Thursday, April 14, 2011

This Is How I Exercise

Never Before Posted Pictures! (Most Of Them At Long Last Off Of My Phone)

Recently, our friend Anthony came to visit. It was very fun! One day, on our way to the fancy cheese store, we walked up the East Side past the UN Building, which was blocked off around a four block radius that was staffed by police at each intersection. Wonder what's happening there!

On our walk, we encountered interesting statues!

All the statues were different, but I only have a picture of the one, because I didn't have a proper camera with me - only my phone. And my phone camera, it turned out, was turning half the pictures I took into black squares saved as pictures. Oh, well! I think Anthony has some.

Shortly before Anthony got here, I had gone on a fun quest: Hitting up fancy chocolate stores in search of exciting new kinds of chocolate! Here are a couple of the chocolates I tried in the process:

The one on the left is a bleu cheese chocolate; the one on the right is an olive oil and basil chocolate! It's especially weird, because on the inside, they still just look like chocolate - but they taste, respectively, like bleu cheese and olive-oil-and-basil! Mixed with chocolate! Super weird. But cool. I would maybe not eat them for dessert, but I would eat them for a weirdly pleasurable snack!

I also tried a violet chocolate from a little chocolate shop in Grand Central. It had violet-flavored ganache in the center and was topped with little bits of candied violet. The weirdest part was the way it tasted exactly the way violets smell - and yet, while I love the smell of violets, I'm not sure yet if I like the taste. It's a little cloying and a little bit, well, fruity, but at the same time, if you are actually paying close attention to each moment of taste, it just tastes like itself, like the smell of violets, which is nice and neither cloying nor fruity, only violety. There were moments where I thought I might not finish it, and moments where I liked it and wanted to try another. Confusing! But cool.

Before Anthony came was when my brother was here. I mentioned that we got fries from the Breslin - here they are:

These are the ones that Alex and Ilan loved, that I just thought were fine. There are chilies and pickles in the little carafe on the left; the dipping sauce on the right is cumin mayo. They were crispy to the perfect degree, but I sort of thought they just tasted like, you know, fries. Which, ok. And the cumin mayo did go well, and did have a little bit of a surprising taste in a nice way, but I didn't love it for itself.

At one point while we were walking through Tompkins Square Park - Ilan and Alex and me - we happened upon a group of people grouped around a man in a crown, who seemed to be speaking to them in a grand way. When we approached and politely asked what they were doing, though, they were very obscure and uncomfortable, and they looked at me like I was nuts for taking a picture! Well, too bad for them. If you are going to hold court in the middle of a public park, you dang well oughta be willing to have your picture took. So there.

Also, they all seemed to have Eastern European accents. I don't know if that was relevant to their activity or not.

Another time that we were walking with Ilan, near Bryant Park, Alex noticed some pets on the corner! There was a guy who seemed possibly to be affiliated with them standing not too far away, but though there was a bowl that appeared to be designated to hold money, there was no sign explaining the situation and the man never spoke.

The pets were very cute, though! The little thing upstage center is a guinea pig that did not appear to be restrained in any way but made no move to go anywhere. Grouped around it are kitties and a cute dog! One kitty you can barely see is hiding behind the money dish.

Heading back even farther, a month or so ago - when it was still snowing - Alex and I came upon some truly excellent snow sculptures on some benches in Union Square Park. The camera had a little trouble distinguishing some of them from the snow around them, but you can more or less make them out.

Penguins! Happy penguins!

Also, puppy!

I know the puppy is harder to see, but it is worth squinting for, because it is very cute!

In other news, I may have mentioned in the past that my favorite subway ad is for Dr. Zizmor, dermatologist to the people. I finally took a couple pictures, although my favorite Dr. Zizmor ad - one very similar to the one pictured below but with the addition of various landmarks, notably the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, scattered across the banner and stamped with big red APPROVED!s - no longer appears to be in service.

I don't know if you can tell, but the two people in the before and after pictures are not only obviously different people, but the after person has a complexion almost as terrible as the complexion of the before person! The note "from an actual patient" (placed to the left of the before person) reads thusly: "Dear Dr. Zizmor, Thank you for improving my face! Thank you for improving my life! Thank you! -Isabell R., Queens". The box on the right says "CLEAR UP! CLEAN UP!" and indicates that if you have any blemishes, scars, etc. you will for sure be approved! And it features a hilariously terrible cartoon of a woman in a a 50s-ey bathing suit and a man in a suit suit, who apparently have very little to do with each other.

Basically, I would be hard pressed to pick for you my favorite aspect of Dr. Zizmor's ad campaign, which has historically been viewable in 20% of all subway cars.

And on a final note, I will leave you with this gem, posted outside a motel we stopped at a year and a half ago on our road trip to New York.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

American Idiot

Well, Alex and Ilan and I saw American Idiot a few weeks ago. It's closing this month; Billie Joe is actually coming back in to play St. Jimmy (the main character's sexyfine yet frightening drug dealer, basically) a bunch this month, and if Alex and I turn out to have any money anytime soon, we'll try to student rush it again one of those days.

Because it was wonderful! I've talked to a lot of musical theatre folk who said things like "I didn't understand what was going on," "It didn't make any sense," and "I just didn't get it." Their problem, though, is that they have a narrow-minded view of what musical theatre should be, and their brain basically shuts down in protest when a show doesn't lined up with their definition, and then it doesn't make sense to them because their brain isn't working.*

Because the plot of American Idiot was not difficult to understand. And I really really mean that. The plot is super basic: three guy friends are in a band. They are disaffected with the state of the world and also the state of their lives. This is a very pomo 20th Century story. You have all read it and seen it probably 247 times. Two of them go to the big city (the third doesn't come because his girlfriend is pregnant). One of those two is unhappy in the big city and joins the army, thus "betraying" his friends and his previously professed socio-political beliefs. The third (our main character) remains disaffected, gets hooked on drugs, falls in love with a woman, and is basically confused. Eventually their lives deteriorate; eventually later they pick up the pieces and get to hang out together again, if not happy at least making lives for themselves. Easy easy shit to follow. Really!

And I don't mean that as criticism of the show, because the basic plot of the show is not the point. This is a rock musical. It's not about what happens to a few guys. It's about coping with the modern world; it's about becoming an adult; it's about living with disaffection. And there are a lot of ways to interpret these messages and the ways they are presented. I was actually afraid of disliking the show for the first 15 or 20 minutes: I was afraid it would not have legitimately human female characters; I was afraid it would fully embrace postmodernism and the fracturing of communities as a result of identity politics; I was afraid it would position the poor disaffected American white guy and his pain as the center of the universe. I should have given Green Day more credit, it turned out. Although it unfortunately remained a musical about guys, I was impressed by the well-rounded humanity of the gal side characters. It embraced community without conservatively leaning on the "standard" hetero nuclear family (the way neo-liberals in the media, and also Judd Apatow, habitually do). It recognized that the most sympathetic disaffection is about stuff going on that is bigger than your poor little while American male self - while reminding us that everyone's pain is real, whether or not it's worse than someone else's.

And there was more to think about and deconstruct, although I can't remember most of the details now because it's been three weeks or so since I saw it. But basically, it was great! And no, the songs don't always further communication among the characters and serve the linear development of the plot, the way we generally ask songs to do in contemporary musicals. The songs explore the inner lives of the characters and the greater themes of the show, in a frequently nonlinear, nonliteral fashion - which doesn't mean that they are stuck in without relevance to the plot or characters, or that they are not necessary to the telling of this story. What it means is that they are unfamiliar and confusing to people who take musical theatre seriously (which I do) but who in the process end up defining it in a highly focused and limiting way. (You know, I love Jason Robert Brown and Adam Guettel and Kerrigan and Lowdermilk too, and I'm excited about The Book of Mormon too, but I also recognize that they are not the be-all and end-all of contemporary musical theatre!) So American Idiot gets dismissed as fluffy or nonsensical or irrelevant or pretentious because it's ROCK music and it's ANGRY and it's NOT ABOUT THE PLOT (basically for the same reasons that Passing Strange was also dismissed among the gospel musical theatre crowd).

But, I will have you know, what it also is - is GREAT.

*Disclaimer: I adore many members of the gospel musical theatre crowd. I agree with many of their opinions about musical theatre. Many of them are dear friends of mine, and people whose opinions I often respect greatly. I just happen to absolutely passionately think that they have a disastrously limited vision in respect to well-crafted rock musicals.

Also, I believe that there are reasonable reasons a person might not like this show. They might not like the music, and that's fine. They might think that the plot doesn't support the message, and that's fine. They might dislike the characters, and that's fine. They might morally disagree with some or all of what they or I interpret as the messages of the show, and that's fine (well, it might mean that they are conservatives and therefore morally bankrupt, which is not really fine, but I would accept it as a legitimate reason not to like the show) (also, a person could probably politically dislike the show for non-conservative reasons, but I don't know anyone who does so I don't know what those reasons might be). There are, in fact, a lot of reasons a person might not like this show, and I am completely willing to talk about it. I am just not willing to talk about how the show "just doesn't make sense."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011




So one of the things we did when Ilan was here was go on a hunt for the best French fries in the city. Well, not exactly a hunt - it was more that I had seen an article about one guy going on a hunt and rating what he thought were the top five French fries in the city, and so Ilan and Alex and I went to two of the places.

We went to the Breslin, which is the restaurant in the Ace Hotel and is very fancy but you can sit at the bar and order the fries. Alex and Ilan, both of whom love fries normally, thought they were transcendent French fries. I thought they were fine.

But then we went to Pomme Frites, which is a tiny place with about 50 different kinds of sauces for the fries, mostly mayo-based, and all of which (or anyway the three kinds we tried) appear to be suuuuuuuuuuuper delicious and perfect with their crunchy fries of perfection! We had horseradish mayo, "War Sauce" (peanut sauce with something else, I forget because it was a couple weeks ago), and their new black truffle mayo. Yum!

Also, we went to S'Mac, which is a restaurant devoted to mac and cheese. If you go, get the smallest size, even though it looks too small. It would have been plenty even for big-appetite Alex! Here's what I have discovered about mac and cheese: If it is not both scrumptious AND unusual/exciting/different, I really just wish I were eating my grandmother's mac and cheese, which is my favorite food on the planet and which I can make perfectly well at home without paying for restaurant food. So S'Mac's four cheese mac and cheese I didn't bother finishing (who needs four cheeses? Just give me a really good cheddar!), but the jambalaya mac and cheese with the andouille and Cajun spices I was all over. Pass me some more, please!

We also hit up Veniero's, a bakery near S'Mac that Meredith and I checked out last year. I'm of course a gigantic dessert snob, so I don't care for everything there - don't bother me with that chocolate cake. No matter how chocolatey you say it is, I promise it doesn't cut it! - but they have this concoction that is one layer New York cheesecake and one layer dark chocolate mousse, and is coated in dark chocolate, and it is perfection on a plate (and this from the gal who semi-hates cheesecake and who will usually turn down a bowl of chocolate mousse flat!).

So on the subject of food, Alex and I made vegetarian chili again, this time with bell pepper and zucchini and rutabaga, carrots, kidney beans and chickpeas and black beans, cocoa powder, chili powder, cayenne, lots of garlic, and a healthy dollop of sour cream on top! And I made chocolate mousse pie for the first time in a while, and it was both beautiful and delicious!

Also, Jamie and Alex and Anthony (who was visiting from CalArts and is a friend from UCI) and I went to the fancy cheese store my parents gave me a gift certificate to for my birthday last year and bought a scrumptious, flavorful goat cheese and a stunning bleu cheese to eat with sourdough and honey (Anthony's inspired suggestion). Yum! Yum yum yum!

Also, my friend Sharyn came over last week and we made salad for dinner, which normally I don't believe in of course, but as this salad consisted of fresh farmers' market lettuce, spring greens, beets, and carrots, plus hard boiled egg, Feta cheese, and a little olive oil, I was down with the situation! Plus, chocolate chip cookies. Practically perfect! Best chocolate cookie recipe I have (it's identical to another chocolate chip cookie recipe I have from another source, although I forget what - I'll have to look it up for you). And I know, because I tested them all out side by side.