Friday, November 30, 2007
Last night I went to see one of my favorite singers, Suzanne Vega, at the Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom. It was great to see her again - the last time I’d seen her live was in 1991 or so during her “Days of Open Hand” tour. I was long overdue!
She sounded great and kept up a funny, easy patter between songs. Some singers never establish much of a rapport with the audience, but she did a great job. Because she’s such a New York-y performer - with many songs set in New York, especially from her latest album, “Beauty and Crime” - seeing her here really added to the vibe.
My only criticism: Her band seemed just a tad too loud, and she seemed a bit strained by the end of the night - probably from trying to sing over them! The show was originally supposed to be at Town Hall, a fact that seemed to vex some people around us, who were bewildered by the seating in the new venue (admittedly kind of bewildering) and missing Town Hall’s “more intimate” atmosphere. Personally, I was happy to see her anywhere.
She didn’t play “Small Blue Thing,” which remains a favorite of mine, but she did tackle a wide variety of old and new stuff. Here’s a partial set list, not in exact order:
Marlene on the Wall
New York is a Woman
Frank and Ava
Blood Makes Noise
I’m Not Your Maggie May
Left of Center
Tom’s Diner (DNA reprise)
Zephyr & I
The Queen and the Soldier
It still bewilders me that everyone’s favorite Suzanne Vega song is “Luka.” It’s a damned upsetting song about child abuse, yet the people behind me were singing along and bopping around like they were listening to the Go-Go’s. I was like, “Are you hearing the WORDS?”
Anyway, thanks to my friend Brian for prompting me to go to this show. For some reason I don’t do concerts very often. I sometimes need a little push!
(Photos: My blurry attempts at concert photography.)
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I read that retailers at both extremes of the shopping spectrum did well on Black Friday, but that those in the middle lagged. That means the Wal-Marts and the Targets did OK, and places like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus did OK, but JC Penney and Macy’s faced challenges.
Gee, could that be yet another sign that there’s no more middle class in this country?
I’m starting to think about Christmas gifts. Even though I’m a practicing Buddhist, I celebrate Christmas with my family. It is, after all, a powerful cultural phenomenon, and just as Buddhism recognizes the connectivity of all things, I think the Christian message of Christ’s birth is interwoven into the Dharma - the spirituality is really one thing, expressed in different ways.
I try to give small gifts each year that are highly personalized. Last year, for example, I gave everyone framed enlargements of some of my favorite photos. I also made donations to charity in each person’s name.
But I’m having doubts about that approach this year. From a social perspective, I think it’s a good way to handle gift-giving. But it seems a little selfish. Who am I really pleasing - myself, the giver, or the people receiving the gift? They don’t really want a gift to charity in their name. They want a book, or a shirt.
So I think this year I may do some conventional shopping. I’ll still keep the gifts modest, but maybe it’s time to refocus on the recipients of the gifts, rather than on a social ideal or a message about consumerism.
(Photo: Ginkgo leaves in Pisa, Italy, Nov. 2007)
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I watched “Lost in America” last night, inspired by my pal Merle, who mentioned it recently on his blog. It’s a 1985 movie about two yuppies who cash out, quit their jobs and take to the road in a motor home, yearning to “drop out of society” and live free like the guys in “Easy Rider.”
I’d never seen it before, but the theme immediately appealed to me. Who doesn’t have a dream like this, after all? I admit that one of my back-up plans for my own life, should I lose my job, is to travel around in a van and see the country. (More fantasy than plan, admittedly.)
When I was a kid I longed to live in a motor home. In fact, I used to buy “Motor Home” magazine, or something like that. Once, during a Boy Scout retreat, while everyone else was playing football, I spent a couple of hours cleaning the kitchen of a motor home used by our scoutmasters, imagining myself piloting it across the country. (I don’t think I wore an apron, but I’m not sure.)
Things don’t go well for the yuppies in “Lost in America,” primarily because of a divorceable offense by the wife. Ultimately, it was an odd movie -- it seemed to end very abruptly, and to reinforce the idea that conformity and the corporate grind are really the way to go. (Now that I think about it, things don’t go well for the guys in “Easy Rider” either.) But what’s wrong with a little escapist dream?
Maybe someday, I’ll be blogging from a van!
(Photo: Shadows in Venice, Italy, Nov. 2007)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Remember that book I just recommended about leading the slow life? Well, I think I already need to re-read it!
I feel like I have been going non-stop for weeks - though just two days ago I was writing about my nice leisurely Thanksgiving break, so clearly that’s not altogether true. I think the issue isn’t slowing down, but instead staying home.
I realized yesterday that I spent a total of six nights at home in all of November. It’s my routines that I miss - going to the gym, going to the Zendo, having coffee in bed with my cat lying on my chest (making it nearly impossible to drink the coffee). Travel is nice, but as I’ve said before, the best part of traveling is coming home!
And now, after Italy and Rhinebeck and Washington, I have FINALLY come home. I’m not going anywhere for the next several weeks, until Christmas. I plan to slip back into the comfort of my quiet routines and hopefully this somewhat harried feeling will pass. What a relief!
(Photo: The oculus in the roof of the Pantheon, Rome, Nov. 2007)
Monday, November 26, 2007
I spent Saturday afternoon exploring D.C. with Reya, who helped me appreciate an unseen dimension of our nation’s capital - its underlying energy. And no, I don’t mean lobbyists.
For example, I knew nothing about the Masonic pyramid at the heart of the region from DuPont to Logan Circle and down to the White House. But it was interesting to see how the area really did seem to possess its own subterranean hum, both positive and negative. We saw the negative when we watched a driver get into a hostile (and unnecessary) confrontation with a skateboarder over street space. And we found the positive when we discovered a musical sculpture in front of 111 Vermont Avenue. Made of metal rods, it emitted a whole orchestra of harmonic tones when touched.
It was great to see and spend time with Reya, whom I feel I’ve known for years. Some of that is due to blogging, of course, which introduced me to her backstory. But we bloggers only offer up parts of ourselves for public consumption, and you never quite know what the real person is going to be like. Reya’s blog is faithful to her personality -- she’s a fellow urban wanderer who sees and senses so much. And yet what she sees is so different from what I notice myself.
I came back on yesterday’s 2 p.m. Acela Express from Union Station, and promptly jumped into the whirl of grocery shopping, unpacking and spending time with my attention-deprived cat. I bought her a little laser light toy, which was a big hit with Kevin’s cats. Armenia chases the light beam, but also seems alarmed by it -- she runs after it and then runs up to me, meowing frantically: “What is THAT??”
I’m also finally taking on the arduous task of uploading all my photos from Italy. You can see them on Flickr (click on the badge at right) if you’re so inclined.
(Photos: The rear of row houses south of U Street N.W., Washington D.C.)
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Yesterday was a day of leisure. We had no agenda whatsoever. Kevin and I spent the morning at his apartment, doing stuff on the computer and hanging out with his new cats.
Then we went to some thrift stores in the afternoon - our own version of Black Friday, I suppose. I had a blast combing through racks and racks of t-shirts. I'm always amused by t-shirts. People put the strangest messages on them, like: "My mommy thinks I'm special." (On a man's X-Large.)
I bought a $2.99 t-shirt featuring a map of the Greek Isles, which I visited in 2000. That was the trip of my worst travel mishap ever - a taxicab drove away with my bag, never to be seen again. I flew home with no more than the clothes on my back. (Thank God I was wearing a money belt with my passport and ticket in it!) But I still had a great time on the trip, so now I have a souvenir of sorts.
Last night, we went to see "Beowulf" in 3-D. The computer animation is a little strange, but the movie is certainly worthwhile - the dragon-fighting sequence at the end is a jaw-dropper. It's great that Hollywood managed to turn a relatively stale high-school literature assignment into a popular movie. We gave it two thumbs up!
(Photo: Emerging from the subway in early morning, Houston and Broadway, Manhattan, October 2007)
Friday, November 23, 2007
I'm down in D.C. now at my friend Kevin's house. We had a terrific dinner yesterday - me and Kevin and Kevin's friend Michelle and my friend Liz. Kevin made a ham, just to be different, and we had sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, asparagus, salad, bread, cranberry sauce and even stuffing - though with a ham there's obviously not anything to stuff. And Liz made an awesome apple pie.
Even though Thanksgiving is supposed to be about expressing thanks, I find that it's easy to let the holiday slip by without being truly conscious of thankfulness. We get caught up in making all the food and socializing and eating, and even cleaning up. I guess all that might be a subconscious expression of thanks, or at least plenitude. But I want to take two seconds to say that I truly am thankful for my friends, all that food, my ability to hop a train and travel for a holiday, and - while I'm at it - everything else.
Kevin just got two new cats - a kitten named Racer and his mom, Hallie - and they're entertaining us both. Racer is in that mad kitten phase where he races around (hence the name) and meows aimlessly. He's a hoot!
(Photo: Upper East Side, October 2007)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
When I was up in Rhinebeck over the weekend, some friends and I stopped in to a little bookshop called Oblong Books & Music. I originally intended only to kill some time - we had an hour or so before the bus left to bring us back to Manhattan. But as I browsed, I was amazed at the store’s careful selection. I wanted to read EVERYTHING I found.
I settled for a couple of books by Augusten Burroughs, whose memoirs “Running With Scissors” and “Dry” I read and enjoyed a couple of years ago. And then, browsing the sale rack, I came upon an intriguing book by Cecile Andrews called “Slow is Beautiful: New visions of community, leisure and joie de vivre.”
I started reading this book almost immediately, and I’m not sure when I’ve read something that I’ve agreed with so completely and emphatically. Every point Andrews makes has me going “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The book is not only about slowing down our lives, but questioning all the things we’re brought up to believe: That aggressive capitalism and competition are good, that working more makes us happy, that having more money brings greater peace of mind. Andrews basically throws cold water on all that mythology, arguing that we need to take more time to love, cultivate friendships, explore our worlds, have hobbies -- and that society is unfortunately heading in the opposite direction.
I thought it was interesting that I found this book in a small, independent bookstore. I’m not sure I could have found it so readily at a large chain, which seems to speak to another of Andrews’ warnings -- that increasing corporatization (if that’s a word) is a danger to our communities.
Anyway, if you’re at all interested in these topics, I heartily recommend checking out this book. It’s published by New Society Publishers.
(Photo: Autumn in Madison Square Park, October 2007)
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
One of the best surprises about my weekend up in the Hudson Valley was the leaves. Particularly in the lower reaches of the valley, and in New Jersey, they're really beautiful right now. I thought about taking my camera when I went to Rhinebeck for my friend's wedding, but then I thought, "Well, it's November, and all the leaves will be gone, so why bother?" Boy, was I wrong!
I don't know whether our autumn is coming later this year or not - it certainly seems later. But regardless, it was in fine form.
And now, we're on to Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday: Just food and relaxation. I don't do the post-Thanksgiving shopping blitz, so for me, there's no stress. I'm headed down to DC on Wednesday night to hang out with some good friends, and I hope to have lunch with Reya.
My jet lag finally seems to have subsided, as well as most of my cold. Whew!
(Photo: Leaf in Ithaca, October 2007)
Saturday, November 17, 2007
So, what can I say about Italy? It was very fun, incredibly educational, periodically frustrating, and totally exhausting - in a good way. Here's a quick rundown on what we did.
We began in Rome, where we spent four days seeing the Roman ruins and wandering the city, as well as visiting the Vatican. We saw all the required stuff: the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's. I even threw three coins into the Trevi Fountain, but alas, I didn't marry an Italian. (Maybe that magic doesn't work for gay weddings? Italy is very Catholic, after all! Or maybe it just takes a while to kick in...)
The art, of course, was exquisite. The Caravaggios at the Villa Borghese were amazing, and I developed a new appreciation for sculpture after seeing works by Bernini and Canova.
But Rome was also overwhelming. We had a little hotel mishap on our first night - our reserved hotel couldn't put us in our room because of a plumbing problem, and had to send us instead to another hotel which proved far inferior. But we rolled with it. I'd prepaid the rooms and couldn't face doing battle with Italians on my first night in the country. Also, traffic in Rome is INSANE.
From there we went to Florence, which was kind of like living in the Renaissance wing of the Metropolitan Museum, if I can be totally New York-centric. I saw so much art and architecture that I nearly went crazy. Really. The Uffizi was beautiful but exhausting. And I saw Michaelangelo's David, but I have to say, I don't quite get the appeal. The head's too big, the hands are too big - he's all out of proportion. Am I crazy?
We went to Pisa on a day-trip and saw the leaning tower. Didn't climb it, though. I am happy to report that it looks just like it does in Bugs Bunny cartoons.
While in Pisa, we got caught in a train strike that threatened to strand us. But we rose to the occasion and caught a bus to nearby Lucca, where we disembarked in the middle of - I kid you not - a hailstorm! Just one of those days. But the storm subsided quickly and we had a great time walking around Lucca, and then caught a train back to Florence after the brief strike ended.
We spent our final days in Venice. By this time I'd contracted a hideous head cold - probably from that crazy hailstorm - but still enjoyed wandering the tiny, narrow streets and alleys. Because it's on a series of islands, Venice has no cars. There were, however, boatloads of tour groups, and I have never seen so many pigeons in my life as I saw in San Marco - and coming from a New Yorker, that's saying something!
We visited Peggy Guggenheim's amazing modern art collection, just to get a break from all the Madonnas and Titians. We also had drinks at Harry's Bar, visited the basilica and the Doges' Palace, and strolled the waterfront nearly all the way to the end of the island, where there's a nice green park. If the canals really are polluted, I sure couldn't tell - they're a beautiful Mediterranean blue color. (And also look just like they do in Bugs Bunny cartoons!)
Now, I'm battling down the last of my cold and adjusting to life in these United States. I'm off to a wedding in Rhinebeck, N.Y., this weekend, and then we're into Thanksgiving - my favorite holiday! Whew!
(Photos from top: Trees in the Villa Borghese, Rome; the colosseum from Palatine Hill, Rome; the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City; sunset on the Grand Canal, Venice.)
Friday, November 16, 2007
Back again in the states after two weeks traveling around Italy. I had a great trip through Rome, Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Venice. Toured all the Roman ruins and St. Peter's at the Vatican, and saw enough Renaissance art to have nightmares about being carried away by throngs of winged putti. (Well, not really, but close.)
Traveling was not without its drama - a train strike stranded us briefly in Pisa and Lucca, and I caught a hideous cold in Florence - but overall I had lots of fun.
I need some time to get my photos together and when I do that, I'll tell you more about the trip itself. Right now I still need to get back on schedule after flying in yesterday evening. (Wide awake at 4 a.m.! What fun!)
Thanks for checking in and leaving comments while I was gone. It was terrific to see that so many of you kept my blog alive while I took a break. :)
(Photo: Graffiti in Chelsea, October 2007)
Thursday, November 1, 2007
I’ve been pretty prolific over the past week or so, haven’t I? Well, I’ve been trying to “stock up” the blog a bit in anticipation of today, when I leave on a two week vacation. I’m going to Italy! Woo hoo!
I’ll be in Rome, Florence and Venice -- and maybe a few other places -- traveling with my Mom. I’m taking a laid-back approach to this trip -- aside from hotel reservations and a few things we did in advance, like buy tickets to the Uffizi, we’re not really planning our daily activities. We’re just going to get up each day and see which way the Italian wind is blowing.
So I’ll see you when I get back, some time after Nov. 15th!
(Photo: Garden furniture outside an antique shop in Tribeca, Sept. 2007)