Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Royal Announcement
Puggingham Palace

HM's Birthday Celebrations

Today, we celebrate the 9th birthday of Puggles Duchess Windsor, Queen of Pugs, Supreme Ruler of Alaska, Princess Royal of Baltimore Place, Grand Duchess of Missouri, Grand Duchess of Kansas City and St Louis, Duchess of Illinois, Duchess of Clinton, Baroness Pugtona, Royal Order of the Greenie and Treat, Grand Order of the Scrunchie, Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kibble, Patroness of the Royal Pugharmonic Orchestra.

By Royal Decree, all Pugs in PugVillage, Alaska, Kansas City, all places mentioned above and everywhere HM sees and rules will get extra treats in honor of the Royal Birth.

HM will be spending the day at the Palace, receiving guests and reading birthday wishes from all over the world. Later this PM, after a photo shoot from Lord Snowpug, she has ordered the Limo to take her to the Three Dog Bakery for her only public appearance and to receive her customary Birthday Big Scary Kitty Cookies.

We wish HM many more birthdays and a most happy one today.
~ Palace Communications

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sir Thomas Beecham

Pato notes today the birthday of British conductor and musician Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961)in St Helen's England. Beecham was a major influence on the musical life of Britain through his founding of two orchestras (Royal Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic), advocacy of British music, and his support of British opera companies such as Covent Garden and Drury Lane.

He was also a bit of a "bon mot" and held many of his colleagues in low esteem while holding others in high regard. There was no middle ground with Sir Thomas...whether you are speaking of opinions about him or ones he held about others.

I note his birth, not so much with his musical legacy but with some of his quotes:

"The sound of a harpsichord - two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm."

In the first movement alone, I took note of six pregnancies and at least four miscarriages." Sir Thomas on Bruckner's Seventh Symphony

"What can you do with it? It's like a lot of yaks jumping about." Sir Thomas commenting on Beethoven's Seventh Symphony

Sir Thomas was once asked if he had played any Stockhausen. "No," he replied, "but I have trodden in some."

"Madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands and all you can do is scratch it." Sir Thomas to a lady cellist..Imagine if he had said that today!

"We cannot expect you to be with us all the time, but perhaps you could be good enough to keep in touch now and again." Sir Thomas speaking to a musician during a rehearsal

"Her singing reminds me of a cart coming downhill with the brake on." Sir Thomas on an unidentified soprano in Die Walküre

Beecham met a lady whom he recognised but whose name he couldn't remember. After some preliminaries about the weather, and desperately racking his memory, he asked how she was.

"Oh, very well, but my brother has been rather ill lately."
"Ah, yes, your brother. I'm sorry to hear that. And, er, what is your brother doing at the moment?"
"Well... he's still King," replied Princess Mary.

Some of these, over time, have been found to be apocryphal, but are none the less great fun!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Whiskey and Car Keys

Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys ~ P.J. O'Rourke

I could not agree more these days. Although the original context of this quote is likely rooted in O'Rourke's usual anti-leftist, libertarian philosophy, I mean it as a criticism of the amateur cowboys running (ruining as well) this county (see post below for example) and our soon to be gone Boy-Gov here in Missouri.

Let's hope for better.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wherefore Wert You John??

Presumptive Republican Nominee John McCain visited New Orleans and saw for himself that Republican nonsense and criminal behavior still has poor citizens of the area living in squalor. Mc Cain, seeking to distance himself from the Bush crime, dared to criticize the Emperor saying there were "unqualified people in charge, there was a total misreading of the dimensions of the disaster, there was a failure of communications."

Did he mention his vote against aid for the area??? NO

He did say if it were up to him, he would have landed his plane at the nearest airport and come over personally. Bush just flew over.

BUT! Did he mention that one of the things Bush did while New Orleans sank was to come out to Arizona and give Mc Cain a big birthday cake???

Of course not.

They are both criminals in my book.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Despite a faltering economy (thanks George) and cheap-ass folks bitching about paying for parking taking its toll, the new downtown Kansas City Power and Light District, not quite finished, seems to be doing ok, thank you.

Conceived in the heady days of the new Sprint Center hopefully attracting NBA basketball, NFL Hockey or some kind of steady anchor, the new complex of restaurants and clubs has had a somewhat stressful birth. But from the looks of things on a cool, cloudy but pleasant Thursday night with nothing scheduled at the Arena, the doomsday people are off the mark for now.

Gerry and I were heading for Thai but found them closed for a party. We decided to walk the block up the street and check out the place.

Raglan Road, an Irish restaurant and pub looked busy, as did Famous Dave's BBQ place and Ted's Montana Grill. Most of the restaurants have an outdoor area or large windows that open to mix the indoor and outdoor crowd. Gerry said we should try the new Chefburger restaurant, a creation of a local restaurateur who has made a name for himself with more upscale venues.

The place was packed, again boding well for the future of the district. Chefburger is a dangerous place for people like me who can not make up their mind on what to order. There are literally tons of choices for the All-American burger, but I understand the build your own concept that was initially advertised was scuttled upon opening. Large grilled sourdough buns and every topping and sauce imaginable plus the regular suspect sides of fries and onion rings (really good)are joined by fried green beans, sweet potato fries, garlic fries and big waffle fries. I opted for my favorite and was not disappointed, a yummy swiss and mushroom with grilled onions. Done perfect as were the aforementioned onion rings. Gerry had a classic patty melt and was quite happy as well.

Nestled in a courtyard but accessible from Walnut, the restaurant is all about "urban chic" meaning steel and glass, high ceilings and everything in the open. The design made for a nice bright open space, but contributed to the almost unbearable noise level. Combined with the chef calling out "Don??? Hungry yet?? Your order is hot and ready for YOU!", the omnipresent din quickly got on my nerves.

Westport Flea Market serves just as good a burger, and is 1000 times funkier and interesting. Therein lies the deal, will people go to the trouble of going downtown for the same thing, paying to park, walking to their venue?

The place is not even finished yet and the nay-sayers are out in force. I for one will do it, just to keep the urban lifestyle in business. We all can't live in the burbs, and I for one do not really want to. Frankly, KC is big enough for them all.

1350 Walnut
Kansas City, MO 64108

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What Did They Say?

Data released by a congressional committee shows that the number of soldiers admitted to the Army with felony records jumped from 249 in 2006 to 511 in 2007. And the number of Marines with felonies rose from 208 to 350.



Early on Monday, our increasingly irrelevant Boy-Gov called for the death penalty for child rapists. Missouri would join such great bastions of freedom and enlightenment as Iran, Saudi Arabia, China and Singapore in executing people who have not otherwise taken someone's life.

Later that same day a press release:

"Gov. Blunt Praises House Passage of Legislation Supporting Life"

Can you say '"hypocrisy"?? Sure you can. (apologies to the late Mr. Rogers)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Coupl'a Things IV

1) I treated myself to a dinner out at Culver's tonight. It is a fast food restaurant but one with a particularly wonderful fish sandwich. YUM! Something a little different from the usual fare, and I was not in the mood to fix any dinner.

So here I am waiting for them to bring it to me and a lady and two kids show up to sit behind me. Oh joy. One kid is a girl about 6 and the other a toddler boy. Of course as soon as my dinner shows up, the boy begins to whine, bang on the back of the booth and become a nuisance. Mom finally corrals the little buck in a chair which clearly is not in his plans. When their food arrives, he wants a french fry but mom is saying he has to have a bite of the sandwich first.


He screams enough to stop everyone from talking.

Mom coos "eat a bit of your, then a fry." Sister is happy yapping and eating away while mom focuses on her baby bro.


et. al.

I get up and move. Mom looks at me as if I am being rude. I take what is left of my dinner and eat it in the car. At least no kids there.

It hit me as I sat in the safe cocoon of my auto, this must be a Kansas suburb mom from Cupcake land (we were right in the neighborhood) and this is how spoiled, demanding, selfish Republicans are made. Right from childhood. It has to be so.

2) A piece in the KC Star today had the Mo DOT flunkies whining about not enough inmates to do trash pick up on highways. WTF?!

Our "injustice system" and "persecutors" love to mete out jail time for just about everything anymore. The number of non-violent inmates has skyrocketed. These people would probably love the opportunity to get out and do something productive.

I think there is a different reason:

1) too many of the new inmates are Republican wrong do-ers and of course would not dream of having to do menial work. It is probably in their contracts they get from the administration in exchange for serving time.

2) Boy-Gov and his crooks have a stake in the "private contractors" who do some of the pick up.

Meanwhile, I am writing my state Rep and Senator to complain.

3) I have started going to a new church. I have been a disgruntled member of my old church for a while now and decided to take the plunge. My old church, which I have not totally abandoned, has just slid down the path to mediocrity and irrelevance.

When one slides into negativity, complaining about everything and generally dreading doing something, it is time to make a change. Life is too short. So I have found a new place. I know some people there, the minister is great, concise, good speaker and keeps the service going forward. One of my complaints about my old church was that the services drug on and on and on and on. Slow, boring, repetitive. And what law says we have to sing every damn verse of a hymn, all the time. Services were getting to be an hour and a half long. I remember my old training mantra, the mind can absorb only what the butt can endure.

Well, my well padded ass endureth little.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring Has Sprung

Spring is here, Spring is here, life is skittles and life is beer. ~ Tom Lehrer

I love this time of the year. Trees in bloom, grass a soft, glowing emerald green, flowers peeking out from the brush, the earth becoming alive from the dead of winter.

Yesterday was perfect, 60's to lower 70's in temperature, a cool steady rain with an occasional boom of thunder and wind to remind us nature is really in charge. The Bradford pear trees in full bloom along Broadway, in Westport and in our front yard. A sea of delicate white blossoms, soon to float to the ground creating the illusion of an April snow. Puggles enjoys the soft green grass and the return of her beloved birds. Walks in the park are frequent as the cool, less humid air is just right for her.

It won't last forever, but in my juvenile mind, I wish it would. By July, the relentless sun and heat will turn much of the grass brown, the trees begin to look stressed, the concrete becomes a furnace. At the Palace, we spend a small fortune keeping the yard watered, an island of green surrounded by the starker reality of summer.

Maybe we do create our own illusion of eternal spring here at the corner of 38th and Baltimore. If you have enough money, you can do that.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

460s and 4 Barrels Forever!

There is nothing, I repeat nothing, like the power and sound of a big, 4bbl carburetted, pushrod, American, cast iron V8 engine. Most newer cars have engines with more horsepower than sense; big numbers from V6, fuel injected, multi valved, aluminum, overhead cam, hemi head, front drive, fuel efficient, massaged and complex powerplants.

But they have no soul.

My friend Steve left town for love, and that is a story in and of itself. Suffice to say his house is still unsold and furniture and appliances remain as well. Also left behind, due to a small mechanical malfunction (stuck open sunroof), is his 1978 Lincoln Mark V. I go to the house occasionally to check the place out, air it out a bit and start the Mark to keep it up and going.

She is a big girl. 230 inches long (19 ft), 4600 lbs dry, more when the 25 gal gas tank is full (think of it... more than $80 to fill the tank now), 120 inches between the wheels and a hood long enough to land a small plane. All cream yellow, inside and out. A big Cartier clock and speedometer suffice for gauges.

Since it was a nice, sunny and breezy day, I decided that the old Mark needed some exercise. She was a bit reluctant to start, having sat for a few weeks, but when the carb was full, she lit off and burbled to a low growl, content to lazily turn forever. Since the sunroof is 1/2 out, I tucked in the headliner so I could see out the back, tucked Puggles in the seat and off we went.

Like a locomotive, the big 460 Cubic Inch (no liters here, but if you insist 7.5 liters) propels the beast with grace and force-of-nature-like power. No high pitched whine or whirring, no fan noise, just a low grumbling, rumbling power that tells you 210 smog choked horses and 357 ft/lbs of torque are working for you right off the bat. Newer engines make that power in their upper range when they are furiously working, chains, cams and valves whirring. A 460 is just being lazy.

After making sure she was up and running well by touring the subdivision streets, we ventured into traffic, dwarfing many of the plastic disposable Toyotas and holding her own against the SUV crowd. Gracefully accelerating up the fairly clear avenue, the old girl showed she still could command the road. People moved out of the way, in case the massive hood, formal Rolls like grille and patrician hood ornament would sweep them out of the way in a roar of yellow power. A few glanced at us, not having seen a big old Lincoln like this in a while.

The big lady enjoyed her outing, never missing a beat. Now snug in her garage, she awaits another romp and eventually, her return as Queen of the Boulevard.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

HR Lays Dead and Dying

Ok, it is time to admit it, when profits are down and the investors scream they need to make 20 million instead of 17 million and, well... have you seen what a new Bentley costs?? Human Resource departments typically get cut first, and get cut hard.

Home Depot has announced it is decimating its HR staff and eliminating store based HR managers. The HR function will now be handled by regional teams and a call center to answer technical questions. Reports indicate over 2200 well paid HR positions will go poof once everything is shook out. In doing that, Home Depot says it can add new $10/hr floor jobs in its stores. Gee, maybe a second check out???

HR is slowly dying as an exciting and viable career, reduced to call centers and paper filers. Hearing this made me personally glad I didn't get that HR job at Home Depot a few years ago (A Trip to Home Depot) as I would now be looking for work in a scary job market.

I worked in HR for nearly 15 years and loved almost every minute of it. When my company ceased talking about quality services, employee satisfaction and customer service and concentrated instead on "the best interests of our stakeholders", I knew it was time to leave. I did and never looked back. I drifted to other HR jobs, always getting the raw end of the deal, responsible for everything, but no authority to do anything about it.

In this "stakeholder" driven economy, where a few rich investors are the only things a company cares about, employees are nothing, especially managers with good salaries and benefits. When I applied to Home Depot, a store HR manager was starting at about $50K. Now there are 2200 less people making good money to pay taxes and buy Home Depot merchandise. I wonder what is going to happen when we are all reduced to making $10/hr or less, trying to sell each other a Big Mac and waiting to be an Assistant Manager making $11/hr?

People are still needed to run a company, despite the stakeholder's ideas to the contrary.
It all boils down to the human element. Good people always overcome poor planning, inefficient processes and obsolete equipment. Dedicated employees retain customers, even if your product or service is not the least costly or even the best. So why is Human Resources, the primary function responsible for hiring and retention, always the first to go?

Short sided thinking only concerned for profit, return on investment for a few and concentration of wealth for the bankers and "stakeholders" who trickle down a bit to the masses now and then. Cheap credit has made the middle class think they are on the same gravy train. But when one of the wage earners comes home and says they no longer have the $50K job, the train begins to derail.

I am done with HR. I entertained thoughts now and then about looking for a good HR position, but they are few. I have been really out of the field since 2003 so I am as good as last week's newspaper as far as most companies are concerned. I used to subscribe to a daily online HR newsletter to sort of keep up with the trends. The subscription now is canceled, it was just clogging up my inbox.

For all those to be laid off, there is life after HR, but it will be a rough ride for a while. Good luck.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Kansas City Symphony: Jeremy Denk and Sibelius

The Kansas City Symphony and Music Director Michael Stern offered a slightly less ambitious program this weekend in contrast to last week's east meets west/journey to the stars program. Pianist Jeremy Denk joined the orchestra for the Mozart Rondo in D K 382 and Richard Strauss' rarely heard "Burleske" for Piano and Orchestra. Bartok's luscious Divertimento for Strings opened with the Sibelius Symphony # 1 comprising the last half.

The Bartok, like many of his compositions, is a reflection of his turbulent life and times. Written just before the beginning of WWII while in neutral and safe Switzerland. While not immune to what was transpiring around him, Bartok probably did not realize he would soon be forced to leave his beloved Hungary forever. The sunnier Hungarian influenced outer movements contrast with a dark and ominous central slow movement full of stark chordal processions and funeral atmosphere.

The Symphony strings relished this slow movement, bringing out the astringent harmonies and nervous energy always threatening to overwhelm the melodic line. The outer two movements however, were too light in texture, too soft-hued and slack for Bartok. I like my Bartok gritty and brimming with the paprika tinged, elastic Hungarian rhythms and I missed this to a degree. Some fine solo work from the violins and violas abounded in all three movements.

I was not familiar with Jeremy Denk and thus was pleased to hear him in concert. He is a pianist of exceptional technique and musicality, able to tackle the panoply of notes and rhythms of the Strauss yet also spin a delicate, almost romantic Mozart melody. However, he is one of those pianists with a touch of showmanship that can be distracting. He is better heard and not watched, his mannerisms, such as conducting the orchestra and "Schroderesque" facial expressions can get in the way of his musical communication.

The delicious Rondo in D K 382 was dispatched by all with grace and delicacy but with a touch more romanticism than is often the norm, which is all right by me. The Strauss was a grand, almost dramatic affair, with the witty burleske element always ready to burst out. This lively parody of serious piano concerti lay unappreciated for years and still shows up on concerts infrequently. For me, it was one of Strauss' gems I came to admire from the monumental Rudolf Kempe set of complete Strauss orchestral works in the 70's. Finally hearing it live in a wonderful performance was a treat.

The final work, Sibelius' rich and powerful first Symphony was given, what else can I say, a rich and powerful reading as befitting its stature. The brass, long a sore point with the orchestra, were spot on, blending well with the wind heavy writing and never overwhelming. When called upon, they emerged golden and commanding from the tapestry. Well chosen tempi, a driving, breathtaking scherzo, incredibly beautiful clarinet solos by Michael Wayne and a perfect realization of Sibelius' slowly emerging climaxes made this one of the best all around performances from this group yet.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Hospitality Lesson

I have been a little harsh on my dear little country of Nicaragua lately. I always am after a visit. You can see I am conflicted; there is so much to love, so much that is different and fresh, even a lot that is old fashioned. Then there is the corruption, the raping of the country by the left and the right, North Americans, Europeans and fellow Central and South Americans (yes I am speaking of you Hugo). I guess I want to believe it is a paradise, that everything is beautiful, everyone is having a beautiful life, that my friends there are happy.

And many are. One of the staff at the hotel in San Juan del Sur got married to a Spanish lady and went off to Barcelona. "It was hell", he told me. "Big, crazy, noisy, expensive, I came back here." He found there really is no place like home.

My travel partner Bruce was amazed at the place; as a first time visitor, he was taking it all in.

"My GOD!", he exclaimed in Managua one afternoon, "I have not seen that in years!" Bayardo was taking us around town and had stopped to fill his car with gas. "Uniformed gas station attendants, have not seen one of them since I was a kid". Sure enough, every Texaco station has uniformed attendants to pump your gas. Clean, pressed uniforms, worn proudly. Nicas have a pride in their work and in cleanliness, despite the trash that litters the streets. Trash collection can be spotty sometimes. The country has the cleanest dirt in the world, it is not uncommon to see someone sweeping the dirt outside their home, making sure all the leaves and trash are picked up.

Bruce, Hector, Bayardo and I went to a gay nightclub in Managua our last night there. The place was nice, in a good area and looked to be fun. Inside it was not fancy, but had cold beer, good music, a nice dance floor and a good crowd of people for being somewhat early in the evening.

For the non-gay readers, a lesson in gay bars is in order. Here in the US, when a fat old Queen like me enters a gay bar, the crowd looks to see who came in and when noticing I am not a young stud, they turn to back to their drinks and ignore me. That is why I avoid the places like a plague.

At Club Tabu, it was different. People greeted us; "welcome"! "Would you like to dance?" When Bruce, Hector and Bayardo and I began to dance, many joined us, switching partners, cheering us, "great dancer Gringo!" one called to me as I showed that I can still move. I felt more at home there than I ever had a bar here.

You see, hospitality and community are still prevalent. Nicaragua is still a front porch society, people gather in the streets, sidewalks and porches to talk, watch a communal TV, play and eat. Even in sprawling, crazy Managua, you can go to the corner Pulperia and get all the neighborhood news and just about any item you want. A stranger is not a threat, but someone to welcome.

One of my favorite treats in Nicaragua is the weekend Nacatamale. A huge cornmeal tamale stuffed with spiced pork, rice, potato, raisins, and sometimes olives and wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. I bought two from Angelita and took them back to the hotel Bruce and I were staying in Managua. I asked the young lady in the hotel if I could get two forks as a friend had made us Nacatamales. She got us a couple and I was happy to eat my treat in its leaf.

No, not to be in my hotel, the young lady thought. Soon plates, napkins, coffee and juice appeared. She could not bear her guests to eat like common folk, we were guests for Christ's sake.

Try getting service like that in a $60/night hotel in the states. Or having a Texaco pump your gas for you.

Maybe we are missing something after all.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Beautiful Life? part 2

It was a typical evening at Nacascolo Bay just outside San Juan del Sur Nicaragua in late February. April and her son, mother and 4 employees were closing up their restaurant for the evening. For April, the restaurant and garden hotel was a wonderful investment, quiet, scenic, away from the hustle of the town but blessed with a breathtaking view of the bay and the ocean beyond.

Eight armed assailants quietly entered the compound, knocked out the guard on duty at the hotel, entered the restaurant and changed April and her family's life forever.

Taking everyone captive, including the family dog, the gunmen drank the restaurants supply of liquor, ate and then terrorized the captive family and employees. One of the guards was beaten severely, the other and his wife kept silent that their two young children were sleeping in their apartment in the compound. April had her throat wounded by a knife, she watched as the gunmen held a gun to the head of her 14 year old son, they stood helpless as the beaten guard bled and became unconscious.

Early on the morning of February 25th, the armed men forced everyone into a hotel vehicle where they took them 30 kilometers away to the municipality of Potosí near Rivas and parked in front of a sugar cane field. They thought it was over. But luck finally smiled and a police car noticed the activity and investigated, the kidnappers fled into the dark cane fields.

Sadly, for April the biggest nightmare was yet to come. The kidnapped family and employees then went to the Rivas hospital and one of the guards reported the incident to the police.

The police could care less.

The police did not even search for those responsible. April gets visibly angry when she recalls finding an identification card of one of the kidnappers that had been dropped in the hotel. The police have not even arrested this man.

The Rivas police said that they were very busy with their Semana Santa Coverage Plan (Holy Week, the week before Easter is basically a national holiday in Nicaragua) but a quick glance at the calendar will show Holy Week was then three full weeks away, so they were not able to get to this case fully, but now that it is over they are going to search for the criminals with full force and put them behind bars.

Yeah right.

Too late for April, she is leaving. She hates the place, hates her hotel, wishes she had never set foot there. The place is for sale, but she is not abandoning it, she is selling on her terms, she will leave when she is ready. The restaurant re opened for a bit, but she and her family will be traveling a bit in the meanwhile. Anywhere but home.

The police know who did it, they are scared to do anything about it. They don't even act like they care. The other rich gringos in the area tell her to get over it and keep quiet, you are scaring away the investors. The look of sadness and betrayal in her eyes at that statement speaks volumes.

"Nicaragua is a fucked up country and it seems to enjoy being so", said my friend Grant in Managua. He should know, he has lived there for 20 some years. Corruption is rampant, the government inept, Daniel Ortega has degenerated in to as shameful a raper of the country as Aleman and Somoza.

Beyond the palms and sunsets, sweet smooth rum and delectable fish lies a more violent, corrupt Nicaragua. It doesn't scare me away, but saddens me that again the country is sliding into the morass of corruption and a divided society,one with everything and one with nothing.

I am confident April will find her beautiful life... sadly it will not be in Nicaragua.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Kansas City Symphony, "Earth and Stars"

The Earth... Elements: rock, air water. The Earth... People: diverse, ancient, artistic. The Earth... a mere speck in the cosmos.

Thus was the heady and fascinating theme of this weekend's Kansas City Symphony program that I caught this Sunday. The ambitious program consisted of the rarely heard Suite Symphonique from "Les Elements" by French baroque composer Jean-Fery Rebel, Concerto for Pipa and Strings by Lou Harrison, "King Chou Doffs His Armour" for Pipa and Orchestra by Zhou Long and The Planets By Gustav Holst.

Rebel and his music was totally unfamiliar to me. This 25 min long suite, scored for double piccolos, flutes, oboes and bassoons with strings and continuo, is a suite of dances derived from the opening movement "Chaos", evoking air, water and earth in all its forms.

"Chaos" is extraordinary for its opening tone clusters (all the notes in a D minor scale) that would not be out of place in any 20th century composition. From that violent beginning, the suite unfolds, culminating in a delicious "Tamborins I and II" movement, a tour de force of acceleration as the small orchestra danced its way to a frenetic end. The "Air Ramage" movement charmed with its ribbons of sound from the strings and winds, streaming in the breeze. Most of the other dances were not really memorable and somewhat repetitive. A bit long and probably not really necessary as part of this concert, but certainly worth a dusting off now and then to show that there is more to the French baroque than Couperin and Lully.

Pipa virtuoso Wu Man owns the following two works and has almost singlehandedly brought the pipa (an ancient Chinese lute-like instrument) into the fore. Lou Harrison's charming Concerto for Pipa and Strings, is every bit a Lou Harrison creation. Composed in 1997 it consists of 2 large movements and a series of "bits and pieces" as a middle movement suite. One bit is a humorous dialog between the pipa, cello and double bass, played entirely by knocking on the wood of the instruments, another is a lyrical orchestra interlude. The audience enthusiastically responded to her obvious viruosity and the communicative power of this delicately flavored work.

Kansas City resident Zhou Long's "King Chu Doffs His Armour" is a much more powerful work, a spicy Szechuan dish to the delicate Mandarin Harrison. Scored for a full orchestra and pipa, it is based on a folk song tale of Xiang Yu, king of Chu and his defeat in battle. Again Wu Man's brilliant command of her instrument communicated the tale in vivid color and rhythm, demonstrating the ancient instrument's ability to hold its own against a modern orchestra.

The last half belonged to Holst's popular orchestral suite "The Planets". Excellent playing abounded from the winds and brass including the odd additions of bass oboe and bass flute, both of which could be heard through the vivid orchestral fabric. Mars was powerfully war-like, Saturn was ponderous and monumental, Mercury fleet and.. well...mercurial. We could have used a more vulgar organ glissando in Uranus and the concluding women's chorus in Neptune was simply too distant and muddy. Otherwise a well controlled and well played performance.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Yeah, it is a cliche .... but it is so damn true.

I am finally home after a leisurely trip to Nicaragua. I was so lazy, I didn't even blog much. I have the rest of April's story to tell, nightlife in Managua, a KC Symphony concert to review from this PM, plenty to keep me busy.

But getting home is what is on my mind now. Air travel is nothing but a nightmare anymore. If I was rich, I would spend my fortune on chartered jets just to avoid the hassle. Once a grand adventure and even pleasant in coach class, air travel now is designed for no other reason to torture the passengers.

Service sucks.
Planes are cramped.
Nothing is on time.
No one explains or talks to you when there is a problem.
Airports are huge obstacle courses designed to confuse and exhaust.
Prices are up up up.
You are assumed to be a terrorist or a smuggler until proven otherwise.... this time.
Passengers have no qualms about making their flight more comfortable, at your expense.

Yeah, you can tell it was a rough ride up. Starting with the now expensive taxi ride to the airport in Managua (used to be $5-7 now up to $15 plus tip, gas is out of sight there) the voyage home was a challenge from the very start. The flight was overbooked and the line was long. It seems some people, despite being far from home, do not travel much and never read the rules. Bags over size, over weight, surfboards, paper flowers.... liquids, whatever... all argued about with the harried ground staff.

Hearing "overbooked" put me immediately in the panic mode. I wanted to go home, it was time. When I am on my way home, get outta the way. I morph into a homing pigeon and neither rain, snow or surly airlines will get in my way. I thought we were ok, until they began to ask again for volunteers even after we were seated. Some did, and thus the exodus of old and arrival of new passengers began. Bags put on, bags removed, new ones in their place. Took over an hour. Finally in the air, and homeward bound, seat secure, I felt a bit more at ease.

Nicaragua is still very poor, thus it is a prime destination for church groups to meddle and do some feel good projects. But since the country has become more of a tourist destination, infrastructure is better and become relatively safe, the church groups are no longer composed of just the adventurous and hardy, but chock full of kids. A whole damn herd of them were in front of me, giggling, bouncing, singing, taking pictures like they were on a damn field trip bus to the rival town football game. The 74th time the brat flashed her camera flash in my face, I bellowed for her to please refrain from the activity. From her look, you would of thought I told her to fuck herself... but she got the message.

All was tolerable aboard our Boeing made flying prison, until we got close to Atlanta. Rain, delays, holding pattern... but not to worry...yet.. we had a 3 1/2 hr layover. Finally landing, we sat on the tarmac and waited, our gate given away since we appeared to not want it.

Time slipped by and I was beginning to get anxious. This homing pigeon was not too thrilled about roosting as a guest in someone else's porch that night. We got in and thankfully immigration was not too bad, officially back in the USA, safe and sound thanks to the TSA, INS and our government's best at work.

Baggage claim was a war zone. We waited almost 45 min for the bags to arrive, no one telling us what the problem was. Passengers, formally just stupid, became unglued. Bags in hand I then rushed through customs, thankfully not asking me about anything I bought. I always bring back too much liquor and despite my nervous face, they always let me pass.

If baggage claim was a war zone, then baggage recheck was Hiroshima. People screaming, crying, what is happening??? No one telling anyone any reason for the mess, just barking orders. Chaos rained. I did as instructed by the pushy, surly and I am sure as frustrated as I was baggage fellow and pushed my red bag into the sea of luggage, waving it a forlorn good bye as if a loved one was going off to war, not sure if I would ever see it again or in the same shape. So long, brave son.

The 3 1/2 hour layover was all but consumed by the whirlwind of anxiety and thus we got from terminal E to terminal B with only moments to spare. I was exhausted, sweaty; adrenalin pumping, I was sure not to relax on the flight or even sleep when I got home.


Luck was no lady tonight, she was a roaring bitch. The man sitting next to me was all happy and chatty, a sure annoyance for me as I was not in the mood to hear see, smell or communicate in any way with another human being. Period, paragraph.

"40 to 19". He told all in earshot and me as well, showing me a screen on an hand held communication device that had print and buttons too small for me to see. I assumed it to be a sports score but the unusual spread confused me.

"What is that, a football score?"

"Silly!! (but his face read "oh my God") KU and North Carolina..the Final Four, my son is sending me updates on my Blackberry."

He was all but sure I was from another planet or worse just released from Solitary at Sing Sing. Explaining I had been out of the US for a bit did some to help allay his fears about my planetary residence or my parole status. Deciding I was safe, he began to yap but thankfully he could not negotiate his digital camera and show me his pictures from New York, otherwise I would be heading to the Pen.

The flight to KC was the only one on time and actually halfway pleasant. The passengers were thrilled to hear that KU won, I was thrilled to know I was home.

Of course our bags were not there so we had to make a claim for them. B had both of his delayed so he had no keys to his car or to his house. His condo door man would let him in so he was spared the ignominy of having to stay at a hotel so close to being home.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I could count on the loyalty and reliability of two of my greatest treasures; the Queen Mary started right up and took us home in style and Puggles, upon seeing me, wagged her little pug butt so hard that the energy powered a city block.

Home Sweet Home.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Beautiful Life? Part 1

It is a typical Tuesday, here at the bar "La Cascada" at Pelican Eyes in San Juan del Sur. As I sip a Nica Libre (Flor di Cana rum, coke and a lime), Juan Carlos is opening a huge jar of cherries with an outsized knife. A "Bahama Mamma (virgin)" is in the works. Natalie and I quip that there are no virgin mammas in the Bahamas for damn sure. The joke goes over his head....but Durley understands and shares in our giggles.

A languid humidity settles over us all, the sun beats mercilessly, the AM clouds chased away on the brisk east wind. The sea sparkles. It is still the dry season and the surrounding hills are brown and tinder dry. A few sprinkles of green belie the fact that in fact this has been a rainy dry season.

Almost 3PM, all I have done is eat, go to the post office, swim, eat, drink and now sit at the bar and drink and play on the computer. It is "A Beautiful Life" as the eponymous song on the muzak reminds me.

Or is it?

Yet below.... corruption, poverty, lack of infrastructure, violence, is rampant. Just ask April, whose story I will tell soon. She is getting out of here as fast as she can....she has the resources to do so. That was not the plan when she came to this "paradise", now for her and her family a living hell.

A story I may be sorry for telling. It is not popular. It disturbs the money class here. But it is worth the risk... stay tuned.