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Monday, September 27, 2021

Planting Your Future

NEW DEMANDS from a dynamic global economy, continued decline in the quality and availability of natural resources, and the unprecedented challenges of climate change are just beginning to take their toll on the U.S. food system. That’s the starting point of Laura Lengnick’s book Resilient Agriculture, Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate (New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada, 2015), which she researched and wrote in what seem now like the halcyon days of 2013-14, when the Obama administration’s responses to the challenges of climate change had begun to build some momentum, however slow. Now, with the U.S. government taken over by the corporate interests who profit from All Things Unsustainable – to the point of completely denying the irrefutable man-made contributions to global warming – her book takes on more urgency than ever.

Ironically, it argues that we can change our farming ways without governmental assistance, an approach that seemed amusingly maverick until Jan. 20. Now it’s absolutely vital if we want to continue to eat well even as the waters rise.

Lengnick visited 25 farmers across the United States, choosing those who had been in that business for at least twenty years, noting that many of them were fourth- or fifth-generation families working the soil.

The Great Plains, for example, is a major source of feed grains and cattle, but higher temperatures and greater rainfall has challenged third-generation Kansas farmer Gail Fuller to move to a no-till approach in order to reduce erosion (and save on fuel costs). He also stopped raising livestock – it was thought that cows “were too destructive to soils and the damage they caused by trampling farm ground couldn’t be fixed without tillage,” as he explained. But his erosion continued. He blamed that on his focus on corn and soybean production, so he added cover crops, increased crop rotation, and brought back the cattle, with the goal, as Lengnick explains, of “keeping a living root in the ground at all times.”

Friday, September 24, 2021

Thoughts on Fuel Saving

Guest Blogger Dept.: Robert Benchley returns with, well, thoughts on fuel saving, which are most appropriate as we enter autumn. Mr. Benchley has been doing heroic service here imparting his wisdom about topics I’m too bashful to cover.


CONSIDERABLE SPACE HAS BEEN GIVEN in the magazines and newspapers this winter to official and expert directions on How to Run Your Furnace and Save Coal—as if the two things were compatible. Some had accompanying diagrams of a furnace in its normal state, showing the exact position of the arteries and vitals, with arrows pointing in interesting directions, indicating the theoretical course of the heat.

I have given some time to studying these charts, and have come to the conclusion that when the authors of such articles and I speak the word “furnace,” we mean entirely different things. They are referring to some idealized, sublimated creation; perhaps the “furnace” which existed originally in the mind of Horace W. Furnace, the inventor; while, on the other hand, I am referring to the thing that is in my cellar. No wonder that I can’t understand their diagrams.

For my own satisfaction, therefore, I have drawn up a few regulations which I can understand, and have thrown them together most informally for whatever they may be worth. Any one else who has checked up the official furnace instructions with Life as it really is and has found something wrong somewhere may go as far as he likes with the results of my researches. I give them to the world.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Jardin à la Française

From the Food Vault Dept.: I ran the review below on this blog a decade ago as the sidebar to another piece from the same Metroland issue. I noted that this review visit was in the company of a stranger, someone who had won the privilege of a review meal with me at some arts auction to which I foolishly agreed to donate the event, and we had absolutely nothing to talk about during the course of the meal. So I never mentioned her in the piece. Chef-owner René Facchetti sold the business a year after this review appeared, his successors didn’t seem to get more than a couple of years out of it, and it became Capitol House and the Patroon House before getting repurposed into a business office. It also emerged since then that this was one of the kitchens where celebrity chef Damon Baehrel trained, although Baehrel’s obsessive pursuit of the image of a complete autodidact keeps him from acknowledging that debt. Here, again, is my 1987 review of Chez René:


NERO WOLFE, the detective of literature who combined investigative genius with a passion for fine food, never permitted talk of business at table. It’s a splendid policy and one that, really, is so easy to follow when you sit down to dinner as a celebration.

It’s probably the most ritualized activity of the day and deserves whatever fanfare can be invited around it. You mad microwavers, you who are “too busy too cook”– you’re too busy to dine.

Chez René is a lovely home in Glenmont, little altered save for the large professional kitchen added onto the back. Seating is in one of many small rooms for a truly intimate feel; service is discreet and ever watchful.

On a rainy weekday evening I met a guest under the awning and entered this wonderful embassy of old-fashioned France; our hostess was costumed in the colorful garb of that country.

Chef René Facchetti has been running the restaurant for over 12 years. “I was born in Brittany,” he explains, “and I trained there and in Paris. I’ve worked on the Riviera and the Cote Basque, among other places.”

Friday, September 17, 2021

Double Your Pleasure

From the Record Shelf Dept.: The reason for this reissue is explained in the text. I’m just not certain if it truly ran in Metroland, the Albany-based alternative weekly for which I wrote for many years. I have copies of the 1999 issues in a box in my attic, but I’m not motivated at the moment to go searching. What if I don’t find the piece in any of the issues? Better to confidently speculate. If it ran, it would have been on or about the date I’ve credited below.


THERE’S NO GETTING AROUND the inferior sound of very old recordings, but legendary stories describe alternatives. The Heifetz and Toscanini recording of the Beethoven violin concerto is dry and muffled, but it’s said that a warm-sounding version exists. And then there’s the problem with the 1939 Heifetz-Feuermann recording of the Brahms Double Concerto.

Back in the days of 78s, longer works needed side breaks every four minutes or so, and these were agreed upon by the engineer and performers before recording began. Thanks to a misunderstanding at the Brahms session, the first movement’s side breaks weren’t correctly engineered. Rather than re-record the movement, RCA Victor’s engineers dubbed the 78 masters before pressing copies, with a resultant deterioration in sound. Every issue since then, including vinyl and CD, includes a surfeit of noise and a lack of clarity.

But the session’s producer kept test pressings of the originals, and these were transfer engineer Mark Obert-Thorn’s source for the current release. The difference in sound is remarkable. Orchestral nuances suddenly appear, and the soloists themselves have a far nicer edge to their sound.

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Copland Legacy

From the Classical Vault Dept.: I’ve been covering the Bard Summerscape series for enough years that some of the earlier programs I’ve attended are starting to fade into the memory mists. Which is why it’s nice to discover a piece like the piece below, reminding me of a visit I made there sixteen years ago.


THE JOY OF BARD’S ANNUAL SUMMER MUSIC FESTIVAL is the concentration of music and people relating to the year’s chosen composer. This year, Aaron Copland got the much-deserved limelight, opening a window on the state of American music throughout the last century.

Aaron Copland
As in past years, the final summer concert last Sunday featured the American Symphony Orchestra in a rip-roaring program the like of which you’ll never find in a mainstream concert series. Copland’s brassy Symphony No. 3 was the centerpiece, but the rarely performed Third Symphony by Roger Sessions also was on the program, a work that practically insists that you dislike it upon first hearing.

Which may say more about we as listeners than about Sessions as a composer. True, his later music resisted the pursuit of populist approval, but it rewards the educated, open-minded listener with an experience of emotionally satisfying complexity. His four-movement Symphony No. 3, which dates from 1946, opens with a Molto agitato movement that explodes in your face with slashing gestures that soon coalesce into a remarkable soundscape, highlighted by solo violin over horn chords.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Theater of Pain

From the Theater Vault Dept.: Thirty-five years after the piece below appeared, Bread and Puppet Theater is still active, still based in Glover, Vermont. The Annual Domestic Resurrection Circus is no more, but you’ll find plenty of info about current activities on the group’s website. I’m aggrieved to note, however, that of the four contact venues listed at the end of the piece, only the first-named remains.


YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF PETER SCHUMANN? You’re not alone. He doesn’t have much truck with the news media, and has rusticated himself in a tiny Vermont town away from the attention of the various cities.

But his Bread and Puppet Theater, when it’s at home in August, fills the town with spectators every August for the Nineteenth Annual Domestic Resurrection Circus (like Jack Benny’s age, the anniversary number never changes), weekend circus of celebration. Otherwise, Schumann is touring throughout this country and Europe, an itinerary that brings him to Page Hall at the downtown SIJNYA campus Tuesday, Sept. 9 at 8 PM for a special benefit performance.

“The Hunger of the Hungry and the Hunger of the Overfed” is being presented in support of the Interfaith Partnership for the Homeless, a group that provides shelter and services for the homeless in Albany.

They couldn’t have found a better enthusiast than Schumann, who has been using his theatrical sensibility to kick up political fusses for many years. He was one of Manhattan’s first guerilla theater performers, working solo on the streets of the Lower East Side in the early 1960s, even as he was trying to place his avant-garde sculpture into museums. Many of his street shows were done with “crankies,” a mural wrapped like a toilet roll and unwound to a narration. He took on subjects like rent strikes and rat control.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Sit Down!

With Labor Day upon us again, let's revisit a classic song performed by Mordecai Bauman and the Manhattan Chorus.

Friday, September 03, 2021

A Scrap of Curious History

Guest Blogger Dept.: Mark Twain published surprisingly little about the abolitionist cause, which had been a heated subject in his childhood home. However, a possibly unfinished manuscript he wrote in 1894 addressed the topic square on. It was published in Harper’s shortly after Twain’s death, edited, rather drastically, by Twain’s literary executor, Albert Bigelow Paine, and reprinted in the same form in the 1917 book What is Man? And Other Essays. Here’s the piece in something closer to its original form.


MARION CITY, on the Mississippi River, in the State of Missouri—a village; time, 1845. La Bourboule-les-Bains, France—a village; time, the end of June, 1894. I was in the one village in that early time; I am in the other now. These times and places are sufficiently wide apart, yet today I have the strange sense of being thrust back into that Missourian village and of reliving certain stirring days that I lived there so long ago.

Last Saturday night the life of the President of the French Republic was taken by an Italian assassin. Last night a mob surrounded our hotel, shouting, howling, singing the “Marseillaise,” and pelting our windows with sticks and stones; for we have Italian waiters, and the mob demanded that they be turned out of the house instantly—to be drubbed, and then driven out of the village. Everybody in the hotel remained up until far into the night, and experienced the several kinds of terror which one reads about in books which tell of night attacks by Italians and by French mobs: the growing roar of the oncoming crowd; the arrival, with rain of stones and a crash of glass; the withdrawal to rearrange plans—followed by a silence ominous, threatening, and harder to bear than even the active siege and the noise. The landlord and the two village policemen stood their ground, and at last the mob was persuaded to go away and leave our Italians in peace. Today four of the ringleaders have been sentenced to heavy punishment of a public sort—and are become local heroes, by consequence.