journals: Cave Wall, Winter 2014, No. 13

Enjoyed this issue of Cave Wall. I found the art really evocative - I don't always like the black and white woodcuts featured in this journal, but this issue's art by Geraldine Theurot was really nice. Lisa Zimmerman's poems at the end of the issue were favorites, as well as David Thacker's poems about pregnancy.

books 2015: Crush, by Richard Siken

I wasn't totally in love with this at first, but the second half of the book really sucked me in. "You Are Jeff" in particular was haunting.

books 2015: Earth Is Room Enough, by Isaac Asimov

Early short fiction by Asimov - the copyright date for the book is 1957. Some of this was really silly, but still well-done. I enjoyed the couple of poems a lot; they were funny and whimsical and the rhymes were spot-on. Probably the best story was the one that opens the collection, "The Dead Past", which because of the subject matter is going to stick with me a bit. "Satisfaction Guaranteed" fits into Asimov's robot timeline and was also a good read. Overall, enough to keep me busy on the train without making me want to read it all the time.

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According to Goodreads, I read this back in 2010. Other than a few poems towards the end, I didn't remember it, but I did note in my 2010 review that "the whole book went by very quickly" so maybe that's why. Anyway, I was looking for poetry that would really move me; I've been reading a lot of poetry lately but it's not necessarily getting to my heart, and I thought this might since there's some motherhood in there. (Maybe the problem is that I'm reading poetry before bed and I'm just too tired? But before bed used to be a good creative time for my writing, so I don't know.) Anyway, the few poems toward the end sung for me, like they apparently did before, but again this went by pretty quickly but enjoyably.
Last week Mom and I went to the opera. It was very eventful. Most importantly, April 26 was Free Soft Pretzel Day, so we each got a free soft pretzel on the way to the theater. Huzzah!

Don Carlo is about the son of the king of Spain, who meets his betrothed Elisabeth and falls in love, so good news, right? No, Carlo's dad decides that it'd be better politically for the king to marry Elisabeth himself, so Carlo has to watch his dad marry the girl he loves. Carlo's best friend Rodrigo encourages him to go to Flanders, which is owned by Spain and where people are being persecuted; Rodrigo argues that Carlo can set things right there and put some space between the gross royal love triangle. But things inevitably go wrong, the Carlo/Elisabeth love story is betrayed to King Philip (when they didn't even do anything besides mope at each other), Carlo is imprisoned and escapes, Rodrigo is killed, and Carlo takes too long saying goodbye to Elisabeth before running off to Flanders and gets caught and dies. (Which is pretty implausible - the assassin who killed Rodrigo probably would have overheard the time/place of the Elisabeth meetup, so why wouldn't they have been waiting for Carlo there?)

This is sort of emblematic of what I didn't love about the show itself: nobody does anything that makes any sense or that any reasonable person would do under the circumstances. At one point I leaned over to my mom and whispered, "This doesn't take place in the Spanish court, it's the court of mentally deranged people!" But then we read in the program that Verdi was creating the work specifically for the Paris Opera in the 1860s, when "long productions with melodramatic plots, lavish stage sets, action-packed crowd scenes, and a mandatory ballet" was what the audience wanted, so it makes sense that Verdi did it up. The original Don Carlo was "a five-act opera of over four hours, complete with ballet, a parade, and the spectacle of heretics being burned to death" but "he had to make cuts because the last train from Paris to its suburbs would have left by the final curtain". Mom and I strongly sympathize with that problem, since every single time we go to the opera we struggle with either leaving early to catch the 5:10 train (being in time for dinner at home) or staying to the end of the show and sitting around to wait for the 6:10 train (missing dinner at home and frustrating one's spouse who has been at home with one's child all day - oh wait that part is just my problem). For Don Carlo, Mom and I knew in advance that it was a long one, so we just planned on the 6:10 train right from the get-go.

The show began with an announcement that Michelle DeYoung, who was playing the role of Princess Eboli (Elisabeth's lady in waiting), was feeling unwell; she had graciously consented to walk the part but it would be voiced by someone else. Mom and I had never heard of such a thing happening before. How they did it was actually really cool: DeYoung appeared on the stage in costume, moving through the part as Princess Eboli, but another singer stood at the edge of the stage by the curtain and did all the singing. Both of them actually did a fantastic job - the vocals were tremendous and the acting was really evocative. Later, I talked to my opera "source", my neighbor Sid who both sings in the chorus and works full-time in the development office, and he reported that DeYoung had been struggling with bronchitis all week and had really tried to conquer it before the opening, but no dice. The other singer had recently performed this role in Don Carlo in New York - the five-act version in French, so obviously it was no problem for her to come do the four-act version in Italian, no big. Under these circumstances their performances were even more impressive.

And then, at intermission, there was an announcement that Eric Owens, who was playing King Philip, was feeling unwell! Owens went on with the show anyway but wanted to disclose that he wouldn't be singing at full voice. Well, I would not have noticed, considering the performance he turned in. Sid reports that Owens made the call to disclose the illness because the second half includes King Philip's major parts, including an aria of his own and a big duet with the Grand Inquisitor (the true villain of the whole thing), but I thought he rocked both of them. He managed to turn in a really nuanced performance in which you sympathized with Philip (even though he gave the order to EXECUTE his SON and seemed more upset about the corresponding order to execute Rodrigo). The only part where he fell short for me was in a big crowd scene where Philip is kind of shouting orders; I would imagine that at full voice he'd be really commanding here, but he blended into the background a bit. But I genuinely wouldn't have noticed this if I hadn't already known that he wasn't well; I would have just thought it was a crowd scene.

Overall, my favorite moments were in the second half: Rodrigo's death scene was just so powerfully done, Troy Cook just did an amazing job. And I really liked all of Eboli's parts in the second half as well, the character really came together (despite being played and voiced by two different people). Carlo and Elisabeth were not all that interesting to me, but there was plenty of other action to pique my interest in this opera. It won't be a favorite of mine, but I did enjoy it and I'm glad I saw it.

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books 2015: Neighbors, by Jay Nebel

I really enjoyed this book. Nebel does a good job of being brutally honest, capturing difficult emotions that no one wants to say out loud.
On Saturday night, my mom slept over to watch f so that F and I could go to a concert! F and I headed downtown around 5:30 (after some dithering to waste time because the parking lot at Union Transfer didn't open until 6pm). We found the lot and parked with no problem, and then our indecision about where to go for dinner was resolved when we saw that Jose's Tacos, the hole-in-a-wall Mexican place we'd been considering, was literally right across the street. The guac was very good, smooth and creamy, my fish tacos were excellent, and F was pleased with the three different kinds of tacos he got. Jose's lost some points because they didn't have horchata, but overall, I'd totally go there again.

After Jose's we still had time before doors opened at 8, so we walked a few blocks to Prohibition Taproom, where I exulted over being in a bar! With my husband! And no children whatsoever in the entire establishment! I had an Einstök Icelandic white ale, and F had a spiced beer that was tasty, albeit autumnal, with a silly-sounding name (Doogelsnargel? Something like that). We also ordered a fried soft pretzel, which was as excellent as it sounds. We split one more Icelandic white ale while we ate it.

We arrived at Union Transfer to get in line a few minutes before 8 and had a fun conversation with the couple behind us, one of whom was surprising the other with concert tickets, so the guy had no idea who was playing and was trying to figure it out. He was pleased when he did.

It was my first time at Union Transfer and I thought it was a great venue. It definitely helped, from my perspective, that it was a seated show, but it was good to know that there are balconies that I could perhaps hide on if I wanted to go to a future show there. The bar area was really nice but we didn't hang out there at all.

Opening act was The Secret Cinema, who describe themselves as "the Philadelphia area's premiere floating repertory cinema series" focusing on old films that "fall between the cracks," and only on celluloid. The program they presented was really interesting, a series of short films all revolving around pop music. There were clips from the 1930s and 1940s (including one with a conga line in which the singer pulled up various stereotypes from random cultures, and the entire audience winced when she got to the "Indian Chief"), 1960s (including a light-hearted promotional short of British band The Thoughts featuring their song "Girls in Short Short Dresses" and the band running around London chasing some "birds", and about which Stephin later said, "How about swingin' London and its intense misogyny?"), and the 1970s (OMG Tim Curry singing "Paradise Garage" and being so totally secure in his absolute disco coolness). Overall, I wish every opening band could be replaced by interesting historical film clips.

Here's a description of the concept for Stephin Merritt's show and overall tour: "This show will be the very first date of a rare solo tour for Merritt, who will be accompanied by long-time bandmate Sam Davol on cello. For this series of performances, Merritt will present a set of solo, acoustic versions of selected songs from his extensive catalog. Merritt will perform exactly 26 songs with each song title starting with a different letter of the alphabet and running in alphabetical order."

And that's exactly what they did. It was so great. Here's the setlist (which we looked up after the fact):

  • Andrew in Drag (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • The Book of Love (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • The Dead Only Quickly (The 6ths cover)

  • Epitaph for My Heart (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • Forever and a Day (from the musical Stephin's been working on with Daniel Handler since forever)

  • Give Me Back My Dreams (The 6ths cover)

  • 100,000 Fireflies (The Magnetic Fields cover) (I found this one very confusing at the time since I wasn't familiar with the song or its title - but "A Hundred Thousand" made much more sense once we looked up the setlist!)

  • I Wish I Had an Evil Twin (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • Josephine (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • Kiss Me Like You Mean It (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • My Husband's Pied-A-Terre (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • The Nun's Litany (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • One Long Fairytale (I think this might have been from his Coraline musical? He mentioned that the mice are singing it, and that as everyone knows, mice lisp when they sing - and the lisp rhymes were just really excellent)

  • A Pretty Girl Is Like... (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • Quick! (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • Reno Dakota (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • Shipwrecked (The Gothic Archies cover)

  • This Little Ukulele

  • The Ugly Little Duck (As Stephin said, this was from his Hans Christian Andersen musical, because, "you know, everyone has one")

  • Very Funny (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • The World Is a Disco Ball (Future Bible Heroes cover)

  • Xylophone Track (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • Your Girlfriend's Face (The Magnetic Fields cover)

  • Encore: Zombie Boy (The Magnetic Fields cover)

I was wondering how they'd do the encore, since obviously they wouldn't do an extra song, but before "Your Girlfriend's Face" Stephin said something like, "And now, because Y is the last letter in the alphabet AS YOU ALL KNOW, this will be OUR LAST SONG", which I guess was the best way to do it considering the situation. :)

My favorites were "Book of Love", "Epitaph for my Heart", "Reno Dakota",and "Very Funny" (predictably, since they're all off 69 Love Songs), and I loved "Andrew in Drag". F liked these but also really liked "The World Is a Disco Ball". Overall, we wished he had dome fewer joke songs and more with emotional resonance - for example, doing "I Looked All Over Town" instead of "I Wish I Had an Evil Twin". It felt like there were rather a lot of joke songs ("Your Girlfriend's Face" and "Shipwrecked" being two that were new to me; I liked "Quick!" but F found it too jokey). But it was a great show, made all the better by the presence of no children, and I'm so glad I splurged on the tickets and we went.

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books 2015: Dragonbreath (#1), by Ursula Vernon

A fun adventurous graphic novel for kids involving mythical creatures, talking reptiles, lectures from dad, and disgusting school lunches. F picked this up for our daughter, thinking to put it away for a few years, but she discovered it, and after reading the first 50 pages aloud three or four times, I wanted to (1) hide it so I wouldn't have to read it again until she's big enough for it, and (2) read the end myself.

books 2015: Pebble in the Sky, by Isaac Asimov

Finished this last night. It's a solid enough entry from Asimov - not up to the level of some of his other work, but a fun read. But the thing that I found most entertaining was my almost-three-year-old's reaction upon finding this book in my bag. She wanted me to read it to her (not a surprise) so I gave her a very basic overview of the plot. Which she made me repeat three times through, while she repeated it back while "reading" it from the book herself. So I think I need to accept the notion that my daughter is already a sci fi fan and possibly even already an Asimov fan.

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TV update: Vampire Diaries, Daniel T, Gruffalo, comedies

I have obviously not been keeping current with my TV watching updates, but to be honest if I post twice a year about TV I'm actually not missing much these days.

I'm almost done with season 4 of Vampire Diaries. I'm getting a little tired of watching beautiful people whine about how immortal they are. I've changed my tune on Klaus, he's one of the most interesting characters, but I'm pretty sick of how paranoid he is. If you weren't such a jerk, everyone wouldn't want to kill you, so just stop being a jerk and you won't have to worry. Anyway, I pretty much only ever get to watch this on my lunch break when I work from home and don't have other stuff I need to do, so at a rate of maybe one episode per month.

We stopped watching Game of Thrones midway through the second season. Not sure if I mentioned that. It was getting to the point where my favorite part of the show was the opening credits; the rest was just such a ridiculous and violent downer that it wasn't even fun to watch anymore. I will likely just stick to the books from now on.

The show I end up watching most of the time when I watch TV is, you guessed it, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. I genuinely love Daniel, though. I had a post on Facebook not long ago in which I posited that parenting would be a heck of a lot harder without Daniel's little songs to get me through. He has a nice little song for everything.

My favorite discovery recently was the BBC's The Gruffalo, closely followed by The Gruffalo's Child, which is my daughter's very favorite thing to watch. Each is only half an hour long, has beautiful animations and thoughtful rhymes, and repetition without making you bored. Although I have questions about The Gruffalo's Child - the gruffalo himself is definitely male, so where did the child come from? Is there a mommy gruffalo somewhere? I mean, he's a great daddy, don't get me wrong, but I wouldn't think the deep dark woods would be a place where you'd meet a whole lot of gruffalo dating options. Anyway, these are awesome, and fun to watch even for people who aren't two.

The other day F showed me the first episode of Garfunkel & Oates on Netflix. I am in love. We've seen the first three episodes now and it's fantastic. My new favorite. And I mentioned it to my friend at work, who went home and checked it out, and ended up watching the entire first season in a single weekend with his boyfriend, so that was cool.

Also, F showed me the first episode of the third season of Inside Amy Schumer, which I'd never even heard of before. Wow is she great. I'm totally on board and into her work. Looks like there's actually a show on TV that I will watch while it is currently airing! (Besides Doctor Who, of course, which we continue to watch religiously when it's on and which I apparently never posted about last fall. I guess I missed more than I thought by not posting a TV update.)

Anyway, I feel like I'm all cutting-edge with the comedy shows lately. Woot.

I want to check out Orphan Black and get back to Star Trek TNG, but there just is Not Time in my life for TV right now. Reintroducing TV in the form of half-hour comedy shows is about as good as I'm going to get.

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