Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This seems like a non-starter, and I hope it is

Gothamist has this story about TSA screeners replacing NYPD for random bag checks in the NY subway system. For those of you who don't live here, since the London bombings in 2005 the NYPD has conducted random backpack searches at subway stations. I see the police checking bags about once every two months at my subway stop in Brooklyn, and I used to see them about once a month at my old stop on the Upper East Side. But the bag checks are voluntary, in that if they ask you to open your bag and you refuse, you aren't allowed in the subway at that stop, but you also aren't detained. You can just walk to the next station that doesn't have a bag check table, and enter the subway there. I've never been asked to show my bag to them. Most of the time, the cops are just standing at their card table talking to each other. But I've heard stories about these "random" searches unfairly targeting people of color. I cannot imagine how much worse the situation will get under the TSA's "theater of security" system. According to the linked story, the TSA screeners have had three hours of training on legal issues and the subway system. I'm sure that's going to smooth everything over.

Between this and the swine flu scare, maybe it's time to look into working from home. I've been wanting to use the HDTV as a second monitor.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The long-awaited New Orleans weekend wrap-up

We left for New Orleans on Thursday evening, April 16. Leaving on a Thursday meant that I missed my first NYRO rehearsal since I joined the orchestra almost three years ago Instead of being in my usual seat in the orchestra for three hours, I spent that time on a plane sitting behind a group of girls who were on their way to a bachelorette weekend. They each drank more than a few glasses of wine and talked loudly for the entire flight. Later, they all got out their iPods, cued up the same song, and sang and danced in their seats. They were highly annoying. When the plane landed, they called their hotel and were disappointed that "the fire marshal" wouldn't let them get a cot in their room for one of their friends.

We took a cab to our hotel, the Astor Crowne Plaza on Canal Street, just around the corner from Bourbon Street. There was a brass band playing out on the street, and I felt right at home. The lobby was impressive, full of luxurious old marble and a swanky-looking bar. But the first room they gave us looked like a dressed-up prison cell. It was tiny, one of the walls was painted cinderblocks, and there was no closet. Kate declared this room to be unacceptable, and I agreed. We tried to call the front desk, but one of the two phones in the room didn't work. (The room wasn't really big enough to require two phones.) After some discussion, the hotel moved us to a different room down the hall. This room had two double beds (I had reserved a room with a king-size bed) and a closet, so it was an improvement over the Riker's Island-themed room.

On Friday morning, we went for a quick run along the riverfront and through the French Quarter. When we got back, I took a shower. Immediately, I discovered that the shower leaked from a faulty gasket connecting the removable shower head hose to the faucet. Even with the shower curtain closed, water sprayed all over the smooth tile bathroom floor and it became extremely slippery. I mopped up as best I could with some spare towels, wringing them out in the tub, and warned Kate. She told me to call the front desk, but I suggested that she should shower first in case they wanted to send someone up right away. After her shower, she stormed out of the bathroom and went straight to the phone and called downstairs. They offered to send someone up then, but we told them to wait 15 minutes so we could get dressed and leave.

Our first stop on Friday was Cafe Du Monde for coffee (should have had beignets too but you can't have everything), then we met Kate’s parents in Jackson Square to hear some music. After all, one reason for the trip was the French Quarter Festival, a free local music festival with stages all over the French Quarter and the riverfront. We spent the rest of Friday afternoon drinking bloody Mary’s, listening to live jazz and blues, and sampling local cuisine at the festival. We got back to the hotel at 4 PM to find that they hadn’t even cleaned the room yet. The maid came to our room just as we arrived and since she was quitting in 20 minutes, we agreed to let her clean the room while we went down to the front desk to see why they still hadn’t fixed the shower. When we went back to the room we had fresh towels but a still-leaky shower. We dressed for dinner and stopped at the front desk again on the way out to ask about the shower repair. The woman at the desk said she would see that someone took care of the problem right away.

We went to dinner at Clancy’s in the Garden District with Kate’s parents, some of their friends, and some of her cousins from Louisiana. We returned to the hotel around 10 PM to find our room door was open. Not wide open; the door was ajar. Nothing was missing (though Kate later insisted she was missing $40 she thought she put in her handbag) but the shower was still leaking badly. So we called the front desk again. They said that the engineer looked at the shower but he needed a part to fix it, and asked if we could wait until tomorrow to get it fixed. We said that wasn't an acceptable response and we couldn't stay in this room. It took them 12 hours just to get someone to look at the problem. And by the time they checked it out, every hardware store in New Orleans was closed, so they'd have no way to get the part until Saturday. So the hotel upgraded us to the “Executive” suite, and we packed our stuff and went to the lobby to get our new room keys. The executive room had a king size bed, a normal shower (not the removable hand-held kind) and was basically the room I had reserved four months ago. After all that excitement, we went to bed.

On Saturday morning, we worked out in the hotel gym, then got a free breakfast from the executive lounge down the hall. (Excellent coffee there, by the way.) After breakfast, we walked to Mother’s, where I had the "Ferdi’s po’ boy" and Kate had the sausage and grits. The po’ boy was just as incredible as advertised on an episode of "Man Vs. Food" that I saw in February. I have never before had a sandwich that had me near tears from sheer delicious joy. I wanted to get back in line and order another one as soon as I was done. We spend the rest of the day listening to different bands and souvenir shopping in the French Quarter.

We had dinner with Kate’s parents and friends at Cafe Giovanni. The meal was a tasting menu of five courses, and they had opera singers serenading the patrons with arias and show tunes. After dinner, Kate’s family and friends went to the Harrah's casino, and we went for a stroll through the Quarter. We had a drink at Jean Lafitte’s Blacksmith Pub, then walked down Bourbon Street to our hotel. A little of the noise and excitement of Bourbon Street goes a long way. For instance, there was a guy in gym shorts standing in the middle of Bourbon Street looking up at some girls on a balcony and pleasuring himself. Kate saw him and made sure I noticed him too. You can't find entertainment like that in New York.

On Sunday morning we went to Commander's Palace for brunch. I had the eggs Sardou and crawfish and pork, and a bottomless cup of their outstanding coffee. And I couldn't pass up the Creole bread pudding for dessert. After that meal I wasn't sure I'd ever be hungry again. We spent the afternoon shopping and listening to a little music, and then took a break at the hotel for a couple of hours before dinner. We met up with the family again for dinner at Broussard's in the French Quarter, where I had a crabmeat crepe and redfish with crawfish, shrimp, and crab. We walked down Bourbon Street again, this time with Kate's family, and one proprietor of a strip club tried to entice us by saying "it's family night!" We called it an early night as we had to get up at 5 AM for a 7 AM flight.

Next time, we'll have to plan an extra day on the front or the back end of the trip. Three full days was just too little time, but an extra day would be perfect. We could have gone to Acme Oyster House and the WWII Museum, or gone on the swamp tour. But until then I will enjoy coffee in my souvenir Cafe Du Monde mug. And I look forward to drinking more bloody Mary's now that I know how much I like them. Every vacation should include new discoveries about yourself.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

GeoCities goes away

Many, many years ago, I had a personal web site on a Georgetown University web server that I built myself on a Windows 3.1 PC. That web server is still one of my proudest accomplishments as a geek, which is one reason I continue to tell that story. When I graduated and that server had to be retired (separate incidents, but they happened around the same time), I had to move my site to another host. Since I didn't have any bandwidth to host a site at home and work was no longer an option, I signed up for GeoCities. At the time it seemed like a great idea. They offered free web hosting and easy FTP uploading for data. What I didn't find out until later was that having a web site on GeoCities was like running your business out of a flea market. The sites themselves had weird URLs with goofy names like where you chose the "neighborhood" you wanted (LosAngeles) and then GeoCities assigned you a number that was "your" address in the neighborhood. The other sites on GeoCities were wacky pages that I wanted nothing to do with. I was ashamed just to be associated with them. I kept my site on GeoCities for about six months, until I got a new home computer and a dial-up account with web hosting privileges. I moved away from the flea market and never looked back.

Well, GeoCities became a Yahoo! property years ago, and now it's going away. I can't say I'll miss it, especially as I wasn't really aware it still existed and that anyone used it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Stephen Hunter knows what he's talking about

Former Washington Post movie critic Stephen Hunter writes in today's paper about the Navy SEAL snipers that took out the Somali pirates on Sunday in order to rescue the captain of the Maersk Alabama. Hunter was in the Army for two years and has written several fiction books about snipers, so he knows his subject. I enjoyed the way his article puts the reader in the minds of the shooters, as much as such a thing is possible. I find it difficult to imagine what it must have been like for them, lying prone on the deck of a Navy destroyer with rifles trained on a small lifeboat bobbing in the waves 50 feet away. Hunter's article makes me realize that not only were they able to accomplish their mission, they probably could have done it from two or three times the distance.

I think I should add some of his books to my extensive "waiting to be read" list. Given my taste for military and spy fiction, I suspect I'd enjoy Hunter's fiction writing as much as I used to like his film reviews.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Fox News-Simpsons connection.

Glenn Beck is trying so hard to be a blowhard, he's turning into Kent Brockman. I can just see Brockman ranting like this clown.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Field trip night at the NY Philharmonic

I think most of the audience at Friday's performance was made up of high school kids on a spring break trip. There were two rows of sulking teenagers behind us, and as far as we could tell, none of them had been to a classical music concert before. I think it's great that these kids came to the NY Philharmonic instead of a Broadway show or some other New York attraction, but it would have helped if someone had briefed them on what to expect. At intermission, one gawky guy leaned forward and said to the two girls in front of him, "they played two songs in one hour." (The first half of the program was Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks Concerto and Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2.) Another boy remarked that the bathroom was "fancy." At the end of the concert, as the audience showered the orchestra and guest conductor Charles Dutoit with rapturous applause following a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, the first boy said "OK, it's over! Why does he [Dutoit] keep coming back out?"

I hope these kids enjoyed their evening. They were better behaved than the crazy lady wandering around at the last concert I attended.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

NYRO concert this saturday: Berlioz, Pizzetti and Liadov

I almost forgot to post the concert notice. I realize it's only 57 hours away, but I'm getting the word out anyway. I'm really excited about playing Berlioz's Harold in Italy. It was one of the first CDs I bought, after I'd been hearing parts of it on the radio for years. John Dexter played Martinu's Rhapsody-Concerto with NYRO two years ago, and it's great to have him back for this concert.

Dear Friends of NYRO,

Spring is here
-- and to welcome the new season, our
April 4th concert will have you basking in the warmth of the Mediterranean sun. We'll travel to Italy and Greece (with a side trip up to Russia for a bit of meteorological contrast) with music by Anatoly Liadov, Ildebrando Pizzetti, and Hector Berlioz. Add our fantastic soloist, violist John Dexter, and a very special night is in store for everyone!

I look forward to seeing you!

Best regards,

David Leibowitz, Music Director

April 4, 2009 - Berlioz in Italy

BerliozWhat better way to celebrate the beginning of spring than with a musical journey to sunny Italy?

Violist John Dexter returns to the NYRO stage as soloist in Hector Berlioz' epic symphony-concerto "Harold in Italy!"

Also on hand - charming musical rarities by Anatoly Liadov and Ildebrando Pizzetti.
  • Date: Saturday, April 4, 2009
  • Time: 8:00pm
  • Place: Good Shepherd-Faith Church (152 West 66th Street)
  • Admission: FREE
Here's the full program:
  • Liadov: Eight Russian Folk Songs
  • Pizzetti: Three Symphonic Preludes on Oedipus Rex
  • Berlioz: "Harold in Italy" - John Dexter, viola
About the program:

Anatoly Liadov's Eight Russian Folk Songs are charming musical miniatures that evoke the deep mystery and beauty of the Russian musical spirit. In turns festive, rustic, and serene, these short character sketches are a pure delight!

Performed only once before in the United States since its creation, Ildebrando Pizzetti created three haunting tone poems based on the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex. These Three Symphonic Preludes beautifully capture the brooding sense of tragedy inherent in the drama. You won't want to miss hearing this wonderful work.

Epic in scope, sunny in disposition, and dramatic in narrative Harold in Italy by French composer Hector Berlioz is one of the gems of the orchestral repertoire. Based on Lord Byron's "Childe Harold," the music traces our hero as he travels through the Abruzzi mountains, passing pilgrims, meeting shepherds, and, finally, being pursued by a band of cutthroat brigands! It's an exciting musical adventure!

About our soloist:

Back on the NYRO stage by popular demand, virtuoso violist John Dexter is a mainstay of New York's musical scene. An accomplished soloist, Mr. Dexter premiered and recorded, to great critical acclaim, Anthony Newman's virtuosic Viola Concerto.

Mr. Dexter is a member of the American Symphony Orchestra and the American Composers Orchestra, and he has also performed with the New York City Opera, Philharmonia Virtuosi, Joffrey Ballet, and Hong Kong Philharmonic.

As a chamber musician, Mr. Dexter is the violist in the award-winning Manhattan String Quartet and, since joining the MSQ in 1980, has made over twenty critically-acclaimed recordings of the string quartet repertoire.