Friday, August 1, 2014


Throughout my childhood, August 1st meant Zavikon
my maternal grandfather's marvelous summer house 
in the Thousand Islands. Until he died in 1968, his family, or at least those of three of four daughters, and about thirteen grandchildren spent the first two weeks of August on the two islands in the middle of the St. Lawrence River between Alexandria Bay, New York and Rockport, Ontario. After Baba died we usually went the first two weeks of July and celebrated Canada Day and American Independence Day with our own fireworks display 
on the smaller island.

Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were spent in Canada on those two islands, a bridge and boats with cousins, aunts and uncles, and ‘patriarch of righteous magnanimity.’ The big island was named ‘Zavikon,’ the smaller one, ‘Kiwa.’ Supposedly the two names together meant “Welcome to the Happy Wigwam” in Iroquois. But I think that was ‘20’s Jazz Age jive. My grandfather, Robert F. Rich-- for whom I was named-- had been a conservative, if not reactionary, Republican congressman for two decades. He was a successful industrialist in the middle of the Great Depression. (He probably would have disowned me, had he known I was gay).

Anyway, at Zavikon we had lots of traditions and rituals. Every day started with all the grandchildren waiting outside Baba's bedroom. After his bath, he would open the door, then the cousins would hold his, and each other's hands, and process down the staircase. All would sing lustily and out of tune: "Old soldiers never die, never die.......they just fade away." (He had been suitably impressed with Douglas MacArthur's farewell to Congress). The irony was that my grandfather had never been a soldier, and it just wasn't true: old soldiers do die. But somehow it's all right.
At birth, the only certainty is that each one of us receives a death sentence. What's important is the time in between. Zavikon was a magical place. At one time I wanted my ashes smuggled up there and put in the flower gardens. (I guess I still do. And with Dennis' example, there will be plenty to go around and still officially reside in the North Tower at Grace Cathedral.)
Baba had spent his honeymoon in the Thousand Islands, and always retained a warm place in his heart for that part of the world. (Too bad his daughters had cold blood and cold feet and so passed up the opportunity to buy the place for a song in ’75.) Just after the war, in the mid 40's, Baba had purchased that wonderful pair of islands smack in the middle of the St. Lawrence River with the small bridge connecting the two.
After only one year, he realized the upkeep was exorbitant, so he sold it to his own company and continued to use it one month each year -- the first two weeks in August for the family and two weeks in September for his fishing buddies. (I still maintain that we cousins could have maintained the place ourselves. That would have meant that vacations would have been working vacations, but it would have been well worth it. But as Uncle Charlie said at the time: “Life is made up of epochs. Zavikon was but one. Life goes on to the next one.”)
Cousin Charlie and I shared a bed on the third floor dormitory all the way through elementary school. (I remember how Mother later protested: “I never thought that was a good idea!” As though that would have made any difference in my orientation.) There were four single bedrooms at the ends, and two bathrooms.
I have one of the framed engravings that used to be on the dormitory wall. I took it when the place was for sale; but only because somebody else had already pinched the companion picture. The caption for the one I have, reads: “When a man’s single, he lives at his ease.” The other said: “When a man’s married, his wife’s never pleased.” Whoever took it should have taken them both. I don’t like to break up sets. Since mine shows the man slouching in his chair, I’ve hung it on the inside door of the water closet on 23rd Street.
At Zavikon, we had two formal meals a day around that huge table in the dining room next to the living room, divided by handsome Tuscan Doric columns. Breakfast was at 9:00 and dinner at 4:00. That allowed time for eighteen holes of golf after breakfast - and with daylight savings - another eighteen after dinner.
I caddied for Baba in Canada in the summer. I’ve never really cared for the game. You can say that golf is a form of socialization, a venue for business deals, a way to enjoy the outdoors, a physical and a mental game, a form of Zen --one shot at a time-- a competition against yourself, and so forth; but ultimately it’s about hitting that ball into a hole, and to be any good at it takes more time than I’m willing to devote.
Ibby was known to play round after round. I think the most she ever played was four rounds of eighteen holes in one day – that’s 72 holes of golf! Up at Zavikon, as it grew dark and Dad waited for her in the ‘Fishing Boat’ or the ‘Woolrich,’ Mother lit matches in order to finish putting her last hole.
Unlike Mother, Dad was not a passionate golfer. He would rather drive the boats and take the nieces and nephews to Alexandria Bay. He loved to buy us ice cream, candy, hot dogs, popcorn. He, too, loved to eat. It was hard for him when he started having a sugar problem. But he figured he could just take a pill, and cheat with a hot fudge sundae.
I think Dad enjoyed driving the ‘Fishing Boat’, even more than the ‘Zavikon’, that 1955 mahogany Chris-Craft, like the one crashed in the film “On Golden Pond.” The fishing boat was a sleek, long and narrow mahogany craft indigenous to the Thousand Islands. It had a steering stick, instead of a steering wheel. Forward was right, backward, left; or I guess I really should say, starboard and port. (I’m sure you already know that ‘posh’ originally meant “port out, starboard home” for Brits going to and from Indja.)
Dad could be impulsive, nonchalant, and sometimes in a hurry at the same time.
Another word might be careless. I guess that word by itself could have several implications. I think they all applied to my Dad, Sherry. One summer when the water was higher than usual, Dad took the 'Zavikon' over some rocks on the way back to the boathouse, and lost the propeller. Uncle Charlie later dived and retrieved it. The propeller was damaged and twisted. Uncle Charlie had it brass plated, bolted a curved hammered metal piece to it, and gave it to Dad as an ashtray for Christmas. I still have it in San Francisco.
As of March 1, 2003, there is no more U.S. Customs Service; we are now the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection within the Department of Homeland Security (even, the Trade side). But back in the Zavikon days, we had to deal with Customs almost every day. For years, we did our grocery shopping in Alexandria Bay and brought them back directly to Zavikon. However, the house and boathouses were in Canada. In fact, both islands were in Canada, despite the claims about the bridge and the huge American flag on the smaller island. It’s true the international marker was on the smaller island, but maps showed the actual boundary was 20 feet or so off Kiwa.
Eventually we learned that if we bought groceries on the American side, we would have to go all the way to Canadian Customs in Rockport before returning to Zavikon. That would be as if you lived on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, and bought something in North Beach, and then had to go all the way to Oakland before returning to Treasure Island. From then on, we did our grocery shopping in Canada. When the Heisey’s joined us after Baba died, Helen preferred going to Gananoque anyway. It had wonderful wool and china outlet stores—good restaurants, too.

For several years in my adolescence, I expected August 1st to be my wedding day. My best friend as a child was our dentist's second daughter, Beth Heisey. Ken and Helen Heisey were my parents' best friends. Certainly, Helen was my Dad's. But Mother and Ken played golf together, and all four were regular bridge partners -- that is, Ken Heisey and Ibbie Bell; Sherry Bell and Helen Heisey.

It just made sense that I would marry Beth some day. And since Ken & Helen were married on July 1st, and Sherry and Ibbie on September 1st ... well, you get the picture. Of course it didn't work out. And it would have been a disaster. Still it was a schoolboy fantasy of mine for several years. As you've gathered, I have a thing for anniversaries. So I still think of August 1st as a special day for me... a little like the Coronation of Edward the Eighth.

Ever since I was a child I wanted to have my ashes eventually reside in the flower gardens at Zavikon. But now I have a paid spot reserved for me next to Dennis in the North Tower Columbarium at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Perhaps there will be enough to spread around.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


On July 31, 1789, the U.S. Congress passed its fifth act establishing 59 custom collection districts in the eleven states that had ratified the constitution, and, thus, began a tradition of service that has grown with the nation.

I have worked in international trade at the United States Customhouse in San Francisco since August 1983 (except for a four-year-plus absence for grad school and other things between 1987 and 1991).

Our customhouse opened in 1911-- two years before the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which legalized the income tax. (I emphasize 'legalized' since Lincoln had imposed an income tax during the Civil War; but the Supreme Court later declared that tax unconstitutional, requiring the amendment.)

Prior to the income tax, customs duties were the principal source of revenue for the federal government. President Jefferson used customs duties to purchase Louisiana. They were used also to acquire Florida, finance the Mexican War, the Gadsden Purchase, and to buy Alaska. So a large proportion of the physical territory of the United States is a direct result of customs duties.

Several people have commented that our building is a cross between a fortress, a palace and a bank. All three descriptions are apt because the customhouse then represented the might, majesty and wealth of the United States of America.

When I started in 1983, our mission within the Department of Treasury was "To collect and protect the Revenue." Today our primary role within the new Department of Homeland Security is Anti-Terrorism. Even so, revenue collection continues to be an important function of the Trade side of the Bureau of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Image:courtesy GSA

Internal Defibrillator Procedure ~ July 31, 2008

Six years ago today I had an operation at Kaiser-Permanante in San Francisco to implant an internal defibrillator-- or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This was recommended by my cardiologist, Dr. Sheryl Garrett, because of damage to my heart after my heart attack nearly ten years ago.

I was resistant at first, but was persuaded by two other cardiologists when my regular doctor was on maternity leave. My good friends Adam, Justin and Martin came to visit me right after the procedure, and Adam took me home by taxi the next day. Fortunately, it hasn't been used yet, though I am rather curious to know what it would feel like. My defibrillator is about the size of an average cell phone on my chest. The battery should be good for another three or four years. Then I'll need another minor procedure to replace the battery, which will actually be the entire unit. Chances are it will then be smaller and more powerful.

An internal defibrillator is a small, battery powered electrical impulse generator that is implanted in patients who are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. They provide an electrical shock to the heart during periods of irregular heartbeat, and can save someone’s life. Internal defibrillators sense intrinsic cardiac electric potentials, and then send electrical impulses if the potentials are either too infrequent of absent, due to a problem with the patient’s heart. The electrical pulses stimulate the myocardial contraction, which causes the heart to beat at a normal rhythm.

The process of implanting an internal defibrillator is similar to the implantation of a pacemaker, since both devices contain electrode wires that are passed through a vein to the right chambers of the heart. In most cases, the wires are lodged in the apex of the right ventricle, and the device is kept in the patient as long as they live.

An internal defibrillator works to continuously monitor the heart, and detects overly rapid arrhythmias. They can detect ventricular tachycardia, which are a rapid regular beating of the ventricles and the bottom chambers of the heart. Internal defibrillators can also detect a rapid irregular beating of the ventricle, which is referred to as ventricular fibrillation.

When a patient experiences either of these arrhythmias, the pumping efficiency of the heart is impaired. Fainting and sudden cardiac arrest are usually a result if a patient experiences an arrhythmia, but an internal defibrillator can prevent that from occurring. Patients with coronary heart disease and heart muscle diseases tend to experience arrhythmias; therefore they are the most qualified candidates for an internal defibrillator.

The implantation of an internal defibrillator is much less invasive than is used to be, due to advanced techniques and technology. An internal defibrillator is a tiny computer hooked up to a battery, and then placed inside a tiny titanium case. It weighs only about three ounces, and is about the size of a cassette tape. The device is implanted under the skin below the collarbone, and tiny wires are used to send signals from the heart to the internal device. A programmer is also found on the small device, and it allows a doctor to set it at the correct rhythm for each specific patient.

The internal defibrillator is able to correct irregular and regular heart rhythms, just by sending a timed and calibrated electrical shock directly to the heart. It is similar to a defibrillator used in hospitals when someone’s heart stops, yet it is implanted in the body and ready to be used at any time. It can save the life of a loved one suffering from a heart problem, because a stopped heart needs to be shocked right away. By preventing cardiac arrest, patients with heart problems can live normal lives without having to worry. Patients with internal defibrillators can live normal lives and participate in activities they like, since they don’t have to worry about experiencing cardiac arrest or any other serious heart problems.

(Two years about a week and a half ago, I thought that my defibrillator was about to go off, because I had severe pain in that area of my chest. It turned out instead to be an outbreak of shingles-- nevertheless, not a very pleasant experience. I've been on anti-viral medication for a week, and with luck I should have no permanent residual pain. Evidently some older people do. I learned from a doctor at dinner at my weekend retreat that shingles is the primary cause of suicide in patients over 75. I think I caught mine in time. I was persuaded, however, to continue taking vicodin for pain-- that it's essential to break the cycle of nerve irritation. In addition, there is also a shingles vaccine, which I should get some day, since it is possible to get shingles more than once. My good friend Deb Cornue has had it twice a few years ago, and last year had the vaccine, which should prevent any additional outbreaks.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Catherine Palace presented to Russian Empress Elizabeth ~ July 30, 1756

The Catherine Palace (Russian: Екатерининский дворец) is the Rococo summer residence of the Russian tsars, located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin), 25 km south-east of St. Petersburg, Russia.


The residence originated in 1717, when Catherine I of Russia engaged the German architect Johann-Friedrich Braunstein to construct a summer palace for her pleasure. In 1733, Empress Anna commissioned Mikhail Zemtsov and Andrei Kvasov to expand the Catherine Palace. Empress Elizabeth, however, found her mother's residence outdated and incommodious and in May 1752 asked her court architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli to demolish the old structure and replace it with a much grander edifice in a flamboyant Rococo style. Construction lasted for four years and on 30 July 1756 the architect presented the brand-new 325-meter-long palace to the Empress, her dazed courtiers and stupefied foreign ambassadors.

During Elizabeth's lifetime, the palace was famed for its obscenely lavish exterior. More than 100 kilograms of gold were used to gild the sophisticated stucco façade and numerous statues erected on the roof. It was even rumoured that the palace's roof was constructed entirely of gold. In front of the palace a great formal garden was laid out. It centres on the azure-and-white Hermitage Pavilion near the lake, designed by Zemtsov in 1744, overhauled by Rastrelli in 1749 and formerly crowned by a grand gilded sculpture representing The Rape of Persephone. The interior of the pavilion featured dining tables with dumbwaiter mechanisms. The grand entrance to the palace is flanked by two massive "circumferences", also in the Rococo style. A delicate iron-cast grille separates the complex from the town of Tsarskoe Selo.

Although the palace is popularly associated with Catherine the Great, she actually regarded its "whipped cream" architecture as old-fashioned. When she ascended the throne, a number of statues in the park were being covered with gold, in accordance with the last wish of Empress Elizabeth, yet the new monarch had all the works suspended upon being informed about the expense. In her memoirs she censured the reckless extravagance of her predecessor: "The palace was then being built, but it was the work of Penelope: what was done today, was destroyed tomorrow. That house has been pulled down six times to the foundation, then built up again ere it was brought to its present state. The sum of a million six hundred thousand rubles was spent on the construction. Accounts exist to prove it; but besides this sum the Empress spent much money out of her own pocket on it, without ever counting."

In order to gratify her passion for antique and Neoclassical art, Catherine employed the Scottish architect Charles Cameron who not only refurbished the interior of one wing in the Neo-Palladian style then in vogue, but also constructed the personal apartments of the Empress, a rather modest Greek Revival structure known as the Agate Rooms and situated to the left from the grand palace. Noted for their elaborate jasper decor, the rooms were designed so as to be connected to the Hanging Gardens, the Cold Baths, and the Cameron Gallery (still housing a collection of bronze statuary) - three Neoclassical edifices constructed to Cameron's designs. According to Catherine's wishes, many remarkable structures were erected for her amusement in the Catherine Park. These include the Dutch Admiralty, Creaking Pagoda, Chesme Column, Rumyantsev Obelisk, and Marble Bridge.

Upon Catherine's death in 1796, the palace was abandoned in favour of the Pavlovsk Palace. Subsequent monarchs preferred to reside in the nearby Alexander Palace and, with only two exceptions, refrained from making new additions to the Catherine Palace, regarding it as a splendid monument to Elizabeth's wealth and Catherine II's glory. In 1817, Alexander I engaged Vasily Stasov to refurbish some interiors of his grandmother's residence in the Empire style. Twenty years later, the magnificent Stasov Staircase was constructed to replace the old circular staircase leading to the Palace Chapel. Unfortunately, most of Stasov's interiors - specifically those dating from the reign of Nicholas I - have not been restored after the destruction caused by Nazi Germans during World War Two.

When the Nazi German military forces retreated after the siege of Leningrad, they had the residence intentionally destroyed, leaving only the hollow shell of the palace behind. Prior to the World War Two, the Russian archivists managed to document a fair amount of the contents, which proved of great importance in reconstructing the palace. Although the largest part of the reconstruction was completed in time for the Tercentenary of St Petersburg in 2003, much work is still required to restore the palace to its former glory. In order to attract funds, the administration of the palace has leased the Grand Hall to such high-profile events as Elton John's concert for the elite audience in 2001 and the 2005 exclusive party which featured the likes of Bill Clinton, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Naomi Campbell, and Sting.

Image &

Monday, July 28, 2014

Johann Sebastian Bach ~~~ March 31, 1685 ~~~ July 28, 1750

Johann Sebastian Bach (31 March 1685 [O.S. 21 March] – 28 July 1750) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose ecclesiastical and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity. Although he did not introduce new forms, he enriched the prevailing German style with a robust contrapuntal technique, an unrivaled control of harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France.

Revered for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty, Bach's works include the Brandenburg concertos, the Goldberg Variations, the Partitas, The Well-Tempered Clavier, the Mass in B Minor, the St Matthew Passion, the St John Passion, the Magnificat, The Musical Offering, The Art of Fugue, the English and French Suites, the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, the Cello Suites, more than 200 surviving cantatas, and a similar number of organ works, including the celebrated Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor.

Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now regarded as the supreme composer of the Baroque, and as one of the greatest of all time.

Image &

My Dennis loved the Bach suites for unaccompanied 'cello, originally written for viola da gamba. Yo-Yo Ma's recordings were some of the last sounds he heard. I had Greg, a fellow Bohemian, play a sarabande at his funeral at Grace Cathedral from the font before the procession. Someday I may work on them again.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis ~ July 28, 1929 ~ May 19, 1994

Jacqueline "Jackie" Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis (July 28, 1929 – May 19, 1994) was the wife of the 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and served as First Lady during his presidency from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. She was later married to Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis from 1968 until his death in 1975. In later years she had a successful career as a book editor. She is remembered for her style and elegance.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

GERTRUDE STEIN ~ February 3, 1874 ~ July 27, 1946


Picasso portrait of Gertrude

Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946) was an American writer who spent most of her life in France, and who became a catalyst in the development of modern art and literature. Her life was marked by two primary relationships, the first with her brother Leo Stein, from 1874-1914 (Gertrude and Leo), and the second with Alice B. Toklas, from 1907 until Stein's death in 1946 (Gertrude and Alice). Stein shared her salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, first with Leo and then with Alice. Throughout her lifetime, Stein cultivated significant tertiary relationships with well-known members of the avant garde artistic and literary world.

Two of Gertrude Stein's notable quotations are: "A Rose is a rose is a rose." and in reference to Oakland, California: "There is no there there."

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)