Friday, August 31, 2012

A room with a view

After four years of working at a purportedly awesome address, I finally have visual proof of such awesomeness before my eyes.  Behold the view from my new office:

That's the view down Pennsylvania Avenue to the left.  The Capitol Building is just barely out of sight, but the big grey thing with the tower is the old Post Office building.  Donald Trump just landed a contract to turn it into a fancy hotel (the Marriotts were muy miffed.) 

Now, if we swivel our heads to the right . . .

the view mid-swivel
We catch a glimpse of the Washington monument rising above the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building.  If this were an apartment instead of an office, this would count as "monument view" and the rent would be exorbitant.  But since it's an office, all I have to do is work a gazillion hours to see it.

If you kept swiveling to the right (and if there weren't a ledge and some trees that blocked the view), you'd see the White House two blocks away.  Hey Prez.

This is why you stay at a fancy law firm for four years:  So that after they stick you in a closet for the first year, a fishbowl for the second and third years, and a perfectly fine office with a view of the worst restaurant in DC for the fourth year, you FINALLY get to see cool buildings and trees as you go into your fifth year.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Life in the margins (plus, a shower curtain)

Oh man.  It's been one of those months.  Way too much work, unrealistic deadlines, unpleasant clients -- all of my time is still not enough.  Even if I'd been willing to pull all-nighters, the clients and partners would still have wanted more.  So, of course, my personal life has been pushed yet again to the margins.  Family, friends and church (not to mention sleep) have all been neglected.

I've taken to working from home so that I don't have to lose time to dressing professionally, commuting to the office, or saying hi to people in the hallways.  I devote most of this "saved" time to working, but after a month of this my attention span is shot -- so I take breaks during the day to keep myself going.  A short nap.  A quick bike ride.  An episode of "Dance Academy."  Redecorating the bathroom.

That's right -- thanks to Jonathan Adler (who also happens to be the brother of my Art Law professor at NYU), the shower curtain drama has been resolved.  My Moroccan rug and ceramics can finally settle into their new home.  Lots of bold colors and patterns here.  I kind of love it.





It somehow feels Edith Wharton-like to
keep fresh flowers in the bathroom

That's an air plant that Amanda brought
when she stayed with me this summer


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nephi and Naaman

I had the missionaries over for dinner tonight.  Interestingly, it's the first time since I got home from my own mission 11 years ago that I've fed the missionaries; it's only the second time since then that I've spoken with them more than to say high in the hallways on Sunday.  I guess that's one way that life in the church in the US (at least, in the US cities where I've lived) is different from life in the church abroad.  When I was a missionary in Belgium and France, missionaries were a prominent element of the ward:  We went out of our way to know every active member and as many inactive members as possible, and visiting the members (for meals or otherwise) was as much a priority as the other work we did.

They arrived promptly at 5pm and left at 6pm sharp (apparently one-hour meals that end right at 6pm are the rule in this mission -- clearly the French are not involved).  I learned they were both from northern Utah (Bountiful and Ogden) and had started their missions together (they'd been companions in the MTC).  They seemed so young!  I couldn't help imagining how I must have come across when I was a missionary, or feeling just how much I've grown/changed/(regressed?) since then.  A lot happens in 11 years.

It was a great visit.  I hometeach some of the less active folks that they've been working with, so we talked about those families' needs and challenges.  Turns out they have encountered a fair number of West African and Filipino immigrants here in Virginia (just as I did in Brussels), so we could share food adventures and cultural experiences.  And then, of course, they gave their spiritual message before leaving.

The message, which I'll paraphrase here, juxtaposed the stories of Nephi's getting the brass plates from Laban (1 Nepi 4) and Naaman's being cured of leprosy by Elisha (2 Kings 5). 

Nephi was a young kid who led a relatively privileged, and righteous life until his family was commanded to flee Jerusalem.  When his father asked him to return to get some religious records from local strongman Laban, Nephi went in faith believing that God would prepare a way for him to accomplish the task.  He was right -- God did prepare a way -- but it required that Nephi kill Laban.  Faced with such a violent task, our faithful hero, who only a few verses earlier had declared "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded" now said in his heart, "Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him."  But then the Spirit returned and helped Nephi understand the reason for the deed.  Nephi overcame his doubts and proceeded as prompted, thereby securing for his posterity the writings of the prophets.

Naaman, in contrast to Nephi, was an experienced and enormously successful captain in the Syrian army.  He was a "great man", "honorable" and a "mighty man of valor."  He was also a leper.  Although Naaman was not of the house of Israel, he responded in faith when one of the Isrealite women whom his army had captured suggested that the prophet Elisha could cure Naaman's leprosy.  Naaman rode to Elisha with horses and chariot (as famous warrior's do) and was met by a messenger who instructed him to bathe seven times in the Jordan River.  Naaman's response?  Anger and disappointment.  The soldier had expected the prophet to come and "strike his hand" over the leprosy, calling down the powers of heaven to cure the disease.  Instead, Elisha had sent only a servant with a task so simple it felt like a slight.  But then Naaman's servants approached and asked why, if Naaman had been prepared to "do some great thing" at Elisha's bidding, he would not consider just doing this little thing.  The question humbled Naaman; he bathed and was cured. 

Imagine, the Elders invited, what would have happened if Nephi and Naaman had switched places.  Nephi would willingly have run to the river; surely Naaman wouldn't have thought twice about killing Laban.  But that's not how the stories go.  Each man was given a task that was difficult for him -- against his nature even -- requiring an increase of faith and humility to overcome doubts and pride.  Each needed to learn (and did learn) a lesson that he would not have learned had he been given the challenge faced by the other. 

And so for us:  We each face challenges that are particular to our own circumstances.  There's no value in looking across to the other guy and wondering why he finds his challenges so difficult, nor in wishing we had his challenges instead of our own.  The value comes in learning what our challenges teach us about faith, God's plan for us, and what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  Be grateful, said the Elders, for the challenges you have.  Use them to build righteousness and wisdom.

Indeed, I thought.  I'm not sure "grateful" is the word I'd use to describe how I feel about some of the challenges I've had.  But I do appreciate the perspective that this comparison of Nephi's and Naaman's stories provides.  And I am grateful for the way two young missionaries who have never met me before can share a message that speaks to my heart and invites the Spirit to confirm its truth.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hiking the Piney Branch Trail

After a week of too much work, with an equally demanding week ahead of me, I needed a break.  So I met up with Amy and her sister Julie for a hike in the Shenandoah National Park.

We did a twelve mile loop through lush green forest.  Part of time we were on a fire road, so it felt less like "hiking" than, well, strolling along a road.  At least there were lots of yellow flowers.

But then the trail got hillier and a tad more challenging.  It also got more humid and spiderwebby.  I was in the lead at this point, so I spent the whole time pulling sticky threads off my skin and face.  I took to swinging a big stick around in front of me like a machete for invisible jungle vines.

Along the way we saw only a few other hikers but lots of butterflies.  Mostly of the Mourning Cloak variety.  Or something black and gothic-looking like that.  Looked pretty against the purple thistles.

And speaking of gothic . . .

Nothing like a creepy family cemetary in the middle of the forest.  The headstones were all dated between the 1870s and 1920s.  No other information available.  We decided there was land feud and a massive fire.  As we know from Charlotte Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier, mysteries are always better when there's a fire.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

In which I rant about not having stuff that I want

I feel like I'm having a lesson in not being materialistic -- and it's driving me nuts.  I blame every single maker of shower curtains in the world. 

When I was in Morocco, I bought a cute little kilim for my bathroom.  The colors don't quite go with the current decor but, I though, it'll be fun to update the towels and shower curtains and have a fresh look.  Fun?  My eye!  As of last night, I have been to twelve (TWELVE!) different stores (some online only, but mostly brick-and-mortar) in search of a shower curtain that is (a) made of fabric, (b) not hideously ugly, and (c) some combination of navy blue and white -- but no luck.  You'd think I was after the Holy Grail.  WHY IS THIS SO HARD?  I mean, honestly, once you eliminate everything that is plastic and/or hideous, you're left with about two options, of which one will come only in red, and the other will come in every color imaginable other navy blue (if I was going for "Aegean" or "Tuscany" or "slate", I'd be fine). 

But, you say (or you would say, if you'd seen the rug), why don't you get the red shower curtain?  After all, there's red in the rug.  True.  But red is an accent color -- and a minor one at that.  I have a very clear idea of the blue-and-white bathroom (with a tiny bit of red and yellow) that I want, and for some reason the universe is withholding it from me. 

[Fist shake at the universe.]

And, then, to make matters worse, I lose my phone.  While traipsing through stores hunting for non-hideous blue shower curtains, my dear little piece of consumer electronics disappears without a trace.  At first I think I just left it in the car.  Then I'm confident it's on the kitchen counter.  Then I realize it's GONE and I get that horrible, anxious feeling you get when you realize that you have basically no way of communicating with the outside world short of lighting a bonfire next to the pond on your balcony to make smoke signals.  Well, that and email.  But email is not the same thing as a telephone.  For example, you can't call the 87 different shower-curtain stores you just visited to see if they happened to have found my phone.  Which means that you now have to go back to each store in person to see if they found anything.  No. No. No times 85. 

Dang it.

Now not only do I have an ugly bathroom, I also have no way of coordinating dinner with friends, mapping my way to the restaurant (yes, I have a roadmap in my glovebox, but surely that's more like a stone-age artifact than something useful), calling my family, taking pictures (because my other camera died in Spain) and uploading them to my blog, reading scriptures in church (again, I suppose I could pull out the old paper copies, but let's not lose sight of the drama of this situation), or a million other things that I can do with my phone but never actually do. 

You might say that I should bask in this disconnectedness and enjoy living a more in-touch-with-nature life sans electronics.  To which I would respond, please, I'm not Amish.  Besides, even if I wanted to pretend to be Amish (though I don't have the overalls to do it convincingly), how am I supposed to enjoy a technology-free life when some creep has found my phone and is at this very moment racking up the data usage, texting inappropriate things to all my contacts, and hacking into my bank accounts and stealing my identity.  Sure, I could prevent all of that by simply suspending the service -- but what if the creep has a shred of decency and decides to use the phone, instead, to call me and tell me where to find it? 

I held out hope on that last point for (almost) twenty-four hours; then I contacted Verizon and pulled the plug.  If the phone hasn't been found and returned by now, it probably never will be.  R.I.P. litle friend.  I'll give all the stores another call in the morning (from my office) just to make sure nothing turned up since the last time I went by -- then I'll just have to suck it up and buy another phone at full price (gasp) and start the tedious process of tracking down all my lost contacts. 

Until then, I'll be incommunicado except by email or Skype by appointment.  In the meantime, I'm going to see if the Amish have any good shower curtains.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Water Hyacinth

I looked out the window, and what did I see?  A sprig of purple flowers emerging from my water hyacinth! 

I'm so pleased.  Everyone I spoke to (and all the books I read) while preparing this summer's water garden cautioned me about buying flowering plants:  Apparently they need something like a gazillion hours of direct sunlight before they'll bloom.  To which I said, boo, and planted hyacinths and lilies anyway.  Not surprisingly, since my balcony doesn't get a gazillion hours of direct sunlight (I'm lucky if I get three), I haven't had a single flower from the water plants all summer.  But now this.  Yay.

Also?  Despite its pretty petals, this friend has has quite the dark side.  "Noxious" comes up alarmingly often in plant-book discussions of the water hyacinth.  According to one booth that takes itself very seriously, it's "one of the worst pest plants in California, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana; it can't be shipped across state lines anywhere."  Cool.  I feel like quite the maverick growing a baddy like this on my balcony. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I can do hard things

Back in 2006 Elaine Dalton gave a talk that has stuck with me more than any other talk I’ve heard.  Well, to be honest, the whole talk didn’t stick with me, just one line:  Somebody, for some reason, adopted the phrase “I can do hard things” as their motto.  I quickly forgot the context and the larger message of the talk (though, having reread the talk just now,  I suppose it’s a message I should try harder to retain), but that one little phrase burrowed its way into my mind.  I had just begun my second year of law school and I was an anxious basket case.  “I can do hard things” became my motto.  More, it became my mantra.

Mantras are important, says my running magazine, because they pack powerful ideas into short words that we can repeat to ourselves in extremis to push ourselves to do better.  Power.  Victory.  Strength.  Those were the mantras suggested by other runners.  I stuck with my own:  I can do hard things.  No need for a cheerleader with a coal like this on my tongue.

That mantra sustained me through law school and those too-many weeks when I couldn’t sleep without pills or eat anything more solid than a chocolate milkshake.  It helped me learn Spanish when I gave myself a deadline of four weeks in a third-world country to do so.  I chanted it as I trained for first a half marathon and then a full marathon.  It played on a continuous loop during those 90-hour work weeks and 300-hour months I worked last year.  I cling to it when the task of aligning my will to God’s will seems harder than I can bear.

Although formulated as a statement of fact, the motivating power of the mantra is greatest when it’s used as declaration of hope:  I can do hard things.  I repeat it most urgently during those moments when I most hope it’s true (and most suspect it’s not).   As time passes I can look back and see that yes, I can do hard things:  I’ve done hard things.  Which of course means I’m ready to do more hard things. 

There are a few problems with this system, though. 

First, there’s a difference between doing “hard” things and doing “impossible” things.  Impossible things look and feel exactly like hard things, only they can’t actually be done, mantras notwithstanding.   This tricky resemblance means that when I encounter impossible things I usually start plugging away – I can do hard things; I can do hard things – without stopping to think that no amount of diligence or brains or bull-headed determination is ever going to be enough.  That’s what happened this last week.  I was given two massive assignments with overlapping deadlines.  I killed myself over the weekend and was in a blind panic on Monday morning when I realized I had at least 48 hours’ worth of work and only about 18 hours left.  I can do hard things, I CAN DO HARD THINGS!   Yes, but I can’t do impossible things.  So said a good friend of mine from down the hall when she stopped by and saw my distress.  Step back, breathe, and tell the partners that the laws of physics and the space-time continuum can’t yet be broken.  Right.  Because that’s what sane people do.  So I made a plan that broke the impossible thing into a couple of hard things, cleared the new plan with the partners, and went back to work.  I’m not out of the woods yet, but so far so good.  I can do hard things.

The second problem is the fact that just because I can do hard things doesn’t mean that I want to do hard things.  As rewarding as it can be to do hard things, part of me would love to spend more time doing things that aren’t so hard.  Maybe even easy things.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen too often.  Partly that’s my own fault (join three choirs at once? sure!).  Partly that’s just the way life is (another etched-in-my-mind General Conference talk:  “life was never meant to be either easy or fair”).  But every once in a while something that seems hard at first turns out, at least for a minute, to be less hard than I’d initially feared.  Take last night, for example.  I needed a break from work, so I called Dad for a short chat before going to bed.  By the time we said good-bye three hours later (it was 2am for crying out loud!) we’d talked about a lot of things that neither of us had expected to discuss.  We learned that each of us is currently trying to do hard things, and neither of us has figured out entirely how to do them.  For once, rather than keeping my thoughts under wraps and relying only on myself (I can do hard things!), I opened up and shared more of what was on my mind than I’d ever done before.  What I got back was not a terse mantra but instead a simple and much-appreciated assurance of love and support; a long-distance hug from my Dad that had the unanticipated effect of making something that had seemed like a very hard thing (perhaps even an impossible thing) seem less so. 

Which brings me to an important lesson.  I use a mantra to motivate myself when things get tough and there’s no other source of motivation.  That’s the virtue of a strong mantra—it’s all me.  It works because it taps into my mania for self-reliant independence and my need for a sense of accomplishment.  I go through life by myself, I do hard things by myself, so I have to find the strength within myself to do those things:  I don’t need other people.  Because I can do hard things.  Or so I tell myself.  But then the friend at work reminds me of the difference between hard things and impossible things.  And then my Dad listens and loves and somehow makes a hard thing seem less hard.  It makes me think:  A mantra from myself can be a powerful motivator.  But a shift in perspective and some genuine care from another person can heal and fix in ways that a mantra can’t.  I need more of that.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

NYC - Saturday in Manhattan

I had a few hours this morning before my train back to DC, so I set out to make the most of a Saturday morning in Manhattan.  After a quick breakfast at Dean & Deluca (consisting of orange juice, a banana, and a chocolate chip scone), I headed down to the Union Square farmers market . . . 

and then to nearby ABC Home & Carpet. 

ABC Home & Carpet is a six-storey interior design paradise, and I was hoping to find some good things to go with my new Moroccan purchases.  Alas, nothing quite fit what I had in mind.  Plenty of beautiful (and exorbitantly expensive) items, but nothing that I could envision adding to my current apartment.
So.  Off to the Strand Bookstore.  Nothing like a giant used bookstore to boost the morale after a disappointing shopping trip. 

From there to Le Pain Quotidien for a turkey and avocado tartine.

After lunch I still had enough time for a detour through Washington Square park, which has been thoroughly renovated since I lived there four years ago.  It’s as wonderful and vibrant as ever.  I sat in the sun watching people play in the fountain and listened to a really good dixie-land jazz trio play nearby. 

When the sun became too warm, I moved to the shade and found another jazz trio – this time where the lead trumpeter managed the astonishing feat of playing two trumpets at once.
Definitely hadn't seen that before.
After that it was time to collect my bags from the hotel and board the train back to DC (and back to real life, which I fear is waiting for me in the form of work for the rest of the weekend…).

NYC - Danji

After Sleep No More I headed up to Hell’s Kitchen and got on the waiting list for dinner at Danji.  This is a tiny Korean restaurant that I’d discovered in the Michelin guide – it’s got one star, the first Korean restaurant to get a star.  Amanda and I had tried to go there when we were in New York in March, but we’d arrived too late to get in.  This time I was determined to get in.  They don’t take reservations, so I resolved to stand there until a spot opened up. 

After about half an hour of my standing there patiently as other people were seated before me (the restaurant understandably, though annoyingly, gave preference to groups of two or three before my solitary self), the bartender took pity on me and told the hostess to seat me at a two-person table in the corner.  Then a charming waiter sat down in front of me and walked me through the menu (which was stored in a small drawer inside my table).
Menu drawer
Fortunately, in addition to the waiter’s suggestions, I also had the recommendations of the New York Times food critic in my head (I’d read his glowing review while waiting for a seat), and felt confident ordering myself a little tasting menu for one.  The food came quickly and was delicious.  The tofu, in particular, was amazingly good – frankly, I’d say it was even better than the tofu I’d had at Soto (which to that point had been the best I’d ever had).  The whelk salad was also remarkable.  As for the steak tartare and the pork belly sliders, I’m glad I tried them but in future will probably order something else… (turns out there are limits to what I like, even in Michelin-starred restaurants).
Pork-belly sliders
Tofu with scallions
Steak tartare with apple and quail egg yolk
Whelk salad with whole wheat noodles

NYC - Sleep No More

As I mentioned in my post on Wednesday, I came to New York to interview law students applying to the firm’s recruiting program next summer.  All of Thursday was spent doing just that:  Between 9am and 5pm, I interviewed twenty students (trying all the while to figure out how to invent better interview questions and methods for keeping the kids from blurring together).  After the last interview, I went into a series of meetings with other interviewers, the firm’s legal recruiting personnel and hiring partners until roughly midnight.  It was long and tedious – and, frankly, a lot of it (especially those evening meetings) felt poorly organized and inefficient.  I don’t mind working long hours when I feel I’m being productive, but I resent the hours when I feel like they’ve been wasted. 
On Friday morning the interview team split up.  One guy – who can’t stand Manhattan and couldn’t wait to get out – left on the earliest train possible.  A couple of others took later trains so they could spend the afternoon working from home and see their families that night.  I, on the other hand, had enough work to do (both recruiting-related and for clients) that I couldn’t afford to lose half the day to a train ride.  I also had no intention of leaving New York without seeing some theatre and (hopefully) adding another Michelin star to my list.
So I spent the day working in the New York office.  The views from the 42nd floor were excellent (as always), and it was good to catch up with some friends who work in that office.  I wasn’t quite as productive as I would have liked, however; for some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to focus the way I needed to.  Probably a result of fatigue and disrupted routine.  By the end of the day I was tired and ready for an escape, for some theatre.
The theatre is always an escape, of sorts.  You sit in the dark with a roomful of hushed and expectant folks watching as a band of players transforms an illuminated platform into another world using their bodies, a set, some lighting and the audience’s willingness to believe.  But imagine entering the world of the play; seeing the actors up close and from all angles; chasing them down the halls and up the stairs; following them into their bedrooms; playing with the things in their drawers; reading their letters when they aren’t present; watching them murder each other; not rescuing them as they are murdered; standing aloof as the survivers crumble into madness and weep, naked and alone.  Imagine moving, like a ghost, through the world of the play.  That is an escape.
And that’s what I experienced at last night’s performance of Sleep No More.  It’s an elaborate immersive theatre experience staged over five floors of an old hotel and three adjoining warehouses in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood.  You make a “reservation” online and enter an inconspicuous unmarked building.

From there you enter an eery world – a fantastical mixture of gothic horror and Hitchcockian noir made real.  You’re ushered through a dark and mazelike hallway to the reception desk, where you’re given your “room key” (a playing card) and then on into a plush red speak-easy lounge, where you wait for your card to be called.  Once called, the gracious host – a sensuous woman poured into a long satin dress – takes you into a small room and gives you a mask and instructions:  Never take off the mask.  Don’t talk.  Explore everything.
Everyone wore one of these.
Except the actors.
Then you enter the elevator and the world of the play – which I’m finding so very hard to describe.  I was let off the elevator into a floor that looked like what a luxurious Victorian hotel would have felt like in the 1930s (i.e., grand but shabby and super creepy).  I wandered alone in the dark for some time, exploring.  Other masked visitors wandered past me in silence.  Eventually I came upon a young woman stealing furtively from room to room – I followed her.  She went into an office; started rifling through files; discovered a photograph and, startled, bent over it.  From the back of the room a bearded man approached and struck her.  They fought.  She produced a photograph from her purse that matched the photograph in the file.  Everything changed.  The man explored her body, looking for marks on her arm and at the nape of her neck.  They kissed.  Then she rushed out (I ran after her) and into a seedy bar, where the bartender brought her a shot of whisky.  She sat looking morose.  Then, naturally, a man ran into the room and died on the pool table.  The woman ran out of the bar – and I decided to follow her (no point in following a dead guy).
But I lost her in the dark.  So I wandered some more.  Upstairs.  Into a jazz club where a woman in a red gown stood alone in the dark.  Then two others.  Witches.  MacBeth entered, bloody; the witches went crazy.  An orgy, with blood, sex (not actual sex, but they were naked), animal heads, and prophecies of future kings and moving woods.  The orgy ended and the foursome scattered; I followed the male witch, who went into a shower where I couldn’t see him.  So I followed the bald woman witch, who washed herself in a basin.  Then I tried to find MacBeth and got lost. 
So I wandered.  Into a hospital.  Insane asylum.  With instruments of torture.  Crosses.  Through a graveyard with weeping angel statues.  Into a mirrored bedroom with a bloody bathtub and mirrors.  Back downstairs to where I’d found the first woman.  Only there I found a woman in the remains of an evening gown.  Lady MacBeth.  Raving mad, she roamed the hall until a bloodied MacBeth joined her and they proceeded (with me in tow) downstairs to a grand banquet hall.  They sat at table where also sat the murdered king and pregnant Lady MacDuff, the three witches, and later, bloody Banquo.  A gruesome toast, then all dispersed into the dark. 
I continued to follow Lady MacBeth.  She went upstairs, back to the hospital.  A nurse took the lunatic woman into a room with a row of bathtubs, undressed her, placed her in the tub.  Lady MacBeth bathed; collapsed in tears.  Then wrapped herself in a blanket and went out through the cemetery, past the angels, and into the grand bedroom, where she found a letter (telling her the king was coming) and danced.  I left her there to find the others.
Somewhere, I found MacBeth.  Followed him through the halls and down stairs (which was tricky, because he ran fast, skipping steps) and into the banquet room again, only this time on the balcony.  He watched as a ballroom scene unfolded below.  A glowing (and sane) Lady MacBeth danced with the king (still alive); the MacDuffs arrived arm in arm; the witches were there, only they were still respectable courtiers.  Then the party dispersed and Lady MacBeth left with the king.  At this point I realized I’d lost track of MacBeth, so I followed Lady MacBeth and the King into a music room, where they danced and laughed before separating again.  I started to follow the King but then changed my mind and went after Lady MacBeth – and so lost both of them.  Unless I didn’t lose Lady MacBeth that time, in which case I followed her upstairs to the great bedroom, where she and MacBeth had a passionate and violent dance that may have been a love-making scene or the scene in which she goads him into killing the king (probably both).  At which point I lost both of them.
More wandering.  Over the next two hours I saw the ghostly banquet scene again, also the happy ballroom scene.  I saw MacBeth murder Lady MacDuff (he broke her neck after smashing her pregnant belly against the wall; it was horrifying).  I found the first woman again – the one with the photo – only this time she was packing her suitcase.  (I still had no idea what she was doing or how she fit into the story, if at all.)  MacBeth smothered the king.  Ghostly banquet scene, again.  Followed MacBeth but lost him in the dark.  Found the MacDuffs at home, domestic happiness, getting ready to go to the ball.  Followed them there, watched the scene (this time from ground level) and decided to follow Banquo.  He did some weird things with Lady MacDuff, then found the murdered king.  He and two other men took the body to the crypt and wrapped it up, then left.  I found them drinking in that same seedy bar from earlier.  MacBeth arrived and fought Banquo, killing him with a brick behind the counter.  Pursued MacBeth but lost him again.  Wandered until I found Lady MacBeth going mad in the hallway again, just before meeting up with MacBeth and going in to the ghostly banquet scene.  This was the third ghostly banquet scene – and the last one.  This time the party didn’t disperse; instead, the ghosts combined and hanged MacBeth from a noose in the middle of the room. 
The End. 
Or something like that.  There was more; so much more.  And that's only the part I saw.  It was enormously fun, frustrating, boring, scary, riveting, confusing, weird and cool.  A remarkable theatrical experience unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.  I didn’t quite know what to think of it as I made my way through it, and when I left I told myself that I’d enjoyed it but didn’t understand why people would go multiple times.  But the more I think of it and replay it in my mind, the more brilliant I think it is.  It has sparked my imagination – in a deep and involuntary way, like dreams do – more than any other theatre I’ve recently seen.  I totally want to see it again.  And again.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

NYC - Two more stars chez Soto

After barely a week at home, I'm on the road again.  This time to New York.  I'm part of the recruiting team that the firm sent to interview students at one of the law schools here.  I took the train up this afternoon so that I'd be ready for the interviews first thing in the morning.  Although I have plenty of work to do (why do I perpetually feel like I have one project too many?), I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to add a few more Michelin stars to my flag -- not when a friend of mine offered to take me to a two-starred Japanese place, which he claimed had the best sushi ever. 

That's how I ended up at Soto, a tiny, unmarked restaurant in the West Village, only a few blocks from where I used to live. 

I love going to restaurants that can't be bothered
with such pedestrian things as signs
The restaurant's website is currently under construction, but here's a link to the New York Times' review.  The food was exquisite in its beauty and subtlety of flavor -- definitely worth the two stars.  But the overall experience wasn't quite as polished as it could have been.  Lacking any pre-set menus, I was left to pore over a menu that felt a tad intimidating (I missed the zen-like simplicity and the revelatory eggplant of Azabu, the Japanese restaurant where I celebrated Thanksgiving in Paris last year).  And the service wasn't quite as quick and attentive as other two-star restaurants (they didn't greet us by name, as they did at Gilt earlier this year).  On the other hand, it was neat to see Soto himself working behind the sushi bar.  And the atmosphere was wonderfully relaxed -- it's a place that makes you feel like you could become a regular (and with such food, that's a very tempting thought indeed).

Goma tofu

Salmon citrus

Fluke Usuzukuri

Tar tare tuna roll

Cyu toro tartare

Uni Ika Kelp (sea urchin with squid and wrapped in white kelp)
This one tasted to me the way roses smell -- not in a literal, rosy way
 but in a velvety sensuous way.