Sunday, June 27, 2010

What Kind of Day Has It Been

TV geeks, I mean fans, know that Aaron Sorkin called the finale episode of the first season of his three tv series—-Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip---‘What Kind of Day Has It Been.’ On The M.A. Peel Show, the final Saturday in June has been quite the day here in Gotham City.

It started with an early run on Roosevelt Island, that odd little floating hamlet with hospitals in the East River. The tram is completely out of service for 6 months, leaving only the F train. Anyway, it was slow and steady going on its flat grounds. Running along the river gives you some great views of Manhattan. That was followed by Pilates at my secret studio.

World Cup Watching & Tweeting

Then it was off to the Paley Center for US v. Ghana and some tweeting. It happened that the electrical outlet for the laptop put me right behind an enclave of Ghana supporters. It was exciting to be there. And there was much wit, and some excellent game commentary, in Twitterdom. I stumbled on Wil Wheaton’s tweets. And became his 1,657,263rd follower. Yes, that’s ONE MILLION etc. I also saw the early news of the vandals in Toronto, destroying police cruisers and stores under the guise of protesting the G-20 summit.

It was a tough loss for the home team. But it meant that one African team goes forward, and I can get behind that. England vs. Germany tomorrow. Wow. You can see the whole history of the 20th century on the field of green with those 2.

“The Mirror . . . urged England to arms, with a mock editorial echoing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Sept. 3, 1939, radio broadcast declaring war: ‘Last night, The Daily Mirror’s ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock, a state of soccer would exist between us.’"
(From John F. Burns, in NYTimes)


Very quick bit to eat with old friend, then off to Lincoln Center to see the final night of the New York Philharmonic season, performing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.

It’s a towering symphonic choral work, often dubbed Beethoven’s “greatest, unknown masterpiece.” Anthony Tommasini called it “solemn, strange and demanding sounds.”

It was a thrilling concert experience. Packed house, palpably attentive audience. Every element was excellent: chorus, soloists, orchestra. I didn’t know the piece well, so I was truly on the edge of my seat, wondering just where each movement was going, and how was it going to end?

There were surprises everywhere. The Gloria seems to end, gets to Amen, and then, like Glen Miller’s In the Mood, it recaps, circles back to another shout of “Gloria in excelsis Deo.”

In the Credo, the “Crucifixus etiam pro nobis” is right out of the great Renaissance composer Lotti. The “Et resurrexit tertia die” is acappella, extraordinary unaccompanied beats within the wall of sound we’ve be floating in.

The bass soloist starts the Agnus Dei, and it’s just men for the first iteration. It cycles through the repetitions, and then the horns come in for a recap of Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi.”

Some interesting commentary from YouTube:

I tuned this in, lay back on my bed, and bathed my head in these exotic Greek words, set to music straight from heaven, by way of a man who was quite deaf. Kyrie eleison.

I first heard this in my late teens and it almost made me believe in God.
Even now, being a devout atheist, it's having a similar effect.

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is the king of kings in the empire of music

I'm listening the voice of God, geez, i thought he didn't exist!

One surprising thing outside of Beethoven’s composing was that there was a screen over the stage, and it flashed an English language translation of the Mass propers. I’m a fan of supratitles for opera, where you need to follow a story. But the English words are in the program, and it was distracting to see them above the chorus's head. Doubly distracting because the translation of the Nicene Creed was none I have ever seen. I looked it up, and the translation they used is distinctly from the Ruthenian Catholic Church, a Byzantine Eastern Rite Church. Very strange to use for a German Catholic composer.

The applause after the last chord was the proverbial thunderous.

Now, tomorrow, . . .

Monday, June 21, 2010

Solstice 2010: Just a Closer Walk with Thee

Today is the longest day of the year. People have looked for cosmic connections to this distinctive day for ages.

Here is one I stumbled into:

Yesterday was the season finale of Treme, the exquisite HBO series about post-Katrina New Orleans from David Simon. It was a quiet series, a brilliant snapshot of a time and place that made the 3-month post-Katrina lives of Nola residents “real” to the broader country. That’s what art does. It takes the facts of ordinary life and transcends them to something that others can understand in their hearts and souls. It was not elaborate, in the same sense as the masterful Wire, which dampened some people’s appreciation of it. But Simon, and Eric Overmeyer, and the late David Mills captured the struggles of a handful of residents with an art that did the city proud. And the music--using cameos from numerous working Nola musicians as well as the big name all-stars-—set the series apart from all other tv series and made it uniquely joyful to watch. It’s not often we get to see real musicians on prime-time television, a sad commentary on the state of the medium.

(On a side note: yesterday was Father’s Day, and one of the arcs on the series was hotshot NY trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux coming to respect the traditions of his father, Big Chief Lambreaux.)

Back to the Solstice in New York:

Gotham has taken on various solstice rituals in the last 10 tens. One is yoga in Times Square. Another, started four years ago, is Make Music New York, when “hundreds of public spaces throughout the five boroughs — sidewalks, parks, community gardens, and more — become impromptu stages for over 1,000 free concerts. Musicians of all ages, creeds, and musical persuasions perform for new audiences, who come out from under their headphones to hear unfamiliar groups risk-free on the first day of summer.” (Nice photos of the day from Alex Ross.)

One feature of Make Music was none other than a Second Line, in three different places.

“A New Orleans-style "second line" jazz parade, featuring musicians from the Jazz Gallery, Jazzmobile, and other leading institutions, will wind its way through three Manhattan neighborhoods for this year's Make Music New York, joined by community members who have learned the traditional Second Line dance steps.”

I caught the Second Line coming down Broadway to Lincoln Center. It was spirited, though a pale shadow of the pros in Treme. But just the fact that NY wanted to try to share in the tradition of Nola made it a strange, poignant extension of the tv show.

Another come-to-life moment was running into one of the Play Me I'm Yours pianos, an artwork by British artist Luke Jerram who has been touring the project globally since 2008. He has placed 6o pianos throughout the 5 boroughs, open for anyone to sit down and start playing. I ran into someone playing the solstice-appropriate “I’m beginning to see the light” at Lincoln Center. I was an audience of one for her solo performance. She was a talented player, shades of Annie and Sonny. Again a cosmic connection between Gotham on the first day of summer and Treme.

The Solo Human Voice

Another gift from the Treme seasonal finale was Lois Dejean singing “Just a closer walk with Thee” a cappella at Daymo’s funeral.

Her performance was so soulful, so inspiring that I found myself humming it this morning in the elevator.

If you click no other link this year, you must click on the video to hear her singing it in a master class, to experience the power of one human voice to invoke everything about life and death. Look at Melvin her accompanist, grinning ear to ear to be making music with such a pro.

The days start getting shorter starting at midnight tonight. That’s all right. The music will always be our guide to the light.

(Revised 6/22 to correct that the solstice is not the equinox!)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy Bloomsday

This is where I came in to the live reading of excerpts of the novel that changed the 20th century at Symphony Space. The sound of Joyce. There's nothing like it. Stephen Colbert made a cameo and read one of the riffs in Cyclops.

And this year we have the apology from Prime Minister Dave Cameron for Bloody Sunday. I was shocked to see it yesterday. Still processing.

Ulysses: Cyclops
“In Innisfail there lies a land…”
Colum McCann

“The figure seated…”
Stephen Colbert

“And then he starts…”
Alphie McCourt

“Let me, said he…”
Ira Glass

“The fashionable world…”
Charlotte Moore

“Take that in you right hand…”
Niall Burgess

“Will you try another…”
Narrator: Neil Hickey
Bloom: David Margulies
Khris Lewin, Malachy McCourt, Thane Rosenbaum, Peter Quinn, Ivy Austin

“But begob…”
Neil Hickey, Malachy McCourt, Eilin O’Dea, David Margulies, Ciaran O’Reilly, Khris Lewin ,p> “Gob, the devil won’t stop him.”
Neil Hickey, Malachy McCourt, Khris Lewin, Isaiah Sheffer

VI. Homecoming: Ithaca

The Odyssey: Book Twenty-Three, The Great Rooted Bed
“With that thought…”
Narrator: Isaiah Sheffer
Penelope: Lois Smith
Telemachus: Damian Woetzel
Odysseus: David Margulies

Ulysses: Ithaca
“Bloom acts?”
Questions: Rebecca Donner
Answers: George S. Irving

Questions: Frances Scanlon
Answers: Lillo Way

“In what final satisfaction…”
Questions: Lisa Flanagan
Answers: Isaiah Sheffer

VII. Ulysses: Penelope

The complete episode
Molly: Fionnula Flanagan

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup (cont'd)

I am enjoying the sweep of the World Cup. The closest I got before was the final of the Qudditich World Cup scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Ireland vs. Bulgaria. It seemed “their” thing, the European thing. Now it feels more like something we are a part of.

South Africa Vs. Mexico
I watched the opening match of South Africa vs. Mexico on the big screen at the Paley Center’s free screenings. Workers, friends and family of the South African consulate came over, and it was an exuberant, emotional experience for everyone in the room. The roar of the crowd was thunderous from the first overhead shot of Soccer Stadium in Johannesburg through to their goal against Mexico, ending in a tie. We shot some footage of the fans breaking into song, to the drone of the ubiquitous vuvuzelas (which is annoying fans around the world to different degrees.)

England vs. USA

The experience wasn’t as musical, but packed with its own colonial backstory. I live tweeted for the Paley Center, which was fun because I saw some pretty clever tweets from the world community. The best, of course, referred to the English goalkeeper’s epic blunder that allowed US to score.

My favorite:

“Now that’s embarrassing” from ubertweeter Stephen Fry

and this, from BillWeirABC (quoted from memory, Twitter is down):

"For the rest of his life, whenever he goes for fish and chips, he will wonder about the purity of the tartar sauce."

I love that Andrew Sullivan is breaking his own 'we don't cover anything that involves a ball' rule. His World Cup posts are great.

Existentialism and the English Soccer Fan

He quotes from Gideon Rachman of the FT.

"One of the masochistic pleasures of watching England, however, is the sheer familiarity of the narrative. We build the team up, we convince ourselves that this time we’ve got a real chance, the team get off to a decent start and then it all falls apart. It’s like having a recurring nightmare. And I think the players are as spooked as the fans - you can see their self-belief collapsing, as soon as things start to go wrong."

Upcoming Games

Come on down to to midtown at 9:30 and 2:00.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My First World Cup (a late bloomer)

The day job has drawn my attention to the World Cup in a big way. I don’t remember it being even a blip on my screen four years ago (apparently Italy won), and now it’s front and center. I like the whole idea of it: teams across the world playing each other. Kinda makes our World Series seem badly named.

And don’t get me started about the New York Times calling the matches soccer instead of football. Do they really think that Americans would mistake this June/July event for the NFL if we joined the WORLD and called it football? Can’t we feel part of Team Earth even once?

But I’ll focus on the positive, the skill of the world athletes and global country pride. First match is the home team South Africa (pictured above) vs. Mexico, followed by Uruguay and France.

Saturday is USA v. ENGLAND! Woo hoo! The colonies coming against the old mother country on the field of sport.

The Paley Center in New York and Los Angeles is showing the matches for FREE on the big screen. If you’re in either city, come on down. There is also an exhibit of photos from the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour through the African continent by artist/photographer Joseph Peter in both cities along with African art and artifacts to bring some of the artistic soul of the continent to the viewing experience.

K’naan sings the official World Cup theme song, Waving Flag, which is very, very catchy. It’s been posted by multiple sources on Youtube.

Here’s a quick look at the number of views:
CBC studio recording, 4 million views; Video with David Bisbal, 2 million; AM-TV upload, 3 million; some German upload, 3.5 million; Offical Arabic Video, with Nancy Ajram, 1.1 million; a version that shows all 32 flags, 1.4 million; not even counting the videos with only hundreds of thousands.

I love thinking about all those millions of people, united for a short time, by the positive force of competitive sport.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A New Party Game: Ludlam-Speak

Our Man in Bangkok, Tim Footman, has brought us a tantalizing literary game in a post about Christopher Hitchens’s memories of a dinner party he attended with Salman Rushdie where somebody was complaining about the epic badness of the novels of Robert Ludlum, AND their titles. Can’t you just hear the background tinkle of glasses, forks against china and hushed side conversations as “somebody” amid these English lit Brahmins starts the America-bashing?

Well, it brought us this game, so all is forgiven.

Hitch explains that it’s the pretentiousness of the titles that so offends—-The Bourne Supremacy, The Aquitaine Progression, The Ludlum Impersonation—-when another of the elite wondered aloud what a Shakespeare play might be called in Ludlum speak.

Whereupon, Rushdie was able to rename Hamlet and Macbeth The Elsinor Vacillation and The Dunsinane Implication in two shakes. Followed by The Kerchief Implication (my favorite) and The Rialto Sanction.

Tim took on the tacit challenge of his countrymen:

The Mongoloid Truncation (Coleridge’s Kubla Khan)
The Dorset Mishap (Any of Thomas Hardy’s novels)
The Eden Project (Paradise Lost)

All excellent.

I played along with

The Marchmain Debacle
The San Fermin Triangle
The Fleming Fortitude

Hope you can surmise these classics. Maybe offer one or two of your own. There’s more Ludlamese over at Tim’s.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Running Toward Something (I hope)

I am trying to liberate my inner runner (my inner child already having many outlets of its own). The last time I ran was high school track, a sprinter. I was fast, but I didn’t run distances.

On New Year’s I decided this would be the year of physical fitness for me. In part, because I can, because I am blessed with excellent good health (when I’m not having strange conditions). But good health is not good conditioning, and I decided it was time to give the chassis a major tune-up.

Pilates: The Audi of Exercises

In January I started doing Pilates, an amazing system of specific exercises targeting the muscles of the upper and lower abdomen, lower back, and hips, in order to build up some strength.

Joseph Pilates was born in Germany in 1883. The son of a prize-winning gymnast, he was a sickly child plagued with asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. He was motivated to strengthen his body through skiing, yoga, and body-building, and he was able to condition himself into good health. He came to the US in 1925, meeting his wife Clara on the boat, and started a studio for what he then called Contrology—very tailored, measured exercises. He built apparatuses to help access upper abs, lower abs, lower back muscles in ways that are simply not possible just on the floor mat itself.

I have a healthy skepticism for anything that claims to be wonderful, but Pilates is certifiably amazing. Joe Pilates was a genius about the way body works. I found very talented instructors at Body in Motion Pilates Studio and in six months I’ve become palpably stronger.

The Running Center
After six months of strengthening it was time to take it on the road. I didn’t want to run in a gym-—I find gyms depressing places. And so I joined The Running Club, headed by Coach Mindy, that works out in Central Park. I have only just started, and so I’m still struggling to breath since my cardio isn’t where it needs to be yet. As clichéd as it is, I like to think of Rocky from the first movie when he starts to get in shape. The triumphant run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art doesn’t happen overnight.

I am cautiously optimistic there is a runner inside waiting for my heart and lungs to get in gear and let her out.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rest in Peace, Louise Bourgeois

News came yesterday of the death of artist Louise Bourgeois at 98. She has a place in my psyche as the creator of the Maman & family spider sculptures. In her honor, here is a post from 2008 when it seemed that Maman was following me.

Heeeeelp Meeeeee: Those Damn Spiders

There I was, perusing the Sunday Styles pages of the NYTimes online, feeling all was right with the world, when I spot a fashion feature entitled Arachnophilia.

Love of spiders. I don’t think so.

I have a mild form of arachnophobia, one of the most common fears on the planet. I’ve had it as long as I can remember. We always had some spiders in the house, particularly in the upstairs bathroom. I dreaded going in there, and spotting one, sometimes two, up in the corner, threatening me, sometimes dropping down a bit and them climbing back up again. All that jiggling around made me nauseous.

I know that one time I walked into one as it was dropping down. I know that I had one sitting on my head when I was five or so, and my mother told me and picked him off.

What is it about the spider that creates such dread? For me, they are the embodiment of evil. Not that they are evil themselves, but that in their ugliness, and eight jointed hairy legs, and ability to swing in the air and drop on people, and eat prey that they have caught and anesthetized in their webs—-they embody evil.

I am not alone in this view.

Hence Shelob, She who lives in the mountain bordering Mordor, and to whom Gollum delivers Frodo. I can’t watch that part of The Return of the King (although in the books she’s in The Two Towers).

But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness."

Tolkien knew. He got it.

Then there is the all-time most gruesome spider scene ever in The Fly—-the special effects which were improved upon in the 1986 remake, when the fly with the human head is caught in the spider web, and she is quickly moving in to eat him/it. I would have been much faster with that rock than Helene was.

I never saw Earth Vs. the Spider or Tarantula, but I watched bits and pieces of Arachnophobia on tv in one of those masochistic compulsions to do things that really repulse you.

These spiders were at least safely within the movie screen or could be switched channels on. Imagine my horror, in 2001, when I walked through Rockefeller Centre, near where I work, and saw a family of 35-foot metal spiders!

It was horrible—-my worst nightmare alive in my waking day. There was a mother, a father, and a baby spider. You had to walk underneath them to go north to south in the plaza. The Mommy spider clearly had an egg sac hanging from her. I’m getting light-headed just typing the words.

People are always so worried about religious art in the public square-—why no outcry to these objects of widespread phobia?

The pieces are art by the sculptor Louise Bourgeois:

“For decades, Bourgeois has used the spider to explore issues related to memories of her mother, who died when the artist was 20.

‘My mother was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and useful as a spider," she once wrote...’”

Woah. Spider as mother. The thought gave me nightmares for weeks.

All that summer I lived with a sickening, creepy sense of the spiders waiting over in the canyon of Rockefeller buildings. They were there a long time.

The next summer I was in Spain, touring with a small vocal group, and we went to Bilbao to give a performance at the Guggenheim. We got to our hotel on Nervion River late in the day on the bank across from the museum. I was walking along the beautiful river before dinner, when sparks of light near the museum caught my eye. I walked closer and closer to it, and to my amazement—and complete horror—it was a crew with acetylene torches, securing the last leg of a giant Bourgeois SPIDER.

A cold chill went down my spine. Was my trip to be so marred by the presence of evil? How awful. I hated them in Rockefeller Centre, now I felt the evil was following me. (That spider is a permanent installation at Bilbao—lucky you, you can still go and see it.)

Maybe there was some good mojo counteracting the evil presence, because the tour went very well. Besides Bilbao, we sang at Santiago de Compostella, and in Lisbon and Coimbra in Portugal.

On the way home, we had a long enough stopover in London that allowed us to pop in to the Tate Modern. And there, in the book shop, I opened a book about the museum, and there in the frontice spread was a huge photo of ANOTHER FREAKING BOURGEOIS SPIDER.

Apparently, Maman was commissioned for that cavernous Turbine Hall space. What kind of a journey was I on? Why did these gigantic arachnids keep turning up in my path??

And now, the Style section has a photo feature of Parisian women dressing to honor the Bourgeois spider now in Tuileries Garden.

Sigh. There is no escaping THEM!