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.

hillary-clinton-donald-trump-presidential-debate

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.

trump

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.

pundits

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.

Advertisements

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.

rossini

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.

IMG_20160503_231245548

At the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City

Life in the big city – Day Six

image

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!

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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).

image

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.

image

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

Life in the big city – Day Five

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

Life in the big city – Day Four

image

Ah, New York, where everything is big and old and somewhat grimy. Where clerks treat you like you’re kind of annoying, but hey, it’s their job to wait on you. Where pedestrians talking to themselves on the street aren’t crazy, they’re just on the phone. It’s boisterous and crowded and expensive, and one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

image

Spent the day wandering around Greenwich Village, Chelsea and the Garment District. Admired the Empire State Building and especially the Flatiron Building, and spent some time in Herald Square and Madison Square Park. I’ve been walking quite a lot, (though I bought some cushy socks today that put an extra bounce in my step), so any chance to sit and be in nature (and there are some great parks here) is a good thing.

image

Not a terribly productive day, but the weather was rather nice and it was a good chance to absorb the ambience of the city. I did get a little disoriented walking the streets, as the grid pattern that I’m used to is rather chaotic in lower Manhattan. I also managed to hop on the wrong subway on the way back, ending up in Harlem. Oops. After some wandering, map consulting and head-scratching, I figured it out.

image

At least I wasn’t as confused as another passenger, who seemed to think she was on Metro-North (um, that’s a whole other train company), nor did I have the train doors close on me, making me a subway sandwich (ha!) like a third passenger. How embarrassing! I did, however, manage to bang my head a time or two on the handrails when getting up from my seat. This is one reason I wear hats.

image

I discovered that there are different classes of subway cars on different lines. Some of the ones I rode today seem to be the Cadillac models, much more updated and contemporary-looking, with modern electronics and lots of information to tell you what the upcoming stops are. And here I’ve been riding coach most of the week! I also discovered that trains only go in one direction on particular tracks (uptown or downtown, and it’s important to note that distinction). Duh! I should have had that one figured out days ago.

image

After resting up from all this meandering, I headed to my third and final opera of the week, Puccini’s La Boheme, which the Met bills as the world’s most popular. They’ve performed it almost every year since 1900. It contains several extremely popular arias, including this soprano showstopper (skip to 2:30 if you just want to hear the part you no doubt are familiar with):

https://youtu.be/UgaN3vIqJUY

You know you’re seeing a first-class production when the audience applauds the costumes, set and scenery when the curtain rises, before anyone even sings a note. Among other things there was a donkey, a marching band, and snow on stage, along with a cast of dozens. Zefferelli knows how to impress.

image

In operas there are often tragic deaths (melodramatic as operas tend to be), and they usually don’t faze me too much. But in this opera, even though I know Mimi dies at the end, it gets to me every time. I think the reason is the fantastic music Puccini wrote for this heart-wrenching scene (you can hear it here at 3:38):

https://youtu.be/qqLU6kboyM0

When I went to get on the subway at Lincoln Center after the opera, there was a street performer playing this very tune on his saxophone, which made it sound even more somber. Smart guy. I threw him a buck.

image

I then headed down to Times Square, which I had only visited during the day (this trip). Quite a different experience at night. The billboards have gotten bigger and brighter, lighting up the square like it’s daytime. The whole area is much cleaner, safer and more tourist-friendly then it was when I was here years ago. They’ve installed a no-cars pedestrian area, bleachers, and lots of places to sit and soak it all in without worrying about getting hit by traffic (which I’m sure used to happen). They’ve really done a nice job with it.

image

While I was there I finally stopped in the Times Square flagship store of my employer. I was not at all impressed. While it’s spread out over three floors, it felt very small and cramped (like much of New York) and the layout was a bit strange (well, the building is narrow and triangular, but hey, we wanted it for its prominence and history). There were many employees on hand, even at midnight, but not a one of them said hello to me (this is a standard requirement of our staff nationwide, but this is New York, where it’s OK to ignore the throngs of people that are everywhere). I bought nothing.

image

On the ride “home” I practiced my nonchalant subway gaze – the one where you dart your eyes around the car dispassionately without really looking at anyone for too long. I’m getting quite good at it. Maybe by the end of the week, I can pass as one of them.

image

Life in the big city – Day Three

image

Today I acted like a true tourist and visited the Statue of Liberty. I had been to the Statue many years ago, but felt the need to go again. It’s such an inspiring symbol of American greatness, and the best piece of eye candy we possess. I noticed when I was there today that people can’t stop looking at it even if they’re walking away from it. It’s disrespectful. They turn around to catch another glance, maybe to see if it’s really still there or maybe they just can’t believe that they’re actually standing in front of the American version of the Colossus of Rhodes. Pinch me, I must be dreaming!

image

The thing I find really special about visiting the statue in person is the many different angles you can view it from while on Liberty Island – angles you don’t usually see in picture books, angles that catch you by surprise as you’re walking along, breathtaking  angles that drive home just how massive the statue is. It has an occupancy limit bigger than many New York restaurants (there is a staircase inside that you can climb right up to her crown). Talk about getting inside someone’s head!

image

I went through three different Security checkpoints during my visit, and only those with advance reservations (which I had) can go into the pedestal. A ticket to climb up inside the statue requires a special reservation (which I didn’t have) planned months in advance (and, of course, another security check). I had to take my belt off at every one, and was beginning to feel like a stripper. I would have left my belt in the room if I didn’t need it to hold my pants.

image

The boat ride to the statue was pleasant and offers some dramatic views. I felt a little bit like Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” (Don’t rain on my parade – but it did). This is the same view that millions of immigrants had when they first came to America, a whopping first impression that told them that everything they heard about America was true – it is big, it is grand, it is the land of opportunity.

image

The pedestal the statue sits on is almost as tall as the statue itself. There’s a museum inside that includes the original torch, which was replaced a number of years ago, as well as a registry of names of people who donated to the statue’s restoration for its centennial in 1986. When I saw this display I had a vague recollection that I had contributed money to this cause years ago, and sure enough, when I looked up my name on the computer, there it was. It was an unexpected surprise. It would have been really neat if my name was etched in a wall or something, but I didn’t give that much money.

image

Probably the most moving part of the trip for me was when I was standing right in front of the statue, looking up at it with my binoculars. It gave me a feeling for just how big it is but it also filled me with a sense of pride and wonder, not just in the country but in the human ingenuity  that could envision and build such a thing. It brought tears to my eyes, as a grand accomplishment always does, which even the operas I’ve attended haven’t managed to do (yet – La Boheme is Thursday night).

image

After this experience I took the boat over to Ellis Island, something I had never done before. The museum there was very impressive, and gave me a real feel for what immigrants experienced when they stood in the very same spot I was now standing. So much history in that building. The restoration work they’ve done on it is fantastic, as evidenced by the before and after photographs. It looks today just as it looked in the early nineteen hundreds, with faithful reproductions of ceilings, floors, rooms and hallways.

image

After leaving Ellis Island I decided to walk over to the 9/11 Memorial since I was so close by. As I approached the area, the New Freedom Tower came into view, another giant of American ingenuity. This building is massive, the tallest in the Western Hemisphere. I found the controversial design appealing, and if I may say so more aesthetically pleasing than the Twin Towers were, even though they themselves became such a symbol of the New York skyline

image

Somehow I didn’t find the reflecting pools that now inhabit the exact footprints of the twin towers as moving as I expected, perhaps because the waterfalls weren’t running, and running water always invites reflection and introspection. I plan on visiting again tonight, in the ambience of the lighted pools and names, and hopefully flowing water. I did find it moving that some of the names carved around the memorial had American flags, flowers and other mementos placed by them, just as you would find at a gravesite.

image

After all this adventure I got together again with my friend Michael in the evening and visited Chinatown, where we had a great meal and great conversation. We walked through the streets of Chinatown and Little Italy afterward before we parted ways. He’s leaving the city tomorrow, as he likes to get out of here every chance that he can. Here I am marveling at every corner of the city this week in true tourist fashion, but his perspective sheds some light on what it’s actually like to live here. The noise. The tourists. The inconveniences. The need for personal space. There is definitely a price to pay to live in such a marvelous city, but it sure is a nice place to visit.

image

Life in the big city – Day Two

image

Today was a museum day, partly because it rained, and partly because I’m very tired of walking the streets already (I overdid it yesterday). The problem with this plan was that I ended up doing a ton of walking anyway, and in the rain. Twice now I have tried to cut through Central Park to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is about the only direct way to get there from my hotel. It looks simple enough on a map. But both times I ended up going in a loop (the park is huge and meandering) rather than a straight line and coming out pretty much where I started after a good 40 minute walk, and mind you every step of that walk was somewhat painful. I finally found the museum after a walk that was twice as long as it should have been, so I was a little cranky and wet and tired by the time I got there.

image

The museum is, of course, magnificent. It’s cavernous. It’s overwhelming. There are so many rooms that I suspect I only saw about half of them in the five hours I was there, and many of those I raced through because I was mindful of the time. The museum did remind me a bit of being in Macy’s in that once I was inside, I couldn’t figure out how to get out. Someone could have offered me $500 to find them an exit and I don’t think I could have done it.

image

The other thing I couldn’t find was a scrap of anything to eat or a restroom (actually, this has been a problem in general the whole time I’ve been here). In this sense the museum is not very patron-friendly. But that was all made up for by the stunning artworks the museum possesses, over a hundred and twenty of which I took pictures of (see my Facebook page for today). Yeah, I was that guy. But I had tons of company, and at least I wasn’t stupid enough to use flash. I might be from Eastern Connecticut, but I know a few things about being in museums (I probably used flash last time and got yelled at).

image

By the time my museum gawking was winding down I was extremely tired and extremely hungry. I did manage to find something to eat about three-quarters of the way through my visit. It was a $7 peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was the worst one I have ever eaten. I don’t know how you can ruin a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but they managed, and my $3.50 cup of coffee was so hot as to be undrinkable and un-holdable. Plus there was nowhere to sit. So imagine my delight when I noticed a comment card on one of the tables. I asked them if they hated their customers. When I left the museum I found a hot dog vendor on the street, and to my groaning stomach it was filet mignon. It hit the spot, and was enough to fuel my walk back to the hotel – which I didn’t screw up this time.

image

I had a whole hour to rest and shower before heading out to my second opera of the week. Luckily, I can leave my hotel and be at Lincoln Center in less than ten minutes. The opera house is gorgeous and elegant. Everything is decked out in red velvet, including the walls and the railings, accented by rosewood and stunning chandeliers that rise out of the way when the show begins. I think the house seats somewhere around 3,000 people, making it the largest opera house in the world.

image

This opera was a bit special in that it’s one of my favorites, and in that it was being conducted by James Levine, the aging, beloved, and soon-to-be retired musical director of the opera house for the past four decades. It was a treat to see him there. He is now in a wheelchair and hasn’t conducted many shows lately, but this is also one of his favorites. He received a warm and  thunderous ovation, not once but four times during the evening. They built a special ramp and conductor’s podium for him to accommodate his wheelchair. The audience loves him and so does the orchestra, so they go out of their way to take care of him.

image

The opera itself is not one of Mozart’s most popular, but I think the music is fantastic. It’s not a serious opera. There are a lot of lighter moments mixed in with gorgeous and uplifting tunes (one of them, the rousing “All hail the mighty Pasha Selim,” is my cell phone ringtone, below).

https://youtu.be/cZn0TKvjsfA

The story concerns two refined British women who find themselves in a Turkish harem after their ship is seized by Pirates. Their beloveds were also taken and separated from them. The rest of the story concerns the effort of the men to rescue the women, even though the women have been given to the Turks as concubines. The opera was featured prominently in the movie Amadeus, which is where I first encountered it. The music struck me even back then when I wasn’t into opera at all. It was a magnificent show. The costumes were gorgeous.

Tomorrow I visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. While I’ve seen the statue before, Ellis Island will be a new experience, and I suspect a moving one.  I may also try to squeeze in the 9/11 Memorial if there’s time, which of course will be more moving still. I’ll report back tomorrow night after what will probably be an emotional day.