Saturday, January 07, 2006


Tonight, after a decent Southwestern-cuisine meal at Sante Fe's new location (try to get a table by the bar. Note: though there is some resemblance, Southwestern is not Mexican. If you want great Mexican food on the Upper West Side, go to Café Frida), we walked down to Avery Fisher Hall for a regular subscription concert by the New York Philharmonic--a violinist I'd never heard of, playing a concerto I'd never heard, by a composer I'd barely heard of. At least they bracketed it with a couple of familiar works. I settled into my seat with a pocketful of coughdrops to combat this little cold I've had the last couple of days.

This concert was a tough sell for the Philharmonic. Lots of radio ads on WQXR, plus offers of discounted tickets for our friends mailed both e- and snail. Somehow, though, they did manage to pretty much fill up the house.

Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel conducted, and started with Richard Wagner's Overture to Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman). The rousing nautical themes are well-known, and it's an audience favorite. Der fliegende Holländer was Wagner's earliest opera that has withstood the test of time, and he composed it long before his more esoteric Ring Cycle. I thought we might be in for a bad evening at the start--one of the horns hit a sour hote in the exuberent opening bars, but nothing of the sort happened again. Save for that one note the orchestra was fine.

Next on the program was the big question mark: James Ehnes playing Sir William Walton's Violin Concerto. This was commissioned by Jascha Heifetz, who premiered it with the Cleveland Orchestra in 1939. While it isn't quite a virtuoso piece, designed just to show off the player's skill, it certainly takes a very skilled violinist to play it. Ehnes got through it just fine, but it did not move me in the least. It's not particularly melodic, and has nothing else that would make me want to hear it again.

After intermission it was Antonín Dvořák's Seventh Symphony. Though not nearly as well-known as his super-popular Ninth ("From the New World"), or even his Eighth, its themes are quite familiar. Maazel led it strongly, and the orchestra responded--they clearly like his conducting very much.

It was a pretty nice concert, all in all. We did not have tall people seated in front of us for a change, and everyone kept quiet during the performance. Maazel managed to look distinguished even without a tie. And my coughdrop supply held out.


Republican congressman Tom DeLay has given up his attempt to return as House majority leader. Required to relinquish the post while he fights felony money laundering charges back in Texas, he had been hoping to return to his leadership role. Now that his crony, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has pleaded guilty to various charges, and is co-operating with prosecutors, even DeLay can read the writing on the wall. Things are going to get worse for him, not better.

DeLay is the latest example of Republican lawlessness in Washington. They're investigating Senate Majority leader Bill Frist for insider trading. California Rep. Randy Cunningham has already pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud, and tax evasion, and resigned from Congress.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. It's looking better and better for the Democrats in November.


I don't know why I didn't do this before. Either it was added after I set up this blog, or I just missed the option. Now I get to read comments before they are actually posted. And I can dispose of any that I think should not be seen.

I don't have to agree with a comment to let it in. I have no problem with criticism. I do have a problem with rudeness, and personal attacks, either against me or other people who post comments. These will be deleted, as will commercial solicitations and other spam and spamoids.

So you won't be seeing any more nastygrams from the Ozarks on this blog.


My friend Sirena posted a comment to my California Pizza? article. I'm not quite sure what she's objecting to, but it got me thinking a bit more about the subject.

Though I do find pizza toppings like pineapple rather weird, I really don't care what people want on theirs. I like sausage, peppers, onion and mushrooms, preferably all fresh. My real problem with the idea of California-style pizza is what goes underneath the toppings. I like a chewy crust, flavorful cheese, and a noticeable amount of reasonably heavy, not too sweet tomato sauce. It's going to be a little greasy. California-style, at least as it comes out at the California Pizza Kitchen, is a thin, dry crust, tasteless cheese and a token amount of tomato sauce too small to be noticed. Grease-free, and almost taste-free. The real test of pizza is that it should be good without any toppings.

One of the things I forgot to put in my first post is that I have never found the pizza from any national chain to be very good. Domino's is abominable (I'm not sure what the fluffy yellowish stuff on top is, but it's not cheese). Pizza Hut isn't much better. Now I can add California Pizza Kitchen to my avoid list.

Friday, January 06, 2006


I had dinner at a California Pizza Kitchen this evening. Our movie companion chose it. I had never heard of it. I'll try to forget it.

The idea of California-style pizza just doesn't seem right. To me California-style means light food, with crunchy fresh vegetables (I'll never forget the first time I had a salad there, on a family trip when I was 12. Even the iceberg lettuce was flavorful.) Pizza is not light food--if it's not a little greasy, something's wrong.

But I went, and I ate. I had the Sweet & Spicy Italian Sausage Pizza, "a combination of sweet Italian sausage and grilled spicy Italian sausage with our tomato sauce, roasted red & yellow peppers, mild onions and Mozzarella cheese." If there was sweet sausage on it I couldn't tell, because the spicy sausage drowned it out. I always like to add some oregano to my pizza, but apparently this is not something people normally do to California-style pizza--the waiter had to go to the kitchen, and get some on a little dish.

Did I mention the place was crowded with little kids, noisily celebrating birthdays?

Final irony: on the way out I noticed that right across the street there's a branch of Patsy's Coal-Oven Pizza.


I saw Mrs. Henderson Presents this evening. Not bad. A rich, upperclass, British eccentric being eccentric--what else would you call capriciously buying a London theater in 1937 and then featuring naked women in it. The ending seemed contrived. Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins were great, a couple of real characters playing off each other.

If you like stories of British eccentrics, go see it. If you like Judi Dench and/or Bob Hoskins, go see it. Otherwise, there are probably better movies around you'd prefer to see.


"The whales penis weights 1 ton. Virility Patch RX can make your cocks weight close to it."

It sounds like it would be rather difficult to use--much less walk with.


...who finds some of the Spermamax spam humorous. Someone got my blog searching for "funny spam spermamax."

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Second Avenue Deli closes! At least temporarily--their lease expired and the landlord wants to jack up the rent. This is serious. They have the best hot pastrami sandwich in the city.

Maybe they should have the waiters negotiate the new lease. But the waiters haven't been quite as surly as in decades past, so it might be better for them to use some retirees.



Wisconsin easily beat Auburn in the Capital One Bowl, finished with a better record, yet the AP still ranked Auburn the better team.

Big Ten teams continue to be under-ranked. True, Penn State and Ohio State ended up third and fourth, but that was only after being consistently ranked lower than they were by the computers all through the season.


'"paint by numbers" horse kyle'

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


One of my favorite websites (which didn't make my list in my Meme of Fours) is Overheard in New York. As its name implies, it's snippets of conversations people hear in the city. Mostly it's people being crude, ignorant, and/or mentally disturbed, but some of them are really funny. I've added a link button below my links list.

I've just noticed they have a sister site: Overheard in the Office. There's a green link button on their main site.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


After they are inaugurated, New York City officials have to sign an official register, so their signatures on documents can be verified. The signatures are attested to by the City Clerk, who collects a fee (which goes to the City) for this service. Four years ago, the fee was fifteen cents, which Mayor Bloomberg could afford, even on the one dollar a year salary he is taking.

But the fee has gone up. It is now nine dollars. Mayor Bloomberg will have to dip into his billions to cover this one--like he dipped in for the $79 million he spent to get re-elected.


I finally saw Narnia. Quick review: I liked it. A little bit too long (I did find myself looking at my watch about 1:50 in). The special effects were amazing. I thought Georgie Henley was great as Lucy. I didn't find the Christian symbolism obtrusive at all. The popcorn was nice and fresh.


By the way, happy New Year to all! Now I've got to run to see Narnia.


The Guggenheim Museum is hosting Russia!, a huge exhibition covering that country's art from the 13th Century to the present. I spent two full hours there Friday, learning a lot about Russia's art history, a subject with which I was rather unfamiliar.

Before that, though, we stopped for lunch with another couple at a different museum, the Neue Gallerie's Café Sabarsky. The museum shows German and Austrian art, and the restaurant features Viennese food. My sausage salad was quite good, and the Black Forest cake was excellent. The only thing that marred the meal was a busboy who seemed to have skipped taking a shower.

Then we had to go just a couple of quick blocks up Fifth Ave. to the Guggenheim. The exterior is being repaired, so the distinctive Frank Lloyd Wright-designed architecture is obscured by scaffolding. But they've done their best to make even the scaffolding is distinctive.

The lines for tickets were long, even the one for members--mostly because that was also the line for people with CityPasses. As the guests of members our friends were able to get in for $10 each, an $8 savings over the increased admission the Guggenheim is charging during the Russia! Exhibition. We then went and got Audioguides--a must for this tour. The captions by the artworks give only identification information, unlike the ones at the Metropolitan Museum. There are explanations on the walls for the various sections of the exhibition, but you'll get a lot more out of it with the Audioguide. At the membership desk we were told they were sold out, but we could check to see if any had been returned. Fortunately, a few had been.

After checking our coats we went up the ramp to the first level. We decided not to try to stay together--my wife and I frequently split up in exhibitions like this. She was an art history major, and often likes to look at some things much longer than I. This was actually our second visit to Russia!, so we were already at different points, but it was our friends' first time.

It turned out that the crowd (many speaking Russian themselves) was manageable, though. While I occasionally could not get a clear view of a painting, I would just go on to the next one, and within a few minutes I was able to go back and see what I missed.

During my first visit I was able to get a little past Peter the Great (the exhibition is pretty much chronological), but there was a lot more to see--there are over 250 works in it. I was not that interested in the very early ones. The iconostatis, a wall of painted images, was impressive for its size and grandeur and age, but for little else.

When Peter the Great (reign 1682-1725) opened up Russia to Western culture, things got more interesting. He started collecting Western paintings on his travels. But it was his granddaughter-in-law, Catherine the Great (reign 1762-1796), who really assembled a first-rate collection. It became the basis of her Hermitage (which Nicholas I made into a public museum in 1852).

The paintings they collected were interesting, but what was more important to me was the development of Russian artists during the period. In the mid-1700's Catherine the Great founded the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, following the French model. By 1782 Russian artists were turning out masterful portraits such as the one of Alexander Lanskoi--with the bust of Catherine the Great smiling down on him. It was really a joke, though. Lanskoi was one of her lovers, and the bust, which was exhibited by the Guggenheim right in front of the painting, actually has a much more serious expression.

It was Karl Briullov's portrait of Countess Samilova that really caught me eye. Briullov broke away from the St. Petersburg Academy, and finished his education in Rome. It was there he painted Samilova, another Russian emigrée, in about 1833. His ability to reproduce the fabrics of the clothing, curtains and rug was stunning. Even up close the dresses appeared almost to be photographs.

Other artists also found the rigidity of the Academy too confining, and by the second half of the nineteenth century a group of them had broken away. Known as the "Wanderers," they used art for social commentary. Moreover, they mounted traveling exhibitions, so the people of Russia outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow could see their art. Ilya Repin's Barge Haulers on the Volga may have been the most famous of the works they showed. It depicted the travails of a group of men, freed from serfdom, toiling as beasts of burden with strength and dignity--men whose labor was cheaper than the use of horses.

And then there was Ivan Kramskoy's 1883 Unknown Woman--who immediately reminded me of a dark Bernadette Peters. The photograph-like detail was stunning. But the painting was more controversial at the time because, though her name may have been unknown, her profession was not--she was a high-class prostitute of some sort, and therefore scandalous as the subject for fine art.

There were many other works that had me lingering for extended views. I remember two full-length statues less than a foot high. Not only were the statues great, but they were exhibited superbly--a spotlight put their shadows dramatically on the wall behind. Without seeing the statues you would think they were much larger.

I had anticipating seeing some of the great Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings from the Hermitage, which has an excellent collection. I was rather disappointed--what they lent for this exhibition was far from the cream of the crop. One good Picasso, the rest very secondary works, and not many in total. The collection, and the one in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, were created from the personal collections of Moscow merchants Sergei Shchulkin and Ivan Morozov. Confiscated by the Soviets, the collections stayed hidden away in storage for decades, as they did not conform to the Soviets' view of art: Social Realism.

There was a whole annex roomful of the early Soviet art--some very propagandistic, a few moderately interesting, nothing terribly compelling.

It was there I ran out of time--I was still on level 5, with two more levels to go. I think I got a bit out of order chronologically. I'm pretty sure there are more pre-Soviet works in the main gallery which I didn't get to. Perhaps I'll go back to finish. It runs to the 11th.

We stopped in the little café on the ground floor for something to drink and some more conversation with our friends.

On the way out we saw a line of people stretching around the corner, waiting in the cold to get in--at 6:00pm on Fridays the Guggenheim starts its "Pay What You Wish" session. But it was way before 6. My wife said that when she went out to do some errands a bit later, she saw the line stretched all the way to Madison Ave.! Clearly this is a very popular show.