the smell of people in the heat
Sunday, August 5 2012
Early this afternoon after the Sunday morning coffee ritual, I finished the installation of the plywood over the south girder (into which I'd cut crenelations to fit between the rafters running across that girder). When that was done, I could finally go crazy with spray foam, completely sealing all the gaps and making the south wall as air-tight as all the other walls (though of course the homemade window casements aren't yet completed and there are still two holes awaiting some sort of glazing or walling-off).
This afternoon Gretchen and I drove to the Festival of the Voice in the Catskill mountain village of Phoenicia. Our main reason for going was to see a performance by our friend Kirsti (of Chris & Kirsti), a member of a large, hastily-organized choir for the performance of two arrangements by the composer Peter Schickele (one of the most famous people ever to come to our house for dinner).
In keeping with the scale of Phoenicia itself, the festival was a small affair, having taken over a small park not far from the center of the village. Access to the festival was well-staffed with volunteers, but of course (unlike, say, 12 years ago), we had tickets. Gretchen had actually gone and bought us VIP tickets, which for this particular festival were completely unnecessary. When we arrived, lush harmonies from a barber shop choir filled the acoustic environment like a triple rainbow. I've never been a fan of that sound, but I know it's not an easy thing to pull off.
Over at the snack concession, I bought a bag of salted peanuts, which I proceeded to eat in its entirety, leaving peanut shells wherever I happened to be. Meanwhile Gretchen kept encountering people she knew and with whom she wanted to have long conversations. It's hard for me to figure out what to do with myself when she's doing this; it always seems to throw my misanthropy into stark relief. Eventually I solved my lack of purpose by purchasing a beer at the drink concession. Amazingly, they had Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale, one of the best beers available in the East.
Peter Schickele himself was there and gave each work an extensive introduction. Though he seems more dependent on a cane than I remember him being, his wit is just as sharp as ever.
As for the performance, it had its good parts. But the arrangements, particularly the second one (a celebration of the four seasons) was so complicated that the poorly-rehearsed choir churned it into a sort of acoustic mush. The pianist, though, was very good.
Part of what made the experience suboptimal was the oppressive heat of the day. A shower passed through just before the performance, throwing some much needed water on the brown patches of grass. (Phoenicia is very much within the Great American Drought Zone of 2012.) But when it was over, its only effect seemed to be an increase in humidity. People smell bad in weather like this, particularly when they've doused themselves with artificial fragrances in hopes of concealing whatever it was that God thought they should smell like. There was a tall guy sitting directly in front of me, and it wasn't enough that his head blocked my view; his inorganic fragrance filled every breath I inhaled, making the relative humidity in percent and the temperature in degrees seem five higher than it otherwise would have. Eventually I started fanning both Gretchen and me with our program, which really seemed to help.
When I was a kid back in elementary school, it was common for my classmates and me to fashion ourselves fans from folded notebook paper, thereby helping us endure the hot days of late summer (public schools never had air conditioning back then). Our teachers didn't appreciate the distraction of all those waving fans, and on one occassion I remember one of them making a thermodynamic argument to convince us to quit. She said that the heat generated in our arms by fanning ourselves was greater than the heat removed by the air currents we were generating. I've often wondered if there was any truth to that. Today I decided that she must have been wrong.
After the performance, Gretchen and I went off to another tent where Chris, Kirsti's brother Christien, and Christien's wife Michaela were all hanging out. At around this time the Festival of the Voice had gotten everyone to band together for the singing of "Amazing Grace," though neither Gretchen nor I were participating. The rain had started falling again, and we stretched out in the grass so it could fall on our faces.
It was an unusual feeling to lie on the ground with rain falling on me, and it gave me a flashback to that time Bathtubgirl, Spunky Lisa, Matt Rogers and I camped out in the Sleeping Bear Dunes of Michigan. For some reason that night Bathtubgirl became convinced that Spunky Lisa and I were about to go off and have sex, and she threw such a fit that she destroyed Matt Rogers' tent, forcing us to sleep tentless in our sleeping bags out in the rain.
After a series of goodbyes, Gretchen and I were finally by ourselves in Phoenicia. We ended up having dinner out on the patio of the Sportsman, which made me a reasonably good East-coast-style burrito (the kind without aluminum foil or salsa but with huge continents of refried beans, iceberg lettuce, and rice on the side). I tried their mango margarita, which was cloyingly horrible until (on Gretchen's suggestion) I squeezed some lime juice into it.
This evening Gretchen and I watched two episodes of Mad Men, including the iconic one where the family eating lunch in a park concludes their picnic by casually dumping all their litter on the grass.
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