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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Turandot Meets the Little Mermaid

We went to the Local Sacramento Opera production of Turandot last night. http://www.sacopera.org/. The soloists, choir and orchestra were very good, although the large orchestra drowned out about half the vocal performances. Turandot’s arrangement must take after an Italicized version of a Wagnerian paradigm, since the orchestra (including at least 12 brass players) didn’t soften during the singing. The orchestra, in many songs, sounded like the Marine Band with a few strings thrown in. So you get the effect of choir and soloists attempting to scream over the orchestra. This opera always is presented this way.

Seated directly behind us in the nosebleed seats were about 6 high school girls, all in stunning formal gowns and looking good. They had bought the gowns just to wear to the opera. It was like a scene from an old Audrey Hepburn movie. Tierras, gloves, and everything. There were some similarly aged boys running around in ill-fitting rental tuxedos. The casting for Turandot assured that eventually we would get home, since the fat lady did finally sing.

I swear the libretto for this opera could have been written by Disneycorp. The plot in a nutshell:

Evil Princess establishes challenge – answer riddles and win my hand, fail and face the executioner. The comic choir of Taoist priests complain that far too many princes have been executed. They are tired of doing funerals.

Enter handsome stranger. He accepts the challenge. While singing about accepting the challenge, he is reunited with his long lost father and his father’s companion named Lui, a paragon of virtue and pureness of heart.

In his effort to win the princess’s hand, the Stranger allows Lui to face death by torture. Lui’s fate could have been changed by the stranger simply giving up his pursuit of the princess. Alas, that is not the way of opera.

Lui sings a beautiful aria, pierces her own heart with the princess’s hairpin, collapses in a heap, and the Stranger’s father dies of grief.

The princess has a sudden change of heart, marries the stranger, and they live happily ever after.

This ending brought back to mind my irksome thoughts about Disney’s The Little Mermaid (strange for a middle aged man, I know).

You may recall, both Andersen’s and Disney’s Little Mermaid sold daddy’s soul to the sea witch (archetypal interpretation of the devil). However, Disney’s mermaid lived happily ever after, while Anderson’s tragic heroine came to a tearful end appropriate with her callous and selfish behavior.

What lessons are these fables intended to teach? I can only hope that if Puccini had lived to complete Turandot, the ending would have been more of the 19th century tragic opera we’ve come to know and love. With the stars each singing their guts out and croaking in an orderly procession. Isn’t that what opera is all about?

Let’s leave “happily ever after” to the Disneys of the world.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dinner in The Kitchen

From 8:00 in the morning, It started to look like a strange Thursday at work. The Director for whom I do most of my work called me in, said I was doing a great job, and gave me an Amazon.com gift certificate.

Quick aside:

I immediately returned to my office and bought a book: “The Left Hand of God”, by Michael Lerner. Although I haven’t yet reads the book, the premise is that the left can unseat the Neo-Fascist Right (Lerner politely calls them the Religious Right, but, as Saruman once said, “You know of whom I speak”). The left can do by this speaking to the same yawning spiritual void to which the right speaks today. However, the left can deliver a more rational and effective agenda, because the left supports causes that help and empower, rather than impoverish and subjugate American families. Expect more on this subject later.

Now, back to our previously scheduled program:

Early in the afternoon, I was called back to talk with the very same director. A marketing executive had scheduled a festive dinner that, night, but several of the employees she invited called in sick. I have always been on good terms with this executive. In the desperate search for breathing bodies, they asked me to come with my wife. “Sure”, I said, thinking “who am I to refuse a free dinner?” When they gave me the particulars, the deal got even better. Dinner was at The Kitchen Restaurant http://www.thekitchenrestaurant.com/ in Sacramento. The Kitchen has become a regional nouvelle cuisine food-snobbery icon, second only to Chez Pannise. The schtick is that the design is an open kitchen surrounded by luxurious seating, with the diners sitting around the area where the chefs do the final steps of preparing, a lot of sautee and plaiting activity. The one seating took about 4 hours.

After everyone was seated, the chef gave a short talk about the restaurant’s philosophy, “We’ll do anything your way as long as you don’t make animal right’s comments about my foie gras”. He showed us a trick involving hypnotizing lobsters to stay in a headstand. Pretty entertaining. Several time he repeated that guests are encouraged to ask for seconds at any time. He explained each course in excruciating detail, with great emphasis on reductions, truffles and foie gras, exotic sources of onions for soups, Kobi beef, which is a breed of cattle imported from Japan and bread in America. By this time, it all gets pretty fuzzy, since my hosts were buying what felt like an unending fountain of posh champagne, followed by reinforcements of pricey red and white wines, some in magnum bottles.

Course the First:


A pasta pillow (read loosely wrapped ravioli) stuffed with Bolognese sauce in a beef reduction that was rich, slightly salty and delicious. The Bolognese had very little resemblance to the Hamburger Helper product of he same name.

Course the Second:

French onion soup garnished with teenage chives and thin slices of black truffle, you know baby vegetables are so nineties. Very good soup. This joint is so nouvelle, even the soup has food piled up in the middle of the plate. I never had imagined anyone would balance a crouton on its side with a crust of burnt cheese balanced on top. I think there were grilled thin slices of foie gras in the soup, but I was too pleasantly overwhelmed to notice.

Course the Third:

The fish course. A lightly breaded and fried pie of a fish I had never heard of stacked (for a change) atop a small handful of baby greens sitting atop very tasty chunks of lobster and crab meat. The food tower emerged from a shallow lake of a light broth (likely chicken stock) drizzled with a cross between aoli and Mrs pauls red seafood sauce. The tower and plate were sprinkled minature hushpuppies. These were not you father’s hushpuppies! These babies wee almost solid crab and lobster meat, with just enough cornmeal and egg to hold them together. They were scrumptious.

Break:

We were invited out to the walled patio, warmed by a raging fire, for oysters and sashimi. The oysters were a smaller tasty variety, most oysters in northern California are over six inches long and best served bar-b-qued in the shell. The sashimi was excellent, even the octopus, which was sliced paper thin and not rubbery. The chef made great noise about the real wasabi he hand grated for us. Tasted just like the stuff from the grocery store. At this point I started feeling some concern about my capacity to continue eating. Don’t worry fans, I toughed it out. We took the break as an opportunity to chat with guest at some of the other tables.

Course the Fourth;

Meat! Slices of perfectly grilled medium rare beef, served over a delicious brown gravy, and a wild mushroom tart. This was the most popular course with most of our table. About half the party asked for seconds. I thought about asking for A-1 sauce, but thought better of it. The mushroom tart was one of the tastiest moments of a very tasty evening for me. By this time, I had noticed a conspicuous lack of vegetables, but they had no prune wines in stock.

Desert:

Desert was relatively modest, featuring a scoop of blueberry sorbet and a small piece of a very rich chocolate tart. It was good. I was surprised to see a second desert appear, a scoop of palette-clearing Myers lemon and passion fruit sorbet. Although I was already full, the sorbet was unbelievable, very tart, but never pushing the envelope of too tart.

As we waddled out to the car, I was very glad The Kitchen is in our part of town. Most of all I am so grateful that my digestion cooperated. I actually slept most of the night!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Protect Your Beloved Homeland From a Cartoon Conspiracy

Spring comes every year to Sacramento sometime in February. It has been a beautiful Saturday, sunny and temperatures around 70 or 75 degrees. We went for a walk by the American river, and we are going to dinner at the neighbors’ tonight. That sounds like a pretty good day, in my estimation.

The river has receded from its earlier flood stage, so the grass and trees near the river are all bent in the direction of the flow. Woodpeckers, harriers, and deer, the usual suspects, have all returned to the river’s edge. Everything is green, although the flowering grasses and other plants need a month or two before they come into their own, not bad.

I’ll be working at least until the end of February, not a bad deal. I figure the more money I can make in the short-term, the better. Colder and rainy weather is coming back as we speak, so more power to the Lords of Funk, if they want my time. They have hired another consultant to replace me (so I thought), but we just spend a lot of our high-priced time talking. Really not a bad deal, until I get a life.

Cartoons.

They haunt me. Have we let their conspiracy go beyond the point of no return?

I am starting to wonder if we are not falling into the cartoon dimension. First cartoon protesters, then a cartoon Vice President. This is Roger Rabbit all over again. I can smell this evil toon plot plain as carrots in the morning.

First, the world is rocked by “cartoon protesters. They chant their toon liberation slogans, such as, “If anvils are outlawed, only outlaws will have anvils.”

Oh my god; the toons have infiltrated the Whitehouse.

The perpetrators of this vast toon conspiracy had me fooled, but no longer. I thought he was Darth Vader, he turned out to be Elmer Fudd. Who else could be that irresponsible with a weapon? He fooled me by cleverly not using a disguise. Why just a few months ago, he was heard saying; Oooooh, I’ll bwast that wascally wiberal with a damaging secewity weak. If you don’t fowwow my evewy ordew, the tewwowists have alweady won. I’ll bwast that pesky owd lawer.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Snowshoes and Groundhogs

A truly eventful first week in February, with the coincidence of Groundhog’s Day and the State of the Union Address. We all watched a small-brained mammal come out of his hole to make a prognostication only an idiot would believe. We also saw the groundhog.

Dateline Sacramento. . . We’ve had a couple of beautiful days, morning fog giving way to sunny afternoons with highs in the 60’s. The warmer sunny winter days here are the best weather days of the entire year for me.

Now, something about me, me, me

I went to a very enjoyable “commemoration of recent firing” get-together for a gentleman I have gotten to know and like. I will code-name him Pedro, to protect the innocent. I will not even attempt to speculate as to what caused this manager to get canned, although it may have had something to do with his decency and competency (okay, okay, I am speculating, so sue me). That is not a popular management style everywhere. Over a 15 year career, Pedro has consistently been very popular with his staff, and a decent guy. I am sure he’ll be better off removed from that negatively biased senior management environment. He will be missed.

During Pedro’s last week, we talked about a snow shoe outing in the Sierras sometime in the near future. By the end of the beer-fueled evening, we may have an outing of over 10 people. Snowshoe rental facilities and capacity issues have already been addressed. Mrs Pedro has previously guided large outdoor trips, so I feel pretty confident we won’t have a Donner Party experience. Just in case, maybe I’ll bring some bologna for the most ravenous among us. I can’t wait. I’ve never been snowshoing. The mountains should be breathtakingly beautiful in the snow.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

February Limbo Again

It looks like it’s time to start another month (almost certainly my last) making the big bucks at the same old place. In some ways, I can’t wait to get out of there, but the work ahead of me is pretty easy, and I can handle it, and the money is good. I keep reminding myself I can make enough dough in February for this to actually make a difference. Heck, it’s February, the weather here sucks right now. If I wasn’t at work all day, I’d be sitting around the house waiting for the rain to stop. Upper management is providing much entertainment, that is, if you think watching “Survivor” is entertainment. They are in a phase of axing people, several so called permanent employees in middle management won’t be sticking it out as long as I expect to stay around. I am tryiong to plan an outdoors outing with one of the recently fired guys. Maybe we can go snowshoeing in March.

I had my first math students tonight. Both are Geometry students working on special triangles and the trigonometric ratios. They are a couple of pleasant girls, one certain of her future stardom on Broadway (for a change), and the other a quiet and possibly deep-thinking kid.

That’ my story and I’m sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.
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