Friday, July 30, 2010

The Laundry (Reading) List

~ Image: Bookcase in basement of Washington Heights apartment

It is my understanding that most, if not all apartment blocks in New York City have shared laundry facilities located in their basements, and the apartment block I am staying in is no exception. However, I don’t know if all basement laundries have a shared bookcase stuffed with books for apartment residents to read, and contribute to.

The image on the left is of the bookcase in the laundry of the apartment I am staying in, where I estimate there are probably 200+ books.

In amongst the usual suspects (Mary Higgins Clark, V.C. Andrews, John Grisham), you will also find outdated text books and computer manuals (Windows 2000, anyone?); and discarded travel guides for San Francisco, Arizona and Savannah, Georgia. Then there are books representing the abandoned hopes of dreams of budding actors and thespians, as indicated by the grandly named Actor’s Book of Contemporary Stage Monologues, and The Actor’s Scenebook, along with a copy of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot (I wonder if every New York apartment laundry has a copy of that one?).

Of course, you will also find a selection of ‘bringing up baby’ books, starting with books on pregnancy, before moving on to baby’s first year, and so on up the age range.

But just in case you think the bookshelf is filled with such fare, be assured that amongst the dross there are also some great titles, including The Pesthouse by one of my favourite authors, Jim Crace. Here is a partial list of some other great reads: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman; and Beneath The Wheel by Herman Hesse (Wot? No Siddhartha?). Sorry, no, maybe someone has borrowed it. There is a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast; a couple by Tom Wolfe, I Am Charlotte Simmons, and Bonfire of The Vanities; The Muslim Discovery of Europe by Bernard Lewis, and Arundharti Roy’s The God of Small Things.

Clearly there are some well-read residents here.

But the piece de resistance is Kathleen Meyer’s 1989 book (in its 2nd Revised Edition, no less), called How To Shit In The Woods. Seriously. Billed as “An environmentally sound approach to a lost art,” (I think it’s probably safe to assume that few New York apartment laundries have copies of this book), Kathleen outlines the best way to deal with the perennial problem facing hikers, travelers, campers, and road warriors of all types; and that is, How do you dispose of your body’s most precious waste products in a safe, healthy and environmentally friendly way?

Fascinating stuff, this. I don’t know if it ever made it to the top of the New York Times best seller lists, but it certainly deserved to. There’s even a chapter called, For Women Only, How Not to Pee in Your Boots.

Did I read it? Does a bear shit in the woods? Of course, I read it. While her advice to women to practice peeing standing up has some merit, I suspect that if she was writing the book today, she would also recommend women pack a Shenis with them.

What is a Shenis? I’m glad you asked

I think.

The Shenis was invented by a woman (of course) and looks like a 12 inch pe… Well, you don’t need me to describe it when you can visit the Shenis website and check it out for yourself...

Of course, YouTube was not around either in 1989, when the book was published. Today if you search for “Shenis” on YouTube, not only will you find numerous examples of women putting the product to use, but also videos of women successfully peeing standing up!

Who would have thought a trip to the laundry could be so interesting?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

NYC Round Up #1

There is so much to observe and absorb, experience and process during any visit to New York City – no matter how long or short your stay – that it is pretty much impossible to write about everything here on this blog. Well, I could, but I would end up spending most of each day writing, and very little time actually doing anything.

Here’s a quick round up of just four recent observations and experiences.

Katz’s Delicatessen

Image: My $14 tuna/tomato/lettuce on Rye with custom labeled mineral water

Yesterday I found myself walking down East Houston Street, and dropped in to New York’s most famous delicatessen, Katz’s Deli at 205, East Houston Street. Even at 3.00pm, the place was busy, but I hear trying to find a seat for breakfast or lunch is all but impossible.

You have to see Katz’s for yourself, but believe me when I say that just about every famous (and infamous) New Yorker and quite a few non New Yorkers have at one time or other eaten at Katz’s Deli. It was almost worth paying $14+ for my humble tuna sandwich just to spend some time looking at the hundreds of photographs lining the walls of this New York institution.

At least four U.S. Presidents are represented including Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. I don’t know if Barak Obama has visited yet, but I’m sure it is only a matter of time before he does. The greatest number of well know visitors are the actors: Jerry Lewis, Elija Wood, Danny DeVito, Ben Stiller, Liev Schreiber, Paul Reiser, and Dom DeLouise among many others, as well as a host of actor/musicians including Madonna, Frank Sinatra, and Tito Puente. New York City Mayors and former mayors Rudolf Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg and Ed Koch have ‘eaten at Katz’s’, and the list goes ever on… and on…

Katz’s Deli is also famous for its slogan: “Send a salami to your boy in the army.” The slogan was coined during World War II after three sons of the owners were all serving in the armed forces, and the family tradition of sending food to their sons became encapsulated in the slogan.

When You Gotta Go…

Image: Not for the shy or fainthearted, but when you gotta go…

Sorry for the photograph but let’s play a little game, shall we? Where do you think a line up of toilet bowls like this might be? Somewhere in Africa maybe? Asia? Some other poverty stricken third world city?

No friends, this parade of bathroom bowls is in the public convenience located in Washington Square Park in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village! Actually, I should point out it is in the Men’s section of the facility. Whether women are faced with a similar lineup, I have no idea, but if any reader knows the answer, maybe they’d like to let us know via the Comments section below.

Personally, to say I was surprised to see such an open public display of Thomas Crapper’s toilet bowls would be a gross understatement! Especially since Washington Square Park is probably one of New York’s most popular parks.

Still, when you gotta go, you gotta go.

So I did!

But hopefully, the next time I get ‘caught short’ I will be able to find a less public place to do so.

191st Street Pedestrian Tunnel

Image: the 191st Street subway tunnel stretching off into the distance

Sometimes the most interesting things present themselves to you when happy ‘accidents’ occur when you least expect them. Take the massive pedestrian tunnel connecting the 191st Street 1 train station with Broadway at the top of Manhattan. The 1 train terminates/begins at the Staten Island Terminal at the foot of Manhattan, and runs all the way through to the Bronx station of 242nd St/Van Courtlandt Park.

I was heading back to the apartment on the 1 train, following my recent afternoon on Staten Island. Normally, I would have found an A train station, as the train passes closer to my accommodations, but the 1 train was right at the Staten Island Terminal door, so I was happy to do a little extra walking rather than go looking for the nearest A train station.

However, I should have left the 1 train at the 181st Street station. But I was tired, and not paying close attention as the train progressed up the island, so when I missed my stop and had to get out ten blocks further up Manhattan I was annoyed but resigned to the extra walking I would need to do.

Following the exit signs pointing towards Broadway, I encountered the pedestrian tunnel you see in the photograph which runs straight as an arrow for some 300+ metres. It might not look like much in the image, but I was taken by surprise at its length and presence. Mind you, I shouldn’t have been. New York City’s subway system is filled with massive pedestrian passages that make the 191st Street passage seem short by comparison. But when you unexpectedly encounter things like this, you have to stop and remind yourself that sometimes happy accidents can reveal things you might not other discover.

New York City Apartment Living

Image: floor plan for a massive New York City apartment

The subject of apartment living deserves its own entry, but for now take a good look at the image above. It shows the floor plan for an apartment that covers the complete floor area of a New York apartment block.

It is not just the fact that the apartment has three bedrooms that caught my attention, but each of the bedrooms has its own en-suite bathroom facilities. Not only that, but there is a fourth bathroom at the end of the Gallery.

That’s four bathrooms – in one apartment!

What are the chances of getting ‘caught short’ there?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In The Know

~ Don’t you hate when you know big things are afoot, but you only have answers to some of life’s most important questions – like who, what, when, where, how and why?

Take today for example. Late this afternoon I was walking up Bleeker Street towards the Bitter End, the last of the great 60s folk venues, when I noticed a line of people stretching from the doors of the Bitter End, around the nearest corner almost a whole block as far as the next corner. Since I had myself visited The Bitter End only last night, I was intrigued to know who or what was happening there on a Monday night that would cause hundreds of people to line up well in advance of opening time.

According to their schedule, The Bitter End tonight is featuring three shows (all with separate start times and entry prices). These are The Moth; Oz Noy; and Richie Cannata’s Monday Night Jam.

I’m putting my money on The Moth as the reason for the line up. According to their website The Moth is “…a not-for-profit storytelling organization, founded in New York in 1997 by poet and novelist George Dawes Green, who wanted to recreate in New York the feeling of sultry summer evenings on his native St. Simon's Island, Georgia, where he and a small circle of friends would gather to spin spellbinding tales on his friend Wanda's porch.”

After starting the first "Moth" evening in his living room, the storytelling sessions quickly outgrew Green’s apartment to the point where today “…The Moth conducts eight ongoing programs and has brought more than 3,000 live stories to over 100,000 audience members.”

Why "The Moth"?
George Green and his friends found that “…the characters in their best stories would often find themselves drawn to some bright light—of adventure, ambition, knowledge—but then find themselves burned or trapped, leaving them with some essential conflict to face before the story could reach its conclusion. So George and his original group of storytellers called themselves "The Moths". George took the name with him to New York, where he hoped that New Yorkers, too, would find themselves drawn to storytelling as moths to a flame. They did. With no advertising, through sheer word of mouth, every show to date has sold out in 48 hours or less.”

And clearly, hundreds more where lining up around a Greenwich Village block tonight to be part of yet another sold out gathering of ‘Moths’.

Having seen the size of The Bitter End, I had no intention of joining the long queue. Even if I was lucky enough to actually get inside this compact venue, there was no way I was going to be able to find a seat or even find a comfortable place to stand by the time I gained entry. And since I had already been out and about for six or seven hours, my feet were demanding I take them back to the apartment for a well earned rest. Which is exactly what I did.

But somewhere in the back of mind, I have made a mental note to keep an eye open for the return of ‘The Moth’ in hopes that at some future date I may be able to attend a night of storytelling myself.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot happier now that I have a few more answers to my who, what, when, where, how and why questions.

If you are curious to know more, you can listen to a selection of stories via The Moth website

Monday, July 26, 2010

Postcard From Livingstone #2

~ Intergalactic time traveler, Livingstone Cook is living the high life in New York City, and has taken time out from partying to send some happy snaps back to Shummy-Shum (as he affectionately refers to his mother).

Livingstone is already well travelled, having come from beyond the Pavo constellation. Unfortunately, he did get caught up in some recent sun spot activity which has caused major malfunctions to his internal guidance systems.

The other side effect of this incident is that it has left him with a body mass that has become extremely soft and pliable, giving him the appearance of a soft toy made from wool with black beads for eyes. However, as Livingstone likes to say, "Looks can be deceiving". This transformation from an inter-galactic, state of the art, robotic alien has its benefits since it means he is now incredibly light and can fit into almost any space, which makes it east to tote him around with me wherever I go.

Written by Livingstone himself, here in his own words is a report of his second riveting week of international travel.


Hello, mommy Shummy_Shum. It too hot in Noo York City, especial if you come from ice-berg planet like me do. Me be getting out and over with Uncle JimJim – when he can be bother take me with he.

Here be wat Me do since Me be go from you, and go with Uncle JimJim.

Image: Livingstone getting chummy with Jake the cat

Me be meet with Jakey caat. Jakey like to play and jump. He roll me over and over, and tikkle me fit to get busted. Midnight caat, she don’t like to play. She be play cool, but Noo York too hot to play cool.

Image: Livingstone counting 5 to the 5th power

Me be play with Jakey caat. We be play hidey_hidey. Wen Me count five to fifth power, Jakey go to sleep_asleep. Jakey caat no fun to play with. He be a boo_boo!

Image: Livingstone backpacking the Highline

Uncle JimJim take Me walkies. He pack-back Me so Me not get over tire. This day we walk Highline Park. This be one old railways line. Trains no more runs here. Now railways line be pritty garden. Me likes pritty garden.

Image: Livingstone waiting for Macys July 4th fireworks display

This big day in Noo York City, and big day all over this one country. We wait and wait and wait. Me be sleep_asleep in hot sun and Me be melty all over, but Uncle JimJim say we stay to see big bangs. I say I already see Big Bang, but he say I be SillyBilly. Me no SillyBilly. Me want to go home!

Image: Livingstone catching up on some reading

Me like be Madhatten. Big tall house look like rocket ship to home. Me want to go home! Uncle JimJim say may be we go to Cape Canaberal to see big sky ship. Catch sky ship to home. Me think Uncle JimJim make bad fun. Not funny JimJim. SillyBilly!

Image: Livingstone getting some fresh sea air on the cruise to Bear Mountain

We go for sail on water ship. Me no like water ship, Me like sky ship. Uncle JimJim make play and hang me over side. Uncle JimJim be too silly. Make Me sea sick. Me go hidey_hide.

Image: Livingstone hiding in life bouy

Me be hidey_hide in life boy. Me feel safe now. Uncle JimJim say Me be careful of be like Captain Ahab. Me no kno who be Captain Ahab. Me no care! Me want to go home! Me want talk to Mr. Speelberg.

Pleese, scuse Me poor inglish. Livingstone inglish is get better but not best yet.

Luv U, Shummy_Shum. By-bye.



Well, there you have it. Thankfully, the New York heat has addled his brain somewhat over the past couple of weeks and the doctor has recommended lots of bed rest, which required Livingstone's abscence from my explorations of the city. However, I took pity on him having seen the corrosive influence of hours of daytime television on his circuits. So you can look forward to another update in a week or thereabouts. Sorry.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Take Me Out to The Ball Game

Image: Coney Island Wonder Wheel and apartments

A couple of weeks before I left Australia, I attended my first Australian Football League (AFL) contest in the birthplace of the game, Melbourne. More commonly referred to as Aussie Rules (or just, footy), our version of football sees two 18 man teams take to the field in a game that is always fast, aggressive (mostly in a competitive way, but often in a physical way as well), exciting to watch, and entertaining to observe.

Yesterday, I attended my first baseball game. Ever. I headed out to Coney Island during the afternoon to take in the sights, and stayed to catch a game between the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees at MCU Stadium.

Both teams play in the minor league competition – the Australian equivalent of state football teams. With a total crowd attendance of 8,813 the turnout to watch the games was on a par with, if not better than attendances at many state Aussie Rules games.

Now, if you are expecting a ball by ball account of the game, you will need to go to another source for that information. Apart from the bare minimum, I don’t pretend to know anything about the game and its rules; the players, or their positions, roles and individual histories; and neither do I know where each team stands in the overall competition rankings. I was just there to watch my first baseball game and take in the atmosphere, and hopefully enjoy the whole experience.

Of course, it is also pointless trying to compare baseball with Aussie Rules football. Like comparing apples with oranges, as the well-worn cliché would have it. However, it was interesting to observe and compare the rituals taking place throughout the game, and the behavior of the crowd.

Starting with the rituals for example, there was a lot more razzamatazz associated with the baseball game, than with Australian football. Partly this is because of the way baseball is played. At the end of each innings (of which there can be up to 10), the team taking to the playing field has a few minutes to practice their throwing skills, while the pitcher and catcher do the same. During this time, some sort of entertainment or activity is taking place around the periphery of the game. It might be a rendition of Happy Birthday for a few select fans in attendance who are celebrating their birthdays at the game; it could be a special appearance by a celebrity (baseball, musical or whatever); it might be a short competition; or even a chance to practice the home team dance routine along with the team cheerleaders.

Image: Another tribute wall to 9/11 emergency service members

However the most important ritual was reserved for the start of the game, and the singing of the National Anthem. After a few preliminaries: the ceremonial pitching of the first ball; a walk on role for the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Pipes and Drums Band, and such, Regina Wilson stepped forward to sing an a’capella version of the national anthem, and everyone – including myself – immediately stood and faced the American flag flying high above the playing field.

Here was the first major difference between this event and an Australian football game. During my attendance at the ‘major league’ football match between Collingwood and Melbourne, I remember someone sang the national anthem – but I can honestly say I didn’t see anyone rise and stand for the occasion. Australians have a clear disregard for the pomp and ceremony of this ritual, and a healthy disregard for the nationalist fervor some would like us to adopt during official renditions of Advance Australia Fair.

That doesn’t mean we never stand for the anthem – just that we prefer to do so when an important occasion really demands it, and not at the so called, ‘drop of a hat’.

The other striking difference between the codes of sport was the behavior of the crowds.

As I wrote in my entry about the football game mentioned above (see Two Tribes), Australian football fans “…are not afraid to give voice to their anger, frustration, and gratuitous advice, with which they liberally shower their team and coaches (and the opposition team and coaches with).”

I also wrote: “I suspect Australian football fans are no different from British, American or any other national sporting fans you care to name. We are passionate, vocal, rude, outrageous, and make no excuses for being so.”

Well, based on my observations of last nights game, I must say American baseball fans, while passionate and vocal, are certainly not rude or outrageous. In fact, I never heard a cross word, let alone anything resembling abuse, during the whole evening. This was a wholesome family affair, and the mood was upbeat, celebratory, and friendly all night.

Image: One true Cyclones fan…

Seventh Innings Rituals

The game was proceeding along very nicely with the home team, the Brooklyn Cyclones well in control of the game, when out of the blue (or so it seemed for a complete baseball virgin like myself), Regina Wilson again appeared on the playing field to sing, God Bless America at the start of the seventh innings. Both teams walked out of their team bunkers onto the field, the whole crowd again stood and faced the flag, and God Bless America was duly sung. As the last notes of the song died away, the crowd broke out into loud cheers, voicing their obvious patriotic pride in their country.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

In 1858, the first known baseball song, The Base Ball Polka! was written. It was not quite as famous as Jack Norworth's 1908 classic, Take Me Out to The Ball Game, which was written on some scrap paper on a train ride to Manhattan. Norworth then provided those paper scraps to Albert Von Tilzer who composed the music, and before the year was over, a hit song was born.

Jack Norworth was a very successful vaudeville entertainer and songwriter (over 2,500 songs, including Shine On, Harvest Moon), and spent fifteen minutes writing this classic which is sung during the seventh inning stretch at nearly every ball park in the country.

"Take me out to the ball game,

Take me out with the crowd.

Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack,

I don't care if I never get back,

Let me root, root, root for the home team,

If they don't win it's a shame.

For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,

At the old ball game."

I’m writing about this because at the conclusion of God Bless America, the chorus to Jack Norworth’s song blared out over the loudspeakers, and the whole crowd took up the refrain and joined in heartily throughout.

The reason why the song is sung in the seventh innings has been lost to time. No-one seems to know, but it has become a tradition to at least sing the chorus to Take Me Out to The Ball Game during the seventh innings, at virtually every baseball match in the country.

Mind you, not everyone thinks singing Take Me Out to The Ball Game is a good idea, as this quote attests:

"In the seventh inning fans all get up and sing 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game,' and they're already there. It's really a stupid thing to say and I don't know who made 'em sing it. Why would somebody that's there get up and sing take me out to the ball game? The first person to do it must have been a moron." - Pitcher, Larry Anderson [Source: The Baseball Almanac website]

And yes, you can still buy "peanuts and cracker jack" at the game.

At the conclusion of last night’s game, the crowd was to be entertained with a fireworks display. However, due to prevailing weather conditions, the fire marshall in attendance decided that it would be safer to set the fireworks off early.

I have no idea of what the prevailing weather conditions were, apart from the fact that it was a slightly overcast, balmy, humid night – but maybe they were expecting a storm front to move through. No matter. As the seventh or eighth innings – I forget which – got underway, we were treated to the double spectacle of a minor league baseball match taking place to the sound and fury of a fireworks display booming loudly overhead.

Maybe they were just trying to keep the Staten Island Yankees out of the game. If so, they need not have worried. The Brooklyn Cyclones finished clear winners, and just before 10.00pm, after three entertaining hours, the game came to a sudden end in the ninth innings.

Image: the scoreboard says it all: Brooklyn Cyclones clear winners… this time

If I can get a ticket, I will attend a Major League baseball game between the New York Yankees and Kansas City at CitiField, Queens this coming week.

Baseball Almanac website...

Friday, July 23, 2010

New York on $20 a Day

Image: Staten Island pilings at St. George

Recently I spent around ten hours out and about in New York City and to my surprise, and delight, only expended $20 during the whole outing. Here’s how I did it.

New York during summer is awash in free events and activities. From Summer Stage in Central Park to the River to River Festival across the Downtown area of the city; from the numerous free events in Bryant Park and the Lincoln Center, to the free outdoor screenings of popular movies across a number of locations; from the free ride to Staten Island on the Staten Island Ferry, to the Celebrate Brooklyn events in that borough – the list goes on and on.

My planned schedule of events and activities for Wednesday, July 21 included: Paul-Andre Fortier: Solo 30x30 (one of a series of thirty, 30 minute dance works); the Henry P. Warner Jazz Quartet (at Trinity Church); a trip to Staten Island, where I planned to spend at least 2-3 hours; a walking tour of the South Street Seaport; and finally, a performance by the Jamaican recording artist, Burning Spear. All of these events and activities were free. As if that wasn’t enough, I had also penciled in a visit to an open mic night at Coogan’s Bar to round out the day!

In the end, I missed the dance performance, but instead caught 30 minutes of music from two Columbian twins who perform under the name Gimagua. Although jazz is not my forte, I enjoyed the excellent set from Henry Warner and his associates at Trinity Church, before walking down to the ferry terminal for the free 30 minute trip to Staten Island. And for reasons I am about to explain, I also missed the South Street Seaport walk and Burning Spear – and somewhere in my overheated, sweat soaked condition completely forgot about the open mic.

Image: Staten Island Ferry up close

Now you have to understand that 99.9 percent of visitors taking the trip to Staten Island do so because it is free, and because it allows them to get excellent views of the Statute of Liberty. An added bonus is that you also get great views of the bottom end of Manhattan as the ferry crosses over to the island and when it makes the return trip. Having reached Staten Island, this 99.9 percent then disembark, walk back around to the main hall, and wait to board the same ferry back to Manhattan! And that is the extent of their visit to Staten Island. The other 0.1 percent of visitors like myself (these are my guestimates, I should point out), actually decide to at least explore a little bit of St. George, the main town on the island – and that is what I preceded to do.

Since it was by now around 2.00pm and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, I went in search of sustenance. I found a little cafĂ© and ordered a Mexican Wrap and a coffee. For some reason the coffee was free, which was fine by me, and I didn’t refuse the offer a top-up from the owner who also gave me a small bottle of water – also for free! My bill for this Wrap, two coffees and bottle of water was $7.00.

Having recharged my cells, I headed off into the humidity to explore St. George. I walked up and down a couple of ‘main’ streets, and eventually discovered a thrift shop. On a whim, and looking for something to do, I went in and after browsing around for ten or fifteen minutes walked out with a five dollar t-shirt. I don’t know why I bothered really, since a few days earlier I had bought three t-shirts for $10.00, but I felt a need to spend money on something.

I then looked at a map of Staten Island and decided it was time to jump on a bus and ride it to the end of the line. The longest route across the island seemed to be on the s74 bus, from St. George to Tottenville. To my surprise, the trip was longer than anticipated, which I suppose is another way of saying the island is a lot bigger than it looks, and after a journey lasting well over an hour, I alighted in Tottenville.

Image: Pretty as a picture - manicured lawns on Main Street, Tottenville, Staten Island

I spent 20-30 minutes walking around Tottenville, when wouldn’t you know it – along came an s78 bus making the return trip to St. George. To my delight, the return trip ‘up’ the island took an alternate route to the previous one, so I got to see different scenery on the drive back. However, this bus run also took over an hour to complete. By the time I reached the Staten Island ferry terminal at St. George and was able to board the next ferry back to Manhattan it was 8.00pm, and my initial 2-3 hours of explorations had turned into six hours!

By the time I reached Manhattan around 8.30pm I was more than ready to call it a day, and headed straight for the subway for the long ride up Manhattan to the 181st Street station.

Which I completely missed.

Which meant I had to get out at 191st Street and walk back down to my digs at 186 Street.

Now with the time approaching 9.30pm and me approaching meltdown, I stopped by a local Chinese take-away and ordered chicken and black bean sauce with rice ($5.00) and stumbled back to the apartment to eat.

Thus ended my excellent adventure for another day in the Big Apple. I had spent a total of $17.00. If I include another $3.00 to cover for my use of the already purchased MetroCard (30 days by $89.00 = $3.00 per day), then my total outlay for the day was just $20.00.

Not bad, even if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shakespeare in The Parks

~ Image: Manhattan skyline seen from Hoboken, New Jersey

Where would the theatre world be without William Shakespeare? Surely productions of his many plays outnumber all others by a magnitude of… well, who knows? Ten to one, 100-1, 1000-1? Like I say, who knows? I certainly don’t, but I do know there are at least three theatre companies staging Shakespeare in New York this summer.

The Big Kahuna of productions is the one featuring Al Pacino as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. This is being staged in Central Park. To get tickets to this potentially free performance you have to start lining up at the ticket office early in the morning and then face a wait of six hours or more. Failing that, you can buy a ticket, but even those are in high demand – and short supply.

For those of us who don’t have the patience or time to stand around in 90 degree heat (and 80 percent humidity) for six hours, we can make do with smaller, less prestigious productions. Like the one I saw last night at Sinatra Park, in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Image: The Freedom Tower rising high over the site of the former WTC

I found myself in Hoboken (the childhood home of Frank Sinatra) by indulging my habit of randomly taking some form of public transport, and discovering what lies at the end of the line. In this instance, having visited the 9/11 Memorial near the site of the former twin towers of the World Trade Center, I made my way over to the World Financial Center and its views looking down into the massive building site from where the new Freedom Tower has already risen some 20 floors above the ground.

On the Hudson River side of the Financial Center is a ferry terminal servicing various locations along the New Jersey side of the river. I bought a round-trip ticket ($11.00) to Hoboken and boarded the ferry for the quick 10 minute trip.

Walking along the park that lines the Hoboken shoreline I eventually found myself at Sinatra Park, and soon noticed something was afoot. All was revealed when a local theatre group, the Hudson Shakespeare Company, began setting up for a free Shakespeare in The Park performance of Much Ado About Nothing.

Directed by Tony White, who also takes on the roles of Dogberry/Verges, the 13 member cast battled valiantly to hold our attention against numerous distractions including helicopters, passenger jets, emergency service vehicles, buses and cars, and a spectacular lightning display from the massive rain-bearing clouds building up over Manhattan. At least the dogs where well behaved, and generally kept quiet throughout.

Image: Thespians prepare for Much Ado About Nothing

King Lear or Henry V it ain’t, but before a stage furnished with the barest of props (five chairs, and two sheet covered screens), the gallant company worked hard to overcome heat, humidity and lack of amplification to bring us this somewhat light piece of Shakespearean fluff. All cast members performed competently throughout, although Bjorn Pederson (as Claudio), and Mary Regan (working hard as Balthazar, Friar, and Watch) struggled at times to project their voices over the constant background noise.

After a performance last around two hours I headed back to the ferry for the ride back to Manhattan, only to learn that the last ferry had ceased running (sailing?) This was just after 10.00pm. And I had already paid for the trip! Luckily, the ferry terminal was located in the same area as the PATH train terminal, so I was able to board a train back to the WTC, and from there catch a train home – just as the skies over lower Manhattan began to open up and unload their contents onto the streets – and people – below.

Image: Spectacular cloud formations building up over Manhattan

Friday, July 16, 2010

Apollo Theatre Amateur Night Winners

I've just checked the Apollo Thearter's YouTube channel and I am now able to embed the winning performances from Wednesday, July 14, 2010 right here on my blog. So beginning with the Child Star of Tomorrow winner, Veronica Oreliana, you can now see for yourself 90 second clips of each performance.
Ladies and Gentleman, please put your hands together for Veronica Oreliana, Child Star of Tomorrow...
The overall winner of the main heat was the eleven member dance group, Dance Dimensions...
Jocelyn Jenkins was second with her passionate performance...
And last - but not least - was 21 year old Cat Stratakis...
By the way, both these two female singers conform to my theory (see previous entry) that songs about "You", rather than "Me" songs, are real audience winners.
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