Saturday, December 31, 2005

No Top 10, but some suggestions

I considered doing a Best of 2005 list for movies or plays or both, but instead, I figured I'd just direct people to the sidebar listing of things I've recently enjoyed. I don't usually add things to the list that I don't like, so you can pretty much assume that if it's on there, I recommend it.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

'You! It could all be a dream!'

It's common to see that people have messed with existing overhead subway ads, but it's more rare to see that they've torn down whatever was there (presumably) and filled it with their own art.

Spotted on the 1 train tonight.

Downtown lights


City Hall Lights, originally uploaded by jskrybe.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Undigested

1) Match Point, directed by Woody Allen. East Village movie theater. Top floor. Sold out. 7 p.m. Nihilistic as expected. No meaning allowed - meaning only allowed in the dream sequence - just luck, more luck for the men. Well-made, but not really too emotional. Fooled at least once into thinking that meaning would win out, but it doesn't. Lights up. A lost glove, unfound. Knitted hat and cell-phone earpiece found. Opera snippet credits missed. Too many different operas to remember. Missed the last showing of An American Tragedy at the Met to catch the opening night of the movie instead. Cheaper, shorter. The right choice?

2) Two missed text messages. One automated, one personal. One voice mail. Three unanswered call backs. Another voice mail. Plans to call tomorrow after 7 p.m., but not too late.

3) Several pages of Ulysses by Joyce. 1 train from 14th Street, uptown. L. Bloom. Indications of the date: June 16. Bloomsday. Reading a letter included in the text. Stream of consciousness more clear than usual in the graphs immediately following. Hopeful that the narrative will keep up and allow me to keep going without getting frustrated, fed up. Finishing the chapter, closing the book two stops early. Dashing through the tunnel, slightly out of breath, hoping the PBS program wasn't merely an hour. (It was two, actually.)

4) Second half of Imagining America: Icons of 20th-Century American Art on Thirteen. Warhol. Incorrigible in interviews, but evoking his art, his persona, his prescient views all the while. Now we see that, then he must've seen slightly weirder. McLuhan. "Medium is the message." Stuart Davis. Wojnarowicz. Dancing around the gay issue, apparently, like the Times said. Mentioning "Stonewall" as a codeword perhaps. One artist worrying that art will fuse entirely with entertainment, arguing that art causes you to look at how it was made, at where you stand in relation to it, whereas entertainment covers over the strings, aims to beguile totally, not to draw attention to its issues. Was Woody's film, very few laughs throughout, art or entertainment? More of one than the other? Lots of paintings in the scenes of the movie. But not much said about them at all. Perhaps they'd offer too much meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. Or were they chosen more carefully than that. The Saatchi. The Tate Modern. Signifiers of taste and high class and the rich world that beguiles the main character or actual sites of art?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Quick review: Beauty of the Father

Saw Beauty of the Father tonight at Manhattan Theatre Club (City Center, Stage II). Currently in previews, opening mid-January. A very atmospheric piece, well staged and evocative of a timeless kind of Spanish seaside existence. Four modern-day characters and the lingering presence of the dead but still lively and witty Federico Garcia Lorca in a pristine white linen suit for that element of magical realism. Act I introduces them all wonderfully, and Act II opens promisingly, but somewhere along the way, the playwright (Pulitzer Prize-winning Nilo Cruz of Anna in the Tropics fame) seems to lose his way and the denoument felt like it rendered the climactic scene empty and pointless. The Lorca character manages to be somewhat of a saving grace, part philosopher, part comedian, but only to a degree. Perhaps if I knew Lorca's work better, I might be able to pick up on more of the resonances, but I also think the play could've stood on its own better. And while there were many opportunities for laughter throughout, it seemed the audience wasn't always ready to laugh or know when to do so.

Overheard on the way out: "Why don't they write about heterosexual relationships anymore?" Which was only partly appropriate, as the play takes up relationships that go both ways.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Boxing Day

Just got back from another delightful meal at Il Sole, the relatively new-ish Italian place up on Dyckman, after a Christmas weekend with the families. Meanwhile, the apartment has received a minor makeover thanks to the addition of a few key early-birthday-present items and touch-ups, and it almost feels like new!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The end of the strike

As I was walking along Broadway on the Upper West Side this evening, full and glowing from a great let-the-Christmas-weekend-begin meal at Nice Matin, I heard a beautiful sound: The rumble of a subway train below, around 86th St. By morning, things should be back to normal. And the city will once again be pleasantly accessible.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

MTA Strike: Day 2

Well, the strike is still a major pain, but today's commuting wasn't as bad as yesterday's or take as long.

This morning, I took a cab across the Harlem River to University Heights Metro-North station, where I paid only $4 and caught a train into Grand Central. From there I walked down the car-less Madison Avenue and over to Herald Square where I caught the PATH train, which would've had me into World Trade Center even sooner if the train hadn't gone in the wrong direction at one point. All in all, just under 2 hours.

Then tonight, I walked uptown to Soho, where I had to check something out, then walked over to the 9th St. PATH stop, where I eventually got on one of the most crowded train cars I've ever seen and head north to Herald Square again. I got out and walked for a bit, north and west, until I'd had enough and hailed a cab. Along the way, the cabbie - who was going by the zone fare system - picked up three other people, two of whom I chatted with. One woman who said only a third of her office was in today, and who said she hadn't done most of her Christmas shopping yet. She got out around 105th Street. The guy in the front seat got out at 116th.

The last guy to get out (up around 147th) said he worked for Meredith Corp. over across from the Chrysler Building. We were talking about how the strike was costing everyone more money than usual to commute and he mentioned his roommate was a drag performer - seriously! - who had to work downtown every night and was getting frustrated by having to take a cab there and back. His stack of money (paid under the table) was thus a little smaller each night. Ah, New York.

So I figure that commuting during two days of this strike has cost me upwards of $70 more than usual and about two to three times as much time as usual.

Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz, eat your hearts out

PlanetGordon writes about a kinda funny but kinda cute way of keeping your spirits up during the transit strike; that is, if you live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan. Load Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" on your iPod, then press play as you step onto the Brooklyn Bridge walkway headed into the city:
The jazz-era piece is just over sixteen minutes long and if you walk quickly enough, you can make it just past the second tower of the [bridge], halfway down the remaining walkway as it descends towards City Hall, before the music reaches its final crescendo. ... As I did the walk, somehow my eyes were directed by the music to see the things that fit each movement of the song. The traffic crawling across the bridge below the walkway. My first glimpse of the Empire State Building, which rises as if at the top of a hill in Midtown. A straight on view of the mathematically symetrical cables and brick towers of the bridge itself. I felt like I was living the opening scene of Woody Allen's Manhattan, only in vibrant color and surrounded by a cast of thousands.
Is this a great city or what?
Rhapsody in Transit Strike Blues [PlanetGordon, via Gothamist]

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

MTA Strike: Day 1

Leave it to me - someone who bragged about my rather detailed plan for contingency commuting - to mess it all up somehow.

I leave my apartment and find an actual real live yellow taxi out on the street (instead of the ubiquitous livery cabs). I hail it and ask for the G.W. Bridge bus terminal. Along the way I see a woman waiting at a bus stop and decide to tell the cabbie to let her in. Turns out she's headed pretty far downtown as well. I tell her my plan, and she decides to join me instead of meandering her way downtown otherwise. Unfortunately, at the bus terminal, we missed one Hoboken bus, and - not recalling my N.J. geography too well - decide that we can get on a Hackensack bus that had just arrived, which I stupidly assume will get us nearly as close. I later realize that I was confusing Hackensack with Weehawken, which is actually rather close to Hoboken. Oops!

I felt really bad, but she seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing. So we got off on West Main Street in the town of Bogota (pronounced like Americans would, not like Colombians do, as I learn from a woman in the convenience store) and call a car to take us to Hoboken. Turns out it would be too expensive to do that, so the jaded but chatty and thoughtful driver drops us off at the Rutherford train station instead, where we catch a NJTransit train within a few minutes. Two stops later, we're finally in Hoboken, where we catch separate PATH trains and head back into Manhattan. So I spent more money that I'd like, but I made a new friend. And if I have to do it all again tomorrow, I'll get it right this time and more cheaply.

UPDATE: The ride home went as planned, except it took 2.5 hours! I'm officially tired of this strike.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Hudson Heights update

Sometimes I wonder how long people around the area where I live have been referring to it as "Hudson Heights." Based on a quick search of the Times' archive, it appears the first reference was in the fall of 1998. So while it hasn't been around for ever, it certainly wasn't invented yesterday. And also based on the article, it would appear rents have gone up about 20% to 35% in six or so years.

More Light

Now you all have six more months to go out and see what a wonderful musical The Light in the Piazza is. No excuses. (And don't forget Sweeney Todd either!)

Piazza's Light to Shine Through July 2 ... [Playbill]

Hearst Grin


Hearst Grin, originally uploaded by jskrybe.

Some devious-looking grins from the gargoyles on the old, restored base of the new Hearst Tower on Eighth Avenue near Columbus Circle.

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Reading. Writing?

I did a reading the other night in Brooklyn. It wasn't really that well attended - probably fewer than a dozen people - but it was still nice to be able to get up and read some writing. The host hadn't showed up 20 minutes after the anticipated start time, so we just "mutinied" and got the ball rolling without her. The other two readers and I hadn't met before and didn't know each other's writing at all, but we ended up presenting pieces that had some common threads, even though they were depicted in three entirely different voices.

Perhaps the experience will encourage me to get back on the fiction-writing horse. I've been doodling some notes in recent weeks, but they're mostly just sketches, no real attempts at character, etc. But still ... it's nice to just open up and let flow at times.

My contingency plan

So should this MTA strike really happen, I'm going to attempt to take a NJ Transit bus out to the Garden State and down to Hoboken, where I'll hop on the PATH train, head back into Manhattan, and get off at World Trade Center. Which is more of a plan than some people have. Too bad I can't work from home like lots of people will no doubt be doing.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Review: Dog Sees God

The question to which this show attempts to be the answer is: "What would happen to the Peanuts comic-strip gang if they actually grew up?" And before I get to how it answers that, it has to be noted that this show, playing at Century Center, off Union Square, is stocked full of recognizable if B-list young actors from movies and TV. A quick run-down:

· America Ferrera, from Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Real Women Have Curves.
· Logan Marshall-Green, who played Trey from "The OC" and starred as the Shark in Swimming in the Shallows, also directed by the same guy as this show, Trip Cullman.
· Eddie Kaye Thomas, from the American Pie dynasty.
· Kelli Garner, from The Aviator and Thumbsucker.
· Ari Graynor, from the MTC's stage play Brooklyn Boy.
· Eliza Dushku, from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and Bring It On.

The cast has obviously been assembled to draw in a demographic similar to the kind that goes to see their movies, but may not see much live theater. But a warning to parents (it was too late for the family in the front row - who knows what kind of conversations they had later that night): The Peanuts have taken a detour through South Park and countless other R-rated movies on their way to adolescence. The characters are a compendium of all the problems kids have today, if the shock headlines, the teen movies and parents' collective fears are to be believed. Many of them turn out rather cliched, but not totally devoid of comedic value. And what helps to save them from dropping into total stereotypes is the quasi-dramatic irony created by the tension between the audience's recollection of the younger Peanuts characters and their latter-day personas. "Mark" (aka Pigpen), for instance, has become OCD, constantly cleaning his hands and worrying about germs, and shuddering each time someone makes a joke about where swine live.

But if Charles Schulz's original characters at times felt like they transcended their schoolyard age with higher thoughts and deeper concerns (i.e., the philosophizing of adults), the cast here seems to have reverted to teenage mediocrity. They're still concerned with the meaning of life, the universe and everything (sparked especially by the death of Snoopy early on) - it just comes across as tired and bland: the stoner's constant epiphanies, the pair of ditzes' dismissal of all things not here, now and popular ...

Don't get me wrong, I laughed quite a bit, and enjoyed myself, if perhaps not as much as the creators had hoped. But when the plot takes a turn for the serious, there is little segue and we're not quite sure when to stop laughing at the cruelty as parody and start calling it for what it is. It would be different if this were truly a black comedy in which we might be expected to keep laughing right through, but that doesn't seem to be the playwright's intention. No, he's hoping for some redemptive tears. The sadness passes, and the end of the show brings it back to the beginning and reminds us of why many of us came to see the show in the first place: the Peanuts were a wonderful, if sometimes sentimental, part of our popular past.

So while the play is entertaining if uneven, it doesn't feel as timeless as the original. Perhaps the best way to watch Dog Meets God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead is to plan for the comic-strip equivalent of a tribute-band concert, and hope that your expectations will be exceeded.

Regular-price tickets are $65, but there is an all-$25 performance at 10pm on Fridays and a two-hours-before student rush for that same reduced price. Opening night was Thursday, and it's in an open run.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Gotta love stories like this

 
I especially enjoy the little details at the end about her life.

Christmas spirit on the cheap

L. and I were walking around the Upper West Side the other night after a visit to Saigon Grill [my first time; food was excellent and cheap; and being a weekday, it wasn't too crowded] and Edgar's Cafe , when I got the urge to buy a Christmas tree. Now I won't be here for the holiday weekend, and I'm not expecting any visitors the next two weeks, but when you see all those happy people carrying trees around the neighborhood, it just gets you in the mood.
 
So I paused at one of the stands and asked for their smallest evergreen. They pointed me in the direction of a small two-foot-ish number. It was perfect. I offered $5. They suggested $6. I was sold. I carried it down onto the subway platform and sat down next to a woman who reminded me of Joan Cusack (but wasn't) who'd also been bitten by the Tannenbaum bug. She turned to me and said, "Ho. Ho. Ho." Hers was slightly larger and wrapped in the white netting they give you to bundle them up, and she was impressed that I got mine for so cheap. She wouldn't say how much she paid for hers. We chatted about decorating options for most of the way uptown on the 1.
 
When I got home, I created a makeshift tree stand out of a disposable plastic food container filled with water, taped the base to my dresser, and strung a green ribbon from the top branches to one of my light sconces, and voila! My little Charlie-Brown tree was standing up and sturdy enough to decorate. Since I don't have any real ornaments, I improvised with more of the green ribbon as well as photographs, aluminum foil, construction paper, and cutouts from last year's Christmas cards. Within an hour, I had 10 passable ornaments to fill out my tree. I added some wrapped presents, a Christmas manger votive holder, some of this year's Christmas cards on the side, and the effect was complete! Now I kind of wish I had people coming over so they could see.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Transit strike?


About 97% of me wants the MTA and the transit union to avoid a strike Friday. But 3% of me is curious to see what it'll be like.

Spotted this sticker on the platform at West 4th St.

The Tao of Rich

This great Slate piece dissects the evolution of Times critic/columnist Frank Rich and hits on a feeling I've had ever since they moved him back to the op-ed pages. He lost his sense of fun. I used to look forward to reading his columns, when he played the "snarky, channel-surfing sociologist" but now his screeds are just dull, no matter how much you might agree with their arguments. I once heard some conservative pundit mention to a young acolyte how it was important to convey the sense of fun and satisfaction that could come from supporting conservative ideals in order to win people over. Perhaps Rich should remember that the same can be true for the liberal perspective, even when it seems the other side is running the country.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Time Warner Center stars

Rockefeller Center has its tree and the new shopping-mecca/media-company-HQ, the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, is attempting to start its own tradition with big bright stars hanging in the atrium. Click through for the full glitz.

Pink Art Bunny


Spotted pacing back and forth outside the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea on Saturday. Anyone know the story behind this?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

All-too-appropriate quote of the moment

"If you think of doing something in New York City, you can be certain that at least two thousand other people have that same thought. And of the two thousand who do, about one thousand will be standing in line waiting to do it." -E.L. Konigsburg

Friday, December 09, 2005

An UES coffee-shop rant - about some visitors, not the coffee

I love hanging out at the coffee shop and lounge DTUT - on Second Avenue near 85th - whenever I'm on the Upper East Side and have some time and some reading material. It's got a cozy backroom and good drinks (of the caffeinated and alcoholic variety) as well as delicious, though rich, snacks like s'mores-filled Rice Krispie treats and Snicker brownies. It's a popular place to hang out and spend a good hour or two. Therein lies its charm as well as its potential for problems.

As I was sitting down this evening with a mocha and the aforementioned brownie, I noticed one of the guys-from-behind-the-counter (known as baristas in other parts) kicking a group of kids out of the backroom. I later sat down on the couch that they vacated. I read the Times in peace for a while, and when a couple needed some space to put their fondue setup, I moved the coffee table over to accommodate them.

Eventually, a pack of about six or seven kids arrives - mostly guys with a couple of girls, youngish, probably high school - but the kind of kids who live in Manhattan and are thus prone to assume they are infinitely cooler and hipper than kids elsewhere. (I know a lot of us here suffer from this tendency once in a while - please forgive us.) Anyway, one guy sits down on the couch, and then another guy does - practically on top of me. Now I hadn't been taking up too much room, but this kid acted as if I didn't even exist. As if the couch had been empty 45 minutes ago, and he had no reason to believe that anyone had occupied it since. Thus: invisible me.

As if it weren't bad enough that he was sitting closer to me than most rush-hour 6-train riders do to each other, onto my bag he plops his own bag, which proceeds to slide onto my lap. I don't know whether this scruffy, uber-hip kid was on something or what, but he must've taken a good two or three seconds to realize what had happened - that he'd basically sat on top of me. I probably could've yelled at him, but I resisted and attempted to let the situation reveal itself to him.

He starts apologizing half-heartedly and I look back at my paper for a moment, before gathering my things to go. I tell the group, "I was done anyway, I'm going to go." Then Couch Boy says something like, "I feel like we're kicking you out." In my mind, I think, "That's exactly what you're doing." But I stay quiet for a moment, and then finally take my chance to say, in as cordial a manner as possible, "A little hint: Next time, ask before sitting down like that."

I'm sometimes accused of being inconsiderate (although not in that particular way), so I guess it's good for me to experience such crappy behavior now and then to make me realize how awful it is to be on the receiving end of things. But gosh, are manners dead?

Still, I like the coffee shop enough that I don't plan on boycotting or anything. I'll just keep a keener eye out for roving packs of kids who think it's their living room - and theirs alone.

Cute but kinda sad at the same time


I haven't seen this myself, but apparently there's a family who takes their disabled dog on walks around Hudson Heights on that little rolling table.
WaHI Loves Its Woofs [FishDrinkWater]

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A small business called Penn State Fabricators

Don't want to disparage my alma mater, but that name is pretty funny.
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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lennon shot: 25 years later



After a dinner out at Bianca on Bleecker and a free drink at the Wired Store tonight, I headed up to West 72nd Street and the park to see if I could get anywhere close to Strawberry Fields. It was 25 years ago tonight that John Lennon was shot outside the Dakota. It was a slightly surreal experience, seeing all those people milling about at the edge of Central Park in the dark. The only official commemoration I read about was a candlelight vigil and moments of silence around the time when he was shot before he died. But I didn't stick around to see any of that. Different groups of people were singing Beatles songs and John Lennon's own later ones. There were bouquets and other mementos attached to the black fence around the apartment building, but I couldn't get anywhere near the Imagine mosaic at the center of Strawberry Fields.

There was a line a few blocks long in which you had to wait before you could file past the spot as if you were filing past the body of the man lying in honor somewhere. And there were cops, lots and lots of them everywhere, even a police helicopter hovering above. It was an interesting sight to see, and yet strangely empty and artificial. A day, a round number of years. This guy obviously meant a lot to many people and still touches people's lives with his music and his various messages, and I guess people want to commemorate what many see as his martyrdom, but it was cold and there was little to see, except for perhaps all the other people who'd arrived, many speaking different languages, to see what there was to see.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

10+ days to go 100 miles

My parents sent me an early St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) gift in late November, the weekend after Thanksgiving. My dad dropped it off at a UPS drop-off point that just happened to share space with an intercity bus station. In this day and age, you can track your package down to each transfer point and its associated time. But this little package fell off the radar screen for days. Neither the senders nor I could find it listed online.
 
Then early one morning, it reappeared -- in the form of a 6 a.m. phone call. My father was not overjoyed to be awoken by a stranger's early-morning call, but after the guy on the other end of the line explained his reason for calling, my parents hoped for the best. Turns out it was a third-shift bus-company employee who'd discovered the package -- in Secaucus, N.J. -- and was calling to say he'd do us all a favor and put it back into the UPS system. Our best guess is that the package somehow got mixed up with the bus-based package express system, and thus ended up in this man's hands instead of in mine.
 
But today, the package finally made it to me, none the worse for wear, although an early St. Nick's Day present had now become a slightly belated one.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Very NYSE Christmas


A Very NYSE Christmas, originally uploaded by jskrybe.

Holiday wreath at the stock exchange on Wall Street.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Behold, the Nile River


Well, its New York City stand-in, at least.

I took a highlights-of-the-collection tour at the Met Museum Sunday afternoon, and learned that the Temple of Dendur was given by Egypt as a gift to the people of the United States as a thank-you for American money spent on the Aswan High Dam a few decades ago. That big room in the Met that houses the reconstructed temple was built specifically. The temple was moved because it would've been submerged under water once the dam was finished. That indoor pool of water helps to represent the distance the temple originally stood from the Nile. And since it was a gift to the people, the museum built the big room with windows looking out onto Central Park so that if you don't want to pay the museum admission, you can still see the temple that's rightfully yours (and yours and yours and yours). New York originally beat out a bid by the District of Columbia, which would've put it along one of Washington's real rivers, the Potomac.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Some accumulation

Woke up to the first snowfall of the season this morning. Even though I expected it, it was still strange to come home late last night with barely a hint of snow in the air, and then wake up to white on the nearby hill and the trees and the street below.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

225th Street 1 Station


225th Street 1 Station, originally uploaded by jskrybe.

'A Nazi Past ... an Overlooked Death'

I read a rather unusual NYT obit yesterday, which turned out to be a gripping little tale. Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan lived several different lives, but her most vicious one was as a brutal Nazi camp warden. And she showed a knack for shaking off her past and movin on - I don't mean to commend her for this, merely to point it out - so much so that while she died in 1999, her first American newspaper obit isn't appearing until now. But apparently it was a Wikipedia entry as well as former NYT editor Joseph Lelyveld's book that tipped the Gray Lady off to a missing link in its record of the past. The woman even had a New York connection, having lived here for several years, before being extradited back to Europe. A great read, especially the ending, which is almost cinematic.
A Nazi Past, a Queens Home Life, an Overlooked Death [NYT]
Hermine Braunsteiner [Wikipedia]

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Millers Tale

I saw this headline and immediately thought of WMD Judy and Scooter's famous lines to her: "Out West, where you vacation, the aspens will already be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them." Then I was disappointed to learn the article means another Miller, Bode Miller, the skiier - the Alpiine skiier, if you will.

Heights

I Netflixed the New-York-movie-from-a-one-act-play Heights tonight. Excellent little film. Great performance from Glenn Close. Cameo by Rufus Wainwright as well as the Big Cup. And a tightly written little script that impressed me so much I wish more movies could be so taut. It's familiar territory, but done with flair and style and without condescension. It doesn't offer much in the way of laughs, but it was riveting in its own way. Based on a play by Amy Fox. Directed by 27-year-old Chris Terrio.

The Philly Orchestra in D.C.

While I love New York, Philadelphia and its cultural gems (the Museum of Art, the Franklin Institute, the Pa. Ballet, etc.) will always have a warm place in my heart. One of those is, of course, the Philadelphia Orchestra, on a tour performance earlier this week in the nation's capital under the direction of its music director Christoph Eschenbach. WaPo critic Tim Page relishes the way the band made Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica") sound so new and alive:
[It] proved once again just how inexhaustible some music is. This symphony has been played almost constantly for two centuries now, and yet it all seemed new on Monday -- the still-shocking bray of dissonance in the opening movement, the wrenching and ever-more-affecting convulsions of pain in the "Funeral March," the bright, gentle scherzo that ushers in a new morning, and the final set of variations, simultaneously grand and comical. I've never found Eschenbach so convincing as he was in this "Eroica." He made full use of his wonderful orchestra and its large and lustrous string section, yet there was nothing "fat" about the sound. On the contrary, the playing had drive and sinew; fugal passages, in particular, brought to mind the grandeur and austerity of J.S. Bach.
Philadelphia's Drum Roll Before Its Main Attraction [WashPost]

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gettysburg PowerPoint


Since I'm currently reading (and loving) Sarah Vowell's book of essays, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, which features a great opening piece on the Gettysburg Address, I have to link to this riff on the speech, which tries to answer the question: What if Abe Lincoln had used PowerPoint? Would it "add or detract" from his spoken address?
The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation [Norvig.com, via Veritas et Venustas]
¶ Previously on CS: Sedaris and friends at Cooper Union

There's a conductor on the 1 train ...

Who makes me smile whenever I hear him come in over the speaker system. He puts a little extra into the announcement at each station, especially north of 125th St., where he says, "Home of the legendary Cotton Club in the village of Harlem." He continues:
137th St. City College.
145th St. Sugar Hill.
157th St.
168th St. Washington Heights. Audubon Ballroom.
181st St. George Washington Bridge. Yeshiva University.
Just a few added details, but enough to distinguish him from the rest.

This New Yorker review ...

Articulates something I felt after seeing the new Harry Potter movie this weekend:
Still, he cannot do much about the slightly tired sadism that is creeping into the cracks of the Potter franchise. The tournament, for instance, is hailed with rah-rah enthusiasm, like any other sporting event, yet it basically entails putting a bunch of young people through dragonish perils, and mortifying fear, all for the edification of the youthful masses and their freaky overlords. Caligula would have liked it.
The review goes on to mention how the teenager drama that fills the middle of the movie is one of the more endearing parts, and I'd have to agree as well.
The Current Cinema: Boy Wonders [NYer]

61 percent of people here ::heart:: NYC

"It's a metropolitan love affair – not just casual affection," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
New Yorkers love New York more than ever; satisfaction rate 1 point short of all-time high [QU]

Monday, November 28, 2005

Geocaching: Five years late on this trend

I felt a bit like one of those people who's never heard of blogging tonight, as D. mentioned to me how he and his brother went geocaching this weekend. It's basically a digital treasure hunt that mixes orienteering-type skills with modern-day handheld Global Positioning System receivers. And it's been around at least since 2000 [first NYT mention]. How come I've never heard of it? Could be that I've never owned a GPS unit and haven't ever really wanted one. They're cool and all, but not being much of an outdoorsman, I haven't seen the need.

For more details, check out the Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site: Geocaching.com. Apparently, there are even caches hidden in the city here, so this isn't just a rural/suburban thing.

Movies to See

Syriana, open
Good Night, and Good Luck, open
Memoirs of a Geisha, Dec. 9
The Producers, Dec. 16
The Family Stone, Dec. 16
Munich, Dec. 23
Match Point, Dec. 28
Tristram Shandy, Jan. 27

Quotation of the Day

"There are a lot of people under 40 who like to waste time during the day, and they like to waste their time on something that is relevant to them." -Anonymous blogger
· A Blog That Wall St. Can Call Its Own [NYT]

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Galatea's Shadow

Galatea's Shadow
Inside the Modern Art galleries of the Met Museum.

Decay in Japanese

Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by urban decay and abandoned buildings. So I browsed with interest a Japanese site devoted to abandoned and decaying sites in that country. The fact that all the captions are in Japanese, which I don't understand, just adds to the sense of discovering some lost micro-worlds. I'm reminded of Jurassic Park and Miyazaki, too. [Via Tropolism]

Smoke train

Even as New Jersey considers whether to join the ranks of states and cities that've banned smoking in bars and restaurants, my grandfather was talking this weekend about the era when smoking was allowed on buses and trains. He spoke about the smoking cars on commuter trains that he took a few decades ago: You'd enter the car and the smoke might be so thick that you wouldn't be able to see through to the other door. The smoking cars would become so saturated that some smokers would choose to flout the rules and smoke in the non-smoking compartments, just so they could get some (relatively) clear air.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Switch

Little did I know, back when I was using Apple computers all through grade school (I learned how to touch-type on a Macintosh Classic in 6th grade), that one day, I too would make The Switch. (From Windows PC to Mac, that is.) But after two near-and-dears have been raving about Apple for so long, I decided it was time to buy a new computer - and this time around, make it a flashy new iMac G5. (It basically looks like a massive iPod that sits on your desk.) I'm sure it'll be a little while before I'm totally comfortable with all the new controls, but the transition hasn't been all that hard.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Kerry's trial

Having received a questionnaire from the court here recently (could my first-ever jury duty be far away?), I read with interest that John Kerry just served as jury foreman for a Suffolk Superior Court case:
"I just found him to be a knowledgeable, normal person," said Cynthia Lovell, a nurse and registered Republican who says she now regrets voting for President Bush in last year's election. "He kept us focused. He wanted us all to have our own say."
Forget who would you rather have a beer with, now it's who would you rather fulfill your civil duty with ...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Pond at Bryant Park

The Pond at Bryant Park

Moby-Dick and The Wizard of Oz on Studio360

Besides reading, one of my favorite activities on the subway commute is listening to podcasts, especially the weekend public radio programs OnTheMedia and Studio360. And the latter has had some really excellent shows in recent weeks, looking at the cultural legacy of "American Icons" -- such as Moby-Dick and The Wizard of Oz. Neither of these stories was among my favorites before I heard each hour-long show, but now I have a better appreciation for them. I'm also excited about an upcoming one on Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, which is one of my favorites.

Strongly recommended, especially if you have an MP3 player and a 50-minute ride somewhere. (They're also available via iTunes.)

Gramercy Theatre


We just started a Curbed Group Photo Pool on Flickr. Hoping to solicit contributions and comments ...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Wine now

I had been laying off the booze while I was sick, fearing that I might be contributing to it by drinking, but then Beaujolais nouveau season rolled around and I couldn’t resist. (And after all, the occasional glass of wine didn’t seem to do anything one way or another.) I’m not much of a wine connoisseur; I know what I like. But this year’s harvest seems as good as any. And I’ve sampled from a few bottles since Thursday. Go out and get some if you haven’t yet. The bottles will be gone from most wine shops before you know it.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Two for the ages

I saw two of my favorite stories depicted this weekend:

First, Friday night, the Puccini opera La Bohème in the famous Franco Zeffirelli production at the Met, starring Ruth Ann Swenson, Paul Plishka and Frank Lopardo, among others. Such great music! Such wonderful lines. Two of my favorites: "To be alone in the winter is like death" and later "I wish winter would last forever." (They stick in the mind because of the context.)

Second, Saturday night, the latest movie version of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, starring British starlet Keira Knightley, who still has four whole months before she can legally drink in the States. The filmmakers did add a sappy and un-Austen-like smoochy scene at the end (see more in this Times article), but I thought it was earned. The film is a quick, satisfying adaptation that manages to sustain the spirit of the author's work while condensing it and, as the English might say, "sexing it up" a bit. I especially liked the way the camera roved around certain scenes, whether dress balls or evening chats, in a way that evoked the peering-in upon another world.

The characters in the story are so vivid, and there are qualities to admire (despite the obvious vices in the title) in the two main protagonists (Elizabeth and Darcy) as well as in Mr. Bennet. And this time around, I found myself with a strange sort of affection for "plain" Mary Bennet and her individuality, who at one point in the original narrative says, "Far be it from me, my dear sister, to depreciate such pleasures. They would doubtless be congenial with the generality of female minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me. I should infinitely prefer a book." I think, perhaps, she was played for more sympathy than usual this time around.
Meatpacking District, Sunday afternoon.

Friday, November 18, 2005

A fantastic failure of a story

Sometimes in the midst of attempting to be creative and poetic and attest to, say, the mythic stories of the city, a journalist is given free rein and allowed to write something that doesn't fit the usual newspaper rubrics of how to construct an article (inverted pyramid, etc.). And sometimes, that writer stumbles along the way, and files a story that is so filled with purple prose and allusions, and seems so enamored with itself that it fails to do the most important things a feature article should do: Tell a story and tell you why you should care about the story it's telling. " Tracing Steps of the Man Who Walked Away," in my opinion, is just such an article. Written by Michael Brick, and appearing on the front of the Times' Metro section today, it's so confusing that I've read it twice now and still can't tell you much beyond this: It's about a guy who witnessed a Brooklyn plane crash and then moved to Manhattan and never came back to the neighborhood and then died. I'm not even sure if that is even correct or gets the point. Where were the editors on this? Can I get a nut graph, a time element, a straightforward sentence .... Argh.

Recent Curbing

This Curbed post about police booths for foreign VIPs might be just a bit funnier if you read the Kofi Annan spam I posted below.

Other recent Curbed posts:

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Things fall apart

If there was any doubt that I walk a lot here and/or give my shoes quite a beating, a little trickle of rainwater seeped into my shoe this evening to remind me. I stepped out of work and realized after a block that my foot was feeling wet and yet I hadn’t walked through any especially deep puddles. On the train, I took off my shoe and saw that half of my sock had been drenched and that the bottom of my right shoe had worn down near the sole and cracked. These days it seems a rarer thing to use something up like that until you have little choice but to have it repaired or replaced. You can put your money on the latter for me, as these shoes were comfortable to wear but were not works of fine craftsmanship worth saving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I have to say that while not unexpected, it was still funny to see not one but two separate couples hailing cabs for the CMA Awards tonight. There were the women in their glitzy dresses, and the men done up in their suits, topped off - of course - by their nicest cowboy hats. Not something you see every day here.

(And no, the Naked Cowboy doesn't count.)

Spam as found political art

Spam is getting pretty preposterous these days. Behold:

From: "Dr.Kofi Annan" <kofiannan4un@walla.com>  
Subject: CONFIDENTIALITY.

I Dr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, would like to ask your partnership in reprofilling funds over $250m in excess, the funds would be coming via a string of selected banks in Europe and Asia.

The Funds in question were generated by me during the oil for food programme in Iraq. I have been getting scandals/controversy in this regards, you can read more on the links below. [REDACTED]

You would be paid 10% as your management fee. Please do not write back directly to me via my official email address. All further correspondence should be sent to my private mail box (xxx@mac.com). As soon as you indicate your interest I will give further details.

Remember to treat this mail and transaction as strictly confidential. I will await your urgent correspondence via my private mail box

Dr. Kofi Annan.
SECRETARY-GENERAL
kofiannan@un.org
www.un.org

Monday, November 14, 2005

Link-free S.O.C. babble

I should really read Moby-Dick. In Cold Blood too. Gaps in my reading of the classics. Glaring gaps. Not the only gaps. Only the latest ones to surface. Chris Ware is amazing. Should read more of his comics. Saw his work at Adam Baumgold. Bare empty room. Adam himself sitting at a card table in the room, not an alcove, actually in the room when I visited. Dictating a letter to someone on the other end of the phone. I left just as he got off. Was he feeling awkward because it was just me looking at Ware’s art and him talking on the phone, no one else. Ware’s comics also appearing in the New York Times Magazine each Sunday. Other graphic novels I’ve noticed recently and want to read. Was surprised to be reading earlier this month about pirates, real pirates, not copyright pirates, real ones, as in ship-bound thieves, threatening to board an ocean liner off the coast of Africa. Who knew? Moby-Dick. Have we lost a connection to the sea that once was? Read the opening lines of the book, have picked it up in stores, but have not purchased it yet. Opening lines about Manhattan and the water, about how man is drawn to the sea, whether to sail on it or to merely gaze on it, as I do so often when I can. Union League Club tonight. Dates back to the Civil War. Unresolved race issues. Gin and tonics. No tipping. Jacket and tie required. Walking home through Times Square, so often mistaken as Time Square, even on the poster in the elevator up to Fort Tryon, down to A train, the one by the MTA, or for the MTA, which should’ve known better, but what does it matter really. Artistic license and all. Landlord keeps shutting off the hot water. Keeps posting about it. Saying it’s going to happen from midnight until x-y-z tomorrow. Why wasn’t it enough the first time? How long till the hot water has been used up, drained from all the pipes? Shower tonight like I should or chance it and do it tomorrow.

Sunset behind the Pumpkin House.

Spotted outside a green patch in Tribeca. Pretty attractive sign for an unattractive problem, eh?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Holiday bonuses for the huddled masses

The MTA has posted details about its "holiday bonuses" promotion. Here are the basics: If you pay per ride, it'll only cost you $1 every weekend from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day Observed (Jan. 2), including Nov. 24-27. If you use unlimited ride MetroCards, you'll get extra days added onto your normal span when you start using them between Nov. 24 and Jan. 2: for the 30-day cards, 4 bonus days, and for the weeklies, one bonus day. Or you can buy a special holiday unlimited MetroCard for the price of a 30-day ($76) and use it from Nov. 23 through Jan. 2.

Top of the Rock Observation Deck


Saturday, Cloisters Lawn, Fort Tryon Park.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

UES restaurant, lounge to recommend

Worth checking out on the Upper East Side:

1) Uva, a midlevel Italian restaurant with a rustic, homey feel. Very popular, but not so loud that you couldn't talk. M. and I shared a bottle of Tuscan Sangiovese. She had a spiral sausage and polenta dish, while I had ricotta gnocchi with chive and truffle sauce. Delicious, and very rich. Starters are $10 and under. Entrees $15-$19.

1486 Second Ave., near 77th St.

2) Stir, a martini lounge that offers about 20 different specialty cocktails, many of them with candy coatings around the rim: pixie dust, Smarties, Jolly Rancher shavings, Pop Rocks. The bar is dimly lit, contemporary couches with pillows line the walls, and the music doesn't drown out the conversation. Martinis run $9-$12.

1363 First Ave., near 73rd.

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Cheese, Gromit!" and lots of empty seats

Saw Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit with D. last night: Very funny, well-made, and full of subtle jokes, including lots of visual and literary ones. We were almost going to be the only ones in the auditorium, but a few other people showed up at the last minutes of the 2WENTY, that block of commercials before the movie at Regal screens that they tell you so straight-facedly not to miss by arriving early to the theater, and which has a handy little recap at the end to remind you of your take-home marketing messages. This cinema that was so empty on a Thursday night was the Regal Battery Park Stadium 11 - located in a rather nice neighborhood (B.P. City) that is nonetheless separated from the rest of Lower Manhattan by the West Side Highway and ground zero and also happens to be missing one of its nearest subway stations at the moment (Courtland Street). So if you enjoy that pick-any-seat feeling and live anywhere nearby, this might be a theater to check out more regularly.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Caption Contest: Where are the New Yorkers?

Ever since the New Yorker magazine started its caption contest, I (and others) have noticed something: a glaring lack of New Yorkers among the three finalists for each cartoon. Why is this? I realize it's a national publication, but isn't it more heavily skewed toward metro area subscribers who are more able to take advantage of the listings that appear near the front of each issue. Is it that people sitting in the Rest of America just have more time to sit in their armchairs and come up with funnies? Are they actually more clever? Any other ideas?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Poet Billy Collins and his delectable 'trouble'

Ex-Poet Laureate Billy Collins read tonight at B&N Union Square. I'm going to go out on a limb and say he's one of the funniest and most accessible literary poets out there today. He had the audience laughing the whole way through - from his wry but affable introduction through the slew of poems that he read, some from his new book, The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, but lots of others that he's written since the latest collection was compiled or older ones.

His poems are among those that can be easily grasped upon first hearing/reading, but also reveal deeper layers upon further reflection. Many of them problematize poetry or others' ideas about poetry, often to the readers' amusement, but end up championing the art by their very success. At times, he is like a perfumist who knows how little of each ingredient is necessary to create the right scent. Not too sarcastic, not too sentimental. So often: Just right.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Leaf peeping

Remember that part about autumn in New York? Well, the nip in the air may still be M.I.A., but the leaves have finally turned. I went up to Fort Tryon Park today to snap a few pictures.

Upcoming events in Hudson Heights

Noticed on fliers around the neighborhood today:

1) Commemoration of the 229th Anniversary of the Battle of Fort Washington. Sunday, Nov. 13. Noon to 3. Cafe Lawn, Fort Tryon Park. Re-enactors will set up a campsite to show how the Continental Army functioned during the Revolutionary War. Spinning and blacksmithing. Colonial arts and crafts. Live musket demonstration. Historian to speak.

2) A pair of chamber concerts in the Heights at Fort Washington Collegiate Church. 729 W. 181st St., near the A stop. Wed., Nov. 9, at noon and Thurs., Nov. 10, at 8 p.m. Mozart, Hindemith, Dussek, Abrahamsen. Music for violin, French horn, and piano.

Hudson View Gardens gate

190th Street A station

Water Tower, 5.15pm, West 96th Street

Bright Lights, Big City, Part 1

I got around to starting Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney this weekend, passing the time during some especially lengthy subway delays. I feel a little strange reading a book that depicts the World Trade Center towers on the cover but isn’t actually about them. It’s like a piece of historical fiction in a way. During the ’80s, this book was touted as tapping into the zeitgeist of the era – and is almost always classified by that word.

I’m sure it was mildly controversial when it came out – or perhaps shocked, shocked the literate masses – but the whole prevalence of cocaine throughout the novel feels a bit precious to me now. Not necessarily because it’s any more or less prevalent or more or less mainstream (I’m innocent enough of the whole scene as to not know for sure), but the incessant joking references to “Bolivian marching powder” aren’t as funny anymore. These days, late-show hosts make fun of President Bush “meeting in closed session with the President of Colombia,” and we don’t bat an eyelash. Maybe at the time they seemed fresh, maybe this book actually sparked the jokes: I can’t say.

Other things that are a bit dated are the main character’s tools of the trade as an employee of the Department of Factual Verification for a New-Yorker-like magazine: nary a computer in sight, just lots of books and yellowing already-underused archives and lots of phone calls. This was of course 1983-4, before even the introduction of the Macintosh, so it’s understandable. It’s just strange to read a book that’s ostensibly so contemporary, and yet harkens back to a pre-digital age. On a related note, I kept figuring the euphemistic title of his job and his department would eventually devolve into “fact checker,” but neither the narrator nor his co-workers seem ready to call a spade a spade. Perhaps this too is meant as a bit of light satire.

One other historical note: Being a fan of Philippe Petit, I had to laugh when I came across the passage where he makes an unnamed appearance. The narrator (referred to in the second person: “you”) happens upon a tightrope walker in Sheridan Square, and a member of the crowd turns to the narrator’s companion to say: “He did that between the towers of the World Trade Center.”

Keep in mind, I’m only halfway through the book, so I’ll have to see if any of my observations fall apart or change by the end. With any luck, I’ll write a part 2 to this.

Glass' Symphonies No. 8, 6 at BAM

I saw an artistic idol of mine for the first time Friday night: contemporary classical composer Philip Glass. There he was walking around the auditorium of the Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, looking a little grayer than most recent pictures of him, and then later on stage after the concert with conductor Dennis Russell Davies and the Orchestra Bruckner Linz.

But the problem with idols is that you expect a lot from them, so the bar is higher and harder to match at times. Thus was the case with the first half of the evening’s program for me: the world premiere of Glass’ Symphony No. 8. The composer’s music has been distinguished over the years by prolonged repetition of distinctive arpeggios and other motifs followed by the successive change and modulation of those elements over time. This latest work was all about change, however. There was little if any time for each melody or chord to stay fixed in your mind. It was constant motion, but not motion to any satisfying conclusion. Instead of following the typical fast-slow-fast model of three-movement symphonies, the third movement is so haltingly slow that I felt like I just wanted it to be over before long. At a pause in the middle of the piece, one congested audience member could be heard to wheeze a bit and utter “Oh vey!” The whole work seemed so watered down and formless, which only compounded its forgettable nature.

But the second half proved worth the price of admission. It was Glass’ earlier symphony – No. 6 – for orchestra and soprano. Lauren Flanigan, who premiered the piece in 2002, was back to perform the vocal duties for the text by Allen Ginsberg that also gives the work its subtitle: “Plutonian Ode,” a poem that mixes scenes from ancient mythology with the modern monstrosities of nuclear proliferation and war mongering (“Is there a new thing under the Sun?” it asks.)

The genesis of the piece, which was originally going to be for piano alone, began while Ginsberg was alive. But Glass resurrected it for orchestra and soprano (instead of Ginsberg’s own voice) a few years after the poet’s death in 1997. Flanigan was really reveling in the piece, looking truly passionate as much about the words she sang as the music the players were creating behind her. On stage she motioned, looked surprised and elated, signaled with her hands to the audience and made other impassioned faces throughout. It could’ve been a bit distracting if I hadn’t been looking down at the program to follow along with Ginsberg’s text for much of the time or if she hadn’t seemed so sincere about it all.

The highlight was the third movement, which begins in a mode so familiar to Glass fans. If I were to compare the feeling of tension and sublimity to an older classical piece, it would have to be the very opening of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor, before the soloist comes in. Out of the six sections of the evening’s music, this was the one I enjoyed the most, that reminded me most of why I enjoy listening to Glass. The momentum, the rise and fall like waves of the orchestra’s volume, the pressure and release, all punctuated by the clearest and most accessible of the lines in the soprano. Now that’s a way to end a program. And thus by that point Glass and the performers had truly earned their standing ovation.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Stop the presses! Ben Brantley of the NYTimes actually liked a new musical (well, it's a revival of a Sondheim classic, but still ... good nods from him are hard to come by these days). Which makes me want to rush out and see Sweeney Todd again, if possible.

[Previously on CitySpecific]

Saturday warming

So warm for a weekend in November! A day like this makes you wish you didn’t have to be underground so much to get where you need to go. At brunch, sitting outside without a jacket, I imagined it was New Year’s Day in Florida somewhere without the humidity. But then the 4 o’clock hour rolls around and the sun starts to dip low and you realize the weather is deceiving. Dusk will be here before long.

Tomorrow I want to remember to snap some photos of the leaves, as the trees here have finally started to reach their peak color after staying green for so long.

Friday, November 04, 2005

NYPL's Allen Room

At a party tonight, I spoke with a writer who told me about how much he loves working in the Frederick Lewis Allen Room of the grand main branch of the New York Public Library. It's a space in the library set aside with study cubicles for writers on book contracts to go and do their thing amid other great minds. It's free, but there's an application process. Go there these days, I was told, and you're likely to find Pulitzer Prize winners researching and writing. Robert Caro, for instance, wrote that 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner about NYC icon Robert Moses, The Power Broker, while in the Allen Room. Interesting to know that there are these free places available at a time when such for-a-fee spaces like Paragraph are opening. Still, the writers-on-contract stipulation is somewhat self-selective to begin with.

Can one contain one's glee?

When it comes to getting all squishy about animal photos, I choose my moments. This is one of those moments. Ain't it just the cutest thing you've ever seen? [Via Gothamist's Jen Chung, who appears to be mildly obsessed with pandas.]

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Kidd, Ware

The NYT's House&Home Section spotlights Penn State grad and book-designer extraordinaire Chip Kidd amid his stunningly cool home and collection of memorabilia. He's got a new book of his designs out and a gallery show on the way (Nov. 17 to Feb. 4 at Cooper Union). He's also friends with another master of pop-culture design, cartoonist Chris Ware, who also has a new book and a New York exhibition (through Dec. 3 at Adam Baumgold Gallery, 74 E. 79th St.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

CommonCensus Map Project

I've been meaning to link to this interactive map called CommonCensus ever since I saw it on Kottke.org. It's a way of mapping the country based on where people's cultural and geographical allegiances are. It's an interesting project that implicitly argues that despite everything we hear today about edge cities and exurbs, many people still define themselves by the big city off in the distance. I added my data, although it relies more on people who live outside the actual borders of these larger cities to register the pull they feel, as seen by all the different colored "spheres of influence" on the map above. Look at how much physical space is encompassed by the Denver and Salt Lake City spheres - and Boston even, in the more tightly packed Northeast. And one of the most Balkanized parts of the country seems to be the greater Ohio River Valley.

Zagat, Rufus

Got a free 2006 Zagat Survey tonight: what a very cool idea for a N.Y.C. party favor!

Then ready to head home, I scored a free seat to the first of two Rufus Wainwright shows this week at the Beacon Theater on the UWS. First time for the artist and the venue for me. What a huge place that is, hidden behind a modest-looking façade. Watching the concert, I realized I’ve been out of the loop on a lot of Rufus’ newer material. But I recognized at least a third of what he sang. Sound quality was a little off at times – maybe it was the seats, maybe the mixing. But hearing him do Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” really made the concert for me.

Monday, October 31, 2005

'Put it on Judy Miller's tab'

Don’t look now: Drudge is having a Maureen Dowd caption contest.

Halloween update

Three trick-or-treaters arrived! They rang all the bells on my floor like crazy until they got some people to open their doors. But that may be it for the evening …

Halloween

Not having grown up in the city, I still don’t have a handle on whether and how city kids go trick-or-treating. I went out to replenish my candy supply tonight, but I have a feeling that I won’t be getting many takers tonight. I saw some costumed kiddies outside on the streets, but not in the building at all. Then again, there aren’t many children living here to begin with - that I know of, at least - so it’s probably going to be a quiet night. Oh, well, I guess I’ll just have to eat the chocolates myself.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Thriving here without being rich - one way

I was having a conversation the other day with a colleague who lives in a trendier neighborhood than me and thus pays a lot more in rent. I thought about what sacrifices I’d have to make if I wanted to live in a similar situation on what I make now, and realized it would be very hard, if approaching the impossible. The solution for many people is to find roommates, but I enjoy living alone, and don’t want to give that up – it’s something to which I’ve become accustomed for five years now. So instead, I live farther away from the various centers of action, and wake up to a more peaceful setting (except for the occasional car alarm and drag race) but also a longer subway ride.

For me, the key to enjoying this city on a small budget is traveling a lot within the city limits, habituating different neighborhoods on a weekly basis: living one place and working in another, shopping for food in one section and worshipping in another, going to see movies and shows along one set of subway lines and visiting friends along another. This lets me indulge my curiosity and my aspirations to be around nice things all the while getting by on less than the average salary here. It’s possible to do this especially here because so many grand things and well-known people are brought into close proximity with one another, on the street, on transit, in restaurants and stores and auditoriums. And what I do not spend on rent, I can spend on memberships to this museum or tickets to that show or the occasional dinner out somewhere nice. Also, cultivating a frugality about certain things and noting shortcuts and semi-secrets and discounts here and there pay off, too.

Of course, if it weren’t for the subways and the buses (but mostly the subways), this lifestyle wouldn’t be as possible, and I’d probably have to spend more time in one part of the city. I take cabs when I need to or feel like they would be worth it, but if I had to own and maintain a car here, I wouldn’t have enough to go out nearly as often. Public transit is something I’ve been nurtured to love over the years, by my perpetually commuting parents, by a year spent abroad in which my family was car-less, and by an adolescence in which I began frequenting buses before I learned how to drive.

At the end of the day, I can accomplish this lifestyle while working in a field that I love and going to a job that I don’t mind. I could be making buckets more money toiling for some Wall Street firm, but then I’d likely be carrying a BlackBerry (i.e., tether to work) and having to go into work on Sundays (and/or Saturdays) and the richer worlds of the city would be more within my reach, but then I wouldn’t have as much time to walk this fine line between feeling poor and experiencing things I want to experience.

Don’t get me wrong: There are times when this city gets me down and I feel lonely and anonymous and unconnected. But those have been outweighed so far by moments when I utter in my head that cliché of an ad slogan: “I heart N.Y.”

The bearer of sad letters?

LaChiusa at the Public

I had a front-row seat to Michael John LaChiusa’s new musical See What I Wanna See at the Public Theater tonight. The big name in the show is of course Wicked superstar Idina Menzel, and while she was great throughout, and had an especially fiery number in the first half, the real showstopper, I thought, was Broadway veteran (and Philadelphia native) Mary Testa with her book-end songs, “The Greatest Practical Joke” and “There Will Be a Miracle” during the second half. The play consists of two New York stories, past and present, introduced by a pair of grace notes from medieval Japan. As the title suggests, the play deals with truth and perception – how the same events can be recounted and felt in different ways. The first is a murder story set in 1951 and the second a post-9/11 tale about faith and belief. The music ranges in quality from pedestrian but endearing to accomplished and touching. While the stories aren’t exactly groundbreaking, the book and lyrics sustained the piece well, and they kept me wrapped up in the show.

One interesting and not altogether unwelcome distraction was the way at least two of the five actors in the ensemble, including the ravishing Ms. Menzel, would at times seem to look directly at me sitting there in orchestra seat A-1, enjoying the show. The Anspacher is a theater in the round, and the stage for this production is set at grade with the front row without any physical separation. Do you stare at them intently, a consummate theatergoer, welcoming the connection from mere feet away, or is it proper to avert your gaze? Do actors ever get distracted by staring at particular audience members? Or do the better ones manage to focus so well that they could stare at a man snoring loudly in his seat and still not be put off or miss a line or inflection? Is there any particular etiquette to reference here? Anybody?

Overall, I felt this was a successful new musical, and while I didn’t walk away humming any of the tunes, I wouldn’t say no to hearing several of the numbers again if possible. The official opening night is later tonight (Sunday), and it runs through Dec. 4.

Also, without giving too much of the plot away, I enjoyed the word play in the titles of the two New York-based stories: “R Shamon,” the ‘50s story, because an ‘A’ was missing from a cinema marquee for Rashomon. (The musical itself is said to be inspired by the stories of Ryunosuke Akutagawa, who wrote the story of that film.) And “Gloryday,” playing on the Latin “Gloria Dei,” or “glory of God.”

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Van Gogh's Drawings at the Met

Vincent van Gogh’s images are so wonderful, accessible and influential – and thus so readily reproduced on anything from mouse pads and mugs to bags and scarves – that the new exhibition of his drawings at the Metropolitan Museum is quite a surprise at first. Throughout the early rooms, there are no “famous” images – unless of course, I’d imagine, you’re a van Gogh scholar or have visited all the major museums that collect his works. It isn’t until you start to move through the later rooms that some of the more iconic pictures start to appear, and then only as a means of comparison to the drawings in ink, graphite and the occasional watercolor.

What the exhibit showed me was that the man who’s known now for his thickly textured oils full of fantastic color really knew how to draw with the most basic implements. The first pieces, arranged chronologically, are very representational, and while they are skilled, almost seem to have been created by a different artist. Then as you progress, more air gets into the pictures, the lines spread out, and you can see how he was moving toward a more impressionistic approach – although he is usually classified as a Post-Impressionist.

A NYTimes editorial today highlights the use of a reed pen, which shaped the strokes of his later works. The amount of ink the pen could hold, I imagine, helped to dictate the short, stubby, repeated and often parallel lines he used to create the larger images – mostly of the quiet, but not inactive, pastoral scenes he saw in France. Looking at his more fully realized oils is then such a more powerful experience, as the exhibit has revealed where he came from, where he began in his artistic life as well as in the lifetime of individual scenes appearing first in line form and later as paintings. There are even some great sketches on display that show how van Gogh penciled in the names of the colors (in French, I’m pretty sure) that he was planning for the later execution in oil.

Well worth a visit if you get a chance. The exhibit is open through year’s end.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Inside the Met.

Outside the Delacorte Theater, all closed up for the season.

The 55 Water St. beacon, quiet and alone, just after dusk.

Lisa Loeb ate my pancake

I was eating outside one of my favorite L.E.S. holes-in-the-wall (which shall remain nameless) last night, when I noticed a small film crew arrive. I continued chowing down, not having recognized any of the on-screen talent. In New York, I've learned, there are so many people swinging cameras around, you can't always tell how big-name an operation it is. Well, this one seemed like some blind-date type show. A girl and a guy yammering on about nothing while the cameras rolled. I'm going to gloss over some of the details here, but basically, I found myself interacting with this couple and eventually sharing a bite or two of my food with the woman. I wasn't very funny or witty, because I still thought it was some two-bit operation at this point. Anyway, the shot finishes, the talent moves on, and I find a waiver form passed my way.

Apparently, I'd just shared a few words with the singer Lisa Loeb, fresh off her recent appearance on "The Colbert Report." Totally did not recognize her in the moment. So anyway, I might or might not - depending on how unfunny I was or vital to the story flow that shot was - appear momentarily on an as-yet-untitled E! reality project.
The Pumpkin House is on the market! Only $3.45 million.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dispatch from hurricane-battered Palm Beach County

Old friends of mine currently working for the Palm Beach Post sent a dispatch last night from the wake of Hurricane Wilma. Their words follow to the end of this post:
 
Currently, we have no power and no water at our house. Officials say it could take as long as four weeks to restore power to everyone, though we are hopeful it will take far less than that.

As for the water ... All of the city's pump stations died, so they cannot pressurize the system, therefore no water through the taps at home. We will get bottled water until then from the grocery store down the street, which is on generator power. Shopping by generator is quite the experience. Cash only. They padlocked all the freezer units shut, and there is a line to use the one payphone (remember those?) outside the store. Oh yeah! We also have no phone service by our regular land line or by cell phone. Who knows when that will be restored. ...
 
When we're not back at the home cleaning up, we are here at the paper, busily trying to stay on top of things. ... We have a blog that we are using to handle all the openings and closings of anything in the paper's coverage area and then some. ... We also still have reporters out in the damage sending us feeds via e-mail that we post right away. For a while, we also offered a free video stream from our TV partner, but their roof caved in yesterday, and they have no idea when they will be back on the air.

To actually print the paper, we are running on a massive generator and a feeder line from the power company, which is basically a glorified extension cord. Unfortunately, it is only enough power to operate one press, so it takes four times as long to print an entire edition. Thanks to that, we are operating on early deadlines, pages must be done by 9 p.m., which is a huge jump up in terms of a deadline at any paper.

One cool thing to come from all the damage is that you can really see the stars at night. With no power to anything for miles, it looks really cool. We are running a constellation guide for those that want to know more about the stars.

Great works by Steve and Stephen

(Probably shouldn’t be staying up so late to write this, but the blog cries out, FEED ME! FEED ME! And it must be fed, like a Tamagotchi kitten, squealing away.)

Two quick picks, along with accompanying quickly banged-out reasons:

The movie Shopgirl written by and starring Steve Martin. A gem of a movie. A jewel box with a lush transporting score. It nonetheless manages to convey the real awkwardness and rush of romance while harkening back to older narratives such as Sister Carrie and La Traviata. In less able hands, the movie would’ve groaned under the simplicity of the plot, but instead, the music is earnest and sweeps you away. So there is this strangely alluring combination of verisimilitude and fantasy wrapped up in a modest but touching work. I may not know Martin’s work very well, but this was certainly a pleasant surprise.

The new production of the Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd, in previews now and opening next week. A dark, dark tale with only the slightest sprinklings of humor and delight. Another case of a story that could easily fall flat in less able hands. Having never seen it before, I came to this 25th anniversary show fresh and ready to be wowed. And I was. I’m not usually drawn to such macabre things, but accompanied by Sondheim’s dense and captivating music, it works so well. Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris - the first more experienced, the latter just recently attaining real fame - both feel like they’re at the top of their game, and seem to revel in the complex characters that are staged here. The set doesn’t move, the actors play the instruments on stage, and the killings are evoked by a loud screech and a wash of red light, so we’re left to ponder the mixed-up lives of the characters without any unnecessary embellishments. It’s gripping stuff that doesn’t ever feel exploitative. It’s a horror story less for your guts than for your mind.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


In the 145th St. subway station.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Yes, Hudson Heights

Where do you live? I could answer any number of ways: Upper Manhattan, Upstate Manhattan, Uptown, North of 96th, WaHI, Washington Heights, Hudson Heights. I usually prefer using the last two, but I’ll admit that the last name – which is a more recent invention – hasn’t quite caught on just yet the way Tribeca or Nolita have downtown. But anyone who’s visited this area will likely accept that Hudson Heights could be thought of as distinct.

According to most, the neighborhood is bounded by 181st Street to the south, the Hudson River to the west, Fort Tryon Park to the north and Broadway to the east. Most of this section is considerably higher than its surroundings, except for Bennett Avenue, which connects to 181st but slopes downhill as you go north, while the more westerly streets (Cabrini, Fort Washington, etc.) rise to form the highest natural plateau in Manhattan. Highlights of the neighborhood include Bennett and Fort Tryon parks, the Cloisters, the Mother Cabrini Shrine and High School, and one of the few uptown Starbucks. There are about a dozen restaurants, a few supermarkets, a selection of other stores, some realtors, and of course, great views of the Hudson and the G.W. Bridge. Yes, this is also where the big retaining wall fell.