Monday, September 30, 2013

In the land of wine and petrochemicals

This weekend I enjoyed the lovely weather by getting out of town to partake in the subtle beauty of New Jersey wine country. Some friends had been to a vineyard in eastern New Jersey and enjoyed their bounty. I had personally enjoyed a bottle of wine they brought for us to share from this vineyard a month before, but interestingly those grape were imported from Argentina, so I still had lingering doubts about New Jersey's own vintages. That's not true. Actually, I have a very unsophisticated palette when it comes to wine and mostly just pick bottles on the dual criteria of price and label art. At any rate, when these friends mentioned this vineyard was hosting a wine festival with live music and a bunch of nearby vineyards around for tasting, I was sold. 

Every time I go to New Jersey, I'm surprised by how for such a small state with such a sad reputation, that it really does have a lot to offer. On our camping trip, I learned that the south is full of peach orchards, and on this trip, I learned the east is full of vineyards. Well maybe not "full of" but I can vouch for there being at least five. Some were definitely better than others, but I did find one bottle of Syrah from a vineyard in Cape May that was worth buying despite costing twice as much as my normal price criteria (luckily not having a sophisticated palette allows me to set this number quite low...) and having minimal cover art. Made a nice addition to brunch with Sam's parents the next day.

Sam sadly wasn't able to join me because his superior strength was called to help a friend move. But thanks to my camera phone, I was able to persevere in his absence with some photos of the day: 

A Saturday afternoon in New Jersey. 

My friend and I sampling some of New Jersey's finest. Actually, this vineyard was not the finest. We confused it with the much finer booth next to it and kept telling them we wanted to buy their Syrah which they insisted they didn't make. This was a few tastings in...

They offered $5 "carriage rides," but I wasn't fooled. Hay bales or not, I know a hay ride when I see one.

We walked (because I refuse to pay $5 to ride in a wagon) around the vineyard. Here's a view of the festival from a bit further away. 
All in all it was a lovely autumn jaunt. And if this gorgeous weather holds, I hope there are many more such day trips in the plans for this fall. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A night with Janis Joplin

A couple of nights ago a friend invited me to see A Night with Janis Joplin with her because she'd gotten the tickets free from another friend. Now I wouldn't exactly call myself a Janis Joplin fan. Not that I dislike her music, but that I could really only name two songs by her off the top of my head (millennials really are the worst, I suppose), so I hadn't ever bothered to form an opinion, unless apathy counts as an opinion. Nevertheless, I don't pass up a chance to see Broadway theater for free (or any theater for free really), and I hadn't seen this particular friend in a while, so of course I was in.

It was such a high energy production and so much of it relies on the main star, that I was impressed she could maintain it for the whole of the performance and with so few breaks. The show is essentially her playing different Janis Joplin songs while taking occasional respites for monologues (which my friend said were mostly taken word for word from documentaries or interviews she'd seen). The only times she wasn't on stage were when some of her influences--Nina Simone, Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin--were singing instead. All of these impersonators were very good, but Janis herself was phenomenal. I had to go back to watch some interviews with her after the show. The voice, the mannerisms, the way she carried herself; everything was dead on. Apparently because the role is so demanding, a second woman will be Janis for at least two performances a week.

Mary Bridget Davies as Janis Joplin.

It was also just a very fun show, and in many ways felt more like a concert. People were encouraged to stand up and dance and clap along, and the audience was even given hot pink glow sticks with our programs. The set definitely lent itself to a concert feel too, with a band that would move forward and back on a sliding stage and some very energetic lighting effects. If I had one quibble, and since the show is still in previews this might be something they fine tune, some of the staging was just a little off. We were seated in the left orchestra section but relatively close to the aisle, and we couldn't see most of the people standing stage left. Characters would often enter and sing there for a bit before coming into our view. Not a huge issue by any stretch though.

If you're in New York, I'd definitely recommend this one, even if you're (like me) not a Janis Joplin disciple. Good times, great tunes, and spot-on performances. If you're not living in New York or planning to be here any time soon though, well then I think this post was kind of boring overall, so I'm sorry for that.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Because Beacon

The weather's been pretty lovely lately (getting that fall crisp in the air), so this weekend it seemed like a good idea to get out of town for the day. Fall crispness is wasted in the city after all. We'd bandied about the idea of going apple picking, but in the end decided to go somewhere we'd never been before. We settled on Dia Beacon. The museum is located in an old Nabisco box printing factory and contains the collection of the Dia Art Foundation from the 1960s through today. The huge museum is located in the adorable town of Beacon, New York located just an hour an half train ride from New York City. The train ride was also part of the appeal of the day trip as the train goes along the Hudson River the whole time for some lovely views. I think it would be even nicer in a couple of weeks once the fall foliage revs up.

Sam and the aforementioned Hudson River. 
 Apparently the day we chose to visit Beacon was also the day of their annual beer fest. Most of the locals we saw in town were either on their way to the beer fest or talking how they were abstaining from going to the beer fest for whatever complicated reasons. We could hear the music and see some of the festivities from the train, and it looked like a pretty good time (as craft beer festivals no doubt often are). Next year we might have to check it out. However, this year, our plans were already in place, so to the museum we went.

The one shot I got before I was told no photos were allowed in the museum. 
I would say Dia Beacon falls into the category along with PS1 of "museums where I enjoy the building more than the art inside it." I've found this is often the case with modern art museums housed in repurposed buildings. I enjoy looking at the pieces, but I just always feel like I'm missing something key that other people are seeing. For example, there was a piece by an artist whose name I've already forgotten who painted the date on a solid black (or blue) canvas in whatever language/format of the country he was in on the date he was painting it. If he didn't finish the painting by midnight, he destroyed it. Also, for some reason the air in the room where the paintings were displayed was "ionized"? When I found out he painted the perfect white numbers without stencils, I was marginally impressed, but I still don't really get what he was trying to accomplish. Maybe I just wasn't breezing in enough of that sweet, freeing purified air.
Me and some bushy trees at the entrance of the museum.
After wandering the vast open expanses of the museum (definitely worth checking out for the building alone), we headed into town. Downtown Beacon is something of an artist's enclave with a number of cute shops, galleries, and restaurants. They also have nice ice cream shops.
Sam soaking up the sites of Main Street. 

I realized we have so few photos of the two of us together. Actually, that's not true. Thanks to the wedding we have hundreds of beautiful photos of the two of us looking put together and attractive, but we have so few of us looking wind blown and with Sam looking off in some random direction. 

So that is a truthful account of our trip to Beacon. If Metro North weren't so pricey, I'd say we should head back soon. As is, it may be a while. But hey, it's only 364 days to Beer Fest!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A neighborhood art walk

Last week I decided to start chronicling some of the street art in Astoria. Mostly because I have a decent camera with me at all times now, so why not taking pictures of all the street art I pass? Our neighbor to the south, Long Island City, has always had the bigger following in terms of the street art scene. An outdoor exhibition space called Five Pointz was known for its excellent graffiti and street art, although it was recently sold to build fancy condos (way to sell out, LIC). After my few days of photographing murals around the neighborhood, I think it's fair to say Astoria has a few gems of its own.

Below are a few of my photos (and to be fair, a few of Sam's, who accompanied me on one of my walks) with a brief description of their location.

This inspector decorates a garage door on Vernon Ave near Socrates Sculpture Park (I could do a whole post just on the cool art that's there, but it's more public art than street art).                                            
I've always enjoyed this mural that covers the underside of the bridge over 31st st near 23rd Ave. Why MJ, Richard Gere, and Sinatra, is a question I often find myself asking. Also, note this photo is taken in the dark because alas it's already to the point that it's dark in the morning when I'm going to the gym. 

This duck is in a doorway by the community garden on 30th Ave.  Or actually, I guess it's a chicken. 

This one, located on 12th St between 30th Ave and...some other avenue is my favorite. The rainbow swirls? Those aren't painted--that's all crochet work (see below).
Badass attention to detail, no?

These next few were all on the same wall and thus probably by the same artist. I want to say 30th Ave, near the water,  and possibly 8th St. There were a lot of warehouses around...

The pair above were separated on the wall by a few more gorillas. 
Sam took this one. I don't remember where. Hard to tell what the sign said originally. 
This obviously isn't spray paint (I think they did the piece in advance and just glued it on the wall?). Impressive detail though. 
Now that I've really started to notice the art in my neighborhood, I'm curious about how often it changes. I know the mural under the bridge is pretty permanent, but the others had spray paint on the sidewalks as well that looked like it could be pretty recent. Might be interesting to monitor now that I have a general idea where some nice pieces are. Well, some more than others.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Shakespearean swan song of summer

I've been on kind of a posting-once-a-week kick for the last month or so. I stopped having the excuse of writing about Nazis a while ago, but I imagine I'm just going through a blog funk. I'm hopeful things will pick up soon, but in the meantime, I'll try to post a little more often. Ideally with interesting things, which shouldn't be too hard because fall is one of my favorite seasons, and tends to lend itself to the doing of interesting things. I had a fun weekend of brunching and dinnering and birthday partying that pretty much amounted to seeing everyone I know. But that's not terribly interesting to talk about. Instead, I'll just mention what I did on Friday: a final Shakespeare in the Park appearance.
Normally the Public Theater puts on two Shakespeare plays each year during the summer. I've seen both plays for the last three years because of my inherent cheapness and willingness to stand in long lines for free theater. This year, I yet again saw both productions and was impressed by the traditional version of The Comedy of Errors and kind of underwhelmed by the modernized, musical version of Love's Labours Lost. When I heard they were doing a new production for one weekend only in the fall (this past weekend) that was a musical version of The Tempest, I was intrigued, if a little wary. Still it sounded like a cool production, and I didn't want to break my Shakespeare in the Park streak. Instead of the Public Theater, this was put on by their outreach program Public Works. In addition to professional actors, the program incorporates regular people, dancers, singers, and community groups from all over the city. It's intended to create a theatrical experience that is at once created by and created for the people of the city. Apparently in 1918, there was a community based version of The Tempest done in New York City on which the Public Works modeled their project. I liked the concept, but I wasn't sure how it would all play out.
As luck would have it, it was a gorgeous day on Friday, so a few friends and I figured we would try the standby line. After all, the worst case scenario to not getting tickets was a beautiful day in Central Park which isn't too great a burden. We ended up getting tickets though, which was even luckier because it was one of the coolest productions I've ever seen at Delacourt Theater. Interestingly, I've yet to see a normal production of The Tempest. The only time I've seen it staged previously was when I was studying abroad in South Africa and my friend in the theater department dragged me to their production. I remember it being very  artfully done, and with a lot more nudity than I would have expected, but the entire thing was in Afrikaans, and I lost sight of the plot pretty early on. The Public Works version followed the story, but also treated it as a frame story to allow for some pretty amazing dance and choral performances throughout (as elements of 'magic' on the island). I must say I'm very humbled by how many talented people there was in this city, especially children. There were taiko drummers (especially cool because I have a friend who does that but have never actually seen them perform), Mexican folk dancers, hip hop dancers, a large gospel choir, a gypsy band, ballet dancers, three taxi drivers, a bubble artist, and a sign language interpreter. The acting was pretty good too, but the rest of the people really stole the show. Also, for this production, turning it into a musical with newly written songs really worked. It was everything Love's Labour Lost tried to do but fell short of, in my opinion. The songs really added something instead of just feeling tacked on.

Performances like this one are one of the reasons I almost can make peace with paying as much rent as I do to live here. I don't tend to rhapsodize too much about this city (or maybe I do and I'm just not aware of it), but things like this really are what makes living in a large metropolitan area worth it. Then again, I could pay way less to live in a large metropolitan area like Cleveland or Houston, and I'm sure their public theater is very nice too, so best not to dwell on the rent thing.

Now I'll just have to remember this one for a while. Until next summer, I guess I'm mostly back to having to pay for things like theater. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A September stream of semi-consciousness

I'm happy to say that the novelty was worn off on my phone (although I did download my first app this morning!), so no random photo dump today. In fact, the only photos I've taken in the last five days have been of some things I'm selling online, the dry erase board at crossfit, and Dinah (of course). At one point I was sitting next to her on the coach for a few hours working, and she just kept contorting herself into cuter and cuter positions. See Exhibit A below.

Exhibit A: Who can work when this cuteness is belly up next to you?
Part of the lack of photos is because I mostly relaxed this weekend. Despite its four day duration, I didn't go anywhere (well except New Jersey). Instead, I spent it mostly eating too much, and occasionally drinking too much. It seems hard to believe that yet another summer has come and gone. My fifth since I moved to New York, come to that. I feel like I should have made some sort of post on my five year anniversary here (or did I do that and I just can't remember?), but I don't really have a lot of say about it. 

I've never really been one for celebrating specific dates as milestones, but I do thoroughly enjoy ruminating on the passing of time. I'm still loving my one-line-a-day, five-year journal for that reason. Although I hadn't made note of the calendar dates at the time, it reminded me of the date Sam and I got engaged and even the date we decided on a wedding venue. Smaller, but equally notable, events like the time our trivia team won some money or the time a bird pooped directly on my face (I wasn't even looking up!) while walking to a friend's cocktail party and carrying a baked brie also crop up. You wouldn't think these are memories that could be forgotten. 

I also enjoy noting the similarities from year to year (although granted it's only been the one year, so my frame of reference is pretty small). Some characters come and go, but the main ones stay the same and do shockingly similar things. I'd forgotten what plans I'd made for Labor Day last year, but apparently I did exactly what I did this year: hang out with my now in-laws in New Jersey. And it was just as lovely then as it was now. I also realized I talk about trivia in my journal far too much, but I tend to think that's because Mondays are usually devoid of all other interesting activities. I guess what I'm saying (if I were to try to come to some neatly supported point), is that the repetition I at first thought made me boring and predictable is actually fairly comforting. I like doing new things, but I also really enjoy routine. And, frankly, answering trivia questions. 

I think I lost the thread of the point a little while ago, but no matter. Happy September, readers! And happy anniversary to whatever milestone big or small today commemorates for you because it's always something.