Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trying My Hand Out as a Casting Director

The other day I did a short book review for my friend Gale Martin's recent novel, "Don Juan in Hankey, PA". Even before I had finished reading her very funny story of a small-town opera guild doing their best to put on THE best version of Mozart's Don Giovanni ever in order to keep from going under, I was wondering who might play who in the movie when Hollywood finally gets their hands on it.

After reading a blog post at Operatoonity by a guest blogger with her imagined cast list, I thought it might be fun to put my own cast together so I did just that with no thought to a casting budget or the possibility of temperamental artistes! Of course Amanda would accuse me of perhaps throwing a few of my own favorites in here but hey, if you can't develop an imagined cast list using the people you like then where's the fun in even developing one?  Exactly!  So, without further adieu,my choices for Gale's Dramatis Personae of "Don Juan in Hankey, PA" - ladies first of course!

Deanna Lundquist, A Community Organizer and Socialite, Recently Divorced: Diane Lane 

Vivian Frantz Pirelli, The Heiress to the Frantz Ketchup Fortune, Famously Divorced: Michelle Pfeiffer

Oriane Longenecker, Hankey Native and Amateur Opera Singer: Jennifer Garner

Mary Rohrer, Richard’s Late Wife, A Ghost of Saintly Demeanor: Susan Sarandon

Paylor Frantz, Vivian’s Mother, a Lonely Widow: Cloris Leachman

Jeannie Jacobs, A Wealthy Widow, Originally from Hankey: Helen Mirren

And now on to the men ...

Dr. Richard Rohrer, A Retired Physician and Widower: Richard Dreyfuss

Carter Knoblauch, Impresario born in Cincinnati: Gary Sinise

Leandro Vasquez, A Dashing Professional Opera Singer of Dissolute Habits: Orlando Bloom

Arnaud Marceau, Local Balloon Entrepreneur and Clairaudient Medium: Carson Kressley

Maestro Schantzenbach, Diminutive Conductor of the Hankey Opera Company and Lover of Dachshunds: Hector Elizondo

Donny of Donny’s Catering, A Metrosexual Caterer: Christian Bale

Donato Bianco, Aging Professional Baritone Whose Star Has Lately Dimmed: John Cusack

Picking out who should play each character was almost as much fun as reading the book as I changed my mind a couple of times thinking which role would fit each actor and vice versa before I came up with my final choices. Trust me, if I had been able to work RDJ and Colin Firth in here as well I certainly would have but alas, I'll just have to wait for Gale to write another book to work them into the movie! Either that or she could write a sequel and I'll work them into that!

So ... go ... read the book and tell me if you like my casting choices! Personally I think I'm pretty spot on!

HOLD THE PRESSES! Since I wrote this post I've made one small casting change based on a comment from Jean and the fact that this person somehow or other managed to skip my mind when it came to casting for Leandro, the to-die-for Argentinian opera singer for whom all the women melt. I don't know WHAT I was thinking but obviously the best man for the role would be none other than the very sexy man with a golden voice and molten eyes ... Hugh Jackman!

Swoon! Thanks, Jean, for the reminder - I don't know where my head was yesterday but it was obviously not in the right place! I do hope that Jamie can forgive me!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Even If You Know Nothing More About Opera Than I Do, You'll Really Enjoy This Book!

What I know about opera has been primarily restricted to an old Rice Krispies commercial from the late 1960's featuring a famous tenor aria from Ruggero Leoncavallo's 1892 opera Pagliacci: well as the 1957 Looney Tunes classic, What's Opera Doc? - an animated cartoon parody of 19th century classical composer Richard Wagner's operas, particularly Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) and Tannhäuser as well as music from Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman).

Widely regarded as cartoonist Chuck Jones’ greatest masterpiece and topping many Top Ten lists of the Greatest Animated Cartoons of All Time, the six-minute short features Elmer Fudd taking on the role of the demigod Siegfried (the central character in the Völsunga saga) while Bugs performs the role of the beautiful Brünnhilde (a shieldmaiden and a valkyrie in Norse mythology) - though beautiful may be up for debate in this case!  Yep, leave it to Saturday mornings to give us kids a little bit of culture back in the day!

The only other thing I really knew about opera was that my long-haired James Taylor/Carol King-loving Uncle Bill - who back in the early 1970's told me to keep an ear open for some guy named Elton John who was "going to make it BIG" - also enjoyed going to the opera when he lived in San Diego.  Huh?  Seriously?  Well, if Uncle Bill liked it then opera had to have something good going for it as Uncle Bill was the cool uncle in the family!

Even with knowing nothing more than that about opera, right now I've got to say that what opera has going good for it is a new book that I recently had the pleasure of reading that was written by a lovely lady whom I met through blogging several years ago, Gale Martin.  DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA is Gale's recently published novel which I was fortunate enough to win a signed copy of through a contest give-away that Gale was having on Facebook. Had I not won the book I certainly would have bought it as the reviews have been fantastic and I knew that if Gale wrote her novel at all in the style that she used to write her blog then I was going to quite enjoy it as Gale's got that snarky sense of humor that I so love in a writer.

I received my signed copy of Gale's book in the mail early in the week and thanks to Amanda accidentally giving my laptop charging cable to a friend when she mistakenly thought it was hers, I had the opportunity to sit down and do some reading whilst my computer was dead as a doorknob (to quote one of Gale's characters who somehow manages to butcher sayings even more than myself!)

It says on Gale's website, for readers of the book "Prior knowledge about opera is optional. Love of laughter, absolutely essential." which worked for me as I love books that make me laugh while the only thing I knew about Mozart, the composer who wrote Don Giovanni based on the Don Juan that appears in Gale's book title, is pretty much limited to the 1984 film Amadeus - the fictional story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (played by Tom Hulce) who tells the King that "I am a vulgar man but I assure you, my music is not."

The movie is told in flashback mode by Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), a Venetian classical composer, conductor and teacher and it probably would have been a good chance for me to expand my limited knowledge of of opera except for one thing .. Even though the movie won eight Oscars out of the eleven that it was nominated for, I couldn't stand Mozart's laugh so a lot of the opera featured in the movie zipped right past me while I anxiously waited for the movie to end so I could get the heck out of the theater.  If the opera Don Giovanni was at all featured in the film, you couldn't prove it by me!

However, even with my limited operatic knowledge and aversion to Mozart's laugh, I had certainly heard of Don Juan who is probably the most famous fictional rake of all time; a rogue and a libertine who takes great pleasure in seducing women (preferably virgins) and then fighting their men. The Don Juan legend was thought to have first been written about circa 1630 in the play El burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest) by Tirso de Molina. However, no matter how many other people wrote about Don Juan, the most influential version of the legend was Mozart's two-act opera Don Giovanni (Don Juan in Italian), first performed in Prague in 1787. The opera contained an Italian libretto (the text used in an extended musical work like an opera) by Lorenzo Da Ponte which was billed as dramma giocoso, a term that denotes a mixing of serious and comic action.

Just as Mozart's Don Giovanni blended comedy, melodrama and supernatural elements into the story of the most famous womanizer of all time, so does Gale's DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA - the story of a slightly dysfunctional small-town opera guild and their attempts to produce a version of Mozart's famous opera in the hopes of saving the Hankey Opera Company from financial ruin.  From the first pages of the book straight through to the last, Gale writes a story filled with comic twists and turns, intrigue and mystery, longing and lust, and characters that make you think "Hey, I know someone just like that!"  I honestly found myself really laughing out loud while reading the book as well as quite unable to put it down until I finished reading it at 2:00 in the morning.

Now maybe I don't know much about opera or Mozart but I'm pretty sure I know a good book when I read one and DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA is definitely a good book!  Of course, you don't have to take my word for it, you can check out the reviews on or the reviews at Gale's opera-based blog Operatoonity or visit Gale's website and learn more about the book there.

Actually, if you visit Gale's website now or check out her video, you can get a peek at the fantastic prizes that she's offering during the novel's upcoming Online Launch Week starting on November 28th.  There's some really good stuff there including two tickets to a 2012 Glimmerglass Festival Production in Cooperstown, NY along with two tickets to Verdi's Oberto presented by the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia as well as signed copies of DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA which I think is the best prize of all!

Thank you, Gale, for being a padrona magnifica with the written word; DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA was truly a wonderful read filled with fun characters that literally jumped off the page. I'd like to also offer an additional personal thank you for not harming any ambulance personnel with large Bobbin' Robins falling from the sky! Molto buon, lo amavo!

Now to wait for the movie along with your next novel to come out!

Friday, November 25, 2011

In Honor of My Dad's Birthday ...

Today is the 77th anniversary of my father's birth and in honor of that I'm posting this picture.  Now, I suppose you're wondering what on earth a picture of a can of Van Camp's Beenee Weenees has to do with what would have been my father's birthday, aren't you?

In January of 1966, my Dad - who was a career military man in the Air Force and a darned fine aircraft mechanic - was deployed overseas to do his mandatory tour of duty at Da Nang Air Base in the Republic of Vietnam.  I believe that Dad was part of the 61st Tactical Wing at that time and Da Nang was considered to be the world's busiest airport with 1,500 take-offs and landings recorded on peak days.  It was also the target of a lot of bombings and my mother received many a letter that was written in very shaky script as my Dad waited out the bombings in a shelter.

This was back in the days before there was any such thing as web cameras and email so contact was limited to letters that came back to the States via snail mail and maybe - if one was very lucky - a very rare phone call.  If families today think they worry about their military members who are deployed, that's nothing compared to what families went through during the Vietnam War and the wars that preceded it. I've got no doubt that my Mom was probably worried sick pretty much every single day that my Dad was away but being made of the stern Yankee stock combined with a very stiff British upper lip that she inherited from her mother, my Mom very rarely showed any of that fear and worry that she no doubt felt as she waited for each letter to arrive.

Meanwhile, my Dad was no doubt on the other side of the world also looking forward to Daily Mail Call when he'd receive word from home or if he was really lucky, a Care Package that my Mom had lovingly put together containing some of his favorite things from the States that he couldn't possibly get his hands on in Vietnam.  As packages went over via slow boat back in those days, Mom had to be choosy about what she would include so she'd bake some of his favorites that she knew would last the long trip and also include a few other non-perishables like cans of Vienna Sausages and another of Dad's favorites - Beenee Weenees.

I hadn't seen a can of Beenee Weenees in years but on a recent trip to the grocery store, while searching the shelves for something else, I found myself looking directly at the Van Camp's label on the can of one of my Dad's favorite things to receive when he was in Vietnam.  Needless to say I had to buy a can and maybe - just maybe - I'll pop it open and eat the contents today in honor of my Dad and his service to our country all those many years ago.

Happy Birthday, Dad; as you can see, you'll never be forgotten even if it's in ways you never thought twice about!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Love Really IS a Many Splendord Thing!

Okay, I'm probably really showing my age with the title of this post but years ago when I was just a little girl I received a musical jewelry box from my beloved grandfather for Christmas and it played "Love Is a Many Splendord Thing" as a little ballerina twirled in front of a mirror.  I think I may still have that jewelry box somewhere now that I think about it but this post isn't about that, it's about the trip I made up to Vermont yesterday to photograph the wedding of a young couple at the Inn Victoria.  Jess, a staff member at the inn, was asked to put together an "elopement" and she contacted me to ask if I would be interested in doing the photos.

Now I've only shot one other wedding before for my friends Frank and Dawn so I wasn't sure if I had the best credentials to be their photographer but Jess apparently quite likes some of the  pictures I've taken so she thought I would be perfect for Mallory & Michael.  Needing the practice - and always looking for an excuse to go to Vermont - I said 'sure' and made the drive up to Chester early yesterday morning on what was a rather cold but very pretty day.

If I had any trepidation about how well things were going to go, that was pretty much alleviated when I met the two young people who had decided to skip all the hoopla and foolishness and make their special day about themselves and not everyone else.  They do plan on having a more elaborate service in about a year but for now they just wanted to share their love with each other and become husband and wife in a simple ceremony in a romantic setting.

I'm going to share just a few photos with you as I still have a lot of editing to do on all of the photos that I took but there is no doubt in my mind that these two are quite in love as it's very easy to see that shining through in their pictures and I wish them nothing but happiness as their love continues to grow with each and every day.

Oh, and may I just say that it's darned hard to hold the camera steady and take pictures when you're trying not to cry along with the bride.  I am always, and will forever be, a hopeless romantic!

Their wedding cake that Jess made - it was so cute! 

Mallory's beautiful bouquet

Mallory reads her vows to Michael

Michael & Mallory at the town gazebo

Tea for two!

Enjoying their champagne! 

Like I said, love really IS a many splendord thing, isn't it? 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What a Difference a Few Days Can Make!


Now You See It!

... And Now You Don't! 

I shot the first picture with my iPhone as I was getting ready to leave for work Monday afternoon.  You can't really tell from the picture but the leaves were a beautiful bright yellow and very pretty.  It made me smile that this late into November there was still some pretty foliage to be found in random places.  

I shot the second picture this morning after I returned home from dropping Amanda and two of her friends at the train station in Old Saybrook - big difference, huh?  I guess there's no fighting it, Old Man Winter is traveling in this direction and it looks like he's packed his bags for a long stay.  Seems to me he overstayed his welcome last season so I'm not about to sweep off the Welcome mat nor am I offering him a cup of coffee either!  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tired on Tuesday

Two Cup Day at Work, originally uploaded by by Me!

I think my first cup of coffee was broken but I'm hoping this one works!

How's your day going?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Quick Recap of My Latest Trip to Salem

Can I just say that my work schedule rocks? How many people can say they get four days off every week - provided there's no overtime available - so that they can traipse around the countryside exploring new places or revisiting old favorites? Well, I don't know how many others can say that but I can tell you that this kid can and I take advantage of that fact every chance I get - including this past week when I was invited back up to Salem, Massachusetts to work on a project for the Hawthorne Hotel.  For those of you who are thinking that I was just up there at Halloween and numerous times before that "how much is there really to see and do?" let me just say LOTS!  Allow me to share:

Yes ... Salem was once upon a time gripped in the throes of mass hysteria during 1692 ...

Salem's Burying Point Cemetery

... and for a lot of people, the picture above may be exactly what they conjure up at the thought of Salem, Massachusetts - eerie cemeteries with centuries old gravestones.


But Salem is also a coastal town and there are things to see and do down by the water, too.  

Amanda and I walked around downtown and stopped in at a consignment shop with lots of neat old things.  Good thing I don't own a pick-up truck! 

A Common bench and lamp post.

Even though fall was obviously waning and a lot of the leaves had fallen from the trees ...

Another view of the house and foliage.

... there was plenty of beautiful autumn color to still be found!

The historically beautiful Hawthorne Hotel

This picture that I took from the corner of Essex Street and Hawthorne Boulevard of the Hawthorne Hotel almost looks like a postcard, doesn't it? 

Room #418 at the Hawthorne Hotel

This is Room #418 which was our ginourmous and beautiful room for the two nights that we were there.

A view of the elegant Nathaniel's shot through the window.

It was week one of Salem's Restaurant Week so I treated myself to dinner at Nathaniel's after Amanda took the commuter rail down to Boston to visit with friends. 

Steve's Seafood Chowder - delicious!

The first course of my three-course meal was a bowl of Steven's Seafood Chowder and it was so delicious I was tempted to embarrass myself by picking up the bowl and licking it to make sure I got every drop! 

The warmth of the Tavern at night.

The next night I went out to dinner with Juli and Walt but the meal wasn't nearly as good as the one at Nathaniel's.  That said, the company was fabulous!  Later that evening, after I had been editing pictures for a few hours, I went down to the warmth of the Tavern to treat myself to a drink.

The best cheesecake in New England!

My Vanilla Creamsicle martini was delicious and went perfectly with the Pumpkin Cheesecake that was calling my name from the kitchen.  Yes, I probably ate WAY too much on this trip but it's not like I eat like that every day - which is probably a good thing!

A home on Chestnut Street

The next day I took more pictures of different parts of Salem including this beautiful house on Chestnut Street.  I don't suppose there's any chance the guy that owns the place is single and looking for a wife??  Oh to live in a house like that! 

The exterior of the PEM

On Friday Amanda and I went to the Peabody Essex Museum to see a new exhibition that would officially open on November 12th but we were lucky enough to get in to see it before then.  

A spiral staircase in the PEM

No matter how you look at it - the PEM is beautiful ... 

... and their newest exhibition - "Unbound, Highlights from the Phillips Library at PEM" - is fascinating and fantastic!  I am so glad that Amanda and I had the chance to see it and you can see part of it too if you visit my post at The Distracted Wanderer - Rare Objects Become "Unbound" at Salem's Peabody Essex Museum

No matter how many times I go up to Salem, there is always something new and different to see and do so there's never any danger of me being bored or running out of things to occupy my time!  As a matter of fact, I'm plotting my next trip up already as Salem is quite beautiful at Christmastime and there just might be something good to take a picture of!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Greetings from Witch City!

Yes, yes, I'm back up in Salem, Massachusetts and quite enjoying myself even though this time I'm here to "work". I took this picture of the Salem Witch Museum and Roger Conant statue from the window of my beautiful room at my favorite hotel - the Hawthorne Hotel.  Have I ever mentioned I love the fact that I can actually open the windows here to take pictures? I do! I do!

Speaking of loving things, I had the most delicious dinner last night as part of Salem's Restaurant Week - you can check it out here at The Distracted Wanderer but I should warn you, if you're hungry you're going to be even more so by the time you're done reading and looking at the pictures!

Two words:  Pumpkin Cheesecake!

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Monday Mish-Mash of Catch-Up

Seems to me it's been awhile since I've written a "regular" post over here so I thought I'd take some time to update the goings-on in my life lately rather than do my darnedest to lead you over to The Distracted Wanderer and whatever my newest post is over there. Lately blog posts here seem more like a jumping-off point over to that blog - something I do in order to get more traffic at the TDW in the hopes that someone will eventually take me seriously as a travel blogger. As long as this blog has been around, it definitely gets more traffic than the TDW but I'm hoping that will eventually change as Google picks up more searches and leads more people over that way. In the meantime though there really is more going on in my life than trips to a Battle Monument in Bennington, a Grand Resort Hotel in New Hampshire, the most fantastic Halloween Ball in the country, or even a historic Comfort Station in Massachusetts - the latest post on my wanderings if you'd like to check it out!

For example, Jamie will finally be coming home from Canada the weekend after Thanksgiving and probably none too soon with the way the weather has been acting this year;  I'm afraid if she waited much longer than that she'd have to return via sled dog or something!     When she went up to Manitoba in July she didn't exactly pack winter-type clothing as I really wasn't expecting her to be up there visiting her friend for quite as long as she has been and I suspect that Winnipeg is getting a bit chilly.  I guess that she figured trips to Canada are going to be few and far between so she wanted to stay for as much time as she could but that said, I believe she's quite ready to come home and try to find some sort of job as she tries to figure out which life path she wants to be on. Granted, finding a job around here is pretty darned tough but she said that she's willing to pretty much take any job that she can find even if it requires asking if you want fries with that!

In preparation for her coming home and still having Amanda here being that she wasn't able to go back to college this year as I've yet to win the lottery or have any wealthy distant relative leave me a substantial sum of cash in their will, I needed to take some steps for some better sleeping arrangements. Amanda has spent the summer sleeping on a trundle bed in the dining room while the perfectly good bedroom that I spent a long time painting when we first moved to this house has been used mostly as a storage catch-all for both she and her sister's stuff.  I suggested bunk beds awhile ago and was immediately scoffed at by Amanda but then after she thought about it some she decided that might not be a bad idea as she could then get a big table and use the space that the trundle bed was taking up as a craft corner.

After receiving her blessing I started looking around for a sturdy set of bunk beds and was able to find some on Craig's List that came complete with mattresses for what I thought was a very good price.  A few email correspondences back and forth later and I had made arrangements to have my go-to guy Andrew pick them up for me on Saturday.  The guy who was selling them actually lived closer to Andrew than I so that worked out pretty well.  Shortly after he arrived late Saturday afternoon, Andrew had the beds all assembled (thank you Andrew - I would be lost without you!) and that night Amanda tried hers out for the first time and declared it to be quite comfortable.

I snuck in this morning and took a picture of her sleeping quite soundly but don't tell her I posted it here as she'll probably give me that look! Surprisingly Tesla isn't in the picture as he usually sleeps next to Amanda's feet but I think he ran as soon as he saw I had the camera! (Memo to self: get the kid a nightstand so that her MacBook isn't on the floor all the time!) When Jamie gets home she'll get the top bunk minus the extra mattress and hopefully the girls will learn how to co-exist together without every day being a version of Family Feud: The Home Version! If not, I'm moving the bunk beds to the garage and they can sleep there!

In addition to acquiring the bunk beds, this last batch of days off also had me attending the opening reception of the Holiday Photography Exhibit at the Gallery at Firehouse Square in New London where I have eight photos on display alongside those of 15 other photographers.

My friend Paula, who is an art teacher, had encouraged me to submit some of my photos for the show and I was quite surprised when eight of the ten I sent in were accepted.  Of course that then meant I had to get them all framed and matted and prettied up to hang on the walls of the cute little gallery on Bank Street in New London but I managed to do that without suffering from too much stress though there definitely was some involved!

Friday night was the official opening of the exhibit which continues on until December 24th and I was thrilled to have had the support of some of my friends who showed up that evening.  Amanda and Paula were there along with John and Christine, Jeff and Sarah, Bucky, and Melissa, and Stacey and Jason.  Stacey, a fellow blogger and real-live published author, actually wrote a post about the evening on her blog that if you'd like a chuckle, you can read at Hobnobbing With the Artistes.

Believe it or not, I didn't bring my Nikon along for the evening so I had Amanda snap a few pictures of the gallery with her fancy-dancy new iPhone 4 that she recently upgraded to.  It takes much better pictures than my older generation iPhone 3 does though I did snap one picture of the area where most of my photos were displayed. That hand photo-bombing the shot would belong to Amanda of course!

All of the photographs on display in the exhibit are for sale so if you live in the area and are totally stumped on a last-minute gift for that certain someone at Christmas, feel free to stop in at the Gallery at Firehouse Square and take a look around.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll see a photograph of something you'll like!

In between work and the photography exhibit and the household stuff and what-not I also managed to come down with a nasty case of bronchitis that I seem to be having some trouble kicking. I went to see my doctor following a rather scary bout of "I can't seem to catch my breath" one night and she put me on antibiotics and an inhaler but even after finishing the antibiotics I've still got a pretty bad cough that keeps me awake a good part of the night sometimes. I was hoping to be able to quit taking my inhaler which leaves a nasty metallic taste in my mouth and causes trouble sleeping but alas, I don't think I'm at the point where I can do that yet so I'm still puffing away on it. Hopefully this will clear up soon as except for when I can't do it, I never think about breathing and lately I've thought way too much about it!

I believe that about catches me up for now, I promised myself that I would get outside with a rake before work today and take care of some of the leaves in my yard so I need to get to that. Before I do, though, may I just say that we got rather cheated out of our usual beautiful fall as Mother Nature decided to be more nasty than nice this year. The poor leaves basically turned brown and dropped from the trees rather than put on their usual brilliant show and now it's time to bag them up and send them to the Transfer Station. It's pretty sad task as I remember the words that my friend Rhonda said at one of our recent lunches, "We only get so many autumns and it's a shame to waste even one." So true, so true.