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!)

Friday, March 27, 2015

CHANTICLEER at Elizabeth Rich Bell's Memorial Service ~ 27 March 1999

My Mother, Elizabeth Rich Bell, died only three days before her 87th birthday in early March, 1999. I was able to be with her at the end, which truly was a blessing. An even more visible act of grace was Chanticleer’s singing the choral prelude before my Mother’s memorial service in my hometown, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The odds of that occurring were so remote that I hadn’t even contemplated it. After all, Chanticleer sings all over the world. And in the two weeks before my Mother’s service, the group sang in Mexico, Texas, Florida and Connecticut.

Completely by chance, I discovered that Chanticleer was to sing a concert only fifteen miles from Harrisburg the night before my Mother’s service. That was after calling the organist at Grace United Methodist Church to arrange a rehearsal for the afternoon before the service. When I was twelve years old my Mother made me promise to sing at her funeral. That’s a heavy burden to place upon a twelve-year old; but I intended to honor her request as best I could. Ron Sider mentioned in passing that he couldn’t rehearse too late on Friday afternoon because he was hosting a party for Chanticleer that night after their concert at Messiah College, where he was a professor.

Immediately I began to consider the possibilities. First I called Andrew Morgan, who sang with me in the Schola Cantorum at the Shrine of Saint Francis here in San Francisco. Since Andrew worked at the Chanticleer office, I figured he might know the tour schedule. From home late on a Friday night he didn’t recall the exact flight information; but gave me Frank Albinder’s e-mail address. Oh, the miracle of modern technology. Saturday morning the week before the service I e-mailed Frank, who responded within minutes. He wrote me that he had passed my message on to artistic administrator, Philip Wilder, and Lori Harnes, tour manager. But he cautioned that time constraints would be extremely difficult.

On Monday morning Julie in the Chanticleer office was kind enough to give me the phone number of the motel where the group was staying in Hartford, Connecticut. I must have called the motel at least thirty times trying to reach Philip or Lori. As a good tour manager, Lori was making arrangements by phone. I even became friends with the woman at the front desk, after being assured I wasn’t becoming a pest. Eventually I got through and explained to Lori that I realized it would be logistically tight with an 11:00 service and a 12:25 flight about a half hour away from the church. But it wouldn’t be necessary for the group to stay for the entire service. Chanticleer could sing before the service as part of the prelude. Lori said she would talk to the guys and that a decision would be made by vote at their business meeting. And she would give me a call later that night after their concert.

Meanwhile I was completing the final draft for the order of service to be printed here with the expert assistance of my friend, Deborah Sweeney. I was beginning to think it wouldn’t work out. But at 10:30 Monday evening (which was 1:30 AM in Hartford) Lori called me at home to say the group had agreed to sing.

I reserved five parking meters especially for Chanticleer in front of the church. Full dress wouldn’t be appropriate for late morning anyway, so the guys wore dressy casual clothes as they would to a school. Despite their dress, I suggested they sing in front. But several of them asked to sing upstairs in the rear gallery. That was a wonderful idea.

Following a Brahms chorale prelude “Herzliebster Jesu” -- at exactly seven minutes to the hour-- from the rear balcony of Grace Church below a marvelous Tiffany window of the Ascension, Chanticleer sang Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria.”

Then quietly--unobtrusively--they descended the back steps and drove to Harrisburg/ Middletown Airport in view of Three Mile Island and made their return flight to San Francisco.

I had meditated during the Biebl by trying to control my breathing. Under even ordinary circumstances, tears well up in me at the beginning of the "Sancta Maria." I did my best to compartmentalize; for I had to sing in just a few minutes. Cynthia played “Meditation” by Massenet on her violin as Mother had requested. Then after two psalms read by my niece Morgan and nephew Matthew, I sang Gounod’s “Repentance” as Mother had made me promise when I was twelve. I got through the recitative. But when I started the main theme “Oh, Divine Redeemer,” I began to sound like Alfalfa in “The Little Rascals.” I didn’t stop singing. But there was a quiver in my voice I had never experienced before.

Chanticleer had sung the Biebl at Louis Botto’s funeral service at St. Dominic’s. That was a powerfully emotional occasion--only days before Louis’ birthday. Joseph Jennings demonstrated then what I experienced internally at my Mother’s service.

When Chanticleer undertook its second national tour, we sang at the Forum in Harrisburg. Afterwards my parents had a reception for us and Mother baked a surprise hazelnut cake for Louis’ 31st birthday on March 3, 1982.

My family and I will always be grateful to Chanticleer for playing such a significant part at my Mother’s memorial service.

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.

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)