Friday, October 01, 2004

It's been a busy summer. Made even busier by a two week trip to Alaska in early June, a move at the end of June, a wedding in July, a road trip in August and early September during which I put 4,600 miles on my surprisingly well behaved car; transporting all my stuff about 800 miles in a very cramped two door car a few week ago, and then trying to condense said stuff into two bags to take back to Alaska for an indefinite stay on Kodiak Island. My flight leaves in four and a half hours. Whew! Perhaps that somewhat excuses the sparse blogging of late. But before I vanish in the great frozen north, perhaps a few highlights and observations of the summer that I've been meaning to get up here for awhile.

To close out my earlier opera commentary, I ended the 2004 Santa Fe Opera season with a wonderful performance of Don Giovanni. After hearing none to enthusiastic reviews of the production I went with low expectations, which were delightfully surpassed. Anna Maria Martinez, as Donna Elvira (who is fast becoming my favorite character in the opera), was especially wonderful. From the moment she walked on stage in her extravagant pink dress she had the voice, presence and passion required for the role, and never slipped out of it. Don Giovanni was the perfect mix of intriguing, amusing, unnerving and, at the end, revolting. He and Leporello played off each other very well, with the perfect balance of comedy and horror. Donna Anna had the voice for the role but the singer (I don't have the program in front of me, so sorry to everyone who's not Anna Maria Martinez) didn't convince me that she understood what was going on with her character. Don Ottavio was very good and for the first time I actually felt sorry for him, instead of just impatiently waiting for his arias to end. The final scene, when D.G. is taken screaming down to Hell, was staged very effectively. The stage, which had been only partially lit throughout the whole production, was flooded with full, blinding light. The seduction and deception that is Don Giovanni's character is no longer effective or possible and Don Giovanni falls screaming into the blinding light.

As can be discerned from earlier blogs, Alaska is a wonderful place. I highly recommend it, at least, during the summer. We'll see how the winter goes. If you get there, I highly recommend the Anchorage Guest House as a clean, well-run, inexpensive place to stay for the inevitable night or two you'll have to stay in Anchorage. I also highly recommend getting out of Anchorage as soon as possible. Not that there's anything wrong with Anchorage. On the contrary, I found it a pleasant enough city, as big cities go, but you don't go to Alaska for the city life. Try to get down to Seward or Homer (you can find shuttles to both). The drive itself is more than worth it. Glaciers, lush green mountains, lakes, clear blue green rivers, the ocean, and these are the views from their highway! The Homer Hostel is a great place to stay. Again, very clean, well-run and friendly. The Old Inlet Bookshop in Homer is a great place, extremely dangerous for any bibliophile on vacation (books are heavy!!), and the owners are awesome people who tried to track me down in two states to send me some books that mistakenly ended up back at the store. In Homer, try to take a beach walk at low tide. I was told of a trail where jellyfish and other interesting tidal pool life can regularly be seen, but we didn't get there. The Moby Dick Hostel in Seward was decent, not as nice as the others, but a decent, inexpensive bed if you're not too picky. Go to the Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward. You can see Exit Glacier and even hike up to the ice field. I got part of the way up and saw some great views, but was prevented from going further by time constraints, snow, and bears. If you can, take advantage of Alaska's Marine Highway System, a network of ferries stretching from Juneau and Haines across the Gulf of Alaska all the way to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, a distance of something close to 2,000 miles. We took a ferry from Homer to Kodiak Island. It was about a 9 hour ride, some of it through open water (not protected by land). It was very exciting for a landlubber like me. If you have a night ride, I suggest bringing a tent or sleeping bag and camping on the top deck, although in the summer you don't want to sleep too much (I think the sun went down sometime around midnight).

I liked Alaska so much I've decided to go back and volunteer at an amazing school I found on Kodiak. Their motto is "Alaskan Adventure in Education," and they do everything from sea kayaking to singing and performing all over town to folk dancing to running a great bookstore/coffeeshop (Monk's Rock, if you're ever in the area). Oh yes, and academics too. Seriously though, it's a wonderfully integrated, classical education (high school) that the students love. As I mentioned before my flight leaves today, so I should probably shower and/or put on some real clothes soon. Oh faithful readers (if there are any left out there), I'm afraid the blogging will remain sparse, since computer access in Kodiak will be sparse, but I'll try to post as often as possible about whatever adventures await in the far north.

Oh yes, and I must say that river rafting is every bit as wonderful as Peculiar claims. I had the extremely good fortune to be able to go on a six day trip with him this summer on the Main Salmon River in Idaho. It was great fun, although a bit cold and rainy at the beginning (good practice for Kodiak!). You'd do better to read his descriptions (and see pictures) here, here and here since I'm running out of time.

(The Alaska state motto. Really. I couldn't resist.)