Brooklyn Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms 1

Spring is coming!

If you’re being technical, it arrived about 40 days ago. Yet we’d barely had a taste of spring weather here in New York before now. To celebrate, I rambled through Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s cherry blossom festival on Saturday. Plump blossoms and tulips were aplenty. Although they had no daffodils, Wordsworth’s I wandered lonely as a cloud, which I found so cloying in high school, danced pleasantly through my mind. Enjoy the pictures!

Cherry Blossoms 2

Tulips

Tulips 2

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Human Nature in Rock Center: a review

Human Nature

Every morning for about a week now, I’ve passed by the NYC Public Art Fund’s latest installation in Rockefeller Center, Ugo Rondinone’s Human Nature. Being the philistine that I am, I thought at first that it was an homage to Stonehenge, which would’ve been sort of tacky but on par with the installation’s touristy venue. I didn’t pick up on each (30 ton!) rock formation’s resemblance to human figures until the city made its official announcement. But I see it now.

Eh.

I’ll concede that, at first blush, the figures have a kind of quiet dignity. They are certainly more attractive than the terrible monuments that the city routinely puts up in the Doris Freedman Plaza by the southeast corner of Central Park. I’ll give the Art Fund that.

But still I shrug. I hardly feel a thing while standing in their presence, which continues to be my base test for contemporary art. “Forest of giants”? “Primal forms”? It’s a stretch for me.

My ambivalence might have to do with my general aversion to rock sculptures ever since I saw Lee Ufan’s nutty Marking Infinity exhibit at the Guggenheim (a security guard confided to me that the rocks were from the Jersey shore and the artist didn’t personally nudge the rock into their formations, or the cut up wires and cotton balls with which they were arranged himself).

Or maybe the art’s incongruity with its bustling setting throws me off. Rock Center is hardly the place to quietly contemplate our human race’s “distant origins.”

Hmm.

Well, since I still staunchly support public art, I hope that my opinion turns more positive in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

Die Walküre at the Met: a review

Die Walkure

I saw Die Walküre last Saturday and read the Times review the next day. I have to say, the Times and other reviewers really need to get off their high horses about Robert Lepage’s “machine,” as they call it. Anthony Tommasini at the Times describes the apparatus as a “45-ton set consisting of 24 rotating planks” and then proceeds to rip it to shreds. “Some of the most sublimely beautiful music ever written becomes background for an art installation,” he sniffs.

We’ve heard this before. In fact, almost every single review that the Times has published on the Ring cycle at the Met takes a side swipe at the elaborate machine, its malfunctions, and oppressiveness. This review even seemed disappointed that the machine did not break down—not once—on Saturday, noting in the lede that it “worked without noticeable hitches” during the performance, though “you never know when the machine might malfunction.”

Get over it. By fixating on the machine, you critics are doing exactly what you persistently complain that the machine is doing: concentrating on stagecraft rather than the music. Yes, I will concede that the “aerial view” of the fiery mountaintop (pictured above) at the end was gimmicky and did distract the audience from the music (as the gasps across the orchestra section would indicate), but no where does the review mention how beautifully the planks depicted the forest, or Hunding’s forbidding home.

Besides, such sneering does a disservice to what many would consider a dying art form. I haven’t the faintest clue why opera critics would relentlessly, and I think unfairly, mock their own bread and butter. Those continuing to do so may soon find themselves grousing in an empty auditorium.

Enough of my own grousing and onto other thoughts. The Siegmund switcheroo in Act I was a bit unnerving, and I wished that the Met decided to retire the ailing Simon O’Neill for the show rather than letting him exhaust himself first before finally swapping in Andrew Sritheran mid-scene. Nonetheless, I thought that the understudy did a remarkable job of seamlessly integrating himself into the cast. His voice may not have been as powerful as O’Neill’s might have been if not for his early morning allergy attack, but I thought that Sritheran’s athletic build and energy gave much-needed vitality to the role.

I found Martina Serafin’s voice strong and clear, and her acting subtle in the opening minutes. But by the end of Act I, perhaps under the influence of a sturdier Siegmund, Sieglinde seemed to explode with drama, and not in a good way. Her quivering on the planks, awkward two-handed-backward grasping of the Northung sword, and staggering around the edge of the stage were all too much for me, and certainly too much for the oppressed character. It was hard not to chuckle. Whoever directed her to act like that is better off directing a second-grade adaptation of Hamlet.

Mark Delavan succesfully portrayed a commanding but conflicted Wotan. Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde was as plucky and bright as she always has been in these productions. Stephanie Blythe as Fricka was a perfectly spiteful and forceful goddess, as she was last season. And the $15 plastic glasses of prosecco at the bar were as delicious and exorbitant as ever.

Cupcake crash

Cupcake

According to the WSJ, cupcakes are over. Frankly, I’m surprised that the trend lasted as long as it did. When I first moved into the city a few years ago, women were still skipping back and forth between Magnolia Bakery and a certain Perry St. stoop, a good five or six years after the last Sex & the City episode aired.

But nothing lasts forever. Especially not a (relatively) expensive sugary treat that anyone can easily bake at home. The WSJ article notes that the market, with its “low barrier to entry,” is insanely over-saturated, and people are simply tired of it all.

Something that article did not address, though I wish it had, is the fact that the cupcake “novelty,” as a quoted ibanker called it, is inherently short-lived because it isn’t seasonal. When considering seriously important issues such as dessert fads, I like to compare cupcakes to frozen yogurt. Why has the froyo craze lasted even longer than cupcakes? Not simply because froyo typically has fewer calories, less of a gender bias, and is easier to eat while walking (though these qualities do matter).

But, in a related vein, I think that people cling to froyo because it represents the coming of warm weather. Spring–what a happy thought for those sick of pumpkin pie and hot toddies. When spring approaches, all that anyone wants to do is something springy, like walk around hot and stinky Manhattan streets dipping plastic spoons into $7 cups of milk, bacteria, and synthetics topped with freezer berries and cereal bits.

I’m not arguing that froyo will be around as long as warm weather is (I’d actually be curious about sales figures during the cooler months). But from my admittedly limited perspective and supportive logic, I think that its status as an easily marketable summer treat gives it the staying power that cupcakes lack.

That being said, froyo should watch its back if artisanal popsicles ever come into vogue.

Saudi Marathon Man

I recommend the New Yorker‘s article on how a Boston marathon victim absurdly became a prime suspect of the bombing because of, and only because of, his race. As the New Yorker points out, sure, some will argue that the Saudi student’s proximity made him a person of interest, but dozens of other victims were standing nearby too. I hate to say it, but almost as soon as the news of the bombing broke, I knew that it was only a matter of time before some poor kid became a victim of racial profiling. It’s the inevitable kick in the pants that we never need.

A poem for veterans

Driftwood:

Never mind that the boats move slowly,

For slowly they drift, pulsing down the river

As the sun sets and the sky turns mauve.

Never returning to that shore,

Never pretending that they will reach that place

Beneath the hillocks,

Where they saw those lights dangling,

Suspended over rippling waves, long ago.

A rush of pride stops them in their tracks,

For they belonged to themselves

And disliked interference.

They close their eyes,

Longing to journey far from here,

And began making plans.

Slumped in their chairs on the dock,

The limited future dilates before them,

Further away from a mystical past.

They went to war for clarity,

For blazing shores and whiter ideals.

But never again would they lie under the dimming stars,

Alone in dark fields.

He left them screaming,

Howling in the trenches as light fell in the East.

Never again would he fall from heaven,

Not like that.

To hear a woman laugh,

Laugh shrilly, was all that he craved back then,

As he hated all else, almost everything else

That he saw behind him,

Calamity needed to stay behind him.

Like his father, he thought they were fighting for peace,

But they were tearing off a cliff.

He pulled the oars out of the current,

While rowing his old lady out to sea,

She watched him and said nothing.