Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Visit or visitation?

I am afraid my New Year's Eve began early this year. It could not be helped! I was in Dash Market, tired as all get out, after work and my cell phone rings and it's Howard. And he says his friend Walt is visiting from Maryland and Walt and his friend Tom are on their way over.

I said: "But the house!" The house is an awful mess and the dining room table is still buried in Christmas wrapping paper.

"Don't worry about it," he said.

"But how do we clean it up in time?" I wailed.

He said: "We don't."

I grabbed some cheese and sausages and ran out the door. Cheese and sausages. It is as if I live in France or Germany! When I got home Howard had fixed it so our "party lights" were on. The party lights are these funky red and blue light bulbs that do not give you a good look at the carpets.

"Dim those lights!" I said. "Turn those lights way down."

Before I even had my coat off our guests arrived. Of course I wound up having this great time only it went until something like two in the morning so at 7 a.m. when I got up I was not so happy. Still, it was worth it. I get such a kick out of Walt. He can make even cancer funny. Walt had thyroid cancer and he beat it and he was telling us the story lastnight of how they thought it was coming back but they were wrong. And even though the story involved him going through all kinds of hardship and needless pain he had us laughing and laughing. That is the way he is.

The worst thing about what Walt went through involved being put on a salt-free diet for months and months. You do not want that!

From left: Walt, Howard, Tom, and Ron Moss riding an elephant is visible in the framed picture in the background on the right. (Click photo to enlarge.)
The black bag under the table contains hundreds of fine cigars.

With Leonard Pennario gone, Walt is the coolest person on earth. He sells cigars. That is his business. He never travels with under 800 cigars which is why he ended up here lastnight. We could not meet him anywhere out because you are not allowed to smoke cigars anywhere any more and he and Tom and Howard had their hearts set on smoking some of these cigars. You should smell how my house smells this morning. Well, perhaps it is better that you do not.

Walt also loves wine and wherever he is going he stops at wineries and picks up the local specialties. The night I got married I went upstairs at about 3 a.m. after everyone had left and got into my pajamas and went back downstairs and sat on the couch with Walt and drank wine. On the way to our wedding he had stopped to poke around the Finger Lakes and he had brought a case of this and that. That was fun, that night. That is a fond memory.

Lastnight Walt brought a wonderful red wine from Argentina and also cherry wine and dandelion wine from a winery in Hammondsport. I had never had dandelion wine before! As Walt put it, it is like drinking sunshine.

Speaking of sunshine that is a picture above of the coffee table just now in the cruel light of day. It speaks eloquently of what went on. The trouble was, Walt was stuck at our house longer than he wanted to be because there were police cars parked in our driveway and he could not get out. So everyone was forced to keep lighting up more cigars and opening more bottles of wine. There seemed to have been some kind of fender bender out front -- a car parked funny, people standing around. But police are always crawling around our neighborhood so we do not think about it much.

Now I have dreams now of going down to Maryland to visit Walt. With luck I can get my friend Michelle to go with me. Walt knows all the best restaurants and music sites in the D.C. area and he can show us around. Plus I could go to the International House of Pancakes and see what they have there on Pennario and then I could also visit Pennario's friend Doris in Bethesda. Did I say the International House of Pancakes? I meant the International Piano Archives.

Doris is the glamorous woman whose family owns that winery in Germany where we are going to go visit. That is another trip I am going to take. We are going to stay with her Uncle Otto. He is in his 90s and wears a monocle. Well, she was not specific about the monocle but the way my life has been going I am confident that he wears one.

Doris' family winery is named Behringer. Here is a picture of it, along with her family crest. I am not kidding! You can see it for yourself on their Web site.

It is amazing what your life turns into if you drop everything to get with a legendary concert pianist.

I can only wonder at what the New Year will bring.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

His old flame

The great thing about Christmas Day being behind us is I got to call this old girlfriend of Leonard Pennario's. I tracked her down last week on the Internet and was so excited when I found her that I couldn't concentrate. I had to go out and walk around Delaware Park, just to calm down. That is how I get when I get a real breakthrough.

It is exciting but also a little nerve-racking too to call these people. You just never know what you will find on the other end of the line. This woman is younger than Pennario was, but still I think: what if there are health issues? What if I am calling at a bad time? And here's a goodie: What if her husband answers the phone? She is married to a prominent doctor. What do I say then? "Uh, I would like to talk to your wife about the smolderingly handsome Italian concert pianist she went out with before she met you"? That would go over big.

The good news is she answered the phone and she could not have been nicer to me. Within five minutes -- no, wait, within two minutes -- we were having the kind of conversation you never would have been having if I were a male music critic, I will say that. I have already written how I used to joke with Pennario about that. "You should have gotten a guy to write your book," I used to tell him. Which, I don't know how he avoided doing that, because there are almost no woman music critics. Leave it to Pennario to find me.

"This is awkward, because I am a stranger, but I understand that he asked you to marry him --" I was saying.

"Oh, you can ask me anything," she was saying. "What was your first name again?" Now we are first-naming each other and it was yak, yak, yak.

The one thing that bugged me was when she told me that Pennario was more romantic and serious about her than she was toward him. She said she was not as serious about him.

"Why not?" I said.

It just came flying out. I was getting outraged on Pennario's behalf. I was thinking of how he looked, like in that heart-stopping picture above and this one ...

... and how great he was, and I'm thinking, what did she want?

You mean this didn't do it for her? What was she, made of stone?

It didn't matter to me when she explained to me that she was put off by the itinerant life of a concert pianist, that she wanted a steady life. I am sorry, when someone like Pennario comes along, you drop everything. Heck, I did!

With which, I made it a point after that subtly to work in things about how great Pennario was and how he is one of the towering virtuosi of the 20th century and for that matter the greatest pianist America ever produced, just so she could regret her unfeeling actions, at this late date.

Other than that she and I got along very well and we will be talking again very soon. I am going to talk with her husband and also with her sister.

It is the least I can do in service to musicology.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Our year of living dangerously

Poor old 2008. As it quietly slips from the building, no one seems sorry to see it go. Everyone is bashing it. Everyone is saying he or she cannot wait for it to be over.

Wow, look at my grammar! Not too long ago I would have schlepped along writing "they" cannot wait, not "he or she." Then I got with Leonard Pennario and his grammar was so impeccable that I trained myself to do that right. Pennario always got the "everyone" thing right. It is singular.

Anyway, about 2008. People at the office are ruing the year because we tragically lost two co-workers we adored. And I share their sorrow. I loved Jay Bonfatti and losing him was tough. Also of course I lost Pennario. That was one of the big deaths of my life even though I had known him less than a year.

Yes, tough deaths in 2008. Harry Taub too. He was my wonderful old violinist friend. He was hired by George Szell to play with the Cleveland Orchestra when he was still in college at Oberlin. Note to out-of-towners: This is the kind of person we run across in Buffalo during the course of our normal lives. We get to go over to their houses and have coffee with them.

These vanished people. This vanishing year! You know what, though, looking back, I am thinking: I do not want to curse 2008 for taking these people away from me. I am so lucky to have known them. I used that reasoning on myself when Pennario died, back in June. I thought: That I met him, and that we had this unusual friendship, was a big blessing and it came out of nowhere. Would I have backed away from it had I known he was going to die so soon? Wow, thank you for asking me that question! Nobody asks me that! No I would not have.

So I am so glad I met Pennario, so glad that all happened. And as I take stock at year's end, it amazes me how he continues to make my life much richer. The scholars who have helped me, the great musicians who have trusted me with their recollections, the strangers who have called me out of the blue ... it boggles my mind. Not to sound like Polyanna, because God knows I don't feel that way, but I also think we should all rejoice that we knew people like Jay and Harry, that we got close to them, and that we weren't schufts who just sat around obliviously and let life pass us by. So no, I don't hate '08. I am already nostalgic for it. I think of it as an emotional year, a roller coaster of a year. It was that! I think also of all the red wine I drank. A goodly amount!

Such philosophizing. Such philosophizing, over morning coffee! Do check out that link above. Those Scots! Including Sean Connery. You have to watch for him.

For 2009, here is what I would like. I want to get my book done and into print. Speaking of the scholars I have met, I got a nice Christmas note from my friend Donald Manildi at the International House of Pancakes, I mean the International Piano Archives, and he said, "Best wishes for the completion -- and publication -- of your book in 2009." That is the International Piano Archives pictured above. I found that shot on the Internet. I am disappointed that they allow in people with backwards baseball caps but I still dream of going there some day.

Reading Donald's note, I thought yes, I will be able to get this done in '09. I do not want to work 10 years on this book although some authors do take that long. You cannot go around for 10 years with a great concert pianist living in your head. Eventually it would wear you out.

So my plan is to take a couple of weeks off very early in the year and wrap this baby up. Plus I ran my mouth to a reporter in England that the book would be out in 2009 and he wrote that so now I have to make good on it.

Meanwhile, not to switch gears, but I hear that right now at the Broadway Market they have cabbages that are sweet and the size of bowling balls. I read that on Facebook. Note to out-of-towners: In Buffalo we use social networking sites to talk about things that really matter.

It might be time for a trip to the Broadway Market. Perhaps today!

Before I do anything, I have to eat.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Afternoon in Cheektowaga

Howard would not let me drive to church this morning because of the high winds. He was afraid a tree was going to fall on me or something. So I had to go out to Cheektowaga at 1:30 p.m. and hit the Latin Mass at Our Lady Help of Christians.

I do not like my routine being broken and immediately I found myself growing agitated. An altar boy came out and lit two candles. I'm thinking, what, is this a Low Mass, not a High Mass? A high Mass is six candles. I am thinking, at St. Anthony's we would never settle for a Low Mass on Sunday.

So now I'm in a bad mood and then a woman comes in with a little kid and sits behind me. And I'm thinking: Great. All the pews in this church and someone with a kid sits behind me. Kid, you better not kick my pew. That is what I am thinking.

Great attitude, isn't it, in which to go to church? I am so brittle and easily annoyed. I have to fix that. Except Leonard Pennario was that way too and it was one reason we were friends. So that was one benefit of being the way I am.

Today the good news was that the Mass was not a Low Mass, it was a cross between a Low Mass and a High Mass and they wound up lighting four candles. You figure that out. I cannot. There was singing, to my relief. Again, though, trouble: Everything was way too fast. Ubi ignis est? That is a phrase I remember from Latin class in high school. It means, "Where's the fire"?

And then ... and then ... I had to attract attention to myself. I just had to. The priest, he had a bad knee and the altar boys had to help him up and down steps and things. And at sermon time he makes his way to the podium and he explains that because he has put off his knee surgery too long, and he is going to have to give in and get it, but for today, he can't stand so there will be no sermon.

Then he says, "You're smiling. That's good."

He was looking at me! Because I am sitting there with this big grin. I guess I was relaxed by that time and I was smiling encouragingly at him as he talked about his knee. Then I'm mortified because I'm thinking, he thinks I am glad there is no sermon because I want this Mass over with. Not true! I wanted it to slow down as I have already said. Just once I would like to not make a jerk out of myself, you know? Just once.

After Mass I went shopping at Airport Plaza. It was practically across the street. I do not normally consider going shopping after Mass because you have to have all this unholy music being blasted at you but today I could not help it. It is not every day I get to Airport Plaza.

The wind was whipping and it was hard to get in and out of the car but that did not stop me from going to Goodwill where I bought a purple velour shirt just because the label was "Von Mozart." I have never heard of that label and this was a shirt I had to have. I also bought an LP called "Chants and Polyphony of Medieval Germany." I am going to have a party where I play that record. Y'all have to come.

Then I went to this dollar store where they were having a closeout sale, everything 50 to 75 percent off. There are no words to describe what I found in there so I will leave that for now.

The high point of my day was feasting my eyes on the Airport Jewelers kiosk. That is a picture of Airport Jeweler up above for the benefit of out-of-towners. There is no place like it in the world.

Howard always says Airport Jeweler is so beautiful. No overhead, just pure profit. And those commercials!

Airport Jeweler gal: "Why so sad, old gold?"

Old gold jewelry: "Nobody wants us!"

Airport Jeweler gal: "We do! We buy old gold! All of you come along with us!"

Old gold jewelry: "Yay!!!!"

Old pocket watch (in doleful voice): "Can I go, too?"

Airport Jeweler gal: "Sure, old timer! We take everything!"

Ha, ha! I just asked Howard, "Howard, how come we didn't buy our wedding rings at Airport Jeweler?"

He said: "They weren't cheap enough."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sweat and tears and Britney Spears

Yesterday even though it was the last, last, LAST thing I wanted to do after a day at the office I went to the gym. There is a trick to making yourself do this. I read this somewhere and it works. No. 1 you have to put your gym clothes with you, at work or in your car, as the case may be. No. 2 even if you do not think you will go to the gym, you must head in that direction.

All the way you may keep telling yourself: You can turn around and go the other way. You can go home if you want to! That is what I used to tell myself when I was on bad dates and that is how I treat going to the gym.

But in the case of my gym, which is the Buffalo Athletic Club, you make the fateful turn into the parking ramp and then it is the point of no return. When I did that yesterday, I could not believe I did it. Even when I was on the treadmill I was still thinking, I can't believe I found the mental and spiritual wherewithal to be where I am!

Gyms would not be such a challenge if it weren't for the stuff they blast at you. Sure enough, yesterday I got hit with Britney Spears' "Womanizer," right away, first thing. Why can't the world work out to Chopin's "Heroique" Polonaise, played by Leonard Pennario? If they played that I would not find it so onerous to go.

I also would like it better if I had something decent to read. Yesterday all I had was this New Yorker magazine and it was full of depressing Third World stuff. Even their short stories are always set in some foreign country and disgusting things are always happening in them. My book on Pennario will be a breath of fresh air in today's literary world, I will say that. It is about time someone wrote the kind of book I would like to read.

Pennario used to work out at the Buffalo Athletic Club. That is something positive to think about. He belonged to the New York Athletic Club and they honored his membership at the BAC whenever he was in Buffalo. That is the Buffalo Athletic Club on the left in the picture above. Note to out-of-towners: This is the kind of building Buffalonians take for granted as we go about our mundane lives. Even our gyms are designed by E.B. Green and are hundreds of years old. That is the Statler Hotel on the right. Big Blue is behind the Statler.

Where was I? Me at the gym. Here is the punch line. I sweat through an hour at the gym. Forty minutes on the treadmill, the rest in the weight room, where I am pumping iron along with massive tattooed guys who, as Howard told me, are trying to stay in the good shape they were in when they were in prison.

And then what happens? I go to get dressed again and my skirt is tighter on me than it was before.

For the love of God!! That is what my friend Michelle W. says in moments of great stress and so I say it now.

Zut, zut, zut alors!

Is there no justice in the world? I cannot eat cookies with my braces so it was not the cookies.

Was it the pumpkin pie? I did eat a little bit after I got back from sledding. I had run up that sledding hill dozens of times but still.

At least I am not alone. My brother George just showed up and we are going to go walk in the rain. "I am really under-exercised," he said. "I have to go do this."

We are the desperate!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Aiiiiiiieeeee, what a ride!

Here is a picture of our Christmas table at my sister's house set by our girls, Rosie and Millie. They are creative as we learned the other night when they baked cookies at my house.

My sister Katie and my brother-in-law David live in East Aurora. Note to out-of-towners: That is an idyllic little town south of Buffalo. It is where Fisher-Price toys are made although Fisher-Price is now owned by Mattel and Mattel is owned by whoever. I was just on their Web site trying to figure it out and I gave up.

Dinner at my sister Katie's house was great. They had roast goose (the best), homemade sauerkraut made by David's brother Joey, Gewurztraminer wine that Joey brought, bright green peas, braised leeks, mashed potatoes, gravy and Jimmy.

Jimmy was a chicken they had raised. He was as big as a turkey by the time he went to his reward!

My sister Katie's family raises chickens all the time and you would think that would be a problem for the girls, eating them, but no, it is not. Once a few years ago I remember Rosie holding their chicken Primrose and petting him and showing him off to me and the next week guess what? There was Primrose on the dinner table and nobody seemed to care.

What about William Primrose? He was considered by many to be the world's greatest violist. Leonard Pennario had funny stories about playing with him. Here is a famous picture of Pennario with Primrose, the violinist Jascha Heifetz and the great cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Primrose is on the left and Pennario is on the right. I like that smile on Pennario's face. You can tell that in his head he is working on his imitations of the other three.

Lastnight after dinner when it was dark we went out on the hill and went sledding. I was glad Rosie dragged me out there because it saved me from the pumpkin pie. I had made the pumpkin pie and it had taken me two hours so I knew how good it was! Sledding is like magic because it is as if you are 12 again. You cannot even let yourself think. The first time I was at the top of this big icy hill I am thinking: What have I gotten myself into? But my nephew George Henry was all ready to go down the hill with me on this sled. He is 5 so he is fearless. He got into it with me and then he said: "Go!"

All I saw ahead was darkness. I said: "George Henry, there isn't anything out there, is there, that we could plow into and that could hurt us?"

"There are just these trees," he said. "We'll miss them."

So I said: "OK." And we shoved off.

That is the attitude that landed me in California last winter with this concert pianist I had only just met! Come to think of it I had a couple of conversations with Pennario before I left Buffalo that were a lot like the one I had lastnight with George Henry.

The funny thing on the sledding slope was that the adults outlasted the kids. The kids were all tired and hurt after about an hour but we were still hurtling down the hill. Howard came out after a while and we went hurtling down together. That was fun because Howard began yelling, "Holy ----!" Then he ejected from the sled and left me to go it alone. Later he explained he had been trying to stop us because he thought we were heading into bushes.

Which we were. There are bushes at the bottom of this hill and the trick is, as Rosie told me, you cover your eyes as you fly through them. That is what I did.

The best ride I took was with my brother Tony. We went flying down the hill and we were both having a good time so neither of us slowed down the sled. It went faster and faster and it zoomed through the bushes and plowed through the weeds where I got a mouthful of weeds and ice down my back but so what, we were still moving, and gathering speed. The sled then flew up the embankment and over the railroad tracks and went airborne, like in Calvin & Hobbes. Then it continued onto the other side and hurtled into these thorn bushes where it finally came to a stop.

So there I am in these thorn bushes and one of my boots, borrowed from my sister, has come off so I am in the snow in my socks. And I am laughing and gloating: "It doesn't get better than this! This is the best!"

You have to wonder what your life is coming to when that happens.

Howard and David were at the bottom of the hill when Tony and I flew past on that sled and Howard said we were doing at least 40. That is something to be proud of.

Remember those huge wooden toboggan chutes at Chestnut Ridge Park? Howard and I were talking about that on the way home.

My brother George says they do not use them any more and it is a miracle they are still there. Howard said they were like the Giant Coaster at Crystal Beach. But when we were kids, that was something, the scene at Chestnut Ridge. The adults would be in the lodge with the big fireplaces and booze would be flowing and people would get those toboggans going like crazy, just hurling them down the hill. The view from that hill! And we kids on sleds would have to get out of their way.

And as young adults we would go there on our own. The toboggan would come down from the rafters of someone's garage and we would go tobogganing until someone broke a wrist or an arm. Trips to the emergency room were common. But back then things were different. Nobody sued. Now, Cellino and Barnes would set up a field office at the bottom of the hill! But back then nobody worried about anything. The rest of us would continue tobogganing and later we would go and visit the victim.

Wow, that was fun!

I want to do that again!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

My audience with the Baby Jesus

This morning I bounced up bright and early and went to the Mass at Dawn. That is something I have never done. I always saw it in the missal but I never knew who went to it.

Today I found out it was the regular 9 a.m. Mass I always go to, the Mass in Latin. It is like being back in the Middle Ages, is one reason I love that Mass. You get to chant reading off staves with square notes, the whole bit. Today they rang bells all through the Gloria. They did that on Easter, too. It is thrilling to hear.

But being relatively new to the Latin Mass I sometimes find myself in situations. That is what happened to me today.

After Mass everyone lined up the church's center aisle. I didn't know why. It turned out we were lining up to kiss the Baby Jesus. Father Secondo was holding this doll-like figure and everyone was kissing it.

Now here is what made me uneasy. I would have thought you would kiss the Baby Jesus on the cheek but when I peered over the shoulder of the person in front of me, trying to see what to do, it looked as if everyone was kissing His foot. Or His lower leg. Periodically Father Secondo would take a handkerchief and that was where he would wipe off the Baby Jesus.

That seemed odd, to kiss the Baby Jesus' right calf. But when in Rome! So I did that. Then I went back to my pew and knelt down. No one is ever in a hurry to get out of the Latin Mass. It is perfectly normal to hang around until it is time for the next Mass to start and sometimes that is what I do.

Then we had to find out who won the raffle of the nativity scene. We did that.

Now here comes my situation. All of a sudden this old woman appears. She looks to be about 95 and she is asking me if we had kissed the Baby Jesus.

"Yes," I beamed. "We did."

She said: "Oh, then I'm too late! Is it too late for me to kiss the Baby Jesus?"

How about this? I said, "No, I don't think so. I am sure He is still here somewhere." I had not heard it announced that the Baby Jesus had left the building. I wanted to tell her that but she did not look as if she was up for a joke.

Up in front Father Secondo had finished the raffle drawing and he was telling us all "Buon Natale" and then he turned to go. He is from Milan so when he is not speaking Latin he alternates between English and Italian. After a while you don't even think about it.

"It is too late!" the old woman said.

"No, it's not," I said. And like an idiot I had to sprint up to Father Secondo and I called out: "Padre!" His reaction time is shorter if you address him in Italian. I have learned that. Anyway, he turned and I explained the goofy situation. The woman is hanging back shyly and I had to go get her and put my arm around her and bring her up to the front so she could kiss the Baby Jesus.

I should have waited around to see if she kissed Him on the foot too.

Speaking of Italians I was thinking about what I was doing a year ago, when I was in California with Leonard Pennario. It is hard to believe a year has passed since last Christmas. Last Christmas was so different from this one.

On Christmas Eve last year, Pennario took me out to this Italian restaurant called Sammy's. He liked that place and what I liked was he had discovered it with me. We wound up going there a lot.

Sammy's was packed and everyone was loud and breaking things. Noise used to drive Pennario crazy. But the nice thing about him was that if he got into a bad mood you could almost always josh him out of it in an instant just by smiling at him or joking with him or whatever. I am sure that would not be the case with other pianists. Take the 19th century pianist Anton Rubinstein.

I bet if Anton Rubinstein got into a bad mood you would be stuck.

Anyway, at Sammy's a year ago, the sound system started playing that pop "Feliz Navidad" which Pennario hated. He got this look.

And I leaned across the table and said: "Leonard. I requested this song for you special."

And the old man burst out laughing. That was how easy it was to cheer him up. It gave me a look at what he was like his whole life. That is how he was able to be this great concert pianist without losing his mind.

It is just another thing that made him great.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Awash in a sea of flour and butter

Here are my two beautiful nieces, Rosie and Millie, posing with the cookies we made lastnight. That is Calvin Coolidge looking down from the wall, no doubt wishing he could have a date bar or two. Every time someone new comes into my house and sees that picture the person always says, "Who is that, your dad?"

"No," I say.

"Who is it?"

"Calvin Coolidge."

Then the conversation proceeds and you can tell the other person never gets over being puzzled. That is the fun of having a picture of Calvin Coolidge in your dining room. We are a Calvin Coolidge family. We like "Silent Cal." There is no one silent in our family! That is for sure.

Rosie and Millie are my sister Katie's kids and lastnight we all had a riot. Honest, I awoke this morning thinking, wow, that was fun! Why don't I make cookies more often? Here we are thoughtfully perusing the Cooky Cookbook given to me at Thanksgiving by my sister Margie.

One thing, though. Katie admitted she was reading my blog. Wow, nightmare! I mean, look at all the stuff I write about her secure in the knowledge that she never reads my blog.

She got mad about one thing and she was right so I have to correct it. She did not like that I made it sound as if she did not care about Leonard Pennario other than the fact that he was in "Dear Abby" along with Horowitz and Rubinstein. That was in my recent ground-breaking post about "Dear Abby."

"I do care about that Pennario played with Jascha Heifetz," she said lastnight, and this is direct quote I am happy to say. "I care that he learned and memorized the Grieg Piano Concerto in one week when he was 12 and performed it for 2,000 people." Well, maybe that second one is not a direct quote but you get the idea.

Now, that is the kind of thing I like to hear! She told me that and I melted into a puddle. Specifically, into a puddle of gingerbread frosting someone had spilled on the floor. That is something I will have to deal with today.

"Don't make it sound as if all I think about is 'Dear Abby,'" Katie said. So, my apologies. I type this stuff typically over my first cup of coffee when my eyes are not quite open, hence the raw honesty. This is not my first screw-up. Once I wrote Burger Mo's when the name of the place I went to was Homo Burger, or something like that. Remember when I did that? And that schuft got mad at me in the comments?

Lastnight we made cutout sugar cookies, date bars, Joe Froggers, chocolate crinkles, gingerbread men and women and Russian tea cakes. We made the Joe Froggers just because of the name and because we needed a spice cookie along the lines of Pfeffernuesse, which we always made as kids. We could not believe our output. It looked like Vin-Chet's bakery. Here is Rosie posing with our handiwork.

Howard fell in love with the date bars. He said, "I mourn every date bar that leaves this house." So there is a tray of them still here for him.

Another thing, Howard took a picture of the back breakfast table just slathered in flour and butter. Flour was everywhere and in the middle was this bottle of Pinot Grigio just covered in dough and flour. We had needed an extra rolling pin so I had given Millie the bottle of wine to use. My friend Gary uses a wine bottle for a rolling pin so that is where I got that idea. It is an Italian thing. Anyway, late lastnight when I was cleaning up I was thinking: I cannot believe I am washing a bottle of wine.

I think that picture is in his camera because I can't find it. I will have to post it later.

It has to be seen to be believed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

O Cultured Town of Buffalo

Rejoice with me! Remember how I joined Facebook last week? Lastnight, while most of the town slept, the Leonard Pennario blog made it to Facebook's list of 10 Most Popular Buffalo Blogs.

It displaced a blog devoted to the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres!

So much for people who tell us: "Buffalo is a blue-collar town." Sorry. The numbers are in. I challenge you to find any other city where one of their Top 10 blogs is devoted to a dead concert pianist. Well, OK, every once in a while to spice things up I do throw in stuff about Mass at my church. Some might consider that dirty pool. Also Leonard Pennario is a special case in that No. 1, he happens to have been the greatest American pianist, and No. 2, he was so good-looking that even when I am in a hurry, like today, I can just show a picture of him and everyone will be happy. You cannot say the same about other pianists!

I mean, here is Arthur Rubinstein.

Rubinstein was this great Lothario. He wrote two books about all the women he maneuvered into the sack. Pennario and I both read those books and we used to talk about them. He was friends with Rubinstein and adored him although we used to giggle about some of Rubinstein's exploits. But in the looks department, no comparison. If Rubinstein had looked like Pennario imagine what he would have accomplished.

Anyway, my blog victory is a great achievement for me and for the wonderful and cultured city of Buffalo, N.Y. Thank you, everyone, who joined my nascent blog network and made this possible! We gave 100 percent as they like to say in the Bills locker room.

That is the good news in my life today. The bad news is that with my priorities being what they are, Christmas '08 is pretty much a wash. Imagine when you drop a glass ornament and then someone steps on it. That is like what my Christmas is like. Did I put up a tree? No. Is my mantle lined tastefully with candles and pine boughs? No. Did I recklessly make plans to go to midnight Mass with my friend Jane, thus throwing off my sleep schedule for at least a week and costing me hours and hours of work on my book? Yes!!

Tonight my little nieces are coming over to bake cookies. So late lastnight there I was, mixing up gingerbread dough and then a pile of dough for cutout sugar cookies. I was listening to WNED-FM and it was wild! They were playing World War II-era radio broadcasts of big sopranos singing Christmas carols. You got to hear Ernestine Schumann-Heink singing "Silent Night." And a few German Christmas songs I have never heard, beamed from Berlin in 1944. Unbelievable.

As I said this is a great town.

I am pretty sure this is the performance they played. Ahahahahah... look at what it says in the little intro to this video. "An old German Christmas song, which is one of the most beautiful specimens of its kind in existence." It would take another cup of coffee for me to figure out exactly what is funny about that wording, but something is.

Today I have to detour somewhere to buy nuts and sprinkles and stuff. Lastnight on the way home from work I was going to go to the Hertel Market, where they have all of that. But the roads were so awful! On Delaware on the way to Hertel the car in front of me stopped suddenly and I almost slid into him! That was when I turned into Scarlett O'Hara in that scene where Scarlett decides she has had enough with the siege of Atlanta. "I want to go home!" I started crying. "I want my mother! My mother needs me!"

So here I am with no nuts and no sprinkles, in addition to no tree and no pine boughs. Well, there is the wreath on my door so all is not lost. And the gingerbread dough in the fridge.

And a blog about Leonard Pennario is now among Buffalo's Top 10 blogs. How is that for an early Christmas present?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Prepare ye the way of the snowplow

Such a hush, this morning!

All summer, all through morning rush hour, cars are lined up in front of my house and they are going boom, boom, boom. I do not miss that! I love the way things are today. I can take my cup of coffee out into the sun room and there is nothing but whiteness and silence. It is like being dead! If I had been good, that is. If I were bad, the situation would be quite different. I might be in the Niagara Fallsview Casino. But I am getting ahead of myself.

This morning I celebrated my new peace and silence by listening my favorite part of "Messiah," "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings To Zion." Wow, isn't that an interesting video treatment? They put it on the streets and shopping malls of London. It is perhaps not as imaginative as my video yesterday but still, I liked it. I love when the chorus bursts in. "Say unto the cities of Judah..."

Then I checked out a different version. You have the luxury of doing that when there are not boom cars lined up in front of your house.

Yikes, that second version is fast! Maybe that is because of the video. I have never heard "O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion" accompanied by footage of casinos and McDonald's. I guess that clip is part of a movie. Ha, ha! It reminds me of what I saw a few weeks ago in Niagara Falls when I went there to meet with Leonard Pennario's decorator, Phil. All these people in sweatpants sitting at slot machines. I had to find the bathroom is why I went into the casino. Casinos are good for things like that as long as you can find your way.

Isn't it funny how the casino ads, like the one up above, always show happy, lucky, dressed-up people but when you actually go there and see for yourself, they are all depressed and wearing sweatpants and sweatshirts? That is God's truth.

Speaking of which here is a line I loved at church yesterday. I love Advent, the prophet Isaiah, all that. I love the beauty of these ancient texts and they scare me a little too.

Anno quintodecimo imperii Tiberii Caesaris, procurante Pontio Pilato Judaeam, tetracha autem Galilaea Herode, Philippo autem fratre ejus tetrarcha Itureae, et Trachonitidis regionis, et Lysanias Abilinae tetrarcha, sub principibus sacerdotum Anna et Caipha: factum et verbum Domini super Joannem, Zachariae filium, in deserto.


Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrach of Gelilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iteurea and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina, under the high priests Annas and Caiphas: the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert.

Now there is a sentence! You just know something important is coming.

I should start my book on Pennario like that. Grab people from the word go.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Romance in the snow

Today I was all excited because I managed to film a video of my hi-fi playing Leonard Pennario's record of Chopin's famous Etude in E. Actually I made the video Friday night, while I was ruining these baked beans I was trying to make out of this hoity-toity coffee table Williams Sonoma cookbook. These poor beans, I dressed them all up in maple syrup and molasses and then I put them in the oven. And then I forgot all about them, because I was making this video.

Well, also I baked them at a higher temperature than they should have baked at, because I was making cornbread at the same time. That did not help!

After shooting my video and burning my beans, I uploaded the video onto You Tube, a process that took hours. I cannot believe I am writing that word, "uploaded." I cannot believe I am using language like this.

Finally it uploaded and I could not stop admiring it. I watched it three times. I have not watched a film three times through since my sister Katie and I first saw "Dr. Zhivago" at the Granada!

Reminds me, the weather this morning reminds me of "Dr. Zhivago." I said that to one of the ushers when I got to Mass because it was so snowy that you could not see the church from across the street. That is a snapshot of me and the usher up above so out-of-towners can see what I mean.

But back to my ground-breaking video. I am proud of it because there is only a handful of Pennario recordings posted on You Tube and I do not want to keep linking to the same ones. They are incredible recordings which is why I do not want us to burn out on them. Now there is one more, thanks to me. And Pennario plays this Chopin exquisitely. He fills it with such warmth and feeling. When he gets to the hard part in the middle, no one else pours that passage out as perfectly and passionately as he does. Plus, he takes chances. He puts a lot of himself into this piece.

I was going to post my video on my blog today but then Howard told me not to.

"It's too boring," he said.

Honey! Say it isn't so!

So it's not Quentin Tarantino. So there are no car chases. You get to sit and listen to Pennario playing this beautiful etude. Plus you get to see what I was seeing when I listened to the record, which is Buffalo during a snowstorm. At one point a Metro Bus goes past. That is a highlight. Then the music reaches this gorgeous climactic moment and in that instant you hear this big clank. That is the radiator! It is as if my house's heating system was caught up in the excitement.

While you are watching and listening you can reflect on that this is Pennario's own record you are listening to. I mean, it was his personal copy. He gave it to me and now I am passing it on to everyone out there in Blog-O-Land.

Watch it here. Enjoy it. Bask in it! Then rate it five stars. The Leonard Pennario video should steam ahead passing all the videos by Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse.

It has to happen!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The secrets of the St. Anthony vaults

This morning I got to go cross-country skiing for the first time in two years. I missed last year because I spent all winter in California with Leonard Pennario. Also today, my brother George's car got stuck at the end of the driveway and we had to dig it out. Another guy showed up to help a girl whose car had gotten stuck across the street. He helped us in addition to her.

"Thanks so much!" I said, after we had pushed George out.

He said: "No problem. This is life in Buffalo!"

The girl who had gotten stuck across the street was in a really bad mood and when George went to help her out he saw why: There was a parking ticket on her seat. Apparently her car had been stuck there all night. You heard the man: This is life in Buffalo!

In addition to all this there has been great excitement on the Pennario front. Thanks to an unexpected rich source -- my parish priest!

Warning: This story is a little weird. It is a bit along the lines of the famous hi-fi story. But there have been so many odd coincidences involving this book I am starting not to think about them anymore. So here is what happened.

I was supposed to have gone to a concert the other night at my church. But I couldn't go at the last minute because Howard was making me go to this party instead. My mom and my sister Katie went to the concert. Which, by the way, everyone said was excellent and I feel very bad I couldn't be there. They had one of my favorite pieces on the program, Mozart's "Exsultate, Jubilate." It has the famous, gorgeous "Alleluia" which you can hear here.

After the reception, my mom picked up a bulletin lying near the door and put it in her purse. I do not know why she happened to pick it up. I also do not know why it happened to be this old bulletin, from back in September. But anyway, this old bulletin was lying there, and she picked it up. And she told me the next day, "You have to look at this."

And the bulletin had this story about Pennario in it. Our pastor, Father Secondo, he had written a little essay about Pennario, about how he was baptized at St. Anthony's, about what a great pianist he was.

Two things puzzled me. No. 1, I didn't know how I had missed the story back in September. I always read my bulletins. And I remember this one because it also had something about me and the cheese-building contest at the Italian Festival, where I won $250 for the church. The bulletin misspelled my name, I remember laughing about that. That is me in the picture up above, by the way, attempting to defend my title in the Sorrento Cheese-Building Competition. I am the one in the orange dress, hard at work, egged on by the Cheese Stick Man. Next to me is the great Buffalo R&B singer Lance Diamond. He is my friend on Facebook. That picture is from the blog of my friend Judi Griggs. You can read her account of the contest here.

So, sure, I remembered the cheese contest. But I did not remember that Pennario story. The padre must have wondered why I never mentioned it.

The second thing that puzzled me was Pennario had told me he was baptized at St. Joseph's Cathedral. But Father Secondo was writing that he was baptized at St. Anthony's.

Anyway, all day yesterday, the padre and I were going back and forth on our email about this. We get to call Father Secondo "Padre" because he is from Milan.

The padre loves music, which is why St. Anthony's has its own orchestra. He looked up all the records for me and Pennario was baptized at St. Anthony's, on July 9, 1924. So Pennario must have been screwed up as far as where he was baptized. I totally understand. When I got married I went looking for my baptismal certificate at Christ the King. It wasn't there, and I panicked, thinking: What am I going to do? Then it hit me: I was baptized in South Buffalo, at Holy Family Church! You get mixed up.

Pennario's parents were married at St. Anthony's -- he had told me that -- and sure enough, Padre Secondo found that in the records. The padre also came up with the town in Sicily where Pennario's father, John Pennario, was from. Actually he was Giovanni Pennario. That is what is in their records. Pennario's mother, Mary Pennario, was originally Maria Chiarello and she came from the same town. Pennario had told me she was born in Buffalo.

This was all kind of emotional for me. Because in 2007 two big things happened to me: one was that I met Pennario and began this book, and the other, that happened right before that, was that I found my way to that Tridentine Mass at St. Anthony's and I came to love it so much.

And sometimes at Mass I have thought: it makes sense in an odd way, that I go to the church where Pennario was baptized. And then I would think: no, wait, he was baptized at the Cathedral. It never quite made sense. And now I see why.

I would have checked into it at some point, being the good biographer that I am. But I hadn't gotten around to it yet. It is funny to find out this way. It is as if the old man was tapping me on the shoulder, saying, "Hey, Mary, wait, I goofed this one thing up." I love that.

Another thing I love: how my name was in that bulletin too. But not in connection with Pennario. In connection with the cheese-building contest!

Pennario would have gotten a kick out of that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My own private Idaho

The schools have a snow day here in Buffalo. Note to out-of-towners: In Buffalo snow enjoys such importance that it does not have to be present to win. We close things at just the thought of snow! That is what is happening this morning.

My life does not need snowstorms to be exciting. One of the things I love about writing about Leonard Pennario is when you pick up the phone you never know who it will be. And I got such a fascinating phone call yesterday!

This woman called me from Idaho. Which was funny, because I already have a Pennario friend in Idaho, the mysterious pianist we refer to as Mr. Idaho. (Hint: He could be a major, major figure.) I saw the Idaho area code and I assumed it was either Mr. Idaho or Mr. Idaho's girlfriend, whom I have also become friends with. This is how wild my life has become! I have friends in Idaho and I actually know the area code there. It is 208.

That is Idaho pictured above. Mr. Idaho and his girlfriend are in the middle boat.

Back to my phone call yesterday. "Whom am I speaking with?" this woman asked.

I said: "This is Mary."

Then she acted all surprised that I would answer my own phone. Which I loved. Other books, I read all about how authors have assistants and researchers and people who transcribe their interviews. Not me! It is just me at the Leonard Pennario desk. Ring bell for service!

It turned out my caller was a wonderful woman of English ancestry named Nancy. I like that name, Nancy. You do not think about it but it is so 18th century. She told me about how when she was a little girl she was taken to see Pennario play. He was playing the Rachmaninoff Second. It changed her life and she became a lifelong Pennario fan.

Nancy told me many wonderful things but what I got the biggest kick out of was when she said: "He was so handsome."

She added: "And then years later when he had white hair he was still so handsome."

Then she said: "And from reading your blog I see that he was handsome right up to the end. And you got to be in a hot tub with him! I am so jealous!!"

Take that, anonymous commenter the other day with the dirty mind who said that picture was icky! Anonymous commenter, you are icky!

It is probably the same person who suggested yesterday that I don't shovel my sidewalks.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How I lowered the boom

The secret to getting ahead in life is to get braces on your teeth. Not just because it will make you look good, although that is a bonus that comes with them. The reason that braces will advance you and your ambitions is that once a month you have to get them tightened.

And after you get those braces tightened, let me tell you, you are capable of anything!

Remember last spring, when I used that Internet flower service to send flowers to Leonard Pennario, and the flower people tried to rip me off, how imperious and princess-y I got? And then I was able to fight them and win? That was because the day before, I had just had my braces tightened.

This morning you would not believe what I did.

There is a group home next door to me, for mentally retarded men. They do a great job. It has been there as long as I have been here and it is usually no problem. But we do have noise concerns associated with it because these people pull in and out all the time and one car has a reverse alarm and others just blast their stereos. Why doesn't Governor Patterson, as long as he is taxing everything else, figure out a way to tax car stereos? You could pay by the decibel, or something. That is an idea.

Anyway, I always hear these stereos blasting, and generally what happens is I do a slow burn and then I work on this letter addressed to the group home management. Then the stereo stops, eventually, and I forget about the annoyance until the next day, when it starts all over again. And the letter is never mailed, of course. It is like the Cologne Cathedral. It is never finished.

This morning, though, I had just had my braces tightened. All day yesterday I could not even eat. All I ate was a few spoonfuls of soft lentils and a salad at the office party which took me four hours to eat. Plus I had to eat it in solitude. I was trying to eat it at the party but my friend Jane said, "Mary, I think you would be better off taking that back to your desk."

So that was my situation a few minutes ago listening to this stereo. And guess what I did!

I put down my coffee and leapt up and got out of my pajamas and put on jeans and a sweater and boots. No socks. You are meaner without socks. Then I ran next door.

There is this car, in the back yard, just pounding. And no one was in it!

I ran around the house and up the driveway. I was going to ring the doorbell but then I see this woman getting out of a car. "Are you the car stereo?" I said. She just shook her head.

Then at that moment this guy comes out of the house. He looked to be about 25. He looked like a frightened rabbit.

"What is with this car stereo?" I demanded. "Is it yours?"

He nodded. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm really sorry."

Then of course I just melt because they looked like nice kids and as I have said before it is easier to be friends than adversaries. And we all exchanged pleasantries and the car stereo was turned off and I do not think the situation will arise again.

I went back in the house feeling great.

With that out of the way, I can report another great thing about my braces. They are red and green now, in honor of Christmastime! The other day when I went in, they asked me, "Do you want just plain silver, or colors?"

"No one ever asked me that before," I said. "What have you got?"

They presented me with this big bouquet of colors. I mean, dozens of colors! "The kids are all going for red and green, for Christmas," they said.

"OK, I'll take that," I said.

After my experience this morning, I can see they are not only pretty, but appropriate.

Because of my Christmas braces, I will have a silent night.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

'Dear Abby' ... dear, dear!

Just now while I was pouring my coffee I began reading Dear Abby. Was that ever a mistake!
Has anyone else noticed how trashy Dear Abby is getting? The other day a guy wrote in about how his shacked-up honey, to use Dr. Laura's term, didn't jump up on his lap any more when they watched TV together. I saw that letter with my own eyes. Plus, the guy's girlfriend was "Brandy." That is a trashy name.

Today there is this letter from parents telling the world that their 14-year-old daughter is bisexual and they are squabbling over how that affects who gets invited to her sleepovers. The mother says -- oh, I can't write it. It's all too down-in-the-alley. If you think I am making this up you can read it here but I do not suggest it.

As I have confessed before, I am a little too in touch with my inner Victorian. But I do not think matters like this should be discussed in the public square. And if Dear Abby has to print a letter like that, I think she should at least suggest to the parents that maybe 14 is a little young for you to be, uh, so in touch with your own sexuality, you know?

Dear Abby used to be classy. Once someone wrote a letter to Dear Abby about Leonard Pennario. I found that while I was working on my book. It was in the late 1960s. The letter writer referred to "Horowitz, Rubinstein and Pennario."

Pennario did not see what the big deal was about that letter. But I loved it, because it so eloquently illustrated his cachet. And my sister Katie was impressed by it, too. Now that I think of it that has been the only thing that has ever impressed my sister about Pennario. Nothing else registered with her. Not that Pennario was the preferred pianist of the violinist Jascha Heifetz (that is Pennario -- love those glasses -- pictured up above with Heifetz and the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky). Not that Pennario learned and memorized the Grieg Concerto in a week when he was 12. Nothing. But I mentioned Dear Abby and that put him over the top in her mind.

Today Dear Abby is quite different.

I would not want Pennario in there now!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Under the California sun

It is Beethoven's birthday so I was going to write about that. Beethoven is very close to my heart and I could go on about him for hours and was looking forward to doing just that.

But yesterday I went to Walgreen's to pick up Zicam because everyone I know is coughing and sneezing. And while I was there I picked up two batches of photos. The first one that fell out at me. That is Leonard Pennario and me in the hot tub. This was surely one of the last pictures taken of him. It was only a couple of weeks before he died.

I looked at the picture and started laughing. Then I started crying because that is the kind of schizo I have turned into working on this book. Pennario was just so ... there is a word for this wonderful man somewhere but I cannot think quite what it is. It was just such a crazy episode in my life. Is a crazy episode, I should say. It is not over yet!

Pennario's face is kind of in shadow in that picture so here is another picture that shows his face better.

Unfortunately in this picture you can see the braces on my teeth. I already had them by that time. I was self-conscious about them and Pennario was always telling me I was talking well in spite of them and that they did not look bad.

Did I choose a quality pianist to write about or what? I love how Pennario chose to spend one of his last remaining days on earth in the hot tub with me. And not only that, but when I showed these pictures to my mother yesterday, she got all disapproving. I loved that too.

Also I have a quality husband who lets me sit in the hot tub with concert pianists. I am so grateful. I wrote about that in May, back when these pictures were taken.

These pictures remind me that I am a very lucky gal.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My buddy in Bordeaux

The Internet is really making the world smaller every day. I mean, look at that time in the Ellicott Square Building when that nice gentleman walked up to me and knew that I had had my braces adjusted that morning. (I prefer to say "adjusted," not "tightened." It feels better.) He had read it on my blog. That was a funny feeling!

Today my cell phone rang and it was a concert pianist from Paris named Ivan Ilic. That is Ivan Ilic pictured above.

This is how my book and my blog have changed my life. I see this European number on my cell phone screen and I think: It could be anybody! Now that I am the authorized biographer of Leonard Pennario everyone wants to know me. Dignum et justum est, as they say at Mass. That means, "It is right and just." It is always a little awkward to talk to someone who has been reading your blog. Your brain cannot quite figure out if the person is a friend or a stranger or what. But I enjoyed our conversation.

Here is a picture of Ivan Ilic's Debussy CD that he sent me a few weeks ago, to my great delight. Good thing he did not send a copy to Susan Banks! OK, I will stop now. I said enough about that yesterday.

Hmmm. Looking at that CD gets me thinking that our new friend Mr. Ilic looks a little like our old friend Stephen Hough, the pianist who was reading the blog last week or whenever. Remember Stephen Hough?

There are other things too that are interesting about Mr. Ilic. One is that he puts his birthdate on Facebook as Aug. 11, 1911. He is looking good for his age! That is what someone wrote on his wall on Facebook. Needless to say I asked Ivan Ilic if he would be my friend on Facebook. You do not get a call from a concert pianist and not ask that. And he said yes! That will show a certain few people in Buffalo who are hemming and hawing about whether or not to be my friend and you know who you are.

Mr. Ilic has a dandy Web site you can check out here. He is coming to Toronto on his next tour. He will be performing on Feb. 17 and 19 at the Glenn Gould Studio. I can't wait until there is a Leonard Pennario Studio too. Perhaps we can locate it in Big Blue! We have room. That is for sure.

One more thing: Mr. Ilic let me talk a lot about Leonard Pennario, and I mean a lot. Over the ocean! He was calling from Bordeaux, where he was practicing Godowsky transcriptions of Chopin etudes. We were laughing about however big and difficult something was, Godowsky would figure out a way to make it bigger and more difficult. In case you are new to classical music, trust me, you will love Leopold Godowsky. You can learn about this unusual super-virtuoso here.

Normally Ivan Ilic is based in Paris. It is no wonder he called Buffalo. Both cities are known as the City of Light.

OK, Buffalo is actually the City of Light Beer.

But we do not mind if a word is lost in translation.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In tribute to Mr. Carlo Rossi

Yesterday it was Howard's and my anniversary and we went to the office Christmas party and Howard told the table that we had been married 30 years and people believed him!


What did they think, that I got married when I was 13 or something?

Did people not remember that just four years ago I was not married? Well, four years and two days ago I was not married. I was holding the rehearsal dinner that night, was what I was doing. That is a whole different story.

Yesterday at the office Christmas party, which was at Chef's, there were first 11 people at our table, then I think we maxed out at 13 because we kept cramming people in. Not to brag but I was responsible for two big topics of conversation. One was Facebook. I was making people promise to be my friends so I do not look like this loser. The other topic of conversation was that eternal hit, Confession!

Here is something to remember when you are in an awkward social situation and unsure what topics to discuss. Bring up Confession and you cannot go wrong. Everyone has a confession story. People start divulging how long it has been (years, usually) and what the priest said to them last time, and what they used to confess when they were kids. If the wine is flowing freely the odds go up that someone will start reciting his Act of Contrition. Is that an elegant name for a prayer or what? I never thought about it.

After discussing Confession, we went to DiTondo's and drank jug wine. Well, I drank jug wine. Other people drank classier things. But I am unembarrassed! DiTondo's goes back to 1904 and my friend Toni Ruberto's family has owned it the entire time. And Toni tells me that her uncles and grandfathers and whoever, when they got together, all they drank was jug wine. DiTondo's is legend for its wonderful Italian food so what is good enough for these men is good enough for me.

I have always gotten along well with Sicilian men which helps explain why Leonard Pennario put me in charge of his legacy.

Wow, Pennario's performance of that Ravel. I binged on it yesterday, listening to it about three times, and now here I go again.

Where was I? Oh, lastnight.

Here is an appropriately blurry picture of me taking a picture of the jug wine at DiTondo's. Observe Toni's father, Mr. Ruberto, standing approvingly next to me.

Also observe the poster about feeding the poor families. Later when Carlo Rossi had worked his magic, Toni had us all pitch in for a sweepstakes ticket for the Monsignor Nash Knights of Columbus. Note to out-of-towners: This is how charity is accomplished in Buffalo and has been for years. The tickets were $60 and the grand prize is $25,000. That is how big a deal this sweepstakes is.

This morning we continue to revel in our civic connections. The paper today has a prominent story about Howard's downtown pal Don Yager who works for Homeland Security and is an adoption hero. He helps overseas orphans find homes with loving families.

We happen to know that Don also helps pink flamingoes find homes with loving families! Remember that pink flamingo that turned up anonymously on the lawn at Big Blue? It turned out that was Don. He put it there. He bought it new, too, just for that purpose!

But here is another thing that makes Don great, and that was not in the paper. He went on vacation to Cape Cod and found himself going around answering questions on adoption and helping people. He spent his whole vacation doing that! Most people do not want to do what they do for a living while they are on vacation. But Don got so much satisfaction out of that that he went back to the same place the next year, and did it all over again.

Above is a picture of our pink flamingo from Don.

And here is a picture of Don's business card that I found in Howard's wallet when I went in there looking for a twenty. Observe the coffee stain.

Here is another business card in Howard's wallet. It is for Tom the hot dog man at the corner of Delaware and West Huron. Tom is a celebrity too.

May viewing these treasures make you see your own wallet through new eyes!

What rare business cards do you own?

Friday, December 12, 2008

All a-twitter

Yesterday I had two minutes with nothing to do so I joined Facebook. I have been thinking of doing that for a while because I heard how Facebook and Twitter were the reason Barack H. Obama got elected. If Facebook could get Obama elected imagine what it could do for Leonard Pennario and my book.

See, I am like this automaton as I move through life. I have this one thing in front of my eyes and it is Pennario.

So I put in my email and made up a password and bingo, I am on Facebook.

Is it ever a riot!

Everyone should try it. Oh, wait, everyone has already tried it. I am the last person on Earth to join Facebook, I am sure of that. They can close membership now. We are all in.

Two people were waiting to be my friends. That is how things work on Facebook. You have friends whose pictures sit on your site and you listen in when they Twitter stuff. Twitters are little one-line comments about what you are doing. You would Twitter something like "Man, is the soup in the cafeteria yecchy today." Or: "I just heard back from Syracuse University and they have 25 letters that Leonard Pennario wrote to the composer Miklos Rozsa." That is what I would Twitter anyway. I heard from Syracuse University about those letters yesterday and I cannot wait to get my hot little hands on them.

That word "Twitter" is perfect, you know? All I can think of is a rain forest with all these birds' chirps emerging and fading and none of it adding up to anything. Pennario laughed to me once that when the actor Robert Wagner had stopped by for a visit, the nurses at the residence "were all a-twitter." That is what I think of when I hear that word.

Isn't that a nice picture of Robert Wagner up above? What with him and the Duke of Luxembourg yesterday we are seeing a lot of eye candy on the Leonard Pennario blog. It is not enough that I am writing a book about the most handsome concert pianist ever. I like to include other good-looking men, too.

Back to my two Facebook friends-in-waiting. I clicked where the site told me to click and instantly there they were on my page: Jennifer Smith, who works at the Buffalo Philharmonic and writes a dandy blog called All Things Jennifer, and Kathleen Niles, who does public relations for the Buffalo Gay Men's Chorus and does a mighty fine job of it, too, because this morning she Twittered that their shows this weekend are just about sold out.

I sat looking at the screen and for once my life seemed nice and orderly, like a nun's room in a convent. There was my political leaning, Conservative, and my religion, labeled by Facebook as Christian-Catholic, and my status, Married, and my two friends, Jennifer Smith and Kathleen Niles. I wrote on Kathleen's wall. That is another thing you do on Facebook. I wrote that I did not know if I wanted any more friends, that I liked the elite group because it was clique-y, like high school. My high school was Sacred Heart. My Facebook profile says so.

And now things get more exciting! Facebook emails you and this morning I got an email saying Alan Bedenko has added me as a friend.

Here is a picture of Alan Bedenko. He is the blogger Buffalo Pundit and it was only a few years ago that we were anything but friends. He disagreed with me about everything in Buffalo and the world and blogged about it constantly and talked about it on the radio and the whole business became so legend that it actually made it into a story on The Buffalo News' city page. It may have even been the "A" section. I like to think that maybe it was.

What happened was, Bedenko was running for office and the reporter noted that he had said he would stop his attacks on Mary Kunz Goldman. Something like that. I cannot believe I do not remember it word for word because I was so proud of it. Not because he said he would stop his attacks -- I think that feud was kind of fun for both of us -- but because I thought, this has to be a first. I did not ever remember seeing another writer at the paper being referred to in such a context.

Sometime around then Alan Bedenko and I met in person. For the first time!

It was at Assemblyman Sam Hoyt's annual clambake. Somehow Alan Bedenko and I ran across each other and we knew who each other were. I didn't know what to say.

So I said, "Beautiful sunset, Alan."

Alan agreed that it was. There is nothing like the sun setting over the Niagara River. Here is a picture of a Niagara River sunset so Pennario fans who do not live in the Buffalo area can see what I mean.

After Alan and I admired the sunset together our troubles were over and I was happy about that. It is always easier to be friends, you know? It is so much less stressful. And now it is official. Because I see, in my email, "Alan Bedenko wants to be your friend."

I say yes! And now, if I understand Facebook correctly, anyone who is connected with us on the site will get a news flash saying: "Alan Bedenko and Mary Kunz Goldman have become friends."

The world is really becoming smaller and cozier every day.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

'I'm sorry, Your Excellency...'

I have a love/hate relationship with Catholic Radio, 101.7. Does anyone else ever listen to this station? Probably not. But I do!

What I like is they have these phone-in shows I have gotten hooked on. One is "Catholic Answers," where they invite anyone to call in with questions about Catholic laws, dogma, liturgy, whatever. They always laugh a lot listing all these things. Then they have "Calling All Catholics." That is more an in-house thing. With "Catholic Answers" you get atheists and Protestants and whoever.

The way they run these shows, they put this priest behind the microphone who is usually some kind of convert and is ready to defend the Church on anything. The priest's answer always boils down to why the Catholic Church is right and everyone else is wrong. I always enjoy conversations like that.

So I like that. What I do not like is all the cruddy music. Guitars, New Age, kind of a watered-down folk music, and sometimes rock, where you can't even understand the words. I cannot wait until Pope Benedict blows the whistle on all this stuff. He is trying to do that. Here we are with all these great Catholic composers from Palestrina all the way up through Mahler and Messiaen and what do we play? This junk.

And what about Gregorian Chant? If chant is supposed to be so popular how come 101.7 never plays that? I ask you.

For that matter, why don't they play Leonard Pennario?

But here is something I love about this station. It sometimes takes you back in time.

A few weeks ago they had this bishop on one of the shows, and the moderator was taking questions, and the bishop was answering them. The bishop was in the middle of an answer when he asked the moderator something. "Uh, Joe, can you clarify this?" he asked.

There was silence.

"Joe, did you understand what the caller was asking?" the bishop said.

More silence.

Suddenly the moderator came to life. "I'm sorry, Your Excellency, I was distracted," he said.

"I'm sorry, Your Excellency, I was distracted!" What a privilege it was to hear something like that, in normal conversation, in the course of an ordinary work day. I felt as if I were back in Mozart's time!

And here is something better in the time-maching department. Just announced: We are supposed to pray for the Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

The Grand Duke of Luxembourg is one of the last royals, real royals, left in Europe who still has some power. Now he faces being stripped of this power because as a Catholic he is making a stand against euthanasia. He is refusing to sign a bill permitting euthanasia into law.

You can read about this unfortunate situation here.

Above is a picture of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. Kind of cute, isn't he? He is cuter than Andras Schiff. And he is not even old. I was expecting someone gray, with a handlebar mustache. Someone who looked like this:

That is Prince Guillaume. I found him when I was looking for the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, whose name is Henri. Besides his picture I love Guillaume's lineage: "Prince Guillaume was born on 22 April 1852 at Biebrich Palace in Wiesbaden, the eldest son of Duke Adolphe of Nassau and Duchess Adelaide, born Princess of Anhalt-Dessau. His childhood years were spent in Wiesbaden and, after 1866, Vienna."

Back to Henri, the present Duke. He is Howard's age. It is fun to look at pictures of him. This is why I love working on my book -- I like to poke into things, find out about people. Here is the Duke on the beach:

And here is the Duke of Luxembourg at his desk.

Wait, don't I see "The Best of Leonard Pennario, Vol. 3" tucked under that corner pile of papers? Well, I could be wrong. But it sounds like something the Grand Duke would listen to. There is something romantic about him risking losing his few remaining powers by doing the right thing.

Say a prayer for the Duke, everyone.

Talking stalking

Buffalo Jenn, such a sweet comment yesterday! She is the most tender-hearted girl. I always remember when I was out in California and I had to take the plunge and start reading my book to Leonard Pennario, and it went well, and I got this comment from Buffalo Jenn: "Awesome job." That still makes me smile.

And when I had that extremely odd experience when I drove to the wilds of Tonawanda to pick up that ancient hi-fi and they were playing Pennario's Chopin waltzes, wasn't that Jenn telling me she thought it was Leonard saying hello?

I am really feeling good these days. It is not only because of Buffalo Jenn but because of the UB Bulls. How about those UB Bulls? Stampeding to victory! I am a UB girl, I may as well admit that.

And of course David Letterman has to go and slam us. Some dumb joke about not being able to spell Buffalo. Well, I am affectionate about Letterman even though we do not agree on anything. I remember when he was young and cute and women were stalking him. Remember when David Letterman had that stalker? He was just about the first person I remember being stalked. He ushered in that fad.

I bet people stalked Pennario. I mean, look at me. I stalked him, before he came to Buffalo last fall. I called him once to interview him and I had such a good time with him that I decided talking to him just one hour wasn't enough, and when I was having a tough day a week later I called him again. I made up some excuse. Then I called him a couple of days after that. That time I did not even bother to pretend I was working.

Then the day after that I had this conversation with Jeff Simon at the computer printer. Jeff Simon is our arts editor and I love him so I tend to vent to him. This particular day I was kvetching because I had to interview this other pianist, Andras Schiff. And all Schiff would do was an email interview. Not only that, but you had to buzz the questions over to some intermediary, who in turn passed the questions on to him! And, I mean, I had been honored to talk to a million musicians including Van Cliburn, Gary Graffman, Andre Watts, whoever. I will not even get into the violinists. I will just say that nobody puts you through this email business. No one gives you this kind of trouble.

That was what I was whining about to Jeff at the printer. And Jeff said, "Well, people get worried." Something like that.

"Worried about what?" I said.

"Well, they don't know who is calling them up. They worry that person could turn into some kind of problem."

"That's ridiculous," I said. "I'm a professional. I would never--"

Then I remembered Pennario! I mean, I had called him three times! He did not act as if he was bothered by it -- in the third phone call, he even let me do my imitation of Joan Fontaine in "Rebecca," where she says, "Sometimes I do go back to Manderley..."
But what if he was bothered and he did not show it?

What if I were stalking him and I did not know it?

Listen to me, one more rhyme and I'll really be a poet!

Well, even if I were stalking Pennario, I do not think Andras Schiff would have had anything to worry about. I mean, watch that video of him up above. He is not the kind of guy who would appreciate your imitation of Joan Fontaine. Here is a picture of Schiff stylin' ...

... but still he is not the kind of guy you would stalk.

There is one real stalker and that is Ron Moss. Back when he drove a cab he used to call his fares the next day. Howard has told me about that. Moss is the stalkers' stalker, Howard has said. "Yeah, this is Ron," Moss would say. "I drove you home lastnight." And people would flip out.

Moss will be able to do that again once he gets back in the saddle as our driver for the Grim Reaper ride service.