Friday, November 23, 2012

Quotes about me

If I am asked to describe myself, I will provide these three quotes:

1) “Mattina   
         I am filled
         with immense light.)
                 -- Giuseppe Ungaretti
Every morning, rain or shine, I meet a glorious new day with infinite possibilities.
2) “If you listen to Beethoven, it’s always the same, but if you listen to traffic, it’s always different.”
                  -- John Cage
It is my firm belief that we find beauty everywhere, even where we least expect to find it, and it is a great joy when we find it.

3) “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”
            -- Heraclitus

This statement, which I discovered in my first year in college, stayed with me all my life for its insight into the constancy of nature’s caprice and the infinite variety underlying the simpler order of things, like that of the individual leaves of a foliage.  Kamo no Chômei opens his essay, An Account of my Hut, with a line that expresses the same thought but more literally: “The flow of the river is ceaseless and its water is never the same.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

Met's new Un Ballo in Maschera

The opera was sung beautifully by a super cast -- dramatic Radvanovsky as Amelia, thoughtful Hvorostovsky as Renato, weighty Alvarez as the king Riccardo, and sprighlty Kathleen Kim as Oscar, thoroughly Verdian; but David Alden's updating was silly with a sterile abstract set offset by a mural-size Rubenesque Fall of Icarus -- all quite pointless -- and a comical costuming and choreography to boot.The painting is splendid, nonetheless.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mirror magic

We all look in the mirror every day and believe that we are looking at ourselves.  But the face I see in the mirror is in reverse and half in size; so, it is not the same face that others see when they see me.  With a second mirror we can reverse the reverse image but it is then reduced to a half again.  Alas, we can never know how we look to others who see us. Photographs shot by another?  Photographs lie.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I describe myself as a scholaholic, and that is what I am, and, if it is an ailment, I suffer it willingly and contentedly. 

Scolari in Italian refer to school children, pupils.  Older pupils are studenti. Grown-ups who study to learn and learn to study whatever subject professionally are called studiosi in Italian. 

The word “scholar” in English is, indeed, double-edged; it may designate a student or a recipient of a scholarship on the one hand, and a learned person, on the other, who exhibit eminent scholarship in the tradition of medieval scholastics,.  So, as a child I was a scholarly scholar, earned scholarship as well as scholarships in higher education, and made a career more or less as a scholarly scholar.  In fact, being a scholar requires an insistent pursuit of a particular subject with an indomitable curiosity that is not uncommon in a child. 

In the course of my life I thus became addicted to scholarship and found myself an incurable scholaholic.  Whatever the subject, if I am interested, I cannot help digging in deep to excavate and investigate. It started in my childhood and never ceased to this day.  It is a lifelong habit. 

I became keenly aware of this fact in the decade since my retirement.  Once a scholar, always a scholar, as is said of priesthood.  Being a scholaholic is a habit, not too different, really, from the kind worn by nuns and monks.  It is a child’s habit, essentially childish, and I realized that even at an old age I love dressing like a school girl, as I habitually do: a frilly blouse, a short pleated skirt, leggings, and Mary Janes.

Waxing waistline, mine

I found with horror that my waistline was waxing fast.  As I was getting ready to go out to the opera not long ago, I put on a nice grayish ankle length skirt to match the blouse and it didn’t fit.  I tried to pull up the zipper by holding the breath to depress the stomach as best as I could but it was in vain; my waistline was almost two inches in excess of the skirt’s waistband. I pulled out another suitable maxi; and it didn’t fit either.  I tried one more, and that was no good, too.  I didn’t have any more time to waste.  So, I took off the blouse and found a loose one-piece dress to wear and went out.

All my life I was slim; in my young days I was skinny.  I am still slender except around the girth.  Three years ago, when I cleared the house in Swarthmore and moved to the apartment in New York, I had to reduce my wardrobe to a third or less. In the process I tried on all the skirts and dresses, long and short, to eliminate everything that I could not fit in.  It was, therefore, appalling to discover that any item in the closet ceased to fit after mere three years.  In fact, I could wear these skirts a year ago; I remember having worn them to the opera a season ago.  But I had no choice; there was no chance they could be altered.  I deposited them in the shopping bag of clothing for the Goodwill and wondered how many other pieces of clothing have become too small.  It was deplorable.  It was too depressing to try and find out.

My waist, of course, did wax and wane occasionally but only slightly so that it sufficed to reposition the button to extend the waistband or, once in a while, tuck it in a tiny bit with a safety pin, never more than a half inch in or out.  It was disconcerting.

A few days later, however, I had an epiphany.  If the skirt couldn’t be modified, there is an alternative.  I could modify my waist. 

I never had to watch my diet until I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes 14 years ago.  I learned to cut down on sweets and starches and eat a lot of raw vegetables.  I have a feast of a small serving of ice cream no more than once or twice a year; I avoid desserts and never developed a habit for snacks between meals, or even a taste for them.  I never liked fast food; I don’t cultivate soft drinks. I never consumed a large quantity of red meat, or meat in general. Two years ago, I suffered a gastric hemorrhage, and I started to abstain from the wine at the table. I do some exercises every morning -- twenty times each of stand-on-your-toes-and-stretch, touch-your-toes, and raise-your-arms with feet apart.  I walk up and down three flight of stairs for my apartment except when I have both hands full of grocery and other stuff.  Living in New York, I get plenty of stair exercises almost every day, going up and down the subway stations. So, what else can I cut out?

I found plenty.  I could, first of all, stop having a midnight snack before going to bed, which I got into the habit of having, feeling I needed it since my bedtime was normally between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m.  I used to have cookies with tea (decaf since last year) and kept a supply of cookies though I had only a few each time; or else I had crackers with peanut butter or cheese, or assorted nuts. I could start cultivating crudités -- carrots, celery, and broccoli, if I had to have a snack.  I could also stop having, except sporadically, bagels, Danish pastries, muffins, and croissants, and yes, pizza, too; I never liked doughnuts much anyway.  I have pasta once a week at most but I could reduce the serving size.  I shall climb the apartment stairs unless I am carrying a load almost too heavy to lift.  I got started on this regimen five days ago; and I already feel a difference. I could do some more exercises specifically designed to reduce the waist. 

Dieting prompted me to get a bathroom scale, and got a digital one.  It arrived yesterday, and promptly I weighed myself.  I weighed only 116.6 pounds, naked, this morning.  So, I’m not fat -- no old age spread.  It’s just the waistline that has been waxing and it needs to be willing to wane. I’m keeping the tight skirts too tight to wear.


PS. Controlling the midnight snack or skipping it, I was successful in reducing the weight down to 114.6 in two weeks.  Four weeks after that, I was down to 112.2, and the waist measured three inches less.  Pasta, I learned, can add a pound quickly.  Mid-January, I was up to 114.6, again.  Weighing every morning and observing my diet, I discovered that weight and waist are not exactly correlated.  Deep-breathing exercise has kept the waistline trim, and I am again wearing those skirts I could not fit in two months ago.

PPS. Writing in May, I record that the waistline discipline has been successful beyond expectation.  By mid-February, I was down to 110.2 pounds; from late March through April, I went further down to 107, and into May I weighed in the 105 range.  For a woman 5’4” high, even with light bones, this weight is perhaps too low; I could perhaps readjust my diet.  The good news is that my waistline has gone down four inches; it is now 28 inches, and good many skirts got too loose and I had to move the buttons.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wise fool

The price of being intelligent is the pain of living among fools; the reward of being a fool is the pleasure of continuously learning from others.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Pina's Swan Song

Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal came to BAM in mid-October to perform her final work three years after her passing in 2009. I know her at least three later works by this doyenne of the dance world since 1973, all very memorable: Für die Kinder von gestern, heute, und morgen, 2002 (BAM 2004), Nefés, 2003 (BAM 2006), and Vollmond (Full Moon), 2006 (BAM 2010).  The latest, awkwardly titled “. . .como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si. . . (like moss on a stone)” certainly does not measure up to them.  On 12 June, it had its premiere in Germany, five days after she was diagnosed with cancer, which took her life three weeks later on 30 June. This circumstance may explain the lack of dynamic energy, at times almost fearful, that we find in her major works.  Like her other works, the work is shaped like a vaudeville show, dance pieces alternating with laughter-provoking skits, literally a combination of “Tanz” and “Theater” in the name of the company.  The absence of a narrative arc, without noticeably strong pieces in the middle to engage the audience, necessarily gives the impression that the work is a bit repetitive and flat and too long. But in the often surrealistic skits, like the first scene in which a woman on all fours is lifted stiff like a table by male dancers as she yelps like a dog, and, even more, in the lively choreography, we find Pina’s hallmark, which I enjoyed not just nostalgically but in itself.  Female dancers wore familiar elegant evening dresses of vibrant colors, down to the ankles, and they dashed and leapt, their long luxuriant hair, now flying away every whichever way, now twisted and tangled around with fingers, with such exuberance as no dancers elsewhere ever match in doing, and their ensemble movements dazzle us in speed and complexity.  They are mesmerizing.  The piece ended by repeating some scenes that opened it, as though it ran out of breath as of ideas.  Melancholy pervaded as it closed not with a bang but a whimper. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fun Home, the Musical

The Public Theatre put on stage Alison Bechdel's graphic novel Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic as one of its Public Lab program.  I saw it this afternoon, the last day of its run, and was duly impressed, though it received no critical attention in the New York press. Before going, I was doubtful of its success; I couldn’t imagine how this intellectually intricate memoir could be staged.  The author explores her quest to come to terms with her father’s life and death and records it in sophisticated and richly detailed drawings combined with thought-provoking prose and learned literary allusions.  Inevitably, the staged version was an abridged edition; still the main themes of the book were effectively captured in the adaptation.  Lisa Kron, author of and one of the Five Lesbian Brothers, whose I saw in 2005, wrote the lyric, and the talented musician, Jeanine Tesori, composed the music.  A cast of nine sang and acted on the piano accompaniment; Sam Gold directed it with a sure hand.  The musical format, in fact, made it possible for the stage version to intersect the past and the present, as in the book.  On one side of the stage was the table at which Bechdel was at work drawing, and on the other a versatile interior of the Funeral Home, where past events were enacted with Alison now as a young girl and now as a teenager.  The production used projections, some of Alison's childish drawings as well as some from the book.  The actors in the role of Bruce and Helen, Alison's parents, as well as Alison herself, not only were excellent; they looked amazingly like them as we know them from the book, as did the baby sitter Roy.  A child actor Sydney Lucas as Small Alison was sprightly and confident in her acting no less than in her singing. The music was expressive; the songs dramatic.  Obviously, Bechdel's memoir can not be condensed into a two-hour musical; the texture of details was lost and missed.  But the artist-author’s memory salvaged in momentous fragments and joined in staggered time sequence is fully recreated and very memorably. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Rhinoceros from Paris

Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist satire, Rhinocéros, is a play deeply imprinted in my mind because the power of the demagogue to persuade the populace and change the political climate of a society that the play demonstrates is all too real to me who grew up in wartime Japan.  When I read it, I was totally convinced of its allusion to Nazism though it was written in 1959, long after its spread in Europe.  I also found the play visually concrete though it is heavily verbal in writing and for this reason chillingly vivid in my memory that I was convinced I had seen it produced on stage sometime somewhere. But I could not find it in my record, TheatreLog.  So, the production of Rhinoceros by Le théâtre de la Ville from Paris, performed at BAM early in October, was new to me, and it struck me as a lively show, more a spectacle than a literary drama, in the hands of the director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota,  Throughout the play, Ionesco’s characteristic verbal acrobatics was noticeably played down, perhaps wisely to make it easier for the audience to capture the sense.  In the scene of the town square in Act I, the web of overlapping repetitive dialogues were markedly edited down, especially the exhilarating parroting of the lines in two simultaneously delivered conversations.  Then, for the turmoil of the townspeople at the approaching roar of a stampede off-stage the chorus of haphazard exclamations is replaced more summarily by the crowd’s collective surge from one end of the stage to the other, beautifully choreographed  for sure and visually effective.  In Act II, the visual corollary of the vertiginously confused arguments is overwrought in the partial collapse of the scaffolded office set that seem to fling the office workers metaphorically off onto the herd of rhinoceroses.  The menacing masks of the animals that line up behind the actors in Act III, again threatening as a spectacle, make Ionesco’s metaphysics a bit too melodramatic.  All the actors were very good but Serge Maggiani was superb in portraying Bérenger both in manipulating his body and and his lines, so that the prelude, added by the director, in front of a scrim downstage where he speaks a monologue about his innate defeatism was perhaps redundant.  Hugues Quester as Jean, also good, was a bit too much of a bully but perhaps appropriately since he is the first to become a rhinoceros.  The rare occasion of hearing French beautifully spoken on stage was a special pleasure.

The Tempest not so Tempestuous

The opera The Tempest by Thomas Adès, first performed in 2004 in London and now at the Met, was boring and disappointing, or, to put it mildly, unappealing to my taste.  I didn’t think there was much of Shakespeare’s drama in it.  First of all, the Bard’s lines were almost totally lost in the librettist Meredith Oakes rewriting, supposedly for improving them for easier singing. But, then, more seriously, the words sung could hardly be heard, the music, itself eclectic with little character of its own, failed or made no effort to support the words and capture the unique cadence of the English language, what Henry Purcell 300 years ago and Benjamin Britten more recently excelled in, granted that in the case of Ariel, Audry Luna’s high-pitched coloratura, if one can call it that, the inaudibility of words made some sense.  Most outrageously, however, Robert Lepage, an eager beaver for a novelty at any cost, made Prospero into an impresario of the mockup Scala, a conceit hard to imagine more conceited. There were some fine moments, as any less successful work is privileged to have.  The opening scene of the storm at sea, a projection of waves on a sheet with slits to accommodate bobbing figures, with a stormy dissonant music on the orchestra, was very effective.  The duet of Miranda and Ferdinand at the end of Act II was full of lyricism, though the backdrop of the sunset beyond the calm sea toward which the couple walk away, was a cheap Hollywood scene.  Simon Keenlyside, as expected, sang beautifully throughout; and Alan Oke’s Caliban was superb musically and theatrically. Verdi didn’t retain Shakespeare’s words because he used the libretto in Italian, and yet he captured the spirit of Shakespeare’s drama in Otello, Falstaff, and even Macbeth, and Britten illuminated the Bard’s poetry in his version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  “Inspired, audacious, and personal,” wrote Anthony Tommasini; he may be right. More Adès and Lepage than Shakespeare, I’d say less than happily.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Storm Sandy's Side Show

The hurricane Sandy, dubbed Frankenstorm, weakened somewhat when it reached here in New York City last Monday.  If it brought a howling gale and driving rain, I was not aware of them as I slept through Monday night; I noticed only occasional gust of wind the next morning that only now and then shook the skinny gingko across the street from my window.  I had light; and I had water.  The residents along the water’s edge in Lower Manhattan were mandatorily evacuated, and we soon learned of the tremendous water damage in the subway system and the total power down south of 39th Street. On Sunday, anticipating Sandy’s arrival, I was imagining that Tatzu Nishi’s installation, “Discovering Columbus,” a modern living built around the statue of Columbus six stories above Columbus Circle, to which I had a timed ticket at noon on Monday, would be shaky and exciting, but, not surprisingly, the admission was promptly cancelled.  Then, musing on the plays I was booked to attend, I was amused how appropriate it was that Monday night I had Stephen Belber’s new play “Don’t Go Gentle,” which draws the title from Dylan Thomas’ familiar poem which goes: “Do not go gentle into that good night,/Old age should burn and rave in at close of day;/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”  The play was cancelled and I was able to reschedule it to Saturday; so the Tuesday fare was even more fittingly “Happy with Wild” at Public Theater; but this was also eventually cancelled.  I looked forward to the opportunity Wednesday evening of hurtling myself into the raging tempest to get to Lincoln Center for the opera at the Met, which in ironic coincidence was Thomas Adès’ The Tempest, or, if the storm by then had subsided, I thought I could at least adventurously wander through the dark forest of the Central Park to Prospero’s isle since all the public transportation in the city was shut down on Sunday at 7:00 p.m.  Lady Sandy by then had come and gone, alas, and busses started running Wednesday.  By Thursday, it was clear that such musings were frivolous when we learned that the entire Lower Manhattan remained dark -- no power, no light, no phone, no radio/TV, no internet, no hot water or even cold water where the pump to send water to upper floors of high rise apartments stopped working, and no bus and no subway.  As of Friday, the power has not returned yet and the subway was only partially restored.  Living in the Upper (Far) East Side, I was fortunate.