Saturday, May 30, 2009

Kansas City Symphony: Peter Serkin and Shostakovich

The 2008-2009 Kansas City Symphony season is drawing to a close, with just the remainder of this weekend's Subscription concerts, the all Britten program next Thursday and then the annual Symphony in the Flint Hills concert in June. This has been a quieter season than in the past. More standard repertoire to help ensure a full house and less new music. From my vantage point, the box office was good and the audience getting younger. Hopefully, the KC symphony will continue to buck the trend of many cities and continue to support a vibrant orchestra. The new Kaufman Fine Arts Center is on track for 2010-2011 and will really put us on the map.

Be that as it may, the final subscription concert of the season featured pianist Peter Serkin in two works, the "Flying to Kahani: Concertpiece for Piano and Orchestra" by Charles Wuorinen and the Beethoven Second Piano Concerto. Stern and the orchestra concluded with the Shostakovich Symphony # 5.

Years ago, while an undergraduate, I managed to infiltrate a seminar taught by the gregarious and prolific Mr. Wuorinen. Fluent in every form from electronic music (his passion when I met him in 1977, he had won a Pulitzer for his electronic composition Time's Encomium) to symphonies (8 or so by now) and chamber music (his Sextet and String Quartet # 2 are wonderful), Wuorinen was a riveting speaker and quite approachable. I remember him telling the assembled students (among them graduate vocal student Jerry Hadley {RIP}), to explore and use the new media of electronics and to not be afraid of new sounds and forms. Thus, I was so prepared to enjoy Flying to Kahani, a piece written for Serkin and based on a story by Salman Rushdie.

Composed in 2005 for Peter Serkin, "Kahani" is the undiscovered second moon of Earth in Rushdie's novel "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" which Wuorinen set as an opera. In the opera Haroun and a companion fly a mechanical bird to fly to this hidden moon. As they approach their destination they discover a vast sea called Kahani, the "Ocean of the Streams of Story", from which all stories come.

A poetic program for a sadly dreary, dry and mechanical serialist work, in the most academic manner imaginable. Wide leaps from the piano, accompanied by snarls from the orchestra, pounding chords from the extreme registers of the piano over skittering figures from strings and braying brass characterized "Kahani". I felt no connection to the program or any sense of wonder and discovery in this piece that out did anything Roger Sessions or Elliot Carter ever penned. I am sure Serkin and the orchestra played the heck out of it; the performance sounded well prepared and committed. It just did little for me at all.

Beethoven's cheery Piano Concerto # 2 (actually his first) received a decidedly classic performance from Serkin and Stern. Stern and the orchestra have demonstrated an affinity in past performances for music of the early classic era; late Mozart, Haydn and now early Beethoven. Crisp, brisk, elegant for sure, but with glimpses of the revolutionary path Beethoven was to lead the piano and music in general. Serkin blended well with the orchestra and the balances were excellent. Only some poor string intonation at the beginning marred the performance.

The concert's 2nd half was one of the towers of the 20th century symphony (and a candidate for "top 10 Symphony" of all time for some) the Shostakovich Symphony # 5. Whether you believe this is a contrite capitulation to the power of Stalin and the Soviet regime or a nose thumbing protest in disguise (the truth is likely somewhere in between), there is no denying that the 5th is a gripping, powerful, organic, well turned symphonic masterpiece. Stern led the orchestra in an appropriately gripping, powerful and organic performance with some masterful contributions from the wood winds (stunning piccolo work by Diane Schick) and percussion. Unfortunately the sublime, atmospheric horn/flute duet towards the end of first movement was bobbled by the horn, but otherwise the opening movement with its leaping first theme and somewhat motionless second theme moved powerfully forward to its ambiguous close.

The allegretto second was appropriately nervous and satiric, this the most Mahlerian of Shostakovich's symphonic movements. The long and elegiac Largo benefited with the commanding and tonally powerful strings, missing only a more insistent xylophone at the climax, probably due more to the poor acoustics of the hall than a lack of ability from the percussion. From my vantage, she was banging the heck out of the thing.

The famous finale was fiery and driven, never frenetically rushed as seems to be the trend, the tension building and building to the release provided by the coda; which was one of the best I have ever heard. Only Mravinsky in a Leningrad broadcast did it better... but in this case, Stern's tympani fanfares were in tune, Mravinsky's weren't, relegating that performance to the trash heap. Again some wonderful wind and string solos, the lower strings (2nd violins, violas and celli especially) relished their turn in the spotlight, contributing to the ambiguous atmosphere of this still challenging work.

A fitting finale to a great subscription season. Next season promises to be interesting with a mix of standards and some new pieces as well.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Coupl'a Things XIX

1) Daniel called this week to announce that he and Stephanie are moving to Lincoln, Nebraska. Daniel got his own store with Guitar Centers. He seems thrilled, but a little nervous about it, and to be sure they didn't give him much time. Stephanie, I am not sure about, I didn't talk to her, but she was looking for a job, so maybe Lincoln will give her a better opportunity.

I was about the same age when I drug my young family to Jefferson City, MO from Illinois. Jefferson City was never on the short list of places to which I would have relocated, but there you have it, I did, 2 kids born and grew up there, one buried there. Maybe Lincoln is the Jeff City for Daniel. Hope it turns out a bit better for him than it did for me in JC.

It is amazing, my little D is big enough to run a huge operation, making decisions, hiring, firing, buying, selling, listening to customers and employees bitch. Makes me feel old.

Good luck, kid.

2) Greg suggested I thin my onions out and that the ones I pick would be fine green onions. So I did and now have a crop of great green onions to use. They are quite good.

3) Please... go away Susan Boyle. I am one who is NOT a fan.

It is not because of her background, or her looks, cheeky act or all that... she can't sing.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Marvin Parker Memorial Garden VI

A wet, cool-ish Spring, sprinkled with several warm, sunny days has made the garden flourish. The beans, corn and tomatoes are up and growing, the okra has been planted, and I have an abundance of onions and some peppers are beginning to form. Others have early cabbage, spinach and lettuce to pick.

Some of the plots seem to have been forgotten before they were even planted, too bad...looks like it is going to be a good year for crops. I added 4 eggplant plants to my plot, had a little space so I thought what the heck.

Greg was around Sat when some were working so he caught a couple of pics:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mahler in Sequence: Barenboim Symphony # 9

Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin closed the Carnegie Hall Mahler in Sequence cycle with the evocative and moving 9th Symphony. This actually a quite brisk 9th, making it an exciting 9th, an often moving 9th, but a tad messy in a few spots. I was too fast really, as I wanted the glorious music to linger a bit. Still there was plenty to savor even if some of the details and subtle tempo relationships were blurry.

The first movement was the most obvious example, with little contrast between the sections, as I am used to in most performances and even in the live recording by Barenboim with the same forces. The tolling bells in the central section were represented by tuned metal plates (that also annoyed me in the 8th), and the two percussionists, one to strike and one hold them to damp the sound, danced distractingly across the back of the stage. Really, a good set of tubular bells would have done just as well and been more in tune.

The second movement, a distorted ländler, was perfectly... well...distorted is the word, hardly recognizable far its last appearance in Mahler's work. The connection with the past and the minuet has been broken, not to appear in the sketches of the 10th.

The "Rondo Burleske" benefited from Barenboim's breakneck tempo and had an appropriately rustic feel. The brass and winds sneered and snarled as they should, whipping the ensemble to a powerful conclusion.

Mahler died without ever having heard his Ninth Symphony performed, thus for years many critics and scholars interpreted the 9th's finale as his musical farewell. The completion and publication of the sketches of the 10th Symphony showed that Mahler was not quite yet ready to say his good byes. However, there is a feeling of resignation, a funereal quality that permeates every note of the finale. Barenboim again took the movement at a good clip, missing some of the feeling of heavy remorse and hymn like simplicity. The strings, however, provided some of their best work in this movement, milking the many chorale like passages for all they were worth with a deep sonorous sound frankly missing in the 10th the day before.

Overall this final performance has to be categorized as a plus, but I would have preferred a bit more relaxed performance. Slowing the tempi a bit and allowing the music to breathe and communicate would have made it an even more fitting finale to this daunting endeavor.

Barenboim stopped a minute between the Rondo Burleske and the Finale, totally unnecessary in my view, spoiling the contrast between the raucous conclusion of the Rondo and the hymn of the finale. But something had distracted him... a commotion at one of the side doors right down in orchestra front. In shuffled an old woman using a walker, its basket full of God knows what, slowly making her way to an empty seat. By now everyone had focused their attention to the scene as did Barenboim glaring intently at the late comer. As she got to the seat, she called out to the hushed audience, "my name is Marilyn Mahler". Barenboim gave her no time to elaborate as he spun around and launched into the finale. I hope someone at Carnegie Hall got their ass kicked hard for this totally unprofessional, uncalled for intrusion.

So what about the whole show?

For me, 4 Mahler performances in 3 days, for many all the symphonies and major song cycles in 12 days but now festival came to an end. Many felt the orchestra was tired, the many slips and snares of the performance chalked up to the grueling schedule. Others opined that Carnegie Hall was not the best venue for the big pieces, like the 2nd, 3rd and 8th and that Barenboim, Boulez and the Staatskapelle Berlin are not the top flight Mahler interpreters of the day. The prolonged and sincere ovation after the 9th was not so much for the performance, although overall it was fine, but for the herculean effort of the orchestra, the conductors and the staff of Carnegie Hall (minus the goon balls who let "Marilyn Mahler" in) that persevered and gave us these incredible works in sequence. Something not likely to happen again soon. The phrase once in a lifetime certainly applies here.

My sincere thanks to the wonderful Benefactor John who so generously gave me the opportunity to attend a part of this wonderful experience, Beth for allowing me the use of her fabulous 6th Ave and Central Park South apartment for the weekend, Midwest Airlines for getting me back and forth to NYC from KC, Maestro Damon for accompanying me, Miss Alice B (who proudly showed me her parents' name on the plaque honoring the major donors to the renovation of Carnegie Hall, and of course to Paul for his enthusiasm for Mahler and his always reliable entertainment.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mahler in Sequence: Barenboim Adagio Sym # 10 and Das Lied

The summer of 1910 found Gustav Mahler a physically and emotionally sick man. Ill with a heart condition, his wife Alma unfaithful, physically drained from the rigors of directing the Vienna Opera combined with a disappointing season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Mahler was so weakened and aged he was frequently mistaken for Alma's father, not her husband. Winter 1910-1911 also found him back in New York, conducting the New York Philharmonic. In February 1911, he fell ill and returned to Europe. He did not live to see another summer.

In the midst of this was a new symphony; one different in many ways from his previous works. Solidly orchestral, as was the 9th, but perceptively breaking away from the past and plunging headlong into the new 20th century idiom. Gone were the ländlers, "Wunderhorn" song references and child like passages. The new symphony was gutsy, spare almost, but with its long melodic lines, drama and world-encompassing focus, it was still every note a work of Mahler.

Due to his death at 50 in May (99 years ago this past Monday), the symphony, which would have been number 10, lay incomplete. If it were not for a colossal effort by many heroes (a story in itself) we would never had heard a note of this remarkable work. In my humble opinion, it would have been his masterpiece.

Palpable was my disappointment that the Mahler in Sequence series would only include the Adagio to the 10, the one movement substantively completed by Mahler at his death. Taking over from Boulez in the cycle, Daniel Barenboim chose not to program one of the completed versions. But the Adagio is better than no 10th at all, even if it was performed out of sequence (before Das Lied and the 9th).

Bitter was my disappointment that this performance was the weakest of the 4 works I heard in this series. Barenboim simply did not have the orchestra rehearsed, they were tired, or Barenboim simply did not care for or understand the piece; likely a combination of the above. Missing were the subtle change of gears in this long lined, linear work. The adagio is not a splashy, colorful work, so it is imperative that the tempo relationships are adhered to so as to provide some contrast and movement. The slowish, draggy tempo persisted throughout, rendering the piece lifeless and virtually shapeless to boot.

My gregarious seat neighbor Paul noticed I was not applauding at all after the performance, but sitting quietly. "It was not real effective... but not that bad" he commented. "It was disappointing, but actually I am of the old school so I do not applaud between movements", I replied, registering my tacit protest at not hearing the rest of the work. Paul nodded in understanding and asked me about my favorite version of the completed 10.

Frankly, after this inadequate reading, I could only shudder as to what the rest would have sounded like.

The second half was redeemed by a stellar Das Lied von der Erde, helped by two excellent soloists and the orchestra's greater familiarity (I would assume) with this music.

German tenor Klaus Florian Vogt excelled in his 3 sections. "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde"("The Drinking Song of Earth's Misery"), was appropriately dramatic and arresting. "Von der Jugend" ("Of Youth") was a bit on the brisk side, but as the lightest and wittiest of the movements, the quick tempo was not totally out of place. "Der Trunkene im Frühling" (The Drunkard in Spring) had all the drunken merriment you would want, again a bit of a brisk pace.

"Do you know who he reminds me of?", asked Paul after the performance. "Fritz Wunderlich" we said at the same time. A young lady down the row nodded in agreement. A lyric tenor with some power behind his voice, Vogt is a natural for "Das Lied". I could only wish Barenboim allowed him a bit more time to relax and linger over some of the tenor's more lyrical passages. Not as commanding as the incomparable Ernst Häflinger in Walter's classic recording, but able to project his slightly heady voice through the orchestral textures.

Michelle De Young is one of the great Mezzos of this era. Full ranged, able to hit the low notes with out splatting and losing her diction. She could dance through "Von der Schöenheit"(Of Beauty), "drag exhausted" (as Mahler marked) through "Der Einsame im Herbst" (The Lonely One in Autumn), her sparse, tired sounding voice perfectly lamenting the resignation of the text: "My heart is weary, and I come to this beautiful place of rest, for I need solace: I weep much in my loneliness. Autumn lasts too long in my heart: Sun of Love, will you never shine and dry away my bitter tears?" Beautifully done.

The final movement, "Der Abschied", (The Farewell) is as long as the first 5 movements combined and taxes even the most accomplished mezzos. De Young was again in fine voice, but this time Barenboim didn't let her really dig into the text and mood of this and took the movement at too brisk a pace. He relaxed a bit in the final bars allowing the ethereal "ewig" figures from the mezzo to dissolve into space.

I actually came late to appreciate Das Lied. Spending time with the aforementioned Miller/Häflinger/Walter Das Lied converted me to a believer. This performance was not quite in that league, but a fine, sincere performance that lingers in my conscience. Ewig.... ewig....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mahler in Sequence: Boulez's Symphony of a Thousand

Mahler Symphony # 8... "Symphony of a Thousand"... "a circus", "bewildering"... some say it is not even a symphony at all but more of a two part dramatic oratorio. Which ever it is, a performance is always an event. When it is at Carnegie Hall with the Staatskapelle Berlin under the direction of the legendary Pierre Boulez, it is an event to savor. The sold out hall was standing room only, scalpers we doing brisk business outside the hall.

With the 8th, you can always count on a full stage, with the chorus of 2-300 singers and 8 solo singers, plus a massive orchestra (6 winds each, 8 horns and trumpets each, 3 percussionists, 3 harps, piano, harmonium, celesta, organ, mandolin, strings and all the bells and whistles). It was as an impressive a sight to behold as it was to hear.

My balcony seat was sandwiched between two conductors, one professional, one rank amateur, which made for a somewhat amusing evening. My guest, Maestro Damon (the professional), knew the piece well and anticipated his favorite sections with deft (and on the beat) hand movements and subtle gestures. Paul (the amateur), who had been at every performance of the series, waved and gesticulated at will, precariously leaning over the balcony railing always quivering in anticipation of his favorite passages. A couple of times he achieved that rarely experienced "orgasmic-cosmic-ecstatic-epiphany-nirvana" mode, eyes rolled back, shaking and moaning in joy. It was a sight to behold.

Normally, that would have driven me to drink heavily (not that I need much of an excuse), but that is what Mahler's music can do like no other music can; speak to you, move you to tears, elicit sighs of wonder and satisfaction and make a grown New Yorker act like a blathering fool in Carnegie Hall of all places.

Although I have read a couple of critics that absolutely panned the performance, I felt Boulez's performance was very valid, frequently exciting with a breathtaking focus that really accentuated the chamber-like quality of this music. If you look or listen closely, the whole schmeer of forces is used only a few times. Thus quite frequently, the vast selection of instruments and voices are used delicately and sparingly, more for vast color and shade rather than overwhelming sound. If anything, Boulez is a master at clarity, and thus details seldom heard in recordings or perhaps even other live performances were on full display, never dallied upon to ruin the overall picture but spotlighted as part of Mahler's vast plan.

The first movement, a vast hymn "Veni, Creator Spiritus", started out on the deliberate and somewhat cool side, a Boulez characteristic that is either loved or loathed. The movement came alive at the phrase "Accende lumen sensibus, Infunde amoren cordibus" (enlighten our senses {or more literally kindle our senses with light}, pour your love into our hearts), brilliantly connecting the reverent, medieval mode of this movement to the sensuous, ecstatic paean to love and the "ever-womanly" that is the second part. A more fervorent opening would have obscured this detail, missing the subtle connection between the two contrasting movements.

The soloists were first rate through out, Hanno Müller-Brachmann was a clear, ringing baritone, Christine Brewer wonderful as always ( I am prejudiced I know), Michelle De Young exhibited her glorious, often dark yet clear mezzo, and Robert Holl was a commanding bass. Tenor Stephen Gould was a bit on the strident side, but not to the point of discomfort. The Westminster Symphonic Choir and American Boychoir performed admirably, but were a bit undermanned. A few more voices would have been perfect. Yet, only a few times were they overwhelmed and frequently, the smaller choir (if 200 some voices can be called small) contributed to the clarity of the performance. Boulez led the forces onward to a glowing climax, the brass in the balcony adding their red-gold, blazing sound to the fabric.

The orchestral introduction to part 2 was one of the slower I have encountered. The choral entrance (Waldung, sie schwankt heran) hushed and detached. Wrong?? Odd?? Maybe so, but making perfect sense in Boulez's vision. The clear acoustics of Carnegie Hall illuminated the shimmering harps, plunking mandolin and the frequent and excellent solos from the concert master. The soloists here are assigned roles from this final scene of Faust; Pater Profundus, Pater Ecstaticus, Dr Marianus, Magna Peccatrix, Mulier Samaritana, Una Poenitentium (Gretchen), Maria Aegyptiaca, and from the balcony high above, Mater Gloriosa. Sylvia Schwartz figuratively and literally soared over the hall in her brief but climactic appearance as the Mater Gloriosa. Gould, as Dr Marianus, softened his tone but still implored us all to "Blicket auf zum Retterblick" (look up to the redeeming gaze) and all assembled did just that as he and the grand chorus moved inexorably towards the ringing, glorious final pages; voices, extra brass and organ in full sound.

The sniping critics be silent. No this was not perfect, what is, really?? Little ol' me could fill this review with places where I thought something could have been different. This performance was one of those rare events in music that come so infrequently, my maestro neighbors were both speechless. I will remember it for years to come. When you leave 2500 people in stunned silence, their minds racing to catch up with what they just witnessed, you have succeeded. Bravo Maestro Boulez. Bravo all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New York Prelude

For years I kept a fortune cookie fortune that said "If God had intended for man to fly, it would be easier to get to the airport".

Well, for me at least, getting to MidContinent International (or Kansas City International KCI) is easy. Hop in the Queen Mary, up I35 to 169, merge into I29, all pretty seamless and then to the parking lot at KCI. Hop on a bus and right to the terminal, boarding pass in hand (preprinted at home) and off I head to New York City.

Due to my conditioning to international travel and long lines associated with it, I was way too early for my 8:30 flight. So I watched the travelers. What people wear to fly these days is amazing. Short shorts, torn T-shirts, T-shirts with vulgar and ugly graphics, flip flops, one fellow even was wearing pants looking every bit like pajama bottoms. I think I get better service, and no hassle in the security lines as I am always neatly dressed, slacks, shirt, jacket... all pressed and clean. Real shoes too.

I am far from a frequent flyer, last time was March of 2008. However, I know how to do it. I do not wear jewelry, I put my wallet, watch and all the metal I can in my bag. I remove my belt or wear one with little metal. I have my ID, I don't try to carry on 2 tons of liquid or 50 bottles of lotion. Follow directions, and it is usually 5 minutes from ticket to gate. Being early helps too.

New York is a bit of a different animal. La Guardia is crowded, not really huge, just overgrown. Getting to NYC, or central Manhattan actually, from La Guardia is not all that easy, compared to many other airports especially in Europe. How I (and others) would long for a direct connection via subway or train to central Manhattan. As it is you have to take a bus to the closest subway stop in Queens, or a bus into Manhattan then a subway. Looks simple, but can be daunting to the uninitiated. Nothing worse than finding out the bus or subway you got on board is going the opposite direction you want.

I was going to take the bus, but decided that I was not going to risk a slip up (things had been going too smooth) or take the time. Both bus and subway can be very slow, and being a Fri afternoon, traffic had to be a zoo. So I opted for the ubiquitous taxi.

One could be forgiven to think it is a law in New York that all Lincoln Town Cars have to be black and every other make of auto yellow. A few stray, usually expensive, brands of other colors are thrown in like confetti. Getting a taxi at La Guardia is easy, stand in line at the taxi line and one is assigned for you. Off you go...meter ticking away. In town, there are taxis all over the place, just stand out a bit into the street, raise your hand and eventually, usually pretty quickly one will come by. My taxi in was pretty fast and took me on a fairly direct route. I hated to part with the almost $40, that could have bought me a nice I Love NY T-shirt or two (just kidding) but it beat being stranded in Queens. The one back was even quicker, taking me through an early morning jaunt through central Queens. I was grateful for the quick and cheaper ride, all of $22 with tip.

I enjoyed acting like a rich person for a couple of days. Strolling down 5th Avenue, Park Avenue and going in and out of the Trump Parc like I owned it. I didn't buy much, just some dinner out and some snacks and things to furnish the fridge.

The main thing was the 3 concerts at Carnegie Hall. Mahler 8th with Boulez, Das Lied von der Erde and Adagio to the uncompleted 10th and the 9th with Barenboim. That was a treat for this midwest boy. And worth all the taxi rides in the world.

So stay tuned, maybe later today or perhaps tomorrow for the reviews of the concerts.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Off to the Big Apple

New York City, the Big Apple... all you dear New Yorkers watch out, Pato is invading your world. Just for a few days, so relax.

A kind soul who reads my scribbles here at Puggingham Palace, generously and graciously gave me tickets to some of the Mahler In Sequence concerts at Carnegie hall. He could do all of them, I could not do all that he could not attend but I did manage to sneak some time to hear 3 of my favorite Mahler works, the mighty Symphony # 8, the valedictory Symphony # 9 and the Adagio to the unfinished 10th (sadly, they did not choose to do one of the complete versions....). Thrown in to the mix is the wonderful Das Lied von der Erde, a huge song-symphony that is pales a bit in my book to the symphonies but is an incredible work none the less. To hear Pierre Boulez conduct is a rare treat for me. Barenboim I have heard before, but not in Mahler.

I am about packed, not taking a lot. Got the bus and subway figured out. I am taking the bus/subway in but a cab back home, I do not want to get lost getting to the airport on the way home. Hopefully there will be a good hot dog or falafel stand near by. Since I am staying in a furnished apartment, I plan on getting some groceries and cook at the place. Love to eat at the finest..but not in this boy's budget.

It is just a thrill to get to hear some fine music, experience a part of one the most important music events of the past few years (Mahler Symphonies have not been done in this fashion since the 1960's in New York) and meet up with my friend Maestro Damon and Alice from PugVillage.

Pato needs to get things in order, oh GOD do I ever. So Adieu, bon voyage to me and stay tuned when I post the reviews starting Mon or Tues of next week.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Don't Mess With My Tenderloin

I hate change, anyone who knows me will tell you that. I am sorry, the "change is inevitable" argument just doesn't fly here. Thus I was more than a bit concerned when I heard that in March, Jerry Naster had sold the landmark Woodswether Cafe in the West Bottoms of Kansas City. It was bad enough when he moved a couple of years ago from the original Woodswether Rd location to the bigger one on 9th. Further making me nervous was the news that the new owners at one time operated a more upscale place in town. I figured this was the end of fat 6 egg omelets, plate size pancakes, hand breaded pork tenderloins that took up the whole plate, ridiculously low prices (the aforementioned tenderloin with home made fries and a huge soda for less than $8) and the beginning of $14 seared, dolphin free, ahi tuna free range organic 2 egg omeletes with port wine-ginger reduction sauce, tomato coulis (aka Ketchup).

Lucky for me, this change is mostly all for the good.

Tucked into one of the more grimy industrial areas of the city, and harder than hell to find, Woodswether cafe is definitely worth the hassle. The new owners have spruced the place up a bit, added a few new items on the menu, changed the specials and raised the prices just a bit. Still a bargain however. THANKFULLY, the incredible pork tenderloin is still as good (and big) as ever. I had 1/2 for lunch and the rest came home with me for today. Fries are still home made, service is still great with many, if not all, the same staff and the business looked pretty good for an early Tuesday lunch. Don't look for them to be open late, 3PM is the end, 2PM on Saturday and nothing on Sunday.

I do miss the occasional sighting of the always gregarious Jerry flitting around the place chatting with the regulars, the roll of paper towels at the table sufficing for napkins and the huge old menu with more choices than one can ever absorb.

There is that damn change thing again. But, for now, the spirit and the best part of the Woodswether Cafe lives on.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Coupl'a Things XVIII

1) One thing I like about my new church is that we actually have some young kids in the congregation. Each Sunday a little knot of youngsters come forward and hear a short story or engage in an activity with the pastor. Sometimes it is the highlight of the service (I'll get in trouble for that I am sure!)

Today being Mother's Day, the kids got to do something a bit out of the ordinary; they got to make a mess and spread paper, each of which had a picture printed on it, all over the floor. Rev Howell asked them to look through the strewn paper and bring him a picture of a family. Each munchkin grabbed a piece. "How is that a family"? He asked. "A mom is holding a baby", was the answer. "Why is this a family"?, he asked the next. "Because they are all helping take care of the baby", even though it was a picture of two men a child of about 8 or 9 and a small baby. "They are a family because they all love each other", gleefully chirped another little lady.

What a pleasure, how refreshing. Kids not saying "that is not a family because there is no mom, or there is no dad, or two dads or two moms can't be a "real" family". I guess there is hope for a future where families are judged because they care and love each other, not by some rigid concept that excludes any thing beyond a mom and dad and 2.5 kids.

2) Mother's day is not one of my favorite days. I am not a mom, so no rose or flower for me. My mom died almost 12 years ago, so no calls or Hallmark greetings are needed. My usual lunch buds, Bruce and Greg are lucky enough to be older than me and still have their frail, but still caring mothers and were off with them. Puggles never had pups so even she could not celebrate. Jean, the closest thing I have to a "mom" here, had her real son actually call her and so of course she was off to see him. So off to home alone, some home cooked lunch and a nap. Missing out on all the fun.

3) Ok, since I am bitching... it is May 10th. It is cold, I had to turn on the portable heater I keep in my bedroom as it was chilly. Who is holding all the warm weather?? Give it up... thank you.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Marvin Parker Memorial Garden V

Cool weather, some nice sunny afternoons and plenty of rain has made the garden grow. I came by to weed and clean my plot and found some of the other gardeners planting corn, hops, okra and tomatoes in the community plot. Someone scavenged some bamboo and started it for some reason. Pole beans were planted as well. Someone, too lazy to look, has set up a windmill tower for the beans to climb.

I hear some early spinach has been harvested.

I didn't see Greg with his camera, but he caught a nice shot of my fat butt weeding the onions and peppers I have in my little plot:

They seem to be doing well, I don't have 160 of them but I have quite a few. Shallots, yellow and red ones. One of my peppers was broken, but I hope to save it. The Roma and heirloom tomatoes seem to be doing well so far. I have some space where the early onions seemed to disappear into the wet ground so I am thinking of adding an eggplant or two.

Back home, the herbs are in. Sweet Italian basil, spicy basil, Thai basil, chives, oregano, rosemary and mint are all in their little pots. Will bought some basil after I had planted mine, so they now grace my south window ledge outside.

Lots of work, and really can be costly if you add in all the plants, fertilizer, time, energy...etc. But what fun and what a feeling of accomplishment when you get to munch on your own home grown tomatoes (nothing better), fresh herbs and your own little but sweet and luscious pepper.

Besides, keeps me off the streets.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Why Republicans are Scum


House Scuttles Medicaid Expansion That Would Cost NOTHING!

And the Repugnantans still get 100% healthcare at my expense!


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

10 Years Ago

May 3, 4 and 5 are never my favorite days of the year. They bring back memories of close calls, catastrophic destruction, life cut short, death and regret.

May 3rd 1999. I had agreed to drive to a corporate meeting in Dallas with my colleague Ron. Ron was not a big fan of flying and figured the drive to Dallas from Kansas City was not that bad, especially for two. What the heck I thought, might be fun. The trip was long but not real eventful until around 6:30 that evening.

We had not left until later in the PM, so supper time found us in Oklahoma City. We decided to stop at a filling station and fill our car, grab a bite and change drivers. I noted we were actually in Moore, OK. "Ron", I said as I got into the driver's seat of the company issued Ford Taurus, "looks like they are going to get a good storm here soon". The sky was rapidly darkening, rumbles were heard in the distance. "Good thing we are headed south", Ron mumbled as we took off and merged on the highway.

Within the hour, the place where we stopped, along with a good chunk of Moore, OK, did not exist any longer, blown away by a dreaded F5 tornado.

May 4th 1999. I hate corporate meetings, this one in May 1999 was one of the worst. I was getting tired of my job. The company was changing, the spirit we once had was sapped as new management changed from "creating magic moments" to "creating value to our stakeholders". I would be gone a little more than a year later. This was one of the last times I would see many of my colleagues that I had considered friends, enjoying the restaurants and clubs in far away cities as we partied the night away. On this occasion, the morning break could not come soon enough. I remember the meeting room to be somewhat dark and sterile, set up classroom style, presenters droning on. About the only good thing so far was that Ron and I were mini celebrities; we had captivated our fellow attendees with our tornado antics.

When we broke, I was handed a message. Usually, messages received at meetings were not as urgent as the sender implied and could be ignored. This one said URGENT in big capital letters (why it was not given to me immediately I never asked) and was from The University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia. Now that couldn't be good news. A social worker answered, it was she who left the message. My oldest son Michael had been in an accident in Jefferson City and was flown to Columbia. He is critical, time is of the essence, get here now. It didn't make sense. I began to scream I need to go home. Someone was making a plane flight reservation for me. I was then told to get going, Alyce, a company executive, who had just presented at the meeting had returned, she had left her purse. She and some others were on the company jet. They were taking me to Columbia.

The quick ride to Love Field I do not even remember. I do remember taking off, remembering it was from Love Field that Air Force One departed for Washington with the new President Johnson and the body of JFK. My own tragedy mixing in with that historical moment.

In Columbia, I was let off and got a ride to the hospital from someone at the airport. I was carrying my clothes as I did not have a suitcase big enough for them; I had just hung them in the back of the car. I saw some neighbors and church people in the lobby, I was taken to ICU. Lori and the kids were there, many others. Michael looked like hell. I guess upon arrival he looked worse. The car in which he was riding left a winding road, one I had traveled frequently, and slammed head on into the side of the creek bank. Michael was in the back and not belted in. He hit the roof, flew forward, through the windshield and landed in the creek. His buddies were hurt, but he was most serious.

I knew it was it. I am not one to hold out much hope. When there is a tragedy, like a fiery plane crash into the ocean, I scoff at those who say they are hoping to rescue survivors. I don't wish it, but I just guess I am a realist and see that survival was not possible. Certainly in this case, I wish I was proved wrong, but the news kept getting dimmer. He was without oxygen for too long, the pressure in his skull was high and would not come down. Fever was wracking his body. He was not responding.

Beating a wall and screaming does not help, as I found out. Slowly, all his friends were gathering. Young men and women, 18-19 yrs old, supposed to be full of life and looking forward to fun and education and challenge, not death and tragedy. My friend Jerry was there, I don't remember how he even knew, maybe I had called him. But I remember our eyes meeting as I was in the small ICU room and he was standing out side. Crying continuously for 5-6 hours does weird things to your eyes. Light blinded me; some of us took a car loaned to us to get out of the hospital for a few minutes. It was so bright I could not drive, Aunt Becky took over. The day droned on. Sleeping in a hospital is not recommended.

May 5th, usually a day set aside to celebrate Mexico, forever turned into a day of death and finality. The Doctor was polite, but to the point. Michael was dead basically. Surprisingly it was not much of a debate to end life support. None of us saw the purpose, we did not believe in some miracle, we did not imagine him dancing and smiling at us. The plans made, the goodbyes said. Maria, only 11 bravely said "good bye Michael, you've been a good brother". Daniel was quiet, he idolized Michael and spent the rest of his teens making sure he was a better drummer than his brother was. I wished so much had been different.

The rest is now a blur. Somehow I made it back to Grain Valley where I was living. Somehow I made it back to Jefferson City for the funeral. Half the city was there it seemed and certainly most of the high school. Friends and family gathered, co-workers, even people I could not stand. Becky Stevens, Robert Rowlett and Lee Adams from Trinity sang and played for the service, the kids of the church sang. We had a celebration lunch, then every one drifted away back to reality.

And then silence and memories.

Michael Reza Clark 9/30/80-5/5/1999

Monday, May 04, 2009

Places to Avoid

More streets to avoid:

Wornall Road and 79th Street.

63rd Street and Prospect Avenue.

39th and Main streets.

19th and Walnut streets.

Southwest Trafficway and 27th Street.

These are the latest red light camera locations here in KC.

More idiotic, revenue generators for the bankrupt New Detroit, aka Kansas City, MO. Does nothing but increase donut time for police. I am sure this will not decrease the response time when 911 is called to report a theft or drug activity. That means real work and does not make $$$$ for the disaster that is called KC.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Coupl'a Things XVII

1) As in the Great Depression of the 1930's, those out for the evening are flocking to more light hearted, flashy, escapist entertainment. Theatres and performing arts groups are more than happy to oblige; giving the public what it wants reaps box office rewards. Thus I, and if last night's crowd was any indication, many others enjoyed the recent run of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic "The Pirates of Penzance" at the Kansas City Lyric Opera.

"Amusement! Merriment! Glee!", trumpeted the print and radio advertisements.

Bright, cheery, straight forward sets, bright, cheery costumes, and the, breezy, short, never pretentious score and plot of this bright and cheery opera (ok, I made the point) have pleased audiences for years. Even the audience gets to participate, standing and joining the cast in singing "God Save the Queen" at the beginning of the second act. Each night the Queen was played by a "guest Queen". Friday was Katie Horner, local weather lady from KCTV. I know who Sunday's guest Queen will be and it should be a hoot.

2) HM has been totally fêted from around the world on her 10th birthday. Here are a couple of her specially made treats she picked out from her favorite purveyor of Royal Treats, 3 Dog Bakery:

3) It is only 61 degrees today. Hello, this is Spring... bring on the warm!