Friday, October 28, 2005

What's that smell? Can't you smell that smell?

This morning, Gawker reminded me that last night most of the city smelled like maple syrup, coffee cake, or something equally sweet. I noticed the aroma when I got home, but assumed that one of my neighbors had cooked up a few short stacks for dinner. Turns out that I wasn't the only one who smelled something odd. Gothamist has 81 comments and counting from people who picked up the smell as far away as Staten Island, Bensonhurst, and Newark. While I don't think it was some sort of terrorist plot to fatten up New Yorkers on breakfast food, I can't believe that none of the authorities know what it was. Some of the commenters think that it might have been a terrorist test of dispersion effects for a future attack, but that doesn't make sense. If you were planning to disperse a lethal agent over New York, why would you risk exposing your plan by releasing a "test" agent before the real thing? You'd just wait until you were ready to release the deadly toxins and do it. Anyway, the smell didn't seem to be out there this morning, so maybe whatever it was blew away overnight.

In other news, I'm in an odd mood today. I just thought I'd share that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

more geezers rocking

Apparently Cream has been out on tour. Tickets for their shows at Madison Square Garden were selling for as much as $4000, which is about 100 times the amount I'd pay to see these old guys in person. I understand the hook: Clapton, Baker, and Bruce haven't played together in public in 37 years, but still, even $200 for a nosebleed seat is too much to pay. The review in today's Washington Post makes it sound like it was a great concert, but I like the photo that comes with the story. Talk about seeing three grandpas up on stage. I had the same thought while watching Pink Floyd playing at Live 8 this past summer. I love these bands and others like The Who and the Rolling Stones, but they're really getting up there in years. Even if they can still bring it, eventually it's like you're watching the talent show at the retirement home.

Unfortunately, my lack of interest in seeing old guys playing thirty-year-old songs in concert means there are only a few bands I'd be willing to pay to see in concert, and most of those (U2, Coldplay, Dream Theater) have come through New York in recent years and I've stayed home. Part of the problem is that the tickets for all of these shows are still outrageously overpriced. But I also think I'm getting older, and I'd rather shell out for the opera or the NY Philharmonic and hear REALLY old music live than hang out with the kids at an arena rock concert. Or go to a small club or bar and hear a local group like the Wiyos. And that depresses me a little. Maybe I need to go to another rock concert just to refresh my memory of how it feels to hear one of my favorite bands play an old gem live for thousands of screaming fans. Before I become an old geezer reminiscing about "the old days."

Saturday, October 22, 2005


By the way, the exhibit of Russian art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York is fantastic. Liz and I went with some friends last Sunday afternoon. It takes up almost the entire museum, including annexes and basements, so plan about three hours to see the whole thing. It's an overview of Russian art from religious icons through masterworks of the 18th and 19th centuries through the Communist period to today. My favorite works are the ones from the 1920s and 1930s, espousing and promoting the ideals of Communism. There's a painting of a feast at a collective farm in the middle of summer that's just amazing considering that it's hardly ever warm enough for the people to dress the way they are, and that there was never enough food for farmers to eat the way they're about to. There's another one of corrupt monks having a feast that's really funny. Liz saw some of the artwork at the Hermitage when she studied in St. Petersburg in 1995, and now they're in New York until January. It's absolutely worth the price of admission, or in my case, the free tickets (my firm has a corporate membership there). We enjoyed it so much we might just go back in the next few months to have a second look.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Two operas down, two to go

After Saturday, Liz and I are halfway through our four-opera subscription to the Metropolitan Opera. On October 1, we saw Puccini's La Boheme, and on Saturday, we attended a performance of Bizet's Carmen. Both operas were excellent, with lavish sets, fine music, and outstanding singing. It's the Met, so we knew we'd be seeing one of the best opera companies in the world. But we both enjoyed Carmen a little more. The only knock we had on was that we didn't think Rodolfo was really convincing in his heartbreak over Mimi's death at the end of the opera. As Mimi dies, Rodolfo cries out her name and the curtain falls. Compared to the recording we have of La Boheme, where Pavarotti sounds like he's in absolute anguish, the Met's Rodolfo sounded upset but perhaps resigned to her death, and maybe even a little hopeful that he'd find someone else soon. But I'm nitpicking an otherwise great production.

We both really enjoyed Carmen. All of the stars were fantastic and completely believeable, and the costumes in particular were amazing. And somewhere backstage, the Met must have an entire stable of horses, because in Act IV there were at least half a dozen horses in a parade. I knew the music of the opera extremely well, having heard it and performed it myself, but I'd never heard the music in the context of the opera. It was like knowing a movie soundtrack but not knowing how the songs or parts of the score fit into the movie. So while watching Carmen, I finally got to hear all these musical elements as they fit into the opera. It doesn't hurt at all that the music is so catchy and I'm still humming bits of the score three days later.

We have a two-month break now, until our next opera, Verdi's Rigoletto, in December. And then in January comes the opera that was the impetus for the subscription, Die Zauberflote, Mozart's last and my favorite opera. I'm already excited.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

an unexpected trip home

My stepmother's mother passed away on Saturday after a long illness. Liz and I made the quick and easy decision to go to Somerset, PA, for the service, which was today (Tuesday). My childhood home is in Johnstown, PA, not far from Somerset, so it was a chance for me to go home, even if it was just for a day. We rented a car on Monday morning for the 6+ hour drive there. We got a 2006 Chevy Malibu, with the pleasant surprise of complimentary XM Radio built-in. We enjoyed the classical and blues stations along the way, in addition to the CDs and podcasts we brought with us. (By the way, in this week's show Dave Raven read an e-mail I sent to him after we saw the Wiyos live in Brooklyn a few weeks back. Just in case anyone wants to hear my name mentioned on the radio.)

Along the way, Liz marveled at the beautiful fall foliage throughout Pennsylvania. It has been over a decade since I've been in my home state during the peak days for foliage, and seeing all the magnificent colors reminded me of the autumns of my youth, with football, school, and music all making it my favorite season. We got to my house about 4:30 PM, before my mother was home from work, so we had a chance to see some of the changes and improvements she's made to the place since we were last there (Christmas 2003). My room is still in the same condition it was then -- some things never change. We had dinner with my mother before leaving for the viewing at the funeral home, then later that night got to watch the exciting finish to the Steelers-Chargers game, as well as see the Yankees get ousted from the playoffs again.

The funeral was sad and uplifting, as a good funeral should be. Her granddaughters -- my cousins and longtime friends from high school -- wrote some wonderful memories and thoughts about their grandmother, which were read by one of their husbands. After the service we had time to eat with the rest of our family, but too soon it was time for us to get back on the road. Despite some bad weather in New Jersey, we got the car back to Hertz before they closed, almost exactly six hours from when we left Somerset. Apparently if you can go 70 mph the entire way, you can get from there to New York in that time. We'll be back in Johnstown for Christmas, so it wasn't so bad to leave so soon.

Of my step-grandmother, I will say this: she was a part of my life for almost twenty years, and during that time she always treated my brother and I as if we were her own grandchildren by blood. She came to our high school and college graduations and to my wedding, as well as many other concerts and events. She was a truly special person that I am glad to have known for as long as I did. I will miss her, but she is in a much better place now.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bob Dylan's electric performance

Liz and I finished watching No Direction Home last night. We watched part 1 last week, then had to wait a week to see part 2. The movie itself is fantastic: excellent interviews, restored concert and archival footage, all edited into a great four-hour film. The thing that struck me about the movie is that until last night, I had no idea why people were so upset and offended when Bob Dylan "went electric" at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Liz's aunt, who's a big Dylan fan and lived through that time, argued that we couldn't understand it because we hadn't experienced it directly, that you had to see Dylan before and after the "electric" transformation to see what a big difference it made. Well, this movie presents that, by showing him onstage at the 1964 Festival performing acoustically and then again a year later with a blues band playing electric instruments. After seeing those two performances, I have a better idea why people were so irate. The movie highlights Dylan's place in the folk community and his role in the protests of the day, and when he got away from that to play more bluesy songs, his folk audience didn't know what to think. I'll never really understand why people couldn't just appreciate his music for what it was, instead of trying to ascribe all of these folk ideals and principles to him. But I have a better idea of the way people saw him at the time and Dylan's response to the attention after seeing the film. And it's a treat to see Dylan and guys like Robbie Robertson and the other members of The Band way back in the day, before they went on to success in their own right. I strongly recommend the soundtrack of the movie, which has some of the film's performances on it as well as some other gems from the same period in Dylan's career. I never thought I'd be a Bob Dylan fan, let alone a completist well on the way to owning all of his albums.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I'm still here

I just haven't had the time or inclination to write anything lately. Which will disappoint me a few months from now when I'm re-reading old entries and come across this lonely stretch. Anyway, I haven't stopped blogging, I've just been busy with other things.

L'shana tova, to all my fellow members of the tribe.