We are returned from our whirlwind trip to New York. Notes, because I need to fall over—
It is probably just as well that the Great Northern Food Hall
is two states away, because otherwise I can see myself eating there until I go broke or burn out on the taste of rye flour, neither of which I want to happen. Not only do they make a superlative cold-smoked salmon, which if you order it as smørrebrød comes on a dense, chewy rye with thin slices of pickled cucumber and radish and generous dots of stiff savory sour cream and if you order it off the regular menu changes up the radish for celery pickle (which it seems I like much better than any other format of celery) and offers you slices of a lighter, crusty sourdough to plate it on for yourself, they serve a pink peppercorn and raspberry shrub which reminded me strongly of Fire Cider
, only in a different key of flavors. Their beef tartare had too much red onion for spatch
to eat safely, but we both liked the cubes of smoked beet and the startling green dollops of chive mayonnaise. The roast beef mini smørrebrød had a kind of remoulade on top and then little reddish-purple shells of endive. The avocado mini smørrebrød may or may not have needed green tomato pickle, but the chili oil was a nice touch. The server advised about two small plates per person; in fact three small plates at the Great Northern Food Hall was about half a plate more than either of us could handle, but it was all so delicious that we left only bread. I even got to try the sorrel sorbet because they were giving sorbet away for free, saying quite honestly that they had too much left at the end of the week and didn't want it to go to waste. It was a juicy green, vegetal-sweet, and I licked at it as we ran for the trains to Lincoln Center.
I want some kind of credit for changing all of my clothes except for socks and shoes in a stall in the orchestra-level ladies' room of the Met, especially since I had a laptop-containing backpack and my corduroy coat to manage at the same time. I had brought nice clothes for the opera and I was going to wear them, dammit. I dropped nothing in the toilet and got complimented on my hair afterward.The opera
was wonderful. The thing about Les contes d'Hoffmann
is that Offenbach died while working on it—he had a complete piano score but only partial orchestration and a lot of dramaturgical questions unresolved—and as a result there has been an ongoing argument about authenticity and convention and dramatic coherence and musical feasibility for the last hundred and thirty-six years. A non-exhaustive list of variations would include: the order in which the second two acts are staged; how one of them ends; whether there is recitative or spoken dialogue in the tradition of the opéra comique; whether the four soprano roles are performed by the same singer; the degree to which the mezzo role is present in the story; which arias are performed by the bass-baritone; how the opera itself ends. Counting Powell and Pressburger's The Tales of Hoffmann
(1951), I have literally never seen or heard the same version twice. Not all of this one worked for me as either an interpretation or an edition, but as a production it was oustanding. I liked Vittorio Grigolo's Hoffmann, self-destructive and feverishly hopeful and not one minute sober; I loved Laurent Naouri's Lindorf and other villains, the same dry dark amusement in his voice each act like his changes of coat, different styles, all black; Tara Erraught made the most complex Muse I have seen, a conspirator in each of Hoffmann's romantic disillusions until she begins to wonder if the eventual art is going to pay off the cost or if she's just going to break her poet instead. The mise-en-scène was generally 1920's Mitteleuropa, with excursions to a Parisian fairground for the Olympia act, a remote and wintry forest for the Antonia act, and a smoky Venetian bordello for the Giulietta act, cheerfully and non-naturalistically peppered with waiters in the whiteface of the Kit Kat Klub, carnival callbacks to Tod Browning, and Venetian courtesans in green glitter star-shaped pasties. (Rob said afterward, "That was more skin than I expected from grand opera." Then he got Tom Waits' "Pasties and a G-string
" stuck in my head for the rest of the night.) And here the notes started to run away into an actual review which I had to break off abruptly because it hurt too much to type; I'll try to say more tomorrow. At the beginning of the Giulietta act, the Muse in her guise of Nicklausse the student woke up in a pile of pasties-and-G-string ladies with her vest unbuttoned and her cravat untied and I hope each and every one of those ladies went home and wrote an epic poem, or painted, or sculpted, or composed a song. I don't see what else waking up in a pile with the Muse is supposed to do.
We stayed the night with friends who live in Morristown, who had not managed to catch dinner before the opera, so at one-thirty in the morning we were at a diner somewhere in New Jersey, variously ordering things like Greek salad, Tex-Mex rolls, disco fries, and hot chocolate. This is the most collegiate thing that has happened to me in years.
Unfortunately I woke on their semi-fold-out couch the next afternoon with my shoulder frozen and screaming at me, which meant that a lot of getting around Manhattan today was accomplished by Rob carrying my backpack and me making noises whenever I tried to pick anything up, but we made it to the Strand
and now I have copies of Derek Jarman's Kicking the Pricks
(The Last of England
, 1987) and Smiling in Slow Motion
(2000) and we had dinner at Veselka
, as is now our tradition. They make a borscht better than anything I can get in Boston. I always remember the Baczynski is huge, but forget quite how huge that is, although at least it means I can eat the second half some hours later on the train when I'm hungry again. Much less elevatedly, I can't remember ever eating a Twix bar before, but Rob brought one back from the café car and a lot of candy bars confuse me, but I can say nothing against a biscuit layered in caramel and chocolate.
(It is a small reason among many, but I do resent the resurgence of actual Nazism for making it more difficult to describe the shoutily officious gateman who ordered the woman next to me to drop out of line so that the business class passengers could have their own line to board first from—he kept yelling at her to move over and I along with two or three other people yelled back, "There's nowhere to move!"—as a tin Hitler.)
My shoulder is now hurting in the way it has been all week where the pain runs down my arm and into my fingers, which I suspect means I should call a doctor about it on Monday and definitely stop typing now. But it was worth it. It was a good birthday present.