Sunday, September 12, 2010


We spent the afternoon of March 16 in Delphi, where we took a guided tour of the excavations.

Delphi flowered most brilliantly in the 6th Century B.C., when its civilization—and influence—peaked.

Located at the base of Mount Parnassus, Delphi is situated both upon the lower portion of the mountain as well as in a large and beautiful valley surrounded by mountains of the Parnassus Range. The topography of Delphi is inherently much more beautiful and much more dramatic than the topography of Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus and Olympia.

However, there are only so many ruins (“piles of rocks”, in the terminology my brother had adopted by the third day of our tour) that one may explore before fatigue sets in—and we were already suffering ruins fatigue by the time we reached Delphi.

“I think we should have gone to Paris” was a refrain one or the other of us had been muttering since the previous afternoon, and this sentiment reached a near-boiling point shortly after we began our guided tour of Delphi, when “I think we should have gone to Paris” became a veritable nonstop chant on our part.

We were, simply put, visiting too many ancient ruined cities in too short a time—we had by this point already visited the ruins of Corinth, Mycenae, Epidaurus and Olympia—and we were no longer enjoying it.

We were duly escorted through the extensive excavations at Delphi, and we genuinely tried to pay attention to the guide’s chatter while demonstrating a modicum of enthusiasm. This became more difficult when Joshua announced, “I think I’m going to take up smoking”—and my brother responded, “And I think I’m going to take up drinking.”

I believe we successfully maintained the illusion that we were paying attention to the guide, but I doubt that more than twenty per cent of his words registered with us after half an hour. The guided tour lasted almost two hours—and, for us, it seemed an eternity.

Delphi is, perhaps, most famous for its Temple Of Apollo.

Other prominent remnants at Delphi include the Treasury Of The Athenians

And the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia.

Delphi, like Olympia, also sported a stadium, a gymnasium, a theater and a palestra. It also featured a series of extensive and massive stone walls that carried religious and political significance and at which votive offerings were made.

I wish Delphi were an hour’s drive from Boston. If so, Josh and I would be happy to return any Saturday to enjoy a day’s explorations. However, given that our appetite for ancient Greek ruins had become satiated prior to the afternoon of March 16, our enjoyment of Delphi was, regrettably, limited.

At the conclusion of our escorted tour of the ruins, we visited Delphi’s archeological museum. Delphi’s archeological museum was very much like Olympia’s archeological museum, which we had visited the previous afternoon.

No doubt the museum is of vast importance, but we were not captivated by the artifacts on display—and wished we had been visiting the Louvre, which has a far finer collection of antiquities from Greece than those on display in Delphi.

After walking through Delphi’s archeological museum, we located and checked into our hotel, which was very close to the excavations site.

Our hotel was situated at the base of one of the mountains and afforded a view of the entire valley—and our rooms offered views of the valley all the way to the port city of Itea and the Corinthian Gulf.

The views were remarkable.

We were almost too crabby to enjoy them.

But not quite.



    Part I



    BRAVO is recognized as the most successful gay couch-potato (drag)network in television history. Among its endless schedule of kitschy reality shows is the highly praised “Project Runway,” popular with BRAVO’s large fashionista audience, together with “Top Chef,” which is now completing its seventh season. Conspicuously, gay contestants triumph on both those shows, at least through the prowess of individual camp if not by their numbers alone.

    BRAVO didn’t start out that way, however. It began as a performing arts cable outlet in the 1980s; in point of fact, this was the first network to broadcast in the US Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” in 1992. This reviewer fondly remembers hearing Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli play the early Beethoven sonatas on BRAVO. Things changed drastically after NBC bought out the company. Programming quality began its envelope-pushing, freefall with BRAVO’s first reality show, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” in 2003.

    Next season two new humdingers-of-a “social experiment” will debut. The first is called “Under-Swap” and will actually require a “team” of eight straight men to exchange underwear for a period of time with an opposing “team” of eight gay men - to what end, we haven’t an eye-rolling clue. The second is called, “Top Fluffer,” already in trouble over allegations that it is sexist, given there are no female judges. (If I were you, I wouldn’t bother to even speculate about that last one.)

    Meanwhile, at least one BRAVO producer has been lobbying the network to turn back to its roots and provide quality performing arts programming. A new show called “Name that Symphony” was developed by Karol Herblshcdvecksz (pronounced "Harris"), at the suggestion of television maven and music critic of the Baltimore Sun, Tim Smith. The pilot episode, hosted by Mr. Smith himself, was taped on August 3.

    Too bad the network did not pick up “Name that Symphony.” It would have been a hoot if not culturally enlightening.

    The format for “Name that Symphony” should be pretty familiar to anyone who remembers the popular “Name that Tune” from the fifties and sixties. Two contestants barter over the chance to name an undisclosed symphony with as few notes as possible, based upon limited information about the work which is read to them beforehand by the MC. To the contestant who bets the least number of notes, his or her opponent then gives the challenging line, “Name that Symphony!” The live, ad hoc symphony orchestra then plays the work, but only the number of notes the contestant has bid. If that contestant guesses right, he wins the round, simple as that.

    Herblshcdvecksz had initially run into trouble while testing the viewership markets for “Name that Symphony.” Equally disconcerting was trying to assess the quality of the show’s potential contestant pool. The producer even contacted Sony Entertainment Group in order to interview recent champions of the popular “Jeopardy!” television game show. He was dismayed to discover that 28 out of the 30 interviewed couldn’t define what a symphony was, much less name one.

    Nevertheless, Herblshcdvecksz and Smith stood their ground.

    A frustrated Smith finally vented in his blog on last March:

    “The Bravo network has the most intelligent and refined, best educated and sophisticated and cultured viewers in the world. They are premium discerners of nuance. For the [Bravo] executives to evade this moral imperative to reintroduce the nuances of classical music roots-programming into such a cool audience would be like Angelica, who lied to her boyfriend Benny on “Piney’s Point,” telling him she was having his baby when in real life she was not having his baby but having Bobby’s baby, Benny’s daddy, instead, hiding the truth in a crazy moebius loop.”

  2. Part II

    Despite the difficulties, a pilot program was finally organized. BRAVO executives scoured the elite neighborhoods of the Silverlake district of Los Angeles to find 50 audience participants. They gave each of them a free ticket, a free beer, and an autographed copy of Ian McKellan’s new DVD, “Gandalf Plays Chopin in the Raw.”

    I have excerpted from my notes below observations I made in the Burbank studio on the day of the taping:


    (Round One)

    MC: “Okay, ladies, here’s your first challenge: This symphony was first heard on September 12, 1910, in Munich, Germany, in the New Music Festival Hall, which had the capacity to seat 3,500. In the audience of that premiere was a young Leopold Stokowski, who gave the US premiere of this work in 1916.

    “Okay, start your bidding.”

    Ms Adams: “I can name that symphony in ten notes.”

    Ms Bellpepperhoefer: “I can name it in fav.”

    Ms. Adams: “TWO.”

    [Audience “OOHS”]

    Ms Bellpepperhoefer: “Name that synfonie!”

    MC: “All righty dighty, Ms Adams, for your discerning ears . . . maestro!”

    [The conductor strangely refuses to turn around to the eighty-piece pickup ensemble. He calls out to Mr. Smith, saying, “I can’t . . . WE can’t do it because . . . we don’t have the instrument . . . to play the first two notes.”]

    [Audience laughs, moans, and boos. MC, producer both visibly chagrined.]

    Ms Adams: [smiling widely] “Not a problem, Tim. I’ve been to the New Festival Hall and have heard the organ there. I'd wager that the organ was probably the instrument that played the first two notes of the piece, and the only symphony I can think of that begins with two organ notes and is consistent with the clue is Mahler’s Eighth.”

    MC: “BRAVA! You are correct, Ms. Adams.

    [Audience erupts in thunderous applause, whistling! Smith flashes victory sign to Producer. Looks like Bravo has a winner!]

    Ms. Adams: ". . . In fact, I do believe that this orchestra wouldn't be able to play even the first five or six notes, for that matter, because the chorus comes in right after the first two notes; they sing the main motif a capella, you know, beginning with that E-flat . . . ."

    [Audience rises to feet, cheering, sustained clapping. Producer is rapturously pleased.]

  3. Part III

    (Round Two)

    MC: "Okay, your second challenge, ladies: This symphony was premiered on December 22, 1808 in Vienna, in a concert that lasted four hours in duration and included another symphony and a piano concerto by the same composer. It was the first symphony that the composer wrote for a trombone.

    "Place your bets. Ms Bellpepperhoefer, you start, please."

    Ms Bellpepperhoefer: "Well, I am an amater expert on the klassicle period. I will wage fav notes."

    Ms Adams: "Hymm, four notes."

    Ms Bellpepperhoefer: "Hell, b[road], I can name that synpfonie in ONE note."

    [Crowd goes wild (as they say), laughing, "wowing" and "oohing."]

    Mrs. Adams: "Okay, name that symphony."

    MC: "All right, Doris, here's your one note . . . maestro, please . . ."

    [Maestro turns to the orchestra, gives a downbeat, then stops, turns back around, crossing his arms and flashing a big sheepish grin.

    Ms Bellpepperhoefer: "Whaat!"

    MC: "Oh, no! Doris. The orchestra HAS played the first note for you, but the first note in the symphony is a REST."

    [While MC and Ms Adams laugh, the audience is strangely silent, as if frozen in time.]

    MC: [to the audience]: "Well, you know . . . a musical rest, get it?"

    [Audience: dead silence]

    MC: "Ah, well, its right there in the score: So just take a rest."

    Ms Bellpepperhoefer: "Thaat's not fare! "Thaat's not fare" [Ms Adams laughing hysterically while audience mute.]

    MC: [very nervously joking] "Is there no prompter out there?" [to the audience]: "You DO know what what a rest is, right?"

    [Audience: silent]

    MC: "Well, time's up, Ms. Bellpepperhoefer, I'm sorry. Ms Adams, do you know the answer?"

    Ms. Adams: "Of course, darling! It's Beethoven's fifth, the first of his symphonies to use a trombone AND a piccalo, you know."

    MC: "Right on! You are the winner!"

    [Audience: sound of crickets]

    (Champion Round)

    MC: "Okay, Ms Adams, I'm going to give you six pieces of music written by Anton Bruckner, the openings to six Scherzi movements. You must name them all within 60 seconds. But there's a catch: You must list the information in this order: (a) number and (b) the VERSION, if applicable. Ready?"

    [Orchestra begins to play for the first time during the show]

    Ms. Adams: "That's Nr 3, original version . . . Nr. 8, 1890 . . . Nr. 1 . . . Nr. 9 . . . Nr. 5 . . . and that's Nr. 8 once again, 1887 version."

    MC: "That's RIGHT! You won. WOW, that's fantastic, isn't it, ladies and gentlemen?"

    [Audience remains embarrassingly silent and disconnected. They are bent over filling out their critique cards, and some are already leaving before the end of the sixty seconds.]


    And so, Ms Adams wins the grand prize, Ian McKellan's autographed DVD, "Gandalf Plays Chopin in the Raw."

    The critique cards were gathered and read. Three of them best reflect the consensus of the audience on that occasion: I've reproduced them below:

    (A) "What the . . . ? First you screw over the second lady, allowing the band to take a break, take a rest you say so they don't give the note and then you help out the second lady by playing the same music over and over? What a crappy rip off!"

    (B) "I didn't think it was funny to just play the same music six times and pretend that Ms Adams knew how to answer. That stuck-up, vain woman! Do you actually think that we are a bunch of deaf and dumb people out here! I'm totally stunned and shocked at such effrontery!"

    And my personal favorite:

    (C) "Bravo has took same six too far."

    Who was it who said, "We live in a nation of morons"?

  4. You have great imagination, and great wit. YOU should be writing programs for television.

    I cannot remember the last time I watched BRAVO. It may have been when I was in high school.

    Have you seen the musical, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"? (Excuse me if I have the name wrong.) Is it any good?

    Have you seen the movie or play, "Bus Stop"? Is "Bus Stop" any good?

    Josh and I are halfway thinking of going to local stagings of one or both this coming weekend.

  5. I haven't seen the William Finn musical, Andrew, nor "Bus Stop." There are many recent plays that I miss out on (though "Bus Stop" isn't exactly recent).

    Theater opportunities in Orlando are few and far between. I DO attend the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, which performed a boring "Hamlet" last year. Next month I will see for the first time Patrick Barlow's farse "The 39 Steps."

    Orlando is a very pretentious, provential town that thinks it's a sophisticated place, way up there (or way DOWN there) with Boston. It's honestly an embarrassment for me to say that I live here. When the Cleveland Orchestra once played here under Ashkenazy at the Bobb Carr Center, the Orlando Sentinel didn't even bother to review the concert. Their one "music critic" covered instead a showing (the first of several) elsewhere of "Celtic Woman."

    I don't watch much television at all. In fact, I no longer even own a television. I used to watch Bravo often, some twenty years ago. What Bravo is today makes me sick to my stomach.

  6. Patrick Barlow's play is actually a farce, not a "farse," as far as I know.

  7. And Orlando is a provencial town, not "provential."

  8. I know nothing about Orlando, but Boston certainly does not produce high-quality theater. The city enjoys a large number of small theater companies, but all of them are very minor enterprises. The city also lacks a sophisticated theater audience.

    The Boston musical audience is no better, although I suspect Boston’s musical audience was much more sophisticated in decades past than it is now. The typical Boston Symphony audience of today has to be seen and experienced to be believed.

    "Orlando is a very pretentious, provincial town that thinks it's a sophisticated place."

    That also describes Boston to a tee.

  9. "Provential," "provencial," let's call the whole thing off!

    (I even misspelled Doris Bellpepperhoeffer's name!)