Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dites-moi pourquoi la vie est belle?

Last night I went to see South Pacific at the Lincoln Center Theatre with wonderful Sam Zalutsky and Ed Boland. I have to say this may be the best musical performance I've ever seen—and I'm not even really a musical fan! The story is pretty dopey, but the cast and orchestra are so good and the production quality is so high—when was the last time at a musical that you could hear every word every actor spoke and hear every word every actor sang without one single zip of static marring any of it???—and was utterly carried along. Every performer was stellar but my favorites were Danny Burstein as Luther Billis, Paulo Szot as Emile de Becque, and Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary. "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame" was the best number in the whole well it should be (if a dame is allowed to say so herself). Kelli O'Hara was sweet and corny as Nellie, and I have my sneaking suspicion she's expecting. I've heard she's leaving the show soon but will return in September, and the bathing suit scene for "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" makes you eye her belly and go, "Hmm." I have to admit I have caught myself humming many, many of the songs to myself long after—especially "Dites-moi porquoi la ville est belle?" The only song that didn't live up to my expectations from my murky memories of the movie was "Happy Talk." I think my own re-enactment of that song, along with Tanya Robie (especially late at night in the lobby of The Brown in Louisville) is much, much more entertaining.

Oh, as a theatre goer I do commend the Lincoln Center for the groovy FREE coat lockers. This is such a civilized and wonderful option that sure beats a coat check! Thank you, thank you!

Sam and I had great fun entertaining ourselves with the beautiful mosaics at the Lincoln Center subway stop waiting for the 1. Sam could have a whole other career as a mosaic model, I do believe!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Strangers on a Train and Celebrities at Lunch

Yesterday I took the train to the Upper West Side to visit my friend Anna. I used to know Anna in Dayton when she danced with the Dayton Ballet. Now she is married to a wonderful guy and dances for the Met Opera.

It’s a longish train trip, so I looked forward to the uninterrupted reading time. I got a seat right away and settled in. Two, three stops went by—all was peaceful. Then, a crazy man got on. Anyone who’s ever been to NY knows what I mean. Crazy for real. Unstable, LOUD, and frenetic. It struck me: I’m so over them. When I first arrived, I sort of delighted in the stories they provided. Found them this cool part of “NY life.” Whatever. Now I was just irritated at having my reading disrupted. He was so loud, alternately preaching, then ranting about the feminist movement, delivering racial slurs, then returning to shouting about the son of God. He was so annoying, I thought about getting off the train and waiting for the next, but I didn’t.

When I transferred to the 1, a lovely mariachi band was playing in my car. Although it didn’t allow for reading, either (but I only had one stop on the1), it was much more pleasant.

Getting out in Anna’s neighborhood, I found myself climbing the subway stairs behind a woman in a padded burgundy parka with boots I liked. Her boots actually reminded me of the boots Anna bought when Anna and I shopped together here last fall. I also liked this woman’s hat and I thought I needed to buy a better hat. My warmest hat is my running hat, just a utilitarian wool hat that doesn’t really match anything else. I’ve been wearing it anyway because it’s s-s-so c-c-cold here in the wind lately. So I followed this woman a block, admiring her boots and her hat and noting how fast she walked. She dashed across the street at the tail end of a light and I lost her.

At Anna’s apartment, it took her longer than usual to answer the buzzer. I worried that she might be out walking Nellie, but finally, just as I was thinking maybe I’d wander around the block and try again, she buzzed me in.

She was standing at her door, still in her parka and scarf. I had a sensation of deja vu, but laughed as she said, “I just got back. I was worried you’d beat me,” and thought I was right—she’d been out walking Nellie.

I told her about the crazy guy on my train. She said, “My ride was more pleasant. I had a mariachi band on mine.”

I blinked. “Wait. Why were you on a train?”

“I took class this morning at Lincoln Center.”

“So you were on the 1?”

She nodded. “I actually thought we might be on the same train. I was so afraid you’d get here before me.”

I took in her burgundy parka. Her boots. Her scarf, which matched the cute hat that a quick scan revealed poking out of her bag. I burst out laughing. “I followed you off the subway! I thought your boots were cool.”

“You better think they’re cool. You’re the one who convinced me to buy them!”

Too funny that I hadn’t put it all together, but it proved to me how we see what we expect to see and often not much more. I hadn’t expected to see Anna on the train, so I didn’t see something obvious literally right in front of me.

We had a great day and went to lunch at a wonderful restaurant called Good Enough to Eat. The food was great, the latte delicious, and the coconut cake sublime. You can buy all kinds of clothing articles for all ages that say “Good enough to eat”…including underwear, which we both thought was a little much. Guess who was at the very next table? (And VERY close in typical NY fashion). Kyra Sedgwich and Kevin Bacon. My very first celebrity spotting since moving here (except for Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, who live across the street from me!). Kyra Sedgwick looked absolutely beautiful. I’ve always really liked them—they’ve been married 20 years, which is not just a Hollywood rarity, but, sadly, a rarity in any case these days. At a recent awards show, I saw them questioned about their secret, and Kevin Bacon said, “Keep the fights clean and the sex dirty.” Hmm. Well. I can tell you they seemed happy and talked like two people who genuinely love each others’ company.

At one point, Anna went to the unisex bathroom and Kevin Bacon tried to open the door on her! He was standing in the narrow hallway waiting as she exited. We laughed about that later—if you get walked in on in the bathroom by Kevin Bacon, that’s 0 degrees of separation for sure!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine to NYC

Okay, it’s time to fess up about a few Valentine’s truths. This holiday can be tough for a single person. All the commercials, all the messages from the media...the idea is shoved down your throat ad nauseum that you aren’t anybody unless you’re “matched.”

Well, sorry, but I’ve learned that’s utter bullshit.

Truly. This is not just bitter I-don’t-have-a-date Valentine ranting. This is a hopeful love message. This is my Valentine to all the strong, interesting single people out there. And it’s a Valentine to NYC. But I’ll get to that later...

First, let me say that while being single can at times be tough, it sure beats being in a bad or even mediocre relationship that asks you to give up any part of yourself. If there’s anything I’ve learned on this Year as a Gypsy, it’s that few of us devote the kind of energy, attention, and romance to ourselves as we do to others. Why do so many (women especially) change themselves or deny themselves just to be in the company of an other? We’ll go out of our way, clear our schedules, hugely inconvenience ourselves to woo a love interest...but do we ever just romance ourselves? How often do we pay attention to the things that truly make US happy (as opposed to the things that make the ones we love happy)?

Traveling alone can at times be…well, lonely. (It can also be exhilarating, stimulating, and inspiring). There’s lots of time for reflection and self-discovery. I have re-discovered the joys of romance even while on my own. Why wait for someone else to buy me flowers? Why wait to have a date to hit a restaurant I’ve been eyeing? Why not always use the best sheets, the good china, the sexy lingerie? Trust me—life is lots richer when you behave as if you’re ALWAYS in the midst of a love affair.

I came to NYC for this three month period, looking at it as “an audition” for living here. I’d convinced myself that this was where I should live. I landed at LaGuardia with that heavy commitment in mind. Shortly after I arrived, I got smacked down—hard—by the blues. I felt profoundly lonely, very far away from the ones I love, impatient with the exasperating supporting cast of men in my life, and—much to my dismay—unhappy. Unhappiness was very unfamiliar to me. Call it shallow if you wish, but I wake up most days just happy to be alive, able to delight in this silly dog I temporarily live with (who wags her tail in her sleep), the birdsong outside, someone walking by whistling “My Girl.” Life is full of reasons to be happy. So why was I in a funk?

Because I had cold feet about my wedding.

My wedding to NY that is.

I got here and knew within a few weeks in my heart of hearts I’d probably never be happy living here. Don’t get me wrong—I love NY. I think it’s the best city in the world. But when I picture living here permanently, it doesn't sit right in my soul.

Eight months now into my experiment, there are things I miss deeply about my own home in Ohio. I’m not saying Ohio is better than NY or vice versa. They are two very different places, impossible to compare, and I revel in their differences...but, oh, how I miss a great, big garden, the daily presence of horses, having my own cat that I can let safely out into my own backyard. I miss genuine quiet.

I know how flexible and adaptable I am. I could get used to living anywhere. I could be happy anywhere for the right reasons. If there were “a driver” ( a friend’s term) for a move here—such as a site-specific job or a partner who had one—I’d feel differently. But since I can do my job anywhere, and I currently don’t have a partner why was I forcing myself into a relationship with NY? It feels false to uproot myself from my fantastic tribe of family and friends for no real reason other than it would be "cool" to live in NY. I can indulge in a fling with NY, but the idea of marrying it made me feel claustrophobic.

This is where I get back to my original point: I learned to listen to what truly made ME happy, instead of doing what I thought might impress other people. Sure, it might be hip to be the kind of person who lived in NY, especially the kind of writer who lived in NY...but that’s not the authentic me. The authentic me likes to go barefoot all summer, likes the fresh-baked cornbread scent of crop fields on a hot summer night, likes seeing deer wander through my neighborhood.

Suddenly, the blues were gone. The wedding was off, no hard feelings. Just having relinquished that commitment, a huge load was lifted from my shoulders. I could love NY again with no strings attached.

Knowing this is temporary—a winter romance, if you will—everything changed. As if to prove a point, the temperature even warmed up and the sun came out! Instead of having the blues, I feel open to possibilities.

So, I may not marry New York…but I plan to indulge in a helluva passionate affair with it before I go! I have a feeling that I’ll rendezvous with it every so often for the rest of my life. That’s just the kind of lover New York is.

"At the center of your being
you have the answer;
you know who you are
and you know what you want."


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

BODIES and The Brooklyn Bridge

You know how on the first really warm, sunny day after a cold spell, it’s impossible to stay indoors? I decided to celebrate my current flexibility by heading out for an adventure (never in short supply in this city). I took a train to the South Street Seaport, wandered around for a bit, and then on a whim went to the BODIES Exhibit.

I love this exhibit. I truly do. I’m the sort of geek who can spend hours poring over anatomy books and who thinks it would be fun to take a college level course that works with actual cadavers. Just so you know...

I’m astonished at the complexity of our design. This is true artistry! I marvel at the joints, and the gorgeous grain of muscle. I was fortunate enough to have much of the display to myself, which was lovely. Two school groups eventually caught up with me, but they were very respectful and so interested that they didn’t become the pains in the butt I worried they might.

I was especially taken with the blood vessel displays where entire blood vessel and artery systems stood alone. In our hands, feet, and lungs, they look like delicate sea vegetation.

The nervous systems made me think of spider webs.

You learn something every day, right? Well, I had no idea that cancer looked like it did (I’d always pictured something else entirely) and I had no idea the bladder was so small or that ovaries were so big. So. Quite an educational, beautiful day.

Back outside, I wondered up Broadway, admiring St. Paul’s Chapel and the Woolworth Building, then cutting into City Hall Park. I decided to walk home via the Brooklyn Bridge. It was 56 degrees, the sky was bright periwinkle blue, and everyone looked happy. I shed my coat and reveled in the warmth and the sun on my skin. As you know from past posts, I love this bridge. I took my time, winding my way through Brooklyn Heights on the other side, making sure to stop to take in the view from the Promenade, then on back to Park Slope.

I’m especially pleased to report I did all this without a map. Not bad for a buckeye in Brooklyn.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Opera...and an odyssey

I was so excited to get to see my talented, amazing friend Anna Kirker (formerly of the Dayton Ballet) dance at the Metropolitan Opera House again. I kept talking about it to people, looking forward to attending the performance of Adriana Lecouvreur with Anna's husband Rob...and kept remembering, "Oh, yeah, and there's this guy in it, Placido Domingo, who's supposed to be pretty good."

Of COURSE I'd heard of him, of course I'd seen him on TV, but I am not an opera person. My experience last fall watching La Gioconda didn't move me much (except for Anna...the ballet was the best part of that opera! Even the Times review said so!). But I decided to be open and try another one before I declared that opera was simply not my cup of tea.

Now, as a storyteller I have to say...come on. These stories are seriously silly. They're bad daytime drama scripts where life-and-death decisions are made on the most cavalier and coincidental of whims, mistaken identities, insults, you name it. It's crazy stuff. But Adriana was silly enough to be entertaining. Stuff happened (albeit silly, implausible stuff), and kept happening, and there were nasty catfights between two strong women. This one was lots more fun!

Beforehand, I'd accompanied Rob as he bought opening night flowers for Anna. We almost couldn't get into the florist shop because Law & Order was shooting a scene right outside (a fun little distraction). Inside, Rob asked me, "You've read the synopsis of Adriana, right? Any particular flowers have significance?"

I thought a moment and was all excited to remember, "Violets! Adriana gives Maurizio violets!" Fortunately, the store had no violets, because I remembered later that the violets are used (by the vengeful princess who is Adriana's rival for Maurizio) to poison and kill Adriana in the final act!

Anna was lovely, as usual. I swear, you can see her smile at the back of the house. She has thousand-watt stage presence. I felt so proud watching her dance onstage at the Met!

And Placido Domingo? He's getting up there, of course. He first debuted in this SAME ROLE (Maurizio) in 1968. There was some awkwardness as there's a character (my favorite), Michonnet, who worships Adriana but cannot court her because he is "too old" and that role was sung beautifully by Roberto Frontali who looked to be twenty years younger than Domingo... but...but still...

Even to someone like me who admits to knowing next to nothing about music, his voice was...heavenly. Truly. So crystal and clear and haunting. There was just something about it that raised the hair on my arms, gave me goosebumps, and made me want to weep. I'm serious! I didn't want to breathe when he was singing.

I don't know how to write about music. I can't even to begin to describe how beautiful, how reverent it felt to be in that presence, to hear that voice live.

What a stage presence, too. Anna said he was very nice, that he's a bit of a flirt, and that he told the dancers they were "delicious girls."

Hearing him was well, well worth the hour and twenty minute subway ride it took to get back to Brooklyn. Ai yi yi! After midnight, that whole train situation changes. Lotsa rats on the tacks. Looong waits to transfer. This crowded platform at Times Square practically cheered as a 3 train FINALLY pulled in only to hear the announcement, "Last stop for this train! No passengers! Last stop." Then the empty train just sat there, so no new trains could come in. Some guy was dead asleep on that train and the conductor couldn't rouse him. More waiting... At long last a 2 train pulled in, but my beloved express is a local train after midnight. Sigh. I felt like we were stopping at Every. Single. Block. The entire length of Manhattan! But at long, long last I got back to the loft, took Stella out, and crawled into bed...dreaming of being carried on waves of that gorgeous voice...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

August:Osage County

Today, I took myself to see a matinee. My goal is to see at least one performance a week while I'm here (dance, opera, theatre, whatever). There is so much to see! I've long wanted to see August: Osage County by Tracy Letts and I'm so glad I finally did. Fabulous script, ingenious set, and a strong ensemble cast! The play made me tear up twice and had me laughing out loud several times.

I purchased my half-price ticket at the groovy Downtown Brooklyn TKTS booth. I knew it was an orchestra seat, but I had no idea until I arrived that it was FRONT ROW. Ugh. I sat in it, looking up at the steep, deep, three-story tall set and knew I was going to miss a lot of blocking sitting there. I was considering moving anyway, when two annoying theatre patrons sat beside me—a couple with about ten shopping bags! The woman had a high-pitched cartoon voice and seemed utterly clueless. She pulled out an insert for Speed-the-Plow from her program and said, "Oh, William H. Macy is in this?" Her husband was like, "No, sweetie, that's a different play." She asked her husband if she should check her coat. He said, "If you want." When she then proceeded to do a five minute monologue listing the pros and cons of checking her coat, I knew I had to act! I found an usher and asked if I could move back. He was very gracious and said I could sit in the balcony. I did. The balcony was perfect. This set, designed by Todd Rosenthal, is wonderful and it deserved a wider view—I didn't want to be right on top of it. I would've missed a lot being in that front row (not to mention, I would've been incredibly annoyed by that couple).

The show is long, but never felt it. I actually felt sorrow with each intermission, and couldn't wait for the next act to begin to find out what these crazies would do next. I do have to admit that the ending left me wanting more. For all the wild disclosures and secrets revealed, I never felt a real catharsis for any of the characters or myself...but this was only after giving it some thought on the subway ride home. During the actual play, I felt very transported.

I think the play's only real weakness is the title. Is it just me? The title does nothing for me, and if I hadn't heard so many people rave about the show, nothing about the title would have even caused me to investigate further.

I had to walk through Times Square to get to my train. By the time the play was over, it was dark enough that Times Square was all lit up and glowing. I know it's touristy and crass, but it always gives me a thrill!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"25 Random Things About Me" one

All right, all right! I'm finally caving in and doing it! I keep getting "tagged" on FaceBook with these "25 Things" lists. I resisted for a long time because...well, don't we all have better things to do? But I have to admit, I really enjoyed reading friends' lists and discovering new things about them. So, I did it. Here it is...

1. I love fresh-ground, French-press dark coffee with cream.

2. I have a thing for vampires, and wish they were real. I used to want to be a vampire (and left my window open at night in hopes of inviting one in) because the idea of living forever was so appealing.

3. I worked my ass off for over a decade to realize my dream of being a full time writer—I now celebrate living my dream life in some way every single day.

4. I have a secret special place in my heart for zombie movies.

5. I require huge chunks of solitude.

6. I am completely missing the shopping gene...except for kitchen gadgets and books.

7. I wept with joy and relief on Election Night 2008.

8. Imagining a life without books feels like having a limb amputated.

9. I love to cook. Especially when I’m working on a novel, cooking that involves lots of chopping and stirring is especially helpful. The ideas flow when I’m busy with my hands. Baking and making soups are the most idea-generating activities I’ve found for figuring out a problem in a scene.

10. When I daydream, I’m most often designing a garden or planning new travels.

11. I adore all animals, but most prefer to live with cats. I’m fairly certain I was a cat in another life.

12. Horses are like vitamins for me. If I’m without them too long, I can feel the deficiency.

13. My family and tribe of friends are my most valued treasure.

14. I was not prepared for how much and how fiercely I would love my niece and nephew. When I met them, I could actually feel something breaking open in my heart to make room for this love. Their smiles light my life. (Yep, that's them in the photo).

15. I derive deep pleasure from dark chocolate, fresh flowers, and handwritten letters.

16. I have always wanted to learn to tango and am finally taking lessons.

17. The best advice about solo travel I ever received: when you feel afraid, make yourself laugh out loud. It works.

18. In Ghana, I once spent a night not knowing (at first) there was a goat under my bed.

19. I hate to be cold, and am very comfortable in heat and humidity that makes others complain.

20. I have frequent dreams where animals (especially my former cat Montgomery) speak to me in English.

21. I am Capricorn to my very core—stubborn, determined, tenacious. I HATE to be told what to do.

22. I’m most attracted to people who are passionate about what they do.

23. If I go too many days without writing, I get grumpy and mean.

24. I can remember conversations verbatim.

25. I sometimes let the B-train go by and wait for the next so I can keep listening to the drummers at the Broadway-Lafayette station.

26. I believe in true love, taking risks, asking for clarity, American generosity of spirit, good manners, learning all you can, practicing compassion, and savoring joy.