New York, Day 6 (Day 245/365)

Since we spent the entire day getting to LaGuardia, waiting at LaGuardia, being searched at LaGuardia, flying to Atlanta, getting to the bottom of why our tickets were cancelled last Friday and who was going to reimburse us for everything, and getting back home after a lovely last meal at André’s Off the Square, I’ll flesh out this post later on Saturday, after we make the drive to Greensboro.

Hi ho, the glamorous life.

New York, Day 5 (Day 244/365)

When we got downstairs, we found the Honeas getting coffee, so we parted with them then. They’re going home today. They had enjoyed Curtains, so that gave us a little hope heading into the afternoon.

Off we went to Chinatown in the cold, cold rain. After getting turned around, one never can tell which direction one is facing after emerging from the subway, particularly on a cloudy day, we began strolling up the street and checking out the trashy stores. I bought a rain hat and a surprise present for Kathy Bizarth. (No clues here, just in case anyone who would care is reading this.)

We came across one of many Pearl art stores, where I was able to replace some tubes of gouache that have dried up on me back home. They had a complete line of Moleskine notebooks, so I succumbed to the charms of a small storyboard version. As we begin getting heavy duty with William Blake’s Inn, it will be handy to record some staging ideas.

We made the turn into Little Italy and came across Ferrara, the fabulous pastry shop we had visited a couple of years ago when we chaperoned that ill-fated chorus trip. (“Ew, we don’t know what all that stuff is…”) We paused for coffee and sugar. At that point, we made our contact with Lynne Jebens, Ginny’s college roommate and an agent here in NYC. She was going to find us a nice Italian restaurant for dinner, so that sort of made our search for lunch in Little Italy redundant.

I suggested perhaps finding Le Streghe, the fabulous restaurant we ate at four years ago, but it was decided that we would go ahead to the next main goal of the day, getting Ginny’s eyebrows done at Sephora. It had been decided that the Sephora on Times Square was too crowded, so we would use the Herald Square one. Off we went on the subway to Herald Square, but it turns out that the eyebrow studio, who knew there was such a thing?, is only at the Times Square location.

And so we walked, in the cold, cold rain, up Broadway to Times Square. Great walk, if my feet weren’t soaking. When we got to Times Square, which I officially hate and avoid now, I left Ginny and Carol Lee at Sephora and went to Garvey’s the bar at the hotel, where I ordered multiple life-restoring gin & tonics and some lunch. I figured that I would lower my defenses before heading into Curtains, so that if it were even halfway funny I would laugh hysterically. Of course, if I had had multiple life-restoring gin & tonics before last night, I would have been shouting my notes at the stage.

Soon I was joined by the ladies, who had given up on the eyebrow job. We quickly got them drinks and burgers, and they finished in time for us to walk the half a block to the theatre.

Curtains was a delightful throwback, a gag-filled, tuneful, old-fashioned Broadway musical. Not a thing wrong with it, and it even had a fairly interesting mystery plot. Debra Monk is divine as the tough old producer; David Hyde Pierce is wonderful as the stage-struck detective. It was relaxing to be in the presence of competence and craft, unlike last night.

After the show, we went back to the hotel to dry out and rest. I called AirTran to double-check our reservations. Here’s a reservation code, I said. Call it up and tell me what you see. Well, she saw that we had reservations for the 3:06 flight (good) but wait, there was a notation that we were sending our old paper tickets back to the travel agent (bad). Never heard of that, I said. Oh, she said. You need to have your agent call us.

Forty minutes later, whoever my agent was this time at BB&T finally talked AirTran through their issues and assured me that they had made a note in the file that said explicitly that they would exchange our old paper tickets for new ones. I will call again in the morning to make sure.

Then we walked over a block to 44 SW, an Italian restaurant over on 9th Avenue. Lots of good restaurants over there. I had never ventured over to 9th, which is stupid. We will remember this for next time as a place to explore at dinner time.

The food was good, and Lynne is as always great. She looks good, she’s holding it together, and we had a great time catching up. At one point, she and the ladies began an earnest discussion about menopause, so I left and went to the bar.

Since Lynne lives in Jersey, she couldn’t stay too late, so we got back to the room at a human hour. It would be nice to get a decent night’s sleep on our last night here.

New York, Day 4, Part 2 (Day 243/365)

Oh. My. God.

And I don’t mean that in a good way.

After a quick bite of pizza for supper, we gathered ourselves and went to see The Pirate Queen, Schönberg and Boublil’s new show. I had not heard a great deal of excited buzz about the show, it’s still in previews, and I had heard a few negative rumors, but I liked Les Miserables, so I booked it.

I should have known better.

After an excruciatingly soggy opening sequence, which didn’t tell us anything except that Grace O’Malley wanted to be a sailor and her daddy the chieftain wouldn’t let her because she was a girl, we finally sort of got under way when she sneaked on board the ship anyway. In disguise! As a boy! And when a storm will capsize the ship unless somebody , somebody!, climbs up there! and gets! that! sail! down!, and look, the cabin boy we’ve never seen before in ultra-closeknit Clan O’Malley is brave! But it’s only Grace. Bad Grace. And then the English attack. Good thing Grace is good with a sword, huh?


There’s a true love, natch, but she’s married off to handsome but creepy Donal of the rival O’Flaherty clan, natch, but none of this goes anywhere. (Donal looks like a buff Legolas, an unfortunate design choice which is only reinforced in the tavern scene with curly-headed drinking partners: oh, look, they’ve got hobbits, too!) More “You’re a girl” crap. And then we meet Elizabeth I. It is a measure of this show that the English court under Elizabeth I is the comic relief.

Act II (I’m going to skip some here) opens with Grace having a baby on board her ship. The English attack, and her scum husband Donal wants to surrender. Thank goodness Tiernan, her true love, suggests otherwise, and of course Grace rouses herself from her childbed to stab an English or two. Then she sends Donal packing, under a peculiarly generous hold-harmless clause in sixteenth-century Irish marriage law.

I will spare you the rest of the show.

It is hopeless, this show. I cannot wait to read the review after it opens Thursday night.

However, if anyone knows Frank Galati, the director, or Graciela Danielle, the “musical staging” person, pass them these notes:

Cut the opening. Start with the storm. Same scenario, and that’s how we meet our star.

Give her one “Ariel” number, then don’t bring up the “You’re a girl” thing again until the inevitable song paralleling Grace and Elizabeth’s boy troubles.

After we discover, gasp, that the cabin boy is a girl, and do not mention the chieftain’s daughter before that, please, have Dad decide to send her home. But then the English attack. Then she gets to stay. Introduce the boyfriend then.

Cut to Elizabeth. Establish her as Grace’s equal in spirit. Spread the wit/venom/comedy around Ireland as well as England.

Cut back to Ireland. Just as boytoy Tiernan is about to ask for Grace’s hand, Daddy, flush with victory, announces the O’Flaherty alliance.

They’ll have to figure out how to make the Grace/Tiernan/Donal triangle work, I can’t do everything, but I do have one more critical idea for them.

Lord Bingham is a highlight of the show, but cut him. Instead of him, use Essex. If you’re going to screw with history, at least use the good parts. Essex was and could be in this show Elizabeth’s love and bête noire. Elizabeth sends her boytoy to fight Grace. He could succeed. Go ahead and imprison Grace (as happens in the show now). But blend Essex’s betrayal of Elizabeth with Tiernan’s sacrifice for Grace. Elizabeth executes Essex; Grace sails home with Tiernan. Big number for all.

The whole point of the musical was not Grace’s love story. It’s the pitting of one powerful woman against another in an age that did not trust or value either one. Love’s part of a total person’s package, sure, yada yada yada, but I would never in this day and age have your plucky heroine who has spent the entire musical whining about how cool it is to be a woman to crown her story with a lyric about not being a real woman until she listens to her heart.

So yes, as usual, I think I could do better. But not with Boublil & Schönberg. They’ve lost any talent they had for songwriting. God, that music was boring! Get me Ahrens & Flaherty on the phone. Pirate Queen is going down with the ship.

New York, Day 4, part 1 (Day 243/365)

New York, Day 4

Today was our museum day. I got up early to catch up on blogging for the last two days, but by 9:30 it was time to move out the door. We encountered the Honeas and Carol Lee on the way out; everyone marveled at Ginny’s new haircut.

Off we went to the Cooper-Hewitt, a design museum which is part of the Smithsonian and housed in Andrew Carnegie’s luscious Fifth Avenue mansion on 91st St. The main exhibit was the design triennial, and there were lots of pretty things. The exhibit that had attracted my attention was an exhibit of model staircases that apprentice designer/carpenters had to complete to join their guild in the 19th century. Almost all were wood, and almost all were spiral or double. Quite nice.

We dropped by the Guggenheim, but it’s being renovated. I glanced up at the atrium, saw it with my own eyes, and we were out of there. They had some special exhibits, but we didn’t care about seeing any of them. The main collection is on tour while the main building is being refurbished.

Next was the Metropolitan, where we caught two special exhibits, the Louis Comfort Tiffany exhibit and the Barcelona/Gaudi/Picasso/everybody else exhibit.

The Tiffany exhibit drew together objets and photographs from his country estate, which he designed from the ground up, inside and out. He was truly an amazing artist, one I had not appreciated until today, and he must have drawn/painted/sketched/whatever every waking moment of his life. His artistic output rivals Schubert’s in terms of volume and quality. I was most impressed.

The Barcelona exhibit was also quite lovely, with many recognizable works from that crowd, the Modernistes that revolved around Barcelona but also gravitated to Paris.

The only other area of the museum we really wanted to see was the Costume Institute, but of course it was closed. We have this knack of getting to costume exhibits only when they’re closed.

Next was the Frick, but we were hungry, so we walked over to Madison Avenue and stopped in the first little café we came to. It was called the Café Ambroeus, lovely northern Italian food, but heavens to betsy the clientele was the most insanely pretentious you have ever seen in any movie parodying upper West Side behavior. It was great. It was not until we were seated that I realized that I was wearing jeans… and no one else was. The ladies were of the variety that lunched. The men were the kind who said things like, “I think the foundation needs to…” and “…why would I pay a million dollars for a smaller apartment that wasn’t as nice?” Yes, I overheard both those phrases.

We hoped to stop at the Whitney, since we were on Madison, but it’s closed on Tuesdays.

On to the Frick, which I had never visited. It’s Henry Clay Frick’s Fifth Avenue Mansion, and it’s gorgeous. The museum is not called a museum; it’s the Frick Collection, and it is essentially his home as he decorated it. It’s huge, it’s lovely, and the man had phenomenal taste. And money.

I did develop a theory, however. There was a quite nice “Portrait of a Man” by Hans Memling. I know it from art history books, and that’s what got me to thinking. How much of our iconic art history, i.e., those paintings that are The Works That One Should Know, the ones that you see in museums with a pleasant little shock of recognition, how many of those are actually the most outstanding of their kind, and how many are those which were bought by the rich Americans of the last century and are now in museums and printed in books? In other words, is Hans Memling’s beautiful little portrait part of my artistic knowledge because it’s perfect, or is it regarded as perfect because Henry Clay Frick bought it and it entered my cultural bloodstream thereby?

Something to think about.

New York, Day 3 (Day 242/365)

Nothing is open before 10:00 in NYC, and MOMA is the only art museum on Mondays. Plus, if you have a lunch engagement at 11:45 down on 3rd Avenue, what can you really do between 10:00 and 11:00? So the coolest plan for us all, we thought, was to get up and go to the Empire State Building, which is open seven days a week and opens at 8:00 a.m. We could do that in plenty of time to walk over to the restaurant to meet Nancy Willard.

We were therefore surprised and disappointed to waken to a great NYC fog which obscured even the tops of the more lowly buildings up in Times Square. What to do?

The Honeas decided to go squeeze in MOMA, which opened at 9:30. We decided to walk back down 8th Avenue to a hattery that Ginny and Carol Lee had discovered on their way to Hell’s Kitchen yesterday, because they had… wait for it… hats. And they did: bowlers, homburgs, porkpies, knit caps, mukluks, Stetsons, even boaters, for pete’s sake.

We were there because Grayson, having worn a bowler in Beauty & the Beast last year, had expressed an interest in owning one. We had called him yesterday to get him to measure his head, and not only had he done so, he had done so with astounding accuracy: 22 and 13/16 inches. A little too precise for hats, but hey, it demonstrated an enthusiasm one sometimes does not sense from the young when you’re trying to do them a favor.

We got him the black bowler (as opposed to the more pimperific purple, green, red, or baby blue), and threw in a madras patchwork driving cap. I myself picked up a nice tan straw Panama for my car rider duties in the afternoon. Of course, I don’t know how we’re getting these nicely packed boxes back home, but hey, it’s fun walking down the Avenue with your hat boxes. I would wear mine here, but it’s really not warm enough yet.

Soon it was time to hop the train to our lunch date.

This was the most exciting part of our entire trip: we were going to meet Nancy Willard. Heck, forget everyone else. I was going to meet Nancy Willard. One of the world’s most gifted children’s authors has allowed me to use her work as the basis of my piece, and I get to meet her in person.

We arrived at Docks, seafood restaurant corner of 41st and 3rd, right after they opened at 11:30. We were shown our table, a nice large round one in a corner by the front window. We had just divested ourselves of coats and stuff when I saw Nancy and her husband Erik coming down 41st and getting ready to cross the street. It was a thrill to look out the window and recognize her.

Nancy Willard is a total delight. Everything I thought I knew about her from the video, from her poetry, from my correspondence, is more than true. Conversation was far-ranging and fun. I even got her to acknowledge that we did have business to discuss at some point, although that’s all we got, an acknowledgment. I told her I’d mail her (and her agent) some contracts, and in her case, the Grippo book she’d need to understand them.

We talked about the creative process a lot. She was surprised to find that I am completely untrained as a composer, although I’m sure I’ve confessed that at some point. Both she and I work out of order, and both of us have been known to write the equivalent of “abortive attempts” at the top of a blank page, to forestall the perfection demons.

Many of her “creatures” and the Inn itself are now at Ann Arbor, at the University’s Rare Books Collection, which amuses Nancy. She and Erik both thought that they would be more than willing to arrange a loan for an exhibit for the premiere. Cool!

(Not to cheat Erik out of his due: he was as charming as she, and it is easy to see why they are a match.)

When it was finally time to go, we presented her with our gifts: Carol Lee had brought a sunflower to give her, and she was of course delighted with that. Ginny and I had Coweta County books to share: Herb Bridges’ postcards book, and of course A Taste of Georgia.

Carol Lee presents Nancy Willard with a sunflower

She in turn had brought me a copy of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which she had covered in a nice music score fabric, and The Ballad of Biddy Early, illustrated by the same artist (Barry Moser), and a collection poetry that is denser than William Blake’s Inn.

Finally, I pulled out my copies of William Blake’s Inn and asked if she would autograph them. Ah, she said, she would have to take them with her. That kind of thing couldn’t be done on the spot. She would have to paint something. Oh. My. God.

Oh, and she said, she thought Alice Provensen was at home; she’d get her to sign it as well. OH. MY. GOD. Alice (and her late husband Martin) not only illustrated William Blake’s Inn, they also illustrated my favorite book as a child, The Color Kittens. Oh. My. God. Those of you who know me know that I am not easily rattled, shocked, or impressed. But Oh. My. God.

Well, what can top this? Nothing. We could go home right now and this would be the greatest trip ever. Nancy Willard and Dale Lyles

But not until Ginny had her hair appointment at Nick “What Not To Wear” Arrojo Studios in Chelsea. Off we went, finally switching from subway to cab to make sure we got there in time.

I had no such appointment, and of course galleries are closed on Mondays, so I asked if there were a spa in the neighborhood which offered massages. There was, so I walked over and got a massage. Not the best I’ve had, at all, but a massage is always relaxing. Ginny was waiting for me when I got out, and we hurried back to the hotel to change for dinner.

We were meeting our friend Robyn Ice and her husband at the Algonquin. Yes, Round Table, and all that. I thought we were meeting for drinks at 5:30, but Robyn and Donnie didn’t show up until 6:30, which was absolutely fine. We had our drinks in the lobby with Mathilda the Algonquin cat and just relaxed for a while.

Robyn is our friend from the old days at UGA, we had reconnected back in February out in L.A. and had agreed to get together on this trip. She started as a puppeteer at the Center for Puppetry Arts, but left to become a lawyer after a couple of years. She worked for Alston & Byrd in Atlanta and then in New York, but now is with a different firm. Last year, she married Donnie Kisselbach, bassist with The Turtles, and he’s a really neat guy. We had a lovely dinner and great conversation.

They live in Connecticut, so we let them go early, and we walked down Fifth Avenue to the Apple Store. {cue: hosannas}

Dale at the Apple Store

This was a pilgrimage, pure and simple, because there is not a thing I need. I played with the Apple TV display, but it’s not something I want at this time. If I were actually exercising, I would want a new Shuffle, but I know myself well enough to know that buying one as a bribe to start working out is a false hope. My promise to myself is that if I actually exercise for a week, I’ll reward myself with a Shuffle.

We caught a cab back to the hotel and hit the sack. What an incredible day!

New York, Day 2 (Day 241/365)

The shower is pretty weak. But we persevere.

Ginny is off to the flea market in Hell’s Kitchen. I’m off to find coffee downstairs, see if the wireless signal is stronger in the lobby, and wait for Barbara Petzen to call.

Barb Petzen was a student of mine way back in the 1980s. She hooked up with NCTC, and I taught her both AP Art History and AP English. She was probably the most brilliant student I’ve ever had. She was State STAR Student in 1983, and I was her STAR Teacher.

She went on to Columbia, then became a Rhodes Scholar, ending up at Harvard for her doctoral studies (women in the late Ottoman Empire). She married the online editor of the Christian Science Monitor, I was her matron of honor, and now she and Tom live in Boston with their four beautiful children.

So I really haven’t seen Barb since, what, her wedding? And she hasn’t changed a bit. Still the wonderful, funny, supersmart woman that we knew and loved since high school. We caught up on her insane siblings, were saddened to hear of her mother’s death last fall (also Barbara, aka Bobbie, and a fabulous broad), and figured out exactly what it is she does. (She’s newly hired to an educational outreach position of an Islamic studies group in DC; Tom is now in charge of blogs for NPR.)

And here’s Barb:

Barb and us

We all headed off to the Museum of Modern Art. MOMA has built a new wing since we were there last, and it’s a beaut. Of course, it’s the collection that counts, and it’s like walking through your art history textbook to tour the museum.

So many beautiful works, so many glorious successive approximations. I hesitated to take photos, well, because I have all these works in books one way or the other. But there was one: “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” by Piet Mondrian. I use this painting in my information skills training for the third grade. One of the teams is challenged to answer the question, “What does the painting “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” by Piet Mondrian look like?”

And so:

Dale and the Mondrian

We sent Barb off to catch her bus back to Boston, then we walked back to the hotel, scouting restaurants along the way. We stopped for a quick restorative at Louis’ Café on 53rd, then had time for a quick rest before heading out for supper. We ended up at Thalia, a nice André’s style restaurant on 8th Avenue. Good food, great décor.

Spring Awakening was right around the corner at the O’Neill Theatre, one of those wonderful older theatres in which all the seats are great. The set is bare brick, plastered with frames and ladders and lights and photos. Very pomo.

I liked the show, a fact which is fairly bizarre, since the score is totally alternative rock. But the harmonies are very interesting, very complex, and the orchestration is unexpected, with a string quartet in addition to the guitars and basses.

I was also sucked in by the teen-angst theme, which is also unexpected. I empathized for those poor children, and yes, they’re ridiculous, but we forget at our peril that it’s not ridiculous for them.

The main thing that we all find to admire is the staging. Very stripped down, direct to audience, great use of rock concert energy and movement. This is where the disjoint between the 19th century costumes and 21st century attitudes works best for me: the gracefulness and innocence of what the children are wearing contrasted with the sexual anxieties and alternative rock sounds of today make for a compelling mise-en-scene.

New York, Day 1 (Day 240/365)

And we’re off to New York City for five days. Shows, museums, dining with friends, all kinds of goodness coming up. I probably will do nothing on the music, but I will certainly blog about the days. We’ll call it creative writing.

By the time we got to Hartsfield International, my morning coffee was bursting to get out, so I headed off to the men’s room while Ginny and Carol Lee got in the line to check in. By the time I got back to them, Carol Lee was trying to type in her confirmation number in the little electronic kiosk thing, and it was rejecting her.

Customer service appeared and took her ticket. Then came back and tried checking in Ginny. And then finally tried my ticket. Then she took all three and disappeared into the back. When she returned, it was with the news that the tickets had been cancelled.

Well, this was exciting. I pulled out all the paperwork and called the toll-free number, and was a little surprise when BB&T answered. Of course, I thought, I got two tickets with my VISA® TravelPoints® and paid for one. I told the nice person in Mumbai that I was standing in line at Hartsfield International and that my tickets had been canceled and he needed to fix it.

As he waited for the computer to get in gear, he started to give me some kind of sales pitch, I think. I told him that it was hard to hear and that if he were giving me a sales pitch, stop; if he was asking me something, he needed to start over.

Not a problem, he was going to transfer me to a travel specialist. Yanni for on-hold. This was starting to be a good hell.

After a while, my Mumbai friend came back online to apologize for the delay, but the travel office was not open on the weekends. I should call back on Monday.

Please connect me to a supervisor, I asked tersely. More Yanni followed.

After a while, he came back online to apologize for the delay, but there were no supervisors. If I could call back in 30 minutes…


There I was, standing in AirTran’s check-in line, with printed tickets that were no good and a 10:00 flight leaving without me. And no one at BB&T could help me until business hours on Monday.

Meanwhile, Marc and Mary Frances were in another line, working out what to do about Molly’s not having photo ID.

Ginny went over to our nice customer service lady and simply bought tickets on a 1:00 flight. So now we have three hours in the terminal before we get to New York. I called our limo people to let them know of our delay.

So what’s the deal here? I ordered these online, everything was fine, they sent me tickets. How could they be canceled? And if they were, how was I not notified? And why the hell does BB&T not have people working on weekends when travel is heaviest??

Perhaps I could work on a few more pieces while I sit here. I need to find an outlet.