Wednesday, April 27, 2011

C'est charmant! C'est divin!

A couple of weeks ago I tried to go to the Met's live broadcast of Le Comte Ory. Alas, I got to the theater only to discover that the blue-hairs had beat me to it: the place was sold out. (Rueful fist shake!) Not to be done out of a chance to hear Juan Diego Florez sing, I skipped out of work early today (at 6pm, instead of 11pm) and went to the opera.

And it was totally worth it! It's a Rossini opera, based on a medieval French tale -- so, as the adage goes, think of a French pastry cooked by an Italian chef. The short version: All the men of the village are off to the Crusades, leaving their lovely women-folk (including a voluptuous countess) forlorn and inconsolable (well, almost inconsolable, it turns out) in the castle. Count Ory, a dashing local womanizer who happened to avoid the wars, hears of this and sets off to woo said countess and her attendants. His first tactic was to pose as a wise hermit and provide one-on-one "counseling" sessions to cheer up the ladies. (It works!) Ory's page, who happens also to be in love with the countess, shows up and unmasks Ory. (Indignation!) That night, Ory disguises himself and his knights as nuns on a pilgrimage and come to the castle seeking refuge from the storm and claiming to have been pursued by Count Ory. (Les pauvres!) The countess and her ladies take pity on the nuns and let them in. Hilarity ensues. Also one of the best bedroom scenes ever. (It's French; use your imagination.) Then comes an announcement that the Crusading husbands are on their way home and would arrive in an hour. (Being French, they understood that prudent husbands warn their wives before showing up unannounced so as to ensure a happy homecoming...) Of course, that gave the rascals enough time to skedaddle and give room for a happy reunion. Fin.

The three leads (Ory, countess, page) are three of the best bel canto singers around -- I've been following the tenor, Juan Diego Florez, in particular for some time. He's amazing. Clips from the opera are available here. And another from a totally different opera:

I'm still convinced that I made a huge mistake in taking mon père to Handel's Julius Caesar for his first opera.  Adding Ory to the list of operas I'd take him to if I had it to do over...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chez moi

For my second blog post ever, I will give you a tour of my apartment. I had been meaning to take good pictures of my apartment ever since I finished decorating, and even more since I decided to move to a new apartment -- but somehow I'd never gotten around to it. At first I didn't have a digital camera. Then I found that floor-to-ceiling windows make decent photography really hard on anything other than a cloudy day. Fortunately, the stars finally aligned today: clouds, a break from the 80-hour work-week, and a very nice request from Quynh-Nhu for a few pictures.

By way of background, in the fall of 2008 I moved from New York to Washington, DC, with an extended detour in Guatemala. On my waay from New York to Guatemala, I gave myself exactly two days to find a place to live. Turns 0ut that was enough time to find a really great apartment. Here's a tour:

Entryway. When you walk in, you're immediately greeted by three wooden panels that I found in a bucket, covered in mud, in the Chelsea Flea Market in New York. The guy told me they were pried from an antique Chinese bed. Bad for the bed; good for me. The bas-relief carvings are either of people dancing, or of people fighting. Either way, they're kind of pretty.

Bathroom & Kitchen. As you come in, the bathroom's on the left; the kitchen's on the right. Note the refrigerator door: if you send me post-cards, this is where they go. Feel free to contribute.

Dining Room & Library. When I moved into this apartment, I had a stack of clothes and ten boxes of books. Period. I slept on the floor and had nothing to eat (or to eat with), but I could read anything from Plato to Saint Augustine to Shakespeare to Moliere to Jane Austen (and a few ridiculous vampire romance novels, too, but let's not get into that). Naturally, the first thing I bought was a bookcase. Or five.

The bookshelves bear a few non-book treasures, too. Or perhaps I should say treasure chest. Yep, I produced that work of genius when I was thirteen. It was the beginning of a remarkable (if at times over-ambitious) career as a furniture craftsman that lasted until I was fourteen. Next to it is a crystal eagle figurine from Val Saint Lambert, made at the Seraing factory in Belgium. The framed artwork is a drawing inspired by the story of Eugene Schieffelin, a (loony) New Yorker who took it upon himself to introduce all the birds mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare into the New World. On March 6, 1890, he released a cage of starlings into Central Park -- with the result that they are now the most common birds in the United States. (In addition to being a delightful story, the drawing was a law school graduation gift from Amanda -- at the time I felt very much as though I were being freed from a cage.)

Living Room. The dining room and library flow into the living room, which is demarcated principally by a giant rug -- which, by the way, is bigger than my car. You should have seen me driving home with it from the store. I looked like one of those tropical leaf-cutter ants. (I had the same problem with the television... it's what happens when you drive a Kia.) Anyway, the most important thing is that you can see the Eiffel Tower. As we know from the movies, one should always be able to see the Eiffel Tower.

The side table next to the yellow chair (and its pair, which is hidden by the couch) is another flea market find. They're from the 1950s and were in terrible condition when I bought them (for half the price the guy was asking -- the bargaining skills I learned in Guatemala paid off well). It was a fun and messy project to dismantle the tables completely, refinish and paint them, and restore them to functional, attractive tables. The throw pillows are also the fruit of bargaining -- this time with a shopkeeper at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. They're made from sections of an old Turkish rug.

Bedroom. The bedroom opens just off the dining/living room. I wanted it to be a clean, stress-free place where I could sleep without worrying about clutter or anything else. I also had the great idea of using a shelf instead of a bedside table (which, I'm happy to say, I came up with all on my own - before watching an interior decorating show that suggested doing just that). The plant in the corner is lovely but, alas, I think it's days are numbered -- it appears recently to have come down with the plant version of leprosy.

Under the bed is the Turkish rug I got in Istanbul. Unlike the American-made rug in the living room, this rug folded up into a very small bundle; so small, in fact, that I could carry it onto the airplane with me! It's also gorgeous and incredibly soft -- and really hard to photograph well. This is the best I could come up with:

Sun Room/Office. Back to the living room and out to the best feature of the apartment: the sun room. This is the whole reason I moved into this apartment. Perched on the thirteenth floor and overlooking a park, this north-facing, glass-enclosed room has served as my office. As long as I was going to have to work long hours from home, I wanted to do it in place that felt as free and open as possible. (It also let me try my hand at growing giant ferns -- that's a tale of woe for another day...) The wreath is from Maine and is made of birch branches.
Here's a panoramic view out the windows (from west to east):

Also in the sun room is a red-doored cabinet that I love (from Ikea) and, perched on top, my heirloom shamrock. That thing is older than I am. And, despite the fact that it freaks out at the touch of direct sunlight or a change in the humidity, it has survived over twenty cross-country moves and the ravages of well-intentioned "pruning" by small children (mea culpa), napping cats, and a gardener's machete. It's a plant with the temperament of a prima donna and the constitution of a pioneer woman.
You can see the reflection of my digital piano. Last year I thought it would be a great idea to take up piano lessons. Because I have so much spare time for practicing.

There you have it: A pictorial tour of my apartment. Here are a couple of long shots to give you a better sense of how everything fits together.