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


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


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?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Adirondack Trip Part I

So the Adirondacks? Not so warm. I'm just saying.

On Saturday morning I got on the train at Penn Station. I don't do it to often but I love traveling by train seems so much more civilized than other kinds of long distance public transit. They don't search your bags or confiscate your water and nail file. You get to keep your shoes and belt on and don't have to go through metal detectors or step into those weird explosive detection portals that puff air at you. The conductors aren't uncomfortably friendly; they just look at your ticket and answer any questions and leave you the fuck alone. It's such a relief to take a trip and get to retain your dignity at the same time.

I got off in Saratoga where my father picked me up and we had lunch then wandered around a bit and went to the grocery store for hiking food before driving up to the ADK campground to set up camp. As we drove into the High Peaks region I noted that there was snow on the top of the high mountains. My father claimed that it was just rockslides that I was looking at but I think he wasn't looking very closely because it was totally snow.

Here in New York the leaves really aren't changing yet and even up in Saratoga only some of the them had changed, but up in the High Peaks they were actually just past peak. The valleys and lower slopes of the mountains were all red, orange, and gold and the ground was covered with fallen leaves.
The Adirondacks aren't as beautiful as the Catskills come fall because they are only partially covered by deciduous forest so you always have the green of the coniferous forest, but they're still pretty damn lovely.

We didn't have anything particular to do beyond going to EMS to buy insoles for my hiking boots, so we met friends of his for dinner and then played SNATCH for a bit before going to bed. I'm embarrassingly bad at word games. Anything that requires me to rearrange letters gets ugly fast.

Sunday morning we got up, I put on 5 layers of clothing plus winter hat and gloves, and we had oatmeal (plus tea for me) before getting ready for our trek up Algonquin. I'd never hiked at this time of year or in these temperatures so I added a pair of leggings under my hiking pants and put a jacket in my backpack along with all the food.
Notice the stylish gaiters. When it's not actually freezing out--which it wasn't, at least during the day--mud on the Adirondack hiking trails is as certain as death and taxes and hiking with cold, wet, muddy feet sucks, so they were definitely a good thing to have.

Everything together, we headed up the mountain just before 9 in the morning. And I'll write about that later, because it's time for me to go to bed.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Off to the Adirondacks!

I hop on a train to Saratoga first thing tomorrow morning. My father is going to meet me there and we're going to drive up to the high peaks region of the Adirondacks. Apparently it's supposed to be cold and rainy there (with is about par for the course for my hiking trips) but if we get any nice weather at all it should be gorgeous. And I'm going apple picking! Should be a good time.