Thursday, February 17, 2005

Gladly Saffron-ing Fools

I'm curious.

What kind of mind looks at Central Park, one of the most glorious public spaces in all of creation, a stunningly landscaped oasis of tranquil nature in the midst of possibly the most frenetically-paced region of the human universe, and thinks:

"You know what would look nice here? A whole bunch of bright orange metal frames, with curtains hanging from them."

The Gates, the latest installation by "so-cool-we-have-no-last-name" artist team Christo and Jeanne-Claude, is admittedly an impressive testament to the artists' perserverance and organizational skills. I can't imagine spending 25 years pestering city officials to get permission to do something on this scale, or raising the funds to realize something like this; and hey, none of this comes out of my pocket, and it brings people to the city, where they hopefully spend money and improve the overall economy of the place, so who am I to complain? Just as long as they return the cloth to the poor Buddhist Monks that they stole it from...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Journey of 6,000 Miles

...begins with a whole lotta paperwork!

After much schedule-rearranging and such, The Lovely Wife(tm) and I finally made it down to The Jewish Agency Aliyah Center last week to get started on our plans to move to you-know-where. A few hours and a lovely chat with our Shaliach later, we are now the proud owners of a blue folder containing approximately 4,324 different forms to be filled out (some in duplicate, naturally), and instructions to obtain an equal number of sundry documents from external sources (marriage certificates, documented stays in this country, NASA space camp graduation, etc). We don't even have identical papers, since I'm technically already an Israeli citizen (my mother's being born in Israel makes me a citizen automatically). You'd think that would simplify things, but ohhh no... I gotta get me a passport from the consulate (open during the oh-so-convenient hours of 9am-noon... I gotta get me one of those jobs), demonstrate that I haven't been in Israel for over a certain length of time in the past x years, and all kinds of other fun narishkeit (that would be yiddish for "nonsense," for the non-members of the tribe). Ah, well, one page at a time, eh?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Political drug-gery

Through Josh Marshall, I found President Bush's address to the Commerce Department from this afternoon. Now, the President spoke a bit about Social Security and class action lawsuits, and assorted political stuff, which readers of this here blog may or may not agree with. One paragraph, however, jumped out at me:
It is important, for the sake of this country and for the sake of our economy, to have a fair answer to a problem that is escalating. The problem is people are filing suits all over the country in a state courthouse that's affecting people in other states. And oftentimes businesses are getting drug into it, or people are getting drug into it that are unaware they're getting drug into it, and if they are getting drug into it, when there's finally a settlement, they don't get much. And the people -- the lawyers get a lot.

I can live with a colloquial mispronounciation of "nuclear" (I'm a New Yorker married to a New Englander; we've gotta be tolerant of alternate verbal stylings). I do wish, however, that the leader of the free world would know what the past tense of "drag" is. My high school English teacher, Miss Mayefsky, of blessed (and feared) memory, would have threatened grevious bodily harm to anyone daring to use such language in her classroom.

Okay, that's enough politics for this month...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

They Call Me a Cockeyed Optimist

...(If I'm lucky; usually, I'm called a lot worse!)

Mahboud Abbas and Ariel Sharon met yesterday, marking the first official meeting of Israeli and Palestinian leadership in four years. It is, of course, very easy to be skeptical of anything permanently good happening from this get-together. We've seen this all before, and nothing's come out of it.

And yet.

I remember being a freshman at Cooper Union on September 13, 1993, sitting in the weekly freshman orientation lecture, ignoring the instructor, and listening on my walkman (youngsters out there: there was a time before iPods, when we listened to something called the radio on devices called walkmen which also played cass... oh, never mind... I was listening to a portable radio, ok?)to Yizchak Rabin's speech on the White House lawn, where he and Yassir Arafat shook hands in front of a beaming Bill Clinton:

we who have fought against you, the Palestinians - we say to you today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough!

And I cried. When Rabin ended his speech with the prayer of "Oseh Shalom," I mouthed the words along. Maybe, just maybe, these nightmares could end. Maybe, just maybe, we would live to see people living safely in the land that I loved so much.

It's been a dozen years now. I went through four grueling years of undergraduate school, a failed attempt at one career path, a long slog down another one, a marriage, two different full-time jobs, nearly six years' worth of graduate school study with no degree yet, and a few hundred Broadway, off-Broadway, and cabaret shows (never forget the shows!). Blood and tears in the holy land? Still a-plenty. I've been fortunate to not lose anyone I know (with quite a bit of miraculous work in there: one friend was in S'barro's in Jerusalem when a bomb went off, and another was shot several times by a terrorist armed with a Kalishnikov... both came out okay), but many of my friends and family members have lost loved ones.

I don't want to sound unrealistic, and I can't say that Mahboud Abbas's past makes me particularly hopeful. But I can't count the number of times daily that I say or answer "amen" to "Oseh Shalom", and I'll be damned if I let repetition make the words any less meaningful. I will hope, and I will pray that the nightmare ends, and ends soon.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Subways are for Sondheim

Don't let anyone know, but real New Yorkers are friendly. It's just that our reserves of friendliness and politeness have to be spread out over the gajillion or so people that we see each day, so we have to hold back a bit. You're not a real New Yorker, however, until you've designated a specific handful of people to be nice to each day. There's the reserved homeless person who you give a buck to (and therefore are absolved from all other panhandlers for the day), the guy at the newspaper stand who knows exactly which candy you want, and a handful of other semi-regular people who get a greeting throughout the day.

One of the handful is the early morning token booth clerk at the 181st Street A train station (yes, they're still token booths, even if they no longer sell tokens there). I guess that she works an 11pm-7am shift, or something similar, since it's not at all unusual for me to catch her coming home from a late night out, and then see her the next morning as I trudge off to work at some ungodly early hour. At any rate, I've been giving her a smile and a wave for a couple of years, which gets reciprocated every time.

Yesterday morning, however, I had to buy a metrocard from one of the vending machines next to the booth (only the machines take credit cards, for reasons beyond my meager ability to understand), and I hear a jazz singer singing "No one's gonna hurt you, no one's gonna dare..."

Okay, a quick interruption for those who didn't recognize the lyric. The song is called "Not While I'm Around," it's from Sweeney Todd, one of my favorite musicals by my Stephen Sondheim, by far and away my favorite theatre composer. The song has particular significance to me, as it's the first Sondheim song that I fell in love with (blame my parents, who made the mistake of leaving this album out where an impressionable 18-year-old could listen to it), and was the progenitor of my Sondheim obsession. At any rate, I have several recordings of the song, but had only heard one jazz version (a fairly weak one on the otherwise excellent Trotter Trio recording). This one, however, was absolutely stunning. Upon querying the clerk, I found out that the singer's name is Veronica Nunn, and the song appears on her debut album. She also has a website with the full song as a sample (actually, she sings it as a medley with Gladys Rich's "American Lullaby." Not the most perfect pairing, but who cares?), and it's good to know that it sounds just as stunning now as it did at 5:30 in the morning (when my brain really doesn't acknowlege anything). I'm really curious to hear what she does with "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" (another Sweeney song, but not one that I'd think of as lending itself to a jazz treatment, what with it being a soprano aria and all...).