Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Night in New York and Weeping for Paris

Eiffel Tower -
Closed and Dark
It's Saturday night, and I'm safe at home in mid-Manhattan.

And my heart is breaking.

I am thinking of Paris, a city I love so much, and remembering so many things about that beloved place (not visited now for two years — just about this time two years ago — and we were able to enjoy all the pre-holiday festivities and shopping, just as Parisians were doing until last night).

I'm not dealing very well with the news. I'm streaming France24. It's coming in very well over the internet, and I'm trying to keep up. But at this point there is no more news, as such. Just horror. And weeping. And Parisians pleading, begging for news of loved ones who are still missing, presumably in hospital or laid out in morgues until the workers can get to them, get them identified, and tell their relatives where they are. Or how they are.

I'm listening to Radio Classique Paris, streaming in via the other big iMac. Splendid sound, and a little while ago they played the "Libera me" from Verdi's Manzoni Requiem with the Vienna Philharmonic. I decided it would be appropriate for me to play my CD of Dudamel conducting the Requiem at the Hollywood Bowl, so that's what I did for a while this evening.

Palais Garnier - No performance here
or at the Opéra Bastille tonight.
Why appropriate? Because as we finished our nearly day-long walking tour of the Palais Garnier two years ago, we had finished walking about, after several hours (did you know that for €5 you can buy a ticket to go into the Palais Garnier and just walk around to your heart's content, stay as long as you like up to late afternoon? Just swallowing up all that beauty?).

As we approached the exit, to leave the building — where we were going to hear Mozart's La clemenza di Tito the following evening — I could hear the sounds of the Requiem being played in the gift shop. So of course we went in and of course I bought it. What a splendid souvenir for our day at the Palais Garnier! And never knowing it would be listened to with so much heartbreak this evening. And the Palais Garnier, like everything else, closed and shuttered until ... when? After three days of mourning? Until the next attack?

What is going on?

Grande Roue - Now Dark
I keep thinking of people I know and knew in Paris. Not necessarily friends, although there are some of those, friends who have come up from other parts of the country to visit with us when we're in Paris, a special friend from Berlin who had lived in Paris years ago and come from Berlin to have a week with us, another friend — a New Yorker who couldn't stand the pressure of his desires any more and simply, once he had enough financial security, went off to Paris to spend the rest of his life there. And another friend, a silly friend in Washington who has a needlepoint cushion that simply says "I'd rather be in Paris" (and he goes to Paris every opportunity he has). Another couple, friends I got to know and care about when they were in England when I lived there, oh! so many years ago. And in the early 90s when I was in Paris and had a personal family crisis they took me into their flat in La Défense and took care of me until I was OK.

Tonight the city is all shuddered, closed down, people at home in their beds, afraid to go out, the city desolate. I keep thinking of Parisians I hardly knew and wonder how they are doing. The lovely, very special lady at the Mayfair — my favorite hotel — who takes such good care, such serious, sincere care of us when we're in her hotel. The sweet young man at the Galeries Lafayette (closed today and for a while to come, I gather) who took so much time ('way too much time) to make sure that the clothes I tried on would work on an American man's frame — very different from a Frenchman's!

Maxim's - No Caption Required
And most of all I suppose I'm thinking wistfully of the wonderful woman who took time out of her busy career (she's an actress and has a one-person performance piece in which she plays Colette). We were scheduled to visit Pierre Cardin's l'art nouveau museum at Maxim's and the regular curator was not so she stepped in for him. So generous and so willing to allow us to stay as long as we like, take all the photographs we wanted, and she even complimented me on "how well" I speak French (I said she was very generous).

And I couldn't resist: I wrote about her in January of last year, in a post mostly about l'art nouveau but I had to include her. Take a look if you like: Ah, Paris: Pierre Cardin's Art Nouveau Museum at Maxim's.

What is she doing tonight? Is Maxim's closed, like everything else? I hope she — and the curator of this very sweet, very fabulous museum — are well.

So many memories. So sad. And I know I'm not alone. The French were so worried about us when we had 9-11 and now we worry about them. And so many of us — like me — love France and the French so much, and we love Paris, and we're all worried.

What's going to happen next? I've been advised not to "obsess" about the situation in France, and I'm trying not to.

But I'm so sad.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ostia Antica (3) - The Elephants of Ostia Antica—And a Correction

Yes, I know I'm going a little overboard with so much content about Ostia Antica, but I don't want to forget any of my favorite experiences in this wonderful historical place.

And who would have expected elephants in this ancient site?

But before I get to my elephants, let me apologize for a bad link.

If you enjoyed the first of the Ostia Antica posts (Rome's Ostia Antica—For Travelers Who Like to Stray from the Typical Track) and the post about the museum (Ostia Antica (2)—The Surprising Museo Ostiense), you probably ran into a flaw with the latter. I refer to my own few photos. I published a bad link to those.

I think (hope) I've fixed that now, and all the links seem to be working. If you go back to that second post, you should be able to see my few photographs from the Museo Ostiense.

In any case, I sorry if the bad link caused any inconvenience.

Wrapping up my Ostia Antica adventure, I'm delighted to share one more little treasure found at that splendid place, the mosaics of the elephants. And, yes, it's true I seem to go a little overboard about elephants—even elephants from ancient days—but I hope you'll bear with me for yet another story of one more of Guy's adventures with elephants. (I can't seem to stop, can I?)

Actually, I suppose it's a pretty harmless interest, and certainly seeing the elephants in the wild in Africa is a thrilling adventure indeed. For me, it's also intriguing to think about how long elephants have been capturing the attention of explorers and adventurers, centuries even. I remember visiting Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily and being very impressed with what I saw (and with the extremely knowledgeable archaeologist guide who took us through the site, even kneeling down to wash away some of the dust from some of the mosaics, so we could view the colors better and take joy in how brilliant they are, even after all this time).

There's a very informative article telling the story of what's happening at Villa Romana del Casale that's worth reading. It appeared in The Telegraph (Sicily: A Miracle at Villa del Casale). We had visited this remarkable site back in 2009, three years before the article in The Telegraph, and it makes me very happy to see that work is progressing there. Even though there is much still to be done, one of the great treasures of Villa del Castale is the very well preserved mosaic floor. It's just loaded with mosaics, including images of people as well as depictions of all the wild animals the Roman nobleman had had brought back to him, after commissioning hunters and ship captains to capture and have these animals in his own private zoo. A massive array of photographs of the mosaics at Villa Romana del Casale can be viewed here but, alas, there's no photo of the elephants at that site.

So there's obviously a long tradition of having mosaics of the wild elephants, and everyone knows elephants live a long time. How about elephants that are still around after 2,000 years?

OK. Perhaps not the animals themselves, but who wouldn't be impressed when finding himself viewing mosaics that were put down in Ostia Antica.

These are located in the floor of the Piazzale delle Corporazioni (Square of the Guilds) which I've already described. This area was sort of a city center or governance area, and because Ostia Antica was the center so much shipping—both for bringing goods into Rome and taking Roman goods away—it makes sense that the shipbuilders and shipping companies (or whatever organizations managed the shipping) would decorate the floors of the square with mosaics with images of what was seen in the lands they visited.

Of course these two amateur photographs don't add much to the story, and as photographs don't begin to match the "travelogue" photographs in guidebooks and newspaper accounts of ancient mosaics, but they are fun to view. As I noted earlier, I was there almost to closing time, and I didn't get to the mosaic floors of the Piazzale delle Corporazioni until it was nearly evening, and the light was beginning to fade. So I had to do a little dancing about to capture these photos of my beloved ancient elephants. Nevertheless I had fun taking the photos (pine cone detritus and all—I didn't dare climb over the barrier and walk on the mosaics to clear away the pine cones, and I had to deal with the falling shadows as well). So the photos aren't great they're good enough to give me a nice reminder of my favorite part of Ostia Antica.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Ostia Antica (2) - The Surprising Museo Ostiense

Museo Ostiense
(Photo: Klaus Heese)
In my September 7 personal post (Rome's Ostia Antica—For Travelers Who Like to Stray from the Typical Track) I promised to share my impressions of the Museo Ostiense.

Tucked away in the almost overwhelming space of Ostia Antica, it is a jewel of a museum. It is briefly described at the Ostia Antica site:
The Ostiense Museum is housed on the ground floor of a building dating back to the 15th century, known as "Casone del Sale" (Big House of Salt), as it is linked to the exploitation of the nearby salt marshes by the papal government. The building features a neoclassical façade. During the sixties of the 19th century this structure was adapted by Pius IX to become a museum. Today it serves as a museum and an office space from where the excavation works are directed.
A classical statue just before the
entrance to the Museo Ostiense
Any visitor to Ostia Antica will want to set aside some time to visit the museum. It isn't large, although the collections, made up of a wide range of classical sculpture and mosaics gathered from Ostia Antica during the many years of the site's excavation, are impressive. It's my guess that classical scholars are much rewarded by perusing the many items collected here. And an eye-opening digital visit is available at the museum's virtual tour.

There are a few of my photos here (and one image that came from the museum's own gallery). 

Of course I enjoyed all the classical sculpture displayed throughout the museum (and there are a few examples outdoors, like this typical statue just to the left of the door as you enter the building). I was particularly taken with two sarcophagi, one a beautiful depiction of children playing, carved on what was obviously a child's sarcophagus. The other one also pleased me very much, a family scene again and I surmise, because of the size, for a child.

Other child-related sculptures I liked were the boy slaying the cow (his knife lost over the years) and (who could resist?) the delicate depiction of Cupid & Psyche, kissing ever so sweetly. Naturally I enjoyed the classical heroes, and specially liked being able to see the juxtaposition of the Cupid & Psyche quietly resting behind a magnificent statue of Perseus (which I had to photograph twice because it was just so splendid!).

One innovation I enjoyed was the arrangement of two herms, no longer perched on their pedestals but artfully set up at the base of a doorframe. Very clever.

Photo: Paul Adams
If you view my photos, you'll be a little distracted by the first three photographs, showing examples of the work of Giacomo Manzù (1908-1991). The second and third photographs (the two children and the female bronze) are part of a temporary exhibition (until November 2015, I believe). I found out more about Manzù in the Art Directory and was pleased to learn about this important 20th-century sculptor of religious statuary. I had not encountered his work before.

Among Manzù's many successes were his teaching at the International Summer Academy in Salzburg from 1954 to 1966. And at Salzburg he was commissioned to design the main portal of the Salzburg Cathedral in 1955. Shortly thereafter Pope John 23rd asked him to make the "Portal of Death" for St. Peter’s Basilica. Also known as the "Door of the Dead" ("Porte della Morte") it is the southern door of the five portals from the narthex to the interior of the basilica, and it includes in one panel a portrait of John 23rd kneeling before the crucified figure of St. Peter.

In my photographs, the final of the three pictures of Manzù's work is of a bronze statue of his wife Inge. The "other side"—we might say—of the work of "Bergamo's Master"(as he is designated in the museum's notes) was the series of sculptures and drawings in which the figures, predominantly female, "are investigated (invested?) with meticulous passion." Along with the "Porte della Morte" these works are described in the Museo Ostiense's current exhibition notes as "masterpieces of plastic art in the 20th century."

Apparently Manzù's fame grew over the years, so much so that, at Ostia Antica, almost at the entrance to the grounds, there is a splendid Manzù sculpture—Grande Cardinale seduto (Grand Cardinal seated)—greeting every visitor, and, as best I can tell, installed permanently on the grounds. I can't pull up the connection between Manzù and the historical site, but I suppose the site's managers have a reason. The first photograph in my little collection shows that outdoor sculpture.

Go here to view the "official" link to the Museo Ostiense.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Rome's Ostia Antica - For Travelers Who Like to Stray from the Typical Track

The Roman Road—Ostia Antica's
Main Street
To anyone who knows much about Italian history and Rome, there's so much to see that no journey could enable you to take in everything. Oh, I suppose if you changed your life and went to Rome to live for a few years, you might get to see all you wanted to see. I have a friend who did that for Paris about fifteen years ago. He's still there and he still complains that he can't see everything he wants to see. So maybe the trick is to seek out things beyond what tourists usually see.

One "secret" place in Italy is Ostia Antica, deliciously uncrowded (except for the occasional well-mannered school group). Ostia was the original fortified city built to guard the mouth (ostium) of the Tiber.  The place is well worth the short journey (a 30-minute train ride from Stazione Ostiense beside Porta San Paolo, plus a few minutes walk from the Ostia Antica station).

The remains at the site date to the 4th century BC, providing a picture of what life was like in a large commercial city (and not much later, a naval base). Ostia Antica served as the port for Rome, responsible for all of the capital's imports and exports and, in particular, supplying annona (produce—mainly grain—for Rome.

By the 4th century AD, Ostia Antica had become a residential town instead of a commercial city, and over the next few centuries Ostia went into decline from the loss of trade and the increase of malaria. In the 16th century Gregory IV tried to revive the place, but it didn't work, and as quoted in one text on Ostia Antica:
By 1786 the city which at the height of its prosperity had a population of some 80,000, had 156 inhabitants; half a century later only a few convicts of the papal government lived here. Augustus Hare, writing in 1878, speaks of one human habitation breaking the utter solitude.
The Ruins of the Ancient Granary
Of course the site had been pretty much covered over during the centuries, and excavations only began (on a small scale) in the early 19th century. Serious work did not get started until 1907, and in 1938-1942 Guido Calza and others embarked on a major excavation program (unbelievable given world events at that time).  The work continued after the war, and today, some 34 hectares (or some two-thirds of the city at its largest size) have been excavated. I read somewhere that the site is much larger but by my calculation that's still pretty big, some 84 acres and enough space to tire out a visitor coming for the day.

Saying Good-by: The Roman
Road Leads Out as Well
There's no question about it: Ostia Antica is an impressive site, with beautiful old packed-dirt streets, excavated ruins, masses of umbrella pines and cypresses, and thick grass just about everywhere, with statuary and building foundations all along the path. And since the ancient city seems to have been divided into five districts or regiones, there are more civic buildings, temples, baths, warehouses, and domestic dwellings than you could ever keep track of. The main street (an original Roman road with its stones still in place) cuts right through the city, as one would expect, and on both sides are blocks and blocks of ruins that in their original state would have been the lifeblood of the central city. The Via delle Corporazioni, with its apartment houses and central government buildings, gives a good sense of how varied and cosmopolitan it all was.

On one side of the street is the massive theater, originally seating 2,700 people in three tiers, though only two tiers survive. Beyond the theater is the Piazzale delle Corporazioni (Square of the Guilds), where offices of commercial associations were located, with their fascinating mosaics indicating from whence (whence?) foreign representatives from all over the ancient world came. And not only the origins of the foreigners but the trades of local citizens (such as ship repair and construction, dock maintenance, warehouses and embankments), all shown in the beautiful—and exceptionally well preserved—mosaics.

So it's worth the time, for a day out from Rome (some people who will be nameless here have been known to take the early train from Rome, planning to return by lunchtime. It won't happen. On that occasion the visitor had to be asked to leave the site when it closed at 7pm!). There is a lovely museum (more about that another time) and a tiny, not very special lunchroom. But it's Italy, after all, and even an informal luncheonette is going to provide you with a very tasty meal to keep your energy up while you're wandering about in the ruins.

A selection of Ostia Antica photos is here—or if the live link doesn't work:

Friday, June 26, 2015

"A Victory for America"

The words of President Obama. That line says it all.

I don't think I can remember such a remarkable ten days in my lifetime.

Someone can probably remind me of other events that come close in importance, for describing what it's like for us to be citizens in the United States.

Yet when I look back on my life, I can't seem to remember any time that compares with what we've just experienced: the racist murders in Charleston (and the loving forgiveness expressed by all the victim's families), the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to allow the Affordable Care Act to move forward, and now today's Supreme Court ruling that guarantees marriage equality for all Americans.

It was this last that President Obama inspired us with this morning, giving us the words I use to title this post.

As for me, I can't think of any other words that describe so well where we are as Americans. Our nation is now a "little more perfect," the president said, and I don't think any of us can doubt the truth of that when he spoke about how "no matter who you are or where you come from, how you started off, or who you love, America is a place where you can fulfill your destiny."

Here's something else he said: "Americans should be very proud." In speaking about how our move toward national marriage equality grew and continued - often against very difficult odds - and about how all the struggles and years of hard work went into bringing marriage equality into our society (and how it then got into the American mind-set so fast!) - he referred to today's ruling as an "amazing achievement."

Yes, "Americans should be very proud."

Of course we're asking how all this fits, especially in terms of what happened last week in Charleston.

And from the folks who are so opposed to the Affordable Care Act, the people who don't want all American citizens to have health insurancce.

And yes, we're hearing some ugly comments from some of the die-hards who won't let up, who speak of their personal "freedoms" to believe what they want to believe, whether what they believe is for the good of society or not.

But every American citizen doesn't fall into those groups, and I'm sensing that our society is going to figure out how to deal with that sort of thinking one of these days. Sooner rather than later, I'm hoping.

Why? Because the younger population will finally convince America's leaders - regardless of the leaders' age - that what they want for themselves and their children is a society that cuts through the selfishness, the political polarization, the pandering that seems to carry the day today. We'll finally begin to recognize that the attempts to inhibit freedoms finally, at the end of the day, inhibit freedoms for everyone. Some levels of selfishness will simply have to give way.

And if we're looking for inspiration beyond that provided by our president, we have only to hear the words of the Charleston victims' survivors. There are ways to move forward, ways to be thinking of others, and forgiveness seems - to me - to be a good place to start.

Now I'm anxiously awaiting President Obama's remarks this afternoon at Rev. Pinckney's funeral.

We - as Americans - are going to continue moving forward. Especially now that we're all included as Americans.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Dale's Ride - Progress Reports

A couple of months ago you read about Dale Stanley's ride (Join Us in Support of Dale's Important Contribution - We Are So Proud of Him).

And many of you contributed to help with his fund-raising for the AIDS/LifeCycle, in support of the life-saving services offered by San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Now he's on his way.

And because we all want to know how he is doing, Dale is reporting to us on his progress:
May 30: I promised I'd keep you up-to-date on my ride. Thought I'd test this from home first. I attended an orientation today at the Cow Palace, where we will ride out at 6am tomorrow. It's going to be an amazing scene and Debi & perhaps a friend or two will be there to see me off. 
Thanks again for your donations and thoughts and prayers. $6,626.80!! 
May 31: Made it to camp 1, a little over 80 miles today!  I think I pushed it a little hard -- came in at 149 out of over 1100 riders. It was overcast all down the coast from SF to Santa Cruz, but still beautiful and nice and cool. 
The opening ceremony was moving. Most of the thousands in the room have lost friends and loved ones to this horrible disease. The Gilead Team was honored to ride out just behind the large group of riders who are HIV positive. 
Thanks again for your support. This is so worthwhile.
Jun 2: A pretty good ride, today!  Only 65 miles, but included "The Quadbuster" some great downhill, and a very hot finish into Paso Robles. Doing well on the QB and it being a short day made me confident and I pushed it to number 97 out of the 2200 riders today. I'm dehydrated and sunburned, but got here in time to get some water and rest. 
But my numbers and how well I'm doing is not important compared to this number:    $16 MILLION!!  That's what you helped raise for this life-saving cause. I am proud to represent  you! 
Highlight of the day was when all 2200 of us invaded the little town of Bradley (pop 120). Every kid in town along with parents and teachers held a massive bbq as a fundraiser for the school. 
Jun 3: A really good day. 93 miles, hit the half-way point, and according to some random guy in the middle of nowhere, we crossed over to So Cal. I suppose the highlight was with most of the Gilead Team with the Truvada guy at the half-way point. Also two women who met on last-year's ride got engaged there today. Many amazing stories of how death, sickness, and life have brought people together. 
Thanks for your support of this.
June 8 - Dale's Final Report: I did the 545 miles, over 60 of you helped raise nearly $7,000 that contributed to the more than $6.3 Million that will help save the lives of those with HIV/AIDS. Thank you! And thanks to all of you who thought of me and gave me words of encouragement during this journey. Together, we did it!
 Congratulations, Dale! We are so very proud of you!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"The King and I" - A Classic American Musical Returns to New York

Spring has come (finally) to New York and with it an event all of us are celebrating.

Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I has arrived with a full-scale revival, and there's no better way to say it: this is one of the most beautiful stage productions ever to arrive in what many consider to true home of American theater.

The King and I opens tonight, and while I'm not qualified to make predictions in these sorts of things (I'm not a critic), we are happy we saw the show in one of the final previews. There wasn't a seat to be had in the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center last Friday, and it's my guess is that tickets for this great musical are going to be hard to come by once the box-office opens tomorrow morning. Perhaps the show will have an extended run, or be moved to Broadway (although I'm not sure I remember this sort of thing happening with Lincoln Center Theater productions). Whatever happens, we feel very privileged to have seen this remarkable revival.

What's so good about it? It's hard to begin. First of all, the production values for Lincoln Center Theater productions are extremely high (I'm remembering South Pacific from 2008-2010, and last year's splendid Act One). That tradition continues with The King and I. Or, put it another way, the show is simply beautiful to look at: gorgeous stage settings, stunningly beautiful costumes, and a "take-away" stage picture that invites anyone who sees the show to remember a lovely evening that was totally focused on "Something Wonderful." It's no wonder that song is one of the great hits of The King and I. It's all about - especially in this production - experiencing "Something Wonderful."

In this connection, there is a thoughtful essay in the current issue of the Lincoln Center Theater Review (Spring, 2015). It's an interview, with Anne Cattaneo speaking with Barlett Sher, the company's resident director (and director of this production of The King and I), set designer Michael Yeargan, and costume designer Catherine Zuber. The title of the piece is "A Modern Twist" and once you've seen the production, you'll recognize why that title was chosen.

The play has a long history - going back, of course, as far as The English Governess at the Siamese Court (1870) and its sequel Romance of the Harem (1873), both written by Anna Leonowens and combined into Margaret Landon's Anna and the Kind of Siam, the source of the several versions of The King and I with which we are familiar today. As Todd Decker notes in his later essay in The LCT Review "...despite its glistening, tinkling, burnished presentation, The King and I resonates with a deeply American theme that occupies much of the work of Oscar Hammerstein II, the lyricist and librettist: the undeniable claims of human dignity." 

So that goal of providing a "modern twist" to this iconic story makes perfectly good sense, and in the interview, Sher, Yeargan, and Zuber make clear that even though (in my own take on the production) the opulence is there, it is also controlled. Here's how they say it: "In this production, we have to try to strike a sparer tone that reflects something truthful about the inner life of the people rather than just putting them in big exotic clothes for a kind of dress parade or a gallery of exoticness." No, this production of The King and I is not a gallery of exoticness (what a good phrase, that!). And it's this attribute of the production that contributes so deeply to the overall beauty of this version.

And there's much more background, all coming together to inform us as we take our pleasure in this wonderful new experience: Margaret Landon's 1944 novel followed by the 1946 film, then the earlier productions of the musical (especially the original, with Gertrude Lawrence and Yul Brynner all the way back in March 1951), the movie from 1956, and then the many later productions, all over the world. It's no wonder we all love The King and I.

And what more of this new version? Of course the performers. Kelli O'Hara is a joy to watch as Mrs. Anna. For those of us who were at LCT back in 2008 O'Hara was a super Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. In last December's The Merry Widow at the Metropolitan Opera she made - from my point of view, agreeing with Critic F. Paul Driscoll in Opera News - a "splendid" debut as Valencienne "singing, dancing and acting with authority and poise." She brought the same professionalism and enthusiasm to Mrs. Anna in The King and I and immediately brought all the audience into her performance when she and Jack Lucas, as Louis, her young son, opened the show with "I Whistle a Happy Tune."

Ken Watanabe, who plays the King, is also extremely winning in his performance. Of course I did not know of his work (this is his LCT and American stage debut, but there's no question - from reviewing his Japanese theatre credits - that this is a talent we're lucky to see brought to our stages).

Others are excellent in their performances. Naturally there are far too many to list here, and we can see why. Sher describes the production as "huge" and I suppose that's the only word for it: "Fifty-one people are in it, plus twenty-nine in the orchestra, and only a place like Lincoln Center Theater can kind of pull this off. ... It's like having one foot in the past as deeply as we can, one foot in the present, and our eyes looking out as far as we can see."

And there's no way to get around it (not that we would want to): it's the music. We've been humming and singing these tunes all our lives, and I can attest to the fact that many of us in the audience at the Vivian Beaumont Theater were hard pressed not to sing along when the orchestra struck up the overture. What a remarkable score!

So if you're a New Yorker (or visiting New York anytime soon), make it your business to take in The King and I. You won't regret it. For me it was a very special experience and at the curtain calls it turned into a totally un-New York experience when I found myself in a standing ovation, joining almost everyone else in the theater. In the many years I've lived in New York, this was one of the few times this has ever happened; it's something we New Yorkers just don't do very much. On this occasion, there was no choice. It was spontaneous and it was totally appropriate.

We won't forget this beautiful evening. And just like Anna when she sings about her life with Tom, we join her - in quite a different context - as she sings "All of my memories are happy tonight."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Join Us in Support of Dale Stanley's Important Contribution - We Are So Proud of Him

Dale Stanley is our Sharing Guy's Journey Guest Blogger is this time out.

Dale is one of my best friends and in addition to his professional work at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA on a less-formal basis Dale is SMR International's Senior Consultant and Marketing and Operations Manager.

So we spend a lot of time together, working on our various and many projects (including our KM/knowledge services teaching for our students and clients) and enjoying one another's company.

I'm honored today to share with our friends, clients, and colleagues Dale's great adventure.

This is a very important cause - critical, really - and I hope you will join Andrew and me in support of this good work from the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Let's let Dale tell you about it:

Hi there,

I’ll be riding my bicycle 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles on May 31st - June 6th, 2015. It’s a long way and it won’t be easy for this old guy – averaging 80 miles per day for a week and camping along the way.

I’m doing it because the money we raise actually helps to save lives. I’ll be participating in the AIDS/LifeCycle, in support of the life-saving services offered by San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. I know I can do it, but I need your help - help with a little financial support.

Dale Stanley
Medications for HIV/AIDS have come a long way and people are living longer, healthier lives. Of course, that’s great. It’s also why the work of these organizations is so important. They provide the critical education and support systems that allow HIV victims to get and maintain the life-saving therapies. The drugs can only save their lives if they get tested and have access to all the therapies and services necessary. Our ride literally means the world to those who receive treatment. 

And your support means the world to me. Those of you who know me professionally know of Gilead Sciences and how the company I work for has been life-saving to the millions who take our HIV drugs. At work, I hear daily of the struggles and efforts to improve and to get these therapies to those who have contracted the HIV virus. Many of my colleagues in Gilead's Medical Affairs and other departments are physicians and healthcare workers who have seen first-hand the devastating effects of AIDS. I personally know several who have lost loved ones and who have dedicated their careers to saving others. My work at Gilead continues to help them and I am inspired to do more. 

Those of you who know me outside of work know that I am committed and involved in my church and in a community organization focusing on helping the "least, the lost, and the lonely" in our society. This has certainly included the LGBT community which has been disproportionately affected by this disease. You have taught me and changed me.

I'm dedicating this ride to our fellow humans who are suffering, who continue to suffer, and to my late professor at USC who in 1983 suffered and died a horrible and scary death from AIDS before we even knew what was happening.

My goal is to raise $5,000. That’s a mere $10 per mile from all of you, my friends.  I’m asking you to join me in this effort. Twenty five or 50 cents per mile would do it. Absolutely any amount would be greatly appreciated because I would know you’re with me on this journey to make HIV/AIDS a thing of the past.


And thanks to you, Dale, for doing this. We are all very grateful to you.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Other Voices: Mitzi Perdue Talks about How - For Frank Perdue - Knowledge Sharing Was Simply Part of Sharing - It's What He Did

[Two weeks ago, on Mon Jan 26, I posted an interview with Mitzi Perdue at the SMR International corporate blog. It was part of SMR's "Other Voices" series, profiles of leaders in knowledge management and knowledge services. Since the profile was published, several followers of this personal blog have asked to see the post. Happy to oblige.]

In our work in knowledge management and knowledge services, we speak a great deal about knowledge sharing. And not only in our professional lives. For those of us working with knowledge management (KM), knowledge sharing, and knowledge strategy, we are constantly aware of how much of what we do for "a living" carries over into our personal lives.
The foundation of our work - telling stories and sharing what we know - is what we do all the time, and from where I sit, one of the best story tellers in my crowd is Mitzi Perdue. What Mitzi has done with her story about Frank Perdue and the development of Perdue Farms is, in my opinion, in itself a super story. When we knowledge services professionals hear this story, we realize that we're in the company of one of the best knowledge-sharers (if that's a word) we've come across. And the story relates to what we do.
[And full disclosure: yes, I'm referring to Mrs. Perdue as Mitzi. This is one of those occasions where the professional and the personal come together - Mitzi and I have known each other a long time, and even though I'm writing about her professionally, she's still Mitzi to Guy.]
Mitzi - whom I've already asserted is an expert story-teller - has now taken her story-telling to a new level. She written Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business & Life Lessons from Frank Perdue. My first reaction is, yes - a good story indeed, and in reading the book, it becomes evident very quickly that Frank was an amazing entrepreneur and manager-leader.
But he was more than that. In fact, as I read the book, I am impressed with how much of what Frank did falls into that area we knowledge services professionals think about in our work, the attention we give to management and leadership principles as they apply to what we call "the knowledge domain." Mitzi's describing of those "business & life" lessons demonstrates clearly that the management and leadership drivers in Frank's work came from his own private desire to share with others.
Mitzi puts it this way: "When you ask people to share with you what - for them - are life's greatest pleasures, you get lots of different answers. With Frank, it was sharing. Sharing was in his genes, it was built in. It was the way he thought about his life and his work. He was, in fact, a teacher, and it was his great strength that he could teach and inspire. For Frank - although he wouldn't have characterized it this way - Frank was a practitioner of the Socratic method. He asked questions. And he listened."
Did he like conversation?
"Of course," Mitzi says. "He was known for his egalitarian ways, possibly from his background of growing up as a boy on a farm. For Frank it wasn't a case of 'I'm the boss and you'll do what I tell you to.' Even when he knew how to get from here to there, he wanted to hear what other people had to say, what they thought about whatever was being talked about. And listening was his way for conveying that. Everyone was important to him, and no matter how big the company became, he engaged in conversation. With other executives of course, but also with people on the line, truck drivers, distributors.... With whoever needed to speak with him. And he was teaching then too. One of his big ideas was what came to be known as the 'Perdue model' for education: teaching people while they are working."
It was all part of sharing, and one of Frank's techniques for sharing was paying attention when other people were speaking with him. Frank's role in a typical conversation, she says, was 10% speaking and 90% listening; the person he was in conversation with was the focus of his attention. That, from my perspective - as we think about our work as knowledge strategists - seems to be the primary management and leadership principle that applies to our work. If, as knowledge services professionals and as knowledge strategists, we're going to manage and lead the knowledge-development and knowledge-sharing framework in our organizations, we're going to do it by listening. Then, when we've heard what our colleagues have to say, like Frank Perdue we'll consider their advice, combine it with our own knowledge-services expertise, and go forward with a framework that contributes to the success of that organizational mission we speak about so much.
Mitzi agrees. As she talks with me about Frank's listening skills, I can't help but wonder how he put it all together: the personal life, his own interests, the business. I want to know about Frank's vision, about how he came to be the person he was. She explains it very well:
"Frank wasn't doing what he did for himself," she says. "Naturally he was a businessman and that was his career. That was how he earned his living. But he was an extremely modest person and - hard to understand in the business world as we've come to know it - he wasn't particularly interested in what's called the 'trappings' of success. We lived in a fairly modest home (but one big enough to entertain Perdue staff on those occasions when he wanted people to come over - Frank loved that!). We lived in a middle-class neighborhood with neighbors who included a retired teacher, a personal trainer, and a guy who sold vending machines. Even when he traveled he didn't make a big deal about his company and his success, and he always traveled economy. And when we went to London we got about on the tube. That's just the kind of person he was. He was not interested in showing off how successful he was."
Did that contribute to his sharing, sharing both his knowledge and his success.
"Oh, yes," Mitzi says. "He had a tough job and he knew it, and even though he was working hard to make Perdue Farms the success it became, he was very proud that he and the company were providing jobs for people. He truly cared about the people who worked for him. Here's an example, coming from of his personal life, the many times he spent week-ends calling on Perdue staff when one of them, or one of their family, was in the hospital. Or visiting them in their homes after they had retired from the company. Sharing who he was and talking with people about what was important to them was critical to Frank. While I don't think he thought of it this way, one of his greatest successes was that when he communicated with people, they understood - they knew - that they were important to him."
Following from that was what he did for others, not just for people but for institutions and communities as well. For many management leaders, part of the management/leadership scenario is this idea that not only do we manage and lead the business - or the knowledge services effort - or whatever it is that we've been given responsibility for. Of course it's our job to make that activity successful, and certainly Frank Perdue exceeded most people's expectations in that respect. An equal challenge - handed down throughout management history and given particular attention by Peter Drucker and others a few years ago - is that managers and leaders also have a responsibility to give back, to ensure that their organizations or businesses contribute to the greater good. The current buzzword (one we've been using for the last decade or so) is corporate social responsibility, sometimes just abbreviated as "CSR."
Was Frank Perdue - the man who made Perdue Farms the success it became - into that? With so much focus on sharing in both his personal life and in his interactions in his business career, how did he feel about "giving back"?
As we speak, I can hear the smile of pleasure and recognition in Mitzi Perdue's voice.
"It was a great joy to him," she says. "Indeed, Frank's life was truly given over to doing for others. But there was a contradiction."
Which was?
"Frank was modest," Mitzi says. "He didn't want attention, and even though in some situations he found himself in deep conversation - often about books they had both read - with people like one of our local judges, or even with Dr. Billington, the Librarian of Congress - Frank never allowed himself to - as people used to say - 'get above himself.' So the sharing at the personal level, interacting with his friends and his employees, was easy for him and he was comfortable with it. Not so much the publicity that comes with making big contributions."
And, story-teller that she is, Mitzi has a couple of good examples.
"There was the one time, when we were first married, when he did something terrific for the Girl Scouts, giving a substantial contribution or something like that. I found myself caught up in the idea of all the lovely publicity that could come from that effort and I approached a friend who worked with the company's public relations effort. Well, I found out quickly that it wouldn't happen. Nope, 'we don't do that.' My idea for the lovely publicity didn't go anywhere. Frank's way of doing what we now call CSR was not discussed because, as I was politely told, 'Frank gives quietly.'"
But isn't the Perdue School of Business at Salisbury University in Salisbury MD named for Frank?
"Yes," Mitzi says, "but that wasn't the way it was going to be."
It's a story well told in the book:
"Anonymous giving was usually his pattern. ....the part about founding the school was a fairly easy sell; Frank valued education and he particularly liked the idea that students could learn things that had taken him years or decades to understand. The harder part was getting Frank to agree to having the business school named after him. Frank didn't want this and resisted it strongly. He and I talked about this, and I know that he didn't like anything to do with 'self-aggrandizement.' However [Salisbury University President] Bellavance persuaded Frank that if he allowed the school to be named Perdue, the brand itself would help attract students and faculty and, perhaps even more important, a public gift of this sort would signal to other potential donors that investing in education in our region was a good thing to do."
So there you are. Mitzi's book is subtitled "Business & Life Lessons" for a reason. And I will recommend the book for those very lessons. I will particularly recommend it to people thinking about careers in any of the fields related to our work with information, knowledge, and strategic learning. Careers in these fields are the future of information and knowledge sharing, and I'm going to tell people in knowledge work about it, especially young people thinking about entering our profession. Whether we're speaking about knowledge services as a stand-alone management methodology, about general management and organization development principles, or about any of the many sub-topics that make up the knowledge domain, fields like research management, records and archives management, technology management, specialized librarianship, or any of the other related fields, these are lessons we want to teach. And learn.