Saturday, January 30, 2010

It's takes a snowstorm...

Since I've arrived in Arkansas, I've been called many things.  Yankee (both with affection and thinly veiled contempt), northerner, foreigner, import and my personal favorite, alien.  Small wonder, then, that I still don't feel like I actually live here.  Sure, when I travel it feels good to come "home", ie, to the place where I spend most of my time and has my favorite sheets.  But if I'm honest with myself, home is somewhere I haven't lived for 15 years.

Some things back home you just can't get here: cold, rainy town fairs featuring corn chowder in a bread bowl, fall foliage that is a blazing riot of red, orange and yellow (sorry, NWA, but I haven't seen an autumn yet to match a New England one), snowmobile trails that double as cross country ski trails, ice fishing tournaments, and towering, majestic pine trees like the one in our backyard that, if it had fallen, would have been double the length of my grandma's mobile home. 

Back home, a storm like the one we just had would have resulted, at most, in a delayed school opening and little more.  I was mildly embarrassed to have to give in to the "ice storm prep fever" that gripped our region over the last week, but I've learned that any precipitation is a much bigger deal here than in the chilly northeast where clearing 5 inches of snow and ice is as routine as rooting for the Red Sox.

So it's with surprise that I find myself feeling more like myself today than I have in a long time. Thursday evening and Friday were lovely, warm evenings, tucked in my apartment with, blessedly, the power working as it should.  I had to chuckle at the fact that so many activities were canceled when I can remember crawling home on the bus from a winter basketball game, a 40-minute ride taking two hours, but it was ok.

And today, as I took a brisk and heart-pumping walk through the snow (I've forgotten how snow-trekking is great exercise), things just looked...familiar.  Not all things; the kid sledding in a laundry basket was something I hadn't seen before. There was no mountain range forming the background for the white tipped trees.  When I glanced up to see a low hanging tree still covered in snow, I wished for my cross-country skis, flashing back to many an expedition with my family where, if you were the 2nd person in the line, it was practically required to reach out with your ski pole and shower the group leader with snow as he/she glided under the tree.

But in general, my little corner of this Mid-South world looked like New England today.  It's amazing what an equalizer a blanket of snow can be. Tomorrow, it'll melt and we'll all still be eating the bread and chili we laid by to keep us going through the storm.  But today, I got a taste of home.  Thanks, Mother Nature.  I needed it.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Does this seem right?

I grew up in New England, which means that my idea of high fashion is a cool pair of boots and a fleece vest from LLBean.  In college, makeup was something I put on for dances, concerts and plays.  And while I wasn't a femme fatale, I did ok with the boys. 

Then I moved to the Mid-South.  I discovered that women here have a thing for fabulous jewelry and clothing. And I have come to observe that leaving the house without makeup is a sure sign of personal neglect.  Is isn't that I think the makeup actually makes us all look better - it's just that, to go without it implies that ultimate sin - that you are not "taking care of yourself." 

Maybe it's that I'm getting older and noticing some flaws that weren't there in my 20's.  Or maybe I'm finally figuring out how to be a girl.  Who knows? 

All I know is that today I slept late, which meant I didn't have time to shave my legs before going to work.  But it's Wednesday, and I have to shave my legs, because I play volleyball in the evening and unfortunately for my teammates, that means wearing shorts and showing (ghostly pale) leg.  So I raced home from work and jumped in the shower.  Setting aside how strange it is to be showering before exercising, I had a realization in the shower as I indulged in a quick face wash. 

Getting clean is one of the best parts of my day.  And as I was washing my face, I realized that women, after enjoying the ritual of getting clean, immediately start slapping products on ourselves.  Creams, powders, gels, even felt tip markers that masquerade as eyeliners.  We start the day fresh and clean, and immediately try to hide it. 

It just seems a little strange.  I mean, there's nothing wrong with making a good thing look better.  :)  But the cynic in me wonders why our own skin, with it's own lights and shadows, isn't enough. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Big questions, no little answers...

I don't quite understand how people can pay attention to the news and not be torn apart inside by the hugeness and difficulty of the issues we face.  As my dad would say, I just need to relax and not let it bother me.  But I'm not sure how.  Here are some of the questions I have for the world at large:

1.  How can you possibly build a city that will withstand a 7+ earthquake? 

2.  Do you think a female candidate who'd been pictured naked in a centerfold would have been embraced as the

3.  I heard last week that one reason the health care bill is a failure is because, if it passed, suddenly more people would have health care, and we don't have enough medical personnel to treat them.  Which is more important, giving some care to more people or giving more care to some people? 

4.  Is a corporation the same as a person, with the same need for protection of his/her/its rights?

Yoiks, I don't even know where to begin.  Perhaps it's time to bust out a "brain-relaxing" crossword puzzle. 

Yeah, that'll fix everything. 

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A midtown marathon

Disclaimer: This is going to be a long blog entry.  I always regret not keeping better track of trips I take.  Hence... 

I always follow the same pattern in trips to NYC: the thought of spending a week in midtown seems a bit soul-sucking: no time to head to funky, less-touristy places like either of the Villages or to old haunts in Brooklyn, or even to take a walk in Central Park.  But by the end, I've been charmed again by what I get to do there, the food I eat, the art I see, and the learning I do. 

Day 1: Thursday >  This day began with a harrowing, yet successful, drive through ice-encrusted Arkansas.  Travel karma was good.  Hotel karma, also good.  Beer karma, not so much.  A slightly skunky beer at Matthew Broderick's restaurant made watching Blue Man Group a challenge, but by the end, I joined the small crowd in an exercise in group inebriation, caused by a profusion of toilet paper raining from the ceiling.  It was fantastically joyful.

Day 2: Friday > Conference session content is usually hit or miss.  Today (and most of the sessions, honestly), was miss.  The morning session was nothing special, and after that my roommate and I headed to visit Mikel Rouse ( in his studio, passing a wall-full of gold and platinum records along the way (I didn't get a look at who/what they were).  Super cool musician, equally cool guy.  He spent more time giving us (and asking for) restaurant recommendations than telling us about his upcoming visit to our city.  But he did play us a never-heard-in-public new piece of music.  Sweet.  PS: If you're wondering, we sent him to Hugo's, among other places.

We came back to a slightly bizarre opening plenary speech, the highlight of which was an animated video of an elephant bouncing on a trampoline, and then we took one of Mikel's recommendations and visited Prime Burger for a late lunch.  Awesome burgers and my first Egg Cream, a drink invented in New York that contains neither an egg nor cream.  Chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer swirled (not stirred) just so.  YUM.

I visited with some friends from my graduate degree program, then we went to the Famous Oyster Bar for dinner.  Not sure why it's famous.  I had shrimp.  Then, to the Mikado.  Fun show, even though it was 3 hours long and the sound was lousy. Thumbs down, NYC sound techs.

Day 3: Saturday >  A morning of session-hopping was followed with a lunch at a booking agency, which I always find fascinating.  While my colleagues took more oh-so-important meetings, I headed down to the TKTS booth to see what I could score for 1/2 price Broadway tickets.  This is one of my favorite parts of coming to Midtown.  I love that I get all kinds of recommendations from all kinds of people, and then have to decide, based on what's available, what to do.  I struck out with Next to Normal, Billy Elliott and Fela, so I "settled" for Ragtime, which was the best thing that could have happened.  I don't need to write down why I loved the show so much.  I'll always remember it.  Crowded, crappy seats and all.  I'm so lucky I saw it before it closed.  And disappointed in a world that doesn't embrace a show like that.

A fabulous dinner at I Trulli (bacon apple risotto!) was followed by my favorite part of this particular booking conference: showcases, which are 15-30 minutes sets designed to give presenters like us a chance to see work before we book it.  We cabbed to a show that featured scantily clan teenagers gyrating (no thanks) then hoofed it to one of my favorite showcase venues, BB King's, where we joined a standing-room only crowd watching Marty Stewart.  Our posts by the wall indicated that we served as traffic cops for the ladies room, and through this, we met Holly and her mom, who eventually joined us at a lucky table for some overpriced drinks.  Then we got to see Preservation Hall Jazz Band with the Del McCoury Band.  Awesome.  A Led Zeppelin tribute at the Nokia Theater was less so, and we wrapped up the day around 1am. 

Day 4: Sunday >  I served on a panel about "Future Leadership" in the morning, followed by Korean for lunch.  Some drama back in Arkansas made the afternoon interesting, and so did the craziest cabdriver I've experienced, who was convinced that our cell phone use was draining his brainpower and that swastikas were hidden in the CNN building.

Then began our evening of parties, including one with the famous choreographer and dancer Mark Morris.  But the best was our Broadway party at Brasserie 8.5, one of my favorite spots in NY.  John Lithgow was there.  Enough said. Dinner with our CEO (yummy sushi) was followed by three more showcases: three great, hard to classify acts: The Depue Brothers (classically trained guys playing rollicking bluegrass), Dala (two cute girls with angelic voices who remind me of the Indigo Girls, with less folksy anger) and Feet Don't Fail Me Now; a group of Minnesotan musicians and tap dancers who brought down the house.  Another late, but great night.

Day 5: Monday  >  Monday began with another less than amazing session, followed by a neat panel featuring 7 or 8 jazz legends (none of whom I knew) sharing their stories and insights on the arts.  We had the inevitable chicken for the awards lunch, and the rest of the day was meetings and visits to the expo floor, another of my favorite parts of the conference, where artists and managers have booths and try to sell you their work.  It's crass, tough work for both sides.  My roommate and I had Indian food for dinner (yummmy!) and then we all met up for a hilarious Off-Broadway show called Celebrity Autobiography, which featured current actors reading from, you guessed it, celebrity autobiographies.  Tommy Lee, Madonna, Tiger Woods, Elizabeth Taylor, The Jonas was genius.  Even if the theater was a dive and packed to the gills and the drinks were WAY too expensive and the waiter was rude.

Day 6: Tuesday >  Wynton Marsalis gave the final plenary speech for our conference.  It was incredible.  Inspiring, heartfelt and insightful.   We had a fun lunch with an agent at Milos (fish and greek food), and then I attempted to shop.  That was unsuccessful, but it was still nice to walk around the city.  It was just us girls by that point, our CEO having already departed, and we enjoyed some wine in the lounge before racing to Broadway.  Rock of Ages was my designated show, and even though I'd wanted to see a different show, I loved it.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the 80's rock I knew.  And I'm not embarrassed to admit that I have a crush on Constantine, the former American Idol finalist.  He was really solid and endearing.  And he can sing.  We ended our evening at a rather lackluster Italian restaurant.

Day 7: Wednesday >  Nothing exciting today - just some work in the lounge in the morning, some quick shopping and then off to the airport, where we boarded our plane on time, only to have to disembark and switch planes.  Surprisingly, we actually got another plane and made it home only a couple of hours behind schedule. 

The bottom line - good food, great art and great colleagues/travel companions.  And some humbling examples of how little I actually do know about food, art and people.  And now comes the hard part - sorting through the offers and press materials and dates and ideas and building a season of entertainment and art for the good people of NWA.

Bring it on.  Thanks, NYC.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Salt is more than a condiment

At times like this, I alternate between rueful amusement and sheer frustration.

It snowed last night.  A whopping 3 inches.  At most.

It sleeted/snowed a little today.  Barely enough to cover the ground.  But cover it did, in a slick, greasy layer.

Up north, we'd throw some salt on it, slap on our boots, downshift into first gear, and go to work.

Down here, salt is something you put on your mashed potatoes.  Here, our schools are already canceled. Our one plow/sand truck has been taken out of mothballs and put to work.  I guarantee that accidents are piling up as people insist on using their brakes and tailgating.

We'll spend 3 days "recovering", missing work, missing school, falling on our asses in parking lots (that was last year, I'm hoping for a break this year), hunkering in our houses with the eggs and bread we divested our supermarkets of before the weather rolled in.

It takes us by surprise every year.  Even though it happens ever year.

My kingdom for a fleet of NH/Wisconsin style plows, sand and salt trucks!