A busy day in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the Queens Botanical Garden, and Flushing’s Chinatown on Cinco de Mayo.
‘New York City’ Posts
A busy day in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the Queens Botanical Garden, and Flushing’s Chinatown on Cinco de Mayo.
Finally touched base with Staten Island on my Park Odyssey blog. It was only a matter of time.
I’ve begun freelancing for The Morton Report, from celebrity biographer Andrew Morton. It’s a website of literate pop culture from both sides of the Atlantic, and I’m the New York City columnist keeping an eye on Broadway theater and related showy matters. My columns are here.
There are also some new entries at the Park Odyssey blog. So check them out too.
And everywhere you go, leave a comment!
Nineteen-inch snowfalls can’t stop the theater. I’ve seen some good shows recently—check out my reviews (and my other articles) on Blogcritics.
Snow can’t put a halt to the Park Odyssey, either, though winter does slow things down a bit. Check out the latest in my ongoing project to visit and blog about every New York City park.
And Whisperado’s still working on that long-promised first full-length album. A couple of gigs coming up.
I hope you haven’t forgotten about Whisperado! We’re still here, with a new web page (basic but functional) and two gigs coming up, one in Manhattan (to celebrate my birthday!) and one in Brooklyn. Check out the new page and come to the shows! We’ll see you there.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 27, 2010
Jon Sobel, a Manhattan-based writer and musician and Co-Executive Editor of Blogcritics Magazine, has embarked on an unprecedented adventure: visiting and blogging every New York City park. He plans to document all 1,300 green spaces within the five boroughs.
“I already spend a lot of my spare time walking around the city, especially the parks,” Sobel says. “It’s astounding how many parks there are within the city limits. So this project combines my life as a writer, with my life as a lover of the outdoors. And nobody has ever done it before.”
Why 1,300? The roster of NYC Parks goes far beyond the famous ones like Central Park, Prospect Park, and Battery Park. The five boroughs are festooned with hundreds of parks of every shape, size, design, and purpose. Looking over the Parks Department’s website and other resources, Jon identified about 1,300 properties that seem to rank as actual parks (as opposed to pure playgrounds or mere grassy strips). He’ll visit, photograph, and blog about every park that’s at least partially laid out for passive enjoyment of the outdoors.
The more than 30 parks already featured on the blog, with text and photos, include:
-> Manhattan’s oldest park, Bowling Green, where it all began…
-> Brooklyn’s cannon-decked John Paul Jones park in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge…
-> The city’s most celebrated green space, Central Park, captured in the winter snow…
-> Chinatown’s Seward Park, named for Lincoln’s Secretary of State (whose statue can be found much farther uptown in Madison Square Park)…
-> The fast-developing landscape of Governor’s Island, where preserved military housing stands side by side with cutting-edge art exhibits…
-> Gantry Plaza State Park on the Queens waterfront, where you can take in some of New York’s storied industrial history along with the sun’s rays…
-> And quite a few more.
“When I first conceived the project last year, I imagined that I could cover all the parks in one long summer season,” Sobel says. “Then I started to look into it more seriously—and upped my estimate to two years. And now that I’ve actually begun, it’s looking more and more like a multi-year exploration. But so is life, and what could be better than spending as much of life as possible outdoors, while still being right here in the greatest city in the world?”
Read the Park Odyssey blog here:
Read the introductory post here:
Contact Jon Sobel at: email@example.com
I’ve now posted over 30 entries on my Park Odyssey blog, all with text and photos. Here’s a sample shot from Astoria Park in Queens. Come on over and visit now!
FringeNYC 2010 is drawing to a close. I caught a handful of shows, mostly ones that happened to be playing at days and times when I happened to be free. Here are links to my reviews:
One of the best I saw was The Hyperbolist, a one-man puppet-non-puppet show by Joe Mazza.
Alas, the gospel of the Rev. Bill & Betty failed to ignite.
But I was happy the Amsterdam Abortion Survivor survived to tell the tale.
A welcome performance of Schiller’s Maid of Orleans, a play I’d never seen, boasted a couple of fine performances but overall it disappointed.
However, Jeff Kreisler’s Get Rich Cheating, while hitting mostly easy targets, added up to entertaining and effective satire.
And in Jen and Liz in Love, Jesse Weaver cooked up an honestly touching story of love and regret.
My new project is underway: visiting every single park in New York City and documenting them on a new blog, Park Odyssey. Check it out.
Jefferson Market Garden, August 2010
I’ve revived my old “Dead…from New York” column begun (in print only) in the NY Hangover in the 90′s. A colleague of mine at Blogcritics, Victor Lana, is also contributing.
Check out the newest—oldest—and deadest New York City blog, on Blogcritics here!
I learned quite a bit from seeing Hamlet, by French composer Ambroise Thomas.
The Met hadn't staged this opera for 113 years. Critics in the English-speaking world apparently hadn't been able to deal with the fact that it wasn't Shakespeare's play. With less death, a drinking song, and originally a "happy ending"—and a revised one that feels like Romeo and Juliet superimposed onto Hamlet—it certainly isn't.
What it is: a fine example of 19th century Parisian grand opera, with much beautiful music. In scene after scene, lovely lyrical arabesques lead into macabre and dramatic passages, all here brightly rendered by the impeccable Met orchestra under the swiftly paced direction of Louis Langrée. The Hamlet story, much of the essence of which is retained, turns out to be excellent material for this sort of music, which while it may not be absolutely the most divine opera music ever written, has many virtues that are showcased extremely well in this production.
The slinky clarinet (or what I thought was a clarinet) solo accompanying the first part of the "Murder of Gonzago" scene, which sounded remarkably like a saxophone, turned out to be—a saxophone! Apparently Thomas felt the newly invented instrument was perfect for the leering pantomime with which Hamlet endeavors to catch the conscience of the king. The play-within-a-play scene was the climax of the production—funny and spectacular.
Simon Keenlyside, in the title role, lived up to his hype. The charismatic British baritone slips into Hamlet like he's played the role all his life. Slumping, drinking, raging, he positively seethes with the moral paralysis at the center of the story, his voice fluting between passion and control. In the Hamlet-Gertrude scene he addresses his mother repeatedly, bitingly, as "Madame," then softly and sadly as "ma mère"—just one example of the way Thomas's music effectively conveys the characters' psychology; and with a singer whose acting skills match the high standards of his singing, the creators' skills are effectively highlighted—both Thomas's music and the affecting libretto, by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier, who were also responsible for the books of much better known operas like Gounod's Faust and Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann.
However, Marlis Petersen as Ophélie nearly stole the show, first in her early love scene with Hamlet and especially in her long, showstopping solo mad scene, which is so over-the-top I started to laugh even while appreciating her liquid tone and wonderful passagework. I'd heard about her last-minute casting, replacing the ill Natalie Dessay with only three days to prepare, but you'd never guess Ms. Petersen hadn't been on tour with the show all along (it originated in Switzerland, at the Grand Théâtre de Gèneve). She was absolutely delightful.
The intense Jennifer Larmore's grave, dark tones suited the role of Gertrude well, and tenor Toby Spence did a nice job as Laërte. In fact the entire cast was strong, right down to the gravediggers.
Hamlet runs for two more performances, April 5 and April 9, at the Metropolitan Opera.
Photo of Marlis Petersen by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
Well, blow me down. For ten years they’ve been putting on concerts at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, in upper Manhattan, and no one told me until now (thanks GEMS). Apparently the oldest still-standing residence in the city, the mansion was Washington’s headquarters in 1776 and is a museum now, with period furnishings from the 18th and 19th century including some things that belonged to the Jumels themselves. My grandmother wrote a historical novel about Madame Jumel (long since out of print) but I had never visited the mansion until this past Saturday, when Elisa and I took that long ride on the #1 train to check out the museum and see a concert, held in the room where they used to have concerts two centuries ago. The concert featured the Brooklyn Baroque, a marvelous trio, who performed a program called “Bach and His Contemporaries.” Baroque flutist Andrew Bolotowsky (whom I’ve seen before, I think with Muse) and baroque cellist David Bakamjian were masterful. A special treat was hearing the harpsichord so clearly. Rebecca Pechefsky plays with feeling and a sure touch, but so often in early music concerts in larger halls the harpsichord is barely audible. Not here.
Another cool thing about early music concerts: we get to be among the youngest people there. That doesn’t happen too much anymore!
Blogcritics sent me on a bloggers’ press junket to interview the cast and go behind the scenes at Law & Order‘s Chelsea Piers studios. Check out all the action here.
In the photo, actor Anthony Anderson (in the red tie) shows us the interrogation room.
Some secrets are more secret than others. The other day I was 115 feet below ground, inside Secret Caverns in upstate New York, marveling at the attraction's 100-foot underground waterfall. Man, is that loud. With abundant, fanciful advertising signage rippling for miles along the nearby roads, Secret Caverns are surely the least secret caverns in these United States.
A bit harder to find is the Secret Theatre. Located in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, NY, the Secret Theatre is not far from well-known cultural institutions like P.S. 1 and Silvercup Studios. But the two-year-old space is tucked away under the shadow of the elevated number 7 train, set back from a night-desolate street through a loading dock, indicated by a single sign, then another half-hidden sign, then through a lightly marked door… you get the picture.
Manhattan snobs, check your snobbery at that door. The Secret Theatre's current production of Shakespeare's popular comedy As You Like It is as good as any Off Off Broadway Shakespeare you'll find on the more glittery side of the East River, and better than most.
The Queens Players, resident at the Secret, are not to be confused with the Queen's Company, which presents Shakespeare with all-female casts and anachronistic bursts of pop music. This As You Like It does not lure (or repel) with experimental casting or unorthodox interpretation. Extraordinarily well directed by Greg Cicchino, it triumphs with more or less pure Shakespeare.
We'll probably never know whether the Bard's inability to use female actors had anything to do with his attraction to stories that involved young maids disguising themselves as swains. What we can safely say, reinforced by the elastic Claire Morrison's animated and expert performance here, is that Rosalind is one of Shakespeare's most fully realized and interesting female characters.
Banished from the court of the usurping Duke Frederick, she flees into the Forest of Arden accompanied by her moody cousin Celia (the comically smoldering Melisa Breiner-Sanders) and the court Fool, Touchstone (the magnificent Daniel Smith, here channeling John Cleese.)
The forest, also the hiding place of Rosalind's beloved and already banished father, Duke Senior, and his band of loyalists, is at first a "desert" of hunger and exhaustion to the newcomers. But the upbeat Duke (the appropriately stentorian Timothy J. Cox, who also plays the usurper) has fashioned it into a pastoral realm of merry ease, removed from the stresses of court (read: modern) life. Yet the forest's fantastical aura also makes it a fit setting for the play's most famous passage, the "All the world's a stage" speech. Uttered by the melancholy Jaques, it is, among other things, the ultimate exposition of life's meaninglessness. Yet Jaques (Chris Kateff in a knife-sharp performance) is a man apart. Both mocked and humored by the other men of the Duke's company, he cannot, even to the bitter end, share in the rough optimism of his lord, nor the love-soaked banterings and witticisms of the young lovers prancing abundantly about.
And love and wit do triumph. If, as Touchstone lectures, "The truest poetry is the most feigning," it is nonetheless the rhymes carved in the trees by Rosalind's swain, the passionate, lovelorn Orlando (an effective Anthony Martinez), that keep hope burning, not to mention the story.
Mr. Cicchino has a gift for focusing his actors' strengths, and for creating moments of unscripted, silent humor that move the action swiftly along. From his fine cast he draws out a number of standout performances in the smaller roles too, including Michael Henrici as Orlando's cruel elder brother Oliver (and the heavily inebriated and uproariously named Sir Oliver Martext); Griffin DuBois as the besotted shepherd Silvius; the zesty Larissa Laurel as Phebe, Silvius's cantankerous object of desire; a mutely hilarious Amy Newhall as Touchstone's foil, the clueless country wench Audrey; and the delightful Louis Tullo, a welcome newcomer to the New York stage, in two roles, notably a very funny LeBeau. Indeed, despite the dominance of the Rosalind-Orlando storyline, the production is the very model of a modern ensemble piece.
Leave it to Shakespeare, in the loving and crafty hands of a director like Mr. Cicchino, to bring to glorious life the human tapestry in all its poetic good cheer under the rumbling elevated trains of Long Island City.
As You Like It runs only through Sept. 5, so make your plans now. Tickets (call 866-811-4111 if you don't like ordering online) are a piddling $15. You can't even buy a movie ticket and popcorn for that anymore, but you can get excellent live Shakespeare one subway stop from Manhattan.
I've been driving a lot this summer, but getting behind the wheel is feeling more and more like a Last Days scenario.
I don't mean the end of the world, although of course that's possible. I mean the end of an automobile-centric way of life. No one has come up with a convincing solution to the dual problems of finite fuel and climate change. One way or another, it seems likely that we're going to be giving up our cars — if not this generation, then next.
Being a city dweller, I have a car mostly for weekends and vacation trips. I also need it for work, but only sort of; if I weren't a part-time working musician, with heavy equipment to lug around to gigs, I'd probably be like most Manhattanites and not own a car at all.
And so, despite being a car owner, I'm a public transportation snob. I think that if you are a patriotic American, or (more important) a patriotic citizen of Earth, and you are not a farmer, you should be living in or near a city and taking public transportation to work. If that's not practical now, you should be actively planning for it. And the governments of the world should be using carrots, then (eventually) sticks where needed, to aim societies in that direction.
Yet there's this nice house in the country, see…
Since my mother retired a couple of years ago to her house in Vermont, I find myself imagining retiring there too someday, assuming the house stays in the family. This actually takes quite an effort of imagination, because the prospects of my actually retiring, at any age, seem quite dim. But still. These dreams and pleasures lie deep in our natures.
Having a spread of land that's our own, whether real or just an aspiration, appeals deeply to our territorial side. Having access, and means, to hit the open road and go where we please when we please, whether it's to visit distant friends or relatives, spend time with nature, or just get away from something — that goes very deep as well. Perhaps it's a manifestation of our essential internal conflict. You know the one: between our earthbound reality and our mental capacity to dream to infinity.
Wherever we get them from, these ideas are not easy to give up, especially for Americans. Our foundational frontier tradition and our Eisenhower Interstate Highway System make sure of that.
So if these kinds of dreams have to die, they will die hard. The white picket fence, the second home in the country, the family road trip… whenever I turn the key in the ignition and roll off this once-Dutch island into the vastness of the mainland United States, I can't help thinking of these hopes and dreams grinding to a halt.
Dotting the fields by the road around the Caribbean island of St. Kitts are hundreds of white birds. Marveling at the beauty of these graceful, long-necked animals, we asked Solomon, our hotel's driver, what they were.
"Egrets," he replied. "They look pretty, but they're damn nuisances. They shit all over my pool."
It's all relative. Here in New York we've got open-air double-decker tourist buses all over the place. When I'm walking, I like to see the buses. It's fun to watch the tourists gawking at the skyscrapers and famous sights that to me are just part of the everyday scenery. It's useful, and enjoyable, to be made aware of different points of view.
When I'm trying to drive downtown, though, the buses are a nuisance, clogging up the intersections like mis-oriented vitamin pills in your throat. So: another point-of-view shift, this time all within one person, pedestrian vs. driver. Every conceivable point in space or time is (theoretically) somebody's point of view, and all those points of view are out there criss-crossing and opposing, separating us from one another and dividing us internally too.
Somewhere, terrain-wise, between a small, underdeveloped Caribbean island and the heart of Manhattan is the suburb I grew up in. It was a good place to be a kid. A few years later, it was a boring place to be a teenager. It hadn't changed; I had. Now I've shifted yet again, looking down my nose at suburbs altogether.
Yet even though I haven't lived in one in decades, when I visit suburbs in other areas I feel superior and defensive about my own home town: we had sidewalks, why don't you have sidewalks? What if someone wants to go for a walk? Who planned this town? Meanwhile someone from that sidewalkless community is probably driving through my old town thinking: how can people live in a place that doesn't have any hills?
It's amazing, when you think about it, that we function and get along as well as we do. Sure, there are always wars going on, and people stereotyping, despising, and oppressing other people, countries, races… suburbs. But countries survive for centuries. And we have not blown up the planet, nor wiped ourselves back to the Bronze Age, despite well over half a century of capability.
We may have point-of-view problems, but we did evolve as social animals. That gave us the smarts we constantly use to both help and hurt ourselves individually and collectively. The fact that people can live in small groups or large ones, in every kind of terrain, and within a wide variety of social institutions, tells us something important:
There's hope for humanity. There's hope for the Earth. There's even hope for some of the beautiful creatures we share the planet with.
Just as long as they don't shit in my pool.*
*Metaphorical. I don’t have a pool.
Lately I've become something of an Early Music Deadhead, checking the Gotham Early Music Society newsletter and seeing all the pre-Classical concerts I can around town, especially the free ones. One such happened the other night at the beautiful, grottoed Church of Notre Dame, in Morningside Heights in upper Manhattan, where some fourteen members of the vocal group Pomerium sang a program of six Franco-Flemish Déplorations.
What are Déplorations, you ask? Heck if I knew. Fortunately Alyssa DeSocio was on hand to explain. She's a student of musicology who told us that back in the day — the Renaissance, that is — French/Flemish court composers would write pieces lamenting (hence déploration, deploring) the death of an older composer who had mentored or inspired them. The result was some exceptionally beautiful and interesting choral music.
The program ranged from the 14th to the 16th centuries, and included chansons (with words in the French vernacular), motets (in Latin), and motet-chansons (which combined the two). The music referenced medieval Gregorian chant but used polyphony, dissonant suspensions, and all the latest compositional developments of the time. The choral director helpfully pointed out a number of these features by having the chorus sing them in isolation before performing the whole piece.
The lyrics were poems written for the particular occasions. They mixed Christian and Classical allusions: Jesus, of course, but also Jove, Apollo, and Atropos, the Fate in charge of dispensing death. They also mentioned the deceased composer by name, glowingly praising his divinely inspired musical prowess and sometimes other qualities as well.
…Atropos, terrible satrap,
Has caught your Ockeghem in her trap,
The true treasurer of music and master,
Learned, handsome in appearance
and not at all stout…
Put on the clothes of mourning,
Josquin, Pierrson, Brumel, Compère,
And weep great tears from your eyes…
Josquin des Prez, one of the composers mentioned in the next-to-last line above, became the greatest of his time, and the program concluded with three Déplorations written in his honor.
Often part of the fascination of Early Music concerts is the proliferation of old-fashioned instruments that you don't normally see or hear anymore, instruments with names like sackbut, theorbo, and shawm, not to mention my favorites, the viol family. But this concert made purely vocal music from the Renaissance not just beautiful, but almost as interesting as a consort of curious antiques.