Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Subway woes

Known widely among New York subway riders, “manspread”, as it is called, is the practice of sitting with the legs spread wide and occupying two or sometimes three designated seats in the manner of Mademoiselle Cha-u-Kao in this famous Toulouse-Lautrec print.

It is seen more commonly among men, only rarely among women; in a crowded train, they annoy those who are standing, especially the elderly, and they are the least likely to even think of standing up to offer their double or triple seats.  “Jumbospread” of overweight passengers is annoying, too, but they are excusable; they can’t help it.  But there are skinny people who allow a half seat on both sides — “elbowspread." There are women who take more than one seat in other ways, too, those who sit sideways (“sidespread”), those who award an extra seat to their shopping bags (“bagspread”), and those with a child small enough to be held on the lap to take a seat to sit in or stand on (“totspread”).  Then, there is “womansqueeze,” women who force their oversized bottom into a tight space.

Among standing passengers, the best known annoyance is “polehog,” the practice of leaning on a pole leaving no space for others to grab; and there is “doorhog” commonly seen among men who stand leaning agains the doors bearing the sign “Do not lean on the door” and blocking the exiting passengers at each station. 

Aside from these, my subway petpeeves include “backpacktwirl,” “toteswing,” “chompchomp,” “smooch,” “teensqueal,” and “phonejabber,” not to speak of “almsbeg,” “trapeze,” and “beltout.”  Then, last but not least, there are passengers who, having come in out of the rain, leave a puddle from the dripping raincoat on the seat.  Shall we call them “randrip”?  

Still, I enjoy subway ride for all the annoyance.  The variety of passengers always make a topnotch entertainment. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ostermeier's Hedda


The production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler that truly enraptured me was the one by Thomas Ostermeier of the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin, of which he became Artistic Director in 1999.  I saw it at BAM Harvey late in 2006, performed in German in a compact translation by Hinrich Schmidt-Hinkel (two hours without intermission).  The set, designed by Jan Palppelbaum, was a glass-walled modernist interior. Ostermeier set the play in this present-day residence and populated it with smartly dressed young admirers of Hedda, played by a petite gamine, Katharina Schüttler, who acted the character as suffering her ennui more passively than Ibsen had portrayed her but effectively in the director’s overall conception.  I attended the interview with Ostermeier that preceded the performance.  Asked about the idea underlying his adaptation, he said that it started with the visit to Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and hearing, in the tour of the house, about Mrs. Farnsworth’s discomfort with the house’s transparency, her desire to place bookshelves against some of the glass walls, and the architect’s adamant objection.  This, he said, made him think of Hedda’s vulnerability in being overexposed to her admirers and the ensuing anxiety, which he associated with the plight of the middle class in contemporary Germany suffering from the fear of downfall from the position of material stability.  The scene was, indeed, fraught with fragility as the characters, scattered both outside and inside at different times,  were seen reflectively sometimes from inside out and at other times outside in, as the set revolved for scene changes.  In addition, the polished floor and the slanted mirror overhead reflected the actions in uneasy inversion, adding to the feeling of instability in the relationships among the characters.  The updating to early 21st century is complete in the substitution of Lovborg’s manuscript which Hedda throws into the fire in the original is a computer file and she destroys it by hammering the laptop it is stored in.  Ostermeier earlier adapted A Doll’s House, and his version of An Enemy of the People was brought to BAM in 2013.  In the course of six years, I saw three other productions of Hedda Gabler, featuring Kate Burton (Nicholas Martin, dir.), Elizabeth Marvel (Ivo van Hove, dir.), and Cate Blanchett (Andrew Upton, dir.).  They were good in different ways in portraying the heroine; but as a production this was the most memorable.

My Garden in Swarthmore

I sold my house in Swarthmore on 30 June 2009.  It’s over five years now, and I was trying to remember the garden that I tendered with love and care from 1980, when I bought and moved in the house.

Prominently in the center of the front yard I had a pink dogwood; I planted it in 1981, only four feet tall, to commemorate my son Giulio’s first ‘teen birthday. It blossomed beautifully every spring though it was 28 years old when I moved away. On the other side of the driveway, I had a purple wisteria, which I kept its tree form to a height such that I could prune it annually without a ladder; by carefully pruning the vines to the second bud, I was able to cultivate ample racemes that blossomed beautifully.  Nearer the corner of the house on the same side, I had a Rose of Sharon (hibiscus syriacus) which grew fast and put on many pale pink flowers, and a tall crape myrtle, which bears bright raspberry-colored blossoms in August when nothing else is flowering. Between this and the wisteria were two azaleas, kept small, and a hydrangea (macrophylla), which, fed aluminum, produced blue blossoms, and I had another -- oakleaf hydrangea (quercifolia) called Tokyo Blue -- near the Rose of Sharon along the pathway along the north side of the house that led to the backyard. I had ferns all over in this area, some forget-me-nots, and a large patch of astroemeria.  In the same area I had a Japanese Anemone, and next to the house an acuba, which came with the house, planted too close and needed massive pruning every year.  At the corner of the house, also already there, there was a small yew, also too close to the house.

On the south side of the front yard, my pride was the Japanese cutleaf maple, yellow, which I kept low but open near the ground.  Near it I had another azalea, and not far from it I planted a crape myrtle, matching the one on the other side. Farther toward the back yard, I had rose bushes and another hydrangea, which I kept pink in color without feeding aluminum.   Near the dining room window on the south side of the house, I had a.Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica), which also came with the house; in early spring it carried massive racemes of white flower. All over the front yard, I cultivated perennials — crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and pansies — and, near the stoop to the front door, snowdrops and fragrant white lilies, and on the sunny side asters, zinnias, callas, and a variety of other flowering plants from year to year.

In the backyard, toward the southwest corner, there was an old apple tree — Golden Delicious — that also came with the house.  It dominated the garden; I pruned it severely every year and it bore fruits, which, sprayed early in the growth and covered with paper bags, ripened nicely.  They were delicious.  In the last few years, I stopped spraying and let the fruits drop before maturing fully.  There was a fig tree at the northwest corner; and I planted three Anjou pear trees in front of it, which screened my garden from the neighbor in the rear.  I harvested good fruits for many years; but I neglected them, too, in the last few years.  Next to the pears I planted raspberry bushes for five years or so but they were unruly and I was ready to pull them out by the time of the move.In front of the apple and the pears, across the width of the yard, I dug out a meandering channel to drain the rainwater that came from the garden of the neighbor on the north side and flooded the lawn.  It formed a nice stream after each rain.  I piled the soil from the channel in the area in front of the pears for a vegetable garden, turned over every spring and well fertilized, where I planted tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, and eggplants, and occasionally green peas.  On the south side, behind the apple tree, there was a forsythia, which brightened the garden with its yellow blossom the first thing every spring.  Next to it there were a few stems of lilac, which I found skimpy but nurtured them to flower decently.  On the ground I had hosta all over the place and also aster seasonally.  I also loved astilbe and salvia

On the south side of the house, I planted three fig trees, divided from the old one.  Receiving a good sun, they produced wonderful fruits — Syrian figs; I covered them with burlap over the winter to protect them from frost.  Underneath them, I had blueberry bushes, which also gave me sweet berries in abundance.  Some years earlier on I had strawberries, too, but I didn’t keep them up.

On the trellis outside the kitchen window, I had a grapevine, which was leafy but bore no fruits.  In front of the brick terrace I planted another wisteria, which I also kept low; it was dumb, however, and hacking the stem — a recommended remedy — had no effect.  So, later, I got another wisteria, white, a stock said to be from Princeton University’s Nassau Hall, which faithfully bore rich racemes every year. Then, I had peonies, tree peonies and herbaceous peonies.  But the pride of my garden was the three tree peonies, rose, pink and white. that displayed gorgeous bloom every year, as large and splendid as in any horticultural garden.

There were more, I believe, but I fail to remember everything now.  It was all a lot of work but I enjoyed gardening immensely and miss the garden I nurtured more than anything else from the house I left behind.  In particular, I loved the perennials which, so faithfully every spring, came back without fail to regale my eyes.

After moving to New York, I missed the garden so much and went to look for, found, and irresistibly bought the beautiful American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers.  But before long I realized I had really no use for it and gave it away to a friend in a suburb.  My garden in Swarthmore lives more vividly than ever in my memory.

Poker Face

Cheating at a game is unethical.  A poker face at a poker game may deceive but it is no cheating.  An exaggerated expression of horror when there is no horror is also a deception but it is, if playful, also no cheating.  Lyndon Johnson is said to have lied and thereby brought about important political decisions. I suppose lying among politicians is not unusual. Questioning myself if politicians’ lies are unethical, I wondered if politicians who habitually lie consider politics a game of sort. This may explain why US presidents, even accomplished, not to speak of senators and congressmen, and -women were and are often less than totally forthright in their endeavors.  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Theater Audience

In New York, theater still thrives and draws a large audience.  But among those who come to the theater to see a play only some can really be said to come to see the play.  There are those who come primarily to be entertained — to have a good time with friends or lovers or family; it is a night out and theater is often combined with dinner and/or drinks preceding it or following it. Theater for them is a social activity. Then, there are those who come to see the celebrities live on stage whom they were familiar with on the screen and fanatically admired.  They are predominantly tourists or members of  one fandom or another.  Broadway theaters serve these two groups.  What I believe is a relatively small minority of the audience comes really to see the play they chose to see because they wanted to see it and experience it as a theater.  This audience patronizes Off-Broadway theaters.  The audience of the Off- Off-Broadway theaters are predominantly family members and the friends of the actors in the play who come in support of the company even if obligatorily.  This is an obvious and trite observation but an observation that somehow I had to put in writing.

Happy Ending - ハッピーエンド

There are those, with or without a tragic streak in their own life, who favor a tragic twist of fortune befalling the characters in a play and dislike a happy ending perhaps out of envy or, else, missing any sympathy.  On the other hand,  there are many who prefer a happy ending for allowing them to forget their own happiness.


Happiness Fostered

The Declaration of Independence claims for all of us inalienable Rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  We are grateful for this warranty; but a close look reveals a curious contradiction that in life none of these rewards are free; they come constricted with ineluctable boundaries.  There is no Life without the menace of Death which too often terminates it capriciously; Liberty is limited by the bodily capacity and social codes and mores.  Then, Happiness pursued is elusive like Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird.  What I learned in my life of 80 years is that Happiness is nurtured, not pursued; it is fostered only with creative effort and hard work.

Arms, No Fire

Those men and some women who like to tote guns and love to shoot might consider substituting their firearms with knives, which, though lacking the explosive noise they no doubt find exciting, should find in the event of any serious accident ensuing a violent fracas that required the use of the arms a greater satisfaction in seeing the hated opponent scarred or maimed rather than dead thus being rewarded with a more enduring reminder of the vengeful action, granting that bare arms, without fire or blade, would be the safest arms if, to them, lifeless.