Friday, November 17, 2006

Another photo of the "green comet" visible recently over parts
of the northern hemisphere. Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"You can't know the unknowable, but you can do the doable."

Jon Carroll

The Daily Babble

Having just sweated over a difficult book review, I very much enjoyed this line by book reviewer David Wootton in the Times Literary Supplement, concerning a very long book by economist Deirdre McCloskey: "The puzzle is I've ended up rather fond of McCloskey, and very fed up with her book."

What good is a blog if you can't relate a singular experience of absolutely no consequence? So here it is. Back in the 60s, and much further back than that, newspapers used to run little items called "fillers" which were exactly that: they filled out the end of a column when the story didn't quite finish it out. The fillers didn't have anything to do with the story--they were random facts, and sometimes they were close to surrealistic, as one that caught my eye. It was a single sentence: The virginal is a rectangular harpsichord. For any number of reasons, some of which I could name--the sound of the words, the humor inherent in the word "virginal" as a musical instrument--this struck me as so hilarious that it was like a one line work of art.

So I remembered it, and I may have put it in a play or a piece of fiction, as I was fond of collage effects at the time. But I never expected it to come up in conversation--that was part of the beauty of it.

Yet within a few years, it did. I recall I was working in a bookstore--possibly at college, possibly a temp gig in Boston--when one of my coworkers was looking through a book in the back room and making fun of some reference to a virginal. He paused, and--I swear this happened--he asked, "What is a virginal anyway?"

I knew the answer, and I said it, like in a dream. I marvelled at the whole experience and then for the next 30 years or so, I forgot it. Until today.

I was listening to a professor in the Humboldt Music Department describe the Symphonic Band's upcoming concert. One of the pieces was 400 years old, written by William Byrd, though scored for orchestra by a more modern composer. It had originally been written for keyboard only--for the instrument of the time, called a virginal. Did I know what that was?

Well. The years disappeared and the sentence came out of my mouth as if born yesterday: "The virginal is a rectangular harpsichord," I said. He paused, and said, that's right, and it was clear he'd never heard that particular definition. He should read old newspapers more often.

Which reminds me further than I once actually played a virginal. It was in college--I was directing a play I'd written called What's Happening, Baby Jesus? I'd also written a little song, which I wanted to record, so a verse or two could to be played in a few spots during performance. Some cast members, the stage manager and I stole into the orchestra room with a tape recorder, and improvised a little band. I played keyboard, and on one verse, I played their virginal. That the Virgin Mary was a character in the play--as was her very confused, very frustrated husband Joseph--made it all the sweeter.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The new, bluer US. Posted by Picasa

A hurricane on Saturn. Or that's what scientists are calling it, although Saturn has no seas, so the physics of it is baffling. But it's very big, and they've never seen one before. Posted by Picasa