Sunday, May 27, 2007


Like everyone else, I’ve experienced my fair share of embarrassing situations, but none more bizarre than last week’s. I was at Coastal Village for a friend’s birthday barbecue, and towards the tail end of the party (midnight-ish), those of us who remained were on the lawn downstairs, shooting the excrement, smoking lots of cigarettes, and passing a bottle of wine around. I hardly ever drink, but I didn’t want to be my usual “Mr. Puritan Teetotaler” boring self, so I took pulls whenever the bottle made its way to me. I have no clue whether the wine was good or of MD 20/20 quality – what’s important is that for some ungodly reason, it was in a paper bag. So I’m sitting in the middle of a public, highly trafficked area of the university’s student housing, drinking, talking loudly (and, at times, rudely) and smoking like a fiend, when a group of students walked past. Thanks to my customarily shitty luck, one of the students was a member of last semester’s Marine Systems class. And so, in one fell swoop, I went from being nice, polite “Professor Jorge” to being “Hobo Jorge,” who drinks booze out of a paper bag, smokes, and drops f-bombs while cackling like a demented street tramp. This is what I get for conforming!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Meeting the enemy

Since the guy who owns the company where I work is a board member of the Winged Foot Scholarship Foundation, I got to attend the scholarship award banquet last night. The keynote speaker was none other than Brian Billick, coach of the disgusting Barftimore Ravens. Although I had promised the boss I would be on my best behaviour, I was fully prepared to crap all over Billick if the opportunity presented itself. As it turned out, Billick was unbelievably nice, charismatic, and likeable. He made a round of the tables prior to the ceremony, and when I told him I was a rabid Browns fan and that his Superbowl ring belonged to the city of Cleveland, he chuckled, gave me an up-close look at the ring, and busted my chops about the frustration of rooting for the Brownies. Two things about him that stood out: he’s very tall, as you can see in the photo, and he projects an aura of genuinely loving his job.

The only shaky moment of the evening occurred during his speech, when he talked about how supply and demand shaped the salary distribution among his team. He gave us the salary cap figure for each NFL team ($109 million, if memory serves right), and talked about the difficult decisions GM and Über-traitor Ozzie Newsome has to make regarding how that figure is distributed among his 53 players. If he had his “druthers,” Billick said, he would wheelbarrow the money into a room, lock his players in it, and let them decide how to divide the $109 million. His punchline: “The problem is, Ray Lewis would walk out with all of it!” I hastily added my own punchline, not quite under my breath: “Yeah… he’d walk out with all the money, and with a bloody knife!” I got a couple of dirty stares for my troubles, but it was well worth taking a shot at Raykiller.

After the festivities, someone asked me if I would become a Ravens fan now. My answer? Of course not. I’ll still wish the entire Ravens team plane crashes into a fiery cauldron of fused metal and charred body parts. I will, however, wish for Billick to be spared (I think).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

An evening at the Naples Philharmonic

Last Friday, after a typically unproductive day slaving over my so-called thesis, we ventured over to the Phil for the final concert of the season. We arrived in plenty of time to grab a drink and a smoke and, as a bonus, to see a member of our group spill wine on her sweater twice in the space of half a minute. Our seats were in the left end of the center section, in the second row, allowing us an excellent view of the conductor and the first strings. The program kicked off with Mexican composer Blas Galindo’s “Son de Mariachis,” a surprisingly pleasant and melodic pastiche of Mariachi tunes. It’s the fourth Mexican piece I’ve seen at the Phil ever since Jorge Mester took over as Music Director two seasons ago. And in completely unrelated news, he’s Mexican. I guess I should be thankful he’s not Middle Eastern…

The first showcase piece of the evening was Antonín Dvorák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, a perennial favourite. Like the New World Symphony, the Cello Concerto was written during Dvorák’s tenure at the New York Conservatory. As such, many pundits claim to hear Native American and/or Negro Spiritual influences in both of these works. In the immortal words of Hannibal Lecter, “I myself cannot.” Both works are Bohemian through and through. The Cello Concerto’s music is beautiful, gloomy, and driven gently but relentlessly forward, with ample opportunities for the soloist to display his/her portamento and technique.

The soloist this evening was a young up-and-coming Russian cellist, Alexander Bouzlov. Ridiculously outdated bouffant aside, Bouzlov displayed a nicely refined taste and skill. Being a nitpicky malcontent, however, I had two problems with his performance: some sloppy passage work, especially during the fiendish arpeggios of the final movement, and an overall lack of tone strength – at times, the orchestra drowned him out completely. Nonetheless, Bouzlov played a very polished version. I was especially pleased at his lavish but not overdone use of glissando. I imagine it must be tough to find a happy medium here: too little glissando, and you might as well play a piano; too much glissando, and you might as well join a band of gypsies and play sappy czardas all day. All in all, I have yet to hear a version of Dvorák’s Cello Concerto that comes even remotely close to being worthy of comparison to Jacqueline du Pré’s phenomenal rendition. Nonetheless, I thought Bouzlov’s version compared favourably to Yo Yo Ma’s rather bland performance, and maybe even Rostropovich’s interpretation (technically superb but unforgivably devoid of emotion, and with bizarre tempi to boot).

The concluding showpiece was Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Mussorgsky was a gifted composer, but he was also lazy and undisciplined. As a result, he failed to orchestrate most of his pieces after he finished composing them. He died young, most likely as a result of his raging alcoholism. “Pictures at an Exhibition” was scored posthumously by various other composers. The most widely known version of the piece is Maurice Ravel’s. It’s a very polished orchestration, and although at times Ravel gets a little too cute with his unusual and overdone choice of instruments, I doubt that Mussorgsky himself could have done a better job.

The orchestra played the piece reasonably well, but the brass section (aka “the bane of my existence”) continued their annoying penchant for coming in a half-beat late at all times. Not to pick on Mester, but in my opinion, this problem is directly attributable to him. His conducting is very sloppy at times, giving the impression that the orchestra doesn't rehearse enough, and his tempo selection is at times completely insane – Bydlo, for example, was a crawl; I guess the cattle were either drugged or suffered from some sort of mass lethargy. Nonetheless, the orchestra generated a pretty awesome volume during the tutti, especially during The Great Gate of Kiev, and the strings and woodwinds played very well. Overall, it was a satisfying performance.

Recommended versions of both works:

Jacqueline du Pré, soloist, Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim (her hubby).

The orchestra in this recording is a little uneven, but du Pré is on fire, exhibiting a richness of tone that has yet to be equaled – she must have had fingers of steel. Her technique here is flawless, and at times, her cello actually sounds like a human lament. Here’s the first movement:

The Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi.

Easily the best version of “Pictures at an Exhibition” that has ever been recorded, with one huge drawback: instead of including Rimsky-Korsakov’s sublime orchestration of “A Night on the Bare Mountain,” this CD includes Mussorgsky’s sloppy, uneven, and apparently uncompleted score (typical). A shame. Here’s the first picture, Gnomus:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

You're killing me!!!

Utterly disastrous performance by the Cavs tonight. This team is still much too inconsistent, and I think this flaw is an unfortunate reflection of their coach's inexperience and/or unassertiveness. PLEASE design an offense that doesn't consist of one guy holding the ball while four other guys stand around as the shot clock winds down, thereby forcing the guy holding the ball do one of the following: a) throw up an awkward fadeaway jumper that doesn't stand a chance; b) force an ill-advised pass to an unprepared/clueless teammate; c) try to force his way to the hoop only to kick the ball out of bounds or otherwise turn it over.

It is nice that the team can play good defense when they need it, but tonight's game, as poorly played as it was during the first three quarters, should have been won in the fourth. When you hold the Nets to 6 lousy points on what seemed like roughly 10% shooting (both field and free-throws) for an entire quarter, you've GOT to make up more than just 6 or 7 crummy points in the score. God, what a catastrophe.

Can we take Game 6? Absolutely -- in spite of our shortcomings, I still feel as though our team is better. Nonetheless, we need to get some decent point-guard play and actually have a plan on offense. Larry "Chelonid" Hughes is a free-wheeling, slashing two-guard, and is therefore not at all equipped to run the team. Put the ball in Bron-Bron's hands and let the team's only gifted passer distribute the ball. If the other players don't knock down their shots or, even worse, continue to stand around like topiary, well... I guess we'll have to resort to our yearly war-cry: "Wait 'til next year!"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Spiderman 3

Owing to the vagaries of time, graduate school, and my general laziness, I hadn’t been to a movie theatre since my last true vacation, around 3 years ago. A couple of weeks ago, Madeleine and I decided we should go see “Grindhouse” or “Hot Fuzz” – we’re both huge Tarantino fans, and we also loved “Shaun of the Dead.” Last Friday we finally got around to making time to go to the theatre. Alas, “Grindhouse” was already out of circulation, and Madeleine declared that she wasn’t in the right mood (???) to see “Hot Fuzz,” so we settled on “Spiderman 3” instead. We met Pauline for dinner, then proceeded to the theatre for the 23:45 showing. After Pauline and Madeleine argued about where to sit for what seemed like an eternity, we were treated to an obnoxious slew of lame trivia questions, insufferably idiotic short films and, in the clearest sign yet that the Apocalypse is finally upon us, at least a dozen commercials. The result? The movie started over 20 minutes late, already putting me in a crummy mood.

Sadly, the film itself did nothing to dispel my annoyance, but rather aggravated it. My only consolation, however poor, is that I was not alone in my misery. Approximately 5 minutes into the movie, Madeleine uttered the first of many nasty comments. If I recall correctly, it went something like this: “This movie sucks!” About a minute later, I made the first of many MST3K-style comments, most of which were at Aunt May’s expense – more on this later. Not to be outdone, Pauline offered the first of many “we should walk out of the theatre” comments some 15 seconds later. For whatever reason, we ended up sitting through the entire movie – nearly two and a half hours of torment.

Before I shred “Spidey 3,” know that I’m fully aware that the movie is based on comic-book characters. As such, I didn’t go into the theatre expecting to see a film that would depict the darkness within the human heart in a masterful enough way to rival “Rashomon”… but even “Pokémon” was more coherent and engaging than “Spidey 3.” I don’t mind archetypal superhero stories, as long as they’re set up and executed properly. This was certainly not the case with “Spidey 3,” which was so haphazard and discombobulated that the only enjoyment I derived from watching it was strictly a byproduct of its unremitting cheesiness. It’s difficult to understand how the same guy who wrote and directed stark, gripping, action-driven jewels like “The Evil Dead” and “Darkman” could have churned out such an uninspired, hackneyed piece of cinematic excrement. And so, without further ado…

Ten Things I Learned While Watching “Spiderman 3:”

  • If the protagonist’s main rival is pathetically unimposing, it’s always a good idea to introduce an even less intimidating second rival into the mix.
  • If the protagonist’s two main rivals are about as threatening as the Bolivian navy, it’s an equally great idea to introduce a third rival made of sand who will not only be easily entrained by water and wind, but will ultimately become the most sympathetic character in the film. (Yes; a bad guy made of sand is the most appealing character in this loathsome movie.)
  • When faced with a snobby French maître d’ who demands that you speak French, just say “Oui” while nodding like a hyperactive chimpanzee. This will not only disarm the maître d’, but compel him to become your unconditional ally for the evening.
  • The painting of Willem Dafoe hanging in the Osborne library was the best actor in the movie.
  • On their worst day, Tobey Maguire, James Franco, and even Kirsten “Butterface” Dunst have more acting talent than the hack who played Venom. I wish he’d ingested some venom during filming so they could have hired a replacement – even a drunken derelict would have been a huge upgrade.
  • Aunt May should change her name to Aunt Gay. A few samples of her wisdom:
    “Revenge can poison your heart and turn it into something ugly.”
    “I’m sure you’ll look within yourself and do the right thing.”
    “I know you’ll find a way to make it right.”
    “Take my wedding ring and use it to make Mary Jane yours.”
    “I’m so full of shit I need a 25-gallon barium enema.”
    (All right, I made that last one up.)
  • When trying to seduce your enemy’s girlfriend, grin like a demented hyena, do a ridiculously inept version of the twist, and clumsily break an omelette while trying to flip it.
  • When trying to get revenge on the girlfriend who went back to the rival that she had once dumped for you, stop washing your hair for three weeks, wear ill-fitting black clothes, slap on some eyeliner, snap your fingers like a crazy homeless person while walking down the street, and make an anorexic Russian girl bring you cookies.
  • Radioactive spider bites give you superpowers AND turn you into Scott Joplin, as witnessed by Spidey’s unfathomable foray into jazz musicianship.
  • If the movie is careening so far out of control that the viewers are forming a plot on the cast and crew’s lives, appeal to mass “patriotism.” (This one made both Madeleine and Pauline scream out in frustration, and was by far my favourite moment of the entire week.)

Once the movie was mercifully over, we staggered out of the theatre in disbelief. Madeleine summed up the experience with biting succinctness when she hissed: “I can’t believe I paid seven bucks for this. It’s like they squeezed every single cliché into one movie!” As for me, I can’t believe my first movie theatre experience in 3 years consisted of this steaming nugget of shite. The moral: never let a woman make the decisions.