Monday, December 14, 2009

There's Hope for Kids!

Although not a fan of the 1960 show Bye Bye Birdie, currently in revival on Broadway (for some unknown reason), I've always enjoyed the song "Kids" from the score, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams:

I don't know what's wrong with these kids today!


Who can understand anything they say?


They are disobedient, disrespectful oafs!

Noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers!

While we're on the subject:


You can talk and talk till your face is blue!


But they still just do what they want to do!

Why can't they be like we were,

Perfect in every way?

What's the matter with kids today?


I've tried to raise him the best I could

Kids! Kids!

Laughing, singing, dancing, grinning, morons!

And while we're on the subject!

Kids! They are just impossible to control!

Kids! With their awful clothes and their rock an' roll!

Why can't they dance like we did

What's wrong with Sammy Kaye?

What's the matter with kids today!

But, although I used to sympathize with the song, I have a different opinion of at least some kids after attending the utterly delightful dress rehearsal of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, sung in English, at the Metropolitan Opera last Friday. While the school groups who often attend Met dress rehearsals were certainly lively and voluble when entering the opera house, they were perfectly behaved, not only during the performance but also when eating their lunches sitting on the carpet of the Grand Tier and elsewhere. They must have had the Riot Act read to them ahead of time. Anyway, it worked.

Paying more attention to this delightful—and far from trivial—opera than I had in the past, I see and hear that this gorgeous, semi-Wagnerian work has quite a macabre side that is not stinted in this production. Some of the unfortunate children who had been baked into gingerbread by the Witch do not revive; their limbs can be snapped off. At least others are rescued in time to sing the joyous chorus of redemption at the end. Having the eminent and delightful British tenor Philip Langridge as the Witch in full panto-dame drag was totally appropriate and right. This Witch was somewhat more endearing than scary, even though her motives were as malevolent as ever. Two gorgeous voices from two beautiful women—Angelika Kirchschlager as Hansel and Miah Persson as Gretel—were, literally and figuratively, the frosting on the cookies and cakes. Am going to listen to the Met's webcast of it this evening.

Monday, November 30, 2009


No, I mean neither Master Twist nor his incarnation in the popular Lionel Bart musical currently in revival yet again in London. Nor the Olivers Hardy nor Stone. But rather, that crisp, indescribably subtle English biscuit, the Bath Oliver, named for its 18th-century creator, Dr. William Oliver, in Bath.

I've been a fan of these biscuits—never call them crackers!—since first discovering them in adolescence—can't remember whether here or in their native Britain—and used to be able to find them on the shelves of the better NYC supermarkets. But no more. They have disappeared into the great maw of the specialty online grocery markets and are available only at very high prices. I'm about to make another visit to London and plan to scope out Sainsbury's, Tesco, and Marks and Spencer in hopes of squirreling away a few packets to take home. This all started because a friend, currently in Florida, who is also obsessed with these delightful tidbits, asked me to look for them. And the mouth-watering memory of their flakey crispness on my tongue was re-evoked.

B.O.s are good with or without cheese. I don't favor (favour?) jam on them, because its sweetness cancels out some of their delicate flavor (flavour?). At any rate, in addition to attending theater, ballet, and art exhibitions during my upcoming visit, I shall certainly make a market foray looking for the one and only Bath Oliver biscuits. Yum!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Life at Lincoln Center

One wonders what the original production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni must have looked like onstage at the relatively tiny Estates Theater in Prague, where it received its premiere in 1787. One interesting fact that I’ve learned is that the protagonist was sung by a baritone only 24 years old.

One has learned to associate the role with someone perhaps in his early 40s, still hugely attractive, of course, who has actually had time for the 2,065 conquests enumerated by Leporello. I’ve heard many Dons, the most ideal interpreter being Cesare Siepi (pictured)—never heard Pinza live in the role, though I did hear him late in his career in Fanny on Broadway.

Last season the tall and charismatic Swede Peter Mattei made a suave, beautifully sung Don, more cruel than many, in Marthe Keller’s production at the Met. Last night, at the newly reconstituted New York City Opera, we had Christopher Alden’s take on the masterpiece, which looks as if it was influenced to some extent by G.W. Pabst’s Expressionist films of the 20s. For example, Elvira’s maid, who is given more of a walk-on than usual and who has been taken into the Don’s employ by the Supper Scene, is bewigged and made up to look like a plumper Louise Brooks. Our Don, clean-cut and well sung, looked a bit too scrubbed and wholesome as interpreted by the talented young Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch.

Musically, New York City Opera gave a generally satisfying performance. Among interesting details, the singers were permitted more ornamentation than I’ve heard at the Met, and the onstage orchestras for the ball and Supper Scene were still in the pit, with the Don occasionally gesturing toward the musicians. I did not object to the modernization, which didn’t come close to either various Eurotrash renderings or the Peter Sellars version set in gangland Harlem, except that people who don’t know the opera well may be confused. For us Don G. veterans (dare I say experts?), it’s an interesting take on one of the supreme achievements of any art in any era. And they do ignore many specifics of the libretto, including “spada al fianco” (“sword at his side”) and the fact that the “statua gentilissima” (“most gracious statue”) isn’t a statue at all, but a corpse who sits bolt upright in his coffin and sings.

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Obsession

Well, here it comes again. Like many dancers, professional and amateur, I have been obsessed with The Red Shoes (1948) since the age of 13. I own both the VHS and DVD of it, and can quote large chunks of the dialogue. In other words, I'm a Red Shoes junkie. Also, unlike a lot of fans, I'm thoroughly familiar with the original Hans Christian Andersen tale, far more grisly than this admittedly tragic story. In Andersen, the heroine has to have her feet chopped off and replaced with wooden prosthetics in order to rid herself of the curse of eternal dancing.

About eleven years ago, I was able to vent my passion quite a bit by writing an article for Dance Magazine about the film on the 50th anniversary of its release. Sorry that the lovely stills from the film aren't included here:

But apparently the film will never be out of my system. No less a film maven than the great Martin Scorsese is of a similar mind. Starting today, the Film Forum will be showing yet another restoration, concentrating on the magnificent use of Technicolor:

Since I haven't seen the movie on the Big Screen in many years, I'm looking forward to seeing it today and silently mouthing the lines along with Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Notable Venetians

You can never see Venice too often. This was either my third or fourth visit, and the place continues to exert its fascination, despite construction around the Campanile marring some of the beauty of Piazza San Marco. (And not all of the milling tourists are gorgeous to look at.) I did learn that practically no one in Europe seems to be wearing jean jackets anymore—jeans, yes—and I may have to put my beloved Gap number, which has seen me through many travels, out to pasture. On my last day there, I had three projects: to take the tour of Teatro La Fenice, the fabled opera house; to take a boat ride through the canals, and to have a drink at the Caffè Florian. I managed only the third of these, as the Teatro was closed, probably due to the running of the Venice Marathon, though it didn't pass by the opera house; and some of the boat landings were closed, also owing to the marathon.

Florian, though picturesque, isn't that great, but I had to go there. They even have their own Web site:

And it's as good a spot as any to watch the passing parade.

Among legions of notable Venetians—especially, of course, great artists—are Marco Polo (though some claim that he was born in Croatia); Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (1646–1678), the first woman college graduate ("la prima donna laureata nel mondo"); and, of course, Antonio Vivaldi, the Red Priest ("il prete rosso"). He was, like many from this area, a redhead, not a communist.

And Venice is wall-to-wall Vivaldi. The little bands and orchestras in Piazza San Marco seem to be stuck on The Four Seasons, which they mix with rock and show tunes and the Toreador Song, among other selections. Some fellow travelers and I also attended a concert by the Interpreti Veneziani at the deconsecrated church of San Vidal, where, naturalmente, Le Quattro Stagioni was also performed. And with more energy than I've ever heard, even if it was not note-perfect. The mostly young musicians raced down the church aisles to take their places and played with enough verve to dispel the notion that they could probably play this delightful set of violin concertos in their sleep. There are far worse fates than all-Vivaldi all the time.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What, No Wi-Fi?

As a lover of technology, though far from an expert at it, I delight in the various modern marvels at our disposal. On my latest travels, to Croatia and Venice, I was equipped with two mobile phones—one for the U.S. and one for almost everywhere else—my iPod Touch equipped with Wi-Fi, my digital camera, and—reverting to a practically ancient standby—my beloved little Grundig AM-FM-short-wave radio. I have to give a shout for the quality of Grundig products, since I had spilled water on the last-named item, rendering it mute before departure, and was frantically searching the Radio Shack website for a replacement. However, the Grundig dried itself out overnight and resumed its excellent reception before I could buy another. Even if you don't always know the language, listening to the radio in other countries is a great travel enhancement that I find superior to hotel-room TV with the inevitable, repetitious CNN or BBC international channels. By the way, short-wave still exists in the Internet age. I picked up Radio Moscow's English-language hour, where they promised that we were going to hear "some interesting programs."

I found Croatia Radio 3 after a journey around the dial and was delighted to be able to make out, if barely, the announcements of classical selections and their interpreters. I surmised that the language, like Latin and Russian, e.g., has noun declensions, as composers all seemed to have an additional u or other vowel at the ends of their names. This was confirmed by our multilingual, delightful Slovenian guide, Maja. And on RAI, the Italian radio, I was pleased to learn that nerd has now been added to the Italian language. The Italians were also paying tribute to, of all writers, the late Jack Kerouac on the 40th anniversary of his death, and reading excerpts from Sulla Strada (On the Road).

The availability of Wi-Fi is inconsistent. One of the lesser hotels had free reception and a strong signal, while another quite luxurious establishment—O.K., the Hilton in Dubrovnik—made you pay for it. And fuhgeddabout Venice. Even at the overpriced, if historic, Caffè Florian you have to pay. Although in the overall cost of foreign travel, these charges are not significant, I didn't pay and only used the e-mail on the iPod Touch where I had free reception. My inner cheapskate surfaces in these situations, although if it had been truly necessary I would have paid. Back in Dubrovnik, though there wasn't free Wi-Fi at the Hilton, there was in the center of town, where you could have a bite at an outdoor cafe and log on free to Dubrovnik central. Very hospitable town.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trapped in a Toilet in Split!

No, not trapped in a split in a toilet, although after a lifetime of ballet training, this could probably also happen. The name of the city of Split in Croatia has nothing to do with division or acrobatics; it comes from the name of an indigenous plant. Except for the more than impressive palace of Roman emperor Diocletian, a native of what is now Croatia, Split is not a major tourist destination. Nevertheless, it has many attractions and beauties, and its inhabitants, like their neighbors the Italians, appear to enjoy life sitting in cafés along the Riva, or seaside promenade, pictured here.

After a pizza (what else?) lunch, I availed myself of the facilities at a local restaurant, the appropriately named Adriana, for one located on the Adriatic. A long-held nightmare finally came true. When I attempted to unlock the cubicle door, it wouldn't budge. Furthermore, as it was late in the midday lunch hour, I had been the only remaining customer in the restaurant, and there seemed to be few staff on duty. And on top of that, the cubicle door was flush to both floor and ceiling! I had a cell phone that works in Europe with me, but I didn't know how to call the Split equivalents of 911, information, or the restaurant itself. Thus, I started banging on the door, crying the usual "Help!" and, in the second language of the region, Italian, "Non posso aprire!" My Croatian is, shall we say, limited to "Hvala!" (Thank you!)

Hvala came in handy, as my cries for help were shortly answered by a tall, handsome employee of the establishment, who fiddled with the door catch, opened it, and also showed me the almost invisible place where one flushed the toilet. No apparent apparatus or chain to show the way. Also, one needed to be tall to reach it! This young man was typical of the local residents in his attractive appearance and height. Almost worth my getting stuck in that embarrassing situation! He said that I was the first person to get stuck in there, but not the first person to be unable to find the toilet flush. And at least, had I found it, I'm tall enough to reach it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

“Only in New York, Kids….”

I’ve quoted the redoubtable Cindy Adams’s signoff to her gossip column before in these pages, but today merits quoting her again. Cheers, Cindy! There’s never a day in which A Lot isn’t going on in NYC, but today was a bit more frazzling than usual. At least the U.N. General Assembly members have packed up and gone home, which means that I can at least get around my own neighborhood a bit more easily. Today we had unbelievable autumn weather—bright sunshine, low humidity, and perfect temperatures. We also had the Polish Kosciuszko Day parade on Fifth Avenue, one of those infernal street fairs on Lexington Avenue, a Turkish parade somewhere else, and a book fair in Brooklyn, to name but a few.

Three friends and I had tickets to a revival of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s 1927 comedy The Royal Family, a gently satirical portrait of the great Barrymore acting clan. We never got to see the play, as the curtain came down about twenty minutes into the show to rise again only to have the stage manager tell us that the show had to be canceled because:

‘Royal Family’ Sunday Matinee Canceled After Tony Roberts Fell Ill - ArtsBeat Blog -

We certainly wish popular actor Tony Roberts, whose work we have enjoyed often, a speedy recovery. I did get some entertainment—as usual—on the way to the theater, as I passed these two inflatable “athletes” in front of an Irish pub on Eighth Avenue. They remind me of the marvelous inflatable dummy pilot in one of my favorite movies, Airplane!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Star Wars Never Dies!

More on the hazards of riding public transportation: Lately, for the most part, people seem to be toning down their mobile phone conversations. They must finally be getting the idea that strangers don’t want to know what they’re having for dinner. Nevertheless, “if you want to live in the Big City,” you have to put up with less than serene surroundings when traveling around town. The latest annoyance occurred the other day when a mountainous man got on the 104 downtown bus with John Williams’s Star Wars theme blaring from what seemed to be a portable radio, although I didn’t look closely. When the theme was repeated—loudly—over and over, I realized that it was his cell phone ringtone. Egad! And his answers to his calls were equally loud. Couldn’t wait for him to get off, which he finally did. Hard to understand the demand for attention that some people who use these devices seem to be displaying. Who wants the attention of total strangers, especially when you must be aware that you’re annoying them? It must be the frustrations of lack of recognition or love in one’s personal life. Or maybe the guy was just hard of hearing (from years of listening to hard rock at full volume, perhaps?).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Who Tawks Good These Days?

Until recently—and maybe still—there was nothing funnier to the British than the mangling of the English language by “bloody foreigners.” I even have a gift book entitled Britain As She Is Visit, which, I confess, I once found reasonably hilarious. Now I find it merely xenophobic. And as a former English teacher and, now, editor, I can’t help noticing various linguistic gaffes, since it’s my business to do so. A favorite of the recent past was a menu poster in front of a luncheonette near my office, reading “Soup of the Day—Leak.” So, we Yanks can be pretty amused by these mistakes as well. But the time has come to be somewhat politically correct in these matters. After all, how many of us really speak a second, or third, or fourth, language truly fluently—“as she should be spoke”? If our vis-à-vis gets the meaning across somehow, that has to be sufficient in many cases.

Multiculturalism in both Britain and America—to name the most populous Anglophone countries—has to make us more tolerant of imperfect English, at least in everyday use. This does not discount the fact that for professional and literary purposes correct English is an absolute requirement. But this can be outsourced, or learned as needed. The only time I, who pride myself on being able to understand most foreign accents, was defeated occurred during an attempt to make a minor change in my telephone service and, of course, got someone in India. Totally unable to understand my phone contact there, I gave up and to this day continue to pay a small monthly sum for a service I never use. You can’t win ‘em all.

Privately, I still agree with Professor Higgins, but for day-to-day life, I’ll have to listen carefully and interpret as best I can. And this even applies to supposedly native speakers these days!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stay 'Way From My Seat!

Where Thin People Roam, and Sometimes Even Eat -

Whenever some irritating factor of life in New York gets to me, I always give myself the advice: “If you want to live in the Big City and enjoy all that it has to offer, you have to put up with this!” And don’t insult minorities! Fortunately, it appears that, to some extent, political correctness is going out of style and, anyway, in this case I’m insulting a majority. The story, “Where Thin People Roam, and Sometimes Even Eat,” appearing in the Times on July 23, mentions that Manhattanites tend to be thinner than residents of other boroughs and, indeed, than in other parts of the U.S. Therefore, it may be safe to mention that being squashed by a fat person who attempts to sit next to you on one of the side-facing seats in the rear of the bus can be yet another downer in our great town. I’m always hoping that only a thin Asian teenager—they’re generally narrower than Westerners—will sit next to me, but this is not usually the case.

On a bus ride to my home on the East Side, I had one of those empty seats next to me when a well-dressed and well-groomed but extremely large man eased his more than hefty frame into the space. After making myself as narrow as possible and holding my breath, I capitulated and stood up. At the same moment, a seat next to a slim, handsome young man opened up across the aisle and I grabbed it. The (much younger) man and I happened to get off at the same stop. He commented, “I saw how uncomfortable you looked, and I was very amused. I really sympathized with you.” He was an acting student, going to class at the Neighborhood Playhouse and always observing people as fodder for his craft. We chatted while walking a couple of blocks to our respective destinations. Then he, obviously honing his technique for future use, said, “And you’re very pretty; I enjoyed our little talk.”

Even though that particular experience ended well, fat people, stay away from my seat!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Turtlemania—BTW I Happen to Live in Turtle Bay

Having been fortunate enough to visit the Galápagos Islands some years ago, I've always been a fan of turtles and tortoises. I remember the huge, lumbering Galápagos tortoise, its head, legs, and tail pulled in when at rest or asleep, resembling an enormous WWII Nazi helmet. And in Costa Rica, a truly memorable event was seeing a giant sea turtle lay her eggs in the sand by moonlight. In fact, even before then, as a kid I was occasionally given those baby turtles with "Souvenir of Miami" or some such other legend cruelly painted on their shells. These poor critters never lasted long, of course. My present turtle collection consists of just these three: a hand-painted one from Russia, with mermaids, considered good luck in peasant cultures there; another from a Santa Fe pottery artist; and a third, a Chinese replica of a Murano glass design, from the Smithsonian shop. In the past, I would occasionally see box turtles along the roadside when driving in upstate New York, although I now read that these are pretty endangered and rare. A wildlife book I own states that they are frequently the victims of motorists when, like the ubiquitous—and very slow—groundhog, they try to cross a highway.

Thus, it was encouraging to read this morning that all is not lost in the turtle world. If a bunch of them can hold up flights at JFK, there's reason for hope!

Two favorite bits of verse by one of my heroes, Ogden Nash:

Come crown my brow with leaves of myrtle,
I know the tortoise is a turtle.
Come carve my name in stone immortal,
I know the turtoise is a tortle.
I know to my profound despair:
I bet on one to beat a hare.
And that is why I'm now a pauper,
Because of its tortly, turtly torpor.
—from The Carnival of the Animals


The turtle lives 'twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More Alma-Tadema

Have the decorators no shame? Never paid any attention to the other Alma-Tadema in the little entry hallway to the ladies' dressing room. Inside the dressing room is the reproduction of A Favourite Custom (1909) that I blogged about on June 11. Happened to notice Unconscious Rivals today, and here are, top, the genuine article and, below, the pale copy on tile. Would still love to know if the dance studio ownership/management know what they have here or if they just think the pictures are pretty, which they are, of course. According to not-always-reliable-but-at-least-it's-there Wikipedia, in Unconscious Rivals, in the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery in the U.K., "Alma-Tadema's female figures have a slightly bored, pleasure-seeking attitude, as if they were pampered courtesans. There is little action in Alma-Tadema's paintings; here two women are probably just waiting for a lover. The composition is balanced by the flowers in bloom." The same lover? Perhaps a hair-pulling match between those two carefully coiffed ladies might ensue. That would add some action!

I very much doubt if the (mostly) young innocents (ha!) who pass these pictures most days even notice them, let alone know what they are. Or care. Don't get me started on air-headedness. Actually, some of them are very bright; have responsible, professional jobs; or attend good colleges. So there.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not Quite "The Last Rose of Summer"

A friend and I missed the major part of the June rose display at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden through no fault of our own. Since it rained for most of the month, a lot of the blossoms were probably destroyed by heavy winds and rains. But here is one fresh beauty that survived, as it looked on June 24, 2009.

Had not been to the terrific Brooklyn Museum in many years. Finally got around to being overwhelmed by Judy Chicago's 1979 feminist assemblage, The Dinner Party, and to see a fine exhibit of Impressionist paintings by an artist I had not previously encountered, Gustave Caillebotte. He was born to great wealth; thus it's good that he used his time well as an outstanding yachtsman and important artist instead of just lounging about, as he could have done.

You can buy a ticket that combines visits to both the museum and garden. The ticket seller warned us that we couldn't get our money back for the garden part of the admission if it rained. Luckily, it didn't rain until we had just about finished our visit.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is Cute Enough?

Free-associating again! For some reason, an old New Yorker cartoon has come to mind, although I can't find it on the Cartoon Bank Web site. It depicts a huge, looming adult male looking down at a tiny, somewhat bewildered, shamefaced tot at his feet and exclaiming, "Cute is not enough!" Was reading about the varied wildlife in Central Park, in connection with the raccoon that apparently wandered onstage during a recent Shakespeare in the Park performance of Twelfth Night. From there, I segued into a memory of chipmunks, which I do find to be among nature's cutest. Raccoons, though destructive, are cute, too.

Then, my meandering consciousness evoked the memory of driving in the Hamptons behind a car that ran over, and squashed, a chipmunk. Of course, the driver didn't stop; probably didn't even know that he had murdered the tiny rodent. Then, since it was the countryside, my thoughts turned to:

I've always been amused by this group, which seems to be emblematic of the most endearing side of British eccentricity. And hedgehogs are cute, too. The hedgehog preservers try to prevent just the type of disaster I witnessed with the Hamptons chipmunk. They apparently patrol roadsides and try to rescue the little critters from heedless motorists. We don't have this creature in North America. What are we missing? British kids have hedgehog squeaky toys, e.g.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Pigeon Pros and Cons

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, never at a loss for words, has been credited with referring to urban pigeons as "rats with wings," although he may not have originated the expression. Certainly they are a major player in city life, reviled by many and loved by little old ladies and others who feed them, whether they need to be fed or not. My experience with our avian friends has been mixed. In general I find them dirty and a nuisance, but there have been exceptions.

I was fortunate enough as a child to have a father who encouraged me to live side by side with our fellow creatures, even snakes (at least the harmless ones). In our upstate New York backyard, we were able to encounter all sorts of animals and birds, including gorgeous pheasants. One day a pigeon waddled up our driveway, and I decided to feed him/her/it a few breadcrumbs. I was only a kid; wouldn't dream of doing it now. The bird returned the next day, and for several days after that, at about the same time in the afternoon. One day I wasn't home, and my mother said that the pigeon had come again but that she hadn't fed it. It never returned. No grace period for me: "Ingratitude, more strong than traitor's arms...."

On the unpleasant side of pigeondom, I recall walking into my dormitory at Barnard College wearing a prized new Pringle cashmere cardigan. I heard a "plop!" on one shoulder, and there was pigeon poop. Ugh—even though there's an old wives' tale that it's good luck. I also see the birds ranged in rows on certain city lampposts, looking for all the world like the eponymous predators in Hitchcock's immortal The Birds. And then there's the smallish one that flew into an unscreened window of my apartment. Since, unlike Tippi Hedren in the film, I'm not afraid of birds, I was able to open the window wider and, after a short scuffle, shoo the unwelcome visitor out.

I have visited Venice a few times and have naturally enjoyed it to the hilt, not being fazed by the feathered inhabitants of Piazza San Marco. My traveling companion on my first visit there was afraid of birds and was obliged to keep to the perimeter of the plaza instead of walking straight across it. I don't see why anyone with a fear of birds (irrational, of course, despite Hitchcock) would even visit Venice in the first place. I guess the lure of this wonderful, fabled city is worth the risk.

So, the jury is still out on pigeons. Columba had just better not poop on me again.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Eureka! A little googling has helped me to find the source of the ladies'-room mural mentioned in the post below. It did look vaguely familiar. Would Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema turn over in his grave if he knew about this use of his painting? Anyway, here's the source, straight from the horse's mouth, i.e., the Tate Gallery:

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema 1836–1912

A Favourite Custom 1909
Oil on wood, presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1909

"This scene is set in the Stabian Baths of Pompeii. In the foreground one woman playfully splashes another in the 'frigidarium,' a cold bath. The artist based this work on photographs of the remains of the baths, revealed by archaeologists in 1824. He has made them more luxurious by adding a marble floor and walls which have usually been found in larger imperial baths. The Dutch-born artist Alma-Tadema achieved enormous success in Britain with carefully researched scenes like this of daily life in the ancient Roman world."

Well, I suspected as much. I wonder if anyone else is interested. Anyway, Eureka!

Gotta Dance!

If you study or have studied ballet at all seriously, you know that "class" is a daily ritual and a world unto itself. I'm fortunate to be able to study where many top professionals do, and, ability and accomplishment (and, crucially, age) aside, we're all equal when we get into that studio for the satisfying ritual beginning with pliés and tendus and ending with a lot of toweling off and swigging from water bottles. It's a bonus when we have a really good pianist: I favor one who plays a lot of the Great American Songbook. Sondheim's "Broadway Baby" really gets me going. Maybe I would dance better if he played it all the time. 

The social aspect is also important, even though the conversation tends to stay on the subjects of dance performances or one's physical problems such as sore metatarsals or shin splints. What's also enjoyable for a lot of us is the formality of a classical technique class. You really have to shut up and listen to the teacher. There is a certain order and regularity here that has disappeared from most other aspects of twenty-first-century life. And you still applaud the teacher at the end of class.

Some of us whose interests range widely beyond dance are also amused by the recently installed tile work in the ladies' dressing room. It appears to be a pre-Raphaelite type of scene with Victorian ladies decorously splashing in a Roman bath. I have always wanted to attach a cartoon balloon at the top with "Has everybody signed into class?" coming out of the mouth of the woman in the doorway. 

Thursday, May 28, 2009

L'Esprit d'escalier

L'esprit d'escalier, the elegant French idiom attributed to Diderot that translates roughly as "I shoulda said," doesn't exactly apply to those little jokes I make to myself when there's no one around to hear (or sneer at) them, but it's a similar situation. The "wit of the staircase" refers to the realization of a wonderful retort that you've thought of after you leave the party or whatever and are descending the stairs, presumably to go home. It doesn't actually apply to the marvelous witticism that occurred to me one day, when a bus driver announced what seemed to sound like, "Next stop Lexginton Avenue." Regrettably, there was no one with me to whom I could say, "I think he means dysLexington Avenue." What a loss. Today wasn't quite as good. The driver just sang out, "Lex is nex'." Better than nothing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rosaline, or, When I'm Right, I'm Right!

Perhaps one of the hallmarks of maturity is to realize that the person who is wrong needn't always be told he's wrong. Experience as a copy editor has made it a habit with me to insure correctness, but the other person in an unwritten discussion doesn't always have to know that he was wrong, wrong, dead wrong! 

Yesterday, shortly before my ballet class, a fellow student and I were discussing the ill-advised—at least I think so—New York City Ballet production of yet another Romeo and Juliet. To make matters worse, they insist on calling it Romeo+Juliet, perhaps to distinguish it from other (better) versions. Among other infelicities of the production, the hideous scenery displays a house that an astute New York Times critic likened to Fred Flintstone's cave. Anyway, the subject of Romeo's infatuation with the usually unseen Rosaline came up. My classmate, who claims to have a PhD in theater, mentioned that Romeo has been having sex with Rosaline, and that she appears onstage and has some lines. As a former English teacher, I did not recall either the appearance of Rosaline or any lines attributed to her. I checked my copy of the play when I got home, and saw that I was right. A little googling also revealed that the only dramatic version in which she makes a physical appearance is the Zeffirelli film, although some directors of the staged play or the ballet may put her in as an aloof walk-on or walk-by.

Romeo specifically comments that the unseen Rosaline is guarding her chastity as if she were a disciple of the goddess Diana.  At most, he has been stalking her. And, as we all know, he immediately forgets about her when he catches sight of you-know-who at the Capulets' ball, which he, masked, has crashed. I was reverting to type, ready to correct my classmate today, but he didn't show up, and I thought better of it anyway. He seemed so positive that he was right. Better to leave him with his illusions and not make yet another enemy.

Rosaline is mentioned by name as "fair niece Rosaline" in the invitation to the Capulet ball (I, ii, 81) and shortly thereafter by Benvolio, who, urging Romeo to go to the ball, states: "At this same ancient feast of Capulet's / Sups the fair Rosaline whom thou so lovest, /
With all the admired beauties of Verona. / Go thither and with unattainted eye / Compare her face with some that I shall show / And I will make thee think thy swan a crow." (I, ii, 86-92) She is mentioned in the Act II scene with Friar Laurence. When the Friar questions Romeo about her, he says, "I have forgot that name and that name's woe." At the beginning of Scene iv of Act II, Mercutio, not knowing of Romeo's change of affections, refers to: "...that same pale, hard-hearted wench, that Rosaline, / Torments him so that he will sure run mad." And that's the last we hear of this lady.

There, I got it off my chest without humiliating anyone. Doubt that Mr. Wrong (or anyone else) will even read this, or even care. Trivia is my middle name.   

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Miraculous Mac

Like most Apple aficionados, I'm just crazy about my Macintosh. I kept my past two Macs for about five years apiece before they gave any trouble. Four to five years seems to be the life of most computers if you want to keep up with the moment-to-moment changing world of technology. My present Mac is now five; thus, I tremble with every little quirk that it might show—very few though they are. I'm at the ready to buy a new one, but so far so good.

When updates automatically arrive, I dutifully install them. Sometimes, when they take a longish time, I start to worry if this is the end of my Mac's life as I know it. But the computer (not to mention all of those brilliant geeks out in Cupertino) is much smarter than I am. Everything always comes out all right in the end. At least it has so far.

This morning I was notified that my "Time Machine" backup hadn't backed up in a week! Disaster! I clicked on the TM icon to back up and received info that (a) it wasn't backing up and (b) I needed to install new items including the latest OS X update. I dutifully installed all updates. Having been warned that it would take some time, I waited patiently. When it took a really long time, I began to wonder. I know that the Blue Screen of Death is primarily the prerogative of P.C. users, but when my screen turned an unusual shade of bright blue I began to tremble. Not to worry, the "regular" blue finally appeared and then—sigh of relief—the comforting old Aurora Borealis screen saver appeared with all of my friendly old icons. Whew! At this moment, Time Machine is still backing up, not that there was anything really important to back up. My great unwritten American novel takes up no space at all.

As far as Time Machine not backing up for a week, I tried the commonest, and least practiced, DIY routine. I unplugged it and plugged it in again. Success! Its little blue light went on, and all is serene once again. At least for a while. 

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Siegfried by the River (Not the Rhine)

It would have been criminal not to have gone down to one of my neighborhood's little parks near the East River on this gorgeous Saturday, particularly since the river is only a block away from my apartment. Thus, I combined listening to the Met's Siegfried broadcastAct II anywayon my handy Grundig portable (with Apple headphones), taking a photo or two, and following the libretto from a riverside bench. A sort of multitasking. The traffic noises from the FDR Drive did impede the sound slightly, but the balmy day compensated. Had enjoyed Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in the opera house, but was unable to secure tickets for the final two Ring operas. The Metropolitan Opera is retiring the romantic, traditional Otto Schenk production after this season to replace it in a couple of years with an avant-garde Robert Lepage concept. People come from all over the world to hear and see a traditional Ring, and they'll miss it. However, the great Wotan, James Morris, hinted during an intermission interview that the current production will be stored, and not scrapped. Hedging their bets, I guess. No Rhine Maidens in the East River today. Maybe some other day.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Yes, We Have Spring in Manhattan Too!

Since neither daffodils nor magnolias last very long, it's important to preserve them digitally! Manhattan dafs and magnolias sprout up in unlikely places, especially since I always associate the latter with an Old South that probably never existed, Gone With the Wind notwithstanding. And "Curb Your Dog" signs do serve to urbanize the ubiquitous daffodil.

As for the Citi Tower in Queens, I think it may be that borough's only true skyscraper. I remember that my niece, who worked there briefly, said that you could feel the building sway on windy days. Think I'll stay on this side of the East River. We also get a good view over here of the Pepsi-Cola sign, practically an antique. People are sentimental about it. I think that at one time there was some attempt to dismantle it, but a public protest saved it.

This was a day to enjoy because it's predicted that we'll be back to wintry-type spring tomorrow. I'm always wary of weather in April: As a kid, I was brought to New York for Easter for various treats that included a Broadway show. In those long-ago days we wore rather elegant little camel's-hair coats that weren't, however, very warm. I recall freezing at Easter in NYC, so I'm always careful not to store my warm coats and jackets too early. 

Friday, April 3, 2009

April Foolishness

National Public Radio and, this year, American Public Media, have taken a cue from the BBC and presented "news stories" on April 1st that turn out to be April Fool's jokes. Years ago, the BBC did a deadpan "news report" about the spaghetti tree harvests in northern Italy. And a few years back, one of NPR's April Fool stories dealt with an underground pipeline, being constructed between Seattle and New York, through which people could receive lattes and cappuccinos through spigots in their homes. I always look forward to these diversions, and last Wednesday awaited the annual presentations with great anticipation.

I was not disappointed. This year's April 1 story, on NPR's All Things Considered,  reported a burgeoning whale-farming industry, with a sidebar telling us how groups of whales were being taught to sing in barbershop harmony. One of the "whale farmers" had even managed to construct an entire back porch out of whalebone! There also followed a reference, with no further explanation, to a lawsuit that some people were planning against the makers of the Kindle reader, claiming eye injuries from pop-up 3-D books. Maybe this was for real? No follow-up.

The program following ATC, American Public Media's Marketplace, also did itself proud with a piece about the current real estate market. They claimed that some realtors, attempting to sell houses in neighborhoods that had been largely vacated owing to foreclosures or various other misfortunes, hired actors to play fake neighbors and dog walkers, bake cookies, and hold barbecues to make the area look occupied. They also staged church services and Little League baseball games, hiring teams from other towns to pretend that they were local players. They did a pretty good job of making it sound like a real news item at first, but my suspicions were finally aroused by the church and baseball references. 

The photo accompanying this is totally irrelevant. April Fool!  

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Music Under the Stairs

Most kinds of music are terrific, and the joint was jumping in the subway station under Union Square just now as a brass jazz combo brought a lot of smiles and cellphone cameras out on this pleasant second-day-of-spring Saturday. It presented a particular contrast for me, as a friend and I were just coming home from one of the terrific Metropolitan Opera HD live telecasts at the Regal Union Square movie theater. This time it was the controversial Mary Zimmerman production of Bellini's La sonnambula. One may disagree with her concept—a Pirandellian story of a production of the opera overlaid with an intra-cast love story—but today's playing and singing would rival, I daresay, the great interpreters of the past. The incredibly gifted Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez can stand comparison with anyone. Memorable performances from this attractive duo, who have major stage chemistry together. But hearing the enthusiastic jazz musicians afterward, amid the roar of the trains and the travelers, had its own rewards.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Où sont les neiges?

Whenever we New Yorkers thought that winter had to be over, a friend used to remind me that "The Blizzard of [18] '88 was in March!" But the great Snows of Yesteryear seem to have gone the way of global warming, with a few brief exceptions. I do read that ski resorts in the Northeast have been doing very well this year, but NYC seems relatively immune to the white stuff. We did have a couple of March snowfalls, as this March 3, 2009 shot of Bryant Park and the back of the Public Library demonstrates. It was one of the few days that I got to wear the very nice winter boots that I bought last season and wore only a couple of times then. You have to photograph snow pretty quickly here before it turns grey, and then black.

Tomorrow will be the Ides of March, but only Shakespeare buffs will take note, I suppose. I just wish that someone, some day, will say to me on that date, "The Ides of March are come" just so that I can answer, "Aye, Caesar, but not gone!"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Met Gets It Right

Film comments regarding the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera have stated that the movie "does to Il trovatore what should be done to Il trovatore." But what really should be done to this middle-period Verdi blockbuster is give it a fine production. Scottish director David McVicar did just that last evening and gave us another good night at the Metropolitan Opera. Updating opera productions sometimes becomes laughable, such as a New York City Opera La traviata ending up in an AIDS ward, but moving the medieval setting to Napoleonic-era Spain works beautifully this time. The drop curtain, inspired by a detail from Francisco Goya's Pilgrimage to San Isidro, sets the tone when one enters the auditorium. (And, yes, I was a bad citizen; I took a photo. But it was during intermission as the audience returned to their seats for the second half.)

A cast that was strong down the line and an excellent conductor also helped to make this a memorable evening. The Goyaesque mood was sustained throughout, with later scenes evoking such masterworks as The Disasters of War and The Third of May 1808. Gloom and doom prevailed, as well they should, despite the upbeat nature of much of the music. The strong cast, with Dolora Zajick's Azucena perhaps first among equals, were team players. Good audience behavior, on the whole. Only one cellphone went off. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vulpine and Other Considerations

As noted in my last post, I had a good time visiting London. Both my town, NYC, and London have so much to offer that it's pointless to compare the two. But, for us wildlife fanciers, London does seem to have an additional attribute: foxes!

At my sister's London house, where I was staying, there is a pleasant garden. One morning, my brother-in-law called to me that there was a fox outside, a not uncommon occurrence. I raced downstairs, but too late to see the bushy-tailed visitor. Apparently, that's one creature we don't have in NYC, even in Central Park, although raccoons and other critters have been spotted there. And the occasional zoo escapee. I think they even found a coyote there once.

Here's what Wikipedia says about Oscar Wilde's oft-quoted "the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable":

Still on the subject of bushy tails, have noted the British complaint that the American grey squirrel, imported there, has begun to overtake the indigenous red squirrel, immortalized by Beatrix Potter as Squirrel Nutkin. Too bad that both can't exist happily side by side. But why do little old ladies, and others, continue to feed them? Get a life, little old ladies!