Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lost in Russia

Today's NY Times has a strange article about how in Russia mushroom hunters often get lost and need rescuing because they space out and loose their bearings. There's a nice picture of a group of Boletes (Boletus Edulis)
Here's the link:

I got to thinking about John Cage because he once, famously, got lost in a haze while hunting mushrooms in some remore unfamiliar location--I think it was in upper Michigan.He spent the night in a tree fearing that bears might be about. A search party found him in the morning. (If this story if apocryphal, please let me know)
The above picture showing Cage in high spirits after a successful foray, reminds me of an encounter with him in Paris at the Cenre Pompidou sometime in the late seventies.
I was sitting in the bleachers watching the Merce Cunningham Dancers rehearsing--it was an open to the public event-- and I wondered if Cage was around as he often was on Cunningham tours. Just as I was about to leave through a side door, who should walk in but John himself with a nice looking, large basket in hand--much like the above pictured one. After a polite exchange of greetings, I looked down at the basket, which was covered with a white napkin, and said to him, rather knowingly, "How was the hunt? Have you found cepes? girolles?. In the Bois de Boulogne? He looked a bit puzzled and then broke into a smile and said in his familiar lilting voice,"Oh no, this is our lunch I get from the nearby "Biodynamique"--I'm afraid I don't eat mushrooms anymore--they're too "Yang" you know." Or was it "Yin"? I forget but it doesn't matter. The point is that he and Merce had been following a strict macrobiotic diet wherein mushrooms were proscribed.
A year later I ran into him in San Francisco and he told me that he had been out foraging, but I didn't ask him if he had eaten any.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October surprise

October 18 09

Today, while descending from my walk up East Rock’s Whitney Peak, I came across a solitary mushroom, a pristine example of Clitocybe Nuda , commonly called “blewit.” It’s been cold, unseasonably so, and I wasn’t really expecting to see much fungal activity, so when I came upon this beauty it was a bit of a surprise. I do like coming across mushrooms when not actively looking for them. It seems that when one is too assiduous in the hunt, the results often can be sparse.
I remembered that blewits like cold weather, so I looked around for more, but found nothing. My solitary, pale lilac- colored mushroom (and I will eat it—it’s an excellent edible) would have to suffice as my mycological rush for the day. Its beautiful stature, delightful color and odor, and its solitariness, reminded me of something a student had brought up yesterday in a lesson.
We had been discussing the Hungarian composer, Gyorgy Kurtag, and my student said: “Oh, I remember seeing a TV film about him when I was around nine. In it he said that sometimes all you needed was one note.. I'm not sure I understood what he meant but it made a strong impression on me”

That solitary blewitt—Kurtag’s solitary perfect note!
A ways further down the path I spied a mass of white cascading down the side of a dead tree. Hericium erinaceus !! – a mushroom that doesn’t look like one. I picked it (another good edible) and proceeded down the path. I struck up a conversation with some young folks walking up, and they asked me the name of it. I couldn’t remember the common name so told them it was “Old Man of the Woods” (actually the common name of another fungus entirely). We had the perfunctory discussion about poisonous mushrooms and other related cautionary tales, and upon departing I mentioned to them that I had thought about starting a blog about mushrooms, to which one of them replied “You should call it “Old Man of the Woods” (I believe they were thinking more of me than the mushroom--incidentally, the nickname is actually “Old Man’s Beard”)

Well, I seem to have started a blog without thinking about it too much. I will try hard to avoid the pitfall of many a blogger----“blogarrhea” One of my favorite blog writers who does NOT fall into that trap is Alex Ross who appears to be putting his very entertaining and informative blog “The Rest is Noise" to rest . Not that this will take up the slack, but….?.

SOUNDINGS: Back in September I heard a rare thing on NPR—a review of contemporary “classical” music. Robert Siegel found himself “amazed” that he was so drawn into the music of Betty Olivero as played by violist Kim Kashkashian. The piece in question is “Neharot Neharot” It is a very affecting piece of music, but the entire CD is laudable; works by Tigran Mansurian and Eitan Steinberg are also “amazing.” I was especially taken by Steinberg’music. He is not a composer I have heard before, but I certainly will in the future. His “Rava Deravin” for Viola and String Quartet is really a prayer for viola with the quartet providing textures ranging from harmonic clusters (very Japanese sounding actually) to moto perpetuo sixteenth notes reminiscent of Sibelius!. Kashkashian’s playing is an uncanny transfiguration into a human vocal utterance.
Steinberg has an authentic voice; “Rava Deravin” is the real sleeper on this ECM album.