Monday, October 8, 2007

Columbus Day Weekend

Our weekend in New York was a lot of fun.

I like going to New York. We always have a great time there.

The best thing about New York is playing with Andrew’s nephew. He’s a lot of fun, and we all love playing with him. As he grows, he is more and more fun because he can do more and more things.

He loves it when everyone gets on the floor and plays with him. Sitting in the middle of the living room floor with his toys circled around him, surrounded by his Dad, his granddad, his two uncles and me, he is completely happy for a couple of hours at a time. He smiles and smiles, and laughs and laughs. While he plays with us on the floor, he also keeps his eyes on his Mom and his grandmother. He wants to make sure he is not going to miss out on any food, I think (he is a very good eater).

While we were there, he did not want to take his nap after lunch, probably because he did not want to miss out on any fun. He liked having so many people to play with, and he hated having to stop and take his afternoon nap. He cried for a few minutes each afternoon when he was told it was naptime, and it was always his Dad who would take him to his room and comfort him and settle him down and tell him his naptime would be over before he knew it. Once he lay down, he would go to sleep almost immediately.

He’s a real Dad’s boy (not that he’s not a real Mom’s boy, too). He loves it when his Dad plays with him, and he often tries to mimic his Dad. He looks to his Dad when he is having trouble with his toys, or having trouble figuring out something, and his Dad is always there for him.

Andrew’s mother says that he is an exact duplicate of his father at the same age, not only in terms of his looks but in terms of his walk and his speech and his mannerisms and his personality, too.

He’s quite a little guy. Andrew says that he has completely forgotten what life was like without him, even though his nephew is not quite two years old.

He loves mealtimes. At lunch and dinner, he sits in a high chair between his mother and his grandmother, and they take care of him. In part, he feeds himself, picking up things from his plate and putting them into his mouth. He puts small pieces of chicken and pork into his mouth, as well as peas and lima beans and tiny carrots, which he picks up one by one. For mashed potatoes and noodles and stuffing and applesauce and jello, he is fed with a spoon.

He loves sitting in his high chair because he can observe everyone else around the table. He watches everyone during mealtimes, and he often kicks up his feet and raises his arms in excitement and exclaims gibberish and smiles, after which he will go back to eating.

He also likes to sit in his high chair for 30 minutes before mealtimes. During this time, he will sit and intently watch whoever is working in the kitchen. He will be given a cracker or something else to chew on while he watches the activity, and whoever is in the kitchen will talk to him and engage him.

For his breakfast, Andrew and his father and his middle brother and I would feed him while everyone else slept in. This was our exclusive time with him, and we would take turns feeding him his cereal and fruit and playing with him. For us, this was a very special time of day.

For most of the weekend, we all simply stayed in the apartment and visited and watched college football games and played “Monopoly” and played with Andrew’s nephew.

On Saturday evening, Andrew and his mother and I went over to the New York State Theater to attend a performance of the traditional Mascagni/Leoncavallo pairing. I had never experienced either opera before, and I enjoyed the performance, and so did Andrew and so did his mother. None of us thought the production or performance to be especially good, but we enjoyed having the opportunity to see and hear these realist works, performed in Neo-Realist style in tribute to Italian Neo-Realist filmmakers Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini.

Both “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “I Pagliacci” are unsubtle works, if truth be told, and they have pretty much been dropped from the repertory outside the United States. Even in Italy, these works are rarely revived now.

Why are these operas so popular in the U.S.? My guess is that their U.S. popularity is due to their simple stories and easily-digestible musical scores. Neither of these works poses a problem for the occasional opera-goer, who may not be able to make it through “Cosi Fan Tutte” or ”Lohengrin” or “Capriccio”.

I should know. The first opera performance I ever attended, in high school, was a university music department’s realization of “Cosi Fan Tutte”. I wanted to die during the whole performance. At the time, I thought it was the most boring thing I had ever encountered, and it almost turned me off opera for life.

Early Sunday morning, Andrew and his brothers and I took the 8:30 a.m. ferry out to Liberty Island and Ellis Island to visit The Statue Of Liberty and Ellis Island’s immigration museum. We had a marvelous time.

The Statue Of Liberty was magnificent. I found myself incredibly stirred as the boat moved closer and closer to Liberty Island, bringing The Statue into clear view. This is one of the great, great experiences for an American. I was chilled.

We spent more than an hour on Liberty Island, walking around the island and looking up at The Statue. We were unable to go inside the monument, because all monument passes for the day had been reserved more than a week in advance, and we had waited too long before trying to secure passes for the day.

After Liberty Island, we took the ferry over to Ellis Island and we went through the immigration center and museum. It, too, was very moving, although the museum itself and its exhibits probably need to be completely redone. It was patently obvious that museum professionals had not been involved in the museum’s design or in its displays, which frankly were not very good. The British know how to do history museums much better than we do. Americans should take a page from the British on how to do history presentations.

Both The Statue Of Liberty and Ellis Island are administered by The National Park Service. Both attractions, technically, are free, but visitors must pay $13.75 per person to take the special ferry out to the attractions. For a family with three children, a visit would cost $68.75, a sum that surely inhibits many families from visiting these sites. These treasures should be freely available to all Americans, and the ferry should be free (or at least feature only a nominal charge) in order to encourage as many visitors as possible.

Over the weekend, Andrew’s brothers made their Thanksgiving plans.

Andrew’s older brother and his family have decided to spend two weeks in Minneapolis over Thanksgiving. They will travel to Minneapolis on Saturday morning, November 10, and remain in Minnesota until Sunday afternoon, November 25.

Andrew’s middle brother will come home twice in November. He will first come home over the three-day Veterans Day weekend, arriving on Friday evening, November 9, and departing on Monday evening, November 12. He will return four days later, on Friday evening, November 16, and remain until Sunday afternoon, November 25.

This will give us a lot of time to do things, which we all look forward to. One of the things we plan to do is to attend the Minnesota/Wisconsin game on Saturday, November 17. Even though the Golden Gophers are not having a stellar year, Minnesota always seems to give the Badgers fits at home.

We did not really have a Thanksgiving last year because we were in Hamburg. I look forward to having a genuine Thanksgiving this year. I want to eat turkey and ham and stuffing and cranberries and pumpkin pie and all the trimmings.

Over Thanksgiving, Andrew will celebrate his birthday and I will celebrate my birthday. In addition, Andrew’s parents will celebrate their wedding anniversary. This will be fun, because we really had no celebrations last year because, once again, we were in Hamburg. The trip to Hamburg, itself, was celebration enough.

This week we will attend the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performances of “King Lear” and “The Seagull”. Andrew’s sister-in-law, who loves theater, attended performances of both plays in New York and she said that we will enjoy them very much.

She attended “King Lear” on a Saturday afternoon, but she had to attend “The Seagull” on a weeknight because there was no matinee performance of “The Seagull” during the New York engagement.

The New York performances were in Brooklyn, and she took the subway to Brooklyn for the matinee performance of “King Lear”. However, Andrew’s brother drove her to Brooklyn for the evening performance of “The Seagull” and he returned to Brooklyn to retrieve her after the conclusion of the performance.

On the second of those trips to Brooklyn, Andrew’s nephew was left with a baby sitter for the first time. The baby sitter was a neighbor, and it really did not count as a genuine baby-sitting experience because Andrew’s nephew was long since in bed, asleep, when the babysitter arrived to spell Andrew’s brother so that he could drive back to Brooklyn to pick up his wife. Nevertheless, this was the very first time that Andrew’s nephew has ever been left in the care of a non-family member.

According to Andrew’s sister-in-law, the RSC presentation of “The Seagull” is truly something to behold, the most wondrous and exciting and fulfilling production of a Chekhov play to be seen in years and years and years. She said it was so good that the New York critics--aside from The Wall Street Journal reviewer, who extolled the production to the skies--did not even know what to make of it. It was of a standard we seldom, if ever, experience in this country.

At both performances she attended, the New York audience was stultifying. The audience’s attention waned after the first ten minutes of both plays and afterward the audience only perked up once: in “King Lear”, during a gratuitous nude scene.

Over Thanksgiving, we may take Andrew’s sister-in-law to a Guthrie Theater performance of “Jane Eyre”, the showcase presentation of the Guthrie’s Fall season. It is a lengthy adaptation of the Bronte novel, given a complicated production with an enormous cast, and she may enjoy it very much. It is the kind of production a commercial theater could never attempt because of the massive cost involved. The Guthrie’s “Jane Eyre” is supposed to be far from perfect, but well worth seeing. However, if we are to take Andrew’s sister-in-law to “Jane Eyre”, it will have to be on her first night home, because the final performance of the run is that very evening.

We are also thinking of taking her to two other theater offerings: the Guthrie’s presentation of Brian Friel’s “The Home Place” and Park Square Theatre’s presentation of John Pielmeier’s “Agnes Of God”. The latter, however, closes after the Sunday matinee of November 11, so she will have to go on her second day home if she is to see that play.

Andrew’s sister-in-law will let us know about “Jane Eyre” and “Agnes Of God” in the next week or so. If she wants to see one or both plays, we will get tickets. If she does not want to see one or both plays, we will probably go see them ourselves prior to the Thanksgiving period.

I have never attended a performance at Park Square Theatre, which is in Saint Paul. It is one of several fully-professional theater companies in the Twin Cities that supplement the work of the Guthrie.

The Guthrie is the big guy on the block, obviously, what with its huge budget—by far the largest budget of any theater in the U.S.—and its three stages, all of which operate year-round. It has been America’s most important theater since its founding.

However, Theater In The Round and Jungle Theater and Park Square Theatre and Theatre De La Jeune Lune are fully-professional theater companies, too, and those theater companies also operate year-round, generally giving their presentations four- to eight-week runs.

This makes the Twin Cities one of the country’s theater meccas, and I think Andrew’s sister-in-law will enjoy this once she and Andrew’s brother make the inevitable move back home.

Minneapolis is unique in that it is one of the few large American cities in which repertory theater is the main event. Roadshow presentations of popular Broadway musicals do not do well at the box office in Minneapolis. In most large American cities, roadshow presentations of Broadway musicals are the most popular theatrical events in town and garner the largest portion of box-office revenues. In Minneapolis, the reverse is true—touring Broadway shows generally do poorly, and large producing companies like The Schubert Organization have almost written off the Twin Cities as a profitable touring destination. Theater-goers here seem to prefer legitimate plays to musicals, a tribute to the foresight of Tyrone Guthrie, whose belief in the power of serious theater has taken root here.

This will help make Minneapolis a hospitable permanent home for Andrew’s sister-in-law.


  1. Glad you had a terrific time in the Big Apple, Joshua!


  2. Hey, Chanteuse.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Hope all is well.