Sunday, September 11, 2011


Last Wednesday I went down to Wall St.  It was raining.  It was quittin' time.  Office workers dodged each other beneath scaffolding that has become permanent in the area.  As I crossed the street near St. John's chapel, I looked to my right.  There it was:  the new building, glistening with modernity.  The bottom nineteen stories were lit up with pink lights.  The stories above twinkled with white lights and rose up, up, up, until they disappeared into mist so thick it was impossible to see how many stories lay above. 

People had tied hundreds of white ribbons to the fence in front of St. John's Chapel.  The Remembrance Wall, a sign said.  It bothered me.  These prim and proper white ribbons were too clean, too crisp, too planned.  Nothing like the impromptu walls of remembrance after 9/11.  Those held pictures, signs asking after loved ones, mementos, candles, wilted flowers, anything to communicate and share the loss with others.  Those walls had been communal, motivated by the need for mutual support.  Necessary. 

9/11/11 dawned crisp and clear, not unlike the 9/11 ten years ago.  By evening low lying clouds had descended on lower Manhattan.  At 6PM I went to dance class at DNA (Dance New Amsterdam), near City Hall and not far from Ground Zero (after 9/11 DNA relocated to lower Manhattan in support of the area's redevelopment.)  The ceremonies had ended.  There were only a few more pedestrians than normal for a Sunday.  An extra policeman stood at the corner of Broadway.

I did not need to go to class today, but I wanted to be in Lower Manhattan.  I wanted to see the day in a positive way:  a reminder of the importance of taking risks, of folding dance and art back into my life, of really living.  After class, I walked to the "A" on Chambers.  There on my left rose the new building.  From its top two parallel beams emerged and projected "11" into the mist.  I thought, now that is a suitable wall of remembrance: two beams in the shape of the twin towers rising into the heavens and continuing for infinity. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hurrication! And Art Prevails

Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene passed through NYC last weekend.  The TV news broadcast doom and gloom.  Downtown Manhattan will be under six to twelve feet of water! New York hasn't been threatened with a hurricane like this in 100 years!  The subways will be flooded!  Will the Statue of Liberty even survive?  Bloomberg Etc. pulled out all stops.  The subways ceased running at noon on Saturday.  The bridges were supposed to be closed in due order.  There were forced emergency evacuations.  Central Park and The Metropolitan Museum were closed.  It was the first weekend of the Met Opera Live in HD Festival at Lincoln Center, and that was canceled. Even my dance classes were canceled.  Which is sayin' somethin' 'cause Ballet Arts at City Center is like the postal service: they don't close for nuthin'.

Late Friday night I started to prepare. As I lugged a gallon of water up five flights of stairs, I decided to take a Hurrication.  In my neighborhood the only time it's quiet is when it rains (car windows are closed, minimizing bass-osity; and street socializing becomes non-existent.)  So I slept.  And slept.  And slept.  I slept so long that I missed Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene.  When I woke late on Sunday morning, there was a light drizzle and a moderate breeze.  The power was on.  And the only evidence of una tormenta was a small leak in my closet, and scattered vegetable debris on the sidewalk.  Bloomberg, I said, you over-reacting numbskull.

But there were downed trees in Fort Tryon Park, and flooding in coastal areas was worse.  Some parts of the city were without power for days.  But for the rest of us, it was business as usual on Monday.  Everyone (those poopers!) showed up to work.  The blue sky thumbed its chin at Bloomberg, as if to say, it's still summer and you can't spoil my fun. 

After work, I went house hunting (more, much more, on this later-- it could fill an entire book).  The Poocherooni came along.  He has a more highly developed sixth sense than I, and at this point I need his help.  After beating the pavement, we drove slowly passed Lincoln Center.  I had checked earlier about the opera broadcast, but the website was mute.  But Monday evening to our joy, there it was:  art broadcast on the big screen.  Poochini lay exhausted on the passenger seat.  I opened the car window.  He sprang to his feet, poked his nose out the window, sniffed, and stared excitedly at the projection of Iphigenie en Tauride over Lincoln Center Plaza. 

I certainly chose the right name for you, I said, as I drove toward a parking spot.  The temperature was just right for sitting outside, the sky overhead was clear.  I bought a gelato and found a seat.  Poochini slurped up my leftover icecream and stared at the giant screen, true to his nature.  It was as if nothing terrible had ever happened.  It was the gift of art to us all.      

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Perfect Pair: Semionova and Gomes in Swan Lake

Some dance performances are so phenomenal that it requires time to fully appreciate them.  On Saturday July 2, I took my usual balcony seat at the ABT.  For weeks I had anticipated Semionova in this performance of Swan Lake. Earlier in the season I had seen her paired with David Hallberg in Don Quijote.  It had been a stellar performance, but the two were missing chemistry, which cannot be invented.  Chemistry is either present or not.  For this performance of Swan Lake, Semionova was scheduled to dance again with Hallberg, and so it was with a certain amount of relief that I opened my program to read that Marcelo Gomes would replace Hallberg in this performance.  Hallberg is an elegantly beautiful dancer, and might well be paired with the graceful Cojocaru.  But Semionova requires the passion and sheer physicality of Gomes.

The magnetism between the two was apparent the moment they stepped on stage together.  Semionova portrayed a heartachingly vulnerable Odette, draping herself in a fluid backbend over Gomes' strong arms.  She shone as Odile, performing the grueling 32 fouettes with flawless precision, showing off her prowess with double revolutions during the first five fouettes.  Gomes confidently matched her stamina, and allowed her to steal the show.  He epitomized the gentlemanly manner of the male ballet dancer, who becomes ennobled by supporting the ballerina and allowing her beauty to shine.  The emotion between the two carried the audience on a wave exhilaration until the final denouement, when Gomes leapt heart and soul after Semionova.  It was the grandest stage fall I have ever seen.  Gomes flung his chest out with all his might.  His legs kicked forcefully behind.  In the drama of that fall, he made the audience believe that there exists a love so profound that it can lead a man to the ends of the earth.

More followed.  The drab, unsatisfying ending in which Odette and Prince Siegfried stand separate but united, side by side in the dawn of the afterlife, was no more.  Instead, Semionova and Gomes embraced.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect performance by a perfect pair.

At the curtain call, Semionova and Gomes smiled with obvious joy about dancing together.  Semionova accepted with grace the customary bouquet of roses (at the end of a ballet performance, the principal ballerina always receives a rose bouquet, but the male lead receives none; the ballerina usually extracts one rose, kisses it, curtsies and hands the rose to her male lead).  Then Semionova broke rank and offered her bouquet to Gomes, who refused with barely concealed embarrassment.  Semionova tried several times to give Gomes the flowers, then outrightly placed the bouquet in his arms.  With school boy charm, Gomes bowed to her and placed the bouquet at her feet.  A few curtain calls later, Semionova and Gomes embraced warmly and kissed on the lips.   If you didn't know better, you'd have sworn they were lovers.  Which is exactly how you should walk away from a performance of Swan Lake:   believing that love can be strong enough to conquer the spells of an evil sorcerer.                       

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cuban Heat in NYC: Alicia Alonso and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba

For over a week, NYC has been gripped by an historic heat wave.  Taking the heat index into account, temperatures in Central Park soared near 110 F.  On my block, all the fire hydrants had been set off.  Gypsy cabs paraded past the torrents of water, taking advantage of the free car wash.  Kids and hooligans doused each other with it.  In my apartment, my taps went dry.  My drinking water was gushing down the street, and wasting in the gutters under the blazing sun.

Times like these make me wonder why I stay in NYC.  That's when I try to divert my attention from life's most recent challenges, when I try to recall New York's advantages.  This time, Alicia Alonso came to mind.  On June 6, I had attended an artist talk featuring her at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  I arrived late and weedled my way into press seats just in time for her arrival on stage.  There she sat not twenty feet from me.  She wore an electic blue silk head scarf and a matching silk pants outfit.  She still bore the regal bearing of a prima ballerina assoluta.  As a young ballet student in southern California, a world away from the New York ballet scene, I had read Alicia Alonso's autobiography: how, injured and confined to bedrest for a year, Alicia Alonso had visualized the classical ballets in her head, determined to return to dancing.  Her story had always stayed with me and she had been one of my childhood heroes, something akin to a super hero who only exists in books and on TV. So I could scarcely believe that I was seeing her in person.

One of the doyennes of twentieth dance, Alicia Alonso is a legend in her own time.  At a time when ballet in Cuba was virtually unknown, she became hooked on dance.  She described the attraction as immediate.  From her first dance class in 1931, she wanted nothing more in life than to dance.  Her mother had to force her to take off her pointe shoes so that she would not sleep in them.  She insisted on walking around her Havana house on tiptoe, and her father wondered aloud, will our daughter ever walk normally again?  Apparently not.  She soon outgrew the Cuban ballet scene, and rocketed to stardom in New York where she studied with Alexandra Federova and Jerome Robbins.  She joined the American Ballet Theatre the year of its founding in 1940, and worked with all the greats:  Balanchine, Agnes de Mille, Fokine, Massine, Nijinska, Tudor, Jerome Robbins. 

In 1948, she returned to Cuba to found the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, bringing the world of ballet to the island.  Today, ballet is huge in Cuba.  Alicia Alonso related, "We tour all over the world.  We have a fabulous school.  Today you ask anyone in Cuba, 'Do you know the Ballet Nacional de Cuba?' and you will get a big conversation about which ballets they like best."  Cuban trained ballet dancers fill top positions in the world's preeminent ballet companies, from San Francisco Ballet, to Miami Ballet, to American Ballet Theatre. Alicia Alonso's choreography has been performed by major companies worldwide, including Paris Opera, Vienna Opera, Teatro di San Carlo (Napoli), Prague Opera, La Scala, and the Royal Danish Ballet. She has received several honorary doctorates and numerous international awards, including France's Legion of Honor.

Despite these wondrous achievements, the woman interviewed at BAM revealed many sides, all very human and likable.  She was at times humble, at times humorous and able to poke fun at herself (and others), at times appearing fragile and in ill health, at other times strong and full of ego, and at all times still impassioned by the dance.  When asked about what makes Ballet Nacional de Cuba's style distinctly Cuban, she explained, "It is in the hands.  There is a volume to the hands.  Also, it is in the way we hold the arms. [It is related to Cuban folkloric dance].  Folkloric is soft, not strong, very sexual.  The way we dance ballet has that spiciness between a man and a woman."  When asked if Lucia Chase asked her to change her name to a Russian-sounding one [as a sign of prestige, dancers used to Russify their names], Alicia Alonso replied, "She wanted me to change my name to Alonsov." The audience laughed at such a ludicrous thought.  Alicia Alonso stiffened and straightened in her seat.  She continued with great dignity, "Well don't laugh.  It sounds very Russian.  But it didn't go with me."  Then a long pause, and she concluded proudly, "Alonso. Alicia Alonso.  That is my name."  The audience broke into applause.  A few people stood in ovation.  When asked about Russian influence on Cuban dance, Alicia Alonso gave a long pause as if she could not understand the question, then replied, "Uh... we are Cuban.  Maybe in the lifts, and that is it.  Which is good."  More applause from the audience. Asked which role had been her favorite, Alicia Alonso replied, "My favorite role is dancing.  But I am very much associated with Giselle."

What keeps me in New York?  The possibility of dancing, the possibility of experiencing moments like these, the possibility of being inspired by legends like Alicia Alonso, whose words stay with me:  "I found the world through dancing,"  she said, "This is the most pure way of living, through dancing."


Sunday, July 17, 2011


For the past two months certain segments of the New York population have been gripped with balletomania, all the more intense given the all star lineup that appeared on New York stages this season.

Nursing a nearly broken ankle, I was sidelined from dance class.  So I decided to learn from the pros.

For me the fever started in May with Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, rarely seen in the US.  Sulkary by Eduardo Rivero transported me to the Caribbean. Yoruba rhythmns combined with jaw dropping leg strength (deep plies held for impossibly long intervals).  Sultry Latin moves in Horizonte made me want to to buy a ticket to La Habana (I'm writing a letter to Obama-- lift the ban!)  Demo-n/crazy ended with the company holding upside down yoga poses.  Supported on their shoulders, their feet jutted up in haphazard angles.  The crowd remained silent, waiting for one of the dancers to waiver.  None did, so well trained and in control were they.

Then Cuba's classical ballet took over the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  There was an artist talk by founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and prima ballerina assoluta, Alicia Alonso (she deserves her own post, one will follow).  A legend who has worked with all the greats (Balanchine, Nijinsky, Massine, Tudor, Robbins, Agnes de Mille), Alonso is now in her nineties.  Though her health is failing, she still has a regal bearing.  I sat in the audience not twenty feet away (press seats!), and could barely believe I was in the presence of my childhood hero.  As a young dancer in the suburbs of LA, I had read her autobiography: how after injury she had spent a year bedbound, unable to dance, practicing all the greats classical ballets in her head (this was before TV). 

This was followed by the Ballet Nacional de Cuba:  excerpts of Don Quijote, Swan Lake, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Coppelia,  Gottshalk Symphony.  Why did they end with the last?  Because it had Latin rhytmns?  They would have been better served by ending with Don Quijote, the finest rendition of the lot.  I had the good luck of being invited back stage.  I stood near the wings feeling an exhilaration I had not experienced since childhood: the tense nerves and joyous excitement of imminent performance.

Then American Ballet Theatre season started, a whirlwind of world class performances. Ratmansky's Bright Stream, Julie Kent's 25th anniversary performance in Lady of the Camellias, exquisite Alina Cojocaru, guest artist from the Royal Ballet, in Giselle  and Sleeping Beauty (she also deserves her own post, one will follow); fiery, confident, incredibly strong Polina Semionova in Don Quijote (see post:  Polina Semionova we love you at the ABT), and delicate, though still phenomenally strong, in Swan Lake, a performance which was the highlight of the season for me (post to follow).  Jose Manuel Carreno had been absent most of the season, and he gave his farewell performance in Swan Lake on June 30.  Julie Kent and Gillian Murphy joined him in a banner performance, but David Hallberg stole the show with a cunning and devious von Rothbart.  And then there was a suprise appearance by the Bolshoi's Ivan Vasiliev in Coppelia, a performance which I unfortunately missed as it had not been announced earlier in the season.

The Royal Danish was also in town performing Bournonville variations, Giselle, The Lesson, and a scene from Napoli.  Known for nearly unbroken continuation of the refined classical ballet style as danced in the French court, the men of the Royal Danish stole the show with regal bearing, exquisite extensions, and jumps that were showy enough to command the audience's attention, but without ego.

As if my head were not already spinning, the season concluded with the Maryiinsky Ballet (formerly Kirov) of St. Petersburg.  The visit began with a performance of Ratmansky's Anna Karenina, almost universally panned by the critics and with good reason-- the music is too somber for dancing.  I missed Vishneva's performance, but caught Kondarouva's.  Her dancing managed to carry me through to the bitter end.  I left wondering whether time is needed for appreciation of this ballet, but I have my doubts. The Maryiinsky's final performance on Saturday made up for the ill-fated Anna.  It was a double bill of the Little Hump-Backed Horse at matinee, a light-hearted Russian fairy tale that I enjoyed along with the Russian children and round babuskas in the balcony.  And then in the evening:  Ulyana Lopatkina in Carmen Suite!  Fiery!  Sultry!  Sexy!  Ill-Fated!  Formerly banned in the Soviet Union!  I had only seen her in videos, but the power of her dancing extended far into the upper reaches of the house, which is where I sat.

This season will remain with me always.  It brought me joy at a time when I could not dance, and when my living situation had less than to be desired.  Now, back in my Washington Heights apartment, the balletomania still with me, the bass from my downstairs neighbor shaking the floor, my ankle on the mend, I can't wait to get back in the studio.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rare Birds of NYC

In early summer NYC parks come into full leaf.  They dot the city and glisten like emeralds dropped into a wastebasket of concrete and exhaust.  These parks hold rare flea market finds to patient observers. 

Last week, bleary eyed and weary from a recent move into a fifth floor walkup, I took my morning walk in the Heather Garden.  On a bench someone had scattered birdfeed.  Amidst the drab sparrows flitted a fluorescent green and yellow parakeet.  He pecked at the bird seed, oblivious to his beauty, all the more stunning against the brown camouflage of the sparrows.  I approached cautiously so as not to scare him away.  As I neared, the wild sparrows flew away with instinctive distrust.  But the tame parakeet, accustomed to human presence, remained pecking at the bird seed.  I neared to within a foot, yet he did not budge.  Poor creature, I thought, he must have been someone's pet.  And he is doomed.  Such a rare beauty will not last through the harsh winter.

Today as I exited Central Park on W72nd St., I stopped short.  Sitting on a window ledge of one of those magnificent doorman buildings (what do they look like inside?) blazed a powerful red parrot.  He had muscular talons that gripped the ledge securely.  Emerald, blue, and white feathers streaked across his wings.  His eyes had been made up with brilliant blue and white shadow that circled them like a target.  A passerby stood giddily near the great bird while his wife tried to take a photo.  The owner, a man mildly past middle age, said anxiously, don't get too close.  The passerby paid no attention.  The parrot ruffled his wings, and swiped at the passerby with his great hooked beak.  I told you, don't get too close.  He can do real damage, the owner intoned angrily.  The passerby looked sheepish.  His wife hurriedly snapped the photo, and the two rushed off.  I asked, how old is he?  The owner replied, forty-five.  I thought, if I'd been with anyone (bird, beast or human) for that long, I might also become angry when a stranger fails to heed requests for respectful treatment.

That got me thinking about Poochini.  Once, when we were first getting to know each other, we had walked to the Bethesda Fountain.  The pair of swans that used to come through Central Park in early spring were paddling on the pond.  All of the sudden there rose a tremendous squawking and hissing.  A woman's toy poodle had fallen into the water close to one of the swans.  The bird had risen clear out of the water, extending her powerful wings, beating them with fury, and pecking at the poor dog.  The woman frantically kneeled by the side of the pond.  After several unsuccessful attempts she was able to scoop out the dog.  I hugged Poochini closely.  That was when I learned to beware of angry swans.    

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We Love Polina Semionova at the ABT

On Saturday the Boshoi-trained Polina Semionova performed to a sold-out audience at the American Ballet Theatre.  Ms. Semionova was on loan from the Staatsballet Berlin, and was performing as Kitra in Don Quixote.  From the moment she stepped on stage all eyes were glued to her.  Poor David Hallberg and Veronika Part, magnificent dancers both, didn't stand a chance.  We (I speak on behalf of the audience) love Polina.  Why do we love her?  Because she balances unwaveringly en pointe for an unspeakable amount of time in an attitude derriere that she then extends to a lingering arabesque.  Because she spins like a top in so many pirouettes you lose count after eight, when she slides her foot down to a sous-sus as if the stage were ice and she a figure skater.  Because she does double fouettes without using her arms to help her around, but instead sets one hand jauntily on a hip while the other hand shoots straight up with a fan, demonstrating her prowess.  Because, when David Hallberg doesn't get that she really can do more pirouettes at the end of a grueling performance, and stops her after three revolutions, she takes an extra balance just to show she has more in her legs.  Because she's not afraid to show off.  Because she shows what the female body can do when in peak form.  Because she wears a girlish, wide smile that fills the theatre with the joy of dance.  Because she makes little girls spin in circles at intermission (this is a fact, I saw it with my own eyes).  Because she reminds us of the joyful little girl in all of us, the one  who would spin around until she fell down laughing and dizzy, the one for whom anything was possible.        

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Last week on Ft. Washington Ave. I was nearly run down by a four year old squealing with joy: Butterfly! Butterfly! Butterfly! she said.  Her stubby legs pumped at top speed, making her pig tails jump up and down on either side of her head.  The lilacs were blooming.  The sky was crystal clear.  And there was no reason not  to be overjoyed by the prospect of butterflies.  Her parents followed behind, smiling and indulgent.  Such displays of exuberance are unfairly reserved for the very young.  I wanted to throw my arms in the air and run alongside the girl, rejoicing over earth's power to renew itself each spring. 

Several days later, I passed the same girl and her mother.  The girl had used string to attach two floppy paper plates to her back.  They were decorated with wavy crayon lines and cut on one side to make a straight edge next to her shoulder blades.  The mother reached for the girl's hand and said gently, Come on Butterfly.  The girl skipped along, her wings fluttering behind her.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day in Central Park

New York 1 forecast rainstorms  for this year's Mother's Day, but the mothers would have none of it.  They must have talked to the Big Guy and told him what's what.  Weather-wise, this was the best day yet.  In Central Park, Pooch and I tried to dodge the obstacle course of families picnicking, roller blading, waiting for the carousel, and eating icecream bars.  A line fifty people long waited to rent row boats near the Boat House.  In between having meltdowns, kids frolicked on the green grass of Sheep's Meadow.  And if you hadn't thought ahead and packed your own food (like Mom does), you had a long wait on your hands at the Rickshaw Dumpling truck. 

People came at us from all directions.  After an hour of frantically trying not to become road kill, Pooch and I decided to be antisocial and ducked into The Ramble.  There the crowd thinned, but barely.  We duly became lost (no matter how long I live in this city, I never learn my way around The Ramble).  Pooch rubbed noses with a St. Bernard, then got confused when,  trying to greet him in the usual dog manner, stood in shadow beneath the huge dog's belly.  Finally we found our way to the West Side, where we emerged to find a new barrage of families.  But the funny thing was, despite the discomfort of the crowds, most people were smiling and polite.  These people must be from out of town, I thought.  Or maybe, on this Mother's Day, people had remembered a mother's frequent refrain:  mind your manners.  Which is a gift to all of us. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Oh, New York. I Heart You.

 Today I tied a pink bow around Pooch's neck.  Suddenly people in the Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue were calling him a her.  Boys can wear pink too, I said, just look at the man in drag over there.  I pointed.  That's way more than pink. The man stood six feet plus in platforms, and wore fishnet stockings, a bustier, thick fake eyelashes, and a fluorescent pink wig.  Others had also gone overboard. In front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, a woman posed while balancing on her head an elaborate seven foot headress made of sprays of violets, lilacs, and blue flowers whose species has not yet evolved.  There were little girls with angelic golden curls beneath bonnets decorated with green grass, pink and yellow baskets, and chocolate Easter eggs.  A man wearing a top hat and tails accompanied a woman in an elegant green satin 1940s dress.  She struck a pose in a broad brimmed hat covered with a froth of toile and multicolored flowers. 

And of course there were the dogs.  There was a pooch in a top hat with coat and tails (note: the average, every day pooch is lower case in this blog).  There was a golden retriever in a pink skirt and pink bunny ears.  There was one of those yippy little runts of dogs (I can't keep their names in mind, there's probably a psychological term for it), dressed in a tutu with a pink ribbon.  Three little girls in Easter frocks stood round, oohing and aahing.  Everyone loves a well dressed pooch.

The Upper Case Pooch and I paraded from St. Pat's to The Plaza.  The day had turned warm and humid.  The sky was clear blue for once, and Central Park was irresistible.  Days of rain had turned the grass electric green.  The trees had burst into pink blossom, and the tulips stood with perfect posture, awaiting admiration.  The Easter Parade had spilled along the path leading to the zoo, where people rested on park benches and forgot to remove their bunny ears.

It seemed like all of the greater metropolitan New York area had converged on Manhattan.  There were crowds at the carousel, where I stopped to buy refreshments.  Most people were happy today, but there's always a few curmudgeons in a crowd. The hot dog man said, what can I get you.  I tried to say, "Diii-et CCo" but was interrupted by a man with a European accent, barging in front of me and ordering water.  The hot dog man, unfazed, pulled out the Diet Coke, slammed it down hard to make his point and said, Diet Coke for you, and then pulled out the water for the SOB.  It was a small triumph for me, and even though the hot dog man inflated the cost ($3!), I take small triumphs when I can get them.  I sauntered away, flamboyantly opening my Diet Coke while the European man argued with the hot dog man over the price of water.

Pooch and I found a bench near the road that on weekdays rings the park in a necklace of exhaust (it's closed to car traffic on Sundays; that's when it becomes a necklace of weekend warriors).  As I fed him popcorn, a pedicab rolled by blasting "Empire State of Mind" by Alicia Keys:  Noise is always loud, there are sirens all around, and the streets are mean... Concrete jungle where dreams are made of... There's nothing you can't do...Now you're in New York... These streets will make you feel brand new...Big lights will inspire you...Let's hear it for New York, New York, New Yooooork!

It's days like these that erase the occasional discouragement a New Yorker feels.  The hot dog seller who doesn't need to, but is kind in his own manner.  The drag queens in the Easter Parade, and other New Yorkers (though not all-- there is an entrenched stodgy component to this city) who have the guts to be noncomformist.  And the blue sky that defines the color and occasionally makes an appearance.           

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring Eaves Dropping

"You know what I want," she said, "I want beer and dinner."  She was white-haired and alone.  She sat at the table directly across from me.  The waiter had placed his hand on her shoulder and listened to her like he would to his grandmother.  He knew her.  He brought the beer in a lady-like wine glass.  She took a sip, then looked at me and said, "I'm Joan.  What's your name?" Veronica, I replied.  "Where you from?"  she asked.  Los Angeles, I said.  "I went to Glendale College.  I wrote for the college paper.  I worked at Webb department store.  Do you know it?  Probably before your time." I shook my head no, I didn't know it, it was indeed before my time.  She continued, "I had a friend from that Norwegian town up north.  What was the name?"  Solvang, I said.  "Yes, Solvang!" She grew excited and dropped her fork.  The waiter swooped down to pick it up.  Just then thunder exploded outside the restaurant.  A few people got to their feet to take a look.  She said, "I hope you don't have far to go.  I'm just one building away."  Not far, I replied, I will run if I need to. 

But I needn't have run.  The thunder was nature reminding us of her power.  The day had been beautiful, the first real day of spring when one still needs a light coat despite the blue sky gracing us with her presence.   Poochini and I had spent the afternoon in Central Park, where all of Manhattan had turned out.  Especially the French part (Manhattan being an outpost of Europe, as we know).  The language of luuuuuv was everywhere.  People were saying s'il vous plait at the Bethesda Fountain, French kissing at the Boat House Cafe (where I fed Pooch French fries), and smoking in a very Frenchie way at the new food court in Tavern on the Green's former garden, whose exclusivity has been superceded by food on wheels:  Pera (a Turkish food truck), The Chinese Dumpling Truck, a soup truck, and an Italian gelato truck (the economic downturn has done wonders for democratizing food in Central Park).  The wall of people had over-stimulated poor Pooch, who walked across Sheep's Meadow in paroxysms of nervous coughing.  Despite the seizure-like quality of his affliction, I think the outing was good for him.  His nose forgot to run.  Now, after five hours of wandering, he is lying nearly comatose on his little dog bed, the corners of his mouth upturned in a smile of contentment.

But I needed more of an outing.  Maybe it was the sun, but something in me was missing California tonight.  When I miss California, I eat Mexican food.  So I headed to the Mexican restaurant down the street, which is where I met Beer and Dinner Joan.  There are many women like her in my area.  Unlike the Central Park crowd, not many speak French.  In my neighborhood, they speak Spanish, Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew.  The woman who runs the neighborhood drug store is from Riverside, not far from where I grew up.  She came to be on Broadway, and stayed when that didn't work out.  There are others.  For instance, my neighbor Mrs. Katz, who has Alzheimer's and is obsessed with the layout of my apartment (yours is bigger than mine).  There is the old German Jewish woman one floor down from me, who always has her hair done just so, still wears make up, and is completely (snap snap) Put-Together.  When she says hi, I do a double take.  Her accent reminds me of Dad.  Then there was the old Russian lady who lived above me, and whose bumps in the night disappeared a few months ago.  She has been replaced by a young woman whose bumps carry on throughout the day.  I can't say that I like the replacement.  The older neighbors have better stories.  Their bumps are less vindictive.  As if, after so many years of life's ups and downs, they've learned to go easy on their neighbors.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Twilight Walk

This blog is staying in The Heights.  For three months I've been having an affair with Brooklyn, attempting to  leave The Heights for a coop on the other side of the tracks.  For three months I've been trying to convince myself that it's the right thing to do.  But sometimes the right thing falls through, and you pick up the pieces and move on. And sometimes the right thing turns out to be dead wrong.  Suffice it to say that the deal fell through, and I'm nursing bruised feelings toward a coop board that wasted $1000 of my hard earned cash.  It seemed like the place held the key to lower housing costs, more financial security, and freedom to write.  Even though I met all the requirements, the coop board turned me down without explanation in a curt "sorry for the inconvenience" rejection letter.

So tonight, Poochini and I walked at twilight through the Heather Garden.  Despite the lingering chill, spring is trying valiantly to arrive.  The daffodils have reached their zenith, though tonight they stood muted in evening's faded light.  My favorite tree has burst into white, frothy blossoms overnight.  The hyacinths have scented the evening air with sweet honey.  And the forsythia blazed fluorescent yellow in the twilight.  The evening was warm enough to sit on the Linden Terrace, and so we did.  Poochini lay in my lap like a baby.  I rubbed his belly and tried to let my disappointment flow into the night air.  It almost worked.  After all, it's hard to leave Ft. Tryon Park during spring.  Tomorrow, we start our search again with the trusty neighborhood real estate broker Louis (who knows my name and greets me on the street).  Besides, who would want to read about Brooklyn?  That's been done.  And anway, that's where all the wannabe writers live.    

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Incident at 96th Street: The Third Rail

Today while I was returning from a practica at Dardo Galletto studios, the A train arrived just as I reached the platform.  I thanked my lucky stars for having a short wait.  Together with a herd of other New Yorkers I boarded the already full train.  I was soon cursing those same lucky stars.  Full trains and crowded platforms mean one thing:  the train is experiencing delays.  We sat on the platform for twenty minutes.  The conductor remained mute.  He made no announcements explaining the delay, no repeated promises offering hope that the train would soon be on its way. 

Finally, the doors tentatively closed.  They slapped open and closed five more times before they made a final, successful attempt.  The train sputtered to life, chugging slowly beneath the Upper West Side. Around 96th street, it stalled again.  Then it inched past the subway platform at 96th street.  Someone muttered something about a body bag.  I was wearing earplugs (the decibel level in the New York City subway system is above the level deemed safe in some factories).  I pretended not to hear, imagined that the man referred to some other body bag, somewhere else, at some other time.  I had my back to the subway platform.  I didn't try to look.  Everyone in the train remained silent.  No one crooned necks, no one played a peeping tom to someone else's tragedy.  There has been too much bad news lately, in the Middle East, in Japan, with the economy, hell, we might as well throw in China while we're at it.  Personally, I have been dealing with a coop board whose recalcitrance has got me questioning my faith in others.

After 96th street the train made speedy progress to 168th St., where a woman boarded, sat across from me, and asked, how long have you been on this train?  I replied, forever.  I paused to consider whether I should fill in the gap, and then did, someone said there was a body bag.  That broke the silence.  The woman next to me (who had boarded at 125th St.), added, someone jumped, or was pushed, onto the tracks.  I was on the C train.  They made us get off and go upstairs while they turned off the electricity [the third rail carries very high, usually lethal voltage], and retrieved the body.  The woman across from me, shocked and seeking communion in her distress, looked me directly in the eye.  Sometimes words fail me.  I stuttered.  I leaned forward, distracted.  As I did so, an item fell out of the plastic bag I held on my lap.  A man standing near me bent over and picked it up.  Without saying a word, he tapped me on the arm with it, returning it to me.  I had not realized the loss.

That brought back the silence.  Such is life in New York City:  the tragedies and triumphs of life lived in the open,  the fleeting, subterranean sense of community.

Resources for those affected by this, and similar, events:

Samaritans of New York: For those in crisis, for friends and family affected by the suicide of a loved one, and to increase awareness about this issue:
Samaritans 24-hr crisis hotline: 212-673-3000

For those in crisis, or needing more information about suicide and related issues:

To find a counselor or therapist:

To find a suicide or crisis hotline in your state:

National Suicide Hotlines:
1-800-SUICIDE, or 1-800-273-TALK     

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rainy Day Central Park: Best Chicken Noodle Soup in NYC

Today the sky hung low, enveloping New York in a mantle of gray. It was as if the entire city had become smaller, its sounds muted by the clouds. Winter’s bitter teeth no longer tore at the air, though the wind drove raindrops under umbrellas. I decided not to care. I had woken with a cold sore, stomach upset, and an aching head. I wanted to wander. Pooch and I climbed into the car and headed to Central Park. Except for a few hardy souls who smiled in mutual complicity, we had the place to ourselves. Most of the hot dog vendors had gone. The family gospel choir, four children and their father who set up shop inside the arches of the Bethesday arcarde, were there. But they were sheltering from the rain and not singing.

Pooch and I headed to The Boat House. Here's an insider's secret: The Boat House (not the fancy, over-priced section, but the snack bar part), has the best chicken noodle soup in the city. It's made fresh, with big chunks of moist chicken, firm noodles, and thickly cut carrots, celery, and onions. I bought a cup and sat under the small overhang of the bar in the outdoor portion of The Boat House. I delighted in breaking a small rule: in fair weather, Pooch is not allowed in this part of The Boat House. I fed him potato chips while I ate my soup. I gazed at the pond, speckled with raindrops. Live piano music escaped from inside the cafe, harmonizing with the patter of rain on the roof. Birds had spattered the area of the bar where we sat, and uncaring smokers had scattered cigarettes. I decided not to care about either. I had the place and the view to myself.

Some days call for breaking rules and not caring. Especially if a view and the best chicken noodle soup in the city are involved.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bloody Feet

Last Saturday the Dardo Galletto milonga started on the wrong foot.  At the pre-milonga lesson, I was paired with another woman.  She was well past middle age, five inches shorter than me, and round in girth.  During the warm-up at the beginning of the lesson, our legs became immediately entangled.  Contrary to tango rules (any mishap is due to poor leading and not the follower's fault), she blamed me.  You don't know what to do, she complained, you're not following directions.  She was the type who's used to being right.  But these days I know enough about tango not to fall for that trick.  If the lead is wrong, the follower doesn't move.  I'd taken the blame too many times in the past, and I was sick of that game.  I stood still. She grew frustrated, you need to move, she commanded.  I replied, I don't feel the lead.  I don't know which foot you want me on.  Oh, she said, and looked sheepish, realizing she had bossed the wrong person.  I switched partners and avoided her for the remainder of the lesson.

Then the milonga started in earnest.  A man who had come clear from Albany just for the milonga asked me to dance.  He was a fan of the pre-milonga teachers, a Russian man and an Argentine woman.  This new partner had danced most of his life: contemporary, ballet, tango.  The man knew how to move to music, and the connection wth him came effortlessly.

But then the Tango Bruiser appeared.  He was tall and by all appearances looked like he knew how to dance.  I'm tall and often on the lookout for a tall partner.  But from the get-go this man had it wrong.  He began in close embrace before I'd given any indication that it was OK.  I pulled away, he didn't get the hint.  He pulled me closer.  His shirt was damp with sweat.  He led me in what I think were ochos, but he didn't give me space to execute them. He barreled ahead, not attempting to connect with me.  He stepped on my feet, and blamed me for not following him.  I said I don't feel your lead.  His command, you need to follow me, there's nothing wrong with my lead.  It was a one way conversation, and the only way was his.  I danced three tangos with him, and parted with a barely audible thank you (in polite tango-speak this means, I don't want to dance with you anymore, which implies, you dance like shit).

I danced two more tangos before my feet gave out.  Then I sat down, leaned over, pulled up my pant leg to unstrap my shoes, and revealed the damage: a deep gash on the inner side of my left foot.  Blood oozed along my instep.  While dancing with The Bruiser, he had not left enough room for me to swivel in my ochos. I had hooked my left foot with the heel of my opposite shoe.  I looked at my right foot and the second toe was swollen and bleeding from where he had stepped on it.  The next morning, bruises appeared on the top of that same foot.  Had I danced with a man who'd politely apologized for massacring my feet, I might have felt differently.  But this man had blamed me, had made me feel incompetent at the same time that he inflicted pain.  In another context, it's the same controlling behavior that abusers show toward significant others.  In future milongas, I am steering clear of that type.

Tango reveals different aspects of human nature.  Some people always want to be the boss.  So convinced of their infallibility, they don't admit to mistakes.  When things go wrong, they blame others.  It can make a person feel rotten.  Bruised and bloody feet taught me this on the dance floor, but least a tango set is only nine minutes, which minimize the damage.

Personally, I prefer a partner with a mea culpa complex.  But that's another tango lesson, and another story...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Tango, a Field Study

Oh, of course.  Valentine's tango.  Combine a Hallmark holiday with the inherent cheesiness of tango, and you've got a spectator sport.  I like to think that I have come to terms with this holiday.  Rather than wearing black and heading to the nearest cave, I started the evening at Triangulo.  I wanted to see what couples do on a day like this.  Coupledom is a foreign culture to me: the expectations, the drains on one's personal time, the need to have fancy pajamas (oops, negligees), require decoding.  Hence, my field study about the customs of coupledom during times of enforced romance.

 At Triangulo, young couples converged for chocolate covered strawberries, champagne, and a first tango lesson (for most).  Participant observation requires sacrifice, and it was back to cruzadas and ochos for me.  While the couples shuffled and tried to avoid squashing each other, I found an impromptu partner.  The man had a story.  He was alone on Valentine's Day, but wore a wedding ring and looked shellshocked.  I didn't pry.  I danced, and found myself preaching with the zeal of the newly converted:  the key is facing each other, chest to chest, heart to heart, it's how we connect in tango, how I know where you're going (how I avoid getting my toes trampled, I thought).  I encouraged:  you've got it, I wouldn't be able to dance if you were doing it wrong.  It was noblesse oblige from an aspiring tanguera to a novice, but we all need support on Valentine's Day.  Is that one of the rituals?  Is weathering Valentine's Day together (this being the key) necessary for creating the codependene that makes or breaks couples?  I had more work to do.

Next stop:  Highline Ballroom.  There was a live tango band, followed by a live tango show, followed by a live milonga.  In short, the place was hoppin'.  It was dark and filled with couples sitting at tables and eating overpriced Valentine's prix fixe dinners.  Waiters carrying plates filled with red meat pushed through the crowds.  I stood by the bar, observing.  It's what I do.  I was born observing, ask my mother.  She'll say, she [that's me, change of speaker] was only a few days old, just lying there in her crib, not crying, just looking around, observing, and I [that's my Mom] wondered, who is this little person?  I [that's me, another change of speaker] am the last of five kids, and spent my childhood observing the older ones.  It was easier than talking over them (darn near impossible).

At Highline, there were men in red shirts, men in ties, men dressed to impress.  Their women wore tight, tight dresses, teetered on high, high heels, and draped arms around their men, claiming their territory.  There were old couples, talking comfortably without the pressure to fill in silences.  There were new couples, twittering and nervous.  There was an arguing couple, who left early, to my relief, and vacated a table where I could sit and rest my feet.  There was a self absorbed couple, each member preening and staring in the opposite direction, checking out the crowd checking out them.  There were well-matched couples, you could see it in their relaxed smiles.  And there was Media Noche, the Gibson Girl burlesque dancer who undressed sinuously on stage.  She had a petit hourglass frame.  When she reached the tiny glittery bits pasted to her tiny special bits, the men's eyes popped.  The women looked the other way.  I made note:  another Valentine's ritual.  Adversity again, either it makes you or breaks you.

After the stage show the place cleared out fast.  It was Monday night, and most of the crowd was eager to get home to complete the Valentine's ritual, for which the earlier evening had been a mere precursor.  That's when the milonga started.  The tangueros came out of the woodwork, and I danced.  I did boleos, ganchos, embellishments, and even one dip.  At some point during a Piazzolla piece, I forgot about participant observation and became part of Valentine's Day.  And perhaps that's the Valentine's message, that the rituals aren't just for couples.  That, taken less seriously, the day is about partipating in love and all its different forms.  Pink really is a pretty color, and hearts are kind of cool shapes.

As I left the milonga, a man handed me a long stemmed red rose.  I held it in my lap during the hour long subway ride home.  I was alone, but I wasn't the only one.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


For over a year I have intended to write about Rufus.  But Rufus is complicated. The real Rufus hides under a white poofy poodl-ish exterior.  Poochini and I have tried to befriend Rufus.  But we started on the wrong foot from day one.  I know I'm biased, but Rufus started the whole thing.  The first time they met Poochini was still halfway down the block when Rufus bared his teeth and went haywire, the frizz on his back standing on end.  These days Poochini and I have to cross the street when we spot Rufus. 

His owner knows Rufus is difficult when it comes to us.  She's on guard.  Usually she spots us and reigns in Rufus before he's even on our radar screen.  I'll admit that Poochini isn't entirely innocent.  There was that episode, while he was on all those steroids for his lung problems, when we passed the elevator door just as Rufus was exiting.  That's when Poochini went into Cujo mode and cornered Rufus.  But everyone deserves a second chance, and I don't think a little 'roid rage should be held against us.  After all, it was medication induced and not indicative of Poochini's true character. 

Anyway, the animosity between Poochini and Rufus existed long before Poochini's temporary insanity.  I have tried to figure it out, and it comes down to this:  just like humans, dogs can't control who likes them and who doesn't.  There's that intangible gestalt.  You know what I'm talking about.  When someone pisses you off from day one, there's no getting around the fact that you're never gonna be friends.  Even if Poochini is being bullied by a white fuzzball, I can be thankful that the dog world is simpler than ours.  I don't have to explain to Poochini that Rufus not liking him has nothing to do with an inherent flaw of Poochini's, and everything to do with Rufus' own issues.  Instead, the two accept each other as mortal enemies and get on with life.  Which is a helluva lot less confusing than pretending to be friends when you're not.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Super Heros!

Recently I have noticed an inordinate number of super heros on the streets of Washington Heights.  Blame it on the snowy weather (super heros come out in full force when their powers are needed), but there are capes and masks everwhere.  Just this morning I passed the Lone Ranger:  a little boy dressed from head to toe in royal blue (blue poofy snow jacket, blue cowboy boots, blue cowboy hat decorated squarely in the front with a red star).  Where was Tonto in this urban winter wonderland?  At the pharmacy after work today, I passed a more sinister super hero:  an older boy staring solemnly from behind a Darth Vader mask (there were heavy breathing and sinus problems involved I'm sure of it-- his mother was buying decongestant). 

Walking Poochini past the mine field of yellow and brown mysteriosos that dot the glaciers near the sidewalk, I passed two less obvious super heros:  a father and his pre-teen son throwing snow balls (well, now iceballs since temperatures have plummeted, turning slush to ice).  You'll never get me, the boy yelled. Hah, you'll see, the father called back as he threw an iceball far and above the boy's head.  The boy ran away laughing, knowing that he would soon best his father in other things. 

There are inconspicous super heros:  the man who helped me dig my car out from more than a foot of snow.  The superintendents who chip away at the ice that encrust fire hydrants, and who clear the sidewalks for the rest of us.  All of New York is awaiting the garbage collector super heros, whose services have been interrupted due to winter storms.  Hopefully they will soon come:  the garbage has piled to higher than waist level.

Then there is my personal super hero, Poochini, who leaps for joy when I open the door upon returning from a long work day.  He is the 20 lb bundle of energy with the Napoleonic complex, who doesn't realize his size and chases after the 150 pound Cane Corso (Caesar Augustus, Augie to friends), in the dog park.  Augie leaps in fright, surprised by Poochini's audacity.  Poochini is the super hero who sometimes won't let me write, squirming on the couch for my attention, reminding me to take a break.

We all need super heros now and then.  Sometimes, we forget where to look for them.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Lately I have been thinking about trust.  A few Sundays ago, as I walked past St.Francis Cabrini chapel, I passed a father and his daughter.  The father, hiply dressed in jeans and an urban khaki jacket, held his daughter's hand.  She was a fiesta of pink:  pink frills peaked out from beneath a pink poofy winter jacket; pink leggings stretched along pudgy three year old legs that were planted in pink Barbie sneakers.  From beneath his baseball cap the father said, We have to trust each other.  The little girl looked at the yellow ice where a dog had urinated near the sidewalk.  I trust you, the father said, do you trust me?  The girl didn't answer.  The father asked again, we need to trust each other, do you trust me?  The girl nodded, OK, Daddy, she said.

Learning how to trust at such an early age, I thought, bodes well for a little girl's future.  But what sparked the father's request?  Fear of future betrayal?

That got me thinking.  Betrayals of trust come in different shapes and sizes.  There are the small daily betrayals, ones that often go unnoticed and rightly so (they would occupy too much mental energy):  the unanswered emails, the friend who cancels plans at the last minute, or the neighbor who throws away errant socks rather than laying them on the laundry table to await retrieval by its owner.  There are the betrayals to self:  when, lacking faith in ourselves, we do the opposite of our intentions.  I know this from dance:  when I don't trust my Self and my own body, I fall down.  Then there are the more significant betrayals:  the co-worker who undermines our work by secreting information and keeping us out of the loop; the friend who, thinking us unaware, makes a pass at a boyfriend; the family member who, not having all the information, judges rather than understands.  There are the larger betrayals still: lies, infidelity, abuse.  Then there are the betrayals that tear at the fabric of society:  murder, rape, war.

Society depends on trust.  Right now, I'm thinking about making a large purchase, and am dependent on trusting a complete stranger for legal and other matters.  Every time I drive my car, I'm trusting my mechanic and the factory workers before him.  For adults not clothed in frilly pink and not holding the hand of a hip urban father, trust can be confusing.

Hannah Arendt wrote that trust begins with forgiveness.  But forgiveness doesn't come easily.  It ebbs and flows.  It takes baby steps, and sometimes falls down.  There are different types of forgiveness, and some of them begin with little things:  the man who picks up our winter gloves when we hurriedly stand to exit the subway; the neighbor who takes our laundry out of the dryer and folds it rather than dumping it on top to become wrinkled;  the friend who isn't very interested in the movie we've been dying to see, but goes anyway just to keep us company.  For the larger betrayals, partial forgiveness may be the only kind possible.  But for the smaller ones, the kindnesses of daily life collect into a patchwork of forgiveness, a re-configuration of trust.

That's what I think today, but I haven't made my purchase yet.  Stay tuned for details...      

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cross-Cultural Bling Bling: Russia and Southern California

For the last three weeks this blog has been on hiatus while I traveled and visited family, first in Russia and then in Southern California.  The following somewhat atypical post (for this blog) results from those travels.

Walking up Tverskaya Street (because in Russia life is hard, hard, hard, and one walks up, up, up, always up, never down, a street), the flashbacks of Rodeo Drive hit suddenly and without warning.  Slip sliding along the snow and ice, the thermometer reading ten degrees below zero, the winter night lights up with the glitz of haute couture, the shiny black Mercedes parked in front of the new Marriott Tverskaya, the abundant window displays at TSUM (rhymes with zoom, like the Russian nouveau riche moving at warp speed), the Bolshoi (Nutcracker tickets starting at $700!), brooding under renovation but glowing with promise.  On the metro, I sit next to an old, mustachioed, tight-lipped Muscovite, her arms folded resolutely across an ample frame wrapped in matching fur coat and comrade hat, both made of beige ermine.  These new fangled comrade hats also come in cashmere.  In GUM on the edge of Red Square, I rest my feet outside Accessorize, the only store where I can afford a purchase.  In St. Petersburg, I barely set foot in Gostiny Dvor, one of the world's first indoor shopping malls dating from 1785 and where these days Dolce & Gabbana vies for attention with Sonia Rykiel.  Across the street, old women beg in sixteen degree below zero temperatures outside the doors of Kazan Cathedral.

Four days in Moscow, six in St. Petersburg.  Then I head to the old Soviet style domestic airport, where I wait in a barely heated pre-departure area.  A group of Chinese workers huddles together.  A troup of Russian soldiers marches onto a flight headed to Kaliningrad on the Baltic.  My gate is changed.  I can't ask where.  The signs are in cyrillic, the announcements in Russian.  A tall, handsome, sharply dressed Central Asian shows up.  He speaks good English, is on my flight to Moscow, and helps me find it.  To board, we walk outside through blowing snow and upstairs to the plane, which takes off without delay.  At Moscow International Airport, trying to help me find my connecting flight, the Central Asian reveals never having traveled internationally.  How did he learn such good English?

I fly Aeroflot (barely edible food) back to NYC, then a 2 hour subway ride to my apartment, home at 10 PM, unpack heavy Russia-oriented clothes, re-pack Southern-California oriented clothes, up at 3.30 AM, another 2 hr subway ride, a lay-over in Las Vegas, land in Long Beach, California, where de-boarding is delayed 20 minutes by rain, then a 3 hour car ride (traffic delays) to my family in Rialto.  How to explain the disconnect between these two worlds? I am in a sleep-deprived time warp.

I sleep for two days.  The temperature is fifty degrees *above* zero (sixty degrees warmer than in Russia). In my haste, I have not packed enough warm clothes, and wear the same sweat shirt day after day (I wash it twice).  Family members arrive for Christmas, bringing more food than fits on the table.   My nieces, 10 and 6 years, receive an all-pink Barbi McMansion, with working elevator, jacuzzi tub (with sounds of rushing water), and chandeliers.  It is the type of plaything my sister and I had dreamed of having as children.  We wait with anticipation for the girls to unwrap it, secretly wishing for our turn.  I take my 10 year old niece shopping at Victoria Gardens, an outside mall designed to look like the streets of East Coast cities.  Our day stops at Clare's, where she weaves amongst glitter and sparkle, her eyes gleeful.

Southern California is known for bling bling.  Russia, in the age of the czars, used to be.  These days, bling bling, for those who can afford it, is resurgent in Russia.  While I can't speak for bling bling of the Rodeo sort, it seems to me that in Southern California bling bling of the Clare's sort, and especially of the sort that makes little girls happy, is hanging on.  And I don't see anything wrong with that.

One thing is true: when denied, bling bling comes back with a vengeance.  Best to have a moderate, steady supply of it to avoid starvation and keep one's appetite at bay.