A Stroll Through Vasquez Rocks State Park

Recently, our caretaker, Glenn Malapit, drove Dad and me to Vasquez State Park.  In the old days, you could see this strange collection of rocky ledges from the Sierra Hwy.  But the Antelope Valley Fwy. is well to the east of the rocks,  so you must drive a ways on Agua Dulce Canyon Road and Escondido Canyon Road before you get your first glimpse of this unusual collection of rock formations.  These formations were used in old westerns, and more currently, Star Trek.  The parking lot is on a gravel road with several stones of its own that need to be negotiated before your stroll begins.  But, perhaps, a few words of the history of this Park are in order.

Erosion  and movement along the Elk Horn Fault are responsible for the shale-basalt slabs of today.  The slabs are part of the Soledad Basin, which formed over time from thousands of feet of sediment.

Native Americans lived here for almost 2000 years, beginning with 200 B.C.  However they were eliminated by diseases carried by the Spanish.  Tiburcio Vasquez and his bandits brought life back to the Basin.  Eventually, after a lucrative career, he was caught and executed, but the Park remains in honor of his reckless life.

What follows below are some photos of our trip to Vasquez Rocks State Park.

One of Vasquez's Rocks

One of Vasquez’s Rocks

Vasquez Rocks

Vasquez Rocks

A small valley in Vasquez Rocks

A small valley in Vasquez Rocks

standing in front of Vasquez Rocks

standing in front of Vasquez Rocks

A stratified ledge in Vasquez Rocks

A stratified ledge in Vasquez Rocks

Me, enjoying the beauty of Vasquez Rocks

Me, enjoying the beauty of Vasquez Rocks

One of the hollows at Vasquez Rocks

One of the hollows at Vasquez Rocks

A stratified edge of Vasquez Rocks

A stratified edge of Vasquez Rocks

Dad and I in front of the Rocks.

Dad at 92 and I in front of the Rocks.

 

 

The same as above photo.

The same as above photo.

the base one of Vasquez Rocks

the base of one of Vasquez Rocks with spring flowers

A vision of hardened sediment

A vision of hardened sediment

One of the sharp edges of Vasquez Rocks

One of the sharp edges of Vasquez Rocks

An opening in the Rocks

An opening in the Rocks

A series of openings in the Rocks.

A series of openings in the Rocks.

A wide opening in Vasquez Rocks

A wide opening in Vasquez Rocks

The top of a rock reveals some surprises

The top of a rock reveals some surprises

A major division of the Rocks

A major division of the Rocks

A closer look at the rock surface

A closer look at the rock surface

Some interesting mounds in the Rocks

Some interesting mounds in the Rocks

Surprise! Russian Humor: The Encore

Here are some more samples of Russian wit at work:

 

A teacher asked his student why he didn’t do his homework.

The student asked him:

–Did you correct my dictation?

The teacher answered:

–No.  I corrected students’ dictations from the other classes.

The student responded:

–Well, I did the homework for my other teachers.

 

A boy’s mother told him that if he got a tattoo, he could just get out of the house.

His father told him that such a possibility doesn’t happen very often, and that he should make the best use of it.

 

A patient was at the psychologist’s office:

–At work, it seems that nobody understands me;  all I see are dull eyes, indifferent looks, and a total lack of desire to listen to me.

The psychologist asked his patient:

–What do you do for a living?

The patient replied:

–I teach quantum physics.

 

A daughter was begging her relatives for a baby brother or a baby sister.

Her mother tried to explain:

–Understand, precious, that Daddy is on a trip, and he won’t return for several days.  Until Daddy gets back, we can’t have a baby.

But the little girl retorted:

–Just the opposite!  We’ll have the baby right now, and when Daddy returns, we’ll tell him:  Surprise!”

A Bit of Russian Humor to Provide Perspective

As an American, I am envious of the Russian sense of humor that culminates in the ubiquitous anecdote.  No matter what the event or the occasion, the anecdote is up to the task.  It is the voice of the people, coming through a barrage of political slogans, twisted phrases, and distorted language.  I believe that the Russian anecdote is a release, a coping mechanism for all the struggles and problems this great nation has had to endure.

A digression with a quick return to our topic:  We often forget how different Russians and Americans are.   Russia is largely a misogynistic culture, although there have been many strong women throughout Russian history, and quite a number of “superfluous men”.  I remember a UCLA professor telling me I was going to take a men’s exam rather than a women’s exam.  At the time I was shocked, but realized later that such an attitude is common.  Anti-women anecdotes still predominate.  Such an anecdote could never be printed in an American paper:

At the zoo, a little girl asks her mother:

–Mommy, why is that goat looking off in the distance with such a sad expression?

–And, do you often see your Daddy smile?  That’s just the way men’s lives are.

Putin has been characterized as a swaggering bully.  He is a former light-weight champion.  To the White House, he has been responsible for a number of problems, and there is an anecdote for that:

At the White House:  –Did you hear the latest?  Obama’s Press Secretary is pregnant.  Do you know who was responsible?

–I can guess.  It must be Putin, since he’s responsible for everything else!

And about the Ukrainian situation:

A lady from Israel is talking to her friend from the Ukraine:

–So, what’s been happening over there?

–We’re having a little war with Russia.

–Have you had any losses?

–Just a few things:  the Crimea, a couple of regions, some airplanes, some helicopters, some weapons, and some of our people.

–And what have the Russians lost?

–Would you believe it?  They haven’t arrived yet!

And, of course, there is the Russian economy.  We look at two different perspectives:

The reality of the Russian economy:  The director of a major business was given the gift of a hen that could lay golden eggs.  Within a month, the business failed to make a profit.

–My dear Holmes, what do you make of the fact that in one year, the ruble has dropped to half it’s value, while the euro has dropped to a fourth of it’s value?

–Elementary, my dear Watson.  The given fact indicates that European help is twice as terrifying as it’s sanctions.

And there is the medical profession.  Two anecdotes:

–Russian medicine is very simple.  Whatever illness you go into the hospital with, you die from.

–Why don’t we fall off the earth when it rotates on its axis?

–We’re stuck to the hospitals.

And, lastly, the all embracing topic of alcoholism:

–Hello!  I would like to buy some alcohol on credit.

–Judging by the color of your face, I would say you have an excellent credit history!

–Do you have a dream?

–I do.

–Please tell me what it is.

–It’s to give up drinking.

–So, give it up!

–And then, how could I live without a dream?

Indeed!  How can anyone live without a dream?

Remembering a Forgotten Side of the Marvelous Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller with a parrot from his recording of Pinocchio

Marvin Miller with a parrot from his Audio Book recording of Pinocchio

Cover of Audio Book of Pinocchio

Cover of Audio Book of Pinocchio

Marvin Miller, who was born Marvin Mueller, was well-known for his radio, film, and TV appearances as a man with a strong baritone.  However, his work with the Audio Book Company of St. Joseph, Michigan has been virtually forgotten.  Yet he provided hours and hours of pleasure to youngsters like myself, reading classics to eager children.  In essence, the Audio Book Company built on an idea from the 1940s:  To have established actors act out adaptations from children’s classics.  In the 1940s, a whole series of 78 albums were produced for children that featured actors such as Herbert Marshall, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Coleman, Margaret O’Brien, Ginger Rodgers, Thomas Mitchell, and many others.  The albums were quite successful and spurred the talking audio books that began in 1954.  The audio books were played at 16 2/3 rpm, and required an adapter if your record player had no 16 speed.  Like the albums from the 1940s, the Audio Book Company employed famous character actors including Jeff Chandler, Gene Lockhart, Hans Conried,  Dan O’Herlihy, and, of course, the incomparable Marvin Miller.  These albums were the first to include complete renderings of such classics as A Christmas CarolTreasure Island, The Wizard of OzAlice in WonderlandThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Adventures of Pinocchio.  Because of his well-known ability to provide numerous voices for characters, Marvin Miller was the first actor hired for the readings, and was entrusted with several titles.  The audio excerpt below features Marvin doing several voices for Chapter XVI of Pinocchio.  Please lean back and take the time to hear Marvin’s superb artistry.

A Note about Pinocchio:  Originally, Pinocchio was intended to be a moral tale;  showing what happened when a block of wood(a “blockhead”) failed to obey his father and his conscience after several trials.  To whit:  Pinocchio was taken in by two street villains, the Fox and the Cat, and was hanged by them when he refused to give them his money.  That was to be the end of the story.

The author, Carlo Lorenzini(Carlo Collodi) saw his adventure as belonging to the moral, educational trend that was prevalent in 19th century Italy.  The novel was full of the sadistic, didactic episodes that were not only common in Italy, but in other European countries as well.  But a strange thing happened:  Children began to write letters, begging the author to continue the story of this young scapegrace, and Carlo Collodi complied.

The ending, which the author intended to be an inspiration to naughty children, was weak.  The illustrator’s drawing of a young boy was anti-climactic.  It was the puppet’s unwieldy, independent, self-serving character that children identified with.  In many ways, Pinocchio was more of a real boy as a puppet than the figure at the end of the book, and that was the author’s problem.  For Pinocchio was as individual as Peter Pan, and became a favorite among children throughout the world.

The chapter below was the first chapter that Carlo Collodi wrote when he brought Pinocchio back to life to enjoy new adventures. Chapter XVI from Pinocchio as read by Marvin Miller    

Pearsoney Falls Revisited

Pearsoney Falls lies just west of Prospect and below the North Fork of the Rogue River Gorge, which plunges over boulders to join the Middle Fork.  The falls is reached via an entrance on the south side of Mill Creek Drive.  The trail is at the upper end of the parking lot.  The falls is the first of many before the spectacular Mill Creek Falls that drops over a cliff to join the two forks of the Rogue River.

The video below shows Pearsoney Falls in its grandeur in 2009.  

Allegro: The Musical That Couldn’t, part 3.

Act 2 begins with the sinister time motif, employed in Act 1.  The Depression soon follows.  Ned Brinker becomes a pauper, and must rely on his son-in-law for support.  Jennie no longer has the wealth she has grown accustomed to.  She laments this fact with her girlfriends in the sardonic, “Money Isn’t Everything.”  The piece is one of Rodgers’s famous waltzes that culminates in a descriptive dance.

Joe is offered a position in a Chicago hospital by Dr.Digby Denby, Charlie Townsend’s uncle, who also works there.  This is the moment Jennie has been waiting for, and she opposes Joe’s plan to be an assistant to his father.  She lures him to her side by explaining how the money could help his father, and provide the means for supporting their future child.  So, off to Chicago they go!  Marjorie appears to give her husband comfort:  “You’re hurt.  Don’t let him hurt you.”  She also sings from “A Fellow Needs a Girl.”  This will conclude the rural portion of the play.

Joe learns that Dr.Denby’s hospital is a sanctuary for millionaire Brook Lansdale’s hypochondriacal friends.  Now the onrush of time becomes specific to city living, and the musical changes its focus.  In “Yatata”,  “The days come fast and are quickly gone, but the talk, talk, talk, goes on and on…”  The eerie time motif occurs, but now it is relegated to the wasteful time of city life.

In Chicago,  Joe appears to lose sight of what he values:  simplicity, trust, loyalty, service, and Oscar loses sight of what the musical is about.  His extreme sentimentality for country life, his preachiness, and his corresponding disdain for the speeded up life of the city begin to make themselves felt.  Generalized time becomes time specific in Act 2.  “Allegro”  refers to the mad, chaotic rush of time of city life:  “Same tempo morning and night !  Allegro!… We spin and we spin,… playing a game no one can win,…”  But generalized time flow characterizes all of Act 1, so Allegro does not seem an appropriate title for this musical.  If Allegro refers to the furious rush of time in all of our lives as rituals pass by one after another as in Act 1, the title makes sense, but, if not, confusion ensues.

Prior to “Allegro”, we get our one and only character song, “The Gentleman is a Dope.”  Sung by Emily the nurse, it takes a look at her reluctance to admit her growing affection and love for Joe:  “Look at me crying my eyes out as if he belonged to me…  He’ll never belong to me!  The gentleman is a dope…”  In this moving song, we feel an emotional bond to Joe as more than a set-up character, but as a man with real limitations and warmth.  It is one of the few songs sung alone; without benefit of chorus or other people.  It is significant that this is the only song from the musical that continues to be sung.  Strangely, this song is so different from the others, it almost seems out of place.  The song reminds us how different Allegro truly is from all the rest of R and H musicals;  they thrive on often gripping character songs such as “Soliloquy”, “Lonely Room”, and so many others.  Is the chorus a valid substitute for the traditional character song in delineating a person in a musical?  This is a question for the audience to decide.

Joe learns that his wife is having an affair with Brook, and this makes him realize what a stooge he has been. The voices of his country home pervade his consciousness in “Come Home”, a panegyric to the simple joys of rural life, sung by Marjorie.  It is a beautiful hymn, but it is too idealistic and presumptuous:  “You will find a world of honest friends who miss you.  You will shake the hands of men whose hands are strong…”  The implication is that Joe is out of place in the city, and needs to return to his roots, where honest folk dwell.  The contrast between the evils of the city and inherent goodness of  the small town becomes too stark.  Also, Oscar seems to have forgotten by the time theme which began the play, and what was central to Wilder’s play.  Wilder kept the Webb and Gibbs families in Grover Corners,  but when Hammerstein sent Joe and Jennie to the city, Allegro no longer had the continuity of the first act.

By adhering to Lansdale’s rules, he has been appointed successor to Dr. Bigby Denby.  But when Joe describes the doctor as “an ornament”, he becomes aware of the artificial and superficial hospital existence and declines the appointment.  Naturally, the chorus and ghosts of Marjorie and Grandma Taylor appear on stage to applaud his decision.  Emily and Charlie decide to join him in his hometown practice.

A number of caveats arise:  ” Jennie and Ned Brinker originated from Joe’s town, so the country is not as idyllic as Oscar paints it.  Also, the Depression has happened.  Things and circumstances are changing in Joe’s town as elsewhere.  Time does not stand still, and Joe will face a community different than the one he left.  The implication that there are no decent doctors in Chicago or a big city is absurd.  Surely, a large city needs good doctors as much as a small town.  That is why the ending seems too pat, almost too abrupt.  We never see what ensues when Joe, his future wife, Emily, and best friend, Charlie, return to work with Joe’s father.

Allegro is a musical that tries hard, is innovative and dramatic.  However, ultimately, this is a musical that can’t.

Note:  The first complete recording of Allegro was issued a few years ago by masterworks broadway.  It contains all the music described in this post, and offers superb performances by Patrick Wilson as Joseph Taylor, Jr.,  who endows his character with warmth and charm, Audra McDonald as Marjorie Taylor, who sings with compassion and understanding.  Other cast members bring this musical to life as it moves from the rural life to city life.  My only criticism is that Jennie’s character does not come through, so some of the drama is lost.  Inclusion of the confrontation scene between Marjorie and Jennie in Act 1 might have solved that problem.  Nevertheless, we are fortunate to have such an outstanding version of this often bewildering and always challenging musical.

 

 

 

 

 

Allegro: The Musical That Couldn’t, part 2.

In 1938, Our Town premiered on the American stage.  Written by Thornton Wilder, it gave a universal outlook to a few lives in Grovers Corners.  The rituals of birth, marriage, and death were commented on by a matter-of-fact Stage Manager, played by Frank Craven.  Suddenly, small town life gained a cosmic significance.  Oscar Hammerstein was influenced by this play, and tried to create a musical that would follow a man from his birth to his death.  He chose for his character the son of a rural doctor, and called him Joseph Taylor, Jr.  He hoped to show how significant and miraculous one human life was by tracing its early influences, obstacles, loves, career struggles, and, ultimately, decline and death.  However, in the middle of his second act, he began to lose focus, so he could not fulfill his goal completely.  Yet, his failure resulted in a dynamic, dramatic, innovative, unforgettable musical that in many ways did accomplish some of Oscar’s goals.

The musical begins with the celebration of Joseph Taylor, Jr.’s birthday.  The mayor has declared the event a legal holiday, so there is no school.  The opening chorus of celebration involves the whole town, from a church choir to drunks, stumbling along to somewhat grotesque rhythms.  And even the children cry out:  “Look what Marjorie Taylor’s done…  Hail him, hail him, everyone!  Joseph Taylor, Jr.!”  So, the simple birth is magnified in importance, and we feel that the country doctor, Joseph Taylor is quite an important man in the minds of the town’s citizens.

Grandma Taylor introduces the theme of time flow that is so critical to the first act:  “The winters go by. The summers fly.  And, all of a sudden you’re a man.  I have seen it happen before, so I know it can happen again.”  Growth is as much a human ritual as birth.  In her generalizing, Grandma Taylor sounds like Wilder’s Stage Manager.  Growth does occur when Joseph Taylor, Jr. takes his first steps in “One Foot, Other Foot.”  Richard Rodgers uses the music from this song as a “growing up” motif, indicating the steps Joe will take throughout the show.  Once Joe can walk, he emerges as a truly living character.  The play concludes with him taking another major step in his life to the same motif.

During Joe’s childhood, Grandma Taylor dies, though she will appear together with his mother as ghosts during his wedding, and at crucial moments of Act 2.  So, now it is time for another childhood rite:  the encounter with the opposite sex.  In an eerie, often grotesque Children’s Dance, punctuated with fragments of nursery rhymes, Jennie Brinker and Joseph Taylor, Jr. are pushed into each other through a children’s game, displaying the inexorability of fate.  Jennie Brinker, the winsome daughter of wealthy lumberman, Ned Brinker, is a beautiful blond with insouciant charm and Joe is smitten immediately.

Soon, it is time for Joe to go to college to study medicine as his father did.  The 1920s college atmosphere is evoked through dance music, college cheers, and excerpts from professors’ lectures.  But Jennie continues to haunt Joe in his thoughts and desires:  “You are lovelier by far, my darling, than I dreamed you could be!”  Joe is obsessed with Jennie’s external beauty, but of her deeper motivations he hasn’t a clue.

While in college, Joe meets fellow student, Charlie Townsend, a more worldly hedonist, without Joe’s hometown values.  All Charlie can think about is girls, and when Jennie is seeing another boy, Bertram, Joe decides to go out with Charlie’s acquaintance, Beulah for a date.  She sings “So Far”, a song about the romantic possibilities of their beginning friendship.  However, upon finishing her song, Beulah notices that “the little louse is asleep!”  No competition for Jennie!

When Joe returns home, Jennie and Joe become engaged.  Shortly before the wedding, Marjorie Taylor and Jennie Brinker have a major argument, and Jennie reveals her true intent by telling Marjorie the plans she has for Joe’s success, and by demonstrating her indomitable will and determination to achieve them.  Marjorie is shattered, realizing that Joe has fallen into the arms of a ruthless schemer, but is helpless to change matters.  In fact, she dies soon after their confrontation.  With her major antagonist out of the way, Jennie is free to control Joe the way she wants.  In Act 2, she does just that.

Another ritual:  the wedding.  “What A Lovely Day For A Wedding!’ is a satirical song, showing how the Brinker relatives and Taylor relatives despise one another as they come from different social milieus and have completely different values and expectations, even Ned Brinker laments:  “What I’m about to get, I don’t exactly need.  A doctor for a son-in-law, another mouth to feed!”   But the wedding must go on.  And it does!  During the ceremony, Marjorie appears, and her doubts and concerns are voiced.  Grandma Taylor, too, is there.

Act 1 ends with a choir wishing the newlyweds well: at first in soft, encouraging tones, then climaxing in daring, shrieking sounds, and the orchestra ends in total discord, hinting at what disasters lie ahead.  Grandma Taylor and Marjorie shake their heads in horror as to the coming future.  And we, as the audience, can only wait for Act 2!

 

 

 

 

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