On Monday I arrived in Portland, went to the Warren; that’s what my landlady calls her charming basement apartment. It has three windows looking out onto the hedges and garden. I feel as if I’m in an Impressionist painting. Unlike Santa Fe, bikers wear helmets. I also noticed people reading books. Remember those? Dear friends took me to one of their favorite haunts, Jimmy Mak’s, to hear the Dan Balmer trio. While Balmer made hay with the guitar, I tucked into a divine chorizo and beef hamburger, carefully avoiding the n. g. designation. If Santa Fe represents opera for me, in Portland it’s jazz and folk. Next day we went to Jantzen Beach to visit a floating house. Unlike a houseboat, a floating house is moored to its site.
That evening we went to a leafy Dawson Park picnic to hear the singers, Lorranda Steele and Linda Hornbuckle. Ever use a salt block? Me either, but after Powell’s City of Books hosted a cook talking about the magic of salt, I’m sorely tempted. The next day we had a wonderful party at my friends’ enchanting house which they bought when north-west Portland had not been developed. On my daily walk to the Portman pool I saw a sweet and sad message that I photographed. “Whoever stole my skateboard you suck that was my bday present”.
We went to Timberline, the WPA lodge built in 1937. It’s a timber framed structure that reminds you of the glories of native woods, stone and murals. As a kid I Ioved the Oz books. With its quirky charm and singular pleasure in its own identity, Portland could be a town in Oz.
For the past four years I’ve spent a few of the summer weeks in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon. They are two cities so different from each other and so different from NYC.
Santa Fe has the sobriquet, the city different, but its original name is far grander: La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís “The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi”
As most people know, there’s no such thing as a direct route from NYC to Santa Fe. It’s more of a squiggle: Newark to Houston to Albuquerque to Santa Fe. The Pony Express would have been quicker and the service (United) much better.
The minute I’m in the southwest, I’m aware of space and sky. It affects my mood. I become less NYC tense, competitive, suspicious, pushy. My manners improve. I use cuss words far less often. Friendly, laid-back and courteous describe most of the people.
I like to cook and usually rent a place with a kitchen. It’s a good way to become reacquainted with Santa Fe friends. A gluten free meal was requested. I headed to Sprouts, a Whole Foods lookalike. We had the usual snacks: mozzarella balls, olives, crackers (gluten free), followed by cucumber, tomato, dill, arugala salad, ravioli (gluten free) in a mushroom, edamame, garlic, shallot sauce with parmegiano on the side. Imagine my horror when I tossed the ravioli into boiling water and they dissolved into a slimy mess. Ravioli made with wheat are a cinch to cook. Put them into boiling salted water and they’re done when they float to the top. Dessert was a gluten free cake. Never again.
On July 26, friends and I went to a buffet dinner at the Santa Fe opera site and under a huge and sturdy tent watch a storm rage around us: lightening, thunder, the works. My umbrella was tucked away in my suitcase, of course. We were lucky. There was a perfectly timed break in the storm. We scurried up the hill to the opera house. The stage is open on three sides to make use of the glorious New Mexico landscape. As the opera unfolded, the sun set leaving streaky light across the western sky.The seats are as comfortable as the ones in Alice Tully. Last night’s performance was wonderful. DiDonato and Brownlee were spectacular. They had just flown in from performing the opera at Covent Garden. The big surprise (to me) was Mariana Pizzolato a mezzo-soprano who was as good as the other two. Tomorrow we’re returning for another buffet supper and Oscar.
July 27: Talk about contrast between stormy weathered but deliciously anticipated La Donna del Lago and tonight’s balmy weather and sizzling but well bred excitement about a new and politically motivated opera. At tonight’s buffet, an Engllsh woman with the improbable name of Electra/ Brunhilde (?) did what she’s been doing for years. She gave a talk about the background of the opera. Being Oscar’s opening night, she and the crowd were fired up by the significance of gay rights and the coincidence of the Supreme Court decision. The English accent does help. Once again, Wilde was proclaimed a great writer (Oh?) and we went through his tragic tale. I could do without these adult education courses at dinner, but most of the crowd seemed to like it. I’m so glad I attended the performance with a retired singer and was I grateful for my own private tutorial. Oscar’s composer is Theodore Morrison, quite young. This is his first opera. The music was big and green – exciting in a modern way. Most modern music sounds similar to me: John Corigliano, John Adams and to my tin ear you could include Morrison. David Daniels sang Oscar. A dancer represented Lord Alfred Douglas. He flitted in and out of the scenes contributing not a whit. Most opera dancing makes my blood boil. It was thrilling to be at the event and quite moving to see how happy so many couples were. Lordy, it could have been a Judson Memorial Church Sunday. On to Portland!
A blistering, hot week in NYC. Having spent a few weeks in India in August (!), I was reminded of the silence that envelops people when they’re surrounded by heat. During this past week in NYC, most people seemed to cope with it by regarding air conditioning as the holy grail. You seek it, find it and worship it. The day’s plan was to run from your apartment’s a.c. to the taxi/bus/subway a.c. and into your office/shop/studio/unemployment center/Y/library a.c. and then repeat the process at the end of the day .
New York City Restaurant Week is officially from July 22 to August 16. Counting on my fingers, I get 19 days in NYC’s restaurant week. Whatever. A friend and I went to a Russian restaurant that began its restaurant week a week early and had blini with red caviar, braised short ribs and apple strudel. What? you say. In 100 degree weather you’re eating for the Arctic not for the Sahara. Too true. The next day I felt like a human furnace, but it was so good while I was doing it.
My New York Week July 8 – July 14
Overused Words and a Wordy Book
I’m so sorry the word, fuck, has lost its virginity. Aren’t you? I was thinking that while a friend and I watched THE HEAT, a sentimental, predictable, violent, girlie-bonding, white trash summer movie. Isn’t fuck the ghost pepper of words – to be used sparingly by those who know what they’re doing? Where do we go from here? Is there another word with its repulsion/fascination factor?
Guy is a word that needs to be replaced with synonyms. Am I the only woman who is puzzled when a woman only audience is addressed as you guys?
How are you? Well or good? This is one the grammarians have lost, but it does give us snobs ample opportunity to prove we know the difference between an adverb and an adjective.
Recently, I read Whittaker Chambers’s WITNESS. It’s a beautifully written book in formal American English by the controversial Mr. Chambers. Was he or wasn’t he a lifelong Commie? Is his book a slick whitewash or a sincere recantation? It made me wonder whether this country would have been better or worse if Communism had gained a legal foothold. We’ll never know.
When I was about fourteen, an aunt listened to my moaning about the weather and told me to stop complaining unless I wanted to be considered a bore. I guess I want to be considered a bore because ain’t it hot? Is NYC the only place where you can be hot and cold at the same time? At least it doesn’t curb my appetite. On Tuesday, over platters of mussels and fries and chilled white wine a friend and I discussed her recent trip to Palestine, Israel and Egypt. She’s a well educated, thoughtful woman who’s agreed to my interviewing her about her experiences in the middle east. Stay tuned! On Wednesday, a friend and I went to the American Ballet Theatre’s The Sleeping Beauty. It was a frothy delight with wonderful dancing – nothing like the pitty-pat of ballet slippers on the Metropolitan’s stage. My friend knows all those Russian and Latin names. From Kochetkova to Cornejo to Vasiliev the names trip off his tongue. I’m going to be boring again and bring up the weather. The 4th was a real stinker but I spent part of the day with old pals and am including a photo
of their wonderful green garden.
Have I said how much I love NYC? How, when I’m away from it for more than two weeks, I feel deprived of oxygen? Have I mentioned that my father was a socialist and my mother a social climber? Dear Reader, you have the results of that combination before you. Monday I was supposed to go to a dinner honoring Salman Rushdie but declined. Tuesday I was supposed to go the the High Line and join the Amateur Astronomers Association in peering through telescopes at the heavens. I declined (good tv night). So far, haven’t I behaved like the quintessential New Yorker? You feel the buzz, the excitement out there, no need to participate right now. Wednesday evening I joined a friend for a fabulous Mexican meal at 104 Street and Lex. El Paso’s chef is from Oaxaca, one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. It has everything: Colonial architecture, Zapotec ruins, wonderful food and great people. Afterwards, we went to a boring talk about Central Park. You have to work hard to make C. P. boring, but these characters succeeded. The Grolier Club was the next day. Run, do not walk, to the exhibit Gardening by the Book: Celebrating 100 years of the Garden Club of America. It’s in a lovely, spacious room with muted lighting and absolute silence. Those old Republican dames know a thing or two about gardening and its history. On Friday, I attend a show by The Gay Agenda at Judson Memorial Church. Such fun! So many people streamed into the upstairs balcony. We all pretended the air conditioning was working. On Sunday, back to Judson Memorial Church which has long been in the vanguard about gay rights. The fiendishly talented Micah Bucey preached the sermon. In back of him were David Johnson’s portraits of the men and women who attended Bailey House which began in 1983 as an answer to the AIDS crisis and homelessness. Here is one of the portraits and a photo (you have to squint to see Micah) of The Gay Agenda.
The greatest Soprano of them all, James Gandolfini, has died in Rome. He was an Italian American of humble origin who won big in the American dream sweepstakes. In an early episode, his therapist asks him if he was depressed. All I can say is I’m depressed because this wonderful actor has departed the scene much too soon.The illustration is by Jim Margulies and was featured in amNewYork.