Joshua and I drove down to New York last weekend so that we could spend the long Columbus Day weekend helping my brother and his family pack things for the move back home.
We did not arrive until just after 10:30 p.m. Friday night.
My parents and my middle brother were in town, too, to help out. They had arrived a few hours before Josh and I arrived.
We spent much of the weekend cleaning out closets and cupboards and drawers, and packing things into boxes, and stacking the packed boxes in the dining room.
My nephew thought everything was one great party. He tried to keep his eye on everything that was going on, and everybody, and he tried to stay in the midst of all the activity.
He knows what’s going on. He knows he will be moving to Minnesota soon—although he appears to believe that the sole purpose of the move is to allow him to spend more time with his grandparents. He also has the vague and incorrect notion that he will live with his grandparents when he moves to Minnesota (he thinks that “Minnesota” is my parents’ house). Once a day or so, he will even seek reassurance from his parents that they, too, will move to Minnesota along with him.
He also knows that he will have a baby brother or sister soon. He will frequently ask his mother when his new brother or sister will arrive. His mother will always answer, “In a few more weeks”, after which he will always inquire why she and my brother can’t go to the hospital and pick up the new baby right now (he has been told that the baby will come “from the hospital”). “Because it’s not ready yet” is always the answer, which then invites his response, “Why isn’t the baby ready?”—and the whole cycle of questions starts anew.
He also knows that he has a birthday coming up, and that he will be three years old soon. He knows that he will receive a cake, and gifts, but he also appears to believe that the new baby is connected to his approaching birthday, sort of a playmate-as-birthday-gift concept. In fact, I think he believes that the move to Minnesota, the new baby and his upcoming birthday are all somehow one integrated series of events.
He’s quite a little guy.
I don’t how I got through the first twenty-five years of my life without him. Today it seems as if he has always been a part of our lives.
My mother says he’s the spitting image of his father at the same age.
My father says he is a “take-charge kind of guy”, and that he probably will be running General Mills by his fifth birthday.
My brothers and Josh and I did most of the work this weekend. My sister-in-law is not particularly mobile right now, all in all, and we did not allow her to do anything except issue instructions. My mother insisted on doing the cooking, so we did not allow her to do any other work so that she could spend as much time as possible with her grandson. My father did a little helping-out, but he spent most of his time assisting my mother and playing with his grandson. In any case, four persons were more than enough to complete the project.
We succeeded in getting everything packed that can be packed until the movers arrive to take care of the rest of the job.
We had four tickets to Saturday afternoon’s performance of Richard Strauss’s “Salome” at the Metropolitan Opera, but we had trouble making use of the fourth ticket.
I wanted to attend the performance, and my mother wanted to attend the performance, and Josh wanted to attend the performance (but mostly out of curiosity).
My father had lost all interest in the performance a few weeks ago, when a change in conductor had been announced. He would only have attended Saturday’s performance if my mother had asked him to go with her, and she did not want to ask him, knowing how much he detested the replacement conductor.
My sister-in-law genuinely had no interest in going out on Saturday afternoon, but she valiantly offered to accompany us—if I paid her. However, she was quick to add that, owing to current constraints in the credit markets, she could, with regret, not accept a personal check, and that she would be required to be paid in cash. She said her current policy—dealing with out-of-town persons such as myself solely on a cash-only basis until market conditions settle—was not intended to reflect adversely upon my character or upon my credit-worthiness.
My middle brother could not be enticed to a performance of “Salome” under any circumstances, paid or unpaid, having attended (and hated) a staging in Paris five years ago.
That left my older brother. The only way of getting him to attend an opera performance is to bind and gag him, and take him to the performance by force. Doing so would have involved my answering all sorts of tricky questions from security personnel monitoring the entrances to the Metropolitan Opera, and I did not want to have to face that prospect.
Consequently, we tried to give the fourth ticket away. I called a law-school classmate who lives and works in New York, and offered the ticket to him. He declined—but, he said, he knew a tax attorney who was looking for a ticket, and he said he would call her and get back to me.
I thought he was blowing me off, and I was on the verge of calling someone else when I received a call from the tax attorney, who in fact did want a seat to Saturday’s “Salome”. The ticket was taken. We were happy to give the extra ticket to her so that it did not go to waste.
In hindsight, we should have skipped “Salome” and stayed in and watched college football games on Saturday afternoon. The performance was very disappointing.
The stage production was not a serious attempt to deal with the themes of the opera. The stage production was camp. I was surprised the audience did not hoot it off the stage. Josh, my mother and I had to stifle giggles numerous times—when we were not rolling our eyes.
My father was wise to stay as far away from the performance as possible, because the conductor was certainly not a Strauss conductor. Of course, I do not thereby mean to suggest that this conductor is generally effective in the music of other composers—although I suspect he may have a decent “Man Of La Mancha” in him.
The cast was not distinguished, either, except that it featured a competent Salome, Karita Mattila. Mattila was the only reason even to tolerate the performance.
Myself, I am getting tired of Karita Mattila. I seem not to be able to avoid her. This was the third consecutive Metropolitan Opera performance we had attended in which Mattila was the featured singer (we caught a Mattila “Manon Lescaut” performance in February of this year and a Mattila “Jenufa” performance in February 2007). Poor Josh has never attended a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in which Mattila was NOT the featured singer. Josh must think Mattila is the ONLY featured singer on the company’s roster.
My recent encounters with Mattila have not been restricted to the Met stage. The last time I attended a performance at Covent Garden (2005) was a Mattila performance of “Un Ballo In Maschera”, and the last time I attended a performance at the Paris Opera (2003) was a Mattila performance of “Salome”.
In April 2007, we even caught a Mattila lieder recital in Saint Paul.
I cannot manage to escape this woman!
At this point, I have had more than enough exposure to Mattila, and so has Josh, and so has my mother. Mattila is a fine singer, and a likable performer, but she is not one of the immortals.
I discussed Mattila’s strengths and weaknesses in detail when I wrote about her February 2007 “Jenufa” and when I wrote about her April 2007 lieder recital. (I hardly touched upon her February 2008 “Manon Lescaut” because she had been so obviously miscast in that opera.) Her New York “Salome” demonstrated precisely the same strengths and precisely the same weaknesses I have witnessed in the past and have discussed in the past.
I CAN say that Mattila’s Paris “Salome” from five years ago was finer than her New York “Salome”. Mattila’s voice was fresher five years ago, and in Paris she had James Conlon in the pit to support and assist her, which surely worked to her advantage. Conlon was on fire the night of that Paris “Salome” (it was the final night of the run—and my brother and I ran into Conlon the next morning at Charles De Gaulle as Conlon was preparing to catch a United flight back to Chicago). That “Salome” was the finest thing I have ever heard from Conlon—and it was the finest thing I have ever heard from Mattila.
Until Mattila moves on to Wagner, whose music is a perfect match for her gifts, I hope to avoid her in future.
We also attended a ballet performance while we were in New York. We had given some thought to catching a Broadway performance, but there was nothing on Broadway any of us even mildly wanted to see, so we abandoned that idea in favor of seeing something else.
We chose a ballet performance largely because my mother does not have much opportunity to attend ballet performances in Minneapolis. We decided to attend the Sunday matinee performance of San Francisco Ballet at City Center, and we decided to attend more or less at the last minute, the tipping point being a special (and secret) two-for-one ticket code we learned about from one of my brother’s neighbors.
Only my parents and Josh and I attended the performance. No one else wanted to go.
The first two ballets on the program were by Helgi Tomasson, Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet. The third ballet was by Mark Morris. The final ballet—and, as it turned out, the only one worth seeing—was Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments”.
San Francisco Ballet is an odd company. Unlike the two major New York-based companies, San Francisco Ballet dancers do not have uniform, perfect dance bodies and they do not strive for a uniform, integrated style.
Many of the San Francisco female dancers had bad backs (a term of art in ballet jargon), a deficiency that impeded any sense of line and balance, as well as bad feet (again, a term of art), a deficiency that made them look like dancing platypuses in anything technically difficult, such as Balanchine. It is not surprising that New York companies took a pass on all these dancers.
If anything, the San Francisco male dancers were even odder. The body variances among the males were even more pronounced—several had laughably short legs, others had laughably short or laughably long torsos, and yet others were unaccountably beefy—and their technical proficiency was low. Male dancers now rule at New York City Ballet, and it was jarring for anyone accustomed to NYCB to watch the male contingent from San Francisco.
It was definitely a motley group of dancers, much more suitable for a modern dance troupe than for a classical ballet company.
The program booklet revealed that a huge portion of the dancers in the company was from outside the United States, which was demonstrated, in spades, as a jumble of contrasting dance styles was pranced, in succession, across the stage. Each dancer appeared to have received an entirely different kind of preparatory training. There was no uniformity of style such as may be seen in the New York companies.
Ultimately, it was all rather comical. It was also all rather depressing.
The best ballet on the program received the best performance. Tomasson, a former dancer with New York City Ballet, is a Balanchine acolyte, and he knows how to teach Balanchine style, at least up to a point. “The Four Temperaments” did not receive a distinguished performance, but at least it was a serious performance, and the ballet came across as a recognizable masterpiece. I have seen better and I have seen worse Balanchine performances by regional companies.
Tomasson is very popular in San Francisco, which is regrettable, because he needs to be replaced. There was nothing to be seen on stage Sunday afternoon that any major ballet company would want to showcase on a national tour.
Just as Josh has acquired the vague notion that opera = Karita Mattila, Josh has also acquired the notion that ballet = ”The Four Temperaments”. Josh has only seen three ballet repertory programs, and “The Four Temperaments” has been featured on two of those three programs.
Josh disliked “The Four Temperaments” the first time he saw the ballet—danced by New York City Ballet in February 2007—and he disliked it even more after seeing it danced by San Francisco Ballet.
“I thought you said I would grow to love this ballet” was the first thing he said to me after Sunday’s performance.
“Well, I thought you’d see lots of other, different Balanchine ballets before you saw this one again” was my response.
Sunday evening and Monday were the best parts of the weekend. We had completed our packing duties by midday Sunday, so we were able to devote Sunday evening and all day Monday to entertaining my nephew.
More accurately, he entertained us.
He enjoys doing lots of different things now. He’s a little one-man beehive of activity. I don’t know how his mother keeps up with him.
He still rides his scooter and his fire truck around the apartment, but not as much as he used to. He has learned that it is much faster and much more efficient simply to walk wherever he wants to go.
He now prefers to play with toys he can take apart and put back together, whether it be building blocks, puzzles or little gizmos designed to fascinate three-year-olds.
He likes playing with balls now, throwing and kicking them around, throwing them back and forth, and even trying to catch them, which he cannot do yet. He likes colorful balls of all sizes.
He’ll do a little coloring now and again, but only for a few minutes at a time. Coloring does not hold his interest for any sustained period of time.
He still likes stuffed animals, and he constantly moves his stuffed animals around the living room and arranges them to his satisfaction.
He likes having picture-book stories read to him, and he has his favorite stories, which he likes to hear over and over. He will follow along, and look and point at the pictures, and talk about the pictures.
He still likes it when everyone sits down on the floor and plays with him, and he still likes horseback rides, and he stills likes to be held and swung through the air.
More than anything, he keeps his eyes on what’s going on around him. He really does not miss a trick now. He knows everyone’s routine down to the minutest detail, and he always wants to know the reasons for any variances. He is full of unending curiosity. He constantly asks questions, of everyone, about everyone and everything.
He’s still a good eater—and he certainly got plenty to eat this weekend.
On Saturday morning, he had his cereal and banana slices, after which I made him scrambled eggs, which he ate with potatoes and toast and washed down with cranberry juice, orange juice and milk.
For an early lunch on Saturday, my mother made whitefish cooked in lemon, which she served with bowtie pasta and shredded vegetables. He lapped it all up.
On Saturday, my mother put a pot roast in the oven as soon as we returned from the opera, and he ate pot roast, cheddar potatoes, lima beans, tiny carrots and strawberry jello with fruit for his dinner. He got ice cream for dessert.
On Sunday morning, after he ate oatmeal with raisins, I made him apple pancakes, which he likes, and I served them with sweet apple sausage, delivered from Minneapolis, which he also likes.
For his lunch on Sunday, my mother prepared for him boiled chicken, macaroni-and-cheese, and peas, which he ate with fried apples, one of his favorite foods.
My mother put a ham in the oven before we departed for the ballet on Sunday afternoon, and he had baked ham, mashed potatoes, white corn, more lima beans (his favorite vegetable) and a fresh cranberry salad for his dinner. He got angel food cake for dessert.
On Sunday night, my mother prepared dough for raisin bread, and I baked raisin bread first thing Monday morning so that he could have raisin bread with his breakfast, along with bacon (which he eats now) and eggs.
He was given tuna and noodles for lunch on Monday, along with peas (which he eats several times a week) and applesauce.
He had roast chicken with stuffing, mashed potatoes, more tiny carrots, green beans, and apple salad for his dinner Monday night. He ate a raspberry tart for dessert.
He still gets a snack every afternoon when he wakes from his nap. On Saturday morning, my mother made gingerbread men for him, since gingerbread men are one of his favorite foods. He ate gingerbread men and poached pears for his post-nap snack all weekend. He always eats the feet of the gingerbread men first.
My middle brother and Josh and I were sorry to have to leave him on Monday evening, but my brother and I had no choice because we had to return to work (Josh is on mid-term break this week). Josh and I will miss not seeing my nephew again until Thanksgiving, by which time he will already have settled into his new home in Minneapolis. (My parents remained in New York this week to continue to help my older brother and his family prepare for the move. Tomorrow my parents will take the train to Boston to join Josh and me for the weekend. They will fly back to Minneapolis Sunday evening.)
Josh and I will miss no longer having family members on the East Coast with whom we can visit on occasional weekends. I sometimes think I would not have survived law school without having been able to spend every few weekends with my older brother and his family.
The prospect of such weekend visits will very soon be a thing of the past.