Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My goodness, it has been a long time since I have posted anything. I'd like to say that I was busy doing something terribly worthwhile, like restoring medieval tapestries as part of an exhibition of women's textile art or bringing clean drinking water to remote villages. But alas, no. I was frittering away my time as usual:strumming a ukulele and watching old movies. I stayed away from the siren lure of the novelty print. Mostly, anyway. And yes, of course the young Akhenaten and I have been anxiously following the revolutions that blossomed (and continue) across the Middle East. But as so many have said so much about it, some better informed and some even more ill-informed than myself,I decided (quite reasonably) that journalists and people who are actually there are best equipped to analyze and describe what is going on.

I have been urged (by Ms. Kitty Penknife, among others) to blog about my plans for a Psychedelic Summer, as well as my adventures in seasonal themes so I thought I'd check in on my old blog. I was shocked (shocked!) to find that it has actually gotten some traffic, despite my long sabbatical. It can't all be from spambots, right? So, hi there. How are you? Thanks so much for stopping by. How have you been? What are you obsessed with these days? Do tell.

In the interest of curbing my continued novelty print addiction, I thought I'd focus more on good old-fashioned fun. What is fun, after all? I recently read Frances Burney's Evelina, a charming epistolary novel that I strongly endorse, whose modern editor noted that the word fun was, at that time (1778-ish), slang. Fun originally meant ridicule, as in to make fun of someone (which is a favorite pastime of some the novel's characters). But fun was just beginning to be used (and conceived of) in the current sense. The title character spends two seasons, one with her upper-crust relations, and one with her tacky downwardly-mobile relatives. But both sets are keen to find some fun and the reader is taken on a tour of late 18th Century London amusements, from the opera to displays of mechanized birds to public dances. Fun was a new idea, as were the libraries and public gardens and free displays of fireworks, all of which serve as backdrops for the novel's actions. Wearing a kicky new frock, seeing and being seen, then critiquing the event and its attendees seems to comprise fun for both sets of relatives, high and low. Not so different from writing Yelp reviews and posting photos of your delicious entree on Facebook, now is it? But I thought, fun has to have more to it than that? Perhaps? Is it possible to write about fun and even exhort others to have some fun without falling into the obvious traps? Probably not.

During the winter of 2011, I was devoted to all things Russian. A Russian Winter, complete with multiple snow days. Among other things I saw Battleship Potempkin on the big screen and got a lovely hand-painted woolen Russian folk shawl. I listened to a lot of Tchaikovsky and watched Ken Russell's wonderful film version of the composer's life The Music Lovers, which I recommend highly, though he does take liberties (but what wonderful liberties they are, do enjoy the 1812 Overture scene, watch it here right now, you owe it to yourself. Go on, I'll wait). I also saw Boris Godonov at the Met, which was marvelously full of deep Russian bass voices and the timbre of bells. And if you can watch the silent Russian film, Chess Fever, which is actually streaming on netflix, you are in for a real treat. If you need a good cry, watch The Thief.

I spent a lot of time at the Nicholas Roerich Museum, one of these little jewel box museums devoted to the work of a single artist. Mr. Roerich did the set design for Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, among other things. As a painter and a spiritualist, Mr. Roerich was obsessed with Mount Everest and other great heights, creating scads of paintings of mountain scenes. While I'm a valley girl myself (literally), one can really get a lofty feeling looking at such tremendous vistas.

I cooked up pot after pot of borscht. And I finally read Natasha's Dance, by Orlando Figes, which is a wonderful cultural history of Russia absolutely bubbling over with anecdotes. I learned a couple of Russian folk songs on the uke. I also ended up appearing in a short program for Russian television (which is a long story). Now that I've listed everything it doesn't quite seem Russian enough, does it? Ah well, I think I shall have another Russian-themed winter next year in which I hope to work in some ice-skating and chess lessons.

Summer 2011 is the Psychedelic Summer and it has just begun. I'm focusing on the late 60s, the moment where LSD met harpsichords and mimes in popular culture, but I'm open to some trippy mid-70s as well. I decided to start with Yoko Ono on the solstice at dawn.

Make Music New York set up Central Park for all comers to re-enact Yoko Ono's Secret Piece, originally created in Summer 1953, which proscribes being in the woods from 5am to 8am playing one note to the accompaniment of birds. Oddly enough, no one else wanted to get up before dawn to do this with me, so off I went in the dark. Though I did bring my least expensive camera (which I now regret, when will I ever see the park again in that morning light) and Akhenaten fretted a bit (though not enough to come with me). About 50 people turned up for the adventure. Most of them young people, and some visitors to NYC who planned to take in all the free music Make Music New York had scheduled for the day.

Arranging for people to get to the wooded areas of the park at dawn and providing all with green tea at the end sounded like a logistical nightmare, but it was expertly handled by one terrific young intern named Camden. Ms. Ono had given permission for her piece to be performed (though her people said she might show up, she did not) and the parks commission had issued a permit for us to be in the park at 5am, when it is technically closed. Make Music New York printed out maps of the park and we were free to position ourselves wherever we liked. It did feel creepy being in the park at that hour but we were not the only ones there. A man with an enormous beard was sloshing around in the Bethesda Fountain collecting the coins at the bottom. There were a few other career campers such as this gentleman milling about, all of whom seemed to be busy with their morning toilette. I soon lost sight of the other participants in the piece and felt rather reckless.

I didn't make it up to the North Woods, the densest and wildest part of the park, but instead parked myself under the Alice in Wonderland sculpture and played an A on my ukulele, occasionally alternating with an A on the recorder. (Why an A? Well, according to a very scholarly source (an episode of Seinfeld) composer Robert Schumann was afflicted with tinnitus and hearing an A note over and over in his head drove him mad.) But the best part of this project was actually listening to the birds. I never realized how complex and beautiful bird song really is. And how much they like to sing in the very early morning. I let them take the lead and just played a little back-up. And, while I am hesitant to anthropomorphize the birds who were just doing their thing, it seemed like they were improvising with me. A number of sparrows and starlings came right up to me and chirped for a while and we looked each other in the beady eyes.

As the sky began to lighten and the city woke up around the park, dog walkers and early morning exercisers began to make an appearance. The sound of the recorder made dogs want to climb into my lap with glee--not in terror as one would expect. And as even the patient Akhenaten had banned all recorder playing in his presence, it was great to get some positive feedback. After the peace and quiet of dawn, it started to seem a bit crowded. The minimalism of the one-note private concert was refreshing, as was the feeling of having the park mostly to myself.

I met some lovely people sipping green tea afterwards. A sweet and energetic woman had come in from Philly with her teen-age daughter and a Tibetan singing bowl tuned to A#. A young bartender, who said she headed over after work, and spent most of her time just listening to the birds. Everyone I spoke with had an uplifting experience.

A greater perusal of Yoko Ono's Grapefruit was in order. I've always been a big fan of Ms. Ono, and the idea of having a dance festival in your head.

Hope you are out there having fun, gosling.

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