(no subject)

Sep. 24th, 2017 05:25 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
It's starting to feel just slightly like autumn here, mainly because the days are obviously shorter - it's now quite dark when we wake up - and the light is more golden as the sun moves southward. However, we're still having temperatures in the low to mid 80s (low 30sC) so it doesn't actually feel very autumnal yet except that the nights are mostly quite pleasant and we can sleep with the windows open. This morning it was beautifully cool so S and I took the opportunity to go for a good long walk fairly early, covering just over 11 km/8 miles without getting too hot and sweaty. We're looking forward to the weather being perfect for long walks in the afternoons by the time I get back from England.

My trip still doesn't feel quite real in spite of the various bookings I've made (plane, shuttle, train). I think once I've started packing it might sink in that I'm going. The fact that it's a relatively short trip so soon after my long trip to Australia makes it seem less significant, I guess. Luckily this also means I'm not feeling any pre-trip nerves yet.

This...

Sep. 24th, 2017 05:08 am
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[personal profile] pheloniusfriar
Twitter user @astrokatey (Katey Alatalo) just posted this in 22 parts, which I will present in bullet form here. I have heard these sorts of stories from fellow students (as a student) and from professional scientists (as a radio inteviewer). Science (and STEM in general) is supposed to be a meritocracy, and it does best when it is, but it is also a human endeavour and wrought with all the failings and successes of all human activities. As soon as privileged thinking enters the picture, the quality of the science goes down because those with privilege know they don't have to try as hard to get the same recognition of their work or careers. It just so happens that most of those with privilege are white and male (and often in the latter part of their careers). It is hard to make space for others not exactly like ourselves, but that is (imho) one of the defining aspects of civilization and civil society.
  • This article (NYT "Push for Gender Equality in Tech? Some Men Say It’s Gone Too Far") has made me super angry. Do you want to know what it is like trying to be a woman in a scientific space? Let me tell you.
  • Your teachers will start telling you when you are young that you are “not ready” for advanced math.
  • I was just lucky my mother stood up for me with that teacher. Otherwise I would not have been in calculus in high school.
  • In college, you will be in classes where your male classmates will tell you how easy the homework was. You’ll doubt yourself a lot.
  • Only to find out they were scoring Cs while you were getting As. Be ready for them to also say things like “women aren’t naturally scientists”.
  • Those same men will look at you like a possible person to date, when you just want to do your work. You learn to close yourself off.
  • Then, if you’re lucky, the president of Harvard will give a speech about women being biologically inferior in science.
  • And you’ll get to listen to your peers repeating that all around you. You get into top grad schools, are told it’s because you’re a woman.
  • You go. Then your advisor makes you uncomfortable by staring at your chest [she linked to this article: "How Sexual Harassment Halts Science"].
  • You make it clear they made you uncomfortable. So they isolate you, insult you, and try to drive out of science.
  • When it is too much, you report it to the chair. Who tells you that you are overreacting, or lying. And threatens to throw you out.
  • You put your head down and try hard as you can not to “rock the boat” after the chair did you the “favor” of letting you switch advisors.
  • The stress of merely surviving saps you of the creative energy you needed to write and advance academically.
  • AND that ex-advisor is using his platform to denigrate you and your science.
  • MIRACULOUSLY you make it out. You graduate, you get your Ph.D. and you get a postdoc.
  • You work your BUTT off to catch up to peers. Build the networks your advisor usually helps you build and manage to get good science done.
  • YOU DID IT! You got a fellowship!! You talk about your struggles. Many don’t believe you.
  • Every day, articles like the one in the New York Times come out to remind you your voice matters less than a spoiled white boy’s.
  • And those classmates and those harassers come back to your mind. And you wonder…
  • Was the cost of having the audacity to want to be an astronomer while also being a woman worth it?
  • Most women in science I know share some of my narrative. Do most men? No. They were assumed from kids to be sciencey.
  • When the day comes that vast majority of science women DO NOT have a tale like mine, then, New York Times, we can talk “biology”.

It is the two lines "the stress of merely surviving saps you of the creative energy you needed to write and advance academically" and "you work your butt off to catch up to peers and build the networks your advisor usually helps you build and manage to get good science done" that, to me, highlight why action needs to be taken to address sexism (and racism, and classism, and ableism, and...) in the sciences. Societies have huge problems with discrimination and building those walls doesn't protect it, it makes it weaker and has a huge opportunity cost (imagine if all of those people that are interested and good at things were the ones given the opportunities instead of those who are meh about the whole thing but do it because it's easy because they are privileged... that is lost opportunity for all of us). This is also why professional organizations need to up their game when it comes to taking active measures to reverse the historic inequities that exist in their respective fields: the way the system work is that no matter how well someone does in their formative years, if they are part of a marginalized group they were not permitted to do as much as their privileged peers (I am, at the moment, quite frustrated with the Canadian Association of Physicists... they are doing a poor job at addressing the institutionalized discrimination in the field of physics in Canada). Again, we are all poorer for it. If we can't get this to work in the sciences (remember? supposed meritocracy?), then what chance do we have of sorting this out in society as a whole?

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[personal profile] chayarose
 Tonight, after lifting weights and climbing the wall on campus, Matt and I went to Utica to see the American premier of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Love Never Dies. It's a sequel to Phantom of the Opera

https://www.loveneverdies.com/ustour/

Yep, it opened in Utica. Of all places.

There were distinctive highs and lows.

Highs:
  • Fantastic spectacular. Creepy turn-of-the-century carnival vibe -- I love it!  Light and music and dancing!
  • And the carnival theme music was perfect... very evocative of the music played by turn-of-the-century carousels (like the ones in Binghamton). But with lovely strings.
  • The singers were amazing. Christine and the Phantom, of course, had great voices. Everyone cheered.
  • Suprise amazing soloist: the little son. Holy cow that kid could hit some gorgeous high notes. Love it. (Jump to 1:21 in the video embedded below. Amazing!)
  • Rotating stage! Characters dancing inside transparent pillars! The production was intense and amazing.
  • The Phantom suddenly popping in from everywhere and no-where any time he likes -- so characteristic! Love it. 

Lows:
  • The... plot? What happened to the plot? Especially at the end there. Who are these people and what is motivating them again?
  • Matt described the show as fanfiction. 
  • I had to basically pretend that this musical exists in a different canon than the story about a horrible man who randomly kills people by dropping a chandelier on them. (Maybe in the musical it's not clear that anyone dies? I don't see how a opera house chandelier could fall on an audience without dreadful consequences. There is a horror movie version of Phantom that really gets pretty gruesome for this scene.) Unlike Phantom of the Opera, The Phantom is not murderous in Love Never Dies and no one talks about him being a known murderer. Listen, just because a man is a brilliant avant-garde composer, beautiful singer, and has a knack for architecture, that does not excuse random slaughter. Gosh, the novel is even better, where the Phantom has a torture chamber built of mirrors and a heat lamp -- and a noose. And what about the time when the Phantom almost blows up the entire opera house! Can we talk about how he is a mass murderer? Erik is not a nice guy, unless you put some serious scare quotes on there.  "This haunted face holds no horror for me now / It's in your soul that the true distortion lies." But again, this was fanfiction, and apparently the Phantom is not so bad anymore.
  • The title song was beautifully delivered, but it was kind of blah. It's supposed to be a composition by the Phantom, who was awfully avant garde, last I recall. The melody of "Love Never Dies" was hardly comparable to the so-crazy-it-works Don Juan from the original Phantom. (Don Juan -- "Poor young maiden, for the thrill on your tongue of stolen sweets, You will have to pay the price... tangled in the winding sheets!" Please don't tell me I'm the only one who can sing all this from memory.)
Overall-- I liked it! But it can never replace the original Phantom of the Opera in my heart. Great show, with some reservations about the plot.



Made it to the UK

Sep. 23rd, 2017 04:30 pm
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[personal profile] pheloniusfriar
I realized how tired I was when I got to to the airport here and decided that my initial plan to take a bus tour of London was not such a good idea, and I wisely decided to head straight to Oxford. Took the Hogwarts Gatwick Express train to London's Victoria station, headed to the London Underground where I was disappointed to learn it was not a political movement (cues rimshot) and headed from Victoria Station to Paddington Station, and from there caught a train to Oxford. Definitely a good idea because I was having trouble keeping my eyes open by the time I got here. I pretty much caught all of my connections and it still took about 4 hours of travel... ugh.

The situation was not helped that in order to find where I was staying I needed to go to the Porter's Lodge at St. John's College in Oxford. This process was impeded by a complete and utter lack of any signage or guidance. I was reasonably sure I was close to it, but to find it I basically pushed open a massive fortress door (which was mysteriously unlocked, and which I saw people occasionally wander out of as I stood on the sidewalk trying to get my UK phone plan to works... note: that remains a work in progress) and wandered into an empty courtyard and meandered into another courtyard and randomly went into a doorway to another area where I saw an open door to something that looked like an office and went in... and there it was (there were a lot of other possibilities for where I could have gone, it was extremely lucky that I "zen navigated" my way to the right place... if nothing else, I would have asked anyone I found for help). I paid for my flat (in advance... thank goodness my Canadian bank card worked, it is supposed to work like Visa debit card and did) got the keys and fobs and set out to find the place, dragging my luggage behind me... it was walking distance, but further than I expected by a little bit. I got in (hauled everything up three flights of stairs). You walk in the door and there is a vestibule with a light switch and two doors leading off of it in opposite directions. In one direction is a living room with a chair, a small couch, a foldable dining table, wall shelving, a desk, a small cabinet, and what was a fireplace (now sealed up). Off the living room is another door that leads to a small kitchen with stove, small fridge, microwave, toaster, sink, cupboards above and below with plates, cookware, etc.. Going the other direction from the vestibule is the bedroom with a queen sized bed, bedside tables with lamps, and a little closet with an ironing board, iron, vacuum, etc.. From the bedroom is another door and a fairly large bathroom with toilet, sink, and shower. It is far from luxurious, but it is certainly more spacious than a hotel room (or hostel room, which is where I was originally supposed to be staying... there is a private hostel for visitors to the facilities in Harwell, but it was full so one of the physicists from Oxford was able to get me this flat I am in now).

It was late afternoon, and I went out for dinner. A lot of the places nearby that looked promising were actual British pubs, and by that I mean I could get beer, but not really anything in the way of food from what I could see (none of the customers had anything but pints). I ended up going to what looked like a chain restaurant (https://www.browns-restaurants.co.uk/) because they had what looked like decent food and had a menu out front. They were serving mid-afternoon tea with the trays of goodies and such, it was fun to see. Their regular menu was also available. I ordered what turned out to be a micro-brew IPA (my friend in China needs to come here and teach English... I can't understand a thing they're saying... seriously, and lol, they can't understand me one whit either!) that was very strong and bitter (I liked it, most people I know would not have) and their "Slow cooked salted pork belly" which was came with savoury apple pie, buttered green beans, mash, crackling, and red wine jus. It was better than I expected from a chain type restaurant (not a large chain, they have about two dozen locations, but still). They had a very European attitude toward bringing the bill (I had to flag my server down and make air-scribbling motions), but I was falling asleep at my table and had to get out. The good news again is that I was able to use my Canada Post prepaid Visa to pay for my meal (so that works too, which is good). I have some UK currency in my pocket, but my bank in Canada gave me 5 Pound notes that aren't accepted as currency here anymore, sigh, which is about 40% of the cash I had on me. I should be able to trade them in for valid UK currency, but will probably need some help with that because only banks will do it.

From there, I came back home (home is where I hang my hat) — via a convenience store where I bought vegetable samosas and an orange juice for a snack later — and pretty much fell asleep. I just got up am going to try to go back to sleep again soon (had a samosa, it was pretty good, and the juice) but will try to repair my shoe again with the glue I got (and brought), see if Virgin Mobile can fix the issue with my local phone plan in the UK which doesn't seem to be working, and maybe put my clothes away (and maybe even take a shower, which would be a public service at this point I'm sure).

If I wake up early enough, I might do the London hop on/hop off bus tour thing tomorrow but I'm not going to set an alarm. There is also the possibility of just doing a tour of Oxford (they have open topped double decker buses and lots to see here as well, it's quite the tourist town). I also need to figure out where to catch the private shuttle bus from Oxford to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory Monday morning (I need to be there by 9:30AM, which seems quite civilized). Two shuttle tickets were waiting for me at the Porter's Lodge that had been sent by mail by my contact. The address was "Phelonius Friar, c/o The College Porter, St. John's College, St. Giles, Oxford, OX1 3JP"... seriously, this place has no actual address... you either know where it is, or you don't! Fyi, I found a little medieval door to the street (short, and studded with iron things) that is the door the area where the Porter lurks, err works that I can go to in the future if I need to. It allows access to one of the courtyards I had wandered through earlier, and has a doorbell that will summon the porter 24/7 from what I was told. It is unlocked, I was also told, until 11PM. There is absolutely no indication on or anywhere near that door or the buzzer as to what might lie behind it or what it's purpose is. I am thinking I will have to leave quite early for the shuttle bus as well... they indicate a location, but I suspect it is also a "you know where it is or you don't" sort of thing... and I don't ;).

I imagine that this is the sort of thing that goes on inside these mysterious institutions in Oxford:

(no subject)

Sep. 23rd, 2017 01:58 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
I've been debating which bag/s to use for my trip to England. I was thinking I could take two medium sized duffle bags (one containing Eden's quilt and the other my clothes etc), and check them both, but I was forgetting that I'm going to England, not Australia, and travelling with British Airways, not Qantas, and therefore I can only check one bag. (On flights between Australia and the US with Qantas and possibly other airlines you can take two checked bags.) However, I can have two carry on bags, so I'm thinking I'll carry the quilt in a soft bag (which can be folded small for my return trip) as one of my carry on bags along with my usual backpack containing computer, phone, and camera plus various other incidentals. I would like to avoid taking my largest wheeled suitcase as it will be easier to navigate the tube system if I don't have to worry about finding stations with lifts (since not all tube stations are accessible), and I don't need a huge bag for just a one week trip.

(no subject)

Sep. 23rd, 2017 01:51 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
S and I usually do the Saturday morning errands (grocery shopping, sometimes going to the bank) together, but this weekend she was also planning to cut the grass (hopefully for the final time before winter), plus most of the groceries would be for her since I am leaving mid-week, so we decided to split the labour - I would make a start on cutting the grass while she did the errands, and when she got home I would stop and leave her the rest of the job as she enjoys doing it. I thought I'd be mowing for maybe an hour or so and then she'd arrive home, but I just kept pushing and pushing that mower and still she didn't arrive, until eventually (after about two hours) I finished and she still wasn't home. However, she made it not much after I finished, and it turned out that she had decided to go and pick up a prescription plus get a flu shot before doing the rest of the errands, and she ended up having to queue for about an hour to get the flu shot. I'm very glad I didn't go alone and that I got all the grass cutting finished, because now the rest of the weekend is free for both of us.
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[personal profile] drplacebo
It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

Heitor Villa-Lobos is often thought of as Brazil's first great nationalist composer and credited with bringing the sounds of Brazilian folk music to the concert hall. Far less well known is the man responsible in many ways for making Villa-Lobos's career possible, the conductor and composer Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920).

The 19th century Brazilian musical establishment was extremely conservative. Rio de Janeiro was the musical center of the Americas at the time, ever since the Portuguese royal family arrived in 1808 and brought the court orchestra along. But European musicians, both composers and performers, predominated in Brazilian art music for most of the century; even native-born composers looked mainly to Europe and tended to be surprisingly insulated from the folk and popular music heard around them. Antônio Carlos Gomes became the first composer from the New World to achieve success in Europe, and was considered the equal of Verdi during his lifetime -- but while he drew on Brazilian literature for his operas, the operas were sung in Italian and the music was entirely within the Italian tradition.

Enter Alberto Nepomuceno, one of the earliest iconoclasts in Brazilian music. He spent the first 21 years of his life in the northern cities of Fortaleza and Recife, far from the urban centers of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In 1885, he made his first visit to Rio de Janeiro, performing as a pianist and presenting his compositions for the first time; these compositions included a set of art songs with lyrics in Portuguese. Despite the trend in Europe toward vocal music sung in the composer's own language, Nepomuceno's choice to compose Portuguese-language vocal music was seen as verging on scandalous. Nonetheless, he won recognition as a virtuoso pianist, and with the help of friends in Rio de Janeiro, he departed for Europe in 1887 to study composition and conducting, first in Rome and then in Leipzig and Vienna. While in Vienna, he met and married a Norwegian pianist who had been both a student and a family friend of Edvard Grieg; after the wedding they moved to Bergen and lived in Grieg's house for several months. Grieg, a leading proponent of musical nationalism, encouraged Nepomuceno to draw inspiration from his own country's folk music.

Returning to Brazil in 1895, Nepomuceno quickly became one of the country's leading conductors. But as a composer, he continued to face criticism for bringing elements of folk and popular music into his own music. He was attacked by other classical musicians for continuing to write Portuguese-language vocal music, for borrowing percussion instruments from Brazilian popular music, and even for associating with popular singers and songwriters. He stood firm in his convictions, insisting in a letter published in one major newspaper that "a people that does not sing in its own tongue has no mother country." His reputation suffered; although he was occasionally able to program his own music in his concerts as a conductor, very little of his work was published during his lifetime. None of his orchestral music was programmed by a conductor other than himself until the last few months of his life, when Richard Strauss conducted one of his opera overtures during a South American tour. Still, he gained some adherents, and began the process of bringing the sounds of Brazilian folk and popular music into the concert hall. And in 1913, despite publishers' resistance to printing his own music, Nepomuceno was able to convince one Rio de Janeiro publisher to accept some piano pieces by a then-controversial student composer. That student was Heitor Villa-Lobos, and those piano pieces were his first published music.

This week's piece, Alberto Nepomuceno's Serie Brasileira, is a suite of four descriptively-titled movements depicting various aspects of Brazilian life. It was composed during his time in Norway and premiered in Rio de Janeiro in 1897; but despite Nepomuceno's stature as a conductor, the piece would not be published until 1959, almost 40 years after his death. When the piece premiered, it was savaged mercilessly by conservative critics, who were especially shocked by the use of the güiro and other folk percussion instruments in the last movement. The first movement "Alvorada na serra" (Dawn on the Mountain) uses part of the northeastern Brazilian folk song "Sapo Jururu" as its main theme, though played in a much slower tempo than the song is normally heard. The second movement, "Intermédio," is a maxixe, a Brazilian dance distantly related to the Argentine tango and the direct ancestor of the samba. The third movement "A sesta na rede" (The Siesta in the Hammock) and the fourth movement "Batuque" draw heavily on Afro-Brazilian music. "Batuque" is sometimes performed as a stand-alone piece; its title refers to a dance of Cape Verdean origin as well as to a Brazilian martial art that was a forerunner to the modern capoeira.

Movements:
I. Alvorada na serra
II. Intermédio (8:49)
III. A sesta na rede (15:05)
IV. Batuque (19:43)

(no subject)

Sep. 22nd, 2017 12:01 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
I guess it's officially autumn now. (And I guess I should really say fall.) I always forget when the seasons change here because it doesn't happen on the first of the month like I'm used to. (It's been spring in Australia since 1st September, for example.)

We're hoping that we're now done with fleas. The pest control company did their 30-day check yesterday, with the guy spraying something along the skirting boards in every room, I suppose as a "just in case" measure as we have not been aware of any fleas since the initial treatment. They are apparently supposed to come back again 60 days after the first treatment for a final check. One unfortunately side effect of the treatment is that every day we find one or more dead crickets somewhere inside. We have nothing against crickets and I for one quite enjoy hearing them in the house.

Our friend L finally came home from hospital yesterday, more than two weeks after she was first admitted. After the initial neurosurgery she had to have a minor patch-up operation in her nose, but after that she developed low sodium which must have been quite bad as she was in the ICU for about a week, until just the day before she came home in fact.

(no subject)

Sep. 21st, 2017 05:28 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
Getting ready for another trip - I've just booked train tickets to travel from London Charing Cross to Sevenoaks. I plan to get myself to Charing Cross on the tube, and hopefully will find somewhere to buy a UK SIM card before I get on the final train so that I can contact my daughter to let her know what time I'll be arriving. I know I've seen SIM cards for sale at Heathrow before. Unfortunately it appears that neither Charing Cross station nor the train itself has wifi, although I might be able to find wifi at Heathrow before I leave there so I can give my daughter an approximate idea of my arrival time if I haven't been able to buy a SIM. (I looked at the rather short list of train stations in London which have wifi and Charing Cross did not appear.)

(no subject)

Sep. 20th, 2017 01:01 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
My trip to the airport turned into a bit of a saga last night, and we didn't get to bed until after midnight. I left home earlyish, while it was still daylight, because I don't like driving in the dark, but even in the daylight I got semi lost trying to find my way through the multi-storey carpark out into the open air section where we both prefer to park. There are gates directly into the open air section but they seem to never be used any more so you have to wind your way through the underground part and go up a level to get outside. (Then when you leave you have to do the same thing in reverse. We both find it confusing because of the change of levels.)

However, I got to the airport well ahead of the plane landing and sat around reading my book for a while. The baggage carousels were deserted for a long time, then suddenly around 9 pm it seemed like at least half a dozen planes all arrived within a few minutes of each other and there were people everywhere. It's only a small airport though, so none of the incoming planes were huge and most of the carousels were cleared in just a few minutes. S's plane landed around 9:20 and we were leaving the airport soon after 10 I think.

We were very lucky with our train connections and didn't have to wait more than 5 minutes or so at either of our stops, but we were worried we would have to wait for a later train at our downtown connection as there had been a concert or something and our platform was jammed. We didn't want to have to wait as trains were running at 20 to 25 minute intervals due to track work, and luckily when the train arrived the crowds were miraculously absorbed into it and there was room for us plus S's large bag.

Of course I had trouble falling asleep after such an active evening. It felt like my body just couldn't relax for at least an hour after we turned off the light; various patches of skin got itchy and my right leg just could not get comfortable no matter what position I lay in. Then suddenly around 1:15 am I felt myself get completely relaxed, my leg got comfortable, and I fell asleep. After only about 5 hours sleep I feel surprisingly good.

Edit: I drove from home to the nearest metro station and then took two trains, one to downtown and then a connecting one out to the airport just across the river from downtown. In spite of the carpark confusion, this is a much less stressful way to go than driving to the airport.

(no subject)

Sep. 19th, 2017 05:16 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
In a couple of hours I'm going to catch the Metro downtown to meet S at the airport as she is currently en route from San Francisco. When the plane first took off it was estimated to arrive about ten minutes early but maybe the wind changed direction because now the status page says it will be about two minutes late.

(no subject)

Sep. 19th, 2017 04:14 pm
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[personal profile] bitterlawngnome


Budapest / Bullet Holes; 6774
© Bill Pusztai 2017

(no subject)

Sep. 19th, 2017 11:41 am
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[personal profile] bitterlawngnome


from the train window between Munich and Saltzberg; 6553
© Bill Pusztai 2017


from the train window between Munich and Saltzberg; 6629
© Bill Pusztai 2017


from the train window between Munich and Saltzberg; 6722
© Bill Pusztai 2017

(no subject)

Sep. 18th, 2017 04:49 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
I thought it was going to be another fairly warm day today, but in fact I've been just barely warm enough all day in a t-shirt and shorts, and I had to put on some socks because my feet were cold. I love it, even though the humidity is very high. I went for an early run this morning (about 4.8 miles/7.5 km) and ended up almost completely drenched in sweat.

A few weeks ago (probably before I went to Australia) I bought some fabric printed all over with cats to make a pair of pj pants for Violet because she is a big cat lover. Today I finally got around to making a start on the pants. Well, technically I started last week by cutting them out, but today I sewed them together. Now all that's left is to hem the top and bottom and insert elastic. When Violet wears them I plan to tell her she's the cat's pyjamas.

(no subject)

Sep. 17th, 2017 03:18 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
There's something sad and lonely about weekends when you're alone. Somehow the days seem purposeless, even when I'm doing useful things like laundry and grocery shopping. So today I decided to take myself out to use up some of those long hours. I went by Metro to Tyson's Corner to visit LL Bean, a 3 hour or so round trip. I wanted to look at LL Bean's selection of luggage, as the bag I've been using for about the last ten years is showing lots of signs of wear, and no wonder after several trips to and from Australia, a few to and from England, and a few domestic flights. I'm quite surprised the bag lasted as long as it did, considering how luggage gets thrown around by baggage handlers.

Anyway, I looked at various bags, rather hampered by an over-zealous store clerk who kept dashing over to show me things, which I always find super annoying. It makes me lose focus and I find it much harder to concentrate on what I really want to look for. Someone should tell people like her that more often than not, they're shooting themselves in the foot by interfering so much. I've been known to walk out without buying anything when there is somebody over-helpful hovering around even when I found something I wanted and would have bought it if left to myself. Today, however, I did not intend to buy a bag on the spot. I just wanted to look at them and see the quality for myself, then if I saw one I liked the look of, I would come home and order it online. As it happens, I did see one I liked, and I did come home and order it, but I didn't give Ms Officious the satisfaction of letting her know I was planning to do so.

After looking at bags I had an earlyish lunch; unfortunately it was rather forgettable. That's the second mediocre meal I've had while out in the last few days, which is a shame since I so rarely eat out. After I'd been to the dermatologist downtown I decided to have lunch at Union Station before coming home, so I went to a diner where I had a not-very-good chicken burger. The chicken itself was ok, but although the bun was advertised as being whole wheat it turned out to be soft squishy insubstantial white bread, to my disappointment. My lunch today was a quiche lorraine from a chain "French" restaurant. It wasn't very eggy - it seemed more like an egg custard, light on the eggs and heavy on some other liquid, and the stated flaky pastry wasn't very flaky. However, I did bring home from the same restaurant a lemon tart which was delicious. (I've just eaten it with a good cup of tea.)

(no subject)

Sep. 17th, 2017 06:45 am
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[personal profile] bitterlawngnome


the Aspark Owl; 1396
© Bill Pusztai 2017

Well, I'm in Europe. Frankfurt right now. It's all a bit overwhelming, largely due to the jetlag which is really kicking my ass. We have completed shooting the auto show and spent some time yesterday sightseeing.


Frankfurt, pollarded sycamores by the river; 6350
© Bill Pusztai 2017

More later.

(no subject)

Sep. 16th, 2017 04:04 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
I'm already seeing more and more signs of autumn in our neighbourhood; a few trees are tinged with yellow or gold, and there are more and more dead leaves on the roads every day. After the wonderful weather we were having last weekend, though, it's turned warmer and humid again so it doesn't feel particularly autumnal right now. I don't think we will see any more nights above 20ºC/70ºF though; a more comfortable low to mid 60sF/15 to 18ºC is more the norm now and I'm loving sleeping with the windows open every night.

(no subject)

Sep. 16th, 2017 03:54 pm
maju: Clean my kitchen (Default)
[personal profile] maju
I'm so glad my daughter and son in law moved away from Wimbledon earlier this year. If they were still living in that area, my son in law could well have been on the train that was bombed yesterday.
drplacebo: (Default)
[personal profile] drplacebo
It's Forgotten Masterpiece Friday!

Ma Sicong (1912-1987) was China's earliest significant composer of music for Western instruments. He was best known as a violin virtuoso during his lifetime, often referred to in China as the "King of Violinists" from the 1930s through the 1950s. Although Ma did not grow up in a particularly musical family (his father was the finance minister of the province of Guangdong in the early years of the Republic of China), he and most of his siblings eventually became professional string players; his younger sister Ma Siju was probably China's leading cellist in the 1940s and 1950s. Ma Sicong himself was introduced to the violin when his older brother, who had gone to France to study music, brought him a violin on a visit home in the summer of 1923. He fell in love with the instrument, and before the end of the year, aged just eleven, he joined his brother in France. Except for a brief return to China in 1929, he remained in France until 1932 and studied violin and composition at the Paris Conservatoire.

After returning to Asia, Ma was active as a concert violinist and composer and held a series of faculty appointments, culminating in his appointment in 1949 as the first president of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. He frequently represented China in musical events throughout the Communist bloc; in 1958 he served on the jury for the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, which Van Cliburn famously won. But when the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, he and other leading music teachers in China were persecuted for teaching Western music. Upon his arrival at the Central Conservatory for the beginning of the 1966-67 academic year, he was arrested by the Red Guards and confined to a classroom for 103 days, and then brutally beaten before being released. In January 1967, he defected to the United States via Hong Kong, in a dramatic escape that involved him and his family being smuggled to Hong Kong aboard a fishing boat. He was briefly a celebrity in the West -- before the Cultural Revolution he had been China's single most prominent musician, and a friend of both Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, so his defection was seen as a major coup for the US -- and his music received a number of performances in the United States and Taiwan in 1967 and 1968. Meanwhile, after Life magazine published a first-person account by Ma titled "Cruelty and Insanity Made Me a Fugitive," he was tried and convicted of treason in absentia back in China, and all his music was banned. Ma Sicong spent the rest of his life in Philadelphia, composing only sporadically but continuing to perform as a violinist in the United States and Taiwan.

Eventually Ma Sicong was rehabilitated in China: his conviction for treason was rescinded in 1984, with Wu Zuqiang (then president of the Central Conservatory of Music) and Henry Kissinger traveling to Philadelphia to deliver him the news in person. On the Chinese New Year, 1985, more than a hundred Chinese newspapers ran front-page stories declaring that Ma Sicong was again welcome in China. In 1997, the tenth anniversary of his death was commemorated in Beijing with a concert of some of his best-known pieces, and in 2002 the Guangzhou Museum of Art opened a Ma Sicong Memorial Hall. In the United States, there was some renewed interest in his music beginning in 2012, as a number of musical organizations in the Philadelphia area commemorated the centennial of a Philadelphia resident famous in China yet largely unknown in his adopted hometown.

This week's forgotten masterpiece is Ma's second symphony, one of his few major works to be recorded. Composed in 1958-59, at the height of Ma's career in China, it was ostensibly based on Mao Zedong's poem "Loushan Pass" which commemorated the Red Army's first victory during the Long March, though the music is not explicitly programmatic in the sense of having any form of descriptive subtitles, and some of it draws more from 20th century trends in Western music such as use of medieval church modes. Although there are pauses between movements, the end of each movement and the beginning of the next are ingeniously written to form somewhat of a transition from one movement to the next. The first movement is short and in traditional sonata form, featuring a vigorous opening theme in Phrygian mode and a second theme based loosely on a Shaanxi folk song. The second movement is an anguished dirge that might represent the hardships of the long retreat, or mourning for fallen comrades. The third movement brings back the opening theme of the piece before transitioning into what might be a victory celebration featuring a number of folk dances.

Movements:
I. Allegro agitato
II. Adagio maestoso (5:27)
III. Allegro (16:58)

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