Friday, March 20, 2015

King Ludwig I of Bavaria Abdicates ~ 1848

Just after I started working for Customs, Ross and I took our previously planned holiday to Germany. He had studied in Munich, and still had several good friends in the area. We were there for Oktoberfest, which –as you undoubtedly already know— is celebrated in September. That was one of the few times in my life that I have drunk beer, and half enjoyed it. Of course, Bavarian dark beer is very different from standard American varieties.

The plan was to visit all of King Ludwig II’s castles – and we nearly did. We saw Hohenschwangau, where Ludwig had spent part of his childhood, at the base of Neuschwanstein, his paean to Ricard Wagner (as well as the model for several Disney castles) and the site of Ludwig’s arrest;

[Years ago, I used to eat Sunday brunch at Café Mozart on Bush Street between services at Grace Cathedral. The owner was a Viennese named Claus. One Christmas, he made a large gingerbread castle in the shape of a familiar landmark. “Oh Claus!” I said “ What a wonderful gingerbread model of Neuschweinstein.” “Neu- SCHWEIN- stein?!!!! Don’t you know the difference between a schwein and a schwan?!!!!” Now, I do.]

Linderhof, with it’s grotto and elevated dining table; and Herrenchiemsee with its copy of the Hall of Mirrors, and two (mind you two—though only one was actually completed) Ambassadors Staircases from Versailles, where the original had been replaced. We also saw the room where Ludwig had been born at Nymphenburg, the lake where he had drowned, and the church in Munich, where he is still buried.

In June 2008 the San Francisco Opera premiered a new production of Das Rheingold, the first installment of an an American Western Ring cycle. The complete cycle will premiere summer 2011.

Did you know that there may have been a California connection to the first production of Wagner’s Ring Trilogy. (Even though it is four music dramas, it’s considered a trilogy….with a prologue) The connection was Lola Montez, a Spanish dancer, who had had an extended affair with Ludwig II’s grandfather, Ludwig I. In reality, her name was Eliza Gilbert, and she was actually Irish. But she did have an affair with that architecturally crazed monarch. Unlike his grandson, his taste favored neo-classical revival, rather than medieval and baroque. Ross and I visited his large Bavarian maiden— on the edge of the Oktoberfest grounds— which seemed to be a forerunner of the Statue of Liberty.

Ludwig the First was so enamored of Lola Montez, that he virtually turned over the state authority to her. For nearly two years, Lola was de facto ruler of Bavaria. "What Lola wants, Lola gets" was originally in reference to her. When Revolution broke out all over Europe in 1848, the people of Bavaria's main grievance against their King, was his affair with Lola. Forced to abdicate, Ludwig left the throne to his son Maximilian II. But then Max died in 1864, leaving the throne to Ludwig I's grandson, Ludwig II.

The Wagner connection is this:
Once on the throne, nineteen year old Ludwig II responded to Wagner's published plea for help from a German prince. Richard Wagner had been exiled in Switzerland, both for his 1848 political, and recurring financial, indiscretions. Ludwig paid off Wagner's creditors, welcomed him to Bavaria, and financed productions of Die Meistersinger, Tristan und Isolde, and the completion of the Ring des Nibelungen.

So what's the Lola Montez connection? Had it not been for Lola, Ludwig I, no doubt, would have remained on the throne of Bavaria. He lived until 1868— a good twenty years after his abdication. Lola Montez, meanwhile, ended up in Grass Valley, California during the Gold Rush. She died of syphilis, which Ludwig had given her along with jewels and bad poetry. Had there been no Lola Montez, Tristan and Meistersinger might not have been produced at all, and certainly not before 1868 at the earliest. The problem, of course, is when you change one fact in history, you may very well jeopardize multiple subsequent facts. But the fact remains, Ludwig II was Wagner's principal sponsor, and had it not been for him, the general operatic public would very likely never have heard of Brunnhilde.

Painting:Joseph Karl Stieler (1781-1858)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The IDES of MARCH ~ 44 B.C.E.

The Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martias) is the name of March 15 in the Roman calendar. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October. The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held. In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 709 AUC or 44 B.C.E.
In William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, Caesar is warned to "beware the Ides of March."

The term idūs (ides) originally referred to the day of the
full moon. The Romans considered this an auspicious day in their calendar. The word ides comes from Latin, meaning "half division" (of a month) but is probably of non-Indo-European origin.
Modern observances
The Ides of March is celebrated every year by the Rome
Hash House Harriers with a toga run in the streets of Rome, in the same place where Julius Caesar was killed.
The Atlanta Chapter of the Dagorhir Battle Games Association hosts an annual spring event at Red Horse Stables on the weekend closest to the 15th of March. The event is appropriately named "The Ides of March".
The Temple Hill Association in New Windsor, NY holds an annual dinner in honor of the Ides of March because it is also the day that General George Washington quelled a mutiny of his Officers in 1783.

Monday, February 23, 2015

JOHN KEATS ~ October 31, 1795 ~ February 23, 1821

John Keats 31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) was the latest born of the great Romantic poets. Along with Byron and Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the movement, despite publishing his work over only a four-year period. During his short life, his work was not well received by critics, but his posthumous influence on poets such as Alfred Tennyson and Wilfred Owen was significant. The poetry of Keats was characterised by sensual imagery, most notably in the series of odes which remain among the most popular poems in English literature. The letters of Keats are among the most celebrated by any English poet.

Image &

Six years ago October I was in Rome with my sister Julie, brother-in-law Tom Martin, and my good friend Deb Cornue. Debbie and I visited John Keats' final home at the foot of the Spanish Steps. It was extremely moving to be in the room where he died.

I gave an antique leather bound edition of the complete Poems of John Keats to my very good friend Jeffrey Hardy on his 21st birthday back in 1976. John Keats is still one of my favorite poets.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


10th Anniversary Photo 1988/

Back on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 14, 2008 I wrote about Louis Botto’s and my singing two of the solos in Henry Purcell’s Rejoice in the Lord Alway, when our Dean Stanley Rodgers died in the middle of the service at Grace Cathedral. Louis and I had sung several other Purcell solos and duets together. We were the altos in The Community Music Center’s performance of “Come, Ye Sons of Art” back in 1976. (That was when I first met Jonathan Klein, who sang in the chorus.)

Later we repeated our duet Sound the Trumpet in Grace Cathedral Choir’s performance of “Come, Ye Sons of Art.” We alternated singing the other alto solos.

Although Chanticleer today always describes Louis as a tenor, in fact, he and I were the original altos in the group. I was first alto and he, second. In those early days we frequently lowered keys for some Renaissance music by as much as a major third. That was until Randy Wong joined and we had our first genuine soprano. I moved up to second soprano; but I really always was just a high alto. (You can hear me on soprano singing with Randy in the Josquin de Pres “Ave Maria” on Psallite.)

I first met Louis in 1974-75 when he moved to San Francisco from Washington D.C. with a law professor, Jerry Witherspoon, who became a professor at Boalt Hall. Jerry had formerly been the president of a small college in Vermont. I think it was Middlebury or Bennington. Anyway, when he came to terms with himself and got divorced, he eventually lived with Louis in D.C. They then moved to San Francisco together and lived at the Belgravia Apartments on Sutter Street-- just down the hill from Grace Cathedral.

Louis had been married and divorced, too. I met his former wife, Jan, when Chanticleer first sang in Corpus Christi, Texas near the end of the autumn tour in 1981. Louis later married a second time. It was after he broke up with Rick Cohen and needed a place to live. A Japanese photographer at the Fairmont Hotel needed a green card. So they secretly married – and I guess it worked out for the two of them. I can’t remember her name. It was something like Umi.— but that’s not it, sorry. (I do remember that she trained her cat to use the toilet.)

I’ve jumped ahead. Louis had just joined the choir at Grace when I met him. He was a graduate student at then Dominican College (now University) in San Rafael. He was studying voice with Marian Marsh, with whom I sang the leads in Handel’s Acis and Galatea with Donald Pippin at the Old Spaghetti Factory (now called Bocce, where I used to eat lunch between services most Sundays with the Schola Cantorum at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. Coincidentally, we had at least seven or eight Chanticleer alumni sing with the Schola Cantorum at different times.). Before Chanticleer, Louis had a Renaissance trio called Unicorn with a soprano named Jill and a lute player.

I remember when Louis met Rick Cohen, who also sang in the choir at Grace. Rick lived on 20th Street, just a few blocks from me, and used to give me a ride to church on Sundays. And I remember when Rick consulted me as to whether it was right for him to try to woo Louis away from Jerry. I don’t recall exactly what I said.

I do recall being invited to dinner at Louis and Jerry’s at the Belgravia in February or early March 1977. Louis cooked one of his fabulous dinners— that time East Indian. It was then that I was introduced to John Mihaly, and I believe it was at that dinner that I first heard John talk about his idea for a new men’s vocal ensemble that would merge two traditions – the repertoire of the King’s Singers—that quintet of former choral scholars from King’s College Cambridge – and the size and informality of Yale singing groups, of which I was very familiar since I had sung with the Yale Spizzwinks. John had just dropped out of Yale Divinity School. I learned from Fenno Heath at the 9Oth Spizzwink Reunion nine years ago that the King’s Singers had been artists in residence at Yale when John was there.

Now officially Chanticleer management has asserted that Chanticleer was founded by Louis Botto. Certainly, Louis made Chanticleer. Without him, we probably would have folded after the second concert. But as I am in a unique position to know, Louis took an idea presented by John Mihaly and ran with it. And even at our first meeting and rehearsal in my dining room on 23rd Street on Wednesday 22 February 1978, the first words were spoken by John Mihaly, not Louis. Of course, this was years before Joseph Jennings joined, or, in fact, anybody else currently connected with Chanticleer. But the official line is set. So be it. But I think the Chanticleer office should know the truth, if only for themselves.

The awkward part was that John Mihaly wasn’t a particularly good baritone; so we made him our business manager. Regrettably, he turned out to be even worse as a manager. When Tom Hart joined he suggested getting a real business manager in Susan Endrezzi. So we fired our actual founder!

From this first-hand experience, I now find myself extremely skeptical of any birth narratives, be they Biblical Gospels or American fables--as in George Washington and that quaint cherry tree (after all, this is Washington's birthday... depending on which calendar you use.... on the old Julian Calendar it was February 11th.) The actual facts are usually too complicated and convoluted; so an official line is adopted -- and for the most part, it generally works. It certainly is simpler.

Personally, I feel that John Mihaly should, at least, be acknowledged for originating the idea of Chanticleer. But he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Last heard, he was in upstate New York. And he was always prone to various illnesses; so I doubt he’s still alive.

Again, Louis Botto-- though not the actual founder-- was responsible for making Chanticleer what it is today.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Three years after the Torcello gondola mixup, we returned to Carnevale and Venezia for the last time with our good friends Deb and Joan. Dennis insisted we take a gondola ride on the first Saturday. It was a wonderful ride with a gondolier named Angelo. Afterwards we had hot chocolate at Café Florian. But Dennis became very sick, so we decided to change our plans and forego our planned trip to Rome and stay a few extra days in Venice.

Monday 20 February, was supposed to have been our travel day to Rome. Since it was now an extra day, I thought it would be fun and relaxing to take several boat trips to the other islands. That would minimize walking. And I wanted another chance to have a decent visit to Torcello. Before taking the large boat for the connection to Torcello, we came across the painter Picchio Santangelo, who had painted Dennis’ first picture of Venezia back in 2003. (We had had to have it framed twice to look its best in Dennis’ Venetian guest bedroom.)

When we got to Burano, our connection was all set to leave. It seemed perfect. We could visit the Byzantine church and 7th Century cathedral in Torcello, then return to Burano for lunch. (Three years before, my apparent mistake had been to have lunch in Burano before going to Torcello, and that had thrown off our schedule, which contributed to the gondola mix-up. This year it really didn’t matter since we had no plans for that night.)

When we arrived on Torcello, we discovered that several new restaurants had been built since our last visit. Dennis, Deb and I looked at the various posted menus, and considered changing our plans to have lunch on Torcello. Joan had some mobility issues and walked a little behind us. At least the island was completely flat, and there was only one bridge to cross before reaching the church and cathedral. Deb and I crossed briskly to check out the menu at the Cipriani Inn just before the Byzantine church.

We heard Dennis bellow. “Don’t waste your time. They’re closed. It’s open only in the summer!”

From behind, Joan saw Dennis raise and shake his walking stick at us.

Deb and I turned around….and saw Dennis lying flat on his face on the ground. He had tripped on the very last step. He didn’t make a sound. We rushed over. Blood was gushing from his face!!

Immediately, five or six waiters came out from the “closed” Cipriani Inn. A young woman from one of only two concession stands asked if we wanted to call the ambulance boat. I hesitated for a moment, wanting to evaluate the situation first. An older woman from the other concession rushed up with hand embroidered napkins and handkerchiefs and wiped the blood from Dennis’ face— and she wouldn’t accept any payment!!

The waiters helped us take Dennis into the lobby of the restaurant and brought a bucket of ice. Meanwhile the young woman had gone ahead and called for the ambulance boat with the emergency number on her telefono.

While we waited, Dennis wanted to have some lunch. After some delays, we were seated in the very stylish restaurant. I think we were the only ones there. Dennis insisted on fish soup. I had an expensive Mozzarella Caprese salad, which was absolutely superb. Just as we were served, the ambulance arrived with three hunky Italians. Dennis had only a few bites of his fish soup.

The ride back to Venice was very quick, and before we knew it we had landed at the back entrance to the municipal hospital. We were taken to the emergency room, where he registered, and then sat….. and waited.

The four of us – Joan, Deb, Dennis and I – sat and talked and tried to amuse ourselves. Of course, we were all very concerned.

Smoking wasn’t allowed. Eventually Dennis got extremely agitated. After several hours, he said he wanted to get up and leave. He was sitting in a wheel-chair and his head had been bandaged by the emergency crew.

I don’t think Dennis felt how badly he had been hurt. He seemed to be loosing surface sensitivity. Of course, that may have contributed to his fall.

Debbie didn’t speak Italian, but she’s quite fluent in Spanish. She noticed the poster on the wall behind Dennis’ wheelchair. It listed sequential priorities for triage. We had waited so long because other patients came after us who were higher up the pyramid.

Debbie firmly informed Dennis, that we hadn’t waited all that time for him just to get up and leave – and that if he tried, she’d take physical action – and slug him— to guarantee that he got to a higher level on the triage pyramid.

That kept him quiet – and in his wheelchair. Eventually a hospital aide came for Dennis. I accompanied him through several corridors, outside in a drizzle, and upstairs to another area of the hospital, where Dennis had some x-rays, and then another, shorter wait.

In the meantime, Deb and Joan decided it was safe to return to the Zatterre. It was after nine o’clock.

Although we had been up front with everybody—from the Cipriani waiters, to the emergency crew, and the registry desk at the hospital – the young woman physician, who later examined Dennis without wearing rubber gloves, became quite upset when we told her again that Dennis was HIV+. She disappeared for a while, then had Dennis undergo more blood tests. It should have been standard procedure for any doctor to use rubber gloves, particularly with a patient who had bled so badly.

Another doctor saw us and gave Dennis a prescription, and told us to return to the hospital in the morning. We got back to the Don Orione Artigianelli about midnight.

Poor Dennis looked as though he had been mugged. By morning both eyes were black and blue, and he had banged up his nose. It was so fortunate his lenses were plastic. Otherwise he might have been blinded by the fall. I still have his glasses with severe scratches.

We took the vaporetto to the back entrance of the hospital again. This time he was pushed in his wheel chair to the pharmacia, which was part of the older section of the hospital, formerly the Scuola San Marco. We passed right by the doors which led to the second floor library we had visited three years before. Karen Marshall had recommended seeing its extraordinary ceiling in her suggested list of favorite sites. This time we just passed by.

At the pharmacia Dennis picked up some pain pills and antibiotics. The bill was about six euros. That turned out to be the total bill for the entire episode. There was no charge for the ambulance boat, the emergency room or the doctors’ visits! It was all covered by Italian national health care. We have so much to learn from the Europeans!

Afterwards we took a mahogany water taxi back to the Zatterre. It was the only time we had ridden in one of those beautiful boats which reminded me of the Thousand Islands and Zavikon.

Dennis was apprehensive about taking the antibiotics. His stomach was upset enough, and he was worried it would incapacitate him for the rest of the trip. He had me call one of the nurses at the Kaiser Research Group back in San Francisco. Brooke said he didn’t need to take the antibiotics. (At that point it probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference.)

For the rest of the time in Venezia, Dennis wore his cape and plumed hat. Since it was Carnevale, his black and blue face didn’t stand out as anything unusual. It looked like makeup and part of his costume.

After three days in Firenze, where Dennis and Joan purchased gold jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio (Dennis bought earrings for all the women in his life including my sisters and nieces) we returned to Venezia for the nighttime gondola ride and dinner. It really wasn’t much of a gondola ride. (The earlier one we had missed in 2003 was a lot longer). And it was very cold. I’m so glad we took the extended gondola trip the Saturday before Dennis’ accident.

I returned to Torcello on Thursday August 30th, 2007 with Debbie and Alison. That fulfilled one of my major objectives of the entire memorial trip. We took the larger vaporetto to the Lido and made our connection to Punta Sabbioni. From there we arrived on Burano and took the smaller vaporetto to Torcello. It was a relatively short and flat stroll on the new brick sidewalk and dirt detour to Dennis’ bridge just before the Cipriani hotel and restaurant. We were about the first guests for lunch in the covered patio near the garden. I found a beautiful red rose bush, where I scattered a handful of Dennis. He would have loved to have seen that garden in full bloom.

After a superb luncheon, we stopped by the concession stands, which had opened while we were eating. I found the young woman who had called for the water ambulance after Dennis’ fall. She wouldn’t accept any payment, but I bought a number of items from her stand. The older woman, who had wiped Dennis’ face with her hand embroidered napkins wasn’t there, but by chance, her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson stopped by, so we were able to thank them. (For some reason, I neglected to find out their names. Our first night in Firenze, at dinner, we met an American from Queens or Brooklyn, who had lived in Florence for forty years and was a professor of English at the University. Her questions made me recognize my omission. So on my last full day of the holiday on September 11, 2007, I returned to Torcello and learned that the young woman was Marika and the older woman, Anna. Anna was still away in Napoli, but I gave silk scarves from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul to Marika for her and for Anna, and this time she graciously accepted.)

Earlier we had visited the wonderful Greek Orthodox church and splendid cathedral, where Dennis and I had sung a plainsong Salve Regina in 1997.

Thursday, February 19, 2015


In 1997 Dennis and I left Rome after the official end of the St. Dominic’s Choir Pilgrimage Tour and spent a few days in Vicenza. Then from Vicenza we took the train to Venezia for our second time together. We stayed two days at a small hotel near San Marco, and later moved to the Artigianelli Monastery in the Zatterre.

Dennis was so pleased when we were stopped by some students in a more remote part of the city and were asked to register to vote. In our cordoroys, sensible shoes, wool caps and Barbour coats, we didn’t look like tourists. They actually thought we were Venetians!

On our last day of the trip, we took the large water-bus to the island of Torcello, the furthest away from the main city. On the way we stopped at another island and had a terrific lunch at a restaurant apparently frequented by local fishermen. We arrived at Torcello near the end of daylight. It’s perfectly flat and very empty. There wasn’t much there besides an inn run by Cipriani, an old Byzantine church and the original 7th century cathedral. Torcello had been the first settlement for Venice, but was later abandoned because of malaria. Much of the island is now cultivated.

We entered the cathedral, which appeared to be empty. Scaffolding blocked an unobstructed view of the apse with its marvelous mosaics of Mary. In the darkened nave, Dennis and I sang a plainsong Salve Regina (one that Dennis had sung regularly at Summer Benedictine Camp). Previously unseen German tourists complimented our singing.

We exited the cathedral to see the sun setting over the lagoon. It was a perfect moment. We had time to go back to Venice for dinner before heading off to Milan to catch our flight home the next morning. Instead we decided to collect our things and leave directly for Milano. Nothing could surpass that sublime experience!

How different would be the second and third visits to Torcello.

While Dennis had been upset that I had paid his way to Italy and Venice in 1997, we returned three more times in 2000, 2003 & 2006.

In 2000 we were in Venice just a few foggy, rainy days before starting our Mediterranean cruise out of the port near Rome. We didn’t go back to Torcello then, but we did take the elevator to the top of the campanile by San Marco. (I had been there before in 1979, in much better weather.)

In Rome we stayed at a convent just around the corner from Piazza Navona. On the first full day we took a side trip to Subiaco to see the cave where St. Benedict had his extraordinary vision and later founded the Benedictine order. We missed the last bus from town, and ended up walking about three miles up hill. On the way we passed the ruins of one of Nero’s villas, where he committed suicide after being hunted down by his enemies. Dennis was about to give up, but with encouragement we continued to the top. Being there fulfilled one of Dennis’ lifelong goals.

In 2003 we had an offer from US Airways for really cheap tickets to Rome, so we decided to go to the opening of Carnevale in Venezia. My niece Allison Martin was studying at Christie’s in London at the time, and we invited her to join us in Venice. Actually, as I recall, the original offer was for inexpensive tickets to London to visit Allison, but Dennis said he’d rather go to Italy.

In Venezia we stayed again at the Artigianelli Monastery in the Zattere.We left a message for Allison and her boyfriend at their hotel on the Lido to meet us at Café Florian in Piazza San Marco. They got the message and had already saved us an inside table when we met them.

Dennis and I brought 18th Century costumes rented from the Bohemian Club thanks to my friend, John Blauer, head of costumes at the club. We had silk long johns to give a little substance to the clothes designed primarily for indoor productions. Allison and her friend brought costumes from London. We wore them to dinner at a restaurant next to Quadri.

We missed the official opening of Carnevale that Sunday in order to visit three Palladian villas in the Veneto. We rented a car which I drove. The tricky part was navigating through Mestre and making connections north. We first went to Villa Cornaro, where we had to make special arrangements for a private tour. We met the young lad at the Palladio Café across the street from the villa. Then we drove to Villa Barbaro with its extraordinary frescos by Veronese and the handsome chapel, where Palladio reportedly died after falling off a scaffold. We saved Villa Emo, Dennis’ favorite, for last. It was a perfectly wonder-filled day!

Allison and her friend flew back to London the following morning. Dennis and I had two more days in Venice before returning to Rome on the night train to make our return flight from Leonardo da Vinci. Before leaving on the trip (which we nearly had to cancel because of a severe snow storm which had shut down the entire East Coast from Boston to Atlanta – then at the last minute, were able to make connections to Frankfurt through Pittsburgh PA) Dennis had emailed Karen Marshall with Save Venice in New York. Karen is a marvelous photographer, and Dennis wrote to ask for her suggestions in Venice. I printed out Karen’s email with a list of her favorite places in Venice and decided we should try to visit all of them. That proved to be a major problem and eventual disappointment for Dennis (and for me).

We accomplished a great deal on Monday, but Ca’ Rezonico was closed and Dennis just knew it would be one of his favorite places on earth. So we went on Tuesday morning, which threw off our – or my—planned itinerary. Karen had recommended we visit Torcello to climb the campanile, which had just reopened after several years’ restoration. As mentioned earlier, our first visit to Torcello in 1997 had been perfect.

On the way, we went to Burano and stayed for lunch. Afterwards we visited the main church, which reopened later than I had thought. By the time we reached Torcello, Dennis was irritated with me and agitated. He wouldn’t climb the campanile. He wouldn’t even go in the cathedral. Fuming, he sat and smoked. I decided we should return to the Zatterre right away. But we had just missed the boat. We waited….and waited ….and Dennis got more and more agitated.

His concern was we would be late for our gondola ride to dinner. This was to be our very first gondola ride. Dennis had never before wanted to pay the exorbitant fee. On a regular basis, we had taken traghetti (stand-up gondolas from point A to point B across the Grand Canal) but had never taken a sit-down view-ride up the Grand Canal.

Our train to Rome left at midnight, so our plan was to check out of the Artigianelli, leave our luggage by the front desk, and meet the group by the Gritti Palace vaporetto stop for the costumed ride to dinner.

We finally made our connections, returned to the monastery, and changed clothes with about fifteen minutes to spare to join the group. On the vaporetto we saw an American couple dressed in bumblebee costumes and asked them which location was the Gritti Palace stop. I should have asked where they were heading.

We got off. Nobody was there!!!

A lesson I’ve since learned is never to trust a web-site itinerary without first checking for any changes at the actual site. I had a printout of the scheduled event back when Dennis reserved it online. But details of the meeting place had changed without our knowledge.

We waited and waited. I checked with the doorman at the Gritti Palace Hotel. He knew nothing. (The event planners should have notified him!)

We fretted and walked around. After three quarters of an hour we both decided to try to find the restaurant near the fish market on the other side of the Rialto Bridge. We had already missed our paid gondola ride up the Grand Canal!

Eventually we found the restaurant and learned that they had waited about half an hour for us at the very next vaporetto stop by Harry’s Bar. We must have just missed seeing them going up the Grand Canal where we could have hailed them.

Dinner had already begun. People were in fine and colorful costumes. The bumblebee couple was sitting at the next table. Dennis seemed amazingly calm and carried on delightful conversations with everybody at our table. I was morose—and ended up getting quite drunk on wine.

After dinner we took the vaporetto back to the Accademia stop to go to the Artigianelli, change clothes, pick up our bags, and head to the stazione for our midnight train to Rome.

Although I had used the John at the restaurant, I badly needed to go again! But all the public restrooms were closed and padlocked. I couldn’t wait to make the Artigianelli, so in desperation I went to a calle near the Accademia Bridge to relieve myself. As drunk as I was— I was still ashamed— but couldn’t help myself.

At last we got on the train. It was filled with Italian soldiers, some of whom were coughing repeatedly. I didn’t sleep at all that night ---and ended up getting bronchitis after our return to San Francisco.

In Rome we checked into the Istituto Santa Giulianna Falconieri, the convent around the corner from Piazza Navona. We spent the entire day in the Piazza. Dennis smoked—and we both drank strong Italian coffee. Dennis struck up conversations with several painters. He bought one handsome painting of Venice by Alberto Tropeo (who later painted the marvelous commissioned portrait of India Pudding). I bought another view of Venice from him, also a painting of Piazza Navona itself.

In Venice, Dennis had bought his first painting of Venezia when I went to the train station to get a new transit card. I had lost my VeniceCard (good for transportation, some museums, and rest rooms) at a rest stop after we had reserved the rental car for the Sunday we visited the three Palladian villas. Dennis was quite amused at my predicament. You must purchase the all-inclusive VeniceCard out of the country, so I had to settle for a transit card alone. While I was gone, Dennis drank bottled Bellini cocktails in Piazza San Marco, and bought his painting of Venice from Picchio Santangelo (the same artist from whom he would later buy four paintings on our last day in Venice 28 February 2006). This painting had a wonderful sky, but the figures in the foreground were rather primitive.

When I returned with my new transit card, Dennis told me he had bought a painting, but that I couldn’t look at it until we got home – that this was a “Yes, Dear” moment.

Back in Rome, we headed to the Stazione Termini to take the train to the airport. We had plenty of time to make the flight. But what should have taken about an hour ended up being closer to three. We later heard that a young girl had been hit by a train! We just made the flight as the gate was closing. After 9/11 that wouldn’t have worked. (In October 2006 Dennis and I flew to Phoenix Arizona for Carl Noelke’s installation in the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. I had suggested taking BART to SFO. We were delayed three quarters of an hour near Daly City for construction and missed our plane even though we arrived 25 minutes before takeoff.)

On the flight from Rome, I struck up a conversation with a young American woman who was returning with her husband from their honeymoon in Italy. I related the story of our missed gondola ride. When the young woman got up to stretch her legs, Dennis turned to me very seriously and declared that he never wanted me to talk about that again – he never wanted to hear about it from any of our friends, especially Deb – that it was as painful to hear it retold, as it had been to experience it in the first place.

For several years I never did……..until Dennis was dying.

Monday, February 16, 2015


1923 – Howard Carter unseals the burial chamber of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.

Tutankhamun (1341 BC – 1323 BC) was an Egyptian pharaoh of the 18th dynasty (ruled 1333 BC – 1324 BC in the conventional chronology), during the period of Egyptian history known as the New Kingdom. His original name, Tutankhaten, means "Living Image of Aten", while Tutankhamun means "Living Image of Amun".

Often the name Tutankhamun was written Amen-tut-ankh, due to scribal custom which most often placed the divine name at the beginning of the phrase in order to honor the divine being. He is possibly also the Nibhurrereya of the Amarna letters. He was likely the 18th dynasty king 'Rathotis' who, according to Manetho, an ancient historian, had reigned for nine years — a figure which conforms with Flavius Josephus's version of Manetho's Epitome.

The 1922 discovery by Howard Carter of Tutankhamun's intact tomb received worldwide press coverage and sparked a renewed public interest in ancient Egypt, for which Tutankhamun's burial mask remains the popular face.

Tutankhamun seems to have faded from public consciousness in Ancient Egypt within a short time after his death, and he remained virtually unknown until the early twentieth century. His tomb was robbed at least twice in antiquity, but based on the items taken (including perishable oils and perfumes) and the evidence of restoration of the tomb after the intrusions, it seems clear that these robberies took place within several months at most of the initial burial. Eventually the location of the tomb was lost because it had come to be buried by stone chips from subsequent tombs, either dumped there or washed there by floods. In the years that followed, some huts for workers were built over the tomb entrance, clearly not knowing what lay beneath. When at the end of the twentieth dynasty the Valley of the Kings burials were systematically dismantled, the burial of Tutankhamun was overlooked, presumably because knowledge of it had been lost and his name may have been forgotten.

For many years, rumors of a "Curse of the Pharaohs" (probably fueled by newspapers seeking sales at the time of the discovery) persisted, emphasizing the early death of some of those who had first entered the tomb. However, a recent study of journals and death records indicates no statistical difference between the age of death of those who entered the tomb and those on the expedition who did not. Indeed, most lived past seventy.

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A few years ago the De Young Museum in San Francisco had a Tutankhamen Exhibit. My nephew Sheridan and his wife Sylvie saw it when they were here five years ago last July. They weren't so impressed. It wasn't a very large show. I saw the same exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia five years ago last May when I was East for the Point to Point horse race in Wilmington, Delaware. On my free Monday I had planned to go into NYC to see the Venetian show at the Met, but since it was closed on Mondays, I went to the King Tut show instead. (It turned out I was able to see the Venice & Islam Exhibit at the Doges' Palace in Venice a few months later. It couldn't have worked out better!)

I was glad to see the Tutankhamen show in Philadelphia; but it wasn't as extensive as two previous ones I had seen. The first was at the Franklin Institute in the mid 1960's when the impressive throne-like chair was featured. The second was at the old DeYoung Museum here in San Francisco thirty-three years ago. It was a far more extensive exhibit. It featured the glorious golden mask, frequently shown as the cover shot on countless books.

Amr Nabil/Associated Press
People crowd around the golden mask of King Tutankhamun at the Egyptian museum in Cairo earlier this month.

I had gone to that show twice before with incredibly bothersome crowds, before Chanticleer (then in its first year) was asked to sing at a cocktail party for then new mayor Dianne Feinstein in a tent outside the DeYoung. We sang in horrible acoustics with a single hand held mic. It was totally useless...BUT as an unanticipated consequence, the twelve of us --in white tie and tails-- had the splendid opportunity to walk through the exhibit entirely by ourselves (of course with the standard number of security guards keeping watch over the priceless objects).

I was then able to figure out why the golden mask was so deep. It wasn't like a Venetian Carnevale mask as I had thought; that is, the mask was not directly on top of Tutankhamen's face. Instead, the mummy's head was at the very back of the headdress -- at least over a foot away. I had never gotten close enough to see that when I had gone to the exhibit with the crush of crowds. With that in mind, I may bypass this time around, since it is rather expensive, and I've already seen it in Philadelphia.

Published: February 16, 2010 New York Times

King Tutankhamun, the boy pharaoh, was frail, crippled and suffered “multiple disorders” when he died at age 19 in about 1324 B.C., but scientists have now determined the most likely agents of death: a severe bout of malaria combined with a degenerative bone condition.

Scientists have now determined that the boy pharaoh most likely died of a severe bout of malaria combined with a degenerative bone condition.

The researchers said that to their knowledge “this is the oldest genetic proof of malaria in precisely dated mummies.” Several other mummies in the study also showed DNA evidence for the presence of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum, perhaps not surprising in a place like the Nile Valley.

The application of advanced radiological and genetic techniques to royal Egyptian mummies marks a new step in the ever deepening reach of historical inquiry through science.

The study, reported Tuesday, turned up no evidence of foul play, as had been suspected by some historians and popular writers familiar with palace intrigues in ancient Egypt. Previous examinations of the Tut mummy had revealed a recent leg fracture, possibly from a fall. This might have contributed to a life-threatening condition in an immune system already weakened by malaria and other disorders, the researchers said.

In addition, genetic “fingerprinting” of the 11 mummies in the study established family connections over five generations of Tut’s lineage. The identities were previously certain for only three of the mummies. Now, scientists said the tests identified the ones of Tut’s father, mother and grandmother and other probable relatives.

The two-year investigation, completed last October, is described in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The research was directed by Zahi Hawass, an Egyptologist who heads the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, and included medical scientists and anthropologists from Egypt, Germany and Italy. Carsten M. Pusch of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Tübingen, in Germany, was the report’s corresponding author.

In an accompanying editorial in the journal, Dr. Howard Markel of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study, praised the thoroughness of the new research “based on unfettered access to the actual mummies.”

Recalling the myriad postmortem claims that have surrounded the young king, Dr. Markel suggested that now “the legion of Tutankhamun admirers might be well advised to reconsider several existing theories.”

A two-part program, “King Tut Unwrapped,” will be shown on the Discovery Channel on Sunday and Monday. Dr. Hawass and others will discuss the new findings.

Though not one of the great rulers of ancient Egypt, King Tut is easily the best known in public lore. He was the son and successor of Akhenaten, the controversial reform pharaoh who ruled from about 1351 to 1334 B.C.

The British archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery in 1922 of Tut’s opulent tomb in the Valley of the Kings was a sensation. The young king’s visage and premature death in the ninth year of his reign inspired fanciful speculation, and the golden and bejeweled artifacts from his tomb still dazzle crowds at touring museum exhibitions.

One overall impression from the new research is that the royal family’s power and wealth did not spare them from ill health and physical impairment. Several mummies revealed instances of cleft palate, clubfeet, flat feet and bone degeneration. Four of the 11 mummies, including Tut’s, contained genetic traces of malaria tropica, the most severe form of the infection.

The researchers said that several other pathologies were diagnosed in the Tut mummy, including a bone disorder known as Kohler disease II, which alone would not have caused death. But he was also afflicted with avascular bone necrosis, a condition in which diminished blood supply to the bone leads to serious weakening or destruction of tissue. The finding led to the team’s conclusion that it and malaria were the most probable causes of death.

The effects of this bone disease, notably the “definitely altered structure” of the left foot, probably explained the presence of walking canes in the Tut tomb, the researchers said.

Speculation had also centered on the fact that Tutankhamun left no heirs and the stylized reliefs and other sculptures of him and family members showed them having a somewhat feminized or androgynous appearance. This suggested certain inherited syndromes, including gynecomastia, which is the excessive development of breasts in men, usually the result of a hormonal imbalance.

The breasts of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun were not preserved. But Tut’s penis, no longer attached to the body, “is well developed,” the researchers reported.
“Most of the disease diagnoses,” the scientists concluded, “are hypotheses derived by observing and interpreting artifacts and not by evaluating the mummified remains of royal individuals apart from these artifacts.”

Dr. Markel, the medical historian, commented that use of 21st century radiological and genetic techniques in studies of human history raised ethical questions that need to be addressed.

Writing in the journal, he asked: “What will the rules be for exhuming bodies to solve vexing pathological puzzles? Are major historical figures entitled to the same privacy rules that private citizens enjoy even after death? Most pragmatically, what is actually gained from such studies? Will they change current thinking about and prevent threatening diseases such as influenza? Will they change the understanding of the past, such as the Jefferson study’s powerful elucidation of intimacy during the era of slavery and the Tutankhamun study’s window on the conduct of the royal family of Egypt?”


My facebook friend Damian Lin from Taipei Taiwan planned last year's mid-winter holiday months before and arrived in Cairo on the second Saturday of the political unrest. Of course he had hoped to visit the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and the Egyptian Museum with the Tutankhamun exhibit. Instead I think he spent two days at the airport before leaving for Jordan. At least he was able to visit Petra.


Today is also my niece Morgan's birthday. I wish her well, and a great new year! Her birthday is usually around Chinese New Year and in fact she was born in Taiwan, when my brother Sherry was in the U.S. Information Service.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)