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Borrego Palm Canyon and the Rest of Spring Break

On our second day in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, we hiked the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. There were plenty of people, and the trail was awash in desert flowers. The clouds of blooms were mainly shades of yellow and purple (desert dandelion, Parrish’s poppies, phacelia), with greenery and smatterings of other colors thrown in. The trail was pretty easy for a long stretch. Mountainsides jutted up sharply on either side of us, but far away on one side. There were streams (or maybe just one stream) flowing with cold water, and we had to cross all of these, usually on stepping stones or a log bridge. Closer to the palm oasis that was the endpoint of the trail, the path grew steeper and rockier in places.

Two kinds of phacelia?

A pretty blue flower

The oasis itself was a circle of California fan palms, the only native California palm tree. It was deliciously cool in the shade. Nearby, a shallow stream was flowing, and it seemed you could wade up it to find a waterfall. This sounded lovely, but a bunch of people had just arrived, so we opted to start the hike back. We stumbled upon some more ghost flowers along the trail, but alas, we didn’t meet any bighorn sheep.

Apricot mallow, I think

Stream from the trail, with ocotillos on the far hillside

On the drive back from the state park, we saw along the freeway near Lake Elsinore (lately overwhelmed by superbloom seekers) the hillsides coated in orange California poppies that are the signature of this year’s superbloom. The flowers do make impressive patches of color.

Back in Los Angeles, we visited the Getty Museum, where the illuminated manuscripts exhibit was Artful Words: Calligraphy in Illuminated Manuscripts. As usual, I tried to read the French texts. There was an amusing legend to an illustration in The Visions of the Knight Tondal: “The Good But Not Very Good Are Nourished by a Fountain”. Sounds like Not Very Good is good enough, then? This particular exhibit featured a lot of pages from books of music, which I’m a big fan of.

We also made our usual pilgrimage to The Huntington. In the Chinese garden, there was a performance underway in my eponymous pavilion: Gao Hejia was playing the guzheng.

The Chinese garden (notice the egret among the water lilies behind the rock)

Bird!

On the final day of our vacation, we visited the Getty Villa.

The Getty Villa, modeled on the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum

Inscription in what the exhibit called Palmyran Aramaic and what I think might be the Palmyrene alphabet–in any case, it’s beautiful!

Mobile Museums and Rare Books

Earlier this month Isabelle and I went to the Mobile Museum Fair at the Los Angeles Central Library downtown. The fair brought together a couple dozen exhibits and libraries, from the International Printing Museum‘s printing shop on wheels (which we’d once seen in front of our building on campus) to the Feminist Library on Wheels to a native plants pop-up seed museum. The trucks were lined up outside the library on 5th Street while other exhibits were scattered throughout the library’s halls and meeting rooms.

We’d heard there would be tours of the Rare Books Room, and we were lucky enough to snag the third and fourth spots out of twenty for the second and last tour. After signing up, we visited the Connecting Cultures Mobile Museum, which featured a large collection of masks and musical instruments from around the world. On a table in the middle of the room were a handful of instruments you could play, including a few thumb pianos, a guitar, and something Isabelle thought was a guzheng. She showed me how to pluck it. On the walls were many more instruments: balalaikas, an erhu, a kora, a hulusi, a banjo, a violin… There were also the masks, but I was more into the musical instruments.

Part of the instrument collection, including Scottish highland pipes and the violin-like hashtar from China

We checked out the museum trucks outside and visited the Department of Recreation and Parks’s eco trailer, with stuffed wildlife from the Santa Monica Mountains. Inside the library, we also saw the screen printing station in the courtyard, a couple of mobile libraries, a mastodon skull, and volunteers cuddling a tegu (a very big lizard) and a snake. Later on, after the Rare Books Room tour, we arrived in the rotunda just as the inflatable planetarium was toppled. We examined the seeds and seedpods at the seed museum and then took a quick look around the 21 Collections exhibit in the Getty Gallery.

Fox in the eco trailer

At four o’clock, those of us who had signed up for the tour were taken up in an elevator to the Rare Books Room, where we were welcomed by Xochitl Oliva, Senior Librarian of Digitization and Special Collections. Now, I received Susan Orlean’s The Library Book for Christmas, and I had finished reading it shortly before the Mobile Museum Fair. Orlean’s book is about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library and, in particular, the central library, the building that houses it, and the 1986 fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of books there. She also writes about a number of current library staff, and Oliva is in her book! Reading it also gave me much more context for this visit to the library; the only time I’d been before was with Mike the Poet over two years ago.

Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by Salvador Dalí

Oliva oriented us to the library and then spoke about each of the pieces from the collection that had been selected and set out for display on two wooden tables in the center of the reading room. There was a large-format edition of Alice in Wonderland with illustrations by Salvador Dalí. There was the oldest book in the collection, a 13th century Latin manuscript from the priory of Nostell in England. There was a Shakespeare Fourth Folio, a page from a Gutenberg Bible, a map depicting California as an island, a Sumerian temple dedication cone with a cuneiform inscription (the oldest item in the collection), and samples from the library’s collections of menus and fruit crate labels.

The oldest book in the special collections, a 13th century Latin manuscript from England

2018 in Review

2018 has been quite a year. Do I say that every year? (I actually don’t, but I probably could.) Between the am-I-finishing-grad-school-this-year-or-not uncertainty (answer: no), the politics, the traveling, and the wonderful times with friends, it’s been a full year. Here are some highlights, not in chronological order:

In 2019, I will be dissertating and, I hope, writing and perhaps beginning a brand new adventure!

La brune habillée en soie

Towards the end of the summer, I went through another French Canadian music phase, this time focused on albums by De Temps Antan, including À l’année, Les habits de papiers, and Consolez-vous. I came across the song “La brune habillée en soie” (The brunette dressed in silk), which I quite liked and also reinforced my impression that there is really only one Québécois song, and all songs express facets of that one ur-song. Actually, the most significant overlap I can detect is between “La brune habillée en soie” and the song “Les larmes aux yeux” (With tears in (one’s) eyes) by Le Vent du Nord. Both are from the point of view of young men who are disappointed in love. Both young men say that if they’d known things weren’t going to work out, “j’aurais pas tout dépensé mon argent” (I wouldn’t have spent all my money) on frivolities (exactly which frivolities varies between the two songs). In both cases, the object of his affections replies (and here again the lyrics are extremely close) that if he spent his money, it was because he wanted to, and how many times had she told him politely to leave because he was wasting his time?!

“La brune habillée en soie” also has the line “C’est par un beau dimanche au soir” (It was on a nice Sunday in the evening). In this case, that’s when some people come tell the young man his brunette has changed lovers, but for me the line echoed “Par un dimanche au soir” (One Sunday in the evening) from Le Vent du Nord’s “Vive l’amour” (Yay, love), which is a fair bit more cheerful. I guess everything exciting always happens on Sunday evening.

“Les larmes aux yeux” and  “La brune habillée en soie” differ in that in the former the young man never seems to have gotten anywhere with the young woman (i.e. it’s all in his head, she’s already committed to a young officer) while in the latter it seems the young man and the young woman were actually together in some sense (though conceivably it could all have been in the young man’s head too, who knows) and she leaves him. That’s probably why the second young man is more bitter at the end of the song. In “Les larmes aux yeux,” he just talks about drinking to heartbreak and saying goodbye with resignation, but “La brune habilleée en soie” ends with the vindictive lines: “Un jour viendra, ta beauté s’en ira / Chère Léona t’épousera qui pourras” (One day your beauty will be gone / Dear Léona, you’ll marry who you can (then)).

Aliénor la reine

A music typewriter on display in the music building

The UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s spring concert, Ex Tempore: Improvisations on Historical Musics, was this past weekend, and Isabelle and I went. Most of the concerts of theirs I’ve attended have been in the rotunda of Powell Library, but this one was in the organ studio in the music building. It’s a very intimate space, dominated by a pipe organ that sits on a dais. The performers were right in front of the audience; no one was more than four rows away. Besides the pipe organ, there was another organ behind us, as well as an upright piano and a harpsichord in the corner. This isn’t counting the harpsichord and the small organ-on-wheels that were on stage and actually played in the concert.

There’s apparently a tuba and euphonium ensemble on campus, and they were featured in a couple of pieces. I especially liked the arrangement of Monteverdi’s “Ecco mormorar l’onde” for two euphoniums, one trombone, and two tubas. The sound made the whole studio vibrate, and it was like being enveloped in the ocean. That madrigal was one of the ones I learned for the Jouyssance singalong last year.

I also really liked “My Lief is Faren in Londe” (I was surprised by how comprehensible the rest of the text was after the fairly foreign-looking first line; it turns out the song is in Middle English). It was fun to hear Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Major for lute on classical guitar, and the modern harmonies of the arrangement of Scarborough Fair were compelling.

The most delightful piece for me, though, was “Stella splendens in monte,” from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, a 14th century manuscript. It began with a sort of duet for symphony (a kind of early hurdy-gurdy) and musa bagpipe. The piper is the musician who played the musette at the hurdy-gurdy concert I went to my first year of grad school. Our paths have crossed multiple times over the years because he also sings shape note and Georgian music (yes, it’s all one cult). In fact, he just started coming to Datvebis Gundi’s rehearsals, and the first time he came he had the musa bagpipe and showed it to us! This particular instrument is unusual in that the drone can change notes (just to one other note).

Anyway, as the symphony and bagpipe played, I realized I recognized the tune as the Tri Yann song “Arthur Plantagenest.” Yes, this happened the last time I went to an Early Music Ensemble concert too. “Arthur Plantagenest” is about Arthur’s untimely end, but the song begins with his grandmother, Aliénor la reine, i.e. Eleanor of Aquitaine. Here’s a version of “Stella splendens in monte,” and here’s Tri Yann’s “Arthur Plantagenest,” from the album Portraits.

Mopey Chipmunk Vol. 1

Lately I’ve been busy linguisticking and Being Cultured (I hope). In mid-April, having lived in Los Angeles for almost five years, I finally went to my first LA Philharmonic concert. It was a matinée, and beforehand I had a bowl of ramen at Daikokuya in Little Tokyo. It was the day before they closed for a weeks-long ramen study trip to Japan. After lunch I walked to Disney Hall and found my seat in Orchestra East. An older couple sat beside me, and the wife asked me whether that was an organ behind the stage. I said yes. Then she and her husband began discussing how the audience skewed old, and one of them said young people couldn’t afford to go to the orchestra. (Um, so what was I doing there? But actually I bought my ticket with a gift certificate from my parents–thanks, Mom and Dad!) Then the other said if young people could afford to go to Coachella, they could afford to go to the orchestra.

The first half of the concert was the world premiere of Pollux, by Esa-Pekka Salonen, former conductor of the LA Phil, followed by Edgard Varèse’s Amériques. I enjoyed listening to Pollux, but Amériques sometimes just sounded like…noise. There were fourteen percussionists, one or more of whom played the siren. There was also apparently a lion’s roar, and I was disappointed not to have picked it out. Also somewhere in the first half something seemed to be going on in the oboe section. Was there a reed issue…? It’s vaguely stressful to identify what you think is a musician’s minor crisis on stage during a concert. I didn’t detect any problems in the performance, though.

The second half of the concert, and the reason I’d chosen it, was Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, a symphony I played in community orchestra in high school and with my college orchestra. I know it very well. Gustavo Dudamel conducted it without a score, and it was wonderful. After a couple of ovations, Dudamel returned and led the orchestra in an encore. As the concert hall was emptying, the woman next to me asked if I knew the piece, adding that it was so familiar. I said I didn’t know it and didn’t mention that it hadn’t even sounded familiar to me. Later, I found a concert review which identified the encore as “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t know.

Two days later, Isabelle and I went to one of The Moth‘s live storytelling events at a nightclub in Silver Lake (I don’t think I’d ever been to a nightclub before, but also, it was only 7:00pm…). The theme of the evening was Mail. Attendees who wanted to tell a story put their names in a tote bag, and ten storytellers were drawn. Each person had five minutes (with a little grace) to tell their story. Three teams of judges were chosen from the audience, and after each story they held up placards with their score on a ten-point scale. It was like the Olympics or something.

Isabelle’s and my favorite story also garnered the highest score and therefore won the night. It was told by a writer from New York. One winter day she dropped her keys, including her mailbox key, through a subway grate. This was disastrous because it was the very day she was expecting to hear back from the second MFA program she had applied to. She had been rejected from the first one, though with a personal e-mail from Colum McCann (!), who told her her work was great and she should keep writing. She, however, believed that if she didn’t get into the other program she would give up on writing. (There was backstory on her feverishly writing weird stories in a corner of her apartment when she couldn’t sleep.) So she picked up her kids from school, and then they returned to the subway grate with bubblegum and magnets and proceeded to fish for the lost keys. And they got them back! And when she opened her mailbox, an acceptance from the MFA program was waiting for her. She told this much better than I just did, which is why she won.

So that was my cultured April. Now our feature presentation: I got my wisdom teeth out (technically two wisdom teeth and two second molars, except they left in one wisdom tooth) at the end of March, just before spring break. I had joked I was going to spend break being a mopey chipmunk. That sounded like a great zine title, which led to this:

King’s Lynn

First, I did an interview recently with blogger Melinda Brasher; you can read it here.

Second, I have another musical connection for you! A fellow grad student, who is an Orthodox Christian, lent me his newly acquired copy of the St. Ambrose Hymnal since he knows I’m interested in hymnody. As far as I understand it, this hymnal collects Western hymns (such as those I might know from my own hymn singing) for use in a particular Orthodox tradition. Because, you know, despite the Schism we still have some theology in common. The other day I was reading the hymnal on the bus, sight reading the melodies in my head, as one does. I came across a hymn whose title I’ve forgotten (I’ve since returned the hymnal) but which was set to the tune King’s Lynn, arranged by Ralph Vaughn Williams (who also arranged Kingsfold). I read the tune and thought it sounded familiar, though the tune name didn’t particularly (have I mentioned I spend a lot of time reading hymnal indices?). As I mulled it over, I wondered if the melody was one of the ones in Vaughn Williams’ Six Studies in English Folksong for cello and piano, which my mother had bought years ago for me to play with my brother accompanying me. So, I investigated, and lo, I was right! The third movement, the Larghetto, is King’s Lynn!

The following is an instrumental arrangement of King’s Lynn:

And this is the corresponding movement in Six Studies in English Folksong: