Thursday, April 16, 2015


Today, April 16th, is my birthday...I am sixty-six years old! Ugh!!! I never thought I'd live this long. I was a world-weary old man at eighteen. But today many of my best friends are in their mid-20's and early-30's! Go figure!

One of my women cardiologists says that sixty is the new forty. We'll see. I'm not convinced. But it is amazing that I'm still here. (At least I share my birthday with Peter Ustinov and Charlie Chaplin...even the retired Pope.)

I was born the day before Easter. Mother awoke in the middle of the night after Good Friday, and informed Dad that she was coming down with the mumps. Dad said, “Go back to sleep, dear.” Later Ibby woke up again, and said: “Sherry, I think I’m going into labor.” Dad arose with a start and exclaimed: “You can’t do this to me! I have four services tomorrow.” I was born at 5:55 PM on Holy Saturday April 16, 1949. So my first morning light was the Day of Resurrection (a distinction that— I’m embarrassed to say— I shared with Adolf Hitler: as April 20th was the Saturday before Easter in 1889).

A more intriguing possibility is recent speculation about the actual birth of Jesus. It’s clear to any informed non-fundamentalist Christian that the year is off. Apparently the scribe Dionysius wasn’t aware that Herod the Great had died in 3 B.C.E. [Before the Common Era] So if the Gospels are to be believed— that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod— the date is short by at least three years. And the actual day, December 25, wasn’t designated until the time of Constantine, when it conveniently was merged with the birth of Sol Invictus, Zoroaster, and that favorite Roman holiday, Saturnalia, whose main features were imbibing too much and exchanging presents. (So when people complain about the commercialization of Christmas, and long for a return to its original purpose; perhaps it already has.)

Anyway recent astronomical studies have discovered an extraordinary convergence of stars and planets in the year 4 B.C.E.. Several scholars conclude then, that the real birth of Jesus, or Joshua ben Joseph, was on April 17 4 B.C.E. Since he was born in the Middle East—and you factor in the time zones – I may actually have been born on the authentic Christmas!

I was born prematurely— not a lot. I don’t think I was put in an incubator; but I was early .....and hungry. I was wrinkled and purple. Supposedly Mother joked that I was the “ugliest baby” she had ever seen. Imagine that! Of course she didn’t mean it— and she never did have a very natural sense of humor. Still........

My birth announcement stated I was “A little old man with big possibilities.”(I’m definitely feeling the first part these days.)

All four of us children were born in Columbus, Ohio. All four, delivered by the same obstetrician: two before the war; two after. Yet between each child, the family lived in different states. It was a little like the salmon coming back to spawning grounds.

When I was a year and half, we moved to Pennsylvania – never again to return to live in Ohio.


Monday, April 13, 2015

HANDEL's "MESSIAH" Premieres in Dublin ~ 1742

I've been to Dublin once, back in May of 1996. I was part of the entertainment for a group from Texas. They rented one of the restored castles on the Pale, the outskirts of Dublin. That defined the protected area. Anything further was 'beyond the Pale.'

I really liked Dublin, particularly Trinity College. I saw several pages of the Book of Kells in the Trinity College Library. Years ago it was on tour, and I viewed it at the Palace of Legion of Honor here in San Francisco.

Since the English controlled Ireland for many centuries-- and Dublin was in fact almost always an English enclave after being founded by Vikings-- St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin is Church of Ireland, that is connected with the Anglican communion, not Roman Catholic. The Roman Cathedral is St. Mary's. I attended services at both, plus Christ Church Cathedral, a second Anglican Cathedral with a marvelous mixed choir of men and women. Until I sang with the Schola Cantorum, I had never heard such a beautiful blend of women's voices in a liturgical setting.

The location of the first performance of Handel's Messiah was but a short distance from Christ Church Cathedral. But I had to scour the area in order to locate it. There was only a small plaque on a rather dilapidated building near some construction sites. Perhaps it has a more appropriate marker today after completion of the project.


Revisit my February 17, 2010 post "Hallelujah!" for an account of George II's first hearing of Messiah.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Conquest of the VENETIAN REPUBLIC by Napoleon Bonaparte ~ May 12, 1797


A sad day in the history of the world... the end of an almost thousand-year old Republic!

Friday, April 3, 2015

JOHANNES BRAHMS ~ May 7, 1833 ~ April 3, 1897


Johannes Brahms (7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897), was a German composer and pianist, one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. Born in Hamburg, Brahms spent much of his professional life in Vienna, Austria, where he was a leader of the musical scene. In his lifetime, Brahms's popularity and influence were considerable; following a comment by the nineteenth-century conductor Hans von Bülow, he is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the Three Bs.

Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra, and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he gave the first performance of many of his own works; he also worked with the leading performers of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist Joseph Joachim. Many of his works have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms, an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed many of his works and left some of them unpublished.

Brahms was at once a traditionalist and an innovator. His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters. He was a master of counterpoint, the complex and highly disciplined method of composition for which Bach is famous, and also of development, a compositional ethos pioneered by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Brahms aimed to honour the "purity" of these venerable "German" structures and advance them into a Romantic idiom, in the process creating bold new approaches to harmony and melody.

While many contemporaries found his music too academic, his contribution and craftsmanship have been admired by subsequent figures as diverse as the progressive Arnold Schoenberg and the conservative Edward Elgar. The diligent, highly constructed nature of Brahms's works was a starting point and an inspiration for a generation of composers.
Brahms is one of my all time favorite composers... and my first boyfriend, Stuart Kellogg, even had a golden retriever named Brahms.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

DENNIS JAMES GRAHAM ~~ August 13, 1950 ~~ April 2, 2006

Dennis James Graham, age 55, died at home on Sunday morning 2 April 2006 surrounded by his partner of more than twenty years, Rob Bell, two of his beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and several friends.

Dennis, son of Dorothy Freeman Graham and Walter L. Graham, was born 13 August 1950 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He attended elementary and high school in Tipton. He studied two years at Muscatine Community College, and later attended the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

For more than thirty years Dennis was in Fine Jewelry sales both in Iowa City & in San Francisco, where he moved in 1977. He worked for Ginsberg Jewelers, Sidney Mobell, Gump’s, Neiman-Marcus, Tiffany’s & finally Lang’s Estate Jewelry.

Dennis was a member and active participant at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. He served on the Congregation Council, Board of Trustees, Fabric Committee, Vocations Committee, was chair of the Stewardship Committee, convener of the Men of Grace, coordinator of the Lay Eucharist Ministry, and co-founder and Prior of the Canterbury Way—a lay Benedictine Community at the Cathedral. In addition he participated for more than fifteen years in the Benedictine Experience week at the Bishop’s Ranch in Healdsburg, California. Dennis was an Oblate of New Camaldoli Monastery at Big Sur, California.

He was a member of the St. Andrew’s Society of San Francisco, the Order of Elks, Cavaliers of the West, and a supporter of Save Venice, Inc.

Dennis Graham was a man of many passions and interests ranging from bicycling, swimming, his Fiat Spyder, gardening, David Austin roses, garden fauns, carp, gourmet cooking, risotto asparagi, rack of lamb, Peter Rabbit, Scottish country dancing, chess, astronomy, oriental rugs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Nell, India Pudding, progressive politics & economics, Paul Krugman, Molly Ivins, flags, literature, liturgical music, Vivaldi, J.S. Bach ’Cello Suites, theatre, ballet, & travel—most especially to Venezia – with his beloved Robbie. He lived his life with purpose, zest, humor, & exuberance.

Dennis died of complications from acquired immune deficiency syndrome. He was very grateful to Dr. Walford J. Fessel, his Kaiser physician for more than fifteen years, and to the Kaiser Home Hospice Program. He is survived by his partner Rob Bell, sister Christine Anderson, brother-in-law Larry Anderson of San Antonio, Texas, nephew James T. Anderson, niece Elizabeth Rose Anderson, his step-mother Evelyn Graham of Clarence, Iowa, and numerous step-relations, and Bell family in-laws.

A Requiem Eucharist was celebrated at Grace Cathedral on 22 April 2006. Gifts in his memory may be made to Kaiser Hospice, Cavalier Rescue, Grace Cathedral Gardening Fund, or Save Venice, Inc.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


After the post–Valentine’s Day dinner at Dennis’ place on McAllister Street, my sojourn in Eden lasted barely another six weeks.

In the meantime Dennis with the doggies moved in to my flat on 23rd Street. The pretext was a plumbing problem on McAllister. (I was living with former flat-mate Merritt Anderson, who had lived with me previously more than a decade before. I asked Merritt, who was married and had a young son, to find another place. His wife and son lived elsewhere. He used my flat for work convenience.) Again, this was one of the happiest periods of my life.

It was 1986— a test for HIV had just been introduced. Dennis and I both decided to be tested. I got my results first. I was negative.

On Wednesday March 26, I went with Dennis to get his results at the public clinic on 17th Street. (It was Tennebrae of Holy Week-- when candles are extinguished one by one as a Lenten ritual in preparation for Good Friday.)

I was sitting with Dennis when he got his results. He… was positive!!!

After bursting into tears, Dennis immediately proclaimed that he wanted to end our relationship—that it wasn’t fair for me to live with somebody who would soon be sick. (Reasonable expectation was that Dennis had another year or two at most).

It’s so easy to be clever or say the right thing at the right time when you write a screenplay or novel. For example, I’ve edited and re-edited these descriptions repeatedly. I’ll still go back and switch a word here and there.

In real time, it isn’t so easy.
But somehow, I was blessed… in finding the right words to say.

It went something like:
“If that’s what you want, Dennis, for your needs, OK, let’s talk about it. But don’t you dare tell me that because you think that’s what I want to hear. Just tell me the facts, and I’ll make up my own mind. I love you, Dennis Graham. And I want to spend my life with you – no matter what.”

Amazingly, Dennis didn’t live another year or two, but twenty full years …and one week. We had the final sit down cracked crab dinner in the dining room following the service of last rites on Saturday March 25th 2006 – the week before Dennis died.

Had I taken the way out offered to me by Dennis on March 26th 1986, I would have missed the entire core of my life. I am continually grateful for the wisdom, luck….grace… that enabled me to say the right thing when I needed to. I consider myself so lucky to have been in a loving, long-term relationship with a special person – with Dennis James Graham.


Tenebrae this year is on April 16th -- my 65th birthday.

Monday, March 30, 2015

"Seward's Folly" 1867

Alaska is purchased for $7.2 million, about 2 cent/acre ($4.19/km), by United States Secretary of State William H. Seward. The news media call this Seward's Folly.

(I would say the genuine Alaskan Folly goes by the name of Sarah Palin!)

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)