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Photo: Brian Feulner, Special to the Chronicle
Joan Vickers, 92, was a snowflake in the first production of San Francisco Ballet’s “Nutcracker” in 1944.

I was surprised to learn that the “Nutcracker” ballet — which my youngest granddaughter and thousands of little girls and boys around the world were part of this past Christmas — was first performed in the United States in 1944. I guess I thought it was eternal. How could there ever have been a time that the “Nutcracker” was not performed at Christmas? But such is the case. And every ballet company that performs it now does something different to make the event its own.

Sam Whiting reports at the San Francisco Chronicle, “It was wartime 1944 when San Francisco first felt the magic of a Christmas Eve snowfall. It lasted 10 minutes, and Joan Vickers remembers it clearly.

“Vickers was in the first full-length ‘Nutcracker’ to be staged in America, a San Francisco Ballet production at the War Memorial Opera House. Act 1 ended in the Land of the Snowflakes, according to the program, and there were no special effects. There was only a 17-year-old Vickers and 15 other corps members dressed in white. They each held a stick with a white star at the tip of it, and they waved them around like sparklers.

“ ‘We became the snow,’ said the now 92-year-old Vickers, from her home in Alameda. ‘The audience was amazed and in awe.’

“Bay Area audiences continue to be in awe as the holiday tradition continues, and the snow scene has only intensified over the decades. ‘Nutcracker’ has been updated four times — in 1954, 1967, 1986 and 2004 — with the last revision orchestrated by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, who took the setting from snowbound 19th century Europe to 20th century San Francisco … when a jeweled city rose straight out of the sand to form the Panama-Pacific International Exposition.

“Despite the Mediterranean climate, the snow still falls, though in this production, it comes in the form of 600 pounds of confetti dropped from the fly space by a six-person crew. …

“ ‘As a child (in Iceland), I was always amazed at what a snowstorm can look like and how monumental and beautiful they can be,’ said Tomasson by email from Copenhagen, where the company was on tour. ‘I wanted to re-create that personal memory for San Francisco.’

“The snow falls with a ferocity probably unmatched by any other production of ‘Nutcracker,’ which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1892 with an original score by Tchaikovsky and is now revived in some form each Christmas season by just about every ballet company.

“The ‘Waltz of the Snowflakes’ is so beloved that it has its own YouTube category. … In San Francisco it comes down like it does in the film ‘McCabe & Mrs. Miller,’ which is to say once it starts it doesn’t stop. It gets in the hair and the eyelashes of the dancers, and piles up on the floor to slicken the stage. …

“Jasmine Jimison, a 17-year-old member of the corps de ballet, said it can be arduous to dance upon ‘the snow’ each night, even with caking her slippers in rosin to take the stage.

“ ‘Dancing in the snow scene is an experience like no other. It’s scary and exciting at the same time,’ said Jimison, also reached in Copenhagen last week. ‘There’s always the stress of not slipping or having enough stamina, especially once the snow starts falling really hard toward the end. I’m so exhausted by that point that my legs feel like Jell-O and I can barely see, but adrenaline helps push me through, and the escalating music adds to it.’ …

“Artistic Director Willam Christensen designed [the first US ‘Nutcracker’] as a one-season production inspired by a San Francisco visit by George Balanchine in the fall of 1944. Balanchine had danced in the full-length production of ‘Nutcracker’ in Russia and encouraged Christensen to create his own. …

“The restrictions of the war effort necessitated that budgets and materials were tight. There was only $1,000 allotted for costumes … so all of the red velvet for the outfits came from the curtain of the Cort Theater on Ellis Street, which had been demolished. … The opera house was under a blackout order, and air raid wardens were in the audience ready to blow their whistles.

“The production then went on the road to Oakland, Sacramento and Stockton, and that was to be the end of it. The following Christmas, Christensen mounted ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘it was a failure,’ Vickers said. They tried other productions, but nothing else worked, so in 1948 Christensen brought back ‘Nutcracker’ for good.”

More.

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Transitions. In September, the meadow along the Sudbury River was green. Last week it was ice.

As kids, John and Suzanne used to skate on the meadow as soon as the river’s overflow ice was strong enough. Perhaps the wooden posts have something to do with a new generation planning to play there. Nowadays, John puts up a backyard rink in winter — just the thing for his family of skaters.

The next photo was taken by my sister in New York City. She says it’s unusual for Riverside Park to have icy puddles like that — one more example of the weather we’ve been experiencing in the Northeast. In my town, Thursday’s deluge came on top of melting snow and ice, and kept my husband bailing out the basement all day.

Next, you see our neighborhood before dawn and after dark, at sunrise and at sunset, in light and in shadow.

I had to include some lovely fungus, of course, and a message in stone that persons unknown left at a pocket park downtown.

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Today I thought I’d start my picture roundup with Lynn’s photo from Florida. Lynn says she was first introduced to trumpet lilies when she toured Africa with her cabaret show. I definitely don’t have any trumpet lilies growing outside my house today.

What I do have is ice, snow, and shadows. Here goes. The icicles were shot back in January. The tulips were a little joke in February (I got them in the store and planted them before the snow). The other photos don’t need much explanation. You know I love shadows.

The moose is waiting for the mail lady.

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When you don’t have to travel, ice and snow are not the burden they are to a driver. You can wander a little outside your home and take pictures, bake banana bread, put out carrots for the bunny that appears at dawn, feed the birds, make ice lanterns.

The ice lanterns above were made by John’s children, and the photo was taken by my daughter-in-law. I love the smoky, swirly, mysterious aura that she captured.

My own 2018 ice lantern is below. My husband was critical to the enterprise. If you want to make an ice lantern yourself, check out an earlier post, here. You need a really cold day.

Right before Christmas, I took several photos of ice on trees and bushes because it looked so pretty. I know it’s not good for plants, though.

Sandra M. Kelly is the photographer behind the two photos of frozen bodies of water in New Shoreham — water that hardly ever freezes. It didn’t stay frozen long enough for her to get shots of ice boat racing, however. New England is swinging too quickly from deep freeze to balmy.

The big snow January 4th produced the mountain I noticed in a parking lot and the deceptive cushions on Suzanne’s porch furniture.

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The New York Times headline about snowboarders in Rhode Island said the state was “powder poor.” Not this weekend! Rhode Island is snowed in.

Everything else about the article is probably true since the Times is known for pretty good fact checking.

Matt Ruby reports, “Five miles from the beaches of Narragansett, somewhere between Vail and Zermatt, there are 28 skiable acres. They don’t cover a mountain, just a modest hill that gets about 34 inches of snow a year. That slope is the unlikely canvas for a collection of snowboarders whose wild imaginations have earned them more cachet than many of the sport’s most accomplished athletes.

“The place is the Yawgoo Valley ski area, and the snowboarders call themselves the Yawgoons. They’re the equivalent of a world-beating beach volleyball team based in Saskatoon.

“In a sport where bigger, higher, longer, and more spinning and flipping define the boundaries, the Yawgoons get creative. They use the natural terrain (rocks, trees, grass) as well as the unnatural (buildings, snowcats, pipes) to construct landscapes with one I’ve-never-seen-that-before feature after another. Then they shoot video of their runs and let the snowboarding world watch in awe. …

“Everyone has seen video of snowboarders roaring down the steepest, snowiest descents in Alaska and Switzerland. Somehow, watching a Yawgoon land a backside 180 to switch 50/50 while gliding down six corrugated tubes is even more impressive. …

“I had seen their videos and wanted to see the terrain for myself and meet the Yawgoons — Brendan Gouin, Marcus Rand, Dylan Gamache and Brian Skorupski. … The ski area — the only one in the state — had been open for only a few days this season, but the group was eager to produce its next video. …

“ ‘We are just mad lucky to have that little place there,’ Rand [said]. ‘It’s so random, this far south in Rhode Island.’ Rand, a 29-year-old from Narragansett, has been coming here since he was 2. He works as a mason.”

Read more about him and the other Yawgoons at the New York Times, where you can also see some nice action videos.

Photo: Snowboarding

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Time for a photo round-up. Winter in New England: warm days, cold days, snow, ice, complicated shadows, empty facades, food and drink.

If you get any time to be alone and quiet — maybe just nursing a head cold — use it well. Everyone needs time to think.

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Time to share my travels on foot again.

First up, plain folk waiting for their train. Next the street lamp in Narnia’s endless winter on the other side of the wardrobe.

The bird in the nest was given to me by an expectant mother as a thank you for “helping to feather my baby’s nest.” The baby is now in his late 20s.

I thought the snowy dogwood branches had a hopeful lift to them.

Finally, a team from the company Life is good put a lot of energy into building this giant Adirondack chair beside a beach ball, encouraging photographers to tweet pictures with the hashtag #ligbeachday. I saw a lot of homeward commuters snapping away en route to their trains. Quite a lot of advertising potential in this playful installation in Dewey Square, Boston.

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The BBC, having fun at our expense, has been measuring our snow depth in height of dogs. More recently, having passed what it calls “six dogs,” it is adding athletes as a unit of measure. See several illustrations here.

The unconventional measurement should work for Bostonians, who have  been accustomed since 1958 to measuring the length of a bridge over the Charles River in Smoots. (Oliver Smoot was an MIT student pledging to a fraternity.)

For a more realistic picture, see below. The first shot, from Sandra Kelly, is of New Shoreham, RI. It’s windy on the island, and snow usually blows right off. But it seems to be sticking this time. A poet out there tells me it’s “wild, white, and windy.” I can hear the wind whistling in that. I hope she writes a poem.

The icicles and front walk are from Massachusetts.

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The Red Line was telling people not to take the Red Line but to go North Station and walk. So I did.

Between Porter Square, Cambridge, and North Station, Boston, the young conductor sat down near me. I said, “How’s it been going for you?”

He said it’s OK, but he doesn’t like it when passengers start screaming at him like it’s all his fault. He said one day the train had to stop because snow was packed around a switch, and a passenger was angry with him. He got out in the snow, came back with snow up to his chest, and said, “I cleared the switch.”

He wishes passengers could take the same two-month class he took before he started. They would be amazed about all the rules and regulations. Our route passes through three track jurisdictions (I think he said three, maybe more.) At each one, the engineer has to ask permission to pass, and he has to write down the interaction in a book. Sometimes he asks the conductor to come help.

The conductor pointed out a light low down in the snow-covered track. Someone had dug it out. He told me that if the engineer can’t see a track light, he is obliged to treat it as malfunctioning and just stop.

I asked how long the conductor had worked for the system. He said he started New Year’s Eve. It’s been a real trial by ice. But he says he thinks it will get better and he actually likes it. I told him most passengers don’t blame the conductor for snow or aging train equipment.

The walk to work took longer than it should as the sidewalks were not equally clear. Charles Schwab did a lovely job with its sidewalk. Fidelity not so much. I’m thinking of switching my account.

Railroad track near my home.

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Public transit in Greater Boston didn’t run today as MBTA staff tried to dig out tracks, switches, and signals. We were told to work at home for the 5th time in two weeks. I went for a walk at lunch. Where sidewalks were plowed, the snow was often piled shoulder high on either side. I like walking in recently plowed snow because boots have more traction. The texture is like pie dough that’s a little too dry. Once the snow gets packed down, it makes for slippery walking. In the town, where merchants went bananas with salt, the sidewalk and crosswalks were unpleasantly soupy.

The first photo is from today. It’s Concord Academy. The others were taken in the past week and include a tree on Congress Street in Boston, a snowbank that the plow cut through as if slicing cake, snowy fire escapes near the TD Garden, a view of the Boston Seaport District from a roof garden, and my ice lantern (still going after more than a week of evening lighting).

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I’m running out of things to say about snowstorms. Today was the third day in one week that we were told to work at home.

Asakiyume was doing a project for us and went to her Post Office on foot to mail it back, walking in the street because the sidewalks weren’t clear. She said it was good, though, as she got to see two igloos and some kids playing in the snow.

I walked as far as my own Post Office for the exercise — a little too much exercise as I tried to stay out of the way of snowplows. A few folks out on cross-country skis probably shouldn’t have been, although I confess that my husband and I did that in a past snowstorm.

I kept thinking about the blizzard when I was in nursery school and it was my mother’s turn to do the carpool. Her car broke down, and there she was with a bunch of 4-year-olds on the side of the road wondering what to do. She flagged down the dry-cleaner delivery man and talked him into letting us ride in back among the coats and suits and hangers while he did his rounds. No doubt it was against all sorts of company insurance regulations and child-safety laws, but somehow we all made it.

In my town center today only the bookshop and a cafe were open. On Thoreau Street, the gas station, Cumberland Farms, a liquor store, and Dunkin Donuts were functioning reliably as ever.

I was winded from climbing over snow banks when I got home. I decided to make hot cider. Later in the afternoon, I decided to make hot cocoa.

Then I went out and lit the ice lantern.

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Now, here’s an idea. You’ve heard of Uber-type services that you contact when you need a ride and that charge on the basis of demand?

Well, according to Patrick Clark at Bloomberg, the time may have arrived for calling a snowplow just when you need a snowplow.

“With a blizzard gathering over the ocean,” he reports, “J and R Lawn and Landscape decided to send part of its snowplow fleet on a 300-mile drive. The landscaping company operates 20 snowplows in and around Cicero, N.Y. A tech startup called Plows and Mowz—sort of an Uber for snowplows—had promised there would be lucrative work in Boston. ‘It only snows where it snows,’ says Ted Hoffman, who handles sales and marketing for J and R. His small company was willing to bet four plows, eight workers, and money for gas and hotel rooms on a faraway post-blizzard boom. …

“Plowz and Mowz caters to homeowners who don’t pay for a regular service but want occasional help clearing a driveway. To meet customer demand, the startup uses software to assign new jobs to drivers who are already planning to be in the area. …

“Plowz isn’t the only entrepreneur with a vision for the future of snow removal. ‘On-demand is cute, but it’s not snowplowing,’ says Yeh Diab, co-founder of Boston-based PlowMe, a second startup trying to using technology to improve an age-old business. The snowplow, as he sees it, is less like a taxi (seeking customers, wherever they might be) and more like a bus (serving customers along a set path). …

“Plow drivers needed to improve their efficiency with regular customers along set routes, he determined, while an on-demand system offered a succession of one-time customers. PlowMe is designed to be a route-management tool and a marketplace in which drivers can trade or sell parts of their routes to others.”

My grandchildren know that in Geopolis, a really big snow calls for bringing out the supremely competent, cool, and collected truck called Katy (see Virginia Lee Burton’s classic Katy and the Big Snow), but if you don’t live in Geopolis, other options do exist.

Lots more snowplowing angles here.

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Always recognizing that people in Finland, Minnesota, and Buffalo, New York, deal with this sort of thing all the time, I’m going to give it as my opinion that the storm of January 27, 2015, in New England was a pretty big storm. We were told to work at home for two days.

I went out at lunch to see what I could see. I saw one truck and one stand-up snowplow, a few workers trying to clear the commuter rail platform, three walkers, and one neighbor.

The trees and bushes in the yard were bent over. The car’s window wipers were reaching out for help. My husband had shoveled the front walk, but the gate was blocked by a snow bank. A mailbox was barely visible. My neighbor was hard at work with a shovel.

The picture that intrigues me the most, given that I take the train to work, is the picture of the buried train track. I don’t see how a train can get through there. And where will the commuters park? I can walk from my house. Not everyone has it that easy.

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I got an unusual number of hits from readers this morning. I never know why. Is it because we are having a big snow in New England?

Let me give you a couple preliminary snow pics just in case. I hope to do a regular post this evening.

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It felt great to get outdoors for my walk today. I’ve been going round and round inside the house instead because it’s just too hard to see the icy spots in the early morning dark. The barista at Main Streets Café, who always waves at me, must think I have wimped out for good.

My husband went skiing (what a good winter it’s been for cross country!), but I went around town to see what I’ve been missing. I especially liked the Valentine tree that a new neighbor put up for the 14th. An idea to keep in mind.

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