At Ease

I grew up in “the city”, that’s Manhattan to those who don’t know. New Yorkers are very arrogant about being the only city. At any rate as much as I have lived in rural and suburban settings throughout my life, I think the rhythm of cities is in me.

Recently, I had the chance to travel to some amazing cities, each one very different than the next. Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Munich – quite a whirlwind. The purpose of the trip wasn’t really “sightseeing” in the traditional sense, but nevertheless we had the opportunity to experience the character of each and what makes each one special. Berlin is full of avant garde artists, musicians, street art; it is a city very alive in a very modern way despite the history embedded there. And still a place for jazz. Warsaw has kept alive a Jewish quarter that doesn’t really exist anymore, the city (and country) was the site of the only active resistance against the Nazis. Warsaw was 85% destroyed in World War II and has been completely rebuilt. They have made great efforts to preserve what can be preserved, 20 feet remains of the ghetto wall but the path of the wall is marked in the streets. Kracow is the complete opposite in that it was almost entirely left standing and it is a beautiful and perfectly preserved historic city. And Prague, ah Prague. Also largely untouched by the war and an amazing and beautiful city, it is very reminiscent of Paris and just as lovely. And there is music everywhere, in every church and cathedral there are chamber players and in the clubs and bars, more music.

I have had the privilege of sitting in Constitution Square in Athens, in a cafe in the ninth arrondissement in Paris and now in the central square in the old town in Prague (not to leave the others out). A seat in a cafe, a cup of coffee and watching the crowded world go by. I feel completely at peace in these settings. I don’t love being in crowds generally, but somehow the general bustle of urban places feels totally familiar and utterly fascinating.

I have had the privilege of sitting in Constitution Square in Athens, in a cafe in the ninth arrondissement in Paris and now in the central square in the old town in Prague (not to leave the others out). A seat in a cafe, a cup of coffee… Click To Tweet

Every now and then one has one of those magical days, or mornings, or afternoons. A moment in life that stands out from the ordinary good. One such for me was an afternoon-evening in Prague. It was a rare unscheduled and free time during this hectic tour. I sat, as I always do, with my coffee and then walked back across the bridge to buy a wallet (a story for another day). I had walked the Charles bridge the day before as all tourists must, but discovered that the bridge that allows cars to make the crossing is much easier and less crowded. And then I walked the old town. I was given a flyer for a chamber concert that evening and determined that it was where I would be. So proceeded to walk, and got completely lost. I didn’t mind a bit. I walked about 19,000 steps that afternoon and saw a lot of that part of town. My google maps wasn’t much help as the streets didn’t match the signs on the building but for some reason, no anxiety. I had the flyer for my concert and it had a map on it, so many lovely encounters asking for directions later, I was back to the appropriate cathedral, St. Clement’s. Vivaldi, Mozart, Pachelbel and Bach later, I tucked into a cab and headed back to my hotel.

My magic afternoon included fresh berries from the open air market, cappucino in an old square, homemade chocolate ice cream, flirtation with handsome older men, lots of walking and very good chamber music in a cathedral adorned effusively with angels. The very best of a lovely city and completely at ease. I love the country but I have an urban soul.

Yet Another Movie

Because I so rarely had gone to the movies in my former working life (subject for another post) I find myself really loving going now. I am choosy, a little. I don’t care for most comedies, fantasies or armageddon movies. I tend to like thrillers and dark emo sorts of movies. I don’t mind shoot-em-up movies if they are fundamentally entertaining. And at this time of my life I definitely do not like romance/chick flicks for the most part. So now you know what I mostly don’t like.

I recently went to see The Mule with Clint Eastwood and Diane Wiest, among others. The people I went with found it slow, lacking movement and didn’t like it much. I don’t mind slow if it is about developing the story or the character which I thought in this case it was. I thought the movie was brilliant but extremely sad and depressing. You knew from the moment it started that it would not end well and it did not, although there was a kind of heroic undertone to the tragic ending.

The movie is, I presume loosely, based on the story of an actual World War II veteran to whom this happened which makes the narrative in some ways sadder but more convincing. Clint Eastwood as an old man was utterly convincing, he is an old man. He retained just enough of his tough guy loner persona to be interesting and not just old. It was sad nevertheless.

He reminded me of my father, a creative smart guy who couldn’t sustain family relationships with wife or children and as a result ended up alone and a bit desperate. His need for social accolades parallels my father’s needs very much. It made me think about several generations of veterans who came home and were unable to talk about what they had seen. Perhaps the need to keep that silence contributed to their intimate isolation. In the movie, very desperate, falling into what he falls into almost by accident but very much as a result of his isolation from family.

I thought it was very much worth seeing but I also left with a sense of real sadness for both the state of the elderly in this country and for the failure of relationship. In the very end it is poignant, sad, illuminating and truthful while being a good and resonant story of our time. See it but don’t expect to leave “entertained” in the usual sense of the word. It did capture my full attention, and you will be thinking about it as you walk out.

I Remember

 

So here goes with another movie. The other night I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody. And I know that Rami Malik got some not so nice and pretty snarky reviews. Some were downright nasty. I, however, thought he was amazing. He utterly channeled Freddie Mercury and held the audience’s attention as if he were the real person. I imagine it is hard enough to play a fictional character, but to re-create a real person must be unbelievably difficult. And he made it look easy, the acting part. Being Freddie Mercury could never have been easy, in the movie or in life.

Of course the music was wonderful, and nostalgic, but that wasn’t what struck me most. Don’t get me wrong, as a musician, the story of any iconic musician is fascinating to me. What struck me hardest was the evocative power of the film to bring me back to those terrible early days of the epidemic. The dark days when the virus was an unknown and nobody understood what it was let alone what to do about it, how to treat it.

Watching even the fictional story of a man dying of AIDS brought to mind all those I lost and all those we as a country, as a culture, lost. And it brought to mind the fear and ignorance, intolerance and distrust with which victims were treated. I remember people sick and dying with no human touch because of irrational and baseless fear. I remember the sorrow I felt and the helplessness, all I could do was hug the ones I knew.

And remembering what that fear and ignorance did to hundreds or thousands made me think of what fear and ignorance are doing to us now. If only there was a cure. But it was a wonderful cinema experience despite all that.

 

 

Movies~And thinking

Well, now that the highest of the high holy days have passed, I have no excuse.  I am going to do something I have never done before in writing, I am going to talk about a movie.  With the caveat that I actually don’t go very often despite the fact that I love going to the movies.

I went to see White Boy Rick. Yes, I know, you are thinking “really?”.  So just to get it out of the way, Matthew McConaughey was really good, as expected. But anyone can say that.

As I left the theatre I found that the movie had really made me think. And since I was by myself, I was walking along talking to myself about what I was thinking. Don’t laugh. Now there are movies that are pure entertainment, and there are movies the cause us to revisit historical or emotional spaces we are already familiar with but that evoke an emotional response. And then there is the rare movie that makes us think.

This movie, painfully based on a true story, is about many things.  First, it is about the seduction of money and status set against poverty and the failure of ambition. Second, it is about the abysmal failure of the sentencing guidelines that were introduced several decades ago. These draconian guidelines filled the prisons with non violent drug offenders on long sentences and contributed greatly to the growth industry that our prisons have become. And finally it is about the nature of the relationship between parents and children.  In this case an ineffective father trying hard in difficult circumstances to do what he thinks is right. And then he does what he knows is wrong, because he thinks it will be better in the end, which it is not. And it is about the pain of making choices constrained by poverty, hopelessness and constant failure.

So, my first movie review, I thought it was darn good and it made me think, and eat popcorn.

Solitude~Serenity

 

The gardens at the Biltmore estate are astounding. There is an ethereal serenity to the solitude of the farthest gardens. These are the ones many tourists are too lazy or uninterested to walk to and so there is a quiet not found in the front gardens.

Throughout the entire estate there is an unparalleled attention to detail while displaying an intense respect for nature. Fields planted with corn are bordered by a wide berm of gorgeous sunflowers, and those are bordered again to the road with a riotous display of blooming wildflowers.  You drive through a forest, a narrow winding road bordered by bamboo and leatherleaf ferns.  You round a bend and there is a wide swath of tended lawn and mulch created out of the forest to display a magnificent tree more than a century old.  Each turn reveals a natural, but human tended, miracle.

But the gardens, those are designed and tended like a precious child. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted these gardens are something everyone should see. There is an Asian garden, an azalea garden, a shrub garden, and so on.  It is not possible to bring them to life in words. On this visit, I went to see the Chihuly installation in the gardens and it did not disappoint.  The sculptures respected the natural surroundings in which they were installed and the nature enhanced the art.

i spent several hours, first in the more crowded areas where most of the art was installed.  But then just wandering slowly through the rest of the gardens, it was a walking meditation, serene and beautiful.  And around the occasional corner, a random sculpture; sometimes a bench to just sit and ponder.

It began to drizzle just as I was ready to start walking back.  I had an umbrella, but under the spreading arms of the ancient trees there was no rain. Just peace.