And on the other hand...

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Friday, January 30, 2009

La saison d'opera est arrivee!

Another one of those cyclical things: ce soir, nous allons a l'opera. That is to say, tonight we are going to the opera, joining what is usually a surprisingly large crowd of mostly gray-haired people and some younger artistic types, a multi-cultural horde of Hawaii folks eager for one of the world's original multi-media events. Puccini's Manon Lescaut kicks off the three-part season, the only theatrical thing that the Wizard will consent to sit through in an darkened auditorium with strangers. Our season tickets have us well seated every other Friday through the end of February. Live opera is enjoyable partly because it 's unpredictable: odd things can happen like during The Mikado when the Japanese Consul of Hawaii played that role and opened the second act with an unscripted aside to the audience: "I want you to know that this [the crazy opera] has absolutely nothing to do with Japan." Then there was the Barber of Seville in which a bulldog wandered around the stage aimlessly, stealing the show. And last season, another Barber who performed entirely on a Segway. Seeing the same opera again is always a new experience. (Although I think I could probably do without revisiting 2005's "Susannah." The Wizard's comment: "McCarthy has a lot to account for." It includes characters named Blitch and Little Bat.)

Speaking of dogs, somewhere in the middle of this season will also occur the Westminster Kennel Club Show, as scripted and yet unpredictable as an opera, with prancing and posing and critiques of performances. I'm really a cat person in that I prefer to live with felines and envy their lifestyle; though I like dogs, from a distance, especially other people's dogs. I always associate this TV evening with February in Hawaii. I cuddle up under a blanket with a cat on my feet and we watch the dogs. Scripted like the opera, with that same cultured-sounding guy who describes the breeds, there are still memorable surprises: the time a junior handler had to cope with her charge pooping in the middle of her promenade, on TV no less; the inspiring tribute to the 9/11 rescue dogs (stalwart retrievers and shepherds who must have regarded the poodles and shitzus the way construction workers or sailors look at models or TV news anchors); the best-of-show German shepherd of 15 years ago who had such poise, I thought he was going to make an acceptance speech: "I'd like to thank my handler, my groomer, and all the good folks at Ken-L-Ration."

The opera and the dog show are all about propriety and grace under pressure, similar to values that I'm seeing in the Jane Austen video fest I've been indulging in recently. Everyone in the 18th century knows their place, has impeccable manners and clear expectations (although sometimes people do lose it like the dog on promenade and other folks are just plain mean and stupid). Passion is balanced by modesty.

Maybe this 18th century mood is why I was a little startled by a news clip on Obama's nod to a Beyonce video. Beyonce is a beautiful woman, and clearly talented, but do Barack and Michelle let the girls watch "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)"? Is this soft porn or burlesque? Would Jane Austen do the single ladies dance? Would it fly in an opera? I guess I'm just behind the times.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Year of the Ox

After the Thanksgiving turkey and a Christmas goose, what's left? A Chinese New Year duck! At Christmas a friend gave us a gift certificate for a peepa duck (or pipa or peipa) at the venerable Nam Fong restaurant in Honolulu. So I braved Chinatown on Friday, in the midst of much preparations for the big shindig over the weekend to welcome the Year of the Ox. After standing patiently in a line, which wasn't as long as the one at the bakery next door, I presented my beautiful red and gold gift certificate. "No peepa...roast duck okay?" Well, yeah. The peepa was $17; the roast duck was $16. They threw in a buck's worth of char siu to make up the difference. As fair and kind as the duck was tasty. I never have been given a duck as a gift before; I hope it happens again. And I have to go back to try the peepa, which I think are the gruesome looking ones that hang in the shop windows. The Wizard calls them "Marquis de Sade Ducks."
The duck us got us through the weekend as I practiced my new hobby, Chinese brush painting. It's hard, but fun, and for results requires practice in much the same way taijichuan or qigong does. You have to perfect the strokes and channel the qi, preferably under the tutelage of a master. I started with orchids and pine needles, and tried a bit of bamboo. I have a long way to go, still have to get a handle on the brushes, so to speak. The new hobby also gives me a way to use some of my poisonous Chinese dinnerware, lead-laden teapots and bowls that I don't eat from, but a little lead-based paint isn't so bad in an ink rendering of an orchid. No one is going to eat my designs, though they might want to throw them away. The sugar bowl is especially great for rinsing brushes.

I'm thinking Nam Fong's cooked animal designs might be good for brush painting practice?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Starting to Begin Again

I once edited a monthly progress report for a scientist I worked for who had written the astonishing and confidence-building reassurance, "We are starting to begin the preparations to plan the event, an activity that will continue for several months." I don't know if that satisfied the government agency funding the project, but it did make the subsequent editing easy: I just struck out a level of planning each month until the event happened all by itself. That seemed ludicrous to me then, but now, on Gregorian/Solar New Year's Day 2009 it seems like a great approach. I will be using the next three weeks to get ready for the next New Year's event, Chinese Lunar New Year, beginning Jan. 26.

This is a grace period during which I recover from the festivities and feasting and fund depletion that started at Thanksgiving. The solstice happened (all by itself) while we observed our wedding anniversary with a dinner at a favorite restaurant at our favorite table. Later I started shopping and creating gifts for the girls in the office: I made 52 pairs of earrings, most of which look like hippie-styled Christmas ornaments. (Well, they are, really.)
I added a pan to the Wizard's All-Clad collection, but had the most fun on Christmas Eve at the hardware store. Here comes a suggestion to women who are stymied by their SO's practical nature. What to give a renaissance man who loves soldering irons and socket wrenches? (My artist friend says that tools for guys are the same as makeup for can never have too many brushes or eye shadow colors.) I had tried to go to our local hardware store, the venerable and charitable 100-year-old City Mill (eschewing Home Depot and Lowe's, those carpetbaggers) the evening before but arrived just at closing. The clerks were moving all the outside displays into the already darkened store. I asked what the hours were for Christmas Eve. One of the guys looked at me compassionately and said, "If there's something you NEED right now, I can still get it for you." If my toilet was running or I needed a new deadbolt, he would have made the effort to help me. I told him I was just planning to browse the aisles for guy-stocking stuffers, but I would be back next day. I believe had I been at one of the big-box stores I would not have gotten that genuine concern. That's why I like to shop local.

So next day I spent an hour pulling all kinds of odd weird cheap things off the City Mill racks--colored cable ties and etching tools and some Dremel bits, drill stops (a BIG hit!) and various glues. I had to ask for some assistance, and it may have been from the same guy I talked to the night before. Boy was he impressed with the haul in my cart! "Lucky guy," he said. And, now I know my way around City Mill! I got this notion because the Wizard usually loads my stocking with office supplies, the funny kind things you never buy for yourself, but eventually come in handy. Colored paper clips, map pins, post-its, hi-lighters, strange tapes and pens. He probably goes to Office Depot, but I forgive him: he also includes mini-bottles of single-malts and chocolates.

On the first day of Christmas I was delighted to find something under the tree I hadn't ever received as a young girl, not being quite in the right demographic at the time for a Barbie Doll. And there it was (I had pointed it out to Santa because it was so funny), Tippi Hedren, Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" Barbie, complete with attacking crows and nice stiletto shoes. Now I want a custom Barbie, "Baroness Counting Kolea." She will come complete with a white Mazda Miata (license TAO 61), 32 makeup brushes and an mini-nano-Barbie iPOD.

And last night, New Year's Eve, and the 7th day of Christmas (yes, the 12 days of Christmas come AFTER Dec. 25) my true love gave to me an obscure and hard-to-find Alibris-sourced book which I regrettably discarded when we moved to Hawaii: The Sex Life of the Foot and Shoe: An occasionally indecent exploration of the sexual history of feet and footwear, published in the U.S. by Penthouse Press, but originally by a British house (it figures) in 1976. (I had discarded the Penthouse version; now I have the British one.) Written by William A. Rossi, a podiatrist who one suspects was also a bit of a foot fetishist, it is a fascinating treatise on the largely erotic significance of shoes, with sections on Chinese footbinding, stilettos, biker boots, and the people who love shoes. Since I always notice shoes, and have quite a collection of footwear, I was delighted to have this book back. (I would be even more delighted if I could still wear my Ferragamo stilettos and restore the black patent leather on my 3.5 inch Bally's; alas chronic plantar's fasciitis quite likely caused by those beautiful shoes obviates my indulgence. I am doomed to protect my Bubbling Well point with Tevas, Chacos, Crocs and Naturalizers! All very fine and comfortable, but utterly sexless shoes. Well, some of the Naturalizers are cute.) The ironic thing, I was a little late getting home last night because I had stopped at Macy's (which used to be the venerable and local Liberty House) to buy...some shoes. And I have an appointment this weekend to get a pedicure.

So this morning, after another of the season's dramatic series of dark and stormy nights (Dec. 26th's responsible in part for the power outage that made national news only because Obama was on-island) I am considering The Resolutions. No more extravagant shopping (which is why I bought all those shoes last night), eating right, getting exercise (walking in the Tevas), meditating to mitigate all these worldly desires, treasuring my friends, working smart, clearing clutter (yeah, right, see Yin post, A Perfect Mess). This year, which is coming to a close but not today, the Year of the Earth Rat, was the appropriate year for me, the Fire Pig, to start fresh. And I did. But today, anticipating the approaching Year of the Earth Ox, I start to begin it all activity that will continue for several months.