Saturday, December 31, 2016

Thirty-five Hours to Colombo

business time
As far as traveling for 35 hours straight hours goes, it wasn't that bad. I left Sacramento at 7am on a Tuesday and arrived in Colombo a couple of days later on Thursday morning. I had cashed in 80k miles for a business class ticket, and that made the two longest legs (Seattle to Frankfurt; Frankfurt to Chennai) bearable - seats that reclined all the way flat, a nice big screen for movies, and decent food. Then came the 5+ hour layover in Chennai, India (note to self: avoid long layovers in Chennai, India) in what can only be described as hell's waiting room. Because we landed just after midnight and the Air India counter didn't open until 3:30am, and you need a visa to enter
Hell's waiting room
India, and about 15 of us didn't have visas, and you need 'clearance' (like a visa or a boarding pass) to get past security to get to the terminal, the group of us connecting to Colombo were herded into a holding area to wait. And wait. AND WAIT. We waited for over three hours for the airline reps to return, take our passports, return with boarding passes, escort us through security (major pat-down; sensing a threat, they confiscated my tiny manicure scissors), then trotted us through the underbelly of the airport to "identify our luggage," this involved a crazy jaunt down an elevator, through cement hallways, into a giant, hot basement where the belts for the luggage transfers take place. We pointed out our checked bags, which then were rolled away to our next flight, returned from the under-belly, were patted down AGAIN -- this time ladies went into a small, windowless, cinder-block room which looked like a good place to kill someone, and we were finally allowed into the airport terminal around 5:30am, just in time to board the short flight to Colombo at 6:15.

But that's what it takes to get here and you gotta just roll with it. Landed in the morning in time to hit commuter traffic into town, and an hour later arrived at my late grandparents/current brother's house on De Fonseka Road - site of very early childhood memories and a very nice guest room. Nilan had arrived a couple of days earlier from Christmas in Bangkok and it was a joy to unpack and take a shower. I took a short nap and then ended staying up until 3am working, slept for a couple more hours until 7am the next morning when Nilan and I went to the family coconut estate to visit relatives there. Got back around 7pm last night, fell asleep for about five hours, woke up around 1am, got up at 9am, and am hoping I can stay awake until midnight tonight, since it's New Year's Eve.
the family business
 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

You take the subway to 57th Street.

After the New Yorker Festival last month, I know I said I wasn't coming back to New York for a while, but I meant after this weekend. Because I'm back in New York. As I did once before, I impulse-bought two tickets to something and figured I'd make a plan later. Well, later came and flights were booked and my pal Shelagh decided to come with me and last night we saw Marc Maron live at Carnegie Hall. I've been listening to his podcasts for a couple of years and I remember his stand up from a few decades ago, and I just decided I wanted to come and see him. Then a few weeks ago, I was looking at the Carnegie Hall website for no real reason, and I saw that Tig Notaro, whom I love (and whom I met once, but that's a different story) was doing a show at Carnegie Hall the night after Marc, there were still tickets available so I bought two of those too. Marc's show last night was great, he's a pro. It was tight and funny and smart. These are by no means the highlights, but a few things he said...

"Hillary Clinton... criminal, or nice older lady who doesn't understand her phone?"
"I think we all adapted too quickly to Trader Joe's." (there was a whole riff on Trader Joe's which I loved, but that's the line that struck me)
Re: a third party contender, or Bernie supporters voting for an independent candidate in protest, "don't be idiots, there IS NO THIRD PARTY. It was the Cubs and the Indians in the World Series, there wasn't anyone there going, 'nope, I'm going with the Yankees.'"

Anyway, it was a great show.

But tonight - Tig... well. There's something about Tig. We all know it. And there she was, on the stage, being her Tiggiest, and she was great. Then at end of her set, things got a little odd; she went on this weird jag about the Indigo Girls (what?) She said that as a "present" to us, the audience, the show was going to close with a performance by the Indigo Girls. Ok. And then she announced them and left the stage, and the crowd cheered, and... nothing. She came back out and sheepishly said there was a delay, but they were here... and she did this about five times. She bantered with the audience about whether or not the Indigo Gilrs were really coming out, then announced them, left the stage, crowd cheered, and nothing. Over and over, and it just seemed like a weird 'bit' which was frankly getting a little old, until the time she did it and Amy and Emily walked on the stage, guitars in hand, and launched into Closer to Fine. Crowd went wild. They played five songs, the big hits, Tig came back and sat on the stage at their feet and listened with us. They closed with Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters...

"And I thank the Lord for people I have found. I thank the Lord for people I have found."

I don't know when I'll be back in New York. Maybe not for a few years; maybe next week.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

About Alice


Last night was my last New Yorker Festival event - for a while, I think. It was a staged reading of Calvin Trillin's book, About Alice, which was published in 2006, five years after Alice, Calvin's wife of 36 years, had died. The book is a love letter to her... to her whole life, really. It paid tribute to the young woman she had been before he met her, to the friend she had been to countless people - whether they were close friends or 'the friend of the sister of the woman we met at that party' who had cancer and whom Alice felt would get better medical care if she made a few calls, to the wife she had been to a man who clearly adored her, and a tribute as well to the mother she had been to her two daughters. Alice was diagnosed with lung cancer (both her parents were heavy smokers) in 1981 when she was 43. She was given a 10% chance of surviving, she lived 24 more years. All those years later, when she thought her cancer had resurfaced, it was instead heart disease which took her life. The radiations treatments she'd endured to treat her cancer had weakened her heart; she died from the cure, not the disease. By then, her two daughters were grown and married, and she said that she had imparted to them all the wisdom she had to give; she said it would be ok to die then, where it most certainly would not have been had she not survived the initial diagnosis when her children where small.

The reading was done by Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht. They sat on the stage with the script which was almost entirely derived from the prose of the book, and occasionally interacted with one another in short vignettes of dialogue. Calvin Trillin was in the front row, flanked by his two daughters, and I was in the second row almost directly behind him. There were laughs in the story, certainly, but as the performance concluded and this treatise of undying love headed toward its end, I saw Mr. Trillin repeatedly wipe his eyes; and when Tony Shalhoub stood to take his bow and then gestured toward Mr. Trillin to stand and take his, I saw the tears fall from his face and hit the carpet.

Alice has been referred to as Calvin Trillin's 'muse' and that seems an apt description. He has said that he wrote to impress Alice, and given the number of awards and accolades he's received, I'm sure that goal was accomplished. In About Alice, he paints a portrait of a woman worthy of impressing. And while certainly this is an idealized version of a woman who had flaws and foibles, the book is a lovely tribute to a wife and mother, to a complex person who gave joy and strength, and to a relationship that perhaps can be striven for. I read About Alice every few years as a reminder of this.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Dave

I discovered David Letterman when I was just a kid. I remember my brother and I, home for the summer, turning on the TV one morning and finding a talk show host with a level of irreverence and dry wit (before we were old enough to know what 'dry wit' was) and being instantly hooked. We loved Dave, we watched him all summer, and even though that show didn't last, it was the beginning of my 30+ year TV-relationship with the man. Through his cranky years, Velcro suits, working the drive-through at a Taco Bell (lady ordering from her car: "I'd like a medium Coke..." Dave on the head-set: "'Medium' relative to what?"), heart surgery, scandals, and everything in between, I was there, and tonight, Dave was there for me. Well, for me and about 450 other people who were lucky enough to get a ticket to see him being interviewed by Susan Morrison.

They say don't meet your heroes, but Dave was everything I ever wanted him to be. He was funny and smart, he was kind and self-deprecating, he called Donald Trump (whom he referred to as "Trumpy" over and over again) a "badly damaged human being," and there was something about him... a generosity of spirit - in the way he listened so intently to Susan's questions and participated so fully in her discussion, and also in he way he interacted with the audience during the Q&A, asking each person who stepped up to the microphone their name and where they were from - that made me appreciate him even more. Maybe a talk show host and comedian isn't the loftiest person to have as a hero, but for over 30 years, watching Dave made me happy, and some days, that's almost the same as saving someone from a burning building.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

UCB

I wasn't going to come to New York this year, I really wasn't. I had a good time last year but I just remember being so tired, and a bit cold, and thinking, "ten years is enough; next October: Mexico." But then the New Yorker Festival line up enticed me with something almost too good to be true... and even then I hesitated; but I went online the morning of the ticket sales and I told myself getting a ticket to that enticing event was going to be a long-shot, but I might as well try, and the next thing I knew I had three tickets to three wonderful-sounding events, including the one that changed my mind about the whole deal -- so here I am, in Brooklyn.

No festival events tonight, but I got in early enough to drop my stuff at this really nice apartment, meet Nick, my host, and take the subway to Chelsea for an 8 o'clock show at the Upright Citizens Brigade. The show was Rumpletaser: Musical Improv, and it was described as a group of improvisers making up a musical on the spot. At the top of the show they asked for audience suggestions of "anything," and if the premise is to be believed and the guy who yelled out "celery" hadn't been planted there by the cast (and I don't think he was), then what they did was pretty impressive. For one hour, a piano player banged out numbers and the cast created a story, complete with songs, in front of the audience; the first number was "We Work in a Juice Bar," and it went from there. 'Celery, the Musical' isn't going to hit Broadway any time soon but it was fun and silly, and for 5-bucks a ticket, a good way to spend a Thursday night in New York.

The two New Yorker events on Saturday will be nice, but the event tomorrow is the reason I'm here... I think it will be worth it.
Nick's apartment in Brooklyn
Le District, French grocery downtown
 
Oscar Murillo: through patches of corn, wheat and mud
at the David Zwirner Gallery.
I don't know.
Fred Sandback: Vertical Constructions
at David Zwirner


Friday, September 2, 2016

German Food

this is the only relevant picture from my last day in Berlin
Whenever I told anyone I was going to Berlin, the invariable response was gushing -- either the person had been there and loved it, knew someone who had been there and loved it, or was hoping to go soon because they knew that once they got there they'd love it. I didn't love Berlin, but it also didn't stand a chance after the weeks I'd had before arriving; there's just no big city that could compare to eight days of traveling through the Irish countryside and three spectacular three days in a Welsh village. I've learned that for me, staying near a city for a few days is great for museums, art, great food, and maybe a little shopping, but for an actual living environment, I find the outskirts and small towns more appealing. When I was in Dublin, I stayed 25 minutes by bus from the city center, and that was great. I could walk places and the sidewalks weren't crowded, and the neighborhoods were quiet at night. Andrew's place so close to the center of Liverpool was a great apartment in the middle of the action, but I was there on a Friday night and it was noisy with the window open as people left the restaurants and bars late in the evening. Penmaenmawr, Wales by contrast, a village of fewer than 5,000 people, was as peaceful as it was picturesque.

The place I stayed in Berlin was also in the middle of the action in the Neukolln neighborhood, and it was fine. But after the green hills, rolling pastures, and quiet villages, I just wasn't in the mindset for a lot of big city activities. There was modern architecture I could have checked out and contemporary art collections I could have seen, but I actually spent a lot of quality time relaxing and reading in my sunny apartment. I did roam around the city a bit, went to a couple of shops I had noted from the guidebooks and spent probably 40 minutes on the U-Bahn getting to an ice cream shop that had been recommended to me, it turned out to be in a neighborhood on the edge of the city and was totally worth the journey. I'm glad I went to Berlin but I don't think my next major trips will involve spending a lot of time in crowds.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Walking Around Berlin





"I'm not afraid
Of anything in this world
There's nothing you can throw at me
That I haven't already heard

I'm just trying to find
A decent melody
A song that I can sing
In my own company"

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

East Side Gallery

Today I went to the East Side Gallery, which is an open-air art gallery along the banks of the Spree River; the walls of the gallery are parts of The Wall. I think there is a 'permanent collection' on parts of the wall, but the part I visited was a temporary exhibit of photographs from war-torn Syria.




I am a Berliner!!

Humboldt University - where 20,000 books from the library were burned in 1933
Well, not really. I'm IN Berlin, but I literally only know one word of German ("danke") so no one is going to mistake me for a Berliner. It's a little odd being in a big city after all the days in the Irish countryside and the few days in the tiny Welsh village. My last two days in Liverpool felt very neighborhoody, but the area I'm in here is quite urban and busy. The apartment I'm in is nice though, despite being a 4th floor walk-up, and I spent yesterday on a bike tour of the city, which was both a very nice ride and a great history lesson. It's hard to think of the city as it is now divided so severely, and it's harder still to think of it under the rule of a lunatic, as at the moment, it looks like any European capital, and the only remaining Nazi buildings are now being used as a tax office and a public bathroom.
our affable Aussie guide Dave explaining German geopolitics
using sidewalk chalk.
one of the last vestiges of the Wall - it wasn't that high... 
...but if you tried to go over, you'd most likely be shot
by an East German guard from a tower like this

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
part of our tour was a ride through Tiergarten, a huge urban park
the president's house - he has no power but has a nice pad; Angela Merkel
on the other hand, lives in the same apartment she's had for 30 years.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen... The Beatles!!

If on Saturday I didn't quite know what I thought about Liverpool, by Sunday it had a place in my heart. First of all, due to a reservations snafu, I ended up moving from the center of Liverpool to a neighborhood in a nearby suburb, next to a giant park reminiscent of Central Park, and a couple blocks from a street filled with boutiques, restaurants, and coffee shops, one of which I walked to on Sunday for a breakfast of creamy mushrooms on toast with a fried egg. Then I strolled through Sefton Park for a hour, stopping in the Palm House and generally enjoying the nice weather and the "neighborhoody" feel. This trip has made me realize that I'm better off in the suburbs than the center of any city - you can always get close to the action on a bus or subway, but it's much nicer to be "home" on the outskirts, and as it happened, for my last two days in Liverpool, I ended up moving from Andrew's which was a 10 minute walk from the central train station to Eliza's, which was 20 minute bus ride into town, but near the park, by the quiet cafes, etc., etc.
the street where Eliza lives
Peter - Fab4 Taxi Tour
John's Arts College (left), Paul's school (right), me (center) 
My flight out of Liverpool wasn't until the evening, so after brekkies and a stroll in the park, I went back to Eliza's, packed up, and waited for my Fab4 Taxi to pick me up. There are many tours in Liverpool which take you around the sites of Beatles lore; the Fab4 Taxi tour does this by squiring you around in an iconic British cab. My driver, Peter, arrived at 1 and off we went. Our first stop was the Liverpool Arts College where John went to school as a teen, and which was next to what was then the Liverpool Grammar School for boys 11+ which is where Paul went to school. We stopped by the Maternity Hospital (now student accommodation at the University of Liverpool) where John was born, and we went to all their childhood homes. We visited Strawberry Field, which was a Salvation Army children's home when John was a boy (he reportedly liked to hang out there so he could hear the Salvation Army Brass Band), Wooten Village Hall, where John and Paul met for the first time, the cemetery where Eleanor Rigby is buried (Paul claims the tombstone is not where he got the name), and of course, Penny Lane. We did this while Peter filled me in on Liverpool and Beatles history, and listening to Beatles' music. Three hours later, Peter dropped me off at, fittingly, John Lennon Airport, where I caught my flight to Berlin.
John's teenage home
Paul's teenage home
Ringo's birthplace - childhood home
George's teenage home
..the shelter in the middle of the round-a-bout;
the church where Paul sang in the choir
"in Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs..."
the village hall where John met Paul

"above us only sky"