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This was the weekend of June 9th through 11th. Yes, I am behind. Live with it.

Part 1 - 31 Chambers Street: I decided to leverage off a flyertalk-related trip to New York and took a vacation day, enabling me to get up to the city early enough to spend some time at the Municipal Archives. The main thing I was looking for was the death certificate for my great-grandfather, Henry Schwarzbord. I also obtained the death certificate for Rose Lebofsky, my great-uncle Nathan’s first wife, and the marriage certificate for another great-uncle,Willi Lubowsky (aka Wulf Chlebiocky). None of those actually told me much that I didn’t already know, but did confirm some transcription errors on Family Search. And I am somewhat of a completist regarding documentation.

Part 2 - Soup Do: Soup Do is an annual flyertalk dinner event, held the Friday night before the Brooklyn Reality Tour. It’s basically a lot of people in the back room of La Bonne Soup, eating dinner, and talking about travel and frequent flyer miles and such. There’s a prix fixe dinner available (though only 2 of us at the table I was at did it). I thought it was a good deal – salad, soup, dessert, and a glass of wine for about 30 bucks once you add in tax and tip. The wine was so-so, but the salad, onion soup, and crème caramel were all quite nice. And, of course, the point is the conversation, which was lively and entertaining.

Part 3 - the Brooklyn Reality Tour: This is an annual flyertalk event, focused largely on food and conversation. We started with Smorgasburg, which provided an early lunch stop. It was hard to choose among all the options, but I went with a Peking duck bao (a bit messy) at someone’s recommendation and the very trendy (and delicious) halo-halo, which consists of ube ice cream with dragon fruit, jackfruit, tapioca pearls, blackberries, red mung beans, coconut, mango, and a little almond milk. Then we drove over to an overlook of the Verrazano Narrows, before going on to Coney Island. We drove around various neighborhoods, including Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Sheepshead Bay. We attempted to go to Floyd Bennett Field, but the hangar with the display of historic aircraft had closed early, so were foiled in the sightseeing attempt. More driving around included Crown Heights, Prospect Park, Grand Army Plaza, and, of course, Dan’s childhood home and elementary school, because you do that sort of thing when you run the tour. We had a bakery stop at Butter and Scotch, which had excellent pecan pie. I bailed at L&B Spumoni Gardens, since I had theatre tickets, but the rest of the tour included a pizza dinner there and the traditional sunset over Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Part 4 - Pacific Overtures: Pacific Overtures is my favorite Sondheim score, so I would have been interested in this revival at Classic Stage Company even if it didn’t have George Takei playing the Reciter. He does have a nicely resonant voice, but the real highlight of the performances for me was Megan Masako Haley, playing Tamate and, later on, a girl mistaken for a geisha. Much of her role was silent, but she was very expressive and elegant, highlighting the simplicity of the production. I thought that the overall aesthetic felt essentially Japanese, which is pretty much the point. I was disappointed in them having cut "Chrysanthemum Tea," which has one of Sondheim’s absolute best internal rhymes ("it’s an herb that’s superb for disturbances at sea") but they did an excellent job with the other songs. "Please Hello" is proof that Sondheim’s talents at pastiche, for example. And "A Bowler Hat," is my single favorite Sondheim song of all time, as it reveals character so effectively by showing Kayama’s transformation as he absorbs Western culture. This was a lovely production, with fine voices and was well worth seeing.

Part 5 - Welsh brunch at Sunken Hundred: Sunday morning had me back in Brooklyn for brunch at Sunken Hundred, a Welsh restaurant. This was part of the "around the world in 5 boroughs" project that one flyertalker started. I had crampog, which are oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes, which came with a blueberry and fenugreek compote and rosemary butter. I also tasted a small piece of a scone. The food was fabulous and I would happily eat there again.

Part 7 - Ernest Shackleton Loves Me: I am not sure where I first saw this show advertised, but the name itself was enough to sell me, given my interest in polar exploration. (Though, for the record, I think Douglas Mawson was even more impressive than Ernest Shackleton.) And it’s a musical – well, just take my money! The premise is interestingly bizarre – a 45 year old woman seeking a relationship finds love with the long-dead explorer via a dating website. It’s probably just a fantasy from her single-parenthood induced sleep deprivation, but they act out various parts of the Endurance expedition and Kat learns about optimism and standing up for herself. Both Val Vigoda as Kat and Wade McCollum as Shackleton (and other male roles) were clearly having fun in this very quirky show. Overall, there was a lot of laugh-out-loud humor and lively music (sea chanteys! Yes!) And they even used Frank Hurley’s actual photos and footage. I could quibble about the script making Shackleton’s journey to South Georgia too much of a solo effort, but, then, this wasn’t titled Frank Worsley Was the Best Navigator Ever. I thought this was a lot of fun and am very glad I had the opportunity to see it.

Part 8 – Ben’s I grew up going to Ben’s Kosher Deli in Baldwin. The one in the city is not as good (and, definitely, not up to the 2nd Avenue Deli) but it is conveniently located close to Penn Station for pre-train dining. I got a tongue sandwich and stuffed derma. The former was good, but the latter was quite disappointing, with overly salted gravy. The service was also decidedly mediocre. It wasn’t a horrible meal, but it didn’t fully satisfy my Jewish deli needs. Fortunately, I have at least one more trip to New York planned this summer.
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Jaleo: When I got home, I had just one day with nothing going on. Then I had a last minute dinner invitation as a friend from flyertalk was in town last minute and wanted company. We had an excellent meal of cheap wine and cheap tapas at Jaleo in Crystal City. The happy hour menu is limited but there was enough variety for us. And, of course, I always enjoy travel talk.

Ceremony: A colleague was retiring from the Air Force, so I got one of my periodic doses of ceremony out of it. He went somewhat all out with that, including a flag-folding ceremony, for example. I should also note that it is interesting to go to things at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in business attire and be surrounded by tourists in shorts and t-shirts.

Nationals: My last Nationals tickets of the year were promising, as Stephen Strasburg was pitching. Alas, he performed poorly, giving up 5 runs in 3 innings before they pulled him. The game was pretty exciting overall, as the score was up and down and there were both excellent and appalling fielding plays on both sides at various times. In the end, the Marlins won in the 11th. (The Nats remain in first, by the way.)

I should add that, as much as I find things like the Presidents' Race annoying, I like the theory that they will finally let Teddy win at the World Series. Assuming, that is, they make it there.

Closer Than Ever: My trip up to New York was for a summer camp reunion, but I leveraged it off it to go to the theatre. Specifically, I went to see York Theatre's revival of Maltby and Shire's revue, Closer Than Ever. This was enjoyable and, while there isn't any actual narrative, the songs do tell real stories. The performances were strong, especially by Anika Larsen who did a notable job with "Miss Byrd." I am particularly fond of the song "Fathers of Fathers," which ended up stuck in my head for a solid week. I do, however, have qualms about the wisdom of rhyming Florida, corridor, and horrider (in "Doors.")

Ein Harod reunion: We talked about camp. It was entertaining. I was, alas, too tired to stay all that late, which is what I get for going to a baseball game the night before and getting up early to take the train up.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: I don't think I had been to the Met since I was in high school. It is, of course, impossible to see the whole thing in the five or so hours I had available. So I focused on a few areas. I like classical (especially Greek) sculpture, for example. I was disappointed in a special exhibit on "The Rylands Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context," which was both smaller and less Jewish than I expected. I was more satisfied with "Naked Before the Camera," which explored the history and reactions to nude photographs.

My favorite section of the museum is the art of Oceania and I spent a lot of time looking at works from New Guinea and Vanuatu and came to the conclusion that I need to go to parts of Indonesia. I also went to the Temple of Dendur in the Egyptian section, which is less creepy than I'd remembered it being. And I browsed the museum shop but did not buy anything.

Other Food Pornography: Second Avenue Deli. Chopped liver. Enough said.
fauxklore: (travel)
I went up to New York last weekend, largely due to one of the theatre events I will write about in another entry. Some of the folks on milepoint were planning a brunch and, since I was intending to go up anyway, it was just as easy to take an early train up. The weather on Saturday was lovely and I walked from Penn Station to the Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village. We had a good meal with lots of the usual travel-related conversation (and some significant diversions into baseball).

After that, I meandered my way through the Village to my hotel. I was staying at The Jane, which is a very odd place at the edge of the Meatpacking District. It was built as a sailor's hostel and the rooms are, essentially, a land-based version of a cabin on a ship. They're tiny but functional and the bathroom is down the hall. The location is good and, at about a hundred bucks a night, it's quite reasonable for New York. (I will note that I often use hotel points for trips to New York, but I am saving up for something else.) On the way over, I walked through a street fair and succumbed to a moment of noshtalgia (i.e. the longing for the foods of one's youth) in the form of zeppoli. Fried dough, powdered sugar - all very charming while eaten hot right out of the bag and entirely unappealing moments later. I also bought a steampunk necklace I saw.

The lovely weather allowed me to walk to midtown, starting with the entire length of the High Line. I'm glad to see it being such a success, but the crowds were irritating. Once I was in midtown, I just did some browsing at Macys before getting a small bowl of soup for supper and Saturday night's theatre venture, which I will write about separately. After the show, I took the subway back downtown and collapsed with exhaustion.

That meant I was up decently early on Sunday. Rain was predicted, so I had both my rain jacket and an umbrella. It hadn't started yet, however, so I decided on a nice long morning cross-town walk to the Lower East Side, intentionally seeking out a particular food memory. Kossar's is alleged to bake the best bialy in New York. Even more significantly, they are one of the very few placea left on the planet to get pletzel. Even more significantly, they make miniature pletzels, of a size to make a perfect breakfast for one aging and noshtalgic displaced New York Jew. I was very happy, indeed. I will note that I then supplemented the damage by a trip next door to Doughnut Plant to have a creme brulee doughnut and a cup of coffee as a sort of dessert, if one is permitted to have dessert with breakfast.

It was starting to drizzle, but I continued walking some around the Lower East Side. Eventually, I went over to The Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. My schedule didn't match up with the available tours of the Tenement House, but I did look at a photo exhibit they had on hand. And I could not resist their bookstore, where I picked up a copy of The Baseball Talmud to feed my obsession about Jewish baseball players. I also bought a cute pin, in the shape of a pair of old-fashioned eyeglasses. (I wear pins all the time at work and it was only 12 dollars, so I couldn't resist.) By the way, there were lots of other books there I would have liked, but I had limited room in my backpack.

The rain was picking up and I needed to get uptown, so I walked towards the subway. On the way, I happened to walk by Yonah Schimmel's, home of some of the best remaining knishes on the planet. I stopped in and bought a kasha knish to eat later on. It was, indeed, delicious. (The best knishes of all time, by the way, came from a little stand called Jerry's, on the boardwalk in Far Rockaway. Lacking a time machine, these will have to do.)

I made my way up to 110th and Central Park North, which is a reasonably short walk from El Museo del Barrio, my destination for the afternoon. I was going to the theatre event that triggered the entire weekend. You shall, alas, have to wait for the next post to read all about that.
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I really didn't intend to go so long without posting here, but life has been hectic.

Celebrity Death Watch: My notes on who to mention go back to Harry Morgan, who had a truly distinctive, immediately recognizable voice. I watched M*A*S*H regularly as a teenager and remember being sad when Col Potter's plane disappeared on his way home.

The literary world offered up the losses of essayist Christopher Hitchens and of Russell Hoban, who wrote some children's books but who I associate primarily with Riddley Walker. The political world has one sad death (Vaclav Havel, bridging the literary world) and one less sad one (Kim Il Jung). The more obscure deaths are those of Jerry Robinson, who created The Joker, and of Erica Wilson, who wrote needlework patterns.

The death I most want to highlight, however, is Cesaria Evora. The "barefoot diva" of Cape Verde had a phenomenal voice and brought a lot of attention to the traditional music of that nation. She was certainly one of the reasons I want to go there. (There are others - Cape Verdeans played a major role in the whaling industry and, hence, New England.) I'm sorry I never got to see her perform live.

Three Sighs for Transportation: I came home from an errand to discover that the right front tire of my car was flat. I'd gotten new tires in April and, thanks to the warranty, that meant getting it fixed at Sears would be nearly free. They told me it would be "an hour and a half to two hours." I came back after two hours (having had breakfast and picked up a couple of things at the adjacent mall) and they hadn't even started on it. In the end, I was there four and a half hours. Sigh.

I've also had a few occasions recently to take the red line of the metro. Single tracking before 9 p.m. on a weekday is annoying. I thought the argument for the weekend shutdowns they've been doing is that they would then not have to single track to do repairs. Sigh.

I also had a frustrating Amtrak trip to New York, with power problems that made the train about an hour late. The delay was not as annoying as the fact that there were no lights while they were doing repairs (at Baltimore). Sigh.

Work: The project that will never end hasn't.

New York: My trip to New York at the beginning of the month was for my 35th high school reunion. The gathering was small but it was good to see the people who were there. I also used the time to do two Volksmarch events in New York City. The midtown walk was, in general, predictable but pleasant enough. The Chelsea / Greenwich Village walk was more interesting, particularly as I had never actually been on the High Line before. It's a good thing I was time constrained as the route passed the Strand Bookstore, which is always potentially dangerous to my budget.

Theatre: I can't go to New York and not go to the theatre. So I saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway. It was lively and funny, albeit a bit crude. It did push some of my buttons about how Africa is portrayed in pop culture, but that is to be expected. I'll also suggest that it is a very bad idea to take a child under about age 15 to see this. But I highly recommend it for thick-skinned adults. (If you liked, say, "Avenue Q," you will enjoy this.)

On a related note, I saw Cannibal: The Musical at Landless Theatre. (It is related via Trey Parker, who also co-created South Park.) There is some lively music and some funny moments (particularly involving the encounter with the Indians) but it was a bit overdone. It turns out, by the way, that Parker got his history mostly correct, but I was still disappointed not to hear a reference to Alferd Packer having eaten the Democratic majority of Summit County.

On a very unrelated note, I saw Billy Elliot at the Kennedy Center on Friday night. As I said on Facebook, it was a good 2 hour musical but is, unfortunately, 3 hours. There is somewhat too much talk for the amount of music. And most of the music is unremarkable. I do think "Solidarity" is powerful and effective and both "Deep Into the Ground" and "He Could Go and He Could Shine" are well done. The piece I hated was "Angry Dance," largely because the volume was so high that my ears were actually ringing through the intermission. The dancing (by Kylend Hetherington the night I saw it) was notable, particularly in the dream sequence when Billy dances to Swan Lake with his older self. But the real show-stopper was Cynthia Darrow as Grandma, an earthy woman indeed.

Finally, I saw Hairspray at Signature Theatre yesterday. I had seen this on Broadway some years ago and wondered how it would be in this much smaller space. The answer is that Signature did their usual excellent job. The songs are catchy, the book is reasonably funny, and the performers looked like they were having fun. So was I.

MAD: There was a talk by Al Jaffee and Mary-Lou Weisman (who wrote a recent biography of him) at the DCJCC on Thursday night. His life was definitely not what one might have expected, having been brought from the U.S. back to her Lithuanian shtetl by his mother when he was 6 and living there until he was rescued by his father six years later. The High School of Music and Arts changed his life - and MAD Magazine made him famous. At age 90, he still writes "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" and does the fold-ins. I feel privileged to have been able to enjoy s much of his work.


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