Hold On To That Feeling

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I had the privilege this week of attending four concerts at my local arena. It’s just three miles down the road, one of the best entertainment venues in the country (Mohegan Sun), yet I rarely visit. World class entertainment, right on my doorstep. This week, I made up for lost time. In fact, there were so many artists that I wanted to see coming in the same week – Neil Diamond, Train, Bryan Adams, Asia and Journey – that I took a vacation from work. I tend to go to extremes at times.

Nietzsche famously said that without music, life would be a mistake. Music has played such an important role in my life that I’m not going to argue with him. Like many introverts, I am affected by music at a very deep level. I am mainly drawn to pop, rock, Broadway, symphonies and opera, and, diverse as they are, I enjoy them all equally but for different reasons. Rock and Broadway cater to my more carefree moods, symphonies and opera to my more contemplative ones, and pop to both.

Music, perhaps more than anything or anyone, makes me feel. Many introverts like myself may be suspected of not having feelings, but I would argue, at least in my case, that they may be deeper than the average person’s given that I spend so much time in solitude, reflecting and ruminating. Extroverts seem busy to me distracting from feelings rather than experiencing them, at least the deeper and more complex ones. The reason mine may not be apparent to others is because I don’t typically show them. They are there nonetheless, are quite intense, and I cherish them. Occasionally they leak out, and music is a key catalyst (movies can be, also, but mainly because music accompanies the emotionally-charged scenes).

Nineteen eighty-two and eighty-three were probably the two most intense years in my life, largely because I had fallen in love for the first time, and, not surprisingly, also suffered my first breakup, a truly devastating event for me. I suppose it is for many, but the fact that I was secretly gay (this was 1982, when being gay was not acceptable) and had nowhere to go for solace or advice made the crash from ecstasy to depression unbearable. So I experienced both the most hopeful and the most depressing events of my life – even to this day – in the course of those two years. Music was my only friend. Every hit song from that time period triggers heightened memories in my brain, either of rapture (“Heat of the Moment”) or despair (“Open Arms.”)

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Asia and Journey were both at the height of their success during this time period, so they are a key part of my first-love soundtrack.  The very first album I bought and played on my first quality stereo system was Journey’s mega-successful “Escape” from the summer of 1981. I was 18 years old, had recently graduated from high school and opened a business, and my world was opening up in many exciting ways. I still remember hearing the first song off that album on my fancy new turntable, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” What a great test of my new system it was! It kicked, both then and in last night’s show: “Don’t stop believin’/Hold on to that feeling”.

I saw Journey in concert the day before my birthday that same year in Hartford. I don’t remember them being as good then as they were this week, thirty-six years later, but that is likely because I was considerably depressed back then. Plus, I awkwardly and bravely had asked someone to go with me because I was so incredibly lonely, a relative stranger who I had a major crush on, and he said no. So I went alone. I do that a lot nowadays without giving it a second thought, but back then it was a somewhat traumatic experience. It affected my enjoyment of the show, which I spent both feeling sorry for myself and berating my pathetic and self-conscious solitude: Look at how everyone else is enjoying the show! This was way before I had figured out that I was an introvert, and that I didn’t have to be like those around me.

Fast forward to this week, and a more confident and secure me. The opening number was possibly the best of the night. It kicked ass, got the whole arena on its feet (including me – and I was acting without self-consciousness, something I’ve gotten progressively better at over the years), and really energized the crowd right from the get-go. It was 1983’s “Seperate Ways,” a song that brings back a very surreal memory for me of driving through the Mojave Desert on my way from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, alone, in the middle of the night, a five-hour trip on a desolate, starry interstate as this song blared in my rental car (“If he ever hurts you, true love won’t desert you”). This was after the end of my fairy-tale romance, but far enough removed that I was starting to consider that maybe there was still hope.The world seemed full of possibilities for me, and I had a great sense of (cautious) optimism and freedom.

Mid-concert brought another major memory-trigger, the love ballad “Open Arms.” It held number two on the charts for six weeks in the spring of 1982, and it was “our song,” me and my first love. He lived 800 miles away, and, having only an intense phone and letter relationship at that point, the song made us think of each other whenever it came on the radio in our respective worlds. After we broke up, I cried to it more times than I can remember.

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When we finally met two months later, we went to a concert that first night together at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, the farthest I had ever been from home. The performer: Neil Diamond, whom I was little acquainted with. However, it was the most magical, Cinderella-like night of my life – May 13, 1982 – and when it all turned to shit several months later, Neil’s introspective music would be my only friend and solace. I obsessed on it, seeing him in concert over a dozen more times in the succeeding years, including this week. I don’t obsess on it as much any more, but Neil’s music still gets to me. I teared up at his concert more than any of the others this week. He was there for me a long time ago when I needed a friend. I strongly related to his lyrics about longing and introspection, and he helped me connect to something and feel less alone. It was truly a lifeline. Ultimately, my favorite song of his is a hopeful one (“Holly Holy”), and part of its lyric is the title of this blog – “Take the lonely child, and the seed, let it be full with tomorrow.”

So yes, Nietzsche, music is an indispensable part of my life. It is the soundtrack to my triumph and despair, the guardian of my distant memories, and an understanding friend in my times of need.

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New York City Redux

Here I am again at Penn Station, on my way back from what has become an annual excursion to the Big Apple. The trip was shorter this time, though somehow it felt longer. I was even bored at points (!), or maybe just immobilized by being unsure of how best to use my time in such an overwhelming place. I feel a bit worn out, no doubt because I’ve walked more in three days than I normally do all month. This is probably why I saw so few portly New Yorkers. And they must blow through shoes every few months. I’d say that I’ve surely lost a few pounds, but then I remember how much I’ve eaten. New York is second only to cruise ships in constant food availability.

My trip consisted mainly of opera performances, two days at the museum, and several dinners with an old friend. My hotel was – interesting. I was trying to keep things affordable, but I might choose to pay up the wazoo next time. You don’t get what you don’t pay for. Hot water would be one of those things (but, presumably, I paid for that).

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The individual rooms were decorated (I assume for free) by different artists. Mine looked like someone ingested pea soup and then projectile-vomited it all over the room. Everything was slathered in a thick coat of slimey green. A plaque on the wall informed me that the color was called “arsenic.” How fitting. The pukey decor was augmented by images of someone’s trip to uninteresting parts of Asia, complete with paper lanterns and Christmas lights strung  from the ceiling. I felt like I was either in a teenager’s bedroom, or a Martha Stewart nightmare. The room was very hot and noisy, with no way to control either affront to my senses. Sleeping a full night was impossible. It was akin to a night on a park bench in Times Square, except there wasn’t the saving grace of a cool breeze. Of course I didn’t come to New York to sit in my hotel room, but it will be nice to get home to my own digs. Comfy. Quiet. No snot-green anywhere.

When I did leave my room, it was to much more grand surroundings. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is amazing. It would take a week just to give everything even a cursory look. I gave it two afternoons. I was amazed at times by the great detail artists were able to give their items (plates, pottery, figurines, furnishings) long before modern techniques to paint or mold them existed, and with the great condition items were in that were hundreds of years old. I frequently asked myself “how did they do that way back then without modern conveniences?” Astounding how talented and creative people can be when they aren’t filling their every moment with mindless electronic distractions.

As for the operas, always a treat. The Met orchestra is top notch, and while there aren’t superstar singers the likes of Pavarotti or Callas these days, the singing is far better than I’d hear most other places availabile to me aside from my own (massive) mp3 collection.

And speaking of Callas (whose voice I adore), my friend (the one I supped with) gave me a biography of her as a gift. I was very touched. And bemused. The thing is huge and weighs about five pounds (it’s hardcover and full of delicious pics), and here I am trying to travel light, knowing I have luggage to lug through the streets, stairwells, and subway tunnels of New York. Good thing I didn’t fly here, as I’d have to buy a seat for the book on the return trip.

Spring is blooming in the city, and the landscape is full of mass plantings of tulips and hydrangeas, as well as cheery clumps of  flowers ringing sidewalk trees in the only garden space most residents  have. Space is at a premium, and everyone makes the best of it. I had wanted to spend some time in the fantastic green (yes, green!) vistas of Central Park, but it didn’t happen this time. At least I wasn’t rained on the whole trip; it was just dreary and gloomy, kind of like my room.

Again, like last year, I didn’t see a single person who I felt threatened by during all my subway rides and street walks. I’m not sure what to make of this. I kept near crowds of regular shmoes like myself, tried to blend in and look confident and blase (“hey, I do this all the time!”), and never felt afraid. I’d be more concerned walking around certain dank areas back home. Here, there are people everywhere at all hours in a city that never sleeps, most of them just going about their business. Kids, moms, tourists, working people, largely unfazed with their surroundings or the hour, interacting more with their smartphones than the people all around them. Just like me (I’m typing this in the waiting area at Penn Station). See how nicely I blend?

I got out of my comparatively rural surroundings for a few days into one much more cosmopolitan. I heard foreign tongues everywhere. I sat next to a young man at the opera who appeared to be, like me, alone, and during the intermission I asked how he was enjoying it. He was European, and had seen the opera (Aida) many times in Vienna and other European cultural centers. I noted that during the performance he didn’t have his seat translator on, so he was likely multi-lingual, unlike my boorish American and unsophisticated self. It was a bit humbling.

So while it was nice to get away, it will also be nice to get back to my version of Kansas where I (unfortunately) fit in better. This city knows I don’t really belong here, as much as I may aspire to. But I’ll keep trying it on for size nonetheless, and hope it doesn’t take much notice.

The Shock-Jock Candidate

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No matter how much they may dislike “Crooked Hillary” and the establishment in Washington, voters in good conscience can not choose Donald Trump to lead the United States of America. The man has, time after jaw-dropping time, consistently proven himself to be reckless, prejudiced, reactive, selfish, unstable and juvenile. Trump supporters who deny this are just living in fantasy land. Yes, he says what he thinks and is refreshingly unscripted. I won’t argue with you there. Yes, he is tough and fearless and no-nonsense. He even has a  few good ideas (along with a whole host of very bad ones). But as one commentator put it, you don’t let the drunk guy drive the bus, no matter how popular he is with the crowd. You have to take a serious look at the whole package, not just focus on the parts of it you really like. It’s like deciding to stay with an abusive lover. He may hit you and treat you badly, but he’s a good provider and besides, you probably deserved it (and I have to admit, sometimes I think a large portion of the electorate does deserve Donald Trump since many are as ignorant and juvenile as he is).

I understand that people are fed up and want change. That’s great, and I don’t fault them for that. I want that, too. But change is not always good, and the kind of change we’d get with Trump as our leader is very likely not the kind many are craving. He would behave no differently as president than he has for the past year, flitting from one shocking behavior to another. If there’s one thing we can count on, he is consistent in his outrageousness and offensiveness. Is this the kind of behavior we want in a president – someone who acts out of impulse, who can’t control his mouth or his temper, who, basically wouldn’t even pass a job interview at the local WalMart? If he can’t control himself in an interview or a debate, how is he going to deal effectively with Congress or other world leaders? His supporters seem to think he can just bulldoze his way through with his bluster and bravado. He may get away with this in his private company where he is king, but we are not choosing a king. Political leadership in a democracy requires thoughtfulness and compromise. It requires an adult who has learned to control their baser instincts and impulses.

What scares me almost as much as Donald Trump is his sizable base of rabid supporters. Trump has steadily stirred up hatred, prejudice, violence and blind devotion in his followers, which is what makes him so dangerous. This is how dictators behave. Whether he wins the presidency or not, he has already done great damage by dividing the country rather than trying to unite it. If he loses, he will stir up more dissent with his claims of conspiracy and a rigged election. If he wins, we will have four potentially frightening years of the torch-and-pitchfork crowd pitting neighbor against neighbor, with Donald fanning the flames and stoking the ratings.

Hillary is far from perfect, and has many questionable things in her background. Whether this is a factor of her truly being dishonest or of her being a target under a microscope for decades I can’t say with any certainty. Surely some of the alleged scandals have been exaggerated by her enemies, but there are no doubt elements of truth in many of them. I don’t think she’s a girl scout by any means. She has made mistakes and admitted to some, which Donald cannot seem to do. Her more high-profile scandals have been investigated thoroughly by sometimes bloodthirsty opponents (the same ones who impeached her husband), with no proof of nefarious intent. Is she dishonest? Probably at times, to save face, like most every politician. She has faults to be sure, but in the big picture who has the maturity, the poise, the clear grasp of the issues, and the patience to lead this country?  No one who is being honest with themselves can answer that question with “Trump.”

Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Trump

I don’t understand how anyone can support Donald Trump for President of the United States of America.

There. I said it. I have resisted saying it, even though I’ve been thinking it for a long time, because people I know and respect support him. But I have a hard time reconciling this in my head. These are reasonably intelligent people, I tell myself. I like them. So what’s going on in their heads? I respect everyone’s right to vote for the person they think would be best for the job, and the country, and encourage them to do so. I support Clinton, and following are some reasons why. It’s important to point out in this volatile climate that I do not think people who support Trump are necessarily misguided, and I hope they allow me the same respect. If you’d like to try to sway me to your candidate, feel free.

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I suspect that many Trump supporters hate Hilary Clinton, especially more than they love Donald Trump. Does this mean they’d support anyone who was running against her, no matter how outrageous? I have to believe the answer to this is often “yes.” There is no other way for me to explain their support for an arrogant, juvenile, racist, misogynistic, boastful, hyperbolic, narcissistic buffoon who has little understanding of anything but (arguably) real estate and who constantly flip-flops (an unforgivable sin for most politicians) and denies things that he is indeed on record as actually having done or said. It is as if he has license to create his own reality, say any outrageous thing he wants to, and consistently act like an immature, prepubescent bully and that is just fine with his enablers. Do they have that much hate for Hillary (and Obama), that much disregard for the safety and future of our country? I watch educated, grown pundits and apologists steadfastly stand by Trump and his shenanigans nightly on political talk shows and marvel at their inventive yet ridiculous explanations (spin) in his favor. When pressed, you can sense that even they don’t believe the nonsense they’re spewing.

Trump has some admirable qualities. Like most anyone (including Hillary, I remind you), he’s not all bad. He can be charming. He’s made a lot of money. He projects strength and confidence. He is refreshingly unfiltered and non-scripted, and is therefore authentic (I believe this is the trait he is perhaps most admired for by his supporters – authenticity is good, unless you’re an authentic ass****). He will stand up to people who have been abusing this country and won’t take any bull from anyone. I grant you all these things. But look at the negatives. Look at them! Do you want an anti-Hillary so badly that you’ll accept an endless litany of lies, gross and baseless exaggerations, puerile insults, seat-of-the-pants judgments and decisions, incendiary comments and shameless stoking of racism and xenophobia? Has this ever been acceptable in any modern presidential candidate? Are you really comfortable with an emotionally unstable man, a man who is so insecure that he can’t take any criticism without exacting revenge, being in charge of our military, our nuclear arsenal and our relations with foreign countries? Do you realize that the president is criticized on a daily basis? Trump would spend half of his time firing off angry retorts on Twitter to everyone who dissed him, including foreign leaders whom he would quickly alienate.

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I truly believe that many people who are Trump supporters now would soon regret that support once (God forbid) Trump were in the White House. Call it voter’s remorse. I think his presidency would be a disaster (a word he likes to throw around freely when talking about Hillary or President Obama), and I don’t even think he’d like the job. He’d quickly realize that he doesn’t get to call all the shots like he’s been accustomed to his whole life, and he would throw temper tantrums when faced with having to back down or compromise, as any president must. He demonstrates this combative, retaliatory behavior on a daily basis – he can’t let anything go. Rosie O’Donnell. Megyn Kelly. The Khans. Alicia Machado. How long did he drag all of these fights on? Why does anyone think he’d be any different in the White House? What you’ve been seeing for the past year is exactly what you’d get for the next four, but with much more serious consequences. Kim Jong-un has nuclear weapons. Rosie doesn’t.

Could any other candidate for president get away with Trump’s reckless behavior? Hillary called his supporters “deplorables” – once – and was practically burned at the stake, but Trump insults large swaths of the electorate all the time (women, Mexicans, Muslims) and is brushed off because we’re so used to him doing it. I don’t think this willingness to accept reprehensible behavior is particular to Trump. Rather, I think he’s a product of several things that have created a “perfect storm” for his candidacy: the extremely polarized electorate, making anyone who isn’t Hillary automatically acceptable to the legions who don’t like her (which, by the way, is largely the result of decades of Republican smear tactics); the dumbing down of political discourse in this country, thanks largely to political spin that is so out of  control that anything a candidate does can be justified; the increasingly fuzzy line between fact and fiction, helped along by “reality” shows that are anything but – we don’t know what truth is anymore; rabid partisans on television (thanks largely to that bastion of false reality, Fox News) who only show people one side of an issue and make them believe it is ture; and a general lack of interest among much of the electorate to do their own thinking and research because, well, there are just so many other distractions in modern life that are more fun. Many of us have become lazy, pliable and politically stupid, just repeating the blather we hear on biased talk shows that have an agenda of doing our thinking for us. They’ve become hour-long campaign ads.

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I also believe that Trump is palatable precisely because we’ve just had our first black president, and are on the cusp of having our first female one. These are huge barriers that have been broken in relatively quick succession, and many people (especially in the South) weren’t ready for them. There is still a lot of racism and sexism in America, and it is no coincidence that Trump embodies both of these. Anti-Obama sentiment is largely rooted in his race, not his policies. After all, he is a highly intelligent, caring, thoughtful, non-judgmental, decent man of considerable integrity, the likes of which we haven’t seen in the modern presidency since Jimmy Carter. If he were a Republican, they’d be naming an airport after him. But our black and white thinking (pun somewhat intended) demonizes people whole-hog and leaves no room for more moderate assessments.

As for Hillary, she’s no saint, I readily admit. She has done things I wish she hadn’t. But on the whole, she strikes me as smart, capable and rational, three qualities that I highly value in a president. I also believe that very few who have inhabited the White House have been free of scandal – but most of them were not pilloried for it unless their name was Clinton (remember Reagan and Iran-Contra?). Anyone who has been under an electron microscope for as many years as Hillary Clinton has and has still come out relatively unscathed is probably not nearly as unscrupulous as she is accused of being. The fact that she has been able to weather this kind of scrutiny proves she is infinitely qualified to withstand the rigors of the presidency, and has the temperament and stamina to do the job, and do it well. Most experts on the presidency agree that Donald Trump would be one of the least qualified persons to occupy the office in modern times. It’s a serious job, and so is your vote.

The ultimate example of Trump’s attempt to throw anything at the wall to see if it sticks was when he accused Hillary during the debate of having a poor temperament. Are you serious? This from the man who spent half the debate shouting and interrupting? Does this man think he can make up anything he wants to and people will believe him? That if you say something often enough it becomes the truth? Ah, Trump knows people all too well. He can indeed say anything and create reality, and his followers will embrace it. They already have. Obama not born in America? Check. All Muslims are threats to national security? Check. All immigrants (which we all are, by the way) are freeloaders? Check. Giving someone this much license with prejudice and conjecture, voters, is very, very dangerous, ten times more dangerous than the worst thing you think Hillary is guilty of. It’s how Hitler got started, stirring up the masses with fear, scapegoating and xenophobia. It is the behavior of a demagogue and a dictator, and it is not impossible for it to happen here. We’ve already taken the first steps by creating a welcoming environment.


Turned off by Hillary? Think she’s a bit dishonest? Probably, but Trump is even more so. Think the private email server decision was dangerous and stupid? I agree, but she has apologized for it, something Trump isn’t man enough to do. Am I advocating a choice between the lesser of two evils? No, because I don’t believe Hillary is evil. I believe she has been very effectively painted that way because she is a strong woman, and we don’t like that in America (can you name a strong American woman who is widely admired? Didn’t think so). If she were a man, she’d be far ahead right now. Thinking of not voting? Then you better not utter one peep of criticism once the election is over. Voting for a third-party candidate? That is your right. Just understand that it has its own consequences, and you may not like them. So vote for Hillary, for the country’s sake. Even though you may not like her, she’s the best choice you’ve got. She just may surprise you. And even if she’s as terrible as you think, she’ll be blocked at every turn by Congress and get voted out of office in four  years. The nation will then do a redirect and most certainly elect a (normal) Republican, and the country will be no worse for the wear. I can’t be confident of the same scenario after a Trump presidency. The damage a loose-lipped, reactive, vengeful President Trump could do after four years on the world stage is far worse than anything we would see from our former secretary of state.

The 200-Year-Old Barber

I have recordings of over five-hundred operas. It would take me almost two months of non-stop listening to hear them all. Alas, I only have an hour of listening in the car each day (perhaps I should get a job further away), and a small amount before bedtime each night, both of which I take full advantage. There are favorites, of course (based on what I’ve heard so far), as well as desert island must-haves (even though, were I stranded on a desert island, I would finally have the glorious opportunity to listen to them all and, in an age when all of my operas can fit in the palm of my hand, I wouldn’t really have to choose). Carmen. Aida. The Magic Flute. Turandot. Among the priceless gems is Rossini’s brilliant work The Barber of Seville, which he composed in just three weeks when he was twenty-four years old. It was his seventeenth opera, some of them written when he was a child.

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Rossini at 24

When I was a child, I spent summers at my grandmother’s house and watched a lot of TV. Bugs Bunny cartoons were a staple of my early-seventies television diet, and those cartoons used a surprising amount of classical music. I mostly remember hearing Mendelssohn and Rossini, even though I didn’t know their names, and I suspect my love of classical music and opera began there. One memorable episode featured Bugs and Elmer Fudd in The Rabbit of Seville, with heavy use of the famous overture from Rossini’s similarly-titled opera. Another episode, What’s Opera, Doc?, featured the equally famous “Largo al factotum” from the same opera (this one you’ve heard: “Figaro! Figaro! Fiiiiiigaro!”). It would be thirty years before I heard the complete two-hour opera, because, like most average Joes, I thought opera too inaccessible and esoteric for an average Joe. It would be ten more years before I gave myself permission to go see it live, and, just this year until I recognized the genius of the first act’s closing sextet, “Ma signor!”

Rossini had a gift for starting off a composition quietly, then slowly and steadily ratcheting it up to a frenetic and thrilling crescendo. He used this technique in his two most famous overtures, those to Barber of Seville and William Tell, and he really masters it in “Ma Signor.” In this glorious piece, six people, very confused from the recent happenings on stage, are singing different parts all at once, first quietly and slowly, then with increasing urgency and volume until the piece explodes in the musical equivalent of a fireworks finale. When I listen to it with headphones, which is necessary in order to hear all that’s going on in the background, I never cease to marvel at its technical brilliance and utter perfection. It has a satisfying mathematical precision that makes order out of chaos, which perhaps is why I like it so much.

I’m glad to be living in a time when I can easily listen to this and other works (or “opera,” which is the Latin word for “works”) any time I choose, a luxury that no one had in Rossini’s day. In fact, he took advantage of this fact by recycling his own overtures, using the same one in several different operas. Who would remember? Regardless, the man was a genius, right up there with Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. He wrote 39 operas in all, and retired early to live out the latter part of his life as a gourmand and bon-vivant (the restaurant dish tournedos Rossini is named after him). This year marks the 200th anniversary of The Barber of Seville, still considered one of the best comic operas ever written.

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At the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

Life in the big city – Day Six

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Well, I’ve had quite the adventure. Six days, alone, in New York City, my first vacation in several years and my first time in the city since the early 2000s. I visited four museums, attended three operas, and saw just about every major sight in the city. All told, it was a very successful trip with few snags. I love New York!

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I imagine the thought of being alone in New York is terrifying to some. Actually, I didn’t feel afraid once. I had no negative encounters. This isn’t to say they don’t happen, but if you’re careful  where you wander, no one bothers you. I didn’t see any bad apples anywhere I went (and I covered a lot of turf). There are other tourists and regular folk everywhere, and more cops available than you see at home. There are moms and kids walking the street and riding the subway, even at night.

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So did I get to do everything on my list? Almost. In some cases the weather didn’t cooperate, in others, my energy level fizzled. I did a lot of walking. Living here is wonderful exercise, even though public transportation will get you anywhere (except the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For that, you have to wander Central Park for several hours). I didn’t get to the top of Rockefeller Center to see the city at night from above; I didn’t do the night time boat ride around the tip of Manhattan. I didn’t go to the Bronx Zoo.

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Standout moments? Seeing the Statue of Liberty’s face up close. Mimi’s death in La Boheme. The memorials to the dead at the 9/11 Museum. Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, looking out over the city, while listening to Neil Diamond’s poetic reminisces about it in Brooklyn Roads. Seeing my friend Michael again.

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I didn’t even spend much money here. Many of the attractions are free, I ate cheaply, and a few things I paid for in advance. The best deals in New York? The Statue of Liberty (boat ride, pedestal and museum access, and Ellis Island museum for $18) and the subway (I rode it all week, and all over, on a 7-day MetroPass for $30. I didnt take a cab once).

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So now it’s back to my mundane, everyday life. Jarring as it will be after this magical week of sights and sounds and stimulation, it’s a welcome return. The conveniences of home have their own special attraction, and life becomes stale no matter where you live. That’s why we need to get out of our elements periodically, to get a fresh perspective on life. We return a little bit changed, a little more knowing, a little more open to possibilities. Mind you, I haven’t been taking this advice lately. My life is extremely routine, but I broke free for a week and it was wonderful.

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My NYC breakfast spot, and a description of me in the summer?

Life in the big city – Day Five

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Well, I’m up to 750 photographs taken in five days. There is so much unbelievable eye candy in New York, and I’ll bet the people who live here don’t even see it. It’s been great being able to share these pictures and experiences instantly with people back home. It’s like having travel companions, and makes up for the fact that I don’t. Everyone’s comments have been great – thank you for following along as armchair travelers.

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I started my day as usual, having breakfast at the bagel shop around the corner. I’m starting to become a regular there. Then, since it was raining – again – I decided to make it a museum day and visited the Museum of Modern Art. This museum is spread out over six floors. I wasn’t very interested in the bottom four floors, and was starting to wonder if I’d wasted my money. Plus, the place was incredibly crowded. It reminded me of being in a supermarket the day before Thanksgiving, but I had no carriage to ram anyone with. It was hard to walk through the exhibits, and even harder to find a place to sit and rest (museum browsing can be exhausting). Then I discovered that they keep the good stuff on the top floors.

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The upper floors had some prize pieces, like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and famous works by Degas, Cezanne and Matisse, among others. Even a relative art neophyte like myself knew and appreciated these works. I tend to be drawn to the especially colorful pieces. That probably gives me the art acumen of a two year old, but hey, I know what I like. And there were a few works that convinced me that just about anything can be called art, and anyone an artist. And that’s okay.

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Next, I headed way downtown to the National September 11th Museum and Memorial. Wow. What a place. I’ve never been one to get overly sentimental about September 11th, but the symbolism and detailed chronicle of that fateful day here is astounding. I don’t think I could have been more impressed. It was informative. It was poignant. It was tasteful. It was dignified. That there was so much controversy surrounding it kind of surprises me, because the end result is absolutely fantastic.

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Above ground, as you approach the site, there is a massive white sculpture that resembles wings, perhaps those of a dove. It is elegant and striking (it, too, was controversial). As you walk further into the site, there is a sizable plaza populated with newly planted trees that surround the memorial pools.

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The pools – there are two of them – occupy the exact footprints of the Twin Towers, each an acre in size. Water cascades downward from all sides into a central abyss. Surrounding the pools, the names of every person who died in the tragedy are carved in metal and backlit from underneath. Many of these names have flags, flowers and other mementos left by loved ones in remembrance.

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The museum itself is completely underground and goes down several stories, essentially occupying the same space that the Trade Center’s underground sections did. The space is cavernous. You can listen to an audio tour on your smartphone explaining each exhibit. Many of the exhibits are educational in nature, detailing the events of that day (many today are too young to remember) in the words of the people who experienced it – the rescue workers, the eyewitnesses, the news anchors, and some of the victims themselves via final phone calls made from the plane. There are also many relics from the tragedy – pieces of the building, pieces of rescue equipment, even one of the staircases that proved to be a lifesaver and allowed many people to escape to safety.

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One of the most moving parts of the museum for me was a large art installation called Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on that September Morning. It consists of almost 3,000 panels – one for each victim – in a different shade of blue. Spanning these panels is a quote from Virgil, the letters of which were made of steel from the wreckage: “No day can erase you from the memory of time.” Behind this wall are the remains of many victims that could not be recovered.

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In an equally moving exhibit is an 8 x 10 color photograph of every single victim, arranged in neat rows and columns, covering four massive walls. Deeper within this area is yet another, darkened room with a glass floor and benches along all four walls. Projected on the walls, one at a time, is the name of each victim, which is also read aloud. A little bit of their life story follows, as well as their picture and audio remembrances from loved ones. Together, these two exhibits put a very personal face on this unspeakable tragedy. Out of respect, photographs were not allowed in this area.

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There was much to absorb at the Museum, and it would really take the entire day to examine every exhibit ( I spent three hours there, and by the end of that was a bit overwhelmed). In some sense the museum is also a library, containing far more information than can be absorbed in one visit. It was a moving experience, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting New York.

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After my visit to the museum I headed back uptown, hoping to go to the top of Rockefeller Center and take in the breathtaking nighttime view of New York City. Unfortunately, it was very overcast tonight and the view from that height was non-existent. As this was my last night in New York, this is one of the few things on my bucket list that I was not able to accomplish on this trip. So instead, I absorbed the nighttime ambience of Rockefeller Center and headed back to my hotel room for my last night in the city. Tomorrow I may visit Brooklyn, and I will follow my wrap-up report on the train ride back home.

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