Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Early Mahler

We live near some great music schools here in Boston. We like to visit two of them, and yesterday we went to New England Conservatory to hear the first in a series of programs they are offering celebrating the life and work of Gustav Mahler.

Tickets to this event were free, but they came with a catch. In order to get a good seat, you had to arrive in time to hear an academic presentation at 5:30, and then you could keep your seat for the 7:30 concert. Truthfully, I wasn't too interested in the lecture, but Alla wanted to go and I figured that sitting through a potentially-boring lecture would be an OK price of admission for a concert in the Conservatory's gorgeous concert hall.

Well, the lecture was not boring. Gilbert Kaplan, the lecturer, really knows his stuff. He's a world-renowned conductor of Mahler's music and he speaks very entertainingly. He illustrated his talk with sheet music, comics, recorded music, and lively stories. I'm really glad we came to the lecture, which fully prepared us to listen to the program and helped us understand important aspects of Mahler's life.

After the lecture we ate a picnic dinner and returned to our seats for the concert. They played the original version of Mahler's First Symphony. This version did not please the audience when Mahler was young, and he reworked it over the course of twenty years to the version we know today. One of the Conservatory students spent the entire summer transcribing the original manuscripts for the use of the musicians and director at our concert, and we really enjoyed the results of his work.

Actually, the whole audience really enjoyed it. Perhaps the audience included more than a few students who knew the folks on the stage, but I think we all felt like we'd been treated to something extraordinary. Most of us probably like the final version better, but the original version still works really well and I don't think I've ever seen an audience show so much enthusiasm over a classical performance. Last night's audience went practically berserk with ecstasy. I'm super-glad that we went. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Busy weekend

Our friends Larry and Sarah came down from Vermont to visit us this weekend, and our friend Kai was already in town. We had lots to do.

Larry and Sarah came because we invited them to yesterday’s Beantown Jazz Festival, an annual event on a section of street in Boston’s South End. Berklee College of Music organizes the music, which they do extremely well. Berklee is the pre-eminent institution in the world for jazz musicians and students of other modern styles. They assembled a really fine lineup for this weekend, the weather cooperated, and everybody had a great time. In fact, I especially enjoyed watching the smiles on the faces of the many people in the audience at the last performance of the day. I think we all had a good time.

Kai came to Boston for a number of reasons, and we already got to see him earlier in the week. We were happy, then, that he was free to come join us for a while at the jazz fest. I sent him a text message again after lunch today to tell him that we’d be going to a bike race later in the afternoon. Kai replied that he was tied up at the Museum of Fine Arts. What do you know? That’s where we’d just finished lunch, and we were on our way to the very place where he was enjoying the art with another friend.

Before going to the art museum, Larry and I got up early in the morning for a bike ride around Spot Pond and the nearby reservoirs while our wives took a long walk along the Charles River. We got to the art museum right after church, just in time for lunch. Although we enjoyed our time there very much, none of us felt satisfied. We will go back soon to carry on where we left off. I love looking at art.

We “had” to leave, however, to go see the last bike race. There had been a public bike event earlier today, and lots of celebrations leading up to the races. By the time we got there, some of the sponsors realized that they had extra goodies which they had not given away, so we came home with lots of energy bar samples and other fun stuff. We liked the race too. Cyclists raced around City Hall in a short course called a criterium. This meant that the racers shot past us almost once every minute, providing a very energetic and entertaining show. We even got grandstand seats.

We like Boston a lot, but it’s true that we exaggerated when we told Larry and Sarah that every weekend is something like this. Still, it’s pretty special here. 
Don't forget to check out our other pictures.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Freedom Rally

Yesterday was Boston’s 22nd annual Freedom Rally. I’ve missed all 22 of them, but I’ve heard plenty about them as the years went by. It was originally called Mass Grass, and has been commonly known as Hemp Fest. It’s all about smoking dope. The organizers figured that if a bunch of people got together and smoked their marijuana at once, there would be too many to arrest at once. There were arrests every year, but relatively few.

Alla and I got out-voted in November of 2008, when the people passed a statewide ballot initiative decriminalizing possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. I’m not completely sure what this means, but in practice it means that the Boston Common was a very smoky place on Saturday. I assume everybody who brought dope carried a small amount.

On the positive side, Alla finally knows what marijuana smells like. We walked across town yesterday to the South End Open Studios, an annual art event, and our walk took us across the Boston Common. Whoo-ee, what a crowd. What a strong aroma! Wishing to avoid any potential misunderstandings, I dragged Alla through the crowd pretty quickly.

It turns out she was familiar with the aroma anyway. “Smells like hemp,” she allowed. “We used to burn that stuff sometimes in Ukraine.”

Что такое «LUNCH»?

Мы с Аллой обычно говорим по-русски. К сожалению, мне кажется, что она забыла свой родной язык. Например, она может спросить «Что ты хочешь готовить для lunch-a.»

«ЧТО???» я отвечаю. Я никогда не отвечаю на этот вопрос. Я хочу говорить об обеде, не о lunch, lunch-e или другой падеж. Мы говорим по-русски. Всё!

Алла говорит, что можно сказать «ланч» по-русски, но я не уверен. Если это правильно, почему мой словарь не показывает это слово? Надо поговорить с другими людьми, людьми которые говорят каждый день по-русски.

Friday, September 9, 2011


I just got through the security inspection at San Francisco International Airport. In the words of Arlo Guthrie, “I was inspected, detected, neglected and selected.” It all started out so nicely. As Alla and I stood in the regular line, the lady at the super-fast line ran out of people to process and she invited us even though we are flying economy class and aren’t members of any Federal jump-to-the-head-of-the-line program. She sent us on to the standard inspection stations, but ahead of all the folks in the regular line. So far, so good.

Of course I know the drill. I took out my laptop, removed my shoes and emptied my pockets. I didn’t remove my belt because, as usual, I wore my nylon belt with the plastic buckle. Ordinarily, airport inspectors recognize that it’s not a threat and they let me keep it on. Today’s inspector, at the backscatter x-ray machine, felt that my little strip of cloth would ruin his detailed anatomical picture and he made me remove it. When I emerged from the far side of the x-ray machine the inspector drew my attention to the video screen and told me I could see my results. Curious, I waited. All I got to see, however, was that the screen turned green and said “OK.”

Unfortunately, however, “OK” did not mean I was free to go. The moment I turned away from the monitor another fellow held my suitcase aloft and asked me if he could look inside. Maybe he didn’t even ask. We both knew that he could do whatever he wanted. And then, just to add to the farce, a third inspector came along and asked if she could look inside my rucksack. Yes, fine. Look at everything. At least they didn’t want to look a second time at my computer or my shoes.

The suitcase guy turned out to be a trainee, and his teacher stood beside him as he ran through his program. First he told me not to touch any of my stuff until he had finished, and then he inspected my suitcase from all sides. I thought he couldn’t find the zipper and I finally pointed out that the main zipper was facing him. He said he knew that, but he had to start with a visual inspection.

Next he asked me if I had anything sharp or dangerous inside. This question scared me a little bit because the last time one of these guys asked me I said no and then they found a huge knife I’d forgotten in a side pocket on my previous (non-flying) vacation. In that case, the inspector told me that I’d committed the offense of lying to a Federal agent, but his boss decided not to press charges. I felt sure that I’d put my pocket knife into my checked baggage, but still didn’t feel altogether comfortable answering no this time.

Once the trainee deemed my suitcase safe enough to open, he unzipped the cover and started taking things out, dumping them into a little plastic tray. I didn’t care much about the stuff in the top layers, because the nicely-folded things lay closer to the bottom. He filled the tray, loosely, with underwear, swim suits, FiveFingers shoes (“Oh,” the boss said. “I want to get a pair of these. Very nice!”), water bottles and other little stuff. They spent extra time inspecting a package of three CR2032 batteries I had bought for a dollar each. Seeing the price tag, they told me I’d found a fantastic bargain.

Finally the tray was full but the inspector was not satisfied. “What are you looking for?” I asked.

“Metal,” he answered.

I allowed as how I had an umbrella on the bottom, but that didn’t impress him. Meanwhile, the other inspector rooted through my rucksack and produced the little zipper bag I fill with chargers and cables for my electronic stuff. She ran the rucksack and chargers back through the x-ray separately and decided they were safe. By this time the trainee had dug almost to the bottom of my suitcase, piling my nicely-folded slacks in the ever-growing heap in his little plastic bin. He found my military-style belt with the metal buckle. “Oh,” he mused, “maybe that was it.” He decided to run everything through the x-ray again. I objected that my teetering pile of clothes would surely collapse as it entered or exited the x-ray machine’s heavy door flaps, so he scooped up the top layer and dumped it unceremoniously into a second tray.

Not surprisingly, everything checked out OK once they knew that they were worrying about an ordinary belt buckle. He gave me back all of my stuff in a state of high disarray and asked me if I needed any additional help. I declined with a smile. “No, thank you,” I said. “You’ve helped me enough already.”

Friday, September 2, 2011

Visiting Turkmenistan

I’ve never been in Turkmenistan, and I’m not sure I’ll ever end up visiting there, though I know quite a few Turkmen from the Minsk State Linguistic University. I got to thinking about Turkmenistan today, however, as a result of spending a few hours at San Francisco’s Museum of Asian Art. The museum opened my consciousness in the way that art so often does. I felt a vague buzzing down my spine as I marveled at the beauty of the individual works and the context of many works of Asian art in a cascade of presentations.

I don’t think I even saw anything from Turkmenistan, and from what I know Turkmen traditions differ from the styles featured in today’s exhibits. Nevertheless, being in the museum reminded me of how wide the world really is and how much of the world’s riches I have yet to enjoy. I toured Asia once, long ago, and haven’t given it much thought in recent years. It’s expensive to get there and I’ve been enjoying places I can reach fairly easily and where the cultures are familiar.

Then today, I got re-introduced to Asian art. It speaks of cultures I don’t know, histories I barely know and people I know mainly as immigrants. I want to know it better, and I don’t mind experiencing some inconvenience in order to do so. I’ve always wanted to see Angkor Wat, for example, and now I understand the richness of cultures around this iconic site. I wouldn’t go halfway around the world to see just one thing, but I’m curious to know more about the people, customs, sights, smells and flavors practically filling a hemisphere I’ve barely seen.

Heck, I might even go to Turkmenistan. But I should probably visit Turkey first.