My research and teaching activities often have some deep connections with what goes on “behind the scenes” of my professional life. For that reason, I engage in the following self-disclosures …
Music: Above all else, I am an aficionado of Classical, especially BBMHH (alias Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Handel). But, in an almost contradictory fashion, I also am an opera buff, including Wagner, Puccini, Mozart, Richard Strauss, and Verdi (in that order!). Oddly, this love of opera eventually drew me – via Erich Korngold, Bernard Herrmann, and Sergei Prokofiev – into a fascination with great film music, whether of the Golden Age (Victor Young, Miklos Rozsa, and Max Steiner) or more modern (John Barry, Mark Isham, Ennio Morricone, Vangelis, and John Williams). Speaking of modern, I also like much contemporary music, such as the choral works of Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Morten Lauridsen, and Eric Whitacre, the operas of Philip Glass, and the chamber music of George Crumb. When under lots of stress, I’ll turn to medicinal music, like Celtic, New Age, Ambient, Smooth Jazz, and Chill-Out.
Literature: My biggest passion here is English poetry from Geoffrey Chaucer to Elizabeth Bishop, but most especially the plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare. I also have greatly enjoyed Spanish literature in the original, with special affection for Jorge Manrique, Cervantes, Becquer, Unamuno, Martí, Darío, Valle-Inclán, Quiroga, García Lorca, Borges, Neruda, Cortázar, García Márquez, and Frank Rivera. In English translations, I have been most strongly moved by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Ibsen, Plutarch, Omar Khayyám, Kalidasa, Chuang Tzu, Sei Shonagon, Yoshida Kenko, and Basho. Thanks largely to Project Gutenberg, my Kindle Fire is now well stocked with more than a thousand classics to keep me occupied until the end of time.
Languages: In the past couple of decades my long-term fascination with mathematics quite surprisingly transformed into a profound curiosity about the world’s languages, both ancient and modern, whether major or otherwise. I have repeatedly listened to recorded lessons for more than three dozen of them (all 33 in the Language/30 series plus Afrikaans, Ukrainian, Armenian, Zulu, Tibetan, and Mayan). Yet I have absolutely no gift for mastering any language: I can only just barely get by in Spanish, become totally tongue-tied in German, and cannot render a single word of French intelligible to a native speaker – the last disability despite being one quarter Québecois and having been exposed to the conversations of in-laws born in France! All the latter merely means is my horrid mispronunciations do not sound right even to me!
Art & Artifact: A visit to a new city, whether in the US or abroad, is not considered complete without time spent in its major museums. I like art of all kinds, but have a special affinity for Classical Chinese painting (especially Southern Sung landscape), Islamic architecture (oh, Mogul India!), Persian miniatures, Japanese netsuke and Ukiyo-e prints, El Greco, Goya, and Van Gogh, plus virtually all contemporary painting, sculpture, and architecture (the stranger the better). Apropos of the latter, I have done some modern pieces of my own, most notably several “kinetic container” sculptures made entirely of found objects (a.k.a. “junk art”) that have some allusive affinity with the work of Joseph Cornell, only not as good.
Film & TV: After a slight lapse in interest in the 1980s, I have since revived an early interest in great motion pictures, albeit I remain not much of an enthusiast for Hollywood “mainstream” productions (except some super hi-tech special-effect sci-fi). Besides Igmar Bergman, Orson Welles, and Alfred Hitchock, I greatly enjoy Spanish-language movies from both Europe and the Americas, including the films of Luis Buñuel, Carlos Saura, Fernando Trueba, and Pedro Almodóvar. Not a big TV fan, my watching is confined largely to public television and sports broadcasts.
Food & Drink: Not gifted with an adequate olfactory sense to be a secure connoisseur of anything, I still cannot resist a fascination with wine, a hobby that allows me to combine my interests in geography, history, culture, agriculture, chemistry, art, literature, music, and languages. I used to own stock in a great winery in the Dunnigan Hills of Yolo county – until I was bought out by a major international corporation! Although I made a very handsome profit, I would have rather been able to continue contemplating my investment in some oak barrels filled with the finest grape juice. Happily, another enterprise opened in downtown Davis that offers tastings of a wide range of Californian wines, including some Portuguese varietals that are rarely seen. Even more recently, I again bought shares in another wine business. Who knows what will happen next!
Sports & Exercise: I played some (American) football in high school (on both sides of the ball), and still follow the sport. On occasion I’ll catch a good basketball game and have even been caught watching baseball, tennis, bicycling, and golf. Intellectually, I totally crave to become a devotee of soccer (football) – as the most international and egalitarian of team sports – yet find myself largely incapable of doing so. Still, I somehow get my curiosity ensnared by the World Cup. To keep healthy, my main exercise since turning 60 has become bicycling, stretching, walking, and yard work. The days of 5-mile runs and lifting heavy weights are now long over.
Religion: Besides the Pacific Ocean, the Sierra Range, and Classical Music – especially the sacred music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Poulenc, Fauré, Byrd, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Hildegard von Bingen, and Gregorian chant – my chief source of religious and moral feeling comes from the writings of the world’s great thinkers and the scriptures of the world’s major religions (in particular, the Upanishads, Tao Te Ching, Psalms, Dhammapada, Gospels, Epictetus, Pascal, and Thoreau). If I were forced to convert to just one faith, it would probably be Buddhism, the most psychological of all major religions. I would then seek out a Japanese Zen master!
It is amazing how many once regular activities have passed away into oblivion with the passing years. No longer do I play rock and jazz guitar or go back packing in some wilderness area. I have not acted in any plays since my college years. Artistic projects have gone kaput and even some products have disappeared. My once extensive involvement in volunteer work has atrophied into pathetic check writing for various causes and charities. Yet, with maturation I may have learned at least a little about how to become a better person. I hope that process continues even if there’s some law of diminishing returns.