Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Still Singing After All These Years

19 June 2018

We spent three quick days in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  Although Richard's brother no longer lives there.  But we're familiar with the city, and when we heard that Paul Simon was touring the US this summer on his farewell tour, it seemed like a perfect place for us to go.

We were in Malaysia when we bought the concert tickets online, but we built this part of the summer around the concert date.

Just a short subway ride from our hotel - and the subway is free for Pennsylvania seniors, though the ticket agent took pity on us and waived (and waved) us through - then a bit of a walk to the Wells Fargo Center.  This is an arena, or maybe a stadium - definitely built for sports.  And giant concerts.  The place holds about 19,500 people, depending on the event.  Yeah, giant concert.

We managed to score front row seats in one of the club boxes - we had no idea what this meant, since we've never been to this venue.  Basically, we were at the far end opposite the stage, but to the left.  In one of those boxes with maybe 100 other people, but somewhat closed off from the rest of the huge crowd.  With our own bar and snack counter, and bathrooms for just the 100 or so other people in our club box.  

All of this is to set the stage for the concert.  Because what we saw in person, and what we saw on the screen, were two very different things.  This was one of those concerts where the musicians are about one-inch tall at that distance, and it would be hard to say exactly who was who.  But on the screen, they were up close and personal and larger than life.

So, Paul Simon.  Roughly 75 or so years old, but sounding amazingly the way he did back in the 1960s when he (and over half the audience) were young and in our prime.  Paul looked older (as do we) and greyer (as do we), definitely with some wrinkles and perhaps a bit drawn about the face (yes to the wrinkles).  Decidedly muscular arms for a short 75 year old, but perhaps all that guitar playing builds biceps.

But the music - ah, the music.  Paul Simon has been accused of "borrowing" or lifting melodies from other musical traditions, such as the haunting South American "El Condor Pasa."  But he also has an excellent ear, and many of his songs borrow traditions and harmonies and rhythms, but the music and lyrics are all his own.  So "You Me and Julio" comes out of Kingston, Jamaica, without really being Jamaican.  "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" comes out of Soweto, South Africa, without really being South African.  So we took a tour of Paul's travels around the world, and heard many of his interpretations of cultures and their music, all in his warm and soothing and soaring voice.

It was a wonderful concert.  There were explanations and introductions to songs.  There was patter.  There were backup musicians playing multiple instruments as well as singing harmony.  One man sang a section in Khosa, with a series of clicks that I can't even describe, much less pronounce.

And all this while, Paul Simon, sometimes looking the way we remembered him, sometimes looking like a time-lapsed version of himself, but almost always sounding just like the Paul we listened to as we went through our teenage angst, rebellious years, defining ourselves, protesting the war, protesting the Establishment, and eventually growing up to be the people we find ourselves to be now.

The songs were a mix of new and old familiar favorites.  Some were more electronic, some were the acoustic folk songs we grew up singing.

While Bob Dylan might be considered the Bard of our Times, especially having received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Paul Simon might come in a close second.   Maybe a less serious and more playful Bard.  

Definitely a part of the Soundtrack of our Times, though.  Most definitely.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Whirlwind That Is New York

15 June 2018

We had a wonderful time in St. Thomas, even if we didn't do as much to help with the long-term hurricane recovery as we had hoped.  But we saw almost everyone we were hoping to see, and as a friend said, sometimes it helps just to talk about their experience and to know that someone cares.

But since this is Phebe and Richard travelling around, we had one of our usual trip craziness events.

On May 30, as we're finishing dinner at a restaurant with wifi (and thus finishing up our internet and email for the day), I receive an email from our hotel booking website saying that our hotel for New York City, arrival date June 2, has had to cancel the reservation.  Say what?  Three days ahead of time, no hotel?  My battery is almost out?  Our hotel, with hurricane damage, has no wifi?  And you want me to call you and fix this????  WHAT?????

We managed to call on our mobile phone and make all of the appropriate arrangements, although it took 45 minutes and I had to explain that no, a hotel 2 miles from our booked hotel would not work because it was in another state and thus not on a direct subway line to downtown Manhattan.  Yeah.

We ended up with a nice hotel in midtown.  But between the two reservations, we ended up paying twice.  And we're still waiting for our refund from the first hotel, the one that cancelled our reservation.  We've been assured that it is happening, but we haven't seen it yet.  So, caveat emptor and all that.  (And you know that if it turns into too much of a hassle, I will do a social media and blog blitz blasting the hotel booking website.)

Anyway, nice hotel not far from the south end of Central Park.  We arrived late on Saturday night.  We emailed all of our relatives and friends in the area, letting them know that we were coming to Manhattan.   

So Monday, I get an email from one of my nephews.  He and his lady friend (they're in their 30s) have planned to get married on Friday, at City Hall.  It's going to be very small, not a big thing, but since we're in the city would be like to come by and attend?

Well SURE!!!  OF COURSE!!!  I don't turn down weddings, we didn't have anything planned, and how could we not?

I also offered to help with something, and got to be in charge of flowers.  FUN!!!  I love flowers!!!

(Matles Flowers on West 57th Street is great - the flowers were gorgeous!)

So between ordering and picking up flowers, getting a haircut, and buying a top that didn't look as if I've worn it every week for the past year, we managed to get together with friends and family.  Walk around and see our neighborhood.  Eat some of our favorite foods.  Just enjoy the very urban environment that is Manhattan.

The wedding on Friday was lovely, though City Hall is not the most organized system for the amount of people getting married there.  It was fascinating to see how many people were there, some being tourists from overseas who apparently thought getting married in New York City would be a fun way to do a destination wedding.  Brides were in tradition dresses, or saris, or cocktail dresses, or cheongsams.  Grooms were mostly in suits, or at least shirts and ties.  My favorite was the guy in a dark suit, white shirt, bright pink tie, and white sneakers.  Formally informal!

There was a shop in the midst of all this marriage mass of people, selling tee shirts and flowers, although I suspect the flowers were artificial.  No cake or cupcake vendors, though - I would think this is the perfect spot for mini cupcakes, to sub in for wedding cake.

The wedding was a bit delayed, but the actual ceremony was short and sweet.  Seriously, possibly five minutes.  We all cheered and went outside and took photos, then caught taxis to the cafĂ© where they had a lovely reception.  I think there were nine or ten of us all told, which was perfect for spending time chatting and getting to know each other.  

Of course, everything after that was less dramatic.  I mean, how often do you attend a vaguely impromptu wedding?  

I managed to walk around Central Park and ride the 100+ year old horses in the carousel.  (While this is the fourth carousel to be used on this site in Central Park, the horses and actual carousel were discovered by the Parks Department, abandoned on Coney Island.  Stein and Goldstein, a company in Brooklyn, crafted these gorgeous horses and the housing in 1908!!!  This carousel is still one of the largest in the USA!!!  No wonder it's one of my favorites!!!)

We didn't get to a show on or off Broadway - after my phenomenal success last year, well, I couldn't top that.

But we did see and hear a wonderful drumming band in the subway!  They were great!  Everyone was grooving to the music and enjoying the drumming - one of the happiest subway rides we've been on in a long time!!!

So we had a great time absorbing the vibe of the city, seeing family and friends, and enjoying the wedding.  Plus of course the architecture - our neighborhood seemed full of churches, with spires and steeples and stained glass windows and incredible brass hinges.  And flowers planted around the small trees lining the streets.

It was a quick trip, but it was fun-filled and truly a whirlwind of activity!

Then a short (90 minute) train trip and we're now in Philadelphia for a few days.  We're here to attend a concert - but I'll post more about that next time.

Oh, I found this church near us to be totally fascinating.  This is St. Paul the Apostle church on the corner of West 60th and 9th.  It has Gothic arched windows and doorways, Norman exterior (the boxy bell tower is the give away), and this crazy vaguely Art Deco frieze!  Turns out the church itself was built in the 1880s, and has a magnificent interior.  The frieze was added in 1958, carved white marble over blue Venetian tile.  Definitely a mix of medieval architecture and Americana, but pretty powerful.  Apparently it is now the mother church of the Paulist Fathers - no idea what that means, but that's what it says on their website.  


We also spent an afternoon getting SIM cards for our phones - not a big issue, but the man who owns the shop makes wonderful models of circus and carnival rides out of popsicle sticks and straws and such. I loved his carousel!!!