Added some more photos to my Picasa Christmas 2009 Album for your perusal.
Today's plans include the usual dozy the-kids-take-a-long-time-to-wake-up morning, a lunch at Mike's American Grill in Springfield and a visit to the National Cathedral (my son in law has never seen it). We're not sure where we'll be at midnight tonight to ring in the new year. Possibly at home with the kids. A friend of mine asked, "How boring is New Year's Eve?" Precisely. Traditionally, it's an occasion to drink. If one doesn't drink, there's watching that stupid glass ball drop and that's about it. Big whoop.
I know where we'll be at about 5:50 AM tomorrow: dropping Julie and Tommy off at the airport in Baltimore. Ick. But they got a good fare.
Meredith departs on Monday, then it's the empty nest once again.
Added some more photos to my Picasa Christmas 2009 Album for your perusal.
All I did today, really, was have lunch at a McDonald's with my friend Chris and his little boy Braddock. Photos of Christmas break stuff here.
Christmas Eve was interesting: we opened a time capsule that I set up in 1999 and stored in the cupola under the weather vane over the garage roof. Each of us answered some questions about what we hoped and feared for the coming years, etc. I had intended it to be opened in 2015, but settled for a decade since we cannot always count on the whole family (kids and spouses) being together. I had forecast a red convertible in my future, not a bad guess. We're doing it again, envelopes to be opened in Christmas 2019.
I found this odd Christmas card from 1999 in the capsule: Tactical nuclear weapon detonated over the Holy Land, 1 A.D. Also, a photo of me taken at the 1998 Lenhok'sin week long Scout hike. I get a kick out of the general haggard look I have - which pretty nearly depicts how I felt after "sleeping" in tents all week long.
I also included a sealed box of curiously strong Altoids peppermints in the capsule. After a decade in many hot/cold cycles, I can report that they're just about as curiously strong as they were when they were new. However, we cannot say the same for a bare Tic-Tac that my son included in his envelope.
I saw an excellent movie recently, as well as a horrible one. The excellent one was Pixar's "Up," which has imagination and heart. Quite entertaining. Pixar's track record seems to be quite good; so far the weakest entry in more than a decade seems to be... well, I don't know. I've liked every one of them I've seen.
The horrible one - perhaps the worst film I have ever seen - is Tommy Wiseau's auteur production "The Room" (2003). It's hard to describe. Characters make major pronouncements which are utterly ignored in the script, the dialogue is ridiculously contrived, the main actor (Wiseau) manages to give every line of dialog precisely the wrong reading, the love scenes are cringe-inducing, and the plot... it's hard to go on, really. There is so much in this film that is all wrong that one concludes it's really a colossal joke. Perhaps it is, but I'm not sure. Here's a good review.
A mystery is the lead actor/writer/director Tommy Wiseau, who claims he's American but has a bizarre, untraceable Eastern European dialect. (He sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger to me, so I'm guessing he's really Austrian.) He has no acting ability whatsoever. And truly odd looks... he has lizard eyes and a face that looks as if he suffered an awful, disfiguring automobile accident and was put back together again, badly. And long hair. He really is hard to look at - and given that he's in every scene in this film, that's a lot to suffer through.
I am happy to report that I paid nothing to see this film; my son Ethan found a file of it.
Back to home life...
Happy New Year!
Well. It's Christmas Eve, or will be when the sun sets, and I have two sets of kids flying out while a big storm moves across the Midwest. That means more staring at Delta Airline's flight status page for delays, etc. I hope they make it okay and on time... I have had consistent bad luck with Delta.
I posted Marine Corps Day in Burbank, 1968 to my Burbankia website. As I mention in the article, I was at the 1975 version, which was pretty underwhelming.
I'll be off work beginning this afternoon until the 4th of January. Whether I post anything here depends upon what I'm doing at home. Actually, I want to seriously curtail my time spent on the Internet. I'll have the people I love most in the world at my house - why would I want to stare into a computer monitor?
(Details: My youngest daughter Meredith is home already; she arrived Monday and is here until the 4th on break from college. My son Ethan and his wife Sarah arrive later today, and so does my daughter Julie and her husband Tommy. Ethan and Sarah have to leave Tuesday, sadly, but Julie and Tommy are here until the 1st. From now until then I expect we'll be eating, shopping, watching TV, visiting local attractions, eating, etc.)
The season started well last night - my pard Chris and his family came by to carol. His cute little daughter smiled and shook some bells while they sang. Stupid me, I didn't take photos. Another memory in danger of being lost. That's how we scrapbookers think: If there's no photo it didn't really happen.
Our Christmas Eve tradition is to have peanut soup and pumpkin muffins for dinner and watch the Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire musical "Holiday Inn" (1942). We've seen this every Christmas Eve since at least 1987. If you haven't seen it, you really ought to check it out. It is wonderful. Far, far better than the later remake "White Christmas." It's even better now that it's been colorized. I'm normally not in favor of the process, but this was one film that was crying out for it. But... if everyone is frazzled and not prepared to watch a movie after a day of flying, that's okay, too. Traditions are good but we shouldn't be utterly ruled by them.
Oh, maybe I'll post some captioned photos to my public web gallery. Maybe not. I don't know.
That's it for now.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
p.s. I mentioned my wife's peanut soup and pumpkin muffins. I need to mention what an incredible domestic diva and home economist she is. She really does make a house a home; I have never seen her like. Compared to her, Martha Stewart (who has a staff) is an utter fraud. I am incredibly blessed to be married to her.
Earlier this year she did a family recipe book that utterly blew me away. It had all her favorites along with various family-in-the-kitchen photos down through the years. It's 63 pages long... I really need to post this on the Internet. I'll see if she agrees...
When my family first moved into our Burbank home we shared a back fence with an old man. Every now and then he'd mention going "downtown." We always assumed he meant Los Angeles. (Burbank is about 13 miles North of downtown Los Angeles.) Turned out he meant San Fernando Road - downtown Burbank. Beautiful downtown Burbank, as the phrase went. Anyway, click the link above to see just how beautiful downtown Burbank was in 1973 - my heyday.
You know what's weird? Seeing old unfamiliar photos of yourself. Mike sent me a bunch of negatives recently, and on one of them was an image of me that I hadn't ever seen, taken 31 October 1979 - thirty years ago. I am 23. Yikes! Blond hair? I don't remember that at all. I was working outdoors all day back then and it would lighten up. Mike and I must have looked reminiscent of Starsky and Hutch.
Have you ever heard the Waitresses' seasonal song from 1982, "Christmas Wrapping?" It's clever and has a terrific bass line and horn chart. It should be better known than it is. It is better than Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime," which I often hear.
Last night I watched most of "The Two Jakes," the 1990 sequel to the famous "Chinatown" (1974) - arguably one of the greatest films to come out of Hollywood. The film is not as good as its predecessor - how could it be? - and was not a box office or a critical success. But I maintain that Robert Towne's screen play is still excellent and wonderful to see revealed, layer by layer, scene by scene. Roger Ebert agrees.
It's a real pity that Robert Towne's proposed final installment of a Los Angeles trilogy - Cloverleaf - was abandoned.
I'm not reading any books right now! I am, instead, reading the giveaway newspapers on my Metro ride into work. Starting a work day by reading about Congress' current health care escapades is not an especially good way to start the day...
And yet... I can hear this conversation outside my office door between two clucking hens repeatedly complaining about how it's "ridiculous" that the grounds around here aren't cleared to their satisfaction. I shut my door. Merry Friggin' Christmas.
By the way, snow fans are calling this past storm "perfect."
Posted Christmas 1957 to my Avocado Memories page. I think that's it for the nostalgic yuletide pages... I believe I've run out of material. And I dislike looking at the clowns.
My friend Mike sent me a bunch of old medium format negatives from 30-35 years ago. I appear in some of these and so does he. I'm scanning them strip by strip, making high resolution, color-corrected images. It's always fun to do this - you never know what you can find on an old negative. All sorts of details emerge.
For instance, look at this one: Mike and I, November 1979. Check out the cool orange Volkswagen Thing parked behind us. VW only made those in 1974 and 1975; they are now treasured by collectors. My son has wanted one for years.
Also check out that my sleeves are too high in my J.C. Penney nylon suit coat.
Mike also sent me nearly 200 images from an 1889 (!) edition of a local newspaper, The Burbank Times. I'll be making those available online as soon as I process and standardize the images. I love doing that... scooping the Burbank Historical Society... Amateurs 1, Professionals 0.
I added some more shots to my cell phone camera tour of Alexandria.
We were in the Burke Target the other day, shopping for this and that. Some of "that" included cards, and I was reading some of the funny birthday cards. Amazing thing: Target has special cards for 90, 95 and 100 year olds! Those aren't funny at all; they're serious and honorary. I suppose when you're 30-60 you can joke about growing older. By the time you hit 80 or so it's no longer a joking matter.
My piano teacher has a "JOY" display in her front yard. Some vandals stole the "J." So now it just says "Oy." I joked with her upon arriving... I didn't know she was Jewish. Upon leaving it read (backwards), "Yo." Didn't know you were black, I commented.
She removed the "Y"; now she just has a "O." As in, "O Come All Ye Faithful?"
I picked up my daughter this morning from Dulles; the roads were generally okay. My internal clock is all messed up. I feel like I'm half-asleep and half-awake.
That's all for today. I can't write.
The great snowstorm has passed. By the yardstick-in-the-table-on-the-rear-porch method of estimating snowfall, we had about 21 1/2". And that ain't mud, as my Aunt Shirley used to say.
I got the driveway cleaned out, as well as a path to our front door and to the trash can and mailbox. Consequently I am now popping ibuprofen much as I did in my rugby playing days. (Rugby dose: six tablets.) Ow, my achin' G.I. back, to quote my mother-in-law.
Church was canceled today - a very sensible move since the lot wasn't plowed. But neither was our street. The award for Street Hero goes to Chris II, who used his Craftsman industrial strength snow blower to run up and down the street a few times so we could get out. I took the minivan (which is pretty good on snow) to drive around to check out the street conditions. The on ramps and off ramps are tricky, but everything is passable. You just have to go slow and be careful. I saw one guy driving on ice while talking on his cell phone. %$#%!$%^@! More automotive hubris.
My daughter flies in from Utah tomorrow, and I have to be at the airport at 5 AM to get her. JetBlue says the flight is a "go," and I signed up for a cell phone alert for cancellations (haven't gotten one), so we'll see.
Oh! Here it is the 20th and I forgot to blog about my favorite seasonal topic: Christmas letters. No good ones this year - everybody is being restrained for some reason. And the family that sent us the one last year which invoked the phrase "bull semen" were notably restrained in this year's version. We surmise that their kids talked to them. ("TMI!") How disappointing. I was hoping to hear an account of a grandchild who had something like, say, explosive diarrhea on one occasion or something like that.
Of course, the unsurpassable example of the form is this one: page one, page two. That's a keeper and an annual blog tradition.
I have a tale of automotive hubris to relate.
After about two hours of shoveling snow on my 40 foot driveway I became bone tired, so I took a nap. Just after I woke up my wife appeared at the door and said, "Chris is stuck in front of the house." Huh? "Chris is stuck in front of the house." (Chris being my Civil War pard.) It's snowing like mad and our street hasn't been plowed. And we live at the base of a hill, on a cul-de-sac. What on earth is Chris doing in front of our home? Why is he driving in this weather?
Chris has a Suburu Outback with all-wheel drive. He's therefore bold and thinks himself immune from getting stuck.
I walk to the garage, open the door and view the fiasco. "I am in the depth of shame and humilation," saith Chris. "I'm really stuck."
"Convince me that this shouldn't appear as a blog entry," I stated. He couldn't. Hence, this Saturday entry.
One of my neighbors, also named Chris, appeared with a shovel and began work, so now we have Chris I and Chris II digging. After some flailing around yet another neighbor - also named Chris - appears. Chris I, II, III and me all working cleared a path, and Chris (I) gunned the car up the hill.
It took a couple of attempts and some more digging before he made it up our hill but eventually he got home... where he presumably had a conversation with his wife about driving around in this weather.
As I type this I'm listening to WTOP (the all news station), where the newsies are reporting all the cars off the road, accidents, etc. and are asking, "Why would anyone be out driving in 15+ inches of this snow? Stay home!"
I also added a link to a photo of my scar to the Christmas 1958 page. It's kind of weird to do that, but then, so am I.
Time to showcase my kids a little. Ethan just finished this short animation for a class. And Julie did this stop motion animation as a school assignment some years ago. Her comment: "My animation final was over 300 frames. It was HORRENDOUS. Animation makes me want to shoot myself in the face."
When I was in the Marines, inspired by the stuff Terry Gilliam used to do for Monty Python, I planned to do a flat image stop motion animation project - but I had no movie camera. Back then I would have had to use a 8mm camera. It's so much easier now!
I'm almost done with "US Guys," the book about the damaged American male psyche I'm reading by Charlie LeDuff. I just finished the chapter about a Detroit detective. This book is a concentrated dose of despair, disillusionment, dashed dreams, hopelessness and cynicism. I'm really enjoying it! I think I've figured how to stave off what seems to be my annual holiday blues: immerse myself in media about people much worse off than I. Rx: schadenfreude.
I think my next book will be Chuck Palahniuk's "Fight Club." There seems to be something badly wrong with the soul of the modern American male these days that the fight club has tapped into. I'd like to inform myself as to what that might be. I have determined that what connects all the tortured subjects of LeDuff's prose is an utter lack of joie de vivre. But why?
We bought a new computer for the home last night, an HP something or another on sale at COSTCO. It has a huge 25" monitor in the currently fashionable rectangular format and runs Windows 7. (Vista? Gak. I've heard nothing but complaints about it.) The image quality is stunning; so much better than that produced by the circa 2001 loaner PC I have from work at home - which is soon to be consigned to government surplus.
I was surprised by how quickly and easily I loaded on my suite of most-used software (Photoshop 7.0, a ten year old version of MS Image Composer, Nikon View 5, etc.). And a wired network connection is sooooo much easier to deal with than wireless - there was no configuration at all. I simply plugged in the Ethernet cable, the system recognized it, and boom, I was on that Interweb thing. It's a whole lot zippier in response, too. Somehow I'm going to have to figure out how to run a network cable to wherever this PC is going to wind up. (Ethan: Copper rocks!)
I unexpectedly have a simple piano piece to learn out of my favored instructional book; in fact, I pretty much learned it last night in less than about 30 minutes. It's in C major, which is one of the reasons why. But I am looking forward to progressing a bit more where the C major pieces are fewer and farther between. I like the sharps and flats... they add some tonal and harmonic interest.
Another piece I have to learn is an adaptation of one of the themes from Borodin's Polovetsian Dances - the one that got made into a popular song from the musical play "Kismet." "Take my haaand/I'm a stranger in paradissse..." you know, that one. There are sharps and flats in it because Borodin wanted the melody to sound exotic and oriental (chromatic), describing as it did a wild, nomadic people living on the steppes of Central Asia. Fun fact: in 1954 Borodin was postumously awarded a Tony for Kismet.
I should do a blog entry on Alexander Borodin (see above) some day; he was an interesting guy. Don't go by that photo; he was an unusually well-adjusted and happy personality in a field (classical music composers) that usually contains more than its share of maladjusted personalities. He was also a renowned chemist - one of the greatest in the 19th century. Add to the list of accomplishments that he was also a medical doctor. Music, for him, was an enthusiastic hobby. No composer has such a good reputation built on such a relative few number of pieces which have entered into the standard repertory.
He was the bastard son of a Georgian prince and a member of the Moguchaya kuchka, the "Mighty Handful" who can be greatly credited for bringing attention of Russian music to the West. I have always liked the music of one of the others of the handful - Rimsky-Korsakov - whose music got me interested in classical music, lo, those many years ago...
Really, the only negative thing I can report about Borodin was that he lived in an apartment full of cats.
Sadly, Borodin died at a youthful age - 53 - my age. (That's youthful to me!) He is buried in the Tikvin Cemetery in St. Petersburg; here's his tomb. Those musical notes in mosiac tiles behind the bust are from the Polovetsian Dance I'm learning, among other things. I am happy to note that Borodin is buried in the same cemetery as the rest of the Handful. As Tchaikovsky is also buried there, this would be a major tourist stop for me should I ever visit St. Petersburg.
In fact, I should. And place flowers on Rimsky-Korsakov's tomb. The man's music has given me much joy...
Hey, I guess I did a Borodin blog entry after all.
My daughter Meredith flies in from Salt Lake City tonight for the holidays, on a late night flight. We're supposed to be at Dulles at 5 AM tomorrow morning to pick her up. At least, that's the plan. What the area Snow Gods will do is another matter.
Tonight I have a pack meeting. One of the activities is a Lego Pinewood Derby... that should be interesting.
This weekend we're doing a Five Families Christmas party... lots of good eats there.
And next week I only work Monday through Wednesday, then I'm taking leave until after the 1st. Cool.
Have a great weekend!
Christmas 1958 - Safe trucks and a pompom. Next: Christmas 1964.
I added a bunch of new captioned Alexandria cell phone photos to my Picasa photo album. They start with the Lyceum and work their way over to the Masonic Memorial. While people at work was enjoying the Christmas Party (I dislike corporate parties), I struck out on my own as I so often do.
I am greatly enjoying Charlie LeDuff's "US Guys." A provocative quote, from his chapter on being a member of a biker fight club: "If civilization imposes such great sacrifices not only on man's sexuality but on his aggressivity, we can understand better why it is hard for him to be happy in that civilization. In fact, primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions of instinct. To counterbalance this, his prospects of enjoying this happiness for any length of time were very slender. Civilized man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities of happiness for a portion of security." - Sigmund Freud
It goes with, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation." - Henry David Thoreau.
The chapter about the Burning Man Festival was also enlightening. I have wanted to attend one of these for years with a rugby biker friend of mine; we have always agreed that some day we'd go. I am now persuaded that I'd hate it. Not my kind of scene at all. Charlie LeDuff seems to be an honest journalist - he reports things as he sees them. A one word summary of his Burning Man experience might be, tawdry. No, thanks. Now I have to tell my friend...
I watched an excellent old film noir teleplay last night, "the Witness" (1952). Lee Marvin had a brief role in it as a police detective. At only 35 minutes or so it moved quickly and had a great unexpected trick ending. They just don't write 'em like that anymore.
I also saw a great little film noir teleplay with Queen of the B's Ida Lupino... "House for Sale" (1953) - she's once again stuck in a house with a psychopathic killer, as in 1952's "Beware My Lovely." This one also had a neat trick ending.
I very much appreciate 1950's/1960's television... direct, nothing superfluous and very accessible. Those old school actors really knew how to sell a script. And even if it's mediocre, there's still the visual interest of seeing American life 50+ years ago. In the Lee Marvin teleplay there are some great shots of an incredibly bulbous 1950 Nash used as a police vehicle. Wow. Nothing coming out of one of those wearing a gun was mollycoddling any crims.
(By the way, while doing a google search for photos of the Nash being used as a police car, I found this groovy old photo of a Burbank cop in the much less impressive 1959 model.)
I am now reading "US Guys - The True and Twisted Mind of the American Man" by Charlie LeDuff. It's about desperate, disillusioned and rather pathetic males in working class America. Light holiday reading! It's sort of an offshoot of my occasional hobo fare. Perhaps the only thing keeping these guys off freight trains is the fear of freight trains.
Here's a good quote, from a chapter about a sad, wannbe rodeo rider named Baby Boy (who happens to be gay): "One thing Baby Boy did know was that bull-riding is the pinnacle of the rodeo. The most muscular, match-o occupation on the circuit. He made the intelligent supposition that if he just got on a bull, then he would vault himself to a certain level of adulation. Baby Boy's method was not uncommon. In America, we are full of emotionally arrested men who take the mythology of reinvention, the notion of the individualist, and screw it all up. They spend too much time memorizing television characters and then go down to the Wal-Mart and buy it in a box. The thing is, you can't buy courage or rough hands from a box. It takes effort."
Indeed. Anything I have ever tried has taken effort; piano being the latest of these. Speaking of which, I had a little mental breakthrough yesterday. It occurred to me that I am not only trying to learn how to play the piano, I am also learning how to learn how to play the piano.
I was given an annoying little early classical period minuet that takes all of about nine seconds to play and at least a week to learn. (I never did get to the point where I was happy with it.) It has odd, random staccato notes in the left hand which I dutifully tried to play while I was learning it. Problem was, obsessing about playing those staccato notes properly was seriously getting in the way of learning the notes.
So it occurred to me that I ought to learn the notes in the piece first, and then worry about how to play them. Staccato fingering and dynamics can be added once I've created the brain-finger links. ("Duh," I can hear some of you piano players saying.)
And I must once again express my fascination with the whole brain-finger link phenomena. You struggle to learn a piece of music by looking at each individual note and pressing a corresponding key with your fingers. Slow work. This gets repeated until the piece begins to make sense and you can increase velocity to the proper tempo. Then this weird thing happens where you no longer are reading the music note for note; you're merely using it as a guide, or reminder. And finally you sit at the instrument without the music and the fingers begin to do their thing, independent of your brain.
Last night, after my lesson, I was chatting with my teacher while softly playing a piece I painfully learned a couple of months ago. Amazing! It really is. You kind of turn yourself into an automatic piano player.
It's also really gratifying to find that an old dog can learn a new trick.
Today's blog theme is red shifting and orange shifting.
I am now reading "Chasing Hubble's Shadows - The Search for Galaxies at the Edge of Time" by Jeff Kanipe. It's all about cosmological constants, red shifts, quantum mechanics, dark matter, dark energy and other astronomical esoterica. I see astronomers are referring to distances by red shifts now ("this galaxy is at a redshift distance of 0.5")... interesting way to put it. Haven't come across that in a book yet.
(A red shift is the way light from a distant object reaches us. It's a Doppler effect. The more the red shift, the further away it is and the older the light. Read this.)
What have I learned? That the observable universe is not only expanding - it's accelerating. And the only way to account for this is by the use of a so far unobserved quantity called "dark matter" (and "dark energy"). I get the distinct impression that, intellectually, cosmologists and astronomers are sort of flailing around in the dark. There's an interesting passage that describes a physicist's nightmare: "What if we can't find dark matter?"
I'm in 1973 in my big new photo album now, having made my way beginning with the 1956 prints. Putting those Polaroid shots into the album is a pain. "Back in the day" you'd take a shot with a Polaroid camera and then put the finished print onto a big thick piece of sticky cardstock. These stupid things don't adhere to the album pages very well, being considerably stiffer.
This whole process reveals a curious trait. My mother - the principal photographer - took a ton of photos in 1956 (when I was born), in 1959 and much less from 1961 on. There are none at all from 1965. There are a bunch from 1966 (our first year in Burbank), the biggest amount from 1968 (when we took a trip back East) - and then I became the main user of the family cameras. Mom must have been preoccupied, I guess.
As my wife and kids will readily attest, I have the sneaking feeling that if I don't have a photograph of the event it didn't really happen. I have learned that this is a common trait among scrapbookers...
I'm also working on the 1958 Christmas images; these are terribly color-shifted. The (Ektacolor?) print dyes Kodak used that year are awful - every color photo we have from 1958 turned a sickening orange. I'm not able to produce a satisfactory color-corrected image, so I'm just converting these into black and white for use on the web. Example. Naturally, I'm putting the originals in the scrapbook so there are some really orange pages...
I found an interesting article. From it: "1954-59 - In 1954 Kodak made significant improvements in magenta dye stability and drastically reduced coupler staining. Prints from the period of 1954 to 1959 are identifiable by their overall magenta image color (that's what I see) and only slight coupler staining compared to pre-1954 prints. 1959-1968 - In 1959 Kodak introduced prints with even further reduced coupler staining and drastically improved dye stability. These prints do not exhibit overtly characteristic image deterioration. They generally have pleasing overall image colors with only mild dye fade, unless they were left on display over a long period."
Agreed again. The dyes in the 1959 and on Kodak prints I have are much more stable. (Examples - these were only mildly Photoshop color corrected. The originals look quite good.)
Hooray for digital photography! As long as you can maintain a copy of the original file - in a usable format - you can always make an accurate print.
Which reminds me of an old Sherlock Holmes movie. Dr. Moriarity - Holmes' arch-enemy - has Holmes strapped to a hospital table and he's finishing him off by draining his blood, drop by drop. I always found that really ghoulish. Of course Dr. Watson and some stout fellows from Scotland Yard arrive in the nick of time. But I've wondered: what is the amount of blood that would represent a no turning back/no recovery amount?
I spent a good amount of time this weekend putting old family photos in a new album. I got to 1961 when my adhesive squares gave out. Since it was a new box of 750 squares, and I almost always affix photos with 4 squares (more for 5" x 7"s and 8" x 10"s), that's roughly 187 photos.
These pictures are now cleaner and more presentable than they have been in many years. My parents originally put them in a cheap and cruddy photo album that fell apart, leaving some nasty black adhesive on the surface of the photos. I discovered that I could remove this with a fingernail, some Kleenex and elbow grease. Moral: Always put your photos in the best quality album you can afford! I have had good results with the Creative Memories albums and can recommend their use.
My parents took a bunch of photos in 1956 when I was born, and again in 1959 when I was three. Some in other years, mostly for my birthday and Christmas. But none in 1965, when we moved to Burbank. I wonder why not. Too preoccupied with the new house, I guess.
Posted Christmas 1961 to Avocado Memories.
It was Crappy Film Festival Night Friday night at Chez Clark. My wife and I watched:
"The Illustrated Man" (1969): An adaptation of the Ray Bradbury work starring Rod Steiger. This film was a hopeless mess narratively speaking. Steiger chewed up the scenery and bulged out his eyes as is his habit. And there are some shots of his naked and tattooed rear end. Augh. I was crying out for an ice pick to put out my eyes, like old Oedipus. I shudder to recall it. A library check out. AVOID.
"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1962): Note the date, this is NOT the silent German expressionist classic. This is a remake starring Glynis Johns. Boring and tedious with no real payoff. A Video Vault rental, so I paid for this one. AVOID.
I was going to watch another Bradbury adaptation, "Fahrenheit 451" (1966) by Francois Truffaut, but at about the fifteen minute mark it, too, was showing some positive signs of suckage, so I popped the tape out. Back to the library with that one... AVOID.
The only good Bradbury adaptation I'm aware of - and the author himself didn't like it - is the 1983 Disney film "Something Wicked This Way Comes," which is entertaining and creative. It became something of a family favorite with my kids. It is also one of the few examples of a truly odd genre, the family horror film. (I know of only one other, "The Watcher in the Woods," also a Disney film.)
Warning! Organ recital follows! (Long time readers will know this is what I call talking about one's health.)
I had my annual physical yesterday. My doctor looked at the record of my blood pressure readings, made a frowny face and said, "This is too high." So now I'm on a new medication (Lisinopril/HCTZ) that, he said, might make me cough. "How?" I asked. (It seemed odd to me that a small pill would cause coughing.) "Does it cause me to accumulate fluids that I'll feel a need to cough up, or will it cause a tickle in my throat?" "Just cough," said he.
Finding this way too mysterious, I investigated the drug. Turns out lisinopril is derived from the venom of the jararaca, a Brazilian pit viper. Well! Reading that I feel like coughing already! (I'd include an image of the snake at the top of this blog, but I'm even queasier about this than I am about inverted pentagrams. So a link will do.)
But it's okay. Further investigation reveals that the drug is derived from a peptide from the venom, so that's enough degrees of removal to calm my fears. There must be a minor market for this snake venom. The generic form of the drug was only $1.50 a bottle.
Last night my wife and I watched a British adaptation of Wilkie Collins' used-to-be-famous mystery "The Moonstone." I found the plot ridiculous and Victorian - my wife enjoyed it. She likes mysteries more than I do... I enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories but that's about it. In fact I was seated in the dreadfully comfy feather-stuffed sofa we have (Morpheus' Throne)and fell asleep during part of it.
This book I'm reading about Abe Lincoln is really good. Very funny and perceptive. Here's another excerpt, about some workshops based on Abraham Lincoln's management style (as claimed). "After five minutes or so, while the other teams bubbled with chatter, the guys had all stopped pretending to read their sheets and were staring into the middle distance, managing to avoid eye contact." Boy, is this ever familiar! I don't know how many times I have been involved in the pointless mental quagmire known as the modern corporate "workshop." I dread them and insist: Nothing good ever came out of a modern corporate workshop.
In fact, I'll go even further than this. Forget about the medieval visions of hell, with demons roasting humans alive, or Dante's depiction of various imaginative tortures. Hell, for me, is being "broken out" into little groups with a woman in a suit "facilitating," all the while doing her little encouraging and affirmative head nods. A guy in a monogrammed polo shirt and khakis, dry erase marker at the ready, is standing at a big blank piece of paper on an easel (the "parking lot") waiting for comments derived from "brainstorms." Even the crackpots have a role in the great inclusive sweep. We have all been given a photocopied "toolkit" and... and... AAARRAUGGGH! I cannot continue. It is too fearful.
I shall try to erase this horrid image from my mind as I wish you an enjoyable and productive weekend.
I am greatly enjoying reading "Land of Lincoln" by Andrew Ferguson. Here are some funny excerpts. Remember: Never use an untried Stephen A. Douglas!
And I agree with Kingsley Amis. Workshops sum up everything that's gone wrong with life since World War II. I dread any workplace activity where we "break up into groups." Nothing of any good ever came of it.
In fact I remember one hilarious occasion where a contract facilitator came into my workplace to lead a session. The goal was to put us into better contact with our customer's requirements. However, the activity involved people at tables manufacturing items (balloons tied to pencils with ribbons) without any stated requirements. These would get unceremoniously destroyed by an examiner for being faulty - we were never told why. The whole point of the exercise was totally lost upon us and led us to observe that what we really did was model our current frustrations without any obvious way out.
As my son might say, "Workshop Fail!"
Last night I watched a documentary called "Hell House" (2002) about a fundamentalist church in Texas that puts on haunted houses that attempt to turn people - usually teens - from sin. (This idea has caught on.) As with anything else involving young women who are emoting, it was a bit shrieky.
There was one scene that I found decidedly odd. At a planning/prayer session, the pastor gathers everyone together for a sort of rally. People start praying and speaking in tongues. One guy, seemingly oblivious, walks by in the background talking on a cell phone. For some odd reason for me that was the most memorable scene in the whole documentary - the guy on the cell phone.
Also, in one hellish set they attempted to paint an upside down pentagram with red paint but painted an upside down Star of David instead. (Since it has top to bottom symmetry you still wind up with a Star of David.) Whoops. That's why they're called pentagrams - they have five points... I do hope they corrected that or they would have some seriously annoyed Jews.
Does that upside down pentagram at the top of this blog make you nervous? It shouldn't. While it is usually (mis)used to represent Satanism, originally it was simply a perfectly innocent glyph representing Venus as the morning star. (Due to astronomical observations of Venus' path through the heavens.)
From yesterday's desk calendar: "Oh, what a blamed uncertain thing/This pesky weather is/It blew and snew and then it thew/And now, by jing, it's friz." - Philander Johnson, American humorist, 1866-1939.
I had my wild and woolly Webelos meeting last night... man, I think some of those parents fed their kids sugar or FD&C Red #40 before the meeting. I tried to make my "History of the U.S. Flag" PowerPoint presentation as lively and interesting as possible for a crowd of ten years olds, but it was tough. Good thing there was another adult present to maintain order.
Hmmm. I think I may start bringing in candy at the end of the session. See how the parents like it.
I learned a neat piece of piano music last night - a pedal piece in modern idiom that has a grand, four octave set of G and D notes run up the keyboard. I feel like Artur Rubenstein playing it. And it's a little like some KISS songs played on my friend's old cheap stereo - it makes my spinet sound nice.
I forgot to post this when I was reading that book about Gilgamesh. I found the poetry unexpectedly moving; these are some Mesopotamian verses about death:
the solitary place of mortal man awaits you now,
the flood-wave that cannot be breasted awaits you now,
the battle that cannot be fled awaits you now,
the unequal struggle awaits you now,
the fight that shows no pity awaits you now!
I posted Dinner with the Clarks, 1956 to Avocado Memories. Except that I discovered it's really Dinner With the Clarks, 1957. I'll make the change tomorrow...
I am now reading "Land of Lincoln - Adventures in Abe's America" by Andrew Ferguson. It is excellent... it's a kind of companion book to "Confederates in the Attic" by Tony Horwitz in that it looks at the pop cultural implications of Civil War history and is written in a journalist's style. I'm expecting coverage of the burgeoning Abe Lincoln impressionist scene somewhere in it.
I had my piano lesson last night. It wasn't totally successful. Last week I was too preoccupied with other things - namely, organizing old photographs - to practice as I should have. I hereby repent. I have some interesting pieces to learn this time: a dreamy arpeggiated piece in contemporary style which makes heavy use of the pedal and some short classical period minuets.
Last week I totally blew off one assignment: a C major 1-3-5 chord version of the overplayed theme from Mozart's "Eine Kliene Nachtmusik." I am very tired of C major 1-3-5 chord pieces. It seems like I've been playing them all my life. But my teacher was understanding... she didn't insist that I learn "La Bamba," either.
Tonight I have Webelos scouts. We're still working on the "Citizen" activity pin requirements, which means I need to put together a quick PowerPoint presentation on the history of the U.S. flag.
I also disclose how I used to play Spider-Man by climbing up the chimney.
As a result of posting a desire to have a Christmas ornament from my youth (scroll to bottom), a reader tipped me off to an e-Bay auction which I bid on and won. Now three of them are heading my way! How cool! Thanks!
I like this recent quote and illustration from my desk calendar.
For years I have maintained that, in April 1865, the Federal army, hardened by Civil War and led by visionary commanders like Grant and Sherman who fully understood new methods of warfare, could whip any army in Europe. It was an arguing point between me and a historically-minded friend. He is now reading John Keegan's new book, "The American Civil War" and has come across this quote:
“By 1865 the Union army, which had begun as a replica of the British army, and the Confederate army, which had not existed at all, had grown into the largest and most efficient armies in the world, divided and subdivided into elaborate operational formations and units comprising every branch of military specialisation. Though dismissed by European military grandees as amateur and unprofessional, each, but particularly the United States Army, outmatched the French, the Prussian and the Russian in up-to-date experience and, but for the interposing Atlantic, would have threatened any of them with defeat.”
I always like it when highly-regarded historical professionals like Keegan come around to my point of view. I shall not name my friend to spare him the excruciating embarrassment of my saying, "Told ya so." Which I would never say, "Told ya so." Saying "Told ya so" is not my style at all.
Now I just need him to understand that a historical Arthur is more important than the literary King Arthur.
I've been watching some of Video Vault's documentaries as of late, any one of which could serve as the basis for an extended blog.
Nanook of the North (1922) - An 87 year old film that is still viable and interesting. It describes the day to day battle for survival of the mighty Arctic hunter Nanook and his family. The film has interest on two levels: the story depicted therein and the story of the circumstances of its making (described in part in the wikipedia article). Nanook's name was really Allakariallak, he used a gun while hunting and not a spear as shown, one of his wives really wasn't his wife and he died not by starvation as is often maintains, but probably of tuberculosis. Anyway, it's nice to link a face and a film work with this well known name. (Which appears as a lyric in a Frank Zappa song, by the way.)
Hell's Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films (2002) - Like everyone else in my generation, I was subjected to the viewing of grisly traffic safety films in high school. "Signal 30" and "Red Asphalt" were two memorable ones. This is a collection of representative films with an account of the Ohio-based production company that made them. When I saw it again I recalled a scene from "Signal 30" from my youth: a man being picked up from the ground at an accident site who was frozen in pain and clenching the ground. Stuff like that gets easily imprinted upon an impressionable mind. Did these films make me a better teen driver? Like everyone else I was determined to be a responsible driver and not take risks when I exited the classroom. Being a twentysomething behind the wheel, however, was a different matter.
Second City: First Family of Comedy (2006) - This is a documentary about the history of the celebrated Second City comedy troupe, based in Chicago and Toronto. A list of alumni reads like a who's who in modern comedy. I've blogged before about my admiration for the old SCTV show. Comedienne Catherine O'Hara, a Second City alumnus, is often described as having an almost religiously cultish fan base - I guess I'm a sycophant.
You've seen her in Christopher Guest's mockumentaries, where's she's great, but I think her best work was with SCTV.
It just wouldn't be Christmas without a family viewing of her Lola Heatherton character singing, "Baby, baby my heart's breaking/Boo hoo hoo" (see image above) or her hysterics at the fireplace as she reflects on her life and failed loves. (Lola Heatherton's Especially Special Christmas Special - "The Love Spirit.")
I could go on, but this blog entry is long enough. Some other day.
If you don't have the SCTV Christmas DVD - what are you waiting for? These skits and lore have been a part of my family's Christmas since they were first aired in 1981 and 1982.
Check this out: a mention of one of my web sites (the one about odd Utah baby names) made it into ABC News!
The Muppets sing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Pretty funny. I like the section with Animal, the drummer.
Christmas 1969. I added a photo and a write up to this page. Last week I was on 1959. This week it's 1969 and 1979 (coming).
I had a great time at the Kennedy Center last Friday afternoon - CAPTIONED PHOTOS HERE. (My daughter Julie asked me to take some.) I even got one of Johannes Brahms, local music lover, for you.
I heard Jennifer Higdon's new Piano Concerto, which was premiered at this concert series over the weekend. I was really up for this, and was prepared to like it. After all the composer was in attendance and every performance at the Kennedy Center feels like a gala affair to me. Alas - I did not like it.
The piano writing was interesting, in a contemporary style and seemed up to a standard for serious concert music. I also enjoyed her writing for the various string ensembles. But the brass parts seemed to be really awkward to me; ill-fitting. And, overall, I am sorry to report that I was just not impressed with this work. It seemed like patchwork bombast. Higdon's music is often called accessible - she is one of the most frequently performed living American composers - but this work failed to make a good impression with me.
But what do I know? My favorite piano concerto is the one by Aram Khachaturian (pictured above). If I admitted that in some classical music circles I'd be labeled a rube.
Pianist Yuja Wang was excellent. A slight young thing, she arrived on stage wearing an off the shoulder gown that reminded me strongly of Belle's dress. The chorister seats were all filled with teenagers from some orchestra school in Fauquier County; I'm guessing they thought the same.
The other pieces were by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky and were great! Also, I noticed the sheet music that the basses were playing from, and had some questions which I put to a professional bassist at church. I now understand better how an orchestra works.
I am behind in my piano practice. I made the mistake of doing some obsessive work with old photographs over the weekend. I started with my stacks of 3 1/2" square Instamatic shots, of which I have over 300. I got some archive pages for those and arranged them chronologically into a binder. Once I got started I was on a roll. Then I did the same with hundreds of all my other family photographs from 1956 to 1966.
It was cool, sitting at a table and inspecting these, figuring out what years they date to and arranging them by picture-taking session. It took me hours, but now I have them grouped accouring to year. When I get them into a new scrapbook I'll have old wine in new bottles, so to speak.
Got to go.
For some reason I've lately been going through old photos, making good quality scans and fixing blemishes and color anomalies with Photoshop. I have therefore been making additions to my "Avocado Memories" collection. Here's one: Christmas with Dad fifty years ago. One of our tree ornaments reminded me of a Telstar satellite. Even cooler, reading this article, someone did some research for me and identified a funky old 1950's Christmas ornament I'd like to have again!
I also posted Dad and Me in the Backyard, 1959. Looking back on it, I am very, very happy my mother was such an enthusiastic photographer. She was the CMO - Chief Memory Officer - in my home in much the same way I am now with my own family.
And now, a promotional message about scrapbooking, one of my hobbies... I had an interesting conversation with a lady from New Hampshire once. She was a curator in the Berlin, New Hampshire Historical Society. (Mom's hometown was in Berlin, NH - pronounced "BER-lin" unlike the German city.) I had accumulated a lot of genealogical data about my mother's father, who lived in Berlin, and his family. I asked if the historical society would like a copy, and in what electronic format. The lady replied, "Paper, please."
I thought this was rather backwards and so asked why she wanted paper when data on CD is obviously a more imperishable format. She explained that, first of all, thanks to the James River Paper Mill (now closed) on the nearby Androscoggin River, Berlin is a town that paper had built. Her second point was that electronic data formats come and go, but paper can last hundreds, even thousands, of years with no format translation required. Look at Egyptian papyrus documents, or Dead Sea Scrolls. I had to admit she had a good point.
I realize that nowadays online and electronic imagery is easy to collect and post, and simple to view, which is great. I assemble images that way as well. But every archivist knows that if you really want to save images for generations, make paper prints and store them in a book. Or, at the very least, make paper prints of your photos and stick them in a box in a cool room with more or less constant humidity levels.
One more thing: the all-time best and most memorable lesson was given to me at a Creative Memories party I once attended with my wife. (CM is the company who manufactures my scrapbook materials.) The lady held up a great old circa 1890's photo of an adorable baby and said, "Great picture, huh? Wouldn't you love to have one like this of an ancestor in your collection? Anyone know this baby's name? I don't. There is no caption or marking on the back. I have no idea who this kid was. For the purposes of genealogy, it's just trash." Wow, what a shame. Caption your photos!
Last night I started learning a rondo minuet, the last of the Baroque pieces in my book. The next ones are from the Classical period (and then Romantic, and then 20th Century). I like the Festival Collection - Succeeding With the Masters book a lot (I'm in Book 1); when I learn the pieces I feel like I've really learned something worthwhile. It also has a CD with simple piano performances of the music - that way the student can get an idea of what the piece is supposed to sound like. Very useful.
Short day at work today; at noon I leave for a 1:30 performance at the Kennedy Center to listen to what I call my favorite musical instrument, the National Symphony Orchestra. Tomorrow the Five Families (my middle-aged posse) attend the Air Force Band's Holiday concert with a party afterwards. My half-Italian bride has been in the kitchen cooking up a storm: caramels, fudge, snickerdoodles, pizzelle, biscotti... AND I learned earlier this week that all of my kids and their spouses will be flying home for Christmas. Life just doesn't get any better than all that!
Well, okay, maybe a rugby game would be nice.
Have a great weekend!
I love Rammstein. Those wacky Germans...
Me, Dad, the Dangle Man and a Doberman: A Walk on Robinson Street, 1959. Christmas is a time for unleashing (pun intended) all sorts of unpleasant and frightening memories, isn't it? Well, for me it is. It's better than doing what I did last year: putting the Christmas tree up to Neil Young's lachrymose "A Man Needs a Maid."
Last night I had my first den meeting with the wild and woolly Webelos scouts. It was fun, mainly because I was in charge and I pretty much share the attitudes of ten year olds.
I was also delighted to find that I have a Haydn Quadrille pretty much learned after only about 45 minutes of practice. That is, I'm about 80% there - I know what the notes are, I just need to get smoother in playing them. I seem to be backwards, however, in needing to hear what the piece sounds like before I can play it fluently rather than visualizing what it sounds like by looking at the notation. I guess I am strongly a "play by ear" kind of musician.
I was reading a film noir encyclopedia last night and came across a mention of an influential 1949 book by Irving Shulman about juvenile delinquency, "The Amboy Dukes." Hey, I should read it... so I looked it up in the Fairfax County library system. Amazingly, there are no copies available. Even more amazingly, there are no Irving Shulman books at all! Annoyingly, the Alexandria library system's website is down so I couldn't try there. Okay - guess I'll have to buy a copy via amazon.com. Wow. Paperbacks - paperbacks! - are going for $50, $90, $100! What's going on here?
Shulman was a fairly popular author in his day, penning several books which later became movies. I have read his excellent West Side Story novelization. Has this author gone entirely out of style? Nobody does any reprints? Since many of his novels are about juvenile delinquency, that's hard to believe. It's kind of an evergreen subject - witness the enduring popularity of The Outsiders, Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story.
So... if any of you know an inexpensive source for Irving Shulman books, let me know, please. (Yes, I've looked on e-Bay... more than I want to pay.) And if you're going to suggest, "yard sales," don't bother. There aren't any until about March!
The other night I watched a 1965 Buster Keaton short, "The Railrodder." Less funny than interesting, it involves a trip across Canada in a speeder. Now there's something I would like to do! Wouldn't that be awesome? Clear the tracks and take this across the United States?
And that photo yesterday... I was wrong. I'm four in that shot, not three. It was 1960.
I am now reading "The Buried Book - The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh" by David Damrosch. My wife Cari picked it off the shelf for me last night at the library. It's quite interesting and readable.
Have you ever read "Gilgamesh?" If you haven't I encourage you to; it's odd, archaic in tone and motivation, and strangely wonderful. When the Mesopotamian tablets were first translated and released to the world the fact that they described a universal flood and a man (Utnapishtim) who released birds to find land created a literary sensation. External confirmation for the Biblical tale of Noah!
The texts were impressed upon clay tables in the 7th century B.C. in the Akkadian language. I was fascinated to learn that they were deciphered partially by knowing that Akkadian and ancient Hebrew were kindred languages. The story, however, is far older, dating to the Sumerians in 2700 B.C.
I have always been impressed with Gilgamesh's relationship with his great friend Enkidu. (Pronounced "Inky-doo," which is perhaps another indication that we're dealing with completely foreign, ancient cultures. Can you imagine an American hero named "Inky-doo?") They became best friends, but only after an initial opposition or combat, in the time honored manner of Robin Hood and Little John, Davy Crockett and Georgie Russel, King Arthur and Lancelot, Kirk and Spock, etc. There is something strongly literary and significant about male nature in it. In fact, it may be a key to why rugby is so appealing for men. First we fight each other, then we party. There must be something deeply satisfying to the male soul about this. But I digress.
Another interesting thing about Enkidu is that, initially, he is a wild man, savage and uncivilized. He is a literary archetype, like Iron John, Tarzan, or Lancelot gone insane. He only becomes a city dweller after having sexual relations with Shamhat, an alluring female. Significantly, after that the beasts of the fields, with whom he was previously friendly, shun him. (Tarzan may have taken up with Jane, but that didn't affect his relations with Cheetah.)
Anyway, the Epic of Gilgamesh is fascinating. If you haven't read it, you ought to. The fact that it is perhaps humanity's first narrative story is reason enough, but it contains enough weirdness and literary interest to sustain a reading. As I wrote, what fascinates me is that some significant later literary themes - and rugby! - are thus shown to be exceedingly ancient.
I had my piano lesson last night; I was assigned a C-major version - maybe that's the original key? - of the (overly) familiar main theme to Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik." I also have a rondo minuet to learn that has an optional trill; I do want to master the optional trill.
Elsewhere in my life I was introduced to Burbank High School's Oldest Alumni (in 1978) via an article somebody sent me. Interested as I now am in Burbank history and lore I'm sorry I didn't meet this genteel lady to interview. But back in 1978 such pursuits were far, far from my mind. (Back then I was primarily interested in Porsches.)
Anyway, here it is. It's me; from other photos where I'm wearing that shirt I'm pretty sure it's my third birthday party (4/27/1959) held in the backyard patio. My father is in the background. So is a tiki god painted onto a palm frond. (Dad was fond of backyard tiki decor.) I think that's my Mom on the right.
It can't be Kodachrome, a slide film renowned for its color stability. The colors all badly shifted towards the red. I had to do considerable adjustment with Photoshop. I also appear to be slightly out of focus.
Weird. Growing up, I knew the set of photos I had of me and my family. It's odd seeing one I've never seen before. I think, "Is that me?"
Time passes by so quickly... it's hard to believe my website Avocado Memories, where I discuss my old photos, is now thirteen years old!
I'm almost finished with Larry Fine's "The Piano Book." The wonder is that anyone buys a used acoustic piano after reading it! There are so many things that can go wrong, and Fine describes each one in detail. He also describes the expense of repairing esoteric items such as cracked soundboards, damaged pinblocks, rotted felt bushings, out of center hammers, deteriorating bridle straps, etc. The one clear message I get from it is that one can save a whole lot of care and expense by simply buying a digital electronic keyboard with a decent piano tone.
However, I haven't yet heard an electronic keyboard with a real accurate piano tone. There seems to be no substitution for an acoustic piano. I guess you need to be convinced of this before reading this book.
For your information, the single most important message of the book is, Have a piano tuner/technician examine any used piano you plan to buy before you buy it! Of course, I didn't do that when I bought my spinet. And had I read this book I wouldn't have bought it. (It also recommends not buying a spinet for a host of reasons.) Oh, well. I'll keep it to learn on until when I'm ready to upgrade to a better instrument.
I'll have a chance to hear a much better instrument this Friday, when I attend a Kennedy Center concert. Pianist Yuja Wang (pictured above), probably playing a gigantic Steinway concert grand on wheels, plays Jennifer Higdon's Piano Concerto. Since this is the premier of the piece, I'm guessing that the composer will be in attendance for all the performances. It ought to be interesting. Also being performed are a couple of pieces I know by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. As it's a 1:30 concert I will probably be one of the youngest people in attendance!
As is my wont, I will once again be in the cheap seats in the chorister - which is actually kind of cool. It's where the choir normally sits in works requiring a choir, above and behind the orchestra. I like sitting above the tympanist. You get an interesting view of things and can watch the conductor give his little nods, facial expressions and gestures at each orchestral ensemble.
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