Search This Blog

Monday, October 28, 2019

Hungarian Soul

From the Classical Vault Dept.: The Tokyo String Quartet was founded in 1969 by students who had been schooled in Tokyo before continuing their studies at the Juilliard School. They disbanded in 2012, but made several stops in New York’s Capital Region along the way. Here’s my review of one such event in 2009.


IF THERE WAS A MELANCHOLY EDGE to the happy return of the Tokyo String Quartet, it was only in the programming. Three works tinged (or shot through) with melancholy comprised the program, performed by an internationally renowned ensemble making its fourth appearance for the Friends of Chamber Music – and its first in 28 years.

At the heart of the program was Bartók’s sixth (and last) quartet, a trenchant piece whose misery is explained by the composer’s despair over the fascist incursions into his native Hungary and the death of his mother. Each of the work’s four movements is introduced by a theme marked “mesto,” meaning “sad.” It’s introduced quietly, poignantly, by siolo viola, and each time that theme reappears, another instrument is added. Each of the first three movements takes a vigorous side-trip, but the finale is given over to the “mesto” experience, finishing the piece with as unhappy a mood as music can muster, a soft plucked chirp from the cello the only hint of optimism. There must be something unwaveringly sad in the Hungarian soul, because the world’s most depressing pop song, “Gloomy Sunday,” is also a product of that country.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Downtown Gustatory Pursuit

From the Culinary Vault Dept.: Monday’s post, revisiting my 2008 DiCarlo’s review, mentioned McGeary’s Irish Pub, my 2010 review of which, I realized, isn’t on this blog. It is now. Things have changed, of course, but not really by much.


“WE DON’T TAKE ADVANTAGE of McGeary’s enough,” I said. We were headed to see a show at Capital Rep and because I’ve become completely neurotic about parking, I was hoping to dump the car early for dinner and not have to move it.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Pearl Street’s dining demographic doesn’t really include me, so far as I can figure. While I’m often able to inure myself to a bank of TV screens, should there be a phalanx of sports fans glued to a significant event, their cheers and moans typically prove too startling – not to mention that it zooms me back to my fat-kid-tormented-in-gym-class days.

But my tormentors hang out in Jillian’s, leaving McGeary’s free for more gustatory pursuits. Not that you can’t drink there – the bank of beer taps at the long, wide bar promise all manner of suds. And the TVs are quiet.

“Actually, our food business is booming,” says Tess Collins. “Within a week and a half after reopening here, food has jumped up to 50 percent the business.” She’s the new manager,, although factotum may be the better term. As anyone who knows her from her years at Justin’s and the Lark Tavern can attest, once she’s put in charge, things happen. Good things.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Revealing Cuisine

From the Culinary Vault Dept.: When I reviewed the Albany strip club DiCarlo’s back in 2008, it was still under the management of founder Sal DiCarlo. After he died in 2012, the club was purchased by Tess Collins, an excellent restaurateur who has operated the wonderful McGeary’s in Albany’s downtown for many years. She cut back the hours and changed the menu, so don’t expect the fare described below. But the show goes on.


A SMALL STAGE IS FLANKED by cylindrical columns of bubble-filled water, the color of which changes throughout the show. Color-changing lights flash rhythmically on the stage and a disco ball sends its fragmented sparkle around the room. A reverberant voice announces the next dancer, and a woman strides into view, her costume something she might wear to bed when in a frivolous mood. Men at the bar and the ringside tables are watching, most feigning I’ve-seen-it-all-before disinterest, all of them happily in touch with that persistent adolescent hope of hopes and wish of wishes: I’m about to see a woman’s breasts.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
It’s Hooters without the hypocrisy. (Of course, the ontology of ecdysiastics is riddled with its own many-layered hypocrisy, but that’s for a different essay.) And it’s worth noting that Hooters is long gone from Albany while DiCarlo’s soldiers on, one of the longest-lived “gentlemen’s clubs” in the area.

I’m not a frequent enough patron to analyze the reason, although I suspect that the club’s professionalism and cleanliness have a lot to do with it. What I want to tell you about, however, is the culinary discovery I made. If you’re looking for an economical lunch of pub fare, and don’t mind the rather loud, distracting entertainment going on around you, you’ll find some very good eats here.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Old Memories

From the Tech Vault Dept.: Here’s a pair of pieces I wrote for the online computer magazine c|net some twenty years ago. I don’t know the exact date these ran, or in what context, or with what artwork, and there’s no way to find screen shots these days. Then again, all the promises made below are so out-of-date that I might as well be talking about daguerreotypes.


THE PRICE OF COMPUTING is memory usage. Every program chews up RAM, but quit the program and you don’t necessarily get the RAM back. That’s where WinRAM Booster Pro comes in handy. Like many similar utilities, it delivers extra memory space by defragmenting what’s in use, closing the gaps and returning impressive amounts of RAM.

An easy-to-follow main screen introduces the components, chief of which is RAM optimization. This can be run on an as-needed basis, but it’s more useful when set to auto-optimize at regular intervals (ten minutes works out as a good amount). Better still, you can enhance application shortcuts by adding an optimization command before the application is invoked.

As Windows runs out of RAM, it uses hard drive space for memory caching. That’s your Windows swap file. WinRAM Booster includes a cache optimization utility that lets you select the minimum and maximum settings, the chunk size (the size of data units swapped to and from the cache), and file cache settings. Six pre-sets simplify your choices, including settings optimized for CD burning, multimedia, and games.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Ramblin’ Boy

From the Literary Vault Dept.: Ernie Pyle turned out the best-written, most-insightful profiles of all manner of Americana as he traveled from state to state in the 1930s. The collection I reviewed below came out thirty years ago, but the excellence of what Pyle wrote has yet to dim.


THE WARTIME DISPATCHES Ernie Pyle sent from the front during the early 1940s did a lot to connect a confused nation with its far-flung heroes. When the writer stopped a sniper’s bullet near Okinawa, he became a civilian martyr.

For several years before the war he was a different kind of correspondent. He travelled throughout the 48 states in the late 1930s and wrote, six times a week, about people and places poignant and sentimental. And funny, but with a gentle, midwestern sense of fun. He never laughed at his subjects.

There have been travel writers before and since, but Pyle set a tone that’s hard to match and has never been bettered. He covered vast distances by car, “the speedometer needle never passing 60,” and saw an easygoing nation determinedly pulling itself out of the ravages of the Depression. It was a way of living that’s long behind us, told in a folksy style that never lapses into the self-consciousness of, say, a Garrison Keillor.

“Ernie’s America” collects what editor David Nichols considers the best of Pyle’s American writings. Six times a week for several years is a lot to choose from, but I’m inclined to trust Nichols’ judgment. For one thing, he’s a Hoosier, just like Pyle was. (Although Indiana seems to recognize its writers only with eponymous rest stops on Interstate 80. And you’ll find, at the Pyle Rest Area, that Ernie’s commemorative plaque is obscured by a video game.)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Words, Words

From the Vault Dept.: What a delight it was, 30 years ago, to see a George Carlin performance. He gave us a sense of hope that the lunacy of politics wouldn’t kill us, a hope I no longer enjoy. Here’s my Schenectady Gazette review of that long-ago show.


GEORGE CARLIN IS FASCINATED BY WORDS. We know that from his notorious “Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” routine, the commercial recording of which has gotten several radio stations in FCC trouble.

George Carlin
Carlin gave us an update Saturday night at Proctor’s Theatre, regaling a full house with his observations on language and people – but mostly language.

“Americans deal with reality by inventing a soft language to describe it,” he said, and traced the evolution of what was known during World War I as “shell shock” through increasingly detached terms like “battle fatigue,” “operational exhaustion” and, most recently, “post-traumatic stress disorder,” with eight syllables “and a hyphen!”

Although the tradition of shock as comedy has been with us for hundreds of years, Carlin’s barbs are as current as ever. It’s not the shock, sex-oriented comedy of Eddie Murphy; it’s more in line with the Lenny Bruce tradition.

And it’s thanks to Bruce and Carlin that this kind of comedy is seen in clubs and on stage – and on cable television specials, such as the HBO program Carlin told us he’s preparing to tape.

Hence the current tour. Carlin paced the stage, microphone in hand, follow spot leaping to follow, a thin, scraggly guy in a T-shirt with “Da Bronx” printed on it.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Well May the World Go

SEVEN YEARS AGO, Pete Seeger ventured the hope that “the human race has a 50/50 chance to be here a century from now.” He had, at that point, seen almost a century of life himself, and spent the bulk of those years seeking and sharing musical answers to society’s difficult questions.

Seeger’s recorded legacy reflects this long, expansive life, capturing him in a variety of venues and, when he wasn’t solo, working with the most influential performers of the folk-music scene – not to mention jazz and blues and country, because it all melded, under Seeger’s guidance, into a sound that defied classification.

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings celebrated the Seeger centenary with a six-CD set that draws from his hundreds of recordings for Moses Asch’s Folkways label (and a number of ancillary labels) made from 1941 to 1998. It’s as thorough a collection as you’re likely to find, and it sounds terrific – which is a good think, because some of those originals were dashed off onto unstable acetate discs that didn’t sound great when they were first released. Seeger was wont to appear at Asch’s office and record a song or three, which eventually would be compiled into an album, well over a hundred of which emerged over the decades.

Friday, October 04, 2019

General American Fare

From the Food Vault Dept.: Here’s an excellent example of an eatery that thrived for over half a century, then closed (in 2013) while it was still popular. Lake George, too, had thrived, enouigh so that Montcalm owner Den Beckos was able to get a good price for the place from a development company. The site is now a strip mall. Here’s my review (from 2002), a longer version than that which ran in Metroland.


HERE’S AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE of a restaurant that promises a specific kind of dining experience and then delivers just what you expect. Delivers it efficiently, with a friendly flair, so that you hardly notice that you’re in the midst of a large, busy room. Lobster and steak (prime rib a specialty) are the dominant menu items in an old-fashioned type of find-dining setting. “We have a commercial kind of menu,” says Dean Beckos, “because we know our clientele and know that this is what they enjoy.”

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Located on Route 9 south of Lake George village, Montcalm is a year-round, seven-days-a-week operation. Summer business can be tourist crazy, of course, but this place knows how to handle the crowds. We stopped in last week, post-summer season, pre-foliage, and the place still was hopping.

First a little history. The restaurant’s name is taken from the 18th-century French general who besieged Fort William Henry in Lake George, ultimately routing the English and destroying the fort. The original restaurant building, opened in 1956 by Gus and Jo Beckos, was not far from the fort’s site in downtown Lake George. In 1971, the Beckos family expanded the business by putting up a new building just north of Queensbury, in an area now dominated by shopping plazas. This now is the only Montcalm – the old building gave way to Water Slide World – and their son, Dean, is now very much involved in the business.