Saturday, October 26, 2013

The bunny and the steamroller

I'm back!  At least for a minute.  (Now I'm going to ramble for a minute, so if you want to jump to the good stuff -- including cannibalism -- feel free to scroll down.)

Things have been relentless, to say the least.  Remember back in August when I thought it would be a good idea to sign up for, like, 87 things this fall on the theory that I don't have a completely unpredictable and totally demanding job?  Well, turns out that theory didn't bear any relation to reality and, because the laws of the universe dictate that there must be opposition in all things, the past six weeks have been like a steamroller sitting on top of a bunny.  Yes, there have been fun things (a couple trips to NY -- one of which I still need to write about -- some opera, some theatre, an attempt at taking a design class), but there has also been a lot of work.  As in, I'm billing 70-hour weeks and 300-hour months while trying to do all those other things.

(As a sidenote, universe, why does the "opposition in all things" have to be "equal opposition"?  I mean, it feels like the more I try to do in my personal life, or the more I care about what I'm doing in my personal life, the more work there is to disrupt and prevent those things from happening.  I vote for a system of imbalanced opposition.  For example, if I want to go to New York for a weekend of theater and restaurants, I'm totally okay with opposition in the form of a papercut, not in the form of 20 billable hours and a Monday deadline.)

That said, it's not like this is the first time this has happened.  The bunny and the steamroller are old frenemies by now -- and the bunny has figured out a few coping mechanisms:

First thing is to recognize that I have some control in setting boundaries -- and to insist on taking that control back from the all-demanding job.  Yes, there are times when I have to work all night and meet that unreasonable deadline.  But I also have to maintain my foundation; namely, nutrition, sleep, exercise and a clean apartment.  When those things go, I start to unravel.  Last weekend I realized that those things had gone and that I was unraveling, so this week I focused on restoring the foundation.  I ate better, I exercised every day, I got (almost) 6-hours of sleep each night, and I cleaned my apartment.  By the end of the week, I was in a much better place than before.

Second thing is to keep other people in my life.  When I get busy, it's so easy for me to go into survival mode and shut everyone else out.  But in the long run, that's not a healthy way to live.  So, and I've said this before, whenever I have a choice between being with people and being alone, I try always to choose to be with people.  Take last night:  It was Friday evening after a long week and I was exhausted.  Part of me wanted to go home, eat frozen pizza on the couch in front of the TV, and go to bed early.  Instead, I called up some good friends whom I hadn't seen since midsummer and met them for dinner in Old Town Alexandria.  It was great to see them and I still managed to get home and go to bed before midnight.

Third thing is to carve out one totally work-free day every month or so -- and use it properly.  By "properly" I mean that it needs to be both relaxing and productive.  If it's only one or the other (or neither), then it won't have the restorative effect I need it to have.  Sometimes I screw up the balance, but today, I'm happy to say, I got it just right:

For the relaxing part, I went to bed before midnight and let myself sleep to the luxurious hour of 9:00am.  Glory be, there's nothing like a good night's sleep to feel like a human being again.  Then I got up, had some breakfast, and leisurely planned the rest of the day. 

That's where the productive part comes in (and here's where I use a particularly clever trick, if I do say so myself).  You see, the problem with working 100% all-out for several weeks has historically been that, by the time I take a break, I'm faced with everything to do and nothing to do.  Everything to do because every non-work thing in my life needs attention; nothing to do because I've been out of circulation for so long that either I forget the things that need to be done, or I find myself overwhelmed by the endless list and a lack of established routine to organize the otherwise unstructured time. 

The solution, I've discovered, is to maintain a pre-prioritized, running list of "things to do" during the periods when I'm too busy to do them, so that when I do have time I don't have to start from scratch.  I tell myself that I don't need to do everything on the list, just whatever I can manage to fit into the time available.  So, today, I looked at my list and picked the following:
  • Went to the tailor and delivered four pairs of pants and a winter coat for alterations that I'd been meaning to have done since last winter. 
 The tailor is across the street from the German bakery,
so naturally I stopped for lunch.
  • Got my shoes shined by a professional.
The most unflattering angle ever.
  • Bought a new computer to replace the one I bought eight years ago before law school (and which is now as outdated as a handcart).
I'm still not convinced I like the Apple Store's
service model -- there's way too much "hanging
out" for my taste, and I feel like the sales
people judge me.  I look at them and think,
why don't you grow up and get a job?
Then I realize they've kind of grown up and
this IS their job.  Sigh.
  • Went to the Levenger shop to get a replacement cap for a fountain pen whose cap had broken during the summer.   
Of course I ended up buying another pen in
process.  But how could I not buy a pen
that was inspired by Van Gogh's Sunflowers?
Having thus satisfied my need to be productive, I dropped my purchases off at home and headed downtown to meet my friend Melanie to see the Riot Grrls' production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus at the Taffety Punk Theatre


Neither of us had seen the play before and we were curious for two reasons:  (1) it's got the reputation of being the bloodiest and most violent of all the Shakespeare plays, and (2) every character would be played by a woman.  Here's the basic plot:   
  • Titus Andronicus comes home to Rome after a glorious military campaign, with the Goth queen Tamora and her sons as prisoners.  Tamora begs Titus for mercy on her sons, but he kills the oldest one as a sacrifice anyway (by chopping off his limbs and letting him bleed to death).  [1 down]
  • The Romans want Titus to be the new emperor, but he doesn't want to be emperor, so he endorses Saturninus, one of the two rival factions, and makes him emperor instead.  First thing Saturninus does is announce that he's going to marry Titus's daughter Lavinia, despite her betrothal to Bassianus, the head of the other rival faction.  Titus consents to the marriage, but his sons are outraged and free Lavinia so she can escape with Bassianus.  Titus kills one of his sons for this treachery.  Saturninus says, oh well, and marries Tamora instead. [1 down]
  • As empress, Tamora decides to take revenge on Titus for killing her son.  Her sons ambush Bassianus and Lavinia in the woods.  They kill Bassianus, rape Lavinia and then cut off her hands and tongue.  Then they lure two of Titus's sons to the scene of the crime and have them blamed for it.  Tamora's henchman Aaron tells Titus that Saturninus will pardon the two sons if Titus cuts off his hand.  Titus cuts off his hand, but Saturninus chops off the boys' heads anyway.  Titus's other son, Lucius, is exiled from Rome; he goes to raise an army of Goths.  [3 down, plus 3 hands and 1 tongue]
  • Tamora has a baby that is obviously Aaron's son (because he's black).  The nurse takes the baby to Aaron.  He kills the nurse.  [1 down]
  • Lavinia tells Titus that her assailants were Tamora's two sons.  He plots violent revenge and sends a peasant to the emperor with a message.  The emperor hangs the peasant.  [1 down]
  • Lucius shows up with the Goths; Titus pretends to be crazy.  Tamora tries to convince Titus to have Lucius withdraw by going to him dressed up as the Goddess of "Revenge, with her two minion spirits Murder and Rape, and telling Titus that she'll help him get revenge on the people who are hurting him, but only if he calls off Lucius.  Titus says, hey, you look a lot like Tamora and her sons, but okay, I'll tell Lucius the battle's off and that he should come to dinner with you and the emperor instead -- but only as long as Murder and Rape stay with me.  Thinking Titus is still crazy, Tamora leaves her sons with Titus, who promptly cuts their throats and turns them into meat pies.  [2 down
  • Lucius shows up for dinner with Titus, the emperor and Tamora.  Titus serves everyone delicious meat pies.  Then he kills Lavinia to put her out of her shame and misery.  Then he tells Tamora that the pie she's eating is made with the meat of her two sons.  Tamora freaks out and Titus kills her.  The emperor freaks out and kills Titus.  Lucius kills the emperor.  Then they bring in Aaron (the black guy with the baby) and they kill him, too (but apparently not the baby).  [5 down]
Score:  14 people dead, plus 3 hands, 1 tongue, and some cannibalism.  Reputation earned!

As for having it played by an all-woman cast?  Four things.  First, I think it revealed a maternal aspect to Titus's grief for his children, especially his ravaged daughter; there were moments that were more tender, I think, than they would have been had the part been played by a man.  Second, it was interesting to see which "male" things the women who were playing male parts adopted to portray their masculinity -- the movements, the gestures, the innuendos of certain lines.  It was revealing of what we, culturally, think men are and how we think men act.  Third, the horror of the rape scene was probably diminished somewhat by knowing that the "men" were actually women.  As awful as it was, I think it would have been more awful to have had men play the parts.  Finally, aside from those things, it really didn't make much of a difference.  Because that's how theatre works -- you're already "believing" that the woman is a Roman warrior, so why not also believe that she's a man? 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Opera weekend! Eugene Onegin

Call me crazy and extravagant, but sometimes you just have to set aside a weekend and go to New York to see an opera at the Metropolitan Opera.

Clear back in March, I bought tickets with some friends to see the new production of Eugene Onegin that the Met rolled out to kick off the 2013-14 season.  Composed by Tchaikovsky, conducted by Valery Gergiev (one of the world's leading conductors), and sung by Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala (who rank among the world's top sopranos and tenors, respectively; Netrebko, in particular is as glamorous as they come), this was bound to be a star-studded powerhouse of a performance. 

On Friday after work, I hopped onto the train and rode up to New York.  I slept in on Saturday morning, enjoying a few hours' break from work and daily life, and got to the opera house early to see the temporary installation of sculptures on the plaza.  They were whimsical creations that made me think of cartoon aliens.  I liked how I could hear the older patrons clucking disapprovingly of the bright colors and crazy shapes.  As much as I applaud the stuffy old opera-goers for keeping opera afloat in America, they need to have their feathers ruffled every now and then...

When they opened the house, I went in to soak up the ambiance and read the program notes.  This was my first time seeing Eugene Onegin, so I was curious to learn more about the production and the singers.
The chandeliers above the grand staircase

The opera is set in 1840s Russia and was composed in the 1870s.  It's based on a poem by Pushkin and tells the tale of Eugene Onegin, a bored young aristocrat, and Tatiana Larin, a bookish, romantic girl who lives on a neighboring estate in the countryside.  One day Onegin comes to the Larin estate with Lensky (another young man who likes Tatiana's sister) and, as luck would have it, Tatiana falls instantly in love with Onegin.  That night, after he leaves, she writes a letter to him telling him of her love.  The letter writing scene is one of the most famous moments in the opera.  Here's a video of Anna Netrebko singing that aria:

When Onegin receives the letter, he comes to Tatiana and gives her a moralistic lecture against the naivete of loving others and letting her love be known.  It's a condescending lecture and reveals a man too self-centered to be bothered with a young girl's feelings.  At the end of the lecture, though, he toyingly kisses her on the lips and then walks out of the room.

Later, Lenski brings Onegin to Tatiana's birthday party at the Larin estate.  Onegin gets bored and resents Lensky for having brought him, and so Onegin decides to provoke Lenski by flirting with Tatiana's sister Olga (whom Lenski loves). 

Lenski takes the bate and, in the mode of hotheaded young 19th-century men, challenges Onegin to a duel.  The next morning, as he awaits for Onegin to show up for the duel, Lenski sings a gorgeous aria mourning his young life (listen to the video below, but ignore the distracting slide show).  Then Onegin arrives and promptly shoots him dead.

Time passes and the curtain next rises on a high society ball in St. Petersburg.  Onegin arrives and we learn that he's spent the past few years roaming aimlessly, regretting the fact that he killed his friend and has no wife or other source of meaning in his life.  The party swirls around him and, lo and behold, who should walk in but Tatiana, now the wife of a high ranking prince.

Naturally Onegin suddenly realizes that he is madly in love with Tatiana.  In a mirror of the first act, he writes a letter to Tatiana and meets her on the snowy porch of the palace.  He expresses undying love and asks her to run away with him.   

Tatiana reminds him of his patronizing lecture years ago and, though she admits to loving him still, refuses to go with him now.  She kisses him on the lips and then walks resolutely back to her life, leaving him distraught on the steps of the palace.

The End.

I loved it.  Tchaikovsky's melodies and orchestration are exquisite, and the Met's soloists, chorus and orchestra executed ever so well.  I loved seeing (and hearing!) these artists whose talents and skills place them among the very best in the world (I literally had goose bumps many times during the performance). 

After the performance ended, we emerged back into the world of early autumn sunlight (which was odd -- normally I come to the Met later in the winter, so it's dark when I get out of the performances).

I had arranged to meet with some friends for dinner after the performance.  He's a partner at my law firm, and she's one of the sound technicians at the Met responsible for the digital broadcasts that are telecast live to movie theatres across the country.  While I waited for them, I bought a Belgian waffle from the waffle cart in Lincoln Square (right between Lincoln Center and the Mormon temple) and found a little cafe table where I could read and people-watch.

After about an hour, I met up with Mace and Louise at Boulud Sud, a Mediterranean restaurant run by celebrity chef Daniel Boulud.


We had a wonderful dinner and even better conversation, and afterwards I went home for a quiet night at the hotel.  I had originally planned to go out with some friends from law school, but they ended up canceling last minute.  It was too bad to miss them, but, to be honest, I didn't mind curling up in bed and reading for a while before turning out the lights. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Design Class: Bathroom

The first project for the semester in my interior design class is to create a full set of design materials for a bathroom.  This entails a floorplan, elevations of the four walls, and selecting all of the hardware, finishes and accessories that would go into the room -- everything that you'd need to give to a contractor to implement the design.  Once those things are done, then we're supposed to create a design board (think Pinterest, only with real materials glued to a foam core poster-sized foam core board) and a half-inch scale model of the bathroom for presentation to the client

Sounds super fun, right?  A little artsy, a little crafty; a great excuse to flip through magazines and browse furniture and hardware stores.  The problem, of course, is that to do it all properly, you have to devote some time -- which is precisely what I haven't had lately.  For the past several weeks, my day job (where I've been billing about 70 hours a week) plus a few ambitious weekend commitments (such as riding 100 miles last weekend and an overnight jaunt to New York for the opera this weekend) has kept me working around the clock with little time to eat and sleep, let alone design a bathroom. 

And so the unthinkable is about to happen:  Next week, when our design projects are due and we're supposed to present them to the class, I will not be anywhere close to being done.  (gasp!)

My incomplete floorplan and elevations.
This is why I'm only auditing the class and not taking it for credit.
BUT, that doesn't mean I don't know what I would do if I had the time!  In fact, I've imagined an awesome bathroom for Amanda.  Keep in mind that it's a tad fictional, given that I'm working with room dimensions set by the curriculum and not Amanda's real bathroom; also, I haven't taken budget into account -- though I promise it's all totally worth it

My only quasi-complete elevation starts to give a sense of what the room would look like:

Before I jump into the details of the design, here are some of the considerations that guided my choices:  Anyone who knows Amanda will know that she's drawn to the colors blue and green.  She loves texture and pattern, especially those that remind her of her world travels.  She enjoys luxury but isn't fussy or formal.  She likes the notion of a 19th-century cabinet of curiosities but also appreciates clean, modern lines.  Her heritage is French, she lives in Colorado, and she has a slate-colored cat with an obscene amount of fur.  She's feminine (though not girly) and isn't afraid of the unusual.

And so . . . the floor would be natural slate tiles . . .

Slate Foor Tile
Slate tile from Home Depot
and the walls would be painted green and stenciled with a Moroccan motif in white (basically the same colors as below; the pattern itself is negotiable, though this one has a nice feminine quality).
RDS Chez Sheik Stencil (green)
Chez Sheikh stencil from Royal Design
(in fact, this may be the stencil she has already used in other rooms)
To add architectural interest and prevent the Moroccan pattern from overpowering the room, the bottom third of the walls would have paneled wainscoting painted glossy white.

White beadboard wainscoting
Beadboard would be cool and would add nice vertical lines,
but other types of paneling would work as well.
And the bathtub?  Every gothic heroine needs an awesome bathtub from which to climb out into a a diaphanous white nightie.
RH Tub with Curtain
Restoration Hardware Victorian bathtub with shower extension
For the vanity, I picked this piece inspired by an elegant 18th-century French style, but with a more rustic finish. (My initial inclination was to paint it white, like the wainscoting, but this brown color is really growing on me and could provide a nice contrast against the green and white and slate.)

RH Maison Vanity
Vanity from Restoration Hardware's "Maison" collection

A sleek and solid-feeling faucet.

RH Chatham Faucet
Chatham faucet from Restoration Hardware

This is the best light fixture I found in the 10 minutes I devoted to looking.  I'd say the jury is still out on this particular model, but at least you get the idea -- there would be one sconce on each side of the mirror above the vanity.
RH 20th Factory Sconce
A sconce, also from
Restoration Hardware
Ditto for the toilet.  Something traditional with good lines.  While I was hunting for bathtubs I found what must have been the holy grail of toilets because it was perfect and now I can't find it again for the life of me.  (Unlike the actual holy grail, though, I'm not sure it's worth embarking on a quest to find it.)
Waterworks Toilet
This one is from Waterworks

There should be a bench along the wall opposite the toilet/vanity, and it should look like this, only longer -- and with green velvet upholstery to match the walls.

RH Maison Stool

Now back to the floor: Slate, by itself, will be cold, so on top of the stone tiles, a jute area rug.  Preferably one with a strong pattern, like this one.
West Elm Adamas Jute Rug
Adamas jute rug from West Elm
But jute, too, is kind of rough, so a smaller sheepskin rug would lie on top of the jute rug, in front of the vanity.  So comfy!  (And I really just love the idea of a floor layered with slate, jute and sheepskin -- the colors and textures would be wonderful.)

Pottery Barn Sheepskin Rug - Copy
Sheepskin rug from Pottery Barn
As for the walls, there's already a lot going on with the Moroccan stencil.  BUT, to get that cabinet of curiosities feel, let's add some curiosities:
For example, I would hang a large Walton Ford print
on the wall above the bench
(I bought this print for Amanda when I saw a Walton Ford
exhibition a few years ago in Vienna. The monkey made
me think of Mrs Coulter's golden monkey daemon in
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which Amanda
introduced to me.)
And framed exotic butterflies to hang above the towelrod above the toilet.
(I bought this one while shopping with Amanda and have it hanging in my
own bathroom. The blue would look great with the other colors in this room.)
And on the countertop (or window ledge -- I may have added a window to the bathroom), flowers.  Because a bathroom should always have flowers, either fresh cut or potted.
Pro Flowers Orchid
You can order this orchid from Pro Flowers

I think the only other primary feature that hasn't been discussed would be the door.  Right now it's a regular swinging door -- I would propose converting it to a pocket door so that Amanda doesn't lose the floor space to the swinging door (that, at least, is shown in the floorplan above).

And there you have it.  I haven't included photos of the towels (they'd be plain white) or other hardware/accessories (like towelrods and wastebaskets and whatnot), but I think those are pretty straightforward and would be selected in keeping with the same aesthetic approach as the other elements. 

What do you think?