Ear worm, free to a good home.

It all started with the waiter, ever so dapper in his tux, delivering our apértifs along with a tutorial on the evening’s performance. We had scored a table next to the window at The Met’s Grand Tier restaurant, where I could gaze up at the massive Chagall mural or down at the simmering fountain in the plaza, feeling ever so soigné for just one moment in time. Well, until the next moment, when I fumbled in answering the waiter’s polite question about tonight’s program, revealing that what I knew about opera was of less substance than the sugar cube dissolving at the bottom of my champagne cocktail. Outclassed by a waiter again, a common occurrence in NYC.

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He had scoffed lightly at the modernistic approach to the production we were there to see, shaking his head and giving us a pitying look for the travail of the hours that lay ahead. Indeed, the bare set for this performance of La Traviata left us staring at the enormous ticking clock in Act III, wondering if Violetta would ever die. Confession: I would have strangled her with my bare hands if I could have; it was 11 p.m. and I just wanted to be home in my jammies.

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Fast forward a month, home in California, at a book club meeting where a handful of friends have gathered to discuss Daniel Bergner’s Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music and FamilyIt is the powerful story of a wayward young man, hobbled by a broken past and a dysfunctional family, who somehow charts a course to success as an opera singer. As compelling as it is improbable, the story of Ryan “Speedo” Green’s success also gives the reader a peek into the workings of The Metropolitan Opera. Beyond the winking chandeliers and lush red carpets lay an inner sanctum of voice, acting and language coaches and benefactors who labor tirelessly to shape the future of their beloved art form. If the headlines are to be believed, opera may be as critically endangered as the Hawksbill Turtle. Young adults are more likely to attend a rave than Der Rosenkavalier…ask almost anyone about The Ring and they may remember the horror film yet have not a clue about Wagner’s famed opera cycle.

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But my book club friends chat easily about their favorite performances. “But unless you have seen it at La Scala…” “Ah, but for the Russians, it is easier to sing in French than Italian” “If the r’s are rolled too much it is all ruined for me…” “My mother’s favorite was Parsifal…

Outclassed again. I have nothing to add except for my recent murderous intentions toward Violetta, and I think better of it. But I am warmed by their enthusiasm and their knowledge and Green’s story and I remember a question I asked our waiter that evening at The Met: “What is your favorite opera?”

He had answered immediately and definitively: “Turandot. Without a doubt.”

And that is the portal through which the ear worm enters.

Turandot, Giacomo Puccini’s posthumous opera based on the Persian fairy tale of a princess whose suitors invariably perish when they cannot solve the three riddles required to win her, features one of the most achingly beautiful arias in the musical canon. I did not realize when I Googled “Turandot aria” that I was opening Pandora’s box, but now it is done, and I can neither think of nor hear anything else. For two weeks Nessun dorma has accompanied me everywhere I go; I hear it even when I am listening to other music. It will not leave me and I’m not even sure I want it to, but just in case, would you take it, please, for safekeeping?

Be forewarned – the point of no return is the ascending line of Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me – hear the great Pavarotti:

 

 

And, just in case you are not fluent in Italian, the English translation:

None shall sleep! None shall sleep! You too, princess,
In your cold room
You watch the stars
Trembling of love and hope…
 
But the mistery of me is locked inside of me
No one will know my name!
No, no, I will say it on your mouth,
When the light will shine!
And my kiss will melt the silence
that makes you mine.
 
(Choir, voices of women:)
No one will know my name…
And we will, unfortunately, have to die, die!
 
(Calaf, the unknown prince:)
Leave, oh night! Set, stars!
Set, stars! At sunrise I will win!
I will win! I will win!

I checked the calendar, and Turandot is on The Met’s schedule in October and November, 2018. Anyone want to join me and my ear worm for a performance? Maybe we can grab that window table again at the Grand Tier and hum a line or two for the waiter…
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And if you can’t make it: go to metopera.org and click on the “Season” tab for the “In Cinemas” listings of HD movie-theater presentations. Almost as good as being there! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Music/Art/Literature/Culture, New York city | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

After the bunny.

Spring is awash in amazements.

First, there is the light. For those of us who get up with the chickens, that glimmer of pre-dawn light is almost holy.  I step outside and find that the earliest morning sound I’ve only been half-hearing, somewhere between a rasp saw and a buzz, unaccountably loud, is coming from the tiniest pair of wrens. I want to say they are Bewick’s, but don’t quote me. So tiny. So loud!

And then, before I’ve even had a sip of coffee, there is drama. A familiar anguished cry from above signals that a hawk is already at work, on a foray to raid the crows’ nestlings. A deadly ritual played out each spring, one that has made me sympathetic to crows for their courage and devotion. They mob the hawk, driving it away from the nest. It approaches again and again against a fury of beating black wings. I can hardly bear to watch because I have seen too many times how this plays out.

Perhaps this hawk, though, is young and inexperienced. Incredibly, it desists and flies off, at least for now. All is peaceful again. A bunny skitters tentatively from the hedge. Fresh-laid eggs, still warm, already await in the coop. Spring is gloriously unfurled.

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Bunnies. Eggs. Ah, yes, it is Eastertide. We dyed eggs, we dressed up, we brunched. But did we observe? Yes, we went to church. But did I celebrate Easter? No, not in the truest sense. Neither did Google, by the way. There was a Google Doodle on April 14 for the first day of the Bengali calendar. And another on April 18 for the birthday of Esther Afua Ocloo. But on Sunday, April 16, Google was silent.

Sometimes it is in absence that I finally pay attention.

I squint and hold my breath as I prepare to walk through the cloud of gnats that have materialized by the pond behind our property. A week, two weeks they have pestered every passerby, swarming in a wide swath across the road. But today they are not there.  My eye is drawn upward – the cliff swallows have arrived! They sail above the pond, an armada of gnat-eaters to the rescue.

I only noticed them in the absence of the gnats. I only saw Easter in the absence of the Doodle. Absence. The empty tomb. Be amazed.

I am grateful for all the years of my life because I am so very slow on the uptake. I have needed each and every year to even begin to understand the mystery of the Resurrection. Each year wheels around to its center, which is Easter, and marks the page. Here. Right here. Look now – the tomb is empty. He is risen.

Posted in Holidays, Spiritual | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

It was absolutely pawsome.

I don’t know if all dogs go to heaven, but some of them most definitely get to live a day in paradise. We toasted Soho’s thirteenth birthday with a celebration that was nothing short of divine, thanks to her many devotées and the amazing Tammy Kronen and her crew (especially John Henry, Claire and the inimitable Oliver…)

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Some of Soho’s admirers came from across the street, but others traveled from San Francisco and LA with their own pups for the occasion. Ming and Easton brought Marlowe and Emily and Steve brought Roxy. It was so great to have family members here – thanks Taylor and Angie, Thomas and James for making the trip.IMG_4703

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And, of course, Granny was here, making friends with Marlowe:

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But enough about all of them! Here’s the birthday girl in all her glory:

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We celebrated her with Princess Punch and an array of exquisite appetizers, with cream puffs and éclairs for dessert.

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Couldn’t have done it without the CE and his one good shoulder, magically turning things around after several years of drought. So great to see the fountain going again!

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The flowers were gorgeous – thank you, Kelly Clancy, for finding pink peonies at the last possible moment!

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I’ve hardly begun sorting through her presents, but it looks like Soho has toys and treats to last a lifetime. She also received at least one royal birthday card – thanks to family friend and artist Hannah Stevens Allen🙂

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And our friend Pamela won the prize for best Soho-coordinated outfit:

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Great fun, great party, and Soho is now settling in and planning her next biennial celebration – if she makes it to fifteen, we will, of course, be obligated to celebrate her Quinceañera!

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Posted in Absurdity, All Things Family, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Big Fun, Spoiled Pets | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The poetry of poultry.

We have a crew of house guests this weekend and last night we all tromped into the coop for hen introductions. It’s really fun to see people enjoy their first face-to-face with a live chicken. Invariably they are struck by the lustrous softness of the feathers, by the hens’ alert sociability and by the voracious interest in a handout of scratch. Those beaks mean business!

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To many people, chicken is nothing but potential stir-fry.  But some of us have had the good fortune of counting a flock of hens among our personal acquaintances, enjoying their affection and their ridiculousness. I am not alone in my admiration of Gallus Gallus. The folks at my new favorite web site tweetspeak have thoughtfully conflated National Poetry Month with their self-declared National Poultry Month, referencing extant chicken poetry and encouraging new works on the subject.

As we stood in the coop last night admiring my pretty hens, I thought anew about that niggling conundrum, the commoditization of the chicken. This lovely bird has the misfortune of being perhaps the most abundant, docile and portable source of protein for the planet and therein lies tragedy for the humble chicken. Here is poet Jane Mead’s powerful take on the subject:

Passing a Truck Full of Chickens at Night on Highway Eighty 
BY JANE MEAD
What struck me first was their panic.
Some were pulled by the wind from moving
to the ends of the stacked cages,
some had their heads blown through the bars—
and could not get them in again.
Some hung there like that—dead—
their own feathers blowing, clotting
in their faces. Then
I saw the one that made me slow some—
I lingered there beside her for five miles.
She had pushed her head through the space
between bars—to get a better view.
She had the look of a dog in the back
of a pickup, that eager look of a dog
who knows she’s being taken along.
She craned her neck.
She looked around, watched me, then
strained to see over the car—strained
to see what happened beyond.
That is the chicken I want to be.

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Slightly less dire is this classic:

Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens
Jack Prelutsky, 1940

Last night I dreamed of chickens,
there were chickens everywhere,
they were standing on my stomach,
they were nesting in my hair,
they were pecking at my pillow,
they were hopping on my head,
they were ruffling up their feathers
as they raced about my bed.

They were on the chairs and tables,
they were on the chandeliers,
they were roosting in the corners,
they were clucking in my ears,
there were chickens, chickens, chickens
for as far as I could see…
when I woke today, I noticed
there were eggs on top of me.

And my favorite chicken poem of all:

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Happy weekend – read a poem! Hug a chicken!

Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Disturbance in the Flock.

What I’m thinking today is that chickens are a lot like humans. Yes, I know they are actually the last extant remnant of the dinosaur, but mine are acting a lot more like humans. Fickle, moody, argumentative, rapacious.

It was just a few weeks ago that I bragged about my flock, the little utopia that it was. Each hen a perfectly functioning cog in the machine, truly a peaceable kingdom. Dare I say it – poultry in motion.

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But that was then and this is now. We’ve got problems.

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Pippa is the little old lady of the flock, a perky bantam who defined her turf from the get-go with our three newish hens. She had to. They are all three times her size! It was amusing to see how she had them all cowed. If they came too close to a morsel of scratch she coveted, she would charge at them and they’d squawk and run for cover. Well and good. It’s called pecking order and it is the basic infrastructure of flock machinery, an invisible fabric that knits together the personalities and foibles of a group of hens.

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But Ava the Australorp and Nugget the Rhode Island Red must have looked in a mirror and noticed that they are huge and Pippa is just a pipsqueak. They have turned the tables. It is not amusing in the least to watch them chase and peck her. She is terrified.

Those in the know, the self-styled chicken experts of the Internet, say that pecking order is endlessly dynamic and that disturbances work themselves out with time. It is just another episode of the soap opera that makes it so fascinating to watch the “chicken channel” of one’s flock, they say.

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But in the meantime, Pippa has taken to seclusion, and to the rafters of the coop and to the far reaches of the chicken yard, from whence she refuses to budge when it is time to go back inside. Have you ever tried to chase a chicken? Endlessly humbling. They are faster than you are and will outwit you every time. Little Pippa has us literally on the run!

It could be that Pippa is aging. At five and a half, she is edging up to the outer reaches of the average chicken lifespan. Or it could just be that it is spring and the other girls are feeling their oats. Or it could just be chickens deciding to act like humans.

Whatever it is, we are hoping for a détente to arrive sooner than later.  Turns out it is a full-time job playing referee to hen-pecking squabbles and the entertainment value is wearing thin.

If you get an invitation to drop by for chicken soup sometime soon, you’ll know why…

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Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Annoyances of Life, Chicken Facts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Your pages are numbered.

I keep a list of “Books to Read in 2017”, which has already swelled to a wishful thinking level of eighty volumes. Oh, and don’t forget the thirty additional reads that will be assigned throughout the year by my various book clubs.

I love to read because I am eternally seduced by the illusions it provides. The illusion that I  are doing something worthwhile. (This is a lie; I am merely lazy and therefore, reading suits me.)  The illusion that with every book I tick off I am gaining knowledge and making some sense of the world. (Ha! A lie; no sense can apparently be made of this world.) The illusion that reading makes me more interesting. (This is the biggest lie of all – have you ever seen people’s eyes glaze over when you start telling them about the last book you read?)

But read I will because it cannot be helped. And because a recent article by Emily Temple at  Literary Hub has introduced a heart-palpitating sense of urgency to the task. According to her calculations, I have, at best, around 1,200 books left to read before I go to that great library in the sky. The implications are grave and the message is clear; ditch the beach reads and crack the pages of Proust and Joyce, because it is later than I think.

But enough about me. How is the reading clock ticking for you? According to Ms. Temple, the average American reads 12 books a year. If you read less than that, I guess you have an actual life, or perhaps you are just a philistine, and in either case our paths probably don’t cross so you are not reading this post anyway. If you read 50 books a year, she categorizes you as a “voracious” reader; show-offs like my husband (side-eye here to the CE) qualify as “super” readers, those who devour 80 or more books annually. Here are Ms. Temple’s nifty actuarial projections for each category – and if you are over 50, prepare to be humbled:

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I can’t decide whether this is just the kick in the pants I needed to up my reading goals or if I should just surrender and download Fifty Shades Darker. One hopeful thought here: Ms. Temple’s projections may be a bit conservative – my 95-year-old mother-in-law reads hours every day and since I’m pretty sure she will live to be 110, all these calculations apply only to the rest of us amateurs.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Dear NYC, I promise not to hold a grudge.

Never fully recovered from our last deep-freeze February visit a few years back, so I scheduled NYC for March this year. After all, winter is over, right?

There were hopeful signs. Trees still bare, but there were buds on the forsythia and a few carefully-tended blooms along Fifth Avenue. People were out and about, strolling in the Park and hailing carriage rides along Central Park South. All in all, a lovely time to be in the city.

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And then it snowed. Okay, a spring snow. Fine. Pull the puffer out of the closet. After all, it will melt overnight; gives us bragging rights when we head back to California. And it’s pretty!

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We warmed up with coffee and calories. Sip an espresso over at our favorite Turkish place,  Beyoglu. An evening with Daniel at Peter Luger. Lunch at Nougatine, where the current iteration of their roast chicken is served with a frothy mustard sauce. Nothing to complain about here.

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BUT THEN IT SNOWED AGAIN! Giant wet clumps of wind-driven snow, snow and more snow. Not the foot they were predicting, but at least that much blocking every crosswalk; icy snow-walled moats of slush. One wrong step and you are going down. No one looks amused.

Beware the ides of March.

Et tú, New York?

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New York, how could you? Four days on and we are still skidding through crudely-hacked sidewalk paths. Today they are promising more snow. Or rain. Or, as some creative type at weather.com described it the other day, a “Wintry Mix”. Like it’s something we would choose off a menu. A succotash of snow. Thank you, no.

But I just can’t quit you, NYC. The snow may not melt anytime soon, but my heart does when I see a gorgeous sunrise over Fifth Avenue (not that one would see it through today’s blanketed skies)  and that gorgeous bouquet at the entrance to Balthazar. Full of promise. Spring is out there somewhere…

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Posted in New York city, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments