Sunday, December 15, 2013

Back for more

I'm back in New York for another round of negotiations. How long will I be here this time? No one knows! So far meetings are only scheduled for tomorrow; I can make it through Wednesday without needing to do laundry (and through sometime next week before needing to repeat a tie).  

Times Square as seen from the 37th floor of the Hilton.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Deck the halls!

Snow turning to sleet and freezing rain with fog and mist?  Perfect.  I decorated for Christmas yesterday, so all I needed was a dusting of snow to put the finishing touch on the look -- how nice of Mother Nature to oblige!  Time to light some candles, turn on the Christmas music and curl up with a good gothic vampire novel -- Sunday afternoon has never been so cozy!

But before I get too engrossed in the novel, let's talk about the Christmas decor.  I'm not going away for the holidays this year, so I decided to decorate "for reals."  Only I wasn't in the mood for a tree.  Trees are big, and my living room is small; plus, trees have the unfortunate habit of dropping dried needles everywhere.  And I always feel kind of bad chopping down an entire tree just so it can bring me Christmas cheer for a few short weeks.  On the other hand, I still wanted lights and greens and that wonderful piney smell.

So I put on my thinking cap and came up with some fun, treeless decorating ideas.  Then, between my box of Christmas decor and a few supplemental trips to the store (or, rather, stores plural -- I hit up the Merrifield Garden Center, Home Depot, Michael's, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Crate & Barrel, and the Harris Teeter grocery store), I was able to bring my ideas to life.

I started with the balcony because I knew it would be the least practical and, therefore, the most fun.  Except for a few hardy perennials that will withstand with winter chill, my pots are empty and bare -- I had a clean slate!  I started by running a 25-foot garland of white pine boughs along the balcony railing and filling the pots with pine cones to cover the bare dirt.  Then I dressed up the wreath and the spruce with some nature-inspired ornaments -- bright butterflies and miniature cardinals -- as well as some traditional glass balls and a giant velvet bow.  Finally, my favorite:  two little lanterns with pillar candles inside to give a warm and homey glow after the sun goes down.  A perfect finishing touch!


Turns out the only pine cones available for sale are
cinnamon-scented.  So with five bags of pine cones, my balcony
is more fragrant with cinnamon than ever I'd expected!







Living Room
Moving into the living room, I focused on decorations that were both minimal and yet high-impact.  Over the sliding glass door, an artificial garland with little white lights, red beads, three mercury-glass ornaments, and the stocking that Lady made for me when I was little.  


On the couch and chair, I changed out my Turkish pillow covers for more festive red and white covers.  The red ones are knit, so they feel like a sweater; and the white ones are a basic off-white linen that matches perfectly the oh-so-soft faux sheepskin throw that Heather sent as a "hug" a few years ago.


Lastly, on the end table, I placed an arrangement of clipped boxwood, a Danish soldier that was a gift from my Granny, and an aromatic oil diffuser (it's the "snow currant" fragrance from Pottery Barn, and I absolutely love it).


I love how at dusk you can see the balcony and the glowing lanterns from the living room.


The Bathroom
When things are busy at work (and when are things not busy at work?) the bulk of my waking time at home is spent in the bathroom -- getting ready for work in the morning, and for bed at night.  So when it comes to decorating, the bathroom was no place to skimp!

I switched out my usual blue and white patterned towels and put out the red and white set that I'd gotten when I first moved in.  In place of fresh cut flowers, I got a little potted poinsettia.


Then for a touch of complementary color, I added a fresh boxwood wreath on the back of the door to the bedroom closet.  Not only is it pretty, but the rich boxwood smell reminds me of my grandmother's house -- she had a little boxwood hedge running along the front porch, so I associate the scent with our visits to her house (this is a different grandmother from the one with the eucalyptus -- I have very strong aromatic associations with my grandmothers; fortunately they had the good sense to stick with their own brand!)


To match the towels, I hung my red and white embroidered shower curtain.  Because normally all that white is too bland for my taste, I hung sparkly snowflake ornaments across the top.


Over the WC, I added a bow to Mr. Rhinoceros and a potted cyclamen.  The flowers remind me of visiting the Bellagio in Las Vegas with my parents.


Front Hallway
Last but not least, I hung a fresh wreath of noble fir ("noble" being the type of fir tree, not a description of its character) and juniper on the back of the front door.  That way when I enter the apartment I am greeted by the most delicious, fresh pine scent.  I may or may not have gone in and out a few times just to smell it.  (Also, when it dries and the needles fall, they'll go on the tile of the entryway and not all over my living room carpet…)


That's all for now.  I'm still waiting for another garland that I've ordered for the bedroom, so once that comes I may update with photos of that room, too (assuming I can figure out how to photograph that room in a more or less flattering way -- I tell you the lighting and angles in that room give me fits).

I hope you had as much fun decorating your place for the holidays as I've had decorating mine!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Shakespeare in New York

I have been in New York this week.  A client called me up on Monday for a round of meetings and hasn't let me go since.  Not that much is actually happening to require my presence (the negotiations have been stalled since Monday afternoon); mostly I think the client just wants to know it has me ready at hand, just in case.  The upshot for me has been a week of inconvenient workdays followed by evenings of phenomenal theatre.

The Belasco Theatre just off of Times Square is running Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Richard III in repertory (meaning that the same group of actors performs each play in alternation).  The productions are imported from the Globe Theatre in England and have gotten glowing reviews from everyone (for a sampling, check out the New York Times, The New Yorker, and the Washington Post). 

On Tuesday I managed to duck out of work in time to see Twelfth Night; last night I saw Richard III -- and I'm still recovering from both.  Watching these plays was the sort of rare, truly magical experience that makes you want to laugh out loud for sheer happiness while watching them, and leaves you for days afterwards feeling like a different person, like the world is somehow a better, more wondrous place than it seemed before.

The cast is all male, as it would have been in Shakespeare's day, and everything about the set, costumes, music, etc. is as authentic as possible.  For example, the clothing is all hand-made by artisans using the same materials as existed in Elizabethan times (wool, linen, leather; buttons, clasps and hooks, no zippers; silk wigs).  The stage is set to look like the sort of grand hall where plays like this were performed in great houses and colleges while touring away from the main playhouse; the chandeliers are lit by real beeswax candles that drip throughout the performance.  The music is live; performed by musicians using period instruments.  And the performers dress and apply their makeup onstage in front of the audience (also as apparently was done back in the day). 

The integrity of these trappings bring a magic all their own, but the life of the shows is in the performers.  I was familiar with several of the actors from before.  I'd seen Mark Rylance in the hilarious Boeing Boeing, and Samuel Barnett in History Boys, both on Broadway several years ago; and Stephen Fry I know and love from the British TV show QI (though he's done a lot else, too).  The performances were strong across the cast, with thoughtful and subtle portrayals of each of the characters. 

And there was no shouting.  One of my biggest complaints, even about generally good Shakespeare productions such as those put on by the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC, is that too often the level of intensity for every emotion is ratcheted so high that I come away feeling beaten and a little dead.  In fact, just the other day I was thinking how nice it would be to see a production where people just spoke plainly in an ordinary tone of voice, leaving the shouting and anguish to scenes (if any) that truly deserve it; where the actors speak like human beings, not like SHAKESPEAREAN ACTORS. What a pleasure, then, to find that very thing in these two plays!  There was no overwrought anguish; no shouting where shouting wasn't required. 

Among the cast of strong players, the standout, clearly was Mark Rylance.  As Olivia, in Twelfth Night, and Richard, in Richard III, his interpretation of the roles brought depth and subtlety, and a tremendous amount of humor, to the characters.  He played off the audience and the other actors, and allowed and encouraged them to play off him, in a way that made everyone feel part of the delightful thing that was happening.  And despite (perhaps because) of his greatness, he didn't dominate the scenes, and he clearly relished the moments when the other actors and their characters held their own with his.  For example, in Richard III, I loved the strength and intelligence of Barnett's Queen Elizabeth.  The final scene between the two, when Richard (after killing Elizabeth's husband, brothers and two sons) asks for Elizabeth's help in wooing her young daughter in a ploy to secure his hold on the throne, was electric: two immovable forces meeting and, for the first time in Richard's trajectory, he doesn't win.  (The parting kiss that Elizabeth gives Richard is more violent and humiliating than any blow or curse would have been.)

Perhaps more than anything else, these plays were fun; especially Twelfth Night (it's admittedly harder to have fun when the Duke of Gloucester is murdering children in their beds).  The audience was eager and willing (and surprisingly sophisticated for Broadway -- most around me were die-hard theatre (and specifically Rylance) fans, trading stories about the shows they'd seen in New York and London and wherever else (my kind of people!)), and the actors and other production elements intentionally brought us in.  There was a winking sort of complicity between the actors and audience, and an acknowledgement that we needed each other to make real the worlds of the plays.

I'm not sure how much longer I'll be here in New York (from a laundry perspective, I really should go home tonight), but if I don't leave tonight, I'm seriously considering going again.  (And for my readers who don't live near New York, I'd say that if ever there was theatre worth traveling for, this is it!)

Twelfth Night
One of my favorite Shakespeare plays.  Mostly because the story revolves around a pair of boy-girl twins.  If Heather and I are ever shipwrecked, this is how I'd want the story to turn out.  (Synopsis here.)

Viola and Olivia
Viola (played by a man) is a woman dressed as a man
wooing a woman on behalf of the man she (Viola)
loves; naturally Olivia falls in love with the man that
Viola is pretending to be.  Hilarity ensues.
Sebastian and Viola
The shipwrecked twins, reunited
Malvolio (Stephen Fry) pursuing Olivia (Mark Rylance)
after pranksters lead him to think she loves him
Malvolio, Maria, Olivia
This photo gives a sense of the set.

And here's a video featuring Rylance's Olivia and Fry's Malvolio.

Richard III
A history play that will make you question any fairy-tale-inspired desire to be royal.  Also, one more down, 18 to go!  (Synopsis here.)

(That little crippled hand is the creepiest
thing ever. Especially when he made people
kiss it.)

Elizabeth and her son, the prince.
(Richard murders the prince)

Richard and Lady Anne
(he murders her father and husband, then marries her
and murders her, too)

Elizabeth and Richard
(after that final kiss I told you about, when Elizabeth refuses
to encourage her daughter to marry the man who killed her father,
uncles and brothers)



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Diamonds and gold all over my face

Okay, let's say you had a story to tell about how you accidentally got a super-fancy facial at a high-end cosmetics boutique where they smeared magnetic Dead Sea mud and real live diamonds and who knows what else on your face before releasing your now-flawless self back into the world of mortals.  How would you start that story?  Think about it, because it's not as easy as you might think.  Especially if you didn't have the presence of mind to take a selfie while lying half naked on the heated bed while the mud dried.

I blame it all on Morocco.  And Turkey.

In those countries, "shopping" involves negotiation, and "negotiation" means a heady mixture of haggling, storytelling, theatre and ritual:  The merchants lure you into their shops and display their wares.  They ply you with tea and tales of weaving widows as a sweating shop-assistant unfolds rug after rug from the giant piles lining the room.  When you show any interest, they compliment your taste ("A lawyer? I thought you were a designer!"); when you show reluctance, they ask you to name your price; when you name your price, they gasp in faux-outrage ("You are a Berber!"); when you pretend to get up and leave, they quickly come back with a counter-offer and assure you it's the best price they've ever given to anyone.  Back and forth you go, feeling out the limits that are real or fake, all the while hoping to avoid becoming overly attached to the rug of your dreams before you get it down to a reasonable price. 

It's fun and competitive and completely addictive.  On a positive level because, when you strike a deal, you feel like you've just matched wits with another person and come out on top.  On a negative level because, after that first rush, there's always a sneaking suspicion that you've just been had -- and so you want to try it again, just to make sure.

It's also totally foreign to American shopping malls, where everything is pretty and packaged and haggling is not allowed.  Or so I thought.

A few weeks ago, as I was leaving the mall after picking up my new laptop computer and a few bottles of fountain pen ink (because those things go together), something caught my eye:  a stylishly unshaven Israeli guy about my age was waiving something at me.  I paused to see what it was, and -- BAM -- next thing I know I'm on a stool inside a glowing white cosmetics shop, and Ben (that was his name) is smearing potions and ointments on my face, arms and neck.  He alternatingly flatters me ("What are you, 26, 27? Older! AMAZING.") and judges me ("What moisturizer do you use? Really. Well.") and criticizes me ("It is socially irresponsible not to use a nighttime anti-aging syrum if you 're over thirty.") and reassures me ("Don't worry, lots of men use this stuff, not just old ladies.").

Then he started asking me which products I liked the best, which ones I'd actually use.  He mentioned giving me a "good price" and maybe even striking a deal that "no one else would have to know about." 

Aha, I thought.  I know this game!  So I started playing back.  I expressed dismay at the prices; he broke it down into a per-usage value over the course of a year.  I was skeptical of the value; he handed me a mirror and claimed to see instant results.  I said I was happy with my own moisturizer; he asked me if it had gold in it, because this one was made with real gold.  I gathered my things to leave; he broke out the freebies:  This facial peel? Included free of charge. These soaps? My compliments, take more than one.  Facials?  YOU'VE NEVER HAD A FACIAL?!  Look at this menu, see they normally cost $300, but this will be free. A gift for you. We will book it right now.

And that's how I ended up, three weeks later, lying half-naked on a heated bed while a friendly middle-aged woman wiped and massaged and steamed and brushed and mudded and cleaned my face and neck and arms.  I pretty much loved everything about it!  Unlike massages, which I find completely stressful and ticklish and horribly awkward, the facial was relaxing and soothing and extremely comfortable.  (Also, the magnetic mud?  Way cool.  You smear it all over your face and let it dry. Then pass a magnet over the skin and the mud just peels right off, leaving your skin incredibly soft.)  I could have stayed in there all night. 

Of course, I knew the facial wouldn't be the end of the story.  I'd demonstrated a willingness to purchase outrageously priced cosmetics once, surely Ben assumed I'd do it again.  Sure enough, the woman giving the facial commented more than once, with some amusement, that Ben had asked her to use the most expensive products, and when I emerged, he had a whole counter full of products for my consideration.  There was a pot of the oh-so-cool magnetic mud.  Several vials of "diamond infused" serum and masks.  More creams with gold in them (for nighttime use, he said).  There was even -- and this was the best part -- a stack of manicure kits and be-ribboned sets of toner and lotion, three of each item (why three?  because I'd told him I had three women in my family and he was anticipating my Christmas shopping needs -- all these things would be thrown in for free to sweeten the deal). 

Ben pulled out the mirror to show me the emperors new clothes my face and even called over his colleague to comment ("Oh wow, yes, that cheek where you didn't put the diamond stuff? Totally saggy. The other cheek, though, looks AMAZING!"). 

Finally, the moment we'd all been waiting for, the big reveal:  All of these treasures -- for only $3,500. 

Holy cow.  Time to put on the brakes!

I stopped him right there, thanked him for the facial and said I would not buy anything.  His eyes grew huge with amazement -- how could I turn down this deal?  How could I turn down eternal youth and beauty?  Was it a money issue?  But these weren't real questions, they were game pieces; and I had stopped playing the game.  

As I rose from the seat, I wondered how this would play out.  In Morocco and Turkey, most of the merchants I met, however hard they might have pushed, understood when the game was over and let go with a certain amount of grace.  One, though, took it personally and grew nasty.  I felt relieved when Ben, seeing that I was serious, dropped character, shook my hand and wished me safe travels home.  He was a disappointed salesman, but still a nice guy.

I went home and spent the rest of the evening luxuriating in my diamond-covered face (and secretly reassuring myself that my non-diamonded cheek wasn't actually all that saggy).
(By this time the sun had set, so I had to make do with
the terrible light in my bathroom. Even so, I'm
not sure I could tell any difference between the before
and after, other than the softness from all the

Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving morning dawned bright and cold!  First thing to do?  Thaw out the goldfish.

Best way to do this is set a pan of boiling water on the
ice.  That way it just melts through the surface crust
without breaking the ice, which can hurt the fish.
Then off to the box for an early morning workout:  max effort bench press, followed by "Jackie" (100 meter row, 50 thrusters and 30 pull-ups for time).  Bench press is not my forte, but I kind of rocked Jackie.

I may or  may not have landed a 45-pound barbell
on my forehead during one of those 50 thrusters.
Then back to my apartment . . . and back to work.

Said the client:  "I don't expect you to work all day on Thanksgiving."
At 4:00pm I put away my contracts, called my mother as I packed up the little Mexican chocolate pots de creme that I made last night (with an extra scoop of chili powder!), and then walked over to Jeff and Paige's apartment for Thanksgiving dinner.

There were 7 cups originally, but I had to taste one this morning.
Dinner was delicious (oh man, the stuffing! those dinner rolls!!) and it was fun to hang out with Jeff and Paige and their other guests, Chris, Rebecca and, um, David?  It was the best sort of dinner party -- everyone was super smart and interesting, and the conversation flowed easily from literature to educational theory, international nuclear politics to the advisability of telling one's four-year-old that Care Bears are not cool, legal issues to the casting choices in Twilight and The Hunger Games, and, perhaps most pressingly, whether it was really a good idea to play "rhinoceros" in the hallway with the 18-month-old (as you may have guessed, the group consisted of three lawyers, a full-time mom, a fiction writer, a nuclear physicist and five children under the age of 5).

Was it the worst Thanksgiving ever?  No, that title goes to the Thanksgiving I spent by myself in Cancun.  Was it the best Thanksgiving ever?  Not that, either.  I would rather have been with family.  Or in Paris with Amanda.  So it was somewhere in between.  And I'm thankful for that.

I'm thankful for a healthy body and a good mind; a job that's exciting, intellectually challenging, and which I'm good at; a family whom I love and who loves me; good friends; and all the other blessings that so richly fill my life.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Turkey Bowl with the Elders Quorum

Okay, so the Elders Quorum president at church (who is also my home teacher -- the same who skateboards to Sunday meetings and refers to me as "dude" and "bro" and assumes I went to "the Cougs" for college -- we're basically from different planets) sent me an email tonight inviting me to join a game of flag football on Thanksgiving.  Normally this guy drives me nuts (for which I will surely go to hell because he's actually totally nice and completely sincere in trying to show good Christian fellowship), but this email cracks me up and I love it so so much.

I love how I fall on the wrong side of every judgment-laden distinction:  biglaw; yuppie (on bascially all counts -- no football games, Trader Joe's, cycling tights); kid/boy (by virtue of being a bicyclist).  And I love the irony that, of everyone on that email list, I'm the only one who spends the bulk of my time actually working for the NFL on the very deals that put football games on TV in the first place, and yet I still don't qualify for manhood because I haven't watched a football game in the past year. 

I almost regret that I'll be doing some crazy Crossfit workout at 8am on Thanksgiving morning instead of going to this thing . . . .

*   *   *   *
FROM:  EQ President
TO:  Arlington 1st Ward Elders Quorum

Elders, we need you to come trash our friends from the Arlington 2nd ward in our annual Turkey Bowl game of flag football.

Date: Thanksgiving
Time: 8AM, rain or shine.
Where: Yorktown High School Football Field
Bring: Footballs and cones if you have them. Water, crutches, and bandages too.

Frequently Asked Questions:
·        What are the teams? We were going to go with Lawyers v. Everyone else. But then we realized the biglaw lawyers would still be at work finishing up all-nighters. And even with just the government, non-profit, and small firm lawyers, the lawyers would still vastly outnumber everyone else. So we are going to default to men v. yuppies.
·        How do I know which team I’m on? To make sure there are more than 2 or 3 guys on the men’s team, men will have to be broadly defined as anyone who has watched a football game within the past year. That’s right; even if you shop at Trader Joe’s, drive a Prius, and/or own a pair of cycling tights, this is your chance to play on the men’s team (unless the only football you watched was BYU v. UVA in Charlottesville).
·        Can we invite others? Of course. You can even count it as your Elder Ballard gospel invitation before Christmas; but only if your guests are tackled by the missionaries – baptism by immersion in mud.
·        What about kids? The young men presidencies have organized a game for boys and bicyclists - same time and place.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

King John (or 18 down, 19 to go!)

King John?  Check.  One more history play off the list.

About a year ago a friend of mine, Melanie, decided that she wants to see all of Shakespeare's plays performed before she turns forty.  She knows I can keep up when it comes to theatre (she and I did theatre together while we were in law school together in New York and have been regular theatre friends since both moving to DC five years ago -- we go to everything from the crazy weirdness of the DC Fringe Festival to oh-so-established Shakespeare Theatre Company, where we've had seasons tickets since 2010), so when she informed me of this goal, the implicit assumption was that it would now be my goal as well.

Because of course it would be my goal.

If I can't sing in a choir or complete an interior design class or learn to play the piano or run marathons, I might as well see the entire Shakespeare cannon before I'm forty, right?  I've got to have something to show for myself.

Not that it's going to be easy!  According to the Internet (which someday I may verify by looking in any of the multiple the "complete works" tomes that have been sitting on my bookshelf since college), Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, including 14 comedies, 11 histories, and 12 tragedies.  Fortunately, I'm not starting from scratch.  I've been seeing plays for many years -- and since I've been writing down every play, opera and concert that I've attended (as well as every book I've read) for the past ten years, I've got a more reliable record than just my memory.  


As of this morning, I had definitely seen 17 of the plays.  A couple I'd forgotten even existed (Pericles, anyone?).  And a few -- such as Hamlet, King Lear and Othello -- fall into that grey area where I've studied them and/or read them and/or seen the movie and/or opera and/or ballet and/or wordless performance art version so many times that I honestly can't say whether I've ever seen the actual play or not.  (I'm putting Antony and Cleopatra in its own category for now.  I know I've never seen the play, but having studied it with Mark Matheson in college, I have more vivid memories of that play than any other Shakespeare play I've ever seen.  His lectures on Cleopatra, particularly her initial entrance and her death, still give me chills.)

Anyhoo, of the 17 that I'd definitely seen, only one fell into the "histories" category.  Which meant that when Melanie learned of WSC Avant Bard's production of King John that was about to close, we hastened to buy tickets -- even though it meant skipping most of church this afternoon.  King John is one of those plays that hardly ever gets performed.

Not hard to see why.  The historical context and network of relationships between characters is so complicated and far removed from any common frame of reference that the audience needs to be primed with several pages of background reading just to figure it out!  (Although, frankly, if someone would have just said that King John is the usurping lion who's friends with the snake in Disney's Robin Hood movie, it would have been a lot easier.)

I'd always wondered where the Plantagenets came from!
Eleanor of Acquitaine!
I bet you never expected that your lady parts would be displayed in
the form of a place setting in a feminist art installation in Brooklyn.

I'm not going to get into the details of the plot -- other than to say that it's basically just an extended family feud between the ruling families of Europe over who gets to be king of England -- so if you want the whole synopsis, you can read it here.  It actually ended up being pretty interesting, and for a community theatre company that I'd never heard of before, the production wasn't bad (in fact, they had some clever staging concepts that helped make the play more accessible, I think -- such as by setting it up as the imagination of a little boy who is playing with a castle and action figures in his basement).

So there we have it.  I've learned something about the history of the English monarchy, and I've crossed one more play off my list.  Wahoo!

(Btw, if any of you want to join in on the project of seeing the Shakespeare's cannon between now and 2020, let me know.  I have a feeling I may have to travel to Shakespeare Festivals and the like to see some of the more obscure ones, and it would be fun to have company!)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Living out of a suitcase

It's that time of year again!  The days get darker and colder, normal people start gearing up for the holidays, and I move into my suitcase.  It's the busiest season for the media-related transactions that I specialize in, and because many of my clients and their counter parties are in New York, I end up spending quite a bit of time up there.

You may recall how last year caught me somewhat by surprise -- I ended up spending the entire month of December working around the clock on a major regional sports network deal, missing nearly all of my holiday plans and only just barely surviving on a bare-bones wardrobe of two shirts and fourteen ties.

This year, anticipating much of the same, I've kept my winter-season plans to a minimum (no holidays with the family! no tickets to cool French theatre! my interior design class at the Corcoran has kicked me out for having missed too many sessions! so have all my holiday choirs!) and braced myself for the worst.

And if by "worst" I meant "going back to New York for an indefinite number of days to work on major sports media deals," then the worst seems to have arrived.  Almost.

This past Wednesday I got calls from two major clients (literally within half an hour of each other), both  exclaiming with great urgency that they needed me in their office first thing the next morning.  We were going to be "locked in a room" for however many days it took to get the deal done.  Obviously I couldn't meet both client's demands at once, so I conferred with the two relevant partners to devise a scheme whereby we would divide and conquer:  one partner would handle Client A, I would handle Client B, and the other partner would stay with his wife and kids and attend his father-in-law's unexpected funeral in an effort not to destroy his marriage.

Finally, I thought, as I packed a bag with sufficient supplies to last a month and scrambled to purchase train tickets and hotel reservations.  

Then I waited for the client to pull the trigger and tell me to get on the train.  Only it never did!  Every day since Wednesday the message has been, we're going to need you any minute, so don't unpack your bag, but don't come up here until we tell you for sure . . . .

Under normal circumstances this would not be a problem.  Better to be living out of a suitcase in the comfort of my own home than in a strange city, right?

Wrong!  Because if you're not going to be at home for the holidays, there's no better place to be than New York City.  Especially right now, since there are approximately forty-seven things that I want to do (like seeing Tosca at the Met Opera and Mark Rylance's new productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III, and finding the place that makes cronuts, obvi) but which I can only really afford to do if the firm and/or the client footing the bill for hotel, travel and food.  

Not that it's at all likely that I'd have enough free time to actually do all those things if I were up in New York for work -- but I'd have a better chance of it than I do from DC!

But the deal's not done yet, and I expect that I'll finally get the call to come up to New York sometime this week.  So until then, I'll continue to live out of my suitcase and compile my wish list of things to do.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

True love conquers all (especially if you're a vampire)

For the past few years I've had seasons tickets to the Kennedy Center's modern dance season, but this year I opted for the ballet season instead.  Largely inspired by my own forays into the genre, I wanted more exposure to the discipline, athleticism and rigorous aesthetics of classical dance.  And, I'm not going to lie, I wanted to rediscover the old familiar stories that are the core of classical repertoire. 

You know, familiar stories like The Sleeping Beauty, where the beautiful princess Aurora pricks her finger on a rose is thrown into an enchanted sleep, and then the dashing hero is bitten by a vampire fairy so that he's still around 100 years later to wake her up and rescue her from being sacrificed in a throbbing, red-lit night club.

What, did you forget that there are vampires in Sleeping Beauty?  Please.  If you've been paying attention to pop culture at all over the past five years, then you know that there's no story that can't be improved with a little vampirism. 

But let's back up a minute.  Matthew Bourne is one of Britain's leading choreographers, famous for creating fantastical new ballets (such as Edward Scissorhands) and reimagining the classics (a Nutcracker set in an orphanage; an all-male Swan Lake).  His latest tribute to Tchaikovsky is Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance, which is playing at the Kennedy Center this week. 

It's a relatively new piece (just a couple years old), and it's been touring the United States and receiving great reviews.  I saw last night's performance at the Kennedy Center and really loved it. 

The first act is much as you'd imagine it to be.  Set in 1890, the year Tchaikovsky premiered the original ballet, we meet the infant princess (a precocious and highly mobile puppet) in a stately, late 19th Century palace and witness the bestowal of gifts by all the good fairies.  Only in addition to the traditional gifts of beauty and grace, the fairies seem to bless her with mischief and a sense of humor as well.  She may only be a baby, but she's got more personality (and is way less passive) than your typical gothic heroine.

Then, inevitably, the evil fairy, Carabosse, arrives to place her curse on the baby in retribution for the parents' failure to thank her for helping them conceive in the first place.  What I loved about this scene was the depiction of Carabosse's dark prophecy.  The baby was spirited away and, in its place, appeared the adult woman dancer -- only she was faceless: a flesh-colored mask eliminated all features, to very creepy effect.

Fast forward twenty-one years to 1911, when the world looked like a Seurat painting and people played lawn tennis in white linen suits. 

You know what I want to see next? An episode of Doctor Who, in which the
Doctor saves Sleeping Beauty from the Weeping Angel.
Our princess is now all grown up and as mischievous as ever.  Bored by her aristocratic suitors, she runs off into the bushes with the game-keeper who is super cute and well supplied with roses.

One thing leads to another and, next thing you know, Aurora has pricked her finger on the fatal black rose and landed herself in a coma, leaving her parents, suitors and game-keeper in a state of woe.  Which is understandable given that they'll all be dead by the time she wakes up one hundred years hence. 

Which brings us to an interesting narrative point.  In the original story (Charles Perrault's La Belle au bois dormant), the prince doesn't show up until the end of the hundred-year sleep.  So it's the classic love at first site thing that so often shows up in fairy tales, but which makes little sense and holds very little dramatic interest (at least, until we learn that his mother is an ogre who wants to eat the grandbabies, but most people leave that part out).  Disney recognized this narrative flaw and solved it by introducing the prince pre-pricking and then cutting out the hundred-years' sleep.  Matthew Bourne also introduces the prince figure (in the character of the game-keeper) early on, but he doesn't shorten the sleep. Instead, he reveals that the fairies (even the good ones) are all actually vampires, and has the main fairy turn the game keeper into a vampire, too, so that he'll be around in 2011 when she's finally ready to be woken.

But here's another wrinkle.  In the Tchaikovsky version, once Aurora wakes up, it's all happy bliss for the next however long before the ballet finally ends.  They get married and live happily ever after and it's all excessively boring.  Pretty, but boring. 

So Bourne has Carabosse's evil son, Caradoc, abduct Aurora right after the gamekeeper wakes her up and take her to his evil lair (a bumping night club), where he plans to strip off his shirt and show off his tats and wings.  Oh, and stab Aurora in the heart, too. 

Of course, this is still a fairy tale, so it ends happily:  The gamekeeper shows up just in time and, with the help of another good fairy, defeats Caradoc and rescues Aurora once and for all.  (At which point we realize that this was all just a prequel to the Twilight Saga, because of course the gamekeeper then turns Aurora into a vampire and they instantly produce a precocious vampire baby of their own.)

And they lived (if you can call it "living" when you're undead)
happily ever after.

This was my first time seeing a Matthew Bourne ballet live, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I liked the imagination and playfulness, and how he was willing to turn a potentially stuffy old tale on its head.  I also really liked how he played with the time periods.  Francophile that I am, I like it when storytellers leave Perrault's vast timeline intact, and I love it when they have the integrity in set design and costumes to accurately reflect the passage of time.  So to go convincingly from the 1890s to the Edwardian Era to contemporary times was a fun little exercise in time travel. 

That said, I realized early on that Bourne's priority is telling an engaging and easily accessible story, not on presenting rigorously pure ballet.  The footwork did not seem particularly complex, and there was nary a pointe-shoe in sight.  I missed that.  But as a work of dance theatre, the piece was lovely and playful and lots of fun.

If you're interested for more of a taste, here's a video trailer for the performance:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Birthday weekend, part 3 - Falling with Alice

Birthdays aside, the main reason for Amanda's and my rendez-vous in New York was to see Then She Fell.  It's an immersive theatre experience roughly in the same genre as Sleep No More (which I saw and wrote about last year), only here the story was Alice In Wonderland, we didn't wear masks, and there were only fifteen of us.

That's right -- only fifteen participants each night!  Which makes it one of the harder tickets to get right now.  Amanda and I had looked at getting tickets during the original run, but the tickets sold out right away.  Back in August, when they announced that the run would be extended through the end of the year, I called Amanda and managed to snag two tickets; just happy coincidence that it was my birthday weekend, too. 

So after exploring Brooklyn and taking a quick power nap on Saturday night, we headed out to Williamsburg (just north of where we were in Brooklyn) to find the old mental hospital where the show would be staged.  It was smaller than I'd expected -- a modest, non-descript building nestled between a church and an apartment complex.  The exterior was unmarked except for a very small poster on the door indicating that we were in the right place. 

We went inside and were greeted by a nurse who verified our names and ID and directed us down the hall to the director's office.  There we met another nurse who pointed to the coat-hooks on the wall before handing us each a ring of keys (which we pocketed with eager anticipation) and a glass of wine (which we declined).  Then we set about exploring the room.  Opening filing cabinets; reading the files.  Some patients had been seen for anxiety.  Others for chills caught in the meadow.  One had been bitten by a jabberwock. 

After a few minutes, the hospital director came in and had everyone take a seat around the perimeter of the room.  She welcomed us to the institution and explained the two rules:  (1) Don't speak unless spoken to, and (2) Never open any closed door.  Otherwise, the place was ours to explore. 

Then more nurses came and started leading people away.  Some singly; some in groups of two or three.  Amanda was taken early on.  I stayed seated until finally I was left alone in the now eery room.  Finally a man who could only have been the Mad Hatter entered and told me to follow him.  Next thing I knew, I was in a tiny closet full of fabric and the Mad Hatter was throwing bolts of cloth and peppering me with questions -- Do I sew? Knit? Crochet? Macrame? -- hardly letting me answer before pulling me from the closet into a shop, where we found another participant waiting for us as if he were a customer.  I deposited my wares on the shop table and the Hatter asked if I took dictation, thrusting an ink well, an old dipping pen, and a sheet of paper my way.  Delighted, I said yes and took up my post at the desk. 

From there I passed through a series of fantastical and bewildering moments -- I'd call them scenes, but in most of them I was a participant as much as a spectator, and so they were different from "normal" theatre.  I was with Alice when she stepped through the looking glass and sipped her first size-changing potion.  I helped the White Rabbit paint white roses red.  I met Lewis Carroll and again took dictation as he composed a mournful letter.  The White Queen fed me a grape; the Red Queen offered me tea.  I played a shell game with the hospital director, where the prize was a tiny key to a box containing a photograph of Alice and a poignant poem about aging with one's lover.  Alice and Lewis Carroll danced sideways together on the stairs, and met for a secret tryst in the confessional.  I joined the Hatter, Alice, Rabbit and the Queens for their mad tea party, eating truffles and trying to keep up when the Hatter yelled out that he wanted a new cup and so everyone should move down.  Sometimes I was alone; sometimes with others.  There was little downtime, but in those moments I found old photographs of the real people who produced the Alice stories; biographical sketches about their lives and what happened to them as they aged.  Also fragments of stories and poems from the books themselves, which, when paired with the historical information and the experiences I'd had, changed and colored the way I understood the story. 

There was no linear narrative arc, but that didn't feel necessary.  I knew the narrative of the novels, and I knew the narrative of the real life events -- so the fragments presented to me in the hospital just fell into place within the larger tale.  It was as though nothing made sense, and everything made perfect sense, all at the same time.  The feeling was magical and detached -- the feeling of finally living inside a childhood book, only as an adult instead of a child when the dream of such a fantasy was strongest.

Finally I found myself alone in the Red Queen's cell, with nothing but a teacup and a poem, and I knew that the evening had ended.  Only it hadn't, really.  Because as Amanda and I walked from the hospital back toward home, we compared notes and discovered that we'd had almost completely different experiences!  Didn't you love the bath scene, she said.  And the mirror scene, I replied.  Only neither of us had experienced what the other had -- our paths had been different -- and so in addition to reliving the moments we'd shared, we also had the pleasure of telling each other tales of what we'd seen that night as we followed the White Rabbit or faced the Red Queen or sat with Alice alone amidst a pile of desks. 

I felt a little like Alice must have felt when she reemerged from the rabbit hole and told everyone of her adventures.  Only Amanda had been down the rabbit hole, too.  So even though she hadn't seen Alice grow to fill a room and then shrink to be so tiny she didn't come up to my knee, she understood that it must have happened.  And then she told me of her own adventures, and it all started again.


Birthday weekend, part 2 - Exploring Brooklyn

Like I said, by the time we finally turned out the lights on Friday night, it was well past 3:00am.  For some reason this prompted Amanda to ask if we needed to set an alarm and wouldn't it be nice to just sleep in for a while?  Fortunately, I saw through this trick question (it was actually two questions masquerading as one) and said, "Yes even though Yes."  Because it's better to take a power nap at 6:00pm (which I did) than to sleep past 9:30am and feel like you've wasted the entire day.

In other words, we set the alarm. 

Which meant that we were up and out of the hotel in time to have a meal that we could plausibly call "breakfast" instead of going straight to lunch.  We found a place called Woodland that seemed to satisfy the hipster quota of servers with gauges and tattoos (that quota being 100%, this is Brooklyn after all).
Open-faced chicken sandwich on English muffin with fries.
I took this photo for the name of the restaurant, but it
also serves for sartorial comparison:  If Amanda wants
to be a Brooklyn hipster, she's going to need WAY tighter
jeans and WAY brighter sneakers.  Her scarf is a good
start, though.
As we brunched, we tried to plan our day.  We had stayed out in Brooklyn on purpose so that we could explore a new part of New York.  But neither of us had had time to make advance plans, and so we started talking about things we've done in other cities when we didn't have plans.  For example, when we were in Paris for Thanksgiving and just spent the entire day walking around eating delicious food . . . .

Planning problem solved! 

Having just finished breakfast, though, we needed a theme to get us started.  Because "fried dough" is never the wrong answer, we charted a course to a bakery called Dough, locally famous for its doughnuts. 

This being Brooklyn, we soon came to a flea market that triggered every "browsing" instinct in Amanda's soul and, before you could say Little Red Riding Hood, we were off the path to grandmother's house and into the hipster woods.


Not that there were wolves here.  Just lots of knit caps and flannel shirts and facial hair and tortoiseshell glasses and ironic onesies for babies and t-shirts for adults with dinosaur silk-screen prints and outrageous second-hand clothes and bins full of "repurposed" junk that was called "art" that I would never actually put in my house and all sorts of delicious food that was called "organic" and "artisanal" that I definitely wanted to put in my mouth. 
We started with the mini-whoopie pies.
I got the rosemary and olive oil whoopie pie.
What's this I spy?  FRIED DOUGH!
I got the hibiscus frosting with mystery goop.
Mission accomplished.
Asian-inspired organic hot dogs?  Yes please!
Mine on the left -- topped with a mango salsa.
Artisanal sodas? 
I'll have a taste, but pour me a cup of that hot cider!

Once we'd eaten our way through the market, we decided we felt chilly (cider notwithstanding) and in the mood for an art museum.  So we headed back towards the Brooklyn Museum of Art, passing fountains and triumphal arches along the way.

Note to Apple:  Your iPhone camera needs to be adjusted so that I can take photos
of triumphal arches without having to tilt my phone.
Now, I know I have pioneer ancestors, and I'm all for walking back to Jackson County, Missouri, for the rapture or whatever, but I think we can all admit that life is a lot better when you can buy hot Belgian waffles along the way.

Waffles in hand tummy, we arrived happily at the museum.
Where we waited in line for approximately forever in order to get into the permanent collections (there was a temporary exhibition on fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier that I would have loved to see, but the expected wait-time for that was even longer than forever). 
So instead we just went inside and saw a feminist installation that was basically a giant table with vagina plates and a super-interesting list of notable women from history.

We also saw some period rooms that had been shockingly reworked with site-specific pieces by another contemporary artist. 


There were other exhibits as well, and something that may have been a wedding or a bar mitzvah happening in the central atrium.  But by the time we'd made our way through the period rooms, we were running short on time, and the sugar high was wearing off. 

So we walked back to the hotel through the chilly night (because apparently cabs in New York stay in Manhattan and are virtually impossible to find in Brooklyn) to freshen up, take a nap and buy theatre tickets for our next adventure (Lookingglass Theatre's The Little Prince, in Chicago in February) before heading out to Williamsburg to find the the mental hospital where we'd be spending the evening . . . .