This time last week I was packing my bags in Agrigento and heading to Palermo. On March 17, wearing green earrings, I returned from Sicily having been there for two weeks.
I knew something was a foot (pace Sherlock) on my first day back in NYC at the Y pool. Our water exercise instructor showed up with luscious locks and wearing lipstick. Katie Couric was in the building! We were going to be filmed. We started stripping off shower caps that some wear in lieu of bathing caps. We practiced smiling. First, the advance person got into several huddles with our instructor. We, like kindergarten children, had been told to do a particular exercise to keep us busy. Then four men arrived. One was holding a sound instrument, another a pad, another a camera and, finally, one to give directions. Our instructor sprang into action. Exhorting us in a jolly way through a series of exercises while the Couric staff recorded this seemingly impromptu session.They weren’t required to take off their street shoes, unlike the rest of us.
It sure wasn’t Sicily. Going back to Italy is stepping into a time warp. I lived there for eight years and have gone back and forth for years, dragging physical and mental baggage with me.
On March 3, four of us coming from different parts of the States, beat the predicted snow storm and arrived in Palermo. Our hotel had a cage like elevator with swinging doors that had to be adjusted just so before it chugged its way to our bed and board, run by a charming man who started the pensione because he couldn’t find work.This was a light motif of our trip: Sicily’s high unemployment.
We four had skills that dovetailed: one person who drove well and loved driving in Sicily, one who managed the finances fairly and efficiently and read maps well, one who kept us abreast of the historical significance of the sights and kept an eye on the wild flowers and one who spoke Italian.
We went to the Norman Byzantine twelfth century Cathedral of Monreale, outside of Palermo. In addition to the wonderful mosaics, it’’s possible to climb to the roof and look down at the cloister.
Catania was our next stop. The Roman amphitheater was one of the highlights. We drove to nearby Etna, covered in snow.
On to Enna, the navel of Sicily, which we stayed in to visit the Villa Romana del Casale, a hunting lodge built in 4 AD. The mosaics are evocative of a time long gone: charioteers, figures crowned with laurel, girls doing exercises, hunting scenes.
The Ortygia island is part of Syracuse. This is where we stayed, surrounded by water and history.
Agrigento was our last stop before heading back to Palermo and the States.
No service from Verizon has turned into a benefit. I’m up close with my cell and realizing I don’t need a land line, but what lousy service. There was the promise of a repair person who never materialized and no notification from Verizon. I have been without the land line since Feb. 23 and it won’t be restored until March 8, plenty of time to whine and plot an escape.
Isn’t Chris Christie interesting? He’s a hometown boy. Attended a local school and a local law school. He not only knows New Jersey, he knows how to manipulate it.
Are you tired of de Blasio’s photo ops of shoveling snow or shoveling earth at the building of a new school. What’s with hard hats? Why do politicians and billionaires love to wear them? The Honorable de Blasio claims to want to bring the two cities together. By appointing five new members who are sympathetic to renters to the Rent Guidelines Board he will have a golden opportunity.
Have you been watching 30 Days of Oscar on Ted Turner? The things you notice in movies. For instance, in Casablanca Humphrey Bogart and Paul Henreid didn’t go through one scene without a cigarette.
A contemporary entry, Her, has the voice of Scarlet Johansson. I thinks it’s a clever cheat. Her well known voice conjures a beautiful woman who looks like Scarlet Johansson. She’s also the infamous Scarlet Johansson, promotor of SodaStream, whose main factory is based in Mishor Adumim, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
Here’s an e.e. cummings’ poem, “maggie and millie and molly and may”.
maggie and millie and mollie and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and
millie befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were; and
molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and
may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.
for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.
I’m off to Sicily soon and have been brushing up on Greek and Roman myths. The myth of Persephone originated near the town of Enna. Playing in a field one day, she was abducted by Hades who took her to the Underworld. Her mother, Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, refused to allow plants to grow as long as her daughter was kept captive. At last a compromise was reached. Persephone would spend some of the year in the Underworld (winter) and return to the earth and sunshine in the spring. I’m going to Enna in the springtime. The original shrine has been replaced by a race track.
And now a question about Artemis/ Diana. If I were a lesbian and had opened a restaurant/bar/yoga-pilates center, I’d name it either the goddess’s Greek or Roman name. Artemis never wanted to marry and she was accompanied by fifty fleet maidens. Has she been embraced by the lesbian community?
On Sunday I got out the sleigh and dogs and headed to the Frick for an all Schubert concert by Wolfgang Holzmair. The Frick Music Room is a circular space with brocade covered walls and a raised platform on which Holzmair and his piano accompanist, Russell Ryan, performed. I chose to sit and listen to the songs without aid of the provided text for fear of crinkling the pages and driving my fellow guests crazy. It was a warm, intensely melodious afternoon in snowy Manhattan.
Monday night my hiking friends and I celebrated Chinese New Year. One of our members does all the arranging with a mid-town restaurant. This year, while spinning the lazy susan, we were regaled with a brief history of the Chinese zodiac, courtesy of one of the servers. The dragon, the only mythical sign, is made up of four animals: the fish, the snake, the lizard and one other I can’t remember. Happy Year of the Horse!
Wednesday I was at the Arsenal, the building that predates Central Park, at 65th Street and Fifth Avenue. We met in the conference room that has the original 1858 c. drawing plan of Olmsted and Vaux. It won the design to expand the park.
There’s something mesmerizing about Chris Christie aka the prince of Port Authority. He reminds me of other hypnotic fat men: Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, Count Fusco in Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White.
February 2nd: R. I. P. Philip Seymour Hoffman. The last movie I saw him in was A Late Quartet. He and the other wonderful actors created the impression that they were highly skilled musicians who had been playing together for years. Hoffman was buried from St Ignatious Loyola, another man who had his own terrors. Although there were many mourners present, not one carried the coffin. Instead, it was carried, I guess, by minimum wage employees of Frank Campbell.
While the rest of you were watching. agonizing over/ betting on/ Super Bowl, a friend and I went to Craft, Tom Colicchio’s laboratory, I mean, restaurant on 19th Street. The service was fine, the space was ample (we’re talking Manhattan) and the greens were gritty. Feb. 2 was the first time I’d been back in three years. Now, there’s music. Did a consultant suggest that that would make the restaurant more hospitable? I preferred the more formal atmosphere.
Highlights in Jazz celebrated its 41st anniversary on Feb. 6. Jack Kleinsinger, its creator, was in fine form. A woman approached him in Las Vegas and said, “I hope you don’t mind my saying this, but you look like Jack Kleinsinger.” Kenny Barron, the jazz pianist, was also in fine form.
Don’t tell me NYC isn’t a carny town. From my window I see the Empire State Building. During daylight hours it’s as staid as a banker. Once the sun goes down, it turns vibrant multicolors every few seconds, resembling a hypodermic needle crossed with a jukebox.
Sunday Chamber Music Society concerts are a treat. Held in Alice Tully Hall the acoustics are perfect and the lighting is just right. I have heard that Alice Tully was a tall woman who demanded that her auditorium, both the original one and this renovated beauty, have plenty of leg room. If only she had owned Delta Airlines. January 26’s concert featured Schubert, Spohr (Who he?) and Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major for Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn Violin, Cello and Bass.
Jazz Tuesday is held in John Birks Gillespie Auditorium. At the door there’s an inviting sign, Jazz Tonight. On Jan. 28 it was big band night, featuring the wonderful singers: Brianna Thomas, Charenee Wade and Charles Turner. There was a 40’s feel to the mellow, dynamic music. You can visit Jazz Tuesday’s website at www.jazzbeat.com.
Later in the week a friend and I went to the movie, Dallas Buyers Club. Matthew McConaughey filled the screen. He’s morphed into being a character actor and chews the scenery with abandon. Jared Leto is currently walking on water. To quote my gay friend, he’s tired of the gay community always being represented by a transvestite. We then joined the crowds on Super Bowl Boulevard, Broadway to you. What a zoo! We were originally scheduled to go on the toboggan ride but it involved walking two blocks in sub zero weather to pick up our tickets and then retrace our steps to
stand in a long line. Secretly, I was relieved that we decided to forgo the pleasure and instead ate a delicious Chinese meal with not a vegetable in sight.
On Martin Luther King Day I went to MOMA. I’ve haunted that place since childhood and have always felt rejuvenated by its buzz. The video, Dante Ferretti: Design and Construction for the Cinema, follows the long, illustrious career of Dante Ferretti, the Italian production designer of sets and costumes. You’ve seen his work unless you just arrived from Mars. He’s worked with Pasolini, Fellini, Scorsese, Coppola and garnered slews of awards. He’s claustrophobic. He thinks it’s because of U. S. bombs hitting his house when he was about three. His mother searched among the rubble for days until she found him. In the garden/sculpture court stand two of Ferretti’s Archimboldo figures. They’re named after Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th century Italian painter who painted weird portraits that consisted of fruits, vegetables, flowers.
Do you get installations? Me neither. As long as I don’t have to fund them or explain them, I can enjoy the experience for about ten minutes. Isaac Julien’s Ten Thousand Waves weaves traditional Chinese myths with a contemporary tragedy. It’s shown on nine double sided screens suspended from the ceiling of MOMA’s Marron Atrium. The spectators and yours truly sprawled on cushions and couches on the floor below. It would make a great pajama party.
Since I write crime procedurals, I’m always interested in new crime fiction. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are kicking up their heels playing Louisiana detectives in HBO’s True Detective. McConaughey plays the big cliche´– the loner who speaks the harsh truth, no family i.e. dead child, lives for his work and never, never smiles. Harrelson plays the old Southern boy who keeps a smiley face lid on everything. You know what? It works. These two actors are character actors and they are great together. Also, the script is witty. It helps that it’s set in Louisiana, reinforcing our northern suspicion that deeply southern states have lower standards of morality than we do. (Forget about bridge gate. HE didn’t know anything about it.)
“Seize the hilltops!” These words, encouraging settlers’ land grabs, were yelled by the late Ariel Sharon after the signing of the Oslo accords. As I listened to Joe Biden making one of his high school speeches larding praise on Arik, King of Israel, I wondered about the lack of coverage of the Palestinians’ reaction to the death of the Monster. Was he partially responsible for the massacre of civilians at Qibya in 1953, then at Sabra and Shatila in 1982? We’ll never know from American media.
I accompanied a gardener friend to the Arsenal in Central Park. It’s a brick building that predates the park and was built between 1847 and 1851. Originally, the Arsenal was an arms and ammunition storehouse for the New York State Militia. We attended a discussion about Russell Page’s The Education of a Gardener. Fascinating to enter a world about which I know nothing and to listen to people who dedicate their lives to preserving the Earth’s earth and the complexities that involves.
American Hustle is playing in a mall like movie house on 42nd Street, one block east of Port Authority. Was the movie house built during the Guliani cleanup? Was it supposed to make tourists feel more at home with its bland motel architecture and friendly funereal lighting? To me, it says forever New Jersey.
American Hustle centers around a 1970’s scam and sting. The F. B. I. works with a known felon to bring down corrupt officials. The wonderful actors wear deliciously tacky clothes and jewelry. Who can forget that clunky medallion gleaming on Bradley Cooper’s chest? Hair – hair – hair is a major player. For the gents: Comb overs, pompadours, tight curls; for the ladies: lots of it, curly, frizzy, wavy.
Proof that God has a sense of humor: I kept expecting Governor Chris Christie to make a cameo appearance (a la Alfred Hitchcock). After all, the Port Authority was only a block away and the American Hustle script could have been written by the Honorable Christie or by one of his fired aides.
W. H. Auden (1907-1973) moved to NYC, broke up with his boy friend, his mother died and WW II had begun. This is when he wrote For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.
“The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God’s Will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.
Rene´ Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian surreal artist whose mother killed herself. When her body was found, her dress was draped across her face. This image is repeated in several of Magritte’s works. MOMA has mounted a large exhibit of his works from 1926 to 1938. Going to an exhibit at MOMA on a Saturday afternoon means you love crowds. I’m glad I went because there was so much to see. Lovers with faces draped in cloth, the pipe that isn’t a pipe. Isn’t Magritte an illustrator rather than an artist?