Monday, March 31, 2014

A Tale of Two Stars



I recently watched two documentaries about two very different very talented women in the arts. Both documentaries involved their careers and sadness over the endings of those careers.
The first one was about Elaine Stritch, the critics' favorite,  a Broadway actress/singer/ performer who retired at  age 87. She  is a brassy, funny woman without much of a voice, but who could put across songs in a way that didn't matter about vocal quality. She did a very funny turn on "30 Rock" as Alec Baldwin's mother. In her younger days, Noel Coward wrote a musical ("Sail Away")  for  her, which was quite a coup for someone just starting out.  She's known for her big song in "Company"- "The Ladies Who Lunch,"  which very succeeding actress in the role has imitated, nuance for nuance. It's a pretty vicious, angry number.
The  documentary follows her last two  years performing in New York, watching her starting to fail, forgetting lyrics, dealing with some scary incidents because of diabetes. It 's sad, but she doesn't seem depressed about it, but,  rather, just pissed off. She has incredible energy, more than people half her age, but knows it's time to go. At the end of the film, she's off to Detroit, back home, after over 65 years in the center of things in New  York and London. It would be interesting to see another documentary of her life in Detroit.
The second film, "Afternoon of a Faun," is about Taniquil LeClerq, a ballerina with the American Ballet Theatre. She was also married to George Balanchine, one of his many wives. (It occurred to me that I had seen there of them in live performances over the years: Alexandra Danilova, Maria Tallchief and Suzanne Farrell.) LeClerq was extraordinarily beautiful, tall and slender, and moved like a nymph. The film shows some rather fuzzy TV tapes, but you can see her grace and beauty clearly. There are interviews with fellow dancers who adored her.
However, her career ended when she was barely thirty. She was on tour in Russia, one of those cultural exchange things we did during the Cold War, hoping that our mutual love of the arts would avoid the Bomb....and it did, apparently. But LeClerq was stricken with polio, which ended her career as a dancer,and eventually her marriage. It was just heartbreaking for everyone. She did become a choreography for the Harlem Ballet Company, and lived into her 70s. She never had a choice about the end of her dancing career.The Salk vaccine had recently come out, but she had decided to wait until the Russian tour was over.
The contrast between the Broadway broad and the ethereal dancer was stark, but both films were poignant, each in its own way.
( I wanted to see the Stritch film because my lovely sister -in-law, the late Eileen Stritch Harper was her first cousin, and they shared an apartment in New York, two girls from the Midwest, like "My Sister Eileen." There is some  resemblance between the two, but Eileen was prettier, gentler and smarter than he cousin.)
 

Friday, February 28, 2014

I'm Cute


There is a tendency of the not old to think that old  people doing things they've done all their lives are hilarious or "cute." I recently saw on Facebook a video of an old woman dancing to a contemporary rock and role tune. I don't know how old she was, but rock's been around for about 60 years and is probably the music the woman enjoys the most now as she loved it when she was in her teens. She was a good dancer, moving well and enjoying the rhythm.I This video was classified as "hilarious." Imagine that, an old lady dancing to "our" music! Shouldn't she be doing a minuet or a waltz?

Another comment that people not yet on Social Security or a pension make about an old person is that the geezer is somehow doing something "cute." This can be something that would not be considered cute if the old one was a young one. I was considered very cute last fall when I was in the hospital off and on, dealing with problems connected with my pancreatic cysts. To keep from going nuts, I had my IPad in use a lot. This was considered very cute by nurses. And when I started watching "Breaking Bad"  on my IPad, my cuteness increased tremendously. When a new nurse came on, she was told about the old lady who knew how to turn on her IPad. Amazing! Unbelievable! Cure!
 I inadvertently left my charger when I left the hospital and when I went back to pick it up, the nurse at the desk exclaimed, "We knew this was yours! " as she handed it over to me with a condescending smile. "You're just amazing."
"Well, " I said, "usually if you have a brain when you're young, you still have a brain when you're old and can figure things out." (I didn't want to suggest that she didn't currently have a brain herself. )

I have many friends who are old, who are hip, who enjoy contemporary music, films, computers, fast cars, sex, and rock'n'roll and are not at all "cute." One of these days one of us is going to deck the next person who thinks we're cute or  or somehow hilarious if we can walk across a room without falling down.
 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Modern Language



Every December I go into movie overload. Distributors seem to hold off the good ones until the end of the year, counting on the amnesia that seems to affect those who choose the best picture nominations. For months there are hardly any movies that I want to see. Theaters are full of exploding buildings, half- wit comedies for 13 year old boys and sci-fi teen flicks. A few ones escape but are soon forgotten.
This year's crop of potential winners, all of which have come out since Thanksgiving, showed up in northeast Ohio one after another in a few weeks. A couple came out here in late December and early January. Sometimes I was seeing two movies a week. I must say that I have enjoyed every one, in spite of the fact that most of them featured protagonists who were mostly despicable characters, unsavory types, people I wouldn't want to know or even sit next to on a park bench. (I have to wonder if the popularity of the ultimate anti-hero, Walter White of "Breaking Bad" might have influenced producers to flood the movies this year with scumbags.) But the acting was so good, the stories interesting, the soundtracks fun, and in some cases, great cinematography that I  accepted the sleazy actions of the protagonists.
What was unique, however, was the unremitting presence of the F word. Good grief! The "Wall Street Wolf" flick contained something like 506 F- words, according to some Aspergerish critic, who must have had one of those clicker counters to accomplish that feat. Even Meryl Streep-Meryl Streep!!!- barked out an uncounted, but persistent expressions of F**ks, along with many other bad words not usually heard from women. "The Dallas Buyers Club" seemed to have equalled "Wall Street,"but I didn't have a clicker with me. "American Hustle" had a large contingent of potty mouth characters whose very other word was, of course, the curse word du jour. "Her," probably the best of the lot, probably had a few, but I was so blown away by Joacquin Phoenix and the cinematography that I  didn't?t notice.
People keep telling me that this is the way people talk these days. What people? Who?
Well, I know that if you walk past a group of high school or college students you'll hear it a lot, in the way the movies use it, every other word, every part of speech, until very few words in the sentence are NOT f** k. I do know people who use it when under duress, mainly having to do with computer malfunctions, or when confronted with terminal stupidity by politicians of the Tea Party persuasion, or when  a labor intensive recipe goes wrong, or when the cat grabs a tuna fish sandwich off a plate, you know. I mean even a person of lady like demeanor may, on occasion, need the stress reducing epithet.
It is the constant unrelenting repetition that is, somehow, cheapening the word, robbing it of its special power to underline one's complete dismay, distress, or anger at situations or people. It just becomes like "a" or "the." It becomes boring. One of my favorite stories, a true one, about power of the word came from a friend of Polly's. His parents were out of town, and his Nana was in charge of him and his younger brothers. One night at dinner, he became annoyed about something and exploded with the F word.
Nana threw up.
The word meant something in those days.
And I'm in the mood for a f**king Jane Austen movie.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ancient History


As Lillian Carter said, "Old age is not for sissies."  Amen to that. Your body betrays you at very turn. You're lucky if your mind does not. I remember my father saying, "If I'd have known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." I think Groucho said it first, but it's how one feels upon reaching beyond three score and ten.
My sister claims that 85 is when you actually realize that, "Good God, I'm OLD!" She's right. That's when things start to fall apart, when things you could do without even thinking about no longer work quite so well. Before, you could run up and down stairs without thinking of holding on to a rail; when you could hop in and out of  the car; when you could rise from a chair without using the arms to hoist your self upright; when you could carry two full grocery bags or more into the house without losing your breath; when you could read the whole newspaper and finish the NYTimes Saturday crossword puzzle in less than an an hour; when you could walk through ice and snow without fear of falling, because if you did fall, you could get up unaided without having injured anything.  The list goes on.
Sometimes it's just hard to do things, like opening plastic lids on yogurt, pull tabs on cans, turning door knobs even. These problems seem to sneak up on you suddenly.
Then there's your appearance. I used to have small ears, but now the've grown longer. I look as if I'm wearing a wrinkled body suit all over, the result of age and also of heedless sun bathing  and smoking. Once in a while a clear crystalline drip appears on the end of my nose. I shuffle. ( My friend Mixie said that she misses the way she used to just glide along instead of hobbling.) Flatulence occasionally and involuntarily  occurs, fortunately not publicly. Yet. If I have to answer the phone early in the day, my froggy voice makes me sound like a crone living in a cave. I have whiskers on my chin, like that cave crone.
All these things are just a part of living long. It could be worse. I'm not complaining, just describing. In my head I'm about 35 or so, and it just surprises me when reality hits as I'm trying to get up out of a chair in one smooth movement.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sixto, the Snow Cat


Last winter Sixto was still in his kitten hood. He explored the snow tentatively, lifting his little feet and trying to shake the snow off. He did not spend much time outside. This year, things are quite different. He sits on the back of the couch in front of the window, watching the snowfall. When the ground is covered, he goes to the door, demanding to go out. When the door is open, he doesn't hesitate, in that annoying way other cats we've  owned have done, while the door opener freezes, waiting for the animal to pass through to the outside. Sixto walks right out, pausing  on the stoop to decide which direction he'll take.
Sometimes when he's looking out the window, he'll spot a bird, and watch which way it flies, and when he gets outside, that's the way he'll go, too, with great expectations. He's not much of a birder, thank goodness. One of the few burdens of having a cat is that  one has to reconcile their jungle beast nature with one's love of other creatures, great and small.
There are those cat owners who keep their cats inside, but I consider this a form of animal abuse. When the late, great Adlai  Stevenson was governor of Illinois, there was a move to leash cats. Stevenson was a marvelous, literate speaker and wordsmith. He gave a witty speech about the nature of cats, describing their need for freedom. I wish I could remember his exact words, but the movement to restrain cats was defeated. I wrote him a letter to which he responded, which I saved for years and, alas, lost in a move.
But I digress. Sixto loves snow, that's the point. He spends as much time as possible wading through it, although he has not yet developed the little snow balls on his belly that Dupree used to come in with. That will have to wait for deeper snow. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Peerless Pear



A million years ago, someone sent my father a Christmas gift of a box of Royal Rriviera pears from Harry and David. Actually, it was almost 65  years ago. We fell upon them like ants at a picnic. My father always got great goodies from companies involved with his work as an engineer. ( One  year someone sent a case of champagne. We broke open the first bottle right after Christmas morning Mass. We three older ones were home from college, semi- adults and allowed to drink wine at home. Sometime in the afternoon, the two little brothers informed us that many people had stopped by to offer holiday greetings, but all the grown-ups were sprawled about the living room, gently snoring,  fast asleep. My mother, being always the lady, had gone upstairs to collapse on her bed.)
The pears, however had no such soporific effect. I had never tasted anything so delicious. They were carefully shared and savored. It was many years before I had them again, until a Harry and David catalogue arrived in my mail box, but I hadn't ordered any for myself for a long time. Dear Nancy the quilter sent me a box when I had hip surgery a few years ago.
A dear and kind friend has been driving me to exercise class and other places since I had to quit driving. I started sending her the pears for Christmas several years ago as a thank you gift. This year I added a box for us. They arrived very quickly, and two days later, another, bigger box arrived- a gift from my brother Michael and his wife Marian.
So we are up to here with these beauties. We've eaten them for dessert. We've eaten them for breakfast. Polly has nade green salads with blue cheese and bacon and pears. They are just as good as those first ones I had almost 65 years ago. They are also beautiful to behold, with rosy cheeks.
And there's no such thing as too many Royal Riviera pears from Harry and David, bless their Oregon hearts.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Auld Lang This!



I'm not sure why, but I've never liked  New Year's Day. It could be the football games. It could be that the end of the holiday season  is nigh. It could be that there'll be at least 5 months (at least in Northeastern Ohio) of gray skies, dun- colored grounds and skeletal trees. It's just a dull and uncertain time, uncertain because of capricious weather. Planning ahead for anything that involves travel, for instance, can be tricky because of heavy snow and icy roads. Even though I no longer drive, I don't even like to be in a car when it's snowing.
New Year's Eve used to be enjoyable time when I was younger. Lots of parties, lots of putting on my prettiest clothes, high heeled shoes and glitter. Most of my closest friends are gone off to green pastures, and those of us left are too old to drink in the New Year. And the thought of high heels, just the thought of high heels, makes my feet hurt. How did I ever wear those things, to say nothing of dancing in them. Oy!
 I went to get my hair cut this morning. The place I go is one of those chain salons which doesn't take appointments. I expected it to be packed, but I got right in with my favorite stylist. I asked her where the crowds were, assuming all the ladies would be in, getting all glossed up for the big night. She told me that people just don't do that any more, and haven't for some time, preferring to have informal gatherings. Poor things.
But New Year's Day is so un-joyous to me. When I was working, or in school, it  meant going back the next day, but  that's no longer the case. It's a good time to see a movie, at least. And in the Catholic church it's called The Feast of the Circumcision. That's something the nuns never explained.
The Boar's Head Festival was terrific, as usual. We had to sit in the west  transept for a change and found it even better than the usual place we have sat for years. The shepherds entered right in front of us with two small goats, one of which sang aling with them all around the cathedral and right up to the manger. We also went to a different Vietnamese restaurant, this time on the near West side of Cleveland.
Dessert was ice cream at Sweet Moses, a trendy creamery in an emerging neighborhood in that part of town. Wonder if it's open on New Year's Day?