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I watched the Ken Burns documentary on the Vietnam war which concluded last week and I have some thoughts I’d like to share about it.

Vietnam is my generation’s shared history.  It continues to tug at us like a hungry ghost but unlike our parents, for whom WW2 was a defining moment, we don’t have any sense of a common experience about it.  Everyone’s war was different whether one fought or didn’t, supported or protested, or even just watched the body count climb on TV every night. It has made it difficult for us to talk about it or to find a way to relate to each other’s experience.

It struck me, as I watching, that there is a place where we have common ground and shared experience.  We all, in country and back home, listened to the same music.  The Beatles, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, The Stones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, they are all there.  If anything, the legacy of my generation is it’s music. The fact that our children and grandchildren grow up singing Beatles tunes and know the words to Blowin’ in the Wind is testament to the longevity of that legacy and maybe this is where we come together.

 

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This week has been two steps forward and one step back.  I can’t talk about it most of yet so instead I thought I would share what I learned in my travels abroad.

The best thing you can do in any new place is wander around, explore, and get lost.  Then find a cafe to hang out while you figure out where you are. That’s how one finds the best stuff and has the most unique experience.  The only exception to this is when one is trying to find one’s lodging after a long plane ride. Then you need clear directions and a map.  I learned this the hard way.  Don’t ask.  I will say that I discovered my Italian was better than I thought it was.

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Venice is particularly good for getting lost because somehow you will end up at the Grand Canal or San Marco no matter what.

Free days are the best- the ones you didn’t plan anything for.  When you can just hang out. The great thing about travel is that you are free, for the duration, of all the things you deal with daily at home.  That’s why it’s relaxing.  Unless you are rushing from place to place to see everything.

Because not everything on the usual tourist agenda is worth seeing- especially if it’s not where your interests lie.  So don’t go to sites just because you think you are suppose to.  Pick and choose what you want to see and leave some free time.  I didn’t go to the Louvre because I knew it would take all day and I only had 2 in Paris.  I don’t regret that and it gives me a reason to go back.

Tourism keeps places like Venice and the historical part of Prague afloat.  If masses of people didn’t visit there every year (and spend money) Venice would have sunk into the lagoon years ago and only those with scuba gear would get to see it.  Unfortunately this also makes it crazy with people.  It also makes the locals grumpy and/or greedy.

Which is why Prague feels like Disneyland with some Las Vegas thrown in.  It doesn’t hurt that that it looks like a made up fairy tale place where medieval, Baroque, Art Nouveau, and Cubism co exist.  But then it also has paddle boats, oldey timey car rides, and shop after shop of souvenirs that pretend to be Czech. And many, many bachelor parties, all drunk, all the time, all weekend, every weekend, staggering thru the streets.  Which is why my best advice about Prague is that if you are there over a weekend, plan on doing something less touristy and stay off the Charles Bridge until Sunday evening.  I took a wrong turn on Saturday and was swept up in the crowd headed to the bridge with no possibility of going any other direction.

Which brings me to:

Lots of popular sites are free but if you want to see places like Notre Dame, Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Astronomical Clock, or the Doumo- go early, get in line before the doors open.

Try the food.  You don’t have to like it. You can find Italian or burgers almost everywhere if the local cuisine isn’t to your liking.  If you like a place, write the name down.  I had the best vegis pizza in Murano but the place doesn’t show up on Google maps and I didn’t pay attention to the name at the time. I was hungry and it was hot and they had shade, ok? Murano is woefully short on shade.

The really cool thing about Paris is that, in spite of the tourists, it’s a real city where people live and work and don’t care where you came from or if you’re going to spend money in their fabulous city.  And if all the tourists left tomorrow, everything would still be there.  All the more reason to pick a just few things you really want to see and spend more time exploring.

Travel makes you want more.  I could happily spend a month in Europe and I am absolutely going back to Paris and I’ve always wanted to go to Indonesia and I’m obsessively checking airfares and looking up places on Airbnb… and if you offered me chance to go almost anywhere, I’d take it.

Best things about Florence:

Santa Maria Novella- Botticelli to Bronzino, the entire history of Renaissance art is represented here and the parfumerie is an experience all to itself.

Shopping in small stores in Oltrarno

Watching fireworks from a bridge on the feast of St. John

Best food:  Lemon chicken and fried Squash blossoms at Tratoria al Tranvai.  Pear and ricotta ravioli at Zeb.

Best things about Venice:

Music- it’s everywhere and the concert I went to in Chiesa de la Pieta was top notch

Apertifs and dinning leisurely outside, preferably on a canal with a sunset view of the lagoon

Getting lost and finding cool stuff also dreaming about the Grand Canal for months after my visit.  Also the Biennale, Punta de la Dogana (modern art), San Mauricio (musical instruments museum), Burano

Best Food:  GamGam, Kosher food, Seafood at Paradiso Perduta, and pizza at that place in Murano I can’t remember. And risotto, gelato, lobster, polenta…

Best things about Prague:

Open air Street markets

Crazy architecture and absurdist art

Walking along the river

Best Food:  fried cheese sandwich at the Lobkowitz Palace cafe.  Bread, strudel, mini pizza from the market across from the Municipal house.

Best things about Paris:

Just about everything

Best food:  Pastry, pastry and more pastry and the french fries (of a completely different caliber than anything served in the US) at a place across from the Pompidou Center another one I can’t remember the name of.  I know I’d have more to add if I had spent more time there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So I was ready to dive into the semester.  The shop was back in order after last week’s electrical chaos.   I have lists and plans.  My larder is stocked.  I am preparing myself for another round of long days and weekends lost.  Then…

Can you feel everything slowing down…? Mercury will go direct on Tuesday.  Meanwhile it feels like nothing can be done.

The shows I should be working on RIGHT NOW will not be cast until next week.  Can’t make/buy/choose costumes without knowing who is going to wear them and what size they are.  On hold.

A few of my work study kids have started work but most of them are still in a beginning of the year daze.  Storage reorganization proceeding s-l-o-w-l-y.  Space now in complete chaos, again, until further progress is made.

I lost my cell phone on Tuesday.  Not forever, found on Wednesday.

But the same day I came  home to this:

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My shower door imploded.  Probably from the heat.  After months of unseasonable cool rainy  weather, Mother Nature said “Surprise! Just fooling, it’s August after all.” My bathroom is easily 120+ degrees mid day if the outside is over 85.

Gee it’s nice to be able to take a shower in hot weather.

The landlord has cleaned up the glass and replaced the doors with  a curtain rod and I’ll be able to take that shower as soon as I put up a curtain. Only it’s 95 outside already and hanging out in the bathroom seems like a bad idea.  So does going to the Farmer’s Market, cleaning, or expending any energy at all.

But you could go to the movies?  It’s cool there and it is a 3 day weekend and you can’t do anything else anyway…

 

 

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One Year Later…

Now that I have been in LA for a year I have a few observations:

It’s really a 3rd world country. Hot, dusty, crowded. At least 2/3 of the city needs paint, repair, and good scrubbing. Only there’s a drought and water is precious so no one wastes it cleaning buildings and sidewalks and streets. That includes the stairway in my apartment building, which has probably not been swept by anyone but me since 1970.

The other 1/3 has an invisible gate around it requiring money and a car that costs more than I make in a year.

Everyone speaks Spanish. Even the Koreans. Everyone speaks English too but Spanish is the language of choice. The children all speak a kind of Spanglish as in “Mama, en mi escuela, the teacher said…”

I keep thinking that one morning I am going to wake up and be able to understand all the conversations around me. The way one does after spending enough time in a foreign country.

Speaking of cars, Angelinos love them. Not just in the usual “isn’t she a beauty” way. A favorite thing to do here is to rent a high concept car for the weekend and go for a drive in a vintage roadster, the Batmobile, or perhaps a clown car. If you aren’t up for dropping some $$$ on this you can always just hangout in Venice or Marina and car watch.

Driving near the ocean can be dangerous in some surprising ways. One morning I was nearly run off the road by a low flying seagull. Also if it’s windy the palm trees drop fronds, which are enormous, very heavy, and have been known to put people in the hospital.

There are street vendors and food trucks everywhere. A few of the things you can get: fresh cut up fruit, any kind of Mexican fast food, also Korean, grilled cheese sandwiches, pork rinds in giant bags, burgers, fried fish, and tamales. In my neighborhood alone there are at least 5 competing ice cream trucks each with it’s own irritating music box tune.

I am told that you can’t go wrong with food from a taco truck. I haven’t tried this because I am usually on my way somewhere I need to be and don’t have time to explore- that is, get lost by trying to circle back to where I saw the truck.  The tamales I got from 2 ladies in a mini van outside my library were delicious though.

I thought for a while that there might be a mosque in the neighborhood, which seemed odd but not improbable, because I kept hearing a unique chanting at dawn and dusk every day. It turned out to be the tamale guy whose cry of “Tamales, tamales, tamales” has the same cadence as a Islamic call to prayer.

The best thing so far about my neighborhood is that there is an amazing bakery across the street from the library. Fabulous, cheap and worth the wait in the line that snakes out the door. I discovered it because as I was leaving the library one Saturday morning, a heavenly smell pulled me across the street  and before I knew it I was standing at the counter asking for fresh bread and apple turnovers.

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I got my new job exactly one week before the clothes for Tosca loaded out to the theatre. I applied for the job at Loyola the week I got back from the circus and then I waited.  Nothing happened for almost a month.  I worked on Tosca and kept a low profile.  There had been a regime change at the opera and as is usual in such situations, things were tense.

Also complicated.  I gave up my landline and with it my internet before going to Sacramento for the summer.  I intended to shop around for cheaper internet when I got back but didn’t want to make any commitments until I knew where I was going to be.  Therefore if I needed to use the internet I had to do it at the opera or at a friend’s place.  My cell phone gets lousy reception in my apartment without wifi making phone interviews a bit tricky too.

Once Loyola responded  I began to live a double life. I didn’t want to add to the panic and paranoia at the opera and I wanted to keep my job there if I didn’t have another one to go to.  I excused myself early from work and  raced to my friend’s apartment for the Skype interview.  When Loyola called in the middle of a production meeting, I had a panic attack then snapped my phone off.  Heart pounding for the next couple of hours, I waited until the end of the day, locked myself in the fitting room, and called them back.  Thank you West coast for being 3 hours behind.

It had all the elements of a silent movie farce.  Speculation in the costume shop as to what was going on with me centered around the possibility that I had a new man or a serious illness.

I got the job offer on September 20.  I had to be in LA to start work by October 21. I needed every penny so leaving the opera early was not an option.  I made a timeline.  I made lists. I made a budget.

On the top of the list:  get the car serviced before dress rehearsals for Tosca. It was a good thing too, because that weekend I hit a curb, blew a tire, and discovered that the rubber in all 4 tires was rotten. Only my car was in the shop for 3 days and any plans involving transportation, like getting moving supplies, had to be put on hold.

Next on the list:  Get my emissions checked and renew my Georgia tag  because the current one was going to expire 1 week after I arrived in LA and I knew I wouldn’t have time to get a California one before the end of the semester. The Saturday after getting my car back, my check engine light came on.  Mobility compromised and I can’t get my tag until it’s fixed.  Car in the shop for 3 days, again. I am now in dress rehearsals and have to beg for rides to and from the theatre.

3rd item:  Take the cats to the vet for shots.   I have let them lapse and California has strict rules about animals brought into the state. I make the appointment for the Monday after Tosca opens. I get my car back Friday morning and race around getting moving supplies. After filling my tank for all the necessary errands, my check engine light comes back on. I run the errands anyway.

My plans and budget require a revision.  My contacts have become uncomfortable, my eyes are watery and I can’t see as well as normal.  Detour to eye doctor.  New contact lens required.  Takes a week or more to get them.  If I chewed my nails at this point I wouldn’t have any fingers left.

I take the cats to the vet.  It is less traumatic than I had anticipated for all concerned and what I saved at the vet can go to pay the eye doctor.  The receptionist at the vet, when I explain that I am moving to California, tells me that they can provide health certificates for the cats that will help if I am stopped at the border.  Yes, please.  Only she can’t get her computer to print it and tells me to come back later in the week to pick it up.

The car goes back to the shop.

I get my new contact.  The prescription isn’t quite right- I can’t read street signs. The doctor revises it after a visit I don’t really have time for.  It could take another week.

I am staying late at the opera or hanging out at my friend’s so I can book hotels that are clean, cheap, and allow pets, find some moving men for the short term move to my son’s house, rent a truck, and a dozen other crazy making tasks. I have begun packing and purging but have a long way to go.  My schedule is being compromised by the extra time it takes every day to get around on public transportation. There are too many things in my house I don’t know what to do with.  I am seriously behind in packing.  I have too many people I need to see before I go.  I am inspired.  I will invite them to come over, help pack, and help themselves to the accumulated yarn, fabric, and other stuff I don’t need to hang on to.  This involves another errand, the purchase of party supplies.

My last day at the opera.  I have done everything I need to do there to pass the torch.   My car is fixed.  I buy party supplies.  I stop at the vet’s to get the certificate.  It’s ready but the vet is too busy to sign it.  Come back tomorrow I am told.

My horoscope says:  finish old business.  I’m trying.  What more do you want?

My car needs to be driven at least 100 miles or 2 weeks before it can be tested for emissions.  This is to give the monitors a chance to reset.  I know this but I just don’t have that kind of time so I risk it and take to the emission place.  It doesn’t pass.  The technician advises me to drive it around the perimeter expressway a couple of times and then bring it back.  I don’t  have that kind of time either but I don’t have a lot of options.  I drive it around the perimeter, 68 miles takes about 1 1/2 hours in Atlanta traffic.

Saturday morning, I do it again.  Then I stop at the vet’s where my certificates are ready.  Finally some progress.

By Saturday afternoon I am mostly packed, thanks primarily to my friend Diana.  So when my party guest arrive they cart some things to the curb, take away a few things for themselves, and leave me some much appreciated and unexpected gift cards for my trip. After they leave, I drive around the perimeter, again.

Sunday the stuff I plan to keep is moved into my son’s house where I also will be staying until I can get everything cleaned up in my apt., pick up my contact lens, and ideally pass my emissions.  Since he has 2 dogs, my cats are staying in my apartment until I leave town.  They are completely freaked out, hovering on top of the kitchen cabinets, since all the usual hiding places went with the movers.

Once everything is moved, I drive half way  around the perimeter.  I just can’t face the whole thing.

My apartment still has way too much stuff in it.  It will take too many trips in my car to take it to a thrift store plus there are 4 boxes of old taxes and receipts that need to be shredded and after filling the trash cans at my building I still have several big bags of trash.  I also have a TV to dispose of.  I do some research and discover that I can get the shredding done at Office Max and Best Buy will recycle the TV.  Only I can’t lift it by myself. A friend with an SUV comes to my rescue and we get the stuff to the Salvation Army in one trip.  She takes the TV with her and I take my 20lbs of paper to Office Max for shredding.

My contact is ready and this time it’s right and I can see.  Victory! I run by the emissions place.  The pretest shows it still won’t pass.  I drive around the perimeter again.

Tuesday is the day I would really like to leave but alas my car still won’t pass and I haven’t been able to finish cleaning my apartment.  I am shipping 7 boxes of tools, research books, clothes and patterns to LA so a trip to the post office is also on the agenda. I have clothes that still need to be packed for the trip along with the cat stuff and I still need to drive around the perimeter. My son and his girlfriend take me out to dinner.  There are exotic cocktails involved.  I skip the trip around the perimeter.

Wednesday has to be the day. I won’t be able to get to LA in time if I don’t leave by then.  I take my car to the emission place. No go. My landlord wants to know when I will be out so he can get in to paint.  The apartment still needs to be swept, I haven’t really cleaned it sufficiently, there’s still stuff that needs to go to the trash, I need to get the cats calmed down enough to get them into the carriers.  I just don’t have  the time for another circle around Atlanta. I race over to my mechanic.  His test indicates that the monitors have reset and it should pass.  Emissions guy says not.  I say damn the results, run the test.  If it doesn’t pass I’ll have to deal with in California.  It passes.  I leave emissions guy with his mouth hanging open.

It’s now almost 3 pm. My urgent need to get on the road today trumps everything.  My cleaning agenda is reduced to removing all the rest of the trash.  I load my car and trick the cats into their carriers.  They let me know how they feel about this but eventually the felaway kicks in and they zen out. I stop at my son’s house long enough to fill out the forms for my car tag, gather the rest of my belongs, and say a very poignant and teary farewell.  I toss the tag form into the box at the post office on my way out of town and head west into the setting sun.

Next:  A Cat’s Guide to Cross Country Travel

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Serendipity

I don’t have a bucket list.  I don’t have one because the most enjoyable, unique, and memorable experiences of my life have always been unplanned.  A list implies that one has a plan in place to do certain things, visit that place, have that experience.  I know having a list doesn’t mean one can’t also have spontaneous wonderful moments while pursuing one’s list, it’s just that for me, the much anticipated planned activity never quite measures up to the ones that just happen on their own, serendipitously.

Today the stars aligned perfectly and provided me with an unlooked for fortuitous opportunity and if I had a bucket list, I would now be crossing an item off.   I had dinner at Chez Pannise.   It was lovely, beautiful place, attentive staff, fabulous meal.  It was wickedly expensive and I may regret that later but not just yet.

Thanks, Leon, for aiding and abetting.

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Numb

Balanced here,

Waiting to fall forward,

To dance in the sunshine.

Even to go  backwards, to slip

Plunging down, washed overboard,

Drowned in a sea of rage and tears.

Rising after the storm has passed,

Dissolved in pure light.

I am stopped here,

Above an abyss of nothing,

Waiting for happy.

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