Monthly Archives: January 2014

Day 30: Balanchine’s “Jewels” at Lincoln Center

I’ve seen a limited selection of ballet performances in my time. I do the requisite “Nutcracker” viewing each December. This past autumn, I saw a performance of “Cinderella,” and had my first viewing of “Swan Lake.” There are others.

Tonight was my first-ever viewing of “Jewels,” a three-part work by George Balanchine. Each section pairs the music of a different composer with costumes, sets and choreography inspired by a different precious gem — emeralds, rubies and diamonds.

The “Emeralds” section, with accompanying music by Gabriel Fauré, was my least favorite of the three, disappointingly, because I like emeralds and I like green. The music was too wistful, the choreography too restrained. There was almost a touch of melancholy at times. Emeralds aren’t melancholy. They’re flirtatious and playful, like a wink from a green-eyed girl. The dancers were marvelously talented and the costumes beautiful, but this section needed more fun.

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“Rubies,” featuring music composed for the ballet by Igor Stravinsky, was the most enjoyable of the three sections, even if it felt a bit disjointed at times. Elements of both the music and the dance would have lended themselves better to the Emeralds section, while other parts were more appropriately sensual and passionate. Rubies are symbolic of fire and blood. The choreography for this section was the most primal — there was more movement in the knees and lower body than one typically sees in classical ballet.

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The final section, “Diamonds,” was paired with music by Tchaikovsky, and appropriately so. Diamonds are a cold, wintry stone, like snow. Tchaikovsky is well-associated with “The Nutcracker,” a winter ballet classic. The pairing of music and choreography here was the best-matched of the night. Parts of the section were playful, like snowflakes, while other elements had a chilling, regal feel about them — very Russian.

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Apart from the actual performances themselves, I found myself musing on two things: First, that for some reason I was imagining the two principal female dancers in “Rubies” were bitter rivals. No reason to think that, just my imagination. And second… considering the ratio of men to women onstage, the straight guys in this company must score.

I know, I know. I’m so profound. Listen, sometimes the mind wanders, especially when there’s no story to follow on the stage. You just start thinking about the stories behind the scenes.

 

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Day 29: “Love Potion Number 9,” 19th century Italian style

Growing up, I had no use for opera, nor any kind of classical music. To me, it just seemed loud and screechy, and I resented people who appreciated it, because I felt shown up by them. It wasn’t until I was getting my masters at Northwestern, and I had the chance to work with Wynne Delacoma, longtime classical music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, that I began to enjoy classical works. 

I went on to be the primary reporter for the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera during the nearly five years I worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and my appreciation grew. 

Still, I am very much a novice when it comes to both symphonic and operatic music, and so I am seeing a lot for the first time. Tonight’s venture to the Met was a sort of something new operatic trifecta. It was my first time seeing “L’Elisir d’Amore,” it was my first Donizetti, and it was my first opportunity to see a live performance by famed soprano Anna Netrebko

In the farm country of 1836 Italy, lovesick peasant Nemorino pines for the beautiful farm owner Adina. Charming, yet fickle, she tells him to forget trying to win her heart, and to love newly each day. Nemorino drinks a “love potion” (wine) sold to him by the traveling “Doctor” Dulcamara, and believing the potion in need of a day to take effect, acts indifferent toward Adina. Insulted, she agrees to marry the pompous officer Belcore. Panicked, Nemorino begs her wait one day, but she ignores him and proceeds with the festivities. 

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At her pre-wedding celebration, however, Adina is bothered to see that Nemorino is not present, and refuses to proceed with the marriage until he’s found. Nemorino’s wealthy uncle dies, leaving him a fortune, and earning him the affection of the ladies of the village. Not knowing of his uncle’s death, however, Nemorino assumes the potion has taken effect. Adina becomes jealous, and she finally confesses her love for Nemorino and dismisses Belcore. Dulcamara heralds the wonders of his magical elixir.

As Adina, Netrebko is absolutely darling. She has a voice like bells and bluebirds. I wish I’d seen her perform earlier this season in Eugene Onegin (I did see it, with the excellent Marina Poplavskaya in the role). She makes Adina lovable, despite the fact that Adina is actually a bit of a twit. 

That’s the thing about a lot of opera, though, I’m learning. It’s all incredibly heightened. The heroes are weak and the women are fickle. People fall in and out of love at the drop of a hat. They  would die of heartbreak. There’s something sort of marvelously indulgent about it all. I suppose it could be interesting to try to analyze a story like L’Elisir d’Amore from a contemporary perspective, and by “interesting,” I mean “ultimately as much fun as stabbing a fork through my eyeball.” 

Truly, if you are the kind of person who can’t handle any sort of art form that doesn’t accord with a contemporary, politically correct mentality, stay away from most opera houses. If that is the case, however, I feel deeply sorry for you. A night at the opera, I’m learning, is a delicious experience, and I’m looking forward to expanding my viewing repertoire.

As a bonus, I met three young men from London, who are in New York performing in Billy Budd at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I’m going to interview one of them next week, about his life as a freelance tenor, and then go see them perform. I can definitely say that will be my first Melville opera. 

My hope is that The Something New Project will not only inspire me to try new things, but will motivate others to do so as well. If you’ve never seen a live opera, I highly recommend it. And if you’re an opera buff, by all means, give me recommendations. 

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Day 28: What is this weird fruit thing?

I love food. I love to cook, I love to eat, I love learning about new flavors, and new cooking techniques. 

So an experiment like The Something New Project is an excellent opportunity to expand my culinary repertoire. As I’m sure you will glean from the fact that two previous entries have been food focused, I consider epicurean experimentation to be valuable new experiences. 

While meandering the produce section at Whole Foods today, I came across a strange looking green, misshapen spherical thing

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It was neither apple, nor pear, nor guava, nor quince, nor cherimoya. The small label said this was something called a “white sapote.” No idea. Never heard of it. Fantastic. 

A little quick research informed me that the white sapote is native to Central Mexico and is a relative of citrus fruits, though it bears no resemblance to any familiar citrus either in taste or appearance. The white sapote is sometimes called a “custard apple,” because of its soft, custard-like flesh at peak ripeness. 

I cut into mine a bit early. I tend to like fruit slightly underripe, and besides, I needed something new for the day. 

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The flesh was soft and had a subtle sweetness to it, with soft hints of stone fruit and a tropical undertone. It didn’t have the custard-y texture or the vanilla flavor some of the websites I read said it would have, but I’ll have to try being patient with it another time. 

Oddly, while the first half was sweet and pleasant, the second half had a distinct bitterness to it. I could really only eat a couple bites of the second half. I wonder if it might be something about air exposure? 

Okay, fellow foodies, are you familiar with the white sapote? Any thoughts on how they are best eaten, or white sapote recipes? Apparently, there is also something called a black sapote, a type of persimmon also called the “chocolate pudding fruit.” How about other exotic fruits or vegetables? Any recommendations? 

 

 

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Day 27: Remembering AIDS Activism

I came of age in the height of AIDS awareness. It was the era of red ribbons and pink triangles, of RENT and And The Band Played On, of Ryan White, and Alison Gertz, and Pedro Zamora, of Keith Haring and the NAMES quilt. Condoms were de rigeur, and safer sex was hot. And yes, we used terms like “safer sex,” because, as we all know, the only truly safe way to have sex is to not have it at all. 

I remember TV shows storylines about HIV-positive characters — Jesse on “Life Goes On” and Stone on “General Hospital.” I watched “Philadelphia” and “Boys on the Side,” and can we just talk about the fact that it took 20 years for “The Dallas Buyers Club” to get greenlit? 

From the ages of 15 to 18, I spent every Tuesday and Wednesday night either at the 92nd Street Y, learning about HIV and AIDS transmission and awareness, or at some sort of community center or youth organization around New York City, talking to other kids about protection, or tolerance, or just how to talk about AIDS. We used to begin every session by introducing ourselves and saying, “I am a person living with AIDS… we are all living with AIDS,” to demonstrate that everyone, whether HIV-positive or negative, lives with AIDS because it lives with us, in our communities and in our world, that “you don’t have to be infected to be affected.” It was prominent, and it was scary, but it felt like we were trying to do something about it. 

In a lot of ways, it doesn’t feel like that anymore, something of which I was reminded today when I went to see the exhibit “Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism” at the New York Public Library. That fourth word is disappointing: “remembering.” As though AIDS isn’t a problem anymore. It is. More than a million people in the U.S. still live with AIDS. And while we know a lot more now than we did 20, or even 10, years ago, people still die from AIDS-related illnesses. It still makes you sick. It’s still transmitted in the same ways it always was. 

And yet, we sort of seem to be over it. I remember a friend in college whose girlfriend decreed they wait six months, then both get HIV tests, before sleeping together. Now, young people are quick to jump down the throats of anyone they deem to be a “slut shamer,” but casually eschew using condoms, or forego knowing a partner’s sexual history, because to do so is inconvenient, or uncomfortable, or a simply a buzzkill. Oh, I know not everyone does this, but I definitely see more of it now than I used to. 

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The exhibit at the Public Library is one room. It’s about a tenth of the size of the other featured exhibit, on children’s literature (which is amazing, go see them both). It gives a history of AIDS activism from the early ’80s to about the late ’90s, I knew about some of what was featured — ACT UP and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, for example. I’d been a tiny, infinitesimal part of the effort to de-stigmatize HIV, to express that it was a disease and not a punishment or a judgment. 

But I hadn’t known about Gran Fury, the activist artist collective that created images like “Men use condoms or beat it” and “kissing doesn’t kill.” I didn’t know that the People With AIDS Coalition had a support line for mothers of people who had AIDS or had died of AIDS-related illnesses. I remember going to Washington, D.C. to view the NAMES quilt in 1996, but I don’t remember Steve Michael’s political funeral, a march to the White House bearing the casket of the late founder of ACT UP. I hadn’t known about Anonymous Queers, a group that demonstrated the divisiveness that exists among activists, and that is actually pretty tough to find a whole lot of information about online (though, granted, I’m not trying that hard).

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I spoke briefly to another visitor, an older woman who asked to be identified only by her first initial, C, about what she remembered about the onslaught of AIDS activism, and about what motivated her to visit the exhibit.

“We haven’t seen anything about AIDS in a long time,” she said, “and I wanted to see what the presentation would be at this point. I had some people I knew who died of AIDS and they never talked about it. They never said what they had. They just… withdrew… and then one day they weren’t there anymore.” 

 

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Day 26: A study in Sherlock

Let’s just establish up front that I am well aware of my lateness to this particular party, thank you.

While I have viewed, with great enthusiasm, the latest cinematic renderings of the Sherlock Holmes adventures (though that might be more of great enthusiasm for Robert Downey, Jr. than anything else), I had neither watched the BBC television series nor read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.

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On Friday, my boyfriend finally convinced me to watch some of the series on Netflix, and as a follow-up, suggested that my new thing for a frigid and occupied Sunday could be to begin reading some of Holmes’s adventures.

I’m three chapters into “A Study in Scarlet,” and it’s so interesting to see how the stories compare to the screen adaptations, large and small. The biggest surprise was seeing Watson as narrator. I expected either an entirely third person account, or maybe even for Holmes himself to narrate. The character has so many peculiarities, however, that it makes much more sense for him to be described by the person nearest to him. Strangely, in the book (thus far) Watson himself seems a little more curt and self-pitying than in the various adaptations. Holmes is… well, he’s quirky, isn’t he?

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Now, here’s a controversial statement: I prefer to see the movies first. Most people I know would prefer to read the book first, and then see its cinematic/television adaptation. I can see the advantage of that. You know what’s going on. You’re in on the joke. You get it.

But you also open yourself up to disappointment. The movie is rarely superior to the book, and so it’s almost inevitably a letdown. When I watch the movie first, I can enjoy it without expectation, and then if I enjoy the book more, at least I wasn’t disappointed by the film.

Reading the literary original while watching the contemporary television adaption in tandem will be a new experience in itself.

So, what about you? Book or movie first? Any favorite examples of a good book/bad movie or vice versa? What about an instance where both were done flawlessly? And most topically, are you a fan of the Sherlock Holmes adventures? Which stories do you recommend?

I’m starting to think I’m not just reading a classic series I’ve never read before, but am embarking on a sort of literary adventure. This is going to be fun…

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Day 25: Snaking a drain

Note: The Something New Project was transferred from a tumblr format to a WordPress format on Jan. 25, 2014. 

If, like me, you are a long-haired person (or live with one) you are probably familiar with the clogged tub drain. I could build a replica of Bigfoot, or soak up the effects of a tanker run aground, with all the hair I seem to lose. It’s really a wonder I’m not bald.

(Knock on wood and God forbid).

In addition to my vanity issues, however, all that hair down the drain causes plumbing issues. It’s impossible to keep a bathtub clean when the dirty water just sits there for hours. I neither want to buy a bottle of Drano every two weeks, nor call a plumber once a month, so after a little trusty consulting with Dr. Google, off to the hardware store I went.

The very helpful gentleman at Artie’s asked me about my unclogging needs, and even offered to have someone go to my apartment to snake my drain for me (yes, I’m fairly certain she did, in fact, say that), but I insisted I could do it myself.

He asked whether there was a “handy…woman” at my building who could help me. I was really tempted to say, “Sir, you’re not offending my feminist sensibilities, I just committed to doing one new thing every day, so I need to do this myself.”

I didn’t say it, however, and my new auger (I named her Alyson) and I went along on our merry way.

For the record, snaking a drain is quite easy and rather satisfying. The most difficult part of the ordeal was getting the plastic wrapping off the auger. In retrospect, however, yelling “Honey, come look!” and gleefully presenting my beloved with a grey, slimy mass of old, matted hair dangling off the coil of the snake might not be the most romantic thing I’ve ever done.

Live and learn.

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Day 24: Dining at Babbo

In 1998, Mario Batali opened his flagship restaurant, Babbo, on Waverly Place. Some restaurants wouldn’t rank being a part of this project, but Babbo has a certain weight.

That said, it does not have the weight it thinks it does. Despite very good food and excellent service, they are excessively persnickety when it comes to making reservations. Apparently, if your entire party is not present at the time of your reservation, you can lose the table. Or, at least, that’s what I gleaned.

That all being said, my family had a lovely celebration for my father’s 65th birthday. So it all turned out very nicely.

Watercolor by Harlem-based artist Lynn Lieberman

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Day 23: Oh, that’s what the dude from “500 Days of Summer” is up to.

It’s virtually impossible to know what’s going on in all the corners of the internet, but I like to think of myself as being at least quasi-aware.

So I knew that there was thing out there called hitRECord. I knew it was more or less the brainchild of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whom most of us know as a very respectable actor, and for those of us who saw “Don Jon” (thoughtful, but flawed), a new director. But… other than that, I had no idea.

I don’t tend to give actors (and by that, I really mean famous actors) a lot of credence for their “side projects.” I figure these are people who are already making more money than they know what to do with, and that if Natalie Portman is modeling for Miss Dior perfume or Jesse Eisenberg is writing for The New Yorker, that means there’s some model or some writer who doesn’t have a job. So I pretty much thought, “All right, Third Rock kid, you’ve got a good thing going on with the movies, let’s not go overboard.”

But then I came across the first episode of hitRECord on TV on an unrelated site (indiewire, I think), and watched it out of curiosity. And you know something? It is actually an extremely interesting concept, and not just some douchey vehicle to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt more famous (though it will probably do that, too).

Basically touted as a re-imagining of the variety show concept, hitRECord takes elements of various contributors’ work and compiles it into comprehensive, collaborative pieces of art. So a story by one woman was turned into a short film that had animation by multiple other people, narration by another woman, a couple of actors, music by several other folks….

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You know what it’s like? Remember that game where you wrote two lines of a story, then folded the paper so only the second line showed, then you passed it to another kid, and he wrote two lines that went with your second line, then he folded the paper passed it to another kid, who could only see the last line the kid after you wrote? And then in the end, it was a story? This is kind of like that, but the result is far less convoluted.

It’s a concept I’ve really not seen before, and it’s very intelligent. It’s actually legitimately impressive, and I think would have the potential to thrive even without a famous name behind it (though that doesn’t hurt).

Oh, and so not only do they apparently pay contributors a cut for their work if that work is used in projects, but… hold on to your hats… contributors grant NON-EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS. This basically means “hey, if we make a profit from your writing/music/animation/video, we’re going to take a healthy cut of the money, but you own your work.” That’s fantastic. Do you know how many websites want to give me no money for my writing and want me to only publish there? Nether do I. But it’s too many.

So I went to the site, and after multiple attempts and arguments about cookies that made me both want to kick my computer in the cookies, and eat a bunch of Chips Ahoy (I did neither), I signed up on the theory that, “Well, they need writers. I can write shit.”

That’s basically my theory for most of what I accomplish in life: “Sure, okay. I can do shit.”

Click here for a link to the maiden voyage of hitRECord on TV, featuring the theme “Re: The Number 1.” As in, among other associations, the first. As in the first time.

As in something new. So, you know, it kind of fits with the theme here.

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Day 22: Cookies and milk

Thanks to my nursing cousin, I am now in the know about lactation cookies. And by “in the know,” I am now aware that they exist.

Yes, that’s right. Lactation cookies. As in cookies that stimulate a woman’s mammary ducts to produce more milk. There are cookies for this, people!

According to most of the recipes I’ve found, the main ingredients are oats, flaxseed and brewer’s yeast, which makes me wonder whether you could get the same effect from having some oatmeal and drinking a beer. Okay, a non-alcoholic beer, but those are completely pointless. All right, I concede, cookies are better.

I found one recipe that does eschew the yeast.  (And by the by, Belly Belly Kelly) “my boobs are spraying like a firehose” is not a happy image. Though it does sort of remind me of this.

So there’s that.

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Day 21: Snowed in

Snow day means wide open delivery window for Whole Foods (yes, I’m obnoxious like that), so most of my day was spent inside, waiting. Therefore, today’s new thing is one of life’s simple old delights: A cold night, a warm drink, and the viewing of a classic movie.

I’ve actually seen the beginning of “His Girl Friday” probably 50 times, but I always put it on to watch in bed, so I’ve never stayed awake past the first 10 minutes. Tonight, I shall view the whole thing. Brief review to follow tomorrow, since it’s already 10:30.

Oh, and I have an update regarding another one of my ventures. About a week into my new Spanish lessons, I have decided that once I’ve completed this introductory program, I am going to discontinue. I will be happy to have gained a small, rudimentary understanding of the language. This isn’t because I’m giving up, or because it’s too hard, but because when I’m speaking Spanish, I feel like I’d prefer to be speaking French. I’ve always meant to regain some of my lost skill in French, and doing these Spanish lessons is making me feel more motivated to study, and more desirous to return to my French speaking. Part of the goal of this project is to find things I enjoy. If the new experience of studying Spanish has served as a reminder that I really enjoy speaking French, I suppose that can be seen as an unexpected payoff, yes?

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