I went to a lovely performance of NYCB George Balanchine’s Jewels. Leave it to Balanchine to be inspired by Van Clef and Arpels and choreograph a three act ballet with each distinct act having the music of a different composer. The music for Emeralds is by Gabriel Faure. Rubies’s music is by Igor Stravinsky and Diamonds’ music is by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky.What a glorious smorgasbord!
In two weeks I’ve seen two biopics about two brilliant, egotistical musicians who must have been hell to live with. Last week I saw Miles Ahead, the biopic about Miles Davis. This week I saw a companion piece, Born to Be Blue, the biopic of Chet Baker. Don Cheadle as Miles Davis and Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker were utterly convincing as obsessive musicians. I guess that’s what they call acting. Remember the equally convincing Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line? One tiny quibble: no one can sing My Funny Valentine, the song with a tender melody and mean lyrics, like Chet Baker not even Ethan Hawke. Wouldn’t it have been fun to have been at The All About Eve wrap party? Hanging with George Sanders and Bette Davis etc. while Chet Baker and Jerry Mulligan played.
As if you didn’t know, William Shakespeare’s birthday is tomorrow. Four hundred years since his death.
On April 9 Judson Memorial Church was the location of a Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders Proxy Debate, moderated by Brian Lehrer. It promised more than it delivered. Rather than discuss the issues, each participant behaved like a cheer leader for his or her candidate. Brian Lehrer, as they used to say about Robert Mitchum, phoned in his participation. I’ve included the debate below.
A friend and I attended Curator Adam Eaker’s talk, Sitting for Van Dyck. We gathered in the Frick Collection’s Music Room. A screen displayed various images created by Van Dyck during his English period and listened to Curator Eaker’s lucid and amusing analysis. It was an example of the perfect New York evening capped by dinner at nearby Caravaggio’s.
There Is a Field: I went to a pro-Palestinian play because I’m committed to the Palestinian cause. The play itself was more TV sitcom than an exploration of what Palestinians live through and die for. Its cast consisted of stock figures of Palestinian mom (fragile and strong ) and Palestinian pop (wise and strong) two teen agers: the girl whose strength consisted of screaming profanities at her brother who was always going to demonstrations. We know where he’ll end up: dead. In contrast, the late Alan Rickman’s play about Rachel Corrie explored the bravery and confusion of a young girl from Oregon grappling with the Palestinian atrocities in a way that made me interested in the individual and enlightened me about the dire circumstances of her death. On to Jane, a nearby restaurant, for restorative food and drink.
Anthony Horowitz, talking about Alfred Hitchcock, thought being unbalanced/ neurotic is often part of a great artist’s makeup. Miles Ahead is about a human being who happened to be black, to be a great musician and to be very troubled. Don Cheadle starred, directed, produced and co-wrote Miles Ahead. Usually, I’d dismiss that as Vanity Productions Incorporated. Instead, it comes across as a valentine to the wonderful, screwed up musician, Miles Davis. It was not a prepackaged setup for a possible academy award. The blacks were not slaves (victims) or preachers (saints). They were people. Davis loved his wife, the dancer Frances Taylor, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi, but he was a lousy husband who treated her as a precious possession. The Scottish actor, Ewan McGregor, was completely believable as a free lance writer who would do anything for a story. The almost invisible but always present narrator, neither appealing nor repulsive, McGregor was human. Imagine! a film which features humans. Prejudice was present but it was handled as the prejudiced person’s problem that blacks had to deal with. Davis, Francis Taylor, and Davis’s band skirted around it.
Friends and I met at the Joyce for a Sunday afternoon of the Pennsylvania Ballet. The ballet was so-so but there isn’t a bad seat in the Joyce. Way back in the mid-twentieth century, the Joyce was the Elgin movie house/ porn house. It was closed down by the community. In 1982 the building was completely renovated and the Joyce, named after a rich benefactor’s daughter, was born.
On Tuesday I participated in a talk about Leonardo Sciascia’s The Day of the Owl, a police procedural that takes place in Sicily. The next evening at the Italian Cultural Institute
I listened to a lecture on the Italian women writers, Elsa Morante, Anna Maria Ortese.
“In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths.”
Graham Greene. Greene died 25 years ago.
The Ladies that Lunch Week
A friend was sitting down the block at Rosemary’s on Greenwich Ave. It’s a large restaurant. I was seated at the other end wondering where she was. Finally, a waiter put two and two together and pointed us out to each other. We quickly made up for lost time by ordering a delicious, weird pasta dish – linguine with preserved lemon (what’s that?), pickled chili, and parmigiano. Hasn’t parmigiano joined several other Italian words i. e. ciao, al dente, balsamic that have crept into American lingo? After racing through the linguini in record time and still feeling a bit peckish, I averted my eyes from a hateful brussel sprouts dish and ordered lard, soppressa and homemade focaccia. With the help of a glass or two of white and red, my friend and I mosied down memory lane. it was a delicious lunch.
At the Met a friend and I went dutifully to the Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun exhibit. Le Brun was a survivor. She lived during the turbulent years, 1755-1842, painted for the ill-fated court of Louis the Sixteenth, escaped France with her head, and lived in exile in Austria and Russia. If only we could have appreciated her art. It’s superior candy box, the kind of criticism that is regularly thrown unjustly at Renoir. We then wandered past some Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 -1867). What a difference. He painted, like Le Brun, the aristocracy. He caught their hauteur. And can anyone else paint textiles like Ingres? There’s a painting of a gorgeous, snooty Blessed Virgin worshipping the Host. From the expression on her face, to quote my friend, you wonder if it’s vice versa. The 1775 portrait of Moltedo has the subject clothed in rich, opulent cloth and soft, very strokeable fur. Then, we went in search of one of my favorites, Stuart Davis. At last we uncovered one painting of the Jefferson Market. Once upon a time the Met had an entire room devoted to Davis’s art. Onward to the Islamic Art galleries and the flow and diversity of Arabic calligraphy. We then headed to the members dining room and feasted on delicious crab cakes and the lovely spring view of Central Park.
Somebody’s got to do it.
Edward Snowden “They frame this false choice between security and privacy. But you can have both … Surveillance isn’t about safety. It’s about power.”
Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next made good, if obvious, points. It was too long and had a skewered approach. The featured countries are small and homogeneous, not adjectives that describe the USA. Also, Moore’s wise fool/ genial slob act has worn thin. Afterwards, we had a good supper of spaghetti alla carbonara and arugula salad. The waiter offered us a deal: $25 for a glass and a half of red wine – from a $400 bottle! We chose instead the $13 glass of plonk.
A confession: I used to walk past the Frick’s Anthony Van Dyck’s paintings, Frans Snyders, Margareta Snyders and others, vaguely bored by the yards of silk, very white hands and snooty expressions. That changed yesterday, thanks to Adam Eaker, Guest Curator at The Frick Collection, who gave an enlightened talk about Van Dyck and the Flemish seventeenth century. Curator Eaker examined the interior, mysterious life that Van Dyck portrayed on the faces of his sitters. We started our tour downstairs in the low ceiling rooms reserved for drawings. There are several self portraits, the first done when Van Dyck was fourteen. Apprenticed to Peter Paul Rubens at a very young age, he was soon recognized as a fine portrait painter. On the main floor, the Cabinet has a lovely drawing of Frans Snyders. Both the Oval Room and the East Gallery exhibit oils, done for the most part, of court figures. There’s a luscious portrait of Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio in the Oval Room, painted when Van Dyck was in his twenties. Van Dyck was especially good at painting children. The ‘East Gallery has a painting of Charles the First’s daughters, on loan from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Henry Clay Frick owned eight Van Dyck portraits. One of the most enchanting pictures the daughter of James, Seventh Earl of Derby.
I took this from a recent Judson Memorial Church Sunday service bulletin. “Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. ”From Modern Testimony: James Baldwin: The Fire Next Time.
It’s been a busy week. On Monday I left my life from a hospital bed. I’d been at New York Presbyterian Hospital (Weill Cornell is the teaching branch) since Wednesday, March 9. I’d been informed that I’d be leaving on Monday. My healthcare wouldn’t pay for additional hospital days. For a moment I panicked then realized a hospital is not a hotel. You’re there for a specific purpose and once that’s addressed you’re out. The operation had gone well. Therefore, I packed my small bag, no more than 15 lbs., went through dismissal instructions with the nurse, jumped into a wheelchair and was home in less than a half hour. I had mentioned in an earlier blog that a hospital reminds me of being at court. There are so many conventions that are lost on the short term patient. My surgeon in blue shrubs would drop by, usually attended by students in green scrubs.
Nurses wore white jackets over street clothes. Slews of different ranks dropped by: medical technicians, cleaners, clergy, volunteers, food providers, social workers. One of my volunteers was a Rockette. A Rockette? I immediately interviewed Kristin Jantzie for my blog. She and her two sisters, from Alberta, are all Rockettes. Some particulars: the Rockettes began in 1933. They range in height from 5’6” to 5’ 11”. It’s seasonal work and the dancers can dance with other companies when they’re not working on a Radio City Music Hall show. Kristin’s favorite dance is Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, part of the Christmas extravaganza since 1933. She joined the Rockettes ten years ago and has been in eleven Christmas shows and five Thanksgiving Parades.
Later that day I watched House of Cards. (Spoiler alert!) President Kevin Spacey lay in his hospital bed. I studied him and his various apparatus like a pro.
Watching the political circus unfolding before our eyes and before the presidential election, I thought these words of Daniel Berrigan were appropriate: Every nation-state tends towards the imperial—that is the point. Through banks, armies, secret police, propaganda, courts and jails, treaties, taxes, laws and orders, myths of civil obedience, assumptions of civic virtue at the top. Still it should be said of the political left, we expect something better. And correctly. We put more trust in those who show a measure of compassion, who denounce the hideous social arrangements that make war inevitable and human desire omnipresent; which fosters corporate selfishness, panders to appetites and disorder, waste the earth.
I went to a memorial at the God’s Love We Deliver building on Spring Street. The friend who died had volunteered for that organization. First, we had a buffet lunch and then numerous tributes. Many photos of the deceased were gathered in a box and pasted on walls. She was a curious, mysterious person who kept people in separate compartments. When I visited her as she laying dying in Mount Sinai, I met people gathered around her bed I’d never seen or heard of. At the memorial my old friends and I reminisced about the deceased: her wit, her kindness, her privacy. She’s gone into the great beyond. Her secrets are safe.
Jack Kleinsinger’s Highlights in Jazz is now in its 44th year. It’s presented in the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Theatre One. Thursday’s performance featured the Cuban born Paquito D’Rivera who plays a mean clarinet and a mean saxophone. His genres include Latin jazz and Afro-Cuban jazz. In the second set he played clarinet alongside Peter and Will Anderson. In other words, a clarinet summit. Lots of fun.
Nicholas Alstaedt, the cellist, made his NY recital debut in the Frick Music Room on February 21. He and Alexander Lonquich, the pianist, have impeccable credentials. Their choice of music was perfect. I had never appreciated Nadia Boulanger until I heard her Three Pieces for Cello and Piano. The recital included works by Debussy, Britten, Beethoven and Webern.
Wonderful Saturday afternoon with an outstanding Symphony in C, music by Bizet and choreography by Balanchine. The dancers are like race horses, aren’t they? Powerful, agile animals with very strong legs. Dancing in close proximity, they could maim each other. The conductor, Clotilde Otranto, gave us a wonderful afternoon. She came on stage and was dwarfed by the tall dancers.
A very Happy Year of the Monkey. Old friends celebrate the New Year annually, thanks to the hard work of one of our members. We’ve met at the Evergreen for years.
Begin the week with the Frick. End the week with the New York City Ballet. Only in NYC, folks.
Steve Kulchek and one of the members of his team, King, ate in ‘wichcraft. Both had one of the breakfast all day items on the menu.
“Waverly Inn – worst food in the city” – Donald Trump. This surprising statement is printed at the top of The Waverly Inn’s unique menu. I asked a waiter if the statement were true. Indeed it was, he answered, but Mr. Trump said it without bothering to come to the restaurant. If and when the Donald deigns to dine at The Waverly Inn, I recommend he start with oysters, followed by Dover sole with Hollandaise and then finish up with a scrumptious chocolate confection. After that I dare him to repeat his derogatory remark.
On Sunday, a friend and I went to the Emmanuel Baptist Church Jazz Vespers:. It’s a lovely way to spend an afternoon. The friendly congregation dresses up. Many of the women parishioners were in red for Valentine’s Day. Eric Wyatt, the saxophonist, led a quartet of bass, drum and piano. Monty Love Crowe was spectacular on piano.
List some of your favorite foods that begin with D: duck, dumplings…Get thee to The Red Farm on Hudson. Go early. They don’t take reservations. There’s communal seating but if you’re lucky you can be seated at one of the three tables for two people. You’ve guessed I’m not a fan of communal tables. The dumplings and lovely duck skin – yum.
Friends and I went to 466 Grand Street on an icy Saturday afternoon to see Visible Histories: American Abstract Artists.The fifty-nine members of the eighty year old institution combined new techniques with old. For example, Clover Vail made a bold abstract design with ball point on a wood block.