I’m taking a break. First stop: Prague.

The Munro Review is going on hiatus for a couple of weeks. When I return, there will be exciting changes ahead

The high-speed Intercity train to Krakow just pulled out of Praha hlavní nádraží, Prague’s main train station. As I write this post, Shane and I are watching the countryside of Czechia (which is what the Czech Republic goes by these days) fly by.  Agricultural fields dominate the foreground and stubby-treed forests are in the distance, all verdant and lush. The suburbs of Prague sprawl a lot less than they would in a similar sized American city. There are lots of buildings and then, boom, green as far as you can see. Could I fit some of that city-and-regional planning in my pocket and take it back to California?

Catching opera the way they do it in Europe: I’m at intermission at the Prague National Opera of “Lohengrin,” a nearly five-hour Wagner opera.

All this is a roundabout way of telling you that 1) I’m 5,618 miles from Fresno right now; 2) high-speed rail can be a wonderful thing; and 3) high-speed internet is a blessing and a curse. I’ve been out of the country for the past five days. Wait, you ask, how is it that you’ve been publishing posts during that time? The answer: WordPress knows no borders.

But now, the second part of my vacation — the non-Munro Review part — begins. I’ll be gone for nearly two weeks bopping around Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. This will be my first extended absence from the site since I started it more than a year ago. (Time flies!)

My flight from Fresno meant I had to miss Audra McDonald’s big concert, to my disappointment. Just a few minutes ago, however, I posted a review of the event by my friend and former Bee colleague Doug Hoagland, who graciously agreed to give his take of the event. (Thank you, Doug!)

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A new way to look at the sun

My experience of the 2017 solar eclipse from atop an Oregon mountain gives me a new outlook on the most important star in my life. (Plus, I almost burn the mountain down.)


How to make friends during a total solar eclipse? Try lugging a 25-pound crystal ball up to the top of 4,098-foot Mary’s Peak, Oregon’s tallest mountain in the Coast Range. The moment the ball comes out of its custom carrier — we wrapped it in an old towel and put it in a cloth grocery bag — the shiny sphere attracts the attention of dozens of eclipse watchers who have staked out this prime spot overlooking the Willamette Valley. This is no regular crystal ball. More a nostalgic ‘70s pet rock than New Age element, the ball has been part of our household for the past couple of years, where it absorbs the light of a few of the “special moons” (blue, red, harvest, pink) that have floated over Fresno. Now it’s made its first out-of-state trip, this time to witness a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event.

In the moment of totality: my photograph taken from Mary’s Peak in central Oregon on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. Photo / The Munro Review

“Whoa, what is that?” a man asks when the ball makes its first appearance. Several women wander over to check it out. A reporter from a local paper pops up wanting an interview. A little leery of coming across too California kooky, we play up the frivolity of the exercise. While I’m holding the heavy ball, I notice one of my hands is getting uncomfortably warm. The ball is focusing the sunlight into an intense beam. With just an hour until the moon boldly and completely blocks out the sun, it’s a reminder of the broiling strength of our very own star.

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From solar filters to goat yoga, Corvallis preps for eclipse

At Oregon State University, a weekend of events leads up to Monday’s big moment in total darkness

CORVALLIS, Ore. — “Twenty five hours and 10 minutes until totality,” says the giddy astrophotographer leading our class on building solar filters for our cameras. “I’ve been waiting for this for 22 years.”

On Sunday, the day before our little moon blots out the mighty sun for a precious 1 hour and 40 seconds of eerie daytime darkness, the mood on the campus of Oregon State University is high-spirited and anticipatory, like the thrill you felt as a kid the night before Christmas.

Practice session: After making a solar filter, on Sunday I practice photographing the sun in the Oregon State University quad. Photo / The Munro Review

So far the feared traffic jams haven’t materialized, the sewers haven’t overflown, and the gas stations remain happily supplied. There’s plenty of local beer at Safeway, and avocados, too. We even found an easy parking place on campus this morning. Perhaps chaos will break out tomorrow and society will collapse when the skies go black, but so far the fear and trepidation associated with eclipses throughout history has been happily absent, at least in this laidback university town.

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Sunsets and Vivaldi

At Festival Mozaic, I get the chance to experience three beautiful concerts at three even more beautiful San Luis Obispo County locales

SHANDON — The folks at Festival Mozaic know a thing or two about good timing. As the last rays of the sun scrape over an adjacent ridge, the professional chamber orchestra before me begins the final movement of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Music spills out the open doors of the small and spectacular Serra Chapel, a Mission-style building situated high atop one of the rolling hills a few miles outside Paso Robles, and into the tiled courtyard where I’m sitting. By the time the music has ended and the 500 or so people squeezed into the space have risen to applaud, the sky has darkened to black, the stars emerged and the broiling temperature has dipped to goose-pimple cool.

Hilltop serenade: The audience at Festival Mozaic before the July 22 concert at Serra Chapel in Shandon begins. Photos / The Munro Review

It’s a glorious way to conclude a concert of classical music.

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On the Central Coast, Festival Mozaic blends music and gorgeous locales

San Luis Obispo County provides the backdrop for a notable festival focusing on orchestral and chamber music

For nearly 50 years, Festival Mozaic has been one of the jewels of San Luis Obispo County’s cultural scene. Over a period of nearly two weeks, world-class musicians and enthusiastic audiences intersect in a series of chamber and orchestral concerts held in notable venues, from the venerable downtown San Luis Obispo mission to a ritzy private chapel in far-flung Shandon.

Shandon concert: The private Serra Chapel is the setting for one of Festival Mozaic’s most anticipated events. Photo / Festival Mozaic

I’ve always wanted to attend, and this year I’m going to check it off my To-Do Cultural List. The festival kicks off today (Wednesday, July 19) and runs through July 30. I’ll be there for the first weekend, on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are still available for most of the events on the schedule.

In the meantime, I talked by phone with music director Scott Yoo, who has been with the festival since 2005. (He brings impeccable musical credentials; in February 2016 he was named artistic director of the Mexico City Philharmonic.) With his help, here are Five Things to Know About Festival Mozaic:


There’s a lot in a name: Founded in 1971, it used to be known as the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival. The name change to Festival Mozaic came in 2008. In terms of programming you can expect a healthy dose of Mozart, but there’s so much more, including early music, period instrument concerts, jazz, contemporary music, opera, chamber music, solo recitals and world music. Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Charles Ives and Olivier Messiaen are all composers you’ll encounter.

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In the heart of gold country

On the road: At the Angels Camp Museum, you get a taste of the tough life of a gold miner

ANGELS CAMP — There are lots of reasons I’m glad I wasn’t living in the late 19th century: indoor plumbing, high-index prescription glasses, the New York Times on my phone.

But on this sunny Sunday afternoon in Gold Rush country, thanks to the first-rate Angels Camp Museum, I’m particularly thankful that I wasn’t around to work in a gold mine. It sounds like being a gold miner was a pretty awful job.

Photograph of a bottle
Soda collection: a vintage bottle on display at the Angels Camp Museum. Photos / Donald Munro

Driving through Angels Camp (120 miles from Fresno), with its Spaghetti Western historic buildings and nostalgically named Bret Harte High School, it’s easy to overlook the gritty and dangerous reason people started living here in the first place. You’d never know that underneath the smoothly paved Highway 49 running through town, whose placid surface would likely astonish old-time carriage passengers used to bouncing along bumpy dirt roads, a vertical shaft plunging 1,000 feet into the ground still exists.

Miners would slowly ride in cages down that shaft, stopping at various tunnels and caverns burrowed deep beneath the surface. Some set off explosives. Others hacked out great quantities of rock. The unluckiest (and most poorly paid) toiled underground crushing that rock, separating out the part they knew wouldn’t contain gold, then shoveling it back into tunnels so it wouldn’t have to be hauled to the surface.

As I stand in the museum’s surprisingly large building devoted to mining and ranching, crammed with vintage equipment and a mechanical scale-model depiction of a local stamp mill, I consider for a moment my own perceptions of Gold Rush-era life.

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