Thursday, November 10, 2011

Serious Moonlight

With all due respect to David Bowie, that was some serious moonlight last night.

I have, admittedly, not been terribly successful at blogging here every day in November. More days than not, but that's not the point of the exercise. The good news is that on the days where I haven't put up a post here, I have worked on other writing projects.

The past couple of days I've been en route from Minnesota to Connecticut and internet access was spotty along the way, but I had a really wonderful trip. Snow was to begin falling in Minnesota shortly after I departed, and as I crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin the sky looked as though it might snow at any moment. Looking down the river the bluffs were already a wintery blue, looking as though they were part of an old-fashioned cyanotype.

Crossing Wisconsin is rarely my favorite part of the journey east, no offense to my badger state pals, but it can be a terribly annoying drive what with the folks in their Crown Victorias who seem to feel they were born with an entitlement to drive in the passing lane on I-90. At a speed of 50 or so miles per hour. In a 70 mile per hour zone. This lead foot admittedly has little patience for those who won't slide over for those of us who are really through traffic.

From Wisconsin--where cheese curd and bread cheese were procured--it's basically onward to Chicago. Even though it was drippy and dark, I love the drive through Chi-town. It's such a great city and even though the skyscrapers were shrouded in a dense fog bank, I wasn't disappointed. Chicago always feels a little like home to me.

I stopped for the night in Mishawaka, Indiana. It's basically South Bend, but I suspect they don't like it when you say that. Typically I'd go farther on the first day of my drive, but I was getting a little drowsy and my knee definitely needed a break, so it was likely for the best. I didn't rest as well as one might when one is exhausted, but I still decamped for points east at a properly early hour making short work of the remainder of Indiana and then crossing into Ohio. Now, if you scroll back through my posts, I believe you'll see a certain amount of negativity toward Ohio (in general) and the Ohio Turnpike (specifically) which I generally rename the Ohio Turnip Pike. To be fair, there are some really pretty stretches of Ohio with rolling hills and bright fall you get close to Pennsylvania. The first hundred-plus miles as you go past Toledo (Remind me, someday I'll tell you about The Catholic Club and Toledo. It's not a story for the faint of heart...) are just not a lot to look at. I will say that I do enjoy the drive through Cleveland and the way that Lake Erie just kind of appears as you make the sharp right hand turn.

When I left Indiana at 0-dark-hundred hours I wasn't sure whether I was going to take the sensible route--I-80 though Pennsylvania (where you cross the state in relatively direct fashion, and then wind around the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area)--or the way I've come to prefer, the Southern Tier Expressway which takes travelers from Erie to Jamestown and then winds through Allegany State Park (Allegheny in PA) and then across New York State down into the Catskills before depositing exhausted sojourners back onto I-84.

Drawn by the possibility of one last Steak-and-Shake stop in Erie, PA, I took the road that is (I think, anyway) the road less traveled, the Southern Tier Expressway, also known as New York State Route 17 and Future I-86. I know, it's a lot to take let's just call it the scenic route.

Via my BlackBerry, Allegany skies in the rearview. 
The first time I took this route west, I was avoiding some of the typical construction on I-80 in Pennsylvania. I thought it would be a one-off as it is a bit longer in distance, and most certainly less direct. But as I crossed New York, mostly in daylight that first trip, I was so happy that I'd decided on this road.

Here on the scenic route you can drive from Cuba to Salamanca and Panama to Damascus. Painted Post, Horseheads, Friendship, and Amity aren't far off, either. The road rises and falls with the undulating hills of the Allegany Range and the crisp "mountain" air is punctuated by smoke from wood-burning stoves. Chautauqua Lake greets drivers not long after Erie, Pennsylvania, and from there it's beautiful hills and gently rolling, brilliantly verdant meadows. The setting of the sun as I made my way east meant deep rosy pinks and warm amber clouds gleaming back at me from my rearview mirror. And that was only the start of Mother Nature's show for the evening.

So back to that serious moonlight I mentioned above. The moon rose higher and higher in the sky and by the time I was reaching the Catskills region it was shining down from the midnight blue sky like a torch. And the sky was just that blue--exactly like the Midnight Blue crayon in the big box of 64 crayons from Crayola--and that clear. Stars were everywhere and the bright beacon of Jupiter, holding court just to the right of the Moon, was simply gorgeous. There's something both comforting and nostalgia-inducing about the full(ish) moonlight shining down on valleys, towns, hamlets, and villages with warm lights and white steeples peeking back at you. As I approached the Beaver Kill River area, the moon was glinting quicksilver off the river, cool and haunting. I needed to take a break and have a little coffee so I pulled off and listened to the water tumble over the rocks as the moon shone was idyllic and the best nocturne I could imagine. I'm not a painter, but when I see the moonlight on the water, I always wish that I was one. I can see the light, the cold silver reflections are etched in my mind. Moonlight in Vermont has nothing on Moonlight in the Catskills. I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful late stage of my journey.

This happy traveler is also happy to be home in Connecticut. As Judy Garland once sang in Connecticut Is the Place For Me...

I know the spot, peaceful and fair,
I'd be so happy if I were there.
No matter where I chance to be,
Connecticut is the place for me.

Miss every lake, miss every hill,
Even in dreams I think of them still.
And when you see them you'll agree,
Connecticut is the place to be.

Village greens and childhood scenes,
Are things I remember yet.
Land of dreams and moonlit streams,
How close to heaven can you get?

Nights full of stars, hearts full of joy,
Paradise for girl and a boy,
I guess it suits me to a tee,
Connecticut is the place for me to be,
Connecticut is the place for me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reporting from Rrrrochester...

Even though I'm not anywhere near old enough to actually remember anything other than you-tube clips of The Jack Benny Show, Benny's drawling call out to Eddie "Rochester" Anderson has somehow crept into my subconscious along with too many Monty Python routines and most of the dialogue from Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music (I blame my Mother for this one), Casablanca, a few of the Thin Man films, and St. Elmo's Fire.

Right, now where was I going with this? Yes. Now I remember. Seeing as I'm heading back to Connecticut on Tuesday (and hope we'll all be lit up by then, FINGERS CROSSED!!) I took a few minutes today to stop back down to the Plummer Building and take some more photographs. No crowds, no one hurrying past you and clear shot at any details you wish to capture.

One of the first things I noticed when approaching the doors that I was planning on photographing was the wonderful warmth of old building smell. I'd smelled it last weekend as well, but there's a kind of comforting clean scent that is a mix of old books, old leather, and some kind of polish. This will sound ridiculous to those who don't skulk about old structures, but for those of us who do, I bet you know the aroma I'm talking about.

Last weekend I'd heard the strains of a lovely piano concerto coming from downstairs in the Siebens building next door...this week I met another "fan" for lack of a better term. We exchanged Dr. Henry Plummer stories (his combination of single-minded focus and absent-mindedness for daily life are legendary around Rochester) and he and his small daughter were on their way. I'm always a little surprised when I'm approached because (a) we all know I' have sunnies on roughly 85% of the time and (b) I try terribly hard not to look approachable. But yet, it happens. All the time. In every country I've visited, from France to Hungary and even, yes, Canada, I'm the one who gets stopped and queried for directions. Now yes, often I can be of help and I don't mind doing so, but I wonder if there's a special sign that's flashing from my scarf or my boots that says..."Please Ask Me!"It's a mystery.

And as I was leaving, of course, there was a horse...the lovely (and somewhat angry in this representation) winged horse, Pegasus, occupies a prominent place above the main glass doors. I'm always on the look for signs, I'm funny that way and as I took one last look at the large bronze doors, polished to a deep, warm glow, I caught sight of oak leaf and acorn, the symbols of Connecticut and The Charter Oak. I've decided to consider this a wee sign that my trip back to Connecticut will go well. As the nutmeg state motto goes, "Qui Transtulit Sustinet"(He who is transplanted still sustains).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Horse That Stops a Nation

I could be wrong, but I don't think the US has "stopped" for a horse race since the 1938 match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. Back then, as was lovingly chronicled in Laura Hillenbrand's book, it was a nation glued to their radios and calling off sick or pulling their cars over to the side of the road to hear the broadcast of "the race of the century."

Things like that don't seem to happen in horse racing anymore and I--along with my racing pals--often bemoan the fact that horse racing feels so much further away from the public's consciousness than it used to be. The beautiful and talented Zenyatta undoubtedly brought new fans into racing, but not many other horses in recent years have had her magnetic combination of grace, star power, beauty, and overwhelming class.

And then onto our collective racing radar screen strode Black Caviar. She's an Aussie mare, a brilliant sprinter, and she's won all of her 16 races with elegant ease. Racing under chic salmon and black silks, the large bay mare is grace personified. I'd say she's never really been tested so we don't know just how good she honestly is because she's yet to *need* to go full throttle. It's easy to run out of superlatives when writing and talking about this superstar.

I've stayed up into the wee hours of the morning or woken up well before O-dark-hundred to watch Black Caviar with a wonderful (and international) cadre of racing fans. We've tweeted, had a Google+ hangout (with cocktails!) and each time shared our collective admiration for this mare. From both coasts of Canada, to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and down under to Oz itself, we all amble in, as if to some international watering hole in a Humphrey Bogart film, and we cheer for "our" girl. OURS because like all the greats, they can in a small way belong to everyone. We carry a piece of them around with us when we share their victories with our non-racing friends. Every time I "introduce" someone to Black Caviar they comment on how effortlessly she runs, how professional she is. Little by little, "Nelly" as she is called familiarly, winds around your heart and you just have to see her next race. She's addictive. And let's hope that she's got many more thrills in store in the coming year!

And she's good for racing, good for sport, good for us all. The horses who remain in our memory touch us and they share with us briefly their eagerness and their heart...they remind us of all the best qualities we can strive for.

If you're not yet familiar with Black Caviar and her winning ways, check her out. I dare you not to fall head-over-heels in love with this mare, the horse that stops a nation.

And a shout out to the "usual suspects" @inkmarksofsu, @milkmaid58 @hltonini, @ourmaizcay, @cmdevereux who make it such fun to cheer for Black Caviar every couple of weeks!

Friday, November 4, 2011

No mojo for NaBloPoMo (or something like that...)

Some days you've got it, somedays you couldn't buy it with all the gold in Fort Knox. (That is, if there actually IS gold in Fort Knox...had to toss that in for the conspiracy theorists out there!)

I've taken many photographs over the last two days--of everything from landscapes to interiors to close ups of vintage cooking utensils--and nothing turned out. Over-exposed, under-exposed, slightly out of focus (thanks, autofocus and your gazillion zones...) too close, too far, no depth of field. You name it, there the glaring fault was in any of the photos I've taken. Not wrong enough to be really bad (in most cases), but wrong enough to elicit a sigh of frustration and merit a drag to the trash can in iPhoto.

And maybe it's the same for writing today...because none of my photos inspired me (and likely because I'm pretty tired and in the parlance of a friend "feeling rougher than a badger's arse" from some LONG days) and I'm rather drained, the words just don't want to flow.

So, that're getting a shamelessly lame blog post for today and a perfectly "nice" autumn photo of some chrysanthemums. Let's hope for better things in entry 4...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When in Rochester...

Since I'm still in Minnesota (and why not since my part of Connecticut is still mostly dark and rather chilly) today's entry will once again be centered around good old Rochester.

On the day when the Northeast was being pummeled by the Nor'easter, I was enjoying a quiet stroll around the Mayo Clinic campus here in town. The weather was lovely and since the clinic buildings themselves aren't really open on weekends (the Mayo hospitals are, obviously, but not the clinic buildings) it's the perfect time to soak up the beautiful plantings, the architectural details (as per yesterday's post) and enjoy the bells pealing out from the carillon tower. The carillon is rarely--if ever--on tour, but if you get the chance to visit it, snap it up immediately. The tower offers stunning views of the hills surrounding Rochester and you can really appreciate the terra cotta work and the gargoyles from that vantage point, too.

And since Mayowood, the former home of Dr. Charles H. Mayo (and later his son Charles W. Mayo) has been in the news lately, I took the time to stop and "chat" with Charlie and his elder brother, Will, in the small plaza where they hold court behind the Gonda building. It seemed only fitting to stop and spend a few minutes with two wise and utterly old-school gentlemen. The two men were incredibly close, living next door to one another during their early married days in homes that were connected by a speaking tube. There was even a double rocking chair on Charlie's front porch...for the Mayo brothers even rocking in a chair was a cooperative effort. Charlie always looked a little rumpled and somewhat like the town grocer, whereas Will was steely eyed and the picture of sophistication and stoicism. Charlie, who would eventually move his large and active family out to the farms that made up Mayowood (there were seven farms including a dairy and greenhouse, riding stables, and a sulky track), considered himself an agriculturalist, not a farmer. The difference being that farmers made their money on the farm and spent it in town and agriculturalists such as Charlie made their money in town and spent it on the farm. A subtle, but keenly observed difference.

I think their own words..."Always do what is in the best interest of the patient" ring as true today as they did 80 or so years ago and I hope that the Mayo Clinic in the broadest sense will keep those words in mind as they go forward with their new partnership at Mayowood.

Dr. Charles H. Mayo (l) and Dr. William J. Mayo (r)

Charlie (l) and Will (r) with the new(ish) Gonda Building in rear

The view of Will (l) and Charlie (r) from the back, I like to think their
families often saw them similarly positioned. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNo Something Or Other, Entry 1.

It's November 1st and that means it's National (fill in your favorite form of writing) Month. I'm generally wary of these kind of "marathons," but as I'm toiling away at getting a writing project ready for primetime, I thought that this challenge might be a good way to keep the creative thoughts flowing and keep the words streaming from brain to keyboard and/or notebook. So in addition to the new levels of productivity on my non-fiction project, I'm also committing (wow, even typing that word makes me shift a little in my chair...) to a new post here--of some kind--each and every day during the month of November. No doubt some will be short on words and long on photographic content, but I hope that it will help reinforce the general writing habit.

With that in mind then, I'm going to start November with a little photo study of The 1927 Plummer Building, part of the Mayo Clinic campus in downtown Rochester. Dr. Henry Plummer was the local genius, a physician who designed the structure with the architects from Ellerbe and Company. I would doubt that there is an ornament or motif in this building that he didn't have a direct hand in. His interest in (and respect for) art, history, literature, and medicine can be seen in every corner of this building. It's beautifully constructed and while it's not used for patients any longer, it's an architectural gem with some wonderfully ornate and detailed interiors. Wandering around the exterior on a quiet weekend is a real pleasure. The giant bronze doors (16 feet high, 5 inches thick) have rarely been closed over the history of the Mayo Clinic, so when they close it's a historic occasion. They were closed after the assassination of JFK, after the 9/11 attacks, and if I'm not mistaken for the deaths of the Mayo brothers in 1939.

The upper floors and carillon

Astrology beside mythology on the building's facade

St George, mid-slay

The Canada Geese that (over) populate Rochester

Minnesota's state mascot...the humble gopher

There are little gophers hiding in many spots, here on the large, solid bronze doors

Interior door detail

The newer (1960s) Mayo Building reflected in Plummer's windows

Griffins on the entry doors

The beautiful lighting fixtures in the main lobby

What appears to be a caparisoned horse, used as a door handle

The 1927 Plummer Building reflected in the sleek glass
of the very recently built Gonda Building

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fear of Falling...Water, That is

Kent Falls, mid-October
One summer long ago, my parents and I--accompanied by my aunt and a cousin--took a trip to Pipestone National Monument in far western Minnesota. I have many fond memories of the places we visited en route which included Walnut Grove and Sleepyeye, towns that are immediately recognizable to any little girl who was a fan of the Little House on the Prairie books and television series. We saw the place where the Ingalls family had lived in a sod home--a kind of childhood mecca for readers who had grown up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and her stories. 

After I'd lived out my Little House fantasy, it was on to Pipestone. Excited to be at our main destination we took a tour of some sort that wound through the park and would lead visitors to where the reddish stone was mined. It wasn't a long walk and it was enjoyable until I heard the sound of rushing water. I'm not sure that I'd ever realized before that point that I did NOT like waterfalls, but at the moment we began to walk across the bottom of Winnewissa Falls it became perfectly clear. While I admit to having a flair for the dramatic, in my recollection I had an absolute category 5 meltdown as we prepared to cross the stream below the falls. I was not happy and even though I vividly remember standing there and looking up at the waterfall while crying and (most likely) screaming, I don't recall how--or indeed IF--my parents cajoled me into continuing the hike. As a side note--this information page from the NPS on Pipestone shows a photo of the fearsome waterfall... 

Needless to say, for most of my youth (and beyond) I had a deep-seated fear when it came to waterfalls of any size/force. And not just waterfalls, but dams as well. In fact, I think I disliked dams even more. My aunt, who has always been a little "woo-woo," always said that in a previous life (**cough cough**) something frightening or bad must've happened to me near to or involving a waterfall of some kind.

Whatever the case, I avoided both waterfalls and dams whenever possible. I was less bothered when I could see the falls or dam (meaning they weren't under a bridge and that I could attempt to avoid them) but even then, when they were in the open, I would start to get chills and gooseflesh even hearing the sound of water rushing through a gorge. Walking on a bridge that was over a dam? No way. Never happen. And yet, I am at heart a water girl. I'm a Pisces who is always centered and calmed by the sea, a river vista, or the lapping of lake water in the summertime. I am naturally drawn to the water.

Somewhere along the line I decided I had to get beyond this fear or at least learn to manage it better. After all, there was no basis for it, it was just there. I managed to do quite my late teens I was happily aboard the Maid of the Mist sailing right into Niagara Falls and loving every minute of it. Confident that I was conquering the fear, I began to really enjoy the sound of the moving water and trying to capture it with my camera. 

And over the year I'd thought I was doing pretty well...until this weekend. For the record, I still do not really like dams. There's just something about them that makes me queasy and uncomfortable. I wish it weren't so, but there we are...the muddled dichotomy that is me: drawn to water, fearful when gravity brings it crashing down. 

So this past Monday as I drove the Mohawk Trail in Massachusetts, I found myself in Shelburne Falls. A gorgeous little town with bookstores, cafes and, not surprisingly, FALLS. I parked on the main street and could already hear the roar of moving water. Cautiously I walked over to a small scenic overlook, the whole time attempting to hide the fact that my knees were becoming increasingly rubbery. As I peered around the foliage I could see a dam in the middle of my line of vision and large rapids below it. What to do...there were two bridges I could cross and that sense of childhood dread once again filled my mind. Surely there weren't more rapids above the dam? 

Well, reader, there were not more rapids. And I'm happy to report that I was able to wander Shelburne Falls and enjoy the Bridge of Flowers without a care as to the dam that roared down stream a few hundred yards. But as curious as I was about the glacial potholes (natural wonder!) that are near the dam and rapids, I wasn't able to make myself go closer. If you take a moment and enter Shelburne Falls Glacial Potholes in your favorite search engine you'll see wonderful photographs of the many who are much braver than I am. Here's as close as I dared go...
Looking toward Salmon Falls, Sherburne Falls, MA
(I will say, however, that I highly recommend the Mohawk Trail--Route 2--that goes through northwestern Massachusetts. It's a beautiful drive and I'll definitely be back to explore further. Parts of Rt 2 were severely damaged by post-Irene floods, so they'll be glad to have visitors back as soon as they can.) 

Farther down the road and later in the day, I found myself quite close to home in Connecticut and just as the sun was setting. Since there was still a little light, I stopped at a spot I enjoy greatly--and coincidentally, a waterfall--Kent Falls State Park.  

I think part of the reason I'm drawn to waterfalls is a desire to overcome my ridiculous fear, so I push myself to get as close as my nerves will allow. I'll admit, albeit a little sheepishly, that I was surprised at how much dread I felt upon seeing/hearing the dam and rapids at Shelburne Falls. Maybe some days we're better equipped to slay our dragons than others, or maybe we never really get fully beyond the things we fear as children. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Brookfield Horse Trio

The stallion (l), foal (c), and mare (r) on the Brookfield Municipal grounds
This morning I had to make a quick trip up to the Brookfield town offices. Today has been another picture perfect New England autumn day so I thought it might be a good time to take some photographs of my favorite sculpture installation, the horse family on the Brookfield Municipal grounds.

During my last visit there had been an outline sprayed on the grass and I wondered if my ponies were getting a pond or perhaps a colorful flower bed. Today the sod has been removed and yes, it looks like the family is getting a water feature or some kind of planting to "munch" on. For reference purposes as to how large these horses are...I'm about 5'6" and I *barely* come up to the withers of the small foal. I can almost walk under the bellies of the mare and stallion. And in case you were too polite to ask, the sculptures are anatomically correct so yes, one is a mare and one is a stallion and the foal appears to be a filly.

This grouping, by artist Peter Busby, is so appealing to me because of how it changes throughout the seasons. Yes, it's horses so of course I'm interested, but from the verdant green backdrops of summer to the colorful autumn patchwork, the way these horses are created allows the viewer to appreciate the varying moods of Connecticut's seasons. Brookfield is in the midst of lovely rolling hills and it would be hard to imagine a prettier spot for this equine family.

As we progress from the warm mid-autumn glow to the blue and periwinkle hues of winter, expect to see more images of this threesome. In the vein of van Gogh, Monet, and others, when I find a photographic subject I like, I return and attempt to capture it in different conditions.

Now to my knowledge, none of these horses are named...but I'm thinking they ought to be. Thoughts? Names?


Blue sky horses

The foal

The mare

The stallion and his shadow

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Sad Farewell to a Faithful Friend

Lady F shortly after joining the family
Dateline: 11 October, 2011-- Rochester, Minnesota

I am saddened to report the loss of one of Rochester's best loved citizens, Lady Fleur. Lady, or Bugs as she was known to her family, lost her battle with cancer this morning. Her sunny presence will be most sorely missed by her family and all the people who stopped by to visit her.

A few years ago, after the passing of the charming (and slightly off-balance) Remi-Roo, Lady's family looked to RAGOM (Rescue a Golden of Minnesota) to see if there were any dogs which might fit into the family. A few months would pass and then the stars aligned and brought Lady, who had been found running loose in Iowa, to her new family in Minnesota. Lady had undergone some kind of service training, though what kind exactly we'll never know. She was utterly uninterested in most games or play (and had even less interest in water, ducks, rabbits, etc.), but she was very focused on her people. She had a kind of centered calm one often sees in old souls. She'd been there and done that. Even the family cat, Stonewall Jackson, couldn't do much to rattle her.

Ove the next few months Lady and Jack (sometimes jokingly referred to as Ernie and Bert) would come to some kind of understanding known only unto them. An armed truce, with moments of acceptance might be the most apt characterization of their lives together. When Stonewall Jackson passed away a couple of years ago, Lady would often look around as if she thought he was still there, waiting to jump out at her from behind her sofa.

Lady and her human "sibling" enjoyed a friendly rivalry. Who had priority choice on the sofa was a common bone of contention. The strawberry blond canine usually won that battle, as she had very sad looking brown eyes and a very serious flair for the dramatic.

The entire family will miss her golden smile and goofy looks, as well as her preference for green beans on her dog food (which had to be warmed up) and her deep sighs. She was literally the ideal dog for her people and they are forever grateful to RAGOM for bringing her wonderful spirit and joy to the family. Her paw prints are impossible to fill, and it is hoped that she is sharing silly stories of Glenn, Doris and Michele with Beaujolais, Remi-Roo, Jackson, Muffin, Koji, Mittens and even Thomas O'Malley Shandar Diablo.

Please give your beloved pets a little extra love tonight in honor of our absent and beloved Lady and if you'd like to see some other photos of herself, there's a photo tribute on my FLICKR page. Requiescat in Pace, dear friend.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Music of Last Night

A shady avenue, Pere Lachaise
I love the Phantom. That would include Gaston Leroux's muddled novel (and any and all references to the Opera Garnier) and Lon Chaney's enduring silent masterpiece. I can even manage a kind of esteem for Claude Raines 1943 version--which is more of a vehicle for the awkwardly wooden Nelson Eddy than anything--though I found it mostly high camp from the first time I saw it as a teen. And then there's the mother of all Phantoms: Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, The Phantom of the Opera. 

Phantom can inspire a fair amount of eye rolling and dismissive scoffing, with the non-infatuated complaining vehemently about a cloying score and syrupy romance. The critics will point to pedestrian lyrics and derivative story lines. To those people I say read no further as the following paragraphs will make your teeth hurt.

So, now that I'm chatting with you, perhaps a similarly afflicted fan of Phantom, who could believe it was celebrating a 25th Anniversary this fall? I certainly couldn't as it seems as the music, the show, the story has been part of my life since the very beginning. I'd guess that most of us who are fans recall our first Phantom experience with a kind of reverence.

It was 1989 in Toronto, at the Pantages Theatre, and there were a number of us attending the show as guests of a Canadian friend of my parents who kindly brought us all as part of his birthday celebration. I'd been to plays before, but this was spectacle on a completely different level. This was major. My father wasn't feeling well the evening of the event and I remember thinking that NOTHING, not a thing on this fair earth of ours short of nuclear Armageddon, was going to keep me from the Pantages that evening. (Selfish only child alert!) Let the record reflect that the entire PaperTyger clan did indeed attend--including a well-known artist friend who was in the party and decided to dress casually--and in a baseball cap (!!)--for the evening. Yes, the cap stayed on for dinner and the entire show. Yes, I was mortified. This was an event, an occasion! What did I wear? A cream silk charmeuse blouse with passementerie detail and a black moire silk skirt. In retrospect, that's not all that important, but it does go to show the extent to which that evening imprinted on me. The pageantry, the soaring orchestrations, glorious voices and lush costumes...all of it left me a little in awe. And I mean real awe. The kind you experience the first time you walk into Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park; the first time you see a great horse race in person; the first time you lay eyes on your favorite painting a few inches in front of you. Awe. The rich Irish tenor of Colm Wilkinson gave voice to The Phantom and even though I'd already committed every nuance of Michael Crawford's London performance to memory, Wilkinson's portrayal stuck with me. It's the Toronto cast album that holds priority on my iPod these many years later.

After Toronto, well, the obsession only grew. I wore out at least one set of cassette tapes listening to the entire score over and over--in the car and at home--and I even learned to play a few of the songs on the piano. Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again sounded plaintive and melancholy when played on an old piano, but the real show stopper, the impressive opening organ theme, was reserved for the ca 1914 Aeolian pipe organ at Mayowood. I was a summer tour guide at the time and nothing impressed the tourists like a few bars of a Bach organ fugue or, better yet...the instantly recognizable opening chords of Phantom of the Opera. Between tours I'd play little bits of Phantom, assured that any ghosts in the mansion would appreciate my musical efforts.

22 years later, I write this having just returned from seeing the 25th Anniversary production at my local multiplex. (The actual performance was staged at London's Royal Albert Hall last weekend.) There were so many things to love about the production, and the one thing I will say is that the team at Royal Albert did a phenomenal job adapting large, complicated, and difficult scenes/sets to their stage. I didn't love some of the camera work and I thought the costumes in some cases looked less rich than in the various stage productions I've been to, but nothing that really detracted from the experience for me. The leading performers were outstanding. Sierra Boggess IS Christine Daae and Ramin Karimloo's Phantom was a delicious combination of sensuous and poignant. For a musical to have the staying power that Phantom does, it needs to resonate with audiences, and this show continues to do so. For a musical to celebrate a 25th Anniversary people need to love your characters and music and want to see it anew, and that's something of a feat in itself.

OH...and the best part? The "gathering of Phantoms" at the end of the show. Once the anniversary cast had taken their well-deserved bows, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber came out and brought with him the original London cast and production group as well. I was scanning the London cast for Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford, but didn't see them. Then, Sir Andrew announced that Sarah (whom he still calls his "angel of music") had agreed to sing. She came out with classic Phantoms including my Phantom, Colm Wilkinson and proceeded to sing The Phantom of the Opera main theme with all of them. CHILLS. I had chills. Michael Crawford was on stage as well but did not sing, which while disappointing, was maybe for the best. He looked great but he also looked rather overwhelmed and overcome with the emotion of the day. There seemed to be nothing but love and good will on the stage as they looked out at the audience's standing ovation.

 I'd actually planned to be on my soapbox tonight and writing on a totally different subject, but I left the theatre feeling so much nostalgia that I couldn't let it pass without a small acknowledgment. On my first trip to Paris a couple of years after Toronto I couldn't wait to get to the Opera Garnier. The Musee d'Orsay, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame--they'd all still be there (and be visited later in the week), but I needed to see the Paris Opera first. And on a subsequent trip to Paris I had Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again streaming liltingly through my head as I walked up and down the shady lanes of favored haunt Pere Lachaise. Phantom--in all of it's many incarnations--has managed to thread itself into unexpected corners of my memory, for which, in all cases, I'm most genuinely pleased.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October. New England.

Mother Nature saves her best autumn finery for New England
This is without a doubt my favorite time of the year. Whether it's a loop through the White Mountains in New Hampshire, a lazy trip down Route 7 through the graceful Litchfield Hills or an afternoon spent gazing out at Hudson River vistas, you absolutely cannot go wrong. I soak in the crisp autumnal air like a sponge, savoring the earthy aromas and magnificent displays of color.

There's really nothing like autumn in New England. Majestic white steeples on stoic old meeting houses rise against a cobalt sky while the surrounding hillsides blaze with red, orange, and golden leaves.  Even the most pedestrian of leaves shine with an autumnal glow. Smokiness wafts through the evening twilight and we brace ourselves against the chill with apple cider, apple crumble, or even Applejack. Mother nature truly does show off all her best attributes here each autumn. Harvest festivals and fairs abound and everyone seems to be a leaf-peeping tourist for these few weeks. Pumpkins and apples and corn mazes, oh my! The pleasures are heartier, more rustic, and simpler. Soups and chilis are once again simmering on stoves as are New England standbys like baked beans and chowder. Favorite old worn in corduroy takes the place of sun bleached summer attire and tall boots with woolen socks begin to stand in for summer's barely there sandals. The comfort of a well-loved flannel shirt or a cozy cardigan are not to be scoffed at! This is my beloved New England at her very best--even if the Red Sox are not in the playoffs, the Patriots are enjoying a typically winning start--and I hope you're taking a moment to revel in this year's fall finery wherever you may be.

Gleaming autumn sun shines through the golden leaves

1st Congregational Church in Litchfield, CT
Autumn, 2010
And as I so often do, a nod to Longfellow for his assessment of the season:

"My ornaments are fruits; my garments leaves,
  Woven like cloth of gold, and crimson dyed;
I do not boast the harvesting of sheaves,
  O'er orchards and o'er vineyards I preside.
Though on the frigid Scorpion I ride,
  The dreamy air is full, and overflows
With tender memories of the summer-tide,
  And mingled voices of the doves and crows." 
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, October, from The Poet's Calendar

And PS...Hockey season starts for real this week. Huzzah!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Shock of What Happened, Or The Ache For What Never Will

 When I found these photographs a week or so ago, I wasn't sure if I wanted to even look through them let alone share them. And then when I decided to post them there was the issue of adding some narrative, which I liked even less. The photographs themselves say everything better than I could and therefore I'll be uncharacteristically brief. Love each other. Really. That's it. Love each other and be kind to others whenever you can. And tell the people that you love that they matter. Don't assume they know. Tell them.

I recently read a beautifully written book by Simon Van Booy entitled Everything Beautiful Began After. It's rare that I take time to copy or memorize sentences from books anymore, but a few lines were heartbreakingly authentic, and in this instance, timely.

"You were unsure which pain is worse--the shock of what happened or the ache for what never will."

The Connecticut 9-11 memorial wall

The ghosty image from the SI
the Towers will forever remain in my memory.


 There's nothing I could say about New York's beloved FDNY(aka NY's Bravest) that hasn't already been said more honestly or eloquently by many other people. It is their collective badass, balls-out courage in the face of such genuine horror that I find to be almost inconceivable. The large scale and depth of their loss was felt in every corner of every borough. These photographs are from Squad 18 in the West's their website with more of their story:

For months after the attacks many of the city's firehouses and police stations were draped in black and purple mourning bunting. A kind of veil had dropped on the city and even as we slowly returned to the rhythm of our days, there was not any tangible feeling of normal. Not when "normal" included fighter jets making their frequent passes over New York City's airspace. And yet, there was a kind of learned comfort that came with the sound of those protective aircraft. As if you could trick yourself into feeling slightly less helpless when bolstered by their fierce speed screaming overhead.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Union Square

Washington looks out over the sea of flowers, candles, and
posters at Union Square Park
I remember emerging from the subway at Union Square and being slightly bewildered. My neighborhood on the Upper West Side had some small memorials and there were supportive signs for the FDNY and NYPD, but nothing on the scale I witnessed at Union Square Park. Candles, photographs, prayers, pleas, home made poster board "have you seen?" signs--they were everywhere. Taped to the triumphant statue of Washington, on the subway station supports. Everywhere. Unlike most occasions of ubiquity, however, these small bits of remembrance and support never failed to elicit a deep, emotional response. You couldn't NOT look, and when you looked, you would feel another wave of sadness envelop you.

Union Square Park

Union Square subway station

One of the brilliant editorial cartoons, Union Sqare Park

Another of the small "altars" left in the park

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

St Vincent's, and Yet Another Sad Farewell

I was working on Hudson Street on the morning of the September 11th attacks. I'd heard something odd as I walked into our office building, but nothing that really gave me pause. The timeline of that day, for me, started with my cubicle partner getting a phone call from her husband who worked farther downtown than we were. He was calling to tell her that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center--and said we should turn on the television. (At this point I'll admit saying something that has haunted me ever since...) As my colleague hung up from speaking with her husband (who I'm happy to say was unharmed) I quipped, "Well, at least it wasn't the Chrysler Building!"

Obviously, I felt like the colossal ass that I can be from time to time when events unfolded so horrifically later in the day. The scope of that day still is beyond my comprehension and I think I'm grateful for the memory gaps that do exist in my timeline of both that day and the following weeks.

We all stayed put for most of the day, either glued to the television in our spectacularly intimate "conference room" or trying to get thru to loved ones and let them know we were okay, at least for the moment. Once the fighter jets began making their flights over the city, a few of our staff ventured out to St Vincent's to give blood and see if there was anything they could do. St Vincent's would become the site I most identified with as I often walked past it in the months after the attacks. It was where the doctors and nurses waited in vain, mostly, for patients that never arrived. Watching the missing persons wall and all the photographs and flowers and wishes wither away as the days at "the pile" dragged on was heart wrenching and now and then, tragically, you'd see the person's obituary in the NY Times.

So when I heard months ago that St Vincent's was to close, I felt especially sad and as though a nearly decade old scab had been pulled off, exposing long buried pain. For me it was a spot by which I could ascertain small steps of progress, healing. Herewith, St Vincent's Hospital during the immediate post-September 11th days. The photo at the bottom, the ambulance with the "Last Roll Call" newspaper on the dashboard may have given me the roughest punch to the gut when I saw it among the other images.