Saturday, July 30, 2016

Make America's Beer Great Again



There was a $9.99 sale on 12-packs of Budweiser beer at a corner store recently, which I bought without realizing the cans had been rebranded as "America" for the summer. One of the multiple ironies is that Bud is now owned by the Belgian conglomerate AB InBev who were trying to capture patriotic millenials as new customers. According to an article in Business Insider, the campaign has been an abject failure. Millenials have been migrating to wine and craft beers and aren't about to drink weak, old-fashioned swill whether it's wrapped in the flag or not. In fact, during my lifetime we have gone from a country that featured about a dozen domestic beer brands to this startling statistic from Bloomberg News: "There are now more U.S. breweries than at any other point in recorded American history. According to data released today by the Brewers Association, there were 4,269 operating breweries in the country at the end of 2015, surpassing the previous record logged all the way back in 1873 when a lack of transportation and refrigeration meant breweries had to be local."



A 12-pack of America beer turned out to be the perfect accompaniment for the last two weeks of U.S. presidential party conventions which I glanced at on a DVR with my partner Tony who was transfixed by the car wreck of the Republican convention and the slick, uplifting rhetoric of the Democratic convention. My favorite speech was First Lady Michelle Obama who seemed to be channeling Scandal's Kerry Washington offering one of her frequent, inspirational Shondra Rhimes soliloquies. The most interesting commentary I have read recently is a July post by UC Berkeley linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff called Understanding Trump, which explains why he's winning. It's long, frightening and makes considerable sense. Here's a sample:
As the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” In a world governed by personal responsibility and discipline, those who win deserve to win. Why does Donald Trump publicly insult other candidates and political leaders mercilessly? Quite simply, because he knows he can win an onstage TV insult game. In strict conservative eyes, that makes him a formidable winning candidate who deserves to be a winning candidate. Electoral competition is seen as a battle. Insults that stick are seen as victories — deserved victories. Consider Trump’s statement that John McCain is not a war hero. The reasoning: McCain got shot down. Heroes are winners. They defeat big bad guys. They don’t get shot down. People who get shot down, beaten up, and stuck in a cage are losers, not winners.




Coincidentally, I've been reading my first Octavia E. Butler novel, set in Northern California during a dystopian near-future, 2032 to be exact. Her voice is that of a black, sci-fi Cassandra, and reminds me of Doris Lessing and Margaret Atwood at their visionary best. Speaking of Atwood, her novel The Handmaid's Tale, published in 1985, is a spookily perfect envisioning of a country led by someone like Mike Pence, where abortion is murder, women are the property of men, and gays are hung by their necks at city gates for being "gender traitors."



Doing research for this post, I discovered that Parable of the Talents is actually the second in a two-volume series so I am going to return to it after reading the primary Parable of the Sower. There was a startling bit of futurist synchronicity, though, when I stumbled across the above text on my commute home yesterday. Texas Senator Andrew Steele Jarret, a right-wing, racist, fundamental Christian rabblerouser is running for president and his slogan is "Help us to make America great again." Butler published the book in 1998, and was going to write sequels but found the prospect too depressing. She died young at the age of 58 in 2006.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Caltrain Fog



When the train manages to show up on time and isn't too crammed with rush-hour passengers, the daily commute to Silicon Valley on Caltrain is old-fashioned and soothing.



Coming back to San Francisco at the end of the day during the summer is enriched by views through dirty windows of fog creeping over Peninsula hillsides...



...becoming more all-encompassing the closer you get to the city.



95% of the passengers don't bother to watch the spectacle, though, staring instead at their mobile devices.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sarah Cahill at Flower Piano



The San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park began a new annual tradition last year called Flower Piano, billed as "twelve days, twelve pianos" dotted around the gardens, played by a mixture of professional musicians and any amateur who wanted to perform themselves. I don't know where the idea for this instantly successful event originated but would not be surprised if it was from somebody who had seen photos of Sarah Cahill (above) performing on a grand piano in a redwood forest at the annual Art in Nature Festival in the Oakland Hills.



I feel ambivalent about the SF Botanical Gardens. Gouging non-San Francisco residents with an admission fee is a recent, greedy development, but it helps keep the place mostly empty and serene for San Francisco residents, which was probably less intentional than an incidental benefit.



On Sunday afternoon, professional Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill returned for a second weekend concert, playing the music of Debussy and Ravel and Mamoru Fujieda for two hours in a bitter San Francisco foggy wind.



Her daughter Miranda was attending as a spectator but jumped into the breach as a page holder and turner when the zephyrs got out of control.



After the concert, Sarah was her own worst critic. "My fingers weren't working today," she said, but in truth the level of virtuosic execution and musical intelligence was remarkable.



It was obvious just by looking at the quality of the intentive listening from the outdoor crowd.



The park was also filled with longtime fans...



...who would stop her on pathways and gush while the local diva graciously talked to them all.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Splendid Schwabacher Summer Concert



The Merola Opera Program for aspiring young professionals starts their 12-week boot camp every summer with The Schwabacher Concert. Backed by a full orchestra, young singers perform excerpts from various operas with limited staging. Usually it’s a hit-and-miss affair, but this year’s installment at the SF Conservatory was wildly successful, thanks to an unusually strong roster of vocalists (left to right above Nicholas Boragno, Mary Evelyn Hangley, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Jana McIntyre, Taylor Raven, Josh Lovell, Tara Curtis, Kyle van Schoohoven, and Sarah Cambidge).



The Saturday afternoon concert started with the first six scenes from Handel’s Serse, where all the characters who are in love with the wrong person are introduced. Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen above has a strong, spectacularly beautiful voice, and his opening aria to a tree, Ombra mai fu, was enchanting.



The conducting all afternoon by Eric Weimer (above center, flanked by Cohen and Jana McIntyre) was sensitive and idiomatic in operas ranging from Baroque Handel to 20th Century Stravinsky and Poulenc.



Stravinsky was represented by the two dullest scenes from The Rake’s Progress, enlivened by Josh Lovell with a superior tenor voice and diction and bass-baritone Nicholas Boragno as Nick Shadow a.k.a. Satan.



Also appearing was mezzo-soprano Tara Curtis as Baba the Turk in an amusing cameo.



One of my least favorite Richard Strauss operas, Arabella, was well represented by Mary Evelyn Hangley singing a long, difficult aria as the title character superbly. It almost made one want to hear the entire piece.



After intermission, the first scene from Act Three of Wagner’s Lohengrin ensued. Sarah Cambidge as Elsa on her wedding night pleaded with her new husband Lohengrin to reveal his real name even though he’d warned her that would ruin everything. Cambidge has a strong, beautiful soprano but she oversang a bit into shrillness, while Schoonhoven’s tenor sounded mostly effortless and ready for the major leagues.



The sweet-and-sour sonorities of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites were a welcome contrast, and Tara Curtis on the bed chewed the scenery with her huge voice as the Mother Superior who is terrified of dying. Mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven (above left) was wonderful in supporting stints all afternoon, and it would have been nice to hear her in a starring role.



Raven was backup again to Jana McIntyre and Josh Lovell (in drag) in a very funny, well-sung scene from Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, which ended with the entire cast from the afternoon joining in as a finale chorus. The stage direction at these Schwabacher concerts is usually a mixture of clunky and silly, but the young Omer Ben Seadia, a Merola alumnae herself, did a brilliant job of creating fully realized scenes with a minimum of schtick and a maximum of focus. Please bring her back. (Production photos by Kristen Loken.)