Friday, September 24, 2010

Lost in New York City

Part of this week, I have been focusing a great deal of my attention on a dear aunt. She lives in the state of New York, and this past Sunday she fell and broke her hip. She is now on the road to recovery, having had surgery, but for a few days, she was in pain waiting for treatment. Fortunately, she has a circle of wonderful friends who have stayed with her during trying hours.

But all my thinking about her caused me to recall various times she has been a marvelous force in my life. For example, part of my love of classical music derives from time spent with my aunt. When I was 8, she took me to hear the Harrisburg Symphony perform in the Forum Building. The auditorium there has the most marvelous ceiling--a representation of the constellations and a suspended chandelier depicting the solar system. I would sit, gazing up at this ceiling while strains of Beethoven's 7th filled my ears. Who wouldn't be thunderstruck with the majesty of music?

I thought of another time I visited my aunt. By then, she was living in New York City, having gone there in the mid-1950s. She took me to the Lincoln Center to see the 1976 revival production of Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera. This particular production starred Raúl Juliá, in his heyday as a performer. He was lusciously and villainously sexy as Mack, (see photo at left).

But, the trip to visit my aunt that I remembered with the most clarity was one where I did NOT get to see her.

While I was a college undergrad, a group from a music class at my college went to New York City to see an opera at the old Met. The part time music teacher was an opera buff, and a particular fan and friend of Zinka Milanov. She was past her prime as a soprano when we went to see her as Desdemona in Verdi's Otello.

Since the students who went along on this trip had some time before the opera performance, we all decided to see New York City. Some students planned to go to Radio City Music Hall, but I thought that far too touristy. I decided I was going to visit my aunt, who had an apartment near Columbia University. Somehow, I talked a fellow student into going along with me.

We headed off, riding the subway north. I don't remember the exact address of my aunt's apartment now, but at the time I knew it, and calculated that we needed to get off at whatever street. Since her street number was somewhere in between subway stops, I chose the further point to exit. My companion and I would simply hop on a bus and ride back toward the street where my aunt lived.

Only, when we got off the subway and on the bus, we noticed that we were the only white folk around. We were in the middle of Harlem. Just before the Harlem riot of 1964. When we exited the bus, we discovered that we were at the bottom of the hill at Morningside Heights, and my aunt's apartment was on the other side of the hill. The other side of an iron fence. With locked gates. Somehow, after we climbed the hill, we managed to squeeze through the bars of the fence.

When we got to my aunt's apartment, she was not home. Naturally, I had not thought to TELL her I would be in NYC and could visit. I left a note for her. I learned that after she read the note, she was very upset that I had been so naive.

When I had recent contact (after a college class reunion) with my traveling compatriot, I asked he recalled our time LOST IN NEW YORK CITY. Oh, yes, did he remember.

Herewith his recollection:

I do remember looking for your aunt's apartment during our trip to New York City with Ken (the music teacher who had organized the field trip.) It's been over 40 years since I read The Catcher In The Rye, but I've always considered that my "Holden Caulfield experience". The man sitting beside me at the opera put his hand on my leg several times (that was a new experience for a young man from Lebanon County, Pennsylvania) and after the opera we went back stage to visit with Ken's favorite soprano -- Zinka Milanov.
When Zinka saw Ken she grabbed him, gave him a big hug, and buried his face between her ample breasts.

Zinka shown at right

So, for my dear aunt, best wishes for a speedy recovery. And many thanks for memories, including one where I didn't get to visit!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Traveling Wisdom

My husband and I got behind a white van the other day. Perhaps you have deduced that I am a bumper sticker reader. Anyway, this van had on its bumper three somewhat puzzling stickers.

Now, I am not one to put stickers on my bumper. Oh, there are some sentiments that I could live with. Several years back, I was taken with and amused by the one that said "Visualize whirled peas." There's a current one I like: "God bless the whole world; no exceptions." There are also humorous ones I have been drawn to: "Support the right to arm bears."

But I have never found one that I would want PERMANENTLY on my bumper.

Not sure what the guy in the white van had in mind. Here are his three choices:


(Was he Catholic? or did he have a Jewish mother? no, that would be GUILT, not suffer.)


(Hmmm--he was perhaps a stone cutter? a quarryman? (wasn't that what the Beatles were originally called?)

And finally:


Oh, advice to the country! Now I get it. I think.

At any rate--onward. . .through the fog.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Art of Giving

On the occasion of his retirement, my husband received various gifts. Of course, each of the gifts was thoughtful, but he was not able to enjoy all of them to the fullest. One of the gifts was for two nights at a local bed and breakfast. Frankly, I am not sure why someone thought we would want to drive a few miles from our house to sleep in another house--but someone did.

We have had a busy year, what with a wedding last October, and a few other things, so we didn't get around to using the gift certificate.

When we called recently to inquire about it, we learned the bed and breakfast had been sold. In fact, in a month the new owner will take over, and will not use the place as a bed and breakfast.

Somewhat chagrined, we asked if we could at least come for a breakfast. Well, the answer was yes, so last week we traveled a few miles for a wonderful breakfast. Then we got a tour of the place. Herewith a peek inside.

The stunning stone house had walls at least a foot thick, with deep windows. It is situated right along a small creek.

The table all set for breakfast. I don't know about you, but I don't usually have a silver candelabra set for breakfast.

Love the chandelier hanging from the skylight three stories up!

And the soft rosy glow of the light next to the staircase.

This is a holder for a wine bottle.

Not sure if this is a tea service, a coffee stack, or pots du creme.

The front entrance hall with a painted floor.

One of the bedrooms. Every bedroom is different. Note the "dollhouse"? That's actually where the television set is concealed.

Another bedroom with a really HIGH bed.

And, one of the bathrooms. Every bedroom had its own bathroom, also each individually decorated.

This bedroom was a favorite of a prior owner--love the faux tropical theme.

This bedroom with light and airy.

Breakfast was smashingly good. The tour of the bed and breakfast most interesting. The new owner was there, and she conducted the tour of the place. She informed us that when she takes over in a month, almost all the furniture will be sold at auction. She thought some of the pieces too large, too high maintenance, too unsuitable for what she envisioned. So we were seeing the place as it will soon no longer be.
All in all, even though the gift was well-intentioned, it failed. So, what is the art of giving. Some people have the knack of giving the perfect gift (my daughter is one such person.)
First, I would suggest, know the person to whom you are giving the gift. Selecting a gift that is misdirected is almost like not giving a gift at all. Second, don't pick something just because YOU like it--make sure the receiver will like it too. This one is hard--I am reminded of a time I bought a sweater for my dear departed grandmother. I picked a red sweater, because I thought she would look great in red. But she never wore it. When I asked her why, she said--I don't like red.
I suspect you could add your own suggestions for the art of giving.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

License to Kill?

I had to run a brief errand today, and, as luck would have it, I got behind a red pickup truck. I confess to being curious about the various stickers people choose to slather all over their vehicles, so when I saw a sticker on this truck, I tried to read it.

Herewith a photo of the truck in front of me.

The sticker that roused my curiosity is the one encircled in red.

Here's what is was (image obtained from the Internet):

When I went looking for a copy on the Internet, one site that advertises the availability of these stickers warns you NOT to copy it. Excuse me? You have this most odious sticker that you are selling, and you tell ME not to copy it.

The site goes on to give this promo:

Get your terrorist hunting license now to bag your very own terrorist trophy. Show your support for democracy, help protect our freedom and support our troops. Terrorist Hunting Permits are available. . .

Oh, my.

So, I got to thinking. I wondered if I offered the possessor of such a "license" the opportunity to use his "license" on one of two individuals, who would he choose.
Candidate # 1

A young man, blond hair, blue eyes. Enlisted in the U.S. Army, enjoyed working with computers. Lived with his grandfather, after his parents divorced. Awarded the Bronze Star; received an honorable discharge from the Army. Was a Christian. Thought the government is tyrannical. Wrote extensively about government excesses.
Candidate # 2

A young man, reddish hair, blue eyes. When he was 14, his father died. While in college, joined a secret organization. Dabbled in politics in his youth. Was a skeptic, though he spoke admiringly of Muslims. Took a copy of the New Testament and cut out all the things he did not think were authentic. Thought the government is tyrannical. Wrote extensively about government excesses.

Candidate # 3

A young man, with a ruddy complexion. As a teenager got involved in a major fight and killed a local hero. Got involved in politics very early in his life. Actively involved in overthrowing the government. Was something of an outlaw, on the run while being pursued by authorities. Was deeply religious. Had multiple wives.

OK--which one of these three candidates is the terrorist?

The word "terrorist" has come to mean something other than what the definition would suggest-- a person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism. That simple definition is not what people are thinking of when they use the word today. I suspect the pickup truck driver probably means Iraqis, or Afghanis, or Muslims when he (or she) slaps the sticker on the back window. I would define a terrorist as someone who USES terror--not a person of any particular nationality, or even religion.

Oh, and I would NOT use the same tactic against them, so I would revoke that "license."

So, which one--Candidate 1 or Candidate 2 or Candidate 3--would the pickup driver be out to get. Which do you think?

In a short while, I will reveal their identities, or, if you know, go ahead and state who they are.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Graduate

When we got Ziva, our new dog, we determined to "do things right" with this sweet puppy. We vowed to be good people parents, not succumbing to some of the bad habits we had previously given in to with Tipper.

Among other things, we thought it would be a good idea to take her to obedience class. So, we signed up at our local P*t Sm*rt store for classes. The instructor was a kindly older German woman named (Re)gina. She told us to call her Gina. She spoke with something of an accent, which only gave her instructions the sound of COMMAND as she put us through our paces.

The first week, there were about ten dogs and owners in attendance. One dog was a small pit bull who could not/would not stop barking. Gina took a metal water dish and kept dropping it next to the dog--clang, clang. The dog would startle, stop barking for a bit, then resume barking. There was a sweet looking border collie named Dakota that was so shy and freaked by all the people that she would not look at anyone. She kept her head tucked in next to her person.

Then there were Murphy, a labradoodle who looked for all the world like a big doofy puppy, and Brook, a sweet retriever mix. And of course Ziva. These three dogs were the "big" dogs of the group.
Brook and Murphy
The second week of class we missed because of Ziva's little medical episode. When I called Gina to tell her we would not be there, she said, no problem. Also, she was dividing the class into two groups; would we come next week at 8 p.m. Sure.

So the third week, we went, and found that it was just the three big dogs. Actually, the pit bull was supposed to be there too, but the owner never came back. Maybe he liked having recalcitrant perpetually barking dog.

Each week, the class would begin with a mad tumble of dogs. All three mixing it up, with Brook and Ziva especially liking (and licking) each other. Ziva and Brook seemed to be best friends. Then it was down to business--sort of.

The training focused on SIT, DOWN, STAY, COME, puppy push ups (sit, down, sit again), and WAIT. The difference between "stay" and "wait" is basically that "stay" requires duration, distance, and distraction. You get your dog to sit or lie, you back up to put some distance between you; then you hold for 15 seconds or so, then go back and release the dog. Distraction means you should be able to have the dog stay, even if you walk around it or some other distraction. "Wait" is you walking away from the dog, then calling her to come to you. Frankly, a fine distinction, but maybe there is a point to it.

Finally, there was one magic command that Gina wanted everyone to learn and practice. TOUCH. When you are some distance from the dog, and you want her to come to you, raise your hand overhead, waving, and yell ZIVA, TOUCH. The dog comes running, you grab her collar or leash, say "good touch" and give a food reward. If you imprint this sequence enough, you should be able to use it to bring your dog back to you, if for some reason she is getting away from you, or about to be in danger.
Ziva receiving instructions

Let's just say that Ziva was an easily distracted pupil. Oh, look, there are bunnies in the cage over there. Oh, there's a customer, maybe he wants to pet me. Oh, another dog, I should go say hello. She reminded me of the dog in the movie UP--squirrel! If you have seen it, you know what I mean.

We would go through the paces, she would sort of do each step. She got very good at SIT, and DOWN. OK with puppy push-ups. STAY--well, sort of. For a few seconds. COME--no problem. WAIT--forget it. TOUCH--she was great with that, and we have even used it a few times at home.

The next to last class, when she was supposed to go through ALL the steps, she would not do it. She basically refused every command. Gina was very understanding. Oh, it's the border collie in her. RIGHT. All I see in Ziva is retriever. Her mother was reputed to be a golden retriever., But my suspicion is her mother was a yellow labrador retriever. And, labs can be rascals--loving, yes, but rascals.

So this week was graduation. But, first, there was the final exam. Gina walked around dropping a label on the floor with each step. My heart sank--she (Ziva) had been so bad the previous week. But, like some human students I have known, Ziva seemed to be absorbing even when she wasn't performing.

The final exam

She went from SIT, to DOWN,STAY, and COME. She even did puppy push-ups. Then WAIT--a bit of trouble with that. But she enthusiastically ran to me for TOUCH. In fact, as each dog owner would say TOUCH, Ziva was ready to run to them.

She passed. And got her certificate to prove it. I don't think she's a natural student, but at least we both survived our training.

The graduate!


P. S. Dakota, the sweet border collie, completely came out of her shell, and was very friendly. Another successful graduate.