Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

May the year to come be better than the one now passing (hey, I believe in setting the bar low).

How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken

I ordered this from the library and there was a waiting list so it took me forever to get it. And then, between the distractions of other books and the holidays and my bugs, I read it very slowly. So at this point I might as well have bought the damn thing in the first place and not had to wait.

I felt like it was a rewarding read, though perhaps better suited, at least from my perspective, to dipping in and out of rather than reading it all in one go. One of the things I particularly like about his writing is the sense of a consistent aesthetic. In his introduction Mendelsohn writes of the title:
Interestingly, Williams phrase occurs in a stage direction not about the play's set design but about a certain musical leitmotif he has in mind, one that (he writes, in his typically meticulous directions)
expresses the surface vivacity of life with the underlying strain of immutable and inexpressible sorrow. . . . When you look at a piece of delicately spun glass you think of two things: how beautiful it is and how easily it can be broken. Both of these ideas should be woven into the recurring tune.

I suppose that one reason that this haunting line struck me with such force when I first came across it is that it acknowledges, with perfect simplicity, the inevitable entwining of beauty and tragedy that is the hallmark of Greek theater, and is a consistent element in the works that have always moved me the most, from the plays of Euripides to the History of Thucydides, from the light comedies of Noel Coward to the films of Pedro Almodovar. As the Greeks knew well, it is the potential for being broken--which boils down to the knowledge that we all must die--that gives resonance and meaning to the small part of the universe that is our life. The necessity, in the end, of yielding to hard and inexplicable realities that are beyond our control is a tragic truth; without that, all you've got is mush--melodrama, and Hallmark sentimentality. That so much of contemporary culture is characterized by this sentimentality, by a seeming preference for false "closures" over a strong and meaningful confrontation with real and inalterable pain, is a cultural crisis. That crisis is another theme that runs through many of the essays here.

But in my mind Williams's haunting phrase illuminates not only the nature of certain works that have preoccupied me, but also something of the nature of critics who judge those works. For (strange as it may sound to many people, who tend to think of critics as being motivated by the lower emotions: envy, disdain, contempt even) critics are, above all, people who are in love with beautiful things, and who worry that those things will get broken. What motivates so many of us to write in the first place is, to begin with, great passion for a subject (Tennessee Williams, Balanchine, jazz, the twentieth-century novel, whatever) that we find beautiful; and then, a kind of corresponding anxiety about the fragility of that beauty.
I always like to know what a critic is looking for or how they approach what they criticize. As a reader, I think it allows me to get more from their work. I had a history teacher in college who absolutely drilled into us that the first thing we should ask when reading was, "what's their bias?" I figure that pretty much works as a question for all kinds of non-fiction writing. Anyway, Mendelsohn is clear on where he's coming from--although I do wonder how he defines beauty, since I don't think art necessarily has to or should be beautiful--and I appreciate that. Liking his approach wouldn't be worth much though if I didn't also think Mendelsohn was a fantastic critic (who also has the advantage of writing for the New York Review of Books where he has lots of space). He's insightful and thoughtful and informative. I can tell you one thing: I know a good bit more about Greek theater now than I did last month.

I think that any time you read a compilation of criticism--particularly one that encompasses such a broad range: movies, plays, books of fiction, books of non-fiction, opera--there are certain subjects that you'll be more interested in than others. While I eventually read everything, I skipped around reading the essays I was more interested in first. Unsurprisingly, I particularly enjoyed reading about the plays and movies I had also seen and the books I had also read. Mendelsohn's essays on The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire helped me understand why watching the plays seemed so dead compared to reading them (I've seen three Tennessee Williams plays on Broadway and been disappointed every time). I loved Medea when I saw it but Mendelsohn calls the production, "grotesque, giggling, wrongheaded," and I understand the play better for his critique of it although it doesn't lessen my recollection of it. And I felt like I had a richer view of Colm Toibin's The Master, a book I enjoyed after reading what he had to say about it.

That's not to say that I enjoyed everything. I found his dissection of Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe a slog. Academic review and critique is certainly necessary, but there's no pleasure in reading the thorough dismantling of a work over a decade after it was first published and after it's author's death. Also, as interesting as I find medieval history, I can't summon up that much interest in medieval Christian liturgy. I imagine the essay was included in this book because it seems relevant to current political debate. But I can't help but feel that its relevance is only surface deep. And I had to spread out the Greek theater because I can only take so much of that in one go.

What I liked best about the book though, is the way in which Mendelsohn examines what the works he's reviewing tell us about our own culture. I found that analysis particularly interesting.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Notes from the Homefront

1.) The night I got in to Buffalo, my brother (who is 18 and has Down Syndrome) asked me to give him back his Ultimate Spiderman comics. My father took them away ages ago because my brother isn't always so good at recognizing the line between fact and fiction, and stashed them somewhere in my room. I don't know where though and even if I did I wouldn't give them back. So I told him that I didn't really know what he wanted from me and a few minutes later, I got this note:
Ultimate
theef
bich
you
took
my things
Now obviously it would be better if he were writing me nice notes, but being able to express himself in writing like that is a pretty new thing so we're all pleased (and amused). It's particularly nice because it's not like anyone ever taught him how to write "bitch" so he obviously sounded it out on his own.


2.) My father took me to a Sabres game while I was home. Fortunately they won, if in an unnecessarily ugly way. Last time I went to a Sabres game in Buffalo was the ice bowl last year. There were an awful lot fewer people yelling, "You suck, Vanek!" this year. Also, we got ice cream, which makes any day better.


3.) My parents have what appears to be an infestation of excessively stupid mice. Not only have they set up residence in a household that has a fairly talented feline hunter, either the cat has taken to putting them there, which we doubt since he's previously shown a preference for eating his kills, or they keep drowning in the dog's water bowl. 5 dead mice between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thankfully there were none in the week I was home.


4.)
I am now in possession of a passel of new plants which I will hopefully manage not to kill. The first is a bamboo plant that was a Channukah gift from my brother. We don't actually exchange Channukah gifts, but he couldn't wait until Christmas to give it to me. The other two are cuttings from other plants.
The bamboo (obviously).
A cutting from my sister's Rat Tail Cactus,
which will hopefully not die since it really didn't cure long enough.
They end up looking really neat.

A cutting from my grandparents cactus,
which they've had for over 30 years
and just cut down for the umpteenth time.


5.) I'm glad there was snow when I arrived because the rest of the week was so warm and damp that it all melted and a lake formed in the backyard. On Sunday morning it was so windy that tiny rippling waves were running across the pooled water and you could feel the wind pushing against the car as my sister and I drove toward New York City. Briefly, around the time we passed Rochester, it looked like it was going to clear up. A sharp streak of lighter sky appeared at the horizon, as if the lid of a pot were being lifted up. Instead the rain came back.


6.) Driving up to the Holland Tunnel totally sucks.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Unless you celebrate Channukah, in which case, Happy Channukah! Or you could be like my family, celebrate both, and host a Channukah-celebrating dinner on Christmas Eve. We are, it's safe to say, very festive here today. Well, whatever you celebrate, have a good one!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Today's Calvin and Hobbes...



I particularly love that it looks like a giant ant. Kind of like Them with bed bugs instead of ants. How scary would that be?


P.S. Don't actually use Raid on bed bugs, imaginary or otherwise.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Autobiography/Biography: Narrating the Self

I went up to the Philoctetes Center last Saturday to see this roundtable discussion. Partly because I like biographies--generally speaking I'm less wild about memoirs and autobiographies--and partially because I loved Simon Winchester's two books that revolved around the creation of the OED. I thought it was a thought-provoking discussion, so if you're interested in the subject I totally recommend watching it here. (I think it's fantastic that they not only offer these events for free but also put video up on the Web. I wish I'd heard about them earlier.) 

I do, however, recommend turning it off before the audience Q & A starts. It was an interesting afternoon up until that point, but the questions were downright painful and if I hadn't been sitting so far from the door I would have left then and there. Honestly people, if your question is all about you no one in the audience really cares. That means if it requires a two-minute set-up in which you talk about the book you wrote 10 years ago and its critical reception, no one wants to hear it. Skip the personal stuff. If it all comes down to whether or not you should fire the editor you've hired because of a disagreement about ellipses, no one gives a shit. If it involves you wittering on about your opinions at length only to say, "Don't you agree?" at the end, that's not even a real question in the first place and you've only succeeded in showing off what an ass you are. Get a grip, folks.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The McGarrigle Christmas Hour(s)

I suppose it's a mistake to try and force the Christmas spirit, because about half way through this concert Wednesday night I was wishing that I'd just gone home after my office Christmas party and sat down with a book and a cup of tea. Which is such a nice feeling after one has spent money on tickets, no?

I do think, though, that the problem wasn't all me. The ramshackle, disorganized nature of the evening would play better in a venue more modest than Carnegie Hall. It feels like it should be taking place in someone's living room or a community hall, but it's impossible to make Carnegie Hall feel like anything other than a huge concert hall and moments get lost. Particularly when you're up in the cheap seats squinting just to figure out who's who. More problematic was the uneven nature of the material. I mean, was it really necessary to make us all suffer through Rufus Wainwright's (awful) Christmas is For Kids? And the Vincent Dow spoken word piece, which was also on the CD that came out a few years ago, wasn't particularly worthwhile the first time I heard it, much less now. A little editing would probably come in handy.

Still, there was a lot to recommend about the show: Laurie Anderson's spoken word; Martha Wainwright's contributions, particularly the French carol; Jimmy Fallon's imitations of Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and David Bowie; Rufus's mic-free rendition of "O Holy Night"; and so on. So it's a shame that I spent most of it wishing I were somewhere else as the hours dragged on. Lesson learned, I suppose. 


Saturday, December 13, 2008

At the Whitney

I met up with a friend at the Whitney Sunday because she wanted to see the Calder exhibit and I wanted to see the Eggleston exhibit. I was somewhat familiar with Calder's mobiles, which were interesting but my least favorite part of the exhibit, and his wire sculptures. Although I'd only seen the ones that are portraits of people and it was his animals that I loved.

The best part of the exhibit by far though, was the video of his witty, clever Circus. A video with clips:


My favorite part of the video isn't in this clip though. A knife thrower comes out and throws knives at a woman standing in front of a curtain. Eventually one of the knives hits the assistant knocking her down. Two little stretcher-bearers trundle out, and the woman is carried off on the stretcher.

I liked the Eggleston exhibit although I thought it was a bit variable. His color photos, with their intense hues, are more interesting than his black and white shots. There was a room full of posed portraits which seemed far less evocative than his more snapshot-like photos. His pictures of the South though, drenched in color and atmosphere, are worth the price of admission. Looking at them is like looking at the world through someone else's eyes: at once familiar and deeply alien. (NYT slideshow here)

Not going to lie though, my dinner of an open faced sandwich with cheese and asparagus, hot chocolate, and apple tart was the best part of the day. Winter always makes me want to eat particularly good food and since I don't really cook and am trying to save money by not eating out, I haven't been doing much of that. I'm totally counting down the days to the time I'm back in Buffalo, eating my mother's food. 

Sunday, December 07, 2008

It might be a little (ok, a lot) sad to spend Saturday night cleaning out your fridge, but I've got to tell you, I'm really enjoying looking at my clean, extremely organized, and rather empty fridge. I feel so accomplished.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Holiday time is when we find out what writers are reading it seems, and the Village Voice has an article where authors recommend their "most favorite" obscure book (which is different than their favorite how?). It's a nice concept, but I really couldn't care less what Ethan Hawke or Anne Rice like to read. Couldn't they choose a more interesting selection of authors?

I was happy, though utterly unsurprised, to see that Harold Bloom recommended Little, Big, which really is that good. The recommendation I liked best though, was Hannah Tinti's of a graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby in which, "The characters are not human—they are strange creatures. Nick is some kind of tadpole/lizard/frog; Daisy is an exotic bird/cottonball; Gatsby is a seahorse." I like seahorses. I would totally read that.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What Girls Want

So I was reading Galleycat yesterday morning and followed a link to this much-blogged-about Caitlin Flanagan article in The Atlantic. It's really a (very positive) of the Twilight series. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I haven't read the series, so I really can't comment on that beyond saying that I am one of those who feels that anything that gets young people--or old people, or any other people for that matter--reading is a good thing. But Flanagan's article covers a lot more than just the series so I can comment on it.

I didn't read much YA fiction even when I was a young adult. So I'm not exactly an expert. But despite that, I think her essay rings false from the opening paragraph.
CHILDREN’S BOOKS ABOUT divorce—which are unanimously dedicated to bucking up those unfortunate little nippers whose families have gone belly-up—ask a lot of their authors. Their very premise, however laudable, so defies the nature of modern children’s literature (which, since the Victorian age, has centered on a sentimental portrayal of the happy, intact family) that the enterprise seems doomed from the title.
It's rather small-minded to claim that books about unhappy, broken families defy "the nature of modern children's literature." More than that, it seems completely untrue. I can think of many books, going back years, that center around families that are not happy and or intact. To choose just one particularly famous example, L. M. Montgomery's books, with their orphans and motherless children, so often focus on the attempt to create such a family where one does not exist. It seems as if, for Flanagan, an awful lot of children's and young adult literature was just never written.

It doesn't get better from there.
The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room, or even just when she’s gazing out the classroom window while all of Modern European History, or the niceties of the passé composé, sluice past her. This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading.
I loved reading as a teenager. My father used to ground me from reading because my room was a mess or I wasn't doing my math homework and I'd go and hide in my basement, or some corner of my room and read the day away. But I wasn't aware that when I was reading The Son of Tarzan or Deryni Rising I was working out the big questions in my life. I was going on adventures and imagining different lives for myself outside my suburban milieu. I wasn't entering the emotional lives of others but transporting myself. Which seems to me to be an equally valid reason to read. I like to think there's more than one reason for people--yes, even if those people are teenage girls--to read.

And that's really the biggest problem with the article (which is chock full of all kinds of problems). It's generalizations piled on top of generalizations. What young adult books are about, what young adult books should be about, what teenage girls are like, what teenage girls want, and so on. Wouldn't the world be boring if everything and everyone really were that alike?

As a side note, on what was, after all, not a good day in the world of publishing, let me remind everyone that books make great holiday gifts because there's something for everyone. And also that your local independent bookstore is a fabulous place to shop. I'm just saying.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Milk


It's funny that a biopic should feel so impersonal. Particularly one as fantastically-acted as this one. That's not a complaint, exactly. It just felt more like a movie about a movement and a moment in time than a person. In other words, the subject was not Milk's interior world but his exterior world. I think that's a perfectly legitimate tact to take, and certainly the movie is engaging, both intellectually and emotionally (false dichotomy alert). But I do think that it has a distancing effect, particularly for someone like me who wasn't born when these events took place and doesn't have any personal investment in them. And it robs the climax--the assassination itself--of some of the power it might otherwise have. Because it's the movement that matters in the movie, and we know that that continued.

That said, it's the best movie of gone to this year (although I've gone to very few movies) and I really did think it was excellent. Fairly conventional but the subject and performances make it extremely rewarding.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving

I have to admit, I'm not exactly a bottomless pit of thankfulness these days. It's been a rough year and an even rougher fall. And I'm certainly not alone there because I know things are tough all over and there are a lot of people a hell of a lot worse off than me right now. So I thought I would try to make a list of things (and people) that I'm thankful for this season.
  • My wonderful family, without whom I would be even more of a wreck than I am right now. I've been spending a good amount of time wishing my parents lived a few hundred miles closer, but they're still there for me and my grandparents are close by. I'm a very lucky girl.
  • My job, complete with a totally understanding boss and coworkers I like. Also, the fact that I hadn't used up my days off before this shit began.
  • Having the money saved to hire an exterminator (or two, if my next/fifth visit doesn't solve the problem).
  • My roommate's mother, who is yet another person on the list of people who have done all they can to help me deal with this bed bug nightmare.
  • The fact that the people I love are, if not all in great health, all still around and kicking.
  • The fact that Thanksgiving means I'm getting out of my not-presently-much-loved apartment for nearly three days and will instead be spending time with people I adore somewhere where I can actually sit on the couch.
I hope you all have a fantastic, refreshing holiday filled with all kinds of good things.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Little Bits

I'm still infested but with my apartment all caulked up, my laundry all done and bagged, and everything as decluttered as I can get it without getting rid of my roommate's stuff I have more time to blog. A bit anyway. So here are a few things that have caught my attention over the recent busy time.

Every time I think Paul Gaustad couldn't be any more likable, he goes and does something like name checking Louis Grachos in an interview:
I mean, most of the hockey players who live in Buffalo can find nice things to say about the city--it's not hard--but most hockey players don't talk about how the director of the fabulous local art museum shows them around. Also, I don't like touching fish or worms either, so I find that totally endearing.

Also on a hockey note, I've been so busy and distracted that I didn't really notice just how lame the Mutinous Peons were. So I've done some full-scale revamping. I'd already traded Brad Boyes to Schnookie in exchange for Tomas Holmstrom (who promptly got injured). Today I got rid of Phillipe Boucher (clearly having a rough year), Dustin Byfuglien, Peter Mueller (who?), Dan Ellis (just bad), and Josh Harding (never, ever plays). They've been replaced with Teemu Selanne (can't believe he was available), Mikko Koivu, Jason Chimera, Mike Commodore, and Nikolai Khabibulin. Let's just hope this works better than real life NHL revamps do.

The fact that Pushing Daisies got canceled? So very not cool. (Also not cool, the fact that logger doesn't seem to let me make photos little anymore. It's totally annoying.)

I'm catching up on my True Blood watching. I don't think the show is particularly good but I like watching it anyway. I had to take a little break because I couldn't bear to watch things with all kind of bloodsucking for awhile there.

I have such late library books right now. I got them out before I understood the infestation and I haven't been able to renew a couple of them but I didn't want to return them if they possibly had bed bugs on them. I've got a way to decontaminate them now though, so they'll be going back shortly. So that's something to be grateful for anyway.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Magic Mountain Lite

I love Andrea Barrett's short stories--I once, somewhat embarrassingly, spent part of a flight to Savannah weeping silently over a story about Linnaeus--but am less wild about her novels. I still like the way she writes about science and history but somehow over the course of an entire book things can start to feel a bit slack. And somehow her novels seem to have less weight than her short stories. I read The Voyage of the Narwhal a few years back and decided I would stick to her short stories. But I was going visiting and needed a book that hadn't been spending time in infestation central, so I picked up The Air We Breathe at the bookstore in Port Authority.

Of course, any book set among the patients of a sanatorium is going to have The Magic Mountain looming over it. Even more so if it's set right around the first world war. As interesting as the time period and location--the Adirondacks around the turn of the century--is to me, it seems like an author is setting herself up for failure with that, well, setting. And indeed, the novel does feel slight. 

In the novel Barrett acknowledges that The Magic Mountain was the initial inspiration:
At first I imagined a kind of low-rent, democratic version of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. As the setting was transposed to America, so the rich patients would be transposed to impoverished immigrants in a public sanatorium. As The Magic Mountain takes place just before the outbreak of World War I in Europe, so I thought this might be set in analogous time, 1916 and 1917, just before the American entry into the war. But the initial conception changed a great deal, even before I started writing. 
That's an interesting concept. And what Barrett ends up exploring--the ways in which feeling threatened creates a kind of xenophobic group think whether that threat is disease or war--is also something that interests me. But the problem is that she can't really get away from The Magic Mountain and that serves to highlight the fact that she doesn't delve deeply enough into the characters or the social setting. No one is any more fleshed out than they would be in one of her short stories and most of the characters actually feel less fully realized. 

I had no trouble getting through the book and even enjoyed it while I was reading it, but in the end, The Air We Breathe is about as shallow as a swimming pool and that's too bad because it should have been a better novel.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Apartment Living

For like the 5th time this fall I have no running water, and this is at least the second time that it's happened with no warning and no estimate of when it's coming back on because of broken pipes. This puts a real crimp in my plans and projects for the day. Not amused. This month, for the first time since moving here about 6 years ago, I've really been wishing I lived somewhere else. Somewhere I could have a house, for instance.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Twilight

I went to see this tonight with my father and grandparents because my grandparents apparently wanted to see it. I would have gone for Role Models if I were the one choosing movies, but that's just me.

I've never read the books and don't have many thoughts on the movie. I like Edward's jackets but he seems more creepy than gorgeous to me. Maybe it's because I saw the publicity tour photos first and Pattinson looks kind of creepy as himself even without the white makeup? Or maybe it's because I'm not 15 anymore? And the sparkling skin thing is . . . odd on film. Also, I wish my hair looked as nice as Kristen Stewart's does in that movie when I was in high school. Or now.

Oh, and I totally caught that shout out to Little, Brown. Heh.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Ugh.

Bed bugs are the minions of the Devil. Just saying.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hey there . . .

For reasons neither pleasant nor terribly interesting, your intrepid blogger has no time to post these days. Too bad, too, because I actually have some things I'd like to post about if only I could find the time. Or, more accurately/importantly, the energy. Hopefully soon.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

American Ballet Theatre, Sun Oct. 31st (Part II)

(This is much later than I intended. Sorry about that. Crazy week.)

The pas de deux from "Romeo and Juliet" was a tease. It's lovely and understated, and while Gennadi Savaliev didn't do anything for me, I loved the choreography and it made me sad that it seems so decidedly unlikely that we'll be seeing the full thing any time soon. Chazin-Bennahum's description of the ballet made it even more disappointing not to be able to see the whole thing. About the scene we saw, Chazin-Bennahum writes:
Romeo's farewell to Juliet in her bedroom does not occasion a grand pas de deux. Rather, Tudor emphasizes their quite determination to remain together despite what would seem their imminent destruction. In the play, Juliet's haunting thoughts predict Romeo's fate: "Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low, As one dead in the bottom of a tomb." Here we see a Juliet dancing as if drawn with every movement to Romeo's being. And then her closeness centers her. Romeo falls to the floor; Juliet goes to him.
You can see a clip of Hugh Laing and Nora Kaye on ABT's Tudor site in what I thought was the most poignant part of the pas de deux.

I found her description of what I suppose you could describe the movement motif of the ballet even more intriguing. Here Chazin-Bennahum describes one of the opening scenes:
The stage promptly fills with Montagues and Capulets jousting and battling. Tudor gives the large male corps numerous jumps and beats in curious contrapuntal rhythms, and keeps the stage alive and in motion with beating jumps to second position, often in canon. The women's dresses flow this way and that as they kick their legs from one side to the other in pointed jetes and ballottes. They wear headpieces [. . .] and swing their skirts, one arm slung weightily across the stomach; they push into the hips with gliding steps. The whole stage seems to billow like a ship. Occasionally Tudor designed pictures in which several individuals executed different movements at the same time; this activity creates a slightly syncopated atmosphere and at the same time lends definition to different groups of people. The arms and hands were never afterthoughts in Tudor's work, especially not here. He not only used them as part of every movement, but also worked them into the spatial design of the patterns. It was important to Tudor, who had studied character and period dancing, to carry across the mood of an era, in this case the Reniassance style, with its push into the hips and tilt back for the gliding women and its oppositional and erect stance for the men.
What a shame that it apparently would be prohibitively expensive to resurrect.

The most entertaining information Chazin-Bennahum provides about "Judgment of Paris" is the critical reaction:
A critic in the Daily Telegraph complained that "Renewed acquaintance with 'Judgment of Paris' increases my astonishment that a theme so degraded and so sinister should be sponsored by a philanthropic and educational institution with the Archbishop of Canterbury as Chairman--but maybe this is an old-fashioned view.
So it was perhaps more shocking then, although the other critics she quotes appreciated the nasty humor and it's "acrid undercurrent of tragedy" (Lionel Bradley, again quoted by Chazin-Bennahum) more.

Also interesting was her quote from Agnes de Mille, in 1989:
Nobody's really done that hoop dance but me. Theres the least amount of movement in that dance! Every gesture is a satire of some other kind of bad dancing and I knew what Antony was satirizing. I became Duncan, of I became some other dance artist. With each one, there was a bad odor.

I don't know enough about dance to recognize those things though.

"Pillar of Fire" seemed to me to be the most similar to "Jardin aux Lilas," except in this ballet the emotions are not repressed but acted upon. That's too simple, of course. It was my favorite ballet of the evening, not least because I thought Gillian Murphy was so fabulous in the main role. The title is biblical and Chazin-Bennahum quotes Tudor explaining the title as such:
She was wandering around in a no-man's land, wasn't she an outcast? And something brought her into civilization. And guess what it was. A man? "You've got it."
Particularly interesting to me though, was her discussion of the music, "Verklärte Nacht" ("Transfigured Night"). Schoenberg, Chazin-Bennahum explains, got his narrative from a poem by German poet Richard Dehmel (She states that the poem was called "Weib und die Welt" ("Woman in the World") but in fact it is "Verklärte Nacht" and Weib und Welt is the title of the collection it is from). She writes:
The poem, which was printed at the head of the score, tells of a man and a woman walking through a wood at night. She confesses she is pregnant, but her child will not be his, and she is tormented by guilt, as it is he whom she really loves. He comforts her, telling her to cast away her fears and that beccause of his love for her the child will become his. She feels redeemed by his love and forgiveness; as they walk on, the night becomes transfigured.
Tudor's story is different, but for me learning the story of the music--and I know nothing about music--added another dimension to that. You can read the poem here. I don't think it's a good translation because I think it reads pretty horribly in English but so it goes. You can also listen to the music here.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Morning

I got in line around 7:15 this morning. Not too long but as long a line as I've ever had to wait on to vote (I always go in the morning, before work.)
The line was moving quickly. Even better, none of the people there were in my district so while they waited on second lines for their voting booths I just waited for one of the poll workers to fill out a card for me, signed the book, and got right to voting. I'm glad we have these old, easy to use, completely non-electronic machines. My sister and I were talking yesterday about how there's something satisfying about using these machines where you have to move the lever and flip all the little tabs, much more so than there would be if we were just filling in bubbles for an optical scan or tapping a screen for one of those horrible, insecure electronic voting machines.

A straight democratic ticket:

All told, I was out of there by 7:30. The line had doubled by then, but was still much, much shorter than the lines people all over the country will be waiting on today. Fortunate for us.


No matter where you live or who you vote for, just be sure to vote if you haven't already. (Unless, of course, like a certain father of mine, you've never been registered in which case you should be ashamed.)

And now I'm just going to go back to stressing out until this thing is over.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

American Ballet Theatre, Sun Oct. 31st (Part I)

I was decidedly unhappy about ABT scheduling their all-Tudor evening on Halloween. Even after I'd bought my ticket I was wishy-washy about going, but I'm glad I did because it was my favorite evening of the three I attended. I liked everything but particularly loved "Jardin aux Lilas" and "Pillar of Fire," with the latter being my favorite in large part because of Gillian Murphy's fantastic performance. 

I've been reading Judith Chazin-Bennahum's The Ballets of Antony Tudor: Studies in Psyche and Satire and have particularly enjoyed seeing the ballets at the same time as learning more about them. Anyway, rather than witter on endlessly about the ballets, I thought I'd share some of the most interesting excerpts from the book in reference to the ballets ABT danced a couple days ago. 

The evening began with "Continuo," which Tudor choreographed in the early '70s. Chazin-Bennahum doesn't have much to say about it but she does quote Tudor's notes for the labanotation score. He writes, "It is one long lyrical out-pouring. The movement flow never stops. The 'steps' should be linked with freedom and abandon." Bennahum notes that, "this quality of linkage characterized Tudor's movement style and is often the most prominent feature noted by critics." I was glad to see this slight ballet and enjoyed watching the all-corps cast. It was a light start to an evening that otherwise featured more substantial work.

"Jardin aux Lilas" was the second ballet performed and while I'm not sure I was quite convinced, dramatically, I wonder if it's partially that sitting so far back one doesn't necessarily see the tiny details. Well, for viewers with eyes and minds that are well-trained when it comes to watching dance I imagine it's possible to see the tiny subtleties, but for me it's not. One of the things Chazin-Bennahum emphasizes in writing about "Jardin" is the contrast between outward propriety and interior turmoil. She explains:
Tudor instinctively understood the disguises people wear in order to separate their feelings from a certain persona. The Tudor who grew up as William Cook in the East End watching the activity of the West Enders realized that behind the froth and wealth lay real feelings and conflicts.
Later, she quotes the original Caroline, Maude Lloyd, talking about this conflict and how it propels the ballet:
You can't make a big gesture. It has to be small but it has to be effective, and that means you have to have tension. And that ballet is full of tensions and fluid movements all mixed up one after the other. It's quite an extraordinary ballet in which sometimes you have to show your emotions with your back to the person you're emoting about, or standing side by side without looking at them. You still have to let the audience know what you are feeling.  
Bennahum also discusses the ballet in the context of its time, noting that London was," "becoming an important artistic crossroads," with immigrants playing a vital part in the development of the arts community. She glancingly, mentions that the appeal of the Edwardian period in which the ballet is set can be seen in part as a reaction to the times, writing:
Tudor felt a particular affinity for the Edwardian period. Although Edwardians questioned established institutions, they knew enough not to disturb their affluent status quo. Edwardian prosperity and glitter, social stability, and spacious ease represented halcyon times before the cataclysm of World War I. Thus Caroline's forced marriage for money and social position represented a perpetuation of ritualized and convenient class choices.
Disappointingly, Chazin-Bennahum doesn't go further in looking at the ballet as a product of its time or in the context of what other British artists are creating. I think that would have been worthwhile. She describes the Edwardian period as halcyon, which I suppose is true if one looks back in nostalgia on what was, in some ways, the last gasp of the Victorian era. Less true if you consider the number of people living in extreme poverty. We also see in the Edwardian era the beginning of social trends that were accelerated, not created, by the first World War. So the period between the World Wars, during which Tudor created "Jardin aux Lilas," was one of massive change in Britain less because of immigrants coming into the community than because there was a change to the structure of society itself, with the deeply ingrained class system shifting and the encroachment of the middle and lower classes upon the traditional domains of the upper class. Class was moving from something defined by birth to something defined by money. That's something that many writers and other artists were addressing around the time Tudor choreographed "Jardin aux Lilas" and it seems to me rather relevant to the ballet, which for all it's inventiveness presents what was essentially a conservative world view. I wish Chazin-Bennahum had looked at that in her book. Still, it's interesting to think about.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Things I think about . . .

In a New York Times op-ed, Charles Blow writes:
Of course, anything could happen. There are three days left. McCain could still win. And, a drunk man wearing a blindfold could get a puck past Marc-André Fleury.

Yeah, unlikely. It’s a wrap. Fade to black.

How the hell did he come to choose Fleury? Why not Brodeur or Lundqvist who are a) better and b) local? Or at least why not one of the top goalies in the league (hint: Fleury's not one of them)? Should we take from this that the likelihood of McCain winning is greater than the likelihood of a drunk man wearing a blindfold getting a puck past Brodeur, equal to a drunk man in a blindfold getting a puck past Fleury, and less than a drunk man in a blindfold getting a puck past Niittymaki?

Yeah, I'm ready for this election to be over.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

American Ballet Theatre, Tuesday Oct. 28th

I've been enjoying ABT's fall season so much. I wish I could afford to go more often, because both days that I have gone have just been a real pleasure.

"Ballo della Regina" was another ballet that Gillian Murphy was originally cast in. Michelle Wiles was dancing instead. I enjoyed Hallberg, with whom she was dancing, but can's say the same for Wiles. I keep hoping that one of these days I'm going to see her dance and suddenly enjoy her and it just hasn't happened. She can obviously do everything, technically, and it never looks like it's hard for her which is certainly impressive, but it just doesn't do much for me. I'm not sure why but I think part of it is that she seems a bit staid to me and part of it is just a stage presence kind of thing. The really delightful dancing, though, came from the soloists, particularly Misty Copeland and Hee Seo. And I love the ballet.

Flames of Paris was also fun. Daniil Simkin looks about 12, but he was certainly exciting to watch and generated the most in-ballet excitement of the night. Also, it's a good thing Sarah Lane is so bitty--it means they look good together. Overgrown Path, which followed was . . . not so exciting. Downright dreary in fact. The tone would be fine if the choreography was interesting or surprising in some way. But it's not, so the ballet ends up feeling long, and as good as the dancers are it isn't enough to make the ballet something I would want to see again.

Brief Fling, on the other hand, I'd love to see again. The costumes are fun and kind of ridiculous (there are a bunch of pictures of them in the New York Times slideshow.) Although the dancers didn't seem as practiced in this as they did in the other ballets I've seen this season and I'd like to see it after they've done it a few more times, they were consistently entertaining. The quartet in green, which was the least traditionally balletic of the groups, was the one I enjoyed most, with Misty Copeland again standing out. A busy night for her, which was fortunate for the audience.

Monday, October 27, 2008

American Ballet Theatre, Sun Oct. 25th

I knew there would be plenty of kids at a Sunday matinee but man were the little darlings behind me rambunctious. It was good that there were lots of empty seats so they could move around instead of going stir crazy I think. Because they were not so well behaved. Hopefully they enjoyed their ballet experience though.

Anyway, I thought it was a nice program. I like "Baker's Dozen," which feels kind of like a jazz age garden party. I almost imagine that I'd like it better if the dancers were a bit looser limbed and relaxed seeming, but it's so enjoyable to watch anyway. It just gives me a pleasant feeling.

And I liked "Theme and Variations" a great deal as well. I was disappointed to see that Gillian Murphy--who is one of my favorite ABT dancers--wasn't going to be dancing, but I still enjoyed the ballet with Yuriko Kajiya dancing. And now that I've seen the ballet I understand what people mean when they say it's a gloss on "Sleeping Beauty." The chandeliers and costumes and those tiaras are kind of awful though. I mean, that pink? Not good.

Along with "Baker's Dozen" the other ballet this afternoon that I'd seen before was "Leaves are Fading." And I've been reading about Tudor lately so it was fun to see something I've read about. In her Tudor biography, "Undimmed Lustre," Muriel Topaz wrote quite a bit about the design for the ballet--the set designer was trained in Chinese landscape painting where different strokes represent different leaves. The backdrop was painted with a "five-stroke pattern" which is what gives it that abstract leafy look. I thought it was neat to know that.

Even better, Topaz quotes from Tudor's writing about the ballet. First about his inspiration:
After watching a performance of "Dances at a Gathering" [Robbins/Chopin], not for the first time, and being overpowered by all of its qualities, I found myself telling Mr. Robbins what a wonderful piece it was, and confessing that I also would like to bring about a ballet like that. And he simple said, "Why don't you?" The challenge rankled, hovered in the background never quite taking hold but equally never letting go. Then the music arrived--I discovered the chamber music of Dvorak. The sense of belonging was immediate...
He also wrote about what I guess I would describe as the tone of the ballet:
From the first entrance of the jeunes filles en fleur with the perfumes and freshness of spring in the air, expanding their lungs and stretching their muscles and their emotional responses, we move through a series of dances until at the last exit we are left with the bittersweet memories engendered by fragrant old rose petals. Every pas de deux should have its share of exaltation and exultation, and carry the presentiments of it being "too good to last."
I think it's interesting to think about "Leaves are Fading" at the same time as "Dances at a Gathering" because even though they both clearly traffic in nostalgia, "Leaves" seems to me to be the one more likely to slip into saccharine monotony. The delicate, gentle feeling of the ballet is what makes it lovely, but also, it seems to me, what puts it at risk. I love the way Julie Kent and Marcelo Gomes dance this ballet and they, along with the beautiful Veronika Part, kept me interested.

To end on an unfortunate negative note, the one new ballet of the evening, "Citizen" by Lauri Stallings, was also the one new work I didn't like. Although I didn't hate it either. I have to admit, that even before the Stallings ballet started I was thinking black thoughts just because I'd looked at the program notes. I mean, for fuck's sake, what's so scary about capital letters? I can't think of a single reason not to use proper capitalization in ballet program notes that's not highly obnoxious. I found myself thing the description of the ballet was pretentious tripe but that might just be because I was so annoyed by the lack of capital letters.

So I'll give Citizen this: The actual ballet irritated me far less than the program notes. The costumes were quite interesting (Tonya Plank describes them in detail in her post on the ballet) and I also liked the music and the sound of falling rain at the beginning and end. Some of the effects also worked--the falling glitter--while others didn't. The lights coming up, for example, and the people coming onstage (a group that included a couple dancers in Baker's Dozen costume) just confused things.

In her review Tonya talks about how the dancers seemed to be yearning for, and struggling toward a human connection. I love that interpretation and I think that there were moments when that yearning did come through and I found them quite touching. I would need to see it again to write more accurately, I think but the one that sticks in my mind in my mind most is the point when two of the women--Devon Teuscher and Melissa Thomas in the cast I saw--dance slowly together. It reminded me of nothing so much as this old Edison video, despite the fact that the Stallings ballet is set in what seems to me to be a very modern, urban seeming world:


And because I found it to be moving at times, because I felt like there really was supposed to be a point and that the ballet was quite humanistic and concerned with people, as opposed to shapes or abstraction, I was particularly disappointed by the fact that I didn't like it. But I just don't think the parts come together to form a cohesive whole. I'm left with the frustrating feeling that it's a ballet that has genuine potential and pieces that could be developed into something that works in its entirety. But right now it doesn't.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Religulous

I went to see this on Wednesday because I needed to be out of the apartment for four hours after the exterminator came. Definite mistake. Theoretically, I'm the target audience for something like this. I don't believe in God, and my opinion of fundamentalism is about as low as Maher's. I think that a great deal of the evil in this world is attributable to religious beliefs. And people who don't believe in evolution, think the world is 7,000 years old, etc. baffle me completely. So the movie should be right up my alley. I thought it was terrible.

Problem numero uno is that Maher is a condescending asshole throughout the film. This is a problem that afflicts many anti-religionists--hello, Richard Dawkins!--but as a result the film works best when Maher isn't talking. Many of the people he features are ridiculous enough that they can make a mockery of themselves with no help from Maher. But Maher clearly loves to hear himself talk, so that's unfortunately not to frequent occurrence. I feel like it should be possible to respect a person (and their intelligence) even when you don't have much respect for their religious beliefs. I know smart people who are deeply religious. There are many people who are much more intelligent than I am who believe in God. It doesn't seem to me that they're deserving of my condescension.

The second issue is that the view of religion that Maher presents in Religulous is almost completely lacking in nuance. The one point where he provides something other than a black-and-white view is when he speaks to a Catholic priest who explains that believing in evolution isn't against Catholic doctrine and it is possible to reconcile faith and science. It was such a relief because it was one of the only times when Maher presented the audience with someone who could express and defend his or her beliefs on an intellectual level. Because he's not interested in that; he wants to show religious people as dangerous idiots. He'd rather we see the guy who runs the patently stupid evolution museum or the man that believes god performs miracles for him. When the man who plays Jesus at the Holy Land theme park explains the Trinity as being like the three states of water Maher talks about how clever that is as though fake Jesus were a dog that just learned to roll over. (Sidenote: I can't believe there's a Holy Land theme park. How weird.) And many of the people he interviews of really on the fringe. I mean, of all the rabbis in America--most of whom are reasonable, intelligent people--he picks the nutjob who went to Iran to meet Ahmadinejad? Yet he doesn't seem to differentiate between these extremists and mainstream religious people.

The third problem, which encompasses the first two, is that Maher has made a small, petty movie about a big subject. Religious extremism, on the parts of not only Muslims but Christians and even Jews, is terrifying. It's a topic that deserves real consideration and discussion. And Maher's a comedian, so of course he's not giving us this. But in his statement about the dangers of religion at the end of the movie he concludes as though he's just given us a serious and compelling argument. It feels completely unearned. The movie would have been far better and more interesting if Maher talked to more people like the priest and rabbi in the YouTubes below as well as the fools and extremists.

Adirondack Trip Part IV

The final day of my vacation was mostly spent on travel. We packed up the tent that morning, got pancakes at a diner, and headed down toward Saratoga Springs. I had insisted that we go apple picking on the trip since I don't get the opportunity very often, what with living in the city and not having a car.

It turned out to be a perfect day for picking, sunny and much warmer than it had been up in the Adirondacks. The orchard we went to only had a few sections open, but the section they sent us to was the oldest part of the orchard, full of lovely, gnarled old trees, branches positively drooping with apples. We picked McIntosh's, which I turned into applesauce a couple weeks ago since they get soft quickly, and Macouns, which I just used to make a pie a couple days ago.
They also had Red Delicious apples available, and while they looked very nice I think they're basically a useless apple that is only popular because it ships well to supermarkets, so I skipped out on those.

After that all that remained was the train ride home to New York. The train ride from Saratoga to New York goes along the side of the Hudson--beautiful under any circumstances but particularly gorgeous at sunset.

All in all, a wonderful trip.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

All My Sons

I actually saw this a couple weeks ago and just haven't had a chance to write about it. I'm sitting and waiting for the exterminator to show up now though. I probably should be mopping my floors, but couldn't bring myself to do it in addition to everything else I've done today, apartment-wise. I hope they come soon though, because after they do their thing I have to stay out of the apartment for four hours and I'd really like to get back in fairly early so I can start the ice cream making process.

But anyway, the play: I thought it was OK but nothing more. Katie Holmes managed not to embarrass herself, I suppose, although she lacks the ability and theatrical presence of her costars like John Lithgow and Patrick Wilson. She doesn't really project. But she wasn't laughably bad, so there you have it.

In the New York Times review Ben Brantley writes:
I have seen such portraiture in revivals of “All My Sons” from the Roundabout Theater Company (in 1997) and in particular at the National Theater in London (in 2000), productions that had much of the audience in tears. The preview performance I saw of this one left me stone cold, despite some electric moments from a very fine Mr. Lithgow and Mr. Wilson.
Brantley lays this at director Simon McBurney's feet and while I liked the play better than he did, I do agree that there are problems that can be laid at the feet of the director. I've only seen one other thing McBurney directed and that was The Elephant Vanishes a few years back. Based on 3 of Murakami's short stories, it's a very different sort of text than All My Sons what with Murakami's interest in surrealism, fantasy, etc. And while it wasn't without flaws I think it seemed like a more natural fit for McBurney's aesthetic than this did. It seemed like all the flaws in the play--the too-convenient-by-half ending, the speechifying--were highlighted rather than minimized by the stylization. I think that--at least in part-- is what limits the emotional impact of the production. I didn't like the multimedia. The videos of wartime production, etc. made the play even more heavyhanded than it already is. And while for a different play I think I would have liked the actors not "on" sitting visibly to the side, I don't think it was effective for this one.

Give McBurney this though, it's not boring. And Lithgow and Wilson were marvelous--the scenes between them worked. So that was enjoyable.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ew...

I have bedbugs and I'm dealing with this fact with very little equanimity. I mean, I can't believe I've been sleeping with those things.

And honestly, after the huge hassle of this summer's ringworm false alarm and bleaching my entire fucking apartment and washing everything I own, actually having a pest infestation just feels like too much. I'm calling the building exterminator tomorrow morning and already part way through the washing, and I'm sure it will all get taken care of eventually. But seriously, so gross!

One last cat update.

So last time I mentioned my pathetic, darling cat Pyramus was back in August when I said that he was really fucking bald. After that date his hair loss actually accelerated rapidly.If you enlarge that picture you'll actually be able to see that it was coming off in clumps, with the skin still attached. In only a couple of days he looked like this (what you can't see is how his bald spots went all the way down his back and were on his sides, legs, and chest as well):
After his fur started coming off with skin attached I made a slightly panicked phone call to our lovely veterinarian and then talked to my roommate who is off at vet school. We decided that the best course would be to put him on low level systemic steroids and see if that helped. Thankfully, the hair loss stopped almost immediately and he gradually developed first peach fuzz and then actual fur. And a couple months later, he now looks like this.
Fortunately he's a great pill taker and steroids are cheap because check out all that fur. While we still don't really know what's causing the hair loss problem, he's back to his normal, handsome self and no doubt much more comfortable. Unfortunately he also seems to have embarked on a bit of a love affair with my camera, so most of my pictures of him come out looking like this.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Adirondack Trip Part III

I'm incredibly behind on my blogging of late. It's not because I've been all that busy; it's because I've had the attention span of a fruit fly lately. I have a bunch of posts in various stages of completion but writing has just seemed like a real effort this past week or so. Therefore, here's one that required next to no writing since it's all pictures.

We didn't have any solid plans for Monday (this was the 6th). We knew we wanted to do some dinky little hike and then find someplace to walk along the water. Since we didn't need an early start we bagan the day by showering (a little cold for wet hair, and while my father informs me that the men's showers actually had decent water pressure, the women's were not so big on that and I had soap in my hair until Wednesday night), eating breakfast, making lunch, and drinking tea (or at least I drank tea, not really my dad's thing). Of course, well before I got up my father, early-riser extraordinaire had been awake for some time and taking pictures of Heart Lake. He actually got some better ones the next day but I don't have those on my computer. Still, here's the lake all glassy in the early morning with water vapor rising above it.

I, on the other hand, just kept him waiting later on while taking pictures of wet leaves.

The first thing we did that morning was hike up Owl's Head. Which is a lot of bang for your buck what with being extremely easy and short. That was good, because short and easy is about all I could handle.

We ate lunch by the Ausable River.

And then went to a campsite my father and sister had stayed at a few times so that my father could play with his camera.

And that was the end of anything particularly hike-y for this trip. We went to Lake Placid for the rest of the day.

I went into their library for the first time, at my father's insistence and it is, as he told me, surprisingly big and really very nice. It's all rocking chairs and wood floors and local art. Very quaint. Given that the library I spend the most time in--as in, only the amount of time it takes to get my books and get out--is the Mid-Manhattan Library that makes for a really nice change.

And we finished our day off having dinner at the Great Adirondack Brewing Company. Where I got a souvenir glass. Score!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Children with Special Needs

I don't know if I've mentioned it here before, but my younger brother, who is 18, has Down Syndrome. While I wouldn't say that a candidate's views on people with disabilities are one of my primary concerns, I do pay attention to them and they do matter to me. Talking about Palin in the debate tonight, McCain said:

And by the way, she also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we got to find out what's causing it and we've got to reach out to these families and help them and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children.

She understands that better than almost any American that I know.
I'm sure this mention is supposed to appeal to people like me while simultaneously, and more importantly, helping the Republican ticket look particularly compassionate to the general electorate. Taking care of the disabled is one of those things we're supposed to feel all virtuous about, right? But I can't help but resent the way they trot her baby out for political gain.

I also hate how McCain, and certain Palin believers, act like she's some sort of poster mom for mothers of children with disabilities. Sarah Palin is one of many mothers in the US who have a child with a disability. 1 out of every 800-1000 children born in the US has Down Syndrome. 5000 a year. I believe that overall about 350,000 families throughout the country include someone with Down Syndrome. And that doesn't even take into account the great many families that include a person with a different disability. Does she understand better than all those many family members?

Also, her son is what, 6 months old? The big challenges and struggles come later than that, and Sarah Palin hasn't experienced them yet. Nor does she have a background of working with and for children with special needs. Eventually she'll really "understand special-needs families." But now? In part, sure. But on the whole I'm skeptical. That's not an attack on her. How could she really? There are so very many people in America who I am sure understand better than she does. And if she really understands, "better than almost any American that [McCain] know[s]," than that's an indication of his ignorance not her expertise.

Beyond that, I talked to my mother tonight and her biggest complaint was that McCain when talked about Sarah Palin's devotion to children with special needs he didn't even mention Down Syndrome but instead talked about autism. They're, well, just not the same. I would assume Palin knows that. If, that is, she knows anything about autism. But it seems like McCain doesn't really. My mother thought it made him look ignorant when it comes to people with disabilities. I don't disagree.

When Obama responded to McCain's mention of special needs, he said,

I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs will require some additional funding if we're going to get serious in terms of research. That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talks about. And if we have a across-the-board spending freeze, we're not going to be able to do it. That's an example of, I think, the kind of--the use of the scalpel that we want to make sure that we're funding some of those programs.

And he's right. Research costs money. So, too, does special education, for which Sarah Palin cut funding as a governor. I think that's probably a decision she'll come to regret as her own child through school and she sees where all that money goes. In his eighteen years of life my brother has had physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists. He's had personal aides and been a part of small classrooms. He's gone to special schools. That kind of stuff isn't cheap, and thankfully it is government funded. But parents have to fight for it. They have to know their rights and go in and advocate for their children or get someone else to do it for them. My mother worked as a volunteer parent advocate. Getting these kids into the right educational situation isn't easy.

But how did McCain respond?

But again, I want to come back to--you know, notice, every time, Senator Obama says, "We need to spend more. We need to spend more. That's the answer." Why do we always have to spend more? Why can't we have transparency, accountability, reform of these agencies of government?
Obama was talking about funding for families with special needs and McCain comes back with the need for transparency, accountability, and reform of government agencies as good alternatives to increased funding? Does he even understand the problem? It's not a lack of transparency and accountability. The exchange didn't exactly fill me with confidence. Let me be clear. I don't think Barack Obama is going to come into office and suddenly improve the situation of people with disabilities throughout the country. I find his general embrace of science to be comforting, but I realize that special education and services for people with special needs are probably nowhere near a priority for him. I wouldn't expect them to be. But he's not the one trotting out his running mate's understanding of "special-needs families"--a phrase I detest, by the way--for political gain. And I don't think a McCain-Palin administration would be helpful either. Actually, given McCain's advocacy for a spending freeze and cuts, cuts, cuts, it could be genuinely harmful.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Adirondack Trip Part II

I'd actually gone up Algonquin once before. The first time we--my father, my sister, and me--went backpacking we hiked up around Avalanche Lake to Lake Colden. The next day we went to climb Algonquin from there. I'd sprained my ankle at the beginning of the summer--you'll notice a theme here--and it wasn't particularly bothering me. But then at the very beginning of the hike up Algonquin I jumped down off a rock and re-sprained it. Anyway, long story short, that's a hell of a steep hike--probably the steepest I've ever done--and I don't remember it fondly. We stopped just short of the summit. Few hundred yards probably.

So this time around we were going up the easy way. My father though, planned to do Algonquin, Iroquois, and Wright as he had with my sister several years ago. Which seemed a little ambitious seeing as I did a number on my ankle back in June--told you this was a theme--and it's really not fully recovered yet. So I'm completely out of shape, a bit wobbly, and the slowest hiker around. It's fairly pathetic. In the end, we just did Algonquin and Iroquois.

Anyway, the hike up Algonquin from the side we went up this time is very nice. And the temperature at the beginning of the hike was pleasant--cool but not cold--while the scenery was picturesque.
A not terribly flattering photo of me
but at least I'm small and everything else is lovely.


It wasn't until we got up near the alpine zone that things got really chilly. Other adjectives? Windy. Icy.
The trail just hiked.


And the top? Now that was cold. And pretty slippery.
Snow and ice coating the alpine grass and rocks.

The view of the Adirondacks was probably as nice as I've seen though. The pictures below don't really do it justice, but they'll give you an idea.
Looking toward Lake Placid from Algonquin.

The view of a snowy Marcy (the big tall one blending into the background) and a number of the other High Peaks.

From Algonquin we continued over Boundary to Iroquois. Which I was not even a little bit happy about, since my ankle hurt and we had been told there was more ice and lots of mud on the trek over. But my father wanted to, so across to Iroquois we went. The trail over is not only muddy but narrow, so you're constantly being poked by the spiny alpine pines. Not really worth it to me even if you do get a nice, close-up view of Algonquin.
Looking over Boundary to Algonquin

Lake Colden and the Flowed Lands

To get down, we had to go right back the way we came. The most interesting part of this section of the hike. This side of the mountain was much less snowy and the ice had mostly collected on the boulders and cairns marking the path. The wind had clearly been blowing hard from this direction and it blew the ice into delicate, flower-like clusters.

This picture keeps rotating 90 degrees counter-clockwise for reasons beyond me.


By the time we got back to the peak of Algonquin it was late afternoon.
Because I'm so slow at this hiking thing these days it was dark before we got down and we finished the hike up wearing our nifty little head lamps. When we got back to the campsite we just heated up some soup and had a campfire before going to bed. It was a tiring day but truly enjoyable and it's invigorating to spend time in someplace so different than the city.


My father took the pictures with me in them, of course, and I think also the pictures of Marcy and the alpine grass covered with ice.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

For today and only today . . .

I'm kind of loving Flyers fans.



I'm also getting a kick out of them trying to drown out the sound of the booing, which the New York Times hockey blog described as "resounding (almost deafening)," by playing the music extra loudly. Honestly, who thought this was a good idea?