Dear Amygdala-Based Lifeforms…

So yesterday afternoon, the Current Disgrace tweeted this:

I am not going to get into all the LAW, ORDER [,] and JUSTICE that the Republican Administration is doing all over the place at the moment.[1] Rather, allow me to address the premise of the direct intravenous shot of fear and anger he’s giving his amygdala-based followers.

Seriously, if you are one of the amygdala-based lifeforms who follow this man, I need you to stop and think about this. This man is telling you that one of the two major political parties in this country has as their policy goals “anarchy, amnesty [,] and chaos.”  He wants you to believe that one of the two major political parties wants gang warfare,[2] and drug epidemics as their party platform.

And taking “jobs and benefits away from hardworking Americans”? What the hell is he talking about?[3]

Does any of that make any sense at all, if you stop to think about it? We will all pause to allow you to stop and think about it.

NO, IT DOES NOT MAKE ANY SENSE AT ALL. Whatever the Democratic Party’s political goals are, they do not include destroying this country. THINK ABOUT IT.

Having given it some thought, the amgydala-based lifeform’s brain, in fear of being cut off from its oh-so-intoxicating hit of fear and anger, does a record scratch: “But… OKAY THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE BUT IT’S STILL TRUE!! MAGA!!!!!”

::sigh::

—  —  —  —  —

[1] But I will mention that a man who doesn’t use the Oxford comma is a moral monster who should be shunned in any case.

[2] Like in Honduras or El Salvador, which REFUGEES ARE FLEEING FROM TO OUR BORDERS, KENNETH? But let that pass.

[3] I have to assume that he is not talking about his own trade wars — soon to bring job losses near you — or his own party’s budget — which, since it’s ballooned the deficit to trillions, now needs to be “balanced” by cutting your Social Security benefits.

Happy Independence Day

(Originally published 7/4/14; republishing because it’s still true)

On this lovely July 4 morning, I know before I even go on Facebook that statuses will have appeared overnight like toadstools encouraging us all to be grateful to our armed forces.  I would like to respectfully decline.

It’s not that I’m not grateful for the men and women who—these days—volunteer for this most awful of jobs, but gratitude is not what the people who post these things are generally and actually suggesting.  They want us to worship our military strength.  I actually had someone tell me recently that I should “know my place” in regards to those (including him) who “fought and bled” for my freedoms. (Being the gentle soul that I am, I did not respond that my “place” was, as a civilian, the boss of him.)

So I would like to remind everyone that what we celebrate today is not our military victory that made this nation de facto independent. What we celebrate today is the IDEAS that made us the nation that we became.  We celebrate John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and Button Gwinnett, whose erudition and interest in political philosophy drew from sources both ancient and contemporary to formulate something the world had never seen before: a nation of principles.

Did we have to shed blood to attain and confirm those principles?  Indeed—we were fighting even as the document was drafted, edited, and ratified.  But we were not founded as a nation of war; the Constitution actually forbids a standing army.  We were founded as a nation of theory by men of thought.  And that is what I celebrate today.

What Ben Hill shows us

I don’t know if you’ve ever been on the internet, but if you have and you follow politics at all, then you have probably run into the bad faith argument which argues that nuh-uh Democrats are the real racists because Lincoln freed the slaves and the Democrats founded the KKK so there. I have blogged about it here.

One evening recently, having driven home around I-285, I found myself wondering exactly why we have a road in Atlanta and a county down south named “Ben Hill.”  Why the two names? For a millisecond I thought it was some weird fluke in history that we were honoring a Jewish or Arabic Georgian, but that thought dissolved immediately in derision. I was back to wondering who “Ben Hill” was.

Short answer: U.S. and C.S.A. senator, Benjamin Harvey Hill. Complicated fellow, but apparently well respected enough to have a county named after him 25 years after he died. (Still no answer as to why we use his whole name.  What’s wrong with plain old Hill County?  But I digress.)

Here’s the eye-opener, though: in the Wikipedia article on the county itself, there’s a chart of presidential elections and how the county voted.  Go have a look.

From 1912–1960, solid Democrat. Then, suddenly, in 1964, Republican. And in 1968, Independentand except for a couple of aberrations for Southern candidates, it’s been solid red ever since.

Is there any doubt about what happened? You might think that suddenly the population of Ben Hill County became concerned about their stock market investments and other typical Republican issues, but you might be A Idiot. (Have you ever been to Fitzgerald? I have; my mother was born there.) You could try to resist linking the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 to the switch, but 1968 gives it away: they voted for George Wallace, people.  Hmm.

So yes, once again, the Democratic Party was formerly the party of racist voters. A century ago. But Ben Hill County puts it right out there: those voters have switched their party allegiance, and it ain’t because they’re concerned about their stock portfolios.

 

New Cocktail: The Camino Flores

This one sprang from a desire to use my new bitters from Amor Y Amargo bar in NYC, specifically the Colorado Lavender bitters from Cocktailpunk.

Also, I had bought a while back a bottle of St. George Pear Brandy.  I should have known better, but hope springs eternal and St. George is usually not wrong.  The problem with pear brandy is that the flavor overwhelms anything you put it in; nearly ten years ago we were in Key West and during a rainstorm took shelter in an outdoor bar, where a young man who had fled investment banking for the island life struggled with us to make a cromulent cocktail using the stuff.  He failed, and I haven’t succeeded myself.

Until now.

The Camino Flores

  • 1.5 oz gin (Sipsmith preferred)
  • .75 oz lemon juice
  • .5 oz simple syrup
  • .25 oz pear brandy
  • 2 good squirts of lavender bitters

Shake the first four ingredients with ice; strain into a coupe. Dribble the bitters on top. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I go back and forth as to whether it’s cromulent or not, but others have told me it’s interesting enough.  I may try again tonight with maybe 1/3 or 1/4 oz simple syrup.

Anyway, enjoy!

(h/t to Marc for an idea for naming)

Wait, *that* Lottie Moon?

Lottie Moon-1.jpg

You remember Lottie Moon, don’t you?

She was the closest thing we Baptists had to a saint and/or martyr. She selflessly devoted her life to bringing the Word of God to the heathen Chinee, working her fingers to the bone for those little yellow children, and eventually dying for her efforts.

Every Christmas we had the Lottie Moon Offering, the Southern Baptist GoFundMe for foreign missions.  (We had another saint for home missions.  Can’t remember her name. I think she worked with the little brown babies out west.)

Well.

The other night her name came up for some reason, and I did a little dinner table research on her.

Y’all — Lottie Moon was a kickass trouble-making feminist with a professor boyfriend who himself got kicked out of Southern Seminary for his progressive ideas! She is a Netflix miniseries waiting to happen!

Why were we never taught this??[1]

Read all about it here.

—  —  —  —  —

[1] Actually, I know perfectly well why we were not taught this. It didn’t fit into the Paulian Pauline schematic that women should keep their mouths shut. This is the church that would have elected me — me — as a deacon before they would have my mother.

New York City 2018 — Day 4

Note: this is being written after our return.  Somehow there’s not an hour available for blogging when one is enjoying NYC.

Sunday

I charted our course for the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, and the easiest course was to walk over to 6th Avenue and hop on — you guessed it — the F train and head south.

As we strolled past Times Square, there was a cathedral on the sidewalk, you guys!

This is the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and it’s a perfectly cromulent Catholic church, except it’s Episcopalian.  High Episcopalian.  Like stratospheric Episcopalian: the church’s nickname is Smoky Mary’s because of the use of incense in services.  Plus a confessional and chapels and iconography and it looks like a Catholic church.

We were greeted warmly by a lovely lady who was either Scot or Welsh — I really couldn’t tell — who encouraged us to keep touring even though a “read” service was about to start, and when we demurred, took us into the parish hall to show us a couple of historic photographs of the place.

It was the first cathedral to be built using skyscraper techniques, i.e., steel girder scaffolding, etc.

We thanked her profusely and moved on. When we got to 6th Ave, aka Avenue of the Americas, we were delighted to see a street fair.  (I don’t know that traffic was delighted, but hey, the streets were open, just not this one avenue.)

We browsed a bit and decided to head on down to the Tenement Museum as planned, then stop and shop on our return.

We’d been to the Tenement Museum the last time we were in NYC, and we said then we would return.  The museum has taken a tenement building built in 1863 and restored parts of each of the six floors to tell the story of an immigrant family who lived there at some point. Each floor is a separate guided tour, plus there’s a neighborhood tour. The focus of it all is immigration and the immigrant experience.

Last time we did the ground floor tour, a German lager saloon, with a middle-class German-American family.  The Lower East Side in the 1860s was the third-largest German-speaking city in the world at the time, behind Berlin and Vienna. Because of that wave of immigrants, we drink cold lager beer, not lukewarm ale.

This visit, we did the fourth floor Irish family, the Moores, who moved there from the infamous Five Points area (Gangs of New York territory) and found themselves the only English-speakers in the building. Although the privies in the back courtyard were connected to the sewer system, the building did not have running water or gas lighting in 1869.  Bridget had to walk down the stairs to fill her bucket with water multiple times a day; we were handed a bucket with gravel in it to demonstrate the weight she would have had to deal with along with her baby and maybe a toddler or two.

The Moores only lived there for a year before moving closer to the old St. Patrick’s, a more Irish-Catholic neighborhood. We were shown the virulent anti-Irish sentiment of the time — they were vicious savages, not really human.  Every image showed them as ape-like, primitive.  Here’s a cartoon by Thomas Nast, published in Harper’s after an incident at the 1867 St. Patrick’s Day Parade:

Rum. Blood.  Brutal attack.  Irish riot.

You’d never know that there were only a total of 7-10 people involved in the actual incident.

So: immigrants from an alien (read: “Roman Catholic”) culture are depicted as violent, subhuman criminals.  Thank goodness we don’t do that any more oh wait

Back to the street fair, where we both found things to intrigue us enough to purchase them.  I did not buy another singing bowl, however.

Heading back across Times Square, the heat was oppressive, and suddenly the place looked a lot like New York:

We lunched at Sardi’s — yes, Sardi’s — and it was amazingly civilized.  Quiet, calm, the waiter practically whispered.  We ate with Mike Funt’s buddy Dick van Dyke:

I texted him the photo and he asked if that were Trump next to Dick, but it’s Michael York thank god.

Our matinee was The Band’s Visit, this year’s Tony Award winner for Best Musical. What a gorgeous show — low-key, sweet, heartfelt, human. I have a low tolerance for Bway pizazz, and this show was blessedly free of all of that. There was only one “big” number, and it flowed naturally out of a sweet love ballad from a lonely boy. Suddenly all the characters we’d met during the course of events were there, and we had a gorgeous choral swell… and that was it.  No sequins, no glitz, no big orchestral crashing about, just the Alexandria Policeman’s Ceremonial Orchestra and the very human voices.

I highly recommend this show.  It’s based on the movie of the same name, and the plot is deceptively simple: an Egyptian police band has been invited to Israel to play for the opening of a new Arab cultural center in Petah Tikvah, but due to the bus ticket agent’s Hebrew accent and the band member’s Egyptian accent, they are given tickets to Bet Hatikva — a nowhere place in the Negev Desert. The local cafe owner Dina takes pity on them and lets them stay with her and her brothers overnight.  The next twelve hours or so we learn about each of their lives, and spoiler alert! they’re all human beings.

It’s just a lovely little show.  See it.

Quick dinner at the Glass House Tavern before heading over to New World Stages for our final show.  We really bonded with our bartender, Valerie, and the young man whose name we never learned.  This is called foreshadowing.

Our last show was Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic. It was a treat. In it, if you can imagine, three kids at the Magic School meet their first year and go on to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune caused by one of their classmates and his fight against the dark overlord. We are treated to every detail, every character, every nuance of the Harry Potter books and films from the viewpoint of the hapless Puffs.  It’s adorable.

The parody is terrific, the young actors are skilled and hysterical, and the ending is sadder than you might think. Think of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead… at Hogwarts, only with quick changes, and you get the idea.

Finally it was time to head back to Glass House Tavern for a final nightcap and a dessert. We chatted more with our handsome young bartender about his hopes and dreams — having grown up in Manhattan, he wants to finish school somewhere else. When it was time to wrap it all up, I decided we should give our Metro cards to our bartenders.  They were seven-day passes and were good for unlimited trips until Wednesday.

That’s when I found out that my back pocket was empty.

My wallet and my Waste Book were not where they were supposed to be, and there were two possibilities.  1.) They had slipped out at Puffs. (The Waste Book had slipped out at Travesties.) 2.) I had been pickpocketed.

We headed back to New World Stages. It was about 10:30, and of course the place was dark.  “Let’s go around and pound on all the doors,” said my Lovely First Wife, but I pooh-poohed the notion.  This was Sunday night; Broadway is dark on Monday.  Everyone would have headed home to begin their days off.

We went back to the room, where I called my credit card people and suspended my cards.  The next morning, we noticed a message.  It was the theatre; they had my things, and we could pick them up at the stage door until 11:30.  The night before.  Ugh. I  hate it when she’s right.  But she was right.

Thank goodness I use my passport to get through airport security, or I would still be in Manhattan.  On the plus side, I would have retrieved my wallet and Waste Book at this point.  I’ve emailed the theatre asking them to use the cash in the wallet to overnight everything back to me and to keep the rest as a donation, but I haven’t heard from them yet.  I’ll keep you posted.

Monday

We flew home and arrived safe and sound, albeit without a driver’s license or credit cards.  The end.

New York City 2018 — Day 3

Note: this is being written after our return.  Somehow there’s not an hour available for blogging when one is enjoying NYC.

One last adventure from Friday night: we were returning from Symphonie Fantastique and, as is my practice whenever I’m in the Village at night, I could not locate the nearest subway stop. So we did what we always do, and that is head east until we hit Broadway. This time, we were on Houston St, and I know that’s a stop on multiple lines, so off we went. (In double-checking the map, it seems there was a station just north of HERE, the performance venue, which would have led straight to the hotel.  Oops.) We eventually found the Houston/LaFayette station and down we went.

The plan was that we hop on any “orange” train that came through (i.e., B, D, F, or M), hop off at 34th/Herald Sq (three stops), transfer to an N, R, or W train, get off at 49th, and we were home.

What some of us heard was “get on a B or D train,” so when an F train pulled in, I hopped on and turned to see the rest of the party looking idly about her as the train doors closed.

As we pulled out, I looked a the couple sitting there and said, “Well, 40 years was a good run, I guess.”  We laughed all the way to 23rd, which was their stop.

My phone had like 3% battery, so I used that to text the LFW that I would wait for her at Herald Square.  I also took a photo and got off an Instagram/Facebook post so everyone could share in the adventure.  Responses were hilarious.

I didn’t have long to wait until a D train pulled in — without anyone I knew on it. Ah, I thought, now she thinks only an F train will do, so I settled in for the wait.

Fortunately, the next train was an F, and there was my beloved Lovely First Wife. The rest of the train ride was uneventful.

Saturday

Our first stop was the Museum of Modern Art, aka MOMA. We saw two exhibits there. The first was Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams. Kingelez worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then-Zaire), making what he called “extreme maquettes” of fabulous/fantasy buildings, images of hopes he had for his burgeoning country’s future. Gaudy and impractical, they provoke in an American viewer sensations of Vegas and Miami and Coney Island.

Everything is brightly colored.  Everything is clean. Everything is exuberant.

I posted this city to the Alchemy Facebook group with the caption that this was my new plan for the burn; the hippies needed to step up their game.

The other exhibit that we saw was Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965–2016. This one was odd. At first fascinating, it soon became just weird and impenetrable: her obsession with numbers and ratios and patterns and scientific randomization was just opaque. You looked at all the handwritten notebooks — pages and pages and pages of “data” — and you might as well have been looking at the Koran. Her work really gave off a “somewhere on the spectrum” vibe, but that of course is my personal response.

The actual pieces were nice, though:

No we didn’t stroll the rest of the museum: we’ve been before and had a show to catch.  Plus, gift shop/bookstore time!

Look at this:

Penny shown for scale

A little leather case, and inside:

Four little stainless steel shot glasses! For $10, it’s a worthy addition to one’s burn equipment, I thought.

And then the notebooks, ohhh, the notebooks:

The white one with red squares — every page is like that.  I have a challenge for myself on that one.  The two in the rear are the smoothest paper I’ve ever felt; the sets in the front are lined journals. These last ones are Japanese, of course.

Normally I resist adding new Waste Books — I definitely do not need them — but these were beautiful and affordable: I think I spent $15 on the Japanese all told, and for my personal challenge, $8 was not too much for the grid journal.

Lunch, and then…

Travesties, by Tom Stoppard, is not an easy play. If I were asked to select a play from Stoppard’s oeuvre to direct for Broadway in this day and age, I think I would have gone with Jumpers, given its themes of shifting morality and brutal utilitarianism.  But for some reason Roundabout chose Travesties and snagged Tom Hollander to play Carr, the central character and completely unreliable narrator of his memories of Switzerland during WWI.

As I said, Travesties is not an easy play.  The language is thick, the ideas are thicker. Time shifts, time repeats, time resets. Stoppard flings limericks, Oscar Wilde, Karl Marx, Dada, music hall and more at us, fast and furious. This might explain the directorial decision to have the cast machine-gun their lines rather than take their time to make them accessible and — I don’t know — funny. Plus, it was so cold in the theatre that I was forced during intermission to go next door and by a Brooklyn hoodie. So that happened.

A short break, with dinner, and I don’t even remember where.

The evening show was Once on This Island, by Flaherty & Ahrens (Ragtime, Lucky Stiff, et al.) and it was magnificent. Circle in the Square’s stage has been transformed into a post-hurricane disaster area: sand, water, rain, wind, a downed telephone pole. The cast begins by picking up all the trash that’s been blown onto the beach; their pre-show cellphone speech was epic. The producers felt, quite rightly, that after the recent devastation in the Caribbean it would be tasteless to stage the show as prettily as the original production, and so the villagers are dressed in ragged, mismatched shorts and shirts — you know, like poor people; there’s a nurse (Lea Salonga) and a doctor from Doctors Without Borders. It leads directly into the islanders’ relationship with their voudou gods, which becomes much more of a thing in this production.

The plot is essentially Little Mermaid — the original, not the happy ending Disney version — and the beautiful cast delivered a powerful gut-punch of a show. As the islanders begin to tell the story of Ti Moune, four of them transform into the four gods of love, earth, water, and death who hover over the story like Homeric deities, only with a lot less spite. At first donning whatever is to hand to effect the transformation — a tablecloth, mosquito netting, boat paint — they return to the stage in full regalia and move the story along. There is some powerful powerful stuff going on in this production.

This show is a must see. Try to get seats in the far end of row D.

Cocktails somewhere, and then to bed.  No subways involved.

New York City 2018 — Day 2

This morning we headed down to Coney Island.  I’ll explain why in a minute.

The train went out over the East River and slowed to a crawl, so I was able to get a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge, and if you look very closely you can see the Statue of Liberty in the far distance.

So why Coney Island? Forty years ago, I wed my Lovely First Wife in Roanoke, VA.  When she and her hellion brothers were children, there was an amusement park called Lakeside, and you may well imagine that taking those four children to an amusement park was a trial and a tribulation, so it didn’t happen often.  Naturally, if one of the siblings went to spend the night with a friend or something, the others would taunt him on his return by telling him that they had gone to Lakeside in his absence.

It was decided that it would be great fun to do that, then.  After the reception, we headed back to the family home where we hooked up with the wedding party and relatives, and many of us headed to Lakeside, where we proceeded to ride all the rides.  The roller coaster was particularly memorable, since the operator tumbled to the fact that we were a wedding party and let us zoom on through three complete cycles.

Thereafter, we celebrated major anniversaries by hitting an amusement park with as many as would join us: Six Flags, Disney World, Wild Adventures.  When I planned this trip, the LFW suggested we go ride the Cyclone for our anniversary.

Coney Island:

It’s pretty fabulous.  The weather was gorgeous, and it was not crowded at all. We noticed that the Muslim families were dressed to the nines — mothers in beautifully embellished hijabs, the little girls in sparkly ballerina dresses, men in exquisite suits.  It was puzzling until I remembered that it was Eid-al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.

I will pause to say that every time we’re in New York that the astonishing diversity is inspiring.  You constantly hear other languages, see other cultures; at the Coney Island subway station, notices of schedule changes were posted in English and Russian. It’s fun and affirming that our country is, indeed, a nation of immigrants.

Our goal: the Cyclone.

— click to embiggen —

Another view:

It opened on our Eldest Son’s birthday, 90+ years ago.

There was literally no line.  I had had some concerns that a wooden roller coaster was going to be a little rough on the old spine/sciatic nerve, but lo! they have super-padded the cars, so much so that we felt stuffed in.  But it worked — the ride was thrilling without being painful. Happy 40th, honey!

Off to the Boardwalk:

The view from the pier:

We had a hot dog at the Original Nathan’s — so there’s someone’s bucket list checked off — and then headed back into the city to go to the Met Breuer, in the former Whitney on Madison Ave.

There we saw the exhibit Life Like: Sculpture, Color, and the Body.

A very challenging show: a constant dialectic between the classical ideal of beauty (perfection/white) and… whatever the artist/culture did in opposition.

But first, Jeremy Bentham.  (Go look him up.)

For me, the exhibit resonated in many ways.  For example:

First, the Praxiteles — the ultimate in physical male beauty.  Young, fit, perfectly proportioned.  What’s not to like?

Those who have been reading this blog for a while will know that I founded my burn theme camp, 3 Old Men, as a response to this image of ideal beauty, and here’s why:

forgot to write down the artist; Met doesn’t list the item online

We as a society are taught to avert our eyes from bodies that are not perfect: young, fit, ideally proportioned.  But that’s where we end up, all of us.  3 Old Men rejects that impulse.  We reclaim the image of the aging male body as one of authority and power.  We got to where we are through trial and struggle, and we have things to teach and to offer.

So yeah, this exhibit had a lot to say to me. (And I to it, truthfully.)

Our show for the evening was Symphonie Fantastique, a Basil Twist performance, more about which in a moment.  The point is that the venue, HERE, is in the Village, which means… BARS!

We went to Amor y Amargo.  Oh my. It’s a tiny little place; twenty people would be a crowd.  The owner, Sother Teague, is an amiable hobbit-like man, greeting everyone as they enter, bringing them menus, mixing the drinks.  Everyone there hung on every word he said; one of the groups were clearly bartenders themselves, there to learn.

And the cocktails… What can I say?  Perfection. I had a Sharpie Mustache, served in a little bottle with a mustache on it. It was brilliant, and I don’t remember what was in it.

I was bold enough to ask him if he could make a Smoky Topaz and advise me on it, but alas, he had no barrel-aged gin.  So I made bold again and said that in Prague the same thing had happened and the bartender there had invented a drink that would please me in the same way — could he perhaps do the same?  This was early, only just 6:00, so he did have the time.

I’ll have to be bold again and contact him for the recipe — he used genever, rye, both chartreuses, and it was glorious.  I went back to the bar and showed him the recipe for the Smoky Quartz, the results in Prague, which also used genever as a base.  That was cool, I thought.

I bought three bottles of bitters — ALL THE BITTERS, YOU GUYS — lavender, hopped grapefruit, and one called Saturnalia.  I just liked the sound of that.

Our plan to was to head to Death & Co. a couple of doors down, but it was already backed up. We put our name on the list and then started walking over to Eldridge St to a new place that Sother Teague had highly recommended, the Bar Goto. He said that if he had only one night in town, that’s where he’d go.  The owner is a former bartender at The Pegu Club, another on my list, so off we went.  Of course, after a fifteen minute walk, as soon as we were seated, I was messaged that we were up at Death & Co. — I messaged our regrets.  Next time.

Bar Goto was phenomenal, both cocktails and food.  Highly recommended.

Then a cab over to HERE. Basil Twist is a puppeteer of renown, and his Symphonie Fantastique was a huge hit twenty years ago. This is a revival and has been reviewed very positively.  Essentially, Christopher O’Riley, the host of NPR’s From the Top, comes out and plays the Berlioz symphony on the piano while behind him in a giant aquarium pieces of fabric and tinsel swim and swoop in striking lighting.  This was our avant garde piece for the trip, for sure.

The first and last movements were the best.  The slow movement is my least favorite slow movement ever, and the visualization did nothing to change my mind.  The fourth movement, March to the Scaffold, was actually disappointing.  There were some gorgeous moments, and overall it was worth the adventure.

So I left my card with a note to check out William Blake’s Inn.  You never know when Basil Twist needs new inspiration.

New York City 2018 — Day 1

Thursday, July 14

We’re at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, waiting to board our flight to LaGuardia, a/k/a the Trash Heap, for a very long weekend in New York City. I have begun my preparations: allergy meds, Afrin, special air pressure earplugs. I hate flying. Its cramped and my ears hurt and I can’t hear for 24 hours after landing.

But off we go.

This is in celebration of 40 years of marriage to my Lovely First Wife, and so I’ve jampacked our schedule because that’s the way she likes to travel. Six shows, the Met Museum, MOMA, a trip to Coney Island. Probably a visit to the Tenement Museum.

I had researched the top craft cocktail places, leaving a tab open in the browser for weeks. Yesterday I decided it was time to make some choices — the list had 50 bars — so I scrolled down and copied names, addresses, and hours of operation for my top five or six.

Then I had the scathingly brilliant idea of mapping this in Google. Hey, I’m Benevolent Placement Overlord™ for the Georgia burns; I can do maps. I put our hotel on it. I did a layer and put all the theatres in it. I did a layer and put all my bars on it.

As I said on Facebook, does anyone else see the problem here?

::sigh::

After all these years of traveling, I have learned a new thing: wherever you think you’re going to end up at the end of the day, that’s where you want your bed to be. As it is, it’s a 20–30 minute subway ride from our hotel to any of the bars. Why are they all in the Village? Why are none of them in the Theatre District??

And I learned this shortly after the 3:00 pm deadline for canceling the hotel reservation.

So this is not going to be my Manhattan bar trip. Alas.

—  —  —

We arrived at LaGuardia around lunch, caught a cab into town (LGA is in Queens), and headed to our hotel, the Paramount on 46th/8th.[1]

Our room was ready, so we dumped our stuff and caught a cab to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We had a street vendor hot dog for lunch, then headed inside. Our main goal was to see the Heavenly Bodies exhibit.

It’s staged in the Medieval Art gallery, so first we got to see some cool objects.

This is a Celtic brooch.  So is this:

The shape and decoration of these items fascinated me because of their surrealist form; they look as if the metalworker just squirted out a form.  I’d love to know more about the style.

Fun little animal figurines, fully in line with the ideas we encountered in Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art.

Heavenly Bodies is a quirky exhibit, the best part of which is the runway of designer gowns/coats/cassocks based on the habiliments of the Church.

My favorite:

No, don’t ask me who did this.  I wasn’t taking notes.

There are actually three parts of the exhibit.  The second is in the downstairs Costume Institute, and there we found a opulent display of actual papal garments. (The third part is up at the Cloisters; we won’t be making the trip.)

Here’s part of a cape:

This is from a garment from an early 19th-c. pope. Look more closely:

That’s embroidery, not paint.  At this point, we were a little repelled by the intricacy and enormous amount of work that went into these items, doubtlessly made in workshops by very poor people who were paid very nearly nothing to create these things.  By the time we got to the papal tiaras, we called it quits and headed up to Modern/Contemporary Art.

There was a William Wegman exhibit with a charming video of him trying to get his Weimaraner Man Ray to catch a golf ball in his mouth and then drop it into a coffee can. It was hilarious but we decided to move on before the poor dog succeeded.  We immediately heard the *clunk* of success behind us.  Life.

I rather liked this:

by Bruce Nauman

There was an exhibit called History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift.  It consisted of work by self-taught African-American artists from Alabama. So much to like:

“400 Years of Free Labor,” by Joe Minter.

Then there were the Gee’s Bend quilts:

There was so much more truth in these shabby, pieced-together masterpieces than the copes and albs and surplices and capes downstairs that it hurt.

Then it was back to the theatre district to meet up with my nephew Matthew, who works at Simon & Schuster converting print books to e-books.  He had had a late lunch, and we had an early show, so we just had drinks and appetizers at some forgettable little place down there.

And then we had The Play That Goes Wrong. I booked it expecting a pleasantly silly evening a la the Farndale Avenue plays, but holy crap — this show is a force of nature. From the preshow antics (pro tip: don’t sit on the aisle in the first few rows if you are an able-bodied male) to the cataclysmic finale: every moment, every line goes horribly, horribly wrong.  You think Noises Off was a shambles? Multiply that by 100 and you have some idea of what PTGW is like.

The cast is astounding, portraying members of a college theatre troupe who have somehow landed a berth on Broadway.  “For those of you who were involved in the box office mix-up, we’re sure that you will enjoy Murder at Haversham Manor just as much as you would have Hamilton.”

The script is goofy as hell, with Murder being a lame send-up of Agatha Christie that we barely get a chance to follow as wall sconces refuse to stay on the wall, doors refuse to close (or open), props are misplaced, lines are muffed, and actors disabled. Some critics complained that it was all a bit heavy-handed, to which I say pttttfffft. Yes, some of the bits were a bit long, but the thing is as fiendishly constructed as anything Christie ever wrote. An actor running into a post holding up a bare-bones platform (“the study”) is funny; doing is a second time is funny; just avoiding it a third time is great — and then in Act 2, running into it and knocking it down, sending the platform (and the actors and rolling furniture on it) plunging — that’s comedy gold.

Anyway, have a couple of drinks and see it.

—  —  —  —  —

[1] For those who are not familiar with the layout of NYC, streets go across and avenues go up and down. Streets are East or West, divided by 5th Ave.  You say the street first, then the avenue. Of course, New York messes with you by naming some of the avenues like Park and Avenue of the Americas, but they’re really just 4th and 6th.  (Madison Ave is an outlier, having been carved out between 4th and 5th a long time ago for property development purposes.)

The Seeding of the Labyrinth — Final Chapter

Remember how the water symbol endstone crumbled at my touch?

After a good solid rain, it completely disintegrated:

Oh well. Try again later.

This week’s project has been to reseed the labyrinth — FOR THE LAST TIME, I TELL YOU. As I’ve mentioned before, the soil in the labyrinth is topsoil — not garden soil — that I just shoveled on top of the paving stones.  It’s only two inches deep; below that is red clay. It becomes impacted without my even walking the labyrinth every day, and on top of that there’s been too much shade for most grass to grow, even that which promises to be “deep shade.”

So after my back yard neighbor removed the large pecan tree that provided most of the shade, I decided I would give the thing one more try before settling for bare dirt and weeds.

My original plan was to do a small test area to see if my idea worked.  I bought one bag each of soil conditioner and compost.

I mixed them. (Time will tell whether I will regret using the conditioner, which is basically fine wood chips. Bare feet may not be happy.)

I tilled the soil by hand with a garden weasel contraption, sprinkled the conditioning mixture on it, sprinkled seed on it, then re-weaseled it all.

Then I decided — probably hubristically — that I should just go ahead and do the whole labyrinth. What could go wrong? That meant multiple trips to The Home Depot for conditioner, compost, and seed, and not all at the same time.

Bit by bit, path by path, I got it done, until finally, this morning, I was finished.

And now we wait.