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Sunday, June 28, 2015

An Evening on the Mississippi

No one seemed too excited about The Big River when we first heard it was the 3rd for this year's Music Circus productions. My initial thoughts on the production were Mark Twain, the Mississippi, yeah, whatever. And earlier this evening, one of the production managers told the ushers this was the best production of The Big River he'd ever seen anywhere, and there was a bit of interest shown, but nothing overwhelming.

Well, holy crap, or should I say, Tarnation! That was one powerful big production, and I and every other usher (oh, yeah, and the rest of the fifteen hundred audience members) enjoyed the hell out of The Big River. I thought for entertainment as well as performances, it out did the Music Circus' two previous season productions by a country mile or three. Just my opinion, but really, I am powerful sad I see these plays on their last night, because when the curtain goes down, it's done and over, in Sacramento at least. I must say I wish I'd seen this production on its first  night so I could crow about it to friends. Yes suh, it was that fine.

The big star of the show was the Mississippi River. For an entity so huge, it managed to be present in most of scenes, and convincingly so. I'll get back to it in a bit. Now the two human stand outs were  Huck Finn and his friend Jim, as the musical is based on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In this production Huck was played by a man, who for his height and all convincingly played a boy as did the other 'boys': Tom and their rascally friends. Surprisingly, men playing scallywag boys didn't dissolve the heart of the story. Huck was a total crack up with his lines, that sometimes seemed to go in one direction, but then swung back the other way like he was fishing for catfish in the audience; so freakn' cute. The other stand out was Big Jim, the runaway slave, particularly for his wonderful bass voice which was in fine fettle for tonight's final performance. He and Finn struck out to run away to Freedom, or certainly adventure.

Said I'd come back to the River's starting roll in the production, but hey, you can see it here in these clips. I wish this play had a dress rehearsal because I certainly would have enjoyed seeing it a second time. This video gives you the gist of the lovely music, but doesn't give away any of the belly laughs that seem to flowed as deep as the Mississippi on that ensy little Music Circus stage.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

At Last, My Musical Love Has Come Along....

It's the season of the Music Circus, and I entered this year a tiny bit reluctantly. I have worked as substitute usher for more than a decade now and I've long held the feeling I am waiting for one of the older ushers to die so I might replace him or her. I've felt a bit ghoulish and guilty. And darned if I haven't placed slick banana peels about the beautiful Music Circus venue, I mean for the sake of hurrying things along. Just sayin'...

 But it has at long last happened, all banana peels aside, the Sunday Night usher organizer Elliot, asked if I would like to take on a full time position. Just imagine - no one had to die - that I know of. OHMYGODS, be still my heart; would I ever!

So the season is now three productions in, I've for once, have seen them all, no longer having to hope and wonder if I'll be selected from the ranks of substitutes to usher at the performances I most would like to see. Nope. I am now included without exception. I can plan around being present every-second-Sunday night performance for all six Music Circus presentations. I am bound and determined to make each and every performance of the ushering. Hurrah for moi!

The season's first production was My Fair Lady, an old favorite of mine, and I always it as always love that Pygmalion presentation. Might I be allowed another squeal? SQUUEEEEEEE!

UPDATE: I made all 6 performances for the season. YAY!

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Night in Casablanca

Out of the blue I got in call from my friend Jeannie to attend the birthday dinner of her S.O., Ron. I'm looking forward to visiting Hawaii with them later this year - I. Can't. Wait. We usually rendevous at a local Korean BBQ restaurant, but this time Jeannie thought something out of the ordinary was called for. What better venue is there in Sacramento than the Casablanca? None I tell you!

Smaller on the outside

I was looking at reviews and read a comment that made me laugh. It refers to how the outside of the restaurant is a dismal & tiny storefront, but when you enter, "...the Casablanca is like the tent Harry Potter goes into before the Quidditch world cup - the inside is larger and brighter than the outside would suggest." Well, I'll say! 
Larger and magical on the inside
Haven't been to this bit of north Africa in the suburbs since my friend Diane was here 6 years ago, way too long a time ago.

Tonight Ron, Jeannie with grandson, daughter Stephie with her toddler baby and Signif. Other. Seven of us gathered around the low, broad, brass tray, most seated on the big poofy hassocks while the birthday boy and I sat on the comfy bench. I was happy to see Maurite on hand. He is the wonderfully sweet and funny founder and owner. He and 2 hijab clad waitresses wended their way around the room. Maurite joyfully tended his guests. Periodically, when shouts of delight rang out, I knew Maurite was jesting with a diner. Geeze, but I miss Maurite! I had arrived first and he seated me, but I could tell his recognition of me was on the edge of his memory and I thought I'd give him time for that 'Oh, that's who this is!' moment.

Beef Tangine
After our group was seated comfortably, Maurite came over to pour warm water over our hands & into a silver salver which is always fun to watch people experience for the firs time. I pretended the water was scalding which made Ron reluctant to hold his hands out, but the water was refreshing and warm. Later when our waitress arrived, I pretty much insisted we go with the 'Sultan's Feast', my favorite. The feast begins with hot bowls of lentil soup, followed by Moroccan style salads (i.e., spicy cold beets and pickled, chopped carrots & mild hummus all accompanied by triangles of pita bread. Next came the strange and wonderful Batista or Pastille, which is filo dough stuffed with chicken,
almonds, boiled eggs, cinnamon and saffron, sprinkled with powdered sugar. The main course was plates of the chief's choice: skewered lamb kabobs, spicy meatballs, Cornish game hen in, beef in honey/sesame sauce and beef tangine. Jeannie and the gang wanted rice but asked for and got that lovely saffron tinted couscous. Um.... Then just when we thought were going to burst, the dishes disappeared and in came dessert - honeyed baklava and hot mint tea. I was surprised Jeannie's grandson had to be coerced to try the baklava and he didn't like it, swallowing it because there were consequences to spitting it out. However, to my delight, he adored the hot mint tea, finishing up his and every other unclaimed glass of the sweet tea on the table. I pronounce there is hope for the kid yet!
The young master enjoys a new treat - Moroccan Mint Tea

Now it is important to note, everyone visiting Casablanca comes away feeling like they dined at the home of a close family friend - that's the charm of the place. However - 'ahem' - I always feel extra special because I visited it with my fellow state workers, back when Casablanca first opened it's doors in the 1990s. GAK! That was more than 30 years ago. Back to tonight, at meal's end I knew I had to give Maurite a hint. When smiling he approached our table, I asked, 'So Maurite, how is the rabbit?' Now the reason asking about rabbit is because that was what I always ordered back in the day when rabbit was still on the menu. I nearly burst with happiness to see the glow of recognition in his eyes, and an even brighter smile on his face, "Claire! I knew I knew you!"

Awwww...Color me flattered! It's so sweet or what? It's been six years since I was last here and heck, Maurite remembered me - awww... shucks! Soon I was caught up on all the news in Maurite's world. I told him I was amazed as, I swear, he hasn't aged in the past couple of decades.

  Hear a little of the Casablanca's spirit 

All in all, we left Casablanca, surfeit with sensuous, tender tidbits of the orient. Ron enjoyed his birthday bash, and really, 'what magic is this?', eh?

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Last Flight out of Tucson

Cactus Wren feeding at Saguaro Cactus blossoms

Yesterday started with me eyeballing a Harris Hawk that soared past my rental car as I headed for the north district of Saguaro National Park. Wish the bird had been heading for the park so we could rendezvous there. Despite it being largely Harris Hawk free, I enjoyed most of my morning, driving the 8 mile loop, taking short - and I mean short - hikes along the route. Of course, the only reason I ever set foot in deserts, now I'm not a field biologist anymore, is to take pix. In other words, I don't do it for exercise or for love of sandy gravel, I do it solely for the photo ops.
Managed a through-the-cactus shot of this little Harris' Ground Squirrel
A trotting and looking annoyed, a Gambel's Quail hen
Gila Woodpecker engaging in deep research

As I did last year, I checked every Saguaro cactus along that long, l-o-n-g route hoping to see an Elf Owl peeking out of a cactus hole: no such luck this year.

Post-Saguaro NP I decided to check out nearby Colossal Cave Mountain Park. The park was HUMONGOUS with two distinct areas to it. The first was, no surprises here, is the cave.

Cave and its Entryway on the left, HUMONGOUS rest of park, on right
I only spent a short time at the Cave area and declined actually taking its tour. Honestly, when it's too warm, it would take either the world's largest, calorie free ice cream sundae or something tempting and illegal in several states to get me hiking. I was willing to walk - a bit - in a butterfly garden. The garden was located in the far-off-reaches of the park as seen in picture above.

The butterfly garden was in the La Posta Quemada Ranch portion of the park. The ranch has a riding stable (no I also won't ride when the temperatures mean both the horse and I are sweaty at the stand-still). There on the Ranch stood the HQ, which in the 1960s was a ranch house with a family. Here's a view inside the HQ.
Today a park HQ, once-upon-
a-time ranchero living room

V. lovely building, and it must have been fun to live in, that is, not to beat a dead & ailing horse, if it had air conditioning. Anyway, had a modest sandwich centered lunch bought at the HQ, then headed off to the butterfly garden next door.

Butterfly Garden and teeny bit of desert tortoise habitat
Nice and shady, which meant there was less swearing than I normally indulge in when walking around hot areas. There were goo-gobbers of butterflies alighting everywhere. They seemed trained to take off as I approached however. Oh well. Here were new flutterbys for the week, the only ones that deigned to hold still for a shot.
I present her majesty, the Queen Butterfly
Mormon Metalmark
After the butterfly garden I did some touring at the southern Saguaro Park district, and the best sighting there was the mangiest coyote I've seen this year. I can't say it was the mangiest I've ever seen, as I saw one a couple of years go that was so astoundingly ugly and mangy it nudged me towards believing in chupacabras. I had considered posting that coyote's picture on line, but I didn't want to be responsible for children accidentally viewing it and developing a life long aversion to the internet.

The butterfly garden was a nice end to a short week in southeast Arizona. How much do you want to bet, the minute I leave for home, the Plain-capped Star Throats will invade once again?

UPDATE: Yes. In mid July, a Plain-capped Starthroat flew into Madera Canyon for a few day's visit. Hum... just how did that bird know I'd left?