Saturday, August 26, 2006

It's Not Raining Men

When Fosco was a youth and he lived in Rust Belt, MI, what kind of summer weather was worth complaining about? Usually, like 93 degrees with 85% relative humidity.

And when Fosco lived on the East Coast? He remembers some summer days in the Mid-Atlantic in the high-90's that were complete murder.

But, as everyone knows, complaint weather is relative. Now, living in Coastal California, it seems that it is entirely appropriate to complain about a... cloudy day.

In fact, such a cloudy day is worthy of an article in the regional newspaper of record.

Of course, this is not to say that the weather in the Cruz isn't odd... There is this whole marine layer that sits on the coast most mornings before the sun burns it off around noon. And even then, it lurks over the MoBay, waiting to return that evening. Fosco has been told that this marine layer is what keeps the coastal temps low, for which he is thankful.

It turns out, however, that the Santa Cruz area is something of a climatological curiosity. Fosco doesn't quite understand the science of it all, but it somehow involves a pressure inversion that produces a "Santa Cruz Eddy." You can read all about it in this journal article, written by Stanford researchers.

Oh, and incidentally, the forecast was correct: today was a beautifully sunny day and Fosco spent the afternoon on the beach.

And in the interests of full disclosure:

Fosco's friend is meteorologist Norm Sprouse with whom he is very close and whose advice he cherishes.

Friday, August 25, 2006

From the Annals of Why Wikipedia Is Lame

I know Wikipedia is useful and all (I use it more than I'd like to admit). But don't you ever get suspicious about the anonymous webcyclopediasts who are writing the entries? I know that the assumption is that multiple iterations of editing by multiple users will result in a more accurate entry (and here is an assumption begging for a debunking--but not by me, not today). But what about those obscure entries with very limited traffic? What's to prevent some lone nut from writing something very odd and untrustworthy?

Here's an example I just came across--a pretty funny one, actually. This is how the Wikipedia entry for Timothy C. Draper ends (and please don't ask why I was reading this entry...):

As an advocate for entrepreneurs and free markets, Mr. Draper is regularly featured as a keynote speaker in entrepreneurial conferences throughout the world, has been recognized as a leader in his field through numerous awards and honors, and has frequent TV radio, and headline appearances.

Mr. Draper is the course creator and Chairman of BizWorld, a 501c3 organization built around simulated teaching of entrepreneurship and business to children.

Mr. Draper served on the California State Board of Education in 1998-9. He launched a statewide cyber-initiative on school choice for the California General Election in November of 2000.

He has a BS in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

His sister is Becky Draper with whom he is very close and whose advice he cherishes.

Hmmm. The last sentence just kills me. I'm still giggling about it. I wonder which member of Timothy C. Draper's immediate family wrote this entry? Was it... Becky?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Stalking Betty White

I awoke this morning with an urgent desire to touch a Golden Girl, so my personal assistant Geoffrey and I took an afternoon drive down the coast to the charming seaside village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, home of notable figures such as Daytime Emmy winner Jennifer Aniston, National Book Award winner Beverly Cleary, and women's boxing promoter Clint Eastwood.

Not to mention: the lovely and talented Betty White. Wait, I meant this Betty White.

"And did we see Betty White?"

Carmel is, at the same time, absolutely adorable and totally insufferable. The downtown is so cute you could eat it up with a spork: quaint houses, beautiful flowers, and hundreds of art/antique galleries. And dogs! Tons of them, eating on the patios at the delightful restaurants. Wow, what a charming town!

But then you notice the double-parked Mercedes, the Tiffany and Sharper Image storefronts, and the women in pantsuits and sunglasses carrying jumbo Coach shopping bags in each hand... And then, if you're a good liberal, you start to feel a little nauseous. In Carmel, obscenely rich people have managed to create the perfect village for themselves. But should I be enjoying it as much as I am? Isn't it all a bit like, well... Nero?

"Enough of your liberal pieties. Did you see Betty White?"

I had promised a cousin-in-law that I would have lunch at the Hog's Breath Inn, formerly owned by film composer Clint Eastwood. In a way, I'm glad we ate there--it's probably important to get it out of the way so that one move on to the better-looking restaurants in town:

"Damn you, what of Betty White?"

The cottages are in town are actually quite lovely:

And, as far as I can tell (after all, I could only peer into the windows so long before the police arrived), almost no dwarves live inside.

So, while Geoffrey and I were a bit put-off by the conspicuous wealth and whiteness of the town, I expect we will return to try some of the other restaurants--especially if I find a steady boyfriend who might enjoy a romantic dinner...

Oh yeah, we didn't see Betty White.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Yes, I'm still making this joke.

I bought some more furniture this week. I also read Judith Butler glossing Foucault:

"The soul is precisely what the body lacks; hence, the body presents itself as a signifying lack. That lack which is the body signifies the soul as that which cannot show." (Gender Trouble, Chapter 3)

Now, allow me to introduce you to that LACK which is my coffee table.

What does it signify that cannot show? I don't know, but I hope all of my guests remember to use coasters.

Sexy Summer Reading

The regular reader may remember Fosco's amusement at new research that suggests Charles Dickens and Emily Bronte are the best beach reading for picking up hotties.

Clearly, Melannco, maker of the picture-frame bookends that you see in the picture below, is familiar with this research.

While he won't question why one needs bookends to keep only two books upright, Fosco does wonder if the lovely (though pale) couple in the pictures actually met on the beach--or is it possible that the aphrodisiac power of these authors works in other public spaces? And what is the name of their sparkly-eyed offspring?

Saturn Cafe: Bohemian Like You

[This is the first of a series of regular restaurant reviews that will usually appear on Sundays.]

But if you dig on vegan food
Well, come over to my work
I'll have 'em cook you something
That you'll really love

'Cause I like you
Yeah I like you
And I'm feeling so bohemian like you

The Dandy Warhols, "Bohemian Like You"

Fosco is not a vegetarian, but he's generally sympathetic to the idea. After all, there is something extremely unappetizing about meat when it's raw. And slaughterhouses sure don't look like fun for anyone (or anything) involved. But then, there is bacon--surely the most glorious food on earth. How could Fosco give it up?

Of course, this doesn't mean that Fosco is unwilling to eat vegetarian food--he loves hummus, vegetarian super burritos, and the incomparable Vegetable Menu at Charlie Trotter's. So, last weekend, he made a visit to the restaurant that the locals describe as "so very Santa Cruz": the Saturn Cafe.

As Fosco sees it, there are two conflicting impulses in vegetarian food: the assimilationist and the separatist. The motivation behind the assimilationist vegetarian chefs is to reproduce all of the glories of meaty cuisine (the cheeseburger, spaghetti and meatballs, buffalo wings) with no meat. This is the impulse that leads to the creation of things like fake bacon, meat-flavored soy patties, and, god help us, Tuno.

The separatist camp of vegetarians is willing to give up traditional meat dishes in favor of foods based on the natural flavors of vegetables and legumes (and their interplay). The separatist vegetarian chef is not interested in finding a vegetarian approximation to the cheeseburger; rather, she wants to create a vegetarian lunch option with its own, distinct flavor. The separatist impulse is responsible for, at the most basic level, foods like the grilled portabello sandwich. At the most advanced level, this impulse will produce something like the "squash and corn ragout with chanterelle mushrooms and fried squash blossoms" at Chez Panisse.

Fosco doesn't want to denigrate too much the assimilationist impulse. After all, strict vegetarians probably do miss cheeseburgers quite a bit. However, as a omnivore who can eat a real cheeseburger when he so chooses, Fosco would rather not bother with a second-rate soyburger. Rather, he is more interested in a vegetarian entree that tastes like the vegetables/legumes/&c from which it is created (and no, salads don't count).

Fosco tends to enjoy most vegetarian restaurants, because most vegetarian restaurants tend to draw from both assimilationist and separatist traditions on their menus. Even in places that serve fake bacon, Fosco can typically find a delicious polenta cake or something. Except, it turns out, at the Saturn Cafe.

The Saturn Cafe is the WalMart for assimilationist vegetarians. Everything they could possibly want is there: burgers, chicken sandwiches, tacos, tuna melts--all made with meat-flavored soy protein (including that satanic Tuno). And, just like WalMart, the interior is a bit cruddy and the employees really don't want to be there.

Unbelievably, there were no separatist vegetarian entrees on the menu! Not even one portabello sandwich or falafel! This is inexplicable to Fosco, just inexplicable.

On his recent visit, Fosco ordered the "grill-flavored" soy patty as a pesto burger. Fosco's personal assistant, Geoffrey, likened the burger's flavor to a "bouillon cube"--the description that an assimilationist vegetarian chef might take as a compliment (although Fosco does not consider this a compliment). The tomato on the burger was underripe and tasteless. The pesto on the burger tasted bottled (a vegetarian restaurant that does not make it's own pesto! Inexplicable!). The fries were fine.

The best praise that Fosco can manage for this place is that they serve the delightfully grapefruity soft drink Squirt--a decision that I'm told is due to a (laudable) desire not to enrich the giant corporations like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Consequently, Fosco presumes that the owner of Squirt, Cadbury Schweppes PLC, is some sort of Mom-and-Pop operation. (They probably carbonate the soda in their bathtub...)

In conclusion, Fosco can only wonder what makes the Saturn Cafe "so Santa Cruz." Are the residents of his new home really so flaky? Is this what Bohemian life has come to? It is with trepidation that Fosco looks ahead to his second month here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On being an artist in "The Afterthought"

Did you know that [gasp!] sometimes artists can live outside of NYC? But, of course, when you're an artist living in Slackerville USA, you don't want to take art too seriously... Aren't Californians so... exotic?

NYTimes Magazine article on Santa Cruz artist Thomas Campbell

Do you think the local artists in Miami are all salsa dancers?

He ain't heavy, Father, he's my neighbor.

Who doesn't love car-dust graffiti? Living so close to the beach (with the near-constant salty breeze) makes every car that hasn't been washed in the last week a potential tabula rasa for fingertip doodling.

Although Fosco tends to appreciate the classics of car-dust graffiti (and he never disobeys a truck-window command to show his tits), he is not opposed to innovation. Like, for example, the graffito that Fosco encountered in his apartment complex parking lot this afternoon: 100% Boys Town. What could this mean? Is one of Fosco's neighbors a graduate of the famous Omaha-based training academy for male hustlers? Is the owner of the truck, like Fosco, an aficianado of troubled (but legal!) youth? Or is this the tag of an extremely unartistic local gang with an ironic sense of humor?

Ooooh. I hope it's choice number three.

Read Fosco on Father Flanagan's Sodomy Camp.

Bite me.

From the Santa Cruz Sentinel, August 22, 2006:

"Two lifeguards at Manresa responded to a report of a shark thrashing in the water about 75 yards offshore about 12:40 p.m. Saturday, according to Perry. Because there was blood in the area, lifeguards think the shark attacked a sea lion. The Seascape sighting was reported about 2:20 p.m.; lifeguards were unable to say whether it was the same shark."

AWESOME! Fosco is on his way to the beach right now...

Actually, one of Fosco's old pals has been bitten by a shark. Read about it here. It kinda sounds like fun, no?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bravo! Bra-a-a-a!

[This review is about a week late, because of... uh, sloth?. Sorry.]

At the more refined passages of the singing, at the more delicate phrases of the music, which passed unapplauded by others, [Fosco's] fat hands adorned with perfectly-fitting black kid gloves, softly patted each other, in token of the cultivated appreciation of a musical man. At such times, his oily murmur of approval, 'Bravo! Bra-a-a-a!' hummed through the silence, like the purring of a great cat.

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

While there is little reason to expect an accurate description of Fosco from the narration of a cardboard "hero" such as Walter Hartright, Mr. Hartright does indeed capture Fosco's appreciation for fine music. Fosco has been a devotee of contemporary classical music for some years, even, while living on the East Coast, hosting a weekly classical radio show dedicated to the 20th century on a community station.

Imagine Fosco's surprise and delight to find that, by relocating to Santa Cruz, he had unwittingly moved to the home of the premier festival of contemporary orchestral music in the country--the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music!

Alas, while other commitments (many of them Dickens-related) prevented Fosco from attending most of the concerts and events at this year's festival, he did make it to the "Elevation" concert on Saturday, August 12. Here are his impressions:

The Venue: The composer Mel Powell once said that "Serious new music, like serious old music, isn't made to be dribbled around in a basketball arena." This is probably wrong--at least when it comes to the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. While the Civic isn't only a basketball arena (and, for all I know, hasn't been a basketball arena for decades), it does have the shellacked wooden floor of one, in addition to arena-style seating (surrounding the court). This description makes it sound like a terrible venue for orchestral music, but it's actually surprisingly congenial to it. The Festival blocks off one half of the arena (setting up a backdrop behind the orchestra) and covers most of the wooden floor with black tarps. There is no stage--the orchestra is seated on the floor (although there are some risers for the brass and percussion). The effect is extremely intimate and accessible--an effect that is rare in orchestral music. And the sound is really quite good considering the limitations of the space. Would a more traditional concert hall layout be preferable? Well probably, but there is something so appealingly democratic about listening to challenging contemporary music in a glorified gym that I'm just not willing to give up the Civic.

The Orchestra: Again, perhaps my expectations were a bit too low. This was a first-rate orchestra, composed primarily of players from various second-tier orchestras around the country. Maestra Alsop admitted, in a pre-concert address to the audience, that whenever she is asked her favorite orchestra to conduct, she has to resist saying "The Cabrillo Festival" in favor of a more diplomatic evasion. They are totally committed to this repertoire (and spending part of the summer in Santa Cruz is certainly a nice perk). Adding to the intimate atmostphere, the players dress in "business casual." The thing I love best is that all of the players are housed by Santa Cruz residents. Next year, I would love to have the pink-polo-shirt-wearing Assistant Concertmaster stay with me...

The Maestra: Marin Alsop, Intrepid Girl Conductor. How much do I love having a woman conductor (in a field that is still almost totally male-dominated)? And how much do I love that she is TOTALLY AWESOME? She has been the Music Director of the festival for fifteen years and, this fall, takes over as the Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, one of the better second-tier ensembles in the US. (And no, she is not responsible for that orchestra's "Czech It Out!" concert. Thank god.) Of course, she will continue to summer in Santa Cruz.

The best thing about Maestra Alsop? She has the jauntiest lesbian strut ever. It's like the coolest lesbian jazz is playing in her head while she's walking. Absolutely divine.

The Program:

  • Dark Angel (2003), by Daniel Brewbaker. The surprise of the evening--this piece is seductive and well-orchestrated, with both dark and light elements. Powerful, muscular writing for the brass and strings. And I love the subtitle: "Et in Arcadia Ego" [Trans.: "Even in earthly paradise I (death) exist"].
  • Elevation (2006), by Mark Grey. Soloist: Leila Josefowicz, violin. This is Grey's violin concerto, written entirely, according to the composer, on his guitar. Unfortunately, this limitation could be heard--some of the orchestral writing was a bit too thin. There were some very competent passages, but, overall, the work was a bit too similar to John Adams's violin concerto. As a soloist, Leila Josefowicz is charismatic and technically competent (and maybe a bit of a hottie--see above picture). As much as she might like to make this composition a signature piece, I'm afraid that it isn't quite substantial enough.
  • The Whispering Wind (2001), by Michael Gatonska (World Premiere). Primarily a master class for the percussionists. They even got to crumple gold foil!
  • America--A Prophecy (1999), by Thomas Ades. Soloist: Gale Fuller, mezzo-soprano. Clearly, this work was the heavyweight on the night's card. I was excited to hear Fuller, as her voice has been described as sultry and distinctive. Unfortunately, this piece was not the showcase for her voice--there is little room for sex appeal in a libretto that is a Mayan prophecy of the end of civilization. The libretto is powerful, though. I love the first line: "Oh my nation. Prepare." And the final two stanzas are searing:

    Burn, burn, burn
    On earth we shall burn
    We shall turn to ash
    Drift across the land, over the mountains
    out to sea

    Weep, weep, weep
    But know this well:
    Ash feels no pain.

    This was a seriously-skilled orchestral performance of this work, with an unfortunately mis-matched mezzo.

There was even a celebrity sighting: I spotted Pulitzer-Prize-winning composer Aaron Jay Kernis in attendance (wearing a clashing v-neck sweater/collared shirt combination).

And while I may have occasionally yelled "Bravo!" during the applause, let me assure you that I was not wearing black kid gloves. Walter Hartright can bite me.