Showing posts with label Home. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Home. Show all posts

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Adios, Matthew

Palm Beach Country got very lucky with Hurricane Matthew which, almost until it passed, looked like it had the potential of coming very close to the northern part of PBC where we live.  My heart goes out to those in North Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, driving through those coastal cities scores of times up and down on our way to Connecticut as well as once joining our friends Ray and Sue on their boat, taking it from Connecticut via the Intracoastal to our dock in Florida.  So we know first-hand the areas now being devastatingly impacted. It could have been us.

I don’t worry about our house much, particularly as it has been fortified with a combination of hurricane impact windows on the north and south and beefy roll downs on the porch with Lexan impact clear shutters on east and west windows.  I replaced the garage door with one that weighs a ton as it has horizontal aluminum beams for hurricane protection and also replaced the roof using the Polyset roofing system designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

What I do worry about is our health, riding through another hurricane, remembering Wilma, and always concerned about tidal surge as we live right on the water, although that has never been a problem here. Florida is less vulnerable to a direct surge as the ocean depths off of Palm Beach Country drops quickly mitigating surge. 

But Matthew was not coming directly; it was paralleling the coast, bringing in strong NE winds, pushing water over several tide cycles.  Although we were prepared to ride it out, on the morning of the storm’s expected arrival local TV stations were warning about tidal surges of unheard of amounts in this area. This made us rethink the matter.  We’ve done everything to secure the house, so why stay, but where to go?

Calls to local hotels away from the water went unanswered or were put on hold permanently.  Of course, everyone was thinking the same thing.  We were not about to get on the road, aimlessly driving around without a reservation. As Hilton Honors members, I called them and they said everything was booked west of us, but how about the Palm Beach International Airport Hilton where they could get us a room.  Perfect.  Book it!  We’ll be there in an hour before the first feeder bands arrive!

What ensued was a fire drill, the two of us throwing clothes and medications into our overnight bags, Ann organizing food, snacks and water in a cooler in case the hotel lost power. I retrieved some of our emergency supplies, flashlights, spare batteries, a radio, and so on, again in case of a power failure, as well as the all important electronic gear, iPhones, chargers, and my laptop as well, not to mention books.  Half the stuff was thrown into duffle bags or whatever.  We looked bedraggled before we left.

But once in our comfortable hotel room with impact windows we were both so relieved.  We ran down for breakfast, a delicious buffet with made to order omelets & great coffee.  Then we simply hunkered down, rested and watched the TV weather reports for the entire rest of the day until we finally went to bed.  Ann made lunch from the food she brought but we ran down to a crazy noisy bar for a bite of dinner.  We both were able to get a good night’s sleep because by then we knew that the brunt of the storm was going to miss us.  But who knew?  We could have been like the unfortunate people north of us.  A difference of only a few dozen miles in the path of the storm would have resulted in something quite different.  So we were really lucky. We just woke up, packed, got dressed & checked out.

We thought we might lose power in our home for perhaps an extended period and in that case we had the very kind invitation of our friends and neighbors John and Lois to stay in their guest bedroom as they have an all house natural gas generator (we have a generator, but it runs on gasoline and one could not get gas here by the time the storm was a real threat). Our power flicked but was never lost. I'll give Florida Light and Power some credit as they've made some huge infrastructure investments since Wilma roared through here more than 10 years ago

So we’re dodged another one, but can’t help think constantly of those north of us along our normally beautiful east coast, not to mention the poor people of Haiti who have endured so much devastation. 

I took this photo from our backyard the night after the storm.  What a difference a day makes, or a few miles in a hurricane’s track.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Nina’s Gift

It was a bit of serendipity that we met Nina Motta, a neighbor who doesn’t exactly live next door but, nonetheless nearby.  Our dogs brought us together, my walking our schnauzer, Treat, who has long departed us, and Nina walking her beloved Ozzie, a very affectionate golden retriever, who has also now passed on, devastating to Nina.  But while walking our dogs we found we had much in common, so much that we began to socialize given our mutual interests and sensibilities.

We met some of her family who were visiting Florida.  Three of her siblings are professional musicians and there was an impromptu concert at her beautiful home.  Nina was a guest at my 65th birthday where I played the piano, accompanying a singer with whom I used to perform.

So from time to time we’d go out to dinner, or have dinner at each others’ homes.  When visiting Nina’s home we were struck by her paintings.  Yes, in addition to her musical abilities, she is an accomplished, award winning artist.  There was a particular painting I was drawn to, one of a young woman at a piano, making a notation on a score.  It took my breath away and Nina said she could make a copy for us.  I naturally envisioned it over our piano.  That was several years ago and once in a while I would remind her of her promise.  But like all of us, although we mean well in making a grand gesture, I believe it often escaped her memory and more importantly, I didn’t want to perpetually bug her about it, although from time to time she’d bring it up herself saying she hadn’t forgotten.

Several weeks ago she called to ask whether she could come by.  We thought it was to schmooze a little, have a glass of wine, catch up (we had just returned from our summer in Connecticut).  She arrived with a rolled up canvas.  Could this be it, I wondered?  We cleared the dining room table and as she unrolled the canvas we were truly taken back: not only that “a promise made became a promise kept,” but what unfolded seemed to be the original.

No, she explained, this was a professionally prepared giclée, a high quality digital image of the painting, using pigmented inks onto museum quality canvas.  It is not a lithograph but, in many respects, an “original” as well.  I haven’t held it up against the original painting but I suspect it is indeed an exact copy.  It’s certainly the way I remember the painting.

Well, she said, you now have to pick out a frame and have the canvas stretched, and after I said we’ve used a local art store nearby, she said don’t use them for this!  Yes, ma'am!  So she promised to recommend a few other options which she did and we went to the Easel Art Supply Center in Lake Park, a family owned store which has been around for years.  Lucky we did, they just happened to have in stock a few frames for a 30” x 40” painting.  We had expected that it would have to be custom framed. 

They had three frames, each of which seemed to go well with the painting.  So, which to choose?  Fortunately, a graphic artist was wandering about the store so we asked her opinion.  She immediately pointed out that the frame we finally chose brought out the highlights in the painting.  Also, we thought, as there was a certain subtle, Asian-inspired design in the corners of the frame, it would fit perfectly in our living room (similarly decorated) and of course over the piano.

When we picked up the finished frame we immediately asked Nina to come over to help us position it. I think she too was taken back not only by the quality of the frame but how the painting was enhanced by it. 

So, now when I play the piano, I have company, Nina’s painting of “Jessica.”

To understand more about the painting, I “interviewed” Nina, wanting to know all about not only the painting, but what brought her to art from her grounding in music.

So, Nina, when and why did you begin to paint, especially given that you and many in your family were trained as musicians?

It was just during the past 10 years that I began my journey into the wonderful world of art and painting. Yes, I grew up in a family of musicians -- my mother was a classically trained pianist and three of my six siblings are professional musicians.  All of us had to choose and play an instrument. I played the piano, cello and sang as an alto in choruses through the years. Art never seemed to come into the forefront of extracurricular activities, as music was a family mandate. That being said, I had fleeting moments of curiosity about painting as my father painted quietly in his studio at home. Every now and then I'd peek in and look at his work on the easel, but rarely was there discussion and the studio was off limits to the kids. I suppose a little seed had been planted.

There is an indelible connection between music and art. The cadence of a phrase, the emotional swelling/receding of a dynamic, the sonorous voice of a baritone is all like the decisive brush strokes and values on a canvas.

Was there a particular catalyst that brought you to art?

After a shakeup in my life about 15 years ago and addressing what I creatively wanted to do moving forward, I decided to unearth my inclination toward art and explore two dimensional art as my new project and creative expression. I wanted to dig my heels into it and although a bit unsure, I was determined to learn, work hard and hopefully get good at it.

My first steps toward becoming an artist were in drawing classes. I enrolled in one after another.
I began using pencil and charcoal because colors, color mixing and color theory were intimidating. I took introductory and intermediate drawing classes and then began painting classes. I have taken workshops and painting classes for several years.

From that point onward, I found great emotional connection to painting. Painting requires disciplined practice. Levels of frustration can be debilitating. Perseverance, consistency, studying the process and especially a good teacher are a must. Hard work pays off and painting can be a joy, bring great satisfaction and be rewarding. I find I am drawn to figurative work in my paintings.

Thinking of the painting you so generously gave to us, I suspect your life as a musician led you to the subject?

It seemed only natural to connect music and art, so painting musicians as my subject matter was my decision for several of my beginning paintings. The artist's hope is to find one's passion, express it and engage the viewer.

The piece of Jessica came about when my niece Jessica, who had been studying architecture at the University of Miami, came to visit one weekend.  As an architecture major, her grueling schedule gave her very little time to go to the piano labs on campus to play, so coming to visit gave her family time and piano time.

She is a multi talented young woman and has a commanding ability at the piano. I asked her to play a piece so I could take a few photographs as possible references for a painting. All my paintings are from my own photographic references.  

To make it interesting, I stood on a ladder behind her and the pictures were taken from above looking downward.  The perspective was what made this piece so exciting.

What piece is she playing in the painting and how did you “paint” the notes?

We chose Chopin Prelude Op.28, No. 4 as the piece she'd be "playing”. The painting is an oil painting; however the notes of the piece were all painstakingly done in pencil. It was done without using any projection.  Everything was calculated by eye, using rulers for measurement and pencil sketching first to lay in the subject on the canvas. As you know the canvas size is large, 30" X 40"and this piece took about eight months to complete.

I remember seeing an exhibition of your paintings at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.  Has this painting been entered in any competitions?

It was awarded 2nd Place --The Mary Snow Corr Award --  in 2010 at the Lighthouse Art Center in Tequesta, Florida.

I’m surprised that you haven’t entered it in other competitions.

The artist's hope is to find one's passion, express it and engage the viewer. I believe this piece engaged you and Ann and that is the best reward an artist can receive.

Indeed, Nina, we are engaged and in love with the painting and with you!  As I said, I feel I have company now when I play, you and your niece.  Unfortunately, I am merely an interpreter of the Great American Songbook, never having had classical training, and as much as I would love to be able to play Chopin’s Prelude Op.28, No. 4, I’ll have to be content playing my tunes.  Recently I found myself playing Never Never Land, a nostalgic song sung by Peter Pan (Mary Martin in the original 1954 Broadway show) in which Peter muses about the dreamy land where he lives.  The great Jule Styne wrote the music while the lyrics were written by the legendary Betty Comden and Adolph Green team.  So I offer a brief rendition of it here (although it may not play on mobile devices) as I think, Nina, you are a dreamer.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Plaintive Melodies Redux

One year ago today I wrote about how it feels to be leaving for the summer, something we've done now for fourteen years.  As much as we look forward to returning to Connecticut for a stay on our boat, our summer home, it seems to become more challenging with each passing year -- just the logistics of packing, preparing the house for the kind of summer weather for which Florida is notorious, and, then, a 1,250 mile drive up infamous I95.  And each year we do this, we are another year older, with the strength of youth receding.

Dozens of windows and sliding glass doors have to covered. This year we installed roll down shutters on our porch, neatly tying in our flat roof to the rest of the structure and eliminating the need to cover the three large sliding doors from the porch to the house.  Nonetheless, there are still 359 bolts and 319 wing nuts that have to be installed (and disassembled) each year for these coverings (I know, I counted them!).  I put up a few each day until they are done. When everything is in place, the house is like a fortress but hurricanes such as Andrew had its way with some of the best structures.

Then, our boat, the 'Reprise', has to be prepared for the summer and for storage.  The weekend before, we attended a Grady rendezvous at Munyon Island, one of our favorite nearby places.  Some forty people were there on a beautiful Sunday afternoon for traditional hamburgers and hot dogs, provided by the Grady Club, and everyone brought a side to share.  Makes one wonder why we are leaving at all.   Two days later, I ran the boat south on Lake Worth to a ramp where I was met by the dealer in Riviera Beach, and we hauled the boat onto their trailer, for storage on the dealer's lot for the summer. 

Going north means leaving my piano behind.  I gave a number of performances at retirement homes again this year, first at the Waterford, and then a regular monthly concert at La Posada.  As our departure date nears, I found myself playing some of the more plaintive pieces, one in particular, the not very well known, but the metaphorically meaningful (to me as time marches on), (Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair.  This was written by a composer who died less than a year ago, Billy Barnes.  He had a long career, mostly production numbers for well-known TV shows of the 60s and 70s, but as some people write but one great novel, (Have I Stayed) Too Long at the Fair is his masterpiece.  It was written to be sung by a woman and two wonderful, very different interpretations can be heard here, a 1963 recording by Barbara Streisand and another by Rosemary Clooney towards the end of her career. 

My homage to Billy Barnes follows.  In a sense his piece encapsulates my feelings as we leave for the summer

I wanted the music to play on forever
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
I wanted the clown to be constantly clever
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
I bought me blue ribbons to tie up my hair
But I couldn't find anybody to care;
The merry-go-round is beginning to taunt now
Have I stayed too long at the fair?
The music has stop and the children must go now
Have I stayed too long at the fair?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


On several disparate topics, sort of a "catch up" posting.

First and foremost, the Boston bombings, deplorable, despicable, cowardly. The stark, almost naked vulnerability of the runners, makes it especially gruesome to me, and on Patriot's Day in Massachusetts, the symbolism of the act is unambiguous.  If it was carried out with assault weapons rather than the anonymity of trash can bombs, would it speed  national gun control legislation as Connecticut commendably passed?  I wonder, but violence in our great land is intolerable and must be dealt with through education and legislation and improved economic opportunity for all. 

Then, on a less important subject, but a continuing frustration, is the foolishness of the Florida Legislature which is actually considering massive increases for windstorm insurance coverage through its state supported "Citizens Insurance."  The unintended consequences of such an increase will destroy the nascent housing and construction recovery and, long term, turn coastline communities into ghost towns, the very communities that draw tourism, Florida's most important revenue source.  The "need" for such an increase is to buy even more reinsurance for a once in a hundred year storm but one has to wonder how much the insurance industry has cozied up to Florida legislators. 

As it is, there is a "cauldron of misconduct alleged at Citizens Property Insurance" but as a state designed and operated institution, it seems to be immune to corporate codes of ethics. The bottom line is the entire state is vulnerable to destructive weather, be it hurricanes, or tornadoes, and the state needs a plan other than a usurious tax on coastal citizens.  It could create its own reinsurance pool with a quarter of a percent sales tax increase (some of which would be paid by tourism), with, of course, still higher insurance rates for coastal homes, but not at levels that would destroy those communities.
Our friends Ray and Sue were briefly here, making a detour on their way back to Connecticut from the Abacos on their boat 'Last Dance.'  Always wonderful to see them and to learn more about their living full time on their boat as well as being part of a boating community in the Bahamas, the Royal Marsh Harbour Yacht Club -- scores of boaters doing the same thing during the winter (although most have homes to go back to in the summer). 

So Ray and Sue arrived here on Sunday and I followed them on "Spot Me" which broadcasts their position every twenty minutes or so superimposed on Google Maps.  A remarkable technology.  Here's their last leg of the trip from the Bahamas to here. 

I helped them untie their lines on our dock early this morning and they've begun their 1,200 mile trek "home" to Connecticut where we will join them on our boat later this summer.

Earlier this month, Ann took me to see my first opera since my college days, Richard Strauss' gruesome Salome, at the Kravis Theatre in West Palm Beach.  I went as much for the spectacle as I did to understand how Ann has "spent all that time" for the last decade with season's tickets.  She usually goes with her friend, Lois, and there they meet our friend Roy, who we also see at the Dramaworks functions, for a bite of lunch beforehand,.  Ann and I were photographed with characters from next year's program of operas.

I used to apologize for not liking Opera (Stephen Sondheim, however, gave me permission).  It was a epic spectacle to see Salome, the main part being sung superbly by Erika Sunnegårdh and it was helpful to have the English translation in the subtitles overhead.  The music is almost oppressively beautiful, but, to me, the staging seems so wooden compared to, say, a Sondheim musical.  Perhaps it measures up to Sweeny Todd for the bloodiest musical stage production.

A notable article appeared in the April 7 New York Times by André Aciman, How Memoirists Mold the Truth.  It certainly hit home with me as most of what I write is indeed memoir and I know exactly what he means by the following:

Writing the past is never a neutral act.  Writing always asks the past to justify itself, to give its reasons...provided we can live with the reasons.  What we want is a narrative, not a log: a tale, not a trial. This is why most people write memoirs using the conventions not of history, but of fiction.  It's their revenge against facts that won't go away ...And maybe this is why we write.  We want a second chance, we want the other version of our life, the one that thrills us, the one that happened to the people we really are, not to those we just happened to be once.  There is a lot more to take away from this profound article, but it reminds me of the fine line I sometimes walk between fact and fiction trying on the one hand to be truthful, but sometimes circumventing facts, frequently to keep certain people anonymous, and perhaps to remember the past as I would have liked it to be (frequently being unable to distinguish it from the real past which, ironically, it really may be!). I must confess it's also a delicate balance between honesty and privacy.

But my writing has led me to places and people (although I do not have a comment section, an email address appears in my profile) and most recently I was contacted by someone I hired 44 years ago.  She had found me through my blog and wanted me to know that I served as an important mentor (unknowingly to me) to her early in her career.  Since then she has gone on to very significant accomplishments, in business, and, more importantly, in her empathic quest to make a difference in one of the great tragedies of the past decade in our economy: the high unemployment rate and its impact on individuals (statistics aside).  I might say more regarding our distant relationship over the a narrow alleyway of time, but that will have to wait. 

My blog will probably go quiet for a while as I am preparing a piano program and will be recording it at a studio, so lots of practice in the days ahead.  I'm calling it "Music Makes Us" after a quote from David Byrne's recently published How Music Works: "We don't make music; it makes us." How true. And we are sort of defined by the music we listen to. For myself, it is the Great American Songbook, music we sometimes refer to as "The Standards."  I'll have more to say about this, and the specific pieces, after I've taken this on, difficult for me, a mere amateur, but isn't that what an engaged life is all about, setting demanding goals and doing one's best to attain them?  I've used those piano skills to bring some joy to people in retirement homes and will continue to do so.  It's makes all that time and commitment that much more meaningful.  

Meanwhile, I leave with a photograph of our seasonally flowering pink Bougainvillea tree, highlighted by my lovely wife, Ann.