Sunday, December 30, 2007

Silly Symphonies - Program 4

The Silly Symphonies program was fun, and probably it was good that I only got to see one 70-minute program. (As opposed to watching all four programs. It would be like watching a whole bunch of half-hour sitcoms until you walk away feeling empty, as if a few hours of your life have gone down the drain with nothing to show for it -- you've been neither educated nor entertained, and you've not accomplished anything either. And people wonder why I don't have a TV? I know my weakness.)

The best of the lot was the six-minute cartoon "Hell's Bells" from 1929, the earliest of the series. The music was good, the animation consisted of, er, devilishly clever but simple line drawings. There are some ghoulish touches, such as one devil playing a skeleton bass, and another doing percussion on a skull and pressing the bellows with his foot to sound a trumpet (the "bellows" is another devil, lying on the ground with a trumpet to his lips). Meanwhile, the bubbling lava provides additional percussion. The whole thing is kind of sassy and sweet. The official program describes the crux of the plot as follows: "After the devil king drinks fire milked from the udder of a dragon, he eats one of his devil servants and pursues a second one over a cliff." The scene is more dramatically and psychologically rich than the writeup suggests, and (naturally) vastly more entertaining to watch. The king has to pursue the second servant because he (the second one) won't stand still to be eaten after seeing the fate of the first servant. He then outwits the king and manages to lure him out to the end of a cliff while he hides underneath, then climbs up a crevice behind the king, and boots him over the edge.

I also really liked The Old Mill (1937), which is a lovely 9-minute wordless tale of the creatures who inhabit an old windmill (gotta love the bats) and how they deal with the battering of a severe storm which temporarily jars the old mill into life.

Water Babies (1935) was fascinating, with an innocence that now looks a bit creepy through modern eyes - I don't think Disney would make a film like this anymore. It reminded me a little of the work of Anne Geddes.

The others were interesting, though some have aged better than others. The eerily similar "Little Red Hen" and "Wise Little Hen" (both released in 1934), nonetheless evoke very different responses in the modern viewer. LRH was almost unwatchable, while WLH was okay if a little over-cute. I was more intrigued by the fact that two studios (perhaps independently) came up with the same basic idea, just as they did in 1998 with "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact." Is it the case that great minds think alike (i.e., mere coincidence)? Or were creative minds in both places reading the same zeitgeist? Or, for you conspiracy theorists out there, did one studio get wind of the other's plan and decide not to be left out of the "trend"?

The Art of the Apology

If, like the protagonist in "Sorry" (The Skunks, No Apologies, 1996), you find that you "don't know what to say" (or perhaps you "know the words/ But can't pronounce them anyway"), check out this official apology form which I ran into on a NYT blog.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Yoga Countdown

Well, I have four yoga classes left, and three days to take them. I think I'll take three "easy" classes - the "lounging lotus" restorative session yesterday was wonderfully relaxing. Although it seemed like we spent most of our time folding blankets, which wasn't really supposed to be the point. We were supposed to be peeling away the physical self, the mental self, the emotional self, and one other self I completely forget (maybe it was successfully peeled away) to get down to the "true" self, aka the prana self. I really liked the pose we did to empty out the emotional self - very open and relaxing. By contrast, during the "prana self" pose, I was mostly distracted by the stinky blankets under my nose. And all this talk about selfs around Christmastime tends to trigger thoughts of elfs, which is not very helpful for the visualization we were supposed to be doing.

The only problem with taking the easy class today is that it will interfere with my ability to go see the first Silly Symphonies program at the Museum of the Moving Image. Hmmm. Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Feline Instinct

Cats are notorious for settling themselves in to the center of things -- right on the book you are reading, or on the keyboard if you're using the computer. B&S don't have a cat anymore, but their little one has the feline instinct. (And yes, the older one won't let go of her new stuffed animal, Stinger the stingray, as she unwraps another gift.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Pageant

For my belated Christmas pageant debut, I ended up buying an angel outfit at Ricky's (my first visit there). As regular Ricky's customers may have guessed, it was difficult to find anything other than a Sexy Angel or a Plus Size Angel, neither of which would have fit the occasion. My perseverance paid off, however, and I ended up with a costume that was considerably cooler than the church-provided ones -- a much better halo, and real feather wings. So I was careful to stay out of the limelight, since the audience was definitely not there to see me. (Some eagle-eyed readers may quibble that my parents must have been there to see me; to them, I merely point out that my parents' attention was siphoned off to a large degree by other, far more prominent pageant participants -- such as their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren.)

My niece loves to play dress-up, so I let her try on my angel outfit afterward. She out-cuted me in my own costume, even though the sleeves were about a foot too long.

She also looked more natural in wings.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Frrrrozen North

After a stressful week (not nearly enough time to do everything I wanted to do, and a strange dinner with a buddy who tried to seize my bags and carry them for me without asking first - is this where chivalry crosses the line into controlling behavior? - but I graciously permitted him to carry the bag containing my angel costume), my 3 a.m. alarm permitted me to cram my Friday morning with cooking breakfast (can't face the day on an empty stomach), running a load of laundry, and frantic bag-packing, followed by a mad scramble to Penn Station with three ill-packed, heavy bags.

I made the 6:20 a.m. Acela Express (thank goodness I mistakenly thought the train was scheduled for 6:15) and commenced a period of intense productivity. I snagged a seat at a table and managed to discourage people from taking the empty seats as I took out my wrapping paper, scissors, and tape, and methodically proceeded to wrap all my presents - including two that I meant to leave in NYC (grrr). Once that was done, I pulled out my stack of Christmas cards and prepared them for everyone whose address I had on hand. Even this partial distribution is a real step forward, as I pretty much failed to send any in 2005 or 2006.

Instead of alighting at South Station, I decided to get out a stop early at Back Bay/Copley Square and walk to my old dorm to catch up with a friend. This was not a particularly practical move, as it turns out, since my mental geography had relocated Copley Square to where the Hynes Convention Center is. How quickly we forget! I was able to find my way, but it was a good 10+ blocks further than I expected. Luckily the walk along Commonwealth Ave in the fresh snow was its own reward. The trees, every bare branch bedecked with an inch of snow, looked like bonsai trees, the snow highlighting their every twist and tangle. I would very much have liked to take some pictures, especially of one particular townhouse with a copper-sheathed bay window, but my camera was deep-sixed and the going was slow enough as it was. I enjoyed a cup of coffee with my friend, talking of this, that, and theology. She also told me about a very cool job opening at Rosedale Achievement Center in the South Bronx (where I used to volunteer three Saturdays a month as a drama teacher).

I caught the bus from South Station around the time that my parents caught the bus from Logan Airport (they flew in from India) and we made our way together to their place. Which turned out to be a nice, energy-conserving 40 degrees. We accidental environmentalists then made the mistake of turning up the thermostat, which had the counter-intuitive result of forcing COLD AIR all around the house. So it got a lot colder. Luckily we were able to start a fire and sit around watching "Christmas in July" (a Preston Sturges flick) while trying to reach the furnace folks.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

FOCUS Cider Sing and the Ghost City

Today's official sermon (more about the unofficial sermon later) was about "speaking truth to power" -- a phrase that raises my hackles and leaves them that way. It doesn't help that R had told me about attending a fundraising "speak truth to power" event held on the grand private estate of one of the younger Kennedys.

However, it was worth going to the 11:15 service, not only because it builds character and Rev. Perdue may manage to slip in a theological truth or two when I let my guard down for a moment, but also because afterward, a hardy group banded together for the annual Cider Sing. That's right, we stood under the eaves of the church on Fifth Avenue, barely sheltered from the cold damp wind, and treated passers-by to unrehearsed caroling, mini muffins, hot cider, and Christmas cheer.

Here you can see us standing around while our director pro tempore oversaw the recall of the 2005 Edition Songbook and replaced it with the 2007 Edition:

The 2007 Upgrade was in some ways a downgrade, since the new songbook did not have the music or lyrics for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in it. We had to sing that one from memory. Luckily, it was one of our strong points -- many of us knew the cheeky catch-phrases to shout out in-between verses -- although there was some disagreement about whether Rudolf would go down in history like Christopher Columbus, Mickey Mouse, or various other important historical figures.

Oddly, despite the inclement weather, passers-by slowed and gathered around to watch, listen and applaud. They snapped photos and videotaped us as if we were trained professional singers rather than enthusiastic amateurs much like themselves. (Although in fairness, at least two soprano voices near me were professional quality, and one of those voices belongs to an official member of our auditioned choir. Those voices certainly stood out for their clarity of tone, pitch, etc.) One tourist, carrying an Abercrombie & Fitch bag, came up and told us -- almost with tears in his eyes -- that this was the absolute highlight of his weekend. And they weren't even tears of laughter. He was genuinely moved.

My day actually started much earlier than 11:15, however, because I had volunteered to help out with Sunday school. It's always a lot of fun, starting with the mini worship service. The kids' sermons tend to be more hands-on than cerebral or political. Jacob Bolton, director of Family Ministries, gave a sermon about how we're all connected through Jesus. The prop was a ping pong ball with an L.E.D. and an electronic noisemaker inside, and two metal strips on the outside. If you hold the ball touching both metal strips simultaneously, the current flows through your body and the ball lights up and makes a little noise. Very cool. But in order to make the necessary theological point, Jacob had to hold the ball so that he was touching one strip, then a kid would come up and hold Jacob's hand and touch the other strip. The current then went through both bodies and energized the ball; if they unclasped their hands, the circuit was broken.

In the picture below, Jacob took a risk with his sermon - he had 10+ kids come up and link hands creating one monster circuit. Would the current run through ALL of them and light up the ball? Luckily, it worked as anticipated (phew!).

On the way home, I caught the ghostly skyline through the subway windows:

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Sun Terrace at Night

Another great shindig at the Sun Terrace, a place in midtown west (far west) with low buildings all around ... thus providing a spectacular nighttime panorama of all the lit-up skyscrapers, that my camera simply cannot capture.

Alda tries to tempt Roger with a brownie...
While Sharon chats with our gracious host, Patricia.
I made my masala-spiced chickpeas for the feast. There was a lot of competition (including a large pizza, two shepherd's pies, several salads, rice dishes, roasted chicken, and a plethora of desserts), but no clear winner. Other than the doormen, who get a lot of the leftover goodies as the party wraps up.

In the spirit of the season, a Christmas tree at night:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

News of the Weird (is there any other kind)

We had a lot of cold rain here today, but when I emerged from the subway on my way home, the streetlights caught the ice coating the bare branches of all the young trees. Really lovely.

My current obsession is Weird Al -- I treated myself to five of his songs recently and am in seventh heaven. I can't stop smiling at these sublime rhymes, which work a Nashian/Seussian transformation of the underlying source material.

The best of the lot is "Ebay", a spoof of the Backstreet Boys' "I want it that way". He should definitely win a prize for best-ever use of the word "tchotchkes" in a song ("...I'll buy your tchotchkes. Sell me your watch, please!"). His anti-TV songs are really fun too.

In yoga news, I have only 8 classes left! And 10 days to take them! Woo hoo! This doesn't leave me a lot of time to rest on my laurels, unfortunately.

And in the "News of the Weird" category, there's another person at work (luckily not in my building or my department) with the same first and last name. So I get her emails from time to time. (She doesn't seem to get mine, or if she does, she doesn't bother to forward them to me.) Today, I realized we also have the same middle initial. Interesting coincidence. So I asked her middle name. Turns out it is the same as mine. Pretty neat, eh? As it happens, though, she was born in a different month, so we can be pretty sure we are not twins separated at birth or whatever. But still.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Two Churches

The yoga countdown continues: 10 to go. The "red-eye" classes are killing me. If only I could take naps at work!!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Limbic Brain

This has pretty much been movie week. I saw The Nun's Story last night (Audrey Hepburn tries very hard to be a nun in 1930's Belgium and the Belgian Congo but finally concludes that her conscience is more important than obedience to her order) and Enchanted today (cartoon prince and princess-to-be become real-life characters in NYC and cross paths with a lawyer and his fiancee-to-be; can you guess who ends up with whom, and who ends up rescuing whom?).

I do not know if The Nun's Story accurately portrays life behind convent walls. The film depicts an order in which ritual trumps faith, and human religious leaders are stand-ins for Jesus who must be venerated and obeyed without question.

Even worse, in the film nuns' quest for purity, they cut themselves off from human touch (no hugs, just like Seinfeld). There is no evidence of human love, comfort, or tenderness. If they are indeed giving everything up for the love of Jesus, it does not fill them with joy. Even in worship, they do not show anything other than obedience.

Audrey Hepburn's character is one of the nuns who are called to the ministry of nursing. But the nuns in the film are not supposed to talk unnecessarily, so often decline to speak to their patients where a kind or reassuring word might do wonders. As nurses, they are (I would think) at a disadvantage because they are forbidden to make the connections craved by the limbic brain.

In A General Theory of Love, psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon argue that the limbic brain -- which desperately desires to connect with others -- is critical to the health and well-being of mammals. They describe (as did Rev. Rock coincidentally in his sermon today) how children who are not held and spoken to face-to-face suffer, and may even die. Other reports have suggested that adults who lack a strong social support structure tend to get sick more often (I think the researchers were looking at incidence of the common cold).

I read A General Theory of Love earlier this year, and found it intriguing:
Love alters the structure of our brains. All of us, when we engage in relatedness, fall under the gravitational influence of another's emotional world, at the same time that we are bending his emotional mind with ours. ...Ongoing exposure to one person's limbic [patterns] does not merely activate neural patterns in another—it also strengthens them. Long standing togetherness writes permanent changes into a brain's open book. In a relationship, one mind revises another; one heart changes its partner. This astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and neural beings is limbic revision: the power to remodel emotional parts of the people we love...Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.
I'm not sure how a multi-year crush fits into that schema, other than to suggest that probably my affection for him is probably permanently hard-wired into my brain at this point. Great. Rev. Martha Niebanck of First Parish in Brookline has nicely distilled some of the key premises of A General Theory of Love as follows:
Early mammals evolved from small lizardish reptiles and developed another brain, the limbic brain, which is draped over the reptilian core. The limbic brain transformed the mechanics of reproduction and the orientation toward offspring: “Detachment and disinterest mark the parental attitude of the typical reptile, while mammals can enter into subtle and elaborate interactions with their young...Mammals form close-knit mutually nurturant social groups, —families and clans and tribes—in which members spend time touching and care for one another.” (25) Reptiles abandon their eggs, unhatched. Newborn reptiles are silent lest the sound of their vulnerability invite the attention of their carnivore parents. Vulnerability is no asset to a reptile.

Mammals, on the other hand, vocalize to each other, sing, and play. Mammals cry in distress when separated from a parent or the pack. Mammals sing and coo and reach out with their voices when reunited. Mammals live in a sea of social interchange. Our limbic brains are adjusting to each other continuously—your facial expression is taken in by my eyes, translated into a feeling, translated into a thought and a facial expression in response. This back and forth tuning is called “limbic resonance.” If I meet you and you are frowning, I am more likely to frown with you. We share our moods and we change each other with our moods.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Christmas Spirit

Well, it's that time of year again. Time to take down the Halloween decorations (beaded "spiderweb" candle holder, felt bats, orange greeting cards) and put up the Christmas decorations. So, this year, I put up a Christmas tree - which I haven't done in a few years since I always celebrate Christmas in New England.

Modesty forbids me from stating exactly how imposing this tree really is. In the photo below, however, it's shown with one of those Easter Island figures, so you can get a sense of the scale:

I took Basics with Patty today (a great class), so just 11 to go...

Friday, December 07, 2007

Yoga and On-Line Friends

The yoga countdown continues. I survived the 6:45 a.m. yoga class this morning (just barely) so I have only 12 classes to go.

Since I recently posted a facebook profile, I'm slowly learning about online friendship.

Oddly, these two recent "trends" in my life have somehow intersected with the world of Harry Potter. On her official web site, JK Rowling debunks some myths about how she has acquired her fabulous appearance:

J K Rowling does pilates, yoga, jogs, has botox injections and has cut out saturated fats

Apparently I've been 'Rowling back the years' (ho, ho). Yes, the secrets behind my new (ahem) health and beauty regime have been confided to a British newspaper by a 'friend'.

Now, most people stop having imaginary friends once they're adults, but mine sometimes drop in on journalists to give them completely unrecognisable accounts of my life. My carbon-based friends, however, if asked whether I jog, do pilates and yoga, have a frozen forehead or refuse cake, might well suffer some kind of mirth-induced internal injury.

I just loved that.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

A friend of mine snagged tickets to a sneak preview of Sweeney Todd. I somehow convinced myself this would be a play rather than a movie, and thus relatively un-gory. Let's just say that once the killing started, I watched the movie from behind my fingers. I think it's been a while since I've been to an R-rated flick.

Still, it was a good movie. I was familiar with the story, because we put on Sweeney Todd as a musical when I was in 8th grade. (I played Queen Victoria, a very minor but entertaining character who does not appear in the film. Then again, the film has entirely different songs and music, not to mention additional characters, subplots and plot twists. So I'm thinking we didn't put on the Stephen Sondheim work.)

The movie is directed by Tim Burton and stars Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd. There's a lovely moment where they pay homage to their prior collaboration Edward Scissorhands - the barber has been reunited with his gleaming silver razors after 15 years, and promptly unfurls one of the blades. Holding it full-length with outstretched arm, he proclaims that finally his arm is complete again. Corny, I know. But pretty cool.

I'm not a big fan of musicals in general, or movie musicals in particular (sorry, Bollywood), but I really liked several of the songs - especially the barbershop duet with Todd and Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) and the meat pie duet with Todd and Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter).

There are a number of nice touches and even a few small surprises that occasionally lighten the grim tone (without dispelling it). I liked the trip to a Victorian madhouse - especially that the women are sorted and stored by hair color. The hero (if you will) at one point is looking for a blonde, but he is first shown the brunettes and redheads.

HP fans might see some touches of Severus Snape in Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman does malevolence well), but rest assured Turpin's level of debauchery would not be suitable for a children's film.

The Third Shoe Drops

Or the third toenail, at any rate. Precisely 3 months after the end of my hike through the Scottish highlands, the toenail on my left big toe finally gave up the ghost. I'll spare you the pictures, although it's actually not gruesome at all - a pale, wavy nail about three-quarters grown covers the toe. Kind of cute, in a way.

In other news, I realize I have to somehow cram in 13 yoga classes into the next 20 days. Hmmm. I've been waking up way too early anyway, maybe I'll try the sunrise classes (ugh).

Saturday, December 01, 2007


On the way to a wedding, I saw this "Love Birds" bus. I hope this was not the honeymoon getaway vehicle.

Tahira was lovely (as always) and simply radiant; there was hardly a dry eye in the audience.

Jim chose the texts for the ceremony. The selection from the Song of Solomon was particularly well-presented (and somewhat mischievous).

I'm not sure who chose the music - Swan praised the choices but denied any involvement in the selection. Then again, he seemed to think the wedding ceremony was a BYOV affair. (Get your mind out of the gutter, V stands for violin.) During the Hayden duet, Holde Gattin!, I was trying to practice my German, but to no avail - I was only able to pick out words such as "Freude" (joy) and "Augenblick" (moment), which might not really be the keys to the song.

Rev. Rock officiated; one nice touch was to encourage everyone to recite the Lord's Prayer together in whatever form was most comfortable to them. I'm a "trespasser" at heart, even though I've trained myself to say "debtor", so it was nice to be in a room full of trespassers. The sermon focused on wine - alas, another thing I miss from my childhood church - which provided some natural, fruitful metaphors about blending and maturing and so forth. (He didn't mention grafting ourselves into Jesus's vine or putting new wine into old wineskins, but that's probably just as well for the purpose.) Wine was also, of course, a good segue into the reception.

Despite the excellent transition, we did need to give the happy couple some time to pose for photos etc. and make their way to the Essex House. Cheryl (henceforth to be known as "the Mastermind") suggested getting our nails done. Very cool. We took the opportunity to nail down our positions on important topics such as what would we do if we ran away and joined the circus.

The reception was lovely, although there was bit of an issue with the paparazzi at first:

Jim's speech at the reception had its humorous moments in keeping with his public persona - he built suspense by telling us the second thing he noticed about Tahira first - but also revealed some of the depth and warmth of his feelings for Tahira (not exactly a secret, naturally, but I think it was a big deal to put into words in front of a crowd). Tahira's brother James gave the couple, and particularly his sister, a really moving tribute.

There was also plenty of dancing and good company, with lots of photogenic FOCUS folks (photos on facebook).