Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Becoming Americanized

My parents had a wonderful time in New York, which I knew they would, visiting my older brother and my sister-in-law and my nephew.

According to my parents, my nephew is talking more than ever now, and he makes all sorts of gleeful noises while he is playing with his toys or sitting in his high chair or walking around the apartment. The whole apartment is now his playground and his castle, and he struts around like he owns the place. (My mother says that he is a carbon copy of his Dad at the same age.) He now has to be watched at all times, because he is prone to explore things and objects, like kitchen cupboards and such.

My nephew still does not get to eat very much meat--it's pretty much boiled chicken for him, and very little else--but my mother did make for him a very, very bland meatloaf. He was given only a small amount, but he absolutely loved it, according to my mother and father.

I think that my nephew was surprised and confused that Josh and my middle brother and I were not there, in the apartment, along with my parents. On Saturday morning, and again Sunday morning, and again yesterday morning, my nephew walked into the living room and looked at the sofas, and looked around the living room, as if he were expecting to find us there. He obviously associates our presence with my parents' presence, and he obviously wondered, since my parents were there, why we were not there, too.

My parents did not go to any theater performances this weekend. They gave some thought to attending "Journey's End", especially since that production is closing soon, but they decided against it.

However, on Sunday afternoon, my mother and my sister-in-law left my father and my brother home with my nephew, and they attended a New York City Ballet performance. Two Balanchine works were on the program: "Mozartiana" and "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2". My mother and my sister-in-law said that the performances were seriously under-rehearsed, perhaps because Peter Martins' new production of Prokofiev's "Romeo And Juliet" had consumed the bulk of the company's rehearsal time.

My sister-in-law loves New York City Ballet. She was born and reared on the repertory and dancers of the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, and that company, for her, was always the gold standard until she moved to New York.

However, after she had been in New York for about a year, my sister-in-law realized that the works of Balanchine were on an entirely higher plane than anything she had been accustomed to seeing on the stage at Covent Garden, and she further realized that the level of dancing at City Ballet was on an entirely higher plane than anything to be seen on the stage in London.

The Royal Ballet repertory still has, as its cornerstone, the works of Kenneth MacMillan (and not, unaccountably, the works of Frederick Ashton), and MacMillan ballets, unlike Balanchine ballets, are not from the hand of a master. In addition to their paucity of sheer choreographic invention, MacMillan ballets, according to my sister-in-law, are nothing more than muddled and lugubrious studies in sexual frustration. Being a psychiatrist, she would know.

Further, American dancers are much faster, and have a much higher level of technical proficiency, than dancers in any European company, including and especially the Royal Ballet.

My sister-in-law can no longer sit through something like MacMillan's "Manon", a choreographic black hole, although ten years ago "Manon" was one of her favorite ballets. My sister-in-law also can no longer watch Royal Ballet dancers without noting how slow they are, and without noting their technical deficiencies.

My mother also loves ballet, and she generally tries to attend a ballet performance during her visits to New York. She has, she says, been seeing "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2" on and off for over thirty years, and yet, she says, she has never seen a decent performance of this great work (which may require more rehearsal time than a repertory company can devote to it). I have seen "Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2" only once, and I loved the ballet, even though it was obvious, on a first viewing, that the dancing was not confident or crisp or, when required, in unison.

I often worry about my sister-in-law, whom I love very much and whom I talk to and email practically every day. A native Londoner, she does not like New York. She finds the city itself to be dirty and unpleasant. She finds native New Yorkers to be coarse, and vulgar, and crude, and lacking in manners, and poorly-educated. In fact, she says that New Yorkers are the most provincial people on the face of the earth, insular in their outlook, dogmatic, close-minded, unthinking, thoughtlessly and incessantly spouting the platitudes of the day as if they were paid to do so, and totally ignorant about and uninterested in the world at large.

I find it interesting that my sister-in-law's views about New Yorkers are paralleled by those of a former law professor of mine, who himself is a native New Yorker and who never left New York until he was twenty-five years old. It was not until he left, he often said, that he realized how utterly and insufferbly provincial the place was. He often said that there were four indescribably provincial cities in the world: New York, and the three "S" cities of San Francisco, Seattle and Sydney. Myself, I question whether my former law professor ever visited Atlanta.

My sister-in-law does not believe New York to be a genuine center of culture. She says it is a genuine center of entertainment, but that New York has nothing whatsoever to do with culture, which is a very different thing. She finds the level of theater and opera performance in New York to be shockingly low. She likes the Metropolitan Museum Of Art and the Frick Collection, but she dislikes the Guggenheim and the Whitney and the Museum Of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum, all of which, she says, need new directors and new curators and new installations of their permanent collections.

My sister-in-law thinks that New York is an architectural wasteland. She says that there is not a single important New York novelist or playwright or poet, and that the city has a desolute, if not non-existent, literary life. She says that New York is a city of sensation-seekers.

Happily, my sister-in-law loves my brother, who is completely devoted to her and worthy of her love (and who himself has no views on New York at all; he views it merely as a place where his job is situated), and she loves her son, and she derives great happiness and pleasure from both of them. It is fortunate that my sister-in-law likes Minneapolis (except for the brutal winter weather), and that she likes Midwesterners. I think that she will be happier once she and my brother move to the Twin Cities, a move that is inevitable. My sister-in-law is ready for the move, I believe--in fact, I suspect that she welcomes the prospect of leaving New York and moving to the Twin Cities.

My sister-in-law says that she does not miss Britain. She says that she likes the American way of life, with its lack of red tape and lack of government interference. In fact, she says that she did not even realize how deeply the tendons of government had penetrated into her life until she moved to the U.S.--it was only after she had been here a year or so that it dawned on her how little the government on this side of the Atlantic interfered in the lives of its citizens. She also says that she appreciates the risk-taking nature of Americans, and our optimism, and our work ethic, and our determination, and our openness, and our readiness to take on big projects and big enterprises.

I think that my sister-in-law is in the process of becoming "Americanized'.

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