Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Wasted Day

There are days when the time slips by, events take place, this and that, the sun is out and little things get done at random.

Like Saturday, which started for me at dawn on the ski trails at Wirth Park. I'd retrieved my skis from Hoigaard's on Friday afternoon, having brought them in the get the tail-tips reglued. The ski expert took a look at the skis, held them together, noted the fading camber, and said, "Are these still working for you?"

"I just keep shuffling along," I replied.

Which is true. If he saw me in my choppers and felt balaclava, with the pattern of the cotton fishnet long underwear showing through my jeans, he'd understand, and be reminded that having a good kick and glide is of secondary importance. The main thing is getting out on the trails on a regular basis.

Not that I'm a Luddite. When my leather ski boots (right) finally lost a lacing hook, I took the plunge and ordered a new pair of boots from Rossignol (left) and they're fantastic. Felt insoles, no-lace boots, Velcro strap. But in general I endorse the remark Henry David Thoreau once made: You should never take up a sport that requires a new set of clothes. In other words, don't worry about the equipment.

But back to the skiing. That morning I skipped the backwoods trail at Wirth, where the drifted natural snow wasn't deep enough to be groomed and looked pretty icy. I stuck to the loops that have artificial snow a foot deep and, as usual, were groomed before I got there at 7:45.

Back home, I ate a hard-boiled egg sandwich and worked for a bit on the layout of the spring newsletter for nearby Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. That was refreshing. While I was at it, I put a CD called Piano Circus onto the stereo. It was perfect for the morning: a collection of  minimalist neoclassical twenty-first-century compositions for five pianos by various young composers. I'd gotten the recording at the library for a dollar, and I started wondering what might be waiting for me at the library de-acquisition shop at that moment!? Otherwise put, I felt like getting out of the house.

An hour later I was back with a bag of eight CDs: the Cantatas of J.S. Bach, volumes 34, 48, 51, 28, 33, 63, 59, and 39. I already own volume 32 in the same series.

You may point out that if you've heard one cantata, you've heard them all.

I guess I''ll find out.

I also snagged The New American Cookbook by Joan Nathan (whom I've never heard of) and a book called Mishima's Sword: Travels in Search of a Samurai Legend.

Checking my emails, I discovered that the results had arrived from the DNA sample I'd sent in on a whim to months ago. There weren't any tremendous anomalies, I'm afraid. Not a drop of Native American, Jewish, Neanderthal, or Japanese blood anywhere amid my 700,000 genetic units.

According to the report, I'm 55% Scandinavian, which isn't surprising considering my dad's parents came from Sweden. I'm 17% Irish, which goes with my mother's McIlvenna heritage. Great Britain accounts for 8%—shooting back into the past through my crazy maternal great-grandmother Galligan, I suppose. Then we have 14% Western European (i.e. German and French, which are indistinguishable genetically), 3% Iberian, 2% from the Caucasus (which explains why I loved the film Jason and the Argonauts), and 1% Finland/ N.W. Russia.

Taking a closer look at the vague regions outlined on the website maps accompanying the data, I noted that my "Iberian" genes could well be from Perigord, and my 5% excess of Scandinavian genes might have come from Scotland. (The name McIlvenna ultimately derives from the Scottish clan Macbeth.)

I next set to work for a few hours on the layout and cover for a book of nature poems. Haiku, in fact. I called a handyman as a first step toward fixing our kitchen cabinets, which appear to be falling off the wall.

Nothing interesting came in the mail, but UPS delivered a package at mid-afternoon inside of which were Hilary's binoculars. We'd sent them to the Nikon factory in Los Angeles weeks ago to get an eyepiece repaired. (Lifetime warranty.) When I glanced at the return address on Wilshire Boulevard, I felt warmer.

The afternoon sun was streaming into the back part of the house by that time, and it occurred to me that it was time to log off and start cleaning up the kitchen, which begins to look pretty crummy at this time of day.

There was no need to cook anything. I'd made a poor man's cassoulet the previous day with leeks, chicken, bacon, carrots, yellow squash, and three kinds of beans. I added some powdered ancho chili, cayenne, cumin, and dried thyme in lieu of the chili paste mentioned in the recipe.

When Hilary got home from work we ate.

After dinner we "dressed up"—good shoes, sport coat ... but no tie—and headed downtown to take in one of the GREAT compositions of all time, Verdi's Requiem. We arrived early enough to listen in as the conductor, Roberto Abbado, was interviewed in Orchestra Hall's new Atrium. This beautiful space has a high ceiling and glass walls looking out across Peavey Plaza toward Nicollet Mall. Buses pass in the dark, the lights of Caribou Coffee beam in the distance, and you know that people are enjoying a fine dinner at Vincent or Brit's Pub not far from where you stand.

I found Abbado's comments on the current opera scene especially interesting. The gist of it was: we don't have the great opera singers we once did. There are still great singers, but the field is much thinner. He thought it was worth pointing out that Jonas Kaufman, a German, was recruited to sing the tenor role in a recent opera production in Rome. "Kaufman is great, yes, but thirty years ago that would not have happened."

We ran into a former client of mine on the way down the aisle before the performance and he told us a few jokes in his unmistakable Hungarian accent before we found our seats.  
As for the music itself, I couldn't begin to describe its force or beauty. Others have. (Read a fine description of it here.) I have no idea which section is the "Dies Irae" and which is the "Tuba Mirum." But I do know that the cavalcade of musical thrills is virtually nonstop.

We were sitting in the seventh row and had a very good look at the four solo vocalists. I've heard the piece live several times before but had forgotten how consistently involved these soloists are in the ninety-minute tour de force, singing solos, duets, and trios right and left—unlike Brahms' German Requiem, in which the solos figure less prominently.

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