Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Night at the Hall

Last night was spent in attendance at Carnegie Hall for an all Beethoven symphony program: Numbers 1, 8, and 5, performed by the Western-Eastern Divan Orchestra and lead by the maestro Daniel Barenboim.

The orchestra may not be a household name, only being in existence for 10 years, but it consists of young musicians from Israel, Palestine, and other Arab countries in the Middle East, with the goal of creating a peaceful dialogue between the cultures through music. It is one of several special projects developed by Mr. Barenboim, and in this case, Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said. All the Beethoven symphonies will be played in a series, through February 3rd.

Nice seats, dead center, 14 rows back. The place is filled, as expected, and the maestro emerges to join the approximately 110 musicians assembled on the stage, to a tee, all wearing black.

But his entrance is odd and awkward. He makes his way holding onto the back of chairs between a row of musicians, rather than coming out between the audience and the orchestra. He easily looks ten years older than someone born in 1942. He gets assistance to climb the two steps to the conductor's podium, firmly grabs the railing, and acknowledges the loud applause, eventually placing his right hand over his heart, in I guess a gesture of thanks and humility.

Great music emerges. No score to guide him, baton firmly in the right hand, with the left hand adding gestures, the maestro is in command, even if every so often he seems to pitch backward and grab the railing with his his left hand and steady himself for a few moments. How bad is the pain?

Numbers 1 and 8 are played. Intermission. Symphony No. 5 will be next.

Daniel Barenboim is an internationally acclaimed conductor. If he was from a United Kingdom country he'd be a Knight. But he's from Argentina, more known for its cattle, tango, political regimes, and Juan and Eva Peron. Of course, Argentina did foolishly once invade the British Falkland Islands off its coast, but Mr. Barenboim is music, not military.

Big B. emerges for No.5. Walking a little more briskly, still between rows of musicians, but less holding on. Conducting the piece vigorously, with not as many backward pitches to the rail. My mind starts to wander and wonder. What happened during the intermission? Beethoven is a pain killer? An injection was given? PED? Are we now looking at a conductor with No. 13 on his back? Is Alex Rodriguez waving a baton?

I also start to think of the NYT times sportswriter Ira Berkow, who somehow artfully inserted a narrative of concert double-base players sneaking out for some stiff ones until they were needed for the final movement.

No such absence here. All seven of them are still with us, even if they are near the exit, alertly looking for the maestro's cues.

In Berkow's telling, the conductor's score somehow gets stuck, or tied, and as he nears the end of the last movement of someone's Ninth symphony, the bassists return, but are drunk. The orchestra is in a fix. Dilemma time.

It's the bottom of the ninth, the bassists are loaded, and the score is tied.

Not so last night. If we were looking at a symphonic version of A-Rod, he would have struck out with his baton with the bassists loaded, and then needed hip surgery. But the Western-Eastern Divan orchestra bassists were sober, and there was no score in front of the maestro to get tied. Beethoven was the analgesic.

The final movement was built up as loud and beautiful as you could make it. The maestro's baton was stabbing the air for more effort, and getting it. The applause was done standing, thunderous, and was sustained, still going on even after I hit the head and was out on 56th Street.

I was anxious to get home and turn the sound up.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Downton Abbey III-3

I don't really know why, but this season's episodes seem to be moving slower than a crosstown bus. East River to the Javits Center in just under four hours.

But then it happens. Like the commuter ferry from New Jersey that suddenly gains speed and crashes into the dock and sends everyone flying, Downton Abbey hits the emotional pier with Lady Sybil's gut-wrenching death soon after successful childbirth. People and emotions are sent flying everywhere. 'Eclampsia' goes to the top of Google's search rankings.

The wedding-to-funeral ratio takes a sharp tilt toward death. The females are an endangered gender. First we had the breast cancer scare for Mrs. Hughes, then we start the third episode with Lady Sybil perhaps being a 2013 Princess Kate, lying in her bedroom with severe morning sickness, or something like that. It passes. But then it gets much worse.

Prior to this, almost on the humorous side, we're introduced to the concern of Matthew that he and Lady Mary haven't yet conceived a child. After several months of marriage and presumably romps through the old pile, Mary is not yet pregnant. Who knows, it might be that breakfast in bed thing she does.

Matthew expresses worry to physician Number Two, who is called in to check on Lady Sybil. Matthew is worried that his outside plumbing might have sustained internal injuries when he took that jolt during the war. Physician Number Two looks like no other physician we've ever seen. White tie and dinner jacket and headed for cigars after lamb and asparagus, or something like that.

The objective jury is still out, but it is possible that even though oral contraceptives have yet to be developed there is some likelihood that Lady Mary is herself the Pill. By all means, stay tuned

It should be a gimme that Bates is going to either get a new trial, or get released, when the exculpatory evidence about pie crust is reviewed. Anna is an early version of Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project. Good things should be coming Anna's way. Probably even children who behave.

Women are just getting the vote, and gay marriage is a century away, but that doesn't prevent Tom Barrow from setting his eyes on the new footman, a golden haired hunk who is eye-candy for either gender. It will be interesting to see which closet they go into if Golden Hair is truly gay. Otherwise, Mr. Barrow is going to have a very bloody nose from James. He might even lose a tooth.

And Lord Grantham? In deep, deep do-do with Lady Cora for the bad medical outcome in going with doctor Number Two. Monty Hall is smirking somewhere. And, the good Lord's financial acumen is going to be sorely tested very soon. He's going to need a gold mine in Rhodesia to come online in order to get his bean counting, pencil pushing son-in-law Matthew to calm down. The good Lord is cornered and confused. He needs a war where the right side is easy to choose.

But, I now have faith. The news is season Number Four is underway. With four more episodes in Season Three to come, it seems very likely to me that the family and servants, with some artful makeup, will at least reach the beginnings of WWII.

Brits getting bombed. A dull moment is not expected.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Oh Rats

Class, we have an exercise to complete. After reading the WSJ A-Head story titled 'This British Assault on an Island Is for the Birds,' write ONE sentence that summarizes the entire story.

There is an uninhabited 100 mile-long glacial island, 1,200 miles east of the tip of South America known as South Georgia, that an eclectic team of people headed by a white-bearded zoologist are going to attempt to keep from being overtaken by rat shit, with the hope that it will be replaced by bird shit.

If you were to add a second sentence, what would it be?

Rats aren't tolerated anywhere on earth.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A German Lullaby

It had to happen. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel needed some rest.

The good news is that it is not eternal rest, and by the time this snapshot of her catnap was published, the world's most photographed woman with clothes on was back at it. Economic summits, meeting with foreign leaders, running for office, attending soccer matches, trying to convince Greeks to live with less, sharing in the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize, and most important, assuring her husband she'll be home for dinner.

She is quite a gal, and deserves to rest now and then.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Desinger Death

I don't think I've ever quite read an obituary as effusively phrased as today's NYT obituary for Andree Putman, a global interior designer who has passed away at 87, after what can only be construed as an elegant life.

The piece is written by Joseph Giovannini, someone whose name I've never seen associated with a NYT obituary. I suspect they are from one of the foreign bureaus. Ms. Putman passed away at her home in Paris.

Ms. Putman's physical features and thinking are described as if she was one of her own creations. And she apparently designed a wide variety of things, from high-end boutique stores to tableware. There is a 1981 photo of her standing behind a round table, looking somewhat like the actress Helen Mirren with a towel over her right shoulder. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Ms. Putman is worth the picture, and what seems to be a thousand adjectives.

Her appearance is glowingly described as Parisian chic, "whether wearing a black sash of a skirt...a lace bustier under a creamy jacket big on shoulders or a long-sleeved Yamamoto silk dress with an eruption of white..." draped over a person "with a gravelly Gauloise voice worthy of a chanteuse" who "seemed to exhale words" that came from a head that was topped with a "tsunami of auburn hair over her Mount Rushmore features."

Based on the black and white photo, she appears better looking than any of those guys in stone, but poetic license is apparently taken.

Her thinking and philosophy is described with equal excess, where she is conversant in the "lingua franca of the Latin Quarter avant-garde," describing her own work as having "the interiority of emotion, of emptiness and of the inner scenography of space." She truly hung out with Samuel Beckett.

There's more. A lot more. The closing paragraph with her summed-up life quote goes on for two and one-half column inches.

You can't finish reading this obituary and think Andree Putman has simply passed away. She did way more. She ascended.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Making a Million

Baseball's Stan Musial has passed away at 92. And one of the more enduring quotes I haul out when the occasion fits, is one of his.

Ralph Kiner, the Hall-of-Fame player and broadcaster would every so often tell the story of Stan Musial and the restaurant business. The restaurant Musial came to own and inhabit as a greeter is mentioned in the obituary, but there is no allusion to how hard it can be to succeed in that business.

Kiner related how Musial, in what had to be the most friendly-fashion, with no hint of anger, would tell anyone who was interested, that he knew how to make a $1 million. Since, when he revealed the method a $1 million was really a sizable amount, Stan would have people's attention. The advice is short and sweet:

"First, you start with $2 million. Then you open a restaurant."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dear Abby

I never knew Dear Abby was so funny until I read her obituary in today's NYT.

I certainly knew enough about her, and her twin sister's advice column, Ann Landers, but I suppose I seldom picked up a newspaper that had a 'Dear Abby' syndicated column.

Margalit Fox, in today's obituary, wisely culls some prime-time zingers from the advice columns of Pauline Phillips and reprints them with the letters that lead to the response.

If Roger Miller once sang the warning about being unable to roller-skate in a buffalo herd, 'Dear Abby' wisely pointed out that frying bacon shouldn't be done in the nude. Everything else was okay.

It didn't take long for this advice to remind me of the woman I once met while doing an external audit of a company's health benefits management.

When Blanche (Dreyfus) was asked where she might be going on vacation, she replied that she never really knew--she just packed light. "I throw my toothbrush and my panties in my purse, and go." She added that the panties kept her from being completely nude while brushing her teeth.

I'd now love to ask if she read about that somewhere.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Adding Another One

It says something about comedy when a comedian's routine about life is so accurately captured and used to lead off a story about aging.

The story is actually a book review of 'Triumphs of Experience,' by George Vallant. The book review is by Andrew Stark, and appeared in the 2012 November 3rd weekend edition of the WSJ. The book is about the results of following the lives of 268 undergraduate Harvard men, who were recruited in the 1930s and early 40s to participate in a long-term psychological study.

It is Steven Wright's classic deadpan riff on aging that opens the review.

"Two babies are born on the same day at the same hospital. After gazing at each other across their cribs for a few hours, they get whisked away by their respective families, never to see each other again for the next 90 years. Then, by a strange twist of fate, they find themselves lying on their deathbeds next to each other in that same hospital. One of them turns to the other and asks: 'So-- what'd you think?'"

It's an off-the-chart scenario that this has ever, or will ever happen exactly as described. But we know that comedy can be seriously funny, and the question is a great one.

And every year that I get to add to the pile, like today, I think of an answer.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Daily Lesson

You learn something every day. Or, at least that's what I always heard as a kid. And I'd have to say, it is just about true.  For me, the daily lesson in something new usually springs from the obituaries. Reading about who is gone, leaves me with something new.

Over the years I acquired the knowledge that SCUBA was an acronym for "self-contained underwater breathing apparatus." A very military sound to describe air tanks to go swimming underwater.

My mother, who had been in the army (during the big one), liked to say things were a SNAFU when the situation seemed confused, or unorganized. This was a military term for, "situation normal, all fouled up." Or, some other adjective before "up," depending on the speaker's refinement.

RADAR is an acronym for "radio assisted detection and ranging." 

But, when I would read the word "laser" I always knew what it was, and always thought it was something naturally occurring in nature that had become harnessed to produce extremely powerful and accurate beams of light. "They do it with lasers." Of course, I know that.

Well, when reading about one of the distinguished people who recently passed on, Tingye Li, 81, an electrical engineer, I find out that his work was instrumental in the development of lasers--an acronym for--"light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation."

Of course. I know that now.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Downton Abbey: 3-1

No self-respecting viewer of 'Downton Abbey' can resist sharing their impressions. Season Three got under way Sunday, and like anything that's two hours long, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

The wedding of Lady Mary might seem to have been the main theme, but make no mistake, it's money. Lord G. seems to have invested heavily in a Canadian railroad that doesn't seem to have earned a penny. The founding scion apparently croaked and the new management has proved incompetent. Thus, the rail company doesn't seem to have transported a bushel of wheat, or ferried a single soldier to a troop ship. Apparently, they are the only company not to make money during a war. Lady Cora's American fortune is at the bottom of Lake Erie (Canadian side). Not good.

Then we have the long-awaited appearance of Cora's American mom, rich as Croeus, who eats like a farm animal.  This part is played by Shirley MacLaine, who is certainly showing signs of waaay too much partying with the Rat Pack. To paraphrase lyrics from the song 'Errol Flynn,' ..."too many years and too many beers with Ol' Frank...Dean, Peter, Joey, Sammy...'

Ol' Shirl is seen seated most of the time, and doesn't seem to have the energy to change her clothes. But, her mind is quick, and she sees that the Crawleys are in trouble. In fact, all of England is in trouble, as she deduces that the Manor way of life will die out.

She won't play J.P.Morgan to the rescue. No 1920 versions of General Motors and AIG bailouts of an English lifestyle. Basically, suck it up. The times, they are a changin'.

Ol' Shirl does come to Downton Abbey with her own maid, or female valet, or batman, or whatever they might be called. Reed is a romantically assertive girl, who will likely deflower a rookie member of the downstairs staff, Alfred. If Alfie's not whistling softly while adjusting collar pins, then the writers will have missed an opportunity to show off the female 1920s American spirit.

Small pieces. Black tie; white tie. No idea of the difference other than appearance. But apparently there is a HUGE difference. To me, it's just an English game of 'Red Light, Green Light, 1-2-3.'

Medicine: Two months for a punch biopsy pathology analysis! From the next episode previews, it's obvious it's bad news, but it doesn't travel fast.

New digs seem to be on the horizon. Nothing as bad as the Liverpool slum pictured above, but something less King Arthur.

Stay tuned, with the rest of us.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ada Louise Huxtable

If you think you've been reading architecture criticism and appraisals forever from Ms. Ada Louise Huxtable, you're not wrong. She just passed away at 91, having been writing under her own byline since 1963, with her most recent piece coming just last month, a lengthy one in the Wall Street Journal on the New York Public Library's most recent building plans.

Some of my early memories of Times bylines were of hers. The woman with the aristocratic name, who it turns out was married to a Huxtable, herself coming from Manhattan's Upper West Side via Hunter College. As absolute a New Yorker as a wooden turnstile and an IRT train.

As eloquent as an architecture critic can be, they don't seem to prevent the bad stuff from getting off the drawing boards. The guess is they are powerless over the aesthetics, or lack of them, of others. They are like the pathologist who knows everything, but the patient is dead. The pile has been built. Now it's either praised or vilified.

Today's obituary reveals that Ms. Huxtable wouldn't say what her favorite buildings were. My guess is a thorough reading would reveal the ones she disliked the most, and it would be up to you to rank them on the level of her crafted bile.

Since today's obituaries don't outright name her least favorites, I will tell you mine. These actually make me mad when I get near them. The Fashion Institute of Technology on 7th Avenue, in the upper 20s, an extended bunker that is built over a cross street. How this mass ever left a drawing board remains beyond me.

The next building I shake my head is what is now known as the O'Toole building, also on 7th Avenue, near the old St. Vincent's Hospital. It was originally built for the Maritime Union, when shipping was big in New York and is meant to evoke portholes. It does evoke.

And last, and hardly least, might be a building that Ms. Huxtable might have been made to confirm was her least favorite, The MetLife building behind Grand Central Terminal. This was formally known as the PanAm building and when it was finished it had the most square footage of office space anywhere in the world outside of the Pentagon. It also had helicopters landing on its roof until one fell apart on landing and caused several deaths. It seemed Midtown didn't have enough going on.

The NYT obituary quotes Ms. Huxtable's take on it from a non-aesthetic point of view. " extraordinary burden to existing pedestrian and transportation facilities...Its antisocial character directly contradicts the teachings of Walter Gropius, who has collaborated in its design."

The building is plain butt-ugly. Situated behind Grand Central, straddling the block the way it does, and dominating the skyline from north and south of the Terminal, the building has been called Park Avenue's "garage door."

Personally, when viewed from the right perspective from either uptown or downtown, I think it's Hoover Dam.

Ada was being too nice.

At the Bar

In between reading night-stand novels I sometimes pick up one of my books of Joseph Mitchell columns and short stories. Like popping into a bar for a few just to say hello, I treat myself to a couple of handfuls of words, have a few "page-tales", and then head out to dreamland.

I like to think that if the high school guidance counselor, Mrs. Bittkower, that I visited years after graduation and after not gaining traction at two institutions of higher learning, had sent me to the New York Times rather than a health insurer, my life would have been different. Maybe.

I would have fallen in with the same crowd no matter what. I certainly came in at the outer edge of the places that Mr. Mitchell was writing about in the 1930s. Bars, joints, gin mills, saloons.

I read an obituary of Robert McG. Thomas, the famous Times obituary writer that said he left Yale to major in New York. I can't claim attendance at an Ivy League School, but I did seem to major in work, pool, New York Ranger games, anything else Madison Square Garden, race tracks, Blarney Stones, Spotlight bar, Carnegie Deli, roller hockey and running.

If at the Times, I might have worked my way up to a byline, as Mr. Mitchell did at TheWorld and The Herald Tribune. No matter. I get to read what he wrote, and remember another era.

One of Mr. Mitchell's collections is 'My Ears Are Bent,' a collection of newspaper columns, arranged in groups, one of which is 'Cheese-Cake,' another 'Drunks.' The book was first copyrighted in 1938.

In the 'Cheese-Cake' section there is piece titled 'Some Virgins, No Professionals,' a discourse on burlesque and its workers, male and female. The title apparently stems from the stock answer a theater producer would give the court when asked about the morals of the women who might have been arrested in a Vice and Morals crackdown on the show's content.

If Mayor Bloomberg is thought to be the Nanny for New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia was the Deacon for decency. Burlesque was eventually outlawed, slot machines were removed from candy stores, pinball machines disappeared from bars, along with Indian dice games.  Drinking and smoking did remain.

Mr. Mitchell describes one of the top burlesque producers, Emmett Callahan, who was married to Ann Corio, a headlining stripper. A legend. I missed the burlesque era, but heard plenty about it, and plenty about Ann Corio.

In the 1960s she produced and starred in an off-Broadway production of  'So This Was Burlesque,' at the Second Avenue theater on 12th Street. The theater would later see the start of the musical 'Grease.'

I never got to see the show. I was too young. I did however have the not-so-enviable task of delivering roses to the show nearly every night. These apparently were used by Miss Corio in her act, as she pulled them out of her G-string and tossed them to the audience as part of her finale. At the flower shop, we of course removed the thorns before delivery.

What Ann Corio could look like in the 1960s after a career of  taking her clothes off in the 1930s remained a mystery to me. I never even got backstage. I had to deliver the flowers to the box office where some guy took them. All doors closed like submerged submarine hatches. I never got to see a stripper. LaGuardia was dead, and I was still shut out. However, I did eventually get to meet someone who worked in burlesque. A comedian.

At the end of Mr. Mitchell's piece on burlesque he quotes a stripper who comments on how she liked what the comedian Joey Faye said in Philadelphia the other night. He put down the attractiveness of a rival's burlesque strippers by claiming that the mother of a current house cutie slipped off the runway at the 'Stars and Garter' and hurt herself.

Joey Faye. I met Joey Faye at Liberty Bell racetrack in January 1970 when New York did not yet have winter thoroughbred racing. He was with a group of like-minded guys trying to pick winners, freezing with the rest of us when a blast of cold air came in through the grandstand door. Our mentor, and older guy, Les, "Mr. Pace", knew Mr. Faye and introduced us to Joey. Never heard of him at that point, but did know about burlesque.

Joey had a 70-year career in show business. There is an absolutely hilarious 'You Tube' video of him on the 'Dean Martin' show. When Joey passed away in 1997 at 87, he even rated an 'Economist' obituary.

Imagine reading in 2013 about a guy in a 1930s column, and meeting the same guy in the 1970s freezing at Liberty Bell. That's longevity.

In the 'Drunks' section of Mr. Mitchell's book there is a piece titled simply 'Bar and Grill.' It happens to be about Dick's Bar and Grill. Mr. Mitchell doesn't explain why it was always Bar and Grill (and it was) because he didn't feel the need to explain the obvious.

Early on in one of my majors, the explanation was extracted from a veteran bartender that a bar had to have food. Of some kind. Good food, bad food, moldy food, but something that could be called food. You weren't supposed to drink if there wasn't anything to eat. It didn't mean you had to eat, just that it was there to turn down. Hence, grill. LaGuardia? I don't know.

One of the customs I read about in Mr. Mitchell's piece is 'shaking for drinks through a game called Indian Dice.'

Never heard of  'Indian Dice.' In fact, again early on, was told that no gambling of any kind could appear to be going on in a bar. A deck of cards was not to be even seen, and an open racing paper, The Morning Telegraph, wasn't to be bandied about.

Indian Dice is a game played with five standard die thrown up to three times to simulate a poker hand. A one is a wild card, and is generally picked to be an ace. The other numbers represent themselves. After the first throw the shooter can set aside die he feels are building a winning hand.The other die are then thrown in an attempt to improve the hand. Three throws total is the max.

If he feels he's got a good hand with just one throw, he passes the dice to the player to the left. That player then only gets as many throws as the previous player used. There is even a 'You Tube' video on how to play the game.  Mr. Mitchell would have loved it.

The loser bought drinks for those in on the game. This could get costly, even then. Eventually,gambling and pinball machines were outlawed. LaGuardia? Probably.

As said at the outset, reading the stories is to enter another era. Then there are the memories of my era.

Early on, my first public drinking occurred with two friends who were brothers. We all lived in Manhattan, so were were already there.

Drinking age then in NYC was 18, and between the three of us our ages didn't add up to being eligible for Social Security. But we were all of legal age, no phony ids. Draft cards. Ours.

One evening, near where the brothers lived, we picked The Horses Tail on 8th Avenue in the 50s as the place we'd like to start our evening in.

It was a corner place, with the entrance on the bias, somewhat like Delmonico's. The neon sign had an outline of a horse whose tail appeared to "swish," aided by the neon and the outline of two tails, as one was lit and then went dark as the other one was lit. Thinking back, it seems like a strange name for a place, but perhaps the horse-carriage drivers came in after circling Central Park later in the evening. The stables were close enough by.

The night we entered there was no one else in the place other than the bartender. Even at 7 o'clock, it seems it was too early for any crowd to be there. The bartender looked entirely unhappy to see us. Three young guys, likely from New Jersey (not), who were going to break his balls just by breathing.
He wasn't looking forward to serving us, but hey, we were customer, and bartenders hated entirely empty bars. Induced stickups.

So, drinks served and small talk was attempted. Mr. Bartender was weary already. There were several bowling trophies displayed behind the bar. One of the brothers, intimidated by no one, asked Friendly if he bowled.

Until then, I hadn't really paid any attention to the guy. But now that an answer was expected, I took him in. He was in his 40s, close-cropped black wavy hair, stocky, with a short-sleeve white shirt and an apron. He steadied himself for the reply by spreading both his hands behind him, holding onto the back of the bar and staring straight at us as if a spotlight had now fallen on him. He cleaned his teeth with a very loud sucking noise and told us, "I bowl like old people fuck. Not well, and not often."

We had a friend.

Friday, January 4, 2013

TV, VCR, DVR Alert

In case you've been away, really away, you may not be aware that Season Three of 'Downton Abbey' starts on Sunday, January 6. Forget the clever crap that liking 'Downton Abbey' might be like liking '50 Shades of Grey.' This can't possibly be the same audience. Enjoy it with no guilt, and no injuries.

Season Three opens in 1920, so Lord Grantham has surely put the uniform away in storage. It will remain to be seen if the series makes it to WWII and Lord G. attempts to fit into it 19 years or so later. Apparently, 'Downton Abbey' was only supposed to last one season. Whether they make it to WWII will depend on deaths, cast defections, good writing, and continued audience interest.

If Lord G. is around to even try his uniform on he's not going to want to look like he's invading Poland, since Hitler's doing just that. The British health care system will also be on display if they can carry that cast into the 1940s. Stay tuned.

The long-awaited appearance of Lary Cora's American mother is going to unfold in the form of Shirley MacLaine. She's given a suitable number of zingers, and creates a number in return.

Ol' Shirl's name is Martha. This is of course ridiculous. She's no more a 'Martha' than I'm a Lord. This is just some British screenwriter's attempt at American history by naming her the same as the American first First Lady.

It is hoped that the British screenwriters will have Ol' Shirl, as Martha, reveal to the entire family at some sumptuous supper, that she is half-Jewish on her mother's side (where it counts). This will no doubt turn the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet, violet, and we'll get to see how fast first-responders respond in 1920s England to country estates. A chimney in the old pile is also likely to collapse at this news and make quite a mess of a drawing room. A bit of hurricane Sandy.

It's going to be fun.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Opera: Alive of Dead, or, What's Up with the Cat?

The new year has begun, and it's a cinch if I make it through it, it will be another year that I just don't get opera.

It can't be for everyone, certainly not when someone writes a book about opera, is it alive or dead? and the reviewer brings up Schrodinger's cat. Erwin Schrodinger, who likely lived next door to someone, but not us. In fact, he may not have even had a cat.

The book is 'A History of Opera' by Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker. Apparently in this book the reviewer Zachary Woolfe tells us, the life and death of opera is somewhat like Schrodinger's cat paradox, in which it can't be determined if the cat is alive or dead after being in a box with a Geiger counter and a radioactive isotope.

It gets easier to understand when you find that in 1935 Erwin Schrodinger posed a thought paradox having to do with quantum mechanics asking: when does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other?  Then there's the technical way to say it. It is a famous thought experiment that apparently I was absent for during some part of my education.

The cat and the box didn't really happen (I don't think) but was merely advanced as a hypothetical situation to illustrate the paradox.

This might be why opera is failing. (Or is it?) You have to have an advanced degree in physics to understand the people who write about it.

All this is consistent with the woman who lives in the Osborne apartments who said that the construction crane that came loose during hurricane Sandy and upset life on 57th Street and the vicinitty for some time, sounded like the beheading of St. John the Baptist.

'Salome.' An opera.