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San Diego Opera presents The Masked Ball

A few weeks ago, I was happy to be able to fly out to southern California to visit my Grammy and be her guest at the San Diego Opera for their production of The Masked Ball, a Verdi opera that I was unfamiliar with. (This is not surprising; I’m not a big opera fan.) It goes without saying that I was there to see my Grammy more than to see the opera, but the opera was rather good, too. First, Grammy had clipped a review for me by the local (San Diego) arts critic James Chute. Anyone could read this piece and see that it is a glowing review; but Grammy informs me that apparently Chute is a spectacularly tough critic, ripping apart even the good shows, so that context adds considerably to the power of his positive remarks.

Therefore, I went into the performance with a little less trepidation than I might have had. Recall that I have had difficulty appreciating opera in the past and had in fact mostly sworn off it. Well, I found the plot fairly strong and interesting, and rather tragic a la Shakespeare, as in: if only these people had talked to each other first! Or turned around and looked behind them! Ah well. The costumes were sumptuous and appropriate; the sets were fine (more on that in a moment). The singing was absolutely glorious – not my style, perhaps, but if I step back to gain a little perspective, there’s no question that what these folks can do with their voices is astounding and impressive. There was a small Korean-American woman who played a young man and sang such outrageous soprano, a very fun staccato part, that I was charmed. Indeed all the singing was very very good.

The acting is, again, not in my favorite style because it is so dramatic; but I believe that’s the operatic style, and I think it was well done. My biggest beef with the whole experience was its pacing and length; to be quite honest I found it painful right toward the end and wished I were elsewhere. This was a three-hour event with two intermissions, so three equal parts of pretty precisely an hour apiece. I could handle much more than that if it were anything but opera; but in this case I found it trying. As I keep repeating, this is an issue of my personal taste rather than how well the whole show was done. In fact, I can’t find anything to complain about from an objective standpoint. I’m just (still) not an opera person.

Where I am a philistine, though, my Grammy is a very experienced and worthy judge of the opera; she has held season tickets for gosh knows how many seasons in how many cities, and has attended overseas as well; she has a music degree and makes a fine critic. She judged this to be a near-perfect performance, with her one small concern being that the stage sets were not imaginative; she says she’s seen them done better (can’t recall if she saw this opera performed in an earlier San Diego rendition, or in Houston). It seems true to me, too, that this opera was traditional, in its sets, costumes, and performance; but traditions are not always bad.


Ratings:

To my personal tastes, this opera might earn a scant 3 or 4 herbs from the gallows – but that would be high for an opera, wouldn’t it! From a more objective view, though, I think it deserves at least 8. You be the judge.

My visit with Grammy? Absolutely ten old photographs, every time.

my beautiful Grammy with her first grandchild (that's me)

my beautiful Grammy with her first grandchild (that’s me)

West Texas bicycle adventures 2014

As you know, gentle reader, I occasionally digress from books to write about bicycles, travel, or other causes for personal celebration. Today is one of those days. If you just want the books, c’mon back tomorrow.

Last week Husband and I left town with a group of friends, as we try to do every February, headed for the Big Bend area of southwest Texas. Unfortunately I have missed the last two years: in 2012 I had just had knee surgery and couldn’t ride, and in 2013 I chose to go to Australia to see friends instead. So I last wrote about Terlingua and Lajitas back in 2011. It was so very good to be back in the big desert: big land, big sky, amazing great mountain bike trails, some of our very closest friends, and not much to do except slow down and enjoy ourselves. I thought I’d share a quick synopsis here with you, accompanied by some great photos. These were all taken by either me or my friends who I trust won’t mind. Thanks, friends. (As always, click to enlarge.)

On day 1, we arrived in Terlingua, checked into the cabins our team rents each year, and started packing up. Four of us (Husband, Holt, Damian and myself) were off for an overnight bikepack – camping out and self-supported, in Big Bend Ranch State Park.

fully loaded

fully loaded

Day 1′s riding was pretty consistently up, up, up; we did a lot of hike-a-bike:

a rare moment in which I simultaneously push my bike and SMILE.

a rare moment in which I simultaneously push my bike and SMILE.

there was a lot of this.

there was a lot of this.

Just a little wildlife:

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Although not as much as one could wish. We saw bobcat prints, and I think I heard the guys say they heard coyotes yipping at night. (I am a good sleeper.) One year Husband and I saw a mule deer; not this year.

I had some issues with my rack, which afforded us the chance for this dusky repair job at a fortuitously placed picnic table up in the middle of the high nowhere:

lovely view, no?

lovely view, no?

Resulting in this repair (shot taken in the light of day 2):

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But it all worked out fine. And what a sunset!!

beautiful picture by my handsome Husband. (recommended: click to enlarge.)

beautiful picture by my handsome Husband. (recommended: click to enlarge.)

Settling in for the night…

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We ate, had a few sips of whiskey, and fell asleep under the mixed blessing of a very bright full moon that obscured the outrageous stars visible out there where the light pollution is minimal.

The next morning we got a leisurely start on a much more leisurely ride, generally downhill and starring views like this one.

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Although day 1 had been challenging, I think we were all very pleased with our self-sufficient journey and solitude. I especially had a difficult time with all the hike-a-bike, which aggravated both my feet and my bad knee (and all that pushing of the very heavy bike bothered my lower back) – but I was with a small group of good friends & good people. They helped me out and encouraged me, and never made me feel like I was a bother. Thanks, guys.

what a crew.

what a crew.

On day 3, we did a much lighter-weight ride, with more friends, from the cabin – no gear required.

Husband conquers the ruins

Husband conquers the ruins

And at night, the whole pack of us enjoyed each other’s company.

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I mean, really. Look at these views from the porch of the cabin complex.

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photo 2

It was another great trip, and our love of these parts is confirmed and strengthened once again.

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on staying home

Husband and I recently took a 4-day weekend off from work. Timing called for it: the rhythm of working hard and playing hard made it clear that we were due for a few days. Our original plan was to drive up to the Ouachita Forest in Arkansas to camp and ride mountain bikes on some cool trails that we’d raced on but never “just” ridden – the latter being a better way to have fun and see the scenery. But as the weekend approached, the weather forecasts turned against us, predicting cold (30′s at night, 50′s during the day) and rain (60% chance). These conditions don’t lend themselves to either camping or mountain biking. So we started examining other attractive options: Jamaica? Cozumel? West Texas?

However, in the final days leading up, as we considered options and I stressed out at work – I’d be leaving a big project and returning to a big project that I had just abandoned for several days! – I didn’t feel up to airport schedules or travel time. I just wanted to rest. We literally left it up to the last minute, and when we woke up on Thursday morning – without an alarm – we just… stayed.

Because Husband works for an airline, we get to do far more fun, exotic travel than our paychecks would indicate. It’s always an exciting ride! And I guess I’d gotten into the mindset that a vacation should involve going somewhere that would make our friends jealous or experiencing a different climate than the one we’d left behind. This year I’ve been all over Texas, twice each to Colorado, California, and Washington, and to Australia. And I felt a little sheepish at choosing to just stay home on this recent weekend.

But you know what? It was freakin’ amazing, and just what I needed. We did a bunch of great things: happy hour with our bike racing team; a walk in the park (midday on a weekday!) with the dogs; sushi; a bike ride on gravel and another on trails; camped out one night; visited with old friends; met some new family-friend twins for the first time; and cooked up a storm on Sunday. We also found a little dog that needed some help, and he spent a few days with us before going home to his family – but we’ll be seeing him again.

fancy new car-camping tent at one of my favorite spots

fancy new car-camping tent at one of my favorite spots


exploring some new-to-us unpaved roads

exploring some new-to-us unpaved roads


relaxing at the campground

relaxing at the campground


twins!

twins!


our visitor - we temporarily named him Ernesto (after guess who)

our visitor – we temporarily named him Ernesto (after guess who)

And the reading, you ask?? Well, naturally. I got a good ways into Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby by Sarah Churchwell, about which I have been excited! and also began Snowblind by Christopher Golden, which grabbed me on the very first pages. And because we spent no time in my car, I took several days off from listening to Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist, but was pleased to get back to it on Monday morning.

The weekend ended with a relatively calm – and therefore extremely rare – Sunday, and I got to do a few chores around the house and prep comfortably for the week to come. I learned a valuable lesson on this staycation: it’s not always necessary to go somewhere exciting or exotic to have a really pleasant, relaxing, fun, rejuvenating break from the daily grind. This will go down as one of the better vacations of the year. And now, I want to be careful to keep this lesson learned in my consciousness for future reference. Here’s to another day off – and staying home.

movie: Pedal-Driven: A Bikeumentary

pedaldrivenI can’t remember who told me I needed to see this film. Thank you, whoever you are.

Pedal-Driven is a documentary about the relationship between mountain bikers and the US Forest Service, regarding the former’s right or privilege to recreate on public lands. The conflict is fairly well summed up early on: public lands are our lands, so we want access to do what we like on them; but on the other hand, we (mountain bikers or mtbers) are not the only user group in “the public,” and even beyond present-day users, the USFS (Parks services, etc.) feel a responsibility to a future public as well. Therefore the needs/wants of today’s users (mtbers and others) are balanced against a need for conservation and preservation.

The USFS doesn’t want to be entirely anti-mtber, but they can’t condone the practice of building trails on public land without permission; this is illegal. But what is a mtber to do? To go through the proper channels is a 5, 10, or even 15 year process; at some point, we’re building trails for our kids to ride, which is nice for them, but who knows if we will get to ride those trails at all. Then again, builders of illegal trails risk having their work torn down at any moment.

While I’m not particularly on the side of illegal activities – and illegal building of anything on public land rubs me the wrong way – I sympathize with the mtbers, obviously, as I am one myself and understand the desire for trail to ride. Without trail, we can’t be mountain bikers. As I summarized them in my first paragraph, all those user groups indeed deserve their rights and their voices being heard. It’s a sad quandary. This film was in danger of just depressing me, early on, with the stalemates portrayed (centrally in Leavenworth, Washington, not far from where my parents have recently settled; also in the loss of trail systems in Montana). But it does circle back around to success stories like those in Oregon; hope is not lost.

I will say that, for me, one weakness in this film is in its specificity to freeriders. Freeride is mountain biking that involves jumps, tricks and stunts; it generally requires what we call “structures” (bridges, dirt jumps, big constructed berms, skinnies, teeter-totters), and structures are a good part of the USFS’s problem with illegal builders. Don’t get me wrong; they wouldn’t let you build natural-surface trail, either, but I think it would be less offensive than the construction in question. To give you some idea:

freeride(photo credit)

freeride, from the film (photo credit)


bridge work (photo credit)

bridge work (photo credit)


wooden berm (photo credit)

wooden berm (photo credit)


Talking about building freeride-style trail with structures, then, is a certain kind of conversation. And it has left out the even larger group of cross-country (XC) mountain bikers: this activity is performed generally on natural-surface trails (bridges thrown in for function – to cross a stream or gulley – rather than for the chance to catch air), and keeps the rider mostly on the ground or close to it. XC riders look different from free-riders: no full-face helmets, different bikes, even sometimes brightly-colored spandex. These are generalizations, and there are exceptions, and there’s crossover between the two groups; but the point I’m trying to make is that as an XC rider, myself, I felt a little left out of the story that this film tells. And that’s a shame; because really, we face the same challenges in using public land, in trail construction and access and our relationship to the public and the government. I would have appreciated a little more inclusive story being told here. On the other hand, maybe there isn’t such a story about XC riders – maybe our conflicts haven’t been played out so dramatically or on such a scale, or such a stage. I’m honestly not sure. And I haven’t been deeply involved in advocacy battles as of yet (except on a local scale where I’ve done some volunteer trail work), so I want to be clear, I’m not criticizing the fine folks portrayed in this movie. Their work can only benefit my kind of rider, too. And you never know, I may find myself in a full-face helmet high up in the air one of these days too! Who knows what the future holds?

As a film, I found Pedal-Driven to be very well put together and visually impressive. I had a few minor gripes with the soundtrack (some of it was great!), but you can’t please them all in that respect! I enjoyed seeing the riding, and I ended up on the hopeful side regarding access and advocacy issues. Most of all, I’m super glad that these issues are being discussed. So thank you, Howell at the Moon, for this movie! It makes me want to ride my bike!


Rating: 7 feet of air, of course.

hemingWay of the Day: as an archivist

Oh my word, Liz does it again. Never was there an article more designed to make me sigh and daydream. From PRI’s The World comes

This came to me from Liz, who got it in turn from Jessamyn West (blogtwitter). A solid pedigree right there. I swoon; this is my dream job.

the hermit thrush

My parents have recently moved from Houston to northern Washington state, a scant 20 miles from Canada. Pops wrote me an email the other day which I will share in part, with some locations redacted…

First, I’ll remind you the ringtone I assigned your number on my phone is the Hermit Thrush.

Today I rode a big loop out —- and back along the shore of —-; as I rode a quiet back road bordered by forest, I was climbing a moderate hill at a steady pace, but slow enough on a low-wind morning to enjoy near silence, hearing & seeing detail in the woods as I passed; it was then that the Hermit Thrush sang out as your text came in; and I swear I heard a thrush answer in the forest!

That’s happened before, back in Texas, with the Tufted Titmouse assigned to your mother – but there are no Thrushes in Texas; I haven’t yet determined if the thrush we hear around town here is the Hermit or one of the others. The book makes it hard to tell the difference; but somebody out there liked it today!

I commented that that must be a very high-quality ringtone!

from here

from here

The ringtone is an actual recording of a bird; the small speaker of a phone is naturally more effective with high pitched sounds, like bird songs, so it really is natural sounding and projects well from my jersey pocket.

One way researchers “search” for rare birds is to play recordings of their songs & calls and listening for a response, so we shouldn’t be surprised this works.

Indeed – and that makes sense; but still, who’d have thought? And by the way, according to this range map, the hermit thrush is in fact quite likely to be in my dad’s new neighborhood.

So why I am sharing this on my book blog? Well, I continue to be struck by the episodes of coincidence (if you like) or of synchronicity that inhabit my life, my world, and my reading (and cross over from my reading into my “real” world). The final page of the book I reviewed yesterday, Susan Vreeland’s The Forest Lover, made me think of my father, because it made reference to the song of the hermit thrush:

A hermit thrush spilled one long crystalline note, stilling all the earth to listen, and then poured out an ethereal flute song, over too soon. She closed her eyes, waited. Again, that purest of tones, long-held, chillingly beautiful, and then the cascade of melody like a tumbling stream. A spirit song. For her.

If she could sing like that thrush, what would she sing?

[You can listen to its song here, thanks to the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.]

The next paragraph references, among other trees, the Douglas fir, another species belonging to my parents’ new habitat and appreciated by them. It just goes to show that life really does imitate art, and/or the reverse, and that that’s as it should be.

Krinkle

Last night, just goofing around, I asked Husband to name three authors I love. [If you're not a regular reader, I will tell you that Husband is a NONreader. I am such a reader that you'd think he'd pick up a little; you be the judge.] I thought this would be a funny exercise. He piped up immediately with “Papa!” which was the easy one; we have a Hemingway shrine in the living room, and we’ve traveled together to Key West and visited couchthe Hemingway House there. He stumbled on the second one. I’ve been reading a lot of Haven Kimmel lately, but he’s had trouble learning her name; I had shown him the cover of my latest read, Kimmel’s She Got Up Off the Couch, not 20 minutes earlier. So, for a second author I love, he guesses “Krinkle.” Really? That’s your new nickname, Haven Kimmel. He slays me, really.

For the third one he cried for mercy, which is really pathetic, gonefriends. But I told him to think of books that HE has read – and these are very few – and he came up with both Lee Child and James Lee Burke, so I’ll give credit for those. He missed Michael Connelly – who he has also read – as well as the obvious choice, Edward Abbey. Maybe I’ll try again in three months and see if he’s paying attention. And while we’re on the subject, congratulations, Husband, for finishing a book! He’s been flying a lot lately and recently finished Child’s Gone Tomorrow, which makes for about 4 books now completed in our 5 years of marriage. I’m so proud. [If you're keeping track, they are The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, Void Moon by Connelly, and I think now two Childs. Guess who influences his reading.]

Now back to my Krinkle book.


EDIT: Husband wants to be clear that he is thinking of Henry Krinkle, apparently the alias of the main character in the movie Taxi Driver, which, no, I haven’t seen. So we can call Kimmel, more properly, Henrietta Krinkle. I wonder if she has had a stranger nickname. She’s a good candidate, of course.

long weekend

To celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary, both our birthdays, and Cinco de Mayo, Husband and I spent a 4-day weekend in and around Fruita, Colorado, doing stuff like this, this and this:
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And in between, we did this:
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Ahhh. Lovely. :)

a less bookish post

Just a little newsy post for you today, friends, so you’d know what’s going on behind the scenes at pagesofjulia…


The last few weeks have been eventful, with birthdays (my grandfather celebrated his 92nd; also my father and my best friend), anniversaries (3 years at my current job; 5 years married to my handsome Husband!), travel (Husband for work, me to visit my grandparents), and the end of a life:

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Rexford Pryor Kastner, “Pop,” April 13, 1921 – April 20, 2013. He was a World War II vet, husband, father of 4, and grandfather of 7. I feel very lucky that I got to spend time with him in his final days.

While it is sad to lose someone we all love, and we’ll miss him, it was about as peaceful an end as a person could hope for; and it helped my personal experience more than I can say, that I got to see him and say goodbye. He was fairly lucid, in good spirits, and made sure to impart some final words.

Another big event is my parents’ permanent departure from Houston: they are now installed (though still settling in) in their new hometown of Bellingham, Washington, near the Canadian border and thus nearly as far as one could get, domestically, from here. This is great for them, and I can’t wait to visit, but of course it’s a loss, locally and in the short term. We’ll be going up there as soon as possible.

And now for more travel and birthdays: Husband and I are off to western Colorado for a long weekend of mountain biking, to celebrate both our birthdays (May 7 and 8). I may put together some vacation-placeholder posts for my absence, as I’ve done before.


And there are books, too!

destinyI am just coming to the end of Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, on audio. So far I can recommend it: not a dense or challenging work of nonfiction, but fascinating, and the audio production is fine.

endgame

I am about 120 pages into the 450-page Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization by Derrick Jensen. This is a large book in more ways than the one, and I will need some time not only to read it, but to process it and figure out how to present it to you. It is not only a book but a worldview.

gran

For Shelf Awareness, I have just finished Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the famethiefBohemian Highway, sequel to Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead which you will recall I loved – and this latest is quite good too. And I’ve just started The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan, who is being compared to Raymond Chandler. Those are about as big as shoes get in the murder mystery game, but it’s also quite good so far.

I have 3 books checked out from my local library right now, which is rather many, so I need to get to work! They are Haven Kimmel’s She Got Up Off the Couch; Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael; and Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms. And I do not know what is coming to Colorado with me, sigh.

ishmael


So, good reading, and a generally eventful life. And now I’m off to play in the dirt and rocks – enjoy your weekend, kids, and I’ll be back in a while!

a happy day.

In a brief departure from bookish news, I want to say that I’m positively thrilled to have been married to my handsome, loving Husband for five years today. Thank you, darlin.
wedding

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