Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

August 26, 2005

Classical music club

Every three weeks my packet from BMG arrives--I am in the Classical Music Club--and I pull out the card, check that I want no selections at this time and mail it back in.

Today, they included a letter which expressed the dismay of their CEO Stuart Goldfarb that I had not ordered in quite some time. A direct appeal from the CEO got my attention; I looked through the catalog determined to find four selections. After all, Mr. Goldfarb had issued me a special offer: Buy 1, get 3 Free.

The whole catalog turned me off. To attract a mass audience, classical music producers have taken to producing albums which have more to do with the listener's problems than the quality of the music. "The Most Relaxing Piano Album Ever," is one. "Music for Inner Peace" is another. These may well be quality recordings--they have won many awards, after all--but I resist them.

Another unwelcome trend: It is requisite these days to have the performer posing seductively on the cover of any classical CD. Handsome solo violinist Joshua Bell is more suited for the mass market than the pudgy Itzhak Perlman. Therefore, he has more than triple the number of albums in the BMG catalog than any other violinist. Bell is a good violinist, but hardly of the caliber of Perlman or Isaac Stern. His prominence in the CD catalogs clearly has more to do with his Tom Cruise looks than his talent.

The trend towards albums which address the neurosis of the listener only works to water down the music. A "Bach for Relaxation" disc I was given a couple of years ago by a well-meaning friend only works me into a state of irritation--Bach really isn't for relaxation. His music is better suited for edification. Edification assumes some energy on the part of the listener. Relaxation is something people do after fighting traffic for two hours on the way home from their awful job. But to make Back suited for relaxation, the producers smaltz it up, round off all the edges, take out the rhythm--generally neuter it. It is classical Muzak. Generic. Impersonal. Lacking in punch.

Classical music packaging does reflect the contents: Ultra-smooth packaging clearly designed to appeal to anything but the buyer's taste in music is bound to contain a CD which isn't really worth listening to. On the other end of the spectrum, ultra-dry packaging is likely to reflect a scholarly (read: dry) interpretation of the music by somebody with stringy hair and bad breath.

CDs with matter-of-fact photos of a performer on stage or in a photo studio can be of the highest quality. Usually it is best if the performer is given billing equal to the composer. Horowitz plays Chopin, for example, is going to be very good. Great composer, great artist. Rubenstein plays Chopin will also be good, although it will be a completely different experience than the Horowitz. Gould plays Bach? Wonderful. Much better than "Bach for Relaxation," or "The Complete Works of Bach" by a compendium of deservedly anonymous scholars.


August 25, 2005

Egrets

Throughout the evening, the egrets hunched up on the swamp--until all three of them decided to take a flight and circle around the swamp. They are the purest white. What surprised me most was that they landed in the top of some trees. It felt like I was in the Everglades or something, with those huge white birds sitting high in the trees.

Thunder still rumbles in the distance as it has for most of the evening--after a dark, tumultuous afternoon. At least three lightning strikes were within yards of the house, judging by the utter lack of a gap between the flash and the crash.

The Twins lost a hearbreaker today, 2-1 in ten innings. I followed it on the internet since AM radio was made too crackly by the electrical storms. My attention was diverted from the unfortunate events depicted on my computer screen by the egrets, herons, swans and dozens of ducks out on the swamp.

I have been trying to take photos of the critters on the swamp, but without a telephoto lens it is just futile.


Storm hits swamp

Seconds after I published the last post, heavy rain hit the roof. The swamp algea is dancing. The raindrops seem uncommonly huge. The swan family drifted out into the middle of the open water--and I was puzzled that two big white blobs, which had thought were the swans, were still sitting in the grass.

As I watched them with the binocs, it became apparent that the white blobs are egrets. I can't tell whether they are Snowy egrets or Great White egrets, but they are likely egrets, according to my Sibley's bird book.

Meanwhile, the heavy rain has made two of the Blue Herons restless--they are circling the swamp, landing, circling again. Across the way, the ducks and the swans sit looking like landing craft scattered across the ocean before Normandy. The rumble of thunder is constant.

In the past few minutes, the rain has caused 80% of the algea to disappear. I wonder why that is. Looking through the binocs, it appears as if the rain is driving the algea to the shoreline and into the reeds. The swamp, which is usually covered with algea, is now almost completely open. The egrets have not moved in more than forty minutes.

The rain is falling even more heavily. Whoa--A thunderstrike just hit less than a couple hundred yards from the house--there was no appreciable delay. That caused me to jump! I am not even thinking about what things I should shut off. Still no breeze.

The power blinked. My laptop isn't bothered by that. I am waiting for white hail to start bouncing on the ground. Now a wind has come up which is pelting the windows on the prow with rain, despite the two foot overhang. My view of proceedings on the swamp is made even more impressionistic.

I am hoping this rain will fill up the swamp a bit. It is down over a foot from this spring. There are only about a dozen acres of land which drain into the swamp--perhaps twenty at the most--so it needs frequent replenishing.

The swans are weathering the storm smack dab in the middle of open water. That's probably safest. One of the young ones is looking skyward, an uncustomary swan pose.

Another big lightning strike--this one at least 250 yards away, I would guess. The brief pause between the flash and the coarse roar reminded me of the pause between the tickle and a big, raw, productive cough in March. (No extra charge for that metaphor.)

Now the rain is slowing a bit. A lightning bolt just struck up by the nursery. The ducks are patrolling the swamp as if nothing's going on. The swans have disappeared behind some reeds. The egrets remain motionlessly hunched.

So far, a fun storm. Can't wait to see if the sun pokes through from underneath the dark clouds when it is all over.


Incoming storm

It is dark enough out right now to be dusk--but it is half past one in the afternoon. A big thunderstorm is rumbling to the west. On the radio, it makes it sound as if it is heading this way with nickel-sized hail.

I am in the crow's nest watching the big blue heron slowly stalk through the shallows of the swamp in search of prey. He has now perched on a log and is grooming himself. In the distance across the swamp, the swan family has ventured into some grasses and is sitting quietly.

Although most people who have planned to see the gardens have already done so, it still would be a bit early for them to be destroyed by natural events. Nothing you can do.

It is perfectly still outside. I think I am going to go out on the porch to see what hits.


August 23, 2005

A classic ballgame

Tonight's Twins game was a thriller. The Twins didn't have a hit until the eighth inning when Jacque Jones led off with a 423 foot home run. Johan Santana shut out the White Sox for eight innings on three hits and Joe Nathan pitched the ninth.

Normally, I would have been upset at Gardenhire for taking Santana out after eight innings, but in the eighth he was lucky to escape when several balls were hit hard right at outfielders. Gardenhire made the right move.

The Twins are making a move on the Sox right now. They are still 9.5 games out; they would have to stage a comeback from the biggest deficit in the history of baseball--16 games back at one point--to win the division (the record comeback was the 1914 Boston Braves who were behind 15 games during the season only to come back and win the World Series). However, they are only a little ways out in the wild card race.

If the Twins make it to the playoffs, this game will be seen as one of the biggest. It is the second 1-0 game won by Santana in the past month. Believe it or not, he is keeping pace with last season when he won the Cy Young.

PING PONG: Cassio is behind a recent spate of ping-pong activity at the nursery. The ping-pong table doubles as the employee lunch table--and has for thirty years. So, we have to clear the salt shakers and jelly jars and napkin holders and table cloths before putting on the net. Tonight, long-time employee Aaron brought over his foreign exchange student Johnny, who is from Paraguay and has been her but a week, for a few games. They are still over there playing, and it is well past eleven.

Last week, I beat Cassio at least a dozen times in a row. That was a mistake. Tonight he announced at supper that he was going to beat me, and he did--twice. He would fall behind and then come back from way down to win. He missed once tonight and burst out, "I hate when happens that!" He was determined.

Tomorrow, Uncle Orv is going to show Cassio combining.

WHILE WRITING THIS ENTRY, an email showed in the box from weblog reader Irene who passed on that the television announcers Dick Bremer and Bert Blyleven thought tonight's game was one of the best they had ever seen. Of course, Bert is a pitcher, so he appreciates good pitching and defense. I do to. There were several great catches as well as the great pitching by both Freddy Garcia and Johan Santana. I don't think it was better than the seventh game of the 1991 World Series, but it sure was a thriller.

Suddenly I am wishing that I had my dish installed so I could see the games. But you know, if I got that thing put in, the Twins would start losing right away. That's just how it works. I owe it to my fellow Minnesotans not to change anything that I am doing right now or they might start losing.


Bay of Pigs

Couldn't sleep last night so I pulled a history of the United States by William Manchester off the shelf--courtesy of weblog reader Barb. One can count on Manchester writing in an engaging manner. I opened up the book at the U-2 incident with Gary Powers, and ended with the Bay of Pigs...and I was supposed to sleep after that?

Times haven't changed much. The national security bureaucracy gets us into messes by filtering the information that gets to the top to further their own bureaucratic ends. The litany of ludicrous mistakes which led to the Bay of Pigs disaster was difficult to read. Only Manchester's prose could have gotten me through it. High ideals, unrealistic hopes, messianic delusions--and baldfaced lies. Lies to the world, lies to the American people and lies to the hapless Cuban exiles who were recruited to invade their homeland--plus, lies from the intelligence underlings to the president.

Eisenhower was more directly culpable for the U-2 incident than Kennedy was for the Bay of Pigs, it seems, if only because he was a better administrator and knew what was going on. Eisenhower made Powers sit on a runway in Pakistan with his engines running for twenty minutes before he sent him on his ill-fated mission. Kennedy gave only vague and begrudging approval to a Cuban invasion plan--the details of which he didn't take adequate time to study.

Back to the present: The American people are tiring of the Iraq adventure, according to pollsters and headline writers. Well, we don't have the option of tiring of this mess. We got in there, now we have to find a way to fix the instability created by the removal of Saddam. Colin Powell's word of caution before the invasion was, "you break it, you own it." Yes, Saddam was bad--but a civil war could be worse for the people of Iraq.


August 22, 2005

Red Hat invasion

It doesn't get much better than today--cool, but bearable; clear skies, a breeze--some fall tints starting to show. I determined to get some things done at the house. I was puttering around when out of the corner I caught a scene straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie: my porch was infested with Red Hats. It wasn't long before my doorbell rang. I couldn't escape, so I gritted my teeth and answered it.

Turns out, a Red Hat group from Fargo had come to the gardens. Three of them had gone on a bus tour a few months back with carpenter Tom. They thought they would find him out here, so they walked the half-mile from the gardens to my house expecting to find Tom and his sons pounding nails. Of course, Tom and the boys have long since moved up to Mom and Dad's house.

Well, they had come that far, they had to have a tour. So mid-morning, with no preparation, I gave a tour to fifteen or so Red Hats.

That event spurred me to further cleaning and organization of the house. The garage was my project for the day. I threw stuff and organized. It felt good to get a little order to the proceedings out there.

CASSIO GETS A BOW: Uncle Orville gave Cassio a hunting bow the other day, and since that time Cassio has been obsessed with buying arrows, building targets and shooting. Friend Dale, an avid and expert bow hunter, took Cassio to Cabela's in East Grand Forks today to purchase some arrows and other accessories. When he came back, Cassio proudly told me that "soon I will be a hunter person!"

The rest of the day, Cassio spent writing the ten-page report that is required by his program. I just proof read it. I hated to correct Cassio's sometimes broken English, since I find it so endearing. I repaired some of the more obvious things, but left it largely intact.

Oh, and while they were in Grand Forks, Cassio asked Dale to take him to a pawn shop--I don't know where in the world he got that idea--where he picked up a laptop for $375. It works just as well as the one he already has. I think he is going to give the new one to his parents back in Brazil. They have been resistant to technology so far, but Cassio will take care of that in a hurry. They won't know what hit them.

Words of the day in last night's English lesson: Tingle, tickle, shiver and goose bump. When Cassio finally understood the phrase "goose bump," he had a good laugh. We got started on that theme when Cassio was trying to explain the feeling in his fingers after shooting bow for half-an-hour.

THE TWINS seem to be continuing on their roll. We'll see how they deal with the White Sox the next three games. One factor to consider: The roster expands from 25 to 40 on the first of September. The players that the Twins will bring up from the minor leagues are top level prospects--probably the best batch of any team in the majors. That will give Gardenhire a good arsenal for the September pennant race.