Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Iconic and Legendary Santa Claus

Three words that I would like to see retired—at least temporarily—from the American English vocabulary are iconic; legendary; and my longtime bugbear, arguably. At least retire them from journalism and broadcasting. They now simply jump out to irritate me.

But, arguably, the most legendary and iconic wintertime figure is appearing in multiples all around us for the rest of this month. A parade of Santas, all of them young and slender, was trooping up Eighth Avenue when I was on my way to attend the HD viewing of the Met's magnificent Don Carlo, and another one was on the northbound E train when I was on my way home.

Anyway, I'm trying to make this the last time I use those three words—for a while, anyway.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Conveying Cute Canine

After an unpleasant transit experience—O.K., my wallet was recently stolen on the uptown #6 train—it was pleasant to encounter this little fellow on the downtown 104 Broadway bus. He was inquisitive, and very quiet until I started to get off at my stop. Then he let loose with the kind of yapping that only the smallest dogs seem capable of. I guess he resented the fact that someone, though not his master, was deserting him. For the record, this was "Change," a five-year-old Pomeranian.

P.S.: So far no identity theft re the wallet. And all credit and bank cards have now been replaced. I was the victim of a classic "light-fingered-Louie" on a very crowded train. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Meleagris Gallopavo, to You!

With the approach of Thanksgiving, one can’t help having turkey come to mind. Though the golden-bronze roasted bird surrounded by all of its traditional accompaniments certainly looks appetizing on the festive platter, in actual fact—dare I commit such sacrilege to print?—the bird is pretty tasteless in and of itself. This also puts me in mind of the celebrated Wild Turkey painting by John James (né Jean-Jacques) Audubon, an American pioneer whom I revere, not only for his naturalist artwork but also for his picaresque life. As a kid, I received a large-format edition of his Birds of America, which I am proud to say I still possess, having given it a place of honor on my bookshelves. The excellent PBS series American Masters recently repeated their program about this fascinating figure.

Just as actual turkey meat isn’t really that tasty, the actual wild turkey (meleagris gallopavo, FYI) isn’t nearly as handsome as Audubon’s rendering has led one to imagine. I’ve had a number of up-close-and-personal encounters with these fellows, as they were always visiting near the picture windows of my mother’s last place of residence. They’re pretty bold and, regrettably, surprisingly ugly. They certainly don’t appear to be an endangered species, though they should be protected anyway, if only because of their sheer American-ness, second only, perhaps, to the beloved bald eagle.

Friday, October 29, 2010

South Bank Scenes

The South Bank house in London where Christopher Wren lived during the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral has certainly been spruced up since I visited there briefly quite a few years back. Someone who rented a room on the top floor had to go down a couple of flights to use the single—at that time, anyway—bathroom. Perhaps, along with the sprucing, they have added at least one other. It’s right next door to the impressive Tate Modern museum, which was, at the time I paid my long-ago visit, the Bankside Power Station. And the picturesque Globe Theatre, which I have toured though have yet to see a performance in, on the other side of the Wren house, wasn’t there, either. You can arrive at these worthwhile sites by crossing the attractive, pedestrians-only Millennium Bridge. And while you’re on that side of the Thames, take a ride on the London Eye. It does not disappoint!

P.S.: Aha! Look what Googling can reveal! Apparently Christopher Wren never slept there, according to the BBC. (I guess George Washington never slept there, either.)

BBC NEWS | UK | Magazine | Christopher Wren never slept here

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Some of Us Still Know "Who He"

Attended a dance film event last evening in a beautiful building across the street from the fabled Algonquin Hotel, of Round Table fame. It’s nice that there’s a commemorative plaque on the hotel façade memorializing Parker, Benchley, Woollcott, et al. And the building where my optometrist is located, one block north, has its own plaque, letting passers-by know that it is the former home of The New Yorker’s original offices. Thus it was just a short walk (or stagger) from the magazine to the writers’ favorite hangout. It makes one muse on 1) whether or not anyone reads these plaques anymore and 2) how many are left who either remember or at least know about Harold Ross and/or the Algonquin Round Table. I still like to write the Rossian “Who he?” in margins when I get the chance. Most people won’t “get it” anymore, but I do it for my own satisfaction.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fairway, Redux

To quote the old cliché, more or less, no, we're not in Kansas. But the Sunflower State has nothing on this display in front of the famous and infamous Fairway supermarket on Broadway, an emporium with which New Yorkers have had a love/hate affair for many years. I've already written about the pluses and minuses of this venerable institution. To refresh the memory:

But I couldn't resist taking this camera phone shot this morning because the flowers were particularly fresh-looking and massed so invitingly. There are as many stories of Fairway as there are of the entire Naked City. A while back, when, as a tall person, I was reaching for some oranges at the top of a pile, a friendly woman warned amusingly, "Don't cause an avalanche!" We then got into conversation about our Fairway experiences. I mentioned that I was frequently asked to get things down from high places for little old ladies, who always seem to think that they're the only ones who've ever asked me that. My shopping companion told me that once she had offered to do the same for a woman, who snarled at her, "What makes you think I need help?" Takes all kinds. As previously noted, Fairway doesn't always bring out the best in people. But it can be O.K. if you get in early enough, before the Thundering Herds are up and about.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

When in Doubt, Wear BLACK!

Yesterday saw the off-Broadway show Love, Loss, and What I Wore, written by the ever-observant and satirical sisters, Nora and Delia Ephron and based on a book by Ilene Beckerman. One of their segments dealt with the continuing popularity—and fashion safety net—of wearing Good Old Black, at least in New York City. All five of the excellent actresses were wearing different versions of the fabled Little Black Dress.

This put me in mind of a tour I took to Sicily a few years back. In Palermo, in April, it was unusually cool for that part of the world at that time of year, and a couple of my fellow tourists felt that they needed something warmer to wear. The palermitane, or women of Palermo, were tastefully attired in British-style tweed or leather jackets and well-fitting trousers. One of our group eventually purchased an attractive, low-key black quilted jacket in one of the well-stocked clothing stores. But she said that she might not feel quite comfortable wearing black in her Kansas hometown, where the women didn't wear much black. Ah, cultural differences!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Se non è vero...."*

Last week, when crossing an ever-bustling Second Avenue with my niece, grandniece, and grandnephew, I asked the seven-year-old boy to hold my hand for safety reasons. Not only did he willingly take my hand, but, looking angelic as usual, he kissed it! I absolutely died, metaphorically speaking.

Then, I said that he was a gallant young gentleman and called him my little "Sir Walter Raleigh," referring to the legend about spreading a cloak over a puddle so that the Queen could keep her feet dry. Ever literal-minded, my grandnephew was quick to point out that there were no puddles. I agreed, adding that not only that, but he didn't have a cloak with him and that it wasn't even raining. Furthermore, I mentioned, the story may not even be true, but it's a good tale to tell.

*Well-known Italian proverb: "Se non è vero, è ben trovato." Freely translated: "Even if it isn't true, it's a good story."

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Kite Unraveler

My faith in American youth is restored, at least temporarily! Maybe it helps to get out of New York City—although not that far out—and into small-town America. Driving near Hudson, New York with my sister and brother-in-law, we unavoidably ran over an abandoned kite in the middle of the road. Almost immediately thereafter we heard a very loud, gravelly scraping sound around
the rear wheels. Most fortunately, we were near a gas station/convenience store plaza and pulled into it. My brother-in-law got under the car to inspect the damage and discovered that the thin wire used in the kite's frame construction was tightly wound around the rear axle. Although at first he seemed able to unwind the wire himself, it proved stubborn. A couple of good samaritans emerged to kibbitz and gave various pieces of advice. The convenience store operator lent us a knife with which to cut the wire, but to no avail.

Then our savior materialized in the form of a fresh-faced youth, a total stranger, who, he said, was just returning from a wedding and was somewhat happily inebriated. He took off his jacket, slipped under the car, and, after several minutes of manly effort, managed to remove the wire. He emerged, smiling and none the worse for wear. We never learned his name, but he did tell us that he was a college student about to enter officer training school and the army. He seemed to take pleasure in just helping people. Must be almost the last of the breed. Or maybe not. My British brother-in-law, who slipped the youth some money, will get a good impression of us Yanks, at least for a while.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bloomsday! James Joyce in Pula, Croatia and on the Upper West Side

Last Wednesday, June 16, was Bloomsday, celebrated in NYC each year by loyal readers of Joyce's Ulysses. Had forgotten about it until bedtime, when I tuned in to my favorite radio station, WNYC-FM, which was broadcasting a special program from Symphony Space in Upper Manhattan. Instead of their traditional reading of the novel straight through—which takes all day—they were interspersing scenes from The Odyssey with long passages from the novel. The program was to conclude with Fionnuala Flanagan reading Molly Bloom's closing soliloquy. I settled myself comfortably with my bedside radio and awaited Ms. Flanagan's performance. My mistake was getting too comfortable. When I awoke about an hour and a half later, Molly was still soliloquizing. I anticipated the final sentences, but dozed off again. Yes...yes...yes....

It's gratifying that the residents of Pula, Croatia (not that far from Trieste, where Joyce spent some time teaching English and where there's a small museum devoted to him as well as a statue overlooking the harbor) had enough respect for the great Irish writer to erect this statue of him enjoying a drink at a local café. It was a pleasant surprise to encounter him there. Yes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Maybe Not "Only in New York"

Sorry that I couldn't find the exact baseball cap online, so this one will have to do. While waiting for a bus the other day, I was joined at the corner by a fairly nondescript woman wearing a a black baseball cap with BOTOX on it in rhinestones. Make of this what you will. Her face didn't appear to have the frozen look of some of those who submit themselves to Botox injections, but then I didn't want to stare. I understand that these treatments are not painless, so I doubt that I shall ever avail myself of same, horrified as I am by the physical signs of aging. Will just stay in Deep Denial without actually undergoing any so-called treatments.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Beloved Ballet Mural" To Survive With Honor

A Long Time Ago, I wrote an article for Dance Magazine (under its previous ownership) about the ballet dancers' mural in O'Neals' restaurant near Lincoln Center. Here's a link to the piece:

Recently, Mike O'Neal, one of the proud and hospitable owners, has announced the closing of this restaurant, long an arts and showbiz favorite. Some of us wondered what would become of The Mural, but genial host Mike has allayed our fears with this, his latest e-mail, detailing the end of O'Neals' as we know it. A seafood restaurant is scheduled to open on the site come fall.


Dear Friends and Patrons,
I'm pleased to announce that Peter Martins has agreed to accept the "beloved Ballet Mural" on permanent loan to the New York City Ballet for the "O'Neal Family", the O'Neal family includes my late brother Patrick and his wife Cynthia, my wife Christine and all our children and me. the mural be on one wall in the Main Rehearsal Hall in the Koch Theater, I believe that all will be pleased.

The remainder of the artwork is being put up on a web site as we speak. You should go to the O'Neals' web link to "O'Neals' Art". Not all the pieces have prices yet. We've been meeting artists, dealers, appraisers and friends to try and establish fair rices on the art. This process may go on all summer, In the meantime you are welcome to make offers and we might be tempted. All the art is numbered so we can keep track of it. Be patient and keep checking the web site.

The Boat Basin Cafe is booming because the weather has been good. this Monday night we will have Flamenco Night again and the Citron Brothers will be back, The beginning of an exciting season.

the World Cup is in full swing at the Boat Basin Cafe and we are opening at 10AM each day for the events. Check the schedule and our web site for all upcoming events.

Sadly we are coming close to the end at O'NEALS'. Our last weekend will be Saturday June 26 when we will have a "normal" Saturday Night and on the 27th, we will serve lunch and pre-theater and the close for a Private Event for the Lincoln Center Theater. On our Last Day June 28 we will open at 4PM and serve wine, champagne and some hors d'oeuvres, All are invited! Customers, employees and even ex-employees.

Don't forget the continue to help the economy and DINE OUT OFTEN.

Midtown Moods

As an addict of the New York Times technology pages—though I'm far from an expert in that area—I keep reading that you can't get very good photos with most of the somewhat older cellphone cameras. Nevertheless, these were taken with my Samsung Instinct and aren't bad. Quite a few of my other blog photos were too, as I'm not always carrying my Canon Power Shot around with me. I would have liked the iPhone instead of the Instinct, which isn't terrible, but I was locked into a Sprint contract and didn't want to switch to AT&T, which doesn't always have great service, I hear.

Still can't decide if I like the chronological juxtaposition of Sir Norman Foster's addition to Joseph Urban's 1928 Hearst Building. I always enjoy looking at it, though, and I guess that answers that. So that's dramatic NYC; cosy-neighborhood NYC is represented by this particularly attractive produce stand (they're all over town) in the Lincoln Center area where I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time. I bought asparagus and should also have bought their great-looking blackberries. Was trying to get the color contrast with the woman in the chartreuse mesh sweater who's just ducking out of the frame as I snap.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"At the Ballet"

Just saw again, on cable, the excellent documentary Every Little Step, which chronicles the exhaustive audition process for the most recent revival of the unique landmark musical A Chorus Line. The song "Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet" explains how many kids get hooked on the wonderful, if limited, world of ballet at an early age and never get over it. (I'm still taking class—not the jumps and other hard stuff—at the advanced age of XXX. But it is a professional-level class.) I've already blogged extensively about my obsession with The Red Shoes, which was shown recently, with its newly restored, fabulous Technicolor, on TCM.

Thus, it did my heart good today to see Ulanova as an answer in the Saturday New York Times crossword. They don't usually get beyond Pavlova's first name (Anna). And plié is about as far as they ever get in terminology. Of course, I get annoyed by all of the pop-culture and sports references, but I manage to figure them out anyway. (O.K., I had to Google a character on Lost today; at least I had heard of the program.) My revenge is that pop-culture mavens have to figure out Ulanova.

I took this photo a few years ago on a visit—my second—to Russia. Ulanova was Stalin's favorite ballerina. At least he had good taste in dancers, even if he ruined the careers of many other artists, writers, and composers.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'll Be With You in Azalea Time

The Free Online Dictionary, bless it, defines azalea as "any of the shrubs of the genus Rhododenron having showy, variously colored flowers." And we learn what we should always have known: the name comes from the feminine form of the Greek azeleos, meaning "dry," either because it grows in dry soil or because its woody stems are dry in texture. Well!

I guess not too many non-horticulturists care about this. What people really enjoy is the short-lived, delectable display of these flowers for a brief time in spring. At least we have something to enjoy now that the daffodils are finished. A number of places in the U.S. and abroad have azalea festivals, and a tribute to this plant is well deserved for all the pleasure provided. They're particularly big in Japan, where some of the main streets in downtown Tokyo, e.g., are lined with lush purple azaleas in full bloom. I'd better feast my eyes while I can.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Like most literate English-speaking people, and probably most Italians too, I've never read Torquato Tasso's unwieldy epic Gerusalemme liberata ("Jerusalem Delivered"). I've seen plenty of artworks referring to it and am familiar with Monteverdi's Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, the best known of the many operas and musical works stemming from Tasso. The Tancredi and Clorinda story was the subject of a ballet, The Duel, by William Dollar. The late, great Melissa Hayden had a personal success in it in the earlier days of New York City Ballet. It was also known by its French title, Le Combat, when presented by Roland Petit's company. Here's a relatively recent excerpt performed by New York Theatre Ballet:

Michel Fokine was inspired to create Le Pavillon d'Armide by Alexandre Benois, who was interested in a painting depicting Rinaldo and Armida. Armida herself really got around in the world of the arts.

Which brings us to Rossini's Armida, presented for the very first time in its history by our own Metropolitan Opera.The work premiered in Naples in 1817. According the program notes by the redoubtable Rossini maven Philip Gossett, the twenty-five-year-old Rossini was provided with all possible advantages: first-rate orchestra and chorus, ample rehearsal time, and the finest soloists of the day. Among these was the young composer's inamorata and, later, wife, Isabella Colbran. For Colbran, he composed the demanding title role. Hearing the beautiful and expert Renée Fleming tackle this and almost, but not quite, nail it, made me think of the conditions under which singers of the early 19th century worked. Mainly, the theaters were considerably smaller. I haven't been in Naples's San Carlo, but La Scala and London's Royal Opera House, while good-sized, are not enormous caverns like our Met. Thus the fiorature, requiring filigree delicacy and yet a certain power, could probably be delivered more easily in those theaters. Furthermore, verismo had not developed, and Wagner and Strauss were yet to come. The singers were used to employing their vocal techniques in a manner different from what would be required later.

Thus, everyone, including the six tenors in this interesting cast, was a modern singer who had indeed studied earlier techniques and in some cases, such as that of the endearing and sweet-toned Lawrence Brownlee, specialized in the Rossini rep. Nevertheless, changes in musical styles as well as the gigantic size of the Met, worked against the pinpoint accuracy required (we imagine, since we've heard very little of it) of Rossini singing. We heard an approximation of what Rossini may have had in mind.

Something unforeseen in a thoroughly Italian opera was the elaborate ballet that occupies most of the second of the opera's three acts. French theaters expected this, but I didn't think it was the case for Italy. So this was an anomaly. I did not think that the ballet, as is usually the case with opera ballets, was a success. In fact, I found it downright ugly. I'm still trying to decide what style of choreography and presentation would have worked in its place.

Richard (The Lion King) Hudson's sets and costumes were imaginative and mostly beautiful. I am a fool for imaginative bugs and birds, and Armida's enchanted garden, conjured up through her sorcery, had a delightful dragonfly, red beetle, and macaw among other captivating creatures.

The opera ends with Armida, defeated by the Crusaders, raging at her loss. I thought it might be something like Medea, also a sorceress, riding away in her chariot drawn by dragons. Not quite; Armida didn't seem furious enough. A bit of online sleuthing reveals that, following the action depicted in the opera, Armida abjures her rough magic, becomes a Christian, and marries her beloved Rinaldo.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Boredom isn't the only hazard of jury duty. On a sunny April day, lunching on a bench under some pink-flowering cherry trees near the iconic 60 Centre Street courthouse, known to all for its starring role on my favorite TV show, Law and Order, I am accosted by a neatly dressed, overweight woman who wants to confide her sad story to me. I've already heard enough sad stories while waiting to be questioned in a voir dire for a medical malpractice suit upstairs in Room 345.

To hear her tell it, she suffered a brain tumor at an early age. This prevented her from fulfilling an engagement on the old Ed Sullivan TV show, arranged for her (she says) by Broadway's fabled Jule Styne. And she used to be thin, of course. Had it not been for a twist of fate, she would have rivaled Barbra Streisand. Und so weiter....

I pleaded the necessity of returning to the courtroom, although I actually had 20 minutes left before we were required to be back. I have a friend who's a psychologist. I wish she had been with me to give the poor soul the proper answers. I guess the woman found someone else with whom she could continue her lament, as there were other people sitting around there, some of whom looked as unthreatening as I apparently do.

Regarding the case, about which I am not supposed to talk but I'm not actually on it yet, the prosecuting attorney is the same articulate Irish-American who was the prosecuting attorney on the first case where I served as a juror. This has got to be at least twenty years back. It was your basic old-lady-hit-by-car situation. We didn't get to deliberate, as it was settled out of court. I remember his repeatedly addressing the plaintiff by name: "Mrs. Lugavoy." Somehow that name, being somewhat unusual, has stuck for all these years. Wonder if he himself remembers her?

Postscript: Was let go this afternoon after being questioned. I think it was because (1) one of my late uncles was a physician; (2) I have served on three juries, though none had deliberated to verdict; and (3) I'm Internet savvy, having mentioned that I edited a Web site when I worked for Dance Magazine. Those guys are not stupid; they may have surmised (correctly) that I had probably done some research on the case. Well, now I won't have to devote the next three weeks to the stuffy courtroom, Room 345, at 60 Centre! Free at last! Whee!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Water Music

A chronic complainer I know—and I know quite a few—thinks that the new Lincoln Center fountain is badly designed and that water will shower over people on windy days. I replied that they can shut it off on windy days; just watch the weather forecasts. At the present time it's presenting different jeux d'eau, shooting streams upwards, outwards, and intertwining. I assume that its repertoire will increase as the renovation of the plaza is finally completed. It's certainly taking long enough!

Although I wasn't hearing the Water Music that evening, I was hearing Handel. His gorgeous opera Partenope (one of the Sirens or possibly an ancient princess, for whom Naples was originally named) was on at the David H. Koch (formerly the New York State) Theater, just out of the photo to the far left. The countertenors outnumber the tenor in this one, and all of the music is magnificent. A further treat was sitting in the third row and getting a good look at my favorite baroque instrument, the theorbo. I just like the name, as well as the beautiful shape. Pronounce it with the accent on the second syllable, please.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Vive la Différence!

Yes, it's almost the same shot as the one from February 13, only with a different kind of "snow" on the tree branches. These blossoms have to be captured quickly, as they last only a few days before the leaves come out. It was a lovely April 1 appearance, quite a sudden one, and no fooling!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

How (Mostly) Pleasant to Re-encounter Mr. Eliot!

"I have heard the cellphones ringing, each to each—
I do not think that they will ring for me."

Today this announcement drew the expected giggles from a literate off-Broadway audience gathered for a performance of T.S. Eliot's seldom-performed The Cocktail Party (1949), effectively presented by New York's TACT/The Actors Company Theatre.

To some extent, Eliot has fallen out of fashion in the 21st century, but he was lauded and even revered in his heyday in the 20th. Even relatively recent revelations regarding his intense anti-Semitism have failed to diminish the importance of works such as "The Waste Land," "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," or Murder in the Cathedral, among several others. Many of his phrases and observations, such as the one parodied above, have become standard expressions. He even invaded popular culture with the musical Cats, based on his poems gathered as Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, though he himself may (or may not, if he knew how much money it's made), have turned over in his grave.

Although I subscribe to the Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens school regarding religion in general, I still find it fascinating that Eliot could transform what begins as a sophisticated British drawing-room comedy into an analysis of sin and redemption, what we can expect from the world, and how we should live our lives. What does seem quaint in 2010 is the sin that is redeemed only by the character's self-sacrifice, martyrdom, and death is merely that of having an affair with another woman's husband. The character becomes a nursing sister in a remote tropical country, where she is killed and perhaps cannibalized during civil uprisings which are, of course, Christian versus pagan (what else, since it's good old T.S.?). In spite of the religious flummery (IMHO), the play is sophisticated, diverting, and linguistically elegant. And we certainly need to be reminded of these artistic virtues at any time these days.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

An Improvement

This shot, also on my street, was taken on February 10, 2010, and somewhat mitigates the "ick factor" represented in the previous blog entry. Yes, even a midtown Manhattan street can look romantic, even poetic, for a least a few hours. And we can still go to Central Park, where there's enough snow to last a few days, to get another feel of how the city can look in winter, if we're lucky.

P.S.: Whee! The exterminator ad across the street has been taken down! Either: 1) Other neighborhood residents complained. Or: 2) There are no more bedbugs in Midtown East.

P.P.S.: March 26—It's back. Make of that what you will. I saw them in the act of rehanging it yesterday. I'll just have to avert my eyes. Clint, where are you when we need you?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

And It's a Nice Neighborhood!

The delightful crossword puzzle blogger Dr. Michael Sharp of Binghamton University, who posts under the nom de crossword as "Rex Parker," may be the one to have coined the phrase "to pass the breakfast test." "Rex" is referring to crossword fills that may have scatological, sexual, or other less than savory connotations that may be particularly unappetizing to those of us who like to do our crossword puzzles early in the day. Incidentally, it was "Rex," whose most amusing blog I discovered quite by accident, who inspired me to start blogging myself. I consider googling to find answers to be cheating at crosswords, but I was desperate one day and happened upon "Rex Parker."

Anyway, the sign pictured here, directly across from my midtown Manhattan apartment, certainly doesn't pass the aforementioned test. It gives me the creepy-crawlies every time I look out of my window. Oh, for the old Clint Eastwood movie poster that was there previously! There have been various news stories about the proliferation of bedbugs in NYC lately, even in so-called "good" buildings. And, as a traveler, I'm somewhat worried about bringing them in from various foreign destinations, although this doesn't appear to have been the case so far. Nevertheless, do I need to be reminded this way? Do other people around here have the problem? I wish that there could be "breakfast test" rules about the services that can be boldly advertised in some areas. Can massage parlors be far behind? It's bad enough that there's an OTB a block away. Yuck! I know: de gustibus, but still....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beep, beep!

Many enthusiastic theater, concert, opera, and film goers have their cellphone, hearing aid, plastic bag, candy wrapper, or other disturbance stories. It's hard to understand how people who have enough intelligence and interest to attend Verdi's rarely performed Stiffelio, which I enjoyed the other evening at the Met, couldn't have enough of that same intelligence to remember to turn off their phones. As they say, go figure. At least only one phone went off during that particular performance. Whistling hearing-aid batteries are another offender. A continual whistle during a lieder recital by the outstanding Belgian bass-baritone José Van Dam ruined an evening of serious music-making for me. In spite of that experience, I do remain thankful for my excellent hearing; my companion at Carnegie Hall didn't hear any superfluous noise.

Stories of interrupted recent performances abound. I wasn't present for Brian Dennehy's much-praised Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, when he is reported to have stopped the show until the offending phone owners, who didn't seem to know how to turn their device off, left the theater. It happened again early in this season when both Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig broke character, each at a different performance of A Steady Rain—a huge, sellout hit, by the way—to shush offending ringers.

One of my favorite theaters is the highly inventive Irish Repertory Theatre, quietly squirreled away on an obscure block in Chelsea. They do amazingly creative work in a tiny space—even utterly charming versions of musicals. During a performance of Gaslight, a woman in the front row, which is inches from the stage, kept rummaging in a plastic bag. Highest praise to the leading actor, already giving a fine, villainous performance, who reached down, took the bag away from her, and placed it under a chair onstage. At the end of the performance, during the bows, he handed the bag back to her. I wish I could have seen her face!

Yesterday, the gremlins were at it again at Irish Rep. During Act I of a performance of the completely delightful musical Ernest in Love, an affectionate tribute to Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, a periodic "beep" resounded throughout the little auditorium. No one seemed able to spot the culprit and give him/her the deserved punch in the nose. Whoever it was apparently finally got the idea, as the beep was not heard during Act II. If the actors heard it, they gave no sign and continued with their excellent performance.

Once at the movies, when two gabby matrons behind me were doing what may have been either a running commentary or simultaneous monologues, I turned around and hissed at them,"Why don't you go home and watch television?" What's with these people? I'm amazed that they can even cross the street without getting run over. And let's not forget those little rustling candy wrappers while we're at it. Aaaagghhh! Oh, and the wheezing breathing device a couple of seasons back at Lucia di Lammermoor? Well, you get the idea....

Monday, January 4, 2010

Fortnum and Mason

The venerable purveyor of luxury groceries and gift items, Fortnum and Mason, is a Christmas tradition in London and, via the Internet, worldwide. Their delicately decorated windows, often featuring ballet scenes, are unmissable.

Always crowded at Christmas, especially on Boxing Day when the sales begin, Fortnum's, though thronged during the holidays, seemed somewhat less so this year, doubtless a symptom of the ongoing economic recession. Many foreign languages can be heard among the well-dressed patrons as they single-mindedly zero in on their favorite now-marked-down biscuits and sweets.

I also wasn't that impressed with this year's decorations which, in past years, have been spectacular. Perhaps another symptom of toning it all down. Nevertheless, dropping in at Fortnum's at Christmas is a tradition that should not be tampered with. Family members bought, among other things, mini mince pies. It's not a British Christmas without them.