Tuesday, 3 May 2011

East Coast

When possible, I enjoy getting out of town for my birthday. It’s a distraction from the ageing process, and also saves me from the embarrassing task of deciding how to celebrate my own birth and who to ask to celebrate with me.

This year, it was New York and DC. I love the East coast, and it’s been a while, and the stars aligned to fit in several welcome opportunities:

To see family and friends

To travel on Amtrak

To see the cherry blossom in DC (slight fail on that one)

To hear Pink Martini at the Kennedy Center

To see the Gauguin exhibition at the National Gallery

I took the red-eye to New York, which wasn’t too painful. I would have got even more sleep had the cabin not been refrigerated. I asked the flight attendant for a blanket, and she told me that they are now charging $8 for blankets “so that you can have a clean one.” I told her I’d rather have a free dirty one, but they don’t seem to offer that option. I’m so tired of airlines telling us how they’ve come up with these new rules and charges just to give us joy and fill us with gratitude.

Once there, I got to see my cousin and her bloke and kid, and get the guided tour to Yonkers, where they live. We visited the Union Church, which has stained glass by Matisse and Chagall, because, as I have mentioned elsewhere, if your name is Rockefeller, you can say things like “You know what would really complement my Matisse window? Eight more Chagall windows,” and make it happen.

We also visited the ambitiously-named Philipse Manor, which was very interesting, if a little on the rustic side to qualify itself for our mental image of a manor. But it wasn’t a primary residence, after all, and at the time, it was probably considered quite luxe.

Lydia and I nearly disgraced ourselves by giggling hysterically at some of the cheesy items for sale in the gift shop, which proved that we haven’t matured since our teens, and at least shows that the ageing process hasn’t completely overtaken me. I managed to sober up just enough to buy a postcard with a hologram of a scary-looking sheep on the front, and even politely agreed with the clerk as she commented on how lovely it was and how amazing was the technology that created it.

We also drove through Sleepy Hollow, which I must admit surprised me a bit in that I thought it was an imaginary place prior to our visit.

The next day we went into Manhattan, visited the Whitney, made fun of some of the art, loved some of it, and got into trouble with museum guards for taking pictures (not OF paintings, I should mention, I don’t do that), which reminded my cousin and I of that time we got chased though a castle in Wales by the security guard, and again proved that la plus ca change, la plus c’est le meme chose.

We also window shopped, and I went to the Top of the Rock, and the view was truly phenomenal, even though I didn’t see Tina Fey anywhere, and we sight-saw, and ate, and it was all very New York and fun.

The next day was Amtrak from Penn Station to DC, so I got to fulfill an old goal of taking a train in the US. As we left New York, I was a little concerned that it would not be all that I dreamed of, as the tracks seemed to be routed through the ugliest areas possible--but eventually I got my green landscapes and trees, and cityscapes, and all was well. Except Baltimore. Maybe Baltimore has good points and charming vistas, but I did not see them from my train.

I arrived in DC, at the stunning Union Station, and all was sunshine and tulips. Though a bit thin on the ground as far as cherry blossom. I was staying with my friend Julia and her husband, and we lunched and caught up, and went to the National Portrait Gallery, which I highly recommend.

Friday night and Pink Martini were wonderful. I loved the Kennedy Center, and it’s in a beautiful setting. It was rather lovely to be able to wander outside and look over the Potomac in the early evening before the concert. Pink Martini always rocks the house, though I was a little disappointed at first to find that my beloved China Forbes, the usual lead singer, was under doctor’s orders not to sing, and was replaced by a woman rejoicing in the name of Storm Large. Which apparently is for reals, even though it sounds like the result of one of those Facebook posts that ask you to provide your cat’s name and first street you lived on and tell you that’s your porn star name.

Storm was a bit more Broadway and loud than China, but she did a good job, and you have to give props to the girl for learning all those songs in multiple languages, per PM’s signature multi-cultural style. But the real consolation prize was Ari Shapiro, who sang a few numbers, plus a duet, and was completely charming, delightful, and talented to a jealous-making degree.

Saturday it rained cats and dogs, which was fine, as we spent a good chunk of the day inside the National Gallery admiring Gauguins and tracking down the da Vincis, and sitting in restaurants. And there’s something quite fun about running around in rainstorms when you know you’re guaranteed a warm, dry bed at the end of the day. A rather special and unexpected sight was a formerly LDS, rather grand chapel in the middle of DC, among a group of very fine churches and other buildings. It’s a bit crumbly and not well-kept now, but I liked that the Mormons made our mark with some good architecture there a long time ago.

Sunday was another gorgeous day, and we headed to the National Cathedral for Palm Sunday Service. It was an Episcopalian service, which is close enough to Church of England for me to feel an affinity for it. It’s very different from LDS services, and although I’m quite happy with the way we run things, I also like the ritual and tradition there. There’s something rather solid and comforting about it, and I appreciate the perspective on Easter.

National Cathedral
Bishop's Garden
National Gallery
New York
at the Whitney
Philipse Manor house
Philipse Manor

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Chicago, Chicago...

I walked into the hotel, and a well-dressed woman took one look at me, dripping wet, and turned to her husband. “We’re taking a cab.”

Chicago didn’t live up to the horror stories about the weather, on the whole. It was sunny and bright most of the time, and rained instead of snowed the rest. And in other aspects, it more than lived up to its rep.

I got off the plane and went straight to the opera. Taking the L through the city, I was amazed at how beautiful it was. Shiny pretty buildings and bridges, and the river winding through them.

Chicago Lyric Opera is in a big, gorgeous Art Deco building that, I am informed, was built to look like a throne. It’s certainly very palatial, incredibly ornate without feeling overwrought, and the performance (of Puccini's Girl of the Golden West) was outstanding.

Somehow as I arrived and left I completely failed to notice the Sears Tower, which you’d think would have been tricky, given that it’s almost the tallest building in the world. But that’s why I hope never to witness a crime,--I am well aware that my powers of observation are not exactly at the Sherlockian level.

From there I met my friend Julie and we headed off to see As You Like it at the Navy Pier--also excellent. First thing next morning was the Art Institute, which practically left me breathless. They have outstanding examples of...everything. El Greco, Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, Cezanne, Pissarro, Seurat, Van Gogh, Turner, Constable, Whistler, Sargent, Kandinsky, you name it...

Due to loitering in the art institute for too long, I missed our appointment at the Robie house. Which ended up being fine by me, as the cultural marathon was impinging upon our eating time, so I took some time to have lunch and go shopping. Chicago has great shopping. It’s amazing what you never knew you wanted until you’re in a place with great shopping.

The food situation kept looking up that evening, as we had pizza at Giordano’s, which absolutely lived up to the reputation. A big, chewy, symphony of crust, sauce, chese, and sausage. We followed that up with jazz at the Green Mill. The doorman’s welcome (with a rich Chicago accent) was along these lines:

“Cover is 12 bucks, no talking, no moving, no flash photography, no cell phones, no texting. The first set just finished, and people are moving, so you might find somewhere to sit. If it isn’t moving, sit on it.”

We actually found great seats in a booth with a local couple, and listened to a fantastic band that converted Julie to the genre. We failed to find Al Capone’s table, or to be involved in a shoot out of organised crime bosses, but I was only a little disappointed.

Sunday was when the rain started, with considerable enthusiasm, it seemed. We got soaked every time we stepped outside the building, but still managed to fit in (besides a nap and tea at the Drake) a visit to the Contemporary Art Museum, which was a fun mix of adult playground, clean and creative artwork, and taking-one’s-art-way-too-seriously pretension, followed by thin crust pizza at Pizano’s (delicious, but we voted thick crust as the winner), followed by take-home cheesecake at the hotel, which we ate with much giggling using coffee stirrers as chopsticks, because the waiter didn’t put in any forks.

Julie was a delightful travelling companion, and put up with my teasing and childish humour admirably:

Me, cocking an ear: Ah, the classic Chicago song.

Julie: Isn’t this “New York, New York”?

I loved the trip, but once again found that travelling never seems to allow me to check a place off the list for good. I want to go back to Chicago. Maybe next time I’ll make it to the Robie House. And look up and see the Sears Tower.

Monday, 7 February 2011

My Nan

We called her Nanny Alice because my brother Anthony was the eldest of her grandchildren and that’s what he could say. So my toddler brother’s lack of articulation created a name we all used.

She helped me learn to appreciate shoes, learn to vacuum, and make the most of life. She was resilient and positive and adventurous and funny and honest and strong. She taught me to whistle, and then told me that whistling wasn’t ladylike. She had my cousins and me to stay over on weekends, made sure we swept and helped to clean before going out, had the excitement of going on buses, took us shopping and to lunch and bought us gifts for being well-behaved and patient. I’m pretty sure she was the patient one. She let us spend hours trying on ridiculous clothes that we thought were fabulous. She made us knickerbockerglories and let us stay up late for midnight feasts, although I’m not sure that we ever made it until midnight. She let us try on her jewellery and dress up in gorgeous fabrics. She prayed by her bed and prayed with us.

She wrote poetry, and worked hard, and believed in being glamourous and in getting her hands dirty. She served others endlessly. She was unshockable.

My nan lived in Bristol during the war, and dealt with air raids and shelters, and rationing, and all that goes along with war. Our favourite story was the one about the bomb crater. Nan was on her way to work one day, and... fell in a bomb crater. Being Nan, she climbed and and carried on to work, scratching and bleeding--but when her supervisor heard, she sent her home for the day.

She loved flowers, and colour--I once painted her kitchen twice in two days because the first colour we tried was less of a primrose and more like the sun had walked into the room and was outstaying its welcome. We went with a pleasant blue after that.

When I was in college and not brushing my hair ever, she sat me down, took a comb to me, gave me a neat parting, and suggested I keep it that way. I was about twice her size by then, but I knew who was in charge.

She loved children, and was happy with them, even at the end when she had difficulty talking to adults. Deafness and dementia are tough barriers to communication. The dementia made her irascible, suspicious, and irrational. It’s a horrible thing to happen to a brain. But there’d be moments when the real Nan would show through.

The last time I went to visit, she was delighted to see me, and made a fuss of me. We chatted, she showed me pictures of my cousin’s baby, and she said she was sorry she didn’t have chocolate to offer me. I always tried to wear something interesting when I saw her because I could guarantee she’d notice and like it. She told me I looked lovely. I remember her once telling me I wasn’t a pretty girl--not in an unkind way, I think her point was that it didn’t really matter and I had other, more important qualities. One of her favourite things to say about me was that “I was always the same.” I’m happy to know that, instead of meaning that I wasn’t growing or developing as a person, she valued consistency and the qualities she loved in me. I always knew I was loved by my Nan, and she was a wonderful person to love and be loved by.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Lena is Extremely Courageous

Walking out of the changing room might have been the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

OK, honestly, it probably wasn’t. But IT FELT LIKE IT.

Cindy invited a few peeps up to Lava Hot Springs for New Year’s Eve. It sounded like a great idea to me--I’m not generally a big New Year’s fan. I’ve gone to parties, gone to bars, stayed home, gone to dances, gone to city centres, gone to bed...and it’s never been as thrilling as it looks in the movies. I always feel like I should be in the middle of a glamourous party, wearing a fabulous gown, kissing the man of my dreams whilst confetti rains down upon us, having the absolute best time of my life. It can’t possibly live up to that image. Plus I seem to have something of a grand tradition of people dying or relationships ending around this time of year, which can also put a dampener on things.

But I liked the idea of the hot springs. Simple, relaxing, good company. It’s just that, standing in my bathing suit in the changing room, it seemed less of a good idea to go outside practically naked knowing that it was, like, dozens of degrees below freezing out there. And then knowing that, in the unlikely event that I were to survive out there, I’d have to walk back through the cold to the changing room, but this time dripping wet.

But I did it. Several of us did it. We so crazy! And once we were in the pools, it was rather fabulous. I’ve never been so simultaneously hot and cold at the same time. Our hair frosted over, our ears burned, our eyelashes became heavy with frost, I had icicles at the back of my hair, and if I left my shoulders out too long, they’d frost too, and would tingle exquisitely when I submersed them again.

We stayed there a few hours, and then headed to Cindy’s house, where we ate late night fries and other delicious snacks, and we toasted each other at the stroke of midnight, and played speed scrabble, sat around and chatted, and finally fell asleep in random areas of the floor. where Cindy’s extremely hospitable mum had put blankets. Cindy’s dog kissed or wagged us awake the next morning, and Boyd made us crepes, and it was all pretty great. I barely even noticed the lack of George Clooney to snog.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Heat is On

Hey, I have a blog!

It’s been a good summer. And now, as the leaves have turned to flame and are starting to fall, and the warm evenings turn to crisp ones, I would like to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart. That of how I’m going to keep myself warm this winter. Actually, we’re going to discuss an area a little south of my heart because I want to tell you about my heated seats.

So I got a new car. Which is very exciting, and I kind of love it, even though I feel like a tiny bit of a sellout for driving a brand new car instead of a clunker that says, “I don’t care about appearances.” Maybe if I never wash it I can send the same message. I can do that!

I had just a couple of requirements when looking for a new car. It had to be reliable, get good gas mileage, and have heated seats. That’s all I wanted.

The first time I experienced heated seats was in my teens. My parents had just separated, and my aunt had to pick me up one morning for some reason related to that--I honestly can’t remember the details, I don’t think it was anything dramatic. I do remember trying not to cry though, and it was a really cold morning, and my aunt turning on the seats, and it feeling like a warm bath. It was immensely comforting.

So apparently that’s led to some deep-seated psychological issues about seats.

I also hate being cold, and I especially like having a warm back. As a kid, coming in from the cold I’d sit with my back against the radiator to warm up. Again, comfort food for my temperature receptors.

As it turned out, once I test drove a couple of cars, I found that I also wanted responsive steering, decent acceleration, and nice looks (shhh). And then I found that the car I loved didn’t come with heated seats. Not an option.

But I found someone who’d install them after market. And my life is...well, a lot MORE complete. I adore them. I pretty much turn mine on as long as I don’t actually have the air conditioning going. If you see me sucking my thumb and clutching a teddy bear in my car, we’ll start to worry about the psych issues, but hey, maybe it’s therapy.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Mexico Pics

A few minutes before the storm hit.
During the storm.
I feel I should point out here that Jessica is perfectly capable of holding her head up, but for some reason likes sleeping in that very uncomfortable-looking position.

I don't know what these are, but my mum kept trying to get me to pet them. She didn't pet one herself, however.

Anthony deciding what to wear for a night out. Um, my brother doesn't always look this sweaty and homeless, by the way. It was very humid.

Our hotel.

Home again home again, jiggety jig.

Tonight we had dinner at the Mexican restaurant at the resort. Yes, you would think they'd all be Mexican, but remember--MexiDisney? It was delicious, and Jessica stayed wide awake through most of it, which is unusual for her. I think she knew we were leaving. So we went for a walk in the grounds, and down to the beach, and listened to the waves (and the disco down the beach playing Lady Gaga and Neil Diamond), and watched the stars and a lightning storm, and thought deep thoughts.

When we arrived, I thought ten days of this would be too much. Now it’s flown by, and I’d be quite happy to spend a few more days doing nothing. My sis-in-law says that means I’m finally unwinding, but probably need another week or so to really do the trick. She might be right, but my plane ticket says otherwise.