Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Three Acts of a Common Cold

I had a brush with a cold recently.  It started out with sniffling, then came wheezing with a scratchy throat, followed by bouts of coughing; after going through them the cold was gone.  It then occurred to me that a good three-act play is constructed in the same way.  There is a little bit of stirring among the characters while being given individual traits in Act I, followed in Act II with some disturbances among the personages, and then in Act III we are given dramatic actions which are brought to resolution in the final scene.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

You know?

A young man said to me, “Yeah, I kinda know, you know, but I don’t know, you know, if I really know, you know, maybe, you know, I only think I know, you know, um, I don’t know, you know, ’know what I mean?”

I said, “I know, you don’t have to tell me."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Vif's Diary 12/03/13

The sky was bright and it awakened me.  I felt so lively, and romped on the bed where she was sleeping and -- I couldn’t help it -- I stated to bite her toes over the bedcover; she retracted them, so I played biting off the cover.  This always irritates her, and she shouted at me and tried to kick me off the bed, saying it’s only 6:00.  So, I made a long leap to the window sill to take refuge.  She slept on.  I roamed in the other room for a while, a long while, and I couldn’t help checking on her, and she was still asleep.  I climbed up on the bed, went right to her face, and she opened her eyes, pulled me to her chest and petted me.  When I got restless and tried to nip her hands — playfully, of course -- she brushed me off and got up.  She slept late; it was 9:15. Little wonder I was so hungry. 

She weighed herself on the bathroom scale, and then got hold of me and weighed us together.  She wanted to see how much I weighed; I was told I’m now 10 pounds — growing fast.  I ran away as soon as she put me down, but then I heard the water from the faucet; she was washing her face and I squeezed myself in to drink the running water, which is so good, nothing like the water sitting in the drinking bowl. I rather find exciting to have the water wash down my cheek as I drink.  She was looking funny standing there with a soapy face. Usually when I'm drinking, she brushes my back; it feels good.

When I had enough to drink, I let her use the faucet; and I went to the scratching post to polish my claws.  This feels really good, too, and it makes me jump on it, hang on my nails with my hind paws off the floor.  It makes me squeal. 

This morning she fed me before her morning exercise and toiletry as it was late.  She gave me a half of the 3-oz Fancy Feast Flaked Trout; it was good but I wished I could have more.  While she was preparing her breakfast, I crawled under the stove; it’s not clean there and it’s a bit tight with a very low ceiling but it’s comfortably protective, and I enjoy crouching in there, anticipating the prospect of some bits of food falling on the floor even though that does not happen too often.  I was glad I was there this morning, however.  I heard a spoon scraping the yogurt tub; she always gives me the emptied tub to lick up, and as I anticipated she put it down on the floor.  It’s a 7-oz Fage yogurt tub (with a note  “pronounced Fa-yeh!” on it, she told me once).  The thing is I can lick every bit around the inner wall but can’t quite reach the bottom.  I strained and I succeeded but, then, the tub got stuck on my snout up to the head and it won’t come off.  Fortunately, she saw me and pulled it off for me, or else, I may have suffocated.  It was so embarrassing and I was glad she didn’t photograph me.  

While she was having her breakfast, I was drawn by the alluring odor and tried to get up on the table.  I know she doesn’t like it but I tried anyway.  As always she chased me off with the pepper mill.  It tingles my nostrils — pungent, it is -- and made me jump down to the floor right away.  To air my frustration, I went over to the cardboard magazine holder under the table to gnaw around the edges.  She gets terribly annoyed when I do this elsewhere but allows me just this one holder, which is already pretty badly ruined; it is filled with magazines and weighs down well and, so, it gives me a good resistance, very satisfying.  I worked vigorously, and littered the area with many chewed bits of cardboard; the floor looked what it might be under a woodworker’s bench.  You are NOT a rodent, she yelled at me.

Satisfied, I went to the bathroom, jumped on the washbasin, and curled myself in it — my favorite place of repose. The bottom is curved nicely to accommodate me, and I sink down in its bowl very comfortably.  I usually have a bit of nap there but there was a racket in the kitchen that detracted me.  She was rolling up the bread dough for baking.  

I came out and I found her already settled at her computer.  I went into the kitchen, and smelled something that attracted me to jump up on the counter, and there it was — a piece of chicken thigh wrapped in wax paper. I tried to nip on it, and, alas, it fell with a thud on the floor as it was frozen and hard.  She rushed up immediately, picked it up and put it away somewhere, and I was shouted off the counter.  Too bad for me.  So, I went to to the window sill, chewed on the little potted bamboo, which, thanks to my nibbles, is barely alive.  I then watched the world go by three stories below; there wasn’t as much activities as to entertain me very long.   I settled on the pink sofa and stretched down on top of the fluffy blanket to rest for a while. 

Unable to sleep, I felt restless; she didn’t play with me after breakfast today.  I lay down under her chair at the computer for a while; her bare feet were there to chew on but I resisted the temptation, knowing what will happen — I’ll be picked up and thrown in the bathroom and the door shut after me.  The bread came out of the oven after a while.  I moved to the cushioned chair at the dining table and slept there with the warm air from the oven wafting in soporifically.  I slept well. 

Whenever she goes to the bathroom and sits on the pot, I follow her and enjoy sprawling on her feet.  I feel awfully docile, curiously, and she pets me; I lie low and purr a lot and get no urge to bite her toes.  On the sofa, I don't feel that way, somehow.  

She didn't have lunch today. When she came to the kitchen to make tea, I got off the chair (I’m proud to say) so that she could sit at the table for cheese and crackers.  At her next session at the computer, I wanted her attention.  I don’t know what it is but I get irritated when she sits and concentrates on her tapping the keyboard. I feel terribly ignored as though I don’t exist for her.  She must be equally irritated.  In these situations I do three things.  I try to poke my head between the cardboard boxes behind the computer table; I chew on the cardboard containers with papers nearby; or, else, I reach on the chair where she is seated and reach up to her arm to bite it.  These actions are sure to excite her; she claps her hands, shouts, or brings her pepper mill to scare me off.  I run away and come back and repeat the actions.  I also like chasing her as she walks back after chasing me and grab her legs from behind. Her legs are hairless and take my claw marks very well; nipping her soft calf surely makes her mad.  But it’s kind of fun; she should understand that, only if she knew, she’d get up and play with me and I’d stop annoying and bothering her.  But she doesn’t always respond.  I play with myself sometimes, but it’s not as much fun. This time I gave up and sat under her chair pretending to sleep. 

It was soon getting dark outside.  If she was not going to play with me, she could at least give me my dinner.  She is not stupid; she is a thoughtful person, sensitive and attentive to my needs.  I was wondering if she was too busy with her own thing and forgot about me, or she didn't care.  But just as I was thinking this, as though she read my mind, she picked up my dish and gave me a serving of flaked trout.  I finished it in no time, and stretched out flat on my tummy just outside the kitchen where I have a view of both her at dinner and the kitchen counter.  With a full stomach I dozed off.  But I was rudely awakened by the racket of dishes being washed.  When she finished with dishes, she went to the bathroom; I never miss the sound of the water running from the faucet; I rushed for a drink of water.  I saw her getting ready to go out, and so she did, leaving me alone in the house.  I got up on her dining chair, still warm, and had a good sleep there.

The turning of the key never fails to wake me up; I know when she is back.  I waited for the door to open, and there she was.  While she was having tea, I lay down under her chair quietly.  But as soon as she settles at the computer, I get this itch to annoy her.  This time, after scolding a few times, she got up and played “fetch” with me; she made me all kinds of toys but I like best, for now, some stiff plastic strips tied up into a knot and the paper twist tie wires knotted into a shape.  She throws the knot across the room toward the entrance, I chase it, grab it, throw it up, and catch it, then hold it in my mouth and bring it back to her — well, sometimes only a halfway.  I also like pushing it in the gap under the closet door and try fishing it out with my paw.  I can’t always get it out, and she comes and gets it out for me; this way she gets to have some exercise.  When it is pushed under the sofa or the refrigerator, she has to stoop low, her head on the floor, search with a flashlight, and get it out for me with a yardstick.

This evening, she didn’t play with me full time; that is to say, she cheated, multitasking, sitting down to write while I was chasing the knot instead of standing and waiting.  Still, it’s better than nothing.  When I had enough running, I rested under her chair.  But her concentrating on the computer started to irk me quickly; so, I tried my cardboard chewing routine, and after a short while she lost patience and grabbed me and put me in the bathroom.  This is no big deal; it’s warm there and I can relax in the washbasin.  

When she was ready to retire, she opened the door; she came in to wash up.  I got out of the basin but hang around so that I could break in for a drink of water as soon as she turned the faucet.  While she showers, I wait outside, or, more often, on the rim of the tub between the two curtains so that I can enjoy watching her hairless body get drenched.   I am always curious how I might feel under the shower water.  When she is done, I wait for the water to recede into patchy puddles and get in the tub; I kind of like the feel of water on my paws.  This is now a well-set routine. I get up on her bed after she is completely settled, and lie down next to her legs, leaning comfortably on them, and fall asleep.  

It was a long, full day, more or less a typical day.  It was good that she stayed home during the day; yesterday, she was out most of the day and then the evening.  That is not much fun.

By the way, if the style of my writing resembles hers, well, I suppose it's inevitable, living together day after day as we do. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Richard Nelson on Theater

This is what Richard Nelson says — so eloquently — what theater is all about, and I quote with a deep appreciation.

“The theater has a unique place in the history of societies.  After all, the theater is the only artistic form that uses the entire live human being as its expression, and hence, carries within itself a very specific view of the world; and that view, in a word, is humanistic.  The individual is a the center of the play, and the world of the play revolves around the individual — that is simply what a play is.  By a play’s very nature, the heart of any play is the individual voices of its characters.  And in times like our own, when human voices seem more disembodied than ever, where words seem pulled from their meanings and turned into rants and weapons, the theater can, I believe, be a necessary home for human talk; that is, a place where human beings talk about their worries, confusions, fears and loves.   And where they also listen.”

Richard Nelson is the playwright of the tetralogy The Apple Family, of which Sweet and Sad, perhaps the most poignant of the four; at an extended lunch, set on September 11, 2011, family members chat around their personal tribulations and familial tensions as they reflect on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11.  Seemingly casual in speech and minutely realistic in performance, the play conceals a remarkable artifice of tight writing by which every simple dialogue is fraught with meaning and emotion. 

Movie is a picture show, the audience looking at an event beyond a glass wall that is the screen even when it comes into our living room in the form of television. In the theater, we are in the living room inhabited by the characters and even though we the audience does not speak we become active participants as listeners.  We are moved breathing the same air as theirs, and we are moved actively, not just vicariously. 

In distinguishing theater from cinema, I don’t disparage movies.  As an art historian I take pictures seriously, especially pictures that narrate as they did in the Western tradition.  So, I also take graphic novels, moving pictures, and talking pictures no less seriously.  But I want to alert to the deep experiential difference between theater and cinema, albeit they both narrate and therefore give an impression that they are alike.  Consider the difference between having been present at a good party and being shown a film footage of it.

Thanksgiving fast

The Thanksgiving Day this year coincided with the beginning of the Chanukkah and was quickly dubbed the Thanksgivukkah.  My Thanksgiving Day was almost as exceptional as I fasted through the day on account of the viral diarrhea of exceptional severity that I suffered at dawn.  Consequently, after a light breakfast of tea with honey and then rice gruel for lunch, instead of a sumptuous dinner I had an invitation to, I thanked for my (normal) health and the circle of great friends and the city of New York which nourishes my mental and emotional well-being, with a dinner of more rice gruel and boiled tofu dipped in soy sauce — an abbreviated Bratty diet.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rest, Repose, Respite

Rest I know not lest in slumber.  I cannot enjoy being indolently in repose; I feel rested when I am engaged in doing what I enjoy doing. 

I don’t believe I am exceptional in finding boredom tiresome and tiring, nor in finding an obligatory work exhausting. The 20-block walk on the way to work might be a drudgery but the same 20-block back from a great show is more likely a swift walk afloat in euphoria.  Time passes without fatigue when the task at hand is enjoyable for, then, it engages. 

I am in no doubt that a restful repose can be engaging, as the Italian “dolce far niente” puts it concisely.  But I understand “far niente” to mean not “doing nothing” but “doing no work or nothing onerous.”  In those years when I sunbathed with devotion, as I did from March to November, mostly in my backyard, I engaged myself intensely in the effort to expose myself to the sun maximally and earn the deepest deep tan as I possibly could; the pleasure, I can vouch, was from this effort and not from the idle repose.    A busy day, for me, is restful; a whole day sitting at home can get exhausting.  No respite in resting.

When I am at last deposed to my rest in peace, I am sure I will get restless.  I will certainly find interesting tasks to keep me busy, or else, I may disturb my resting companions or even haunt the friends left behind.  Is my future a ghostly life, perhaps?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Movies hardly now

In mid-career, teaching film courses, I watched loads of films, well over 200 in most years — in theater, on videocassette, and on television (particularly, on the stations Bravo and Turner Classic for oldies).  The number diminished toward the end of 1990’s to a hundred or fewer.  But after my retirement in 2001, the number went down further to 50 in good years, and more recently barely a dozen. 
Living in New York, I cannot imagine ignoring the live performances this city uniquely has to offer in abundant variety.  Why spend more time and expense at the movies when films remain accessible on DVD, as they do today, long after their release, and stage shows vanish after a given number of days or weeks never to be retrieved later. Unless profession or social fitness, so to speak, demands us to be cinematically au courant, we'd be wasting the city's valuable resources otherwise.  So, opera, ballet, dance, music, and stage plays solidly fill up my calendar; I go to movies lately only when urged by friends.

This is as good a reason as any why I give more time to live theater, even though it is true that I love theater, its breath and immediacy and brought me to New York as my place of retirement in the first place. I will return to watching movies on DVD when I am old and feeble and can no longer go out comfortably,

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Introducing myself

Twelve years after my retirement, no longer a professor of art history, if I were to describe what I do in order to identify myself I can only say that I am an unpaid freelance theater critic who concerns herself with opera, ballet, modern dance, music, and theater, occasionally with art, but has no assignment and contributes no writing nowhere nohow in no print whatsoever -- totally truly free freelance.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Dialogue on Drawing

Max Mulhern, a dear friend and an artist, currently in Paris, best known for his Aqua Dice Project, wrote me about drawing, and I wrote a reply, and the correspondence became a dialogue. I transcribe it here (with some editing) with his permission.  

MM: I thought a lot about your example of writing and drawing. You would ask students who moaned that they didn't know how to draw to go to the blackboard and write their names. You would then ask them to sit down and then you would explain to them that they had just been drawing. Did I get that right?
KK: Yes, you remember perfectly.  I was urging the class that the best way to remember the works of art shown on the screen is to draw them, however sketchily and even inadequately. I want to add that in Japanese 'to draw' and 'to write' are homonyms, kaku, which, incidentally and interestingly, is also homonymous with 'to scratch'.  One is reminded of the silverpoint on paper and the etching needle and even burin on a copper plate. Writing and drawing is also musical with a certain sense of rhythm, or more precisely it is choreographic -- finger tips dancing.

MM: Of course I can't help but wonder about the effects that drawing has on the self and how the style is so revelatory of the person.
KK: I certainly believe that is so, precisely because the finger control is choreographic; dance movements shapes and reveals the person, and so does the handwriting. 

MM: I changed my drawing style through handwriting. I started connecting all of my letters and made each one legible and generous in form. I believe that I am a nicer person because of that. Does that sound possible?
KK: In fact, as you know, there is such a thing as art/science of graphology, or handwriting analysis, which links the graphics of writing with the writer's personality.

MM: In an effort to shed my skin I spent the summer signing my name differently. In fact every time I signed something my signature became  an automatic drawing. This had a serious effect on me. I began to have  flashes of non recognition in regards to myself. I am not sure how deep the self alienation went. Was it superficial or working further down in my subconscious?  I seem to be the old me now but am on some kind of a new path.
KK: Inasmuch as writing/drawing is an extension of the self's bodily identity, changing the style of writing is not very different, I think, from changing one's hair style.  Women are more familiar with this phenomenon; but beard works the same way for men.  A more drastic change like shaving one's hair or thick beard momentarily disorients her (or his) sense of identity and works slowly in time to let its owner rediscover the altered form as the new identity. 

MM: Of course a lot of artists have employed  all sorts of tricks in order  to become something else. That is what theater, for example,  is all about albeit temporarily . . . or do actors undergo irreversible personality changes after playing certain characters?. For a non actor such as myself I need to find other ways to perform a permanent transformation, i.e. through drawing.
KK: Actors, I think, master the art of transforming oneself temporarily on the stage and returning to his/her original self so as to prepare for a new identity in the next play. There are people who don't change their hair style the entire life (excepting those who lose it without trying) and those who do.  So, there are artists who remain constant in style the entire life (like, say, Morandi, Cézanne, Kirchner), those who change gradually as they age (like Michelangelo and Titian), and those who change drastically maybe once (Goya) or more often (notoriously, Picasso and Matisse) -- not only through drawing but palette, composition, medium, subject, etc.

MM: During Aqua Dice I equated drawing with many things: as a roll of the dice, as a GPS unit for the dice, as props for a digital representation (thereby creating ghosts as you once mentioned, but between the drawing and the uploaded digital image of the drawing which entity is the ghost?). I thought that I could draw my destiny or that of the dice (somewhat the same). Of course this is nothing new in light of the incantatory drawings of  cave painters, ex-votos, the studies made for great paintings. It seems that  drawings are prayers and offerings for a future perfect.
KK: Very interesting thought.  Dance and singing can be (and were originally in many cases) incantatory, too.  Studies for a painting (as beautifully demonstrated by Hopper's Drawings recently at the Whitney) can certainly be said to be incantatory, repeating over and over and yet slightly changing with each repetition.

MM: In the end though I often have the words of Fagan (Oliver Twist) echoing in my mind as he sings to the Artful Dodger that he will remain the same as he as always been: "You'll be seeing no transformation . . "
KK: That's only a half of the story.  I often said in my teaching that history is change and unchange; constancy and vicissitudes.  One's lifetime is also both change and unchange. I think everyone who reflects on his/her process of maturing and aging is fully aware of this fact.

MM: I love to draw. It combines the drawing up of contracts, the signing of articles, printing, journalism, archeology, sounding, mapping, engineering, design and writing to mention a few activities. As I struggle to find employment these days I have difficulty deciding what it is that I want to do. This is because when you do art you have all of the jobs in the world rolled up in one.
KK: I also want to say that those who draw see better.  Drawing is an extension of seeing, seeing intensely, precisely, and systematically, and gaining knowledge perceptually as is impossible in verbal comprehension alone. How Leonardo understood this!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Battle of Wits with Vif

I was engaged in a battle wits with Vif, my rambunctious 6-month kitten.

He gets into all kinds of mischiefs but the worst is his obstructionist actions when I sit at the computer.  He would scratch the swirl of cables under the computer table.  I sprayed a bitter deterrent on the cords and cables but it did not discourage him appreciatively.  To stop him, I covered it with a few cardboard boxes so that he could not get at them.  This was more or less successful. 

Then, he learned to climb up on the printer next to the computer, creep into the space behind the monitor, and poke his paws out from under it to play with my hands on the trackpad and keyboard. It is difficult to read anything on the screen and impossible to write. If I chase him out with a loud “No” and a popping of a roll of newspaper, he would rush out and away but come back again, over and over, tirelessly.  The only way to stop him was for me to quit using the computer and do something else away from it.  But, if I sit on the sofa to read, he would come and jump on me and scratch or even bite me.

So, I read his obstructing action to be a scheme to induce me to play with him.  I thought his idea was to annoy me and force me to get up into action.  So, I would abandon the computer and play with him with a string, a stick, bits of paper, and a paper bag.  If I spent a long enough time playing, he would settle down and take a nap near me, usually on the floor next to my chair.  But if he is not fully satisfied and sufficiently exhausted, he would come back time and again to the tight space behind the monitor. So, I decided that playing with him in response to his obstruction was encouraging him to disturb me when I sit at the computer.  He would think at my using the computer was a signal for playtime.

I had to change my tactic.  To demonstrate that annoying me is futile, I decided to pick him up and put him in the bathroom with the door shut.  He likes to curl up in the wash basin and lie down in the bathtub, anyway.  I could then write in peace but when I let him out after a while, he comes right back to the computer and disturbs me.  Eventually, I learned to finish a bulk of writing before letting him out.   Returning to the computer, he finds me elsewhere.  Apparently, it’s not much fun. If I allow enough time, he comes out calmer and gets on the sofa to sleep. But quickly he learned to anticipate the incarceration and would fight viciously when I try to pick him up from the space behind the screen; I got scratched and bitten by forcibly grabbing him. 

So, nowI adopted a defensive strategy.  I put some large metal bookends and cardboard boxes to create a barricade behind the monitor.  It didn’t work.  He would step over it and push the boxes and manage to squeeze himself into the tight space.  I removed the barricade and filled the space completely with boxes of right size.  So prevented, he now sits on the printer and manages to scratch my hand on the trackpad and, otherwise, comes down to the front of the monitor and walks on the keyboard creating a havoc on the text I was writing. 

In the end, I capitulated.  The only way to keep him away from the computer when I want to read or write on it is to spend enough time playing until he is exhausted enough to settle down and sleep.  He is a darling when he is sleeping.

P.S.  I think I won.  Only three days after writing the above, I can say this.  Before I sit down at the computer, I’d play with him for a while  -- even just ten minutes rather than an half hour, and he is calmer.  If he climbs up on the printer, with a firm “no” he jumps down on his own, and then settles on the floor next to me or on the window sill; he sleeps or just rests.  So, now, he gives me ample time in peace in the morning and again late in the evening.  He is, however, exploring new tricks to annoy me.  He discovered climbing up on the kitchen counter; but, jumping up to the range when one burner was on, he singed a few strands of his whiskers, left and right, and he now decided to try only the kitchen sink.

Photographing in Museums

WNYC News reported (Taking Pictures in Museums, 11 October) that its art critic Deborah Solomon, defending the museum visitors photographing works of art, claims that although “some people think cameras corrupt our experience of art,” they actually enhance it.  She is quoted as saying that "When we look through a camera we frame space, and we look more deeply, and in that sense looking through a camera teaches us how to look without a camera, to paraphrase the photographer Dotothea Lange,” and “Photographs of art can contribute enormously to visual literacy in this country, and I look forward to a day when every high school student knows the difference between a Pollock and a de Kooning and a Rembrandt.”  Some 100 people who commented spoke either in favor of visitors photographing or else noted that they make nuisance for other visitors who don’t photograph. I beg to differ vehemently and wrote this comment:

Photographers disturb others in the museum, but this is a secondary problem. Works of art are not just configurations that the camera captures; other characteristics -- the size and scale, texture, brushwork, and subtleties of palette, nature of the medium, and certain details -- are lost in reproductions, and seeing original works in their totality is the reason for going to a museum. Deborah Solomon missed this point. In this digital age, reproductions of renowned museum pictures are available on line (in addition to those in numerous publications), and they are perfect for studying the composition and iconography of essential works at home and make privately photographed images redundant. I propose banning cameras entirely in all museums of art to encourage visitors to take time to look and see the works instead of just glancing at them.  People who are serious about art should learn to see patiently and intensely.  As Yogi Berra has it, “You can observe a lot by watching.” I argue that museums should also discontinue the use of audio guides because they induce visitors to listen instead of watching; it is better to provide notes in newsprint; they tend to make the visitors check the picture phrase by phrase as they read.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Wordy Wilde

Wordy Wilde is the epithet for George Bernard Shaw that came to my mind when I attended his You Never Can Tell in the production at Pearl Theater, directed by David Staller, the supreme director of Shaw’s plays and performed with much wit and gusto.  He is as witty as Oscar Wilde but without brevity.  I also think of Shaw as Ibsen improbably being funny.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Dance and Dancers

Down below we watch the dancers; high above we watch the dance. Attending the New York City Ballet at the NY State Theater, I normally sit in the Second Ring; I enjoy the synoptic view. The other day, I sat with a friend in the second row of the orchestra, and realized this.  At the Met Opera, my seat is Center Balcony for the good mix of sight and sound.  For symphonic music at Avery Fisher, I sit in the first row of the Third Tier for the total sonic effect; for chamber music at Alice Tully I am down in the orchestra half way up from the stage to enjoy the sight of the musicians.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Vif's Nap

This is where Vif at 6 months likes to curl up for a nap.
Maybe it's cool there when the room is too warm.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Looking While Listening

Listening to music in the concert hall is different from listening at home on the radio or CD, and the difference is obviously vast.  Given the high quality of sound recording today, the CD delivers clarity and purity of musical sound, and we can concentrate more intensely on the music than in the public hall which is never free of incidental and sometimes intrusive noise.  On the other hand, seeing the musicians produce their music is an enriching experience missed in the CD music.  I am always intrigued by sighting the source of sound from different instruments in the different parts of the orchestra (or from the four instruments in a quartet).  I enjoy no less watching the different techniques, say, in bowing, like legato, spiccato, jetée, and arpeggio, not to speak of the wide variety of instruments handled by the percussionist.  The soloist’s bodily choreography, which may bother some serious listeners as a distraction, fascinates me, too.  Music in a concert hall is a visual performance no less than an aural one, a theater in its own right.  The wooden block hit with a mallet near the end of Mahler’s Symphony #6 is some spectacle.  In order to absorb all the visual spectacles, I find myself looking left and right during the performance.  The curious and disconcerting thing is that no one else does that; I see rows of heads in front of me (and I generally prefer to sit in the rear part of the hall for a better mix of sounds), and they are all perfectly still looking straight ahead.  Some of the members of the audience undoubtedly quietly tap their fingers or feet with the music but I have never seen a head looking left and right. I wonder if my head movement distract or even offend my fellow listeners behind me.  I wonder, too, if a concentrated listening naturally suppresses visual observation.  Even at a concert of avant-garde, experimental music, in which traditional instruments are subjected to wild handling, like bowing on the string below the bridge, rolling an iron chain on the drum, and washing pebbles in a fish bowl, the listeners don’t seem to be looking. But for me the worth of attending a concert is the experience of looking while listening, of hearing and watching the music as it is created.  For intense listening, I stay home and put on a CD.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Goodbye Qif, Hello Vif


My longtime companion Qif, a brindle domestic cat, was put to sleep last Tuesday, 17 September 2013. A dear friend visiting me accompanied me to the ASPCA for this painful parting; as the fatal injection was administered, I stayed stroking her until she was unconscious but left before she became cold and stiff.  Qif was over 14 years old, or 73 in human age.  She was adopted from the ASPCA in Media, PA, on 8 December 1999, a five-month kitten, and I named her askew marking Qif following her predecessors, Mif and Pif.  I liked her friskiness but also her askew marking, which I called a Veronica Lake look; her hind legs didn’t match either, one was black and the other white. She was a healthy and lovable cat, as attached to me as I was to her.  She always slept on my bed at night and, in later years, habitually lay on my chest face to face for a while before sprawling more comfortably with her head on my foot or leg.  She adjusted herself quickly to my one-bedroom apartment in New York when she was moved in 2009 from a three-bedroom house in Swarthmore, where for nearly ten years she enjoyed roaming through ample rooms and cavorting up and down the stairs.  Early in December 2011, she suffered a severe gastrointestinal disorder and stopped eating.  Her vet tested her with a series of blood tests and X-rays and detained her three nights to test for pancreatitis; but he could not find any abnormal condition and sent her home. Though she begged for food, she was unwilling to eat.  It took her four weeks of voluntary fasting before she regained appetite and three more weeks before she started eating normally. But subsequently, through 2012 until August, she periodically suffered bouts of stomach disorder -- vomiting and diarrhea, followed by refusal to eat -- almost once every month.  She visited the vet in August, and he repeated blood tests and X-rays and reported that her kidney and liver were healthy.  Her health improved for the next several months. But she lost her taste for Fancy Feast Gourmet Salmon, which was her only soft food all through her life, which she always ate with relish. She would occasionally hide under the bed as though she was in pain.  In April 2013 she vomited and became very sick again.  The vet tested her again and his only diagnosis was constipation; she was given mirtazapine, an antidepressant, which promotes feline appetite.  But she continued to refuse food; I tried all kinds from venison to cod to duck to liver, and also tried ground beef, raw and cooked, roast chicken pieces, and milk.  She kept losing weight.  On 25 July I saw her bending the right foreleg and limping on three legs; I had not seen what she did.  She went to the vet, who X-rayed her and saw no fracture.  Late in August she was back at the vet as she was not eating at all; he drew blood for testing, and had no diagnosis.  At his insistence, I took her back for sonogram on 13 September; the report was a tumor outside the kidney, and the suggested treatment was another sonogram in order to locate the tumor more precisely so that it might be scraped with a needle, and possibly chemotherapy to remove it completely.  There was no prospect of healing.  That was when I considered euthanasia. I didn’t want to see live in pain and starvation. Without my friend’s support, I might have delayed the decision.  I know Qif had a good 14-year life.  I asked her ashes to be scattered at the communal cemetery, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery.

After bidding farewell to Qif, I proceeded immediately to find a cat to adopt.  I was shown some fifty cats of all ages and shapes and forms but I requested for a 1 to 3 year old frisky female. Two that caught my attention, both black with some white, were male, 6-months and 5-months.  It did not take me long to choose, watching their behavior; I decided on Billy Ray, the younger of the two, whom I renamed Vif.  Like Qif, he featured an asymmetrical white marking on his face as though a lump of ice cream spilled out on one side of his mouth.  There were papers to go through and sign and a payment to make. Then, I was instructed to meet with the Feline Behavior Counselor, one Adi Hovav; she was full of warning how Vif, as active as he is, might turn out to be destructive and impossible to manage.  I assured her that I had many cats in my life and am well acquainted with hyperactive kittens, and I was allowed to take him.

Back home, he immediately inspected every nook and corner of my one-bedroom apartment and within an hour acquainted himself with the odor of the place. I played with him for while with a variety of toys I improvised -- a string with a butterfly bow at one end to jump up for, a short bamboo stick to run around, a crumpled fist-size cardboard to chase after, a cardboard toilet tissue core which scares him, and a large brown paper bag to poke the head in. I went out from 5:00 to 10:00, and when I came home, I found two waste baskets upturned and two piles of books unpiled.  He ate, drank, and used the litter, and he slept well that night on my bed, leaning on my legs. Within the next four days, he was totally at home. He plays hard, eats voraciously, and sleeps well; he purrs a lot and follows me around everywhere, weaving between my feet; he digs in his litter with such force that he scatters it all over the bathroom; he watches me while I shower and as soon as I come out he jumps into the puddled bath tub -- just for fun.  He is fearless. When I wash my face under the faucet, he reaches the wash basin standing on the toilet cover and then climbs into it, pushes my soapy face aside, and, with his head turned sideways, drinks from the running water; he does this unfailingly every morning and bedtime. He knocked down the table fan, which fell with a clash from the top of a low bookcase; its cover came off but it didn’t break. He likes to stretch out on the window sill, which was too narrow for mature Qif.  He is intelligent as I knew the first moment I saw him; he learned “No” quickly, which I use to get him off the dining table and kitchen counter and to stop him playing with my feet and legs. He is, of course, always at the door when I come home, hearing the keys.  Vif is ever lively true to his name, exactly as I like, reminding me of Qif in her first years.  He is truly adorable and evidently adores me.  But I still miss Qif just the same. 


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Full and Pressing Agenda

Having retired in New York I go out to theater, typically, six to seven evenings each week; and sometime I visit museum exhibitions and galleries during the day or meet a friend for lunch. During the second half of August, as the theater was slow, I had more evenings at home than usual, sometimes three or four evenings in succession.  For a few days I enjoyed the easy pace, cleaning the apartment, organizing the books, generally relaxing, and, above all, having a leisurely dinner without having to rush out to the theater.  But it didn’t take three evenings at home to find myself feeling tired and indolent.  Even after a good night’s sleep, I became sleepy during the day, and I started dozing at the table not only after lunch and dinner but even after breakfast with the indispensable mug of strong coffee.  I sometimes dozed at the computer, too.  If I open a book, I would last three pages at best.  In the second week, to pull myself out of the doldrums, I went to museums in order to be out during the day.  Hiking six hours one day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I home exhausted but I found myself more alert in the evening.  I then realized, not that I didn’t know it unconsciously, that I need a full and pressing agenda, day by day, to keep myself fit physically and mentally.  I must be what is known as an inveterate workaholic even in retirement. Yes, I know.

Feet Together, Feet Apart


There are five basic positions of the feet in ballet.  People arrange their feet in many more positions since they stand in a variety of ways -- feet close together, spread far apart, placed crisscross, or one foot pointing almost opposite the other. When they are seated, the parameter of the positions of the feet is more limited.  Still, they range from close together to wide apart, and the subway ride is where this is best observed, especially in those trains where long seats are placed facing each other.  Some men take up three seats by opening the knees and placing their thighs at 150º; some women occupy two seats by sitting at an angle with their knees together.  Women, more often than men, sit with their knees and feet together keeping themselves within the boundaries of one single seat.  The feet may be parallel, sprayed, or pigeon footed. Both men and women also cross their legs, with one dangling foot getting in the way of passengers passing in front of them.  Habitually, I sit with my knees and feet together on the subway.  One day, I was surveying the feet peeking under the stall doors of a public lavatory while waiting in line, and saw one pair of feet with lovely shoes neatly together, and the legs, too.  The sight caught my attention and its gentility appealed to me, and since then I adopted the posture when I sit on the potty even in the privacy of my bathroom at home where no one will ever see me.