Saturday, August 19, 2017

Menashe, in Yiddish

Saw a deeply moving and highly unusual movie on Thursday with Ken - Menashe, filmed within a Hassidic community with amateur actors and in Yiddish. It's about a schlemiel, a kind but impractical man whose wife has died and who within the strict laws of his faith cannot raise his young son alone - it says in the Torah that children must be raised by two parents, so his son must live with humourless relatives. Our hero wants his child back. It reminded me of I, Daniel Blake, another film about one good man against the universe. But that one was didactic; we knew Daniel Blake would not get anywhere. This film is humane and haunting, goes deep, stays with you. It clarifies the power of religion to provide comfort and community, and at the same time, to restrict and terrorize.

I was at the High Park playground with Eli, Ben and Anna's best friend Holly on Friday, when a large group of Orthodox Jewish women arrived with their children, the women in wigs and demure clothing, the girls too in skirts and long sleeves, and the boys in yarmulkes with payes - sidecurls. I don't understand people's need to shut themselves away in any community, let alone a religious one with hundreds of rules, but at least, after seeing the film, I felt I knew more about who these people are.

We had fun.

Danger Baby, aka Ben, keeps saying the word "up", which means, I want to go as high as my big brother if not higher. Terrifying.

Today, with Wayson to keep me company, I cooked with stuff from the garden, including a mint-yogurt-cuke gazpacho, fresh green in colour and taste. As mentioned, I am drowning in cucumbers and tomatoes. Next week, of course, pesto. This has been a beautiful summer because of the rain - have hardly had to water the garden - and the mild temperatures. Had my AC on a couple of times in early July and not once since.

Mostly, I'm doing two things: scouring my manuscript, going over and over it, line by line, which is giving me joy because it is coming together. Yes it feels good now, like I'm polishing, or deepening, rather than rescuing.

And I'm reading the papers and FB and the NYT and Twitter as part of the "What the @#$# next?" brigade that we all are now. How much worse can things get? Plenty, I guess, as a few weeks ago we thought it couldn't get any worse, and voila, Nazis on the march, and an apologia for "nice people" Nazis, and more attacks in Europe, and tonight an item on the national news about women in South Sudan who are starving, who turn to prostitution to survive and contract AIDS.

To cheer myself up when it seems unbearable, I go out into the garden and watch the bees, covered with pollen, rolling drunkenly around on the pistils of my rose of Sharon. It's nearly pornographic, the way they rub, splaying themselves, sometimes writhing and sometimes motionless, as if exhausted or overwhelmed. It's love.
Saw a documentary about trees; it said that most medicines are plant based and trees exude chemicals that are good for us not just psychically but physically. Get thee into the greenery, the garden, the trees and plants. Sometimes it feels like that's the only sanity left.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

a chuckle in the rain

I could not help myself - "Eight Days a Week," the movie about the Beatles' touring years, was on the movie channel last night, and I had to watch for the third or perhaps fourth time. Each time, I find something new to celebrate. So so joyful at a time when the horror in the news is almost unbearable. A resurgence of fascism, how is this possible? No, let's focus instead on singing along with Carole King and the Beatles. I want to hold your hand.

It just started pouring - this has been the wettest summer on record, nearly, not complaining as it's been good for the cucumbers - and Anna is at the zoo with the usual passel of children. I'm sure they're all huddled in McDonalds.

So here are a few laughs for today, one courtesy of the blog of my dear friend Chris. Who, incidentally, continues to visit Bruce almost every day in the rehab hospital. Our dear Bruce, according to a recent long phone call, is recovering miraculously from his stroke. He went home overnight with his sister and on Thursday will go home for good with no follow up appointments! An absolutely amazing recovery.

 And, below, gluten free art...
Yesterday, the dentist; today a facial - teeth and pores sparkling, spiffing up this old bag of bones. But mostly, I'm in the obsessive stage of writing, not wanting to leave my beloved ms. for long. I'm getting there. Yes I am. So, goodbye, I'm busy.

Five minutes later - rain over, hot sun. What a summer.

Monday, August 14, 2017

a successful student

Can't help blowing my own horn a bit today, especially after the week I've had ... Sarah Meehan Sirk, who took my course some time ago and then took a number of other writing courses, was given a two book deal by a major publisher and has just come out with her first book of short stories, "The Dead Husband Project," given a rave review in the Star yesterday - half a page!

I wrote to ask her if she'd write a blurb for the Ryerson writing school website, and she sent this. Very nice to read. What she says about perseverance is very true. I can't tell in class which students are going to bloom, as she has, and which are not. Talent has little to do with it, because without perseverance, all the talent in the world is useless. So, brava, Sarah, for sticking with it.

In my early twenties, I knew I wanted to write, but I needed help. I needed feedback, I needed direction, I needed deadlines. I needed to know if I was any good. I enrolled in Beth Kaplan's True to Life class at Ryerson's Chang School of Continuing Studies - which became the first of many writing courses I took at the school - and found what I was after and more: the honest feedback, the direction, the deadlines, a writing group, and the help I needed to start becoming a much better writer. I still think of Beth's advice often. She assured me that writers blossom in their own time, at the right time for them. She encouraged me to abandon a flowery, polysyllabic writing style in favour of a clean, honest one. I doubt I showed much promise in those early days but there's something to be said for perseverance, and for great teachers.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Beautiful"

God, a day or two without blogging and already, too much to tell you. A stunning peaceful Sunday here. Time to pick some cucumbers. By September, I won't be able to look a cucumber in the eye.

On Saturday, there were two - two! - reviews in the Star of books by former students - "Dr. Bartolo's Umbrella and other tales from my surprising operatic life," by Chris Cameron, that I'm reading at the moment and thoroughly enjoying - the story of the trajectory of his operatic career, a very funny, beautifully written book - and "The Dead Husband Project" by Sarah Meehan Sirk, another former student who has gone on to fame, glory and good writing. Bravo to you both.

Went Saturday morning to St. Lawrence Market, heaven in summer, came home loaded down with way too much - blueberries, peaches, salad, corn, hot bagels, smoked salmon, cream cheese, other cheeses ... not just for me, but because an old friend was coming to visit. Harriet and I were at theatre school in London together in 1971, and now she's Dame Harriet Walter who had a recurring role in Downton Abbey and has most recently played several male Shakespeare roles, like Prospero. In fact, she told me that not long ago, for some weeks, she was required to do three different Shakespeare plays in one day - one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night. The force needed for that seems superhuman, but she did it. We sat and ate bagels and talked shop, the kind of theatre talk I don't get to hear often enough. "My friend Alan Rickman, God rest his soul," she said at one point. "And then there was the time I met Paul McCartney backstage after a show I did with Twiggy's husband, a good friend of his. He came to say hello with Linda, Stella and Mary. I noticed that he has small feet," she said.

Scream. What a treat.

And then work, till 11, and again this morning. It's coming.

This aft, another huge treat - "Beautiful" at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, which used to be the Pantages, the theatre renovated beautifully and with enormous effort by Garth Drabinsky and my ex-husband for "Phantom", which played there for ages. The whole place is filled with bittersweet memories for me. But today, nothing but pleasure - a fabulous musical that tells the story of Carole King's early life and career, from selling her first song at 16, writing hit songs for the Shirelles, and on to the breakup of her marriage to her lyricist and "Tapestry," the album of the decade. The star, Chilena Kennedy, is perfect, simply stunning, the music is glorious, the whole thing spectacular. If you're in Toronto or New York, don't miss it. You make me feel like a natural woman. You're beautiful. You've got a friend.

And now - rosé, corn, gazpacho, cucumber salad. The cicadas are buzzing. Time to water the garden, and Sam may come later to watch "Game of Thrones". It does not get better than this. Except that neo-Nazis and violent white supremacists are newly empowered - have there ever been such reprehensible losers? what exactly do they have to complain about? - and nuclear war is looming between two spoiled lunatics who might destroy the planet, it doesn't get better than this.
Except for this - Madison Square Gardens, 1939.

Friday, August 11, 2017

moving right along

Oh my friends, what a difference a day makes. Early this week, I was ready to give up, not just my current book, but perhaps as a writer. I was profoundly discouraged. A writer I respected highly had given me a pretty harsh critique of something I'd been working on for years, and with my tendency for self-defeat, I believed him. It seemed pointless to continue.

And then a friend's perspicacious note pointed out that the writer's style and mine are very different, perhaps he simply wanted to read something resembling what he himself would write. My writer friend agreed completely and apologized. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.

That writer friend, Wayson, had already asked to read some other pages from the memoir, the ones I was in any case much more sure about. And after reading, he wrote a warm note full of praise for those pages, how much he liked them, how powerful was the voice, how completely he'd been captivated. Okay, I thought with a touch of skepticism, there's a happy medium between this radiant encomium and "flogging a dead horse," but still, it was lovely to read.

And then I got notes from my editor, Colin. I'd sent him the first 50 pages which I'd recently rewritten, the ones Wayson had so much trouble with. Colin had trouble too, had done a lot of editing with a lot of suggestions, but they were purely technical. It was a blinding revelation. He adheres to a method of storytelling, "The Three Act Template," with fancy technical names - Act One, the Call to Adventure, the Intervening Mentor; Act Two, the Ordeal, the Mid-Act Breakthrough etc. Too coldly technical for me, I'd thought, but this time, he showed me how moving stuff around to even minimally follow the pattern would make the story stronger and guide the reader through the journey. Plus, he insisted I cut unnecessary stuff, even one long scene that has been in the manuscript from the beginning. And I did.

It's now nearly 10 p.m. I have spent the entire day, except for a half hour class at the Y and a meal or two - and an emergency rosé run to the LCBO - sitting in this chair, chopping, hacking, moving chunks of text around. Yesterday, I was going to apply for a job at McDonalds. Today, there's the semblance of a book.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

gazpacho

One of those moments of sheer joy an hour ago: picking cucumbers - ridiculous, seven big ones -
then making gazpacho in the kitchen, chopping cukes and my own pungent garlic with peppers and tomatoes, Side Four of Macca's compilation, Pure McCartney, playing, his sublime genius with instruments, singing, composing, such a diversity of sound, I'm dancing and singing along; the sun is hot, new blooms on the rosebush once more, a white load of laundry hanging outside to dry - and one more thing to add to it all, I do not have glaucoma according to the surly ophthalmologist who tested my eyes yesterday. My father and grandmother had it so I need to be tested regularly. So far so good.

It's all good.

Importantly, Wayson and I had it out today. Other friends wrote with encouragement after reading the blog, but I was most helped by my dear Chris, to whom I'd sent the story of what happened Sunday night, Wayson reading some of my pages, as he often does, and giving me quite a severe critique, as he often does. I know he does it out of love, because he cares for me as a person and a writer, he wouldn't bother otherwise. But on Sunday night, I felt obliterated.

Chris sent the perfect note.
Is he accepting “your voice?”
It seems to me he uses very literary language. Your style feels less formal, more colloquial. Your style feels to me like it comes from a writer with both feet on the ground. You are like a reporter. He strikes me as a memoirist deeply invested in the emotional. His pages bleed. Your work feels like you: we (readers) are rushing through an incredible landscape of events and people. We are on a train rushing through a story whereas with Wayson we move SLOWLY VERY SLOWLY, observing and feeling everything.

Does he want to turn you into him? How is a man of his style expected to react to a writer of your style?

I read this to Wayson, who agreed 100% that he wants to see in my work what he likes to write, what he likes to read. He needs to step back, and I need to keep going in my own flawed way. 

And I realized - to get all psychoanalytical on your ass, as my son says - that my parents were extremely critical, and I grew up thinking that nothing I did was good enough. And I think Wayson and I reproduced that, in some ways. Not in our wondrous friendship - he is family to us all - but in our mentorship. It has to stop, because it doesn't help me any more. In fact, it hurt so much Sunday, I felt like giving up. What's the point of slaving over another book that's not very good and no one will read? 
Enough mewling. Onward. By the way, this doesn't mean that what he said isn't right, because it partly is. Something isn't working and I need to figure it out. So that's the job.
I made guacamole too, with my garlic, tomatoes, and of course cucumber, so now I'll have a glass of rosé with guacamole and then gazpacho with smoked salmon and thick slices of sourdough bread from the market and the rest of the cheese my daughter gave me for my birthday, and I will be thankful for every bite. 

Let us pray that two insane and loathsome creatures don't blow the planet into oblivion. I'm going to go out and smell those roses. 


Any good cucumber recipes? Please send.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

high summer

The other day, I was at the Regent Park playground with Eli when I looked around and thought, here it is, the best of Toronto. On one side was a transgender parent with his kids, a man, indubitably once female, with hairy legs and a beard and a woman’s demeanour and voice. On the periphery nearby was a woman – I assume a woman – completely covered, head to foot, including her eyes, with black cloth, like a black ghost. There were others walking past in niqab, covered but with eyes showing, or just in hijab, with heads covered; there were Somali mothers wearing long robes but with faces revealed, and Caribbean mothers wearing almost nothing. There were Oriental children, black children and brown children, indigenous children, and even a few white children, like my grandson. Who went right up to a multicoloured group of boys playing on a roundabout and joined them. And we were off.

Thus began the latest sleepover with Eli. We had Sunday dinner on the deck with Eli’s extended family - Wayson and Carol, my tenant and friend. In the morning, he woke me at 7.15, got into my bed and slept for another hour, giving me time for peace and coffee before the fun began again – Snakes and Ladders, books, watering everything in sight, playing hide and seek, always hiding and waiting, with screams of pleasure, to be found. And stories, tall tales of things he has seen and done (not). A trip to the farm, ice cream. When we finally left to go back across town by streetcar, he sat on his own in the single seats on one side, while I sat on a double seat across the aisle. He sat alone the whole way, looking out the window and studying the Pokemon cards a friend had given him. He’s growing up too fast!
Then off to another treat for me – to TIFF, to see “The Trip to Spain” with Sam. We’ve seen the first two in the franchise, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, British comedians and actors on the road, staying in heavenly hotels, eating fabulous food and doing ridiculous impersonations at each other – Michael Caine is their favourite, though this time, they both did a perfect Mick Jagger. It’s silly and gets tiresome and yet is compelling, scenery, cuisine, and skilful comedy combined, the perfect film for Sam.

We walked to Terroni, one of the best restaurants in Toronto where Max, a good friend of his, works, and sat at the elegant bar in this beautiful restaurant eating pizza and ravioli, drinking rosé and talking with each other and with Max. It was like being in the movie.
It has been the strangest summer – some days hot, some chilly, almost every day with a bit of rain, then perfection like right now, then rain again – even a tornado out of town and a sun shower sometimes. No complaints, as the garden is flourishing – my cucumbers are enormous and plentiful – but my friend Rosemary is frantic, trying to plan a wedding luncheon in her garden next weekend.

However. Into each life. After dinner on Sunday, Wayson read some pages of the memoir, the new stuff I thought finally might be working, and had some harsh words for me. Not going deep enough. Too flat, cool, distant. Reporting not recreating, summarizing not showing. Etc. etc. etc. It was brutal, and it hurt, especially when he said that with this memoir I might be flogging a dead horse. A dead horse – just what I wanted to hear about three years of work. I need to stand back, take some distance, work on something else for a bit. In any case, luckily, I had already arranged to send a few of the new pages to Colin Thomas, my editor in Vancouver. I hope he’ll be able to give me some perspective.

So, up and down, but mostly up, very up. I am proud to announce I’ve become a major killer with the saucers I put down in the garden, not of milk for kittens, but of beer to murder slugs. When I come outside and see the saucers full of little dead slugs, happy in their beery death, I feel triumphant – basil, tomatoes, saved from their munching jaws. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

This does too:

Thursday, August 3, 2017

love is ...

... a boy and his mother in a selfie at the market. If this were on iPhoto, I'd rub out that line between my eyebrows, maybe soften those deep, deep brackets beside my nose. But I can't, so there it is. The unvarnished truth.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

you're gonna have a good time

This was the menu for my birthday dinner yesterday, prepared by the master chef, my son: hors d'oeuvres included tomato/mozzarella/basil rounds, to be eaten with the fingers. For the main course, all from St. Lawrence Market to be cooked on the barbecue - except the green salad and the cucumber salad (my own cukes!) made by me - and sprinkled with my very own garlic: marinated arctic char and salmon, and shish kebabs. Grilled corn, grilled peaches, grilled fingerling potatoes, grilled green beans served with goat cheese, grilled mushrooms, and grilled zucchini. I think that's all, but there may be more, I can't remember, it's a blur.

An hour before guests were due, I was frantic - people would soon be here and nothing was ready except the salads I'd made. All the food had been prepped by my staff:
it was sitting in packages of tinfoil, marked, on the kitchen counter and the chef was sitting with Wayson watching Game of Thrones. "Ma," he said patiently, "I know what I'm doing, it'll all be ready in time." And it was, all of it, even the fish that barely needed to be cooked, and the corn and potatoes that needed a lot of time, it all appeared at once and was perfect.

The day was beautiful and hot, and I had got the 3 tables all ready and set outside.
Then it started to pour so we moved everything inside, and then it got hot and beautiful again and we moved back. Old and dear friends appeared, and family, and we drank a lot of rosé and beer and ate a lot:
and enjoyed watching the little boys. Ben was delighted with everything, pointing ecstatically as the solar lights flickered on at dusk. How blessed I felt.
Today, in Carol's class at the Y, she announced it was my birthday and every time the exercise was particularly hard, she said it was specially for my big day. She herself will be 70 next year and looks 50. A true inspiration. How I love the Y, which feels like another family.

It's incredibly hot and Sam and I are both exhausted and hungover, so not much is happening today. He's watching last week's John Oliver in the living-room, and I'm waiting for today's thunderstorm to begin. But I have to tell you this: I went to the end of the garden to work this morning and found a new beginning for the memoir. I know, you've heard this before. Have faith in this ancient, lucky 67-year old crone: she'll get there.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

they say it's your birthday

I think of my father today - hard to believe he was only 65 when he died, and today I am 67. Strange to be older than your parents. But here I am, carrying him with me forever.

My son is asleep upstairs. He came over last night bubbling with ideas and enthusiasm - he loves his new place of work, five of his expressly-designed cocktails are now on the menu, and the day he opens his own restaurant or bar is getting closer. On Thursday, he told me, he's going in on his day off to learn how to shred duck. Yes, my son will know how to shred duck.

But best of all, he'd just come from a movie and dinner with his sister. They drive each other crazy and will have each other's backs always. Nothing could give me greater joy than to know that. Later this morning, he and I will go to St. Lawrence Market to buy provisions for tonight, a dinner my son is going to cook for twelve or fourteen of my closest friends and family. We'll eat in the garden, if possible, where the Rose of Sharon, the goldenglow, the hydrangeas, the phlox and rudbekia and echinacea are ridiculously bright.

I picked two huge cucumbers, some tomatoes, and some flowers for our feast. Have received notes from distant friends, including Lynn in Provence.

The only thing to say is - I'm grateful for every minute. i thank you god for most this amazing day.  I'd like a few more of them, if you don't mind.

Just before my father died, he said, "I have no regrets. I've been given so much."

Me too, my father. Me too.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Michael Moore forever

Saturday in New York - not too hot, thunderstorm predicted that never arrived - lucky indeed. I walked to the Met, was there as it opened, and once more - as with the British Museum this spring - was grateful to know of the alternate entrance. A huge lineup of people at the main doors, but at the ground level doors to the south, almost no one. Straight to the Irving Penn exhibition. I would never have known about this gifted, sensitive photographer, who worked for Vogue for years photographing models, one of whom he married, but who also made stunning portraits of the indigenous people of Mexico, tribal people in Africa, working people in France, England and the U.S., and cigarette butts looking like sculpture. Once again, as with writing, I note that great photography is all about paying attention.

Walked around the museum, saw the giant altarpiece on loan from Mexico - hard to image transporting it, it's two stories high - and many favourites. Did not go to see the Vermeers this time. Instead, I left and walked a bit further north on Fifth Avenue to find the NYC address of one Paul McCartney. Yes, I admit, I went to find it. It's under renovations. His apartment cost 13 million dollars. Big windows with a nice view of the park.
Down - via, second confession, the Mephisto shoestore on Madison Ave. that was having a sale and where I managed to buy a pair of walking shoes, much needed for my throbbing feet - to Times Square for the matinee of an extraordinary show, Natasha, Pierre and the Comet of 1812. If someone told you they wanted to do a musical adaptation of Tolstoy's War and Peace in the round with some twenty or more actors weaving their way through the audience, much of which would be sitting at tables onstage, you'd tell them they were crazy, right? But there it is, unlike anything I've ever seen, wild, nutty, and yet - there's Tolstoy's heroine, sweet Natasha, about to throw her life away, there's poor Pierre, suffering in his study, there are all the others, dancers, musicians - one of them tossed me a warm perogie in a take-out container - a mesmerizing spectacle, very enjoyable, if a bit too frenetic to be moving.

With 3 hours to kill in the area until Michael Moore at 8, I went in search of something important - my birthplace. I was born in Manhattan's Polytechnic Hospital, but until recently, information was scarce about a hospital that had closed down. This time I'd searched for the exact address online and found it, in a section of NYC called Hell's Kitchen - amazingly, an area once full of poor Irish, as was Cabbagetown, where I now live, and then an area popular with actors. The hospital is now an apartment building. I stood outside, imagining my panicked young parents rushing there during a heat wave on August 1 1950, in a car they'd borrowed from one of Dad's uncles. Dad dropped Mum off and sped away to get drunk, as men did. After my birth, he rushed back, parked, opened the car door to step out - and the door was smashed clean off by a passing auto. I was almost fatherless at an hour old. Mum was one of only two women in the entire ward who breastfed. I cannot tell you what it meant to stand on West 50th and feel, in a very strange and distant way, that this was home.
Nearby was a quiet open space and restaurant patio, so I sat outside and ordered - O America! - a beer and a burger. The waitress, embarrassed, said she had to card me. Thrilling.

Afterward I happened upon the 7th Avenue street fair, just closing down.
Wandered down to Bryant Park, where a young troupe was performing outside on the grass - why not? - Twelfth Night. Watched a bit and headed for Michael Moore's second preview of his show, was excited to see a huge lineup, all kindred spirits. The woman next to me was a musician from New Jersey, a cancer survivor who visited Banff last summer. The women next to me in the balcony of the theatre were living in a conservative enclave of Long Island where their neighbours were Trump supporters. We were all soulmates, united in solidarity. 

The man of the hour walked out in front of a set that was a giant wooden American flag, a portly schlub in a loose shirt, jeans, sneakers, and baseball cap. He looked at us and said, “How the fuck did this happen?!” and we were off. It renewed my faith in humanity, this show, in which he urged all of us to get involved, showing that even small individual actions can have a huge impact, telling stories of his own activism, starting at age 16, and of others who've made a difference. It was very funny - especially for me, a segment called "Stop the Canadian!" about the debasement of the American education system. There was a long segment on what happened after he denounced the Iraq war from the stage of the Oscars, the death threats, including from right-wing radio nutbars. Throughout, his ease, honesty, sense of humour. I left deeply grateful, with renewed energy and joy.

Sunday morning, I tidied Ted's, admiring his incredible collection of antiquities from around the world - like sleeping in a  museum -
and walked along Third Avenue to Lola's for a last visit, before taking the subway to Grand Central to find the Newark Airport shuttle. As I waited, I noticed the decoration on the building opposite. Thanks to Irving Penn, I was paying attention.
And so - home. As the plane crossed the great lake into Canada, I felt the tension ease from my body. This city is a miracle of riches, I'd thought - but get me out of this country before Trump bombs North Korea and starts the next world war.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Indecent"

Friday July 28

After an hour of more fiddling with the internet box, to no avail, I went out to the park, the pressure cooker release valve for this madhouse city, 843 acres, 500,000 trees, and I appreciate every one of them.

A slow walk across to the west side, where I feel more at home than on the east – funkier, more artistic, more young people and Jews. On Columbus Avenue: a storefront called Animal General advertises Bereavement Counselling and Puppy Playgroup. A few stores down is Upper Breast Side, a store selling nursing supplies. Yuppyland. Someone had left books on a wall, and I picked up “The Wind in the Willows.” Perfect reading for a stifling Manhattan day.
 Seen in a store window. Every writer's dream!
 Another shop - selling clothes by Vermeer.
A newstand featuring two of my fave men - Macca - three whole magazines! - and Justin, an article wondering why he can't be President. If only. 

To Harry’s, a vast shoestore which carries lots of large sizes for the big-footed woman. A sale! But the shoes on sale in my size were execrable, the only word for them, and once I saw the sale prices, no way would I buy a pair at regular price. So, onward, the bus down Broadway to Lincoln Centre’s new TKTS booth. Heaven, despite the long lineup, not to have to battle Times Square to get a reduced price for seats. I got tickets to both shows I want to see: Indecent tonight, and Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812 tomorrow matinee. I’ve already got a Michael Moore ticket for tomorrow night. The rest of my weekend is planned.

A bite to eat in a cool atrium, then a walk back across the park to the east side and the long slog home, stopping at Citarella to buy supper. Very hot and muggy and my feet are swollen. Here, I am without internet. Withdrawal. I may start to shake. Except of course for my phone.

11 p.m. Saw Indecent tonight, one of the main reasons I came to New York, about the play God of Vengeance by Yiddish playwright Sholem Asch that shocked the world when it was first produced in 1907 by its cast of prostitutes and a tender lesbian love scene. I wrote about it in my book on the Jewish Shakespeare. Paula Vogel, to whom I’ve sent the book, has written a drama about the difficult history of the play – including an arrest on obscenity charges in New York in the Twenties - about the tortured Mr. Asch, and eventually about the destruction of the entire Yiddish world. The director Rebecca Taichman has created a musical landscape with whirling actors, musicians onstage dancing among them, and powerful images, especially dust pouring out of the sleeves of her actors, first as a symbol, I think, of dusting off the play and history, and later, as a reference to the ashes of the Holocaust. People have asked why I didn’t write a play about my great-grandfather, so I was interested to see what Ms. Vogel had done with this story. It’s terrific.

An underlying message of the play is about intolerance – toward artists, Jews, homosexuals, and especially immigrants. What a timely moment. I keep seeing headlines as I walk – the latest, Trump telling police not to “be nice” to suspects. The whole scene grows more appalling day by day, and people here, it seems to me, are fiddling while Rome burns - shopping and eating and jabbering while the planet disintegrates. The extremes of poverty and wealth on the streets is more egregious than ever. The ride home on the subway tonight – sheer exhaustion in the air. The whole system is so deeply wrong, it hurts to walk through it.

I’m sorry to sound crabby - and hypocritical, in fact, as I swan about to shoe shops and shows complaining of social injustice. But I am profoundly uncomfortable here. Grateful to be seeing brilliant theatre in a land with great artists, grateful to be staying in the comfortable home of my cousin, grateful I only have one more day before I go home.

"Dear Evan Hansen" - wow

New York saga catchup: Thursday July 27. 

Went to the Met Breuer, a newish museum I’ve never visited before – an exhibition of the work of Ettore Sottsass, an Italian designer famous for his Memphis collective, his lipstick red Olivetti typewriter and quirky shelving units. The exhibition reminded me of my dear friend Robert Handforth, the first person who taught me to think about style and who undoubtedly knew of Memphis and Sottsass. Bob died of AIDS in New York in the late 80’s, another beloved New York ghost.

Lunch at a lovely Italian place on Lexington with my father’s cousin Lola, who’s exactly the age he would have been had he lived – nearly 95 – and her daughter Patti. Patti is an art restorer at Yale, and Lola is an artist herself, as was her mother Belle, my grandfather’s sister. A great lunch with much juicy family gossip. Lola, like my Aunt Do, still lives alone in her apartment.
 
Home to change and prepare for the rest of the day. Wanted to go to the actual Met but Ted said we’d meet at six for dinner in Times Square, so rather than hustle, I decided to make my way slowly downtown. Somehow – how did that happen? – I landed at Bloomingdale’s. Last time I was here, two years ago, I got a great pair of black pants so wanted to try again – bingo, same make, Gerard Darel, same fantastic sale. Making my way through this crazy store, I ended up sitting in a chair having my face cleaned and moisturized by a nice lady from South America. She thought I needed to fill in the gaps in my eyebrows. Did not buy her products and wiped off her eyebrow enhancement asap.

Walked down hot, sticky, packed, frantic Fifth Avenue, ducked into Sak’s for fun. I looked at a nice backpack and enquired the price: $1285.00. I laughed out loud. So - fun. It was nearly six when Ted called – he couldn’t get away. I was on Fifth Ave. with two hours to kill till the theatre, no idea where to go or what to do, when I had a brilliant idea and went to the Algonquin, a hotel with a famous bar where Dorothy Parker and other New Yorker writers used to meet at their Round Table. I met with a New York editor there once, intimidated and thrilled; what a pleasure to walk again into this elegant, old-fashioned place, suffused with history. I had a glass of white wine and a delicious crab cake, tended by kind, attentive waiters, and felt like a true New Yorker.

Met Ted and Henry to see “Dear Evan Hansen.” It won the Tony for Best Musical, the young star, Ben Platt, won Best Actor in a Musical and it’s sold out for months, so I treated my cousin and his spouse to house seats rustled up for us by my ex. After only a few minutes, I thought, this is why I’m here, this is why people come to New York. It was simply superb, incredibly moving and well done. Ben Platt gave one of the best, most overwhelmingly honest performances I’ve ever seen. Even hardened New Yorkers Ted and Henry were thrilled and moved, and that’s saying something. It’s the story of a quasi-autistic high school student who gets embroiled in an internet deception involving a fellow student’s suicide. But mostly it’s about family – his mother is struggling, his father remarried and far away, the boy lonely and lost. The music is gorgeous, and Ben Platt and all the others are not only fabulous actors but great singers too. Spectacular. All teenagers should see this play. "You are not alone" is one of the beautiful songs.

After we’d finished rhapsodizing and dabbing our eyes, Ted and Henry left to go to Northport, and I took the Q train to 72nd and 2nd. It’s a new subway line up 2nd Avenue. What a blessing to get out of Times Square so easily.


At home, however, not so easy – as I walked in the door, there was a loud beep. If there’s one thing I dread, it’s the loud beep, indicating some battery somewhere, at my house a smoke alarm, is failing. Here it was the Verizon box, requiring me to get dressed twice to go down and get the doorman, both of us struggling to disconnect the @##@ thing. It took an hour, with several tries. No internet. If it weren’t for my phone, I’d go mad.