For cut flowers bought in a shop, these carnations are very old. Survivors, you might say. I carried them home two weeks ago today, part of an ill-advised purchase of red wanna-be petunias that were really something else (what I still don’t know), plus these rimmed carnations, plus a large bunch of spiky greens, all of which I disliked intensely once I had managed to stuff every last stem into an oversized container fit for major floral condolence. I had wanted yellow flowers, or orange ones, and not too many. I had wanted to put them in my own much smaller rectangular glass vase, wanted them to look at home. Instead what I let myself be talked into was stiff, institutional, fancy. (See “Meditation on Flowers,” two posts back.).
But after ten days, the petunia wanna-be’s began to shed their red petals all over the glass table top. The spiky green things wilted and yellowed. The carnations hung on. Time isn’t always the enemy. Now that I have only the carnations, they seem more orange. And now they do look the way I wanted them to, a little sloppy, a little droopy, just right next to Bill’s orange bowl.
They’re not going to last, I know that. If you look closely, you can see one carnation has given up, its stem bent sharply towards the ground. Several of the others are beginning to wrinkle. But even if it’s just for now, that’s fine. Isn’t now all any of us have, even the young who feel they’ll live forever?
For now, there’s also a bonus. It’s on my other table, in a little vase I’ve had since I was twenty-seven. That’s fifty-nine years ago. Old can surprise you. Hang on.
Yes, it was another trip to New York by bus last Saturday — to see UnBallo in Maschera (by Verdi), the last of the three opera matinees at the Met to which I proactively subscribed last spring. The caption of this post is not in any way sarcastic. The weather was spectacular.
That’s Dimitri Hvorostovsky, as Count Anckarstrom, threatening to kill his wife Amelia for a presumed adultery with King Gustav III of Sweden (not seen in the poster). Sondra Radvanovsky, as his blameless wife, is pleading in her ankle-length slip for her life. (He’s already ripped off her dress in a rage.) If you squint, you can also see part of me unavoidably reflected in the glass, photographing this highly charged situation for your viewing pleasure.
In contrast to the delights of the weather, I did not at all appreciate the “modernized” production we saw. What is the merit of dressing singers in an opera set in the late eighteenth century, and involving swords, prophecy and witchcraft, in mid-twentieth century dress, and against starkly minimalist abstract sets? Why was almost every scene “enhanced” by a painted Icarus falling from the sky? For me, such questions distracted from the richness of the beautiful singing to the point that the part of the day not involving the opera was more interesting than what was on the stage. Therefore once I show you the two glassed-in posters in front of the opera house advertising Ballo (above and below), we’re just going to enjoy being outside today. (With exceptions, of course, for bathroom and lunch and looking around at the opera audience.)
The masked ball itself. (Act III.) See the black wings? (Only one set of wings in the poster, but many more, plus one white set, on stage.) What was that all about? Also don’t miss Icarus dangling above the singers. In one large pictorial form or another, this inapt metaphoric reference dominated every scene. How was King Gustav’s love for the wife of his best friend without letting her know (adultery in the heart, as it were) — because of which the best friend stabbed him on entirely circumstantial evidence — in any way comparable to flying with wax wings too close to the sun? Note too, near the bottom, my hands and iPhone, ever at work for you.
There were two free hours before curtain time. Rather than run to the Time-Warner building on Columbus Circle for quick but high-priced new-clothes shopping, I decided to hang out in the sun instead. After so long and difficult a winter, certain parts of New York, such as Lincoln Center, can be quite lovely when the heavens (rarely) consent to smile.
Map of the area, to get your bearings if so inclined.
Here’s the Met itself (middle left on the map above), seen from Broadway at 11 a.m., several hours before the performance began:
Metropolitan Opera House, in the center of Lincoln Center.
As you walk closer, you get a better view of the fountain:
If I were still agile enough, I might have hopped up myself!
Hearst Plaza, featuring nicely designed black wrought iron chairs to sit in under the trees. This is looking north with the Met to my back, Avery Fisher Hall (soon to be renamed David Geffen Hall in return for a ten million dollar “gift” from David Geffen) to my right, and a very expensive Italian restaurant called (what else?) “Ristorante” directly in front. For $39 you can have a two-course lunch there, plus additional charges for dessert, beverages of any kind, tax and tip. I know this because I read the menu outside, not because I’ve ever crossed “Ristorante’s” threshold.
Looking west at the New York Library for the Performing Arts, with the Met on the left, Hearst Plaza on the right, and a very blue sky above.
Turning north again.
The Vivian Beaumont Theatre.
Reversing direction to look south from Hearst Plaza past the Met on the right, David Koch Theater (formerly New York Ballet Theater) on the left, and between them (across the street), Fordham School of Law.
Preview of new opera productions to debut in the 2015-16 season. I was wearing a dress (as you can see in the reflection) because I was going out to dinner with New York friends after the opera and I have very few opportunities to wear dresses any more, so this was going to be one of them. (In case you were wondering.)
The American Ballet Theater (“ABT”) also has a spring season at Lincoln Center, and therefore gets its own poster behind glass.
Skyline of costly apartments (in center of the shot). Met on the left, Avery Fisher Hall on the right.
Looking towards Broadway with the Met at my back.
Vanity, thy name is woman. Unfortunately, glass doors are not really mirrors. Still it’s an interesting failure of a shot, don’t you think?
If at first you don’t succeed, try again. I had to go to the bathroom anyway, where there are real mirrors. The three photos below were taken in the Avery Fisher Hall ladies room, much more accessible than the Met’s (which in any event wasn’t open yet). After tending to business, I did first look around to be sure I was alone before engaging in this continued vanity project. Just as I was memorializing the shot, someone emerged from the last stall. However, she doesn’t seem to have noticed me. I therefore left her in the picture, to preserve the verisimilitude of the occasion.
I always look absolutely terrible in selfies. Taking one’s picture in a mirror seems to produce somewhat kinder results, perhaps because of the dim lighting. I do look rather pleased with what I see in the viewfinder, don’t I? When you’re nearly 84, it’s quite rare to find an image of yourself that doesn’t make you cringe. This one probably passes the blush test.
Closeup. Still okay.
Even closer. Now the wrinkles show. Smiling helps, though.
Men: please do feel free to skip the next few paragraphs, which consist entirely of fashion notes inspired by a comment to a previous post suggesting I do a piece on what I buy when I next go shopping for new clothes. I haven’t actually bought anything new yet, but as none of you has ever seen anything not new from my closet, we could start with what I had on in these pictures last Saturday.
The tote sitting on the sink in bone and black leather was from Eileen Fisher last summer. (Bought full price online and by now worth every one of the many many pennies I paid. I liked it so much I didn’t put it away when winter came, and now here it’s in season again, never having spent a single day off my shoulder.) The watch with the red leather strap is from Alessi (Italian) but bought years ago at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) shop. The sunglass frames on my head and the frames of the prescription glasses to see with on my nose (which sometimes hang from the ring on the cord around my neck) were both hand-made in France but have no manufacturer name on them. I bought them, seriatim, from an optometrist in Princeton at least five years ago.
Moving right along, the red cardigan sweater-jacket was acquired on sale and online, also from Eileen Fisher; I rarely wear it because it doesn’t look right by itself with pants or jeans and it doesn’t look right over skirts or dresses under winter coats. But the weather Saturday was too warm for a coat, and I couldn’t stay out through the evening in just a dress, so the red number got an outing. Bill is the only person who really likes it, but I guess it was all right for a wandering photographer to wear while taking pictures of herself.
The dress underneath the sweater (barely glimpsed in the photos) is black viscose jersey with long narrow sleeves; it spoke to me online at midnight four years ago from (you guessed it!) the Eileen Fisher web page. “Buy me!” it cried. (You can tell from the confessed provenance of most of my more presentable clothes that I consider this label a best friend to older women who still care how they look and are willing to spend some money to look that way.) The dress has no waistline or belt, but follows the body (not immodestly) all the way down to the hips, where it flares slightly. Too bad you can’t see the neckline, which is a loose infinity loop that looks as if it might be a scarf but isn’t; it’s part of the dress.
I will skip the source of the black tights. as I can’t remember where I got them. The black leather loafers are Italian; their purchase took place in Boston, which I left nine years ago, from a shoe store on Boylston Street, opposite the Boston Garden. But that sort of vague and dated information is useless, so let’s forget it. All this does go to show, however, that I keep things I like for a very long time — if that in any way justifies what I spend for them in the first place.
Okay, men. You can come back now. It’s chow time. Aka lunch.
American Table is on the ground floor of Alice Tully Hall, just across 65th Street and facing Broadway. I favor it when I’m in the neighborhood because it opens early, serves all day, and closes late. Moreover, as long as you order something, even if just coffee, you can sit and sit, without being hovered over by a waitperson wanting to clear the table.
I also very much like the fact that the wall facing Broadway is all glass, which permits you to people watch while you’re inside.
You can see small children (guarded by their careful parents) playing on the tower of steps outside .
Or you can simply snoop at the passing scene without being noticed yourself.
It’s also a very pleasant place to meet a friend for lunch or a drink.
Here’s the menu.
You place your order with the man at the right, and pay. Then you go sit down. A waiter will bring your order to your table.
I had the market salad with smoked salmon. When you unroll the pink rosette sitting on the sliced radishes and greens, it becomes four long strips of salmon.
By the time I got back to Lincoln Center, the crowds in front of the Met were beginning to gather.
But there were still about twenty minutes till curtain time, and it was too nice to go in just yet.
I sat and looked up at the spring sky for a while longer.
Once in my seat at the Met, I did observe that some of the younger patrons may have over-welcomed the arrival of spring. There was a noticeably reckless casting aside of garments to display as much flesh as could be considered minimally decent in such a cultured venue.
This young person, for instance, appears to be cold. She may have overdone it.
Oh, those very short summer sundresses! Oh, such expanse of youthful thigh! Bill loved this picture when I showed it to him Saturday night.
By contrast, other young women, less favorably endowed, were not so eager to put aside their coverings. My mother, were she still alive, would have strongly disapproved of the horizontal stripes on so broad a backside as this. But she’s not, so I’ll leave it alone.
After King Gustav had been stabbed, had pardoned everyone, had assured Amelia’s husband (in fine voice) that she was innocent of wrongdoing, and then had collapsed stage front, quite dead, as the curtain fell — I hurried out and managed to flag down a cab to take me north and east to the Upper East Side, where the 1% live. New York is beautiful there.
A view of Central Park from across Fifth Avenue at East 95th Street. You may not be able to quite make it out, but just above the white SUV is a charming playground for little ones where my New York grandchildren used to dig, climb and swing before they were old enough to go to school.
Looking north on Fifth Avenue from 95th Street. This part of the city is called Carnegie Hill.
East 95th Street, seen from Fifth Avenue.
Flower gardens, New York City style. Here I put away my camera, walked down the street, and met my friends at Tre Otto (Three Eight), a relatively new neighborhood Italian restaurant on Madison Avenue between 97th and 98th, where the waitress explained (when asked) that it’s called “Three Eight(s)” because the owner’s grandmother was born on the 8th of August in 1908 — eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the century — and many of the recipes used in the restaurant came from her. I took the train home at 9 p.m. — after a long but delicious day. I hope you enjoyed it, too.
1. We met in Cambridge (Massachusetts). He was a 73 year old psychiatrist with a private practice. He also taught one class a semester at the Harvard Medical School. I was a 69 3/4 year old civil litigation lawyer by then practicing at a small firm in Boston that permitted a four-day work week. The other day a week I would trundle my laptop to the Boston Writers Room (where there was no laundry or internet to distract me) and try to write something that wasn’t a brief or a memorandum in support of a motion.
2. He hated Cambridge because it reminded him of his marriage to his second wife, who still lived in their Cambridge house, which she had obtained during an acrimonious divorce. Everywhere we went reminded him of something that had occurred during the marriage, or someone they had met when they were still, as it were, “together.” So from the day I first knew him, he wanted to leave. A psychiatrist can practice anywhere, once he obtains a license from the state he has moved to.
3. I didn’t hate Cambridge at all, but would have been willing to leave except I was chained to Massachusetts as long as I needed an income stream. It’s not that I loved my law practice so much. (I didn’t, really.) But I still needed money, having begun life as a single woman after a second divorce with a net worth of zero at the age of sixty. Moreover, my right to practice law wasn’t portable without sitting for two days of bar exams all over again, except to a few states that had reciprocity arrangements with Massachusetts. And even then, who would want to hire a 70-year-old lawyer without a book of business or knowledge of state law? So we stayed put where I was licensed. In my condo on Brattle Street.
4. There are lots of interesting foreign movies, concerts, exhibits and lectures open to the public when you live where Harvard is. (Moreover it sounds very classy to have a Cambridge address, especially on Brattle Street, if you care about that sort of thing. And yes, I confess, I did care, at least a little bit.) Right across the river in Boston — take the Red Line to be there in no time — is also Symphony and the Boston Ballet and three theaters showing road company versions of New York plays and musicals. Not to mention outposts of Saks, Lord & Taylor, Neiman’s and Barney’s, where it’s much easier to shop than in the mother stores in New York and Dallas. So it was really great to be in Cambridge, if it weren’t for the black ice in winter, and the miserably hot and humid summers, and Bill complaining loudly about how the grass would be greener somewhere else.
5. Then three of our combined five adult children wound up living in New York. Also both my financial advisor and accountant opined that I had frugally put by enough so that if I remained frugal I could retire and live till 102. (After that, if I were lucky enough to have an “after that,” I would need to get by on Social Security.) We could leave! But where should we go?
6. Clearly, New York itself — secretly in my heart for all those many years since I’d left it — was out of the question. We could probably afford no more than a studio in a good Manhattan neighborhood or a small one-bedroom in a not-good one. And we needed more space than that, so that we could get away from each other for a while. Where then? For reasons best known to himself, Bill suggested New Mexico or North Carolina, arguing that if we lived near a university in either of those states it wouldn’t be so bad to be so far from the Northeast where we both had grown up. For reasons I made perfectly understandable — the three children in New York, one of his in Switzerland, and one of mine in Florida — New Mexico was a geographically bad idea and North Carolina had nothing going for it as far as I was concerned except girlhood memories of having read Thomas Wolfe, who had left the state himself as soon as he could and was now, in any event, dead.
7. Then one sunny afternoon during our 2004 summer vacation on a tiny Greek island in the Dodecanese, Bill mentioned Princeton, New Jersey. Eureka! An hour and a half from New York and 3/5 of our children (not to mention my soon-to-be first grandchild). Home to a major university (think Princeton), the Institute of Advanced Studies (think Einstein), Westminster Choir College (think free concerts). Home to McCarter Theater, which brings in five plays a year, plus ballet, concerts by world-class instrumental soloists, jazz, and three operas. The university has its own art museum, theater, and Richardson Auditorium, a perfect acoustic venue for Princeton’s resident string quartet, for free concerts by the University Orchestra and for not very expensive subscriptions to the Princeton Symphony Orchestra). And New Jersey is historically a blue state. (We didn’t know Chris Christie was coming down the pike.) It even had a Whole Foods! How could we go wrong?
Princeton University in the spring.
This is the historic (and picturesque) part of campus. There is strikingly modern architecture elsewhere.
8. It took us over a year. (Selling Cambridge real estate, buying Princeton real estate, and like that.) When we finally moved, he was 78 and I was 74 1/2, which people sometimes say was brave, given that we knew no one here. But would it have been less brave to go on slipping on black ice at the risk of breaking elderly bones, and (in his case) go on being reminded of an unhappy past lived in Cambridge neighborhoods?
University Chapel. Convocation and Commencement ceremonies are held here. There are half-hour organ concerts open to the public at noon throughout the academic year.
A late April flowering. Outside a reading room of the library. (I think.)
9. Anyway, what’s done is done and here we still are, nine years older. When people ask why Princeton, I sometimes say — because it’s easier — we just threw a dart at a map. If we really had, it would have been even braver of us. But I guess it’s too late to try that one.
Between Firestone Library (left) and the University Chapel (right).
McCosh, where English and American literature classes meet.
We have three bird feeders hanging off the railing of our kitchen back deck. I try to keep them filled with black oil sunflower seed. They’ve been emptying with astonishing rapidity, considering the small size of the several species of bird who come to feed, usually a seed at a time.
The culprit, of course, is one extremely clever grey squirrel. (Or perhaps fungible grey squirrels take turns.) He climbs from the ground and attaches himself upside down to a feeder, where he can considerably lower the level in one feeding.
Poor little guy. Why shouldn’t he have his own grub so as not to rob the birds? Yummy unsalted peanuts from the supermarket. As soon as he discovered them, he went to work:
HE ATE AND ATE.
My taking pictures from behind the sliding glass door didn’t scare him a bit. He looked me right in the eye and went on munching.
MUCH MORE DELICIOUS THAN BIRDSEED!
At last he’d had enough.
TIME TO LEAVE. (AND TELL THE OTHERS?)
That night it rained. What do squirrels do when it rains?
(NOTE NEAR-EMPTY FEEDERS THAT WERE FULL THE DAY BEFORE.)
[ Note: Save this post for when you have some time. It’s not only somewhat lengthy but — a first for me — a time-consuming “viewing” and listening experience.]
Saturday I attended a matinee performance of Giacomo Rossini’s La Donna del Lago at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. I do these matinee “Opera Outings” at the Met about three or four times a year, not because I can’t live without opera despite its high ticket price, but because it’s good for me to get back to the city in relatively easy fashion and do something that moves me or teaches me or is otherwise different from my everyday life.
It’s true one can hear, and even see, perfectly good opera on CD or DVD. It’s not the same, though, as walking through that magnificent lobby into an opera house perfectly balanced acoustically, to hear a world-class orchestra and voices as they really sound — before being digitally recorded and/or remastered and/or whatever else is done to a performance to bring it to us in our living-rooms or on our iPhones. That’s one thing about going to the Met that’s different from my everyday life, before we get to the rest of it.
“Opera Outings” was the brainchild of Nancy Froysland Hoerl and her husband Scott, both on the music faculty at Westminster Choir College here in Princeton where I live. Every year for the past twenty-five years, they have bought a block of tickets at various price ranges for one of the Met’s standard matinee subscription packages, hired a tour bus, and sold the round-trip-by-bus plus tickets to the general public in the greater Princeton/New Brunswick, NJ area. Usually you buy three to seven of the offered operas together in the preceding spring. Tickets for single operas are rarely available, and only if they are left over afterwards.
The transportation is what makes this idea such a winner. Just drive to the Westminster Choir College parking lot (five minutes for me), park by 9:30 a.m., get on the bus, and by 10:45 the bus is on West 65th Street right by the steps up into Lincoln Center and the Met. Since the opera starts at 1:00, you have two hours to go do something else, or else meet a friend for lunch at American Table in Alice Tully Hall across the street. There you can sit and sit and talk and talk; nobody bothers you as long as you’re still nursing a cup of coffee. Also the bathrooms are very good, and no waiting in lines.
I would not have chosen La Donna del Lago. (My favorite opera, composed later, is still Puccini’s La Boheme — death by consumption in a mid-nineteenth century Parisian attic. That should tell you something about me.) Donna is a bel canto opera inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s 400-page poem, The Lady of the Lake. And “bel canto” (beautiful singing) is the term applied to a series of Italian operas from the first half of the nineteenth century, more often than not written either by Rossini, Bellini or Donizetti, in which the plots are for the most part mere trifles, often laughable, designed principally to support dazzling displays of song expressing the emotions of the characters. And I mean dazzling. If you can hang on to the end of this post, you’ll hear for yourself.
But Donna was in the Westminster package for 2014-15, and it was a big deal: the first time this opera has ever been mounted at the Met. New production, great vocal stars (Joyce diDonato and Juan Diego Flores) and highly favorable reviews. Of course the reviews came after I had paid for the ticket, but it’s always nice to know you’re not going to sit through three hours of ho-hum or worse.
I had the American Table lunch with an old friend. Sautéed catfish for me, tomato soup and Parker House roll for her. Then I went across the street, took a shortcut through the Avery Fisher Hall lobby because it was very cold and windy, pushed through the Met’s doors, showed my bag to the inspector with the flashlight to prove I wasn’t a terrorist and handed over my ticket to be scanned.
You may wonder why I paid so much to have an orchestra seat when there are four significantly cheaper tiers of seats, mounting to the sky-high ceiling, where I could have heard everything just as well. It began when Bill used to come along too. He gets dizzy going down steeply raked stairs, so we went for the orchestra seats together. Then he stopped coming. He doesn’t like novels, plays or opera very much and had been coming just to please me. (Believe it or not, he has trouble following a narrative line. He a psychiatrist listening to people’s troubles for forty years!) Moreover, the bathroom situation at the Met is, candidly, not good. I might further note, and he did, that the acts can be quite long before the permitted intermission dash to the few available toilet stalls. It was an issue for him. And who was I to argue?
So then I was on my own, and discovered I was spoiled. Yes, you can hear the music from anywhere in the house. And see tiny dots, representing human beings, way down there on the stage. But I like to see the faces. Good singers do act, you know. Besides, it’s much easier to just walk in, find your seat and sit down than to join gazillions of other people fighting to get into an elevator, then creep cautiously down rickety stairs to your designated row, after which there is a lot of “excuse me, excuse me, excuse me” as you slither without handrail to your seat in the rafters, past other annoyed patrons clutching their coats as they stand for you.
That’s why the orchestra seat. I hardly ever buy new clothes any more, which kind of evens things out, financially speaking. Okay?
Now that we’re in Seat O16 we can open the program. (Its cover is above.)
And look at photos of the stars inside:
Joyce diDonato, the lead mezzo-soprano, as Elena, lovely young Highland lass gathering fake flowers near a loch and rhapsodizing about her love for Malcolm. Malcolm is a “trouser” role — in this case a “kilt” role — sung by another mezzo-soprano.
Juan Diego Flores, as King James V (Giacomo) disguised as Uberto. He is one of the two tenors inflamed with love for Elena. He also looks very good in his leather outfit. He will relinquish her to Malcolm in the end, to make her happy and and give her a reason to sing her stunning concluding aria.
But what’s most fun to do before the performance begins is to stand up and case the house.
Don’t forget to look up.
Unfortunately once the dangling light clusters are drawn up and the house lights dim, picture-taking ends.
I therefore cannot give you any idea of Act I except to say you have to suspend a lot of disbelief before you can enjoy the glorious music. Example: When the libretto requires someone to sing to us that the trumpets are calling him to war, all one can hear from the orchestra in the pit is a happy dance tune dominated by flutes!
An hour and fifteen minutes later comes intermission and mass flight, either to (a) the lower-level restrooms or (b) the bar in the lobby.
However, instead of checking out the restrooms, let’s walk up to the stage and peer into the emptied orchestra pit. (The lobby and bar are coming in just a minute. Have patience.)
Look how many French horns!
Now the lobby:
If you’re a quick (and rich) eater, and made a reservation ahead of time, you can be served something edible during intermission on the level just above the lobby, looking through glass at (and also being seen from) the plaza at Lincoln Center.
The gilded lobby railings always get me. Don’t think the railings in the Family Circle and Balcony are equally splendid.
Intermission is actually quite long enough to get pleasantly soused.
The companion of the lady below suggested I photograph her beverage. I suggested she hold her glass in such a way that we could all admire her jewelry and manicurist’s work as well.
I know this appears to have nothing to do with going to opera at the Met, but in a way it does. People get quite chatty during those long intermissions, especially at the bar.
I then turned to the companion, but he said he didn’t want to be photographed, although I could photograph his boots if I liked. I asked if he was very proud of his boots, and he said he was. Given permission, I aimed downward. I don’t think he’ll be reading TGOB to see how silly it all looks on the screen.
Enough nonsense. Back to our seat, passing the three rows of standing room at the rear of the orchestra seating as we go. When I was in my teens and the Met was on Broadway and 39th Street in its pre-Lincoln Center days, I used to line up for standing room to get my fix of La Boheme (and also La Traviata and Tristan and Isolde) at the Saturday matinees. It was $2.00 then, and there was only one row, without translations of the libretto at the push of a red button. You had to know what you were hearing ahead of time. I’m sure it’s not $2.00 any more.
And now, dear readers, as the curtain rises on Act Two I must turn off my phone. I can show you a bit of the high drama involved from the still photograph in the program:
Lovely Elena trying to hold her two warring tenors apart. On the left, Rodrigo, leader of the rebel Highlanders — to whom her father has betrothed her against her will. On the right, Juan Diego (still in leather and still in disguise). Is it a political battle, or a battle for lovely Elena? Maybe a bit of both?
Much better, though, if you have the time, is this YouTube upload of an intermission interview given by diDonato and Flores just after their dress rehearsal of Donna. Following some pleasant preliminary chitchat, you get a taste of the Act Two battle photographed above. Remember not to get upset when Elena grasps Rodrigo’s sword by its (supposedly) sharp blade; it shows the intensity of her feelings without really drawing any blood.
The showstopper of Act II, however, is Elena’s final aria, Tanti affetti, after the King has killed Rodrigo in honorable battle offstage, thus mooting her engagement to him, followed by his forgiveness of Elena’s father and beloved Malcolm (the mezzo) for their acts of treason in opposing his rule, followed after that by his joining the hands of Elena and Malcolm in marriage. (What a benevolent and self-sacrificing king.) It is ten minutes of extraordinary bel canto singing. Picture simple country girl Elena expressing her great joy in the King’s throne room before dozens of chorus members in creamy white Elizabethan garb. This still photo doesn’t do justice to seeing an entire stageful of the chorus in these costumes, but it will give you some idea.
Joyce diDonato frequently uses this bel canto aria as her “party piece.” In the following YouTube upload, she sings Tanti affeti in evening dress, with orchestra and chorus onstage, at a gala performance in honor of Richard Tucker. If you haven’t got ten minutes to listen to it all, move to the last three or four minutes, but don’t miss it. This kind of singing is at least one of the reasons why I get on the Westminster bus, and why opera survives.
There is no deep hidden meaning in this post, or even a shallow surface meaning. Think of it as penance, or atonement, for past failures to provide photos with my posts, which — I realize — a good blogger should always do.
Thing is, I’m no good at hunting up Creative Commons pictures that might be relevant, or even attractively irrelevant, to what I usually write about. And I don’t generally run around taking pictures of this and that anymore. (Our breakfasts? The cleaning ladies? My hairdresser?)
However, I do feel I can always fall back on the four-pawed members of the household when the need arises. Since I’m pretty sure I haven’t done any such falling back since the end of 2014, perhaps you’ll cut me some slack here and let me show you the five relatively okay shots I got last night of S & S. That should be sufficient penance for at least four entirely verbal posts already run. Then, starting tomorrow or the next day, I can babble on shamelessly photo-less for a while. Thank you.
Left to right: Sophie, who cannot jump high and therefore needs orange stool to mount her scratching post; orange stool for Sophie’s use; humidifier on top of air purifier (both for us, not the cats, although I suppose they benefit, too); electric heater (only used for daytime naps) on top of second orange stool (which is there for symmetry and because Bill likes lots of orange, not because Sasha needs it); Sasha, trustingly offering us her rear; she can jump, which explains why heater is on “her” stool. Blocking the view: footboard of fake Victorian bed I thought romantic when I bought it twenty years ago in my sixties. What was I thinking of? Hanging on to the headboard bedposts?
Another view. Despite the bright light, this is really midnight, chez nous.
SASHA’S CLOSEUP. She’s the acknowledged family beauty, but she just wasn’t cooperating last night. “Let’s sleep already,” she was saying, in body language.
SOPHIE’S CLOSEUP. Sometimes she looks good, sometimes not so good. This is sort of in the middle, but what can you do at midnight?
ONE LAST SHOT, because I hated to turn out the light. You don’t think they get up on their matching posts every night to pose for pictures so nicely?
Then Bill called out from the part of the bed I haven’t shown you, “Let’s sleep already.” (We’ve learned so much from these cats.) So that was that.
Lights out, nighty-night. Don’t let the bedbugs bite. (As they said in the seventeenth century when mattresses — you should have been so lucky as to have one then — were stuffed with straw.)
Now one or both cats will jump from their expensive perches — we’ll hear them — and run downstairs to frolic freely in the dark, disarranging the upstairs hall rug as they go. What they do down there I cannot tell. I don’t go snooping. Cats deserve some me-time, too.
I was at the upscale pet food store at the mall earlier today to nail down a bag of the fancy frozen raw venison chunks with which we spoil our cats at dinnertime. (The store only stocks one or two of these a week. Not many cat owners as nutsy as me out there.)
No one else was in the store yet. I had two young male clerks entirely at my disposal. “Happy Holidays,” they chorused as I paid.
“Thanks, but I take the ‘bah, humbug’ approach,” I said, putting on my agent provocateur hat. “Now that my kids are grown with kids of their own, and all of them are somewhere else, I’d just as soon pass on the holidays. I’ve mailed out the presents. I’m ready for January 2.”
One of the clerks — the taller, cuter one — laughed. “I don’t care about Christmas either, ” he said. “But I can’t wait till New Year’s Eve.”
Cuteness shouldn’t count but it does, so I was conciliatory. “Well, you’re a guy. But I always dreaded New Year’s Eve because it meant going to parties where you had to be kissed at midnight by men you’d rather not be kissed by.”
They both were kind enough to laugh again. (Clearly they had nothing better to do until another customer showed up.) Encouraged, I went on: “So all those New Year’s Eves have run together in my mind and I can specifically remember only two. One was in 1949, before you were born, when my boyfriend took me to a party at friends of his parents to admire a small black-and-white television set, the first any of us had seen. We all sat around on bridge chairs in front of it, with the lights out, as if it were a shrine. Holding hands in the dark was nice, though.”
My mentioning 1949 must have silenced them, allowing me to continue. “And the second was in 1959 when we were all toasting Fidel Castro for having come down from the Sierra Maestra to bring democracy to Cuba. A lot we knew. The midnight kissing at that party wasn’t so great either. But all the thousands and thousands of other New Year’s Eves in my life? Nada! Gone with the wind!”
Tall and cute tried to top me. “I went to one a couple of years ago where I drank so much I got sick right at the party and vomited all over myself, the couch, somebody’s shoes, the rug…..” He chuckled in happy reminiscence. (And this is the guy who can’t wait to ring in 2015.)
“Well, there you go,” I said, feeling we’d now run the subject into the ground and it was time to leave. “When you’re in your eighties, you’ll have at least one good New Year’s Eve story to tell!”
The idea of being in their eighties was even funnier than the vomit. Merry peals of laughter followed me out the door.
But you all have yourself a real good holiday. And never mind grumpy old us. We’ll be having one, too. Only our way.
I was born in New York City, lived all but seven of the first forty-seven years of my life there, and always yearned to come back — not only during the seven years I was away, but also for many of the years after I left for what turned out to be the final time. I knew all the songs from “On the Town” and “Wonderful Town.” I could warble (badly): “I’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Sta-ten Island, too.” While I lived there, I was so proud to be a New Yorker, whatever that meant. I think it’s probably just that I had an intimate knowledge of Manhattan geography, skill with elbowing my way through crowds and with hailing taxis — and diction that gave me away every time. Even today, no one who hears me speak would ever imagine I’m the out-of-towner I’ve been for thirty-five years.
Nonetheless, the times they are a-changin’ — both for me and the Big A. Yesterday, a glorious early fall day, Bill and I came in to the city from our leafy Eden in New Jersey because he is a medical snob and will only undergo necessary medical procedures at the hands of renowned Big City M.D.’s. The procedure yesterday was cutting the stitches after a minor operation last week at HSS (Hospital for Special Surgery) for carpal tunnel in his right hand. Don’t ask how he got it. He neither types nor performs any repetitive motions with that hand, and never has. (He’s left-handed.) But as D. Rumsfeld, one of our unlamented former Secretaries of Defense, once remarked, “Stuff happens.”
My presence was from a medical point of view unnecessary. But Bill is unfamiliar with either the layout or rhythm of New York, has no sense of direction whatsoever, walks with a cane and would be a pushover for any unscrupulous taxi driver looking to run up the meter by taking the longest, slowest way around Manhattan to get to the surgeon’s office on East 72nd Street, where the stitches were going to be snipped. So I came along, to hold the unbandaged hand, run interference through crowds, serve as human GPS and speak with the inimitable New York accent that alerts said unscrupulous taxi drivers not to mess with me.
We came in by bus, not my preferred mode of transport to New York but Bill hates, hates, hates (admittedly crowded) Penn Station, where the train would have smoothly brought us after seventy minutes or so. He feels arriving at the New York Port Authority after nearly two hours of bumping along by bus is a less traumatic experience. The Port Authority is at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street; Dr. A’s office is at 523 East 72nd Street, between FDR Drive and York. That’s 30 blocks going north, and 8 1/2 blocks going east.
Twenty New York blocks is roughly a mile, but the east-west blocks are longer than the north-south ones, so let’s be generous and say it was a two and a half mile trip each way. The meters on New York taxis run on time as well as distance. We took a taxi because an out-of-town man in his mid-eighties with a cane, no matter how sharp from the neck up, would not do well taking the 42nd Street crosstown bus — crowded, lurching and v-e-r-y slow — and then waiting for the uptown York Avenue bus, which normally runs infrequently and is also pretty slow. After that, there would be a longish walk to FDR Drive anyway. (Longish for Bill with his cane, that is.)
The snipping of the stitches took fifteen minutes, which time also included a steroid shot for tendonitis of the wrist. Despite this blog’s name, I don’t normally mention these sorts of accompaniments to getting old. The blog is for the most part about living our allegedly golden years, not qvetching about the tarnish on them. I note what happened in Dr. A.’s office not to dwell on it but to compare the time it took for these two brief medical events with the time it took to get there, and then the time it took to get us back to the Port Authority (where we only had to wait an additional twenty minutes for the next bus to Princeton).
The two and a half mile trip northeast consumed forty-five minutes and cost $26.00. The two and a half mile trip back was fifty minutes and cost $28.00. In each instance, I’ve included a $2.50 tip in those amounts, which is only 10% of the total and makes me, in my own mind, a cheapskate. I used to tip 18-20%, because driving in New York traffic is not a barrel of laughs, but we can’t do that any more because we are, as they say, “old” and have no more earned income stream. We also hope to last as long as possible, for which we need to conserve what funds we have. But we do what we can. Also, I digress.
Why did driving two and a half miles in New York City on a Tuesday afternoon take forty-five minutes, the return two and a half miles take fifty minutes and the whole damn thing cost $54? Let me show you. Consider it a preview tour of Manhattan, if you’re thinking of coming yourself.
Nearing Sixth Avenue on 48th Street.
Note congestion — aka “traffic” — at bottom of photo. To avoid staring at it in frustration from inside your cab, the only place to look is up.
Our driver is trying to turn north on Sixth Avenue here. Operative word is “trying.” They renamed it “Avenue of the Americas” when I was young, but the old name refused to go away. Now the street signs have both names on them. Since I’m old school, I still call it Sixth Avenue. That doesn’t make the traffic disappear, though.
You could try to meditate, I guess. But it doesn’t really help. If you didn’t already know what “gridlock” looks like, now you do.
I’ll stop commenting and look out the windows for a while. There’s a TV monitor in front of the back seat, but it only shows garbage, so we always turn it off.
Glamorous, isn’t it?
See, it’s not really faster by bus.
When you get tired of the gridlock, you can always look up again. Different building.
In case you didn’t know, this is why taxis are known in New York as yellow cabs.
You can look at your watch and fume. Or look at the meter and fume. Or tell yourself not to get an ulcer; it will all be over by the end of the day. Maybe.
Oh, I think we’re moving. A little bit.
This is not the destination. But enough already. We did get there eventually. Two and a half miles, as I believe I already mentioned. $26.00, as I believe I already mentioned.
After the fifteen minutes of snipping and needlework at the incomparable hands of Dr. A., we had to get back. When we had come in the week before for the actual surgery, our driver had tried to return us to the Port Authority by going south on Park Avenue. Not a wise decision:
Everyone who explained to us that it was particularly bad yesterday because the UN is in session was full of it. It was also particularly bad last week, when the UN was not yet in session.
Approaching Grand Central on Park Avenue. These buildings are “older” — probably pre-World War II “older,” or built just afterwards.
Looks Kafka-esque, doesn’t it? (Yes, this is still Park Avenue, in the high 40’s.)
While we were stalled in the street below, people were actually working, getting things done. See the lights?
So going south on Park Avenue was not such a good idea. Yesterday, our driver tried Fifth. As the young might say: “OMG!”
See what I mean?
Scenic, isn’t it?
Relax. Go with the flow. (What flow?)
I bet the view overlooking Central Park from one of those (extremely expensive) apartments must be lovely.
The view down here is less lovely. At least now you know where to phone for Eli (Zabar)’s bread.
We’ve moved about a block and a half since I began this photographic journey with you.
Trapped! Trapped in a New York taxi! The only way out is to walk! But even if we were hale and fit and young enough to do it, the sidewalks are pretty crowded, too, because it’s such a beautiful day! (I refer to the weather, of course.)
A bus? Don’t even think about it!
Lift your eyes up and pray.
Yes, dear readers, we — who had pulled out of our driveway at 10:40 a.m. to be on time for the 11 a.m. Coach USA bus to New York — did eventually get home to Princeton again. At 6 p.m. But there’s an upside to all this angst-in-a-taxi. I discovered something. The Big Apple may still be a helluva town, but it’s a different sort of hell. I no longer yearn to live there — a relatively new development in my life. You see? There’s no upper limit at all to the age at which you can learn and grow.
This post was one of the three favorites — both with me and the teeny part of the blogosphere aware that I existed — from the blog with which I timorously entered the world of blogging. (“Learning to Blog” it was called.) Lucky you! Another chance to look at it again (or not), thanks to a lovely lady named Natalie. She asked for a photo of my cat Sasha, about whom I’ve written. I suggested she might want to go back to this post, which features photos of all the cats Bill and I have ever owned together. “Oh please re-blog it!” she typed.
Normally, I might not, just because someone asked. I often feel I re-blog too much as it is. But in about three weeks, Natalie is going to have her knee replaced, and I bet she’s feeling a little scared. Think of a piece of you being removed for good, and maybe you can imagine what I’m talking about. Having had a hip replaced myself about five years ago, I know that after some post-surgical physical therapy, Natalie’s new knee is going to be so much better than the old one she’ll wonder why she waited so long. However, right now she’s hobbling painfully on what she’s got. So while she’s hurting and maybe still slightly nervous despite the assurances of her doctors, let’s give her something to take her mind off all that.
Without more ado, I therefore present for your viewing pleasure — ta-da! — (re-blogged from myself):
The Tale (with photos) of Rudi the Cat
Once upon a time, my daughter-in-law — who is a very sophisticated and accomplished woman — saw a little mouse in the kitchen of the New York apartment in which she was living with my son and their two young children. “I never knew she could get so upset about anything so small,” said my son. “She’s insisting we get a cat.” My daughter-in-law has a British mother and a Scottish grandmother and fond memories of British shorthairs. So she didn’t want just any cat. British shorthairs are housecats, expensive ones. As a rule, they’re not allowed to go out and get lost. My son therefore had to scout for shelter British shorthairs — a breed none of us, except my daughter-in-law, had ever heard of — with the persistence of Churchill. (“We shall never surrender!”) And lo and behold a miracle! He found three-year-old Max. I will skip the part about where Max came from, as this is not his story. But let me assure you that no mouse was ever seen in that Park Avenue kitchen again!
Max, a good eater.
When we came from Princeton for a visit and saw Max, the man I live with fell in love. I myself thought Max was somewhat cockeyed looking. But, hey, that was the individual cat, not the breed. And he was endearing. Friendly, peaceful, quiet. Nice to have around the house now that all our children, the man I live with’s and mine, are grown and gone. Maybe, we thought, we should get our own Max. We looked and looked. And looked. And finally caved. We called a breeder. “I want a red kitten,” said the man I live with. (I myself didn’t really care — red, blue, white, whatever.) “I have a red kitten,” said the breeder. Her red kitten was Rudi. We named him after Nureyev, because he had such a terrific jump.
Rudi as a kitten.
But while Rudi was growing old enough to leave his mother, the man I live with looked at many picture books of British shorthairs and decided that perhaps — despite the non-refundable deposit — he had been wrong. The ones called British Blues were the classic British shorthairs. “Why not get two?” suggested the breeder helpfully. ”I have a lovely little blue girl right now. They’re close enough in age to play together!” The texts in all the picture books said that the best thing you could get your cat was another cat.
Sasha as a kitten.
The little blue kitten was lovely. We named her Sasha. Rudi loved Sasha. Sasha didn’t mind Rudi. They explored the house together. They played together. They slept together. Rudi wasn’t as clever as Sasha, but he was beautiful. I loved brushing him. And he loved being brushed. You could get enough hair off him for a whole other cat.
Rudi also loved to eat. Naturally, the more he ate the more he grew. He was big. Not fat. B-i-g. It became difficult for him to fit into any litter boxes that would fit into our bathroom. I have no photos of what used to happen because he didn’t quite fit, but you can imagine.
Despite all that, he remained beautiful. Whenever we were cleaning up bathrooms, or picking up objects he loved to knock down, or vacuuming up hair, we would tell ourselves how beautiful he was. Sasha, on the other hand, was very smart. (For a cat.) Here she is asleep at my desk, exhausted by intellectual activity. (Watching the cursor on the screen while I surf the web is tiring!)
Little Rudi in the bathroom.
Little Sasha in the sink.
Then our two cats grew up. They weren’t little kittens any more.
And an awful thing happened.
I will summarize: It was a case of transferred aggression. When he was three years old, Rudi was frightened by a raccoon on the deck. Since a glass door separated him from the enemy, he attacked Sasha instead. After a few days she cautiously forgave him. But the next time something angered him, he did it again. And a month later, with tooth and claw, again. The last time he went after her, he caught her, and she bled. They had to be kept apart. She was terrified, he was mystified, in between his spurts of rage. Here they are at this stage of their relationship, in separate rooms.
The vets, all three of them, shook their heads gloomily. Medication wouldn’t really work in such a case. Rudi needed to be — as they put it — “re-homed.” “Re-homing” means finding your cat another home. Giving him away. Rudi now lives with the mother of a Pennsylvania vet and three other male cats. He gets on with all of them, she says. She’s sent me some photos. He doesn’t look unhappy, does he?
Rudi (right) and new friend (left) in Pennsylvania.
Rudi as a Pennsylvania resident.
But oh, it was hard to let him go, despite his messes. He was beautiful! I took some pictures to remember him by. Even — don’t laugh! — a picture of his tail. (Bad picture, beautiful tail. I loved brushing that tail!)
Now Sasha was Queen of the House!
The Queen on her throne.
Suddenly, she was demanding this and that. It was miaow, miaow, miaow all the time!
She Who Must Be Obeyed!
The best thing you can get your cat is another cat. Right? Then she won’t always be pestering you. Enter Sophie. (The price of a new Blue kitten had gone up $300 since Sasha, but what can you do?)
Sophie. (Twelve weeks old.)
She was very small.
How did it go? Four days of hissing from Sasha. (No maternal feelings at all!) Followed by sniffing and smelling and sniffing and smelling. And then? Wash, wash, wash. Lick, lick, lick. S & S had become a family.
S & S. (October 2012.)
End of story. End of post. Apologies to all non-cat-lovers. Never again. Promise.