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Relax on Labor Day, then enjoy the month


© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 28, 2001

The first Monday in September used to be more of a marker than it is now. Kids knew they had to go back to school on Tuesday, and mothers tried not to show their joy and relief at this prospect. School now starts anywhere from the middle of August to sometime in September, so for families with school-age children, Labor Day has been demoted in importance to just another three-day weekend.

In Florida we can't even claim that it's the end of summertime heat. Still, it's a holiday worth celebrating, so enjoy the day at the beach, the family reunion, and thoughts of the coming cooler weather.

Good music makes anything -- even hot, muggy September days -- bearable, and we have some lovely things to look forward to this month. At 2 p.m. Sunday, in the Marly Room of the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown St. Petersburg, Ellen dePasquale, former concertmaster of the Florida Orchestra, now with the Cleveland Orchestra, returns for a solo recital. Her accompanist will be Chadd Merrigan of Rochester, N.Y., formerly an assistant professor of piano at the University of South Florida. He was an active chamber music performer and soloist on the Tampa Bay music scene.

On Sunday, Sept. 9, dePasquale and Jim Connors, principal cellist with the Florida Orchestra, will perform chamber music. Both concerts should be memorable. Tickets are $15, and the venue is small; call (727) 896-2667 for reservations.

For other wonderful chamber music, the Florida West Coast Symphony's season opener, Fall Fest, will present a sampler of a complete chamber music festival, all in one concert. The event is at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 in Holley Hall, Sarasota, in the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center. It will feature each of the symphony's four resident chamber ensembles -- the Florida Brass Quintet, the Florida Wind Quintet, the Florida String Quartet and the New Artists Piano Quartet -- as well as other resident musicians. General admission is $10; (941) 953-4252 for reservations and information.

For another good music experience, Lowry Olafson, guitarist and contemporary folk singer from Vancouver, returns to Tarpon Springs at 8 p.m. Sept. 15. The Tarpon Springs Cultural Center at 101 S Pinellas Ave. will be alive with his musical diversity and skill, plus his delightful, easy-going stage presence. Tickets are $10. Call (727) 942-5605 for reservations.

Books are such an important part of life for so many of us that it's cause for celebration when you come across three absorbing new ones, two novels and a memoir. Frank Rich, the controversial drama critic for the New York Times for many years, has written what may turn out to be the first volume of his autobiography, Ghost Light. The title refers to the superstitious backstage belief that a light must always be left burning on the empty stage for the ghosts of actors past, and it's a perfect metaphor for this story of the young boy's early and enduring love affair with the theatre.

Richard Russo is rapidly turning into one of my favorite writers, with his stories about small-town American life, full of sweet folks who often are manipulated and used by ruthless people but who somehow manage to end up on the right side of everything. Nobody's Fool and Straight Man were wonderful; Russo's latest, Empire Falls, is even better. You love these people and feel so connected -- it's a fine reading experience.

Ann Patchett, a writer new to me, has produced a marvel with her novel Bel Canto. Talk about original, imaginative writing: It takes place in an unnamed South American country (Peru?), where a Japanese industrialist is being wooed to build a plant. His hosts entertain him at a birthday dinner to which they have invited a world-famous diva (Kiri Te Kanawa? Joan Sutherland?) to sing. Terrorists break up the meal, take the rich and famous guests hostage, and the fun begins. The Japanese magnate is accompanied by a gifted linguist who is his translator and serves in this capacity for both captors and captives. This often funny book is about language, the power of music, politics and love.

There's not much funny about the video Pollock, the Ed Harris role that won him an Oscar nomination, but art experts have praised it for its rendering of the creative process, particularly as experienced by the controversial American artist Jackson Pollock. (Marcia Gay Harden won an Academy Award for her performance as Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner.) Those interested in modern art will find it fascinating, and moviegoers who love great acting and strong stories will not be disappointed.

Thirteen Days, the movie with Kevin Costner playing JFK's White House adviser during the Cuban missile crisis, is a suspense movie to the max, even though we all -- thank goodness -- know how it comes out. Well-written, performed, photographed, and edited, this one will keep you nailed to your recliner and wide awake.

Chocolat is something else: a whimsical, charming, delightful piece of magic realism with a knock-'em-dead cast including Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp and Judi Dench. Even if you saw it in the theater, this one is nice to take home and share with someone you love. It's magic indeed.

Web Sites:

The Guggenheim Foundation will open its Web site in September, featuring cultural content from various institutions, including the Hermitage Museum in Russia. For an announcement of the site and further details, go to

For all you weather freaks out there, try this site for great maps, the latest bulletins, and all the on-the-spot information you would ever want about Florida weather:

Happy Labor Day. And take note.

- Write to Mim Anne Houk c/o Seniority, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Or send e mail to

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