This morning I took the dogs on a walk down the Stick Trail and then looped around on the newly-discovered Chamomile Headwaters Trail. Passing the unexpected bluff, I saw a hearty crop of Chicken of the Woods growing on a stump. I harvested as much of it as I could carry, which was limited by the fact that I was also carrying a cup of mushrooms I hoped were hallucinogenic Gymnopilus spectabilis (they weren't).
The moment I got home, I sliced up the Chicken of the Woods and fried it with onions, garlic, and lots of canola oil. I wanted Gretchen to be able to eat it, and I know she doesn't like mushrooms that are (as she puts it) "too fungal." For my part, I find that Chicken of the Woods can be a little unappetizing for unless they absorb a lot of some other sort of flavor. Though they're widely considered a choice mushroom, there's something indescribable in this species that makes my stomach turn.
While I was preparing these mushrooms, Gretchen returned from auditing a class at a nearby college. She is preparing for possibly teaching this class in the future. Unfortunately, she found the experience a monumental waste of time. In a three hour lecture, she felt that only fifteen minutes of useful information was imparted. The rest of the time was spent listening to the professor talk about herself a series of comic anecdotes. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, Gretchen found the mushroom fragments in my pasta-and-Chicken-of-the-Woods stir fry "too fungal" and I had to eat it all by myself.
Later in the afternoon, I completed work on the goofy little Flash animation you see in the logo on the Catskill Animal Sanctuary website. I find working out the timing details of complicated animations to be a challenging exercise for my particular allotment of cerebral capability. The thing is, that animation doesn't even look particularly complicated, and yet I had to keep stopping and asking myself questions and making up little mind experiments just to know how to proceed. Those animals are drawn extremely crudely and the unfinished parts have to remain hidden behind things in order to look whole, so it was not just a problem of timing, but one of layering as well.
Then, after I'd implement something, I'd view it, usually react with disgust, and have to tweak the timing to deal with the differences between theory and practice. I don't know if the problem was my particular brain's capacity for dealing with multi-track timing problems, or if my handicap was simply one of limited patience.
This evening Gretchen and I attended a concert at the Maverick Concert Hall, a semi-outdoor structure somewhat resembling a huge and somewhat makeshift Polynesian hut. It's near Woodstock, though it's actually within the Town of Hurley. Our town.
Typical of classical music concerts, most of the people in the audience had grey hair and stooped postures. Still, the turnout was impressive, particularly given the remote location, only ten miles from our house. Still, as with everything in the Catskills, there's a powerful cultural injection that reliably comes every summer from New York City. This gives the Catskills a very different rural culture from the one I remember in Redneckistan.
(Sure, occasionally someone makes a valiant effort to create a venue for non-tractor-pull entertainment in the Shenandoah Valley. But there will be frost on the pitchforks in Hell before Staunton ever does for the Blackfriars Theatre what Hurley and Woodstock do for the Maverick Concerts: help fund them. I'm sure they'd sooner see it named the Verizon Theatre.)
At this time of year we found ourselves in the waning days of the urbane urban influx. The audience mostly filled the indoor pews and even the less-popular benches along the side, but no one had to sit out under the stars in the back. Gretchen reports that Maverick concerts only a couple weeks before had overflowed this overflow area.
The program consisted entirely of solo cello pieces performed by Christopher Costanza. They were presented as something of a sandwich in time, with Bach Suites 1 and 2 serving as the bread on either side of first Benjamin Britten (a pre-Post-Modern roast beef called First Suite for Cello Opus 72) and then Bright Sheng (a spicy post-Post-Modern Asian cabbage called Seven Tunes Heard in China). Amazingly, Costanza played both Bach suites entirely from memory. The other two works, being much more obscure and challenging, required him to read sheet music, which he was forced to turn for himself. I've always been partial to Benjamin Britten because of the importance he places on melody, something too often neglected by modern composers. Still, there was plenty of stuff in this Britten's First Suite that seemed to cry out, "Hey, look at me, I'm challenging modern music!" The story about Britten is that he started out composing music for British governmental documentaries, and this made him something of an expert at maximizing the sound from a limited number of performers. He seemed to showcase all these techniques in this work, forcing the poor cellist to do such things as pluck the strings with the same hand he was using to finger the neck as he simultaneously bowed a ceaseless drone. The cellist was so skilled at his bowing that you had to watch him to know the bow had changed direction.
I'm not the best person to take to a live classical music performance. My attention span isn't all that great (particularly since I started using the web), and any initial enthusiasm I have is usually lost about half-way through. I managed to maintain my interest all the way through the performance of Britten, but by the time the Bright Sheng came along (after the intermission), my mind started wandering. The only times my thoughts returned to the music was out of annoyance with the fancy post-Post-Modern tricks being played. These included plucking the strings with a supermarket discount card and slapping the cello's body to make a woody thwack. To write such things is unfair to Sheng, since his music probably would have entertained me almost as much as the Britten had the performance order been reversed. (Any difference in appreciation, all else being the same, would have been due to my inherent dislike for music played on east-Asian scales.) This is indicated by the fact that I found the first Bach Suite much more enjoyable than the last, even though the first was in the cheery key of G Major and the last was in the dreary key of D minor. (I usually prefer dreary over cheery.)
There was one thing that struck me today that never has occurred to me before while listening to a musician perform ancient music. It was a feeling of jealousy. Somebody who can read music can pick up sheet of paper written hundreds of years ago by somebody who is now dead, and that paper can specify the expression of music that is nearly as relevant now as it was the day it was written. What other forms of communication can so easily transcend the passage of time? Most books, for example, are so thoroughly steeped in the particular problems of their time (Deuteronomy, anyone?) that they gradually come to lose their value. These are mortality issues that will never be faced by music written for solo cello. It is a creation that is truly eternal, at least for creatures with our particular aural biology.
Compare that timelessness with the fleeting value, of (say) computer functions, particularly those written to be executed on a Microsoft platform. Microsoft re-engineers their operating systems on a regular basis in a way that forces obsolescence of code written for it. For example, the man-years I sacrificed developing vast VBScript libraries is - if we're to believe Microsoft - in some measure irrelevant - because none of it was designed with .NET (their latest technology) in mind. In the world of Linux, thankfully, irrelevance comes a lot more slowly because nobody is trying to force anyone to "upgrade." Those functions I posted yesterday will probably always have some value on web servers somewhere.
So listening to the music, I pictured the æsthetic beauty of my functions written in PHP, each having those beautiful curly brackets that VBScript lacks. I could see them pouring forth as timeless statements of some sort of truth - just like Bach. I wanted to go paint a picture in which Bach was speaking through a cello and expressing an eternal reality defined as PHP functions. It was going to be a beautiful painting, but few people were ever going to understand it.
Throughout the performance, the cellist's daughter sat directly behind us. Initially Gretchen had been concerned the little girl would make a lot of noise, but a cellist's daughter learns how to behave at a concert at a very young age. At the end, she ran to the stage and presented her daddy with a bouquet of flowers.
On the way home, Gretchen and I stopped at the Reservoir Inn for a couple drinks and a pizza. We ordered the Sicilian without bothering to ask what vegetables it contained. This was a mistake - it came out so densely-covered with eggplant that you could taste the nicotine. Only a serious eggplant enthusiast would have failed to find this excessive. Gretchen, meanwhile, hates eggplant with a frightening passion, but surprisingly she was able to pick off the offending chunks and eat a couple slices.
While we were there, we chatted some with Joey the cook (who still lives upstairs above the bar). Gretchen also lobbied the manager to contribute something to the Catskill Animal Sanctuary's silent auction, though he was proving a harder nut to crack than usual. For the most part, Gretchen has found that businesses have difficulty saying "no" - sort of like soccer moms approached by Girl Scouts selling cookies.