’s Proctors Theatre. You’ll find a moving tribute to her at the Sing Out! site; I’m going to reprint my concert review.


IN THE COURSE OF his 75-year career of promoting and enhancing the world’s folk music traditions, Harvard dropout Pete Seeger has become their most vital exemplar. His music is the music of struggle with a beacon of hope at its heart. His influence is unmeasurable. As he walked onto the stage of Proctors Theatre last Sunday, the full house rose in an entirely justified ovation. Had they been asked to go home just then, I suspect they would have been happy merely to have won a glimpse of the 94-year-old icon.

Peggy and Pete Seeger
Instead, we got a three-hour concert that also featured Pete’s 78-year-old half-sister, Peggy, herself a troublemaker and an icon. The Seeger family is filled with such folk. But a Seeger concert is about its audience, who are transported from concert hall to living room as they’re invited (commanded, exhorted, cajoled, enticed, conscripted, inspired) to sing. 

John Seeger, brother to Peggy and Pete, ran a Vermont summer camp called Killooleet for 50 years before passing the directorship to his daughter, Kate, and her husband, Dean Spencer. The concert was held to raise funds to repair damage the camp suffered from Hurricane Irene, and Kate and Dean joined a small choir onstage at the beginning of the second half to sing Peggy’s tribute “It’s Pete!”

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Art of Dining

Communal Feed Dept.: Twenty-one years later, I stand by most of the advice rendered below, but I think we have a fine-dining populace these days that’s way more hip than my coevals.


. . . . When a woman is accompanied by a man, it is always assumed that the man is the host and he is expected to do the ordering (except at lunch when she may give her own order to speed the service) after the woman has had a few minutes to look over the menu presented to her by the waiter ... She chooses, preferably, the table d’hote – the meal in which everything is included in the price of the entrée – and says what she will have, beginning with the first course if there is no extra charge for it . . .
(Amy Vanderbilt's Etiquette, Doubleday & Co., 1978)

Remember: this is from a woman who met her end by walking out of a high window. But she did it correctly.

Although this nonsense still may be carried on by rich people with three last names and officious Republicans, the rest of us should rejoice that dining out no longer need be an affair calling for a straitjacket and tie.

With the fade-out of snotty ritualism, we are left uncomfortably on our own where good behavior is concerned. There’s a dining-out myth that’s been making the rounds in recent years that shamelessly exploits the “customer is always right” cliche. It supposes that a guy with the price of a meal in his hand is entitled to behave as lunkishly as he pleases just because he’s paying for it. It’s about as far in the other direction from Amy Vanderbilt as you can get.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Oops, They Did It Again

Find a Ring Dept.: The Zoppe Family Circus returns to Proctors in Schenectady July 18-21; Cirque Éloize presents “Cirkopolis” there Aug 7-24. Here’s a look back at something I saw there thirteen years ago.


INSTEAD OF LIONS AND TIGERS we got a little white Jack Russell terrier. Such is the trade-off when a circus scales down from a ring to a stage. But the Big Apple Circus was shrewd to devise a stage show – it puts them in venues they otherwise wouldn’t be able to visit, and it’s a group that deserves to be seen and enjoyed.

Ringmaster Norman Barrett
Too bad they didn’t get the turnout they deserved.

Not that the three-night run lacked an audience. The night I was there, first of the three, a few hundred folks gathered in seats near the stage and had a wonderful time. I’m told attendance was similar the next two nights, too. But that’s far short of the 8,000 or so who could have attended, a number easily swept into the arena-sized entertainments that are so prefabricated that you might as well be watching it on video.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Popcorn and Papageno

Well Met Dept.: The summer opera season at theaters nearby is reinforced by the summer rebroadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera – also at a theater nearby. Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago about the phenomenon. The dates don't apply and prices have changed (dropped, even!) but the broadcasts persevere.


“IT’S NOT THE SAME as seeing it live on stage,” said once audience member, “but I love the close-ups.”

Matthew Polenzani as Tamino
We’d just watched Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” in Julie (“Lion King”) Taymor’s production, as it was performed at the Met on Dec. 30, the broadcast that opened a new and revolutionary “Live from the Met” concept: see it live in a theater near you. Only it wasn’t Dec. 30 – it was a couple of Tuesdays ago. And it was a rebroadcast. And that’s why there were tickets available.

When the Met released tickets for this new series, shown locally at a theater at Crossgates Mall, it sold out almost instantly. If, like me, you were paying only moderate attention, you were out of luck.

With rebroadcasts added to the schedule, seats are available. And with the overwhelming success of this series, here and throughout the world, more screens are being added and tickets even for the live broadcasts are again becoming available.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Owed to Volstead

Guest Blogger Dept.: A giddy contributor to George P. Putnam’s Nonsenseorship, a 1922 volume cocking a sustained snoot at the Volstead Act, Wallace Irwin (1875-1959) was a novelist, essayist, poet (best known for light verse) and all-around satirist. He achieved his greatest success – and guaranteed subsequent obscurity – with an ongoing lampoon of the Japanese that began in 1907. Racial stereotyping aside, he worked in forms (the light-verse sonnet was a favorite) that haven’t endured. Here’s a delightful example of his versification.


Wallace Irwin composing
under the influence of
synthetic gin and
Andrew Volstead.

Drawing by Ralph Barton.
I – First Round

Prune extract and bright alcohol, so wooden
One kills its flavor in rank fusel oil!
C2-H3-HO – a rather good ’un
To mix with fruity syrups in our toil
To give our social meetings after dark
Their necessary spark!
And you, most heavenly twins,
Born of one mother –
Although our woe begins
When, through our mortal sins,
We can’t tell which from t’other –
And Methyl!
Like Ike
And Mike
Strangely you look alike.
Like sisters I have met
You’re very hard to tell apart – and yet
The one consoles more gently than a wife;
The other turns and cripples you for life.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Alternative Alternatives

Mind Your Body Dept.: A self-explanatory piece I wrote for Metroland’s 2011 Mind-Body issue. You’ll feel better after you read it.


FEELING SHITTY? SO AM I. Late middle age and a slothful life have combined to hit my body with a colorful array of aches so that I almost buzz with discomfort wherever you may touch me, like that bulb-nosed patient in the game “Operation,” only fatter.

I have shopped in the several marketplaces of treatment over the years, mainstream and alternative, with, not surprisingly, varying result levels from both. For a swollen joint, I’d rather get an acupuncture treatment than a cortisone shot, but there’s a chance that I respond better to the former because I’m spending 30 to 40 minutes with (or near) a practitioner, as opposed to the wham-bam-thank you-ma’am approach of some of the orthopedic mills.

Twenty years ago, during a road trip that took me through Santa Fe, Santa Cruz and other west-coast high-consciousness burgs, I marveled at the range of alternative therapies available, even if the word “colonic” seemed common to many of them.

The Capitol Region (almost proudly, I think) keeps itself about 20 years behind what the rest of the country is doing, so it’s not surprising that many of those therapies now are available here today. You’ll find them in places like Albany's Healing Arts & Chiropractic Center, the Capital Region Wellness Center, Delmar's Center for Integrative Health and Healing and even stodgy Albany Med. Whether you’re getting quackery or quiescence is up to you, but here’s a look at some of what’s out there. In many senses of the phrase.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Friday, July 05, 2013

Aspects of the Wind

Lost Masterpieces Dept.: Forty years ago, as a high-school senior, I participated in a film-study class project to make a movie. These were the days before camcorders, never mind cell phones, so most of the kids were shooting in Super 8. Thanks to my friend Harry Minot, I had access to a 16mm Bolex camera. We also used Harry's house, where I was living at the time (my family had moved to the Chicago suburbs). I believe we gave exchange student Roger Graham five bucks to use the title of a story he'd written for a class assignment, and used nothing of the plot -- except for the type of wind the aspects of which we were examining.

The movie was shot on Double-X negative stock, because someone, probably Harry, had a bunch of it. I edited the film directly on that stock, damaging frames and sprocket holes, and that's how it sat until the early 1980s, when I paid to have it transferred to VHS with the polarity reversed to create a positive image. We shot it wild, but I was able to crudely sync the few spoken sections. With a 40th-anniversary high-school reunion looming, I digitized the VHS version and created new title cards. My filmmaking career may well have peaked at age 17 . . .

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Money and Music

Financial Un-Independence Dept.: As we celebrate what’s left of our freedom, looking back wistfully on a Fourth Amendment that has become a mere memory, let’s remember that (unless you’re an automaton, plugged into commercial so-called culture) celebrating the arts comes at a price. It’s a challenge now; it was a challenge in 1984, when I wrote the review below.


THE SPENCERTOWN CHAMBER MUSIC Series Gala Concert traditionally offers a distinguished artist and a post-concert reception. The idea is to make up (through high-priced tickets) some of the money lost on the other concerts of the summer season. As every concert-goer knows, one of the grimmer realities of the music world is the lack of financial support.

Lydia Artymiw
How they fared financially at Spencertown, we don’t know. Artistically, Saturday evening’s gala was a splendid success. Pianist Lydia Artymiw presented a program that demonstrated her impressive talents and interpretive maturity. Artymiw, a student of Gary Graffman and a winner of many prestigious awards, has been dividing her time between concert and chamber music performances. For Saturday’s concert she chose music by Mozart, Schumann, Debussy, and Chopin.

A sonata by Mozart can become the sore thumb in an otherwise romantic program: played too romantically it loses its perkiness, yet a too-proper interpretation can make it seem trivial against the subsequent warhorses. Ms Artymiw found an effective voice for the Sonata in B-flat, K. 281, by bringing out the playfulness of the piece. She played the lyrical phrases like the little arias they are, interrupting them with the witty, contrasting phrases so characteristic of Mozart.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Bach to Bach

BACK WHEN I WAS YOUNG and Bach was new – to me, at least – his music enjoyed a big orchestral sound. I listened to Klemperer’s Brandenburgs, Edwin Fischer’s concertos, Menuhin conducting the Orchestral Suites.

And Heifetz playing the violin concertos – the A minor and E major ones with a lean but still romantic-sounding orchestra, the double concerto double-tracked so he could perform both solo parts. His playing sounded pretty lean compared to, say, Stern or Perlman, but it turns out to have been a significant (if inadvertent) step in the direction of the period-instrument trend that soon would erupt.

Who have dominated the Baroque-and-before music scene for a few decades now, reducing the orchestral forces, changing bowing techniques and tuning, reviving the art of ornamentation and much, much more. All of which is well and good only as long as the players themselves have the talent to make the music transcendent. Two very different violinists have turned to works by Bach in recent releases, both of them radiantly justifying the historically informed performance approach.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Visit to the Asylum for Aged and Decayed Punsters

Guest Blogger Dept.: Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) was a distinguished physician who advanced the much-scorned view that obstetricians were causing puerperal fever by not washing their hands. He was the Dean of Harvard University who tried, in 1850, to admit African-American students (the effort failed). He lived several summers in Pittsfield, Mass., where he hung out with the likes of Melville and Hawthorne. And he helped found and name The Atlantic Monthly, in which the essay below first appeared. And if you haven't got your own Joe Miller, it's high time you acquired one.


Oliver Wendell Holmes
HAVING JUST RETURNED from a visit to this admirable Institution in company with a friend who is one of the Directors, we propose giving a short account of what we saw and heard. The great success of the Asylum for Idiots and Feeble-minded Youth, several of the scholars from which have reached considerable distinction, one of them being connected with a leading Daily Paper in this city, and others having served in the State and National Legislatures, was the motive which led to the foundation of this excellent charity. Our late distinguished townsman, Noah Dow, Esquire, as is well known, bequeathed a large portion of his fortune to this establishment –  “being thereto moved,” as his will expressed it, “by the desire of N. Dowing some public Institution for the benefit of Mankind.” Being consulted as to the Rules of the Institution and the selection of a Superintendent, he replied, that “all Boards must construct their own Platforms of operation. Let them select anyhow and he should be pleased.” N. E. Howe, Esq., was chosen in compliance with this delicate suggestion.

The Charter provides for the support of “One hundred aged and decayed Gentlemen-Punsters.” On inquiry if there way no provision for females, my friend called my attention to this remarkable psychological fact, namely:

Monday, July 01, 2013


Literary Affliction Dept.: Here’s the debut of a short story that evinced no editorial interest, probably because it’s too dirty for the literary mags and too literary for the dirty ones. So it lives in a blog-friendly limbo. Not for the kiddies!


THE TWO MEN SAT at a table several yards removed from the cluster of happy-hourers at the bar. One of the men looked to be in his late 40s, with a high-domed forehead topped with thinning, straw-colored hair. The other, probably 22, was reddish and slumped in his chair like a wilted hot dog. “You need another drink,” the older man said. “You need to relax. Let me tell you a story about orgasms.”

“Jesus, Del,” the young man muttered.

“You’re new to all this.”

“My girlfriend and I have been – ”

“Drinking, I mean. You’ve always been the straight arrow type. Let’s get this waitress – Miss! Get this fellow another one. I’m set, thanks.” The waitress was costumed in the saloon’s pirate motif, assuming pirates showed generous cleavage and allowed a callipygian moonset to peer below a short, frilly skirt. Del stared after her, shaking his head. “That’s what I’m talking about. That young woman earns her money, and I hope she makes a lot of it off of horndogs like me. But is she happy?”

“Who the fuck cares.”

“Come on, Jeremy, get in the spirit. The bitch broke up with you. So ask the waitress out. At least you’ll have some tits to play with while you’re in mourning.”

“Shelley is not a bitch. She had every right to be upset.”