Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Capraesque Moment or Two in Trafalgar Square

The Mobile Manhattanite is more mobile than usual this holiday season, spending a couple of weeks in London. Yesterday, passing through tourist-clogged Leicester Square and helpfully taking some photos at the requests of two sets of appreciative Japanese teenagers, I was delighted to see the square's annual holiday fun fair in full swing.

Later, on the way to the National Gallery, I heard martial music and saw, over the heads of a moderately large crowd in Trafalgar Square, some white plumes on black Stetsons. Drawing closer, I heard strains of a Beatles song and then saw the spiffily garbed members of the Santa Monica High School Vikings Marching Band, visiting from California to take part in the London Parade for the New Year. Nearby, waiting in the wings, so to speak, was the Cedarburg, Wisconsin High School Marching Band, resplendent in black and orange. The two bands represented, for me, an America of a more innocent time. Maybe this America still exists, to some extent. The Cedarburg contingent later got their chance with, after an extended percussion flourish, a rather stately rendering of "St. Louis Blues." Perhaps I had to come to London to be reminded of this Capraesque vision of the U.S.A. For these kids it may still be A Wonderful Life, at least for a while. Afterwards, the splendors of the National Gallery provided a true contrast. Is this what the pundits mean by the "culture wars"?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eastwood Rides Again!

Had always idly wondered about the super-smooth artwork on those ads plastered on the sides of NYC buildings. How exactly does it get there? There happens to be a space right across the street from me, just over the East River Deli, where various ads, mostly for movies, have appeared over the years.  This morning I happened to be looking out of the window and had my question answered: How do they get those nice-looking pictures up? A hard-working guy in a cherry picker is the answer. Here's the latest, for the newest Clint Eastwood opus, Gran Torino. Guess it must be about cars! Duh.

Speaking of American Icon Eastwood, I remember that a former colleague's Spanish-born ex-husband (note how everything seems to be in the past), whose English was otherwise excellent, just couldn't get this star's name right at first, referring to him as "East Cleentswood."

Update: Apparently a car does figure in the film, which just received excellent reviews BTW, but it's really about a bigot learning to tolerate immigrant neighbors. Haven't seen it yet. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chanukah, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, and—Oh, Yes—Christmas

O.K., the season that 'tis has arrived again. The forced gaiety can be oppressive. It's handy to be Jewish at Christmas, as one can safely ignore a lot of the pressure, although they've inflated Chanukah to an alarming degree. And the Feast of Lights lasts eight days, yet. Well, anyway....

However, I'm happy to see that the venerable advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather has once again delighted those of us who discovered its teddy-bear Christmas tree. It's on a comparatively obscure block of West 49th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, as well as being located slightly off the street. Found it two years ago, and the bears were red. Last year they decided to make it with black-and-white pandas which, while attractive, couldn't compete with the red teddies. So I'm glad to see that they're back to Square One this year.

A couple of years ago, someone thoughtfully videoed the tree for YouTube:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Minetta Lane, Old and New

Just returned from the Minetta Lane Theater, where I saw a remarkable performance of Martha Clarke's dance-theater piece The Garden of Earthly Delights. It's based on the famed Hieronymus Bosch triptych that I've seen in Madrid at the Prado and in many reproductions, but, to me, it also had references to Dante's Inferno and the Dance of Death scene at the end of Ingmar Bergman's marvelous The Seventh Seal. At any rate, it's an hour and ten minutes well spent. Also in the show I saw a dancer I know from my own ballet class. Will congratulate her when I see her in class, not only on her performance but on her courage in taking part in a lot of Flying by Foy and aerial acrobatics. I missed this work when it was first done and am glad to have caught it at last.

I don't know if the charming Minetta Lane 1928 painting by Glenn O. Coleman (1884–1932) is the same one I remember being shown in a college class in American art many years ago. This one is now housed in the Musée de la Coöperation Franco-Américaine in Blérancourt, France. Probably many artists painted this quaint Greenwich Village street in the days when this location was full of artistic ferment of all kinds. At least there's still an active theater here. I was taken with  the white house with all the greenery, even though it doesn't have an old Village look. 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Moose Matters

Since moose have been much in the news lately, I was reminded that I own this potholder. It was a gift that came, I think, from a family visit to the Adirondacks some years ago. I always wanted to see a live moose in the wild but have not had that pleasure. I saw a couple of them in a modest game reserve on a recent visit to Russia. I guess they couldn't see Alaska from their vantage point, though. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An October Afternoon in DUMBO

It's been a year or so since I visited DUMBO—one of our numerous city acronyms, this one for for "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass"—in Brooklyn to see the work of artists living and working there. They open their studios, concentrated in this formerly industrial area, to visitors. As a nearly lifelong New Yorker, I am ashamed to say that visits to Brooklyn have been sparse and mostly confined to attending performances at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, that hosts many of the world's great performing arts groups. DUMBO was a revelation, combining Greenwich Village–like conviviality and charm with marvelous water views and vistas of Manhattan. And there's the gorgeous Brooklyn Bridge, too. Like many beauties, this bridge doesn't have a bad angle, as this quickly taken camera-phone shot from Water Street, in front of St. Ann's Warehouse, attests.

My purpose in visiting DUMBO this time was to see a performance of the much-admired National Theatre of Scotland production of Black Watch, and this totally original piece of theater certainly lived up to its reputation. Here's Ben Brantley's reprise of his review from last year, when they first brought the show to Brooklyn:

So, Black Watch was a thrill, but I also encountered, inadvertently, a bonus. Practically next door to St. Ann's Warehouse is Jane's Carousel, also pictured above, which is a treat indeed. You can't ride on it, only look at it, but this is quite enough for me, as readers—if there are any—of this blog note that I love the Bryant Park carousel as well but am too embarrassed actually to get on it. More info about Jane's Carousel, which was also featured on CBS Sunday Morning, can be found on its own Web site:

Make sure to click on "About Us" on the site in order to see other great shots (better than mine) of the carousel. Now I have to see how the one in Central Park is looking these days. I hope it's still in operation and that they still have that good, old-fashioned merry-go-round music.

Update: It is still in operation, and they have music from the original Wurlitzer! Must check in while the weather is still nice!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hearing Air(s) at the Opera

Last night's Metropolitan Opera performance of that lovely old chestnut, Donizetti's wonderful Lucia di Lammermoor, was a revelation. I thought I'd heard enough performances of Mad Lucy by most of the major interpreters of the 20th century to last the rest of my life, but I was wrong. The incredibly talented young German soprano Diana Damrau had absolutely everything in the role: vocal beauty and accuracy spiced with expressive variety, theater-worthy acting ability, grace, and personal charisma. She was ably seconded by the fine Polish tenor Piotr Beczala who, unlike most Edgardos, received almost equal kudos after the Tomb Scene. And people stayed around after the Mad Scene to hear him, too! We were given a bonus view of Lucia herself, as, in Mary Zimmerman's extremely creative Victorian-style production, her ghost appears to embrace the dying Edgardo. Bravi tutti!

An otherwise nearly perfect evening at the opera (where everything is almost as beautiful as at the ballet) poses a question worthy of Randy Cohen, who writes "The Ethicist" column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine: What do you do about an elderly gentleman sitting behind you who is apparently wearing some kind of breathing apparatus (not visible) that makes a steady hissing on-and-off sound during the entire evening? You can't ask the old guy to stop breathing, can you? Does such a person have the right to attend the theater at all and disturb others as much as does the ringing of cellphones or the whistling of improperly adjusted hearing aids? At least those can finally be silenced (after much effort on the part of audience members and theater staff). Well, my solution, and the solution of a neighboring couple, was to find other seats. I had to wait until after (hiss, hiss) Act I, although they, sitting on an aisle, were able to do so directly after the prelude. Lucky that there were a few empty seats (your loss, absentees!), perhaps because it was Yom Kippur eve. Some years ago a Carnegie Hall lieder recital by the great Belgian bass-baritone José Van Dam was marred by someone's whistling hearing aid. And there was no way to tell where the noise was coming from; there was no escape. I was more fortunate last evening.

I feel sorry for the poor breather and suppose he should be allowed out at public events, but maybe not at straight plays or classical music performances. What is to be done? With the advent of podcasts, DVDs, and DVRs, perhaps he can find it in his heart to stay at home. I wonder what Randy would say? But I'm not going to ask him, because his answer would probably be the same as mine.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Seventh Avenue Bizarre

As a teenager, I had a temporary summer job selling handbags in a department store in my hometown. It always amazed me that even the ugliest bag could find a buyer. I know that one cannot legislate taste, but it was still frightening to think that anyone could find certain items attractive.  In an issue of The New Yorker, some years ago, there was a cartoon by the wonderfully wry Roz Chast that showed a shop window that was typical of some small stores around town. The displays were of the most hideous dresses and accessories imaginable, and the caption read something like, "Who shops in these places?" On my way along Seventh Avenue to experience beautiful ballet at City Center, I frequently pass tourist shops like the ones pictured here and wonder the same thing: Who buys this stuff anyway? Especially in these parlous economic times, who is going to spend money on tchotchkes? And yet they do. These places have been in business a long time. It remains to be seen if they'll stay alive in the coming months and remain an endless source of amusement, at least to me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bryant Park Charms

A touch of Paris can be found in Bryant Park behind the Public Library. I suppose there was a touch of Paris anyway over the past couple of weeks because it was Fashion Week, and there were tents and runway shows galore obscuring the attractions of this charming space and depriving happy lunch goers of room to open their brown bags and log on to wi-fi with their laptops or iPods. Anyway, since they installed the carousel in 2005, I have been a happier person, even though I'm too self-conscious actually to ride on it myself. I'm especially delighted that "Le Carrousel," as its sign proudly proclaims, was built in Brooklyn, also on the sign. It's quite captivating to see "Le Carrousel—Brooklyn, New York." 

Was going to be a Lady Who Lunches with a couple of friends today at nearby Lord & Taylor and had some time to kill, so I sat near Le Carrousel and listened to the music, which, while I was there, consisted of something by Kurt Weill (I think) and then some French chansons aimed at children. It's just a small-size carousel, but utterly charming, even if the horses are of fiberglass instead of wood. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Belle Viste, NYC Style

I've blogged a bit before about the wonderful Chrysler Building, where my dentist has his office in the Tower Suite. Unlike the Empire State Building or the  Top of the Rock, one can't go up there as a tourist, so the fabulous views on clear days are a special treat for those having business in the tower. So here's what New York Harbor and a bit of New Jersey looked like on August 26, 2008.

 Chrysler Building - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

But great views aren't found only from skyscrapers. I got a nice shot of Union Square from Filene's Basement's big windows. Actually, I had better luck that day taking a picture than I did finding anything to wear at Filene's. The "basement" is a misnomer, dating from the original historic Filene's in Boston. The name was sold some time ago, and this "basement" actually is on the fourth, fifth, and sixth floors of a building on Union Square South.

In another part of town, Shakespeare in the Park, after an unsuccessful Hamlet, at least according to all the reviews, has a winner in the Public Theater's spectacular revival of Hair. Wonderful how good the songs are; had forgotten how good. People wait in line for hours to obtain free tickets. This year, though, the Public has a new idea as well: A very limited number of tickets are put into an online lottery, which they call their "virtual ticket line." And, amazingly enough, after trying my luck for a week or so, I obtained two tickets for last Saturday evening. Not only were the seats fine; it was a gorgeous New York City summer night—neither too warm nor too cold. At the end of the show, the audience is invited onstage to dance with the performers. They are hoping to move it to Broadway in the fall. Guess they'll have to put ramps from the apron of the stage down to the orchestra floor. But it won't be the same. Hair is supposed to be taking place on the Great Lawn in Central Park, and it really almost does in the present production. It won't have quite the authenticity indoors, but it's still a great show. Incidentally, although Hair itself is not by the Bard, of course, one of the songs, "What a Piece of Work Is Man," is a setting of one of Hamlet's great soliloquies. So the show does qualify to be performed under the banner of "Shakespeare in the Park"!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Balzac? Dvorák?

On my way downtown this afternoon, I passed this street sign. We have a lot of these on various corners, commemorating notables who have lived or worked in a specific neighborhood. One of my favorites is "Señor Wences Way" in the theater district. (If you don't know who Señor Wences was, you can Google him.) I also like "Leonard Bernstein Way" at Lincoln Center and "Thelonious Sphere Monk Place" on the far West Side. It reminded me of a casual date I once had—and I guess it was our one and only date—in this East 17th St. neighborhood. The young man and I were walking around, and he remarked, "I think Balzac once lived around here." "Balzac?" I wondered, "I didn't know he ever came to America." "Well, it was someone like that," said my friend. Suddenly I realized, and then commented, that Antonín Dvorák had lived and worked in New York and later, famously, in Spillville, Iowa. The house where he was in residence had been on the East 17th St. block between First Avenue and Avenue A, and the building is now an AIDS hospice. There is a plaque on it, commemorating the great composer. Not wishing to sneer at my date's lack of cultural awareness, I blithely tossed off, "Well, Balzac, Dvorák—what's the difference?"

Honoré de Balzac - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Antonín Dvořák - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Free-associating, as is my wont, I was reminded of my own lack of cultural awareness, though I was only a college undergraduate at the time. A revered English professor, in a class on Victorian literature, mentioned that some prominent Victorian or other had some sort of association with the House of Domecq sherry company. No one in the class had ever heard of Domecq—or probably any other brand of sherry. He sniffed and remarked, "Insufficiently worldly, all of you!"

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Le Quatorze Juillet dans la rue Soixantième

O.K., so it's only the thirteenth, not "le quatorze," but there is a Bastille Day street festival on East 60th Street between Lexington and Fifth Avenues, passing, not surprisingly, right in front of the French Institute. And people are having a Great Time! Sure, not everything is French; I saw one stand selling knockwurst in addition to French délices, and there were also Belgian waffles (or, as they spell it, wafel), though I suppose that's close enough. There's even someone playing an accordion! Shades of the Funny Face era. Good spirits abound; it's hot out, but not unbearable, and people seem in a merry mood.

The happy crowds on East 6oth are much more enthusiastic than the dutiful strollers at another nearby street festival, on Madison Avenue between 42nd and 57th Streets. This is the type of project that drives me nuts most weekends, three seasons of the year. They all sell the same T-shirts, souvlaki, sunglasses, tube socks, and suchlike. I hope that the City gets a decent fee for permission to sell stuff at these fairs because they are a huge nuisance to us residents who try to get somewhere. It's of some help that Time Out New York publishes a list of street fairs and festivals each week so that one can plan one's moves. Taking the subway helps, though I don't like to go down there in the hot weather. But anyway, the Bastille Day celebration is fun, even if we already had our own fireworks on a somewhat rainy Fourth.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ah, Giselle!

Please, please, please look at this wonderful series of photos of American Ballet Theatre's Giselle, performed this week at the Metropolitan Opera House: 

‘Giselle’ - The New York Times > Arts > Slide Show > Slide 1 of 15

The great ballerina Nina Ananiashvili, who has a lot on her professional and personal plates, showed us what talent, sensitivity, technique, and long experience can bring to the iconic role of Giselle. Now in her forties, she can still, as do the best of them, convey the ardor and naïveté of a young girl in love. She looks great, too. This from a dancer who is a national hero in her native republic of Georgia, director of the newly re-formed Georgian State Ballet, and a wife and mother to boot. 

Mme. Ananiashvili (this traditional honorific is still used for divas and major ballerinas) was fortunate in her leading man. José Manuel Carreño, one of Cuba's gifts to us and surely one of the world's handsomest men, was her partner last evening. With José Manuel, one always has the feeling that the ballerina is in the safest and most considerate of hands. And he nailed every dance aspect as well, with seeming effortlessness. He makes every ballerina look good, whether she needs extra help or not. (The photos in the slide show depict the equally talented and handsome Angel Corella, who did the first performance. ABT is particularly rich in great male dancers.)

Ananiashvili's technique remains solid. I have never really cared for the famous series of sautés on one pointe in Giselle's Act I solo—to me, it's a stunt step that doesn't really belong in a Romantic ballet— but she makes them look as good as they possibly can. Mainly, this dancer goes far beyond technique, and the memory that lingers is the wonderfully fluid, supernatural-looking use of her upper torso, shoulders and arms. But look at the photos. The photographer Erin Baiano, a new name to me, has really captured the salient moments of this great and charming old ballet.

Gillian Murphy, as the icy Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, turned in her usual fine and serious work. (I wrote a profile of Gillian, a lovely and modest young woman, for Dance Magazine some time ago.) She can meet any challenge that almost any ballet throws at her. 

Giselle is one old chestnut that fully lives up to the number from A Chorus Line, "Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet." It stands the test of time better than any older classic ballet, having the most felicitous combination of subject, scenario, music, and choreography (as much as we can know of the original, dance being such an ephemeral art and no video recording available in the 1840s). Certainly, everything was beautiful last evening. Old lithographs came to life. The legendary 19th-century ballerina Carlotta Grisi, the original Giselle, is shown at the top in an 1844 lithograph by Challamel.

Further re Giselle, I'm reminded of a puckish friend who decided that if Giselle were an opera (actually, there is one based on the same material—Puccini's early Le villi), one of the arias, set to the famous "daisy-petal" theme, would go: "I'm Giselle (la di da); I'm not well...."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Whatever became of...?

It's been about four years now since I took this photo of a lovely little girl playing violin extremely well in front of the Catherine Palace at Tsarskoe Selo, outside of St. Petersburg. I still regret not slipping her a few coins, which was, natually, the reason she was out there playing. At least it was a beautful early-summer day. One of many regrets. Did slip a few coins to other pretty little Russian children on this trip, which was part of an excellently organized "Russia by River" tour from Moscow to St. Petersburg. I still wonder what will become of this obviously talented child. Would she receive scholarship help to study at one of Russia's many excellent music conservatories? (Even in the darkest and most repressive years of the Soviet era, Russia still produced world-class players; they have one of the truly great musical cultures.) Would she meet the right mentors who could set her on the path to a professional career? At least she was already accomplished enough to be able to play for her own pleasure for the rest of her life. 

Having worked as an editor at a prominent music conservatory, I'm aware of the great numbers of talented and accomplished musicians who are not able to make careers as performers. Fortunately, this school also has courses to prepare students for other aspects of music, e.g., the business and managerial areas. You have to want a musical career "so badly you can taste it" and be willing to slave at relatively menial jobs until you get a break. If you get a break.

This little Russian girl put the finishing touch to a lovely day for a tourist in Russia. I think that she was playing Tchaikovsky. A safe bet, anyway.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Overheard at the Turner Show

A very extensive show of J.M.W. Turner's paintings is now on view at New York's Metropolitan Museum. I've had the good fortune to see many of these previously, at the Tate Britain, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The show is too large to take in on one visit, and I plan to return. To cite just one painting, you can't look at the masterpiece The Shipwreck too often; it's an experience comparable to listening to Beethoven. 

Tate Collection | The Shipwreck by Joseph Mallord William Turner

When contemplating the painting shown above, I could not, of course, help thinking of Sherlock Holmes's final struggle with Professor Moriarty at the top of the Reichenbach Falls. Though not a Baker Street Irregular, I am just as saturated with Holmesiana as most literate English speakers. As I was standing there, I heard a voice behind me murmur, "Moriarty." Amused, I turned around and said, "I was thinking the same thing. You can never hear the name 'Reichenbach' without Holmes and Moriarty coming to mind." The speaker and his companions smiled broadly.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood(s)

When it's a nice day in New York City, it's a Nice Day in New York City! Here's the fabled Chrysler Building (also immortalized once again in today's New York Times crossword puzzle) as it looked on the morning of June 25, 2008. Note the totally cloudless sky, not normally the case in NYC. As regards the building, my dentist, the unofficial mayor and biggest fan of the building, has his offices in the Tower Suite. Thus, when one sits in his chair, one usually has a sweeping view of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, et al. It's too bad to have to visit him on a cloudy day. I'm also fortunate not to have had any real dental problems, making visits both painless and pleasant, as a rule.

Now, what better activity on such a day than to pay a visit to the "Moore in America" display of 20 Henry Moore sculptures at the wonderful Botanical Gardens in the Bronx? Just a 20-minute ride on Metro North, and there you are. The sculpture shown above is one of the artist's renderings of a favorite theme: mother and child. The setting is absolutely perfect for large sculptures, and the art and venue enhance each other. You can read about a similar exhibition, including all of the same works and then some, held recently at England's equally magnificent Kew Gardens:

And, of course, there are the botanical treasures to be savored. The conifer collection and, as seen above, the Rockefeller Rose Garden, are only two of the delights to be found in the Bronx. Don't agree with Ogden Nash's

The Bronx,
No thonx.

at all on this score. And then there are the lemurs, newly housed at the Bronx Zoo. Gotta see these babies! Their name, once used as the title of a PBS documentary, means "spirits of the forest." 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"When a ghost and a prince meet...."

The reviews of this year's Shakespeare in the Park production of Hamlet have not been favorable. I was thinking about the many interpreters of the Dane I've seen—certainly many of the world's greats. Truly memorable were Richard Burton in the "rehearsal" production directed by John Gielgud; Ralph Fiennes a few years back; and, more recently, the beautifully voiced and profoundly artistic work of Simon Russell Beale. Mr. Russell Beale overcame his unlikely physique, drawing in and moving the audience at Britain's Royal National Theatre as much as if not more than any Hollywood-handsome type could. Although—I certainly enjoyed seeing the marvelous-looking Mr. Fiennes—those eyes!—who also has the talent and voice for the part. And no one is better at sheer vulnerability than he is.

So, I was hoping that the latest outing might be worth a visit, though I'm really not up for standing in line for anything. There are too many great presentations in NYC for which you don't have to queue up. This year, the Public Theater is offering an online lottery for some of the tickets, and I thought it might be fun to register and try to get a pair, but now I'm not sure I want to bother. I guess my favorite curmudgeon, John Simon, has warned me off:

I've been to other Shakespeare in the Park Hamlets over the years. Quite a number of years back, Stacy Keach essayed the part. I don't remember too much about his performance, but at one time I remember he was quite a respected classicist before his British drug bust and apparent fall from grace. At any rate, what I liked most about the performance was the enjoyment conveyed by two giggly teenage girls sitting behind me. They proved the real purpose of Shakespeare or any other fine theater, when one burst out at the end of an act: "I can't wait to see what happens!"

I was also reminded of Howard Dietz's wonderfully clever lyrics to Arthur Schwartz's delightful melody "That's Entertainment" from the movie version of their show The Band Wagon. The magazine Time Out New York quoted it without attribution last week when listing the current production. And then, just by chance, last Sunday afternoon Schwartz's son, Jonathan, the doyen of the Great American Song Book, played Judy Garland's wonderful rendition on his weekend public and satellite radio show. What a voice! What diction!

"When a ghost and a prince meet/And everyone ends in mincemeat."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A&P Heir and Me—and Many Others

The "good grey" New York Times almost always has something to spark one's imagination or memory—in addition to the important news of the day, of course. In yesterday's edition there was an obituary of the A&P heir Huntington Hartford, who managed to squander the family millions most efficiently while probably having a lot of fun doing so:

The obit reminded me of an experience, evidently common among my young female contemporaries, in my college days. HH had built his hideous Gallery of Modern Art,  one of Edward Durrell Stone's more unfortunate creations, on the south rim of Columbus Circle. The art in there was pretty bad, since HH, as you can read in the Times piece, eschewed any of the then currently respected trends. I paid a visit to the windowless gallery one day and was accosted by an older, well-dressed man who asked me how I liked the pictures. I don't remember my reply, but he then confessed that he was the owner of the gallery and tried to pick me up. I managed to scoot away and later had an amusing anecdote to tell my girlfriends: "Huntington Hartford tried to pick me up! Ha ha!" Sometime later, my mother informed me that a friend of hers had actually bragged (the woman was a rather naïve provincial) that HH had tried to pick her daughter up in his gallery. My mother, highly amused and slightly more worldly, said, "My daughter, too!" Apparently every reasonably attractive young woman of the era was fair game. Perhaps HH had even built the gallery to attract new feminine possibilities. Certainly a classier joint than a pickup bar at any rate, windows or no.

Epilogue: In September 2008, after a reported $90 million renovation, the building is scheduled to reopen as The Museum of Arts & Design. I think it's supposed to have windows this time.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

PDA in the NYT

The clever theme of today's New York Times crossword puzzle was "PDA," which appeared in the middle of the grid. The two PDAs in question were "public display of affection" and "personal digital (or data, which didn't fit) assistant." I'm definitely not a fan of the former, but love anything to do with the latter, being a technophile. (I always say that my life didn't really begin until I went online.) 

Well, despite my aversion to this rather icky type of display, I remember that I was, admittedly, quite enchanted by same on my first visit to Paris, many years ago and counting. Weaned on various nouvelle vague films featuring Jeanne Moreau and/or the late Gérard (sigh) Philipe, but coming from the basically puritanical U.S., I was thrilled by my various glimpses of couples embracing and locking lips on virtually every street corner or under every tree in the various parcs. It was indeed "just like the movies." My romantic phase could last only just so long, however. What looked—or maybe even still looks—great in Paris or Rome just doesn't cut it here in NYC, especially if you're doing it while sitting in front of me at the theater. Like many another bodily function, it just doesn't translate into public behavior. I'm allowing for the greeting of a loved one at an airport or similar situation, but keep it short or get a room! 

A couple of people who post on "Rex Parker's" delightful NYT crossword blog seem to agree with me. It's like a lot of other behavior that pays no attention to the sensibilities of others, e.g., not cleaning up your dog's poop or discarding rubbish in the street instead of in a bin. In the subway the other evening, a person (who looked out of it anyway) threw rubbish on the train tracks even though he was sitting right next to a rubbish bin. Well, if you want to live in the Big City, you have to put up with a certain amount of unattractive—or even illegal—behavior, but I do draw the line at PDA.

As far as Paris is concerned, it does have its reputation to live up to. I'm reminded of a scene in Cyrano de Bergerac in the Brian Hooker translation. Cyrano is trying to detain the Comte de Guiche from entering Roxane's house while she and Christian are being married. Cyrano claims to have recently fallen from the moon and not to know where he is. The Comte, after many attempts to get past Cyrano, blurts out: "A lady is waiting!" Cyrano replies: "Ah! So this is Paris!"

Friday, April 25, 2008

Thai Time

Once, again, right in one's own backyard! Or, at any rate, across the street in front of my apartment house. The Thai Embassy is directly across from me, as I, fortunately, face the front of my building. I understand that the building across the way, after the Thais renovated it, was dedicated by a Buddhist priest, but I missed that event. They work in there industriously, from fairly early in the morning until quite late in the evening. Maybe they take long lunch hours, but I'm not usually around to notice. Just now, on my normally quiet residential block, I heard a voice speaking through a bullhorn. Did not recognize the language, but then one hears so many different tongues here in Gotham-on-the-Hudson. Looking out of the window, what do I see but an actual demonstration! This happens from time to time, making life all that much more interesting here in dignified, decorous Turtle Bay. Our last big "happening" was the fatal crane collapse a few weeks ago. Now it's Thai protesters. Never a dull moment. I'm not exactly sure what they're protesting; it seems to be that they don't want certain people sent to China.  Maybe it has something to do with the Olympics. Their placards read "Free Chen Guan" and "Thai Human Rights Abusers." Maybe there'll be something in the papers tomorrow. Or on our "little channel that could," NY1.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


From time to time I have occasion to visit the Columbia University campus in northern Manhattan. As an alumna of the University's noted women's college, Barnard, I frequently experience what is sometimes termed "recovered memory syndrome," if this phenomenon actually exists. After attending an event at Columbia's School of Journalism last evening—sat a couple of rows behind the great-looking Paul Auster!—and passing my old dorm, Brooks Hall, I was reminded of our then mascot, whom we named "Cupcake" for unknown reasons.

My room, a single in those long-ago days, was tiny, but, as the Bard has it, "an ill-favoured thing but mine own."* It, and my friends' adjoining room, looked across 116th Street to a large apartment house. In one brightly lighted window, a middle-aged man in a white bathrobe would appear and, for our delectation, open his robe to reveal—not much of anything. This happened on a fairly regular basis. I don't know why we were not more appalled, especially in those more repressive years, but mainly we found him funny and dubbed the offender "Cupcake."

Now long awakened to the feminist cause, with many battles largely won but still a few more to fight—go, Hillary!—I realize that the man's behavior was at least headed in the direction of criminal. He knew that there were young, nubile women across the street. For him, it was better than the subway, as he couldn't have opened his bathrobe—only a dirty raincoat if he had one—there. The girls' dormitory directly across the street from his apartment was a veritable candy store. It would need a trained psychology professional to explain the exhibitionist mentality, and I don't know if anyone ever reported Cupcake's behavior. He was probably one of millions out there in the Big City and elsewhere. I'm more disturbed thinking about his behavior now than I was at the time it occurred. I was too naïve and bewildered at the time, I guess. Yuck.

*Touchstone in As You Like It, Act V, iv, 57-8 

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bloomingdale's, etc.

I suffer from a malady which may or may not be shared by others: Whenever I enter a store, I am overcome by exhaustion as soon as I cross the threshold. The symptoms are particularly acute with major department stores such as Bloomingdale's, which is probably the prime offender. The big B presents a brilliantly lighted, dizzying kaleidoscope of displays that can easily cause vertigo or even mal de mer. In general, I make a beeline for the escalator to the third floor, home of the so-called "bridge collections." These are generally quality, mass-produced garments which, while not inexpensive, do not fall into the rarefied categories displayed on the fourth, or designer, floor. I zoom past the sale racks, only then heading for the few designers appropriate to my age, height, and lifestyle. But I can't spend more than 15 or 20 minutes before virtual collapse is imminent. I know others who can go on with this for hours. Unbelievable. 

Another phenomenon absolutely incomprehensible to me is the usually cowed-looking husbands or boyfriends, who either accompany women shoppers or sit dejectedly on the (very) few seats scattered about the store. I can't imagine any man doing this, unless he's footing the bill, and as a totally independent, self-supporting woman, I can't imagine that, either. 

At least, wandering employees have stopped spraying passing shoppers with unwanted scents; apparently some people were allergic and potential lawsuits loomed. I am only psychologically allergic; glad this practice appears to have ceased. The general din and confusion of major department stores and, from my limited observation, shopping malls in general are probably designed to confuse people so much that they spend more than they intended. Of course, at this moment, we do need to keep money in circulation, as various old family members used to say.

And yet, and yet...I may drop into Bloomy's today on my way to a dance concert, as I need some household items which may possibly be on sale there. Haven't been in there in months, so if I'm never heard from again, you'll know that I was eaten alive or trampled to death.

Later: Interesting fact: Bloomingdale's no longer carries 50 percent cotton/50 percent poly bed sheets—only 100 percent cotton, and luxury labels at that. A salesgirl informed me that if I wanted the more plebeian type of sheets I would have to go to Macy's. I asked, "Who wants to iron sheets?" She replied, "They have maids." Well! Bloomingdale's was not the zoo it usually is on a Sunday; relatively few shoppers. I guess the  reports about declining retail sales are indeed a fact. Next stop: Macy's, but not today.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Le violette"

As one of the champions of free association, I started to hear in my head Alessandro Scarlatti's well-known aria antica "Le violette" when I bought a couple of new African violets the other day. Although I privately consider collecting these particular flowers a sign of old-ladyhood, I can't help it. I love them even though I don't have tremendous luck in growing them. But they're inexpensive, and there's a rather grumpy florist across the street who keeps me supplied. I've finally learned to water them from the bottom only (duh—I guess most people know this already), and they're doing better. Anyway, back to arie antiche: Among those in the know, "Le violette" is practically a cliché in the vocal world; it's one of the songs beginning vocal students often work on. But its delicacy and loveliness prevent its ever becoming stale. Here's a favorite tenor from the recent past, Alfredo Kraus:

Violets have long been a metaphor for shyness because their little buds stay hidden beneath their velvety leaves, only gradually peeping out as they mature. The utterly charming words—conveniently repeated ad infinitum in songs and arias of the period—delightfully reflect the shyness of this little flower:

Voi vi state vergognose
Mezzo ascose
Fra le foglie,
E sgridate
Le mie voglie,
Che son troppo ambiziose.

Music by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) from the opera Pirro e Demetrio
Words by Adriano Morselli (fl. 1674-1691)

Dewy, fragrant, graceful little violets,
You stay, shamefaced, half-hidden among the leaves,
And mock my desires that are too ambitious.

So charming it brings a tear to the eye! (Sniff!)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Who Needs to Go Anywhere Else?

"Only in New York, kids, only in New York."*

I just took this in front of one of the several Irish pubs in my neighborhood: Second Avenue between 52nd and 51st Streets.  What a great town!

Just when you think it's a routine, if pleasant, Saturday afternoon, you run into a bunch of  bagpipers. And right near your apartment! How great is that?

*Cindy Adams's sign-off to her gossip column in the New York Post. Yes, I confess to reading the Post on occasion, mostly online. Where else does one get the salacious stuff that's too lowbrow for the Times?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

South Pacific 2008

I may be one of the few people of my generation who never saw any staged production, be it in summer stock or a high school musical, of the wonderful landmark 1949 show South Pacific. I have seen the not-very-good 1958 movie (given two and a half reluctant stars in Leonard Maltin's movie guide) and the even less successful 2001 TV version with a miscast Glenn Close. I thoroughly enjoyed the semi-staged concert performance from Avery Fisher Hall that PBS telecast last year. Brian Stokes Mitchell and Reba MacIntyre were wonderful, but they did not repeat their roles for this Lincoln Center Theater production. Oh, yes, I did grow up with the original cast album, an early LP (remember 
them?) featuring the two and only Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza.

Last night, I remedied this deficiency and came out singing—and even weeping a bit from Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot's magnificent performance of "This Nearly Was Mine." Mr. Szot is a real find: a matinee idol who has the voice, looks, grace, and above all charisma of the old-time Broadway leading men. And his final song is the equal of many an opera aria. Although he's onstage in only a few scenes, he walks away with the solo honors. Second, or perhaps equal, to Szot is the 30-piece orchestra playing Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestrations. And we have a real overture, and an entr'acte: much-missed relics of an earlier Broadway era, before the invention of the synthesizer.

Later: Kelli O'Hara, roundly praised by the critics whom I have just been reading, is indeed fresh, lovely, and highly accomplished as Nellie Forbush. But for me, she lacked the real star charisma that Paulo Szot projects. This does not spoil a wonderful evening, though. The likeable and gifted Matthew Morrison (I've seen him in Hairspray and The Light in the Piazza) was a highly sympathetic and well sung Lt. Cable, the doomed marine who loves the Tonkinese girl Liat. But the main thing about South Pacific is its evocation of a more optimistic America, as we pulled together to win the last "just" war in which we've been involved. The show dared to bring racial prejudice out into the open at a time when it was seldom alluded to on the stage, and the characters are all realistic, believable human beings rather than the exaggerated stereotypes then common in the musical theater. It ends quietly instead of with a rip-roaring finale, although as we leave the theater, the excellent orchestra plays us out with those unforgettable melodies.

And here's Ben Brantley's review from the April 4, 2008 New York Times:

It will be a hot ticket and could run as long as the original did. I wouldn't be surprised if they moved it to a regular Broadway house after its Lincoln Center run. But only if they can afford to keep that orchestra!

Update: It is indeed a hot ticket. I now read that the run has been extended indefinitely. The original ran for five years.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lingua Americana

When it comes to additions, subtractions, or incorrect usages of American English, I have often likened myself to the legendary boy with his finger in the dike. I know that language changes, and words and expressions that used to be incorrect are now ones I frequently use myself. My rule is: If I like it, then it's O.K. Certain vogue expressions past and present amuse me, but others I find insupportable. One that I like is "deal breaker." One of many deal breakers for me is the inability to distinguish between "lie" and "lay." I really tune out when I hear this one misused. To me it exemplifies one's educational level and the inability to speak American English correctly. I've also heard it misused in Britain; they probably caught the virus from us.

I grew up with the delightful military acronym "snafu" (situation normal—all f****d up), which was always sanitized to "fouled up," as I recall. But only after the terrible occurrence, right in my East Side Manhattan neighborhood, of the building crane accident that destroyed a local hangout called Fubar, along with much else, did I learn that the bar's name was a relative of snafu, and also a military slang acronym—perhaps more recent—meaning "f****d up beyond all recognition." Wonderful. Love it. Since we also had, for a while, an Asian fusion restaurant called Fu's in the neighborhood, I thought that the name was just an Asian one. But the bar owner set people straight when he was interviewed after, sadly, losing his business.

A word that I've never been able to prove incorrect is "arguably." I simply refuse to employ this unnecessary adverb. None of the writers' manuals mentions it, but I did find one bit of advice online which suggests that it smacks too much of  journalese and should be avoided. I wish others had happened upon this warning. Another offender, often cited, is "hopefully." However, it's now so widespread that I just throw up my hands. I won't use it myself, though.

And please, please, please deliver us from "awesome" and "like" except when absolutely necessary in their original meanings. I know I'm not getting anywhere with this, but blogging about it gives me a chance to vent my spleen (another good old, if clichéd, idiom).

Still will not accept:
"criteria" as a singular; it's "criterion."
Same for "media."

OTOH, (Look! I'm so trendy!), I've been saying "candelabra" for years, when I mean only one candelabrum. I've never heard anyone say "candelabrum." Maybe in ancient Rome. But, believe it or not, I wasn't around then.

Update: This week I heard a military type being interviewed on Terry Gross's Fresh Air on NPR use the word "fubar" just as a matter of course. I guess it's been around longer than I thought, according to Wikipedia. Must have been living in a cave. Apparently it's of nearly the same vintage as "snafu."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More on Movies: John Waters, etc.

That delightfully naughty John Waters, of Hairspray fame and much else, is doing a promo on TCM for yet another showing of The Wizard of Oz, which I guess can never be shown too often, at least for some people. I love his take on Dorothy's wish to go home to Kansas. He wonders why anyone would want to go back to Kansas: "She'll probably end up working in a 7-Eleven, or something like that." Why would anyone want to leave Oz? Good question. He appears to have remained in Oz himself, lucky guy.

Speaking of old movies, Oz reminds me that the Wicked Witch of the West frightened my cousin greatly and gave her nightmares for a long time. Hope she's over it now; it's been about 50 years. What frightened me as a kid was the excellent The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), starring George Sanders and Hurd Hatfield, not generally thought of as a scary movie. I was frightened by the color insert of the final view of the portrait, showing Dorian as a terrifyingly ravaged old sinner, marked by all his crimes. Perhaps it was the timing of the way the color inserts in this otherwise black-and-white film were flashed on the screen. On viewing the film later in life, I could never recapture that initial frisson. But I could enjoy the sophistication of the film, particularly Sanders as Lord Henry, uttering all of those Wildean bons mots. I understand that they're doing yet another remake. Why bother?