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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Afternoon at the Opera

Just attended one of those wonderful HD transmissions in my local Regal theater. These originate at the Saturday matinee of the Metropolitan Opera’s "Aida."

“Met at the Movies” is a godsend to lots of us: elderly fans and to those who’d like to introduce kids to this peculiar Western art form, and folks like me who don’t have a zillion dollars for Trip to NYC + A Good Seat. I hope it raises some money for the Met, too, during this economic fall over the cliff we’ve just passed through.

It’s not only a real treat to see/hear the opera through the privileged eyes of cameras, but to get the commentary from the elegant Diva Renee Fleming. This week, she took us backstage to see fascinating things we’d never get a look at otherwise, like the formidable machinery that moves huge sets and multi-level stages in a few minutes, while stage hands, focused as any pit crew, swarm everywhere.

As the performance is broadcast live, all the glitches are there, too, like this week’s incident where the Prima Donna had to leap across a rapidly opening gap between two stages. Verdi Prima Donnas are not generally made for jumping, so her stumble when she landed elicited a gasp of real fear from the audience who really wanted her to survive to sing the last two acts.

When I was a kid, my mother spent her winter Saturday afternoons stretched on her bed with a cocker spaniel and a murder mystery. She chain-smoked and listened to the Metropolitan Opera’s radio broadcast. We managed to pick it up in the Finger Lakes, although the nearest station that carried it was in Toronto.

Grand Opera became the sonic background to many a snowy, freezing afternoon of childhood. I know this makes me a little strange, but the emotional depth and absolute beauty of operatic music became imprinted on my brain.

Yesterday, I sat in the theater, listening to the familiar score of "Aida" and remembered all sorts of things, like me and my best friend, Gay, dressing up and dancing to this music. A melancholy rush through time into a dark, cold Skaneateles afternoon...

Snow piled up outside, and the two of us, all of ten or eleven, played at ballet and make-believe, putting the needle back on the "Aida Highlights" record again and again. We danced in tights and undershirts, wearing junk jewelry we imagined was exotic, long polyester scarves and odds and ends from the costume box her clever seamstress mother maintained. For a few hours, we were Temple Priestesses or the Princess Amneris' dancing girls, not just kids in a small upstate town.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Out All Night With the Grand Marquis

This has become a catch phrase in our house, applied to people who have been out all night partying—perhaps in scandalous ways. We got it from an advertisement, which I don’t think was ever shown on this side of the Atlantic. It featured a long skit, a divorce trial with a dishy, elegant brunette on the stand. The prosecution lawyer declaims: "She was out all night with the Grand Marquis,” eliciting a gasp from a packed courtroom. The camera pans in on the front row of spectators, and we see a debauched 18th Century aristocrat, silken legs, heels, make-up, wig and all. Next, there is a fast cut to the latest Grand Marquis—a smooth, sleek, ultimately made-in-Detriot automobile—with the brunette at the wheel, driving fast. A voice over passionately tells us all about the car's many new, luxury features.

We thought it was a very clever ad. Me particularly, with my 18th Century hang-up.

Oddly, this is my preamble to another cat story. As you may know, we’ve acquired another. (Actually, he acquired us.) He decided to live here during the winter about two years ago, after searching the neighborhood for an amenable house with an attentive kitty feeder/doorperson. My husband and I proved to fit his requirements to a T. One or the other of us, we’re up and down all night, turning on lights and wandering around at 1 a.m., at 3 a.m., at 4, and maybe 5 o’clock, too. As we are already awake, we can certainly open doors if his Lordship wants to come in during the night for a munchie, a pat, or just to crash on the carpet behind the speaker for a few hours. When he stays out all night, and comes in late mornings, he looks as if he’s really been out with the original Grand Marquis—the old, depraved 18th one—at some drunken hell-fire club.

His kitty eyes are blurry and rheumy, and a long ago injury shows up in a limp which he doesn’t display when he’s fresh out of the sack. He gives us a perfunctory leg rub, then makes a few face-first slams into the crunchie bowl to bolt a few down. Then he’s off to the nearest couch, bed, or warm chair to sleep on his back and drool for the next six hours.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bookcases I've Loved

My mother had a charismatic English friend named Rosemary, whose home we visited during several school holidays. She lived in an rambling old stone house in the evocatively named small and ancient village of Shipton-Under-Wychwood.

In memory, my image of Rosemary has merged with Julia Child’s. Mother’s friend was a tall, fair, big-boned Englishwoman, forever engaged in day long sessions with French recipe books, standing in an enormous dim kitchen filled with arcane culinary devices and dangling copper pans. Her children were much younger than I, so they weren’t very interesting to me, a solitary teen. She also kept 6 or 7 (they milled in a group, so it was tough to count how many there actually were) long-haired Dachshunds, a breed of dog I’d never met before. They were charming dogs who liked to lie in heaps on the couch, like a fluffy, smiling pile of black and tan pillows.

Rosemary had terrific bookcases, which I was turned loose upon while she and Mom sipped sherry in the kitchen. They were full of historical novels from the 30’s and 40’s—some earlier. Here were Norah Lofts and Elizabeth Goudge with their mystical and yet oh-so-grisly- vision of the romantic past. Between those covers I discovered a burning love for the genre, and learned what a mesmerizing time travel experience a good writer can deliver. The most exotic of all the books Rosemary owned were the ones by Joan Grant: “Winged Pharoah,” and “Lord of the Horizon.” Mrs. Grant always said her “novels” were, in fact, recalled past lives. So brilliantly realized are these books that they infected me. I had dreams about them for years. They also kindled a keen interest in topics which were considered totally wacko in the ‘50’s, but are now Cable TV staples: past lives, auras, astral projection, Egyptian gods and Pharoahs, Atlantis, and so on.

Rosemary was also an expert in all these new and fascinating topics, and seemed to like to talk to me. After a few hours, I found I could enter the kitchen and talk with her about these astonishing things I’d read. The ladies, having imbibed several glasses of sherry and had their grown-up chat, were quite welcoming, even Mom, who was proud of my geekiness. I remember sitting on a stool in that imperfectly lighted kitchen, watching Rosemary turn a perfectly delicious bird into a pate, which to my kid taste buds didn’t taste half as good as plain turkey. Meanwhile, ever more dishes piled into the big sink. Spoons and glittering knives of many sizes and shapes littered the counter. The dachshunds were everywhere underfoot, begging for thrown treats and getting them, their long ears dragging across a slate floor with an authentically medieval patina of grease.