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Conceptual Irregularities

The modern composer refuses to die – Edgar Varese

Milan 3: Serendipity

From Tony:

Serendipity. Friday night Harry bought a nice book on the sights of Milan. While having coffee outside and people watching on Saturday morning I find an entry in the book about a cool luthier shop, so we add it to our increasingly long list of possibilities. We head out on our walk, through the Brera art school district, La Scala opera house, the fancy stores in the Galleria, and the cathedral, all close to each other and all stuff we had planned for the day before the Zappa concert on Sunday. It starts to rain to so we give up on going up to the roof of the cathedral, and find a place for lunch (and shelter). The lunch is so good, and leisurely, that by the time we’re done, I realize the luthier shop (“liuteria”) is now closed. We decide to head out anyway and at least look through the windows. It also gives us a chance to hop a tram, which Harry was hoping to do, and the place is near the canal district (Navigli) of Milan which is supposed to be pretty cool, in a bohemian sort of way.

Indeed, it is. The liuteria is amazing, even just through the windows. We walk along one side of the main canal and check out a loooong flea market on the other side. Around 5:00 we sit outside at a wine bar for aperitivi (and to rest—we’re old). More people watching and at long last a break in the clouds and a great sunset over the canal. It turns out our waiter is Italo-Argentine. Harry’s dad in Anglo-Argentine, so Harry and the waiter chat a little about Buenos Aires.

Harry goes online and finds a tiny jazz club nearby. I know just enough Italian that I see that this place suggests making a reservation online, but not enough Italian to figure out how the reservation system works. We have about 4 hours until showtime so we decide to stroll over and see if we can make one. We find the place, set in a residential neighborhood off the beaten path, but it is closed up. We go looking for a restaurant but end up sitting at the bar of one because, again, no reservation. The bartender is Italian but he lived in Australia so we can speak in English. Harry asks him to make his (the bartender‘s) favorite drink, and this guy blows us away. I now “get” the whole cocktail culture thing.

The club

We try again at the jazz club. It’s not quite open yet, but Harry walks in and sweet talks the barmaid to reserve us a couple of seats. We can’t see the band (a gypsy jazz trio—bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar) but they sound great and we order a platter of mixed meats and cheeses and breads and soak it all in.

Our seats, the 2 cubes between the sofa and the table…

Finally, a tram ride and a short walk and we’re back at our hotel, once again hanging out on the sidewalk and people watching (but now at midnight)—just like the dozens of Milanesi around us.

Tram!

From Harry:

That was such a good day. I felt lucky to be able to sit by the canal with Tony, watching people, sunsets and dachshunds. When we started our day, we were sitting at the coffee shop downstairs, drinking cappucini and smoking. I bought a little 5 pack of small cigars at the tabacchi. A tabacchi is more than just a tobacco store. It’s like a general store where you can get everything from bus tickets to Kleenex. Ours even had a counter where you could get coffee or a nosh. Very convenient, as were the 5 small cigars. I could smoke 1/2 of one while Tony smoked one cigarette. The Milanese are much more civilized about smoking than we are in the States. While you still don’t smoke inside (which is fine), many more people smoke and you can sit in sidewalk cafes and so forth and nobody gets bent out of shape.

As we started on our journey, I saw an interesting passage off to the right and veered off that way. Tony noted how comfortable I was in going off the beaten path. But, really, it’s a city. You’re not going to get that lost. This got us over toward La Scala, the opera house and the statue of Leonardo in front of it. I had Tony take a picture of me with Leonardo standing on my shoulder. Nyuk, Nyuk… Nancy Doyle has some connection with La Scala through the Marlboro Music Festival so we were hoping to go to its museum but never did.

Standing on the shoulders of giants….

While I would have liked the museum, I’m sure, when you’re in a city for 2 days, you can’t do everything. I find that I really like spending time wandering around a city, just drinking it in without any particular cultural touchpoints in mind. You see how the city moves and breathes, what its colors are and I’m sure if I could smell, what its smells are.

Between La Scala and Il Duomo there is a Galeria mall from 1877 with all kind of fancy shops like Prada and Rizzoli. There was a little tiny art book store, Libreria Bocca, which had this great floor made of these tiles which were glass boxes with little dioramas or objects d’art in them. There was a very nice Mark Rothko book there which was on sale. I wanted to get it for my brother Desmond but felt it was too big for my carry on plus I was too cheap. Are we noticing a pattern here?

Libreria Bocca and its beautiful copper door

The Old Fashioned that the bartender made me was exquisite for a number of reasons. My first reaction was, really? An Old Fashioned? I’m giving you carte blanche here and you’re going with that old war horse? But what a horse it was. First he put a sugar cube on a black napkin draped on top of the glass. He then used an eye dropper to infuse the cube with two different kinds of bitters. I never asked what they were. I wanted to keep some mystery to his creation. He then dropped the cube in the glass and muddled it with a teaspoon of water. Then he filled it up with Michter’s rye and Bob’s your uncle. No muddled orange and no muddled cherry. But an exquisite Old Fashioned.

But then he asks me which hand I drink with. I’m flummoxed for a moment, partly because I have no idea why it matters but also because I always have trouble telling my right from my left. I look at my hands, make a drinking motion and tell him, “The right”.

He says, “OK, put out your hand.”

I do. He says “Turn it over.”

I face the palm down. He produces a little spritzer bottle and sprays something onto the back of my hand. It is an Alloro cocktail finish. You just smell a hint of laurel when you lift the glass up to your mouth. It is a sublime experience.

The Old Fashioned

This guy was so much fun. It was great to sit at the bar and watch him and his team get ready for the night. I feel like we were shepherded through this trip by various kind and wise waiters and waitresses. Tipping isn’t a thing in Milan, so I guess they get paid well enough to live. I kept leaving tips anyway.

Milan 2: The New City

I’m generally a pretty nervous guy, so I don’t really know how I manage to travel alone in a foreign country. But I did it. I’m usually flummoxed by the language. But now that we have Google translate, that should be easier. The last time I was in Italy it was for Tony’s wedding in 2001 and I was with Tami and a bunch of other people. That was a lot of fun and I could rely on other people to talk for me. This time I’m counting on Tony talking for me.

I have to get from the airport, Linate, to the Hotel Ritter. Google makes it look pretty easy. But the bus from the airport drops me at the Stazione Milano Centrale, and I have trouble finding the subway and buying a ticket. Eventually once I find the subway (not to be confused with Trenitalia which goes all over the country) a guy helps me figure out the ticketing and I pay him €5. He’s an entrepreneurial street guy. He hangs out in the metro station, sees tourists struggling with the bigliette machine and goes over and helps them, shows them where they have to go. He explicitly asks to get paid. He doesn’t say how much but just says, “Prego, I helped you, could you help me out with a little something?” Relying on the kindness of strangers does not a business model make. He speaks English and is clean, fairly well dressed and professional. Saved my ass, frankly. He points me in the right direction and I get to the hotel.

Tony is coming in a couple hours after me. He has already spent about a week at Cinque Terre, a coastal region where he goes every few years. So he is taking a train in from there. I figure while he’s not there, I’ll sample some of the local Japanese food. Because, in Columbia County, we have only one Japanese restaurant. Hell, in Melrose, we had 2. There is a Japanese restaurant in the building with the hotel, so I go and order a Chirashi and an Asahi.

I check in to my room and go to sleep for a couple of hours to stave off the jet lag.

The hotel is simple but adorned with semi historical prints on the walls and a comfortable lobby. It is priced well (or else you wouldn’t find Tony and me there.). The room is small, about ten by ten, with a similarly sized bathroom with a bidet! There are balconies in all the rooms. It has 7 floors with 6 rooms on each floor. There aren’t a lot of frills in the place, but it’s not a Days Inn, either. They have a very good breakfast in the morning with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage and various little pastries and fruit and these coffee machines which can make like 20 different kinds of coffee. Very clever.

When I wake up, I meet Tony and we go out and see where we are. We walk down Corso Garibaldi, the semi-closed-to-traffic street that the hotel is on, checking out the shops and cafes. We stop in at RED (Read, Eat, Dream), a bistrot Libreria. It is a bookstore with food and drink. I want to try the different Amari available in Italy. An amaro is a sort of bitter liqueur or aperitif made with various herbs that comes from various little towns in Italy. I use them at home to make Manhattans. I have a few at home but there are others here that I’ve never seen in the States. Our waiter recommends Amaro Da Capo, which is made in his hometown in Calabria which is down by the toe of the boot which is Italy. He’s a great guy who has some English and we all muddle through and wind up understanding each other and having a great time.

Signore Savoie enjoying an aperitif in the bookstore.

After that, we walk farther down Corso Garibaldi and wind up in a plaza in front of an old church. We eat outside at Al Carmine under an awning. We can smoke there. It is so much more civilized here.

After dinner in the church courtyard

After dinner, we head back, going up some back streets and come to a place that has live music. Down in the basement, a man and woman are on a little stage. He is playing keyboard and has a laptop and she has a laptop and is singing. They are doing covers. They did Stand By Me and everyone started singing. They did a few Italian pop hits as well, which I didn’t know but was glad to hear. Everybody would sing and sway to them, too. After a little bit, we took off and headed back to the Hotel Ritter. It was a fun night. The music was a little cheesy, but it was honestly and enthusiastically performed so that counts for a lot.

Milan 1: The Accident

I am going to Milan with Tony to see a performance of the Yellow Shark by Frank Zappa on the 25th anniversary of his death. Tony and I have travelled before, having gone to England and Scotland in 1995. We generally work well together and have similar interests and preferences. Neither of us wants to spend a lot of money and we want to have a good time close to the roots.

The accident came about the night before I was supposed to leave. Tami and I had planned to get up early at 5 am in order to drive into Boston so I could go to work and then fly out from there. I’m lying in bed having that typical anxiety one gets when one knows one has to go to sleep so one can get up early but can’t get to sleep because they are worried about getting enough sleep to get up early. My hip started hurting me (old injury from running for a bus) so I figure I’ll get up and take some ibuprofen. At the same time, Luna starts barking bloody murder at some unseen intruder in the back yard. She has been doing this lately. I take the aspririn and take a drink in my cupped hands, it goes down wrong, she keeps barking, I start coughing, she keeps barking, I cough harder, then I’m sitting on the floor of the bathroom. I must have blacked out from the coughing. I have this dizzy feeling faint thing for which they have run a ton of tests but have found nothing. Anyway, I climb back up to standing. I look in the mirror and there’s a scrape on my head and my ribs hurt. I must have hit them going down. I go back to bed and tell Tami what happened. I don’t think she really knows how to react. It’s probably scary for her. Luna doesn’t care.

The pain in my ribs is bad and I feel like I’ll want to go to Copake Rapid Care in the morning. I start thinking about cancelling some meetings. I can’t get to sleep so I abandon the idea of waking up at 5. I finally get to sleep around 4. We get up around 7:30. I hurt less now so decide not to go to Rapid Care. We leave around 8 for an uneventful drive. At work, I have lunch with Jeff who is always a joy to see. Since I work remotely now, I rarely see him.

Norm and Jack

The heat broke and I’m walking up the hill on Sky Farm Road with our terrier cattle dog, Luna, holding her leash as she jumps for butterflies and digs for who-knows-what. She has an innate need to herd the rare car that comes by. She lies in wait, carefully eyeing it, getting ready to pounce when it passes. I hold the leash tight and tell her ,”Stay, stay, it’s OK” and most of the time now, she does. She’s about 9 months old now and, despite her rambunctiousness, is fairly well-behaved and responds to cues well.

After a year out in the country, we have 5 chickens (down from 8), 3 goats, 1 dog and 1 cat. Karen, our cat, is the matriarch but isn’t allowed to go outside, so that cramps her style. The wildlife is brutal out here. While I know she could rule the neighborhood in Melrose, here she has to deal with foxes, coyote, hawks and we’ve even seen a black bear to whom she would lose. She and Luna spar a lot but I have faith that they will work it out. We see steady progress, both of them on the bed and stuff. Luna just wants to play, I think, and she’s a puppy, so she has a lot of energy.

We take her out for walks at the park, a huge expanse of hills and fields and trails which is stunningly beautiful. Everything out here (Columbia County, NY) is stunningly beautiful. I just can’t get over it. In the park, at the top of the hill, there is a bench we sit on and look out at the fields, the little church in the town just to the north, hills in the distance. Wildflowers are everywhere, scattered like paint drops on the green fields. It’s as if Jackson Pollack and Norman Rockwell worked on a painting together.

Our house is a character all on its own. Rambling, red, with two bars (main and tiki), a great front porch, a balcony in the great room which hold one bar, a beautiful living room painted by Tony and a fully functioning modern kitchen, with a dishwasher! The house was built by the previous owners and they put all sorts of love and creativity into it. Each room is its own space and has its own character. It has G-clefs in the stanchions of the porch and eighth notes scattered all over.

I am playing a lot more music and writing a lot more songs. I play at the open mics in the area and have met a lot of cool people. The Hudson Valley music scene is very rich and there is no shortage of things to do. I thought I would be bored out here, missing the rich cultural life of Boston, but was pleasantly surprised to find that there is no shortage of cultural beauty out here. I haven’t missed Boston as much as I thought I would. Having been a city kid for 40 years, I thought I would have to adjust, but I don’t miss the subway and the traffic and the density. I miss the many cultures alive in the city and it is admittedly much more white here, but not completely.

Tami has gone through all the New York State bureaucracy in order to get here Occupational Therapy credentials moved out here. She is working and is also busy with our goats and chickens. The chickens we’ve had for a year. We have lost 3 to predators but the other ones are thriving. They give us lots of eggs!

The goats were a long time coming. We had to build a pen for them which was more work than I thought. Finally I got help and we got it done and got the 3 Nigerian Dwarf goats this weekend. They are very amusing and eat a lot of grass. I have made a see-saw for them and will build other playthings to climb on.

I am learning.

https://youtu.be/viSsbgmp_mA

Middle of the Night

At what point does one’s home become something more than an abode? I am sitting in an empty house. There is practically no furniture. The only things that remind me of me, other than the TV stand I made, are the paintings on the walls, all by artists who are friends: Desmond Hussey, Jeanne Risica, Babe Bakalar, Neil Bakalar, and then some Gaucho prints from the Argentine which have graced my family’s wallls for as long as I can remember. There are Tricia Lowrys, Hiro Watanabes, and Patricia Pedreiras in storage. And probably others I am not remembering right now.

The art connects me to my life, to my home. Stormy roots around on the bed. He will wake me at exactly 4am and want to be fed. We will go to the kitchen and he will eat and then we will both go out and stand at the end of the driveway in the quiet night. We will see the woman running, I think she’s Haitian, and say hi to her. She used to run with her son, who never looked like he wanted to be out running at 4 in the morning. He looked no more than 10 or 12. I guess by now he’s grown old enough to say no, but for a few years there it was a comforting sight.

The odd car goes by. If it gets late enough, a Boston Globe truck or a bakery sedan delivery. I will always notice the moon, what its phase and position is. I will think about the eons of humanity who have looked up at the same moon and thought the same things. This little slice of the galaxy that surrounds us and provides us with some kind of consistency.

This weekend is the Perseid meteor showers. Every year on our anniversary. We always go out to Copake where the wedding took place 16 years ago. We sit out on the grass in our Adirondack chairs, eyes trained on the sky. Someone sees a shooting star in the direction opposite from where you are looking and everyone turns but it is always too late. You see a meteor and you feel like you are the only one that saw it, but in reality there are thousands of people on lawns up and down the east coast looking at the same meteor and thinking the same thing.

My bride has fallen asleep out in the living room on the futon we have folded into a makeshift sofa. This is just like she used to do. Since we got rid of the sofa in the living room, she has been coming and joining me in the bedroom which I love to no end, but realistically, after 50, couples sleep alone. There is just too much mishegas when two old people are in the same bed. There are going to be a lot more bedrooms and living rooms and sofas in the new house. We’ll see…

She is my home, my everything. As difficult as this whole move has been, we have been tackling it together. We don’t necessarily talk much. But we get it done. And we provide a home for each other.

This song came up on my playlist today, a Matt Skeele song we recorded back in 95 or 96, “I Wake Up In The Middle Of The Night”. It is such a beautiful evocation of love and comfort and his singing and playing is so beautiful and it is one of my better atmosphere productions if i do say so myself. Enjoy….

Wish Of Grey

Watching Nancy deal with her cancer is truly a sight to behold. Her embrace of the (probably) inevitable is refreshing in this world of “you got to fight to stay alive”. She posts every morning on Facebook in a public post some thoughts on her situation, cooking or her life as she has lived it.

While many of us look forward to her posts and admire her candor, I imagine there are some to whom it is disturbing. We are taught to revere life and to hang onto it as long as possible. The way most of us die is painful, expensive and boring. But there is an atavistic urge toward self-preservation, no matter how illogical it may be. To be fair, while some of this is rooted in an individual’s own drive toward survival, much of it is driven by the needs of others.

We hang onto life in an effort to avoid hurting those loved ones around us. We want to keep our children from becoming orphans. Most of my friends and I don’t have children. I am completely unfamiliar with that paternal love that would drive one to the ends of the earth to protect their offspring from discomfort or harm. Sure, I love my pets and I have some of the greatest friendships in the history of friendship (yes, I said that, bitches, deal with it!) I am aware, however, that those relationships will probably not drive me to stay alive in order to spare them pain.

When my mother died of cancer over 30 years ago, she had a 13 year old son still living at home. The rest of us were up in Boston or in NYC. My parents didn’t tell John that her disease was probably fatal. There was always a “chin-up” attitude that this would all work out in the end. There were extensive grabs at possible cures, remote miracle procedures that could succeed with the right combination of diligence and prayer. Macrobiotic diets, a trip to Florida for a major vitamin C infusion, and traditional radiation (no chemo, if memory serves).

This was the hardest thing my father ever had to go through and he navigated it like a champ, or at least like sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy navigating through Hussey’s Reef on Manus Island in the South Pacific. I can’t imagine the fear and grief he felt. On the night of her death, John and Pop and I went over to the Middletons’. My father told John what was about to happen. As we were saying our goodbyes to Cacky and Algy before going home, Pop said to Algy (a fellow Argentine), “El hijo sabe.” John could not have lived in that house through all this without knowing. The next morning John and I went back over to Cacky and Algy’s. Star Trek 2, The Wrath Of Khan was on cable. There is the whole Spock dying scene along with his funeral (being shot out of a photon torpedo tube, a method I would totally go for, just saying). This is how we processed our grief, through television, guided by Gene Roddenberry.

We continued to process our grief for years afterwards in shrink offices, bars, churches, and with friends. We went on to marry great women, each of whom I believe to this day would be great friends with my mother. We gave her (well, not we) 14 grandchildren, of whom I’m sure she is so proud. And the five us went on to excel in our careers, our hobbies and our communities.

Our Copake family will be there for Nancy during this time, but we are really there for Neil and each other. Our big huge family will not only endure, it will triumph, thanks, in no small part, to Nancy.

Boston Music Weekend

The last weekend in July in Boston is a music weekend. There are all kinds of unrelated festivals going on and I inevitably feel like I’ve missed something.
The Newport Folk Festival is the big one. I have never been. Back when I was a folk performer, I never could afford it. Once I could start to afford it, I was too much of a folk snob and took issue with The Pixies being considered Folk. Now I no longer have these restrictions; I’ve just lost interest. We opt to go to the Lowell Folk Festival which showcases actual indigenous music from around the world. I find this more enjoyable. No names (well, maybe a Chenier or McMaster here and there) and very little singer songwriter angst and ego. Well, they’re musicians, so of course there’s ego… Just great chops.

We saw a Syrian group with oud, canun, violin and percussion who taught us how to do the clap on a samai (a 10/8 Folk pattern), something with which I’ve struggled for the past 15 years. We saw the Sun Ra Arkestra, which is everything you’d expect it to be and more. Not exactly Folk, but not exactly not Folk when you see how it represents an important and crazy sector of African American life. Dewayne and his father were with us and Dewayne loved it. Eric goes more toward the zydeco, but I think he liked it too. There was Memphis soul after that, so everyone can get down with that.

We started out the weekend going to the Summer Stroll in Melrose. The city has a few of these kinds of things where they block off the main drag and all the stores and restaurants sell their wares on the sidewalks and they set up tents where bands play and kids run free and retirees from the many old folks’ homes in the neighborhood cruise around in their wheelchairs with their oxygen tanks and nursing station issued footwear and dance and spin and relish their freedom. Our neighbor Jim was debuting his band, Free Range Chickens. I thought they did very well for a first gig and I think he was very happy.

Needless to say, all the restaurants are packed but I know we can get a seat at Sushi Corner, which is, true to its name, tucked into a corner of a back parking lot where only those in the know can find it. They have some of the best sushi around and when we got there we were the only people in there. They are always doing a serious takeout business, so they are not bored. Fortunately the place filled up while we were there. There are only 17 seats so it’s not hard.

The first rock concert I ever went to was The New York Rock and Roll Ensemble at the Stratford Theater in Connecticut. I must have been 10 or 11 because Abbey Road had been released. Out in the lobby they had a band of teenagers playing and they were doing Come Together by the Beatles, the single of which I had just acquired. I thought it was the coolest thing and I aspired to be like those guys.

I never actually got to play Come Together in a band, though. Until this weekend. My friends Tina and Steve had a party and Steve’s band played and they asked me to sit in on Come Together while Barry sang because Barry would rather not play and sing at the same time. My dream had come true and you can judge the results for yourself.

Out Past The Headlands

I have about 4 more weeks in Boston, then I’m a country boy. I don’t find it easy to leave here. I am very connected to this city. Once you’ve been a bike messenger in a place, then you’ve got its streets in your bones. Much has changed in the 35 or so years I’ve been here, but when you’re talking about a city that has been here for almost 4 centuries, there’s a lot that hasn’t. The ubiquitous brick, the Richardson Puddingstone, the brutalist slabs; they all make up the urban landscape for me.

When I started as a messenger in March of 1987, we used to make a drop at the State House at the top of Beacon Hill. We then would ride really fast down Beacon St., across Tremont St, down School St. with a left onto Washington and quick right onto Water and glide all the way down to the end of Water St at Broad St. It was like a roller coaster ride. We would swoop through each intersection, blending in with the traffic, almost getting hit, but “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. That little spine of streets is the heart of Boston as I see it.

Now I work in the Seaport, a place of constant growth after lying dormant for decades, home to parking lots and fish piers. When I was a messenger, we did a lot of work shuttling plans around for Fan Pier and Anthony’s Pier 4. Fan Pier was built back then with the Moakley Courthouse on it. Anthony’s is just getting to its thing now. Over the last 5 years the growth has exploded and the parking lots have all grown into hi-rises, or actually 18 story rises, because I think there is a height limit imposed by the airport across the harbor. This has the effect of negating any possible skyline that might develop here. From a distance, I imagine the place will look like a block in the future, much like parts of the Bronx.

I am trying to take in all the cultural amenities while I can. We went to the MFA (another former employer), ate dinner on Broad St., went to the Lizard Lounge, etc. Not that there’s nothing where I’m going, it’s just that it is so prevalent here. It will always draw me back. I want to develop a routine of coming back here monthly, working, doing music with the Triplets and taking in at least one cultural urban experience. That will be good for me and keep me sane.

Past The Headlands from Headlands, Tom May – vocal, Greg Smith – composer

Lent

I gave up Facebook for Lent.  Twitter, too.  I can’t say I miss them terribly.  There’s a lack of connection, to be sure, but I don’t miss the political hoopla.  I’ve thrown in the towel on that front.  The Republicans are going to do what they’re gonna do. Let’s give them a chance to try this very libertarian free market capitalism program and watch it fail miserably. Or at least that’s what I’d like to believe.  My friends all have Trump Derangement Syndrome.  Just like Republicans had Obama Derangement Syndrome.

We got the bad news that Nancy has been diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian cancer, something one doesn’t usually come back from.  She has a good attitude and has been very open about dying on Facebook, which I have to see through Tami’s account.  We are going to move out there to support her and Neil.  Tami wants to raise dwarf goats and miniature donkeys.  I will work from home, which means I’ll be a data analyst/goatherd.  New professions for the new millennium.

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