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[The Night Shifters is] a fascinating ride. The voice feels a lot like Neil Gaiman. This is a huge compliment in my mind, and one not to be taken lightly.” - Melinda VanLone Reviews

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Volcano Music

Volcano music! What could be more appropriate for this science/SF/music/weirdness blog? Michael Levy's music will be featured in another BBC production, this time enhancing the glory of volcanoes. And there will be Naked scientists! Sort of. Click on the links to check it out. And Happy Birthday, Michael!

Volcanoes...and Ancient Roman Lyre Music!

The perfect birthday pressie - I am getting airplay on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire at 6 pm on my birthday, Sunday 3rd May!

The show, "Naked Scientists" is about volcanoes and will features clips of my Roman-themed compositions "The Temple of Mars" from my album"Echoes of Ancient Rome""Gloria Belli (Glory of Battle)" and "Tristitia (Sorrow)", from my album "The Ancient Roman Lyre", played during a reading of Pliny the Elder's first-hand account of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE.The show will also be out then on BBC iPlayer.

For anyone who simply can't wait and feels the need to be up at the crack of dawn, the show will also be on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday 2nd May at 5 am!

The show will also be going global on the Naked Scientists podcast - at last, my lyre music will soon be erupting all over the known world!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Crappy Self Promotion, Inc.

I must be a crappy self-promoter, because two of my stories have been published online recently, and I have yet to promote them on this blog. The first is “Dr. Polingyouma's Machine” in UNCANNY magazine, and the second is “Postcards From Monster Island” in CLARKESWORLD. Click on the names of these magazines to visit them, and while you're at it, think about subscribing and/or donating. Keep short fiction forums alive and well!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mr Spock's Harp

Some of you may recall an episode from the original Star Trek series in which Mr. Spock is forced to play the harp and sing for a bunch of mean, telekinetic aliens – and he's actually really good at it. The interesting thing is that Leonard Nimoy, who wove some of his Judaic traditions into his role as Spock, comes from a long line of harp-loving folk, including King David. So it only makes sense that Michael Levy should pay tribute to Mr Spock in his newest album. Click the links below! No harp and/or Star Trek collection is complete without this wonderful new album!

Alien Harp - Music From An Alternate Universe

I am pleased to announce the release of the third in my recently ultra-experimental EP length albums, dedicated to providing the lyre of antiquitywith a new voice for the 21st century, and hopefully way beyond!"Alien Harp: Music From An Alternate Universe" is my own personal tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy, inspired by his Star Trek character Spock's 'Vulcan Harp' - featuring original compositions for solo lyre, transformed by a veritable vista of contemporary studio effects, evoking an 'alternate universe' of mysterious, alien soundscapes, going boldly where no lyre has gone before...Here are all the main purchase links:

Buy This Album on iTunes
Buy This Album on Amazon
Buy This Album on Google Play
Buy This Album on CD Baby
Buy This Album on Bandcamp

A free PDF of the detailed album notes can be downloaded here.

As an independent artist, without the benefit of a record company to do all the promotional stuff on my behalf, my music only really manages to 'get out there', thanks to the infinitely appreciated efforts of ALL you lovely lyre lovers out there, in each and every Facebook share, tweet, web blog about my music and album review - thank you all, for your continued support in my musical mission, to reintroduce the lyre of antiquity back into the 21st century musical world! 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Power and Pants

LGBT issues have been in the news and all over social media lately, so an aspect of life that used to be considered out of the mainstream is right in the center now. This is helpful to my friends and family who are LGBT, but it also sheds light on a subject that has fascinated me since I was a girl in grade school, petitioning for my school to allow girls to wear pants (especially jeans): gender-specific clothing.

I was in grade school in the 60s – in Phoenix. In Arizona. In a corner of the U.S. that was anything but cutting edge. Our population was 698,000 in 1965, about four times smaller than it is now. We were considered the Wild West, and our styles trended years behind hipper parts of the country. When I was a girl, most of the women that I saw on TV, in magazines, and in real life were very feminized, so we girls emulated them. We thought dresses and skirts were the most wonderful things in the world. But we were in a unique situation too, because as denizens of the Wild West, we also knew about Cow Girls. Cow Girls in AZ wore jeans, just like the Cow Girls in movies and TV.

I became aware of other women on TV who wore pants, like Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and lady scientists in SciFi movies. Plenty of women in Science Fiction movies/shows wore skirts too – most notably the cocktail-waitress outfit the female officers wore on Star Trek. But the garments under those uniforms looked like shorts to me. I already wore shorts under my skirts and dresses because we had P.E. every day at school, and wearing the shorts under my skirts made it easier to change. That's what I told myself. But the truth was, I lived in shorts or pants the rest of the time – it was the clothing I associated with freedom and adventure. And because of that, I have gradually become aware that it is also the clothing of power.

To me, power isn't punching some guy in the face. Power is the ability to handle your own finances, pursue your own interests, and walk (or in some cases hike or climb) with confidence in the world. You don't need your husband to negotiate with a car dealer (though you'll probably discuss the options with him beforehand), and for better or worse, you are the mistress of your life. Plenty of women do that in skirts, often in high heels, and some would argue that stylish dresses and skirt-suits are the essence of power clothing. I think that's true in some cases, but not in most.

I don't want to get in too deep with psychology here, but I feel traditional women's clothing is not as physically comfortable, and that seems to be deliberate. It limits your range of movement, and there is an implied sexual component to it – it's supposed to enhance your figure and make you look attractive. But what if you don't want to attract? What if you just want to go about your business? In some cultures, people try to solve that problem with shapeless garments that cover you from head to toe. But that's the opposite of comfortable. Let me tell you about comfortable.

Comfortable is shoes that you can walk or stand in for long periods of time. It's jeans that fit properly without being too loose or too tight. Comfortable is a shirt (or blouse) that fits the same way. Sometimes that shirt was manufactured for women. But sometimes it was manufactured for men.

Here's a photo of my three favorite shirts (currently). Two of them were manufactured for men – I found them in the men's section at various Goodwill stores. I would guess that ¼ of the shirts in my closet are men's shirts.

Back in the 60s, a gal like me would be called a tomboy – we're comfortable with our heterosexuality, able to appreciate feminine clothing, but we're much more likely to wear the jeans and comfy shirts. We like to hike, garden, paint our own houses, sometimes even repair our cars and/or appliances. We go to college to pursue science degrees (among other specialties). We may or may not wear makeup/dresses/heels occasionally. But we conduct most of our important business in pants.

I can't even guess how much of my tendency to do that is due to my perception of men from the decade I grew up.  Men were doctors, lawyers, school principals, and presidents. I didn't think there was anything wrong with women doing those things, but at that time, most of the decision-making jobs were held by men - and they wore pants.

On the other hand, my mom was divorced, and she was a woman to be reckoned with, whether she was wearing slacks or dresses. And there was another factor that must have shaped my love of jeans – the culturally turbulent 60s. Okay, the 70s, too.

That's when bell-bottoms were in style, for both men and women. I would wear them today, if they were re-introduced. Alas for me, I can't resist the Groovy Look. Most styles are enjoyed with some level of delusion. In my case it may be quite high. But for me, the jeans and the comfy shirts will always be a symbol of the control I assert over my own life.

So as the discussion about sexuality, gender, and gender identity (or even the choice not to have a gender identity) continues to unfold, it will be interesting to see how clothing styles evolve. Whatever happens – I'll keep haunting Goodwill for my favorite stuff, regardless of how the aisles are classified.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Get In Touch With Your Ancient Muse

Michael Levy has released a brand new album, in collaboration with Lutherios Ancient and Modern Musical Instruments. Click on the links below!

The Lyre of Hermes

I am pleased to announce the release on iTunes, Amazon and indeed, every other major digital music store, of my brand new EP album, "The Lyre of Hermes" - featuring my amazing chelys (tortoise shell form) lyre, handmade in modern Greece by Luthieros Ancient and Modern Music Instruments.

This album is the sequel to my album, "The Lyre of Apollo - The Chelys Lyre of Ancient Greece". Both of these albums are part of an exciting collaboration between myself and Lutherios Ancient & Modern Music Instruments for their inspirational "Lyre 2.0 Project" - dedicated to reintroducing the beautiful lyre of antiquity back into our much aesthetically poorer, bland modern world. Their vision is one I share and which continues to inspire me - maybe, someday soon, the beautiful lyre of antiquity will once again resonate the 21st century and beyond, with its haunting, ancient beauty...

All of the tracks in this album are composed in a selection of the original ancient Greek modes, in the wonderfully pure just intonation of antiquity. The tracks are inspired by the unique characteristics of some of the Nymphs of ancient Greek mythology. The pieces are all spontaneous improvisations on a basic melodic idea - 'inspired by the Muse' whilst I was actually performing them!

The pieces demonstrate a whole new palette of lyre playing techniques which are possible on this amazing lyre, which also features an authentic, replica 2500 year old carved bone plectrum, tied to the lyre with a leather cord. The greater mass of the plectrum allows some really interesting techniques, such as portamento - sliding effects created by sliding the plectrum down the length of the vibrating string.

The perfectly straight bridge on this lyre also allows for the seamless playing of harmonics, achieved by lightly stopping the strings at their centre points, since the straight bridge results in the centre point of each string lying in the same plane.

Another new effect which is possible on the light tension strings of this lyre, is the use of vibrato - achieved by applying pressure above the vibrating point of string, above the bridge.

All these techniques are based on the limitations of what is possible to play on the instrument and which I am sure, that any ancient Greek lyre player with any musical imagination, would have been able to also use to enhance their performance. Barely 100 or more generations separate ourselves and the ancient Greeks - regarding musical imagination and experimentation, we are them and they are us!

A PDF of the detailed album notes can be freely downloaded here.

NB! Each and every new album review or online blog post about my lyre music, is like a literal libation to Apollo...thanks everyone, for helping to 'spread the word'!

Here are the main purchase links for this album:

Buy this album on iTunes

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why We Got the Jerks We Deserved (and Now They're Loose!)

I'm going to warn you right off the bat, some of you will recognize yourselves in this post. If you do, I want to apologize – not because I've offended you by calling you out, but because I'm one of the ex-Borders employees who taught you to be an entitled jerk.

Most of you other readers are innocent of any of these shenanigans, but will recognize your own customers, regardless of what sort of store you work in, because the economy we've suffered for the past 15 years has bred a lot of desperate customer-service policies. But there are some issues that are peculiar to bookstores, mainly because someone got the bright idea that book stores should have a coffee shop attached to them.

I can just see the wheels turning the head of the jerk who thought that one up. What would I want in a book shop to make the experience relaxing and perfect? they asked themselves. A place to sit down, read a book, sip a latte . . .

Yeah, that's great, all right. And in the late 90s this worked out fairly well for Borders and Barnes & Noble. People trashed a lot of stuff in the cafes (spilling coffee on unpaid merchandise and getting goopy fingerprints all over it), but the economy was good enough that they also spent a lot of money in those superstores. They became social meeting places, and that must have seemed like a great way to get customers into the stores

In fact, it was a great way to get people into the stores. People are often not customers. And as the economy tanked, and people had a harder and harder time paying for even the basics, some were able to continue enjoying their books and lattes – because they didn't have to pay for the books. Or the magazines. Or the newspapers that they spread all over the place as if they had purchased them.

There was an unspoken agreement between the superstores and their clientele that if you were sitting in a chair and reading a book, it was because you were considering buying that book. It was (mostly) true at one time. But by the time Borders went bankrupt, it was usually not true. And as we employees watched families move in to the children's section to grab armloads of books and spread themselves out on the floor as if they were in their own living rooms, we could see which way the tide was turning. These folks became so bold, they brought bags of MacDonald's food in with them and put greasy fingerprints all over the books they left in untidy stacks on the floor.

And we did it to ourselves. We created the environment that made it possible for people to walk all over us. We should have been trying to adapt to the bad economy instead of pretending it was all a matter of good customer service. And now Borders is gone, and surviving book businesses are having to cope with customers who were raised in a barn. Many of these folks are now shopping for books they are considering buying online, but they want to review them first, turning local bookstores into the showroom.

Yes, people are behaving pretty badly sometimes. And very few businesses have adapted to the situation. One of the few I can think of is Wired? Cafe in Taos, New Mexico. They have a handful of book titles that they sell, but most of the books on their shelves are used books donated by staff and customers, available to read for free. Primarily, they sell lattes and internet/computer time. Since they're located in a popular travel destination, this model works beautifully for them.

As for the rest of us, we're still suffering from the austerity policies that have wrecked economies all over the world (she said, without the least hint of political bias). Until things get better, the knee-jerk customer-service policies that companies think up to compensate for the fact that customers don't have any money will continue to create monsters among their clientele. Sooner or later, regardless of the economy in general, this is going to have to be sensibly addressed.

Photo by Em, drawings by the fabulous Ernest Hogan.    

Friday, January 30, 2015

Lyre 2.0

Michael Levy has released a new album! Read all about it below and – follow the links!

The Lyre of Apollo: The Chelys Lyre of Ancient Greece

This album is the culmination of an exciting collaboration between myself and Lutherios Ancient & Modern Music Instruments for their inspirational"Lyre 2.0 Project" - dedicated to reintroducing the beautiful lyre of antiquity back into our much aesthetically poorer, bland modern world. Their vision is one I share and which continues to inspire me - maybe, someday soon, the beautiful lyre of antiquity will once again resonate in the 21st century and beyond, with its haunting, ancient beauty.

The literal translation of the ancient Greek word "chelys" means "tortoise shell lyre"; the lyre made with a resonator fashioned from a tortoise shell carapace over which a soundboard of taut leather was stretched. However, as well as an actual tortoise shell carapace , the term 'chelys' could also refer to a lyre with a resonator made of wood, but carved into the general form of a tortoise. Indeed, the latter would have produced a much richer, resonant tone, as wood is a far lighter and resonant material to construct a musical instrument from, than a much denser tortoise shell carapace, in addition to its irregular thickness. The 'Lyre of Apollo III' model with which this album was recorded, was therefore constructed in accordance with the latter form of chelys.

The definitive proof that the resonator of the ancient Greek chelys was also sometimes made out of wood carved in the portrayal of the tortoise shell can be found in this fascinating original ancient text by Philostratus the Elder, in his writings, "Imagines":

"All the wood required for the lyre is of boxwood, firm and free from knots – there is no ivory anywhere about the lyre, for men did not yet know wither the elephant or the use they were to make of its tusks. The tortoise-shell is black,but its portrayal is accurate and true to nature in that the surface is covered with irregular circles which touch each other and have yellow eyes..."

Here are the main purchase links for this brand new album:

As an ever-aspiring independent artist, without the backing of any major record company to further my cause, every new album review or internet blog post about my music is literally worth its weight in gold, in my efforts to honestly promote my lyre music to the rest of the unsuspecting world...many thanks for your continued and immensely valued support over the years, everyone!

In this album, for the first time, I am also able to offer painstakingly handwritten sheet music for 10 of the 12 tracks:

A free PDF booklet of the detailed album notes can be freely downloaded here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Third Honeymoon's A Charm

A trip to Sedona to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary seemed like the perfect time to review hikes and burger joints from Roger Naylor's new book, Boots & Burgers: An Arizona Handbook for Hungry Hikers, so I marked a few hikes and Google-mapped a couple of restaurants, and we set out on a Wednesday evening.  Thursday morning we rose with every intention of doing the Hiline Trail (after a hardy breakfast at Coffee Pot Restaurant). But to get to the trailhead, you have to drive up a rugged section of Schnebly Hill Road, and that's when we ran into a snag.

Our little Toyota truck probably could have navigated that road, but I wasn't 100% per cent sure, and the warranty on our tires is expired. So after a brief foray about 20 feet in, where we immediately began to wallow, I turned the truck around and parked it in the paved lot next to Marg's Draw. That trail was tempting, but being unable to drive up Schnebly Hill made me feel very curious about the road, itself.

Schnebly Hill is a very old trail. Martha Summerhayes and her party used it to get to Sedona in the 1870s (Vanished Arizona). I wondered if it would make a good hiking trail in its own right. So Ernie and I decided to hike up the road to the trail head (we figured it was about 2.5 miles), and then we would decide if we could slog any further up the Hiline Trail, or if we should just turn around and hike back. Our other option was to hike Marg's Draw, which looked very alluring from the trailhead. We decided to do that one the next time we return to Sedona, and set off up good ol' Schnebly Hill.

I'm glad we did, because I learned a few things I hadn't known before. For one thing, I realized I'd like to buy a two-seater ATV some day. Several of them passed us on the way, and I admired the way they navigated the rugged rocks and soft sand/silt that challenge any kind of wheels on that road. I also saw something I hadn't seen before.

If you've read Wayne Ranney's book, Sedona Through Time, you know about the Hickey Formation and the Plateau Basalts – but those layers have eroded away in the Sedona area, and it's hard to tell where they were. You see basalt rocks and boulders along Oak Creek (some of them gigantic), but I hadn't seen them along the HWY 179 trails until I spotted them poking up out of the middle of Schnebly Hill Road. I have no idea just how large those rocks are, since they're almost completely buried by sand and silt from the Hermit Shale and Schnebly Hill Formations – for all I know, they may be as big as houses.

There was a wash alongside the road with some standing water in pools and the sort of slickrock you can find at Slide Rock State Park, Bell Rock, Red Rock State Park, etc. Recent running water had left beautiful ripples in the fine sand/silt. We were careful not to stick our gallumphy footprints in it. Overhead, on all sides, red rock formations stared down at us. We made it all the way up to the trail head – but decided to hike back down again, since our day was turning toward afternoon. Four to five hours hiking is plenty for me.

So down we went again. We didn't accomplish my goal of hiking either of those trails (this time around), but we succeeded at the burger end of things beyond my wildest dreams. For our honeymoon supper, we visited Cowboy Club in uptown Sedona. We both ordered the Cowboy Up burger, which is adorned with bacon, cheddar cheese, crispy onions, and BBQ sauce. The burger is ground sirloin, and we asked for ours to be cooked well-done, yet they were still juicy and tasty. They were served on a buttery pretzel roll (just as Roger described it). From the way the burger was described, I thought it might be a bit sloppy, but the ratio of toppings to meat and bun was just right. I had the sweet potato fries with mine, and my husband had the beans. We didn't need appetizers or desert, because the combo was quite filling.

Friday, on our drive back to Phoenix, we decided to take the scenic route and go south on HWY 89A, through Cottonwood, Jerome, and Prescott. This is one of the most beautiful drives you can do in AZ. It's interesting if you're driving south to north, but I particularly enjoy it in the other direction, climbing into Jerome instead of descending through it. If you're the driver, you will have to remind yourself to watch the road, because it twists and turns while continually revealing breathtaking scenery.

By the time we reached Prescott, I was ready to try another burger joint from Roger's book, Bill's Grill. It doesn't seem to be on the main drag through town, but it actually is. It's an innocuous little place on a stretch of the highway at the southern end of town. Hwy 89 is called South Montezuma Street for that stretch, so don't let it throw you.

We chose to sit in the enclosed porch, mostly because we didn't realize it was a porch, it was so cozy and well-protected from the elements. This proved important, because on that particular day a storm was passing through Arizona, bringing colder temps and lots of wind and rain. We felt snug and comfy as we ordered the Southwest BBQ Burger (I just can't resist the bacon). It doesn't come with a side – you have to order that extra, but you may find you don't need it. The burger is pretty big, and I couldn't make much of a dent in the sweet potato fries I ordered (though they were perfect). It had a couple of things in common with the burger I got at Cowboy Club. One was that it also was not overwhelmed by its condiments. And the other was that they use locally raised beef. These burgers were so tasty, I think I've been spoiled for life.

So there you have it – another foray into the hiking & burger heaven of Roger Naylor's new book. I am convinced. I shall continue my Naylor-guided explorations. Watch this space for further developments . . .

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Nero's Lyre" Featured In "No Lander"

It had to happen! Michael Levy's music has been used in a ballet. Click on the links below to feast your eyes and ears!

My Lyre Music Featured in a Ballet Production!

I was delighted to stumble upon a video of a new ballet production in progress, by Riccardo Buscarini, entitled "No Lander", which features my composition "Nero's Lyre"!

Here are some details about the production from the video description:

"In an endless space, five dancers play sailors lost at sea... nothing to hang on to, no roots, no light, no land... just a never-ending horizon of waves. A melancholic and subtle meditation on the themes of Homer’s Odyssey, No Lander reflects upon longing and belonging. No Lander was initially developed as part of Middlesex University/ResCen research project ‘ArtsCross London 2013: Leaving Home, Being Elsewhere’ in August 2013 where a 10 minute version of the work was created"

The video of this fascinating ballet production can be viewed and freely downloaded here.

The splendid choreography certainly adds an entirely new dimension to my composition!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

High Hopes for the End of the World

How would you prefer the world to end? That was a question that would have struck me as odd a few years ago, before I realized there was a sub-genre in science fiction called Post Apocalypse.

I knew there was a sub-genre in horror – zombie novels – and they also qualify as Post Apocalypse. I figured zombie stories entertained people because they liked the idea of being able to kill droves of enemies without feeling guilty about it. After all, those enemies are already dead. Plus they want to eat you. If that AMC show, The Walking Dead, is any indication, those zombies can be quite a nuisance in large groups, so I agree it's wise to shoot as many of them in the head as you can, just to be safe.

But zombies alone can't hold our attention for very long. In large doses, you just get sick of them – you want the heroes to blow them up already, and get on with the real story. And what is the real story? It's about how things come unraveled.

The why of it isn't as important. We can all think of reasons for everything to go to Hell in a hand basket. We've been watching that happen throughout recorded history. There's a plague, a world war, a Kristallnacht. Afterward, the experts have plenty to say about what went wrong and why it all happened. But the people who survived are much more interesting, because they tell us the details of how it happened: the food supply was interrupted, the currency collapsed, water stopped coming out of taps, no fuel was available for cars, trains, and buses – a thousand details about the things we take for granted until they're not working anymore.

It's not that we're indifferent. The world comes to an end in all sorts of smaller ways, for all of us, all the time. It's tempting to point a finger at society in general and say What a bunch of clueless, spoiled fools we are! We deserve to be overrun by zombies. But we don't deserve it. We're just fascinated by it. Because finding out how things come apart teaches us how things work in the first place.

That's why Alan Weisman's book, The World Without Us, is so engrossing. He doesn't attempt to tell us why the theoretical End of the World occurs in his book, he just illustrates what happens when our infrastructure isn't being maintained on a daily basis. National Geographic's World Without Humans follows the same premise. Each episode shows us how various cities would fall apart: buildings, roads, bridges, dams, and vehicles. It proves that we don't take things for granted, because we're maintaining all this stuff every day. It shows us a big picture that we can't see on our own.

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” (At least according to facebook, but it sounds like something he could have said.) I think you could say the same thing about the Apocalypse. The anxiety that things will fall apart nibbles at us every day (especially those of us who are homeowners). But anxiety isn't the only thing we feel when we contemplate the End Of All We Know. There's some anticipation in there too. When old worlds die, new ones are born. Creation and destruction are bound together. In books and movies, that principle is usually exemplified by a virus.

The virus is what kills people. But often that wasn't its original intention – it may have been engineered to do the opposite, to preserve life by prolonging it. That's why those dead people got up and started walking again; something is keeping them from rotting completely away. It turns out that viruses are good delivery systems for genetic information, so theoretically you could use one to tweak human DNA. Or to cure people, or make them stronger, allow them to live longer. If you're a writer, you can't help imagining how all of that could go wrong – hence the zombies and cannibalistic mutants that pervade popular culture these days. Maybe they could be seen as symbols of our hubris.

But they may be symbols of evolution, as well. Climate drives change, but so does mutation. When the dinosaur-killing asteroid struck Earth about 60 million years ago, it killed a lot of dinosaurs. Only – it didn't. The change in climate killed a lot of species, and the ones that survived evolved. Dinosaurs became birds, and early mammals diversified. Natural selection and mutation worked paw in claw to create new creatures.

In our own way, we also become new creatures when our world comes to an end. And as much as we hate and fear it, that may be part of the appeal.

The illustrations on this post are by Ernest Hogan, whose drawings are always at least a little apocalyptic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Would You Like Fries With That Hike?

Working at the Heard Museum Book Store allows me to find more nifty books than I would normally see were I simply to wander into a National Park book store (something I do more often than you might think), so I was already familiar with a couple of other Roger Naylor titles: Death Valley: Hottest Place On Earth and Arizona: Kicks On Route 66. These inexpensive and lavishly photographed books are full of lore and suggestions of interesting places to visit, so when Boots & Burgers: An Arizona Handbook For Hungry Hikers came over the transom, I bought it so fast my receipt is singed around the edges.

Boots & Burgers combined my two favorite things in the world, hiking and eating at diners after hiking – what a natural! So I went through the book with a fine-tooth comb and started marking hikes I want to do, along with their accompanying diner suggestions. I knew I would review this book, so I was prepared to say all sorts of nice things about the fact that most of the hikes listed in the book are new to me, so I have lots of lovely exploration to do. Likewise, I had never eaten at most of these diners, and I love burgers. A match made in heaven. The directions to the trail heads are clear, the exertion level is accurate, and the diner reviews make my mouth water. Good stuff! Get down here and by this book right now!

But this is a book about adventure and exploration. Is one review enough? I think Boots & Burgers requires special treatment. I haven't done my job as a reviewer unless I go on at least some of these hikes, eat at some of these diners, and then tell you how they were. I am prepared to make this sacrifice. Because I'm just that kinda guy.

So – the first hike that tempted me was the Red Mountain trail, just north of Flagstaff on HWY 180, the same road that will take you to the Grand Canyon if you don't want to take HWY 89. There's nothing wrong with HWY 89 of course – after all, it takes you past Wupatki and Sunset Crater. But HWY 180 may be the road less traveled, unless you're really into skiing at Snow Bowl, or you can't resist the observatory or the museums – or . . .

Okay, maybe it's NOT the road less traveled. But on the Thursday we went looking for Red Mountain, there weren't a lot of people sharing the highway with us. The book warned us to watch for the mile marker after the Red Mountain sign, and this proved to be completely accurate. We turned left onto a forest road, drove past the sign warning us not to park in undesignated parking areas – you need to go to the end, where it loops, and THEN you can improvise a parking spot. Just try not to block the road. Not that anyone showed up while we were there – probably because everyone else knew that if you want to see the magnificent formations inside that partially-collapsed cinder cone, you need to show up in the morning, when light will ignite the full glory of those fantastical shapes.

The trail leads through a forest of junipers, ponderosas, and scented scrub – you see glimpses of the rock formations looming over it all, further down the trail. This is when you're saying to yourself, Dang! I wish we had gotten here before noon! Because those volcanic-tuff hoodoos are in shadow in the afternoon. They are mere shadows of themselves.

What's cool is that eventually you reach the cone, and you have to climb a short ladder to get up among the hoodoos. Somehow it all reminds me of scenes from The Lord of the Rings, when the company of friends travel into lands long abandoned to find half-ruined statues of ancient heroes. The formations are fantastical even in the half-light, and you will be busy snapping pictures of them. By the way – please don't be a jerk and climb on them.

On the way back down, I tested Roger's claim that Ponderosas smell like vanilla – and it's true. Put your nose right up next to them and breathe deep. The scent is amazing. And it only took me 56 years to find that out.

We had already located Mama Burgers on the way down – it's right on the elbow part of the bend that becomes HWY 180. It's a little place, and many of the employees are teenagers. I was tempted to try one of the shakes – I hear they're amazing, so I'll do that come summer – but I stuck to a burger and fries. My husband did the same, but he picked the Mamaburger, while I had the one with bacon and avocado.

They were EXCELLENT.

So five stars for the Red Mountain hike and the Mama Burger joint. Now – time to pick the next hike . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Lyre 2.0 Project

Michael Levy has been busy lately, as you will see when you follow the links below. Read about his hopes to bring the beautiful music of the ancient world to modern audiences, and his collaboration with a family of instrument makers in Greece!

The Lyre 2.0 Project 

I am delighted to announce an exciting new collaboration entitled "The Lyre 2.0 Project", between myself and the specialist ancient Greek lyre makers

The essential concept of the "Lyre 2.0 Project", is our shared vision of reintroducing the beautiful lyre of antiquity back into our much less beautiful, bland, modern world.

As my own contribution to this unique collaboration, I have written a booklet outlining the history of the lyre, lyre playing techniques, the unique characteristics of the ancient Greek modes, notated my arrangements of music for solo lyre (featuring some original ancient Greek melodies and a selection of my own compositions in a selection of some of the original ancient Greek modes) and I will be recording a CD to accompany the booklet of notated music, capturing the evocative and haunting ancient timbre of "The Lyre of Apollo III" model which Luthieros custom made for me. The CD and booklet will be included with each beautiful lyre sold. I will also soon be compiling a series of special tuition videos for the lyres made by Luthieros.

Luthieros are comprised of members of the Koumartzis family of specialist musical instrument makers, who are based in Thessaloniki, Greece. Their inspirational project recently featured in an article in "Lifo Magazine" - one of the most widely read cultural magazines in Greece!

Their vision is one I share and which continues to inspire me - maybe, some day soon, the beautiful lyre of antiquity will once again resonate the bland modern world with its haunting, ancient beauty... 

For full details, please see my brand new webpage dedicated to this project, which also features my new and ever growing Youtube 'Lyre 2.0 Project' playlist, which features all my 'live' performances (from my strangely kitchen-shaped 'amphitheatre'!) on this beautiful and evocative lyre:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

It's Not the Lake, It's the Great Geology

I have to confess that I'm not a water sports fan, and I'm pretty sure that Lake Pleasant is a great place to get a sunburn. That said, I've noticed that a lot of locals really enjoy the lake and its recreational opportunities, so I'm not trying to knock it -- I simply don't know enough about that aspect of it to write a review about it. Instead, I'd like to talk about the geology and a wonderful trail we hiked.
The Hieroglyphic Mountains (and its neighbors) are a testament to the varied volcanic activity that shaped most of Arizona over the last 1.7 billion years, though most of the landscape you see on the Pipeline Trail near Lake Pleasant has its origins in the Tertiary and Quaternary periods. We saw everything from vesicular basalt to rhyolitic tuff, and the colors were fabulous. Check out the USGS pdf map of the area -- it will give you a more detailed breakdown of the rock types you'll find in the area.

The trail is not a loop, and it's 2.2 miles each way, but it's moderate in difficulty, without a lot of climbing. The views are gorgeous, especially if you're fond of desert flora and fauna, and there are even wild donkeys in the area (we saw several of them, and heard their "EE-Aw"s echoing up and down the canyon). This is a hike for the cool season, late Oct to late March, and you need to take water -- and your camera!

After hiking both ways on the trail, we drove to Wickenburg and had supper at Anita's Cocina, ignoring the fast food joints along HWY 60. It was a wonderful day.