Musings & Thoughts on a Tuesday Morning in October 2020: Music & Memories

Photo by Tina Nord on

Greetings, Dear Reader. It’s almost late morning on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 here in New Hometown, Florida, and it looks as though the day’s weather is going to be a repeat of yesterday’s cloudy/rainy experience. Right now, things aren’t too bad; the temperature is 76 ˚F (25˚C) under partly sunny skies. With humidity at 94% and the wind blowing from the east-northeast at 7 MPH (11 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is  76 ˚F (25˚C).

The forecast for the rest of the day calls for a high of 86˚F (30˚C) and increasing cloudiness. In the evening, rain showers are expected, and the low temperature tonight will be 74˚F (23˚C). So if I’m going to venture out, my best option is to go as soon as I take my shower, wash my hair, and get into my “street clothes.”

(C) 2020 Deutsche Grammophon

Today is the day that Amazon is supposed to deliver my copy of John Williams In Vienna [CD/Blu-Ray Deluxe Edition],a two-disc (1 compact disc, 1 Blu-ray) Deutsche Grammophon album featuring a concert performance of some of John Williams’ iconic film score themes by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Wiener Philharmoniker) and German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter under the baton of Maestro Williams himself. I bought this deluxe edition on my mom’s 92nd birthday because even though I have plenty of albums of Williams’ music – including original motion picture soundtracks, recordings made during his 1980-1993 stint as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra (where he is still its Laureate Conductor), and even a few “cover” albums –  I don’t have any Blu-rays or DVDs of the Evening at Pops PBS-TV series from the Eighties and early Nineties. This is the next best thing to that, so I bought it.[1]

As of this blog post, my set of John Williams In Vienna [CD/Blu-Ray Deluxe Edition] is not yet Out for Delivery per its last status on my Amazon orders page. As of 3:34 AM Eastern, it arrived at a carrier facility 16.7 miles away from the house. Amazon usually sends out its delivery drivers around 10 AM or so, so I should have this package in my hands sometime before 4 or 5 PM, though the Deliver By deadline is 9 PM.

On a more somber note, today is the eighth anniversary of the last time that my mom was willing to be taken out on her wheelchair – which was provided by the state of Florida as part of her Medicaid benefits – for a ride around the “Big Block” in East Wind Lake Village. We – Mom, our home health aide, my older half-sister Vicky (sometimes), and I – would go out on sunny days (such as on October 20, 2012) to make sure she got some fresh air and sunshine.

I snapped this photo of my mother on the afternoon of October 20, 2012, a few minutes before we ventured out on a trip around the “Big Block” around East Wind Lake in our Miami-area condo community. We were waiting for the home health aide from Nursing South to arrive. From the angle of the photo, I had just locked the front door of our townhouse and wanted a candid shot of my mother.

At first, Mom was cooperative and enjoyed these 25-30 minute trips outside of our townhouse. But as time passed (her ordeal began in the spring of 2010 and ended – with her death – on July 19, 2015), she became less enthusiastic. Depression, dementia, and her frail state of body and mind robbed her of her love of the outdoors.

I’m not sure what my plans for the rest of today are. More than likely they’ll involve writing of some sort; I am, after all, a writer, even though as of late I’m more of a blogger than I am a writer of fiction in any format. If I can get motivated, I might write a review of something, or maybe another op-ed piece about politics or the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

I should wrap this post up and go tend to my personal hygiene routine; I do need to go for that walk before the weather starts to deteriorate, and a little time outside of the house will do me some good. I’ve always been a homebody, even when I lived in Miami, but in New Hometown I have become too much of a recluse, and it is not doing my mental health any good. So…yeah…I need to go out and maybe take a book, sit on one of the park benches, and read for maybe half and hour while getting some fresh air and sunshine.

So, until next post, Dear Reader, I hope you stay safe and healthy, and I’ll see you later.

[1] The closest thing I have to a Boston Pops Orchestra Blu-ray is A John Williams Celebration, a 2015 release from Germany’s C-Major Entertainment that presents the opening night concert at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s new home, the Walt Disney Concert Hall. This was an all-John Williams program featuring a composition – Soundings – which was commissioned for the occasion. However, the Academy Award-winning Williams is mostly seen as the guest of honor while the conductor of the LAPO, Gustavo Dudamel, does most of the work onstage. Williams only conducts one piece in the 85-minute program – The Imperial March from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

I still hope to find a DVD or Blu-ray with performances from Maestro Williams’ Boston Pops years. If not on Amazon, perhaps from another source. Surely there is one, no?  

More Musings, More Thoughts on a Rainy Monday Evening in October 2020

I’m no Ans
Amsel Adams, but I think this shot came out nicely, no?

Hello again, Dear Reader. It’s now early evening here in New Hometown, Florida. It’s definitely going to be a rainy night; right now the temperature is 72˚F (22˚C) under mostly cloudy skies. With humidity at 91% and the wind blowing from (almost) due north at 7 MPH (12 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is also  72˚F (22˚C). As noted above, the forecast for the night calls for rain showers and a low of  72˚F (22˚C).

Another shot, this time taken from the clearing at the center of the park.

Apparently, we had some rain showers earlier in the afternoon. The sky was cloudy most of the day, so the light streaming through my Venetian blinds was dim and gray-tinted. If I weren’t hard of hearing I might have heard the falling of the rain outside. I can hear that sound fine during a torrential downpour; I heard it many times at my mom’s – and briefly mine – townhouse, which The Caregive dubbed “the Pad” in happier and more romantic times. I’d sit on the living room couch for hours and watch the rain turn our patio into a veritable swimming pool. The hissing of the falling rain was loud, especially when the water fell in torrents and splattered loudly on the leaves of my mother’s many potted plants and on the hard concrete floor of the patio.

A shot taken in 2014 from the doorway of my home in Miami.

Of course, when it’s just light rain, I can’t hear it fall.  So sometimes – like today – we can have a passing shower overhead, and unless the blinds are a bit more open and I’m looking out the window, I won’t know about it until after the fact.

That’s what happened today. I did, as advertised, put on my windbreaker – a Star Wars in Concert one that The  Caregiver bought for me when we went to see Star Wars: A New Hope at Ruth Eckerd Hall in December 2018. I also wore the matching cap she got me on that occasion, partly because she still likes me to look decent when I go out, but mostly because I am a Star Wars fan. And, yes, I went to my favorite spot in the neighborhood – the park.

I originally planned to stay outside for at least 30 minutes; when I go to the park I like to sit on a bench and…just try to enjoy being outside. I don’t meditate or pray or try to commune with the elements, I just look around at my surroundings and take in the view. I also look at my text messages and look at stuff on Facebook, and I also take pictures of things that catch my attention.

Well, the benches at the park were moist from the shower that fell earlier, so I had nowhere to sit and rest for a spell, so I decided to snap a few photos – not of people, though – and then walked back to the house. The whole excursion probably wasn’t more than 15 minutes long, and it was incredibly lonely – in my old neighborhood, at least, I had friends I often stopped to visit if they happened to be watering their yards or walking around the Big Block adjacent to East Wind Lake.

Still, I got out of the house and got a bit of exercise and fresh air.

That counts for something, right?

Well, it’s been one weird day; that accidental $500 donation to the Democratic challenger to the incumbent Republican member of Congress who represents my area added a bit of unnecessary stress earlier, but thankfully ActBlue is going to refund it. I’m still not thrilled about how the ActBlue site is designed, but at least they responded to my complaints and didn’t keep my money. The $11 I did donate they can keep. I really want the district where I live to flip to blue, although that’s not likely to happen, since my area is pretty much a Republican stronghold.

So, Dear Reader, I think I’ll just wrap this post up. I don’t have much in the way of news – besides what I’ve already told you, and this is my third post after all. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

© 2020 Alex Diaz-Granados

Musings & Thoughts for Monday, October 19, 2020: Of Clouds – Metaphorical and Otherwise – Over My Head

Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on

Good afternoon, Dear Reader. It’s a bit after 3 PM here in New Hometown, Florida, and apparently a cold front must be passing through; outside, the temperature is 73˚F (23˚C) under partly sunny skies. With humidity at 96% and the wind blowing from the east-northeast at 14 MPH (23 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 73˚F (23˚C). From the dimness of the light coming through my window blinds, it looks as though the sky directly overhead might be cloudier than it is at the weather reporting station generating the data on my computer’s Weather app.

If I am going to go for a walk, I should do it soon; the forecast for the evening calls for rain showers, and if I wait for The Caregiver to go out and run errands after work, I might not get a chance to go for even a brief constitutional. So I’ll try to make this post short and sweet.

Photo by Pixabay on

Today I had a bit of trouble while making a donation for the campaign of a Democratic challenger to the super-wealthy Republican member of Congress who represents my district here in New Hometown. I was on the ActBlue page, trying to make a modest – $11 – donation to the candidate I already voted by mail for when, all of a sudden, a popup for the “Make a $500 Donation” option appears right under my mouse pointer just as I’m trying to finish the original transaction.

I tried to move my mouse pointer so it would not click on the “Make a $500 Donation” link, but it was too late. Because I was already in the middle of making one legitimate donation – for $11 – the mouse clicks to authorize that one also authorized the unwanted, unnecessary, and unwelcome $500 one.

Man…whoever designed the ActBlue site is a moron. Not only is it created in such a way that it actually tries to get you to make bigger donations or regular donations, but it makes the process of canceling erroneous donations incredibly difficult. It doesn’t have a “Cancel Donation” button that’s easily accessible to a user. Instead, you have to jump through a series of hoops in order to undo a mistake that was partially caused by the functionality of their website’s design.

To make a long story short, it took me a couple of hours before I finally got Act Blue to return my accidental donation of $500.

Thanks for contacting ActBlue! This email is to confirm that we have refunded your contribution (reference #: Redacted) made on 19 Oct 2020:

Committee or organization: Redacted
Date Paid: October 19, 2020
Amount: $500.00
You should see this credit post to your account within 1-2 business days. If you have any other questions, please reach out to us at (email).Thank you for your support! The ActBlue Team

It might take a few days for the refund to be credited to my credit card account, but at least I don’t have to go through the process of disputing it with the bank that issues the card. I already have enough complications in my life; I don’t need a $500 credit card bill hanging over me like yet another black cloud.

My most likely destination. Photo by the author.

Speaking of black clouds, I should put on my walking shoes, a hat, and a windbreaker and go for that walk before real rain clouds drift over my neighborhood and catch me unawares while I am out for a stroll.

As Arnold Schwarzenegger says in The Terminator film series, “I’ll be back!”

Life in the Time of COVID-19: The Pandemic Keeps Claiming Lives, But Trump Scoffs at Scientists & Biden’s Reliance on Facts

Image Credit: COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)

Life in the Time of COVID-19: The Never-Ending Spread Goes On…and On

This is how things look on the planet Earth on the morning of October 19, 2020 vis a vis the COVID-19 pandemic.

40,118,314 officially confirmed cases worldwide.

1,114,765 officially confirmed deaths worldwide.

In the United States of America, the nation that prides itself on having the world’s (allegedly) best health care system, yet ranks as the one that is hardest hit by the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus commonly known as COVID-19, the numbers (as of 8:24 AM Eastern) are as follows:

Confirmed Cases: 8,156,970

Confirmed Deaths: 219,680

As the Northern Hemisphere – which is where all 50 states and many of the U.S. territories are located – goes further into the cooler months of fall, it seems that despite some improvement in the daily death rates, the pandemic is nowhere near the two goals of “stopping the spread” or “flattening the curve.”

According to a story on the ABC News website, there were over 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed yesterday, per the the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE).

Per ABC News:

There were 48,210 new cases of COVID-19 identified in the United States on Sunday, according to a real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The latest daily tally is down by nearly 10,000 from the previous day and also falls under the country’s record set on July 16, when there were 77,255 new cases in a 24-hour-reporting period.

An additional 389 coronavirus-related fatalities were also recorded Sunday, almost half the previous day’s death toll and down from a peak of 2,666 new fatalities reported on April 17.

The Good News…and Bad News

The statistics – which this writer believes are somewhat of an undercount because states like Florida (a Republican-controlled Southern state led by a governor who is loyal to President Donald J. Trump) make it difficult to get timely COVID-19 reports  – show two trends in the pandemic’s effect on the nation.

There has been some improvement since July: three months ago, we were nearing the 80,000 daily cases mark, with a peak number of 77,255 cases reported on July 16 alone. Yesterday’s figure of 48,210 is an improvement, of course; that figure is 29,045 less cases in a single 24-hour period.

However, as the article by ABC News points out, this improvement eclipses a harsh reality: despite all of the known methods that people can use to “slow the spread” and “flatten the curve,” the U.S. is seeing spikes of new COVID-19 cases eight months into the worst pandemic to affect the nation since the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic.

Per ABC News:

By May 20, all U.S. states had begun lifting stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The day-to-day increase in the country’s cases then hovered around 20,000 for a couple of weeks before shooting back up and crossing 70,000 for the first time in mid-July. The daily tally of new cases has gradually come down since then but has started to climb again in recent weeks.

The number of new COVID-19 cases recorded in the United States continued to increase by double digits in week-over-week comparisons, while the number of new deaths from the disease ticked upward slightly, according to an internal memo from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that was obtained by ABC News on Friday night.

The ‘Trump Pandemic’

Image Credit: Pixabay

As I have often stated in previous Life in the Time of COVID-19 columns, much of the blame for the woeful response to the pandemic can be laid at the feet of one person: President Donald Trump.

Not only did he fail miserably to prevent the entry of the virus into the U.S. by allowing U.S. citizens and residents to re-enter the country from overseas vacations and business trips via planes and cruise ships while banning Chinese nationals from crossing our borders earlier this year, but he deliberately downplayed the seriousness – and lethality – of the COVID-19 virus and its detrimental effects on people for political reasons in an election year.

Now, with only 15 days left until Election Day, Trump continues to attack Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden for his reliance on science regarding the COVID-19 crisis.

Per a story on the NBC News website:

President Donald Trump mocked Joe Biden on Sunday for trusting scientists about Covid-19 shortly after Biden lambasted the president for continuing to “lie” about the state of the pandemic.

Speaking at a rally in Carson City, Nevada, Trump imitated the former vice president, saying he would “listen to the scientists.”

“If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression,” Trump said. “We’re like a rocket ship.”

He then attacked the Democratic governors of several states who have put in place measures to stop a likely second wave of Covid-19.

“Get the places open, let’s go,” he said.

Where does Trump live? In an alternate dimension?

A propaganda image found on a Trump supporter’s Facebook profile.

His ardent supporters may think that he is the “BEST President ever” and flood Facebook and other social media outlets with memes, ridiculous propaganda images, and ridiculous comments along the lines of “HELL NO! NO SOCIALISM OR COMMUNISM IN THE UNITED STATES! TRUMP PENCE 2020!” But memes, GIFs, Nazi-like propaganda imagery, and overheated rhetoric about “socialism” will not “flatten the curve” or “slow the spread.”

Far from it.

As long as Trump continues to scoff at science and bamboozle his base, the number of COVID-19 diagnoses and deaths will continue to rise.

More Musings, More Thoughts for Sunday, October 18, 2020: or, Commentary from a Coffee-Deprived Blogger

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

It’s late afternoon here in New Hometown, Florida, and boy, is it nice outside! The temperature is 85˚F (30˚C) under mostly sunny skies. With humidity at 62% and a northeasterly breeze of 15 MPH (24 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 91˚F (33˚C).

Although the forecast for the afternoon and early evening still calls for rain in the evening, it was pleasant when I went for a brief walk to the park that I like to go to and get fresh air and some sunshine at. I didn’t take a book with me, although I thought about it, but I did venture to another bench – yes, there’s more than one! – and snapped a few quick photos while I was there.

The view from the other bench. Note the Spanish moss hanging in foreground.

I only stayed a little while; I still feel a bit uncomfortable walking around the neighborhood, even though I have lived here for over four years and have had a State of Florida ID listing my current address since March of 2018. Maybe it’s – partly – because I have what I call “COVID-19 hair.”  I haven’t gone to Just for Guys since March, so my hair is longer than it ought to be. I’m not exactly a sharp dresser or overly vain, but I don’t like looking like I’m a wild man from the woods, either. So The Caregiver’s failure to make sure I get a haircut really inhibits my desire to go out and – eventually – meet the neighbors.

I also feel a bit tense in this part of New Hometown because many of the residents are either active duty military personnel or military retirees. There are also some law enforcement officers who own or rent homes here. So this is a neighborhood with a lot of Trump-Pence 2020 yard signs, Trump 2020 flags, and U.S. flags on display. Obviously, I’m not going to advertise that I’m not a Trump supporter or get into a political discussion with any of my neighbors, but it is unnerving to see that I’m in a part of a majority Democratic county that is so pro-Republican.

My hair was a bit longer than normal in this 2017 photo; it’s longer than that now, though.

So, since I didn’t take a book to read and wasn’t exactly at ease outside, I only stayed at the park for 10 minutes and walked back home. On the way back I saw a woman talking on her cell phone while she walked her dog. I thought about saying “Hi” just to be neighborly, but I squelched the urge, in no small part because I wasn’t happy with my “mountain man meets Florida” look.

Well, despite my inability to make my usual two cups of coffee, or even walk to Starbuck’s to get one, I managed to write a review for this blog. I chose to write about the soundtrack album for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, which I’ve owned since its release in May 1999 and have lugged to two different homes now. It’s not my favorite Star Wars film score, but it is by John Williams, so it’s still worth listening to from time to time.

Other than that…I haven’t done much else today. I have eaten a few snacks here and there, and I’ve consumed two cans of Coca-Cola to compensate for my missing cups of of coffee. I could have watched TV in the Florida room or even in my bedroom after 1 PM, but I didn’t feel like it. I did listen – with headphones – to an album I can access thanks to my Amazon Music Unlimited subscription. It’s a recording of various Baroque era compositions by J.S. Bach, Tomaso Albinoni, Antonio Vivaldi, and other composers of the era.

Photo by Pixabay on

I usually like more upbeat music, even in the “classical” music genre, but when I’m down I tend to listen to either somber works like Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor[1] or calming ones like Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D. With memories of my mother flitting around my head and simply because 2020 has been a crappy year all around, I didn’t feel like listening to Star Wars scores or Billy Joel songs from the 1970s and ‘80s,. So, Baroque music it was.

I might watch something in a bit, either out in the Florida room or here in my room. I prefer the Florida room because I absolutely hate moving my desk to get a better eyeline when sitting on my sofa/futon to watch TV. Plus the couch out there is comfier than the one here. So….

Well, that’s all I have to share with you on this Sunday, October 18, 2020. I’m tired and have a mild headache – a sign of caffeine withdrawal, more than likely – so I will close for now. I’ll be back tomorrow, though, so stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunnier side of things.

[1] The famous Adagio in G minor is a Baroque piece in name only, and it’s not even by Albinoni. It was composed in the 1940s by another Italian composer, musicologist, and Albinoni biographer named Remo Giazotto.

Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack’

Cover art by Drew Struzan. (C) 1999 Sony Classical and Lucasfilm Ltd.

On May 4, 1999. Sony Classical released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Produced by composer-conductor John Williams and mixed by Shawn Murphy, this one-CD album presented an abridged version of Maestro Williams’ fourth Star Wars score and was the first new Star Wars canon soundtrack since 1983’s Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

This album reunites Star Wars writer-director George Lucas with the Jedi Master of modern film composing, the 5-time Academy Award-winning “Johnny” Williams, after a 16-year hiatus from that galaxy far, far away. For both men, the challenge was difficult: how do you tell a Star Wars story without Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, but delves instead into the preceding chapters of the Skywalker Saga to tell the story of a nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker, who is now an innocent wide-eyed kid but is destined to become the evil Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader?

As George Lucas wrote over 21 years ago in the album’s liner notes:

John had to draw upon the signature themes while creating a new, if somehow familiar, musical galaxy. And he had to visit new emotional territory in Episode I. His music had to help tell the story of a pacifist Queen who confronts the need to fight for the survival of her people, a mother who must give up her son so that he might achieve his true potential, and noble Jedi faced with the rise of an unimaginable evil.

In sharp contrast with the RCA Victor double-CD soundtracks for the 1997 Special Edition re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy, Sony Classical’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace marks a return to the recording industry’s standard of abridged versions of film scores. Where, for instance, the 1997Special Edition double album presented every cue written for Lucas’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) as it was heard in the film, The Phantom Menace presents just over one hour and 22 minutes’ worth of musical material from a score that is two hours long.

And, just as in the first three soundtrack albums released by 20th Century Music and RSO Records between 1977 and 1983, album producer John Williams, music editor Ken Wannberg, and mixer Shawn Murphy present most of the cues out of chronological sequence and in concert hall arrangements, often blending cues from sequences that are far apart in the film’s runtime and have nothing to do with each other besides being composed for The Phantom Menace.

As Maestro Williams had done in the previous three films – and would continue to do all the way to 2019’s Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, he wrote a score that blends major motifs from the Original Trilogy – Star Wars Main Title, The Force Theme, the Emperor’s Theme, and even a hint of The Imperial March – with two major new compositions that will recur in the next two films, Anakin’s Theme and Duel of the Fates.

Duel of the Fates, which is a ruthless and driving composition, features restless strings, brooding woodwinds, and choral presentations of an alien-sounding chant (it’s in Sanskrit, one of India’s many languages). As the name implies, it’s not only indicative of a furious clash between the good Jedi and the evil Sith, but it also underscores changes in destiny and the choices a Force user must make in life.

It’s also the best-known theme from Episode I, as it was played on classical music stations shortly before the CD was released in 1999.  It was also featured on the “Duel of the Fates” video that aired on MTV as part of the Lucasfilm media campaign.)

Anakin’s Theme is one of Williams’ best “character” themes, revealing both the gentle goodness of the nine-year-old who will someday be the father of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, and the seeds of the anger and fear that will help transform him into the evil Lord Darth Vader. His theme is reminiscent of Yoda’s, with passages that evoke tenderness and a yearning for adventure, yet each iteration of the theme has hints of the Imperial March, subtle in the first rendition but more obvious at the end.

Track List:

1Star Wars Main Title and The Arrival at Naboo2:55
2Duel of the Fates4:14
3Anakin’s Theme3:08
4Jar Jar’s Introduction and The Swim to Otoh Gunga5:07
5The Sith Spacecraft and The Droid Battle2:37
6The Trip to the Naboo Temple and The Audience With Boss Nass4:07
7The Arrival On Tatooine and The Flag Parade4:04
8He Is the Chosen One3:53
9Anakin Defeats Sebulba4:23
10Passage Through the Planet Core4:39
11Watto’s Deal and Kids at Play4:57
12Panaka and The Queen’s Protectors3:24
13Queen Amidala and The Naboo Palace4:51
14The Droid Invasion and The Appearance of Darth Maul5:14
15Qui-Gon’s Noble End3:48
16The High Council Meeting and Qui-Gon’s Funeral3:08
17Augie’s Great Municipal Band and End Credits9:38

As in all the Star Wars scores, most of the characters and situations are presented musically. As befits the hapless and overly curious Gungan that became the focus of fans’ disdain, Jar Jar Binks gets a playful and somewhat mischievous leitmotif (track 4), which is married to the very aquatic-sounding Swim to Otoh Gunga, the marvelous city under the Naboo swamps and lakes.

Dark music and martial themes are also much in evidence on this CD, including The Sith Spacecraft and The Droid Battle (track 5), The Droid Invasion and The Appearance of Darth Maul (track 14), and Qui-Gon’s Noble End (track 15).

Although the music obviously avoids quoting the Star Wars theme – which is associated with Luke, who hasn’t even been conceived yet- Williams does get to borrow from the other films’ scores. The famous Force theme is heard in such destiny-changing scenes as He Is the Chosen One (track 8), Anakin Defeats Sebulba – which also features quotes of Jabba’s theme – and Qui-Gon’s Funeral (the second half of track 16). Both Yoda’s Theme and Darth Vader’s Imperial March can be heard in The High Council Meeting (the first half of track 16).

Reflecting the future Emperor’s first real victory in his campaign to subtly take over the Republic, the Emperor’s theme from Return of the Jedi is heard as a joyous victory song performed by innocent-sounding children in Augie’s Great Municipal Band, which then segues to the traditional Star Wars end credits medley of the main theme, the Rebel Fanfare, then Duel of the Fates and Anakin’s Theme.

My Take

After two years of listening to the RCA Victor double CD soundtracks for A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, I had high hopes that the first soundtrack for the then-new Star Wars Prequel Trilogy would follow suit and that it would be a two-disc album with the complete score from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I mean, a precedent had been set by both Lucasfilm and a major music label, so I figured the new soundtrack album, the first new score for the saga in 16 years, would follow in the Special Edition’s tracks.

At least, that’s what I told myself on the way to the Miami International Mall to buy the album on its first week of release, which was 15 days or so in advance of the film’s opening day of May 19, 1999.

Ah, no. When I went to the Soundtracks aisle at Camelot Music – which later became an FYE store – and picked up the jewel box with the Drew Struzan poster art on the front cover and a scene from the podrace on the reverse side, my hopes were dashed. Sony Classical, which was then the label that Maestro Williams had a contract with, had decided to give The Phantom Menace a “traditional” soundtrack album rather than a more faithful – and complete – presentation of Williams’ brilliant symphonic score.

But, hey. It was – and still is – a Star Wars soundtrack, and it was composed and conducted by John Williams, and not by some other film music guy like Alexander Desplat or Hans Zimmer.

And eventually I got over my disappointment that Sony Classical had not given film score buffs the entire score, although I did hope that the company would revisit their decision and issue a 2-CD album in the vein of RCA Victor’s 1997 Special Edition soundtrack sets.[1]

Overall, despite my misgivings about the “Greatest Hits” approach that plagues most of the commercially released soundtrack albums sold by most labels, I still enjoy Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. I love the magical blend of themes from the older films with the 1999 material, and the two major new motifs – Anakin’s Theme and Duel of the Fates – are among my favorites from the Star Wars musical canon.

Williams, as always, gets a great performance out of the London Symphony Orchestra, the ensemble he and Lucas first teamed with in 1977 for A New Hope. The texture of the music is just as rich and enchanting as that from the Classic Trilogy, and for casual listeners who are not sticklers for exactitude, this is an enjoyable recording.

[1] Sony did, indeed, issue a 2-CD Ultimate Edition set for The Phantom Menace’s score in November of 2000, but for various reasons the album was not carefully executed – no liner notes were included, and the timing between tracks was so badly done that the listener doesn’t get even a momentary pause when playing the discs. The music itself was great and even includes the 20th Century Fox Fanfare by Alfred Newman, but it did not sell well and killed any chance that Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith would get Ultimate Editions of their soundtracks,

Musings & Thoughts for Sunday, October 18, 2020: or, The ‘No Coffee Blues’

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on


Hello, Dear Reader. It’s mid-morning here in New Hometown, Florida on Sunday, October 18, 2020. Presently the temperature in my area is 75˚F (24˚C) under partly sunny skies. With the wind blowing from the north-northeast at 4 MPH (7 KM/H) and humidity at 93%, the feels-like temperature is also  75˚F (24˚C). The high for today is expected to reach 88˚F (31˚C),  and the low will be around 74˚F (23˚C).  In addition, though most of the day will be sunny and hot, the forecast calls for rain showers starting in the late afternoon and continuing overnight.

I woke up early; I didn’t have to, but at 6:15 AM I was up and playing mindless sports-related games on  Facebook. Everyone else in the house was sleeping, so I couldn’t turn on the TV in my bedroom/study or go to the set out in the Florida room to watch Star Trek: Picard or anything else. I could have read for a while on my futon, but I didn’t feel like it. I couldn’t go back to sleep – usually, once I’m awake after five in the morning I stay awake; I have to be extremely sleepy or relaxed to fall asleep again in the wee hours of the morning. Today I was neither.

I am not sure if the rest of this Sunday is going to be a good day for me. I can’t go to the barber shop (Just Cuts for Guys) for a haircut because it’s closed until Tuesday. I can’t make myself my morning coffee because we are out of Maxwell House; I’ll have to check the pantry to see if we have any Nescafe instant, but with my luck, we probably don’t.  And without coffee, I am usually not at my best, either creatively or emotionally.

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So, I’m sitting here at my desk – which, by the way, I hate because it’s smaller than the one I had before – listening to Baroque music on my Amazon Music app and trying to plan out my day, such as it is. So far, here are my options:

  • Read from one of the books on my TBR pile
  • Watch something from my Blu-ray/DVD collection on my TV, even though that means moving my desk, so I have a good eyeline from my sofa/futon
  • Go for a walk before (a) it gets too hot and (b) the rain clouds move in
  • Play Cold Waters or any of my other computer games
  • Try to start working on my NaNoWriMo project
  • Write a review and post it on one of my two blogs

Right now, none of these seems appealing, partly because I don’t feel like doing anything, but also because I haven’t had any coffee yet. If McDonald’s or Starbucks weren’t so far away, I’d be there in a heartbeat. The nearest Starbucks is a 24 minute walk away, though, and McDonald’s is even farther away, so…no.

Well, I am going to go to the kitchen and see if we have any instant coffee in the pantry. If not, I’m SOL.  

More Musings, More Thoughts for Saturday, October 17, 2020: The Tale of the Forgotten Haircut, & Shopping as Therapy for the Blues

Imagine me looking like this, but with longer (and a bit messier) hair.

Hello again, Dear Reader. It’s mid-afternoon here in New Hometown, Florida. Currently, the temperature is 86˚F (30˚C) under sunny skies. With the wind blowing from the east-northeast at 14 MPH (22 KM/H) and humidity at 62%, the feels-like temperature is 91˚F (33˚C). No rain is in the forecast for the afternoon.

After trying – and failing – to think of any truly happy memories related to Mom’s birthday, I took a shower and changed into my street clothes hoping that The Caregiver would remember that she promised to take me to the barber to get a badly needed haircut. Well, so far it looks as though that hope has been dashed, since (a) she is engrossed with her new boyfriend, and (b) she has not popped into my bedroom to say, “Hey, are you ready? We gotta go to get you that haircut.” 

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am still somewhat leery about going to the barber shop, which is named Just Cuts for Guys. However, my hair is getting long, especially in back where it is still thick, even if it is not as chestnut brown as it used to be when I was young. The Caregiver has been talking about taking me today for the past few days, yet here we are, past three on Saturday, October 17, and…nada, zip, zilch, zero.

If I had the same level of confidence that I had back in Miami, I would try and walk to Just for Guys. According to Google Maps, it’s 1.4 miles away and would take me 28 minutes, more or less, to get there on foot. Alas, no. I’m sad – not just over this being the sixth recurrence of my mother’s birthday since her death, but also over how weird The Caregiver behaves toward me, especially now that she has a New Guy. Even with directions to Just for Guys on my phone, I’m honestly too distracted by extraneous thoughts, and I still – still – have a strong instinct of self-preservation, so I don’t want to venture out, cross several minor roads and at least a major one, and either end up exhausted after the hike or – worse – injured or dead because I had a close encounter of the worst kind with a car.

If The Caregiver remembers that she promised to take me to the barber today and says, “Let’s go,” fine. I’m ready to go. All I have to do is give my teeth and gums a second brushing to minimize any chance of having bad breath, and I’m good. If not…well, I’m not going to make a big deal about it.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Someday, I am going to have to – at the very least – try to make the hike to Just Cuts for Guys and go get a haircut on my own. I used to do this in Miami-Dade all of the time when I was younger, cockier, and a little less fearful of being hit by a car while crossing a road. When I was a teenager, I’d walk 1.6 miles from my former home – it still saddens me to think of it as such- to a barber shop called Mr. Tony’s in Sweetwater, a small city adjacent to Fontainebleau Park in west Miami-Dade County.

I first walked to Mr. Tony’s when I was 17, and I went there every so often (maybe five or six times a year, since I have never been a huge fan of haircuts) for the next 15 or so years. Later, I would go to the barber at the Mall of the Americas (formerly Midway Mall), either by bus or on foot, though my mom would sometimes take me herself in her car when she still drove.

Eventually, a barber shop (Blades) opened in the shopping plaza close to my former home and I’d get my haircuts there from 2015 till April of 2016.

So, yeah….someday I’m going to attempt it. Just not today.

In Other News

(C) 2020 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Group

When I was trying to think of happy memories of times spent with my mother Beatriz, I couldn’t think of one that was explicitly related to her birthday. However, I eventually remembered that Mom and I used to watch WGBH-Boston’s Evening at Pops TV series on Miami’s PBS affiliate WPBT-TV (Channel Two) from the late 1970s – when the Boston Pops Orchestra was led by the late Arthur Fiedler – until it was unceremoniously canceled in 2004 by the Pops’ parent organization, the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Per Wikipedia: The long-running show ended after its 2004–2005 season because the Pops’ parent organization, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, did not want to continue funding the nearly $1 million production cost of each episode.

For quite a while, I have been searching for any DVD or Blu-ray that either features the Pops’ laureate conductor, Academy Award-winning composer John Williams and the Pops or Maestro Williams conducting any orchestra in a Pops-like setting. I haven’t had much luck finding any Evening at Pops compilation DVDs, but I did find this new Deutsche Grammophon CD/Blu-ray set online:

 Limited Deluxe Edition John Williams – Live in Vienna 

Per the product description in the Deutsche Grammophon website:

When the legendary American film composer John Williams conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time, Der Standard headlined its report “A Visit from God” and continued: “He was hailed by a standing, cheering ovation like God himself received by earthly disciples.” John Williams in Vienna documents this historical performance – “a very special honour” in the life of the composer.

Symphonic Hollywood sounds on the stage of the Vienna Musikverein: the world-famous orchestra plays iconic themes from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and other milestones in film history. Star guest Anne-Sophie Mutter performs violin arrangements made especially for her by Williams himself.

Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park: the soundtracks of John Williams, the master of cinematic magic, are among the most popular in the history of film and have received numerous prestigious awards, including five Oscars, five Emmys, four Golden Globes and twenty-five Grammys. Now the legendary American film composer has recorded the most famous, beautiful and touching of his cult themes for the first time with the Vienna Philharmonic. “Star moments of film music” was the headline of the Wiener Zeitung: “Hollywood’s grandmaster and the Vienna Philharmonic thrilled audiences with excerpts from his life’s work.”

I found out about this set purely by chance; I was browsing through YouTube in hopes of finding some clips from Evening at Pops that weren’t uploaded from someone’s old VHS troves, and I was directed to the video from Deutsche Grammophon touting its brand-new album (recorded in Vienna on January 18 and 19, before the COVID-19 pandemic threw a huge wrench in the works of 2020 – and released a little over two weeks ago.

I have a bad habit of shopping when I’m sad or upset, but since I did get a stimulus check this month and thus have a bit of discretionary money in the bank, I thought, “Hell, I don’t go out much anymore, I have no girlfriend to do anything fun with anymore, and I can’t buy too many Star Wars collectibles because my study is now smaller thanks to the addition of a futon. But I still have space on my shelves for a few Blu-rays or CDs. So, yeah. I’m buying this.”

Per Amazon, my CD/Blu-ray Limited Deluxe Edition set of John Williams – Live in Vienna  is due to arrive on Tuesday, but I think it might get here as early as Monday, depending on when it’s shipped and where it is shipped from.

Well, that’s all the news that fit to print. I still see no sign that The Caregiver remembers about taking  me to Just for Guys, which closes at 5 PM (it’s now 4:29 PM Eastern), so I think I’ll just sit here at my desk and game for a while. Or stream something from Amazon Prime Video. Or…read one of the many books on my TBR list.

I might be back later with a third post. It depends on a few variables, not the least of which is “If I have anything to say on my blog.” If not, I’ll be back tomorrow.

Either way, stay safe, stay healthy, be kind to others, and I’ll catch on the sunny side of things.

Musings & Thoughts for Saturday, October 17, 2020: Memories of Mom on Her 92nd Birthday

Mom in Paris, France just as she’s being given the “Best Legs in the Restaurant” Award at the Hotel Lido, circa 1962.

Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s past noon here in New Hometown, Florida. Currently, the temperature is 82˚F (28˚C) under mostly sunny skies. With the wind blowing from the northeast at 16 MPH (26 KM/H) and humidity at 70%, the heat index is  86˚F (30˚C). Today’s daytime forecast calls for partly sunny skies and a high temperature of 87˚F (30˚C).

Today would have been my mother’s 92nd birthday, and it’s the sixth recurrence of the date since her death on July 19, 2015 of complications from dementia and a lot of health issues that marked her last five years of life. I often try to console myself with thoughts along the lines of “Well, at least she is not suffering anymore and isn’t around to see how bad things are in the world now,” but that is only a small comfort. All I know now is that my mother is gone, living on only in the memories of those who knew and loved her.

I’m trying hard to conjure up only happy memories that center around my mom, but it’s not easy. Clearly, none of her last four birthdays since her fateful surgery to repair her (literally) shattered spine left any lasting happy memories; every “celebration” we held on October 17 from 2010 to 2014 was either muted by the fact that Mom wasn’t really enjoying the parties or spoiled by my half-sister’s need to be overly extravagant in her displays of “generosity” as far as presents and birthday party décor were concerned. (After our mother died in 2015, I ended up spending hundreds of dollars boxing and sending most of those gifts – stuffed animals and other sentimental knick-knacks  – to Vicky’s apartment during my failed attempt to repair and renovate the townhouse in Miami.)

My mother at the Publix register sometime in 2009. the year before her health took an unexpected and severe downturn.

The only semi-happy memory that I have of my mom during her last years involves one of the last conversations we exchanged at night a few months before she died. It must have been in April or May of 2015, because after those months during Mom’s final spring I usually tried not to spend too much time with her at night because she had “Sundown Syndrome” and was, to put it succinctly, a “difficult patient.”

We were, uncharacteristically, alone in her small, claustrophobic bedroom on the ground floor of the two-story townhouse that we’d shared for 37 years; the home health aide – a young Cuban woman with blonde hair, a somewhat placid disposition, and no English-language skills whatsoever – was in the kitchen fixing a home-cooked meal that my mom, predictably, was not going to eat.

I think we were watching either Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune – even at a time when Mom’s mental decline was going from bad to worse, I still attempted to stick to our routine of watching the 7-8 PM game show slate on Miami’s ABC affiliate WPLG Channel 10 on weeknights. It was more than likely Jeopardy, which in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale market airs at 7:30 PM.

Whichever show was on at the time doesn’t really matter. What matters is this brief exchange that says everything you need to know about the relationship between my mom and me.

There were, at the time, two beds in what had once been our home’s guest room. One bed had always been there and was situated next to the wall closest to the bedroom door. The other bed was the hospital-type one provided by the State of Florida as part of Mom’s Medicaid benefits. That one was on the other side of the small bedroom and had been placed close to the walk-in closet that was the only feature Mom liked about the room. There was about a five foot gap between the beds, and part of It was occupied by a table on which Mom had her cold water bottle, her box of Kleenex, a Princess phone that by now she had forgotten to use properly, and a couple of other items.

The bed on which I lay faced west, as did Mom’s. Mine was right in front of the window, which had beige vertical blinds made from fabric. Mom’s bed faced her desk-dresser, which was dominated by a plethora of framed family photos, two TVs – including one set that Vicky insisted on bringing from her apartment because I always unplugged Mom’s small 16-inch HDTV during thunderstorms, much to my half-sister’s displeasure – and a vase full of flowers.

By the spring of 2015, I usually dreaded being in Mom’s room in the evenings; one of the nastier effects of dementia on its sufferers is that in many cases, the transition from daytime to night often is unpleasant for both the patient and the caregiver as a result from what health care professionals call “sundowning” or Sundown Syndrome.

Per Dr. Jonathan Graff-Radford of the Mayo Clinic:

The term “sundowning” refers to a state of confusion occurring in the late afternoon and spanning into the night. Sundowning can cause a variety of behaviors, such as confusion, anxiety, aggression or ignoring directions.

I had already had more than my fair share of “sundowning” incidents, including several instances when I had to call my half-sister late at night to come by the house because Mom refused to take her last nightly dose of medications. As a result, I was constantly on edge whenever I was alone in Mom’s room with her while the HHA cooked Mom’s dinner or did some light housekeeping chores in the kitchen.

Christmas 2009: The last party my mother attended outside of her townhouse.

So when Mom turned in my direction and said, “Alex, I want to tell you something,” I felt a sudden pang of dread.

Not wanting to trigger my mom’s sundowning, I turned to face her and spoke in a calm, soothing tone. “Yes, Mom?”

Mom looked at me with a most serious expression on her pale, thinning face. She looked so frail that I wanted to cry, but I didn’t.

“Alex,” she repeated in a serious tone of voice. “Listen to me.”

“I am listening, Mom,” I replied.

“Alex,” she said, trying to summon up a smile, “I don’t love you…I  adore you.”

“Oh, Mom,” I said, trying not to get too misty-eyed.

She gave me another smile, even though it required a lot of effort on her part. Then she turned her attention to Jeopardy.

I wish I could have written a happier anecdote about my mother on her 92nd birthday, Dear Reader. This is the best that I could come up with, though.

Mom and me, circa 1964.

Evening Musings & Thoughts for Friday, October 16, 2020: Walk Not Taken, Packages Received

A view of my old home town at night. Photo by Elvis Vasquez on

Hello – again – Dear Reader. It is evening here in New Hometown, Florida. It’s getting dark outside; the sun set 12 minutes ago, and the temperature is 83˚F (28˚C) under partly cloudy skies. With humidity at 67% and the wind blowing from the northeast at 5 MPH (8 KM/H), the feels-like temperature is 87˚F (31˚C). The low tonight is expected to reach 70˚F (21˚C).

I was going to go for a walk about an hour ago; I am dressed in what I call “street clothes” and wearing my new walking shoes. I even have my wallet and house key in my trousers’ pocket. Unfortunately, my plans for an evening constitutional were put on hold because I forgot to turn off my smartphone last night and had left it on my dresser running all day.

Photo by Cristian Dina on

As a result, when I picked it up and saw that I only had 3% of a charge on my battery, I immediately got the recharger and plugged my smartphone to one of the outlets in my bedroom/study. Unfortunately, it was 6:32 PM Eastern when I did this, and sunset here was at 6:58 PM.

Were I as familiar with this neighborhood as I still am with East Wind Lake Village in Miami-Dade County, I would still go out right now. After all, I walked through that condo complex in the dark of night and in the light of day from shortly before my 15th birthday until I was 53 years old. But as I have said before about my life in New Hometown, I have not ventured out much on my own since I arrived here almost five years ago. As a result, I already got…not quite lost, but disoriented once, and that was during the day. I don’t feel too thrilled about having that experience at night, although I’m sure that if I use my phone’s GPS feature I could still find my way back home.

I’m charging my phone now – last time I checked the battery charge level was at 59% – but I think I’ll just take off my walking shoes and change into my night-time sweatpants. I’m not going anywhere tonight!

(C) 2017 Warner Classics

On the Good News Front, my 6-CD set of Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-6; “Manfred” Symphony; Francesca da Rimini; Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, 1812; Rococo Variations as performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Mstilav Rostropovich arrived a few hours ago. It was scheduled for a Sunday delivery, but I have learned that many Amazon estimated times of arrival for packages have a certain “worst-case scenario” vibe to them, especially when the company decides to use the U.S. Post Office for its “last mile” shipping partner instead of using its own drivers and vehicles.

I have not opened the blue Warner Classics box set; I put it on one of my multimedia tower’s CD compartments, but I’m impressed by the fact that this set has so much great music, even though I just needed the Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (“Pathétique”) and the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. I might listen to the Патетическая (Pateticheskaya) tomorrow in remembrance of my mother, who would have been 92 years old.

(C) 1997 Del Rey Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Other than that, nothing noteworthy happened here today. I wrote a book review (Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays) and tried to play one of my World War II-themed games (Close Combat: The Longest Day) but quit just 15 minutes into the 45-minute-long battle. I wasn’t doing too badly, but my heart wasn’t much into gaming. I then got ready for my walk…and that didn’t go so well.

Ah. Well, there’s always tomorrow.

And on that note, I think I’ll close for now. So, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

Photo by Christian Decout on