Monday, December 31, 2007
Well, I wish I had something pithy to say about the end of the year. But honestly, this is just another day, you know? An arbitrary line we’ve drawn on the calendar. First it’s Monday, then it’s Tuesday. And oh yeah, it’s 2008.
I did come up with some resolutions. They’re actually things I already try to do, so they won’t be all that surprising.
1. Use computer/web productively
2. Gym 3x week
3. Meditate daily, Zendo weekly
4. Be more social (go on a date!)
5. No red meat - chicken/fish once a day at most
6. Be nicer to myself when I fail
Those seem like good goals, right? And of course I won’t achieve them all perfectly, let’s acknowledge that right at the outset.
I had a terrific weekend, particularly yesterday. I cleaned my house in the morning and then walked for several hours in the afternoon. I took about 80 photos. I just can’t get enough of wandering this city!
(Photo: Lower East Side, Dec. 2007)
Sunday, December 30, 2007
I actually wrote a post yesterday. It was somewhat political, a brief screed against the current anti-immigrant climate in this country, and a suggestion that we need to be more generous in our support of others in the world. But you don’t see it here because it felt half-baked to me. I took it down after about ten minutes.
It was the imprecision that bothered me, a sense that I was inviting controversy yet not quite saying what I wanted to say. Then, later in the day, as if by magic, I stumbled across this passage in Gary Thorpe’s book “Caught in Fading Light: Mountain Lions, Zen Masters, and Wild Nature”:
Many Zen teachers have cautioned their students against any dependence on words, either written or spoken. They have likened words to thorns and briars, and compared having an idle conversation to taking a walk through wild thistles and entangling vines. At the very least, we are told, we should give careful attention to what we say. This should be true at all times, but particularly so when we purport to speak the dharma, the real truth of things. When we speak to others with the intention of relaying or explaining Buddhist truths, we soon learn just how may traps and snares there are, and we learn the clever ways in which they can lie in wait, ready to spring upon us at the first sign of unsteadiness or hesitation. That we can be ambushed by our own words is one of the great lessons of Buddhism, and it is a lesson we learn constantly.
(Photo: Shadows on an old synagogue, Lower East Side, Dec. 2007)
Friday, December 28, 2007
This week between Christmas and New Year’s is so odd. If you’re spending the week at work, as I am, it’s even a bit melancholy. The halls are empty, the phone seldom rings, the work days are slow, the salad bar at the company cafeteria is shuttered. There's been the big build-up to the holidays and now, BAM -- nothing.
Perhaps it also feels a bit melancholy to me because I have no plans for New Year’s Eve. I could crash a party somewhere, but I don’t have any desire to get toasted -- those days are mostly over for me, happily.
I haven’t even made any resolutions, which I normally like to do. People make fun of resolutions because they often fall by the wayside, but I think they’re a useful reminder of our goals and values. I try to use them as guidelines rather than strict rules, and to be gentle with myself when I backslide. I usually resolve to sit more, to be nicer to people, to slow down, to be more attentive.
Maybe this year I’ll resolve to get a boyfriend! (It's that easy, right?)
(Photo: SoHo graffiti, Dec. 2007)
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Back home again, with a heap of laundry, and an attention-starved cat once again lying on my chest. I had a great visit with the family, especially my amazing little niece Jane (aka Little Jane, Janie or Beans), who’s 16 months old. She toddles around and says words, and you can just watch her figuring things out.
She’ll say “ribit” if you ask her what sound a frog makes, and she points at both the dog and the door and loudly proclaims “daw!” She smiles constantly, except when she just wakes up, when there seems to be a mandatory period of crankiness.
She didn’t quite know what to make of Christmas. But what kid doesn’t like all the colored lights?
Christmas went well, despite all my gift angst. I got some very practical stuff, like towels and a supply of Starbucks coffee, and some chocolate for fun. I think I’m going to leave the chocolate in the fridge for a while, though. It’s possible to just eat too much sugar, especially when you’re not really much of a dessert-eater - and after several days of pie and chocolate chip cookies and other stuff, I need to come down from my sugar high!
(Photo: Street art in SoHo, Dec. 2007)
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Well, here I am in Florida, spending Christmas with the family. So far, my trip has been an exercise in practicing patience.
I flew down last night, and my plane's departure was greatly delayed at LaGuardia. We were about two hours late by the time it took off. I didn't really mind, though - I had several magazines to keep me busy and I was kind of amused just hanging out in the terminal. (I think some of Sharon Salzberg's mindful energy was still lingering around me!)
Today I'm sitting at my Mom's computer to write this post. Mom has not yet entered the 21st century and still has a dial-up Internet connection. I can't tell you how painfully slow it is to do ANYTHING. Patience, once again.
I can't seem to access my e-mail at all. But maybe that's a good thing. I'm on a holiday break, after all!
So I probably won't post much for the next few days. Have a great Christmas, all who celebrate it, and I'll post again when I'm back in the Big Furious Apple!
(Photo: Newspaper box in Boca Grande, Fla., March 2007)
Friday, December 21, 2007
Last night I went to see Sharon Salzberg speak at the Zendo. She’s a well-known longtime Buddhist practitioner who’s written many books, and she’s an eloquent, composed speaker - it was so interesting to hear her put thoughts together and concisely summarize questions from the audience.
She spoke about equanimity, or balance, and one of the things she said that stuck with me is, “The ability to start again is not to be sneezed at.” Each time we stray in life or practice, whether it’s getting lost in thoughts while meditating or something larger, we can always start again. We find our breath again. In fact, as Salzberg said, starting anew is the only honest response to the ever-changing world.
My practice seems to resemble the orbit of Pluto. You know how Pluto follows an elliptical orbit around the sun, passing relatively close and then spinning out into the deep reaches of space before circling back? Sometimes I feel close to my practice, seem to inhabit it deeply for weeks at a time. And sometimes it feels almost alien to me - I stop sitting and get busy and caught up in life - and then I miss it and begin circling back.
Since the end of October, just before I went to Italy, my practice has seemed remote. I’ve been to the Zendo several times since then, but it’s been hard for me to really inhabit the sitting, to be really present. Traveling, the holidays, some major changes in my office, a busier social schedule - all have given me reason to feel scattered, and have carried me away.
I’m not going to the year-end sesshin, either. Frankly, I’m tired, and it just seems too far away, too difficult and too expensive. Maybe I’m wimping out, but I plan to chill and retreat into my own personal quiet for a while. I hope to do that after Christmas - sit daily, here at home, and once again come back toward the warmth of the sun from starry black space.
(Photo: Lost mitten, SoHo, Dec. 2007)
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Went to another concert last night with my friend Brian: The Teddy Thompson and Friends Christmas show, a benefit for Darfur.
You may remember I went to see Teddy with Brian a couple of months ago. Then the two of us went to see Suzanne Vega, and then Aimee Mann. Well, last night’s concert turned out to be a neat summary of those three earlier ones.
Not only did we see Teddy play, but Suzanne Vega showed up too! You could have knocked me over with a feather. She sang “Frank and Ava” and “Rosemary,” as well as a silky rendition of “Winter Wonderland.”
We also saw Ben Lee again, a promising singer who performed in Aimee’s show. (He even made the same jokes!)
But the undisputed star of the night - other than Teddy himself - was Rufus Wainwright. I’ve never entirely understood his appeal, other than his refreshing candor about being gay and embracing gay culture. But I’d also never seen him live - and let me tell you, he has quite a stage presence. He sang a French version of “O Holy Night” that really soared.
And now, my concert-going is done, at least for the next few weeks.
(Photo: Wall in the East Village, Dec. 2007)
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Monday, in an effort to buy at least a few modest gifts, I went uptown to the Jacques Torres chocolate store. I thought his chocolate would make a nice New York-y gift for my relatives, something they couldn’t get at home. So I bought several mixed boxes and a few odds and ends, and walked out with $87 worth of chocolate in a chic clear bag.
We can debate the morality of paying $87 for chocolate -- I’m not so sure about it myself. But I rationalized it by saying it’s pretty much the centerpiece of my holiday gift-giving this year.
I hauled it back to my office, and then later that evening, I grabbed it and raced off to a meeting of the board of directors for my building. I popped into Starbucks to get some sustenance before the meeting, then went to the office of one of the board members. We met for a couple of hours and then I went home, and realized: I no longer had my bag of chocolate.
Did I leave it at the board member’s office? Or, God forbid, at Starbucks?
As I lay in bed thinking about this, I had my first holiday meltdown. “I hate Christmas!” I muttered. Here I was, compelled by our cultural insanity to go buy junk that no one needs, and then so caught up in the rat race that I lost what I purchased!
I began making vows not just to keep gift-buying simple, but to opt out of it altogether. What would happen if I asked people next year, a few months before the holidays, to skip the gifts entirely?
It’s an interesting idea, I have to admit. But the problem is, gift-giving CAN be fun and fulfilling. The cultural imperative is what’s odious -- the feeling that you HAVE to give a gift, or risk disappointing someone or being branded a cheap selfish bastard.
Fortunately, the next morning, I learned from the other board member that my chocolates were safely in his office, and I picked them up yesterday afternoon. So at least that minor Christmas crisis was averted.
(Photo: Side of a panel truck, East Village, Dec. 2007)
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I picked up a book of New York photography the other day from a guy selling books on the sidewalk. I got it for five bucks. This guy was not an established book vendor --it looked to me like he found a box of books someone was throwing out and decided to sell them. Ah, enterprise! Ah, New York!
So, anyway, I lugged this thick book home and discovered happily that it included a long foreword by Tama Janowitz, whose short story collection “Slaves of New York” helped define the city in the go-go ‘80s.
Janowitz started off writing about change, and quoted this excerpt from Harper’s Magazine:
New York is notoriously the largest and least-loved of any of our great cities. Why should it be loved as a city? It is never the same city for a dozen years altogether. A man born in New York forty years ago finds nothing, absolutely nothing, of the New York he knew. If he chances to stumble upon a few old houses not yet leveled, he is fortunate. But the landmarks, the objects which marked the city to him, as a city, are gone.
The kicker is that this passage was written in 1856!
New Yorkers have made a career out of lamenting change, especially lately, as real estate skyrockets, the city gentrifies and rent hikes drive out small businesses. There’s a blog called Vanishing New York that tracks the disappearance of the city’s streetscapes -- and simultaneously, some allege, its character. I lament change myself, having recently scanned photos of some of my favorite disappeared landmarks.
It is true that prosperity brings a certain blandness to New York’s streets. The mom-and-pop stores and restaurants are undoubtedly threatened here, and I dislike the glass-and-steel storefronts and condo towers too. But it’s also true that we’ve preserved much of our history, compared to many other cities, where it’s been long bulldozed.
No matter how uncomfortable, change is a fact of life -- one of the few ultimately dependable facts. And as Tama Janowitz wrote, “Yes, everything changes here, and rapidly too. That’s how it’s always been. And that’s why we like it.”
(Photo: The Skyline Diner, Upper East Side, 2005. Now gone.)
Monday, December 17, 2007
Nostalgia is so strange. What purpose does it serve? Why would we be inclined to see the past through a rose-colored lens, rather than the way it really was? Would the cumulative weight of years of reality be too stressful for our minds?
I got to thinking about this after reading one of my old journals yesterday. While cleaning a closet I took them down and I read through one of them, from 1995. At that point I was living in Venice, Fla., and reporting for a newspaper there.
When I look back on Venice, I think of a quiet town by the Gulf of Mexico, with blooming yellow tabebuia trees and red kapoks. I could ride my bicycle to the beach, or sit on my balcony at night and hear killdeer in the field across the street. I remember hanging out with coworkers and going to parties and rollerblading in the early morning on the smooth streets, past quaint ‘50s ranch houses. I enjoyed living in Venice, or so I thought.
But my journal revealed that actually, I resisted Venice much of the time. I yearned to be in a bigger city with more culture and activity, with more young people and certainly more gay people. I was constantly lamenting my job and plotting my escape. And although I had good times too, I was enmeshed in all sorts of friendship and relationship drama.
Now, it's the nature of a journal to be the recipient of complaints we can't vent in our daily lives. So while I think my memories of Venice ARE nostalgic, it's also true that my journal probably doesn't represent an accurate reality, either. It's probably skewed a bit to the negative.
Still, it's funny how the years have turned Venice into a happy Florida paradise in my mind. Where does this come from? Why do we think things used to be better than they were?
(Photo: Maple shadows on the Upper East Side, October 2007)
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Have you ever been to a rock concert with an eight-month-old baby?
As of this weekend, I have.
My friend Tricia is visiting New York with her 13-year-old cousin Sam and her daughter Kate, born in April. We made plans to get together last night and Tricia, doing some research, found out the band Betty was playing at the Highline Ballroom. She wanted to go, and I offered to babysit - but she said no, the baby could come too.
I was highly skeptical of this plan, but I figured we could always leave if things got ugly. Besides, the baby had some concert experience - earlier on Saturday, Tricia had taken her to the annual Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, and apparently that went well. I thought all the noise of a rock concert might be a little too intense, though.
Happily, I was wrong. For one thing, the Highline is really more of a supper club, with tables and lots of space. We sat in a remote region of the balcony where Tricia could stand up to rock the kid if need be, but even that proved mostly unnecessary. Kate was fine with the show. In fact, she loved the lights and strobes, and waved her arms when the band played, smiling widely. I was amazed.
That was actually my second concert of the weekend. On Friday, Brian and I went to see Aimee Mann and her traveling Christmas variety show, featuring Nellie McKay, Josh Ritter, Ben Lee and others. We had a ball, though Aimee had a cold. (Hmmmm...Suzanne Vega had a cold, too, come to think of it.)
I love all the activity at this time of year. Lots of shows, visiting friends, etc. I still haven’t done much holiday preparation, though. I hung my strand of colored lights from the burglar grate on my window -- my only concession to holiday decorating.
(Photo: Phone booth on Third Avenue, Dec. 2007)
Friday, December 14, 2007
There’s a famous Far Side cartoon where a boy puts his hand up in class and says, “May I be excused? My brain is full.” Well, that’s exactly how I felt yesterday, after a day of back-to-back discussions on building Web communities, local news, blogging, mapping, etc. It was interesting stuff, but My God, I needed some air.
One aspect of our online lives I haven’t yet completely figured out is social networking. I am on Facebook and LinkedIn, but I’m not entirely comfortable with them. I think LinkedIn would be valuable if I were looking for a job. Facebook seems much more about fun -- so much so that I’m wary of it as a huge potential time-waster!
In fact, my approach to social networking is sort of like my approach to Photoshop. Underlying my trepidation is a feeling that I can’t really trust myself. Just like I think I may go nuts altering my pictures beyond recognition, I think I may also get sucked into the vortex of Facebook. I don’t trust my own self control. Which is interesting.
Lately, my technique for balancing how much time I spend online is to turn off my computer, rather than just putting it to sleep. If I turn it off entirely, I am less likely to crank it up again. My goal is to spend time online in the morning, and of course I’m online all day at work -- and then get out and have an actual life in the evening. So far, so good!
(Photo: Tompkins Square Park, East Village, Dec. 2007)
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Today I'll be at an all-day conference about Web communication. It began yesterday, and it's pretty interesting. Everyone in media is trying to figure out how to bring readers to our Web sites and hold them there, by providing compelling content and interactive opportunities. That's why you see more and more newspapers producing videos and allowing comments on news stories, for example, or setting up reader forums and even video and photo uploading. It's all about creating "communities" of readers.
As I heard more about these topics yesterday, I thought about Blogger and Flickr, two really obvious examples of community building on the Internet. I have friends in both places, and I've met many of them in real life after we "met" on the Web. On Flickr, much of my "community" is based on a common interest (street art and graffiti). Here on Blogger it's much more fluid - there are common interests, but blogging has more to do with like personalities, I think.
Anyway, just to show you that we're talking about Very Serious Subjects, we mentioned this as an excellent example of the "viral" power of video on the Internet. It's had millions and millions of hits. Go figure!
(Photo: Wall in the west 30s, Hell's Kitchen, Dec. 2007)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Some of you may remember this entry, when I made my first attempt at a video.
Well, I thought you might like to see what that building has become. I expected it to be a condo, like every other construction project on the Lower East Side. But no! Surprise! It's a museum - the New Museum of Contemporary Art. I haven't been there yet, but in retrospect it seems an especially fitting subject for my fledgling video art! (Such as it is.) I'm just glad it's not another condo full of hedge fund managers.
Speaking of hedge funds, I read the other day about funds that buy the debt of third-world countries for pennies on the dollar, then force those countries to repay the debt for the profit of investors - who are basically making bucks on the backs of the world's poorest people. There's a special place in hell, you know?
(Photo: New Museum at 235 Bowery, Dec. 2007)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I hold this day
Like a globe of cold
Steel, a silver
Weak sun washes me.
Uncluttered by summer’s
Through this neat sleep
In perpetual panic,
But they seem few.
Quiet peers back
Past the church spire
Like a placid face.
Hope, in bronze,
Has her back to me
Ankle pertly cocked
Busy with another
Granting gorgeous, lavish wishes
Vacations, love affairs.
Her hands reach up
Proffer gifts aloft,
A raft of distractions.
I turn away.
Already, the day
Is heavy and perfect,
A globe of cold
Steel, a round rock.
(Photos: Top, Tompkins Square Park, East Village, Dec. 2007; Bottom, the park's Temperance Fountain, 1888, by Henry D. Cogswell.)
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Last night I watched “Jeremiah Johnson,” Robert Redford’s 1972 movie about a taciturn mountain man in Colorado in the late 1800s.
When I was six, my family went to a drive-in theater in Tampa to see this movie. I remember it being incredibly long and boring. We had trouble with the speaker, so we couldn’t really hear. I can’t remember whether my little brother was with us or not - he would have been two - but I think one or both of us cried. After a while, we gave up and went home. We never saw the ending.
Since then, this movie has been family code for the epitome of a boring film. We might see something unpleasant, but we would always say , “Well, at least it wasn’t ‘Jeremiah Johnson.’”
Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be, actually, a pretty good movie. And a beautiful one, too, with wide shots of the mountains and forests of Utah, where it was made.
Here’s what I don’t get, though: It’s pretty violent. I still vividly remembered the scene where Johnson comes home to find his Indian wife and adopted son murdered, and burns down his own house. Johnson kills countless Indians, and comes across a family of settlers who’d all been scalped.
Why on earth did my parents take me to see THAT? What were they thinking?
(Photo: Leaf, Washington D.C., Nov. 2007)
Saturday, December 8, 2007
I spent part of yesterday playing around with Photoshop. Up until now, I have not Photoshopped (is that a verb?) my pictures. But while scanning my old, discolored prints, I found an amazing function called "Auto Color." By clicking on this item in a drop-down menu, I could quickly correct much of the age-related discoloration in a photo. It was amazing to see - BOOM - from orangey brown to bright blue. Like magic!
So I began experimenting on some of my recent stuff. I adjusted about ten shots, and I found that especially those that were mostly white came out really well. White walls tend to look very dark and muddy if left unaltered. Auto Color makes them pop out white again.
This doesn't always work, though. Sometimes the picture comes out looking too stark, in which case I reverted back to the original. It's strange how this mysterious Photoshop animal works.
Anyway, for now, I intend to leave nearly everything unaltered. I can see the slippery slope of Photoshop - it's like a looming addiction. I would start just tweaking one photo here or there, and pretty soon I'd be tweaking everything, and probably more than I should. I would need Photoshop 12-step!
(Photo (unaltered): Shadow of a potted plant, Washington, D.C., Nov. 2007.)
Thursday, December 6, 2007
I love digital music. Some people lament the loss of vinyl albums, but not me. Albums were such a pain - they skipped, they scratched, they crackled and popped. Give me a CD any day.
Or an MP3 - even better! Since I bought my Apple and got iTunes I’ve been very into compiling my own CDs. I download my favorite songs from CDs in my collection and put them into mixes. This eliminates the dreaded phenomenon of the Terrible Song in the middle of a Great Album.
For example: I really like Jim Croce. And who doesn’t? “Time in a Bottle,” “Operator,” etc. - he wrote some great ‘70s hits. But then, in the middle of all this nice mellow songwriting, comes “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” - possibly the WORST song ever recorded - and “Rapid Roy the Stock Car Boy,” the second worst. Well, I compiled my own Jim Croce CD, and voila! No more Leroy, no more Stock Car Boy.
I did the same thing with Astrud Gilberto. She had a terrific album in the late ‘60s called “Beach Samba,” in which she built on all her earlier work with Antonio Carlos Jobim. (Astrud is the female singer on the iconic “The Girl from Ipanema.”) But right in the middle of “Beach Samba” is a cursedly bad song called “A Banda (Parade),” recorded with an honest-to-god MARCHING BAND. It’s enough to split your head open. So now I have my own Parade-free version of Beach Samba.
Now, some albums you just can’t do this with. They’re too cohesive and their spirit as a whole must be considered. It would be impossible to cherry-pick songs from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” for example, or Joni Mitchell's "Blue," or even k.d. lang’s “Hymns of the 49th Parallel.”
But aside from those, it’s nice to be able to condense my music collection to what I want to hear. It’s all about flexibility!
On a completely different note, I uploaded some old family photos (just a few) to Flickr. You can see them here.
(Photo: Ginkgo leaves in Washington, D.C., Nov. 2007)
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
A few days ago, I thought it might be fun to scan some really old photos and put them up on Flickr. So I got down the old albums and began choosing a few favorites.
But then I realized how much junk I had from childhood - random pictures of bushes and blurry mountains, for example, many taken from the window of a speeding car. (When we took road trips, my parents never liked to stop!)
I also realized the sticky photo albums that held this stuff were falling apart, and many of the photos themselves had deteriorated so badly that you could barely see them. So last night, I got a new album and began culling a lot of those old photos. What a task! I was up until almost midnight. But of course I also had a ball, because interspersed with all the junk were quite a few gems.
I also had a strange movie experience last night. I began watching David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and had a sneaking suspicion I’d seen it before. But I was never sure until about an hour and 45 minutes into the film, when a particularly remarkable death scene reminded me that I’d definitely seen it. Now THAT’s a memorable movie.
(Photo: Graffiti in Venice, Italy, Nov. 2007)
Monday, December 3, 2007
Now, I knew it was going to snow Saturday night. But I did not expect THIS.
I thought we’d get some little flurries or a light dusting. Imagine my surprise when I went downstairs Sunday morning and found the streets white and empty, and the snow still coming down?
In fact, it continued to come down for hours. I went to the Zendo, where I finally had a chance to sit for the first time in weeks, and I was aware of the drifting whiteness the entire time.
I was so happy to be back at the Zendo and practicing, enjoying the quiet spaciousness, the in-and-out of my breath, the ordinary yet extraordinary beauty of a wintry morning.
Afterwards, I walked home through the East Village, and found more fun, snowy photo opportunities.
(Photos: Top two photos, snow on the street in front of my apartment building; Below, red berries on Avenue A; pigeons love snow; a four-wheeled leaf magnet; a passerby leaves a message.)
Sunday, December 2, 2007
This has been quite a social weekend so far!
On Friday evening after work I met up with fellow blogger Gary, who is just as positive and enthusiastic as you’d expect from reading his blog. He was out with some friends to celebrate an engagement, and the whole group embraced me - literally and figuratively - and made me feel very welcome and comfortable. It wasn’t at all like hanging out with journalists, who often tend toward grumpy cynicism.
Then I raced off for a dinner with my friend Jan and her friends Helen and Cara at a place called BLT Steak. (I was kind of put off by the name, but Jan assured me they had some non-red-meat options on their menu, and she was right). We got a dose of excitement when we realized that both Alex Rodriguez (”A-Rod”) of the Yankees and Doug Flutie were sitting at nearby tables. I wouldn’t have recognized either one of them, mind you, but Jan is a huge sports fan - she even said hi to Alex as he passed us on the way to the bathroom, and he said hi back, to his credit. He seemed very tall, but then, I was sitting down.
Yesterday I spent running errands, cleaning, going to the gym and catching up on reading. I met my friend Bill in the evening and we went to see “August: Osage County,” a Broadway play by Tracy Letts. It was EXCELLENT - funny and cringe-inducing and tragic. Go see it!
(Photo: Pigeons in Chelsea, October 2007)
Saturday, December 1, 2007
When I was in Washington D.C. last weekend, the leaves were really beautiful. This Japanese maple was just down the street from my friend Kevin's house. I don't think I've ever seen such an intensely red tree!
These two trees, as well as the ginkgo below, I photographed during my walk with Reya. Ginkgos always turn such an amazing shade of yellow.
Now, here in New York, we're expecting light snow this weekend. Winter is just around the corner!
Friday, November 30, 2007
Last night I went to see one of my favorite singers, Suzanne Vega, at the Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom. It was great to see her again - the last time I’d seen her live was in 1991 or so during her “Days of Open Hand” tour. I was long overdue!
She sounded great and kept up a funny, easy patter between songs. Some singers never establish much of a rapport with the audience, but she did a great job. Because she’s such a New York-y performer - with many songs set in New York, especially from her latest album, “Beauty and Crime” - seeing her here really added to the vibe.
My only criticism: Her band seemed just a tad too loud, and she seemed a bit strained by the end of the night - probably from trying to sing over them! The show was originally supposed to be at Town Hall, a fact that seemed to vex some people around us, who were bewildered by the seating in the new venue (admittedly kind of bewildering) and missing Town Hall’s “more intimate” atmosphere. Personally, I was happy to see her anywhere.
She didn’t play “Small Blue Thing,” which remains a favorite of mine, but she did tackle a wide variety of old and new stuff. Here’s a partial set list, not in exact order:
Marlene on the Wall
New York is a Woman
Frank and Ava
Blood Makes Noise
I’m Not Your Maggie May
Left of Center
Tom’s Diner (DNA reprise)
Zephyr & I
The Queen and the Soldier
It still bewilders me that everyone’s favorite Suzanne Vega song is “Luka.” It’s a damned upsetting song about child abuse, yet the people behind me were singing along and bopping around like they were listening to the Go-Go’s. I was like, “Are you hearing the WORDS?”
Anyway, thanks to my friend Brian for prompting me to go to this show. For some reason I don’t do concerts very often. I sometimes need a little push!
(Photos: My blurry attempts at concert photography.)
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I read that retailers at both extremes of the shopping spectrum did well on Black Friday, but that those in the middle lagged. That means the Wal-Marts and the Targets did OK, and places like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus did OK, but JC Penney and Macy’s faced challenges.
Gee, could that be yet another sign that there’s no more middle class in this country?
I’m starting to think about Christmas gifts. Even though I’m a practicing Buddhist, I celebrate Christmas with my family. It is, after all, a powerful cultural phenomenon, and just as Buddhism recognizes the connectivity of all things, I think the Christian message of Christ’s birth is interwoven into the Dharma - the spirituality is really one thing, expressed in different ways.
I try to give small gifts each year that are highly personalized. Last year, for example, I gave everyone framed enlargements of some of my favorite photos. I also made donations to charity in each person’s name.
But I’m having doubts about that approach this year. From a social perspective, I think it’s a good way to handle gift-giving. But it seems a little selfish. Who am I really pleasing - myself, the giver, or the people receiving the gift? They don’t really want a gift to charity in their name. They want a book, or a shirt.
So I think this year I may do some conventional shopping. I’ll still keep the gifts modest, but maybe it’s time to refocus on the recipients of the gifts, rather than on a social ideal or a message about consumerism.
(Photo: Ginkgo leaves in Pisa, Italy, Nov. 2007)
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I watched “Lost in America” last night, inspired by my pal Merle, who mentioned it recently on his blog. It’s a 1985 movie about two yuppies who cash out, quit their jobs and take to the road in a motor home, yearning to “drop out of society” and live free like the guys in “Easy Rider.”
I’d never seen it before, but the theme immediately appealed to me. Who doesn’t have a dream like this, after all? I admit that one of my back-up plans for my own life, should I lose my job, is to travel around in a van and see the country. (More fantasy than plan, admittedly.)
When I was a kid I longed to live in a motor home. In fact, I used to buy “Motor Home” magazine, or something like that. Once, during a Boy Scout retreat, while everyone else was playing football, I spent a couple of hours cleaning the kitchen of a motor home used by our scoutmasters, imagining myself piloting it across the country. (I don’t think I wore an apron, but I’m not sure.)
Things don’t go well for the yuppies in “Lost in America,” primarily because of a divorceable offense by the wife. Ultimately, it was an odd movie -- it seemed to end very abruptly, and to reinforce the idea that conformity and the corporate grind are really the way to go. (Now that I think about it, things don’t go well for the guys in “Easy Rider” either.) But what’s wrong with a little escapist dream?
Maybe someday, I’ll be blogging from a van!
(Photo: Shadows in Venice, Italy, Nov. 2007)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Remember that book I just recommended about leading the slow life? Well, I think I already need to re-read it!
I feel like I have been going non-stop for weeks - though just two days ago I was writing about my nice leisurely Thanksgiving break, so clearly that’s not altogether true. I think the issue isn’t slowing down, but instead staying home.
I realized yesterday that I spent a total of six nights at home in all of November. It’s my routines that I miss - going to the gym, going to the Zendo, having coffee in bed with my cat lying on my chest (making it nearly impossible to drink the coffee). Travel is nice, but as I’ve said before, the best part of traveling is coming home!
And now, after Italy and Rhinebeck and Washington, I have FINALLY come home. I’m not going anywhere for the next several weeks, until Christmas. I plan to slip back into the comfort of my quiet routines and hopefully this somewhat harried feeling will pass. What a relief!
(Photo: The oculus in the roof of the Pantheon, Rome, Nov. 2007)
Monday, November 26, 2007
I spent Saturday afternoon exploring D.C. with Reya, who helped me appreciate an unseen dimension of our nation’s capital - its underlying energy. And no, I don’t mean lobbyists.
For example, I knew nothing about the Masonic pyramid at the heart of the region from DuPont to Logan Circle and down to the White House. But it was interesting to see how the area really did seem to possess its own subterranean hum, both positive and negative. We saw the negative when we watched a driver get into a hostile (and unnecessary) confrontation with a skateboarder over street space. And we found the positive when we discovered a musical sculpture in front of 111 Vermont Avenue. Made of metal rods, it emitted a whole orchestra of harmonic tones when touched.
It was great to see and spend time with Reya, whom I feel I’ve known for years. Some of that is due to blogging, of course, which introduced me to her backstory. But we bloggers only offer up parts of ourselves for public consumption, and you never quite know what the real person is going to be like. Reya’s blog is faithful to her personality -- she’s a fellow urban wanderer who sees and senses so much. And yet what she sees is so different from what I notice myself.
I came back on yesterday’s 2 p.m. Acela Express from Union Station, and promptly jumped into the whirl of grocery shopping, unpacking and spending time with my attention-deprived cat. I bought her a little laser light toy, which was a big hit with Kevin’s cats. Armenia chases the light beam, but also seems alarmed by it -- she runs after it and then runs up to me, meowing frantically: “What is THAT??”
I’m also finally taking on the arduous task of uploading all my photos from Italy. You can see them on Flickr (click on the badge at right) if you’re so inclined.
(Photos: The rear of row houses south of U Street N.W., Washington D.C.)
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Yesterday was a day of leisure. We had no agenda whatsoever. Kevin and I spent the morning at his apartment, doing stuff on the computer and hanging out with his new cats.
Then we went to some thrift stores in the afternoon - our own version of Black Friday, I suppose. I had a blast combing through racks and racks of t-shirts. I'm always amused by t-shirts. People put the strangest messages on them, like: "My mommy thinks I'm special." (On a man's X-Large.)
I bought a $2.99 t-shirt featuring a map of the Greek Isles, which I visited in 2000. That was the trip of my worst travel mishap ever - a taxicab drove away with my bag, never to be seen again. I flew home with no more than the clothes on my back. (Thank God I was wearing a money belt with my passport and ticket in it!) But I still had a great time on the trip, so now I have a souvenir of sorts.
Last night, we went to see "Beowulf" in 3-D. The computer animation is a little strange, but the movie is certainly worthwhile - the dragon-fighting sequence at the end is a jaw-dropper. It's great that Hollywood managed to turn a relatively stale high-school literature assignment into a popular movie. We gave it two thumbs up!
(Photo: Emerging from the subway in early morning, Houston and Broadway, Manhattan, October 2007)
Friday, November 23, 2007
I'm down in D.C. now at my friend Kevin's house. We had a terrific dinner yesterday - me and Kevin and Kevin's friend Michelle and my friend Liz. Kevin made a ham, just to be different, and we had sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, asparagus, salad, bread, cranberry sauce and even stuffing - though with a ham there's obviously not anything to stuff. And Liz made an awesome apple pie.
Even though Thanksgiving is supposed to be about expressing thanks, I find that it's easy to let the holiday slip by without being truly conscious of thankfulness. We get caught up in making all the food and socializing and eating, and even cleaning up. I guess all that might be a subconscious expression of thanks, or at least plenitude. But I want to take two seconds to say that I truly am thankful for my friends, all that food, my ability to hop a train and travel for a holiday, and - while I'm at it - everything else.
Kevin just got two new cats - a kitten named Racer and his mom, Hallie - and they're entertaining us both. Racer is in that mad kitten phase where he races around (hence the name) and meows aimlessly. He's a hoot!
(Photo: Upper East Side, October 2007)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
When I was up in Rhinebeck over the weekend, some friends and I stopped in to a little bookshop called Oblong Books & Music. I originally intended only to kill some time - we had an hour or so before the bus left to bring us back to Manhattan. But as I browsed, I was amazed at the store’s careful selection. I wanted to read EVERYTHING I found.
I settled for a couple of books by Augusten Burroughs, whose memoirs “Running With Scissors” and “Dry” I read and enjoyed a couple of years ago. And then, browsing the sale rack, I came upon an intriguing book by Cecile Andrews called “Slow is Beautiful: New visions of community, leisure and joie de vivre.”
I started reading this book almost immediately, and I’m not sure when I’ve read something that I’ve agreed with so completely and emphatically. Every point Andrews makes has me going “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The book is not only about slowing down our lives, but questioning all the things we’re brought up to believe: That aggressive capitalism and competition are good, that working more makes us happy, that having more money brings greater peace of mind. Andrews basically throws cold water on all that mythology, arguing that we need to take more time to love, cultivate friendships, explore our worlds, have hobbies -- and that society is unfortunately heading in the opposite direction.
I thought it was interesting that I found this book in a small, independent bookstore. I’m not sure I could have found it so readily at a large chain, which seems to speak to another of Andrews’ warnings -- that increasing corporatization (if that’s a word) is a danger to our communities.
Anyway, if you’re at all interested in these topics, I heartily recommend checking out this book. It’s published by New Society Publishers.
(Photo: Autumn in Madison Square Park, October 2007)
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
One of the best surprises about my weekend up in the Hudson Valley was the leaves. Particularly in the lower reaches of the valley, and in New Jersey, they're really beautiful right now. I thought about taking my camera when I went to Rhinebeck for my friend's wedding, but then I thought, "Well, it's November, and all the leaves will be gone, so why bother?" Boy, was I wrong!
I don't know whether our autumn is coming later this year or not - it certainly seems later. But regardless, it was in fine form.
And now, we're on to Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday: Just food and relaxation. I don't do the post-Thanksgiving shopping blitz, so for me, there's no stress. I'm headed down to DC on Wednesday night to hang out with some good friends, and I hope to have lunch with Reya.
My jet lag finally seems to have subsided, as well as most of my cold. Whew!
(Photo: Leaf in Ithaca, October 2007)
Saturday, November 17, 2007
So, what can I say about Italy? It was very fun, incredibly educational, periodically frustrating, and totally exhausting - in a good way. Here's a quick rundown on what we did.
We began in Rome, where we spent four days seeing the Roman ruins and wandering the city, as well as visiting the Vatican. We saw all the required stuff: the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's. I even threw three coins into the Trevi Fountain, but alas, I didn't marry an Italian. (Maybe that magic doesn't work for gay weddings? Italy is very Catholic, after all! Or maybe it just takes a while to kick in...)
The art, of course, was exquisite. The Caravaggios at the Villa Borghese were amazing, and I developed a new appreciation for sculpture after seeing works by Bernini and Canova.
But Rome was also overwhelming. We had a little hotel mishap on our first night - our reserved hotel couldn't put us in our room because of a plumbing problem, and had to send us instead to another hotel which proved far inferior. But we rolled with it. I'd prepaid the rooms and couldn't face doing battle with Italians on my first night in the country. Also, traffic in Rome is INSANE.
From there we went to Florence, which was kind of like living in the Renaissance wing of the Metropolitan Museum, if I can be totally New York-centric. I saw so much art and architecture that I nearly went crazy. Really. The Uffizi was beautiful but exhausting. And I saw Michaelangelo's David, but I have to say, I don't quite get the appeal. The head's too big, the hands are too big - he's all out of proportion. Am I crazy?
We went to Pisa on a day-trip and saw the leaning tower. Didn't climb it, though. I am happy to report that it looks just like it does in Bugs Bunny cartoons.
While in Pisa, we got caught in a train strike that threatened to strand us. But we rose to the occasion and caught a bus to nearby Lucca, where we disembarked in the middle of - I kid you not - a hailstorm! Just one of those days. But the storm subsided quickly and we had a great time walking around Lucca, and then caught a train back to Florence after the brief strike ended.
We spent our final days in Venice. By this time I'd contracted a hideous head cold - probably from that crazy hailstorm - but still enjoyed wandering the tiny, narrow streets and alleys. Because it's on a series of islands, Venice has no cars. There were, however, boatloads of tour groups, and I have never seen so many pigeons in my life as I saw in San Marco - and coming from a New Yorker, that's saying something!
We visited Peggy Guggenheim's amazing modern art collection, just to get a break from all the Madonnas and Titians. We also had drinks at Harry's Bar, visited the basilica and the Doges' Palace, and strolled the waterfront nearly all the way to the end of the island, where there's a nice green park. If the canals really are polluted, I sure couldn't tell - they're a beautiful Mediterranean blue color. (And also look just like they do in Bugs Bunny cartoons!)
Now, I'm battling down the last of my cold and adjusting to life in these United States. I'm off to a wedding in Rhinebeck, N.Y., this weekend, and then we're into Thanksgiving - my favorite holiday! Whew!
(Photos from top: Trees in the Villa Borghese, Rome; the colosseum from Palatine Hill, Rome; the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City; sunset on the Grand Canal, Venice.)
Friday, November 16, 2007
Back again in the states after two weeks traveling around Italy. I had a great trip through Rome, Florence, Pisa, Lucca and Venice. Toured all the Roman ruins and St. Peter's at the Vatican, and saw enough Renaissance art to have nightmares about being carried away by throngs of winged putti. (Well, not really, but close.)
Traveling was not without its drama - a train strike stranded us briefly in Pisa and Lucca, and I caught a hideous cold in Florence - but overall I had lots of fun.
I need some time to get my photos together and when I do that, I'll tell you more about the trip itself. Right now I still need to get back on schedule after flying in yesterday evening. (Wide awake at 4 a.m.! What fun!)
Thanks for checking in and leaving comments while I was gone. It was terrific to see that so many of you kept my blog alive while I took a break. :)
(Photo: Graffiti in Chelsea, October 2007)
Thursday, November 1, 2007
I’ve been pretty prolific over the past week or so, haven’t I? Well, I’ve been trying to “stock up” the blog a bit in anticipation of today, when I leave on a two week vacation. I’m going to Italy! Woo hoo!
I’ll be in Rome, Florence and Venice -- and maybe a few other places -- traveling with my Mom. I’m taking a laid-back approach to this trip -- aside from hotel reservations and a few things we did in advance, like buy tickets to the Uffizi, we’re not really planning our daily activities. We’re just going to get up each day and see which way the Italian wind is blowing.
So I’ll see you when I get back, some time after Nov. 15th!
(Photo: Garden furniture outside an antique shop in Tribeca, Sept. 2007)