Friday, February 29, 2008

Cold?


Icicles on the railway tracks? That's how cold it has been during the week. We missed the snow but we have managed to catch a few icy blasts and needed hats and gloves and scarves.
The occasional snow flurry but not the quantity of snow that was recorded last week and kept us in Chicago and caused the loss of a day's work.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Too many cooks?


It takes a certain number of sushi chefs to make a meal but perhaps at Aiko one of our "local" Japanese restaurants this wasn't necessarily the case. They seemed to be having a great time. Having arrived from a meeting and in a rush to get out to theatre we called in for a quick feed and it was a quick feed. We were in and out of there in around 30minutes.
On Monday night we went to on of our other Japanese restaurants and although not as fast it has just as wonderful a selection of food. Their fish dish with a variety of fish and shitake mushrooms is positively scrumptious.
In coming to live in NYC food was not one of the things I imagined I'd be able to rave about but we have had some interesting and delicious meals all grand enough to "write home about". The Japanese restaurants are interesting and nothing like the meals I've eaten at home or in Japan. My greatest disappointment is that very few restaurants have picked up on serving nasu dengaku (egg plant and miso) but Natsumi has a variety of it with cheese which seemed an odd mix but actually works well.
The sensational mix of Asian cuisine at Ruby Foos remains a favourite.

Monday, February 25, 2008

This early bird caught.... a flight home!


Back in NYC with the sun pouring through the windows. But it was a real early start- up at 3:45am- may as well have stayed up all night but nothing to stay up for other than the end of the Oscars.
So out the hotel door into a cab and to the airport which was crowded but relatively fast moving. Onto our plane in the very last row- feeling lucky to be on the plane.
I slept for an hour so the trip was over fairly quickly despite the "holding pattern" coming in to La Guardia.
On another occasion we flew up the island right over the sights of NYC, the image above was "snapped" from my window.
The adventure continued when we went to locate our luggage which we hadn't seen since Friday morning around 6am. Having watched the luggage handlers fling a suitcase marked fragile, on to one of the trucks as the unloaded our plane, we weren't all that confident.
In the baggage area there were bags stacked along one wall but neither Sue's nor mine. So in to the baggage office (Sue went to check our flights carousel just in case). The young man took me into a smallish back room stacked with more suitcases and I located Sue's but not mine. It turns out mine is either having a grand time in Memphis or perhaps in Chicago and missed the flight or who knows. So now I just have to hope they find the little black bag whose distinguishing features include a silver name tag, a blue makeup purse and a copy of Across the Nightingale Floor (not my copy either!)
But despair oh despair what I have realized are also in the little black case are my camera cables and re-chargers and lucky for someone (hopefully me) my dirty washing.
I am just going to have to sit tight and trust the American Airlines staff and look forward ot the moment when I am reunited with my valued treasures.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hopper to the Ballet


Wow- I finally got to see the Joffrey Ballet- the program at the moment is an Antony Tudor Centennial Celebration. The program opened with Lilac Garden (1939), a soap-opera-like short romantic story set in Victorian England which has been called Tudor’s masterpiece. Dark Elegies was the second ballet it is set to the songs by Gustav Mahler (sung by Stephen Salters), the dance is meant to express the grief of villagers who have lost their children for some unknown reason, Dark Elegies was choreographed in 1937 and Peggy Van Praagh premiered the ballets in London with Antony Tudor. Her work was acknowledged in the program. I kept thinking that I had seen the ballet in the Australian Ballet repertoire and checked and yep they have it as part of their seasons.
Offenbach in the Underworld (1956) was the final ballet on the program. It was described as having hummable music, silly stage business and slightly naughty can-can dancers, and sent everyone home in a light mood. That pretty much summed it up.
The theatre was gorgeous although the most poorly lit auditorium I have ever been in- much squinting by all to try and read the program- I was wishing I had one of those pocket torches. I was seated in the first row of the balcony, centre- far enough away to not be disturbed by the clunking of the to shoes but with a clear enough view to enjoy the spectacle. The theatre has wonderfully ornate ceiling decoration and murals- it is a truly grad venue.
Prior to the ballet Sue and I lined up for tickets to see the Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. What a treat that was. Homer’s work is as a watercolorist and it has such vibrancy and depth like nothing I have seen before. His body of work was huge and he painted people and the country life of the US in particular North East, as did Edward Hopper. His work I love- I really love the way he gives a peek into people’s lives and seems to capture the emotion in the stillness of figures and the direction of their gaze. The curator of the exhibition wrote “The geometric forms and the patterns of sunlight and shadow that seemed to imbue them with emotional intensity”- far be it from me to try and express it any better really.
So yet another great day in Chicago even if it was enforced!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Unexpected touring


Getting back to Chicago within twelve months was not my plan but the snow in New York City (a storm which has been a long time coming) had the effect of us having an enforced holiday. While still in Memphis we had a phone message from the travel company (Expedia) to say that we needed to contact them. American Airlines had cancelled our flight for the following day. Sue rang them and they said that due to the predicted storm coming to NYC the flight had been cancelled and so we needed to reschedule our flight. The options were to go the next morning early (6am) or later in the day. We asked what they thought the best thing to do was and they said to get out of the city as soon as we could.
So we caught the flight they suggested which got us to Chicago and then to a flight to NYC. Unfortunately by the time we reached Chicago the storm had hit NYC and all flights into and out of the city were cancelled. We had to queue to find out what flight we could get on and the only flight we could get is on Monday morning at 6am – this was Friday morning we were finding this out.
We could sit out at the airport and hope for a standby but given that they were trying to get however many thousand people on to a limited number of flights we figured we had to accept it all and make the most of it. We could have a voucher for a hotel near the airport or look after ourselves. We figured we can claim some of all this on our travel insurance (we’ve looked it up and there is a chance we can get reimbursed) so we are staying at the Hilton opposite Grant Park in Chicago. We have a room with a view over the park out to Lake Michigan, which is frozen. Snow on the ground in the park. The room looks east so a great view of sunrise this morning.
The major disadvantages of all this , apart from the expense are that we checked our suitcases in Memphis so have no luggage (we have bought toothbrushes and toothpaste and oversized t-shirts for pyjamas- and much washing of the smalls) and I have to cancel a day’s work on Monday making it up at some time in the future. So Sue and I have settled back in to the hotel life and trying to make the most of being in Chicago for the weekend- if unplanned.
Today we joined an Art Deco tour with the Architecture Association. There were 13 people on the walking tour that went for about 2.5 hours. We had only our outdoor gear that we had taken to Memphis so no great warm gear to survive the entire walk without feeling like absolute ice blocks by the end. However it was really worth all the pain and suffering as there are a large number of great buildings here in Chicago. We had been on a cruise down the river when we were here in April last year so were confident that the tour would be a good one. We ended up at a spot near the river and had the chance to take photo of the frozen river.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the art gallery to go to the Hopper Exhibition that is on as part of the American City American Art Exhibition. The crowds were too much for us so we plan to go again tomorrow earlier in them morning given that the gallery is about two blocks away and that way beat the crowds. On our way out this morning we stopped at the theatre and I bought a ticket to see the Joffrey Ballet tomorrow afternoon. They are from Chicago and when we were here in April it was either before or after their regular season so I missed out. As you can see we are making them most of being here. Each afternoon we have also done some serious napping so should go back to work relatively rested but then that’s the purpose of holidays isn’t it?!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Graceland, Graceland, Memphis Tennessee


One should sing the title of this post rather than say it however, that being stated the day at Graceland was again an interesting one. Elvis' achievements in the music industry are truly incredible. The tour of Graceland is interesting in what you see of Elvis' life and what is glossed over. The insecurities and the achievements let alone the talent he had. The tour of the costume building was the cherry on the cake really.
Perhaps the real cherry was the tour of Sun Studios on our way home to the Peabody Hotel. It put Elvis' contribution into "historical" perspective- the contribution he made to the development of not only American music but world music and Rock 'n' Roll.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Radio stars


Possibly the least likely thing we anticipated we'd do on this trip along the Blues Highway was to be interviewed on Blues Radio. I managed to stay off the air but both Sue and Margie were interviewed by Sunshine Sonny Payne who broadcasts each weekday on KFFA in Helena, Arkansas. The King Biscuit Time radio show was founded in 1941 with the first ever live broadcast of blues music and the daily programming of Sonny Boy Williamson, Pinetop Perkins, Robert Lockwood Jr. and other blues legends throughout the delta. The program is obviously still broadcast otherwise how could Sue and Margie (from then on for the rest of the day known as Marjie) have been interviewed on air. With more than 14,000 broadcasts, King Biscuit Time has had an influence on several generations of blues, rock, and pop trend setters. Sonny Payne has hosted the show since 1951, and has been a presence on the program since its inception in 1941 focusing on a Delta blues format.
The radio station is in part of the Blues Museum in Helena Arkansas. We visited there mainly to see the Mississippi River. People in Clarksdale said there was nothing in Helena- they were wrong. We had a nice time in the museum learning more about the Blues and musicians.
After Sue and Marjie had talked about why we were in Helena and they listened to our "purdy" accents we walked up to the levee (across the road) and saw the polluting and poorer part of life on the river.
Lunch and then a drive along old highway 61 in to Memphis and the Peabody.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chasing the Blues


Centering an exploration of Clarksdale MI around the development of Blues music has been all consuming today. We started out at a plantation which was appropriate enough The cotton gin was in evidence but the grandeur of a plantation home was long gone. The quest for the artistic photo became a bit of an obsession but time was still available to talk with the owners of the rather unusual accommodation at the Hopson Plantation. It's called the Shack Up Inn and we were fortunate enough to be given a personalized tour of a few of the shacks. Quaint, eclectic and individual- all the shacks have a theme and ephemera apparently gathered from all manner of sources including junk shops and a bit of street shopping thrown in.
Julia drove us in to the middle of Clarksdale parking the car in the main street and we set off on foot to snap our way towards Ground Zero- a Juke Joint established by Morgan Freeman. We arrived for lunch (it's the only time it's open on Mondays- we are really missing the Blues venues this end of the week) and continued on our photographic mission. Nothing was safe from our shutter speeds including the fried green tomatoes- an interesting movie title but not so fascinating menu item.
A short walk across the former railway station car park after our lunch to the Blues Museum. Music and history beautifully blended in displays about some of the Blues greats.
Onward through Clarksdale to Miss Del's store which was purported to sell the best coffee but I think her coffee "gene" had gone on the blink today and we had one of the weaker more ordinary coffees we have had. Julia even had to go to the corner store to get the milk.
Refreshed enough we snapped a few more street scenes and headed in the car in search of the river. We found the levee and the cotton fields. A few more snaps and home to the motel for a photographic download.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Last plane to Clarksdale



I know the song is last train to Clarksville but we have traveled by plane to Clarksdale. Driving from Memphis TN to Clarksdale MI took a couple of hours as we were meandering through the areas in and around the main roads.
At one point we headed in towards Tunica and then around some back roads and came to the "swampy" looking area. Leaping out of the car for the perfect shot went well for me but Julia misjudged either what she was holding or the strength of the wind because as we looked around she was rushing up the road picking up the papers (our map and diretions) which had blown out of her hand when she opened the door.
"Clarksdale business establishment, recognizing the lucrative draw of tourism, has now embraced Clarksdale's role in American musical history at the crossroads of the immortal byways of the Blues, Highway 49 and Highway 61". (Source- Wikipedia)
The Blues is the reason we came to Clarksdale- tomorrow will be the big exploration of the museums and stores in the area but tonight was a quick tour of downtown and trying to orient ourselves to Clarksdale- didn't take long and being Sunday night there was no music, in fact there was pretty well nothing other than the giant buffet at the Steak place. So a hearty steak and salad and a pepsi and we're home sitting around doing very little waiting to see what tomorrow will bring.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Saturday in the park.... dogs



We headed out for our "Saturday Philosophy Club" meeting and unlike Isabel Dalhousie we actually went to the school of Practical Philosophy in Manhattan. It's on 79th St near Central Park so today and last week we traveled up Central Park West in a cab and walked across the park cameras in hand. My focus ended up being the dog walkers and they were there in there hundreds and some very proud to display their dogs and tell how wonderful they are.
The park is beautiful, bare and seemingly endless- such a wonderful oasis in the middle of the city. We walked, meandering straight across the park west to east and nipped across 5th Avenue to The School of Practical Philosophy.
We emerged from philosophy and walked meandering diagonally from East 79th St to West 59th St Columbus Circle.
The dog photos continued. It never ceases to amaze me what people do with their dogs. We walked past two women with two dogs and what I thought was a baby in a stroller (turns out Julia and Margie assumed the same as me). At one point the two women stopped at a bench and it was only because Margie was looking at a statue that I stopped and noticed one of the women adjusting a rug. It caught my eye as it was a rather large dark greenish colour, "Not very babyish" I thought so looked closer. The stroller was not holding a baby at all it was for the dachshunds that the women were walking. Their poor little legs must have been too tired by then. She carefully placed the large rug in the stroller and I presume the dogs went in to their dog stroller soon.
Then there were the dogs who were out for a great time chasing balls, carrying too large sticks, sitting on the bench with their owners or being carried through the park.
It was a "Thinking" walk indeed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Post Valentine


This image perhaps sums up my Valentine's Day. A red rose stuck in an empty bottle of wine. Actually the red rose was given to us by the doorman and a glass of champagne by the concierge.
The plan by the building management was for "champagne and roses" from 5pm until 9pm. I arrived home at 4pm. Worked prepared dinner. Sue arrived home avec champagne and rose courtesy of the front desk ,around 6:15pm. Julia arrived around 6:30 no rose, no champagne. I gather "foreigners" to the building didn't benefit from the largesse of the management. So after dinner (a rather splendid risotto from the culinary skills of yours truly) we, Julia and I, headed to the theatre to see Come back Little Sheba starring S Epatha Merkeson (another story in itself). We met Margie in the foyer sipping Valentine's Day champagne. So off to the theatre and a great performance which was enhanced by champagne and roses and chocolate in the foyer to get myself back together again. Hence the second rose in the wine bottle.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What a difference a day makes!

Despite the quantity of water and snow yesterday today it is but a memory! Walking from the subway today I was thinking one would hardly know that it snowed yesterday or even that it rained in the parts of Queens I was walking in any case. The pavements were clear and the gutters as well as the gardens. There was one or two tiny patches of snow and when I saw patches that is making them sound larger than they were.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hoped for but then...


Last evening it was exciting like sitting in a real snowdome. It wasn't much snow just enough to make things look white and clean. Then today it was raining- light enough to flit from building to building on my way to the subway.
But..... when I had to walk from the train to the school I began to ponder a few things.
Which is worse?
Walking through the slushy snow with water almost up to your ankles or walking without snow under the eaves of buildings and being drenched by water run off?
Making sure you don't slip on the snow and ice or walking slowly through drenching rain?
Avoiding dog business in the snow or stepping in to slushy gutters at crossings?
Coping with wet umbrellas as you move into the subway or into a building?

Aahh the joys of rainy snowy days!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Crimes of the....


What a multi-sensory event my trip to the theatre has been. Strode out at 1:40pm to see the Roundabout Theatre's production of Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley directed by Kathleen Turner. The set really does set the mood for the play and the cast did a wonderful job of showing the nuances of relationships and family turmoil. The play worked well for me - I loved the interplay between the women and could relate to the laughter at the "wrong" time in telling an unfortunate piece of news to someone.
The multi-sensory nature of the theatre event came from the audience in particular those next to and near me. The man on my right twitched in an unfortunate way and the woman on my left insisted on using both her side and my side of the arm rest (sense number one-touch). Unfortunately sense number two was smell as someone near me had a flatulence problem so that odours drifted by at the strangest moments. Added to this, the woman to my left and her husband (I presume here) at interval pulled out of their baggage hard boiled eggs and cucumber pieces and cheese sticks and which they munched their way through possibly adding to the flatulence issue which continued into the second act. The third sense was taste which unfortunately those eggs impacted on. The fourth sense was sound- the woman next to me (she added many of the senses to this experience) hadn't bothered to get a hearing enhancing device and she continued to ask what was said or complain that she didn't get what they said throughout almost the entire performance. Partly because the characters had southern accents which did take a little getting used to. She then borrowed her husband's hearing piece (as he had got a hearing enhancing device) and at one stage said loudly "Did you get that?" as one might do when wearing headphones. However the piece de resistance was when some one near the back of the theatre sneezed fairly quietly and blow me down some one else said loudly "Bless you". I've been waiting for that to happen again somewhere inappropriate but wished it hadn't been in the theatre!
The seeing sense was not just the play, costumes and set but the sight of people leaving a good 15 minutes before the end of the play and one person going to the bathroom (again I presume) about 10 minutes in to the play.
All in all a multi-sensory event capped off by the walk home through the driving snow and rain which has now as suddenly stopped.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Politics


It would seem that the "happening upon" the Obama rally at Columbus Circle last Saturday was to be a thread throughout the week. Not surprising given that Tuesday was Super Tuesday.
It began for us as this image shows with Margie talking with the young woman at the Women for Obama Rally. Basically we were trying to work out where he was- obviously not in NYC.
However the places in which I was privy to the discussion of politics, and more importantly the discussion of the endorsement of presidential candidates, were many and varied. In some schools teachers began discussions about what was happening and what they thought about it all. Usually ignoring me and talking about all they had heard and seen.
Today in philosophy one of the participants (Tom) raised the political situation in the US as an example of a country coming out of waking sleep into awareness. When we had our break a small group of us continued the discussion with Tom. One young woman in the group was saying that she was the only person in her workplace that had actually voted in the primaries and that she couldn't understand why people weren't bothering to exercise their right to vote. She continued on to say that she agreed with Tom and that more than ever before she felt that people were talking about the election. For the first time ever she sat up and watched the debates and then the count on Tuesday night (for two to three hours) something she hasn't done before. Another woman agreed with her that she was watching it all on TV for the first time and that tonight she would be watching the next primaries count.
Then another woman said that she was also watching it all but it is all so very confusing- "Why don't they just have a popular vote?" My comment was that perhaps the popular vote would leave it all more open to (greater?)corruption- the person who is able to buy the most votes or threatens the most or whatever, is the person who becomes president.
The discussion then drifted to the events in Florida eight years ago and the general consensus was that how wrong it was for the Supreme Court to rule in the manner it did.
An earlier encounter about the election I had in the week was in Starbucks (of all places) while I was getting my lunch on my way to work one young woman was talking with the young man behind the counter about the election and the vote for Hillary Clinton. It appeared that they were struggling with the way in which votes are counted and how could Obama claim certain areas when Hillary Clinton was within such close range of his numbers.
And so the puzzlement over the electoral processes here continue!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

One of those moments


They can still catch me off guard- those moments when one's fellow pedestrians either do something unexpected or appear quite out of the ordinary. I guess walking through midtown Manhattan one should expect it but then it happens and I am left smiling and shaking my head. Batman was another day and another moment however today walking to the supermarket (an ordinary thing) a man walking in the opposite direction was talking on his cell phone (unfortunately an equally ordinary thing) But just as he was about level with me he struck a type of modeling pose ever so briefly then continued on his way. It left me wondering was it part of his conversation with the person and he was demonstrating forgetting he was on the phone or did he just have that uncontrollable urge to strike a pose? I'll never know.
Just as I was in recovery mode a woman went past with two dogs on leads doing their own piece of "advanced leash plaiting". All this in the space of one city block, admittedly between avenues so a little more distance and a bit more chance for something to happen.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate


The next installment of our Saturday Philosophy Club, using Alexander McCall Smith's book titles as a point of reference. I'm going to run out in the next two weeks however this week did strangely reflect his choice of title only as far as the chocolate and the friends. Although I am a lover of chocolate.... but it needs to be Australian chocolate not the generic and strange stuff available in places far from that distant shore.
During the break in our third practical philosophy class I partook of the chocolate brownie- should have resisted but didn't. Julia was in LA so it was just Margie and I, we still managed to walk back through the park- Margie having walked across the park on her way to the class.
This week's discussion at philosophy centered around identifying the essential as opposed to habitual desires... The labeling of things using the word "Essential" was where I had most difficulty as air and water are essential but the work in class categorized breathing and food as habitual.I struggled a little with some aspects of that but I'm prepared to think things through over the week and next Saturday front up for more time talking about things.

My focus during part of today was on my self selected project of "photographing the wind". I set this concept for myself a while back and it occurred to me today when I returned to the "discussion" room and noticed the curtains. A perfect example of wind- love it! So have I photographed the wind or merely its effect? I prefer to think that in there in my photo is the wind.