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May 21st, Menorca

Summer has arrived with all guns blazing, exactly a month early.  Over night, it seems, we are in full summer mode – hot, hot, hot… Any exercise has to be taken before 11am or after 7pm… Swimming in the sea is still prohibited, I think because it means crowded beaches – I would just go down to the sea, swim, and come home, and if this keeps up I will try that next week (really don’t want a fine – a 600 euro swim is not enticing). Meanwhile, I walk with my sis for a half hour every morning and again in the evening, then ride my bike down to the sea and put my feet in for a minute…

The real exercise of the past few weeks has been the Major Work around the place, all essential and overdue… First the cisterna (I have sent off a sample of the drinking water to be analyzed – all fingers and toes crossed) and then the coach house. The old coach is long gone – sounds terribly grand but wasn’t, just a lovely old horse-drawn carriage that is now in the local museum after having having been lovingly restored… It (the coach house) is where all the tools and wheelbarrow and summer furniture and butanos etc etc are kept, plus the washing machine (quelle luxe!) and it’s been about 30 years since the place was emptied and painted.  We replaced three of the beams this past winter (totally rotten), and last week we emptied and cleaned and repaired and painted the inside, and got rid of a lot of old junk in the process (still plenty there!). We also discovered woodworm in three of the “new” beams in the entrance hall of the house (again, not as grand as it sounds!), so that had to get emptied while the rot was scraped out and the beams were painted with gas-oil – the only effective remedy, it seems – the place stank for days.  But everything is now back where it should be and we have a semblance of normalcy – only to discover that the old tree trunks in the front garden left from the 4 pines that died (just after mum did) are the breeding ground of some truly horrible insects, so those stumps are going to have to come out as soon as I can get Sebastian back here to help – it never ends.  God only knows how I’m going to pay for all this, but we live in hope… Sis has dealt with the discombobulation quite well, really – she’s on a new med which seems to be working, for the moment at least – she is still in constant pain, but dealing with it better…

Meanwhile I am dealing with running out of my prescription meds and supplements, and the vagaries of Spanish customs.  A dear friend kindly sent a care package (via Fed Ex, at VAST expense) of health supplements and my mail (prescriptions not ready til next week), only for it to be held up in Barcelona – I have been told I have to either hire a customs broker (??), fill out a million forms and pay a bunch of money, or it will be sent back to NY.  Nothing is simple… Except the beuaty of this quiet island, and the vegetables growing in my huerta – thank you thank you thank you…

Tomorrow would have been the day I flew to CA to begin rehearsals on BIRD with Joan Schirle and the rest of the musicians, cast and crew – performances were to be in the last week of June, 2 at the Arcata Playhouse and 2 at the Morris Graves Museum.  I have decided that since I cannot go there, I will bring it here.  As of tomorrow my studio with become “California” and I will spend the next 6 weeks (or at least a few hours each day) trying to really finish the piece – I need to solve the conundrum of the Army scenes to my artistic satisfaction… Wish me luck!

May 10th, menorca

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon (first rain in over a month) and I am attempting to make marmalade.  This is a first for me so it’s a grand experiment.  I noticed on one of my walks that one of my neighbours (who is stuck in the UK unable to come here) had a Seville orange tree groaning with fruit, and it just seemed such a waste… So I emailed him and he graciously gave me permission to pick them… I’ve used but a fraction of the oranges – if it works I will make more – unless it proves too complicated, which is quite possible…

The rain is blissful – it started yesterday afternoon, about an hour of gentle mizzle just to soften the earth, then this morning just before dawn it began in earnest, but still pretty gentle, pretty much straight down, with pauses to let it sink in and not flood – the land and gardens are supremely happy (I have not gone out to check to see if the huerto plants are still upright but I can only hope – the tomato plants already have flowers, which will not be so happy, but hopefully they will survive…)

We have a cleaned and repaired cisterna, and a new water filtration system, including an osmosis filter, a UV light and a special drinking water tap at the kitchen sink… Oh the joy of good water, and the prospect of not having to buy all those plastic bottles!  I watered the garden to a fare-thee-well on Tuesday, to drain the cisterna as far as I could (about a foot and a half of water left), and the following morning Sebastian and I spent two hours bailing out the remaining water by hand – oy! Then he cleaned it with a pressure hose, let it dry, painted it with a mixture of cal and cement, let it dry, we refilled it, bled the pipes, and voila… the miracle was that he figured out how to keep the water running in the house during the 3 days of work by running a hose from the neighbours’ house into our system – very clever, and it made such a difference – 3 days without water would have been very tricky for sis…. And we are now finally drinking our own water again, after decades off not being able to – hallelujah!

All things being equal, on Wednesday next week we empty the coach house and paint it – another 3-day job (hopefully not more) – and then all the major jobs will be done.  I have decided that on May 22nd, the day I was due to fly to CA for BIRD rehearsals and performances, I will go into the studio and spend the next 6 weeks – when I would have been working on the piece in CA – really finishing it.  Seems like a good idea.  Hopefully I can do it… I will certainly try… I am still totally enamoured of The Park, all I want to do is sculpt trees, but my shoulders and hands are starting to object very strongly and I need to listen to them. if I ever want to be a musician again…

On May 1st I started swimming – bracing but wonderful… “Hooray hooray the 1st of May, outdoor swimming starts today” is the new updated mantra…. the huerto grows apace, as do the malas hierbas – this rain is meant to be over this evening, so tomorrow I will do a massive weeding – insh’allah…

They say that as of tomorrow we will be able to start socializing in groups of up to 10 people (with the usual 2m distancing) so maybe we will have a few friends over for an outdoor lunch – wow… I think the re-opening of everything is happening too quickly, but money talks and they desperately want to reboot the economy… I would prefer that we stay locked down until the end of May, then very slowly open up to maybe letting folks in from outside by August, but then I’m not in charge… Also, as long as we’re locked down I don’t have to think about what the hell I’m going to do…

I thank the heavens every day for the garden and the land… and my bicycle… and my sister, who in spite of all her difficulties is at least reasonably agreeable company for the most part, when I see her which is not really that often (she spends so much time in her cave) and when we’re not spatting… and tho’ I do pretty much everything both in and around the house, she does do dishes occasionally, and cooks the occasional meal, and when she is not moaning about the pain, she is at least decent company – otherwise I’d be going stir crazy I think, being here completely solo…. and I love her to pieces… family is family…  and talking of which, so far the news from the kids in CA is good, ditto the tribe in NYC – other than Hal of course, the big, gaping hole… folk seem to be adjusting to music making online, with more or less ease – wish I could, but I am still stuck in the analog world… so I am “doing a Morris” for now – creating an environment for me to work in…

April 15th, 2020, Menorca

Exactly 6 months later… and such a different world…

It seems only right that I pick this up again, as the world tilts on its axis into a whole new reality… for the moment, I am blessed with being in this beautiful, peaceful place, relatively unscathed, tho’ I have been out in “the world” only twice in the past month (since I have been here, with the first 2 weeks in full quarantine…)

To recap, I share the email I sent my friends after landing….

“I am in Menorca.  I was in New York, but I realised this was going to be a long haul and I couldn’t leave my sister on her own, so through many, many cliff-hangers, I finally managed to get on the last plane allowed into the island from outside Spain…. I am now in quarantine for 14 days, so as not to endanger the very person I have come to protect! Luckily a friend has a little house that’s empty just up the road from our house – very basic, and yesterday even without water (today I have it, for now).  When I’m settled I will write longer, but for now I just wanted to let you all know where I was, and that so far I’m fine (unfortunately I have been on 6 planes, in 8 airports, in the past 2 weeks, so I’m counting the days…).  There’s a complete lockdown here (even if I weren’t quarantined), no walking or biking, going anywhere for pleasure, only trips to buy food or medicine (or tobacco – this is Spain!), no more than one person in a car, etc…. but I plan to start planting the vegetable garden next week, once the field has been cleared… I knew there was a reason I learned how to grow food!  I feel incredibly lucky to be here, to have been able to get here, both for my sister and myself.  Leaving my apartment in Westbeth was really hard, but I know it was the right thing to do… Please keep in touch and let me know how you all are… far flung we might be, but you are all important to me.”

A month later, and I am still in the “wee hoose” down the road – much as I’d like to be in my own house, it’s good to have my own space – living with sis 24/7 is challenging, and who knows for how long this will be, so I’m happy to be the recipient of such hospitality – thank you, Judy and Caroline, for your generosity… sis and I walk every morning (totally against the rules, but the rules are made in Madrid, and our back lanes here in the country are rarely policed, thank heavens), and often times in the late afternoon. I do chores around the house, then spend hours in the garden and fields, plus time in the studio – but I wake up and go to sleep alone…  the 2 weeks of quarantine were overhung with anxiety, waiting for the axe to fall, but I seem to have managed to come through unscathed, in spite of the numerous airports and airplanes… Since then, I have been out into the world only twice, and both times were deeply unsettling, ever since it was pointed out to me that as a cancer survivor with a heart condition I am a “high risk” individual… what, you mean I’m no longer 35 and and invincible?? So food is ordered and delivered, and we keep to ourselves out of choice as well as necessity… thank god for the garden and our fields…

The huerto is finally planted – it’s been in a week now, and looking good, particularly after the good rain we had a few days ago.  Meanwhile I continue to hack away at my grand project, The Park  – carving out walking paths and sculpting old ullastres  in the abandoned back fields – I LOVE my chain saw and clippers! There are vast piles of debris that need to get burned, hopefully next week…
A month in, I am definitely feeling the lack of physical contact…. and I wonder when I will ever get to play music with other people again – in the room, so to speak… the annual Kamikaze reunion at the end of February takes on a whole new significance…
And then there is the loss of Hal… that really hits home…  I think of how hard it must be for all the folks in NYC not to be able to gather – such a fundamental part of the grieving process… we are now living in a virtual reality… But tho’ I am separated from may community, I have my garden… and my sister… I am so fortunate… as always…

Oct. 15th, NYC

Happy Birthday, Mum… you would have been ninety-nine…  Exactly 9 months since I last posted on here… I should probably just quit doing this, but it sometimes helps to put things in perspective…

We got the Opera America grant (for female opera composers – that’s me!) in support o the Morris Graves project, so my time in March at The Lake, the Graves estate near Loleta, CA, was such a gift… 3 weeks of total isolation from the world, alone in nature, but taken care of at a distance – a good supper on a tray 5 nights a week, and loads of firewood delivered almost daily, by the Director (and janitor) of the Foundation, Robert Yarber, a truly lovely human being…  He and his wife were the only human contact I had… The beautiful studio, Desiree’s grand piano in the main house, Morris’s library, the forest, the lake, the birds, the frogs, the quiet… the rain, the sun, the wind, the trees, the spring flowers…. I wrote about 40 pages of music, by hand (no computer allowed, no phone, no radio, no nothing – no photos), walked a lot, played the piano every day (it needed it, much neglected, tho’ they had had a technician give it a thorough overhaul and tuning before I arrived, bless them) and read a lot of great books from MG’s library.  I got really grounded, and back to myself, having spun quite far out before leaving New York (the Wau-Wa recording session being the nadir…).

I did a solo gig in SF on my way home, which was a lot of fun – a house concert at Beth’s – and a 4tet gig in NY in early April which was the high point for me – I forgot how much fun I have doing that (planning to do it again next month).  Brad Jones was a great cover for Greg, plus Matt and Charlie, my two angels… at the Parlor Series, a lovely old Chelsea brownstone, packed house, very appreciative – who needs clubs?? And then I headed across the pond to plant the garden and take care of sis.

June I made a mad dash to SF for the Opera America conference – a crazy thing to do, but I felt I had to show up since they gave us the money for BIRD.  Way too many people, all in suits – it was less about the Art of Opera than the Business of Opera – but I learned quite a lot – most importantly from Ben Krywocz (so great to hook up with him again), who told me about the fact that in Greek there are two words for “life”: Bios, meaning “a life”, hence biography; and Zoe, meaning “Life”, hence zoology.  We are definitely after the Zoe, not the Bios… After an exhausting 4-days of too many people, I then had a 4-day vacation visiting various friends and family – Santa Cruz, Sausalito, Point Reyes – oh yes…  Then back across the pond to a much-improved sis – so nice to have our good sister friendship back…

August I returned to NY, including a week upstate with Joan, working on the libretto (and finding the occasional swimming hole).  Jenny Collins lent us her beautiful big house with grand piano and we got a lot of work done, tho’ not all. I gave Joan a hard deadline of Sept 1st to get me a completed draft of the libretto, and she did, so I gaily headed to Montalvo for the month of September, to hole up once again and write. How lucky can a girl be?  My third and final month there, finally, and perfect timing… Yet another exquisite environment in which to dig deep for the creative juice… Beautiful time of year to be there, the light, the redwoods, the Bechstein grand… Made a couple of weekend trips up to the city, including a major hike to the very northern tip of Point Reyeswith old friend Wendy Parkman; and dear Gail Bernstein’s memorial service in Berkeley; plus a trip south to see the family and take the kids to the Monterey Jazz Fest – Steven was playing with MTO West and got me 3 day passes, bless him.  Elfin (eldest nephew) had just left his family and I reckoned the kids could use a distraction – it seemed to work… but damn… life…

Joan then picked me up and drove me up to Humboldt for a week of rehearsals with singers, to hear what it was I had just written.  Lucky again. Joan took great care of me, and the singers were a good bunch – lovely folk, good voices (the tenor is really pretty great), and willing to go outside their comfort zone… I should have hired a pianist as well – I can’t play everything I write, and it’s hard to really hear what’s going on if you’re concentrating on finding the notes…  next time… But I’ve made a good start, tho’ there’s still a long way to go… Meanwhile Jane Hill is doing some serious fund-raising for the other half of the budget – thank you! It includes my fee…

And now it’s autumn in New York – make the most of it… Hard to talk about the political environment of my two countries, they have both gone from bad to worse. And I fear it’s only going to get worse still – but I must, WE must, hang on to hope – which is not the same thing as optimism – hope that we will see our way through all this… our 45thpresident threatening civil war while we start the impeachment process, and the UK prime minister dragging the country towards a no-deal Brexit in a couple of weeks’ time, even tho’ it has been declared illegal by Parliament… jesus me beads, as mum would say… glad she’s not here to see it all… tho’ like David Robertson I would love to hear what she had to say about it all… Stay tuned…

 


Jan. 15th, 2019, NYC

2019… wow…

Tempus has fugited big time… I have been just leading a life, and somehow 5 months have gone by… The autumn was spent partly here, partly in Texas, partly in Menorca – perhaps that’s why… I’ve not actually just been sitting on my ass in Westbeth, which is what it feels like at the moment – altho’ I am currently decked out in multiple sweaters, hat and gloves, the heating being somewhat impaired as a result of the great Build It Back campaign – the longer I’m here the more dysfunctional the building seems to get – but I’m not complaining…. I just bought a sofa that someone in the building was selling off cheap – not as elegant as the one I have, but bigger and a hell of a lot more comfortable (taking a leaf out of my sis’s book), so perhaps I can leave my bed in the alcove and read and nap in the sunshine just the same – verremos… I still have to figure out how to a) get it down into my apartment and b) how to get rid of the old one. Meanwhile we have a Kamikaze concert in about 10 days, so I am vainly trying to get my chops together…

Texas was a success, ultimately, although I seem to have had a sinus infection since then that I can’t shake – such ghastly weather, insanely hot and humid, and equally insane air conditioning in the hotel, how can anyone live like that?? I finally had a CT scan today, verremos otra vez… I couldn’t possibly record a book like this, if they ever offer me another one… or record, which we’re meant to be doing in February with Mr. Wau Wa.. The Alley went the distance, paying for as much recording time as we really needed, and it ended up sounding really good… Then on to Seattle, Ellensburg, Portland and Eugene – reunions with RB and Cathy, Joanne P, Sue and Mona, then Calliope and the big Ray hang – another grand reunion of an old tribe – it seems to be that time… really worth the effort – particularly as dear Ray then passed away in his sleep a couple of weeks later – he was done… we got it right, for once….

Thanksgiving, Solstice and Christmas in New york, all vintage – Nyack, Westbeth (a really good party this year) and Brooklyn (Beka & family), including Midnight Mass at St. John The Divine, always a treasure… And then to Belfast for the 50th, and final, Henry Tonk memorial New Year’s Eve Banquet. Getting on the ‘plane – actually, getting TO the plane at Stewart International Airport – I thought I was absolutely mad to even think about it, but it was totally worth it. Not just the Banquet – 12 courses (actually about 42), 12 entertainments (actually about 26) and 12 hours (actually almost 14), for a maximum of 60 people, about 20 by the end – but also, and even more so, the days of pre- and post- hang…. rekindling old friendships – neither Fred nor Gerry had changed one iota, nor Charles and Jackie; re-connecting with Doff Pollard, who lives in Whitby so I hopefully will see her in the spring when I return to Cotherstone (more about that anon); and then making new ones – many duets with Peter Nelson, ex-prof of my alma mater and all-round good egg, and getting to know Susan Herivel, John’s girlfriend before me and a great find… and of course John and Marcus – and Joanna, who managed to feed the five thousand every day for a week, somehow, without batting an eyelid, even with the most dreadful case of the lurgie… John built a giant Henry head as the centerpiece for the banquet stage (flanked on either side by King Kong, of course) – the head then had a ceremonial immolation the following evening – satisfyingly final, altho’ it was generally agreed that all was not over and that things would continue, tho’ not necessarily in the same form – midsummer bonfire with rites, anyone?

I shared a lovely Airbnb with the Lambla clan for the first 5 days, which was enormous fun – finding costumes, planning and making banquest courses and entertainments, reminiscing – and then spent the last couple of days at Sans Souci with Marcus and Joanna (and Susan and various others – a constant stream of visitors). Belfast has become a major international tourist destination – I went to the ‘Titanic Experience’ on Jan. 2nd, something rather more than a museum, very well done – not the sort of thing I generally would go anywhere near, but I thoroughly enjoyed it – most of all the SS Nomadic, the Titanic’s tender that is tied up nearby and is definitely my kind of ship – that gets my vote for the next banquet, if there is one. Altho’ it was all quite quiet, relatively, being the day after New Year, I was surprised at all the international tourists – turns out Game of Thrones was filmed in the countryside around Belfast… that explains it… good for them, altho’ tourism really is a the modern plague. I see it here in NYC, in Menorca, everywhere… I also got in a good visit to the Botanic Gardens , and the Ulster museum, where the Ulster Academy show was up, including pieces by both Marcus and Joanna, an all round startlingly good exhibition, and two fabulous dragons hanging in space on the top floor – more Game of Thrones, no doubt, but happy for it…

Meanwhile, back in NY … I have been offered a 3-week residency at the Graves Foundation in March – 3 weeks of isolation in the beauty of the northern CA landscape, no phone, no computer, no nothing, on my own. March was my 2nd choice, my first being late July early August, a time much beloved by academics, so little wonder they took me up on my less popular offering. So, altho’ tho I could devoutly have wished to stay home for another month, I will be heading west at the beginning of March, to start work on the Morris Graves piece with Joan Schirle. I applied to Opera America for funds – I should really have asked for funds to further Vagabond, but I figured Joan’s grant writing expertise gave me a better shot… I shall get none either way, so what does it matter?

I spent a week in Cotherstone in November, on my way back from Menorca, and hooked up with a woman who offered to help me airbnb the cottage – she does it with her cottage in the village (next door to Madeleine’s old place)- she’s made a real go of it for herself, so maybe she can help me – verremos yet again… after 5 years of coasting, it’s time for things to pay their way or say bye bye – time to get real….  I also had a final stay at Stopover Hall with Moppet & Johnny before leaving, complete with a soak in the biggest bath tub known to mankind – they move to the Farm before the end of the year – the end of an era, but Wal-E continues to reside in the barn, bless them…

I can’t bear to talk politics – both of my countries are so f****d I can’t bear to think about it…. the only good news is that we took back the House in November… now, if we could only NOT go through with Brexit, we might stand a chance to get back on track… wishful thinking, I’m afraid… On a more positive note, I have finally and belatedly taken up yoga – I am going twice a week, and oh how I wish I had thought to start this 30 years ago… What will this year bring?? God speed all who sail in her… and a Happy New Year to all…


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