Pop, Jennie and Brino

CCI10042016Bard Conservatory Graduate Vocal Arts Program and the Conservatory Orchestra treated us very lucky people at the Fisher Center on March 4th to a glorious evening of talent, beauty, cleverness, and adorableness.  An evening to lift one’s spirits. One month later I am still bubbling with broad spectrum happiness, awe for the cast, the crew, the musicians, the set and costume designers, and Nicholas Muni, stage director and production designer. Every time Jennie, the Sealyham terrier, shook her little tail, I got goosebumps and giddy and the next day watching my own silly little stiff-legged, ragamuffin Brino who barks too much, the two became as one. Brino, just like Jennie, believes that there must be more to life than everything.

You must wonder what am I talking about.

I am talking about a night of two extremely different operas: Higglety Pigglety Pop with music by Oliver Knussen and story by Maurice Sendak, and The Magic Flute Redux by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder, sort of. Muni, in the Director’s Note asks us to “embrace the redux on its own terms. . . as a second presentation in the World Mother Goose Theatre”. After her own starring role in Higglety Pigglety Pop, Jennie and her new friends at the Theater perform, attend and comment delightfully on the condensed Flute.  Dawn Upshaw, Director of of the Vocal Arts Program, helps us understand the link between the two operas.  “They both reflect upon an essential need among all humanity — a yearning for meaning and understanding of things outside our own experience.”

You still might be wondering what am I talking about.

coverHave you read Higglety Pigglety Pop by Maurice Sendak? If not, I suggest you get a copy and read it once, read it twice, and then read it to every little boy or girl you might know and to grownups you love who still have a spark of childhood in them. Sendak is an award winning children’s book author and illustrator, one of my favorites, and this small square picture book with line drawings has now become one of my favorites too.

Sendak is a master at pictures books and productions “for” children, some of which are “not so much for children as about children – in other words, an attempt from an adult perspective to recapture and explore lost innocence,” if I may borrow from a not so positive review by the English opera critic Rupert Christiansen of a double Sendak production at the Aldeburgh Music Festival in 2012.

CCI15032016Sendak produced an animated Really Rosie for television, featuring the voice of Carole King, he collaborated with others several times staging and filming Where the Wild Things Are,  his book Bumble Ardy was an outgrowth of his Sesame Street segment of the same name, and he designed sets for operas and ballets, including The Magic Flute and the Nutcracker. He collaborated on more than one operatic production of Higglety-Pigglety Pop.

The set of Bard’s production was true to Sendak.  As we sat waiting for the show to start we viewed the street above, without Cat the Milkman and his truck, who arrived later.  I  had never seen a LED screen set before and found it fascinating to watch as the movement of the backdrops focused my attention on Plant in her window, or Jennie in the milk truck.  It was as if someone were reading the story to me pointing out the characters and actions in the pictures as she read.  Wish I could show it to you.

CCI11042016 (1)I watched the animated/costumed version of Pop online before going to the theater — eh, so/so: I liked Bard’s production so much more— and reread the book to refresh my memory of the story. The Bard production was in the original English but still the words were often impossible to decipher. The text was streamed, but barely legible, and a bit awkward across the top of the stage. I was glad I did my homework. The book was available at the local library the day before the performance which amazed me actually, because I would have thought other opera goers would have taken it home to read.

CCI11042016_5It’s a pity that there were no reviews in the press. The cast, musicians and crew were wonderful. Kelly Newberry performed the role of Jennie and stole my heart.  The amount of time and energy that went into these two-nights of performance must have been enormous. The credits are copied here from the program so that the participants will go down in history, although just today I found a promotional article which lists the singers.  Someone told me that the operas were professionally filmed. Hope so.

Meeting Jennie has brought new life to my relationship with my little Brino and my love of him is mingled with my fascination for that brave little white dog who sang so beautifully. His fur has now reached the shaggy stage and he 2016-04-10 02.04.43 copysoon will be ready for his summer puppy cut. The way he is now tho, he would look good on the end of long stick wiping the cobwebs from the corners of the rooms in my house. That sounds like something Jennie would have been game to do before she became a star.

Perhaps you had to be there.

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Six Novels in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward

2013-11-15 00.53.05It took a while to gain the confidence to approach these books without words, a gift from Alex, and when I finally took the plunge I was mesmerized — both with the content and also with the process.  The six novels can be read and studied and reflected upon by oneself, but they are a fine pick for discussion, many discussions. There is no one interpretation to the string of illustrations.  Love, greed, despair, hope, tyranny, fellowship, passion, hypocrisy, regret — it’s all exploding in the woodcuts.

Historc Trust of NYC Lighthouse

Historic House Trust of New York City

Lynd Ward also illustrated children’s books.  The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge was in the library salvaged from my parents’ home when they sold it.  I have no memory of reading it, yet it seems profoundly familiar.   How did this book find its way to my parents’ bookshelf.  Who bought it and why?  Did I like the book?  Did my parents visit the little red lighthouse by the side of the George Washington Bridge?  Did they take me?  Did they buy it because they were familiar with Ward?

My father’s brother told me that my dad was somewhat of a socialist, not one with a card in his pocket, but one with a heart.  What stories we could have told each other if only . . .

So let me tell you about my tower #11: Window Shopping

During our one week of beautiful spring I painted sashes of windows that didn’t get painted in the fall.   A lot of time has passed since shopping for those windows, and time has given me the opportunity to grade my choices.  Most were right on, unfortunately even those decisions that were made quickly with a foreboding sense of “oh well, most likely this will cause me distress later.”

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Time also has given me the opportunity to wonder once again why I am continuing to write the Tower saga.  Sometimes it is torture.  What I write seems so dry.  My mind is bubbling with other stories to write:  falling down the steps and dislocating my finger; my cousin’s wedding at the Hotel Pierre; life in the sixties compared to life when you are in your sixties; thoughts on my America.

Then, last night as I struggled with Tower #11, I realized that building this addition with Lee has been anything but dull.  The year has been an incredibly rich, creative and romantic adventure.  We’ve been frustrated together, aggravated with each other, physically and mentally exhausted though not necessarily together, ready to run away from each other.

But we’ve also had an almost sinful amount of fun and have celebrated our happiness over and over.  We’ve made it through a large, long project, one that often severs relationships, and we’ve come out stronger, more committed, more convinced.

The Tower saga has been an exercise that seems to plod along.  Hopefully when completed it will be an interesting read for those who were involved, and perhaps for some who weren’t.  My enthusiasm ebbs and wanes.  I am pleasantly surprised by the evolution of the individual chapters, how often they change course and turn into essays on something else.  That said, at this very moment I just want to get it done – and that applies as much to finishing the house as to writing about it.   Lee has told me that he will suffer the depths of my lows about the house and everything else, as long as he can share the peaks of my highs, which is really quite dear.  My moods are something like New England weather.

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LittleHouseMy nose always wrinkled whenever I spoke about the look of the cottage.  Its charm was within and the view beyond, but from the outside the house appeared about to explode.  The contrasting color of the simple window frames, even without trim, was too major a statement for such a small house.  It could have been a 3D rendering of houses I drew when little – in fact there is one of my houses next to a giant apple tree painted on the wall under the sanitas in the kitchen of the house where I grew up.

The color of the cottage was wishy washy.  The back of the house reminded me of one of the hastily constructed, non-descript and neglected office buildings I used to see on the train from Boston to New York back when. Try not to miss the car graveyards and the skinny fox slouching through tall weeds and sumac as you imagine the scene.

The addition gave me my chance to make it better.

My plan from the start was to buy Pella windows to match those in the cottage, and to paint both the cottage and the tower to match the color of the windows.    I received lots of “advice.”  Pella is difficult to work with, they are expensive, look at Marvins, look at Andersons, you can paint the trim even though it is vinyl clad, change the color, use a contrasting trim, one color is boring.

I spent too much time trying to discover why everyone wanted me to do something different and got quotes from various companies and suppliers, played with different color schemes, then did what I wanted in the first place. I  like the monochrome look and on its own Pella Tan has character and fits the landscape.

Most of the window choices were straightforward.  The holdups were those around the spiral staircase and on the bridge.

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

Spiral Window, 2nd Floor, Facing South

In the end I decided upon one awning and three fixed squarish windows in the spiral corner.  It is okay, although the original design of two full walls of glass – which I nixed  — was so much more striking.  Perhaps I should have researched commercial storefront windows for a cleaner look in this space, but . . .

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We made several stops at the Door Jamb in Shokan, just a few miles past the Pella showroom, looking for the two front doors, which would face each other under the bridge.  The cottage came with a full windowed front door and I felt very exposed when someone came to call. That door was going to go up on the third floor of the tower as an exit to the deck.

My task was to pick the door and then consider the price.  Two mahogany doors with full stained glass windows were spectacular. They didn’t fit my “master” plan, which was simple and stark.  At this time the addition was my fantasy lookout tower at the top of a mountain.   But they – the doors — were really spectacular, and Lee offered to pay the overage.  Every now and then shimmering prism patterns on the wall delight us.

IMG_0528 cropped moreWhile there we also looked at windows.  We found seven tall, narrow white vinyl clad Anderson double hungs for the bridge.  These would be troublesome, but any decision would put an end to my stressing over what to buy.  The windows lacked certain features, but were “a very good price.”   Really wish they dropped down for cleaning.   Really wish we didn’t have to use small sliding screens until Lee has the time to build full sized ones.  They look great both inside and out and we’re looking forward to filling our greenhouse bridge with plants.

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We also bought quarter rounds at the Door Jamb, again fighting the feeling that I was making a mistake.  They are fixed and the second floor landing where they are needs ventilation.  They were a bear for Lee to tape and mud, and I still am not sure how to paint them, but they provide the spiritual aura to the space that I’ve written about before.

Lee and I “discussed” window trim for months.  I wanted the no-trim look of the windows on the second floor of the cottage, but Lee could only see problems when he looked at them. Wish I had found this post before today.

I’ll have to wait until my next house for trimless windows.  It’s not wise to push your finish man too hard when he is working for free out of the goodness of his heart.

IMG_0773IMG_0775We picked up four ten-pane interior fir doors on craigslist. Two of these became closet doors.

The other two are double doors to the master bath, and provide us a view of the field and the Hudson from the second floor.  Wall space is tight, so we hung one as a slider and one on hinges.  Towel racks provide some privacy, but more is needed for me to feel comfortable.  Lee has fewer inhibitions.

So let me tell you about my tower #1: Background

“Squirrel Bread,” is a dense, very nutty raisin apple bread of mine named for the little furry characters of Brian Jacques’ Redwall.  I read the Redwall books to my sons for many years, and always wished to be invited to one of the banquets prepared from chestnuts, honey, berries, apples, and crunchy, healthy squirrel treats.  It was a quick, easy jump from fantasizing cooking in a squirrel kitchen to fantasizing living in a squirrel house.

a dream book for designers of squirrel homes

When Lee and I decided we were tired of traveling 45 minutes, crossing over the psychological barrier of a river to spend our nights together, finding a squirrel house for our new combined life became a real possibility.  How nice to weed one garden, stock one refrigerator and always have what you wanted with you.

We felt strongly about both of our homes, which was probably why we put up with commuting for so long.  We had a country and a town house. Mine was referred to as a small gem:  brick walls, a picturesque hamlet location, a panoramic view of and access to the Hudson, lots of character and charm, very peaceful except for the New York/Albany train running past.

Rosendale Library

Lee’s apartment was in Rosendale, where, they say, people from Brooklyn move when Brooklyn gets to be too much or too expensive.  He lived on the main street, with shops, restaurants (my favorite is Bywater Bistro where we ate our first dinner together), the theater, the Alternative Bakery, Jane’s ice cream at The Big Cheese, the delightfully squirrelly library, and the post office all just a walk away.  His first floor apartment had five French doors opening onto a  large pleasant porch, and he had landscaped front and back.   Rondout Creek was across the street where our dogs could run free and swim.

Both of our homes were too small for both of us.  Mine had been completely gutted by the previous owners and reconceived as their weekend home. It made an excellent one-person cottage.  Lee’s was an apartment he had originally renovated as a rental.  We both had already minimized.  We each needed our own space, which was another reason having two houses was so nice.

We looked for other houses available on the market.  Perhaps we could find one that would fill some of the good things about the two of ours together.  We actually found a nice larger home on a lake at a near reasonable price, and it made us realize that we didn’t want to give up the Hudson River or the lively street.  Deep inside we probably knew the cottage on the river would finally win, and we finally started to play with the idea of an addition.

Lee and I work in different ways and speak in our own shorthands.  So to be as clear as possible to both of us, I wrote up a dream list and sent it off to him on March 13, 2011.

Approximate footprint:  14 X 24  (336 sq. ft.)

Concept:

  • Adding square footage to make room for two
  •               Separate space to provide privacy for us when kids visit 
  • A space to give us each privacy from each other
  • Keeping the character of the original house intact
  • Complimenting the original house
  • Providing an outdoor space with a view that is sheltered from the intense summer evening sun, and the strong winds

Design:

  • Large open first floor
  • Loft second floor
  • Main bridge connecting two second floors bumping out the old house ceiling
  • Main entrance stays where it is with a covered walkway connecting houses???
  • Shed roof sloping towards the road?
  • Rectangle tilted slightly towards south to get the best mountain views
  • Simple but special

First Floor:

  • Large but not ridiculously large laundry room with roughed in full bath
  • Fireplace
  • Multifunctional – piano, office, studio, master bedroom if ever needed for us
  • Closets and storage space

Second Floor

  • Master bedroom
  • Master bath?  Or use bath in original house and make full bath on first floor
  • Protected deck with view of  water – perhaps to the north?  — accessible from master bedroom

Entrance

  • Hidden from road
  • See through to the field
  • Places for flower beds
  • Door to new house
  • Mud room

Sometime later I added that I wanted the bathroom to look out over the field to the north of the house.  In the cottage the bathroom mirror reflects the Hudson and the Catskills and it is a wonderful way to brush one’s teeth.

Look good?  It looked great to us.

Prologue to Listening to JBKO

Shirley and I started work at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on the same day, September 13th, 1971.  We worked together in the library’s temporary quarters in Waltham, although not on the same projects.  We were still colleagues when the Library moved to its new building – stunning, out of the way, and leaky – on Columbia Point in Boston.  I left in ’83 to have my first son, and Shirley left for the Boston Globe in ’84.

Waltham staff at JFK Library / 2008

The Waltham staff of the JFK Library gets together for reunions about once every two years – when someone who has moved far away is back in town, when the JFK Library Foundation puts on a big bash, sometimes unfortunately at funerals.  I go because my work there was over-the-top and my colleagues, for the most part, were very bright and interesting people. I’d go to more of the events, including the Hemingway Awards in the spring, but I live more than 3 hours away, and I’m very content at home.

I am so happy that Shirley and I are still friends.  The date of our meeting, September 13th is a very significant day in my life. It is also my marriage date, the date I started work as librarian at Lowell National Historical Park, and the date that my husband found out he had lymphoma.  Meeting Shirley is in there with some of my biggies.

For my 65th birthday Shirley gave me the book of Jacqueline Kennedy’s interviews with Arthur Schlesinger.  They were recorded  just four months after the President’s death in 1964.  The book bears Caroline’s signature.  It was a wonderful present.  I don’t know if I would have bought or read the book otherwise.  It was a boxed set with CD’s.

With Jacqueline Kennedy at the opening of the Hemingway Room 7/18/1980

I met Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, or JBKO, as we referred to her in the library, several times.  The staff thought it undignified and too familiar to call the former First Lady “Jackie,” but Mrs.Kennedy or Mrs. Onassis was too formal.  I was curator of the Ernest Hemingway Collection and I would see her at Hemingway events, which she often attended.

At one of these events I introduced JBKO to my husband. The next time we saw her — a year, two years later — she amazed us by remembering him and our conversation.  She asked us about our house that we had told her we were building. Even after I left the library Clark and I would return and see her.  We told her we had opened a children’s bookstore, Book Nooks & Krannies in New Hampshire.  Months later a big unmarked box of The Fisherman’s Song by Carly Simon, illustrated by Margot Datz, arrived at the store.  They were all signed “Love, Carly Simon.”

I think I walked around in a daze for a week or two.  I was overwhelmed.  Where did these books come from?  Were they a mistake?  What should I do about them?  There was no note, no paperwork, no bill.  I didn’t want to be presumptuous but I thought perhaps JBKO asked Carly to sign them and  had Doubleday send them to me.  JBKO was Carly Simon’s editor at Doubleday, and the editor, songwriter, and artist knew each other on Martha’s Vinyard.  Wondering how to thank her, and still not being sure if I should thank her for fear of embarrassing both of us if she hadn’t, I did nothing.  I thought next time I see her . . .

Of course, next time never came.  And that is one of my regrets.  How does one thank someone who has passed away for having done something so thoughtful?

I have lots of books in piles around the house waiting to be read.  I wondered when I would get to Jackie’s.

Then I remembered.  I used to love listening to books when I was by myself on a long car ride.  I would occasionally be so engrossed, in Water for Elephants for example, that I missed my exit to Moultonborough and almost made it to Canada.   I eventually wore out the player and turned to NPR and singing with my ipod.

Now I have a new car with a functional CD player, and a new 2-hour each way drive to visit my mom in New Jersey every week.  I could listen to the book.

And I am.  My first thoughts were about JBKO’s voice.  It is very feathery, and reminds me, unfortunately, of Marilyn Monroe.  She has an accent.  I cringe when I hear myself saying “cawfee” for coffee, but if JBKO can speak with a somewhat unflattering accent, I can too.  I hope it is endearing.

I’m more than half way through.  It’s sometimes hard to hear what they are saying.  I’ve got to fill in the blanks in my memory.  I’m curious to compare the book and the CDs.

In the meantime I’m going to send a copy of The Fisherman’s Song off to Shirley this afternoon, and start writing about my impressions of what I have heard so far.