Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

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2011: My Personal Highlights

January 30, 2012

A belated Happy New Year, everyone!

2011 was a year of firsts for me.  I attended my first pro football game (an easy thing to do during the Colts’ Manning drought).  Someone seriously offered me a partnership in a consulting firm (I turned it down).   I ordered my first drink from a swim-up bar (I did not drown).

My Most Memorable Moment in 2011

My cousin Maria, her beau Dimitri, and I were among the guests at the Bahamian wedding for Maria’s sister Joyce.  The night before Maria and Dimitri were to leave, she wanted a picture of the giant chess set near one of the resort’s bars.  The knee-high pieces were set up on a concrete chess board with benches around them.  The area wasn’t directly lit, but the building sconces and the most brilliant starlight I’ve ever seen made everything visible.

Dimitri and I, who’ve not spent much time together, decided to play chess.  We began at 10:00 PM.  We were both slow and methodical players—much to Maria’s dismay.

Other resort guests strolled by in the moonlight.   Maria complained to all of them how disgusted she was.

“They’ve been playing for over an hour!  Only one game!”  She wandered off multiple times to visit her sisters at their villas.

Joyce, the bride, made for the most surreal memory.  She was preparing to leave the next day as well.  She passed by us several times traveling back and forth to the main office.  The first walks were casual, later ones were more purposeful.  Finally, she eschewed the paths all together and was running through the grass.  She flitted past, laughing musically, her shear Tinkerbell dress backlit theatrically.

After I chased Dimitri’s king around the board, putting him in check on nearly every move, he defeated me at 1:00 in the morning.  Maria asked if we’d bonded during our game.  Dimitri and I looked bemusedly at each other said, “Sure.”

“What did you talk about?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?!?”

It was a great night.

The Best Book I Read in 2011

To all the Les Misérables book fans out there, I apologize.  My favorite book is generally one that I don’t want to end.  I was definitely ready for Les Misérables to come to an end.

I spotted Becoming Shakespeare by Jack Lynch on a bookshelf in Stratford, Ontario in 2007.  I didn’t buy it because I wasn’t sure if I could stomach a whole nonfiction book about Shakespeare plays.  I was tempted into buying it last year at a used book store.

Becoming Shakespeare is not a how-to book for aspiring writers.  The back cover text sums up both the book and its delightful tone:

This is a book about William Shakespeare’s afterlife, but there’s nothing mystical about it.  It’s a book about sex comedies with no sex, about tragedies where everyone lives happily ever after, about a Shakespeare festival where not a line of Shakespeare was spoken.  It’s a book about a king’s teenage mistress and a prudish doctor afraid of blood. … It’s about a classic of children’s literature written by a murderess. … It’s about a regicide, a whore and a forger all contributing toward the production of a genius.  It’s a book about a provincial bumpkin who became the great portraitist of the universal human condition.  … [I]t’s a book about one of the greatest paradoxes in all of world literature … how Shakespeare became Shakespeare.

The Most Important Thing I Did in 2011

I suppose if I’m going to be honest in this blog, I’ll have to fess up.  My brother nearly kicked the bucket this year.  He had a huge blood clot that swelled up his leg.  He had multiple surgeries, stints and fistulae.  It wasn’t pretty.  My parents made the trip to Michigan many times to be at the hospital and help with my nieces.

I stayed in Indy.  And stayed quiet.

There were a few rumblings that I needed to show some support.  So I sent a card.  It wasn’t completely impersonal.  It was a card left over from my grandparents’ collection in the desk I inherited.  But it didn’t mollify the family.  My parents were still calling and emailing—telling me that my brother’s in-laws were all wondering why I hadn’t called yet.

So why hadn’t I called?

The very thought made me nauseous.  My brother and I try to be polite to each other, but when push comes to shove, there’s no relationship for us to fall back on.  In the time we spent together as children and adults, my brother has left me with one overall impression of what brotherhood means to him: he doesn’t want one.

I’ve only ever been a thorn in my brother’s side.  During this year’s episode, my parents said he was lying in the hospital in a lot of pain.  A call from me would be the last thing to alleviate pain in his life—that was my opinion, at least.

After enough family prodding and counseling from Cecilia and Keith, I called.  My brother acted happy to hear from me.  On Keith’s sage advice, I let my brother do most of the talking.

So I guess things are marginally patched up now—physically for my brother, emotionally for the rest of us.  People in Michigan are still talking to me.  I’m not banned from seeing my nieces and the nieces themselves have not acted differently toward me.

But at some point in the future, despite the way our family neatly sweeps things under the rug, we’ll probably be forced to admit that my brother and I are only one step up the ladder from being estranged siblings.

My Most Uproarious Laughter in 2011

My friends Keith and Matt have been irritated with me because they do not appear in annals of Rubicon as important pillars of my life.  That’s by design.  Most of our conversations are virtually unrepeatable—either for their complete tastelessness or my unwillingness to provide background enough to capture the moment correctly.  The same has happened this year.  I would waste half an hour of my readers’ lives explaining why I fell apart with laughter when Keith said: “Land o’ Goshes!  Keith’s dead!”  But it’s simply not in the scope of this blog.

On the other hand, most of us have been exposed to the universal condition that married couples have difficulty communicating with each other.  My dad is regularly castigated for not remembering the words my mom speaks in his presence.  But there is another side of the coin, I discovered.

While taking down an address one night, I asked whether Utah was abbreviated UT.

“Yes, it is,” my dad said.  “I don’t know why the post office makes us abbreviate the four letter states—Utah … Iowa … Ohio.  Seems like it wouldn’t be that difficult to throw on an extra two letters.”

My mom looked up from her newspaper, “Ohio.”

“I already said that,” Dad retorted.

“Oh.”

“Didn’t you hear me?”

My mom was irked to be caught in the trap she habitually sets.  But she was undaunted.  She drew herself up immediately and said, “No.  I didn’t suspend all thought while you were speaking.”

I imagined my dad giving the same response to my mom and couldn’t contain my mirth for a good little while.

My Most Memorable View in 2011

Flying over the Atlantic on the way to Exuma from Nassau, the sun was setting behind the propeller plane.  We flew around the towering clouds.  They hovered over the calm ocean, as if supported by a glass mezzanine.  The deep blue water reflected the white, orange and purple outlines.  A mysterious bright light shone up at me in the water; it flashed occasionally from behind the clouds.  After a few moments, realized it was the near-perfect reflection of the moon.

The Best Music I Heard in 2011

Do You Hear the People Sing was a concert of Boubil-Schönberg musicals premiered by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on October 7th and 8th.  I understand this will become a traveling feature for other orchestras.  Expenses were not spared in gathering singers.  Lea Salonga (the original Kim in Miss Saigon) and Terrence Mann (the original Broadway Javert) lead an elite cast.

A secret gem was hiding in the concert.  I’ve long considered the song Please to contain the most beguiling melody in Miss Saigon.  But it functions as a conversation that masks its beauty.  Ms. Salonga told us that this melody was actually intended as its own ballad.  That song, Too Much for One Heart,  was cut from the show, but has been given new life in concerts like this one.

Too Much for One Heart wasn’t actually my best musical moment.  I’ve seen Les Misérables nine times on stage.  I’ve read the book.  I’ve been to Paris.  All of these memories were scrolling through my mind as the orchestra played.

Naturally, one of the selections was Bring Him Home.  I know every note of Les Mis by rote.  But I hadn’t been fully attentive and in the moment with Bring Him Home in years.  Peter Lockyer sang the simple beginning.  The second line ended as it always did, “… you have always been there.”

I was bowled over anew.  Suddenly, I realized that Les Misérables has been with me for more than half my life.  It has been a cornerstone of my philosophy and a touchstone of what I think music is and should be.

Quite unexpectedly, I cried.

The Worst Music I heard in 2011

Perennially, some music makes me gag.

My cousin Genevieve gave me the first season of Glee on DVD to watch.  I have been actively avoiding Glee ever since it came out.  I prefer not to be addicted to TV shows at a particular time slot.  I have lived far too much of my life planning around the TV schedule; I refuse to do it any more.

I watched the entire first season at Genevieve’s behest.  I’ll admit that the show found a lot of talented people.  I’ll admit that Lea Michele can give me goosebumps.  I’ll admit that I would rate Matthew Morrison a solid 8 out of 10 for looks; I’m bewildered that he skyrockets to a 9.9 whenever he sings.

The high points of Glee are like miniature islands of paradise with Taj Mahal gazebos.  But the low points of Glee are like a crocodile infested sewage runoff surrounding the idyllic archipelago.

If I must pick one worst moment from the first season (and bottom-dwellers abound), I’ll select Bust Your Windows.  Apparently this travesty of lyrics and dearth of melody made it into the Glee Live show.  What sad commentary on the state of music appreciation in this country.

My New Friends in 2011

Since I’m belated, I can report that I’m already down by two friends for 2012.  Which is typical for me, I suppose.

But a happy thing happened near the end of 2011.  I was at Gregg’s (a gay bar) and, much to my astonishment, I saw Rob, someone I know through work.  When we were working together I suspected Rob was gay.  But Rob told me he had a daughter, so I assumed (like I normally do) that my first instinct was wrong.  When I saw Rob again at Gregg’s, he was there with his boyfriend.  My gaydar works!

The Most Craigo Moment of 2011

Cass, Michelle, Wes (Michelle’s heretofore unnamed husband) and I attended an Idina Menzel concert at the symphony in March.  An animated discussion followed the concert as we waited in parking garage traffic.  At one point, Michelle and Wes were trying to come up with a band name.  “Alien Ant Farm,” Wes said with satisfaction.

“Ah.” I chimed politely.

Wes laughed.  “I like when Craig says, ‘ah,’ as if he’s learned something, but you know he doesn’t care about it at all.”

Cass agreed, “He immediately clicks the ‘spam’ button and chucks it.”

I tried to defend myself.  “It’s not that I don’t want to know.  It’s just that there’s no category in the outline to file it under.”

Michelle seemed to think this statement encapsulated how my mind works.

For the record, I can name no current or past members of Alien Ant Farm or any of their songs.  You’ll have to look them up yourself.

Those were my highlights.  Hopefully 2012 lives up to all the hype.

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‘Twill Vex Thy Soul

July 1, 2011

I didn’t mention in my sidebar that I finished Becoming Shakespeare and have since read Richard III and Titus Andronicus.  I’ll be seeing both plays this summer in Stratford, Ontario.

I am not a fan of horror.  I don’t claim to be otherwise.  I have a weak stomach for such things.  I don’t read Stephen King.  I avoid movies with words like ‘nightmare’, ‘scream’, ‘saw’ or ‘massacre’ in the titles.  I liked Misery and Silence of the Lambs at the movie theater, but I’ll never watch them again.

Those of you familiar with Titus Andronicus will understand why I’ve been sleeping with the lights on for the last week.

For everyone else, Titus lands squarely in the horror genre.  Definitely rated R.  I heard the play described as bloody.  I thought I was prepared for bloody Shakespeare.

I sat in the audience while eyes were plucked out in King Lear.  I gazed on Macbeth’s disembodied head as it was paraded around in his own play.  I witnessed the stage-carpeting carnage of Hamlet.  Perhaps less graphic, but equally bone-chilling was  Laurencia’s tongue-lashing of her father and other men in Fuente Ovejuna (by Lope de Vega) after they allowed her to be raped by the local bullies.   Certainly Titus would be no more gruesome than any of these, would it?

Well, yes.  Yes it would.  The word ‘grisly’ is more apropos.  The list of casualties starts in the opening scene.  After that, one should have a notebook to keep score.  But lest you become numb to the routine beheadings, Shakespeare spices things up with macabre maimings.  Several characters are mutilated and left to wander around the stage on morbid display as others make tasteless jokes.

Thankfully, I am finished reading Titus Andronicus.  Now I can laugh haughtily (my favorite pastime!) at Titus references.  I don’t know if it was worth the price, though.

I think I’ll pack my wubby for this year’s Stratford trip.

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Unabridged

May 2, 2011

Eternal sepulcher-mates at La Pantheon. I hope they like each other.

At long last, I finished reading Les Misérables.  I feel as though I’ve spent a semester studying abroad.  Now returned, I am compelled to impart uninvited wisdom on uninterested readers.

I read the Signet Classics unabridged paperback version, A.K.A. “The Brick.”  It is based on the Charles E. Wilbour translation.  If I’ve understood correctly, Mr. Wilbour was a friend of Victor Hugo.   VH, perhaps interested in severing the friendship, requested that CW translate Les Misérables into English.

For years I had avoided reading Les Mis.  A college friend provided me with an easy excuse—it is worthless to read a French literary classic in English, he said; the nuances and texture of the carefully crafted words are likely translated out.  Perhaps.  But I nonetheless found great quotes.

Love is the foolishness of men, and the wisdom of God. —VH

All the four-legged pieces of furniture behaved as if they had only three. —VH

To some extent [the Bourbons] fell short of the majesty of their misfortune. —VH

I wanted to read something apropos while in Paris with Genevieve; Les Misérables was the obvious choice.  Before I bought the masonry-shaped tome, I perused several other copies at my local bookseller.  I wondered to myself: What version of Les Misérables should I read?

Some fool reading in Paris

Post-Les-Misérables, I can confidently state that I now understand the concept of an “abridged” book.  I always thought that to abridge a book would be akin to chopping a movie to air on television inside of two hours.  I assumed that important character and plot developments were left on the cutting room floor, sacrificed to the god named Brevity.

But Victor Hugo, I am loath to say, begs to be abridged.  The unabridged Les Misérables includes the director’s cut movie and all the DVD extras that go with it.  These extras are not appended after the story.  No, no.  They are woven into the text like chunks of hard candy into duck foie gras.  There was no fact too far-flung, no opinion too superfluous that Monsieur Hugo could consider it outside the scope of story.

People are ignorant of things they ought to know and know things of which they ought to be ignorant. —VH

Hugo explained at great length why he felt nunneries were an affront to decent society.  This dragged on for fifteen pages before he finally concluded, “Well, sometimes they’re okay.”  In that instance, Hugo had the good sense to call the section “A Parenthesis.”

Other unannounced asides belabored the nuances of Argot slang, the (hypothetical) intricacies of Thénardier’s escape from prison, and the construction specifications of a barricade that in no way figured into the story, but was rather built years later.

Only the epic has the right to fill twelve thousand lines with one battle.  —VH

Hugo was true to his word.  He frugally devoted only 2,500 lines in 58 pages to the battle of Waterloo.  This was necessary to set the stage for a single plot point that was, in itself, only peripherally related to the battle.

One of my friends has heralded Les Misérables as his favorite novel of all time.  This makes perfect sense to me now.  My friend is given to lengthy asides in his conversation.

So, for the various levels of potential readers out there, here are my recommendations regarding one’s Les Misérables purchase:

  • If you want to know the mind of Victor Hugo—First, learn to read French.  Second, pick up the unabridged French version and some No-Doz.
  • If you want to know the mind of Victor Hugo but you’re lazy—Read the brick that I noted above.  (Have coffee on hand.)  Lazier still?—find it on CD.
  • If you want to know the original story of Les Misérables as opposed to the Hollywood or West End truncations—Buy an abridged version and count yourself lucky.  One could easily trim five hundred pages from Les Mis without inflicting even a paper cut on the meat of the novel.

A few other thoughts I’d like to share with potential Les Misérables readers:

  • One needs to familiarize oneself with two important vocabulary words: “Sepulcher” means “tomb.”  A “cloaca” is a sewer.  Oftentimes authors use favorite words as crutches.  Apparently, much of the world reminded Monsieur Hugo of sepulchers and cloacae.
  • I would dissuade anyone from reading the section called “The Intestine of the Leviathan” while one is eating.
  • Keep an eye out for Napoleon’s memorial elephant which, in my limited exposure to popular culture, I believe has only ever appeared (unrelatedly) in the film Moulin Rouge.

I have failed to comment on the actual plot and characters of the novel.  (I quite liked the book, as it happens.)  I will remedy that in another post.

One more thought from Monsieur Hugo; it relates to your current electronic surroundings:

The great wars of Africa and Spain, the destruction of the Cicilian pirates, civilization introduced into Gaul, into Britain, into Germany, all this glory covers the Rubicon. —VH

I submit that Victor Hugo made superb river references.

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Amen

April 22, 2011

I sometimes make snide comments about my religion.  One might infer that I don’t take my faith seriously.  That may be partially true, but it’s not the whole picture.

To me, it seems inherently flawed to use the catechism of the Catholic Church, or any religion, as a checklist to be carried to the threshold of paradise and stamped like a golf scorecard.  Can one really earn more frequent flyer miles on angelic wings by bowing one’s head at the proper time during the creed, by abstaining from meat during certain hours, or by drinking consecrated wine from only gold cups?  Is such minutia important in the grand scheme of things?

Occasionally though, something will break through my jadedness and remind me why I’m at church in the first place—reaffirming a basic truth inside of me.  A few weeks ago, such a reminder came unexpectedly in the words of St. Paul.

… You are not in the flesh; … you are in the spirit …  Romans 8:8

I would imagine that this sentiment, though simplistic, is foundational for the faith of many people—regardless of their religion.  People are spirits, souls temporarily journeying through a physical world.

Most people can relate a story about a particularly spiritual experience.  Many that I’ve heard involve feeling connected—to each other, to nature, to the universe.  Sometimes these experiences happen under the auspices of religion, but other times they originate at an event, in a book, or with an epiphany while reading a jar of peanut butter in the grocery store.

I vividly remember reading the conclusion of The Grapes of Wrath almost eighteen years ago.  The story, a hopeful journey at the beginning, had become depressing and disturbing toward its finish.  But the last paragraph, the last line, and particularly one word, suddenly and violently upended my impressions of the book, casting it in a completely different light.

In that upheaval, something tripped inside me.  I had spent the summer session in my usual self-imposed isolation from people around me.  A few days remained in the semester after Steinbeck had clunked me over the head.  I actually invited some of the guys on my floor to my dorm room for game of euchre one night.  I understood a connection between myself, the guys and, by extension, the whole world.

At those rare times when we break through to the spiritual realm, we accept; we love; we share; we forgive.

Religions are born of such experiences.  (I’ve not attempted to develop a theological doctrine based on The Grapes of Wrath and euchre, though.)  It’s clear that the epiphanies and events that founded the major world religions passionately moved many people.

Even in our modern age, religions provide us a context to discuss and accept spiritual ideas.  They provide a venue to express our spiritual passion through art, song, food, dance and gatherings.

The paradox of religions today is that their organizations, culture and traditions can become barriers to spiritual experience.  In an effort to standardize, institutionalize, sanitize and economize religion for the masses, the spirit is easily lost.

Some would tell me that I’m unfaithful or even blasphemous to make snide comments about my religion.  Or that I’m some naysayer who promotes any religion but my own.

I disagree, of course.  I want people to see the bigger picture—to see all the aspects in which people are similar in faith, rather than different.  I want people to attach less importance to religious details that inherently divide us, and more importance to the spirit that unites us.

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My Inside Voice

February 4, 2011

Someone I know self-published a science fiction novel a few years ago.  I was obligated to buy a copy.  It was awful—dry prose, colorless descriptions, flat characters, pointless action.

I might have survived all that and read the story.  But the author’s narration was idiotic—it didn’t provide a consistent, credible voice.  The book stuck its hand up the puppet-bum of my inner narrator and babbled nonsense.  I refused to take part in it and never finished the novel.

Rotten though it was, this atrocity of language made me think more about how I read.  I hear the words in my head.  From what I understand, not everyone does that—some people see the words and understand them, without the intermediate step of pronouncing them internally.  I believe I’m reading with what’s called inner narration.

I searched around on the internet for inner narration and what others think about it.  I didn’t find any books at all.  A couple of Answers sites (both in the UK) had discussions on the topic.  (You may draw your own conclusions about international literacy levels.)  One of the discussions was entertaining, at least.

I didn’t like my own inner narration as a child and young adult.  I read too slowly.  I didn’t know the vocabulary.  I didn’t sound like the grown-up I wanted to be.  Maybe my story choices were poor.  I sometimes chose books others would expect me to like—I was trying to show off—rather than ones I wanted to read.  As a result, I thought reading a novel was beyond me.  I read non-fiction constantly, but in bite-size portions—articles, commentary, Reader’s Digest kind of things.

All that changed in a hippy-inspired college bookstore one day.  I spotted a shiny paperback copy of Jurassic Park on the shelf.  It sported the logo from the movie that launched realistic CGI films, digital sound, the Ford Explorer and the superstardom of Michael Crichton.  I picked it up and fondled the dimpled letters.  It was $6.99—at least two meals for an engineering student paying his own tuition.  But the toothy T-Rex was too tempting to me.  I bought it.

Jurassic Park was like no other novel I had ever tried to read.  It was, as they say, a page-turner.  It didn’t make me feel stupid.  It didn’t bore me to tears.  Even though Michael Crichton failed to tell me how to pronounce procomsognathus, I muddled through.

And I kept right on reading afterwards.  Just the other day I was searching for a particular book in my house.  (I like to buy and keep my books.  They are my trophy collection—my ode to belated literacy.)  I was surprised at how many books I sifted through to find the one I wanted.  Hardcovers and paperbacks stacked on tables, stuffed in closets, loitering on the floor and, oh, standing on shelves.  Proud piles of Wodehouse, Shakespeare, Bronte, Sedaris, McEwan, Austin and Forster.

I’m happy with my inner narration these days.  It grew up, finally.  It’s polished, a tad snotty, elegantly authoritative.  A bit like Peter Jennings.  A lot like me.  And I get to laugh when it has to say “puppet-bum.”

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2010: My Personal Highlights

December 31, 2010

Since 2004, I’ve reviewed my journal entries for the year to pick out highlights.  I don’t really care about current events; I want to remember what happened to me.  I drop and add categories on a whim, they change from year to year.

2010 was substantially skewed by my trip to Paris with Genevieve.  (If you don’t want to hear me brag more about our trip, stop reading.)  It hardly seems fair to lump the trip in with a normal year when Paris was the highlight of a lifetime.  So I’ve doubled up some of my categories, giving an answer for life outside Paris and what happened during the trip.

My Most Memorable Moment in 2010:

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival continually blows me away with its brilliant staging.  This year was no exception.  I snagged a last-minute seat to The Winter’s Tale because everyone was recommending it.  It was a simple but joyous production.  The final moments were astonishing.  Hermione and Leontes were reunited after years of heartbroken separation (all through acts 4 and 5).  They approached each other on stage slowly, consolingly, lovingly.  The rest of the world had melted away.  When they reached out to embrace each other, the stage went black.

My Most Memorable Moment in Paris:

I got goosebumps when I turned the corner and saw the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.  The same thing happened when we walked up the stairs into Sainte-Chapelle.  But on Friday night, Paris was alive with music, lights and pedestrians, Genevieve and I walked all around Notre Dame and took pictures of the brilliantly lit cathedral.  I talked her into walking along the Seine, looking up at the overflowing ivy and rose window across the river.  Parisians dotted the sidewalk in pairs and groups, wine glasses and bottles in hand—toasting the night, the city, youth, love, destiny and life.  It was irresistible.

The Best Book I Read in 2010:

I’m still not through with Les Misérables, so it will go on the list for 2011.   This year, Lost on Planet China was the best book I read.  It was the best ending I’ve read since The Grapes of Wrath.

The Most Important Thing I Did in 2010:

I came out to my parents.  They took it as well as I might have expected.  Their approach has been to ignore it for the most part.  They don’t want to talk about it.  If you’re reading this news for the first time here, I apologize.  There were lots and lots of phone calls going on at the time.

My Most Uproarious Laughter in 2010:

This category is a perennial favorite of mine.  Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily the funniest story that I can tell others.

I visited my cousin Cecilia at her house after she had a throat surgery.  She couldn’t talk for a week.  So I did all the talking (highly objectionable to most anyone).  Cecilia had a notepad to jot down comments.  I told her about a soapdish that I bought the day before.  Except the word “soapdish” had slipped my mind.  Making do, I settled on “soap-boat.”  Cecilia was unsatisfied and wrote the proper word on her pad and showed it to me.  My own idiocy is always amusing.  I tried to stifle my mirth since I knew Cecilia wasn’t supposed to laugh.  But that just made it all the more humorous.  The gales poured forth.

The Most Uproarious Laughter in Paris:

My birthday was about a week before our Paris trip.  During the trip, I was sick—often in a drug-induced stupor.  (That’s my excuse.)  One night after dinner …

Genevieve: “Oh, by the way, happy birthday!”

Craig: “You’re welcome!”

More gales.

The Most Memorable View:

I was up early to run along the north shore of the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  Louisville was waking up to the crisp November morning across the river.  The sun tickled the underbellies of the stratus clouds.  Their reflections of pink and violet glistened off the undulating water.  The iron framework of the disused Old Bridge, hulking and imperious when overhead, receded into intricate lacework downriver, carving the brightening mandarin sky into mosaic panes.

The Most Memorable View in Paris:

Georges Abstraction Surface Restaurant sits atop the Centre Georges Pompidou north of the Seine.  During a peaceful sunset, Genevieve and I sat there too.  Many of our excursions through the week were now at eye level with us—the rooftop of Hotel De Ville, the towers of Notre Dame, the Domes of the Panthéon and Les Invalides and the ever-present Eiffel Tower.  The only interruption of our view was a forest of chic square umbrellas and the long-stemmed red roses that adorned each table.  If Genevieve weren’t my cousin, I might have felt obligated to propose to her.

The Best Music I Heard in 2010:

I attended many excellent concerts and musicals in 2010.  I attended my first Indianapolis International Violin Competition event (the first night of the finals) and saw Clara-Jumi Kan—the eventual winner—play Beethoven’s Concerto in D major, Op. 61.  As wonderful as that was, I’m going to give my nod to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Shakespeare included lyrics for a song Who is Sylvia in Act 4, but there is no official music for it.  Dean Gabourie’s production set the play during the 1920’s with the leads as members of a vaudeville act.  Jonathan Monro’s setting of the tune utilized a phonograph on stage playing period-style recorded accompaniment.  It was sweetly and earnestly delivered by Gareth Potter as Proteus.  I’m disappointed to think that I won’t ever get to hear that tune again.

The Worst Music I Heard in 2010:

Secretariat had all the elements of a great sports movie:  a struggling heroine facing incredible odds as the owner of a horse farm, a promising race-horse, a wise and gruff horse trainer, and the requisite Cinderella ending.  What it lacked, however, was a proper musical score.  I don’t know what Nick Glennie-Smith was thinking of as he wrote this music.  I suspect he was dwelling on the death of a beloved family pet.  I’ve never heard music so morbid.

Scoring a sports movie should be a relative no-brainer: strings play excitedly in twelve-eight time, horns blare on tonic and dominant notes, timpani rolls and cymbals crash at appropriate intervals.  Hell, I could have scored this movie.  I’ll do that in my spare time next year.

The Best Music I Heard in Paris:

On one of our last metro trips, we rode in a car where a clarinetist played a snappy rendition of La Vie en Rose.  Hearing that song wasn’t on our list of things to do, but it made the trip to Paris complete.

The Best Christmas Present of 2010:

I usually don’t rank my Christmas presents.  But Genevieve outdid herself.  She uploaded our Paris pictures to Shutterfly.com and created a phenomenal coffee-table book.  She even reprinted my La Dame de Fer post in it (which I just now realized I misspelled, dammit).  I was thrilled.  I’ll need to rethink the disparaging remarks I made about picture-taking.  The book captures the energy and excitement of the trip as well as the staggering beauty and colossal proportions of the architecture.  It’s almost as much fun to flip through the book reminiscing as it was to go.

My New Friends in 2010:

For extroverts, this entry likely makes no sense.  For me, it is absolutely necessary.  I fail so regularly and miserably at making friends that I need a category to track it.  I’ve actually listed new friends one year who weren’t speaking to me the next year.  (Imagine that.)

Ellen is the daughter of a fellow choir member at my church.  She just moved to Chicago to get into the theatre business.  I applaud her spunk and determination.  At every opportunity this year, I’ve encouraged her in her efforts.

Everyone in my circle left me to my own devices when choosing a school and career.  And everything inside of me at the time said, “Be practical first, then creative.”  I didn’t realize that changing careers after graduating from engineering school would be like climbing Mount Everest without the Sherpas.  I wonder how life might have turned out if someone I trusted and admired had said to me, “You have talent, you need to develop it.”  (Of course, there may be a reason no one said this to me.)

Long story short, Ellen is quite a talented young lady.  I’m hoping to be an encouraging voice in her head to keep plugging away.  We hug whenever we get to talk to each other.  That’s a pretty good definition of friends if you ask me.

The Most Craigo Moment of 2010:

In high school, people started calling me “Craigo.”  I didn’t like it.  But if it is said with the right inflection by people I know and love, it grows on me.  My Craigo moments are the ones where I’m accidentally myself—when I speak before thinking, act before remembering my surroundings or just do something stupid that is completely in-character for me.

The Starbucks staff was cleaning as I walked in.  Most of the floor was freshly mopped.  I hate walking on mopped floors.  It’s so rude.

I ordered my tall vanilla latte where the mopping stopped, barely in reach of the counter.

The barista went to make my drink without taking my money first.  So I waited at the edge of dryness near the cash register.  Like some OCD child, I refused to step in the fresh mopping.

The mopper of floors had stopped and was behind the counter doing something.  I’ve seen him a hundred times.  He’s friendly and we’ve chatted before.  But I was too distracted for chatting.  Why, you ask?  Because I was in the middle of paying.  I had to pay for my drink.  I order, then I pay.  It’s a pre-ordained, universal law.  I would never presume to step outside such a natural law and speak pleasantly to the guy behind the counter.   I was in the middle of paying, teetering at the threshold of fresh mopping.  As I stood there, thinking more on the topic, I considered the mopper was probably impatient for me to leave so he could finish.  So my frozen limbo became more anguished.

Hence, the people at Starbucks think I’m a really weird person who’s not friendly and is scared of water.  I didn’t sit down in Starbucks that night, obviously, since I couldn’t get to any furniture except by boat.  I left, feeling like a nincompoop.

The Coolest Thing I Did in Paris

This is a new, but necessary category.  Genevieve and I attended L’Italienne à Alger at the Opéra Palais Garnier.  (L’Italiana in Algeri if you’re following along in Italian.)  If I didn’t create a category for this, I would have listed it in every other category.  Waiting for the overture to start was the most memorable moment of the year;  the orchestra and singers delivered the best music I heard; the resplendent theatre was the most memorable view.  It was thrilling, engrossing, overwhelming and surreal.  The stage lights glittered off the gilt columns and reliefs around the balconies.  The house was packed with well-heeled and stylishly-coiffed patrons.  They hung over the railing on the upper levels, smiling faces resting on forearms.

Our view only covered about half of the stage.  Our burgundy, fabric-wrapped box was aimed directly at the VIP seats in Box Five.  The opera was in Italian and helpfully translated at the top of the stage into French.  The leads were from Alaska and Ohio.  Just being there was cosmopolitan, exclusive, worldly, cultured, historic and literary.  They could have put on Sesame Street and I would have been overjoyed.  But they put on Rossini and I was insatiable.

When I saw the tickets themselves before the show, I found out that their face value was 25 euros.  I had paid Super Bowl prices through an online reseller.  Strangely enough, it didn’t matter in the end.  I’ve never been someone who would use this kind of superlative, but attending the Paris Opera was—far and away, hands down, without equal—the coolest thing I have ever done.

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Vampires on the Moon?

December 11, 2010

I’ve been writing.  Honest.  And something finally made it past the “publish” button.

I’ve posted Chapter 4 of Vesta-Ceres—now that anyone reading along has completely forgotten what happened in Chapters 1-3.

I’m also going to post the chapter on my main page tomorrow.  I’m hoping more people will be able to find it and read it here.

In the midst of reading Les Mis (I’ve passed the half-way mark, page 833!)  I also read Putting Your Passion into Print by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.  (If you want to get published, I recommend it, even though it leans a little to nonfiction books.)

PYPIP, as it refers to itself, wants me to have a marketing plan for my book.  It doesn’t need directly relate to the book, it just needs to hook into it somehow.  It seems to me that aliens are a bit passé in popular culture these days.  Vampires are all the rage.  Maybe if I use the word vampires enough, I’ll grab some web traffic.

Here’s my marketing plan:  I’ll have a book signing tour in mall bookstores.  I’ll hire one of the models from the local Abercrombie store.  He will sport a pair of vampire teeth as an accessory to his bare, V-shaped torso.  Intent and glowering, he will stalk through the mall to my pathetically empty book-signing table where I absentmindedly click my pen and read my own book-jacket copy.  I’ll do my best silent movie heroine impersonation while the model attacks my neck and several gallons of fake blood pump out.  Then I’ll play dead and he will sign my book with the blood.  Perhaps we could rig some kind of recirculating fountain out of my neck.

How’s that for a hook?  Can you tell I was writing this in October?

Vampires, vampires, vampires…