Monday, December 31, 2012

Hope springs temporal... Great With Ham

I'm no wine snob, I just happily drink it, but really, Wholefoods, "Great with ham" as an endorsement of sparkling wine?! If only I'd had my camera! Well I did have my phone so I suppose it was just social awkwardness that stopped me recording my enjoyment. There were quite a few of us around the mock champagne aisle on New Year's Eve, scrutinizing the bottles in the busy Reston store. Oh for something recognizable, I don't care if Its Korbel or Moet. All so esoteric and obscure, organic this and imported that, we only have your say-so to rely on and you give us pointers like "great with ham"?! I almost bought a bottle out of curiosity, what does it taste like, green eggs? Pineapple?

Anyway, I was in Wholefoods to pick up a can of black eyed peas, not ham. Having lived 4 years in Texas I've adopted the idea that it's extremely important to eat them on New Years Day to ensure everything goes well in the forseeable future. Some years it seems to have worked, others not so much.  I follow the Mennonite recipe in More With Less, lots of cumin and brown sugar along with the magic triangle of onions, celery and carrots, simmered in those all important tomatoes. Welcome delicious New Year, full of good resolutions and unknown possibilities....

According to Wikipedia this black eyed peas superstition/belief is recorded in the Talmud.  Jewish settlers brought it to Georgia in the 1730s. It became mainstream Southern food at the time of the Civil War, possibly because the marauding Northerners stripped them of all resources except black eyed peas which they considered hog-food. Lucky, eh?!

Here's to 2013! I have tidied my studio, cleared the decks of the results of procrastination, given myself both a stern talking to and the all important encouraging word, and now I'm all set to have a good year. All the best to you too!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Spirited giving

Hot on the heels of Christmas in America comes the barrage of frenzied last minute appeals by mail and email from any charity you've ever given to, theater you've subscribed to, museum you became a member of, hospital you've had an appointment at and dear friend who's dedicating their life to a worthy mission. There's a tax break for charitable contributions here and we can benefit from that until the last day of the year. Inducements come in the form of heartbreaking stories of need and suffering to the gift of a free stamp.

My impulse has always been to give stuff away rather than to sell it. Even in the penniless hippie days things passed easily through my fingers. Then in our early 20s David and I ambled innocently into the evangelical, charismatic kind of churches that teach that tithing 10% of your net income is just the law-given baseline starting point, complete with the curse of Malachi if you "rob God" (yes, really!) According to that teaching you don't officially start giving anything until you've fulfilled your tithe obligation.  Our psychological waters were seriously muddied on the subject for many years as a result.

I'm drawn to movements now that encourage you to give freely and annonymously. I like the lightheartedness of leaving books for strangers to find.... and the free mini libraries cropping up all over the world in mailbox sized replicas of a one roomed schoolhouse on a "take one, leave one" basis .....

I belong to a lovely group of enthusiastic givers on Facebook called Art Abandonment. The premise is much like book crossing but with art work. You leave something you've made in a public place. It has a label informing the recipient what the group is about and encouraging them to email the facilitator, then their response is posted on the group page. It's just for fun, hopefully spreading a little happiness here and there.

It's hard to give something away for free, people are wary. Even I balked slightly at finding this wheatgrass in Central Park in the summer. David was all for taking it but we were staying in a hotel and about to go home on the train. It didn't seem at all practical to me so we left it for someone else. But more than that..... I experienced that uneasy, suspicious feeling that maybe it was a set up of some kind. Maybe we were being secretly filmed and our reactions would show up on UTube. But no, I looked it up later and sure enough it's another nice under-groundswell group,

On Christmas Eve we had tickets for a Broadway show that we were unable to get to, another of my mess-ups.  We didn't like to think of them being wasted so we approached a few people in the park, trying to give them away. Of course this is hopeless! Everyone's suspicious, thinking there must be a catch or that you're just another hustler, no matter how early on in the conversation you insert the words "free" and "give away".  I would probably react exactly the same. In the end we resorted to leaving them on a park bench in the hope that just the right people would come along and be curious and trusting enough to pick them up.

                                                    I don't suppose we'll ever know!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

No fixed abode Christmas

For the last several years we've spent Christmas in hotels in order to be near our daughter who lives in a small apartment in Astoria, Queens. Her job as an art therapist in the healthcare industry hasn't provided her with enough time off to accommodate a trip down to Virginia. As both our families are in England, unless we face up to the idea of transatlantic travel at peak Holiday times our alternative is to be home alone. The one year we did that I very much regretted it. It's a lot of fun to be in NY at Christmas and we're lucky to be able to go, but increasingly we feel strangely ungrounded. I'm looking forward to actually moving there next year (can't say that without adding a quick chorus of God willing, if all goes well, hopefully etc) No matter how tiny our apartment is we'll darned well have ourselves a tree and I'm cooking dinner!

This year I remembered to take markers and whiled away some time drawing Christmassy sort of mandalas 

I've learned to bring a few touches of home to the hotel,  ornaments, lights, mince pies and so on, and we have managed to maintain one important family tradition.... the Christmas jigsaw puzzle.

The iconic trees and decorations are at the Rockerfeller Center 

but we also appreciated these distinctly less tasteful ones on 6th Ave for their fine reflective quality. It rained quite a bit!

The Salvation Army danced joyfully along to musical soundtracks this year, blasted out of speakers at their feet. This lady at Rockerfeller Plaza got everyone singing and dancing with her, she had just the right happy face and attitude for it.

You've got to admire the dedication to making an impression when it comes to hauling a grand piano into Washington Square Park. Hope it paid off.

Whole blog posts elsewhere are devoted to Bergdorf Goodman's amazing windows. The theme this year was BG Follies, very art deco. This was my favorite outfit, a little more punk than most .... she has green satin lined leggings under an embroidered velvet cocktail dress and long green leather opera gloves to match her boots. And of course, the perfect companion!

Our miniature decorations, complete with British telephone kiosk ornament from Liz and Alan

David embraces the spirit of Christmas after a helpful mimosa or two for breakfast!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bucket list by proxy..... Leonard Cohen

It's all very well having a bucket list of your own, but if you're married or have a "significant other" you're loyally involved to some degree in the quest for fulfillment of theirs too. So there we were at Madison Square Gardens last week at a Leonard Cohen concert..... one to strike off David's list. In fact neither of us has an actual list, it's more a question of saying "if I had one, this would be on it"

I have had my own relationship with Leonard Cohen over the decades, I've even seen him perform before at him at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 (not that I remember much about that!)  More recently I've chosen to hold him at bay, wary of his ability to trigger those 2 old adversaries, sadness and nostalgia. And to be honest, as irreverent as it is to think this, sometimes his gravely-ness annoys me, much like hearing Henry Kissinger speaking.
However, he was very, VERY good. Friendly and communicative, energetic, enthusiastic, soulful.... he sang every song as if it was as precious to him as it was to the 18,000 strong, cheering assembly. After a very dispiriting, disillusioning experience at a Van Morrison concert a few years ago I don't take that as a given, especially having heard that Leonard Cohen embarked on this massive, exhausting 56 show European and N American tour for reasons of financial distress after being defrauded out of most of his retirement fortune.

Leonard Cohen, age 78

He sang everything you'd want him to sing. He recited A Thousand Kisses Deep as the beautiful poem it is. Onstage, accompanying him perfectly and succeeding in making the tight choreography of their moves look effortless and natural, were Sharon Robinson (a co-writer on some songs) and the 2 wonderful Web sisters.
I won't go on...... but catch it if you can in 2013 for sure.

David celebrating..... 3 off the list, 7 to go!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An expensive case of mistaken identity

Just when the Beatles are on our minds here comes the very sad news that Ravi Shankar has died at age 92. He came into the popular music scene in the '60s,  bridging the East/West musical cultural gap in what was an exciting new way back then in the days before "world  music". He'd lived in Paris as a child and had a brother who danced with Anna Pavlova.  Later he worked with an impressive, diverse array of musicians including John Coltrane and Yehudi Menhuin as well as famously teaching George Harrison to play the sitar. Ravi Shankar was there at Monterey, Woodstock and the Concert for Bangladesh. He was very present as we grew up, as is his daughter, Norah Jones, today.

We were excited to have the chance to see him in Washington DC as part of a Kennedy Center concert series in 2011 which celebrated Indian music and culture, but unfortunately he had to cancel because of ill health. All was not lost though..... I noticed his name a few months later as part of the I Meditate NY series at the Lincoln Center and gleefully bought tickets for David and I, daughter Chloe and her boyfriend Dan. I suppose I was too excited to question the "meditate"aspect or look carefully at his name, I just wanted to get good seats asap as it felt as if this might be the last opportunity to see him.

At the concert we were noticeably very definitely in the minority as non-Indians, we were sitting in a sea of beautiful saris. I was surprised but took it in stride. However, when he arrived on stage with no sitar and led us in a guided meditation session it finally dawned on me that this was the wrong Ravi Shankar. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a guru with quite a large following. Ooooops!

Glancing covertly around I think I saw one other couple similarly mortified. We enjoyed the evening anyway of course, couldn't have been more peaceful except for the muffled irreverent giggling from Chloe at my initial aghast expression.

Ravi Shankar

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, very nice man but a whole different scene!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Count your life by smiles not tears"

It came to my attention that yesterday marked the 32nd anniversary of John Lennon's murder. I've heard it said that, like the assassination of President Kennedy, everyone remembers where they were when they heard that news. Sadly I don't, I must have been very preoccupied. I do however remember where I was when I first heard "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah". I was coming out of my elementary school at the end of the day and a kid was singing it at the top of his voice. The words were so unexpected they struck me and stayed with me until I knew where they came from. Then, like any other baby boom era child, the Beatles and later John and Yoko became an intrinsic part of my evolving into a teenager and long beyond.

I heard that Paul McCartney asked his father for his opinion on the song "She Loves You" and his response was," it would be better, Paul,  to say She loves you, yes, yes, yes , " I love that story.... so English!

The first time we visited NY we made a pilgrimage to the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park, there are always people there taking photos and leaving tributes.

Imagine no guns....

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Weighty Ephemera, 5 vignettes

This summer my mother in law came over from England for a couple of weeks. We were walking in Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, Georgetown, and found this installation of billowing wire mesh and 10,000 Swarovski crystals by Cao called "Cloud Terrace" We were discussing her creative writing project on the subject of ephemera at the time and these were my thoughts on seemingly small events with long lasting consequences.

A conversation never forgotten.........
Our fleeting encounter
in '72
I think of decades later.

A dropped match and a forest fire.......
Absent minded
causing long range

Hasty words destroying self esteem.....
Your rage
and my shame
(I carry the baggage of your unloading)

A mosquito bearing West Nile Virus......
The fragile intrusion,
predictable itch
and shocking

A loveless act and a baby......
The clumsy attempt
of two
to become one


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Not too jaded


Our wedding! Bradford, UK, at dear pals Liz and Alan's house.

David and I just celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary.... Jade. Did I buy or receive a jade gift? No. But we DID treat ourselves to the most beautiful painting by Flora Bowley with several jade green tones in it called, rather appropriately for the occasion, Rise Together.

Her paintings are beautiful, layers and layers of colour and pattern, bold images, unfortunately my photographs don't do them justice!

2 more of Flora's paintings in our house in Reston 

It's a bit of a shock to find ourselves still around, so many years later. How did it happen?! But, considering the alternatives, very grateful. And, as I suggested to David..... we could potentially have another 35 years to go yet! (at this point we both groaned in perfect unison)

Here we are now, still surviving, all grown up. Inside we don't feel as changed as we look. but where did all that hair go?!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Jolly Gourd Show

Hurricane Sandy swept through our area at the end of October and although we were spared any of the terrible effects NJ and NY suffered, it did put a swift end to Fall. A lot of trees went from beautiful to bald overnight and the temperatures suddenly dropped to wintery levels. I'd been procrastinating over posting the inevitable farm market, pumpkin pictures and now they have quite a tinge of nostalgia.

 In September I went to the Greenmarket at Union Square, NY, and took way too many pictures. Pumpkins look the same anywhere. It reminded me of my school trip to Paris, age 11 back in the '60s. The first place we visited was the zoo and I used up both the films for my Brownie 127 camera on pictures of animals! Came home with no record at all of the Eiffel Tower of the Arc de Triomphe.

 Farmers come from Long Island, upstate NY and New Jersey three times a week and set up as wonderful an organic farm market as you'd find anywhere.

 See the bees on the bear's nose, smeared with honey.... brilliant way to stop them from harassing the customers!

Found that picture a little confusing! But it's good to know you can buy duck if that's what you fancy.

Town and country. This was a wonderful organic bread stall, wished I wasn't living in a hotel!

It was really crowded and bustling with people shopping in the sunshine, lots of children, people on their lunch breaks from work, a few tourists like me.  New York is a very livable city.

After this wonderful trip it was back home to the N Virginia suburbs where the pumpkins lie in fields, even if they've just been placed there for effect....

This all feels a bit more authentic but I miss the cars, the skyscrapers and all that noise!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

4 More Years!

After living here for 25 years, we finally took citizenship and could vote in this election. It was easy, a short walk from home and a 35 minute wait. There was an option to vote electronically or to fill in a paper ballot which you took to be scanned and and could see was counted immediately. We did that. I can't see why anyone thinks the electronic method is better? No paper record as back up if there's a dispute? I don't get it.
What I did get was this sticker. I've given many stickers out to children when I was an art teacher but I don't think I've been on the receiving end before. I felt really happy!

Then we went home and had a little patriotic red, white and blue celebration before David went back to work. Champagne would have been preferable but the Yorkshire tea sums it all up nicely!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Village In The City

I'm in NY for 2 weeks, neighborhood shopping for a potential move here next year. We usually stay within walking distance of David's office, which plants us firmly in the heart of all the touristy areas between Central Park and Times Square. It's fun but it's not exactly real life. So this time we headed downtown for the first week and stayed in Soho just outside the West Village. He experimented with a daily subway commute (which he still reverts to calling the Tube half the time) and I spent the days wandering around imagining being here permanently. I should be so lucky!

These roads of beautiful townhouses in the West Village used to be considered the heart of bohemia and in the 60s it was a very run down area. Now they're out of most normal people's reach financially and Bleecker St looks like an oldtown version of 5th Ave, lined with designer stores and film set locations.

While taking the photograph of the townhouses I was curious about the excitement a number of young girls were displaying over this building on the opposite corner. ("I can't believe I'm here, seeing it in real life!") Turns out it was used as the exterior shot for the apartment block in Friends.

The arch at the north side of Washington Square Park. 

We first went to Washington Square Park in '87, a few months after we moved to America from England. We visited David's cousin who was sharing a tiny studio (one room) apartment in the Village with a friend. It was so tiny his bed was on a platform accessed by a ladder, the rents must have been exorbitant even then. Long time Velvet Underground and Dylan fans, we were excited to be in Greenwich Village but it was a bit intimidating. At that time the park was full of disreputable characters,  music and craziness and we had Chloe with us, age 5. Like Times Square it's been cleaned up and made quite safe and respectable since then. NY University has moved there, buying up several blocks of buildings around the park, so it's a major hangout for students, a popular destination for tourists and a general resting place for people with time on their hands like me.

There's still music.......

.....and there's still craziness......

.....this guy in the aluminum foil hat is giving a tarot card reading. He wouldn't allow anyone to photograph him with his special hat on but I was sitting behind him having a sandwich.

The other Dylan, Dylan Thomas, stayed in the Village several times in the 1950s as did so many of the Beat Generation writers and artists before the hippies and musicians of the 60s and 70s moved in.

 Dylan Thomas was staying at the infamous Chelsea Hotel and preparing Under Milkwood for it's first recordings and performances when he was taken ill and rushed to St Vincent's Hospital in the Village where he subsequently died. Despite notorious heavy drinking, drunkenness on stage, blackouts, a fatty liver....  pneumonia, not alcoholism, was deemed the cause of death. There was smog in the city in those days,  another thing that's been cleaned up.
You can take a Dylan Thomas walking tour of the Village looking at the houses he stayed in, the places he wrote certain poems and the pubs he drank in, or maybe do the Sex And The City walking tour showing you Carrie Bradshaw's apartment house where she wrote her articles, the bars she drank in and Magnolia Bakery. Except she wasn't real of course, I was forgetting that. One end of the cultural scale to the other and all within the same few blocks. I love America!