My husband was a lot of things. Most of all, he was the nicest, sweetest, most accommodating partner anyone could hope to have. We didn’t agree on everything, but we always agreed on the big, consequential things–those things that are at the very root of who one is and what one stands for.
And, it turns out, we also pretty much agreed on fiction. For the first 17 or so years that we were together he was primarily a reader of nonfiction. His choices for reading were usually something to do with gardens or gardening or gardeners…or World War II.
Early in the pandemic, however, he looked over one night and said “I want you to choose a novel for me to read–something cozy.” He didn’t have to ask twice. I ran into the library and found a stack of titles that would fit the bill. I don’t remember what the first selection was, but it got him hooked on my abilities as a book recommender. Over the course of about two years, he allowed me to choose every book he read. Don’t get me wrong, he still read nonfiction here and there, but for the most part he was happy to be given a novel that fit the mood he was in at the moment he was ready for a new one.
Since I only keep books that I think I want to read again, I was choosing from a stack of books that I quite enjoyed. But I was still surprised how much he enjoyed whatever I threw his direction. The fact that he wasn’t necessarily pre-disposed to the kind of fiction I tend to like made the process all the more gratifying. And since I rarely remember the plot or characters in any book, even if I loved it, I would ask him each night what was happening in his book. Those were truly precious moments to me. Sometimes I would lean over as we lay in bed reading and rest my head on his shoulder and read what was on the pages in front of him. Sometimes falling asleep that way while he stayed up to read a few more pages.
He discovered he liked D.E. Stevenson and Nevil Shute almost as much as I do. When I put the last book in his hands he would ever read, I was contemplating whether or not he was ready for Barbara Pym. But that wasn’t to be. The night he died, suddenly and unexpectedly, after I walked with his body out to the van that took him away, I went back to our bedroom and saw his glasses sitting on top of the book he would never finish reading. So glad that his open heart and mind let us share something that was so important to me, and so, so, very sad that we would never share anything again.
A book unfinished and a life with so much more to go.
[UPDATE 6/17/22: An earlier version of this post only looked at 44 orchestras. The last seven have finally posted their seasons for 22/23, so I have updated the data.]
What’s all this then?
Last year I looked at the first “post”-pandemic season for 19 of the top U.S. orchestras and broke down the data just about every which way. You can see those posts here and here. Besides satisfying my interest in crunching data, not to mention my love of data entry on my old fashioned, clacky Das keyboard, my analysis prompted me to buy tickets for 31 concerts for the 21/22 season, including about nine concerts each with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, as well as Cleveland (x3), St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (x3), San Francisco (x2), Minnesota (x2), Boston, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.
This year’s list expands from 19 to 51 orchestras
Along with my analysis last year, came the not-too-surprising result that there is a distinct lack of variety and diversity when it comes to programming. So this year I expanded my list to 51 orchestras in North America.
Not surprisingly, the five orchestras with women music directors or equivalent (Hartford, Buffalo, Richmond, New Jersey, and Atlanta), have the highest percentage of concerts conducted by women.
Out of the five orchestras who have zero women conducting subscription* concerts next season, none of them have the budget for guest conductors and are led by men, EXCEPT for the Cleveland Orchestra. Twenty-two concerts, fourteen guest conductors, and Cleveland doen’t have a single concert conducted by a woman. That is beyond pitiful. (*I had to make some judgement calls on what constituted a subscription concert. Each orchestra does things a bit differently in the promotional materials. In some cases it was hard to tell what fit into a subscription season and what didn’t. And I zeroed out anything marked as holiday or pops. I’m doing this for fun in my spare time, so my academic rigor probably isn’t what it should be.)
A note about the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, they typically don’t have a conductor and they have artistic partners rather than a music director. As it stands, about eight of their concerts have a discernable conductor and three of those are women.
Although the number of concerts conducted by women is far too low, it is interesting to see that across the continent, in markets big and small, audiences are seeing women on the podium next season. I looked at my own personal concert log that goes back about 35 years, and prior to the pandemic I had only ever seen a woman conduct an orchestra one single time (Marin Alsop). One. In 35 years. Since the pandemic, I have seen Anna Rakitina (Boston), Gemma New (NSO), Simone Young (NSO), and Marin Alsop (Baltimore).
As Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony, it is no surprise that Xian Zhang tops this list, but what is more encouraging is that five of her dates are guest conducting for other orchestras (Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis).
In her first season since leaving the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Only three of Marin Alsop‘s nine concerts are with Baltimore. The others are with Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Seattle. Incidentally, if you haven’t seen the film The Conductor, you really should. It’s a great portrait of a true trailblazer.
Just edging out the newly freed-up Alsop is Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska who has the most gigs without having a Music Director position at any of them. (Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Minnesota, National, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Toronto)
And no discussion of women conductors is complete without talking about JoAnn Falletta. Her list of firsts is amazing, her discography is amazing, and her programming in Buffalo is amazing (although woefully light on women composers). In addition to her Music Director position in Buffalo, Falletta is guest conducting the the Calgary Philharmonic, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, and the Florida Orchestra. And, I noticed the other day that she is making her Boston Symphony Orchestra debut this summer at Tanglewood. About time.
We were superstars about lockdown. We were hermits. We masked. We bubbled. We vaccinated. We masked. We ventured out. We masked. We boosted. We locked down.
Then we cracked. We knew that Omicron might upset our plans to spend 12 days in the Bahamas this month. But as the date got closer we became more and more determined to go come hell or high water. I joked to friends and family that we were keeping ourselves negative long enough so that we could go to the Bahamas and get Covid. We were still cautious, but whatever fear we had about venturing to a country with a 37% vaccination rate was mitigated by the fact that we needed to get the hell out of Dodge.
So, after five flights (including some tiny airplanes where the pilot’s face mask was doing a good job keeping his chin warm), three hotels, and about 10 restaurant meals we managed to get ourselves home without getting Covid.
In addition to staying healthy and getting to spend a lot of time on the beach, it was also kind of nice to let go of some of the fear. We’ve been Pfizered thrice, we were still aware of our surroundings, masking, and reducing our risk…but we started to get over the feeling of being under assault and even managed to stop wanting to assault people who weren’t wearing masks.
First Stop (from my bucket list): Atlantis
For about 20 years, I have been dying to go to Atlantis.–waterslides that require a fair amount of courage, and a lazy river that is actually a Rapid River. Totally brings out the 12-year old in me. John, on the other hand, has been wanting to go to the much quieter part of the Bahamas for at least as long, but has been afraid to show his interest in Atlantis lest I drag him to the Bahamas without being able to go to Harbour Island. But, since Harbour Island was next on the itinerary, he actually had fun.
Either because of Covid or the time of year, it wasn’t crowded at all and we never really had to wait in any lines to go on any of the slides. I would probably like it less if it had been hotter and crammed with people. All in all, I’m glad I went and we definitely had fun, but I’m not sure I need to go again.
We didn’t know if we’d be able to go until 48 hours prior to leaving. But the test came back negative so we were off. We also had a (planned) overnight layover in Houston that had me worried about flight cancellations to Nassau, but United’s vax policy has kept them in pretty good shape and our flight arrived in the Bahamas without a hitch.
The view from our room in The Cove, Atlantis’s more adult friendly hotel onsite. What you don’t see are many more pools, the Rapid River, or any of the crazy slides in the two structures you see across the way. This is also not a bad stretch of beach. (Certainly much better than the beach at the Baha Mar complex about 12 minutes away, more on that further down the page.) I will also say that the food was better than expected. I was particularly surprised at how good room service was.
Second stop (from John’s bucket list): Harbour Island
We had to get tested again to go to another island. Most (if not all) hotel properties have testing onsite that you can schedule once you check-in to ensure you can make it to your next destination (or home). Very convenient.
20 minute flight from Nassau to North Eleuthera, five minute taxi ride to the dock, 10 minute boat trip to Harbour Island, and then another three minutes in a taxi. (You can see me preparing tip money.)
John has wanted to go to Harbour Island for a long, long time. It has a long association with David Hicks and now style maven India Hicks. It is small, and quiet, and has some pretty nice places to stay. The eastern side of Harbour Island faces out to the Atlantic and has, by far, the best beach on the island.
Our resort had bikes you could use. We never touched them…but they make a nice photo. There are very few cars on the island so most people get around on golf carts. That can be a bit dodgy when you are trying to get to dinner in the driving wind and rain. Thankfully I was able to time our comings and goings with doppler radar projections online, so we stayed fairly dry.
The restaurant at the Pink Sands. We had a few meals here.
Our home for seven nights. The bed was blessedly firm.
The sand is so powdery and delightful, and there are no rocks or coral (or weeds) when you get in the water. It’s just absolutely delightful. This might possibly be the best beach we have ever experienced. If the wet sand looks a little pink to you, that’s because it is. Just enough pulverized coral to make it look pink.
I have no interest in being on a wet horse, but they were pretty to look at. Especially as I plowed my way through Lonesome Dove.
The view from our breakfast and lunch perch at the resort.
The nice thing about staying so close to the beach is you can jump in whenever you feel like it. One evening we even swam a bit in the rain.
It could get a tad bit chilly as the sun was going down, but still perfect for napping…I mean reading.
I’ve turned John into a Nevil Shute fan.
Once windy night we heard a thud on the roof which I said was probably a coconut. Turns out it was our umbrella. Couldn’t believe it made it up there and then didn’t blow away again.
Stop 3: Rosewood Baha Mar
Since we were on a tiny plane to get to and from Harbour Island, I wanted to leave us a cushion before our flight back to DC, so we stayed two nights at the Rosewood Hotel in the Baha Mar development near in Nassau. Baha Mar is has three or four large hotels, tons of restaurants, bars, pools, shops, a casino, and a waterpark. What it doesn’t have is a good beach. The one at Atlantis is much better and, of course, the one on Harbour Island was the best.
Originally we were supposed to be on a trip during this period from Singapore to Hong Kong. On that itinerary we were set to stay at two Rosewood properties (Bangkok and Hong Kong). Since we couldn’t do that we thought we would try the Rosewood in the Bahamas. Extremely nice property (and very expensive). But one HUGE flaw was that the fancy lighting system in our room could go low, medium, and high. But it was all or nothing! There was no way to independently operate the lamps or other lights. Was quite annoying for reading.
If the Pink Sands had the best beach of my life, the Rosewood had the best pool service I have ever encountered. This is what happened when I asked for water (after pressing the service button on our umbrella). And they were super attentive. What I don’t show here is the fact that they also served us the best piña coladas of our lives as well. It’s our beach vacation drink of choice, and up to now, our favorite was the lava flow at the Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. But the one they served at the Rosewood is a reason unto itself to stay there again.
We were relaxed enough at this point that we actually kept our massage appointments (with masks) and they too were fabulous. And then one more negative test and we made it home to Lucy.
Okay, not really. Among the giant stack I took with us for 12 days, none of them were actually Bahamian, but they were books I read in the Bahamas and about four of them that I finished got left behind on Harbour Island. Not only has it been quite a while since I blogged, but it has been even longer since I actually wrote about books I’ve read.
My stack. I read five and a half of them. I’ll let you do the process of elimination to see which ones I didn’t get to.
The Last Days of America by Paul Erdman
This is a book I picked up at the Book Thing in Baltimore where all the books are free. I tend to find lots of Helen MacInnes and other spy/political thrillers there. I didn’t know anything about Paul Erdman but since they are free, I could afford to make a mistake. I was not disappointed. I think the author had a weird political axe to grind that I couldn’t entirely figure out. He seems to have disliked Reagan as much as he disliked Carter.
The action takes place in about 1985, but the book was published in 1981, so the geo-political and economic situation were different then reality, were sometimes wildy off, sometimes wildly prescient, and always entertaining. Predicting the dip in Apple’s fortunes after its initial success was prescient, but assuming its demise was the part was wildly off. Another bit that was disappointingly off was that he envisioned Reagan as a one-term president.
It is against this Reagan-less Cold War that Erdman weaves his tale of a missile manufacturer who tries to bribe NATO better than Boeing and General Dynamics but then ends up in a weird deal that has West Germany re-arming so they can be the dominant force in Europe. This in itself is prescient in a way, fears of a strong Germany played out when Thatcher and Mitterand opposed a reunified Germany in 89/90, but Erdman was wrong when he thought the reunification would a result in the entirety of Germany joining the Soviet-bloc. And the book kind of ends there, with the U.S. too weak to put any kind of effective political or military pressure to achieve a better outcome. If I had read this book prior to 2016, it would have seemed laughably impossible. Now, after four years of you know who, the reemergence of fascistic sympathies around the world, and Boris the idiot in charge of the UK, geopolitical chaos seems more likely than not.
I really enjoyed this book and plan to look out for more of his work.
Marion Fay by Anthony Trollope
Months ahead of this trip I was hankering for a chunky Trollope, but kept telling myself to wait for vacation. This is the story of a brother and sister each falling for lovers (in the Trollopian sense) well below their class. For anyone with working knowledge of Trollope you know the general back and forth that happens before this one wraps up. Although I enjoyed this fairly well, for those of you who haven’t read Trollope, I’m don’t think I would start here. Start with Rachel Ray or The Warden or The Eustace Diamonds. It may not have been my favorite Trollope, but it still did a great job scratching my Trollope itch.
Passport to Panic by Eric Ambler and Charles Rhodda
I recently read a memoir by Eric Ambler where he mentions how most of his collaborations with Charles Rhodda under the pen name Eliot Reed where much more Rhodda than Ambler. I don’t remember if this was one of those, but it does feel a bit like Ambler-lite. However, it is still a delight to read with all the things I like about a vintage political thriller–voyages, telegrams, newspapers, and very little violence. Man goes to South America to find out what’s up with his non-communicative brother only to find his brother in a coma with the situation being managed by his brother’s, hitherto unknown, supposed brother-in-law. Intrigue ensues.
A great vacation read. But, if you haven’t read Ambler, go for his named work before you start to look for these Eliot Reed titles. Save those for when you discover you love Ambler and are worried about running out of the real stuff.
Man Overboard by Monica Dickens
British naval officer in the 1950s finds himself forcibly retired as the Royal Navy continues its post-war force reductions. Although 35-year-old Charles was a captain, and is looking forward to having a shot at the private sector he soon realizes he isn’t trained to really do anything. He is also a widower with a, I want to say 11-year-old daughter. Early in the book, while still in the Navy, he starts dating a television star and one is led to believe that the whole book is going to be about him juggling his status with the vagaries of his diva girlfriend. But about halfway through the book Dickens seems to have decided that that wasn’t as interesting as Charles himself. This is where I think things became more like the kind of book I wanted to read. I enjoyed the ladies at an employment agency who kind of adopt him. I loved his mother-in-law and his daughter. I really liked how a decades-old fascination with a house and family he sees from the train window turns into reality. And I was really excited when he becomes bursar at a boys school and really starts to stir things up.
Ultimately enjoyable, but there are better Monica Dickens novels out there.
Temporary by Hilary Leichter
This is the “half book” of the six and half that I read on vacation. I still haven’t finished it and vacation ends today. However, I will indeed finish it. So far I am loving it. The main character is a temporary employee and everything kind of hangs off the notion of temporary. There is some really brilliant writing in this and it gives me a similar vibe as The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris–two books I absolutely love.
So far I love this book. An absolute delight.
Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay
Focused on a young violinist, I was really looking forward to this one. But alas, it was not to be. I realized I was in for a formulaic rollercoaster ride by an MFA-author. You know the type. I left it behind in the resort library without reading beyond page 40.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
If you haven’t read Lonesome Dove, forget what you think you know about these 858 pages and give it a go. If you’re like me, you’re no fan of Westerns, but you can suspend your general disinterest when something good comes along (like John Williams’s brilliant book Butcher’s Crossing). And this is good. Very good.
It is an epic tale of two former Texas Rangers who lead a group of cowboys, gamblers, hands, a prostitute, a cookie, two pigs, and about 3,000 head of cattle on a drive from the Texas borderlands up to Montana. Among the very harsh physical realities and stunted intellectual development of most of the characters, there is so much pain and beauty.
Once you get into the swing of this one, it is hard to put down. On one day of vacation I read over 400 pages and couldn’t wait until the next day when I could pick it up again. There is much that is problematic for our 2022 sensibilities, and I can see it pushing buttons, it pushed some of mine, but if you accept it for what it is, it’s worth the trip.
As semi-lockdown, not quite normal, is still the way of the world, it can sometimes escape me that working from home (staying safe and employed) can be damn stressful. Yes, I am lucky to have that kind of stress. I am very aware of those who have been impacted by Covid in much more pressing ways. But all experience is relative, and sometimes I don’t know how stressed out I am.
It was against this backdrop that we recently had friends in town to stay for a long weekend. They are friends of mine from grad school who have, happily, also become good friends with John over the past 19 years. There was a time when they lived here in DC, about six blocks from us, and we would get together one or two times a week for dinner. Having them here for three days was like Christmas in November. All of the day-to-day crud just sloughed off my body. I could literally feel my blood pressure diminish.
So what did we do? We did go out and about on Saturday, but then on Sunday, rather than head off to the National Gallery like planned. We stayed home and did nothing. Well, not really nothing. We did taste tests. What? you say. Yes, we did taste tests. At some point as she emerged from lockdown, Jennifer decided she liked doing taste tests. And who are we to say no to something that includes food?
And then three hours later I was making tuna puttanesca over pasta. Fabulous way to spend a Sunday.
As regular readers of Hoggletstock know, I can get pretty excited about a book challenge. Being an adult, I also love the fact that I can drop out of said challenge whenever I feel like it. But the other night, I was lazing about in my library poking about in my non-fiction section. So many things I never make time for because fiction is much more my bag. And then I thought, why not? Let’s give it a go. I can always drop out whenever I feel like it.
I tried to pull books that were varied enough to capture my mood at any given time. And I also tried to make sure that I had enough on the pile that aren’t too academic. (Although, I must say, almost none of my non-fiction collection could be classified as academic.) So this is what I came up with.
We’ll see how all of this goes. I think I’ve chosen enough that I consider truly fun reads, so I shouldn’t find it too problematic. But the second something is expected of me (even by myself) I tend to rebel.
Because our 17-day road trip was cut down to eight, I didn’t do as much book browsing as I anticipated doing. I was particularly looking forward to going to used book stores and just having a good rummage around. Prior to hitting the road, I think I had only been in two used bookstores since March 2020. Buying used books online is even less satisfying as buying new books online. Plus the I was hoping to come across some of the dusty old forgotten authors that aren’t desired enough for someone to put them for sale online. I was looking forward to the hunt.
As you may already have seen in an earlier post, I did have a good hour at the Book Barn of the Finger Lakes, but its so over filled that it was somewhat challenging.
Looking through my photos, I realize that I didn’t document things very well. It was nice to forget about the phone in my pocket, so I guess that was a good thing.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, with lots of mid-week closures throughout western MA we had a day to kill and weren’t quite sure how we were going to do it. Doing my research the night before really narrowed down the choices. It seems like the only thing open on this particular day was The Springfield Museums in Springfield, Massachusetts. It’s a series of four buildings, one for science, one for history, and two for art. In the end we only had time for the art buildings.
It’s always nice to be on vacation for your birthday, but that doesn’t always guarantee a great time. Since we had exhausted most of what we wanted to do in the lower Berkshires–I might have just made that up, I guess we would probably say the southern Berkshires here in the US, but ‘the lower Berkshires’ makes it sound like I’m in rural England–anyhoo, since we had kind of run out of things to do and so many shops are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we decided we needed to go further afield for our day’s adventures.
One of the beauties of a road trip is you can be spontaneous. The night before my birthday, I looked at a map and decided we could drive north with Bennington, VT as our main destination with the idea of being in Troy, NY for my birthday meal. In doing so I broke the the cardinal rule of any good trip–Always do your research. But more on that later in this post.
On the drive up to Bennington, which I quickly realized we had started on too early in the morning, we came to Williamstown, MA the home of both Williams College and the Clark Art Institute. We hadn’t intended on going to the Clark because we had been there on our previous trip to the Berkshires and I knew that they had implemented timed entry tickets due to Covid, and we didn’t have a timed ticket. But since we had plenty of time we decided to take a chance on being able to get in. I’m so glad we did. Having expanded since 2008, the Clark is even more amazing than before and it provided a really nice way to spend a couple of hours.
After the Clark we continued our path north by zigging over to North Adams the home of MassMOCA, another art museum we had been to in 2008. I opted out of going there this time because the art tends to be room-size conceptual kind of stuff, or other things that are somewhat lost on me. I mean how long can you stare at a Dan Flavin. (Look it up, not long.) And because we had Bennington to look forward to, we didn’t bother to poke around the former mill town.
Now, when I picked Bennington as our destination, I had visions in my head of another serendipitous stop we had made in Vermont on our previous road trip in 2008 in which we stayed the night in the very charming town of Woodstock where there was one of my favorite used bookstores of all time (and the place where I first discovered the work of May Sarton).
But Bennington is no Woodstock. While the town has some very nice architectural bones, there was a lot of empty retail space that appears to have been vacant prior to Covid. Half of the shops that were closed that day and not very interesting to start with. This town could use about 100 LGBTQ families to fill up the great old buildings with shops you actually want to visit.
There are a couple of museums that we might have enjoyed in town, but as I mentioned, I hadn’t done my research, and I didn’t know they existed.
And I hate to say it, but the indie bookstore that was there had recently moved locations and was not even remotely conducive to browsing. I’m sure my mood had something to do with it, but the store felt very suburban and not at all cozy. I literally spent less than a minute inside and turned around and left without even touching a book. Back out on the street I saw one of those “open” flags that seem to be all over the place in vacationland to draw attention to shops that visitors might be interested in. We crossed the street and walked a bit to go see what we could see only to find a vape shop. Time to leave Bennington.
Although my birthday felt like a bust at times because of Bennington, if we had only planned to go to the Clark, Famous Lunch, and the DQ, I would have considered it a fantastic day. I guess it is all about setting expectations.