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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bearing in Mind

Welcoming You to the World Dept.: When I wrote the piece below, my wife was beginning her seventh month of pregnancy with our only child. Because she had turned 40, her gynecologist insisted that Susan was “high-risk” and would require all manner of tests and technology to facilitate her delivery. Instead, my wife turned to a community of midwives whose knowledge and experience was unrecognized by New York, and we planned what turned out to be a spectacularly successful home birth. The impediments faced by direct-entry midwives have eased since 1996, but as long as our culture continues to view birth as a medical emergency and view obstetricians as godlike, the denial of natural childbirth will remain a frustrating component of the marginalization of women.

Birth rights: Protestors at the Governor’s
Mansion call for legal recognition of
direct-entry midwives. Photo by Scott Gries.

AMONG THE CROWD OF ABOUT 150 who jammed the sidewalk in front of the Governor’s Mansion on Monday were more than 50 distinctively garbed Amish people. They had traveled from Montgomery County to make a rare public appearance with the New York Friends of Midwives to support the legal recognition of direct-entry midwives – experienced midwives without formal medical training. For the Amish, midwife-attended home births are a way of life, but it’s not a legally recognized option in New York State.

Earlier in the day, Syracuse-based midwife Roberta Devers-Scott was sentenced to three years of probation and a $900 fine after being found guilty of attempted practice of midwifery without a license. She spoke at the Albany rally, promising to continue her fight against a state licensing practice that certifies only registered nurses as midwives.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” she said. “Direct-entry midwives exist. We need to get licensing and put an end to this system that excludes a vital profession.”

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Well-Trimmed Harmony

From the Vault Dept.: I suspect that, like bagpipers and Barack Obama, barbershop quartets inspire only the most extreme opinions. I took a whack at singing in a roomful of b.q. aspirants a couple of years before writing the piece below, and it increased my admiration for what these singers do. Here’s my review of a 1987 concert by the River Valley Chorus, which is a member of the Sweet Adelines, and which continues to meet – but since I wrote that piece, they’ve moved to Tuesday nights in Schenectady, and there’s more info here.


THERE IS A CLOSE-HARMONY STYLE so distinctively American that any cliché image of the turn of the century includes a barbershop quartet.

Men, of course, with large mustaches, singing of the women idealized in the old (pre-Hearst) Life magazine or, more rudely, on the Police Gazette. But women have proved vocal equals of men in the close-harmony field, and the national association of Sweet Adelines has promoted clubs just as enthusiastic as that men's group with all the initials.*

The River Valley Chorus celebrated these traditions with a concert titled “A Touch of Memory” at the Egg Saturday evening, which at its best was a terrific show of showmanship. And showwomanship.

For the opening, a Hollywood theme. Silver jumpsuits and sky-blue blouses, with even a few well-coordinated dance steps for something of a Busby Berkeley feel. If all the elements of this show had been that good, it would have been dazzling throughout.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Blowing Fine

From the Vault Dept.: I’m revisiting old technology. More specifically, I’m digitizing cassettes that seem worth keeping, cassettes that have languished in a closet far too long. A recent candidate was a program by the Catskill Woodwind Quintet, some of the pieces on which were performed by the group in 1990 at a fascinating venue called the Windfall Dutch Barn. And here’s the review I wrote.


TUCKED INTO THE SOUTHWEST CORNER of Montgomery County, this little town has an agricultural history that still characterizes the landscape – and left behind an old Dutch barn that some neighbors had the good sense to restore a few years back.

The Windfall Dutch Barn is now a site for cultural events, and hosted a reunion of the Catskill Woodwind Quintet last night that featured a quartet of pieces written for the group throughout the previous decade.

I’ve never seen a more sylvan setting for a concert, in which the barn itself was a personality. A brief thundershower punctuated one of the works and the resultant changes in temperature and air pressure caused, as composer (and former barn neighbor) Harvey Sollberger observed, “the wood to sing its own songs.”

The four composers represented are living, working people – unlike, say, the composers represented on this season’s Metropolitan Opera bill – and two were on hand to introduce their works.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Kilt-y Pleasure

THERE’S A MYTH OF HEROISM handed down to young men that seems especially attractive as the teenaged years set in. It suggests that there’s an identity to be crafted through sporting events, and that the gridiron champ will prove irresistibly fascinating to the women he desires. It’s a myth obsessively exploited by the advertisers wooing this susceptible demographic, to the extent that a fellow easily can convince himself that a flagon of beer and a knowledge of sports-team statistics will summon beautiful women to his side. And this, in fact, is what happens at the Tilted Kilt.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
From a marketing standpoint, the concept is work of genius. Even a grumpy cynic like myself, whose teenaged years now seem to have occurred in the time of Noah and who cares not a bit for sports-related anything, can melt like butter when smiled upon by a shapely sylph in slightly immodest togs. I’d like to say that I’ll return to the Tilted Kilt in order to again try to pretend that I’m not staring at the cleavage on display, but my main motivation will be to enjoy another one of their burgers.

The Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery is a thirteen-year-old chain that started in Las Vegas as a sports bar with a Celtic theme – transplanting a Scottish sartorial tradition to Ireland, and further refining it by putting the titular kilt on the female servers in the scantiest of lengths. It distinguishes itself from Hooters, that flagship breastaurant, by not obsessing over heterosexuality. Hooters is a haven for the superannuated fourteen-year-old boy who still thinks sex is an act of random magic and who seeks a safe haven in which he may utter the unamusing double entendre. The Tilted Kilt doesn’t bother to play “let’s pretend it’s all about owls.” Here are the women, here are the TV monitors, here’s the menu. And it’s helped by the welcoming feel of the restaurant’s pub-like look.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Special Spring Theme-Throwback Double Header!

From the Nostalgic Dining Vault: Of the several review visits I paid over the years to Jumpin’ Jack’s, Scotia’s venerable seasonal burger mecca, this 1990 essay bears special testament to its longevity because it’s still going strong even as Stash & Stella’s, a wholly fabricated attempt to create a ‘50s dining atmosphere, has vanished with nary a trace.


AS FAR AS MANY AREA EATERS ARE CONCERNED, it’s enough to murmur “they’re open.” Spring begins when Jumpin’ Jack’s fires up the grill, ups the prices by a coin or two and throws open its service windows.

Both restaurants considered here today have a throwback theme. With Jumpin’ Jack’s, it’s completely artless. The places simply hasn’t changed in 36 years. Onetime supermarket employee Jack Brennan made a fortune with the place and sold it, but the tradition continues under Mark Lansing’s leadership.

There have been a few changes over the years. The tables have wooden roofs, for instance. But nothing has spoiled the carnival essence of the place.

For the uninitiated, Jumpin’ Jack’s is a fast-food joint on the bank of the Mohawk River just over the bridge when you take Route 5 from Schenectady to Scotia. You’ll see it down there on your right.

But no gimmicks are used to promote the product, which isn’t cooked in complicated, specially-built equipment. Your meal is made to order, as you can see when you follow the line of customers from ordering station to cash register.