Thursday, March 26, 2009

Music in my mind: Queen... mellow

Before there was opera for me... there were Freddie Mercury and Queen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring blooms at Balboa Park

Spring is here and the flowers are blooming on the hills at the west end of Balboa Park (along 6th Avenue).

Just wild flowers, these are, but neither I nor the bee dancing in and around them could take our eyes off them.

I've lived in the city for too long! Every bit of a glimpse of the wild is like an oasis in the concrete desert...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

In a mood for a song well sung...

Who do you turn to when you're in the mood for a mellow simple song that is gorgeously sung? I have VAI Music to thank for their DVD of Marilyn Horne's 1981 solo recital at Teatro la Scala, accompanied by Martin Katz. Perfectly done in every way...

Friday, March 20, 2009

From the Embarcadero Marina Park - South

A dog is a tree's best friend.... sort of. I'd take this one home, but he was obviously taken.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Even the prettiest garden must fade....

In Georg Friedrich Händel's Alcina, Ruggiero (Roger) the crusading knight had been held captive by the love enchantment of the sorceress Alcina on her magical island until his fiancee, Bradamante, and her magical adviser, Melisso, arrived to knock some sense of reality back into him. As Ruggiero slowly regains his true perspectives, the true horror of Alcina's island becomes perceptible to him (what he used to see as a green enchanted garden is, in reality, a barren place full terrible remains of Alcina's past lovers).

"Verdi prati, selve amene....... Green meadows, calming woods,
perderete la belta............... your beauty is fading.
Vaghi fior, correnti rivi......... Blooming flowers, rippling brooks,
la vaghezza, la bellezza....... your charms and beauty
presto in voi si cangera....... will soon be transformed.

E cangiato il vago ogetto...... and when the enchanted vision
all' orror del primo aspetto...... has returned to original horror,
tutto in voi ritornera.............. I'll have regained myself."
The photos in the clip are, alas, not from Alcina's garden (nor from the Villa d'este, the water garden that inspired Ariosto to write the epic poem, Orlando Furioso, from which the story of Ruggiero and Alcina branched out of, for that matter). They are from the various places on the Embarcadero in downtown San Diego, California.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lazing on a lazy afternoon

Dog day afternoon....

Even the moon is hiding.

Chain of evidence and faith in what.... exactly?

Another evangelical Christian expressed her dismay at my lack of faith in ‘god’ today. It wasn't anything I did or say that caused her anguish. It is just the fact of my not believing in her religion... One of those 'if I didn't like you then I wouldn't feel sorry that we won't be meeting in heaven after it all' sentiment. Something I find both patronizing and flattering at the same time. 

I believe things when it jives with real evidence. I buy into a notion when its predictions and assumptions are borne out of established patterns of nature and experimental data or a solid line of testable reasoning that can be repeated by anyone with the necessary tools. Nature itself and reality are the arbiter of what I accept as truth. If god is the maker of nature or is nature itself, why would it have any problem with that?

A real god doesn't need a middle-man/cellphone to talk to me.

On the other hand, her ‘faith in god’ is not based on ‘god’ at all. It is based on what some men wrote in a bunch of books thousands of years ago that hundreds of years later were compiled by another bunch of men who picked and chose what books to keep or to leave out - whose motives were based as much on politics as they were on beliefs. Not only does she NOT have any certain knowledge that any of the original authors were actually god or were inspired by one, she doesn’t know for sure nor does she have an indisputable chain of evidence that attest to the identity of the actual author the individual books of this religious text she worships. If you are one of those who actually think that the books of the Bible were written by the men they are named after, you have some serious research to do. Most of them weren't!

And yes, I said ‘the religious text she worships’... She can dispute that all she wants while claiming to worships ‘god’ (not just any one of the many different ideas of god put forward by many different religions, but ‘the god’... As if her willingness to believe it makes it more true than all the other notions of gods out there that she hadn’t even put in the time to investigate and study yet.... And likely never will. Bite that, Pascal!), but there is a difference, a crucial difference, between worshiping what one thinks (hopefully after having put a lot of thoughts into it) ‘god’ really is, and worshiping what other people say ‘god’ is or did or said or wants. When one would brush aside what nature itself can testify to in favor of what a man-made church and/or its representative says god said... Think about it... the choice is really between nature (which no man can fake since it is something only a ‘god’ would have control of) and what other men wrote and say and want you to believe.

If you are a god, what would you think of a bunch of self-righteous men who go around trying to pass their own ideas off as yours? And what would you think of the people that willingly accept such travesties as YOURS without considering first what your real scope of capability is? Would Renoir be thrilled with you if you ‘faithfully’ pay $1,000,000 for a grade-school level painting that I said was done by Renoir but really wasn’t?

A god that is responsible for every single thing in this mind-blowingly large universe from the tiniest of subatomic particles to the biggest of stars and galaxies, from inanimate pebbles on the beach to thinking human beings... And you are willing to believe that that powerful a god lacks the ability to directly communicate with you and has to ask some other lowly human beings to be his middle-men? To write for him? To speak for him? Honestly?

If the answer is still yes, well, I have this suspension bridge uptown that I’d love to get off my street that you can have for a very reasonably price...

Am I an atheist? No... The closest description of me is as an agnostic. Whether I am a theist or not depends almost entirely on how ‘god’ is defined. I can entertain believing in a ‘god’ that is defined as nature itself, or its most fundamental laws/essence. Though I wouldn’t be ‘worshiping’ it. A god by that definition would be in everything... me and the snail and the deer droppings on the yard included. A ‘god’ as defined with all the weird mixes of human qualities (i.e; jealousy, vengefulness, lust, temper tantrums, all sorts of emotional insecurities, and whatever else things humans feel) that the theistic religions, with perhaps the exception of the Deists, believe in, I don’t buy for a minute.

Now, I’m not writing this up to try to convert anyone. I’m just fed up with being evangelized all the time by the various Christians who have now taken to hanging at street corners in downtown and sticking their ‘come to god’ pamphlets in my face whenever I pass by (this is no isolated occurrence! It's something evangelical Christians are doing all the time now, unapologetically and with complete disregard to their preys' thinking). The 'self-defense' excuse doesn't fly when you are the ones playing offense! You guys ought to be careful... there might actually be a god out there who isn't keen on having words put in its mouth!

I have no faith in a ‘god’. If there is one, it and I can do fine without it.
Rather, I have faith in the consistency of nature
And that those who judge by the weight of empirical evidence and sound reasoning
are less susceptible to manipulation and malice than those
who defer to the judgment of revered others and humanly authors of scriptures
to avoid being ultimately accountable for their own deeds and thoughts.

I have faith in neighborly good deeds...
That are not done just for the sake of one’s religion,
nor in the hope of after-life rewards
or to avoid possible eternal punishment,
but because their doers are genuinely compassionate
and have empathy and the awareness of own vulnerability.

Faith in fantasy is easy. Living with things as they really are and accepting one's own limitations and actual lack of absolute knowledge is harder. But you at least get to say in the end; 'At least I know that I don't know and didn't go around pretending to know something I really didn't.' 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Food for both sides of the brain

Richard Feynman, the coolest physicist of his (extremely well-endowed) generation, talked plainly...

But he carried a big brain! The rest of the series: part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5.

On another note; opera is my escape into a dream....

Or rather, a grown up's culturally acceptable substitution for unbridled fantasy.

Hidden treasures in San Diego's Banker's Hill

Banker's Hill is the uptown area between middletown, downtown, Balboa Park, and Hillcrest. It is full of deep ravines that the streets have a way of deadending into. The area is rather neglected by tourists who generally zoom up and down 4th, 5th, and 6th Avenues in their commute between parties in downtown and Hillcrest. Here are a few things they miss. (click on photos to enlarge)

Well preserved Victorian Era houses:

Colorful Keating House (Est. 1886) on 2nd Avenue just north of Ivy and the spacious Long-Waterman Mansion (Est. 1889) on 1st Ave north of Kalmia.

All fenced up HH Timken House at the northwest corner of 1st Ave & Laurel St., and the straight-out-of-story-book Britt Scripps Inn (1887) on the northeast corner of 4th Ave and Maple.

are also memorial plaques hiding around the area where you wouldn't expect to find them, like the memorial to the aviator Waldo Waterman's 1959 flight at the bend where Albatross runs into Maple St.

There are also two cute pedestrian bridges across canyons that are easily missed from the roads. The wood trestle Quince Street Bridge between 4th and 2nd Avenues.

And the suspension Spruce Street Bridge that spans the Kate Session Canyon between 1st Ave and Brant St.

There are stairs as well... long and steep ones, like this flight that descends down 2 blocks all the way to Renard (State St).
The only way to find them is to walk the area... And who really walks these days, especially when in Southern California?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Earworms: Pace, pace....

I ventured out to Embarcadero Marina Park South by the San Diego Bay over the weekend. It was so nice and peaceful... I snapped this shot from the walkway just behind the Convention Center and this bit of music just popped up in my head (there's almost always music playing in my cranium).
It's 'Agnus Dei', from Part V of Verdi's Requiem; a duet in octaves between the soprano and the mezzo. The music tract here is an air-check from the 1998 Music Festival in Montreux - Vevey, Switzerland. The soloists are Luba Orgonasova (Sopran) and Vesselina Kasarova (Mezzosopran). Paul Daniel conducts L'Orchestre National de Lyon and Choeur Philharmonique de Prague.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Drunken thougths happen when you sit by the seaside too long

I looked enviously at the sea gull floating lazily in the bay...
who cares if he can't do calculus or run an NMR or write an opera review?
He can surf the onshore wind as well as he can surf the choppy sea waves...
and when he just waddles around on dry land, he's got a pair of skinny legs!

O... did I mention that he sings, too? ... A sea gull... That's what I'd want to be when I grow up.

By the way, what is it about the sea that makes it so easy to sit on its shore and be peacefully lost in the moment even when there are screechy sea gulls and other (a little less screechy) people around? It is a strange visitation... Sometimes I feel like an amoeba trying to get a time-warping glimpse back at the primordial soup where my ancestors emerged from....