Monday, December 01, 2008

Thaïs, Uganda, Renderings

Saw Thaïs last night, at the Palace 9 in Metropolitan's HD. At 20 bucks a pop, it's a lot cheaper than going down to New York and getting nosebleed seats, but maybe not quite as exciting. The HD has some special features, which is that you get sweeping views from all vistas and up close, and you get a behind-the-scenes look at backstage during the scene changes and intermissions. But that is also its downfall--the mood gets a little wrecked when you see the cast coming out of a scene, and then the guys pulling the sets about. But it was amazing to watch, nonetheless.

The Met's backstage is HUGE. The set pieces were enormous--even on rollers it took six guys to move them. They were pretty quiet. And in the third act, second to last scene, when Thomas Hampson (the baritone) was coming offstage I could swear he was wiping away tears (it's when Athanaël's grieving for Thaïs, before he sets off to see her die).

You could also see the electronics, and the director(?) signaling for "the maestro to the pit." The interviews were a little dorky, but I liked hearing Hampson's speaking voice--it's quite nice. I don't like Renee Fleming's speaking voice, but she sure nails this part, and she can look like a courtesan. I mean, Jane Eaglen or Jessye Norman couldn't really pull that off. But you know I also really liked Nicias (Schade)--he's a great character--talk about a bad guy you just can't hate. Athanaël is kind of unlikeable, as leading men go, but I guess you come around to him during the duet in the desert.

The thing that kept bothering me was that if this is supposed to be 3 or 400 AD, why is there a gun? (the supertitles say "I'll shoot you," but it could be arrows) And what's with the outfits? I'm okay with modern productions--I really liked the Beat La Boheme, but the costume and set design seemed all over time. I tried really hard to suspend disbelief, but they were quirky choices to make and I just kept noticing. If I had been in the nosebleed seats, it wouldn't have mattered--it's all so impressionistic from up there. Massenet's music is good--the parts you remember are overture, not arias, except for the duet which I really liked.

The people in the audience (my audience, in Burlington) were mildly irritating. All middle-aged or older (no problem there, but all coupled and no one to wink at) and some of them were like, "oh, I know so and so, he's the double-bass, see him there," and, "when I go down to NY I sit right there in the front row on the left..." Etc. As they say here, "Jeezum!" And there was a naggy woman/ self-important man couple that we saw in the Chinese restaurant before, and then at the show, who were positive eye-rollers. And then there was the woman who moved seats because it sounded "muffled." She needs a hearing test because the sound was spot-on. Anyway, moving on...

My mom's going to Uganda. And I'm jealous. I want to be pleased for her--it's an 8 day trip where she'll be setting up student visits at Kampala's city hospital, and maybe community health visits outside the hospital, maybe outside the city. I wish I were going. I wish I were useful. In Yale's magazine (this is a partnership with the Yale Med School and Kampala University) they said that 1/2 the population there is infected with HIV (I'm not surprised--I've heard the figures before--but seriously dismayed that things aren't improving) and that 2/3 of the patients at Mulago Hospital either don't survive or die within months of leaving. So it's a lot of palliative care--really the last resort for people who are very sick. Families move in with the patients to care for them because the hospital is so understaffed. In some ways, the city, and the university and the hospital seem modern, and in other ways not. There were pictures of the lab equipment online, as well as the laundry drying on the lawn. Anyway, like I said, I wish I were going.

As far as HIV goes, while I'm thinking about it, I've noticed a lot of startling behavior here in the US, where we should know better and have the preventative resources to avoid transmission. And still people meet up for anonymous encounters, insisting upon NO condom....? I don't know what to think. This is not the 1970s, by which I mean we can no longer claim innocence of a problem.

And finally, work. I'm doing some renderings for Chuck (Chuck's garage) and Doug (the builder). Having some problems, communication-wise, about modernity and traditional design, and what Doug wants versus what Chuck wants. Decided to go with a Greene and Greene style craftsman approach, with wooden supports under the cantilever, a shingled second story and custom doors. If Doug actually makes these doors, I will be (pleasantly) surprised.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Philadelphia, Trip 2

So a few weeks ago I made my second jaunt to Philadelphia, this time not to see ESP, but for a history conference that I ended up not being registered for. Which was fine, because I got to see more of the city. I bring to you now, as a result, "Sightseeing Philadelphia the Miriam and Sarah Way:" (Sarah is Miriam's mom, by the way)

1. Whilst driving through Westchester County (on the way there, and the scenic route) get lost in beautiful Hudson River Valley locale, and then again in Yonkers, and then again in the Bronx. Especially in the Bronx. Circle around the zoo a couple of times, and then take a crosstown street back to 95 and cross the GW Bridge.

2. Get off at the wrong Philadelphia exit, too far north (to 73?) and then travel southward through northeast Philadelphia, taking note first of the odd, squat rowhouses, and then take Frankford south, a road that is reminiscent of South Wabash and either 55th or 59th Streets south in Chicago. Note the lack of Register to Vote volunteers in a neighborhood that might want a few. Hooray for the number of Obama t-shirts, however.

3. Keep looking for Penn's Landing. Seriously, it is there. Just keep driving.

4. Check into hotel. Note freakish and disturbing and large lobby painting. Look out at the Gazela, a sleek little boat moored nearby. Roll eyes re: conferencegoers with nametags.

5. Step out for a walk. If you cross the road there and veer left, you find lower Society Hill, a neighborhood that's a lot richer than it looks, and it looks rich already. Tight, neat, skinny townhouses, many renovated post 1966, but retaining, in many cases, the original colonial look. Since the neighborhood was skids in the 60s, the areas that were torn down now have recently-built townhomes, mostly in the modern style, so as not to detract from the real thing. Check out two modern sets--the ones with the gates that are different on every one, and give the looker a sense of the interior style... and also see if you can spot the house with the cats and dogs and birds gate, and the cat and mouse weathervane. Sweet.

6. Obama placards 4, McCain placards 1. Obama wins!

7. Keep walking along Pine until you hit the antiques district. Then walk up a few block toward convention center area, but not to CC. Count number of synagogues. Walk past Broad, to 16th and Spruce and have dinner at little Warsaw Cafe. Very atmospheric, cute youngish waiter and cute middle-aged owner (?), red glow, subtlely good food, and no rush. Bring 'em some business.

8. Walk up Broad and catch a glimpse of the City Hall which looks astonishingly like Gotham City at night, what with the fog around the top, the huge cast iron eagles and the weird yellow clock. I could not see the statue of William Penn that night, for the fog. Walk on through the courtyard if they haven't closed the gates. Turn right, back towards Penn's Landing, and come across the Reading Terminal Market, and if it's still open, you could pick up something chocolate and pastry-like to take back to the hotel.

9. In the morning, cross the road and veer right, looking for breakfast. Walk past the cryptic Zahav (Gold in Hebrew) and a movie theater. There is a nearby diner, and a couple of other promising breakfast spots. Avoid the man who makes really slow bagel sandwiches. Take a glance at a few dinner spots and nightclubs if so inclined.

10. Preview Independence Park. Nix the Liberty Bell, you need (free) tickets. Carpenter's Hall sells carpenter's pencils. Thanks mom! Take a look at the $20,000 model building. Read the signs, and note Philadelphia's seeming elitism when they deign to talk about tradesmen.

11. Walk far west to Rittenhouse square and visit the Mutter museum. Think it odd, interesting, and kind of educational, but not particularly. Take in the shrunken heads, wax models, siamese twins, presidential illnesses, trepanned skulls and other weirdness. Bring back souvenier for boss's kid.

12. Look at real estate listings. Go back to the Reading Terminal Market and pick up lunch. I did not have the time or energy to go up to the museum district and do a Rocky on the steps of the art museum, but I would if I went again.

13. Dinner at Cebu, with dipping menu. Tasty. Good service. Doesn't deserve the dis it gets online. Sleep. Begin grueling drive back to VT.