Monday, October 29, 2007

The Sartorial, the Sublime, and the Socialist

First, on an admittedly shallow note, I think I have found one of the best places imaginable for a shoe shine in the city. It's called Angelo's, and it's in the 53rd Street/5th Avenue E-V subway station (before the turnstiles). I swear, my shoes didn't look that good when I bought them. I don't know how he did it, but it was amazing. And $3! Run, don't walk. Also, for repairs, I recommend the place on 15 W. 55th Street. Not cheap, but they do a really phenomenal job.

So, on to the sublime! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was fortunate enough to be one of the New York liaisons for Zélindor, roi des Sylphes, a 1745 opera-ballet by Rabel and Francoeur. Opera Lafayette was conducted by my friend Ryan Brown, and the New York Baroque Dance Company did the ballet at Lincoln Center's Rose Theater. It was a very well-chosen venue, because you could imagine (given its intimacy) that you were at the court of Louis XV. The plot was not the point of the opera, but the singing was expressive and lovely (especially the mezzo, Ah Young Hong), there were pretty melodic lines, and, as the NYT put it, "The evening's strength, however, was the crisp, resilient playing of the period orchestra." (They even managed to make the audience forget about the unfortunate member of the dance troupe whose pants fell off repeatedly. We're not talking a little; we're talking down to his knees.) Bravo, Ryan!

The sublimity continued the next morning, when the ever-delightful Jennifer Tonkovich was good enough to give me a behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibit that she curated at the Morgan Library: Painted with Words: Vincent van Gogh's Letters to Émile Bernard. It is an ideal marriage of what the Morgan is all about: art and literature. There are a marvelous number of van Gogh's magnificent paintings and drawings, and an appropriate number of Bernard's less sublime, more labored efforts. The letters reveal van Gogh as a very grounded, technically proficient artist (as do some of his earlier drawings) rather than just the madman we have come to know and love. His obsession was color and he viewed his canvases as a means to expound upon that obsession. Plus there are translations of all the letters, which could be quite...earthy (see the Post article), as well as some that are read aloud. I can't recommend it highly enough. Go see it! Brava Jennifer!

Now the Socialism. My good friend Marilyn is one of about 6,500 souls who live in Aspen, CO year-round. The City Council, which only allows full-time residents (as opposed to the many property owners who have, I would say, a pretty strong interest in laws affecting Aspen) to vote, has recently passed a new ordinance that classifies buildings that are 30 years old as potentially "historic" and therefore subject to preservation as landmarks. OK, show of hands: who thinks a 1970s A-frame faux-Swiss ski chalet is "historic?" Personally, I think people who elect to raze those pea-green, storm-weathered, rickety-porched monstrosities should get a subsidy. This, my friends, is what is called an uncompensated regulatory taking that is tarted up and masquerading as a historic preservation law. Having this kind of cloud (some might even say pall) cast over your property demonstrably and significantly reduces its marketability, alienability, and desirability. And this happens all the time, everywhere, in every town in America. I mean, it's one thing if your neighbor wants to turn his house into a strip joint, and it's quite another if he wants to improve the property and thereby collaterally increase the value of your house. Plus, the mayor of Aspen seems to be a little unbalanced. I saw a video of him in action: he had the throbbing neck veins and the crazy eyes. Unfortunately, according to my friend and former professor, Richard Epstein from U of Chicago Law, these ordinances are rarely challenged successfully, and usually because of some technical procedural elements that the municipality fails to observe.
I will confess I have a rather unusual fantasy. I would love to paint the houses of anyone who passes a law like this purple and then watch as they come home in sputtering indignation and apoplexy.
Meddling Legislator: "But, but you can't do that!"
Charlie: "Well," I would coolly reply, "it's for the good of the city. Don't you love how it makes your house stand out from all the rest and adds character to the neighborhood? I have a vision: let's turn the City of XXXX into a 'Miami of the North' starting with your house. Isn't that great? Good, you're on board."
ML: "But, but...it's my property! You have no right to do this. I didn't even get to have a proper say in it."
C: "Ah HA! Say that again, what you just said. Now see if there are any analogous situations in which you have played a role recently and maybe rethink that."

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Low Country, High Culture

It's been an exciting, busy few days. Last Wednesday was one of those fantastic New York evenings. It started with a quick spin through the "Drawing Connections" exhibition at the Morgan Library. An interesting and ultimately successful concept, and I clearly need to brush up (read: learn anything at all) about Mannerism. Luckily, I was just given a new book about that subject, so I can delve right in!

After uncustomarily eschewing a cocktail I headed over to Lincoln Center to hear an all-Tchaikovsky program. My new friend, Johannes Moser, the cello soloist that evening, was good enough to comp me a ticket. The concert started with a selection from Swan Lake, and the first piece was the Intro to Act II, which is in my opinion some of the most heart-rendingly beautiful music ever written. The strings were luscious, the harpist flawless, and the brass did an excellent job. I liked Maazel's conducting even better than I do Seiji Ozawa's on the recording I have. Johannes played the Rococo Variations splendidly. He embraced the Mozartean aspects of the piece (that wonderful, playful ask-and-answer achieved by one instrument in this case), and then transitioned flawlessly into the extremely Romantic sections without letting them get sappy. Fabulous playing, and he couldn't be a more down-to-earth, nicer guy. But don't just take my word for it--read the review.

The next morning I was up bright and early to fly into Atlanta, where my good friend Rutledge picked me up and we headed out to Savannah, she to her conference and me to sight-see. Savannah really is a beautiful town, and the architecture and old-growth tree-lined streets are truly charming. And so much history. I was kind of sleepwalking, and I only had a little time, so there definitely needs to be a return visit. We then headed out to Beaufort, South Carolina to visit our dear friends Don and Selene, who have a Low Country house on Lady's Island. That is one beautiful part of the country: again, I just am a sucker for those mammoth oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. The quiet stillness, the way the sun dapples the calm water as it wends its way among the marshes--fantastic.


L to R: (Don, Marilyn, Selene, Rutledge, Charlie)

And, as usual, Don and Selene are the hosts with the most. They arranged a low-tide kayaking tour, and we saw egrets and ospreys diving for fish in the river, saw fritternaries with Monarch butterfly-like wing patterns, a male blue crab (a "Jimmy") who had just mated with a female (a "Betty") and had clasped her to him to protect her while her shell was soft and she was vulnerable to predators, oysters, and shrimp.
We got to enjoy some fresh-caught crabs from the traps attached to their dock as well. After our other good friend, Marilyn, arrived, the trip also included a tour of downtown Beaufort, which was an extremely wealthy community ever since Colonial times and had the old mansions to prove it, and then an evening boat ride to dinner where we saw a bonnet-head shark and a playful dolphin, who accompanied us part of the way to the meal. Excellent food (including my unfortunate discovery of the delicious glazed cinnamon biscuits made by Hardee's--if I lived in the South I'd weigh about 20 pounds more thanks to those) and even better hospitality.

Last night, my friend Declan Kiely, a curator at the Morgan Library (they have so many events going on these days!) gave an interesting behind-the-scenes talk about some of the great items in their collection, including a fragment of the first trans-Atlantic cable, a letter from George Washington (and information about an early system of copying handwritten letters and his concerns about preventing forgeries), materials relating to the attempted assassination of J.P. Morgan, Jr. and the consummated assassination of Marat by Charlotte Corday (with some great, pithy quotes), correspondence from Hitler (mainly for the watermark), and other items. Fascinating. It's just such a stimulating place to be.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

White Trash Day at Great America

OK, so maybe 2 posts in one day isn't quite kosher, but as my buddy Martin sent this photo along it had to be done.

Last Saturday, a crew of my SF buddies and I set forth for the Paramount Great America amusement park for the 2nd Annual "White Trash Day." Having won 4 free tickets from the Bay Area classical music station (yes, you read that right), I thought we would reprise this successful event.



(L to R: Joe Bialowitz, Chris La Chance, Jacques Lehot, Mark Werling, our mascot, Barrett Fallentine, Charlie, and R. Martin Andersons)

We thought the garbage receptacle was the perfect prop for our "official" photo. May I point out that Chris and Jacques showing up in matching "I heart hot moms" t-shirts was totally serendipitous. So we spent the day eating corn dogs, riding roller coasters to the point of hurling, and generally being agog at how many people's sartorial decisions (notably Raiders gear and camo pants) were in earnest whereas ours were ironic. Also, the rallying cry for the day was "Let's git 'er done!" I have to admit, you get kind of fired up when yelling it while on rides with names like "Delirium." Good times.

Fall 2007 Eastern Migration Has Occurred

I'm back in the Big Apple! It's strange to say, but after the incredibly busy summer in California (and China, Hawaii, Houston, Portland, Seattle, and Idaho), it seems like this might almost be more relaxing.

The apartment renovations are finally over, and my designer, Alexa Hampton (www.markhampton.com) and her contractor did a smashing job. Come over for a cocktail and take a gander! I will also post a couple photos shortly.

Next week is the New York premiere of Zelindor, roi des Sylphes. This is the modern premiere of an 18th-century French Baroque opera done by Opera Lafayette (headed by my friend Ryan Brown) and the New York Baroque Dance Company. This one-night-only performance is on October 17. Go here for info and tickets: www.operalafayette.org. I'm helping out as one of the New York liaisons and it should be a wonderful evening of music.

BTW, remind me (if I ever start to spout such nonsense again) that I have vowed never, ever to take the red-eye anymore. Is it me, or did it seem easier to do in my '20s?

Looking forward to a great autumn in my favorite (sorry, San Francisco) city! Thanks for the great summer, SF friends.