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Archive for the ‘Diversions and Transgressions’ Category

Recently, an opportunity presented itself and this restorer’s mind had to say yes.

On a chilly Saturday morning in late September, a handful of adventuresome photo nerds (including myself) were granted access to the long abandoned Victory Theater in my home city of Holyoke, MA. The event was offered by MIFA (owners of the property), Matt Christopher’s Abandoned America and Matt Lambros’ After the Final Curtain. Access to the building was intriguing enough, but tutelage from a couple of fine photographers made it a rare deal. My motivation was to learn some new things about my camera, the same one that I use regularly in my workshop. I have long been convinced that my little Nikon Coolpix is smarter than I am and anything I can do to reduce the disparity is valued highly. The venue was a real bonus, appealing at once to my odd attraction to decrepitude and the promise inherent in a possible restoration. Throw in a little Nancy Drew, a little Doctor Who, a fascination with urban spelunking and love of alternate realities, and you have a stew that pretty much describes my morning. I had fun.

The Victory Theater is thrice renowned for what it was, for what it currently is not, and for what it might still become. Opened in 1920, it was a vaudeville house in a thriving manufacturing city. By the time it was condemned in 1979, even its life as a movie theater was over as Holyoke suffered a huge economic decline, along with too many other post-manufacturing cities in America. The Victory is currently owned by the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts and there is a campaign in place to procure funding to restore this cultural/architectural treasure. Take a look. If you’re curious, check out the links. Think about contributing.

Click on an image to start the show. And thanks for indulging me. More about fiddles next time.

 

 

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While I am upstairs reading a post from a friend whose dog just “discovered” the Christmas ham as it was  stored out on the porch, my own Dog is downstairs hovering over the remnants in the cat dish. Dinner has already been served, and yes, I am distracted, especially since it’s Christmas Eve and I don’t want to find in June, the stocking stuffers that I am dangerously close to forgetting about right now.

And there was something that desperately needed to go in the attic. And, in fact, something that wanted to come down, but I can’t remember what.

So when I finally return to the kitchen, Dog is still engaged in the waiting game. She stands over the cat  dish, her head hanging and her eyes somewhat glazed. Her eyebrows bob. This has nothing to do with any rules I am aware of. She will wait until I spoon the leftovers into her own dish, and then have at it like the scavenger that I know she is. This behavior has always bewildered me, but I happily go along with it.

I’ve had dogs before, and I’m reminded in particular of a dear Golden Retriever who would cozy up to a dumpster as soon as she would hop onto the couch. This dog of mine right now, Saint Dog, as I imagine her because of her unworldly display of “patience”, is a different sort.

It’s true that, I myself have been accused of having the “patience of a saint”. I have a long history with Catholicism, so I should know what that means. However, a moment of doubt (!) sends me to the dictionary. A quick search reveals only a reference to Job and his nagging wife. Well, screw that.

If I were to attempt to boil my observations down to something meaningful (in fact this is what I try do every day), today’s lesson would be that Patience = Faith in a Positive Outcome. As an alternative, Grab the Ham!

Have a Merry Christmas Everyone, wherever you are!

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Three things have engaged my attention this week. Granted: I am easily overwhelmed by the state of the world, and though I do my best to keep myself generally informed, I find that I function best when I am able to concentrate my energies and my attention on my community, my friends and loved ones, and my work.

This perhaps belies my past as an activist. While my stance on social change has not wavered, my personal approach has, in fact, changed.  Lest my intentions be deemed petty, or trite, I would challenge anyone to grasp the correlation between these 3 items of interest:

1. My city of Holyoke, MA opens a brand new skateboard park. Btw – Holyoke’s new skate park also happens to be situated in Pulaski Park, designed at the turn of the 20th century, by Frederick Olmstead :

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2. Residents and friends of Holyoke petition to save an historic building:

The Farr Mansion then:

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And now:

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3. I spend the better part of three months working on a 17th century fiddle:

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Clearly, this is not simply a pedantic interest in saving old stuff. I like old stuff. But more importantly, I see that an investment in the future is predicated by carrying the past forward. I am never more in touch with this truism than when I am at work. While my current patient was created while Monteverdi was still freshly in his grave, I am aware that, in its reincarnation, it will just as likely be called upon to perform Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No.1 .

And so, a skate park, in some odd way, makes good sense to me: an underutilized and yet historically significant park becomes a hot spot for serious play. Our kids. Our future.

As for the Farr Mansion, that is yet to be determined. My hope is that Holyoke with grasp it in its hands and bring it, too, into the future.

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Thanks:  Rob Deza Photographer

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On most days, I take my Dog for a short hike at the Mount Tom Reservation in Holyoke, MA, a short distance from my home. There’s a loop that we frequently do that takes us up the slope through the woods and then down and over the brook and finally along the edge of Lake Bray. It’s beautiful in any season.IMG_5172

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As is the case in most of these well maintained, and accessible pseudo-wildernesses (aka State Reservations), one is likely to have the most encounters with other humans somewhere not too far from the parking lot. Indeed, yesterday’s walk included an encounter with a couple who were clearly headed back to their car. It was a week day. It was the first surprisingly warm bright spring day at the tail end of an insultingly long winter. The fellow was in shorts and called out to me “Great day, huh? Can you believe it? There’s NOBODY here!”

Well that was pleasant – people getting out in the sunshine, Dog gets to be wiggly and happy as she makes new friends. And I’m thinking, “I’m here, you’re here, I bet that bear and her cub that I saw last time is still here.”

Our walk takes me south and up the slope under the hemlocks where I spotted the emergence of springtails last winter on a warm day after a late December snow. I will have to remember to point the spot out to P, who knows which mushrooms are edible. Apparently, where there are springtails (snow fleas), there are mushrooms. I know little about foraging, but have the pleasure of knowing a bona fide hunter-gatherer, so I hope to learn something eventually. I have an observant nature. I think that might be an advantage.

Dog and I cross the convergence of seasonal streams that I amuse myself by calling Three Rivers. There is actually a town near here that is called Three Rivers. I am sure that “Shorts Man” would conclude that NOTHING happens in either place. This Three Rivers is simply a point in the landscape where water runs off  the slope in three rivulets as it heads inevitably for Lake Bray. In the fall, one might not even notice it. But this spring, the crossing inspired me to get some waterproof hiking boots. There is a vernal pool as well, and I am curious to see what I may see there as the spring progresses.

I am still having a language moment.”There’s NOBODY here!” Interesting choice of words, that.

Dog and I have passed the place, where, on our last walk, we watched a mama bear and her crying cub descend the slope, left of the trail, toward the lake. I was relieved that young Dog neither bolted nor made chase, but stood apprehensively, breathing deeply against the back of my leg. I have raised a cub of my own, and so I know, that if Baby is that whiny, Mama is not to be in a good mood either.

Past Three Rivers, we flush a Pileated Woodpecker. Mostly, I see the flash of red crest. I see a pair of them now and then, and hear their thrumming regularly. This is a bird that is still so amazing to me that it elicits images of mystical majesty tempered by cartoon celebrity. It’s big, but I assume it’s not an Ivory Billed. That is truly the stuff of fantasy. Off to my right, the landscape ascends through a deciduous forest, where I have spotted deer on a number of occasions. Beyond the crest of the trail, I have seen their foot prints in the snow. The snow is gone by now, but still Dog’s interest is piqued.

At the bottom of the hill, there is a small wooden bridge over water that flows year round into the lake. Dog crosses it every time as if it’s her first time. I have yet to really get inside her brain about this one. We head north again. There is one last hill to climb before the trail gracefully descends toward the lake. Dog stops to contemplate the reptilian chorus of peepers off to our left. Not a bear, probably not a predator. What? This is her third spring, her first spring walking this trail. We are approaching the marsh at the upper end of the lake. It’s still too early for turtles sunning themselves on logs. Too early for copperheads. I’m ok with that.

Another bridge and I am on the last stretch of trail heading for the parking lot. The lake is to the right. I am eagerly awaiting signs that someone is inhabiting the new nesting box at the upper end of the lake. I’ve seen a pair of Mallards but I’m not sure if the box is intended for them. Somehow, I don’t think so. I am humbled by my ignorance.

I’m not sure what “Shorts Man” meant by “nobody”. I suspect it’s relative. I am already making a plan for the rest of my afternoon. I don’t have any clients scheduled, which means I will have some concentrated work time . Dog, no doubt, will be napping.

5213e11ae5228adc62d7d4c5a420bf0b      Credit: Tyler Breton, violinist and photographer extraordinaire

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So my triceps are aching and my hands tingled with “pins and needles” all last night.

Actually, I like shoveling snow. But I’ve had enough of it for the time being. Some young muscle-y young fellow showed up this afternoon and finished shoveling my driveway for the best $15 I’ve ever spent. “Where were you yesterday???”… I was thinking, while being ever grateful that he had spared me this last insult of having to clear a path just enough wider to squeeze the car out onto the street. The Car. Which I stupidly parked way back by the garage, about a mile and a half from the street, in the spot that I know is prone to drifting. By the way, my car is black.

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My first words, Saturday morning, were reiterated a few hours later, by my Puerto Rican neighbor, who, upon opening her front door to discover  snow nearly up to her waist, simply exclaimed, “Oh my God!”

The nice thing about this kind of weather event is that it brings people out. I have noticed, in my neighborhood, a spectacular showing of men and machines. In fact, being the newcomer in these parts, it still surprises me that they all seem to know one another, having attended school together apparently, some time before the middle aged paunch and grey whiskers happened. Then there is the other slice of neighborhood, the one that says all with a keyboard post and shout out (it could be from anywhere in the world, but it’s) from around the corner.

One is concerned about the elder woman that lives across the street. Another is grateful for the refuge offered by a neighbor during a CO scare. Another is trying to find the owner of a trash can gone AWOL. We watch out for each other, and I like this about this multi-layered community. I like getting the (albeit) recorded message from my beloved Mayor, stating the parking updates and a reminder to stay safe and check up on neighbors.

Someone decided to call this snowstorm Nemo, which I think is both preposterous and endearing. Preposterous because Nemo is a name that’s been appropriated by  Disney, and endearing because,… well…! I’ve neglected thus far to mention that my own twenty-five year old daughter hightailed it from Boston, hound dog riding shotgun, to arrive here in Holyoke just before the storm hit. And speaking of Disney, it was this same 25 year old, who at age 5 would not eat flounder unless we called it salmon. Whatever.

It’s been Weekend Interruptus by all accounts. One more day of school is cancelled and with the good graces of our stellar DPW, all should up to speed by Tuesday. With the driveway cleared (and why this seems to me a marker of some sort, I don’t know, since I really don’t go out much!) it will be business as usual. DSCN0218

Oh, and I promise, the next post will be more about serious violin restorer stuff. I may just get out that “Heap of Cello Bits”. I have one more snow day to think about it.

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Sometimes, the neighbor boy, who I think is now eleven, has his Star Wars gear out. He shoots at me across the driveway, from his upstairs den, while I am washing dishes in my kitchen. Colored lights flash in my direction through the mid-winter gloom.death-star-7

I wave back.

Such is life in a small city neighborhood of Holyoke, MA. Conversations happen on many levels. I thought we had bonded one day last summer as I watered my newly planted dogwood out by the street. W joined me, plastic weapon in hand. I can talk droids, clones and Siths and the familial entanglements that bring classic tales of good and evil into high relief. I thought I was pretty cool, having clearly bested his own mother who, regrettably, knew “nothing” about Star Wars. Two or three minutes into our conversation, I realized that, while I had obliviously turned into an adult, Star Wars had morphed into much more than the six? seven? blockbuster movies that I remember gleefully taking in over the years.

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Oh well, I deserve to be shot at, although I wish for the opportunity to parry with a light saber, and so measure my worth with a true exposé of art and intuition, things I’m good at.

I want to say, “Okay, W – how old were you when the first Star Wars movie came out?!” (1977) But that would be child abuse, so I keep that thought to myself. This kid is obsessed. With what, I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with making sense of the world, and I can’t argue with that. In lieu of a campfire and an ages- old tradition of oral story telling, I am willing to accept yet another installment of a good tale well told. Perhaps it will lead to a “moment” with my neighbor, and precipitate the inevitable conclusion that we are both, indeed, conduits of the Force.images-1

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Most of my friends know I’m not a big talker. If I had two dozen words to spend in a day, I would probably make do without serious hardship.  There are those I know, who would spend that just saying hello. This is not a judgement, just an observation. I have even gone so far as to exclaim in the midst of an emotional argument: “Words are NOT my friends!”  The irony is that I find words, and language, fascinating.

Today, for instance, I had occasion to order a specialty product from a small company with the word “University” in its name. So when the person taking my order said something like “sorry, them are on back order, we ain’t gonna have them for a couple of weeks”, I sat up straight. Seriously? She was. Serious.

Sometimes I wonder how anyone ever understands anything anyone else is saying. The truth is, I completed this particular transaction in short order: no problems, no misunderstandings. Absolutely pleasant. Would I do business with them again? You betcha!

It occurs to me that, in the Language Arts, there is nothing even so definitive as a color wheel. As a child, my fifth grade classroom played Mad Libs:

Teacher: “We need an adverb, a word that ends in ‘ly'”!

Student: “Ugly”!

No, I scream inside, that won’t work! But it follows the rule. “Ugly” it is.

I was an early reader, and left to my own devices, I formulated plenty of language “truisms” that haven’t held up over the years. For instance, the word “misled” in my child’s mind was pronounced ‘mīzeld, rather than mis’led. DownloadedFileWell, anyone can be misled, including me. So imagine my delight when I heard this on New England Public Radio recently. It’s worth listening to all the way.

If language is an art, then surely that implies, at the very least, a certain amount of malleability. These days, friend is a verb, and even more recently, I’ve discovered that creative is a noun. Not only that, but I, apparently, am one. A creative, that is.

In my role as a creative, I friend numerous violinmakers and restorers from other countries. I like this about my chosen field. But, as one can imagine, from the difficulties arising from speaking English amongst English speakers, another layer of fascination and delight arises in the attempt to communicate with speakers of other languages.

Once, in Trieste, we had planned  a visit to Gorizia, to see a retrospective exhibit of the work of a famous Italian fashion designer. As we left our twittering Italian comrades, Leslie said, “I think I just said we are going to see an exhibit of cabbages”. Mi dispiace, Signor Capucci!42570721Roberto-Capucc

In England, where I have now three times attended a violin restoration seminar, I once found myself perusing the aisles of a DIY franchise with three German colleagues, one of whom emphatically announced she was going to look for something with which to “clean out her crack”! That was funny enough but even funnier was the moment of enlightenment when her knowledge of English colloquialisms was enhanced just a notch.

For someone somewhat spare on words, I listen a great deal. It is one of my joys. I can only imagine that this is only the first of many posts to explore the grace and foibles of communicating with other humans.  Stay tuned. And please forgive my punctuation.

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I have a hard time following directions. Specifically, I fail at following recipes. This is not because: 1. I cannot read  or 2. I have cognitive disabilities. In fact, sometimes I just have a better idea, or an alternate method that works for me. Or maybe there’s no Dutch Chervil in the cupboard (whatever the hell that is). Generally, this truth is an asset for me and not a liability. I suspect it relates to my being self- employed. But more specifically, I think it relates to the nature of my work. There are very few recipes when it comes to restoration work.

For instance, it is impossible to google “restore this heap of cello bits” and get a concise and printable course of action that may result in something worth putting strings on:
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This cello is actually not in such bad shape, since most of its parts, rather ALL of its parts, have literally come apart at the seams. Beyond that, there will be some serious planning, some random moments of ingenuity, and an otherwise brilliant trajectory of skill and awesomeness. All in a day’s work.

This, however, is a challenge:

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http://www.gourmet.com/recipes/2000s/2003/11/brussels-sprouts-maple-hickory-nuts

Here is a recipe that I love, for shredded Brussels sprouts with maple glazed pecans. I can never quite get it right, for all its simplicity. It’s best when the flavors are isolated and the textures are differentiated. I know how good it can be. I excel at soups and stews, or when a visual presentation is required. But the perfection of this particular recipe eludes me. I’m thinking it might take someone who can follow directions.

Happy New Year!

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When my work apron goes on and the audio book goes in the cd player, the dog knows it’s a good time to settle into her bed for a nap. I don’t think she’s being lulled by the voice coming through the speakers. I think she’s simply read all the signs. She won’t be putting on her walking shoes for a while. She won’t be answering the door (no exciting visitors to sniff). In short, she’s not going anywhere and apparently, I’m not either.

I’ve listened to a lot of books while working. My regular trips to the public library usually result in schlepping four or five audio books home at a time. Most of them I actually listen to. Many prove to be entertaining, engaging, even enlightening. Once in a while, I find a book that just begs to be read in print. I make a note, add it to my “to read” list, and send the audio back to the library. Now and then, a reader just hits my ear the wrong way, regardless of the merit of the writer. The dog lifts her head as I exclaim “Ugh!  I can’t listen to that!”. She’s talking to herself again. 

Since it’s the time of year when everyone is making their Best of Whatever lists, I thought I’d try to call up some recent favorites. For me, the only disadvantage to enjoying a book in audio is that without actually having something to repeatedly pick up and gaze at, I have a hard time remembering titles and authors. I’m forever wishing I’d written these things down. Hmm …I sense a New Year’s resolution in the air! Ho hum…that’s what she said.

Here are ten of the many books that I enjoyed listening to this year, in no particular order. They are simply random picks off my public library’s audio shelves. Most are fiction and all seem to be contemporary. I decided not to consider mysteries (partly because I can never remember which is which and who is whom), and the classics may deserve a future list of their own. I might add that at least a few of these recordings (in particular I’m thinking of A Mercy , Parrot and Olivier in America, and Night Circus) are additionally memorable due to the extraordinary performances of the readers. She forgot about The Art of Racing in the Rain, and that other dog one.

  • Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, read by Hope Davis
  • A Mercy by Toni Morrison, read by the author
  • Black Swan Green by David Mitchell read by Kirby Heyborne
  • Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey, read by Humphrey Bower
  • Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, read by Jim Dale
  • Fall of Giants by Ken Follett, read by John Lee
  • The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, read by the author
  • Brunelleschi’s Dome by Ross King, read by Richard Matthews
  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon read by Jonathan Davis
  • The Fortune Teller’s Daughter by Lila Shaara, read by T. Ryder Smith

 


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Chopping has come up in a couple of conversations with women friends lately. Yes, chopping, not shopping, thank you. Since I am who[sic] I am, sometimes a word or an image repeated, even in completely different contexts, lights up some mysterious part of my brain. I got to thinking.

The friends in question and I are all artists/artisans. One friend mentioned that after working at a computer for an extended period of time, she needs to go into the kitchen and chop vegetables. Another friend had her work with a cutting tool admonished as being “choppy”, not to mention unbecoming her gender. What? I thought about how I enjoy a job that requires getting out my bamboo froe. More about that later.

In my view, the act of chopping means taking an edged tool in hand and inviting a certain blend of speed, momentum, and larger muscle groups to augment an already practiced partnership between the hand and the eye. For instance, tonight’s butternut squash was bisected with one formidable whack. Had I not spent much of  the day fine-fitting a ridiculously little piece of wood, I may have been happy to simply lean into the vegetable with my biggest knife, rocking with it until the blade hit cutting board. That squash got whacked and it felt gooood!

Now this post, begun in all innocence, is about to take a timely turn. Next Tuesday, we here, in the States, exercise our civic duty to stand behind the candidates of our choice. This is a privilege and, in my view, an obligation of the highest order. I have never missed an opportunity to vote. I consider myself a humanist, sometimes even an optimist. That said, I recognize my not-so-inner curmudgeon. People are basically self- interested and short-sighted jerks. I have been closing my ears against the barrage of measured lies and twisted truths. Unfortunately, there’s not a heck of a lot else to listen to. So I find myself trolling the neighborhood for places to be on Tuesday night, where I might  drink with abandon in case this election heads for the crapper.

The alternate title to this post was “Chopping Therapy 101”, which may help explain why this election digression is not totally a non sequitur. If I were still heating with wood, you can be sure I would be out there with my maul and axe reacquainting myself with my right-side rotator cuff. Instead, I chop vegetables. I use the biggest knife I have. I fit little pieces of wood all day and then split out a bunch of end blocks and bass bars. Whack! Here is the aforementioned bamboo froe: It’s a Japanese tool that is used for splitting bamboo. Someday, perhaps I will understand where it figures in terms of  Japanese craft and construction. It fits nicely in my hand, with a comfortable balance and confidence-inspiring heft. For me, it’s the tool I turn to when I need to be assured that the grain direction in a given piece of wood is appropriate to the purposes to which I am employing it. I use it to split out bass bar stock and also endblocks. I pick up a small hammer, position my froe, and  give it a whack. The split follows the grain line. There is no deception here.

Chopping exposes the nature of a material, the propensity of the tool and perhaps the mindset of the chopper. It’s an activity  that employs a kind of controlled abandon, or calculated wrecklessness. The perfect antidote to a day filled with the questionable minutiae of modern life.

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