Reach out and touch some blog

Scobleizer: An old friend gets in touch. This nails why I started blogging to begin with. In 2001 I was living alone in Seattle for the summer and feeling isolated, so I started the blog to stay in touch with friends and family. It still works that way—not only do I keep up with what George and Craig are doing through their blogs, but a host of other people from my past, including Fury, Luisa, and other friends from high school and other parts of my life have contacted me because they found my blog in Google or some other search engine.

Houses in motion

Charlottesville Daily Progress: Varsity Hall’s small trip a huge effort. Huge indeed: the University of Virginia’s one-time infirmary building, believed to be the first dedicated college infirmary, was picked up and moved 185 feet to make room for the new McIntyre School of Commerce building to adjoin Rouss Hall. The move was apparently broadcast over a live webcam (the picture now shows the new location, which the environmental impact statement describes as being on 15th Street at the site of the former Brugh House).

I’ll miss having Varsity Hall so close to the Lawn. I took a language poetry class from Tan Lin there during my last semester at UVA in a close upper room, and despite the poor ventilation and cramped quarters it was still an evocative space for me—particularly the way the building opened into the East Gardens.

“The way a small town disappears”

The Crozet Project is an ambitiously titled site that documents a small Virginia town in transition from its industrial and agricultural roots into another pocket of suburbia. With two main features currently—an exhibit of photos centered around the town’s Fourth of July parade and Fireman’s Carnival, and a series of photos, stories, and audio clips from interviews with the town’s volunteer fire department—it appears the site is just at the beginning of something profoundly interesting as a chronicle of a Virginia home town.

I missed the Virginia Glee Club at Wellesley on Saturday…

But there’s no reason you should do the same, not when the McIntyre Department sends out a snazzy RSSified press release about next Saturday’s concert in Charlottesville. (Nice photo, guys.) My Charlottesville readers (and I know there are a few): now is your chance. Break out your wallets! For a mere $10 ($5 for students), you get to hear one of the best men’s college choral groups with one of the best women’s college choral groups singing a great work by Haydn.

(In my day with the group, this would have been the weekend for the free lawn concert. I wonder when that changed?)

Presbyterian Ultimate Frisbee

ultimate frisbee revival

A few further notes about Saturday’s Ultimate Frisbee Revival match at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, which I mentioned in my last post. The photos tell part of the story, including the inexplicable appearance of a Presbyterian seminary student in a gorilla suit, infiltrators from West Virginia singing along to John Denver, and some nice action shots against the backdrop of Union’s campus.

The rest? Well, only a Presbyterian would laugh at the cheers of “Let’s go, Calvin, let’s go!” and similar attempts to cheer on the teams with theologians (my own contribution, “Bonhoeffer! Bonhoeffer! Sis Boom Bah!” met with stony silence). But the music (including the incongruous site of a full team of Union players descending for their opening kickoff to the strains of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”); the architecture of the campus, which ranges from the late 19th century chapel at one end of the quad to the campus library (in the converted old Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, and complete with a gargoyle of the long-time librarian); and the overall fantastic light and cheery spectators made for a great day. I’m still recovering from my mild sunburn but otherwise very pleased with the day.

Big congrats to David Paul, who visited us with Esta in January, as well as the other organizers of the match. If I had to pick just sixteen hours to spend visiting Esta and getting to know her classmates, I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

On the road again

I had a great visit with Esta. Don’t let anyone tell you seminarians don’t have fun. I have a bunch of photos of the first invitational Ultimate Frisbee Revival, featuring competition between Union PSCE, Louisville, Princeton, and Columbia (as well as Pittsburgh—thanks, Esta for the reminder).

Now I’m on the road again, back home—and, as Lisa is working in New York next week, the dogs are staying here with her parents.

I’m on the road a lot right now. I have a couple of classes a week that I teach for an SAT prep company, and they’re cutting a bit of a hole in my vacation. So now I’m heading back for a couple of days to take care of this week’s classes. After that, I’m not sure—but I might take advantage of the free doggie day care to do some other visiting. We’ll see…

If your fields need rain

…call me, and I’ll drive there. And it will rain.

Seriously, except for Tuesday, it’s rained every single driving day I’ve had. As the kids say, what up with that?

Today I’m heading to Richmond to hang with Esta and those wild seminary kids. I haven’t seen my sister in her new home digs, so this should be fun. Looking forward to crazy partying tonight.

In the meantime, enjoy these other photos from the road.

Hell is downloading MP3s over dialup.

Nuff said, really. I found I was getting that first-of-the-month-so-my-EMusic-account-has-reloaded-new-music-jones on Tuesday (yes, several days late—it’s been that kind of month, thankyouverymuch) and so tonight I decided heck with it, it’s after 10, I’m going to go to EMusic and download some stuff.

An hour later, what do I have to show for it? Two tracks. Out of 40. Doing that math, the download will be done sometime around dinner tomorrow.

Maybe I’ll just have to arrange a visit to the Asheville Starbucks—the only place around that I’m sure has WiFi—tomorrow to wrap things up.

(For the curious, I’m waiting for Sam Prekop’s eponymous release, Coldplay’s debut EP, Chet Baker’s Chet, disc 6 of Bill Evans’s The Last Waltz, and the Black Keys’s Thickfreakness. All of which should be fabulous if I can ever hear them.)

(Also for the curious and new readers, my parents only have dialup because (a) my dad only does email and (b) they can only get satellite, not cable and (c) satellite-based high-speed is pretty expensive for a retiree and (d) they’re pretty far out in the country so well out of range for DSL.)

Natural Bridge, Virginia

natural bridge

As a Virginian by accident of birth, rather than lineage (as my parents’ families were from the surrounding states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania), and as one raised in the “cradle of the Revolution” in the vicinity of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, I have conflicting impulses about historical sites in Virginia. The former impulse says that I should seek out those sites to understand the state in which I was born. The latter impulse says that I should shun the sites and their accompanying flood of hucksterism, sweaty tourists, and admission fees that have inexplicably kept pace with movie ticket prices.

So it is perhaps understandable that—until yesterday—I had never visited the Natural Bridge. Never mind that it was surveyed by George Washington and once owned by Thomas Jefferson, my initial-sake and revered father of The University. Just the fact that I saw billboards for it was enough to put me off. But, yesterday, as I drove down Interstate 81 through the Shenandoah Valley, halfway to my parents’ house, and talking to myself to keep alert, I realized three things:

  1. The site of the Natural Bridge was less than five miles off I-81, and the road it was on ran alongside the interstate—so I would lose no distance and little time getting to and from the site.
  2. I was driving by myself down that road and had a little flexibility in my schedule, and who knows when that might happen again.
  3. I had to use the restroom.

So I pulled off and drove up the road. I was amused to see that the first sign of the Bridge (apart from billboards) was a paddock of deer, grazing in the Natural Bridge Zoo—next to a sign for the Natural Bridge Wax Museum, and just prior to the Natural Bridge Antique Shop and Tool Museum. After a short drive, I pulled up to the imposing neo-plantation Natural Bridge Admissions and Gift Shop building, and stepped outside—and realized that it had been a while since I had experienced 80° weather.

I went inside, past the gift shop, and paid my $10 and went through the door and down the stairs—all 136 of them—to the gatehouse at the bottom of the hill, where the man took my ticket and pointed me around to the right. I stepped through and there, as they say, it was. It’s a massive stone vault or arch that has been carved through by the rather innocuous stream running through the base, and—even with rows of benches permanently installed for the special “Drama of Creation” nightly shows and the sound system mounted on the far side at the top—it’s pretty darned spectacular. My pictures, I’m afraid, do it no justice at all.

Approaching the bridge and looking up, you feel something of the awe inspired by gazing up inside a large cathedral, only this arch was massive and carved over the millennia by water, not craftsmen. The echo under it is pretty spectacular, though I didn’t really test it out too thoroughly.

At any rate, I spent a few minutes walking around and taking pictures—and noting the 19th century names carved in the rock beside the walkway. (Apparently even graffiti was done with an eye to quality then—note the serifs!) Then I began the long climb back up and to the car, avoiding the blandishments of the giftshop (though I was tempted by the custom-label wines from Barboursville, my favorite Virginia winery—and another Thomas Jefferson connection). As I drove back out to the interstate, I realized that I was driving across the top of the bridge—and that the maintainers of the site had built high wooden barriers across the top to keep pedestrians and drivers from getting a free peek.

I highly recommend the bridge as a leg stretcher, provided you can keep a sense of humor about the hucksterism. One does get some of the sense of awe that Jefferson must have felt on discovering the scale of nature’s operations in Virginia, and even gift shops can’t detract from that.

Discoveries I’ve made in the last 72 hours

  1. It is possible to drive five hours, teach a class, answer email, pack, sleep, grade papers, have a job interview, drive a long distance, teach another class, drive to New Jersey, sleep, and drive to North Carolina in the span of two and a half days.
  2. …. That’s it, really.
  3. Except to note that there’s not a lot between Providence, RI and New Haven, CT when you’re driving along I-95 between the two points at 10 PM. (Or, one suspects, at other times.)
  4. And that you aren’t allowed to take pictures from the top deck of the George Washington Bridge.
  5. And that even slow music can keep you awake if you play it really loud.
  6. And that the Natural Bridge is worth a look if you’ve never been.
  7. And that April in Virginia and North Carolina sometimes means 80° days. (I knew that, but had forgotten it.)
  8. And that a memory-card-enabled printer and a USB flash memory keychain drive make an acceptable, if dog-slow, workaround to get your photos if you left your camera’s cable at home.
  9. And that lists are fun.
  10. And that I have no idea what has been happening for the last two days and I should really go to bed.

Traveling light

Lisa and I decided that I should take advantage of some quiet time here in Arlington to go on the road. Naturally, as soon as we made the decision my scheduled filled up with other activities. The end result: I drove Lisa and the dogs down to her parents yesterday; drove back today; drove out to Westborough for some errands tonight; am doing some interviews tomorrow, then driving down to Mattapoisett for other work tomorrow evening; driving from there back to my inlaws in New Jersey, arriving about 1:30 a.m.; then driving from there to my folks. Followed, hopefully, by several days of doing nothing.

Christopher O’Riley: Hold Me To This

christopher o'riley hold me to this

Depending on your turn of mind, Christopher O’Riley’s first album of classical piano transcriptions of Radiohead songs, True Love Waits, was either brilliant or soporific. The album, featuring faithful two-hand renditions of a set of Radiohead classics, was quite a feat from a transcription standpoint, creating playable works that evoked the harmonic and rhythmic complexities of the originals. I was among the camp that found it soporific, unfortunately. After all, instrumental covers of Radiohead are nothing new—jazz piano virtuoso Brad Mehldau has been including brilliant, imaginative improvisations on “Exit Music (For a Film)” and “Everything In Its Right Place” in his sets and on recordings for years. And after a while, “True Love Waits” seems like one sameness after another.

So I approached O’Riley’s follow-up, Hold Me To This, with some trepidation. The formula here is the same, but the songs are different—and that improves the product. Unlike the first recording, where all but one of the 15 tracks appeared on one of Radiohead’s albums, over a third of Hold Me To This is devoted to tracks culled from B-sides. The relative obscurity of the material seems somehow to make for better music; instead of slavish transcriptions, O’Riley adapts the material more freely, with occasionally stunning results. He also wisely eschews the studio versions of some songs in favor of transcriptions of the concert arrangements, such as “Like Spinning Plates.” The back-masking and tape loops that blurred the edges of the original song give way to an arpeggiated introduction reminiscent of the Moonlight Sonata, against which the vocal melody is set off in block chords.

If there is a criticism of the arrangements themselves, it is of their busyness. O’Riley compensates for the two-handed nature of the piano by filling in missing voices with open-voiced runs and arpeggios. Too often this approach yields a harmonically accurate overload of undifferentiated hemidemisemiquavers. When O’Riley allows some space between the notes, as in “Talk Show Host,” “Sail to the Moon,” or the aforementioned “Like Spinning Plates,” the result is like drawing a deep breath. While the charge of “busyness” could just as easily be levied at Radiohead’s original arrangements, O’Riley has some options for simplification that he too rarely uses.

Ultimately, “Hold Me To This” succeeds better than it deserves to as a standalone album. O’Riley’s formidable technique and intricate arrangements never quite recede far enough into the background to let the listener get totally immersed in the music, but there are pleasures to be had in appreciating formidable technique and intricate arrangements, too.

Oh, and that “soporific” thing I mentioned at the beginning? It helps to turn the volume way up.

(Originally published at BlogCritics.)