Archive for April, 2007

Mets Week In Review: 23-29 April

Note: In an effort to reduce clutter in Panorama of the Mountains I’m keeping myself to just one Mets post per week. I’ll write up my thoughts after each game and when the week is up I’ll publish them in one big post. For this reason, thoughts on an individual game will have a certain immediacy and lack of awareness of what comes after.

23 April 2007
Rockies 1, Mets 6

I did not get to watch this game due to my late hours at work. After struggling against the Braves, the Mets proved once again that they can take the mediocre teams handily, which I guess I should look at in a half-full way. John Maine is getting a lot of credit for pitching into the 8th inning which shows how low the expectations for pitchers are these days, but still bully for him. I really like how the Down Easter is maturing this season. David Wright is still looking lost at the plate but luckily Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and now Carlos Delgado are more than enough to carry the offense (not to mention some better-than-expected contributions this season by Jose Valentin, Shawn Green, and Moises Alou).

Players of the game (I award up to ten points, maximum of 6 points to one player, distributed among the Mets players who had the biggest impact in the game):

  • Alou 2.5
  • Delgado 1.5
  • Feliciano .50
  • Maine 2.5
  • Valentin 3

24 April 2007
Rockies 1, Mets 2 (12 innings)

The second game of the Rockies series provided drama, heroics, and the most exciting game of the season thus far. Orlando Hernandez and Aaron Cook matched zeroes in a pitching duel. In fact there was no scoring at all in regulation play and I figured the game would have to go to penalty kicks. The Rockies broke the tie on Tulowitzki’s triple off Wagner in the 10th inning. Down to their last strike, it looked like the game was over for the Mets, but Damion Easley launched his second homer of the season in the bottom of the 10th. Then in 12th inning, the Mets won in the most improbable manner. Endy Chavez put down a perfect drag bunt to score Shawn Green from third base. Jason at Faith & Fear in Flushing captures the excitement in a lyrical and literary manner as always in his post 485 Unexpected Feet.

Players of the game

  • Chavez 1.5
  • Easley 2
  • Green 1
  • Heilman .50
  • Hernandez 3
  • Schoeneweis .50
  • Smith .50
  • Valentin .50
  • Wright .50

25 April 2007
Rockies 11, Mets 5

Disproving the notion that there are such things as momentum in baseball, or even that the better team should win, the Rockies clobbered the Mets in the series finale on Wednesday afternoon. The less said about this game the better.

  • Chavez 2.5
  • Easley .50
  • Feliciano .25
  • Green 2.5
  • Reyes 3.5
  • Smith .25
  • Valentin .50

27 April 2007
Mets 3, Nationals 4

The Mets start worrying me by losing for the second time in as many games to a sub-par team. The usual suspects were out in full force, that is inability for the offense to capitalize and leaving lots of runners on base. Ollie Perez surrendering a three-run homer in the first inning didn’t help, but you have to give him credit for settling down and striking out 9 batters with zero walks. Nope, the offense lost this game.

  • Alou 2.5
  • LoDuca 1
  • Perez 3.5
  • Smith 1
  • Wright 2

28 April 2007
Mets 6, Nationals 2 (12 innings)

The Mets returned to winning ways on Saturday albeit it took them until the 9th inning to get the bats going and to start driving in runs in their second extra inning game of the season. Julio Franco and Carlos Beltran proved to be the batting heroes in another game marked by great pitching. The game was also marred by poor umpiring. Greg at Faith & Fear has this commentary on how umpire Tony Randazzo affected the outcome of this game both to the detriment and advantage of the Mets.

  • Beltran 1.5
  • Castro .50
  • Franco 1
  • Glavine 1.5
  • Green 1
  • Reyes .50
  • Schoeneweis 1
  • Sele 1.5
  • Wagner .50
  • Wright 1

29 April 2007
Mets 1, Nationals 0

In the final game, the Mets managed to win the series. Just barely. This is the only game in the series I had the opportunity to watch and it was a classic pitching duel. While Carlos Beltran won the game on a towering homer in the 6th, but this game is most memorable for John Maine’s stellar pitching (7.0, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 SO). I’m still not convinced that the Mets’ starting pitching is not their Achilles Heel, but Maine and Perez are starting to make me feel less uneasy. Another highlight of this game is 48 year old John Franco playing first base and fielding a bunt on the third baseline! It was a key play in the game as it stymied a Nationals rally. Overall, the Mets aren’t looking their best in this series — especially as far as timely hitting goes — but their winning and that’s what matters most.

  • Beltran 2
  • Franco .50
  • Maine 4.5
  • Reyes 1.5
  • Schoeneweis 1
  • Wagner .50

So it was a good week for the Mets as the won both series and were 4-2 overall. In the week coming up the Mets will return home for 3 games versus Florida and then head out west for the first time for a 4 game set in Arizona. The Mets look to finish April in first place in the NL East and with the best record in the National League. After tomorrow’s game I should be able to award my Mets Player and Pitcher of the Month for April.

St. Catherine of Siena

Catherine of Siena

My personal acquaintance with Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) begins with the church I attended as a child, St. Catherine of Siena parish in Riverside, CT. It was here that I first learned to love the Mass, following along with the readings in the missal and singing out joyfully with the folk group. It was here too that I received Eucharist for the first time, my first Communion going ahead as scheduled despite the fact there was a fire in my house the night before or that my father injured himself in a fall that morning. I’m grateful that St. Catherine’s was the first of three Catholic faith communities I’ve been blessed to be a part of in my life. Presumably the parish name originated from the large Italian-American community in Connecticut, but about the woman herself I knew little until recently.

Catherine Benincasa was a remarkable woman for any age. In her youth she developed a strong devotion through prayer and visions and defiantly resisted her parents plans for her life. She refused to be married and instead joined a Dominican lay order and devoted herself to helping the poor and the sick. She was known for her many letters which while dictated were very strong and opinionated giving orders to bishops and royalty alike. She even attempted to resolve the crisis of the Avignon papacy. Late in her life she composed her great spiritual work The Dialogue of St. Catherine. She died young but accomplished much and was canonized 81 years after her death. In 1970, Paul VI named her as one of the first women and lay persons to be a Doctor of the Church.

When I went on retreat to Glastonbury Abbey during Lent I was perusing the bookstore shelves and found a number of small books in a series called “30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher”. Basically each day there’s a small passage from the writings of a great Christian writer to reflect on each day for a 30 day period. I decided to pick up Set Aside Every Fear: Love and Trust in the spirituality of Catherine of Siena. Afterwards I learned that by coincidence or divine providence the thirtieth and final day after the day I purchased the book was April 29, the feast day of Catherine of Siena. So I’ve spent the last 30 days praying and reflecting through the words of Catherine.

Other resources on Catherine of Siena:

April Faith, Spirituality & Religion News

A new book by Pope Benedict XVI accuses rich nations of robbery according to the Guardian.

It includes Benedict’s thoughts on the parable of the Good Samaritan, who went to the aid of a traveller shunned by other passers-by after he had been stripped and beaten by robbers. While many commentators accuse the rich nations of not acting like the Samaritan, the Pope goes a big step further and compares them to the thieves.

John Allen writes on the fast-track to canonize Pope John Paul II as saint. Some are questioning the seeming lack of prayerful deliberation and whether popes need be canonized at all.

Instead, the logic of formally canonizing someone, beyond doing justice to their memory, has usually been to offer them to the world as a role model of holiness, as an exemplar of the Christian life. But in the case of popes, their election has already accomplished that. A pope is easily the most visible Catholic figure in the world, and as the Vicar of Christ, is already looked to as a moral and spiritual exemplar.

For these reasons, skeptics say that making popes saints is, at best, superfluous, and at worst risks tarnishing the sainthood process with suspicions of hidden agenda. Their solution is generally an informal moratorium on declaring popes as saints.

John Garvey writes in Commonweal on Why People Leave the Church:

We excuse the institution and its representatives too easily. One of my teachers, the late historian and theologian John Meyendorff, pointed out that Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, the representatives of organized religion at the time, can-and should-be understood as a criticism of a similarly complacent and self-satisfied Christianity.

Whispers in the Loggia covers the bicentennial of the Archdiocese of New York.

Along these same lines, the See it embodies may no longer be the largest, was never the firstborn, and others could more aptly be highlighted for their consistency of innovation or creativity. But the qualifiers of age, artistry and size all vanish before New York’s singular, quasi-mythic status as America’s diocese, the Catholic bellwether of the public square even as the church in the United States has seen its center of gravity shift to the south and west at a dramatic clip

In Today’s News considers St. Paul’s views on homosexuality:

We cannot prove that Paul approved of homosexuality in some instances. We cannot know if would have approved of it in certain instances he and his audience never imagined. Yet, we also cannot prove he would have condemned it in certain instances he and his audience never imagined.

The simple fact is that the passage has no bearing on those “born gay” to anyone who accepts the possibility that a human person can be “born gay”.

John Allen writes about a possible motu proprio from Benedict XVI regarding authorization of a pre-Vatican II Latin Mass in Hold your breath for the next media frenzy (because apparently there are some Catholics who still prefer to worship in the language of pagan imperialists, a language never spoken by Christ and His apostles nor used to write sacred scripture, and a language few people understand today). Allen expects that it will cause a media frenzy but in the end have little effect on the majority of Catholics:

Be that as it may, there’s no doubt the motu proprio will be a media sensation, because the older Mass has become the most potent symbol of tensions over the basic direction of the Catholic Church in the period since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). In the court of broad public opinion, expanded access to the pre-Vatican II rite will be interpreted as a victory for the church’s traditionalist wing, however the Vatican explains it.

John Allen also writes a review of Pope Benedict XVI’s new book Jesus of Nazareth which begins with this analysis of how the media covers religious news:

When people pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV news, they generally aren’t looking for a Sunday school lesson. This creates a challenge for journalists covering religious leaders, since most of their public utterances are devoted either to expounding their faith, or urging people to behave. The way reporters solve the problem is by combing through those utterances to find statements presumed to have broad, non-sectarian significance, normally because they apply to matters of politics or culture.

The result is that the real concerns of religious leaders, and the priority they assign to those concerns, often don’t come across terribly clearly — not because reporters aren’t doing their jobs, but because of how the news business works in a secular world.

Fr. Robert Barron’s article in US Catholic “Not Just Lip Service” explicates the Creed, the basics of our faith, and finds a lot of good in it.

A culturally perceptive friend of mine commented recently, “The church has for some time been seen as irrelevant; now it’s seen as irrelevant and corrupt.”

To respond to these objections, we have to point out that the church in which we place our faith is not primarily an institution. It is instead a body. In accord with Paul’s great metaphor, the church is a living organism composed of interdependent cells, molecules, and organs, whose head is Christ himself and whose lifeblood is the divine life flowing from the sacraments. This “Mystical Body” is Christ’s manner of being present to the world; it is his eyes, his ears, his hands, and his feet.

Just as you can’t possibly know me apart from my body—my physical presence, my voice, my gestures—so you can’t know Christ apart from his church. This is why when Catholics evangelize they don’t simply invite people to come into a personal relationship with Jesus; they invite people into the life of the church.

Book Review: Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations

When I was a child I created my own town in my backyard by sweeping out a grid of paths amid fallen leaves and building stick bridges over the ditch separating my family’s property with the neighbors’. In my college days I tried to create my own political ideology called Liamism, best described as “conservative anarchy.” I even came up with a movement called the Liamist National Front (LNF), and I think I even had one half-hearted follower. But I was never ambitious enough to attempt to create my own nation.

Recently I’ve learned of micronations, where individuals or small groups of people declare sovereignty over very small (sometimes imaginary) pieces of land. Some of them are jokesters, some are megalomaniacs, but some actually have an interesting cause or idea. According to the 1933 Montevideo Convention a nation needs only four things to exist: permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter into relations with other states (p. 5-6). Some micronations actually do meet these standards of legitimacy but still fail to be recognized by other more established nations. Yet the micronation phenomenon is on the rise.

Now there is a guidebook to micronations as well. Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations like micronations themselves is part tongue-in-cheek, but also serious about providing information for actual travel to (or at least near) these tiny nations. The histories of these micronations are the most interesting parts of the book. Most seem to be founded by men who enjoy dressing in uniforms with epaulets who raise money by selling stamps, coins, and sometimes aristocratic titles. One thing is for sure is that in a world of 6 billion people, it’s hard to come up with an original idea as the stories behind these micronations become redundant after a while. Still there’s enough in this guidebook to provide a few chuckles and a few “oh” moments to make it worth a (quick) read.

Here are some of my favorite micronations featured in the book:

Sealand – a former anti-aircraft tower off the coast of England is the “only operating stationary man-made nation in the world” (p. 8). Sealand has a long and violent history including a failed coup which lead to a government-in-exile, the Principality of Sealand.

Christiana – located along the river in Copenhagen, Denmark, the Freetown of Christiania is a communal experiment in drugs (but no hard drugs), bicycles (no auto traffic), and peaceful living (no guns). Sounds like my kind of place. They’ve even developed their own type of utility bike. Rick Steves writes about the effort to Save Christiania.

Hutt River Province Principality – A well-established model for many micronations across the Australian continent, establishing postage, currency and other traditional elements of economy as well as a unique system of numerology.

Lovely – Possibly the most romantic name for a micronation, Lovely began on British comedian Danny Wallace’s television program How to Start Your Own Country. The entire country is located in King Danny I’s flat in suburban London.

Whangamomona – Not to be upstaged by Australia, this rural region in New Zealand has it’s own micronation. Unlike many of the micronations in this book, Whangamomona has a hotel, a national rugby team, walking trails, and a history of non-human presidents including a goat and a poodle. The citizens celebrate Republic Day in late January in odd-numbered years.

The Gay & Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands – In protest of Australia’s anti-same-sex marriage laws, Emperor Dale I established a gay & lesbian haven on a small coral island. Lonely Planet dares to ask if the Emperor is really a Queen and how the citizens expect to perpetuate the population of the kingdom.

Kingdom of Elleore – This small island near Denmark has the most fascinating history. Founded in the 1940′s by teachers who followed a philosophy built on the teachings of St. Fintan. Unbeknown to the founders, the island had been used centuries before for a monastery for monks from an order founded by St. Fintan. Only 12-year students from the school may apply for citizenship, and the island is inhabited only once a year for Elleorian Week.

Akhzivland – A peaceful oasis amid war torn Israel, Akhzivland is adjacent to the beach and a national park attracting hippy backpackers and newlywed couples. More information at “A World of His Own” by Colin Miller.

Northern Forest Archipelago – Here’s one close to home and built on principles I can appreciate, preserving and appreciating the natural resources of the Northern Forest. Despite the name, the NFA is entirely on the mainland, the “islands” being pockets of woods and waters across Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.

Republic of Molossia – Another nation within a home, this is the republic of Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia which is surrounded by the state of Nevada. I particularly liked this comment from Lonely Planet regarding tours of Molossia: “Once you’ve called the government of Molossia and made arrangements, plan to spend as much as a whole hours sightseeing. Some visitors have tried to capture the spirit of the Molossian people in only 30 minutes. This package tour mentality will prevent you from getting a real taste of this unique culture” (p. 68).

The Copeman Empire – Located entirely within a caravan trailer home, this may be the only empire that travels within another sovereign nation. The story of King Nicholas (name legally changed) are documented in his book King Nicholas and he Copeman Empire. Visitors to the country may take tea and cucumber sandwiches with the king for only £1.50!

Republic of Kugelmugel – Edwin Lipburger’s experiment in post-modern architecture and spherical housing ran into trouble with the local authorities. So Lipburger declared it to be its own republic not subject to the laws of Austria. Ironically, these days Kugelmugel is on display in a theme park as an example of modern art and micronations, yet surrounded by barbed wire that keeps out even the nation’s president.

Aerican Empire – Founded by Eris Lis at the age of 5, the Aerican Empire may be the quirkiest of all micronations featuring its own religion, a belief in the coming of the Not-Quite-the-Apocalypse, and a national holiday for procrastinators.

Westartica – The founders of Westartica had an original idea among micronations: Find land on our planet unclaimed by any other nation. That it is a portion of Antarctica is small potatoes compared to the fact that Westartica really seems to have legitimate claim.

Maritime Republic of Eastport – Annapolis, Maryland is a lovely city and one of my favorite places to visit, but little did I know that just miles away across Spa Creek is the breakaway republic of Eastport. Annual events include a tug-of-war with their neighbors in the Annapolis and a 0.5 km run across the bridge separating Eastport from the USA.

The Conch Republic – The Florida Keys seceded from the United States in 1982 in response to border patrol roadblocks searching for drugs and illegal immigrants that caused crippling traffic on the islands. Since then the Conch Republic has successfully opposed an invasion by US forces and thrown some good parties.

Ladonia – A post about Ladonia at MetaFilter first brought my attention to the micronation phenomenon. This country, like Kugelmugel, originated when an artistic creation was condemned by local authorities in Sweden. The sculptures survive in independent Ladonia which has a growing, nomadic population.

State of Sabotage (SOS) – Taking it a step further, SOS is built on the principle that “nurturing the arts should be a new state’s ultimate aim (rather than sovreignty, commerce or war)” (p. 148). Originally a virtual nation, SOS now has land on Australia.

Then there are various nations that are not of this Earth, including The Kingdom of Tycho, The Principality of Voodice, and the Artemis Project, all of whom know that one day “You Will Go to the Moon.”

Links to other micronations mentioned in the book:
Principality of Freedonia
Empire of Atlantium
Grand Duchy of the Lagoan Isles
Principality of Vikesland
Sovereign Kingdom of Kemetia
Republic of Cascadia (silly) or Republic of Cascadia (serious)
Trumanist Republic of Trumania
Republic of Saugeais
Barony of Caux
Dominion of British West Florida
Grand Duchy of Elsanor
Snake Hill

More micronation resources are available through this portal and this discussion board.

Now the question remains, to which of these micronations should I grant my allegiance? Or should I start my own.

Book Review: Jamestown, the Buried Truth

As my mom likes to tell the story, back in 1994 archaeologist Bill Kelso addressed a small audience to introduce his plans for the Jamestown Rediscovery project. The lack of interest arose from the notion that all that could be learned about the early days of the settlement had already been discovered. It was popularly believed that the remains of James Fort had been eroded by the James River.

Bill Kelso proved them wrong.

Jamestown, the Buried Truth by William M. Kelso tells the story of 12 years of excavation and discovery at Jamestown. The remains of the triangular fort from Jamestown’s early period 1607-1624 were there to be found, and the was just the beginning. The archaeologists uncovered remnants of the monumental effort to build a new colony in an unforgiving country fighting diseases, weather, starvation and conflicts with the native population of Tsenacomacans. The material record tells stories undocumented in the colonists records and early histories. The archaeological team may even have uncovered the remains of Bartholomew Gosnold, an early leader of the colony.

Kelso emphasizes that despite their flaws and mistakes, the Jamestown settlers were far from failures and Jamestown was not a fiasco but in fact successfully the first permanent English settlement in North America. Much to my pleasure, Kelso writes a chapter on the long, often overlooked period of Jamestown after initial settlement. From 1619-1699 Jamestown was home to the first popularly elected governmental body and served as the capital of the Virginia Colony. Kelso traces the development of that government through the traces of the five structures that served as the State House.

I’ll be traveling to Virginia in a couple of weeks for the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s settlement. It should be an exciting event and a big party. More information at Jamestown 2007 and Jamestown 400. Jamestown Settlement, Historic Jamestowne (National Park Service), and Historic Jamestowne (Association for the Preservation of Antiquities) are always worth a visit, in person or online.

Other Jamestownia worth reading:

The cover story in the May 2007 edition of National Geographic is all about America in 1607.

A January 9, 2007 article in the Boston Globe about archaeological discovery of seeds, Jamestown seeds reflect survival efforts.

If you like a little fiction in your history, there’s Secret Histories: The Jamestown Colony in Postmodern Fiction at The Millions (A Blog About Books).

Friday Sillies: Librarian video

A song and music video set in a library. In less than four minutes they manage to cram in just about every librarian stereotype there is. I particularly like how in popular culture anytime someone shelves a book they do it without looking. I guess the video is balanced by the many examples of bad patron behavior.

As an added bonus, check out Shorpy.com for this hilarious dummy letter featured in an episode of Leave it to Beaver. Ah, the things we can do with modern technology.

Book Review: Apex Hides the Hurt

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead is a darkly comic novel about a nomenclature consultant, that is a man who is called upon to come up with brand names for product. As the novel begins the protagonist, sideline from his lucrative corporate job by a mysterious toe injury, is called upon by the town council of Winthrop to help rename the town. Lucky Aberdeen, a software exec who speaks in corporate clinches and technobabble, wants to give the town the forward-looking name of New Prospera. Regina Goode, mayor and descendant of the towns original black settlers wants to revert to the name given to the town by it the freed slaves who founded the town, Freedom. Albie Winthrop represents the old money and is perfectly content with keeping his family’s name on the town. Over several days spent in Winthrop observing the consumerist culture suck the soul out of the town, the nomenclature consultant struggles with playing off these interested parties and his own skill at naming.

The title of the book comes from Apex adhesive bandages, a competitor to Band-Aid which rises to prominence after the producers start making them available in every skin tone of humankind. The protagonist gives the product his best name to the product and the marketers come up with the slogan “Apex Hides the Hurt.” It doesn’t take a PhD in literary criticism to see the symbolism of bandages that hide the wound. The lead character literally loses a toe because the bandages prevent him from seeing the wound festering and decaying. His inner pain is also covered by the unhealing bandage of consumer culture.

The significance of naming is also an important symbol. The power of names, and more so the power to give name are both very important. One could write a whole book about the topic, and Colson Whitehead has. In one of the great literary tricks, Whitehead gives us a man who creates names without giving that man a name himself. I enjoyed this book which was both funny and sad, often at the same time.

Favorite Passages

On the rare occasions that he entered libraries, he always felt assured of his virtue. If they figured out how to distill the essence of library into a convenient delivery system — a piece of gum or a gelcap, for example — he would consume it eagerly, relieved to be finished with more taxing methods of virtue gratification. Helping little old ladies across the street. Giving tourists directions. Libraries (p. 91-92).

Some people went for driftwood, others were suckers for cellar door, but as far as commonplace word units went, he had always been rather fond of shuttle bus, and back in his office days had spend many an afternoon advocating its case.

As perfect containers of that moment between anticipation and event, as roving four-wheeled or six-wheeled conveyances of hope, shuttle buses cannot be blamed if the destination disappoints, if desire is counterfeited, if after all that dreaming all we have to show are ashed. Shuttle buses, at worst, were unwitting accomplices. Being a shuttle bus, he argued, mean never having to say you’re sorry. He always expected applause when he finished (p. 101).

Another Weekend in New York

For Christmas, my mother generously gave Susan and I tickets to see Madama Butterfly performed by the New York City Opera at the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center. My friend Mike M., an Atlanta Braves fan, and I have a tradition of catching a Mets-Braves game at Shea Stadium each spring. Fortuitously, the Mets-Braves series and the opera fell on the same weekend and a plan was hatched!

My photos from the weekend.

We drove down early Saturday morning in Mike’s Truckasaurus. From past experience and the many warning of Mets announcers about the lack of parking at Shea, I was worried we’d be stuck in traffic and have to park in a remote region of Long Island. Despite many bathroom breaks for Mike, we arrived about an hour before game time and got parking close to the stadium, so all that worry was for naught.

We sat in the Upper Deck boxes behind home plate. There was a great family of season ticket holders in front of us. Both the man and woman kept score and compared notes during the game. They were die-hard scorekeepers as the man kept a baseball-shaped pencil sharper on hand for mid-game sharpening. The man didn’t like the Wave at all and I have to agree with him. Twenty years ago fans at Shea did the Wave during a Met rally as a coordinated effort to cheer on the action on the field. Nowadays, the Wave seems to happen when the fans are bored, and it’s a pretty tired activity at that.

It was a big day at Shea. First it was Luggage Tag Day (almost as exciting as Mets Ice Cube Tray Day) as all fans received a classy leather tag upon entering. Next it was Earth Day and volunteers from the EPA made a token appearance to collect recyclable cans and bottles (they didn’t stick around too long after the game though). The best part is that it was Dog Day in the Park and Mets fans walked their pooches around the warning track prior to the game. A lot of cute dogs in Mets bandanas out there. This brought much delight to Susan.

The highlight of the day was the on field action between the Mets and Braves. Young Ollie Perez pitched beautifully, including 20 straight strikes at one point. I got to rib Mike a lot about all the 0-2 counts on the Braves batters. I also got to see the most exciting player in baseball, Jose Reyes, doing what he does best: getting on base and then stealing bases.

The Mets broke the game open with a series of home runs over the 5th & 6th innings. I didn’t see any of these because I was attempting to get money by waiting in line at the slowest ATM in the world, and then waiting again to buy ice cream. I didn’t mind too much because I think I was getting too much sun on a warm April day. Spending so much time packed like a sardine within Shea’s interior makes me appreciate the need for constructing a new stadium with extra wide concourses.

For more on the Mets v. Braves, see my latest baseball post Meet the Mets.

After the game, we spent some time under the elevated tracks with a drink and a snack. I was impressed with how quickly and efficiently most of the other fans were moved away from the park. By the time we were ready to go there was no wait for Mike to drive out of the parking lot nor for us to board the 7 train. We zipped downtown to Times Square and then transfered uptown to our hotel in the Upper West Side. The Hotel Riverside Studios promotes their plaid bedspreads and matching drapes, but something about the corridor makes it look like the kind of place where artists go to shoot heroin. We came up with a slogan for the hotel “You’ll come for our plaid bedspreads, you’ll stay for our shady corridors!” The neighborhood was lovely with lots of colorful, stone-front row houses.

After a nap which I couldn’t shake off right away, we headed out for dinner. An excellent soul band played on the crowded platform at 72 St. Station. The lead vocalist had one of those powerful, throat-shredding voices and the guitarist and drummer offered lovely harmonies. They made the rather crumby Commodores’ song “Easy” sound really, really good. I was a bit thrown by the subway not making local stops, grumpified more as I groggily made along the packed sidewalks near Times Square, and positively mortified when I knocked over a candle and broke a glass as we were seated at the restaurant. I was soothed by the delicious Indian food and the friendly staff at the former Nirvana 54.

We strolled down 5th Avenue to the Empire State Building which Susan wanted to visit on recommendation from our nephew Cassidy. The wait was long though, so we took a pass. It was a nice walk and maybe we’ll return and go up when Cassidy is with us. Back at the hotel Susan searched unsuccessfully for a Tom Hanks movie, her New York tradition. Then we went to sleep.

On Sunday we ate breakfast at a cafe on the corner of 71 St. and Broadway. We strolled down to Lincoln Center, but it was far too early, so we made our way over Central Park to get out of the sun. New Yorkers celebrated the warm weather by taking all their cute babies and dogs to the park. We watched for a long time as a young lad played baseball with his dad, always running the wrong way when he hit the ball. Topping off our park experience, we ate Ferrara’s pastries by the USS Maine monument.

We walked around the Lincoln Center complex which really is an amazing complex. This is what Modernism looks like at it’s very best. I especially like the railings in the New York State Theater which look like Jackson Pollock paintings formed into class. Upon entering the Fourth Ring to find our seats, Susan said “Wow!” which I think sums it up. The couple sitting in front of us seemed more inured to the opera house experience. During intermissions he read a book and she did the Times crossword.

For more on the performance read my post Opera Review: Madama Butterfly.

After the opera we strolled up Amsterdam Avenue to Fred’s Restaurant. This place is pretty much a dog-themed bar based on the story of a female lab named Fred who wasn’t able to work as a guide dog for the blind, but was lovingly adopted by the restaurant owners. The walls are lined with autographed photos of dogs from around the world. Susan loved it. Fred’s appears to be a good place to take your children as the other tables were teaming with adorable young’uns. Come to think of it, I think our entire weekend was dominated by dogs and children. Anyhow, the food and staff at Fred’s are great too.

After that we took a long, hot bus ride home and arrived groggy and grumpy. And that was our weekend.


Speaking of New York City, this online gallery of photos of New York from 1964-1969 contains many great images of the city and its inhabitants by Irwin Klein. While this is a little bit before my time, it’s still nostalgic as the city and the people in the photos remind of New York when I was a child.

Opera Review: Madama Butterfly

Thanks to the generosity of my mother, Susan and I saw a matinée performance of the New York City Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly on Sunday.

Madama Butterfly tells the story of B.F. Pinkerton (Christopher Jackson) of the US Navy who on a whim purchases a 999-year lease on a home overlooking the harbor in Nagasaki, and works out a similar agreement with a marriage broker Goro (Matthew Surapine) for the young Cio-Cio-San (Shu-Ying Li), known as Butterfly. He does this because he knows he can break the contract at any time and he even as he prepares to marry Butterfly he toasts his future “real wife” from America. As loathsome and culturally insensitive as he is, Cio-Cio- San can’t help but fall in love with Pinkerton, and in a weird way the American Dream as she rebukes her family and Japanese culture. The second act is dedicated to Cio-Cio-San patiently awaiting Pinkerton’s return despite everyone she knows telling her that it is false hope. In the final act, Pinkerton does return — with his American wife. In the final insult, their only purpose is to take Cio-Cio-San’s sun Sorrow with them to America. Cio-Cio-San allows them to take her son, but takes her own life as well just before the curtain falls.

Critically, there are things that are hard to buy in this story. What makes Cio-Cio-San fall in love with Pinkerton? There seems to be no excuse for her foolishness even if she had few other options available to her due to her culture and gender. Yet, in a sense that is true to life. People are blinded by love, blinded by hope, and blinded by dreams. That is the real tragedy to me because love, hope, and dreams are three of the most positive qualities of humanity, and yet they can destroy us.

Leaving the theater we overheard a woman say “They should have killed him instead of her.” I wonder what the audience of Puccini’s time thought about Pinkerton’s moral choices. Puccini and his librettists certainly seem to want to make us understand Pinkerton’s remorse in the third act. Of course Pinkerton acts on that remorse by going off and moping on his own instead of, you know, actually speaking with the woman he impregenated and abandoned. Do pre-feminist audiences think this was good enough, even progressive for an American man? The mind boggles.

Musically, Madama Buttefly is full of beautiful, heart-wrenching melodies. Shu-Ying Li especially carries the show with her lyrical voice. The second act in particular has some of her best arias and a lovely intermezzo by the orchestra. Christopher Jackson is kind of stiff, but his stage time is actually overshadowed by supporting characters Suzuki (Keri Alkema) and Sharpless (Marco Nisticò). The characters provide the conscience and realism to counterbalance the leads, and their voices provide beautiful singing, albeit Alkema spends much of the performance laying on the floor weeping. I love how operas are cast by voice not by physical appearance so that the American Alkema plays a Japanese house servant and the Italian Nisticò plays an American Consul, adding the multicultural soup. Henry Titcomb as Sorrow doesn’t sing but provides a touching and charming performance as a typical little boy.

The staging and costumes are also great. I’ve seen so many productions lately that update the costumes to another place and time that it was nice to see them sticking to 1900-era Japanese and American fashions. I particularly liked that all the women in the wedding scene wore small American flags in their hair. In a great dramatic moment at the climax of the opera that may not be noticed by those without opera glasses, Cio-Cio-San removes the Star-Spangled Banner from Sorrow’s hand and replaces it with the Rising Sun. The stage is set simply but used effectively. A set of steps at the back of the stage represent the hill upon which Pinkerton’s house while sliding doors represent the walls. In Act II, Cio-Cio-San, Suzuki, and Sorrow spread a silk cloth and flower petals across the steps. The safety commissar in me cringes at the thought of the boy slipping down the steps, but visually the effect was beautiful.

For those keeping score, this was my fourth opera.  I’m not the most cultured guy but I do enjoy the experience.

Meet the Mets

The Braves and I make our first visit to Shea this season.

Game #1 is not the exciting preview I had hoped. Instead it was a 7-3 drubbing of the Mets, and it wasn’t even that close. Tim Hudson pitched 8 innings of shutout ball and Chipper Jones does what Chipper Jones does and hit yet another homer at his favorite road stadium. Ambiorox Burgos walked in a run and allowed another to score on a wild pitch and then walked another batter and for some reason Willie continues to show extreme forbearance with Burgos. Even David Wright’s Met-record hitting streak came to an end. If there are any positives in this game it is that the Mets were able to score three runs in the ninth showing that the Braves’ bullpen still has weaknesses that may be exploited to better advantage in a close game. And if that’s not true then there’s always the humorous image of Andruw (sic) Jones flopping on his belly as a Carlos Beltran bloop drops to the ground a few yards away. We take what little joy we can find in such things. Otherwise, there are many worrying things such as the Braves taking over first place and the fact that Mets can’t seem to beat them.

Or maybe the Braves just can’t beat the Mets, especially when Oliver Perez is on the mound. Watching from the Upper Deck, I enjoyed seeing the count repeatedly go to 0-2 on Braves batters (and several times 0-3 as well) including a stretch where Perez threw 20 straight strikes. Whatever made the Braves bats go to sleep did not affect the Mets on a sunny Saturday afternoon as they slapped the ball silly off Chuck James and a pair of relievers. Carlos Beltran was a homer short of hitting for the cycle, as was Jose Reyes who only missed a triple for this game. And thus, all was well in MetsWorld again.

Until Sunday. Back in 1998 I attended one game of a Mets-Brave series over Labor Day weekend. Sadly, the one game I saw was the one game in that series the Mets lost, mainly due to the dominance of John Smoltz in 3-hit complete game shutout. Since then I’ve always liked Smoltz, my favorite Brave as far as one can like the enemy. He’s old school, especially with that beard. Put him in a kepi and a gray uniform and he would look like a general from the Civil War. Smoltz pitched Sunday’s game as well and while not nearly as successful on the mound, his team walked off the field with the win at the end of the day. Tom Glavine (the Manchurian Brave) has won 11 games for the Braves over the past five seasons, which is really rotten since he’s been on the Mets roster all that time. Yesterday he faced Smoltz and pitched relatively better than his old teammate in a game that looked pretty ugly for those of us who appreciate an old fashioned pitching duel.

And thus the Mets are looking up at the Braves in the standings again. Yuck!


Players of the game (I award up to ten points, maximum of 6 points to one player, distributed among the Mets players who had the biggest impact in the game):

20 April 2007
Braves 7, Mets 3

  • Alou 2
  • Beltran 2
  • Chavez .50
  • Green 3.5
  • Schoeneweis 1
  • Smith 1

21 April 2007
Braves 2, Mets 7

  • Beltran 2
  • Castro .50
  • Easley 1
  • Perez 3
  • Reyes 3
  • Smith .50

22 April 2007
Braves 9, Mets 6

  • Alou .50
  • Delgado 1
  • Glavine 2.5
  • Green 2.5
  • Reyes 2.5
  • Valentin 1

As much as I like writing about the Mets and the idea that I can look back over these posts at the end of the season, I’m finding it hard to post about the Mets so often without getting boring. So I’m going to start doing a “Mets week in review” type of post on Sunday night/Monday morning instead where I can post my thoughts on the past week of games and my player of the game scores. I still may set aside a special post for important games and Met events, but overall I think this will help restore some balance to Panorama of the Mountains.

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