Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Istanbulletin: Pre-boarding

Got my snap shot,
Got hammams (hot!)
All I need now is the shoes …
Room set,
All my needs
Got the schedule down for Byzantine ruin –
All I need now is the soles for the viewin’ –
If they’d
just arrive I’d
toss aside
all frets and blues –
And with each step I’d say
“I can wander all night where the young Turks play,”
From the Black Sea to the walls of Troy
All this sorry
Needs is shoes.

In fact, my new passport has not yet arrived, but the person on the phone there (not too long a hold time either -- take notice, Met Opera!) told me it's in the final stages and should arrive by Wednesday. Departure date is October 6.

Meanwhile, every couple of days I buy new shoes and take them to a museum to test them out. (After all, streets aside, museums is where I'll be doing most of my walking. Mosques, of course, I shall walk barefoot.) So far my buying and testing has produced several days after when I could not walk at all but nothing really comfy, really winning. Worst case scenario: I unearth the hiking boots demolished two years ago and the old sneaks I last wore in Italy and get a couple of days' use out of them before they fall to the dogs of Marmara.

Before that, I tackle Eneslow, which will if necessary manufacture proper shoes for me.

Today I spent an hour at the Museum of the American Indian, which I have not visited since that notorious Steve Reich concert in the rotunda, when I danced around the ovoid room (cf. Sept. 24 New Yorker, Letters). A small exhibition of Northwest (mostly B.C.) items -- insignificant to the holdings I've seen in Vancouver and Seattle, of course, but also compared to the grand hall at AMNH -- and the floors mostly carpeted so I could not tell if the shoes worked or not (I need marble for that), but at least I wasn't blared at by fifteen talking exhibits.

Results: inconclusive.

Maybe I shall get fluffy bunny carpet slippers for the museums of Turkey. But the streets there are still in questions.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Videogame Museum of Natural History

This may not be the best way to do it, but I've been buying shoes like crazy, hoping that ONE pair will fit, before I go to Istanbul on Lepanto Day; so far, no luck. The way I go about it is: buy the shoes (usually on someone's recommendation that such-and-such a brand are comfortable) and then take them to a museum to test them without going outdoors in them. Then they can be returned, a painful process I especially detest. But I can't keep shelling out $200 a week for shoes I never wear, now, can I? At some point I will fall behind in rent and food money -- not to mention closet space. (Was that Imelda's problem? Did any of them FIT?)

I've been to the Met a lot these days (because it's the cheapest and stays open longest and has the widest variety of things to see), and to MoMA, which is costly but always has things that interest me, but today I had two pairs to test and was on the West Side anyway. So I went to the American Museum of Natural History, supposedly the world's largest museum (though only half the originally planned galleries were ever built). I had not been there in some years, or only to see certain special exhibits or attend lectures on witchcraft in various cultures. The place has changed.

Now, I grew up in that building. More than that: when I was 18 I had a summer job in the library there and got to explore its light-years of lofty, spacious corridor lined with ancient undisplayable bones. It was quiet, august, dusty, but mighty impressive. A refuge from the too-busy city -- as the Met used to be (and some of its galleries still are).

AMNH has changed. Oh, has it changed. It is, for one thing, monstrous expensive ($22 for one special exhibition, $30 for all of them, $2 for the coat check -- you don't think I was going to lug three pairs of shoes around all day, do you?) and it has become a refuge from nothing. The special show I attended, on mythic creatures and their possible origins and derivations (and some artistic artifactoids) was naturally geared towards little kids, but how even they can take it is mysterious to me: loud, lecturing screens, short movies, talkative nooks litter the place. They are not kept discreetly down dark corridors, or discreetly to themselves; there is no place in the exhibit where one is not assaulted by at least two loud voices telling you things you'd rather deduce for yourself, or read on the displays. I fled to the dinosaur rooms, the evolutionary room, the gem room fer goshsakes -- ALL had the same loud spouting voices dinning into you. It was like being trapped in a videogame parlor, or a house with separate TV sets in different angles of the family room -- perhaps this is the effect they wish to reproduce? Perhaps this is how kids learn nowadays, or is the only way to get their attention?

It made me sick.

The gem room especially used to be a sweet, otherworldly haven of glowing jewels on black velvet, dazzling colors, dreamlike splendors. Used to be terrific to get stoned in, back in the day. Now? Would drive me to suicide or anyway the Alpine solitudes of the Central Park zoo.

Whose idea was this? Is this the effect they wanted to produce?

The only rooms that were at all safe were the great dim halls of dioramas and stuffed animals -- as mysterious and silent and spooky as they were when my grandpa took me there -- and the hall of Northwest Indians. (Appropriately; you could imagine yourself in a Cascade rain forest, one of my favorite places.)

I have fond memories of taking my friend Julie to AMNH a dozen years ago with her six-year-old, Ned, dinosaur-obsessed (we've all been there, eh?), to a huge show of the dinosaurs and the mammalian pre-dinosaurs, and explaining to him that the interactive computers were all descended from fossil invertebrates themselves, to his extreme annoyance. (Julie thought it was funny, though.)

AMNH is a building to be enjoyed, from now on, only from outside, on 77th Street. On your next visit to New York, it's a must-skip.

And tonight, my thighs are in pain from the goddam shoes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

400: A highly heroic adventure movie

Today the ancient world and its ways are all but forgotten, but there was a time -- 1888, to be exact -- when Caroline Astor (Meryl Streep) reigned supreme. She was the arbiter of the 400 (so-called for the number of guests who could fit comfortably into parties in her Fifth Avenue ballroom) and, with her fainéant husband, Waldorf (Dan Aykroyd), ruled New York high society from the Metropolitan Opera to the Metropolitan Club. Sneering at upstart Vanderbilts and the louche taste of Rockefellers, kowtowing to visiting royalty at just the correct level of deference, advising presidents' wives on which fork to use for the hors d'oeuvres, she was peerless and unchallenged.

Until now.

Suddenly all New York is a-twitter at the arrival of the world-traveling Shah of Persia (Dustin Hoffman) with a full suite of 23 concubines, 84 eunuchs and countless servants and advisers and oud-players. Orientalism on the march! But where will they stay? (It's high season, and the Waldorf-Astoria on 34th is booked for a political convention to nominate Grover Cleveland (John Goodman).) (The Plaza, of course, hasn't been built yet.) Nonplussed, but not for long, Mrs. Astor is soon all steely resolve:

She and Waldorf will avoid confrontation by closing the house and fleeing to their country cottage, Hot Gates, 92 rooms in extravagant beaux arts style far, far up the Hudson with a view of the shimmering Catskills across the river. There (with a few dozen friends) they can be alone at last. Ladies' badminton in the long, lazy afternoons (to keep in shape for those low-shouldered gowns you know), while the gentlemen play golf in gaiters, and Madame Lehmann herself (Jane Eaglen) arrives from the Met to warble Casta Diva (auf Deutsch) after dinner. The Shah will never find them there. Or so she thinks.

But there is a serpent in her paradise: socialite Edith "Pussy" Jones (Chloe Sevigny) thinks a little crisis on the international scale would rightly shake up the stultified class into which she was born, and she betrays the whereabouts of -- and forges an invitation to -- Hot Gates for the amorous Shah of all the Persians. Escorted by a skeleton force of two battalions of New York's Finest, 19 dancing girls, and a percussive corps of janissaries (I know, I know -- janissaries are Turkish -- it's Hollywood, they never get the research right), Shah Dustin rushes up the river to hurl himself at the feet (and dinner table) of Streep.

Is Mrs. Astor up to the challenge? Does the Brooklyn Bridge go to Brooklyn?

Marshalling her diamanté troops ("Ladies -- tonight we dine in hell. Family hold back"), she confronts the bedazzled and beturbanned one with an 18-course hot dinner on a 90-degree evening with the western sun in the dining room windows, an experience that might easily kill anyone not used to whalebone corsets and boiled shirtwaists. The girl is good. Her cooks are game. (When not fainting from overwork.) The family guests are flawless. The Shah is demolished. Pussy Jones gives up her plan to challenge the supremacy of the 400 and marries some dimwit named Wharton who will take her to France so she can become an interior decorator. The Persians retreat.

"You can still make the 11:19 back to town at the station at Marathon, N.Y. if you trot," says Mrs. Astor sweetly. "It's 26.2 miles, but downhill all the way."

"Just wait till we get the bomb," mutters the Shah under his breath.

"I'll wait."