Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ren Faire remix

From the creators of TheBurg comes a trenchant look at those anachronistic folk who yearn in the suburban woods for a past they never knew: All's Faire.

Deconstructing the shove

A paparazzo shoved Bernie Madoff, the $50 billion Ponzi scheme braggart and possible felon, and it was caught on video. But I'm left wondering: Was this a vengeful shove or a tactical one or maybe a little bit of both? I don't watch enough celebrity gossip shows to know, but is shoving your subject a guerilla way to produce a frowny or angry face on a disgraced subject while also buying you an extra second or two to snap another photo? The fact that the shove was immediately followed by the photog snapping another shot made me consider this. Either way, it reminds me that as much as I love photography, I wouldn't be able to hack it as a pro photojournalist.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


A good day's work at an end. Running into an old friend. Handshake. His first time visiting. Impressed with the place you go every day. Seeing it through fresh eyes again. Not enough time to really catch up. Phone rings twice. Another friend. Dinner awaits. Snow falling outside in the Christmas tree courtyard. A promise to see each other after Christmas. In another place. One of many holiday places on the plan. Dinner at Cafeteria. Evergreens turning white slowly outside. Seafood inside. Catching up after almost a semester apart. Hot cocoa and tea and cookies and high ceilings in a new apartment not too far away. Dessert over. Bed calls. But not before a call before bed. Taxi part of the way. An extra dollar in the stack of ones, passed from bartender to me to driver. Keep it anyway. White-lit trees outside the skyscraper. Escalators down. The simple joy of falling blocks and colorful lines. Charlie Brown on the rotation. Mesmerized by the screens. Out the tunnel. Dar Williams. Mortal City. Swinging door, held for another. Icy-tipped hillside. Tears brim. A moment in the snow. Song ends. A couple huddles beneath the scaffolding. Door. Key. Home.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The beginning of a poem I didn't finish

I have become accustomed to decay.
Signature slumps, posters tear,
Sole wears thin, sings out for repair.
Graffiti appears where volunteers once sweat,
Mocking Matissean leaves and flourishes.
Age shoulders in on once golden feats,
Scrubbing mystery, sowing fear.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

RIP Sharp QT-CD44 (1990-2008)

Like a beloved pet that lived far longer than its usual life expectancy, my old trusty Sharp CD boom box ("QT-CD44 stereo radio cassette recorder with compact disc player") kept hanging on through the 2000s, even as the term "mix tape" become horribly outdated. It was my first ever CD player, circa 1990, and so I had a fondness for it. But lately, it just hasn't been the same anymore. In its final years, I had to start any disc spinning by hand (no joke!), then slam the lid shut and press play in order to have any hope of hearing the music. Then that part broke and I used it mainly for listening to the radio in the kitchen. Now, it's not even doing that. Time to say goodbye to what's probably been my longest continually running piece of electronics. You've served me well.

Friday, November 14, 2008

`You know ... for kids!'

The winning "Hoop" design for the city's new bike racks made me think of that famous line from the Coen brothers' movie The Hudsucker Proxy. I haven't used any of the prototypes yet, but they look like they'll provide a reasonably good way to string a chain through the frame and front wheel and rack without having to stretch that far, while the design also evokes their purpose: They look like bicylce wheels, after all.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Content placement?

One of my favorite guest-character arcs in "How I Met Your Mother" involved "Victoria," one of Ted's girlfriends in Season 1. She was played by Ashley Williams, who sort of disappeared -- from my radar screen at least -- after her story in the show was over. Now she's resurfaced in something called "Novel Adventures" on Not CBS, -- it's a "web original." From the very start, something was fishy: They kept mentioning Saturn in the same breath as the show. Then I watched it. Let's just say I was less than three minutes in and they'd already plugged Saturn like half a dozen times in the script or the set. Ashley's character's husband actually works at a Saturn dealer. Now I enjoy a well-written, witty commercial, like the best of 'em. But what are we to make of a show written entirely around a brand? Move over, product placement, this is a lame attempt at content placement. As much as I like that actress, I can't bear to watch an eight-part ad for something I'll probably never buy. I hope this isn't a sign of things to come. Back in the day, when broadcast shows were sponsored by one brand, at least they had enough self-respect to actually produce content worth watching, right? Or is this not actually that much beyond the pale in television history terms?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This is what deep discounting looks like

So you know how you read recently that retailers are slashing prices to move their inventory, a good news/bad news sign of the economy? Proof in the pudding: I just bought jeans at Banana Republic that originally cost $78 for less than $8, thanks to a slew of discounts that included my having a credit card from the store. That's about 90 percent off when all is said and done.

Dog and pony show

If Road Show, the renovated Sondheim musical formerly known as Bounce and playing at the Public through the end of the year, had been written by any other composer, I would've walked out thinking that wasn't half bad. But with Stevie, the bar is set rather high. The book -- inspired by the Mizner brothers, known for picaresque misadventures and society beach cottages in Florida -- is John Weidman of Pacific Overtures and Assassins fame. Those two shows left me feeling about the same way that I did after this latest one. They were entertaining enough in the moment, but don't really leave me with all that much to go home with. Direction is by John Doyle, whose work on Sweeney Todd and Company was excellent. This time around, the actors aren't playing any instruments and the live musicians are off stage the whole time. One of the central motifs of the musical is the idea of throwing a lot of money around, made literal in the several dozen times that characters actually toss piles of cash into the air to have the bills flutter around like autumn leaves. I'd argue that this bit of direction might've been overused just a little bit, but it certainly unites the different aspects of the brothers' lives. The costumes worn by the ensemble work better: They are made of fabric printed with architectural drawings of the kind that Addison Mizner draws for his rich clientele in New York and Florida. (At first, I thought they were bank checks, which also would've worked.) The set is basically a mountain/wall of brick-a-brack, filled with props that come in handy for various milestones along the Mizners' road(s). Alexander Gemignani and Michael Cerveris do a decent job of highlighting the shades of gray in the Mizners' journeys. They're not quite crooks and they're not quite successful businessmen either. The Playbill notes nod at real estate bubbles past and present. The show's about 100 minutes without intermission. I paid full price, which I regret somewhat. If you can get in to see it for anything less, it might be worth it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sunday, November 09, 2008

When big news hits ...

People still flock to the front page of newspapers, even if it's just online: Obama Wins over and over again on the Newseum's Web site.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Papa was a rodeo

I used to be a blogger. That was part of my self-imposed job description. I loved it. It was part of who I was. Is it still? These past few months have been really pretty harrowing on a lot of levels. I'm thankful that I still have a job, as do the people around me. Work seems to have sucked up all my words. I'm left with little to none at the end of the day. All I can muster is that one line on Facebook: the status report. A one-sentence blog? Sometimes there's satisfaction to be had in that small space. Not always, though. I tallied up the story count from the past 12 months: 1,000 takes. A little more than that actually. And the more I write, the less they pay me for every story, it occurred to me. My doctor says I'm stressed. I can't really disagree, but is it only stress? Is there something else that's wrong with me? Is he a therapist or a general practitioner? I should make another appointment. Will he spend most of the time talking about how stressed I look again? I got a five-minute chair massage today. It was a little bit rough toward the end, but that's probably because I'm so tense. No harm done, in the end. I need to go again, to the train station. I wish it weren't so late.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

'Mass' on Saturday in a Protestant church

The confluence of motifs was certainly unique. There we were on a blustery Saturday afternoon, sitting inside the United Palace, that vast, old wonder theater at 175th Street that does double duty now as church and all-purpose performance venue. Munching on fundraiser popcorn, wearing our respective college football T-shirts for the game that evening and watching the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and hundreds of singers and dancers perform Bernstein's Mass, a post-'60s theater piece inspired by the Catholic liturgy, though not strictly adherent to it. It's a long piece: about 100 minutes without breaks, but it had some pretty captivating moments, like the opening number, "A Simple Song" and the Agnus Dei ("Dona nobis pacem") that devolves into a fist-pumping anti-war march. The Celebrant, played by Jubilant Sykes, captured well the broad range of singing styles and emotions needed for the role, and the city schoolchildren, who took up the center front section of the orchestra seats, were rousing in their selected moments of congregational singing. It was also great to hear the Bersteinian echoes of West Side Story and Candide. The concert wasn't without its distractions, although the restless audience members around us eventually settled down. While we did have to pay $15 to get in, the crowd had more of a free-outdoor-classical-concert vibe than you would expect from an indoor show. The same was true for the Rite of Spring project last year with the Berlin Philharmonic at the United Palace (another Carnegie Hall production). That said, it's great to have so many people get together in an uptown location to see a world-class orchestra join with local students to create impressive spectacles. I look forward to the next idea they come up with.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It's not even Halloween yet!

It might've been a fluke or a mistake in the playlist, or perhaps it's just that the economy needs all the help it can get this year, but I officially heard the first Christmas song of that ever-lengthening season. (For the record, it was some cover of "All I Want For Christmas Is You.") It was in a Thai restaurant on Ninth Avenue, and I have a witness. Only 67 shopping days left!

Monday, October 13, 2008

'Songs of Fear and Longing: Nellie McKay (attempts to cover) the Classics!'

Nellie McKay gave a disturbingly distracted performance last night at Spiegelworld on the East River's Pier 17. (The venue itself, while novel and captivating the past few summers, seems to have overstayed its welcome this fall, judging by a) the sparse crowds on an evening before a holiday for many people and b) the amount of discounted tickets being flogged for the three marquee shows: Absinthe, Desir and the Gazillionaire.) We audience members were kept waiting in a line outside of the second tent ("Salon Perdu") for half an hour beyond the advertised start time of 10 p.m. When we finally entered the tent, it was clear that McKay didn't exactly sell out the venue. They'd arranged just enough folding wooden chairs in the center to accommodate those expected; the eight-seater booths around the periphery were closed off. If she'd brought her A-game, we might've remembered it as a lovely intimate show.

Now, I enjoy Nellie's own music, her sprightly piano rap and sarcastic sentimental weepies, if you will, but I'd thought of her as a talented musician in general, no matter whose song it is she's singing, having seen her in concert before. Last night, she looked like a frazzled young piano teacher or harried accompanist who's kept the students or auditioners waiting, complete with a canvas bag of tattered fake books. Right from the beginning it was clear something, or a whole Pandora's box of somethings, was bothering her. Where exactly her mind was, we never found out. All we know is we were treated to an evening punctuated by false starts, abrupt cuts, long awkward stretches of her flipping through the worn-out songbooks in search of this tune and that tune and always her apologizing half-heartedly for her less than stellar stage presence and performance.

M. told me afterward, "I wanted to scream out, 'Spit it out: What's wrong?'" She even went so far as to hint that refunds might be in order for people who requested them. When she was playing and knew the song, mostly old standards and American songbook classics with some of her own thrown in toward the end, Nellie played well. And the uptown Manhattan native did a pretty funny vamp on New York politics in the middle of "Take the A Train" that began something like "My mother used to work for David Paterson..."

We all have bad days at work, but not all of us work in the spotlight, which of course can contribute itself to performers having bad days now and then. But I have to say this is the first show that I can remember where it seemed as though the musician was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown before our eyes. I felt like we were caught in a farce. It produced in me this strange mixture of awkward pity and strange curiosity. We kept waiting for her to blurt out what it was that was slowly driving her mad; it never came. The end of performance did come - before midnight, I think. We clapped, she left the stage, and then we stopped clapping. There would be no encore this evening. Does anybody know what's wrong with Nellie?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

AQ Kafe

I discovered a new place to feed that occasional craving for Swedish meatballs I have, and it's not in Red Hook. It's actually right on my way home from the office in a neighborhood that's lacking in low-key, easy, reasonably priced places to get a bite: greater Columbus Circle. It's called AQ Kafe, and it's focused on light Northern European bakery cafe fare (read: mostly Scandinavian). The spare -- though not uninviting -- interior is sort of Le Pain Quotidien meets Ikea showroom floor. The fresh lemonade had the right tang and actually paired well (no wine here) with the lemon vinaigrette in the green salad. There is a side salad and an entree-size one for almost $4 more, but I honestly thought there'd been a mistake when I saw how big the "side salad" actually was. The meatballs are served in two small whole-grain rolls with lingonberry, pickled cucumber slices and just the right amount of cream sauce. As much as I love the ones served up in the shadow of that great blue-and-yellow particle-board paradise, these are pretty sensational. The plate is rounded out with dill potato salad, pickled beets (they're yellow!) and a tiny pickle, just in case you missed the theme. The portion seemed a bit modest upon arrival, but it certainly filled me up while at the same time offering a slightly more piquant kick of flavor than the old standby Ikea cafeteria platter.

Subtle Aussie pun

I'm going to try to catch the first episode of the American version of
"Kath and Kim" tonight on NBC. Even with all the advertising around
town for this show, it wasn't until this morning that I realized it's
a pun on the saying "kith and kin."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What I've been up to

[Perfunctory disclaimer: I've been remiss in blogging.] The daily tremors shaking the financial system have been taking up a good deal of my energy during the daylight hours, but I guess I should be thankful I still have a job to go to everyday. What's been left has been devoted mostly to a) watching perpetual reruns of "Family Guy," b) enjoying the waning days of summer, c) planning for two back-to-back out-of-town weddings in coming weekends, d) spending my first full weekend on the Sound in Connecticut, e) looking forward to payday at the end of the month, f) talking on the phone, g) reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, h) re-organizing my dresser drawers, and i) seeing Mrs. Warren's Profession and Legally Blonde on stage for free in the same day. [I guess when you start to make a list, it hasn't quite been a total workaholic span. It only feels that way.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hard to believe ...

[Photo by]

... That it's been seven years already. This will be the fifth time I've been here for the anniversary. Hoping to get a good look at the Tribute in Light finally. As each year passes, it dominates my consciousness a little less. I think back to that day when I spent the hours of 10 a.m. till 2 a.m., covering the local reaction. I've now worked 12-hour days more than I'd wish to report on important, though admittedly less-consequential, events.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

RIP Don LaFontaine (1940-2008)

In a world where we'll no longer get to hear new takes from one of these famous announcer guys ...

Monday, September 01, 2008

Next on the NYC public art hit parade

So the unofficial end of summer was greeted by a downer of a public art news item: Eliasson's Waterfalls are having their hours cut back because of some unintended environmental consequences. What do we have to look forward to in the fall? How about Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's upcoming piece in Madison Square Park, running from Oct. 24 to Nov. 21? It's called Pulse Park, and will be a little bit more interactive than the Waterfalls are. Think heartbeats of passers-by and spotlights piercing the night, and watch this video from a similar installation in Toronto last year. And in other Madison Square Park related news, Shake Shack is coming to the Upper West Side in October (77th and Columbus, catercorner from Isabella's)!

Friday, August 29, 2008

ConEd surprise

So you know all that rage about high gas prices? Never really hit me. No car. No gas to buy. Not until now. My electricity bill for the past month? For my studio? $136.64. Um, yeah. Maybe summer coming to a close ISN'T such a bad thing after all.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

NYC Waterfalls redux

I was somewhat ambivalent when I saw Olafur Eliasson's Waterfalls for the first time, but I have to say I have a stronger affection for them at night. Granted, there's a limited amount of time to experience them illuminated from behind by the LED lights, but that span will grow longer as the days get shorter, moving toward the outdoor exhibition's closing in mid-October. Twilight ends around 8:20 lately, and the waterfalls stay on until 10. We got to enjoy them after seeing the latest theater-in-a-round-tent acrobatic cabaret, Desir, at Spiegelworld, the seasonal entertainment venue that's been making the South Street Seaport safe for locals in recent summers. The waterfalls' ghostly white flicker makes for a wonderful addition to the nighttime East River waterfront.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tunnel mural update

A friendly anonymous commenter, who sounds like s/he is involved somehow, offered this explanation for the new mural at the entrance to the 191st Street 1 train station:

"The mural is being sponsored by the NYC Department of Transportation and the Mayor's Office and fabricated by Groundswell Community Mural Project with Lead Artist Belle Benfield, Assistant Artist Chris Brown, and 15 teens, many of whom live and attend school in the Washington Heights area. The Y of Washington Heights/Inwood has also played a significant role in supporting the project by providing space to the team to brainstorm and design the mural. Look forward to the entire tunnel being painted this upcoming Wednesday, August 20th by City Year and 150 volunteers."

The mural project website lists Friday, August 22 - time TBA - as the dedication day for the artwork. I really hope that the artistic designs shame the taggers from leaving their mark on, at least, the mural portion of the new paint job.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Reality wrapped in a nest of joy and historic scope

The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the latest stunning installment of which we witnessed last night, have the power and global reach to tell us a lot about what's good and what's less than good about the world at a given moment. Chief among the good on display 8/8/08 would have to be the awe-inspiring spectacle carried out, under the grand cinematic eye of Zhang Yimou, by the cheerful, intense and well-rehearsed thousands of Chinese who got to be a part of the show at the Bird's Nest. It really was stirring in a way that surpasses most of what memories I have of other artistic displays preceding other games. Yes, it could be seen as a brilliant piece of propaganda for the Communist Party, but I'm willing to accept that taint for the beauty it held.

The second act, of course, is the parade of nations, when a taste of reality sets in: We are reminded of all the war-torn and poverty stricken countries that still cover the earth and we are reminded of how, while we do a lot as a country to ease those pains, we do much also to cause them, whether directly or indirectly. We are reminded of how so many countries continue to treat women as lesser humans, whether through national policy or less-official though no less scary means. We're reminded of how fluid the flags under which the athletes compete can be -- whether for noble reasons or more pecuniary ones. Thus is the ebb and flow of globalization. And of course, the ideal of the Olympic truce was thrown out the window this year, as Russia and Georgia raised arms against one another yesterday.

Lucky, for hopeful people, there is a third act to these ceremonies: the finale of the worldwide torch relay. Eight last runners carried the Olympic flame around the National Stadium -- truly a work of art in itself and already one of my favorite new buildings of this century. Li Ning, a 1984 medalist in gymnastics, received it last. He was lifted into the sky and "ran" around the circumference of the stadium's rooftop scrim before lighting the cauldron, a structure twisted like the end of a scroll. It continued a moving theme of the evening from a country that invented paper and printing. If you didn't get a chance to see the ceremonies, look for an opportunity to do so. I will remember it for a long time.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Tunnel Street makeover

The three-block-long "spooky" tunnel (something of an obsession of mine) that connects Broadway with the 191st Street (1) train subway station has been closed intermittently in recent days, I'd imagine, to allow for some talented artists to create a mural surrounding the entrance. As much as I've gotten use to the perpetual cycle of graffiti and whitewashing that goes on inside the tunnel, it's a welcoming site to see such bright colors at the mouth. I wonder who's been doing the painting.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Nah gonna see it

So is NOT seeing The Dark Knight a countercultural choice yet?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Movie list in July!

Lots of people highlight great movies worth seeing at the end of the year (i.e. December). Why not do the same in July, half a year later? Here are some quick picks, worth checking out if you haven't already -- including one that's have made it to the rental stage of its life cycle: Wall-E, Man on Wire, Definitely, Maybe, Lars and the Real Girl and ... Get Smart (go in with low expectations and a very loose sense of comparison to the original and you might be mildly impressed).

Movies I still want to see: Edge of Heaven, Roman de Gare, American Teen and Brideshead Revisited.

Movie I will never see under any circumstances: The Love Guru. (OK, maybe. Someday. When I'm really bored and feeling in the mood to experience what it means to be anti-funny. Perhaps.)

Chain link

Test your chain knowledge of New York City. McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway, Dunkin Donuts: Place these in order from most locations to least locations within the five boroughs. The answer, written up here in Crain's, might surprise you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Micro prefab at MoMA

The next time your apartment feels small, just think of this 76-square-foot machine for living currently on display in MoMA's "back lot" -- future site (::fingers crossed::) of the amazing twisty proposed Jean Nouvel tower.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Street songs on the pier

The Public Art Fund showed Dara Friedman's 48-minute film Musical tonight on a pier off Riverside Park South, as dark clouds loomed but didn't break and night fell. I missed seeing it when it was at Gavin Brown's Enterprise last month, but I think seeing the film out in the open, among people, was a much more fitting way to experience it. After all, the film - shot over a few weeks last fall - consists of dozens of people singing a capella in public places, roaming the streets of Midtown Manhattan or standing in some of its most famous indoor spaces: the MoMA lobby, Grand Central Terminal. It doesn't really have a story line beyond the ones captured in the lyrics of each song, but the film brought to mind: movie musicals shot on the streets of New York, iPod lip synching, street buskers, the Joshua Bell experiment in Washington, reality television, and the way we do or do not reveal our reactions to things that don't fit our expectations. Almost all of the performers sing pretty well and mostly in key, and when they don't, it's usually for effect or just plain funny. It's one of those pieces of art that makes you look a little more closely at the people around you. What songs or stories are they carrying around in their head?

Monday, July 21, 2008

City cuisine: Goodbye, hello

Latest palpable sign of tough economic times ahead: The considerable amount of vacant storefronts around town. I've always been aware of the turnover in retail, restaurants, and bars, but it doesn't seem like there's been this many closings since I moved here in spring 2004.

Frown-inducing closings in recent memory: Mary's Dairy on West Fourth and the Baggot Inn on West Third. Zen Palate on Union Square. Cafe Figaro on Bleecker. Ivy's Books (Broadway) and Monsoon (Amsterdam) on the Upper West Side. Les Deux Gamins in the West Village.

What's the future? Total daily nutrition -- a la the Axiom from Wall-E -- delivered through cups and cones hawked by any one of the proliferating high-end frozen dessert purveyors.

Friday, July 18, 2008

This actually was his (show)

I was a bit disappointed to find Kelli O'Hara's name on the not-appearing-tonight flier stuffed in our Playbills the other night at LCT's South Pacific, my recent ambivalence her new album notwithstanding. Her understudy was decent enough, but just not the same. Luckily, we got to enjoy the memorable Brazilian opera singer and now Tony-award-winning Broadway star Paulo Szot, in the lead male role of Emile de Beque. That man knows how to command a stage without really seeming to try too hard. Such a wonderful voice too. M. and I noted how his voice stood out as having much more power behind it than most of the other performers. The show, one of those classics by Rodgers & Hammerstein that are filled with famous melodies from curtain to curtain, definitely felt true to its origins. The production doesn't fuss with allusions to present day sentiments. It felt like a revival in the truest sense, free of attempts at "updating" it. That's not to say I don't respect the importance and potential of doing that for classic plays and musicals. If anything, the show erred on the side of being respectful at the expense of pizzaz. Not a problem, as there was more than enough soul in Szot's singing to go around.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Open bar x 2

Last night, it was the wrap party for the Forum for Urban Design's bike-sharing demonstration project. Tonight, it was MoMA's opening reception for Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling. Last night, there were cookies and hors d'oeuvres like mini BLTs on brioche rolls and some sort of tortilla filled with cheese and pumpkin that actually tided me over. Tonight, the light snacks that were promised in the invitation turned out to be heavy on the lightness: mostly breadsticks and nuts. Thus, I'm chowing down on some late-night mac 'n cheese as I read about how NYC is a drinker's paradise in the summer. Says the Times: "a certain extra layer of permissiveness seems to infuse the city in the summertime, along with a wellspring of opportunities to get sloshed, slightly or mightily."

Monday, July 14, 2008

"I told you I had to quit the body shop so I could work on my swordsmanship."

Fans of TheBurg -- which still needs your hits and help! -- should recognize several of the same actors from hipsterville featured in a trailer for a satirical video project about another quirky, colorful, close-knit community: Ren Faire. It's called All's Faire.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

E lucevan le stelle

M. sang in the chorus for a production of Puccini's Tosca at the Riverside Church this weekend that showed how a shoestring budget operation can still produce great opera. The Times article I read the other day recounting the 25-year history of supertitles provided a good backdrop for seeing an opera for the first time without the simultaneous English translation above or below the action. I'd seen Tosca before and it didn't take long to brush up on the plot. That left me the ability to focus more fully on the singing and the acting and to look for the subtler emotional touches warranted by the story. It also made it feel a little more passionate and mysterious. The use of the space also impressed me. The audience was arrayed in diagonal lines, cutting across a rather ornate meeting room on the 10th floor of the tower of Riverside Church, the tallest church in the U.S., funded back in the '20s by Rockefeller money. It well suited the three settings of Tosca: a church, palace apartments, and the parapet of a castle. Rather than using the actual stage provided, the action took place off to the side of the room, which could easily stand in for each act's scenery - right up to the part where Tosca jumped out the window (onto a safe ledge overlooking the Hudson and the starry sky). The show produced the desired Puccini goosebumps for me.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Congressional influence

It's heartwarming to learn that while it is becoming harder and harder to find a rent-stabilized apartment in this town, Charlie Rangel has managed to occupy -- and finely appoint -- four of them. Nice, also, to know that I've been paying more than he does on a per-unit basis.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Interesting use of those horizontal ceramic rods

That part of me that hated the architecture of the new New York Times Building since I first saw it piercing the skyline kinda enjoys the fact that it’s become this target for climbers (three so far!). Yes, it’s illegal and dangerous and not really as majestic, say, as what Philippe Petit did at the World Trade Center. But it adds a quirky bit of history to a facade than reminds me of an especially hideous 1970s jail.

That time of life, I guess

This seems to be the year of people around me getting engaged. That's generally a good thing; I wish them the best. With that in mind, though, here's a good read of a column by Maureen Dowd, who spoke to a longtime marriage counselor about what to look for in a potential husband. (And no, the richest contract in baseball isn't one of them.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The camera is in the shop

In recent weeks, the pictures I've been snapping with my Canon PowerShot SD800 IS have been showing up unacceptably blurry through half the frame, even after I cleaned the lens, so I figured now was time to see if that $90 warranty I was suckered into purchasing last year from Best Buy would prove to be worth it. At the time they promised repair or replacement. My fingers are crossed while it's being sent away. Thus, no new original photos in this space until at least July 12.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

Remember that amazing emotion-inducing Pulitzer-Prize-winning WaPo article about Joshua Bell playing incognito in the Metro? Read this. The story, as in how this article came to be and what preceded it, just became even more astounding. (The same violin! It's almost like a less melodramatic version of The Red Violin, the soundtrack of which Bell performed on.)

UPDATE: Gene Weingarten also wrote a satirical column on the supposed decline of copy editors that doubles as an exercise in copy editing.

TheBurg shout-out

You haven't checked out in a while, have you? You're missing out! And you're not helping them create Season 2, either. Hit 'em up. Prove people do watch internet sitcoms. (Especially ones with lots of great PSU connections.) One of the guys was in a band called Holy Mary Mother of Bert back in the day! If that isn't a good reason, I don't know what is.

O Wall-E, Wall-E, or The Water is Wide

"Looks like it's going to start up again out there," said the Union Square Whole Foods cashier as she loaded my contributions to Sunday afternoon's patio barbecue with J. and co. into a double-bagged paper sack. (They've gotten rid of disposable plastic bags, of course, and I had wondered for a moment whether I was going to have to pay for a carryall like at Ikea these days.) It was still dry as I took the steps down to the L for Brooklyn, but the Floridian-like weather pattern was making its presence felt again by the time I got out at Graham Ave. and waited under one of the sleek new bus shelters that only do so much when the rain is really coming down. The bus didn't show up soon enough to prevent me from scrapping the wait and giving in to a soaking. The BQE overpass eventually provided some slightly derelict respite and a moment to contemplate the weekend's culture.

The Times reporters might've added another item to their list of lesser-known New York City waterfalls, had they seen the drain pipes gushing or the highway ledges leaking yesterday. Unseen cars rushing by above added to the aquatic display as they splashed through puddles, spraying water over the edge. Somehow, the sum effect was more bracing than what I'd experienced on my (abbreviated) bike tour of Olafur Eliasson's $15 million contribution to the East River waterfront. A good solid thunderstom can do that to me, and there was something about being both caught outside and yet somewhat protected from the elements that delivered the kind of mind-to-body reaction that I thought of the other day during the artist's talk. The Waterfalls will be around for a few months, so I'll have more time to live around them and perhaps come up with different experiences, but I guess at the very least they made me see the art in the drainage of the highway. (And I guess the BQE is becoming something of a muse these days, what with Sufjan Stevens' recent work by that title at BAM and all.)

The other thing I couldn't help thinking about was my soggy earth-friendly paper bags, which seemed to be biodegrading before my eyes. They weren't going to make it to the get-together, let alone be around 700 years from now for a little robot like Wall-E to clean up. The movie, however, is bound to become a classic and here's hoping sticks in our collective memory for years to come. The first half is one of the most artistic things ever created in the animated form. You really do forget you're watching a cartoon. The opening sequence with the combination of a slightly hokey but still endearing and upbeat show tune and a deeply realized post-apocalytpic urban landscape is up there with the beginning to Woody Allen's Manhattan in my thinking. Much has been made about the lack of traditional dialogue through the first half. I didn't find that made things drag at all. If anything, things happen more quickly than I expected. We're introduced to the shape and feel of a future Earth with little extra time to zone out. The satire of the second half is just playful enough without losing all of its bite -- or its self-awareness. And the end titles are a masterpiece in and of themselves: a name-that-style, whirlwind tour through the history of art, complete with 1980s-style video-game graphics of the film's characters to finish things off. I look forward to seeing it again.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lunch with Olafur

The New York City Waterfalls, after several weeks of much-blogged-about testing, were officially turned on today, complete with the obligatory presser. I'm going to withhold judgment until I see them in person, but I have to say it was cool to hear an almost hourlong talk by Olafur Eliasson, the artist behind the latest privately funded public-art spectacle. His talk kind of meandered from a recent lunch he had with Al Gore and how we like to think about making a difference in the world through to his past work (a brief flood in Johannesburg, dyeing rivers in European capitals, creating a second sun for the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall) and into his current piece. It was enjoyable to try to follow, even if I didn't grasp it all. His art, if I got what he was trying to convey correctly, aims to question the indifference that normative spaces can induce. He wants to stop us from becoming numb to our surroundings and become aware of how concepts move from mental space into physical space. So many spaces aim to be static and purely functional, without encouraging us to engage in any way except the ones that had been planned or intended.

As an example, he cited the difference between neoclassical architecture and some postmodern structures. The former appeal to a static historicism, while the later sometimes aim to highlight the subjective nature of our experience - they try to be more "fluid" while at the same time serving the purpose of buildings for time immemorial: shelter of one kind or another. His thinking really appeals to me: leading the viewer to see the world in a different way, to become more aware of how we see, how it may differ from others, and the duality of unity and diversity that disagreeing within a particular space can bring. In the case of the city's four transient waterfalls, it's about reminding ourselves that we live on an archipelago, surrounded by flowing water. He spoke of how New York City's skyline is so embedded into postcard-like or iconic images that we forget it's a moving, changing entity that's constantly being made and remade by our experiences and actions. He didn't actually mention 9/11, but that represented a particularly horrific moment of awareness in the changeability of our urban landscape. The fact that these waterfalls have been arrayed around lower Manhattan evokes for me a positive and renewing force just a stone's throw from the trade-center scar.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The cost of free, opera in Brooklyn edition

Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu sang with the Met Opera Orchestra and Chorus in Prospect Park on Friday night. We had our wine (if not the best, at least it was free). We had our picnic dinner. We had a small hill and jumbo screens to see the performers well. We didn't have latecomers stomping all over our space like at the Philharmonic last year. We did have smokers. We were surrounded in a ring of smoke, you might say. Supposedly, there was an announcement at the beginning to please not smoke, but I missed it and thus didn't have the courage to go up to one particularly egregious bunch and plead for their forbearance. The singing and music was still great, despite the low-circling police copter during the first half. Although, seven encores is overdoing it a little bit, worldwide opera stars or no. (We left after four or five for the hour-plus subway ride home.) They should've just been honest and added a few of the songs into the printed program instead of going on and on as if people were screaming for more. Still, I admit I got goosebumps during Alagna's version of "Nessun dorma." Somewhere, perhaps, Pavarotti was smiling.

Jefferson storm

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Star struck again

I saw Connie Britton today, the actress who plays the wife of the high school football coach (Kyle Chandler in a career defining role) on NBC's "Friday Night Lights." Readers of this space know how much I love this show. I was about 90 percent sure it was her, and then confirmed it for sure later on. We made eye contact as I passed, but I didn't have the guts to stop and gush about how great I think her work on the show is, and how glad I was to learn that it's coming back for another season, albeit in a novel (yet frustrating for me) arrangement where it'll be just on a satellite channel in the fall before playing on NBC in the winter. This is one of those shows that hangs on for dear life because it's not among the most popular, but it has a strong critical following. I don't know if it's strange enough to deem it a cult following, but it's something like that. I guess I could've stopped and told her all this, but it would've felt weird. That's what teenagers do, I thought. I see famous people pretty frequently, but it's usually the second-tier celebs (like Chip Kidd, who I'm pretty darn sure was finishing up a slice of pizza in his running clothes the other day near the Random House building) that cause me to stop and consider accosting for a moment of interaction, before usually scrapping the idea, all within a few seconds sometimes. One of the few times I can remember actually speaking to the person was - how's this for utterly random? - Amanda Bakker, the (now-estranged, I learn) wife of Jay Bakker, preacher son of Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, who was featured in a documentary on Showtime.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Snapshot reviews

-Saw recently and turned out to be a very sweet movie from a potentially naughty premise: Lars and the Real Girl
-Take Before Sunset, add more sarcasm, remove most of the wistfulness, throw in some Woody-Allen-esque moments and you get something like: Two Days in Paris
-Earworm through most of my Sunday: "Underneath" from Alanis Morrissette's new album, Flavors of Entanglement
-Strange moment from the Tonys broadcast: Stephen Sondheim's wry, I'm-not-dead-yet acceptance speech of the lifetime achievement award as read by a grizzly-bearded Mandy Patinkin.
-Currently reading and glad I broke down and bought the hardcover: Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories by Tobias Wolff, the author whom David Sedaris once said keeps him going.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pavlov's opera fan

I happened upon the final scene of a Met performance of La Boheme on public TV. For a moment, I hesitated. Should I watch? Should I flip? Would seeing the end without experiencing the full piece ruin it for me? I couldn't resist. That scene in the garret is so powerful. I watched. And lo and behold, my reaction was the same as it usually is: waterworks. That's great art.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

Memories of Chi-town

The amazing honey custard French toast with chamomile creme anglaise, candied lemon and apple blossoms at Lula Cafe in the Logan Square section of Chicago. Touring Hyde Park, including Obama's house and the faux gothic U. of C. campus. Catching up with old college friends over soul food. Happening upon a random party. Finally seeing Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte in person - and American Gothic, too. Potbelly sandwiches and Vienna Beef hot dogs. The skyline from Museum Campus. The view from the John Hancock Tower. Dripping scoops of ice cream on a warm summer evening in "downtown" Clarendon Hills.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Midwest sojourn

I leave for Chicago, Cleveland and various spots in Ohio tomorrow. Blogging will likely take a breather.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bard in the Park Virtual Line

Hamlet's a long play: three and a half hours with intermission. And this year's Shakespeare in the Park production is worth seeing. So why spend hours waiting in line to get tickets? We took advantage of the virtual line on the Public Theater's website. You log on anytime from midnight to 1 p.m. the day of the performance, and you're entered into a lottery for a pair of tickets. I got it on the second try. Granted, the house wasn't full tonight, so we probably could've gotten tickets just by walking up to the window closer to showtime, but still: I didn't know that ahead of time. And I'd imagine it's not going to be like that for the whole run. Especially if it gets half-decent reviews, which it might. It isn't change-your-life good, but it boasts some strong performances and a cool set.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rendering alert

A helpful commenter directed me to the above rendering of the new mixed-use development in the neighborhood that I've mentioned before: 4469 Broadway and West 192nd Street, with retail and doctor's offices on the first and second floors and condos the rest of the way up. Hugo S. Subotovsky is the architecture firm. Never heard of them, but it seems like they do decent work. And this starts to answer the question of how high the building's going to be. Eight stories on a slightly lower plot than surrounding buildings means it should just poke out a bit above six-story neighbors.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


In honor of the Brooklyn Bridge's 125th anniversary, there's a captivating light show going on each night until Monday (Memorial Day) from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Of course, this structure has a timeless beauty even without any artificial light, but the lighting scheme adds an exciting element to evening viewing. We had a front-row seat to the lights last night as we watched some old silent films of New York and then Disney's Enchanted in Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, wedged dramatically between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. The movie is cute, and filled with great New York moments, but I have to say the simple power of the bridge lighting was just as interesting.

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Philly skyline

The skyscraper that some say sparked the Curse of Billy Penn (One Liberty Place rose higher than the hat of William Penn on the top of City Hall and no pro sports teams from the city have won a championship since) has itself been dwarfed. The Comcast Center (aka the "Memory Stick"), designed by Robert A.M. Stern's firm, is almost 1,000 feet tall, and ends OLP's two-decade reign as the tallest in Philadelphia.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Inner Voices: Solo Musicals

I'm usually happy to head uptown on the A train in the afterglow of seeing one good musical in an evening. Inner Voices: Solo Musicals, at the Zipper Factory Theater on West 37th through May 30, offered three. It's a novel arrangement to have three one-act musicals, each sung by one person, but this show certainly pulls it off with finesse. Probably the highlight of the evening was hearing Victoria Clark, who won a Tony for her part in The Light in the Piazza, sing a new work by Michael John LaChuisa (Marie Christine, The Wild Party, See What I Wanna See), but the two pieces that follow were also very strong.

In Tres Ninas, which LaChuisa co-wrote with Ellen Fitzhugh, Clark's character is a divorced mother struggling through various forgotten parts of Southern California. On a tattered couch, in a faded nightgown, she recalls deeply touching scenes from her life's interactions and relationships with different people from across the Mexican border: an anonymous migrant family, her nanny-housekeeper and the woman's eventual husband, and a young, attractive day laborer. The work was probably less than 45 minutes, yet managed to so richly depict the interwoven feelings of charity, fear, curiosity, longing, and gratitude that it brought a tear to my eye.

Alice Unwrapped, by Laura Harrington and Jenny Giering, tells the story of an awkward high schooler who takes to wearing a protective outfit that includes an army helmet and Kevlar flak jacket as a way of coping after her reservist father goes missing in combat abroad. The portrait was mostly convincing, providing a refreshing take on the consequences of war and the age-old childhood debate over whether to fit in or stand out. Jennifer Damiano (Spring Awakening) handles the material well, although I thought it got a little repetitive. And the ending didn't feel totally right to me.

Tony nominee Barbara Walsh (Company) plays a jaded New York daughter who struggles to understand her mother's hospital-bed revelations in Michele Lowe and Scott Davenport Richards' A Thousand Words Come to Mind. How could a woman who always seemed to have so little to say when her daughter was around provide the inspiration for one of Philip Roth's greatest books? Or John Updike, for that matter? Or Irving? Or Cheever? The work plays with the idea that brief encounters with a mysterious, if laconic, woman may be all the inspiration necessary for great writers. It also reminds us how whole, undiscovered worlds can exist undetected for years in family members' lives, in books, in our imagination of other people's minds.

Timely once every economic cycle

You know, kind of like how a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Never starving for words, at least

Ostensibly, the premise that sets in motion God's Ear - currently playing at the Vineyard Theater near Union Square - is the death of a young son and the fraying if not unraveling of his parents' marriage that follows. But the play isn't really about those things as much as it is a vehicle for playwright Jenny Schwartz to explore how we use everyday language, especially in the form of idioms and cliches, to obfuscate emotions or avert attention from our true desires. There are songs in the piece, but the whole play itself is comparable to a work of music, a fugue or a cantata, perhaps. Still, there's enough of a story along the way to prevent all the wordplay from becoming too self-indulgent. The drama is aided by playful use of the set, which resembles a blue chessboard with removable squares that give way for the characters to enter and exit a scene. The husband of the couple spends most of the action away on business trips, speaking as if by phone with his wife, who nurses a mild depression at home with their curious daughter. On the road, the husband interacts with a transvestite air stewardess, another man in a bar who's escaping his wife and a world-weary barfly of a woman with whom he becomes involved. There are also appearances by the Tooth Fairy and G.I. Joe; the traditional worlds of fantasy and reality eventually become flip-flopped, as they become the ones reciting grown-up reflections of the couple's children and family life. Those speeches stand out in contrast after so many scenes when the husband and wife cling to tired expressions as their toys, their security blankets.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Amphibious confusion vehicle at CSC

In reinventing classic theater, how much do you offer the audience member who is seeing the play for the first time and how much do you give to the one who has seen it dozens of times and is mostly sitting in the audience to see what new spin they're taking on it this time? Old Comedy After Aristophanes' Frogs, currently at Classic Stage Company in the East Village, certainly felt like the balance was a bit too skewed to the latter theatergoer, the one we can assume would be more adept at figuring out raw source material from adaptation, and perhaps reveling in the melange. I had never seen the Frogs, and never actually studied it, either, though I know a few lines from Sondheim's adaptation ("Gods of the theater, smile on us"). I was hoping I didn't have to do any homework to appreciate the piece. Turns out that might've helped a lot, as I sit here reading various synopses. Barely 10 minutes into David Greenspan's version, I started to shut down after the appearance of tired, preachy anti-Bush jabber (Our country/city's going to hell and we're going to Hades! Ack!) amid a rather muddled opening and a stream of poorly delivered nonjokes and/or jokes about the lack of jokes in this supposed comedy. I later discover that this is actually part of the original: underlying notes of seriousness added to an otherwise comedic form. Bottom line: I found most of it tedious, but probably would have been on a more even keel if I'd known the story ahead of time. And the stream of consciousness present-day references, both obvious and more obscure, seemed so jammed into the script that I found it confusing. A lot of the audience seemed equally turned off by the enterprise, although I can imagine the play might appeal to someone who a) knows The Frogs and some of the other Greek classics fairly well, b) can't get enough of art bemoaning the state of our leadership today, and c) was ready to laugh at an outpouring of absurdity and frenetic allusions. (For whatever reason, while I'm not opposed to that in general, I was not as readily open to it last night.) If there are enough people that fit that description, then the play may do well.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Memorable parts of Forgetting Sarah Marshall

-Russell Brand as the louche yet charmingly cool British rocker Aldous Snow. ("I was gonna listen to that, but then, um, I just carried on living my life.")
-The puppet musical Dracula ("Kind of dark, gothic Neil Diamond") and various other musical-theater references and undertones. (See also Jason Segel and NPH doing Les Miz.)
-Jack McBrayer playing basically the same character as he does on "30 Rock," except as a bewildered newlywed.
-The movie opens with a song by Cake and closes with a cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U" in Hawaiian by Daniel Ho.

Mach schnell, get on da bus!

Check out the new Benz! My ride this evening across 86. OK, so this model is actually 11 years old. That's nothing in means-of-public-transit years. And hey, it took the Smart car about the same time to get here as well, so maybe it's a European thing. The MTA's testing the Mercedes Citaro bus on the streets of Manhattan and the Bronx through mid-May. I enjoyed the ride. It's sleek and quiet and the (many) doors open and close with finesse. My fellow passengers and I couldn't help talking about it. Most of the interior lettering is in German ("WAGEN HALT" where we'd normally find the stop request sign), except for the red STOP buttons on the poles, strangely. Here's hoping the bus passes with flying colors, and we see more of them pop up around town.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

File under: Oops

Item: New Broadway Musical Glory Days Closes After Opening Night. [Playbill] It's utterly preposterous that this show got this far, this quickly, thus probably very appropriate that it's biting the dust so soon. Of the producers, the Times' Brantley said in his review today, "they have done this little, hopeful show no favors by dragging it into a spotlight that invites close and unforgiving inspection.'' Also, that it's the "youngest-feeling show about being young ever to land on Broadway" and "the musical equivalent of a story for an introductory college fiction class." Though, I guess there is a bit of schadenfreude in seeing it go so soon. And no, I didn't see it.

Monday, May 05, 2008

White peacock struts like he owns the Close

First time I can remember actually stopping to look for the peacocks outside the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Eliasson's movie set

If you've ever wondered what it would be like to walk into a black and white movie - not just star in one, but to actually step into a monochromatic world - then you have to check out Olafur Eliasson's Room for one colour, on view at the MoMA as part of its exhibit of the artist's work, "Take Your Time." (The exhibition also stretches to its sister institution, P.S.1 in Queens, but I've only seen the Midtown half so far.) Eliasson is having something of a moment in the sun this year in New York, as he has also been commissioned to design this year's version of The Gates: New York City Waterfalls, debuting mid-July in the East River and running through mid-October. His work often focuses on how we perceive things, the social aspect of art viewing, and the recontextualization of nature (as in Moss wall and the upcoming Waterfalls). Several of his pieces at MoMA seemed to create in the gallery space the kind of effects we associate with special effects of photography and film. In Your strange certainty still kept, droplets of water appear frozen in mid-air by the flash of strobe lights, alluding to flip books and Muybridge's experiments with sequential photos. In 1m (cubed) light, a suspended cube glows in the mist, reminiscent of a science fiction flick. In 360 (degree) room for all colours, viewers stand against a cyclorama of changing hues that wash across the screen like the opening or closing of a movie. It often feels like you're walking around a movie set that has been stripped of plot and setting. Mood and spectacle remain. The variable factor is the human. Are we to be characters or observers? When you enter one of the rooms whose elements have been sculpted, if you will, by Eliasson, you become a little bit of both.
Olafur Eliasson set [Flickr]

UPDATE: Daryl's got a shot of one of the waterfalls (sans water, of course), and he says we'll only have to wait until late June.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Gattaca: Ahead of its time

I was fascinated to learn about the bill passed in Congress that seeks to prevent discrimination based upon our DNA. As the NYT article notes, there have been "virtually" no documented cases of genetic discrimination, but it's not that people haven't been worried about the possibilities. I immediately thought of one of my favorite movies, Gattaca, which I find now is more than a decade old. This movie, set in the not-so-distant future and starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law and Ernest Borgnine, envisions a slick and stylish future (it was nominated for an Oscar in art direction) where people are genetically engineered to their parents' desire. Those born the natural way (called "degenerates") come into the world at an immediate disadvantage. I'm not sure why I love this movie so much - the look (some scenes were filmed around Frank Lloyd Wright's breathtaking Marin County Civic Center), the memorably haunting music (by the composer Michael Nyman, who I noticed did some work for Man on Wire), the acting and costumes, perhaps - but something about the story, the idea of a man who refuses to let his raw material (read: genetic makeup) get in the way of his dreams appeals to me on some level. It's a bit cerebral, but I recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Save a penny or two

In the spirit of public service announcements, now would be a good time to stockpile some Forever stamps (the ones with the Liberty Bell on them), since you can still buy them at 41 cents up until May 12, when the USPS is raising their prices again. Granted, you will be loaning the postal service money now for services you may not actually use for months or years to come. But it still feels good to get something for cheaper than it'll be in a month, right?

Two interesting tidbits from the site: "The average increase by class of mail is at or below the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index. ... We will have 5 billion Forever Stamps in stock to meet increased demand before the price change."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quick hits

Another 12-hour day has taken it out of me, but the yen to blog is hard to resist. Thus a few quick hits.

-The restaurant Le Cirque: Thumbs up, if you don't have to be the one paying. The food is good, the space is light and airy, and the stuffiness is bearable. First time I've actually eaten there since attending the opening party a few years ago.
-The soon-to-be-released book Slackonomics: Thumbs up, even if you're not actually a Gen X'er. (I'm sort of on the cusp by some definitions). Trenchant and amusing portrait of an underappreciated generation.
-The old book Liar's Poker: In a roundabout way, the most convincing reason yet for why I didn't join a fraternity - or anything like one.
-The somewhat new movie Married Life: Didn't know a thing about it when I noticed it was playing at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, except that Patricia Clarkson was in it, and I have yet to see a film starring her that I didn't like. Turned out to be a lightly satisfying hybrid of '50s period piece, understated thriller and comedy of manners, all with a respectable cast of some big names (Chris Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Rachel McAdams). I'm glad I was ignorant of its middling score on Rotten Tomatoes, as it might've prevented me from liking it as much as I did. (I'm so easily swayed by that site sometimes.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stars fruit

I'm allergic to melons, but it still makes me happy to know that there are such things (above) as "moon and stars watermelons," called that because of the pattern on the rind, as noted in a NYT story on eating endangered American plants and animals to save them. Makes me think of the song "Stars and the Moon" by Jason Robert Brown.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Passionate people in action

Two strong, passionate personalities were at the center of two shows we saw this weekend: both "criminal" to a greater or lesser degree, but both captivating in unconventional ways.

The first was MultiStages' production of a new musical play, The Judas Tree at Teatro La Tea. Inspired by the true crimes of Dorothea Puente, it follows the story of Elena Fiero, a charismatic woman, a drifter once herself, who took some of society's outcasts into her boarding house and - to put it bluntly - helped them to die: sort of sexy Earth Mother meets Dr. Kevorkian, if you will. The book is imbued with the kind of Garcia Marquez-type magical realism that is wonderfully at home on the page, but can be a challenge to bring to the stage. That said, I have to say this production rises to that challenge admirably. The magic is mostly embodied by a team of five dancers that act like a Greek chorus of flowers in the main character's lush garden (she uses "natural" fertilizer that stinks to high heaven). The retired detective who is sent to investigate disappearances at the boarding house - and becomes deeply attracted to Elena - also sprinkles the action with fantasy, as he narrates part of the tale as the Judas tree of the title. Elena believes that she is bringing peace to troubled souls and reuniting them with the earth in the most wholesome way. The people of California, in a courtroom that frames the story, believe she committed premeditated murder dozens of times. Both views, one could argue, end up having their day. (Full disclosure: My girlfriend assisted on the show.)

High-wire artist Philippe Petit (with microphone) told us this afternoon - after the Tribeca Film Festival screening of Man on Wire, a documentary of his memoir - that he has been arrested hundreds of times, but it's usually for something fairly petty like trespassing, disorderly conduct or performing without a permit. The film follows his superior achievement, his "coup" of clandestinely rigging a wire between the top of the two tallest World Trade Center towers in August 1974 and dancing across them one morning. This is one of those moments in history that I've been fascinated by for years now. The latest film does a thrilling job of elaborating and expanding upon the feat that was such a touching part of Rick Burns' history of the trade center, "The Center of the World." That earlier film revealed Petit's walk in the clouds as the heartbreaking high point in the history of the buildings.

All references to 9/11 in Man on Wire, by James Marsh (in white shirt), are indirect and subtle: basically the appearance of airplanes at certain moments. Still, they are just enough. The film focuses on the joyful achievement. But that isn't to say it doesn't have dark undertones. Chiefly, the understanding that the clandestine preparations that Petit and his motley crew undertook to get him up there that morning 34 years ago has parallels with the terrorists who ultimately destroyed the towers and so many of their people. The secrecy, the planning, the obsession. I say this by no means to sully the work of Petit and his compatriots, which I would say ultimately added to the goodness in the world and this city, only to show how there is more in common between the towers' highs and lows than one might first imagine.

In both stories, I was struck by how Elena and Philippe were able to get other people to believe in their visions, however crazy they might seem.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A new alternative on Ninth Avenue

El Centro - the Hell's Kitchen Mexican place that sits in the cozy, but let's admit it, cramped space where Vynl used to be - almost always has a line out the door, whenever I stop by. Luckily, a formidable competitor has opened up down the street, and the salsa is so fresh and delicious I couldn't help remarking on it several times before we reached the bottom of the chips. It's called Lime Jungle, on Ninth Ave. between 53rd and 54th, and it's almost cheaper than it should be, for how good I found the food to be.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some cracks in the Glass

I hesitate to admit this, because I don't want my recent instances of leaving before things are over to become a habit, but I walked out of the Met's Satyagraha after Act I last night. Why? It was really a confluence of different reasons: I ended up going alone, on a Tuesday night, after two typically long days at work, having taken the cheap route of getting nose-bleed seats in the Family Circle section of the opera house, for an opera listed in the program as ending 15 minutes before midnight. Now, even under all those circumstances, I can imagine seeing La Boheme and staying until the end and loving it. But this isn't your typical repertoire piece. It's more about setting moods than telling a linear story. And there weren't any Met Titles - much to the chagrin of the guy sitting to my left - to guide you in any way. The text projected directly on the scenery was, about half the time, obscured for those of us sitting in the back.

Now, I've considered myself a fan of Philip Glass' music for more than a dozen years or so. I'm familiar with a lot of his work, and enjoy listening to it from time to time. But it's almost always in an audio recording or during a film (gotta love that cameo in The Truman Show). And there are times when I find the repetition and resistance to traditional dramatic arcs too much to take, too boring. Last night was one of those times. As much as I respect the Eastern tenets that inspired his approaches, sometimes - I agree with the New York mag review - I need some more Western-style progression, more purposeful direction, something to hold onto and move forward with. I believe this might be a case where I have to be in the right, receptive mood or circumstances to be able to experience the whole piece. And this was all the more disappointing because I wanted to learn more about Gandhi's life, and the structure of the work doesn't really share it with you if you're not already familiar with the particulars.

With all that said, I do still like Glass' music, but - perhaps I'm realizing - on my own terms and in my own timeframe. With that in mind, check out this cool online applet called the IBM Glass Engine that allows you to browse through his oeuvre by different criteria.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Say HI to the former Lollipop Building

I can't say I'm MAD about the latest incarnation of 2 Columbus Circle for the Museum of Arts & Design - I miss the lollipops at street level and can't help but recall the late Herbert Muschamp's charmingly over-the-top manifesto on the building - but that may change over time. In the meantime, the structure's upper floors seem to shout out "hi" to passersby.

Another round of Kate

55 Bar, the cozy old-Village venue that first introduced me to the music of jazz vocalist Kate McGarry, offered us a chance to meet and chat with the musician herself the other night after she finished up her second (third?) set during the early show Saturday night. I've really grown to be a fan of hers, hearing her songs played on WNYC on weekend afternoons, seeing her at Dizzy's Club in Jazz at Lincoln Center on Columbus Circle, listening to her latest album, The Target. She was very friendly, and told us that she's only just been able to make a living as a musician after years of working a day job and pursuing singing as her avocation. One thing I have to say about the intimate space of 55 Bar: Patrons really seem to listen. You stick out in the small bar if you're nattering too much while the musicians are playing.

One violin concerto away from Midtown

A young violinist was playing outside the Barnes & Noble at 82nd Street the other day, and I had to stop because of this and because he was playing very well and I didn't have anywhere I needed to be. I lingered, recognizing one of the tunes, but not able to place it until I threw some money into his case - just as a little kid was asking his mom, "How does it sound so good?" - and the musician told me it was Philadelphia-area native Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto. I later downloaded Hilary Hahn's performance of the work from iTunes, then listened to it on the way to work this morning. Pressed play just as I got on the train and the final seconds of the third movement ticked away as the doors to 59th Street were opening. One third of a concert, beautifully wedged into my morning.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Galaxy grid

State Theater renovations, Harold Prince

I caught the tail-end of New York City Opera's season today, seeing Bernstein's Candide for the first time. Enjoyed it very much. The overture, of course, I've heard many times and loved hearing again. And I later realized that I was familiar - did Jason Danieley sing it? - with the touching-for-its-realism finale, "Make Our Garden Grow." The production values were sensational, and on top of that, we got to applaud the man who had so much to do with keeping alive this work - and creating so many others: Hal Prince. He spoke on stage after curtain, and it was from him that I learned the State Theater is going to be closed later this year for renovations, which are going to abbreviate next year's City Opera season. It makes me disappointed that I didn't take advantage of other productions this year. Still, across the plaza at the Met, I'll be seeing Satyagraha on Tuesday night, my first live Philip Glass opera after many years of enjoying the quirkiness of Einstein on the Beach.

WaHI development roundup

The Manhattan Times, that free newspaper you can get in boxes around Washington Heights and Inwood, featured some neighborhood development projects in a recent edition, including some that I've mentioned in this space and on Curbed. Here's some that caught my eye. (They included ones that appear to be stalled as well.)

-Overlook Terrace and West 184th Street: Formerly a rocky hard-to-develop hillside. Construction started on One Bennett Park (f/k/a Fort Tryon Tower): 25 stories, 114 units, fall 2009 move in. Next to the northeast entrance of the 181st Street A station.
-St. Nicholas Ave. and Audubon Ave. and West 165th Street: New home for Alianza Dominicana community services. Opening 2009.
-203 Cabrini Boulevard: Stop-work order in March for lack of a permit on a site planned to hold a three-family home.
-210 Bennett Avenue near West 190th Street: Permits have expired at site where property owner had planned 40 units of housing in December.
-Dyckman Street Substation near Henry Hudson Parkway: Plans by the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Economic Development for a cultural arts center in an Art Deco building that's been abandoned for more than 20 years.
-Broadway and West 192nd Street: Luxury condo with 63 units, first-floor retail and second-floor community space. Late '09.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Catching just a glimpse in person

Apparently I haven't quite mastered the art of snapping photos of fast-moving things. Such as Pope Benedict XVI's black limousine as it turned down East 66th Street yesterday afternoon, after pulling away from Park East Synagogue following a brief papal visit. I did see the Pope, even if my camera missed him by a few feet. It was warm and beautiful. I got out of work at a decent hour. And walked up until I started seeing some scattered throngs of people. A few dozen police revved their motorcycles, then led the way, and I ended up seeing him for about a second, waving through the window in his traditional white garb, smiling, and I have to say I felt something, a little pang. Someone special had just passed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Living up to that "difficult" reputation?

M. and I saw Kathleen Battle perform a recital at Carnegie Hall on Sunday afternoon. I was excited to see such a famous singer, but I was a little wary since I got the tickets for free. Was there some kind of back story here that I didn't know about? I thought I'd read something in passing about her getting fired from the Met Opera back in the day. But I honestly didn't do much research before seeing the concert.

To begin with, she was rather late arriving on stage - no brisk, on-time appearance from the wings followed by a swift downbeat the way you can often expect from, say, the New York Philharmonic. Strangely, the theorbist, who was to accompany her during songs by Henry Purcell of the English baroque on an instrument that looks like a long-necked lute, came out first and started strumming lightly for a little bit, as if he were some sort of impromptu opening act. Then about a minute or two later, Ms. Battle walked out to thunderous applause, even an ovation from some in the audience. M. turned to me and said, "She hasn't even sung a note yet." Sure, she's a diva, but shouldn't people do a little work to earn it. She was wearing a black dress with a cape-like pinkish train that began at her chest and trailed off behind her like a wedding dress. Except that she didn't have any attendants to lift up the train, so she kept having to kick it out of the way at intervals. Distracting to say the least. And it didn't end there.

Now, I don't go to a lot of vocal recitals, and apparently neither did a lot of the audience members, because they clapped after the first of three Purcell songs. M. told me later that you're supposed to withhold your clapping until the end of a set, even if it isn't an official prescribed song cycle. That set the tone for the rest of the performance, which seemed to make Ms. Battle even more uncomfortable than she already looked at times. She was hesitant to fully embrace the audience's ardor between songs of a set.

She sang a lot of art songs, which can be beautiful and moving, but weren't so much so during the first half. I enjoyed the Mendelssohn and Faure pieces after the intermission. Throughout, she had this habit of pausing for longer than necessary between songs, of turning her back on the audience literally and figuratively, of staring up at the ceiling as if searching for divine help. She reminded me of a batter stepping outside of the batter's box, gesturing to her accompanist, another musician who played the piano for most of the program, as if to the umpire and pitcher to give her another few seconds to compose her self. She adjusted her dress and kept kicking the train out of her way like one might tap his baseball bat against home plate and grab at the shoulders of a sweaty uniform.

Did she sing well? I guess so. She really didn't move me until her a capella version of the great Holy Week spiritual "Were You There?" The problem was, her body language was so distracting, I couldn't focus on her singing. Back at home, I read about how she had a reputation for being "difficult," and supposedly "unprofessional behavior" was the reason she got the pink slip from the little opera house down at Lincoln Center. It would seem she has the tendency to be her own worst enemy in terms of overall poor presentation detracting from her musicianship.

UPDATE: Just now reading the Times review of the recital. ... "More or less a re-entry recital." ... "Relative quiet was the rule on Sunday." ... "a few odd stage mannerisms." ... "Much of her music’s effect lay in the accompaniments." So, somewhat similar observations, I'd say. Although did the review get it wrong, saying that it was "Good News" that was unaccompanied? She went off program and slipped "Were You There?" in before the final two spirituals in the printed book, and I thought that was the one they went crazy over. Does someone need to brush up on their spirituals or am I not remembering correctly?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Make Benefit Glorious Cosmodrome of Baikonur

I can't remember whether anybody made any hay about this when Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat movie first came out, but isn't it a little funny that the oldest and still most active space launch facility is in Baikonur, Kazakhstan? I mean, the space age itself was founded in a place lately ridiculed for supposedly being backwards in all sorts of ways.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Saturday afternoon, Central Park

Modern, hygienic

Gelato/getting there the old fashioned way

The lines to get into certain New York novelties or institutions is enough to make you wonder sometimes whether they're giving something away for free. In the case of the second NYC (and first downtown) location of Grom, the Italian gelato purveyor, the answer was actually yes on Saturday. Having seen the kind of frenzy people get into over places like Pinkberry of late, it took me a while - enjoying the waning nice weather in newly renovated Father Demo Square - to realize that there were actually free cups on offer. I decided to actually wait in the crazy line since I had some time to kill before heading over to Fat Cat - which is a lot bigger than you'd imagine downstairs - for birthday drinks. The lemon and strawberry sorbet was pretty good, but I don't know how often I'd run back to pay $4.75 for a small.

A few spoonfuls in, a girl in going-out mode approached me at the corner of Bleecker and Carmine to ask where Greenwich Avenue was. I told her it was about six blocks north of where we were, which turned out to be a pretty decent snap estimate. She looked at me as if I'd just told her she was in the wrong borough entirely, and proceeded to yell to her friends that they needed to get a cab. Now, I've never walked around in heels, but really. At the speed that the Saturday night traffic was going, they probably could've walked there faster.

Revisionist history on the UWS

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Leaf Cafe in Fort Tryon Park

I had a wonderful partly sunny and very warm meal outside on the patio at the New Leaf Cafe, one of my favorite brunch places, this morning with M. and her parents, and it turns out the $18.95 prix fixe entrees included coffee, juice and a celebrity sighting. Academy Award-winning actress Julia Roberts and family - apparently - were sitting two tables away, wearing their we're-famous sunglasses. Granted, it was bright out there, and M. and I were wearing our we're-not-famous sunglasses, too, so it wasn't totally out of the ordinary. The nanny - or assistant or whoever that second woman with her was - wasn't wearing any shades. I chose the sunny seat at the table, and ended up having my back to "Julia" the whole time, who was facing the hedge, so I didn't get a good look. But my own table mates insisted it was her. The guy she was with looked more to me like Benjamin Bratt or Clive Owen with his sunglasses on, but then again, I haven't been reading nearly enough celebrity rags since I don't go to physical therapy three times a week anymore, so it might have just as well been her "cameraman husband Danny Moder." So don't start any nasty rumors on account of me.

There were three or four kids at the table as well, all a lot more well behaved than the ones on the subway at midnight last night, during what I've taken to calling "third rush hour." The first two rush hours on the subways are obvious; the last one starts around 10 and extends until about 1 on weeknights, later on weekends. People coming home from or heading out to evening activities.

The park itself is starting to show signs of life here and there. And while it felt a little damp, the rain held off. The wait staff at New Leaf were wearing baseball caps emblazoned with MillionTreesNYC, the city's initiative to plant and care for a million trees in the next decade.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Renowned violinist plays subway, most don't notice

WaPo reporter Gene Weingarten didn't have to brave any war zone or uncover any government secret to write this Pulitzer Prize winning article. What it did take was convincing a world-class violinist to don street clothes and play in a D.C. Metro station for 45 minutes one winter morning last year, and chronicling people's reactions. What follows is a story that embraces themes of beauty, context, time, American priorities, music, taste, dreams, philosophy and more. Frankly, it made me cry at one point, and that was even before listening to the recording of Joshua Bell's performance. This one's worth sitting down with the way you would with a good piece of short fiction. (Hat tip to Daryl.)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Some things I used to be (and sometimes still am) afraid of

-Jack o'lanterns
-Accidentally getting caught up in the mafia
-Not finishing papers on time
-Talking to girls
-Being taunted about my wristwatch
-Having to speak in another language
-Watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
-Getting tooth filings
-Diving into a pool
-Foreign cheeses