Top Ten Lists for 2000 to 2009

Top Ten Movies

 

This list was the easiest to make because I just had to go back to my Top Five Movies emails from each year.  Each movie is either by a great director or in a beloved genre (or both).

 

  1. *Charlie’s Angels* (2000)

  2. *The Virgin Suicides* (2000)

  3. *8 Women* (2002)

  4. *Kill Bill* (2002 and 2003)

  5. YSL docs (2004)

  6. *Dogville* (2004)

  7. *Vera Drake* (2005)

  8. *The Notorious Bettie Page* (2006)

  9. *The Devil Wears Prada* (2006)

  10. *Volver* (2006)

 

Charlie’s Angels

Genre: female-driven action movie

Crazy for this movie.  Crazy on YOU!  I just saw it again this summer (also the sequel) and it holds up really well.  Fabulous trash, really brilliant, well-made trash.

 

The Virgin Suicides

Director: Sofia Coppola

This was her first movie, and though her other two movies (*Lost in Translation* and *Marie Antoinette*) also both made the Top Five for their years, this movie is the leader of the pack.  A masterpiece of tone and color.

 

8 Women

Director: François Ozon

A wacky musical murder mystery with eight fabulous leading ladies.  Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emanuelle Béart, Danielle Darrieux, and three other gals - - <<quelle buffet!>>  And it doesn’t hurt that this was one of the first movies I saw after my move to New York.  It was a weeknight, I was in line at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and who was standing in front of me?  Marlo Thomas.  I swear she could feel me boring a hole into the back of her skull with my eyes.  She turned and gave me a smile that very clearly said, “I don’t care how much you loved me in *That Girl* - - please leave me alone.  I’m just trying to go see a movie with my friend.”

 

Kill Bill

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Genre: female-driven action movie

Pardon me if I lump both movies into one entry, but this is my list and I’m coming up with the rules!  Lick my boot, you worm!  Anyway, back on topic - - you know that Quentin is my man.  These two movies thrilled me like no other, and they hold my record for Most Viewed in the Theater (five times each).

 

YSL documentaries

Genre: documentary

Again, I’m lumping two movies in one: the biography *Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times* and *5th Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris*, a movie that follows him as he prepares his last season of designs.  I saw these as a double feature, and they were the movies that inspired me to buy a membership at my beloved Film Forum, my favorite movie theater of all time.  It was January 2003, and I was in tears over the idea that I was in living in a city where a hundred people would pack themselves into a movie theater on a weekend afternoon to see a documentary about YSL.  This is truly the place for me.  I should add that this movie edged out *Spellbound*, another amazing documentary I saw at Film Forum (that one is about high school students in the national spelling bee).

 

Dogville

Director: Lars von Trier

Genre: sadism a-go-go

What is this fetish of mine for sadist movies?  Quentin put it perfectly in a New Yorker profile when the *Kill Bill*s were coming out: “The director/audience relationship is an S and M relationship, and the director is definitely the S.”  *Dogville* is so imaginative, and packs such a punch with so little effort and so little money being spent.  It’s basically pared down to nothing but the actors and the script.  And what a cast: Nicole Kidman, Patricia Clarkson, James Caan, Ben Gazarra, Lauren Bacall, the list goes on and on.  Not for the squeamish, however.

 

Vera Drake

Director: Mike Leigh

This is in my opinion the most perfect movie on this list.  Talk about effortless, and packing a punch.  If you haven’t seen it, run - - don’t walk.  It’s incredible, without a doubt one of the best movies of the decade.

 

The Notorious Bettie Page

Director: Mary Harron

This movie holds up really well (I just watched a fair amount of it on IFC a few weeks ago), but I can’t describe the utter gorgeousness that it had on the big screen.  Luscious black and white, and a few scenes in unbearably beautiful color.  A beautifully crafted film, and it states its stance (that Bettie wasn’t doing anything wrong in her controversial photos) with such warmth and directness, it never gets preachy.

 

The Devil Wears Prada

Genre: Meryl Streep movie

Yes, Meryl is a genre unto herself!  I believe this is one of her greatest performances, totally on a par with *Sophie’s Choice* and anything else you care to name.  My boyfriend Richard and I saw it together in the theater (I think it was our first shared movie) and we’ve spun through the DVD many, many times.  Our specialty is watching just the highlights: we can make it through this movie in under 20 minutes.  But that doesn’t make the movie as a whole any less valid, honest!

 

Volver

Director: Pedro Almodovar

He’s the fourth on my list of four directors whose every movie will cause me to run to the theater as soon as it opens - - and that movie will have a sure shot at my Top Five for that year.  The other three are also on this list: Coppola, Tarantino, and Harron.  *Volver* has his signature balance of sweetness, wackiness, and powerful emotion.

 

Hm, look over that list.  All of them, with the exception of the YSL movies, have a woman in the central role.  Six of them (*Charlie’s Angels*, *The Virgin Suicides*, *8 Women*, *Kill Bill*, *The Devil Wears Prada*, and *Volver*) are female-driven to the point where the men are sort of filler.  What is up with that?

 

 

Top Ten Meals I Ate

 

  1. Something made by Luba when Daddy was sick

  2. Jere and Dale’s four soups

  3. My first apple pie

  4. Waffle double feature

  5. Karen’s vegetarian lasagna

  6. Tuna meatballs at the beach

  7. Chicken fried chicken at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame

  8. Potato pancakes, kasha varnishkas, cabbage soup at The Polish Tea Room

  9. Pot roast at Mom’s

  10. Break Fast 2009

 

Something made by Luba when Daddy was sick

You’ll remember that my dad was very seriously ill about four years before he died - - I had just moved to New York, I was here for six weeks, and in late September 2002 he had a dissected aortic aneurysm, out of the blue.  I flew home, and since I had nothing keeping me in New York, and I felt like I needed to be in Wisconsin to be with him and Mom, I stayed there until the end of December.

 

For the first week or so my Aunt Karen and Uncle Ken parked their super deluxe mobile home in the hospital parking lot, and the group of us would go there to get away from the ICU and have lunch or just talk or whatever.  The wonderful Luba, who was the caregiver for Ken’s mother Erma, did most of the cooking, and all of it was delicious.  There was one dish in particular that I don’t quite remember: it had black beans in it, maybe some corn, and maybe some polish sausage.  It was fantastic, and just what we all needed.

 

Of course it was a very scary and stressful time.  Daddy was beating the odds big time, but also taking a turn for the worse every now and then.  It might sound like a screwy thing to say, but those weeks when Daddy was in the ICU were some of my most cherished memories of my time with my family.  We were all together, we were leaning on each other, there were lots of tears and lots of laughter.  And since we’re such a bunch of food junkies, of course those delicious lunches by Luba played a starring role!

 

Jere and Dale’s four soups

I flew back to New York on December 30, 2002 and the next day I was in Brooklyn at Jere and Dale’s New Year’s Eve party.  I’d been hearing about this party for years, but had never actually gone.  That first year was my favorite, because it was the first.  Every year they’ve had four pots of homemade soup on the stove, and you have to try all four.  My favorite is the one with Italian sausage (again with the sausage!), and there’s always a vegetarian soup that rocks the house.

 

My first apple pie

My mom makes KILLER pies.  It’s all about lard.  I asked her to show me how she makes the crust when I was home in 2002.  I’d seen her do it a million times, but had never been hands on.  I made an apple pie not long after I got back to New York, and I’m here to tell you that it was the most delicious pie I’ve ever had.  My mom wasn’t too thrilled to hear that, but I think she understood.

 

Waffle double feature

Every year for my birthday I have a Birthday Double Feature and Waffle Fiesta.  This is courtesy of the waffle iron I bought at Williams and Sonoma right after I moved here.  I went back and forth about whether or not I was going to buy it - - you could say I was waffling on my decision, but that would be cheap.  I was talking to my friend Debbie about it:

 

ME: Can I really justify spending $200 for a waffle iron?

DEBBIE: Why is it so expensive?

ME: It’s beautiful.  And it has a little bell that rings when the waffles are done.

DEBBIE: Would you use it often?

ME: Yes.

DEBBIE: And would it make you happy?

ME: Yes, it would make me very happy.

DEBBIE: Then stop talking about it and buy the freakin’ waffle iron.

 

I think it was 2004 that I had my first double feature.  I chose two movies that I love and I was sure none of the others (Karen, Jere, Dale) had seen: *The Long Kiss Good Night* and *8 Women*.  They were amused by *8 Women* and did major eye-rolls over *The Long Kiss Good Night*.

 

This is so much fun, why not list all of the double features:

 

2005: Fabulous Redhead double feature - - *Carnal Knowledge* and *Gambit*

*Carnal Knowledge* was a big hit.  Karen’s take on *Gambit*: “For a caper, the pacing is a little…sluggish.”

 

2006: Hump the Hostess double feature - - *Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?* and *Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice*

We’d all seen *Virginia Woolf* many times before, that’s such a brilliant film.  But I think I was the only one who’d seen *B & C & T & A*, or maybe the only one who’d seen it recently and/or loved it.  It blew everyone away.  I was shocked that the group found * B & C* more disturbing than *VW*.  The concensus was that George and Martha actually love each other, whereas Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice are jaded and beyond love.

 

2007: Agatha Christie double feature - - *Death on the Nile* and *Murder on the Orient Express*

I returned to my pattern of one movie being a hit and the other being a dud.  *Murder* was the hit, *Death* was the dud.  Though we got a lot of mileage out of Maggie Smith frantically hunting for the gun in *Death*, that was a riot.

 

2008: Turning 40 is a Drag double feature - - *Victor/Victoria* and *Tootsie*

The theme is pretty self-explanatory, no?  Both great movies, and they hold up really well (especially *Tootsie*).

 

2009: Judith Anderson double feature - - *Rebecca* and *Laura*

This turned out to be a single feature, because the damn DVD of *Laura* wouldn’t play.  I tried every trick in the book and could not get it to play.  *Rebecca*, of course, is a masterpiece.  This was our first double feature in our reconfigured and redecorated apartment.  The Media Room is perfect for this event.

 

ANYWAY.  My whole point was the damn waffles.  I always have scads of toppings: bananas, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries (if I can find them), chocolate chips, coconut, whipped cream, hot spiced apples, butter pecan ice cream.  And yogurt and oranges and other side dishes.  Karen always brings cupcakes, and we have many bloody marys and nachos and scones with the first feature.  Jere made Moscow mules one year, that was a treat.

 

Karen’s vegetarian lasagna

I get together with a group of friends and we rent a house on the beach for a week every summer.  I think our first week on the Jersey Shore (after years of schlepping to North Carolina) was 2004.  Sometime in the fall of that year or early 2005 Karen had a group of us over for vegetarian lasagna.  It was delicious, but it was the fun that I remember best.

 

Tuna meatballs at the beach

One of the highlights of the beach is cooking for each other.  Richard and I have made tuna meatballs (from a NY Times recipe) for the last two summers, and the first time was perfect.  This past year we brought our food processor, and though that made the whole thing much easier and quicker, the meatballs had a more pleasing texture when the tuna steak was cut by hand.  To die for.

 

Chicken fried chicken at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame

There’s a darling kitschy place in Greenwich Village called the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  It’s one of my favorite places in town, it’s just adorable.  And they have killer chicken fried chicken, with lumpy mashed potatoes on the side.  I was there a few weeks ago and didn’t ask about the vegetable they were serving that night - - I wish I had, because it was okra.  Yuck.

 

Potato pancakes, kasha varnishkas, cabbage soup at The Polish Tea Room

My favorite place in the theatre district is the Café Edison, aka The Polish Tea Room.  Dirt cheap, marvelous tacky décor, a real New York joint.  Three things there that are out of this world: potato pancakes, crispy and greasy and divine.  Cabbage soup, the best on the planet.  And kasha varnishkas, which I’d never heard of before a few years ago.  Varnishkas are better-known as bowtie pasta, and kasha is a coarse buckwheat-y sort of grain that’s sprinkled over it.

 

Pot roast at Mom’s

Richard and I were in Wisconsin for Christmas in 2007 and I made a special request one of the last nights we were there that Mom make a pot roast.  I think she made it in the Crock Pot, with potatoes and carrots and onions and other goodies in there.  Unbearably delicious.

 

Break Fast 2009

You might think that I misspelled that, but I’m not talking about breakfast - - I’m talking about Break Fast.  Good Jews fast for a full day on Yom Kippur and they celebrate the breaking of the fast with a big meal.  I came home from work that night and Richard had made the most extraordinary meal: bagels and lox, cream cheese, tuna salad, homemade hummus, various veggies, and he had bought some beyond-belief cupcakes for dessert.  I got all teary, it was such a delicious meal and he set up The Dining Platform with candles and everything.  We don’t eat on The Dining Platform very often, it’s always something special.  I love that guy.

 

 

Top Ten What I Wore

 

  1. Purple sweater, black suit

  2. Moss green linen shirt, oatmeal-colored linen pants, brown belt, brown loafers

  3. Black double-breasted suit, white shirt, $40 tie

  4. Pink shirt, navy tie, olive pants, brown leather belt and shoes

  5. Zebra print shirt, olive kilt, black high-top sneakers

  6. Black turtleneck, royal blue kilt, black leggings, black shoes and belt

  7. Beige shirt, brown and orange vest, orange tie, black pants

  8. Olive sports coat, white shirt, plaid tie, jeans, rayon duster

  9. Multi plaid shirt, walking shorts, brown sandals, Yankee cap

  10. Black overcoat

 

Purple sweater, black suit

I wrote a short opera (*Machinal* - - actually, the first scene of a projected longer opera) in 2000 and it was scheduled for its premiere at UW Opera in the fall of 2000.  I knew I wanted to have something special to wear for such a special event, so when I was in San Francisco that summer I was on the hunt.  I was also going to opening night of the Lyric Opera of Chicago with Kathy the Mezzo (they were doing *Queen of Spades*, which was amazing) and thought I could wear something gala for that, too.

 

I went to some chichi store in San Francisco and found a dreamy Armani jacket that I was sorely tempted to buy.  It was black velvet with a Mandarin collar and was hand-embroidered in Chinese red with flowers and vines and stuff like that.  It was a glorious garment.  I don’t remember how much it cost, it was definitely over $500 - - it may have been $1000.  Forget it.

 

I went to Banana Republic and found a gorgeous rich purple V-neck wool sweater.  I paired that with my black double-breasted suit (which I’d bought for turning pages at the Union Theater, and wore for the first time at my cousin Heidi’s wedding) and wore that to my premiere.  I must say I looked very sharp.  I wasn’t able to find anything gala to wear to the Lyric, I just wore a tux - - but Kathy the Mezzo looked gala enough for the two of us, in her blue velvet gown.

 

Moss green linen shirt, oatmeal-colored linen pants, brown belt, brown loafers

I did a recital at Christ Presbyterian Church in July 2002, right before I left town.  I hadn’t done a full solo recital since my senior recital in 1992, and it was so satisfying.  My good friends, pianists Jane Peckham and Martha Fischer each took a half of the recital.  Martha and I had been very good friends for years and had never performed together, which was amazing.  I chose a program of things I did really well, mostly things I hadn’t done before, and I must say it was a smash.

 

My best friend Karen Miller came in from New York for the weekend, and it was such a rare treat to have her there.  She had the funniest remark about the recital - - I had dinner a few nights before with her and Kathy the Mezzo:

 

KATHY: You’re singing the *Chansons de Bilitis*?

ME: Yeah, I can’t wait.

KATHY: Aren’t they kinda low for you?

ME: Well, it’s not the strongest part of my voice, but I think I’ll be audible.

KAREN: I’m gonna sit up close, just to be safe.

 

I was going to put this recital on my Top Ten Cultural Events, but that seemed a little much.  And my chic understated all-linen outfit was just the thing for a casual summer recital.

 

Black double-breasted suit, white shirt, $40 tie

I think this suit may have gotten a mention in the previous decade - - I first wore it at my cousin Heidi’s wedding to the marvelous Bart, and my dad helped me pick the tie to go with it.  We found it at Marshall Field’s in Madison.  I liked it, he liked it, he looked at the price tag and said, “Christopher, this tie costs $40!”  I said, “Dad, if you spend $40 on a tie, you get a $40 tie.”  Of course this doesn’t apply to TJ Maxx or other such places, where you get a $40 tie for $15.

 

I wore that suit and tie with a white shirt for my job interview for my job.  Obviously it worked very well.  And I wore it to my dad’s funeral.

 

Pink shirt, navy tie, olive pants, brown leather belt and shoes

No one ever told me that I need to wear a shirt and tie every day at work, but I like it.  In the summer I wear short-sleeved shirts (and would never be caught DEAD in a short-sleeved shirt with a tie), but the rest of the year I wear a shirt and tie every day but Friday.  Of course I like to get creative and mix it up a bit with my shirt/tie/pants combos, but there are a few outfits that are so perfectly executed that I always wear them when that tie comes around in my rotation (more about that in a moment).

 

My best friend growing up was a great girl named Jenni Scott (now Jenni Mirus).  She and I were in Forensics together, which has nothing to do with autopsies - - it’s a competition for speech and drama.  She was always a big winner in her speech category and dressed the part, in very <<comme il faut>> executive dresses and suits.  But she’d cast off that red state skin and show her true blue state self as soon as she was done speaking, and change into something comfortable but still stylish.  And she’d collect her trophy in this comfy outfit, I thought it was the essence of chic.  Anyway, one particular day she was wearing a dark red turtleneck, a dark green flannel shirt, a pair of beige stretch pants, and brown leather loafers.  I said to her, “I love that outfit.”  She grabbed my wrist rather urgently and said, her voice throbbing, “Christopher, never underestimate the power of solids!”  And I never have!  This pink shirt, navy tie, and olive pants is my tribute to Jenni.

 

OK, now for the necktie rotation.  I had about 20 or 30 ties when I moved to New York.  That was a good start.  I bought a few when I got this job, and then my good friend Mary Ann Harr sent me a package with about 30 ties she had bought at a garage sale.  Then, a few months later, another 50!  Bless her harpist heart.  And of course I have to buy a tie now and then, and get them as gifts.  So now I have over 100 ties.  I noticed that I kept wearing my favorite 30 ties over and over, and that didn’t seem fair.  So now I have a system where I have my ties on two hangers - - one for ties I’ve worn and one for ties I haven’t.  I can’t wear a tie I’ve worn until I wear all the ties I haven’t.  I try to wear a few ties I’m not so crazy about early in the cycle, so the end of the cycle can be an endless array of ties I love.  I really need professional help.

 

Zebra print shirt, olive kilt, black high-top sneakers

My dear friend Alec Lindsay got married a few years ago, a lovely wedding along the Connecticut River.  His cousin Donny was there wearing a gray kilt, rather short, just above the knee.  He’s a hunky straight guy with curly red hair, so of course I had to ask, “Are you wearing your kilt in the true Scotsman manner?”  He said, “I haven’t worn a pair of underwear in over four years.”  Oo Lawdy!  Hose me down.  That got me all hot and bothered.  He works for a company called Utilikilt.  They make kilts, but not plaid wool special occasion kilts like you’d think - - their kilts are supposed to be a viable alternative to pants.  They’re never made out of wool, they’re never plaid.  They have a patented snap design, and a patented pleating method - - your typical pleats in a skirt or kilt go in one direction, but the Utilikilt pleats go out from the center, both in the front and back.  I looked them up online when I got back from the wedding, and bit the bullet (they’re rather pricey) and bought one in olive.  I adore it.

 

How did I first hear about Night of a Thousand Stevies?  I have no memory of that aha! moment.  Night of a Thousand Stevies is an annual tribute to Steve Nicks held in New York.  Drag queens and other wonderful weirdos dancing to Stevie.  I decided this was the perfect op to wear my Utilikilt, so I wore it with a zebra print crushed velour shirt (which I bought in Madison years ago), a wide black leather belt, and black high-top sneakers.  Night of a Thousand Stevies was a bit of a snooze, but I looked like a million bucks.  The highlight of the whole evening was walking around the Village and getting the occasional look.

 

Black turtleneck, royal blue kilt, black leggings, black shoes and belt

Richard and I went to a marvelous freaky street fair in San Francisco back in 2006, the Folsom Street Fair.  I wore the olive Utilikilt there with my black Diamanda Galás T-shirt (more about Diamanda in a minute).  Some random guy came up to me and told me that his parents live next to her parents in San Diego.  Hard to imagine Diamanda ever setting foot in San Diego, but I guess we all have to come from somewhere.  Anyway, the Utilikiltarians had a tent at Folsom and I bought a dreamy model in royal blue wide wale corduroy.  It’s a flirty length.  I love it.

 

My chorus Cerddorion has a day-long Saturday rehearsal before every concert and I wore that olive Utilikilt to one of those.  I felt a little funny leaving my apartment on a Saturday morning and walking through my somewhat tough neighborhood to get to the subway.  I got not even a block from my door and I heard a wolf whistle from out of nowhere - - the first and only time that’s ever happened to me.  See why I love New York?  I wore the blue kilt with a black turtleneck, black leggings (bought at the Gap for my first visit to New York in 1994!), and black shoes and a belt.  That is one snappy outfit.

 

Beige shirt, brown and orange vest, orange tie, black pants

My brother Howard bought the most beautiful vest to wear at our brother Patrick’s wedding.  It’s brown and orange brocade, it has a tab collar, it’s silk, it’s a dream.  He wore it with an olive mock turtleneck and khakis and looked very smart.  I wore a white shirt, plaid bow tie, and khakis and looked merely cute.

 

I was in San Francisco years later, visiting Howard, and went through his closet looking for something to wear.  I pulled this vest out and looked at him questioningly.  He said, “Yeah.  Ya know, I’m probably never going to wear that again.  Why don’t you take that.”  SWEET!  I wore it for the first time to the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s *An American Tragedy* at the Met, with a beige shirt, a muted orange tie, and black pants.  The opera was a dog, but I was fierce!  I wore this same outfit again at Richard’s 50th birthday party.  Aw…

 

Olive sports coat, white shirt, plaid tie, jeans, rayon duster

I inherited some clothes from my dad, a combination of things I had seen him in and things I had never seen.  One of the things I had never seen is a cute olive green cotton sports coat, unconstructed.  I often wear it to a weekend performance with a white shirt, a plaid tie, and jeans.  I finish the look with a charcoal grey rayon duster, a hand-me-down from my brother Patrick.  He bought it in the 80s, it’s Willi Wear by the late Willi Smith.  I cut a mean figure in that coat.

 

Multi plaid shirt, walking shorts, brown sandals, Yankee cap

Richard’s best friend Barbara, as they say, comes from money.  Richard is very close with Barbara’s kids Katherine and William and the rest of her family and a few times Barbara’s mother, Kitty Cat, took the whole group, including Richard, on marvelous vacations.  They went to New Orleans, Rome, they went a number of places.  Sometime in early 2008 Kitty Cat decided to take the whole group on a cruise.  Richard was of course invited, and Barbara snagged me an invite as well!  It was a New Year’s cruise of the Mexican Riviera.  Who knew that they had one?  It was a hell of a lot of fun.  One day Richard, Katherine, William, and I went mini-golfing on one of the upper decks of the ship and Richard took my photo in the outfit described above.  The shirt is short-sleeved, made of small swatches of madras plaid fabric, all different colors, stitched together.  It’s a Ralph Lauren, I got it on sale somewhere.  The shorts are a yellowish beige, just above the knee.  I’m wearing a brown leather belt and brown sandals and Richard’s navy blue Yankees cap.  The outfit itself isn’t terribly special, but it’s such a great picture.

 

Black overcoat

Lands’ End used to have an outlet store on Odana Drive in Madison, before they moved it out by the Target.  My dad and I were there one fall, it was between fifteen and twenty years ago.  I was looking for a new winter coat, and they had a very cute reversible coat - - one side was a wooly red and brown plaid, the other was a caramel-colored canvas.  They were hanging on a cross shaped rack. If you visualize a clock, they had the plaid side at 12 and 6, and the caramel side on 3 and 9.  My dad and I saw them and were both drawn to them.  Dad said, “Wow, they’re reversible, that’s kinda great!”  I tried one on, the plaid side.  He said it looked great, and I was about to go to the register.  He said, “Don’t you want to try on one of the others?”, meaning the caramel-colored side.  I said, “Uh, no - - it’s the same coat, Dad!”  Totally adorable Howard Ryan moment.

 

I wore that coat for years and years.  For a long time it had a hand-written note from Karen Miller in the breast pocket on the plaid side, with directions on taking a Carey Bus to the airport in New York.  I loved that coat to death, but it started looking sort of tired last year.  I thought all summer about how sad I would be to see it go.  Then just a couple of months ago I showed up early for a Board meeting of my chorus (I’m the Secretary of the Board, natch) and decided to waste some time at Banana Republic across the street.  They had a glorious black double-breasted wool overcoat, part cashmere.  I tried it on and it looked fantastic - - sleek and chic, especially on my newly slender frame (I joined a gym at the end of August and have lost some weight).  But it was $250!  I asked my friend Liz if that was too much money for a winter coat (haven’t I learned anything from that waffle iron incident?) and she said if I was going to have it for years and it made me feel sexy, then I should buy it.  And two days later she sent me an e-coupon for 30% off!  So I paid $190 for it and I ADORE it.  I can’t adequately express how sexy I look in this coat.

 

I took the Lands’ End coat and lots of other clothes to the Riverside Church clothing donation spot a few weeks ago.  I thought I’d have a misty moment of saying goodbye to the coat, but I was home before I remembered I was supposed to be sad about it.  I guess that’s what they call progress.

 

 

Top Ten Cultural Events

 

  1. *Follies* on Broadway (2001)

  2. Brave New World at Town Hall (2002)

  3. Diane Schoff in Met auditions (2003)

  4. *Salome* at the Metropolitan Opera (2004)

  5. *4:48 Psychosis* (2005)

  6. Diane Arbus show at the Metropolitan Museum (2005)

  7. Diamanda Galas at Pace University (2005)

  8. Kabuki Theater in Tokyo (2006)

  9. *Grey Gardens* Off Broadway and on Broadway (2006)

  10. Steve and Eydie at Westbury (2007)

 

*Follies* on Broadway

My last vacation to New York before my move was in November 2001.  Karen, Jere, Dale, and I went to see the Broadway revival of Sondheim’s *Follies*, which has since become my favorite musical ever.  The four leads were played by Blythe Danner, Judith Ivey, Gregory Harrison, and Treat Williams, and they were good - - but the star of the show (in my opinion) was Polly Bergen, who brought the house down with “I’m still here”.  Betty Garrett (from *On the Town*, also *Laverne and Shriley*), Marge Champion (from a hundred Hollywood musicals), and Joan Roberts (the original Laurie in *Oklahoma*) were also the cast.  The production was brilliant, and I will never forget those chorines tapping their little feet off in the “Who’s that woman?” number.  If I could go back in time and see one Broadway show over again, it would be that one.

 

Brave New World at Town Hall

I moved here in August 2002, and heard about a series of performances being held at Town Hall to commemorate the anniversary of September 11th.  It was a compilation of short works, most of them written for the event.  I looked at the line-up and bought tickets for three of the four events, culminating with an evening performance on September 11th.  A few highlights: Phyllis Newman (oh Lord, I’m getting teary remembering this) sang “Some other time”, the heartbreaking (but not mawkish) ballad from *On the Town*.  Her real-life husband, Adolph Green, wrote the book and lyrics to that show (with Betty Comden), and he died about six weeks later, so that adds a hindsight sort of poignance to her performance.  Other highlights: Jill Clayburgh did a play which was very intense, and she blew me away.  Dana Ivey did a hilarious and touching monologue about Skylab, written by Christopher Durang.  Austin Pendleton, Marsha Mason, and Peggy Lipton did a funny play, and Austin Pendleton demonstrated such sublime and effortless comic timing.  And most memorably, I saw three different performances of the play *Adopt a Sailor* by Charles Evered, about a married couple having a sailor over for dinner during shore leave.  I saw it with Bebe Neuwirth, Michael Nouri, and Neil Patrick Harris - - with Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, and Craig Williams - - and Amy Irving, Sam Waterston, and Liev Schreiber.

 

The whole project was as much about celebrating New York as it was about mourning 9/11, and it was overpowering to leave Town Hall after the last performance, the night of 9/11/02, and walk through Times Square over the to A train to go home, seeing all the huge-screen tributes on the sides of buildings, and just the whole garishness and majesty of Times Square itself.  It was an overpowering New York moment, and not even a month after I moved here.

 

Diane Schoff in the Met auditions

My dear friend Diane Schoff made it to the semi-finals of the Metropolitan Opera auditions in 2003.  I’ve always been her biggest fan and most ardent supporter, so it was a thrill to hear her sing on the Met stage.  Sadly, she wasn’t advanced to the next level, but she was clearly one of the best singers heard that day.  No justice!  But as she says, she got her ten minutes onstage at the Met, which is more than most singers get.

 

*Salome* at the Met

My chosen diva is Karita Mattila, a Finnish soprano who’s turning 50 next year.  She has a wonderful voice, but more importantly, she sings with such intelligence and is an incredible actor.  The Met did a new production of *Salome* for her in 2004 - - I have to say that *Salome* is one of my top three favorite operas ever, so she had a head start, but she gave the most extraordinary opera performance I’ve ever seen.

 

I wish I could remember where I read this, but years ago I read an interview with an actor who said that the most difficult thing about Shakespeare is convincing the audience that you actually TALK that way.  Now, opera is a necessarily artificial art form - - the singing and the orchestra make it much more artificial than Shakespeare.  But Mattila, somehow, convinced me that her character actually talks that way.  It was astonishing.

 

*4:48 Psychosis*

The Brooklyn Academy of Music serves as a presenter for international productions, from all over - - Karen and I have seen a wonderful Israeli dance troupe there (Betsheva, incredible), and Richard and I saw an incredible German production of *Hedda Gabler*.  The most amazing thing I’ve seen there was *4:48 Psychosis*, a play by the English writer Sarah Kane.  Kane suffered from severe depression and killed herself (at the age of 28) after writing the play.  It’s a stream-of-consciousness play, written with no characters, no sense of who is speaking the dialogue.  The production we saw was for two people, a woman doing 95% of the speaking and a man doing the other 5%.

 

The production came from France and was done in French, with Isabelle Huppert in the lead.  BAM had supertitles translating the text - - I should say SOME of the text, because lots of it wasn’t translated.  I guess that was a wacko decision by the director, he thought it would add to the impact of the play.  Well, it was a little maddening, mostly because there were some moments where the French-speakers in the audience laughed, and Karen and I didn’t know what was funny.  And I’m here to tell you, this is a play that could use a few laughs!

 

Are you kind of wondering what was so amazing about this performance?  Here it is.  The house lights went down, the theater was dark.  Isabelle Huppert came on stage and stood in front of a scrim.  She was wearing a blue T-shirt and a pair of reddish jeans, and stood with her arms at her side.  And she stood there in that same spot, not moving, not moving her hands or anything, for the next hour and a half.  It was completely hypnotic.  There were slight breaks in the play, when the lights would change or they’d take a pause or something, and each time a number of people in the audience left.  About two-thirds through the play they took one of these little pauses and it felt like about fifty people walked out, it was a mass exodus.  But those of us who stayed to the end were glad we did, and hollered our praise to the stage.  Karen and I both noticed that Huppert didn’t bow during the curtain calls, she just kinda stood there and nodded to the audience.  I thought maybe she was unable to bend at the waist.

 

Diane Arbus show at the Metropolitan Museum

I became a member of the Met Museum right after I moved to New York, and I adore it.  The Temple of Dendur is my favorite spot in the city.  The Costume Institute is totally essential in my life, and their Coco Chanel retrospective a few years ago almost beat out this Arbus show.  I was giddy in anticipation of that show, and told Karen that she’d have to bring a wooden spoon when we went to see it, because being in a room surrounded by Chanels was sure to have me on the floor having a seizure.  I saw that Chanel show four times.

 

But the Diane Arbus show was more impressive, if only because I wasn’t so familiar with her work.  It was no surprise that the Chanels knocked me on my ass, but the Arbus show was a surprise.  And the impact of the show was magnified greatly thanks to my boss - - she’s also a member, but at a higher level, and she was given a pass to see a preview of it before it opened to the general public.  She was out of town that weekend, so she gave it to me, and Karen and I had the very rare and delicious privilege of seeing those photographs up close, in rooms with no more than twenty people.  The show wouldn’t have had that big an impact if we’d gone with the hordes, because the photos are small and there would invariably be someone in the way.  We were able to walk through at our leisure and get right up to the work.  And Arbus’s work is so powerful and distinctive.

 

Diamanda Galás at Pace

I first saw Diamanda Galás in Minneapolis, doing her one-woman show, *Plague Mass*, on Easter Sunday, sometime in the early 90s.  She is a force of nature and completely unlike anyone I’ve ever experienced, it really is like she’s from another planet.  And the things she does with her voice are completely unimaginable.  She can tear off in this caterwauling that sounds like a turkey getting shock therapy, and then three seconds later sing with a beautiful smooth legato sound, like she’s doing Bellini or something.  The impact of hearing her for the first time cannot be overestimated.  I was paralyzed.  On a cellular level.

 

I saw her at Joe’s Pub and at The Knitting Factory here in New York doing her sit-at-a-piano-and-sing kind of show, and those were incredible, but I was thrilled to hear that she was doing a fully staged performance, *Defixiones, Will and Testament*.  I was at a dinner party with a group of friends a few months before the show and was telling them about her.  I’ve always said that she’s the greatest singer I’ve ever heard or will ever hear.  I went on and on about her and they were all amused, which switched to alarm when I did my impersonation of her.  Jere finally asked, “I can understand why you’d think she’s so amazing, but I don’t understand why you would want to hear her a second time, let alone a third, fourth, fifth time.”

 

Jere passed on going to this performance, but Karen was totally up for it, as were our friends Liz and Tom, and my old boyfriend Alan, who was living in New York at the time.  I’ll quote from her website: “*Defixiones, Will and Testament* is dedicated to the forgotten and erased of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Anatolian Greek genocides which occurred between 1914 and 1923.”  She came out onstage wearing a black robe and a big black headdress, sort of like a Greek Orthodox priest (I’m talking out of my ass, I have no idea what the headdress of a Green Orthodox priest actually looks like).  She stood on the side of the stage and sang, a cappella, for about five minutes or so - - a gorgeous lyrical vocalese, using Middle Eastern-flavored melismas.  It was breathtaking.  I’d never heard her sing so beautifully, and I thought any wacko soprano could use that section of the piece to open a recital, and it would knock the ball out of the park.  She moved over to the piano and sat and played and sang, still pretty straightforward singing.  I was involved in the performance, of course, but there was part of me that was getting a little anxious.  When was she going to do her thing?  When was she going to scare me?  I didn’t have to wait long.  The speakers poured out a thumping beat and she left the piano.  She picked up a cordless microphone in each hand, held them over her head, and stared walking down the runway down the middle of the stage.  Her legs were stiff and her big heavy boots STOMPED on the floor with every beat.  I call this The Frankenstein Walk.  (My brother Howard, who introduced me to her, said, “I think she does that on her exercise video.”)  She brought one microphone down and started incanting something in Greek or some other language I don’t know.  And then she squatted down, brought both microphones into her mouth, and went off in her signature gobble-gobble shrieking.  I looked over at Karen, Liz, and Tom, who were all drained of color.  Alan had a huge smile on his face and his eyes were about to pop out of his head.  I breathed a sigh of relief, because now I could enjoy the show.

 

One last funny bit.  The show was on 9/10/05, and as we were leaving, Karen said, “And for years they spoke of the horrific events of September 10th…”

 

Kabuki Theater in Tokyo

I went to Japan for a week and a half in 2006 to visit my friend Laura, who was living in Okinawa.  She’d been there for a few years, and was starting to talk about coming back to the States, so I thought I’d better get there while I could.  Just the trip there was a huge cultural highlight, but the Kabuki Theater was the stand-out.  It was so beautiful, I’ll never forget it.  So precise and lyrical and just plain beautiful.

 

*Grey Gardens*

The Maysles brothers did a documentary in 1975 called *Grey Gardens*, about Edith and Edie Beale, the aunt and cousin of Jackie Onassis.  It was turned into a musical in 2006, with Christine Ebersole as the mother, Big Edie, in the first act (which takes place in 1941) and as the daughter, Little Edie, in the second act (which takes place in 1975).  I first saw it Off Broadway with my then boyfriend Chris Flacke.  The music is so wonderful, and the show is brilliant, but it was Ebersole who really walked away with the honors.  Ben Brantley said in his review in the NY Times that you’ll never see a better performance in a Broadway musical, and he might be right.  The show moved to Broadway at the end of 2006, and I went to see it with Karen, Jere, Dale, and my new (and always!) boyfriend Richard.  They’d made a few changes to the show, and it was even better.

 

Steve and Eydie at Westbury

I wrote a detailed and hilarious account of my trip to Westbury to see Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé.  Let me know if you want me to send it to you, it’s really a delightful read.  I’ll give you just two excerpts:

 

I paid slightly more money to be closer to the stage, and my seat was just one row away from the pit.  The guy ahead of me was right in front of the drums.  He called over an usher:

 

OLD MAN: Excuse me.  I’m right in front of the drums here.  I’m not sure I’m going to like it.  Are they going to be loud.

USHER: Sir, I don’t think it’ll be a problem.  This isn’t James Brown.  It’s Steve and Eydie.

 

And a joke that Steve told:

 

An 87-year old woman is arrested for stealing a jar of peaches from the supermarket.  The cops tell her that she has to go to court on Monday morning and the judge will sentence her.  She goes home, and she tells her husband, “Oh Morty, I don’t know how it happened, but I stole a jar of peaches from the supermarket and I was arrested and I have to go to court on Monday and the judge is going to sentence me, and I need you there with me, I need your love and I need your support.”  The husband said, “Of course, honey, of course I’ll be there with you.”  So they went to court on Monday and the judge looked at her and said, “Ma’am, you look fairly well off.  What were you doing stealing a jar of peaches?”  “Your honor, I don’t know how it happened.  I had the jar of peaches in my hand, and I just put them in my purse, I don’t know what I was thinking.  But I know it’s illegal, I know I did a bad thing, I feel awful about it, and you tell me what ever I need to do to make it right, and I do it, I promise I’ll do what ever you say.”  The judge thought about it for a moment and said, “OK, how many peaches were in the jar.”  She said, “Six.”  “I think you should spend one day in jail for each of those peaches.”  At this point the husband stood up and said, “Uh, your honor, she also stole a can of peas.”

PS - - I wrote this list in December 2009 before I saw *A Streetcar Named Desire* at BAM, starring Cate Blanchett and directed by Liv Ullmann.  Really and truly one of the greatest things I've ever seen onstage.

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