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Unlocked [Jan. 19., 2017|04:27 pm]

For those of you who don't know, one of my immediate responses to monshu's death was to have all my hair cut off[*]. It was something I'd decided I'd do over a year ago and never told anyone about it. I was tempted to do it right after they took his body away, but that seemed melodramatic, so I waited for the morning of our trip to the funeral home in case I needed to hand over my locks then. (They were burned with him.)

People's reactions have been interesting to say the least. My aunt asked me if he loved my long hair and when I told her, "No, he never care for it," she (drunkenly) called me a "sick bastard". At work, the Dean surmised immediately what my motivation was. Others have been foggier. It's been amusing to see how long it's taken some people it even register the change. Many are quick to add, "It looks good," and it can be hard to gauge their sincerity. Not so with one of my coworkers who can hardly stop talking about how much better she likes my hair short.

One unexpected benefit is that I know immediately from their reaction whether I've seen someone face-to-face since the Old Man died or not, which helps me prepare myself for either breaking the news or receiving their sympathy or both. Yesterday a coworker from the fifth floor said, "I'd heard about the hair, but I hadn't seen you yet." And then, "I don't really have the words." "Whatever words you have are fine," I told him--and meant it. It's become painfully apparent to me how tongue-tied this makes a lot of people. Everyone's afraid of "saying the wrong thing", but they correctly assume that saying nothing would be worse.

I'll admit to being sick of hearing some phrases in particular. (Who came up with "sorry for your loss" anyway? I'm not out some book value on my investments; my fucking husband died on me. He's not ever coming back.) But I try to "listen past" them and hear the underlying intention. And as long as that's sincere (and there's only one person so far whose sincerity I doubt enough not to want any condolences from them), it doesn't matter much how they express themselves.

[*] If you've never met me in person: I hadn't had a proper haircut since 1987, only trims.
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The long haul [Jan. 17., 2017|05:15 pm]

This weekend was not as successful as the one before. It would've been helpful if I'd had more advanced warning that we'd be off Monday. Then I might've been able to put together plans to leave town for the weekend. (I have invitations to come crash any number of places right now.) There were several people I'd considered getting in touch with, but I put off arrangements and in the end didn't make any. Saturday was basically a wasted day of sitting around playing solitaire and making only desultory attempts at dealing with household. Sunday was more successful in this regard.

It helped that I knew I'd be meeting Fig for dinner. I didn't get any shopping done but I did make it to the hardware store. He left the venue up to me so I chose Dak, thinking we might hit the Anvil after. But he had a notion of checking out the Glenwood. I'd never been on an ordinary Sunday evening so I wasn't sure what to expect. (Answer: Deadsville.) He thought Social looked too straight, so we ended up walking all the way to Touché for the dreary end to their beer bust. Not that it mattered much, as we got into a deep conversation of Life After monshu.

I confessed that, on some level, the persistence of this state of affairs hasn't sunk in. I still wake in the morning thinking maybe I'll have found my way back to right timestream, the one where my husband is still alive and Cheeto Hitler isn't about the take over the reins of power. Then I lie there in the dark trying to think of good reasons to get up despite the true horror of my reality. Thank my stars for the cat is all I can say. Annoying as his whining is, it does help ground me.

"You have a harsh inner voice," Fig told me as I related repeating to myself, "monshu is dead. You will never be able to say anything to him ever again and he will never speak to you ever again." But I've got to get that message through my thick skull somehow. I still find myself thinking, "Oh, I can't wait to tell him..." or "I need to ask him...". I guess like any other inappropriate thought, it will gradually become less frequent until I stop thinking it altogether.

Fig wanted to get home and I wanted to putz some more and fit in some reading, so we made it an early night. I had made tentative plans with clintswan's old roomie for Monday. He was supposed to get in touch when he got back to town, but to no one's surprise he didn't. (After I learned how flaky he was, I gave him about a 1-in-8 chance of actually coming through. Maybe that was optimistic.) Still, the threat provided enough external motivation that a couple more surfaces got cleared--notably the dining room table, which had been wearing the same crumbs since Hogmanay.

innerdoggie gave me an excuse to leave the house Sunday and I took it. The whole way down to Montrose to meet her for lunch, I reflected on the irony: If there was a day in the weekend to be a homebody, this--cold, grey, rainy--was it. Instead we squeezed into a corner of the café at the art centre with all our sopping gear and I tried my best to be good company even though my heart wasn't in it. (Sometimes you wonder who is really doing the favour and who is benefitting; maybe in the end the distinction is meaningless.) On the way back, I picked up some eats from Middle Eastern Bakery and had ample opportunity to curse the sluggishness of the Clark bus.

Then that night I slept badly. Not sure why. The coffee in the pie? Taking my allopurinal too late? Looking for songs to make me cry when I should've been reading about foolish Russian aristocrats? My dreams are fantasies; even if the Old Man isn't alive in them, they're always lively. I'm surrounded by people--family, friends--and there's lots going on. Not like the waking world, where every bit of position stimulation is the result of me making an active effort to seek it out.
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Plunging [Jan. 9., 2017|12:16 pm]

I went out over the weekend. It was fine.

After brunch Saturday morning, even before I remembered it would be Bear Night, I thought it might be nice to go out. Then a friend whose offer to take me back to King Spa I'd previously rejected asked if I was free for dinner. We batted back choices before deciding to take a chance on Hopleaf. I had some half-baked idea that the cold might keep people away. We only waited about 40 minutes for a table despite arriving right around 7, so perhaps I was right.

Afterwards we ventured DILF night at SoFo. I've probably complained before about how impossible the crowds become there later in the evening. My buddy also pointed out how the daddy/chaser ratio drops as the old men go home and are replaced by younger pups. By about 10:30, we'd had enough. I'd caught up with a few acquaintances and successfully talked to a few cuties. So we headed up to Touché.

Here there were more people I knew, mostly in the bar buddy class. One was without his husband for the day; by the evening's end, he was coming on pretty aggressively. Another was a friend from the Great Lakes Bears going way back ("Don't do the math," he pleaded) who was seeing me for the first time in a couple months. "This isn't the appropriate place for this," he said before giving me a crushing hug beside the back bar. I've always appreciated running into him, since he's also lost a husband (at the same hospital, even) so there's a depth to his sympathy most others can't approach. He acknowledged upfront how worthless words were even while conceding the importance of saying them.

I also ran into one of the cuties from SoFo. In our brief exchange, he'd given me reason to hope. In the course of chatting, I quickly learned that he'd been roommates with clintswan, which told me he was good people. (Well, that plus the information that they were still on speaking terms.) I also learned about his boyfriend in Little Rock, which again indicated that he was a decent sort and not one of the game-playing assholes I'm told the gay dating scene is rife with. We left at the same time, and wished each other a pleasant rest in our respective beds.

The next day, I met up with Diego for the beer bust at Big Chicks. This was something I didn't even do when I lived in the hood. (Sunday afternoon always meant dinner with monshu--generally at my place, so I'd be busy with preparations.) I ran into my buddy from the night before plus Coleman and some other regulars. All very pleasant and affirming (everyone likes the new do, apparently) and I'm entertaining making it part of my regular routine.
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Manual grieving [Jan. 4., 2017|12:54 pm]
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So much in the last couple weeks, where do I start? I wish I'd had the energy to update regularly. I'm sure a day-to-day account of navigating my grief would have been useful to me later. Because, you know, it's not like this will be the only time I do this and the mind forgets unpleasant details so easily.

One thing that's increasingly clear to me is not just how ill-equipped we are to deal with grief but how bad most people are at dealing with someone who's dealing with grief. And there's a copious literature on the first of these but I'm not sure there's much of anything on the latter. I sometimes feel like I'm taking notes for a manual on What Not to Do When Someone You Love Loses Someone They Love and on Monday I gave my sister an overview of the salient points.

Up until just before then, it had been an uncommonly good day. Sure, I still had my cold and there was cleanup to do from Hogmanay, but not so much that I couldn't ignore it and run to the spa to meet up with an old college friend. Getting reacquainted with her after nearly 25 years was fascinating and she was thrilled when I showed interest in "meeting her people". And her people--her tax attorney husband and actress daughter--were fascinating, too. The whole experience was very affirming.

Then I got home and found my refrigerator--still full of leftovers from Sunday--at 66°F and the prospect of having to throw everything out and replace it depressed me so much I just plopped in front of the computer to listen to moody music and play solitaire. I knew I needed to vent, so I called Nuphy, but he wasn't available. So I called my most reliable friend in the world: my sister.

As we talked, I got more and more worked up about things. It's not just the fridge--or the dead rat I found when I got back from St Louis, or the water in the lower level the day before I was supposed to leave. It's not even really the apartment as such. It's the thought of having to face everything an adult has to manage by myself. Yes, Sis can listen. But at the end of the day, I'm the one with the kitchen full of spoiling food. If I called upon one of my better friends to come over and help, they probably would. But fundamentally it's not their problem. For them, it's a charitable act. They are free to peace out at any time--and with quite legitimate reasons. Only monshu made me the promise that whatever my problems were they were his problems, too, and he would stick by my side until we solved them.

And from there we got on the raw subject of what I needed from my family when I went down for Christmas and what I didn't get. I needed to Feel the Love like I'd never felt it before. I needed to be taken care of. I needed someone attentive enough that they could sense what I needed without the burden always being on me to ask. I got some of that. There was one point, for instance, where after I'd been weeping quietly in my room for nearly an hour, e. decided to check on me, saw the state I was in, and offered to help me finish wrapping presents. But acts like that stand out against a background of relative indifference.

Like I said, I get that people don't know what to do. This is one of those live-altering experiences that you can't understand without having been through. I'm waking up to the mortifying realisation of how I've failed friends and family in the past when they were forced to endure something like this. That's why I accepted what was offered and immediately began trying to forgive them for doing so little. For not even bringing up monshu once in conversation (and eagerly changing the subject the one time I brought him up). For "giving me time" when what I needed was comfort. For, basically, not being spouses to someone they'd never agreed to marry.

Talking to other widows makes this easier--while at the same time making it only more clear how widespread the need is for advice. Before Sunday's get-together, my friend Mozhu described having almost exactly the same experience the Christmas after her husband died. My friend group is cleaving into those who Get It and those who don't--often despite their best intentions--and this isn't a new thing. Terminal illness is its own life-changing experience and even being there for Nuphy didn't prepare me for what it was like when it was my partner and not just my ex. His daughter was the responsible party then. I was the good friend with the luxury of leaving when I "needed" to because, at the end of the day, it was "not my problem".
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Working while blue [Dez. 20., 2016|05:02 pm]
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Last week I made a vow to meet everyone's responses to monshu's death with a spirit of generosity and I've done a pretty good job of keeping it. Not yesterday, however. Near lunchtime I suspected La Vache was making an attempt to wish me sympathy so I spent the rest of the day dodging her. At Chicago, she basically tried to get the Old Man fired, encouraging a disgruntled employee to bring a complaint against him and just generally being a dick to him (and later me, when we started associating). I'm sure he'd forgiven her for this--he was letting go of all his old grievances as he felt death approaching--but I'm not him and I couldn't imagine hearing her offer condolences without saying something cutting like "One thing I've always admired about you is your chutzpah" or even just a nonplussed "Really?"

So I fled and ended up at another bank informing another indifferent functionary about his death. But where Friday's employee covered up his indifference with good customer service, Monday's was careless and inept, drawing increasingly curt responses and even admonitions from me. I think it's the first time someone has offered me a business card and I made no show of taking it in order to be polite. (For all I know, it's still lying their on his desk where he dropped it.) There was a loud, cranky old man in the neighbouring cubicle and I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

Fortunately, bunj is in my corner. Despite a Bavarian Totencold, he and e. stopped by in the evening to pick up a death certificate so he could file the will first thing today. He tried going to a branch of bank #1 to wind things up, but they wanted not only the affidavit and the certificate but also a copy of the will and he didn't have one with him. I don't know why I'm so impatient. There's plenty of money in the joint account to handle known expenses for the coming month it will take to have the assets transferred to me but it's just a messy state of affairs having no control over his funds and I don't like it.

I made the wrong call by deciding I didn't need any lorazepam to fall asleep last night so I stumbled through today and blew off my afternoon meeting. I guess I should be consuming the slack people are extending me at work while it lasts. So far, I've been resisting the urge to respond to the umpteenth expression of sympathy with a novel response like a cheery "All's well that ends well!" I guess it helps that today I heard mostly from people who I have nothing against and who really have been through some shit so there's a weight to their words I don't find in everyone's. Always is interesting, btw, who comes through in these moments and who doesn't. I have a growing stack of condolence cards on my desk now and they're nearly all from colleagues I wouldn't have expected.
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Post mortem [Dez. 19., 2016|10:53 am]
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It's hard to say how I'm feeling these days. I've been telling people that either I'm still deep in denial about monshu's death or I've been preparing for this day for so long now that some of the work of grieving and moving on is already done. Over the past eight months, he was home for a scant three weeks, so it's not unusual that he's not there now. I'd built up a routine around living alone and it hasn't much altered except that without the daily trips to whatever stupid place he was staying I have a lot more time. But everyone wants to take me out for meals so I'm still eating out a lot (just not paying as much) and the cat's feeding schedule is still chaotic. And though I'm not actively managing his care day-to-day any more, there's still insurance nonsense to deal with and all the usual household administration to which has been added the bureaucratic machinery of processing a decease. So I'm as busy as always, just not with the same things.

I'm not numb; I still get pleasure from most of life. Yesterday I attended a friend's annual Christmas tea and collected my duty of hugs, then met up with another friend who showed me the delights of King Spa in Niles. I still cry a little every day, but generally only a little and only when I'm forcing myself by listening to a lugubrious post-punk ballad I know will produce a few tears. I curse the cat by day and cuddle him at night and people call me and I usually answer and sometimes I'm a dick to them but I try not to be.

One thing this is making clear is that my fear of rejection makes it difficult for me to ask for help. But my friends are need to feel they're helping me. So there's a lot of mutual benefit to be extracted from the situation if I can only figure out how to go about it. I'm trying. bunj is coming by tonight to pick up paperwork so he can file the will tomorrow, lhn is coming by Wednesday to sort out our computer files, and half the gay couple across the street is driving me down to St Louis on Thursday. But none of the food people kept offering to cook for us has materialised and I'm not going to ask; my friends aren't GrubHub. Besides, knowing me, I'd just end up tossing most of it anyway.

I was worried about being surrounded by associations but for right now they're comforting rather than distressing. I do get sad when I think about how much effort we put into building our household, i.e. all the decisions about furnishings, glassware, art--the whole trousseau necessary for living the good bourgeois life we'd been conditioned to expect. We worked so hard to make a harmonious whole but it feels like too much for a singleton to drag from apartment to apartment, so I'll have weeks of whittling to do (over the course of months, since it will be emotionally exhausting work). I have fantasies of stowing it all and going abroad for a few years which I'm sure will come to nothing; maybe there are adventures still awaiting me but I don't think that's one of them.
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Definitive end [Dez. 11., 2016|10:36 pm]
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monshu passed away at home late in the evening of December 9th. Because it took about an hour-and-a-half for the nurse to arrive to certify him, his death date will officially be December 10th. But you know the truth.

Because he is peerless, my friend bitterlawngnome has posted a tribute to monshu in his own journal using photographs from our one-and-only meeting in Toronto in 2011. The occasion was the Old Man's 65th birthday. At the time we expected him to live well past 70, but fate makes a mockery of all our plans.

When I realised he was not going to begin breathing again, I fell into a state of disbelief. When the nurse came and held a stethoscope to his chest, I told her, "I'm just waiting for you to confirm he's not in a coma or something." (NB: Corpses don't cool off as quickly as you might think.) When she shook her head, I felt an immense relief. At times, the stress of the last eight months has been barely tolerable. Every time I wished it would end, it occurred to me that there was only one way for that to happen, and I concluded that was worse.

I've spent most of the last couple days chattering away with people, mostly monshu's sister and niece who are in town until Tuesday. Less than an hour each day has been devoted to ugly crying. I figure that's a ratio I can keep up almost indefinitely, as long as I keep picking the right songs to listen to. Thursday we cremate him, assuming there are no snags in the process. I'll wait for better weather to scatter him. The one-hundredth day after his death will be March 19th (which is coincidentally the feast of St Joseph, his patron saint), and that seems as good a day as any.

This coming week will be for attending to the details, tidying up my mess of an apartment, and reconnecting with the many many friends who I've seen too briefly if at all over the past year. Or maybe I'll just spend half of every day lying in bed listening to Siouxsie Sioux and Magnetic Fields. Who the hell's going to stop me?
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Endpoint [Dez. 5., 2016|02:02 pm]
Holy fuck. No way I can neatly summarise events since I last posted.

Sunday after Thanksgiving, monshu was admitted to the hospital for a blood transfusion. The next day, he broke the news to me that he was done. As in: no more tests, no more poking and prodding, no more procedures, no more institutions. Take-me-home-and-let-me-die done. Except that he had one more thing scheduled for tomorrow and wants to go through with it. Or so he says whenever I ask, but I'm not convinced it what he really wants or needs.

This complicates everything, since we can't initiate hospice until all interventions are over. There are a hundred-and-one details left to take care of and Mom is back in St Louis for the time being taking a well-deserved break. I have an army of friends willing to help out, but I don't know what I can ask of any of them. Friday, I finally got a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication to help me sleep and today I filled it.

But I'm coping. I'm eating, I'm e-mailing, I'm even finding time to distract myself with friends. But I can already foresee collapsing into a heap when this is all over (which by all indications won't be long, since last time we took him home without an IV he was back in hospital after 19 days).
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Tapacity [Nov. 22., 2016|12:44 pm]

Have I finally built up enough allopurinol in my system to get the proper benefit from it or did I simply dodge a bullet this weekend? It'd be nice to know which going forward. Alas, I've never been that good about reading signals from my body and they're anything but clear in this case.

For obvious reasons, I suggested tapas before the opera Saturday. A Googling for something convenient to the opera house led me to Pata Negra inside Block 37. The reviews were mixed but generally positive and I was curious to try something equally new to both of us. Nuphy was game, and happily made reservations.

We didn't need them. Despite some winter lights celebration on Boul Mich in its second or third year that I'd never heard of before the bus driver warned me of reroutes, next to nobody was detouring to the heart of a mall in downtown Chicago's most ill-fated block for a bite. It could hardly have been any more convenient: I took the el to avoid traffic snarls, forgetting that the station connects directly to the basement of the shopping centre.

Getting from there to the restaurant, however, proved at least as daunting as the rest of the trip. There were signs but they weren't very clear, often making it seem like you needed to exit the building rather than go up a floor. But I found it, and Nuphs already on his first margarita of the evening. I eventually ordered a glass of cava to keep him company. There were only two other occupied tables in the joint when we arrived, but I think our corner spot would have been quiet anyway. (The relatively tranquility of the place had been mentioned by at least two of the reviewers.)

The menu was, as you might expect, pretty meat-heavy. I was prepared to let the Funny Little Man get all the flesh he wanted and just nibble bits. But the servings were considerably bigger than we'd expected and, as a result, we'd overordered. The "butifarrita", for instance, was nine thick slices of grilled sausage and when I thought we were ordering two chicken croquettes, it was actually two chicken brochettes, each consisting of three fat pieces.

I ended up offering one whole skewer of botifarra to the neighbouring table. (One of the diners heard me describing calçots to Nuphy and cheerfully added his two cents, so I figured they'd be amenable.) They wouldn't take any jamón serrano, though. "Oh, that's too good to share!" they told us. It was the one thing we could take away, so I got the server to stow it in a plastic-wrapped box that I crushed and concealed in my car coat for the duration of the performance.

Even the non-meat dishes we got weren't terrific for my gout. Luckily crab is far from the worst seafood, since the avocado crab toast was piled high with it. The chef's special was a trio of grilled mushrooms which alone was enough for an entree. Oddly, we had to order bread. (I don't know if we were charged, but I suspect so because it came with a little dish of olive oil, mustard, and peperoncini slices.) The only other purely vegetarian dish on the table was--again, oddly--the habas a la catalana[*], which contained no sausage but paper-thin slices of red onion and asparagus tips, among other things.

Nuphy insisted on trying the Wagyu, which was as weak as the reviewers warned us. He thought the bacon-wrapped dates with cabrales and marcona almonds were a revelation, but I've made exactly that for an appetiser before so I wasn't impressed. They were sweet enough to save for dessert, since we definitely didn't have room for anything else. A shame since I'd vetoed the Christkindlmarket to come here and I nurtured hopes of stopping by afterwards for fried dough in some form or other. (Nuphy did stop by and waved a bar of nougat in my face, which I stole a piece of later while checking his coat.)

I did take a moment to survey the other stations--apparently the policy is that you can bring in food from them when sitting in Pata Negra provided you order some dishes there as well--but I didn't find the bacalao fritters I'd had my heart set on. Some of the other offerings--like the cocas and grilled seafood--looked pretty nice though, so I may try to stop in for a small bite whenever I happen to be there again (which, under current circumstances, could be another year from now).

Naturally, after having eaten several times my ordinary daily allowance of high-purine foods, I braced myself for a night of agony which failed to arrive. Usually the reaction is pretty immediately, but it was another 48 hours before I was convinced I was out of the woods. So maybe I can afford the occasional splurge after all? In that case, this could be a marginally better Thanksgiving than expected. Or was it due to contributing factors which aren't necessarily reproducible? I think it'll take me some suffering to find out one way or the other.

[*] Definitely not faves a la catalana, as the waiter corrected me when I said this.
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Donkey short [Nov. 20., 2016|10:57 pm]
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Nuphy called Don Quichotte "the season's weakest link" and perhaps that's what it will turn out to be. After all, it was by all accounts an impressive Lucia and I can personally attest that we had a solid Rheingold. I'd take a mediocre version of either of those over a top-rate Massenet most days and I'm so dang excited about finally seeing Les Troyens in a week that I'm giving it a gentleman's B no matter what. But if it is the weakest, then that will be testimony to what a strong season we'll have had.

Lyric's staging is a happy family. The main weakness is the opera itself, primarily the score: barely two hours of music and only one standout melody. I was implicitly warned about how bored Nuphs expected to be at dinner when I warned him against a second margarita with, "You don't want to fall asleep during the first act," to which he responded, "Oh yes I do!" But he didn't after all. At intermission, he confessed that part of the difficulty the previous time was the lack of supertitles, which is a significant issue with an opera which relies as much on its text as this one does.

(Speaking of text, there were title cards before each act featuring English translations of quotes from Cervantes' great work. Which is a lovely idea, except some dildo lazily laid them out in Papyrus. Are you fucking kidding me?)

Where was I? Oh, right--weak score, good libretto. Fittingly, we had solid but not outstanding singers with terrific diction. Clémentine Margaine, our Dulcinée, is actually French so she had better be en pointe, but our Italian male leads sounded kosher, too. They were also perfectly cast, Furlanetto with the stick legs and a slightly shaky past-prime timbre that made for a convincing Quichotte and Alaimo with natural bulk and comic energy. Together they made the final act more touching than I was prepared for from such a trifling treatment of a weighty work. Margaine had the right amount of languor, both physically and vocally, and the supporting case managed to uphold a standard without anyone standing out.

The other thing which kept Nuphy awake was the quality of the production. Very traditional, but it had good flow. (Contrast it to Rheingold, where the stage was too busy to the point of losing the focus at times.) Visually, the most striking sequence was during the windmill-tilting scene, where moving props are overlaid with projections which multiply until you begin to feel the madness gripping Quichotte before he charges. (Unfortunately, on the weakest aspect of the set design: a static wooden horse on rollers.)

As expected given the period and subject, there's a lot of marching the chorus on and off to satisfy the requirements of the score. I'm always looking for ways to inject this with some naturalism, but I confess there's not much the stage director can do in this case with as few measures as Massenet gives him. A bit more in the way of instrumental interludes between arias and you'd have a shot at something more naturalistic, but instead it's all about efficiently exiting a hundred or so choristers. The dance numbers--such as they are--suffer from a lack of real choreography and there's a crowd scene where the clapping is so sloppy that I was gripping Nuphy's knee in agony for it to be over. (Hopefully that's an opening-night problem that it's still possible to iron out.)

So a happy family, but not a jubilant one. An a welcomely compact one: we were out by 10 p.m., in plenty of time to catch the express bus home for a change. Our UofC seat mate was trying to flog a half-baked idea about the opera's relationship to early modernity that none of us was buying, but we all felt good-natured enough to hear him out. If I weren't such a lightweight, it would've been a great opportunity for nightcap; instead I had to make sure I got my mood-enhancer in early.
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