Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Some Days in the Parks With Friends

31 May 2017

Here it is the end of May, and I haven't blogged since my smash hit success in the off-Broadway musical comedy.  Obviously, I've been busy.  

We enjoyed our time in New York City, doing the things we normally do in this magnificent city.  We met up with a few family members, and I went to a dinner theatre production with my cousin, not too far from where I grew up in Westchester County.  It's always fun to see family members, especially when it happens only every several years.  Richard and I also met up with my nephews, who have reached the beginning of middle age.  This is when you know that we've hit OLD!  Okay, okay, we're not getting older, we're getting better.  Silver sneakers, golden seniors, all that stuff.  No matter how nicely one says it, we're the older generation and it feels weird.

So when I met up with friends in Bryant Park, between 40th and 42nd on 6th in Manhattan, we rode the carousel.  Oh, sorry, in Bryant Park it's spelled "carrousel."  I think because it's Le Carrousel, so I think that must be the French spelling.  (It also makes me want to use words like "methinks.")

I've ridden the bunny, but this year we three women of a wonderful age rode the horses.  Two of us have shin bruises from our frisky horses, but we all had a wonderful time!  One waved to her husband, who took some photos; I waved to random people, who got into the swing of things and waved back.  It was great.  And this is a lovely old carousel, with a kitten as well as a bunny, and of course all the gallant steeds who bound up and down and gallop away.

We also visited the New York Public Library, which is on 5th Avenue, and seems to be part of Bryant Park.  This is a gorgeous huge structure opened in 1911, with an entrance protected by two massive stone lions.  The lions actually are named Patience and Fortitude, I learned from one of my friends.  And yes, this Patience is a male lion, as is Fortitude, despite the fact that Patience was a name for females in the Puritan era.  But these regal beasts guard the library without complaint, and are one of my favorite spots to visit when we get to the city.

The Library hosts a number of exhibits each year featuring part of their collection of books and manuscripts, based on a variety of themes.  We visited "Love in Venice," which looked at a variety of illustrations, books, letters, and other documents centered around romance and love (and lust) in Venice, Italy.  My two favorite items: a letter from one of Lord Byron's mistresses who was complaining that he had found another mistress, that he insulted her and ignored her, and could he please come visit her soon; and a vaguely risqué pop-up book or two with illustrations of courtesans, where their dresses could be lifted to show their knickers underneath.  (Renaissance salacious literature!)

Richard and I also met friends at Central Park, New York's back yard, the most visited urban park in the US.  This park has nearly 850 acres, and contains some 20,000 trees which supposedly represent every species and type of tree in the US (or maybe it's in North America).  There are several ponds, the best known being the boat pond.  People rent remote-controlled sailboats and sail them around the pond, while others watch, or sit and chat, or just enjoy being outside in the fresh air.

I usually try to ride the carousel in Central Park, but we somehow missed that this year - it closes at 6 PM, and we got there just a few minutes late.  The sun is still bright and shining at 6, so it didn't feel as late as it turned out to be.  Ah well, I enjoyed the fence and the irises by the carousel.  (Very van Gogh, those beds of irises spreading on forever.)

But my absolute favorite sight this year had to be the mosaic murals in the various subway stops.  I have no idea how I didn't notice these random acts of art the last time we were in New York, murals are definitely something I notice!  The Times Square walls feature a huge scene of New Year's Eve revellers, complete with hats, masks, and noisemakers.  Then isolated vignettes of others celebrating the New Year continue along the tunnels leading to other lines, exits, entrances, and mysterious locations - just a series of celebrants bundled in their warm clothes but ready to party!

At the 42nd street subway station, also the Port Authority bus terminal, there were several related murals as well.  The largest was "Losing My Marbles" by Lisa Dinhofer, and this was probably my absolute favorite!  Imagine a black and white tiled floor, in a checkerboard pattern, with rolling glass marbles spinning around, all blown up maybe 100 times life size, surrounding you underground.  That's what it feels like to encounter this beautiful mural.  I'm not sure of the size, but it must be about six feet tall and a good 20-25 feet long.  (That's about two meters by 6.5 to 8 meters long, or so.)  It really was wonderful.

So tomorrow we catch our flight westward ho, to visit more family and friends, and I get a new knee in two weeks.  A little scary, but it should be a vast improvement to be a partially bionic woman.  

Especially since I haven't had any calls to audition for an ON-Broadway production.


Thursday, May 18, 2017

So About That Time I Was in an Off Broadway Production

18 May 2017

We left St. Thomas in early May, and flew to New Jersey to visit Richard's side of the family.  We've been staying near the south Jersey shore.  Spending time enjoying seeing various family members, especially the up-and-coming generation - meaning all the little kids in the family.  And their parents, as well, but the kidlets are cuter.

We've enjoyed the sunshine, an arts fair or two, and the exuberance of spring flowers.  Plus lots of good food.  

We somehow found this wonderful glass mosaic mural located in front of the Arts Garage.  This is sort of an arts collective on the ground floor of a parking garage, with all kinds of art exhibits and shops to browse.

The Peace Mosaic is outside, and is just gorgeous!  Lots of origami crane images flying through the glass flowers - bright, cheerful, and hopeful!

Richard and I decided we needed some city time, so we took the train to New York City.  We both grew up visiting the city, and it's part of our lives.  Plus we both have family and friends here, so it makes sense to visit every year or two.

So this is how it went - take the train from Philadelphia to Penn Station.  Walk through the station to the A train subway station.  Get on the train.  (I fell over onto the guy who was getting up to give me his seat.  I'm good like that.)  Head up to Inwood Park, way at the north end of Manhattan Island.  Find our B & B, say hi to our hosts, drop off our stuff.  Go back out to get a nosh (a chocolate egg cream, also part of our NYC childhood visits).  Richard is standing on the sidewalk, and who walks by and starts chatting but my eldest nephew!!!!!  He's living a few blocks away, is crazy busy with work, but was heading to the subway stop and wow, what a small world in this giant city!!!

We've been getting in touch with family and friends, setting up times and dates to meet, all that.

But we were free on Wednesday.  It was a nice warm almost summer day, so we headed into the center of the city, Times Square.  Went to the TKTS booth to buy half-price theatre tickets.  Of course, hot shows like The Lion King and Wicked were sold out, so we talked to some of the staff and settled on The Marvelous Wonderettes.  Which turned out to be an inspired choice!

The Marvelous Wonderettes is a small production (four actors, all women) set in 1958, at the school prom.  The Wonderettes (excuse me, the MARVELOUS Wonderettes) are performing at the Springfield High School senior prom, home of the Springfield Chipmunks.  They sing and dance their way through teenage angst, shifting friendships, mean girls, crushes on teachers, and young love.  We see them again after intermission, ten years later at their first high school reunion - once again singing and dancing as they tell their stories of love, loss, and friendship with pop hits like "It's My Party," "Leader of the Pack," "You Don't Own Me," and my personal fave, "Respect."

So it's light, fun, funny, musical comedy.

But then they go one step further, and involve a few members of the audience.

We were seated in the 3rd row orchestra - meaning third row from the stage, slightly to one side of center.  The first two rows were empty, deliberately as it turns out.

As we were waiting for the show to begin, the guy who took the tickets at the door asked someone a few seats over from us if he wanted to have the actors sing to him.  He declines.  They asked the man in the middle of the row behind us, and he agreed - his elderly mother was with them, and he and his wife thought she'd get a kick out of this.  They exchange seats with the couple at the end, and the man is right on the aisle for future singing.

Lights, mics, action, the show begins.  We're humming along, or mouthing the words, this is the music of Richard's younger years and these were golden oldies when I was a kid.  We're enjoying the show.

And then one of the actors says something about appreciating the help of the French teacher, Mrs. MacPherson, and turns and gestures right at me!!!!!  Well, I know all about being a teacher, so I wave and smile back at the actor - and all of the teenage characters wave and yell various French phrases at me (including "croissant!"), so I smile and wave again.  And then they all give me their signature Chipmunk move, which includes little hand paws and chattering chipmunk front teeth - so of course I have to do that back again!

People are all looking at me, Richard and I were laughing, it was so funny!

Well, my job wasn't finished.  Apparently Mrs. MacPherson also has the golf class (because she's Scottish, despite teaching French?) and they borrowed my pencils.  We got to vote for Prom Queen.  As the actors collected the filled in ballots, one of them came over and gave me the envelope, and reassured me that I didn't really have to count the votes, that was just in the play.  I told her I really was a teacher, I'd have been happy to count the votes.  She laughed at that.

Now, somewhere in here one of the actors confesses that she's in love with one of the teachers - who of course is the guy at the end of the row behind us.  Not only do the women all sing to him, he gets walked up on stage and sits there while he's serenaded through a few numbers!  He was laughing but also a little embarrassed, not realizing quite the extent of his "being sung to."

Okay, so the character bringing the ballots over to me "trips" and the ballots go flying.  We have a few more songs, I hand over the envelope, and my favorite character is elected and crowned Prom Queen.  End Act One.

During intermission, I chatted with the people behind me - turns out the guy who moved from the aisle seat so the other man could be serenaded really is a teacher, and his name is that of the character in the play!!!!  I said I was a teacher as well, though not of French.  It was definitely a cheerful audience!

In Act Two, as I said, we're in 1968, at the reunion.  More singing and dancing, the guy in back of us is on stage again with more singing, it's all cute and sweet.  

And then my buddy on stage, the one who gave me the envelope, is going through the trials and tribulations of relationships, and is crying and once again appeals to her dear teacher, Mrs. MacPherson.  She's on stage imploring me to wave and blow her a kiss, so of course, what can I do but follow through.  Though I finish with another chipmunk salute, which made her break character and laugh!

Afterwards, I told the male audience member/actor that he did a really good job - he and his wife said I did a great job too.  It just was one of the more hilarious things that has happened to us in a long while!  (Fortunately, I never had to go on stage, not even for the final bow, LOL!)

Their website:

And that, my friends, was my debut at in off-Broadway show!!!  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

St. Thomas - a Deja Vu Visit

16 May 2017

We've been pretty busy, what with one thing and another.  Life, you know?

We had a fabulous time visiting St. Thomas, where we lived for 20-something years before we left for travelling in 2012.  Our visit was from 23 April to 4 May, right in the middle of St. Thomas' Carnival. 

I know, Carnival in much of the world is before Lent, and Carnival comes from the Latin "carne vale" - literally, "farewell to meat."  Carnival in Europe and South America is the last blow out before the somber mood, prayers, and deprivations of Lent.

But Carnival on most of the Caribbean islands has nothing to do with pre-Lenten bacchanalias.  Trinidad's Carnival is pre-Lent; all the other islands have Carnival at varying dates, usually related to something in the history of that nation or that particular island.

But sometimes, it's just because.

Example: St. Thomas's Carnival always is scheduled to
have the final week during the last week of April, unless Easter is in late April - then the final week is scheduled for one full week after Easter Sunday.  St. John has their Carnival culminating on July 4, because July 3 is Emancipation Day.  And St. Croix's Carnival is after Christmas, ending on Twelfth Night or Three Kings Day, January 6.   (And yes, that means the USVI has three Carnivals!)

I know, it seems illogical from a traditional viewpoint. But from a
celebratory and party viewpoint, this way people get more opportunities to enjoy Carnival, which probably is why it worked out this way.  

So yes, we planned our trip to coincide with the last week of Carnival on St. Thomas, the big events and partying in the streets of Charlotte Amalie.

Monday, I got my new debit card, no problem mon.  Tuesday evening, we went to the Carnival Village.  The huge parking lot next to historic Fort Christian (built in 1693, or at least that's the date on the building) is closed for three weeks while booths for food and drink are built, and rides and games are set up for the Children's Village.  During the last week or two of April, the village is open and there's music, dancing, meeting friends, eating, drinking, partying, and general merry-making all night long.

So we arrived, and of course ran into friends and co-workers we both haven't seen for nearly five years.  Lots of hugs, lots of talking to catch up.  Plus some of our favorite Caribbean foods (roti!), and lots of music.

My former school (the school where I taught for twenty-five years) has a traditional calypso/quelbe/and kind of jazzy band, and they were playing on the stage.  I went looking to see if I recognized anyone, and our registrar saw me.  So she took me up to the stage to say hi to the music teacher/band director - who gave me a hello and welcome ON THE MIC!!!  Seriously, my friends way in the back heard my name over the sound system - it was so funny to get this shout out across the village!!!

Then Wednesday is Food Fair - Wednesday is always Food Fair.  More traditional foods (another roti, and a small coconut tart).  More traditional drinks.  Traditional crafts.  Most of it served up by ladies wearing madras skirts and head wraps - yes, traditional clothing in the West Indies.  Food Fair (and much of Carnival) is all about the culture and traditions of each island or nation, so there are foods and drinks and arts/crafts that are handed down from generation to generation, old family recipes and traditions that link people to their past.  This makes Food Fair one of the most special days of Carnival, at least for us, because we get an idea of the St. Thomas of centuries ago.  Or it feels like that, anyway.  Although I'm not sure how far back the steel pan bands go - steel pan music is the soundtrack for Food Fair, so everyone sort of dances from booth to booth with some kind of calypso or reggae beat.

As with any major event, there are kings, queens, princes and princesses - and I met the 2017 Carnival Queen and First Runner Up, who happily posed for a photo.  Gorgeous and talented young people compete for the titles, both island wide (for the king and queen) and within schools and organizations (for the princesses and princes).  

And then, Thursday morning.  J'ouvert morning.  J'ouvert is French for "I open" and this is the early early morning road march.  People dress up in crazy ensembles and gather with friends to follow behind a flatbed truck with their favorite band playing this year's Carnival songs.  There's dancing, drinking, and all kinds of carrying on.  This year, powdered paint was the big thing, people covered in paint and huge dust clouds of color floating in the air - and occasional watering trucks to turn the pigment into true paint.  J'ouvert always seems to me to be the closest to a true bacchanalia - just chaos and a time to act as crazy as you've always wanted to act.  

We're part of the "sidewalk posse," meaning we just stand on the sidewalk dancing and watching the revelers, occasionally waving to someone we know, or getting a hug, or whatever.  We were at the waterfront by 5:45 AM, and saw all but one band go by.  Most had big crowds, though one sad band had no one following them.  (And we agreed, the music was pretty bad.) 

The winner of the road march is basically the band with the largest crowd following them - and downtown is closed while thousands of people gather for a  couple of miles along the waterfront drive, blocking traffic and just having a big street party for several hours as the sun comes up. 

After that early start to the day, the rest of Thursday is usually spent either napping or at the beach - though I think there were also horse races in the afternoon.  We went to the beach and enjoyed the warm tropical water, which we've missed.

Friday is the Children's Parade.  There are majorettes, bands, steel pan bands, school groups, community groups, princesses and princes, and anyone or everyone gathering to watch our island youth perform and keep the culture alive.  I'm including photos from the Children's Parade in 2012, because I didn't go - we spent time catching up with good friends, trying to see everyone and squeeze them all in.  But I've always loved the Children's Parade, with all the color and the kids trying so hard to do their routines, looking so cute and serious at the same time.  The older kids and the teens are more relaxed and happier - but the little ones are so cute in their concentration.

Yes, we had Sabbath services at the synagogue on Friday night, another chance to catch up with friends.  And then another round at the Carnival Village, with more music, more friends, more dancing.

Saturday is the Adult Parade - this is a HUGE event, and can run from 10 AM to about 9 PM, when the fireworks are supposed to start.  I had planned to meet up with friends, but my knee was complaining about the dancing from the night before, so I stayed in and iced it.  So my photos are again from Carnival 2012, but you get the idea of what it looks like - colorful, cultural, a little chaotic, and mostly joyous and celebratory.

There's a saying "Rain don't stop de Carnival" and this is true - it rained on the Children's Parade, it rained a little on the Adult Parade, and it rained on Saturday evening for the fireworks and the Last Lap (the last round at the village).

But we headed down to the shopping mall by the cruise ship dock, and had a light dinner.  Waited out the rain, and found a spot to stand right by the dock - and about 20 minutes late, when the parade was over, we had a spectacular view of the fireworks over Charlotte Amalie Harbor.  Loud and percussive, colorful and flashing bright, lighting up the clouds and skies and competing with the lights of the village.  Fireworks are always wonderful, and for me, the closer I am the better they are.  So it was a wonderful location, far from the crowds and actually closer to the fireworks themselves.

I should add that we've usually lived in an apartment with a decent view of the fireworks, so we never needed to go anywhere to see them.  In fact, several times we'd have friends come over for a fireworks party - dinner before, dessert after, fireworks a separate course. 

And then, sadly, Carnival was over.  Many people go down to Magens Bay for a Sunday party, and we've done this before, it's fun.  But we met up with friends for brunch, and skipped the beach.

We had four more days on St. Thomas, so we focused on seeing friends and co-workers.  I spent half a day at school, visiting principals and teacher friends.  And of course the murals I did with my students - two murals, each nine feet high and twenty-seven feet long.  Designed by students, and we even made some of our ceramic tiles because we couldn't find the colors we wanted or needed.  It took us four years to put up and complete the two murals, with a summer grouting (with a very good friend who volunteered to help with that aspect).

Understandable why I love seeing murals, especially mosaic murals, as we travel around the world!!!

You can also see why I'm so late posting all the fun times from St. Thomas.

I also need to add a shout out to our friends who own the lovely resort where we stayed - if you visit St. Thomas, this is a boutique hotel complete with studio or apartment rooms (yes, with a kitchen), pools, restaurants, and it's really close to Magens Bay, one of the top ten beaches in the world (according to National Geographic magazine).  Stay here:

I'll try to catch up over the next few days, but we're now in New York, and you know how busy it can be in the city that never sleeps.