Saturday, February 19, 2011


Beau resting in his daybed atop the new shag rug.

It's not enough to post four entries from Europe in six days.  No, my fans are demanding new adventures, or at least new posts.  Well since I got back, life is a tad dull.  Except there are new developments in this ever-developing life of mine.  First...

Beau was his usual low-key self when I arrived home.  Kyle had taken very good care of him, as usual, but it always takes Beau a day or two to return to his usual lively self after I've been away.  I slept the sleep of the dead and still managed to wake up at 5:30 the next morning.  I didn't bother to fight it.  Up at once, I was ready to face all the responsibilities that had been put on hold for about seven days.

I'm starting a retail business-a medical supply store, and Kyle will be managing it (he had previously done this when he lived in Tucson).  There was a lease to approve before signing, insurance for the business to arrange, and other matters.  I've got several publishing projects underway, and a never-ending renovation in my basement to get back on schedule.  Despite the fact that I had taken my laptop to Italy with me, there was a mountain of e-mail to deal with.  And lots of news from Mubarek's resignation as President of Egypt, and the Republicans latest and predictable attempts to get rid of Planned Parenthood, abortion, NPR, PBS and any other progressive government program that they deem a waste of tax-payer dollars  to Elizabeth Taylor's latest medical emergency (meanwhile, Zsa-Zsa Gabor keeps going on and on and on!).

Upon my return home, I discovered my bank (Chase) has turned down my loan request to help me fund the business.  I'm done with Chase.  They were appalling about my mortgage, insisting they needed more time to close after I had given them 60 days. They also couldn't find the deed to my apartment in New York, threatening my closing there.  The high-handed way I was treated by my own bank was appalling.  They have every damn dime I own.  Yet they feel no reason to do anything for me.  Oh sure, I can get a secured loan.  Hell, I don't need my bank for that!  We went to BankAmerica and they scoffed they didn't loan money to start-ups. The nerve!  American taxpayers gave them a bailout--it's the bank's fault that we're in the financial bind to begin with.  The idiot at the bank had the nerve to reply, "yes, and we paid them back with 5% interest! "And we're all damn grateful for your effort," I replied with as much withering scorn as I could muster as I left this pinhead's office. At USBank they found a way to loan me some of the money and were creative enough to help me secure the rest of the financing I needed to get this business launched. Time to tell Chase to take a hike and move my money elsewhere.

But first New York State has a lien on my credit report.  I paid NYS a boat load of money in taxes on the sale of my New York apartment.  Ditto the federal government.  Not complaining.  I did well on the sale.  An accounting oversight on my part, which I didn't tell my accountant about had both federal and state coming after me for an addition $3K.  I realized my mistake and paid the bills asap.  What I didn't realize is that my accountant gave me the new payments and the state was underpaid by $20.  They never sent me a bill.  But they put the entire $1500+ lien on my credit report.  Let me tell you, it ought to be as difficult for anyone to attack your credit report as it is for you to repel their absurd attacks.  That $20 underpayment cost me $40 in a post office money order and priority overnight mail.  Is it any wonder why everyone is angry at government. There are deadbeats not paying their taxes. Not me.  Pay the tax.  Life is just easier.  But they won't take a credit card payment, and it will take weeks to get this mess off my credit report.  MEMO TO TAX PEOPLE EVERYWHERE:  YOU SUCK!

As if I don't have enough going on in my life, I also decided I had to change the carpet in my bedroom.  The carpet that was here when I moved in just didn't work for me.  And it looked depressingly old and it had to go.  Up at 5:30 am this morning to empty the bedroom so that the carpet installers could come in and do their thing.  The new carpet is a low pile shag. I'll call the color dark cremini mushroo.  The choice surprised me. I never thought I'd ever pick shag (so 60s).  I had a teenage memory of a blue cotton shag carpet my mother bought for the "dorm" room at the top of the house that I shared with my brothers.  That damned carpet shed blue on everything.  I went to high school for three years looking a creepy color of blue.  Fed up, my brothers and I took it up and threw it out of the window into the back yard. Nasty.

I saw my first Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast in a movie theater last week.  John Adams' NIXON IN CHINA.  It was a fascinating work with a story that played fast and loose with the real facts.  The best characters in the opera were Pat Nixon, Chairman Mao's insane wife, and Chou En Lai.  Henry Kissinger was reduced to a ridiculous sex fiend, which really didn't bother me.  I always thought his reputation was woefully undeserved.  Mao himself is reduced to a a nearly senile and somewhat enigmatic character.  Forget about the millions who were killed during the years of his domination of China.  I loved the second act best.  Adams' music is very appealing.  Only the third act disappoints, but that's the libretto and Peter Sellar's absurdist direction.  To see this newer high-definition technology puts the audience right in the center of the action, which makes the experience of viewing often thrilling.

The floating floor will minimize any damage in case of future leaks. The open-framed view on the upper right is the door to the bathroom. 

The framed closet.  Now I have to find a door!

Finally, we're making progress with the basement. Leaks have been sealed.  The walls have been framed, insulated, and dry-walled.  Mudding is nearly complete and then the finish before painting.  there's even a closet framed now.  The floor is about two-thirds completed.  The bathroom will come next.  The whole thing could be done by April. Progress!

Monday, February 7, 2011


Christine Goerke, as Kundry in Richard Wagner's epic PARSIFAL

How sad...the week has flown by and I'm on my way home at the crack of dawn.  Thank god I don't have to fly Alitalia and will connect through Paris and my Delta flight home via Air France.  

I attended the final performance of a new production of Wagner's PARSIFAL starring my good buddy, Christine Goerke, as Kundry.  Surrounded by an outstanding cast of fine singers, a good orchestra, and outstanding chorus, and a pretty good production, Christine has a fabulous success in this her second Wagner opera. The audience gave her an overwhelming ovation at the end of the second act curtain call and again at the opera's end.  Bertrand de Billy, was the fine conductor.  

Christopher Ventris (Parsifal) with Talia Or (right) a Flower Maiden and her husband, Judd Perry, who played a serving man to the Knights of the Grail

Mark S. Doss (Klingsor) with his adorable wife, Dawn.

Christine and her Amfortas, Jochen Schmeckenbeche cutting up.  

I was honored to meet most of the cast and enjoyed lunch and dinners with several of them and now have made friends with Christopher Ventris (Parsifal) and Jochen Schmeckenbeche (Amfortas).  I also enjoyed several leisurely lunches with Laurie Feldman, an opera director who is based here in Turin.  Laurie often directs at the Metropolitan Opera and other operas houses.  

This is a view from the stage into the Teatro Regio di Torino. It is a very modern opera house, built 
in the 1970s to replace the orginal that had burned in a fire.  The new theatre seats only 1600 or so.  
The previous theater seated 3400.

Last night most of the cast assembled for a final dinner celebration.  I was pleased to be asked to join them. It was wonderful to see how this cast has bonded as a team.  Clearly they have great affection for Christine, and it was fun to watch the teasing and laughter as they recalled the many moments, high and low they've experienced these past six weeks of rehearsals and performances.  

Christine had woken up this morning with the onset of a cold, and was really panicky that she wouldn't be able to sing well.  Fortunately she was able to rise to the occasion, but by the time she had finished her pasta, she was ready to go home, and we reluctantly said goodnight.  

The adrenaline of a great performance was still with me, and I read until about midnight and then slept in until 8:30 this morning.  Out for an early breakfast, I was back to get most of my packing done an meet Christine and Laurie for lunch near the Royal Palace.  Ristorante Taverna Fiorentina is a very pretty dining room with yellow walls, splashed with red, white trim, and elegant white trim.  For a change, the lighting was natural and not glaring with electricity.  We were offered a large corner table.  Laurie knew at once she was having the raw artichoke salad, and that seemed a good idea for me as well.  The finely shredded artichokes were adorned with thin slices of Parmesan cheese and given a splash of olive oil.  All that was needed was salt and cracked pepper.  The musky flavor of the artichokes tasted of the earth. Pure spring.  I had a pasta dish called Malfogliata, or flat and irregular shaped pieces of pasta, cooked and then sauced with wild boar sauce.  This was a rich and aromatic dish, it's Florentine roots, appropriate to the restaurant's name.  Laurie had grilled beef while Christine chose a braise of beef with polenta.  A carafe of the house Barbera and a bottle of sparkling water made the lunch truly wonderful. 

Christine outside the Basilica Consolata

The main altar of the Basilica Consolata

Afterward Christine wanted to show me the Basilica Consolata, a large and beautifully appointed church not to far away.  It sits on a tiny square and once again, what looks to be small from the outside is huge inside with soaring high walls, an ornately gilded dome with windows to let in light, masses of various types of marble everywhere and many small side chapels, including one below street level.  Clearly this church has wealthy parishoners who keep this place in very good shape.  I admired just about every nook and cranny from its simply carved wooden doors to the ornate altar and the elegant pews. Even the paintings were relatively subdued.

We did some shopping along the via Garibaldi, a pedestrian shopping area with no cars, strolling slowly, and stopping to sit on a bench and basque in the mild weather.  Despite the fact that Turin is surrounded by the Italian Alps, the city has enjoyed more than a week of balmy and sunny weather, and I have been walking around in the afternoon with only a sweater on.  It's funny to watch the Turinese in their fur coats, and hats and scarves and gloves, acting like it's freezing outside.  They should only be in New York this winter.  I'm sure it climbed to 60 today and not for the first time this week.  

I'll have a final dinner with Christine tonight, and come back for the final packing and into bed early.  Claudio, the owner of the hotel, will take me to the airport at 5:30 AM for my flight!  

It's been a wonderful trip, but it's time to come home.  Can't wait to see Beau and Bit (Kyle's cat), and find out what's happening at home. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Warning:  Photos took forever to upload over here and my computer act very slowly and strangely. Spell-check on my blog highlights every word here, so is useless.  Forgive any mistakes and thanks.  

Apple fritters from Stefanone

Now that the luggage drama is over, I can hopefully settle down and get a better look at the city. I started this morning by going to my local cafe for a caffe latte, which they do differently than I've seen before. I was presented with a glass of hot, foamy milk with a tiny pitcher with a shot of espresso, which you pour into the milk.  My eye caught a scrumptuous looking croissant with chocolate strips baked into its puffy top. It was filled with a hazelnut crema--utterly obscene and completely irresistible.  One outside, I headed for the inside of the two churches flanking one end of the Piazza San Carlo  with my camera.  Chiesa San Carlo and Chiesa Santa Christina don't look anything alike despite the fact they are side-by-side.  Churches are always worth a look in Italy, mostly because they are fanciful, or opulent, or scary in their projection depending on your spiritual persuasion.  Their soaring spaces, generous use of marble, elaborate carving and competitively decorated side chapels are hardly tasteful, but that's the beauty of these amazing structures. Some have scary depictions of the Virgin swords plunged into her heart, such as the below.  Even crumbling churches in Italy inspire awe.

Circling over to the other side of the piazza I found Paissa, a store selling fancy packaged foods, wines, champagnes and spirits since 1884.  Everything is beautifully packaged and displayed and the staff is friendly and eager to please.  Around the corner, I was back on via Maria Vittoria, and stopped into Stefanone, an elegant small shop specializing in take-out foods.  I was able to talk to the chef, asking if I could take photos of the enticing foods on display.  We talked amiably as he described to me all the wonderful things the shop sells, such as

A chocolate croissant filled with hazelnut pastry cream.


I'm not Catholic and can't even begin to explain this.  

Some of the amazing foods found at Paissa

Chocolate confections at Paissa

The inner historical center of Turin has many of these retail arcades with soaring open areas completely enclosed and easy for shoppers to avoid the possibility of bad weather.

Christine invited me to lunch with her Parsifal, tenor Christopher Ventris, and Laurie Feldman, an American opera director who makes her home in Turin.  We ate at a restaurant specializing in deep fried foods, such as calamari, shrimp, zucchini blossoms, artichokes, etc.  You place your order and then eat your meal on benches with wire cones to hold the containers of cooked food.  They also sell beverages to go with your meal.  It was an unusual and tasty lunch. Afterwards, we decided to take in the sights at the Egyptian museum--the largest collection of Egyptian art and mummies outside of Cairo.  I found the museum a mixed bag of the bizarre--they have at least ten mummies, a mummy head, and they are just plain weird.  I don't get the mummy thing other than the odd fascination of seeing a completely dead but remarkably well preserved corpse with skin that is leathery and just plain strange.  The sarcophagus boxes held limited fascination, their heiroglyphics didn't capture my fancy, and the artifacts are just okay to these eyes.  The culture of the Pharoahs does little for me, and mostly I found the museum to be disappointingly musty. Christine however, loved all the sandals!

We had a 8:00 dinner.  Just down the street from her apartment is Trattoria La via del Sale, a place I had turned down the night before because it wasn't too busy.  I'm glad Christine suggested it, because our dinner there was not only delicious but fun.  She had invited another cast member to join us, and the baritone singing Amfortas in PARSIFAL, turned out to be a smart, funny, insightful dinner companion.  His name is Jochen Schmeckenbecher.  I had heard him in Philadelphia when Christine was singing Rosalinde in DIE FLEDERMAUS.  He is a very busy and in-demand German baritone--a fine singer and a good actor.  We hit it off, and had a fun evening eating good food (a delicious potato and anchovy salad with a parsley pesto for a first course, followed by gnocchi with cheese and cream, and then a rich braise of beef in red wine and lemon sorbetto for dessert).  Christine and I polished off a carafe of Barolo and I got lured into a grappa with Jochen (which I paid for with a nice hangover the next day).

Those are the Italian Alps that you see in the far background--an amazing sight on the city's horizon!

Saturday morning, I slept until nine--finally the jet lag is over.  After a leisurely morning, I met Christine at her apartment.  We were to meet Laurie plus Mark S. Doss, a baritone also singing in this Parsifal, and his lovely wife, Dawn, for lunch.  We meat at Dual--a very contemporary restaurant near the opera house.  Christine recommended the pizza, and in my case it was a red onion and gorgonzola pizza.  It was fantastic. 

After lunch we were to meet Laurie's husband, who is masterminding a big installation at the Palazzo Madama of a recreation of the first Italian Senate of 1871.  This was the famous senate created during the unification of Italy.  Giuseppe Verdi, the grand master of Italian opera was a member of that first senate.  We arrived at the Palazzo Madama, an imposing building on the same square as the Royal Place, home of the House of Savoy Kings and Queens of Italy.  Palazzo Madama is was created as a retreat for the dowager queens of Savoy.   by the Queen of Savoy. The installation, which opens in March is well underway with scaffolding supporting the recreation of the original senate hall.  The opera house's principal set designer is in charge of the physical recreation, while Laurie's husband is producing the event.  It was thrilling to see this production in its early state.  It looked like the creation of an opera house production and these pictures show just where the project stands at this point.  

Installation of the recreation of the first Italian Senate room during the unification of Italy in 1871.

Prior to this we were taken to the palazzo's tower where we enjoyed thrilling views of the city surrounded by the majestic Italian Alps.  The city is in a low valley surrounded on three sides by these huge mountain peaks. 

We later toured the museum, which houses a superb collection of art dating back to Renaissance Italy in the 14th century.  The museum was opened four years ago, and is quite beautiful.  They've restored the palace to it's original beauty, with new fabrics that recreate the orginals, restored ceiling paintings, and gilt plastering, and wall paint.  The museum's collection encompasses a vast array of paintings, sculpture, furniture, and household items such as silver and glass ware, a child's wagon, and other treasures. The top foor houses a stunning collection of pottery and porcelain objects, table settings, candelabra and other impressive decorative objects.  It was a very worthwhile visit and we later enjoyed a bicerin, a delicious drink of espresso chocolate and whipped cream after our tour.  This was a big highlight of my visit to Turin.  

This room is filled with these beautiful vitrines showing off the House of Savoy's bountiful collection of porcelain, pottery, silver and glass.  This "table top" comes from all over Italy with one display case filled with objects from Vienna.  You could set a proper table for a year and not use all of this stuff.  

A generous cup of bicerin, a locally created drink that combines chocolate, coffee and whipped cream. 

We enjoyed our bicerins in the palace's former vegetable "cellar" which is now a storing place for some of the palace's massive silver collection. 

The facade of the Palazzo Madama

This afternoon I'll see the final performance of this run of PARSIFAL and join the cast for a party at a local restaurant to celebrate the completion of a successful run. 

I can't believe tomorrow is my last day in Turin already!  Because of the difficulties getting to Turin, I had to sacrifice my plans to see Genoa.  But I'd love to come back here.  

Thursday, February 3, 2011

TURIN; Day Three with the Diva

My adorable diva, Christine Goerke, who is killing them at the Teatro Reggio Torino, with an opulently sung and vividly acted Kundry in Wagner's final opera, PARSIFAL.  I have travelled widely to hear her perform in San Francisco, Seattle, at Tanglewood, Covent Garden in London, the Maggio Musicale in Florence, Santa Fe and of course, the Metropolitan Opera.  In my not-so-humble opinion, Christine is one of the most significant dramatic sopranos of her generation.  Her Wagner and Strauss heroines will take her all over the world. I'm happy to follow and be swept away by her gorgeous voice, riveting dramatic presence, and charmingly goofy sense of humor. 

When I bought my house in Portland, I ordered things from many national retailers with websites and the first thing I noticed was that with each purchase, came this needy survey, asking me if I was happy with the service, the items I purchased and the prompt delivery of such items, among other things.  This struck me as annoying.  If I was unhappy with a purchase, I would certainly let them know, but to beg for a compliment seemed the height of corporate PR hubris. Don't they realize that if a customer is truly unhappy, they will make their unhappiness known to them. Why do they need to take our money, but also be praised for giving us the service we pay for.  Seems very dumb to me.  All that "we're here to serve you," nonsense is pure hooey.   Today in my e-mail arrived a survey from Delta Airlines, apologizing to me for the "inconveniences" I suffered as a result of their incompetency.  Would I mind answering a few questions as to my satisfaction, or lack thereof, with the service I had received?  NOT AT ALL.  They asked me the airport where the problem started, was I satisfied or unsatisfied with the gate manager there, etc. Best of all there was a box for me to add any "extra" comments that might clarify matters for them in the future.  To say that I retrofitted them with a new corporate asshole in appropriately florid Gregory-style, is to put it mildly or bluntly, take your pick.  I challenged them to get the missing piece of luggage to me at my hotel before I returned to the states, and suggested they fire their ferociously mean gate manager, who verbally abused staff, which I thought was the reason my luggage got detained in the first place.  I also promised to follow up with more "suggestions" on how they might make me whole in the future.  I MEAN, REALLY!!!!

Two Pugliese farmers showing off their impressively large cabbages! (I'm not going there!)

Today, Christine Goerke, my hugely gifted soprano friend, and the reason I'm in Turin, took pity on me and on the day of a performance, insisted on taking me clothes shopping.  We found a few sweaters, some underwear and socks at Rinascente, a trendy department store here.  She then decided to walk me over to see the city's largest open-air market, and it was a revelation.  Rome may have the Campo dei Fiori; Florence, the Mercato Centrale; Barcelona the Bouqueria; and Nice, a spectacular open-air market, but none of them boast such a comprehensive and large a market that is both open-air, and in a series of buildings all spread out over a two or three block area.  I bought white socks and some t-shirts, a kilo of these adorable tiny oranges, and a jar of chestnut honey from the local vendors.  There were fruit and vegetable stands, cheese vendors, purveyors of salumeria, fish mongers, meat sellers (macelleria), bakers, stalls selling artisanal pastas, fresh and dried, dry goods sellers of kitchen, linen and various household products, and clothing, shoes and other leather goods, furniture, second hand fur coats, and all manner of of goods.  It was as colorful as it was vast, and we enjoyed an hour or walking up and down aisles, in and out of buildings.  I happily snapped photos, including two humorous vendors of enormous cabbages.  I shot one photo of the two men picked up one huge specimen and posed holding this green beast while they smiled for the pazzo American taking all these photos!

A fine selection of olives.

Rabbits and chickens and squabs, oh my! 

Parma ham (prosciutto), and salamis and wedges of Parmesano-Reggiano.  Such indulgence!

Miles and miles of verdure!

Pasta Fresca! 

The diva looking for oranges.

Pork--the other white meat!

From the local forno--breads, pizza, rolls, focaccia

We stopped at a favorite bakery of Christine's where we ate tiny circles of just fried mini-doughnuts sprinkled with sugar.  They were just made and still warm and each one was two bites. Heavenly. I bought  a small, flat, oval loaf of olive bread that was indescribably tender (and ideal for breakfast as I write this).  I brought the rest of it back to my room to snack on with the oranges.  Christine had to be at the theater by 4:00 PM to get into make-up and costumes and warm up in preparation for this Wagnerian marathon which lasts five hours (Wagner's operas are as windy as a Eugene O'Neill plays).  So we opted for an early lunch at a local place she was fond of and enjoyed a delicious plate of pasta (agnolotti for her; penne pomodoro for me; very thin slices of roast pork for both of us with side of cavalofiori (green cauliflower).  Like many Italian restaurants that are family run, there is a tendency to overcook vegetables and this was no exception. Still this three-course gem was 8.50 euros each. And I had a little half-jug of red wine. 

We never have winter markets like this in Portland or New York

Anchovies and jarred tuna packed in olive oil.

The variety of freshness of vegetables and fruits available to Italians is amazing.

So many cheeses, so little time!

Christine dropped me off at my corner, and I returned to the hotel for an eagerly anticipated nap. It was a kind of self-indulgent afternoon.  Before the nap, I walked around the neighborhood a bit more.  I needed a nail clipper, and started to look for a suitcase that seems obvious I will need.  I stopped at the corner coffee bar and had a "shakerato," a wonderful cool glass of espresso mixed with a little simple syrup (cooked water and sugar), then poured over ice and shaken until foamy and light and poured into a stem glass.  This elegant drink came with four tiny butter cookies, and I sat there reading my book until my yawning sent me back to the hotel for that self-promised nap.  

Two hours later, I woke up, and got dressed and as out the door to search for dinner.  Without my guidebooks and research done before leaving Portland, I had to now rely on instinct for dinner.  Tonight the search made for a long walk.  I had seen a tiny little trattoria about four blocks from the hotel and decided that where I would go.  But it was closed--apparently it only serves coffee and lunch.  Moving on, I found an attractive spot a few blocks away and after reading the menu, walked in.  The hostess was a bit tart, saying she could seat me, but I had to be gone in 45 minutes or suggesting that I come back an hour later because they were all booked.  There was something condescending in her manner, and I declined.  I walked over towards the opera house, and nothing appealed.  Doubling back, I ended up back in my piazza!  It was now 9:00 PM, and I was beginning to regret passing on that previous 9:00 offer.  In finally found a tiny spot in a side-street and sat down.  Another overly brightly lit space (Italians don't seem to be romantic about atmosphere in their restaurants--they are truly able to see the food on their plates--even in very contemporary settings.  The menu was fairly broad, with many pastas and main courses to choose.  I took a carafe of the house red wine and nibbled on some grissini while I figured out my dinner:  agnolotti with a meat sauce to start, and then a grilled paillard of chicken with rocket and lemon, and a green salad.  The meat-filled pasta was an indulgence sauced with a meat ragu, Parmesan and black pepper.  Then the chicken. Chicken always tastes superior in Europe to me.  The thinly pounded and grilled chicken breast is a modest main course. It came covered with fresh rocket (baby arugula) and needed only a fresh squeeze of lemon juice and black pepper to bring out its simple flavors. I decided to eat the salad on the same plate as my chicken, and the combination of slightly bitter escarole, more arugula, and raddichio with oil and vinegar was enhanced by the lemon and chicken jus left on my plate.  Okay, the pasta was rich, but I had been good in my choice of the chicken and salad.  I should have left well enough alone, but my waitress suggested panna cotta for dessert.  My resistence crumbled.  A minute later, she set before me a mound of panna cotta covered with a caramel sauce much like creme caramel--an unusual flourish to this essentially simple dessert.  I make panna cotta all the time at home, but this was something very special. Of course the cream they use is superior to the pasteurized thin dairy we get at home.  This panna cotta had a dense richness that was pleasant and not at all heavy.  Cooked cream indeed. The four course meal with wine and tip came to 30 euros.  

Again, I woke up at 5:30 and could not fall back to sleep.  Up 20 minutes later I was at the computer downloading photographs for this installment, eating oranges and olive bread.  It's now 7:30 and I'm off in search of some coffee.  I plan on a visit to the Egyptian museum today.  I'm told this is the largest collection of Egyptology outside of Cairo.  Ironic to be looking at this stuff today when Egypt is in such turmoil.  Christine is planning a dinner adventure for this evening.  Haven't heard back from Delta yet. No surprise there!

I would like to come back and see this charming piazza lit up at night with all these lights!