Saturday, November 28, 2009

Long hiatus, a great book, and skiing in the forecast

I've been so busy with work and travel that I've not had the time and focus for writing. We have been in Philadelphia for a family Thanksgiving. At the Penn Book Center a week ago, I came upon Stanislas Dehaene's Reading in the Brain. I'm only 100 pages in, but it has already taken top rank in my mental gallery of science books. It's a deep, serious work about brain architecture, perception, and cognition, but written without any pretense or pomp, direct, full of striking news about how reading is implemented in the brain. In these first chapters, Dehaene focuses on what is known about reading's implementation and on the experimental evidence for the findings. I'm looking forward for when he gets into how the design of writing systems is influenced by biological constraints, and how reading gets localized to the same particular brain region, which he calls the “letterbox,” across languages, writing systems, and cultures (He's already given a tantalizing preview regarding the localization of Kanji and Kana in Japanese reading).

My new skis, Black Diamond Justices with Marker Baron bindings, are waiting for me at Marmot Mountain Works in Berkeley. I'm not likely to be able to use them the coming weekend because I signed up for an ASI wilderness first aid class at Sugar Bowl, but I'll be in Whistler the following weekend, where they have been having the best early season in a long time. Now I just need the jet stream to behave to keep both pineapple express and deep freeze away.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Jazz and Tropicália

Spent the weekend in San Francisco to attend three San Francisco Jazz festival concerts and otherwise enjoy the city. The three concerts were all over the place, in a very good way. Friday night we heard the Portuguese/Cabo Verde singer/songwriter Sara Tavares with a strong quartet from Cabo Verde and Portugal. She was suffering from a respiratory ailment (she said flu but I have difficulty in believing that she would have been able to perform at all with the flu) and the first few songs lacked energy somewhat. She got stronger through the set, however. She did a great Balancé, one of her best-known songs, and she generally showed a stylistic freedom and disregard for the bonds of Portuguese song convention that were very refreshing. Not a perfect performance, besides her illness they had equipment glitches, but lots there to like and a great rapport between Sara and her band.

On Saturday we saw Savion Glover and his outstanding band. Wow. Edge of the seat work, like with Gonzalo Rubalcaba the other day. Except that one can get a whiff of Rubalcaba on recordings, while Glover has to be seen. Glover's dialog and debate with his band members (all amazing, but Tommy James on piano and Patience Higgins on saxophones had especially rich interactions with Glover), the depth of rhythmic variation around Coltrane and blues themes, were breathtaking, so intense and surprising that one truly forgot to inhale, with not a second of slack.

Today, we heard John Arbercrombie with Mark Feldman (violin), Drew Gress (bass) and Anthony Pinciotti (drums). Abercrombie and Feldman are the core of several of my favorite recordings of the last several years: Open Land, Can 'n' Mouse, Class Trip, and The Third Quartet. Today's set was mostly compositions from Wait Till You See Her, a new record I didn't know. I had heard Abercrombie live only once before, with Larry Coryell and Badi Assad on the live tour of Tree Guitars. In today's set he and his partners, especially Feldman, did what we really hope for in live jazz, going outside the tighter confines of a studio recording to wander, explore, tease and draw the audience.

In between, we enjoyed a beautiful cool fall weekend walking around San Francisco, and a delightfully varied exhibition of modern Brazilian art at the Yerba Buena Arts Center.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pay Powder

Pay Powder: How much would you pay to ski fresh powder? Does it even have a price? Squaw valley seems to think so. Squaw is built on private rather than forestry service land with limited access to the backcountry. That is set to change as it re-jigs lift pass prices in light of the credit crunch. [...] The resort has always strictly controlled access to the out-bounds terrain including the National Geographic bowl, at least if you are a Squaw paying customer. For that you will need to purchase the eye-wateringly expensive platinum pass at $1699. This enrolls you in the “out of bounds program”. (Via PisteHors)

The sky is not falling. Squaw's program is intended for well-off pass holders for whom the extra cost of a platinum pass compares well with the cost of a day of heliskiing. Nothing obliges Squaw to offer convenient lift access to the backcountry for free. Since Squaw has always forbidden backcountry access from its lifts, nothing has materially changed for the worse with this new offer. Except maybe for the green-with-envy feelings it creates on those confined to inbounds tracked out turns while the high-living are taken on fresh tracks just over the boundary rope. If you can't stand the wave of envy, there's nice Sugar Bowl just a few miles NW as the crow flies who allow easy backcountry access from their lifts. And there's always skinning for your turns from a multitude of trailheads around the Tahoe basin.