Favorite anti-Semites

Mine are definitely Georgette Heyer and Shakespeare. I quit Saki and Dorothy Sayers but still regret them. Heyer and Shakespeare I’ll probably never quit, although I don’t give Heyer to my kids.

Thought about this because I tried to watch New Ohio Theatre’s Shylock and the Shakespeareans last week on Vimeo. It was good. So good, in fact, that I couldn’t get past the first act and it still irks me like a splinter a week later. If they keep it online I may try to get back to it, or just watch the end, for closure.

It’s not-quite-a-remake of the Merchant of Venice. Separate play about the same events, in a more modern (but equally imaginary) time and place. It’s hilarious (I loved entitled and clueless Portia and her maid) in that instantly-recognizable Jewish “a funny thing happened on the way to the gas chambers” style. Unlike every other modern Merchant of Venice this play leans hard into the anti-Semitism. It’s a play about Shakespeare as anti-Semite and about living with anti-Semitism all around one.

It’s like inhabiting two realities at once – one in which I’m a rich educated white woman in the most liberal place on Earth with all the privileges pertaining to this status, in a world that’s getting more and more liberal (it is, really) every year, AI making the world even more user-friendly, medicine improving, Juneteenth finally a Federal holiday, major scientific advances in clean energy… And another reality in which the Earth is burning, resources are becoming more scarce, and people who literally want to kill me and my kids are more and more powerful and violent.

Switching from one to the other is like switching from the duck to the rabbit, except the rabbit wants to kill you.

Another wonderful day

Today started well – I slept in, and woke up just in time to go to the neighbor’s garage sale. Kids got LEGO and cool crafting stuff. and I got some socialization in. Then we went to see Wizard of Oz at ACT which I picked because of the director, Sam Pinkleton of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.

It turned out to be great fun, if much more traditional than I expected. Disney all the way, with allowances for local SF color. It was also more interactive than I expected, but in a good way – we all got to wave yellow napkins to signify the Yellow Brick Road, and the kids got Oreos and lollipops. I’m going to always buy front row seats for children’s plays now – that was a nice touch.

Having subtitles was a good thing, even though they were not conveniently located to our seats. I only had to use them two or three times, but just knowing they were there felt great.

And then I came back home to ginger and turmeric with marmalade, a clean house, a drawn bath with a good book to read (I’m on part 8ish? I think? of the Dublin Trilogy by Caimh McDonnell), and one of my favorite teas.

Life is definitely very good.

Dear San Francisco

Dear San Francisco is an amazing show. We went to see it today and I’m probably going to go at least once more.

It’s the second 7 Fingers production we’ve seen, the first being the Passengers. I liked this one a bit more, because it is more joyful and about San Francisco (also possibly because we had better seats), but both were just right.

It’s circus (specifically acrobatics and juggling) slightly leavened by theater set to really great music (Colin Gagne). There is some very light audience interaction – we got candy and a couple of words from the performers, which is about the enjoyable level of interactivity for me.

The most impressive act was diabolos juggling by Shengnan Pan and her husband Enmeng Song. They did unbelievable things with diabolos, including catching one thrown across the hall, very touchingly thanked their teacher, Lu Yi, and told the story of meeting and falling in love in San Francisco while she taught him diabolos (apparently a female-only pursuit in China), and introduced one of their children.

On the other hand, Chloe Sommers Walier twirled a number of hula hoops in complicated patterns while holding one upright on her nose, and (not at the same time) while being carried on someone’s shoulders, so perhaps that was the most impressive act.

The “humorous” act was cringy and clashed badly with the rest of the show, but was probably necessary to let everyone rest.

The other acts, trapeze, hoop jumping, pole acrobatics were also impressive and all seemed amazing to me, but the best part was how charming the actors were while doing them. It’s what I really love about circus – the firgun of watching people do impossible things and be happy and proud that they’ve done them.

Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812

I’ve been wanting to see this musical for the longest time, and lucked out – a friend told me it’s on Friday. There were only a few dates left, and only one that I could actually make in this overscheduled month (seriously – it’s more of a social whirl than I’ve had in years, including pre-COVID years).

So, me and Younger Kid went the very next day.

It was awesome. Totally worth the hour drive.

The 3Below theater was new to me – intimate, well laid-out, and located inside a parking lot. There was no parking, due to the FanimeCon, but that’s ok, because we got to see the convention-goers, and they were beautiful. There were also no fancy desserts, despite a really cool ice-cream concoction being listed in the online menu, but we made do with popcorn.

The play itself was everything I wanted – energetic, with light, cheerful, and memorable music and a good-faith approach to War and Peace. The opera scene was particularly good – the opera was exactly the way Tolstoy described it (that is, completely removed from the usual opera experience and seen with deliberately naive eyes.). Natasha was beautiful and innocent. Sonia’s song brought me to tears. Anatole was perfect for his role and looked (per kid) like Elon Musk. Andrey looked like the Best Marriage Party In Russia and was hilarious as Old Bolkonsky.

Everyone moved in and out of multiple parts with graceful ease, rarely even changing costume. They just showed distinct personalities and functions with a slight change in posture and facial expression because that’s just how good they are. Each performer got a main singing role with at least one good song, a part in the ensemble, a part as one of the musicans, and a part as furniture so that Helene also played the violin, while Princess Mary portrayed an opera singer, a dancer, and a maid. Kuragin, Dolohov, and Balaga moved furniture and offered hands as needed. Everyone delivered letters.

Both Bezuhoffs were made up to look too old for their roles, and seemed more contemporaries of Ahrosimova than of Andrey, let alone Natasha, but Helene had a Bosom that fully conformed with my imagination, a wanton red dress, and a beautiful voice.

Quotes were used appropriately and often. Stereotypes were amusing and not mean-spirited. Costumes were period-accurate-enough without being distracting or overdone. Dancing was enthusiastic and good (especially Balaga’s). Scene design was clever – particularly all the staircases, and the way decorations suddenly changed color from light wood to gold when a mood called for it.

Despite the sad subject matter (there’s Lost Love, Attempted Suicide, and Ethical Struggles) Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812 was just sheer exhilarating fun, a pleasure to remember. I wish I had the time to see it again.


Алексей Цветков

While driving home from Death Valley we listened to the Fall of Civilizations episode on Han, and of course I could not help but remember this poem by Aleksei Tsvetkov , although this takes place much later, post-Tang and pre-seventeenth century (which is a large spread).

Paul Cooper says every phrase in a sepulchral tone that is quite fitting to the theme, but after a while becomes somewhat funny, because “he murdered thousands” just shouldn’t be said with the same expression as “he was a good rider”. It is, however, an expression very appropriate to the poem, so I’m imagining Paul Cooper reading it.


в эти тревожные минуты
наши мысли почти неминуемо
устремляются к императору
как ему одиноко в ледяном дворце
и почему он все время молчит

у яшмовых ворот толпа затоптала шпиона
гарнизон на востоке остался без риса
ходили слухи что велено посылать
юных девушек для полкового котла
не верю но младшей соседской дочери
нет уже второй вечер

новый слуга вернулся лишь около полуночи
без шапочки и от него пахло вином
рассказывал что чжурчжэни уже в столице
и что кровь на площади у жемчужного храма
стояла по щиколотку как черное зеркало
последнее время он невыносимо груб
надо велеть управляющему высечь
эти чжурчжэни для них только повод

навестил достопочтенный советник и
с листками танской каллиграфии
купил за бесценок у букиниста
бесценок и есть но было неудобно
огорчать друга велел подать вино и сливы
из последнего запаса но того стоило
давно так чудно не коротали вечер
на обратном пути достопочтенного и
выбросили из паланкина и забили палками
эти чжурчжэни у них только предлог

снова горит но теперь на западе
стражникам работы по горло
старый халат свалялся и не греет
надо бы отправить за хворостом
но некого и вряд ли кто продаст
как прекрасна луна в черном бархате небес
в черном шелке дыма

похоже горит у самого дворца
с той стороны где конюшни и гарем
кисти давно не чищены и тушь пересохла
император богоравен но и он боится
мы знаем что он боится за нас
но у нас уже не осталось для него
слов утешения

the mirror

without fail our thoughts in these vexing times
are with the emperor lonesome in his icy
palace sunk in his unremitting silence

a spy was trampled at the jasper gate
the eastern garrison has run out of rice
one hears of a decree to round up and
butcher young maidens for the soldiers’ stew
i give it little faith although the neighbor’s
youngest’s been missing two nights in a row

the new servant took off was gone till midnight
came back without his cap reeking of wine
the jurchen are within the walls he says
and at the plaza by the pearl shrine blood
was ankle-deep glistening like a black mirror
he’s been too insolent of late the steward
must be requested to apply the rod
those jurchen are just a ruse for their ilk

a visit from the venerable yi
his brittle sheets of tang calligraphy
obtained from a bookseller for a trifle
trifle indeed but who would want to hurt
a friend i had them fetch some wine and plums
the last of the old stock but it was worth it
never an evening was so full of mirth
on his way back the venerable yi
was torn out of his litter thrushed to death
with canes those jurchen nothing but a ruse

a conflagration this time in the west
the guards will have their work cut out for them
curse the old gown all matted and it’s cold
should have dispatched them to stock up on brushwood
but there’s no one to send and none for sale
how splendid is the moon in the black velvet
of the night sky in the black silk of smoke

looks like the flare is aiming for the palace
from where the stables should be and the harem
i haven’t cleaned my brush the ink is dry
the emperor may be godlike but he feels
the fear we know he is afraid for us
but we alas have hardly any words
left to console him

Yet another good day

Garden at the Black Bird Bookshop and Cafe

Went to see Sargent in Spain. Legion of Honor often shows non-representative works (e. g. gaunt men by Rubens, or full-length mythological males by Greuze), and this Sargent exhibit was not an exception – not a single socialite! (OK, there was one pre-teen boy, but).

Sargent loved flamenco, so much of the exhibit is flamenco dancers, with paintings accompanied by thoughtful and interesting notes by members of a Roma advisory group. Consequently one learns almost as much about the mode of living of Roma in Spain as one does about Sargent’s ditto.

Some of the notes are merely informative, some are amusing (e. g. the facial expression of the Spanish Roma Woman is said to be difficult to understand, or some words to that effect. I think the difficulty in understanding is due to the lack in English of the words “все достало”. Others are poignant, such as when the notes author addresses the Spanish Roma Family to tell them of his worry that his daughter will not grow up to be Roma.

This speaks to me very directly, because, unless something horrible happens, my children will not grow up to be Jews in the visceral way that I am a Jew. They are aware of their Jewish heritage, but I think it’s no more real to them than the (theoretical) Vikings somewhere up the Russian side of my family tree are to me. To my grandchildren it will probably be even less. I feel that this is a loss, but cannot explain why, or what it is precisely being lost. Certainly I myself do not feel the lack of a visceral attachment to my Slavic heritage as a loss.

Getting back to art, it’s really amazing how much better art is in conveying an experience than realistic representation, how much more real it is than reality. Compare this video of La Carmencita dancing with Sargent’s portrait of La Carmencita dancing – the video does not really let (me, now) understand why her dancing ( to contemporary eyewitnesses) felt “wild” and “breath-taking”, but the second at least gives an idea of the wildness and beauty they experienced.

After Legion of Honor I went to the Black Bird Bookshop, which, besides a most beautiful and peaceful garden, has an unusual and lovely selection of books. I got Igbo Mythology for Kids; Forests, Fairies, and Fungi Sticker Anthology, and an amazingly lovely The Eyes And The Impossible. I don’t even know what it’s about, but I couldn’t put it down.

I have the hardest time resisting beautiful books.

Today was a perfect day

Saw the Gregangelo museum for the first time (and will definitely come back). It’s an overpoweringly beautiful place, there’s so much color, texture, detail, so many reflections and little surprises, so many hidden meanings and references. We spent 1.5 hours there and saw what Gregangelo Herrera (whom we were super lucky to have as a guide) says is approximately 1/3 of the rooms/installations.

It was infinitely better than I expected, and is now firmly on my list of favorite places in the US.

It’s odd how many things lately turn out to be even better than I expect them to be. Perhaps I need to raise my expectations.

We were additionally lucky to have the kids with us – originally we planned an outing without them, but this is exactly the kind of thing I’d want to share with them.
That being so we followed with games and snacks, and then I got a half-hour to meditate looking at one of my favorite views.

Playing with chatbots

It’s much more fun to give the same prompt to Bing and ChatAI than to either separately. From what I can see so far ChatAI is endearing and nice (probably connected), while Bing is just. darn. mean.

For instance, I asked both to write a simple letter of complaint to a teacher because I don’t trust myself not to tear this particular teacher’s head off. ChatAI came through with something that barely needed to be altered, while Bing’s version was even meaner than my own.

Bing is definitely better than I am at searching – no surprise there. Makes tasks like comparing editions much easier.

Which is why I now know that the Roadside Picnic translation I want is the Bromfield one, despite how much the Folio Society one shocks me with sheer gorgeousness.


Finished watching the extended version with the kids today. Together it’s an even better experience. Can’t wait for the new movies (Rise of the Rohirrim in 2024 + whatever unspecified things they’re keeping Peter Jackson updated on “every step of the way”) to come out.