Greenwich Gossip

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lest We Forget...

Greenwich is a town that takes its Memorial Day seriously. Sure, all the yacht and country clubs have fantabulous gourmet "cookouts" that would choke a horse and elicit a terse "satisfactory" from Nero Wolfe, but first we pause to remember. And that means getting out the door early.

Your scribe was on the road by 7:30 - a little later than usual this year - driving down Greenwich Avenue and admiring all the buffed and toned runners who were preparing for Mickey Yardis' annual Jim Fixx Memorial Day race. Luckily, the cops hadn't closed down the street yet, so he was able to drive (barely) under the finish line banner that was being hoisted, and continue on down to Steamboat Road. Passing by Manero's Restaurant, now in the process of being demolished, and pulling into the lot at the Indian Harbor Yacht Club, he was rewarded with one of the last few remaining parking places.

The weather, as usual, was seasonably summery. Taking his accustomed place on the seawall, your scribe chatted with Scott Mitchell of Mitchells/Richards and his young son Will, whose hands were firmly clamped over his ears. Will had not forgotten the firing of the cannon or the 21-gun salute from last year, and was taking no chances at being caught by surprise. His little sister Lilly, the sunglasses princess, was soon emulating him. Their preparedness paid off as the cannon roared at 8 AM precisely, catching the rest of us by surprise.

The indefatiguable Chris Hughes moderated, as usual. Attorney General Dick Blumenthal (a Town resident) spoke briefly, and allowed as how of all the Memorial Day commemorations he had attended in the past, and would be attending later in the day, this was the one that always meant the most to him. (Click on the pics for full-size view.)

A young girl from the Color Guard of the Boys' and Girls' Club read a poem about Old Glory, while club Executive Director Bob DeAngelo and his wife drifted in their kayak nearby.

Then we all looked seaward while a wreath was lowered from the police boat into the water. The idea is to let it drift out to sea, of course; but for the second time in recent years it simply sank into the water, disappearing without a trace. You'd think someone would have learned after the first time that it's important to construct a wreath that floats, but institutional memory in this Town is, alas, regrettably short. As was the life of this year's wreath.

Then it was time for coffee and doughnuts, courtesy of the Club, to provide energy to drive across Town for the parade in Old Greenwich. The sky clouded, and it started to sprinkle, but the sidewalks were jammed with festive crowds regardless. And by the time the parade was underway, it was hot and sunny.

This event, dear reader, is a real old-fashioned small-town parade, in which half the marchers are under the age of ten. Every Cub Scout, Brownie, baseball player, soccer player, lacrosse player, swim team, dance group, karate group, and other agglomeration of kids is there, with everyone in uniform and armed with bags of sweets to toss to the younger kids lining the curbs. And lots of fire trucks, of course - most of them usually housed in the firehouse directly across the street from where your scribe was standing.

These are the Children of the American Revolution dressed in Colonial garb. At the far right is Christina Moazed, whom during the parade your scribe mistook for one of the Schnackenberg girls; but when we bumped into each other on the sidewalk afterwards, he realized his error and got to meet Christina and her parents. It's great that the DAR, who run the historic Putnam Cottage in Town, is reaching out to youngsters whose ancestors took part in the American Revolution. Nothing like having a personal stake in our Nation's history to make it become herstory/theirstory for people like Christina and her friends.

There was also the usual gaggle of politicians. "Skippy" Snickerson roamed up and down the sides the parade route, gladhanding any and all within his reach. Your scribe grasped his camera more firmly in his right hand as Skippy passed, and thus managed to survive unscathed. Then came Steve Waters in his red Mercedes, chauffering Bea Crumbine (affectionately known around Town as "Queen Bea") and her Selectman husband Peter.

Further down the line were the Democrats, two of whom broke ranks to shake hands with your equal-opportunity scribe. Former Rhodes Scholar and fellow Harvardian Jim Himes came over to say hello, as did Ed Krumeich (aka "Lurker Ed", who reads this blog faithfully but never leaves a comment). "Your depth of knowledge of music is very impressive," said Lurker Ed, thereby making your scribe's day. Since Ed himself apparently cannot bother to post his laudatory comments on-line, your faithful reporter is hereby doing it for him. (Ed, by the way, is no musical slouch himself.)

The parade music was provided by the Greenwich High School marching band, fresh from its successful trip to China. The two young ladies are walking backwards while conducting. No doubt they are also experts at patting their heads while rubbing their stomachs. A very talented group of youngsters, those GHS students.

Then it was over to CVS to drop off the disposable camera for one-hour processing, and a trip to the beach to read the local rag and the New York Times. Did y'all catch the front page Times story about Delta Company, by the way? Last February they killed a man setting a roadside bomb of the type that have killed so many of our troops recently. They searched him and found his military ID as a sergeant in the Iraqi army. Said Staff Sergeant David Safstrom: "I thought: 'What are we doing here? Why are we still here?' We're helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us." The Times has already taken a lot of heat for publishing this article on Memorial Day, but some would say that by so doing they performed a brave public service. One wonders why S/S Safstrom's words were not selected as the "Quotation of the Day"; perhaps the paper's editorial bravery only went so far. Your scribe was less than gruntled at this seemingly pusillanimous decision; but at least the soldier's words were there on the front page for all to see.

The article went on to say that many in Delta Company, "renowned for its aggressiveness", have become "disillusioned" by "what they saw as the abysmal performance of Iraqi security forces and by a conflict that they considered a civil war, one they had no ability to stop." Directly underneath those words was the picture of a young woman lying prostrate in Arlington National Cemetery over the grave of her fiance, Sgt. James J. Regan, killed in Iraq in February. It's enough to break your heart, dear reader:

Credit Information: John Moore/Getty Images Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

NYT Caption: Mary McHugh visited the grave of her fiancé, Sgt. James J. Regan, who was killed in Iraq in February.

Editorial note from your scribe: This picture ought to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

"The tumult and the shouting dies; The captains and the kings depart; Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice, An humble and a contrite heart...Lord God of Hosts, Be with us yet, Lest we forget...lest we forget." With these words Kipling commemorated the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. At a time when most others were boasting about the glory of the British Empire, he was lamenting that "far-called, our navies melt away...Lo! all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre...." He called his poem "Recessional" - the traditional British term for the organ piece played at the end of a church service. Presciently, he seemed to know that the British Empire was already in its waning days.

And here we are, a hundred and ten years later - Kipling, thou should'st be living at this hour! - a country mired in what has been termed "the worst foreign policy blunder in our nation's history." And, given our past history of blundering (usually well-intentioned, to be sure, but blundering nonetheless), that's a pretty searing indictment. All in all, dear reader, this has been a Memorial Day one will not soon forget. "Lord God of Hosts, Be with us yet....'

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Yes, folks, the calendar says that today is your scribe's birthday. In the interests of sparing his already bruised and wounded feelings, we will not discuss numbers.

"What's up with the b & w f's, dear scribe?" one hears y'all asking. **Profound sigh** The reason, dear readers, is that for the first time in my life, or for at least as far back as I can remember, I have not received a single "Happy Birthday" card.

Now, birthday cards are a flourishing part of our culture, carefully fed and watered by the Hallmarks of this world. In past years, my Aunt Kate would always send a dime store card, with a check for $3 enclosed. The amount remained constant, from my childhood through college and into adulthood. She always got a nice hand-written thank-you note, telling her what I had done with her thoughtful gift. Of course, that was less and less over the years, as the purchasing power of her $3 eroded inexorably, from the time when I might have used it to go to the movies with two friends to the point where it bought about a third of a seat in a cinema - or perhaps half a seat, if one went to the matinee.

But she died at a ripe old age a few years back, and her cards are now but a memory. My mother, the other stalwart sender of birthday cards, mailed what I fear will have been her last one a year ago. Since then a mild stroke has slowed her down, and even though she still sounds the same and remembers events of decades ago with perfect clarity and astounding (not to mention embarrassing) detail, she is a bit foggy as to her current whereabouts and what has transpired in recent months. I could always call her up and get a "Happy Birthday!" in person from her, of course, and maybe I shall do so; but for the moment we're still on the subject of cards and their non-appearance in my mailbox this year.

My son was a pretty faithful sender of cards for many years, but more recently he has been delivering the message in person, timing his annual visits to the East Coast to coincide with the day itself. (Much preferable to a card, of course.) This year, we saw each other just a few weeks ago in Oregon, and will be seeing each other in a few more weeks in NYC, so he probably has assumed no card is necessary. And he's right, of course - it isn't necessary. It's just that it woulda, coulda been kinda nice if maybe somebody, somewhere, had bothered to send just's not a happy feeling to be totally skunked for the first time in one's life history.

Next year, forewarned by the b & w f's of this year, I'll probably cheat a little and send a card to myself. Hey - it's gotta be better than an empty mailbox, right? But for now, I am left to contemplate the transitoriness of life, in which all things, including birthday cards, come to an end. And thus endeth your scribe's requiem for the Hallmark years of his life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Be the Day Weary, or Be the Day Long... last it ringeth to evensong. And so it did this past Sunday, as the Christ Church Choir of Men and Boys sang the annual evensong in memory of The Rev. Craig Walter Casey. Your scribe first met Craig some twenty years ago (sounds like a song out of "Princess Ida", no?), when we were chaperones together on the Choir's trip to England. Being the prickly sort he sometimes can be, your scribe exuded less-than-cordial vibes towards Craig on the first half of the trip, inasmuch as he was an incessant smoker, who was forever lighting up in restaurants, buses, hotel rooms, and wherever else we went. And further being a reformed smoker who cannot abide the smell, your reporter threw non-verbal hissy fits every time a match flared in Craig's hand. Moreover, never much given to subtlety, he made sure that his unspoken opinions were loudly heard.

The loss was mine, of course. Craig, being the good Christian he was, worked to overcome my silent treatment, and finally broke through with the help of a bottle of J&B scotch. Taking the bull by the horns, he said it was silly for us not to be acting in a more collegial fashion, and would I please share a drink with him. Ah, dear reader, he had found my Achilles' heel - or rather, both of them. I hate to look silly (which it was increasingly apparent I was being), and I love J&B scotch. I immediately decided that Craig was a person of at least some refinement, and gladly helped him make inroads into the bottle.

It developed that we had many friends in common, and shared many attitudes and interests as well. Over the second half of the trip we became good friends, to the point where he was trying to recruit me into the ministry. Whatever this may say about Craig as a judge of character, it was flattering that he seemed to think I had the talent and the personality to become a pillar of the church. It is true that I had served as a lay reader for many years, taking communion to the elderly and shut-ins, and that I had once been asked - with no advance warning or preparation - to give a sermon in Washington Cathedral. (I just opened my mouth and let God supply the words, which, fortunately, He was happy to do.) However, I had recently decided to reinvent myself as a writer, and I told Craig that I felt my vocation lay in that direction instead.

I remember one evening in particular, as the choir was gathered for dinner at The Jolly Friar, our favorite eating place in Wells, where the boys had replaced the vacationing choristers at Wells Cathedral for a week. (The greatest compliment they received was that nobody noticed the regular choir was gone.) It was our last evening in that bucolic city, and Craig as Chaplain decided to give the boys a brief homily at the end of the meal.

He described noticing a boss on one of the Cathedral doors that afternoon: a large, round face carved in ancient bronze. As he looked at it, the face spoke to him: "What are you doing here?" Startled, Craig replied that he was here as the Chaplain to the Choir of Men and Boys at Christ Church, Greenwich, Connecticut, USA. "No," said the face: "I asked, what are you doing here?"

Craig tried again. "Well, we're singing the Cathedral services, and I'm the precentor." The boss spoke once again: "Tell me what you're doing here." Finally, Craig said, the penny dropped: he was being asked what he was doing with his life on earth. And he told the boys, and the rest of us, that we should always remember that wise question from this medieval carving, and be ever mindful of what in fact we are doing with our earthly lives.

I thought it was gangbusters. I wonder if any of the others who were there that evening still remember Craig's brief sermon, which is one of the best I've ever heard. The next day we went off to Bruern Abbey, where the boys had their week-long music camp. And then it was back to the USA and life as usual, after an unforgettable sojurn in the West of England.

Craig died within the year, at the young age of 52. Sadly, the cigarettes got him, all too quickly. After we returned from England, his health started to deteriorate rapidly. Six bishops and a flock of clergy attended his funeral in an ecclesiatical procession the likes of which Christ Church had never seen before, and likely will never see again. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury didn't come close to outdrawing Craig.

The Casey Memorial Evensong began with an organ recital by the ever-estimable James Kennerley, who started with a vigorous rendition of Bach's Prelude in E-flat Major (the "St. Anne"). Using both the gallery and the chancel organs, James allowed us to hear this masterpiece the way Bach intended it to be heard. Sometimes I think he channels old J. S. directly, the way he gets inside each piece and brings out its musical essence. Talk about genius!

Then he played Boellmann's "Suite Gothique" in a sonorous and stately interpretation, letting the tonalities of the organ carry the weight of the music. This is an easy suite to play, but a difficult one to play well. James took it just a little slower than one usually hears it, and in so doing he essentially called attention to each note and chord rather than letting them blur together as other organists tend to do. Rarely has this old chestnut sounded as fresh and exciting as James made it do.

The Mag and Nunc were Stanford in B Flat - pleasant enough, but a pale shadow of his splendid Te Deum in the same key. The Nunc Dimittis (the "Song of Simeon") was set for men only, but the boys joined in for the Gloria Patri. The offertory anthem (whoops - somebody goofed - they forgot to take up the offering, which traditionally benefits the Casey Memorial Fund) was Parry's magnificent "I Was Glad", composed for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. The choir did a wonderful job on the soaring choral lines: "Our feet shall stand in thy gates, O Jerusalem...Jerusalem is builded as a city that is at unity in itself...peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces." Simply gorgeous. Utterly ethereal. Much too good a piece of music for that old rake Edward VII, but Parry was writing not for the moment, but for the ages. His anthem is still sung at every royal coronation, and every enthronement of an Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Rector, Jeffrey Walker, gave the homily, and reminded us of Craig's life of service to others. He ran the Church Pension Fund, which under his aegis actually began to live up to its name. Before Craig, church pensions were a joke - and a bad joke at that. Thanks to him, ministers can now retire with economic security, and focus their careers - as Jeffrey was quick to share with us - on things of the spirit rather than worrying about how they will survive in their old age.

Sadly, there was one flagrant omission in the service. Traditionally, we always stand and belt out "Jerusalem" - Parry's best-known hymn - which became a signature piece during Craig's chaplaincy to the Choir. Yikes! It's like the missing step at the bottom of a staircase that makes you almost lose your balance and fall over. What gives here?! Oh, well, there's always next year....

James finished up with the stirring "Finale" from Vierne's first organ symphony. Many of us remained until the final chords, after which there was much applause and woo-hoo-ing. And thus, dear reader, another memorable evensong passed into the history books; but fortunately, the ever-reliable Neil Bouknight has recorded it for posterity. No doubt a call or email to Christ Church Greenwich would result in a CD being sent out to you, gentle reader, should you be so minded. After all, your scribe's reportage is but a pale shadow of the real thing.

And now it's off in search of the next story about life here in this never-dull town....

Monday, May 21, 2007

Monday, Monday...

It's been days since the blogging muse has bit me, and even though she still hasn't, I thought I'd throw a few words into cyberspace just to let y'all know I'm still around.

Of note on the Recent Events calendar was the Historical Society's annual house-plaquing event, which took place Sunday afternoon just as the weather was clearing after several days of rain and gloom. We went to "Chelmsford", a late-19th century manor once situated on some 30 acres in the Rock Ridge area. Rock Ridge, BTW, was developed by Nathaniel Witherell, whose name still attaches to the Town's senior care facility (as I think they call it these days) on Parsonage Road, about which you have read in these pages recently. Witherell also played a role in the development of Belle Haven, where he had lived before moving himself and his attentions a mile or so to the north. He sure was in the right places at the right time; today, property in both these areas goes for about $100 a square inch.

"Chelmsford" was expanded in the early 20th century by two wings, both designed by McKim, Mead, & White, the largest and most prestigious architechtural firm of the time. MMW did the Boston Public Library, the Low Memorial Library at Columbia University, the Century Association, the Metropolitan Club, the Racquet & Tennis Club, the University Club, the Morgan Library, and the Harvard Club, all of NYC, not to mention the Farley Post Office and its late lamented cousin, the erstwhile Pennsylvania Station, which some considered their masterpiece. Ironically, there is now talk of moving the current Penn Station into the Farley site, thus perhaps undoing some of the architectural hooliganism that destroyed the original.

The house in Greenwich is as stately as the rest of MMW's work. The rooms are as wide as the wings themselves, with windows on both sides. The large living room flows into the library, which in turn flows into the billiard parlor. The kitchen/dining wing is as large as most ordinary houses in this Town (by which, of course, I mean those in the $2-4 million range). The grounds are still extensive, with gorgeous plantings and numerous amenities including not merely swimming and tennis, but a croquet pitch as well. This lovely estate is tucked away off the street, on top of a hill looking down into a ravine where Horseneck Brook burbles merrily along, and you would never know that you are less than a mile from the center of Town. There is nothing so plebian as the sight of a neighbor's manse to disturb your vista. It is truly a minature kingdom, which once had its own "gentleman's farm" attached employing dozens of gardeners and groundskeepers.

It's nice to know that at least a few people still live in the style to which some of us would love to become accustomed. Your scribe snapped a few pics, and they will appear in these pages in due course. In the meantime, it is also nice to know that the owners have "plaqued" their house in order to help persuade future generations to preserve it. While these handsome plaques, issued annually by the Historical Society, carry no legal weight, they do carry a good deal of moral suasion. Which is why those of us who care about the history and architecture of this Town are glad to support this noble effort. Just think, dear reader: if everyone in Town did the same, the parvenus and Philistines would never again rear their ugly heads in our fair community. If you have an extra $40 lying around, or can scrape it together, let me encourage you to visit the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich website, and send it their way. Both present and future generations of townspeople will be grateful for your generosity.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

RTM Budget Meeting

Last night saw the annual Town budget marathon, which ran from 7 pm until almost midnight. As usual, there was much heat (why don't they air-condition the CMS auditorium?!) and less light (they kept flickering up and down as careless delegates seeking cool air hung out by the back door and rubbed their backs up and down against the switches). If one walked out onto the stoop and then came back in a few minutes later, it felt as though as all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room, no doubt a result of the endless speechifying.

Most of the budget proposed by the BET was passed without comment, but the body balked at the $350,000 "masterplan" for the downtown area (incomplete and premature) and the proposed $560,000 for stoplights on Greenwich Avenue (an expensive and unnecessary eyesore). So we saved you the better part of a million bucks, dear reader, although in the context of the other $365 million we passed, it hardly makes a difference.

Perhaps the most disappointing moment of the evening came towards the end, as we were all anticipating getting out of there and heading home. But no - Doug Wells, chairman of the Legislative & Rules Committee, came out of left field and moved (as an individual) that we chop the $7.6 million bonding proposal for "Project Renew Witherell". Given that just last month the RTM had supported the Witherell and its new board with a resounding vote of confidence, most of us were dumbfounded at Doug's rather graceless proposal. David Ormsby wearily took the floor to remind us, yet again, of all the reasons this town jewel merits our support, and Doug's motion was shot down in flames. Participatory democracy is a great thing, dear reader, but there are times, like this one, when one begins to wonder how much is too much....

Still and all, one of the great strengths of the RTM is its tradition of civility among its members, and even though there were audible groans at Doug's proposed cut (your scribe's among them), we believe in allowing all viewpoints to be heard and aired. And so we did, staying an extra quarter of an hour to stay true to our traditions. And, one hopes, to nail the coffin lid firmly shut on those few selfish and short-sighted detractors who think that our Town's century-old tradition of caring for our elderly - on land donated by Robert and Sarah Bruce, who also gave us the Bruce Museum, Bruce Park, and the Old Town Hall - is an unnecessary and wasteful expense. No doubt they would prefer to see the money spent on fancy-pants new traffic lights which will, of course, be totally ignored by the cellphone-chatting SUV drivers who already blow through all the other existing lights and crosswalks and stop signs around Town.

Well, if the reckless driving around this Town gets much worse, maybe we won't have an elderly population to worry about. There's a bright side to everything, dear reader.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Greenwich High School Combined Select Choirs

Quite a mouthful, to be sure. But, dear reader, you should have heard what came out of those mouths last Tuesday evening at the "Fish Church" in Stamford. Patrick Taylor assembled the best of the best of GHS's singers (87 in all) and paired them with a professional orchestra of 35 players in a history-making "first" for a musical performance in our area, aptly entitled "American Choral Masterpieces".

Patrick introduced the evening's program by saying that the idea of combining the Chamber Singers, the Madrigals, and the Witchmen had been "gestating" for several years. He further wanted to give them the experience of singing with a large professional orchestra; his hope is to do this again in the future on an every-other-year basis. He then read a letter written to him by the composer of the first piece, Morten Lauridsen, saying how pleased he was that the GHS singers would be performing his "Lux Aeterna", which he called "a meditation on light."

The work was begun in 1993, and completed in 1997 as Lauridsen's mother was dying. In the program notes he wrote himself, he describes the piece as "an intimate work of quiet serenity centered around a universal symbol of hope, reassurance, goodness and illumination...." Using themes and techniques from medieval and Renaissance music (when was the last time you heard the mixolydian mode, dear reader?), and Latin texts he assembled himself that each contained a reference to light, Lauridsen composed a work of great richness and complexity that somehow nonetheless tends to sound deceptively simple and melodic.

Patrick and his singers and players may well have performed the definitive rendition of this work to date. Each phrase of the opening "Introitus" was beautifully sculpted, the musical equivalent of shafts of light shining through the medieval stained glass of Chartres or Canterbury. The "In te, Domine, speravi" followed seamlessly, light rising through darkness: "Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis" - or, to use the English translation so well-known in the setting by Felix Mendelssohn, "Through darkness riseth light to the righteous."

The centerpiece of the work, its core, if you will, is the unaccompanied motet "O Nata Lux". The a cappella singing was lush and rich and impeccably phrased - "nata lux de lumine" - light born of light. Your scribe could have listened to this part all night.

But the energetic "Veni, Sancte Spiritus" inexorably followed, bouncing along in much the same way that the third part of Bach's great "St. Anne" fugue portrays the Holy Spirit in organ music. The final movement, a combination of the "Agnus Dei" and the "Lux Aeterna", featured frequent a cappella sections as earlier themes returned and the meditative mood was restored. "Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine...requiem aeternum dona lux perpetua luceat eis...Alleluia...Amen." The work ended quietly, but within a second or two everyone was on their feet applauding the performers. Many shouts of "bravo" could be heard from the audience. Clearly there were some musically knowledgeable listeners present.

The second half of the program was Randall Thompson's "Frostiana", a cycle of seven "Country Songs" drawn from the poems of Robert Frost. This work, on which Thompson and Frost collaborated, was written to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, where it was first performed in 1959. The first song, "The Road Not Taken", was lambent and almost hymn-like in its quality. Just before the final stanza Thompson throws in a dramatic modulation, which led your scribe to expect some great musicological insight to follow; but instead the composer lapses back into the home key from which he has never strayed far. Like Frost himself, Thompson is content with the path he has chosen.

The next song, "The Pasture", was sung by the male voices only. One can hear the old New England farmer speaking as he invites his listener to join him in the ordinary but beautiful events of life, such as raking leaves or fetching a new-born calf: "You come too." The women reciprocated in "Come In", as the flute portrayed a bird at the edge of the wood, inviting the poet into the dark of the evening trees..."to the dark and lament." The poet resists: "But no, I was out for stars; I would not come in."

Then the men and women sang together in the humorous dialogue of "The Telephone", as two young lovers communicate telepathically. Thompson's marking, "allegretto scherzoso", says it all. The fun continues in "A Girl's Garden", sung of course by the women, in which the planter of "an ideal one-girl farm" becomes, in her own mind, a woman of wisdom who in later years will say, "'It's as when I was a farmer--'" as she shares her hard-won advice with others, while being careful never to "sin by telling the tale to the same person twice."

The men then sang the archetypal Frost poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". The mood is set by the harp and melancholy strings, as the vocal line conveys the minor-key tristesse of a medieval carol reminiscent of "Greensleeves". Halfway through the xylophone imitates the restless horse shaking his harness bells, trying to call his wool-gathering owner back to reality, and reminding him that they both have "miles to go before [they] sleep."

The final piece, "Choose Something Like a Star", combined both men's and women's voices in a glowing, mystical, quasi-religious ode. A reference to Keats within the poem reinforces the odic form of a human admirer drawing wisdom and knowledge from an inanimate object: for Keats the Grecian urn, and for Frost a "star (the fairest one in sight)". "Say something to us we can learn," says the poet: "Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade, Use language we can understand...." And so for Frost, as for others before and after him, the star becomes a symbol of stability and transcendence, something "To stay our minds on," that "asks of us a certain height." Patrick had shared with us earlier the story of how Frost had stood up at the end of the first performance and shouted, "Sing that again!" - and so they did. However, on this particular evening there seemed no way to improve on perfection, and so we in the audience merely clapped and roared our approval, and allowed Patrick and the singers to escape into the cool outside air.

The "Fish Church" was a wonderful venue for this special concert, although the lighting was too dim for your scribe's drugstore camera. He had invited a professional photographer to join him, but she, alas, was unable to make it. So there's only one pic to share with you (click to enlarge):

Here we have Patrick's score for the Lux Aeterna, as seen at the intermission. His baton is nestled above, enjoying a rare moment of tranquillity; once Patrick picks it up, it has miles to go, as it were, before it gets to rest again.

To give credits where due, Patrick singled out Joanne Bouknight, whose program cover illustration showed shafts of light streaming through tall trees (thus uniting the two parts of the program); Arlene Zimmer, who handled the myriad details of tickets and doubtless thousands of other vital but unsung (oops...bad pun alert) backstage matters; and James Westerfield, Minister of Music at the "Fish Church", who helped enormously with setting everything up. Go team!

Between 400-500 people came to this wonderful concert. The majority were parents and siblings and classmates of the singers, but there were also members of the Board of Ed and music lovers in general (such as your scribe). Parking was problematic, as most of the singers had come early, one to a car, and taken the majority of the adjacent spaces (ever hear of car-pooling, guys?), but everyone seemed to cope. The evening started out warm, and it was warmer yet inside the church; the professionalism of the singers was evident in how still they stood under the hot spotlights during the portions of the program when they weren't singing. Your scribe wished that the woman next to him who kept fanning herself with her program all evening would take the hint from their composure, but she didn't. Oh, well, life isn't perfect, even though the music pretty much was.

In passing, let it be said that it's too bad that there is no venue in Greenwich that might have accomodated this concert. What does it say about our Town, dear reader, that we can produce such an outstanding concert, and yet have to go out of town to stage it? Well, everyone knows the answer: give GHS the auditorium it should have had 37 years ago when the new high school was first built. So many of our local facilities are state-of-the-art; why are we skimping on our young people? And particularly when they are constantly proving that they themselves are state-of-the-art? It makes no sense.

So if anyone has an extra ten million or so lying around, or has a few friends who can pull together such a sum, he/she/they can not only guarantee themselves immortality in bricks and mortar, but the undying gratitude of their fellow townspeople as well. With all the money in this Town, you'd think there would be a line of eager would-be donors vying for the honor of this unique gift spread the word, dear reader, and mayhap you yourself can play a role in helping to bring such a possibility to pass.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pics of the Season

Well, a new roll of film has come back, and your itinerant photographer hastens to share with you some of the results. As always, you are reminded to click on the picture to get the full effect. Where to begin?

OK, how about the Stanwich Inn, which was a feature of the Historical Society walk last Saturday. Originally, the inn was right by the roadside, but an errant motorist whose car wound up on the front porch persuaded the then-owner to move it back a bit.

As long as we're talking about last weekend's walks, let's see what the Land Trust's magic meadow off Round Hill Road looks like:

Very pretty, no? And unless you get out of your SUV, dear reader, you will never see sights such as these.

Here are a couple of pics of Sabine Farm, erstwhile seat of the Fisher family, inter alia:

Looks as though the gizmo (a plow? a harrow? a thingamajig?) hasn't been used in some time.

Even the downtown area is gorgeous at this time of year. Witness the view looking towards the Old Town Hall from the lawn of the Havemeyer Building:

Well, that's enough for now. Remember to climb out of your car, dear reader, SUV or Prius or rattletrap as the case may be, and take time to enjoy the beauty of Maytime while it lasts - which, alas, will not be for long.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Walking Season

Everyone seems to be doing walking tours these days. This past weekend saw two excellent examples, hosted by two of the Town's premier organizations, the Historical Society and the Land Trust. And the weather for both was absolutely gorgeous.

On Saturday about 40 of us gathered at the old Stanwich Congregational Church, where we received handouts and watched a slide presentation on the erstwhile village of Stanwich. Few people now remember that Stanwich was once a thriving community, with an inn, a large church, a neighborhood school, a general store, and a post office. Today, you can drive right past and not even notice what was once as much a part of the Greenwich landscape as Riverside or Glenville. Tempus edax rerum, and all that.

We walked from the church to what was once the center of the village, at the intersection of Taconic and North Stanwich, noting several old and historic houses along the way. When we reached the old inn, once a stopping-place on the Cos Cob-Ridgefield stage route, it turned out that the current owner was a member of our group, and he invited us onto the premises and into the house. Inside it was very reminiscent of the Putnam Cottage across from Christ Church, with a staircase winding up from the front hallway and small squarish rooms on either side.

The inn (now a private residence) has been moved back considerably from its former spot right on Taconic Road, the result of an incident about 50 years ago in which a careless driver chose to ignore the stop sign on North Stanwich and plowed straight ahead and up onto the porch of the inn. The then-owner moved it back about 50 feet, much to the chagrin of former owner and erstwhile Town Historian Bill Finch. Cousin Bill (we're related through the Merrill family of Newburyport, MA, back in the 1600's) had once hoped to restore the inn to its former function and glory, but it was not to be. Still, the current owner has stuffed it with antiques, and I am sure that if Bill were still with us, he would be happy to see the result.

We then walked back along Taconic to the former manse of the Stanwich Congregational Church, now owned and lovingly restored by Russ and Debbie Reynolds. There we were treated to a lavish spread of lemonade and wine and strawberries and cheese and crackers and guacamole and cake and chocolate-chip cookies, to list a few of the highlights. Russ gave us something of the history of the manse, and brought out copies of his book, "Loyal to the Land", for those who wanted to do further reading on the intertwined history of Greenwich and the Reynolds family. It was a wonderful way to spend a lovely Saturday afternoon.

On Sunday the Land Trust held its annual Arbor Day walk and tree-planting. We parked at the Round Hill Club and walked past the tennis courts and the fitness center to a path that led into the woods. After many twists and turns, the path debouched into a wide meadow. A second meadow was the venue for the tree-planting and the traditional refreshments with which the Land Trust rewards its walkers. Again, the weather could not have been better, and it was a treat to learn about a hidden corner of the Town which has been made safe from development forever.

And so, dear reader, let us pity those parvenues who rush in their SUVs from McMansion to golf course to tennis court to pool to cocktail party and back again, without ever getting out to stretch their legs and discover the riches of this Town we live in. Do you think, as they roll through the stop signs at the corner of Taconic and North Stanwich, that they know or care about the hamlet that once flourished there? Or, as they tee off or hoist a glass at the 19th hole, that a magical meadow full of wildflowers lies just a few minutes away? No, probably not. There are, it seems, two Towns of Greenwich: that of those who race around in their SUVs, and the one which you can discover only on foot. It's as though there are two parallel universes co-existing side by side; and we can all be grateful to the Historical Society and the Land Trust for helping to open our eyes to the existence of the only one that truly matters.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Art to the Avenue

Last night was the kick-off of the annual artsfest in Greenwich, when all the stores stay open late and the center of Town turns into a big block party. Many of the stores also serve potables and comestibles (that's food and drink to you lowbrows) along with generous servings of the handiwork of local artists. As is nearly always the case, the weather was glorious, and helped to ensure a large turnout.

As usual, your scribe wandered down one side of the Avenue, and then back up the other. Thus his first potable was Terry Betteridge's always-estimable champagne, served with homemade quiche and pecan tarts and various other goodies. Then it was on to Vineyard Vines, where a bottle of Amstel Light was offered as a chaser. A story-teller on the patio in front of St. Mary's was seeking children to help her out in her narratives, but for the moment wasn't having much luck. The bummer of the evening was Saks, which last year had most excellent culinary delights prepared by Jean-Louis, washed down with premium vodka offerings; this year, however, somebody goofed, and the place was food- and drinkless. Typical chain store behavior - totally ignoring the local customs and festivals.

Another bummer was Simon Pearce, which has always had some of its very fine trademark wines on offer. Not so this year. When your scribe inquired as to why, he was told that last year some people had over-imbibed, and gone and spoiled it for the rest of us.

Richards was quieter than usual. In past years the GHS band has provided music, which sounded very well inside the large open atrium. The capacious store has been the venue for many charitable and social functions, including a recent "roast" of Shep and Ian Murray, the founders of Vineyard Vines. The Mitchell family have done so much for the community that one concluded that maybe they were giving themselves a well-deserved rest this year.

Across the street Georgia Tetradis was hosting a group of dance fans at Beam & Barre. Street performances were taking place in front of The Gap, with an overflow crowd standing well into the street. A band was playing at the Senior/Arts Center. And by the time your scribe returned to St. Mary's, a passel of youngsters were actively helping the story-teller in her endeavors.

Much as he would have liked to linger and expand his coverage, your reporter had to saddle up and ride out to a dinner party. Thus this entry is more of an overview than might otherwise have been the case. As always, kudos to Frank Juliano and the Greenwich Arts Council for their efforts in putting on this wonderful festival, which after ten years is now a firmly-established Town tradition. Floreant artes!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tommy's Trees

As promised, here are pics of the trees Tommy Hilfiger was planting the other day. Turns out he wasn't doing a forest, but an allee of greenery by the sides of the cobblestone driveway.

Remember to click on the pics to enlarge them. Your scribe is not sure how much 25' trees go for these days, nor how much it costs to transport and plant them, but it is safe to say that Tommy's nursery bill will be pretty steep this month.