Monday, December 31, 2007

Holiday onslaught 2007

- A Photo Essay -

MJ's sweater party

gingerbread cheesecake!

Jon's first Poe party

Matt's swan song/grand exit

warm kitties

junior high would-have-been loves at
Brock's engagement party


DuPriest nutcrackers

Emily & Winny, a WaHo Christmas eve

Christmas day, in the morning

ornery, hissing Little Man

Jon in Idaho, shoveling the walk

postcard shot

new snow, beneath the trees

(post-)Christmas in Moscow

Thursday, December 13, 2007

'bout damn time!

I know, I know. It's been a while. I've been busy with lots of exciting things, among them a weekend jaunt to Costa Rica (and obligatory accompanying sunburn), my first 10k jog/bounce, fried turkeys (yes, that's plural), a hockey game, festive symphony concerts, fruitless shopping excursions and the first holiday parties of the season.

Now, all of that is well and good, but I've got some real excitement to share with y'all: The results of the 2007 I Love Waffle House Essay Contest are in, and I am a WINNER! [note: I am A winner, not THE winner.]

Last year my brilliantly crafted poetic tribute was spurned by the humorless judges, who favored my sister's 100-word entry over mine and awarded her a first place prize. (When they posted the results on their website, we discovered she had not in fact gotten first place, but third. They gave her the first place goods all the same. NICE.) My loving sister, sensing my dismay at this unwarranted rejection -- Waffle House even sent a letter apologizing for the fact that I hadn't made it into the pool of the top 275 submissions -- graciously gave me her free waffle coupons, which my classmates and I put to good use at a WaHo outside Scranton, Pa.

This year the rules changed, with a prescribed topic and a limit of 300 words. I nixed the verse and didn't broadcast my essay on my blog, waiting instead to hear the results before I went public so as not to jinx myself. I'm sure that's what happened last year...

I digress. I got a letter last week in a Waffle House envelope when I got home from symphony rehearsal informing me that I had been awarded a second place prize (one of about 50) in this year's essay contest! I only needed to fill out the enclosed affidavit certifying that I am indeed me (confirmed by my mother as witness) and send it back to claim my victory t-shirt and Waffle House prize pack. (Those should arrive in 6-8 weeks.)

So, without any further ado, I present to you my 2007 I Love Waffle House essay, about what my favorite Waffle House original song is and why. My dad asserted that there was no way an essay using the word "anthropomorphic" could win -- Ha! I sure showed him. Enjoy!


I Love Waffle House, 2007

Over my years of Waffle House visits, I’ve fallen into a routine: grab a booth, greet the salesperson and order a vanilla Coke, then dig four quarters out of my change purse and head for the jukebox. I’ve got a regular playlist of Patsy Cline, Elvis, Johnny Cash and the like. Some restaurants don’t stock all my usual tunes, but no matter the location or how old or newfangled the jukebox, I can always round out my selections with an original Waffle House song or two.

I admit there must be dozens of these ditties I have yet to hear. My Waffle House repertoire consists primarily of the songs on “Waffle House Jukebox Favorites, Vol. 1” – a gift from a WaHo breakfast buddy. Designed to resemble a waffle, the CD is one of my most prized recordings. It also started my ever-expanding collection of Waffle House paraphernalia.

Much to the chagrin of many Waffle House employees, “There are Raisins in my Toast,” holds a spot among my regular jukebox picks. I don’t even like raisins (or raisin toast), but the song – a riff on the hit “Sherry” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – is catchy as all get-out.

On top of its exuberant call-and-response chorus, the song’s storyline creates an endlessly amusing mental picture: anthropomorphic raisins stroll across the counter, joke affably with the hungry customer who will soon devour them, then do a promotional song-and-dance number – all before breakfast!

It’s a little nutty, but that’s what makes it irresistible. Whether on my iPod or in-store, “Raisin Toast” conjures memories of roadtrips, Christmas Eve dinner at WaHo with my sister and that unmistakable feeling of waffle-induced euphoria. Employees might groan when they hear “Raisin Toast”, but deep down they love it, too.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Robert Spano, conductor of the year

Monday evening's Brahms Requiem recording session ended with a surprising, ecstatic coda: ASO President Allison Vulgamore, along with various other ASO staffers, clattered onto the stage around 10:40, to the maestro's great consternation, as we were about to put down 10 seconds of ambience. The chorus and remaining orchestra members were then witness to the announcement that our very own Robert Spano was named Musical America's 2008 conductor of the year. Vulgamore & co. came prepared, with a rollout banner all ready to go:

Spano, along with fellow honorees Charles Rosen and Anna Netrebko
(among others),
will be feted in NYC on December 13.

Spano was clearly floored by the announcement, especially since it came on the heels of a long and intensive recording session. It was a truly joyful and gratifying moment to be a part of.

It's always a thrill to work with Spano in performance, and recording is no different. Keep your eyes out for the ASO recording of Ein Deutsches Requiem (May 2008), because it's going to be phenomenal.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reasons the New Pornographers are great

see nos. 3, 4, 6, 9 and 11

1. they're Canadian

2. they used an instrument I couldn't identify

3. the lead guitarist plays a pointy guitar

4. each of the band members had a microphone (except for the bass player, who resembled Will Ferrell as depressed, unemployed Ron Burgundy and was busy drinking anyway, so that's OK) -- and used it

5. there are at least nine people in the band

6. the drummer, who is now on my list of favorite drummers

7. they're lo-tech -- they wore black earpieces and had their mic/monitor packs clipped visibly to their pants

8. they love what they do, and you can tell

9. Neko Case: not only a beautiful, earnest singer, but a heck of a tambourine player!

10. the other girl (Kathryn Calder) plays the accordion, among other things

11. harmony! lots of it!


see nos. 2, 4, 5 and 8

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

We've got a lunch (that's what I think of it)

One of the perks of employment is that it sometimes includes lunch out. Better still, the company will often pay for said lunch, under the guise that "work" is being accomplished at the "offsite meeting." I had one such meal today at Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro, recently relocated to Colony Square from somewhere on 14th Street. I had heard raves from my sister and coworkers about this place, so I was excited to check it out.

I had a delicious dish of Pla-Lad-Prik -- baked grouper with a sweet-spicy sauce of minced shrimp and garlic. I think this snapshot of my side dish says a lot about the restaurant's attention to detail and quality, so I'll let it the food speak for itself. Beyond that, all I can say is that I will definitely be going back...

Seriously? They cut the carrots out into tiny bird-shapes? This place RULES.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This is a Public Service Announcement

Due to the overwhelming (and overwhelmingly negative) response to my most recent post regarding Bob Dylan's performance on Sept. 22, I've decided to do away with anonymous commenting on my blog.

I have no problem with disagreement. In fact, I welcome other opinions and am very interested in discussing thoughts contrary to my own -- I think we all can learn a lot that way. So let's talk, OK?

Henceforth, in the spirit of good sportsmanship and lively debate, you'll have to let me know who you are before you go insulting my intelligence or impugning my professional integrity. (You could also tell me I'm brilliant and that you wholeheartedly agree with me, but you'll still need to give Blogger your name.)

Thanks for reading!

(P.S. - I'm not sure how opining that Bob Dylan gave an unexpectedly not good performance and suggesting that he is perhaps past his prime makes me an Eagles or a Britney Spears fan, but, just for the record, I am neither of those things.)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The jingle-jangle morning after

Bob Dylan has got a major racket running. I can't say for certain how long it's been going on, since I only recently bought in, but Mr. Zimmerman has surely been laughing all the way to the bank for at least the last few years.

Last night, Dylan performed at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, a mid-size venue north of Atlanta that's part of a larger convention center complex. With a capacity of 13,000, there was plenty of room to spare. Initially this surprised me because of Dylan's iconic status, but he is forever touring, which probably cuts down on his per-show draw.

Now, I don't consider myself much of a Dylan fan -- I don't have any of his albums, and I probably only know his big hit songs -- but I felt like seeing Bob Dylan is one of those things any reasonably well informed music critic should do before the man dies or stops touring, whichever happens first. What sealed the deal was the opening act: Elvis Costello. With these things in mind, I approached Saturday's concert with high hopes for a legendary concert -- or at least a good one. The odds were in my favor after Costello's stellar opening set, but it was immediately apparent once Dylan mounted the stage that this was not to be.

His arrival onstage was heralded by a bizarre, garbled announcement over the sound system. Tottering across the stage on toothpick legs, Dylan, in a black suit and tan cowboy hat, assumed his position front and center before a five-man backup band attired in matching gray suits. A guitar hanging across Dylan's shoulders on a glittering strap went mostly unplayed for two songs before he gave up that charade, opting instead to pretend to play a keyboard. Thereafter he stood bobbing up and down at a gray console that gave no evidence of being plugged in. Each song came in one of two forms that dominated the eventing: insipid, adult-contemp balladry or a sloppy, soulless 12-bar blues.

The audience clapped and howled its approval every time Dylan reached a chorus (oh that's what this song is...Woooo!) or blew into his harmonica. The second tune of the evening was "Don't Think Twice, it's Alright," by all previous accounts an excellent and poignant song. Here, however, Dylan croaked along arhythmically while his band barreled through, throwing in half-hearted guitar licks and nonsensical drum fills wherever they saw fit. The musicians seemed to be each in his own different world -- but as bad and unmusical as the whole outfit was, the drummer was unparalleled in his hackdom, hardly able to maintain a steady beat. (A cousin or nephew, perhaps?) And, just for the record, the way Dylan sang "Just like a woman" will give me nightmares for weeks.

The songs kept coming in much the same manner for the next hour. I know the man can't really sing and has famously indecipherable diction, but he truly made no effort. Not at playing, not at singing -- or even at being a gracious host. Not once did he address the audience members, who had shelled out at least $40 a pop to see him.

After nearly an hour of unrelenting aural assault, I asked myself what I was doing still there. I had hopes that the band would depart the stage, leaving Dylan alone to strum his guitar for the audience. Or maybe Costello would return and a mind-boggling collaboration of two rock greats would unfold before my very eyes. At this point, it wasn't worth it to me to find out.

It's shocking that someone known for controversial and pointed lyrics doesn't seem to care if anyone understands what he has to say. Dylan clearly doesn't perform to serve his texts, nor does he strive to serve the music -- that was woefully apparent through the band's uniform treatment of every song. The only thing Dylan is trying to serve here is his bank account, and he's got a pretty good scam going.

On the upside, Elvis Costello was excellent. On stage alone with four guitars to choose from, he delivered straightforward, honest, impassioned music, making the vast room feel a little more intimate. He addressed the audience -- he even went so far as to specify the arena's Duluth location, avoiding the general and assuredly more common "Atlanta" designation -- and thanked the crowd before leaving the stage. I feel truly sorry for those who showed up late and missed the opening set.

Costello almost made it worth the price of tickets, but not quite. If any of you were planning on catching this tour, save your money. Go buy Dylan's acclaimed albums instead, and then wait for Elvis Costello to announce a solo tour.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Speaking of Waffle House...

It's that time of year again, folks. Yes, you guessed it: the second annual I Love Waffle House Essay Contest. You blog faithful will surely remember my poetic mastery of the 100-word essay for last year's competition, which was not only (wrongly) overlooked, but lost out to an (assuredly inferior) essay submission by my older sister. We weren't speaking for a while, but Emily and I buried the hatchet when she offered me her free waffle coupons.

But this year -- oh, this year! The powers that be have graciously increased the word count to 300 AND provided guidance for those parties so overwhelmed with love for WaHo that they simply wouldn't know where to begin. The topic? What is your favorite Waffle House song and why? The prize? Not just a WaHo prize pack, but a JACKET. This was made for me.

It will be mine. Oh yes! It will be mine.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Happy National Waffle Day!

Today, August 24, is National Waffle Day! [Not to be confused with INTERnational Waffle Day, which falls on March 5, or National Waffle Week, Sept. 2-8 this year.] In honor of this momentous celebration of what may well be the best breakfast food ever, I treated myself to a Waffle House lunch at the intriguing new Waffle House on Sidney Marcus Boulevard.

What first caught my eye about this particular unit, located at the corner of a big-box strip off of I-85 in town, was its shape. Instead of a long, rectangular building, this is a tall, square-shaped structure. Pat Warner, director of Waffle House communications, informed me back in 2005 that the restaurants are built using one of two layouts with the grill out front and a maximum capacity of 44 patrons. On the inside, this one actually reminded me of my friendly Yankee WaHo road stop in Clarks Summit, Pa. As at every Waffle House I've ever been to, the seating area forms an L-shape around the kitchen; but at these newer locations, the bathroom is a right-angle hallway off the long end, making the customer area a U-shape, as opposed to just extending the long end of the L straight back and having the bathroom adjacent to the employees-only section of the restaurant. (I hope that made sense.)

So, with that mystery solved, I set about ordering my usual -- waffle; hashbrowns scattered, covered, chunked -- when what should catch my eye but a revamped waffle selection! (Swank new locations around Atlanta, usually company-owned, often serve as test locations for new menu items; this one had a biscuit menu, too!) I asked the waitress what the new "Lite" buttermilk waffle was all about. Turns out it's made with buttermilk as opposed to the sweet cream in the original recipe. When I asked if she'd tried it, she replied that she hadn't even entertained the notion because she hates buttermilk. Fair enough. Ever curious, I decided I'd try it...

Minutes later, my waffle arrived, crisp and brown and made with one of those awesome irons that stamp the Waffle House logo into the waffle. (See photo at top.) I cut my waffle into little squares, as is my custom, and dug in, hoping for a delicious revelation in breakfast-time nutrition. Sure, the cooked waffle looked as though it had been made with a lighter batter than the original recipe, but I think the real key to the lite-ness of this edition is the fact that it is SO SOUR you can't eat more than three bites. You know how you check, double-check and triple-check a carton of buttermilk every time you use one because it smells like it's gone bad even if you just bought it? Yeah. That's what this tasted like. (Not only that, but the underside of my waffle and its insides bordered on uncooked. Goo.)

In the end, I summoned my waitress and put in for an original sweet cream waffle, calories be damned. Go big or go home, right? Before the jukebox tune was through, a golden, pillowy waffle was placed before me, steaming hot off the iron. Heaven.

Oh Waffle House, what would I do without you?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Getting to know me

My fellow Goldring graduate Raquel hit me with this meme via her blog, Electric Warrior. This provides a chance for you, dear readers, to gain a fuller understanding of what makes me tick, aside from things musical and taking pictures of my cat.

But first, THE RULES:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

So, here are eight of my deepest, darkest secrets. Kind of.

1. I collect spoons. Yes, the kitschy, touristy kind. If you are the type to buy presents for friends when traveling and consider me a friend worthy of gifting, let it be known that I am generally quite pleased to receive new additions to my collection.

2. I have a strange and somewhat inexplicable obsession with Waffle House restaurants. Stranger still is the fact that, for the first three years or so that I recall eating there with some regularity, I only ordered grilled cheese sandwiches. I distinctly remember being miffed that they didn't offer french fries to complement my anytime meal of grilled cheese and chocolate milk; just those hashbrown things. What was I thinking?

3. I met Bono once. We spoke briefly, and he put his arm around me. I have photographic evidence of this. (I also met the Edge and Adam Clayton. This makes me cool.)

4. I still hold the record for 7-and-under girls' 25-yard backstroke at the Brittany Club, my old neighborhood pool. I mean, 17 years and they still haven't broken my record? I am awesome.

5. My "friends" cast me as Tina Turner singing "Proud Mary" in the finale of my high school's Black History Month production in 2001, complete with orange wig, red fringe dress, and stage full of backup dancers. Unfortunately, I had no Ike -- and I certainly didn't have the legs for the job, either.

6. Although I fancy myself something of a photographer -- I was photo editor of my high school's enormous yearbook -- I don't know much about the manual operation of my Canon Rebel 2000, nor can I develop my own pictures.

7. I was a driver in John Edwards's motorcade in Atlanta the summer before the 2004 election. They gave me a Kerry/Edwards Atlanta staff badge and a secret service lapel clip and, unsurprisingly, assigned me to chauffeur the veterans.

8. I love circus peanuts.


There you have it. Because I don't know eight bloggers, or at least eight who haven't yet been named, here's my abbreviated list of who's next on the docket (apologies for any duplications):
Abby at People Say She's Crazy
Tricia at fshhh...
Brock at 214 Studios
Jon at Noise Forest
Dave at Sincere Syllables
Bob at The B-Zone

I'll be checking up on y'all...get to it!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Goodnight, Syracuse


What a year it's been...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Breathe easy, ATL

Alex Ross, the classical critic for The New Yorker, has been in contact with the folks at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an attempt to clear up the confusion surrounding the staff shake-up and its effects on arts coverage. Check out his findings here.

Things aren't nearly as bad as they seemed, and this is certainly the best handling of the situation I've encountered thus far. So, Atlantans, take heart: when the dust settles a few months from now, the paper could emerge a better publication for all the tumult...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fruity Cheerios: Cheeri-eww

I went to the grocery store yesterday in search of staples that would sustain me through a long period of intensive, in-apartment work, restocking the kitchen with the knowledge that not only would I not be leaving town on a weekly basis anymore, but that I'd also be chained to my desk for much of the coming weeks. On my list? Cereal.

Certain cereals have been problematic for me in the past, so I went with an open mind, the nonspecific "cereal" scribbled on my list. I wanted to avoid something like the delicious, environmentally responsible varieties of Barbara's Puffins, which, too easily assimilated into the realm of finger food, tend to spell disaster for me; I also wanted to stay out of the Lucky Charms trap. Last summer, at age 23, I developed a fiendish addiction to them - an affliction I blame entirely on the "free song on iTunes!" promotion splashed across the front of the box, which, to be frank, is already enticing enough for me.

What I was looking for was a happy medium, which led me to Fruity Cheerios. The latest in an ever-expanding line of Cheerios cereals, this is to General Mills what the "Pink" line of lingerie is to Victoria's Secret - an early builder of brand allegiance. Once consumers graduate from the bright colors and fun patterns, they'll trust the name they grew up with. Alternatively viewed, it's the health-minded parent's answer to the would-you-like-some-cereal-with-your-sugar confections their children pitch fits over in the aisle. The box even imitates that of its model cereal, Froot Loops, with brightly colored Os zestfully splashing into a spoonful of milk on a vibrant red background. With whole grains, real fruit juice, less sugar, and dietary fiber to boot, Fruity Cheerios promised a responsible balance of fortification and breakfast-time fun. (But be warned: the back-of-the-box games are lame: "Which Fruity Cheerios® flower has a bigger yellow center?" Please.)

Inside the box, though, I found nothing but disappointment. True, these Cheerios were less finger-foody than Puffins or even any other Cheerio on the market - but that was mostly on account of the cereal's glaze, a hard, clear shellac that is entirely to the detriment of the cereal. (Well, maybe not entirely - I think it's responsible for the lack of the weird sugary film that other fruity cereals like Fruity Pebbles leave on the roof of your mouth.) Cosmetically, the glaze made the cereal look plastic. Combined with the irregularly sized, anemic Os (ironic, given that one serving provides 25% of your daily iron needs!), it makes for a pretty sad picture in the bowl. Handling the cereal sans spoon was an unpleasantly sticky endeavor, as well (all the better to keep me from snacking, but unfortunate all the same). Finally, because of their crystalline crust, Fruity Cheerios lack the hearty, whole-grain mouthfeel of any of its Cheerio kin and lack any semblance of flavor; not only do they look plasticky, they sort of taste it, too. Blech.

After sampling from the box to these disappointments, I had hoped that the cereal might fare better with milk. This was not to be, however, as my milk (whose expiration date is tomorrow, by the way) had gone bad. That question will have to be answered another day. In the meantime, I'd recommend that you go buy yourself a box of Froot Loops. Toucan Sam takes the day, any day.

(image courtesy of cheerios.com)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Premiere!

This week I drove to New York for what was probably my penultimate NYC-bound roadtrip to do some work on my capstone/thesis project. The main event was the world premiere performance of the complete (In)Habitation: Musical Settings of Margaret Atwood Poetry on Thursday night, a project conceived, commissioned and performed by the fabulous and lovely soprano Eileen Strempel (below, right) and pianist Sylvie Beaudette.

Me & Eileen

Four of the six commissioned composers were there for the performance at St. Bartholomew's (at 51st and Park Ave), which attracted a decent crowd even without the clutch of SU trustee-types sitting in the chapel's front pews.

I had a chance to meet up with composer Lori Laitman and song expert Dr. Carol Kimball the next morning and interview them about their involvement in the project for my capstone story. I'm pretty far along in the reporting and info-gathering stages, but after this weekend, the capstone work begins in earnest - especially now that I'm parked back in Syracuse with no further rehearsals or concerts to observe or attend.

If you're interested in Margaret Atwood, check out her poetry if you've not before - it's pretty interesting (even for the Atwood-uninitiated, like me). And be sure to keep your eyes out for a recording of this Atwood-in-song project, because they'll be recording it this summer.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sticking up for Atlanta arts coverage

Publisher's Weekly reports that the currently-restructuring Atlanta Journal-Constitution has cut its books editor (see story copied below). In the most recent poll, Atlanta was ranked #15 on the list of the country's most literate cities - what kind of message is the paper sending with this decision? If you are at all distressed by the prospect of replacing a local critical voice in the Atlanta paper with wire-service copy, please take a moment to sign the online petition here.

Atlanta Journal Constitution Cuts Book Review Editor Job

By Lynn Andriani -- Publishers Weekly, 4/18/2007 2:34:00 PM

Following a major restructuring of its newsroom, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has eliminated the books editor position formerly held by Teresa Weaver. However, Mary Dugenske, the paper’s director of communications, said, "We will continue to publish our arts and book section every Sunday." Dugenske said Weaver has been offered to apply for another job within the organization.

The newspaper announced impending staff changes in February, citing its desire to better support its online presence. Dugenske said that since that restructuring, more than half of the jobs in the paper's newsroom have changed. "Its not just a books thing," she said. "It’s affecting all of our editors."

The newspaper’s editor, Julia Wallace, said, "We’re not changing our books coverage" but that Weaver, "along with half the staff, is reapplying for a job."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Um, OK...

What I want to know is, how did Eddie Izzard get lumped in with this crowd? Nevermind Robert Kennedy, Jr. ...

Yikes.

************

Sanjaya to attend D.C. dinner

4/20/2007, 3:07 p.m. EDT The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Sanjaya Malakar, who was just voted off "American Idol," could meet President Bush on Saturday. Malakar is attending the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in Washington. He's a guest of People magazine.

Bush will be attending the annual dinner.

Malakar will share a table with People magazine's other guests, Valerie Bertinelli, Zac Efron of "High School Musical," comedian Eddie Izzard and Robert Kennedy Jr.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Peace up, A-town down

It's been nearly a month since I returned from my spring break adventures abroad, so by last weekend it was about time to get out of town again - and clearly to some place warm. Where better to go than HOTlanta? (what what!) Jon graciously agreed to come with me and endured me dragging him around my old stomping grounds for a few days with a smile on his face (of course, the Atlanta Symphony and Braves tickets I threw in sort of sweetened the deal).

I've gotta say our timing was brilliant; we left town just before a mean ol' Nor'easter blew in, walloping Syracuse with about 8 inches of snow. Georgia's April weather wasn't entirely peachy all weekend (see pictures from the blustery Braves game on an overcast, 45-degree Sunday afternoon), but Thursday, Friday and Monday's restorative sunshine worked wonders while it lasted.

In summary, here are a few ATL sights for your enjoyment:

Peachtree Street, 6:48 p.m. Thursday. The interior is logoed to match.
Dude's rearview was shaking from the bass. Pretty awesome.


Looking from balcony no. 2 of Dad's new office digs at the Cobb Energy Centre,
the new venue for Atlanta Opera performances, scheduled to open this fall.


Looking at the downtown skyline from balcony no. 1 -
it's a little hazy, but it was a gorgeous day.


Braves game, Sunday afternoon. Um, it was 45 degrees. And WINDY.
But the AMAZING seats kinda made up for it. Yeah.

Reformed Yankees (Midwesterners, actually) enjoying the Braves game
despite the rather frigid conditions. Erin (Wisc.) is a senior at SU and a
fellow former Post-Standard intern whose folks moved to Atlanta in the fall;
John (Mich.) is nowin his second year of Emory Law - he said "y'all" once
in the course of conversation and it just warmed my little heart.

CHIPPAH!

Jon, ever the good sport, bundled up in sundry retired Poe-family
outerwear, and me in my awesome, on-sale old school Braves hat.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Totally UN-kewl

One of the many e-newsletters in my inbox today pointed me to an article at Folio magazine detailing a new magazine aimed at the so-called "tween" demographic. Magazine launches these days are often accompanied by a prediction of how long the new titles will last, given the imminent death of the printed word and the rise of internet culture. And, although it is a lovely gesture to devote an entire magazine to 10-12 year old girls, I am vehemently opposed to this one, before even considering its content.

Why, you might ask? You only have to look at the title: KEWL.

KEWL, published quarterly, will focus on celebrities (start 'em young!) and music (better - but it's probably not good music), and is part of a multi-platform brand that will include a TV show, Everything Kewl, and an interactive website, kewlmag.com

But the multi-pronged attack isn't the issue here. In case you're confused (and if you're above the age of 20 or so, you probably are), "kewl" is synonymous with "cool," pronounced the same way. Hypothetically, it's the same word. For reasons unknown, the former, alternative spelling proliferated when the instant-messaging craze took hold of middle school students across the nation, negating years of Wordly Wise drills and obliterating the spelling skills of American youth.


What editor/literate person thought it was a good idea to sanction internetspeak for use in the real world by adopting KEWL as a brand? (One that targets an incredibly impressionable age group, at that.) Journalists - if this counts as journalism - ought to be more responsible than this. Adults in general ought to be more responsible than this, for the sake of educated youth and the future of American culture.

"Cool" is just a small word, and one of thousands employed in the parlance of our times; but when kids either can't or refuse to spell simple, monosyllabic words correctly, prospects for the future of intelligent publications start to look pretty bleak.

Abbreviated spellings and unfortunate phonetic interpretations tailored for internet use have distorted the written teenage vernacular, resulting in a popular lexicon of un-words. I for one hope Kewl is a spectacular failure (or at least an unsuccessful launch). If writers - of all sorts - don't stand up for the integrity of words and language, who will?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Julius Caesar" at Dublin's Abbey Theatre

In most modern productions of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Mark Antony’s famous oration brings the first act to a close. At the Abbey Theatre’s uneven production Tuesday night, it might as well have ended the entire show – it seemed as if an entirely new one began after intermission.

Music from Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” lent a sense of weight and solemnity to what would soon unfold onstage as the audience filtered in. This sober tone permeated Jon Bausor’s set and costumes throughout the first act, but this elegance was lost entirely in the second.

The set in the first act, consisting of light grey panels that extended to the ceiling, was easily manipulated in concert with Paul Keoghan’s outstanding lighting design to evoke diverse locations and atmospheres. Openings in the wall panels defined architecture and entryways; lighting from the sides of the stage created dramatic contrasts and, with director Jason Byrne’s adept blocking, cast moody, telling shadows.

Thoughtfully rendered in layers of dusty neutrals, the costumes were neither particularly ancient nor particularly Roman; they did nothing to pin down a temporal context for the play. But that may have been the point – political strife is not restricted to any one era, after all. When Caesar appeared in the senate to accept the crown, the costumes became more historical: draped, cream-colored fabrics, accented in purple and gold, lent a sense of formality to the proceedings.

These elements contributed to the general seamlessness of the first half, even as time passed and locations changed. Buoyed by moments of Shakespearean elegance, the first act crescendoed to Antony’s well-known speech. In spite of the loutish Antony’s (Aidan Kelly) awkward declamation, the affective energy of the crowd of plebeians onstage, but 25 people strong, lent the scene its stirring passion.

Perhaps it was the change to darker scenery, the turn to military action, or the encampment of snickering adolescent boys filling the back rows of the theater – most likely it was a confluence of these conditions – but the second act failed to captivate as the former had. The minimalism of the first act gave way to busier costumes (complete with armor and capes), more synthetic sounds, and a plethora of props in the second – although some semblance of the first act aesthetic was retained in the lack of a backdrop to cover the stage wall or legs to hide the lights. When measured against the austerity of the first act, these elements served as distractions more than anything else, and heightened the jarring sense of detachment.

Despite this disparity, many players were constant in their performances across both acts. As Cassius, Frank McCusker bellowed and conspired with fiery fervor, entirely convincing in his radical actions. Declan Conlon’s Brutus was appropriately less volatile, but his nuanced performance occasionally suffered from a surfeit of energy and soft-spoken lines. Initially bringing some comic relief, Peter Hanly’s Casca, strangely bespectacled, was the most sympathetic conspirator of them all.

But for all these players’ talk, the actor with the greatest presence had the fewest lines of all. All rolled R’s and hissing S’s, Robert O’Mahoney played Caesar with a charismatic swagger. Unfortunately, when he died before intermission, he took the best of this production with him.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Thank God for Peter Gelb

I just had the most moving opera experience of my life.

In a movie theater.

In the Carousel mall.

Today the Met broadcast Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin into movie theaters the world over, starring American household-name soprano Renee Fleming as Tatiana, opposite Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the title role.

(As I watched, rapt, a thought flickered briefly across my mind: why did I give this up, again?

Oh, right. Because I'm not Renee Fleming.)

I went not only because I'd never seen the opera, but also because I'd never seen Renee Fleming in action. Sure, I'd heard some recordings, seen a PBS gala performance or something, and read roughly 4/5 of her book (note to Mom: can you ship that to me?), but I've never, until today, seen the goods to back up all the fawning praise. This is probably not a secret to anybody who knows anything about opera, but Fleming is indeed all she's cracked up to be, and twenty times more. As a 48 year-old woman playing a girl of 16, Fleming was utterly convincing. More than that, her portrayal was effortless, natural. There are very few vocalists I've ever seen who can make opera-singing look unaffected, even conversational (or any sort of singing, for that matter), and Fleming's impressive showing sets an incredibly high standard for other performers of her stature.

Not to mention that she is an irresistibly gorgeous, elegantly expressive singer. It's not that she upstages her costars; everything about her is captivating. Her charisma seems expansive enough to translate to the back rows of the Met, for sure, but the movie theater experience provides an intimacy here that is unattainable in the opera house; Fleming's expressive eyes amplified every emotion. Fleming reads so well on a movie theater screen because the passion with which she infuses her role is not overwrought melodrama; rather, she acts and reacts intensely, as a normal person would, free of contrivance or artifice.

Vocally, Fleming's performance was smooth and seamless. I'm no Russian scholar, but to my ear, her diction sounded at times like French rather than Russian - that might be my only inexpert complaint. But, since I didn't understand the language anyway, I was more than happy to let the lush legato of indiscernible syllables wash over me. Fleming's voice has a lovely color to it from top to bottom, and it seems well suited to Tchaikovsky's music.

As Onegin, the silver-haired
Hvorostovsky gave an equally impassioned and impressive performance. Also playing a much younger character, Hvorostovsky was boyish and headstrong, the archetypal cocksure twenty-something male. Onegin begins the opera as such, patronizing and cold in his exchanges with the bookish Tatiana. In the second act, Hvorostovsky demonstrated commendable range as a singing actor, from a smarmy seducer to a listless youth to a man crazed and consumed by an impossible, tumultuous love.

Both leads were spellbinding in their roles, yet so natural I felt as if I weren't watching theatrics of any sort, just observing a real-life tale unfold. As the poet Lenski, the man who introduces Onegin into the story, tenor Ramon Vargas sang confidently and with a touching sincerity; Olga, the object of his affections and Tatiana's sister, was playfully sung and acted by mezzo-soprano Elena Zaremba. These four main characters carried the production, but the supporting cast and chorus certainly pulled their weight.

I've seen a fair amount of opera productions in my day, in houses all across Europe and from respected American companies, but none as memorable as this performance. Maybe it was the immediacy, or the intimacy; or maybe Fleming and Hvorostovsky are just that good. All I know is that goosebumps rippled down my arms on more than one occasion, and the climactic moment at the very end of the opera (perhaps Tatiana's highest note sung) was so intense that, had I not been in a very public place surrounded by complete strangers, I would have burst into very messy tears.

Those of you who missed it, fret not: the Met has encored every opera so far, I think, and this should be no exception. You can find information on this and other movie theater broadcasts on the Met's website.

GO. Especially if you've never seen an opera. You will not regret it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Not from around here, are you?

Johanna Keller, director of my graduate program, is herself a displaced Southern gal with roots in North Carolina. When she moved from New York City to sleepy Syracuse a few years ago, she found she was initially disheartened by the unremitting winter weather; but she and her husband soon learned to love the snow by taking up showshoeing. Realizing that many of the AJ cohort are not accustomed to such inclement weather, Johanna takes every opportunity to enthusiastically encourage us to love the snow. Love it!

This afternoon, I tried. I tried, and I failed.

Witness my feeble attempt at a snowman on my apartment balcony:


As you can see, I hit a few snags in the process. In my windstop fleece-gloved hands, the snow wouldn't pack properly into a spherical shape. This was easy enough to work around for the base and midsection of my snowman, but his head proved problematic.

I set aside my gloves and discovered, to my great delight, that it was much easier to make a tightly packed snowball between two bare hands. I affixed my snowman's head atop his body and lovingly wrapped a scarf of scrap yarn around his non-neck. So far, so good.

I had to work quickly, as I was losing feeling in my fingers. I shook out some Ghirardelli chocolate chips from the bag and attempted to give him eyes. His right eye took just fine, but the left refused to stay put, and any time I applied some force, a chunk of his face would fall to the concrete. Three tries yielded the same result. I moved onto the nose - a half-eaten baby carrot - which posed the same problem as his left eye. Every time I'd get his nose to stick, an eye would pop out.

At this point, I couldn't feel anything in my hands but the burning of extreme cold. Defeated, I decided to head back inside; but I COULD NOT OPEN THE DOOR. Did I seriously shut my sock-footed self out on a 12th-story porch just so I could build a mini-snowman friend? I cursed the sliding porch door mechanism - not a handle at all, but a 3/4" deep vertical groove, useless in times of a dexterity crisis. After about two minutes of blowing on my hands in my sweatshirt sleeves, I regained some feeling in my fingers and slid open the door to my warm, welcoming apartment.

All said, my snowman could certainly be worse. At least he has a complete body, and a scarf to keep him warm. Maybe he's just a pirate snowman, minus the eyepatch. Next time, though, I'm leaving the door cracked.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Adventures of Little Man

Tonight, my cat, Little Man, got himself wound up in a Borders shopping bag that hadn't yet made it to the Land of Empty Bags (aka my coat closet). For nearly fifteen minutes, I heard a persistent rustling from the other room, during which time Little Man evidently determined that he couldn't disentangle himself on his own. Head through the handle of the bag, he crept into the living room, parked himself nonchalantly by the coffee table, and waited for help to arrive.

Naturally, my first instinct was to laugh out loud, followed immediately by retrieving my camera. After a brief photo session (for my first foray into catblogging), I helped him out of his plastic bag predicament.


He certainly does carry it well though - doesn't he look like a superhero? It's almost like he did it on purpose. Now all he needs is a theme song. And perhaps some magical powers.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Restaurant Re-creations, vol. 2

In a previous dispatch from the NYC food field, I blogged about the unbelievable deliciousness that is Sylvia’s banana pudding. Well, thanks be to God and the Internet, because I was able to locate what purports to be the recipe of Sylvia herself with minimal reconnaissance work. Upon discovering said recipe, I got myself to the store as soon as I could to gather the ingredients. Given the proximity to February 14, I decided to make this a homemade sort of holiday and whipped up a Valentine’s batch of Sylvia’s banana pudding for my Puddin’. (Awww.)

Once you get past the alarming hue, it's really quite delicious!

To my great delight, I was able to replicate, more or less, the delectable dessert we devoured in Harlem. Since this restaurant re-creation recipe is not as readily apparent as the first, I give you my edit of the recipe I found online for Sylvia's Banana Pudding:

2 cups milk
4 tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 cup sugar
½ tsp yellow food coloring*
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp cornstarch
½ cup water
2 large egg yolks, beaten, room temperature
4 large ripe bananas
½ box Nilla Wafers

*(optional – and, might I add, NOT recommended unless you like neon food)


- Combine milk, butter, sugar, and vanilla (and food coloring, if using) in a heavy saucepan. Stir occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and milk is simmering.

- In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and water until cornstarch is dissolved. Stir cornstarch paste into the milk mixture and summer, stirring constantly, until thickened.

- Add the egg yolks and continue stirring constantly, one minute. (Tip: add some of the hot liquid to the egg before adding to the mixture – that way the egg won’t cook or scramble immediately when added to the simmering pudding and will integrate smoothly)

- Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Stir pudding occasionally while cooking to prevent a skin from forming.

- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice two of the bananas and arrange slices in an even layer in the bottom of an 8x8-inch baking dish. Cover with a slightly overlapping layer of about half of the Nilla Wafers. Spoon half of the cooled pudding over the layers. Repeat with the remaining bananas, Nilla Wafers and pudding.

- Bake until the top of the pudding is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool completely before serving. In fact, I’d recommend serving it slightly chilled. YUM.


But don't take my word for it - make it for yourself!

SNOW! Also, the best $100 I ever spent.

I walked to school today.

Uphill.

In the snow.

But that's where the similarities stop for me with the old parents' tale. (I only walked one way - a bus starts running past my apartment at 5 p.m. on Thursdays - and, thank the lord, I was not barefoot.) Much like running on sand, soldiering uphill through knee-deep snowdrifts with a shoulder bag full of books and a laptop is hard work, and I arrived at my 11:30 appointment eager to peel off my downy layers to get at least to the sweat-soaked cashmere underneath. Delightful.

Here's a taste of what the rest of my leisurely stroll campusward looked like:

Syracuse: where cars come to die.

Looking up the street toward the library. What, you can't see it?

Just as a reference, the snow would hit me a couple of inches above the knee...

When dealing with such inclement weather, it's important to be well-equipped. Two weeks ago, I bought these boots on a whim, because they were literally following me around town - I saw them on Marshall Street, then later that week at a Thai restaurant on Erie boulevard - and my previously purchased winter footwear was KILLing my feet. And what do you know, they were on sale at the shoe store near campus!

BOOTS

I can see now that it was clearly meant to be. Nobody in their right mind would go tromping through unplowed sidewalks (see first picture above) without a trusty set of boots like these.

It's a good thing I like them, because I sense that we're going to be spending a lot of time together.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Restaurant Re-creations, vol. 1


Pictured above is my at-home re-creation of Penelope's "Sam I Am," as described in my post of January 14. The combination of flavors was as felicitous as I remembered (though I think my execution could stand a little work).

If you've never had feta over your eggs before - especially with asparagus - I'd strongly recommend you try this at home. This is a quick, healthy, incredibly delicious dish that works any time of day. (Or, at least it does if you're a graduate student...)