Friday, April 17, 2015

Theater that touches the heart

Marcel Pagnol: Fanny
Translated, from the French,
and directed by Roland David Valayre
Generation Theatre, San Francisco
seen 16 April 2015

Berkeley, 17 April, 2015—

WE SEE SO MUCH professional theater — probably ten or twelve productions a year — that we too easily fall into the trap of dismissing local and community theater as substandard, when of course that's not at all the point.  What is the point, I think, is the earnest and effective celebration of the literature of theater in a manner that approaches what seems to me to be its fundamental purpose, which is to investigate the human condition as the human animal makes its uneasy triangulation of self, society, and Nature.

Few playwrights manage that better than the Provençal Marcel Pagnol. As Roland Valayre notes in the program to this production, one of he "many talents as a playwright is his ability to create characters that can be both funny and moving within the same action, sometimes within the same sentence." Among his many successes in that direction is the Marseilles trilogy Marius, Fanny, and César, reasonably well known to American aficionados through the memorable film productions Pagnol made soon after the advent of talking motion pictures, but all too rarely given as legitimate theater in English.

Pagnol seems to me to be particularly appropriate to semiprofessional or amateur performers, whose own amiable weaknesses when compared (as they should not be) to seasoned professionals seem to underscore the frailties of Pagnol's characters — who represent, of course, you and me; certainly me.

Two years ago this Generations Theater presented the first play of the trilogy, and now, for a short time, they're back with the second, and it is welcome and worth seeing. There are problems, God knows, but those concerned with production were probably opening-night glitches — sound cues far too loud, scene-ending fades too slow, uncertain curtains. 

Overcoming those drawbacks was the undoubted good will and earnest affection for the text. Fannny opens with the concluding scene from the first play, Marius, recapitulating Marius's stormy departure from his father's bar and Fanny, the love of his life, for the more urgent call from maritime adventure, and then quickly we're presented with the engaging quartet César (bar-owner, Marius's father), Panisse (prosperous sailmaker), Escartefigue (ferryboat skipper), and that gentleman from Lyon M. Brun. All in their fifties or thereabout, they function as a sort of Greek chorus — Pagnol knew his classics well — representing the common man confronted with social and technological change in the period just after World War I.

I think the direction of the opening quartet, revealing the time passed since Marius's departure and Cesar's impatience at the lack of news from him, and expressing perhaps a characteristically Provençal cunning and irony, was too slow, threatening to sap the energy needed to grab the audience and move the play — a vehicle spending too much time in lower gears. I hope this changes in later performances. 

The  characterization seemed nicely done, though. A number of these actors are in fact French, though perfectly at ease in English; they have an advantage in being familiar with the Pagnol stock characters, and recreate them readily.

With the appearance of the female actors Pagnol's play moves from badinage and bonhomie to domestic tragedy. Marius has left Fanny pregnant; her mother Honorine is furious; her simpleminded aunt Claudine sympathetic. The play continues through its predictable course; it is its humanity and sympathy in dealing with the complex layers of morality and responsibility that maintain the audience's interest, not simply turns of plot.

Fanny is funny and warm-hearted and utterly humane, but it is also a serious play. The trick to success with Pagnol is the balance of these elements: and gradually, through the duration of the performance last night, opening night, that balance was struck. The goofy and — let's face it — rather labored practical joking of the opening scene moved, through the second act, and particularly the third, toward dramatic exposition of poignant, complex, quite engaging explorations of basic human quandary. Frailty of cast and direction met frailty of human character and motivation; in a sense, human issues, and Pagnol's art in investigating them, and the company's adequacies in bringing them to the audience, all began to converge.

Fanny is clearly the middle play of a trilogy. This production deals quite well with the problem of the missing "prequel," if you don't know it; but it definitely left me wanting to see the resolution. M. Panisse, assured me, as we were leaving, that the final play, César, would appear next year. In the meantime, and to prepare for its delights, I recommend you drop in on Fanny. The  production runs through April 26.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Figaro qua, Figaro là…

•Charles Morey: Figaro.
  adapted from Le mariage de Figaro,
  by Pierre de Beaumarchais.
  Directed by Michael Michetti.
  Seen at A Noise Within, Pasadena, California,
  10 April 2015

•Mozart and da Ponte: Le nozze di Figaro.
  Conducted by James Conlon; directed by Ian Judge.
  Seen at Los Angeles Opera, 9 April 2015
Eastside Road, April 13, 2015—
LAST WEEK ENDED in a flurry of theater: two versions of the great Marriage of Figaro; a production of Julius Caesar; a production of The Threepenny Opera. Let's begin with Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, 1732-1799, whose article in Wikipedia introduces him as "a French playwright, watchmaker, inventor, musician, diplomat, fugitive, spy, publisher, horticulturalist, arms dealer, satirist, financier, and revolutionary (both French and American)." I take the following three paragraphs from the Wikipedia entry:

Born simply Pierre-Augustin Caron, the son of a watchmaker from the provinces who had apparently settled in Paris, he took early to music, but was apprenticed as a matter of course to his father. At twenty-one he invented a refinement of the escapement mechanism which greatly improved the reliability and lessened the size of watches, which brought him to the notice of the king. Two years later he married a widow with money and land, and took the name "Beaumarchais," but she died with a year, and he fell into debt.

His fortunes turned quickly, though, and he became music=teacher to the four daughters of Louis XV. (He taught them harp.) He met an older entrepreneur, Joseph Paris Duverney, who helped him in a number of business ventures, by which he became rich and gained further access to French nobility.

In 1764 Beaumarchais spent ten months in Madrid, helping a sister who had married there. His bid for consulship to Spain was rejected, and he turned increasingly to business ventures while beginning to experiment with writing plays; his first drama, Eugénie, premiered at the Comédie Française in 1767.

Beaumarchais is best known nowadays, and especially outside of France, through the first two plays of his trilogy centered on recurring characters at court of Count Almaviva, grand corrégidor of Andalusia: Le Barbier de Séville, premiered in 1775; Le Mariage de Figaro (1784), and La Mère coupable (1792).

Anyone who knows The Barber of Seville (Rossini and Sterbini) and The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart and da Ponte), the great operatic settings of the first two plays, will recognize autobiographical elements in the plots. Music teacher to nobility; factotum from the lower orders; lawsuits (Beaumarchais was engaged in several); marriages (ditto)… it has even been suggested that Figaro's name is a thin disguise of the playwright's, who was fils Caron, son of Caron.

Figaro is of course a memorable character, thanks primarily to Lorenzo da Ponte's adaptation of the second play. Da Ponte himself was a Beaumarchais-like character; the decade 1776-1786 was a heady time; the intersection of literature, populism, entrepreneurship, greatly increased travel and the sophistication that naturally follows, and of course the age of revolution all participate in the brilliance and edginess of Figaro's character. (And yet my first memory of Figaro is of the black cat hungrily gazing at the goldfish Cleo in the 1940 Disney adaptation of Pinocchio.)

ALL THAT SAID, what was to be learned from last week's exposure to The Marriage of Figaro in both its original theatrical form and da Ponte and Mozart's operatic setting? First, of course, the power of music (and particularly of Mozart's); second, the brilliance of da Ponte's libretto; but a close third, the surprising depth and richness of the play. A quick disclaimer: I don't know the original; I've never seen the play before in any language, and I haven't read the original. (Yet: the entire text is readily available at Wikisource.)

As adapted by Charles Morey and directed, wonderfully, by Michael Michetti, Figaro is completely within the tradition ranging from Commedia dell'arte through 19th-century French farce to the Marx Brothers and even, as the actors pointed out in a post-performance talkback with the audience, to such standard television fare as Seinfeld. I suspect Morey studied da Ponte carefully and did a similar job of streamlining. A couple of minor characters have been dropped (Grippe-soleil, a young shepherd; Pédrille, a message-boy to the count; and with them, probably a sub-plot or two, not to be missed in this already complicated comedy.

Now that I look at the pivotal resolution, which Mozart and da Ponte render so magnificent — the Count's plea for perdono, Contessa — I wonder at the changes Beaumarchais may have made in the original text to get it past Louis XV, who at first banned its public performance. The plot hinges on unmasking the Count's sexual immorality and exploitation; he finally has to beg forgiveness of the Countess, who of course grants it. Clearly a sitting king will not countenance such a plot, and in the text as we have it the moment is underplayed. Two years after the Paris premiere, da Ponte and Mozart elevate that moment to something exalted, transcendent. Even so, the play is clearly political, subversive, revolutionary.

Michetti's direction and the Noise Within cast conveyed all the urgency, the sharp political satire, and the philosophical complexity of the play in a fast, sometimes zany, often touching performance. In the title role, Jeremy Guskin was perfectly brilliant, easily switching from broad comedy to darker, intelligent brooding — the great monologue in Act Five, only a little revised in Morey's adaptation, was marvelous. Angela Sauer's Suzanne was up to that challenge; and if Count Almaviva is costumed ludicrously and made foolish and foppish, Andrew Ross Wynn made the concept work. Elyse Mirto was an affecting Countess, and Will Bradley was utterly persuasive as Cherubin in spite of his tall, lean stature. The rest of the cast were remarkably even, flexible, and resourceful: every nuance of the play seemed perfectly interpreted; there was never a slow moment; even the complex second-act ensemble, with characters hiding in closets and jumping out of windows, worked like, well, clockwork. The production continues in repertory through May 10, 2015, and it should certainly not be missed.

Alas, the same could not be said of Los Angeles Opera's production, or its young cast's performance, of the opera. Seen from too far away, in too big an opera house, in a musical performance that was too weighty and strove too earnestly for greatness, this Nozze di Figaro was laborious. There were some pretty voices and some successful portrayals, but I left with the feeling I'd seen an awkward attempt by a provincial company.
•William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar.
  Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott

•Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill: The Threepenny Opera.
  Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott
  Both seen at A Noise Within, Pasadena, California,
  11 April 2015
FOR YEARS NOW we have subscribed to the plays performed by A Noise Within, the repertory theater company based formerly in Glendale and now in its own building in Pasadena. Founded by actors who had been with ACT in San Francisco, the company mounts seven productions each year: three plays in the fall, three in the spring, and a Christmas special.

The repertory has always included Shakespeare, usually two plays each season, set next to American classics by such playwrights as William Inge and Tennessee Williams, frequent trips into the French repertory, and occasional looks at the classic avant-garde (Ionesco; Beckett). The schedule works out in such a way that we can nearly always see all three plays of each half-season within three or four days, making it a convenient run-out from home. Every year we make this trip twice, just as every year we travel once or twice to Ashland for performances by the much wealthier Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I won't engage in comparisons here.

This year's Noise Within season had as its theme "Revolution": last November we saw three plays revolutionary in their time for style: Shakespeare'sThe Tempest , Oscar Wilde'sThe Importance of Being Earnest , and August Strindberg's The Dance of Death. Last week's plays were not only revolutionary in the style of their concept and expression, they were in fact about revolution. In addition to Figaro they were Julius Caesar and The Threepenny Opera , both shows directed by the same team and performed in the same stage design — and seen, as it turned out, on the same day.

This is the kind of intellectual and theatrical exercise A Noise Within often attempts, nearly as often successfully. The pairing of these two very different vehicles underscored profundities which are latent in the scripts and which should be obvious to any reader or onlooker, whatever the success of the production; in this event, the result was really quite powerful, really moving. I thought Threepenny suffered a bit from slow tempi, which tended to hamper the drive and bite of the play; but that flaw could be forgiven in the face of the detail, the passion, and the total authenticity of the performances.

Both plays were staged in a relatively unspecified early-twentieth-century setting, the stage occupied by stark industrial scaffolding. Both brought the audience into the piece: in Julius Caesar one felt included within the Roman rabble irresolute between Caesar's attackers and his defenders; in Threepenny one was directly confronted by the cast, intent on alienating its audience with fine Brechtian nastiness.

I thought it appropriate that we were seeing these productions in the week of Judith Malina's death — The Living Theatre, which she and Julian Beck co-founded in the 1950s to such and artistic triumph and controversy, has surely influenced these directors in these productions; and Malina would have appreciated the result, I think, though perhaps with a sardonic observation that it was high time the commercial theater fall into line.

That Living Theatre connection came to me at the beginning of The Threepenny Opera, which began indistinctly, with the cast roaming through the audience, moodily repeating isolated lines of dialogue from various moments in the play. We were eased into the play, you might say, albeit in quite an uneasy manner; there was a deliciously menacing quality to the moment, and though this was the evening performance that moment instantly threw the afternoon's Julius Caesar into yet another layer of ironic meaning.

A Noise Within has a fine website from which you'll get notes on the productions and cast lists; I won't attempt a detailed review here. I do have to mention, though, the strong Brutus of Robertson Dean; the eloquent Mark Antony of Rafael Goldstein; the engaging, complex clarity of Freddy Douglas's Cassius; which requires that I also mention Patrick O'Connell's successfully ambivalent, tragically aging Caesar. Other roles were as well conceived and performed.

In Threepenny we were impressed, my companion and I, by the quality of the singing. As Polly Peachum and Lucy Brown, Marisa Duchowny and Maegan McConnell had clear, accurate, expressive, well-focussed soprano voices; Andrew Ableson was a pleasantly reedy, sardonic, nasty Mâcheath; Stasha Surdyke captured Jenny Diver's complexity well. Geoff Elliott makes an all too credible Peachum, and Deborah Strang was quite marvelous as his Mrs., drawing the first row of the audience into the Ballad of Sexual Dependency with sarcasm and good humor that somehow coexist.

Speaking of that Ballad, though, reminds me that it was hard to get used to this translation, by Michael Feingold. It works, but seems a little stiff. I was steeped in Eric Bentley's translation, back in the middle 1950s; it seemed to me to have bite and efficiency lacking here — Bentley's "First feed the belly, then feed the mind" (as I recall it) works better than Feingold's "First comes the feeding, then the moral code." I don't know the original text; perhaps Bentley sacrificed literal accuracy to theatrical effect — but isn't that what Brecht and Weill were after?

Julius Caesar continues in repertory through May 8, 2015; The Threepenny Opera through May 9.
Details online at A Noise Within.


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Sinfonia muta

•Charles Shere: Sinfonia muta,
for voice, violin, and percussion; duration ca. 1:30.
Healdsburg: Ear Press, 2015
Full study score, 5.5x8.5, 2 pages
s muta.png

Eastside Road, April 7, 2015—

WE WERE IN MILAN in late November, 2008, having dinner in a trattoria a day or two before flying home — I've looked at my notes, but I can't identify the restaurant.

Doesn't matter: the only thing memorable at the place was the waiter, an engaging fellow, in his fifties I'd say, who eyed me closely, then asked what I did. Pittore? Scrittore? Yes, scrivo un po' , I write a little, I said, and I compose a little music.

I thought it was something of the sort, he said. I'm a poet: and he handed me a little poem printed on a slip of paper. Here's something to make a song, he said:
Sinfonia Muta

il silenzio sta come un orco enorme
pronto ad ingoiarmi
non gli doretta e lo strangolo
col mio canto d'amore per te


I set it aside but glanced at it from time to time during dinner, and with my postprandial grappa sketched out a setting for voice, violin, and percussion on the menu, leaving it behind as a little gift for the waiter.

Here's the translation, as far as I can supply it — there's a word in the fourth line makes no sense to me. "Doretta" may have been my misreading, or it may be dialect…
Mute Symphony

Silence stands, an enormous whale
ready to swallow me up
don't… and I'll strangle it
with the lovesong I've made for you
On returning home I quickly transcribed my sketch at the computer, but the photo has since been mislaid, so I can no longer verify the text…

If you can supply a better translation, leave it as a comment, and I'll send you a print copy of the score.


(A few days later:) As I hoped, my luddite friend Stimato Fabbrò, who does not like to leave comments, sent me another kind of message, clearing up the mystery. In the fourth line two words had been run together: it should read non gli do retta e lo strangolo, meaning "I pay [him] no heed and I'll strangle him…". So the poem translates, roughly,
There's Silence, an enormous whale
ready to swallow me up
he doesn't scare me
i'll strangle him with the lovesong I've made
for you

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Art as social commentary

sun boat.jpgLawrence Ferlinghetti: Provincetown  (1995)

Legends of the Bay Area:
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
.
Marin Museum of Contemporary Art
500 Palm Drive, Novato, California
tel. 415-506—0137
W-F 11-4; Sa-Su 11-5; closes April 5
Mildred Howard: Spirit and Matter.
Richmond Art Center
2540 Barrett Avenue, Richmond, California
tel. 510-620-6772
Tu-Sa 10-5; Su 12-5; closes May 24
Eastside Road, April 4, 2015—
LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI is locally famous — as poet, personality, and bookseller. His City Lights Books has been a nexus of literacy since the days of the Beat Poets: he counted Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and Michael McClure among his friends.

I knew that he painted, but always assumed that his painting amounted to something of a hobby. Hobby: terrible word. The French have a better expression, violon d'Ingres , referring to the music Ingres turned to when he wasn't concentrating on his primary art, painting and drawing. It's not uncommon for artists to work at two quite dissimilar genres, often one of them time-based — music, theater, poetry — and the other primarily visual: painting, sculpture.

The exhibition of Ferlinghetti's visual work, primarily painting but including also a few prints, suggests that he often confronts his work quite seriously, though he's quoted as saying "Painting is more like play than work." He began painting in Paris in the late 1940s, when he was studying literature at the Sorbonne, and has maintained a studio ever since coming to San Francisco sixty-odd years ago. (He is still painting, at 96.) The earliest work in this exhibition, Deux , recalls Cocteau; though a canvas, it's essentially a line drawing of two profiled male faces confronting one another, one upside-down, like the figures at the corner of a playing card.

Though he admired the abstract expressionism of the Beats, he found himself unable to resist representation, especially of the figure. (He dislikes the term "abstract expressionism," finding it a contradiction in terms.) His best paintings bear the scrubbed light of Ab Ex painters: Elmer Bischoff and Hassel Smith come to mind. The calligraphy of the framing inside the hull of the boat in Provincetown makes me think of Franz Kline, whose influence shows up elsewhere. But, staying with Provincetown , the two figures inside the hull again recall school-of-Paris painters; it's not a stretch to relate them back to the profiled faces in Deux.

The boat is a recurring motif in Ferlinghetti's painting; perhaps a memory of his own transatlantic crossing.
sun boat 2.jpgIMG_8845.jpg
Sun Boat 2 (2009)

In Sun Boat 2 the boat is little more than counterweight to the brilliant energy of the upper half of the canvas; in an untitled print (made at Crown Point Press in San Francisco) it forms part of a narrative, in a small piece whose elegance and wit is hard to resist. (The male figure reaching up out of the water will remind some of us of both Picasso and Picabia, but the piece is fully Ferlinghetti's.)

Mother Russia.jpgA number of the works here make comments of a social or political nature, and they seem to me the weakest work — rushed, blatant, obvious; more slogan than painting — though the 1999 Mother Russia , whose expressive face is defined with an artfully drawn hammer-and-sickle, and whose posture and tone recall the Russian qualities of Chagall and (Arshile) Gorky, is exceptional in this respect, quiet yet rather deep, "poetic" in its juxtaposition of signs (woman, bird), telling it the downward motion of the street.

At 96, Ferlinghetti is free from anxieties concerning position; his painting, like his poetry, stands on its own, a good member of a rich and vibrant society of artists, poets, writers, activists. This is a retrospective in more ways than one: the viewer can't help recalling the work of previous decades, can't help noting the inevitable vitiation of their movements, platforms, and insights. Yet the human spirit persists, and expression is the inevitable result. To Ferlinghetti's credit there's a fair amount of joy and beauty as well as occasional impatience with the social human condition.
The Painter (1989)
selfportrait.jpg

installation.jpg
Installation, Mildred Howard: Spirit and Matter , Richmond Art Center

MILDRED HOWARD is an artist of considerable standing in an area — Northern California — not exactly hurting for powerful, mature artists. She has worked in collage, painting, assemblage, and sculpture for decades, always bringing to her work intellectual energy drawn from a sober, serious contemplation of self and society. I don't know any artist who excels her in treating the significance of being African-American in contemporary American society, or in treating the history of that situation, without bogging down in mere politics-of-the-moment. A "white," I can't of course speak from within that "situation": but it does seem to me the significance, the meaning, the roots and the reach of Howard's work must be the same to a black viewer as to a white.

It's curious: her work is intensely personal, sometimes using her own face and hand as the visual center of the work; yet the result transcends self. That wonderful critic R.H. Blyth writes, in his Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics , of four types of expression: from top to bottom, as you might say, "the object treated objectively", "the object treated subjectively," "the subject treated objectively," "the subject treated subjectively." (His examples range from "almost all of Chaucer; Shakespeare's songs…" at the top to the "Chamber of Horrors" at the bottom: "The larger part of Byron, a great deal of Shelley and Keats… the pièce de résistance is Yeats' Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths/… Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.)

In this formula Mildred Howard often works, I think, with the subject the "black" presence in the American scheme) treated objectively. I have generally preferred objective objects, and this is why I like Puryear and Guston; but if you're going to make a career as an artist contemplating the significance latent in the intersection of self and society, you can't do that any more objectively than Howard does. She never complains or shouts or cajoles. She contemplates, as I say, and presents the material of her contemplation, and expresses its complexity and reality — its objectivity — as a matter of social fact.

skillet.jpgShe also contemplates Art. One of the best pieces here, I think, and one of the best pieces of its type I've seen anywhere, is a tall four-legged unpainted wooden stool out of whose seat has risen a long-handled cast iron skillet. Skillet to the Frying Pan: Sitting Black , it's called — Howard's titles, often small poems themselves, are never to be neglected; they lead the viewer's mind into unspecified richnesses associated with the visual "meaning" of the pieces they name.

The visual reference includes Duchamp, of course; if like me you live with a copy of his famous Bicycle Wheel you'll greet Sitting Black with familiar pleasure. But at the center of the bottom of this skillet, angled up toward you as you lean in to look at it, is an old-time photographic portrait of an African-American woman, unnamed, unknown most likely unless a member of the artist's own family. Suddenly the gap, the gulf between everything Duchamp was concerned with and the history of the African-American presence in American society hits you like, well, a black iron frying pan.

Resonance; resonance. Yet the sculpture — and sculpture it is, there's no denying that — is beautiful, elegant, and aloof in its elegant beauty. If its size and proportions suggest a standing figure, it's a figure Joan Mirò might have conjured, with Giacometti somewhere in his mind. Howard treats this object of her own devising subjectively, to judge by the title, but she's reaching toward objectivity, and her work — her skill, patience, sophistication, and above all intelligence — permits us to follow her in completely resolving the subjective component to achieve a fully objective state of mind, contemplating the object without an agenda, without straining at a specific (let alone a socially charged) meaning.

Howard has been well known for a series of pieces referring to House; two are present here. In the installation photo you can see one playing domesticity and edge: the empty geometry of the house is made of channels of aluminum, I believe, completely covered on every surface with table knives. The floor is littered with an amazing collection of silver — candlesticks, compotes, candy-dishes, trays, pitchers — ultimately forming a path leaving the house toward the gallery wall, covered with white wallboard into which dozens of knives — sharp knives, not tableware — have apparently been stabbed, perhaps thrown, in gestures which can be interpreted as either violently aggressive or merely — merely ! — futile and frustrated. It's a big, complex, finally irresolute piece, I think: objectively subjective, perhaps.

bottle house.jpgIn an adjacent hallway there's a small example of Howard's bottle houses, cabins made almost exclusively of bottles. This one is small, made of dozens of identical brown glass bottles each holding only an ounce or two of… I don't know what, originally: the label mentions beer, but these look more like vanilla-extract bottles. Whatever they are, they are of course as beautiful as glass: perfectly uniform in color and texture and size, with the inert regularity of manufactured components — brick, tile. Lean into the open end of this bottle house and admire the light it admits.

This is a big show, a very important one; a mid-career retrospective presenting an artist who has quietly staked out for herself an uncommonly intelligent, probing, thoughtful position on art, self, and society, and expressed that position with unusually prolific, clear, consistently elegant, and often joyous work. I looked at this show thinking of great Richmond Art Center shows of the past, of Tom Marioni's direction in the 1960s, for example. Everyone involved with the show, its installation, and its curation is to be congratulated.
NO VISIT TO THE Richmond Art Center should overlook the marvelous folk sculpture tucked away, almost unnoticeably, in the shrubbery of the courtyard. They make a particularly poignant counterpoise to Mildred Howard's retrospective. I'm embarrassed and ashamed that I don't know who made them, and it's late Saturday night, I can't call to find out before putting up this blog Sunday morning — I'll try to rectify this in a later correction.

benvenuto.jpgThere's one other piece of sculpture in that courtyard, and I'm really unhappy about its treatment. It's a beautiful, formal, abstractly geometrical work in marble by the Italian-American San Francisco sculptor Elio Benvenuto. I knew him, casually, back in the 1950s I think: a tall, slender, elegant, courtly man with a fine eye and hand, a true heir to the Italian sculptural tradition.

This piece should be indoors, on a stand lifting it well off the floor, where the viewer can take his time with it, on its terms, letting light play across its polished surfaces, bounce off its edges and details. Instead it's on the ground on raw dirt, in shadow, at the edge of a concrete pavement, for all the world as if has been rejected, abandoned with no thought at all to its beauty, let alone the skill and dedication of the artist who made it.

Come to think of it, Benvenuto's position, seventy years ago, as an Italian immigrant bringing the artistic values of his society to the San Francisco Bay Area, is somewhat analogous to Mildred Howard's. And to that of the temporarily anonymous maker of the charming yet poignant cement sculptures nearby. An exhibition presenting work by the three artists together would be a fascinating depiction and examination of the urges and preoccupations they hold in common.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bhishma Xenotechnites1938-2015

Bhishma at the harpsichord (A Basart).jpg
Bhishma Xenotechnites, August 2010 (photo: Ann Basart)
Eastside Road, March 29, 2015—
OVER THE YEARS there have been occasional references on this blog to my reclusive friend to the north. He was so reclusive that I hesitated to mention him by name; he was a man who very much desired his privacy. Yesterday, though, he left us for that ultimate privacy, and today I begin a reminiscence — an informal one, which will likely accumulate in future occasional postings.

In the middle 1980sis I wrote a short biographical note on him for The New Grove Dictionary ; I won't reproduce it here for copyright reasons, but here's a trot:

Douglas Leedy: Born Portland, Oregon, March 3, 1938
Studied Pomona College, UC Berkeley (MA 1962)
Played French horn, Oakland Symphony, San Francisco Opera and Ballet orchestras, 1960-65
Traveled in Poland, 1965-66
Designed electronic music studio, taught, and led ensembles, UCLA, 1967-70
1970-80 taught at Reed College, USC, and Centro Simon Bolivar in Caracas
1970s began drawing away from equal temperament, western European romanticism, and Modernism
1979-80 studied with K.V. Narayanaswamy in Madras
1984-85 mus. dir. Portland Baroque Orchestra, Portland Handel Festival

His relocation to his native Oregon — at first in Portland; subsequently Oceanside, Netarts, and finally Corvallis — coincided with a definitive break with Modernism, equal-temperament, and Euro-American politics and economics as they had developed in the years since the early 1960s. For a time he taught at Reed College, in Portland; and he undertook a conducting career, with considerable musical success in the 1985 Handel Festival in Portland. His increasing inability to compromise his ethical and musical standards made performance distasteful, however, and he withdrew from public performance and teaching. It was about then that he put away his birth name, Douglas Leedy, and revealed a new his newly re-integrated persona, Bhishma Xenotechnites. As he described himself, he was "a strictly West Coast, empirical, non-academic musician." 
Hetch Hetchy.jpegleft to right: Terry Riley, CS, Ann Riley, Bhishma Xenotechnites at Hetch Hetchy, California, Sept. 2002 (photo: Lindsey Shere)


At about the turn of the century he began showing symptoms of a muscle-wasting disease, later diagnosed as Inclusion Body Myositis. By September 2002, when he made his last hike with Terry Riley and me and our wives, he was already walking with difficulty, requiring a cane and unable to negotiate stairs. Increasing frailty did not interfere with his scholarship, but by 2011 or so he was having increasing difficulty playing at the keyboard.

In the first decade of this century he was increasingly drawn to the monuments of archaic and ancient Greek. He argued that the great poets, playwrights and even in early cases the philosophers were in fact composers, in that their work was intended for public sung performance; and he dedicated his final years to a proposed restoration of the sound of this important body of work. Already used to the acquisition of languages — he spoke passable Spanish, French, Polish, German, and Latin — he became a fluent reader of Latin and ancient Greek.

Ultimately the result was a magnum opus of his own, Singing Ancient Greek, which was accepted for peer-review online publication by the University of California Classics department — unprecedentedly, in spite of his having no degrees in Classics. (The book can be read and downloaded here.)

I was fortunate — blessed, even — to have been close to Bhishma over the last dozen years, as the photo above suggests. We made a few trips together: on back roads through California's Coast Range to Parkfield; to the coast and up past Mission San Antonio; through the countryside around Mt. Shasta. Lindsey and I visited him nearly every time we drove through Oregon, two or three times a year. It was alarming to see his increasing frailty, but almost weekly telephone conversations, often of an hour's duration or more (and my friends and family know how I detest telephone conversations), continued to be diverting, instructive, and thought-provoking even in his last days. We talked about the weather, global matters, articles in The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, the poetry of Virgil and Horace, music of course, old times, and last things. He never neglected to ask after my family and those of my friends he had met and had liked.

By the close of 2014 he had grown very frail. He could no longer swallow solid food — and he had always been a gourmet and a gifted cook. He could no longer hold books of more than the smallest dimension, let alone get them down from the shelf. He was falling frequently. Living alone was no longer really possible. I knew that he felt that with Singing Ancient Greek, complete in early 2014, and Monochord Matters, finished late last year, he felt that his work was done. He had no fear of death, and no taste for continued life on the terms he could not change.

On Friday March 13, ten days after his 77th birthday, he entered hospice in an assisted-living facility in Corvallis, taking with him recordings of Stravinsky's Apollon Musagète and Sibelius's Sixth Symphony and one book, "the greatest poet of them all" as he said, Pindar. There he died, on the evening of Saturday, March 28, as he had lived the past thirty years, on his own terms.

Bhishma was, I think, one of the most intelligent men I have ever known, and undoubtedly the most ethical, the least compromising, among the most wholly admirable. Important (and enjoyable!) as his musical compositions are; diverting as his occasional writings are (and I suppose some will be gathered for publication in coming months), timeless as Singing Ancient Greek is, for many of us who knew him it is the force and power and nobility and majesty, even, of his personality that will stay with us.

When he moved out of his house into hospice I sent a message to my grandson Simon Zivny, informing him. Simon — bright, young, enthusiastic, and gifted — instantaneously saw the news in musical terms, and sent me back his immediate transcription (listen here):
Simon's piece.jpg



I immediately heard the piece in orchestral colors, and with Simon's permission I close with the score.

Listen here
On the departure of Bhishma….png

Saturday, March 28, 2015

More Shakespeare in Ashland

•Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing; Pericles.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival, seen March 11, 2015


The house is full of high school kids
With robust lungs and sweaty ids,
Enthralled and mystified, they hear
The sweet Bard's lines drown in canned beer,
While I, morose and jaded, think
That Ashland teeters on the brink
Or vulgarizing English lit—
But then, I'd
think that, silly twit…
Eastside Road, March 14, 2015—
SO I SCRAWLED on a scrap of paper while enjoying a glass of Champagne at supper after the first play of the day. Shakespeare's weird and inexplicable collisions of violence, injustice, broad humor, transcendent recognition — all of it boiling down to reality, acceptance of reality, mercy, and love — mean more and more to me as I grow older, and teach me ultimately to enjoy and indulge even these noisy kids, who fill the lobby with wobbly high heels and eager tweets before the play, then sit with quiet good behavior and occasional misplaced laughter — at suddenly recognized meaning — as the performance threads its way through another determined director's attempt to render the Bard "relevant" to our time.

Much Ado about Nothing, yet another play about a pair of young lovers thwarted by an unjust dictate, and again presenting the Elizabethan range of classes from nobility to clodhopper, was directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz in the capacious Bowmer Theater, where we sat dead center. The biggest problem with the production, to me, was the decision to cast the role of Don John — the villainous illegitimate brother of Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon; not at all the womanizing Don Juan you may have been thinking of — on a female actor, Regan Linton. (A 2013 graduate of the UC San Diego Acting Program, who uses a wheelchair because of a spinal injury, she makes her OSF debut in this role; I wouldn't be surprised to see her cast as Richard III in a few seasons.)

In fact, Linton is the first character to appear on stage in this production, mute, motionless, and veiled in a dumb-show before the action begins. Blain-Cruz clearly wants the irrational, even violent malevolence of her character to carry equal weight with the wit of the Beatrice-Benedick pair (Christiana Clark and Danforth Comins, both very good) and the broad comedy of Dogberry (Rex Young) and his lunatic crew of watchmen — but the distractions of the wheelchair, and hearing a woman continually addressed as "My lord," weakened that element.

Otherwise, casting worked out well. There was much play of tall and short: Clark is even taller than Comins, and both tower over the romantic couple, Carlo Albàn as Claudio and Leah Anderson as Hero. Jack Willis seemed to me a very sympathetic Leonato, even when gulled by Don John into rejecting his wrongly accused daughter, and minor parts — never really minor in Shakespeare — were well fleshed out.

Harold Bloom calls Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare's most nihilistic play, reducing love to a game of naughts; but he correctly finds its center on Beatrice's surprising request for proof of Benedick's newly confessed love for her: "Kill Claudio." This comes at the center of the play, which opened with her asking, banteringly, how many of the enemy Benedick had killed in a battle which precedes the play's action. And the play ends with a feigned death, recalling Romeo and Juliet and looking forward to The Winter's Tale. Everything about this play is artificial, symmetrical, contrived; only, as Bloom points out, the language of Beatrice and Benedick rises above contrivance and approaches poetry. (Even in prose, of which there's a fair amount.)

I'm not sure this production trusts that language to carry the play. Scott Bradley's scenic design is striking, and contributes to a surprising coup de théâtre; many of Kara Harmon's costumes add visual interest to their workmanlike efficacy. I've seen worse Shakespeare here in recent seasons.
A VERY DIFFERENT AFFAIR kept us alert in the evening, a rare production of Pericles. Not so much a play as a pageant, I suppose, it had a hard time making its way in the past couple of centuries; I hadn't seen it until two years ago, when the Pasadena company A Noise Within produced it successfully. (And they had done it once before, in 2001, before we began attending their productions.) At that time I wrote about the play generally, on this blog:
…It's one of the four late Romances, with The Tempest, A Winter's Tale, and Cymbeline… These plays extend Shakespeare's oeuvre out of the Elizabethan renaissance toward the Baroque; I think they look forward to Corneille…

One objection to these late romances has been their unbelievability. They depend on sudden rages, incest, redemptions, coincidence, chance natural cataclysms. Pericles begins with a hero who discovers a father-daughter incestuous relationship, and who can believe that? Later, it shows a young virgin abducted and sold into sexual slavery, and who can believe that? Yet in recent years [such] stories have become commonplace. No matter how theatrical and arbitrary his plots — most of them stolen from sources much older, of course — Shakespeare seems unable to escape contemporary relevance.

Asked, after the play, how she would sum it up, the director said that she thinks of it as a man's journey toward grace. In spite of every calamity, Pericles finds resolution. Wife and daughter, each long thought dead, are returned to him. Perseverance is rewarded.
It is generally assumed that Shakespeare did not write the first two acts, which were likely provided by George Wilkins, a lowlife hack (according to Bloom) who was probably a hanger-on at the King's Men, Shakespeare's theater company. In them the young prince Pericles, prince of Tyre, leaves home on a projected voyage-of-entering-manhood; answers a Turandot-like riddle to disclose the king of Antioch's incestuous relationship with his own daughter and escapes with his life; then travels on to the coast of famine-struck Tharus, for no apparent reason but to demonstrate his empathy and largesse.

Next his ship is wrecked in a tremendous storm, and he emerges, looking like Caliban (who in fact he was, in a recent Ashland production of The Tempest ), soon to be welcomed in spite of his ruined clothes to the court of Pentapolis where the king, Simonides, has a beautiful but aloof daughter, Thaisa, a devotée of the goddess Diana, who nonetheless marries Pericles to end the second act.

Shakespeare's hand is immediately recognized in the three acts that follow. Thaisa conceives on her wedding night, but the child is born in the midst of another terrific storm at sea. Thaisa doesn't survive, and the superstitious crew insists she be buried at sea. Those passages are magnificent, recalling the power and exalted futility of the storm in King Lear but proceeding with much more concision.

The baby, Marina, survives, but is taken by pirates and sold into prostitution — a fate she evades through simply the persuasive powers of her innate goodness. Pericles is unaware of these eventualities; assuming Marina as irrevocably lost as Thaisa, he withdraws into a brooding dejection. Ultimately, however, everything comes round.

Pericles continues, I think, Shakespeare's mature expressions of reservations about both Christianity and Judaism. There's something in late Shakespeare that wants to transcend established monotheism: he likes "the quality of mercy," but in the late romances attributes it to a generalized force, personalized in this play by the goddess Diana, but in fact not really a personal quantity at all: an abstraction.

Because we see Shakespeare's plays one at a time we tend to think of them as all coming from a single source. But because so many devices reappear from play to play, especially in these late Romances, it seems to me they are all different stages of a single thing, and that that thing is a thing in flux. Shakespeare is the author of the thirty-seven plays, of course (or 39, or 40) ; but he is also the transition from Ben Jonson to, say, Corneille. In Pericles more than any other late Romance it seems to me he's looking backward to the Elizabethan drama, asking himself if it's possible to retrieve its more eventful, less psychological human drama. Perhaps the box office had asked him to make a last stab at that; perhaps the actors had.

I think he succeeded in that look back, but was content to get on with Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest, ultimately to retire, like Prospero, and take up the long big final retrospection.

There were a few little glitches in this production, I think — notably casting the villainous queen Dionyza and the virtuous Thaisa on the same actor, the very good Brooke Parks whose striking face made it hard for me to decide which of these women she truly was. Probably my weakness; no one else's. As I say, she was very good; so was Jennie Greenberry as Marina and (more successfully differentiated) Antiochus's daughter; and so too was Michael J. Hume as Helicanus and, strikingly, in travesty, Bawd, the wife of the owner of the third-act brothel.

Others were evenly successful in the other roles. Best of all, Wayne T. Carr was completely admirable in the title role, growing, aging, developing over the sixteen to twenty years of the play's span, winningly young and energetic and optimistic at first, harrowed and injured at the center, abject and despondent toward the end, to return, through a literal deus ex machina (okay, dea ), to a transcendently ennobled state. There was a majesty to his performance, and it lifted the entire cast and production to a very high level.

Bruckner

Eastside Road, March 27, 2015—
•Anton Bruckner : Symphony No. 8 in c minor
James Feddeck, The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
Heard March 26 in Davies Hall, San Francisco
LET ME BE DIRECT : these have been difficult days, because a dear friend is dying, a man who means a great deal to me, for whom I have the greatest respect — I won't go into this further ; the time to write about him hasn't yet arrived.

He has been among a great many other things a performer on the French horn and Wagner tuba, and shares with me an enthusiasm for the symphonies of Anton Bruckner. In fact in his very poignant decline he has managed to keep track of the fact that we had bought, a few weeks ago, tickets to the San Francisco Symphony in order to hear the Bruckner 8th, a particular favorite of his. We discussed this several times on the telephone these last few days. Yesterday was the first day we did not speak on the phone, and was the day we heard the performance. He was in my mind at virtually every moment of the performance.

After the performance we stopped in at a couple of favorite places to refresh ourselves, and I looked at my iPhone. There on Facebook was a comment or two from an acquaintance who had heard the same performance:
What I always find so curious about Bruckner's symphonies is how sophisticated the orchestrations are, and how he uses the forces of the orchestra in novel ways, compared to everything else that was being composed at that time. Where did he get those ideas, considering his very humble and unsophisticated and not-worldly life. Very surprising music from someone with that biography.
In fact, I think it's precisely someone from his background who would envision the utterly new kind of music. (I'll retrench on that remark in just a moment.) Nearly everyone who writes about Bruckner — and a lot has been written ; there are so many things to discuss — nearly every commenter has been a city fellow with a good working knowledge of Western European music history, Haydn through, oh, Stravinsky let's say. Bruckner had quite different roots.

He was a villager, the son of a village schoolmaster, a boy and then a man who was tuned to simple, almost rural life, whose music was primarily church organs and part-songs, who studied serious music relatively late in his life, not writing his first symphony until he was forty years old. He was a man used to walking twenty miles in a day, not for pleasure but to get from one place to another. What he heard, in general, was birdsong and the Mass; and what he saw and felt was large flat expanses in his native Upper Austria.

I've always found Bruckner's symphonies in a very special area of the geography of The Symphony. Haydn's symphonies begin at the countryside court of Esterhazy, mannered, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, yet somewhat isolated. (They end, of course, in Paris and London.) Mozart's begin in Salzburg, a provincial capital, and end in Vienna and Prague, immensely metropolitan. Beethoven's begin, like Haydn's, in a sophisticated backwater (Bonn), but quickly move into a noisy studio in Vienna.

Schubert's begin in a teen-ager's joy in the Viennese streets and ballrooms, but in the early 1820s he caught sight of something beyond, and began to explore it — whatever it was — in piano sonatas and chamber works of much greater scope and dimension than he'd worked with until then. The "Unfinished" and the great C major symphony were the symphonic results of this vision, which brought the symphony beyond its earlier position — a sort of instrumental-music analogy of a novel or a play — to become abstract and geographical, a man-made equivalent of a subcontinent.

There is, I think, a direct line from the expansive Schubert to Bruckner, whose symphonies do not worry at developing arguments out of thematic fragments, as Beethoven had done, but instead announce the existence of huge tracts, celebrating their cordilleras and plains; and beyond Bruckner it is Sibelius who continues that line, removing human desire and personality altogether from the musical discussion, God too, to leave only aural phenomena. Beyond Sibelius I think there is only Cage and Feldman.

Thursday's performance was good. The announced conductor, Semyon Bychkov, withdrew with a couple of weeks' notice, recovering from surgery; his place was taken by James Feddeck, assistant conductor of he Cleveland Orchestra until 2013, when he seems to have launched an international career with a number of orchestras in this country and Europe. He had the Eighth well in hand, leading the orchestra and the audience through the huge architecture with big, sweeping gestures, glancing at the score from time to time but communicating fully with his musicians.

The performance was of the 1890 edition by Leopold Nowak. The only surprises came with the great third-movement Adagio: about two-thirds the way through, in a fairly calm passage, a high string on the second harp broke with a crack. (The score calls for three harps, always playing in unison as I recall; this performance had two.) Then, just as the last chord faded out of the four Wagner tubas, someone's cell phone went off, playing a ditty in the same key, apparently — D flat — quietly, to our ears in the first tier, in a glockenspiel-like timbre: fortunately it was quickly hushed.

(One other note: the score indicates that the famous cymbal crashes in this Adagio are to be played dry, as eighth-notes followed by rests; in this performance as in every other I've heard, live or recorded, the sound was allowed to ring.)

And a final note: the program booklet reprinted a particularly fine note by the late Michael Steinberg, who is particularly good with Bruckner, I think. Just look at the magnificent second sentence in this paragraph describing the composer — a sentence worthy of its subject :
Bruckner himself, a country man transplanted uneasily to the big city in his mid-forties, seemed as out of place as his music. To be sure, he had traveled as an organist, and with stupendous and consistent success; but with his peasant speech, his social clumsiness, those trousers that (it was said) looked as though a carpenter had built them, his disastrous inclination to fall in love with girls of sixteen, his distracting compulsions, his piety (he knelt to pray in the middle of a counterpoint class when he heard the angelus sound from the church next door), a Neanderthal male chauvinism that even his contemporaries found remarkable, and his unawareness of intellectual or political currents of his or any other day, Bruckner was not a likely candidate for success in the sort of compost heap of gossip and intrigue that was Vienna, nor indeed anywhere in a world where a composer's success in mak-ing a living and getting performances depends on so much more than skill at inventing music. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Venice and the idea of permanence

•Charles Shere : Venice : and the idea of permanence.
Healdsburg : Ear Press, 2015
ISBN 978-0-990-75889-1
pp. 176  illus.  $16.95
Available : lulu.com, http://tinyurl.com/kzcmj8j

VeniceCover.png
Eastside Road, March 19, 2015—
AS ALL THE WORLD must know by now, I hope, I have written a few books in my life, spurred at various times by small publishers (Fallen Leaf Press, Center for the Book) or, more insidiously, by some small hope of proving myself to my parents and grandparents, who had perhaps an exaggerated opinion of the value of books.

Of course that was a different time. Books were still regarded — I'm perfectly serious here — as having an aura of mysterious authority. Naturally it was known there were cheap or vulgar or even downright mendacious books, but even they contributed to the generally awed attitude toward books, for they were commercialized sinful things. Most books were honorable, appearing regularly in the mail from The Literary Guild or The Book-Of-The-Month Club, with covering pamphlets conveying an Authority's seriously considered and carefully expressed appreciation of the work.

As late as the early years of my own adulthood, in the late 1950s, The Reader's Subscription continued this tradition, bringing Finnegans Wake and Proust and such to our seventy-five-dollars-a-month duplex apartment. And much more recently, and to this day, the Library of America provides me with a two-volume Gertrude Stein, a convenient Wallace Stevens, the novels of Willa Cather and Henry James and Herman Melville.

My own contribution is not worth mentioning in this context, but if you think that's going to stop me, you're wrong. My publication history begins in 1995, after my retirement from journalism, when Berkeley's Fallen Leaf Press brought out Thinking Sound Music, my biography of the composer Robert Erickson, who had been my teacher years before. The next year the same house produced Everbest Ever, a slim jeu d'esprit containing correspondence between the composer Virgil Thomson and four Bay Area friends of his, mostly concerning mundane details of daily life and mutual visits.

I liked working with Fallen Leaf, whose products were nicely designed while indulging some of my own suggestions, and whose publisher, Ann Basart, was indulgent in the extreme of my eccentricities of prose style. In fact you could say she spoiled me: and this, together with intrinsic laziness, is why with one exception all my other titles have been self-published. (Regrettably, Fallen Leaf Press went out of business ten years ago or so, but those two books live on at Rowman & Littlefield.)

The most recent to appear is the one depicted here, Venice: and the idea of permanence, printed, like nine previous titles, at the online publishing company Lulu.com. For reasons some of which will be obvious, I think online self-publishing can transcend the conventional classification of "vanity press." I think it is, rather, an instance of a new corner of the capitalist economy, one merging artisanship, small business, niche market, and global technology, and facilitating an individual producer's seeing his work through the various steps of creation, production, and even distribution according to his own taste and values.

For example : I like a little space before a full colon, as you have just seen. I even like it before semi-colons. And I like a double space, or a space and a half, after full stops. I just think a printed page is more easily read with such spaces : and designing my own book makes it possible for me to insist on this practice, which, I think, no commercial publisher would countenance.

But that's only one reason for my self-publishing habit. Years writing for a newspaper — and in those days that meant writing thousands of words a week — formed the habit of considering experience through a linkage of fingertips and the mind and memory. I enjoy so many aspects of daily life — admittedly not shrinking from enhancing daily life with good food and drink, with travel, with reading, conversation, and the contemplation of art — but I enjoy them more fully when I consider them.

Early in the Internet Age, when e-mail became generally available, I began to share these considerations and contemplations with a few friends who seemed to enjoy reading them. By the time of our first month-long stay in Venice, in the summer of 2001, the list had grown to over a hundred, and hotel Internet providers had begun to suspect me, limiting the number I could send these "travel dispatches" to. But many of my readers, though they could deal with e-mail for some reason, resisted subscribing to a blog : and anyhow the blog itself had begun to develop associations with vanity. (Since then, of course, it has attained a more honorable state.)

Enter Lulu.com and the idea of online publishing. The present subject, Venice : and the idea of permanence records impressions gathered during two month-long stays in La Serenissima, in June 2001 and May 2011. I was curious to see how my thinking, my observation, and Venice herself may have changed in the lapse of those ten years, but I certainly wan't about to apply literary criticism to myself — why not just gather the original items in a single volume and let the reader, if one should happen to appear, come to his own conclusions?

So here it is. The cover's in color, as you see, but the interior photos are in black and white. There have been three previous similar gatherings, Roman Letters, Mostly Spain, and Improvised Itineraries, the last of which covers walking in the Low Countries and driving across France. (Another, Walking the French Alps, records a month-long hike from Lake Geneva to Nice.

I prepare these books on my desktop Macintosh, laying out the pages (and, separately, the covers) using Apple's "Pages" word-processor, converting the results to .pdf files, and uploading them to Lulu. They take over from there. I suppose each book takes me a month or so of work (apart from the writing), a few hours at a time — and, since I'm by nature careless, a number of trial printings. I set the price myself — let me know if you think it too high! — in order to make a very modest profit from the sale of each copy. If I like the result, and I generally do, its simple presence on my bookshelf is reward enough.

If something displeases me in the final result, I have only myself to blame.